Pairing: HenBer (Henry/Amber)
Notes: another request from invalidreality. she wanted a fic based on Young Folks by Peter Bjorn and John. coincidentally, I found a tumblog dedicated to HenBer, and this just sort of happened.
"There's a party at the SNSD dorm tonight!" Krystal waltzes in like a princess, throwing her hair over her shoulder in a movement so natural Amber swears she sees the sparkles fly off it like she's in an Herbal Essences commercial. "Jessica invited all of us, and she said we need to make sure and look nice!"
"You gonna wear that pretty pink princess dress that fan sent you?" Amber's wisecrack is met with snickering from Sulli and Luna and one of Victoria's Xǐ Yáng Yáng yǔ Huī Tài Láng (Amber's Chinese isn't Danson Tang's; something about goats and wolves) plastic cups to the back of her head. The aforementioned dress is eye-gouging pink and made of thick, stiff fabric and covered glitter. It hangs in the back of Krystal's closet and every so often, someone pulls it out and puts it on her bed just to remind her that she still has it. Amber takes every available chance to tease her about it; more often than not her attempts are returned in the form of something small and reasonably harmless aimed at her head.
"Maybe you should wear it," Krystal retorts, frowning, "since you love it so much." Amber wrinkles her nose at the thought; it was better suited as a tent than a dress and she would rather brave the elements than camp in that ridiculousness.
"Stop teasing her about the dress!" Victoria calls from down the hall. Any chuckling stops and Sulli pulls Krystal towards her room to start picking outfits, but not before muttering what is distinctly 'Amber is just jealous because you don't look like you're cross-dressing whenever you wear skirts.' Amber knows Sulli is just kidding-- Sulli inherits her sense of humor from Heechul, of this she is reasonably sure-- but it hits home in the bottom of her chest. It's always like this, Amber has come to realize; whenever she feels like she finally fits in, someone, something, somewhere reminds her that she might as well be an outsider. Korea isn't Los Angeles and it will never be. Back home, she's just Amber Josephine Liu who plays basketball and likes hats and cookies and lying on the blacktop after free throws because it's warm on her skin. But here, here she's f(x)'s tomboy Amber who raps and dances and is only feminine when eating.
Sometimes the homesickness is a knot in her throat that threatens to choke her with tears, but it's always a tiny knot in her chest that aches.
"Don't listen to her," Luna says with that radiant smile of hers. "Just look your best tonight! Come on, I'll help you pick out something nice to wear."
"Maybe I should just wear a tux. I'd look good." She smiles and Luna tut-tuts her softly. "What? I would. I could have a nice tie and stuff."
"You're mine tonight," Luna tells her as she links their arms, "and when I'm done with you, Krystal is going to wish she had that poofy pink mess."
"What are you listening to in there?" Henry almost doesn't hear the question over the music he's playing in the bathroom. He stops styling his hair in favor of going over to the door and cracking it open enough to see Siwon reclining on his bed. He's already dressed and ready to go apparently and Henry feels slow. "It's nice."
"Figaro's Aria," Henry replies as he lets the door swing open. He grabs his clothes off the chair next to the bathroom before heading back in to finish getting ready before turning the music down so he can hear Siwon talking to him. "It's from Il barbiere di Siviglia," he says this with his best Italian accent but to him it comes out sounding more like this mishmash of Chinese and Latin, "an opera." Siwon is more than likely nodding to himself because as far as he knows, no one else enjoys opera, or even cares that it exists. For a moment, loneliness flares at the back of his throat but he writes it off as homesickness. Just because no one here seems to care doesn't mean he's totally alone (or so he keeps trying to tell himself); it just means that they won't pop into his room occasionally to start singing with him like his sister does back home.
Thinking about it isn't a good idea, he decides as he pulls a white wifebeater over his head. It isn't often he gets invited to parties and he knows that he'll ruin the evening if he shows up having nursed that speck of utter alienation that rests at the bottom of his chest just below his heart. Henry smiles at his reflection and pulls on his plaid flannel button-up and buttons a few of the middle buttons and finds that believing in his smile is hard. It looks he's faking or something (Henry thinks anyway; maybe he just thinks he looks it because he knows how fake it really is). But maybe if smiles often enough before getting to the party, it'll feel more natural. Leeteuk had told him once that a true show of strength was smiling even when your heart was breaking-- song lyrics or not, Leeteuk had a way with words and making them sound genuine-- and it had stuck with him ever since. And while his heart isn't breaking, he feels like it might, so he smiles anyway as he finishes styling his hair and getting dressed.
He emerges minutes later feeling a little bit more confident about the party and Siwon rolls off his bed to walk out of the room with him. "We're gonna have a great time tonight," Siwon tells him, slinging his arm over Henry's shoulders. "Maybe you'll meet a cute girl!" The wink the other man gives him makes him feel even worse about feeling alienated, like it's all in his head. Henry smiles back and again he worries he isn't convincing, but Siwon seems to buy it and Henry feels himself relax. Perhaps tonight won't be as bad as he thinks.
He hopes, anyway.
Amber feels ridiculous, not because Luna hadn't made her feel pretty (she does feel pretty) but because she had actually believed that Krystal would somehow be jealous of her and want that stupid pink dress. Luna's way with words has done this before-- sent her spiraling into the sky like a lost balloon-- and Amber feels ridiculous because she hadn't braced for it or made some other mental preparation. Even if Luna had managed to make her forget for a while how homesick she was, it's back in full force now along with the familiar swell of awkward that has made itself at home in her chest upon the realization that people in Korea take her "tomboyish" appearance seriously.
During her training, a girl told her that she had scrawny legs. Ever since, she'd found wearing skirts to be this emotional strain that only served to make her ridiculously self-conscious. Now that she's out in public where people that aren't her bandmates can see her legs, she wants nothing more than to leave and spend the evening alone back at the dorm, but when she sees Victoria waving at her from across the room, looking radiant like a queen with that smile, she decides that for her sake at least (and Luna's, maybe, because Luna tried hard to make her look and feel pretty) that she can stick around and play wallflower, at least until someone else leaves and she doesn't feel like she's breaking the surface tension on a full glass of water.
She's halfway to deciding that locking herself in the bathroom is a good idea when she notices the boy standing down the wall from her. He's handsome (it's not the first thing she notices, it's not the first thing she notices) and observing the crowd and Amber immediately identifies with the look in his eyes. It's the look she has whenever the homesickness clogs the back of her throat and she tries not to choke on it, the one that makes her curl up in bed on days off just to she can dream about being back in LA. It makes her want to talk to him, to see if he really is as homesick and lonely as she is, if he's having trouble adjusting to life in Korea. But the words that come to mind are awkward and stupid; he'll probably look at her like she doesn't have a clue what she's talking about and then go dance with a girl with nice healthy legs.
Victoria waves at her again. It gives her enough courage to move down the wall and stand next to him. Another moment of throat tightness and she's spewing words that might not even make sense. "You're with Super Junior, right? Henry Lau? I've seen you play the violin. You're really good." She wonders where her brain-mouth filter went, and what language she'd just vomited all over him like she'd had too much to drink. He stares at her for what feels like an eternity and she worries that she got his name wrong or something.
"Yeah, I'm Henry," he says in English, surprising her, "you're Amber, right? From f(x)?" She nods slowly, swallowing around the cotton at the back of her throat. "For some reason, I didn't know that you speak English. Where are you from? I'm from Canada."
"City of Angels," she tells him, relieved that she doesn't have to flounder in Korean. She's surprised at how comfortable it makes her.
"City of Angels, huh? I'm not surprised; you remind me of an angel." Amber's face flushes and lights up like a Christmas light, and it feels like the Fourth of July underneath the surface of her skin. Henry looks almost as relieved as she does and if she's not mistaken he's red, too.
"I bet you say that to all the girls you meet from LA," she replies, trying not to smile. Henry laughs (an attractive laugh; she's given up trying to pretend that she doesn't notice these things) and smiles. It's a small smile, but a genuine one, and she thinks it's the most beautiful sight she's seen in weeks, maybe longer. Talking to him is easier than she could've imagined and she makes a mental note to thank Victoria for giving her the strength to do so instead of copping out and fleeing back to the safety of her bed at the dorm.
"You're actually the first, so I guess it's true." He avoids eye contact with her like he can't stand to see how she reacts and Amber wonders why she hadn't tried talking to him sooner. He's funny and sweet and makes it easy to feel less like the awkwardly-shaped puzzle piece struggling to complete the picture. He probably has girls falling all over him, unable to withstand his earnest charm. But then why is he standing alone--? The question burns at the back of her throat, but she knows she can't ask a question like that without feeling bad about it. He isn't asking her why she was standing alone (assuming he even saw her before she entered his peripheral vision) so she won't ask him.
"So," she begins, treading over eggshells cautiously, "are you here with anyone?" The look he gives her is like a mirror and immediately she knows the answer and regrets asking him. "I'm here alone, too," she blurts impulsively, determined not to alienate him from her even if she's doing a ridiculously good job at alienating herself right now, "playing wallflower. I have knobby knees and stick legs, I knew I should've worn a tuxedo." Amber bites her tongue before she can spout her life story like a whistling teapot. Henry looks at her and she slams her eyes shut to avoid having to look at his expression. "I'm so sorry, that was so much more than you needed to know."
When she opens her eyes, he's just looking at her confusedly. "Why do you think you have knobby knees and stick legs? You have dancer's legs, they look great." His face is almost as red as hers is. Talking to him is so easy that it startles her, because she's telling him the story about the girl from training who insulted her legs when she hadn't even told anyone in her group about it. When she finishes, Henry is unreadable and she's worried that he thinks she's easily influenced or something for believing an insult that she realizes now was more than likely born of jealousy.
"I-- well she's just jealous. At the risk of sounding creepy, you have gorgeous legs."
Amber is so flushed that even her shoulders heat underneath her clothes. "Thank you. It-- well it means a lot, hearing someone say that. I mean, someone that isn't Luna, anyway." The silence that falls over them is comfortable, the kind of comfort that reminds her of sitting at home in her living room. It's enough to give her the courage to ask him the question that wants nothing more than to bounce off her tongue like a springboard. "I'm... well I'm just wondering, why are you here alone? You're so charming-- please don't take that as creepy, because you are, I don't normally notice these things, I swear-- and probably have girls falling all over the ground you walk on." When Henry visibly stiffens, Amber feels like she just slipped and fell and the eggshells she'd been walking on were crushed beneath the heavy weight of her and her stumbling words.
"I'm really not," he tells her softly, so softly she almost can't hear him over the music and the crowd, "it's... it's a tough existence. Zhou Mi and I, we aren't wanted in Super Junior. I get hate mail daily. I'm pretty sure that most of the girls you're talking about would rather I drop dead than try and charm them." Disgust rises in the back of Amber's throat. She'd been so preoccupied with her own homesickness that she hadn't even considered that other people had it harder. Henry had to deal with that and his haters.
"I'm so sorry, I-- I had no idea." Amber's mouth runs before she can catch up with it, spewing another thousand pounds of life story for him. "Back home, I was just Amber, I wasn't tomboyish or anything, just Amber Liu, but here, people flip when I 'act feminine', when I wear skirts, like I'm not girly all the time. I mean I'm not wearing outfits like Krystal and Sulli and Luna, but I'm feminine, aren't I--?" Henry looks at her in surprise but much to Amber's dismay she's still going. "Every time I feel like I'm close to fitting in, something reminds me how much I don't, and I miss home so much, but you, you've got to deal with that and girls shouting at you to get off the stage! What room do I even have to--"
Henry hugs her. He smells like Old Spice (she still remembers what it smells like; almost all her boyfriends stateside wore it) and comfort and home somehow and it stops her mouth in its tracks and gives her a chance to catch up. "The haters don't bother me," he whispers gently, "it's feeling like the people that stick up for me don't get me at all because I come from halfway across the world." Amber relaxes into his hold but doesn't hug him back because she doesn't know if he'd be okay with that, but because he initiated contact, she hesitantly wraps her arms around his back, setting her hands on his shoulder blades.
"You wanna get out of here?" Henry whispers it against her ear, breath warm and cheek pressed against her head. "We should go somewhere quieter."
"But we were invited," she responds, unsure why she's protesting because she wants to take a walk with him more than she wants to stand there and watch the party.
"They'll get over it."
Henry wakes up more contented than he has in what feels like years, at least he does before he realizes that the spot beside him in bed is empty. He bolts upright to find Amber trying to sneak out the door, but she stops the instant he sees her. The look she gives him is one of utter surprise and panic. "I-I'm sorry, I didn't want to wake you or anything--" she begins, her hands moving wildly about her body to aid her speech. "B-but-- well, every guy I've ever dated told me to go home in the morning. I didn't want to overstay my welcome."
"We didn't even do anything," Henry tells her slowly, trying not to let on how alarmed he's feeling. "We both admitted that we'd never actually done anything." Amber bites her lip.
"I know, b-but-- but I--"
"You don't need to worry, you know. People can think whatever they want, but you and I both know that we just cuddled last night. What more do they need?" Amber tears up and wipes at her eyes with the back of her hand before shoving off the door. Last night, they'd talked and talked and talked until everything was out, until someone knew about how hard it is to adjust here. Henry doesn't really remember the specifics (if Amber does, she doesn't let on) but somehow they ended up back at his dorm and fell asleep lying on his bed talking to each other and the ceiling. Now he just wants her to stay forever because Amber Liu understands him and he understands her. Adjusting is difficult but somehow Amber numbs the alienation.
She crosses the room and kisses him. It flares in his chest and soothes the ache, reminds him of standing out on the lawn with his brother in Canada and feeling the chilly air. It's lovely and steals his breath and has him pulling her back down onto the bed to sit with him. "I'll stay. I promise I won't leave again, you're too good to give up."
He smiles and leans in close for another kiss. "So are you."