The stage isn't anything big or fancy: it's just a place at the end of the room, slightly raised from the ground (just enough for an unaware person to end up stumbling when getting there, just like Jisung did), and there aren't any lights or smoke equipment nearby, a wall outlet on the other side of the room and needing a long cord to reach it.
It's not a prestigious place for a first show, either. The bar is on the side of old and dingy, a perpetual cloud of smoke making the air hazy and hard to see through the other side, the smell of something long ago spilled on the floor and never cleaned making Jisung's nose twitch and eyes sting.
No one is really looking at him, the patrons too busy ordering their favorites on the bar and their eyes glued to the TV screen that plays another football match. No one but Renjun who sits on the closest table to the stage, an untouched glass of beer in front of him, his phone propped up on a small tripod that faces the stage while his gaze follows Jisung's path since he plugged his amp on the wall outlet and sat on the small wooden bench in the middle of the stage, hands shaking slightly as he holds the well-used guitar close to himself.
“G-good night,” Jisung stammers, wincing when the mic in front of him makes a crackling sound. “I'm Jisung and I'll be playing some songs tonight.”
No one claps or says anything. Some of the old men look away from the TV screen for a brief second, but most of them keep their positions and continue cheering on the game.
From behind the bar, an arm lifts up and waves, the loud voice echoing throughout the room, “Good luck, Park Jisung!”
Jisung can't really see Donghyuck from behind the tall wall of men that surround the counter, each one trying to be louder than the other in order to get their drinks first, but Jisung can catch Donghyuck's wave and his thumbs up before it disappears and he becomes busy once more with his bartender job.
In front of him, on the closest table, Jisung is able to properly see Renjun's lips forming a “You'll do well” — hell, he is even able to hear him, even though Renjun's voice is soft and low, easy to be missed amidst the noise coming from the TV and the people around them, but Renjun is so close to him that Jisung wouldn't be able to miss it.
He never really fails to hear whatever Renjun tells him, anyway. Jisung always gave him his utmost attention, hanging on to Renjun's every word like they were the most important and special thing — because they were. They always end up being.
Jisung lowers his head a little, a smile tugging at the corner of his lips before he takes a deep breath and strums on his guitar, starting on the familiar chords as the lyrics spill from his lips without a second thought.
He looks at the crowd that doesn't give him their attention, sees Donghyuck trying his best to serve the clients while also trying to look at him on the stage, waving when their gazes cross, and Jisung looks at Renjun watching him with big eyes like he'd do every time that Jisung played in his bedroom just for him — them sitting across each other on the bed, sitting on the floor, Jisung perched on the kitchen counter while Renjun heated up some leftovers for them, sitting on the grass under the shade of a big tree and the sound of the guitar the only thing until Renjun joined in with his melodic voice.
Renjun smiles wide and his head moves a little to the side, following the rhythm of the song, his lips forming the words that Jisung sings into the mic, mindful of the phone recording Jisung’s show and not wanting to spoil the footage with his voice.
Jisung had invited Renjun to go on the stage with him when he got the news about having the approval of playing there, he had called Renjun to join him and sing together, but Renjun had refused and said that it was Jisung’s moment. He’d only be a spectator there.
And while Jisung would appreciate a lot having Renjun staying by his side, he understood Renjun’s sentiment — it was Jisung’s moment and his own kind of exposure therapy. While playing to a crowd of one or two friends was something, playing to total strangers was another, and Jisung wouldn’t ever phantom doing something like that, but like with most things in his life, Renjun had managed to convince him it would be a good idea and Jisung accepted after some reluctance.
Renjun might not be singing together with him this time, might not be having his voice mix together with Jisung’s and fill the room with a nostalgic feeling, but Jisung can see how Renjun mouths all the lyrics and even his little ad-libs, how his eyes shine bright and he only looks away to make sure that his phone is still recording.
He might not be singing but Renjun is still part of all of it. After all, besides him and Donghyuck (who worked there), no one else that Jisung knows is there, none of his friends; he didn’t want to invite them, didn’t want to add some even more pressure upon himself.
But Renjun was the exception to that rule — like in most things in Jisung’s life, Renjun was something different.
Jisung picks up the hobby through his neighbor and friend Jeno — an older guy who also hangs out with them. And while Jeno would play only the same three songs and strum in the background, improvising something for Renjun and Donghyuck to sing along to, it's Mark who really stops and sits down with Jisung, who pulls up tutorials on YouTube and guides his fingers to the right positions until Jisung doesn't need any more instruction and can find the right chords on how own.
Eventually, Mark graduates and moves out. Jeno gets too busy with his part-time jobs. Donghyuck doesn't have time to stop and sing a little song, always stuck between going from one class to another, needing to drop at work too, so it's only Jisung and Renjun and the same walls with posters covering every inch of them.
Jisung had tried to teach Renjun too, had sat behind him and held his hands in the right places, had patiently instructed how to move his fingers and how to ride a rhythm, but Renjun's talent seemed to stop at his voice because his fingers moved out of his own accord and he was unable to strum for more than three seconds before messing up a note. So Jisung played and Renjun sang.
They share a lot of moments together like this — it's the end of their teenage years, adulthood just around the corner, and the wide world ahead of them looks a little scary. Inside of Jisung's room, the outside world doesn't exist and they can pretend they're the only people right there.
Renjun nudges Jisung's leg with his socked feet and says, "Play that one song about the sunrise."
"Which one? There are a lot of them about that."
"You know which one I'm talking about. I don't care about other people's songs—play me your song."
There are three notebooks filled with lyrics inside of Jisung's drawer, some pages scribbled over so much that they're torn and the ink bleeds to the other side. Jisung used to carefully hide them away from sight, fearful of anyone ever reading them, ever knowing what he thought, but he'd gathered enough courage to show Renjun one song — which became another and another and another, until Renjun knew all of them by heart, even watching over Jisung's shoulder when he'd come up with new things to write down.
Most of the songs were about Renjun and how Jisung couldn't have enough of him. Renjun didn't know that at first, being surprised at the songs full of yearning and pretty metaphors, at the poetry Jisung had created, but it wasn't that hard to connect the points.
And how could Jisung ever deny anything when the proof was right there? Written with black ink for anyone to see?
So Renjun nudges him on the leg and asks for a song and Jisung sighs because he likes to play a little hard before giving in. Because, in the end, he always does what Renjun wants — it fills his heart with joy to see a smile on Renjun's face, to see him light up and his eyes crinkle at the corner, lips curling up in a small smile that becomes bigger.
Jisung likes to make Renjun happy, and if there's something he can do to keep a grin on Renjun's face, then he'd gladly keep doing it.
Jisung sings five more songs before he approaches the last one in his setlist and nothing changes around him: men still are more interested in the game that is on the TV, Donghyuck is trying to get as many tips as he can from the drunken men, and Renjun has his entire attention fixated on everything.
When Jisung finishes the last long, he mumbles a “Thank you for your attention,” which gets him some scarce applause that does catch him by surprise, but the sudden validation fills his chest with a warm feeling and he hurries to unplug his guitar and leave the small stage, leaving the bar to put his amp and the guitar inside of Renjun’s car, the Moomin keychain hanging from his fingers until he finally gives it back to its rightful owner.
“You did so well, Sungie,” Renjun says as soon as Jisung joins him at the table and gives him back his keychain and car keys. Jisung immediately feels the lack of familiar weight on his pocket, something tangent and physical that had grounded him through the performance.
“Thank you, hyung.”
Adrenaline still rushes through Jisung’s veins — not only adrenaline but also anxiety and worry and excitement. A mix of everything.
His hands shake a little when Jisung grabs the water bottle on the top of the table, unopened and still cold, sitting next to Renjun’s almost finished glass of beer.
“I have it all saved here,” Renjun points to his phone that’s laying flat on the table and not on a tripod anymore, a small smile curling up at the edges of his lips. “Your first show…” His voice trails off, but the proud tone is clear enough and it makes Jisung feel all fuzzy inside.
“It’s not really a show…” Jisung tries to argue, fidgeting in his seat as a blush takes over his body.
It almost feels impossible to even imagine it — but it had happened and all of that is real. He’d done that.
“But it is,” Renjun says, his voice a little stronger. “You’re an artist and you just had your first performance. And I’m so, so proud of you. You have no idea how much I am right now.”
Renjun speaks with so much passion, so much conviction woven in his voice that Jisung can’t really deny him. So he opts for a shy nod and to take another gulp of the water, his cheeks flushing even more.
“I thought I’d mess up all the lyrics,” Jisung confesses in a small voice. There’s no one around them and the sage has been cleared already; the patrons are busy with the game and with keeping Donghyuck mixing different drinks, but Jisung still keeps his voice low. “And that I’d somehow forget everything… but I’m glad it worked out.”
Renjun leans forward and his chair tilts dangerously together with him. “I knew you’d do great! You’ve practiced so much and you are a good performer. You just needed to have a little faith in yourself, see? You rocked that stage! You really did it!”
Jisung bites his bottom lip and lowers his gaze to the table, his index finger tracing a random pattern on the table’s surface. “Thanks…”
“So… how are you now? How are you feeling after all of this?” Renjun asks, opening up his arms and motioning around them.
“Less nervous,” Jisung answers, “but my head hurts a little and I think I’ll have a headache later.”
“It was a lot, yeah,” Renjun supplies from the side. “You did a lot of different things and pushed through even though you were afraid.”
Jisung nods. “Yeah… But I don’t think all of this is for me, y’know… Singing and playing for friends is okay, and I guess that in a small place like here it’s not that bad… But I don’t want to keep doing it all the time. Definitely not.”
Renjun hums and pats Jisung on the arm. “It’s okay. You experimented and discovered that it isn’t to your liking, but hey… at least you tried, huh?” To lighten the moon, Renjun sends him a smile. “It’s a pity that you won’t become famous and rich so I can also cash in and get some of the money for me too.”
Laughing, Jisung shakes his head. He appreciates Renjun’s way of trying to make him feel better. “That just means you can’t quit your job at the library. Sorry.”
Renjun sighs dramatically and rests his chin on the palm of his hand. “At least it’s an easy job and I don’t have to deal with college anymore.”
“Please, don’t remind me of that. I still need to finish a paper for next week,” Jisung groans, downing out the rest of his water. “The artist thing almost sounds okay just so I could use it as an excuse to skip college.”
They share a laugh and keep talking about anything and everything, the world not existing outside of their little bubble until Donghyuck and the other staff starts to throw the remaining customers out of the bar.
Armed with a mop in his hands and his shoulders low, Donghyuck throws a look in their direction and says, “I can’t wait to just get into bed and sleep for at least two days.”
And, like the good friends that they are, Jisung and Renjun help him to clean things up before Donghyuck and the staff can close the bar.
Renjun gets on the driver seat and Donghyuck quickly claims the backseat, sprawling himself all over it and squishing his face against the seat.
“I love when you guys come over,” he mumbles, his voice all muffled. “The buses at this hour always smell so damn weird and I love not having to walk.”
Renjun snorts. He looks through the rearview mirror for a second before he shares a look with Jisung who’s in the passenger seat, his legs cramped and knees bumping against the glove compartment.
“Are you seeing this, Sungie? He only likes us because we drive him around.”
“Yeah, I love my Uber friends…” Donghyuck says, sounding more sleepy than anything else.
Renjun drives to Donghyuck’s place and arrives quickly, not finding any traffic in the way because of the hour, the sun barely threatening to rise on the darkened horizon.
“Thanks for the ride,” Donghyuck says, tripping on Jisung’s amp on the way out of the car, stumbling on the sidewalk before straightening himself out and leaning against the passenger’s window. “You did great today, Jisungie. Whenever you want to play there again just let me know and hyung will get everything fixed, okay? We always have an open spot for you.”
Donghyuck’s voice is lower than usual, drawling a little at the end of his words as sleep clings to his brain, but his eyes are fierce and bright and Jisung swallows heavily, feeling affection blooming inside of his chest. Donghyuck winks and blows them both a kiss, waving at them before going towards his building, and Renjun and Jisung watch him get safely inside before driving away.
“My place?” Renjun asks.
Jisung doesn’t really have a preference, half of his things being in his dorm and half in Renjun’s flat, but the prospect of cuddling with Renjun and not being alone after he went through a stressful situation is a very inviting one. One that is very hard to resist.
The sun still hasn’t risen when they arrive at Renjun’s place and Jisung carries all of his equipment in just one trip to Renjun’s flat (because he refuses to climb the stairs more than once), even though Renjun complains. Somehow, Jisung takes a quick shower and puts some pajamas on, though his mind acts so automatically through the motions that he just realizes everything he did when he finishes brushing his teeth and Renjun gets inside of the bathroom to take his make-up off.
Jisung doesn’t drift away to sleep immediately, but he almost manages to — Jisung feels the soft bedding against his body before his eyes close, just feeling comfortable and warm all around, but when he blinks his eyes open again the ceiling light that was on has been turned off and there’s a blanket around his body, the sound of Renjun rummaging through something echoing in the silence of the room, a low humming coming from him.
“A-Aren’t… you coming to… bed?” Jisung stammers out through a yawn. He rubs his eyes and turns to the side, trying to see Renjun among the darkness of the room.
The rummaging stops for a second before Renjun speaks up. “Did you wake up with me? I’m just trying to find my phone charger but I don’t know where it is…”
“Did you leave it on the kitchen counter again?”
Jisung hears the soft sound of steps padding away in the distance before coming back, and Renjun releases a sigh before the mattress dips under his weight.
“You were right, it was there,” Renjun says, careful to keep his voice low. Jisung hums and turns to the other side, letting Renjun hug him from behind. “Now sleep. You worked very hard today and you need to rest.”
“You too…” Jisung mumbles. He feels like he almost can’t control his mouth and his brain anymore, the actions becoming something foreign. There, at that moment, he only knows Renjun and Renjun’s embrace, the warmth that irradiates out of him and involves Jisung’s body completely.
“You need more.”
Jisung grunts, not agreeing with Renjun’s statement, but he’s so tired that he doesn’t have the strength to come up with something witty to say, quickly falling asleep while feeling safe in Renjun’s arms.
Jisung doesn’t have many big dreams. He wants to live a happy and long life, preferably with a close group of friends around him. And maybe a dog in the future too.
He doesn’t have plans of becoming famous, of doing something spectacular, or discovering something new. He just wants to be himself. He just wants to be okay and to be able to look back at the past and think, “Yes. It was a good life. I’m glad to have lived through all of that.”.
So when Jeno watches as Mark tries to teach Jisung how to play the chords of a Taylor Swift song, he says, “You could start a YouTube Channel and become famous. I think you’d do well.”
Renjun perks up from his place. Sprawled on Donghyuck’s bed, a laptop open over his lap, he almost lets it fall to the floor which causes Donghyuck to shriek out loud.
“Oh, that’s a good idea! Sungie would be great at that!” Renjun exclaims, unaware of Donghyuck’s murderous glare in his direction.
Donghyuck successfully secures the laptop and tugs it close to himself, his legs kicking Renjun away from him on the bed. “I know a guy who works with photography and all! He could even edit your videos if you want to!”
Jisung flushes under all the attention and his fingers miss the next chords. He winces at the loud noise and looks apologetically at Mark who shakes his head. “It’s okay,” Mark says. “Don’t listen to them and just do what you want, Sungie.”
Jisung doesn’t open a YouTube Channel for himself, but he lets his friends record him sometimes and upload to a channel they themselves create; he lets Donghyuck introduce him to the photographer guy who calls himself Jaemin and offers to film a music video. It’s a nice idea, but Jisung isn’t really too much into the idea of releasing songs and going on that path, so he and Jaemin shake hands and agree on not doing anything, but Jisung ends up with a new friend after all of that.
His songs feel too personal to be released to the public, but perhaps they’d always feel like that when they’re written under the weak light of his desk lamp, his thoughts and feelings poured into the paper and translated into small rhymes and phrases that could be sung together with a guitar.
It’s hard to even show them to his friends. Jisung cherry-picks the ones he deems as his best works or the ones that don’t feel like a rant and, even then, he still waits anxiously on the sidelines for their comments and opinions, afraid of something he doesn’t even quite know what it is.
But Renjun gets to see them all. While they’re all friends and care for each other deeply, Jisung gets along with Renjun just a little bit more. Maybe it’s the small crush he’s been harboring on him since they were young and with child-like innocence clinging to their limbs, maybe it’s just because Renjun is the one who tends to float around his mind when he’s writing something and showing his work to the person that inspired them just feels right.
Maybe it’s one of them, maybe it’s both, but Renjun gets to see the drafted versions, the ones that Jisung chose to get rid of, the ones he’s still working on. He bares his entire self to Renjun and Renjun doesn’t step back, reciprocating the gesture in his own way — showing him his paintings, his sketches, his thoughts, and his wishes.
While Jisung isn’t direct and only shows Renjun a lyric sheet, sings a song while looking at the floor, a furrow on his brow as he concentrates hard on the chords, Renjun is braver and he looks at Jisung right in the eye and says what he wants and what he thinks.
He holds Jisung’s hand in between his and says the words that Jisung hides in between his songs.
Jisung doesn’t fall for Renjun because he thinks that, in a way, he’s been falling for him since a long time ago, getting one step deeper with every passing day, at every brushing of their hands and every time their gazes crossed, with Renjun choosing him to be the one to see him in the middle of his creative process, to be the one who he called in the middle of the night when his mind was too full of thoughts.
While Renjun was the one experiencing all of it for the first time, a rush of feelings and thoughts all invading his body and mind at once, Jisung was already deep and only having his own care being emphasized more and more.
The first time that a video of him singing gets past a thousand views, Mark is the one that calls him first. Jisung is still sleepy, his brain not quite catching up to the words, but his heart beats fast against his ribcage when he confirms with his own eyes that yes, people had watched the video and liked it enough to leave a comment.
His friends celebrate together with him and, by the time they finish eating all the cupcakes that Jaemin baked, the video was sitting close to 1.5k views.
Jaemin again offers to help him film a video. He says that he’s sure that Jisung could reach whatever he wanted, that Jisung’s music is just different, and Jisung is aware of how the silence takes over the room as everyone waits for his answer, but Jisung waves away Jaemin’s offer and says ‘thank you’ once again.
“Why didn’t you accept his offer?” Jeno asks before he leaves, one foot on the outside world and one foot still inside of the house of Jisung’s parents. “Maybe it’d be something good. You could become famous.”
“Maybe,” Jisung says. “But I don’t want any of that.”
Jeno shrugs and bids him a goodbye, running away to catch his bus.
Jisung doesn’t know how to explain how hard it is to even show them a song, how it’d be even harder to make it public and let anyone be able to stumble upon it and listen to it whenever they wanted. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t think he has something worth sharing with the world, that he doesn’t have a message or something he needs to spread. After all, he writes about things he feels, things that run through his head; everything is shaped by his perception of the world — being it songs about what haunts him in the middle of the night or odes about Renjun’s gentle and comforting aura.
Just spilling his thoughts on the paper and creating a melody to accompany them feels right. Just singing his own worries and wishes and dreams to himself, in the small of his room, it’s already enough.
So that’s what he does. He continues to play inside his childhood bedroom, in his dorm at college, in Renjun’s flat. What he finds difficult to convey only with words, he can create a rhythm that easily expresses what goes through his mind and it helps. It’s his own form of therapy and self-expressing while he gathers enough money to be able to see a real professional.
Art is strange and sometimes Jisung gets more frustrated than ever when the words or the notes don’t feel right, but the end result makes it worthwhile and every experience leaves him with the sense he knows a little more about himself than he did when he began it.
Besides, by being so close to Renjun, Jisung finds that he needs an outlet because of the many feelings inside of him. And if writing a thousand love songs is it, then he can’t really do much about the situation. It just works.
His friends end up a little disappointed that they had missed his first performance outside of their apartment walls, but Renjun shows them the video he filmed and they get quiet after that. Jisung can't help but wince when he hears his own voice sounding shaky as it comes from the shitty speakers of Renjun's phone, the wavering and nervousness visible even in a recording, but his friends drown him in compliments and hugs and say that he did great. It boosts his ego a little, and Jisung thinks it wouldn't be that bad to maybe let them come the next time.
It's hard to find a day that works for everyone since most of them are busy with work most of the time, but Jisung approaches Donghyuck after a few months and asks him about booking a night, maybe to test the waters again, just to see how his nerves would be when his friends are there too.
And Jisung regrets immediately after he sends the invites and the confirmations start to trickle in. He dreads going on stage and forgetting his lyrics, messing up the chords and embarrassing himself, but Renjun is always on his side to remember that they're going there as his friends, as people who care for him and would only cheer and root for his success.
He doesn't dream of becoming an artist and being known, but there's a fulfilling sensation that fills him when he gets on stage and manages to perform okay, when he receives some validation from strangers and compliments in the form of applause.
Still, nothing about that compares to the standing ovation he gets from the closest table to the stage, his friends being on their feet since he first entered the stage, screaming out loud to every song they knew, doing their own ad-libs and cheers. Their enthusiasm grabs people's attention and one or two drunken men join their table to cheer for him too. Donghyuck gets a break from his bartender job to swing and jump together with his friends, throwing hearts in Jisung's direction, being the loudest at screaming his name, and Jisung feels a little embarrassed at all of that, at all the commotion they're causing, but he's more fond and grateful than shy.
He plays his songs and he can't help but smile through every second of it. Renjun doesn’t take his eyes away from him, his phone tucked away inside of his pocket, and Jisung knows that he has Renjun’s entire attention upon himself, his eyes shining bright as he screams the lyrics loudly into Jeno’s ear.
Jisung barely gets a chance to finish and thank the people at the bar before he's tackled into a hug, his friends jumping on the stage and almost knocking down his guitar, and Jisung feels so loved that it almost brings him to tears.
They drink together until the bar closes and then they wander off to another one that's still open with three guys that they met at the bar joining them. One says his name is Doyoung and he's so plastered that he can barely stand up, his boyfriend being just as drunk as him but still trying to hold Doyoung up and not let him crumble down. Doyoung had just sat next to Jeno and said he was his older brother, so they just went along with it and let Doyoung do his own thing since he wasn't harming anyone (and it would be shitty of them to let a drunk duo all alone like that).
The other one was younger and had spilled his beer all over Jaemin's back while Jisung was performing, apologizing on the spot and giving everyone a business card that read: "Zhong Chenle. Professional Mortician. Hopefully you won't need me, but here's my number."
And while they have fun and enjoy their time together a lot, it's when Jisung is inside a cab with Renjun, giggling at every little thing together, that his heart beats faster than it ever did during the entire night.
"Look," Jisung says, holding Renjun's hand in his and placing his palm over his shirt, right above his heart. "It's because of you."
"I can't feel a thing," Renjun says, laughing out loud. He's giggly and smiling at everything, his eyes crinkling as he barks out another laugh just because he could. The alcohol makes him think that everything is a joke and the funniest thing ever, and Jisung is completely endeared by him, so he laughs together with Renjun too.
"It's beating really fast."
Renjun's eyes widen and he stops for a second, his mouth parting, before he laughs again and throws his head back.
"Beating fast!" He repeats, punching Jisung on the shoulder. "So funny!"
Jisung ends up mostly carrying Renjun up to his flat. Usually, Renjun would complain a lot about that, refusing to be held up and putting up a fight to try and walk on his own, but he’s so drunk that he doesn’t even notice and just keeps humming under his breath and talking about something that Jisung has no idea what it means. It involves dogs and ice cream, but Jisung doesn’t catch more than that.
And, when Jisung tucks Renjun into bed and pulls the blankets over him, smoothing his messy hair that’s full of hairspray, Renjun stops and holds Jisung’s hand.
Renjun's eyes are closed and Jisung had thought that Renjun had just immediately fallen asleep as soon as he was laid down on the bed, but the corner of his lips curls up and he keeps a hold of Jisung's hand over his chest, over a shirt that once had been Jisung’s but had long ago changed owners.
"It's because of you too," Renjun mumbles sleepily, his eyes not opening up. He sighs and shifts on the bed. "It’s for you."
Jisung bites the inside of his cheek and slips his hand away from Renjun’s grasp. Exhaustion clings to his bones and begs him to just slip under the covers and cuddle together with Renjun, but before doing anything like that, Jisung pulls up his notebook from the side table and hurriedly writes down some lines, his handwriting so bad that he knows he will have trouble deciphering it later.
But he doesn’t waste too much on it and just focuses on putting everything down, taking what he can out of his chest and jutting down words of adoration for Renjun. And, when he can’t write down anymore, he puts his notebook away and turns all the lights off, snuggling on Renjun’s side and whispering some more words against his skin, speaking out loud his truth for his entire world to hear.