Yuta smiles softly, nursing his cup of tea.
From his seat at the table he watches Sicheng and Donghyuck putter around the kitchen, gathering ingredients for a simple hot pot. Earlier that day, the younger had approached them in an unusually shy manner and asked if the older could teach him how to make it. He’d then flushed and explained quietly that Mark had really liked it when Kun-hyung made it a few days ago. With a knowing smile, Sicheng had quickly agreed and claimed the kitchen for the afternoon.
Yuta takes a sip. He marvels at Sicheng’s quick knife work and chuckles when Donghyuck carelessly dumps the onions into the pot and causes broth to spatter everywhere.
Yuta takes another sip.
He wonders when they last cooked together—for fun, you know, without cameras shoved in their faces. He realizes he can’t remember.
He sighs and finishes his tea. Placing the mug in the sink, he catches Sicheng’s eye on the way out and shoots him a wide smile.
The boy returns it, but quickly turns back to the stove.
Normally, Yuta would laze around the dorm with coffee and harass his members before practice, but he hadn’t slept well that night. So he drags himself out of bed and leaves the apartment early for the cafe down the street.
The December air is crisp, but a latte warms his hands.
Seoul, he muses, is best in the mornings. The sun overwhelms the neon lights and caresses each street corner and back alley. Shop owners and restaurant workers start prepping for the day, taxis begin trundling through the streets, and the last bits of calm fall away from the waking city.
Yuta likes these mornings the best because he feels at home amongst the hustle and bustle.
But all too soon, he arrives at the company and makes his way to their practice space; he grumbles to himself about being stuck inside on such a beautiful day. Just as he’s about to enter the studio, movement from inside startles him. The realization suddenly dawns that he hadn’t checked to see if Doyoung and WinWin were awake before he left.
Before him now, wearing black shorts and a muscle tee, is Sicheng, stretched out in front of the mirror in a center split. With serene grace he reaches from side to side, folding his back and taking long, deep breaths. Then shifting his legs to the front, he folds over and tucks his chin, resting his forehead against his knees.
Yuta knows it’s creepy to stand outside the room and stare, but he’s distracted by taut muscles of Sicheng’s calves and the gentle slope of his back…
Shaking his head, Yuta berates himself silently.
The last thing any of them needs is an air of awkward due to too much staring or, god forbid, a half-assed, unrequited confession.
No, there’s nothing to see here...
Yuta stifles a moan when he falls into bed that night. Or rather, beside it.
They’d had a rare day off yesterday so Yuta and Sicheng had built a blanket fort and spent the day binging animes. And now, returning from a full day of practice, he’s too tired to clean up, opting instead to collapse on the array of sheets and pillows littering the floor.
The past few months have been a ruthless cycle of practices, planes, and filming schedules, and all of NCT are exhausted.
But of course, this is only the beginning. Once “Boss” drops, two days from now, the NCT Empathy ball will start rolling and won’t stop until at least the end of May. The very thought of promotions sends a spike of tension through his already rigid body. Idol life is all about endurance and unfortunately, he muses, he’s always been more of a sprinter.
The creaking door pulls Yuta from his thoughts and he looks up to see Sicheng step into the room with a towel around his neck.
“You don’t want to shower? Jaehyun said he could wait.”
Yuta shakes his head.
“You know how Doyoung gets if they don’t turn off the lights by 3.” Yuta delights in Sicheng’s responsive giggle.
At some point, the three of them had stopped pretending that Doyoung actually slept in their room anymore. After more than a few nights of tiptoeing down the hall and waking Mom a.k.a. a light sleeper named Taeyong, the members had just accepted the reality of Doyoung in Yoonoh’s bed.
Yuta doesn’t mind though. It means they can watch one more episode if they want and no one will nag them.
Turning off the lights, Sicheng settles cross-legged on the floor beside him and drags a comforter over them both. The warmth of the sheets and the sound of the white noise machine on Sicheng’s desk are already making him drowsy.
“Is it ok if I use the phone for a minute?” Sicheng asks quietly.
The dial tone hums through the phone and after a few rings, a warm, feminine voice answers. “Mama…” Sicheng murmurs, “Happy New Year.” The greeting is returned enthusiastically and the conversation becomes a soft jumble of foreign words to Yuta’s ears.
Listening to the boy speak Chinese is calming, familiar. Yuta feels his eyelids grow heavier and he nestles deeper into the blanket. He’s on the cusp of sleep when a sniffle cuts through the daze and grabs his attention.
Yuta doesn’t open his eyes. Instead, he just shifts onto his side slowly and tosses his arm out, knowing it will fall across Sicheng’s lap. It does, and when the Chinese boy stiffens, he waits. He doesn’t give any indication of being awake.
Slowly, the boy relaxes again, lowering his voice. Yuta barely registers the goodbyes and the sound of the phone being set on the nightstand. He does, however, feel the way Sicheng stretches out on the ground and curls away from Yuta, pulling the blanket with him.
He doesn’t move Yuta’s arm.
The dorm is quieter once “Boss” promotions start up. And with “GO” about to drop, the visits from the Dreamies come to a halt too. So the few stragglers left in the apartment keep to themselves and enjoy a rare moment of silence.
Yuta would offer to help Kun and Taeil with dinner, but he’s fighting the tail end of a cold and doesn’t want to risk infecting anyone. So instead, he’s curled up in bed with Johnny’s tablet, halfway through the Boss MV commentary on YouTube.
He won’t lie and say he isn’t jealous.
The beat is infectious, the choreo is badass, and the backdrops - ok, Ukraine in general is incredible. And the fact that this is Lucas and Jungwoo’s debut? It’s a one-in-a-million experience.
He finds himself laughing though as WinWin sings along to Doyoung’s high notes. He’d never say it, but they all know it’s better to be left out of a project than to be included and then skipped over.
From what Jaehyun tells him, Sicheng has never complained about it.
Because the boy is naturally reserved and shy, his Korean hasn’t improved as quickly as Yuta’s or Renjun’s. So the subsequent lack of lines is unfortunate, but understandable. What truly infuriates Yuta though is the lack of screen time.
WinWin is too forgiving, so Yuta rants in his place for at least a week after “Boss” drops.
It boggles Yuta how talented and yet underutilized the boy is.
It’s stupid and unfair and— Mark and Taeyong’s bridge shocks him back to reality and Yuta swears he feels a headache coming on.
Sinking further into the mattress, he smiles softly when Taeyong yells stop. What they did to deserve such a leader, he’ll never know. Yuta nods along as Taeyong and Doyoung gush about Sicheng’s boss-like charisma; He’s so caught up in a mixture of pride and awe that he jumps when he feels a tap on the shoulder.
Taeil looks down at him knowingly.
“It’s time for dinner.”
An involuntary flush settles across Yuta’s cheeks as he nods and puts the tablet down. He ignores the way the older and Johnny share a look in the hallway before heading to the kitchen.
Padding to the table, Yuta mutters a few choice Japanese words under his breath as he surveys the dinner spread. “What is this?” He finally asks.
Kun smiles brightly as he starts dishing out the meal. “Crab fried rice silly, your favorite!”
“I know.” Yuta grumbles. “But why? We’re not celebrating anything and the crab meat alone must have used up half this week’s grocery money.”
Another shared look around the table irritates him.
“Well?” He demands.
“Sicheng and I went to Noryangjin over the weekend to pick up fish for Ten’s birthday dinner and while we were there, a nice ahjumma offered us a discount on her crab selection.” Taeil explains, setting a few saucers of kimchi on the table.
“And,” Ten interjects, “Sicheng just ‘happened’ to have some extra money with him to pay for it.” His tone is suggestive and Yuta can feel his ears redden.
“He helped me prep this morning before they left. And don’t worry! We made plenty so that you could have leftovers for the next few days! Chengie set aside a tupperware with your name on it.” Kun adds happily.
Yuta doesn’t say anything about it for the rest of the meal, but once the kitchen is clean and the leftovers are packaged away, he takes special care to tuck them behind the vegetables on the bottom shelf, away from hungry eyes.
Sicheng feels dead on his feet once he’s out of the van.
Their last practice before the NCT 2018 Empathy Showcase was nothing short of hell. The roars of “Black on Black” still ring in his ears and his entire body feels sore and overworked. But it’s nothing compared to the kids, he thinks lovingly as he looks back at the van.
Jisung and Chenle are conked out in the middle seats, while Renjun is literally prying Jaemin and Jeno apart following a cuddlefest in the back. It’s been a long day and they all need sleep, preferably in their beds.
Sicheng is about to wake the babies of the group, but a hand stops him.
“Don’t worry, Renjun and I got it.” Yuta says softly, squeezing his shoulder.
Before Sicheng can protest, the older kneels in front of Jisung and pats his head softly. “Jisungie, it’s time to go to bed.” The maknae groans. After a moment, without opening his eyes, the sleepy sixteen year old opens his arms expectantly.
Yuta chuckles and obliges him.
It takes some maneuvering, but eventually Jisung is situated comfortably on Yuta’s back and they make their way towards the dorm. Renjun follows suit with Chenle and Sicheng coos with Kun about how adorable they are.
He follows the rest of the members into the building and makes his way to his room.
He knows that Yuta will probably be too exhausted to shower, so he turns down the older’s bed and places a pack of wet wipes on the pillow. Satisfied, he sprints to the bathroom.
His own shower isn’t more than five minutes, but Sicheng relishes how the scalding water relieves some of the tension in his muscles. Then tossing on some PJs, he towels his hair dry and drops the wet bundle in the hamper. He contemplates going to the kitchen and making a cup of tea, but he really is too tired.
When he returns their room, Yuta is climbing under the covers. He shoots Sicheng a tired smile and then turns onto his side, facing the wall.
Things have felt off between them for a while now.
He hadn’t noticed at first, but then when Yukhei comments on it during break one morning, about how Yuta hasn’t been as touchy lately, Sicheng starts watching. Observing.
He notices how Yuta makes green tea in the middle of the day, even though the caffeine messes with his sleep, and sits quietly in the kitchen while he and Donghyuck cook.
He notices the shadow outside the practice room and smiles to himself when he catches the other’s mesmerized, spaced out look.
He notices a small container tucked at the back of the fridge, so he pulls it out and freezes. Written on a sticky note, in familiar handwriting, is his Chinese name and inside is a hefty portion of crab fried rice.
He notices how Yuta’s shoulders hunch towards the end of practice, and how he stumbles, but recovers after the jump in “Black on Black.” Sicheng knows how exhausted the older is and despite that, he still smiles and insists on taking care of Jisung.
And now Sicheng notices as Yuta lets out a long, ragged sigh and tosses uncomfortably in his bed.
“Hyung?” The younger asks abruptly.
“Can I sleep with you?”
Yuta’s figure visibly stiffens. After a beat, he rolls over to look at Sicheng, but the other isn’t waiting for a response. Instead, the Chinese boy shuffles over and lifts the covers and slides in beside him, avoiding his eyes.
“Everything okay Winie?”
His voice is hoarse and soft.
Again, Sicheng doesn’t reply. Then hesitantly, he shifts closer to Yuta and tosses an arm over his waist. The other automatically adjusts, wrapping his arm around Sicheng’s shoulders.
The silence that follows drags on long enough that Yuta starts wondering if the boy has fallen asleep. But then a small voice whispers to him, “I know you’ve been watching.”
Yuta’s stomach drops and he goes rigid again.
Undeterred, Sicheng moves to rest his head on Yuta’s chest and waits. He listens as the heartbeat under him slows and the initial panic subsides. “I have.” Yuta finally replies.
“I’ve been watching too…” Sicheng admits.
“I, um… I know you’ve been pulling away.” Sicheng murmurs, surprised by the tears that start to well up. “And-” His voice cracks. Yuta’s arms immediately tighten. “I didn’t say anything, but...”
“But what?” Yuta prompts softly.
Gathering up his courage, Sicheng rolls onto his stomach, practically on top of the other, and looks him in the eye. On the other hand, Yuta is startled by the younger's tears.
“Sorry hyung, I’m really tired.” The Chinese boy grumbles, brushing them away.
“Sicheng, are you sure you’re ok?” The older asks again, and the Chinese boy nods to reassure him. He knows Yuta reserves his real name for serious concern.
“Hyung, I don’t like it. I don’t want it.”
Internally Sicheng cringes at how whiny he sounds, but the message is clear. He watches as a flurry of emotions cross Yuta’s face until a calm, but uneasy expression takes over.
“Are you sure?”
The Chinese boy nods furiously this time, brushing away the last of his tears. “I’m sure.”
And before Yuta question it again, Sicheng smashes their lips together.
It’s nothing like how the Japanese boy has imagined it might be. Instead it’s frantic and a little painful at first, until Yuta responds and Sicheng smiles against his mouth and then slowly, as they familiarize themselves with each other, it softens into something sweet.
Eventually Yuta is the first to pull away, breathless as he falls back onto his pillow. And when Sicheng smiles down at him with swollen lips and sparkling eyes, Yuta swears he’s peaked—there will never be a sight more beautiful than this.
“Don’t say that hyung, I haven’t gotten real lines yet.” The boy jokes and Yuta grins, realizing he spoke aloud.
“You’re right Winie, I’m sorry.”
Sicheng enjoys the way Yuta’s laughter reverberates in his chest. And he savors the way Yuta’s arms snake around him and cuddles him against the older’s chest. The boy beneath him is warm and the patterns he’s tracing on Sicheng’s back are soothing and soon, the Chinese boy feels a wave of exhaustion hit again.
The younger moves to get off, but Yuta holds him where he is and strokes his hair softly.
“Go to sleep Winie, I love…”
And he does.
Taeil may or may not be the one to discover them in the morning, and like the good hyung he is, he may or may not take dozens of pictures to show the members later before waking them up.