A lot of people use it as an umbrella term. ‘Gay’ casting a shadow over anyone that isn’t straight. Minghao’s been using the word ‘gay’ for awhile now.
It’s not like he’s told anyone, thankfully, he doesn’t feel the obligation to figure it out for someone else’s sake. It could confuse plenty of people, saying, ‘I’m not straight, I think I might be gay. But I’m not totally sure. It’s weird.’
It would be too weird to explain. So he opts to not.
Minghao doesn’t have experience with men, either, the only tell he has is thinking for too long about kissing boys. He’s never kissed any boys, though, he’s too scared to let himself.
Especially since he became an idol - since he became a trainee, specifically. Opportunities have always been presenting themselves, but the thought of acting on them used to solely scare him. Now, Minghao is too worries about headlines about The8 seen holding a guy’s hand.
He kind of figures that a safer route to take would be dating another idol - one at his company. (One in his group.)
Not that any of them are gay, either. If Minghao even is.
There’s a rumor going around that Jihoon might be gay, just from how he’s never dated a girl before. It’s possible that was just fanservice, though, it probably was. Or, how Minghao claims to be queer but hasn’t had a boyfriend. Jihoon could just have rotten luck in dating.
For a month and a half, Minghao practically clings to Jihoon’s side. Almost pathetically. At meals, he sits at his side. During practices, he tries to relish in the moments their choreo brings them close. Minghao thinks to himself, ‘I like him. I like Jihoon-Hyung.’
He tries to want him. Minghao uses this as his proof - he is gay, he has to be gay. Minghao is queer.
But then there was a moment, six months into debut, a half bottle of soju in Jihoon and he’s drunkenly whispering to Minghao, what’s his deal?
“You think you’re my shadow, or something?”
There’s this slight, panicked anxious feeling in his stomach. Minghao can’t tell if it’s from the possibility of being outed or the possibility of his Hyung discovering this crush of his.
“Hyung, I don’t-ah-I don’t really understand—
“Sitting next to me, breathing down my god-damn neck… Like a girl with a crush.”
Like a girl with a crush.
Minghao opens his mouth, knowing words would never come up.
“Is that it?” Jihoon asks, tone lighter. The space between them on the couch hasn’t changed, but it feels so much closer. “Myungho…”
A name that doesn’t truly belong to Minghao, in a mouth that struggles to form the words. He would taste like the drink Jihoon just downed.
“I think I may…” Minghao explains. But he doesn’t - he leaves it there, empty and waiting.
When Jihoon closes the bit of distance between them, he smiles. “Oh,” he says.
A mouth that struggles to find Minghao’s, tasting like the soju Jihoon just downed. That’s it, that’s Minghao’s first kiss.
Maybe his heart thumped.
They kiss for a few minutes, gently, softly. Jihoon eventually pulls back and gives a drunken smile. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” Minghao says. His lips burn from the kiss. He doesn’t really know what Jihoon means by that.
Jihoon leaves, to his room. Minghao goes to his own, curling up on his bed and thinking about warm lips with their bitter taste.
It sits in Minghao’s chest for the next two months - waiting for Jihoon to say something. Maybe Minghao developed a real crush just from his obsessing over knowing what any of that means.
He has to wonder if Jihoon even remembers the sleepy, drunken kiss or if it’ll forever live in Minghao’s memories.
But the melodramatic wondering ends shortly before their first anniversary as Seventeen, Jihoon catches Minghao in a hallway, alone.
Maybe Minghao’s heart thumped.
Jihoon states plainly that - they kissed, that he was sorry he ignored Minghao after it, that he felt bad for doing it, especially if Minghao had these feelings.
As Jihoon fumbles through his explanation, Minghao feels the strangest ache of uncertainty. He sees the effect having lead on Minghao has on Jihoon. But Minghao doesn’t feel anything.
He feels anxious, really. Uncomfortable.
“It’s okay, Hyung,” Minghao says lamely. “Really. It’s alright.”
And it horrifyingly was.
The next year-and-a-half passes without issue, for the most part. There is slight tension with Jihoon initially, but it passes because Minghao makes sure it does. He gives space, but closes it before it gets to be too much.
Promotions and existing as Seventeen carries on. Until an unfortunate evening with Junhui.
Junhui, who is sitting and trying to make sense of fan letter. He has not a blank look on his face, but one that studies the familiar-but-still-unfamiliar Hangul.
In a moment, a breathless-unsure moment, Minghao thinks Junhui is beautiful.
When he thinks back to that moment, hours later, Minghao thinks of how that must mean nothing. It has to. He let go of Jihoon in a moment’s decision, he cannot go thinking about other people that way.
There wasn’t anything wrong with Jihoon, so why cast him to the side.
So Minghao lets his brief attraction to Junhui fizzle out - because he must not be gay, he isn’t gay. He must not be.
Another year passes.
There’s moments of being too close, moments of intimacy that felt too overwhelming - Junhui’s hand on Minghao’s thigh for too long, Junhui reaching over to fix Minghao’s collar, Junhui wiping a bit of water that dribbles onto Minghao’s lip away, things that shouldn’t add up to anything.
And they don’t.
They become nothing.
The second anniversary brings a dream of kissing Joshua, that makes Minghao wake up in a cold sweat. He tells himself it’s nothing, it means nothing, it will become nothing.
Joshua has always had this attitude of strong, sensible, safe. He was caring and beautiful. Minghao feels his heart jump when he sees him.
Not in the way it did when Jihoon kissed him, nor in the way it did when Jihoon confronted Minghao. It jumps in its own way that makes Minghao almost dizzy.
He likes Joshua. He likes Joshua. He likes Joshua.
Clinging to him during Going Seventeen videos, talking to him late into evenings. Minghao feels his heart swell with adoration. He is in love, he feels so much love in his heart.
So it come suddenly and painfully, the rejection. A voice that’s barely there - I like you, Hyung.
Joshua goes red in the face, he looks away. “Is this a joke?” He asks. It hurts.
Minghao could say it was, he could claim it was one big joke to see his reaction.
Instead he says. “Do you think it is?”
Joshua struggles through an apology for something he didn’t fully get.
I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you had feelings for me. I’m sorry. I just don’t like guys like that. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
It dismantles the idea again. Minghao doesn’t want to be gay. Being gay meant pain and having only half the chance at love as one normally should.
Joshua puts space between them, like Minghao had with Jihoon, but sews it back up eventually, like Minghao had with Jihoon.
A whirlwind later, Junhui still looks beautiful. Even when Minghao still hurts over Joshua, Junhui is beautiful.
Junhui is beautiful even when Minghao hears him crying in the shower. He sees in the ajar door, Junhui’s foggy silhouette in the mirror - hunched over and sobbing.
He says nothing, he shuts the door.
As time progresses, Minghao places himself under this uncomfortable label of ‘queer’ because Minghao takes awhile to get comfortable with the word gay. Another two-and-a-half months progress before he does it.
“I’m gay,” Minghao announces to his members.
They react in mixed ways: Some stare so blankly, like they can’t figure why he’s telling them this. A few smile and hug him. Junhui is one of them.
So that happens - they all know, everyone knows Minghao is gay. It disappears shortly after, this initial shock and uneasy treatment.
Soon it’s just Minghao still agonizing over being a closeted gay idol, and thinking Junhui is beautiful.
Sometimes Minghao looks in the mirror and thinks it. I’m gay. Forever wishing for this word to become easier.
The first night that Minghao dreams of disembodied hands tracing every line and curve of his body, haunting whispers of who the hands belong to. Hands coaxing noise and breathless want from Minghao.
It takes three more nights for Minghao to allow himself to add the name - Junhui. Junhui in his dreams that touches him. Minghao is ashamed at first.
He thinks of Junhui crying in the shower, looking beautiful.
And later that same evening - the evening Junhui cried in the shower - Minghao remembers watching the door to Junhui’s bedroom, at the end of a mile long stretch of hallway, wanting to go up and see him.
Ache. Ache. Ache. He aches. Minghao aches. He wills himself to see Junhui. To face him after those dreams of lust and selfishness and want.
Because isn’t this their worst fear? The token gay member working his way through each other them, claiming there’s love. Minghao clinging to whispers and touches that mean nothing to them, but everything to him.
He can’t let that happen, so Minghao hides his grimaces and looks Junhui in the eyes - makes sure he does.
Continuously wishing he could walk down this mile long stretch of hallway and face Junhui, to see him and tell him—
Tell him - Tell Junhui what, that he loves him? That he sees a life with him? Does he?
He could never ask something like that of Junhui, he could never expect something like that from him. A life, a home, they were meant to be cookie cutter idols and eventually disband - and it will be left at that.
Minghao will never tell the public, so maybe he’ll marry a woman and start a life with her. If any of his ex-members ask him about it, he could laugh and say he never really knew anything back then.
The idea that this will probably be what happens makes his skin crawl. Minghao cries, he crawls into bed and dreams of a mile long stretch of hallway that keeps getting further away from him - never quite reaching Junhui. He’ll never reach him.
It will never stop. It, being the painful ache - the ache for Junhui, to hold him, to kiss him, to love him.
Love, love, love - he’ll never reach it. Minghao is far past his anger towards himself, he could care less about what he’s meant to want. The fact remains he will never reach it.
Junhui is forever the thing that makes the hairs on the back of Minghao’s neck stand to attention, what makes Minghao stop to catch his breath. The most unnerving, beautiful, and ambiguous thing.
He wants to say the worst thing, Minghao wants to say it. He loves him.
The mile long stretch of hallway that is forever out of reach, Minghao’s finger tips burn to open that door.
On the other side of that door is a life and love and light and so, so, so much love. He wants to give in and hope so pathetically that maybe Junhui could look at him that same way. He could love him.
Scream at Junhui to love him and wish it’ll stick, hope it’ll sink deep enough to be real.
A handful of weeks pass before Minghao finds himself alone with Junhui. A couch of distance between them. Phones to fill up the silence Minghao forces between them.
“Why did you come out?” Junhui asks, it makes the hairs on Minghao’s neck stand up. Junhui repeats himself. “Why come out?”
Minghao says something about not wanting secrets between all of them. And then he starts to fumble. “Why do you ask?” He asks.
“Is it ‘cause you don’t like it?” Minghao asks - and it burns to ask, terrified it’s true - Junhui blinks at him. “You don’t want a gay member? You think it’s dirty, or something.”
When Junhui says nothing, Minghao stands up. He yells. “Do I disgust you so much?” He shouts. “Are you so fucking horrified to have a gay member?”
“Shut up!” Junhui stops him. “Just shut up! You don’t understand anything!”
Minghao, overcome, storms out. He bursts into tears when he’s out of the room because all he can think about is how beautiful Junhui is.
Everything feels like it’s on fire. And Minghao.
Minghao can’t breathe. He’s forgotten how. He thinks Junhui is beautiful, Junhui is beautiful. It uses it like a crutch. Junhui hates him, Junhui is disgusted by him. By who he is, by who Minghao will love.
He loves Junhui. It’s painful. So, so painful. The ache starts in his rib cage this time, right around his heart.
Later that same evening, Junhui comes into Minghao bedroom. He lingers in the doorway. “Minghao,” he says. Saying Minghao’s name, not an obstructed version that he’s been forced to identify with.
“I’m sorry for accusing you earlier,” Minghao tells him, on edge. Hoping this will confirm that Junhui is not horrified by Minghao. “I just never know, you know?” And, maybe Junhui does know. Or maybe he doesn’t.
Junhui nods. “I think you’re so beautiful.”
Those words feel heavy. Minghao has to hold them with both hands. And when he swallows them whole they plummet to the middle of his empty stomach and the echo is so loud Minghao nearly flinches.
And then Junhui closes a space between them. He’s right up close to Minghao. “You’re so beautiful. And brave. I’m so amazed by what you did, I’m so proud of you. You really did something wonderful.”
Minghao stares at him with an open mouth. “Ah,” he says.
“I think you’re so beautiful,” Junhui repeats. “Minghao, I think you’re so, so beautiful and I--” He stops and Minghao wants to will him to continue. He does. “I think I love you.”
That. That. That. Heart. In his throat. Minghao nearly passes out.
“Don’t be joking,” he croaks. “Don’t joke about this. Don’t try and be funny right now.”
“I love you,” Minghao forces out. But he’s smiling, a smile that makes his cheeks hurt. “I love you and I thought I loved Joshua and I told myself I loved Jihoon, but I love you. I’ve always loved you. It’s always been you.”
Junhui smiles. “Okay.”
“I love you,” Minghao says, helpless. His chest aches. In a good way. “I love you.”
Junhui smiles. “I love you, too.”