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21 March 2016 @ 12:21 am
MX exchange time  
Title: Running With The Stars
Fandom(s): Monsta X, No Mercy
Pairing(s): onsided Minhyuk/Yoonho, background #Gun/Jooheon
Rating: PG
Warnings: It's set when No Mercy was filming and it's angst - expect pain
Word count: 3,427
Summary: Minhyuk gets what he wants, though never in its entirety. Yoonho gets nothing and makes do. (Told backwards, set during No.Mercy)

Also on AO3

A/N: This was originally written for the 2016 Extra Stars Exchange for fallenwall

Minhyuk wakes with the alarm – entirely too early and entirely too dark by his reckoning. He scrambles for his phone, hissing as the light from the screen stings his eyes when he goes to silence the incessant beeping. All around him, he can hear the rest of the group grumbling through their own alarms and dragging themselves into the waking world.

Hyunwoo's feet hit the floor first, he’s always been more of a morning person than the rest of them. He thumps across the room and Minhyuk just manages to duck below the covers before the light flashes on and a chorus of tortured groans erupt among the assembled ranks of Monsta X as their weary eyes are forced to face the morning.

“C’mon sleeping beauties, we got places to be,” Hyunwoo mumbles. He’s out of the door and into the shower before anyone has time to breathe.

“Bastard,” Jooheon says, but he’s grinning. Minhyuk peers down at him over the edge of the bunk and internally curses him for being so chipper so early in the morning.

The other six pile on clothes and wrestle for shower space easily enough, but Minhyuk can’t persuade his weary bones that his bed is worth leaving this morning. He lies there, filled with dread at the prospect of having to get moving and get out of the dorm. He just wants to sleep, or to mope, for one day at least.

Changkyun’s face appears over the bars of the top bunk, expressionless and innocent as ever. He blinks at Minhyuk with comical sloth, like someone weighted down his eyelids, “come on hyeong, we’ve gotta get moving.”

He slips a hand into the bed, wraps it around Minhyuk’s wrist and drags him into a sitting position, watching carefully as he climbs down and starts rooting around for his tooth brush.

“Here,” Changkyun passes him a stack of clothes and Minhyuk dresses on autopilot. A baggy t shirt and his comfiest tracksuit bottoms; he can hardly say the new kid isn’t observant.

The smile Minhyuk graces Changkyun with only feels a little fake, “thanks.”

“Don’t mention it,” Changkyun replies with the same blank faced impassiveness as he does everything, grabs his bag, and opens the door to let Minhyuk through.

It’s not Changkyun’s fault, it was never Chankyun’s fault. The kid has been nothing but amicable since he was thrown into their little lion’s den, but as they bundle into the van on the way to the practice studio, Minhyuk can’t pretend that the balance doesn’t feel off. This, the seven of them, was supposed to be enough. But as they drive through familiar streets, six friends lighter than they had been when they started, his heart hangs heavy with the weight of words he never got off his chest.

Jooheon catches his eye, still smiling wide and true. He gets it, better than the rest of them at least. But no one ever needed to wait for Lee Jooheon to tell them how he felt, he doesn’t have any regrets to spare.

Minhyuk envies him, and kicks himself for his own tied tongue.

It feels like he’s been crying for a week straight. Every new camera thrust in his face feels like it hits him in the gut. It’s all too much, all at once, still smarting from the loss of Yoosu and Kwangji and Minkyun and Yoonho…

“Smile,” Kihyun pokes Minkyun in the side, his cheeks streaked with tears as he pulls back to demonstrate.

Minhyuk takes a deep breath, and manages something of a grimace around the next sob that leaves his lungs. It must look convincing enough, because Kihyun moves on, to throw his arms around Hyungwon and offer the camera crew soundbites about how very happy he is to be one of the victors standing on this stage.

Hoseok sneaks up on him like a very noisy cat. He throws his arms around Minhyuk’s waist and pulls him into an aggressive back hug, wailing about good fortune and hard work and how very much he’s going to miss Seokwon and Gunhee.

Gunhee. Poor Jooheon. Minhyuk dares to glance at him out of the corner of his eye, crumbling in slow motion. He’s softer than he would like to admit, too much heart, too much blind faith in the universe giving him what he always wanted.

Minhyuk feels like he’s been breaking down since the first elimination. It’s so much easier to keep your smile believable when you lose what you love by the week rather than in an instance. The irony, of course, is that Yoosu never had much faith in his future here, and misfortune is to Kwanji like water off a duck’s back. Seokwon’s an attractive asset for another agency, Minkyun’s about the most optimistic person Minhyuk’s ever met, and while Gunhee will be angry and jilted by his eleventh hour elimination, he’s made of tougher stuff than Jooheon.

He stops himself before he gets to Yoonho. Not here, not tonight. Despite his bubbling misery and shattered illusions of a perfect future, this is supposed to be a happy occasion. He did it, he won out against what looked to be near impossible odds. The world is his oyster, and these six men standing in tears on stage with him are his brothers.

“Congratulations,” Hyunwoo says, shuffling over to offer a hand for Minhyuk to shake. His eyes are shining but his smile looks very real, and when he takes the hand Minhyuk finds it steady and firm.

Of course, Hyunwoo’s going to be the leader, no one ever needed to tell them any different.

Hoseok lets go of Minhyuk’s waist and throws himself at Hyunwoo with a vigour that would be comical if Minhyuk didn’t know what he was like. So this is how victory comes to them, in a mess of tears and laughter.

He can’t help but wonder if anyone other than he and Jooheon care that they had to lose a lot to get to this point.

The suitcase closes with a resounding click as the latch falls into place. Yoonho’s fingers tighten over the handle, pulling it upright before balancing his rucksack on top. He looks like a visitor, like he could have just arrived. His bunk is laid bare, the blankets folded neatly down one end and all the little personal touches that he had added to it, that had made it his, have been removed.

Minhyuk feels something worryingly familiar and unfamiliarly terrifying rising in his chest. He promised himself he wouldn’t cry, but all of a sudden all he can think about is the mornings he’ll never again spend waking up on that little cot with Yoonho’s spine pressed into his. Perfect mirror images of each other, grumbling about personal space and joints digging into places joints aren’t supposed to dig.

It’s like watching his life flash before his eyes, only it’s a selected montage of the parts that contain a wide eyed boy who just about grew into a man under his watchful eye. Minhyuk takes a shuddering breath and feels the first renegade tears spring to his eyes.

Yoonho’s face twists into something in between disappointment and disgust, “don’t…please…” The straight edges of his nose cast sinister shadows across his cheeks, and through his crushed countenance, his eyes are filled with choked fire.

There will be no tears from No Yoonho today. Minhyuk just has to hold out till he leaves, and then he can cry as much as he likes.

“I’ll keep in touch, like on kakao and stuff. I promise I won’t forget about you. Even if-“ Minhyuk doesn’t want to entertain the thought of debuting right now. Even if the thought was at all appealing now he knows that Yoonho won’t be with him, he doesn’t want to be that guy.

Yoonho shrugs his shoulders and stares glumly at the floor, “yeah, whatever.”

That’s what does it. Minhyuk has to turn away to hide the first gasp breaking through his lips, but the errant tears squeezing from his eyes are less easily disguised. Yoonho sounds so defeated, but more upsettingly, like he doesn’t care.

As the floodgates open for real, Minhyuk pulls Yoonho into a hug. He babbles incoherently about the bonds of traineeship and how they absolutely definitely are going to see each other again. He keeps on and on and on, long after he knows he’s made his point understood, waiting for the moment Yoonho will tell him that whatever the two of them share is as important to him as it is to Minhyuk.

But the magic moment never comes. Yoonho leaves the dorm with an awkward half smile and far too many wasted years to his name. Minhyuk wishes he had just a little more courage.

“Did you tell him?” Jooheon asks, later that night, when everyone else is loudly occupying the living room trying to pretend they’re not a man down.

Minhyuk shakes his head, “I couldn’t.”

What a coward. What a stinking great coward. He’ll pay for this one, in regret if not in karma. Jooheon offers him a reassuring pat on the back, tells him it might still work out. Minhyuk feels like he’s choking on the words he never managed to spit out.

"Well that's it then!" Yoonho flops down onto the sofa and throws an arm over his face to cover his eyes.

Gunhee's eyes roll, "oh don't be so over-dramatic."

"Yeah, they threw in an extra trainee because they have so much confidence in us. You mark my words Gunhee, he'll get in and the two of us will be out on our asses."

"Hey!" Hyunwoo emerges from the kitchen with a scowl on his face, "none of that bullshit in the dorms. He's just a kid, and he can probably hear you."

Minhyuk's eyes glance nervously to the bathroom door where the new boy, Changkyun, is basking in the privilege of first shower. The walls in this building are thin, he probably can hear them.

Unfortunately for Im Changkyun, very few of his new team mates seem to care, "Hell, I'd be pissed if I were you guys. I mean, I am pissed, but a new rapper at this stage?" Kihyun shakes his head, "you're toast."

"You don't know shit," Jooheon snaps.

Kihyun's hands come up in mock surrender, "I'm just saying, why would they introduce someone so late if they didn't intend to use them?"

"To make more interesting TV?" Seokwon offers. Hoseok latches on to the idea with enthusiasm,

"Yeah! They've probably thrown him in so when they watch the show, everyone will hate him and then when they eliminate him, everyone will be super happy about it!"

They keep going and going, long after Changkyun has slipped out of the shower and shuffled off to bed with his head down. They go through cycles, first heated argument then jovial speculation, but it never goes anywhere and they never get any closer to the point.

Yoonho lies back and resists every attempt to have him believe this could be a positive development. Minhyuk wants to wrap him up in his arms and tell him everything will be alright, but he's fairly sure his fears are well grounded.

There’s trepidation in Yoonho’s smile when the camera’s stop rolling on the seventh episode. He’s relieved, that’s for sure, shoulders less tense than that morning, but not unruffled.

“I came this close to losing it all,” he tells Minhyuk, holding up a thumb and forefinger, hairs breadth apart to make his point, “slight shift of fate and I’d be packing my bags right about now.”

“But you’re not,” Minhyuk beams, throwing a friendly arm around Yoonho’s shoulder and relishing in the contact.

Yoonho scoffs and shrugs him off, “yeah, so I get to feel guilty about Minkyun instead. Christ, this is some bullshit.”

Minhyuk’s smile drops a couple of notches, but it doesn’t die completely. He feels the friendships forged in months, sometimes years of afternoons spent sweaty and exhausted in practice rooms digging into his conscience even as they crumble around him, but he refuses to crumble with them. If he has to turn a blind eye to their misery then so be it.

“Stars implode you know, they have to so they can be reborn,” he tells Yoonho in the hope that false platitudes will cheer him up.

No such luck, “you know what else stars do, Minhyuk? They fall. And once they land it turns out they’re nothing more than rock.”

Minhyuk tries not to take it personally when Yoonho storms off, only to show up for filming the next day with a smile on his face like nothing happened. He tries so hard, but it’s in vain. He hadn’t realised he was craving the boy’s affection so badly, he hadn’t realised how hard it would be to see Yoonho going about his business and know that his calm was just an act.

A frown flashes across Seokwon’s face, “what?”

“That’s ridiculous,” Kihyun joins in. And then all of a sudden the room is a storm of muttered disbelief.

Minhyuk bites his tongue, to keep himself from joining in as much as to stop himself screaming at them for being rude, inconsiderate jerks. He’s shocked to find that he more or less sympathises with everything they’re saying.

“C’mon guys, it’s not his fault,” Gunhee concedes somewhat sulkily, to Hyunwoo’s obvious agreement.

“Yeah,” Hyunwoo nods enthusiastically, “when they make it back here we’ve gotta be supportive of Yoonho, he did good.”

Hyungwon’s lips curl into something of a sneer, but he shuts his mouth. And sure enough, when Kwangji and Yoonho traipse back through to the greenroom, no one has anything nasty to say.

“You guys were great,” Hoseok tells them, then draws them into a three way bone-crushing hug, because he was never very good with words. Kwangji pulls away with easy bluster, something like disappointment resting in his eyes but in good spirits nonetheless. He’ll be fine. He always is.

Yoonho on the other hand, retreats to himself as much as the cramped dimensions of the room will allow. His mouth is curved into a distinctive downturn. When Hyunwoo tries to offer him some kind of comfort he pulls his hood up and makes it clear that he doesn’t want to be spoken to.

Jooheon and Gunhee get called off to rerecord parts of their performance. Yoonho sits, unmoving in the corner. Minhyuk feels something entirely too personal to be pure sympathy coursing through his veins and against the advice of his friend’s posture, moves in closer.

“You really were good,” he says, with as much feeling as he can muster.

Yoonho sighs and shakes his head, “Kwangji did better.”

“It’s not just about who does better.”

“Well maybe it should be.” Yoonho snaps. He doesn’t move away when Minhyuk reaches out to squeeze his hand.

It’s the night before filming starts, and Minhyuk can’t sleep. Which would be significantly less infuriating if anyone else were having the same problem. Under normal circumstances, he’d crawl into bed with Yoonho and be a pain in the ass till the younger boy either agreed to entertain him or pinned him down and made him lie still enough to sleep. These are not normal circumstances, however. Tomorrow all their heads are on the chopping block, and who is Lee Minhyuk to deprive a man of his last night of free sleep?

And so he must entertain himself. As quietly as he can manage, taking care not to tread on the creaky floorboard and wake up half the dorm with him, Minhyuk slips out of the bedroom and into the kitchen. He sets the kettle boiling while he fishes out his favourite mug and the least obnoxious flavour of tea he can find in the cupboard (Hoseok loves herbals, neither Kihyun or Gunhee are stopping him). The flat is quiet, which is both a welcome relief and jarring compared to the constant mess of noise that litters the place during the day. There in the dark, with no one to watch him, he drinks it in and lets it settle.

“Hey,” Minhyuk looks up in a rush, surprised to see Jooheon standing in the doorway. He must have come in very quietly

He nods to the kettle coming up to boil, “you want some tea?”

Jooheon shakes his head, pulling out a chair and sitting himself at the table. He watches Minhyuk pour water over the teabag with a glassy stare, obviously tired regardless of what’s keeping him up. “Couldn’t sleep?” he asks, when Minhyuk’s ditches the teabag and joins him at the table.

“Not a wink.” Minhyuk grins, and now that someone’s here to share his stress it doesn’t feel like so much of a problem.

They have little so say to each other, small talk and muffled yawns, but important questions slip through the cracks. “Are you scared?” Jooheon asks first, “Are you excited?”

Minhyuk has to think about that for a moment, “Both, I think. More excited than scared. It’ll be a relief to get this thing under way.”

“Yeah! That’s the right attitude,” Jooheon agrees, perhaps a shade too loudly. He clasps his hands over his mouth to stifle himself then retreats to the shelter of a whisper, “I’m more scared for everyone else.”

He’s right to be, Minhyuk thinks. Jooheon is a force of nature and it’s no secret that at the very least, Mad Clown is fond of him. There’s an unspoken agreement between the twelve of them that Joohen will be fine, along with Hyunwoo, while the rest of them will have to battle it out for public and private approval.

“I just…is there anyone who…you know?” Minhyuk tries desperately to reach the point and curses himself for failing.

Jooheon stares back, blankly, “what?”

“Is there anyone who you want to make it more…more than anyone else?”

“Gunhee,” Jooheon answers without flinching. Minhyuk expected it of him, but not so soon.

He nods and takes a long slurp of tea, “you guys sure are close.”

Jooheon shrugs, “I love him.” Clear and honest and to the point. Minhyuk wishes it were always that easy.

What is easy, is Jooheon’s mouth. He has no room for secrets, and much as he doesn’t advertise every facet of his personality he never hides either, content to be quizzed as much as anyone has questions to ask.

So Minhyuk asks, “have you told him?”

“Of course,” Jooheon says somberly, “you have to tell people when you have the chance.”

A beat. A breather. A moment of silence for Minhyuk’s pride.

“Have you told Yoonho?”

He has to duck his head when he tells Jooheon he hasn’t. Without the object of his desires staring him down it seems like such a silly thing to be scared of. Those neat lips, wide eyes, slightly overlarge nose – there’s nothing scary about Yoonho, and he’s hardly judgmental, but every time he’s been on the brink of letting slip how he really feels the terror of rejection has loomed large enough to scare Minhyuk off.

“I don’t want him to hate me.”

Jooheon laughs lightly, “he won’t hate you. Not yet anyway. But you should tell him before this competition gets too far underway. You wouldn’t wanna miss your chance.”

That he wouldn’t, but the only thing Minhyuk really takes away from Jooheon that night is that either he or Yoonho might not make it while the other stays on and finally gets to live the dream. He’d never considered the possibility before, not daring to entertain the possibility that the forces of fate might drag them apart.

And in that moment, Minhyuk forms his resolve, “You’re right. I’m gonna tell him, tomorrow, or at the weekend. Before the first elimination at least.”

“Hell yeah!” Jooheon beams, offering up a fist for Minhyuk to bump in celebration, “good luck, dude. Not that you need it.”

They tiptoe back to bed once Minhyuk has finished his tea, and despite another half hour spent turning fitfully in his sheets, he eventually does sleep. Images of he and Yoonho, smiling, holding hands, laughing – the same as ever only better and more complete, swell behind his eyes until he doesn’t know where the fantasy ends and his dreams begin. He can’t believe he’s going to say something, he can’t believe he’s going to say the words and know for sure if his feelings are returned.

Some dreams are too good to be true.