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Sing! Idol

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i. development: work bitch

 

Changmin realises one day in late summer that his life seems to have developed more than it was last August. It’s something that sits at the back of his head. 

During service breaks on the scant quieter days, or on the rare occasions he’s not at work and Yunho’s off elsewhere busy with his own things, or when the increased amount of people that Changmin has in his life these days all miraculously leaves him alone, he lets himself think about it. 

Usually it’s with either a chilled bottle of beer or a glass of breathing red in his hand, and he’s back in the comfort of his own flat and with something funny and mindless on the telly.

The more things change, et cetra et cetra. 

It's been slightly over a year since Hyunseok had first set him on this crazy journey that somehow became a journey, despite his own initial numerous misgivings. 

The larger world has mostly left him alone, after the release of his compilation album with Amber, Kyuhyun and Yunho, courtesy of SM Entertainment. People still cheer when Changmin gets summoned to variety shows every few months, to sing a few songs.

He releases a single every now and then to decent sales, when Kyungjae and SM send song demos he likes his way.

It still feels a little strange to hear his own voice on the radio, or Melon, when his team wants to take the piss out of him. Garam's particularly fond of putting his studio recording of Rusty Nail on during dinner prep. Changmin finds himself having to shout over himself wailing against a chorus of guitars, which is always a pretty interesting experience. 

But. Changmin's adjusting. At least he doesn't flush crimson everytime he hears himself anymore, even if it feels vaguely like an out-of-body experience to hear his own voice on repeat when his mouth isn't open.

Here and there, he still gets well-wishers who pop into Choidot to giggle and ask for autographs after their meals, or reporters who try to interview him during work, but mostly people are well-behaved. They don’t request for him to sing on the spot now, which is progress.

To his surprise, they listen, when he explains that he likes singing, but cooking is his life, and his career. Manjae tells him there's a particularly  fanatical segment of his fandom -Changmin's still not used to the fact that he has fans and much less a fandom- who likes to wail daily about what a pity it is that Chef Bambi's not a full-time entertainer.

"No," Kyungjae says evenly, the first and only time Changmin asks him about it, after the man -and BoA by default- has appointed himself as Changmin's manager. "Rule number one of working in the entertainment industry, even if you only see this as a part-time job. Never read the comments. Now can we talk about JBTC's offer on letting you have your own cooking show? Am I rejecting them again? And I heard that Youngjin and Jaeni, Hyejin are preparing for Season Two of Sing! Idol. Are you sure you don’t want to be a judge?"

“What?” Changmin squawks. “No!” 

And that’s that.

Kyuhyun for one, seems to have embraced actually working in the entertainment industry full-time. 

The last time they gathered at Taeyeon's pub, which is fast becoming the home base for the Sing! Idol alumni, somehow Changmin's coerced into singing three songs ("Your fans are pissing me off," Taeyeon barks at him, curt. "Get on stage before I have to tell them you're just here to drink again.").

Changmin comes back to the booth that Taeyeon pretty much has gotten reserved for them, to Kyuhyun telling them about his variety show gig. He's been roped in to be one of the MC of a pretty well-known talk show, who's in need of someone quick-witted whilst being a bit of a law expert.

"As long," Henry points a fry at him, which Taemin steals, "as you remember you're supposed to be working on your ballad album with me and Jongkook. That needs to be your first priority."

"So you're not practising anymore?" Zhou Mi wants to know, inquisitive. "Do you even have time? Or are you going to be commentating on this from the perspective of an active attorney?"

"Commentating," Kyuhyun snorts into his glass of red, which has been left undrunk, to breathe. "Is that what you people call it in public relations? But no. I probably wouldn't be as active in taking on cases."

Next to them, Wendy belts, “work it hard, like it’s your profession, watch out now, ’cause here it comes” and giggles into her martini when Zhou Mi rolls his eyes at her.

Changmin reaches out whilst sitting down, and takes her martini away without a word.

“Hey!” Wendy protests weakly. Tiffany, sitting opposite her, jams a buffalo wing into her open mouth.

Ignoring the farce happening in front of him, Kyuhyun darts a look at Yunho, who's been pretty quiet next to Changmin all evening, and nursing a glass of Cola. "Nonsense. If you want to talk about lack of time, Chef Bambi's dancing king over there wins over me, hands down."

Yunho smiles at him.

Next to him, Changmin nudges close, so his elbow bumps up against Yunho's. 

Kyuhyun swirls his wine, "how do you two even find the time to date? Share with the class! Hyuk says you're still teaching, and I saw you twice in two different variety shows last week, on Sunday your fans snapped photos of you out with a bunch of blokes who aren’t Chef Shim, and didn't the new SM boy group tap on you to choreograph the first two waves of their singles? And you're doing that EP thing? No? BoA’s doing a song with you on that, right? Right?" 

Yunho just goes, mild, "you know my schedule disturbingly well, Kyuhyun." 

Kyuhyun stares at him unblinkingly. "That's not answering my question."

Yunho tilts his head. His voice is still mild. "You have a lot of questions." 

Beneath the table, Changmin reaches out. He catches Yunho's hand in his.

Yunho links their fingers together, and stares back at Kyuhyun until the other man blinks despite himself, eyes watering.

 

--

 

ii. change: 11월…그리고

 

SM Entertainment is, naturally, more interested in Yunho than they are in Changmin.

Changmin, Kyungjae tells Yunho sagely when they run into each other at the entertainment agency and Changmin’s not around, is a bit of a sure thing to the company. With how he’s still not quite interesting in front of the cameras, even with a more musically polished voice, and with how he’s head chef at Choidot now.

“Changmin’s interesting on television,” Yunho says loyally.

Kyungjae just drawls, “when you put a mic into his hand and a backing track on, maybe. But how about you? Any interest in becoming a judge for the second season of Sing! Idol?”

“There’s still so much I have to learn,” Yunho snorts, and laughs at him.

Beyond performing, SM Entertainment’s got plans for Yunho, if only he’ll allow them. 

“Thank you,” Yunho tells them, during contract negotiations. “I will join, although not without conditions. My academy and my dance are and will stay as first priority.”

In a different life, or perhaps if he had been accepted at their auditions nearly twenty years ago, he would have thrown everything he had and then some at cultivating a robust career as an artiste with the entertainment agency.  Somehow life’s helped him work out an update to his childhood ambition, a nice change that marries long-ago ambition with his current career and life.

Frankly, Yunho doesn’t know how he got to be this lucky. He likes what he has, now.

There’s the academy with Hyukjae and Taemin. And then there’s a significant uptick in idol groups -belonging to SM as well as other smaller agencies- requiring his professional choreographer services, as well as these tentative plans to ride on his Sing! Idol exposure and release music, on the side.

“Don’t worry,” he’s reassured, “to be blunt, we can’t market you as an idol too, or a pop star. Your target segment is a little bit more niche than that. But there’s high interest in you, both from the competition, and it seems like netizens have come across these dance practice videos you used to do? Teaching the steps of some of the choreography from selected pop hits? We can harness that, no problem!”

“Because I’m too old to be an idol?” Yunho ventures, and laughs when the executive looks hesitant about answering. “It’s fine, Vice President. I help train idols for a living, too. I understand what you mean. This way is preferable for me.”

And it is.

It means Yunho’s busy, and most days he sleeps at most five hours a day. 

But with Changmin in his life, at least the five hours is a block of time that sits solidly from late night till past dawn, and the better eating habits fostered during his Sing! Idol days are mostly maintained. He’s still left with enough time to see his boyfriend, and even hang out with his friends outside of the academy on most weekends. 

Changmin. His musings have routed back to his boyfriend. It’s been a bit of a busy stretch, and they keep missing each other on their mobiles.

The last time he spoke to Changmin was about forty eight hours ago, when Changmin had rang him to say he was going into some very serious chef cookoff thing whose rules Yunho still doesn’t quite grasp, but nevertheless made encouraging noises at.

Hyukjae raps on his door frame and peeks in, “Yunho, do you want to grab lunch, oh gross, that is your ‘I’m thinking about my Changminnie’ face, I’m out, bye.”

“Wow, bro.” Yunho calls after him laughingly. “Nice to see that’s how far our friendship extends! Nineteen years means nothing, right!”

“Nineteen years is nothing when I have to sit across that face of yours for lunch and it defeats the purpose of eating, because I will lose my appetite.” Hyukjae is merciless, and waves a hand behind, at him. He leaves without another backward glance.

Yunho lets out a little laugh at that. He pokes at his mobile again. No new messages, or calls.

He opens his inbox, and answers a couple of emails from SM about upcoming plans on his EP. Checks again that there is nothing in reply from Changmin, in the last five minutes. Responds in the affirmative to a text from Hojoon, asking to meet up.

Are you bringing your giant moose again, Hojoon is fast in texting back. Please don’t.

Yunho’s amused despite himself. Why are you calling him a moose! The public calls him Bambi. Don’t tell me you don’t know that. 

Moose is a kind of deer, Hojoon points out. A very territorial, twitchy kind of giant deer that gets aggressive when startled and likes to do the solitary shit and emo alone. Sounds about right.

“Emo,” Yunho says out loud, and shakes his head. He taps out his reply, speed somewhat slower than Hojoon’s rapid responses. Emo? Is that 2002 and we’re all smearing black eyeliner on and drawing pink lines on our wrists?

At our last group gathering, Yunho can practically read Hojoon’s eye roll from the wry words. Your moose sat in a corner by himself and only spoke to you. Jinyoung tried to say hello and he yelped at her. 

Yunho gives up on typing and presses the voice recording button, “Changmin is shy. Jinyoung’s not for the faint-hearted, and you know it.” 

Whatever, is Hojoon’s economical response, sent back at light speed. We don’t feed moose here.

Yunho snickers a little to himself at that, because it’s been a few times that they’ve met. But Changmin and Hojoon still clearly don’t quite know what to make of each other and that in itself is hilarious.

“I thought Hyukjae is your best friend,” Changmin once told him, looking comically betrayed. Yunho just sniggers at him, “are we allowed to only have one? Well, so is Garam yours, or Hyemi? Or is it not even Team Choidot. What about Kyuhyun? Or Wendy?”

Changmin. It’s been ten minutes. He lets himself swipe over to his Kakao chat with Changmin. 

There’s still nothing. 

He twiddles his thumbs for a little bit because he hasn’t got any afternoon classes to teach today, and rolls around in his office chair a couple of times. 

“Silly,” Yunho tells himself, and suppresses the urge to drive over to Choidot in Cheongdam-dong.

He’s a boyfriend and not a stalker. Changmin’s just busy working. The cookoff sounds very prestigious indeed, when he was telling Yunho the rules and Yunho was trying to wrap his head around the awards and the organisers and the participants, which feature a lot of French terms that Changmin had rattled off rapid-fire.

After the umpteenth time when Yunho says scoldingly to himself, “Changminnie is at work and so are you’, only for his brain to answer him with ‘yes, but usually he manages to text an essay and then some back to you even before you finish typing your second line’, Yunho just throws his head back, feet on his desk, and guffaws very loudly at himself.

He’s pining like some silly lovestruck child and he’s self-aware enough to find it amusing, because it’s only been two days.

Then he takes himself to his favourite practice room in the academy, to start choreographing a new piece SM has just commissioned him for last week, for one of their newer girl groups. 

Yunho’s in the zone. His tee is soaked and trainers squeaking on the floor, shorts rumpled around his dance leggings; when he looks away from evaluating the bend of his thighs in the middle of a dance move that ends in a high kick, and realises he’s not alone. 

He blinks the sweat away from his eyes and flicks his bangs back.

It’s not a student, nor Hyukjae and Taemin by the door. It’s not even Jieun, coming by to tell him she’s popping out for a break.

His muddled musings have manifested themselves somehow. It’s Changmin who’s leaning against the barre. His arms are crossed and he looks tired, although he’s got a soft look in his eyes.

“My thighs hurt from looking at you kick like that,” he says in lieu of a greeting.

“Changminnie!” Yunho perks up. He’s bouncing over to the barre, when his boyfriend adds on, voice soft and exhausted, “the past forty-eight hours have been hell. I’m never doing cookoff challenges again. There weren’t even so many cameras on Sing! Idol. They kept getting in my way to the sink. So I drove all the way over here for a hug. But now I’m being told I have to scold you.”

Yunho pauses mid-stride.

Sometimes Changmin likes to take the piss out of him. But the look on his face right now is not quite familiar. It’s exhaustion, and fondness, and something else. “What? Why?”

Changmin straightens. His arms are still crossed over his chest.

The unfamiliar look on his face is morphing into a scowl. “Imagine my shock when I walked in, to Jieun at the reception counter packing her things up, ready to call it a night, and she tells me you haven’t had lunch. It’s ten at night!”

“Is it ten at night,” Yunho repeats like a bit of an idiot, and looks at his wrist. It’s empty.

Right. He’d taken his watch off, and put his phone aside, before starting his choreography brainstorm.

He tries for a couple of steps nearer.

Changmin’s scowl is growing. “It is. Ten at night! Why does your practice room not have clocks?”

“Er,” Yunho says, and comes to a stop, a bit uncertainly. He’s about an arms’ length from Changmin. 

Changmin just takes the chance to step close instead, and he’s got his arms around Yunho and his face is plastered to the crook of Yunho’s neck. 

He hums a refrain against Yunho’s neck and it sounds familiar, “바보처럼 멈춰있어.”

Yunho realises with a start that it’s the first line to the chorus of November With Love, which he’s released as a digital single a month prior. And which, Yunho knows, because of a video Hyemi from Choidot sent him over Kakao, Changmin tends to sing absentmindedly, while he’s working on lunch service prep. 

There’s a warm lovely feeling spreading low in his stomach. Changmin feels nice in his arms. 

“Hello,” Yunho says now, to the top of Changmin’s head. “I’m sweaty.”

“Hello sweaty,” Changmin mumbles. “I’m Changmin. Let’s go eat.”

 

--

 

iii. teacher: wrecking ball

 

"All right," Yunho says, one day when they're both at Changmin's flat, because his pantry is still better stocked than Yunho's, which can only be described as 'bare'. "Hit me."

It's the weekend, and they're both supposed to be resting, but enough is enough. 

Something needs to be done. His boyfriend is hopeless and it's really up to Changmin to stage an intervention. There’s no one else in Yunho’s life that’s better suited for this task.

Changmin frowns at him. "No hitting! There should be no hitting. You need to be gentle. Show me again."

"Right," Yunho says, and swings his fork with too much enthusiasm.

It smacks into the egg he's got in his grasp. 

Shell bits and yolk splatter over the sink. The result is something out of a Jackson Pollock painting, but in monochromatic yellow and beige eggshell.

"You're supposed to be gentle," Changmin tries not to sound too despondent. "Show me again, with just your hands this time. It's fine! Both hands, use both hands."

Yunho taps a new egg against the empty bowl Changmin's got for him, next to the sink. 

He's too gentle. The egg just sits quietly in his grasp.

"No, no," Changmin leans in, intent. "You're being too gentle now. Harder."

Yunho taps it again. The egg makes a soft but audible thud.

"You need to hit it like this, at an angle," Changmin grabs another egg from the carton and does so one-handed. He lets the yolk and egg white slip into the bowl, and lectures, "it needs to be a sharp crack. See. Like this."

"They don't behave like that in my hands," Yunho offers, and aims for the side of the bowl, where Changmin had cracked his egg.

Changmin thinks his boyfriend doesn’t quite realise it, but Yunho’s singing under his breath, fingers tight around the egg. “I came in like a wrecking ball.” 

“Don’t,” Changmin lunges, but he’s too far away and Yunho’s already pulling his arm back in a swing. “Yun, don’t sing that, don’t even think that, be gentle-

“I never hit so hard in love-” Yunho uses too much strength this time too. The egg in question smashes against the side, a sticky mess of shell bits and split yolk. "Oops."

"Oh," Changmin says. He looks at the carton, where only one forlorn egg is left, amidst an empty pallet of originally thirty. "I… Oh."

"Sorry, Changminnie," Yunho says. 

He doesn't sound very sorry at all. In fact he sounds like he’s trying very hard not to laugh. "Maybe I'll just eat eggs when you cook them for me."

“What happened to saying you can feed me,” Changmin grumbles, but Yunho’s nudging him, and making threatening gestures towards the one sole egg. He’s making a comically evil face, with bared teeth and squinched eyes.

What even is this man. Changmin laughs despite himself. “I guess I just have to help protect poor innocent eggs from the likes of you.”

 

--

 

iv.dreams: share the world

 

Changmin’s being prodded awake from what had been a series of very pleasant dreams involving Yunho and his favourite anime and a very large bowl of naengmyeon he was soaking in.

“Don’t cancel my barbecue, Yunho says we need to set sail, come on let’s go baby, baby, oh we share the one dream,” he mumbles, turning his face into the pillow.

There’s soft laughter by his ear. Then there are fingers at his ribs and he’s being tickled.

“Oh fuck, I can’t eat on the ship what is it I am awake no please stop that tickles I can’t breathe,” Changmin gasps in between strangled yelps, half in shock and half in forced hilarity. 

He sits up in bed, breathing hard, and blinks at the sunshine filtering through the wooden sliding doors, and the windows. 

Right. He’s not in his flat. Where is he.

Next to him, Yunho goes, soft and amused, “where do we need to set sail to?”

“I don’t know, you said you’ll tell me after barbecue,” Changmin says automatically, brain evidently still asleep, and turns to look at his boyfriend. Who’s dressed, and kneeling on blue bed linens instead of grey, and right, right.

Right. It’s his turn to bunk over at Yunho’s flat this week.

“I was going to wish you a happy birthday,” Yunho tells him. “I’m not teaching today and your boss says you’re not allowed to head into Choidot and Kyungjae says he’ll leave you alone today without talking about that new R&B ballad of yours. Happy birthday, Changminnie.”

At that, Changmin blinks, and blinks again, and wakes up a little more, to focus on the clumsily wrapped box Yunho’s got in his hands. Then he looks back at Yunho who’s clearly not finished.

“But,” his boyfriend continues to muse, “now I want to know more about this dream of yours.”

Changmin chokes a little.

Yunho’s tilting his head, curious. “Do you dream of me regularly?” 

Changmin looks at him. Between his actual Real Yunho, who’s gone and brushed his hair back and actually put himself in a shirt and trousers, and Dream Yunho who had green hair and pierced ears and a charismatic glower with a very interesting scar over his eye, Changmin quails. 

In his own defence, he’s not quite awake yet. It’s already hard enough to wake up to an already dressed Yunho. Much less wake up to an already dressed Yunho, while talking to Dream Yunho who was sharpening one of his three katanas just barely seconds ago.

He can feel his own ears growing warm. 

After a long while, where he’s silent and just staring at his boyfriend, Yunho reaches out a hand to prod at Changmin’s knee through the duvet. “Changminnie?”

Changmin shakes his head mutely. Embarrassment is a slow-arriving runnel through him, but it’s arrived at last. 

“The ship?” Yunho prompts, and frowns. “Does dream me say you can’t eat on whatever ship this is? Dream me doesn’t sound very nice. You can eat whatever you want as long as you cook my share.”

Changmin looks at his chest, which is very properly covered up in a shirt, and blurts, “you’re wearing a shirt.”

“Because it’s your birthday, Changminnie, I can’t wish you happy birthday in pajamas,” Yunho points out, patient. Then comprehension dawns. 

His smile grows wicked, and in proportion to the apprehension that’s creeping in for Changmin. “So. Was I not wearing a shirt in your dream?”

 

--

 

v. vacation: i don’t love you 

 

“This,” Yunho says in satisfaction, and stretches on the deck chair, and turns his face to the breeze. It’s the faintest hint of salt on his tongue, “this! It’s a proper vacation.”

He’s greeted by the sight of his boyfriend looking down at him, mouth flattened into itself and clearly swallowing a recrimination or two or seven.

“Oh, Changminnie,” Yunho hails, and chortles. “You make my world spin.”

“That’s the East Sea,” Changmin retorts, but his ears are super pink. He’s trying too hard not to look pleased. Yunho’s onto him. “And also that bottle of soju you drank! On an empty stomach! That was supposed to be for dinner tonight.”

“No, it’s just you, asshole,” Yunho tells him, and watches in pleasure as Changmin’s face, upside-down in his vision, flushes crimson. He says, more quietly, not that there’s anyone else around them to hear him, “I only had a glass. It’s all you.”

“I don’t understand how you can just open your mouth and let these- things- come out, just like that,” Changmin is babbling. He’s got a bottle of sunscreen clutched in his hands.

“You’re incentive,” Yunho offers, because contrary to what he’s just said, he’s the asshole. Teasing Changmin is one of his favourite sports. He gets the bottle of sunscreen thrown at him for his efforts.

Yunho catches it hard against his chest, laughing. 

“Well,” Yunho continues, mock-contemplative, and hugs the sunscreen to himself. “We’re on a ship now.”

“-It’s only a yacht,” Changmin is bent over and digging around in their bags for something. “And Hyunseok only loaned it to us for the weekend-”

“Hush,” Yunho talks louder. Beneath them, the yacht bucks lightly in the gentle swell. “We’re on a ship now, so maybe we can continue that conversation last week-”

He sees when Changmin finally gets what Yunho’s trying to drive at with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, because he trips on nothing and nearly faceplants into the bags.

“So what was I wearing in your dream,” Yunho asks, twirling the bottle. “You never did tell me. Come on, we’re already on a ship, and you packed the materials for a barbecue. We can try for a reenactment? Share the one dream, and all.” 

Changmin just looks at him, with narrowed eyes, and finally pulls out his tablet from Yunho’s duffel bag. His ears have gone past pink and are now visibly red.

He taps into the Melon app without saying anything, and shoves the tablet at Yunho. Then he turns to walk below deck, where the galley and the bedroom are.

“There’s service out here at sea?” Yunho wonders, and turns his attention to the screen, which is showing a couple staring at each other on screen, while a girl sings in the background, “널사랑하지않아, 다른이유는없어.”

“I don’t love you- there’s no other reason-” Yunho repeats mindlessly, and then it hits him, and he chokes, trying and failing not to laugh.

But his boyfriend is really fun to tease, so Yunho calls after him, “I’m pretty sure you were singing One Piece in that dream, and not Urban Zakapa!”

A loud indignant squawk and the thud of things -maybe a pan or two- dropping on the floor answer him.

Yunho just cackles to himself a little more, and heaves himself up to head down to, to better tease Changmin. That’s always more fun at close proximity. 

 

--

 

vi. defeat: i will show you

 

He keeps his smile patient, and lets her look. 

“Colour me shocked,” Hyemi says, staring at him. “But I never thought Chef would end up with someone who can’t cook.”

“I’m sorry?” Yunho offers, and tries not to let his voice tremble with the amusement he feels. 

She just stares at him more. Yunho tries his best not to feel like an insect pinned under a microscope. It gets harder, when Manjae comes by to join her, and they both make a sport out of it. 

Hyemi speaks then, but it’s not to Yunho. Her words are very clearly meant for Manjae, “maybe we can help teach him? It just doesn’t seem, well, proper. At least we can help make sure he knows his way around a kitchen?”

Yunho says, very honestly, “Changmin has tried. He really has. But I think he’s given up on teaching me how to cook.”

“Can’t be,” Manjae ponders. “Chef’s not the kind of person to give up on things just like that. He usually just gets tunnel vision and goes into a corner by himself and practices with trembling hands until he’s got it.”

“Er,” Yunho hedges. “I think we’ve tried that, and been past that, too.”

They’re at the private opening ceremony of Jinwoo’s new restaurant, and Changmin’s off somewhere with Hyunseok and the aforementioned restaurant owner. Yunho doesn’t mind. It’s mostly just Team Choidot in attendance anyway, and he knows all of them well enough.

Jinwoo’s new place is an American steakhouse, with an open-concept grill running along the bar. Yunho allows himself to be dragged by the two of them to the bar area, because these are Changmin’s people, and he’s not quite sure how to tell them no when they're being an insistent bunch.

“You can do it,” they keep saying to him. Maybe they’re trying to brainwash him into believing that, or they’re brainwashing themselves. Yunho doesn’t quite know. 

They say it enough times, a pair of cheerleading captains sandwiching him, until Yunho’s psyched up despite himself, and singing determinedly, “보여줄게, 완전히달라진나” whilst they go into Jinwoo’s new industrial fridge, to filch some ingredients. 

“We’re just borrowing,” Manjae reasons. “It’s only a very little, and for the greater good. Che- Jinwoo will understand.”

Fifteen minutes later, Yunho’s managed to burn butter in a saucepan.

Hyemi is still trying to keep a straight face, but even that proves too much for Manjae.

“What. How do you burn butter,” he’s muttering blankly, truly appalled, “how does he burn butter. It’s just butter. How do you do it. What. What. It’s only butter.”

“What is this,” comes from behind them, chilly. There’s an intake of breath from someone else.

Yunho scrapes a little at the brown bits that were butter in the saucepan, and tries to pretend he didn’t hear anything.

Hyemi stiffens, and sighs. “Hi, Chefs.”

Manjae’s still aghast and nattering to himself, “how does he burn butter?”

Changmin comes around the side of them, and takes the spatula away from Yunho. He’s sounding a little screechy, “what did you two do? Yunho, why did you even let them bring you near the kitchen?”

“They said they can teach me how to cook,” Yunho informs him, exaggeratedly forlorn.

Manjae goes, like a broken recorder, “he burnt butter.”

Hyemi just covers her face slowly, with a palm.

“Please. If I’ve already admitted defeat in this,” Changmin says, prim, “they don’t stand any chance. Why do you even let them do this?”

To Manjae, he only has an unsympathetic, “that’s nothing special. He did that to me, too. That’s why he’s not allowed in the kitchen.”

“I was blinded by their lies,” Yunho says, laying it on thick.

Behind them, Jinwoo is snickering into his champagne.

 

--

 

vii. challenge: more than words

 

“The weather,” Yunho’s father says, very loudly. His eyes are trained steadfastly upward at the sky. “Is lovely today.”

“Yes,” Yunho returns, polite. He bows. He’s been doing that a lot, ever since he had Changmin park, and both of them alight from the car. “Rather.”

Changmin looks up. Next to him, Yunho’s mother does, too. The sky is a uniform and dreary grey. It’s muggy, for autumn.

“Was there traffic coming down,” Yunho’s father continues, at a volume which other people might use to announce things. 

“It was manageable,” is Yunho’s courteous response. He’s facing his father, but there’s something odd about the direction he’s looking at. 

Changmin tries to track his boyfriend’s gaze, and looks towards Yunho’s father, and back at Yunho.

If he’s not wrong, Yunho’s staring very hard past his own father’s ear. 

“It didn’t rain?” Is the overly loud rejoinder. “I hope you didn’t speed. Is your car still working all right? Our usual servicing company-”

“There was no rain and my car was fine and we drove just fine and there were no queues at the tolls,” says Yunho. Changmin rarely hears him this testy. “As you can see, we are here and ahead of time and very clearly not in pieces, so my car is still fine and everything is fine.”

“Ah,” Changmin says, and comes forward, so he’s in front of Yunho.

He bows at Yunho’s father, who is in the process of opening his mouth, and shapes his mouth into an open-mouthed smile he had used over and over during Sing! Idol, “Mister Jung! Uncle. Hello! If you don’t mind me calling you Uncle? It is so good to meet you in person. Mother has spoken so often about you. Thank you for ringing me the other day. I am Changmin. I hope my presence is not too much of an imposition.”

“Changmin,” Yunho’s father says. Changmin must be doing something right, because the older man is smiling. “Yes, yes. Hello. Welcome.”

He’s got a hand outstretched, and he’s very firmly shaking Changmin’s hand. Changmin tries very hard not to wince at his strength, even as the older man goes, “I like some of the older songs you chose, on Sing! Idol. More Than Words! It's a good ballad. You played the guitar well enough.”

“Thank you,” Changmin manages. He makes sure to keep smiling, “I’m only a beginner, but I have had very good teachers.”

Yunho’s mother relaxes slightly then. “Darling, isn’t Changmin sweet? Just look at him. Changmin, dear, I hope your family isn’t too cross with me. I told Yunho I simply must see you for Chuseok. It’s been months!”

“Oh, no, we had Chuseok dinner with them together in advance yesterday,” Changmin tells her. “And we spent Chuseok with them last year, so it’s only fair, really. Hello, Mother.”

"Hello, dear," she comes closer to enfold him, and Yunho, into her embrace.

Changmin nudges his boyfriend, who seems to have been suddenly struck mute, and pries the slim wine bag from Yunho's clenching fingers. 

"A little something," Changmin says to Yunho's father, deferential, even as he hands the paper bag over to Yunho's mother. "From the both of us. It's a pretty good year, even if I do say so myself, and from my favourite vineyard in Tuscany."

Yunho's father hums in approval, as he glances over the label. "Tignanello! What an inspired choice. Sangiovese?"

"Yes," Changmin feels emboldened to say. He reaches back, to pat Yunho discreetly on the back. "It's not too fussy, or overpriced for the quality. Forthright. We thought you'd like that."

"Pairs well with red meats," Yunho’s father murmurs. He looks faintly pleased at being associated with something ‘not too fussy, or overpriced’ and ‘forthright’. “It’s nice that we’ve finally got someone in the family who appreciates good wine.” 

Standing beside Changmin, Yunho opens his mouth.

Changmin pats his back faster. Yunho closes it again.

Yunho’s mother takes over then, smooth and easy, and murmuring platitudes.

Changmin has still got his hand just below Yunho’s shoulders. The back of his boyfriend’s shirt is very hot and slightly damp to the touch. 

Perspiration, Changmin thinks, and makes appropriate agreeing noises to whatever Yunho’s mother is saying, whilst stroking a thumb soothingly down the raised line of the back-seam to Yunho’s shirt.

Yunho has even got a proper tie done up. Before today, Changmin's only ever seen him in skinny ties back when they were both competing in Sing! Idol. That feels so long ago now. 

He’s not wearing a skinny tie today, though. It’s a proper sort of tie; formal, shimmery grey silk looped into a very proper Windsor knot. They’d stopped at a rest station an hour outside of Gwangju to swap seats, so Changmin could take over driving, with Yunho giving directions.

Yunho had redone his tie then, so that the knot would be fresh and neat. 

Changmin thinks of how Yunho had felt comfortable enough to show up in a jumper and jeans at his parents’ place in Seoul last night, and smooths a hand over the warm, slightly sticky linen.

He can feel the shudder of Yunho’s breaths under his palm.

Walking close, so that their shoulders brush against each other’s, he pats Yunho again. 

Yunho leans in to whisper, “now it’s my turn to tell you: last chance for you to run from this insanity.”

Changmin turns to him, so that their noses are nearly touching, and says, hushed, “please. You withstood the madness that are my sisters and my mother. This is nothing.”

“My father makes your mother look like a sweet tabby cat,” Yunho’s smile is easy, but his words are not. He’s got his voice pitched low, still, almost hissing, “but I’m holding you to that. You can’t run away from me now.”

They exchange a look then, and Changmin does something he’d never thought he would do. 

He channels his mother, and lets his nostrils flare as he tilts his head back, and looks at Yunho down along the length of his nose, haughty and imperious.

Bring it on, he lets his expression say.

That makes Yunho laugh, at least. It’s a choked little snorfle of amusement tinged with surprise; and they both turn without another word to follow Yunho’s parents up the driveway, and into their house.

 

--

 

viii. beginnings: everyday

 

Seoul this winter is colder than usual.

Changmin doesn’t even like to go out much these days, except when it’s to work, because it’s freezing and maybe he’s getting older, but the chill extends all the way into his bones. Only Choidot’s kitchen, with their stoves and fires and constant exertion, stays truly toasty. 

“I’m happy,” he tells Yunho rather bemusedly, one freezing morning when they’re holed up in his flat. “And it’s not because of you.”

His boyfriend looks up from the dining table, chin cupped in his palm, from where he was fiddling with his laptop. “Should I be alarmed at that?”

Yunho doesn’t look very alarmed. If anything, his hair is in his eyes, and he’s smiling a little, even as he gazes at Changmin.

“Well, not entirely because of you, I mean. You’re part of it, but I don’t think it’s all because of you,” Changmin tries. 

Yunho tosses his head then. The mess that is his hair distracts Changmin, and he pauses where he’s kneading at the dough. “hey, and. Your father called me the other day, to tell me your mother saw you on television, and that you need a haircut.”

Yunho blinks very rapidly. “My father. Called you.”

“Oh,” Changmin waves a floury hand, and then sneezes at the white cloud he inadvertently flaps into his face. “I’m sure he was the one who saw you on telly, but he was just being shy.”

Yunho blinks more. He half-rises from where he was sat and indulging in having a blatant ogle at Changmin. “My father! Shy.”

“Trust me,” Changmin tells him firmly, and punches at the dough. “I know when someone is being shy. Anyway! Your hair. He rang.”

Yunho flicks an impatient hand at the aforementioned hair, which is brushing at the round collar of his jumper. “You know I’m under orders to grow it out. This thing about my father is more interesting. My father is not shy. He used to make defending witnesses cry on the stand.” 

Changmin just snorts, and refrains from telling Yunho that the precise words his father had uttered were, ‘get him to do something about it, Changmin, he looks homeless with that cut. I know you boys work in the entertainment industry sometimes, but that’s ridiculous. Please do something about it. He’ll listen to you.”

Yunho and his father. Well. 

Ever since the trip when Changmin accompanied him down to Gwangju for Chuseok a few months earlier, they've begun to make a very overt and awkward attempt to communicate.

But their attempts are usually stilting and stiff, where they both don’t talk about anything that’s really on their minds. 

During the trip alone, Changmin had already been subjected to three very loud conversations Yunho and his father have on the weather, coupled with helpless glances Yunho’s mother shoots at Changmin, from behind both their backs.

“Two stubborn Gwangju men,” Yunho’s mother tells Changmin despairingly later the first night they stayed over that weekend. “Be thankful you’re only faced with one specimen on a regular basis, darling. They’re all horrid when together.”

It’s a start, at least.

Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, Yunho’s father seems to like Changmin well enough. 

“You are a very filial son,” his boyfriend tells him when Changmin asks, as if that explains everything. “You’re polite to older people.” 

Changmin had resisted the urge to point out that he’s regularly rude to his own mother. That was when Yunho added, sardonic, “and you bought him wine. Good wine. He already loves you forever.”

Changmin didn’t know what to say to that. He still doesn’t. He only patted Yunho on the back again, in a show of silent support.

“Yes, but couldn’t the stylists have shaped it up a bit more?” Changmin says now. 

He’s playing devil’s advocate. He actually likes Yunho’s hair as it is, black and longish yet still not quite to his shoulders, and neat when tucked behind his ears. He’s rather fond of running his hands through it.

It’s a style that Changmin had, in his teenage years, secretly coveted whilst consuming scores and scores of Japanese anime and manga featuring male characters sketched with similar hairstyles. His own hair has never quite managed it, being too stubbornly wavy. Not that this is something he will ever admit to Yunho.

Yunho knows it, too. He raises an eyebrow at Changmin. “That’s not what you were saying when you were pulling on it this morning.”

Changmin flushes red. “Yun!”

“Oh,” Yunho crows, and comes nearer. “You’re blushing! I’ve still got it.”

“How can you really just say things like that- No one,” Changmin splutters, fingers squinching reflexively into the abused dough, “no one’s said you’ve lost it! Whatever ‘it’ is!” 

Yunho sidles over, and cocks a hip to lean against the kitchen counter. 

Changmin wrenches his attention back to the dough, and punches it again. He shivers despite himself. It’s warm in his flat, because he’s got the heaters all up and running.  But there’s a stroke against his left ear and, oh.

It’s Yunho’s hand, and he’s got the thinnest part of Changmin’s ear caught between his index finger and thumb. The calluses on his thumb catch at the edge of Changmin’s ear.

Yunho’s leaning close, “you just said you’re happy and it’s not because of me. It’s enough to make a man lose confidence.”

He doesn’t sound any less confident, though. The sly teasing tilt to the words, whispered directly against Changmin’s pinna, makes Changmin want to punch him, except that he doesn’t want to get flour all over his kitchen floor. 

Changmin settles for punching the dough again, instead. “That itches! I’m. I’m just saying. I wasn’t, I just wanted to tell you something dumb and then I saw your hair and I forgot!”

“Forget the hair. I don’t want to talk about my father now.” Yunho says.

His fingers are trickling down the helix of Changmin’s ear, and then his earlobe. The touch is soft, and tickling, and running to creep under the hood of his hoodie.

Changmin’s fingers spasm against the dough. He grapples for the rolling pin, before he ruins it any further. 

Vaguely, he thinks he’s making odd incoherent noises with his mouth.

He grips tighter at the pin, and looks at Yunho helplessly. Something in his face makes his boyfriend stop with the infernal stroking.

The horrid man is still laughing, and then he’s got his hand at Changmin’s elbow instead.

Now he’s pulling Changmin close, even while he’s still chuckling. “Sorry, Changminnie. Sorry! Don’t hit me, I love you. Love you, love you- everyday-” 

It’s enough to make a man weak. In the knees, Changmin thinks, while sucking hard on Yunho’s tongue. And then some. 

Changmin wrenches away some time later, and looks down in horror where his fingers are stabbed into overworked dough. It’s sagging into itself, and overworked. “You ruined my dough! This was meant for the Beef Wellington. The tenderloin is already rested!”

We ruined the dough. You helped,” Yunho corrects jauntily, and nudges against his mouth again.

Changmin lets him, and pulls away after giving his bottom lip a nip, “let me go! I need to get more cold butter. I have to make the puff pastry again. Don’t distract me-”

“It’ll keep,” Yunho cuts him off, unrepentant. His smile is sunshine incarnate. “You know I’ll eat anything you cook. The tenderloin is fine by itself. You don’t even have to re-do the pastry dough.”

“Go away, this thing is an insult to my professional integrity,” Changmin moans in despair, even as he curls his fingers tight into Yunho’s hair, the culprit to all of these in the first place. “Stop hanging around here and saying odd encouraging things like that because you look too good and you’re all sunshiney and lovely and this was what you did in Sing! Idol until I couldn’t ignore you but why can’t you just let me make my Beef Wellington in peace and oh oh I just said all of that out loud didn’t I.”

“You did,” Yunho is undeterred. 

He’s grinning at Changmin, fond. “It’s all right. Kiss me more, now.”

 

--