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one-man kind of showman

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They say anxiety is an evolutionary advantage developed by humans to aid them in their plight of self-preservation—something that, as history has proven, humans have never been particularly good at. They also say that Nakamoto Yuta, zero years old and having conquered natural selection, was born so devoid of anxiety that he hadn’t even cried after taking that first breath outside his mother’s womb. In prehistoric times, this would probably mean that Yuta would be eaten by a lion before he even reached the tender age of two and a half. In the 21st Century, not only does Yuta somehow live to be two and a half (and a fucking adorable one at that), but makes it all the way to twenty-two before he’s finally pounced on by that predator waiting outside his cave.

“Don’t,” Sicheng warns. And although it’s not quite a lion’s roar, there’s still that split second where Yuta’s post-Sicheng life flashes in front of his eyes, and like a slot machine, the memories spin in reels until they come to a perfect stop to spell out You. Fucked. Up.

Objectively, there’s no real rationale as to how Yuta knows that this is the straw that broke the camel’s back. Not when Sicheng’s been responding to all of Yuta’s increasingly overbearing attempts at fanservice by either shrugging it off or just being plain non-reactive altogether. And today’s grind is shittier than usual; they’d all slept badly, rehearsal had gone on for an hour longer than any of them wanted it to. It’s the kind of on-edge atmosphere where someone breathes twenty metres away from you, but it feels like they’re blowing right in your face. But more dire circumstances haven’t gotten in the way of Yuta’s work. And so, unperturbed and uncaring and deftly free of anxiety, he’d moved in close to Sicheng and raised a hand to pinch one of his cheeks—only to have it promptly smacked down with that tired, godforsaken Don’t at the end.

It could’ve fallen into triviality by becoming the most recent in a line of many instances where Sicheng’s just not up for it and Yuta has to roll his shoulders and move on, except in a never before seen twist, it’s awkward. Palpably so. And not just because Yuta’s suddenly withdrawn into a contemplative huh and Sicheng’s beginning to look a tad regretful, but because the M!Countdown PD still has a camera pointed at them to film their Behind segment, and has that professional neutral look on her face like she isn’t seeing what she’s currently seeing.

“Yuta-ssi,” she starts again, so bright and controlled that it just makes Yuta and Sicheng’s own lapse in behaviour more stark. “Can you show us the point dance of ‘Limitless’?”

“Actually,” Yuta pushes Sicheng in front of the camera, visibly alarming him in the process. “Winwin can show you the point dance.” Sicheng looks into the lens, lost. Yuta can see his hands fidget under the long sleeves of his jacket.

He doesn’t know if Sicheng ends up delivering what was asked of him, choosing to wander off towards where Jaehyun and Donghyuck are monitoring the rehearsals. Yuta waits until the stylist noona is done fixing up Jaehyun’s hair, before he nudges Jaehyun’s shoulder and juts his chin towards where he’d effectively abandoned Sicheng. “Hey, go save your best friend from being swallowed by the camera.”

Jaehyun peers over Yuta’s head to watch Sicheng, then turns back to Yuta, raising an eyebrow. “Okay?” He waits a beat, as if expecting elaboration. When it doesn’t come, he smiles and walks away without any further questions. Bless Jaehyun’s non-intrusive soul, even though by day’s end he’d have figured out the whole story somehow anyway.

“What happened?” Donghyuck asks, looking up at Yuta with foundation streaked down his face in visible lines.

“Nothing,” Yuta responds. Donghyuck sulks in his chair, dissatisfied at having been denied gossip. Yuta holds two fingers to his mouth, kisses them, and prods them again Donghyuck’s cheeks. “Don’t be nosy, pay attention to our live.”

You pay attention to our live,” Donghyuck grumbles but complies, dutifully focusing on the television again. Then, in a smaller voice, like he’s embarrassed at the admission. “You look good, hyung.”

Yuta watches Sicheng on the screen, dancing off to the side with half his body cut off by the camera. “I do look good, don’t I?” he agrees.

 

*

 

Yuta, under any other circumstance, would really rather let things be. Just wait for the weirdness to dissipate naturally, or worsen to the point of irreconcilability and let Sicheng become a relic of the past that Yuta of the future only feels nostalgic fondness towards—the same sentiment he holds towards most of his friends back in Osaka. Shit happens. It's the circle of life.

Except, he finds himself at a battle with impatience. The fraught tension between them gets in the way of too much of Yuta's daily routine—asking Sicheng to watch anime with him, dragging Sicheng to the convenience store when he's craving a midnight snack, randomly ruffling Sicheng's hair in the morning for no reason other than the fact the cry for death on Sicheng's face as he wakes up makes him look cute—and it's inconvenient. They're nearing the end of promotions, but Yuta still doesn't have the time to navigate these new obstacles. Boo Dong Sicheng.

Fortunately, he doesn't have to wait more than five minutes on a weekday at the dorm for Doyoung to evacuate their shared room in favour of more exciting company, leaving Yuta and Sicheng alone together. Sicheng is lying down flat on his stomach with his laptop resting at the end of the bed, either enraptured by the new drama he's watching or enraptured with ignoring Yuta. It's become a familiar situation the past few days, and although Yuta would usually be on his back playing with his Nintendo and more than happy to entertain the silence, today he throws himself down onto Sicheng's bed with a gusto that almost sends Sicheng's laptop falling to the floor.

"Whoops, sorry," Yuta chimes, pulling the laptop safely away from the edge. Sicheng sighs dramatically and swats Yuta's hand away, until it's like a memo pops up in his head reminding him that they're on strange terms now, and his face shutters blank. Yuta breathes out through his nose—maybe he should've written a script beforehand. Or asked Jaehyun, an expert at posturing (who, as predicted, had caught wind of something between Sicheng and Yuta before it even had a day to ferment, and kept shooting Yuta pointed glances), to write one.

"I think we need to talk about something?" Yuta tries.

He doesn't know what he'd anticipated Sicheng's reaction to be, but the agreeable nod and "Okay" wasn't it. There's nothing readable on Sicheng's expression; his face as plain as a mound of clay ready to be shaped by Yuta's words.

"Alright, well..." Yuta scratches his chin. "I know you're mad at me because I've been too much with the fanservice."

"You touch me too much when cameras are around,” Sicheng says. It's less of a statement, and more of a request for confirmation that he'd understood Yuta correctly. Yuta nods. Sicheng plays with a loose thread on the bed sheet, looking vaguely like he regrets engaging this conversation at all. "You're doing a lot all of a sudden.”

"Obviously," Yuta almost rolls his eyes, but reigns himself in at the last second. The one in the wrong doesn't get to be sarcastic. "Does it make you uncomfortable?

“No. Not just uncomfortable, it's…” Sicheng purses his lips. “Annoying."

Yuta can't help himself; he barks out a laugh. It pricks the layer of tension between them, and Sicheng's face opens up when he ducks his head and whines, "I don't like it."

"Alright, I got it buddy," Yuta says, and it's like someone's unscrewed the jar he was trapped in and he can finally breathe again. "I'll tone it down."

"Good," Sicheng holds out a hand, and Yuta takes it in a professional handshake that goes on until they're both stifling laughter. He thinks that's the end of it until Sicheng speaks again, more conversationally this time. "Doesn't it get tiring for you too?" he asks, resting his head on a palm. "Saying and doing all these things about me when you don't..." He stops and waves his hands, as if urging Yuta to read his mind.

"Find your words, kid," Yuta says, smirking. "Think back to your Korean lessons.”

"Saying and doing things that you don't..." Sicheng furrows his eyebrows. "That you don't really think?"

And there's a moment, so fleeting that Yuta barely even comprehends it, where every elementary particle that makes up his entire physical being comes alight with a realisation. And Yuta's mouth, which works faster than his brain, which works faster than time itself, blurts out, "What if I do really think them?"

For a prolonged second there's nothing but eye contact between the two of them. Then, Sicheng plugs his earphones back in, drags his laptop towards himself, and goes back to watching his drama.

Yuta crinkles his forehead. "Hey!" He punches Sicheng's shoulder, but is met with no reaction. He crawls onto all fours on the bed, pulls one of Sicheng's earphones out and yells into his ear, "SICHENG!"

Sicheng flinches, rolling onto his side and pushing Yuta away with a hand against the middle of his chest. "What?" he says.

"I said, what if I do really think them?"

"I don't." Sicheng twists his lips, gaze fixating on the wall behind Yuta's head. "I don't understand these difficult Korean words."

Yuta snorts. "Don't try that on your foreigner sunbae."

Sicheng is visibly unimpressed. "I think your Korean is getting worse," he says. "You don't know what you're saying."

In a self-indulgent move that benefits no one but Yuta himself, he pries Sicheng's hand away from his chest and intertwines their fingers together. Sicheng's eyes widen, pupils darting around the room as if in search of a fire extinguisher he could use to knock Yuta out. It's mostly funny, but it also mostly hurts, but in a bearable way like a bad papercut on his heart. "Don't worry," Yuta says, moving back and off the bed. He smiles, trying for friendly. "Message received, I'll back off."

"No." Sicheng shakes his head.

"Okay, Winwin." He grins and hope it doesn’t come out strained. It really takes a lot of effort to be this amiable. "I got it. I can handle rejection."

"I'm not... It doesn’t matter, anyway." Sicheng presses his cheek against the mattress, staring straight ahead and no longer at Yuta. "You don't really think them."

"What?"

"You don't really think them," Sicheng says again, more resolutely. He reaches out for his laptop, but Yuta closes it so fast it almost snaps Sicheng’s fingers off.

"You don't get to decide that for me," Yuta says, firm.

"Hyung," Sicheng says, and he sounds exasperated now. "I want to watch my drama, please."

He looks up at Yuta, imploring. "Fine," Yuta gives in. He takes his hand off the laptop, but he's still fueled by the need to stand up for himself. "I really do think them, though."

"Sure, hyung," Sicheng says dismissively, pressing play on his drama. The hard lines of his face soften when Gong Yoo comes back to life on the screen. Embarrassingly—because Gong Yoo is a God and Yuta a mere mortal—a twang of jealousy reverberates through him. It's stupid. But a lot of things about Yuta's life seem to be, lately.

 

*

 

After that, things mostly go back to normal.

The relative normal of the abnormal plane, that is—since that's the world they seem to be living in now.

Things are almost the same. Like waking up in a parallel universe and not noticing anything is amiss, until you wipe the fog off the bathroom mirror and suddenly there's a third eye on your forehead blinking back at you. This world functions the same. They wake up too early for schedule, Yuta cuts in front of Sicheng in line for the bathroom and pokes out his tongue as he closes the door behind him. He checks his face in the mirror after his shower, and his forehead is clear save for one pimple that he tries not to poke in the van on their way to Show Champion. Donghyuck and Doyoung have fun taking the shit out of him for it, and Sicheng enjoys laughing along. There's a mountain on the mountain man's forehead, Donghyuck crows, too delighted. During rehearsals, Sicheng messes up lip syncing his one line, and Yuta entertains himself by making a big deal out of it for the rest of the day. Karma intervenes, and Yuta accidentally falls slow on a beat during the actual live, but his pimple isn’t visible on broadcast, which is what matters most.

On the drive back home, Yuta's about to rest his heavy head on the crook of Sicheng's shoulder, and that's when the irregularity of this world makes itself known. Sicheng's body goes stiff, rigid, and Yuta quickly does a u-turn and thumps the side of his head a bit too hard on the window instead.

"Are you okay?" Taeyong asks, twisting around from the front seat.

"Peachy," Yuta answers, smiling.

Back home, Doyoung decides that this is one night where he'll actually acknowledge that he's the third occupant of their bedroom, and is sitting down on his bed with Sicheng, a shared blanket draped across their legs as they boot up a movie on the laptop. Absently, Yuta wonders if Sicheng asked him to stay tonight.

"Did Johnny and Jaehyun get sick of you?" Yuta jokes, peeling off his pants and shirt and flopping back onto his own bed.

"No, I got tired of them," Doyoung replies. "I thought I'd visit my little people who I haven't seen for a while." He waves a single hand at Yuta, like he’s Queen Elizabeth or something. Yuta flips him a graceful bird back.

"Hyung, do you want to watch with us?" Sicheng asks.

Yuta glances at him, but Sicheng's busied himself with his phone, readily avoiding eye contact. There's a part of Yuta that thinks he should ask Sicheng if they could talk alone and work things out again. He'd skipped a few steps in the process, after all. There's meant to be that 'Oh' moment when you realise you like someone. Followed by days, weeks, months—even years, if you're a particularly sad sucker—of helpless pining. After you can't take that anymore, and the cost-benefit scale tips to the left, that's when you confess, right? Yuta can’t help it that his brain took a shortcut and decided to do everything else simultaneously in the span of a second. And Sicheng couldn't help it that he watched this sloppy super-cut and walked out of the show, disbelieving.

But then, there's the other side of Yuta. The side that's kept him safe all these years. The one that says, fuck it. He just feels shitty. And he doesn’t want to deal with it. He just wants it to go.

"Nah, I don't like that movie," Yuta says, showing his back to the two of them and closing his eyes.

He can hear the confusion, and distaste, in Doyoung's voice when he replies. "You don't even know what the movie is yet."

 

*

 

Yuta meets up with Hansol the night before Hansol’s 7AM flight to Japan. "It's not for pleasure," Hansol insists. He's participating in a four day dance workshop over there, but he's looking forward to making some new friends who are real dancers—not trained into following a beat like Yuta—and learn some new Japanese words so he can slip them in the middle of all his distinctly Korean conversations. At least, that's the message Yuta’s getting over dinner.

It's been a good while since they've actually spent time alone together. Whenever they'd met up recently it had been with other trainees or members around. Schedules are hectic, so Hansol prefers to see as many of them as he can at once before they're whisked off to overseas for some collaboration K-pop concert. It's not like Yuta is his only friend. He misses the rest just as much.

Hansol looks well rested and vibrant, telling Yuta about a niche Tofu restaurant he’d found while exploring Myungdeong with some new trainees Yuta only recognises by name. Yuta's a little jealous, honestly. But he's also still in his stage make-up, and knows better than to voice his complaints to Hansol. It'd be like the time Jaehyun had groused about his lines getting cut in the edited version of Limitless for broadcast. "Save the sob story for Healing Camp," Yuta had sniped. "He's joking," Taeyong told Jaehyun, laughing. Yuta hadn’t been joking.

"Anyway, how have you been doing?" Hansol asks. He pours Yuta some soju, like he knows Yuta needs it just to get through the question.

"Nothing new," Yuta says. "Johnny and Jaehyun are getting their own radio show soon, if things go according to plan. Also, Doyoung's starting to act like a roommate again and keeps nagging me to make my bed."

"Cool, cool," Hansol nods. "How's that Idol Family show of yours?"

"Cancelled," Yuta replies promptly. Hansol's face falls, but before it can turn into a look of pure pity, Yuta quickly amends, "I mean, it was very good. But also very cancelled. A monkey ate a banana from my hand and I thought I was going to die."

"Kun showed me a clip of that," Hansol says, in between mouthfuls of noodles. "Sorn is really cute."

Yuta stabs a chopstick in Hansol's direction, grinning. "Hey, back off. She's my sister." Hansol bats his chopsticks off with his own. "Also, why is it that Kun watched my show and you didn’t?"

"Why would Kun watch your show?" Hansol scoffs. "Sicheng sent him the clip."

"Oh." Yuta grabs the glass Hansol had so kindly filled with him, and takes a short, full gulp.

It's been a while, so Yuta can only blame time for dulling his intuition and making him think Hansol wouldn't be able to see through him. He's not Taeyong, though, whose concern Yuta can easily shake off with Just a bad headache or Hey, what's Donghyuck doing over there? Hansol orders a round of gamja jeon, waits for Yuta to clean off his plate, and then steeples his fingers together in front of him. "Okay,” he says. “What's wrong?"

 

 

Yuta’s version of the story contains a fair few embellishments and attempts to make himself look better, but Hansol easily rips off the frills and the grand conclusion he comes to is, “Are you sure you like Sicheng?”

Yuta narrows his eyes. He’s drunk a bit too much. He’s not tipsy, but the emotional floodgates are open and unmanned. “What, do you want to roleplay the situation now?”

“No no.” Hansol shakes his head. “I’m just wondering, because… You do a lot of fanservice with him right? It’s easy to get confused.”

“You think I don’t know work from play, Ji Hansol?” Yuta says.

“Well, I mean… did you play it up with him in front of the cameras because you liked him? Or do you like him because you played it up with him in front of the cameras?”

“I played it up with him. And I liked him.” Yuta aligns his index fingers side by side in the air, and then separates them sharply. He repeats the motion several times until Hansol grabs his hands and pulls them down. “They’re separate things. No cause or correlation.”

“It’s alright if there is…” Hansol says, looking a little hurt. Yuta raises an eyebrow. Well, that’s something to get to the bottom of another day. “I’m just trying to play devil’s advocate in that… I see why he wouldn’t believe you? Not that he thinks you’re playing a prank on him or anything, but. How long have you said you liked him for again?”

Yuta shrugs, spinning his glass against the wooden table top. “I don’t know.”

“Yeah, exactly.” Hansol sighs. “It’s just. I’d say it probably feels a bit out of nowhere or misguided.”

Yuta looks up at the clock hung on the back of the store. It’s fifteen minutes to ten. Right underneath it is a table pushed up against a wall where a group of schoolboys sit, cellphones out in a circle, playing some mobile game. Too easily can he rewind time and imagine that it’s him, Hansol, Ten, Johnny, Taeyong, and Jaehyun sitting there in their sweaty dance clothes, pigging out the day right after their monthly weigh-ins. It’s funny; none of the people around him have changed all that much, but the intimacy from back then feels so distant now.

Yuta rubs a knuckle against his eye. “That’s terrible advice, hyung.”

“I’m not trying to give you advice,” Hansol says, sliding the last pancake onto Yuta’s plate. “Just providing a bit of perspective. Try talking to him again? At least if you get a solid ‘No’, it’ll be easier to move on.”

“Nah,” Yuta answers.

Hansol stops halfway between putting food in his mouth. “Why? Is it because you’re fine with how things are now? Or is it because it’ll hurt more if the answer is no?”

“Neither,” Yuta says, using his chopsticks to break his pancake in half. “It’s because what’s done is done.”

 

*

 

They're sitting in the living room, congregated around the television set to support NCT Dream's Comeback Stage on M!Countdown. Donghyuck made them all promise they'd watch it live as it airs—and although Yuta's the kind of person who'd have no trouble watching the performance after it's uploaded on the internet, and then lying to a kid about it, he has a lot less resolve when it comes to lying to Donghyuck.

Doyoung’s taken it one step further, possessed with the bright idea of recording a reaction video for the Dream members’ enjoyment. He'd had his phone camera in all their faces as soon as they’d sat down to watch, insisting that it’s important to capture the buildup and anticipation leading towards the Dreamies’ performance as well. Really, what Doyoung's going to get is forty minutes worth of footage of the seven of them staring listlessly at the screen, occasionally looking guilty that they don't recognise the group currently performing when they'd most likely greeted them in the hallway of one broadcasting station or the other. But who's Yuta to question Doyoung's vision?

"Jaehyun," Doyoung warns. "How is Mark going to feel when he watches this and sees you staring at your phone the whole way through?"

Jaehyun, as everyone should, pays Doyoung absolutely no mind, his thumbs flying over his phone as he types away. "How do you know I'm not talking to Mark?"

Sicheng leans his head on Jaehyun's shoulder and squints at the screen. "He's not talking to Mark," he tattles, then giggles when Jaehyun tickles his stomach in retaliation. The lead dancer of the girl group taking the stage now is incredibly hot. Yuta's type down to a T.

"It's his 97-line group chat," Johnny says. Jaehyun doesn't respond, but a telling sheepish smile quirks its way onto his face. "It's always that group chat. Do you know what their unholy name was when I saw it yesterday? It was The Ox Penis—"

"It's not that anymore," Jaehyun cuts him off, cheeks glowing faintly pink. Taeil almost chokes on thin air. Yuta almost chokes on his own laughter. "Bambam came up with it, and then Myungho changed it."

Sometimes when there's a joke, Sicheng does nothing but chuckle awkwardly. It's something every foreigner's had to go through. The curse of being able to intuit that what's happening around you is funny, but having no clue as to why. But Yuta had fulfilled his sworn duty of teaching Sicheng the Korean word for 'penis' (and other crude necessities) early on, and so right now Sicheng's doubled over in laughter, hearty and genuine. It scrunches his face up into something disarmingly adorable and Yuta can feel his heart drumming against his chest.

This whole thing between them, it'd probably be easier if they weren't talking at all. But they are, because they're still roommates and friends—though even that’s eroding, slowly but surely, with every flaccid interaction and every barbed and misdirected comment Yuta makes. He's not being as awful as he could be, because he still regrettably likes Sicheng more than he should, but less unnecessary words have definitely left Yuta's mouth.

"What's the name now?" Yuta finds himself saying. "The Dong Sicheng Exclusion Club?"

It's not an awkward moment, because Yuta makes jokes like this all the time, but Sicheng's good mood instantly sobers up, expression turning blank. Johnny notices. "He's not being excluded," he says, clicking a tongue at Yuta. “There’s like a thousand 97-liners on this planet.”

"Yeah, and they’ve asked me to add him but Sicheng felt uncomfortable," Jaehyun says. Sicheng nods in agreement from besides Jaehyun, having sunk a little further into his seat.

"I was kidding, Winwin," Yuta offers, grinning. Sicheng lifts up a corner of his lip, but otherwise doesn't look in his direction.

"You do not want to be a part of that group chat, Winwin," Doyoung says, frowning at his phone. He'd gotten that all on camera. Great. "It's a wasteland. They rate girls on whether they're hot or not."

"That's slander," Jaehyun says. "All the girls we rate are hot, we just rate how hot they are. Also it's not only girls. Doyoung's just mad because he went through my phone, without permission, and saw me give Gongmyung hyung a nine."

"Why not a ten?" Taeyong pipes up. At the glower Doyoung gives him, he withers slightly in his seat.

"Well, someone is only as hot as the company they keep," Yuta says, dodging when Doyoung grabs a pillow to throw at him. "Hey, Jaehyun, have you ever rated me?"

"Group members are out of bounds," Jaehyun says apologetically, an explanation that’s met with a snort by Doyoung. "But you know I think you're a ten out of ten, hyung."

Yuta winks at Jaehyun. "I knew I could count on—"

"Seven," Sicheng mumbles. The room stops to stare at him.

Doyoung raises his phone so that it covers everything on his face but the smarmy grin he’s wearing. "What'd you say, Winwin?"

Sicheng turns towards Yuta, scrutinising him carefully. "Seven. You're a seven, hyung."

Three things happen at once. Everyone bursts into laughter, Jaehyun falling sideways into Sicheng's lap with how obnoxiously he's cracking up. Mark's face slides onto the television screen, the opening teaser for NCT Dream's comeback stage begins to play. Doyoung starts swearing. "Fuck," he says. "I've run out of storage. Quick, somebody throw me their phone."

Taeyong literally throws Doyoung his phone, and it goes flying over Yuta’s head in a perfect arch before colliding with the edge of the coffee table. "Seven," Yuta mouths at Sicheng, affronted.

Sicheng gives Yuta a curved flash of his teeth.

 

*

 

If you were to ask Yuta at any given point in time whether he misses his mother, the answer would usually be no.

A part of him thinks he just says it to be contrary, and that he’s a little sick of the sad foreigner narrative they try to push onto him. But, even searching deep within himself when they’re on radio and the DJ portions out time to send a message to their parents, he just can’t find much longing for home within him. He always misses his mum, sure, in the way he’d rather have her closer than not, and when things suck he wishes he had his family with him. But he knows that’s not what they’re asking. And so, with fifty fans standing outside the radio booth, and a dick drawn on his script courtesy of Donghyuck next to him, he apologises. For being a bad son who doesn’t call home often enough, who never listened well growing up, and for not missing them the way he knows he should.

“You’re too independent for your own good sometimes,” his older sister once sighed at him over the phone. “You’re too used to living alone.”

Which is why he doesn’t know what to do when he walks into his room and sees Sicheng staring down at a phone in his hand, tossing it between his fingers like maybe it’d transport him elsewhere if he wished hard enough. Yuta wouldn’t have known what to do before, and he certainly doesn’t know what to do now.

“What’s up?” Yuta asks. His hair’s wet from his shower and he’s shirtless. He’s not fussed about modesty usually, but the minimal amount of shame triggered by the crestfallen turn of Sicheng’s face has him reaching for the nearest shirt on the floor and tugging it on.

“Nothing,” Sicheng says. “I just talked to my dad.”

“Ah.” Yuta nods. He figured as much. “Is he doing well?”

“Yeah, he’s fine,” Sicheng answers, but even taking into account the uncertain Korean, he sounds dull.

And maybe Yuta should feel more anxious about it, about the fact that he’d spent the last week sabotaging a relationship that means more to him than almost anything else has since moving to Seoul—and isn’t that a scary thought? And maybe he should have taken all the hints Sicheng started giving him a month ago that he was annoyed, instead of plowing through his crusade of fanservice and overt affection on screen just because it gave him a thrill he couldn’t find anywhere else. And maybe he should feel that dread in his gut telling him that things aren’t how they used to be, that he’s talking to a boy he likes too much, who doesn’t reciprocate to such an extent that he can’t even acknowledge Yuta’s own, very real affections.

But he doesn’t.

“Do you want to watch a movie?” Yuta asks, like they’re the easiest and most casual of friends.

Sicheng blinks up at him, probably thinking he’s misunderstood the sentence. “Sorry?”

“Do you wanna watch a movie?” Yuta repeats. “We can watch a Chinese one, and you can translate for me and that way you’ll improve your Korean and I’ll improve my Chinese.”

For a second, he thinks Sicheng’s about to refuse. Then, at first cautious, and then eager, Sicheng nods. “Okay. Let’s do it.”

 

 

Sicheng is indecisive and Yuta not very committed, so what ends up happening is them sitting ten centimeters apart with Yuta’s laptop in between playing a Mandarin dub of a One Piece episode Yuta’s seen three times already. For the best, because Sicheng’s translating skills suck and consist of one word interpretations for every sentence spoken (“Doesn’t like it”, “Hungry”, “He’s blinking—Sorry, I mean he’s scared.”), and when he’s too engaged, he just stops talking altogether.

They watch two more episodes when Sicheng reaches a hand out and plucks the thin, green material of the shirt Yuta’s wearing. “That’s mine, hyung,” he says.

Yuta pulls at the collar. Having dormed with a bunch of guys since he was seventeen, the value of belonging when it comes to clothing has all but diminished. So long as it’s not a 500,000 Won Gucci shirt, if it fits, it’s yours for the day. If someone calls you out, you tell them to put their fucking name on it. Of course, he’d never tell Sicheng this. “Do you want me to take it off?” he asks.

For once, he means it completely innocuously, but Sicheng shakes his head ‘No’ too fast, looking almost nervous. Yuta raises both his hands. “Okay,” he says, patting the back of Sicheng’s head. “Don’t worry, I didn’t mean anything weird.”

“I know,” Sicheng says, raising a fist against his mouth to cough. “Sorry, I’m not doing well translating.”

“You really aren’t.” Yuta grimaces. There’s an exciting fight happening on screen right now, and Yuta doesn’t think he’s seen this episode. “Why are you this bad, your Korean is better than this.”

“It’s hard to do two things at once,” Sicheng says. “But thank you, anyway.”

“Huh?” Yuta leans back onto his hands, shoulders brushing against Sicheng’s. “What for?”

Sicheng doesn’t answer him. “Can we just watch the Japanese version now, and you translate for me?”

“Yeah, sure,” Yuta leans over and exits out of the current stream, pulling up his bookmarks. “Hey listen…” he starts. “I’ve been acting kind of shitty the past couple of days, haven’t I?”

Sicheng shifts, pulling his legs closer towards himself. “Hyung, we don’t have to talk about this—”

“Look,” Yuta says, frustrated. “We don’t have to talk about it, but can you let me talk? I promise it’ll go better than our last talk.”

Sicheng closes his eyes, as if finding patience. “Alright,” he says. “What do you want to say?”

A lot of things, really. And Yuta finds himself at a loss because he doesn’t even want to say half of them to Sicheng. For one, he wants to tell Hansol he has no idea what he’s talking about. His feelings for Sicheng aren’t out of nowhere, that’s why he’d accepted them so easily. He doesn’t know when he started liking Sicheng, true. He thinks back to the first time Sicheng came to the company, and can’t recall any of that insta-attraction they try to sell in the movies. Honestly, Sicheng was a bit of a gawky teenager, and didn’t stand out amongst the batch of Chinese trainees he’d been scouted with. But in hindsight, a lot of things do fall into place. Like, oh, so the burning in his gut whenever Sicheng would ditch indulging Yuta in favour of playing League of Legends with Jaehyun wasn’t just platonic indigestion. Or, okay, so that’s why his eyes are always drawn towards Sicheng no matter what room they’re in, like a compass needle towards north.

Then there are the things he does want to tell Sicheng—that he barely knows how to formulate in Korean himself, and he knows Sicheng will have no hope of understanding. Like how he knows the heart’s a slippery thing, and so he holds onto his as tightly as he can. But that just means when he squeezes too hard, it shoots out of his hand and splatters. It’d probably sound as gross out loud as it does in Yuta’s head, so maybe it’s better that it’s kept to himself.

Really, maybe there’s a blessing in being constrained by the barriers of language. You just have to get to the important stuff.

“I'm sorry,” Yuta says. “You hurt me, when we talked the first time. But I was unfair. I thought I could just move on and leave you behind because I was feeling bad. But I don’t want to. And I shouldn’t have. I’m not used to caring about people as much as I care about you. Do you understand?”

Sicheng is silent, as though he’s carefully processing and picking apart Yuta’s words. “I think so…”

“Do you?” Yuta urges.

Sicheng nods. “You’re sorry. It’s okay.”

“Good,” Yuta says. “Then, I need you to know I do like you. I don’t know exactly why you don’t believe me, but I do. I think you’re cute. When I look at you, I feel happy. Also, even though you think I’m a seven—” here, he punches Sicheng’s shoulder. Sicheng lightly slaps him back, too occupied with turning steadily darker shades of red to inflict any real damage. At least it’s a guarantee that he’s understanding the important bits. “I think you’re a nine, minus one for the teeth.” He blocks the karate chop Sicheng aims at him with an arm, laughing. “But you don’t like me and it’s fine. But I hate you telling me how I feel. If you just say, ‘No’, right now, I’ll back off completely and we can be friends again. Good friends. I promise I won’t act weird this time.”

In the short time where Sicheng doesn’t respond, Yuta’s hope grows the tiniest pair of wings and flutters. That is, until Sicheng, looking sincerely remorseful, voices a small, “No.”

The wings shrivel up and die, and when Yuta swallows them down they scrape against his throat. But Sicheng looks afraid, like a child who thinks they’ve broken something, and Yuta can’t have that. “And that’s fine,” Yuta says. “Thank you for listening.” He holds out a hand, which Sicheng stares at with a range of conflicting emotions, before he eventually takes it in his own.

They shake hands, for a long time, until it gets ridiculous and Sicheng tries to pull away but Yuta holds on tighter, grinning. “We good?” he says.

Sicheng squeezes Yuta’s hand back. “We’re good.”

 

*

 

Yuta keeps his promise. The next day, he musters every positive cell in his body into not disturbing the equilibrium he’d found with Sicheng. It works, because Sicheng’s in a good mood throughout, and he’s touchier towards Yuta than he’d usually be, almost uncharacteristically so. A hand around his shoulder as they’re filming a short interview for a Singaporean K-pop channel. Playing with Yuta’s hands while they’re waiting to get fitted for new stage outfits. Still, Yuta’s not that good of a person, so as soon as they’re back at the dorms he makes a beeline for his room and does something he rarely does of his own volition—call his mum.

In his head, Yuta envisioned a cathartic crying session where his mother’s words heal the bruises on his heart and ego. In reality, after she picks up Yuta’s motivation dries up and he stutters out a “H-hey, sis told me to call you.”

She’s surprised to hear from him, and after the standard fussing over Yuta’s health and well being, a boring conversation follows. She tells him what his Dad has been up to, about their neighbour’s ugly new cat, about the friends in Osaka he’s lost touch with. “Are you well?” his mum asks at the end, after Yuta makes up that he has to leave for schedule again in five minutes.

Yuta hesitates. “You know what, mum?” He smiles, a weak one, but as authentic as it can be. “I wasn’t, but I think I feel better now.”

After she hangs up, the door to his room opens. Sicheng’s head pokes out, the last person he probably needs but always the first person he wants to see. “Finished?” Sicheng asks, making a telephone hand gesture against his ear.

“All done, buddy,” Yuta says, sitting upright on the bed. “Come in.”

Sicheng swings the door wide open and shuts it behind him with the same enthusiasm. “You’re happy today,” Yuta observes. “Anything I should be worried about?”

“A little.” Sicheng cocks his head to the side, as if debating something to himself, and then walks to where Yuta’s seated. “Do you want to know?”

Yuta nods. Sicheng crooks his fingers, beckoning Yuta forward. Yuta moves in, and just as he expects Sicheng to whisper something in his ear, there’s a light but unmistakable peck on his cheek.

Yuta pulls back, startled. “What?”

Sicheng’s eye level with him, looking immensely proud of himself. Yuta narrows his eyes. “You said No to me just yesterday. Are you fucking around?”

“No,” Sicheng says, straightening up.

“So you were lying?”

“No.” Sicheng scratches the back of his head. He mutters some words in Mandarin to himself, that Yuta doesn’t catch at all, before speaking again. “I wasn't sure. I needed to think.”

“Think, huh?” Yuta reaches a hand up to Sicheng's waist, testing the waters. When he's not pushed away, he pulls Sicheng closer. “A novel concept.”

Sicheng bites his lip. “What?”

“Don't worry about it,” Yuta says. He stands up, smoothing the hand on Sicheng’s waist slowly up to his neck. Under his palm, he can feel Sicheng shiver, fingers curling into the edge of Yuta's shirt. Yuta puts their faces close together, lips but a millimetre apart. “Just tell me what you think of this.”