Set the Story Straight
by Rana Eros
Written for Cindelius for the 2008 Nuna Fanworks Holiday Fic Exchange. Betaed by Eliza, with title from Tom McRae.
The fiction is the same for every group that debuts: there was an instant connection. It doesn't matter that most of them have been mixed and matched like costume jewelry in trainee teams for an average of three years prior to officially appearing on the entertainment scene, or that some of them were slated to be solo artists. It doesn't matter that there are photos, management statements, news blurbs. Once a group debuts, the media pretends to forget they've seen any of the members before, and the members pretend it's all destiny.
The thing about Dong Bang Shin Ki is that the fiction is true. Changmin doesn't expect it when he goes into the meeting. He knows three of the four, has made a point of learning the other trainees' names. Jaejoong and Yunho are already in a group together. Junsu's been a trainee longer than any other guy, and everyone's just waiting for his group's debut to be announced, now that his voice has settled down. Rumor has it that Changmin himself is being considered as a soloist. He wants that. He's good on his own.
Then management calls them together with the new boy, Yoochun, gives them a practice schedule and says the five of them could really be something special. Changmin's certain management says those words to every set of trainees they push together, so he's determined not to give them any credence, but he's not going to advertise his disappointment, either. He looks around the table, prepared to flash his most bland smile at his new bandmates.
Jaejoong catches his eyes first, dark, wide stare that feels like it sets off a buzzing under his skin, sees right past the polite veneer. He takes it as a challenge without thinking, raises his chin as he meets it. He thinks he catches a flare of amusement before Jaejoong blinks and looks away, toward Yoochun. Funny how it doesn't feel like a concession, and he's tempted to keep staring until Jaejoong looks back, but that might be seen as rude. He's not willing to push yet.
Instead, he looks at Yunho, sitting beside Jaejoong. Yunho gives him a warm smile, crooked-toothed and smooth-cheeked, the youngest of his group, but there's a steadiness in his gaze that makes Changmin think of mountains. Later, he'll know exactly what he's seeing. Later, when they repeat the truth-hidden-in-fiction with secret smiles, and Yunho is the leader other leaders look to.
Now, Junsu shifts, on the other side of Yunho from Jaejoong, and Changmin shifts his attention there. Junsu looks perfectly composed, already such a professional in the presence of management. When it's just other trainees, Changmin's seen the way Junsu and Eunhyuk play off of each other, and he can't explain why his throat tightens for two boys he barely knows, that they're not going to share the stage as part of a single unit. He swallows, and Junsu glances up at him, not even a flash of sorrow before he's given a smile as bland as any he could pull himself. He returns it without thinking, flashing slightly more teeth, which makes Junsu blink, startled, and laugh, and then it's Changmin's turn to be startled, nearly dizzy with the impact of the sound. He doesn't know why. He's heard it before.
He doesn't know why he doesn't hate all of them, and Yoochun, Yoochun who could easily be blamed for this, whose smile is soft and shy and dimpled and whose eyes are bruised and knowing. Changmin meets those eyes last, meets that smile, and he's glad to escape the meeting not because he can't stand his new bandmates, but because he wants to keep them, can see himself on a stage with them.
They'll debut in six months. They'll speak of a connection that even the most jaded in their field will start to believe, because it's been there to see since that first meeting.
Of course, there's a difference between a bond that means you perform well together, live well together, and a bond that means you actually are together. Changmin thinks the others are waiting on him to set the pace, waiting for the youngest to decide their timeline.
He thinks that right up until he tries to do so, kissing Yunho on the beach in Bora Bora, fine white sand under his feet and Yunho's hands gentle on his face. Yunho's mouth is flavored with pineapple, the sweet bite of rum, and Changmin thinks, This is the beginning. Except Yunho doesn't follow it up with anything but hugs and smiles, same as they have been for the past year and a half. But then, Yunho is cautious, takes his responsibilities as leader seriously, so maybe Changmin just started with the wrong person. He'll have to get the others in on the idea first, ease Yunho into it.
He's still deciding who to really start with when he finds Yoochun on the balcony of their new apartment in Japan, sneaking a cigarette with shaking hands after an interview. Yoochun looks up when he slides the glass door open, wide, wet gaze darting to the room behind him.
"They're arguing over menus in the kitchen," he says, but still Yoochun straightens, grinds the cigarette out on the railing.
"Don't tell Yunho."
"Of course." It's a given Changmin won't tell their manager, who disapproves of Yoochun and Jaejoong's cigarettes as part of their image. Yunho disapproves for more personal reasons, and Yoochun had promised to try to quit. "I don't think he'd blame you, hyung."
Yoochun offers him a watery smile, then slumps down again. "I can't...I can't do this."
Changmin knows Yunho would say he could, that Jaejoong would hug him, that Junsu would teach him an oyaji gag as a distraction. Changmin snorts and says, "So make them repeat the question in Korean next time, see how well they do."
Yoochun laughs, but the sound is still too wry for Changmin's tastes. So he steps closer, cups Yoochun's jaw in his hands, braces himself for the waft of nicotine-flavored air as he bends down. At least Yoochun's mouth is pleasantly soft and hot, and if he can't quite form Japanese words with an accent that impresses the media, he can do better things with his tongue.
Changmin expects that to serve as some kind of signal, even if it started out as comfort, but Yoochun doesn't take the initiative to repeat the experience. Changmin's not sure what to do about that. He's certain he hasn't so completely misread them all, to see interest where there is none. He's also certain they haven't paired up without him, because he watches so closely, and he loves them, but he doesn't credit them with the subtlety to leave him out.
Maybe it's just that his approach isn't quite right again. He hadn't planned to kiss Yoochun, and he thinks Yoochun might have picked up on that, holds back now so he doesn't cross any lines Changmin might draw. That means he'll go along, like Yunho, if Changmin can draw Junsu and Jaejoong in.
He kisses Junsu in Paris, split wide open by the city the way Junsu is by jetlag. Junsu dazzles him like the reflection of the Eiffel Tower on the river that night, warm and bright and laughing. The city draws Changmin to stillness, but Junsu follows Jaejoong's example, racing over the bridge and falling into Yunho's waiting arms, Yoochun's. His, surprised by the photographer's shout, whirling to catch Junsu, stumbling singing into him.
"O Champs Elysees," Junsu breathes against his mouth, but he has to wait until later to taste the champagne and chocolate on Junsu's tongue.
This, he thinks, but finds he doesn't expect it now. He finds, instead, that he's pushing in other areas, they all are. They make polite demands of management, songwriting, instrumental lessons, and management gives in. None of it means he stops dreaming of the others at night, would turn any of them away, but he doesn't think it's his approach that keeps Junsu from following up his kisses. Their connection's changed, their tension, and Changmin needs to change his timeline accordingly.
He's not really inclined to surrender gracefully, however, as his bandmates can attest, which is why Jaejoong is the Grand Canyon, on the other side of an outcropping from where Yunho is posing and Junsu is playing dangerous games with gravity. Jaejoong plays his own games, walking on the cliff's edges and peering down while cameramen pace him nervously. Changmin is reminded of Paris and bridges, Prague and barges, interviews in Japan and sunrises in Seoul. He isn't entirely certain it's bravery, but it makes his breath catch, nonetheless.
Jaejoong's smile makes his breath catch in similar fashion, draws him forward when caution might hold him back at least a foot. None of them have fallen yet, though. Or maybe--Jaejoong pushes up into the touch of his mouth, winds fingers through his hair to tilt his head to a better angle, takes him head-on like he's high rock and deep rivers and foreign languages--maybe they are already out there, flying.
"Always thinking so hard," Jaejoong says against his mouth, and whatever compromises Changmin thought he was willing to make, he knows suddenly that they're not acceptable. He's compromised by waiting this long, five years of telling the world about something they don't touch, not yet, and he's not known for his patience. He feels Jaejoong smile, nip his bottom lip with sharp teeth, say, "Tell me."
"I--" He's never had trouble with words, not with them. That's the problem; there are too many choking him. "This--"
Jaejoong waits a breath, two, kisses him again. It heats him like the sun, buffets him like the wind. Then Jaejoong pulls away, smiles and brushes his hair from his face. "You sound like me."
"You should be so articulate," Changmin grumbles, but he leans into the touch.
Jaejoong laughs. "Why? Something you don't understand, Changmin?"
Changmin doesn't even consider before he says, "It's not that," and Jaejoong's smile gentles.
"No, it isn't."
It's Changmin who steps away this time. Jaejoong lets him, for the moment, like he realizes he's let the others. Like they've let each other, for the moment.
In six months, they'll gather in again. Yunho will find Changmin behind a folding divider in a dressing room before their performance at the MKMF awards. Changmin will let Yunho pull him close for a kiss that lasts five seconds, five years. Jaejoong and Yoochun will find them, then Junsu. It's all they have time for, bare touch of lips to lips, and Changmin will feel the need for more, the need for now, sizzling down his veins.
It will be one of the best performances of their career to date. It will be followed by an award for their album, their music, and Changmin will blame the tears on exhaustion and nerves. The others will let him get away with it, kiss them away in the limo afterward, keep him buzzing through the after party. He will repay that teasing when they get home.
After, he will think, This is the beginning. It will be absurd, five years after that first meeting.
Like that first fiction, it will also be true.