Minghao quickened his pace. The wheels of his suitcase dragged along the cement floor. They echoed loudly in the quiet parking lot. Minghao had grown accustomed to a whirlwind of noise and commotion that whenever he encountered silent, empty spaces, he was always wary of it.
He tugged on his face mask and inconspicuously looked around the parking lot in case anyone had followed him from the airport.
He knew the chances of bumping into a fan were slim.
He had been careful to avoid posting on social networking sites about his return from China, despite that his heart ached to communicate with carats. In fact, he hadn’t posted anything during his three-month vacation in China. He had wanted to post on Instagram and the like—the full storage on his phone proving how many pictures he had taken. However, when he returned to his hometown, his family insisted on traveling to an even smaller village where internet access was practically nonexistent. It was an experience to say the least—not that Minghao complained much since he had enjoyed his parents’ company. But three months without it had left Minghao a bit jittery—he had surprised himself that when he got to the airport, he had listened to his manager and did not post a single picture or tweet.
Still, even without any public notification of his arrival, it did not hurt to check his surroundings avidly. One never knew with their fans.
His phone vibrated in his left hand, and as he walked, he checked the new message.
Minghao looked all around. Then, he saw a few feet away from him, Mingyu exiting his white BMW. Minghao’s smile hurt his cheeks. He sprinted forward, the wheels of his suitcase struggling to catch up.
Three feet of Mingyu, Minghao launched himself at his best friend, not caring that his luggage had fallen on its side. Mingyu pretended to grunt at the weight but spun him around as they clung to each other.
The hug lasted a while until Mingyu broke it to set Minghao on his feet. The contact shifted from sweet to violent as Mingyu pinched Minghao’s stomach harshly, “Did you finally put on some weight?” He asked.
Minghao kneed him in the side to get him away. “Shut up,” He bit out; although, he couldn’t stop giggling. When the laughter died down, he took a good look at Mingyu. He frowned as he saw the way Mingyu’s chest stretched the fabric of his simple faded blue tee. Minghao swore Mingyu had complained three months ago the shirt was too baggy.
Minghao groaned, “Please tell me you didn’t spend your vacation at the gym.”
“I did,” Mingyu said with an amused smile. Mingyu reached down to grab Minghao’s luggage. With a click of his keys, he popped open the trunk and threw the luggage inside. “With Cheol and Hansol.”
“I hate you guys,” Minghao said, already walking to the passenger seat.
Mingyu laughed as he climbed into the driver’s side. “It’s not like you aren’t fit.”
“I know, but I can’t put on muscle as easily as you and Seungcheol.”
Mingyu pulled out of the parking spot, and he began driving them to the apartments. “Well, if you ate more protein... Mingyu chastised like he had several times before. He reached past Minghao and from the compartment drawer pulled out a small snack bar. He tossed it at Minghao, “Look, I bought these new bars filled with protein and good carbs.”
Minghao laughed as he read the packaging.
“What?” Mingyu asked. He snuck a quick glance at Minghao once he made it onto the highway.
“Dude, I read about these, they make you shit like crazy.”
“No, they don’t. I’m still pooping a normal three times a day.”
“You shit three times a day!”
“That is not normal.”
“Of course it is. How much do you poop?”
“Three times a week, I think.”
“That is not normal at all. Oh my god, give my condolences to your poor constipated intestines.”
“Give my condolences to your overused asshole.”
“Nice, just a few minutes in Korea and you are already using such language. Did you rejoin your boy scout gang in China? Is that why you’re cursing up a storm in my car?”
“Shut up, like you have the cleanest mouth.”
“I will have you know; I have not cussed in a little over a month. Wonwoo and I are running a little bet to see who can last longer.”
“It’s a tie right now.”
Minghao chuckled and marveled at the familiar sights of Seoul. “I bet I can get Wonwoo to curse within an hour.”
“You would do that for me?”
Minghao snorted. “I’ll do it, so I’m not bored out of my mind. What’s the prize?”
“Loser has to pay for groceries for three months.”
“Very Nice. Is Jun back yet?”
“Yeah, he came back yesterday. Fan cafes were pretty chill, so he kept it on the down-low just like you. Jisoo came back from LA a week ago, but I haven’t seen him yet.”
“Of course not, Seungcheol and Jeonghan kidnapped him. I wondered how they survived without their precious Josh.”
“They didn’t. The two spent it our place moping. Wonwoo called Seungkwan over, so they hung out with him a lot for most of it.”
Minghao hummed. He looked out the window and enjoyed a comfortable silence with his best friend. He found he didn’t mind silences when it was with him.
After finally getting off the highway, Mingyu started the conversation again, “Anyway, practice started today.”
“Yeah? Why are you picking me up then? I would have called one of the managers.”
“I put in extra hours the day before we left for vacation so I could take a free day with just you.”
Minghao leaned his elbow against the armrest of the car. He pressed his palm against his mouth to hide his smile. “Really?” He asked in a bored tone.
“Yeah. Since mostly everyone is at the company building, I thought we could spend a day to ourselves. We could go to the grocery store together, and you can pick out what you wanted me to make you, then we could chill, watch a movie and then...” His voice rose awkwardly and then there was a strange pause, “...sleep.”
Minghao turned toward him. “Why was there a pause?”
Mingyu’s hands tightened against the steering wheel as he stared straight ahead. “There was no pause.”
Minghao narrowed his eyes and sunk back into the leather seat. He looked up at the traffic light. “Mingyu, the light’s green.”
The car rolled forward again.
Minghao let the silence swell, and when they were only five minutes from the apartment, he asked again, “Why was there a pause?”
“Why can’t I just take a pause?” Mingyu said quickly.
“Because people only take pauses for a few reasons. One reason can be if they are trying to clear snot from their throat, but I haven’t heard you sneeze once, which means you remembered to take your allergy medicine today. Another reason would be if you were trying to be dramatic or crying but the situation didn’t call for that judging by our tones.”
Minghao ignored him. “And the final reason people take pauses is if they are trying to hide something. And examining the way your hands tightened on the steering wheel a minute ago and your voice went up in pitch and...” Minghao leaned forward into Mingyu’s personal space, “...judging by the sweat by your hairline, you got nervous I caught you in a lie.”
“Oh my god, why do you always talk so much,” Mingyu groaned out. When they stopped at a red light, Mingyu looked over at him. Minghao smiled and raised both eyebrows.
Mingyu groaned one more time and then drove forward as the light changed, “They wanted to throw you a surprise party,” Mingyu finally said in defeat.
“Ugh, I hate surprise parties.”
“I know; I told them. Jeonghan wanted an excuse to plan something, so he said it’s for you, Jun, and Jisoo.”
“Is the party at our place?”
“Yeah, sorry about that.”
“You sure? I can’t have them cancel it, but I can have them move it to Jeonghan’s.”
“Nah, it’s good.” Minghao frowned and mumbled, “I kind of just wanted it to be us and have it be a chill day like you said. I’m kind of jet-lagged too, so I wanted to nap for a bit, and if they are coming over to our place, we can’t exactly kick them out.”
Mingyu stayed silent as he the thought the situation over. Finally, he asked, “How about I drop you off at the apartment so you can rest and I’ll go grocery shopping?”
Minghao smiled. “Yeah, sounds good.”
They finally reached the apartment building, and Mingyu pulled into the private underground parking structure. He parked the car close to the elevator but kept the car running.
“What do you want to eat?” Mingyu asked Minghao as he got out of the car and grabbed his suitcase.
Minghao went back to the passenger window and leaned down to speak with Mingyu. He grinned as he said, “Surprise me.”
“I thought you didn’t like surprises.”
“You're not very surprising.”
Mingyu placed both hands over his heart, “Oh, that hurts. I can be very surprising.”
Minghao rolled his eyes and snorted, “Idiot.” He patted the car, “But whatever you choose sounds good.”
“Alright, I’m gonna hold you to that. Don’t yell at me if I bring back something you don’t like.”
Minghao stood straight and began walking to the elevator, “No promises!”
He climbed into the elevator and watched Mingyu’s white BMW drive away. He smiled and pressed for the tenth floor.
The doors open revealing a nearly empty hallway. Minghao spotted their neighbors, a kind elderly couple, exiting their apartment for their usual morning walk.
“Minghao, you’re back!”
“I am Mrs. Lee,” Minghao greeted. He bowed and held the elevator open for both of them.
“Good, I was tired of hearing Mingyu sulking up and down the hallway.”
Minghao chuckled, “I’ll be sure to make fun of him for that.”
The couple laughed and bid Minghao farewell before the elevator closed. Minghao happily walked toward his door and pressed his finger on the scanner to open the door.
He entered and kicked off his shoes, placing them neatly in the shoe cubby. He looked around inside, trying to spot any differences. Unsurprisingly, it all seemed relatively the same.
He spotted several of Wonwoo’s books sitting on the coffee counter with a full open thermos that most likely belonged to Junhui. Minghao passed by the coffee counter and closed the thermos.
He walked down the hallway to his shared room with Mingyu.
After their fifth album, Jeonghan, Seungcheol, and Jisoo had moved out of the dorms to get their apartment. Junhui had jokingly suggested they move out as well and Mingyu took the suggestion to heart. A month later, Junhui, Mingyu, Wonwoo and he had gotten enough money together and found an apartment of their own. The others remained in the original dorm completely thrilled with the amount of extra space.
Minghao couldn’t blame them; it was a blessing having this apartment with only four of them. He threw his luggage by his bed and contemplated putting his stuff away but instead decided he would much rather nap. Cleaning could wait. Without taking off any of his clothes, he collapsed on his bed.
Sleep took him quickly.
Two hours later, Minghao woke up to a glorious smell. He inhaled deeply, his eyes fluttering open. He followed the scent down the hallway and walked past the living room into the kitchen. Minghao smiled as he saw Mingyu stirring a giant pot while wearing a pink apron.
“Spicy fish soup and kimchi ramyun,” Minghao said, taking a peek at the food, “You’re spoiling me.”
“I missed you; you deserve to be spoiled,” Mingyu said without any shame.
Minghao scoffed, “Shut the fuck up,” but secretly he was pleased.
“Sit down; food is almost done.”
Minghao sat at the small table and pulled out his phone, waiting for Mingyu to finish cooking. He went on Twitter first and grinned as he saw cellphone pictures of him in the car with Mingyu at a stoplight— seemed the fans knew he was back at least.
He put the phone to the side when Mingyu placed a steaming bowl in front of him. Mingyu sat across from him expectantly, waiting for Minghao to take that first bite. Minghao took a generous amount and groaned after he swallowed, “Oh my god, I missed your cooking.”
“Ah, just my cooking and not me?” Mingyu teased. Minghao had noticed how much Mingyu kept mentioning how he missed him. Minghao had yet to return the sentiment. If Mingyu didn’t know already, then it was his loss.
“Why would I miss you?” Minghao asked. Mingyu already knew the answer. He had missed Mingyu greatly. Three months of limited internet access also meant zero contact with Mingyu. The two had never been separated for more than two weeks; he was surprised they had survived these three months. And it was those thoughts that made Minghao fear that they were worse than their hyungs.
Luckily, though, Mingyu saw the teasing glint in his eyes and Mingyu’s smile stretched proudly. Minghao tucked his spoon in his mouth, and for some reason that smile made Minghao want to kick him under the table.
After they finished eating, Mingyu asked “So, who’s cooking is better? Mine or your mom’s? I promise I won’t tell.”
Minghao didn’t even hesitate. “Yours.”
“Oh my god!” Immediately, Mingyu fished out his phone.
“What are you doing?” Minghao asked when he heard the familiar Facetime ring.
Mingyu only smirked and quickly stood up, the chair squeaking on the hardwood floor.
“Hello,” Minghao heard the familiar voice.
“You didn’t!” Minghao shouted, chasing after Mingyu after he realized Mingyu Facetimed his mother.
“Miss Xu! I have exciting news for you!” Mingyu said, Mandarin accent heavy.
Minghao regretted teaching Mingyu Mandarin three years ago. His Mandarin wasn’t that bad; he could speak conversationally with someone despite his heavy accent. However, he still sucked at reading it.
“Your boy safely arrived in South Korea,” Mingyu announced.
“Thanks for telling me because Minghao failed to notify me he had arrived,” Minghao’s mother said.
Minghao cringed, remembering he had forgotten to call her.
“But I have something else to tell you,” Mingyu continued, climbing over the sofa. Minghao followed him, trying to snatch the phone away. “Remember when we were discussing whether HaoHao liked your cooking or mine? Well, he finally announced he likes mine better.”
“Minghao!” His mother shouted, scandalized. “Is that why you wouldn’t eat my hot pot?!”
“Mom!” Minghao tried to corner Mingyu, but he slipped past him. “Mingyu is lying.”
“Hmmm,” He didn’t have to see his mom to know she was thinning her lips in displeasure. Minghao was gonna murder Mingyu.
“Thank you for telling me Mingyu. Minghao can be certain that when he comes home next time, he can make his own food.”
“Alright, I’ll tell him that too. Nice to see you.”
“Nice to see you too. Have a good day son,” She directed at Mingyu then finally to her real son in a blunt tone, “Minghao.”
“Bye Bye,” Mingyu waved enthusiastically.
He ended the call, and Minghao launched at him. They fell on the rug, nearly missing the coffee table. Minghao pushed Mingyu to the ground not sure what he was trying to accomplish, but he needed to take his anger out somewhere. It didn’t help that Mingyu laughed underneath him. They continued wrestling until Minghao banged his head against the coffee table. He hissed and sat up, rubbing his head.
“You cannot Facetime my mom,” Minghao said petulantly.
“Cause it’s weird. How did you even get her number?”
“She gave it to me during our parent dinner maybe two years ago?”
“You’ve been Facetiming mom for two years! I can’t believe it! No, wait…I can.”
Mingyu scrunched his nose and looked at his arm, “I can’t believe you bit me.”
Minghao rolled his eyes and said the familiar phrase in Chinese that his mother used to always tell him as a child, “Hitting is affection and scolding is love.”
Mingyu scoffed, climbing onto the couch. Under his breath, he murmured in Chinese, “You’re so 250, that’s what you are.”
“What the hell!” Minghao shouted in Korean. “I didn’t even teach you that one.”
“Your mom taught me that. I like it, telling someone you have a quarter of a brain without using any actual curse words. I need to jump more on this Chinese insult bandwagon; she told me a lot of egg ones too by the way.”
Minghao groaned and crawled on the couch. He fell face first into Mingyu’s lap. “I’m not even going to respond to that.”
Minghao shut his eyes and grunted when Mingyu reached over for the remote. The two lazily watched some dramas, and Minghao began to crack up when the next drama pulled up on screen. It was a year old drama, they were apparently airing reruns, but it was when Mingyu had ventured into his acting career. Mingyu’s acting wasn’t bad, but the plot sure was.
Mingyu flicked his cheek, “Stop it.”
“I’m sorry. But you have to admit, amnesia storyline?”
“I thought it was clever at the time,” Mingyu leaned back comfortably, his hand coming to Minghao’s waist.
They continued watching the show, and both of them kept pointing out the lousy plot points and camera direction.
When the episode was almost over, they heard the front door open. Immediately, Minghao was met with Wonwoo’s and Junhui’s welcome.
He hugged them both and followed them into the kitchen. Minghao’s mind was already whirling and less than subtly, as he was helping them get their dinner, dropped some water on Wonwoo’s shirt.
“Fu—” Wonwoo began, and Minghao’s eyes widened. But as Wonwoo saw his grin, Wonwoo halted his speech and shouted in the direction of the living room, “You told him about the bet!”
Mingyu came into the kitchen grinning as his answer.
Wonwoo reached for a washcloth. “No fair, I’ll sick Jun on you.”
“Jun signed a contract that he’s not allowed to interfere. It’s binding and everything. We even went to get it notarized.”
“I’ll make Minghao sign it!”
“I’ll sign no such thing!” Minghao announced. “I want my best friend back cursing included.”
“Well, I’m not going to lose.”
“Yeah Minghao,” Junhui spoke as he munched on his food, “That was kind of weak even for you.”
Minghao grinned, knowing that his next move was going to shock them all. “Well, I can guess I can always go with…” Minghao reached for his shirt and pulled it overhead.
“Son of a bitch!” Came Jun’s first reply.
Minghao grinned as he saw both Mingyu and Wonwoo trying to hold in their curses. He wouldn’t blame them. It was a lot to take in. All along his left side, he had gotten a tattoo. Five pink lotus flowers of various sizes ran along his skin and skimmed at his hip bone. The green mixed in with the lotus flowers were Minghao’s favorite part, they hugged his chest and sections of his back. Overall, Minghao felt it was the best thing he had ever gotten, better than the industrial piercing he got two years ago.
“What the—” Mingyu began, eyes bugging out of his head.
“Holy shit!” Junhui helped Mingyu out, standing up. Junhui touched his side and leaned in close, examining the details of the lotus petals. “Our stylists are going to be pissed. Looks fantastic though.”
“Which is why I’m not going to tell them yet,” Minghao grinned and reached for his shirt to put it back on. “And thank you.”
“When did you get it?” Wonwoo asked, sitting back down.
“About two months ago,” Minghao answered, sitting at the kitchen table. Mingyu sat beside him.
The three of them asked him several questions about his trip to China, and when that was all there was to tell, they used it to catch up other stories. They moved to the living room after Wonwoo and Junhui finished eating, continuing their conversation until the others arrived.
Soonyoung, Jihoon, Seokmin, Seungkwan, Hansol, and Chan arrived first with several bags of junk food and drinks. Seungcheol, Jeonghan, and Jisoo came fifteen minutes later with the alcohol causing Junhui to give Jeonghan a huge hug.
Everyone was pleased to see each other again, and they pushed the sofa against the wall to make room.
It was more like a gathering than a party, which Minghao was grateful for. He wasn’t in the mood to clean up people’s messes. Although, within two hours the majority of them were drunk.
The only ones who refused to drink were Jihoon, who was driving, and Minghao and Jisoo.
Minghao was chatting nicely with Jisoo on the sofa when a drunk Jeonghan came in and planted himself in Jisoo’s lap. Minghao sighed, used to their antics. It had been about five years since Jeonghan, Jisoo, and Seungcheol had gotten together. When the three first announced they were together, the group had been shocked and not very supportive. None of them were against the fact that they liked men, but it was the new idea of three people in a relationship that threw them for a loop. However, when they saw how happy the three were, they all gradually began to respect their decision and come to support them as well. The only thing Minghao hated was that no one was allowed to discuss their relationship outside their group.
The three of them were terrified of the repercussions from managers, staff, and most of all their fans. So the three of them were forced to keep their relationship a secret. Minghao knew that must take a toll on their relationship, but they all seemed happy, so Minghao wondered how much it plagued them.
Minghao’s attention drew back to the couple as Jeonghan began to mouth along Jisoo’s neck. Minghao snorted, but his eyes pulled to a black mark behind Jisoo’s ear.
“Fuck yeah!” Minghao shouted reaching out to touch the tattoo resting on Jisoo’s neck. It was a very simple black cross, but it suited Jisoo well.
“What? Oh yeah, I got it in LA.”
Mingyu came not a second later. He sat on the armrest, “You got a tattoo too? That’s awesome. You should see Minghao’s. It’s fantastic and gorgeous.”
Minghao rolled his eyes at his friend’s compliments. But he pulled up his shirt when Jisoo asked to see it. Junhui and Soonyoung drunkenly catcalled at him. Minghao laughed as soon as the group freaked out. Seungkwan tripped on his way to him. They marveled at the design to the point Minghao began to blush under their stares and attention.
Mingyu handed him back his shirt, and Minghao pulled it back on self-consciously.
For some reason, his tattoo called for another round of shots, and in less than twenty minutes the group was sufficiently drunk.
Jihoon apologized and was responsible for rounding up five drunken men into the elevator. Minghao felt sorry for Jisoo as he tried to get Jeonghan and Seungcheol who were making out on the couch to stop and get out. He had to whisper something in their ears for the two to shoot up and wave them goodbye. Minghao ignored the way both of them cupped Jisoo’s ass on the way out.
Finally, everyone was gone, and Minghao sighed looking around. Junhui had collapsed on the ground, and Wonwoo was stumbling drunk toward Junhui. Wonwoo kicked him lightly so they could go to bed.
Minghao looked around the apartment for Mingyu and found him in the bathroom splashing cold water on his face. When he turned around and faced him, Minghao chuckled. Mingyu was nowhere near as drunk as the others, but there was this tipsy gleam in his eyes.
“C’mon,” Minghao grabbed his wrist and helped him to their room.
Mingyu shed down to his boxers while Minghao took his time getting ready for bed, going to the bathroom to wash up and brush his teeth. When he returned to the room, Mingyu was sitting up in his bed, still awake and trying to shove his head through an armhole.
Minghao let him struggle for a moment. He sat on his bed across the room taking enjoyment in sight. When Mingyu whined, he finally took pity and walked across the room to help.
“I got cold,” Mingyu mumbled, once correctly in his shirt. He reached out toward Minghao and rubbed his face against Minghao’s stomach.
Minghao shoved him onto the bed, but Mingyu was insistent even when he was tipsy. He pulled Minghao down with him. “Cuddles!”
Minghao rolled his eyes but didn’t even try to fight it. He couldn’t recall the last time had fallen asleep in the same bed as his friend. And only if someone were to ask him at gunpoint, he would kind of admit to liking it. So, the struggle was practically nonexistent as he crawled under the covers with Mingyu.
Mingyu immediately tangled his limbs with Minghao. It was a bit uncomfortable, but Minghao did not complain as his friend murmured, “You’re home.”
Minghao sighed in contentment. Yeah, he was home.
Minghao took pride in walking into the company building the first thing in the morning. Plus, it helped that he didn’t have a hangover like the other three trailing behind him. He jumped excitedly and couldn’t wait to get back to work. That vacation had invigorated and refreshed him.
“I hate you,” Mingyu mumbled as they headed to the meeting room.
As per usual, before they started any preparations for an album, they met with their CEO to discuss concepts and dates. Minghao chuckled as he saw the state of the other members who were already in their seats.
Minghao sat beside Jihoon, who was rubbing his head. “Remind me to never let Soonyoung and Seokmin drink in the same place and time.”
Minghao giggled, “They streaked naked?”
“Yup, all across the dorm. They got Chan involved. It took me an hour to get them to settle down.”
“Sorry,” Minghao patted him sympathetically on the back.
The group waited for twenty minutes for the CEO to arrive, the man running a few minutes late as usual. However, when he came, everyone sobered up and went straight to business. Their publicist, vocal coach, dance coach, and four managers were all there as well providing input where necessary.
Once they got their concept down, and Jihoon discussed what music he had been working on that he wanted to include in the album, their CEO, Han Sung Soo became very pleased.
Since their fourth album when they miraculously won Artist of the Year at several award shows, Han Sung Soo had given them more leeway on what they could do. Now with their sixth album coming up in a month and a half, Han Sung Soo and the members became excited and wanted to work on it immediately.
They finished up their meeting within four hours, a significant accomplishment when Minghao recalled their second full album meeting had been six hours.
The members all stood up and bowed at Han Sung Soo before they took their leave.
“Actually,” Han Sung Soo spoke up, “I wanted to discuss one more thing.” The members scrunched their eyes, trying to recall what they forgot to mention. “With Mingyu and Minghao. Alone.”
Minghao met eyes with Seungcheol. Seungcheol immediately seemed worried and wanted to stay. But Han Sung Soo kindly dismissed him.
Mingyu and Minghao remained sitting, knees bouncing against each other in worry. When they left the CEO looked over at his side, “Youngmin, Hyerim, I need to ask you to leave as well,” He said, dismissing their dance and vocal instructor.
They watched them go until only their publicist, three managers, and CEO remained.
“You aren’t in trouble; we just wanted to discuss a few things. If that’s okay with you?” Han Sung Soo addressed.
“Sure,” Mingyu spoke up, trying to sound confident.
“So Seventeen will be releasing their sixth album in about a month and a half, and we wanted to make sure that Seventeen dominates in not only physical album sales but also digital ones. Furthermore, we fear that with your three-month break you might have lost some fans, so we want to guarantee we regain those fans and bring in new ones.”
“Excuse me, sir,” Minghao interrupted, “but this sounds like a conversation we should be having with the whole group.”
“Not necessarily because I have a huge favor to ask of you two to help promote the album and bring more publicity to Seventeen. That only you can do. Your publicist has a detailed a plan that both of you can accomplish to bring more recognition to Seventeen.”
“That’s great, what do we have to do,” Mingyu asked, leaning forward.
“Well, you are allowed to refuse since it is a very sensitive ordeal.”
“If it means bringing publicity to Seventeen, I don’t mind doing whatever you’re asking,” Mingyu stated. Minghao agreed.
“That’s very good to hear because we need you two to date.”
“You want us to what?” Minghao asked in disbelief.
The CEO looked between Minghao and Mingyu awkwardly as he repeated himself, “We need you two to date...each other.”