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little did he know

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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?"

"Two minutes."

 


 

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?"

"Probably."

"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.”

“I think—”

“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.

Oh.

“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?”

“What?”

“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.”

Chapter Text

The sky was clouded over when they left the company building but it was light gray and high, the kind of clouds that hung around in the crisp nothingtime of early March when it was still too cold for anything to start waking up but not cold enough for Weather With A Capital W, so when it started dumping water on them like an ice bucket challenge au naturale it was a very unpleasant surprise.

When they finally pushed in through the door of the cafe it was blissfully, mercifully empty - a couple college students clustered around a table near the back, the baristas standing around staring like slumbering animatronics waiting for their motion sensors to be tripped - and it was easy to get a booth near the window and still where they'd have a reasonably good chance at anonymity. Hoseok hadn't stopped talking since they'd left the company and Hyungwon had let it wash over him like warmth off a space heater like he always did, sky opening up overhead, and now Hoseok only paused to unbutton his huge fashionable black coat and pull his face mask down to tuck it under his chin.

"What would you like?" asked Hyungwon, jumping into the rare and precious moment of silence to get a word in edgewise. "I'll go order."

"Now who's a gentleman," Hoseok teased, hanging his coat from the end of the bench. Drops of water clung to the wool, so thick that they almost looked like beads of glass caught on the fibers. "Iced americano. And cake," he called after him. "You know what I like."

Hyungwon twitched the hood of his sweatshirt farther forward over his face, hiding behind his bangs and lensless wire-framed glasses and face mask as the employees sprang into scripted action at his approach. He didn't know what Hoseok liked, or rather knew that it would probably take less time to list off everything Hoseok didn't like than to list off everything he did.

Oh god. He didn't know what Hoseok liked. They weren't even boyfriends in real life and he still managed to pull off being a bad boyfriend. That had to set some kind of record.

"What do you recommend?" he said as he reached the counter, shoving his hands deep into his pockets. "As in cake. What cake do you recommend?"

"They're all good," said the cashier. Hyungwon immediately hated him. "A lot of people order the strawberry cake."

Hyungwon eyeballed him as intimidatingly as possible. (Hyunwoo had once fondly informed him that all he managed to do while trying to look dangerous was to give one the vague impression that a streetlight was disappointed in their behavior.) "What do you think?"

"Don't order the strawberry cake," the cashier replied after a second. "It's March. It's just those sour hothouse strawberries in March.” He leaned forward, hiding his mouth behind his hand. “Is that Wonho? From Monsta X?"

Hyungwon turned. Hoseok had taken off his coat and his sweatshirt and his hat and his face mask and now was lounging and obvious in a not-quite-transparent black t-shirt. "No," Hyungwon said. "He's just some idiot. One chocolate cake and one strawberry cake, please."

"Strawberry—?"

"He likes sour things," Hyungwon said.

When he got back to the table Hoseok was waving to a little girl through the window, catching her eye from under her yellow ducky umbrella and pulling ridiculous faces just to tease a smile from her before her bus came and her mother swept her off again into the world. “What happened to keeping a low profile near the company?” Hyungwon said in a stage whisper, sliding into the booth across from him.

“She’s adorable,” Hoseok cooed, not looking up at him. “Like you’d be able to resist. Don’t lie to yourself.”

“At least put a hat on.” Hyungwon picked up the abandoned baseball cap and threw it across the table at him a little harder than he meant to. “People are gonna recognize you.”

“Oh no,” Hoseok mumbled, sending one last barrage of finger hearts to the girl with the ducky umbrella before Seoul public transit whisked her away. “I hate being a celebrity. It’s why I worked so hard to debut, you know? To avoid the public eye.” He put the hat on anyway, slipping the elastic of his face mask back over his ears too. “What’d you get me?”

“Something you’ve told me you like before,” Hyungwon said, which wasn’t a lie at all. It was even on camera. He could pull it up on youtube if Hoseok wanted to get into it with him.

“Are you seriously still cold?” Hoseok was looking at him, and face mask or not it was obvious that he was smiling. His eyes curved. “Why haven’t you taken your jacket off?”

“It’s March,” Hyungwon replied. He closed his eyes briefly, squeezing them tight. Stay on track. “How’ve you been? Things have been busy. You holding up all right? Been, uh, releasing creative tension at all?”

He and Jooheon had spent a lot of time holed up in Jooheon’s workroom over the past day or so, whenever they had a few minutes to sneak away and scheme. Jooheon had lobbied for just coming right out and asking him, but there had to be a better way.

“We all live with each other,” Hyungwon had said. “And have. For years. I think if I just get him alone for a little bit and ask the right questions I’ll be able to figure it out.”

“I think I should just ask him,” Jooheon had said back. “It would be way faster.”

“No, no.” Hyungwon, in his infinite wisdom, patted Jooheon on the hand. “This will be better for everyone. Trust me.”

“You just want me to pay for your coffee,” Jooheon had muttered under his breath.

“Of course not,” Hyungwon lied. “I’m a master at getting people to talk. Hand over the cash.”

At the time he’d been so sure. Hoseok was easier to crack than an egg, he’d just have to say the right combination of words and it would all come spilling out, but with Hoseok actually in front of him what came out of his mouth was, “Been, uh, releasing creative tension at all?”

“That’s a little 19+ for a public cafe,” Hoseok said, voice hushed as he leaned forward. “You doing okay? I might know somebody who could hook you up with extra material if you’re hurting for some novelty.”

“You’ve been doing a lot of assigned work,” Hyungwon said quickly, “I just mean, like, are you— is there an outlet or whatever. That’s all. I didn’t mean anything else. Just curious.”

“I’m doing fine,” Hoseok replied, which wasn’t really what Hyungwon wanted to know but was good to hear regardless. “Hey, are you…” He trailed off. “Is Heonnie doing all right?”

“What? Yeah, I think so, but that’s—”

“You’ve just been spending a ton of time together,” Hoseok continued. “In his workroom, you know? Like all day yesterday—”

“It wasn’t all day. We’ve just been hanging out. I dunno if you’ve noticed,” Hyungwon whispered conspiratorially, leaning over the table as though about to divulge a secret, “but we’re all friends with each other.”

Hoseok’s eyebrows knit together and he was about to pull down his mask to speak more clearly when an employee popped up, sliding the tray of coffee and cake between them. Hyungwon sat back and watched Hoseok flirt, head cocking from side to side in shy complement to his curving eye smile and long black fringe tangling in his eyelashes. Being in a kpop boy group was a masterclass in greasiness, between Hoseok and Kihyun and Minhyuk (and Changkyun, in his own way), and Hoseok in particular contrived to be almost self-lubricated.

Hyungwon resolved to read less fic.

“We’ve been made,” Hoseok sighed, leaning over the table once the employee was finally out of earshot. “She totally knows who we are.”

“You took off almost all of your clothes and struck a pose like some kind of Roman god,” Hyungwon spat at him. “Anybody with eyes would be able to tell you’re an idol, and after that it’s a simple process of elimination. God damn it, I just wanted cake.”

Hoseok waved a hand in the air and the baristas froze behind the counter, huddled in a whispering cluster by the gleaming red espresso machine. “Yah,” he called over. “If you give us a head start and let us leave out the back before you put this on twitter I’ll kiss him.”

“What the fuck,” Hyungwon hissed. He would have launched himself over the table to strangle Hoseok to death where he sat if he wouldn’t have to squish the cake to do it. “Hyung if you don’t—”

“Trust me,” Hoseok interrupted, waving a dismissive hand. “Deal?” This was to the employees. The college students that had occupied a back corner when they’d first come in had since left - a small blessing in the middle of a living hell.

One of the baristas turned to the other. “Delete the tweet,” she said.

“But—”

Do it,” hissed the cashier, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Wow,” Hyungwon said. “I’m never talking to you again.”

“Eat your cake while they’re arguing over whether fanservice is better than bragging rights,” Hoseok replied, mouth full of strawberry and lips smeared with whipped cream. “I give it a minute, tops. God, these strawberries are sour.”

“Weird,” Hyungwon said, eating half a slice of chocolate cake in one bite. “Couldn’t think why.”

“Don’t talk with your mouth full.”

Hyungwon resolved not to tell Jooheon about this.

 


Yesterday

 

"Okay," Jooheon had said the night before, huddled on his bed with Hyungwon folded up at the foot of the mattress. "Let's lay down some ground rules."

Hyungwon had looked up at him curiously, like an idiot; while there were times Jooheon said things that weren't bad ideas the odds weren't likely to be in his favor. "Ground rules?"

"For your date tomorrow."

"It's not a date," Hyungwon said.

Jooheon looked at him.

"It's not a date date," Hyungwon said instead. "This is a fact-finding mission. Research. This is science."

"Science has rules," Jooheon countered. "First of all, don't let him know you know. If we're doing this the sneaky way you have to actually be sneaky."

"I can be sneaky," Hyungwon protested. "I'm hurt that you would suggest otherwise."

"Second," Jooheon continued, "stay on target."

"I'm not an idiot."

"Third—" Jooheon paused. "I dunno. Don't kiss him."

“This isn’t fanfiction,” Hyungwon said, without even a hint of irony. “I’m not just gonna kiss him. That’s not how it works in real life. I don’t have a crush on him. This— this isn’t fanfiction,” he repeated, as though it would do him any good.

“You sure?” Jooheon rolled his eyes at the look Hyungwon shot him, flapping a dismissive hand. “Yeah, yeah. It was a joke. We’ve both been reading fic,” he added, only a little bit defensively. “Just reminding you to keep reality and fiction separate.”

“I can keep reality and fiction separate,” said Hyungwon, who had just the other day asked Kihyun what he was making for dinner only to be told that what Kihyun was making was a freshly heated can of Leave Me Alone, Who Am I, Your Mother? (Kihyun had ended up making soup for everyone. Changkyun called him mom at the dinner table and nobody blinked. Maybe Hyungwon wasn’t the only one who blurred the line.) “I’m not gonna kiss him because I don’t want to kiss any of my friends, unlike some people I could—”

Jooheon shot up and opened his mouth to interrupt but the door opened too, and they both spun.

“Hey guys,” Minhyuk said. He kicked the door shut behind him with one heel and swung around the bunk bed to peer into the shadows of the lower bunk. He crawled onto the mattress between them, shoving himself into the space whether there was room for him or not. “Having a meeting? I’ve got some great ghost stories if you’re looking for some diversity.”

“We’re talking about monbebes,” Jooheon said quickly.

“What, without Hoseok?” Minhyuk laid a facetious hand over his heart. “He’ll be hurt.” He got a funny light in his eyes then, leaning over to pull Jooheon into a headlock as fond as it was life-threatening. “Wanna know what SNS is all abuzz about these days?”

“No,” Jooheon said.

“I do,” Hyungwon said. “Heonnie-yah, cover your ears and hum or something.”

“The grown ups are talking,” Minhyuk cooed, ruffling Jooheon’s hair and laying a loud kiss on his temple before finally releasing him and turning toward Hyungwon to dish out some quality gossip. “So you know fanfiction?”

Hyungwon looked past Minhyuk and directly into Jooheon’s eye. Jooheon looked down at his hands, tipping away surreptitiously in a funny attempt to escape. “I’ve got a passing familiarity, yeah,” he said.

“There’s this new fan,” Minhyuk said, lowering his voice and hunching over as though imparting state secrets. “Writing fanfiction.”

“Well color me shocked,” Hyungwon drawled. “Again? I’m beginning to think they like us.”

“And they’re good.”

“Our monbebes are talented and wonderful. That’s how it works.”

And there’s a joke going around,” Minhyuk added, “that it’s one of us.”

Hyungwon could almost hear Jooheon’s heart leap in his chest. “That’s ridiculous,” he said.

“I know, right? If any of us were gonna write fanfiction it’d be Kihyun writing his own imagines.” Minhyuk sighed happily. “Now, what was that you were saying when I came in? Something about kissing your friends?”

“Absolutely nothing,” Jooheon said. He’d turned so pink that his famous resemblance to Majin Buu was growing in accuracy with every passing second. “I’m gonna go head to the company.”

“I’ll go with you,” Minhyuk said, jerking forward to reach for Jooheon’s arm as he crawled out of the bunk.

Jooheon shook him off. “I gotta go,” he said, and grabbed a hoodie off the foot of the bed. “I’ll see you guys later.”

The door slammed shut and they sat in silence for about three seconds, which was probably a personal record for Minhyuk. “You think he knows he grabbed my sweatshirt?” Minhyuk asked.

“He’ll probably figure it out eventually,” Hyungwon said. “You may have to take it off him yourself, though.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Minhyuk sighed, a wistful smile flickering over his face.

“Careful.”

“What?” Minhyuk looked hurt. “What about me makes you think I might not be careful?”

Hyungwon rolled his eyes. He didn’t get paid enough for this.

 


 

Hoseok licked a smear of whipped cream from the corner of his mouth like a cat, scraping his fork over the plate to scrape up whatever crumbs might remain. The bright red strawberries had stained his lips and they looked almost as though they would taste sweet. Hyungwon bit his tongue and looked away before Hoseok could catch him.

They'd put the cake away in almost no time, which was sort of annoying because he preferred to take his time with cake but also sort of nice because now he was full of cake. You win some, you lose some. Suddenly Hoseok was standing up, saying, "Let's go," and holding out his hand to help Hyungwon up from the booth.

The employees whispered in titters and gasps when he reached out and took it, (like shippers at a fan sign but quieter), and he ignored them like he always did. Hoseok held his hand and looked him in the eye and smiled - Trust me, he'd said - and he ignored the whispers even more than he normally did. He was too busy being confused and unsteady and it took a lot more mental energy than one would think.

"I never agreed to this," Hyungwon said, scooting over to unfold up and out of the booth. He pulled his hand out of Hoseok's loose grip and dusted off the seat of his jeans. "I expect you to take full responsibility for everything."

Hoseok pouted up at him. "What, don't you think I can take care of you?"

"You just offered my body to strangers."

"I did not! That is not what I did. I told you to trust me."

"Yeah I heard you say that. People lie, hyung."

"I am not people," Hoseok said, looking hurt. "I'm your hyung. I'm here to look out for you. Take care of you."

"Kiss me in public too, apparently," Hyungwon tacked on under his breath. His ears went hot and thank god, so did Hoseok's. He wasn't the only one here having the most embarrassing moment in his life.

Hoseok shook his head and grabbed him loosely by the wrist, pulling him along up toward the counter. "Where's the back door?"

The barista who'd been forced to delete her tweet looked unimpressed. "Aren't you forgetting something, oppa?" She tapped her pursed lips.

"Show us where the door is first," Hyungwon said. At this point he was just delaying the inevitable. (Hoseok's mouth looked red and sweet, and Hyungwon couldn't stop wondering if his lips were as sour as they were pretty - just like those big red hothouse strawberries.)

She pulled a curtain of beads away from an open door leading into a corridor which ended in a door, propped open into the alley behind the cafe.

Hyungwon looked at Hoseok. Hoseok looked back. "I'm gonna close my eyes," Hyungwon managed.

"If you want." Hoseok grinned, and his soft open face went almost deliciously wicked. "Trust me, baby. Gimme your hand."

Hyungwon squeezed his eyes shut, held his breath, tried to lie back and think of Korea—

Hoseok kissed him on the knuckles.

"Hey," Hyungwon said, opening his eyes.

"Hey!" said the barista.

"I didn't say where I'd kiss him," Hoseok crowed, and broke into a run down the hallway toward the back door with Hyungwon's hand still in his grip. "Thanks for the head start! Support our comeback! We'll send over a signed poster!"

Hoseok’s legs were shorter than his but he started running so suddenly and unexpectedly that Hyungwon’s legs almost mutinied underneath him, only barely catching him after a moment of very questionable imbalance. They hit the door and nearly tumbled down the concrete steps into the back alley— “Kick the doorstop,” Hoseok hissed— and heard the door slam on a group of betrayed food service workers shouting something along the lines of “Hey!”

“What the hell,” Hyungwon said, or tried to, voice breaking as Hoseok jerked him forward down the alley. “Hyung—”

They passed a dumpster and Hoseok ducked behind it, pulling Hyungwon around the corner with him and pressing him close against the concrete brick wall lining the street. They stood there, gasping for breath as quietly as possible, staring into each other’s eyes while they listened for the telltale sounds of pursuit. (It reminded him a little bit of Jurassic Park, but fangirls weren’t so thoughtful as to announce their presence with a cup of rippling water. Score one for the Tyrannosaurus Rex.)

Hyungwon whipped his head around when he heard voices, but the dumpster was blocking everything. They were far enough away that he couldn’t parse any individual words but it sounded like at least two people who were very focused on blaming each other for something. The voices faded, and then there was the sound of a door slamming shut.

Hoseok let out a long breath and pulled down his facemask to more effectively beam his gleeful smile directly up into Hyungwon’s face. “Told you to trust me,” he said.

“You told me you were gonna kiss me,” Hyungwon said. He was still catching his breath from their surprise sprint, and Hoseok still had him pinned to the wall anyway, and his vision was tunneling, and he just generally felt very upside down.

It took a second but Hoseok laughed, dropping his hands from Hyungwon’s shoulders. “Yeah, sorry about that. It was all I could think of. I really wanted to eat that cake.”

“This wall is disgusting,” Hyungwon said, taking a shaky step forward. “You’re paying to get this dry cleaned.”

“Are you kidding?” Hoseok rubbed his hands together. “Our descriptions and location will be everywhere on SNS in about ten minutes, I’m gonna buy you a whole new coat and catch us a cab.”

“A what,” Hyungwon said, but Hoseok had already grabbed his wrist to pull him along.

“A cab.”

“No— a new coat, that’s—”

“It’ll have to be a different color,” Hoseok was saying, musing out loud. “A different shape would probably be a good idea.” He glanced down and back. “Maybe something long. Your legs are too recognizable.”

“Excuse me?”

“You walk like uncooked linguine.”

“Rude,” Hyungwon said. “When the fuck did you start buying me new coats?”

"Since I started getting royalty checks for songs I write about you," Hoseok replied. “Now come on, we’re running out of time. Do you think I’d look good in pink?” He laughed. “Who am I kidding, I look handsome in everything.”

 


Three Days Ago

 

“Changkyunnie and Minhyuk-hyung are out on schedules,” Jooheon said quietly, sitting next to Hyungwon on the couch as nonchalantly as possible. It wasn’t very nonchalant. Jooheon was one of the better actors among the members but when actual secrecy on the line, it was every man for himself.

“Mmhmm,” Hyungwon said, scrolling through twitter on the group undercover account. He shouldn’t have mentioned that goddamn frog costume, it was everywhere now. “So…?”

“So,” Jooheon said. He sighed. Patted his legs. Sighed again. “So maybe I was thinking we could... talk about stuff. Privately. In our room.”

“Like what?”

“Like… like plans.” Jooheon gave him a look that wouldn’t be out of place in a hospital. “Plans. For research. Research plans.” He tipped in closer, bringing his mouth up to Hyungwon’s ear. “For how you’re gonna get a confession out of Hoseok-hyung.”

Hyungwon locked his screen and let his hand flop onto his lap. “A cafe date,” he replied.

Jooheon opened his mouth— and hesitated. “Oh yeah,” he said. “You two go on dates sometimes, huh.”

Cafe dates,” Hyungwon added, maybe a tiny bit quicker than he meant to. “We just like drinking coffee and eating cake.”

Anyway,” Jooheon said, shooting Hyungwon a look out of the corner of his eye, “I figure it wouldn’t hurt to go over some strategy.” He stood up. “I’m gonna go get some water. We should head in at different times anyway. Avoid suspicion.”

For a second Hyungwon considered the wisdom of reminding Jooheon that an even better way to avoid suspicion was to not say things like Avoid Suspicion in a stage whisper in the middle of the living room, but he was already turning the corner and yelling after him would be even more counterproductive.

Hyungwon sighed, running a hand back through his hair. In the kitchen he could hear Jooheon and Hoseok encounter each other - Jooheon’s awkward laugh, Hoseok’s distracted lilt - so he stood up, heading back toward the bedroom. No use getting tangled up.

When he flopped bonelessly onto Jooheon’s bed his tablet screen flipped on with the movement. It lay screen up next to him, paragraphs of fanfiction beaming up to light up the underside of the bunk above. He wasn’t going to read it but then he pushed up onto his elbows and starting reading it anyway, and it went like this:

Jooheon wasn't supposed to kiss Minhyuk, talk to him, look at him. He'd been warned off by everyone. They'd told him he was a player, a fuckboy, that he flirted the panties off of anything that moved. For about three days he'd been good. Minhyuk was cute but he was just a guy, and yeah Jooheon had come out to everybody less than six months ago but it wasn't like he'd never been kissed. Even fuckboys were just boys.

Of course Minhyuk didn't feel like just a boy with his tongue licking into Jooheon's—

“What are you doing?”

Hyungwon let the tablet fall back onto the mattress, whipping around. Jooheon stood there next to the bed with a glass of water in his hand and horror writ large over his face.

“What am I doing?” Hyungwon asked, incredulous. “What—”

“I clicked on the wrong link,” Jooheon said, setting the glass down on the window sill to reach for the tablet. “I must have forgotten to close it. Don’t worry about it, just—”

Hyungwon sat up and held the tablet to his chest. “Hey man,” he said. “Not to be weird, but… like, if you need to talk to somebody—”

“I don’t need to talk to anybody about anything,” Jooheon mumbled, holding out a hand. “Gimme my tablet back. Stop… stop looking at my stuff.”

“You leave it lying around, what am I supposed to do, walk around with my eyes closed? You may not have noticed but we live in a pig sty, I’d trip and crack my head open within an hour.” Hyungwon loosened his grip on the tablet. Handed it over. “Sorry. You can have it back. I was just surprised.”

Jooheon let out a hollow laugh. Sat down on the edge of Minhyuk’s mattress. Bent over and hid his face behind his tablet, ears red.

Hyungwon cleared his throat. “So. Hm.” He licked his lips. “You sure you don’t wanna talk? A little? No judgments,” he added quickly, flapping a hand. “Just, uh… y’know. I’m here for you or something.”

“Look,” Jooheon said, voice hoarse. He set the tablet back down on his lap but kept staring at the floor between them. “There’s a lot of that sort of fanfic, all right, a lot of them are about— about us being something with each other, you know?”

“I think I heard something about that once, yeah. Like maybe on Reply 1997, an award-winning drama about a fangirl who gets her start in tv by writing fanfiction about H.O.T.” Hyungwon sat back. “Or that time the leader of SS501 wrote his own—”

“He what?”

“We’re getting off-track. Yeah, there’s a lot of fanfiction where we kiss. I’m aware.”

“So it’s hard to avoid. And some of the best stuff has kissing. And… uh…”

“And,” Hyungwon echoed. “And you wanna kiss Minhyuk?”

“No,” Jooheon hissed at him, looking mortified. Then he looked horrified. Then he looked both mortified and horrified at the same time, at which point Hyungwon took pity on him.

“It’s okay,” Hyungwon said quickly. “Either way. Doesn’t matter. It’s all good. Hoseok-hyung dated a guy once,” he added, not knowing why. “And if I had a problem being alone with him I wouldn’t date him.”

Jooheon looked at him.

“That’s not what I meant,” Hyungwon said. “We’re talking about you.”

“I don’t wanna talk about me,” Jooheon said.

“That’s a first.”

“Shut up.” Jooheon rubbed both hands over his face. “Damn it. God damn it. No, I don’t know. Okay? I don’t know.”

“It’s okay,” Hyungwon said, except something about it wasn’t okay because Jooheon was getting all soggy again. “Uh, okay. Do you… hey we could— fuck.” He stood up, pulling Jooheon over the space between the beds to sit next to him instead. “It’s not a big deal, look—”

“It is a big deal,” Jooheon said. He sucked in an upsettingly damp breath, scrubbing at his eyes with the heels of his palms. “Man— we live together, man. He sleeps right over there and he’s on me all the time, it’s dumb, I don’t know—”

“It’s okay,” Hyungwon said for the billionth time. He tried patting Jooheon on the arm, but it didn’t seem to work very well. He went for the shoulder instead. “Is this why you’re so worried about who’s writing fanfiction?”

“It’s different for you,” Jooheon said. “Even if it looks like there’s something there’s nothing. But like, if people start to think—” He let out a shuddering breath. “If there’s something to find they’ll find it, you know?”

“None of us would do that to you,” Hyungwon said quietly.

“Not on purpose,” Jooheon replied. “Hoseok-hyung isn’t known for subtlety.”

“I’ll figure it out. It’ll be okay. I’ll deny you were ever involved if anybody asks.” Hyungwon poked Jooheon in the leg. “Hey. Are you gonna cry about it?”

“No,” Jooheon said, but then started crying anyway. He tipped over and buried his face in Hyungwon’s chest.

“You’re gonna get me all soggy,” Hyungwon said, looping his arms around Jooheon’s shoulders.

Jooheon laughed, thick and shallow between gasping breaths. “I’ll buy you a new shirt.”

“What, you think my love can be bought?” Hyungwon patted Jooheon idly on the back. “Smart kid. I wear an XL.”

It wasn’t until he was waking up again that he realized that they’d fallen asleep side by side on the narrow mattress, Jooheon snoring gently against his ribs and Hyungwon’s leg slung over his hip. The light in the room was off but the door was open and a slice of light cut through the darkness.

He heard Minhyuk say, “What did you say?” And then he heard Hoseok say, “They’re asleep.”

Jooheon sighed and shifted next to him, but Hyungwon was already half asleep before he thought to wonder who it had been that had covered them up with a blanket and turned off the light.

 


 

“Don’t tip it up,” Hoseok said, “you’re gonna choke yourself to death like last time,” but Hyungwon had already tipped up the bag to get the churro to slide into his mouth and the aforementioned churro had already begun both the aforementioned slide as well as his aforementioned imminent death.

“I told you,” Hoseok said after a little bit, whacking Hyungwon on the back as he bent over at the edge of the sidewalk coughing cinnamon sugar all over the landscape. “Just because you’ve got a big mouth doesn’t mean you don’t have to chew your food.”

“It was stuck,” Hyungwon protested between coughs. “In the paper. I just wanted to eat it.”

"I'll cover the dry cleaning on your other coat but this one is on you if you mess it up. It's brand new."

"I've got five others just like it," Hyungwon said. He straightened up, wiping his mouth the back of one wrist. "Look. It's fine. I'm not a baby."

Hoseok smiled like he did in music videos, which wasn't something Hyungwon had ever noticed before. But somebody had noticed and put the observation embedded in the way of a rabbit hole that Hyungwon had fallen into of his own will and so now when Hoseok smiled at him the way he smiled at the camera in music videos - like he was in love - he couldn't unthink that thought. Hoseok smiled up at him the way he smiled when he was in love.

"You're kind of a baby," Hoseok said. He pressed the pad of one thumb between his lips and reached up, smile transitioning smoothly into a look of perfectly chiseled determination as he scrubbed a smear of something from the corner of Hyungwon's mouth. "You sleep all the time. Need somebody to feed you and pick up after you."

Hyungwon pushed Hoseok's hand away. "Can't a man eat his churro in peace?"

"Not if he wants to live," Hoseok retorted. "Will you at least let me tear the paper down for you so you don't choke yourself again?"

"I can tear my own paper." In a brief and horrifying moment Hyungwon realized he was still holding Hoseok's loose fist in his hand. He pressed it against Hoseok's chest and awkwardly thrust his hand back to his side. "Your ice cream is melting."

"Fuck!"

"Now who's a baby?" Hyungwon stood back and watched the antics, distractedly tearing the paper of his churro bag so that he could reach the last few bites without hurting himself. "You got enough in that royalty check to pay for all this dry cleaning?"

"It'll blot out," Hoseok sighed, the look on his face belying the anguish hidden behind his words. "Mind your own business."

"Not that it's any of my business—"

"That's what I literally just said."

"—But it kind of serves you right for getting ice cream in March."

"You'd think it wouldn't melt," Hoseok muttered under his breath, licking a long trail of melted ice cream that had traveled all the way from his fingertips to his wrist. "Isn't it cold enough?"

Hyungwon huffed a breath. "No fog. Just because you're a wimp doesn't mean the law of thermodynamics don't apply."

"Oh I'm the wimp? You're the one who got a churro because your hands were cold."

"It's March."

Hoseok laughed around a mouthful of ice cream. "I heard that somewhere, yeah. Hey, what's that sound?"

"Sound?" Hyungwon patted himself. "Oh, it's— hold this, it's my phone."

Hoseok took the churro and heaved a contented sigh. "Ah, the dulcet melody of an actual ringtone. It's been so long I'd forgotten what it sounds like."

"Don't eat my churro," Hyungwon replied, pulling his phone out of his pocket. The screen lit up with a text notification - they'd taken to sending each other actual texts sometimes, just out of the novelty of having actual phone numbers - and Jooheon's name popped up with it.

"Better answer that," Hoseok said, glancing over his shoulder. "Don't want to keep him waiting."

"Heonnie's not that bad," Hyungwon said, but unlocked his screen anyway to pull up the text. "He just wants to know when I'm getting back. We've got schedules."

Hoseok grunted in affirmation and took a bite of Hyungwon's churro, looking him right in the eye.

"You're the worst, hyung," Hyungwon said, dashing off a quick: No, I don't know yet, stop bothering me while I'm working.

"Not even close. Hold on—" Hoseok shoved the last of the ice cream in his mouth, cone and all, before stepping one foot off the curb and waving one hand in oncoming traffic for a cab. "If your boyfriend wants you back home then we better get moving."

"He's not my boyfriend," Hyungwon said. The ground seemed to shift under him, all the old questions swirling suddenly and unexpectedly and gut-churningly with a brand new fresh crop of questions, each more worrying than the last. "What are you talking about?"

"It's okay," Hoseok replied, grabbing Hyungwon's arm. A cab pulled up to the sidewalk and he stepped forward, opened the door, pushed Hyungwon gently into the backseat. "Not in front of the driver."

"At least gimme my churro back," Hyungwon stuttered. "What's left of it, anyway."

They talked about almost nothing in the car. The driver had never heard of them and Hoseok took the golden opportunity to promote every one of their songs he could, insisting that the driver watch him dancing choreo in the rearview mirror at every red light. They pulled up to the dorm building just as Hoseok was finishing up a rousing version of Newton that had the driver choking up with tears of what Hyungwon assumed must be boredom.

Hoseok's hand was only centimeters from their front door when he stopped, hesitating. "Listen," he said. "Remember when I said that if there was anything going on you could tell me?"

"Yeah," Hyungwon said.

"It's probably better if I don't know," Hoseok finished, not looking up. He opened the door and stepped through it, leaving Hyungwon behind in the hallway.

Chapter Text

“What do you mean, ‘we have a problem’?” Jooheon hissed, dragging Hyungwon into their room and flipping on the light before shutting the door and leaning against it like they’d only barely escaped a zombie horde with their lives. “You went out with him once, and you already—”

“Okay first of all we didn’t go out,” Hyungwon interrupted sullenly, running his hands back through his hair as he paced along the walkway of convenience they’d carved out of the detritus of four boys in a bedroom. “We just went for coffee.”

“I don’t care.” Jooheon wrung his hands, closed his eyes, took a breath. “What problem are you talking about?”

“I still don’t know if it’s him,” Hyungwon said. Jooheon groaned. “Also I’m pretty sure he thinks you and I are, like, an item.”

“Oh,” Jooheon said. “Oh, great. Great! This is exactly not what I wanted. You know they tell you that the idol life is hard, but then Hoseok-hyung comes along…”

"He'll calm down," came Changkyun's voice, "he just has to be dramatic about it first." He sat up in his bed and Hyungwon had, perhaps, never felt quite so betrayed by fate. "Hoseok-hyung thinks you two are kissing? What are you talking about?"

"What are you doing here," Jooheon hissed at him, blood draining out of his cheeks briefly before rushing hurriedly back in again. "Why— nothing, we're not talking about anything. That's all."

“I live here,” Changkyun said, and blinked sleepily at him. He turned to Hyungwon. "It's too late. Fill me in."

"Somebody's writing fanfiction," Hyungwon said. Jooheon made a sobbing noise into his hands.

"So?" Changkyun pulled his knees tight in against his chest, stoic brow knitting worriedly. "People write fanfiction all the time. Kihyun-hyung reads his own imagines."

"Oh my god," Jooheon mumbled under his breath. He stared into the middle distance like he was having some kind of horrifying flashback. "Minhyuk-hyung was right."

"We think it's one of us," Hyungwon clarified, pushing Jooheon aside to pull himself up onto his own bunk so he and Changkyun were level with each other. "One of the members."

Changkyun turned a funny color that Hyungwon could only describe as vaguely green. "Oh yeah? Who do you think it is?"

"Hoseok-hyung," Jooheon said, sighing, sitting down on Minhyuk's mattress and scratching his scalp with his fingernails.

"Oh." Changkyun considered this for a second, letting his knees separate and fall into a loose sort of meditation pose. "Actually that makes sense, doesn't it?"

"That's what I said," Jooheon sighed. "But somebody was all 'ohh, let me take care of it, I'll figure it out no problem'—"

"I do not sound like that," Hyungwon interjected sullenly.

"—And now, instead of knowing for sure whether it is really Hoseok-hyung writing fanfiction, Hoseok-hyung thinks— he thinks—" Jooheon groaned and scrubbed both hands over his face. "This is getting exponentially worse. I should have just asked him."

Changkyun turned his gaze on Hyungwon and before that moment he didn't truly understand what it meant to be afraid. "Why do you think he's mad that you two might be making out?"

Silence fell over the room like a thick quilt.

"Because he's a pisces," Jooheon said after a moment's thought.

"I still don't know what that shit means," Hyungwon said.

"Do you want to?" Changkyun asked.

"No."

"Then shut up about it." Changkyun leaned over to stare down at Jooheon. "You have a point. Sounds like a mystery to me."

"Ruh-roh," Hyungwon muttered under his breath. "What do you think, Scoob? Who is it behind that fanfiction account? Could it be Old Man Geezer from down Creaky Jalopy Way?"

"That's not a nice thing to call Hoseok-hyung," Jooheon said.

"No, no." Changkyun flapped a hand. "Let the man speak. What's up, Shaggy?"

"If he's Shaggy then who am I?"

"Velma," Changkyun replied authoritatively. “Obviously.”

"Oh," Jooheon said, mollified. "Well. All right then."

"You know," Changkyun said, "this could be a fic."

"Ha ha," Jooheon said, sounding miserable.

“What are you gonna do when you figure out who it is?” Changkyun scratched thoughtfully at his hairline. “Like… ask him to stop? Tell on him?”

“Call the police,” Jooheon said. “Have him thrown in prison for the rest of his life.”

Changkyun whistled a long descending note. “Yikes. Hard pass, bro. If I was the one writing fanfiction I wouldn’t confess to it with an attitude like that, and Hoseok-hyung is…”

“Gooey,” Hyungwon offered.

“That’s a good one, yeah. Gooey.” Changkyun sighed and ran a hand back through his hair, leaning back against the wall. “Well, I think that all the evidence points to Hoseok-hyung—” Hyungwon almost asked what evidence that was, exactly, before realizing he didn’t actually have any counterargument to make. “—And since he’s all, you know, gooey, it’s probably a good idea to keep things quiet to keep from spooking him.”

“That’s what I said,” Hyungwon said. “Honey thought I just wanted him to pay for my coffee.”

“You did just want me to pay for your coffee.”

“I don’t have to take this from you. You’re a libra.”

Jooheon squawked. “You don’t even know what that means.”

“Want my advice?” said Changkyun, but at this point it wasn’t actually a question. “Make a fanfiction.”

Jooheon froze. Hyungwon froze. The room in general seemed to get a little bit colder, but that may just have been sympathetic embarrassment.

“What?” Jooheon croaked.

“Make him an offer he can’t refuse,” Changkyun elaborated, the idea spinning up behind his eyes like a firework. He leaned forward conspiratorially. “Set up a story so perfect he can’t help but write it, then catch him with it.”

Hyungwon narrowed his eyes. “Like…”

“Like... keep track of it whenever you hang out alone with him,” Changkyun said, as though it were obvious. “If any of that pops up in the fic then it’s a pretty good indicator that it’s him. Or you,” he commented vaguely, eyes flickering up to pin Hyungwon curiously to the wall. “That’s always a possibility I guess.”

Jooheon stood up, shock writ large over his face. “Oh my god,” he whispered. “It makes so much sense.”

Hyungwon extended one leg and kicked Jooheon in the face. Gently. A love tap. On the forehead. With his foot, kind of hard. Lovingly. “You really think I’d be spending my time writing fanfiction about my own life when I could be asleep? We don’t have that much free time. I don’t even know how we’re finding the time to scheme like this.”

“Narrative convenience,” Changkyun said, looking thoughtful. “Listen, we gotta go about this the right way. Gimme a little bit to think.”

 


 

Rain splattered obnoxiously against the window in the living room as they shuffled around blinking sleepily under mercilessly bright overhead lights, dark still blanketing the world beyond the closed blinds. For once everybody had managed to get a shower on time and nobody was late. (Kihyun muttered something very rude about how unusual it was, but Hyungwon ignored him like he normally did. He'd gotten pretty good at it.)

Hyungwon flipped through hangers and hangers and hangers of coats trying to find anything that could withstand the weather and keep him in the stylists' good books, which was a little trickier than he wished it was. He needed to go shopping more.

His fingertips found one more black coat, long to cover his signature uncooked noodle legs, different enough from a hoodie to give him just a little bit of cover to make it to safety. He hadn't worn it for... had it really been over a week? (Preparing for a comeback and plotting out a live-action fanfiction at the same time really made the days fly by.) He'd taken it off with his head spinning and Hoseok's odd sulking tone ringing in his ears and stuffed it behind all his other coats. Saving it for a rainy day, maybe.

Hyungwon thought about the little girl with the duckie umbrella and rain against glass. Then he pulled out the long black waterproof coat Hoseok had bought him last week and shouldered into it, thinking about the words Since I started getting royalty checks for songs I write about you .

Not even five seconds after he buckled the belt around his waist a manager was banging on the door yelling about being late, and rain, and traffic, so for a while he didn't get a chance to think about anything at all.

"Dibs on the back seat," Minhyuk shouted, conveniently waiting for the elevator doors to close before yelling into an enclosed space filled with tired, irritable people.

"I'll kill you," Kihyun muttered at him.

Minhyuk patted a manager on the shoulder. "Here's an idea for our next concept: Kihyun's a necromancer."

Hyunwoo snorted and then turned toward the wall when Kihyun squawked, which meant it was a day that ended in Y. Hyungwon settled into the bickering like it was home, the background hum of amicable conflict almost like a lullaby at this point.

When they got out to the van Minhyuk beat them all to the door, pulling Jooheon in after him all the way back to squeeze him into the middle. Hoseok reached the van, and stepped up—

"Oh," he said, stepping back down onto the pavement and shooting Hyungwon a funny look over his shoulders. "You probably wanna sit next to Honey, right?"

For a second Hyungwon hesitated, but then Changkyun wordlessly kicked the back of his ankle. "You read my mind," he said then, smiling as naturally as he could and stepping past Hoseok up into the van.

Hoseok reached out, fingertips brushing distractedly over Hyungwon's sleeve. "Is that—?"

"Yeah," Hyungwon answered.

"Huh," Hoseok said, and dropped his hand. "Cool. I was starting to wonder if you lost it."

The ride in the van was uneventful, shorter than their manager had feared, except Hoseok sat in the front seat and looked out the window and didn't say anything even when Changkyun said something to tease him. Hyungwon sat in the backseat and tried to ignore it, not think about it. Next to him Minhyuk had his hand high up on Jooheon's inner thigh, face close in to whisper in his ear. Jooheon just stared at the gray carpet between the seats and smiled, the tips of his ears pink.

Hyungwon looked out the window and wondered what else he'd missed.

 


 

They'd gone over it a couple different times and Hyungwon had tried to stick to the script where he spent time with Hoseok but snuck away with Jooheon, but Hoseok would vanish whenever Hyungwon had a second to breathe. After the fifth time Hyungwon had started to wonder if it was on purpose. After the seventh time he'd gone past wondering and straight into suspecting, and after the eighth...

Someone nudged the back of his makeup chair and when he looked up from his phone the eyes that met his in the mirror were Jooheon's, curious and oddly concerned. "Have you seen Hoseok-hyung around?"

"He keeps disappearing," Hyungwon replied, force-closing the browser window on his phone just by force of habit. With Jooheon it didn't matter, but still. "I think he's been avoiding me."

"You too, huh?" Jooheon bit his bottom lip worriedly, staring unfocused into the middle distance in an expression of deep thought. "This is only a good plan if all the chess pieces go where they're supposed to."

"Hoseok-hyung's never been good at chess," Hyungwon said. Then he locked his phone screen. Then he sighed. Then he stood up groaning, shoving his phone into the pocket of his slacks. "I'll go find him or something."

His efforts were thwarted by a stack of mission cards, ("Oh," he said, pretending to be pleasantly surprised), but at least when he pulled his card it gave him an excuse.

It took a few minutes but he finally tracked Hoseok down to some tucked away back corner drinking a can of Pixelated Brand Name Beverage, a cameraman fast on his heels. "Hyung," he said, gasping the word out at the same moment that Hoseok looked up to meet his eye. "Let's take a selca."

Hoseok smiled a toothy, wild-eyed grin. "Wha—"

"Mission," Hyungwon snipped, and wrapped an arm around Hoseok's shoulders to flash a V up into the front-facing camera on his phone. "Selca with the member you're closest to. Close your mouth, you look like a fish."

"Since when am I the member you're closest to?" Hoseok asked a little later, after the pd had managed to ambush Kihyun into doing a mission where he wheedled Changkyun into proposing to him and the cameras were all pointed elsewhere. When Hoseok said it he laughed but it was quiet, and he only looked at the chain around Hyungwon's neck rather than in his face.

"Since," Hyungwon said, but then didn't know what to say after that. "Thanks," he said instead. "For the coat. It meant a lot. Means. It means a lot."

This time when Hoseok laughed he meant it, at least a little bit more. "Is that it?"

The way the light hit the angle of his jaw was stupid, frankly, and someone had noticed it and now Hyungwon had too. Hoseok's jaw was stupid, but Hyungwon was a fucking idiot— he had to be, because only a fucking idiot would reach out and feel the arc, the soft skin just under the ridge of bone, the powdery finish on the fixing spray the staff plastered them with every waking moment.

Hyungwon blinked, said, "Yeah," and dropped his hand. "That's pretty much it." And fled.

The next time time he saw Hoseok it was out of the corner of his eye, and he pretended not to.

It was dark all over again before they were finally all packed into the van for the last time. It had stopped raining, clouds parting to let moonlight glance up off the mirror-sheen of wet asphalt, but big fat drops of water still rolled down the glass of the window as the van moved along brand new highways and ancient thoroughfares. Hyungwon traced the pathways with a fingertip and thought about nothing.

Jooheon had fallen asleep only a few minutes after they'd left their last filming location and now he was tipped in against Minhyuk's chest, Minhyuk's arm around his shoulders and long fingers combing distractedly through his hair. Minhyuk looked out the window too. Streetlights passed and reflection of his face in the dark window showed circles under his eyes like bruises, where the makeup had worn off and the sleep deprivation shone through.

Minhyuk could sleep, nudge Jooheon over a little and prop up against him like they did on long airplane rides when things were too cramped to recline their seats, but he didn't. When Jooheon sighed and shifted in his sleep he was responsive and quick, checking on him, brushing knuckles gently over his cheek to coax him back to sleep.

It's one thing if there's nothing. But if there's something...

Hyungwon pretended to be asleep when the van finally came to a stop in front of their dorm, letting everybody else pile out until finally 'waking up' right before Jooheon finally straightened up, blinking in the light as Minhyuk shook and cooed at him. (Hyungwon had been hearing sing-song whispers of "Honey-yah, we're almost home" and "Honey-yah, almost time to wake up" for the last five minutes, and still Jooheon took this long to wake up. And he was the one who was famous for being hard to get out of bed? He’d make sure to bring this up in the next radio interview.)

Jooheon stood up, and then Minhyuk stood up—

Hyungwon caught Minhyuk's elbow in a fit of vigilante concern. "Hey, can I have a second?"

The look Minhyuk gave him wasn't suspicious or curious, which he hadn't been expecting. "You can have minutes," he replied, teeth chattering, "but just lemme get inside."

The sidewalk shone with rain and the echoes of their footsteps seemed to ring even louder in the fresh, clean air. "Out here," Hyungwon managed, using his long legs for good in order to catch up, reaching out for Minhyuk's shoulder. "Just a second. You and me," he said, coming up close to speak quietly in his ear. "No managers."

Now Minhyuk narrowed his eyes. "What?" he asked, voice hushed. "Is this about Hoseok-hyung's birthday, because I was talking to Chang—"

"I just wanna remind you to be careful," Hyungwon interrupted, risking his life. Minhyuk looked him in the eye but he couldn't stop now. "With Honey."

"I'm always careful with Honey."

"No, I mean— I mean maybe he just needs some space, you know?"

"Oh please, the last time I 'gave him space' he started falling asleep in my bed all the time, and while he's adorable and I normally wouldn't mind, he is a total blanket hog. I'd rather leave the cosleeping for hotel rooms with queen sized beds."

"But if he likes you," Hyungwon whispered. They were alone outside the glass doors of their building but across the lobby Hyungwon could see the bank of elevators and how one of them was slowly coming back down. "Like... just be careful, okay, he's— delicate," Hyungwon finished stupidly. "Don't lead him on."

Hyungwon hadn't known what exactly he expected but it wasn't for the blood to drain out of Minhyuk's face. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?" he whispered, taking a quick step forward. He was shorter than Hyungwon, but it occurred to him that he was also a hundred times more dangerous. "Don't— don't lead him on?"

"What if he likes you, and you—"

"Why do you even care?" Minhyuk interrupted, but he wasn't looking at Hyungwon anymore. He scrubbed both hands over his face. "What do you think, what... what do you think I'm doing?"

"Teasing him," Hyungwon said, and knew immediately that it was the wrong answer. The right answer eluded him, but it wasn't that.

Minhyuk rolled his eyes with more sarcasm than Hyungwon had ever seen him express, which was saying something. "Yep," he said. "You caught me. It's the long con, you know?" He coughed out a laugh. "This doesn't have anything to do with you, okay? Don't worry about it. It's none of your business."

"How is it none of my business how you flirt with Jooheon constantly in front of God and everybody?" Hyungwon said and god it was stupid but he was so wound up and tired and angry. Jooheon had cried over this and Hyungwon was mad about it, all right? He was mad about it, more than he’d realized. "He's my friend, Minhyuk, he's my—"

"Hey," somebody said, and it was Hoseok - standing in the open door leading into the lobby of their building. He'd taken his coat off and he was just in his sweater, long collar pulled up past his chin. The shoes he had on weren't the same as the ones he'd worn to walk from the van to the door, the heels hanging off his feet. They looked like a pair of Changkyun’s shoes.

Minhyuk's face changed almost magically as he spun on one heel, going from conflicted to delighted in a fraction of a second. "Hyung, did you miss us or something?"

"Sorry to interrupt your boy problems," Hoseok said, voice clipped. "Kihyunnie's trying to get something delivered and he refuses to order without you."

Hyungwon sucked in a breath. "We're not having—"

"Aren't all of our problems boy problems?" Minhyuk pondered, practically skipping past Hoseok into the building. "Boys having boy problems. Makes sense. Race you up!"

By the time Hyungwon made it to the door the wind had picked back up again and grabbed at his coattails. "Sorry," he said as he stepped past Hoseok. "He's just been getting on my nerves."

"You don't need to explain," Hoseok said, letting the door swing shut behind them. "Fighting over Jooheon, huh?"

"Yeah," Hyungwon sighed. Then he thought better of it. "No, I mean... he's just taking it kind of far," he finished, words fading as he pushed the elevator button.

The elevator dinged and the doors opened and both of them stepped on. Hoseok punched the button for their floor. "He's always been like that," he said. "What's different now?"

For a second he just wanted to come out with everything, spill his guts to his hyung on the elevator because keeping secrets was hard and he didn't want to do it anymore, but then there was Jooheon and he kept his mouth shut. Secrets were one thing, secrets that didn’t belong to him were another. "Just worried," Hyungwon said.

"Just worried," Hoseok echoed back.

Hoseok got chatty when he was nervous, which was most of the time, but he stayed quiet then until they reached their floor, then quiet down the corridor, then quiet as they stepped out of their shoes in their entryway.

"Took you long enough," Kihyun said, shooting them death glares from where he was hunched in front of the computer, browser window filled with the menu for a delivery service. "Do you wanna eat dinner or not?"

"Where's Minhyuk?" asked Hoseok, speaking before Hyungwon could even breathe.

"The company," Kihyun sighed, "which you would know if you checked your phone. Changkyunnie ditched us to go work on his mixtape and Minhyuk said he was gonna go practice or whatever, I don't know, he looked half dead to me but do you think he listens to a word I have to say?"

"Yes," Hyunwoo said distractedly, then looked up from his phone where he was sitting on the couch in just his boxers and undershirt. "Sorry. No? I wasn't listening."

"You're not helping, Dad," Jooheon said, patting him kindly on the arm.

"Oh cool," Hoseok said brightly. "Hyungwon, you an' Honey have your room all to yourselves tonight! What great timing!" He stepped backward, and turned, and left—

"Hoseok?" Hyunwoo sat up straight on the couch, leaning around to call after him down the front hallway. "Are you not gonna eat dinner with us?"

"Too many wheels," Hoseok called back through the house. There was the telltale double thump of a pair of shoes hitting the tile. "Got work to do anyway. Comeback's just around the corner." The door opened. The door closed.

Kihyun looked at Hyungwon. "Wheels?" he asked, incredulous.

"Don't ask me," Hyungwon said, throwing his hands up. There was something, but he didn't know what it was. (Maybe he just didn't have the words for it, whatever it was.) "Hoseok-hyung is always sulking about something and whatever it is it’s always stupid and I'm just, I’m tired of trying to figure out what's bothering him this time, okay? All right?"

He took a breath. "I think I'm tired," he said, quietly, at three pairs of cautious, worried eyes.

"Awake enough to yell," Jooheon said. "Are you okay?"

"Tired," Hyungwon said, again. Scrubbed his hands over his face. "I'm gonna go to bed, order me something that'll keep in the fridge and I'll eat it later."

Before the bedroom door closed he heard Kihyun mutter, "Does he think I just know his normal order?" under his breath.

Through the door Hyungwon heard Jooheon laugh, and say, "He doesn't like anything spicy, and he eats like a baby. I'll pick something out for him."

In that moment Hyungwon could understand why someone might fall in love with Jooheon, and, horribly, could suddenly understand that the way Jooheon loved all of them (apparently) equally could make someone feel unnoticed. Unspecial. Maybe even lead on, in a funny sideways sort of way.

Rain splattered obnoxiously against the window as he crawled up into his bunk, still wearing all the same clothes he’d worn all day, and everything felt the same as it had that morning. He was still tired, he was still damp, he was still frustrated and confused. Everything was the same and nothing was the same and how could he sleep? he thought to himself, closing his eyes. How could he sleep when the world was so strange? but he passed out before he found an answer.

He woke up to a dark bedroom filled with three sets of deep, sleepy breath. It turned out that Jooheon had picked out his favorite food from the menu, but when Hyungwon ate it cold out of the styrofoam container in the dead of night Hoseok was still somewhere else and Hyungwon was still wearing all the same clothes and nothing was the same. The food was good, but the rest of it just wasn’t his idea of a good time.

 


 

Hyungwon opened one eye. “What,” he said, mumbling wetly against the puddle of drool on his pillowcase.

Jooheon blinked at him from over the edge of his mattress. Probably Jooheon— without his glasses on Jooheon might have been the monster from under his bed, if Hyungwon didn’t know for a fact that Minhyuk had never smelled like baby powder in his life, whereas Jooheon had apparently started smelling like baby powder at birth and then never stopped. “Guess what,” he whispered.

“I guess that I’m dreaming and you’re not actually waking me up.”

“No.”

“Then I’m going back to sleep.”

“It happened,” Jooheon said, right as Hyungwon was rolling over. “The new fanfiction. It’s been posted. And it’s— listen, it’s… different from the others.”

Hyungwon opened his eyes again, (both of them this time), and stared at the wall in the dark. “Okay. Are you gonna tell me what’s different about it?”

“At the top, it says…” Jooheon swallowed. “It says chapter one.”

Chapter Text

Chapter One

There was a mystery in the dorm.


 

"Oh god," Hyungwon groaned and rubbed both hands over his face, letting the tablet fall flat on his lap. He leaned back in one of the office chairs in Jooheon's workroom. "I don't think I can do this."

Jooheon was pretty high on his Fuck These People Especially list at the moment, but there was a good reason: he'd woken Hyungwon up. Not just that, he'd woken Hyungwon up before he strictly needed to be vertical.

He'd convinced Jooheon to let him sleep a little bit more before putting him through this. It hadn't been difficult, provided he was willing to give up another blank line in his section of Jooheon's Grudge Book, all he really had to do was say Go Away, roll over, and lie still until Jooheon got bored and went away. This didn't take very long because Jooheon was easily bored and usually had better things to do, (like stand in the bathroom communing with the spirits for hours on end or whatever it was that he did in there), but then he hadn't been able to get back to sleep. Instead he just lay there, staring sleepily at the wall through his eyelashes with his brain spinning with increasingly horrible scenarios. What if the fic was bad? What if it wasn't obvious which of them it was? Or, perhaps the worst scenario: what if it was obvious, and Hyungwon had to face reality?

"There's nothing that bad in there," Jooheon said comfortingly, patting him on the knee. "You two just look at each other a lot."

"In the fanfic," Hyungwon added, bringing his hands down to fix Jooheon with a very non-threatening glower. "Our characters. In the fanfic."

"In the fanfic," Jooheon echoed back, smiling and nodding reassuringly in the way a distracted parent would reassure their four year old of the existence of the tooth fairy. "Sure."

"Not you too," Hyungwon said.

Jooheon kicked his ankle. "Shut up and read."

 


There was a mystery in the dorm.

The most mysterious part about it was that nobody seemed to know where it came from. It was just there one day, sneaking in under the door. Nothing happened to cause it, nothing stolen and no pranks played, but somehow there was a mystery.

The first time Hoseok noticed it was in a waiting room backstage at a music show.

It was loud, two other groups sharing the big boring space and everybody talking over each other. Hoseok got bored easily, tried to edge in on vlives and make a nuisance of himself—


 

"Okay. Hold on. There's no way Hoseok-hyung would describe himself like this," Hyungwon said.

Jooheon just rolled his eyes and waved his hand in response, a loose annoyed gesture indicating that Hyungwon stop putting off the inevitable and just read the goddamn thing. Hyungwon made a mental note to take unflattering photos of him while he was sleeping and put them on twitter tagged with Minhyuk's name.

 


Hyungwon was lying on a couch along one wall, arm curled protectively around his tablet. The screen was as dim as it could be and Hoseok could only barely make out the lines of text. "What are you reading?" he asked, flopping onto the couch next to him.

"What makes you think I'm reading anything?" Hyungwon asked back.

Hoseok rolled his eyes. "Does it matter?"


 

Something seemed off, but Hyungwon couldn't put his finger on it. The past was a strange and distant country, but there was something—

A knock sounded loudly on the door in the middle of this thought and he startled almost as much as Jooheon. "We're supposed to leave for the airport in fifteen minutes," Kihyun called to them, opening it just enough to stick his head into the room. "Are you ready yet?"

"Yeah," Jooheon shouted back over his shoulder, then glanced at Hyungwon. "Uh—"

"Oh darn," Hyungwon said, pushing the tablet into Jooheon's hands. "I still need to pack. Guess I can't read this right now. Bummer. What a tragedy. Excuse me," he added, opening the door and edging past Kihyun. "Gotta go fast."

"Naruto run or you’re out of the group," Kihyun yelled after him, so he stuck his arms straight out behind him and bolted for the elevator.

 


When Hoseok opened the door Hyungwon and Jooheon were sitting facing each other, Hyungwon's long thin hands splayed on Jooheon's thighs. They jumped when he stepped inside. Jooheon stood up quickly and backed away. "Hi," he stuttered. "What's up?"

It was hard to ignore how close they were, sitting like that in the dim mood lighting of Jooheon's workroom. Hoseok had been sure for a long time that he knew how the group dynamic worked but this was a new factor he'd never considered.

Jooheon and Hyungwon were already close. They shared a room, they shared jokes, they shared favorite foods. Absence was said to make the heart grow fonder, but what if the opposite was true? Something born out of closeness. Something convenient.


 

In line at the airport Hyungwon slumped over on Hyunwoo's broad back, letting himself drift off between the line shifting forward, sometimes minutes apart. Changkyun was keeping track of his passport, thank god— he probably would have dropped it by now, left to vanish in the swirling mass of people that traveled through Incheon. People talked loud around him and he tried to keep it out, which was easy enough as long as nobody bothered him.

Somebody poked him in the ribs. "Fuck off, Honey," Hyungwon groaned, flapping a hand behind him in sleepy resistance. "Stop it. I'm sleeping. I don't wanna do it right now, we're in public."

"Do what?" somebody said, except that somebody used Minhyuk's voice instead of Jooheon's.

Hyungwon stood up straight, or mostly, waking up more rudely than he liked. (This was a running theme. He wished it weren't.) "Anything," he replied, stomach rolling over. "I don't wanna do anything. I wanna get onto the plane and fall asleep."

"Changkyunnie had to go to the bathroom," Minhyuk said. "He gave me your passport. Why are you entrusting your passport to the maknae? Do you wanna get stranded?"

"What's better, entrusting my passport to me, or Changkyun? Really take a second and think about it."

Minhyuk looked down at the passport in his hand, ticket tucked between the waxy pages. "You've got a point," he said. "You still probably should've given it to Ki or Honey though."

"Changkyun was closest," Hyungwon mumbled, settling against Hyunwoo's back again.

"Is that your criteria? Whoever's closest?"

"Ha ha," Hyungwon said. "Gimme my passport back, we're almost to the front of the line."

Minhyuk smiled at him, a smile that looked like a smile he'd been specifically told to make, and handed him his passport. "Looks like you're seated right next to Honey," he said, and turned around to walk away, apparently to join a conversation between the managers as far from Hyungwon as possible.

Collateral damage, Hyungwon thought to himself, but wasn't exactly sure why.

Hyunwoo sighed. "Do I want to know?" he asked, voice rumbling enough that Hyungwon could feel it through his ribcage.

"Probably not," Hyungwon replied. Then hesitated. "It's not really anything. Don't worry about it."

"You don't have to talk about it until you're ready," Hyunwoo said, then reached back over his shoulder to skritch Hyungwon’s scalp. “Use your own bones, we’re up next.”

“You’re such a dad.”

“If the broken condom fits,” Hyunwoo replied easily, and stepped forward to the next available clerk, passport in hand.

 


Jooheon and Hyungwon stood huddled close together at the other end of the practice room, the rubber soles of Jooheon's sneakers squeaking on the wood floor as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other. Hyungwon was wringing his hands distractedly, staring off into the middle distance as he massaged his knuckles and Jooheon talked. Jooheon didn't look distracted at all— they stood close, surprisingly close, and Jooheon seemed to feel as though being barely centimeters from Hyungwon's ear was necessary for this particular conversation.

Kihyun was bent over one of the tables pushed up against the plain white plaster walls, pressing one of their manager's phones to his ear. There was a quickly scribbled list of what looked like delivery orders under his hand. "Somebody—" He cleared his throat and straightened up. "Just one moment, please," he said politely into the phone, and pressed the receiver to his chest. "Hey! Hyungwon-ah!"

"Why are we yelling?" Hyunwoo grumbled from where he sat against the mirror. It had been a whole hour since he'd last eaten and if they didn't get some food for him soon they'd have to play rock scissors paper to pick which of them would be the sacrificial lamb for Hyunwoo to ritually butcher and consume.

Kihyun rolled his eyes. "Could somebody go ask what the hell those two want?" he said, waving a hand irritably in Jooheon and Hyungwon's general direction. "And be fast, I don't have patience for this right now. Oh, no, sir— no, not you, I'm so sorry—"

"I'll go," Hoseok said, speaking at a normal volume despite Kihyun's increasingly desperate apologies to the owner of their favorite restaurant. He didn't actually care if Kihyun heard him, he'd be apologizing for at least another two minutes and might not notice he'd even walked away.

Jooheon jerked back and away from Hyungwon's side when his eyes caught Hoseok's movement in the mirror, throwing a guilty look at him.

Hyungwon pulled the sleeves of his sweater down over his hands. “Hey,” he said. “What's up?"

"Jooheon's mom is buying us lunch," Hoseok said. "She says you need to stop being so skinny."

"Sounds like her," Jooheon said. He mopped sweat from his forehead with a towel. "What about me?"

"What about you?"

"Is she buying lunch for me too?"

"Go talk to Kihyun," Hoseok said, and shrugged. "He's the one placing the order."

"Two orders of manduguk," Hyungwon said to Jooheon, and clapped his hands. "Hurry up."

“He’s gonna remember this,” Hoseok said as Jooheon walked away. “He’s got a whole diary just to write down all the times you mess with him and someday he’ll figure out a way to get you back.”

“Honey? He’s too sweet.”

"He's a libra," Hoseok said. "No libra is truly sweet."

"I don't know what that means." Hyungwon rubbed one eye with the cuff of his sleeve. "Hey, is it cold in here or is it just me?"


 

"Hey so like," Hyungwon said suddenly, then stopped.

Kihyun looked at him over his tablet. Then he kept looking at him with the exact same expression on his face for longer than felt comfortable, because it was Kihyun. That was how Kihyun communicated with people he was unimpressed with, i.e. everyone. "Hey so like what," he said finally, voice flat.

"Suppose stuff is just... happening to you," Hyungwon said, tongue stumbling over the words. "You can't stop it, it just keeps happening and you can't do anything about it but just go along with it."

"I live with Changkyun," Kihyun replied. "We all live with Changkyun. None of us are in control of our own fate, we're all subject to the whims of his localized entropy field."

"... What?"

"I didn't get enough sleep," Kihyun said. He blinked rapidly - once, twice, three times - and cleared his throat. "What about it?"

"I just dunno what to do," Hyungwon mumbled. He leaned forward, elbows on his knees and head in his hands. The seats at the gate were uniformly squeaky and uncomfortable. The seat next to Kihyun, at least, was next to a window. Small mercies. "You know, I mean— I mean if that were happening to me, I don't know what I would do."

"Sometimes you just gotta go with the flow."

"Yeah, I don't like that one. The flow isn't really working out for me."

"Then take charge of something," Kihyun said, and shrugged. "You're not powerless."

"But everything is all settled." His passport, thin as it was, dug into his thigh where he'd stuck it unceremoniously in his pocket. The ticket tucked between its pages gave him the seat next to Jooheon. Everything was settled. What was there left to decide?

"I'm sure you think so," Kihyun replied. He crossed his arms over his chest and slid down a little on the airport bench so that the nape of his neck rested on the back of the chair. "Now shh. I'm gonna sleep. Make sure somebody wakes me up when boarding starts."

Hyungwon sat there for a little bit, listening to Kihyun's breath slow and even out until the gate filled up enough with people that the background hum of idle chatter drowned out the sound. He pulled his passport out of his pocket and opened it from the back, flipping through the few remaining blank pages to shuffle through stickers and stamps, all the spoor of a life spent traveling the world on somebody else's schedule.

He got to the front page, to his plane ticket. Hyungwon looked at it.

"I need to talk to you for a second," Hyungwon said.

Minhyuk glanced up. Then he glanced up again, like Hyungwon was the last person he'd been expecting to walk up. "Okay," he said. (To anyone else he'd sound normal, but to Hyungwon the knife-edge of his cold annoyance cut quick and deep.) "What's up, my dude?"

"Could I see your plane ticket?"

"What?" Minhyuk sounded suspicious but he was already shuffling through the pages of his passport to pull out the thin cardboard ticket. "What about it?"

"We're switching," Hyungwon said, tucking Minhyuk's ticket into his passport and handing back his own. Minhyuk took it, looking confused and not a little bit dazed. "Don't ask why. Don't worry about it."

"What?" said Minhyuk for a second time. His voice sounded exactly the same as it had before. He always had been good at being an MC on music shows, sounding happy for their competition when his group lost over and over, and this what? sounded a lot like he'd read his own name on the card and wasn't sure how to react. "Why—"

"I was wrong," Hyungwon said. He wanted to leave it at that, but instead he opened his mouth and the words, "Give Honey as much or as little space as you want," fell out. "I mean it," he said then, surprising himself even more. He did mean it, which was perhaps the most surprising thing of all. "Just be careful, okay? It's one thing if there's nothing to find, but it's another if there's something."

The tips of Minhyuk's ears burned red. "I dunno what you mean," he mumbled, staring at the ticket in his hands.

"I don't care what you do," Hyungwon said. Adrenaline rushed through him as he heard himself speak— where had this bravery come from? (He heard Jooheon's laugh from all the way across the gate, high and delighted. A quick sideways glance showed that he'd found a baby and was now awash in an inescapable whirlpool of aegyo, and Hyungwon remembered exactly where this bravery had come from.) "Unless what you do gets him hurt. That's when it starts being my business."

“What—”

“He’s my friend,” Hyungwon interrupted, and shoved his passport in the pocket of his oversized sweatshirt. Overhead the speakers dinged three times and a very polite young woman requested that all first class passengers prepare for boarding. Hyungwon shrugged, a lump in his throat. “See you on the other side.”

Collateral damage, Hyungwon thought to himself as he walked away as fast as he could without breaking into a run, but this time he wasn't sure who it was sustaining the damage.

 


"I want the chocolate cake," Hyungwon said. He bent over the glass display case and squinted against the lights. "Wait, is that strawberry?"

"You can have both if you want," Hoseok said. He wanted to play the good cop here. Hyungwon knew something about the mystery in the dorm but Hoseok hadn't been able to get a straight answer out of him. "I've got money."

Hyungwon straightened up and gave him a curious look. "Since when?"

"Since I started writing songs about you," Hoseok said.


 

When he found his seat it was next to Kihyun, which wasn’t ideal. Kihyun had this irritating tendency to look at him for a really long time like some kind of incredibly patient, incredibly arrogant predator waiting for its prey to make a single wrong move. In this case the wrong move was opening his mouth, like it usually was, so Hyungwon decided not to say anything.

“Don’t give me that look,” Hyungwon mumbled, slouching down in the seat. (Damn. Kihyun didn’t even have to play Good Cop Bad Cop, he just silently talked you into playing it all by yourself. It was a superpower that would be devastating in the wrong hands. Kihyun’s hands, for example, were absolutely the wrong hands.)

“Pretty sure you were supposed to be Minhyuk,” Kihyun said. He slowly and deliberately moved the armrest down between them and leaned on it with his elbow, coincidentally causing him to loom in Hyungwon’s general direction. “You wanna walk me through this hypothetical?”

Kihyun was small. He was objectively small, short fingers and short height and narrow shoulders, but when he loomed he Loomed. Hyungwon had suspected that the amount of evil in a single person was concentrated the smaller they were, a suspicion for which Kihyun had kindly provided compelling evidence, but then Minhyuk had happened and Hyungwon had had to rework the entire theory from the ground up. Still, the fact remained: Kihyun was evil, and Hyungwon kind of very truly wanted to let himself get all soggy and tell him everything so that he could get sympathetic head pats and somebody else bearing the burden of his secrets for a little while. But they weren’t just his secrets, so he bit his lips together and closed his eyes and let his head fall back against the seat. “Maybe after a nap,” he said, leaning hard on the maybe.

Kihyun snorted. “Oh yeah? And how long do you plan to nap for?”

“Dunno. How long is this leg supposed to be?”

“Ah,” Kihyun said. Hyungwon opened one eye just a crack and managed to catch a dramatic eye roll such as had never been seen in life nor on screen. It was an eye roll perfected in sarcastic infancy and had only grown in power in the time that had passed since. “So that’s how it is.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Kihyun clicked his tongue in a wordless scolding. “I thought you were gonna sleep.”

“I am,” Hyungwon muttered under his breath, reclining his seat with an irritable fervor and glancing away, away and up—

He glanced away and up and Hoseok was walking between the rows of seats toward him. Their eyes met but Hoseok looked away fast— then looked back, brows knitting together in a silent question when he caught sight of Kihyun sitting next to him in the window seat. He sat down a couple rows back, next to a manager, and pretended to be asleep the only time Hyungwon walked by on his way to the bathroom. (He was so obvious. Everything he did, he wore on his sleeve.)

Collateral damage, Hyungwon thought to himself for the third time. He was beginning to wonder if he’d ever be able to get the words out of his head.

 


"You know you can tell me, right?"

Hyungwon looked up to meet his eyes, lips just barely parted, the fat red strawberry stuck on his fork hanging still in the air as he froze. "Tell you what?"

"If there's anything going on," Hoseok said. "You know, we're all on the same team. We should be able to talk about anything, you know?"

"Shh," Hyungwon hissed, eyes going wide. He glanced just barely toward the counter of the cafe, where the employees stood grouped together by the espresso machine. "They figured it out. What are we going to do?"

"I have an idea," Hoseok said.

"An idea?"

"You're going to have to trust me."


 

"Why did you switch seats with Minhyuk?" Jooheon hissed into Hyungwon's ear, jogging a little to catch up with him as they headed into their hotel.

They had a whole three hours before they had to be anywhere and Hyungwon had hoped to spend at least 175 of those 180 minutes asleep, but Jooheon's hand around his elbow foretold a future tragically bereft of sleep and rather more full of deeply embarrassing fanfiction. That was something he hadn't thought about when he'd taken Minhyuk's ticket: that Jooheon would still want him to read the damn fanfic when they touched down. He'd been too busy thinking about other things, like how he was going to explain his sideways homosexual match-making to their managers, or, god forbid, Jooheon's mother. I'm sorry, ma'am, he just really wanted to touch a dick and who am I to say no?

"Why do you think?" Hyungwon asked. He briefly considered shrugging Jooheon off but he was cold and Jooheon was warm and, really, he was nothing if not hedonistic and lazy. "I wanted to get some sleep."

"You have to read it sometime," Jooheon said, glancing over his shoulder. "We've got three hours, that's more than enough time to—"

Changkyun snuck up behind them and stuck his head in between their shoulders, wiggling into the almost nonexistent space. "Sup hyungs. Noticed you didn't sit together back there. We had a script, guys."

"He already posted the fanfiction," Jooheon said. It was a clever sidestep, the kind that Hyungwon wouldn't have thought Jooheon was capable of. "It doesn't matter, and anyway Hyungwon wanted to sleep so he went to sit next to Kihyun."

"Yep," Hyungwon said, keeping his eyes fixed resolutely forward.

"He posted it?" Changkyun's voice was thick with curiosity. "Have you read it?"

"I have," Jooheon said, and elbowed Hyungwon in the side. "Somebody I could mention has been avoiding it."

"What do you think?" Changkyun asked.

"About what?"

"About whatever," Changkyun said. "The fic, hyung."

"Dunno," Jooheon said. "Hyungwon has to read it, most of it is just between him and Hoseok."

"Well like... was it good? Like the writing, was it interesting?"

"Why?"

Changkyun seemed baffled for half a second, like he couldn't imagine why anyone would ask. "Just curious. I can't decide if Hoseok-hyung is the type to write all boring or what. I haven't read the update," he added quickly. "That's why I'm curious."

"If you come with us we can all read it together," Hyungwon said.

“Oh?”

"And make fun of it," Jooheon added darkly.

"I think I'll pass. I can read it later." He dropped his hands from their shoulders and let them walk on ahead as he doubled back to find Kihyun. "Have a great time!"

 


Hyungwon looked scared.

"Give me your hand," Hoseok said. "Trust me."

When Hoseok pressed his lips to Hyungwon's knuckles both of them held their breath.


 

He dreamed that something touched his face, a moth maybe, a hand. The dream was bigger than that, but by the time something touched his face he'd already lost it and the dream became nothing but that. Part of him was aware that he was lying on a hotel bed but the rest of him was asleep and dreaming, and something touched his face.

"Hey," came a quiet voice, hushed but still somehow piercing, finding its way easily through the fog of sleep.

"Hey," Hyungwon said, or tried to say— his throat creaked as he spoke and he choked on it a little, coughing into the pillow as he rolled from his side onto his stomach. "What?"

"We're gonna get something to eat," said the voice, and finally Hyungwon's ears were awake enough to put the voice to a name. Hoseok. Out of all the people in the world who could possibly be waiting for him on the other side of his eyelids and it was Hoseok. "Where's Honey?"

"Honey," Hyungwon echoed. God. Right. Honey. He sat up, hand going to his throat. He felt dry and off balance, woken up in the middle of an almost-dream and still with one foot in that strange and lopsided space. The blankets next to him were mussed, pulled back and rolled up where he and Jooheon had huddled up to read the stupid fanfiction and argue about it.

"What do you mean, it isn't right?" Jooheon had asked.

"I mean it isn't right," Hyungwon had said back, lying flat on his back with his head pillowed on Jooheon's squishy upper leg and the tablet held dangerously over his face. "I'm the one who said the thing about your Grudge Book."

"Grudge Book?" Jooheon flicked Hyungwon hard on the crown of his head. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Yeah you do. This exchange is probably going in it as soon as we get home, too."

"I brought it," Jooheon sniffed. "No need to put it off."

"So you admit you have it?"

"I didn't—"

"You did." Hyungwon scrolled down a little and looked at the very last line. Something about it wasn't right but he couldn't put his finger on it. Some of the dialogue was wrong. There was no mention of the coat Hoseok had bought for him, which seemed like the sort of self-congratulatory thing Hoseok would be sure to include. But then Hyungwon couldn't remember many details either, and should he really rely on the quality of Hoseok's memory to prove or disprove his identity as a secret Monsta X fanfiction author? "Did you read the whole thing?"

"Of course I read the whole thing." Jooheon was sulking, and Hyungwon might have found it cute if he'd had the brain cells for it. He hesitated. "Why?"

"The last line," Hyungwon had said. "'Little did he know.' I dunno. It just doesn't seem right."

Jooheon had sighed, leaning back against the mound of hotel pillows and combing his fingers idly through Hyungwon's hair. "So we still don't know."

"Do you wanna just ask? That would be so much easier."

"No," Jooheon had said quickly.

At the time Hyungwon hadn't asked why— thoughtlessness? timidity?— but now he wished that he'd asked what Jooheon and Minhyuk talked about on the plane.

Hoseok nudged him curiously, bringing him back to the present. "Are you seriously falling back asleep?"

Had Hyungwon dreamed that exchange with Jooheon? He doubted himself for a second, but the blankets still smelled faintly of baby powder. "I dunno. Bathroom?" He blinked a few times, eyes still unfocused. "You probably already looked there, huh."

Hoseok laughed, one of the halfway laughs he'd started falling into over the past couple of weeks. His eyes didn't curve like they were supposed to. The way everyone wrote about. "You're the only one in here. Kihyunnie sent us up to come collect you two. Do you know where he went?"

"Minhyuk's room probably," Hyungwon said without thinking. Us?

"Really?" Hoseok asked.

It hit him all at once that he really shouldn't be having this conversation half awake. "That's just a guess," he added quickly, swinging his legs over the edge of the mattress and planting his stocking feet on the floor. Hoseok stood between them and Hyungwon looked at how their feet lined up together instead of looking Hoseok in the eye. "You know. I'm not like his— his babysitter or something—"

"Could have fooled me," Hoseok interjected brightly, brittle like frost on a sunny sub-zero morning.

"I'm not," Hyungwon said.

"Sure," Hoseok said.

"I'm not," Hyungwon said, hands tightening on his knees. "Look, I don't know what you think is going on but it's not, it isn’t—" He squeezed his eyes shut. He was still too asleep. Why did it take so damn long to wake up? All those rude awakenings and Hoseok had had the bad timing to wake him gently. "It's really not a big deal, I'm just trying to figure things out before... something. Before something," he repeated stupidly.

"Hey." This time Hoseok's voice was hushed, cautious. Hyungwon looked up and made eye contact with him and... and he just looked worried. He looked worried, and Hyungwon felt a surge of smug awareness as he realized that he was one of the very few people who knew quite this intimately what it looked like when Hoseok was truly worried. No monbebe's educated guess could be as good as this. "What's going on?” Hoseok asked. “Are you okay?"

Even as he did it he was telling himself to stop— it was stupid, this wasn't the point of the exercise, all they were doing was looking for evidence because no matter what Changkyun thought he should do Hyungwon wasn't about to ruin everything just to make a story work— but he did it anyway because his pulse was roaring in his ears and he couldn't stop. Reached out. Took Hoseok's hand. Lifted it.

Pale and dark. Thick and thin. Hyungwon brushed his thumb over the back of Hoseok's hand, and then looked Hoseok in the eye.

He looked Hoseok in the eye. "Trust me," he said.

When Hyungwon pressed his lips to Hoseok's knuckles both of them held their breath.

"Hi," came Minhyuk's voice from over Hyungwon's left shoulder. "What the actual fuck are you doing, you son of a bitch?"

Hyungwon spun, dropping Hoseok's hand like a hot poker. "What?" he stuttered. The word us slammed back into his head from wherever it had vanished barely a minute prior. Hoseok had said Kihyun sent us.

Minhyuk stood in the entryway of the hotel room with his face a bright, scarlet, furious red. He'd walked out the bathroom and his jeans were still unbuttoned, the fly hanging open. (For some reason Hyungwon noticed that his underwear was peacock green— he could have sworn those ones belonged to Hoseok. The only question now was mistaken ownership, or flagrant theft?) "After all that, that bullshit—"

"It's not," Hoseok said quickly, "this isn't, hold on—"

"Shut the fuck up," Minhyuk snapped at Hoseok, barely shooting him a glance as he advanced on Hyungwon where he sat on the edge of the bed. "You wanna talk this through with me? You wanna let me know just where the fuck you get off?"

Hoseok stepped forward, holding out an arm to keep Minhyuk from getting too close to Hyungwon with his red face and clenched fists. “Min—”

“I gave you my ticket,” Hyungwon stuttered, scrambling backward on the bed. “There’s no bullshit!”

“He talked about you the whole time,” Minhyuk said, and oddly it was without venom. Angry, yes. Bitter... no. “The whole time, then you two disappear, then—” He almost seemed to spit, like a furious cat. “What the fuck are you doing?” Minhyuk asked. “Don’t you get how lucky you are? He loves you.”

Hoseok stepped back, quick, sudden, almost like he’d been pushed, and Minhyuk took this opportunity to grab Hyungwon threateningly by the collar of his t-shirt.

“That’s not what’s going on,” Hyungwon said. He did his very very best to sound calm, confident, and certain. (His very very best was absolutely terrible.) His ears hummed with the throbbing static of his heart beat and he’d honestly thought that was some cliche, the whole Heart Pounding In Your Ears thing, but he could feel his pulse so loud he could hear it and decided to stop dismissing cliches out of hand. “I’m— look, if we can just—”

Movement. Hyungwon glanced over toward the door despite himself, fight or flight instincts in high gear, and Jooheon walked into the room with a bucket of ice in his hands. It was the wrong time, but then again maybe every time was the wrong time for this sort of thing, and at least this way he was able to do something about it.

“Oh, hey,” Hyungwon said, waving a hand in a desperate but ultimately fruitless attempt at defusing the situation. “Sup?”

Minhyuk didn’t look back until he heard Jooheon say, “What the hell is going on?” but by then Jooheon had already started getting worked up into a righteous fury and Minhyuk had nowhere to hide.

“It’s better if you don’t know,” Minhyuk said, which was the wrong thing to say.

That was the wrong thing to say,” Hyungwon muttered under his breath.

Minhyuk dropped him and he fell heavily back onto the pillows. “Shut up,” Minhyuk said.

“Don’t tell him to shut up,” Jooheon said, cheeks flushing with affrontedness. “And who are you to decide what’s good for me to know?”

“You wanna know? Fine,” Minhyuk spat. “Hyungwon kissed Hoseok.”

Jooheon dropped the bucket of ice. “So?” he said after a second, choking on the word.

“So?” Minhyuk stared at him. “So? Are you fucking kidding me? This son of a bitch—”

“Don’t call him that!”

“I can call him whatever I want!”

“He’s Hyungwon—”

“All right," came Hyunwoo's voice, cutting through the din. "Thank you," he said, standing in the entryway. "I'm hungry. Can we do this later?"

"No," Minhyuk said. He turned again and looked Hyungwon right in the eye. "We're doing it right here, right— hey—!"

Hyunwoo slung Minhyuk over one shoulder, letting him yell and kick and elbow him as much as he wanted. "I repeat," Hyunwoo said. "I'm hungry, and we're doing this later."

 


Jooheon and Hyungwon sat next to each other in the van and whispered between themselves. Hoseok caught glances of them through the rearview mirror but would look away again fast, like it hurt. The mystery was the secret. They told each other everything. What couldn't they share?

Little did he know that there was something very big on the horizon.

Chapter Text

Time passed like nothing, each of them shuffling through their separate and interconnected lives the way they knew by heart. Hyungwon could go through his routine in his sleep sometimes, and possibly even had. Continuing to walk forward was almost easier than stopping. The momentum had him, had all of them, and he found himself smiling at Minhyuk with dead eyes in the middle of events because he didn't know what else to do. Minhyuk would smile back, and if anybody noticed that something was off it didn't make a big enough impression to go anywhere.

It felt a little bit like only a few hours had passed (a little bit like a few years had passed) between when Hyungwon stepped out of the dorm with his suitcase and when he stepped right back in, but passing over the threshold in the opposite direction felt heavier. Thicker. Colder.

He needed to sleep for a year.

The members scattered through the dorm, mumbling to themselves like they were giving excuses, and what Hyungwon did was go straight to bed. There was already a banging noise coming from the kitchen, which meant Kihyun was working out some of his pent up tension on something that was about to be very, very clean. Hyunwoo had vanished immediately into the bathroom and maybe, just maybe, if Hyungwon walked quickly enough and quietly enough—

"Everybody in the living room in five minutes," came Hyunwoo's voice, raised a little to be heard over the toilet flushing.

"What?" That was Changkyun. "Why?"

"Family meeting," Hyunwoo said back.

Hyungwon had assumed that Hyunwoo hadn't seen him in the dimly lit corridor but when he looked away from Changkyun Hyunwoo made direct eye contact with him. "Attendance is mandatory," Hyunwoo said, and Hyungwon knew in no uncertain terms that that message was meant specifically for him.

Everyone was in the living room in under three minutes, quiet and awkward. Changkyun settled on the arm of the big black couch, one leg slung over Kihyun's lap, and together they were the only two people who looked calm. Well, Hyunwoo looked calm. Hyunwoo didn't know how to look any other way. It was quite comforting, really.

"Hoseok," Hyunwoo said, beckoning. "Come over here and sit down."

"There's no room on the couch," Hoseok muttered petulantly, but crept forward obediently regardless. He had his arms folded tight over his chest and despite being an objectively large person he somehow contrived to look pitiful.

"Yes there is," Hyunwoo said, pointing. "Right there between Minhyuk and Hyungwon."

The space on the couch between Minhyuk and Hyungwon yawned open like a chasm, a sinkhole in the earth, a whirlpool from Greek myth that sucked hapless adventurers into its gaping, insatiable maw. Hoseok looked at it. Hyungwon looked at it. Minhyuk looked at it. Then Minhyuk laughed— rude, brittle— and that was what kicked it over from awkward to terrible.

"I'd rather stand," Hoseok said, tearing his eyes from the empty cushion to shoot Hyunwoo a desperate, pleading look.

"You'd rather sit," Hyunwoo said.

"I'd rather sit," Hoseok croaked, and went to his assigned spot like an admonished kindergartener sent to the corner.

"Can't decide, huh?" Minhyuk smiled at him as he sat down. It was the kind of smile that showed all of his teeth. "Seems like that's going around."

Hoseok almost snapped something back, (Hyungwon could see the quirk at the corner of his mouth, that telltale twist in his eyebrows), but instead he crossed his arms over his chest again and clenched his jaw.

"I suppose you're wondering why I called you all here today," Hyunwoo said. He was the only one standing, the dorm empty of managers or staff, and the members clustered around him like ducklings.

"Yeah," Changkyun said, leaning forward. "I am, actually."

"Public hanging," Minhyuk said.

Kihyun sat forward. "Stop that. I'll call your mom again, don't think I won't."

"Would it kill you to let me have an ounce of fun?"

"Would it kill me? No. Somebody else? I'm not willing to take that chance."

"As I was saying," Hyunwoo said. He was getting better at wrangling them, but dealing with Kihyun and Minhyuk in an argument was like herding sixteen cats that are all on drugs. Even the diamond purity of Hyunwoo's meaty heart stood no chance in the heat of that much brutal fury. "I called you all here today for a reason. That reason is, uh, that stuff is weird."

"Well said," Jooheon piped up loyally. Hyungwon glared at him.

"Stuff is weird," Hyunwoo repeated, stressing the syllables a little bit harder in an unspoken dare to anyone else to interrupt him. "And somebody is going to tell me why."

Quiet.

"Who?" Kihyun hazarded.

"Is this a riddle?" Changkyun asked.

"I'm good at riddles," Minhyuk said, leaning forward. "Lay it on me."

"This is giving me Last Supper vibes," Jooheon said, and then laughed. Unfortunately it was the high breathy laugh of desperate guilt, and so everyone looked at him. He might have survived had Hyunwoo not been one of them. "What?" he choked out.

Hyunwoo laid a paternal hand on Jooheon's shoulder. "Sport," he said, "you've been voluntold to tell me what's going on."

The blood drained out of Jooheon's face, collecting instead in his ears. "Voluntold?"

"That is not the way I meant you to use that buzzword," Kihyun said, pointing at Hyunwoo. "That's not what I meant," he said to Changkyun in a sideways mutter. "See if I talk business with Hyunwoo-hyung again any time soon. Warping my buzzwords..."

"He means tell him everything you know," Hyungwon said, closing his eyes and letting his head fall back against the couch cushions. The crown of his head just barely touched the wall and the plaster felt blessedly cool against his scalp. "The jig is up, Honey."

"Ha ha ha," Jooheon said. If a human being could be the physical personification of pants-pissing nervousness, Jooheon would be that human being. "Ha. Aha. What jig?"

"What the fuck is going on?" Hoseok asked, crossing his arms over his chest.

"I don't know," Jooheon protested.

Hyungwon picked up his head again. "This is up to you."

Jooheon glared at him, then he swallowed, then he said, "I know." Then he laughed and scrubbed at his scalp with both hands and said, "So we're pretty sure that one of us is writing fanfiction."

Hyunwoo closed his eyes, putting a hand to his forehead as though trying to fend off a total bastard of a stress headache, and Kihyun squawked, "Wait, so you've been reading it?"

"Who's we?" Wonho asked. "Wait— and who's us?"

"Me and Honey and Changkyun," Hyungwon said, and in that moment he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he had been a huge fucking idiot this entire time. "And by 'us' he means, you know, us. The members."

Hyunwoo pressed the heels of his palms to his eyes. "Changkyun," he said.

"Hyung," Changkyun croaked.

"I have a vivid memory," Hyunwoo said, "of explicitly telling you not to be so obvious that you get caught."

"Kihyunnie-hyung and Minhyuk-hyung are really funny," Changkyun whined, "you can't make some of that shit up. It's not my fault, the readers love it."

Hyunwoo turned on Kihyun, who shrank against the back of the couch. "Really? That's how this happened?"

"I can't be expected to catch everything, even the best beta reader—"

"This is my fault," Hyunwoo said. "I'm being punished."

There was a terrible silence, like the inhale before a scream or the sucking void between a lightning strike and the subsequent thunder, and then Minhyuk opened his mouth. "Excuse me very fucking much?" he said.

"Look," Changkyun stuttered, throwing his hands up in a defensive position, "it's not—"

"You've been using my jokes and not crediting me? And people have been liking it? And you haven't shown me said praise?" He reared back, affronted. "I think of you as a brother and you repay me like this? Those are my jokes."

"That's the problem that you have with this," Jooheon said, shocked. "That's the problem? That he's quoting your jokes?"

"Kihyun writes his own imagines," Minhyuk said, shrugging. "Once you've read a couple of those there's not a damn thing left in the universe that can horrify you anymore."

"I do not," Kihyun hissed. "I do not write my own imagines, what the fuck is wrong with you."

"Oh please you were complaining about being plagiarized the other day and we both know you were talking about wattpad."

"It wasn't wattpad it was a mailing list," Kihyun said, going bright red, "and they changed my name to Hyungwon's. It was disrespectful. I was disrespected. You can't expect me to take that lying down."

"Hold on," Hoseok said, holding up both hands like a traffic cop. "Hold on. This doesn't make sense. How is Changkyun the person writing fanfiction and one of the people who thinks one of the members is writing fanfiction?"

"We thought it was—" Jooheon caught Hyungwon's eye and hesitated. "Uh we weren't, we couldn't figure out who it was."

"Is that why you've been spending so much time together?" Minhyuk said. He said it lightly, like a joke, bapping Jooheon affectionately on the shoulder, and if relief were perfume they'd all be dying of asphyxiation from the way it rolled off of him in waves. "You sly dogs, off scheming somewhere. That's so cute."

"No," Hoseok cut in. "I wanna know. Who did you think it was?"

Hyungwon felt Jooheon's eyes bore into the side of his head, but he didn't turn to look back. He heard Jooheon say, "We really didn't know," at the same time Changkyun sheepishly said, "They thought it was you."

There really should have been another portentous moment, solemn and quiet and heavy, but instead Hoseok just turned even pinker than he already was and spluttered, "What? Why?" He glared at Jooheon. "Tell me right the fuck now."

"Because you're in love with Hyungwon," Jooheon said.

The words ascended into the air in a bubble. Hyungwon could almost see it, shimmering like oil and holding something he hadn't known yet was real.

It's one thing if there's nothing, he thought dreamily to himself.

"What?" Hoseok asked after a few seconds, voice creaking.

"In the fanfiction," Jooheon stuttered.

Hoseok turned toward Changkyun. "In the fanfiction?"

"That's why?" asked Changkyun, staring at Jooheon. "You said you thought it was because he's a pisces."

Hyungwon was pretty sure that he hated absolutely every single aspect of this conversation, but he was also pretty sure that his soul had separated from his body and soon he would be in... probably not heaven, but hopefully at least purgatory. Purgatory would be all right. He'd read somewhere that it was for people who kinda sucked but, like, not that much, and they got to have an okay eternity not being super happy but not being poked with flaming pitchforks, either. (Come to think of it, this was probably a memory from some ancient cartoon. It seemed very vintage Looney Tunes. Why was he thinking about this now? Probably because his soul was trying to escape.)

Jooheon shot Hoseok back a confused look before glancing back at Changkyun. "But— I mean dude, the subtext is really heavy—"

"I just write what happens," Changkyun said. "It's not like I actually ship, I just—"

Hoseok cleared his throat and the room went quiet. He turned very slowly toward Hyungwon. "That's why you thought it was me?" he asked.

"Well," Hyungwon said. His soul tragically remained anchored in his body, the root of it twisting in his guts like bad shrimp. Then he said, "Hmm." Then he'd run out of things to say, so instead he said, "I'm gonna go out for a little while. Don't wait up."

Then he got up off the couch and left. Nobody tried to stop him.

 

When the door closed behind him Hyungwon couldn't remember where he thought he was going but he didn't stop, he walked down the corridor to the elevators, pressed the button, rode down to street level, and walked out into an early April afternoon thick with crackling monsoon humidity. Later he would remember that there were flowers scattered over the pavement, the soft, translucent pink petals crushed against the rough concrete under god knew how many feet. Was that what collateral damage meant? Something being walked over to achieve some sort of end?

The biggest problem, Hyungwon thought to himself, was that he couldn't actually blame Changkyun. He couldn't say he wouldn't do the exact same thing, and he knew in his heart of hearts that if he didn't it would only be because it didn't occur to him. In the grand scheme of things it was one of the kinder pranks they'd pulled each other, and it wasn't like... it wasn't like Changkyun knew.

I just write what happens, Changkyun had said.

Because you're in love with Hyungwon, Jooheon had said.

The biggest problem wasn't Changkyun, or even the question of who to blame. It was Hyungwon, unable to look himself in the eye.

His phone had been ringing for the last couple of minutes and when he glanced at the screen he had four missed calls already and Jooheon's name flashing urgently at him on a fifth. Hyungwon rejected the call, turned off his phone, and took the stairs down to the subway station.

The flower petals had made it down here too, tracked in on thousands of soles by thousands of souls, and Hyungwon was just one more; invisible in a big crowd with his hair dark again, his hood up, his mask on. He'd never had a problem being seen before— fuck, being seen was his job— but just right then he wanted to dissolve gently into the ether and spend a little bit of time being somewhere other than here and god, please, as someone other than himself.

Hyungwon got onto a train without looking at the line or the direction and rode it for two stops before getting off again. There was no because. A tiny piece of him thought it was funny how even now he knew that they'd look for him first in his workroom, he knew it even with his head full of static and his stomach full of vinegar, and so he took a subway two stops going literally anywhere else.

Anywhere else, according to his feet, was the cafe.

The cafe. The place where Hyungwon had noticed all those small things. The place where Hoseok had kissed his hand. That cafe.

He stood in front of the big front window for a few seconds, pretending to linger over the sign on the door in order to check the faces of the people behind the counter. None of them looked the same and anyway he was dying for chocolate cake so whatever. He decided he didn't care.

When you're somewhere else, your body in one place and your mind in another, you can go through the motions of a normal life without your brain ever consciously observing your actions, let alone controlling them. Hyungwon could almost swear that he teleported from the front door to a seat by the window, with the only sign he'd ordered anything the little stand with a number 6 on it so the barista knew which table was his when they came out with his order.

He drank iced americanos most of the time, they all did, but when the barista showed up she set down a stoneware mug and a plate containing one doily, one piece of white cake, one hot-house strawberry, and one impossibly delicate fork. "Breve mocha," she said, bobbing a quick bow as she set it down. "Enjoy, sir."

Last time he was here the place had been empty, or nearly. Today it was practically busy, people clustered around almost every table, laptops out, college students arguing loudly over Kant, and it was better like this. Being in a crowd was easier than standing out.

"That's not an iced americano."

When he looked up the person who'd spoken was Hoseok, and the lights in Hyungwon's head flickered.

"Well spotted," Hyungwon said. "Good job. You're so right."

Hoseok stood there for a second, hands in his pockets, lips pressed tight together. Hyungwon wanted him to seem angry, but the twist of his mouth was just... maybe it was confusion?

"Can I sit down?" he asked.

"Dunno," Hyungwon snipped back, viciously slicing off a bite of cake. "Can you?"

"May I sit down?"

"It's a semi-free country."

Hoseok pulled out the chair on the other side of the table and sat down gingerly. "So," he said after a minute.

"So," Hyungwon said back. Whatever a breve mocha was it tasted almost exactly like what gaining five kilos felt like. In the absence of a manager Hyungwon drank it with fervor. "I don't have anything to say, all right? It's just weird and awkward and tomorrow it'll be nothing so I'm skipping ahead, all right? I'm skipping ahead to when there's nothing again."

"You know," Hoseok said, the words coming out slow, "Jooheon was pretty sure you'd be in your work room."

"Shows what he knows."

"Yeah," Hoseok said, and the single syllable seemed heavier than it should have been for how small it was.

"Yeah," Hyungwon said. Then, because he was stupid and self-destructive and just had to know, he said, "But you're here."

"Just a guess." Hoseok looked at his hands, folded together on the table in front of him.

Hyungwon didn't look at Hoseok's hands because he knew that they were thick and square and perfect like the rest of him, the shape of something that's exactly what it should be; no more, no less. Instead of looking at Hoseok’s hands he looked at his cake, spearing the strawberry on top.

"Penny for your thoughts," said Hoseok.

"Sorry,” Hyungwon said around the sweet and sour strawberry, words slurring. “Bidding starts at 50,000 won."

"Clever. Could you just play along for a minute?" Hoseok smiled, as best he could, eyes curving in the narrow strip between the ends of his bangs and the facemask he wore. "I know explaining things isn't really your idea of a good time."

"There's nothing else to explain," Hyungwon said. He looked at his own hands, thoughts hopskipping over every detail he could think of, anything that might have been left out. "Jooheon pretty much covered it all."

"Then how about this: why did you think it was me writing the fanfiction?"

When Hyungwon glanced up Hoseok was looking at him again, brow furrowed slightly in cautious curiosity.

"It was just Honey who thought that," Hyungwon lied. "It's one thing if there's something, but since there's nothing—"

"There's something," Hoseok interrupted.

Hyungwon sat there in stricken silence for a full thirty seconds. The breve mocha was getting cold. "That's not a good idea," he said, voice low. Not weird. Not gross. Not even it would never work. Just: that's not a good idea.

He'd be lying if he said he'd never... that he'd never thought about something, (just for a few dark private moments in the dead of night, everyone snoring around him, only a cold quilt and a flattened pillow for company), that he'd never looked over at Hoseok on stage and heard people scream and wondered what it was they saw. None of the fanfiction, none of the fans, none of it had told him anything he didn't already know about Hoseok. He already knew the shape of his hands and could recognize over a dozen of his different smiles. He could already look out over a crowd and know which person in the milieu was Hoseok just from the way he stood and walked and turned his head. He knew what Hoseok smelled like, both fresh out of the shower as well as after a long day, or even days.

What the fanfiction had told him was that he already knew it all, knew Hoseok, knew all his small quirks and mannerisms. That he'd noticed it, and when he read about it he knew when it wasn't right. He hadn't thought it was Hoseok who'd written it any more than anyone else, in hindsight. The fanfiction Changkyun had apparently written wasn't particularly romantic but Hyungwon had read it with the same mindset he'd had when reading anything else, he'd seen similar adjectives and echoed verbs and had done something stupid: permit himself.

When he looked at Hoseok now Hyungwon realized that he'd spent the last few weeks letting himself, for once. Allowing himself to look at Hoseok the way he always had, the way that was a bad idea. That's not a good idea, he'd said.

It's one thing if there's nothing.

"Is it?" Hoseok said. It sounded like a challenge, but the look on his face was nothing more than a question mark.

"A bad idea?" Hyungwon laughed despite himself— he didn't want to but he did anyway. Lungs do what they like in the absence of common sense. "Don't be stupid. What about any of this—" He looked out the window because it was that or keep looking at Hoseok. If this were a fanfiction, Hyungwon thought to himself, then everything would be fine all at once. They'd hold hands across the table and no one would see them even though they were right there in front of god and everybody. Maybe they'd even kiss, (Hyungwon squeezed his eyes shut), maybe they'd go somewhere to spend some time with just the two of them. "It just isn't," Hyungwon finally said. "It's not a good idea. We should just forget it."

"You're skipping ahead," said Hoseok, "to when there's nothing."

"Yeah," Hyungwon said.

Hoseok moved slowly, arms almost jerking in hesitance as he reached up with both hands to pull his cotton face mask down until it tucked under his chin. (Hyungwon watched him, and wondered if that mouth tasted like a hot-house strawberry.) Then he asked, "Again?" but this time he didn't make any sound, he just formed the word with his mouth.

Was there even a nothing to go back to? The worst thing, the absolute worst thing, was that Hyungwon knew now what all those fans saw when he and Hoseok looked at each other on stage and made the audience scream. If this were a fanfiction everything would be fine all at once but it was real life, he was alive and Hoseok was alive and they'd both signed their lives on the line and part of what that meant was this: giving up something for nothing.

Hoseok was asking if he had any something to give up, so Hyungwon opened his mouth and took a deep breath and licked his lips and said, "No." There couldn't be nothing again, because there'd never been nothing. There had always been something. They'd looked at each other for the first time years ago, and Hyungwon had read enough fanfiction by now that when he looked back through the mists of time he recognized that moment as that one bit, you know the bit, the bit where they look at each other and one of them thinks:

Oh.

It wasn't a fanfiction. They were in public. They couldn't hold hands, or kiss, or— hell, they weren't even supposed to look like themselves. Hyungwon had returned to the scene of the crime. He wasn't supposed to be here at all, let alone like this.

"We can go somewhere," Hoseok said. "Talk about it a little, or hang out, or whatever."

"Yeah," Hyungwon said. He decided then and there that they would talk and hang out and they'd both agree it was a bad idea and something should be nothing—

On the pavement outside Hoseok caught hold of the strap on one sleeve of Hyungwon’s coat and steered him down the street, down the stairs, into the subway again. He didn’t pay attention to the line or the direction, just looked at Hoseok’s thick square fingers tangled up in the coat he’d bought him, and decided there would be nothing.

Little did he know just how soon he'd discover that Hoseok's mouth— pink and shy and yet (somehow) almost vulpine— tasted sweeter than any strawberry, hot-house or otherwise.