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               Minho thinks it should come as a surprise, like the confetti cannons on music show stages or the rush of a thousand fans screaming his name. It should shock him, shake him to his very core, but it doesn’t, and that’s almost worse.

               The twisting in his stomach when he looks at Jisung, asleep on his shoulder with parted lips and tangled hair, feels terrifyingly natural. It’s that excitement mixed with dread, that sinking through the floor, that undeniable buzzing that he only remembers feeling for a boy in middle school whose name he can’t recall.

               A crush, Chan would call it.

               Love, Felix would say.

               But Minho feels his breath hitch in his throat and sees it for what it really is.

               A fucking disaster.

🌣

               It’s a disaster, Minho thinks, because Han Jisung is unattainable in a way that makes him think of stardust. He can look, he can admire until he’s breathless, but Jisung isn’t anything he’ll ever be able to have. And he’d be foolish for trying, really. At night, when the dorm room is pitch black, he thinks of how the universe would laugh at him if he tried to trap that cosmic beauty between his fingers.

               Not in your orbit, kid. Not even close.

               It stings a little, somewhere behind his ribcage, but it’s tolerable.

               It’s tolerable when Jisung shuffles into the room at 2 AM and slips underneath his blankets with bleary eyes and a hushed whisper of my bed’s too cold. He’s been doing it for so long that he doesn’t even ask if Minho minds.

               Minho doesn’t mind, not really, because he thinks that maybe this is as close to stardust as he’ll ever get.

🌣

               “Hyung.”

               Minho can hear Jisung’s voice coming from the other side of the waiting room, but he keeps his eyes glued to the game flitting across his phone screen. He’s lost track of how long it’s been—two months? Three months? A year? The rush in his veins hasn’t died down once, but it feels so natural and so easy, he can’t even drudge up any pity for himself.

               “Minho hyung.” Jisung is closer now, collapsing dramatically into the chair next to him. “I’ll knock that phone out of your hands if you don’t pay attention to me.”

               Minho cocks a brow but doesn’t look up. “I’d like to see you try.”

               Jisung huffs. “I had a legitimate question for you, but okay.

               Minho can hear the pout in it, and it’s enough to make him drop the phone into his lap. Jisung’s eyes are wide in that way that makes him look impossibly young, and Minho feels his stomach twist into knots. “What, Jisung?”

               There’s a bout of pointed silence, and he watches Jisung lower his gaze. “Can I ask you for advice?”

               “Advice?” Minho frowns. “You might want to ask Chan before you ask me.”

               Jisung shakes his head hard enough for his light hair to fall into his eyes. “You know I’m more comfortable coming to you.”

               Minho swallows back every word that rises to his tongue like the salty tide. “Go ahead, then.”

               “I saw something that I wish I hadn’t seen.” Jisung’s mouth twists into a frown. “But I… I don’t want the fans to know that I’m upset; I don’t want them to see it hurting me. And you’re good at that, you know? Acting like things don’t affect you, putting on a brave face. How do you do it?”

               The sting behind Minho’s ribs grows sharper. “What did you see?”

               Jisung’s brows lower for half a second, but he waves a dismissive hand and his voice is chipper when he says, “It was nothing, just comments and stuff. My fault for reading them, honestly—”

               “What did it say?” Minho really doesn’t want to know, but he sees something dark in Jisung’s eyes and itches to take it away.

               Jisung goes quiet. He twists his fingers together in his lap until his knuckles turn white. “Just… people complaining. About who should or shouldn’t be in the band, as if it’s up to them, as if they even understand what you went through to—”

               And he doesn’t need to say more because Minho already knows. He’s seen the comments himself, felt them lodge deep into his chest like pointed arrows. And there might be a shred of truth to it, he thinks, whenever some faceless and nameless individual says he doesn’t belong. When they say he can’t sing and can’t rap, so what is he good for, then? When they say his elimination should have been permanent because he’s nothing but dead weight. He wants to use their words as fuel to practice harder, longer, more and more and more until they’re all proven wrong. But sometimes that fuel sticks in his chest, climbs up his throat, and pricks at his eyes until he’s alone in the corner of an empty practice room with the lights turned off.

               “They might be right.” It tumbles from his mouth before he can stop it.

               Jisung’s gaze instantly darkens. “What?”

               Minho shrugs, and Jisung’s eyes track the movement with an inexplicable ferocity. “Just saying, you know. Wouldn’t have been eliminated in the first place if I was good enough, right?” He feels his lips quirk into a wry smile, but the look on Jisung’s face has turned positively lethal.

               “Don’t you ever say those words again, you fucking idiot.”

               It’s startling when Jisung curses, like static down Minho’s spine, because he rarely does it outside of the recording booth. “Watch your tone, Sung. You don’t know who could be listening.”

               Jisung folds his arms across his chest like a child. “I came here for advice, and this is what I get? Some friend you are.”

               “Come on, Jisung, I was half-joking anyway—”

               “Don’t.” It’s a single word, but it’s spoken with enough force to render Minho speechless. “Don’t joke about that. You know the fans want you here. All the guys want you here. I want you here.” Jisung reaches forward then to grab Minho’s limp hands in his own. “Isn’t that enough?”

               There’s an electric jolt in each of his fingers, and he instinctively tightens his grip around Jisung’s hands. “Sure, Ji. It’s enough.”

 

               The rest of the day passes in a haze, and they’re squished together on the van ride home before Minho fully registers what’s happening. It’s as loud as always, with Felix and Chan shouting in English and Hyunjin begging Changbin to get off his goddamn lap, already. Jisung had crawled into the seat next to Minho as soon as the doors opened, but he’s uncharacteristically quiet as his fingers trace abstract shapes across Minho’s thigh.

               Stardust, Minho thinks. Close but so, so far away.

               “What’re you thinking?” He asks softly.

               Jisung’s hand stills. “Wish you wouldn’t doubt yourself.”

               It’s friend to friend of course, a teammate thing to say, but it ignites a warmth in Minho’s chest that burns a little too bright. It’s different when Jisung says it, full of a genuine something that only the two of them share. Because when Chan says it, he sounds like a father, and when Jeongin says it, he sounds like a younger brother. But Jisung digs his fingers into Minho’s thigh just a little, and leans his head onto his shoulder just a little, and makes Minho’s breathing spike in a way no one else can.

               And as they drive through Seoul’s neon-washed streets, he finds himself wondering—not for the first time—what all of it even is. A crush, maybe. Attraction, definitely—but he refuses to linger on that because it makes everything worse. Jisung’s messy hair, his wide eyes, the way fire drips from his tongue and sets every stage ablaze—he can’t think about it; he isn’t allowed to. It’s a line he drew for himself on day one, when he first saw Jisung’s boyish grin morph into a cocky sneer and heard his voice wrap around the sharp edges of desperate lyrics.

               It’s different offstage, when Jisung laughs until he cries and wraps his arms around Minho’s waist. It’s a softer thing, like cotton filling up his chest, because Jisung likes to steal Minho’s jackets and blink at him with sleepy eyes. He becomes smaller, someone that fits easily on Minho’s lap. He becomes delicate, and Minho thinks he’d easily hold him for the rest of his life. If he were attainable, that is.

               “Hey, Sung?”

               Jisung lifts his head from Minho’s shoulder. “Hmmm?”

               “Do you think we’ll always be like this?”

               “Like what?” Jisung raises his hand to smother a yawn, and Minho watches as tired tears gather in the corners of his eyes.

               “You know.” Minho reaches up to wipe away a tear with his shirtsleeve, and Jisung jerks backward the tiniest bit. “Friends or soulmates or whatever.”

               “You planning on going somewhere?”

               Minho frowns. “No.”

               “Then we’ll always be like this.” Jisung nods and reaches for Minho’s hand. “As long as we’re together. Right?”

               The cotton in his chest is threatening to spill out of his mouth, and he wants to say something, wants to tell Jisung that maybe he can’t live without him and maybe he’s thought about how his lips taste. Because they’re soulmates—Jisung said so himself—so surely there’s something between them that runs deeper than this thin platonic façade.

               But Jisung is asleep in the next instant with his head back on Minho’s shoulder, so he swallows the words down and nearly chokes.

🌣

               It’s a month later when they’re ushered into the salon at the end of a long day, and Minho lets out a heavy sigh. “We’re doing hair right now?”

               “Mine’s gonna be blue,” Jisung says with a grin. He holds up two fingers in a V. “The stylist already told me.”

               “You’ll look ugly,” Minho deadpans, just for something to say, and Jisung’s mouth twists into a scowl. He reaches over to punch Minho in the shoulder, but doesn’t say anything else.

               After several hours, Minho feels like collapsing into bed and sleeping for the better part of a year. His hair is dark, which he’s glad for because the roots won’t show, and he’s halfheartedly trying to level up a character on another mobile game when he hears the salon door creak open.

               “Minho hyung.” It’s Jisung’s excited whisper, and Minho blinks his tired eyes and moves to pause the game.

               Jisung lets the door close behind him, and when Minho looks up he feels like the air has been wrenched from his body. He doesn’t want to know what his expression looks like, but he assumes it’s borderline pained because Jisung’s eyes widen and he hunches his shoulders.

               “God, is it that bad?” He asks softly.

               And bad definitely isn’t the word Minho would use, because Jisung’s tangled hair is a dark navy, he still has stage makeup smudged around his eyes, and he looks so stunning that Minho’s shaking fingers lose their grip on his phone. It slides to the tile with a clatter. Jisung watches it go.

               Minho swallows hard. “It looks nice.”

               “Just nice?” The sleeves of Jisung’s hoodie hang past his hands, and he fiddles with them absently. “Jeongin said I look really handsome like this.”

               “You do.” There’s a slight shake to it. Minho feels like dying. “You look really…” The word beautiful almost slides off his tongue, and he barely catches it. “Pretty,” he finally mumbles, but it isn’t much better.

               There’s a suffocating stretch of silence. Jisung blinks. “Pretty?”

               Minho shrugs and makes a noncommittal noise in the back of his throat because he doesn’t trust his voice. He drops his gaze—he has to—but he can still see Jisung’s feet shuffling against the floor. It’s unlike him to be quiet for so long, and Minho almost looks up again to read the look in his eyes, but then he hears Jisung let out a shuddery breath and it stops him short.

               “Thanks.” It’s barely a whisper. “You look pretty, too.”

               There’s no teasing in it, none of the jabs and taunts they usually wrap around compliments, and Minho is sure the room’s temperature rises a dozen degrees. It’s soft cotton in his mouth again, threatening to spill over in “you’re beautiful”s and “I really, really want to kiss you”s. And it would be so easy, really, to back Jisung against the wall and pour his heart onto the floor. He wonders if Jisung would even be surprised.

               But Jisung is already taking steps backward and reaching for the salon door. “Gonna go…talk to Chan,” he says on half a breath. The door closes behind him, and he’s out of Minho’s reach again.

🌣

               It really is a fucking disaster, Minho thinks, because the line he drew on day one ends up being completely erased. The attraction becomes an all-encompassing thing, plaguing him until he can barely breathe, and he’s sure Jisung has noticed. It hits him when they’re on stage, when Jisung is wearing light contacts and ripped jeans while acid syllables fall from his mouth in a way that feels almost filthy. It makes Minho dizzy and makes him think things he shouldn’t. It was easier before, to ink that line in his mind and never cross it. But it’s near impossible now, and Minho trips over his own feet at the thought of Jisung tangling his fingers in his hair and telling him how pretty he is. At the thought of his lips all over Jisung’s body and the way he would whine—

               “Tell me what’s bothering you,” Jisung murmurs one night from his perch by Minho’s side. They’re on the floor, backs pressed against the couch, while Seungmin lists every detail from their most recent stage that could’ve been better.

               Minho sucks in a breath. “Nothing’s bothering me.”

               “Bullshit.” Jisung scowls. His hair is damp, and Minho watches as a bead of water trails down to his collarbone. Minho thinks that Jisung is the truest version of himself this way, with his face scrubbed clean and an oversized tank top hanging off his shoulders. The stinging behind his ribcage grows sharper still.

               “There’s really nothing, Sung, why are you asking?”

               “Because I know you,” Jisung says with a huff. He reaches up to place a finger on Minho’s temple. “I can practically see you overthinking.”

               Minho opens his mouth to deny it when Chan cuts him off.

               “Excuse me, would you two like to share with the class?”

               Felix erupts into a fit of giggles that leave him rolling on the floor.

               Seungmin frowns. “Can you please stop flirting; I’m trying to talk.”

               “Sorry,” Jisung mutters. He scoots away from Minho’s side and locks his hands underneath his knees.

               Seungmin rambles for another half-hour, and Minho tries to pay attention, but he can see Jisung in his periphery fiddling with his own hands and shooting Minho concerned glances. He doesn’t even notice when Chan asks who’s on dishwashing duty until Felix screams “Nose goes!” and everyone cheers in victory.

               “Finally!” Changbin crows with his index finger still perched on the tip of his nose. “If I had to do dishes again, I would’ve fucking lost it.”

               “Language,” Chan says mildly.

               “Yeah, Bin, watch your language,” Hyunjin quips, and he and Jeongin collapse on top of him in bouts of uncontrollable laughter.

               And Minho complains just for the sake of complaining, but he doesn’t really mind. He likes being alone in the kitchen, wrapped in an easy silence after everyone else has gone to bed. There’s something about the methodic routine of wash, rinse, dry that soothes the edges of his aching nerves, and he needs it now more than ever.

               He’s only just started filling the sink with soap when he hears soft footfalls.

               “I can help.” Jisung’s voice, quiet and nearly lost against the sound of water splashing into the sink. “That’s a lot to do on your own.”

               Minho swallows but doesn’t turn around. “It’s okay.”

               One more footstep—two and then three—and Jisung is hopping onto the countertop next to the sink. “We could talk, then. Make it go by faster.” His fingers curl around the counter’s edge, and he swings his legs back and forth.

               “I’m fine, I don’t need—”

               “You know.” Jisung cuts him off, and his tone is a shade softer. “I hate it when you lie to me.”

               Minho turns to look at him then, an ache settling in his bones. “What?”

               “You’re lying, constantly saying that you’re fine and that you’re not thinking about anything. The guys might fall for that, but you know I won’t.” His eyes are trained on Minho’s own, and there it is again, the cotton in his chest, because Jisung knows him better than anyone—

               “I wish I could tell you.” Minho hates the uncertainty in his own voice. “I really do.”

               Jisung’s legs stop swinging. “You can tell me anything.”

               The water in the sink has nearly hit his elbows, so Minho reaches to turn the faucet off. The sudden silence in the room feels like a weight on his shoulders, and maybe it’s time, finally, to let go of everything that’s drowning him. But he opens his mouth and the words stick behind his teeth.

               “It’s about us, isn’t it.” It’s not spoken like a question. Jisung drops his gaze to the floor. “About how we feel.”

               Minho is sure the ground slides out from underneath him. “We?”

               “It’s obviously mutual.” Jisung tilts his head back to stare at the ceiling, and Minho can see the flush creeping toward his face. “But… I don’t know how to go about this, either.”

               “What are you—”

               “You asked me, on camera, if I like you in that way. What the hell was I supposed to say, Minho, with everyone watching?”

               And again, Minho thinks it should come as a surprise. It should shock him, like confetti cannons on music show stages or the rush of a thousand fans screaming his name. But it doesn’t. “I’d rather hear it like this, anyway,” he whispers. “With no one around.”

               Jisung keeps his eyes on the ceiling. “This is so stupid.”

               Minho blinks. “What—”

               “This tiptoeing and…” There’s color high on his cheeks. “And skirting around the obvious. Why can’t I just…tell you that you look nice and that I want to kiss you and—”

               “You can.” Minho takes his hands from the soapy water and balances them on the edge of the sink. “You just did.” His stomach is twisting into a million knots at the thought of stardust within his reach.

               Jisung leans his head against the cupboard behind him. His hair reflects the overhead light, shiny royal blue like the night sky, and he lets out a breath. “I guess I did, yeah. Wasn’t as romantic as I was hoping for.”

               Minho’s breath hitches at the thought of Jisung planning for this moment, playing it in his head over and over again— “I like it this way.” He grabs the dishtowel crumpled at the side of the sink and uses it to dry his hands. He focuses on the motion: back and forth, back and forth. “I want to kiss you, too, obviously.”

               The resulting silence feels infinite. He looks up to see Jisung staring at him with thoughtful eyes and his head tilted to one side. “Do it, then.”

               “Well I can’t just—”

               But Jisung’s hand is around his wrist, tugging him to the side until they’re face to face, and Minho feels like maybe he’s finally tumbled into Jisung’s orbit. He looks up at him, perched on the countertop in their dimly lit kitchen, and feels something in the cosmos shift into place.

               “You can,” Jisung whispers. He leans forward to press his lips against Minho’s in a kiss that’s fleeting and barely-there. When he pulls back, there’s pink dusted across his cheeks. “You just did.”

               And Minho expects to be stock-still and rooted to the hardwood, but—like everything else with Jisung—it comes so naturally. It’s effortless when he takes a step closer, slides his fingers into Jisung’s hair, and slots their lips together in a way that’s aching and desperate. It’s natural when Jisung gasps against his mouth and clings to his shoulders hard enough to bruise. It’s so easy to let Jisung wrap his legs around his waist, and it’s even easier to slip his tongue into Jisung’s mouth and revel in the way he whimpers.

               And he thinks it must be natural for Jisung too, because his hands are tugging at the hem of Minho’s shirt and his fingernails are grazing the skin. Minho sucks in a breath at the feeling, and Jisung takes the moment of pause to trail his lips along Minho’s jawline.

               It’s a lot at once, this stardust crashing through his system, and his hands shake where they’re threaded in Jisung’s hair. “Sung,” he gasps, voice teetering on the edge of a precipice.

               It’s a long time before Jisung replies, and Minho shudders at the hot breath on his neck. “Yeah?”

               “I don’t know how far we should—”

               “Right,” Jisung breathes. He leans back, and there’s a haze in his eyes that Minho has never seen before. “S-Sorry, I—”

               “Don’t apologize,” Minho murmurs. He intends for their next kiss to be reassuring and chaste, just a peck before they move apart, but Jisung catches Minho’s lower lip between his teeth and the sound that tumbles from his mouth sets Minho’s body alight. He never expected Jisung to be so desperate, but he’s tugging Minho’s shirt over his head and whispering soft “wanna touch you”s between every kiss.

               And Minho is helpless to stop it because he wants it just as much, wants him just as much, so he tosses Jisung’s tanktop to the floor and lets his hands roam. Jisung gasps at every touch, breath hot against his mouth, and he tightens his legs around Minho’s waist.

               And Minho thinks it should be a surprise, having stardust in his hands like this. It should shock him, shake him to his very core. But it doesn’t. Because they had been in each other’s orbit from day one, and Jisung’s cosmic beauty was always brushing past the tips of his fingers.

               So now he reaches for it, takes it, keeps it close—and the universe doesn’t fault him for it.