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Looking for Some Light

Chapter Text


Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul

And sings the tune without the words

And never stops at all.

― Emily Dickinson




“Stop staring. Stop staring. Stop staring.” 

He muttered under his breath, hiding the rosy blush that crept up on his cheeks. He tucked his chin into his chest and lowered his eyes. There was a fluttering in his belly that made him squirm in his seat. 

He was trying his best not to stare, he really was. For the last several minutes he drew inky flowers and scribbled hearts in the margins of his notebook, focusing his eyes diligently on the paper. Setting the pen down he pulled at the sleeves of his sweatshirt and tugged them over his wrists, belatedly noticing stains of black ink on his fingers. 

It was like this each and every time his afternoon shift overlapped with the tutoring hours of the dark-haired, unfairly handsome boy sitting five tables to his right. 

The clock on the wall reminded him he’d only started his shift an hour earlier. Time moved maddeningly slow and his willpower decreased with every passing minute. He sat forward, cheek pressed into his hand, hunching over the long circulation desk. Instead of looking to the right, he took in the panoramic view of the university’s library from his central spot at the second floor. 

Stacks of books were neatly arranged directly behind him in long, tall, daunting rows. In front of him was a water fountain, elevators, and a collection of bulletin boards advertising for roommates, band practices, and open courses for students. People flurried past the main desk without a second glance, dragging their laptops and textbooks to private study tables for hours on end. They were lost in their phones or conversations with their friends, often not noticing him at all. 

He blended in with the rest of the forgotten books. He started tuning people out unless someone directly approached him, usually staring down at the lanyard and name-badge that hung around his neck. 

Im Changkyun was neatly printed in black block-style font next to the university logo.

The library itself was a huge multi-floor modern building and he was in charge of the entire second floor. His list of duties was neatly printed and taped to the corner of the desk, reminding him to shelve books and refill printers when necessary. They asked him to look up obscure texts and take care of random odds and ends from time to time, too. But mostly he was left alone and could fill his time as he pleased. 

A kind librarian, a woman who was the head of the entire library, checked in on him every few hours, always warm and smiling. It gave him a bit of connection that he craved and she reminded him of his mom. Although that made him miss her just that much more. 

To his right, group study and tutoring took up the entirety of the back row of tables, parallel to the floor to ceiling windows and overlooking the campus quad. At the table Changkyun kept avoiding, he knew if he glanced over to a specific spot he’d see a whiteboard sign with neat, concise script advertising tutoring in math and sciences. 

Even the handwriting was pretty, just like the person who wrote it. 

Changkyun let himself look—only for a second—and his heart skipped a beat when he saw the boy’s side profile, the long line of his neck, the way his brown-black hair fell over his forehead. Something in his chest warmed and melted the rest of his body like molten chocolate. 

He sighed deeply, needing a moment to take it all in. There was something so mesmerizing about him, he could barely understand it. It had been a very long time since he felt this way about anyone. Even then it was just a crush and this—this felt like so much more. 

His object of admiration had been there the past two Mondays and Wednesdays like clockwork.  Changkyun noticed he was everyone’s favorite tutor and had the longest line, the biggest waiting list. Students clamored for his attention, his support, his words of wisdom. They whispered about his personal study guides and begged to see them for their midterm exams. They fluttered their lashes, asking how he aced his classes, especially the hardest ones. 

Changkyun heard it all from his perch at the desk, quirking his head to the side to listen better. It was as if he was invisible. Nobody noticed the little, awkward freshman in the oversized hoodie. 

People said lots of things when they didn’t think anyone was listening.

It was just two days ago when he was eavesdropping on three boys after their tutoring session, all looking noticeably less stressed than when they came in. The closest one pressed the call button for the elevator and shuffled to the side. He leaned against the wall, checking his phone. 

“I think we’re as ready as we’ll ever be,” tallest one said, giving his friends a half smile. 

The third student—rounder with a kind face and smooth lips—seemed to agree. “We just need to study more tonight and work on the concepts and strategies Kihyun said.”

Changkyun did a double take, making sure he heard correctly. He waited patiently with tapping feet, reaching up to rub an invisible smudge off his glasses. When they mentioned his name again he swooned from way it sounded from their lips, the way Kihyun repeated in his head like his new favorite song. 

Today, Kihyun was reviewing Chemistry with a group of girls from the sight of the textbooks sprawled out around them. Changkyun didn’t dare look too long for fear of getting caught. 

He busied himself on the computer, logging into the sleek desktop and typing his credentials into the system. His campus email popped up chalk full of messages about assignments and due dates and events for him to attend as a new student. 

Being a freshman made him new and shiny. 

It was constantly overwhelming and these first few weeks were certainly not going according to plan. 

Fitting in didn’t come easily for everyone, right? 

Changkyun exhaled loudly, slumping over the keyboard and scanning his inbox. It was a daunting task but someone had to do it. He cemented his heels on the smooth carpeted floor and pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, ready to focus on his homework for the day. 

The rest of his shift passed with mild productivity and minimal distractions. He managed to get through two chapters of assigned reading in history before a girl needed help finding a book. She shyly spoke the name of the author. He typed the information into the database like he was trained and walked with her to the right shelf, pulling it down for her. Before leaving she smiled, giving him a nod and small wave of thanks. Changkyun waved back, narrowly flinging the pen in his hand at her as it slipped from his fingers and clanged onto the floor. 

He was still awkward after all. 

Back at his desk he jumped on the rolling chair and stared at chapter four in his algebra and trigonometry textbook for a good ten minutes before growling and closing the textbook angrily, slapping the glossy embossed cover. 

“What did that book do to you?” 

Changkyun sucked in a breath, looking up through his lashes after too many seconds of silence. His eyes blinked in rapid succession, processing the person standing in front of him. The boy smiled down to him, laughing for a second at his own joke. The fluttering in Changkyun’s stomach doubled, then tripled, a nervous feeling rising up his throat. 

This was absolutely the worst time to feel like he was going to throw up. 

“I’m just kidding. Can I return this?” 

The tutor stood before him, inches in front of his desk. His voice sounded like a symphony to his ears, beautiful and melodic and terrifying at the same time. Even his laugh, soft and staccato, melted into him like sugar in hot coffee. 

Changkyun slowly hinged forward and scanned him from his toes to the top of his head. He was tall—just as tall as he was—if not a bit more. Slim frame with straight, sure of himself shoulders. Even his posture was perfect. From their closeness Changkyun could see the dark brown and black tones in his hair and smooth skin on his face, completely blemish free. 

The boys lips pouted into a genuine smile. 

Changkyun opened his mouth and shut it, then again, before he remembering to say real words. 

“Sur-sure.” 

“It’s the key to the private study room. We didn’t need it today.” 

Steady fingers placed the key on the smooth surface of the desk before turning to walk away. He moved two steps forward and paused, turning back to face him. His eyes sparkled and the corner of his mouth twinged up. He licked his upper lip. 

“There’s a little something on your cheek.” 

It was over in an instant. Changkyun stood up and his mouth fell open, utterly stunned. He outstretched his fingers grasping the elongated key in front of him and pulled it against his chest. He watched the tutor, Kihyun, walk past the elevators and open the heavy steel door to the stairwell. Soccer cleats swung from his bag, tied from the laces to the handle at the top. He rushed down the stairs, the door slowly closing behind him. 

Changkyun watched it click shut. It was then that his heart began to restart.  

He was gone before Changkyun could even remember to say the word thanks. And wait—his cheek? He stumbled forward, hands reaching across the desk for his phone. He turned on the camera feature, turning it towards himself. 

A black, inky smudge rested on top of his cheekbone. 

“Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god.”

He rubbed at it frantically but it was no use. The ink spread, dark and splotchy, staining the pads of his fingertips. A sigh escaped from his lips, a fit of frustration. 

He ruined the only first impression he would ever get. 

Sitting back in his chair, he slumped into the seat and leaned his body forward, flopping onto the desk. He laid his head in folded arms, slotting his face into the little notch in the middle. Breathing in and out, his body slowly warmed, the tips of his ears still red. 

Changkyun then decided he needed to quit because he couldn’t fathom facing Kihyun ever again. 

 

Chapter Text

 


We can't see the Sun in the storm.

Patience, little thunder cloud.

Have Faith in your own Light.

— Karen Neverland




Changkyun pulled the lanyard over his head and squished it into the front pocket of his backpack. He waved kindly to another librarian who managed the first floor circulation desks before lowering his eyes and making his way out the main doors. The sun hit him immediately, beaming low from the west. He blinked quickly, covering his eyes with his arm and squinting before adjusting to the light. 

It was the part of the day where the afternoon merged into evening and everything changed all at once. 

Students fluttered past, eager to get into the library and study for the night. He moved out of their way, almost falling off the sidewalk. He steadied himself and kept going towards his dorm. As he walked, the entire afternoon replayed in his mind, pausing and rewinding on one particular thing. 

Kihyun. 

His behavior in front of the most handsome boy he’d ever seen was far more pressing and important than any homework that was meant to happen tonight. 

His fingers curled into fists around the cuffs of his sweatshirt. How could he only say one word? Sure. Sure? And the smudge on his cheek? It took five minutes of soap and scrubbing in the bathroom before it fully washed off. 

His heart fell into his stomach remembering each little detail of their encounter.  

He desperately needed a do-over. 

Those thoughts carried him past the student union and several other buildings he didn’t quite recognize. The campus was big. There were several different colleges and a world-renowned university hospital he had yet to run into. He’d barely found his own classrooms and arrived to those on time each day, so he’d take to exploring another time. 

In the back pocket of his jeans he felt his phone vibrate. He slung his backpack on his right shoulder, reaching behind for the device. He answered in a low, gruff voice. 

“Hello.” 

“Hi honey! How’s school this week?” 

His mother’s cheery voice comforted him instantly, causing him to smile. Changkyun tucked the phone between his ear and shoulder, shrugging up one side to keep it in place. 

The light continued to dim. Leaves of red, orange, and yellow crunched beneath his black boots. A gust of wind blew, rustling up leaves and swaying the trees around him as he walked.

“It’s alright.” 

“I don’t like how you sound, honey. Tell me, how are things?”

“School’s a bit hard,” he admitted truthfully, biting his lip. His hand reached up to rub his ear, the one not attached to the phone. He rubbed at the lobe, pressing it softly between his fingers. “I’m.. I’m still not sure I’m fitting in here, mom.” 

She was too perceptive to buy any lies. And they’d made promises to stay honest with each other about everything. That was a perk about having your mom as your best friend. He walked through campus slowly, taking it all in as he said those words. 

He really wasn’t sure where he belonged. 

The sun crest against other campus buildings and slowly began to set. Gradients of pinks and oranges and yellows washed over the sky like a painting, slowly fading while darkness approached. 

“You worked really hard to get there. Your father and I believe you can do it. Do you think you need a tutor?”

Changkyun’s mind flew back to the last hour of his life, the first and only opportunity he’d get to  see his crush from that short a distance. The only tutor he wanted to know. They breathed the same air at the same time and in the same place. 

He could still barely believe it. 

Kihyun was handsome and popular and everyone talked like he was just short of genius. Changkyun was so out of his league they weren’t even playing the same sport. 

Saliva caught in his throat, making it hard to swallow. Around him he watched the soft shadows of the trees dance and move and sway. His body shivered from the cold so he slid his hands in the front pocket of his sweatshirt for warmth. 

Other students hurried past him in groups of threes or fours, talking and laughing. He felt invisible again.

“I can figure it out on my own.” 

The words felt hollow when he said them aloud. Lamp lights flickered on over-head, illuminating the path back to his dorm. A chill ran down his spine from the wind, or something else, he wasn’t quite sure. 

“Is your job too much? We didn’t want you doing that in your first year. Not if your studies will suffer. We’ll figure out the money some other way.” 

Her voice softened, cracking on the final words. Changkyun’s heart tore to pieces knowing his parent’s sacrificed so much to pay his tuition fees. He’d be eligible for more scholarships next term if he earned good grades.. and if he could make it that long. 

“It’s really not. I promise!” He did his best to reassure, hoping it would ease her worry. It was the truth after all. Working at the library was one of the best distractions he had.   

“I trust you, Changkyun. Are you eating well?” 

His stomach grumbled in response. He clutched his hands in his pocket, rubbing over his belly in a circle. Breakfast was the last time he’d eaten a proper meal.

“I’ll be grabbing dinner soon, I just finished up my shift.” 

“Good, good. Eat lots of veggies, not just ramen. Okay? Should your father and I bring some snacks for you at the weekend, some side dishes?” 

Twenty feet away his building appeared. The trees were thicker here and leaves were piled up in neat mountains of fall color. He stared at them and wondered why the grounds staff would leave them for students to ruin. These were the best and brightest students, the top 5% of their high school class, yet at least twice a day someone pulled the fire alarm and more often than not, he found random furniture, underwear, and one time an entire plate of jell-o on the lawn outside his dorm. 

He reached for his keys from a side pocket and scanned his student badge to unlock the doors. The mechanism clicked open and he rushed past the big lounge off the entryway. Other freshman hung out there with friends, mostly for studying and chatting or spreading rumors about who was dating who. 

Changkyun went there once and ended up listening to the entire break up story for a girl he found crying in the corner. He soothed her at the time, patting her back and cooing helpful nothings. 

“I’m so sorry, you seem lovely. So very nice,” he remembered saying. 

But things went very wrong when the conversation shifted and she asked for his number and followed up with not one, but several date invitations the following week. What he couldn’t tell her that he was never going to date another girl again. His parents and close family knew, but no one else. He was getting better at keeping that particular secret.  

He shook his head at the memory and gave a sigh of relief seeing the bank of elevators that would take him to his room. He was already planning on ordering a take-away, watching Netflix and re-thinking all the things he should have said to Kihyun instead of what he actually did. 

His mom called his name. 

“Mom, I’ll work on eating better. With my schedule it’s hard.” 

He clicked his tongue, pressing the square, opaque up button. 

“I know, I know. You’re doing great, honey.” 

The steel doors of the elevator opened and he walked inside, hitting the number seven. The lift went up just as a fluorescent bulb flickered, cracked, and went out overhead. He shuffled to the other side of the elevator and covered his arms over his face, avoiding the ominous feeling.  

“Shit,” he whispered under his breath.

His mom prattled about their neighbors in his ear but he was no longer listening. 

He rushed out and finally breathed when the doors opened onto the seventh floor. The hallway looked identical with matching doors and white, freshly painted walls. Some days it felt less like a dorm and more like a prison. The only thing missing were bars on the windows. 

He lived with a broody roommate and that was putting it lightly. Since move-in weekend it had been quite the adjustment figuring out how to live together. Changkyun learned quickly that his roommate didn’t like small talk, early mornings, and the way he breathed. Since that understanding was established, they got along fine, rarely talking and simply co-existing. Every so often he shot daggers at him with his eyes so it didn’t seem like they were going to become best friends anytime soon.

His floormates were mostly other boys studying science, engineering, or business. He’d yet to meet someone with his same interests.

“Are you making any new friends?”

The question twisted like a knife, painful in his chest. It wasn’t that he couldn’t make friends, it was just that he found it really hard. University—just like his high school—already had cliques and people in ready-made groups. He had no idea where he fit in at all. 

“Ah-uh, kind of.” 

He stood at the door to his room, slotting his key into the lock and pushing the door open. His roommate lay sprawled on his own bed of messy blankets and untucked sheets. His books spread out around him and he typed away on his laptop, only pausing for a second to connect eyes. They gave one another a solemn nod as they usually did and Changkyun went to his side of the room. It was much neater with far fewer things. 

His mother sighed loudly at the other end of the line, bringing him back to their conversation.  

“What do you mean, Changkyun?” 

“I am trying.” 

He dropped his bag near his desk and stood up straight, adjusting his stance. On the workspace were his other textbooks, neatly stacked, and notebooks he used in class. A few post-it notes stuck to the peg-board above, helping him remember upcoming deadlines. 

“What about dating? Have you met anyone handsome? Has anyone caught your eye?” 

Her hopeful tone did nothing for the butterflies fluttering aimlessly in his chest, the ones that came out each time he thought of him. The word yes bounced off the tip of his tongue but he bit back the word and held in a bashful smile, trying not to roll his eyes. 

“Mom! No, I haven’t started dating yet. There aren’t that many handso—” 

Changkyun stopped in his tracks, realizing one second too late the mistake he made. A chill ran through his entire body. His limbs froze, rooting him to the floor tiles. 

“No one yet, Mom,” he ground out. His fingers trembled, struggling to clutch the phone. “It’s getting late, I need to eat and study. Talk soon?” 

They hung up with rushed I love you’s and Changkyun felt stuck, couldn’t turn around. He stared at the yellow post-it that he wrote yesterday in big, messy script Essay due Friday! Inside his chest he felt his heart against his ribs, the sound echoed in his ears like a bass drum. 

It roared louder and louder like a ticking clock. 

He mentally counted to five and dared to take a breath. The silence was heavy and deafening. Until—

“Handsome..? Don’t tell me you’re gay.” 

The words shot at him like a bullet. 

Changkyun blanched, letting his phone fall with a clunk on the desk. He pulled his lips between his teeth and felt his heart race faster, pounding now. His stomach coiled, twisting and turning. He reached his hand up to his neck feeling a cold sweat flush across his skin. Words filtered in and out of his thoughts, none a proper sentence or response. 

“Are you?” 

His roommate asked again with a roaring, angry intonation. He stood up from his bed and Changkyun heard the squeak of his mattress. A book slid onto the floor with a loud thud. 

The silence between them stretched to an uncomfortable length. He took one deep breath in, whispering 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. He exhaled and in the same second turned around to face his roommate.

“What does it matter?” 

His voice was small but steady. It was all the confidence he could muster, all the words he could rationally form. This was the very last thing he wanted his roommate to find out, gauging from his current reaction. His roommate clenched his teeth, narrowing his eyes on Changkyun with disgust. 

“I didn’t think you were a gay. Good lord.”

Changkyun’s heart entirely stopped. Judgment and hate seeped from his mouth, his eyes, his entire wretched expression.  

“How am I supposed to live with you now?” he added, taking a step closer towards him. 

Changkyun shuffled back half a step, running into the solid material of his desk. There was no where for him to go. His roommate continued, sneering. There was a menacing growl under his breath while he stood to full height, towering over him. He raised both hands and gripped Changkyun’s sweatshirt with tight fists, lifting him up off the floor. 

“You can’t stay here.” 

Each word was succinct and severe, cutting Changkyun down to his core. He’d experience hate but nothing like this. His entire body shivered, legs swaying back and forth like a rag doll. The hands at his chest released their tight grip, letting him fall back to the floor. He slammed against the solid wood, reaching his palms back to steady his body. Short, uneven breaths escaped from his lungs. Shock ran through him like lightning, all the way down to his toes. 

“You need to leave.” 

There was finality in the statement. But Changkyun couldn’t let him win. Not over this. Goosebumps covered every inch of his skin. He re-adjusted his glasses back to their normal position. His voice was as even as he could make it, directing each pointed word at his roommates back. 

“I won’t. I won’t leave.”

He spun around, eyes blazing, shooting fire back at Changkyun. 

You can’t live here.” 

Changkyun’s lower lip trembled. He straightened his stance, ignoring the throbbing in his wrist. 

“I need to. You-you can’t make me leave. This is my room too.” 

His roommate stepped back, laughing to himself. He shook his head and smiled from complete disbelief. He licked his lips, opening his mouth to speak. 

“This is really something. I can’t believe you’re gay. I thought you were okay, too.” 

“Nothing needs to change,” he tried to reason. “It’s not a big deal.” 

“I don’t want you here.” 

“You’ll have to deal with it.” 

His roommate threw his head back and chuckled, the sound echoing. Taunting. His anger was manic and incomprehensible. He raised his voice, almost shouting. 

“Deal with it? I’m supposed to deal with a fag like you? And live with you? What are people going to think of me?” 

Every question hit like a punch, striking each of his weakest points. His legs trembled, his strength wavering. His roommate stalked towards him and closed in. Long, slick fingers gripped his chin like a vice. In a fluid movement he flicked Changkyun’s jaw up so they were eye to eye, his angry, large pupils glaring down. 

“You’ll get more of this if you don’t leave. Is that what you want?” 

His roommates fingers curled tighter, turning his skin red and blotchy. Changkyun held his breath and closed his eyes, not knowing what else to do. Fear turned the blood in his veins to ice. Seconds later he felt a warm, suffocating breath against his neck, inches away from his ear. 

“Leave, or you’ll regret it. I won’t live with someone like you.” 

Changkyun shivered down to his bones, no longer able to hide his growing panic. His heart felt erratic and out of control. It stopped beating completely when the hand fell away and he heard his roommate immediately leave the room, slamming the door. 

He blinked slowly and tears cascaded over his flushed cheeks. He had held them in as long as he could. Small, shallow breaths shuddered from his body over and over, so fast he couldn’t control it. 

The room suddenly felt empty and hollow, unwelcoming. 

It was the only place at this university he could call home and that feeling was entirely shattered like broken glass. He clutched the desk, steadying his body before pushing off and stumbling two steps onto his bed. He fell head first into his pillow. 

An aching, painful rush of air left his lungs. It was getting harder to breathe. 

“How.. I.. what am I supposed to do now?” 

A ton of bricks crushed his heart while his soul tore into pieces. 

Minutes or hours later, he didn’t know, Changkyun wiped at the snot under his nose using the cuff of his sweatshirt. Wetness spread all over his blue pillowcase. His ribs clenched with every uncomfortable breath. He gripped the blanket beneath him between tired, tense fingers, holding it as tight as he could. 

Cold, he was so cold. He worried if he would ever feel warm again. 

And he was sure of one thing now. 

Today was the worst day of his life. 

 

*!*!*

 

Changkyun had barely slept for the past two nights. Fear filled his dreams and jolted him awake. The nightmares left him breathless, gasping for air and holding a hand to his throat, the other at his chest. His entire body was covered in sweat each morning. The blankets and sheets around him were drenched, wrinkled, and mused. 

The first night he almost screamed in panic when the door to their room squeaked from opening. His awful roommate—the cause of all his anxiety—had returned after leaving, stumbling into bed smelling like cigarette smoke and stale beer. 

Changkyun had finally fallen asleep around 4 am, trying to drown out the sound of his snoring. It didn’t seem fair that he slept soundly while he withered away from his words. 

A fag like you. 

He wanted to leave, but didn’t have anywhere to go. Real sleep seemed impossible and attending class felt like a chore. Yesterday he dragged himself to his courses, sitting in the cold, hard chairs and wishing he were anywhere else. The further away the better. 

People didn’t notice him as usual and for once he was glad. He put his hood up, head down. Despite wearing warm clothes, his body felt cold as ice. His body shook, wracked with chills. 

The world went on around him while he was stuck on one moment in time. 

A fag like you. 

His homework started piling up and he was about to miss a deadline. He couldn’t bring himself to care. 

Last night, it was around midnight when he sat on his bed, knees drawn up to his chest. He held them tight with his arms, holding himself as tight as he could. For hours he stared out his window, blinking back tears. The endless night with the hint of glistening stars stared back. 

It was near dawn when the sun began to rise, that he realized something with stunning clarity. 

There were no bars on his window.

He had made his decision. 

Changkyun pulled every tired limb into the shower as the sun rose. Scalding hot water came out in heavy spurts, working out the soreness in his back. The steam did nothing for the deep, purple marks beneath his eyes. He let the water wash over him, burning his skin and turning it bright red. 

The hurt felt good. 

His alarm went off like it usually did at 7:15 am, yet this time he was awake and showered, combing through his wet hair with lazy fingers. A blue towel wrapped around his waist while small water droplets fell around him on the floor. He didn’t care he was making a mess. 

The sound echoed twice before he could silence it.

“Shut that damn thing off.” 

Changkyun paused, turning his head slightly towards the center of the room. His roommate had rolled over and adjusted his pillow, grumbling from the noise. Black hair spilled all over his pillow, creases from the cotton on his face. The permanent scowl was there, even while he slept. Changkyun ignored his comment, reaching for his eye drops. He tilted his head back and let them fall into the corners of his eyes. There was immediate relief and he blinked in quick succession, groaning in satisfaction. 

“I told you to be quiet, fag.” 

Next to his closet, Changkyun pulled out a plain black t-shirt and matching boxers. He dropped his towel and quickly put them on. His pants were his usual ones, super skinny and black, and he pulled a large, oversized grey hoodie off a hanger. 

The rest of his closet was neat and organized which would make packing go rather quickly. He looked to his desk, assessing that too. Everything was exactly how he left it on Wednesday. 

“Can you not hear me?” 

His roommate sat up and swung his legs to the floor, leaning forward. He stared at Changkyun who hadn’t stopped getting dressed. The sweatshirt slid over his head and he popped his arms through the sleeves. They slid over his wrists, always too long for his smaller frame. 

“Go back to bed. I’ll be leaving soon,” he replied emotionless, reaching for his glasses and sliding them into place. 

He had zero empathy for his roommate. His backpack was already packed and his shoes were lined up by the door. He walked around their beds and ignored him altogether. 

“Why can’t you leave for good? I’m tired of looking at you.” 

Changkyun wanted to scream the words inside his head. He wanted to tell him that he was leaving, that his roommate was never going to have to see him again. 

He paused, one foot away from the door, and asked a different question.  

“Why do you hate me so much? Do you think that I enjoy living with someone like you?” 

“Someone like me? What does that mean?” 

His roommate stood up and crossed the room, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He stopped and grimaced at Changkyun standing in front of the door. 

“You think you’re better than me? That’s crazy.” 

“I don’t think it, I already know. You’re just a bully.” 

Changkyun didn’t dice his words. He meant it with every fiber of his being.

“So. What.” 

His roommate came closer but Changkyun stayed glued to his spot on the floor. His fight or flight responses had entirely reversed and he was ready for whatever came next. Blood heated in his veins and coursed through his body like lava, red and molten and scorching. 

“You’re just worried about your reputation. What other people will think. It’s your own damn insecurities and none of this is really about me.” 

“Listen, fag.” 

Changkyun smelled his morning breath from inches away, quickly turning his head to avoid it. The corners of his mouth frowned in disgust. The slur triggered something deep inside, setting him on fire. He balled his hands into fists, narrowing his eyes to slits. 

“Stop calling me that! Stop calling anyone that! Stop being such an idiot.” 

His throat strained from yelling. 

“Who the fuck are you to call me an idiot?” 

His roommate lunged forward and his fist came first, aiming for his face. In a split second Changkyun moved back just out of reach. His heart went wild, pumping with adrenaline. 

“Try again with better aim,” Changkyun hissed, his teeth clenched.  

Dark, furious eyes shot a hole right through him. 

“If I hit you I’ll get kicked out. That’s what you want, isn’t it? I won’t give you that satisfaction. You can just live here knowing I could beat your ass any day.” 

“I’ll believe it when I see it.” 

Changkyun reached his fingers towards the door handle and grabbed it, pushing it open. The quick movement gave him just enough time to grab his shoes and bag. He’d have to get his coat later, along with all his other belongings. Then it would be the last time he’d ever have to be in that room, seeing that stupid sneering face. 

He slammed the door behind him, satisfied when it rattled on the hinges. He walked to the elevator and hit the call button. Seconds later he changed his mind, heading for the stairwell down the hall. The steel door swung open and inside he found it entirely silent. Changkyun walked his socked feet on the concrete and down two steps before collapsing in a heap. He dropped everything in his hands, hearing it clang on the floor. His body fell against the steel railings. Both lungs worked in overdrive providing oxygen to necessary areas of the body. His head throbbed in pain from lack of sleep and the adrenaline still rippling through him. 

He had tried his best to stand up to him, to be strong and brave. It was the scariest thing he had ever done. Every ounce of energy in his small, weary body was spent. 

Changkyun wasn’t sure how he’d get through this. Why was everything going so wrong? 

Slowly, he sat in an upright position. His vans lay next to him and he put them on one by one, carefully tying the laces. His hands shook the entire time. He exhaled in, then out. Over and over, until his head cleared and the adrenaline faded from his system.

In the cold, empty stairwell, Changkyun remembered something his mom read to him from their poetry books at home.    

The best way out is always through. 

He straightened his back and rested each palm on either side of his hips. He pushed up and stood back up on his own two feet. A hopeful sigh escaped past his lips before he descended down the stairs, one step at a time. 

 

*!*!*

 

Skipping class seemed appropriate now that Changkyun had decided to quit going to university. He felt no guilt as he walked past the building for his 9:15 am lecture and instead stood in line at the University’s main cafe. 

He stood quietly, shuffling from his spot in the middle of the line each time it moved forward. The mid-morning student rush was still in full swing. Exhaustion ran through him like a train, making it hard to stand. The steady hum of white noise in the cafe from the espresso machines, people chatting, and soft jazz music playing only added to the lull and desire for sleep. 

His eyelids fell shut, only for a few seconds. 

“Next!” a female barista shouted.

Changkyun didn’t move. The person behind him gently tapped his shoulder when he missed his cue. He startled and looked back, noticing brightly colored hair and two dimples that accompanied a wide grin. It looked like an older student. He gestured with his hand that it was his turn. He continued to smile at Changkyun even when he was slow to respond. 

There were some people that were always happy in the morning and this person looked like they fit into that category. Changkyun certainly did not. 

“Sorry, sorry,” Changkyun grumbled, finally understanding, and folded forward in apology.

Turning back, he walked to the front of the line. The kind barista smiled at him, rubbing her hands over a striped blue and white apron as he approached. 

“What can I get for you?” 

“A large coffee, black.” 

“Of course. $2.11, please!”  

Her high-pitched voice was warm and friendly. He grabbed his wallet from his back pocket and pulled out a card, passing it over the register. She passed back his card after swiping it and another barista turned around with a large coffee in a to-go cup, the contents steaming out the lid. 

“Here you go! Have a great day!” 

“You too.” 

He immediately clasped his fingers around the cup, stealing it’s warmth. He turned around and scanned the cafe, spotting an open table near the side where other visitors waited for their drinks. Sitting down, he tugged his book bag off his shoulder and pried the lid off his cup. The heat, warmth, and scent of it soothed him instantly. He sighed, leaning in to catch the tendrils of steam against his cheeks. He closed his eyes and sat there enjoying the moment of peace. 

But the moment couldn’t last too long—his life was still falling apart. 

His phone felt heavy in his pocket. He’d been avoiding calls, missing messages, and ignoring every email. Rubbing his fingers at the bridge of his nose, he adjusted his glasses and settled them back into place. He took one deep breath before grabbing it and calling the top number, the digits appearing red from several missed calls. 

“Changkyun! Sweetheart! Chankyung is calling!” 

The sound of his mother’s relieved voice instantly made him crumble. Tears escaped at the corners of his eyes, falling down his cheek. His lower lip wobbled and his mouth fell open. He had to remind himself he was in public and needed to keep it together. 

He quickly brushed the tears with his thumb and said, “Hi, mom.” 

“Changkyun..” The emptiness in his voice gave everything away. “What’s going on? Tell us, honey. Your father is with me.” 

He rubbed under his eye, his glasses going askew. He coughed once to clear his throat. 

“Uh—um, were you and dad going to come down tonight and see me?” 

“If you wanted us to, of course we would,” his mother quickly responded. 

His dad chimed in with his steady, strong tone, “We can be there tonight, depending on the traffic.” 

“Okay. Yeah, okay.” 

“What’s wrong, Changkyun? You’re scaring me.” 

He couldn’t hide a damn thing from them and for that he was both grateful and terrified. 

“Well, um—ah, I don’t.. I really don’t know what to do.” 

His voice faltered and broke on the last few words. 

It was the hardest, most honest truth.

His feet tapped nervously on the floor and he lifted his head and looked out the window, noticing the sun rays peek out between the trees. His free hand slid up and around the back of his neck, cupping it in comfort. He rubbed at the tendons, strained and tense from the last few days. More tears welled in his eyes, lining them with silver. 

Around him the cafe was in a flurry, people rushing through the line and getting their drinks just to turn around and go to class. He wanted to be like them, he really did. The baristas worked tirelessly, smiling with each order. At a table to his left, he noticed the older boy with the dimples sitting back in a chair, likely waiting for his drink. He avoided his gaze, trying to keep his emotions in check. 

“We’ll figure it out, son.” His father said in support. “Whatever it is.” 

Changkyun fluttered his eyes closed, leaning forward into the table. 

Chills ran down his spine. 

“I think I need to leave. I.. I can’t stay.”

He explained more with run-on sentences and all the wrong words, yet they still understood. They listened, stunned and completely silent, as he explained the entire, horrible situation. He struggled through some parts and left out many of the harder, more awful details. 

There were some words he just couldn’t repeat, couldn’t say out loud.

He was lucky, so damn lucky to have parents that didn’t care who he loved. Parents that let him be who he wanted to be. They had never once let him down, so this time it felt easier to fall. 

When he was done, Changkyun took a long drink of coffee feeling it’s warmth slide down his throat and fill his belly. He sipped more, fixing his eyes on the scuff marks on the table. He ignored all the other patrons of the cafe, silently hoping they didn’t see him cry. 

“Is there anything someone at the university can do?” 

His mom was always the pragmatic, logical thinker. Fiercely loyal and smart. It made her the best teacher, the best mom. 

He shifted the phone to his other ear, rubbing the heated one between his fingers. Her question made him pause, but other thoughts came to mind. 

“He’s not going to change, mom.”

“You’re right, you’re right. We’ll figure this out together, okay? Your father and I will call you soon.” 

“Thank you,” he mumbled softly, quietly. 

“Changkyun, we’d do anything for you. Everything will be okay. Stay by the phone.” 

“Mhm.” 

“We love you.” 

“Love you back.” 

Changkyun set the phone down on the table. He closed his eyes and counted to five. When he opened his eyes, he exhaled and sat up straighter, pushing his back against the chair. 

The hardest part was over. 

Relief washed over him in waves, soft and slow. 

A chair scraped close behind him, dragging on the floor. He ignored the sound, reaching into his backpack for headphones. Grabbing them, they laid in a tangled mess on the table. They took a good thirty seconds to unravel but he plugged them in and played a song, unknowingly humming the tune. 

Another tap on the shoulder had him jumping from his seat. His shoulders swiveled to look at the person to his side. His earbud fell out, loudly playing Hozier through the speaker. 

“Good taste in music,” a happy voice commented. 

Changkyun paused the song. He gulped, dryness stuck in his throat. 

“Thanks. One of my favorite albums.” 

“Me too! Is okay if I sit here for a second?” 

The boy was tall with broad shoulders. His hair was a shade between green and blue, yet it suited him perfectly. Once he smiled, Changkyun noticed the dimples immediately. 

It was the same person from before. 

“Sure..” 

Changkyun was beginning to realize sure was his favorite word when he didn’t know what else to say.  

“I’m Jooheon. You are?” 

A blush crept up on Changkyun’s cheeks, flushing him a light pink. He grazed the top of his of his reddening ear with light fingers. He hadn’t really talked to anyone in weeks of being here, now someone was talking to him on his last day? 

“Changkyun.” 

“My roommate does that,” Jooheon shared. “He likes touching his ears, other people’s ears. I thought it was really weird, but seeing you do it like that it must be a thing. Nervous habit?” 

“Ah..ah, well—”

“You’re a freshman right, Changkyun?”

“Is it that obvious?” Changkyun sighed, turning his head towards the warm hood of his sweatshirt. He breathed in the fresh scent of the fabric softener his mom usually bought. 

“You look young, that’s all! I promise.”

“I’m hoping that’s a good thing.” 

Changkyun pulled his other earbud out and smoothed his hands over his hair. It had fully dried from his shower and he wasn’t sure how he looked. He felt like a disheveled mess. 

“Do you live in the dorms then?” 

A barista with cropped black hair in a spiky style brought Jooheon’s drink to their table. They both sat back, giving her room. 

“Here you go! Sorry it took so long, we had to grind fresh espresso beans. Enjoy!”

Jooheon responded with a huge grin and murmured his thanks.

“Yeah..” Changkyun grumbled, watching the barista walk away. His eyes returned to Jooheon. “I’m guessing you don’t. Junior, senior?”

“I’m in my second year.” 

“Oh. I wish I was..”

“Why?” 

“I don’t like living in the dorms.” 

Changkyun’s lips pressed into a tight line. He gripped his fingers tighter around his cup. The contents were mostly gone and the last few dregs had probably gone cold.

“I—I overheard your conversation,” Jooheon admitted bluntly. Changkyun’s eyes grew wide with panic, but Jooheon raised his hand to reassure. His own eyes were soft and full of emotion. “I didn’t mean to, I’m just really nosy. It sounds like you need a place to stay?”

His heart quickened knowing someone heard what he said aloud. Everything about his roommate, why he needed to leave. He should’ve been more careful, should’ve talked to his family in private. 

Words rolled off his tongue, trying to hastily explain, “I’m having a roommate issue that’s—” 

Jooheon looked at him with such genuine concern that it stopped him in his tracks. It made his chest swell and feel warm, just like when his parents cared for him. Did he really need to make excuses and tell more lies? His roommate was an asshole and that was a fact. 

Changkyun couldn’t meet his gaze and looked down into his hands, lacing them together over the table. He pursed his lips, then told the stranger his truth. 

“I need to leave. I.. I don’t feel safe there. So I think I’m going to go home.” 

“Thank god I’m a nosy person,” Jooheon blurted out, sliding his hand across to Changkyun’s wrist. He gently rubbed his arm over his sleeve. “I know we just met and all, but you could live with me? I live in a big house not far from campus, it’s super close. My friend Minhyuk is studying abroad so his room is open.”

Changkyun shook his head in disbelief. The skin felt warm everywhere Jooheon touched. He cocked his head to the side, jutting his ear out. 

“What? What are you saying?”

“I heard you talk to your mom and you sounded so down about being here. And then I remembered, we have a room! You could come check it out and see it all for yourself.” 

Something stirred in Changkyun’s belly and it felt an awful lot like hope. 

Or it could’ve been too much coffee on his empty stomach. 

But maybe—just maybe—he didn’t need to leave after all. 

His breath hitched, nervous about the possibility. He clung to the words like a life raft, lips trembling as he asked, “How much?” 

Jooheon’s eyebrows knit together, then he smoothed his tongue over his lips. After a short pause, he explained in a rush. 

“Well..  that’s the weird thing. Not that weird. It’s free. We all live there for free.” 

A hiccup came out of Changkyun’s throat. Jooheon slowly smiled, wrapping his hands around his to-go cup. Steam released in strong, steady waves in front of his face. He leaned forward, breathing softly to cool the liquid, pushing the warmth towards Changkyun. 

“Ho-how?”

A sound bleeped from Jooheon’s phone, a notification of some sort, and he turned to look at his screen. He chuckled then turned over the phone, his entire focus back on him. 

“Sorry, one of my roommates.” 

There was a fondness in his eyes that Changkyun couldn’t help but notice. It glowed. 

“It’s a long story, but my roommate’s dad bought the house for him to live in while he was in university. It’s just another investment for him, you know? Rich family of doctors and all.” Jooheon took a sip of his latte and hissed from the hot temperature. “So it just happened to be a huge house and we’re all his best friends.” 

“How many of you live there?”

“Six of us total, but with Minhyuk gone just us five.” 

“And it’s free.” 

His defenses told him to be careful, to avoid pain and getting hurt, to not have too much hope. But the look in Jooheon’s eyes challenged that, showing a kind and friendly person who may very well just care. He drummed fingers against the edge of the table, still not saying a word. 

“I can give you my number. Just think about it.” 

Changkyun unlocked his phone and let Jooheon type his digits in. 

“Call me. I mean it. Plus you need to show me that playlist, I know you’ve got killer taste in music.” 

Jooheon put the lid back on his latte and stood up, standing tall. He pushed the chair in and grinned down at him. 

“I’ll be sad if I don’t hear from you, Changkyunnie.”

Chapter Text


“A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.”

―Walter Winchell


 

Changkyun found himself walking to his next class although his mind was still in every place but the lecture hall. He sat in one of the back rows, slinking down into the hard, wooden seat. He didn’t look at the professor once, staring at the dirty chalkboard behind him, full of white dust and black erasers. The students around him took diligent notes while all of Changkyun’s things sat untouched in his backpack on the floor next to his feet. 

Everything sounded like white noise. The professor’s lecture, the constant tapping of fingers on keyboards, the hum of everyone breathing, the heaters behind them hissing. Everything. 

He wasn’t even sure why he came. 

He let his mind wander. Then came worry, then everything else in between. 

But most of all he thought about the boy from the cafe. 

Jooheon—his contagious smile and his comforting words. Those dimples that now felt more like beacons, guiding Changkyun straight to him. It was like giving water to someone wandering in the desert. And he wanted to drink every last bit. 

For the first time in a long time he felt seen.

Maybe—just maybe—he wasn’t quite ready to give up. 

The class hour ended everyone left the hall in a rush, filling out the two main doors. He stayed in his seat in the far back corner staring ahead at the clock on the wall. It ticked sixty beats. He counted them twice until it read 12:02 pm. 

In that time he had settled on a decision. 

A new determination filled him, pushing him out the door and pressing call on the new number in his phone. He waited, holding his breath. 

“Changkyun? I knew it! You called! Want to come over and see our place?” Jooheon yelled excitedly. 

Changkyun softly smiled at hearing Jooheon’s voice. He walked away from the communications building and headed towards the center of campus. He paused, walking off to the grassy quad. With his shoes he kicked at some fallen leaves, rustling them about. In aimless paths he wandered across the campus grounds. 

“I can wait for you. When are you done with class for the day?” 

“I’ll come get you right now. I have econ class in an hour but they tape the lectures so I’ll just watch it online.” 

“Are you sure? I can wait.” The last thing Changkyun wanted was to inconvenience him. He rubbed the inside of his sleeve with his thumb, comforted by the soft fabric. He veered off in the grass, walking until he found a large maple tree. He leaned his body against the trunk. “It’s really okay. You’re already being so nice for talking to me. The fact that you even offered—” 

Jooheon laughed and cut him off. In the background Changkyun heard shuffling, quick movement. “Where are you? I’ll start shouting Marco Polo if you don’t tell me.” 

Changkyun chuckled, a real laugh, and felt his lips tug up to smile. He looked around, seeking the nearest building. Next to him was an expansive, six-story building with glossy tinted windows. The sign near the front told him what department it was for. 

“I think I’m in front of the Chemistry building.” 

“Ah! Give me like three and a half minutes. Bye!” 

The call disconnected. Changkyun pulled the phone away from his ear and looked down at it, blinking. Jooheon was coming to get him, to help him. Was this all really happening? 

He texted a quick message to his mom. 

I’m doing a little better, feeling okay. Call you in an hour. 

Her response came back after a two minutes. 

We’re calling the school. Update you soon, honey. We love you. 

They were calling the school? What did that mean? He didn’t have more than a few seconds to worry, to let the anxiety set in before he heard someone with loud, huffing breaths approach. As he looked up Jooheon jogged towards him at full speed. 

Once he was within several feet, Changkyun saw the beads of sweat on his brow, more at the edge of his hairline. He stopped just short, his body hurling to a stop. Changkyun held out his arms and helped Jooheon stay upright, holding most of his weight. Jooheon’s body wobbled, needing a second to recalibrate. 

“You didn’t have to rush!”

Jooheon bent over and put his hands on his knees, sucking in deep breaths. He lifted his hand up and waved it as if to say just a moment. Changkyun backed up, reaching up to scratch the back of his head, musing his hair. 

“Okay, okay,” the older boy murmured. “I’m good. But I shouldn’t do that again.” He shook his head then lifted his fingers to pat away the sweat. Changkyun watched, his mouth open. “You’ll know this soon enough, but I’m a little impulsive.” 

Changkyun already knew that much. “Well, you did talk to a crying freshman in a cafe.”  His eyes were light with the hint of a smile. “And offered him to move into your house where you don’t even pay rent.” 

Jooheon came in closer, wrapping his arm around Changkyun’s shoulders. He smelled faintly like sweat and minty shower gel. His smile stretched from ear to ear. “Oh you’re funny too! I can’t wait for the guys to meet you.”

He steered them south, walking through a part of campus Changkyun didn’t know well. 

“It’s not far from here, just a few more minutes.” 

Jooheon dropped his arm but stayed close, occasionally bumping into him as they walked. A few people waved recognizing Jooheon as they passed. He smiled and waved at everyone he saw. When they encountered a group of guys in soccer jerseys, one gave him a high five. To Changkyun it was all a blur through tired eyes. He yawned, covering his mouth with the palm of his hand.

There was a small bit of jealousy in the back of his mind, but more than that, a genuine curiosity.

“You’re popular?” 

“Popular?” Jooheon chewed on the word. His nose scrunched up while he thought about it after a minute. “I just like people.” He gently bumped his hip against Changkyun’s side. “Can’t you tell? I get really sad when I’m alone. I hate being lonely.” 

“Me too,” Changkyum mumbled. 

Jooheon looked down to him, slowing his pace. The blue-green tones in his hair sparkled in the sunlight. Changkyun couldn’t help but return his gaze seeing his soft, hopeful expression.

“I have a good feeling about this.” 

Changkyun hoped Jooheon was right. 

The campus buildings around them spread out and the landscape slowly changed. To their right was a side street full of residential houses. It expanded into a full-on neighborhood. Cars lined the street parked in neat, efficient rows. Gorgeous, flowering trees lined up parallel to them, framing the street like the borders of a picture. It felt like something straight out of a movie. 

And straight ahead massive, expansive buildings took up the entire skyline. 

“The university hospital is up ahead,” Jooheon waved a hand ahead. He then pointed right as they turned on the sidewalk. “Our house is over here. We live just down the road.” 

“Wow..” 

The houses grew in size, looking like proper family homes. Many had gates and fences, and a few had driveways and garages. Each house was bigger than the last.  

“A lot of the doctors and professors live right here. We’re kinda lucky.” 

“Kind of? This is insane..” 

The house to their right was perfectly white with slabbed neutral slabbed stone pavers for a driveway and bright flower gardens to match. The next house was grey, modern and sleek, and the one after that was brown with a white, low-profile fence and a dog barking in the yard. Across the street, Changkyun saw just as perfectly kept homes of all builds and styles. 

“I don’t even know where I would be living if it wasn’t for Dr. Yoo,” Jooheon explained, stopping in front of a gorgeous, three-story house. He stood, slotting his hands in his coat pocket, letting Changkyun take it in. They were silent for several moments before he softly murmured, “We’re home.” 

Home.  

Blood pumped quickly through Changkyun’s chest, warming his entire body. He suddenly felt awake. Breaths circulated fast, air rapidly filling up his lungs. And this time it wasn’t from fear, but anticipation. 

They stood in front of a large, sliding gate that was big enough for a car to pass through. Jooheon’s hands found a keypad and pressed in the code. The gate slid open, revealing a large driveway and two-car garage. The home’s exterior was a gorgeous dark blue with white trim, matching shutters and what seemed to be marble stone pavers beneath their feet. 

The house was massive, modern, and beautiful. Everything looked expensive and luxurious and—and perfect

“You.. this.. Is it?” 

“Nice, isn’t it? We call it the Blue House. Cause it’s a blue house!” 

Changkyun’s jaw went slack and he stumbled forward, feeling Jooheon’s hand pushing at his lower back. His legs didn’t want to move, stuck like glue on the ground. 

Before him was the most perfect home he’d ever seen. 

The flowerbeds in the front were full of colorful plants and perennials of all shapes and sizes, many already transitioned for fall. Perfectly shaped shrubs lined under the windows and near the edge of the fence. Musical birds fluttered around, flying in and around the feeders hung on shepherds hooks near the garage door. 

Changkyun’s eyes scanned so quickly his glasses slid from his nose. He paused, pushing them back up, quickly figuring out where to look next. 

Jooheon laughed at him, continuing to walk to the front door, a wooden marvel with a framed window at the top and dark iron accents. 

In the middle of the driveway, Changkyun held his breath. 

Hours ago he laid awake, wishing for something, anything. He just needed a sign. 

And in that very moment he had a really strong feeling that when he walked in that house he might just find one, if he hadn’t found it already. He needed to thank the universe for the person standing at the threshold, grinning at him like a fool. 

Jooheon waved his arm, “C’mon! Don’t you want to see more?” His words beckoned and Changkyun's feet hesitantly moved forward, closer to the place he might call home. 

“I’m coming.”  

The inside was every bit as perfect as he imagined. It was modern and clean and big. Really, really big. The first area he walked into was an entry, full of shoes and coats and bags, proving that Jooheon did live with many others. There were too many pairs of shoes to count. 

He followed Jooheon down the hall where there were several doors, mostly closed. Jooheon pointed to them as he went. “Bathroom, closet.. Bedroom, bedroom. And our favorite space..” 

His voice trailed off as the hallway led and opened into the largest living room he’d ever seen. In front of him was a large floor to ceiling fireplace and what had to be a 70 inch TV. On it played a soccer game with the volume low. He didn’t recognize any of the two teams. 

Changkyun shuffled his feet, now only wearing socks, near the massive couch. It was so big it could fit twenty people and it was in the shape of a U. As he moved closer, he heard a quick breath and what he thought was snoring. A large figure on the couch moved under a blanket and the snoring continued. 

“That’s probably Shownu.” 

Jooheon stood in the kitchen, grabbing a bottle of water from the stainless steel fridge. He held his up and nodded towards him. “Want one, ‘Kyun?” 

Changkyun shook his head to decline. His head swirled around to observe the high-ceilings and intricate details of the home. There was so much to look at, to take in. 

“Should we be quiet?” Changkyun whispered, tip-toeing to the other side of the living room. 

“Nah,” Jooheon licked his lips. “Shownu naps all the time. It’s like a hobby for him. He can sleep through anything. Although not fireworks, we learned that this summer.” 

Changkyun barely heard what he said, walking to the wall of windows that covered the right hand side of the house, trimmed off in beautiful white-stained wood. The windows showcased wide backyard, green grass peeking out beneath piles of colorful leaves. Next to them, a large dining table with eight chairs looked perfectly centered on a chandelier that hung and dazzled from the ceiling. The entire room was bright and open, no clutter in sight. 

The entire left side of the house was the massive kitchen, featuring more cabinets than he could count. In the center was a large island—the marble was shiny and stained with various hues of cream and beige. It cascaded down and created a ledge, where several dark bar stools sat.

All together the open-concept space was bigger than most houses he had lived in. 

It was insane, absolutely absurd.

“What do you think?” 

Changkyun’s head was spinning. He picked at his fingers and pulled down the sleeves of his sweatshirt. Hesitation began filling him from the bottom up. Just this morning he was ready to leave, give up and go home. Now he was standing in a house, this house, where he might get to live?

It was all too much. 

“I.. I don’t even know.” 

“Overwhelming? We all kinda still feel that way.” 

“It’s the biggest house I’ve ever seen. And—and it’s so clean.” 

“This area has to stay tidy, that’s one of the rules,” Jooheon said plainly, his fingers motioning towards the entire open space. He stood next to a tall, oversized cabinet, reaching for a bag of chips. He munched on them as he talked, “But we can do our rooms how we want. My room is upstairs, let me show you.” 

Suddenly Changkyun felt Jooheon’s large hand at his wrist, wrapping around it. He tugged him up the grand, spindly staircase that cleaved the living room from the kitchen.

Curiosity bubbled up the question before he could stop it. “So.. Shownu is one of your roommates? Where is everyone else?” 

“Uhh—” Jooheon had to slow down and think. “One is probably at soccer practice or tutoring or something, Hyungwon has class Friday afternoons then rehearsal and Hoseok is either in his room or at the gym.” 

“And everyone has their own room?” 

“Definitely. We might all kill each other if we had to share.” He winked at Changkyun. They arrived at the second floor landing, although there was another set of stairs to take them to the third floor. Music came from one of the nearby rooms. Changkyun saw three doors, all slightly ajar. “Me and Hoseok sleep here and we share that bathroom,” Jooheon pointed to the door in the middle. 

They went towards the closest room and the music grew louder, a pounding, uptempo beat. Jooheon pushed the door all the way open. Changkyun shuffled behind him, but someone pushed Jooheon out of the way. 

“Really Hoseok?” 

Changkyun didn’t have time to react before someone came barreling for him, wrapping him up in a tight hug. The arms around him felt muscular and the person’s head rested on his shoulder, making him several inches taller. There was sweat on his skin, his arms entirely slick. 

He immediately seized up, but only for a second while his brain adjusted and processed the touch. It was a hug, nothing more, nothing less. His body slowly relaxed, slumping into the embrace. After a moment, it felt good. 

The person pulled back, still keeping his arms around Changkyun’s waist, and smiled at him. “You’re Changkyunnie, right? You’re going to stay here, right?” 

“This is Hoseok..” Jooheon said by way of explanation, covering his smile with his hand. “I called him earlier and made the mistake of telling him you might live with us.” 

“I always wanted another little brother.” 

Hoseok had messy dark hair and smelled like sweat, but clean. His smile was brighter, bigger than Jooheon’s. Changkyun didn’t think it was possible. He was shirtless too, with tight sweatpants on his lower half, the hem of his boxers peeking out. Above that were very well defined abs, the kind someone got from years of training and effort. 

“Don’t scare him off, Hoseok,” Jooheon crunched on more chips. Hoseok gave him a nagging look, but let Changkyun go.

“I’m Changkyun,” he said hesitantly, peeking around Hoseok’s shoulders, desperate to turn the attention away from him. 

He noticed two piles of clothes and random odds and ends in Hoseok’s room. Near the window was a bright blue exercise ball and straps hanging from the ceiling. His bed was messy and unmade, with a tub a protein powder sitting on the bedside table. 

Hoseok curled his body around his and laid his arm across Changkyun’s shoulders, squeezing his bicep with soft fingers. “I already know that, silly. My room is a mess. I just finished my workout and need to tidy up a bit. Should we show you Jooheon’s room? It’s messier than mine!” 

Hoseok’s words flew by a mile a minute. His energy was wild, hard to contain, just like his smile. He seemed so warm, so bright. It made Changkyun cling more onto the hope blooming in his chest. 

“Hey!” Jooheon said, pouting his lips. “My room isn’t so bad.” 

He was pulled again, this time to the room next door. Jooheon’s room was exactly like Hoseok said. Loose papers covered his entire bed and fell all over the floor. His bed was unmade and his curtains were shut, encasing most of the room in darkness. His desk was full of books that had a thin layer of dust coating the top. A keyboard and guitar rested in the corner of his room, looking well used and well loved. 

“He’s been trying to write a love song for a girl,” Hoseok’s eyes sparkled. “So he’s been staying up all night. How’s it going, anyway?” 

Jooheon mumbled under his breath words they couldn’t quite hear. 

“C’mon Jooheonie, tell us.” Hoseok cooed.  

Changkyun laughed softly, seeing their dynamic together. Hoseok moved and pressed against Jooheon’s side, laying his head on his shoulder. “He spends more time doing this kind of thing than studying.” 

“I do not!” 

“Did you go to class today? You’re not there right now.” 

“I did this morning! The other lectures are posted online.. Give me a break, hyung.” 

Jooheon tried to push him away but Hoseok clung tighter. Both their smiles remained. 

“Jooheon thought he could be a rapper once but his lyrics are better suited for love songs.” Hoseok picked up a few of the papers from his beds, glazing his eyes over the words. He pursed his lips, intently reading line by line. “This one is nice, I like the flower imagery,” he handed it to Jooheon. 

“Do you study music, then?” Changkyun asked quietly. 

“He’s undecided,” Hoseok answered for him. “He’ll figure out his major eventually. I study kinesiology. I’m going to be a trainer one day.” 

One look at his physique and Changkyun knew that dream would come true. 

“Are you a sophomore too?” 

“I’m a junior. I’ll finish in two years. Who knows when this guy will finish.” 

Hoseok poked at Jooheon’s side and he squirmed out of the way. 

“Enough, enough. Let’s go back downstairs. I need to show Changkyun his room.” 

“I’m coming too!” Hoseok squealed, leading the way down the stairs. He took them two at a time, flinging himself down them at a speed Changkyun couldn’t even calculate. He and Jooheon followed slowly while Hoseok waited at the bottom. As soon as they were within reach, he grabbed the bag of chips from Jooheon’s hand and shoved a handful in his mouth. 

“Isn’t that against your diet?” 

“It’s the weekend, it doesn’t count.” 

Jooheon rolled his eyes and Hoseok beamed, mouth full of food. He walked backwards down the hall, still facing both of them. Changkyun quietly trailed behind. A bundle of nerves appeared in his belly, twisting and poking at his insides.  

“Is Ki home?” Hoseok asked after swallowing. 

“Class, I think? His schedule is so crazy I never know where he is.” 

They stopped in front of a closed door. 

“This is it, ‘Kyun.” Jooheon grabbed the handle and pushed open. “Minhyuk is really clean so he left it in good shape. The rest of his stuff is in storage in the basement.” 

The room was a similar size to the ones upstairs, with bright, open ceilings. The windows were large, overlooking the neighborhood outside. A queen size bed took up the middle of the room. Across from it stood a rectangular dresser and matching desk. A ceiling fan whirled overhead, moving the air. The walls were a creamy white and entirely bare, save for a mirror near the closet door. 

“Is it okay?” 

“Minhyuk won’t be back for awhile.” 

Jooheon and Hoseok’s words felt like a weight on his chest. Changkyun’s heart skipped a beat. This was someone else’s room no matter how much he wanted it to be his. The warm, comforting feeling of the entire house, each person he met, it didn’t belong to him. 

He didn’t want to let it all go, but he couldn’t hang onto false hope. 

“I can’t take his room. It’s not right, he’ll be back eventually.” 

“No, no, you can. Stay here,” Hoseok pouted. 

“I don’t think I can.” 

“Changkyun..” Jooheon’s usually cheery voice stopped him, suddenly somber, quiet. “I meant what I said. I have a good feeling about this, you living with us. Minhyuk would want it.” 

“But he’ll come back? And then where will I go?” Changkyun looked at the floor, unable to meet their eyes. “I can’t just be a stray cat that wanders around all alone.” 

Everything felt overwhelming again. His hopes, his good feelings, now under a cloud of doubt.

He shuffled back into the corner of the room, hanging his head. Tears threatened to fall. He breathed in, holding them back as best as he could. 

“Hey, hey Changkyunnie..” Hoseok came closer and wrapped him in a hug. Changkyun’s body caved into his warmth, his careful touch, cherishing how good it felt to be taken care of. “We want you here. Jooheon told us he met someone who needed our help.” 

Changkyun’s eyes went wide, wondering. 

“You told them? Everything?” 

Jooheon’s hands shot out in self-defense. “I didn’t! I didn’t.. I promise, Changkyun.” 

Hoseok’s warm hands rubbed at his back. “Whatever it is, we’ll take care of you now.” 

The words seemed impossible, improbable. He blinked, trying to let his brain catch up. A tear escaped, falling slowly down his cheek. He didn’t care, didn’t wipe it away. 

He said the words that needed to be said. “My roommate kicked me out because I’m gay.” 

His head turned toward the wall, avoiding their responses. He pulled back away from Hoseok, putting tangible distance between them. He couldn’t bare it, couldn’t handle it if—

“Then you’re definitely staying here.” 

It was Hoseok’s sure, steady voice that raised goosebumps on his flesh all the way down his spine. He felt cold and warm all at once. 

“What?” 

“Why should we care who you love?” 

The question seemed simple, easy. It matched the compassion in Hoseok’s eyes. Changkyun watched him back up and sit on the bed, those dark brown eyes never leaving his. 

“But I’m a freshman. You’ll think I’m annoying and immature and—”

“When can we go get your stuff?”

Changkyun suddenly looked around, searching for the strong, deep voice that spoke. Jooheon and Hoseok turned to the door, noticing someone standing in the center of the frame. 

He was tall, just like they all were, with a clear, tan complexion and honest, brown eyes. His clothes were wrinkled from sleep. 

“Shownu!” Jooheon yelled. 

“Hyung!” Hoseok greeted him. 

Shownu rubbed his back, emphasizing toned muscles in his arm as it flexed. His gaze was directed at Changkyun and although sleepy, his words were clear. “We can go with you, when you get your stuff. You don’t need to go back there alone.” 

“Shownu is our papa bear.” Jooheon sat next to Hoseok on the bare mattress. He raised his arms out, stretching them wide. “Does this mean you’ll stay here? Look at this big, spacious room.”

“But Minhyuk..” Changkyun clenched his hands. “The other roommates?”

“He’d want you to stay here too. Should we call him and ask?” Jooheon reached for his phone. 

Hoseok wondered innocently, “What’s the time difference to France?” 

Changkyun held his hands up, flexing his stiff fingers. His eyebrows knit together, still concerned.  

“Shouldn’t you all talk, decide before you agree to this?” 

“Talk?” 

“I still haven’t met everyone. Maybe they won’t like me? I don’t want to make anyone uncom—”

“You should stay,” Shownu interrupted. 

“I can’t.”

“You can. Please?” Jooheon’s crestfallen eyes found his, locking him in. “I can’t let you go back there, not after knowing the things you said.” He took a deep breath, exhaling as Hoseok rubbed his back. “I’m sorry, I’m nosy and overstepping.. But I mean it. Stay at university. Stay with us.” 

Stay with us. 

Stay with us. 

Stay with us. 

All it took was those three little words and he was crumbling. Changkyun’s knees slightly buckled. He blinked too fast, tears overflowing onto his cheeks running tracks down his jaw to his chin. He wiped at them hastily with the back of his hand, trying to hold it together. 

His lips wobbled, trembling. “I’m sorry, I feel so stupid..” he twisted his fingers around the hem of his sweatshirt, tugging a loose thread. Every thought in his mind came out in a wave, so fast he couldn’t stop it. “I’m just so fucking exhausted and these last few days.. and everything you’re saying, what you want to do for me. It’s so much, it’s too nice—” He cut himself off, needing to take a breath. “I don’t even deserve this, I want to say yes but my brain is screaming no.” His eyes shut, forcing out those thoughts. A swell of panic rushed through him. 

Shownu came up behind him, resting soft, gentle hands on his shoulders. “It’s okay, you’re okay. Just breathe for a sec.” 

He did his best to listen, to let it flow and pour out of him like water on the tides. Every second, then every minute he felt closer to himself, slowly falling back to normal breathing patterns. 

“Please stay,” Hoseok murmured, quirking his head. “We’ll make sure nothing like what you went through ever happens again.” 

Their words had meant everything to him, so much more than they would ever know.

“If you think Minhyuk wouldn’t care.. Then I’ll stay. For as long as you’ll have me.”

“Forever!” Hoseok launched himself at Changkyun, wrapping his arms around his waist and hoisting him up, spinning him in a circle. “Stay here forever.” 

They spun, and spun, and spun some more. By the end, Changkyun’s grin was ear to ear and his head was spinning as fast as the ceiling fan above. 

When Hoseok stopped and his legs faltered, Shownu stepped in with a helping hand at his back, holding both of them up. He reached for Changkyun and pulled him down, holding him upright with strong, sturdy arms. 

“Thanks, hyung,” Changkyun mumbled, his head still spinning. 

“It’s a bit of a circus around here, but you’ll get used to it,” Shownu winked. 

“Yes, yes!” Hoseok shot his fists into the air like he’d one first place. 

“I’m going to find a snack. Let me know when we’re heading over to your dorm.” 

Shownu walked out, Hoseok was in his own little world, and Changkyun finally turned to Jooheon. 

“Are you really sure about this?” 

Jooheon stood and looked around the room for a quiet moment. Although it was mostly empty, it felt strangely full. He nodded once, a smile slowly forming. 

“You’re stuck with us now.” 



*!*!* 



Changkyun excused himself to call his mom and dad, finding privacy out in the driveway. He wandered in a circle, biting his lip while the call connected. 

“Mom?” 

“Honey, Changkyun’s called!” His mother shouted to his father. “Changkyun, what’s going on?” 

“It’s a really long story.. but you don’t have to come tonight. I promise I’ll be okay.” He paused, rubbing his hand over his chest. His fingers looped around the string of his hoodie, tugging it down. “I found a new place to stay. They are going to help me move tonight.”

His mother sighed audibly. “Are you sure you don’t want to come home? We won’t be disappointed in you. We want you to be happy.”

Her words were a comfort that soothed his healing heart. 

As much as he wanted to leave, he had found a greater reason to stay. 

“I’m okay for right now. It’s been a crazy day.. But I feel good, I promise.” He couldn’t help but smile. The warmth from the sun beat down on his cheeks and he basked in it. 

“Some things fall apart so better things fall together,” she quoted in a sing-song voice. “I’m so glad for you. Should we come tomorrow, instead?” 

“We miss you, Changkyun,” his father’s voice boomed through the receiver.  

“I miss you guys too. But I might need some time to settle in, and ah—catch up on school a bit. I didn’t go to all my classes this week.” 

He had left that part out earlier. His fingers reached up and rubbed his ear, now reddening. 

“You’ll be just fine. You’re very smart,” she reassured. “We’ll come another weekend.” 

“That reminds me, you said you called the school?” 

“Yes. They’ll let you out of your housing contract with a refund if there are issues of..” his mom paused. “Harassment. Physical or otherwise,” she finished slowly. 

“Oh,” Changkyun processed that information carefully. “I’ll do it—I’ll tell them. If it gets your money back.” 

“We would never force you to, honey. The money isn’t important to us. We’ll figure it out.” 

“It’s important to me and they should know what kind of scum is living there. I’ll—I’ll tell them soon, see what they’ll do. I want to.” 

“We’re proud of you no matter what, Changkyun. I’m so glad you’re going to stay.” 

Changkyun’s entire body warmed at the praise. “Me too.”  

They said long, loving goodbyes and when the line disconnected, he let out a heavy breath of relief. 

Around him was the house, the house he was going to move into. The people inside barely felt like strangers and instead acted like his friend, his brother. They had done so much for him in a matter of hours. So much had changed in so little time. 

He looked up at the blue, cloudless sky, blinded by the sun. Just twelve hours ago he was looking at the moon feeling like darkness had swallowed him whole. 

So he thanked the stars, every single one that heard his prayers. Even though he couldn’t see them, he knew that they were still there. 



*!*!* 



Changkyun’s stomach growled twice on their way back to his dorm. It was real hunger since he hadn’t eaten a proper meal in days, but he couldn’t imagine eating now with the current churning in his stomach. He crossed his arms over his body, holding himself in a hug and stared out the window. 

“Changkyunnie,” Hoseok turned to him, cutting off his conversation with Shownu. “Hungry?” 

Shownu was driving, one hand draped over the wheel, focusing intently on the road. Hoseok twisted all the way around to look at him in the backseat where he sat next to Jooheon. The car belonged to one of the other roommates he hadn’t met yet. The SUV was sleek and black and expensive looking. The interior was plush leather and wooden trim. Even the windows were tinted dark, making it hard to see inside. It was far too nice of a vehicle to get sick in. 

Changkyun’s finger hovered over the window lever, just in case he needed fresh air.

“I’ll be alright,” he mumbled, turning slightly.  

“Let’s get pizza!” 

“Hoseok-ah,” Jooheon tilted his head and looked at him with admiration. “You have the greatest ideas.” 

Hoseok winked, his tongue darting out to lick his lower lip. 

“I could eat a whole pizza. I’m starving,” Shownu announced.

Outside his window the campus flew by in blurs of color and light. Changkyun felt safe in the car surrounded by his new friends, yet it didn’t quell the worry in his mind. 

Earlier he realized that if they were going to help him they needed to know what happened. So before they left, he explained. He didn’t tell them every horrible, gritty thing, but it was enough. 

Their reactions of love, concern, and anger made his heart swell twice its size. It strained against his ribs, making him feel warm and soft inside like a marshmallow. By the end of their conversation, Hoseok had curled himself around him like a sloth, holding tight. Jooheon looked furious, squeezing his hands into fists. Shownu looked oddly calm and remained rational. 

“Changkyun,” Hoseok called, bringing him back to the present. 

“He—he might try to come at me again,” he warned them softly. He recognized the buildings now, they were getting closer.  

It was Jooheon that responded with easy confidence. “If he does, he’s going to regret it.” 

“Don’t look so nervous,” Shownu found his eyes through the rearview mirror, holding the gaze. “He can’t do anything to you with us there.” 

“He’d be stupid to try,” Jooheon glanced up from the phone in his hand. 

Hoseok squirmed in his seat, pointing ahead. “We’re here.” 

Changkyun’s lips fell open and a rush of air spilled from his lungs. Jooheon leaned closer and rested his hand on his thigh, squeezing. 

“Don’t worry. We’ll be by your side the entire time.” 



*!*!*



Changkyun stood in front of the door to his dorm room, heart pounding so loud it rattled in his ears. His keys shook in his hand, clanging metal on metal. He knew he would have to come back here, but now standing in front of the white door too many bad thoughts swirled in his mind. 

“Should we..” someone whispered behind him. 

“Let’s give him a minute,” Shownu replied.

But one minute turned into two, then three. Finally, a warm hand wrapped around Changkyun’s and squeezed softly. He fumbled at the touch, losing his balance with unsteady legs. 

“Hey, hey, I’ve got you,” Jooheon whispered in his ear, holding him up against his chest. “We’ve got you.” 

“Let us take over, okay Changkyun?” Hoseok asked, searching for agreement in his eyes. 

Changkyun straightened, then backed up to let them through. He gulped, his throat inexplicably dry, and nodded silently. 

Jooheon and Shownu moved, gently grabbing the keys from his clenched hands. The door unlocked with ease, swinging open. They walked inside, ignoring who they assumed to be Changkyun’s ex-roommate, gawking at them from a wooden desk on his side of the room. 

His stare melted into ice daggers, glaring. “Who are you?” 

Changkyun stood in the doorway, flinching at the enraged tone he used. 

“Why are you in my fucking room?” his roommate yelled, standing up. His chair fell back onto the floor in a loud clang. 

“Mind your business,” Jooheon said cooly, prowling around his bed to get to Changkyun’s side. 

He and Shownu went straight to the closet, opening it up to find his suitcases and two empty tote bins. 

“We’ll start here,” Shownu said, looking up to Hoseok. “Take the desk?” 

Hoseok nodded, pushing Changkyun further into the room, rushing him across. He stood awkwardly at the window, thrusting his hands in his sweatshirt pocket. 

“We’ll do the work, just give us a few minutes.” 

Changkyun bit at his lower lip, trying to calm his racing heart. He avoided looking at anything in particular, shifting his gaze until he accidentally caught his roommates expression. It was far too easy to notice his clenched fists, wild eyes, and anger bubbling underneath the surface of his skin. His lips crept up into a snarling smile before Changkyun could look away. 

“So you’re finally leaving? Good riddance.” 

Shownu gripped the edge of Changkyun’s suitcase, instantly dropping the shirt he was folding. He took a deep breath, trying to ignore him and push past it until—

“Faggot,” his roommate muttered under his breath. 

For one second everything froze, including Changkyun. 

Even though heard the word from his lips before it still felt like an electric shock, harmful and paralyzing. For years he endured hearing it from bullies at school. No matter how many times it was said to him it always hurt the same.  

Hoseok hissed, air slowly seeping from his lungs. He turned away from his task and sized his roommate up, rolling his shoulders once, then twice. Before he could move, Jooheon and Shownu looked at the contemptuous, hateful look on the boys face. 

They looked to each other once, then nodded together. 

Shownu walked around his bed, charging for his roommate. His chiseled cheeks and pouted lips were stunning even when he was angry. Darkness clouded his eyes like a brewing storm. 

“Who do you think you are? A tough guy?” 

His roommate’s mouth flopped open, random sounds stuttering out. 

“Do you think you’re a better person, belittling him? Because you’re not.” 

Shownu moved closer, arms swaying at his sides in steel fists. They came dangerously close. His roommate flinched, eyes completely wide. Blood drained from his face leaving him pale, visibly shaking. Was it from anger, or now fear? It was hard to tell. 

“If you ever say another negative word, comment, or mean thing to Changkyun again I won’t be so kind to leave this at words.” 

Jooheon walked up behind him, towering over his shoulder. “Did you hear what he said?” 

His roommate nodded, dumbfounded. 

“I always keep my word,” Shownu said with conviction. “Now leave. I can’t stand to even look at you.” 

The boy scrambled, almost falling to the floor. He grabbed his phone, shoes, and shot out the door. But not without a final look at Changkyun across the room. His expression was unreadable, but his eyes were dark. Pitch black like night, unyielding. 

Changkyun sagged against the wall, staring at the door open to the hallway. It was utterly silent in the room. Tears of relief prickled at the corners of his eyes, spilling onto his cheeks, his nose. He coughed, struggling with air catching in his throat. 

Hoseok tugged him toward the bed, encouraging him to sit. He did, running his hands across the soft blue comforter covering it. It was one of his favorite possessions, his most comforting item. He sniffled once, then twice, wiping at the snot under his nose. 

“He’s gone now, he won’t bother you again,” Hoseok reassured. 

Shownu crossed the room in long strides and got to his knees, looking at him tenderly. He raised both hands to Changkyun’s cheeks and softly pressed his thumbs to wipe away the tears. The sweeping motions soothed him, calming his uneven breaths. 

“Don’t let him bring you down. He’s nothing.” 

“He’s worse than nothing,” Hoseok repeated, a hand on his shoulder, softly rubbing. 

Jooheon joined on Shownu’s other side, creating a triangle. “You don’t have to worry about him ever again. You’ve got us now.” 

You’ve got us now. 

You’ve got us now. 

You’ve got us now. 

He had said variations of that phrase several times throughout the day. It was like he knew exactly how desperate Changkyun was for connection, for comfort, for compassion. It would really take some getting used to, but he didn’t care how long it took.

“Thank you, all of you.” 

The words didn’t feel quite enough but he hoped the gratitude and love in his eyes conveyed the rest. 

Shownu ruffled his hair, smiling. “Let’s pack up and get you home.” 



*!*!*



On the drive home a fight about pizza toppings escalated quickly. Shownu and Hoseok wrestled in the living room the second they got home, arguing about how much they both could eat. They toppled onto the couch, throw pillows flying in all directions. Neither of them could accept the other could eat more. Jooheon reassured Changkyun this was normal when they waited too long between meals. 

“We just let them work it out,” he explained, unloading boxes into his new room. 

Thirty minutes later, five different pizzas laid out on the kitchen island before them, each with different toppings. 

Changkyun felt tired, but happy. And so very hungry. 

Hoseok handed him a plate. The others had gotten their slices and gathered on the couch where Jooheon was setting up a movie. The opening score blasted through the surround sound speaker so loudly it felt like they were in a movie theater. It startled Changkyun. He gripped the plate in his hands tighter, fearful he might drop it. 

“The surround sound here is pretty impressive,” a voice said to his right. 

Changkyun glanced over and saw an impressively tall, handsome boy with a messenger bag walk into the kitchen from down the main hall. He wore slim fit jeans in a dark wash and an olive green shirt. A sweater slung over his arm, probably to keep himself warm.  

“Sorry I’m late.” 

“Hyungwon!” Hoseok yelled, sliding up to his side. He grinned. “Look who decided to stay.” 

“I’m Ch-Changkyun.” 

“Jooheon texted me. Rehearsal ran late, otherwise I would’ve helped.” 

“Rehearsal?” 

“He’s the lead role in a play,” Jooheon shuffled into the kitchen, already stealing three more slices of pizza. “Hyungwon studies acting.” 

“Wow..” 

“You’ll all be invited to the opening night,” Hyungwon announced proudly. 

“Soon?” Hoseok asked, now peeking over an open box of pizza. A bit of sauce stuck at the bottom of his lip which he attempted to flick away with his tongue. 

Hyungwon shuffled over to Hoseok. He reached a delicate hand up to his face, thumbing at the spot. He rubbed his fingers on the back of his jeans. “A month or two, I think. I’ll have to look at the schedule.” 

“Okay.”

“What are we watching?” Hyungwon left his bag by the island and stalked to the fridge for a bottle of water. He by-passed the pizza and flopped onto the couch next to Shownu. 

Changkyun followed him, plate full of pizza, settling in one of the corners. 

“Some scary movie,” Shownu replied between bites. 

They dug in, eating until they were comfortably full. For Hoseok that meant three trips back into the kitchen and lots of parmesan cheese. Shownu had grabbed an entire pizza box so he didn’t need to leave the couch. Changkyun ate more than he usually did, trying a slice from every kind. When he was done he rubbed his stomach, no longer feeling the pain from hunger.

Night settled in around them, cloaking the house in near-darkness. The flicker of light from the big-screen TV lit up the room every few moments but it wasn’t enough to stop the exhaustion from setting in. Each minute Changkyun worked harder at keeping his eyes open, making an effort to stare at the screen. 

It was a losing battle. 

Near the middle of the movie his eyes fluttered closed, his head gingerly propped up by a throw pillow. Hyungwon pulled a nearby blanket over him, covering his entire body. The sound from the speakers became static white noise, lulling him into a deep, restorative sleep. 

By the time the credits rolled, the roommates quietly picked up their plates and cleared the kitchen of the empty boxes. Any leftovers went in the fridge, sealed carefully in tinfoil. 

Shownu turned the light on in Changkyun’s new room and scanned the bins on the floor, the two suitcases near the closet. Several boxes perched atop his desk appropriately labeled “bedding.” He went there, pulling open the cardboard to reveal dark blue sheets, his cotton comforter, and soft, feather pillows. 

Hyungwon found him minutes later and helped him fit the sheets to Changkyun’s new bed. When the sheet was secure on the mattress, his long fingers slotted pillows into their cases and set them at the top of the bed. 

Jooheon whispered, “Incoming!” 

Hoseok carefully carried Changkyun into the room, one arm clutching his head and shoulders, the other swept under his knees, holding his entire body against his chest. His muscles slightly strained under his weight, very careful to not wake him. 

Hyungwon pulled back the comforter and sheets, guiding him. “Here, hyung.”  

He laid Changkyun down slowly, carefully, until his head lolled back on the pillow. Changkyun remained asleep, a calm, peaceful expression on his face. His skin looked warm and soft, no longer pale. It was much better than the panic and sadness he came to them with. 

Hyungwon tucked the comforter over him for warmth and gently pulled his glasses off, setting them on the nightstand. He whispered, “Sweet dreams, ‘Kyun.” 

Jooheon stood in the doorway, waiting to turn off the light. The others shuffled beside him, leaving so he could shut the door. He pulled the handle, slowly closing it shut. When the door was about to click Jooheon whispered into the darkness. 

“Welcome home, brother.” 

Changkyun fell into a long, dreamless sleep.