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A Hundred Ways to Say...

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1

It's still fairly cold outside, Wooseok has to admit after standing by himself in the empty parking lot for almost 15 minutes. He hadn't made it out to be a big deal when Jinhyuk and their manager hopped back on the car to get some forgotten documents with a promise to be right back. It was spring already, waiting outside by himself for a bit wouldn't kill him, he'd said.

He is beginning to doubt that.

In an effort to distract himself both from the cold and the fact that the start of filming for the biggest step in his life is drawing ever closer, he starts to rehearse his steps for No More Perfume on You.

Even now, mere hours away from their audition in front of all the other trainees, he feels doubt niggling at the back of his mind. Going on Produce 101 had sounded like a good plan in theory, had sounded fantastic the further along the auditioning process both he and Jinhyuk made it.

But there are so many things that could go wrong.

He could mess up the choreography, the lyrics; his voice could go completely off-tune – and that was just for today. The far more catastrophic things would only start later, after the first episode got broadcast. The potential to gain new fans was there, of course, but there was also a very real danger that his current fans would feel betrayed and turn their back on him. Both of them could also fail to garner any sort of attention and just be edited out, leave the show with nothing to show for it and have their group be disbanded as a consequence. Or he would make a bit of a splash, enough that people would start looking him up, see who he was, what he'd done until now– the things that had been said about him without any basis of truth.

Leaving out a shuddering breath and stomping on the ground a little more forcefully, Wooseok tries to banish those thoughts to the very back of his mind, where they usually reside. It's useless to dwell on them anyway; the only thing he can control is his own performance. And at least for that, he is going to do the absolute best he can.

He is so engrossed in his own quiet singing and dancing that he doesn't even notice the man arriving at the parking space on foot, first watching him curiously from afar and then walking closer.

Therefore, he really can't be blamed for startling quite badly when someone suddenly talks directly behind him.

“You have a nice voice.”

Whirling around with wide eyes and a thundering heart, Wooseok can only gape at the newcomer.

He's tall, is his first thought as he stares at the man before him, wrapped up in a long black down jacket with his hands stuffed into his pockets and only the tiniest hint of pale skin visible between where his black mask covered the lower half of his face and his eyes were hidden by long bangs. He looked somewhat intimidating even, making Wooseok glance around nervously for his missing company car.

“It's very pleasant to listen to,” the man continues, voice even and apparently completely unaware that he'd scared Wooseok.

“I... thanks?” Wooseok tries, still wrong-footed.

He's saved from having to make small talk by a black van driving onto the parking lot and almost starts moving towards it before he catches a glimpse of the number plate and stops himself. Same model car, nothing to do with him.

“I don't think you'll need it, but good luck,” the man says as he turns and he sounds like he's smiling even as Wooseok can see close to nothing of his face. He makes a small waving motion with his hand as the door to the car slides open and he turns around to climb inside.

What an odd guy, Wooseok thinks as he stares after the car. It's only a few minutes later when Jinhyuk and their manager finally make their return that it dawns on him that considering the knowing wish for good luck, he'll probably see him again soon.

He's proven right in the middle of a brightly lit studio only a few hours later.

 

2

His first impression of Seungwoo – he knows the guy's name now – doesn't really change. It's probably because for the most part, they don't have anything to do with each other. They end up in different groups and he has Jinhyuk and a few other guys he starts hanging out with, plus there's literally more than a hundred people here at any given minute. So it's only a few days after the first evaluation that they directly cross paths again.

He's fresh out of the make-up chair and heading towards the set when he – literally – bumps into the older man again. He stumbles into the wall, disoriented for a moment before a large hand closes around his elbow, steadying him.

“Sorry.”

“No, my bad, I wasn't watching where I was going-” Wooseok stops when his eyes come to focus on Seungwoo's face. “Oh, it's you!”

Seungwoo huffs out a breathy laugh at his exclamation, about to comment on it when a voice from behind him interrupts.

“Are you making a name for yourself already, hyung? Are you notorious among the other trainees? What did you do and why haven't I heard about it yet?”

The barrage of questions comes from the guy Wooseok recognizes as Seungwoo's group mate, his name currently escaping him.

“What happened to keeping a low profile? Aww, I told you everyone would fall in love with you even if you didn't try!”

“Byungchan,” Seungwoo says and Wooseok makes a mental note to remember the name; his voice that of a long-suffering but fond friend and one Wooseok recognizes all too well, making him bite down on a grin.

“You know I'm right,” Byungchan says happily before turning to Wooseok to wink at him conspiratorially and then promptly get distracted by the next person coming out of the make-up room. “Hey, Suwhan~”

And just like that, he's gone.

“He's very talented and a great performer and... very energetic,” Seungwoo says, like he's trying to both excuse and praise his friend at the same time, confusing even himself.

“Trust me, I know the type,” Wooseok says distractedly, starting to wonder where Jinhyuk actually is right now. Probably off making new friends in the five minutes Wooseok isn't there, the disloyal walnut.

Seungwoo only chuckles lightly in response, leaning against the wall and watching Wooseok search the corridor. He only notices when he turns back to excuse himself, Seungwoo's hand still on his elbow and the silence starting to stretch a little too long.

“You're very pretty,” the older man says, head tilted and brown eyes watching Wooseok closely from behind his fringe and for the second time in a week, Wooseok is caught off-guard by a compliment from this guy.

“The stylists did a good job, then,” he says automatically.

“I'm sure they're also good,” Seungwoo agrees, lips stretching into a smile that seems almost teasing and Wooseok finds himself in a rare situation where he doesn't know what to say. Is this guy flirting with him or just really bad at making casual conversation? There are cameras everywhere, surely, he can't be hitting on him?

“Hyung!”

Seungwoo looks up at the excited voice calling him, nodding once to someone behind Wooseok before sending him a quick smile and letting go of him after squeezing his elbow gently one last time. Without another word he walks past him and to whoever is waiting for him, leaving Wooseok more confused than ever.

3

For the first while, Wooseok isn't sure what to make of Seungwoo, at all. Saying they get to know each other better over time seems like an overstatement because honestly, it's more like their friends become friends and suddenly they find themselves sitting next to each other in practice breaks and quick sneaky outings to the city.

He comes to realize that there is absolutely nothing scary about Seungwoo, if anything the score goes negative the more he sees Dongpyo climb all over him or Byungchan try to make him carry him because he's tired. And yet, despite letting the younger trainees basically walk all over him, he enjoys a respect that's unparalleled among the cast of the show.

Seeing him perform on stage and lead the less experienced trainees both on and off it, Wooseok can understand where that respect comes from. He's been performing professionally for a while now himself and wouldn't call himself shabby, but there's something about Seungwoo that makes you pay attention when he's standing in the spotlight and Wooseok isn't immune to that charm either.

And maybe it's also nice to have someone who will meet his eyes across the room and smile at him until he smiles back, someone who easily puts his arm around his shoulders when they happen to walk beside each other and who listens when he complains about Jinhyuk who's walking right in front of them, laughing too loudly at some joke Byungchan made. Maybe it's even nicer when they start sharing a room once they become part of the same group and Seungwoo makes sure if he's eaten before bed, if he hasn't hurt himself while practicing, lets his fingers run through his messy hair and tell him he looks cute.

The last, especially, is a common occurrence lately. And Wooseok is no stranger to compliments (comes with the territory, really), but Seungwoo's compliments, or maybe rather, his way of complimenting, is odd enough to almost always stump him.

Sometimes, he's not entirely sure they are compliments or just plain attempts at flirting or just a stream of conscious thing that Seungwoo isn't even entirely aware of.

There's the time Seungwoo takes his hands in his and after thorough examination calls them beautiful. There's the time he sees Wooseok walking out of the shower half-asleep and looking like a mess while he drips everywhere and Seungwoo just walks over and towels his hair dry for him like it's normal. There's the time Seungwoo is walking behind him and suddenly comments that his legs look incredibly thin – like twigs that could snap any moment. There's the time they're sitting alone in the dark and Seungwoo earnestly admits that he loves how driven and hard-working he is. There's the time he leans over to brush away what Wooseok is sure is an imaginary grain of rice from his cheek during lunch with a wink.

He's lost count of how many times Seungwoo has called him cute or pretty or some variation thereof.

The worst thing about it – and that sounds like such a weird thing to say, because who complains about compliments and attention? So rather, the only bad thing about Seungwoo's compliments, is that Wooseok can't tell what his intentions are.

With the small gestures of comfort he can often write it off as just Seungwoo being nice, because he's like that with everyone. He's reached the point where he will admit to himself that he would very much like it if it was something Seungwoo did exclusively for him, but he's also too much of a realist to hope for the compliments and such to be Seungwoo's way of flirting with him (though he doesn't know what else it could be).

Luckily, practice and evaluations are hellish and he barely has the luxury to wallow in his feelings.

Most of the time he's barely conscious by the time his head hits the pillow and getting up in the morning with his muscles sore and whole body aching feels like a particularly cruel kind of torture. One night, he lets himself be talked into taking part in the midnight (it's long since past midnight at this point, honestly) ramyeon party with the others. He ignores Seungwoo's fond but exasperated shake of the head as he heads off to make use of the now empty bathroom for a shower instead.

There won't be much filming on the next day, since it's the second to last before the actual performance and the film crews a) know that not much drama happens at this stage and b) they've been staying up just as long as the trainees and would also rather catch an hour more sleep than bother them when it makes no sense.

So that's his excuse for allowing himself the midnight snack and he doesn't regret it until his alarm starts going off the next morning, just three hours after he closed his eyes. Getting more sleep sounds like it would have been the wiser choice right about then and he pulls his blanket over his head when he hears the noises of the first of his group mates crawling out of their beds. Let them use the bathroom first, he just wants a few more minutes of rest.

He must have fallen asleep again, because he wakes up to a weight settling on the side of his bed and a voice softly calling his name. It's a little muffled through the blanket over his head, but he still recognizes it immediately and smiles sleepily when the blanket is pulled away and the sight of Seungwoo peering down at him greets him. Now this, is a much nicer way to wake up.

“Good morning,” he says and stretches a little.

Seungwoo laughs at him and reaches out to gently rustle his hair. “Good morning,” he replies, sounding amused and fond in a way that makes Wooseok's sleepy heart skip a few beats.

“Are you ready to join the living yet?”

Wooseok makes a displeased noise that gets him another little chuckle from the man on his bed. “If I say no, do I get to stay here?”

“You can stay here, but you won't get breakfast if you do, I'm afraid.”

“Don't need breakfast, had ramyeon before bed,” Wooseok announces haughtily and tries to pull his blanket further up again; it's a little chilly in the room.

“Has anyone ever told you that you're adorable first thing in the morning?” Seungwoo asks him thoughtfully and Wooseok freezes with his blanket midway to his shoulders.

A large warm hand reaches out to cup his cheek, with a thumb stroking over his cheekbone gently. It's only due to shock that Wooseok isn't leaning into the touch immediately, instead just staring at Seungwoo with wide eyes.

Belatedly, he realizes how quiet the dorm room is; that everyone else must have already left for the cafeteria. That it's just the two of them, on his bed, with Seungwoo holding his face and smiling down at him like he's perfection personified.

It seems like he's not expecting Wooeseok to answer, either, just happily continuing to stroke Wooseok's cheek and smile at him.

“My face must be all bloated,” Wooseok says, because he is incapable of saying anything decent after getting complimented by this man.

“No, you're beautiful,” Seungwoo disagrees and reaches down to cup his face with both of his hands now and squeeze his cheeks together gently. “Must be the best sight in the world to wake up to.”

Wooseok makes a noise of protest and can't decide if he's blushing because of the proximity or the compliment. Seungwoo seems to take it as his sign to stop in any case and he pulls back, laughing quietly.

“Sorry, I couldn't resist. I'll let you get on with your morning now and make sure to save you some breakfast in the canteen.”

It must be the most horrible timing, but Wooseok finally decides that there are only so many flirty compliments he can take lightly before he has to react. So he sits up to catch Seungwoo's wrist just as he's getting up and pulls him back down to the bed and closer to him in one swift move.

“Hyung,” he says seriously when Seungwoo blinks at him in surprise as he sits up to talk closer to his ear. “Right now is probably impossible, with all the cameras and the people and the... everything, basically, but... when this is over, you can try and see how you like this sight to wake up to?”

It's maybe not as smooth as he would have liked to be, but he's nervous and trying to speak as quietly as possible to make sure the microphones don't pick up what he's saying. After a few moments of silence he pulls back to look at Seungwoo, afraid that he somehow did misread all those signs and flirtations and Seungwoo is just inexplicably like that with everyone and he had been too self-absorbed to notice.

He's met with the sight of big brown eyes gazing at him in wonder, full lips slightly parted as the older man stares at Wooseok. He seems to catch himself when their eyes meet and leans forward to where Wooseok knows the cameras won't be able to catch them and hugs him close, his lips brushing the shell of Wooseok's ear with every word he whispers.

“We'll have a night off after this round of evaluations; no one will expect us back in the dorms until the next noon.”

And that's the best piece of information Wooseok has gotten since he was told he would be debuting.

 

4

With a loud clang, Wooseok lets the weight drop the last few centimeters back into its brace and lets himself fall back fully on the bench underneath him, panting heavily. He likes working out most days, loves to see the results of his hard work, certainly, but he also kind of hates it while he's doing it.

Still gasping for breath, he forces his right hand to let go of the bar to grasp around for his water bottle, feeling perched as he feels the sweat run down his face and back and probably everywhere else, too.

When he can't seem to find his bottle by just blindly groping around for it he finally opens his eyes to take a look around only to jump as he finds someone standing two meters away from him, leaning coolly against the mirror and watching him closely.

“Seungwoo-hyung,” he tries to say calmly to make up for the way he startled, but the way the older man's lips are tugging upwards tells him it's too late for that, so he glowers at him instead. Not that it's any more successful, Seungwoo seems to have grown immune to his glares the minute they started dating.

“You're working out very late,” his boyfriend notes and finally walks over to hand Wooseok his lost water bottle (it was on the other side of the bench) and press a quick kiss to his cheek since they're alone in the work-out room anyway.

Wooseok raises an eyebrow at him and shies away from the kiss, trying to make it look like he just wants to sit up so Seungwoo can sit down on the bench with him. “Weren't you jogging?”

He doesn't actually have to ask; he times his own work-out sessions to coincide with whenever the taller man goes out with his running shoes on, but Seungwoo doesn't know that. Or at least, he hopes he doesn't.

“People don't pay attention to joggers' faces when it's dark,” Seungwoo replies distractedly and leans in for another try to kiss Wooseok.

He can't duck away smoothly this time, so he lets it happen for just a moment before pulling back to unscrew his bottle and take a few long gulps of water. Seungwoo isn't deterred though, instead moving closer to wrap an arm around Wooseok's middle and pull him flush against his chest, nuzzling his nose into his sweat-soaked neck and the younger actually drops his water in his haste to get up and away from his touch.

Seungwoo blinks after him, clearly dumbfounded and not pleased to be left sitting there on his own.

“Wooseok?”

Wooseok bites his lip and avoids his gaze, gathering his towel instead. “You're right, let's get back-”

“Wooseok.”

It shouldn't be this effective for Seungwoo to just repeat his name like that, but it's the way he says it. A little bit whiny, a little bit insecure; Wooseok can picture the wide confused eyes before he even looks back at him and it's not fair. How can he deny him anything when he looks like he's afraid he did something wrong and Wooseok is about to up and leave him here? He doesn't want to bare all his insecurities in front of him so easily. And yet.

“I don't want you to see me like this!”

Another blink, slower this time. “What do you mean?”

Wooseok exhales in frustration. “When I work out – I'm all sweaty and gross. I didn't take off my stage make-up before starting because it was late anyway and my clothes reek and my hair is disgusting-”

Warm fingers close around his hand and he looks down to see large hands engulfing his own, Seungwoo stopping him before he can really get started on his tirade.

“You're hot,” Seungwoo says, dead-serious and Wooseok just gapes at him.

“What?”

“Like this,” Seungwoo motions up the length of his body, sweat-soaked clothes and runny make-up and all. “I was planning to join you in the showers after this and not in the way I usually ask to shower with people.”

And Wooseok can't help it, he actually has to laugh at that. The odd tension between them seems to return to normal at that, Seungwoo also smiling at him sheepishly.

“Okay,” he finally says and lets Seungwoo pull him into what has to be the grossest and stickiest hug he has ever had to endure. He wonders if he will ever get used to this man's odd tastes.

 

5

“You have a beautiful neck,” Seungwoo tells him one morning, as they're lying in Wooseok's bed, enjoying the fact that they have no schedule for once.

“Hyung, I'm not even awake yet,” Wooseok replies into his pillow because really, he isn't, and he can barely deal with Seungwoo complimenting him when he's got all his senses about him.

His boyfriend chuckles and moves closer, shoving the covers aside a little so he can drape himself over Wooseok's back instead and press a kiss to aforementioned neck.

“Long and pale and all mine,” Seungwoo continues and all but squishes the smaller man into the mattress as he cuddles ever closer.

“I've got morning breath,” Wooseok tries when those lips come closer, already knowing it won't work as a deterrent.

Seungwoo lets out another soft chuckle, nuzzling into Wooseok's neck instead. “You smell like daisies and roses, Wooseok-ah, always.”

Wooseok groans and takes a moment to be grateful that his blush is at least hidden from view by the way he's got his face pressed into his pillow.

“You're the worst, I don't know why I'm even dating you!”

“I'm sure you'll remember soon,” the older man hums as he starts a soft trail of kisses down Wooseok's shoulder blade.

 

+1

In Wooseok's defense: he didn't plan this. But when the situation presents itself, it's too good to pass up.

It starts with Hyeongjun, as he sits in front of the couch, sandwiched between Dongpyo and Junho, wide eyes fixated on the laptop screen that's replaying today's performance in all its unforgiving 4k glory.

It's become somewhat of a ritual, watching (or sometimes scrutinizing) their own performances for things to improve and errors to fix. Every now and then it devolves into merciless teasing of certain members and their habits on stage; Wooseok has been a victim of this more than once and just takes it as an endorsement of his abilities instead.

Today though, Hyeongjun seems to be fixated on another member as he says, in awe, “The way Seungwoo-hyung moves is really amazing. It's so... fluid.”

And normally, Wooseok would only nod and not give it another thought, but he's sitting right next to Seungwoo and just so happens to catch it when the older man squirms and it's like a whole chandelier goes off about his head in realization. He sits up straighter, adjusting his position so he has a better view of his boyfriend's face and casually says,

“It's fluid but sharp, fitting for the harder beat. Very sexy.”

And the reaction is small, but Seungwoo bites his lip, eyes darting to him and quickly away again.

“I don't know, I think hyung does sexy dancing well, of course, but isn't his voice sexier?”

Wooseok's gaze flicks to Seungyoun, who's grinning at him conspiratorially and Wooseok has to fight to keep his innocent professional expression in place. And Seungyoun isn't done yet. He's going to have to subtly thank his friend later.

“Though maybe Hangyul's voice is sexier since it's deeper?”

Hangyul on the other hand has very obviously not caught on to what Wooseok is doing, but plays right into Seungyoun's hand anyways by immediately turning around and looking hilariously scandalized even though he was complimented.

“What? No way, no one sounds or looks sexier than Seungwoo-hyung. He's like, the sexiest person to have ever set foot on a stage!”

There's a tiny, mortified groan that definitely came from their leader.

“But he can do soulful songs so well, too,” Yohan suddenly pipes up, like he has to defend his hyung. “I almost started crying when I first heard him sing Me After You!”

“And of course for the cute songs, too,” Dongpyo loudly contributes and Wooseok almost wants to reach over and pat his head when he continues, “I mean, it makes sense. He's got this super sexy body but hides it under way too wide baggy clothes, trying to look smaller. Everything about hyung screams cuteness.”

When Wooseok chances another look at his boyfriend it's to find him trying to hide behind Seungyoun's back. But the other man is having none of it, casually leaning sideways to rest his head on Dohyon's shoulder and leave Seungwoo and his burning red ears exposed to the world.

“I'm really glad you're with us, hyung, I don't think we could do any of this without you,” Eunsang says all of a sudden, sincerely and quietly and Seungwoo's eyes are taking on a suspicious glint even as his cheeks flush further.

Eunsang just smiles a little brighter and pats his hand and this wasn't quite what Wooseok had in mind, but when Seungyoun starts another round of compliments, he wraps himself around their leader and keeps watching his expression as he goes from touched to embarrassed over mortified to eventually just done with their antics.

It's when Wooseok is almost certain that their eldest has caught up with their little game that he confidently proclaims, “You know what's the sexiest though? That habit of yours of sticking out your tongue while performing.“

There's a murmur of agreement from the other members and Seungwoo gives him a pleading look, only causing Wooseok to smile at him innocently before he leans in until his breath is ghosting right over Seungwoo's skin, his lips brushing the shell of his ear as he starts whispering and delivers his final blow.

“I have limited self-control. Keep it in your mouth where it belongs or at some point I'm going to turn around and bite it and not care how many people are watching.”

It's worth being overheard and probably get teased later when he sees the dark blush come back to life on Seungwoo's pale cheeks as he whines and tries to vanish into the back of the couch, inadvertently only pressing closer to Wooseok.

He might have developed an odd way of showing his affection, too.