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Carthago

Chapter Text

You can't wake up, this is not a dream
You're part of a machine, you are not a human being

Halsey "Gasoline"

Hyunjin never quite feels like he fits in with the others. He knows things that remain a complete mystery to them. If they ever find out about his tricks with their keys, they’d never forgive him; not in a lifetime.

He’s never done anything bad per se; he only blocks them and returns to the owners. Nobody ever told him why he had to do it and he didn’t have any strength to resist the voice in his head that gave orders. The voice popped up in his head and told him when he had to steal yet another key and reprogram it.

The key is a memory stick. A small device that contains all the original information about them. Altering it and blocking feels like the worst kind of crime ever.

One time he almost broke his hand trying to resist the voice. It made him sick when Seungmin found him nursing the injury and got all concerned.

Hyunjin does not deserve any concern for what he’s done.

The last key he had to take care of belonged to Christopher, and he messed up. It wasn’t stated anywhere that the others’ keys were connected to him, because why would they be? Christopher was never marked as the link member, he was the leader. Woojin was supposed to be the link member; they always put this label on all his files.

And yet, once he tried to alter Christopher’s key, everything went wrong.

That’s what he told to his scientist, sitting on the pristine bed in front of her. She listened carefully like she always did when he confined in her.

The others’ keys were connected to Christopher’s key. Attempts to affect it reverted most of his changes done before. Was it because Christopher put some kind of a safety lock on his own key?

Before leading him from his old room and into the halls, the scientist stopped. She turned around and looked him right in the eye. He stared back.

She asked, “Which side are you on?”

The scientists’ side was to build special groups that could have an influence on the future of the world. The District Nine side was to take the entire system down.

“I don’t know,” Hyunjin whispered.

*

He can see it in Christopher’s eyes as the leader observes the blueprints on the screen in the round room. Christopher figured it out already. Christopher realized that their escape was artificial. They never got out.

Hyunjin knows what happens next. Next, they will be taken back to the school, back into the training program. The school is so secure, the news of the breach is, of course, fake. Next in the plan, they have to go through a few more trials. Then, some of them will be deemed strong or smart enough to work with the government to save the humankind.

The others don’t know about that. They don’t even know there is something wrong with the world outside of the city.

“Welcome back,” Woojin’s scientist says. “We missed you.”

The others don’t reply, but they are projecting so much hate to the man, Hyunjin wonders how he’s still standing.

“We were looking forward to the time when we could reunite again,” Seungmin’s scientist adds. He's almost a boy, and his white coat makes him look like a baby goose. “We are so happy you went through the first trial!”

‘I want to punch him,’ Changbin supplies through the link.

‘Please don’t,’ Felix replies.

The mental link, disabled for the time when they were in District One, is back online now. He didn't expect them to get familiar with it so quickly.

Woojin's scientist continues speaking. “What you experienced in District One was the so-called Trial One. It was designed to see how you would operate under different circumstances. You should start remembering the events that led up to you waking up there shortly.”

Jisung chuckles and tries to cover it with a cough. ‘On the bus, I had a dream where I plunged a syringe into the guy’s thigh and that was how I got myself out of his hold. Is this what he calls memories?’

‘Can you be a little quieter?’ Minho hisses.

Hyunjin can’t tell if he was happy to have the mental link back. Maybe he wants to go back to the complete silence in his head, not interrupted by baseless banter.

It's Changbin's scientist this time. “We had to discontinue it because of technical issues. However, the next Trial is scheduled to start shortly.”

“What’s the next trial?” Jisung blurts.

His scientist throws an unreadable glance at him. “You will know when the time comes.”

Someone keeps glancing at their electronic watch. Christopher joins next. “Who comes up with the trials?”

‘Jisung, stop thinking,’ Minho groans.

Christopher’s scientist, a tall man who could’ve been handsome if not for the cold expression on his face, replies with, “You.”

Christopher holds the gaze. “Why?”

“Because you think the same as us. You think that humanity wastes too much talent on useless things. You think they should accumulate knowledge instead of wasting it on wars, or pointless activities. You think we have destroyed our own kind, turning the world behind the walls into an endless desert.”

Jeongin's scientist, a miniature woman who almost blends in with the wall, speaks up next. “The original purpose of the project was to collect the young people from the places that still could produce them. It has been observed that the original failure of our ancestors was because they couldn’t utilize the talents they had. A lot of brains and efforts went to waste.”

Jisung's scientist smiles. “We, and you, too, developed a system that maximizes the talents. It allows us to remove the unnecessary from a person, leaving them as a concentration of talent. We have a school full of kids who are like you. They will follow your path right after it’s been confirmed.”

Cold shivers creep up Hyunjin’s spine, making him feel sick and sticky.

Seungmin bites his blood. He might draw blood. “Don’t remember thinking any of that stuff. Mind reminding me?”

The scientists look at them with heavy eyes. Woojin's scientist sighs. “We never forced you into anything. It was your project. You nine built this. It's your responsibility.”

“We want you to remember this conversation. We never meant you any harm. We were doing what you thought was right.”

‘I don’t trust them,’ Jeongin mutters. ‘Why do they think we’ll believe this?’

“We don’t trust you,” Christopher announces.

When it booms, Hyunjin doesn’t expect it. The sound reminds him of the boom outside of Woojin’s apartment.

Scientists freeze for a moment. Having exchanged a few glances, they split, approaching their subjects.

Hyunjin’s scientist appears in his line of vision, not letting him see what's happening to the others. Hyunjin looks up at her, expecting to see any sort of emotion.

‘We must go,’ she says into Hyunjin’s head. Hyunjin isn’t surprised. Sirens in the building scream so loud, he can barely hear himself think. Using normal speech would’ve been useless.

‘Where?’ Hyunjin asks, allowing her to take him by the wrist and drag him to the exit.

‘To a safe place.’

‘Do not go with them!’ Christopher yells. ‘I repeat, do not go with them!’

Hyunjin backs off. The sirens keep on blaring, someone is yelling right into his head.

‘Fucking get off me!’ Seungmin screams at the person who's trying to grab him.

The sirens keep blaring. Yet, now Hyunjin hears voices yelling and heavy footsteps.

“You kids in here?” asks a new voice, and Hyunjin is surprised he can hear it over the deafening sound.

“Who is it?” Jisung asks in reply. “Because if it’s another group of scientists, I swear to fucking god-“

There are sounds of more footsteps. He feels someone grab his shoulder. He pushes back. The person must’ve expected it because they dodge.

A new voice stops him. “Don’t fight, do not fight! Stop fighting! We’re here to get you out!”

“I won’t hurt you, I promise. Everything will be okay," says a female voice to Hyunjin’s left. He feels her touch his shoulder again.

Lost, disoriented, Hyunjin grabs onto the hand leading him by his shoulder. He doesn’t know what's going on anymore.

Christopher is in full leader mode now. ‘If you’re lost, try to reach out and feel where I am. ‘We’ll have to work together here.’

The run through the school’s hallways is chaotic. He hears shots and voices and explosions, and yet, he can’t tell a single thing from another. They all mingle and collide together for him, making him feel overwhelmed. He wants it to be over.

“We’re almost there!” someone shouts over the sounds of explosions and people gasping.

“Did we know this place had soldiers?” Felix yells. “Because it does! And they’re very right behind us!”

‘What do you mean sold-‘

The hand on Hyunjin’s shoulder disappears.

‘Shit!’ Felix shrieks in his head. ‘Shit, they killed the person who was with me.’

The others turn into complete chaos inside his head.

“Once you exit the building,” the same voice from before says, “you will see vans. Please make sure to board onto them!”

Minho gives an order. ‘You heard him! Go forward, out of the building, and enter the van.’

‘Wow, these things look fancy,’ Felix snarls. An explosion makes him trip and fall. ‘Shit, that hurt.’

‘The fuck’s going on,’ Jisung mutters. Even in their heads, he sounds out of breath. ‘I thought we were taking a nice chill night stroll? Why is there someone coming after us?’

‘Somebody wants us dead,’ Seungmin jokes back.

Minho interrupts them. ‘If you have the energy to make small talk, how about you get over here?’

Hyunjin can't move. Seungmin's voice cuts through the fog in his head. “Spending a good time here? Why do I always have to drag you out?”

Next thing Hyunjin knows, Seungmin pulls him forward. He stumbles on something and realizes that the ground has ugly scars from explosions.

Another explosion, someone screams.

“Faster! Faster!” Minho yells.

‘Minho! Watch it!’

The feeling of complete horror replaces fear and confusion. A gunshot booms too close. Hyunjin feels like his heart stopped. Was one of them shot?

“Help him! Minho, get behind the wheel!”

“Should I leave him here?”

“What, you wanna stay with him?”

Next thing he knows, he's sitting in the back of a ridiculous van that doesn’t even have any walls. They're gaining speed even before he has the time to settle down. Felix has to jump from behind, dragging himself up by the sheer power of his arms.

“Minho, you fucker!” Changbin yells. “You could’ve waited!”

Hyunjin has a minute to look around. The man who must’ve been riding the van before Minho stays behind, laying on the ground. He's dead.

“Is anyone hurt?” Woojin calls, turning around. He sits beside Minho at the front. Hyunjin is terrified to see a shotgun in his hands.

“I might have pulled my ankle,” Felix replies. “But it’s not that bad, I’ll live.”

The van jerks, almost like it has a painful spasm. Hyunjin collides with someone, the person groans, someone squeaks in surprise.

“Could you please drive more carefully?” Felix spits out. “We’ve had too many people trying to kill us in the past ten minutes!”

‘You wanna drive this thing when your hands are covered in blood up till your elbow? Be my dearest guest!’

“Is anyone else hurt?” Woojin calls. “Headaches? Voices telling you to do things? Bones, arms? Everything in its place?"

A horrendous crash comes from behind them. Hyunjin turns his head so fast, an army of black dots attacks his vision. The school roof collapses.

‘My soul left my goddamn body,’ Jisung breathes. ‘I will grow old before I’m twenty-five!’

‘Judging by how things are going, you might die before you’re even twenty-five. Think about that.’

Voices – real voices, not something happening inside their heads – are yelling behind them. Hyunjin turns around again. One of them has only two men. Other cars have more people with guns. They look serious, and they must have been the force that brought the roof down.

“Oh shit,” Seungmin breathes out loud. “Oh shit!”

Hyunjin is alert in a second. “What’s wrong? Are you hurt?”

“The people in the school. They’re all dead.”

Jisung’s face bleaches, and even Changbin looks disturbed at the thought.

“They- they probably deserved to die,” Felix suggests weakly.

“Nobody ever deserves to die!”

"What the fuck do we do now?" Seungmin whispers. "I'm not even following anymore. What's going on?"

"We'll figure it out when the time comes," Christopher replies. "For now, we have to look around. We have to see what will happen. Okay?"

Hyunjin relaxes against his seat and takes a deep breath. His heart calms down bit by bit.

They will have to figure this whole mess out.

*

He must have fallen asleep. Next time he wakes, it's to low shimmering anxiety emanating from every single one of them.

Two other cars stop on both sides of them, people getting out swiftly. Every single one of them has guns. The drivers stay put.

A man, tall, blonde, stops at a side of their vehicle and motions for them to get out with his rifle. “Come on, boys. Time to land.”

The others hesitate. They look at each other, confused, but none of them say anything or move to get up.

“Move, before I make you,” the man says, with a hint of steel in his voice.

That gets a reaction. Changbin stands up. The action somehow makes him look more intimidating than usual.

“You think you can make me do anything?” he growls. “Let me see you try.”

‘Changbin,’ Woojin hisses.

The man doesn’t look impressed. In one swift motion, he points a gun at Changbin, and Christopher takes it as his cue to get up.

“Changbin,” he says, trying to get his attention before anything dumb happens. “Sit down.”

“You a leader?” the man asks, turning to Christopher. “Tell your kids to get out of the car.”

“Yeah, fucking make me,” Changbin hisses again.

‘Changbin.’

The man sighs and lowers his gun. “If you guys don’t get underground, chances are, they will catch up with us. They're gonna hit you square in the head. If you wanna go out like that after you got a chance to change things, be my guests.”

“Wait a minute,” another man joins. “If they’re not coming with us after all, then I’m gonna kill them right here and now. Cause Lean was fucking shot because of them!”

Even from the distance between them, Hyunjin can see a massive shiver run through Minho. ‘Holy shit.’

‘Minho,’ Christopher calls. ‘Get up. It’s safe, get up and follow them.’

Minho sends him a quick look but doesn’t argue.

As Minho gets on the ground and takes a first step towards the bunker, Hyunjin stands up, the others move, too. In a matter of seconds, they line up on the grass.

And within a minute, the bunker swallows them.

The others buzz around him on their private frequencies of communication. They remembered how to use the link.

'Please stop aggravating them,' Christopher says in the common space. 'I remember something. We asked for their help.'

‘Help us do what?’ Felix asks.

‘Would you please stop being so-‘

A loud crash rips through the whole underground and cuts Hynjin mid-sentence. He has to grab onto edgy walls to keep himself upright. The world shakes around him.

The others stumble as well, grabbing onto each other. Jisung almost sends Minho and himself down the stairs, and it takes a whole Seungmin to balance them out.

“The fuck was that?” someone breathes.

“That,” one of the men smiles, “was an aircraft sent out to kill you.”

The rest of their descent goes on in complete silence. There isn’t even any buzzing in his head now. Everyone shies away from the common space to wallow in their own terror.

Hyunjin tries to reach out to Woojin to see what happens. As he expects, he's met with a soft wall of ‘please come back later.’

They go down and down, lower and lower until finally, Hyunjin sees light. This sends his hopes up despite his better judgment. The buzzing in his head is also back; the others come out of their little shells.

He finds himself standing in the middle of a city square. The buzzing cuts off at once, and at first, he doesn’t pay much attention to it.

He looks up. The sky is blue. The houses around them look real. People walk past them without looking or caring. None of them seem bothered by boys who show up out of nowhere.

He turns around. And round and round and round. He sees his special group, and he sees the men who brought them here.

“Have I gone insane?” Seungmin whispers. “Because if I haven’t, I’m getting there.”

“Does anyone else’s head hurt?” Felix says.

Changbin looks alarmed. “Felix, I can’t reach out to you.”

Minho stares at Jisung, and Jisung stares back at Minho. “You never shut up,” Minho whispers. “But you’re not here.”

“No, it’s you who’s not here,” Jisung replies, brows furrowed. “I’m right here, you’re not letting me in.”

“Jisung, I don’t even feel you-“

The others look at each other. Seungmin even reaches out to Hyunjin to touch him.

His heart in throat, Hyunjin tries to talk to Seungmin, ask him what's going on. But there isn’t any Seungmin in his head. The common space looks completely blank. No matter how loud he shouts, his voice echoes around the bare walls.

Jeongin makes a face and mutters, “You all are so sour.”

Woojin replies something absentmindedly.

Hyunjin comes closer to the men, but stop for a second. What does Hyunjin want to ask?

The first thing that leaves his mouth is, “What is this place?”

“You’re gonna find real soon,” a man replies and smiles. Hyunjin doesn’t like his face.

He feels very small under the man’s blank eyes. They're almost the same height and built similarly, but the man clearly knows what he's doing. Hyunjin, on his part, isn’t so sure anymore.

“Follow me,” the man calls. “Follow us. We'll tell you kids what you gotta do.”

Hyunjin catches Christopher’s attention and raises his eyebrows. Christopher shakes his head and points at the men leading the way, suggesting that they had to follow.

As they walk, people start to pay more attention to them. There aren’t that many young people on the streets. Most are in their forties or thirties, although some do, in fact, look their age.

Maybe a group of men with guns does have something to do with how much attention they attract.

"We can’t be doing this,” Jisung whispers, looking at every one of them. “You gotta be kidding. What’s going on? Can someone fucking explain-“

Minho looks completely blissful. Maybe because he doesn’t have to deal with this alone now.

“Can you shut up for one holy second?” Changbin bites back. “It’s not like I care, but you’re giving me a headache.”

Jisung gasps, offended. Woojin smiles and hides his face in his elbow, pretending to wipe the sweat from his forehead.

“Chill, guys,” Christopher murmurs.

More endless bickering. They pass dozens of identical buildings. These remind Hyunjin of insect eyes for some reason. Glassy, segmented, uncomfortable to look at. The goal of their walk must be a special insect eye building though. The one that looks like it can reach the sky if there even is one.

*

‘I’m telling you, we shouldn’t try to steal food from the people who helped us.’ That's Minho.

‘But I’m hungry!’ Jisung.

‘The lunchtime is coming, can you wait for like half an hour?’

‘I’m starving!’

‘You’re stupid!’ Changbin. ‘Please stop discussing food right in my head!’

‘Second that,’ Felix adds. ‘Guys, seriously. I want to take a nap while I can.’

‘Wise enough,’ Christopher chuckles. ‘We never know when will be the next time someone tries to kill us.’

‘Nobody tried to kill us,’ Jeongin says. ‘They wanted to help.’

That starts a banter. Hyunjin pulls his head through a shirt and sighs.

The link is back on again. The chaos is back, too.

Woojin is standing by the door with a book in his hands. He picked it up from a coffee table nearby and was immediately occupied.

“Where are we?” Hyunjin mutters. "What do you think?"

Woojin looks up at him from his book and smiles. "Hopefully, we will find out soon."

His kindness makes Hyunjin feel sick. He purses his lips and does his best not to say anything rude.

Woojin closes his book, sighs, and only then does he reply. “I don't know. They will tell us later.”

Silence falls over them. During these few moments, Hyunjin listens to the ongoing discussion in his head. They now moved on from discussing ethics to discussing chicken wings.

Woojin is the first to break the silence between them. “Hyunjin. Do you know what is the most certain way to kill a person?”

Hyunjin shrugs. “I don’t know. Some kind of poison?”

Laughing softly, Woojin shakes his head. “Unfortunately, no. It would’ve been so much easier, right?”

It's meant to be a joke, but Hyunjin doesn’t feel like laughing.

“It’s loneliness, Hyunjin,” Woojin sighs, realizing that Hyunjin is not in the mood. “If you want to destroy someone, to kill their will to live and fight for what they care about. If you want them to question everything they have ever believed in, you make them lonely.”

For a second, Hyunjin doesn’t know what the heck he's talking about. And the next second, he feels so angry, he almost yells at Woojin to get out.

“I’m not lonely, Woojin,” he hisses. “Of any things, I am not lonely.”

Woojin blinks at him and offers the same goddamn soft smile. He learned from his advanced psychology training. “You are what you think you are. Always.”

Hyunjin only huffs and brushes his fringe off his face.

“Are you still not talking to Seungmin?” Woojin asks, sounding almost concerned, after a few more minutes of silence.

“It’s not me who’s not talking to Seungmin. I’m giving him space. He doesn’t want to have anything to do with me right now, after how I treated him.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“Yes, I am sure!”

“And why do you think so?”

Woojin knows what he's doing, and it's damn well working.

“Because none of you want to have anything to do with me, okay? Do you think I cannot see it? Well, I damn well can, it’s not like I’m blind or anything, Woojin!”

Woojin considers him for a second before saying, “Why do you think we don’t want to have anything to do with you?”

Hyunjin feels vulnerable like he's being examined by a surgeon. Split open, for everyone to see his insides if they so wished.

“It’s not that we don’t want to have anything to do with you,” Woojin says finally, making Hyunjin shudder. “We think we should give you more space, but we don’t know how much space you actually need. You never talk to us. We can see that something’s happening, but we don’t know what it is, exactly. Seungmin thinks it’s his fault.”

“It’s not!” Hyunjin blurts and regrets it immediately.

Woojin smiles. “See? That’s what I’m talking about. Seungmin needs to know that your mood isn’t his fault. But he wouldn’t ask you. And you, you wouldn’t talk to him.”

He hates it when someone psychoanalyzes him. Too bad Woojin can’t help himself.

“Think of what I said,” Woojin says with a smile. Hyunjin hates it when Woojin smiles like that. Like he knows everything. “It’ll help you in the future.”

“I hate it when you speak like that,” Hyunjin mutters.

“When I speak like what?”

“Like you already know everything that’s gonna happen,” Hyunjin replies.

Woojin's eyes are soft. "No. No, I don’t know everything that’s gonna happen. There is someone, but not me.”

*

The bantering in his head continues. In full honesty, Hyunjin expects to not see anyone in the meeting room. It would’ve been reasonable to fight if they were in different rooms, not yet gathered together.

The members of District Nine are all present in the room. They stare at each other and yet have pointless conversations in their heads.

The room is not too spacious, with bare concrete walls. A heavy wooden table takes up most of the space. Everyone's sitting around it, and it frankly looks like they're about to have lunch.

Woojin sighs and takes a seat to Christopher's right. “We need to learn how to disconnect from the flow. I’m getting a headache.”

“Welcome to the headache club,” Cristopher chuckles.

The only space left for Hyunjin is near Seungmin.

As Hyunjin sits down, Seungmin whispers, “You okay?”

“Yeah,” Hyunjin replies. It sounds dry even to his own ears. Seungmin flinches.

“I’m sorry,” Seungmin blurts. “I’m sorry. I- I knew something was gonna happen, I sort of knew it even before we started the whole rebellion thing and shit. But I thought I was, you know, paranoid or something. So I didn’t say anything, and you got hurt, and now we’re here. I’m sorry.”

Hyunjin looks at him for a moment. He isn’t even sure if he's angry at Seungmin; in his view, Seungmin should be angry at him.

The door to the room opens with a bang. Someone must’ve kicked it open.

For a second, Hyunjin expects to have to fight again. He definitely doesn’t expect to see a belly enter the room before its owner. A round smiling bearded face accompanies the belly.

‘Everyone, meet the rebellion leader,’ Christopher supplies. ‘I’ve spoken to him already. Quite a remarkable character. Not dangerous. I hope so.’

Felix hums. ‘I wouldn’t certify for “not dangerous”. He’s like- he feels weird.’

‘Let’s go through this together,’ Woojin says. ‘We can figure it out later.’

Despite his best judgment, Hyuinjin relaxed at his words.

The leader lands on a chair at the head of the table, to Christopher’s left. Christopher smiles at him, tight-lipped. The bearded fc“You having a private chat, boys?” the bearded face laughs. “It’s not very polite, you know. To discuss other people in secret when the person is right in front of you!”

After him, a group of other people enters. They stand by the walls.

Seungmin sits up immediately. ‘Shit. Shit, shit, shit!’

The bearded leader laughs. “Wow, easy, boys. We’re not gonna hurt you.”

“How do you know when we’re communicating with each other?” Christopher asks, the same damn smile on his lips.

Sometimes Hyunjin wants to have as much self-control as Christopher did.

“Your eyes. They get this- kind of like a faint glow to them.”

Hyunjin stares at Jeongin who sits right across from him. ‘Say something.’

‘You look ridiculous,’ Jeongin supplies.

Hyunjin makes a face at him, but his suspicion is correct: he doesn’t see any glow to Jeongin’s eyes.

“Is it something only an outsider can see?” Christopher asks carefully.

The leader shrugs. “I guess. If you can’t see it yourself, I mean, there should be something else.”

Changbin stares the man down. ‘I don’t like him. No, wait, that's not correct. I hate him.’

‘I don’t think he’s that bad though. I mean, they got us out, right?’ Jisung muses.

The leader laughs. He's clearly amused by their confusion. “You must have a lot of questions, boys. Come on, ask up!” Christopher turns back, to look at his group. ‘I want to ask him who they are in general.’

Woojin nods. ‘Go ahead. Also, ask how they knew where to find us.’

The leader's laugh sounds almost like a thunderstorm when he hears the question. “Oh, that’s an easy one! We’re a group that wants to overthrow the government. Like you boys were in that District One of yours, weren’t you?”

‘But we didn’t live underground,’ Changbin hisses.

Christopher voices it.

“Nothing wrong with living underground. This is District Two. Under it, you'll find District Three. You boys contacted us, don’t you remember? We were kind enough to join your plan. Now, you seem to have lost all your memories, haven’t you? What a shame. We’ve had so many good memories together!”

‘How they knew where to come and when to rescue us?’ Minho asks.

Christopher becomes their voice, asking questions instead of them. It only feels natural.

“You gave us instructions,” the beard shrugs. Then, to Hyunjin’s great surprise, he points at Seungmin. “Said he developed this entire plan. That everything would happen exactly when he said it would happen, and voila! It did.”

Felix sounds like he doesn't believe his ears. ‘And they trusted us? Without any proof?’

“You have a reputation,” the beard hums. “We knew who you were, we didn’t have many reasons to not trust you. Although I should admit, there's a rule to this world that you should remember. Never trust anything anyone tells you. We all lie and alter the information as it pleases us. Don't even trust me.”

‘And who are we?’ Minho asks, his voice dripping with venom. ‘I’m quite curious, actually.’

“You asked us not to tell you,” the beard smiles. “So I’m not doing it.”

Silence falls over the room. Hyunjin sighs, sliding down in his chair. He feels exhausted.

“If you’re the rebels,” Christopher asks after some time, “you maybe know where the real government is?”

“Of course we do,” the bearded man smiles again. “This information comes at a price.”

*

Once he steps out on the roof, the memories hit him.

It looked like the very same roof where they used to gather up and have weird night parties and sleepovers. It all now seems so far away, almost as if it happened to someone else in some other life. Hyunjin remembers the fairy lights, and how Christopher and the others used to smile. They smiled and laughed. Even though Hyunjin couldn’t force himself to share their mood, they were still happy and alive.

He approaches the edge of the roof and looks down. The world down there was a magnificent purple, the city alive and pulsating with light and energy.

He's consumed by his thoughts and memories of the others, and of the worry about what will happen to them now. He doesn’t hear the footsteps coming up from behind him. When he does pay attention, Seungmin is standing on beside him.

Hyunjin can swear he hasn’t seen Seungmin in what feels like actual ages, even though that isn’t exactly true. The last time they actually spoke to each other was about a month ago.

Hyunjin misses talking to him.

Seungmin doesn’t look hurt by their distance, though. His expression appears pensive. A bit melancholic, as he observes the underground city.

Hyunjin looks at the streetlights to avoid staring at Seungmin.

The silence between them stretches on and on.

“So, they want to have one of us in exchange for the information about the real government, don’t they?” Seungmin asks eventually.

“Sounds like it,” Hyunjin replies.

He still feels the sudden rush of anger from the others at the news. He almost thought Changbin was going to break something. Perhaps someone’s nose.

“We can’t give anyone up,” Seungmin mutters. “We started this together, and we should finish this together. All nine of us.”

Hyunjin hums in some kind of agreement.

“And it’s unfair,” Seungmin continues. “How can they want someone in exchange for a bunch of coordinates?”

“I guess it’s a test that we have to pass,” Hyunjin says with a sigh. “Or maybe, there are some special skills we have that they want. Maybe they have someone special in mind who they think they could use.”

“I don’t want to pass this test,” Seungmin sighs. “And then, it doesn’t make any sense, you know? Because not even all of us have some special abi-“

He cuts himself off and gasps, looking up at Hyunjin with wide eyes.

“It’s okay,” Hyunjin says and tries to smile. “That’s what my scientist told me, too. Not all of us have anything special about them.”

“But, I mean, maybe they were wrong,” Seungmin says hurriedly. “Maybe- I mean, Christopher designed everything, right? And now it turns out, we helped him. Nobody except for us knows what’s really happening, and we don’t remember shit, right?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

But the conversation is dead now, and both of them know it. That’s how most of their conversations end up anyway lately, dead halfway through. Hyunjin misses the way they’d talk sunset to sunrise, about everything and nothing in particular.

“Christopher is calling for me,” Seungmin mutters, rubbing his right temple. “I’ll go inside. Please don’t stay up here for too long, okay?”

“Yeah. I won’t.”

Seungmin leaves. Hyunjin is left on the roof alone. Again.