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As March died, Kyungsoo took the train over to the rehearsal venue on a crisp afternoon. Spring was coming late, and he didn’t really want to be wearing jackets all the way into April. (At least, not on days like today when he was wearing new clothes and kind of wanted them to be seen, vain as that may have been.) He arrived at the venue as a few other cast members arrived; Minami, Oshitari, Muromachi, Ohtori. He waved a little at Ohtori as he went in, seeking out the meeting room for Saint Rudolph.
Of course, as well as Seigaku and Fudomine, they wouldn’t be seeing Hyoutei for a while, either. Their musical was almost a year away, so they wouldn’t be needed for a very long time.
The studio door closed behind him, and he was immediately met with a loud voice. “Ha! Tsubasa, look, you and ‘Soo match!”
Kyungsoo looked around the room before finding a very surprised looking Tsubasa, scanning him quickly up and down to see what Hibiki was talking - well, yelling - about. He zoned in on the other boy’s t shirt; black, with a few banana motifs across the chest.
Sweet. Soft. Hides from Everything.
“I didn’t know.” Tsubasa hurriedly protested, stumbling over his own words. “I didn’t know you had one of those shirts too. I really didn’t.”
“There are worse things in life than matching shirts.” Kyungsoo took a seat on the floor by the piano, turning to Hinata beside him and striking up a conversation about the boy’s new Totoro phone case to pass the time until the staff arrived. An obviously relieved Tsubasa flopped against the piano, smiling down at the little banana motifs on his shirt. It did suit him, actually. It was a cute shirt for a cute kid. It got Kyungsoo to thinking who else might like such a shirt.
They were getting their team song that day.
They were getting the Saint Rudolph song that day.
Hibiki, bursting with team pride, looked fit to explode in anticipation. From what Kyungsoo had gleaned from previous musicals, whatever song they received would have a melodramatic, Phantom of the Opera style vibe to it, which sounded like fun. Their choreography would likely be more elegant than any of the others, too, except perhaps Hyoutei, but Saint Rudolph did it first.
He checked his phone while Hibiki, apparently inspired by the accidental matching shirt incident, insisted to whoever was closest to him that they needed a team shirt to match their team handshake.
‘Baekhyun: YA BOY BAEKHYUN’S LEADING A MUSICAL!!’
‘Joonmyun: Congratulations, Baekhyun!’
‘Yixing: You’ll be amazing!’
‘Kyungsoo: My musical’s better.’
Saint Rudolph’s song was...definitely interesting, with the lyrics helpfully colour coded to make it clear who was singing. Just as predicted, there was a Phantom of the Opera feel to it, and with a little help from his dictionary Kyungsoo was able to understand why nobody was able to rehearse their lines with a straight face, mostly just laughing over the demo track the composers had made for them.
“We’ll crush anyone who stands in our way!” Hibiki roared, “under our fabulous high heeled boots- wait, is that the next line? Somehow I don’t think it is.”
“Marvel at how I’ve evolved. I will stand on my own, away from your shadow!” Rui snickered behind his lyric sheet. “Am I a Pokémon? What does a Yuuta evolve into?”
“We need no god, we need no prayers, under our own strength we will emerge the victors.” Hummed Hinata thoughtfully. “An interesting chorus, but it’s not very good for catholic school boys, is it?”
“That’s alright, boys. We’ll win our next tennis tournament in Hell!”
“Long we have waited for this day, this day when I fight alongside my captain. How sweet. I’m singing about you, Hibiki.” Kyungsoo waved his lyric sheet at Hibiki, who gave him a thumbs up in return.
“As to be expected from my adorably devoted doubles partner.”
“Come on now, boys, let’s try it from the top one more time. We haven’t made it all the way through yet! Yes, it’s a little overdramatic and silly…”
‘Baekhyun: Yeah, yeah, but I get to be the male lead.’
‘Kyungsoo: I bet you don’t even get rackets.’
‘Jongdae: girls girls ur both pretty’
Kyungsoo decided a few of the members’ names needed changing in his phone. Immediately.
‘Asshole: My musical’s gonna ROCK.’
They met once a week to rehearse their team song for a while, until after a few weeks, they were given their ensemble songs. Seigaku wouldn’t be there to rehearse with them, so it was just Saint Rudolph and Yamabuki hanging out in a room every Friday night, practicing the ensemble songs before splitting off into their teams to sing the team numbers. From the sound of it, Yamabuki too stuck with tradition and had a highly energetic team song for the third season running, more enthusiastic members dancing along while they sang. Sometimes, they would perform their team song for the other group to receive feedback.
“Kyungsoo, it might benefit you to sound a little more...ah, ‘reverent’ isn’t exactly the word I want, but you know. You’re supposed to greatly admire Akazawa, so being partnered with him is quite the honour.”
“Come on, Tsubasa! You don’t have to be so shy!”
“Hinata, if you do that little hair flick like you did at the end of that last one there, every time, it would be so perfect.’
‘Hibiki do you have to yell quite so loud??”
Most of the time after rehearsals, everybody would go straight home, but sometimes pairs or groups would go out together. Kyungsoo didn’t go very much, he would be tired by that point and go to bed as soon as possible, but he didn’t want to be seen as a buzzkill who never joined in, so every so often, he’d tag along with the group for whatever food would be most likely to shock his managers that day.
One week, he went out for dinner with Richie after rehearsals were over, the other foreign actor surprisingly subdued as of late. He perked up a little at Kyungsoo’s invitation, but something had still seemed off all evening, something which bothered Kyungsoo well into the night.
“Kyungsoo,” he had asked over barbeque, “is there anybody in the cast who rubs you the wrong way? Someone you don’t get along with?”
“No,” had been his reply, “there are guys I don’t talk to so much, sure, but nobody I really dislike. Why? Had a falling out?”
“Eh.” Richie shrugged. “You could say me and him don’t really meet eye to eye.”
“It’s kind of unlike you.” It really was. Richie seemed to get along swimmingly with absolutely everybody he met, but at the same time, Kyungsoo couldn’t think of anyone that Richie was notably cool towards. Perhaps he was just being unobservant?
“I guess. It’s only really the one guy, but hey, if it’s not bothering you, I shouldn’t really name names and make things awkward! Are you really sure there’s nobody in the cast who pisses you off? Even a little?”
Kyungsoo’s companion just laughed awkwardly. “Then that’s what matters! Forget I said anything about it. So uh, how are your group doing? I heard Atsushi talking about how a couple of your bandmates are doing solo activities now.” And that had been the last word from either of them about the issue for the rest of the night.
It bothered him. Who was it that Richie didn’t like? Kyungsoo was bad with interpersonal drama at the best of times, and didn’t know where to even look first. Yamabuki seemed to be a pretty close-knit bunch, but then again, Richie had already proven himself to be a fairly competent actor. Or maybe it was someone in Saint Rudolph? Or one of the other teams, and they had argued at camp or something?
It kept him awake for hours, hours he ended up spending scrolling through Korean news websites. None of it was new to him. EXO’s Baekhyun takes male lead role in new musical. EXO’s Chanyeol to release solo mini-album. EXO’s Suho cast in new movie slated for November release. EXO’s Xiumin and Chen to be the new faces of K Generation Apparel.
‘Jonginnie: Everyone’s getting such cool solo activities…”
“Kyungsoo: You will, too! Is Baekhyun still going on and on about his damn musical?”
“Jonginnie: Yeah, he’s really excited.”
“Kyungsoo: My musical’s still better, and some of us at least know when to take a back seat. My character doesn’t even have his own song.”
“What do you mean I have my own song?!”
“Well,” the staff member smiled, holding the lyric sheets and CD case a little further away from herself and waiting for Kyungsoo to take them, “we first wrote this one back in season two, but we just couldn’t find a way to fit it into the musical comfortably. This time, with a more dance-oriented Kisarazu-Yanagisawa pair and an established artist playing Kaneda, there’s really no better time to introduce it, don’t you think?”
“Well, maybe, but I mean, just me?”
“At this point in time, Akazawa is being too bullheaded to even cooperate with you in doubles. Would a duet really work in this situation?” Her smile widened. “That makes six opponent solo or duet songs in all, as well as the two team songs. You, Yuuta and Mizuki from Saint Rudolph, and Sengoku, Akutsu and the Jimmies from Yamabuki. We’re trying to really strike a balance between the two halves of the musical this time. It’ll require you to attend more rehearsals, but it shouldn’t be a problem for you, should it?”
“...no, not at all. Thank you very much!” Kyungsoo bowed low and took the items, hands shaking just a little. He was getting a solo. In the Prince of Tennis musical. It was really starting to sink in that he was going to make a mark on the history of this musical, on the series in general. It was an amazing feeling.
The team had been largely supportive, though Haru was giving him that weird face again. Perhaps one day the wind had changed and frozen it that way, like Kyungsoo’s mother had warned him would happen if he sulked too much as a child. Hibiki picked him up by the waist and cheered loudly, while Hinata shook his hand, once he’d been safely returned to the ground.
“Welcome to the solo club, Kyungsoo. Rui and I will be singing remastered versions of older songs, so it’s up to you to keep third season Saint Rudolph’s repertoire fresh and interesting. Don’t let the side down, now.”
“He won’t!” A sudden weight from behind him and arms squeezing right around his middle. Kyungsoo put his hands over the arms gently to prise them off, quite done with being squished around the midsection for one day. “Isn’t this amazing? Both foreign actors have solos this season! It’s making history!”
Kyungsoo didn’t look at Richie, or anybody else in the room, instead watching the falling cherry blossoms brushing against the window outside. It was a season of change, of new beginnings. It felt strangely fitting.
He thought about those cherry blossoms again that night, as he listened to the composers’ demo track and did his best to sing along while not disturbing the neighbours. He wasn’t entirely sure whether or not he had neighbours, but didn’t want to risk it anyway. Being quiet never hurt anybody, though that was something that very few in both EXO and the TeniMyu cast took to heart.
“Why won’t you listen to me?” He almost whispered, forming the leftover rice from dinner into rice balls for breakfast the next day. “Trust in me, and let me be your strength.” More water, more salt, more seasoning - plain rice was boring. “They’ll never go down if it’s two-on-one, but we can do it, if you’ll listen to me.”
‘DO.Soo: Hey, are you busy tomorrow? I was going to go scout out some cherry blossoms as another Japanese Experience, then spend the rest of the day watching DVDs or something. We could talk doubles.’
‘Jonginnie: That’s a nice picture. Isn’t that your doubles partner?’
‘Kyungsoo: Yeah, we went cherry blossom viewing today. It was super pretty.’
Kyungsoo took another handful of popcorn as he sent the day’s photos to Jongin, while Hibiki changed the DVD. It was their third one of the day and it was starting to get dark, but even with the apartment floor littered with notes about Kaneda and Akazawa, they definitely weren’t done.
“Ever seen a Dream Live concert, ‘Soo?” Hibiki fiddled with the disc drive on Kyungsoo’s laptop, “Our last appearance will be one. It’s awesome, it’s all in character, but there’s absolutely zero connection to the plot. Kind of like a greatest hits collection for the musicals - and the audience get glowsticks! And we get fancy costumes!”
“I’ve not watched any of them, no.”
“Oh man, you’re missing out! I went to this one live.” He finally got the disc into the drive without snapping either of them and settled back in his seat beside Kyungsoo, taking some of the popcorn for himself.
It was interesting, and nothing like the other musicals Kyungsoo had watched. The audience were allowed to make noise, for one thing, cheering and calling for their favourites as each character and their actor appeared on the big screens in the arena. Each team would come out, do their team song in a new costume, perform a little skit, then be conveniently interrupted by the next team, who would continue the cycle anew.
“Nice coats.” He chuckled through his popcorn when Saint Rudolph emerged from the shadows and the audience’s glowsticks turned orange. “I hope we don’t have to wear those.”
“Really? I hope we do. I think they’re awesome.”
“They’ve got them on over their tennis uniforms. It looks ridiculous.”
Saint Rudolph’s skit involved the doubles pairs thanking their partners, the two singles players expressing gratitude to each other instead. It started off pretty standard, with Yuuta respectfully thanking his senior Mizuki and Mizuki responding in kind. Akazawa pulled Kaneda to the front of the group and began reeling off all the things about Kaneda that he was thankful for.
And all of a sudden, the camera switched back to Kaneda and he was crying.
“Captain.” The actor sniffled. “I love you.”
Kyungsoo snorted. The audience screamed and applauded. “Subtle as a brick through a window. And yet still not the furthest the musicals have pushed it. Are they going to have me saying that to you?”
“I dunno, maybe. Would that be a problem?” Hibiki gasped. “Oh no, don’t tell me you don’t love me!”
“Stupid. Of course I love you.”
“Then it shouldn’t be a problem. Do you think we should be taking that kind of direction with our Kaneda and Akazawa?”
Popcorn. “What kind of direction?”
“A gay direction.”
He threw a handful of popcorn at Hibiki then. Eh, the floor’s wood, it’ll be easy to clean up. “Well, by the look of it, I don’t get the choice in the matter, but if you want to make your Akazawa madly in love with Kaneda then by all means go ahead and I’ll play it off you. Have you seen the lyrics of the song I have to sing to you?”
“No!” Hibiki stood up immediately, brushing popcorn off himself with a laugh. Yamabuki’s team song went ignored in the background. “Oh man, you have to show me.”
While Hibiki read over the lyrics and listened to the demo, cackling to himself in a corner, Kyungsoo checked his phone.
‘Jonginnie: Pretty. Did you hear about Yixing’s new mini-album? It’s going to be a simultaneous Chinese and Korean release and he’s writing the whole thing himself and everything. Sounds pretty intense.’
‘Kyungsoo: Omg no? He didn’t tell me? I’ll kill him.’
‘Jonginnie: It’s just me and Sehun left now…’
‘Kyungsoo: It was just you, Sehun and Yixing left until yesterday. Are you worried about it?’
‘♥Wings♥: Kyungsoo are you busy’
It wasn’t like Tsubasa to miss out punctuation. Hibiki was still warbling along melodramatically to Kyungsoo’s solo song, so he had time to reply. ‘DO.Soo: no, why?’
‘♥Wings♥: Listen, I probably shouldn’t be telling you this, but there’s some problems among some of the cast members. I’d almost describe it as warfare.’
‘DO.Soo: Oh, who? And why shouldn’t you be telling me?’
‘♥Wings♥: Because it’s about you.’
‘♥Wings♥: Look just. Don’t let the gossip bother you. I just thought you should probably know about it. Stay focused on rehearsals and ignore any drama you might hear about, okay?’
‘DO.Soo: who is it??’
‘DO.Soo: why is it about me?????’
‘DO.Soo: where did you even hear this from???????????’
‘DO.Soo: dammit Tsubasa I know you’re online stop ignoring me wtf’
“You okay, ‘Soo? You’re frowning at your phone.”
“Hm?” Hibiki was watching him with concern, so he quickly locked his phone and tossed it over onto his futon. “Oh, I’m fine, just some drama going down. I shouldn’t really let it bother me, though. Not when we’re starting choreo rehearsals soon. I can’t afford to get distracted.”
“Damn right you can’t!” His expression immediately brightened into his usual smile. “Now get your ass over here, Akazawa and Kaneda are going to show up in the next song and there’s no way in hell I’m letting you miss out on this. We should do this, too.”
True to Hibiki’s word, their characters did indeed appear in the next song, an early song rearranged to star several doubles pairs. During the instrumental break, Akazawa hauled Kaneda up bridal-style and spun him around. Hibiki’s ensuing ‘what do you think?’ was met with a punch in the arm. Kyungsoo’s phone lay forgotten on the futon.
‘Jonginnie: Yeah, I’m terrified.’
“Okay boys, from the top. And a-one, and a-two, and a-three...no no no! You’re supposed to be looking at the front! Look at me! Sengoku, I don’t know what you’re looking at over there, but I need you to look at me. Everybody stop looking at Sengoku! Look at me! Akazawa, you need to put some more power in your moves, where is your head at today? Yuuta, sweetheart, you’re supposed to be left handed. You’re following me very well but you need to be doing the moves in reverse…”
Group choreo rehearsals had arrived, and just about everything that could go wrong, was going wrong. Kyungsoo had already taken a racket to the face from an overzealous Muromachi, remembering everyone’s positioning was proving far more difficult than anticipated without the Seigaku actors filling up all the holes in the group, and there was a heavy tension in the room that no amount of racket slicing and frustrated wailing from the instructor could cut through. As for Kyungsoo himself, he was doing his best, following the instructor’s movements as best he could while staying in his position near the back of the group, focusing as hard as anything to not whack Nitobe in the back of the head with his racket. He wasn’t used to this kind of dancing, with weird, one-handed pushups and racket waving and a whole lot of jumping around being standard moves for the show. Everyone was in sports gear, without a skinny jean or any remotely tasteful colour in sight, and there hadn’t been a single hip thrust all morning. It wasn’t Kyungsoo’s style of dance at all, but all he could do was concentrate on not looking entirely ridiculous while doing it, as a distraction from that awkward, uncomfortable atmosphere that seemed to have everybody out of sorts.
Everything had been fine until that day. Tsubasa, after fleeing from Kyungsoo in a panic every time Kyungsoo approached him for several rehearsals running, was finally talking to him again once Kyungsoo realised that unless he dropped any and all questions about the supposed cast-warfare he would never get to see Tsubasa’s face again. The Seigaku actors, despite their absence from all of Saint Rudolph and Yamabuki’s rehearsals, had spread their own good cheer around the cast after the Seigaku vs Fudomine promotions began, starting a whole-cast group LINE chat in order to share any and all photos taken with the promotional posters all around Tokyo. (Kyungsoo had posed for a selfie next to Kikumaru’s likeness on the enormous poster in Shibuya station and sent it into the chat, which delighted the actor greatly.) And despite the gossip and the occasional stare from the other actors, nothing had really been amiss for Kyungsoo at rehearsals. Songs were sung, solos were practiced, the staff would both praise and critique him on the same level as industry rookies like Rui and Hinata, and sometimes he could almost forget the strain of being an idol, the fear that nobody around him would treat him genuinely because of his status. Life had been good.
And suddenly, with Saint Rudolph and Yamabuki together in the dance studio on an otherwise perfectly ordinary Saturday morning, everything was falling apart.
“Sengoku! Be more careful where you’re swinging that thing - you could hit someone!”
“Wouldn’t be a bad thing.” Kyungsoo heard Richie murmur almost inaudibly. It was weird. Richie and Hibiki, two of the bubbliest members of the group, were remarkably down that day, though for Richie it had been several weeks in the making.
Hibiki’s sudden shift in demeanour had come entirely randomly, however, and his constant zoning out during dance rehearsals had Kyungsoo more than a little hesitant to ask about it.
“Ugh. Let’s leave the ensemble number for now. Take a break for a few minutes, I’m going for a walk, and then we’ll break off into the team songs instead. Whatever’s wrong with you all, sort it out!”
The instructor left, and everyone in the room breathed a sigh of relief before splitting up into their teams, notably standing on opposite sides of the room from each other. Minami patted Richie on the shoulder as they walked away.
“Come on, Richie. Just let it go...don’t let him distract you.”
“I can’t help it! I don’t wanna be in a cast with that asshole!”
Kyungsoo sat down on the floor beside Hibiki, but the taller boy was focused entirely on his phone and didn’t even greet him. His usual bright smile was only a dour, sulky expression today, and it was more than a little bit unsettling. That face was usually reserved for Haru, who also wore such an expression. There was a fire, a rage behind Richie’s eyes that Kyungsoo had never seen before, and he didn’t really know where to look or where to sit. Half the eyes in the room were on him, the others were on just about anything or anyone else. Tsubasa shared a worried look with his little brother in Yamabuki. Everything was wrong.
Kyungsoo moved to sit by Hinata, who was filing his nails with extreme concentration.
“Something’s very wrong.”
“Very wrong indeed. I can’t get this nail to file properly. It keeps catching on my joggers.” Hinata sighed, tossing the file back into his bag. “And that doesn’t even begin to cover everybody else. Don’t let it bother you, Kyungsoo, rise above it.”
“I don’t even know what I’m supposed to be rising above.”
“Perhaps it’s better that way.” He drummed a few fingers on the back of Kyungsoo’s wrist, his smile sad. “It’s such a bother, that this feud is between members of both teams. If it were only members of Yamabuki, it wouldn’t a problem for us at all. At least our team song choreography will be alright.”
Kyungsoo paused. “Wait, do you know who it is?”
“Perhaps.” Hinata’s answer was all too quick, practically rehearsed. “Ah, but these things tend to sort themselves out in the end. It’s Hibiki I’m worried about - he’s not even come close to shattering a window with his laughter all morning, and nobody has the foggiest idea what the problem is. I tried asking, but he won’t tell me.”
‘KikuO: Hey Kaneda!! How’s dance practice going??? I asked in the group chat but nobody from Saint Rudolph or Yamabuki is answering me!! Is something wrong???’
‘DO.Soo: Don’t worry about it, Kikumaru, everything’s fine. Just a little tension in the room today.’
‘KikuO: OMG really??? Our dance rehearsals have been so fun!!! Everyone screws up a lot but we just laugh about it! You guys seem like the laughiest teams of all too!! Is laughiest a word??’
‘Kyungsoo: Are you okay? You’ve been awfully quiet.’
‘Kyungsoo: Call me later, alright?’
‘DO.Soo: Rikuto are you busy tonight?’
‘Tuxedo Rick: My only plan is dinner at the Sailor Moon pop up! Why?’
‘DO.Soo: Can I come with? I’ll be in Shibuya in the evening, so we can meet up on the Yamanote and head there together.’
‘Tuxedo Rick: The fact you are asking to come with me to the Sailor Moon cafe of your own free will means something is very wrong. Everything alright in your world, tiger?’
‘DO.Soo: oh, I’m fine. It’s everybody else who isn’t.’
A sticker of Sailor Chibi Moon crying followed. Kyungsoo couldn’t help but wonder how much money his friends and acquaintances were pouring into custom LINE stickers.
“Alright boys, are we all feeling better after our little break?” The instructor returned and surveyed the room for a moment. Her smile faded. “Apparently not. Anyway, Yamabuki, if you could go to the studio next door and warm up, go through your team number a few times, I’ll come and get you when it’s your turn. Come on, Saint Rudolph, we have a lot of work to do! Phones down, boys, phones down...phones down, Akazawa. Ugh…”
“In the name of the moon!”
“Why do the buzzers have to do that? It’s embarrassing.” Kyungsoo cringed behind his dinner, the ‘highly recommended’ Miko Mars Japanese Plate. It was pretty good, cutesy presentation aside. The heart- and star-cut vegetables were nice, and the meat in the fried soba noodles, despite being dyed an unsettling shade of red, was good too. Rikuto pressed the buzzer again, eyes flicking between the Chibi Moon Berry Sundae and the Uranus and Neptune Sweet Love Pancake Set on the back of the menu.
“In the name of the moon!”
“All the tables have quotes instead of buzzer noises - this one’s my favourite! Any dessert for you, champ?”
He shrugged, glancing at the dessert menu in Rikuto’s hands for a moment. Even from upside down, he had to admit there was a lot of nice-looking choices, but Kyungsoo just didn’t have the stomach for too many sweet things today. There was a lot on his mind.
“Just the Greek yoghurt and a black coffee for me, thanks.”
“In the name of the moon!”
“Rikuto, they probably heard you the first two times.”
“I can’t help it, it’s my favourite.” He chuckled, eyes lighting up when the waitress dressed as Sailor Mars arrived at their table, smiling brightly. “Hiya. That’ll be a Tuxedo Mask Midnight Coffee and Artemis Yoghurt Cup for my friend here, and the Chibi Moon Berry Sundae and Usagi’s Bunny Mallow Hot Chocolate for me, thanks.”
“Nah, we’re good, thanks.”
Rikuto waved as the waitress left, but when he turned back to Kyungsoo, his expression was uncharacteristically serious. “So, kiddo, what’s been eating you? I didn’t want to ask at first, in case talking about it put you off your food, but since you’ve still got it in you for dessert, I figured now was as good a time as any. What happened?”
Oh, what happened. Kyungsoo wasn’t sure where to start. It was weird, trying to dig up his personal problems and worries in a tiny cafe emblazoned with hearts and stars and rainbows on the hot pink walls, blasting squeaky anime opening tracks over the speakers and filled to the brim with, aside from Kyungsoo and Rikuto themselves, giggling schoolgirls. What could he say? That Jongin was ignoring him and he didn’t know why? That his entire team was keeping secrets from him and he didn’t know why? That mysterious tensions between the cast, apparently centering on himself, were ruining their rehearsals and he didn’t know why? That his doubles partner was on another planet all day and barely heard a thing anybody said, and he didn’t know why? Kyungsoo hated being in the dark about things, and he really hated being in the dark about everything.
Switching to Korean for privacy, he poured all of this out to Rikuto, just in time for their desserts to arrive. Rikuto picked a tiny marshmallow, chocolate-sauce rabbit face and all, out of his hot chocolate and popped it into his mouth with a thoughtful hum.
“People are difficult, aren’t they? Think back to your anime high schoolers for a sec-”
“-isn’t that what I said? Think of them. What happens when they have an interpersonal crisis? How do the tensions get resolved in order for everybody to become friends again?”
Kyungsoo thought for a moment, taking a few sips of his coffee. It was black, how he liked it, and literally black with what Kyungsoo supposed was a liberal application of food dye. “Someone gets their ass handed to them in a match, and for some reason that makes everything better.”
“Then maybe you need to do that?”
“I’m not beating somebody up.” He frowned. “I don’t even know who I would need to beat up in the first place. I know literally nothing about the situation, just that apparently I’m the reason everything’s gone to shit. Why is life like this? Why do people have to suck?”
Silence between them, save for the light clinking of their spoons as they ate their desserts. For once, Rikuto didn’t seem to have anything to say.
“In the name of the moon!”
“Would you stop pressing that?!”
‘Asshole: Not to brag, but my leading lady is a total babe.’
‘Joonmyun: She is very pretty.’
‘Kyungsoo: Some of the first year kids have to do drag for a couple of scenes later on, but none in my musical. Also, my teammate does better eyeliner than you.’
‘Asshole: YOU TAKE THAT BACK’
‘Joonmyun: Jongin’s been quiet all day. Do you know what’s wrong with him?’
‘Kyungsoo: Hope you’re hanging in there, Jonginnie. I miss you.’
Overtired and a little on edge, Kyungsoo headed into the studio early for a change. Perhaps he could chance a nap on the floor before the others showed up. It was better than risking showing up late.
He pushed open the studio door, glancing up as it closed behind him.
The door closed with a thud, echoing a little around the silent studio.
“Kyungsoo,” Haru, seated at the piano, didn’t quite meet his eye. “I’m glad you’re here. I need to talk to you about something before the others show up.”
“Is this where I die?” Kyungsoo raised an eyebrow, but Haru didn’t laugh. With short, nervous steps, he made his way over to the piano, leaning against it and looking in Haru’s general direction, rather than directly at him.
“What’s the occasion?”
“I…” He sighed, trailing his fingers across the keys. “I need to apologise. I’ve been terrible to you.”
Haru spluttered. “Y-yes! I’ve been awful. Didn’t you hear what I was saying? Didn’t you notice anything I was doing? Did you even see how I was looking at you?!”
Oh. That kind of. Explained a lot. “I...thought that was just your face or something.”
Haru looked down at his hands on the piano keys. A few notes twinkled around the room, drawn out long and weak with the pedals. “Oh. That’s...that’s humbling. Ouch.”
Kyungsoo nudged Haru in the shoulder so he would move aside, let Kyungsoo sit down on the piano stool beside him. He still didn’t look at Haru, but instead played a few notes of his own on the upper keys of the piano. Plink.
“Nobody told me anything,” he began. “Are you going to?”
Both hands on the piano, Haru began to play, very softly. The first few notes of Saint Rudolph’s team song echoed in the otherwise empty studio. “I’m a backing dancer. I have been for years. My agency, they decided to put together a boy band, and I really wanted to be chosen.” The left hand chord resonated hard, low. “I wasn’t.”
“They told some of the members of the group to audition for this musical, to promote the group, other actors have done it before. So I auditioned too, to spite them, I guess. None of them got in, but I did. The agency is acting all proud of me now, they’re gonna put an announcement on the front page of the company website once the cast is revealed, but they’re pissed at me, really. I figured this was my chance to make a name for myself and show the world what I could do, no matter what my agency thought.” The first chorus, and Haru was quiet for a while, letting the melody take over until the chorus faded out, and he was ready to speak again. “And then came you.”
“Me?” Kyungsoo added a few notes in the upper register.
“Yeah. Established artist. Boy band member, to boot. Everyone was so excited about you, even my own doubles partner was more about you than me, and I guess that added salt in the wound that hadn’t quite closed.” He slipped on a note. A sharp instead of a flat. He grimaced. “Yet again, I was going to be overshadowed by a boy band member, and I guess I couldn’t really look at you straight. I got it in my head that you didn’t even work for this, that they chose you because of who you were, not because of what you could do. I said all this shit to the others when you weren’t around, but they all brushed me off, and somehow that still didn’t put me down. Hibiki is your doubles partner, of course he was gonna like you. Tsubasa was a fan of yours, so I figured he was biased and didn’t listen to him.”
“You know, his favourite member is actually Chanyeol.”
“I don’t know who that is, but that’s nice.” Haru sighed. “You never confronted me about it, so I figured you just didn’t care or something - you had to know, I thought Tsubasa would have told you everything.” He quirked a brow when Kyungsoo shook his head. “It was uncomfortable, but nothing too bad, practice went on as usual, I just gave you the stink-eye or stood further away from you than everybody else. Everybody else noticed, but apparently not you.”
“I’m not the most observant, I’ll admit that.” Kyungsoo shrugged. “What changed? Why did this suddenly become a huge, cast-wide problem?”
“One word: Sengoku.” Richie. “I don’t know how he found out. Maybe Tsubasa told his brother, and Tsubasa’s brother told Sengoku, I don’t know. Maybe it’s something about not being Japanese, maybe it’s just...him, but he wasn’t the type to sit there and ignore me while I was being an asshole.” Haru lost his focus, hands slipping into a scare chord. A chill ran up Kyungsoo’s back as the bizarre sound faded. “He messaged me first, and I fell for it. I argued with him. I told him all the stuff I thought about you, and he dared me to say it to his face. So I did. And he hit me.”
“Oh.” That didn’t sound like Richie at all. “That explains an awful lot.”
“He was practically screaming at me about you. How you didn’t mention you were an idol in your initial audition, because he was there and saw it happen. How you joke with him about all the stuff in rehearsals that you suck at, which I never noticed because I was too busy looking for excuses to hate you for being perfect, I guess. How if you’d really used your fame to get into the musical, you would have chosen a more popular character than Kaneda. That kind of stuff.” With another heavy sigh, Haru stood up from the piano and made his way towards the window. The falling cherry blossoms were a memory now, leaves of vivid green brushing against the glass instead. “I’ve had a lot of thinking to do.”
“I’m a total and complete douchebag.” He began to laugh, leaning against the window and covering his face with one hand. “I’ve been bitter and bitchy for months, and you didn’t even notice.”
“I’m such an ass.” Haru was still laughing. It wasn’t funny. “I’ve screwed up the whole cast. I’m an ass, and you hate me.”
“You’re an ass, yeah.” Haru looked up in surprise at Kyungsoo, who was still seated at the piano. Kyungsoo didn’t look directly at him, but out of the corner of his eye instead. He chanced a small smile. “But I don’t hate you. We don’t have to be BFFs, but patching things up here might help things with your doubles partner, huh.”
Haru uncovered his face, crossing his arms a little defensively. His eyebrows sloped downwards, doubtful. “You really don’t hate me?”
“Haru, it would be a lie if I said that in all my years in this industry, I hadn’t dealt with at least a few guys being assholes. It’s cool. Just...fix things with Richie. I could put in a good word for you, but it would probably be better if you did it yourself. Shed the middle schooler persona for a minute and be a man.”
‘Asshole: I hope you’re thinking of me over there ;D’
‘Kyungsoo: Oh yeah, I sure am.’
Things seemed to settle a little after that. Whatever had happened between Haru and Richie, Kyungsoo didn’t know, but the pair seemed to be able to relax a lot more in rehearsals, rather than glaring at each other and ignoring the instructor’s increasingly desperate calls for order. They never spoke, not where Kyungsoo could see it, but on the way out of practice one day, Richie patted Haru on the shoulder as he walked past, promptly increasing his pace to keep up with his own team without looking back.
It was a lot better.
There had been a team meeting one day, just a Saint Rudolph gathering in Hinata’s apartment because it was apparently the cleanest and he always had the place stocked with snacks and drinks in case of unexpected visitors. They had made a circle on the living room floor, exchanging notes and sharing snacks and going over their team song again ahead of a Very Big Meeting that was coming up soon.
They were going to meet the creator of Prince of Tennis. The real deal! They would be able to tell him their ideas for their characters, get feedback from him. Kyungsoo practically shook with excitement just thinking about it.
Kaneda...Kyungsoo wasn’t sure when it had happened, but at some point Kaneda had stopped being a fictional character in his mind and instead became...kind of like an old friend, like a younger next door neighbour that Kyungsoo had moved away from at some point. He wondered how the boy would be doing in school, how his relations were with family, friends, teammates. As he proudly showed the rest of Saint Rudolph his latest completed book of crossword puzzles, it hit him that Kaneda was fast becoming a part of himself.
Hibiki had been quiet, still, though not quite as sullen as before. He had laughed with the others as he insisted he and Kyungsoo’s approach to Kaneda and Akazawa was ‘total mutual man-crushing’ and even flashed that long-missed brilliant grin when Kyungsoo and Haru shared a smile and poured each other more soda. It was clear that his heart was still heavy, but being around his team seemed to lighten it somewhat. Kyungsoo could feel it, too.
I have a new set of brothers. He thought. I have my brothers in Korea, and my brothers in Japan. We may not always get along, but we’re there for each other.
Someone, though, was not always there. Jongin hadn’t replied to any of Kyungsoo’s messages in days and he was starting to worry. It was only from Joonmyun’s regular group updates that he could be sure Jongin was even alive. He’d all but given up on sending him more messages, but the thought dragged him down whenever he didn’t have his castmates to distract him.
He had just finished washing the dishes one night when his phone rang.
“Sehun’s been cast in a drama.” He hadn’t even said hello back, but that wasn’t what concerned Kyungsoo the most. The sheer pain in Jongin’s voice, like he’d been crying, was like a stab to the heart on its own. “I’m the only one left, hyung. They’ve not said anything to me, it’s like they’ve just forgotten about me!”
Kyungsoo sat down on his futon, free hand on his chest. “I’m sure they haven’t forgotten about you, Jongin. Nobody could forget about you.”
“I’m so scared, hyung, I’m all alone.” His voice was choked up. It made Kyungsoo’s chest ache with an emptiness he couldn’t explain. “Everyone’s doing their solo activities, you’re in another freaking country, even SHINee are away touring. What’s wrong with me, hyung? Why doesn’t anyone want me to do any solo activities? Am I not good enough? Is it something about my voice? My acting? My dancing? My face?”
“You’re amazing, Jonginnie.” He whispered. “Your voice, your acting, your dancing, your face, you.”
“Everyone’s doing bigger and better things, with better people.” Jongin’s voice faded somewhat, barely audible. “Even you. I don’t want to be left behind. I don’t want everyone to forget me.”
“I won’t.” It came out a little more fiercely than intended, but he couldn’t stop himself. “I won’t ever. I lo-” Kyungsoo coughed awkwardly, feeling his face heat up. Thank God, Jongin wasn’t actually in the room with him. “I care about you so much, Jongin.”
“I’m so scared…”
“Don’t be. You won’t be forgotten, you can’t, I won’t let it happen.” He shushed him. “Jonginnie, you’re my favourite, no matter what. It’s going to be okay. I believe in you.”
Jongin didn’t answer, but he didn’t hang up either. All Kyungsoo could do was keep talking about something, anything. “Our choreo is crazy difficult,” he told him. “You could probably do it in your sleep. I got a racket to the face in one of our rehearsals.” He kept going. “The Pokémon Center has some new Pikachu toys. They’re really cute. I think you need one.”
It went on like this for almost an hour, Kyungsoo doing most of the talking with only the soft, somewhat distant hums on the other end of the line letting him know Jongin was still there, still listening. That was okay, listening was all he needed Jongin to do.
“I really do miss you.” Was the last thing Kyungsoo said before they hung up for the night.
Barely a whisper. “I miss you too, hyung.”
‘DO.Soo: people (´Д` )’
‘Tuxedo Rick: what’s that supposed to mean?’
‘DO.Soo: don’t ask’