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25 Days To Stay(mas)

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Chapter Summary

WEEK ONE (angst)

 

one: a world alone

two: anxiété

three: and if you've ever been alone (dark blue)

four: disenchanted

five: lonely

six: i'll be there

seven: beside you

 

WEEK TWO (anything else)

 

one: come back home

two: booster

three: lavender

four: rendezvous 18.6y

five: delicate

six: sunshine

seven: broken compass

eight: L.O.V.E. Me

 

WEEK THREE (festive)

 

one: 365

two: boy with luv

three: end of the earth

four: someone's someone

five: valentine boy

six: lovely

seven: rosy

eight: merry and happy

nine: into the unknown

 

Rules

Please comment ideas! I will almost definitely run out of my own eventually, so they'd be greatly appreciated :)

However, there are a few guidelines and rules for the prompts.

 

The rules for prompts are:

  • Can be for any ship (within Stray Kids)
  • Can be based around a single member
  • Can be an AU or real life
  • NOT SMUT
  • Please don't comment a suggestion for a week after it has ended!

 

(In regards to Week Two, that will consist of prompts that aren't particuarly festive but aren't angst-focused either)

 

[REQUESTS CLOSED]

 

Thank you!

Chapter Text

Seungmin knows something is wrong from the moment he opens his eyes.

Or- maybe it's from the moment he tries to open his eyes. It's such a small movement, but in that second, it takes all the energy Seungmin has. His mouth is dry, head thick with a feeling he can't identify, and he's tired.

It takes him a minute to get his bearings. The world is spinning from beneath the mountain of blankets he's found himself in, and his thoughts feel like thick honey. There's more confusion than anything else, trying to swallow the dryness of his tongue away, and wondering why his chest is burning in the way it is.

His body is so heavy, heavier than his eyelids has been, and even the thought of sitting up seems like a monumental task. He's too warm, slowly suffocating under the piles and piles of duvets. Everything seems so far away, too hot and too cold at the same time, and- has moving always been this hard?

Surely not.

Surely, he'd remember the world being this unforgiving.

By some miracle, he manages to swallow the tickle in his throat down and pushes himself up. His feet seem so far away, the floor seems to sway, but there's a strange urgency in his gut that pulls him upwards. His body is taunt like a puppet on a string, his thoughts only just beginning to catch up this strange sensation in his bones.

Treacle, something sweet. What was it? Like honey, maybe, but the right words seem to escape him. Maybe there's something that would fit better, but Seungmin is much too tired to work out what he's missing at the moment. He's not even sure that he is missing anything, or that he's just invented a whole new word by mistake.

Honey - what else is sweet? - treacle - no, he's already said that one, syrup, honey again- he's moving?

Sure enough, Seungmin's feet are taking him somewhere. They seem so far away, like tiny specks in the distance, and when Seungmin looks up he realises he's arrived at the bathroom.

Why is he here?

His body is completely on autopilot at this point, stumbling around the corner clutching at anything that can help him balance. The hallway is too bright, the tiles too cold beneath his toes. There's a layer of numbness between his skin and the outside world. Nothing feels quite real, like it's been put through a filter before finally reaching his mind.

He fumbles with the door for a moment, wondering why he's trying to close himself away when they usually leave it wide open, and then-

Oh, right.

That bubbling up in his gut, that's not confusion, that's something else entirely. Before he realises, he's flying across the cold tiles and throwing himself to his knees in front of the toilet to empty his stomach.

It stings. He's got the vague recollection of skipping dinner last night, and the taste of bile in his mouth is enough to make him gag again. His knees ache, grazed on the floor in his haste to get to the toilet in time. It's a sharp, bright kind of pain, the first explosion of a firework in the night sky. It fades eventually, like the colours burning themselves into his eyelid, but it's more than enough for Seungmin to realise something.

He stumbles to the mirror.

His face is pale. There's a tinge of grey to his skin, pulling tight at the black rings below his eyes. Lifeless pupils stare back at him, flat and empty, spiderwebs of red creeping inwards. The yellow light isn't doing him any favours either, only illuminating the sheen of sweat on his cheeks.

They've got practice today.

Seungmin's fevered mind can still remember some things, and for that, he's glad. If there's one thing that Kim Seungmin is not, it's a burden. Kim Seungmin refuses to get in the way. Kim Seungmin knows that he can't hold the others back. Kim Seungmin refuses to be so selfish.

He stares at his reflection in the mirror.

The sound of the toilet flushing is just beginning to fade away. His lungs burn. There's a cough splintering in his throat.

Except, Kim Seungmin is a good actor.

He is not ill.

And even if he is, he's not going to let anyone else find out.

---- ---- ----

 

"Seungmin?"

Chan's voice is so far away. It's like he's stood the other end of a very long corridor, which would be rather funny if it wasn't so concerning. Chan is not standing at the other end of a very long corridor. Chan is standing right in front of Seungmin.

They're in the practice room. It's big and loud and Seungmin doesn't really remember what he's doing here other than they've got a comeback coming up and he needs to practice. The room is slightly too warm, but there's no telling whether that's just him or if the air conditioning unit has actually broken.

And there's no practicing going on.

Instead, the room should probably be called the 'Stare at Seungmin in Concern Room', because that's all anyone seems to be doing right now.

He's made it to the JYP building in one piece, but his throat had ached with every step he took. He'd tried to suppress a cough, and then had ended up going completely light-headed for a good few seconds. Instead of managing to pretend he was fine, he'd stumbled into the practice room looking like death warmed up.

Seungmin tries to smile. It's a strange sensation; he's so hyperaware of every movement he makes that even blinking feels foreign. The slightest brush of fabric against his body burns. The prickle of sweat on his cheeks feels like razor-sharp bee stings. It takes him a good few seconds to remember how to move his mouth, and even then, all he can manage is a small quirk to the side of his lips.

"Seungmin?" Chan repeats, but somehow, he seems even further away now.

" 'm here," says Seungmin, but is he, really? There's a moment of very soothing quiet, where the world seems to dip out of existence just long enough for Seungmin to relax, and then he realises his eyes are closed. When had he closed his eyes? That's not right, he's supposed to be practicing with the rest of the group. He can't expect them to be patient with his mistakes if he's not even awake. Come on, he needs to keep going. He can't let them down so easily, can't give in.

The only problem is that it's become increasingly hard to keep his eyes open.

It feels like the weight of the world is resting on his eyelids. They shut without him even being aware of the movement, and when he finds the strength to pry them open again, his eyes refuse to focus. He can feel his pupils rolling, but there's genuinely nothing he can do about it.

The burn in his throat hasn't disappeared either; instead waiting for its chance to pounce. Trying to stifle that cough earlier has set his lungs into hyperdrive, filling with tiny red-hot needles every time he goes to inhale. At some point, someone has replaced his tongue with sandpaper.

From the end of the very long corridor, Chan curses. "Get a chair," someone else says, "he's about to collapse!"

Seungmin wants to protest, trying to push whoever's holding his shoulders away. He doesn't need a chair- he just needs to wait a few seconds and he'll be able to see again. They shouldn't be making such a fuss about him when the comeback is just around the corner, really, he's just wasting precious time, but- when had the floor begun to sway like that?

The world is moving around him, spinning him up and around and in all directions until he feels his stomach heave again. The lights are too bright, but his arm is too weak to lift up, and so all he can do is squeeze his eyes shut. That makes the swaying go away.

There.

He's fine, can't they all see that he's perfectly fine? Can't they just go back to practicing now?

Except- the world has stopped spinning, yes, but that's because it's tilting very violently to one side. Seungmin's feet aren't on the ground any more, he's falling in slow motion with a head full of clouds and lungs full of fire. 

The floor rushes up to meet him, but it doesn't hurt. He feels the impact as his shoulder connects with the floorboards, but there's no pain. It doesn't hurt. Instead, the jolt simply makes him more tired than he already was. His eyelids, which he'd been trying so desperately to keep open, don't respond to his pleas any more. 

It's dark, in his mind.

There's nothing there except for sound, and even that is so far away. There are footsteps - or is that rain? - and the muffled sounds of voices. It's cold, and yet he's floating so high above the ground that he can't feel anything. He's numb, and yet he feels everything at once.

It comes as a relief when the dark takes over.

---- ---- ----

 

Chan sits by the edge of Seungmin's bed. The world is quiet now, and Seungmin still hasn't woken up. The other members are distributed throughout the room, crammed into places that Chan hadn't even though bodies could fit. There are at least two people to every bed, and he's pretty sure that he can see Jisung's foot peeking out from behind a cupboard door.

The sound of their breathing is quiet.

When Seungmin opens his eyes, Chan is ready.

"Hey," he says, voice hushed as to not wake the other members. They'd been worried, demanding with sleepy eyes that he woke them up when Seungmin finally regained consciousness. They'd been so worried, and when Chan had promised with fingers crossed behind his back, no one had noticed.

Seungmin frowns. When Chan presses a hand to his forehead, it's too warm. His hair is damp with sweat, eyes still slight glazed over. He's ill, and he needs rest. There's no way Chan is waking up everyone else. A hoard of rabid monkeys would make less of a disturbance. 

So he just smiles.

The curtains are open, revealing a beautiful sky. The early-morning sun has painted the clouds pink and gold, drawing silver shadows against the concrete buildings. There are no stars, no this far into the city, but Chan knows Seungmin can imagine them just as well as he can. Hidden up above the world. 

It's safe, here.

And that's what he tells Seungmin. Hushed reassurances, the quietest soothing melody. When Seungmin's eyes close again, there's the ghost of a smile at the edge of his lips. The lines marring his forehead have disappeared. 

He might not have said anything, but what passed between them in those few moments was more important than any words could convey. 

There's no such thing as a world alone.

Chapter Text

"Are you even trying?" Maybe Jisung's words weren't supposed to hurt. There's the same humour beneath his tone as always, keeping the words a hint away from true malice. They're not cruel, but they're certainly not kind.

Hyunjin's hands ball into fists. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Outside, the wind howls. There's a song playing on the radio, but it's not loud enough to drown out the storm raging outside. Snow, Hyunjin thinks when he looks out of the window, is only beautiful once it has stopped falling. 

His bed is soft beneath his legs, warm from where Jisung's body is pressed up against him. And yet without them even noticing, the mood has soured. The wind is screaming outside, Hyunjin's skin burns where it brushes against Jisung's, and his mouth has filled with poison. He's so much colder now.

Jisung frowns. Maybe Hyunjin's words had seemed too defensive. Either way, they're pulling away from each other. "You haven't improved at all. Hyunjin, you can't say that you want to get better if you're not doing anything about it."

"I have!" Hyunjin protests. He has, he's spent so long repeating the same few phrases over and over again, all to make Jisung happy, and now- "Why won't you believe me? I have been practicing."

Jisung sits up straight. He's pushed himself into the corner, but his eyes fill the room with their presence. "Don't lie to me," he scoffs, but his voice is quiet, "Don't do what you always do."

"What's that supposed to mean!"

"You know what I mean. Play the victim, and then act like you're so far above everyone else."

And when Hyunjin leaves, coat tight against the roar of a snow-storm around him, the bite of the cold doesn't hurt as much as the bite of his heart.

 

---

 

How is he here again? 

The practice room walls seem to push in on him, reminding him with every beat of the music of his broken promises. It's cold, something unfamiliar to Hyunjin, whose body temperature has gained a reputation for being more reminiscent of the sun than a human.

He's sitting pressed up against the door. There's no one to try and enter, not here or now. The other members are all complacent in thinking he's off somewhere in a sulk. Besides, it's so late into the night that the only other people awake in the JYP building are guilty of the same thing he is.

They understand.

That sick desire to be better, the rush to reach your limits and then push harder. They have the same weight that hangs on their shoulders, the same pressure he sees pushing down on the other members, sometimes. Better, better, better.

The overwhelming want. Everyone here, just like him, has given into that little voice in the corner of their mind, the one that reminds them of how they'll never be good enough.

Hyunjin pushes himself up. His legs are surprisingly sore, slightly unsteady as he lurches to the side of the room in an attempt to keep himself upright. There are bruises on his ribs from where he'd slipped a few minutes ago, crashing onto the practice room's floorboards, and they haven't quite become numb yet.

There is one difference between him and everyone else.

He's the only one with Jisung's words echoing in his mind.

The song playing comes to an end, the beat beginning to soften and heavy bass fading away. Has Hyunjin really been sitting useless for that long? It feels like he's only just arrived here, but the fabric of his t-shirt sticking to his skin tells him otherwise. His coat lies discarded in one corner of the room. He'd kicked it away in a fit of anger after he'd failed the jump-spin three times in a row, its presence too tempting. 

The longer he looked at it, the longer he spent thinking instead of doing, the more likely he was to give up and return home with his head held low.

No.

Hyunjin wasn't going to let that happen. 

He will not be a failure.

He refuses.

And at the same time, the music starts again with a click. He launches himself into the routine, ignoring the pounding of his head, the aching of his bones, how cold it's become. He needs to practice, needs to be perfect. 

The beat reaches a crescendo, rising up in leaps and snare drums, until-

Hyunjin's body crumples. 

There's not a point between when he's standing and when he's not, it simply happens. He hits the floor with a crash, legs having given out from beneath him in protest to his overworked body. All he can do is lie there, pathetically. Time passes, at some point, but it's nothing more than the fading of the aches in his arms, where he's tries to protect himself when he'd crashed to the ground. The music continues, repeating again and again and again, and there's nothing but minute passing after minute and-

There's a smart rap against the door. It's loud, loud enough that Hyunjin can clearly hear it over the bass of the music and rush of blood in his ears. The corridor outside is dark, obscuring the person standing there's face, but-

Who else would it be?

The other members, despite Hyunjin telling himself that they just didn't care, probably hadn't even heard the fight. They might not have even heard Hyunjin leaving the dorm, assuming he was just buried beneath the covers of his bed. 

Ruling out the rest of the world only left the rest of Hyunjin's world.

No.

Not here, not now, not with bruises on his arms and tears on his face. Not when the stereo in the corner reveals what he's doing here more than the clock in the corner of the room. Hyunjin hurts, he aches, but nothing is agony more than this.

His legs are too weak to get up, the black spots against his vision dancing in mocking pirouettes. He wants to stand, to hold the door shut and close himself away from the rest of the world, but there's nothing he can do except lie useless. 

He watches as Han Jisung opens the door.

Arms are around him before he can even protest, the music in the corner of the room having faded to static. Jisung holds him close, pulls him tighter as Hyunjin sobs into his waiting arms. The lights are too much, too bright, the world is so overwhelming, and yet Han Jisung is just enough.

"Jinnie," he says, voice catching in a way that's so effortlessly heart-breaking, "I-I, I didn't mean it."

There's more than emotion this time. No lilting tease, no humour, just his own tears matching with Hyunjin's red eyes. His arms are bare, Hyunjin notices, and there had been no coat thrown into the corner to join Hyunjin's. Instead, Jisung is cold. There's snow in his hair, ice on the collar of his painfully thin t-shirt. Hyunjin can imagine that the wind is still howling outside, and yet Jisung-

"Your coat," he chokes out. Jisung is so cold, colder than snow or ice or frost.

" 'don't need it." When Hyunjin sobs again, Jisung pulls him to the corner. It's warmer here, the underfloor heating beginning to melt its way through his frozen bones. He doesn't quite know how Jisung manages, but he's too tired to care. Here, held in Jisung's arms, maybe the world is starting to warm up.

As much as apologies go, Jisung doesn't apologise. He cries, he wears his heart on his sleeve and screams at those who've wronged him, but his pride is too overwhelming to apologise.

And at the same time, Hyunjin doesn't need words for Jisung to tell him he's sorry.

"You don't need to be here with me," Hyunjin says. His face is pulled onto Jisung's shoulder, their bodies curling closer to each other that it's not clear who is lying more on who. His breath is warm and damp, cheeks still sticky with tears, but none of that has ever mattered.

"I'll always be here with you," replies Jisung.

And if Chan finds them in the morning, still curled up into each other, then he simply smiles and lets them sleep.

Chapter Text

"What is wrong with you?"

Felix doesn't mean it, he doesn't, and he slams his hands over his mouth as soon as he says the words. But that doesn't rewind time. He can't miss the pain on Minho's face, right before it's replaced with that same cold indifference that remind Felix that although it may not seem like it sometimes, but Lee Minho will never care.

It hasn't always been like this.

They'd grown up together, only ever separated by the few years between them in school. Minho had left for university, and Felix had trailed right after him. It was to be expected after all, following the plans they'd made of the future when they were ten. They hadn't quite ended up as roommates like Felix had hoped, but they'd made friends.

Felix ended up sharing with a loud, short dark-haired boy named Changbin, and through him he'd found the best set of friends he ever could have hoped for. Chan and Woojin and Changbin and Hyunjin and Seungmin and Jeongin.

His little bubble, his perfect world of Minho and Felix forever and ever and ever, grew slowly, but Felix wouldn't have had it any other way.

Everything was perfect for a year.

"What's wrong with you?" Minho bites back, eyes flashing with anger. "All you ever do is follow me around! Do you not have a life to get back to? Can't you leave me and Jisung alone for one day?"

Han Jisung had changed everything.

Felix hadn't even noticed when the squirrel-faced boy had entered his life, and by the time he had, it was far too late. Suddenly, Minho didn't pick up his texts as often. Whenever Felix asked to hang out, he was met with guilty excuses, Jisung always there in the corner. Phone calls turned from hours to minutes to one long beep of a missed call.

Suddenly, it was like Felix didn't exist anymore.

Or, at least, he just didn't exist in Minho's life anymore.

"I do not follow you around!"

Minho scoffs.

This is the way it's always been. Minho as untouchable as ever, standing to Felix's defence whenever the cuts on his hands became unbearable, whenever the bruises on his knees became enough for the older to notice. He'd stand, cold and invulnerable, and the world would be alright for a day or so.

Felix has seen this side of Minho too many times to count. It's the first time it's ever been directed to him.

"We never seem to hang out anymore." His voice is weaker than he'd like, betraying the tears in his eyes that he'd wanted to keep hidden. If it affects Minho in any way, he hides it well. "You never.. You never want to see me. I miss you, Minnie." He tries to hide his sob, but ends up choking on it instead, "It seems- seems like you don't care."

Minho looks back at him.

The doorframe seems to grow, a crack in the ground that gets bigger and bigger until- until Felix is so far away. They're so far apart, so distant, and yet-

"Maybe that's the point," says Minho.

Felix shuts the door. It closes quietly, but that's still all too loud in the silence of his apartment - the silence where Minho should be. He makes his way back to his room like he's in a dream, barely able to keep his balance, but somehow making it to his bed in one piece.

Minho, he-

Felix tries to stifle his sob. He can hear the door opening again, the raised voices of Chan and Changbin as they arrive back from getting groceries. It's something so normal, so incredibly mundane, that it breaks Felix's heart.

Can't they see? He's so alone, so frightfully cold and alone, and yet everyone else is continuing with their lives as if nothing has happened. They're blind to his walls crumbling in around him. They can't hear his screams as the water rises higher and higher, slowly dragging him down to the depths of the ocean.

He's drowning.

Felix Lee is drowning in his own emotions. The water chokes his lungs, brings his throat, and yet he hardly has the energy to fight. He's sinking, sinking deep down, and he wants nothing more than to give up.

He's done with fighting. He's done with trying to stay afloat when Minho wants nothing to do with him, he's done with getting his heart broken over and over again.

There's no point in trailing after someone who wants nothing to do with him, but he's lost his best-friend, the only man he's ever truly loved, and he still doesn't even know why.

What does Jisung have that he doesn't? Is it his freckles, the ugly marks on his skin? Jisung doesn't have freckles. Jisung's got cute cheeks, perfect skin, he's so much funnier and more charming than Felix - is that what Minho likes about him?

The thought makes the water rise above his head.

It hurts, he's choking on his own tears, and yet he-

He's still not over Lee Minho.

The water fills his lungs. Everything is so quiet, he's so far underwater than his body just refuses to respond. He can barely hear the sound of his own sobs, choking on his sorrow again and again and again. There's so much water, it's so dark here, and still all Felix wants in Minho.

He's drowning, and no one comes to save him.

 

-

 

"Is he... crying?" Changbin puts the shopping bags down on the kitchen counter. He'd been laughing only a few seconds ago, but now the mood has soured considerably. The apartment had been cheap, and as a result the walls were terribly thin. Even from all the way in the kitchen. Felix's sobs rang out as if he were right next to them.

Chan is just as pale. "Sounds like it," he says, glancing towards the door to Felix's room. It's locked, they couldn't enter to comfort him even if they wanted to. He doubts that Felix would want any of them near him at the moment anyway. He's been in that position a few times himself, and everything always feels better after crying for a few hours.

But even so, his sobs are heart-breaking.

"What do you think happened?" Changbin asks, but they both already know. Even before there's a knock on the door, they know who's going to be there. Chan crosses the room in a matter of steps, opening it to reveal an equally pale-faced Jisung.

Changbin stands behind Chan. No one can blame him for being defensive, especially with how close him and Felix have become since being roommates, but he practically glares holes into the back of Jisung's head as Chan lets the smaller boy inside.

They've just made their way back to the kitchen, when- there's another sob from Felix's room. This one is even louder, even more pitiful, and when Jisung turns around, his eyes are wide.

"Minho-" he says, and Chan grits his teeth.

"I knew it," his hands tighten around the kitchen counter, turning his fingers pale at the knuckles. "All he ever does is break Felix's heart. These last few weeks have been painful to watch."

Changbin stands up. "I've seen it as well." His eyes are burning, maybe even more furious than Chan. "Minho... He's destroying Lix from the inside out, and he thinks we're all going to just stand around and let him."

And yet he never moves further than a step towards the door. Jisung's hand is on his shoulder, frowning as if he's just hearing a different side of the story for the first time. "I don't think you understand," he says, and his eyes go from Chan to Changbin and back again. "Minho, he's trying to push Felix away because he thinks it's going to protect him."

Changbin scoffs. "That's-"

"Stupid, I know. But Minho has been in love with Felix since they were kids. The reason why we've been hanging out so much is that we read that keeping his distance would help Minho to move on. He told me that he was certain Felix didn't feel the same way." Jisung's voice trails off, staring at the door where the faint sobs can still be heard. "But now I'm not so sure he was right."

They fall back into silence. Shocked, three minds working at full speed towards... something. A plan maybe, a way to stop Felix's sobs and Minho's neverending self-hatred. Jisung's right, they know that much, and yet is there anything they can do? As much as it pains them to see their friends self-destruct like this, there's still the possibility that charging in with all good intents would only make things worse.

And then-

Chan stands up. His mouth turns to a smile, but it feels so misshapen accompanied by Felix's tears in the next room. It's slightly off, slightly wrong in ways that they can't put their fingers on, but it's still a smile. "I've got it," he says, "Listen up."

 

-

 

"What is this?" Minho's hands beat on the door loudly, but to no avail. Behind him, Felix looks like he's about to burst into tears again. The tension in the room is suffocating. "Jisung! Answer me!"

He certainly hadn't expected this when the younger boy said he'd had a surprise for him. He'd already been suspicious, since it had been his birthday a good couple of months ago, and the glint in Jisung's eyes had been anything but reassuring. But he'd trusted him, and it had taken Minho completely off-guard when he'd been shoved into what appeared to be a janitor's cupboard.

He hadn't expected to see Felix there either.

Every second of pain had flashed right in front of his eyes. Every year since they were kids, Minho watching by the side-lines as Felix dated various girls, knowing the whole time that he'd never like him back. It hurt, it hurt so much, and he'd been so convinced that pushing Felix away was the only way he was ever going to get over him.

But even in the dark of the cupboard, Felix's eyes are rimmed with red. He looks tired, cheeks sunken and skin clammy, and yet the sight still causes Minho's heart to skip a beat.

"Make up." They both turn to the source of the voice. It's Jisung, they can just about make out his eye through the keyhole, and though his words are slightly muffled, there's no mistaking them. "Or we're not letting you out."

If Felix looked like he was about to cry before, Minho doesn't know what to call this emotion now. He's angry, that much is clear, but there are also silent tears streaming down his cheeks.

"Listen," he's surprisingly steady in his tone, taking a step towards Minho, "I don't know what you think you're doing, but I, I thought we were friends."

They are.

They're best friends, as much as it pains Minho to keep that title when he wants to mean so much more to Felix. "I-"

"And yet you don't seem to care. What happened, Minho? Why do you hate me so much?"

Minho's mouth is dry. No. This isn't what he wanted. This isn't what he thought would happen, he was so sure that Felix would be relieved Minho was leaving him alone. Not this. Never this.

"I don't hate you."

Felix sobs. The angry facade falls away, revealing the boy behind it. Minho's hurt him so badly, he wants to run up and hold him in his arms forever, but he's frozen to the spot. Eventually, Felix looks back up. "Then what?"

There's a pause.

It stretched right past what's comfortable, right past what he could claim was just him thinking. With every second that passes, they're just getting further and further away.

"He's in love with you," says a small voice.

Minho whips around, Felix's eyes widen, and they both stare at the door in horror. There's a muffled squeak as - presumably it was Jisung who had spoken - is smacked by Changbin, dragging him away from the door before he can cause any more damage.

"Felix-"

"Is it true? Are you- do you-"

Changbin smacks Jisung's head again, Felix's words getting cut off by the fact Jisung no longer has his ear pressed up against the door. The younger boy flails dramatically for a second, before sprawling onto the floor. "Stop eavesdropping!"

"I can't help it," pouts Jisung, despite the fact that he obviously can, "I promised Hyunjin the gossip as soon as it happened, and he's going to get Seungmin to murder me if I don't keep my word."

"I hope he does," says Changbin. Jisung gasps in mock hurt, leaping to his feet, but Chan's already between them, holding them at arms width from each other.

"Come on. We already know what's going to happen anyway. Let them have some privacy."

Jisung squawks in protest, but it's no use. Chan's already pulling him and Changbin away from the door. Minho and Felix deserve time to get through their problems, and then they can work out for themselves that the door was never actually locked. It won't be the same if Jisung and Changbin are arguing right outside.

Such precious moments don't deserve to be ruined. The gap between them might shrink, but trust and relationships take time and strength. Felix may not be drowning anymore, but he's still standing waist-deep in the ocean with Minho.

They might still be hurting, but Chan has faith.

They aren't so alone anymore.

("At least let me bet when they're going to announce that they're dating," grumbles Jisung, to a resounding "Oh, you are so on," from Changbin.

Three days later, they're both paying up to Chan anyway.)

Chapter Text

"Guys?"

Jeongin had thought the dorm was awfully quiet. He'd taken his headphones out for a second to swap them for a more comfortable pair, and the silence had almost seemed deafening compared to the songs still playing from the tinny speakers.

And, stupidly, he'd thought nothing of it.

It was more than stupid, really. The Stray Kids dorm was never quiet. Even when they were supposed to be asleep, there was usually someone wandering around getting a late-night snack, or someone else's snoring practically making the beds shake. There was usually someone humming or singing to the music that was always playing, or the familiar sounds of the gym equipment in the front room creaking.

But when Jeongin had taken off his headphones, slipping on another pair without a moment's hesitation, the only thing going through his mind was the vague wondering of if they had any of last night's Chinese food left.

If only he'd been paying more attention.

Because now, his work lying abandoned on the desk, Jeongin is finally realising that he's home alone.

"Guys? It's not funny anymore, I'm serious."

No one replies.

If this is a joke, he's going to be so mad. This isn't the first time Seungmin's managed to persuade the others to play along with his stupid tricks, but this isn't funny. Surely, they would have jumped out at him by now, making him jump, and then everything can go back to normal.

Except this is Jeongin's second lap of the dorms, he's checked every cupboard and hiding place possible, and there's still no one there.

"Come on, this isn't a fun joke. Guys?"

Silence.

Okay, scratch that, now he's hoping against all hopes that this is a joke. It might not be funny, but at least it's better than this: the dawning realisation that he is alone.

He's ended up in the front room again, but there's still nothing there. The dorms are eerily quiet, the absence of sound much more frightening than any noise. It shouldn't be this quiet. Jeongin glances at the television, contemplating turning it on just to fill some of the void, but-

Chan's keys.

The table in the front room is always covered in random items, stuff they can't be bothered to tidy away so they just dump in front of everyone else. After about three weeks, it had become almost impossible to find anything. As a result, Chan had designated a specific space on the kitchen counter to keep his keys, and no one else was allowed to even touch it under pain of death.

Jeongin hurtles around the corner, socks sliding across the tiled floor as he sails into the kitchen. Keys, keys, keys- where are they? This is too much dedication for a joke, especially since it would be enough work to convince Chan to play along. His heart drops. Lo and behold, the keys aren't there.

They're gone.

And just like the keys, so are the members.

He looks up, still half-hoping this is all just a sick joke. Half-expecting to see them all standing behind him, struggling to hold in their laughter. And yet he can't help but be surprised when there's no one there.

He's alone.

The dorm suddenly seems so much stuffier than before. It's too warm. The air is thick, hanging heavy in his lungs and making every second a struggle to breath. The walls aren't quite pushing in on him yet, but the floor seems to swirl beneath his feet.

He's suffocating in his own loneliness, the windows steaming up in front of his very eyes. It's so warm, so overwhelming, and the outside looks so cool. 

He needs to get out.

It won't matter, right? He grabs his coat on the way to the front door, only stopping for a brief moment to pull on his boots. It's not quite snowing outside, but the sky is dark and angry, and Jeongin doesn't want to risk it. They're tight around his feet, not quite as stylish as what he usually chooses to wear, so not worn as often. In fact, as he squints closer at the heels, he doubts that they're even his.

Oh well. It doesn't matter.

There are already gloves and hats in a pile by the door, everyone having given up on trying to work out whose was whose and simply turning it into a free-for-all. He takes the top pair, smirking at the familiar cartoon pattern, and pulling a hat onto his head.

He needs to get out.

The quiet is stifling, every second of silence making his skin crawl with the stickiness of humidity. The members have gone, probably taking Chan's credit card with them if his keys have disappeared. They won't be back for a while. Although the acceptance of realising he's been forgotten stings, he can't help but feel slightly grateful for this time alone.

It might feel wrong, their absence might feel suffocating, but the quiet can't help but clear his head. As he steps out into the corridor outside their dorm, making his way to the main reception and standing on the cold pavement outside, he knows he never would have gotten this far if he hadn't been alone.

He may love his members, but they treat him like a child. There's no way he would be able to go for a walk by himself. There'd always be someone pointing out that it was safer to go in pairs, or someone else who ignored his insistences when they decided they'd come along too.

But not now.

He puts his hands on his pockets, and for the first time since he'd found out he'd been left home-alone, he smiles.

 

---

 

"Jeongin?" Seungmin pushes open the door first, Chan's keys (that he definitely hadn't stolen form the older when he wasn't looking) in his hands. "We brought you food!"

Behind him, the rest of the members are filing down the corridor, shoving and pushing each other playfully. They're so loud that Seungmin doesn't hear Jeongin's reply. Instead he kicks off his shoes, placing the tupperware down for a second to shrug off his coat and gloves.

Hyunjin enters behind him, only just dodging a flying punch from Changbin by managing to fit his body right into the corner of the hall. "I hope he isn't too mad."

There are a few murmurs of agreement, even if half the group weren't actually paying attention to what Hyunjin had said. Chan shakes his head, "I don't think he will have minded too much. He was probably thankful that he could actually get some work done in peace for once. He might not have even noticed we'd gone out."

Seungmin smiles. Their bickering gets further way as he crosses the dorm to where they'd left Jeongin, studying in his shared bedroom with Jisung. He opens the door, ready to ruffle the younger boy's head, but stops in his tracks. 

"Uh, guys," The room is empty. The headphones Jeongin had been wearing are tucked neatly back into his drawers, his homework folded and put back into their binders. Everything else, apart from Jeongin, is there. "He definitely noticed we'd gone out."

Chan appears behind him. The atmosphere in the dorm has changed, in less than a second. His face is pale, and he's holding out his mobile in front of him like it's the first time he's ever seen it. "My phone's been going off non-stop. I've had it on silent this whole time, so I didn't notice but..."

Seungmin pulls his own phone out. Sure enough, there are enough missed calls on his own screen for his heart to drop. He can already hear Hyunjin and Felix checking their phones behind him, confirming what he already knows. Something has happened to Jeongin, someth-

His phone vibrates.

Seungmin almost drops the device in shock, as Jeongin's icon pops up on his screen, grinning at him cheekily. His hand flies to the accept button, as he spins around with wide eyes to face Chan and the others. "Innie? Is that you?"

There's the roar of a car from the other end of the call, blocking out whatever Jeongin might have replied.

"Is that Jeongin?" asks Woojin, sensible as ever, "Ask him where he is."

Seungmin pulls the phone back to his ear. "Where are you?"

There's a pause. And then-

"I don't know."

 

---

 

It feels like hours since Seungmin picked up the phone. Jeongin swings his legs on the bench he's perched on for what seems like the fiftieth time, and thanks every lucky star that he decided to bring hats and gloves when he went on the walk.

What first seemed refreshingly cool had very quickly turned into freezing. He's been sat here so long that he's watched as a thin layer of ice has formed on the road, as the shop signs behind him flickered with life as sun went down. He doesn't recognise any of them, but he now all knows all their names by heart.

It hadn't been long onto his walk that he'd realises he had no idea how to get back.

His phone had been useless, the lack of wifi meaning that all his map-using apps were useless, and he'd run out of mobile data at least a week ago. All he could do was wander somewhere that looked vaguely distinctive. He'd found himself a bench and curled up into it, attempting to call the members on his phone for the first time.

It had taken so long. None of them seemed to pick up, and the world only got quieter and colder. It hadn't snowed, thankfully, but the wind was biting and he was now pretty sure that his fingers were blue beneath his gloves.

He'd even been so close to giving up, when Seungmin's voice had run out clear as day.

It was all Jeongin could do to hold back his tears when he explained the situation. Before he'd even finished speaking, he could hear the engine of a car starting in the distance, Seungmin already reassuring him that wherever he was, they were coming to get him.

The sky darkens again.

The cars on the road in front of him switch on their headlights, and Jeongin curls up even further into his coat. He's not at all surprised when the first few white flakes begin to fall from the sky. They're cold, but so achingly beautiful. He stands up to try and catch one, stretching his aching legs for the first time in ages. He goes to reach out his hand, but something else grabs his attention.

In front of him, a car has stopped. 

The window winds down, first in the front to reveal Chan and Woojin, and then at the back to show the rest of the members crammed into what should only be four seats. 

Seungmin smiles at him, beckoning him forwards with gloved hands. His head is stuck out slightly too far, catching the snowflakes in his hair.

"Innie," he says, "Let's go home."

Chapter Text

"This is Felix. He'll be joining our team for now, so please welcome him warmly! Felix?"

There are so many eyes on him, waiting for his next move. Felix is stood in the middle of the practice room. It's a scene he's been running over in his head for the last month, ever since he'd got the acceptance letter from JYP. It's all that had been running through his mind when he'd stepped off the plane in South Korea.

It's all that he can think of now.

Should he be this nervous? The rational part of his mind tells him no, reminds him that the boys staring back at him aren't as scary as they look. Most of them are even shorter than him, for heaven's sake, and he's barely pushing 5'7" as it is.

But even though he's been practicing Korean non-stop, even though he's gone over his introduction millions of times in his head, now that he's here- he's gone blank. The walls seem to shrink. The boys in front of him start to frown and whisper amongst themselves. They're waiting for him to say something, anything, and yet Felix is frozen to the spot.

"Felix?" Chris says again, nudging Felix as if that'll make his tongue decide to un-stick itself from the roof of his mouth.

Felix doesn't move.

He like Chris. The older boy is from Australia as well, and nothing can compare to the relief that Felix had felt when he'd realises that he wouldn't be quite as alone as he had feared. Though he feels pretty stupid for thinking this, he finds that Chris is almost like home. The lilt in the way he talks, his relaxed and friendly nature, it's just like Felix never left.

That is, if he ignores the signs in foreign characters that seem to crowd him wherever he goes.

With every second that passes, it's like he's sinking further and further into the ground. All the Korean he has ever learnt has disappeared from his mind, leaving only the growing embarrassment and desperate regret that he hadn't started learning back when he was a child and his parents had suggested it.

"I'm sure he's just a bit shy," says Chris. His voice is so far away, getting quieter and quieter. He says something after as well, but Felix doesn't quite catch the meaning. When one of the boys replies, smiling at Felix and revealing two rows of brace-filled teeth, Felix can't even manage the strength to smile back.

All the eyes are back on him again.

"Uh-"

"Hello!" says a handsome boy with a beauty mark under his eye. Felix startles at the sudden English, finally managing a weak smile. The boy's words are accented, but still understandable, and Felix has got to at least pretend to be thankful for the effort they're putting in. "I'm Hyunjin! Welcome- uh-" he glances at Chan, who gives him an encouraging nod, "Welcome to the team!"

"We are not scary," says a boy with puffy cheeks. He looks at the boy standing next to him, who's eyes have glazed over ever since they starting talking in English, "Well, apart from cutie Binnie."

The team, or at least the few that understand English, burst into laughter. 'Binnie' seems to have only caught his name, but has understood the meaning behind the joke. He launches into rapid-fire Korean, and Hyunjin has to hold him back from launching onto the other boy.

Chris cover his mouth in an attempt to hide his grin. "Sorry about them," he says, but it shows in his eyes how proud he is, "They can be a bit loud sometimes, but they're all nice."

Felix smiles back.

It's okay; he can do this. Dancing is his dream, and he'll fight for it until his dying day. He's strong, strong enough to make his own way in a country he barely even speaks the language of.

He smiles, brighter.

"I'm Felix. It's nice to meet you."

Time passes quickly, after that. Felix learns the boys' names quickly, and learns what Chris had meant by 'loud sometimes' even faster. He learns that Chris actually goes by Chan and makes an effort to call him that, and he learns that Hyunjin and Seungmin both studied in the USA, whilst Jisung lived in Malaysia.

He moves into the dorms at the beginning of the week, and never regrets it. It's noisy and chaotic, and yet Felix fits in almost immediately. He struggles to communicate, can't ever quite find the right words without thinking for a good few minutes before, but he's slowly getting there. There're a few jokes that don't come out quite so awkwardly, and the first time he manages to get them all to smile, it feels like he's glowing.

He's happy.

He gets to dance and sing. The world feels like it passes in a rush of adrenaline, the giddy spin of happiness going straight to his head. He's too high up in the cloud of ecstasy to notice how his limbs begin to ache.

How the bruises on his skin never quite get the chance to heal. How his eyelids are heavy from staying up too late studying, that every time he stumbles over another word in Korean his heart sinks a little more. 

As if someone has flipped a switch, suddenly everything that had been going so right has turned to hell

He can't seem to learn any of the dance moves. It all seems to go in one ear and out the other, leaving him red-cheeked and humiliated as he can't even understand half of what the instructor yells at him. He fumbles over the lyrics he's supposed to learn, barely even managing to get a single sentence in the right order.

The nights become long, stretched out by endless pages of his English-Korean workbook. The weekly weigh-ins become too much, and he finds himself eying his full plates of food with distaste. Despite getting along so well with everyone else originally, he finds himself drifting away. 

And Chris - Chan - doesn't even notice.

That's a good thing, Felix reminds himself. It's not as if he's hiding his struggles from the older on purpose, it's just that he knows how much Chan has to deal with already. It's no secret that he's overworked and stressed, and Felix is determined not to be even more of a burden than he already is.

It doesn't matter that waking up is getting harder and harder with each day that passes.

---

"Hey."

Felix opens his eyes slowly. It's too dark, and his eyes are still heavy from sleep so it must be too early. The blinds on the window are always drawn, even in the middle of the afternoon, so really it could be any time, but-

"Felix, wake up." Chan is standing there. Felix rubs his eyes, trying to get them to adjust slightly quicker. For once, the bedroom is strangely silent. The other beds are empty. The only other person in the room is Chan, and his ever-widening smile.

"Where's everyone else?" 

"They're out. Something about Korean barbeque and Jeongin's braces getting attached to a skewer."

"At 3 in the morning?" Felix's voice is heavy with disbelief. Despite the darkness of the room, he can see how Chan flushes.

"Okay, so maybe I asked them to give us some alone time."

Felix frowns. That doesn't seem very characteristic of Chan, especially with how much emphasis he places on trust and teamwork. He almost says how hypocritical that sounds, when something else catches his eye. Chan's got something hidden behind his back. The placement of his hands is too suspicious for anything else, and besides, Felix can hear the crinkle of a wrapper. "What've you got there?"

Chan's face splits into a grin. "I thought you'd never ask."

Out from his hands come what seems like hundreds of snacks in brightly coloured packaging. He recognises most of them instantly, the darkness doing nothing to hide the wrappers of the sweets he grew up with.

"Is this-"

"I thought you might be having a hard time." Chan pulls the duvet off Felix's bed, snuggling next to the younger boy and placing the covers back down. His body is warm but not uncomfortable, and Felix realises with a startling skip of his heart that he smells like home. "I know I certainly did for the first year I came here. It seemed like the whole world was against me."

"You were a lot younger, though," Felix protests, but Chan only scoffs.

"Does that make a difference?" He brings the first of the snacks towards him, tearing open the packet and offering one to Felix. "I just think you deserve to know. It's not so lonely out there. Always find me, yeah?"

He stops to wipe away a tear off Felix's cheek. Felix hadn't even realised he was crying. "Yeah. I'll find you."

Chapter Text

It's too much.

Everything is going too quickly. Hyunjin can barely breathe under the pressure, his head feels like it's stuffed with cotton wool and his lungs are lined with needles.

The script lies abandoned by his side.

He should know the words by now. He'd spent all night practicing, repeating the sentences over and over until the bags under his eyes matched the colour of his hair. The stylists hadn't been pleased, of course, but Hyunjin was practically immune to the disproving looks by this point. He was much too tired to acre, and the anxiety eating away at his mind was turning into an effective way to make everything else numb.

What was he ever thinking, agreeing to this?

It wasn't like being an MC had ever been this stressful before. He'd done it plenty of times before, and his members had reacted to every cringy joke with perfect reactions. There had been cameras recording his every move, and a craftily written script just vague enough to make the jokes seem natural.

When they'd offered him the position, his only thoughts had been concerning how much more publicity this would buy Stray Kids. Every appearance was so vital in the industry that he'd had no choice but to accept.

They'd told him it wouldn't be so different.

He was already used to cameras on him at all time, he could easily rely on his good looks to get him out of any awkward silences. They'd assured that anyone else he'd be presenting with would be just as anxious as he was, that they'd get along just fine.

And yet-

He can't remember anything.

The scrip- where's the script- he doesn't know a single one of his lines. Hyunjin can feel his breath speeding up as his hand searches for the paper, only getting more and more frantic as he can't find it.

His head seems frozen in place, and he finds himself unable to look over to where he's sure he put it down. The dancing black spots in front of his eyes seem to increase in speed with the rate of his breathing. The waiting room is too quiet- or is his breathing just too loud?- and his mind can do nothing but hyperfixate on the nausea clawing at his stomach.

Oh god.

Oh- oh god.

The script, he needs to find it. His cheeks must be red by now- or maybe they're pale with blood draining from his face. His hands are clammy, he knows that much even from this terrified position, and his back has run cold with sweat. It pricks at his skin like tiny knives, even the slightest bush of fabric against his body like sandpaper.

Oh god.

There's a bell in the distance, and the very back of his mind reminds him of the meaning. Five minutes to stage time. Even if Hyunjin could move, he's not sure he would. There's the overwhelming belief that if he just stays this still, no one can see him.

That he'll just disappear into the sofa along with any traces of his existence. If he stays quiet, he'll simply wake up to a bad dream.

Oh god.

The more he searches for the right words, the less he seems to know. Even lines he's so sure he had memorised, when he looks for them, he finds nothing but air.

The world seems to tip upside down.

He's vaguely aware that he's shaking, but he can't stop himself. He's so far above his body by now- or so far beneath it. His chest screams with pain, the familiar ache of lack of oxygen, the fevered gasps for air. There might be tears on his face but he's not quite sure anymore.

It's- The only thing he knows-

Faster, faster, faster, Hyunjin breathe, you've got to breathe.

He is breathing, the rise and fall of his chest is too fast to ignore, the nausea spinning his head like he's about to black out at any second. It's all too much, too much too much too bright too loud too-

The back of his mind is screaming about deadlines, four minutes left and with every second he wastes by sitting here, the worse he's going to mess up.

He wants to protest, wants to breathe and scream as loudly as he can, but there's nothing there except pain and pain and fear and hatred-

breathe breathe breathe breathe

Hyunjin you've got to breathe.

There's a hand on his palm. He jerks away without meaning too, the feeling of skin against his own burning into his bones, everything too much too much too much, but they don't let go.

Hyunjin, you've got to breathe.

There's a voice in his ear, not just the endless screaming of his mind. The hand on his palm rubs soothing circles into the skin, pulls him close into another body. It's warm. The words are beginning to break through the walls placed around his heart, the fortress of panic in his mind.

"Breath," repeats Seungmin. "That's it. Focus on my voice. In and out."

In and out. Hyunjin wants to cry. If only it was that easy. The fire is beginning to die down, the tears tracks on his cheeks beginning to dry. His chest is heaving silently, but he closes his eyes and concentrates.

In and out.

In and out.

In and out.

"You've got it," says Seungmin, and he's so warm. He presses paper into Hyunjin's hand, a thick leaflet that he'd recognise the torn paper of anywhere. His script. He startles, reaching towards it blindly, but Seungmin holds it just out of his reach.

"Min-"

Seungmin shakes his head. Elsewhere in the room, another bell sounds. "One minute!" calls a voice, and there are people moving everywhere. The stylist rushes past the, tutting in disbelief at his make-up, before deciding that it's artful enough to pass as style.

“Min, please-“

“No,” Seungmin, and he pulls Hyunjin closer again. “You don’t need it. You think we didn’t hear you practicing all last night? You’ll be fine.”

Hyunjin’s eyes widen.

Somewhere, he’s suddenly aware of how light everything feels. His chest is free, and his breathing has finally evened out. He hadn’t even realised. In front of him, Seungmin smiles.

“You’ll be fine,” he repeats.

In blink of an eye, Hyunjin is on stage. There are cameras filming his every move, a pretty girl next to him. His hands shake, the microphone is cold in his clammy hands, but he’s okay. He’s fine.

He’ll be fine.

Chapter Text

The world ends on a Tuesday morning.

Or maybe, a better way to put it would be that the world had already ended by then. The night had not been kind, burning streaks of red into the pavement along with the setting sun. The waves had coloured crimson, and the sky was painted silver.

There was no morning, not really. The world was dark now, and there wouldn't be the light for morning for a long time. Outside, the streetlights flickered on in the afternoon. The ground turned black and the stars shone with an intensity never seen before.

Three months before Tuesday morning, the sun disappears from the sky.

The news reports don't quite know how to put it. Scientists confirm that it's still there, that it's simply the skies blocking out any light that could have possibly reached the ground, but there's only silence when they're asked why. The world sits quiet with worry for an hour or so.

Somewhere in the outskirts of Seoul, Han Jisung moves in with Hwang Hyunjin. 

The riots begin. The world is fed up with waiting, with dark clouds hanging above their heads and prophecies of ruin at their fingertips. They've already worked out what the dark skies mean, specifically what they mean for the crops. As quick as the end of the world comes, the world is even quicker to accept it.

The next few days pass like broken glass. They smell like petrol and smoke, burn bright like the fire still glowing in the rubble of the corner-shop three minutes away from where they live. It fills their lungs, screams decorate the silence of the streets, and they hide beneath the covers of their tiny haven.

The neighbours are all gone.

There's no point staying, not when there's nothing left to stay for. They've all fled to family, to visit a world they'd always dreamed they'd have a lifetime to explore. Jisung supposes they still do, really.

But him and Hyunjin break into their apartments anyway. When they're sure their floor is empty, the block off the stairs with wardrobes and cupboards. Hyunjin watches as Jisung smashes the buttons on the lift, watches as sparks fly in more than a metaphorical way. They bring all the cans of food they can find and hide them. 

Jisung fashions an arsenal of weapons out of kitchen knives and scissors. He drives nails through baseball bats and covers every window except two. Hyunjin uses the last of the flickering mobile service to download every medicinal handbook he can find, and they print page after page of instruction until the printer in room 311 runs out of ink. 

They're prepared for the world.

And the world isn't prepared for them.

There's an old-fashioned radio down the hall that still crackles to life every so often. It fills the air with stories of pain and blood, of a world gone insane. Hyunjin says that the sun's disappearance didn't cause the end of the world in the end, that it was people themselves. Jisung has a little more hope left, and disagrees. 

The smoke in the air does nothing but make the clouds even thicker.

Time ticks on.

The two beds in Hyunjin's apartment creep closer and closer, until they become one. The water runs cloudy for a week, before drying up all together. It's not like they've showered for a while anyway, but the gurgle of the empty taps only adds to the uneasiness. Hyunjin rifles through his papers until he finds instructions on how to filter rainwater, and Jisung hangs off the balcony outside with saucepans when it rains. 

The radio crackles again.

Life begins to come to a standstill, and in the end, both of them are right. 

Through the weak signal come warnings. The rain, already clouded grey with ash, is only to get darker. The clouds hang heavier in the air, and the last remaining scientists advise those surviving to put themselves out of their misery before the world does it for them.

The air thins.

It gets harder to breathe, and the temperature soars. Jisung kicks the blanket to the side one night, and neither of them pick it up again. It's heavy with humidity, time passing in a blur of heat and pain. 

The streets outside are quiet. There's no one left to burn things or shout obscenities at the embers. Jisung's chest aches, but Hyunjin's the one that doesn't stop compiling. The heat saps his energy, and he can no longer dance. Jisung pulls him to his feet when it begins to rain, but the droplets burn their skin and they hurry back inside.

Jisung's body is covered in tiny red scabs where the water hit him.

Hyunjin’s hair begins to fall out.

Monday night, and the radio crackles again. There's no one there, but the gasping for air rings clearer than any warning that had ever been sent before. The radio is too far away to hear from their bedroom, and maybe that's for the better. 

The air thins one last time, one last push to self-destruction. It shrinks in on itself, stuttering a single time for just long enough that three quarters of the remaining population choke. Their lungs burn like butterflies, fluttering for something that simply isn't there anymore.

It's silent.

On Tuesday morning, Han Jisung wakes up.

Tuesday morning is when the world ends, because Hwang Hyunjin's body lies next to him.

Chapter Text

Felix sits in the window of his apartment block. There's a seat now, that hadn't been there when he first moved in. It was one of the first things he'd placed, and it hasn't been moved since that day. It's cold, not particularly comfortable, and the damp from the condensation is beginning to eat away at the wood.

He doesn't have enough money to buy another one.

Felix barely has enough to get food pills. He barely has enough to afford the electricity that keeps him alive, and the water from his taps stopped running over a week ago. Him and his brother survive on one meal a day, collecting water from the taps in the laundry room. They use the communal showers.

And yet, when Felix scans the bills at the end of the month, he knows exactly where all their money is going. The government provides more than enough for them to pay for all the necessities, maybe even some classes that could get Felix a better job. Even then, that's not the only solution. 

He's insisted so many times that they simply cut the price of rent in half by moving out somewhere else, but Chan refuses.

Cheaper rent would mean a cheaper building. Somewhere with the same grey peeling wallpaper, but without the room to Felix's left. Somewhere else would mean losing Chan's port to the Virtual Reality.

Felix's eyes stray to the room to his left. 

The door is open as always. Chan locks it before he sets up his connection, but once he's online he won't disconnect for hours. Felix had learnt to pick the lock years ago. He keeps the door open simply to make him feel less alone.

As Felix sits here every day, the open entrance means he never forgets Chan is lying so close. 

His brother is constantly connected to the port, his eyes almost never opening otherwise. The light blue glow of the HoloScreen dances across his face, sinking into the dark bags and highlighting the sallowness of his cheeks. Words flash across the screen occasionally, but Felix has long given up trying to read them.

As much as he'd like to try, they're practically incomprehensible to someone like him.

There's a cough from the other, Chan’s cold not having quite cleared up despite it being months since he'd first fallen ill. He refuses to pay for medicine, because that means they won't be able to pay for the HoloScreen in such high quality for at least a week.

Felix pauses, listening out for another sound. There's nothing, just as he'd expected, and he finally allows himself to look outside again.

The same symbols that decorate the visor of Chan's HoloScreen light up the streets. Despite the sky being mostly hidden by thick grey fog, there's nothing obscuring the huge projectors situated at the end of every street. They display flickering images that tower high above the grey apartments. Bright colours and flashy logos.

But even they seem muted in the grey of Felix's surroundings.

He can't help but scoff at that. It's on purpose, of course. It's almost as if the use of colour is owned by Virtual Reality, and he wouldn't be surprised at this point if it was. 

Outside, the streets are empty.

They always are, so he doesn't expect anything different. Everyone sane has connected themselves to Virtual Reality so they don't have to stare at the grey for any longer. Just like Chan. The flashing messages always get to them, in the end. The only time Felix really sees anyone outside is when the rations open, and then he's in the queue along with the rest of the city.

But-

Felix frowns. It could be his imagination, but the window seems to be vibrating. His cheek is pressed up against the cold glass, making him susceptible to any sort of - noise? He's never really thought about it before, but it would make sense if the windows were soundproofed. It was just another thing that could distract people like Chan from wasting their lives online.

And so, Felix sits back in his chair. His hands are shaking as he unbolts the window. This- this isn't normal. There's a strange feeling in his gut, that he originally thinks is fear but is starting to feel an awful lot like excitement. 

Finally, something is happening.

He opens the window with ease. It's surprisingly well-oiled considering it hasn't been used for years, but Felix somehow doesn't care why. Instead, without even thinking, he sticks his head into the air.

He was right. The vibrations were from a sound, something he can now hear clearly without any glass in the way. There's an engine. It's in the distance for now, but Felix can tell that it's getting closer and closer with every second that passes. He can hear the squeal of tyres against the road, the revving of an accelerator. He knows even before the car rounds the corner what he's going to see.

Not a car - a van.

Just as grey as the rest of the world at first, but something about it makes his heart speed up. The windows are all blacked out, the number plate covered with tape, and as it crawls to a stop in front of his apartment black, his heart is in his mouth. 

He knows what this is.

The doors at the back of the van swing open. A boy jumps out, dressed from head to toe in the same grey and black outfit that's supplied to every citizen. His limbs are long, ankles peeking out from the bottom of his rolled-up trousers, and Felix's eyes widen when he realises that- that his uniform is different.

The identification number has been blacked out, with what he can't quite tell from this distance. There are chains hanging from the boy's hips, his sleeves are rolled up to reveal even more gangly arms, and his ears catch the light with a distinctive glint of metal. 

He looks up.

Felix freezes in place. The uniform, the slight rebels against the system are all so minor, but this boy-

His face catches all the attention first. He's handsome. It's the type of beauty that Virtual Reality craves, the kind of face that Felix would expect to see grinning down at him from one of the huge screens. There's a mark beneath his eye that glitters as much as his chains and earrings do. A flaw that the government would fix in an instant, and this boy has only drawn attention to it.

And his hair.

It had been hidden by the shadows of the van before, but as the boy had stepped out into the milky light, his hair had seemed to glow. It's coloured. Something other than grey, black or brown. Even in the greyness of the light, Felix can tell that his hair is an unnatural golden, highlighted to a point where some strands are a soft yellow. He's got dark roots, but that only seems to accentuate the fact that the colour isn't right.

For a second, the boy simply scanning the building.

And then-

His eyes widen, his mouth opens, and Felix realises with strange certainty that they're making eye contact. 

The boy smiles.

Chapter Text

Chan's heels click down the corridor. The metal grid beneath his feet vibrates with every step he takes, the noise resounding through the whole ship, but Chan would be lying if he said that wasn't the point.

Where is everyone?

He's walked up and down the corridor at least three times now, each one getting more anxious than the last. First checking each and every cabin, even the ones that remained mostly unused. It was strange that they were empty - usually he was guaranteed to catch someone trying to sleep on duty - and even stranger still when each bed had been made with perfect precision. 

Then it was the mess hall. The kitchen joined onto the large room through the back, and there was always someone inside making a snack. The humming of the ovens never quite stopped, and so when Chan had stepped into the hall and been greeted by silence, it had only made him panic even more.

The control room?

Empty. A few computer screens still glowed, but there was no sign of any actual work being done. The ship had been set to autopilot over five hours ago, according to the statistics displayed in the corner of the room, and no one had entered since. 

The communal bathroom?

Empty. There's an eerie absence of running water, and even as Chan checks every shower stall, he knows he's not going to find anyone. He even checks the cupboard where they keep the cleaning supplies, and there are no surprises when that's empty as well.

The engines?

Empty. It takes him a while to crawl through the tiny tunnels to reach the very furthest part of the maintenance corridors, but he knows Jisung often hides himself along these vents. Except, even as Chan squeezes himself down, he's still met with silence.

The medical bay?

Empty. Each roll of bandages is meticulously in place, each container of tablets stored in alphabetical order in the cabinets. There's nowhere else to hide, but he checks underneath each bed anyway. Hyunjin's blaster is stored in the corner, but the boy is still nowhere to be seen.

And so, Chan finds himself walking down the corridor, heels clicking on the grid beneath his feet.

The darkness from outside the windows doesn't soothe his worries, either. In fact, he thinks, as he stops to stare at the farthest speck of what might be a star in the distance, it only serves to make him more agitated.

He's never quite gotten used to being alone, even three years into travelling in space.

"Guys?" he calls, trying not to concentrate too much on how his voice echoes off the walls of the spaceship, "Hello? Where is everyone?"

There's no reply.

Chan sighs and rubs a spot on his forehead. There's been a headache building up there for the past few weeks, but no matter what he does, it doesn't seem to go away. He knows exactly what it's from: a mixture of sleep-deprivation and the stress of their latest mission. But there's really nothing he can do about it. The rest of his team is counting on him to be the leader. 

But even so...

If the spaceship really is this quiet, if everyone really has disappeared to who-knows-where, Chan doesn't have the energy to deal with it at the moment. He's too tired and his head hurts. 

It takes him less than a second to make his mind up. He turns around in one swift moment, making his way back down the corridor and towards his own bedroom. He's lucky in that way - being the captain has meant he doesn't have to share his bunk with anyone else - but it does make the loneliness harder to deal with.

Whatever.

The headache stabs at his temples again, causing him to inhale sharply. The route to his dorm seems to take far too long, and when he does eventually arrive, the door is slightly open. 

Chan stares at the slither of darkness he can see from the corridor with an expressionless face. That's probably not good. They might have space-rats again, and they've only just managed to patch over the hole in lower maintenance where Hyunjin tried to shoot one and missed. Changbin's eyebrows have only just begun to grow back.

But, try as he might, he just can't bring himself to care at the moment. 

He pushes the door open.

And-

The light by his bed flickers on without him pressing it. In front of him, Woojin stands. There's a grin on his face, practically lighting up the whole room, but his body is blocking the rest of the view from behind him. Chan can only begin to open his mouth in confusion, before he's being pulled- down?

It's not hard. This isn't the impact he was expecting from his metal floor, and when he opens his eyes again, Chan finds that he's lying on a mattress in the middle of the floor. Around him, his missing teammates are covered in an almost concerning number of blankets, half-asleep.

He shifts from his space, trying not to move too much. Felix is practically latched onto him already, wrapping his arms around the older boy as if Seungmin isn't lying right across his legs. On his other side, Jeongin breathes right into his ear, wiggling slightly in his sleep. 

Woojin smiles again.

He flicks the light off again, allowing Chan's eyes to adjust to the brightness just in time to see the slightly-older boy make his way across the pile of sleeping bodies. He sits next to Chan, pushing Jeongin slightly out of the way to make room. There's a duvet near that he grabs, forcing Chan's head back down onto the pillow he hadn't even realised was there and covering them both.

Chan opens his mouth to protest again.

Woojin shakes his head. "You deserve this," he whispers, the smile evident in his voice, "For being the best leader. Get some rest."

One of his hands comes up to run his fingers through Chan's hair, a motion that's always made him sleepy, but he freezes halfway there. It seems there's no need.

Chan's asleep before Woojin had even finished his sentence.

Chapter Text

Felix stares down at his bed. 

Nope. This- this is not happening. He refuses to believe it.

For a second, he even considers closing his eyes and just hoping that when he opens them, everything will have corrected itself. Then he remembers that's a stupid solution, and as much as he'd like to have superpowers that could magically fix things, he's not that cool.

And so, instead, he decided that staring at the bed for a few more minutes is the best course of action he could possibly take. 

The soft toy stares back at him.

It's kind of pitiful, in a way. Its eye is barely held onto the soft fabric anymore. The glass bead is scuffed and scratched, dangling off a single black thread. The material of the toy itself is worn and faded, practically see-through in places where the stuffing is visible. Its ear is torn so badly that it's a miracle that Felix hadn't noticed earlier. 

The rest of the toys on the bed also stare back, beady eyes watching as Felix watches in horror. He can practically see the rabbit - if that's even what the animal is anymore - falling to pieces in front of him. He's certain that if he so much as touches it, it'll disintegrate in his fingers.

The thought makes him feel ill. 

This is the rabbit he's had since he was a child. There are pictures of him and it on every one of his birthdays until he was ten, and even then, it had continued to sit proudly between his pillows. 

It's the toy he'd carried in his bag when he'd first moved to Korea, the soft animal he'd used to wipe his tears away when the homesickness had reached its worst. 

If he buries his nose into the soft fabric deep enough, he can still smell Australia's ocean breeze. His mother's perfume lingers between the rabbit's ears, and there's a stain on its left foot from where one of his sisters had thrown it into the mud. 

Someone calls him from outside the room.

Felix doesn't move for a second. He doesn't want to leave, especially not with his beloved toy in such a state. He doesn't want to leave it here destroyed, where one of the other members could easily rip it- or worse.

But at the same time, he's incredibly aware that there's nothing he can do. He's not skilled at all in any kind of needlework, and he's still too embarrassed to ask someone else to help him. It still feels stupid, to be sleeping with a soft toy at this age, and Felix has never quite gotten over the fear of being laughed at.

Whoever is standing outside calls him again. They're more impatient this time, voice edging towards frustration. He can't stay here.

Casting one longing look behind him, Felix makes sure to close the door firmly before he leaves. 

Unfortunately, it doesn't put his mind at rest. It just so happens that he has no free time today of all days, and remains trapped at the practice rooms getting more and more agitated. The other members all leave and reappear throughout the day, and with every person stating that they've gone back to the dorms at some point, the sinking feeling in Felix's chest only gets stronger. 

No one notices that he's been slightly off all day, thankfully, but that doesn't stop him from being jumpy. There's not a single point when he can concentrate, and that fact only serves to make him more worried. 

It's all he can do not to collapse in relief when it's finally announced that they're going to be returning home. Along with the anxiety, the constant practice has also left Felix's body sore. His throat is raw from the sheer amount of times he's gone through his lines, and there are bruises on his knees from misjudging the force he needed to get to the ground. 

It feels like years until they arrive back at the dorm.

As soon as they're in, Felix flies across the hallway. There are a few shouts behind him, wondering where he's going in such a hurry, but Felix isn't in the mood to humour their jokes at the moment. Despite knowing that, really, none of the members will have done anything terrible to his precious rabbit, he still can't stop the doubt from creeping in. 

Where- where is it?

The door slowly creaks behind him, and Felix feels ill. He's so certain that he'd left the toy on top of his blankets, but it's not there. Someone's taken it, someone's gone and stolen it and Felix feels so, so sick. It's gone, gone and he never should have left so eas-

A slither of purple catches his eye.

He's across the floor in a flash, hands shaking embarrassingly. Slowly, heart in his mouth, he peels back the blanket. 

And-

A rabbit smiles back at him.

Almost the same as before, except, this time it's actually smiling. The eye is firmly back on its head, shining with an enthusiasm that Felix hasn't seen on its face for a long time. The torn ear has been sewn back up with stitches so neat that they're almost invisible. The faded fabric is stronger now, and as Felix brings the toy to his face, it's just as soft as he remembers.

Ocean breeze, the salt of the waves crashing against the beach. His mother's perfume between the ears, still beautifully floral after all these years.

And now, lilac and cookies. So familiar, and yet it still takes him a few moments to process. It's the same scent that greets them when they enter the dorm after staying abroad, the smell ingrained into the very floorboards of their apartment.

It smells like home.

Chapter Text

the jisung vs hyunjin betting pool is now open (4)

jisus: ch

jisus: chan

jisus: chan pleawr

jisus: helf

jisus: hel f chsn

jisus: xhan

the tall one: jisung i swear to god just go and get him yourself if you send ONE (1) more message to this chat i will not hesitate to Skin You without any mercy

jisus: chin hwlf

the tall one: aight you cant say i didnt warn you

 

—————

 

Maybe the situation wouldn't have escalated so quickly if Chan had actually picked up his phone. That way, he could have responded to Jisung when he'd first received the messages. That would have very simply stopped the situation from getting out of hand.

The only slight problem being the emphasis on the if at the beginning of that sentence.

Chan had not picked up his phone. He was in his office, doing work (you know, like you were supposed to do if you wanted to keep your job), and sue him if it sounded stupid, but maybe he'd assumed that he could leave his co-workers alone for five minutes without them getting into some sort of life-threatening situation.

Evidently, he'd thought wrong.

"Jisung did what?"

Felix took a step backwards, holding his hands up in a motion that very clearly meant 'I may be Jisung's friend but I am not willing to die because of his stupidity'. He was standing at the very edge of the booth, still close, but just far enough away that Chan could really hope that he'd heard the younger boy wrong. "He may have possibly drunk washing machine liquid."

"How-" Chan rubbed his temples, glancing at his laptop one last time. Goodbye, sweet peace and quiet. Goodbye any chance he had of submitting this report by the end of the day. "How did he manage to drink washing machine liquid."

Felix managed to look extremely guilty. Then he realised how guilty he looked, and opened his mouth in an attempt to defend himself. A shriek interrupted him halfway through his first word.

They both looked in the direction of the kitchen

"Was that Hyunjin?" Chan asked, although he already knew the answer.

"Jisung may or may not have thrown up after drinking the washing machine liquid."

Chan stared at him for a few seconds, losing all will to live. They all knew how Hyunjin felt about vomit. And how he felt about Jisung. It really wasn't a good combination overall, and at this point he wouldn't be surprised if they were already fighting in the kitchen.

Right.

This day was just getting better and better.

"I suppose you want me to do something about it?" Chan asked, already standing up. He didn't bother waiting for a reply

He reached the kitchen in what must have been the quickest time on record (and he should know, considering the list of attempts on the fridge stared at him every time he went to get a drink. The previous record had been held by Felix on a wheely office chair with a leaf blower, but even that was no match for Chan's parental instinct) and immediately sighed.

Jisung was on the floor, dramatically draping himself over the tiles. One arm was thrown over his forehead, in true theatre-kid style. The other was giving the finger to a very angry Hyunjin. The vomit was right next to the fated washing machine, and was a worryingly vivid blue.

And- he looked over to the other side of the kitchen to see Hyunjin. Just as expected, if Jisung was being dramatic then of course Hyunjin was as well. He was sprawled over a chair, fanning himself with what looked suspiciously like someone's birth certificate.

"Chan," he said, gasping for air as soon as he noticed the older boy was there, "Please let me punch him. Please."

Chan stared at him in disbelief, torn between not being able to work out whether Hyunjin was joking or not. Hyunjin raised his eyebrows at him expectantly, and Chan spluttered out, "No."

Hyunjin looked genuinely disappointed at that. "Channie," he pouted, "He deserves it. He drank washing up liquid; there's literally no brain-cells in his head left to kill."

"You're not punching Jisung." 

"Do it anyway," said a new voice. Chan span around, trying to find where the sound had come from, only to spot a kid lying on the kitchen counter like it was a bed. There was a phone in his hands, bubble gum in his mouth, and Chan was pretty sure he worked on the floor below them and therefore should not have been in their kitchen in the first place.

"You don't work here," said Chan, for a lack of better things to say.

The kid raised an eyebrow. "Nope," he said, and immediately went back to filming.

Jisung groaned. Felix, dainty as ever, jumped around Chan, getting his foot immediately caught in a tangle of wires and almost pulling the coffeemaker from the counter as he did so. Chan lunged to pick it up, just managing to catch the machine before it hit the floor, as Felix continued on as if nothing had happened. He rounded the corner and helped Jisung to his feet.

"Chan-" Jisung mumbled, the edges of his lips stained blue.

"Let me punch him!" cried Hyunjin, jumping from his chair now that Jisung was also standing.

"Do it," said the boy who didn't actually work here, popping his bubble gum loudly.

"Please don't actually hit him," Felix said, trying to get back past Chan again and very nearly knocking all the mugs into the sink by swinging Jisung around a bit too wildly.

"Chan?" said Changbin, He was standing by the door, looking like he was trying very hard not to laugh. "What's going on?"

"Ooh!" Hyunjin was across the kitchen in a flash- or at least, he that might have been what he was trying to do. Instead, it appeared that his legs had fallen asleep while he was in the chair, so he was just wobbling very unsteadily towards the door. "Chan! Let me punch Changbin instead!"

"You can't punch Changbin!" exclaimed Felix, looking appalled at the very idea, "He's like, at least 80% muscle!"

"I'm going to throw up again," said Jisung.

"Please, Channie? I really want to punch Changbin!" declared Hyunjin, thankfully still too unsteady to actually get close to the older boy.

Changbin squawked in disbelief, "What! No-"

"Can you shut up?"

The kitchen fell silent. Everyone except for unknown-boy, who continued to film them on his phone, froze. Chan smiled, trying not to make it seem too strained. "Thank you. Now. I'm going to take Jisung to the bathroom. And the rest of you going to clean this kitchen until its spotless."

"Or what?" said Changbin, in a way that was awfully bold for someone who was very close to getting punched.

"Or..." What was there that they actually cared about? Not cleanliness, or just normal human decency. "Or I'm going to ban Light-Up Trainer Friday."

He was met with a chorus of protests. Someone sounded very sceptical, but Chan knew he'd won. No one was about to risk Light-Up Trainer Friday, and with all three- four? - of them helping, it wouldn't take long to clean up. “Off you go, then."

Felix passed him a very pale Jisung, muttering under his breath the whole time. Chan almost felt bad, since it probably wasn't Felix's fault, but he didn’t exactly have the time to apologise, since Jisung was beginning to look more and more ill.

"Chan-"

"We're going!" He swung one of Jisung's arms around his neck, practically dragging the younger boy down the corridor. He was not about to let Jisung throw up on the carpet, since he might have persuaded the others to help out in the kitchen, but it would almost certainly end up just being him scrubbing anywhere else. "Almost th-"

"Excuse me?"

Chan stops in his tracks.

They're so close to the bathroom, just down the other end of this corridor, but he's not rude enough to ignore someone who probably doesn't want to stay in this hell-hole for any longer than he does. He's got the apology ready, and just needs to turn around to address the person prop-

Standing in the corridor, in an actual god.

His hair is soft, shining like honey in soft glow from the blinking light that no one's gotten around to fixing yet. It almost seems to happen in slow motion, sparkling in a way that Chan knows is impossible. He looks a little like a bear, except it's the most handsome bear Chan's ever seen. 

"Uh," says the god, "Have you seen Seungmin go past here? He's about this tall, usually chewing gum, kind of acts like a demon but don't tell him I said that."

Chan's jaw had dropped a while ago. "Are you a god?" he asks, having not heard any of what he'd actually been asked.

Jisung throws up bright blue on both of their shoes.

Chapter Text

Changbin sits, watching as the word goes by. There's a bad feeling in her gut that's keeping her here, keeping her legs dangling off the edge. It's not that she's addicted to the danger, far from it, but she just knows that if she stands up, something bad will happen.

The railing of the balcony is cold beneath her skirt, and her legs are covered in goosebumps as the chill wind sweeps through the city. Not for the first time, Changbin wishes she'd died in something other than fishnet tights and a short miniskirt. 

At least her top half in covered in something more appropriate to the freezing weather. True to the egirl fashion style, she's still wearing her favourite band tee, her arms protected by a white and black stripy long-sleeved shirt. There's a stain on the elbow of her left arm, bright red against the monotone aesthetic of the rest of her clothes, but there's nothing she can do about that now.

Unfortunately for Seo Changbin, she'd only found out that you were stuck in the state you died in, after she'd died.

The long hair she'd wanted to cut to a cute bob? Still there, still getting in her mouth at even the slightest breeze for all eternity. 

The chains at her hip that were just slightly too short? Better get used to looking out of proportions, Binnie. 

The only things he was actually pleased about was the fact her kick-ass makeup had also passed with her to the after-life. She'd slaved for hours over getting the perfect heart beneath her right eye, and had finally managed to find the right shades of pink blush and blue eyeshadow.

"Changbin?"

Changbin turns at the sound of Chan's voice, waving to the other girl when she spots her. Chan crosses the room quickly, sliding open the doors of their apartment and shivering when she steps out onto the balcony.

Chan won't quite go as close to the edge as Changbin or Jisung (something possibly to do with the fact that, you know, she was still alive), but the thought was there. Changbin knows that their apartment hadn't had a health and safety check since the 80s, and with every passing day the cracks at the sides of the balcony got slightly wider. 

The wind howls past again, and Chan rubs her hands up and down her arms. Just like Changbin, her hair is slightly too long to be suitable for windy days, and the blonde curls practically surround a halo. If Chan wasn't so painfully human, and if Changbin wasn't so painfully aware of the absence of an afterlife, she might have mistaken her for an angel. "It's so cold our here."

"I know." Changbin might be dead, but she can still feel. Well, mostly. 

Chan frown at her, shivering with too much emphasis for it to be entirely natural. "How are you not freezing out here?" 

Changbin shrugs. She is, but as if she's going to let Chan know that. It's not like she can get ill or anything, and she's been trapped in the apartment with Jisung for way too long. "We don't feel the cold."

It's a lie, and Chan knows it. "Jisung tells me otherwise." She nudges Changbin's shoulder, asking her to come back inside without any words. "Come on. Us egirls gotta stick together, you know."

Changbin doesn't want to leave. Chan is the psychic - or whatever he wants to call himself - here, so surely she can feel the anticipation in the air as much as Changbin can. Surely, she has the same sick feeling in her stomach, the crawling of her skin.

Except - apparently not.

"Jisung isn't even an egirl," she mutters, trying with every word to distract Chan for a little longer. "She's an emo."

 

Chan opens her mouth, probably about to say something that'll disgrace the whole egirl community, but a call from behind them stops her in her tracks.

"Guys?"

Jisung's eyes are wide, a feature only accentuated by her heavy eyeliner. Her face is uncharacteristically pale, despite the vivid blue of her hair, and she can't seem to stop looking between Changbin and Chan. There's something in her hand. 

"What is it?" says Chan. There's a note of something deeper in her tone, and she pulls Changbin's hand softly, silently signalling that this is probably important. Trying not to roll her eyes, Changbin swings herself of the ledge and lets herself be dragged inside. 

One of Chan's silver bracelets brushes against her wrist as they walk, sending embarrassing shivers down her spine. 

Jisung smiles. It's wide, as heart-shaped and squirrely as usual, but she's obviously nervous. The way her hand goes to her head to pull at her beanie betrays everything, even if she's now hidden whatever she's holding behind her back. "So, uh, the mailbox opened earlier, when you were out, but I only just remembered and-"

"Get to the point," says Changbin. 

Jisung's smile stretches in a way that’s even more fake than before. "I found this."

The sleeve of her hoodie is bitten and torn, and the state of her clothes almost takes Changbin's attention off what the note says. It's not a newspaper, as she might have first though from the colour, but rather a single sheet. Someone's cut and pasted letters from a magazine onto it, neatly stuck into a single line. 

It reads: Seo Changbin was murdered.

Chapter Text

Chan's hands are always cold. There are always people pulling him towards them, dragging him under rainclouds and soaking him in their own problems. They seem so sad that he can't say no, despite having his own rainclouds to deal with, and sure enough he's eventually left in the dust.

He's always got the weight of a hurricane pushing down on his shoulders. It's mostly his own fault, his own pressure that he piles upon himself to get better, better, better.

To improve, to write more songs, to learn more choreography. Every verse needs tweaking. Nothing is quite perfect, and he fiddles with soundboard mixers until his fingertips are numb from turning the knobs too many times. 

His hands are always cold.

It's a cold world, and the rain that soaks through his clothes is proof that it can only get colder. 

Except-

"Sungie?"

He pushes to the dorms open, expecting Jisung to run at him immediately. That's what he usually does when he's feeling little, a glowing ball of energy that lights up every corner of the apartment. As soon as he hears the door open, it's almost always a matter of seconds before there are feet racing down the corridor, usually not without having crashed into at least one wall on the way.

It's not as if Jisung didn't know he was here, either. Woojin had texted him as soon as Jisung had woken up, when it must have become apparent that the younger boy was feeling small. Chan hadn't taken that long to escape the grasp of the thunderstorms at JYP.

Although Chan and Woojin were both technically Jisung's caregivers, and the little was usually fine with just one of them to take care of him, it also wasn't unusual for them both to be there. Especially not now, when they'd only been talking the other day about how long it been since the younger boy regressed. 

So, he waits, a few more seconds, just enough time to give Woojin, who must have heard him enter, the benefit of the doubt. 

Nothing.

Chan frowns. This isn't normal. He closes the door behind him, trying not to think too much about why the dorm is so silent. With every step he takes, the lack of sound only becomes more apparent. Where is everyone? He's not too surprised that the other members have left, especially with their comeback only a few days ago, but little Jisung is not known for being quiet. 

Jisung should be laughing. His child-like giggles should be filling the rooms, or if they just hadn't heard Chan enter, then the television should be playing some sort of cartoon. 

But it's quiet, Chan rounds the corner to the front room, and his eyes widen.

So that's why it's so quiet.

Woojin is holding Jisung against his chest, as the younger boy doesn't look stable enough to hold himself up. They're leaning against the edge of the sofa, surrounded by an explosion of colourful toys, and Jisung's toes are pointing towards each other in a way that makes Chan want to coo.

The toys aren't too out of the ordinary. The fact that Jisung isn't bouncing off the walls is slightly stranger, but not out of the question. Besides, Chan now has a pretty good idea why. 

Jisung's eyes are glazed. He's still awake, but only barely, and that's not the only reason he looks so tired. His hands are clumsy. Every so often, his head drops backwards slightly, as if he's not able to hold it up by himself. Woojin pushes him back gently, smiling when Jisung hums in appreciation.

He's playing with some large building blocks they'd bought a while ago, but not building anything. Instead, he seems more preoccupied with banging the colourful plastic pieces together, hands fumbling over the blocks on the carpet. 

As Chan watches, a block comes up to his mouth. Not to chew, but just to put his lips around in a truly baby-like fashion. It's too big to actually fit, thankfully, and Woojin's gently pushed his hand back down before he can hurt himself.

Chan makes his way around the back of the sofa as quietly as possible, not wanting to get Jisung's attention just yet. Woojin’s eyes follow him as he moves. "Hey."

It's quiet enough that Jisung still doesn't respond. Or maybe he's too engrossed in banging two yellow blocks together to notice. Chan smiles back. "How old do you think he is?"

Woojin shrugs. Or at least, attempts to. He seems to have forgotten that Jisung is propped up against him so dependently, as the action causes the younger boy to flop forwards. His arms go out, but there doesn't seem to be nearly enough strength in the to push himself up, and Chan is around the sofa in the blink of an eye. 

"Hey, baby. Are you hurt?"

It's kind of a stupid question, since he's pretty sure Jisung's regressed to non-verbal at this point. That's only confirmed when, instead of answering, Jisung simply stares at him with big eyes and blinks a few times.

"Are you okay?" Chan repeats, hoping that Jisung will at least be able to understand. When he gets no response at all, he screws up his face and sticks out his bottom lip. "Ouch? Did you go ouch, Sungie?"

Jisung stares back. His hand goes up again, fingers still slightly damp from being in his mouth. There's a moment where he completely misjudges the distance to Chan's face, but he gets there eventually, palm against Chan's cheek, and-

He gurgles with such genuine happiness. There's no way he's able to make out Chan's name when he's this young, but the garbled sound he makes once he realises it's Chan that's in front of him is just as good.

"Hey baby," says Chan, moving Jisung's legs slightly so he's propped up comfortable against Woojin again. Jisung frowns at the movement, pouting with just enough confusion that Chan is back by his side in an instant. As it is now, Jisung is kind of pressed between both of their bodies. He's still trying to grab Chan's face though, so that's got to be a good sign.

"I guess he missed you," says Woojin. Somewhere in Chan's storm cloud, the sun begins to break through.  

Jisung grabs Chan's hand, having given up with his face, and holds onto it like he's never going to let go. It's warm. His fingers are warm, gripping his palm like a lifeline.

He smiles.

When Jisung smiles, Chan forgets about the dark clouds. The hurricane pushing at his back melts into a gentle breeze. Where Woojin's side is pressed against his, a rainbow scribbles out all the grey and black. There's no such thing as rain, here.

"Hey sunshine," says Chan, smiling back, "I missed you too."

Chapter Text

It is freezing.

Snow covers the walkways in heavy blankets, piling up in great swathes where they cross each other. There are some areas, like this, where his boots sink several inches into the ground. And then there are other places in the city where it's almost like the snow had never fallen at all, if you ignore the shovels frozen to the workers' hands as they hide in the side streets.

It's only made closer by the looming shadows of the airships that colour the Golden City's skies.

There's another blisteringly cold gust of wind, and Minho shivers. He's almost certain that this is the coldest passing he's ever experienced, and that's saying something. The outer districts were always said to be colder than the inner cities, something the richer people mostly joked about with sharpened jabs at how the outer districts only contained farmers too poor to afford proper heating.

It was the kind of humour you were born into, no place for the wit of a sharp tongue, and it certainly had no time for Minho.

It's all he could do not to roll his eyes when those whispers turned to his shop, the customer who'd most likely gotten lost half-expected him to join in with the barely disguised insults. He can't blame them, though. There are so many metal workers on Fifth Alley that it would be entirely unfair of him to expect them to realise his shop is more of a 'shack', and that the boundary of Fifth Alley actually ended two metres away.

They never realise, right up until he opens his mouth.

He can't let the way they hurry out offend him though, or he'll spend his entire life chasing after a privilege you can only be born with. He gets enough customers from those like him anyway. They're so predictable that he can easily divide them into two categories without even trying: the country boys with enough dreams for the big city, and the farmer girls with sparkling eyes that drown out an accent for just long enough.

They're the only types who frequent his metalwork shop, where the prices are just cheap enough that they can spend the last of their money on a final attempt to cover up the ruins of their dreams. He never recognises a face more than once, but their eyes are all the same.

Broken.

A warden pushes past him, snapping him out of his thoughts. There's just enough force in the movement to be intentional, and it's more than enough to send Minho into the street wall beside him. His shoulder connects with the cold metal, and a shower of freshly settled snow cascades onto his hair.

"Hey!" The shout comes as instinct, before his mind can put two and two together and realise that it isn't the smartest to yell at a warden. He's seen what they can do with the electric shockers they carry round, and he does not want that to happen to him. Shit. The snow is slippery beneath his boots, but-

The man turns back, shocker at the ready, but Minho is already gone.

The shadows of the airships may make city colder, but he's still thankful for the cover they provide. He slips into the darkness as if was never there, ducking behind the wall and just hoping that the warden is too stupid to follow his footprints.

And he is.

Brushing the residue snow from his hair, Minho turns and continues on his journey. It doesn't take long for him to make his way off the more reputable streets and down the colder alleyways, thanking the stars above that he doesn't run into another warden.

The docking bays are relatively empty at this time in the morning, and the icy metal rungs of the ladders hanging a few feet above the ground don't make the frozen sky seem any more appealing. Here, the airships lie low to the ground. They're nowhere near the colourful streamers of the ones you can see from most of the streets, probably because the ones here are overwhelmingly illegal.

Their metal sides are tarnished and scuffed in a way that makes him cringe, a mish-mash of iron and copper sheets nailed together in terrible attempts to fix holes. There's the overwhelming stench of smoke and he's not surprised that their underbellies are stained black.

Whatever.

He isn't here to critique the craftmanship of the airships, no matter how many obvious faults he can see. It's not his problem if they crash the next time they try to take off, and their owners almost certainly don't have to money to pay for his expertise, even if his rates are three times lower than any of the Golden City natives.

He's here to find Bang Chan and his crew, and that's it.

"Lee?"

Minho freezes. There are just enough people around that the shout isn't necessarily aimed at him. Besides, there are more than enough people with the surname 'Lee', especially here in the poorer areas of the city.

"Lee Know?"

He may be very good at reasoning with himself, but there's no way that this is a coincidence. Minho turns to the source of the sound. The owner of the voice is relatively well hidden in the shadows of where a walkway bridges over the spirals of two conjoining buildings. He can't make out more than what they're allowing him to: a hand gesturing him forwards.

Against his better judgement, he crosses towards it.

Almost as soon as he does, a second hand reaches out from the darkness at such an angle that it must belong to someone else. It grabs his arm, catching him off-guard despite his relatively good balance, and dragging him under the bridge as well.

"Shit. Changbin, are you sure this is him?"

Minho blinks frantically, trying to get his eyes to adjust to the sudden decrease in light. He's not stupid enough to try and reply to the man - boy? - when he obviously wasn't taking to him, but still...

"What do you mean 'are you sure this is him'? You're the ones that called my name, aren't you?"

Okay, maybe he is that stupid.

Nameless-boy squints at him. His hair is wild, a shade of bright blonde that's almost orange, and his cheeks are surprisingly full considering the area they're currently standing in. His companion, who Minho assumes is Changbin, looks more typical of these streets. His face is thin, arms strong, and there are delicate lines of black ink on his skin just peeking out from the neck of his jacket.

"You're Lee Know?" says puffy-cheeked boy. His eyes rake up and down his body, settling the longest on his hands. "Where is it, then?"

Minho frowns, "What?"

Changbin scowls. He's a good few centimetres shorter than himself, Minho realises, but that doesn't make him any less intimidating. The markings by his collarbone have got to be from some kind of gang, and they've got a reputation for taking no prisoners. "Sung, this is too risky. Go and tell Chan we're going to have to leave without it."

'Sung'- or puffy-cheeked boy - doesn't say anything in reply. He melts back into the darkness, pushing a few cardboard boxes out of the way to reveal a rusty door set into the brick wall behind him. He gives the base a well-aimed kick when the handle doesn't work, and enters through it without looking back.

Changbin takes a step closer. There's a crack in the metal of the walkway above them, a gap where the pieces of metal haven't been welded together properly. It lights up his eyes, colouring his irises pale against the flatness of his pupils. Minho can't help but stare.

He can't focus on them for long, though. They dart back and forth in a nauseating pattern of leftrightleftrightleftright until Minho can only wonder how Changbin hasn't made himself ill yet.

Or maybe, he's just become used to reducing the world to a blur.

"Listen," Changbin says eventually, and Minho almost audibly sighs in relief when he sees that he's now looking straight ahead. "You're Lee Know, right?"

Minho nods soundlessly. They'd mentioned Chan, so he's got to assume they must be Bang Chan's messengers. He's got no other option but to trust them.

"About the job," says Changbin, and Minho doesn't miss the way his eyes dart back to the entrance of the tunnel. "Something else has come up, and there's no way we're going to be able to pick it up at the arranged date. I was going to ask you to go back and get it now, but..." his voice trails off, breath hanging in the frozen air.

"Is that why you wanted to meet me here?" asks Minho, more than a bit confused. "Why couldn't you just come to my shop? If Bang Chan wants it fixed so badly, why doesn't come and talk to me himself?"

Changbin steps forwards, fire in his eyes and an insult on the tip of his tongue. And yet when he opens his mouth, something changes in that split-second. His face drains of colour, and he pulls Minho even further into the shadows.

Even from this distance, the sound the wardens' boots make on the snowy ground is unmistakable. He can just about hear the low rumble of a conversation; the occasional crackle of a shocker being held out. Minho's eyes widen. The tattoos, Sung's well-fed cheeks, the secrecy of where they'd asked him to meet up. Shit. He's managed to make a deal with outlaws.

Another boy's head pops out from around the door. He's just as blonde as Sung, but the colour is much more professionally done, contrasting the freckles he could have only have gotten from working in the sun. He goes to say something, but catches onto the tension in the atmosphere before he can speak. As soon as he realises what's going on, his eyes are wide with the same fear reflected in Changbin's as they stare at the entrance in mute horror.

They wait with bated breath until the footsteps get further away.

"We're out of time," Freckles says, as if they haven't already worked that out.

"Shit," curses Changbin. He lets go of Minho's arm as if it had burnt him, picking his way through the strewn cardboard towards the door. "Look, Lee Know, you cannot let the authorities what you've done for us. It may not seem important now, but they will hunt you down and kill you if they find you've ever so much as interacted with us."

Freckles pales, leans over and whispers something to Changbin. His lips move too quietly for Minho to catch what's being said, but he knows it can't be good when Changbin's face drops. He looks back to Minho, and the expression of threatening anger has morphed. In its place is pity.

Hang on.

"Sorry about your shop," says Changbin, as Freckles disappears back behind the door.

Hang on-

"My shop?" says Minho, all too loud. No, not his shop. He'd worked all too hard for that run-down building, he'd saved up almost his entire life for that one pathetic dream of moving to the Golden City. He'd run himself to the bone, built up an empire from the ashes of failure. Not his shop, there has to be some kind of mistake.

The authorities, shit, what's he supposed to do now? He has no family to go back to, no house, no home, no money, and the streets are too cold to sleep on. All his work has come crashing down around him. They must have been looking for something, he never should have taken this job in the first place, and now he has noth-

"Were they looking for this?"

And out of his pocket, Lee Minho pulls the most delicate piece of technology the Golden City has ever seen.

It's in a much better state than when Bang Chan had tasked him with fixing it, and even the list of all those who had failed before him had seemed like nothing when he'd seen how much he would be paid. The golden lid now lies apart from the main body of the compass, revealing the intricate wires and cogs that run along the backing of the face. Despite how his hand lies steady, all three of them can see how the needle swings from one direction to the next in a seemingly random pattern.

A broken compass.

"It's not fixed yet," says Minho, "but I got the lid off without much trying, and-" He gets the idea neither Changbin nor Freckles are listening. They're staring at the cogs in his hand as if they've never seen machinery before.

"No one apart from us has even gotten it open before," says Freckles. His eyes are sparkling, hair shining despite the lack of natural light. Minho blinks. He must be seeing things. The tunnel suddenly seems much brighter than before, the shadows painting the ground all but disappeared.

Changbin shakes his head, standing straight as if he'd just awoken from a dream. "Felix-" he hisses, "Too much." But it's too late. The light has become blinding enough in an instant that it paints Minho's eyelids with colour. It fades, but there's a yell from above them, feet thundering over the thin metal bridge with the familiar crackle of electricity. Fre- Felix and Changbin make eye contact.

"Let's go," says Changbin, but he darts back and takes Minho's arm again, dragging him through the boxes. Their shoes connect with the cardboard, but there's no point being quiet any more, since the light has already revealed their location to anyone within a twenty-metre radius. "You're coming with us."

"I'm not-"

Minho tries to protest, but there's really no point. He doesn't want to be caught by the wardens any more than Changbin does, and there's a bad feeling in his gut that if he stays here, he's probably not going to leave this tunnel alive. Whatever Changbin- whatever Bang Chan and his friends have done, the Golden City is not happy about it.

Felix pulls him behind the door, helping Changbin through and then slamming it behind him. There's another boy waiting with him, who Minho had been unable to see from beneath the bridge. He's got some sort of tech system hooked up to the door, which is looking more and more complicated from this side.

Computer Boy presses a few buttons on his keyboard, the panic on his face only illuminated by the light from the screen. "Hold on," he whispers, turning a few more screws, adding a few more letters to the growing string of what Minho realises is computer code, and then-

"Minnie, come on!" shouts Felix, but computer boy has already slammed the lid of his device shut and is disconnecting it from the rest of the wires.

Changbin still has Minho's arm, and he's dragged through what appears to be an abandoned warehouse. There are enough soot stains on the walls that the imprints of where machinery was pushed to the side are still visible. He's pulled left, and suddenly they're sprinting along a canal, low into the ground.

Minho can't help but wonder where they're going, at what point they're going to stop, and where Bang Chan even is-

"Hey!" shouts Bang Chan from where he's hanging over the railings of an airship, and Minho promptly decides he's never going to think ever again. "Climb on!"

The ship is relatively small. At first glance, it looks just as run-down as every other one in this part of town, but Minho can already tell that Bang Chan's ship is something more. The engine is silent, devoid from even the quietest whistle of air. The cogs displayed on the side are polished and in perfect form, and the despite the underbelly being coated with a thick layer of grime, the way the ship moves is incredibly smooth.

Felix, who'd been in front of Minho, catches the ladder first. He climbs the rungs at an alarming speed, only pausing when he reaches the side of the ship to allow Sung to help him over. Changbin goes next, swinging himself up with surprising grace. He hangs in the air for a few seconds, hand outstretched and waiting, and then shoots up the rungs at a similar speed to Felix when 'Minnie' passes him the device.

Once Changbin has been helped onto the ship, Minnie pushes Minho's back, forcing him to grab onto the ladder. There's a shout from behind them, the familiar crackle of electricity getting louder, and all of a sudden Minnie's yelling "Go!"

So Minho goes.

He climbs faster than he's ever moved before, thanking the stars above him that the compass is safe in his pocket. Minnie grabs the rungs behind him, fingers brushing the soles of Minho's boots, and suddenly they're moving.

The metal is cold beneath his fingers, but it's nothing compared to the adrenaline rushing through his body. There's another yell, but from behind them this time, and for the split-second Minho looks back, he can see that the warehouse has been overrun with wardens. They're sprinting, shockers out, but the airship has already taken off. 

They're in the air.

"Go!" screams Minnie again, and Minho finally unfurls his fingers from the ladder. Climbing has become so much harder as the airship bobs up and down, trying to gain speed and height at an alarming rate. But Minnie's shouts have finally gotten moving, and every step Minho takes upwards is steady.

The ladder bounces with the ship, scraping the rooftop of a nearby building, but Minho keeps his grip. The wardens yell, but their shouts and curses are getting further and further away. The ship finally breaks free of the maze of rooves, and suddenly they're sailing upwards into a clear stretch of air. Minho makes his way up the last few rungs, hoisting himself over the side of the ship, only to collapse onto the decking. 

Holy shit.

There's so much to process, but the adrenaline hasn't quite worn off yet. Instead of collapsing out of exhaustion, or realising that his entire life has disappeared just like that, Minho just laughs. He pulls himself into a sitting position, and wipes the tears from his eyes.

"I'm glad you're finding this funny," says a new voice, a dark-haired boy with regal features. He pouts as Sung helps Minnie over the barrier, sliding the ladder back up onto the ship. 

Minho almost rolls his eyes. Really, he's just been kidnapped by a bunch of- pirates. He's pretty sure that this is the most terrifying situation he's ever been in, and therefore the slightly-hysterical laughter is completely warranted. 

"Ignore him." A hand is extended, and Minho grabs it, letting it pull him to his feet. Bang Chan stares back at him, frowning at dark-haired boy. "Hyunjin is just annoyed that he didn't get the chance to use any of his guns."

Guns? Minho wants to scream, but all that comes out is another faint giggle. He can't believe this is happening. If he looks over the side of the ship, is that great plume of smoke in the distance all that remains of his shop? If he jumped from this height, would the snow break his fall or would the wardens catch him first?

"You're no fun," says Hyunjin, pouting again. Sure enough, there are piles of seemingly random weapons strewn over the decking of the ship. Minho can't recognise a single one, but they're impressive nonetheless. 

Bang Chan only sighs. "We don't want to overwhelm the new recruit, do we?"

New recruit?

Oh, they have got that wrong. Minho isn't a new recruit, and he certainly isn't joining a dysfunctional group of pirates. He almost goes to protest, but the glint in Bang Chan's eyes tells him otherwise. They're steel, a fire hidden away beneath the irises, and Minho suddenly realises that he doesn't have a choice.

Bang Chan's face splits into a grin. "Lee Know," he says, whacking the younger boy on the back, "Welcome onboard the Broken Compass."

Chapter Text

Jisung doesn't think he's ever been this nervous.

Not even in any of the countless exams he's taken, realising half-way through that he probably should have revised. Not even when he'd first told his parents that he was going to drop out of school.

No. This is so much more nerve-wracking than that.

Maybe it's because he's had so long to think over it. He'd spent the whole plane ride here biting his lips and trying to stop his leg from twitching. On the first plane they'd taken, he'd barely been able to stomach the airline food. The thought of eating had simply made him feel even more nauseous. Fortunately, his appetite had returned after about six hours of flying, and he'd eaten all of his dinner and some of Hyunjin's without a second thought.

That had sort of worked. The distraction had meant he wasn't able to overthink, and so the rest of the 12-hour flight was spent playing back-to-back games of battleships with Hyunjin. They'd exhausted every topic of conversation they could think of, and played Hyunjin's Nintendo switch until it ran out of battery.

It hadn't worked much, the beads of red on his bottom lip staying as a reminder of that, but the constant stimulation had at least provided him some relief.

Except-

Now, the moment he'd been worrying over, the meeting that had been keeping him up for the last month, was awfully soon.

'Awfully soon' being in the next ten minutes.

Jisung doesn't even realise he's bouncing his leg again until Hyunjin nudges him. "Stop it."

"Stop what?" Jisung tries to at least make himself seem innocent, which proves rather difficult when Hyunjin simply stares at him blankly.

"You know what."

Jisung sighs. He looks down at his legs, stopping the movement as soon as Hyunjin glares at him. "Sorry. I'm just nervous, you know? I still can't believe this is actually happening."

Hyunjin snorts, trying to hide his laughter and failing miserably. "You think I don't know? Jisung, we've been trapped on the same flight for the past twelve hours. I feel sorry for the poor person who had to sit next to you before."

Right. Jisung buries his face in his hands at that. Since they'd all been travelling in from different directions, it had made sense for the people who lived the closest together to arrive on the same plane, and Jisung had managed to find a connecting flight from where he lived to Hyunjin's country, and then to LA.

It had added an extra hour onto his flight time, in the end, but it had been worth it. The first four hours on his own had been torture, and the face of the old man in the seat next to him still flashed in his mind. Jisung had not been able to sit still the whole time, getting up to go to the bathroom at least six times, and he wouldn't be surprised if at least three people had wanted to murder him by the end of the flight.

"I was nervous, okay."

Hyunjin smiles. Although they'd fought at first, to the point where their friend group had had to create two separate chats - one with Jisung and one with Hyunjin - there was nothing that could come between them now. "I know."

Jisung lets out a shaky breath. He's so nervous, so jittery, and even if his mind knows it's stupid, his heart is so close to backing out. "Hyunjin, I think this was a mistake-"

"You'll be fine." Hyunjin's hand is on his back, rubbing soothing circles into the skin there. It does little to calm Jisung down, but he appreciates the effort. His mind is still aflame with worry, but at least his muscles aren't as tense. "There is nothing you can do that will make Minho hate you, I promise. He's seriously whipped."

Jisung never would have expected this, when he'd first logged onto the chatting site four years ago. He'd spent the first few months drifting between people and conversations, never quite feeling like he fit in. It was fun, sure, and it kept him from feeling so lonely, but it wasn't until Chan messaged him that things really took off.

From Chan, he was introduced to Changbin. And from there it was Felix, then Woojin, then Seungmin, Jeongin, Hyunjin, and finally Minho.

They'd clicked straight away.

"He isn't whipped," Jisung protests, but his heart isn't in it. Instead, it feels like it's going to jump out of his throat, abandoning ship just like his mind wants to.

"Who isn't whipped?"

Jisung's eyes go wide. Nope, nope, this is not happening, he is not ready. But his body ignores the protests of his mind, turning around to face the owner of the voice himself.

Minho.

His hands are clammy. He stands up on instinct, and his legs are shaky beneath him, smile awkward and forced. He's not ready. He's not ready to meet Minho for the first time, not even after four years of talking to him, two years of dating online. He's too nervous, still too unsure.

What if Minho doesn’t like him? What if he decides that now they've met in person, they just don't fit right? That this was all one big mistake, that he'll finally realise that Jisung is too annoying, too clingy and-

Minho pulls him into a hug. He's crying, Jisung realises, his whole body shaking with the force of his tears. They soak into Jisung's back, gaining speed as his hands hold him tighter and tighter. "Minho-" says Jisung, almost gasping for breath. He's being held so close, so warm and familiar, and his skin is on fire from the contact.

"Jisung," Minho pulls back, cups his face and smile through his tears. "Oh god, Jisung, I love you so much."

Chapter Text

It was almost Christmas, and really, Changbin didn't understand the hype.

It was mostly to do with the way he was raised. His parents weren't particularly religious, nor did they think much of birthdays or New Year's. What's the point of celebrating, his mother used to say, cigarette held delicately between her fingers, when it's exactly the same as any other day? His father would agree solemnly, and Changbin would stare down into his bowl of cereal and wish he'd never asked.

There was some logic, he began to believe. He wasn't religious, so it felt understandably wrong to celebrate holidays like Easter, Christmas or Eid. All he had to do was keep his mouth shut when the decorations went up in school, and address ever painted card he was forced to make to himself.

He looked forward to Christmas, eventually, but simply because of the lack of any actual school work. And that mentality was abandoned as soon as he entered senior school anyway.

Birthdays were harder. He knew when his was, of course, but it was nothing more than another tally mark on his list of years alive. Nothing more. When he was younger, he used to wake up with smile on his face and hope in his heart. Creeping down the stairs in such giddy anticipation, knowing that when he opened the door to the living room, maybe this year it would be decorated in colour.

He knew about balloons and streamers, little packets of sweets the other children handed out, bold writing on an invitation that would inevitably end up in the fireplace. He knew about wrapping paper and shiny toys, as he'd spent years lying through his teeth about what he'd received. It was natural to dream.

And every year, his heart broke a little more.

In some ways, it was a blessing when he'd been accepted into JYP entertainment. The house he'd grown up in was stifling. Just like how his parents had pressed every inch of childhood from him, they were determined to do the same to his spirit.

It wasn't on purpose, Changbin knew that much, but it still filled his lungs with a mundane normalcy. He wasn't here to live every day the same as the next, he'd die if he stuck to the same routine for more than a week. Changbin was a child of joy, of short-lived infatuations and the shiny sequins on a pair of child's shoes. 

His parents simply didn't understand that he was suffocating in their routine.

They were proud, of course, that he'd been accepted, even if they fully didn't understand his motives themselves. He'd moved out with a camera filming his every step, and even that hadn't been enough to stop the smile from engulfing his face. 

Nothing could bring his mood down, until he'd first stepped into the dorm and almost walked straight into an oversized Christmas tree.

It was almost Christmas, and Changbin really didn't understand the hype. 

"Sorry!" said a voice. Already pretty shaken from having a branch in his face mere seconds before, Changbin nearly jumped out of his skin. Had that tree... just spoken? No, that would be silly. Sure enough, the tree shook slightly, and out from between the branches climbed Felix. His hair had become a mess of pine needles, and that almost distracted Changbin from the bright Christmas jumper he was wearing. “Did I scare you?”

“No,” said Changbin, glad that Felix was terrible at telling whether someone was lying or not. “I was just wondering where to put my stuff.”

The stuff in question was his suitcase, several more still lying on the landing outside. Felix nodded, gesturing at him to go past. There was just enough room for someone to squeeze through, and Changbin really hoped that Felix wasn’t planning on keeping the Christmas tree right in the doorway. In fact, a better question would be why he’d thought it was a good idea to get a real tree in the first place.

Changbin went to move, but something else caught his eye. Taking up most of the already small space, there were at least ten cardboard boxes stuffed full with decorations. Baubles shimmered from the one closest to him, all shop-bought and matching, whilst he could spot another filled with ones that looked like they were made by a three-year-old.

There was a large pile of tinsel in the corner, and as Changbin watched, Jeongin ran past, chased by Jisung and Seungmin, who were each holding a glittering strand like a whip.

Felix noticed him looking. “You can help us decorate, now that you’re here,” he said amicably, “I’m pretty sure Chris is still somewhere in the tree still. We need all the help we can get.”

Help.

Yeah, right.

Changbin sighed. “I’m afraid I won’t be much help. I’ve never done this before, so I’d just make a mess.”

Felix frowned, trying to work out what that meant. “What? You’ve never decorated, or you’ve never had a real tree?”

“Both.” Changbin bent down to pick up his suitcase, hoping his smile to Felix didn’t seem too stretched. “My parents weren’t big on celebrating anything. I’ll be in my room, unpacking, if you want me.”

He made his way to the bed he’d already claimed, trying not to think too much about why his heart was crying for him to go back. If he’d turned around, even just for a second, he would have noticed how Felix’s eyes followed him, and how his face was deep in thought.

Changbin didn’t realise anything was up. He answered the questions on what he’d always wanted without a second though, not even batting an eyelid when he noticed Woojin in the corner of the room, writing down every answer he gave.

 

---

 

He went to sleep on the 24th just like every other night, already planning to make the most of his day off tomorrow by going on a run. He didn’t take the others’ offer on staying up to watch a Christmas film, although he did take a hot chocolate to his bed-side table before he dropped off.

And he certainly didn’t notice that his room was a lot louder than usual, filled with hushed whispers and the crinkling of paper.

It was only when he first opened his eyes that he realised something was off.

And by something, it was everything.

There were Christmas decorations on every surface imaginable. Tinsel was draped down the walls, held up by what looked suspiciously like sticky tape. Baubles were stapled from string onto the ceiling, and as Changbin sat up his bed, he managed to hit at least three with his forehead.

He rubbed his eyes. Surely this was a dream. Surely, he’ll just wake up in a second.

But with every moment he stayed up, the details only became clearer. The cover on his duvet had somehow been removed and replaced with a Christmas-themed spread, cheery elves staring back at him in garish green and red.

There were pine needles on the floor, but thankfully the tree wasn’t actually in his room. There was something suspiciously green and tall outside of the door though, and Changbin wondered how he’s actually going to get out. And then he wondered how whoever did all of this actually got in with a tree in the way?

Then he looked at the floor, and smiled.

Amongst the piles a shiny presents he hadn’t even noticed before, lie the passed-out bodies of his members. It’s a wonder how he hadn’t heard Hyunjin’s snoring yet, and how no one else is awake. Felix was the only one that stared back at him, glitter coating the whole of his left cheek.

“Felix-“

Felix shook his head. “It’s your first Christmas. Might as well make it as memorable as possible.”

It was memorable. The room was covered in lights, colour and shining brighter than Changbin ever could have imagined. It was still early in the morning, and Changbin tried to put the tear-tracks on his cheeks down to sleep-deprivation. They both knew that wasn’t true, though.

“Thank you.”

Felix smiles again. “Merry Christmas, Changbin."

Chapter Text

Changbin checks his phone again, and sighs.

It's been an hour since Chan had promised he was coming to the studio. There was a song they were working on, and as the Christmas holidays approach, the deadline had been looming in their heads more than ever. No matter how much they tried, no matter how many tweaks and rerecordings they made, it just didn't seem right.

There was something missing.  A certain... element to the melody, a pitch to the lyrics that would just bring it together. Chan didn't agree, and Jisung's opinion was always invalid, but Changbin was sure of it.

It only made sense that he, having a whole day off, buried himself in the music in one last attempt to get it right. Chan, eventually taking pity on him a whole seven hours later, had offered to bring him some snacks. 

He'd texted a few hasty apologies about why he wasn't there, something about a kid brother and- eggs? Either way, he'd said that he'd be there shortly, and that maybe they'd have half an hour to make some more edits.

Changbin checks his phone again.

One hour, one minute and thirty-seven seconds.

It is snowing outside, so maybe Changbin should be giving him more of a chance, but their shared apartment is literally a five-minute walk so Chan really has no excuses.

One hour, one minute and forty-five seconds.

There's a sound from behind him, and Changbin screams. It's slightly embarrassing, especially since he also falls mostly out of his chair and ends up with one leg through the arm hole, but Changbin isn't the type to get easily embarrassed.

This... is his new yoga position. He's been trying it out in the one hour two minutes and thirty-two seconds that he was waiting for Chan to arrive. He's fully prepared to milk this to the very end, crossing his arms that sort of defeats the whole yoga excuse, but oh well.

The door opens. 

And unfortunately for Changbin, who is a (very single) hopeless romantic at heart, an angel walks in.

The Christmas lights seem to shine off his hair. They catch the light in just the way that blond turns to rainbow, sparkling with every shade of blue, red, green and yellow. Changbin can't help but notice how his cheeks glow as well, a soft pink from the cold of the outside.

His cheekbones also shimmer, the barest hint of highlight just making his face seem even more perfect than before. His heart catches in his throat when he notices identical coloured smudges on his eyelids. Pretty shades, delicate pastel pink and purple that makes him seem even more golden. 

There's snow on his coat, which is probably why his hands are wrapped up in ridiculously tiny mittens, and his scarf is pulled so high up onto his face that his nose is barely peeking out of the top. It must be seriously cold outside, going by the gust of wind that had entered when the door had been opened, but Changbin has never felt so warm. 

Freckles.

He has freckles.

Changbin has only known this man for less than a minute, but he's already whipped.

And then, just as Changbin's mouth is about to drop open, Chan appears from behind the angel. He's equally as covered in snow, holding three plastic bags stuffed full of groceries in his hands. He dumps them on the floor as if they didn't spend a grand redoing the floorboards just a month ago, and shuts the door behind him.

"It's like a sauna in here," he says, frowning and shrugging his coat off. A miniature snow-storm falls from his shoulders. 

Changbin can't quite reply. His mouth is dry, and tongue stuck rather embarrassingly to the top of his mouth. He would like to, as it has suddenly become very important that he defends his temperature choice from Chan, who he's slowly becoming more and more certain is actually a cold-blooded animal like a lizard or something.

Curse Jisung for putting the idea into his mind. The picture he'd shown him (A lizard, but you can tell it's Chan because of the fried blond hair) keeps popping into his mind at the worst times. Now he can't even remember what he was trying to argue about. Everything is just lizards, lizards, lizards.

Lizard Jisung, with crooked teeth and puffy cheeks. Exactly the type of lizard that somehow kept getting into your house and drinking all your chocolate milk even though you'd taken away his set of keys.

Lizard Hyunjin, with legs way too long for his body. Padding along and managing to crash into everything, and knowing Hyunjin, even as a lizard he'd still be taller than Changbin. 

And then- A lizard with freckles. Tiny dots running up it's back, glowing golden in the sunlight, sparkling with the lightest shades of pink and purple. A lizard shimmering in the Christmas lights, shoulders still dusted with snow, cheeks red from-

Hang on. That's not a lizard, that's the boy standing in front of him right now.

No wonder that, for one terrifying second, Changbin had found a lizard hot.

"Oh," says Chan, as if it isn't his fault that Changbin was even thinking about lizards in the first place. "I don't think you've met my brother yet? He's here to stay for the holidays."

Now, Changbin does not believe that.

There's no way that someone as perfect as the angel is related to someone like Chan. It's not like they have similar eyes, or that Chan had mentioned his little brother a hundred times before, or that the angel isn't actually protesting Chan's claim.

He refuses to believe they're related.

"Blink once if you've been kidnapped," says Changbin with a blank face, attempting to widen his eyes conspiratorially. He's still half-hanging off his chair, foot stuck in the arm hole and body twisted around. 

Chan's eyes go from Freckles to Changbin when no one goes to talk again, before deciding that Changbin's gone slightly insane and that anything he says from now one should be ignored. No different to usual, really. "Uh. This is Felix."

Felix smiles. A little chorus of angels appear from behind him, blowing into their tiny trumpets and hovering over his golden hair with tiny wings. They look kind of like Jisung, if Changbin squints hard enough, except now he's starting to think he might have hit his head on the floor harder than he'd first thought. 

"Hi." Felix says. He gives a little wave of his fingers - tiny hands!!- and smiles like he hasn't just given Changbin three consecutive heart attacks.

This is it.

This is it!

Felix's voice, it's just the thing he's been looking for. Low enough to make his bones shake, just sweet enough to raise the hairs on his arms, soft enough to give him goose bumps. This is the voice that goes on the track. This- this is fate.

"Chan didn't kidnap me," continues Felix, unaware that Changbin had just been fangirling over his voice for the last few minutes and taking absolutely none of what he's saying in. "But he did give me an egg, a boiled egg, once-"

Changbin points at him. "How would you like to feature in a song?"

Chapter Text

"It's snowing," Minho says, in the same tone of voice that one might announce the traffic. He's sat sprawled out in an oversized armchair, stretching out his legs. There might have been space for both of them if he'd budged over a little, and then they could share body heat, curled into each other with steaming mugs of hot chocolate. Legs tangles up, arms pulling each other closer, fingers intertwined-

Yeah, no.

Maybe that would be possible, but Minho refuses to admit that the 'armchair' is actually a sofa, and therefore claims that it's perfectly justified that he's taking up the whole seat.

"Is it?" Chan's up in a flash, pulling back the curtains of their living room and peering into the street below. The streetlights illuminate the road, absent from the passing of any cars, but there's no snow. The pavement outside their apartment block is abandoned. It might not be snowing, but it's two in the morning and the temperature has dipped below -5. To be walking outside now, you'd have to be insane.

Unless, Chan narrows his eyes at the grey sky, it really is snowing. In that case, it would be perfectly justified and Chan would most likely go out and join them without a second thought.

But it's not snowing. "You better not have lied to me," he calls behind his shoulder, frowning when Minho simply sticks his tongue out at him. "I'm serious! If you lied to me, I will not hesitate to cuddle you right now, and my hands are pre-tty cold."

"Look again."

There's something off. Minho's voice is shaking, his hands curled slightly tighter around the arm of his chair. Chan can't make out the rest of his body from this position, but he's almost certain now that Minho's practically vibrating in his chair.

To an outsider, they might not notice any difference. His actions are all miniscule, barely recognisable from how they might guess that he was tired or angry. They're all buried deep beneath his blank face, and no one else has ever bothered to learn the slightest movements of his lips, or the quirks of his eyes.

Except Chan.

To Chan, Minho is read like a book. His eyes reveal everything, and Chan buries himself in the smallest movements of his body, dedicating every smallest action to memory. Chan can tell what Minho is feeling even when Minho himself cannot.

And so, when Minho's eyes sparkle like this, toes curling in their socks as he hangs ever further off the arm of the chair, Chan can only fight his smile. He'll play the game. He always will.

"Grass?"

Minho is by his side as soon as he speaks, curling into Chan's side and leaning against him with far too much weight. He pulls the curtain even further away, letting their bodies bathe in the yellow glow of the streetlights. "Check."

"Road?"

Minho's arm wraps around his side, pulling them even closer. "Check."

"Grey sky with absolutely no sign of snow?"

Minho scoffs, but beneath the sound is a genuine laugh. It makes Chan's heart skip a beat, makes his cheeks heat up and the hairs on his arms stand up straight. "You need to get your eyes checked," Minho says, voice light. He points to the sky, to the swirling clouds and sparkling moon, "Look closer."

Chan does. He squints, trying to look outside with the same intensity he looks at Minho. There's nothing for a few seconds, just the cold glass becoming colder, and then-

A snowflake. Tiny, but just pale enough that he can see the shadow cast as it floats down in front of the streetlight. And once he's seen one, the whole sky seems to fill with white, melting on the frozen ground, almost like tiny stars against the grey sky.

Oh.

So, it is snowing.

He turns to Minho, grinning, and Minho grins back. The snow might not be sticking now, but it's certainly cold enough that it might be in a few minutes. Even as he watches now, the storm clouds increase with intensity, the white flakes getting larger and larger. "Want to run outside?"

"I thought you'd never ask."

They're sprinting out of the hall in a flurry of laughter and shrieks. Minho's not wearing shoes, and Chan's only in slippers, but there's too much of an infectious happiness in the air for that to matter. Slippers will do just fine, and Minho's trainers don't quite fit anyway, so it doesn't matter if his heels squash down the backs.

It would take too long to find scarfs or gloves, as well. Minho laughs when Chan slips his coat over his pyjamas, but then does exactly the same thing. The fabric is thin, but their hearts are warm enough to keep the cold at bay.

Outside, the snow dusts the ground. It's nowhere near thick enough to build a snowman, and most of it will be gone by the morning, but that doesn't stop Minho from scooping the powder into tiny lop-sided balls. "It's you!" he calls to Chan, before jumping onto the tiny figure.

Chan pretends to be offended, and uses the time while Minho's too busy laughing and distracted to creep up on him, shoving a handful of snow down the back of his coat.

Minho shrieks, bending down and piling the remaining snowmen into snowballs, fingers red from the cold, cheeks burning bright underneath the grey sky. The streetlights light his skin golden, make his hair shine, illuminate every cartoon cat on his pyjama bottoms. 

There's not enough time for Chan to escape, and a snowball ends up hitting the middle of his face.

It's worth it.

Minho laughs, he smiles and dances in the snow, and the whole world lights up.

Chapter Text

"Wake up!"

Woojin shifts in his bed. His eyes are refusing to open, especially with the neon lights of his alarm clock so close to his face. He's vaguely aware that it's still dark outside, since he isn't wincing against the harsh ceiling light of their bedroom, but something must have woken him up.

What time is it?

His eyelids are so heavy. He shifts again, trying to get comfortable so he can forget he was ever awake in the first place. His arm bushes against someone else’s. Chan, sleeping right next to him, lets out an ear-splitting snore at having been disturbed, and Woojin buries his face in the pillow even further. Come on. With every second he stays awake now, the harder he's going to find it to get to sleep later. 

Something tugs at the back of his mind. Why was he awake, again? Something must have disturbed him, he's sure of it. If he casts his mind back far enough, did he hear a voice? He's sure someone had said something, but if Chan's still asleep... He must have imagined it.

The duvet seems to swallow him up. The pillow is so soft against his cheek, Chan's body is warm where they're pushed against each other, and Woojin can already feel himself dropping off again. His thoughts begin to slow down, mouth falling open as his mind begins to shut off.

"Dad sounds like an elephant." 

A tiny voice says. There's a child-like giggle, and then the frantic hushing sounds of someone who hasn't quite grasped the concept of what 'hushing' means. 

"He does!" says the voice again, to another chorus of giggles. There's a pause, a few whispers that Woojin can't quite catch, and then someone makes a very crude impression of an elephant - or, Chan snoring.

Woojin has half a mind to turn over and hope this dream just ends. It's pretty terrible, if he's being honest, and he's kind of disappointed that this is the best his imagination can come up with.

"This is boring. They're not waking up."

He'd much prefer to dream about flying. If his dream is going to be this dull, it could at least be about chicken or something he actually likes. Not something that could just be happening his house at any point.

"Hyunjin, don't-"

Woojin's eyes fly open. The reason that this could be a conversation his kids were having - is because it is a conversation his kids are having. And if they're telling Hyunjin to stop, he has precisely three seconds before- 

Something large, heavy, and yelling at the top of his lungs lands on top of him.

Still sleepy, Woojin struggles with the blankets for a good few seconds. Despite only being five years old, Hyunjin is surprisingly heavy. He's got both of his parents pinned to the mattress, and it's not like Woojin is particularly weak. Or Chan, but he's still asleep.

"Wake up!" says another voice, as Hyunjin finally clambers off. It's still too dark for Woojin to make out exactly who is who, but his eyes are beginning to adjust. Minho- and it has to be Minho, it's too tall to be anyone else - is standing by the light switch. Woojin's heart drops.

"Don't." He manages to mumble, but his mouth feels like it's stuffed with cotton wool and it comes out as more of a croak. 

Minho smiles. He flicks the lights on anyway.

Woojin's hand flies to his eyes, but it's not enough to stop the coloured dots from entering his vision. He groans, pushing himself up from under Hyunjin and peeling his eyes open again. At the end of the bed, his children are perfectly lined up, smiling innocently like the little demons they are.

Beside him, Chan's finally woken up. He joins Woojin by sitting up, hair sticking out in every direction possible. There are lines on his cheeks from where his face has been pressed up against the pillow, and he still looks more half-asleep than conscious.

Luckily, Woojin's fully awake now.

He raises an eyebrow at the kids. "What's this about?"

There are a few shifty glances, Changbin nudging Minho with the kind of side-glance that says 'I told you so'. Jisung and Felix are wearing identical frowns, Seungmin's disappeared behind the bed to play with his plastic dinosaur toy.

Jeongin hasn't seemed to get the same memo as everyone else. With a true three-year-olds innocence, his face splits into a grin, and with both hands raised, he cannonballs onto the bed - right on top of Hyunjin. "It's CHRISTMAS!"

Ah.

So it is.

Woojin glances at the clock beside him. It's five in the morning, but he can't be mad at them. In fact, he's more impressed that they managed to wait until five this year. Last year they weren't as lucky, and everyone had passed out by the time it reached six in the evening. 

Chan shifts beside him. He pulls himself from the covers with relative ease and gets out of bed, stretching slightly. "Oh gosh, I'd almost forgotten! Good thing I had you lot to remind me, or maybe I would have slept through the whole day!"

Felix shrieks with laughter, finding it much funnier than anyone else. His twin, Jisung, looks much more dubious. "All day?" he says, frowning, "But you would get hungry. And I would get hungry, because Daddy can't cook."

Woojin splutters at the insult, but Chan is already interrupting his protests. "All day! I'm just that forgetful! In fact," he pauses, rubbing his chin for emphasis, "I might have forgotten to ask Santa for your presents."

There's a beat of horrified silence.

And then the room explodes. Jeongin looks like he's about to burst into tears, and Jisung and Felix are both yelling at the top of their lungs. Hyunjin's slid off the bed to grab onto Chan's leg, as if that'll make him suddenly remember that he had. Minho and Changbin are the only ones that seem slightly calm, but Woojin is pretty sure they just don't want to be seen panicking in front of the others. Changbin's eyes are certainly swimming with tears anyway, and Minho's cheeks have gotten suspiciously red.

Chan holds his hands up in mock-protest. "Well, we'll just have to go downstairs and check then!"

The kids are out of the room in a flash. Even from the bedroom, Woojin can hear them yelling about taking too long on the stairs, and he rolls his eyes. "Be careful!" he yells, but it's no use. They ignore him. He doesn't have it in his heart to be mad, though.

"Well, that got rid of them quickly," Chan looks back over at him, running a hand through his bed-hair and wincing when he realises what a mess he looks. 

"It's cute," Woojin quickly assures him. Chan smiles, still sleepy and adorably domestic, and then there's a massive crash from the living room. That can't be good. "We should probably go and make sure they don't burn the house down."

Woojin makes his way around the side of the bed, only pausing to crouch down next to Seungmin. The four-year-old is so engrossed in playing with his dinosaur figurine that he hasn't even noticed that everyone else has gone. Woojin feels his heart tug at the sight, having always being incredibly protective over Seungmin. He's not their youngest child, but the way he acts just makes Woojin want to keep him tucked in bed forever. 

"Come on," he says, extending his hand. Seungmin stares at it for a second, before silently using it to pull himself up. Woojin picks him up with ease, knowing without words that that's what Seungmin wants, and together they make their way down the stairs after Chan.

The door to the living room is already open.

It looks like there has been an explosion of paper. Woojin's heart drops, thinking that the kids have gone hay-wire and opened everything, and then he realises Chan and him hadn't actually cleared up last night. They'd been wrapping presents until midnight, and it might have slipped his mind to tidy away the scraps of tissue paper.

"Looks like I did remember," says Chan, wiping his forehead in mock-relief. He collapses onto the sofa, grabbing a squirming Jisung and Felix and pulling them close to his body. "Or maybe everyone's got presents except you two trouble makers."

Felix shrieks, wriggling out of Chan's grip in a way that meant he hadn't been listening to a single word. Jisung, however, looks very proud of himself. "Don't be silly, Dad," he says, pointing a chubby finger at a box near the back of the pile, "I used my big boy letters, and it says Jisung. Look, J-i-s-u-n-g."

There's a pause, as everyone (who can read, though from the way Hyunjin's face is screwed up, he's still on the first few letters) looks over the boy, and- oh, Jisung's actually right. "Smart boy," says Chan, ruffling his hair, "Maybe they're all for you, instead."

The room explodes into chaos. Felix and Hyunjin can't actually tell Chan's lying, and so their faces are horrified. Minho can read, and logically must be able to see his name scrawled onto a parcel at the front, but his eyes are flashing with just as much alarm. Seungmin wriggles further into Woojin's arms at the noise, but his face is bright with excitement. Amongst the chaos, Changbin lets go of Jeongin, who's practically vibrating.

The three-year-old immediately launches towards the pile of gifts.

This sets the room into a whole new round of panic, with even Chan launching up out of his seat to stop Jeongin from opening something that isn't his. 

Woojin smiles.

After all the trouble they went through to adopt every one of their kids. After all these kids have been through, after every meltdown and panic and problem. Here, in a rainbow of wrapping paper, he's never felt happier.

This is his family.

Chapter Text

"What's this?"

Chan turns around, not expecting anything too serious. It never usually is, when Jisung and Changbin are involved, but he'd also thought that once and they'd accidentally exploded Chan's fridge. He's not quite sure what he expects the tone in Changbin's voice to be about, until it's too late.

"This isn't yours." 

In his hands, Changbin holds out a purple crop top. It's light in colour, complete with white bubble writing on the front, and even from this distance, Chan can see the embroidered flowers on the collar. 

There's no way he can lie. If it was anyone else, he could claim that he's trying out a new style, laugh it off as a joke present from his boyfriend, Woojin, and then never speak of it again. 

It's not completely out of the question, considering most people would already find his clothing choices strange. He's gained a bit of reputation for his style, something closer to being called 'eboy' than anything else, and it's hard to admit he hasn't taken some inspiration from it. There are piercings in his ears that he couldn't live without, and his beanie is never far from his head. 

But this isn't 'anyone'.

Holding up the crop top, staring at him with big eyes, are Changbin and Jisung. 

His best friends.

They'd know if he was lying in a heartbeat. Before he's even finished his sentence, Jisung would have read the way his hands had shaken, or Changbin would have noticed the specific way his eyes darted across the room. There's no way he can't tell the truth, but at the same time, he's not ready.

This isn't something he can just blurt out.

This is much bigger than him, much bigger than Woojin and the owner of the crop top. It could ruin everything, and he's just not ready. 

Chan smiles. His hands don't shake, his eyes don't dart across the room, and he says "Don't worry. I'll explain everything at Christmas."

 

-

 

It's not surprising that Minho ends up hearing. Jisung has a loose tongue when it comes to the older boy, and once Minho knows, Chan doesn't expect anything less.

If Minho and Jisung know, then Hyunjin knows. The news will get to Jeongin even if Hyunjin and Minho weren't incredible gossips, and once Jeongin knows, there's no stopping it from reaching Seungmin. 

Changbin may keep his lips sealed, but that doesn't keep him from cornering Chan one night.

The studio is dark. It's only lit up by the blinking of their Christmas lights in the corner, still balled up into a knot that's impossible to undo. Changbin's eyes reflect the colours, the seriousness of his face contrasting with the Santa hat on his head.

"Chan," he says, voice so steady that Chan could almost miss how worried that means he is. "I think... Chan, you know Woojin-"

He stops halfway, obviously struggling, and Chan's heart drops. "Go on," he says, knowing what Changbin's thinking already. "Go on. There's nothing I don't know."

"I think he's cheat- I think he's cheating on you."

It's quiet. Heavy silence, Changbin's breathing uncontrollably loud as Chan tries to ignore the anxiety beginning to scrape at his skin. 

"I already said," he whispers, taking Changbin's hand and squeezing it, "please, wait. I'll explain everything at Christmas. Please just wait until then."

 

-

 

It's awful. The tension in the room is so heavy that Chan's being pushed under. Even if he knows that everything will work out eventually, his friends don't.

As they sit, lined up on him and Woojin's various mismatched sofas and armchairs, he can feel them watching him. They're supressing the urge to whisper, wondering why Chan's stood so awkwardly in front of them. He's almost annoyed, considering how easily they'd jumped to conclusions about him and Woojin's relationship, but he knows in his heart that he can't be mad.

They're just trying to protect him. All they know is the bits and pieces, so it's not wrong of them to jump to conclusions if they though it was protecting him.  

It doesn't mean that their lack of trust doesn't sting, though.

"Chan.." says Minho, uncharacteristically soft with his voice. He cares, he so deeply cares that it's tearing him in half to say what they've all been thinking. "This explanation... Are you sure you want Woojin to be here as well?"

Chan's eyes flash, biting back the beginnings of a reply. He feels ill from keeping this a secret for so long, and the fact that Woojin's not next to him is making it so much harder. He can only imagine what's going through his friends' minds.

But as if he knows that Chan's panicking, Woojin pokes his head through the door. There's the same smile on his face that makes Chan's heart melt every time he sees it, the same smile that makes his snakebite piercings glint in the Christmas lights. There's the shadow of a figure behind him, the faintest hint of a pastel pink jumper behind him. 

He's ready.

They're ready.

This is actually happening.

"So," Chan starts, wincing when it sounds so much harsher out loud. He tugs on his striped sleeves, half-wishing that he hadn't chosen to wear something with so many chains. They brush together with every nervous pace he takes, ringing out in the quiet of the apartment. "I think this explanation is long overdue." 

Woojin steps out from the doorway, and Chan's raises his eyebrows in surprise. He didn't think he'd be brave enough to do this on his own, but if Woojin was now making his way to the front of the room, it's the most obvious reason. "There's something we've been thinking of telling you for a long time."

"Then why didn't you?" Hyunjin calls from the sofa, frowning from where he's leaning against Jisung. "You know we'd never judge you. We might have originally only been friends with one of you, but we'd never take sides. You know that."

Woojin smiles, and Chan's never been this grateful for his patience. "I'm afraid it's not that simple. There's been a lot of variables in this, and we didn't want to tell anyone anything before we were certain. Of course, we didn't plan for you to start piecing things together on your own, though."

There's a pause. And then, "You're breaking up?" says Seungmin, in a small voice.

"No!" Chan shakes his head, and tries not to laugh when there's a collective sigh of relief from the crown in front of them. "But this is just as important."

Again, silence. Chan can practically hear their minds working, see the way Changbin is frowning and the way Jeongin is biting his lip in confusion. He can't blame them, honestly, but that doesn't stop the nerves from bubbling up in his chest.

"There's something we need to tell you," Woojin continues, "Or- Someone you need to meet."

They look up to the door. Their friends' eyes follow them, twisting around in their seats to try and get a better look at the figure standing just underneath the doorframe. 

He's wearing a pink sweater, so oversized it spills out from the side of his light-blue dungarees. The lights colour his skin in red and green, but even then, it's still possible to see the blush on his cheeks, the hint of colour on his eyelids and the glitter dancing amongst his freckles. The sweater swallows his hands, making it hard to see his already tiny fingers when he waves shyly to the boys on the sofa. 

"I think you've been waiting to meet him for a long time," says Chan, and his voice sounds so far away even to his own ears. "This is our boyfriend, Felix."

Chapter Text

Minho makes sure to wipe his feet extra-aggressively on the doormat when he enters, watching with satisfaction as large chunks of snow fall from the heels of his boots. The mat is already soaking, so the force of him practically jumping up and down doesn't really do much except spray water droplets everywhere, but since when has Minho ever been about the practicality.

He's doing this to make sure Felix appreciates him.

It's not the first time Minho has been roped into picking up Felix from his Taekwondo class, but it's usually the result of the younger boy pulling in favours of holding blackmail material right in front of him. There are a few pictures of Minho with his cats that he would rather not have spread around the university, especially with his reputation to uphold.

In fact, despite Minho living only a few blocks away from the taekwondo studio, Minho never even had the chance to offer his services, even if he wanted to. The task of collecting Felix usually fell to Bang Chan and his motorcycle. 

Minho has no idea why Felix would willingly risk his life by climbing onto the back of that death-trap, especially with the rumours last year that Chan had accidentally sent Seo Changbin over the handlebars by stopping to coo at a stray dog, but he isn't her to judge.

He's here to bitterly complain, and that's about it.

It's currently seven at night on Christmas Eve, and there are many places Minho would rather be than picking up his friend from taekwondo class. 

Because, just as fate would have it, Bang Chan's motorcycle had broken down earlier in the day, leaving Felix stranded at the studio with no way to get home. Everyone else was busy (not surprisingly), and so a last-ditch series of puppy-eyed selfies had been sent to Minho, along with an attached location and time.

Minho had replied with a long string of emojis, each with varying degrees of anger and annoyance but he'd been pulling on his coat as soon as Felix had first mentioned he was stuck.

Not that the younger boy needed to know that, of course. 

The receptionist glares at him from across the room, but Minho couldn't care less. What, would she rather he trekked snow through the hallways? It's no wonder that she's still working this late on Christmas Eve if she thinks tutting at him is going to suddenly turn back time. "Sorry," he mutters anyway, but makes sure to brush the snow from his coat onto the floor. 

"Minho!"

Minho looks up, smiling when he sees Felix standing at the end of the corridor. His head is poking out from behind a door, the flashing of Christmas lights just visible from the slither of the room Minho can see. "Lix, you ready to go yet?"

Felix glances behind him, and Minho sighs. Sure, Felix isn't going to say whatever is bothering him outright, but there's definitely something. Going by the way the lights are still on in the practice room behind him, Minho's gonna bet that someone else still there. "It doesn't matter. We can stay for a bit; the snow might even have stopped by then."

"Minho-" Minho's down the corridor before Felix can even protest or explain, and pushing open the door. Felix retracts his head before it can shut on him, almost backing into an oversized Christmas tree in the corner of the room. 

That's not great. Can't have Felix getting too thankful, otherwise they'll be assuming Minho has feelings or something. He's got a cold-hearted reputation to keep up, thank you very much.

"Don't sweat it. You owe me a chocolate button for every extra minute I stay here."

Felix splutters indignantly, having finally disentangled himself from the tree. "You don't even like chocolate buttons!"

"But you do." That’s all that Minho needs to reply. It's way too warm in here for him to be wearing this many layers, so he shrugs off his coat, trying to supress his grin. Felix is too easy to tease. He's not actually going to make him pay in chocolate buttons, but that won't stop the younger boy from believing it.

Someone laughs in the corner of the room. 

Huh.

Helpful as ever, Minho's brain suddenly decides to produce a mental list of supernatural occurrences from every horror film he's ever watched.

Ghost? The building's not old enough for anyone to have died here, and what sane ghost would haunt somewhere that constantly stinks of sweat.

Demon? The laugh had sounded too cute to have come from anyone manly, and no offence, but Minho's not really afraid of twink demons. 

Cute boy sitting in the corner of the room wearing at least three different scarves?

He can't say he's seen that in any scary movies before, but since there actually is a cute boy sitting in the corner of the room wearing at least three different scarves, he can safely conclude that this isn't a horror movie.

In fact-

The boy stands up. He's not wearing a coat, or even a taekwondo uniform, so there's no real reason for him to be wearing so many scarves. They do, however, make his puffy cheeks look even ore squish-able. He's got big eyes, bright blue hair that flops down into his eyes, and he actually finds Minho funny.

This is worse than a horror film.

This is a rom-com.

"This is Minho!" Felix says, waving his hand over Minho as if he hasn't inadvertently caused his downfall. "He lives near here, so we're going to hang out at his apartment until someone can pick me up!"

"Hi Minho!" says scarf boy, smiling with an adorable crooked tooth.

Felix turns to Minho in turn, now gesturing scarf boy. "Minho, this is Jisung! His roommate is holding an impromptu dog-grooming contest at their apartment, and Jisung is allergic to dogs, so he's kind of been exiled here."

"Cats are better." Minho says, nodding at scarf b- Jisung - as if his brain hadn't been imploding less than a minute ago. 

Jisung beams back at him. "Thank you! Finally, someone else agrees with me!" As if prompted, they both turn to raise their eyebrows at Felix for a second, the freckled boy having been very vocal about his preference for dogs over cats. Then Jisung turns back to Minho, cheeks slightly pink. "But... I think I could've guessed. Your jumper is very..."

He trails off, and Minho stares down at his jumper.

Uh oh.

He's wearing that jumper. The one Jeongin had bought him for his birthday last year. It's very pink, very bright, and very much has a heart-shaped print of Minho cuddling his cats on the front, complete with cherry-blossom petals badly edited onto the sides. 

He's pulled it on when he'd seen how heavily it was snowing outside, since no matter how hideous the design is, it's still his thickest jumper. He hadn't thought he would be meeting the cutest boy he'd ever seen, let alone be taking his coat off in front of him.

Rom-com indeed. 

"Why are you wearing three scarfs?" He counters, managing to school his face so that it doesn't seem like he's about to drop dead from embarrassment any time soon.

Jisung's pink cheeks get slightly brighter. He goes to reply, but he's cut off by a loud click. The three of them freeze, looking at each other in confusion, before being plunged into darkness. 

The main lights have gone off. It's completely disorientating, and Minho is just about to re-evaluate his decision between horror and romcom when the Christmas lights come back on. The tree in the corner of the room lights up in every colour, and they instinctively gravitate towards it. 

"What was that?" asks Felix.

Jisung's gone pale. He goes to the door, tugging at the handle. Gently at first, and then violently, confirming what they'd all already suspected. "We're locked in."

"That can't be right." There are records of them entering, and they haven't been the quietest. Surely someone would have noticed that they hadn't left, maybe even checking each room before shutting the place down for the night. "The receptionist saw me enter!"

"You probably pissed her off!" Felix says back, and Minho very quickly shuts up. No one needs to know that. 

There's silence.

This really isn't what he planned for Christmas Eve. He'd much rather be at home, curled up with his cats with a mug of hot chocolate in front of a Christmas movie. Of course, then he'd never have met Jisung, but really? The fact that Felix is here with them means that they're not even at peak rom-com material. 

"Guys," he says eventually, trying not to laugh when Jisung and Felix turn to him with big eyes. "If there's no chimney here, how's Santa going to get in?"

Chapter Text

No one quite knows how the mistletoe in the kitchen actually got there. There's much debate, snide comments thrown around for at least half an hour, and yet they still make no progress. 

Changbin is convinced Jisung and Felix have something to do with it, whilst Minho insists he saw Jeongin looking suspicious in the middle of the night. Eyes turn to Chan at one point, who was awake most of the night and therefore must have heard something, until someone brings up that Chan might have done it himself.

It doesn't matter why they did it. Whoever and whenever isn't important.

The fact is that there was not mistletoe before, and now there is. 

It hangs just above the doorframe, just high enough that it's entirely hidden from whoever entering. It's only after you'd already entered that you'd turn and notice the bright green leaves stapled against the white walls. There are a few berries still nestled between them, pale and glowing in the early morning light. 

"Seriously," says Seungmin, when Jeongin starts to defend himself and the whole kitchen explodes into noise again, "I don't mind."

He's pressed up against Hyunjin, the taller boy with his hands on his shoulders. There's not enough room in the kitchen for all of them to fit comfortably, which is why the two of them are half in the room and half out. Right under the doorframe, and therefore, right underneath the mistletoe. 

Hyunjin leans down to his ear. "They do know we're dating, right?"

They do. The whole argument of pointing fingers is because Woojin had suddenly pointed out the plant just as they'd all filed in to collect breakfast, and in the chaos of trying to work out who was supposed to kiss who, no one had taken the time to notice that the only people actually under the mistletoe were dating. 

No one had put two and two together to work out 'hang on, Hyunjin and Seungmin kiss all the time'.

"They do," Seungmin confirms, trying not to laugh as Woojin gets out the wooden spoon, threatening to whack the next person who tries to accuse anyone else. "I think it's still too early in the morning."

Hyunjin smiles. He spins Seungmin round to face him, raising his eyebrows as Woojin's wooden spoon is immediately tackled out of his hands by a screaming Jisung, and the kitchen very quickly becomes a dog pile. "As entertaining as this is, want to go watch a film with me instead?"

Hyunjin could probably stay here and watch everyone fight all day. If Seungmin wasn't here, he'd probably be the one to have initiated it, and would almost definitely be at the bottom of the dogpile. But he is. And Hyunjin knows that although he may not look like it, but early-morning Seungmin gets overwhelmed much more easily than normal Seungmin. It's too loud and busy in the kitchen, and although Seungmin would never actually admit he wants to leave himself, Hyunjin knows what he's thinking.

"If only it were that easy." Seungmin smiles back at him, taking half a step closer when Minho's hand suddenly reappears from the tangle of limbs on the floor. "Have you forgotten what's keeping us here?"

Oh, yeah.

They both look up.

The mistletoe stares back down at them, as green as ever. It really is stapled, Seungmin thinks, when he notices a glint of metal against the plant's stalk. Not taped down, or anything actually sensible like that, but stapled. There's probably going to be a green stain on the wall until they move out.

He's still looking up when Hyunjin kisses him.

Soft. Light as a feather, Seungmin only notices when he feels Hyunjin's hair tickling his ear. His head is titled to give him better access, the gentlest hint of his breath against Seungmin's cheek. He moves quickly, leaving almost as soon as he'd arrived, the fleeting imprint of his lips still warm against Seungmin's skin.

And then he moves to the next one, even faster this time. So gentle, pulling Seungmin closer and laughing when his face turns a light pink. 

It's no secret between them that Seungmin loves kisses on his cheeks. His mother used to press them to his face every night, murmuring whispers of praise and love, running her fingers through his hair before singing him to sleep. It's not a surprise that Hyunjin had picked up on the habit, pressing his lips to Seungmin's cheeks at every chance he got.

Eventually he draws back. There's a grin on his face that makes Seungmin's heart skip a few beats, and inspires his revenge all at once. 

If Seungmin loves cheek-kisses, then there are no words to express how Hyunjin feels about forehead kisses.

Maybe it comes from being the tallest person in Stray Kids. He does tower over some of the smaller members, and yet Seungmin will never stop marvelling at how small his boyfriend can seem at times. He seems to curl in on himself when Seungmin gets onto his tiptoes, pressing his lips to Hyunjin's forehead just as softly as Hyunjin had done to him. 

Soft, quick, delicate. Fingers brushing over the shell of his ear and tangling in the hair at the base of his neck. Stunning contrast to the brush of his mouth over his skin, so gentle that you could almost forget he was even there. 

Hyunjin's cheeks are just as rosy as Seungmin's by the time he pulls back. 

"Come on," says Seungmin, hushed and smiling. "We don't want to keep the film waiting too long." 

Chapter Text

"You hired this place out?" Jisung sticks his head around the corner, looking very dubious at the concept of Chan actually spending money on something that isn't men's perfume or obscure 2000s EDM music.

Chan frowns. "Why do you sound so suspicious about that? Do you think I'd just be letting us break in?"

"Maybe." Jisung shrugs, ultimately deciding that Chan's right. If anything, Chan's usually the one trying to stop them from breaking into places. The only time he'd actually let them do something fun (and possibly illegal) is when he's too sleep-deprived to notice what they're doing. And considering he managed to walk in a straight line on the way here, there's no such luck. "But you never spend money on us."

"He spends money on me." Felix sticks his tongue out when Jisung gasps, affronted. "Maybe he just likes me more."

Chan rolls his eyes. He's too busy searching for the key to the kitchen complex he's hired to interrupt their bickering. Besides, maybe it'll do them some good to actually fight for once. He knows that Minho's had a bet going about who would win for at least two years, and Chan's confident in his own £20 deposit on Felix. 

"Chan! That's not true, right?"

"Of course it's true. When was the last time he did something for you? He bought me Haagen-Dazs yesterday, and it's the middle of winter." 

There! He finally fishes the key out for the bottom of his bag, slotting it into the lock easily and twisting it. Just as he'd hoped (more like prayed, since hiring prices had been a bit more expensive than he would have liked), the door swings open. 

"Chan! Tell him you like me better!"

"He's making it up, right, Chan?"

Chan spins around on one foot, grabbing Felix and Jisung each by one arm. "Felix, we're literally dating, of course I'm going to buy you Haagen-Dazs in the middle of winter. Jisung, I bought you a whole pineapple two days ago because you were craving it. Can you two please stop fighting and get a move on?"

It doesn't matter if they reply or not, because Chan's pushing them into the kitchen anyway. 

It's large. Along the back wall is a row of ovens, fridges, and other various appliances, some of them safely padlocked away. There's a while and cream colour scheme, which Chan can safely say won't be quite as blinding by the end of the night. 

Just as he'd asked, there are three separate counters lined up in front of them. Each is covered with bags and cartons of ingredients, a large bowls, brightly coloured icing and other sweets. There's even a complicated-looking dispenser of spices in the corner, creaking ominously as Felix eyes it.

Already, Chan feels like this is a bad idea. 

What was he thinking? Felix and Jisung with unlimited sugar, of course that would end up in disaster! He should have learnt from the Candy Cane Incident of 2017! Jeongin was still finding pieces of the striped sweets in his hair a whole two years later, and Seungmin had finally managed to get the last few parts of the broom off the roof of their apartment complex only last month. 

"Maybe we shoul-"

His words die in his mouth, as the familiar scream of tires screeches through the carpark behind them. It's too late now. Maybe he could man-handle Felix and Jisung out on his own, but the horrific sound behind him was unmistakably Minho's neon pink bubble car. 

"We're not that late!" someone yells, loud enough that Chan can hear it from all the way inside the building. There's the slamming of multiple car doors, what sounds like Changbin threatening to throw Hyunjin's shoes over the fence if he ‘knees him in the face one more goddamn time', and the beeping of Minho's phone tracker, handily attached to Jisung at all times. 

Maybe it's not too late.

Maybe if Chan shuts the door now, he can keep the damage to a minimum. Jisung and Felix are chaotic, but they also share about half a braincell between them. If he can just get his body to turn, if he can just move a little faster, maybe he'll survive this night with less than five new grey hairs.

His hand goes to the doorknob just in time for Hyunjin to grin back at him.

"Thanks for opening the door for me, Channie!" he says in a voice that's nowhere near suitable for how close they are together, and pushing past Chan anyway. Completely oblivious to the fact Chan was obviously about to shut him out.  Minho and Changbin squeeze through in the shocked silence Hyunjin leaves behind him.

Minho pauses for a second, leaning near to Chan's ear. "Nice try," he grins, shutting the door himself when Chan stays frozen. 

From there, it takes him a good ten minutes to get everyone into position. The teams were easily decided - with the six of them already being in three couples, any other combination would have been disastrous - but actually getting the positions decided was much harder.

Every time Chan suggested an order (ChangJin table 1, ChanLix table 2, MinSung table 3) there would be a silence of three seconds before someone started to complain. "Jisung has already eaten half the gummy worms from this table!" Hyunjin cried at table 1, Felix had hidden under the table 3 two minutes ago and hadn't been seen since, Minho insisted that the light by table 1 was 'messing with his creative juices'. 

Chan looks at his watch, trying not to sigh out loud.

He'd only had the money to rent the room for an hour. It wasn't his fault really, even if he'd originally had enough for at least double that. In his defence, Felix had really wanted Haagen-Dazs, and what was Chan going to do, say no? 

Maybe he should have, since now they were half an hour into the session, and not one ingredient had gone anywhere other than the floor, Jisung's mouth, or both. 

Time to make a change.

Checking under the counter to make sure that Felix is still alive (he is, and looking very adorable as he rips open his fourth packet of jelly babies - even though Chan was pretty sure the supplies had only come in threes), he climbs onto the table in one smooth motion. "Right!"

That gets their attention. Four pairs of eyes turn to look at him, and a single tuft of Felix's hair appears from the edge of the table. 

"We only have half an hour left. If you do not stop complaining about which table has one less gummy bear, I will not hesitate to kick you outside." He pauses, for effect. "Outside, by the way, has a grand total of zero gummy bears."

Hyunjin puts his hand up, smiling at Chan as if everything he's just said has gone in one ear and out the other. Which it probably has.

"Hyunjin."

"Why are we actually here?"

Chan freezes. That- that does seem like a slight problem. Thinking back on it, he might have not have mentioned what they were doing here in the first place. He smiles back, trying not to let the vein in his forehead twitch.  "We're making gingerbread houses. There are instructions on the table." 

That gets a chorus of 'ooh's and 'aah's as they suddenly realise, that yes, there are instructions on the table that have been there the whole time. Chan chooses to ignore Minho's declaration of "I'm illiterate" in the corner. 

"Any more questions?" Chan's not particularly comfortable standing on this table for too long. He's had too many bad experiences around Seungmin and Jeongin involving handsaws and table legs to put too much trust in anything. Felix appears for a second, and Chan actually thinks he's going to be helpful. But no. He grabs a packet of marshmallows and promptly disappears again. 

Changbin puts his hand up.

"Changbin."

"The instructions say that they take at least two hours to make properly."

Chan freezes. He blinks a few times, before straightening up and smiling as if he's heard nothing. "Then I suppose you'll just have to bake at four times the pace."

The next few moments all seem to happen at once. At roughly the same point in time, Hyunjin and Jisung both seem to decide that - actually, making gingerbread in the first place just seems like a waste of time. Just as soon as Hyunjin picks up an entire bag of flour, Jisung is holding a carton of eggs. 

And in true Hyunjin-Jisung fashion, it takes them about two seconds to start hurtling them at each other. Table 3 becomes a shield in an impressive amount of time, whilst ChangJin focus on stealing all of ChanLix's resources. There's a shriek as Hyunjin tries to steal Felix's bag of marshmallows, and then there's icing sugar making a pretty solid temporary hair-dye in Changbin's hair. 

Chan stands on the table, still smiling at nothing.

Right.

A food fight. This is not how he would have liked the night to go, but he can't say he's surprised. If that's how the ingredients are going to be used up, then so be it. 

A few eggs go whizzing past his face. Changbin and Minho are wrestling in an ever-growing pile of flour, whilst Jisung is rubbing a whole stick of butter onto Felix's arms. Hyunjin's covered in spices, sitting underneath the ruins of what once was a dispenser. 

Slowly, Chan's smile turns from strained to genuine. By his side, Felix yelps. Minho has finally escaped Changbin and is now helping Jisung in buttering him up. 

There are still a whole two cartons of milk by Chan's feet, as he climbs down. He'll just have to worry about how they're going to clean this all up later. The lid of the milk twists off easily, and the noise or satisfaction Felix makes when he sees Chan striding towards him is worth it anyway.

He can worry later. Right now, he has a boyfriend to help win in a food fight.

Chapter Text

It's cold outside.

The windows are frosted over with crystals, milky white and hopelessly opaque. The snow had begun to settle on the pavements outside in the night, and by the time the morning sun was just peering over the edge of the horizon, the busy streets of Seoul had frozen. 

It's white. The snowflakes were large. Fat and hurtling towards the ground at an impressive pace, covering every bare inch of land with a thick blanket. The last few puddles gleam on the ground, shimmering water glinting with hidden menace. The snow had reached up doors, blocked out windows, cracked and twisted water pipes until there was nothing left but cold.

White breath in the air. 

Felix smiles.

His hands are pressed up against the glass, and he barely even notices when they stop leaving warm imprints in the fog. His fingers are blue with just the slightest hint, but his eyes are wide and glassy. Full of wonder. They reflect the last few falling snowflakes, glowing in time with the swirling grey clouds over his head. His palms may no longer melt the cold, but his breath is still warm. 

He keeps himself close to the window, his porthole into the frozen world outside, and breathes out. 

It's beautiful. There's so much that it's impossible to leave. It's piled too high against the doors, so stunningly deep that even the most prepared cars only squeal with the splutter of useless tires. As a result, it's untouched. Apart from the occasional bird-prints, the blanket that has been draped across the world is pristine. 

Jisung sighs beside him.

He'd brought a blanket when he's walked into the living room, only to find Felix pressed up against the glass with wonder in his eyes are no incentive to move. After draping himself over the younger boy for a few minutes, the cold had become too much. He'd trudged back to his room and returned with the thickest blanket he could find, complete with as many pillows as he could fit into his twiggy arms. 

From there, they'd stayed alone in the silence. Watching as Seoul came to a stop in front of their eyes, watching as the world became pushed down, compressed into a monochrome painting. As the sounds of the city died down even as the sun came up, and as the snowflakes never stopped. 

At some point, Jisung had fallen back asleep. His arms were crossed on his chest, giving him a slightly angry expression, but the way his cheeks had puffed out was strangely endearing. His head rests on the pillow he'd brought along, his legs curled around the back of Felix's body. 

Felix smiles. Now that he's fallen asleep, Jisung won't wake up for a good few hours. Even if it's Christmas, his breathing has evened out. A few branches from the Christmas tree are almost too close to their haven of blankets and glass, the bright wrapping paper just beginning to approach on the world of white and grey. 

But he can't look away. He watches, as the snow keeps falling, and his eyes never stop shining with wonder.

A few rooms away, Chan sits on his bed doing exactly the same thing. He has no blanket draped around his shoulders, having donated it to Changbin when the younger boy had come in earlier, but his palms are pressed to the glass in the same way.

There's a phone open on his bed.

His mouth moves, not to blow against the glass, but in the hushed whispers of a conversation that's been going on for far too long. And at the same time, not long enough. There's a contact name on the screen that really shouldn't be there, a space in the bed next to him that shouldn't be empty, and yet this simple call is much more than either of them could have hoped.

They speak about the snow, watching the same sky from two different ends of the country. He describes how Seoul has come to a halt, how the cars have disappeared and the world seems to have gone silent, and in reply he listens to the sound of waves against frozen railings. 

Changbin lies behind him. Mouth open, but breaths quiet. Chan hadn't asked what he was doing here, had smiled when the younger boy had sat on the floor and begun to wrap presents last-minute. The flooring became a rainbow of ribbons and paper, the familiar snip of scissors joining the hum of the conversation. He'd finished a while ago, climbing up behind to Chan to watch the snow, and instantly falling asleep.

There's still a bit of sticky tape stuck to his forehead. Chan describes this in detail, and tries to persuade himself that the laughter on the other end of the call doesn't make his heart hurt. 

At the same time, another room fills with laughter.

Three people shouldn't fit onto one bed, but they do. 

There are two blankets, three pillows and yet no one knows where each one ends. It's a mess of limbs as body heat, feet sticking out of the edge as the room continues to heat up. Hyunjin balances his phone onto his chest, trying not to let it tilt when he laughs, and Seungmin and Jeongin argue about what to watch next. 

They haven't noticed the snow.

It's not quiet here, the lights are on and the peace may never have even existed. The morning is still early and yet their laughs are just as light as always, curtains drawn tight and alarm pushed to the floor.

The conversation moves to discuss gifts.

Seungmin's feet creep back under the duvet, only to be pressed up against Jeongin's shin when they're confirmed to be freezing. He's almost pushed out, arms holding onto whoever is nearest as their whole carefully thought-through balance disintegrates. They end up pushed against each other, closer than before. 

Arms meet arms, legs against legs. It's not snowing in their world, but it's morning and it's just as bright and fresh as the snow could ever be. Hyunjin is too long, Seungmin's feet are always too cold, Jeongin can't sit still for five second before becoming uncomfortable. 

There is not enough room for three people in one bed, but they make it work. 

They always do.

Across the room, Minho hasn't even woken up.

In his world of darkness, curtain pulled against the bed, there is no such thing as noise. He's isolated, but at the same time never truly alone. He can't hear them, can't see them, but the other members never truly leave his thoughts, melting with the blanket of white and freezing all over again. 

 Even if his eyes are still closed, it's snowing in his dreams. 

They're outside, in his dreams.

Warm, even if they're not wearing coats, and the snow never melts. It's filled with laughter and brightness, coloured paper discarded on the floor from abandoned presents. The sun hits the ribbons, making them shine, and Minho twirls the ends around. 

His cats chase after them. 

Chan is there, with Hyunjin and Seungmin and Jeongin, Changbin pulling Jisung and Felix along, Woojin standing just off at the side, and Minho never wants this snow to stop. 

In his dreams, it never has to.

Outside, Felix watches as the last few flakes fall to the ground, and he smiles. 

Chapter Text

Info

So, as requested, I've decided that I shall be adapting a few of these into full fics in the new year.

Unfortunately, I don't have the time to complete them all. Although every one has the potential to become something more, and I'm love with every single concept, I've decided that which ones to be continued will be decided by you!

Which one grabbed your attention?

Which one do you think should be given the chance to expand?

There are only a few rules:

  • Either comment the number, name, or description
  • Please only request three fics or less
  • If there's one you'd like to see continued that isn't here, plese tell me so I can fix it!

 

That's it!

I find your comments invaluable, so please don't be afraid to cast your opinion (I promise I'm not scary)! 

 

The Choices

1. Come Back Home

2000 line as 2NE1's Come Back Home music video. Featuring blond Hyunjin (A CONCEPT!!), kind of Ready Player One-esque. a continuation would follow them in a rebellion against the government, eventually introducing the other members as well

 

2. Rendezvous 18.6y

stray kids 'The Office' au. the other members would eventually be introduced, leading into several sub-plots centred around ships and character development. the main focus would still be woochan, maybe with an eventual overarching plot-line ;)

 

3. Delicate

egirl 3racha go on adventure to find out who murdered changbin. i'd change them back to boys, and there'd be some kind of adventure/mystery vibe going on, eventually explaining all of their backstories

 

4. Broken Compass

minho accidentally joins a bunch of pirates in a strange steam-punk style world. backstory for every member eventually, leading off into an adventure style quest to find out about the broken compass and what it means. kind of based of ateez's concept

 

5. Boy With Luv

changlix comedy. will we find out the secret of Felix's egg? probably not, but more questions will be answered in a rom-com of epic proportions, featuring other ships as well

 

6. Someone's Someone

STRAY KIDS CHILD FIC!! adoptive parents woochan and how they came to adopt the rest of the members. including angst and fluff, and that ultra-important Family Bonding™

 

7. Valentine Boy

woochanlix meet-cute that would turn into the development of their relationship. how did felix meet woochan? how does everyone else react? will felix ever stop putting make-up on his freckles? tune in next week to find out.