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Out of the mouths of babes

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Vernon’s not the brightest tool in the shed - far from it. He doesn’t cotton on to things quickly, and most of the time, he relies on other people to point things out to him instead of making his own judgements. He misses a lot of social cues, and that can sometimes lead to awkward situations, like the one time in elementary school he thought that his classmate was being friendly with him, only to realise she was actually flirting with him and he had led her on for weeks. That… did not end very well. 

 

Even at the age of ten, he realized that coming to conclusions wasn’t his strong suit. He isn’t one to read in between the lines and jump to conclusions straight away. If someone is hiding something, he reasons, then he shouldn’t pry. He’s a simple guy: he likes taking things at face value.

 

Which is why it takes him years to figure out that Wonwoo and Mingyu are in love with each other.

 

Granted, he still gets there before they do.

 

/////

 

On his first day as a trainee at Pledis, Vernon meets Wonwoo.

 

Seungcheol introduces him to the quiet hyung who likes to sit in the corner of the practice room, headphones in, and tapping out lyrics on a laptop. The other boy looks up from the screen, expressionless and blank, and Vernon is immediately intimidated. At Seungcheol’s introduction, Wonwoo merely nods at Vernon.

 

“Wonwoo takes a while to warm up to new people,” Seungcheol explains as he steers them out of the practice room, clearly reading the apprehension on his face.

 

“He’s an ice prince,” Doyoon snorts later, when Vernon asks about Wonwoo.

 

“He’s scary,” Seungkwan adds, nodding fervently.

 

Throughout the first week of practice, Vernon notices that Wonwoo barely speaks unless spoken to, and when he does speak, it’s in short sentences, his deep voice turning everything he says curt and serious. Seungcheol and Soonyoung seem to be the only ones who can coax a laugh or two out of him, but otherwise his face remains blank and cold.

 

Vernon isn’t one to be easily intimidated, but he readily admits that he wouldn’t approach Wonwoo without good reason for fear of being stared down by those fierce eyes. So he keeps his distance.

 

Then, a week later, a tall, handsome trainee whom Vernon hasn’t met before sweeps into the practice room like a whirlwind, greeting the others with the familiarity of old friends. Vernon is confused, because he’s new and has no idea why the others are fawning over this trainee when he hasn’t seen him around the whole of his first week at Pledis.

 

He’s about to ask Seungcheol who this guy is, when the handsome trainee’s eyes land on him and he makes his way over.

 

“Hi, I’m Mingyu,” Handsome Trainee says, a dazzling smile on his face. “You must be the new trainee everyone was talking about! Vernon, right?”

 

“Yes, that’s me,” says Vernon, a little dazed by the force of Mingyu’s smile. The whites of his teeth gleam against his tanned skin. After a beat, he realizes that he should bow. He does, and says, “Nice to meet you, please take care of me.”

 

“Aigooo,” coos Mingyu, ruffling Vernon’s hair, “you’re so cute! I wish I could’ve met you sooner, but I hurt my leg last week and couldn’t come for training. Oh well, I’m sure we’ll have plenty of time to get to know each other. Why don’t you come join me and Wonwoo hyung for dinner after practice?”

 

Vernon dearly wants to say yes. Mingyu seems like a kind hyung, one who dotes on others. He’s clearly friendly and well-liked, as evidenced by how the others had greeted him enthusiastically when he came in. Vernon is still so new, and really wants to make friends with all of the trainees.

 

But Wonwoo’s going to be there, and Vernon can’t help but think that he would make a fool out of himself in front of the impassive senior trainee. Over the course of the week, when Vernon was goofing off with Seungkwan and Seokmin, he couldn’t help but notice Wonwoo shooting disdainful glances at them from his corner of the room, as if silently judging them. Vernon suspects that Wonwoo thinks very lowly of him, and he really does not want to reinforce that by joining him and Mingyu for dinner.

 

In his hesitation, Vernon’s glance darts towards Wonwoo, who is sitting back against the corner of the practice room as usual, headphones in, and tapping away on his laptop. Mingyu picks up on his hesitation, his glances, and puts two and two together.

 

“Ah,” Mingyu says in realization, “Has Wonwoo hyung not been very welcoming to you?”

 

“N-no!” stammers Vernon, feeling caught out. “Not at all! Wonwoo hyung has been, uh, nice.”

 

Mingyu snorts, clearly not buying it. “Wonwoo hyung’s shy and takes a while to get to know people but once he does, he’s really nice. Trust me, he’ll even pay for our dinner.”

 

Vernon highly doubts that, but nods in agreement anyway.

 

Mingyu beams, patting Vernon on his shoulder. “Great! See you after practice!”

 

Mingyu then makes a beeline for Wonwoo, and Vernon watches in fascination as Mingyu slides down the wall next to Wonwoo, pressing his shoulder and thigh against the other boy. Wonwoo looks up, a small smile on his face, and Mingyu leans over into Wonwoo’s personal space, plucking one of the earbuds out of his ear. He pops it into his own, bops his head to the music, and leans over Wonwoo’s shoulder to look at the laptop screen. Mingyu grins, suddenly, pointing at something on the screen and whispering into Wonwoo’s ear, and - 

 

Wonwoo laughs.

 

Vernon stares.

 

He’s aware he’s being rude, but Vernon just can’t rip his eyes away from the way Wonwoo laughs - and he doesn’t mean it in a creepy way. It’s just that when Wonwoo laughs, his whole face transforms: his nose scrunches, his eyes squint, and his normally downturned mouth is wide open and curling up. He doesn’t look cold or intimidating at all. And Vernon realizes - even though Seungcheol and Soonyoung had made Wonwoo laugh last week, the small chuckles he let slip were nothing compared to this bright laughter ringing out of the corner of the practice room.

 

Vernon’s admiration of Mingyu ratchets up several notches. Clearly Mingyu is some sort of social savant, capable of cracking even the hardest shells. If Wonwoo’s previously unbreakable cold exterior is the Titanic, then Mingyu is the iceberg that sunk it.

 

(Wonwoo pays for their dinner.)

 

/////

 

Mingyu and Wonwoo are the heart of their motley crew of trainees. Seungcheol, Jihoon and Soonyoung are the unofficial leaders, the three of them being the longest-training members. They are warm and welcoming to new trainees, but their extra duties keep them from spending too much time with the newer guys.

 

Mingyu and Wonwoo have been training for about the same amount of time each, having come in shortly after Soonyoung. The role of hospitality and making sure the new trainees know the ins and outs of Pledis falls on them. They make an odd pair - one tan, gregarious and loud, the other pale, serious and quiet, though no less warm and welcoming - yet they complement each other perfectly. Mingyu puts the trainees at ease with his boisterous and friendly personality, and Wonwoo with his quiet, reassuring presence.

 

It’s mere days before their first showcase, and Vernon is exhausted. He’s been practicing almost all day, for a week and a half, and he’s lucky if he even gets three hours of sleep a day. He’s not the only one: most of the newer trainees - Junhui, Seungkwan and Seokmin - are wearing themselves down the bone, trying to perfect their routines and lines. Vernon isn’t exactly one of the “newer” trainees at this point, but his dance requires more work than, say, Chan and Minghao, who seem to be able to pick up complex dance moves after only watching it once.

 

The non-stop practice takes its toll; Vernon is constantly tired and stressed, and he feels like no matter how much he practices, his moves still aren’t perfect. He practices a lot with Chan, which is both a good and bad thing. Good because Chan is a perfectionist when it comes to dance, and will call him out on even tiny, tiny mistakes - an arm held at an odd angle, a foot that wasn’t pointed. And when Vernon feels like his body just isn’t flowing the way he wants it to be, Chan patiently walks him through the moves and gives him pointers. But Chan’s perfectionism is tiring, and does nothing to encourage him. In fact, it discourages him - Chan, who is the maknae, and has been training for less time than he has, is dancing so much better than him and is constantly working to improve himself. Next to Chan, Vernon feels like he isn’t doing enough to keep up with the other members, and it fuels his insecurities about whether or not he really belongs in a team like Seventeen.

 

It doesn’t help that Vernon is no longer living at home - the long commute from his home to the Pledis building was just too much of a hassle to make every day. That and the way the other trainees seem so much closer to each other than Vernon is to them, despite Vernon having trained longer. He wants to be like them, doesn’t want to stand out more than he already does. And most of the time, he enjoys the dorm life. It’s lawless, chaotic and fun, living with a bunch of rowdy boys barely older than him. But Vernon misses his parents a lot, misses having home-made food prepared for him, misses communicating in English, misses his mother’s warm hugs and kisses, misses his father’s eclectic playlist blasting from the living room.

 

He’s a little homesick, maybe.

 

But dwelling on it just makes him more miserable, so he doesn’t give himself time to think. He drowns himself in routine: wake up, go to school, practice all night, work on some lyrics, go to bed. Rinse and repeat.

 

It’s another night of practice in the dance studio - just him and Chan - and Vernon’s exhaustion is probably at his peak. He’s running on two hours of sleep the night before and five cups of coffee. At this point, he’s going through the moves on autopilot, eyes glazed over and brain buzzing with fatigue.

 

The track ends, and Vernon lets out a sigh. He rolls over from where he’s laying down on his side so that his back makes contact with the cool wooden floor, and closes his eyes. He’s so, so tempted to fall asleep like this. Most of the hyungs had gone back for the day, are probably already asleep, the lucky bastards , Vernon thinks enviously. Only Vernon, Chan, Jihoon and Soonyoung remain in the Pledis building - Chan and Vernon to go over the dance routine, and Jihoon and Soonyoung poring over their self-composed tracks in the studio, obsessing over every minor detail to ensure everything is perfect.

 

He hears Chan getting up and going to the computer to replay the song from the second chorus so they can rehearse the tricky bit after the bridge. He also picks up the sound of footsteps outside the practice room.

 

His eyes crack open as the door swings open, revealing Wonwoo and Mingyu. They’re carrying bags of takeout, and Vernon immediately smells spicy tteokbokki, which makes his stomach rumble. He hasn’t eaten in almost six hours.

 

“Vernonie, Channie,” Mingyu calls out, waving them over. “We bought you some food, come take a break.”

 

Like a moth to a flame, Vernon mindlessly crawls towards the takeout boxes, cracking one open and inhaling its contents. Halfway through the box, he realizes that it’s 2 AM, and that Wonwoo and Mingyu had both gone back to the dorms earlier that night.

 

He eyes their damp hair, changed clothes, the bags under their eyes - and it’s clear that they went back to the dorms, showered, then came back to the Pledis building, instead of catching up on sleep like Vernon expected them to do - like Vernon himself would have done.

 

Maybe it’s the combination of exhaustion, hunger, and anxiety for their debut, maybe it’s missing home, but tears suddenly well up in his eyes. He quickly ducks his head in his takeout box. He’s determined not to let the hyungs see how fragile he suddenly feels.

 

But his traitorous eyes blink, and a tear slips out of the corner of his eyes.

 

Wonwoo, ever so observant, notices this and thankfully, doesn’t make a big fuss. He moves over, closer to Vernon, and rubs his hand soothingly over his back. Luckily for Vernon, Mingyu is chattering cheerfully with Chan over by the computer and doesn’t notice a thing.

 

“It must be hard,” Wonwoo murmurs, keeping his voice low to avoid Mingyu’s scrutiny.

 

Vernon presses his lips together in an attempt to muffle a small sob.

 

“It’s okay,” Wonwoo soothes, “Everything will turn out okay. Your dance is already good. You’ve improved so much, Vernonie. You don’t have to be perfect, just do your best. It’s just a showcase, it’s just practice for our real debut.”

 

Vernon lets his next breath shudder out of him, feels his stomach unclench and his shoulders loosen, and he leans sideways to let his forehead rest against one of Wonwoo’s broad shoulders. Wonwoo hums softly, stroking Vernon’s head slowly, uncaring of his sweaty bangs.

 

////

 

Months pass, they get closer to their debut date, and Vernon is placed in the hip-hop unit with Seungcheol, Wonwoo and Mingyu.

 

He’s no longer the new kid, and he has grown much, much closer to all his hyungs. He realizes many things: that under the happy-go-lucky persona, Mingyu is filled to the brim with an ambition and desire to succeed that borders on mania; that under the cool exterior, Wonwoo really is as much of a goofball as any of them are; and that under his burden as the leader of Seventeen, Seungcheol is a giant baby that craves approval and validation as much as the rest of them.

 

But Vernon knowing what makes them tick doesn’t diminish his regard for them at all. If anything, it makes him more understanding and tolerant. He’s not the only one - as the members of Seventeen spend more and more time together, the arguments and petty fights diminish.

 

In particular, working with the hip-hop team is a joy, though they each take different approaches to writing their music. Seungcheol and Vernon are similar in the sense that once they get an idea, they run with it and take it as far as possible. While that makes for some pretty inventive tracks, their lyrics and ideas tend to be all over the place and lack coherency. This is when Wonwoo and Mingyu step into the creative process, refining the themes of their songs and writing verses that connect the chorus to the bridge.

 

Vernon has to admit, he’s a little jealous of the synergy Mingyu and Wonwoo have. The way they go over each other’s lyrics to make them better than before reminds him of the English phrase “iron sharpens iron”. When they discuss music and lyrics, they seem to speak their own language. Vernon can’t keep up with the speed of their thoughts - they bounce ideas back and forth like a table tennis match, each idea not fully formed but the other just gets it.

 

“So after the bridge, I’m thinking it should go harder, like,” Mingyu taps his pen on the table to demonstrate, “dadada-DA-da-DA.”

 

“Yeah, but it won’t fit the lyrics, like, it’s too -”

 

“Yeah, you’re right. Okay, but what if we switched the lyrics around here a little so -”

 

“That might work, but don’t you think, the verses before -”

“True, maybe we should rewrite this part? Make the song feel more…?”

 

“We don’t have to resolve it, we -”

 

“Oh yes! Like that song by Tablo -”

 

“Exactly! We can still use the last two lines, but -”

 

“Okay, what about this?” Mingyu shoves some scribbled lines into Wonwoo’s hands.

 

His eyes light up, “This would match some lyrics I discarded earlier.”

 

Vernon silently leaves the room, having gotten nothing out of their discussion. Mingyu and Wonwoo don’t notice, absorbed in their notebooks.

 

The two of them are comfortable with each other in a way that they aren’t with the others. Granted, they have been training together for longer than most of the Seventeen members have, but even Jihoon and Seungcheol aren’t as compatible, the latter pair being the two most senior trainees. Mingyu and Wonwoo accept criticism from each other that they normally wouldn’t from the others - Vernon can’t believe the things Wonwoo lets Mingyu get away with saying to his face. Mingyu barely treats Wonwoo like a hyung, only switching it on in front of the cameras, and even then, his efforts are minimal. For the most part, they act like friends of the same age.

 

Vernon remembers a conversation between Mingyu and Seokmin that he overheard in practice back when he was still a newbie:

 

“Hey, if Wonwoo hyung and I got into a fight, who do you think would win?” Mingyu asked Seokmin, a cocky smirk on his face.

 

“Wonwoo hyung, of course,” answered Seokmin immediately, gaze darting nervously towards Wonwoo, who is sitting cross-legged beside Mingyu. Seokmin was, at the time, wary of Wonwoo, thought of him as the scary, cold hyung. Wonwoo’s face remained placid, seemingly unaffected by the question.

 

Mingyu tsked and rolled his eyes. “I will, duh. Once I hit hyung, he won’t be able to fight back,” he said smugly, and made to playfully choke Wonwoo.

 

Vernon couldn’t help but be amazed at Mingyu’s audacity. Sure, he knew the two of them were close, and Mingyu had gotten away with avoiding some formalities with Wonwoo in the past. But to be so cocksure and to claim to be able to beat up a hyung, in front of the hyung himself and the camera filming for SeventeenTV, took some balls and clearly Mingyu had them. He waited with bated breath for Wonwoo’s reply, wondering if he would finally put Mingyu in his place.

 

But Wonwoo didn’t reply, merely quirked a small grin as Mingyu’s hand landed on his shoulder, jostling him playfully. It was Seokmin who spoke up, saying anxiously, “Don’t fight!”

 

Mingyu snorted, already distracted by the other trainees entering the room. “Hey, Wonwoo hyung and I are close,” he said offhandedly, as if that excused everything.

 

In a way, Vernon supposes that it does. He can think of several other incidents where Mingyu has said or done things that would normally make Wonwoo angry, or at the very least, annoyed, if someone else did it.

 

For one, Seokmin was skittish around Wonwoo because, influenced by Mingyu’s casual regard towards Wonwoo, he once stopped calling Wonwoo “hyung”, to which Wonwoo said flatly, “I’m not your friend, I’m your hyung.”

 

Seokmin backpedalled so fast he gave Vernon whiplash. “I’m so sorry, hyung!” he exclaimed, “I didn’t mean to! It was an accident!”

 

Wonwoo merely nodded in acknowledgement and turned back to his laptop.

 

It surprised Vernon, then, that Wonwoo seemed to mind these things with everyone else, but not with Mingyu. But over the years, Vernon witnesses the erosion of boundaries between Mingyu and Wonwoo - or perhaps they were never there in the first place. He can’t count the number of times Mingyu dips into Wonwoo’s wallet without asking when he is short on cash (although he always makes sure to pay him back after) or Wonwoo pinching Mingyu’s boxers when he forgets to do his laundry.

 

As a group, they’ve all had their moments of crossing boundaries - Seungcheol pinches everyone’s underwear - but the difference is that Mingyu and Wonwoo never kick up a fuss when it comes to each other, but the moment Seungcheol borrows one of Mingyu’s boxers, Mingyu makes sure everyone and their mother knows it.

 

Vernon thinks it’s cute, Wonwoo and Mingyu’s relationship. Admittedly, he envies them, a little. He’s close to Seungkwan and Chan, of course, but the three of them have boundaries that they don’t cross. On the other hand, Vernon is pretty sure that Mingyu could ask Wonwoo for anything, and Wonwoo would gladly give it to him, no questions asked, and vice versa.

 

/////

 

Vernon gets front seats to the sweet tableau that is Mingyu and Wonwoo’s friendship at Wonwoo’s graduation. Wonwoo and Soonyoung’s graduations are on the same day, so the members of Seventeen split up to cheer them on at their respective high schools.

 

Vernon barely contains a look of surprise when he sees Mingyu waiting for them at the van. He looks polished and dressed up, bangs neat and swept to the side, freshly cut. His coat drapes over his shoulders, making him look effortlessly chic. In his arm, Mingyu carefully cradles a bouquet of roses. Vernon feels dreadfully underdressed in his baseball cap and gradient t-shirt.

 

Seungcheol doesn’t bother suppressing his surprise. “Wow, look at you,” he says to Mingyu, half-admiring, half-bemused. “You know we’re just going to watch Wonwoo graduate, not have a photoshoot, right?”

 

“It’s an important occasion,” Mingyu says defensively.

 

Jihoon leans over to peer at the bouquet. “You got those with the budget we had?” he asked incredulously.

 

“No,” Mingyu says nonchalantly. “What we had was enough for a smaller bouquet but I wanted to get this one for Wonwoo. I topped up the rest of the price with my own money.”

 

Seungcheol, Joshua and Jihoon go, “Woaaaahhhh!” in unison, looking impressed. “Mingyu, you’re so cool,” Seungcheol says teasingly.

 

“Careful there,” Joshua adds, a smirk on his face, “You might just sweep Wonwoo off his feet!”

 

Then Joshua and Seungcheol burst into giggles. Vernon glances at Jihoon and Mingyu, and they both look as puzzled as he feels. Was he missing something?

 

“What?” Vernon says blankly.

 

“Oh, look at the time,” Seungcheol says, after calming down. “We have to go or we’ll be late!”



At the ceremony, they linger in the mezzanine. From up there, they can see all the soon-to-be graduates in their smart yellow uniforms. Mingyu fusses with the camera, trying to locate Wonwoo below them. He eventually does, and they point and yell and shout to get Wonwoo’s attention, and Wonwoo shyly waves back from the crowd, ducking his head in embarrassment and quickly turning to chat with his friends. While they wait for the ceremony to begin, Seungcheol regales them with stories of his time in the very same high school, and of his own graduation the year before.

 

Mingyu suddenly interrupts one of Seungcheol’s stories with a loud, “Eommonim!”

 

As one, they turn to see a middle-aged woman with Wonwoo’s sharp eyes and nose approach them, smiling. “Mingyu-ya!” she replies, engulfing him in a hug.

 

“And you all must be the members of Seventeen!” she says, when she lets go of Mingyu.

 

The rest of them hastily bow and introduce themselves to her. Out of all of them, only Mingyu and Seungcheol have met Wonwoo’s mother, so naturally, she continues to carry a conversation with the two of them, which leaves Vernon, Jihoon and Joshua loitering at the back.

 

“I didn’t know Mingyu knew Wonwoo’s mom,” Joshua says lightly. “Has everyone met everyone else’s parents?”

 

Joshua is one of the newer members, and is often out of the loop on things like these. It didn’t help that Joshua had flown back and forth between Korea and America to complete his schooling and train at the same time. Vernon (and the other members) try their best to keep Joshua in the loop.

 

“Oh, yeah, Wonwoo invited Mingyu back to his hometown a few times,” Vernon says, shrugging. “And Mingyu invited Wonwoo to his. They spent some of their holidays together.”

 

Really,” Joshua says, eyebrows climbing up his forehead at the bit of information from Vernon. “In-teresting,” he drawls, in English.

 

Jihoon gives Joshua an odd look. “Why are you acting so weird today?”

 

Joshua smiles a close-lipped smile. He shrugs. Just then, the lights in the hall dim, and the stage curtains part to reveal the MC. Mingyu effectively puts an end to their conversation when he turns and hisses for them to shut up, because “The ceremony is starting!”

 

/////

 

“Congratulations, Wonwoo-hyung!” Vernon gushes, as soon as they spot him after the ceremony. The other members chime in with their congratulations.

 

“Thanks, guys!”

 

Wonwoo is beaming, bright and happy from celebrating the end of high school with his friends. In his arms are two bouquets - one from his mother and the other from manager hyung, who had dropped him off at the ceremony early in the morning. He’s balancing the bouquets and his certificate rather precariously, until Mingyu swoops in and holds the latter for him.

 

“Here, I’ll hold that for you,” he says. He replaces the certificate with the bouquet they brought along earlier and rearranges them in Wonwoo’s arms securely. “Congratulations, Wonwoo,” he murmurs, fussing over Wonwoo’s tie and lapels.

 

Mingyu reaches up to tidy Wonwoo’s bangs, which have become slightly disheveled. He tsks. “Really, Wonwoo, you should take care of your appearance more. There are photographers outside, and they know we’re going to debut soon. At least try to portray a good image of Seventeen."

 

“Luckily I have my own personal stylist,” Wonwoo teases, peering through his newly-arranged bangs.

 

Mingyu snorts. “What would you do without me?” he asks, deadpan.

 

Wonwoo doesn’t respond to that, only looks up at Mingyu, a soft smile on his face. The look on Mingyu’s face is equally gentle and kind, and Vernon looks away, a little disconcerted. He feels like he has just intruded on a private moment. He ignores his squeamishness and wanders ahead, to where Joshua and Jihoon are waiting to leave. Seungcheol has already disappeared into the crowd, no doubt to greet his old teachers and some juniors he was friends with in high school. He already told them not to wait for him, that he would make his way home himself.

 

Joshua makes eye contact with Vernon while they wait for their manager to pick them up, a look of amusement flickering across his face. He jerks his head towards Mingyu and Wonwoo then smirks as if to say, “Look at those two.” Vernon gives him a blank look of confusion. Joshua attempts to wordlessly convey another message, this time with liberal eyebrow-wiggling and suggestive glances, but Vernon still doesn’t get it. Joshua sighs, then goes back to flicking through his phone, muttering something that sounds like "Clueless much?" under his breath. Vernon turns to Jihoon for help, but Jihoon’s too busy texting and listening to music to catch their interactions.

 

Vernon’s beginning to think he’s missing something.

 

/////

 

On the weekend before they debut, the thirteen of them gather in the living room of their dorm. Seungcheol and Jeonghan procure alcohol for them, and they drink and play games, trying to enjoy their last few days of pre-debut, before the pressure of being an idol finally kicks in. Even though almost all of them are underage, save the ‘95 hyungs, everyone gets drunk, and Joshua proposes a game of Truth or Dare, a game he says is popular at parties in LA. Curious, they all listen to Joshua explain the game, and enthusiastically agree when they realise they can embarrass each other with it.

 

Joshua gets dared to lick Soonyoung’s foot. It’s nasty, but he goes through with it anyway, because he isn’t one to back down from a challenge. "I'm no pussy," he declares, in English, and Vernon has to explain to the rest of them, in between wheezes, what a "pussy" is. In turn, Joshua chooses Wonwoo, and he asks, “Truth or dare?”

 

Wonwoo, a disgusted expression still lingering on his face from watching Joshua's dare, chooses truth.

 

“Who is your favourite dongsaeng?” he asks, already knowing the answer, but wanting to hear it out of Wonwoo’s mouth.

 

The whole group leers, everyone expecting one name, and one name only.

 

Wonwoo shrugs, face blank and slightly flushed from the alcohol. “I don’t have one.”

 

“Eyyyyy!” The others jeer, “C’mon Wonwoo!”

 

“Fine, it’s Chan,” answers Wonwoo. Next to him, Mingyu's smile fades.

 

“EYYYYYY!” The others jeer again, Chan the loudest among them.

 

“Alright, alright,” Wonwoo surrenders, a pink flush creeping up his neck and cheeks. “It’s Mingyu. You guys happy now?”

 

Mingyu’s smile returns full force, crooked teeth all on display, and he leans into Wonwoo’s shoulder, arms coming up to wrap around his waist.

 

The way the others cheer and laugh at Wonwoo’s answer makes it seem as though Wonwoo confessed his undying love for Mingyu, and Vernon doesn’t know why this comparison comes to mind.

 

Vernon isn’t good at putting two and two together, especially when he’s drunk.

 

/////

 

They debut, and suddenly Vernon isn’t the only one noticing the moments Mingyu and Wonwoo share.

 

Their fans love the idea of Mingyu and Wonwoo together, some of them in a platonic way, and most of them in a romantic way. Vernon finds the whole thing hilarious at first, as do most of the Seventeen members. During one of their first fanmeetings, Wonwoo and Mingyu are standing next to each other and Soonyoung picks up a mic and says to them, “You two look good together.”

 

The crowd cheers, and placards that read “MinWon” are held up.

 

Wonwoo looks uncomfortable. “With him?” he asks, pointing at Mingyu. His tone suggests that he hopes otherwise.

 

“Yeah,” says Soonyoung, and the crowd echoes their agreement.

 

Wonwoo huffs a dismissive laugh. “No way,” he says flatly, already turning away, losing interest.

 

He misses the way Mingyu’s mouth twists into a bitter smile, gaze darting to the floor before fixing his expression into a friendly smile for the fans. It’s over in a millisecond, but Vernon notices it.

 

/////

 

Fans start to push MinWon at fanmeetings, urged on by the way the Seventeen members themselves seem to acknowledge the pairing. Vernon notices how the other members tend to drop comments on vlive like “You two look good together” when it’s just Mingyu and Wonwoo on the screen, or “Let’s get MinWon to do it.” He does it himself, too, sometimes. When Wonwoo makes a comment about Mingyu being cute, Vernon adds, “I know he’s your style, hyung.”

 

They do it off-camera, too. "Minwon are on clean-up duty today," Seungcheol announces after one dance practice. "Where are Minwon?" Jeonghan yells exasperatedly when the two of them end up late to a recording session, having overslept. "Wow, Minwon are so handsome today," Seungkwan says admiringly, after a photoshoot. Vernon and the members don’t mean anything by it - it’s just light-hearted teasing - but over time he can tell it makes them uncomfortable, especially Wonwoo.

 

Vernon isn’t even aware of just how much the fans are pushing MinWon until he sits next to Wonwoo at a fanmeeting and notices that half the questions Wonwoo receives are related to Mingyu. The questions are hardly innocent - the question Vernon reads over Wonwoo’s shoulder asks, “What is Mingyu to you?” and gives Wonwoo the option of answering “boyfriend”, “honey”, “love”, and “others”.

 

Mortified, Wonwoo slashes his marker across the answers and writes “dongsaeng” on the paper. He tells the fan (nicely, in a playful way) not to misunderstand the relationships between the members, and sends her off to Vernon. Wonwoo keeps his composure, but Vernon can see that he is discomfited, chugging half his water bottle once the fan is out of sight and tugging at his shirt collar, complaining about the summer heat, despite the fact that they are in an air-conditioned hall.

 

This goes on for months, without signs of letting up, and Vernon sees the strain it puts on Wonwoo and Mingyu’s relationship. They stop interacting as often on broadcasts, and Wonwoo chooses to blend into the background, even as Mingyu starts doing vlives with the other members - everyone except for Wonwoo. At first, Vernon thinks that it’s just in front of the cameras, but even when they are alone and there are no cameras around, like when the hip-hop unit sit down and brainstorm ideas for their next album, Mingyu and Wonwoo are awkward with each other. The smooth banter they used to possess seems to have disappeared, leaving behind long pauses and curt comments. They seem out of step, like rusty cogs with missing teeth, and watching them interact is almost painful.

 

Wonwoo withdraws into his shell, reminiscent of their early trainee days when Vernon was intimidated by his cool facade. There isn’t much of a difference in his public persona and his new, quieter demeanor, but away from the spotlight, Vernon notices a marked difference. Wonwoo isn’t as excitable, plays and jokes around less with Mingyu, and practically stops reacting to anything Mingyu does. Wonwoo slaps Mingyu’s arms away when he comes up to him for a hug, or a couple-heart, but allows Soonyoung to drape himself over his back minutes later. In interviews, he’s stiff as a board when he’s paired with Mingyu or has to sit next to him, but is playful and teasing with Jun and Seungcheol. 

 

Wonwoo’s sudden cold shoulder confuses Mingyu, who, in response, does anything and everything to elicit a response from him. He starts with some light-hearted teasing and prodding, to which Wonwoo merely gives his usual blank stare. Mingyu escalates his attempts: talking down at Wonwoo in front of the others, the fans and the cameras, badmouthing him to the other members within earshot, and, once, even deleting Wonwoo’s progress in a game. It gets to the point where Seungcheol pulls Mingyu aside after practice and asks what the hell his problem with Wonwoo is. Vernon leaves the room as soon as possible, not wanting to get involved in that conversation.

 

But still, even with all of Mingyu’s passive-aggressive attempts to get Wonwoo’s attention back, Wonwoo placidly sits back and says nothing. He lets Mingyu walk all over him. He pays more attention to the other members now, both on- and off-camera, laughing at Seungkwan’s jokes and being more touchy with Soonyoung. Wonwoo even spends some of his down time with Vernon, just the two of them sitting in a quiet room - Vernon listening to music on his headphones and Wonwoo tapping away on his computer, either gaming or writing lyrics. And when they both get a little bored staying indoors, they take walks around their building - sometimes they end up getting some street food, but sometimes let their feet wander and talk about anything and everything.

 

It’s nice. Vernon feels closer than ever to Wonwoo. But it’s unfortunate that it’s at Mingyu’s expense.