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“Alright everyone, from the top!” the choreographer called as he watched them redo the formation once more.

Sicheng made sure to control his breathing properly as he danced; even if he was in the back the choreographer was sure to call him out if he was seen slipping up.

The loud music of Fire Truck blasted off the walls, rattling around in Sicheng’s brain. He could barely pick out the fast rap, his mind not being able to process the words fast enough to translate.

Soon enough, thankfully, the practice had ended. The choreographer had congratulated on a job well done and told them he’d see them tomorrow as they bowed to him.

Fighting the urge to flop listlessly on the floor, Sicheng headed over to the corner of the room where his practice bag was resting. He pulled out his water bottle, slightly bemoaning at its room temperature state, before promptly chugging half the bottle in one go.

“Hey, Sicheng, want to come and hang out with some of my friends Friday night?” Jaehyun asked. Sicheng hadn’t even noticed him walk over.

He frowned. Even though it wasn’t strictly forbidden, he didn’t really like going out. It wasn’t like he really had any friends anyway to hang out. “I guess? Where?”

Jaehyun grinned widely. “Just to a small dinner, with my 97 line friends. It’s usually just one or two of us but this time there’s going to be a few more people and I figured you might want to come.”

“Well…” If he was being honest, Sicheng would rather spend his Friday night safely in the dorm, hiding under the blankets on his bunk bed and watching Chinese dramas that made him think of home. But if he rejected Jaehyun now, there might not be another opportunity to meet other same-age friends. “Sure, hyung, I’ll go with you guys.”

Jaehyun beamed. “Great, I’ll let them know. It’s super casual, don’t worry about it.” He looked at Sicheng for a moment, his gaze softening. “And hey, if you want to leave early just let me know. The guys won’t mind.”

Sicheng gave Jaehyun a small smile before turning back towards his things.

Guess his Chinese dramas would have to wait until Saturday.

–-

Friday night comes, and somehow Sicheng is just as nervous as when Jaehyun asked him to go. It wasn’t any sort of special event, yet he still spent half an hour in front of the mirror trying to make sure he looked fine.

Jaehyun was right in saying that the dinner was casual, much more casual than what Sicheng had expected for a get-together. It was a small hole-in-the-wall diner that was about a fifteen-minute walk from their dorm, smelling like kimchi even from meters away.

“Do you want me to introduce you to everybody before we sit down?” Jaehyun asked before he opened the door to the building. He stared at Sicheng, something akin to concern in his eyes.

“Um, sure. That’d be nice hyung,” Sicheng mumbled, hoping he didn’t sound too pathetic. Jaehyun didn’t say anything, instead just pushing open the door and walking to a fairly crowded table in the back of the room.

“Hey, guys!” Jaehyun greeted before they even reached the table, waving enthusiastically to everyone. Any semblance of the quiet, concerned Jaehyun from before was gone, the outgoing persona all that was left.

“Woo, Jaehyun you made it!” someone said. “Who’s this?” they added, indicating to Sicheng, who almost instinctively moved to be slightly behind Jaehyun’s broader frame.

“Guys, this is Dong Sicheng, he’s also a ‘97 liner. He’s a bit shy and he’s a foreigner, so I decided to bring him here to get to know some other people.” Jaehyun said. He pointed to the other guys one by one as he introduced them to Sicheng. “This is Jeon Jeongguk of BTS, Kim Yugyeom and BamBam of GOT7, Lee Dongmin of Astro, and Kim Mingyu and Xu Minghao from Seventeen.”

Sicheng looked up slightly at the last name. Minghao? Was there another Chinese member who was also a ‘97 liner?

The tallest of the group, Mingyu if Sicheng remembered correctly, waved a hand towards Sicheng. “You can sit over here next to Minghao, if you’d like,” he said, waving a hand encouragingly.

Jaehyun smiled at him and motioned him to go ahead, so Sicheng hesitantly bowed to everyone in the group once more before heading around the table to sit next to who he supposed was Minghao.

“Hello,” he said quietly to the other, who looked up from the table to give a somewhat forced smile.

“Oh hi, I’m Xu Minghao. It’s Dong Sicheng right?” he asked curiously.

“That’s right. If you don’t mind me asking, are you Chinese?” he asked, hoping that it was true. It would be nice to talk to someone else from the industry who was a foreign idol besides Ten.

“I am. I’m from Liaoning. How about you?”

“Zhejiang. What’s your stage name?” Sicheng asked, switching to Mandarin, the words coming easily to him despite him not having spoken the language for months.

This time, Minghao’s smile seemed much more relaxed as he also slipped into Mandarin. “My stage name is The8. How about yours?”

“Ah, I go by Winwin. So...what’s your group like?”

The two of them were able to keep up a steady conversation for almost twenty minutes until the food came, and then continuing afterward. This was probably the longest time Sicheng had spent talking to someone since coming to Korea. Minghao shared many of the same issues as he did with being a foreign member, mainly the language barrier. However, despite the large group size, there was a lot of effort put in to make Minghao included in the group.

“It must be nice,” Sicheng lamented after listening to Minghao talk about how his group makes sure his voice is heard during their variety shows.

“What’s nice?” Minghao asked.

“You know, to have a group that makes sure you have a voice even though you’re a foreigner. Plus, you’re a center for your group as well,” Sicheng said, hoping he didn’t sound petty. It’s not that he didn’t appreciate his position in NCT 127, he did. Truly. But sometimes he wondered if it was still worth dropping his courses and dance dreams to become an idol in a group where he wasn’t even considered significant.

“Hey,” Minghao said softly, placing a gentle hand on Sicheng’s shoulder, “I know. Maybe because it’s debut, they want to use the more recognizable faces. But I’m sure once you guys are known, you’ll get the dance position you deserve.” He looked at Sicheng with such certainty in his eyes, it seemed almost impossible to doubt him.

So Sicheng didn’t.

“Thanks,” he mumbled quietly, so faint that Minghao could barely even hear him.

“Hey, Sicheng, I’m about to head out,” Jaehyun called from the other side of the table. “Just going to use the bathroom then we can go,” he added as he headed towards the back of the restaurant.

“Well, this was nice,” Minghao said. “Hey-” he started, before taking a deep breath and starting again. “Do you want to exchange numbers, you know, so we can keep in touch?”

Sicheng blinked. Truth be told, he had hoped the other would ask but he hadn’t been sure how to approach the topic himself. Without hesitation, he unlocked his phone and handed it to Minghao to put his information in.

Minghao smiled widely at him, before quickly typing on the screen. When he handed the phone back to Sicheng, he saw that Minghao entered his name with three exclamation marks.

“Hope your new album goes well!” Minghao said as Sicheng stood up to leave.

He bowed to the rest of the ‘97 liners before following Jaehyun to exit the restaurant. As they began the short walk back to the dorms, Jaehyun asked, “So, did you end up having fun? I know I dragged you away from your ‘alone’ time,” he teased.

Sicheng gave him a small smile. “It was nice hyung, Minghao was nice to talk to.”

Jaehyun let out a quiet laugh. “I had no idea he was going to be there, Mingyu probably brought him for the same reason I brought you, he’s very quiet.”

Sicheng disagreed; Minghao seemed nothing but energetic and fun to be around. His bright personality shined through all his actions. But, maybe like Sicheng, he didn’t talk as much with his other members because of the language barrier.

“Well, it’ll be nice for you to have some other friends besides me, even though I am amazing,” Jaehyun said, breaking his train of thought.

“Ha, yeah, it’ll be fantastic,” Sicheng said, though he wasn’t entirely sure if he was teasing.

–-

“Hey Sichengie, want to hang out after dance practice?” Yuta asked as Sicheng sipped quietly from his water bottle.

With Limitless, once again Sicheng didn’t have lines, but instead a lackluster excuse for a center position in the dance. At their third week of practice for the upcoming album, the story was already beginning to get a little old.

However, throughout Fire Truck promotions, he and Yuta had naturally drifted together by virtue they were both foreigners who couldn’t understand what was going on half the time. Yuta was a bit… clingy for Sicheng, but he appreciated the company nonetheless.

It was nice to have someone besides Minghao who he could talk to about things. And Yuta commiserates with him about their lack of lines, though they all knew Yuta got a lot of focus for his visuals.

Yuta, unlike Sicheng, was great at making friends. Everyone in the group liked hanging out with Yuta, and Sicheng was sure he knew a lot of idols outside their own group. Yuta was sociable and it was sometimes hard to understand why someone like Yuta would want to hang out with someone like Sicheng.

“Um, I don’t know hyung, I was kind of hoping to spend some time alone tonight. Maybe tomorrow?” he offered, not wanting Yuta to never offer again. Yuta’s idea of hanging out was always exciting, but sometimes Sicheng got tired just thinking about it.

Yuta sighed, but nodded agreeably. “Alright, but I’m holding you to that,” he said, pointing a finger threateningly at Sicheng. “And hey,” he added softer, “if you decide you want to hang out anyway, my door’s always open.”

Sicheng nodded appreciatively. “Thanks hyung,” he said, as he joined everyone else in reforming in the center of the room.

Dance practice continued without a hitch; their choreographer didn’t attend these dance practices since they already knew the dance, so it was mainly Taeyong who was directing them in their practice. And Taeyong, no matter how seriously he took his job, was much nicer than their choreographer when it came to breaks.

After practice, they all separated to go to whatever they had next. For some, namely Taeyong and Mark, it meant going to the studio to focus on creating the remaining b-sides for the album. For Sicheng, it meant going back to the dorm since his schedule was almost embarrassingly empty.

Some days, he used his extra time to practice his dancing, working on some of the techniques outside of the ones used in their choreography. However, there weren’t many extra practice rooms he could use, especially considering that NCT were the most junior members of the company. On days when no one stayed behind to practice dance, those were the days Sicheng would take advantage of the space.

However, apparently Haechan needed some help with a part of the dance and Mark had offered to give him some advice, so Sicheng headed out without saying a word.

The dorm was quiet when he entered, most of the doors closed. He could hear Doyoung quietly working in the kitchen; stress baking had been the new thing for him. Quietly greeting him, Sicheng headed towards his shared room, dumping his practice stuff at the end of his bunk.

After a quick shower, he slid into the bed with his phone. Opening the chat app, he sent a message to Minghao.

Sicheng 19:42
Are you busy?

Minghao 19:42
Nope, today’s an off day for us. What’s up?

Sicheng 19:45
Want to call?

Almost immediately, his phone began ringing. Sicheng quickly plugged in his earbuds before accepting the call.

“Hello?” Minghao’s voice came through, the Mandarin grounding Sicheng slightly.

“Hey,” Sicheng replied softly.

“What’s up, you don’t usually want to call? Not that I mind!” Minghao quickly reassured.

“I guess, I don’t know, I've been feeling just a bit...tired lately,” Sicheng said, struggling to find the words to describe his feelings. It wasn’t a physical exhaustion, moreso as if something inside of him was weighing down on him and getting heavier as the days went by.

“Tired? Have you been eating enough, you know how important eating is.”

“I eat enough. It’s more like… tired with life? Maybe regret is the word I am looking for,” he said hesitantly, trying to convey his thoughts to Minghao. Minghao would know what to do, he always seemed to know.

Minghao was quiet for a moment, though Sicheng could hear his quiet breaths so he knew that he hadn’t left. After a moment, Minghao began to speak. “Sicheng, I can’t say I know what you’re going through. Because what you’re going through, only you know. But I’ve said before to have hope, but even though I say that, I know how hard it is to get back hope once it’s lost.”

There was a pause, before Minghao continued. “I guess what I am saying is that it’s okay to fall, just don’t fall apart. Okay? Promise me Sicheng,” Minghao said, and though his tone sounded vaguely threatening, the concern there was also obvious.

“Promise,” Sicheng said, heart clenching. If Minghao wanted him to remain strong, then he could do it.

“Good,” Minghao said happily. “Do you want to talk more about it or do you want to gossip while your members can’t understand?” Without blatantly saying it, he was giving Sicheng an out.

Sicheng took it. “So have I told you what happened last night when Mark tried to cook?”

Minghao laughed loudly. “Oh my god, you’re still alive? I need to hear this.”

The next hour was filled with Sicheng recounting to Minghao all the tales of Neo Crackhead Technology, making sure to keep all the topics light. The two of them would trade off stories, with Minghao telling Sicheng that Woozi still terrified him and that Hoshi was upset at Chan for taking his new sneakers.

It wasn’t until Doyoung stuck his head in the room did Sicheng realize how much time had passed.

“Hey, we’re all having dinner if you want to join,” Doyoung said from the doorway.

“Be there in a minute, hyung,” Sicheng said, and Doyoung nodded before slipping out of the room again.

“So you have to go?” Minghao asked.

“Yeah, sorry for cutting this short. I’ll try to message you soon, though starting tomorrow we’re going to start prepping for our comeback stage,” Sicheng explained.

“That’s fine, whenever is okay for you. My schedule is a lot more flexible, especially since we don’t have full group practices everyday. And Sicheng… you know you can tell me anything right?”

“Right,” Sicheng echoed.

Heading out to eat dinner with the rest of the group, Sicheng slid into the chair next to Yuta and Taeyong handed him a bowl of rice and chopsticks.

“So guys,” Taeyong starts once they’ve all gotten some food, “I have some news from the managers.” That wasn’t too unexpected, Taeyong’s meetings with their staff usually ended with some changes to their performance, but they were usually simple things like outfit changes.

“Just a quick thing about the outfits, again, they said they’re changing the shoes we’re wearing so that we can dance better in them,” Taeyong said happily, to everyone’s resounding agreement. No one had enjoyed the ones they had previously been made to wear, the soles slippery and the fit uncomfortable, making the already difficult choreography feel nearly impossible.

Then Taeyong shifted uncomfortably in his seat, as though not wanting to relay what else the staff had told him. After heaving a sigh, he continued slowly, “Sichengie, there’s also something about your lines in the song.”

Sicheng paused, the chopsticks in his hand wavering in mid-air as he stared at Taeyong in disbelief. He barely had any lines in the song to begin with, and in the live performance all he had been given was a small adlib. Even if he hoped that the staff had said he had gotten another line, he knew from Taeyong’s tone of voice that was far from the truth.

“They, they want to give your line to Yuta. I’m sorry,” Taeyong said defeatedly, staring down at the table in order to avoid meeting Sicheng’s eyes.

Sicheng couldn’t say that he was surprised at the news. It wasn’t really a secret anymore that the producers didn’t give him much attention in comparison to the rest of the group, and out of all the 127 members, Yuta was one of the few with high popularity due to his looks. He could practically see the numerous videos fans would make, just highlighting that one part from Yuta. Had Sicheng done the same line, the number of videos would’ve been half, maybe even less.

Upon realizing that everyone was waiting for him to say something, Sicheng just replied with an okay before chewing on some rice. He could feel everyone’s incredulous stares on him, probably wondering why Sicheng didn’t fight more against his part being given away.

It wasn’t as if anything could be done; Sicheng knew he wasn’t as good at singing as Yuta was. Yuta had been consistently getting more praise for his vocals and dancing whereas Sicheng was getting… nothing. He hadn’t actually expected his line to be given away, but he wasn’t exactly surprised at the news.

He’d just have to work harder, that’s all. Make them see that he deserved his place there.

If there still was a place for him.

The conversation started up again around him, though everyone’s voices were more uneasy and hesitant than before, with everyone reeling from Sicheng’s lack of reaction. Without saying anything, Sicheng got up from the table, walking over to the sink to rinse his dishes.

He felt an arm settle around his shoulders, and he tensed slightly before looking up to see who it was.

“I’m sorry about this, you don’t deserve to have your part taken away,” Yuta mumbled, his voice low so the others couldn’t hear him.
“It’s fine,” Sicheng replied. “You deserve the part, your singing has really improved this comeback.”

He turned away, forcing Yuta to remove his arm from his shoulders. As an afterthought, Sicheng added, “I’m happy for you.”

It was just Sicheng who was messing up.

–-

Late night practicing wasn’t an uncommon occurrence for the group, with many of them being perfectionists and others just needing more time to refine the difficult moves. Normally, Sicheng didn’t tend to stay late as much as some of the others; he picked up choreography pretty easily and was, arguably, one of the best dancers in 127. He wouldn’t call himself the best dancer if NCT, especially considering people like Ten were also in the group, but just within 127? He was pretty confident in his skills.

Except lately, out of all the members, it was Sicheng who was spending the most time in the practice room. There wasn’t really much he could improve on in terms of singing, and it wasn’t as if he had any opportunity to sing to begin with, so practicing dance was the only way he could prove that he had a place in this group still.

As predicted, Yuta’s adlib in the song had quickly been chosen by fans as their favorite part of the live stages, and Sicheng would constantly see him sitting on the couch, face beaming as he scrolled through Twitter.

All the more reason for Sicheng to improve on his dancing, if only so that maybe one day, he would be able to see fans react just as positively to his parts. Parts that he’s never had, and would have to work much harder to get.

Minghao had called him after seeing the first live performance, asking about the lines he didn’t sing. Sicheng had actually called Minghao when he had first been given the part, excited to finally have some lines in their title tracks. Incredibly happy for Sicheng, Minghao had promised to watch the performance live, as long as he didn’t have any other schedules.

So Sicheng had expected the call, but he hadn’t known what to say to him. Woozi was incredibly fair with line distribution in their songs, making sure that one person didn’t dominate the song too much. No matter how much Minghao wanted to empathize with Sicheng and tell him that he understood what he was going through, he couldn’t. Minghao tried to be optimistic about it, saying that it might’ve just been because his Korean wasn’t as good as the others yet, since that was why he and Junhui hadn’t been given many lines. Sicheng knew that wasn’t the case, knew it was just because he wasn’t good enough to be in the group, but he had just quietly agreed with Minghao, saying he’d practice his Korean for the next comeback.

Tonight, Sicheng wasn’t sure how many hours he had been alone in the practice room. It was already the second week of Limitless promotions, and everyone had been looking forward to going home tonight and relaxing for a little bit, since tomorrow’s schedule was relatively empty.

Everyone but Sicheng that is. When he hadn’t begun packing up his stuff with everyone else, Yuta had given him a concerned look. “We’ve had extra long practice this whole week, don’t you want to just go home?”

Of course Sicheng wanted to go home, he could feel the exhaustion pulling down his entire body and the ache in his legs that never seemed to go away these days. But more than that, he needed to prove to everyone that he had a place here, as a dancer, and if that meant working late into the night more often than sleeping, then that’s what he had to do.

“It’s fine hyung,” he said quietly. “Just a couple of extra hours, then I’ll be home.”

Yuta didn’t look convinced, and told Sicheng just as much. “And it was a couple of hours yesterday, and a couple of hours the day before, and a couple of hours the day before that. You don’t need to practice anymore, you know you’re a great dancer. And it’s already late, you should be sleeping instead of practicing.” His voice had taken on a lecturing tone, his words sounding awfully familiar to Taeyong’s in the moment.

It was pretty late, the sun having set hours ago. Winter meant that it was pitch black by late afternoon, and Sicheng was sure if there was a window nearby, he’d have been able to spot the moon. It wasn’t so late though. “I’ll be home before midnight,” Sicheng said, before turning away from his hyung and grabbing his own water bottle.

He heard Yuta sigh behind him, but then he heard Taeyong’s voice telling everyone to hurry up, and was relieved of having to hear more scolding. It was just a few more hours, it wouldn’t be that bad. There had been that turn he had been needing to perfect, and someone had pointed out his stumble in today’s practice, so he could work on that.

Turning up the music again, Sicheng worked endlessly, the dance moves that were already muscle memory coming out without thinking. Maybe Yuta was right, and there wasn’t anything he needed to improve, but if nothing else, at least this dance practice would show to their staff–-the producers, the managers, the choreographers, the vocal coaches–-that he was actually serious.

A long while later, Sicheng stopped the music and moved to slouch down against the wall. He sipped from his water bottle, the now lukewarm water not doing much. Digging through his duffle bag, he pulled out the phone to check the time. He knew that if he said midnight, Yuta would be sitting on the living room couch until he got home, and he would always just say that he was watching anime, except the TV was always off.

God, Sicheng was so tired. The crash from the adrenaline of dancing always left him exhausted, and he could feel the ache in practically every part of his body. Sometimes, Sicheng wondered if this was even worth it? Was it worth leaving everything he had known for his entire life, all of his family and friends, to come to a foreign country where he couldn’t even understand half of what people said still? Was it worth giving up all the potential dance opportunities he had been offered to take this opportunity–-could it even be called an opportunity if he felt he was in a worst place than before.

Before, he had been a graduate of one of the top dance schools in China, had been accepted into a top performing arts school, and then what? He left it all just to be in this group as a pretense of a member. And worst was, he wasn’t even in the worst situation, so what right did he have to complain? He could be like Kun, stuck without any sight of debut in his future, and Sicheng never heard him complaining about it, so why should he?

He was shaken out of his thoughts by his phone vibrating on his lap. Answering it on instinct, he brought up to his ear. “Hello?”

“Hey Sicheng, what are you doing up so late?” Minghao’s quiet voice came through the phone speaker.

“I- you’re the one who called me,” he deflected instead of answering.

Minghao laughed. “That’s true, but I always call late and you never answer because you’re sleeping. This is the first time you’ve answered. So I’ll ask again, what are you doing up so late? It’s almost midnight.”

“Well, you got me there. I’m just in the practice room right now,” Sicheng mumbled.

Sicheng could hear rustling on the other side of the phone, as though Minghao was sitting up or moving somewhere. “Practice room? Why are you there so late? Didn’t your group practice end hours earlier?”

Well, there was no use in hiding it now, Sicheng supposed. “Yeah, group practice already ended, but I just stayed a couple of extra hours, it’s no big deal.”

There was a pause. Sicheng would’ve thought the other had hung up on him if it weren’t for the fact he could hear the other’s breathing still. “Sicheng. Why are you in the practice room right now?”

“I told you, just a couple of extra hours of practice. I need to work on some things is all,” Sicheng said nonchalantly.

“What ‘things’?” Minghao asked incredulously. “You’re literally one of the best dancers in your group, I don’t understand.”

“Maybe if I was a good dancer I’d actually belong,” Sicheng whispered, so quiet he could barely hear himself.

“Sicheng, I can literally hear how hard you’re breathing from over the phone. You’re definitely working too hard right now, why don’t you stop and go home? You don’t need to practice this much,” Minghao said after Sicheng didn’t respond to his earlier question.

Trying to calm down his own breathing, Sicheng coughed a few times as his breath hitched. When had he started crying? He put the phone down for a second, trying to find some tissues or something from his duffle bag. God, he was so pathetic, crying over something as stupid as not having a fucking part.

He could vaguely hear Minghao’s voice from the phone’s speakers, but was more focused on calming himself down. When he realized how futile it was, he picked up the phone, tears still streaming down his face.

Not even listening to what Minghao was saying, Sicheng just said, “I don’t know. I don’t know, okay! I don't even know why I am practicing this late, I don’t even know why I am this group to begin with. I don’t have a place here, I am just a fucking name with nothing else behind it. They might call me Winwin but I just feel like a loser right now.”

It felt so good to just let it all out, but now the tears were still coming and Sicheng just realized that he had just told Minghao everything. It hadn’t even occurred to him who he was talking to, the Mandarin just spilling out naturally and making it too easy to just spill all of his internal fears.

Just as he was about to hang up the phone and block Minghao’s number before going to hide under a rock, Minghao began speaking, his words calm and soothing. “Shhh, it’s going to be okay Sicheng, but I just need you to breathe with me, alright? I need you to calm down.”

Sicheng tried his best to comply, listening to Minghao slowly count to help slow down his own breathing. It felt like it had been hours when he finally was able to breathe at a semi-regular pace, even if his breaths were still a little shaky.

“Okay, that’s good. You’re doing great Sicheng. Now, I’m going to say something, and you’re just going to listen, alright?” Without even waiting for a reply, Minghao kept going on. “I can’t ever say that I know what you’re going through, but I can say that it’s not fair. But just because your talent isn’t probably being recognized does not mean that you don’t have a place in your group. And before you say I am just saying this because I am your friend, everyone in my group has seen your dancing and they all agree that it’s amazing. And you wouldn’t want to disagree with Woozi-hyung, would you?”

Sicheng laughed faintly at that, but let Minghao continue. The singer’s voice was warm, and it was like a blanket resting around his shoulders. It helped ground him, and he could feel his breathing getting more stable the more the other talked.

“Sometimes, I also regret joining Seventeen sometimes. Not because I dislike being here or anything,” he’s quick to reassure,” but because I wonder what opportunities I am missing by not being in China. I’m sure it would’ve been easier to become a singer there, especially since I speak the language and everything. But even with that thought, I still would never give up being in Seventeen for anything. I think you have to find your dream and follow that dream, and don’t listen to what other people are telling you. I promise you, you don’t have to spend your nights in a practice room just to ‘improve’. Even if you didn’t get an opportunity this time around, I’m sure next time, things will be better.”

“I… thank you Minghao,” Sicheng said. “I didn’t know how much I needed to hear that. I’ve just been so scared of what’s going to happen and it’s just been too much, and I don’t want to leave but just… it’s hard to find a place here.”

“Well, I do know a thing or two about choreographers who can’t recognize talent when it’s right in front of them,” Minghao scoffed, “but I swear to you, you do belong in that group. It might not seem like that right now, but if you left, all you would think about is what you left behind.”

“Thank you, for everything,” Sicheng said. “I’m sorry for making you deal with all of this so late.”

“You never have to apologize for needing help,” Minghao said firmly. “That’s what friends are for, right?”

“Right,” Sicheng echoed. “I don’t know if I’d ever be any help, but you can always call me too, if you need something.”

“I’ll definitely keep that in mind. Speaking of it getting late, didn’t you tell me earlier that your hyung always waits for you to come home? He’s probably going to start wondering where you are soon.”

Sicheng looked at the time, and it was already twenty minutes past midnight. “Oh, you’re right, I better get going before he worries about me. Thank you, again.”

“Of course. I’ll call you again soon,” he said.

Taking a few minutes to breathe after the call, Sicheng quickly gathered up all of his stuff and stored the equipment away before locking up the practice room.

The walk back to the dorms was quick, the streets fairly empty and Sicheng’s button hovering over Taeyong’s contact the entire time. Another good motivation to stop late practicing: not having to walk in the dark.

When he reached the door, he entered the code and then quickly slipped in the room, making sure the door didn’t slam behind him. It wouldn’t be helpful to anyone if they woke up to the door slamming.

Before he could even take off his shoes, he heard footsteps come up behind him. “Sichengie? What took you so long?” Yuta’s voice wasn’t upset, just concerned. Sicheng slipped off his shoes to avoid having to say anything, but then straightened at looked at Yuta.

“I got a call from Minghao,” he said, “and we ended up talking about something serious. Sorry hyung, I would’ve texted I was going to be late, but I hadn’t even realized the time until Minghao said something.”

Yuta frowned. “Something serious? Is everything okay?” he asked.

“Well, not right now but hopefully they will be soon,” he said. Without warning, he closed the small gap between them and wrapped his arms around Yuta. Yuta froze for a second–-Sicheng was never the one to initiate hugs with anyone–-but quickly returned the hug.

Sicheng let out a sigh he didn’t realize he was holding in as he embraced Yuta, feeling warm and safe in his arms. Yuta murmured soft, comforting words to him.

“Hey, I promise it'll all be okay."

And for once, Sicheng believed his words.