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Sing! Idol

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“I think Changmin works the hardest out of all of us. Don’t you think so?”

-- JUNG Yunho (33), choreographer, interview segment for Ep 9 Medley challenge. 


“It’s been fun singing with Kyuhyun. Kind of like…. A [bleep] brother I’ve never known? Oh, right, sorry, you’re going to have to censor that out, so sorry.”

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


 

Previously on Sing! Idol,

Sudden Death Challenge winner(s): THE TOP FOUR

 in chronological order

- YUNHO

-  KYUHYUN

- AMBER

- CHANGMIN

 

They’ve been told to make full use of the judges and their advice. Sooyoung, who came in in the middle of Youngjin’s spiel, shares: “for this challenge, the judges’ votes will not be tallied towards the final vote by the audience to glean out the top three, so they’re allowed to know and help shape your performances. It’s up to you to see how you wish to seek their help.”

Kyuhyun opens his mouth.

Before he can say anything, Sooyoung cuts him off with a toothy smile. “No, you can’t ask them to make special appearances in your acts.”

“Damn,” Kyuhyun mutters, to his cameraman’s long-suffering eye roll. 

Changmin thinks he hears Yunho snort, but when he looks over, Yunho’s face is a perfectly smooth, perfectly polite mask. His gaze is firmly on the steaks that Changmin’s plated and served.

Amber is impatient. She’s bouncing on the back of her soles and clearly raring to go. “Is that all? Can we eat now? Can you turn the cameras off? So we have fourteen days, yeah?”

“Yes,” Youngjin and Sooyoung say in unison, and exchange glances with each other. 

The cameramen shuffle, but their cameras remain aloft as Youngjin sighs almost carelessly, “before I forget- since Kyuhyun likes to remind me so often. You four - well you’ll be three then- will be allowed to go home after the taping of the Role Reversal episode. You’ll have another fortnight to prepare for the semi-final and final.”

Changmin nearly drops the platter of prosciutto e melone he’s bringing over to the team. The others react, although their surprise is more muted than his.

“We get to go home?” Kyuhyun thrusts a fist into the air. “Yes!”

Yunho’s not nearly as effusive. “Will there be another break in between the final and semi-final?”

Sooyoung steals a ham-wrapped melon ball. “Oh, no,” she says, words slightly garbled. “That’s recorded across two consecutive days then, in February. A day for prep, and a day for the showings. Live telecast.”

Yunho merely nods, but he jolts forward slightly from the reactionary slap Amber’s landed on his back. 

“Live telecast!” She doesn’t shriek, but it’s a near thing.

It’s the shrillest Changmin’s heard her. 

Sooyoung’s already reaching back out to the platter. Because Changmin’s already dazed from the verbal bombshell, and because she’s well, Sooyoung, he lets her. 

Two weeks! He’ll be able to pop into Choidot and actually work. Maybe Jinwoo will stop climbing the walls, and stop shouting at the hot part boys, like Hyunseok had texted him last week to laugh about.

Youngjin nudges her. “Stop torturing them. Say it in one go. This footage is going to be useless anyway because the nation doesn’t want to see you making such faces over Changmin’s cooking.”

That startles a laugh out of Changmin. It also acts as a starting pistol of sorts, for the others to dive at the food. 

It’s a testament of how far cast and crew are now comfortable with each other, because their cameramen give up the ghost without much fuss, and set aside their equipment to tuck in.

Sooyoung rolls her eyes at Youngjin and relegates them with the rest of the information, in between bites. Myunghwan grumbles that Changmin should have made Korean food, but he fights Sooyoung with his fingers, snatching at the largest melon ball with the most ham wrapped around it. 

Everyone’s eating. Except for Yunho. He’s smiling vaguely at no one in particular and the plates but there’s nothing in front of him. 

Next to him, Amber is already stabbing at the steak slices Changmin’s set out.

There’s too many people, and Changmin doesn’t want to say anything here. He knows he needs to apologise to Yunho, but so much of their friendship is exposed to the cameras.

He wants to apologise to Yunho, but he wants it to be for Yunho only. It should be private.

Here and now, all he can do is fish for the best and prettiest steak slice, one with a grey-pink ombre gradient running along the meat grain, and the most circular melon ball, neat with ham wrapped around it. 

Kyuhyun’s making frankly horrifying noises and chewing with his mouth open, so Changmin edges past him, and yet again past where Amber’s taken to feeding the cameramen. 

He ends up where Yunho’s seated at the counter, a slight ways away. 

He’s not done it so it’s noticeable, and even the crew is too busy squabbling over the food to properly care aside from a pointed glance Youngjin shoots Yunho, but. 

He’s too far away. It's like he’s erected a ‘don’t talk to me’ bubble about him. 

Changmin sidles over and places the plate and a fork in front of him. 

It surprises Yunho enough that he looks up, and into Changmin’s eyes. 

His gaze hits Changmin straight on like a solid punch to the gut. The mutant caterpillars in his stomach wriggle in anxious pain-pleasure.

Yunho’s eyebrows half-raise involuntarily in mute question.

Changmin talks at the fork. “You haven’t eaten all day. All the interviews. And. Running around. Have some meat.” 

“Oh,” Yunho says. “Thanks.”

He makes no move to touch the food. 

Changmin blurts out, “I’m just sorry it’s not kimchi jjigae. I know you like soups. And hanshik.”

He ducks his head. 

There’s silence, and then slight movement in his peripheral vision. Yunho’s fingers are creeping towards the fork. 

Changmin dares to look up again. The expression on Yunho’s face is guarded, and his voice is soft and soaked in wariness. “No, it’s fine, the food you make is lovely. You know that. I…” 

At least he’s speaking to Changmin. It’s been days. Weeks. Feels like years.

Changmin wants to take a chopper to himself for the way Yunho's looking at him, all wounded tentative caution.

Yunho’s got his fingers wrapped around the fork, but he’s still. He’s not eating. 

Instead his eyes are searching Changmin’s face. 

“I’m sorry,” Changmin says, and ducks his head again. Curses himself in his head. Stupid Shim Changmin you should have waited to say that in private how are you going to have a conversation like this there’s too many people! This is not meant for national television

He darts a surreptitious peek around. The crew are busy gorging on meat, and no one’s hands are anywhere near their equipment. 

Only Kyuhyun meets his gaze, and the man -whom Changmin is experiencing the rapid realisation that he might just become Changmin’s best friend when this entire singing farce thing is over- shakes his head, and clenches his fist in a slight pumping notion.

He quirks his head slightly to the right; to Changmin’s left. Where Yunho is.

Changmin looks back at Yunho. Who hasn’t looked away. He must have seen that. 

He opens his mouth. There’s a hundred things he’ll like to say, but what comes out again is a low whisper, “I’m sorry.” 

“What for?” Those dark eyes are still studying him. Pinning him.

Changmin feels like a dissected beetle under a microscope. 

“I-” Changmin nudges at the plate again. “Can we talk? Later? Away from the. Them. Eat. You shouldn’t starve yourself.”

He’s seen how sometimes, in the mornings, Yunho pops gastric medication when he thinks there are no cameras following him.

Pushing at the plate again, he looks pointedly at the fork in Yunho’s hand, and back up at Yunho. “Can we?”

He drums his fingers uneasily against the counter-top, but Yunho understands what he’s trying to say. 

Somehow, Yunho always understands what he’s trying to get at, even when he’s still fumbling to put the words together in his mind. 

“All right,” Yunho says, but he’s not moving his fingers and certainly not his mouth because the food is still there and Changmin’s just sure Yunho hasn’t eaten yet today. 

Then he laughs for the first time in Changmin’s presence in eons, because Changmin’s given up on Yunho feeding himself and he finds himself reaching over to grab at the fork, stabbing it into the beef. It’s probably only lukewarm now and Changmin doesn’t want to feed Yunho anything but the best but everyone is still around and beggars can’t be choosers.

It’s something vague at the back of his mind, but Changmin feels like his body can’t decide if it wants to plunge into a full-blown panic attack -he hasn’t had one in months, not since Hyunseok informed him his presence was required at the Sing!Idol mansion and that feels like a lifetime ago- or just get up and flail around. 

The mutant caterpillars feel like they have a marathon dance-off session in his stomach. 

His face must be a riot, because Yunho lets out another little chuckle. 

Changmin feels like he’s at the top of the world, even though Yunho’s laughter is high-pitched and more than a little startled and he cuts himself off halfway.

He only realises what he’s done when he looks up again and Yunho’s watching him with those dark dark eyes and the discreet eyeliner he’s been put in for the interviews, and there’s warmth beneath his fingers. 

Yunho's hand is trapped by his careless grip.

Changmin lets go.

He’s not even surprised to find himself blushing. “Sorry.” 

“All right,” Yunho says again. He’s lifting the beef to his mouth. “We can talk. Later.”

 

 

Changmin washes up in the kitchen, and heads to his room to wash himself up. 

Kyuhyun comes in to find him dithering over (of all things) clothing. Changmin was reaching for his old hoodie and a pair of jeans, but now he's not so sure.

Maybe he should wear a shirt and pair it with the parka he's packed for winter, instead.

Or maybe a jacket would work better. It’s not made for the Seoul winter though, and he wants to make sure he can speak with articulation instead of shivering and letting his teeth chatter incoherently at Yunho. 

But they'll be indoors. It's not like he needs the parka.

“Are you glitching, or actually worrying about what to wear?” Kyuhyun is incredulous, and more than a little amused. 

Changmin gives a rough shake of his head. He grabs the jeans and hoodie and his liquid courage before he can work himself up into the panic attack he denied himself earlier. 

Heading into the en-suite, he only remembers abruptly in the middle of his shower that he didn’t answer Kyuhyun.

Fuck, he’s a mess.

He comes out to Kyuhyun arching an eyebrow at him. "Hot date?" 

Changmin scoffs, and rubs a hand through his damp hair. "Are you writing fanfiction in your head? You of all people should know it’s nothing like that. I need to go apologise, and…"

"Chill, mate. I’m teasing.”

“Sorry, I.” Changmin laughs a little at himself, and takes a deep breath. “Sorry.”

“In case you are still in the middle of your freak-out and your body is on auto-mode… That's my alcohol you're holding. For your information. Just in case you didn’t know," Kyuhyun points out mildly. 

"Social lubricant?" Changmin says, waving the bottle in question with more than a little desperation.

"Fine," Kyuhyun rolls his eyes. "It’s only Yunho, who is weird and intense and intimidating as fuck to everyone but you. But fine! Sure! I can donate my finest bottle of apple soju to a brother in need. Fine! Even though it’s an odd as fuck choice and at the rate you’re going, you’ll prolly pre-game the entire bottle and fall over before you two even open your mouth to say ‘hello’ or do that hilarious eye-fucking shit you always do. Fine! Take my damned alcohol. But you owe me. I claim bragger’s rights when you two elope to New Zealand and adopt starving orphans from Zimbabwe or whatever."

"Don't be ridiculous," Changmin snipes, and pauses. Scratches at his neck. “Sorry. Thanks. I mean. I need to apologise. So… Apples.”

Kyuhyun just gapes at him for three full seconds, before sighing and looking towards the ceiling. “I have no idea why Jung Yunho finds you attractive.” 

Changmin opens their door. The apple soju he’s filched from Kyuhyun's stash is a comforting chilled weight sitting on his palm. "He doesn't. Still. Thank you. You're a good friend, Charlie Brown."

"Stop mangling great literary works for your selfish purposes and just go," Kyuhyun says, and throws a pillow at the back of his head. 

 

--

 

He goes over to Yunho’s room and stands in front of the door for precisely thirty-three seconds before he can work up the courage to knock. It opens before his knuckles leave the wood. 

Yunho’s got the door open. He’s in a tee and a jacket and comfortable-looking loose trousers. “Hi.” 

Changmin blinks at him. Yunho’s showered, too. The eyeliner’s gone and there’s still water clinging to Yunho’s lashes. 

Silence sprawls out between them, her embrace jagged with unsaid words. Changmin gulps, and finds his voice again. “Er. Hi!”

He’s been rehearsing an explanation in his head, repeating the words over and over to himself in the shower, in his room, on the way here. 

Now his mind is blank. 

They stare at each other a little more, and Yunho takes visible pity on him. He shifts a little to the side, so the way into his room is clear. “Do you… want to come in?”

Changmin takes a look into the room and promptly panics. He can see Yunho’s practice shoes, scuffed trainers and a pair of leather boots that must be on loan from the stylists. The outfit he was put into for the interviews today lies crumpled on the floor. The bed is unmade. 

He had it planned out. Changmin was going to come over with Kyuhyun’s apple soju, pour a drink for Yunho, offer a calm and concise apology to Yunho like a functioning adult, explain his own romantic preferences as well to prove that he isn’t homophobic, make absolutely no mention of Kyyuhyun’s frankly ridiculous claims that Yunho is even interested in Changmin that way, and wrap it up with apologising again for any hurt or misunderstanding he’s caused Yunho with his unintentional hypocrisy. If required, he was prepared to get down on his knees to offer a full courtesy bow.

He had it all planned out.

Instead Changmin realises he’s forgotten to bring shot glasses, and between the panic creeping into him and his mutant stomach caterpillars indulging in what feels like a full-blown riot, he blurts out, “want to go outside into the garden to have a drink?” 

Yunho blinks at him. 

Changmin blinks back.

They both turn to look at the window in Yunho’s room. It’s snowing outside. 

“Er,” Changmin says, but Yunho goes brightly, “sure!”

So that’s that.

 

--

 

They sit together in the garden on what Changmin has come to call, in the privacy of his own head, ‘their bench’. Yunho’s back is straight and he’s seated rigidly, back ramrod-straight and both feet are on the ground.

Snow is falling, but it’s light and hardly a January blizzard. Their breaths come out in curling clouds of white, barely discernible in the scant light. 

They’re both in huge puffy parkas, and Changmin wrinkles a nose at Yunho’s when he recognises the logo.

“Under Armour?” He says. Back in November during their break, he couldn’t turn without seeing an ad from the sportswear brand touting their new negative weather outerwear line. It was entirely obnoxious how they had basically papered Seoul with billboards of their celebrity ambassador, who, now Changmin remembers with a jolt, is a singer that Yunho listens to. 

“Yes,” Yunho laughs. He fusses with his cuffs, the smile on his face turning sheepish. “My mother. She tends to just run amok with her worry and even though I’m already a fully-grown man, sometimes, well. I pick my battles with her.”

“Ah,” Changmin hums, and thinks of his own mother being all imperious, “get a thicker coat, or has Hyunseok not been paying you enough? Grow a spine and demand a raise from him!”

“Yes,” Yunho repeats, and falls silent. He’s watching Changmin. Changmin can’t quite read the expression on his face.

“I,” Changmin starts, because it’s looking like Yunho’s not going to make it easy for him. 

He’s got shot glasses with him now, and a brazier of hot water that he’s placed the bottle of soju in. His brain had returned to him for a bit, so he had thought to grab them when they went through the kitchen to come out here. 

He pours a shot now, the heat of the warmed soju seeping through the glass, and hands it to Yunho very correctly, with both hands. 

The scent of apples is strong in the crisp winter night. 

Yunho accepts it with a murmur of thanks. He’s still got his eyes trained at Changmin, and he looks curious more than anything else. 

Changmin eyes him and inclines his head in a half-bow. Then he stands, and drops to his knees to fold himself into a fully-formed courtesy bow. 

Yunho leaps off the bench with a wordless exclamation. He’s still got his fingers tight around the shot glass.

The soju wobbles, but it doesn’t spill out. 

Changmin’s got his head very close to the ground, and his knees and feet are sinking into the snow. He hasn’t got any gloves on, and the snow is crunching under his palms and Yunho’s tugging at his arm but Changmin resists, keeping his head bent and his hands flat on the ground. 

He says as clearly and loudly as he can, “I am very sorry. Please accept my apology and hear me out.”

Shim Changmin, are you crazy? Get up! ” Yunho’s digging his fingers in and yanking at Changmin’s arm, then shoulders, but his grip slips and scrabbles against the waterproof fabric of Changmin’s parka. “What are you doing? Changminnie! Get up! It’s January!”

Changmin knows his own strength. He tenses, and doesn't allow himself to be budged by Yunho's jerking tugs. "This is my apology."

"Don't be crazy! It's winter!" Yunho's eyes are wild. He makes a move to put the shot down, to pull at Changmin with both hands, but Changmin resists. "That's my apology."

He inclines towards the shot glass in Yunho’s hand with a lift of his chin.

Yunho is scowling at him, disbelief and frustration making his nostrils flare. Then he tosses the shot back and says roughly, "you're an idiot, Shim Changmin. I drank it. Get up!"

It's the first time in a while that Yunho's been anything but terrifyingly civil towards him. The surprise Changmin feels slackens his limbs, and allows Yunho to half-tug him on his feet. "You accept my apology? You forgive me? Really?" 

"How can I not when you pull an asshole move like that?" Yunho exclaims, and lunges forward when Changmin makes to get down on his knees again. "I accept. I accept! Get up so we can converse like normal people!"

Changmin gets up, staring at Yunho when the other thwacks hard at the snow clinging on Changmin's trousers, and the edges of his parka. "You called me an idiot. And an asshole. And you basically said I'm not normal."

"You're a fucker is what you are," Yunho snaps, and pulls back when Changmin says, beaming, "I am. I am a shitty friend. Keep scolding me, please. I am an idiot and a asshole and a fucker and I am sorry."

Somehow, they're both on the bench again. Yunho's yanking at his hair. He's laughing, although it’s more out of disbelief than mirth. "Changminnie, you're ridiculous."

"I am." Changmin knows he's smiling too hard, his face is really a mess, but he can't help it. Yunho's finally looking at him tonight and his face is soft and open and even though he looks angry and startled as well but Changmin's just sorry. "I'm sorry."

"Enough," Yunho protests, but he's not angry, not really, and he’s helping to pick snow off of Changmin's collar.

Changmin doesn't know how that's gotten there, but. He’s just relieved. Yunho drank the shot. He didn’t toss that at Changmin's face and walk away. He didn't!

He reaches and grabs for Yunho's hand. They both don't have gloves on. Yunho's fingers feel like ice between his. 

"Yunho," Changmin says. "I'm sorry. I'm really sorry, I'm a shitty friend and please, please let me explain."

"I'm not the lunatic who's kneeling around in the snow in January doing keunjeol. Seollal is over!" Yunho says crossly, but he sighs and there’s a bit of a smile on his face, when Changmin points out, "you were also avoiding me."

"Sorry," Yunho says automatically to that, and Changmin shakes his head. "That seems like the word of the hour."

He pats at Yunho's hand and lets go, sitting back. His face is probably red but the light from the garden lamps and the mansion is dim, and the late January cold feels good on his cheeks. He can't quite feel his ears.

Yunho coughs, and shifts, but he’s relaxed into his seat on the bench. Changmin’s glad. 

Changmin begins abruptly, staring down at his lap, "I'm not too good with words so I'm. Just going to say it straight and I hope I don't piss you off again but if I do, just tell me straight and I'll. Explain or something."

"It's all right, I was also," Yunho starts, but Changmin cuts him off, "please just… Let me finish. I'm already making a muck of it."

Yunho doesn't interrupt, then, and he nods. 

Wanting to have something to occupy his hands than anything else, Changmin pours both of them a shot each, the second one for Yunho. He knocks back his own shot, and breathes through the burn of it, eyes watering. 

It tastes like fresh chilled apples. He takes another. The sting of it helps him focus.

"Right," he coughs, eyes watering slightly. "I apologise. I think there was some misunderstanding so. Maybe you think I'm a hypocrite and a homophobe and I'm. I'm not. I'm really not."

Yunho makes a move, a gesture, but Changmin hurries on, "but I'm not. I was just surprised. Really. And also maybe also a bit ashamed of myself because I intruded into your private conversation and that was just wrong of me in the first place. And I was rude but. Yes. I was just surprised because. Because."

He makes himself look up, even though he just wants to close his eyes and say everything and then go crawl to his room and maybe have Kyuhyun throw things at his head.

Yunho's only taken a sip of his shot when Changmin downed his, and he's still got the glass halfway raised to his lips, fingers wrapped loosely around it. Changmin forces himself to meet Yunho's eyes, and keeps meeting it, because he can do this. 

He owes Yunho an explanation for his own abominable behaviour, because Yunho is his friend

"Because I'm the same," he says, as slowly and clearly as he can, even though the mutant caterpillars feel like they're eating their way through his stomach and his chest. "I. I prefer men. Too."

Yunho's eyes widen, and his eyebrows rise, and his mouth opens. 

Changmin shakes his head, "no, wait, please. I. I don't keep it a secret, but it's not something I bring up actively unless it comes into the conversation and I. We never talked about this so you wouldn't know but honestly I. I was just surprised. I didn't know. I didn't think."

Yunho takes another sip. His eyes don't leave Changmin's. 

"I'm not good with this," Changmin says, and makes an awkward gesture that encompasses himself, Yunho, and the mansion. "Social interaction. Being friends with people. The friends that I keep. We’re only friends after really really long together. I’ve never. So I didn't know how to react and I."

"Changmin," Yunho says. His voice is very soft. He pats at the air between them. "It's okay. I understand. You don't have to talk this through in such detail. I was at fault too. I assumed the worst."

"Kyuhyun knows," Changmin goes, apropos of nothing, and he doesn't miss the way Yunho stiffens at the overt mention of Kyuhyun. "My mother outed me to him when she rang me -long story- so he knows. He doesn't quite understand because he's not, but. He tries to help. He teases, but. He's a good sort. That day when you walked in on us-"

"You don't have to explain," Yunho's furrowing his brows, but Changmin talks over him. "We were fighting over you, actually."

That clearly takes Yunho off-guard, and he jerks back in visible befuddlement. "What?"

Changmin pours another shot, and downs that too, huffing out a self-deprecating laugh. Maybe he should just take the bottle. "Apparently our row or whatever you want to call it, is painfully obvious. You and I, I mean. Not Kyuhyun and I. He was just trying to get me to tell him how and why I pissed you off. He was worried about you. I was too embarrassed to mention anything at first, so he had to resort to extreme measures. And. Yep."

"Me?" It's quite funny how surprised Yunho is. He's genuinely taken aback. "Kyuhyun… Was. Worried about me?"

"Yes," Changmin affirms. The alcohol is finally hitting him. His tongue feels looser. The words come out more easily. "He was sure I was in the wrong. He was right. Did I mention that I'm sorry? You've got lovely eyelashes."

"Right," Yunho says. Changmin reaches for the bottle, which is half-empty now. He's got another shot down his throat -apples!- and then Yunho takes his glass away.

"Hey," Changmin protests, and stares at his glass dangling from Yunho's fingers. It's empty. He'd thought there was half a shot left.

"Right," Yunho says again, and he takes the bottle away, too. Now he's got an arm around Changmin's back and somehow Changmin's leaning against him. 

Changmin pats at Yunho's hair. "You've got really nice hair. I’m glad you’re okay being friends with me. I suck."

"I'm guessing that's four shots on an empty stomach, huh?" Yunho says, and sighs. "I thought you could hold your alcohol."

Changmin counts on his fingers, and ends at five. He says honestly, "I stole Kyuhyun's vodka earlier, and drank it in the shower. While I was showering. I don't like confrontation."

Yunho's silent. Changmin turns to look at him. "Did you want some too?"

"Did I," Yunho echoes. "Er. No. Come on. Let's continue this conversation out of the cold."

 

--

 

The warmth of the kitchen makes Changmin sober up, a little. "Sorry."

"That's really our favourite word of the night, huh?" Yunho looks down along his nose at Changmin, but his tone, like his smile, is light. 

"Er, yes, sorry, I mean," Changmin gives himself a full-bodied shake, and gives up, reaching for the soju bottle that Yunho's still holding. Changmin's certain there's still some left. 

Yunho smacks his fingers away. "I think that's enough for you tonight."

He goes over to the bread box and comes back with a few slices of the bread that Changmin's sliced for the team in the morning. "Eat. You need to soak up that alcohol."

"What if I don't w-" Changmin starts, and shrinks back at the glare Yunho's levelling at him.

He eats.

They drift along without conversation for a while, side by side at the counter, the silence between them markedly warmer than it has been in days.

"So you forgive me?" Changmin asks, after he's done with the bread. The alcoholic haze has all but faded. It’s a bit of a pity. The anxiety and fresh jitters and mutant caterpillars are a vague hum in the pit of his stomach. 

Yunho looks at him. He's only had a shot and a little more, but his cheeks look like they're still flushed from that, and the cold. "You said it yourself. It was a misunderstanding. There's nothing to forgive. I was at fault too."

"No, no," Changmin insists. "It was me. Please. Forgive me? I want us to be friends again."

He uses the limpid stare Wendy's (he misses Wendy) taught him, making sure his eyes are wide and beseeching. 

It works better on Yunho than it does on the stylists, because Yunho laughs and softens further. He's even patting Changmin's hand!

"Yes," Yunho says, and grins. It feels like Changmin's back in proper sunshine after a long, long time trapped within a damp and dreary winter. "I forgive you."

"Oh, thank fuck," Changmin breathes, and stares down at the counter-top. The mutant caterpillars in his stomach finally subside. "You don't know how much. Thank you. I. You're amazing. I really love having you as a friend. Because you’re good, you see."

Yunho's looking at him. There’s something complicated in his face. Part amusement, part bemusement and something else. 

“I’m only human, Changmin,” he says softly. “I’m not as good as you make me out to be.”

“You are,” Changmin stares at him, confused. Is he still drunk? Why is Yunho saying this? "You make me want to be better than myself."

Yunho shakes his head, his fingers tracing endless circles around his empty shot glass. "Your efforts are all you, Changminnie. Don't put yourself down like that."

"No," Changmin scratches at his ear. Maybe he's not saying this right. "I'm not putting myself down. But that's what you do for me, you see? You inspire me to work hard."

He doesn't know how to explain this. Yunho looks nonplussed. "No, that's you, Changmin. You're the hardest worker I know."

"It's because you help. You and the rest and the crew but you make me want to take my performance seriously and I. I'm not a singer, Yunho. I like to sing, maybe inside my head and in my kitchen. You are why I push myself like this, week on week,” Changmin talks over Yunho. “All of you, but particularly you, especially you, you’re so talented and you live for the stage and you believe I can do that too and. You don’t know how much that matters.”

“But you have talent,” Yunho says slowly, like he doesn’t quite understand what Changmin is getting at. Changmin doesn’t really think he understands what he’s trying to get at too, himself. “That’s you. Give yourself the credit for that. It’s not me, Changmin. You are the one who’s pushing your own boundaries. Look how far you’ve come! Don’t take that away from yourself.”

“No, you don’t get it. Yes, I put in that effort, and I practise and practise and practise because I’m not as gifted as all of you, but it’s because of you, you see. You’re good. I don’t mean just a good singer or dancer or- you’re you. You’re good,” Changmin says, desperate to make Yunho understand. 

There’s a part of him that knows he’s all but shouting at Yunho but he can’t quite bring himself to care. He stabs a finger at Yunho and enunciates, “You’re good precisely because of how human you are. You push me by just being you. You’re an inspiration to me with how hard you work and how you are so focused in your practice and how you just throw yourself into doing your best and you make me want to be better and-”

“Okay,” Yunho soothes, laughing slightly. He’s patting Changmin’s hands again, which Changmin realises he’s using to jab at Yunho like, well, a lunatic. “Okay. Yes. Thank you. Yes. I shan't deny myself in front of you.”

You don’t understand what I’m trying to say but you are good,” Changmin growls in frustrated despair, and sits back to fold his arms across his chest.

Somehow that sets Yunho off again, and he laughs so hard his shoulders shake and he’s got both his hands cupped over his face, and he’s not stopping.

He’s beautiful and Changmin loves this man.

It's a fact of life. It's also a fact that doesn’t take his indignation away.

“Yes,” Changmin says crossly, “laugh. I’m speaking the truth and I don’t mind if you’re laughing at me.”

That sobers Yunho up in a hurry. “I’m not laughing at you, Changminnie. I promise.”

“It’s okay. I don’t mind.” Chamgmin really doesn’t. He’s still got residual adrenaline, but. There’s a soft golden glow spreading through him despite his frustration at his inability to tell Yunho how much their friendship means to him. 

Yunho hasn’t called him ‘Changminnie’ in a while and now he’s done that multiple times tonight. Yunho can laugh at him all he wants. He can laugh at Changmin until they’re old and grey, just as long as he’s across him, as Changmin’s friend, laughing at Changmin. 

“I really don’t,” Changmin insists.

The grin Yunho aims at him is small, crooked and impossibly real. 

Yunho sighs, and shakes his head. “It’s just funny, because that’s one of the things I admire about you. Your focus. And how hard you work. You should see yourself when you sing. When you cook. I just found it funny that you’re telling me you respect me for qualities that I feel like I’m learning from you. Be kinder to yourself.”

“Oh.” Changmin doesn’t know what to say. He looks at Yunho, whose face is just…

Changmin looks away despite himself. He looks down at his hands. He looks at the counter-top. “I. Thanks? Thanks. I. Er. So. Friends? Right? I’m really sorry. And thank you.”

“Stop apologising.” Yunho’s still smiling at him. The curve of his lips is rueful. “I told you. You’re forgiven, friend.”

Changmin looks down, and reaches out. He taps lightly at Yunho’s knee. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Now Yunho’s beaming at him again whilst ruffling Changmin’s hair. It’s sunshine. He’s sunshine. 

Looking at him, Changmin feels compelled to say, “You should win Sing! Idol. You deserve it.”

It pulls another laugh out of Yunho. “Why? It can be any of us. If you want to talk about hard work, it should be you.”

“No,” Changmin decides. “I know I can get intense and dive into something headlong and- yeah, I like singing. Like I said, it’s not so bad when there’s people helping you and teaching you and everyone wants you to do your best.”

“But you,” he pokes a finger into Yunho’s knee, and smiles back at that grinning, handsome face. “You’re polished. You have talent, and hard work, and an amazing foundation, and you’re not afraid to push yourself. You love it. You love the stage. You love performing. You’re the all-rounded package. You should win. You will win.”

“Sure,” Yunho says. He ruffles Changmin’s hair again. “Because Changminnie says so.”

 

--

 

They hunker down to practice and prepare for the Role Reversal challenge after that tumultuous night. Perhaps it was only tumultuous for him; Changmin feels like he staggered off of a really long roller-coaster ride.

Because the producers said they could harness the judges to help shape their performances, and because of the theme of the challenge, Changmin goes to Jaewon and asks for help. 

It prompts a mischievous glint in Jaewon’s eyes, and towards the end of the first week of prep, he’s more than put Changmin through the wringer. 

Jihwan’s enjoying it, of course. He films Changmin’s daily torture, and he’s taken to using body camera gear because half the time he’s giggling silently like a maniac as Jaewon puts Changmin through his paces. 

“I. Can’t. Anymore,” Changmin ekes out. He’s sprawled spread-eagle on the floor of one of the practice rooms and he’s so tired that he can’t feel his legs. He had thought Hyukjae was a taskmaster during the Dance challenge week, but Jaewon is another level altogether. 

He’s also extremely unsympathetic. “Get up. Take a drink and start from the top.”

“Five- minutes,” Changmin gasps. Jihwan is hovering, and zooming for a close up from the underside of Changmin’s chin and likely he -and the nation if the editor chooses to use this footage- will be able to look up Changmin’s nostrils.

“You get three,” Jaewon’s got his arms akimbo by his hips. “You roll your hips like an ajumma with too much arm strength marinating kimchi. No finesse. Up!”

 

--

 

The atmosphere around the Sing! Idol mansion is warmer than it has been in the past few weeks. 

Amber doesn’t say anything, but she does hug Changmin very hard, and then Yunho. 

The four of them haven’t been explicitly forbidden from sharing details of their practice and song choices with each other. But the crew has been hovering and Changmin’s been reminded more than once that ‘they shouldn’t allow each other to influence their performances”. 

Kyuhyun keeps secreting himself off somewhere but Changmin has an inkling he’s doing something vaguely shocking, because he keeps humming snatches of a melody that sounds too teenybopper for his usual tastes. 

Amber’s performing something she’s composed, and she informs them with a grin, “I’m gonna have dancers and do something really shocking.” 

Yunho seems like he’s doing a dance performance too, but he keeps dancing Michael Jackson so deliberately and overtly in front of them that Changmin tells him, “the more you do this, the more we get that you’re not going to perform Michael Jackson for Role Reversal.”

“Do you?” Yunho says, his feet in the midst of performing the choreography from Billie Jean.

They’re both hamming it up for the cameras, because their cameramen are both there and hard at work.

“Yes,” Changmin points out. “That’s hardly a role reversal for you, isn’t it? You’re perfectly brilliant at his dances.”

“Flatterer,” Yunho laughs, and drags Changmin over so he can teach him the basics of the moonwalk. 

 

--

 

“I miss the others,” Amber says one night, when it’s the four of them around the dining table. Changmin had cooked a simple spaghetti aglio olio, and whipped up a fast pumpkin pudding for dessert. 

It’s not hard to make dinner, when it’s just the four of them.

They’re all silent at her admission. Yunho reaches over, and ruffles her hair very gently.

Changmin looks down at his hands. At least they’ve never been barred from texting, although there is a list of topics the producers have warned repeatedly to avoid. Spoilers and all. 

He still gets to talk to Wendy everyday, or almost everyday. She’s regaling him tales about her work over Kakao, and how some talent scouts have approached her after one of the jazz jam nights that Taeyeon scored her at the latter’s pub. 

Speak of the devil. Yunho, at that exact moment, murmurs, “does anyone else miss Taeyeon scolding them?”

Changmin chokes on his own saliva. Kyuhyun helpfully thumps him very hard, on his back. It does absolutely nothing to stop Changmin from coughing half a lung up.

When he surfaces, Amber and Yunho are looking at him, too. Yunho’s got a glass of water ready for him, and Changmin downs about half before he realises abruptly that it’s Yunho’s drinking glass he’s holding. 

“No, I just,” Changmin fumbles. “I was thinking about her, too. I miss her.”

They all make noises of understanding, and silence drifts in.

 

--

 

Recording day comes too soon, two weeks having sped by in a blur of practice laughter practice and more practice.

Changmin’s backstage, and they’re all sequestered with their individual stylists, because there’s only four of them.

He’s got Yoonju for this round, and she’s gone and designed herself into her idea of designer heaven. Changmin doesn’t even know what she’s made his stage outfit of. 

“I look like a gigolo,” Changmin says, staring into the mirror. It’s the final fitting and he’s due on stage in fifteen minutes. If he squints, he can almost believe he’s back in the preparations for Episode Three, except he’s not slouching. Yoonju will probably stab him in between the ribs if he dares.

Aside from that, it's also hard to slouch when he doesn’t know what he should hide first.

Everything is all vaguely pornographic. He tugs a little at the sides of his shirt. “My mother will be proud of her prophetic skills. Oh, God. My mother. She’ll kill me.”

Don’t panic, he tells himself inside the safety of his head. He can’t quite bring himself to meet his reflection’s eyes. The top is very… filmy.  There are buttons. Small buttons.

Don’t panic, he repeats to himself. It’s just for a performance. One performance. He's done this before. He can do it again.

Yoonju rolls her eyes, and jabs an elbow into Changmin’s spine, right at the small of his back. “You can’t blame me for this. This is all you. You want to be a stripper, you get to dress like a stripper.”

“I’m not a stripper!” Changmin squawks defensively, and tugs ineffectually again at his lapels. “Jaewon suggested that song. He said it would be sexy. I need to do a Reversal!”

That gets a peal of derisive laughter from Yoonju. “You took suggestions from a man who jumped onto a table and humped the air in a victory dance because Yunho won the Pay It Forward challenge. Didn’t the producers receive a warning letter from the Korea Communications Commission for that? Stop pulling at your top. You’re ruining the lines!” 

“Why is everything all so… see-through?” Changmin despairs, and pulls at his trousers instead. They feel like they’re cutting off his circulation.

He takes a deep breath and marshals himself.

It’s just for a performance. He wants to do his best. He needs to do his best. 

Yoonju slaps his hands away. “I told you. Stripper song, stripper clothes. Stop that before I tie your hands up and shove you on stage like that and we get another censors’ complaint slapped onto us.”

“Nnngh,” Changmin says, but Yoonju’s saved by a commotion at the door, which turns out to the producers. 

“Two minutes,” Youngmin barks, barely glancing at Changmin. “Go go go, why are you still dithering here?”

Changmin forces himself to meet his own eyes in the mirror. Don’t panic. It’s just one performance.

His reflection is wide-eyed and looks permanently startled. He’s got his lips pressed into a thin line. There’s nothing to hide behind, because Yoonju and the hairstylist have got his hair brushed back. He can see the mottling of red across his ears, twin beacons where the makeup artists can’t work their magic.

Changmin gives up. He goes out, and into the hallways, flanked by Jihwan, and spots the others just as they spot him in return. 

Don’t panic, he cautions himself again. One performance. Three hours of recording time.

They all look good, but faced with him, the other three offer up very different reactions indeed.

Yunho doesn’t do anything, save for a slight widening of his eyes, and he’s already striding over to clap a hand on Changmin’s shoulder, going, “good luck, Changminnie! You’ve got this.” 

He is, incongruously enough, in a simple white shirt and black trousers and a skinny black tie paired with military-esque boots. They've got sparklies as their shoelaces.

Amber just whistles, long and low, and looks Changmin up. And down. And up again. She circles behind him, and Changmin can practically feel her doing the same, but to his back.

Kyuhyun, coiffed and spiffy with pink hair, of all things, barely looks at him before slapping a hand over his eyes, whining, “shit, mate, did you have to? I think you wear more coming out of the shower. I did not need to see so much of you.”

Changmin opens his mouth, and jumps because there’s a pinch to his bum and he looks behind, “Amber!”

His voice is perhaps at a note he’s only achieved on stage a couple of times. 

“What?” She says, shrugging, and leers. She’s looking beautiful and urban-chic with her hair spiked and in a loose white sleeveless top accentuated with tantalising glimpses of black by her side, and ripped jeans. “Your butt was begging me to do that. Is this thing painted on?” 

“No, why did you have to say that out loud?” Kyuhyun whines, moving his hands to clap them over his ears instead. 

Changmin’s face is permanently on fire. But he can’t panic. It’s only for one performance. 

He meets Yunho’s laughing gaze, and mouths, Yunho fighting!

 

--

 

They perform their individual sets. 

When Changmin first comes out on stage, the screams are so loud and shrill that it is all he can do to remember himself, and Jaewon’s instructions, and not wince at the cacophony.

He stands straight, and keeps his chest out and makes a conscious effort not to round his shoulders. 

It’s only for one performance.

He keeps his breathing slow, and even, and goes over the lyrics and the choreography in his head one final time, even as the studio lights dim and the stage lights come up. 

The headset mic is an unfamiliar line of weight against his left ear and cheek. He mustn't panic.

He’s losing feeling in his thighs from the too-tight trousers.

Inhale. Don’t. Exhale. Panic. Inhale.

Don’t panic. 

The noise is dwarfed when the opening bars of his song choice plays.

“In my dark room,” Changmin starts, and lets go of himself to move, to roll, to remember and be the moves he’s done again and again, again and again while watching himself in the practice room mirror, while watching Jaewon, while watching the playback videos, while watching himself and Jaewon do the moves in tandem over and over.

Things are a blur, and it’s muscle memory, even as he sings and makes sure it’s the correct steps, the correct melody, the correct turn and the correct touches, and the correct unbuttoning and untucking of his shirt; made easy by the deliberately small (but strong) buttons Yoonju’s hand sewn into filmy black.

It’s a surprise even to himself, when he finishes it with zero mistakes and it is almost just as he practiced. Almost. There’s a bit more noise than Jaewon’s calm instructions, oh-

The crowd roars.

He wins the challenge. 


--

 

어두운 내 방안엔 

도저히 감출 수 없는 두 떨리는 숨소리들뿐 

감출 수 없는 설렘 

좀 어색해진 듯 그게 흠 이미 난 굳어버린 듯

-- HEAVEN’S DAY.