“Isn’t that him, the Prince of SM?”
The careless whisper finds its way to Jaehyun’s ears, loud enough to make him wonder if it was all part of their plan to get him to look at them. Must be nice to be on the other end of the poking stick, Jaehyun thinks, to be unburdened by the weight of fitting the mold of their expectations.
The interns scurry away to the call of their superior before Jaehyun could cast a practiced smile. He sighs in relief, the singer is not in the mood to entertain anyways with his muscles sore from practice, now alone with the gurgling water dispenser as he fills his paper cup. With one swig, the cup is emptied of its contents once more; Jaehyun pretends the water is something stronger and the slight burn of it first touching his parched throat is short of a perfect mimicry.
That title, Prince . Back when they first debuted, it had pride swelling in his chest. But the crown’s shine blinds those who wear it, and as more and more jewels are added, it starts to weigh down on him. A compliment turns into an expectation. An expectation turns into a shackle.
“Look at that face, he truly is a Prince.”
Catch the eye and being human will be overlooked. Because being humane is easily forgotten in the favour of the blinding lights and flashy performances. Jaehyun learns the hard way that no matter how many times they polish him, so much that he shone like porcelain– prying eyes only search for the cracks.
“Did you know the Prince got scolded by the teacher again? So much for being perfect.”
Jaehyun chews on his inner cheek. They didn’t even bother to whisper this time, each syllable a drop of venom out of their mouths. He pushes them to the back of his mind to catch Yuta by the wrist, pulling the male back down where the group sat together for lunch.
“It’s not worth it.” Jaehyun flashes a stern look, holding it long enough for the anger to dissipate from Yuta’s eyes.
“They’re still trainees, they don’t know shit yet.” the Japanese male hisses.
“That’s exactly why it’s not worth it. They’re just kids.” He built skin over the years and tells himself it doesn’t hurt, feigning an air of perfected indifference only the closest around him could catch. Jaehyun feels a hand wrap around his under the table and Johnny says nothing, he doesn't need to, when Jaehyun squeezes back.
But that memory of the cafeteria was just a prick compared to the real world. The media amplifies this clean-cut, perfectly ironed Prince persona with their myriad of articles, both in praise and in scorn and gradually, Jaehyun grows to despise that title forcefully handed to him. Yet he couldn't let go, the hands of his company firmly wrapped around his fists as the singer clutches painfully to the searing hot lump of everyone’s expectations.
The higher the pedestal, the harder the fall, and the burning limelight obscures his vision too often that he forgets there’s someone waiting to catch him.
On one of the rare times where the group gets a few days off, the members opted to go out but the singer chooses to spend it in the comfort of his bed. Outside means a risk of getting seen and that alone keeps him on edge, even if he wasn’t doing anything wrong.
Jaehyun’s sleep is interrupted when his ears catch the hustle and bustle of Taeyong and Doyoung leaving early for their trip to Jeju, meaning it should be 3 in the morning. He hears the front door close and another one open. Faint footsteps creep closer to his bed and the blanket is gingerly peeled off him. Jaehyun muffles a noise of protest against his pillow as the intruder chuckles gently, slotting in next to him.
“It’s too early,” Jaehyun turns to the opposite side and buries his head under Johnny’s chin, “Did you send them off?” Their legs tangles up together like puzzle pieces despite their respective sizes and the lack of space on the bed. The younger takes a deep inhale – Johnny isn’t Johnny if he doesn’t smell like freshly ground coffee beans
“Yeah. Also I wanted to see my sweet Prince in his sleep.”
Unfortunately for him, Jaehyun is fully awake now. Bless the position they are in as the younger’s initial cringe at the nickname goes unnoticed. With Johnny’s voice, he doesn’t find the edge that usually comes with that title. Instead, warmth slowly fills the gaps and he curls deeper into the embrace.
“Shut up, that’s creepy.” A wave of fondness runs through him as Johnny’s laughter reverberates against his cheek. Jaehyun feels the smile on the older’s lips as he plants a kiss on his forehead.
It's difficult to pinpoint when it started, but the nickname has casually made its way to be part of Johnny’s daily vocabulary.
A dull throb in Jaehyun’s head cries for caffeine. The singer wobbles into the kitchen and his shoulder falls with a sigh when the smell of the sweet ambrosia hits him. Sleepy hands couldn’t find his glasses on the bedside table when he first got up, thus the person standing by the kitchen counter looks like a poorly rendered video game character.
“You’re finally awake.”
Jaehyun carefully maneuvers himself around to where the voice reveals his identity to be none other than his boyfriend. Johnny’s face slowly clears up as the younger gets closer. A grey mug is extended to him and a smile finds its way to his cheeks before it is swiped away again.
“Where’s my morning kiss, sweet prince?” An eyebrow raises at the sound of the nickname while Jaehyun looks up to find Johnny craning his face towards the younger.
“What are you, a frog?” He shoots forward but Johnny, already caffeinated, is faster and holds the prize further away from the younger’s reach. Jaehyun bites back a chuckle– He is adamant on not entertaining the games of someone who stands between him and his one true love, sorry Johnny.
A tongue slips out of the puckered lips with an exaggerated slurp that sends the younger reeling back, resolve broken as his baritone laugh bounces off the walls. Jaehyun leans over the counter to lock their lips together. Although chaste, the kiss is still as sweet as their first. His morning breath however, acts as punishment for depriving him of his morning coffee.
A gag alerts the two of an additional existence in the room and Jaehyun first spots the flash of red hair before his brain processes it as Taeil, “Jesus christ, Princey! Get a room!” Even without glasses, it’s easy to imagine the horrified look on his face.
Not only limited to inside the dorms, Johnny is more than content with using it outside as well where he was free of the other member’s snarky remarks or appalling expressions.
On a shoot for W Korea, the concept of Two Romeos presented the older with a spark of excitement and more chances to give Jaehyun one royal pain in the ass.
“Oh yeah, get it Jaehyun!” A few staff members struggle to stifle their laughter as the older amps up his performance and the singer fights the urge to kiss him quiet, “Our lovely prince Romeo, can you explain our outfits today?”
A camera stares straight at him and the male straightens up as much as he can when a makeup brush is busy trying to not stab him in the eye. Johnny leans against his free hand, staring at the male with fond eyes as Jaehyun gives the go-pro a classic response to please the fans; His dimples deepen when Johnny doesn’t move after he has finished talking, shaken awake by the staff.
That was the start of a ploy against him. The rest of the staff members pick up on it easily with Johnny skirting around the younger and never shutting up, protected from Jaehyun’s potential attacks with the help of the camera in his hand.
It starts with the set manager’s, “Prince Jaehyun, it’s time for touch-ups”
To the director’s, “As usual, our Prince looks wonderful in this shot.” Followed by their bellowing laughter when the singer’s ears burn red.
Jaehyun was used to Johnny’s mouth dripping with honey laced words, waxing poetries of parts he never saw in himself but slowly began to believe in. However, hearing the nickname from someone else has his ears burning up. Once again he is brought back to the early debut days and ultimately, allows himself to silently preen at the title.
The weight of the crown on his head goes unnoticed when he catches Johnny’s laugh or when a soft smile graces his lips as the older finds his eyes. I suppose I should thank him. The tightness inside his chest unravels and Jaehyun bites back his tongue, storing the words for later.
Away from the static gazes of the camera, the clock strikes twelve and Jaehyun changes from silk shirts and expensive cologne to tattered hoodies snatched from his boyfriend’s neater closet.
“Your face is gonna stay like that if you keep frowning.” Tilting his head up, Johnny perches his chin on Jaehyun’s chest from where they lay together. Small numbers on the top of the phone screen read midnight. The bright light of the gadget snaps into a black void with a tap and the younger discards it in favour of wrapping his arms around the taller male.
Johnny hums in content, serenaded by the even thump of a heart against his ear, “So what were you looking at?”
Jaehyun knows Johnny isn’t going to like his answer, “An article on Naver about our recent performance.”
Just the other day, the singer had a small slip up in the middle of their song. He had mulled about it afterwards, knowing he had handed the media another bullet to add to their ammunition. Johnny had been there as well. Large hand clenched around his after the manager gave him an earful, enveloping the younger once they were behind closed doors as he is doing now.
“You did your best, Jae.” The younger reads the fondness in his tone like an open book. Ever so slightly, a smile grows on his cheeks and he cups Johnny’s face up to stare straight into those warm, brown eyes.
He doesn’t say it often. Especially not like this, with almost nothing between them but the lingering question processing behind the older’s wide eyes.
“Why?” Johnny whispers quietly before soft lips graze against one another. Like opposite poles, they collide. Yet, there was nothing opposite about the underlying tenderness in their fingers lacing together, or the ceaseless push and pull as they chase each other until their lungs burn for air.
Jaehyun was first to break it off, glossy lips pulled up to his ears, “For everything.”
The smile he grew to adore reclaimed its place on Johnny’s face. As long as he holds onto those gentle hands, the Prince can straighten his crown and keep climbing.