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“Huh.” Rikuto pressed a wrapped piece of fried chicken into Kyungsoo’s hands before taking a bite of his own. Kyungsoo knew he shouldn’t really be eating the stuff behind the company’s back, but with a rare January snowfall over Tokyo, he had accepted his guide’s offer to buy something warm from the convenience store to eat while they waited, and trusted his judgement on what to buy so he could remain in place outside the venue, waiting for the minutes to tick by. “What character do you reckon they’re thinking of for you?”

Kyungsoo didn’t know. He couldn’t think of anyone in particular that he would suit, only that he would be unlikely to get any major recurring character like the Seigaku or Hyoutei players due to being a foreign actor. Actually, he pondered, biting into the chicken he held - it was greasy, but good. Jongin was more of a chicken connoisseur than he was. A non-Japanese actor played a Hyoutei character before. I probably don’t have the right presence to be one of them, though. It was comforting, actually. Not being a major recurring player meant less of a long-term commitment to the project which meant he would return to EXO activities faster. Then again, it would also mean fewer chances for him to promote the group through the musical. Hah. He was already thinking like he definitely had a role! The non-recurring roles are probably less competitive, so if I’m being tested for one of those, at least there’s likely to be fewer guys being considered for the same character? He realised he hadn’t answered Rikuto, then. “Ah. I don’t know. I’ll be happy with anyone.”

“What if you get a character you don’t like? Ooooh, what if you got someone you hated?”

Kyungsoo frowned. “I don’t really hate anyone in Prince of Tennis.”

He was clapped on the back by Rikuto then, and was relieved that he hadn’t been trying to eat any more chicken at the time. “Spoken like a true fan! Only you have enough love in your heart for all like, eighty high schoolers.”

Middle schoolers.

“Same difference.” Rikuto glanced at the screen of his phone. “Oh hey, it’s almost two thirty. Want to head on in? I’ll keep your seat warm while you’re in there.” Kyungsoo most certainly did not want to head on in, but he knew he had to eventually, and after shoving the rest of the chicken into his mouth in a manner that would probably earn disapproving tuts from Minseok if he ever saw (and delighted applause from everyone else) he scooted off the wall.

“Shouldn’t you head back to the car? It’s cold.”

“Nah, there’s more chicken where that came from, I’ll live.” Rikuto winked, giving Kyungsoo a thumbs up. “Show ‘em what you’re made of, champ!”

I, Kyungsoo hoped he was thinking and not just talking to himself like a weirdo, am made of a decent enough amount of singing talent, a lot of nerves, and greasy fried chicken right about now. Hopefully the judges will only see one of those.

A short boy in a school uniform passed him in the hall, in the direction from which he came. The boy smiled up at him as he went by, then left, and Kyungsoo felt oddly relieved that he was unlikely to be competing for a particular role against a boy so small and so fresh faced. Perhaps it was coming from SM Entertainment that gave him such a competitive attitude towards auditions, so much so that being smiled at by another auditionee had taken him entirely by surprise.

Don’t think about high school kids, he told himself firmly, right now you’ve got to think about middle schoolers.

He came to the door at the very end of the hall and pushed it open, entering a small studio room almost identical to the one his initial audition had been in. the pianist was there again, ready at the piano. The cameraman was there as well, and the three judges seated opposite an empty chair. That was probably for him.

“Ah, Do Kyungsoo? You’re right on time. Take a seat.” The man seated closest to the door gestured to the chair, which Kyungsoo took after bowing as respectfully as he could without looking weird or overly formal. “Congratulations for passing the first round of auditions.”

They were speaking in the same clear, slightly slowed manner as they had that first day, it was probably their Foreigner Talk. With the way his nerves were threatening to burn out just from sitting in front of them, Kyungsoo was grateful for anything that made the judges easier to understand. “Thank you.”

“Are you clear about what today’s session will involve, Mr Do?” The female judge pushed up her glasses. “This won’t take very long. First you’ll be singing a little more for us to show us more of your range, then we’ll have a few questions for you, and after that we will ask you to read some short passages from different characters, to give us an idea of how your voice fits the different roles. Did you get all of that?” Kyungsoo nodded. “We’ll finish things up with an informal chat, and then you’ll be free to leave. So, are you ready to sing? How many songs do you have for us today?”

He had three; one ballad by some seniors in SM, one more upbeat number introduced to him by Joonmyun after he had asked innocently for some anime song recommendations, and one more song from the musicals, a doubles duet this time. He had read for one of the singers, Oishi, already, but had ruled that role out because of his being a main character. Still, if they had considered him for Oishi, that meant his voice was probably suitable for his songs, right? He hoped he was right.

The non-tennis songs had to be sung acapella, but that was fine. Kyungsoo was more than used to that. He almost switched off mentally as he went through the process exactly as rehearsed, introducing the songs and their artists before starting to sing, switching his gaze between the judges often enough that he wasn’t looking at their faces properly for long enough to get nervous about their reactions. It was quick and painless, mildly terrifying, but for his own good, kind of like going to the dentist.

When he sat down again after the singing portion was over, the judge who had welcomed him clarified again that they would be asking him some questions now.

“Would you consider yourself a stronger dancer or vocalist?”

“Vocalist. I would say I can dance, but I’m not a dancer, if that makes sense?” Apparently it did.

“Do you have a preferred range in which to sing, such as high or low? Or are you fine anywhere on your register?”

“Anywhere on the register. I’ve had vocal training before.” That was an understatement.

“Can you do any kind of acrobatics?”

Kyungsoo had to cover his mouth to stifle a laugh then. “No, definitely not.”

The questions continued in this vein for a while, and then the judges began to whisper to one another behind their clipboards again, leaving Kyungsoo to twiddle his thumbs and look at the floor until they needed his attention again. He picked up a few character names in all the whispering, eventually figuring it better to tune out of the conversation entirely lest he get nervous about possibilities that may not even happen.

A rustling of papers, something distinctly papery touching against his arm. “Could you look over these for us a moment? Just let us know when you’re ready to read them. The phonetics are already written on the page, so you don’t have to worry about that.”

His eyes went straight to the character names at the tops of each paragraph. Oishi and Kaneda again? At least he was consistent. A few new names had popped up too - Oshitari? Taki? He couldn’t imagine himself in those wigs, but at the same time, it was pretty awesome in his opinion, to get such a variety. “If he doesn’t go through this round, we could certainly ask him to read for Saeki in the next auditions” one judge murmured to another, who shushed him.

Encouraging, affectionate spiels to doubles partners; respectfully addressing seniors; scathing commentary on the opponents; bitter monologuing after a loss. Acting was acting was acting, and acting, like singing, was something Kyungsoo knew he could do. He did his best to make appropriate gestures and expressions as he read through the paragraphs, though Oshitari’s strange accent tripped him up more often than he would have liked for an audition. Definitely a better role for a native Japanese speaker, he allowed himself to think only for a moment before boxing that sentiment away and moving onto Taki’s paragraph.

“Are you a fan of the series?”

“I am, yes. I only recently became familiar with the musicals, but I’ve enjoyed the show and the comics for a long time.” Kyungsoo almost felt embarrassed, but the welcoming smiles the judges gave him at that moment kept him grounded in reality, a reality in which these people were probably fans just as much as he was considering their job was to find the perfect fit for each character. They probably knew the characters better than he did.

“Do you have any favourite teams, or characters?”

“The Golden Pair are my favourite characters,” he cringed a bit realising that one of those two was a character he’d read for. Not exactly one he was likely to get, but still, he didn’t want to look too hopeful. “My favourite team as a whole is Saint Rudolph Academy, with Hyoutei Academy and Rikkai University Middle a little behind.” They nodded, and he felt satisfied that he had given them a decent enough variety to throw them off.

“A little less general...is there a character you think you would get along well with, if they were a real person?” Weird.

“Uh...maybe Ohtori? He likes music, if I remember rightly, and so do I. It’s very important to me.” He felt like a beauty pageant contestant with the questions they were throwing out, but he had to at least look like he was taking it in his stride. It was actually kind of fun - he never got to talk about stuff like this with anybody.

“If you could change one match result in the series, just one, what match would it be?”

They’re testing me, he came to realise as he pondered his answer, to see how well I know the series. Maybe because my favourite teams all appear so far apart, they want to see which arcs I’m familiar with, as well as details like the official character profiles. He was never more grateful for being an embarrassing nerd at that moment in life. All that time spent browsing character profiles and daydreaming ‘what if my favourite was real’ scenarios had been well spent. “I don’t think Fuji should have defeated Niou in the finals.” When the judges only raised their eyebrows, he explained further - but not too far, after all, he didn’t want to be remembered as That One Applicant Who Didn’t Fucking Shut Up. He hoped that he had made his point succinctly enough for them to appreciate while also in enough detail to have them convinced.

“We have one more question for you, Mr Do…” The glasses were pushed up again. “...we have heard that you are an established artist in your native Korea.”

“Yes…?” What. How would they have found out? Were they curious about him? Was that a good thing? Was the fact he was an established artist a bad thing?

“We just wondered why you never mentioned this fact at the initial audition.”

Oh. “Well, uh. You asked us at the time to mention any additional experience or skill that was relevant to the audition, and since every auditionee should be able to sing and dance, I didn’t think my status would have any relevance to a particular role. So, I didn’t say anything about it. I had no intention of keeping the fact a secret, it just wasn’t necessary to talk about.”

They seemed contented with that. “Very well. Thank you for taking the time to be here again, Mr Do, and best of luck to you. You may now leave, and if you have been selected for a role, you will be contacted within two weeks.”

“Thank you very much.”

Another bow, and he walked as briskly as he could out of the room without it being obvious that he intended to break into a run as soon as the door closed behind him.
He passed another auditionee in the hall as he left, all pout and harsh eyebrows. Another face soon forgotten, however, as he almost ran straight into Rikuto upon leaving the building. The other’s face practically lit up when he realised who had bumped into him.

“Heya, tiger! How did it go?”

He thought for a moment.

“I...need some more chicken.”

That two week span happened to go over three very special days for Kyungsoo.

One would be his birthday.

One would be Jongin’s birthday.

And in the middle, the day on which they would do their best to make time to hang out, even if only for a little while, every year.

The first of those days, Kyungsoo was woken at the crack of dawn by an excited and heavy pile of EXO members jumping onto his bed and thus, onto him.

Happy Birthday!!” They had all yelled at the time, which mingled delightfully with Kyungsoo’s alarmed squawk and a sleepy murmur from across the room as Jongin hid under his blanket in an attempt to make the morning go away. Kyungsoo hadn’t been sleeping so well, and would have liked to do the same thing, but instead found himself pulled up into a sitting position while the others began to loudly, deliberately tunelessly sing Happy Birthday. He could just about hear Jongin attempting to yawn in time with the song. Cute.

He didn’t really do much that day, save for be spoonfed cake by the rest of the group, call his family, open presents (a pair of fairly tasteful t shirts from the older members, and a selection of snacks from the younger ones) and panic about his audition. Again. He did that last one every day though.

“Busy in there, birthday boy?” He had retreated back to his room later in the day, and the telltale knocking (more like hammering) at the door meant even before the member outside spoke Kyungsoo knew it was Chanyeol. Chanyeol’s extra special present had been a particularly bone-crushing hug, which Kyungsoo hated to admit was actually very sweet. Not that Chanyeol ever hesitated to hug Kyungsoo whenever he would allow it.

“Birthday boy is watching Prince of Tennis, enter at your own peril.” In order to battle his audition-related demons, Kyungsoo figured the best course of action would be to reclaim the show he loved from the jaws of panic and spend his birthday watching it. He turned up the volume, cheesy guitar riffs and thoks of tennis balls against courts practically sending vibrations from the laptop through the bed itself.

Chanyeol, having little regard for his own peril, entered the room anyway. “I just wanted to ask you something about Jongin’s birthday. Do you think we should play Monopoly that day, or Twister?”

Kyungsoo snorted, taking another handful of cheese puffs from one of the snack bags he had received that day. “Pick Monopoly if you want EXO to break up. Otherwise, go for Twister. Jongin’s bendy anyway, he’ll probably appreciate a game he can win being played on his birthday.”

Chanyeol grinned, apparently taking this as the best advice anyone could possibly give on the topic. “Great! Thanks, Kyungsoo! Enjoy your high school tennis!”

Middle schoolers!” was drowned out by the door slamming behind Chanyeol.

“I have a sort of present for you, hyung.” Kyungsoo glanced up at the doorway when Jongin returned to the room after taking a shower later that night. “It’s probably not as good as Chanyeol’s present, but…”

“Chanyeol would give me a hug every day if I’d let him. I’m sure your present is great the way it is.”

Jongin was silent for a while, before plopping down onto his bed. “Okay, uh, could you come over here then?”

Oh. This was how some of those really weird dreams Kyungsoo never told anybody about started. Hesitantly, he moved from his own bed over to Jongin’s, sitting in front of him. The younger pushed gently on Kyungsoo’s shoulder, until he got the hint and turned to face away from him. “Okay,” Jongin mumbled softly, more like he was talking to himself than to Kyungsoo, “just relax.”

He pushed down a little on Kyungsoo’s shoulders, extra pressure at the fingertips. Oh. Kyungsoo hadn’t realised how tense he had been lately until Jongin’s nimble fingers worked their way over his muscles, trying to force them to relax. Okay, so he’d been stressing out just a little bit about the audition, but he didn’t know it had been that bad. Jongin’s touch became a little more insistent, pushing a bit harder.

Relax, hyung. You’re thinking. You’ve been doing too much of that.”

And Kyungsoo did, until he was almost entirely at ease and definitely entirely unable to move from the spot due to his body having basically fallen asleep right there.

Jongin didn’t tell him to move, and they dozed off together as Jongin sleepily hummed Happy Birthday one more time, broken up by tiny, adorable yawns.

Kyungsoo wasn’t quite sure how it had happened.

January 13th had been nice, as always. He and Jongin had gone Undercover (read: looking very obviously like celebrities in face masks, sunglasses and baseball caps in the middle of winter) and seen a movie in the afternoon. It was more for Jongin than Kyungsoo, but hey, Kyungsoo’s birthday had already ended, and Jongin’s was yet to come. He may have paid for Jongin’s popcorn as well, which was definitely for his birthday and not because he looked weirdly...cute sighing wistfully over other people’s buckets of the stuff.

The other members had cooed and wolf whistled when they got home. Baekhyun asked how their date was. Kyungsoo had thrown his hat at Baekhyun while Jongin cheerily replied that it was great thanks. Jongin had whispered ‘to us’ in the darkness to Kyungsoo, who was sleeping in his own bed for the night, and everything had been great.

And then Jongin’s birthday happened.

It had started off pretty well, Kyungsoo gently shaking a sleepy Jongin awake in the morning to give him his present before everybody else barged in to jump on Jongin just as they had done to Kyungsoo two days prior. It had only been a small thing, a set of paper and pens from the Pokemon Center, for writing new lyrics on or something, but Jongin had loved it anyway, and practically squeezed the air out of Kyungsoo being too tired to give him a verbal thank you at such a hideous hour.

The others had come in, done their thing, ‘sung’ their song, and dragged Jongin bodily to the kitchen to feed him his birthday cake for breakfast. There had been presents (Chanyeol had actually bought Jongin a particular present as opposed to a hug; it was a CD, the artist of which Kyungsoo had never heard of, but Jongin had been excited) and more cake and other things that would have gotten the whole lot of them in trouble had they been caught with the fattening stuff, and then Kyungsoo’s words had come back to bite him.


That was how he ended up where he was, alone on the Twister mat with Jongin and trying to obey Jongdae’s increasingly amused commands as the spinner while also avoiding Total Bodily Contact with Jongin as much as possible.

“Left hand green.” Kyungsoo could almost hear the grin in Jongdae’s voice. A soft, padding sound, and Jongin had already managed to get that left hand on green without a second thought.

Kyungsoo didn’t want to put his left hand on a green circle. That would involve twisting himself at such an awkward angle that he would probably break his spine, and in the process pressing even closer to Jongin than he already was. He didn’t appreciate the audience either.

“You heard the man, Kyungsoo, left hand green.”

“No.” He grumbled, partially muffled by Jongin’s t shirt. “No, I give up. Victory to the birthday boy.”

“Oh, we know he’s going to win, ‘Soo.” Baekhyun sounded amazingly punchable in that moment, “but you’ve still got to try. Don’t let him down!”

“Go on!”

“At least try!”

Sighing, he did his best to pretend he was trying to reach the green circles with his left hand.

And then his foot slipped.



“Fuck, are you okay?”

“Hyung?” Flat on his back against the Twister mat, Kyungsoo opened his eyes. Jongin was, despite the tumble, still holding himself up, left hand on green and all that jazz. But his eyes, somehow without him breaking his neck, were on Kyungsoo, never moving as he worried his bottom lip. “You alright?”

“Yeah.” Kyungsoo realised he sounded kind of winded. Like an old man. “I’m fine. Looks like you win.”

“I’ll have to give you your birthday present again, after a fall like that.” Jongin said all too earnestly in a way that made Kyungsoo feel kind of weird and melty inside. That or he had ruptured something in the relatively short fall to the floor and was dying, but he wasn’t sure which of the possibilities was preferable. Joonmyun, meanwhile, immediately flew into an awkward coughing fit on the other side of the living room.

“Time to turn right!”

Apparently Rikuto’s GPS now talked like Sailor Mars, who was ‘objectively the best one’. Kyungsoo hadn’t even realised there were any Sailors besides Moon, and quietly wondered if this was how other people felt when he talked about Prince of Tennis.

“So, let’s go over this again,” Rikuto’s voice was deceptively calm, smile serene as he honked at the car in front of them’s poor driving, “you’ve got a role.”


“And you will find out who today.”


“You’ll meet the rest of the cast today.”

“Why are we doing this exactly? You’re the one who told me this information in the first place.”

“To stop you from ripping the hem of your shirt off from worrying it like that. Yes, yes I can tell without taking my eyes off the road.” Kyungsoo didn’t reply then. “Anyway, you’ll meet all your new friends and, most importantly, find out how long the musical needs you to commit for. Depending on who they give you, you could be needed as soon as immediately, and for as long as up to two or three years. That would be if you got one of the main characters though, and you didn’t seem to think you’d get them. Who were they again? Seibu?”

“Seigaku.” Now painfully aware that he had been anxiously fiddling with his shirt, he started anxiously fiddling with the loose end of his belt instead. “Seibu is a train line. It’s Seigaku.”

“I’m bad at this.” Honk. “I can relay the info back to the company for you while you concentrate on making best buddies with your team. When we know how long you’re needed for, and when from, we can get around to sorting out some proper accommodation for you here in Tokyo.” When Kyungsoo only replied with a confused little noise, considering that his hotel rooms had been perfectly nice so far, Rikuto went on. “I’m sure you’d prefer a little more privacy, wouldn’t you? A proper place to stay, maybe have your new musical friends over to hang out sometimes for team bonding or whatever. There are some monthly rental apartments scattered around, you just have to know where to find them. And naturally, I know just where to look.”

“You know everything.” Kyungsoo muttered under his breath. “Tell me - do I look okay?”

“You look hot.” Rikuto’s bluntness caught Kyungsoo off guard, causing him to choke in a less than attractive fashion. “Really, you look great, but also like you’re not trying too hard. Low maintenance, approachable if you work on smiling a little more. You’ve been picked for the musical! Look happy!”

“This is my happy face.” His voice was deliberately dour, but it was pretty damning how little he had to try to make it that way. “Will you be okay waiting? I don’t know how long I’ll be in there for.”

“Left turn!”

“I’m good, I have some errands to run anyway. Now, put on your best Meeting People Face, ‘cause we’re here. If you haven’t made at least one BFF by the end of the afternoon I will be very disappointed in you.”

“Oh no, you’re breaking my heart.”

Bringing the car to a stop, Rikuto cheerily patted Kyungsoo on the cheek like a proud mother sending her child off to their first day of school. “Have fun! Congrats, tiger. You did it!”

And then Kyungsoo was out of the car, back at the venue he had come to know so well, and heading inside the building while doing his best to smile. Everyone here today would be his castmates, working with him for the next….however long it would be. It had been a while since he last had to actually make a good impression on people personally instead of having the EXO connection do the talking for him, possibly since before debut, but he was fairly sure he had some semblance of social skills left in there somewhere.

“Do Kyungsoo? Congratulations on being selected. Your group is in studio C.” That took him back. Around the corner, down the hall, and his last thought before pushing open the heavy studio door was that he really hoped someone else in that room would be wearing jeans and he wouldn’t be the only one not in lurid neon sports gear.

Fortunately, of the six young-ish looking guys in the room, four of them were wearing jeans, just as Kyungsoo was. They all waved, clearly sizing Kyungsoo up while also attempting to be subtle about it (and failing.) No conversation was made, but everyone in the room was doing the same thing as Kyungsoo in all likelihood - observing, waiting, wondering who they all were. It won’t be Seigaku, Kyungsoo thought, leaning back against the wall, there aren’t enough people, unless somebody’s late. There’s a shortish kid in what looks like a high school sports uniform, so we’ve got to have someone fairly young on the team, and that guy is pretty damn tall…

The door opened, but instead of any new members, a familiar face entered the room. One of the judges from the audition, Kyungsoo remembered him well. After doing a quick headcount, he gestured for the waiting boys, scattered around the studio, to come closer to him.

“Welcome back, everyone, and congratulations on being chosen for Musical The Prince of Tennis. Your hard work and dedication has brought you all here, and you should be proud, though of course, the hard work has only just begun.” He smiled broadly at the group, actually looking very friendly now that he was no longer scrutinising their every movement. “May I be the first to welcome you to the cast, and to Saint Rudolph Academy!”

Saint Rudolph. He was in Saint Rudolph! He glanced around the room again, everybody else doing the exact same thing. Okay, that one by the piano...staring at me...has really good natural posture, really elegant. He’s probably Mizuki. The short one is probably Yuuta. Does this mean I’m-

“Hello.” The short boy, pulling on the hem of his shirt awkwardly. Apparently he was in high school track, and had been called forward by the former-judge. “Please call me Rui. I’m from here in Tokyo, a total newbie to this, and in high school.”

“Congratulations, Rui,” the judge’s expression was kind, “you’ve been chosen to play Fuji Yuuta. I recommend you go and meet Fuji Syuusuke’s actor as soon as you can.”

“You may call me Hinata,” a boy with a distinctive accent and gentle manner stepped forward, haughty expression softening momentarily, “I have no prior entertainment experience, but have recently graduated from fashion college. I came here from Hokkaido.”

“Hinata, you will be playing Mizuki Hajime. Take Rui here under your wing, won’t you? It’s quite common for Yuutas and Mizukis to develop a sort of mentor-student relationship out of character, as well as in.” Hinata nodded politely. Oh. That other guy isn’t Mizuki? I wonder who he is then.

“I’m Hibiki!” The tallest of the group by a long shot, dark-skinned and pearly of tooth, shot a grin to the rest of the boys. He had a booming, confident voice that sounded simultaneously like he was yelling and like it was his very best ‘inside voice’. “I’ve done a little modelling, but not much. I moved here from Osaka a couple of years back to pursue the biz.”

“Everyone, Hibiki here will be playing your team captain, Akazawa.” Hibiki’s grin widened. “Don’t give him too much of a headache now. Do Kyungsoo?” Kyungsoo stepped forward, but not before noting how the boy by the piano, who was still staring at him, had his mouth open just a little bit in apparent shock. Maybe he knows who I am.

“I’m Kyungsoo…” Shit. Introductions. Shit. “I’m uh, a singer more than anything else. I’m actually from Korea.”

“Welcome to Japan, Kyungsoo,” he was really starting to like this judge, now he was no longer actually judging him. He couldn’t help but hope the man would have some involvement in the rest of the musical and not just the recruitment process. “You’ve been cast as Kaneda Ichirou, Akazawa’s doubles partner.” Kaneda!! Hibiki gave Kyungsoo a thumbs up. “Hibiki, make sure to take extra good care of him, alright?”

“Sure thing.” That grin was back on his face in an instant. “Welcome to the team, partner.”


The rest of the introductions went on in the same fashion. The quiet, staring boy over by the piano with the nice posture had been called Tsubasa, and had extensive training in ballet. I wonder how his skills compare to Jongin’s? he caught himself wondering as Tsubasa was told of his role to play not one, but both of the Kisarazu twins, being the only actor to belong to two teams. Playing his doubles partner was Haru, a backup dancer of several years. Their match will be gorgeously choreographed, for sure. This left the bookish-looking boy hanging around by the door, deceptively mousy behind an enormous pair of glasses, but bringing out a mischievous smile once his name, Sora, was called.

“You’ve been cast in a new role, Sora. You will be playing Nomura. Nomura may not actually play any matches, but don’t be fooled! He was actually the most difficult role in the team to cast, and the most important to get perfect.”

“I’m not the best singer or dancer, I’ll admit,” Sora shrugged with an effortless nonchalance that Kyungsoo could only dream of having, “but I’m in my college solo stand-up club, and was in one in high school, too.” A comedian! That shows what kind of character Nomura is shaping up to be.

“Well then, with introductions out of the way, let me give you all these.” The judge handed out some small booklets to each member of the group, pausing in front of Kyungsoo for a moment until Kyungsoo, scanning the front cover, nodded to show his understanding. “This booklet has all the information you will need for your exciting new career in musical tennis.” The group snickered.

“Now, if you could turn to the timeline on the first page...as members of Saint Rudolph, you won’t be needed for the very first musical, this autumn. That will only be the Seigaku and Fudomine players. Everyone following me?” Everyone chorused their agreement, though it was obvious that it was only for Kyungsoo’s benefit. “You will be appearing in your own musical, Seigaku versus Saint Rudolph and Yamabuki, starting in winter this year. It may be almost a year until you first step on stage, but there is a lot of preparation to do! After that you will have guest roles in the Seigaku versus Hyoutei musical, before making your final appearances in this season’s first Dream Live concert, next summer - ah, aside from Tsubasa, of course, you’ll be returning immediately after Dream Live to take up your role as the other Kisarazu twin. I hope we have a wonderful year and a half - and more, for you, Tsubasa - together.” Hinata applauded quietly, befitting the end of a nice little speech.

“While rehearsals for versus Saint Rudolph and Yamabuki don’t begin until the end of summer, we still need you boys around. Next weekend the whole cast in this intake will be attending a two day tennis camp - the meeting place and time are written on page five, as well as a list of things to pack. After that there will be meetings with directors, choreographers, and possibly an audience with the creator of Prince of Tennis himself.” He winked, and a few little gasps were drawn from around the room. One of them, embarrassingly for Kyungsoo, was his own.

“This won’t be easy, but it will be an invaluable experience for your careers, not only in the skills you develop but in the friends and contacts you make. Which leads me to my next point...team bonding. Oh, you might laugh now! But it is a very important part of these musicals, especially for developing natural chemistry between teammates - and especially especially, for doubles partners. We may not all be the Golden Pair, but you’ve got to be able to act well together, which may not demand you be joined at the hip, but you’ve got to at least like each other.” Hibiki patted Kyungsoo on the shoulder, but didn’t say anything. “It isn’t every production that has you having fun with your friends and being able to call it work.”

The judge went on, giving more details about tennis camp, about rehearsals, answering any little (or big) questions that the Saint Rudolph boys, especially Tsubasa, had to ask. Kyungsoo was fairly sure his legs were falling asleep, but he continued to listen in rapt attention until finally, the judge closed the paper booklet.

“Now, I have a little homework task for you all. Research your characters. You won’t just be playing these characters - they will become a part of you, just as you will become a part of them. Take in every iteration of these characters that you can, not only your own but your teammates, as well. Devour all the information you can find, and fill in any gaps on your own. Make your characters your characters, so that in future, fans will be able to identify you with just a single word. We have them every season - ‘twitchy Inui’, ‘lisping Tezuka’, it doesn’t matter what, as long as they are yours. Any more questions?” There were none. “Well, I’ve talked your ears off long enough. I’ll let you get to know each other now - the room immediately to the left of this one is Fudomine’s, with Seigaku’s being closest to the lobby. Don’t come to the right-hand rooms yet, I still need to give them the same lecture I just gave you. And once again, congratulations. This is going to be an amazing season.”

Another little round of applause, from the whole group this time, and then the judge left, leaving the seven of them alone.

Kyungsoo could feel Tsubasa’s eyes on him again immediately, but it was Hibiki who spoke first, taking both of Kyungsoo’s hands in a strong grip that practically oozed confidence on its own. “Nice to meet you, partner. If there’s anything you need help with, or don’t understand, don’t be afraid to let me know! I’m looking out for you.” Not letting go of Kyungsoo’s hands, he turned to the others. “That goes for all of you, too! I’m your captain, and I’ll do my best for you all!”

“Excuse me…” Softly spoken words almost lost to the background hubbub as members of the team began to wander around and chat amongst themselves. Tsubasa had left his place by the piano and now stood before Kyungsoo, twiddling his thumbs. “You wouldn’t happen to be D.O., would you? From EXO?”

“Yes.” Kyungsoo answered at the exact same moment that Hibiki called ‘from what?’ from over by Sora and Rui.

“Oh. Um. I’m kind of a. Fan. A big one. Would it be weird to ask for an. Um. Autograph? Just to get it out of the way now so things aren’t uh. Awkward later.”

Kyungsoo gladly gave him one, but didn’t miss the strange expression that Haru was giving him in the meantime. Was he miffed that Kyungsoo had kind of accidentally stolen his doubles partner? Well, Hibiki was doing fine by himself working the room, so Kyungsoo had assumed that it was fine to mingle a little, but maybe he was making some awful, horrible cultural blunder that nobody would ever forgive him for. Either or.

They all exchanged pleasantries, asked about each other’s hometowns or families, and took a headcount of the prior Prince of Tennis fans in the room (five. Sora and Haru were going in essentially blind) before settling down in small groups or pairs to chat.

“There’s a girl in my class, I really like her.” Rui looked at the floor as he admitted this to Kyungsoo, as well as an obviously amused Hibiki who was lying on the floor beside them. “And she loves Prince of Tennis, and the musicals. I mean, I didn’t just do this for her! I read the comics because she liked them and got kinda into it, and watched some of the musical too, and when I found out there were auditions I just went for it because hey, it’s not an opportunity you get every day, right? I heard she’s planning to go to this season live and I uh, really hope she recognises me. We haven’t really talked but…”

Hibiki yelled something that after consulting his dictionary Kyungsoo understood to be “We’re match-making!” He took a moment to check his phone while putting the dictionary back in his bag, rummaging around somewhat over-dramatically.

‘Jongin: Thanks for the present, hyung!’ A photo of a small, kimono-clad Pikachu sitting next to some Pokemon notepaper, covered in a spidery scrawl that Kyungsoo could only assume was lyrics. Nice.

‘Chanyeol: Jongin misses u’

What? ‘Kyungsoo: What?’
‘Chanyeol: He’s moping around the dorm bc you’re not here but doesn’t want to tell you himself. So here I am. Jongin misses u’

‘Kyungsoo: Uh, thanks?? I don’t really see why you needed to tell me this Chanyeol.’

‘Chanyeol: He wasn’t gonna tell u. Why doesn’t he miss me when I’m away from the dorm? Why do u have to be Jongin’s fave?’

‘Kyungsoo: Try harder, Chanyeol. You’ll be someone other than Baekhyun’s favourite one day.’

‘Chanyeol: r00d!!!’

It was when Kyungsoo was in the middle of a Very Deep Discussion with Sora about the theory of their tennis team being a prototype for the more popular Hyoutei Academy when the door opened, and what followed was what Kyungsoo could only describe as a screech.

“Kyungsoo!! Kyungsoo oh my gosh you got in too?!” He was pulled into a hug from behind, and in the mirror on the other side of the room, Kyungsoo saw a familiar face, albeit mostly obscured by bright orange, crimped hair.

“Richie!” He did his best to sound equally enthusiastic - not that he wasn’t, but he’d been told he needed to work on that. “You’re in? Congrats - who did you get?”
The arms around Kyungsoo’s middle held tighter. “Sengoku! Just who I wanted~ how about you? Who did they give you?”

“Welcome to Saint Rudolph,” he gestured around the room with his free, not-squeezed arm, “I’m Kaneda, I read for him in the first audition.”

“Nice, nice! That means you get a doubles partner, right? Jealous.” Richie drew out the word with a whine, “I’m playing singles. Oh hey! Do you want to go around the other rooms and introduce ourselves? Let’s go, let’s go!”

“Uh...shouldn’t we be socialising in our teams, first?”

“It’s cool,” that booming voice, despite Hibiki being only a matter of feet away, “we should show our faces. Rui! Want to come with? You can meet your ‘big brother’.”

Rui did indeed want to come with, and the foursome set about visiting the rest of the studios.

Fudomine’s actors had waved and given names that Kyungsoo, having met far too many new people already today, forgot immediately. The young man playing Shinji asked him for an autograph, which he obligingly gave.

“From one captain to another,” Tachibana’s actor said, shaking Hibiki’s hand firmly, “welcome to the cast. They had me read for Akazawa in the auditions, you know.”

“Funny, they had me read for Tachibana.” The pair laughed. “I guess they chose to go with the guy with dark enough skin that they don’t need to waste half their makeup budget on Akazawa.”

Seigaku, too, introduced themselves politely, perhaps overly so as if the weight of playing the main characters already bore heavy on their shoulders. They waved lightly, they bowed low, they spoke carefully. While Rui was deep in conversation with the actor playing his brother on stage, Kyungsoo was dragged into a selfie with the Golden Pair, not because of who he was but because Kikumaru’s actor deemed him ‘so cute’.

“Ah, we thought we’d lost you.” Yamabuki’s captain smiled warmly when the group, led by Richie, entered the studio to the right of Saint Rudolph’s. “Found who you were looking for?”

“Yeah!” Richie pulled Kyungsoo by the arm to the front of the group. “He’s playing Kaneda! Isn’t that cool? The foreign actors get to be in a musical together!”

“Even more important, then, that you are able to pull off performing in a foreign language.” The captain, Minami’s voice was stern, but somehow still warm, like a mother gently warning her child. “We don’t want people to think foreign actors will bring the quality of the show down - how you do here will affect the opportunities for all non-Japanese hopefuls after you.”

“We’ll be fine, Kyungsoo’s a pro.” Kyungsoo waited for him to go on in more detail, but he didn’t - perhaps he didn’t know? That was strangely nice.

A tiny little thing asked Kyungsoo if there had been a Tsubasa on his team, and when he told the boy yes, he immediately fled the room, apparently in search of his older brother. Aw.

Introductions made, Kyungsoo and the others proceeded to the final studio, where Hyoutei Academy would be waiting for them. The roles would undoubtedly be highly coveted, and the actors nothing short of perfect for each character. It actually made Kyungsoo feel a little nervous.

“Hey, I saw you at the callbacks!” The first voice to greet them was high and excited, another small boy waving excitedly with both arms. He was fresh-faced with large, hopeful eyes, and Kyungsoo recognised him immediately.

“Ah, I remember you. I’m playing Kaneda, what about you?”

“Gakuto,” he bounced on the spot a little before suddenly launching into a backflip. A perfect execution, a perfect landing, a perfect Gakuto. “You’ll be a guest in our musical, right? Nice to meetcha.”

Taki’s actor, too, remembered Kyungsoo from the callbacks, pout softened into a smile and harsh eyebrows raised just a little bit.

A very tall young man sat at the piano gasped quietly. “Oh my god,” he ran his fingers over a few keys, “it’s D.O.”

“Nice to meet you,” Kyungsoo decided to break the awkward, questioning silence first, holding out a hand. “I’m Kaneda.”

“Ohtori Choutarou,” the boy took Kyungsoo’s hand in his own, slightly shaking one. “It’s nice to meet you.”

Hands were shaken, bows were given until Kyungsoo’s back ached, and eventually the Saint Rudolph threesome returned to their studio, leaving Richie next door.

“We should go out tonight. As a team.” Hibiki declared as soon as the door closed behind them. “Dinner maybe?”

“My mom wanted me home for dinner, to tell her how today went.” Rui mumbled in the direction of the floor. The captain gave him a hearty clap on the back.

“Different plans then! If you could get away with an early dinner, maybe we could all go out for karaoke later? Scope out the team’s singing voices, have a little fun, definitely not drink any alcohol because we’re babysitting, it’ll be great. Do you think your mom will agree to that?”

Rui apparently thought so, and after LINE addresses were exchanged and a group chat ‘☆Catholic School Boys Run Wild☆’ was created, Kyungsoo left the building, with Hibiki and Richie in tow because you are not leaving without giving me your LINE address Do Kyungsoo! and instructions to head to the Hachiko exit of Shibuya station at 6PM that evening.

They were so engrossed in their conversation that Hibiki ran straight into someone.

“Shit! Sorry, I wasn’t looking where I was going. Are you waiting for someone?”

“Ah, he’s right there.” The usual bright red car sat entirely innocuously at the side of the road. Its owner grinned. “Are you Kyungsoo's castmates?”

Hibiki brightened immediately, prior apologetic expression now a broad smile. “I’m his doubles partner, thanks for asking.”

“I’m his babysitter,” Rikuto only snickered at Kyungsoo’s indignant whine, “look after him, won’t you?”

“Oh, I will. See you at six, ‘Soo!”

“LINE me!!” Richie pulled Kyungsoo into a half-hug, and then the other two actors were off down the street, back in their own conversation.

Things were quiet until Kyungsoo had gotten into the car and put on his seatbelt, and Rikuto patted his knee encouragingly.

“Congrats, tiger - you made friends!” Sailor Moon - no, no, Sailor Mars, insisting that the car was going nowhere until the driver put on their seatbelt went ignored in the background, until Rikuto placated her by putting the thing on. “So, tell me all about it. What’s this about six?”

“Team bonding,” Kyungsoo couldn’t stop a smile as the group chat pinged. ‘Hibi-tan; WE NEED A SECRET HANDSHAKE!!!!1’ “okay, you’ll need to pass this on to the company…”

Karaoke was fun. Hibiki forewent a microphone to just yell along to whatever he felt like, Tsubasa watched Kyungsoo nervously for about half an hour before finally asking if they could take a picture together, and everyone whined and complained until Kyungsoo, having previously insisted on choosing a Japanese song first, finally gave into pressure and pulled up an EXO track on his first turn. Oh no, he groaned inwardly, it’s got the concert video.

Tsubasa watched him with a strange expression, a mixture of dreamy and shellshocked. Hibiki whooped loudly after the first chorus, flipping on the disco lights. “Whoa, ‘Soo! So this is your group? Why the heck didn’t you say anything?”

“This is my favourite song.” Tsubasa whispered to nobody, Hinata did his polite little golf clap again, and Haru gave him a…..weird face again. Maybe that was just Haru’s face. Sora was on the phone to the front desk, ordering more snacks, but gave Kyungsoo a thumbs up anyway.

Kyungsoo smiled in the general direction of the group, eyes actually focused on the glowing Shibuya skyline out of the window. He didn’t need to watch the lyrics on the screen, they practically ran in his veins. “Yeah. They’re pretty great - I just stand there and sing.”

“I like the tall one. Him! No, no, the other tall one, we just missed him. That one!” The captain, in the middle of attempting to copy the dance on screen, paused to point at the TV.

For the second time that day, Kyungsoo failed to keep down a smile. “That’s Jo- Kai. That’s Kai.” His voice softened, barely audible over the blaring backing track from the speakers. I like him too.

One | Two | Three | Four | Five | Six


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