“-oh, and the rapper line are getting singing lessons starting next week. The Director thinks it’ll add an interesting dynamic to hear the rappers singing for your next comeback.”
With that the meeting comes to an end and the studio door opens, all the members bowing respectfully as their manager leaves for the night. All the members apart from one – Woo Jiho – who’s frozen to his chair in what looks like panic. Or maybe fear.
“What’s wrong with him?” Minhyuk asks, voice straining as he stretches his lean body upwards. Everyone but Jiho move languidly as they start getting ready to head back to the dorm. Kyung appears, out of nowhere, at his side with a smug grin that takes over the bottom half of his face, making Minhyuk jump back slightly in shock.
“Jiho can’t sing.” Kyung states, his smirk growing impossibly wider. All of the members then stop what they’re doing to turn to face their uncharacteristically pale leader, who doesn’t seem to hear a single word being said around him, nor notice the eyes on him.
“He can’t sing?” Yukwon repeats as he pulls on his hoodie, though it sounds more like a question. “Have you ever heard him?”
Kyung turns to Yukwon, smile still in place. “Technically no, but this one time-”
“Unless you’ve actually heard Jiho sing and he really is completely tone deaf, you’re in no position to go around telling everyone he can’t sing, Park Kyung,” it’s Taeil who speaks this time, the one who seems least affected by the situation (or cares the least; you can never be sure with Taeil), pulling on his shoes and tying his laces, “it’s not as if you’re not lacking in anything.”
Kyung, deciding not to let Taeil’s comment ruin his opportunity to embarrass Jiho in front of everyone, continues anyway.
“Yeah ok, but do you wanna give me different explanation as to why, when we were thirteen, I went over to his house and caught him singing along to Chris Brown in terrible English, and he got so embarrassed that he-”
“Yah, Park Kyung,” Jiho speaks for the first time, though his voice isn’t angry or embarrassed, it’s scarily composed, as is his face, “unless you want me to tell everyone what we did in 9th grade at Minsoo’s party, I think you should stop talking.”
The room falls silent, waiting to see what happens. Everyone knows better than to get in between Jiho and Kyung when they’re arguing.
“So we were playing spin the bottle-”
“Alright alright alright!” Kyung shouts over Jiho, moving a step closer as he raises his arms to stop Jiho. All signs of his previous confidence are gone, and Taeil rolls his eyes, “I got it, I’ll stop.”
“When you two are done having your lover's tiff, come and meet me in the lobby.” Taeil yawns, effectively gaining everyone’s attention, “I’ll buy dinner.”
“Samgyeopsal?” Yukwon asks hopefully.
“Don’t push your luck.”
The members then begin to file out of the studio, first Yukwon, closely followed by Minhyuk and Jaehyo and then Jihoon and Kyung, who are bickering about whether or not what happened at Minsoo’s party should be exposed (‘Hyung, it’s unfair that you and Jiho have so many secrets.’ ‘There’s no way I’m telling you, Jihoon. I’d rather be castrated than have that story get out.’ ‘But hyung-’).
“Are you not coming?” Taeil asks when he notices Jiho is still sat in his chair, making no effort to join them.
“No, I have some stuff I wanna work on before I leave. You go ahead though. Tell them not to wait up for me.”
Taeil should probably say something, tell him to stop being such a recluse and come out for a meal with them. They all know what Kyung’s like; no one’s gonna bring it up when their mouth is full of food anyway. Or maybe he should give him some words of encouragement as his hyung, tell him it’ll all be ok, that it’s not the end of the world because he can’t sing – his rap, writing and producing skills more than make up for it. Or maybe he should just offer to beat Kyung up for him; Kyung’s slightly taller than him but he’s built like a twig so Taeil’s pretty sure he could take him. But Jiho seems distracted and more embarrassed than he’s ever seen the leader, so he opts instead to just keep his mouth shut.
“Alright, but make sure you’re not here all night; you need some sleep. And make sure you eat, too. I know you like to skip meals when you’re here.”
“Yes, hyung.” Jiho sighs, but he smiles anyway, which makes Taeil feel a little less worried. Still though, he’s curious about the crinkles in Jiho’s forehead and why he looked like he’d been told some terrible news when he found out about the singing lessons. But before he can start asking any of those questions, he tucks his phone into his pocket and leaves with a nod.
It’s a stupid idea, Taeil decides on his walk back to the studio. It’s cold and late and Jiho probably really does have things he wants to work on and won’t appreciate the interruption, but Taeil has been overthinking things ever since he left the studio, so he’d rather he just put his own mind at ease before he heads back to the dorm. They have to be up early tomorrow, and he knows he’ll hate himself for staying out so late in the morning, but it’s not like he’d actually be able to sleep with his mind the way it is anyway; not until he hears Jiho sneak in at dawn and fall into bed, just a few hours before they need to be awake.
Besides, he knows Jiho well enough to know he won’t eat anything despite Taeil telling him to and they had nearly a whole plate of meat left over anyway (Yukwon had pushed for samgyeopsal, but there was no way Taeil was paying for samgyeopsal for six people, not with the way they eat, so they compromised and got bulgogi instead), so it’s like killing two birds with one stone.
(Maybe the left overs were intentional. Maybe Taeil bought an extra serving when he knew everyone was too full to eat it with Jiho in mind. And maybe he had to sit at the table and pretend that the idea had just spontaneously come to him when no one wanted to eat the meat he began frying. And maybe he rejected Minhyuk’s offer of quickly running it over to the studio a little too strongly, but he wasn’t about to sit and tell everyone how worried he is about their leader, or that he wants to see that Jiho is ok with his own two eyes and that the food is partially just an excuse to check on him. No, he’s not that stupid.)
The walk is good for digestion, Taeil knows, but he spends the entire time arguing to himself about whether checking on Jiho is a good idea or not and he wonders if what’s good for his body is just as good for his mental state. Plus his nose begins to go numb in the cold air, so he really wonders if the digestion thing makes up for everything else he’s going through. With that thought in mind, he almost turns around and walks back home until he realizes he’s only a street away from the studio. That and the fact that he’s being an idiot. He’s not sure why he’s making it out to be such a big deal. He’s just being a good hyung, there’s nothing else to it.
He enters the studio building quickly, noticing how empty it is this late and how eerie that makes it seem. It makes Taeil sad to think about all the nights Jiho spends here all on his own, writing and recording songs, no matter how are perfectly constructed for Block B and no one else. Taeil really does admire Jiho and couldn’t wish for a better leader, but sometimes he wants to ask if all the lonely nights and hard labour are always worth it.
The elevator is warm but the studio is warmer, welcoming a shivering Taeil with open arms, and it changes his mind. He starts to think maybe spending all night here wouldn’t be so bad. It’s cosy, anyway, and they’ve spent nights in a lot worse places.
Jiho is hunched over the mixing deck with his headphones on, head lightly bobbing along to the music Taeil can’t hear. He’s sure it’s brilliant – it always is with Jiho – and feels all tension leave his body at the sight of his leader doing what he does best.
Taeil stands awkwardly in the doorway, just watching Jiho at work until he seems to come to a natural stop. It’s only then that Taeil enters properly, trying to make noise as he kicks off his shoes and walks over to Jiho to make his presence known.
“Oh my God,” Jiho jumps in his chair at the sound of Taeil clearing his throat, turning around to watch him walk over, all bundled up in the hoodie he left in, “hyung, you made me jump.”
Taeil grins but says nothing, putting the bag of food on Jiho’s lap before reaching out and putting the backs of his cold hands on Jiho’s neck. The other cries out and tries to pull away from the sudden chill on his skin by pushing his chair back, but Taeil continues to hold his cold hands on Jiho’s warm skin, following him wherever he moves.
“Do you feel how cold I am, Woo Jiho?! Do you feel how frozen my hands are because I had to trek halfway across the city in the middle of the night for you?!” Taeil exclaims in playful anger, finally pulling his hands away. Jiho rubs at his now chilled skin, watching as Taeil moves away, pulling the sleeves of his oversized hoodie down over his hands as he goes.
Taeil points to the bag in Jiho’s lap from his place on the couch. “I brought you some bulgogi over because I know you won’t feed yourself and someone has to keep our leader alive,” Taeil sniffs and lets his body fall sideways, head resting on the arm of the chair. “There’s some extra rice and sides in there as well. I bought some of that banana milk you like too, because Jaehyo keeps calling himself the best hyung and I want you to know that that isn’t true.”
Jiho looks into the bag, sees four cartons of his favourite banana milk on top of at least five small food containers on top of a bigger one at the bottom. There’s a pair of disposable chopsticks and some napkins tucked down the side and Jiho feels oddly touched that Taeil went to all this trouble for him.
“Did you really come all this way just to make sure I ate?” Jiho asks, getting out of his chair so he can move to sit next to Taeil on the couch. He begins lifting things out and placing them on the low coffee table in front of them, his stomach growling with hunger he’s sure wasn’t there ten minutes ago.
“Mm,” Taeil hums, sitting upright again. “Sorry if it’s cold.”
Jiho pulls the lid off the biggest container – the one full of meat – and laughs excitedly, snapping his chopsticks apart and almost digs in before he remembers his manners. He thanks Taeil for the food in an overly sweet voice, earning him a weak punch in the side, before he starts eating.
They fall into silence, just the sound of Jiho chewing filling the small studio. Taeil spends the time thinking about how he can approach the subject of what happened earlier with Kyung and why he looked so horrified at the idea of having singing lessons without upsetting Jiho again. He seems fine now, but Taeil isn’t any less worried.
“I felt bad about leaving you here all by yourself, especially with how… upset you were, before,” Taeil tries. Jiho stops chewing as soon as the sentence leaves his mouth, and the elder worries before thinking at least the topic is out there, even if it wasn’t approached as delicately as he had planned.
“I wasn’t upset.” Jiho states around a mouthful of rice and meat. Taeil grimaces, reaching across to the table to pick up a napkin for him.
“Wipe your face; you have food all around your mouth.” Taeil tells him, offering him the napkin. “Honestly, my dogs eat better than you.”
“Sorry, mom.” Jiho takes the napkin and wipes his mouth with it, swallowing his food so he can give Taeil the answers he wants. It’s pointless trying to avoid a conversation that Taeil insists on having; he’d chase you down to the ends of the earth if it meant getting the answers to his questions. “I wasn’t upset, I really wasn’t, it’s just… I just don’t want singing lessons. That and Kyung doesn’t know when to keep his mouth shut.”
“Why are you so opposed to singing lessons? Is your voice that bad?” Taeil asks, ignoring the last part of Jiho’s sentence because they both know it’s mutually agreed.
“No- I mean I don’t know, I just… I don’t want to sing. I’m a rapper, not a singer.” Jiho ducks his head down hoping the conversation is over, but of course it isn’t.
“Yeah, and I’m a singer, not a dancer, and yet I still have to dance.” Taeil counters, really not understanding why Jiho is so against the idea. Everyone has had to do things they didn’t want to do for the sake of Block B, but he’s never once seen any of the members so… freaked out about it before. “We all have to do things we don’t want to do sometimes, Jiho. It just comes with the territory.”
“I know that, hyung, I know, but I just… can’t- I can’t sing in front of people.” Jiho confesses, not lifting his head in case Taeil sees the blush on his cheeks. Taeil frowns to himself, still not really understanding what Jiho is getting at, but then it dawns on him.
“Jiho are you really that self-conscious about your voice?” Taeil asks in slight disbelief, “You realize what you do now isn’t really that far off.”
“Rapping isn’t the same,” Jiho tells him, chewing slowly on some rice. “I know I’m a good rapper; I’m not trying to be big headed, but I know I am. That’s how it is; you have to be confident in your skills as a rapper otherwise you’ll get eaten alive in that scene. But singing?” he sighs to himself, his gaze rising towards the ceiling like it has an answer. “That’s a whole different game. There are hundreds of amazing singers out there, and the idea of me having to compete with that is terrifying.”
Taeil doesn’t say anything, so Jiho looks at him to try and gauge what he’s thinking by his expression.
If his expression is anything to go by, Taeil thinks he’s an idiot.
“Jiho… no offense, but I think you’re taking this a bit too seriously. You’re having some vocal lessons so you can sing a few extra lines for the next comeback, not so you can try and become the world’s best singer.” Jiho doesn’t say anything at that, so he hopes he’s finally talked some sense into him. “Just quietly have your lessons. Don’t give Kyung any more reason to be such a smug bastard. It doesn’t matter if you’re terrible; you’re still a rapper either way. Just think of it as expanding your skills.”
Jiho is silent after that, only slowly playing with his food. Taeil reaches across to steal a few pieces of meat, picking at Jiho’s food with his fingers; he isn’t hungry so he doesn’t know why he’s still eating, but Jiho isn’t stopping him like he usually would so he carries on while he has the chance.
It was a few minutes before either of them spoke again.
“Hyung, can’t you give me vocal lessons?” Taeil stops chewing, slowly turning to look at Jiho like he had said something ridiculous. “What?”
“Why would I do that?”
“Because I need your help and you’re too nice to say no.”
“I already paid for your dinner and walked half way across Seoul in the blistering cold to give it to you, how much nicer could I be?” Taeil cries, gesturing to the food in front of them to illustrate his point.
“Were my cold hands an exaggeration?” Taeil asks, and Jiho literally winds his neck in at the thought of the chill on his skin.
“Lee Taeil,” Jiho starts, deciding to try a different approach, “as your leader I demand you give me singing lessons.”
Taeil raises his eyebrows, and Jiho knows he’s fucked up.
“You what? You demand?”
“Hyung, I-” he doesn’t get the chance to finish his sentence before Taeil has him caught between the arm of the chair and his own body, leaving him nowhere to run. He’s crowding Jiho, and starts flicking at his face, ears, neck, wherever’s exposed.
“You demand I give you singing lessons? You demand this hyung does what you tell him to?”
“Alright, alright I’m sorry! I didn’t mean it,” Jiho pleads, laughing despite the random dull spots of pain that keep appearing wherever Taeil strikes.
“You better not have,” Taeil says, stopping his attack on Jiho’s skin but not moving out of his personal space. “Where are your manners?”
“Sorry.” Jiho says again, no longer laughing. Taeil thinks he looks a look a scolded puppy – pouting and sad, with his head dropped and his eyes downcast.
He isn’t really mad; Jiho has pulled the leader card on all of his hyungs more than once, and half the time it works so he’d be stupid to be genuinely mad at Jiho. But he still needs to keep his dongsaeng in place. Plus, Jiho is fun to tease.
“Please, hyung,” Jiho tries again, making a last ditch effort to convince Taeil to help him. “Please teach me how to sing. The other vocal coaches are scary; I’ve heard the way they yell at your guys when you mess it up and I’d really like to not be on the receiving end of that.”
“What makes you think I’d be any different? You think I wouldn’t yell at you for doing it wrong just because we’re close?” Taeil counters.
“No, it’s not that. I just… I think you’d be more patient with me than anyone else would, which is what I need. Plus, you’re the best singer I know, and who would want to learn from anyone but the best?”
“Flattery will get you nowhere, Jiho.”
They both laugh quietly to themselves. Taeil thinks to himself for a few seconds and Jiho’s sure he’s about to say no, so he decides to be completely honest.
“You’re the only one I trust not to laugh at me.”
Taeil wants to laugh tell him that that’s a dirty trick, that emotional blackmail is wrong and flick him again, but he hears nothing but sincerity in Jiho’s voice. And he would be lying if he said that the vulnerability in Jiho’s words didn’t get to him. Jiho is two years younger, but sometimes Taeil forgets that the age gap exists because he always seems so sure and powerful; the leader role perfectly fitting him like it was made for him. Jiho plays that role so well that sometimes Taeil forgets he’s the older one.
Jiho watches Taeil sigh and rub at his eyes. Taeil spends the whole time asking himself what exactly he thinks he’s doing as he begrudgingly agrees. As soon at the word leave his mouth, Jiho smiles so bright Taeil is temporarily blinded, and all annoyance seems to disappear. But he catches himself before he starts smiling back, and forces himself to frown to keep up appearances.
“Now will you hurry up and finish your food so I can take you home?”
Their first session together isn’t until a week later. Jiho tells everyone that he’s staying behind to work on some new songs he had started, which isn’t unusual and no one questioned it until they were all ready to go except for Taeil, who was still sitting quietly on the couch, tapping away at his phone.
Jiho tried to make Taeil promise not to tell any of the members but Taeil just scoffed and said he was already doing too much. Jiho spent the next few hours pleading to his hyung when no one was within earshot. Taeil come up with a compromise just to get Jiho to stop whining; he agreed that he wouldn’t tell anyone he was giving him singing lessons, but he also wasn’t going to lie if he was asked about it. That way all the responsibility is shoved onto Jiho – he had to do all the damage control and make sure no one become suspicious enough to ask questions. Maybe Taeil was being a bit unreasonable, but Jiho’s making him spend extra hours in the studio – hours that could be spent practising or sleeping or literally anything else but more time in the studio – so in Taeil’s eyes it’s the least he can do.
“Hyung, are you not coming?” Yukwon asks, as all of the other members (except Jiho) stand at the studio door, waiting for their eldest hyung.
Taeil finally looks up from his phone. Everyone’s eyeing him curiously and it’s making him nervous, so he tries to think of an excuse, anything he could to tell them to get them to leave without having to tell the truth (because he wouldn’t be that cruel) but Jiho beats him to it.
“Hyung is staying here with me for a little while,” Taeil looks over and sees Jiho staring directly at him. He looks a little bit panicked and avoids everyone else’s eyes. “He’s uh… he’s recording some vocals for a few songs… like, rough copies. For reference. So we know what we’re doing when we do the proper recordings.”
Jiho is a terrible liar, Taeil realizes. If he hoped not to raise suspicion, he failed, because now Jaehyo’s frowning at him.
“Why can’t you just do it? Why do you need Taeil to do it?”
“Because Jiho can’t sing,” Taeil says, deciding to help Jiho out (even if it isn’t in the nicest way). He kind of looks like he might admit to everything if someone doesn’t help him, “remember?”
No one else says anything after that, instead they say their goodbyes and begin to leave, mumbling amongst each other. Taeil knows they’re doubtful of the poorly executed reason they were given, but they’re leaving without asking questions so it’s good enough for now.
With everyone else gone, the atmosphere quickly becomes awkward. Taeil doesn’t know if he should say something, or wait for Jiho to initiate conversation. He doesn’t know how this is supposed to go; he’s never taught anyone before so he doesn’t really know what he’s doing, and Jiho’s nerves are making a bad situation worse.
Jiho’s turned away from Taeil. His mixing program is open on the computer screen but Taeil can see that he isn’t actually doing anything; he’s just making himself look busy to avoid what needs to be done. Taeil silently watches him for a few minutes, watches Jiho move his mouse around the screen, occasionally clicking on a section of the music but not doing anything with it. It’s cute, how nervous Jiho is. Taeil doesn’t think he’s ever seen Jiho act this shy and he allows himself to bask in the fact that he has the upper hand in this situation, but only for a minute, before he’s getting up.
“Come on, Jiho,” he says, clearing his throat. Taeil should have prepared himself for how difficult this was going to be.
“Yeah in a minute, I just want to finish this part and then-”
“I’ve been watching you click around for the past five minutes. You’re not actually doing anything.”
“No, honestly, I’m-”
Then Taeil appears over Jiho’s shoulder, quickly studying the open window. Jiho knows Taeil knows exactly what he’s looking at; he knows how to mix and arrange music better than most people assume, but he’s so distracted with how close Taeil suddenly is that he forgets this fact.
“Jiho, this isn’t even a new song, this is the original version of Halo.”
Jiho quickly focuses his eyes again and sighs to himself, realizing that what he had open was, in fact, the rough version of Halo he had made months ago.
“Look, I know you’re shy and hate singing and everything but it needs to be done. The quicker we start the quicker it’s over, think about it like that.” When Jiho doesn’t respond, Taeil sighs to himself, “y’know, if you don’t want to sing for me you can always get lessons with Kyung and Ji-”
“No! No, no way,” Jiho cries, turning his chair around to face Taeil. “I wouldn’t make it out of there alive.”
“I guess you have no choice but to sing for me now, then.” Taeil says as he sits down on the other office style chair.
They stare at each other for a few seconds, Jiho trying to plead with his eyes but Taeil is not so easily swayed. Jiho is the first one to give up, huffing a ‘fine’ and turning back to his computer.
“What are you doing?” Taeil asks as he watches Jiho begin searching through folders on the screen.
“Looking for a song.”
“You’re not singing one of ours.”
“What?” Jiho questions, turning away from the screen to look at Taeil again. He looks shocked and sad, like Taeil had told him something terrible. “Why?”
“Because you wrote them; you have an unfair advantage.” Taeil states like it’s obvious, but the kicked puppy look doesn’t shift from Jiho’s face.
“Then what am I supposed to use for a backing track?”
The shock and sadness on Jiho’s face doubles, and he looks so pitiful that Taeil can’t help but laugh.
“If you have a backing track, I won’t be able to hear that beautiful voice of yours properly,” Taeil teases, because he’s a terrible friend and even worse hyung, at least in Jiho’s eyes. Taeil notices how Jiho is now sitting frozen in his spot, wide eyed and blushing and decides to tease a little bit more, just for the sake of it. “You can sit there and look cute all you want, but this still needs to be done.”
Jiho stutters then, and seems to snap out of his daze, shoving Taeil and telling him to shut up. They bicker for another few minutes then, Taeil teasing Jiho because he likes the way the younger’s skin gets tinged red every time he calls him cute or compliments him, Jiho trying futilely to get back at Taeil, who takes every compliment and insult (Jiho tries both. Jiho tries everything.) easily in his stride.
“Alright, enough. It’s getting late and unlike you I don’t particularly enjoy spending all night here, so I think it’s time for you to sing for me, Jiho,” the younger frowns, but Taeil isn’t looking at him this time. “Let me just hear you sing one song one time through and then we’ll be done. We can start the proper lessons next time, when you’ll have hopefully got over your stage fright.”
It sounds like a fair deal, but that still doesn’t mean Jiho wants to sing. The thought of Taeil watching him sing, staring at him, assessing him while Jiho has no idea what he’s thinking; the thought of that shakes him down to the core and makes him start to sweat, but then he’s struck with an idea.
“Ok, but on one condition.”
“Really? After everything I’m already doing you’re gonna make me do more stuff for you?”
“No, it’s just… can you turn and face the wall?” Jiho stutters, feeling the blush return even though it’s only just died down.
“I can’t- I won’t be able to do it if you’re looking at me.”
“Are you serious?” Taeil deadpans. When Jiho doesn’t say anything, he sighs and gives up, spinning his chair around so he’s facing away from Jiho. It’s too late to keep prolonging this and he’s starting to get hungry. “Alright, I’m not looking.”
He hears Jiho clear his throat and the rustle of his clothes as he stands up. Jiho takes a few deep breaths and Taeil assumes he’s just preparing himself, so he waits. And he waits. For at least three whole minutes Taeil waits, hearing nothing but Jiho breathe in deep like he's about to finally sing, but nothing ever comes of it. It’s just silence.
Taeil is on the verge of turning around and telling Jiho that if he doesn’t start singing within the next thirty seconds he’s going to leave, he’s going to actually leave him to get singing lessons from their actual singing teachers like he’s supposed to. He’s not even sure if Jiho realizes how late it’s getting. He’s also not sure if Jiho actually plans on singing or if he’s just fucking with Taeil at this point. He raps for a living, anyway. This really isn't a big leap so he doesn’t understand why Jiho won’t just get on with it.
Taeil is half a second from saying all that when he hears it; Jiho’s voice. It's quiet, but it’s definitely there. And he recognizes the song instantly - Only You by 4MEN, it’s one of his favourite songs – and he’s kind of glad Jiho made him face the wall, because he’s sure the shock would be evident on his face at hearing this song being sung by Jiho, of all people.
Jiho feels like his legs are going to give out on him. He doesn’t think he’s ever been this nervous in his whole life, not even during their debut stage. He just feels so alone; it’s just him and his voice, not even music that he can hide behind. He also really regrets singing this song; he knows how much Taeil loves it and that makes his nerves so much worse. He isn't even sure why he’d sing this song – 4MEN isn’t really his style, but when Taeil told him he wasn’t allowed to sing their songs his brain went blank and literally every other song he knows left his memory. But this one had been stuck in his head for the past few hours thanks to Taeil singing it all day, even though he knows Jiho hates hearing other music when he's trying to write his own. Taeil kept apologizing, saying he wasn't doing on purpose and Jiho didn't get mad because he believed him – when he'd turned around to yell at him for it at one point but Taeil was off in his own world, sitting cross-legged on the ground, singing it absentmindedly as he wrote down everyone's lunch orders. His anger dissolved after that.
As soon as Taeil begins to concentrate on the singing, he notices how weak the chorus is. He’s not surprised though; it’s a tough song to sing for any vocalist, particularly on the high notes, so it must be really difficult for someone untrained like Jiho. But the verses are perfect, despite the odd mistake and common bad habits he has. They sit perfectly in Jiho's range and he has the right amount of style to make it his own. Jiho must know it too, because while he’s consistent in the verse, he begins to falter more when he reaches the chorus, like he doesn't trust his own voice.
Jiho hates himself more for singing this song the longer he continues to sing it. He knows 4MEN is Taeil's favourite group and he's probably ruining this song for him forever. He kind of wishes he could see Taeil’s face now, because he doesn’t know what’s going through the others head and somehow that’s scarier than if he was to get laughed at, because at least then he’d know what Taeil thought.
Taeil, on the other hand, is now really glad Jiho made him face the wall because he's flushed and very, very aware of it. Jiho’s voice is so transparent; he’s somehow been able to put all his emotions on display for Taeil even though he can’t see him. That alone is a skill; Taeil doesn't think he's ever heard a voice so sincere in his life, especially if you consider how nervous he is. But then he thinks that maybe this is why Jiho was so nervous, maybe he was aware of how transparent he becomes when he sings. Jiho strips himself naked in his rapping, lays all his emotions out bare, but this is something else entirely.
Half way through the second chorus, Jiho's confidence leaves him and his voice gives out. But then, before he realizes what he’s doing, Taeil's singing instead. Jiho’s shocked, so wrapped up in his own self-doubt he half forgot that Taeil was still there, still listening to him. He still hasn’t turned around and Jiho wonders what’s going through his mind to make him carry the song on his behalf. He's not putting in nearly as much power as Jiho knows he can, instead his voice is quiet and tamed, matching itself to the tone that was already set. Jiho listens and watches on, his voice rendered useless in comparison to their lead vocalist’s.
Taeil really isn’t sure why he suddenly started singing for Jiho, but Jiho thinks he does. Taeil's trying to help him. He's keeping his place in the song, giving him a chance to catch his breath. He's not trying to overpower him, not trying to show him how the song is supposed to be sung – Taeil’s not like that. He's just trying to encourage him not to give up without saying a word, and Jiho is really thankful.
And then he realizes the chorus is nearly over and panics.
“Hyung, I can’t sing the bridge, I don’t know it.” Jiho stutters, not sure if Taeil heard him until the familiar voice accommodates and alters the big notes of the bridge to their tone with an ease Jiho has always envied and admired. He isn’t sure what to do with himself now, though. Is Taeil going to finish the song for him? Singing the first half was more than enough for him to work with, surely. Jiho really doesn’t want to sing anymore; their group has more than enough talented singers so why does he need to sing too?
Taeil’s singing stops and the studio becomes ominously quiet without any voices to fill it, but Jiho doesn’t have time to dwell on it because suddenly Taeil’s up on his feet, walking towards him with a stony expression. It makes Jiho a lot more worried than before. That isn’t a good expression on his face; is his voice that bad? Is Taeil mad? Maybe he really did ruin that song for him. Fuck, he really doesn’t want to sing anymore-
But then Taeil’s behind him, pressed against his back, arms looped around his waist with his hands splayed across his stomach.
“Sing the chorus again, but push from your stomach, not your chest. Use your diaphragm.” Taeil says. His voice is stern and focused and it’s making Jiho nervous.
“Use my what?”
“Here,” Taeil’s hand presses at the base of Jiho’s ribs. “When you breathe in, pull your stomach in too, when you breathe out, push it out.”
“Like breathing in reverse?”
“Almost, yeah. The air will fill your lungs and you’ll feel tense here, in your diaphragm.” Taeil’s hand rubs at the bottom of Jiho’s ribs again. “This is where your power is. This is where you need to sing from.”
Taeil’s voice so close to Jiho’s ear is very distracting. So are his hands on his stomach and Taeil’s everything being so close really isn’t helping, but Jiho tries to concentrate and listen to what he was told, and takes a deep breath in, following Taeil’s instructions, and out and he feels it, feels the air fill up his chest and press against what must be his diaphragm. Taeil must be satisfied because then he continues his explanation.
“That’s what you need to do; breathe into your chest and push your voice out. Try not to go into falsetto. It doesn’t matter if your voice breaks or if you’re off key right now, just try this for me, ok?”
Jiho nods, waiting for Taeil to take a step back, or at least move his hands away, but he doesn’t, so he just takes one deep breath, willing the fuzziness in his stomach to disappear. Then he takes another breath in and sings.
There are a lot of things to focus on, like the lyrics and the breathing and the hands that press into Jiho’s stomach as a reminder to breathe properly and the body pressed so close to his but regardless, he sings. And it works. The notes are suddenly fuller, with more power behind them, and they come out a lot easier without it feeling like his throat is going to give out on him. He still can’t reach the higher notes, so Taeil sings them quietly in his ear to keep him on track. He finishes the chorus, but immediately Taeil says ‘again’ and Jiho doesn’t have a chance to think before he’s singing the chorus again.
The hands seem to tighten on his stomach as Taeil says ‘your breathing, Jiho, you’re breathing wrong’ and begins to provoke him with comments of ‘is that all you can do?’ and ‘just belt it, Jiho, don’t worry about the notes,’ and ‘I wanna see much power you’ve got, I need to see your potential’ so Jiho thinks fuck it and tries to sing as loud as he possibly can without messing up the tune too much. It feels like he’s shouting rather than singing, but he carries on because Taeil knows exactly how to push Jiho’s buttons and he’s not one to back down, so he sings at full power for the whole chorus; even the high notes which crack and wobble in Jiho’s inexperienced throat.
When he’s done he’s out of breath and Taeil’s laughing softly in his ear. It’s only then that he realizes Taeil’s hands are no longer resting on his stomach to make sure he’s breathing right; instead one hand’s gripping on the opposite wrist, arms lying comfortably on his waist and his chin is resting on Jiho’s shoulder.
Jiho is probably reading the situation completely wrong, but it feels shockingly intimate. He just showed Taeil a part of himself no one else has ever really seen before – a part which Jiho is extremely self-conscious of and shy about – and Taeil didn’t bat an eye. He was patient with him, went along with his every condition and encouraged him without being told or asked to. As stupid as it may seem, to Jiho, it felt like Taeil accepted him; this vulnerable side of him he never really knew he had (at least not the extent he had just shown). And now, to be enveloped in Taeil’s arms and feel him so close is reassuring to Jiho. To be being embraced by him, despite everything... he really can’t think of any other word to describe it other than intimate.
“You’re a good singer, Jiho,” Taeil says, the quiet closeness of his voice shocking Jiho out of his inner thoughts, “you have a lot of potential. You really have no need to be so shy. With my help you’re gonna be hitting all those notes in no time. If you actually sing for me when I ask you to.”
Taeil’s rocking them slightly from side to side as they laugh. It’s comforting and Jiho really doesn’t want the warmth against his back to disappear, but Taeil shows no signs of moving anyway so Jiho decides not to worry.
“Yeah? Will I be as good a singer as you, hyung?”
“Idiot, no one is as good a singer as me.” They both laugh some more at Taeil’s joke, but Jiho kind of wants to say that in his eyes, there really is no singer in the whole world that is better than his Taeil. They’re really lucky to have him in Block B. He feels spoiled to have someone as talented as Taeil by his side, and he knows they wouldn’t have made it nearly as far without their eldest hyung guiding them and he wants to tell Taeil this, but he thinks he’s shown quite enough of his vulnerable side for one day. Instead, he just lets himself be swayed. “You know you’re buying me dinner now, right?”
Taeil expects a protest, but Jiho just hums in his arms and says ‘ok’, though neither of them move an inch. He knows they should be going; that they’re going to get back to the dorm later than they should be but Taeil can’t bring himself to move. He feels thankful, honestly, because Taeil knows he’s the only person in the world who’s heard the voice Jiho has been hiding this whole time. When he thinks about it, his heart beat races. No matter how against it he was, he’s honoured Jiho trusts him enough to sing for him and though he can’t bring himself to say it with words, he hopes Jiho still understands his sentiments.
He should punch Kyung for saying Jiho can’t sing.
“We should go.” Taeil mumbles, not wanting to move but thinking he should at least play the part of responsible hyung, even if he doesn’t feel like one right now. He begins to pull his hands back and move away, but the Jiho quickly grabs hold of Taeil’s wrists before they could completely slip away from around his body.
“We’ll go soon, hyung, I promise, but can we just… can we just stay like this for a little bit longer? Please.”
Taeil can’t see Jiho’s face, but if his voice is anything to go by, he’s probably blushing again. He decides he really likes this shy side of Jiho, the side that makes him play with the sleeves of Taeil’s shirt while he waits for an answer. It makes affection bloom in Taeil’s chest and he immediately wraps his arms back around Jiho’s waist, tighter than they were before, and buries his face in between his shoulder blades.
Jiho tenses because he didn’t expect him to actually agree to it, but he soon relaxes when he feels Taeil nuzzling at his back. He places his own arms on top of the ones around him and begins to think to himself. He feels like a weight has been lifted from his shoulders. Taeil didn’t laugh at him. He doesn’t think he’s a bad singer. He thinks he’s a good singer. Jiho never thought anyone would say that to him.
Taeil yawns and shivers – a combination of things Jiho never understood, like how Jaehyo only ever sneezes in threes – and Jiho feels something shiver inside his chest along with him. He has the strongest desire to turn around and wrap his arms around his tiny hyung like he wants to, but he really doesn’t have the balls. He smiles to himself and takes to playing with Taeil’s fingers, instead.
Jiho decides then that singing practise might not be so bad as long as it always ends like this.
A few months later their manager asks to hear the progress in their vocals. Taeil had been giving Jiho vocal lessons a few times a week after everyone else had left the studio. The members were suspicious, and Jihoon even asked why he was spending so much time with Jiho in the studio (‘I miss you, hyung. You’re never around anymore; you’re always with Jiho in the studio. What are you doing that everyone else can’t be a part of?’) but Taeil went against his own rules and lied for him (‘He’s just making me do the rough vocals for some songs; you know what Jiho’s like, I have to do it twenty times per line before I get it right so it takes forever to get one clean take.’) because Jiho had been working so hard – both at his vocals and in the studio – and Taeil didn’t want him to have to deal with Kyung’s merciless teasing if everyone found out the truth. They even managed to get one of the vocal coaches in on it; she’d report to the manager what Taeil would report to her every week like she was the one giving the training, and even promised not to tell anyone on the condition that they would let her use their dorm to nap in during the time Jiho was supposed to be having his lessons, so he’s not going to be the one who ruins they perfectly constructed lie.
Jiho’s skills have improved tenfold thanks to Taeil’s coaching (although Jiho never did show the same level of intensity as he did the first time he sung), and though he’s still self-conscious about his voice, he finally feels confident enough to let the rest of his members hear him sing. (It might have something to do with the fact that every time Jiho got frustrated or embarrassed, Taeil would offer him a smile and words of encouragement along the lines of ‘Jiho, I promise you, you don’t sound like a drowning cat’ or ‘you’ve come so far, I’m not gonna let you give up just because you can’t hit one note’. The first lesson together after Jiho found out he had to sing in front of everyone, he looked so pitiful that Taeil had felt too bad to even tease him for it like he used to. They didn’t practise much that night, instead they ordered food to the studio and spent the whole time talking and throwing around comeback ideas. By the end of the night they had ended up laid out across the couch, Jiho in between Taeil’s short legs, writing down lyrics as the other watched over his shoulder, giving suggestions every so often.)
When the big day finally comes, Taeil catches Jiho before they go into the studio. Taeil knows how nervous Jiho is, heard him pace about the dorm all night instead of sleeping, so he wanted to reassure Jiho that he’d be fine, that his voice is perfect and he really doesn’t need to worry so much before they’re surrounded by other people and lose the chance.
“You nervous?” He ends up asking like an idiot. Of course he’s nervous.
“Yeah.” Jiho admits, knowing better than to lie to Taeil; he can see right through him anyway.
“You shouldn’t be, your voice is going to amaze them, I guarantee it. Just look who your teacher is.”
Jiho laughs shortly, nervousness evident in his body language. He rises his eyes to see Taeil smiling at him benignly.
“You’ll be fine, Jiho. Please don’t worry.”
Jiho doesn’t have a chance to thank him or say anything because Taeil is suddenly pressed up against him, lifted onto his tip toes so he can wrap his arms around Jiho’s shoulders easier. Both of their minds go back to their first lesson; Taeil remembering how all of Jiho’s tension seemed to dissipate when he had hugged him, and thought he needed that now more than ever, while Jiho remembered how much he wished he had the guts to turn around and hug Taeil properly like he wanted to. But now that he’s given what he wants, he can’t do anything but let his arms hang limply at his sides.
Taeil pulls back all too soon, giving him a quick smile and a ‘fighting!’ before disappearing inside the studio.
Jihoon is the first to sing. They were all kind of familiar with his voice anyway, so no one is too shocked at how it turns out. His deep voice reverberates throughout the room, and Taeil knows right then that Jihoon’s going to have more singing lines in their next comeback. No one else in Block B has such a deep, rough voice and it’s the exact kind of interesting dynamic he’s sure the higher ups are looking for. Jihoon smiles proudly when the song finishes, bowing before returning to his seat.
Kyung is next and Taeil is shocked at how well he can sing. His voice doesn’t sound all that different from when he raps, except it’s a lot lighter and softer. It’s a little weak, but Taeil is impressed, nonetheless (though he’d rather die than admit it). Kyung ends his song with a confident smile and an obnoxious curtsey as everyone else claps. Jaehyo and Jihoon boo him playfully, but the smile is still intact as he sits down.
When Jiho walks to the front of the room, Taeil feels a wave of nervousness run through him. He feels like a father watching his son perform on stage for the first time. He prays Jiho won’t let his nerves get the better of him so he can show them all what he’s capable of.
The room is quiet enough to hear a pin drop when Jiho starts to sing the opening of Only You – it was the song that they practised the most because Taeil knew it inside out and it pushed Jiho to work the hardest. Taeil has heard him sing this song at least fifty times, has heard the progress with his own ears. But now, his voice is quiet and weak. Taeil has heard him sing this song better; he knows Jiho can do so much better. If it were just the two of them, Taeil would stop him and make him start again, but he can’t do anything but watch as Jiho’s voice crumbles.
Jiho’s eyes don’t leave the ground until just before the chorus. He lifts his head and immediately locks eyes with Taeil, who tries to say everything with his eyes he can’t with his mouth; tries to tell him not to be so scared, that it’s fine, even if he fucks it up. Jiho looks defeated, visibly swallowing, eyes searching Taeil’s for an answer. Taeil wants to beg him not to look so hopeless like that when he’s anything but. Even if Kyung laughs at him or they tell him to just stick with rapping, Jiho isn’t hopeless.
Then something sparks in Jiho’s eyes. A fire is lit within him, and he takes a deep breath in, remembering everything Taeil told him about breathing and how it supports his voice, closes his eyes and sings. Properly, this time. He tries to think of no one but Taeil, pretends it’s no one but him and Taeil in the studio, just like all the late nights they spent here practising this song. He’s not going to let all the time Taeil spent on him go to waste. He’s not going to let his stupid fear make Taeil disappointed in him.
Taeil doesn’t know what’s running through Jiho’s mind or brought his voice back, but he’s thankful nonetheless. Jiho is singing now, singing like Taeil knows he can. He can tell Jiho is still nervous – his shoulders are tight and his hands are curled into fists – but he’s sure no one else would notice that. They’re all too busy watching on in shock to notice anything other than the voice no one knew Jiho had. No one except Taeil, who watches on just like everyone else but he knew the voice Jiho had been hiding.
Towards the end of the song, Jiho works up the courage to open his eyes, though they stay glued to Taeil the entire time. He notices then that Taeil is subconsciously mouthing all the words along with Jiho and he smiles slightly to himself. Jiho decides to let all his nervousness go, because Taeil isn’t disappointed in him, and that’s all that really matters. He couldn’t care less what anyone else thinks of his voice; all that matters is that Taeil is nodding his head along with him, mouthing the words, encouraging him just like he did the first time they did this.
The song comes to an end, and everyone claps. Jiho looks like he’s in a state of shock when he remembers that everyone else is still in the room. He catches Taeil’s eyes again and they share a smile, before Jiho power walks back to his seat with his head down, trying desperately to hide the blush on his cheeks.
“Yah, Park Kyung, I thought you said he couldn’t sing.” Minhyuk yells when the clapping dies down. Suddenly all are eyes on Kyung, waiting for an answer.
“I thought he couldn’t! Why else would he be so shady about people overhearing him sing?”
The room fills with tuts and sighs as they turn away from Kyung, who just shrugs like it’s no big deal. Jiho, who’s just thankful the attention is no longer on him, accidentally catches Taeil’s eyes again, who smiles and mouths ‘well done’. Jiho smiles in return and turns away, trying to soothe his flaming cheeks.
The evening is normal after that. No one brings up Jiho’s voice other than to accuse Kyung of being a liar over dinner. As Kyung tries to protest his innocence, Taeil and Jiho share a meaningful look, one that Jiho doesn’t actually know the meaning of, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t give him chills anyway.
It isn’t until late into the night that Taeil and Jiho find themselves alone in the living room, a few hours later after everyone else had gone to sleep. Taeil had gotten up to go to the bathroom – he couldn’t sleep and wanted an excuse to see if Jiho was still awake – and he almost bumped into Jiho, who was on his way to the kitchen. They smile at each other. They’d been doing that a lot today.
“You did well today, Jiho,” Taeil tells him, enjoying the way the younger smiles lightly and drops his gaze. “I’m really proud of you.” he adds, because the way Jiho squirms is cute.
Neither of them expects Jiho to do what he does next; not even Jiho himself. He’s done a lot of brave things today, but he finally feels like he has the guts to do what he’s wanted to do for months and pulls Taeil into his arms.
Taeil doesn’t try to escape, just laughs breathlessly against Jiho’s chest and snakes his arms around his torso, returning the embrace.
It becomes quiet, then; everyone else is asleep, and neither of them wants to break whatever moment they’re having, so neither of them speak. Jiho’s reminded of their first lesson, the first time they did this and how intimate it felt. It feels the same way now, but now he’s able to pull back and look at Taeil’s face, which he wasn’t able to do before. So he does, not wanting to pull away from the warmth they’re sharing but Jiho wants to see Taeil’s face. Taeil’s hands slide to his waist and anchor themselves there as he smiles up at him. Jiho breaks out in goose bumps.
“I really am proud of you, Jiho.” Taeil mumbles quietly, because he doesn’t need to speak loudly. There are only a few inches between their faces anyway.
Staring at each other, their smiles slowly drop from their faces as something heavier sets in between them. Jiho can feel his heart racing because Taeil’s looking at him so earnestly, and he can feel himself falling, except he’s not falling he’s leaning, leaning into Taeil and Taeil’s leaning into him and when their lips meet it’s not a shock, not really. It feels like natural progression, just like the way the notes of a vocal warm up transition into the next note, or the way evening lessons always ended up being late nights eating dukkbokki from the vendor down the street from the studio, drinking a little bit too much and ending up leaning on each other all the way home. Just like the way hugs can progress into kisses and friendship can progress into romance.
Taeil’s lips are soft and warm, unlike Jiho’s, which are chapped and rough but he doesn’t seem to mind so Jiho doesn’t let it bother him. Taeil has a way of making him feel better about the things he’s self-conscious of.
Pulling away from each other is a challenge but they both need to breathe so they have to. They smile at each other again. Jiho shouldn’t be this breathless.
The moment is ruined by Taeil saying ‘I think I might need to give you kissing lessons too’. Jiho’s pride is wounded, so he pinches Taeil’s side. He half yelps half laughs, and Jiho thinks it might be the most adorable sound hes ever heard so he does it again. Taeil punches him in the arm in retaliation and they both frown at each other, Jiho holding his bicep while Taeil rubs his sides.
“After everything I’ve done for you, you’re really gonna disrespect your hyung like this?” Taeil asks. Jiho tries to look mad but he cracks first, smile forcing its way onto his face at Taeil’s squinty eyes watching him. Taeil laughs too, and somehow they end up in each other’s arms again.
“Yah, hyung, are you gonna teach me how to kiss or not?” Jiho huffs, trying to make himself look demanding and angry.
“Y’know, I don’t think you actually want to learn, Woo Jiho. I think you just want to kiss me again.”
Jiho tries to make himself seem offended at the accusation, but he can’t mask the smile that appears when Taeil’s hands snake up to his face to pull him down so he can kiss him breathless again.