It is in Europe that Choi Chanhee discovers how pleasant it can be to not be understood and to not understand in turn.
He usually does okay with English; he can piece together meanings from a few words here and there and has gotten used to looking to one of his members for a quick clarification on things he doesn’t understand. But German and French are beyond him, so he lets himself sink into the blissful ignorance of walking down the streets of Europe and not having a clue what anyone around him is saying.
(He just does so much listening these days—which isn’t something he ever thought one could do too much of. He listens to schedule updates from their managers, listens to instructions from photographers and choreographers and directors, listens to vocal guides and recordings of his own voice until it feels like his ears might bleed. The foreign streets of Europe are a new chance to stop listening, at least for a brief moment in time, so he takes to this opportunity to tune out the world around him with relish.)
They go to Berlin first, where they’re given a day off to wander. He spends most of it taking picture after picture, trying desperately to capture how it feels to be here, on tour, with his brothers. The whole thing hardly feels real, and he wants to be sure he can remember every moment. (If the last few months have taught him anything, it is that things can change suddenly and in unexpected ways. Only the Lord knows what the future holds; if this is the first and last European tour they ever do, he wants to remember it well.)
The weather is bitter and damp, a different sort of cold than the Seoul winter. He’s warm in his jacket but the wind still bites at his cheeks and fingertips. After a few hours wandering outside, the group he’s with stop and order cheesecake and coffee at a cafe; the sweets help chase the chill out of his bones.
They go shopping next, one of his favorite pastimes on any given day. The anonymity makes it better, somehow; he can mindlessly flick through clothes racks here, paying no mind to price or fit or whether fans will like the way something looks. It is all for fun, for the little thrill he gets up the back of his neck and down his sides when he finds a piece of clothing he likes. He holds up a long-sleeved t-shirt, asks for Kevin’s opinion. It's a habit, by now, to ask whatever member he’s with whether something suits him.
“Isn’t this perfect with these pants?”
Kevin gets that little smirk on his face, the one he always wears before he says something he thinks is particularly clever. “Hm, it isn’t so good with your face, though” he teases. Chanhee shoots him a flat look but puts the top back on the rack nonetheless.
Their next stop is an outdoor market, the sort of purely touristic activity they don’t usually get to partake in when on shorter overseas schedules. The market is filled with all sorts of sounds and smells; clouds of refined woodsmoke and crowds of well-dressed tourists make the scene feel a bit dreamlike. It’s Christmastime, or very nearly, and most of the booths boast themed ornaments or gifts. They mill around for a while, ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ when appropriate, until Kevin and Jacob get excited when they see a booth for mulled wine.
“It’s hot wine,” Jacob explains, “with spices and fruit. Sort of like a warm sangria.”
Sangyeon seems interested, so the four of them head over. Chanhee glances at the menu, but none of it looks familiar. He thinks it’s all in German but there might be some mysterious English in the mix, so he taps Jacob on the shoulder. “Is there one without alcohol?” he asks.
Sangyeon turns at the sound of his voice. ”Aw, are you a baby?” Sangyeon teases, but they both know it’s because Chanhee is a serious lightweight.
(He’s embarrassed himself a few too many times at team-bonding dinners, too many sips of soju or too many glasses of wine and then he’s flush-cheeked, making well-documented declarations of love for his members, asking for cuddles, and making all sorts of other embarrassing displays of emotion to fuel their blackmail folders.)
Jacob asks the man behind the counter something, presumably about non-alcoholic options, but the surprised little face he makes tells Chanhee he’s out of luck. He shrugs, figuring it doesn’t matter.
“You can just try mine,” Sangyeon offers. Chanhee nods with a smile.
They wait around for a few minutes, pointing out funny outfits in the crowd (market-goers seem to favor fur coats) as they wait for their mugs. The drinks are ready after only a few minutes, wafts of steam rising from the ruby liquid. Jacob’s alone is pure and clear, made of white wine—because of course it is.
Sangyeon tries his first, thankfully out of sight of the hard-working booth operators. His eyes scrunch up tightly, tongue poking out between his lips as though it can escape the taste. (He looks terrible. He looks adorable.) He hands the mug off to Chanhee.
Chanhee swears he’s just going to try it, really. He takes a sip, even makes a similar face reflexively. But then Sangyeon’s eyes are imploring, so Chanhee tries it again, and surprises even himself when he exclaims “Oh, it’s great!”
Sangyeon nods along encouragingly. “Will you finish it?” he asks once the vlog camera has been put away. Chanhee nods, wrapping slender fingers around the pleasantly warm mug.
He, Kevin, and Jacob sip their warm drinks as they wander through the rest of the market. There isn’t much left to see, though, and they head to the hotel shortly after that. It’s wintertime so daylight is fleeting, and they have to be up early the next morning for rehearsal at the concert venue anyways.
Their hotel routine is well-rehearsed after so many opportunities to practice. They gather in the lobby as a manager checks them in, sorting luggage and room keys by room before dispersing to the elevators. Chanhee is paired up with Sangyeon this time around, thankfully; he does not look too deeply into the little thrill that causes in his chest. As much as Chanhee loves his fellow ‘98-liners, they’re not the best roommates while traveling. Sangyeon, on the other hand, is neat and organized and always makes sure everyone is awake before breakfast service ends—in short, the ideal travel roommate.
As soon as they’ve made it to the room—#505 this time—Chanhee tears off his jacket and boots, flinging himself down upon the closer of the two beds. He rolls around the fresh sheets, sighing softly as he closes his eyes. He feels heavy from the long day out-and-about. He feels lightheaded and floaty from the warm wine. He feels ready to fall asleep.
“Chanhee, you have to brush your teeth!” Sangyeon calls from the bathroom. “And wash your face. You’ll regret it if you don’t!”
Chanhee knows he’s right. His skin is sensitive to the cold; even now he can feel it tightening uncomfortably. He rolls onto his back and pushes himself off the bed.
Chanhee makes quick work of his nightly skincare as Sangyeon goes to change into pajamas. As always, Chanhee tries very hard not to think about the naked man in such close proximity to himself, instead focusing on brushing each tooth exactly twenty times. Chanhee feels a little unsteady on his feet, can feel some of those pesky emotions (yearning, melancholy, uncontainable affection for his members) welling in his chest; bedtime is starting to sound like a better and better idea.
(Of course, distraction is one of Chanhee’s favorite tactics. Don’t think about the naked man, brush your teeth. Don’t think about how much you’d love a hug from your hyung, go to bed.)
He makes his way back to the bedroom, goes to plug his phone into the changer between their beds at the same moment his feet make contact with his discarded jacket. His sleep-deprived body is slow to react, and so Chanhee finds himself tripping, falling, tumbling—world set off-kilter. His flings his arms out and feels his hands make contact with solid-muscle-warm, grasping the shoulders of his fearless leader to keep from falling to the floor. They make eye contact for a few long seconds before Chanhee forces himself to look away, ears burning hot with embarrassment.
“Sorry, Hyung,” he mumbles under his breath. They stand there for a few moments—Chanhee grasping Sangyeon’s shoulders, Sangyeon grasping Chanhee’s waist—in silence. Chanhee can hear his own heartbeat in his ears, is sure the whole hotel floor can hear it too.
Sangyeon’s thumb begins to trace a small circle on the patch of skin between the hem of Chanhee’s t-shirt, rucked up in the commotion, and the waistband of his sweatpants. His eyes are soft and warm as he offers a small smile. “You must be tired, New-ya. How about we head to bed?”
It’s not much, but Chanhee knows his hyung—and he knows himself. It’s an invitation to share the bed, an invitation for the sort of genuine closeness they do not often afford themselves.
“Hyung,” he finds himself whispering. As they always do when he is this drained, moments from the past day, from the past weeks, from the years and years they have spent together crash together in his mind. He feels the warm flush making its way onto his cheeks, notes the way Sangyeon is cautiously staying close, eyeing his lips.
“Hyung,” Chanhee breathes out again. He counts one, two, three in his head, and then he is leaning in.
It’s a soft kiss, just the gentle press of their lips. Chanhee grips tightly onto the fabric of Sangyeon’s t-shirt. He feels desperate to keep him close, wants to crawl inside his chest and never leave. His eyes flutter closed as he gives into the gentle rhythm.
Seconds or maybe hours pass and he is forced to pull back, chest heaving as he takes in lungfuls of air. They’d hardly done anything and still: he is sweating, panting, feeling so out of control.
Despite their closeness, Chanhee can’t bring himself to make eye contact with Sangyeon. He is suddenly, strikingly afraid of what he’s going to see despite his earlier confidence. But then a warm, gentle hand is cupping his jaw and turning his head to face the older man in front of him.
‘New-ya” Sangyeon says softly, lips smiling gently.
Sangyeon sits back on the bed behind him and leans back against the pile of pillows at the head of the bed, gently pulling Chanhee down onto his lap. His hands trace up Chanhee’s back, leaving a trail of hot-warm-cold in their wake. Sangyeon grips the back of his neck gently, flicks his eyes down towards his lips, and then they are kissing again.
This time it is deeper, messier, and Chanhee feels a little desperate. He parts his lips wide, let’s his hyung’s tongue invade his mouth. His thighs tighten and release rhythmically while his hands grip onto the t-shirt at Sangyeon’s sides.
He gets lost in it, sinking deeper and deeper until they are chest to chest. Distantly, as though from another room, Chanhee can hear himself moaning softly into the kiss. He feels hot and cold and unhinged, some mysterious energy pressing out against his skin as though he is about to burst. He feels like he is nowhere near close enough to his hyung.
Sangyeon pulls back and a high whine escapes Chanhee before he can stop it. Sangyeon sends him another soft smile, discordant in the moment, before bending his head to suck a purple mark on the edge of Chanhee’s jaw. This sends his hands grasping at Sangyeon’s shoulders, his t-shirt, the hotel bedsheet, anything within reach. Chanhee lets out a strangled whine then flushes as the unprompted sound.
That unhinged feeling is back. Now, without actively making out with his hyung to distract him, the quiet sounds of the hotel room become all that he can hear. His own pants and sighs and the softer but no less scandalous sounds of Sangyeon suckling gently down his neck fill the small, beige room. (How many countless hotel rooms have looked just like this one, he muses. Hundreds, probably. But then again, this is the only one where he’s found himself in Sangyeon’s lap, so perhaps it is special after all.)
Sangyeon pulls away from biting at Chanhee’s collarbones to bring their lips back together, leaning back further until they are nearly horizontal. The new position pushes a sturdy thigh between Chanhee’s leg, whose mind immediately goes a little fuzzy.
He just feels so good. He hadn’t realized how tired he was, how strung-out and wrung-dry. The opportunity to be here is once in a lifetime, of course, but that doesn’t make up for the sleepless nights and the countless choreography run-throughs and the way his members' well-meaning jokes start to chafe after a while. Here, lying front to front with his leader, Chanhee can feel the emptiness of his reserves. Can feel those reserves filling once again, no less.
This time Chanhee is the one to pull away. He tucks his head into the space between Sangyeon’s neck and shoulder, nuzzling deep as he takes a few moments to breathe to himself. He feels a little overwhelmed, and as Sangyeon’s hands continue to trace a gentle path up and down his spine, Chanhee feels the mulled wine from earlier rear its head.
The horizontal position and the gentle rhythm of their breaths threaten, suddenly, to send Chanhee to sleep. He makes a soft noise and, miraculously, Sangyeon understands. The older man cups the back of Chanhee’s head and rolls them until they are side by side on the hotel mattress. “Go to sleep, Chanhee. I know you’re tired.”
Chanhee makes some sound, a token protest, but already his mind is slipping. His hands find Sangyeon’s, intertwine their fingers together. He lets out a heavy breath, meant as a thank you, and feels Sangyeon’s whispered response. There is something thrilling about their closeness, the way they do not need words between them. (Here, in a hotel room in Berlin, Chanhee is reminded for the nth time how nice it is to understand and to be understood in turn.) The hotel room descends into silence, and Chanhee lets it surround him like a blanket.