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Sing! Idol

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“We’re all friends. It’s hard to say… Yunho. I want to say me, but I think Yunho will win this. Ha!”

-- CHO Kyuhyun (31), lawyer, interview segment for Ep 10 Pay It Forward challenge.


“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe Taeyeon and Changmin? I definitely don’t want to go up against those two. They’re scary.” 

-- Amber LIU (27), travel host, interview segment for Ep 10 Pay It Forward challenge.


 

Previously on Sing! Idol,

Pay It Forward Challenge winner: YUNHO

 

By the time Changmin’s on set, and in the wings, the other news comes at him, hard. 

Taeyeon’s been eliminated too, as well as Henry. 

Kyuhyun lost by a point to his PK competitor; but Jongkook had stepped in to use his Judge’s Chance.

It’s too much for him to process at once. 

Vaguely, he knows the other assistant producer is prodding him till he stands shoulder-to-head with Amber. 

He cannot, for the life of him, recall the staff member’s name.

Everything seems a bit too loud.

Changmin and Amber are the only two left to perform in this round’s competition.

Now she’s next to him, face pale and tense. She’s spiffy in a shirt-and-capris combination, topped with flirty-looking suspenders and beautifully made up and hair coiffed and absolutely jittery all over from anxiety. 

Her hands are cold.

Changmin grips her right hand in his left. 

“Only Yunho passed, and he went up against this variety MC called Jinki, who sang trot. Yunho won with a rendition of Lee Moonsae’s A Little Girl,” Amber is murmuring staccato fast to him. “They’ve all had real singers up against them. Kyuhyun drew one called Jongdae, who apparently specialises in singing OSTs and getting them to debut at the top of the charts. His fans sound rabid. They were very loud.”

“But you said Jongkook’s got him, right?” Changmin can barely formulate his questions. He can barely think. “And Yunho- Yunho’s fine? He’s won, so. He’s safe, yes? He is still in the running?”

All Changmin can think of is how Yunho looks every week, happy and vibrant and so present and in the moment while competing and performing. 

It’s good that Yunho’s safe. It's critical that Yunho's safe. Yunho needs to be safe.

“I think so,” Amber says blankly. “They didn’t say anything else and the production team hustled Yunho and Kyuhyun in a different direction from.”

She can’t finish her sentence. 

On stage, in front of the cameras, Hyunmoo is wrapping up the setup to introduce both Changmin and Amber’s competitors. Changmin’s is apparently one of the vocals from the very pop group that generated Sorry, Sorry, which he had performed back in, oh, it feels like so long ago now.

Back when everything was simpler. Back when he just wanted to go home.

“Let’s welcome,” Hyunmoo is saying, “Kim Ryeowook!”

His is not an unfamiliar face, even outside of the context of his group. Changmin’s watched this singer on other television shows before, like Masked Singer and Immortal Song. 

He knows Ryeowook is very good. He knows Ryeowook’s voice is very good. 

“And for Amber,” Hyunmoo gesticulates, a wide sweep of his arms, “Krystal Jung!” 

The two competitors are up in front of the cameras with Hyunmoo, bowing at the audience and greeting the judges. BoA’s got her customary diplomatic grin worn tight on her face, and Jaewon looks smug, probably because Yunho survived. Jongkook, however, is unsmiling and ruler-straight in his seat. 

“It’s going to be us,” Amber mutters, shaking her hand free from Changmin’s and just plain shaking them, to work out the joints. 

She bounces back on her heels and little, and huffs out a breath, two. 

“Are you scared?” Changmin asks her.

“Yeah,” she says, in English. “You?”

“Shitless,” Changmin responds in like, which startles a laugh out of her. He knows Jihwan is filming him, filming them; and turns to look at the camera. 

Behind the lens, Jihwan gives him an “okay” sign, and mouths, “Changmin fighting!”

“Amber,” he murmurs. Hyunmoo’s hyping the audience up now, by talking both of them up. Their competitors are still flanking him, professionally placid smiles affixed on their faces. 

“Yeah?” she says again. She’s taking deep breaths now, and humming arpeggios at the back of her throat, to warm up her throat.

“Let’s kill them all,” he tells her lowly, the Korean tripping off his tongue. Changmin smiles as calmly as he can, when she lets out another peal of too-loud, too-anxious laughter. 

He can feel the edges of his mouth wobbling, and steadies them. 

 

--

 

They go out on stage, the studio lights fully up and strong. At least they’re better than the stage lights at full force; Changmin can still see the judges, and the audience, as well as their competitors for today.

Hyunmoo makes the necessary introductions, and they bow at their competitors. Amber tries to straighten after a second, and a ripple of laughter weaves through the audience when Changmin puts a hand high up on her back and forces her back down. 

They hold the bows for three seconds, as do their competitors.

Hyunmoo jokes, “wow, things are heating up in here. This is looking to be a great fight. These guys are serious!”

Then they all straighten and their song choices get introduced. There’s a roar in Changmin’s ears, and he doesn’t quite hear what Ryeowook and Krystal are singing as song choices, even though he swears he’s paying attention.

He hears it when Hyunmoo announces Amber’s song choice, though. She’s got BoA’s Don’t Know What To Say. Changmin blurts out that it’s one of his mother’s favourite songs by BoA (who bows in her seat, at his revelation) to more laughter from the audience.

The crowd cheers when Amber inclines her head, and BoA calls out from the Judges Table, “do well, Amber! I’ll be watching!”

They’ve got a final decision to make before everyone kicks off their PK performances, and that’s the order they are competing in, for the Changmin v. Ryeowook; and Amber v. Krystal matches.

At that very moment Changmin maybe hates the production team a little, because there’s dragging out and there’s dragging out.

He just wants the studio lights to dim and the stage lights come up and he can pour his heart into singing We Are! and be eliminated in peace, already. 

Do your best, he shouts at himself from inside his head, at the same time he’s got a whisper, you’re going to fail and then you’re going to have to say goodbye to Yunho and also apologise for whatever you’ve done to piss him off, tucked at the back of his head. 

Hyunmoo makes them play gawi-bawi-bo, of all things, to sort the matches. Amber and Krystal end up going first, with Amber singing first, then her competitor. 

For Changmin’s match, which turns out to be the last for the day, his competitor Ryeowook will sing first.

Amber goes to centre stage, but Changmin doesn’t head back to the wings. Instead, Hyunmoo guides him, Krystal and Ryeowook to the side, to stand with him, just a a little ways from the Judges’ Table.

It’s the first time Changmin’s standing at this section, during a performance. Usually it’s centre stage for him, and then at most moving a few steps forward post-performance during Judges’ Critique, then to stage left and backstage proper if he doesn’t linger to watch.

It means he’s able to overhear snatches of conversations from the audience.  

“...Changmin is so tall!”

“-- really, Amber?”

“Changmin can’t really sing though, not like Kyu. But he's quite cute.”

“-watched Krystal in a drama before, oh my god, she slayed everyone in there-”

“-ry? But Yunho won!”

“Yunhoooooooo. He’s so handsome! My forever king!”

“-prefer Changmin. His voice is cleaner and clearer-”

“-did you know that Yunho was nearly an SM trainee before? I heard this from my colleague who heard it from her cousin who was an SM trainee for a year before dropping out.”

Changmin perks up, ears straining to catch that particular tidbit. He wonders if it’s true. Shifting,  he tries to sidle slightly closer.

He ducks his head when Ryeowook turns at his side, attention attracted by Changmin’s movement.

The girls behind them don’t pay them (nor the frankly stunning performance Amber’s putting on in front of them, which is a pity because Amber’s very clearly singing with her heart tonight) attention. They sound like ardent fans of Yunho. 

“-dances so beautifully?”

“Yes! And I heard that his voice was even better as a teenager, but he got sick and also I think he got mugged? Like right before his audition, so he showed something that wasn’t up to standard. And him and Hyukjae flunked out of auditions after that! But she said she remembered him because they all ended up being friends anyway, and Yunho even taught her how to dance when SM’s dance teachers were all yelling at her.”

“-not just that, he can sing-”

“Yes, his voice!”

“So beautiful.”

He’s beautiful.”

“God, I just want to bring him home.”

“Ha! You wouldn’t know what to do with him, then.”

“-run away screaming.”

“I’ll just sit and stare at him. That face! Those legs! That voice!”

“He did A Little Girl so well tonight. I’m surprised he knows Lee Moonsae!”

“I’m surprised you know Lee Moonsae.”

“Yeah, well, my dad has all of his- what do you even call them? Those giant black large CDs…”

“Haha!”

“Well, it is a song for Reply 1988. I mean, it’s Park Bogum!”

Next to him, Ryeowook turns, and looks directly at the bunch of chattering girls. They quieted, likely chastened. 

Ryeowook turns back, and does a tiny bow at Changmin, a half-inclination of his head. 

Surprised, Changmin mirrors him. 

"It's disrespectful," Ryeowook offers softly, as way of explanation. He's also in a suit and his eyes are expertly outlined in black eyeliner. "They should pay attention while the performers sing. It’s only polite."

"Indeed," Changmin doesn't want to be found guilty of the same crime, so he leaves it at that and faces forward again. 

He can't resist pumping the air in victory though, when Amber's clearly unfazed by gossiping chatter from the audience (if she was even aware of it), and wins her round against Krystal.

 

--

 

It's now Changmin's round, final for the day.

Beyond the cameras, at stage left, he sees Amber lingering, waving a staff member off. 

Ryeowook goes to stand at the centre of the stage. The crowd hushes. 

He's compact, much shorter than Changmin, and the visible height difference has already made Hyunmoo crack a couple of jokes at their expense, though without malice. 

Jokes aside, his height clearly hasn't made any dents in his stage presence. Ryeowook moves with ease, relaxed and smiling. He bows again at the audience and goes simply, to straggly cheering from the back rows,  "I hope we all have fun tonight!"

The fans in the front rows are clearly loyal, some of them even frowning and fervently holding up fan made signs of Changmin's name, and the other contestants'. Applause from them is weak and pointedly so. 

It doesn't seem to faze Ryeowook. His smile stays, and he brings his mic up.

The song he sings is a cover of an older ballad, and it's evident from the first few lines just how polished and comfortable his techniques are. 

Changmin just clutches his own mic harder, and wills himself to breathe, slow and deep.

When the final note from Ryeowook rings, there’s a slightly pregnant hush, then applause sounds.

Whilst loud, it’s scattered, and almost grudging.

Again, it’s as though Ryeowook’s indulging in a private joke of his own. He even offers an affable nod to Changmin, and a sincere-sounding “good luck”.

Then it’s his turn, and through the roar from the audience, and Hyunmoo hailing him, Changmin forces his legs to move, and his mouth to smile.

There are other people standing with Amber now, in the wings, but the stage lights have come on in a flood of brightness, and Changmin can’t quite see beyond a couple of metres in front of himself. 

He goes to centre-stage, and bows, as is his wont, to another roar from the audience.

Hyunmoo’s speaking again. Changmin hears his voice in duplicate; over the speakers, and also from somewhere further in front, off to his left, “our final song for the night! Changmin, are you nervous?”

There are a few “Of course!”s shouted from the audience, slightly jeering, although their ire is clearly not aimed at Changmin. It's clear that the live audience tonight has their patience hanging by a thin thread courtesy of the production team, and Hyunmoo is unfortunately visible as a target.

Changmin just inclines his head again at where he thinks Hyunmoo is standing, and goes, “yes.”

“Well,” Hyunmoo’s practiced joviality washes over him, “do your best anyway! Our dark horse is always full of surprises!”

Changmin takes a deep breath, and another. Folds his hands before himself. He knows he’s got his mic clutched in a death grip. 

Then the guitar introduction to We Are! sounds, and he raises his head, and his hand. 

 

--

 

Against his own expectations, he beats Ryeowook.

The other man clearly harbours no hard feelings; he even goes to Changmin and offers a hug of congratulations.

Changmin’s barely aware of himself folding polite arms around the singer. In his head, the words one more week, you get one more week, beat a steady drumming staccato. 

Somehow he’s on stage left, and Jooyoung’s back, although he’s got his face shaped into a bland expression, standing just behind Jihwan with his habitual camera braced on his shoulder.

He registers them both visually, but only just. Changmin offers a distracted smile to the lens, but his mouth feels frozen and his attention is pulled towards the two figures next to Amber.

Yunho, and Kyuhyun.

Kyuhyun’s slapped an arm around his back in hearty congratulations before pulling away, but Yunho doesn’t step forward. 

Were it any other week, Changmin knows they’ll probably be hugging by now. 

Yunho’s hugs are some of the best in the world, in his sheltered opinion.

Instead, Yunho’s got a brotherly arm braced about Amber, but he inclines his head at Changmin, and offers a neutral “congratulations, Changmin.”

Changmin knows the cameramen are filming. Amber’s cameramen is right behind him, and Myunghwan is peering in from the doorway to backstage. He knows the atmosphere is odd, and Kyuhyun’s darting inquisitive glances between himself, and Yunho, and he’ll probably interrogate Changmin tonight, in the privacy of their room. He knows he won’t be able to solve whatever it is that’s gotten Yunho angry with him, here and now. He knows he should probably keep his head down and his mouth shut and scurry backstage and maybe lie low until they’re all more composed. 

But he can’t stop himself from blurting out, “is this all of us, now?”

“Yes,” Amber says. She’s won too, but it’s clear that she doesn’t feel much like celebrating, either.

 

--

 

And then there were four.

Suddenly, they’re busy with publicity schedules and whatnot.

Life as the top four(?!) of Sing! Idol actually looks quite different from life as the top twelve, or top ten, or top however many they were, in the weeks past. 

Changmin realises with a start that 

  1. they were pretty much living in a bubble at the Sing! Idol mansion, and just going through the repeated process of preparing and competing weekly 
  2. the nation seems to have caught Sing! Idol fever overnight because. Where he could walk down the street unaccosted when they were given a fortnight’s worth of break; now that’s impossible. He can’t go a few steps during the breaks -scarce but still present in their PR outings- without someone going either in his face or behind his back a variation of “Chef Shim!”, “Changmin!”, or notably once “oh my god it’s that tall shy boy- you know, Yumi, in that singing competition, my daughter is in love with him, I hear he cooks!” 
  3. strangers actually seem to know his face, something that he had known intellectually but not know know 
  4. he’s in the top four of Sing! Idol by some stroke of luck.

When he says this to Kyuhyun, especially the final point, he just gets a hard smack around the back of his neck.

Changmin doesn’t flinch from the pain, but his eyes water from the effort. He’s only just managed to control himself from slapping back in reflex.

“I didn’t know lawyers would have such good forearm strength,” he grounds out, one hand cupped over the afflicted area. 

“Mate, stop whinging, it’s a little love tap,” Kyuhyun dismisses, and sniggers. “Serves you right. No need to humble brag when there are no cameras around.”

They’re in their room after a gruelling day of events and a lot of talking and smiling and waving and absolutely no singing. There was a press conference and a meet-and-greet with a selected few members of the press where they had to keep smiling at what felt like a wall of flashing cameras.

At the end of it, Changmin was so blinded by all the lights that he just bared his teeth in what he hopes is a palatable grin, and waved robotically while spinning repeatedly from side to side in a half-turn. 

It didn’t help that he was sandwiched between Amber and Yunho. 

Yunho’s still not talking to him; instead choosing to speak at Changmin whilst smiling vaguely past his ear if absolutely pressed to do so. 

Kyuhyun for one has definitely noticed. Changmin spent the better part of the afternoon trying to catch Yunho’s eye with not-quite-a-little desperation, whilst equally avoiding Kyuhyun’s increasingly inquisitive glances with the same fervour.

Then the four of them were shepherded to yet another generic shiny Seoul mall where they spent time doing more smiling and more waving and frequently both at the same time, at levels and levels of shrieking girls (and boys) holding up light-board signs with their names and all sorts of bizarre requests.

“I’m not!” Changmin protests now, kicking a leg out at Kyuhyun. 

They’re both seated on their individual beds, and Changmin’s still got his feet on the floor while Kyuhyun’s contorted himself into a ball, curled up with his wine. 

He mentions the fanmade signs now, since they’re both comfortable and Kyuhyun has a tendency to bring out the worst sides of him in private. “Did you see some of the signs this afternoon? Children these days...”

“What signs?” Kyuhyun swallows another mouthful of white, and shifts so his head dangles off of his bed. Changmin hopes the blood that’s very clearly rushing to Kyuhyun’s head doesn’t give him an aneurysm. “Oh, you mean the signs the fans were holding up at the fanmeet this afternoon?”

“Yes.” Changmin throws a pillow not quite gently at Kyuhyun’s face, and laughs when it lands on its intended target. “Some boy held up a sign that went ‘ChangKyu now kiss’. He was standing next to a girl with an even larger sign that said Amber is hers for today.” 

“Oh yes, our many many shippers and fans,” Kyuhyun turns his head at such a degree that he resembles a nonchalant victim in possession of a snapped neck, and eyes Changmin speculatively, upside-down. “You know they’re fighting on message boards about who tops?”

“What?” Changmin blinks. He thinks his mouth is open. “Who tops? What?”

“You know,” Kyuhyun says. He shifts again, so he’s flat on his belly, but at least he’s the right side up again and Changmin doesn’t need to give himself a crick in the neck, craning to look at him. “Who tops. Topping.” 

He puts his glass aside, at the bedside table, in favour of making an obscene but highly demonstrative gesture with his left index finger. His right index complements by making a circle with his right thumb. “Topping. Not pizza topping, mind you.”

Changmin throws another pillow at him. “Fuck off, straight boy. I know what topping is.”

“Ah yes, yes,” Kyuhyun rubs that offensive index finger over his chin in mock contemplation. “How could I forget, you’re out and proud amongst us.” 

“But,” Changmin manages, and sputters out a gasp when Kyuhyun flings his pillow back at him, right into his face. He bats it away and nails Kyuhyun with a vicious kick to his shin, crowing absentmindedly when he does so with a dull thunk. He’s hit bone. “But you? And I? You and I?

Kyuhyun scowls, partly from offence and partly from pain. “Do you mind? I’m a great catch.”

Changmin knows he’s looking at Kyuhyun like he’s grown another head. “Yes, I mind. We’re mates! Friends! Bros!”

"I am not a bro, I have class." Kyuhyun rolls his eyes so hard that Changmin can only see the whites of his eyes for a few seconds. “And. I know that. You know that. But do you think the viewers care?”

This is your fault,” Changmin says, and nails Kyuhyun with another kick to his knee. Over Kyuhyun’s howls of pain, he continues doggedly, “you’re always draping yourself over me in front of the cameras!”

“Fuck! Did your mother shit you out with built-in steel in your feet?” Kyuhyun grouses, rubbing hard at his knee. 

To Changmin’s accusation, he only spreads his arms out in a parody of defence. “It’s funny! You always look like you’re sucking on a lemon! And then Yunho looks like he’s sucking on a lemon, which makes it funnier. I like funny things!”

A jolt races through Changmin, and he blusters, “why are you talking about Yunho? He has no part in this conversation.”

Kyuhyun looks like he’s scented blood in the water. “Oh ho, now we’re talking.”

“What?” Changmin turns to look at the wall. It’s very white and very clean. The cleaning staff the production team has looking after the mansion are very good at their jobs. “We’re not. How is molesting me on national television funny? You and the stylists have a very odd and very acquired sense of humour.”

“Don’t try to change the subject,” Kyuhyun says, and actually gets up to flop himself onto Changmin’s bed, and on Changmin. When Changmin ducks away, Kyuhyun digs an unforgivingly bony elbow into his side. “What’s wrong with you and Yunho? Lovers’ tiff?”

“We’re not- I’m not-” Changmin looks at the ceiling again. Looks at the floor. He tries to duck away from Kyuhyun’s assault on both the body and ocular fronts, and fails on both accounts. “There’s nothing! What lovers- we’re not- he’s not- I’m not-

“Okay, I’ve broken you,” Kyuhyun declares, and pats him not-quite-gently on the cheek. “What did you do to piss your better half off? Do you know when he absolutely has to, he talks to your ear now? It’s quite fascinating to watch. So how did you two go from silently communicating via brow raising and eye-fucking to that? Amber and I are taking bets when he’ll get tired of your ear and what body part of yours he’ll choose to talk at next. She picked your philtrum. I chose your left eyebrow.”

“I’m not- He’s not-” Distantly, Changmin knows he sounds like a broken recorder.

His face is on fire.

Kyuhyun lets him go on for a bit more like that, then grows bored and takes pity on him. “No, really. What did you do.”

What makes you think I did anything!” Changmin grounds out, and shoves a shoulder hard into Kyuhyun’s chest. 

It doesn’t do anything to budge Kyuhyun’s weight, shockingly heavy for someone who seems to drink more than he eats. 

“Oof, Chef Shim works out,” Kyuhyun says.

He’s seated himself comfortably -for him- on Changmin’s flank, and peers down at Changmin from his superior vantage point. “Spill. Why does Yunho look like you took his hypothetical dog out back and bludgeoned it to death with a frying pan in front of him? What did you do to the poor man?”

“You’ve- got- very- good- imagination-” Changmin chokes out, shoving at Kyuhyun’s thighs, and gives up, wheezing. “Kyu- please fuck off- you’re heavy-

“You gym, don’t you? Treat this as a weight-lifting session,” Kyuhyun advises, settling his weight more securely onto what feels like Changmin’s liver and kidneys. “Did you confess your love for him with more food and then run away from him, or something equally ridiculous? Like trying to seduce him by way of verbal diarrhea and flaunting your backside in too-small jeans? He likes to stare at you when the stylists put you in jeans, you know. It's a little disturbing but also extremely amusing. Like a dog with a bone.”

“You’re- fucking- deadweight-” Changmin scrunches up his face, grunting with effort, and manages to miraculously heave Kyuhyun off of him. 

He scrambles for safety, for the foot of his bed, panting with effort. “There wasn’t anything! I didn’t do anything! It was nothing! We’re nothing! I think you broke a rib!”

“Walk it off,” Kyuhyun dismisses, and eyes Changmin indolently across his bed. He folds his arms in front of his chest. “I notice you’re not denying the ‘love’ bit.”

Caught out, Changmin opens his mouth. Closes it again. Opens it. Shuts his mouth again so fast that his teeth click together.

Kyuhyun starts laughing, loud and long and obnoxious.

“Yes, yes,” Changmin says sourly, pressing a hand gingerly against his ribs. Maybe Kyuhyun needs to go to the gym, himself. Or go on a diet. “Yuk it up. Sure. You make a living with words. Bravo. Well done. Well spoken. Well played. I’m sure you’re missing the court, Counsellor.”

“Like taking candy from a baby,” Kyuhyun snorts, wiping a hand under his eyes, shaking with laughter. 

He swipes out with an arm, and then gets uncomfortably close to Changmin’s face, dodging when Changmin tries to punch him in the throat. “Tell me, what did you do-”

It’s at this pivotal moment when Changmin is debating the merits of taking Kyuhyun’s empty wineglass to his head in an effort to stop the incessant questioning, that a perfunctory knock sounds on the door.

It’s hurried, and the door opens before Changmin and Kyuhyun can do anything other than twitch minutely towards it.

Yunho’s inside, hand still gripped around the doorknob after wrenching the door open. He’s talking fast, his words hurried and worried and tumbling over each other. “Changmin, are you okay? I heard a shout, did you fall or is there… anything… wrong…”

He trails off, the stream of words petering out, and blinks at Changmin. And Kyuhyun. 

Yunho’s. In. His room.

Changmin blinks back at him.

Then he follows Yunho’s gaze, to where Kyuhyun’s practically sitting in his lap.

He squawks, and brings his foot up reflexively to kick Kyuhyun in the throat. 

“Fuck, Shim, not the voice!” Kyuhyun tumbles backwards, off of the bed. 

“I.” Changmin gets out. And blinks at Kyuhyun writhing around on the floor, gasping dramatically with a hand around his throat.

Then he looks at Yunho, who’s. Standing in the doorway.

Yunho is. In his. Room. 

“I.” Changmin says, and because his mind is blank, he just stares at Yunho, who’s still got his hand around the doorknob and who seems to be. Also staring.

It’s the first time in a week and more that Changmin’s allowed to look at him face-on, so he looks.

Yunho’s handsome today (Yunho’s handsome everyday), in a hoodie that says ‘SEOCHO DANCE ACADEMY’ in bold uppercase letters, and comfortable looking trousers. His hair is ruffled back and he’s got a pair of spectacles perched on his face, large black rims dominating and accentuating that slim straight patrician nose. 

His eyes are wide and his eyebrows are up and his mouth is a perfect red ‘o’. He’s a sight for sore eyes, and also Changmin thinks his brain fell out somewhere in the last couple of minutes, so he just keeps staring at the welcome sight before him. 

Maybe his mouth is open. Again.

In his peripheral vision, he thinks Kyuhyun is (also) staring at the two of them, gaze flicking fast and avid between the doorway and the bed. 

There is a lot of staring going on.

“I,” Yunho returns, and then turns pink. His voice is higher than usual. “Sorry for interrupting! Er. Carry on. Please!”

He steps back and then pulls the door shut again, very fast. 

It closes, well-oiled, with a soft click.

Oh. No more Yunho. 

Changmin thinks he’s hallucinating.

Was Yunho in his room?

What just happened?

On the floor, Kyuhyun is laughing again. 

 

--

 

“You’re a dickhead,” Kyuhyun says bluntly, when he has verbally browbeaten Changmin into detailing in chronological order every little interaction he’s had with Yunho for the past one-and-a-half weeks.

Changmin gapes at him from his bed. He’s just finished recounting about that time when he heard Yunho say “I love you” to someone else and then tripped in response. 

Never mind that it was (Changmin’s still cringing in latent embarrassment when he let himself think about it) Yunho’s mother on the phone. “What do you mean! I was clumsy, sure-”

Kyuhyun pulls himself into a sitting position, and draws his knees up, folding his arms around them and resting his chin on the back of his hands. He’s still on the floor. “You’re a dickhead. A clumsy dickhead.”

He’s not laughing now. His face is perfectly serious.

Changmin works his mouth around strangled protests, but nothing comes out. He settles for spluttering, “I don’t think. I was just.”

“Changmin,” Kyuhyun’s voice is even. He’s pinning Changmin with his gaze. Changmin thinks faintly that this must be the mask Kyuhyun dons, when he’s at court. “Changmin. He told you he prefers men.”

“Yes,” Changmin can feel his eyebrows draw together in confusion, because that was what he just told Kyuhyun. “Which I don’t have a problem with- you know my preferences are also-”

Kyuhyun waves an impatient hand. “I do. But he doesn’t.” 

“What?” Changmin doesn’t quite understand.

Kyuhyun sighs, and enunciates, still serious, “mate, think about it. I know you have a brain.”

“Hey!” Changmin thinks he should be offended.

Kyuhyun waves him off again. “Your big brain has helped you master an instrument at a frankly frightening speed, amongst other things, so put it to use now. He doesn’t know you like men. You accidentally eavesdropped on his private conversation. He said ‘I love you’ to his mother. You misunderstood. You asked after his hypothetical girlfriend and you were clearly fishing. In a bid to give a clear explanation and to debunk your query, he tells you that he was speaking to his mother. Then he mentions voluntarily and explicitly that he likes men -what did you say were the words he used?- ‘sexually and romantically’.” 

Laid out like this, in brutal simplicity, Changmin can only stare at Kyuhyun. 

He tries to swallow. His throat is dry.

It clicks.

“And you fobbed him off with a generic and politically correct platitude,” Kyuhyun’s merciless. “You told him he shouldn’t explain. And love is love.”

Changmin draws in a breath, with dawning horror. Fuck.

“He doesn’t know you’re gay, too.” Kyuhyun drives home the point. “Why would he volunteer such information to you? Mate. Do I really have to spell this out for you? The poor bastard has feelings for you.” 

“Kyuhyun,” Changmin says. His face feels numb. “I’m a dickhead.”

On the floor, Kyuhyun just raises his eyebrows at Changmin.

Changmin’s breath catches. “Kyuhyun. I love him.” 

“Self-awareness is the first step to self-actualisation,” Kyuhyun offers, abruptly cheerful. 

He gets up, groaning when his knees creak. “Fuck but I’m old. More wine?”

 

--

 

Yunho avoids Changmin with increasing enthusiasm, after that. 

Changmin thinks -still with horror- that Yunho likely misunderstood, because Kyuhyun was half on top of him and how it must have looked and with how badly he behaved with Yunho previously, it was probably. 

God, Yunho must think him the basest of hypocrites. 

They’re at another interview today, the four of them, but this one is held at the broadcast station instead, on a closed set, and will be televised.

In the morning, Yunho had asked Youngjin and Soyoung about the challenge schedules, and he shares with the three of them now, gaze firmly fixed on Amber, “the Sudden Death challenge will be broadcast in two episodes, across consecutive weeks. Youngjin says they’ll brief us on another challenge this evening, so we have slightly more than a fortnight to prepare.”

“Oh, it’s not yet the semi-final?” Amber drums out a beat with her fingers. 

They’re seated in a loveseat, she and Yunho. Changmin’s in an armchair adjacent to Amber, with another armchair empty next to him, apparently meant for the host for this interview segment. The producers had directed Kyuhyun to sit on the floor, perched on a comfortably big bean bag with a hideously loud paisley print. 

“No,” Yunho reports. He smiles at Amber. It doesn’t reach his eyes, which are unerringly focused on her. “Apparently there’s one more challenge, to glean out the top three. Then they’ll give us a break, before the semi-final and final take place. He didn’t specify the duration.”

“Maybe it’ll be another fortnight, like the last,” Kyuhyun suggests cheerily.

“Perhaps,” Yunho smiles blandly in his direction, gaze fixed determinedly on the bean bag and to Kyuhyun’s right.

In the armchair, Changmin just nods mutely. He needs to talk to Yunho. This can’t go on. 

The timing’s clearly not right, though. The host enters, smiling and waving at them, an immaculately coiffed lady in her thirties and an MC of some renown. 

They all straighten, and smile at her. 

 

--

 

Youngjin repeats the information that Yunho had shared to them, earlier in the day, and further elaborates on the upcoming challenge. 

Because there’s just the four of them now, the briefing doesn’t take place at the broadcast station, but at the Sing! Idol mansion itself. 

Or, they’re sent back to the mansion, with their individual cameramen still in tow, and everyone, or what remains of everyone has congregated in the kitchen, because Changmin’s still trying to work up his nerve to corner Yunho. 

His nerve has decided to manifest itself into European fusion cuisine today, and he’s scrounged together a hodge-podge of materials the production team have decided to populate the team refrigerator with.

Right now, Amber’s eyeing him in fascination. “I didn’t know you can use ice cream scoopers like that.”

Changmin blinks at her, and looks askance down at his hands, which are busily scooping out fruit balls from the cantaloupe and rock melon he’s unearthed. “Oh. Yes. It’s just to make them look prettier.”

“What are you going to use them for?” She queries, peering at the plate where he’s got strips of prosciutto di parma already laid out. Then she pokes at the pan he’s got on the stove, with cuts of Korean beef sizzling merrily away in parsley-butter and cloves of garlic.

“Oh, just, stuff,” Changmin says vaguely, his gaze hooked on the doorway of the kitchen, where Youngjin and Yunho are traipsing in, intent on conversation with each other. “Oh, er, hi! Youngjin. Yunho!”

He hears himself, and thinks he should have bitten his tongue off.

Yunho directs a civil smile at the sizzling pan. “Changmin.”

Youngjin is markedly more effusive, coming around to slap Changmin on the back, and waving a discreet hello to Jihwan, who is filming Changmin’s every movement. “Chef Shim’s working his magic again, huh. Can I get a taste?”

“Sure,” Changmin says, distractedly. From the corner of his eye, he sees Yunho take a seat at the side table. His smile hasn’t faltered. He’s too far away.

Changmin can’t make eye contact.

He would say there are butterflies in his stomach whenever he looks at Yunho, but the squirming feeling is too battered with anxiety. Maybe it’s mutant caterpillars. 

Maybe Changmin’s just dumb. 

“The butter is turning brown,” Amber offers, still in front of him, still observing. 

Changmin yanks his attention back with a yelp, and hurries to baste the steaks instead.

Amidst his concentrated efforts, Kyuhyun trips in with a jovial, “sorry! Were you all waiting for me? I’m here, I’m here!”

“Oh, you’re always here,” Yunho murmurs, and turns up the wattage of his smile when everyone -contestants cameramen cameras- turn to look at him. “Everyone loves Kyuhyun.”

Not Changmin. Changmin’s too busy trying to make sure he doesn’t burn the food. That will be a rookie mistake he hasn’t made for more than a decade.

When he tunes back into the conversation, with the steaks safely resting in their juices, and too many melon balls on the chopping board, Youngjin is explaining to the other three that the upcoming challenge “will have the theme of Role Reversal. Like you now know, our PK Challenge will be aired in two episodes, across two weeks. That gives you with little more than a fortnight to prepare this final challenge before the semi-final and final. Thank you for your efforts in helping promote and hype Sing! Idol! We’re close to the final phase now, and we’re all very excited to see what the four of you will prepare for this final challenge, before we head to the semi-final. If you need special sets to be built, or performance concepts to be realised, please come as soon as possible to either myself, Youngmin or Soyoung.”

He pauses, and when no one offers any interjections, raises his fists, “fighting! Good luck and work hard, guys!” 

It falls a little weak, because they’re too little people to properly muster a cheer, but Amber tries her best, raising her voice in a whoop. “Fighting!”

The three men echo her; Yunho focused and without a smile on his face, Kyuhyun looking faintly queasy yet excited. Changmin’s “fighting!” is softer yet, a beat slower than the others. 

He sneaks yet another glance at Yunho from beneath his lashes, while his fingers wrap a strip of shredded salt-cured ham around a melon ball. 

 

--

 

しみったれた夜をぶっとばせ! 

宝物に キョウミはないけど

ポケットにロマン、それと

You wanna be my friend? 

We are. We are on the cruise! We are! 

-- WE ARE.