Myungjun was determined to do better than he’d ever done before. They were finally back in the studio to record their next album. After everything they’d been through over the past year - the uncertainty and worry, the stress of financial instability, the enforced hiatus, the sense that everything he’d worked for was falling apart - they were making music again.
Myungjun knew Eunwoo’s dream was to be an actor, because he’d grown up watching and loving dramas, that Jinwoo would rather be a solo rapper or a drummer in a band, that Bin and Sanha both had aspirations of being solo artists, Bin singing and dancing onstage, Sanha crooning with his guitar. Minhyuk had grown up wanting to be a singer, but he’d been roped into being the rapper for their team. In his heart, Minhyuk was a dancer. He didn’t always know how to smile or charm or say something eloquent - sometimes his Jinju accent still got the better of him - but he could always say what he wanted with his body.
Despite their different dreams, making music together was something they loved, and sharing their music with their fans was something they all adored, as difficult as the constant attention and scrutiny could be sometimes, and to have been cut off from the fans because they weren’t making music had been harder than Myungjun thought it would be.
Especially since Myungjun had never dreamed of being a celebrity. No, he’d become a singer with a single goal in mind: to find the song-eater who’d killed his sister and avenge her. If he became popular enough, got his voice out there, that song-eater would come to him, he was sure of it, because even though Myungsoon’s voice had been much prettier than his, his family agreed: when he sang, he sounded quite like her.
It was why his parents never listened to the group’s music or watched him perform.
Myungjun let his teammates think his parents disapproved of his life choices. He hadn’t started idol training till he’d finished high school because his parents wouldn’t allow it. He’d crash-dieted for three weeks so he’d be slender enough to pass his audition, because looks mattered in the idol business.
Every album was one step closer to Myungjun luring out the song-eater who’d taken Myungsoon - and taken the light out of his mother’s eyes.
But every album was also a chance to reach out to fans, to people who loved the music they made and appreciated all their hard work. So now that they were finally back in the studio, Myungjun was going to do his very best. He was especially excited about the title track, because it was beautiful - moodier and darker than their earlier singles, but showing how much they’d grown as artists.
They’d record the main melody and lyrics as a group, but the ad-libs and descants would be recorded separately, as would the harmonies and backing vocals. To be as efficient as possible, while one person was alone in the studio, the rest would be off in a separate room, learning their vocal lines either for the next track to record or for the current track, but occasionally it was fun to stick around and watch each other work. Myungjun liked watching Jinwoo rap, because he had the best facial expressions. Myungjun also liked watching Minhyuk lay down his vocal lines. He didn’t get to sing often, which was a shame, because he was a very good singer, and Myungjun liked hearing his voice, clear and strong, over the microphones.
Minhyuk, however, hated recording. Myungjun didn’t think it was claustrophobia, but as soon as he was done in the recording booth he went outside to practice his next round of vocals unless the air quality was really bad and their vocal coach insisted they stay inside.
For whatever reason, he was especially anxious today, and as a result he kept messing up his vocal line. The producer, their manager, and their vocal coach were all getting impatient.
After the tenth NG, Minhyuk yanked his monitor headphones off. “Can I take a break? I need a break.”
Myungjun, who’d been lingering at the mixing panel with the rest of the staff, stepped forward.
“You know how he gets,” he said to Manager.
“How does he get?” Manager asked.
Right. New manager. New director. So many big changes this year, most of them stressful.
Myungjun took a deep breath. “He gets anxious during recording.”
Manager glanced at the vocal coach, who shrugged.
She said, “If he’s anxious, his voice will be tight, and straining himself is no good. Give him a break.”
“I’ll take him to get some honey tea, all right? Maybe a quick walk to the cafe down the street will help.”
Manager glanced at the producer. “Get Sanha in here.”
Myungjun nodded. As the leader, Jinwoo would usually handle these situations, but he had to sing harmonies on some of the ballads on this album and he was making sure his voice was warmed up. Because he had the most limited range, he had to be careful not to strain his voice.
The vocal coach reminded them not to get anything carbonated. Myungjun bowed and then ducked out of the room. Minhyuk was already making a beeline for the stairs.
Myungjun poked his head into the break room where his teammates were sitting. “Sanha, you’re up.”
Sanha rose and stretched. “Minhyuk is finished already?”
“He’s a bit stressed out. I’m taking him to the cafe down the street for some honey tea,” Myungjun said.
Bin looked concerned. He’d known Minhyuk the longest. “How stressed out is he?”
“I’ve got this,” Myungjun assured him. “Help Jinwoo.”
Where Bin and Minhyuk had been in training the longest, they had the best technical skills and often acted as assistant vocal coaches during recording.
“Are you sure?” Jinwoo asked.
Myungjun nodded and ducked back out of the break room. In the narrow, brightly-lit hallway, he asked several of the studio staff if they’d seen Minhyuk, where he’d gone, and after several helpless shrugs one person directed him to the roof.
Myungjun headed up the stairs to the roof. The door at the top of the stairs was heavy, and Myungjun grumbled under his breath at how hard it was to heave it open. The sun was even brighter than the fluorescent light inside, and Myungjun wished he’d worn a cap or something. He shaded his eyes with one hand and scanned the bare cement surface, the gleaming steel railing around the walls that would probably be too hot to lean on.
After a bit of squinting, Myungjun spotted Minhyuk crouched in the shade of the AC shed on the other side of the roof. He was hugging his knees and had his phone pressed to his ear. He was pale.
Myungjun approached cautiously.
“It’s so hard,” Minhyuk said. “Every time. I don’t know why this time is harder. This entire year has been so hard, and - yes, Eomma. I know. This is necessary. This is what I worked for. I know the risk I take every time I step into that studio with the others. But I love it so much.” He took a deep, hitching breath. “No, don’t worry about me. I was just calling to let you know we were recording today, and I miss your kimbap. I didn’t mean to make you worry. No, really, I’m fine. I love you, Eomma. Tell dad and my brother I love them. I’d better get back inside and finish. I’m singing a lot more on this track. I think you’ll really like it. Okay. Eat well. I love you.”
He tipped his head back and sighed, clutching his phone with white-knuckled hands.
“Hey, you want to go to the cafe down the street to get some honey tea? To help relax your throat,” Myungjun said.
Minhyuk started so violently he almost toppled over, but he caught himself with his unerring reflexes and balance. “Hyung, don’t scare me like that.”
“Jinwoo would have come, but he’s warming up for his harmonies.” Myungjun crouched down beside him. “I know recording is hard for you, and after everything that’s happened, things have been harder.”
Minhyuk shrugged. The line of his mouth was miserable. “I’ll be okay. Tea sounds good though.” He took a deep breath, pushed himself up.
Myungjun rose beside him. “You’re sounding really good in there, you know. You’re such a good singer. I wish they’d let you sing more.” He hummed the melody of Minhyuk’s vocal part.
Minhyuk sucked in a ragged breath. “Hyung, please. I can’t -” He squeezed his eyes shut.
Myungjun tugged Minhyuk into his arms and held him tightly. “I’m here. I won’t say anything else, okay? But I’m here. For as long as you need.”
Minhyuk went rigid for one moment, and Myungjun thought he’d done the wrong thing, but then Minhyuk buried his face against Myungjun’s neck and clung to him, his fingers hard enough to bruise on Myungjun’s hips. Myungjun could feel him shaking, and he smoothed a hand up and down Minhyuk’s back.
Immediately guilt flooded through Myungjun when he felt the shift of Minhyuk’s muscles beneath his t-shirt as he breathed. Minhyuk had barely graduated from high school a few months ago. He’d celebrated his Coming of Age day a few weeks ago. When they’d first met, Minhyuk had still been in middle school.
But Minhyuk was strong, and fiercely intelligent in a way Eunwoo wasn’t. Minhyuk was bold and confident. He was an incredible dancer, a talented rapper and singer.
And he was beautiful.
In Myungjun’s arms he was warm and lean.
Myungjun couldn’t remember when he’d looked over at Minhyuk while he smiled and stopped thinking he was a cute kid, started thinking of him as a handsome man instead. He’d always admired Minhyuk’s dedication and determination mixed with his bright laughter and awkward humor.
Myungjun squeezed his eyes shut and held on. This wasn’t about him; it was about Minhyuk. What Minhyuk needed right now was a friend, an older brother, someone he could rely on.
But Minhyuk felt so good in his arms, and Myungjun could imagine a different context for this embrace, one where the embrace turned into a kiss.
No. What mattered was that right now Minhyuk was hurting. Myungjun couldn’t do anything to take that hurt away - he’d learned that the hard way, a small child trying to cheer his grieving parents with his bright smile and chattering voice - but he could be here. For as long as Minhyuk needed. Minhyuk was their rock, their foundation. Jinwoo was their heart. Eunwoo was their head. But without Minhyuk, who always encouraged them to do better, be better, try new things, they wouldn’t have made it this far.
Eventually Minhyuk’s breathing evened out, and his hold on Myungjun relaxed. After a few more moments, he squirmed out of Myungjun’s grasp.
Myungjun ruffled his hair with all the brotherly condescension he could muster. “Anything for you, darling.”
Minhyuk’s smile in response was unfairly sweet.
“Now, do you want that tea?”
Minhyuk nodded. “Yeah. I need to get away from this place for a while.”
Myungjun offered his hand, and Minhyuk curled his fingers around Myungjun’s wrist, and together they headed for the stairs.
For the rest of the day, Myungjun remained near Minhyuk, watching him closely. He didn’t say much, though he complimented Minhyuk’s singing whenever he could, and he made sure Minhyuk had plenty of his favorite iced tea laced with honey.
That night, after a successful day of recording half of the tracks for the new mini-album, Myungjun tumbled into bed in the room he shared with Minhyuk and Sanha. He lay there in the darkness and reminded himself that he was too old for Minhyuk, and they were teammates anyway, and one day Minhyuk would find a nice girl, and Minhyuk was a good person, and Myungjun wasn’t.
Myungjun was selling his soul to avenge his sister.