There are actually many upsides to not having a heart:
1. the trivial, emotional things affect you less
2. you’re far more rational and objective
3. you never (accidentally or consciously or just) fall in love
Myungsoo wakes up in an empty room several months before his eighteenth birthday. It is submerged in silence and he looks to his side to find there are no machines, no drips and nothing to measure his heart rate. Nothing to tell whether he’s still alive or not.
“Someone once wrote hearts will never be practical until they are made unbreakable. Now we just remove them altogether,” a voice calls from the side and Myungsoo turns to see Jungryul-hyung sitting on the visitor’s chair.
He realises he’s still breathing and he can still breathe and Myungsoo flexes his fingers and tries to breathe slowly, but nothing feels any different. He’s still Kim Myungsoo, still a trainee, still himself. He thinks he understands. “Does that mean I’ll debut soon?”
“You have to debut soon, now that you’ve gotten the operation. Congratulations,” he says, standing up and giving Myungsoo a brief smile before disappearing out the door.
Myungsoo lies there, blinking at the empty doorway. After several moments, he turns away and knows should feel excited and relieved and all the other emotions on the spectrum but he doesn’t have a heart for it to start racing so Myungsoo just cocoons himself deeper into the blanket and tells himself he’s happy and excited and relieved.
It works—well, sort of.
“This is pretty cool; does that mean we’re zombies now? We’re like the living dead,” Dongwoo says, raising his arms and outstretching them before walking jerkily around the living room.
“Maybe that’ll be our concept. Zombies. Except zombies are brainless, not heartless,” Woohyun says, and Sunggyu shakes his head.
“We already have a concept, so all we need to concentrate on is perfecting our performance.”
Myungsoo coughs back a laugh and Woohyun throws a pillow at him. He ducks it and it bounces off the door, one that opens immediately after that. Jungryul-hyung walks in with two other boys following in behind him and Myungsoo straightens himself off the floor.
“You’ve been finalised as a seven member group. Sungjong and Sungyeol have just returned from the hospital. The van will arrive in fifteen minutes to take you to the practice room.”
Their manager leaves just as quickly as he arrives and Sungjong bows steadily to the group of them before smiling as Sungyeol toes off his shoes slowly. Myungsoo keeps his eyes trained on Sungyeol – he hasn’t seen him in almost a month and he did not expect to see him ever again. Infinite is supposed to be a five-member group. Was.
“Welcome back,” he says, and Sungyeol looks up quickly.
“Thanks,” he says, looking away and it’s too quiet. He even tries to smile, but it’s directed at Myungsoo’s socked feet.
Dongwoo is wrong. They’re not zombies; they’re not the living dead.
They’re still people with hopes and ambitions that have led them to this point. Just because they don’t have a heart doesn’t mean all those things disappear. They can still laugh or cry. Howon still has a favourite colour. Sungjong still hides bars of chocolate under his mattress. Myungsoo still runs his fingers over his plaid shirts and orders more online.
The only difference is that a person smiles more evenly now, because it’s less an emotional response and more of something they’re expected to do in front of a dozen cameras or thousands of screaming fans.
A person doesn’t feel the urge to cry now, even if they’re been practicing the same dance for the fifth hour straight with an injured knee or if they receive a letter from their mother - but that’s why they have acting lessons on top of everything else, with two hours a week dedicated to practicing how to cry.
It’s all very convenient for an idol, not having a heart. Somewhere outside, in the living room or kitchen, Myungsoo can hear Woohyun humming their debut song as he adds in a purple plaid shirt to his cart. He can also hear something else: someone else crying, probably in the bathroom and it’s definitely Sungyeol because he’s heard Hyoan-hyung telling him not to practice so much.
He says he’s always wanted to be an actor. He must be very dedicated, Myungsoo thinks, because it’s all he’s been doing whenever they have several minutes of spare time, as they wait for Dongwoo to come back from dance practice or Sunggyu from his vocal classes or to finally debut.
They are going to debut on a Thursday. Myungsoo thinks he can find it inside him to be excited, just without the pulsing heart or the sweaty palms.
“You hardly talk to me these days,” Sungyeol says abruptly one day, as both of them wait for Sungjong to finish showering.
“What do you mean?”
Sungyeol shrugs. “Things felt…different then.”
“We were different then,” Myungsoo replies. It was unnerving at first, to place a hand over the left part of his chest and feel nothing beneath the skin. It still reminds him of the hospital room, cold and still.
“I don’t know if I can still trust you,” Sungyeol says as he exhales loudly.
Myungsoo opens his mouth to answer but at that moment, they both hear the taps squeak and the sound of the water halts.
Sungjong steps out of the bathroom soon after, dripping water all over the parquet flooring. His fringe is in his eyes, but even then Myungsoo can see the dark smudges pressed under his eyes.
“Of course you can. We’re still best friends.”
Sungyeol smiles at this but it’s not the way they were taught to: eyes widened and lips pulled back to show teeth but never too wide. This one he sees on Sungyeol is different because it’s humourless, one that Myungsoo has not seen for a very long time.
Thursday comes and goes, blending into Friday and then Saturday and soon it’s Thursday once more. The days seem to fold into each other because even though the stages are different and the days change, it’s still the same song and mostly the same faces cheering for them and the same standard smiles all across the industry.
They go on more shows and interviews and Sungyeol even gets scripts sent to him, but Myungsoo knows he still cries because Sungyeol’s always in the bathroom at the strangest hours and Myungsoo would climb out of bed to sit in the darkened living room, listening to him practicing and believing it less and less.
It’s a Thursday when Myungsoo decides to ask Sungyeol about it.
They’re whispering because Myungsoo is sitting cross-legged in the middle of the living room and Sungyeol’s voice is still hoarse. He closes the bathroom door carefully.
“Why do you keep crying?”
“I’ve always wanted to be an ac—”
“I know you’re lying, hyung.”
“I can’t trust you.”
Myungsoo frowns at him. “What do you mean? Of course you can trust me.”
“It’s nothing,” Sungyeol says, turning to walk past Myungsoo but he pushes himself to his feet to grab Sungyeol’s arm. He tugs and Sungyeol spins around only to lose his balance and soon they are a heap of limbs spread across the cold floor.
Sungyeol swears quietly and moves hastily off Myungsoo but it’s too late. Myungsoo stares at his hand and then at Sungyeol before looking back at his hand.
Myungsoo pulls Sungyeol back down wordlessly and to his surprise, Sungyeol stops speaking and for a second, breathing. He presses a palm lightly against Sungyeol’s chest and keeps it there. The sound of Sungyeol’s ragged breaths fills the void and it’s definitely there, a heartbeat thudding under Sungyeol’s skin.
It’s been half a year since he’s felt something like this.
Sungyeol opens his mouth to speak again but Myungsoo slips his palm under Sungyeol’s shirt, just to be sure. He thinks they both gasp. Sorry, Myungsoo whispers, My hands are cold. Poor circulation is one side effect of not having a heart, he adds.
His eyes are closed and he shakes his head. Myungsoo doesn’t think Sungyeol hears him.
“How did you manage to keep your heart?” Myungsoo asks finally, breaking the silence.
“I had to,” Sungyeol says slowly. They’re still whispering, but maybe Myungsoo only thinks they are because Sungyeol’s heart is beating too loudly, loud enough to wake the world with its thump thump thumps.
“I had to,” Sungyeol says again and that’s all he says, over and over again.
Myungsoo doesn’t tell anyone about Sungyeol even though he knows he should because Sungyeol struggles – rejection after rejection after auditions because he’s exaggerating his emotions or when he’s trying to keep up with them in the practice room because he feels the fatigue the fastest.
“Wouldn’t it be easier just to get rid of it?”
“Yeah,” Sungyeol would say, and that is it.
But they’re best friends and if there’s one thing Myungsoo still recalls about trivial, emotional things, it is that best friends keep secrets.
The day after they win their first award, Sungyeol finally tells him why.
“It’s because we were best friends.”
“Oh,” Myungsoo says. “That doesn’t make sense.”
“It’s because I fell in love with my best friend.”
Myungsoo blinks. “That still doesn’t make sense.”
This is enough to make Sungyeol smile, but again it’s not one Myungsoo is used to.
“It’s because I still love you.”
“Oh,” Myungsoo repeats. “I’m sorry.”
Sungyeol shakes his head. “I told Jungryul-hyung the original operation wasn’t effective enough for me and he believed me. I’m getting my heart removed tomorrow.”
And Myungsoo doesn't dissuade him; he doesn’t even try. It is going to be better for Sungyeol, and he isn’t going to lie and tell him to stay this way, in a constant state of wanting. Love is dangerous and irrational, even more so for idols.
But Myungsoo can comfort him and it’s not a lie if it’s half-true. “It’s going to be all right. Don’t worry.” He entwines his fingers with Sungyeol’s, somewhat timidly, but Sungyeol yields and Myungsoo marvels the way a pulse can throb so steadily, like clockwork under a maze of veins and flesh.
They spend the rest of time talking, the whole night through until the watery sunlight breaks past the horizon and floods their room and when Sungyeol finally falls asleep, Myungsoo places a hand over Sungyeol’s shirt, one last time, and he swears he can feel something twist deep within his own chest.
+ concrit is welcomed!