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“Objectification is bad… uh, I think Yunho’s a great performer.”

-- SHIM Changmin (31), chef, interview segment for Ep 9 Duet challenge. 


“I know we are all working very hard and everyone is very serious about the singing competition. But sometimes when you step back and look at all the undercurrents and undertones and unresolved sexual tension floating around… I feel like I’m on Terrace House instead of Sing!Idol.”

-- Henry LAU (30), music producer, interview segment for Ep 7 Battle challenge.  


 

Previously on Sing! Idol,

Medley Challenge winner: AMBER

 

The next week, Youngmin explains, is a little complicated. Their weekly challenge theme is called “PAY IT FORWARD”, which doesn’t tell Changmin a lot about its nature at all.

“We’re going to a quick poll of you eight now,” Youngmin says, sketching out the details on the whiteboard in the conference room. “You get to do a random draw first, from a pool of your names, eight in total. So you will pick a randomized name of another contestant. You’ll have five minutes to think of a song that is either something you really want that contestant to sing, or something you feel they should challenge.”

“Kind of like a musical Secret Santa,” Henry interrupts. 

He gets a mild glare for jumping in, but Youngmin concedes, “yes, you can explain it that way. You’ll have to submit that song choice to the production team here and now. No further changes can be made to your decision after that. Tomorrow morning, we’ll share your allocated song choices to all eight of you individually. You have one week to learn and prepare for this particular song, inclusive of any blocking or sets you wish to have the props department create.”

He pauses, and looks at them. “It is fine for you to practice your song choices in front of each other, but all, ah, Secret Santas, please refrain from sharing your identity as the Santa that chose their song choice, to the contestant you picked. We will announce that at the end of the Pay It Forward challenge recording, next week.”

There’s a lull. Zhou Mi goes, “is this because last week’s ratings dip to second, after that modelling show debuted?”

Youngmin’s face smoothens out into a placid smile. “I can neither confirm nor deny. Are there any questions regarding the rules for the upcoming challenge? No? All right. Please come forward, and draw a name. If you pick your own name, we will simply do a re-draw.”

 

-- 

 

By some stroke of twisted luck or fate, Changmin picks Yunho. 

He stares at the tiny slip, Yunho’s name written out in smooth ovals and flicking strokes, and goes to a corner to think. He has five minutes. 

Unbidden, he remembers how beautiful Yunho’s voice sounds, when he sang I Believe. It feels like so long ago now. That was the start of October, when they were just two months into this madness and the leaves were barely orange and Changmin’s crush was a simple thing. 

Now it’s the final few days of December, and leaves on trees are a distant memory. Changmin… doesn’t quite have a crush but.

Well. It’s not a crush.

He’s only got five minutes. He forces himself to focus.

He knows he wants Yunho to sing a ballad. Yunho’s voice doesn’t get enough appreciation for itself. Usually it’s drowned out by Yunho’s stage presence, Yunho’s dancing skills or even Yunho’s “intelligence as a performer”; as Jongkook puts it when praising Yunho for knowing the audience’s likes and dislikes and tailoring his performance to engineer the most catcalls and applause.

In any case. Changmin wants Yunho to sing a ballad. 

But what ballad to choose? He thinks about the artistes he knows Yunho likes, that Yunho has mentioned before to him, to the team, to the audience. He wants Yunho to sing something that can properly air his voice out in glorious display, where his lower baritone range gets celebrated in addition to showcasing high notes that Yunho does so brilliantly, but rarely. 

He thinks, and pauses. Then he goes to the head producers, and asks for a pen to write his song choice for Yunho at the back of the name slip. 

 

-- 

 

The mansion is starting to feel too empty for the eight of them.

Kyuhyun’s tried to nudging his assistant producer when they’ll be able to actually head home and sleep in their own beds by inquiring about the duration of the lease the production team has on the mansion,  but he just gets gently laughed at.

“No spoilers,” Kyuhyun informs Changmin glumly. 

Changmin pats him in commiseration. 

He’s tried asking Jooyoung too, when they came back from the two weeks of break, just to see how much longer he’s got being able to see Yunho daily like this. 

He had no luck as well. Jooyoung was infuriatingly mum on the subject, and only smiled. 

 

--

 

Youngjin and Jooyoung are the ones who find him, flanked as usual by Jihwan. 

Changmin’s in the garden again, shooting Hyunseok a habitual text about the team given Choidot will be closing in a couple of days for the New Year.

Jinwoo’s getting grumpy because Seonyeob’s no you, Hyunseok replies. He asked the other day how long will it be until you get eliminated because he misses having a competent hot part, and Garam nearly shanked him with his own tongs. 

Changmin snorts at his phone, and taps back, he was the one who chased me out of the kitchen when I had my fortnight off! 

There’s a cough behind him, and he turns to see Jooyoung beaming at him, while Youngjin has a more restrained smile on his face. Jihwan pans his cameras at the producers’ expressions, then turns to focus properly on Changmin.

“Morning, Changmin,” the two producers say in tandem. Changmin blinks and offers a semi-natural “good morning” back with minimal awkwardness.

They get down to business after the mandatory pleasantries, and Youngjin is the one who announces his allocated song choice. “The song your Secret Santa has picked for you is John Legend’s All of Me.”

"So you producers are really going to call the people who choose 'Secret Santas' now?" Changmin blinks, and digests it.

At least he’s heard the song before, and he quite likes it, as well as the singer’s voice. It’s an English song though, which means- 

He looks at the producers. “It’s either Wendy or Henry or Amber,” he guesses.

The producers only offer him twin professionally bland smiles. It’s quite creepy and Changmin hopes Jihwan has a good close up of the two of them stretching their lips in grins that don’t quite reach their eyes. 

“No spoilers,” they chorus, and Changmin gets his eye roll captured on camera, despite himself. 

 

--

 

He haunts the practice rooms after that, and the living areas, because there’s a tiny part of him that kind of maybe sort of perhaps wants to see Yunho’s reaction when he learns about his song allocation. 

Changmin lasts all of two hours before he realises how juvenile he’s being. He laughs, and smacks himself on the forehead. 

Then he takes himself to the kitchen, because talking to Hyunseok has as usual induced in the Pavlovian response of wanting to cook. 

He plugs in his earbuds, and scrolls to All of Me on Melon. He’s listened to the song casually before, but now he reviews it with deliberate focus to the melody. He’ll look up the English lyrics later today, after he’s familiarised himself fully with the tune.

Of course that’s when Yunho finds him, tapping him on the shoulder just as Changmin is humming “love your curves and all your edges, all your perfect imperfections” while shredding leftover stewed beef at the kitchen sink in front of the window. 

Changmin lets out an unholy screech at the sudden touch, jumping a foot in the air. A little bit of beef flies, smacking into the window and falling back down into the sink with a forlorn splat.

Then he turns, only to be confronted by the crooked curve of Yunho’s grin and sunlight glinting off the scar on his cheek. 

His face feels like it’s on fire. Oh, Jesus fuck. What even is his life. 

“Sorry,” Yunho says, but he’s grinning unrepentantly. “But also not sorry. Whatever you’re cooking, I’m calling dibs.” 

“You do realise that I may actually be only making enough for one,” Changmin says, wrenching out one half of his earbuds in irritation. His heart is still skipping along too fast, partly from the scare and partly because, well. Yunho.

Shim Changmin you stupid fucking idiot you focus you! He shouts in his head. 

Yunho’s smile dims slightly, and then brightens back up to its usual level of megawatt Yunho supernova

“Nah,” he says cheerfully. “You’re Changminnie. You definitely planned to make extra. It’s how you survive amongst the pack of wolves here.”

Changmin tries to glare at him, but his ears probably are still too red and his face serves to only make Yunho’s grin widen.

“Fine,” Changmin decides, cross. “You said I’m too nice, right? You can work for your supper, then.”

“It’s still daylight,” Yunho points out, but Changmin sniffs imperiously and orders, “shred the beef. It should look like what I’ve already done. Use your fingers. Do not mince or mash it.” 

“Okay,” Yunho says obediently, and starts to do just that. 

Changmin barks a frantic “wash your hands first!” and keeps a beady eye on him until Yunho’s diligently and meticulously shredding overnight stewed beef. 

He’s going at it too slowly, pulling the beef into long lingering shreds and inspecting each one closely to make sure there are no broken bits, but it keeps him out of trouble. 

Changmin snorts at himself, and tries to calm his heartbeat back to normal. What is he even thinking about. Jung Yunho is just a boy that spells pure trouble for him. 

In any case, Yunho’s playing contentedly with the beef, so Changmin goes to root in the fridge instead, and about in the cupboards. He emerges victorious with the vegetables he needs, as well as a bottle of semi-decent cooking red and a block of Parmigiana that he had wheedled the production team to buy a few weeks ago. 

To Yunho, he poses the sudden question of “Spaghetti or tagliatelle?”

“Spaghetti,” Yunho says automatically, and frowns in confusion. “Wait, what’s the other one?”

“Too late, you’ve already made your decision,”  Changmin says, and rinses the vegetables for a quick dicing. He’s got the garlic, onion, celery, carrots and tomatoes done in no time, to Yunho’s open-mouthed admiration. 

The other man has a mountain of shredded beef in front of him, and two more loin medallions to go. “Changminnie. You took three minutes with all that chopping. And everything looks so even!”

“I can do this in my sleep since I was a teenager,” Changmin says, and blushes a horrid and utter shade of red at how arrogant he sounds.

Fuck, He thought he had gotten rid of this blushing habit -nothing like months and months of exposure therapy to the enigma that is Yunho!- but the heat of his face says otherwise. 

Yunho’s looking at him like Changmin’s gone out and killed a full-grown deer with his bare hands and dragged it bodily back to the mansion to feed them venison, so Changmin can’t quite bring himself to care that he’s bragging horribly to the man he loves(!).

They work in companionable silence, and Changmin trades the bowl of shredded beef Yunho’s completed with a handful of dried spaghetti. “Wash your hands, and use one of the pots to boil water. Put some salt in it. When it boils, add the dried spaghetti.” 

Changmin pulls out a saucepan, and another frying pan. To the saucepan, he’s got a drizzle of olive oil and the garlic, onion and beef sizzling in no time. 

By the time he’s got the vegetables in the frying pan and the whole thing simmering in the cooking red, Yunho comes back over. He’s waiting for the water to boil.

“This smells amazing,” Yunho marvels, leaning too far in and sniffing with his nostrils flared.

Changmin pushes him back slightly with a gentle murmur. It won’t do for Yunho’s face to melt off from the heat.

What? It’s a very good face. 

“What is this?” Yunho wants to know. He darts a spoon quickly into the simmering mixture and tastes it while dancing out of Changmin’s reach. 

Changmin grumbles; it’s not quite properly seasoned. Yunho shouldn’t have tasted it yet. 

Yunho continues, “is it spaghetti bolognese?” 

“Bolog-” Changmin knows he’s probably got a crazy expression painted on his face right now, because Yunho practically collapses into laughter and gasps, “there, see, that’s the terrifying part right there.”

Bologonese uses minced meat,” Changmin says. “We are using shredded beef.

Yunho’s laughing so hard he can barely stand. 

Changmin takes a deep breath and lowers his voice to a socially acceptable volume. “Although you are partially right. Bolognese in full is called ragù alla bolognese. We’re also doing ragù, just a different sort. This is ragù alla Napoletana.” 

“Okay,” Yunho says, still chortling, and it’s clear he has no interest in the small yet distinct differences between the types of meat-based sauces northern and southern Italy has to offer. 

Changmin sniffs primly, and arranges the fresh basil into little rolled stacks, so he can do a quick chiffonade. Oh well. No one is perfect. 

“I’m actually cheating,” he informs Yunho over the delicate strips of green. The water’s boiling, so he gestures for Yunho to salt it, and to slip the spaghetti in. 

On the stove, the ragù is bubbling along merrily. “Real ragù alla Napoletana takes hours to make, and you let the beef marinate in the red and the sauce as a whole cut, and then you simmer it until it’s so soft, it falls apart on its own. I’m using overnight beef and we’re shocking the whole thing into tasting like ragù with higher heat.” 

“I don’t care,” Yunho says. He’s got an arm braced against the counter, chin cupped in one hand as he sits in one of the island counter chairs waiting for the spaghetti to be done.

He's gazing at Changmin. His grin at Changmin is fond. “It’s going to be delicious and none of the fancy cooking terms you’re spouting will convince me otherwise.”

Changmin can’t help it. He flushes a brilliant red once more. 

Yunho’s staring. He’s no longer smiling. Instead there’s a curious little glint in his eyes, and Changmin can’t quite read the expression on Yunho’s face.

It’s to this Jihwan and Myunghwan traipse loudly into. It’s an Extremely Good Thing for Changmin that their cameramen were in the middle of a conversation and thus looking at each other, when they first stepped into the kitchen.

By the time they glance over, Changmin and Yunho are facing them instead of each other, and Yunho’s got his arms folded on the counter instead. 

Changmin blinks. Then he squats down to rummage around in the cupboards for a grater, and busies himself grating the Parmigiano-Reggiano into little blond curls.

Jihwan takes umbrage at Changmin cooking without him again, as expected. 

“What is this,” he starts, puffing up to an impressive size, “what did I tell you about-

“No, wait,” Changmin fumbles, because the spaghetti is done and he needs a colander. 

Yunho saves him with a quick, “wait, Jihwan, he’s not yet done, he’s cooked spaghetti and now he actually needs to mix it in the frying pan, you should shoot this, look-” 

Changmin keeps his head down and heaps the cooked spaghetti into the frying pan, eyes studiously on the mixture whilst he sautés it with one hand. 

Got my head spinning, no kidding, I can't pin you down, John Legend is still singing in his ear this entire time. Yes. Changmin doesn’t know what’s going on in that beautiful mind at all. 

And I'm so dizzy, don't know what hit me, but I'll be all right.

 

--

 

He goes around humming the tune of his song choice to himself, to the irritation of the producers. 

“Everyone can hear that you are singing John Legend,” begs Jooyoung. “Can you please ensure there is a little bit of mystery left?” 

“Of course there’s mystery left,” Changmin says, since the producers have trained him to an asshole in front of the camera. He looks at Jihwan’s camera lens directly and fights to keep his ears at a normal colour. “You refuse to tell me if it was Wendy, Amber or Henry who chose my song. There’s your mystery.”

They don’t have any answer to that, and Changmin pats at the camera lens. 

“We’ve created a monster,” moans Jooyoung at Jihwan, when Jihwan changes tapes. 

Changmin just laughs in embarrassed glee, and heads to the practice rooms.

 

-- 

 

He pops his head into one, and see Zhou Mi inside. 

“Care for company?” Changmin asks tentatively, his Taylor in one hand, and smiles when Zhou Mi rolls his eyes and beckons him in. Jihwan trails behind him, having evidently sent Jooyoung on his way.

They work in companionable silence, until even the cameramen are bored and visibly restless, and make idle chit-chat. Changmin bends over his guitar and goes at a particular phrasing on B flat major, just for practice. 

“Was there something between you and Irene?” It’s something that Changmin’s had floating in his head for a few days, but he doesn’t even realise he’s said it out loud, until he looks up and Zhou Mi’s staring at him with a fixed look and blood drained out of his face.

Jihwan’s hovering awkwardly. 

Changmin takes another look at Zhou Mi, and faces Jihwan.

“Please,” he says.

Jihwan turns off his camera. Zhou Mi’s cameraman does the same. They nod, murmuring a quiet goodbye, and slip out the door. 

They’re alone. 

Zhou Mi clears his throat, and looks up at the ceiling. The cameras are off. It’s too early and the production team needs to come back to change the tapes. “The answer is no.”

“Oh.” Changmin doesn’t turn back to his guitar. He waits. 

Zhou Mi clears his throat again, and fiddles with his fingers. “There wasn’t. We didn’t. Nothing was started.”

He stops, and starts. Pauses again. Finally says lowly, “I’m too old for her, anyway. Too foreign.”

Oh.” Changmin thinks about the competition. He thinks about the own complicated tangle that is his mess of feelings for Yunho.

He doesn’t say anything else. 

Just reaches over, and pats Zhou Mi on the shoulder. Squeezes, and holds on. 

 

--

 

Changmin gets an idea about what he wants to do for his All of Me performance two days after he learns of his allocated piece for the Pay It Forward challenge. 

It comes out of the blue, and he can’t believe he didn’t think of it sooner. 

Because it’s Wendy, Changmin has no qualms about cornering her and laying it out in blunt terms. He’s got Jooyoung and Soyoung with him as well, just so that the production team is fully aware and will be able to tell him ‘no’ on the spot if he does anything that violates the rules.

She beams at him, and without even looking at the producers, goes, “of course I’ll help!”

Then she narrows her eyes at him. Changmin knows what’s coming. Judging from Soyoung’s laughter, she does too.

“What do you want to eat,” he sighs out in a single breath, resigned yet amused. “I’ll cook next week.”

“Yes!” She punches the air, and throws both arms around him.

Her cameraman gets the entire thing on camera and looks ecstatic. In the background, Soyoung’s murmuring at Jooyoung to text Hyejin and Jaeni. 

A thought occurs to him, and he tries his luck. “So did you choose All of Me for me?”

Wendy just flutters her eyelashes at him. She’s got her arms around his waist, and she leans back to look at him. “Nice try, bro. I want kimchi jjigae.”

Changmin looks at her in disbelief at the too-prompt reply. “You don’t even need to think about it?”

“Nope,” she says with much gravity, then giggles. “I have spent a long, long, long time thinking about this! I was even considering if I have to cry, in order to get you to cook again…” 

“What is wrong with you, child?” Changmin asks her, with horror that’s not entirely faked.

 

--

 

Somehow New Year’s Eve and the New Year come and go in a blur of practicing, the eight of them wishing each other many happy returns noisily, and hugs.

Kyuhyun breaks out his last two bottles of very well-aged white, and all eight of them gather in the living room to toast to health and happiness, and as Amber smirks, “winning this damned thing.” 

They all wince collectively, a theatrical cringe for the cameras. Wendy makes an exaggerated moue, and slides sideways in a stream of giggles. 

Changmin leans over and gently takes the half-full glass of wine away from her loose grasp. 

Even Taeyeon laughs, a rusty bark. The atmosphere is warm, and sprawled on the beanbags, Changmin cradles his own glass of white and beams up at the ceiling.  

“Hey,” Henry says suddenly. “Yunho. You’re the last of Team Jaewon?”

There’s a beat of silence and then everyone else gapes at Yunho.

“Shit! Henry’s right!”

“Wait, how did we not notice this?”

“We’re not a very big team ourselves. Look at team BoA!”

“Oh my God! You guys are right. Guys! We have four people! We’re the biggest team!”

“I am not a guy. Don't call me a guy.”

Changmin catches Yunho’s eye, who just spreads his hands and shrugs.

To the others, he smooths a hand over his hair and utters with a straight face and an arched eyebrow. “Sure, I’m the only one left on Team Jaewon. I dare you to take me down.”

They stare at him. No one moves, or even breathes. 

Yunho cracks up. 

Amber kicks at him, “dude, chill! I thought you were being serious!” 

Yunho laughs even harder at her exclamation, and sobers abruptly. He stares at her with narrowed eyes and without a hint of a smile on his face, and tilts his head back to look down his nose at her. 

The action lends an air of sulky arrogance to Yunho’s normally smiling face, and transforms him into a cold stranger. “Who says I’m not?” 

The effect is ruined when Zhou Mi leans over to prod him very hard in the ribs, and Yunho seizes up in laughter again. 

“We’re all mad here,” Kyuhyun announces to the room at large, and raises his glass in a toast to the cameras high up in the corners. 

 

--

 

This week’s stylist assigned to him is Sanghee. Changmin when he goes to see her, says without preamble, “please put me in a suit.”

Sanghee gives him a considering look. “Why?”

“Because I overheard you bitching to Eun-ah about how Yoonju likes to overload me in porn star fabrics,” Changmin says, and she snorts. “And I’m singing a very beautiful but frankly very cheesy love song, so I feel something classic might help offset all the sweetness.”

It’s the New Year, but Jihwan looks like Christmas has come twelve months early. He’s still filming but it looks pretty painful to be laughing silently like that. 

“Do I get to choose the cut of the suit, at least?” She enquires mildly. 

Changmin shrugs. “You get to decide how to suit looks like. I just want something clean cut and simple but how it actually looks on me is of course up to you.”

“We’ve taught you well,” Sanghee says approvingly, and Changmin coughs. His ears feel warm again. 

Jihwan mouths, over the top of the camera, at Sanghee, not well enough or he should have stopped blushing months ago. 

Changmin ignores him in favour of shaping his lips into a grin at Sanghee. “So… you’ll put me in a suit, right?”

“Come back in two days,” she invites, inscrutable as the sphinx.

 

-- 

 

The first time Wendy drags him to a practice room and plays the accompaniment she’s worked out for him, he stares, jaw open. Jihwan’s ecstatic, padding closer to zoom at how unbecomingly wide his mouth is. 

“Well?” She finishes with a flourish, and looks expectantly at him, smiling. When his staring continues, her smile falters. “NG? Is it a No Good? Should I add more chords or, I don’t know, go heavier on the bass…”

“I don’t know piano,” he says honestly, snorting when she huffs a laugh at him. “But is it too late to swap songs? Maybe we can ask the production team if that’s possible. What song are you doing? I’ll take that instead. You can just go onstage and play this and sing John Legend. His key is doable for girls, too.”

“Don’t think a few compliments is going to get you out of cooking after the recording session,” she warns, but looks pleased nevertheless. “So you like it? It’s not too simple sounding?”

“The judges are a fan of simple,” Changmin shrugs. “The simpler I go, the more things Jongkook has to say. Happy things.”

“Don’t forget how BoA just beams at you,” Wendy sniffs. “Teacher’s pet.”

He looks at her in amusement. “Who is the one who threw in some crazy Chopin music in the beginning in last week’s challenge, that made Jaewon do a standing ovation? On the table?”

She flushes, and tucks a curl behind her ear.

Jihwan muffles a cuckle, and moves in for the kill with a close up to her face. 

“It was just ten bars of Fantaisie-Impromptu, and I rushed anyway,” she mutters, and braces her hands at her hips. “So do you like it or not?” 

“Love it,” Changmin says, and finds himself grinning back at her, when she beams at him.

 

-- 

 

The previous week’s Medley Challenge airs on broadcast, and Changmin’s phone is once again bombarded by the outside world. Sooyeon and Jiyeon are taking turns to livestream in the form of emojis and internet slang their reactions at the challenge, and the other contestants.

They’re my friends, Changmin types in their Kakao group chat, that only consists of the three of them and zero crazy parents. He sends an Angry Rock Changmin sticker to underscore his point.

Also your rivals, Thing #1 (Sooyeon) points out. She adds, so Big Brother, it looks like you’ve set your mind to win this thing. Can I get a cut of your prize winnings to pay off the last of my student loans, when that happens?

She’s got new stickers. They’re of Happy Unplugged Changmin, which actual real Changmin doesn’t realise is a thing until now.

Changmin’s got his thumbs hovering over his phone screen, but Thing #2 is faster. Jiyeon’s indignation has a Sad Musical Changmin included for emphasis, hello pls even if he wants to help it’ll be me I’m the baby!!!

Precisely, so take a queue number, Thing #1 volleys back. 

Changmin pinches at the bridge of his nose. He’s in the Sing!Idol mansion’s living room, and the self-same episode is playing on the giant television screen. He can hear the others discussing the cut of the episode, and also evaluating each other’s performances on camera, but he needs to diffuse this thing before his sisters beat each other up and his mother rings him to ream him out for being a corrupting influence again.

Speak of the devil. Thing #2 texts, oh Big Brother, your Beautiful Stranger is my abso fave <3 <3 <3 <3 with a Wistful Medley Changmin sticker. She also attaches a recording whose thumbnail shows their mother on the sofa back at home. 

Changmin opens it. Jiyeon’s got her camera at an odd angle, too low. Likely she had her phone in her hands and was resting it against her legs. Half of the screen is obscured by something dark. Probably the edge of her top. 

The other half has their mother in frame. She’s staring at the television intently, leaning forward and face serious as though she is presiding over one of her students’ final examinations. The phone camera pans, shaky to the television screen, where Changmin’s bent over a guitar singing In A Different Life, and back to their mother. 

Changmin hasn’t seen her this still and quiet in a long, long time. Usually when they do meet in person, she’s imperious and scolding, a whirlwind of demands and instructions. 

He bites his lip hard, and brushes a finger over the screen. 

Jiyeon’s muffled voice ruins the magic. “So, Mother, what do you think of Big Brother’s performance?”

The camera shakes again, and there’s rustling. Their mother looks clearer. Sounds clearer, too.

“Denim on denim is so nineties,” she says, disapproving. “That Yunho boy is going to beat him. Since when does he know the guitar? He needs to play it more. Use it to charm BoA, and finagle a fan-meeting for me!”

The recording ends.

Changmin laughs so hard that Amber and Henry drapes themselves over him, demanding to know what’s so funny.

 

-- 

 

Changmin feels like it’s déjà vu and he’s back at Duet week somehow. Sanghee gets to dress both himself and Kyuhyun this week, and she’s apparently decided to have some fun at their expense.

She’s put Changmin in an expensive-looking suit, in dark charcoal grey pinstripe. It’s a lovely three-piece, and is fitted to him snugly in all the right places. It even has an antique watch fob, with a chain pinned to his waist coat. 

Yoonju will definitely approve of how Sanghee’s got the trousers to showcase his legs in their entirety, except that she’s busy on the other side of the waiting room dressing Henry and Yunho. 

The problem is that Sanghee’s also got Kyuhyun in a very similar suit, except in navy. It’s identical down to the watch fobs and shiny chelsea boots in black leather. 

“Huh.” The two of them look down at their bodies and exchange glances with each other.

Changmin snorts. Kyuhyun sighs, and goes, “yeah, sure, I love you mate, but you’re also too tall and too skinny, so I just look kind of dumpy and two sizes larger than you like this.” 

“You’re delusional, mate,” Changmin returns, and deigns to pat his cheek sweetly. Right on cue, their cameramen and the camera B-unit perk up. 

Kyuhyun’s got his eyebrows raised very high. “Has our Changminnie grown up? Are you pandering to the cameras now? I’m so touched by your personal development. Watch me shed a tear.” He sticks a finger into the corner of his mouth, and dabs the wetness at the edge of an eye.

“You’re disgusting!” It sends Changmin into fits of laughter. When he is calming down, he makes the mistake of glancing at Kyuhyun’s purposefully straight face, and that sets him off again.

“What did you do to him?” Zhou Mi arrives at the scene, puzzled by the commotion.

Kyuhyun shrugs. “I breathed and he fell at my feet.”

Changmin cackles harder. 

 

--

 

Changmin’s drawn the lot of going up onstage first, so up he goes, escorting Wendy, who’s looking resplendent in a matching charcoal grey gown with a silver sheen flirting at the edges, whenever she moves. 

She settles herself in front of the grand piano with a rustle of skirts. Changmin steps up to the standing mic, and pushes himself to give a proper smile at where the audience is hidden by the spotlights. 

It gets him a chorus of screams and sighs. 

“Marry me, Changmin!” Someone wails, to calls of agreement and counter-proposals.

“Such important matters require the seeking of permission from our parents,” he says into the mic. He hopes red pairs well with charcoal grey, because his face feels like it’s on fire. “And oftentimes, we don’t always get what we want in life.”

There’s loud laughter from the audience, and a final smattering of applause. They quieten, used to the process of the performances by now.

Changmin takes a deep breath, and waits for Wendy to start the first chord, the second, third.

Then he opens his mouth to begin. 

 

--

 

Changmin finishes his number, and lingers stage left. 

It’s becoming a habit of his. But Yunho’s been like quicksilver all week, and Changmin hasn’t managed to catch him practicing at the mansion; not even once. 

He’ll be able to watch the episode when it airs, or even the playback of the raw videos if he begs the producers, but it’s not the same. 

Selfishly, Changmin wants to hear Yunho sing the song Changmin’s picked for him live. 

Some of the others finish their number. Taeyeon just heads backstage proper without another glance. Zhou Mi hovers, then an understanding look crosses his face, when it’s announced to be Yunho’s turn. He squeezes Changmin’s shoulder, like Changmin did him, and walks off to be divested of his in-ears and mic pack. 

Yunho goes onstage. He’s also in a suit, but the array of lights mean he’s more light than solid and shadow from Changmin’s view in the wings. 

Yunho sings.

From the shadows in the left, Changmin stares.

Oh. He’s gorgeous. 

There’s no other way to describe it. 

The ballad itself is beautiful in its melody, and its lyrics. The original artistes sang it as a song of heartbreak. Yunho’s voice turns it into a delicate anthem of hope, instead. 

He’s brilliant, and the audience know it as well. Throughout the entire ballad, even at the stanza breaks, and the swells of the eight-player orchestra Yunho’s got playing for him, throughout all that, there’s no sound from the audience. 

No disruptive catcalls. No straggling cheers. No laughter. No name chanting. Perhaps they don’t even breathe loudly. 

Yunho’s voice soars, and soars. Changmin feels his eyes sliding close. All the better to appreciate.

It’s too soon, but it’s over. Yunho’s performance is done. 

The audience break into a groundswell of noise, volume eddying and amplifying. When the spotlights dim and the stage lights come on, Changmin can see that all three of the judges -as well as the entire two hundred-strong audience!- are on their feet.

He’s got a standing ovation. 

Yunho comes off the stage, eyes glittering with an indecipherable emotion. Up close, he looks beyond splendid in his grey windowspane suit and pale blue shirt, jacket now unbuttoned. 

He enters the wings and sees Changmin, and makes a beeline for him.

Changmin opens his mouth to offer his congratulations. Against his will, he can feel himself stepping backwards slightly, because Yunho's striding over with eyebrows drawn and blazing eyes, “that was-”

Yunho talks over him. Their cameramen haven’t yet noticed that they’re huddled together. His voice is hushed and hurried. His gaze is like a laser. “It was you, wasn’t it.”

“-really amazing, what?” Changmin is confused, and more than a little intimidated. He still feels oddly disconnected. Yunho’s voice is still ringing in his head, for all that the actual man is standing (looming?) before him. “What was me?”

“You,” Yunho’s got Changmin’s elbow caught up in a too-tight grip. Changmin doesn’t think Yunho’s noticed. “You chose this song for me.” 

“I…” Changmin thinks of the producers’ nagging.

He offers a weak, “no spoilers?” and cranes his neck to check backstage. There’s no one hurrying towards them yet; a near miracle. 

“How did you know?” Yunho’s eyes are still locked onto Changmin’s. He’s so close, Changmin can see the sweat beading down his hairline from a mixture of exertion and hot stage lights. There’s one sole droplet of perspiration sliding very slowly down the bridge of Yunho’s nose. “How did you know that’s one of my favourite songs?”

Changmin gives up. 

“I didn’t?” He’s certain, but it comes out like a question instead.

Yunho’s face is fierce, hawk-like. His eyes are like twin suns. Changmin wants to look away. He can't.  

“I know you listen to TVXQ!. And you should sing more ballads,” he gulps out, trying not to curl in on himself from the intensity of Yunho's eyes. “Your voice is beautiful in them.” 

Yunho leans in. His hand is very tight around Changmin’s elbow. They stare at each other. Yunho’s so close that Changmin can count his eyelashes, individual spikes of black. 

Distantly, a quiet part of Changmin marvels that it doesn’t feel like he’s blushing. There’s no tell-tale sign of warmth about his face or his ears or his neck. 

He’s so in love, it’s a physical ache in his throat and chest. 

You,” Yunho breathes. “Love in the Ice is a song that’s very close to my heart. I’ve never told anyone. My dancer friends won’t understand.” 

He leans in even more. His weight is a solid line along Changmin’s right. “You’re something else.”

For one heart-stopping moment, Changmin thinks something crazy. Like Yunho will. He may. Yes. No. It’s just Changmin’s brain being stupid.

But he only hugs Changmin, his cheek pressing stickily against Changmin’s. It’s quick, too-brief, and he’s pulling away, gaze shuttered. 

It transforms the next second to bland excitement, as Yunho turns to smile brilliantly at the cameras descending on them. 

 

-- 

 

Cards on the table

We're both showing hearts

Risking it all, though it's hard.

— ALL OF ME.

 

세상 끝에 홀로 

남겨졌다고 혼자였다고 

아주 오래도록 

내가 지켜낼 사랑이니까 

-- LOVE IN THE ICE.