I've written papers on little did he know. I used to teach a class based on little did he know. I once gave an entire seminar on little did he know. Son of a bitch, Harold. Little did he know means there's something he doesn't know, and that means there's something you don't know.
- Professor Jules Hilbert, Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
"Psst. Heonnie-yah. Are you awake? Hey. Hey, are you awake?"
"No," Jooheon mumbled into his pillow, squinching his eyes shut. "Go 'way."
"We have to talk," Hyungwon hissed at him, nudging his shoulder roughly. "Wake up. It's important."
"What the fuck could be so—"
"It's about fanfiction," Hyungwon interrupted.
Jooheon froze in the dark. "Okay," he whispered, suddenly sounding a lot more awake than he had only seconds before. "Kitchen?"
It had been an awkward conversation. Hyungwon hadn't been sure how to broach the subject for a while, but they'd been distracted by comeback preparations and then promotions and then everything else and it hadn't really come up until he and Jooheon were sitting next to each other on an airplane (he couldn't remember where they'd been going nor where they'd departed) and Hyungwon turned to Jooheon when the entire plane was asleep around them and whispered: "Why do you read Monsta X fanfiction?"
"I don't," Jooheon had said back, and then laughed, and then pressed his forehead to the plastic shutter pulled down over the window while making the sort of noise that one would expect out of a terminally ill killer whale. "How did you figure it out?"
"You left it open on your tablet," Hyungwon said. "Like... weeks ago. And a couple times since. I don't know how you haven't been caught by anybody else, to be honest."
"... I'm pretty stupid, aren't I."
Hyungwon shrugged languidly. "I didn't say it."
"It was an accident," Jooheon said after a second. "Somebody mentioned our twitter and there was a link and I clicked it, it was stupid, that's all. That's the end. The end."
"I never caught you reading the same story twice," Hyungwon said.
"I want to support the efforts of our monbebes," Jooheon said, the words coming out as though memorized by rote. "Some of them are really good. We're like vampires and shit, it's fucking awesome."
Hyungwon remembered that one. It had actually been really good. (He'd gone and found it and downloaded it so that he could hide it somewhere on his tablet where no one would ever find it but him, repeatedly. The author had made him way funnier than he was in real life and there was just something about that that Hyungwon respected.)
"So you read it because it's awesome?"
Jooheon cleared his throat. "Yes," he said. "Just the good ones. I can stop anytime," he added on quickly.
Hyungwon leaned in and slid his tablet over his tray toward Jooheon. "Gimme recommendations," he said. "I'm bored."
The change that came over Jooheon then was truly terrifying to behold. "Any particular pairing?" he asked, reaching down to tug his backpack out from under the seat in front of him. "Trope? Rating? Squicks?"
"What the fuck is a squick," Hyungwon muttered.
"God, I should've known you'd be part of the cancer that's killing fandom," Jooheon muttered under his breath. "Don't worry about it. Do you wanna read about yourself or what?"
There was a dangerous glint in Jooheon's eye when he spoke, and in the back of his head Hyungwon looked out over a vast and unknowable future filled with untold horrors.
"Nah," Hyungwon drawled lazily, leaning back in his seat. "I wanna read about you being an idiot."
Jooheon squawked in protest but Hyungwon had already slipped his headphones over his ears, closing his eyes to ride out the turbulence in the always dependable arms of sleep.
"What are you reading?"
Hyungwon tipped his tablet down to watch as Hoseok flopped down next to him on the couch. They'd been in the dressing room for over an hour and had exhausted all the productive time killers - a couple dumb missions for the cameras, Jooheon and Changkyun doing an impromptu mukbang vlive in the corner - and Hyungwon had kicked back on an empty couch as soon as was humanly possible, pulling up the pdf reader on his tablet and scrolling through the files to find something interesting.
"What makes you think I'm reading anything?" Hyungwon said, irritably shuffling his stocking feet over to wiggle cold toes under Hoseok's thigh.
"You chew your lip when you're reading," Hoseok replied, and it was almost sweet for a second before he threw out an exaggerated wink and a pair of truly smarmy finger hearts. "Good, right? I pay attention."
Hyungwon considered for a moment the wisdom of ignoring Hoseok and continuing to read, but what he was reading was one of the fics Jooheon had told him he might not like, (There's kissing, he'd said, unable to look Hyungwon in the eye), and that was just a little bit too much. If he got caught here and now he'd never live it down, especially if he defended himself with the truth: he scrolled past all of the kissing. Virtually all of it. 99% of the kissing, missed entirely.
Of course he'd needed to skim to figure out when the kissing ended in order to know when to start reading again, which was normal. That was the 1% that was left over from all the times he'd caught the word tongue and fumbled with the brightness so that it would be harder to read over his shoulder.
"Nothing important," Hyungwon said after a second, closing out of the reader and then force closing it too, just in case. "Just trying to kill time. What’s up?"
"Play with me," Hoseok whined, bapping his knees with both palms. "I'm so bored. You're the only person who's any fun."
"You tell me I'm no fun all the time."
"Yeah, but you're no fun in a fun way."
"Mystery solved," Hyungwon sighed, but sat upright anyway, tucking his legs under him in a loose cross-legged position. "Do you think they're ever gonna call us?"
"Hope not," Hoseok commented. "Hyung's been in the restroom for like a year. Do you know what he ate?"
"Everything," Hyungwon said, which was a line out of a fanfic and not a reflection of reality. Hoseok gave him an odd look and he glanced away. "Whatever. I dunno. I'm tired."
Jooheon hadn't sent him anything too raunchy, (well, one, but that was with strict instructions not to even think about reading chapter 7 if he wanted to wake up the next time he went to sleep), but there had been patterns. Lingering looks, slow hands. Cautious not-quite-confessions that sounded almost like they could be lifted out of real life. A fictional Hoseok, pursuing a fictional Hyungwon in the background.
Hoseok patted his own shoulder in invitation. "If you lie down your face will get even puffier. Bring it in."
"I'll get base makeup all over your shirt," Hyungwon said, but he was already adjusting to tuck in close against Hoseok's body, smaller and bigger than him at the same time. Had he ever noticed that before? Somebody had, and now he couldn’t get it out of his head.
"It's cute that you think I'll be wearing this shirt on stage," Hoseok replied. He laughed as he spoke but it was careful, shallow, held back to keep from dislodging Hyungwon's cheek from his shoulder. "Under those lights? Mesh or bust."
Hyungwon tugged the sleeves of his loose cotton shirt further down over his hands. "Must be nice," he muttered.
If this was a fic, Hyungwon thought bitterly to himself, Hoseok would have definitely taken his hands by now and started warming them between his thick square palms. As it was it was real life and his knuckles ached with cold and the sharp absence of romance, so he closed his eyes and thought about nothing until he fell asleep, which took about thirty seconds.
After forty-five seconds Hoseok took his hands in his own, warming them between his thick square palms, but Hyungwon was already asleep.
"What's so important?" whispered Jooheon, wrapping his arms around his knees and blinking sleepily, eyes so puffy that they barely looked open at all. They were squatting side by side on the kitchen floor, voices hushed to keep from waking up anybody else in the dorm, the darkness illuminated only by the light of their tablet screens. "Y'can't just wake me up and say it's about fanfiction and not—"
"Read this," Hyungwon interrupted, shoving his tablet in Jooheon's face as soon as he'd found his place. He tapped the glass more desperately than he meant to, selecting and unselecting and reselecting the same word over and over in a flicker of indecisive blue. "Start here."
Jooheon squinted in the harsh electric glare and scrolled up to the top of the page to glance at the stats. "This fan's good," he commented, yawning as he scrolled back down to find the word Hyungwon had left selected. "I've read a couple things they wrote."
"Yeah I'll bet," Hyungwon muttered under his breath. Jooheon probably glared at him, but he decided not to even look. "Just read it."
If he had to pick a favorite dongsaeng it would be Jooheon at least 45% of the time, but right now Changkyun was rising in the ranks as Jooheon took his goddamn sweet time following very very simple instructions.
"... Okay," Jooheon said, reaching the end of the scene.
"Okay," Hyungwon echoed back. Jooheon didn't reply, still staring at the screen. "Anything you wanna share with the class? Thoughts? Comments?"
"This happened," Jooheon stuttered. He suddenly sounded - and looked - infinitely more awake than he had barely minutes ago. "This— it happened in real life. Here. In the dorm."
"What a weird coincidence," Hyungwon drawled, pulling his tablet back out of Jooheon's hands. (It took a little more effort than it should have; Jooheon was frozen, fingers stiff.) "It's not just a couple words, either."
"This is from last week," Jooheon said. "This happened."
It wasn't anything big, just a tiff between Minhyuk and Kihyun that had lasted about five minutes like they always did, but a few of the verbal swipes were memorable enough to ring a bell when he read them only days later, huddled under his blanket on the top bunk.
If it had been something bigger maybe, something that had happened long enough ago that it might have come up in a radio interview or a vlive, it might not have triggered anything. Some of the fans writing about them knew the members so well it was almost creepy, but it was always familiarity picked up through direct quotes and informed guesses. It was fan fiction, which meant it was written by fans, and (ideally) no fan had the level of access to their daily lives that they would need to write out something this accurately, this specific, this recent.
Jooheon looked up at him, previously sleepy eyes open so wide he'd forced a double eyelid, face drawn in the light from the screen. "Do you think it's a stalker?"
"This was in the dorm," Hyungwon emphasized, locking the tablet and holding it to his chest. He should have put on slippers for this. His feet were freezing. "Nobody was here except for us. There wasn't even a manager in the room, it was just the members. What, do you think the dorm’s bugged or something?"
They both glanced around, falling suddenly and anxiously silent.
"Probably not," Jooheon hazarded after a few moments of tense quiet. "Monbebes wouldn't do that to us."
"There but by the grace of god," Hyungwon said. "You know EXO had to stop receiving gifts, right? They were getting dirty underwear and stuff with hidden cameras, shit like that."
"Big fanbases, man. Didn't somebody buy Sehun the moon or something?"
"Hell of a package to sign for."
“Anyway,” Hyungwon said, swinging the conversation back around, “I don’t think the dorm is bugged.”
Jooheon looked like he was going to be sick. “Hopefully,” he groaned, rubbing his face with both hands.
“Yeah, but what are the other options?”
Jooheon and Hyungwon looked at each other.
“No,” Jooheon said.
“It’s the only thing,” Hyungwon said.
“It is the only thing,” Jooheon said, “but no. No.”
“Don’t say it!”
“One of the members is writing fanfiction,” Hyungwon whispered.
Jooheon screamed quietly into his hands.
The suspiciously accurate account on the fan site had been created only a few months ago and had been uploading one-shots at a surprisingly reliable pace, roughly once a week. They were all short, maybe a five minute read at most, but they were real.
He and Jooheon had decided to split the stories up between them to pore over separately, breaking up the workload and reconvening later to compare notes. The account belonged either to a psychic or one of their roommates and the only clues they had lay in those fics.
Jooheon snorted a laugh, immediately trying to cover it up with a cough.
“What,” Hyungwon said. He was sitting on an extra chair he’d found and dragged into Jooheon’s workroom, verbally swearing to return it while internally secure in the certainty that he would definitely ‘forget’ to do so. “Find something?”
“Just something funny,” Jooheon said. “One of these is about the cucumber Changkyunnie made for Minhyuk-hyung. Remember, the clay? For 1000 days?”
“Oh no,” Hyungwon said after a second.
“It doesn’t go into detail,” Jooheon said.
“I already hate it.”
“It’s sorta funny,” Jooheon mumbled, curling over in embarrassment. “It’s not gross, it’s just…” He hesitated. “It’s a little gross. But mostly funny.”
Hyungwon sighed, scrolling down. They weren’t any closer to narrowing down the identity of the owner of the account but they were learning things about each other that neither of them strictly needed to know, so it’s not like there was nothing productive going on. This could be twisted into a humorous and ultimately harmless funny story to talk about on the radio later, maybe a variety show when asked about fan interactions…
“D’you think maybe it’s Hoseok-hyung?” Jooheon asked, not looking up.
The problem was that Hyungwon had started to wonder that very thing. It wasn’t anything in particular, just a sort of lopsided viewpoint and some of the details and a few strange turns of phrase that he’d somehow associated inextricably with Hoseok without realizing it. “What makes you say that?” is what he said out loud.
“Because he’s always—” Jooheon paused, and Hyungwon could almost see the gears churning and grinding between his ears. “I dunno. Just my first guess.” He cleared his throat. “Probably not.”
Hyungwon uncrossed his legs and leaned forward. He was too thin to loom properly, but Jooheon had been cursed with the preternatural ability to be intimidated by all sorts of unthreatening things, so it worked about as well as one might expect. Jooheon leaned away from him, glancing into a corner of the room like a worried dog. “What?”
“The dialogue,” Jooheon stuttered. “Like, between you two—”
“Like…” Hyungwon screwed his eyes shut and massaged the bridge of his nose in frustration. Changkyun was screaming toward first place in the Best Dongsaeng competition. “The way he talks?”
Jooheon nodded, but it was half a beat late. “Yeah. And like… to you.”
“To me?” asked Hyungwon, incredulous—
A pattern: Hoseok, pursuing him.
“It’s probably not Hoseok-hyung,” Jooheon said quickly. “That was a dumb thing to say. Are you hungry? I’m hungry. You know how I get when my blood sugar—”
“Lee Jooheon,” Hyungwon said. He rolled forward and placed both hands on Jooheon’s knees. “Look me in the eye.”
Jooheon obeyed. He only looked a little bit like he wanted to die.
“Everybody thinks Hoseok and I fuck, don’t they,” Hyungwon said. It wasn’t actually a question. He knew the answer already, even if he’d never thought about it in those terms.
“In fandom? Yeah. You two are like…” Jooheon gestured broadly. “Like the pairing. You know BTS? Namjoon and Seokjin? Kind of like that.”
Hyungwon furrowed his brow. “But they’re actually—”
“I don’t make the rules,” Jooheon interrupted, throwing his hands up, palms out as though saying Not It in a high-stakes game of hide and seek. “That’s just how it is in the fanfiction world.”
“That’s stupid,” Hyungwon started to say, but he was cut off by a knock on the door.
“Hey,” Hoseok said, coming in without waiting for a response, “Heonnie, are you— oh.”
Hyungwon snatched his hands away from Jooheon’s knees instinctively, realizing not even a second too late that leaving them there would have probably been less suspicious, but Jooheon was already jerking awkwardly to his feet to skitter away from him and that was even more suspicious so really he shouldn’t beat himself up over it.
“Hyung,” Jooheon croaked. “Hi. What’s up?”
“Uh,” Hoseok said. He and Hyungwon had made eye contact when he’d stepped over the threshold and now it felt like never of them could even blink. “If you’re busy I can come back later.”
“Just hanging out,” Jooheon said, leaning casually against the wall as far away from Hyungwon as possible. “Just two dudes being bros. You know how it is. Guys. Bros.” He blinked then, quickly, patting at the pockets of his jeans as though looking for something. “I think I left something somewhere,” he added. “I should go.”
Within seconds Hyungwon and Hoseok were left alone together in Jooheon’s workroom. “So,” Hyungwon said.
“I needed to talk to Jooheon,” Hoseok said quickly. “It’s cool, I— I’ll probably run into him later, right?”
“Yep,” Hyungwon said, sticking his hands in the pockets of his jeans. “Dance practice. Dinner. All kinds of different options.”
He’d been bored and curious but Hyungwon was realizing that mostly he’d been stupid when he’d asked Jooheon for fanfiction recommendations because now he couldn’t look away from Hoseok’s mouth. You weren’t supposed to do that, right? Stare at the mouths of your platonic male friends. It seemed like something he shouldn’t do, which might have been why he kept on doing it. (In Hyungwon’s opinion, spite was an important ingredient in living one’s best life.)
Hoseok opened his mouth. Then he closed it again. Then he said: “You’d tell me, right?”
“What? I— tell you what?”
“If there was anything going on,” Hoseok said, tucking his chin in close against his chest. He was infamous for wearing his heart on his sleeve but right now Hyungwon couldn’t read it.
“Yeah,” Hyungwon said. It wasn’t true, but he said it. “Totally. What are you talking about?”
“You know,” Hoseok said. “Whatever. Anything. We’re a team,” he said quickly. “Gotta communicate, right? Tell each other stuff?” He only looked a little bit green as he spoke. “Hey, do you wanna get ramen?”
Was he looking at Hoseok’s mouth because of all that fanfiction? Some of it talked about Hoseok’s mouth a lot, describing how he ate and the way he pouted when he complained and the almost vulpine curve of his upper lip when he smiled, so it was probably just curiosity. Soon he’d be noticing something else, some other mannerism on some other person, but right now… right now Hoseok spoke, and Hyungwon didn’t hear him.
“What?” he said, a beat too late. “Sorry, I— I think I’m just sleepy.”
Hoseok laughed, but not the full-bodied thing that got described in the fics. (Idiot. Hoseok laughed like that in real life.) It was shallow, shy. Out of character. “So no on the ramen?”
“No,” Hyungwon said quickly. “I mean yes. Ramen, yes. Ramen sounds great,” he finished, pulling all of his words together to form a single and obvious statement. “Maybe some coffee.”
“I’ll buy,” Hoseok said. “My royalty check just showed up in my account.”
“Must be nice,” Hyungwon said, pulling his thick puffy coat from the back of his chair, swinging it over his shoulders, feeling strangely warm already even though Jooheon kept his studio abominably cold. “I want the good kind, since you’re so rich.”
“Since when am I your sugar daddy?” Hoseok grumbled, pulling the door open and standing aside to let him through.
“Since you started getting royalty checks for songs you write about me,” Hyungwon replied, sweeping by him as coolly as possible with the words sugar daddy spinning in his head. His curiosity had swelled and the inside of his chest itched with the terrible urge to read that damn 7th chapter.
He’d been expecting Hoseok to protest - at least a token I Didn’t Write From Zero For You, You Self-Centered Asshole - but instead he just laughed, closing the door behind them without looking Hyungwon in the eye.
It was nothing. It had always been nothing. But somebody somewhere thought it was something, and now Hyungwon wondered if he’d been the one in the dark this whole time.
Stupid, right? Hoseok, so free with his affection. What was there to see?
“We gotta figure it out,” Jooheon muttered to him in the back of their dance studio, cheeks pink and streaked with sweat. “I have an image to protect, I can’t have my real life broadcast on the internet for everybody to laugh at, that happens enough already. Remember X-Ray when everybody told a story about me?”
“I dished on Hoseok,” Hyungwon said. “That dumb thing he always says about not saying I Love You until you’re on your deathbed, with your last breath.”
The look Jooheon gave him then would have fit in at the MoMa, in one of the really weird rooms. “He doesn’t always say that. What are you talking about?”
“It’s a thing he says,” Hyungwon said. The room was so hot that the mirrors had fogged over but for some reason his hands ached with cold. “It’s not a big deal, it was embarrassing enough to get me out of the room is all. And anyway,” he tacked on, “nobody has any dirt on me.”
“You eat everything that’s not nailed down and you spend 85% of your life asleep,” Jooheon said, voice monotone. “Everyone knows that.”
“Right,” Hyungwon replied. “Everyone knows that, therefore the only image I have to protect is what I actually act like all the time.”
Jooheon went slightly more pink. It was impressive. “So?”
“So why should I care who it is?”
“Because whoever it is thinks Hoseok-hyung is in love with you,” Jooheon countered, “and right now it’s looking like that person is Hoseok-hyung. I figure you might wanna know if one of your dorm-mates is writing fanfiction about kissing you.”
How could his hands be so cold when his ears were so hot? “There’s no kissing in those fics.”
“Yet,” Jooheon whispered, dropping his voice and turning away to mutter, “Incoming,” under his breath.
It was Hoseok who was incoming, tight black t-shirt touched just slightly with the damp of sweat. (He was wearing gray sweats. Monbebes loved the gray sweats. If you read enough fic you might start to think it was the only thing he wore around the dorm.) Hyungwon pulled the sleeves of his sweater down over his hands. “Hey,” he said, nodding, shaking his bangs out of his face. “If we’re ordering in I don’t care what it is as long as I get two orders of manduguk to myself. Jooheon’s mom is buying,” he added. Jooheon rolled his eyes so hard Hyungwon could almost hear the creak.
Hoseok slowed as he came closer, smile faltering. “How did you know?”
“Jooheon’s mom is buying,” Hoseok said. “Something about fattening you up.”
“Oh,” Hyungwon said.
“I told her,” Jooheon stuttered, pressing paper towels to his damp face. “We’ve got our own money now.”
“Free manduguk, dude.”
“It’s not free, it’s a gift from my mother.” Jooheon paused. “She’s paying for me too, right?”
Hoseok shrugged, pulling a face as he adjusted his thick black headband. His bangs flopped over it, tressing up into sweat-tangled strands. “Probably. Dunno. Ki’s the one placing the order, go ask him.”
“He’s gonna remember this,” Hyungwon mumbled under his breath, waiting a few seconds for Jooheon to get out of earshot. “He’s probably got a whole page in his diary just to write down all the times you antagonize him and someday he’ll figure out a way to get you back.”
“Heonnie? He’s too sweet.”
“Mmhmm,” Hyungwon hummed in response, thinking about the very real Grudge Book that lay hidden, nestled between Jooheon’s mattress and the wall. Changkyun had said it was because Jooheon was a libra, but Hyungwon was pretty sure that it was because Jooheon was a bundle of quivering How Very Dare Yous in the shape of a person.
A sound registered somewhere just outside his sphere of attention. “What?”
Hoseok was looking at him, worried, eyebrows not quite knit together. “You okay?” he asked. “You zoned out.”
“Sleepy,” Hyungwon replied automatically. It was usually true. “What did you say?”
“Just asking if your hands were cold again.” Hoseok reached out, thick square palms faced upward in an empty-handed offer. “I can warm them up if you want.”
Hyungwon felt eyes on them as they stood together, close, his long hands tucked between Hoseok’s palms (thick, square, just like him), but he didn’t have the guts to seek them out in the mirror.
“Hello,” Hyungwon said from the darkest recesses of Jooheon’s bed.
“Holy fuck,” Jooheon choked out, startling backward. “How long have you been there?”
“I think you’re right,” Hyungwon said. He’d been lying on Jooheon’s bed for about ten minutes, at first because he was too tired to climb up onto his own and then because he was leafing through Jooheon’s Grudge Book to see what Minhyuk had been up to lately and then because he was lying flat on his back staring up at the slats lining the bed frame overhead, thinking too much about what it might mean that one of the members was writing fanfiction.
“Thank you,” Jooheon replied, somewhat mollified for a second until a look of betrayed suspicion crept over his face. “About what?”
“About who’s been writing about us.”
“Keep your voice down,” Jooheon hissed, darting away to shut the door (glancing furtively up and down the hallway outside and turning the knob to keep the latch as quiet as possible) before scrambling back to sit at the foot of the mattress. He pulled a stuffed Majin Buu onto his lap to make room, wrapping his arms around it like an anchor. “Hoseok-hyung, right?”
“It makes sense.” Hyungwon flopped his head over the pillow, staring at the textured wall through his eyelashes. “It’s a bunch of stuff that he’d notice. And he’s the only one dumb enough, anyway, except for maybe you.”
“Um, fuck you?”
“Better write in your diary about it.”
“I don’t have a diary.”
“No,” Hyungwon said, sitting up suddenly to stick an accusatory forefinger in Jooheon’s face, “because you’ve got a fanfiction account.”
Jooheon gave him an extremely unimpressed look. “No,” he said. “Try again. Listen, I’m good at figuring out shit like this. It’s gotta be Hoseok-hyung, you said so yourself.”
Hyungwon deflated. “I did, didn’t I.”
“He’s who makes the most sense.”
“He is, isn’t he.”
“How can we figure it out for sure, though?”
The words Oh My God, They Were Roommates ran screaming through Hyungwon’s head. “I think I have an idea.”