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Nothing

Chapter Text

There aren’t any symptoms, though doctors have been trying for years to find some. And there isn’t a cure either, though doctors have been looking for that too. There’s only death. Or disappearance. People would correct you if you say ‘death’ because we don't know for sure if they die .

They simply fade away.

It isn’t a disease either, because, as aforementioned, diseases have symptoms and diseases have cures; this doesn’t.

So what is it exactly? It’s Nothing. Nothing takes you away from the people you love, and Nothing leaves them behind helpless. Nothing destroys. Nothing kills.

Well maybe it doesn’t. Who knows.

It seems to occur at random, to any person, at any time, in any walk of life. The first case broke the nation. The first case started it all.

 

“The fuck you mean he just disappeared in your arms-” Mark is confused, he’s angry, flustered, who can blame him. He doesn’t know the situation, he doesn’t know what happened.

He doesn’t know what Chenle saw .

Chenle’s chest heaves and he struggles to suck in air. His hands shake as he tries to run them through his hair. His legs threaten to give out and his stomach threatens to force its contents up.

“Chenle?” Mark’s voice has softened, concern taking the edge away. He stands up, tilting his head to find Chenle’s eyes beneath the messy hair on his forehead and the veil of terror. He stretches out his arm, placing it on the kid’s shoulder. When Chenle still fails to breathe in properly, Mark pulls him into his arms, wrapping him up tightly. “Hey-” He pats his back, trying to comfort him, but Chenle slowly falls apart in his arms until Mark knows the kid needs to sit down or he’ll fall to the floor completely. He guides him to the chair by the table.

Yes, eighteen people one chair. They’re not exactly swimming in cash.

“Talk to me kiddo,” Mark crouches in front of him, pushing the hair away from his forehead. “Hey-” He pulls his chin up so Mark can look him in the eyes, searching for something .

“We were on our phones,” Chenle begins to narrate the situation, forced to think about it backwards, forced to look at what exactly happened.

He has no fucking idea.

“We were on our phones but Renjun hyung said he wasn’t feeling well,” Chenle thinks back to those moments; how pale his brother was, how suddenly wide his eyes were, how he groaned in agony after having been fine just seconds before. “He was crying he was in so much pain-” Chenle chokes on his words again. This is difficult. This is really difficult. His voice cracks when he tries to speak again, and Mark just sits completely still, Chenle in his arms. He doesn’t want to move, no matter how alarming the story gets. He can’t scare Chenle’s train of thought off the track. “I hugged him. I hugged him where it hurt-”

“Where did it hurt?” Mark whispers into his hair.

Everywhere.”

 

And like that the Nothing took Renjun. He was the very first case, they very first ‘what the hell happened?’, the very first ‘murder’ because when people don’t know what to think, they think the worst.

 

Mark is never going to forget the first wave, because that’s what people call it now. He’s never going to forget how many people he lost, or knew got lost.

The very first wave wiped out close to 80 million people.

80 million.

Gone.

Just like that.

It started with Renjun, but Chenle was the only one present for that one. It got worse after that though.

 

“Mark I need you to come here.” Mark hears Johnny from the next room over, from the kitchen to the living room. “Mark-”

“I’m coming hyung.” He stands from his seat on the floor, crossing the room in just five steps. He stands in the doorway to the kitchen, not looking up from his phone at first. “Yes hyung-” But when he does, the rest of the sentence gets caught in his throat. “Hyung-”

Johnny was boiling water for some sort of dinner he and Doyoung were going to throw together, but Do had stepped out to last minute grocery shop. The rest of the hyungs were out in different places; questioning about Renjun, looking for Renjun (though Chenle is very adamant that the boy purely disappeared in his arms) or running from pain and responsibility.

They all said they’d be back for dinner though.

Mark doesn’t quite know what he’s looking at. Johnny is collapsed against the counter, face contorted in pain. But nothing else looks wrong, he’s not bleeding, the house isn’t on fire, Mark didn’t hear anything happen-

“Mark-” He gasps, legs failing to support him even further. Mark drops his phone to the floor, rushing to his side.

“What’s wrong? What’s wrong?” He doesn’t know what to do. There’s no wound, what the hell is happening? Johnny gasps for air, as if his lungs are collapsing. “Hyung talk to me-” Mark sits him down on the floor, which isn’t very hard to do because that’s where he was headed anyways. “Hyung-”

But Johnny can’t talk. He can’t even breathe. He tries to focus on the motion, in, out, in, out. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

How the hell does he explain he can feel himself dissolve? Fall away? Cease to exist? He can’t, not even if he had the breath to do so.

Mark has no idea what to do. Johnny is dying, and there’s nothing the eighteen year old can do about it.

“Hyung? Hyung-” He holds his hand, he sits beside him, pulling him into his chest. Johnny is so tall, Mark wishes he could hold every single piece of him together.

Mark witnesses first hand what it’s like.

It’s like the deflating of a balloon.

Like a mushroom cloud coming down after a nuclear explosion.

Like the falling motion of a living person’s chest.

Except it doesn’t puff back up with breath. Except the person dies.

Johnny just keeps getting smaller and smaller until the space between Mark’s arms and chest, once filled with the presence of his brother, is empty. Hollow.

He has no idea what’s happened until afterwards. He can’t process anything at all.

The Nothing took a lot of them like this.

Chapter Text

Two Years Later

 

It’s now that the Disappearances are recognized as a monthly occurrence, and it’s slowly understood that eventually there won’t be enough population to sustain human life on earth. It’s just accepted now;

Live as long as you can.

The house is kind of empty. Mark sits in the single chair in their living room at the table while Doyoung and Taeyong talk in the kitchen. He can hear them laugh at times, and it makes him happy to know they still can.

Winwin is curled up on the sofa on the other side of the room, attached to Yuta who flits through his phone absentmindedly, scrolling through old pictures.

Yuta always goes back to the pictures on his phone. Jaemin’s were the best, he thinks, but Jaemin’s phone was trashed when Jaemin disappeared. Yuta wanted to keep it, but Jae ceased to exist early and so the police kept it before they realized what was truly happening. He hasn’t seen it since.

Yuta’s pictures aren’t bad though, but wishes he had taken the time to take more of them. He wishes he had taken Kun out the way he always wanted to for a shoot in the woods, or the park. Kun was beautiful. Yuta doesn’t have enough pictures to remember him by.

He scrolls and scrolls, stopping on anyone he misses.

Johnny, Renjun, Kun, Jaemin, Taeil- all gone before he got to say goodbye. He doesn’t like to think about it, but that definitely doesn’t stop the thoughts from coming. He stops scrolling on that picture of Renjun.

The sun shines on his brown hair like a halo, skin glistening. He’s outside their apartment, and Yuta can still remember why he had taken it; it was Renjun’s birthday. As the memories rush back he can feel the pain taking hold of his chest, ruining his breathing patterns. He turns the phone off, watching the screen go black.

Winwin seems to sense the change.

“You okay?” He doesn’t move yet, waiting for Yuta’s response.

“Of course.” His voice breaks but Yuta pretends it doesn’t happen, and when Sicheng sits up, Yuta looks him in the eyes like his aren’t watering. Whether Winwin notices or not, he sighs and switches positions, able to look over Yuta’s shoulder now at the blank phone screen. Yuta knows when he turns it back on the picture is still going to be there. He doesn’t want to with Sicheng watching, but he’s waiting, almost daring him to do it.

He does, clicking the power button, inputting the password (six numbers that may or may not spell Winwin ), and finally, waiting for the screen to load.

Bam. There it is.

Sicheng’s sharp intake of breath tells Yuta all he needs to know.

“Why are you doing this to yourself?” Winwin asks him quietly, his right arm snakes across his body, taking the phone from his hands. Yuta’s arms stay raised where they were briefly before he lets them fall limp into his lap, sighing heavily. Winwin stares at the photo closely, squinting his eyes to take in every detail. He begins to scroll.

“You’re doing it now too-”

“Shut up.” He says, but then speaks softer. “I know.”

Mark stands up from his spot, bored as hell. He knows what the other two are doing, and he knows it’s unhealthy. It’s only going to launch them further into the helpless depression that seems to suffocate every human he knows now.

“Hyungs,” They look up at him. “Wanna go out?” Yuta throws his legs over the side of the couch instantly, eager to.

“Of course.”

Winwin nods slowly as well, but he’s still staring at the phone. Yuta takes it from him gently, putting it back in his pocket.

“Let’s go.” The two of them stand. Mark is relieved because sometimes it’s hard to get his brothers out of the house. He ducks into the kitchen where Doyoung and Taeyong are leaning against the counter.

“The three of us are heading out, hyungs,” He says. “Incase you guys want to come?” Doyoung looks at Taeyong, but Tae looks so tired. He turns his face back to Mark.

“You go on ahead,” He says, forcing more energy and lilt into his voice than Mark knows is naturally there. “Maybe we’ll get out later.” Mark knows not to argue, it’s pointless, but he worries about what’s going to happen when they leave. Mark knows that Taeyong isn’t always as strong as he appears, and he knows that Doyoung has to carry a lot of his pain inside. It’s like Doyoung has little pockets for each of the members in his heart, where he spends alone time with all of them, listening to them, taking their pain and internalizing it so they don’t have to. But Mark worries that eventually the pockets are going to get too heavy. He wants to take Do aside sometime, he wants to make sure he’s okay. Mark doesn’t want to lose him.

“For sure.” He says, exiting.

The boys have a solid four day window before the Disappearances are going to start again, and it generally lasts for three days. They fall into the same routine, making sure they have everything they need in the house, and then locking themselves in for the duration. All of them, it started with the sixteen remaining after Renjun and Johnny, will stay together in the living room, sleeping, eating, and doing absolutely nothing crazy for 72 hours. Haechan has a theory that the less they move around, literally move physically, the less chance they have of disappearing. He thinks that if they’re undetectable by whatever the fuck this is, they might be okay. This isn’t a proven fact however, but they haven’t lost too many since he’s suggested it.

“Mark!” Doyoung calls from the kitchen just before the three of them are out the front door. He runs back to his hyung, shoes still on. “See if you can find the younger few, please. They’re probably out with a couple other kids but I’d feel better if you were able to tell me you saw them at least.” Mark smiles.

“Of course, hyung.”

 

Chenle kicks a stone as he, a few of his brothers, and some close friends walk down the quiet path away from the nearest green space. They’re heading to their favorite place to hangout, an abandoned movie theater. All of the workers must’ve disappeared, or the owners at least, because it’s definitely not in business anymore.

“Chenle you’re lagging,” Jisung complains from a few feet ahead. Chenle looks up, not even realizing he was travelling slower. He doesn’t even know what he was thinking about.

“Sorry-” He mumbles, jogging to catch up. Yang Jeongin laughs, standing close to Seungmin. The two of them live together with a few other boys, but the blows the Disappearances have dealt them have been further detrimental than that of Chenle’s group, and the two of them live with just two out of seven of their brothers left.

Haechan is even further than the rest of them.

“Get your asses moving!” He calls, and Jeno starts running. Everyone follows.

They reach the movie theater about two minutes later, crawling through the doors’ broken glass to get inside. The boys swore that they didn’t do the breaking when Mark found out where they would disappear to-

They totally did. But it’s not like anyone is ‘home anyways’. It’s been abandoned for a year , and it’s the perfect place to space out.

“Ticket please?” Jisung says, standing behind the old desk that the workers would stand at for hours, just ripping ticket stubs as people enter inside.

“Oh shit-” Chenle pretends to have misplaced it, checking pockets for a ticket he’ll never find.

“Did you lose it, Zhong?” Haechan teases.

“Of course not.” Chenle says matter-of-factly. “It’s right here.” He pulls out a receipt for a bag of chips.

“That’s a Walmart receipt-”

“Shut up it’s a ticket.” Chenle hands it to Jisung who rips it and gives it back. Jeno just walks right past him.

Rude .” Jisung hisses. The rest of the boys laugh and they make their way deeper into the building. The wind blowing outside causes it to howl inside the walls, and creaks and the flapping of old papers can be heard throughout the space.

“It’s never felt so spooky in here.” Jeongin says.

“Which theater today?” Seungmin gestures to the entire hallway, five theaters on each side stretching out before them the way theaters do. Why no one ever reclaimed the space is beyond him, but he guesses that they must’ve, which is fine by him.

“We haven’t visited eight in weeks.” Jeno says.

“We always have the best conversations in eight.” Jisung agrees.

“Conversations take too much brain power-” Haechan complains.

“You just like seven because it was stuck on that shirtless girl for ever .” Jeongin says.

“I DO NOT-” He’s offended and gasps dramatically, taking steps backwards.

“Screens are dead by now anyways.” Chenle laughs, walking between all of them. “Eight it is.” They follow him inside.

It’s kind of terrifying how surreal it is, walking somewhere no one has been for a long time. No one but them of course, but even still, theater eight has hardly been touched.

The boys thought near the beginning that they’d try to clean stuff up, but got bored after two theaters, never making it past one and two. This means everything anyone left behind is still here. They walk up the stairs, choosing two rows so that they can spread themselves out comfortably, but still be close. They pass empty drinks and full drinks, a couple jackets, even some old popcorn.

So old even a group of teenage boys won’t eat it.

Chenle almost jumps when he sits down. In the darkness, he had missed a coat from underneath his chair and was caught by surprise when it brushed his calf.

“Damn-” Jeno says when Chenle pulls it out. It’s not-uncommon, like they observed before, trinkets like this are everywhere, but Chenle hasn’t dared to touch anything personal . This belonged to someone, and by the looks of it, the person had never made it out of the movie.

He looks at it; it’s really nothing special, but something feels disgusting about touching it, like he shouldn’t, or that the owner will burst in any moment and scream at him for picking it up.

But he doesn’t want to put it down either.

This was someone . This coat represents yet another person lost.

Chenle thinks back to Renjun’s last moments, something he does on the daily. He thinks about the pain he was in, the struggle, and eventually,

The silence.

If this person was lost in the movie theater, people must have been around. They must have witnessed it, they must’ve seen the person fold in on themselves, they must have gazed upon loss.

He drops it suddenly, unable to hold onto it anymore. He shouldn't be surprised when it lands in his lap, it’s not like he threw it or even set it away from him, but when it covers his legs he cries out, jumping up. He doesn’t want the emptiness to envelope him too.

Jeno stands up immediately, crossing the aisle in four steps to make it to him.

Fuck Chenle,” He picks up the jacket and tosses it a few rows away, then steps closer. “Calm down.”

The boys had watched it all happen in a silent, detached way. It was like Chenle moved in slow motion. He picked up the jacket and stared at it for a solid three minutes before realizing it scared him at all.

“I’m sorry I’m sorry.” Chenle shakes his head, trying to dispel the feelings entirely. “I don’t know what happened. Jacket just reminded me of something is all-”

Jisung knows what he’s talking about, because after talking to Mark, Jisung was the second to learn about Renjun.

But Jisung doesn’t want to talk about it. He suddenly doesn’t want to be in theater eight at all, because he no longer needs to have a good talk.

He just wants to go home, but home isn’t home anymore.

Chapter Text

Mark, Yuta and Winwin leave the house with no actual planned direction, but they walk shrouded in a comfortable silence that contrasts the dreariness of the apartment, so they’re content.

They head down their street. It’s generally very quiet; people have given up on going outside unless they desperately have to. A lot of people have lost loved ones, and live shuttered up to avoid- avoid what? Sunlight? Mark doesn’t see how that would help at all.

Some places are like time capsules. Like someone up and left never to return, which isn’t exactly wrong. There’s a house at the end of the long string of apartments that no one has dared touch, however the TV is still on.

No one ever turned it off, and Mark has a hard time believing Mr. Lee and his wife are still watching.

He assumes that eventually the power will cut out- the people who run it Disappearing completely- or when no one pays the bills they’ll just cut the house off. Either way, there’s no point in anyone venturing inside to try. The day that TV goes off is the day Mark will truly feel his world sliding from his grasp.

“Where do you think the kids are?” Winwin asks, hugging his arms to his chest in the autumn breeze. Mark thinks for only a moment.

“The theater, probably, they love it.”

“It’s nice there.” Yuta remarks. “I’m glad they’ve got somewhere to go.” The other two nod in agreement. Parents or guardians usually flip out if their children are out of sight, but the younger ones are trusted- maybe wrongly but alas- and as kids themselves, Mark and the others understand the need to be somewhere else . Everyone does.

“We can pick them up on our way back if we want, no rush.” Mark sticks his hands in his pockets. Wind blows through the street and sweeps his hair around, along with some garbage and the leaves of dying trees.

“Damn.” Yuta observes the clouds beginning to roll in. “Should we-”

“It’s fine, I wouldn’t worry. We have time.” Winwin says dismissively before he can even finish asking his question. Mark nods because he knows how much they need the walk. No use in worrying about something that isn’t going to be a problem. The breeze picks up further, but the three of them ignore it.

They’ve left the neighbourhood now, walking downtown. It’s not as deserted as people would think it would be; certain businesses are still open, cars still create traffic in the road. Life goes on, really, it does. It feels less post apocalyptic than one would assume.

So when Jaehyun is spotted from down the road, followed by Lucas, Jungwoo and Ten, the boys are surprised, because the four of them usually spend their days hidden from people, not roaming the streets.

Drunk.

“Oh shit-” Yuta sees them first, grabbing both Mark and Winwin’s arms to stop them. He glances at Mark briefly. As level headed as the eighteen year old is, that’s exactly it; he’s eighteen. Yuta doesn’t know if he should walk him into four very angry looking drunks- it doesn’t matter that they’re brothers.

Yuta also knows however that if they don’t retrieve them cops might, and that would be bad. Really bad. He shakes his head, anger already bubbling up in his veins.

He knows the four of them are going through shit, but so is literally everyone else . He sees the kids reacting in healthy ways, spending time with each other, building relationships and bonds. He sees Mark being smart as hell, getting them out of the house from time to time. He sees Taeyong and Doyoung rely on each other, and Taeyong still leads with the strength he always did. Why can’t these four be mature too?

The boys don’t see them yet, and they dip in between two buildings. Out of sight, Yuta curses. Looking for trouble. Ever since they lost Johnny, these boys have been looking for trouble on the daily.

“Let’s go.” He says, releasing the two to be free to walk at their own will. Yuta pushes ahead, knowing full well how this is going to go. He doesn’t want to have to fight with his brothers, but it’s very possible he might need to. They can be vicious when they’re really in pain.

They fell behind a cute little diner that’s still managed to stay open, and when Yuta passes by he waves at the old woman inside. The Ahjima has owned the place for years, and she smiles brightly in that lovely old person way when she sees him. She’s always offering the boys some homemade cooking for free because ‘ she can’t let handsome young men waste away in times of trial like these. ’ She lost her husband in the very first wave, and her kids very soon after. Yuta ducks beside her restaurant and Winwin and Mark follow suit.

He’s stopped dead in his tracks when Lucas shoves him into the wall.

The breath is knocked out of him instantly and as Yuta struggles to fight for it back, Yukhei pushes up against him harder.

“Lucas stop-” Winwin acts immediately, pushing the boy off of Yuta. “What the fuck are you on?” He says in Chinese. Lucas’ eyes flash but his body fails him when he tries to throw a punch at his brother’s face. Mark pulls Yuta away from the other three while he catches his breath and Sicheng dodges a couple of clumsy hits.

“What’s wrong with you guys?” Winwin says. Jungwoo has a hand on the wall and another on his stomach, alcohol threatening to come back up. Mark presses his lips into a thin line, beginning to make his way towards his brother, but Jaehyun stops him quickly.

“The fuck do you think you’re doing.” Of the four of them, Jaehyun has the highest alcohol tolerance.

He’s drunk, but he’s the strongest drunk.

The most dangerous.

Mark avoids his eyes as to not anger him.

“Hyung, Jungwoo looks like he’s going to be sick, I just want to help him.” He says, voice measured and calm. Yuta, who’s regained a proper breathing rhythm, knows that if he steps forward, Jaehyun will snap. He watches the two of them like a hawk though, ready to intervene.

Ten is leaning against the wall too, but he looks fine, more bored than intoxicated.

“Why does it have to be you, Mark. Why can’t you let someone else handle the situation sometimes?” It’s malicious and Mark flinches. “Who are you, bob the fucking builder? Are we a project you need to put together? Something to fix?”

“Watch it, Ten-” Yuta growls, but this only makes him angrier. He jumps off the wall, advancing on him rapidly. Yuta doesn’t back down though, he’s had enough of their bullshit.

“Enough-” Winwin tries to say, but it’s then that one of Lucas’ punches actually hit home, sending him reeling into the wall, hitting his head. Yuta spins around to defend Sicheng and Ten takes the opportunity to hit him, hard , sending him crashing to the ground. Mark can feel everything escalate further than they expected it too. The electricity in the air, be it from the impending storm or the rising conflict, makes the hair on the back of his neck stand up. He hears Yuta groan in pain behind him as Ten hits him again and again. Mark wants to pivot, but Jaehyun’s gaze holds him in place. He leans closer.

“What’s wrong, Mark?” He says, a laugh on his lips. His breath stinks of something strong and the venom in his voice threatens to taint Mark’s blood and poison his entire system. “You should be happy,” He reaches out, grabbing his chin and forcing him to look up and see him head on. “You should be happy they’re here and not gone.” Mark’s jaw is clenched so tight- and stuck that way because of Jaehyun’s hand- that he thinks absentmindedly that he might crack some teeth. Jaehyun is telling him that he should be thankful they’re present to be abused because the alternative is so much worse.

“You’re wrong .” He struggles to say. Mark wants to see what’s happening. He can tell it’s bad, Yuta and Winwin don’t want to hurt them, but given the circumstances the others don’t seem to care.

“Ten please-

At this Mark rips his head from Jaehyun’s grasp, spinning quickly.

Yuta-

Lucas and Ten have just finished, bored now. They’ve done what they wanted to do in their anger, and Yuta and Sicheng have suffered the consequences.

Mark drops down beside Yuta, who’s rolled onto his side, bleeding and coughing, but apart from being hit- a lot - he seems to be okay. Winwin is as well, and he staggers away from Lucas to regain his breath. It’s over now, and Yuta thinks maybe they’ll listen to reason now.

Mark helps him stand, and Winwin leans against the wall, but he’s present while they confront them for a second time, with a possible better outcome.

Come home .” Yuta breathes just as the first fork of lightning strikes earth.

Chapter Text

“Fuck-” Jeno and the others are just about on their way out of the theater when the storm begins to come down like watery hell on earth. The rain drops are fat and relentless, coming down in sheets and deafening healthy ears. Lightning decorates the sky like vines on the walls of an ancient castle, and thunder roars like a hungry lion.

“Fuck is right.” Seungmin says. His arm is wrapped around Jeongin’s shoulder, and the younger boy cringes. “There’s no way we can get home?” But the question is answered by the storm itself when lightning strikes a nearby tree, setting it ablaze, until the rain water drowns it out.

“Yeaaaaaah, no.” Jeno takes Jisung by the shoulders and turns him right around, doing the exact same thing to Chenle and Haechan seconds after. “I’m not taking you guys out there.”

“It’s late though, hyung. What about the others?” Jisung knows at home the boys will worry.

“Our brothers will be fine, and we’ll be fine if we stay here till it passes. I’m not risking your lives, thank you.” Jeno says to them. He looks at Seungmin and Jeongin as well. “You two aren’t leaving either, right?” He adds ‘right’ like an afterthought because it’s their decision ultimately, but Jeno won’t let them out without a fight, not in this weather. To his relief, Seungmin shakes his head.

“Hell no.” But on the inside he worries, because he knows that Woojin will worry, and that Hyunjin might even come out looking for them. He wishes he had a phone on him, but even if he did they don’t have one at home. He bites the inside of his cheek and holds his anxiety inside. No one else needs to worry just yet.

“Back to theater eight, then?”

“Seven.”

Haechan- ” They all laugh, but in truth the storm strikes fear through every one of their hearts.

No one is going to admit it though.

 

Jaehyun looks up at the sky, watching it rip open. The rain begins to fall so quickly each droplet sends searing pain through Winwin’s skull, just having been smashed into the wall and all.

“No no no-” Mark lunges for Jungwoo, pulling him closer to the group. He doesn’t say anything, debilitated by nausea, which is a small blessing. One less insane person to convince to come home.

“My brain says you fuckers shouldn’t come home,” Yuta spits. “But that’s not what I actually want.” Winwin nods with him.

“We need to go, now .” Mark agrees, looking the other three in the face, Jungwoo attached to his right arm. The rain seems to sober them.

“When does it start?” Jaehyun asks. His voice is low, angry, as if the three of them have done something to piss him off, despite having just abused them .

“When does what-”

“You know what I mean.” When he says this though the anger is gone. There’s no strength behind his voice. Winwin looks at Mark, willing him to speak.

“In about three or four days, hyung.” Mark says quietly. The rain pounds harder and harder as each second passes. “You guys will come home right?” It’s now that Jungwoo throws up, and Yuta scrunches his nose up in disgust. He shakes his head.

Disappointed. He’s just thoroughly disappointed.

That, and his body aches.

“Jungwoo-” Mark pats his back, letting him finish. Mark doesn’t seem to let any of what just happened get in between them. That’s what unconditional love is, and they all share it.

Yuta does too, and so he takes a deep breath and looks Jaehyun in the eye.

“Please,” He bites his cheek. “Come home with us. It’s not safe-” Thunder breaks his sentence in two and he cringes, trying to avoid the fear in his stomach. “-out here.” He thinks of the kids briefly, but he’s sure they made it home well before shit got too gloomy. Ten rolls his eyes, and pushes past them all.

“Whatever.”

Yuta purses his lips into a line, knowing Ten is either heading home or another bar, hopefully the first option.

“Shall we?” Sicheng gestures towards the alley’s exit, and Mark begins to walk Jungwoo out and Yuta and Winwin go as well. All they can do is hope the remaining two- Jaehyun and Lucas- follow.

Yuta is smug when he hears them come.

Ten had waited for them at the edge of the sidewalk, and the seven of them walk home together in silence, save the pounding rain and roaring thunder and winds. They sort of half jog more than they walk, honestly, and when they make it to their street they know it’s best that they sprint. Thunder continues to rattle their skeletons and lighting flashes here and there. Almost home, almost home Mark thinks. They pass the Lee’s house-

The TV screen is pitch black.

Chapter Text

Doyoung starts awake with the sound of the front door slamming. He climbs out of bed, leaving Taeyong fast asleep and forgetting how he even got there in the first place, and tries not to sprint down the hallway. As he reaches the living room though he’s attacked by a wave of nausea and sudden aching tendrils of pain spreading across his chest slowly. He leans against the wall for support, ignoring it, and gawking at the boys who’ve just come home.

They look like drowned rats, but they’re larger in number than when they left.

“Showers, now.” Doyoung pushes himself up completely, walking to them slowly. It’s hard for him to keep his balance. Never had head rush like this before- He cups Jungwoo’s face in his hands. “What the hell did you let him drink?” Jungwoo looks like he’s on the verge of passing out, and all Doyoung wants to do is guide him to a warm shower- his skin is freezing because of the rain- and then a cozy bed.

But Doyoung realizes quickly that taking care of himself is something he might not have the strength to do.

“Do-” Jaehyun lunges for him when his legs give out. His skin is so cold, Doyoung thinks. If it was so cold they should’ve come home sooner.

Doyoung feels like he’s swimming, like his head is going to explode under the pressure of all the water. Agony rips through his abdomen and he can’t contain painful groans. He wants to say he’s okay, he wants to tell them it’s nothing, but he doesn’t have the breath in his lungs.

“Get him on the couch now .” Yuta barks, and Jaehyun and the others lift him up, moving him to the seat immediately. “Winwin go bring me a hot water bottle-” Winwin doesn’t hesitate, but he’s a little confused. Yuta thinks maybe the heat will relieve the pain, it tends to do that whenever someone is ill. Doyoung’s breathing is shallow and rapid but nothing seems to actually make it into his lungs.

“Hyung I need you to tell me what’s wrong-” Mark is kneeling beside him on the couch, hands shaking part from the cold and part from the confusion. The shock. What’s wrong with him?

The problem is that in the backs of their minds the boys know, but because it’s not the time, it’s not the time , it doesn’t occur to them.

“Hyung-” Mark tries again, and Jaehyun smoothes the hair from Doyoung’s forhead, completely sobered.

He’s terrified. Jaehyun is terrified that when he left two nights ago that that was the last time he got to talk to Doyoung, and he’s terrified that the last conversation they had wasn’t a good one. Doyoung is always against them coping that way.

The pain only worsens, something that forces Doyoung to curl in on himself, trying to hold himself together.

What’s happening what’s happening what’s happening - His brothers are panicking. They have no idea what to do, they don’t even know what’s going on. They’ve seen this in lesser intensity- every Disappearance prior had been slightly quieter as painful as it was- and on time . This is early.

Way too early.

The heat pack Sicheng provides does little to dull the pain, and everything happens so quickly no one can process it.

Taeyong wakes up to muffled screams and panicked voices. He sits up in bed immediately, throwing off a blanket and wondering why the hell he let himself fall asleep. Shit always happens when he’s not around.

He jumps off the bed and races down the hallway, almost tripping on absolutely nothing.

Doyoung was present when Taeyong opened his eyes seconds ago, but by the time he’s in the living room, standing in the silence, Do is gone.

Gone.

“What. Happened.” He pants into the haze. The hot water bottle isn’t even done rocking, no longer supported by a body on the couch. Based on the way his brothers are shocked into silence, terror and trauma plastered on their faces, he knows it’s nothing good.

And they’re wet. Why the hell are they wet? Taeyong doesn’t yet know the state of outside, or that the youngest of his kids are still absent.

The wind still howls, thunder still crashes and lighting still singes everything twenty feet tall but in the apartment time has stopped. Their world collapses around them for a sixth time.

“Where’s Doyoung.” It’s not a question, not in the least, and Taeyong’s dread only grows the longer the silence is carried on. Doyoung was with him when they left, he was with him when they were alone, and he was with him when he fell asleep. Not having Doyoung nearby is a feeling Taeyong hasn’t had to feel in years.

It’s sickening.

No one knows what to say. No one knows what to do, they don’t even know if it’s safe to breathe, they don’t even know if they want to.

“I thought you said four days, Mark.” Ten speaks up first after three minutes of staring at the couch where Doyoung used to be. There’s still a small divot from his body weight in the cushion and wrinkles in the fabric. Ten’s voice is low and more chilling than the storm raging outside.

Everyone is frozen, Taeyong stays where he is in the cusp of the space, Mark is on his knees beside the couch, everyone else is standing in a varying half circle arrangement, and nobody dares to move. Mark’s eyes are still glued to the place Doyoung used to take up space.

It was so sudden.

So immediate and direct.

The sickness, the power, whatever the fuck it is wasted absolutely no time. It swooped in, it picked a pillar and destroyed it. Now the entire family threatens to come crashing down.

“Hyung I swear we had four days-” Mark’s voice is a stark contrast to the calm, collected boy they all know on a regular day. His sound is panicked, shaky now, unsure. He knows it, he knows it, he knows they had days to go. They haven’t been wrong in over a year about the schedule, how the hell could he have been now.

Ten doesn’t care. He doesn’t seem to understand that Mark is telling the truth, but when he makes a move to get closer to his brother Jaehyun stops him with a hand on his chest.

“Calm down.” He snaps, voice gravelly. No one says anything else, but nobody knows when it’s okay to move. The water bottle takes this opportunity to fall onto the floor, rolling to stop at Yuta’s feet. Only when Yuta picks it up do people begin to unfreeze. Very carefully, Mark stands up, avoiding touching the couch at all. He still isn’t quite sure what the hell happened, why the hell it happened, or how .

It doesn’t matter how many times or how many people, a person is never going to get used to witnessing a Disappearance.

Never.

Chapter Text

Chenle must have fallen asleep but when he wakes up he can’t remember ever doing so. His head throbs in a way that doesn’t hurt, more like the pulsing of blood flowing through veins rather than a drill at the dentist or a jackhammer at a construction site.

Chenle hates the dentist.

He straightens up in the theater chair, smoothing crazy hair and adjusting the stiffness in his limbs. He cringes when the chair squeaks loudly and winces when one of his legs cracks at the hip joint. The cold cemented his muscles.

As he comes to his senses, Chenle looks around, observing the dark space. It’s quiet, but he doesn’t know if he’d be able to hear the storm in the theater anyways- there was a storm right? He remembers vague details about the evening, but specifics blur together.

He realizes it’s too quiet after about a solid minute of resting in the din.

Chenle stands up immediately, knowing full well he’s alone.

“Jeno? Seungmin?” He races as quickly as he can sideways down the aisle until he’s reached the stairs on the right, and he tries his best not to launch himself down them while he runs at the speed of wind during a hurricane. “Jeongin-” He almost trips at the very bottom, but he straightens up and pushes on, flying around the corner and down the hall until he’s exited theater eight.

All is completely silent in the building.

“Haechan?” Chenle doesn’t run in the empty space. Instead, he walks carefully. He’s never been afraid of the theater before, but now, one hundred percent alone, chills run down his spine.

His heartbeat is in his throat. Were they with me when I fell asleep?

Where the hell would they go ?

Oh my god-

They didn’t.

Impossible.

Chenle forces down the thought. Not for four days.

So where the hell did they go then?

He’s passed the other theaters in the hall, passed the little desk Jisung had pretended to work behind, even passed the very front counter. He’s standing in the middle of the main foyer, facing the doors, where streams of sunlight bleed in and shine yellow on the floor. A beam is so tall it almost touches his shoes, thirtyfive feet from the entrance. Chenle remembers the rain for sure, but it’s gone now, the storm no longer beating down on the earth. It’s peaceful.

When peace is placed in the middle of chaos it’s called something like an oasis. A mirage seen by the dying in the desert so they have something pretty to look at as they take their last breath. A piece of hope, a droplet of water, a bluejay or a mockingbird. Tranquility.

It doesn’t matter that their skin is peeling, or their hair is falling out. It doesn’t matter that water is now just a sweet sweet memory tucked in the back of their mind. It doesn’t matter because in those moments they’re happy. In those moments they’re wrapped in safety, be it real or nothing at all.

But only the lucky get the chance to die inside of it, because most people just pass on through. They see it all crumble before dry eyes and they feel their life slip through their fingers. The don’t drink the water, they don’t hear the bird sing.

It’s disappeared.

The beauty is shattered for Chenle mere seconds after it was put before his eyes. It shatters when he realizes;

He’s truly alone.

 

Taeyong flies to the windows, pulling blinds closed when he spots the raging squall. Shock forces him into action, knowing that as little gray light the panes of glass let in, a storm like that is only going to push his brothers into further panic.

He bites back pain and the urge to vomit. He’s lost another one.

Another one.

Saying the situation is bad is an understatement. Saying it’s erroneous is an understatement. Stating that losing family without having any manner of knowledge or prevention is something that people are going to get used to is a lie. A big atrocious red one. Taeyong thinks the worst thing about this is that he has no control. He can’t do anything to save them and they never fail to fall apart in his arms. Had it not been for Doyoung he’d probably be a drinker like the other four.

But he does have control over the curtains, and he snaps them shut with shaking hands more violently than he’s ever done before.

“It looks like a hurricane.” Winwin says quietly.

“I didn’t think we had hurricanes here.” I didn’t think people could disappear into thin air either . Taeyong ignores Lucas’ comment and turns to just stare at the couch for a moment. What the fuck are they supposed to do right now?

It dawns on him that unless they entered the house while he was asleep-

The kids aren’t home.

“Where’s Jeno?” He says. He knows what they’ll tell him, he needs to ask anyways.

Oh my god the kids . Yuta thinks. In lay of the drunk brothers, needless fighting and the storm, Yuta had forgotten about the kids. He grabs his jacket from the closet, moving immediately.

“Where are you going?” Sicheng stops him just before he can make it to the door.

“Where do you think I’m going? The boys-”

“It’s pouring fucking rain!” Winwin exclaims. “There’s lightning -”

“So what, we just leave the kids in the middle of nowhere because it’s raining?” Yuta is miffed.

The others don’t quite know what to do. Doyoung is gone, the boys aren’t home nor safe for all they know, Yuta wants to go out in a hurricane -

And the Disappearances are starting.

“Yuta I get it-” In fact Taeyong is debating pulling on a jacket of his own. But then what? They go out and get killed? Others Disappear in their absence? “I don’t know if we should.” The rain only intensifies outside.

Yuta looks around like they slapped him in the face.

“You guys are fucking crazy- what about Jisung? Chenle? They were probably with Jeongin- none of them are even eighteen why is it okay to leave them out there?!” His voice rises with panic and lowers with fury at the same time and Winwin is terrified he’ll tear his voice box or something.

“Hey-” He places his hands on Yuta’s cheeks. “Hyung, look at me.” Yuta’s eyes flit to Sicheng’s, wide, betrayed and afraid. “The kids are fine. They’re in a stable building with each other, nothing but the Disappearances can touch them. We have no control over that. If they were here , we would have no control over that.” Winwin’s voice is firm but not angry or poisoned. “Relax.” Yuta’s eyes soften as Winwin wills him to. “ Relax , please. If you go out there, you will get hurt, and no one is safe. Things are going to be okay.” The other boys stand quietly, they don’t want him to go out either, but Winwin’s connection is a little deeper than theirs, and he’ll feel the loss of Yuta slightly differently should the boy be struck by lightning. Yuta breathes deeply, understanding, and although he doesn’t agree fully , he knows Sicheng is speaking sense.

“Come here.” Winwin pulls him into a hug, something not foreign in the house but definitely not thrown around lightly. Yuta is surprised at first, before embracing him back.

Anything if he’s still here, right?

Chapter Text

Chenle makes the realization quite slowly, actually, but he suddenly finds his panic rising up in the opposite manner; faster than a lightning bolt. When did the storm stop? When did they leave him ?

They didn’t Disappear. They couldn’t have because it’s not time yet. It’s close, but it’s not. He doesn’t allow those negative, scary thoughts to register in his mind. Instead, he thinks that he needs to head home, because that’s obviously where they must have gone.

Rude.

“Fuck you Jeno,” He leaves out the honorifics because he’s hurt and he can, Jeno isn’t around to beat his ass for it. He forces his stiff limbs forwards, making his way to the doors and clambering through the broken glass to get out.

The sun is high in the sky and bright, warming his skin that’s been hidden in the dark for hours. It’s been a long time since Chenle has enjoyed any time to himself, and this makes him treasure his walk. He takes his time weaving through the paths and eventually the streets of the city, careful to sidestep a couple passersby. He sees an old man he’s known for years setting tables up in his restaurant. The man doesn’t notice him right away, but when he looks up Chenle waves.

The response is not what he expected.

The man squints his eyes at him, and Chenle squints back, confused. Does he not recognize him? Chenle knows this is okay, the man is old, his memory must be a little off and maybe through the windows he isn’t able to see him clearly. Chenle doesn’t have time to waste going to confront him and he just moves on, taking a right and knowing he’ll be home in five minutes.

When he reaches their street, he slows his walking pace (it had sped up after the encounter with the diner owner) and Chenle wonders why he feels the way he does. He feels gross, and smaller than usual. He hates it, trying to shake the feeling as he goes along.

The house on the end of the long string of apartments looks alive, something that strikes Chenle as off, but in his hurry he notices nothing. He’s only thirty seconds away from the apartment building. So close.

“I’m gonna whoop Jisung’s ass for leaving me-” He mutters, threat angry but void. He pushes inside, runs up the stairs, and soon he’s at their front door. He tries to push it open, but fails when it’s locked. “Damn it.” He knocks, and then he waits.

And waits.

 

The others sit around awkwardly.

They’ve established they aren’t going out- not if the boys are stuck- and they’ve established that no one is stable.

No one is safe.

“Do we have what we need then?” Mark asks. “I mean-”

“It’s started.” Ten says. “Yeah, we should be good.” They’re talking about their routine, about how they live in each others’ presence 24/7 until it’s over. Every moment is precious, and if someone is going to go, they’re going to go surrounded by family.

“The boys-” Yuta says softly.

“Will come back as soon as they can. Chances are they have no idea anything is wrong.” Jaehyun crosses the room in a few steps, trying to get closer to Taeyong, who he can feel is disappointed in him. In the chaos no one has bothered to explain why Yuta and Winwin look like they’ve been mauled, but deep down they don’t need to- they all know. Lucas’ bloody knuckles tell the whole story.

“Then let’s get the shit together-” Taeyong avoids Jaehyun’s eyes at first, and then he remembers who the fuck is boss. “Jaehyun go get some towels you guys are fucking soaked.” He’s colder than Jaehyun’s rain battered skin and Jae’s hand stops midair as he tries to reach for Taeyong’s. His leader’s stare freezes him, and Jaehyun breathes in deeply, knowing what he wants is definitely not in the near future.

He gets it. He’s a dick.

Jaehyun turns around, obeying him immediately and Lucas follows him down the hall to help like a lost puppy. Jungwoo’s legs are still shaking.

“Come here.” Taeyong orders firmly, but he isn’t angry. He leads Jungwoo to the chair at the table, avoiding the couch, no one wants to sit there now anyway.

Once he gets him seated Taeyong heads into the kitchen to get waters for everyone, one for Jungwoo, one for Mark- which he takes to them immediately before going back for more. Ten, Lucas, Jaehyun, he takes those and places them on the table.

Yuta is knelt in front of Jungwoo, trying to use a towel Jaehyun had retrieved to dry his face and hair. Jungwoo is still so out of it he can’t complain, and let’s Yuta manhandle his face in the name of care. Taeyong brings Sicheng two waters for them.

And then that’s it. No one else is home. Taeyong slips back into the kitchen, not used to having extra cups the way he does. It’s a painful reminder of who doesn’t exist anymore, nowhere else except memory of course. He runs the tap while he grabs a glass for himself. He places it under the stream, feeling it grow heavier as it brims. He makes a mistake.

He thinks .

He thinks about the very beginning. When Mark had brought Taeyong the original news, he didn’t receive it well. Who would? People don’t just fucking disappear. Why the hell would he believe him?

“Hyung listen to me please-” Mark was desperate.

“What you’re saying is bullshit, Mark, absolute bullshit. Tell me where the fuck he is.” Taeyong was menacing, almost threatening in stature. “Tell me if he ran away, tell me if he’s hurt, tell me if he was kidnapped but don’t fucking tell me ‘he’s gone.’” Mark hadn’t known what to say, he sat there, dumbfounded while Taeyong raged in a way that Mark had never seen before. It makes sense, but their relationship has never quite healed.

He thinks about Chenle. Chenle didn’t eat for days after, and that’s what told Taeyong the truth. He’s never seen a person so shaken, so broken inside that they stopped functioning. Nothing his brothers tried could fix him, bring him back to normal. They eventually accepted that that might be his normal now, but slowly he returned to someone who could smile. Taeyong was so thankful for that.

He thinks of the others in between. He thinks of how distant Jaehyun and he grew when Jaehyun started drinking. He thinks about the strain on the relationships. He thinks about how Doyoung grew to comfort him.

He thinks of Doyoung a lot, actually.

 

Chenle’s brother opens the door after almost a minute of him just standing there.

Finally hyung-” He looks up into Haechan’s wide brown eyes, light brown hair decorating his forehead.

But it’s not Haechan.

Chenle ?”

Jaemin ?” Chenle takes in his brother in milliseconds before throwing himself at him full force. It’s been months, months . “WHERE DID YOU GO? WHY ARE YOU BACK-” Jaemin hugs him back, but Chenle can feel him hesitating. He pulls him inside, closing the door behind him. “ When’d you get back have the hyungs seen you what happened why -”

“Chenle,” His voice is soft and his eyes are smiling, looking on Chenle with as much love as months built up can appear manifested as. “Calm down.” Chenle doesn’t tear his eyes away from Jaemin, he doesn’t even let go of his wrist. He’s real .

It’s the way Chenle fails to look anywhere else that makes the other boy laugh. He doesn’t notice.

Chenle ,”

Chenle stops breathing. A painful memory flashes behind his eyes, the same voice, the same word, the very last thing said to him . He pivots slower than the drip of molasses in January. Renjun is leaning against the wall in the door of the hallway. The light bounces off his skin and a smile is on his lips.

Fuck Chenle missed that smile.

“What the fuck is going on.” He looks between the two of them. “How’d you get back? Where did you go? Where’s Taeyong he knows you’re here right?” Chenle fights the urge to jump on them both, to hold them close to him and never let them go. There’s no way, no way , they can be back, not after the way he saw them leave. He must still be dreaming. “I’m asleep.” At this the two of them laugh, but quickly the mood changes.

“We wish you were, Lele.” Renjun enters further into the living room.

“When did you guys get back?” Chenle ignores the comment, looking between the two of them.

“Chenle-”

“How long have you been back-”

We’re not back, Chenle.” Jaemin says softly. “ You’re gone.”

Chapter Text

“Chenle? Chenle-” Jisung notices it first.

It starts really slowly, Chenle just shifts in his chair too many times in discomfort for Jisung to drift off. “Chenle-” He stands from his seat a row down, turning around to look at his brother. Chenle’s eyes are squeezed shut, and his hands are in tight, shaking fists. Jisung frowns. “Nightmare, Chenle?” He leans over the seat, placing a hand on his knee.

When he does Chenle’s eyes fly open. He is not asleep, and the fear inside them can hardly be contained by the whites. Shock drips through Jisung’s limbs and he fights the urge to jump at the scare.

“Hyung what’s wrong?” Jisung doesn’t know whether he should panic or not, he isn’t quite sure what the problem is, or even if there is one. Jisung’s frown deepens when he launches himself over the back of his own chair, now entering Chenle’s row. Chenle’s eyes never leave him, and Jisung kneels in front of his shaking brother.

“It hurts.” Chenle forces the two words out through a throat so tightly closed in panic he can hardly breathe.

“What hurts?” Chenle’s shaking is more violent now and Jisung laughs nervously. He can’t do much else. “Hyung- Chenle-” Now it’s obvious something is very wrong. Jisung turns to the others, all asleep. “Jeno hyung!” Jeno starts, looking around for the voice. When he sees his younger brothers, his own fear grows instantly.

He knows too well what this looks like.

Jeno jumps up, sweeping to their sides.

“Chenle what’s wrong?” He asks even though he knows.

“Hyung what’s happening?” Jisung looks at Jeno, terrified. Jeno shakes his head.

“Hush, Ji. Wait.” He says quietly. Jeno pulls Chenle out of the chair and onto the floor in his arms, Jisung follows suit, finding himself sitting on the dust left behind over months and months and months. Chenle shakes, struggling for breath and Jeno’s entire body is tense. He’s angry because he understands the situation. He wishes he doesn’t. He wishes it isn’t happening. “Haechan,” He calls into the theater, not bothering to turn around. He just keeps stroking Chenle’s hair, whispering to him, trying to hold him together but knowing eventually the tighter he squeezes the quicker Chenle will disappear. That’s a lie, of course, a person holding someone tightly won’t make them go away faster, but it feels real. “Jeongin,” The boys begin to stir around them in the commotion, beginning to realize something’s amiss when they can hear Jisung’s crying and Chenle’s anxious yelps of pain.

“FUCK-” Haechan rushes to them, groggy from sleep. “Chenle- Chenle-” Chenle’s eyes are glossy, and he doesn’t even register when Jeongin and Seungmin come to stand awkwardly beside them too. He slowly feels worse and worse, until he feels absolutely nothing at all. His hyung’s arms around his ribcage no longer constrict his breathing, his body no longer longs to writhe in white pain, the feeling ends, the numbness begins.

And it’s when Chenle stops fighting that the situation becomes even more real for the rest of them. Tears escape Jeno’s eyes as much as he tried to fight them back, and Jeongin sinks down to the floor, legs too weak from fear and turmoil to stand anymore.

“No fucking way.” Haechan’s chest heaves, angry sobs wracking his entire being. “ No fucking way Zhong Chenle .” It’s the very last thing their younger brother hears before his body folds in on itself.

Leaving .

 

Jaemin’s heart drops through the floor when Chenle’s eyes stare blankly back at his and Junnie’s when they spoke the sentence out loud. It had sounded nicer in his head, less painful, an easy-ish way to break the news. It’s not Jaemin’s fault, he didn’t have anytime to prepare anything better, he didn’t even know Chenle was coming.

If it was up to him he would never have wanted him to, not really.

It would be selfish if Jaemin wished this fate on the rest of his brothers. Downright rude and terrible. He wouldn’t wish this on his worst enemy . Not if he really thought about it. As sunny as it looks, there’s no way out.

Absolutely no way home.

“No-” Chenle frowns.

“Think about it,” Renjun comes to stand beside Jaemin, speaking softly, slowly as to not scare his brother. “Can you remember?” Chenle’s eyes cloud as he works backwards, as he retraces his steps backwards. The first red flag is the Lee’s house. At home, in the world where everything is real it would be empty. As dead as a house can feel-

But when he passed it just now, it wasn’t. How did he miss that?

Even further back is the diner owner. The diner owner who had frowned. That man understood before Chenle did, because that man Disappeared in the very beginning. So did his kids. Only his wife remains to tend the diner alone, and she’s always giving Chenle hugs he doesn’t need but won’t reject because he knows how lonely she feels.

Shit- ” Chenle’s head pounds and he feels like he might pass out. Jaemin grabs him to steady his reeling body and they guide him to the chair at their table.

The lack of rain, the lack of water after a rainstorm, the brightness of the sun, the thickness of the air. Jeno and his brothers would never leave him, he can’t believe he even thought for a moment that they had. It’s a comfort to know they wouldn’t, but the comfort melts away when he thinks even further back.

Back to before .

The pain echoes back over his chest and he cries out, Renjun and Jaemin seem to understand why this happens though, they experienced it themselves.

“Maybe not that far back Le-” Jaemin starts but Renjun cuts him off.

“Let him remember once, then never again.” Jaemin falls silent at this. He’s been gone for less time than Renjun, and Renjun has walked them all through the process of remembering. Remembering provides closure, but the exact same pain floods back if you relive it.

Chenle is back in the theater, and an anxiety attack is building up in his chest, until he begins to think that maybe it’s a heart attack- and then maybe the very worst of all.

He understood what was happening right away, because he was there for every single one. He’s seen all his brothers die like this.

Maybe that’s why he stayed as quiet as he could at first. He didn’t want them to see him. He didn’t want them to know. He didn’t know which would be more painful; to watch it happen or to wake up without him. He knew that either way if he closed his eyes he himself would not wake up again.

So he squirmed a little, trying to find a way to make it hurt less, trying to hold himself together. His hands formed tight fists that drew blood from his palms and his heart beat fluttered and pounded and switched between the two at a rate that would’ve confused a hummingbird. Looking became painful, in that warm way your eyes feel when you’re sick. He shut them tightly, trying to will away the headache, the red behind his eyes, the tendrils of deadly vine wrapping around his lungs from inside his chest, the way he could feel something slipping in and out of his ribcage, the way his throat closed up. Everything. He wanted to will it all away.

The Disappearing laughs at him like a lion would it’s wounded prey. It laughs at the way he struggles, laughs at his muffled cries and pokes fun at his fear. The pain only intensifies, it only grows gradually worse and worse until Jisung’s hand is on his knee and Chenle’s eyes are flying open in terror and he’s suppressing tears and nausea and Jisung asks him what’s wrong.

What’s wrong.

What’s wrong Chenle, really. What’s so wrong about this.

Why are you fighting? Who is this hurting? You? Do you really think you deserve to fight? Do you think you’re worth fighting for? Why are you fighting? Who is this hurting?

Give up.

Give in.

It- hurts .”

You deserve it. Why wouldn’t it hurt.

Chenle’s memory skips forwards, right to the very end.

Jeno was whispering into his hair, holding him while he convulsed and tried to ignore the voice and the shock and agony. It’s Jeno’s voice telling him he loves him, and then it’s Haechan’s voice in disbelief as Chenle finally let’s go.

I’m sorry- He wanted to say. I’m sorry I’m trying I’m really trying-

And then the memory becomes darkness, and so does Chenle’s brand new world.

Jaemin looks at Renjun who looks at Chenle, slumped back in the chair. Renjun sighs heavily, pursing his lips and shaking his head.

“I’m so sorry kiddo.” He says to the unconscious boy in front of them. Jaemin wraps Chenle in a hug, more so for Jaemin than for Chenle, and then picks him up in his arms. Renjun heads into the kitchen to grab a glass of water for when the kid wakes up, and then the three of them- Chenle still wrapped up in Jaemin’s arms, head into one of the bedrooms, the one Chenle knew the best in the other world.

Jaemin opts to lie him down on the bed closest to the window.

“Is that his actual bunk?” Renjun asks. He worries for a brief second when there isn’t a pillow in sight on that particular bed, but when Chenle is stretched out, one appears to support his head. Jaemin must’ve known it was there from when he was- alive? Alive isn’t the right word. They’re alive right now, but even over two years Renjun hasn’t been able to come up with any sort of name for either side of his life.

Is this Fake Life? And the old world Real Life? This world is just as real as Real Life with exceptions still… Renjun never bothered to wrap his head around it. He didn’t need to.

Based on how bear the room appears to Renjun, he knows he didn’t spend very much time in it in ‘Real Life’. What he’s gathered, based on how life works around here, is that you’re limited to what you can remember. If you can’t remember it 100%, then chances are it isn’t going to show up here for you. Renjun knew this room existed, he knew the layout of the bunks, and he knew basics like how Lucas’ Avengers Thor blanket would be spread across his bed or that Haechan’s favorite poster hangs on the wall, except to Renjun the poster is blank because he never bothered in ‘Real Life’ to memorize it’s image.

“If I remember correctly-” But Jaemin begins to second guess himself, and he looks around the room, trying to envision his brothers lying about to see if he’s fucked up where Chenle would sleep. He can see Haechan’s poster too, but he knows that it has the Joy Division logo and lettering on it. “Whatever. We can just ask him when he wakes up.” Renjun nods, murmuring his agreement.

“Let’s clear out. Give him time, rest, space, all that shit.” Jaemin nods, standing up after he finishes pulling covers over Chenle and smoothing his hair one last time. Renjun watches, slightly detached.

It kind of fucked him up, if one was being honest. Renjun was the very first case, the very first to show up in the half-world where not everything was there and he was completely alone. He thought maybe he had died until after eating nothing for four days he fell sick and passed out, realizing that he was in fact not dead. He had to learn how to adjust, he had to learn how to be alone in a space, a place he used to call home, that he couldn’t even trust.

He isn’t quite a whole person anymore. It definitely got better when others began to show up, but that happened slowly and didn’t gain a rhythm until a few months into the whole ordeal. He also curses himself for not marking the days near the very beginning, so even Renjun himself has no idea how long exactly he’s been gone.

The rest of his brothers fare quite well though, and he makes sure they understand the world and in turn they make sure he understands himself. It’s a balance they’ve had to find.

“Johnny hyung and Kun hyung will be home soon.” Jaemin says absentmindedly. “We’ll have to let them know someone else has shown up.”

“It’s early isn’t it?” Renjun sweeps to their calendar hanging on the wall as they walk down the hallway trying to muffle their footsteps and voices as to not wake Chenle. Jaemin squints in the right direction, looking at the crude black lines and messy little numbers.

In the old world Renjun had loved the calendar, he had used it everyday to plan and help his hyungs remember things, and after everything the calendar had been something that stuck. Jaemin couldn't have cared less about it in ‘Real Life’ and therefore only knew of its existence. To remedy this, Renjun had just traced over everything written on it in a black marker so that Jaemin could see it too.

They flip back a month. Renjun is right, Chenle is early.

“Just mark it down and hope it lasts for the same amount of days at least.” Jaemin suggests, the brand new problem registering in his brain. “Maybe the time moved but not the duration.” It would be bad if the Disappearances started early and finished at the scheduled time, that would mean this shit was getting longer, it would mean more people would get lost.

“Here’s hoping.” Renjun takes the black marker taped to a string against the wall and marks down the day, writing Chenle’s name under the thick black dot on May 12th. “Here’s hoping.”

The two of them walk into the living room finally, and Jaemin flops onto the couch, letting his eyelids fall over his tired eyes, emotionally exhausted. It’s rough, being both happy and sad at the same time. Overjoyed and devastated. The emotions clash and contrast so violently that it almost physically hurts everytime someone new Jaemin knows he loves shows up on their doorstep. And then it’s just pure sadness when Renjun asks them to go back, to remember just what happened. This part is unavoidable of course, and it’s worth it in the end for the person in question, but it’s no less painful to watch as he gets to see the other side and they get to feel it twice .

It hurts so fucking much.

Sometimes Jaemin remembers again from time to time on purpose. He’ll be alone at night and think back to that day. He’ll regret it instantly when the voices start up telling him he’s worthless, telling him he shouldn’t fight, and the regret only deepens further when the Disappearing takes his breath away and crushes his chest.

But it’s worth it for their faces, even if they’re contorted in fear. It’s worth it to see them again, worth it to feel their arms because as bitchy as the memory is, allowing him to feel his old pain, it allows him to feel them too. It’s so so worth it for that.

Jaemin opens one eye, raking it over Renjun who stands in the middle of the room completely still and silent.

“The fuck are you doing-” He groans, still watching with one eye. Renjun doesn’t say anything, staring into space with his arms a few inches away from his sides and his breathing slower than a turtle. “Ren-”

“I can’t believe they’re right here .” Renjun says, finally breaking out of it. “They could be right in this fucking room on the other side and we’d never know, we’d never hear them or see them or anything.”

“They could be out of the house too, Junnie-”

“Or they could be right here.” Renjun takes a step forward. “Look, I could’ve just bumped into Taeyong hyung.” Another step. “I’ve stomped on Haechan.” Jaemin laughs.

“Yeah we all want to do that from time to time.”

Renjun laughs too, and the sound is refreshing as Jaemin knows it doesn’t occur too often. “Come here,” Jaemin orders gently, sliding up a little to provide proper space and Renjun does, lying down beside him. Jaemin wraps his arms around him tightly. “Have you been sleeping well recently?” He asks him. Renjun is silent for a moment, but before it becomes an issue or something Jaemin should worry about he speaks.

“I have been.” He says, and it’s almost convincing too.

Except sleep evaded Renjun even in the old world, and Jaemin knows that the amount of time spent alone before anybody showed up ruined any sleep pattern Renjun might’ve had anyways. Who cares if two years has gone by, the shock doesn’t lessen.

Jaemin registers slowly that he might’ve been out of line having not used honorifics at all yet today, but Renjun hasn’t bothered to notice or say anything about it. They’re in an awkward position, the two of them.

Renjun was older than Jaemin when he Disappeared, but because there was no way for Renjun or his body to know for sure what it was supposed to grow into he didn’t age. No one does here.

By the time Jaemin showed up, he was older than Renjun physically. It’s always confused their relationship, but for the most part Jaemin still uses honorifics and treats him with all the respect of the old world.

Well. As much as he showed previously, which Renjun will always complain is nowhere near enough.

The two of them fall asleep like this, cuddled together. Their bodies warm each other comfortably, and the safety of the others’ arms holding them in place is something they will never get tired of needing.

Never.

Chapter Text

When Johnny gets home nothing is out of the ordinary at first. He closes the front door of their apartment quietly when he finds two of his brothers entwined, and he’s careful of how he walks to be as quiet as possible.

He makes it down the hallway with no issues, and he fails to look at the calendar as he passes it, something that might’ve taken the shock away from what he finds a few seconds later.

He passes by the first open bedroom door, on his way to the second where he sleeps, but something catches his eye.

A lump, a living lump on a bed that hasn’t been touched in months. He does a double take, backpedaling until he’s standing in the doorway, staring in disbelief. He leaves the room for only one second to go scan the calendar, checking the date.

His heart stops when he finds the right day, four days away from when shit is supposed to start. The telltale black dot, messily drawn by none other than Hwang Renjun, let’s Johnny know the worst has happened, and the name below it strikes a stake of sadness through his chest.

“Oh Chenle no-” He takes his time walking back up the hallway, breathing deeply and preparing himself to see a kid he hasn’t seen in a year. A kid that he’s missed so fucking much, but never wanted to see again- in the best way of course.

Johnny enters the room silently. He knows that Renjun probably asked Chenle to remember, just like everyone else, which is probably why the kid is passed out now. That or he was just shocked and tired, which is fair too. He walks to the bed, it’s kind of surreal. No one has slept on this one since they were on the other side. Chenle’s blond hair peaks over the covers, dusting his forehead. Johnny sighs when he sees him, actually sees him, for the first time.

He looks troubled even in sleep. You’re supposed to look happy in rest . Johnny thinks to himself, but he doesn’t bother focusing on it. Chenle will adjust, just like the rest of them. The tall man kneels down beside the bed, able to fit his legs beneath it and lean forwards against the top, resting his arms on the mattress and his head on his arms, watching Chenle breathe.

It sounds creepy, but Johnny doesn’t mean to be creepy, it’s just been so long since he’s even seen Chenle, and his fear, anxiety, and pain mix with the excitement of getting to catch up, learn about the condition of the others and to hug his little brother for the first time in forever in a whirlwind of wild emotions. He sits there for a few minutes, almost in disbelief, before he reaches out a tentative hand towards the teen’s forehead. He’s afraid if he touches him, he could fade away, but maybe that’s what he wants, maybe if Chenle fades away it means he goes home .

When the tips of his fingers make contact with Chenle’s blond hair, it’s real . He plays with a few strands between his fingertips, then smooths it all down. He really can’t believe it, and as bad an omen as he knows the whole situation is, he can’t help but relish the ability to exist in the same space, something that Johnny has been denied for so long.

Always so close, but so goddamn far.

His other hand glides to Chenle’s laying at his side, and he takes it, entwining their fingers. His first hand retracts, and he contents himself with just holding the younger’s hand. He falls asleep like this, waiting for Chenle to wake up.

Chenle’s eyes flutter only minutes after, the pain he remembers feeling a very distant memory for now. Instead, the very first sensation he discovers is that of someone holding his hand, and when he turns his head to investigate, the boy sitting beside him is someone he hasn’t seen in a long time.

“Johnny hyung-” He breathes, then regrets it when he realizes he’s sleeping. It’s too late though and the damage has been done as Johnny starts, sitting upright from his spot on the floor and looking around with wide eyes. They come to rest on Chenle, no longer asleep, and his face cracks into a brilliant smile. Chenle can’t think of much to say. He doesn’t know what’s appropriate or what Johnny is expecting. This is going to be their first conversation in over eight months. When he opens his mouth, the blatant truth comes out;

“I missed you.” Johnny’s eyes tell him he feels the same.

 

Jaemin wakes up slowly to the sound of hushed voices to find that Johnny and Chenle are working in the kitchen.

“Holy shit-” How long were they asleep? He didn’t mean to not be there for Chenle when he woke up and he definitely meant to be awake to say hello to Johnny. His hyung has been working long hours for days now at the diner because he’s one of the few people in town to Disappear that knew it best. Johnny always came home exhausted, but laiden with enough cash to get them through. Yes- despite literal worlds collapsing, society found a way to start up again. Luckily however, things cost a lot less and favors and IOU’s were more than often accepted in exchange of certain goods and services too, people are kind hearted and know when to allow each other to rely on one another.

Jaemin sits up very gently, making sure not to move too much so that Renjun doesn’t stir. He successfully eradicates himself from the couch, regains his balance due to the fog of sleep, and treks into the kitchen. Chenle is standing by the toaster, presumably waiting for toast to pop up, and Johnny is standing by the stove scrambling some eggs. It’s a stereotypical meal here, because nobody forgets what toast and eggs look like.

Jaemin enters quietly by accident, and the two of them don’t realize he’s in the room until he announces it. Johnny spins around, surprised, before pointing at Chenle with the spatula.

“Look who’s here!” He’s excited, but Jaemin just chuckles.

“I know, hyung.” He watches as Johnny turns back around, and Chenle stays where he was, standing by the toaster. Jaemin imagines he’s still shocked and broken up, and with the joy that comes with him reuniting with old family, he’s coping with his own personal loss of the rest of them. They all do, and it doesn’t matter how long they’ve been here;

They’ll never stop coping, because the grief will never stop coming.

Jaemin tries not to think of this very often. His main focuses are taking care of his brothers, and looking for ways to get back. They’re never not talking about going home.

“I had a thought, hyung.” Jaemin says, leaning against the fridge and peering up at Johnny, engrossed in the eggs.

“Shoot.” His brother doesn’t spare him a glance as he cracks another white egg into the pan. It sizzles as it hits the heat.

“What if when we die here-” Johnny pauses, eyes raising to the clock on the stovetop, waiting for Jaemin to finish his sentence. “We show back up at home.”

“Dead or alive?”

“Well I don’t know that -”

“No fucking way. We can’t test that at all Jae.” Johnny is laughing when he looks at him. “What? One of us kills ourselves?” Jaemin shrugs. “Fucking hell kid.” Johnny shakes his lead, still chuckling as he returns to scrambling the eggs.

“Makes sense doesn’t it?” Jaemin jokes, directing the question towards Chenle. The kid frowns and Jaemin realizes that it’s maybe a little too early to talk about death. He panics internally, it’s been so long since they’ve dealt with a newcomer he’s stupid, not careful and doesn’t know how to deal. Pursing his lips, Jaemin is desperate for a change in conversation.

“Where’s Kun?” He asks Johnny, slipping away from his side to go stand closer to Chenle. The two of them jump in unison when the toaster pops unexpectedly, and Chenle actually smiles at their skittishness. Jaemin breathes a sigh of relief.

It’s Johnny’s turn to look exasperated though.

“He was supposed to be here around the same time that I was-” He glances up at the clock. “Two hours ago.” Jaemin’s jaw drops. Kun is never late.

Never.

“Well shit.”

“Language.”

“Sorry, dammit .”

“That’s not better.”

“You swear all the time-”

“But I’m supposed to tell you not to.”

“That’s kind of hypocritical don’t you think?”

“Shut the fuck up.”

Johnny transfers the eggs to five plates, even though Jaemin and Chenle know only four of them are home.

“Kun will be here soon.” Johnny explains, dolling it all out in mostly equal portions, except Jaemin notices one plate has a little less, which is the one Johnny takes for himself. Jaemin doesn’t say anything because he knows Johnny wouldn’t want him too; he gets it. Johnny puts others first, but it worries Jaemin that even food is something Johnny is willing to give up for them. He stays silent because he knows things would just get awkward if he tried to speak up. Chenle puts a piece of toast on each plate, placing the pieces down gently as if the toast might get hurt if he isn’t careful enough.

“I’m sure he will be.” Jaemin nods, taking two of the plates and carrying them out to the table in the living room. He places them on top, and Chenle places another while Johnny carries two more. Jaemin pads to the couch, putting a hand on Renjun’s shoulder to wake him. “Come eat.” He says when his brown eyes flutter open. Renjun takes in a deep breath, body removing itself from the weight of deep sleep. They walk back to the table together, take their plates and sit on the floor with the other two. As aforementioned, the group only has one chair for their table, and they never thought to sit on the couch with eighteen people. The floor beside the table became the dining room, and no one ever said a word about it. That’s just how shit was done here.

“Kun hyung?” Renjun asks between mouthfuls.

“Not yet.” Chenle answers, which surprises everyone. They don’t know that he’s the most anxious of them all to await his return. They don’t know that beyond the initial shock and ‘damn I’m so sad because none of us should be here’ blues Chenle is excited to see his brother. If he was more ballsy and less tired Chenle would ask about Taeil too, but because none of them have mentioned him yet he chooses to stay quiet on the matter.

“That’s…” Renjun searches for the word he wants, but nothing perfect slips into his mind. “Wrong.” The others know it too. It is wrong. It’s wrong for Kun to be two hours late, the very same Kun would rather be thirty minutes early anywhere .

“We shouldn’t worry.” Johnny chides, placing his plate down. He’s suddenly not in the mood to eat at all, but he notices Chenle mimicking his actions, so he picks the plate back up. The kid is too broken to listen to his body, Johnny knows the feeling, and so he makes sure the visual cues are clear that Chenle should be eating right now. “Kun is fine. Sidetracked, or working extra hours or,” Johnny trails off and the fearful silence only grows.

“You know they could’ve nabbed him right.” Jaemin says into the quiet. He didn’t want to say that, he didn’t want to say that at all, but it was a very real, very practical idea.

Definitely not one that they wanted to be true.

“I doubt that.” Johnny says immediately, cutting off any further comment from Jaemin. “I doubt that a thousand times over. Kun is fine like I said before, they wouldn’t touch him.” Chenle looks between his hyungs, confused. Who the hell are they talking about? What threat is there roaming these streets Chenle might have missed. He never thought anything of it, he assumed everything was peaceful here. Everyone was just trying to get by and work well together to make sure of it.

Apparently not, but before he has a chance to ask about it, the conversation seems to be over and he’s left in the dark.

The boys finish eating in silence, not exactly an ugly kind or an angry kind, just a worried kind, with the thought of them getting to Kun. No way, no fucking way. Johnny is certain Kun is fine. There’s nothing about him they’d see at a glance that would make him appealing to them right? Johnny can think of tons of ways they exploit people for money that Kun wouldn’t be able to do; he’s too small to fight in a ring, not quite small enough to spy hidden in the walls of houses, nothing about him crazy or ugly to show like a circus freak-

But there are ways Johnny knows he could bring in money. The thought makes him sick. The more he thinks about it, the more he realizes how little in size Kun actually is and how easy he could probably be plucked from the not-so-busy streets of the area if he wasn’t expecting it. He knows they’d just jump at the chance of kidnapping such a pretty boy walking alone, and he knows how much they’d love to-

Stop it.

Stop it .

Kun is fine.

But Johnny thinks of Taeil. He thinks of the initial shock, and he thinks of the exact moment they realized they were not as safe here as they thought.

Taeil is perfect testament.

Chapter Text

Each boys’ position on the floor had no one facing their couch directly, but they wish they had been when someone appears, gasping for air in the middle of their meal. They spin around, all four of them.

“What the fuck-” Johnny jumps up, leaping in between the boys and the couch, not quite sure of the situation yet. But when their eyes adjust to what they’ve witnessed, it’s already happened.

Doyoung is frozen in place, panting on the couch cushions.

“Oh my god-” Johnny rushes over instantly, pulling Doyoung into a hug before he can even look at his surroundings.

Johnny ?” His voice breaks when Johnny’s arms wrap around him, and Johnny knows his body must ache. He makes sure his grip is loose.

“We’re here.” He says, voice muffled in Doyoung’s sweater. Doyoung’s entire body trembles and Johnny knows he’s crying, something he doesn’t have to see or hear to feel. He holds him a little tighter.

The other boys have snapped to their senses now, putting their plates on the table before running over to the pair. Chenle hangs slightly behind, he doesn’t quite know what’s happening, but he gathers by Doyoung’s presence here he’s no longer over there .

That really fucking sucks.

Johnny releases Doyoung so he can slump backwards onto the couch, exhausted and confused. The others are careful not to crowd him, but he notes everyone's presence with a mixture of joy and sadness in his chestnut eyes, until they come to land on Chenle, standing a few feet away. His eyes grow wider.

“No-” Doyoung tries to sit up, but Chenle, afraid he’ll strain himself, comes closer very quickly.

“Hi hyung.”

“When?” Doyoung is so shocked he knows he can’t form complete sentences. He drags a hand over Chenle’s cheek. He’s supposed to be okay. Chenle is supposed to be at the theater.

“Just a few hours ago.” Jaemin answers for him, which is okay because Chenle doesn’t know what to say. Doyoung presses his lips into a thin line.

“Where are we- are we dead-”

“We’re not dead.” Renjun speaks up and Doyoung’s breath hitches in his throat.

Two years. It’s been two years .

“We’re on the other side, hyung. A different life, a different world, whatever you want to call it.” Jaemin says, honestly none of them know how to explain it all.

“Not quite home.” Renjun says. The others nod, knowing exactly what he means.

“Why does it look weird-”

“Bare?” Johnny asks. Doyoung nods, eyes glued to his surroundings. Renjun wonders what Doyoung must be seeing, his perception of this reality different from his own. Doyoung nods, looking at Johnny with eyes as wide and innocent as a child’s. Doyoung is still trying to take in the fact that he’s breathing, his boys are alive , and how numb his body feels. “You’re only seeing what you remember perfectly.” Johnny says. “If you don’t remember every detail, chances are certain things aren’t going to be around.”

“But it’s not like you’ll miss those items, because in your mind they don’t exist. It’s not so bad.” Jaemin tries to comfort his hyung, and Doyoung nods again, just soaking up the information. He’s right, because if a person were to be able to recognize the fact that something should exist where it doesn’t, it’d be there.

That’s simply just how it works.

“The only exceptions to the rule are people. You can see everyone, even people you haven’t met.” Renjun says. “They’ll always be there.” As confusing as this piece of information is, Doyoung notices the absences of two people who should be here;

“Where are Kun and Taeil?”

 

Kun is hurrying at this point to try to make it back to the apartment before dark, but night is falling quickly and the heavy coat of darkness settles around him as he locks the door to the small art store he’s employed in. In old life, Kun had worked there too, and so he knew so many of the details he was rehired instantly here when the owner showed up.

“Shit,” He curses as he fumbles the keys back into his pocket, hoping that it wouldn’t be too cold- the thin red flannel on his arms wouldn’t nearly be enough to protect from any wind or breeze.

But he knows the wind is going to be the least of his problems if he’s not careful.

Kun keeps his head down, passing no one as he walks through the streets, making sure to stick to the streetlights. There are tarps covering a lot of different things, a mailbox people have stumbled into because they forgot it was there, one or two other ones strapped to the ground telling people not to step there, maybe because there’s a hole in the concrete or a crack too dangerous that people might’ve missed in life- not life, just the other world. Kun is always having to correct his thinking. He’s not dead.

He’s not dead.

He sidesteps said tarp, not quite trusting it enough to walk on, and continues forwards. The whole city looks like a ghost town covered in the sheets. They act as guidelines, but they’re a little more than that now. The further Kun grows from the cute little art store, the more abrasive and cold the neighbourhood gets. The more the tarps have been marked with gang symbols and peace signs.

He shivers, lowering his head even further and picking up his pace. He knows this is the quickest way to get home, and that he should be outside the apartment’s door in twenty minutes. Just twenty minutes. He just has to make it twenty more minutes. He realizes maybe thirty seconds too late that he’s no longer alone on the streets.

Like comics or movies, a hooded figure swoops down on him from behind. Kun tries to run as he realizes, but the person is faster, knocking him to the pavement before he has a chance to really build up speed. He cries out in pain, and flips around onto his back, trying to gain his bearings.

The person is on his chest immediately, working quickly. Their hands wrap around his neck, and Kun’s fly up to meet them, trying to break the iron grip closing his throat, taking his breath away. He struggles uselessly, gasping for air without the ability to scream for help. He knows what’s happening. He knows .

His body aches, screaming for oxygen. His eyelids are heavy, and as much as Kun fights them they threaten to close further with each second. No- He’s terrified, so terrified he can feel it in his gut, a sharp pain that stabs and stabs as the life leaves his limbs. All he can see is a pair of eyes gleaming in the darkness and a smile beneath them as Kun slowly stops fighting.

Good boy .” He hears the man say before things go black for him completely.

no-

Kun wakes up because of the pain. He knows his throat is swollen beyond relief, and the way he has to force air into his lungs keeps him awake, unable to trust that his body will get the sufficient amount of oxygen it needs if he passes out again.

But when he looks around, the space is as blank as his mind.

Oh my god-

He knows where he is without knowing where he is. He knows what happens here without being able to see it.

This is his worst nightmare. This is what everyone on the other side fears- this and only this. There’s nothing worse, nothing , than ending up here.

Taeil taught them that for sure.

Kun knows the people who run this shit must have been disgusting in the old world too, or else they wouldn’t be able to see the space they reside in. Kun has no idea what it could be, a barn? A warehouse? They could’ve been in an open field for all Kun could see if there weren’t walls spray painted back on so the ‘blind’ could open their eyes.

His hands are tied up behind his back. This strikes fear further into his chest than his failing throat does. He can’t do shit like this, he can’t even sit up. Kun begins to listen, just listen, to what’s happening around him.

None of it’s good.

Around him he can see a few others like him, bound and unconscious. He feels a pang of helplessness as he realizes that these people too were probably just trying to get home to their families. What an awful turn of events for all of them. The can hear a group of men, laughing and bantering.

He can’t listen very long before someone notices he’s woken up.

“This one’s up.” A rough voice attacks Kun’s ears. The man it belongs to doesn’t hesitate to pluck Kun from the ground like a feather, dragging him to the middle of a whole circle of people. Kun can’t see anything but the men, nothing but spray paint and doorways leading nowhere. This is the best way to disorient a person, to break them apart, to force them to do whatever the fuck you want.

They have no idea where they are. They can’t even see where they are.

From his knees, Kun’s breath shakes and he’s careful to keep his eyes glued to the ground. He pulls in each breath with difficulty, fear suffocating him and the bruising on his neck from being choked out not aiding his breathing either.

“What do we do with this one?” Kun closes his eyes, he doesn’t know who spoke and he doesn’t care. It doesn’t matter, not as he wracks his brain for a means of escape. Boots crunch on what sounds like gravel, which makes sense based on how Kun’s knees are bleeding through his jeans. A man reaches down and grabs his face, forcing him to look up. Terror crawls its way into his limbs, causing them to shake.

The man’s face is cruel, weathered as if he’s tired and has seen too much. He probably has, Kun concludes, based on the industry he’s a part of. Kun wants to spit on him, but he settles instead for simple words.

“Don’t fucking touch me.” He hisses.

He doesn’t even know the man has hit him until a second afterwards, when his cheek stings and he knows his lip is bleeding; he can taste the metal in his mouth. He’s shocked, but couldn’t say he wasn’t expecting it for speaking out.

“Feisty.” Someone comments, sounding bored.

“A fighter?”

“He’s small.”

“So are a lot of them.” Kun shakes. He doesn’t want to fight. He doesn’t want to do anything, not for these people, not at all. He wants to go home. He wants to go back in time and leave earlier from work than he did. He wants to take the long way home in the nicer neighbourhood with less danger he knew could affect him. What an idiot. What a fucking idiot.

The man steps forward again menacingly, but Kun doesn’t move. He raises an eyebrow, amused.

“Hold him down.”

“Don’t-” Kun’s eyes grow wide, what the hell is he going to do to him? He can feel the circle tighten from behind until someone has grabbed him. A man holds him in an iron grip, pulling him into his solid chest so Kun can’t even squirm against him.

“I’m going to make you fear us, boy.” The first man says. All Kun can see is blankness and these men, there’s nothing else to focus on, nowhere to look except at the person pulling a knife from his belt. Kun knows it’s a knife based on the way the object glints in the odd lighting of the room. As collected as he might appear on the outside, panic like a wild animal only spreads through his chest faster. He wants to grovel and plead and beg them to let him go, but he knows that that won’t work, that that will only push them further. He knows they want that.

He knows he isn’t going to give it to them.

The man descends on him slowly and Kun has never felt as helpless as this, just letting him drag the blade from his jaw down his throat- smarting over the bruises- to his collarbone, teasing him by pressing just enough to scratch, not enough to draw blood, unable to do a thing about it with his arms tied behind his back. Kun sucks in a breath softly that seems to only egg the man on more. He presses harder with the blade onto Kun’s collar, deeper and with more strength until Kun is forced to yelp in pain no matter how desperately he bit his tongue.

“That’s it,” The man says and the rest of the onlookers laugh. Kun’s breathing is picking up, panic burying itself deeper into his entire being. He can’t do a thing as the man only gets more violent, the person behind him tightening his grip on his arms further than Kun thinks any human hand has the strength to squeeze. Both sensations, the blade and the hands, are too much, rattling his body the worse they get. The first man pulls the knife off his chest, moving on to slash at his stomach and abdomen. Kun tries to buck backward, to escape but there’s no going anywhere. He’s stuck, and with each cut of the blade his vision flashes red. He can’t control his cries of pain as each one hurts more than the last.

Eventually it’s over. The man holding him still let’s him fall to the floor in a pool of his own blood, and Kun’s ragged, weak breathing takes all of his remaining strength. The crowd dissipates, bored, never really caring in the first place. They exit the room, or walk around it, navigating things Kun can’t see.

That’s maybe the most frustrating thing he notices from his spot on the ground, cheek pressing into the bloody gravel, (he can tell it’s gravel now for sure because of the way his blood has painted parts of the little stones), the fact that he has to look without seeing. He’s heard the stories, of course, of people who got away. He’s heard about how it drives you crazy, how many different ways people can take advantage of your blindness, how friends can turn into foes the moment they lead you into a dead end because you couldn’t see for yourself. It’s impossible, Kun can see it now. It’s impossible for a person to escape it.

Is this his reality now? Numbness is the only thing taking over his body as he bleeds, and he thinks about how quickly this turned into something really bad. They’re going to use him now. They’re going to use him and abuse him and make money off sickos who’ll do it all over again, purely because Kun was easy prey and because he can’t see .

Assholes … Kun passes out for the second time that night, a new, unfortunate record for the tired, tired boy.

Chapter Text

Kun doesn’t come home at all, and Johnny and Doyoung stay awake together all night waiting for him. They sent the younger three away after midnight, telling them Kun will be home soon and that there’s nothing to worry about, but as the hours ticked by on the clock on the wall nothing but the light from the windows grew brighter as their minds clouded darker. Doyoung adjusted quickly, but in the back of his mind Johnny knows Renjun is going to make him remember soon, something Johnny thinks out of mercy for how lost Do had looked he hadn’t made him do immediately.

“Explain to me again where you think he is?” Doyoung asks, curled up in a tight ball beside Johnny, resting his head on his thigh. Johnny draws a sharp breath.

“Walking home from work-”

“Hyung.” Doyoung isn't going to take bullshit. “Where he actually is.” Johnny exhales very slowly, shaking as he tries to keep his breathing under control. Anxiety only fires like bullets through his chest in smaller intervals.

“I think that it’s possible he’s been picked up by the ones who can see more.” He says slowly.

“What the hell does that mean?”

“The people who in life-”

“We’re not dead-”

“In- back home ,” Johnny corrects. Doyoung nods, satisfied. “Those who were pretty sleazy even before. They can see the bars or the sex clubs,” He speaks in a manner that suggest to Doyoung that the sentences are about to go somewhere neither of the want them to go. “-or the fight clubs or whatever the hell it is they did. They kidnap people who can’t. With the way this world works-” He takes a deep breath, working himself up. “ With the way this world works , they can’t see where they are. They can’t escape. They’re picked up off the streets, taken somewhere disgusting -”

“Why?” Doyoung picks at the denim on Johnny’s knee, pulling at ripped strands. “Why would they-”

“To use them. To sell them, to make money of off them. Just like it happened back home. Shit’s no different here.”

Doyoung is silent. He tries to understand that the very same threats of a city in the old world could follow them here. That people would still attack people and degrade them and hurt them for money. It doesn’t seem to matter to the really evil people that something life fucking changing has occurred, they just want their cash.

Of course they do.

Rage boils up in his veins thinking about it, and when he realizes that Kun might be in the hands of these people-

He wants to rip his hair out.

“We can’t just wait then. We have to go out, we have to look for him-”

“Do-”

“We can’t just sit and wait for him to show up if he’s never going to come-”

“Doyoung.” Johnny silences him. “We can’t even see past the most innerbits of the city. We can’t. How are we going to find him, let alone get him back out?” Doyoung still doesn't quite understand how everything works. He sits up.

“So it’s there, we just can’t fucking see it?”

“If it didn’t exist for us in the beginning, then it’s not going to be here.”

“But it existed -”

“But you’ve never seen the clubs have you? And we don’t even know that that’s where he is.” Again, Doyoung falls silent.

“So how-” Doyoung’s eyes are welling up but he doesn’t know why. Maybe his body is realizing faster than his mind that Kun isn’t coming home at all, or that Taeil’s absence- “Taeil.” Johnny stiffens, and Doyoung knows he’s right. “Oh my god.” He pushes himself off the couch, pacing to the beginning of the hallway leading to the bedrooms, then he spins around. “Taeil went missing.” Johnny doesn’t look at him, but he can tell by the way his jaw is clenched that he’s hurting himself trying to stay quiet. “Taeil went missing and you guys were never able to find him.” He doesn’t mean to be accusatory, that’s not his intent in the least, and Doyoung realizes it might’ve come off that way.

But he’s shocked, and he’s angry, and he’s terrified that Johnny will nod his head and tell him he’s right and that Taeil is gone forever and that if Kun doesn’t open that front door in five fucking seconds then he is too.

Johnny nods.

 

Kun seems to lie there for hours, eyes glazed over, but he feels after a certain amount of time that the bleeding has stopped and his lower body falls completely numb. A good thing, because it’s painless, but there are moments as he drifts in and out of consciousness where Kun isn’t even sure that part of him exists.

He isn’t sure how much time goes by before he watches the people around him get pulled up, forced to stand and walk towards the spray painted exits. Kun has no idea where they’re going, or if he’s going with them, until he feels someone grab him just like the very first time, but instead of placing his feet on the ground they carry him out.

That’s nice . He thinks. He knows he couldn't if he tried.

The world stays just as blank as the very first time he had opened his eyes here, out of focus and not sketched into his memory at all. Kun curses himself for not getting out more, for not wandering around. He could be absolutely anywhere, but that’s what he does in situations like these. He blames himself.

For the very first time he seems to really recognize the situation, and realize that the boys don’t know where he is. He realizes that maybe they’re worried, or looking . Looking would be worse, because that means they’re outside where it’s dangerous and Kun knows they won’t find him. He hopes they have enough common sense not to look. He also comes to recognize that he probably isn’t going home anytime soon at all, and that, especially in his current condition, he might not make it home ever .

Damn - He tries to glance down at his own body as he’s moved, but nothing but red- his flannel and blood included- stares back at him. Apart from knowing it hurts and knowing it’s bad Kun knows absolutely nothing at all. As he nears the very last door, the one he thinks is going to take him outside, the man carrying him stops, placing him on the floor. The man looks at him for a moment as if he’s contemplating something, and Kun notices a blindfold being handed to him by another man with a gun manning the exit.

“What are you waiting for Park?” The man asks as the guy keeps looking at Kun. The second guy’s eyes flit down at him too now, and Kun wonders what the fuck is wrong. It’s just Kun, small and bloody, why is he a spectacle. He understands the hesitation a moment later when the guy voices it outloud.

“Is he even worth taking?” The man says quite bluntly, and Kun is almost offended in his fuzzy state of blood loss. The other man’s lips purse and he seems to think about it with an interesting amount of depth. “We can’t make much off him if he’s like that.” The second man takes a closer look, poking at Kun’s flannel with the barrel of his gun. He makes a face and lets the ripped fabric fall back onto Kun’s stinging chest.

“We can’t just waste him though right?” The second guy says but the first one gestures to his gun.

“We definitely can.”

Kun frowns- as much as he can- and tries to understand what they’re saying. Kill him? Is that what they’re discussing? Why take him and cut him just to kill him. These people make no fucking sense, he concludes.

Be it the blood loss, the fear, the panic or all three, Kun never seems to understand what exactly occurs here, or even the danger he was in. He didn’t grasp the fact that they both just wanted to shoot him in the head and walk away, put him down like a wounded animal, in fact the complete, whole, processed thought never crosses his mind coherently enough for him to think anything of it.

He’s saved by one thing and one thing alone;

His sharp tongue.

“Are we going?” His voice surprises both of the men before him, and it surprises him too, but Kun doesn’t know why. “I don’t have all day.” The tone is dry, sarcastic, as if he was talking to a friend who had pissed him off. It’s his salt, his utter discontent and nonchalant approach to the whole thing that fools the two of them into believing he is much more with it than they thought.

The truth is he’s on the verge of passing out a third time, which would be a whole new record, but they don’t need to know that.

“Kid still has some fight left in him.” The second one says, laughing. “Might as well just send him off. Someone will want a fighter if he doesn’t die on the way over.” The first man nods in agreeance, chuckling himself.

Kun is plunged into darkness when the blindfold is tied across his eyes, both a blessing that grants him his life and a curse that completely debilitates him. But it’s not like he’d be able to see where he’s headed anyways.

He knows he’s forced into a vehicle, probably the back of a very large van, a few seconds after, and he feels it begin to move. He can feel people pressed up around him on every side, and Kun hardly dares to breathe in the space.

He knows they drive for hours.

Chapter Text

“Hyung.”

Johnny wakes up to Renjun shaking his shoulder gently. He blinks away the sleep, taking Renjun’s hand in his as he sits forwards. The lack of light entering through the windows tells him it isn’t yet daybreak, and he feels a sudden pang of guilt for falling asleep.

He ignores the rumbling of his stomach.

“What’s up-” He doesn’t know why on earth Renjun would be awake so early, but something is clearly bothering the boy. Renjun puts a finger to his lips, reminding Johnny to be quieter. Doyoung sleeps soundly beside him on the couch, and the others must be sleeping in the bedrooms.

“I’ve thought of something.” Renjun’s small brown eyes glint in the dark and Johnny furrows his brow.

“What do you mean?” He stands up from the couch, trying to get further away from Doyoung so they don’t need to speak as softly. He leads Renjun into the kitchen by the wrist and sits him on the floor in front of the fridge. Johnny stares at him for a moment.

Renjun has never quite been the same. Johnny knows the trauma was immense, being the very first to go, and even though Johnny was second, he still had a young, confused friendly face waiting for him on the other side.

But the two are the closest because of this, and Johnny doesn’t mind that Renjun might be a little off or distant at times. He knows his younger brother is trying, and he’s very often coming to Johnny with new ideas on how to get home, usually dangerous ones that Johnny has to shoot down.

Jaemin does the same thing, but Renjun’s thought process is on a completely different level. Renjun has been here longer.

He wants out more.

Which is why Johnny needed to be able to hear him better, and really sit him down and talk it over with him.

Because Johnny knows whatever Renjun has come up with at- he glances to the clock on the stove- 4:31am is worth waking him up for, and he knows he could be right.

“Shoot.” Johnny says, nodding to the kid on the floor. He clambers down in front of him, entire body attentive.

“I need you to do something.” Johnny blinks the eyes he’s locked onto Renjun’s face. He wrings his hands.

“Of course but-” He begins to say, confused but nonetheless still ready for whatever Renjun wants to throw at him.

“Remember.”

Johnny’s eyebrows shoot up so quickly they almost fall right off his face and he stiffens in a way that Renjun wishes he didn’t. He feels bad enough for suggesting it, let alone knowing Johnny will do it for him and knowing that it’s going to hurt.

“Of course.” Johnny’s throat is tight and getting those words out were harder than climbing Everest or something else really fucking difficult. “Of course.” Renjun just looks at him until he realizes he might need to prompt Johnny to actually go ahead and do it.

“Just remember for now, I’ll tell you why afterwards.” It seems like an easy request even though Renjun knows it’s not. He knows that this first try, though, the first time he tests his theory, the person in question needs to be in the dark. He can’t explain a thing until it’s over-

Whether it works or it doesn’t.

“Is this a theory or way of getting home or-” Renjun shakes his head.

“Hyung.”

Okay .” Johnny feels himself panicking before he even starts. He’s only remembered the whole ordeal once in his life, when Renjun made him relive it for the sake of knowing what happened and knowing how he got here, wherever here is.

He hasn’t done it since. It makes him dizzy, it rips the air from his lungs and it destroys every inch of his chest, despite sitting up afterwards to find himself completely intact. It breaks a person down, and it’s pure nothing . Pure memory. Not even real, just as painful.

Renjun pushes him to lie down, afraid that if he were to be standing or sitting he’d fall and hit his head. Johnny obeys his silent command, and Renjun scooches to sit at his head, smoothing his hair just before he starts.

“Thank you kiddo.” Johnny says, before closing his eyes.

He starts to think.

Johnny is in the very same kitchen, but he’s standing at the sink instead, running water to fill the pot on the stove. He’s making dinner, a duty that usually falls to him and the older few, which is something he doesn’t mind. He likes to cook. He likes to take care and provide, and he especially likes the stress relief it provides. He’s so stressed out his chest aches.

Until it’s not quite aching anymore.

Out of memory Johnny shudders on the floor, and Renjun knows he’s really far back, really deep, really scared, and really hurt. He bites his own tongue, afraid that maybe he’ll just be hurting Johnny instead of helping. Afraid that reliving the memory again is going to make it so that Johnny can’t even walk into the kitchen like the first few days he had shown up.

Renjun gathers he left- Disappeared - in the kitchen. He doesn’t actually know for sure because they don’t talk about it. That’s where Johnny had appeared, and that’s where Johnny couldn’t go for days. Too much trauma associated with the space.

He’s much better currently, he got over the initial shock and now has no problem going in there, but Renjun worries that reopening the wound will make things bad for him again. He ignores it though, and doesn’t let his hovering hands ready to wake his brother out of it do as they so badly want to.

Behind his closed eyes, the pain grows from bad to worse. It feels like his heart has grown tendrils with a mind of their own and they pick at his ribs from the inside, sliding back and forth beneath his skin and slithering all through his chest. It’s disgusting, it’s absolutely horrifying. It feels like a monster has blossomed and wants to tear him apart from the inside out. The feeling is real on both sides, and the intense headache that started with minimal throbbing begins to take over completely, wracking his entire body with each pulse of his heart.

The part of the memory with Mark is when things truly hurt the most though. Not just physically, but calling for him took so much effort, and then he wished he hadn’t, because Mark’s face was worse than the tendrils pulling him apart inside.

Johnny continues to shiver under Renjun’s watch and silent tears, real tears, roll down his cheeks. Renjun’s own mirror his, splashing onto their tile. Apart from Johnny’s ragged breathing, little salty droplets hitting the floor are the only other sounds.

In Johnny’s mind, Mark has wrapped his arms around him now. He hugs him and his voice, shrill and confused, rings in his ears like the sound of a gong.

Please . He wants to say. Please make it stop .

They had never thought much of the voices, any of them. They chalked it all up to their inner demons, telling them to feel guilty for hurting so badly and wanting it to end as if they shouldn’t believe they didn’t deserve the pain. Inner demons or just part of the Disappearing itself, they don’t hesitate to swoop in on Johnny.

What’s wrong.

What’s so wrong about this really.

Renjun watches him, he knows he’s almost there, he’s so fucking close-

And then he realizes he’s right. And he realizes that if he lets this go on-

“Johnny!” He almost jumps on his brother to pull him out, grasping his shoulders and shaking him violently. “Hyung!”

Johnny’s eyes fly open with a gasp, and then Renjun’s brother is up and stumbling into walls, trying to make it to the washroom before he throws up. Renjun runs after him, worry creasing his forever young skin.

Johnny didn’t take the time to think about whether or not his legs would have the strength to support him, he just knew the eggs were coming back up, and that there was no way he wanted to clean up his own vomit from their floors.

“Hyung I’m sorry, I’m so sorry-” He can hear Renjun behind him as he collapses beside the toilet, finished. He shakes his head, coughing. He wants to tell him it’s okay. He wants him to stop talking. But he hasn’t even caught his breath yet, so instead he sits there as his chest aches, stomach convulses and head throbs while his heart pounds. Eventually, his lungs are able to fill with oxygen. “I’m sorry I’m sorry-” Renjun doesn’t know what to do, hovering anxiously in front of him. He’s excited though.

He’s really fucking excited.

“It’s okay.” Johnny is finally able to get the words out. “Renjun-”

“Hyung I think it would work.”

Johnny blinks. It would be a lie to say that he isn't a little frustrated- just a little- by the fact that he has no idea why he just had to relive the worst memory in his life.

And why Renjun is happy about it.

But he controls his shaking hands and sits forward attentively just like a few minutes ago, ignoring how his body screams. He waits for Renjun to speak.

“We’ve found a way out.”

 

Jeno is left sitting on the floor, arms completely empty. Haechan meets his eyes with wide, horrified ones.

Because this wasn’t supposed to happen. Because they were supposed to be safe. Because it was raining and they couldn’t go home and so Jeno- as one of the oldest- was going to protect them.

And he couldn’t.

Not from that .

Jeno doesn’t pick himself up after, not right away. He sits, body bent in a way that a person should be able to curl into his arms. He’s shocked. They all are.

No one needs to ask what happened, they know, but the question why still hangs in the air like a fog and thickens the oxygen they pull into their lungs.

He’s gone. There’s no take backs, no trades, no barters or bargains or anything of the sort. Just gone and never coming home.

As painful as going is, Jeongin has seen it so many times, he wants so badly to be next.

He’s done. Done with this world and it’s cruel goodbyes. Done with watching every one of his brothers and family and friends disappear before him to be left behind. He doesn’t want to look at the other boys, Chenle’s brothers. He feels out of place, like he’s intruded on something he shouldn’t have seen.

In disbelief, Jisung stands up.

In panic, he runs from the aisle.

“Ji-” Haechan starts but Jeno grabs his wrist, not sparing him a glance to silence him.

“Let him go.”

In grief, Jisung’s sobs come out choked and haggard. Closest in age, Jisung and Chenle are inseparable.

Were , inseparable.

Jisung doesn’t really know where he’s going. He hasn’t even decided if he’s going to leave the theater let alone the building, but when he gets down to the bottom of the steps, he stops. He can feel their eyes on his back, but they aren’t boring into him.

They’re just looking. They’re tired and they’re looking.

Jisung knows that no matter what, he can’t leave them. Leaving the theater would put distance between them all and he doesn’t want that in the least.

So he leans against the wall at the bottom, the one separating the room from the hallway leading out and slumps on the stairs until he’s on the second last step, back to the plaster and paint, struggling to breathe.

The others know he needs space so they don’t bother trying to collect him. Jeno stands up very slowly, disturbing the air he hadn’t wanted to touch. Chenle’s air. The space he is supposed to inhabit. Jeno doesn’t like moving at all so he sits back down. He regrets fucking with Chenle’s air.

“Hyung-” Haechan can see it happening. He can see Jeno shutting down.

It isn’t the first time.

When Jaemin left only six months ago, Jeno was completely broken, you could tell if you just looked at him. It was like we has cut open, throat to stomach with his guts falling out, except he was a quiet gutted boy. He didn’t cry very often or vent to anyone. He just kind of walked around half dead, barely talking, barely eating, barely even breathing.

But he snapped out of it. He snapped out of it when he realized Jaemin wasn’t coming back, and that he would never be able to hold him again or beat him in League or any of that shit. Jeno bullied himself back- into himself you could say. He talked himself out of the haze and the pain and the horror and learned that if he wanted the younger few to keep the smiles on their faces he’d have to plaster one on too.

The smile is gone now though, and Haechan is worried this time it might not come back.

 

It’s been a solid forty eight hours since anyone in the apartment has seen the kids, but no matter how much Taeyong pleads with God, the hurricane doesn’t cease. Black water begins to flood the street, and he looks on with dark eyes, pursing his lips while panic eats at his gut.

“Hyung-” Mark is standing in the doorway of the living room, watching Taeyong just exist in the window. He relishes the fact that he’s here , but hates the way he looks so hollow. Mark knows Taeyong is blaming himself for everything. They can see literally everything out of his control eat him up bit by bit. All Mark wants to do is tell him it’s okay, and tell him that it isn’t his fault, and while the second statement is true the first one is not and there’s no way to start a comforting conversation without ‘it’s okay’ is there? “You should, sleep, maybe.” His voice is strained and awkward leaving his lips but Taeyong doesn’t seem to notice, turning slowly from the outside world to look at Mark. Has he always been that small?

“Are you hungry?” Taeyong summons energy he doesn’t have to look perky. Neither of them, are in fact, hungry, but Taeyong is desperate for something to do and a way to take care of his family.

“It’s four am hyung-”

“Who cares let’s make something.” Before Mark has time to protest, Taeyong has swept into the kitchen and he follows like a hawk, worried about his leader and sharp knives.

The two of them are silent as they work, mutually agreeing quietly to make cookies. Mark doesn’t comment on the fact that the recipe Taeyong picked was Doyoung’s favorite, or that the paper itself has Johnny’s writing, changes and corrections all over it, he just works. He measures, he pours, he stirs. His leader flips the oven on, turning it to the appropriate temperature and letting it preheat.

Taeyong forms little balls with the dough and places them on a cookie sheet covered in parchment paper. When he’s filled the trays, they put them in the oven.

Then they wait.

They didn’t really talk about why they were making anything in the first place, or who they were making them for. Neither of them want to eat them, and Mark stares at the oven in disdain as he thinks about the cookies spreading out and taking up space. Those cookies aren’t going to Disappear, not for real. Why do they get to hold permanent space? Why can’t they leave and people stay.

Mark hates on the cookies until they’re ready.

Taeyong on the other hand can’t wait till they’re ready. He doesn’t want to eat them, of course, but he wants to feel accomplished. He wants to make something.

He doesn’t care that his members are probably sleeping and won’t want cookies in twenty minutes. He doesn’t even care that the kitchen light is on and if their doors aren’t closed they could be woken up. He only cares about what’s missing in those moments, because if his brothers are discontent, at least that means they’re here .

In the first bedroom, Lucas shifts uncomfortably in his bunk. The door is closed, so it’s not the light from the kitchen that bothers him.

“Hyung?” He asks into the darkness. Jungwoo below him groans in his sleep, affected by fatigue, sickness and alcohol.

Stupidity as well.

“Just checking you’re there.” Lucas rolls onto his right side. From where he is on the top bunk, he can survey the room in the din. It’s dark, but his eyes have long adjusted from being open in the black for so long.

He’s been in bed for hours but still sleep evades him.

His eyes flit across all the dark shapes, memorizing them. They dance over Haechan’s poster, over Ten in his bed across the room, over Chenle’s empty bunk-

He stops his wandering on this one.

He feels guilty. More than guilty. Remorseful. He wishes he was sober so he could think straight, and that he wasn’t so selfish and that he had thought of retrieving his younger brothers or even thought about them at all.

Stupid. He’s so goddamn stupid.

“Lucas?” Jungwoo’s voice rises up in the quiet.

“Yes hyung?” There’s more silence for just a moment.

“You were just too quiet.” He finally says.

In the chaos that has been the past few hours, it’s impossible to forget the events, but quite easy to ruin the proper process. Instead of all being in each others’ presence, sleeping on the living room floor, the boys have gone to their own beds. If someone Disappears in sleep, no one will see them go.

But everyone is tired. Tensions are high, and honestly, not all of them can stand to see each other right now. Lucas made very obvious note of how Yuta and Winwin are sleeping in the second bedroom- usually they’re here- to get away from Lucas and Ten. Fair, because they’re the only other people, save immobile Jungwoo, in the room, and they did most of the damage.

Without them, or Jisung, Chenle or Haechan, the space feels empty. Incomplete. Lucas feels like little pieces of his heart are scattered across ice, melting through very slowly until they fall under icy water to be lost forever. He wants to collect them, pick them up but the ice will only break faster under his weight should he try.

So Lucas stays put, and he hopes to God that the young ones are safe.

 

Taeil falls in and out of consciousness often enough to know that it’s still storming outside. From his place, chained to a twin white bed facing a window in some unknown location he’s never seen before, he’s able to watch the wind whip through the trees, stripping them of their leaves and snapping little branches. It isn’t even a storm anymore, it’s a full blown hurricane, and the noises from outside drown out the beeps from the heart monitors in the room.

Although they drone in uneven intervals, they’ve become a comfort for Taeil and the others. Something always present, always there, something to take the edge off their raw wrists and pocked arms full of needle holes. This isn’t supposed to be prison, not even torture; ‘in the name of scientific research’ they need to stay here, but Taeil doesn’t see why his wrists have to be bound and the mattress has to be so fucking uncomfortable, broken springs pressing their sharp tips into his back.

The same question is asked of him everyday;

How did you get back ?

And Taeil will ask;

Back from where ?

Chapter Text

Johnny is taken aback for what feels like the hundredth time tonight. His shaking hands stop along with his heart, until it picks up again like a hummingbird, thumping against his stinging chest at 600 beats per minute.

“What do you mean ‘ We’ve found a way out ’?” He tries to keep his voice level. Does Renjun understand they’ve tried for two years? Does Renjun understand that whatever the fuck Johnny just did, it did not take him home?

But Renjun’s eyes are shining brighter than Johnny has ever seen them glow, even brighter than anything he saw back in the old world. That’s what gives him strength- Renjun is happier now than he’s ever been.

“We’ve done it! Hyung think about it-” Renjun is on his knees in front of Johnny, earnest that he understand even though Renjun is doing a very terrible job explaining.

“I can’t think right now.” Johnny says. “Explain, please .” Renjun blinks, then sits down. Johnny can literally see him collect his thoughts. Finally, those anxious brown eyes are connecting back with his, and Renjun takes a deep breath.

“Remembering.”

Johnny wants to cringe away from the word again.

“We get out if we remember.” This doesn’t help at all. Johnny just did that, Johnny’s still here.

“Ren-”

Listen . I pulled you out before it could happen, but you could feel it right? You felt it happen- It really was happening- If we just follow through with it all the way- We can get home- We can remember right back home hyung-” Every word that comes out of Renjun’s mouth causes Johnny’s heart to fall deeper and deeper into his stomach, but he doesn’t interrupt him. He waits patiently till he’s done. “If we remember all the way, we’ll Disappear from here . It makes sense; when you remember it happens all over again- but we always pass out or something before it happens. We just have to push through- we just have to remember.” Finally, his puppy eyes gaze further into Johnny’s and his mouth stops moving, pressing into a thin line. He’s said what he wants to say and he’s so sure of it. Johnny doesn’t want to say what he needs to say.

“Renjun,” He starts, but his younger brother’s hope stops him dead. He’s so innocent, so broken and bruised. It’s so not worth telling him no, that’s not going to work. Why? Why can’t it work? But Johnny knows for him, it wasn’t. Johnny wasn’t going anywhere but backwards, back to the very worst day and nowhere else. He wasn’t going home, he was just existing where it hurts the most to exist. “I don’t think that’s what was happening.” The sentence comes out quietly, strained and almost weaker than Johnny has ever sounded.

Nausea rises up in him again, something rather surprising, as Johnny is pretty sure he’s already puked all his guts out. He throws himself over the toilet, and Renjun is silent with shock at first, until he’s trying not to panic, because Johnny’s retching isn’t stopping and everything Renjun sees pass between his lips is red and evil, unnatural,

dangerous .

“Oh my god-” Renjun lunges forwards, eyes wide with panic. This is the second time tonight, but it’s definitely different. “Hyung what’s happening-” Johnny can’t answer him, he’s being wracked by sobs and gore as his body keeps heaving up god knows what-

I’m dying- I’m literally dying - These are the only thoughts running through his brain.

Jaemin is in the doorway instantly, and then Doyoung and Chenle too.

What the fuck is going on ?!” Jaemin can hardly hear himself over the commotion that ensues. Doyoung sweeps inside, pushing Renjun gently out of the way before kneeling beside Johnny, trying to take in the situation. Jaemin grabs the little brunette by the wrist and drags him out of the bathroom, shoving him into Chenle. “You two into the bedroom now , do not come out.” And then he turns away, running into the bathroom behind Doyoung and slamming the door shut.

No door can muffle the noise.

Instead of obeying, the youngest two slide down the wall together opposite the bathroom, staring at the white door challenging them to open it and see the horrors inside.

We need to wait it out- ” They hear Doyoung, immediately cut off by Jaemin who’s voice is shrill and panicked.

Wait?! He’s coughing his organs out-!

“Chenle,” Chenle’s head whips around to look at Renjun, whose eyes are glued to the door of the bathroom. “I did this to him.” Chenle’s eyes widen, shaking his head immediately and adjusting himself quickly to block Renjun’s view of the door, forcing him to look at him, not into fear, not into a downward spiral, him .

“Hyung you did not . Listen to me; this is not your fault .” Chenle’s voice shakes. He’s desperate to tell him this wasn’t him at all. He knows in his heart with so much strength that this is not Renjun’s doing, and it’s painful how difficult it is to get that point across. “Renjun I swear it’s not you. I promise -” Renjun is shaking his head, on the verge of pouring out an ocean from behind his eyes. The guilt is crushing his chest.

“I made him remember- I thought it would help- I did this-

Chenle can see him fall apart.

“No no no no-” Chenle leans forwards, breath shaking as he tries to hold himself together. “Renjun you were trying to help. Why did you think it would help? Think about it- think about your intentions-” Chenle doesn’t even know what exactly Renjun did, but he’s certain this is not his fault, and that Renjun needs to know it, otherwise, when the worst happens-

Chenle knows the worst is happening.

Based on the noise--

There’s no way it isn’t.

“I thought he could go home.” Renjun chokes out. “I thought we could go home.” Chenle stops breathing.

How ?”

“Remembering.”

Jaemin’s voice cuts through all of the chaos.

There’s no hospital running with ambulances, we can’t get him out of here-

Chenle freezes.

“Remembering?”

“Yes but it killed him it’s killing him -” Chenle rips away from Renjun, not because he’s angry, not because Renjun has done a single thing wrong-

But because he’s done everything right.

He whips around, bursting through the door.

“Hyungs!” Jaemin and Doyoung’s heads snap around to look at him in bewilderment.

“Chenle you shouldn’t be in here-” Jaemin starts to say, but a strangled cry of pain out of Johnny shuts him up.

“He needs to go back-” Chenle rushes forwards, and Jaemin doesn’t stop him as his knees connect with the tile floor is a manner that sounds like they completely snapped.

His knees or the tile? They’ll have to find out later.

“Hyung hyung-” Chenle can’t seem to get Johnny to focus on him, what with his insides coming outside and all. “Hyung you need to do it again- all the way back-” Doyoung resists the urge to pull Chenle away from him. The kid shouldn’t be seeing this.

And Johnny doesn’t need Chenle yelling bullshit at him right now. Doyoung doesn’t know who he’s trying to protect.

“Chenle what the fuck-” He starts to step in, but he’s never seen Chenle so determined.

“With all due respect hyung I’m trying to save his life-” Chenle doesn’t even spare Doyoung a glance. “Johnny hyung you need to do it again .”

Those are the only words that penetrate the blood rushing in Johnny’s ears. Just those and those alone. What does he need to do again? What’s happening? He can feel many things at once, none of them a pleasant feeling. He can feel himself empty out, out of blood, out of life-

Remember ?

Does he need to remember again?

Again ? For the second time tonight? If he could he would have scoffed. Remembering didn’t work. And what would it do for him if it did?

But he begins to hear other things.

“- operating hospitals on the other side, no? We can’t help him here-

He can go home?

-it could work, he could live-

His brothers are desperate. So desperate. He can hear the pain in their voices, the fear lacing the jagged edges of each word, the curt way a person talks when there isn’t enough air making it into their lungs.

He’s going to die here.

That’s what does it.

Not because Johnny is afraid of dying. Not because it’s painful. Not because presently nothing else is sticking.

Because of Chenle’s voice. Because of how it cracks and because of how he can hear the other three agree and panic and cry and he hates it. He hates hurting them like that.

Remember, right? That’s what he needs to do?

And so with all the strength left in his failing body, no matter how his head pounds and threatens to split open, he’s back in the kitchen.

He’s running the water.

It happens much quicker than the first time. There are arms around him, Mark’s? He assumes so. The memory is fresh in his mind, having relived it less than an hour ago, but it doesn’t make it any less painful, and it mixes with what’s attacking him now. It’s hard to try to remember something clearly when you’re dying somewhere else.

He doesn’t know in which world his fists are clenched together anymore, but either way they keep him grounded. No one stops him this time and desperation pushes him forwards. He’s so close. He can feel it happening. He can feel the tendrils and hear the voice -

 

He groans when he opens his eyes, which is the very first thing he hears and he almost scares himself right out of his own skin.

And then he’s coughing up blood all over the bathroom floor again.

The clean bathroom floor. Johnny could’ve sworn he had long since sullied it with his blood way before-

Unless.

Unless I’m-

He doesn’t even dare to think it. Dead? Is he dead?

He’s obviously not dead, because dead people don’t bleed and dead people don’t die and unfortunately he’s currently doing both. He can hear footsteps, which is something he thought he wouldn’t hear. Not if his brothers were already in the room with him;

Which he very quickly observes they are not .

What the fuck .

“What the fuck.”

Johnny knows he can’t speak, not with the way he’s failing to breathe and choking on his own blood and vomiting up his guts.

And he doesn't have to look up- which he wouldn’t have the strength to do even if he tried- to know who spoke.

He knows exactly who’s in the doorway.

“Taeyong!” Yuta’s knees crack against the floor the same way Chenle’s had and if Johnny wasn’t fighting death so furiously he would’ve scolded him for being reckless. “Taeyong! Sicheng!” Yuta is shouting, his voice so unnerving. This is what Johnny wanted to avoid. He doesn’t like how his brothers sound when they’re terrified. He wants to protect them, not be the cause of such horror.

And his voice falls foreign on his ears. Johnny hasn’t heard him speak in years.

It takes up until now for Johnny to realize a very important detail-

Yuta is supposed to be home, and with the lack of Chenle or Do or Jaemin or Renjun-

That means Johnny is too.

Taeyong’s heart drops into his stomach the minute he hears the yelling, and the way someone is gasping for air and coughing like they’re dying. He drops everything, which isn’t much, just his phone and a glass of water, to run into the bathroom.

He is very unprepared for the scene unfolding in front of him.

Taeyong is crying before he even realizes it, and the tears do nothing but blurr his vision slightly as he joins Yuta on the floor.

Yuta holding Johnny.

Johnny .

Johnny who’s been gone for ever .

Johnny who was never coming back-

“We need an ambulance.” Yuta’s eyes lock onto Taeyong’s. “Tae, an ambulance.” Taeyong snaps to attention. Of course. Of course a fucking ambulance.

The noise draws attention, and suddenly there are four bodies in the doorway, and nobody knows what the hell is happening.

Taeyong pushes through them all, Sicheng, Jungwoo, Lucas-

Ten.

Taeyong’s original goal was to make it to a phone, but seeing Ten makes him realize there’s something else he needs to do. Ten hasn’t seen him yet, Ten doesn’t know what’s happening, he just knows something is wrong .

“Ten with me right now.” Taeyong grabs his wrist and drags him along to his phone on the floor, he picks it up, cutting his hands on the broken glass from the water he dropped, and shoving it into Ten’s hands. “I need you to call an ambulance okay. Get them to hurry, tell them it’s urgent and that our friend is-” Is what? Dying? Taeyong leaves the sentence the way it is, nodding once in encouragement and praying Ten stays right there in the middle of the living room where Taeyong has walked him. He hears him dial as Taeyong runs back, and he’s relieved to know that he’s listening.

Back in the bathroom there’s nothing anyone can hide anymore. Yuta doesn’t want to encourage Johnny to vomit the way you’re supposed to do if someone is drunk or poisoned because he’s not vomiting anything useless- blood, he needs blood.

And that. Whatever the fuck that is Yuta is pretty sure Johnny needs that.

“Ten is calling an ambulance.” Taeyong slides in behind Johnny, placing his hand under his head so that he’s not making contact with the hard floor every time he shakes and seizes.

“Jungwoo grab me towels- like- a lot of them.” Yuta orders and the boys in the doorway move quickly, all except Mark, who’s eyes stay trained on Johnny. Taeyong doesn’t know what to say to him, looking at him look back at their brother. Everyone is shocked, but something is keeping Taeyong level headed. Desperation? Fear?

Whatever it is it’s not working it’s magic on Mark.

Gone, he was gone-

But he’s back.

He’s fucking back .

“We can’t do anything until Ten gets in contact with a hospital.” Taeyong says to Yuta who’s listening absentmindedly. He takes the pile of towels Jungwoo hands him- a couple wet leftover from not being hung up at all after their use hours ago to dry the few drowned members- and he places one beneath Johnny’s head, using other’s to try to sop up the crimson from the floor.

“Jungwoo go stand with Ten please. Don’t let him in here.” Taeyong says this quietly.

Taeyong takes these moments to truly look at Johnny. He hasn’t since the chaos started. He’s finally stopped throwing up nothing, and he just shakes in Taeyong’s arms. Yuta swallows, using a towel to wipe his face of his own blood. Johnny doesn’t look like he’s aged a day since he left, but somehow he seems older, and he seems small, but maybe it’s just because Taeyong hasn’t hugged him in forever. When he shudders Taeyong holds him tighter. They have so many questions, months and months between them, so many conversations they missed out on.

There’s so much Taeyong wants to say to him, but now is not the time.

All the while the rain keeps coming. The rain doesn’t care about what’s occurring inside the apartment. The rain doesn’t care that it’s already flooded the streets. It doesn’t care that no vehicle- ambulance, firetruck, police car- is going to get through the black water swirling around the mailboxes or lapping at the trees.

Mark tears his eyes away from his brother for just a moment to glance down the hall at Ten and Jungwoo. He hears what he dreads the most.

“They aren’t coming Jungwoo-”

Why, why the hell aren’t they coming -”

“They can’t send an ambulance in the weather.” Ten’s voice shakes in a way Mark wishes it doesn’t. He looks back inside the bathroom.

“They aren’t coming.” The first time he says it his brothers don’t even hear it. “Hyungs,” He tries again. “They aren’t coming.” Yuta looks up slowly, brow furrowing. His hand drops from the side of Johnny’s face.

“Sorry?”

“The ambulance isn’t coming.” Yuta looks at Johnny.

Johnny is less preoccupied than before, and can hear everything that happens around him. He doesn’t understand why they seem so upset- he’s fine. He stopped vomiting didn’t he? He’s safe. The pain isn’t as bad either, he’s not Disappearing anymore, he’s not crying or dying or anything like that.

They don’t need an ambulance.

He just needs them.

He’s home .

Mark enters the bathroom, sitting down beside Yuta very slowly. He breathes deliberately, making sure to measure each intake and outtake to keep the breaths from shaking. He looks at him. That’s all.

He takes in the face he’s missed for over a year, almost two. He watches someone he loves struggle from breath. He wishes he could give him his.

“Relax Johnny. You can relax now hyung.” Taeyong speaks very quietly, softly as if he could scare someone if he spoke too loud.

He looks so hollow. He looks the opposite of healthy, and maybe it’s because of everything he’s been through in the past hour, but he looks the opposite of how they want to remember him.

But here. Being here makes up for screwing with their memories.

“We missed you, John.” Mark says, taking his hand. Surprisingly, Johnny opens his eyes. It seems to take all his effort, but Mark and Yuta lean closer. “Hey,” Mark squeezes his hand. “Long time no see.” Johnny almost smiles, they can see it, but there’s not enough left in him to go all the way. That’s okay.

“We’re glad you’re here.” Taeyong says, stroking his hair. “We’re really glad you came back.” Yuta nods in agreement.

Johnny’s eyes are glazed over, sweeping the room without really looking. He relishes the fact that they’re there, but really nothing else computes.

“Mark.” Taeyong says his name without looking at him. “If the ambulance isn’t coming,” He takes a moment. “ If the ambulance isn’t coming - I think you need to get Ten.” Mark looks at his leader with wide eyes.

“You mean-”

“I do.”

“You don’t think he’s going to pull through-”

Taeyong shakes his head.

“He won’t.”

Chapter Text

“He did it.” Jaemin, Doyoung, Chenle and Renjun stare at the floor. Johnny is gone, a Disappearance in reverse.

And he’s safe .

In the real world, hospitals should be operating. The ambulance will come and they’ll take him away, they’ll save his life, he’ll live .

And he went back .

No one has ever gone back before.

“He fucking did it.” Jaemin turns to his brothers, his eyes are full of excitement. They’re elated, all of them. “He did it!” There’s a chorus of excited cheering. Jaemin turns to Chenle and Renjun. “That means we can do it too, right?” Jaemin’s eyes are shining like two brilliant stars. “We can go home?” Renjun nods with all the enthusiasm in his tiny body.

“We can!”

“I don’t know if it’s that easy-” Chenle chimes in. “Not to rain on the parade,” He wishes he hadn’t said anything because the three of them look so put out by his words, but he’s right. “Johnny was dying . And we’ve all remembered before and haven’t gone anywhere.” He can feel the mood in the room shift. “I’m saying the situation might have to be life or death- or we’re pushed really far or-” He can no longer salvage his sentence. “Yikes.” He breathes out, but Doyoung nods somberly.

“You could be right.” He says. “And going home doesn’t fix the problem.” Jaemin and Renjun look at him quizzically. “People at home are still going to Disappear. What if when we go back, we lose everyone? Or if we go we just come right back the next Disappearance?” His words hit deep, but wise.

Shit .” Jaemin curses.

“Johnny had to go back because he’d die here, but us-” Chenle trails off.

“We might have to stay?” Renjun speaks up, his disappointment plain on his features. “You’re saying we can’t go home?” Doyoung shakes his head, coming to stand closer to Renjun, whose eyes are flickering back and forth between his brothers in weak panic.

“That’s not what we’re saying, we’re saying maybe .”

Renjun takes a deep breath.

“Of course.” But he pulls away, he stands up. The boys know that he’s half crushed, because Renjun doesn’t quite believe it won’t work, but his trust in his hyungs dampens his belief that it will .

“Renjun-” He’s halfway out of the bathroom now. “Renjun we can try-” Jaemin hops to his feet, chasing down his brother. Doyoung let’s him go, and then he’s enveloped in the scent of blood rising off the floor. It’s crimson slime drips off the toilet and spreads across the tile. Doyoung gags, pulling Chenle up with him when he stands.

“Grab me some towels kiddo,” He shoos him out, trying to remove him from the mess. Johnny might be okay where he is now, but he’s left quite a spectacle behind that Doyoung has to clean up. “You better be okay bitch-” He says under his breath to his brother on the other side. “I’m not cleaning your blood off the floor with a smile on my face for nothing.” When Chenle returns, he helps wet a few of the blue towels he’s brought and begins to scrub bits of both wet and dried blood of the ground.

It really is absolutely disgusting, but the two of them have to do it and the thought that Johnny is safe where he is takes away any bitterness about having to scrape up his bloody vomit. The towels turn swiftly from blue to red, and Chenle scrunches his nose up in disgust.

“Better not to think about it Chenle.” Doyoung chides. He sits back on his calves, tossing the sullied towels into a collective pile off to the side.

“Should I try to do the laundry, like, wash them or something?” Chenle asks him, but Doyoung shakes his head.

“I don’t think those will ever get clean,” He considers picking up the pile, but thinks better of it, instead contenting himself with staring at them as if they’ll disappear beneath his angry gaze. “I’ll just throw them out.” Chenle nods.

His body is buzzing, it’s as if he’s high, or as if adrenaline is flooding thicker through his veins than blood. Someone actually went home . Chenle’s only been here for a few days, but he so desperately misses home, despite being overjoyed by the presence of the others he lost. Johnny is home and he’s safe.

That thought pushes away everything else. It overpowers the pain, the anger, the bitterness. It overpowers how he got here and why, and it even overpowers the thought;

Will I ever see him again ?

And then suddenly it doesn’t overpower that one anymore and Chenle freezes.

“Le what’s wrong-” Doyoung notices the change instantly. He’s confused, because they’re supposed to be happy right now, at least Doyoung is happy. He realizes that maybe it’s selfish for him to think everyone else it.

A heavy sadness, like a thick tarp or a weighted blanket begins to spread across Chenle’s chest. It’s a bittersweet sadness, the happy thought no longer blocking the bitterness anymore either, and Chenle is happy Johnny’s gone and broken up about it all at the same time. He only got to see him for what- two days?

Two days after two years?

That’s nowhere near enough time in Chenle’s level headed opinion.

 

The van stops it’s rumbling and Kun assumes safely that it’s stopped it’s moving then as well after what feels like forever.

An absolutely agonizing forever.

Blind, he’s ushered out the back end, shoved around like a rag doll, and eventually finds himself sitting in a very hard, very uncomfortable seat. All the while he thinks about his injuries and about how he’s still alive. He wonders at that fact, but also wants to know why . Should he not be dead? Maybe he’s dramatic, he’s never been beaten like that before, so maybe he doesn’t know what almost dead feels like. He stares at the inside of his blindfold, the blackness the only thing he can look at. It’s dark, but it’s whole. A whole darkness. That’s comforting.

Until suddenly it’s not and the fabric is ripped away and he discovers what he had already gathered based on the silence that save the one who just pulled off the blindfold only two other men stand in the room, neither of which are captives like Kun. Where everyone else was taken is beyond him, and only thoughts of fear fly through his groggy mind.

He feared them from the start. He feared them before they cut him, before they tied him up, before they wrapped their hands around his neck-

Even before the threat became real life, Kun and the others feared them.

Taeil’s face flashes behind his aching eyes.

fuck -

“Have you remembered?” The question is curt, angry, hard, a bunch of things Kun didn’t know a question could be despite all of the crime TV he used to watch in the old world. It’s almost exciting, being interrogated.

Almost .

“What do you mean?” He asks into the space. It’s baren, black with spray paint. There’s nothing for Kun to see, and that makes the situation worse; he can’t gauge any manner of escape.

He genuinely doesn’t know the answer either. Has he remembered what? What he ate for breakfast? His first name? Something he’s forgotten- which, obviously- means he hasn’t remembered it?

Maybe it’s merciful, maybe it’s business, but the men don’t waste anytime. They get straight to the point.

“Your Disappearance. Your own Disappearance.” One says. He’s tall, with broad shoulders and pretty lips. He’s the kind of guy in the old world Kun might swoon for, definitely not the type that Kun thought would meddle in a business as slimy as this . Kun stops a shaky breath. His Disappearance?

He remembers it too well. He remembers work, he remembers stocking paint, and then he remembers bright blue- it was a can of blue he dropped- decorating the floor. Blue is painful now, it brings back all the memories.

When he showed up in the art store over here, no one was there. It was shocking, to be in so much pain and then suddenly be completely alone, but of course a person doesn’t remember the instance when they first show up. Kun didn’t even know what had happened until he returned home, finding Renjun and Johnny,

Now that was a shocker.

But yes, Kun remembered. Renjun asked him to.

It will help.

I promise .

Their blue door was completely untouchable for two and a half weeks.

“I have.” Agony rushes through his abdomen in a wave, crashing clumsily when it comes across any injury, catching on the gashes like it’s silk on jagged rocks. Kun tries his best to keep it from registering on his face, but the best he can do is stay silent. He grimaces quite obviously, and the nausea rising up inside him is difficult to fight down. One of the guys leaning against the wall moves as if to step forward, but the third places a hand on his thigh, keeping him propped against the wall. Kun doesn’t need his help anyways, he needs these freaks to stay as far away from him as possible. He needs them to let him go, to tell him it’s all a joke and get him a goddamn band aid .

“You have.” The first man repeats, the tall one with the pretty face. He sounds almost disappointed.

The other two are far from ugly too, the first one shorter with dark mousy hair and the other with soft kind features. None of them look like pimps. Kun can feel it getting hard to breathe again, the panic building up inside of him worse than any he’s felt throughout the whole night. Never has he ever felt so confused.

He’s not worth all this. He’s not worth singling out, attacking, binding, questioning. Why do they want him? He knows he has nothing to offer him. Why does it matter whether he knows how he got here or not?

“I want to untie you.” The first man says suddenly, and Kun is taken aback.

Be my guest -” He snaps, but he’s cut off by another wave of  torment and it worsens with every breath. The second guy actually has the audacity to look uncomfortable, as if the pain Kun is in is bothersome for him. Kun would spit some other smart remark if he wasn’t so preoccupied with trying not to pass out.

“But to do that I need you to say you’re going to cooperate with us.” The boy speaks slowly, like he has all the time in the world. It’s cruel, knowing that Kun is running out.

“-The fuck do you need me for-” He gasps, but his defences are weak, and the sharp tongue he uses to preserve himself is failing as the seconds draw on.

“Say you’ll cooperate. I’ll untie you.”

Kun would love to have his hands. He’d love to be able to try to stop the bleeding he can feel has restarted. He needs to hold himself together- like physically hold himself together. He needs to feel even slightly free if he wants to let go.

But he doesn’t know what they want. He doesn’t know what he’ll be agreeing to, however, it doesn’t seem like he’ll be alive long enough to go through with whatever is decided upon. It can’t hurt-

“I’ll do it.” He says, with as much strength as he can muster- which is barely anything at all. His head lolls backwards, eyes fluttering shut as all his focus leaves trying to do anything else but breathe.

The third guy pushes off from the wall, walking around the back of Kun’s chair. To him, the room is full of shit, but his personal favorite is the duffel bag sitting on the table, filled with all of his favorite things;

Medical supplies.

The first one nods at him assuringly, letting him know that it’s okay to untie their guest in the centre. As he gets closer, he can hear how laboured the boy’s breathing is.

“They really didn’t hold back on him.” He muses, kneeling behind the chair to get at his wrists, pulling away the bindings after just a few moments of toying with the knots. His friend shakes his head, chuckling.

“They did not.”

“He must’ve really pissed ‘em off then.” The brunette says, sweeping to the bag on the metal table, releasing the zipper in one swift movement.

“He probably just looked at them wrong.” Says the first, who takes the supplies the third man hands him. “Or breathed too heavy.”

Kun is not completely passed out yet, but he doesn’t register in the right way how they talk about him. He hears without listening as they discuss his condition and how he might have come to be so mangled.

The brunette shoves the bag off the table, which makes the boy closest to Kun cringe.

“Be careful with that shit-”

“It’s all in a duffel it’ll be fine . We need the space to fix him, no?” The tall one rolls his eyes.

“Both of you are killing me I swear.”

Kun feels strong arms hoist him from the chair, and he’s laid out onto a table he hadn’t been able to see. He knows it’s a table because it’s high off the ground, and because the boys stand on all sides of it, so it isn’t connected to anything else.

Kun supposes it could be a counter too.

It’s thoughts like these- these tinged with a little unease and panic- that run through his mind instead of thoughts like ‘what the fuck are they going to do to me on said table/counter?’. Maybe thinking like that would be more rational, but what’s rationality when you can’t even see what you’re looking at?

As they work, the three discuss what they’ve learned- which to Kun isn’t much- but to them it’s enough.

“He’s almost completely useless now then, right?” The one with the soft features says. The brunette purses his lips, keeping quiet and busy as he waits for the third boy to respond.

“If he’s already remembered then he won’t be worth much back home.” He says affirming what the second boy knew to be true.

“So we turn him over-”

“Yes.”

“There’s really nothing else to do for him?”

“We have this conversation every time, Daehyun-”

“I know but for real this is ridiculous-”

“They already know he’s here. We can’t just send him back where he came from-”

“Where they took him from-”

“Daehyun.” The tall man stops the interaction dead, and the brunette is frozen where he stands, unable to look him in the eyes. The third boy just keeps working, patching up laceration after laceration under the stifling silence. “We have this conversation every time.” He repeats again, voice dangerously low, menacing in a manner that the other two hardly ever hear out of him. “This is what we do. This is how people get home. With his sacrifice-” He nods towards Kun on the table. “Things will get better for everyone.”

 

Taeil is woken up by a woman in blue scrubs the way he is every day, allowed to sit up, stand, and sit back down on the bed. The routine is burned into his body now, and he goes about it like a robot, not really making any real attempt to stretch his legs.

She uncuffs him and rubs his wrists for three seconds, just like every other day. Taeil started counting about the fifth day the routine was integrated, purely out of boredom, but she astonishes him every time by never lingering longer or pulling away faster. They ache softly, his wrists, and the ghost of the cuffs never truly leaves his skin before they have to be put back on, though Taeil gets about half an hour to be free of them.

He looks around the room as the Yuhyeon- he learned her name the very first day he woke up- continues to do as she must, checking his vitals, monitoring his heart rate and shining a light in both his eyes. There are seven other beds in the space, all empty.

“Picked you up last today.” The woman says in a soft voice. Taeil just nods.

“You know I need to ask-”

“Why do you? Really, Taeil, every single day?”

“Because there shouldn’t be any reason I’m stuck here!” He’s pretty composed, but definitely on edge. Yuhyeon has never hurt him before, but the people outside of this space-

Taeil just wants to go home. His very last memory is falling asleep in his bed beside Taeyong’s, and when he woke up here…

They attack him like he went somewhere. Like he did something wrong. But Taeil has no recollection of either of these things, and they feed him lies everyday.

“Why am I here.” He says, but it isn’t really a question, not after so many days. The nurse sighs heavily and then takes a breath that Taeil knows word for word what she’s going to use it for;

“You Disappeared, Taeil. You went away. Gone people don’t come back.”

“But I did.”

“You did.”

“Where did I go?”

“We need you to tell us that-”

“But I don’t know.”

The nurse exhales again.

“How can you not know?” She takes his arm to pull him up straight. “It’s frustrating, love, because we can’t bring anyone back if you can’t tell us where they are.”

“But I seriously don’t know. Why can’t I go home?” His voice breaks where he wishes it didn’t, and he can feel the nurse’s sympathy wash off her in a wave.

At least she’s nice.

She could be god awful if she wanted. She could abuse them, she could honestly do whatever the fuck she pleases. The people here are helpless, the ones who came back. They’re disoriented, trapped, not allowed back out, not allowed back home . The people here have no idea where they went, but apparently they went somewhere .

Taeil isn’t stupid. He knows the Disappearances are real, hell, he lost some of his younger brothers to it-

But him? Taeil could’ve sworn he had never left the house, never left his room, never left his bed. The last thing he saw was Taeyong’s chest rising and falling in sleep.

Soon ,” She crones finally, and begins to walk him out of the room he’s grown to call home-

And into the hands of the doctors.

 

Ten knows something is up. He knew it the minute his members made sure no one else went into the washroom, and he knew it had to do with him the moment Taeyong asked him to call the ambulance. Why can’t I know? Who is it-

Ten is scared it’s Jungwoo for a moment. He’s afraid maybe the alcohol was too much for him and now his blood has been poisoned or thinned or thickened or whatever the hell alcohol will do to him, but the boy is standing just outside the bathroom when Ten tries to look, and that erases any fear for him at all.

So who?

119 what’s your emergency ?” A male voice, calm and sweet answers the phone.

“H-hello- we need an ambulance at our apartment immediately-” His voice comes out shakier than he expected.

Sir , what is the nature of the emergency ?”

“My friend? He-” Jungwoo has come to stand beside him now. He feeds him the right words to say. “He’s vomiting blood, a lot of blood,” Jungwoo nods as Ten relays what he whispers. “It’s ripping his throat up-” Ten’s own throat goes dry when it feels the words he’s being told to say. “His pulse is weak-” The word ‘weak’ cracks in his mouth but Ten can’t do a thing about it. ‘ Who ?’ He mouths to Jungwoo, but Jungwoo shakes his head.

Turn him on his side, be sure that he doesn’t choke on his own blood. What’s your name sir ?”

“It’s Ten?” Ten doesn’t know why he’d ask such a stupid question.

Okay Ten. With the weather conditions there is no way for an ambulance to make it to your location. However, I can talk you through courses of action you’re going to need to take .” Ten’s brow furrows and Jungwoo’s does the same. He can’t hear what’s being said, but with the way Ten looks like he’s been punched in the stomach, it isn’t good.

“They’re not coming.” Ten allows the cell phone to drop away from his ear a little, not completely gone, but he’s seemed to have forgotten about it’s existence entirely.

“What?” Ten spoke so softly Jungwoo genuinely didn’t hear him well, and what he thought he heard is something he wishes he didn’t.

“They’re not coming.” The words come out with more force this time.

“Oh.” It’s like a shot through the heart, a bullet through his chest. They’re not coming .

“He’s going to die then.” Ten says into the phone. Jungwoo didn’t tell him to say that.

Ten, let me give you directions. Your friend is going to be okay- ” Ten doesn’t let him finish. He ends the call, there’s no help for them whether he stays on the line or not.

Mark’s head pops out of the bathroom, and when he spots the two of them off the phone he gestures for them to come.

“Who?” Ten grabs Jungwoo’s wrist and pulls him after him quickly, anxious to find out.

“Hyung-”

“Who is it-” They make it to the door in just a few steps, and Ten chokes on the second half of the sentence when he gets a good look at the scene unfolding. It’s worse than anything he had imagined.

Blood.

Everywhere .

Taeyong, Yuta and Mark are hovering over someone.

Winwin - But the frame is so much taller, the hair darker, and then Ten suddenly realizes what he’s looking at.

Who he’s looking at.

“John-” He flies inside, and suddenly he’s on his hands and knees, covered in the sticky red. He doesn’t care. All he cares about is the boy in front of him.

The dying boy.

The boy he’s missed with more of him than anyone else.

The boy he thought he lost.

The boy he thinks he loves.

Chapter Text

“We’re going home.” Jeno gathers his brothers up. “We’re leaving.” They exit theater seven, walking through the hallway, until they come to the foyer.

It’s full of muddy water.

The blackness swirls, it rushes and flows through the building and the rain continues to pound down outside relentlessly.

“Oh my god-” Haechan swallows. Jeno grasps his wrist tightly, honestly afraid that if they step out into the knee deep mess it’ll sweep them away.

He’s blinded by the need to get home. Blinded by the need to connect with the others, because if Chenle left hours ago others could have too. Jeno doesn’t think he can handle losing any more of them.

In the detached manner that’s taken over him, he drags Donghyuck into the water with him.

“Hyung-” Jeno doesn’t listen to him.

The cold shocks Haechan, spreading through his bones immediately and making it hard to keep his teeth from chattering. He grabs Jisung before Jeno can pull him any further in, afraid that Jisung will be taken with the current.

“It’s okay, Ji. It’s just like an indoor swimming pool.” Haechan cracks a trademark smile and Jisung’s fear filled face relaxes the best it can in the situation. Jeongin and Seungmin follow the three of them, and almost immediately Seungmin fails to avoid a piece of debris in the water that sweeps by him so quickly it cuts his left leg.

“Shit-” Jeongin screams, grasping Seungmin before he even realizes what happened.

“It’s okay, I’m okay-” Seungmin frowns because the pain hasn’t registered yet. He takes advantage of this though. “We need to go.” Jeno watches him with wide eyes. The guy only has two arms, and with four friends he faces quite the dilemma; he can’t protect everyone. This stresses him out more than the storm does, but to avoid scaring anyone else by displaying his fear, Jeno smiles instead.

“Onward!” He cries over the rushing water and thunder. The rest of the boys yell enthusiastically in unison, and they set off, dodging pieces of wood and old posters until they’ve reached the doors with the broken glass.

“Be careful here, guys.” Seungmin warns. With the way the space is filling with water rapidly, to make it through the little broken doors the boys will have to submerge themselves almost completely, a dangerous feat. Jeno bites his lip.

“I’ll go and help you guys get out.” He releases Haechan and Jisung, making sure they’re stable enough to stand in the current, and presses forwards. There’s nothing for him to hold onto to help pull himself through the little rectangle, so he takes in a deep breath and dips beneath the surface of the dirty, discordial rush.

Being underwater is like being underwater (of course). The world is muffled, it’s paused, the chaos has gone silent and all Jeno can hear is his heart beat in his ears and the light tap of rain against the surface. It’s addicting, the silence, and the peace threatens to drag him further under than he had initially bargained for.

Emerging from the water is harder than he thought it’d be, and immediately he’s thrown into the wall. The water is almost waist deep outside.

“How-” Is all he manages to get out between breaths from burning lungs. He turns around, facing the door and gesturing towards the boys on the inside.

The rain beats down against his back, almost like droplets of hail and each one feels like it could leave a bruise. The winds are so high the trees threaten to crash down and the lightning so consistent Jeno knows there’d be fires if there wasn’t so much rain. Haechan, Jeongin and Jisung help Seungmin to the entrance, and as soon as he dips beneath the water Jeno is there to grab him, helping him stand on the other side. He almost loses his footing when he stands up, but Jeno is there to help him.

The pain has officially registered, and if it wasn’t for the mud swirling in the brand new ocean the boys would’ve seen how much blood was leaving his limb, but because they can’t see it ignorance becomes bliss and Seungmin is easily able to focus on other challenges at hand like avoiding lightning and death and ensuring the safety of the others. The boys usher Jisung out next, and then Jeongin.

“I’ve never understood floods.” Haechan says before he submerges himself. Jeno grabs him tightly and pulls him back above the water once he’s cleared the door. “How does the round earth act like a cup.” Jeno rolls his eyes.

“Not the time-” The water continues to lap at their bodies and the current only seems to grow faster. Haechan does have a point, and Jeno wonders where all the water is going at such a speed.

Better not to find out.

“Our house is closer.” Jeongin yells over the storm. “Should we head there for safety’s sake?” Jeno just wants to go home, but he knows that it’s too risky to make the long trek when there’s a perfectly good home just fifteen minutes from here.

Hopefully dry.

“Woojin is probably worried anyways.” Seungmin says and Jeongin nods.

In a soggy pack they struggle towards home.

The water makes it nearly impossible, the rain continues to blind and thunder takes away their ability to hear each other. Seungmin pushes forwards with a leg that’s slowly choosing to stop functioning, and the cold seeps into their limbs to zap them of their energy regardless.

Leaving was an awful idea, but they’re too far gone now to turn back.

“We’re close!” Jeongin encourages over the howling wind. He slows his pace to walk behind Seungmin, watching him anxiously and praying that his leg won’t give out. They’re just five minutes from their house now, and Jisung picks up the pace, everyone following suit.

They can see it now, shrouded in darkness and broken up between the sheets of rain. The stairs up to the front door are submerged up to the third of five, which is a bless meaning the rest of the house should be dry when they make it inside. Jeno stays at the back, ushering everyone ahead of him until they make it to the porch, climbing the soggy stone stairs and breathing hard at the top.

“Well, that was my work out for the day-” Haechan says between breaths. Jisung laughs and Jeongin snaps back in good humor.

“More like for the year, thank you.” Seungmin opens the front door, entering the code for the second, heavier duty one, and breathes a sigh of relief when it opens. It should have anyways, but the whole situation makes him worry further. They’re all just excited to see Hyunjin and Woojin and wait out the storm somewhere dry and familiar.

“Inside inside inside,” Seungmin holds the door for everyone, grabbing Jeno’s shirt to help him in faster. The wind slams the door shut behind them.

Inside the house the wails of the storm are muted, and for the first time in about twenty five minutes- the trek is usually only fifteen but under the current circumstance it took longer- the boys can hear themselves think again.

Fuck -” Seungmin says finally, pulling his pant leg up and he gasps between his teeth when he sees it.

“Holy shit,” Jeno kneels down beside him quickly, raking his eyes over the gash. “What hit you?” He touches it gingerly, about a hand in length it’s quite deep.

“No idea-” Seungmin gasps in pain. “I’m glad it’s so cold otherwise I think it would hurt more.”

“As if it isn’t paining you enough now?” Haechan chides, ducking into the dining room and returning with a chair for Seungmin to sit on. Jeongin watches with cloudy eyes. He has absolutely no experience in any sort of medical field.

“I feel useless.” He says to Jisung quietly, who pats him on the back.

“You’re not. Seungmin hyung is fine.” He comforts.

“It’s not like any of us know what we’re doing either.” Haechan adds, smiling. Seungmin nods, and though his face is pained he smiles.

Jeno is all business, but the laceration isn’t going to do anything but bleed and hurt and they all know Seungmin isn’t in any real danger.

“We’ll just bandage it up.” Seungmin says.

“And get you to a hospital after the storm, your brothers drive right?” Jeno looks at Seungmin quizzically, then turns to the rest of the empty room. “Speaking of which-” He leans over to look into the kitchen. “Where are they?”

“I’ll go find them.” Jeongin says, eager to move around as his limbs are stiff with the freezing cold.

“I’ll come.” Jisung says to no one in particular, following Jeongin as they exit the main room.

“Grab some clothes or something will ya?” Haechan yells after them, and Jisung waves without looking to let him know they heard him. “We’re very very wet.” Haechan says to Seungmin and Jeno like they don’t know. His older brothers laugh.

If a person were to look at all of them in the house at a glance, it would appear that, despite being soaking wet, they’re quite happy. At peace, even.

But only at a glance.

Chenle’s absence has left no one’s mind and he’s still the unspoken elephant in the room. Jisung wrings his hands anxiously, Jeongin blinks too often, Haechan’s laugh is too loud, Jeno’s smile too wide and Seungmin’s heartbeat too fast.

They’re very, very , afraid.

 

“I actually think the worst of it’s over,” Taeyong says tentatively, and the eyes of the three boys before him shoot up so quickly.

“Are you sure?”

“I can’t be sure -”

“He looks like he’s dying a little less now.” Mark says, nodding. They all look down at Johnny and Johnny wishes he has the strength to nod. He wants to say he’s fine, in fact he feels better already. He doesn’t have the ability to say so, so instead he thinks.

If a person can pull through what reverse-Disappearing does to them then they get to live? To come back? Johnny can only chalk up what’s happened to side effects of coming back, otherwise he has no idea why his body did what it did. But he’s done vomiting, done coughing, and now he just shakes a little, which is honestly a positive.



Ten looks at Johnny as he rests. He watches his chest rise and fall like it’s his lifeline, like if it stops, he goes down too. The shock still tingles all over his skin, the feeling of utter elation followed by horror. Johnny came home.

He was also covered in blood.

Ten shakes his head vigorously, dispelling the memory. It was only, what, two hours ago? But still he never wants to see him like that again.

He takes a seat next to him on the bed, sighing heavily. A tentative hand reaches out first to his shoulder, and then when he doesn’t stir, into his hair. His soft, silky hair. He runs his fingers through it again and again, relishing what he’s missed for so long.

“I can’t believe you’re back.” He whispers. Ten clambers around him to lie against his back, wrapping him in his arms. Johnny groans softly, whether it’s pain or acknowledgment of Ten’s presence he truly doesn’t know. Ten presses his face into his back, trying to hold back tears welling up in his eyes.

This must be a dream. A really cruel dream. One where Ten will wake up and find that Johnny never came back, and in it’s duration Ten will hurt knowing he hurts. He shakes a little, though he tries his best to stay still, and bites his lip. This is so natural. The hug has been something they’ve done for years , and something they haven’t for two.

Ten missed it so much.

Hours pass, or maybe only minutes, but eventually Johnny’s eyes flutter open for the first time since his initial re-appearance. His body feels like it’s on fire, but ice hugs him from behind. He knows exactly who it is, the form all too familiar.

“Ten.” His eyes glue themselves to the floor, the direction in which his body his facing. He doesn’t want to move, and he can’t anyways, his body won’t respond to those commands. Ten stiffens, caught by surprise, and then he’s adjusting his grip and stroking Johnny’s arm. Neither of them say anything for a long time.

Johnny is exhausted, the ordeal took everything out of him. He’s lost blood, probably pieces of his trachea and definitely the ability to breathe easily. Ten knows this. His arms are not constricting and he counts every one of Johnny’s laboured breaths, making sure he’s getting enough.

“How are you feeling?” He asks quietly, voice muffled against the sweater they had changed Johnny into. He can feel Johnny melt backwards into him. He loves the way his right arm grips Ten’s wrist loosely.

He hates the way his entire body can almost engulf him now.

What happened? Johnny was always the taller one, the stronger one, but it’s like he’s deteriorated to nothing now. Ten just hopes with time he won’t be able to feel his ribs through the fabric.

“Fabulous.” The boy in his arms chokes out. His voice sounds like it’s been sent through a paper shredder, and perhaps that’s what his throat looks like. Ten almost cringes away from how it sounds, but he stays still, he keeps them close together.

“I forgot about that pillow.” Johnny says this very casually, but it’s actually quite a revelation for him. A lot of things are, objects in every room he’s seen (a solid two since he’s come back) existing before his eyes that haven’t been there in years. Ten frowns, leaning up on his elbow and looking over Johnny to eventually locate the pillow in question.

“What do you mean you forgot about it?”

“I didn’t know it was there.” Despite how raspy his voice is, the tone is curious and innocent. Ten’s frown only deepens.

He has no idea what life has been like for him.

“Me neither come to think of it.” Ten doesn’t lie back down immediately, instead he uses the back of his hand to stroke Johnny’s cheek. His skin is soft, and Ten's mood brightens when Johnny’s eyes flutter in bliss. Ten can feel the relief, the vigor, the happiness coming off him to be home. “Where’d you go.” Ten says finally, and Johnny’s eyes open back up.

“I’m actually not sure.”

Ten didn’t expect a response. He was afraid his question was too traumatic, and that that was okay and if Johnny didn’t want to answer it Ten had already come to peace with that.

But the truth is that only the actual act of leaving was traumatic.

That and losing Taeil.

Everything else was almost normal. Life continued, Johnny took care of Renjun, and when others showed up he took care of them too. It was every day. It was regular.

“Home, but not home.” Johnny adds on, and Ten is even further shocked. “Somewhere like here but not quite.” Ten scooches over to make room and then pushes Johnny flat on his back- very gently- so he can look him in the face. He searches his eyes; clear and deep chestnut brown, just like always. Johnny is as alert as someone in his position can be. He’s not on drugs. He’s not sleep talking.

He’s relaying the truth.

“What-”

“Do I mean? Exactly what I’m saying.” Johnny plays with Ten’s sleeve, maintaining eye contact. “It’s here. It’s this apartment. It’s everything I can remember.” Ten’s eyes flit to the pillow across the room.

“But you forgot the pillow.”

“I did.” Johnny presses his lips together. “And so the pillow wasn’t there.” Ten blinks, wrapping his mind around the things this boy is telling him.

“Were you lonely?” It breaks his heart to say this. It pulls it apart even further to think about Johnny alone for two years.

Johnny’s eyes bug open so wide Ten almost jumps, terrified they’ll shoot out of his skull. Johnny launches upwards, sitting with more energy than he’s ever had, ignoring the urge to double over in serious pain. Ten doesn’t know what to do, it all happens so quickly.

“LIE DOWN-” He shrieks. Less than three hours ago he was dying - moving like this is dangerous.

“I WASN’T ALONE!” Johnny grabs Ten’s shoulders, breathing hard and struggling to form words. “Ten I wasn’t alone-” Ten’s eyes are as wide as his, hands shaking as they cup his cheeks.

“Please relax-” He pleads. He wants him to lie down, he wants him to avoid stressing his body out. Ten wants answers, but he wants Johnny to rest more.

“The others were with me.” He says, refusing to let Ten push him down. “ The others are still there .” All the details come flooding back. Kun, Doyoung, Chenle, Jaemin, Renjun.

Maybe even Taeil.

“They’re all there.” Finally his body catches up to his mind and confused knives of pain- that don’t really know why they’re there- jab into his chest and throat. He sucks in a tight breath, and then leans forward, letting Ten hold him together.

“They are?” Ten asks into his hair. He can feel Johnny nod weakly, and then he helps him lie back down. “Promise me you’ll stay still.” He whispers, before releasing his shoulders. Johnny nods. “Tell me about them.”

Ten hasn’t seen them in forever. None of them. Not Renjun, not Jaemin, not Taeil- he misses them with so much fervor even the alcohol he downs on the daily fails to keep their faces and memories at bay.

“They’re tired.” Johnny says after a moment of thinking. “Jaemin still laughs a lot though.” Hearing his name makes Ten feel like he’s floating. Uttering any of them used to be a chore and a curse, but the way Johnny says it- with so much assurance that he’s alive- is addicting.

“He’s really safe?”

“As safe as a teen ever is, yes.” Ten watches Johnny think, he can see him rack his brain for information. “Kun and I had jobs, but I guess I don’t anymore-” Johnny’s euphoria becomes heavy and Ten’s mood drops when he struggles for breath. “But Kun didn’t come home- from work I mean. He never came back, yesterday? Two days ago?” Ten can’t really help him with that. Johnny’s eyes meet his. “We’re really worried about him, Ten.” He says, trying to keep his broken voice level. “Like, really worried.” Ten’s heart is in his stomach. Missing both here and there . How’d Kun manage that?

“Where is he?”

“We don’t know.” This hangs in the air for a while. “We don’t know.” Johnny is desperate for happier things to tell Ten, so he steers clear from the topic of Taeil too. “But Doyoung adjusted really well.” Ten bites his tongue. He forgot about that, and the mention brings fresh pangs of loss.

“I’m glad-”

“Chenle as well. He-”

“Chenle?” The blood in his veins stops flowing. Johnny realizes he might’ve made a mistake.

“Yes he’s- he’s been with us for a few days,” He lets his voice trail off. Come to think of it, Johnny hasn’t seen any of the younger few since he showed up, but he had chalked it all up to having failed to see mostly everything between the blood and the chaos.

“No no no-” Ten stands up, leaving Johnny cold.

“Ten-”

“Hyung he’s gone ? They’re supposed to be okay- they’re stranded in the storm-” He paces violently.

“He is okay-”

“But he’s gone -”

“He is-”

“He’s gone. He’s not allowed to be gone.” Ten’s voice cracks as he sinks to the floor, and there’s nothing Johnny can do about it.

Chapter Text

Jeongin starts up the stairs, but waits on the third step for Jisung to catch up. His hand brushes Jisung’s, and his skin is so cold against his own that he gasps. Jisung looks at him with an exasperated frown as they start walking, and Jeongin laughs.

“You’re cold.”

“I know .”

Jeongin shakes his head, tisking as if Jisung has any control over his body temperature. As they reach the landing, Jeongin looks around the dark hallway.

“In a few minutes you can pop into the shower, we should get everyone to do that at some point, heat us all up.” Jeongin says, and Jisung nods exaggeratedly, hypothermia a genuine concern painting their pale, translucent skin.

They walk down the hallway together, not saying much because there isn’t much to be said, and Jeongin sticks his head into the bathroom first.

Nope, no brothers there.

“Woojin hyung, Hyunjin hyung,” He calls down the hallway, and the two move on, passing Jeongin’s bedroom which he shared with a few of the youngest members. Now only Seungmin, Jeongin and Hyunjin remain to sleep in it, and Woojin has moved inside too.

It’s a little too lonely to stay in the other one.

Jisung peers inside it with curiosity. He’s been in this house a million times, but after the Disappearances began the friends stopped hanging out at home- too many painful memories of people leaving there. It looks pretty much the same, except a few of the beds aren’t made, their blankets folded and sitting at the foot, and there are a few pairs of shoes here and there beneath the beds, no longer in use.

Their house is like this too, they cleaned up but never put away their old members. The ghost of their existence still hangs around, like Jaemin’s phone plugged into the wall, or Renjun’s photographs on display.

He was a really good photographer.

Jeongin grasps his wrist and pulls him down the hall with him. The storm’s noise has strengthened, as if all the windows upstairs are open. Jisung makes the same observation, and thinks that once they find the other boys they should stay downstairs. The house creaks in the wind.

As they near the second bedroom both boys fail to notice how the carpet is slightly soggy- not completely soaked, but droplets and a dark stain leak from beneath the doorframe. In the dark however, this isn’t noticeable, and through the howling winds the squelching of their shoes is easily overlooked.

“Woojin-” Jeongin pushes open the door to the second bedroom, the one where the older members slept. Jisung can’t see inside, but he knows something is weird the moment Jeongin looks and sees . “What the fuck-” Jisung’s brow furrows instantly and Jeongin bursts inside. Jisung runs after him, stopping to gasp in the doorway.

He’s not quite sure what it is that he’s looking at.

The room is open , like a monster took a bite right out of it and the house gapes like an open wound and the storm bears in without mercy. A thirty-five foot tree has fallen in the storm, collapsing into the house.

Crushing the bedroom.

The rain gushes in like a reverse blood flow, wind whipping leaves off the branches and plastering them all over the walls- or at least the ones that remain intact. The huge, leafy top fills the entire space.

“Jeongin!” Jisung can’t see him, his friend has disappeared into the chaos. Jisung runs inside. Sharp branches have punctured everything they can and trunks and thick limbs have crushed what they please.

The boys weren’t in here were they?

Jeongin’s scream tells him otherwise.

Jisung sprints towards the sound, cutting himself on branches and twigs he failed to see, almost being battered to the floor with the rain. Panic seeps through his limbs, saturating his bones and freezing his mind.

Haechan hears the yelling and he locks eyes with Jeno for a millisecond before sprinting up the stairs. What the fuck has happened now-

Passed the bathroom, passed the first bedroom, passed the second bedroom- He missed the door by accident and has to back pedal when he catches a glimpse inside.

“Oh my god.” He dashes in. “Jisung! Jeongin-” He has to stop when he almost impales himself on a branch shrouded in the darkness. It pokes into his abdomen and he gasps, realizing that despite the fact that the tree has fallen, the danger is nowhere near over. He pulls away from it slowly, inching along the wall to make it to where he can see the shadows of his brothers. “Jeongin-” He can see his head whip up and they meet each other’s eyes. When Haechan is clear of most of the branches he runs forwards, ignoring how little twigs cut and scrape his body.

Of course the storm was going to knock shit over. Of course there’d be damage. They’d be daft to not think so, but this room is at the back of the house and they hadn’t seen any telltale signs of danger from the front.

You never truly know what’s going on inside until you look.

He reaches them in seconds, putting himself between them and the outside pouring itself in.

“What-” He looks down. Was it a mistake to look down? He didn’t need to. He could’ve looked up. He could’ve let them tell him what they found. He didn’t need to see it.

But he did .

And Woojin’s eyes are open.

Jeongin is sobbing uncontrollably, and Haechan can’t pull him off the floor. He’s on his knees, trying to talk to his brother, trying to find a way to get him out, trying to ignore the fact that he’s dead.

Woojin is very dead.

He must’ve been sleeping, that or lying in bed, although there’s no way to know for sure what exactly he was doing in the moments before the storm broke the tree trunk and the tree took his life.

He’s buried from his waist down in leaves completely, so Donghyuck can’t see that part of the mess, but there are at least three, thick, sharp limbs of the timber buried in his chest that are painfully visible in the lightning. With each time the sky lights up with it, Jeongin is able to take in another detail, and sobs rack his body all over again.

“Jeongin-” Haechan’s eyes are glued to Woojin’s pale face.

Rain rolls down the boy’s cold cheeks like tears, like he’s still in pain. Blood mixes with the water from the sky and the crimson pales to a rose pink illuminated with every fork of lightning. Haechan reaches down to grab Jeongin’s shoulders, trying to get him to stand. Jisung helps, but no one can hear anything anyone’s saying over the relentless storm. How long has it been storming? Longer than anything any of them has lived through.

Hyunjin is a few feet away, but a person with no relation to the boy wouldn’t know it was him, not with the way his mangled body lies so still and bloody-

Jisung steps over Woojin’s body, pressing up against Jeongin’s chest. The hug is disguised, a plot to push him away, a plan to hold him together. Jisung is crying too, and his tears run as abundant as the rain water, but he ignores it. He ignores his friend underneath him. He ignores Jeongin’s heart thumping against his ear.

Out of the rain- Get him out of the rain-

“We have to help them!” He hears Jeongin plead. “We have to help them- We have to get them out-” Haechan navigates the slippery floor covered in soaking leaves, avoiding branches, avoiding the rain and the thunder and the dangerous lightning and trying not to think about the other three very tall trees littering the backyard.

When they reach the far wall Haechan collapses against it. The rain still attacks them with all it has, but no one cares. No one fucking cares.

It can do what it wants , Haechan thinks, it can do whatever the fuck it wants .

It can kill him for all he cares, in fact he wants it too. He wants the rain to pound his skull inwards, he wants it to turn to acid and burn him, he wants the lightning to strike another tree- or better yet, just hit him directly .

But he doesn’t want any of those things for Jeongin. He doesn’t want them for Jisung. He wants them to live.

He wishes he came upstairs instead, maybe he could’ve found it-

Maybe the two didn’t have to see that-

Jeongin didn’t have to see his brother-

Jeongin’s fennec fox eyes are wide, staring at the space between his knees. His chest rises and falls at a rapid pace, and Jisung knows shock is seeping through his skin like the rainwater accosting it. It would be doing the same thing for him too if he didn’t feel responsible. He’s not the most vulnerable here. It’s not his brother, he’s not allowed to be the smallest, not in this moment.

So instead of falling apart he glances between Jeongin’s shaking form and Haechan’s tired features. Haechan looks so fucking tired.

It’s because of Jisung’s doe eyes, like a deer in headlights, that Haechan is able to snap to attention again.

They’ll freeze if I don’t move them , he thinks, I need to get them out . By them he means Jeongin and Jisung, and by freeze he means literally die of hypothermia. The rain that’s plagued them for what, three days now, isn’t letting up, and prolonged exposure- like sitting in it- is going to hurt his little brothers.

Donghyuck forgets he’s a kid too. He forgets he’s still in highschool, he forgets he’s still a child . He isn’t allowed to be.

He hasn’t been since the Disappearance started.

He pushes himself to his feet, feeling another branch rake itself across his arm. He doesn’t care, just so long as it doesn’t touch the other two when they get up. He’s very careful with Jeongin, like he might break, and he cups his chin in his right hand. Jeongin continues to stare at nothing until Haechan makes him look at him. He bites his cheek, not knowing what to say, and then he doesn't say anything at all, and instead drags the shocked teen out of the bedroom.

Jeno is flying up the stairs now, and when he reaches the top to see the younger few down the hall, bleeding and soaking again , he’s this close to losing it.

“WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?!” He had left Seungmin in the chair, but he can hear the commotion and tries to get up, losing his balance almost immediately, the cold and the wound keeping him stiff beyond reason. He has to hear everything unfold without being able to be there, and he knows something is so wrong.

Jeno is much drier now, but he forgets about this fact when he pulls Jeongin, who is very obviously the most fucked up of his little brood, into his arms. His wild eyes fly between Jisung and Haechan asking for answers but Haechan just gestures to the bedroom they’d just come out of. The rain falling through the doorway is unsettling. It’s a bedroom , it’s supposed to have walls and a roof. It doesn’t rain inside .

So Jeno pops his head in, still holding Jeongin, and then he immediately pops out.

No way.

No fucking way.

“They weren’t-”

“They were.”

“They aren’t-”

“They are.”

Dead . Woojin and Hyunjin are dead.

The boys will never unsee it.

For all the shit they have seen, death has never been one of them. The Disappearances are one thing, but one can assume the people are alive with just as much fervor as believing they’re dead when it happens, and so they’ve always thought on the positive side. They’ve never seen a dead person. That’s only in movies, that’s only in angsty books Haechan reads online or plays Jisung reads as an ex-theater nerd (‘ex’ because he no longer attends school and therefore is no longer able to be a ‘theater nerd’ in its entire sense, which is something he misses the most). No one they love has ever died .

Jeno’s arms are barely a ghost around Jeongin. He doesn’t really register they’re there at all. He doesn’t see a single thing around him. Nothing but his brothers.

Absolutely nothing but that.

He makes the mistake everyone makes when they’re grieving. He thinks too much. He thinks about how they wake him up in the morning, he thinks about when they taught him how to make coffee for the first time, and everyday afterwards Jeongin has taken pride in brewing them a cup every morning. He thinks about Woojin’s laugh and Hyunjin’s hugs, and how he never has to tell them what’s wrong for them to know . They always know exactly what he needs.

They used to, sorry.

Jeongin is handed off to Jisung who ushers him down the stairs away from the bedroom, very far away, as far as they can get. Jeno watches them go until they’ve disappeared down the stairs, and then he’s pushing Haechan up against the wall because the kid looks like he’s about to topple over, using his whole chest to keep him steady, to try and warm him because his skin feels like china.

Very breakable china.

When Haechan’s chest heaves Jeno knows that the shock of recent events is finally wearing off, and that Haechan has seen many things he can’t unsee but no longer reaps the benefits initial shock provides. Jeno holds him close, feeling his shoulders shake. He’s terrified of asking the questions he wants to ask, and Haechan has honestly already answered them, but he needs to hear it again.

He needs to hear him say it.

“They’re in the bedroom, aren’t they,” He says over the rain they can still hear pounding the open house. It’s so wrong.

Haechan nods. “And they’re-” Jeno can’t say it. “They’re-” Haechan nods again, he doesn’t want him to say it.

Jeno needs to see for himself.

Jeno also needs to just walk the fuck away. He chooses to do the latter in the name of self preservation and getting his soaking brother downstairs.

Seungmin watches Jisung and Jeongin stumble down the stairs, and the state of the two of them causes his heart to stop in his chest. He stands up again, but Jisung rushes to make him sit back down, pulling Jeongin with him to, Jisung doesn’t even know what exactly, to present him to Seungmin? ‘Here, take this, sorry he’s a little broken.’ That’s not what he’s doing word for word.

“What happened?” Seungmin’s voice is soft, he pulls Jeongin to sit on his uninjured thigh and hugs him to his chest. Jeongin stopped crying five minutes ago, but he stares into nothing aimlessly, his hands shake uncontrollably- and it’s not just from the cold.

“Hyungs aren’t home.” Jeongin’s voice is small but clear, it doesn’t break or shatter, probably because he doesn’t even realize he’s using it.

Seungmin’s brow furrows and he stares at Jeongin and then Jisung in alarm. Jisung doesn’t know what to do. He needs to clarify Jeongin’s words as they aren’t exactly crystal clear, but he doesn’t want to say it.

The words won’t jump off his tongue.

Jisung doesn’t want to be the one to take his world apart. Seungmin is perfect right now. He’s innocent. He has no idea what’s in the bedroom upstairs. He has no idea his family is gone. Absolutely no idea. He’s just slightly confused, and Jisung wishes he could pause here forever, just for Seungmin, so that he never has to find out, so that he never has to take that fall, because Jisung knows he’ll never recover.

Not fully.

Jeno and Haechan come down the stairs together too, Jeno just a step behind Donghyuck with a hand on his back. He looks over the railing as they descend, and Jisung meets his eyes.

They’re usually soft and sticky, a pretty brown like tree sap, but they’ve hardened into amber now, encasing painful images.

Forever .

Jeongin’s head rests on Seungmin’s shoulder but he offers no further explanation. Jisung bites his lip and Haechan and Jeno come to stand next to him, facing their friend without knowing what to say exactly.

“I haven’t-” Jisung says, his voice low, to Jeno to warn him that Seungmin has not yet had the news broken to him. Jeno bites his own tongue, dreading with every inch of his body what’s about to come. He gets what Jisung is trying to say.

“Seungmin we need to tell you something bad.” He says finally. They can’t dance around it, they can’t not tell him. It has to happen, no matter how uncomfortable everyone is and how it’s going to ruin Seungmin.

Seungmin nods, eyes full of concern. His leg throbs and his breath shakes little, shuddering beneath Jeongin. It’s grown cold in the house, like they left all the windows open and the storm has managed to come inside.

Weird.

They’ve Disappeared.

That’s what runs through Seungmin’s mind. That’s the absolute worst thing. They’re gone, they left, they went away and Seungmin didn’t get to say goodbye and they Disappeared alone and it hurt and he didn’t get to say goodbye .

That’s what Seungmin waits for him to say, because Jeno looks like he’s about to deliver the very worst news Seungmin can possibly receive.

But he fucking wishes that that’s what came out of his mouth.

He would give anything for those words now.

“They’re dead.

“I’m so sorry but they died .”

If Seungmin could erase one memory in the whole entire world it would be this one. It would be Jeno kneeling down in front of him after Haechan had lifted Jeongin from his arms. It would be Jisung staring at the floor, unable to look anywhere else.

It would be Jeno saying those words.

It would be the finality, the statement, the assurance because he was so fucking certain  they were gone.

Truly gone.

Like, a forever kind of gone.

You can’t come back from death, my friend, death is worse than Disappearing. At least those who Disappear might live .

If you’re dead you’re dead .

No shit Sherlock .

“No.” Seungmin can only think of one word in response. “ No -”

“Seungmin I’m sorry-” Jeno has tears rolling down his face too, but Seungmin just has questions.

“Why are they wet?” He must mean the kids. This is quite a weird question, regarding the situation, and Jeno almost chokes in initial response. He doesn’t know whether to answer him or chide, repeating what Seungmin must have missed because obviously something has not computed.

“It’s raining.” Jeno says finally, and Seungmin nods like rain inside is a common occurrence and that the howling storm better heard now because the bedroom door upstairs stands wide open is just a regular amount of background noise.

Might as well be at this point.

“I’m going upstairs.”

Nobody tries to stop him, and Jeno walks a few steps behind him because he doesn’t want him going alone.

Seungmin’s muscles have become lead, his legs moving like they’re made of steel. He has a lot of difficulty struggling up the stairs, and it only gets worse the further down the hallway he treks. He reaches the door.

He looks inside.

Well shit.

“There’s a tree in there.” He says to Jeno without looking at him. He’s so detached Jeno feels like he’s in the company of a ghost.

Three ghosts, maybe.

“There is.”

Why is there a tree in there ?”

Chapter Text

“It’s time to go find them.” Yuta squeezes Sicheng’s shoulder, the smaller of the two lying with his head in his lap. Winwin looks up at him, still able to hear the patter of rain against the windows. “The kids, I mean.”

As much as he wants to argue, Sicheng knows that they’ve waited too long. If the storm was going to stop it would have, and as it isn’t they can't keep using it as an excuse to avoid locating their younger brothers.

“I’m coming with you.” He croaks, his voice raspy from lack of use. Winwin has been silent for thirteen hours, he thinks, not counting sleep. He hasn’t felt the need to say anything, as Yuta has been caught up in saving Johnny, and he didn’t want to talk to anyone else. He honestly doesn’t give a rat's ass; talking is overrated. Yuta nods silently, he isn’t going to rebuke him or try to tell him no, maybe for selfish reasons but Yuta needs his strength. Sicheng keeps him grounded.

In the next room over they can hear Ten talk to Johnny in a low tone. They can’t make out what’s being said, but relief washes over both of them- Winwin wouldn't admit it though- when they can differentiate two voices, meaning Johnny is speaking too. Yuta breathes deeply, for a while there, confused and shocked as they were, it didn’t look like Johnny was going to pull through.

But pull through from what? What happened to him just before he came back that destroyed his body? Something had to have, because he was fucked from the start.

Or maybe it was coming back itself. Maybe no one has ever been reported home because the process killed them- maybe people come back more often than they think-

“Are we going?” Winwin asks him after a few minutes of silence, jarring Yuta from his thoughts. Yuta nods.

“Yeah, yeah let’s-” He helps Winwin sit up, keeping a hand on his thigh for a brief second before pulling it away to push himself up off the bottom bunk. His eyes wander to the window anxiously, running a hand through his hair.

The storm isn’t letting up.

Sicheng can always keep a level head. Maybe it’s because of his tendency to think very critically, or keep all his feelings inside, but he never displays weakness to anyone. Yuta is the opposite, he wears his heart on his sleeve despite how it bleeds and Winwin thinks that that’s probably what makes them such a good match, so while Yuta has a panic attack staring at the raindrops, Sicheng grabs his coat and drapes it over his shoulders, then grabs his own and zips up the fabric.

“Hyung,” He says dismissively, and Yuta turns around to stare at him. He gestures towards the door and Yuta follows him out of it.

“Yuta!” Ten shoots out of the second bedroom, almost bowling him over which doesn’t bode well thanks to earlier events, and Ten realizes his mistake the second he makes it. Winwin’s eyes are on fire and he presses between the two, and Johnny watches the exchange with a horrified expression from the open door. Ten backs up, looking incredibly apologetic and he’s honestly lucky Sicheng didn’t hit him. “I’m sorry-” He says quietly, before diving into what he wanted to originally say. “Listen- Johnny says they’re all safe-” Winwin is pissed off.

“Who?” He snaps. Ten looks taken aback.

“Johnny?”

“Not Johnny you dumbass.” Winwin looks miffed. “Who’s safe? Where?” Venom drips off of every syllable and the tension in the hallway grows. Ten knows he made a mistake earlier in his drunkenness, Ten knows he’s made a lot of mistakes, and he can’t assume they’ll forget them anytime soon, but he also can’t help but feel pain with each word Sicheng spits in his face. Yuta fidgets awkwardly behind Winwin, wrapping a hand around his little elbow as if he’s afraid his boyfriend will swing at their brother any second now.

Ten isn’t drunk anymore, and where, if he was, anger would boil up inside him only submission and sadness remains. He’s an awful man when there’s alcohol in his veins, but he’s the exact opposite when he’s sober.

“The other members,” He chokes. “Doyoung and Kun and-” Sicheng makes a move and Ten cowers backwards but Yuta grabs him from behind, gluing his arms to his side.

“WHAT KIND OF BULLSHIT JOKE ARE YOU PLAYING ON US-” He cries out, anger running through his veins thicker than blood.

“Sicheng!” Yuta pulls him away and shoves him back down the hall in the other direction. Ten just stands there, eyes on the floor. He was honestly expecting Winwin to snap, and kind of wishes he did. Yuta puts a hand on his shoulder, both of them not knowing who should flinch away from who.

Johnny is trying to stand up from the bed now, his alarm painted obviously on his face.

“What do you mean?” Yuta doesn't look at Ten, but he speaks softly. Behind him he can feel Winwin breathing hard, and then he hears him steal away probably for the greater good of the whole situation. “Actually you know what-” He looks around. “Talk to the others, Sicheng and I are going to find the kids.” Ten nods, happy about the idea of Sicheng leaving the house, unhappy that they’re going to do so in the flooding.

“You’re going to be careful right-”

“Of course we’ll be fucking careful-”

“There’s something you need to know,” Ten says, and now he really does look him in the eyes. Johnny has stumbled across the room. “Chenle-” He trails off and Yuta frowns, shaking his shoulder lightly.

“Chenle?”

“Chenle isn’t with them anymore. You’re only going to find the three of them.” Ten purses his lips as Yuta begins to understand what he means.

“But you know that because Johnny knows they’re safe?” Ten nods and Yuta’s gaze rakes over Johnny, who nods.

“He’s fine, just not here .” His voice sounds worse than Winwin’s, like it was chewed up and spit out by a lion.

“Fine.” Yuta says. He doesn’t let the new news break him. He keeps his head up, he looks passed them down the hallway. “That’s fine.” He calls for Sicheng, and he doesn’t push passed the other couple until Winwin is right behind him, afraid he might snap on Ten again. Together they brush up against Ten, who doesn’t say anything else, and they head for the doorway.

Johnny realizes just how exhausted he is after the ordeal, wondering if he’s going to make it back to his bed. Ten notices, and immediately swoops in to help him. When he gets him back on the mattress, he sits down beside him with a sigh.

Johnny looks up at him with eyes clouded with sorrow. He plays with his shirtsleeve again, and then slowly laces thin fingers around his wrist.

“Ten,” Ten closes his eyes when his voice sounds, his raspy, weak, broken voice. None of this is ideal. If this was what he wanted, Johnny would be healthy, everyone would be safe, he wouldn’t be an alcoholic and he would have never laid a hand on any of his members like that. I’m sorry , he thinks to himself, afraid to say the words out loud. “Ten,” He turns his head to look Johnny in the eyes, terrified of what he’s going to see.

“Why do they look at you like that?” Johnny finally says in the silence. There it is, that’s what Ten has wanted to avoid. He takes a deep breath.

“Like what?”  

“Like they’re scared of you.”

That’s it. That’s it exactly. That’s what Ten did not want him to notice, but it’s also what Ten knows is the easiest thing for Johnny to see. Johnny is a people watcher, a people understander.

Johnny reads situations so easily.

And this one wasn’t exactly hard to look at either. It might’ve been if Sicheng didn’t try to hit him, but alas, there’s absolutely no hiding anything at all.

And regardless, Johnny would’ve known anyways.

“They’re not.” Ten doesn’t know why he tries to lie, maybe he wants to preserve his image in front of the boy, or maybe he just doesn’t want to accept all the bullshit he knows he’s put his brothers through. “They’re-”

“They are,” Johnny says dismissively, and his hand squeezes his wrist gently. “They are, Ten.” Ten knows this, and rage that he wishes could boil up won’t because he can only do that when he’s drunk and he can only do it sober if he hates who he’s looking at. He doesn’t hate his brothers.

He definitely doesn’t hate Johnny.

Chapter Text

Mark eyes the TV remote on the couch like it has teeth. The kid just wants to see if the weather is going to let up soon but he’s scared to pick it up, he’s scared that the TV will tell him no, no the weather is not going anywhere.

He’s afraid of a few other things too, like what the news will tell him. Storms like this come with casualties, and the permanent list taking up a constant place in the corner of the screen will just keep flashing names as they’re reported. Every single Disappeared appears on the list.

“Have you called Doyoung in yet?” Mark says to Taeyong when he comes into the room. Taeyong furrows his brow, watching Mark sit down on the edge of the couch and pick up the TV remote, ultimately turning the technology on. Taeyong’s eyes flit to the screen, finding the little blue square in the corner with the white letters. Names flash and disappear in seconds to make room for a new one. Approximately thirty names appear at a time but they change within seconds during the right times.

With the way the names flash by now the boys know that it started earlier than usual.

At least Doyoung isn’t an anomaly.

Taeyong sits down beside Mark carefully.

“I haven’t.”

“Are you going to?”

“Of course I am, that way we’ll know if he comes back.” They had reported everyone, and the whole idea is that if a reported Disappeared person shows up anywhere they can be located and sent home. It’s a fantastic idea, but Johnny seems to be the only person to come back yet.

That they know of, of course.

“I can do it right now if I can grab my cell phone,” He looks around, realizing he’s misplaced it. “If I can find my cell phone,” Mark chuckles softly, eyes glued to the TV. He’s waiting for the weather man to come back because the screen shows nothing about the temperature or precipitation, but he’s surprised to find the next news person looking at him to not be who he expected.

“Well that’s not the weather man.” He says under his breath when a different person takes their seat in front of the camera. “I’m surprised we haven’t lost power yet,” Mark says more audibly, ignoring the presence of the different news person. Taeyong hums in agreeance while Yuta stomps in.

“Don’t say that or you’ll jinx us,” But his voice softens the blow of his footsteps. Yuta isn’t angry with these two. He’s wearing his black jacket and Winwin follows him in his grey one, pulling Yuta’s hood over his head as Yuta looks at his brothers.

“Where are you two going?” Concern laces Taeyong’s question in a thick layer, making it hard to swallow. The rain continues to pound the earth outside.

“We’re going to the theater, we need to bring the kids home.” Yuta knows Taeyong doesn’t like this plan at all . It’s plain on his face.

But he’s also not going to tell them not to go. The kids really do need to come home, in fact that’s all the hyungs have been thinking about; the absence of their kids. However, Taeyong knows the risk, he knows that if they go outside they’ll be in serious danger. It’s like asking him to pick favorites, to literally think about who he cares about more. The answer is that he cares for them all exactly the same, which makes decision making quite difficult.

“I’m coming then,” He says, beginning to stand, but it’s right now that something appears on the screen that catches their eyes.

All of them.

“ -of the returned Disappeared.”

The room is silent, and a man with short hair and a baby blue dress shirt addresses the camera, brown eyes sparkling.

“Police have been looking into leads for a few weeks now and the information has only just been released-”

“Wait-” Apart from that, none of them speak. They’re shocked. “Returned Disappeared? Like Johnny returned?”

“Shh-” Sicheng hushes Mark, eyes glued to the TV. They shouldn’t have just assumed Johnny was the only one to come back, but this is the first time they’re hearing about others . In their ignorance, they thought Johnny was special, a one time thing, but of course they haven’t discussed with him yet just how he came home-

“Located in the old Button Factory, police have reason to believe a number of Returned are residing within the walls against their will. Though no moves can be made yet-”

“What is he even saying?” Yuta spits. “People came home? People plural? And they’re stuck?”

“- the police are unable to do anything in the current storm. Residents are advised to be aware of the situation, but remain clear of the building. The situation is said to be critical and dangerous and will be handled as soon as cars are able to move through the streets. The general public must not attempt any solo rescue missions, that is not the intent of the police or this message -”

The man looks into the camera like he truly believes what he’s saying, like telling the public people have come home will keep them away from the building. Mark finds this rather amusing, because he knows he’s waiting for the broadcast to end so he can suggest the exact opposite;

Let’s go find them . The man repeats everything again, but as he reaches the second point, how the police have a plan but can’t execute it yet, the screen goes black. The lights go out. They can hear the fridge shut down.

“God dammit Mark!” Yuta pretends to curse, shaking his head as if Mark truly had jinxed them earlier. But then the room is quiet, completely quiet because the boys have no idea what to do and the hum of appliances and lights have gone out, a kind of still that rattles a person’ core.

Others are home .

The problem is that the boys missed half of the story. They missed how the police found the leads, why the old factory was suspected in the first place. They missed why it was dangerous.

But they don’t care what they missed.

“We need to talk to Johnny, now -” Taeyong springs to his feet, zipping down the hallway to throw open the door to the first bedroom. Ten and Johnny pull away from what looks like the beginnings of a deep conversation. Ten’s eyes are glossy, but Taeyong needs to ignore this fact, unfortunately it’s unimportant right now. “John-”

Johnny nods with wide eyes, already attentive and ready to listen. He leans forwards and ignores the pain in his body.

“Hyung.” Taeyong places his hands on his shoulders, pushing him to lean back against the headrest of the bed, taking Ten’s spot in front of him. He crosses his legs in front of himself like a child, earnest and determined with many many questions on his mind. “This is very important-

“Where the fuck did you come from?”

Johnny is expecting this.

“Somewhere else?” He says it like a question, and as the other shocked boys filter into the room the lack of electricity in the air is countered by a static radiating off each figure.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean when we Disappear we show up here , but obviously not this here-” He gestures to his surroundings, trying to make his point. “Like-” He stands up, walking to the center of the room (against Ten’s pleas for him to stay seated). “Right here. Renjun could be standing right here right now, but we wouldn’t know it. They could be anywhere in the house. Anywhere outside too-”

“Like, they’re here ?” Ten hasn’t quite heard this far yet either, Johnny hadn’t told him everything. Johnny nods.

“We can’t see them. They can’t see us. I couldn’t see you- when I was there.” Taeyong watches him from the bed, his willowy frame swaying in the middle of the room. All eyes are on him, wide, confused, shocked, happy he’s here, and wishing the others were too. Johnny shakes his head as if to clear it. “I’m being cryptic. We’re here, but it’s kind of an alternate reality. To come back we have to remember our Disappearance, or at least that’s how I got here.” He shrugs.

“That sounds simple enough-” Sicheng says but Johnny cuts him off quickly.

“I can assure you it’s not.” His eyes are hard, remembering his pain. It almost killed me , he wants to say. He wants to say that it’s almost not worth their brothers trying it, but longing for them overpowers the sense in his brain. If he made it anyone can.

“What I don’t understand is,” He says to no one in particular, as no one else was there and therefore can’t bounce his ideas back to him. “Why we never went back the first time we remembered. We always did it, at least once, just for answers- but we didn’t come back.”

“Why do you think that is, hyung?” Mark speaks carefully from the door, trying not to break his train of thought but also digging for answers.

“We didn’t try hard enough? We didn’t know? We didn’t let it go all the way- Renjun stopped us before it happened?” Johnny speaks to Mark now, but not exactly in a direct manner. He seems lost, like he’s floating in nothing, and Ten wants to lead him back to the bunk, to let him lie down and sleep again, but he knows that now is not the time.

“Hyung the news said people are back.” Taeyong says. The whole room prickles in the din. “They said the police know the location of them, that they’re hidden in plain sight almost-”

“Impossible,” Johnny turns to look at him, frown deepening. “No one comes back.”

“You did.”

Johnny is taken aback. Dumbass . He came back which means others could too. Who? Who came back? How come nobody knew?

“Taeil-” He gasps. No , Taeil is with them. Taeil is- But he can’t stop himself, he can’t stop how his heart races and how his hands begin to shake with excitement and he can’t stop when his legs threaten to give out and he finds himself being supported by Yuta whose eyes are frightened and confused. “Taeil.” The rest of them watch silently.

“What about Taeil?” Yuta prompts.

“We lost him.” Those words are hard for him to say. “We lost him only a day after we found him,” Yuta swallows hard, breathing very slowly as he glues his eyes to the floor, listening to what Johnny is saying right into his ear. Hearing the negative news this close up, where Johnny’s breath is warm on his neck and his voice resonating in his entire body, Yuta doesn’t know if he can take it. He needs to know what happened, but he doesn’t want to hear it.

“A year ago.” Mark says. Winwin nods. Taeil left them a year ago. “It’s been that long.” The tangible pain in the room is almost unbearable, losing Taeil was like losing Doyoung. The two of them were pillars, they kept the family together, they took care of everyone, took charge when Taeyong couldn’t. The group needs them the most.

The group has neither of them now.

 

Renjun wraps his arms around himself a little tighter to fight the cold, trying to hold as much heat inside his jacket as he can. His older brother laughs, placing a hand on his shoulder. He had wanted it to be warm, had wanted it to help heat Renjun even if it wasn’t much, but his hand is like ice, his body freezing just the same.

Renjun doesn’t shake him off though, he relishes the affection, and the two of them keep walking in the dark.

The streetlights had flickered on two hours ago, and by now it’s past eight o’clock. Renjun shivers again, but it isn’t just the cold that prickles at his skin. Stories in the back of his mind race about this side of town, how it’s dangerous at night, how people go missing . Like, missing in the missing world. Double missing.

His brother notices this too, and uses the hand he’s already stretched out to draw Renjun closer, chuckling again against his own fear and deteriorating condition due to exhaustion and the cold.

“Don’t be afraid,” He says softly, but they pick up their pace regardless. Why are we out here? The bag in his other hand slaps against his leg, the plastic wrinkling and making noise he wishes it wouldn’t. Groceries. They had needed groceries, but maybe they could have waited. They could’ve made instant ramen for dinner and have gone shopping the next morning.

Why did they go out at night ?

Renjun curses their poor planning and the fact that they can’t feel safe here, here where they should be safe because they can’t Disappear because they already have.

But that is unfortunately not the case. People disappear every day here, and people take people and that almost makes it worse.

There’s a loud crash from an alley behind them that makes both boys jump, and Renjun gasps while the older stays quiet.

“Hyung-”

“A cat,” He says.

“There are no cats here-”

“Faster, Junnie, faster,” His brother’s eyes are intense, his body tense with anxiety. Renjun doesn’t disobey, moving at a pace that’s almost a jog, his brother just behind him. He keeps looking over his shoulder, seeing nothing-

Until suddenly he does. Four slight people, still larger than both of the boys, have appeared from between two buildings only four buildings back. They start after them at a brisk walking pace, but it’s obvious enough who they are.

And what they want.

“Fuck-”

“Hyung!”

“RUN!”

Renjun does, and quickly his lungs begin to burn and he feels like he could throw up because too much is happening at once and he’s never been so afraid. His brother stays a few strides behind, making sure Renjun is always in front of him. Go, go, go, he thinks, go . They run as fast as they can, but the people behind them are just as quick. The older boy looks behind them briefly and his heart jumps into his throat. Two of the men are weilding something he can’t see completely, shrouded in darkness and bad memory. It’s shiny in some places, light bouncing off of it from the street lights as they pass beneath them, and it’s blunt.

A gun?

He knows for sure when they start to brandish them, pulling them up and aiming.

“Oh my god-” He shoves the kid in front of him forwards. “No no no-” What sicko remembers a gun so well he has one on him in this world? Where’d they get the bullets? There’s nowhere in town that he knows of that sells either, which only affirms his darkest fears-

These people are exactly who he thinks they are.

Which means one thing and one thing only; they’re not going to stop, not even for a kid like Renjun.

He watches as the two men with the guns make movements like they’re cocking them, and it’s now that the boy makes a decision.

“Keep going Renjun I’m right behind you.” Renjun nods, running, certain that he’s right there. No one would be stupid enough to stop, right?

The older brother is glad he dropped the groceries when they started running. They weren’t important, and dropping them now would only draw Renjun back with the sound. He turns around, gathers his courage.

Instead of running away, away to home, away to safety, away from the bullets and the guns and the brutes and the beasts, he stops.

He stops so Renjun can run.

It’s classic, it’s a hero move in every book, but he doesn’t care, he doesn’t fucking care.

He can see it in their eyes as they come towards him how happy they are, how sick and deranged and how disgusting they are. He’s made the right decision, because those same hungry eyes would tear Renjun apart when the men caught up because he knows they wouldn’t get away, not both of them, if they kept running. He runs to meet them, creating even more distance between Renjun and himself. The further the better in case they choose to keep tracking him.

Home, please go home, he thinks to himself, hoping to God that Renjun keeps running.

The four of them descend on him like a pack of wolves.

Renjun realizes what’s happening when he’s almost completely down the street. He spins around in alarm-

He watches the first shot go off.

His eyes grow to the size of saucers; he’s never seen that before. He’s never seen his brothers crumple, he’s never seen anyone hurt a person in real life the way he’s seeing it now. His mouth gapes open, a silent scream on his lips. Merciless, the people are merciless.

A man, very old and weathered, is busying himself with the cleaning of his tables in his restaurant. He whistles while he works, but a boy sprinting by the front window catches his eye. He walks up to it, peering outside. He looks the way the boy went, first, to watch him slow down and turn, to then look back the way he came. The man follows his gaze, and he hears everything he sees better than his old ears have heard anything in years.

A gunshot. A body hitting the ground. Screaming.

The old man is alarmed, of course, and his first instinct is to duck behind his counter and call the police, except the police here aren’t great and the child is in immediate danger.

It’s even worse when the kid begins to run back the way he came.

“Oh fuck-” The old man hardly ever curses, but this seems like a curse worthy occasion. He moves to the door of his little closed diner quickly, throwing it open, and snatching the teen as he runs by. The boy is dazed, surprised, and then very suddenly he’s panicked.

“What- What are you doing- My brother-” The man tosses him inside, shutting the door quickly and locking it, and then he’s grabbed the boy by the wrist and is dragging him into the back. He’d be more panicked if he didn’t know the old man, but the truth is he’s done odd jobs for him for years, all of his brothers have, and they knew the family in the old world quite well. Renjun hasn’t adjusted to his change of scenery yet, though, his mind racing as he tries to put together what’s happening and working even harder to understand that he’s just been saved from a very bad situation-

But his brother hasn’t been.

“Taeil!” He spins around, trying to wrench from the old man’s grasp. The man feels a pang hearing the name. Taeil is one of his favorites, vibrant and sweet, he’s always helped the man and his wife whenever it was needed. He can even recall Taeil driving his son to the hospital after a knife accident in the kitchen of the diner. Grief takes a hold of his heart even tighter, these boys have been like his own ever since the Disappearing and he’s surprised he didn’t recognize Renjun the moment he flew by.

“Renjun please relax,” He shuts the door to the kitchen, putting many walls and locked doors between them and the violence. He reaches for the phone on the wall, but it’s not the police he’s calling. “I’m calling Johnny. I’m telling him what happened.” He pushes Renjun to sit on the floor beside the cabinets, leaning against the wall and breathing hard. The man looks at the list of names on the wall of his employees, finds Johnny’s and punches in the number beside it.

“It’s not over,” Renjun says to his knees. “It’s not-” It hardly even happened- it’s still going on. Renjun knows that if he fought his way back outside, they’d still be there. He can still save Taeil-

“John your brother is in trouble. I have Renjun in the diner, I grabbed him off the street- Running from them I know. Taeil isn’t so lucky-”

Taeil isn’t so lucky.

Renjun finally understands. He understands that he can’t sit here.

He leaps up, and before the old man can react he’s raced from the kitchen, run to the front door, struggled with the lock and then finally thrown it open.

He’s poured himself outside-

Taeil is nowhere to be seen, but his blood decorates the sidewalk, glowing crimson in the light of the street lamps.

Chapter Text

Taeil doesn’t remember that.

Not at all.

“How long have you been here?” The doctor starts with this question, as per the usual interrogation. Taeil looks around the room as if he hasn’t been in it a hundred times before. He sits on a metal chair, and the doctor sits behind a metal desk. There’s metal on the walls, probably in the floor-

There’s metal in his blood and it weighs him down like led. Tired, Taeil is always fucking tired here.

Taeil answers just the same, not looking at the doctor.

“Months.”

“How many exactly?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why is that?”

“No one tells me?” He looks at the man now, pissed off but bored too. Today isn’t a prodding day, it isn’t a day for them to abuse him however they see fit. That was yesterday, and the day before, but not today. Today he can rest.

Out of bed, in an interrogation. “No one has told me how long I’ve been here and I’d need a math degree to keep count.” He knows he doesn’t need a math degree to count anything at all but Taeil doesn’t care, he’s given up on caring.

“I see. Why do you think that is?”

“To drive me fucking insane.”

“The opposite, actually, Moon Taeil if you knew how long you’ve been here you’d panic for sure.” Oh.

This is new.

Taeil sits forward in his chair, trying to look as menacing as a malnourished psycho can look.

“Now why is that , doctor?” He says slowly, but the room swims at the effort his head is making to stay level. They dope him up so much-

“Because you’ve been here for a year.”

An invisible forces sends him sprawling backward into his chair, the metal digging into his back uncomfortably, but Taeil doesn’t notice. He can’t. A year? Why would they tell him that- He said he’d go crazy if he knew-

And he’s right. The doctor is right. Taeil can feel the year slip away, he can feel the year he’s lost chained to a bed. For what? For fucking what ? He doesn’t even know why he’s here and he’s been here for a year?

“A-a year?” Taeil’s voice comes out small, shaken. A year? A year of seventeen missed birthdays, a year of missing things like the kids’ graduations or, or anything really. A year of stuff missed . His heart feels a pang for the loss of it all, for the loss of the missing and then he remembers the Disappeared and how awful it is that they’re gone never to come home. He wishes he Disappeared instead of them, any of them really, he would trade his life for them all.

“A year. You’ve been here for a year and you’ve given us no answers.” The doctor’s tone is cool and unsympathetic. He can see Taeil’s fear and his hesitation and his confusion all in one massive tsunami taking over his little frame but the doctor doesn’t care. He doesn’t have to. Doctor in title, absolutely nothing more.

Impatient. Impatient with his patient is what he is now.

Taeil is shocked, with the new information and the way the doctor looks at him, like he’s done something wrong-

And like he’s going to pay for it.

“I don’t have the answers to the questions you ask. The questions you’ve been asking for a year - I just- I can’t answer you! I would if I could!” Taeil is being honest, one hundred percent completely honest. He has no idea. Literally no idea. They ask the same damn things, they do the same damn tests and he sleeps in the same damn room eating the same damn food being told the same damn thing; soon he can go home.

They’ve been saying it for a year.

“Are the others helpful? Can they tell you anything? If it’s just me then send me home. Please-” His voice breaks, right there in the middle of the word. Taeil isn’t a weak person, he’s sustained injury he can’t even remember, that’s how strong he is, but he’s homesick, like a six year old. He’s tired and he’s hungry although his body has forgotten what a good meal tastes like and he just wants to go home.

Taeil knows it’s been months, he knew from the very start that he has been gone from the apartment for quite a while, but a whole year? It seems impossible. How can he be sure that that much time has passed? He fell asleep lying next to Jisung, they had just finished Ji’s math homework and Taeil had passed out and Jisung had given up trying to wake him and instead curled up beside him on the couch and they fell asleep.

He woke up here.

He just wants to go home. He doesn’t understand why he’s being held here- he understands , really, he just doesn’t get it. They say he Disappeared, just like the others, but Taeil knows he didn’t, if he did he’d remember it.

Right?

 

Kun has long since been moved from the table and the little room with the three men, but he still hasn’t woken up. In his mind memories and dreams race by, stumbling over each other and fighting for his focus. He worries, too, even in sleep he worries. He thinks about his brothers and he thinks about himself as well, something conscious Kun would deem selfish, but in his state, hovering on the edge of dying , he can’t seem to remember that.

He’s scared he might actually.

Die, he means. It was stupid to be so defiant, stupid to try so hard and stupid to even expect to live in the first place. Kun wishes he could so easily resign himself to this, but he’s scared, more scared than he’s even been in his whole life.

Even after Renjun.

Even after Taeil.

The baddies must have a plan for him. They can use him however they want, and then eventually kill him so he turns up dead and no one asks questions and slowly he’s forgotten and-

He knows his brothers won’t forget him, at least not for a long time. They think of Taeil every day, they think of what happened and they think of the pain he must’ve been in. Kun knows how that feels now, and he knows his brothers’ pain will just be multiplied and that they’ve lost another piece of themselves and the whole thing is overwhelming and Kun wishes those men had shot him in the head like they wanted to and he wishes he didn’t have to fight to breathe.

He’s fighting really hard, right now. Maybe he should stop fighting.

There are people around him, people he can’t see because his eyes are glued shut and people he can’t register because his mind is asleep but they’re there nonetheless and a certain someone brushes his hair off his forehead and holds his head in his lap because he knows him and he cares for him and when he wakes up maybe just maybe he’ll still be around to say hello granted their captors don’t come to ‘start the day’ anytime soon.

It takes about another half hour for Kun’s eyes to finally flutter open.

And then squeeze right back. The light in the small room is dim but still it assaults his eyes in yellow waves of pain, severe and unrelenting. He stiffens when he hears someone stir, and forces his eyes back open so he can see them-

“Minho!” And then his voice breaks and his throat is so dry he starts coughing which aggravates his abdomen and suddenly he’s doubled over and bleeding and coughing and Minho is trying not to panic. After a good two minutes, Kun recovers. His eyes are wide and surprised as he looks Minho up and down. “How-how- you too? I didn’t even know you Disappeared- when- how?” The initial shock of coming across someone you know in this world never weakens, and it’s even more jarring kidnapped and somewhere dangerous.

It’s too bad Minho is here, really.

“Kun relax please-” Minho looks around the room neither of them can see as if their captors are going to jump through the walls at any moment and rip them apart. “Please,” But he smiles at him and rests his hands on his shoulders and is genuinely happy to see a familiar face no matter the circumstance. “I’ve been here a long time, pretty much the moment I showed up in this world actually,” Kun’s eyes soften into sadness.

“I’m so sorry-”

“I came willingly, actually, I didn’t know they were-” Bad . “They found me alone and offered shelter,” Minho laughs. “I was so dazed and confused I forgot to be cautious.” He chuckles again. “But it’s okay. This is okay,” He doesn’t quite know what else to say to prepare Kun for the other things he’s going to need to explain.

“You’ve been here a long time and they haven’t-”

“Killed me? No- Is that what you assume happens?” Minho narrows his eyes.

“Well,” Kun shakes his head. Of course they kill you- “You disappear and never come back, we just thought-” Minho scrunches up his nose.

“Apart from minor abuses we’re okay here-”

“We are?”

Not really .

“Of course,” Minho suddenly lowers his voice, remembering where they are and who they are and who they’re afraid of. “They just ask us to draw things.”

Now this is juxtaposition. Tell Kun he’s going to draw , while he sits on a bloody floor in a place he can’t see with his body ripped open and his heart bleeding red all over him while he’s scared and shaking and his only comfort is a friend going through the same trauma.

Tell him he’s going to draw .

What the fuck does that mean?” He speaks so low that it almost comes out an inaudible whisper, but Minho, swiping dark brown hair off of his forehead expected a reaction like this. It doesn’t make sense, he knows, but in perfect articulation it does , Minho just doesn’t know how to express it.

“For money, I think. They get us to tell them about everything we know that they don’t, that they can’t see, they draw out maps and objects and they rob most of the places I think-”

“What you’re saying doesn’t make sense-”

“I’m sorry. We just, illustrate for them, or they draw what we tell them to.”

“Why?”

“For shit, money and objects and jewelry I assume -”

“That’s such a weird ask,”

“Well it’s one we can’t turn down. Not without getting hurt-”

“So we aren’t safe here.”

“I guess we’re not.”

“You lied.”

“Only sort of.”

Kun huffs and then regrets it, trying to suppress a groan of agony. Minho sighs heavily, shuffling across the few feet in between them to get a better look at him. “This is ugly,” He says matter of factly. Scoffing, Kun fights the urge to laugh.

“I know.”

The crude bandaging only covers so much and Minho chuckles but it’s only to hide the panic rising in him like the water level of a city flood. The thought makes him think about how home is prone to flooding. Hopefully it hasn’t rained much since I’ve been gone , he thinks. Too much rain in the old world always caused water damage in their basement and Minho knows how much Woojin hated dealing with that.

He’s sure it hasn’t rained much, but how can he know.

“It looks worse than it is-” Kun tries to pull away when Minho doesn’t after a few seconds, anxious to cover himself up and not let anyone know how much pain he’s really in, but Minho doesn’t let him.

“Kun-”

“It’s not that bad-”

“Kun-” Kun bites his tongue and Minho looks him in the eyes. “What happened to you?” Kun raises his eyebrows. He doesn’t want to talk about it.

“I mouthed off sort of-”

“Why would you-” Minho is exasperated.

“They’re also dicks though- They didn’t have to fucking kill me,” Kun tries to cover his ass with a smile and his friend knows what he means, but regardless he’s disappointed.

Not so much in Kun, of course, mostly just their situation. So funny how one bad thing just keeps happening after another.

“We’re never gonna get rest, huh,” He says. Kun shakes his head.

“Why on earth would that be a luxury given to us, Lee Minho?” He says softly. Minho bites his tongue. He gets it.

He gets it.

“I need to tell you more about who’s here, what we’re expected to do, that kind of shit,” He changes the conversation topic. “They’re obviously not letting you go, or sending you home, so-”

“They send people home?” Kun is finding it very difficult to breathe, suddenly, the shock and excitement and relief wearing off. Minho notices and gets him to lean up against the nearest wall. He’s seen how bad the wounds are. What were they thinking , it genuinely looks like they tried to kill him. Why would they keep him around if they tried to murder him? Minho adds this to the growing list of questions about this place he keeps tucked in the back of his mind.

“That’s why they asked you if you’ve remembered before, or at least I think so. If you said you haven’t then you wouldn’t be here with me that’s for sure. I’m not quite sure why-”

“What does that have to do with anything?” Kun focuses on a single unmoving spot on the blurry floor, trying to fight the rising nausea.

“Well me and the other guys have theories-”

“There are more of us?” Kun abandons the floor. “Where?”

“Out right now, illustrating or doing whatever the fuck. I’m only here because I claimed you’d die if we left you alone,” He laughs at himself. “I don’t think I’m necessarily wrong either,” He lowers his voice again. “They’ll be back for us soon though. You’re new with new ideas and new memories and shit, they’ll be excited to hear from you,”

“But I really only know about home and my work place and like the grocery store I don’t know anything of any importance.” Kun argues. “How is that going to help them?” Minho purses his lips, he wants Kun to figure it out himself. “wait-” Kun furrows his tired brows. “They don’t care- they’ll raid our homes if we tell them?” Minho nods slowly. “Minho my brothers are there I can’t say a thing-”

“I say the same thing-”

“So what do you do? Do you tell them?”

“Of course not, I give them misinformation.”

Kun cocks his head.

“That seems too easy,”

“It is,”

“So what’s going to happen to you?”

Minho no longer likes this conversation, but he sucks up his feelings because who needs those anyways.

“KIll me probably, when they try to rob my house and realize they’re attacking something they have no idea what’s inside. Or they’ll come back and torture me until I do tell them something,”

“Which you won’t.” Kun knows his character, he knows Minho will die before he puts anyone he cares about in danger. Minho nods.

“Which I won’t.”

“So you’ve resigned yourself to die, then,”

“I have.” Minho leans back beside him, resting his head on the wall. He sighs heavily and entwines his fingers, biting his tongue and thinking about what he knows is inevitable but has hardly had time to think about. “You should too, hyung.

“You should too.”

 

“I’ve seen it happen, Kun.”

Kun’s eyes are closed but based on his unsteady breathing Minho knows he’s awake. “I just want you to know it’s a real thing to fear.” Kun nods slowly. Minho thinks he says ‘I know’ but can’t tell, his voice is so quiet and weak.

There’s no point in lying to him. There’s no point in trying to paint a pretty blue picture for him, in fact Kun hates blue, and there’s really no point in telling him that everything is going to be okay. He’s already half dead so why bother.

The other boys have tried talking Minho into telling the truth, they know he lies. Most of them do, no one is willing to sell out their families or their partners or their bosses or the people they care about, nobody wants them to get hurt.

But there are some who do, some who mercilessly state everything they know about a location to avoid the blade or the fist or the bullet and Minho hates those people the most, though he understands them too.

The situation is nowhere near ideal, not for anyone.

Kun falls asleep beside him and Minho anxiously checks his pulse every two minutes to make sure he isn’t dead. He lets panic and fear settle in a little deeper in the absence of a friend to talk to, and he’s almost too excited when the door on the far wall is thrown open, the spray painted outline becoming a hole and then suddenly a hole filled with a body until the body is in the room and the door is shut again.

Minho fights the urge to jump up, afraid of startling Kun, and instead waits for the person to come sit down next to him.

“How was it?”

“I got them to draw out a Walmart.”

“Which one?”

“Hell if I know.” The teen melts down the wall like ice in the summer, and then leans on Minho’s shoulder. Minho can feel pain and exhaustion waft off them.

“Are you okay, Minseok?” He says softly, even though he knows he’s not. It’s the kind of question you ask no matter what, the kind of question you don’t need an answer to, the kind that you ask so the person knows you care and so that they know you know they’re hurting. It’s a question everyone loves to hear, and nobody loves to answer.

So Minseok answers exactly how he wants to, with a soft moan that let’s Minho know he is not, in fact, okay, but that it doesn’t matter because he never truly will be. The little sound says a lot.

“Who’s the new guy?” The kid says quietly.

“I know him from the old world, actually.”

“Really?” He can feel Minseok’s body tense with excitement, but the child doesn’t bother getting up. It’s rare to come across someone you know here, and then Minseok realizes this too. “That’s- too bad, hyung.” Minho nods.

“Isn’t it.”

“Is he okay?”

“He’s dying.”

Minseok hums again. After a few moments of silence Minho speaks up again.

“Why did they want a Walmart today?”

“Because I gave them my grandma’s house a few days ago.”

“What about your grandma?”

“Been dead for years, house has been completely empty for months.” This time it’s Minho’s turn to hum his response.

“Nothing for them to take there?”

“Nada.”

“Good job.” Minseok snuggles further into Minho’s side.

“You know what they’re saying, right hyung?” They both stare at the door painted black.

“What?”

“The others are saying there’s a way back.”

“That’s bullshit you know that right-”

“It’s not! They say they’ve seen it-”

“Minseok how?” Minho turns his head to look at the younger one. “If there was an actual way back you think we’d know about it.”

“This is us learning how to know about it, hyung!” Minseok looks up at him with big brown eyes and Minho is reminded with a pang of Jeongin. Just then, the door is opened again and three more people filter inside. A woman with long dark hair and two boys all around the same age crowd in and shudder together when the door is slammed behind them. The girl’s face is flushed and her eyes dart around like something is going to jump at her at any moment, which makes Minho’s heart pound faster in his chest. Unlike Minseok, these three look like they had to go through a lot to make it back to this room tonight. Minseok gets the memo and he stands up to go greet them. The eighteen year old takes the girl’s hand in his and pulls her over to the wall while the other boys follow, everyone eyeing Kun’s sleeping form warily. The one male with wise eyes kneels in front of him, concern washing over his tired features.

“Who’s the new guy?”

“Kun, I actually-”

“Hyung knows him from outside,” Minseok cuts him off but Minho couldn’t care less. He shifts upright, turning towards both his friends.

“He’s not doing well though.” He says quietly. “Eunwoo,” His friend’s hand is on Kun’s shoulder, but his eyes flit up to Minho’s. “I’m scared.” Minho speaks as quietly as he can. Eunwoo nods knowingly and doesn’t allow the knot in his stomach to register on his face. He doesn’t know Minho’s friend personally, but if it hurts the younger boy it hurts him too.

“Don’t be scared,” Eunwoo says. “He’ll be fine.” The words don’t mean anything.

When do those words ever mean something?

Yuqi is pulled to sit down next to Minseok, and silently she rests her head on his shoulder, and proudly Minseok no longer relies on Minho to prop him up.

“She had a rough day,” The third boy finally speaks up in a manner that only allows Eunwoo and Minho hear what he has to say. Chan sits down in front of them, crossing his legs. “They really fuck with her.” He says, anger visible on his young face. The others nod. Yuqi is just as strong as they are, but that only makes their captors just as harsh to her as the other boys.

“No kidding,” Minho breathes. Both of the boys seem to be anxious, although Minho has absolutely no idea about what.

“Minho we need to talk to you about something,” Eunwoo finally spits out. Minho narrows his eyes. They’ve been around each other long enough to not have to say ‘I need to talk to you about something’ when something needs to be said. What on earth could they want to say that has them so strung up? Chan nods in agreement.

“Minseok might have brought it up-”

“Just spit it out hyungs.” Minho is not in the mood to dance around the subject, and the boys are too tired to chide him for speaking like that to older friends.

“There are rumors.” Minho has to keep his eyes from rolling out of his skull. What are they, middle schoolers? Rumors are for children, rumors are for dumbasses . “About ways to go back.”

“Oh my god I know.” Minho spits. “Minseok told me, but I don’t see it. There’s no way back and you’re fooling yourselves for thinking so. Listen to me,” He tries to look both of them in the eyes at once, which doesn’t quite work when there are four eyes and you have only two yourself. “It’s bullshit. Bull. Shit. Think about it?” Minho is tired of false hope, absolutely exhausted. Hearing his brothers talk about unrealistic realities and things they’ll never get to see again is only aggravating, not uplifting. “It’s stupid. It’s just stupid.”

“You don’t even know what the rumors are, dumbass.” Chan says. “You’re not even willing to listen? You won’t even listen to how to get home?” This is slightly more intriguing, Minseok hadn’t told him how .

“Tell me how, then.” Minho says, flashing his eyes.

Chapter Text

Yuta and Sicheng have long since set out in the flooding to find the boys along with Lucas and Jungwoo, and Taeyong paces the front room anxiously, furious with himself that he let them go, but he knows it’s necessary to get their kids home. He stayed behind because of the recent news, because of the people that are home now, and apparently hostage. The remaining boys are gathered together, talking over strategy, talking over awful plans to go on a mission, to save them.

The police said they would take care of it, but not soon enough. The police weren’t willing to risk their lives-

Isn’t that what police are for?

Taeyong listens to them, but panic slowly builds up like acid in his muscles, and he knows he needs to go on a walk, indoors unfortunately, to avoid a panic attack and to clear his head. He thinks best when he’s moving.

Taeyong slips down the hallway and the others notice but don’t worry too much, it’s no big deal, there’s nowhere for him to go in that direction. He walks slowly, passing the bathroom, then the first bedroom, their voices slowly fading into the background. After a few minutes he dips into the second bedroom, the one missing the most of his family. Rejun, Jaemin, Doyoung, Taeil, even Jeno, though Taeyong prays Jeno is still on this side of reality, all sleep in here.

And they’re all gone.

It’s so fucking empty.

There’s a bare wall right across from the door. Taeyong had always tried to convince them to do something with it, put up posters or paint it or just make it look less ugly. They would tell him that their wall, is not, in fact, ugly, but simple.

And that they like it that way.

Taeyong chuckles in the memory, walking to the middle of the room. They’ve long since packed their brothers up, but they haven’t put them away. Blankets are folded at the ends of beds, and little cardboard boxes containing little pieces of them litter the foot of bunks. Jaemin’s music collection, Renjun’s books, things like that are missing from shelves, which almost makes it worse, but Taeyong thinks that maybe seeing an empty shelf is better than seeing the CDs stacked on top of each other never to be listened to or the books standing upright never to be read. Yes. Emptiness is definitely better.

Taeyong jumps when the door behind him opens, creaking. He spins around, looking Jaehyun in the eyes. The boy walks through the doorway slowly, and Taeyong thinks that maybe something is about to go down. It’s been hanging in the air for a long time, and Jaehyun’s eyes state the entire truth.

Taeyong knows what Jaehyun is thinking, and he knows what he wants too- but now is not the time. As Jaehyun closes the door, sealing them off from the rest of the house, their brothers, the world , Taeyong swallows hard. This is wrong, this is wrong.

His, Taeyong doesn’t even know what he his anymore; their relationship is so screwed up- Jaehyun walks towards him, never breaking eye contact, never letting Taeyong look away. This is something that used to be reflexive, but Taeyong knows now that it’s no longer anything he truly wants-

There are other priorities in this fucked up Disappearing world.


 

“Jae-”

“Shh,” Jaehyun cuts him off, hushing and Taeyong shakes his head, stepping backwards. Take the goddamn hint , Jaehyun.

Not. right. now.

Taeyong finds himself stepping backwards for every step Jaehyun takes forwards until eventually a solid wall stops him. Jaehyun smiles when Taeyong’s back meets plaster and his eyes grow a little wider.

And then Jaehyun is less than a foot away. He’s so close Taeyong can feel his warm breath and smell his honey skin. Taeyong bites his tongue so hard he makes it bleed, and then he’s occupied with trying to swallow the blood away, too occupied to realize that if he doesn’t speak up now something is going to happen-

Jaehyun’s right hand reaches for Taeyong’s wrist and his fingers wrap around it loosely. Taeyong doesn’t know whether to shy away from the touch or not, he doesn’t know what he wants at all. Jaehyun presses his arm into the wall, gently at first until he’s closed almost the entire distance between them and Taeyong’s legs feel weak but he doesn’t know why and suddenly his head is spinning and he hates it. His elbow hurts where the bones stick into the wall but Jaehyun doesn’t seem to notice.

Their eyes are still locked on each other like it’s a staring contest.

Jaehyun’s other hand finds itself on Taeyong’s waist and he uses it to push Taeyong’s hips into the hard surface behind him, pinning him down completely. The other boy’s eyes are wide, but he doesn’t say a thing. On reflex, Jaehyun’s head dips towards Taeyong’s neck, breathing along it, hesitant to press his lips down just yet. He feels Taeyong shudder beneath him, and takes it as a go ahead. He places his lips on his collarbone, but immediately Taeyong’s mood seems to switch.

“Jaehyun not now-” Taeyong struggles very slightly in his grasp. Jaehyun doesn’t let up but he doesn’t push further, not yet. He pulls his head away from Taeyong’s chest, relishing how Taeyong’s breathing has sped up and loving how his pulse feels under his finger tips. “We can’t.”

Jaehyun raises an eyebrow, and he doesn’t notice how his grip on Taeyong’s wrist tightens, honestly not even paying attention. Taeyong feels it though, and his fingers squeeze so much it begins to send shooting pain up his arm.

“I’m pretty sure we can,” Jaehyun says, his voice low. “You don’t want this?” He pulls a little closer, closing the distance completely. Taeyong’s brain is firing off panicked signals, he definitely knows this is not what he wants, not anymore, no more indecision-

Jaehyun is a drunk. Jaehyun beats his brothers.

Jaehyun leans in closer . “You don’t want me?” His breath is hot against Taeyong’s face, falling in waves down his jaw to his throat to his collarbones.

I do not.

“No-” Taeyong tries a little harder to push away this time, but Jaehyun doesn’t budge. Taeyong can feel the anger and panic rising up in him. “Jae get off me,” As they stand here anyone in the house could be Disappearing, Johnny could relapse, bad shit could happen, the youngest few are still gone, they need to report Doyoung-

And Chenle. Thinking of Chenle makes Taeyong more desperate. There are so many things they could be doing right now instead-

Jaehyun lets up for a millisecond and Taeyong gets the wrong idea, pushing off from the wall to slip away, out from underneath him. But for whatever Jaehyun had been doing in that moment, he had no intention of stopping. It happens in fractions of a second but Jaehyun’s hands are on Taeyong’s shoulders and he’s shoved him, harder than any time he’s laid hands on his leader before, backwards into the wall. Taeyong’s head snaps against it and stars explode in his vision.

He realizes very quickly that an innocent situation is not safe anymore.

Not at all.

He’s more angry than panicked at first, Taeyong isn’t weak or even a push over, but he’s also not one to hurt his family, and throwing the first punch is not something he’s willing to do.

“Jae what the fuck-” Jaehyun cuts him off by pushing him back again, hard, until Taeyong is too stunned to think. He takes this opportunity to let his hands graze his body and presses his mouth onto Taeyong’s and he feels Taeyong regain his sense beneath him but he doesn’t let go, obsessed with what they used to do. Jaehyun is hung up on the past, and Taeyong is too, but very different pasts. Jaehyun thinks of who they used to be, together. Taeyong thinks of who Jaehyun has become, and who he’s hit in the recent past. He moans but it isn’t good, it’s the beginning of fear because Jaehyun is too heavy for him and Jaehyun isn’t Jaehyun anymore and his wrists are pinned down and he can’t yell or talk or scream because his mouth is in use and he doesn’t want this at all.

Get the fuck off me. He knows that very soon Jaehyun is going to need to come up for air, people need to breathe, and so when he does, Taeyong completely out of breath himself, tries again to get free.

“Jaehyun stop-” His head hurts from where it’s collided against the wall. He looks past Jaehyun, vision swimming, to the rest of the room, the bunk beds, the windows, the door. He doesn’t know what he’s looking for.

Help? He doesn’t need help. This is fine. This is Jaehyun, this is going to be fine.

“You don’t really want me to stop,” Jaehyun doesn’t move, he’s still too close and his weight makes it hard for Taeyong to breathe.

“I do,” Taeyong is breathless, and his hands would shake if Jaehyun let his wrists go. “We can’t do this anymore-”

“Why? I thought you loved me.”

Oh my god.

Taeyong loves him, he loves him so much, but romantically they can’t exist anymore, not after the Disappearances began, not after Jaehyun started drinking, not after Taeyong moved on-

He wishes he could blame this episode on alcohol, but Taeyong can’t smell it on him, he knows he’s completely sober.

It makes it worse.

“I love you-” Taeyong did not mean for these words to be a green light, in fact, they are the opposite, he was going to tell him everything he’s been thinking, he was going to tell him no. Jaehyun doesn’t understand, and Jaehyun just goes right back at it.

He lets go of one wrist, threading his fingers into Taeyong’s hair painfully to get a better angle, sucking on his neck and his lips until they’re raw, the whole time Taeyong is telling him to stop, he’s telling him absolutely not, and he’s fighting with all his strength. With his free hand Taeyong pushes on Jaehyun’s chest as hard as he can until he knows he needs to do what he’s been trying to avoid. He punches him but it lands weird, in an awkward place like his shoulder, but regardless as little damage as it does, Jaehyun feels it. He pulls away, slightly surprised.

“That’s how it’s going to be, huh?” His eyes are hard, cold, colder than old Jaehyun has ever been.

“Jae no I told you no-” He’s cut off with a hit of Jaehyun’s own, silencing him. And then another one.

And another one.

Taeyong is sent to the ground now by the fourth one, bleeding and coughing and realizing that letting Jaehyun close the door in the very first place was the biggest mistake he could’ve made. He chokes on blood and saliva, struggling for breath as Jaehyun descends on him again.

Taeyong doesn’t know which is worse, being beat within an inch of his life in hate, or being, attacked?, in the name of ‘love’. Jaehyun hits him again and again until Taeyong stops struggling, until he stops trying to get away. His mind is foggy and shattered and his limbs feel all sorts of broken and suddenly he’s embarrassed because he couldn’t defend himself and if he can’t defend himself how is he supposed to defend the others and then he realizes that he really has failed as a leader and everything comes crashing down at once.

But at least it’s over, at least this piece of his day is over-

Until Jaehyun’s lips meet his one more time.

Terror explodes behind his aching temples and when Taeyong opens his eyes in surprise blood flows into them and makes them sting and Jaehyun is on top of him again and this time there’s absolutely nothing he can do about it.

Any of it.

He should’ve fought harder before, when there was no danger, when there was nothing at stake and when he could’ve just chosen to walk around Jaehyun and leave.

There are so many things he should’ve done.

His head hurts so much but he registers when Jaehyun pulls away. He hears the boy sigh, and then he feels his arms around him, picking him up.

Taeyong wants to scream, he wants to struggle, but he can’t do either of those things; he’s seemed to have lost the ability. He’s terrified of what Jaehyun is going to do next, so placing him on a bed is the furthest thing from Taeyong’s imagined reality as possible, and confusion settles over his tired mind. It doesn’t matter though, because Jaehyun walks away. Taeyong hears the opening of the door, and then, to his relief, the closing of it. Silver light filters through the blinds covering the window, but Taeyong doesn’t mind. A sliver paints his blood covered face, and he blinks into the light without really thinking, body and mind numb.

His eyes dance lazily across the room until they find the wall, the simple wall, but it looks different now. It’s even uglier.

That wall is forever going to be a place of trauma for him now.

God , he hopes they’ll let him repaint it.


 

Okay so basically; Jaehyun and Taeyong have a past (obviously Jaeyong) but because of Jaehyun's drinking and all of the Disappearances, the relationship has fallen apart. Taeyong has moved on, Jaehyun is stuck on him. Jaehyun attacks him, and when Taeyong doesn't give him what he wants, he beats him up like really badly. Basically that's it. 

Jaehyun pulls the door closed with a click, taking a deep breath after heaving a deeper sigh. He’s suddenly very aware of the amount of blood on his hands, and shoves them into his pockets as he tries to make it to the bathroom to clean them off. Unfortunately, too many of his brothers are littered about the house to do so stealthily, and Mark is standing just outside of the washroom.

“How’s Taeyong-hyung?” He asks. Ten sticks his head out of the bathroom while he washes his hands, eager to hear the answer as well. With two of his brothers staring him in the face the pressure is on.

But Jaehyun is smooth, a smooth man, a smooth talker, a smooth liar.

“He’s alright,” He says, shrugging his shoulders but making sure his hands stay hidden. “A little shaken from life you know, but he’s okay. He’s sleeping now.”

“Sleeping?” Ten raises his eyebrows. “You’re magical, Jaehyun, he hasn’t slept since Doyoung.” Mark nods in agreement and Jaehyun pretends to be humbled.

“I’m glad he’s finally getting rest then.” He says, tone airy. “I’d leave him alone for a few hours then, I didn’t know it’s been that long.” Mark nods even more vigorously and Ten joins in, pulling himself back in to finish drying his hands on a towel. When he steps out, Jaehyun looks at Mark.

“You going in?” He asks.

“You go first hyung,” Mark takes a step back to open the doorway for Jaehyun. Jaehyun smiles at him.

“Thank you kiddo.” He steps inside, turning around to find them both looking at him, just for a second, before smiling one more time.

And with his hands in his pockets, he kicks the door closed with a foot.

Chapter Text

“Mark, with me, now,” Ten grabs his wrist, eyes trained on the bathroom door and voice very low. Mark doesn’t hesitate, already suspecting the very same thing. The two of them race down the hallway towards the second last door; the second bedroom. Ten wrestles with the door handle for a whole two seconds before they’ve shoved it open, spilling over each other to get inside. It’s dark, and the rain still pounds against the windows, but between the streaky silver light the boys can make out a figure on one of the beds closest to the bare wall. Ten starts towards it but Mark throws an arm out.
“What if he’s actually sleeping?”
Ten shakes his head.
“He’s not.” They walk, slowly, towards the bunk, their fears only assured further and further with each step.
“Hyung?” Mark asks into the darkness, only a few feet away. In the luminescence they take in everything.
Every grotesque detail.
Taeyong hears them coming, though his ears are muffled and he turns his head in their direction, eyes trying to focus on each of them.
That’s the kicker, and Ten springs into action, flying to his side. He pushes away excess blankets to get a better look and they come away bloody in his hands.
“What the fuck-” Mark stands behind him slightly, and then he’s taking in the situation and it’s terrifying. Ten looks at Taeyong, unsure of what to do.
"Where does it hurt?" He asks. He knows it's stupid, he knows it hurts everywhere but Ten doesn't know what else to do. "What happened?" This is more appropriate. Taeyong's eyes well up, bloody as they may be and he turns his head away.
He doesn't want to tell them.
He doesn't want to say those things about Jaehyun.
He doesn't want to admit he was scared.
Terrified.
"Taeyong," Ten thinks about telling Mark to go grab towels or cloths or something but Jaehyun is in the washroom and Jaehyun is dangerous.
When did he become so dangerous?
"Taeyong what happened?" He repeats the question, voice lowered so that Jaehyun only rooms away won't know. "Mark, shut the door," Mark obeys, closing the door quietly.
"Should I lock it?"
Ten thinks for a moment.
"Yes." Mark locks the door quickly, running back to his brothers. They don’t have to be too quiet anymore if Jaehyun can’t get in.

“What the fuck do you think happened?” Mark asks, his voice lowered for the sake of their leader. Ten shakes his head.

“Jaehyun snapped.”

“Is he still violent?”

“Probably-”

“What about Johnny then-”

“Johnny.” If Ten wasn’t terrified already he definitely is now. “John is on the couch-” He jumps up. “Sleeping right?”

“He was-” Mark’s eyes are wild, but sense speaks up inside him. “Hyung Jaehyun will leave him alone, it’s Taeyong he has a history with,” Ten pauses, he doesn’t want to leave Taeyong, who stares at them with glassy eyes, but he can’t stand the fact that Johnny is vulnerable, unprotected with Jaehyun only one room over. “Hyung there’s no way he’ll do anything to him, he wanted him back no? Johnny is going to be okay, we need to focus on the problem at hand,” Mark nods towards their leader. Of course. Of course. Ten nods, forcing down the anxiety.

Johnny will be fine .

But he’s the only other person in the house, and the thought of him alone on the other side of the locked door with Jaehyun-

“We need to assess what’s broken,” Ten kneels back down because Mark is right. One thing at a time. Jaehyun’s beef is with Taeyong. He takes Taeyong’s hand, threading their fingers together. “You need to tell me what happened.” Tae’s throat is dry.

“We fought,” He says.

“It looks like he fought,” Mark says softly.

“I wasn’t going to hurt him.” Taeyong’s voice cracks slightly, but tears no longer threaten his eyes. It’s the pure truth, Taeyong could’ve defended himself much better, but to him that wouldn’t be worth it. Hitting Jaehyun wouldn’t be worth surviving scathe free.

He tells them so.

“It’s worth living , hyung, it’s worth being able to stand up.” Mark sits down beside Taeyong on the bed when they’ve propped him up a bit more. The shock is beginning to wear off Taeyong and he feels less like dying.

“Never.” He says, smiling. Mark exchanges a glance with Ten, but the two of them brush it off.

There’s a knock on the door, slow and haggard, repeated three times.

“Ten?” Jaehyun’s voice lilts through the cracks all around the doorframe. “Mark? Are you in there?” Ten’s eyes are wider than the moon and he places a finger to his lips to tell Mark and Taeyong to be quiet.

“Jaehyun,” He starts, but he’s quickly interrupted.

“What did I tell you about disturbing him?” Jaehyun’s voice is like silk, sliding through the door and grazing Ten’s skin. It’s something they’ve never heard out of him before, no matter the circumstances.

It’s unhinged.

It’s fucking crazy.

“Jaehyun why did you hurt him?” Ten walks towards the door slowly, double checking that it’s locked first. “What made you-”

“Made me? Nothing.” Jaehyun scoffs on the other side. Ten’s eyes are locked onto Mark’s from where he stands by the door, and Taeyong sits a little straighter, fighting the pain and the fact that most of him is broken. He can hear Jaehyun touch the door on the other side, dragging a finger down towards the handle. The noise causes chills to run down Ten’s spine, and he jumps when Jaehyun tries the handle. “Nothing made me, which is something you need to understand. I did it myself. He fucking deserved it.” Mark’s hand flies to Taeyong’s, squeezing it despite the blood.

“You didn’t.” He says, too quiet for even Ten to hear. Taeyong doesn’t respond.

“I’m thinking he didn’t fucking touch you, Jaehyun,” Ten hisses.

“Get out.”

“No fucking way,”

“Open the door.”

“No?”

“Open the door, let me see Taeyong-”

“He’s not yours to see, not if you treat him like that-”

There’s silence for a few moments before Jaehyun speaks again.

“It’s a fair trade then, I suppose.” Muffled from the door between them Ten can still hear him touch it with his fingertips.

“What?”

Silence. Then,

“You have Taeyong in there , out here I have John-”

The panic that had been eating away at Ten’s stomach makes him almost throw up now. His lungs are on fire, his heart at an unhealthy speed, his mind unable to catch up.

“What the fuck are you saying?!” Ten’s hand hovers on the doorknob, but one glance backwards forces him to keep it closed. Taeyong is still covered in his own blood, dull eyes looking at nothing. There’s no way Ten is opening any doors between Jaehyun and him for a long time.

“You don’t fucking get it Ten? I have nothing left to live for. The one thing I can do right is wrong.” Ten can feel his anger through the door. “Don’t fucking test me.” He hisses. Venom and genuine fear of himself drip off each syllable he forces between his lips.

“Jaehyun you need to slow down and think.” Ten’s hands shake desperately. He needs to make Jaehyun forget that he threatened Johnny at all, he needs him to forget about what’s happening, why it’s happening, what’s going to happen. “Think about what you’re saying- you think you can’t do anything good? You can relax, relaxing is good. We can talk about this- solve it all without violence.” He laughs nervously. Ten exchanges glances with the other two who nod, getting him to keep going. “We keep you around. Fuck- we care about you. So this is going to be okay, alright?” He trails off, he doesn’t know what else to say. Jaehyun, again, is silent. Then;

“bullshit.” And suddenly Jaehyun isn’t at the door anymore. Ten can hear him walk down the hallway, a kind of slow that makes your blood run cold. There are a few moments of silence, a silence that Ten hopes is filled with Jaehyun looking at himself in the mirror of the washroom and realizing what a monster he’s become and realizing his mistakes. For the sake of Taeyong’s safety, the door needs to stay shut and locked, but a man can hope.

Until they can hear two voices, and they rise up in a manner that suggests someone is in danger.

Johnny can hear Jaehyun walk down the hallway, and in his sleep he rolls over on the couch to face the open living room. He’s only just woken up, and hasn’t- unfortunately- heard any of the terrifying moments just seconds before. He watches through blurry eyes as Jaehyun passes him, walking into the kitchen. Johnny swallows hard, he knows things have been tough on Jaehyun recently.

The more he wakes up, the more his body realizes it’s supposed to hurt, and very slowly like the trickling of a tiny waterfall the pain seeps back under his skin, attacking his chest and his throat and everything in between. He groans softly, disappointed and wondering if it’ll ever go away. As an optimist though, he’s sure it will.

Jaehyun reappears after a moment, and Johnny struggles to push himself up on his elbow to get a better look at him, rubbing his eyes and taking a breath that hurts him more than it should.

“Hyung I need to do something,” Jaehyun says from the doorway of the kitchen. Johnny is staring at a couch cushion, trying to focus his vision after it blurs again.

“Anything, Jae,”

“Good.”

Johnny hears him walk further into the room, finally able to regain the motor skills to look up and see at the same time.

What he sees is weird as fuck.

“Jaehyun what are you doing-” Jaehyun is walking towards him slowly, scissors in one hand,

a knife in the other.

Johnny’s brow furrows and he tries to sit up, not quite understanding what’s happening- still having the sense to be scared.

Whatever Jaehyun plans to do with scissors and a knife, Johnny does not want to be on the receiving end of. “Jaehyun-”

“Shut up.” Jaehyun has successfully crossed the distance and he doesn’t hesitate when he gets close enough.

Not at all.

Johnny hardly has time to deflect the first blow, raising a sweater clad arm to cover his face when Jaehyun jumps forwards, swiping the blade dangerously close to his throat. The knife cuts into the fabric, tearing skin too, and comes away bloody.

Ten is in the room in seconds.

“GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM HIM-” Ten flies at his brother, crashing into him without holding back. The two grapple on the floor and Mark bursts into the room, running to Johnny first.

“Holy shit-” He sees the blood but Johnny is shaking his head, eyes wild, as he summons the strength to stand up. Jaehyun slashes at Ten with both weapons and little bits of his blood decorate the floor.

“Seperate them seperate them-” Johnny gasps and Mark springs instantly in the middle.

That was his biggest mistake, because when Jaehyun’s scissors come speeding down towards the space beside Ten’s throat, the blades collide instead with Mark’s ribcage.

They break bone.

They sink deep.

Like,

deep.

Mark gasps.

The entire room stops breathing.

 

“Seungmin-” Jeno twitches awkwardly, hands slightly raised up to his elbows but going no further, not know whether to touch him or not. What’s going on in his mind right now? Is he putting two and two together? The tree and Jeongin and-

In the next lightning flash the room lights up and the edge of a red puddle can be seen from beneath a few leaves. Jeno’s stomach flips and turns, and he resists the urge to double over and spill it’s contents. Seungmin stares into the room with dull eyes, body wetting quickly because of the rain. He stands completely silent, completely still, hands by his sides, face completely unreadable. He blinks a few times reflexively.

“Okay.” He says, finally. Jeno’s eyes widen in confusion and the hands that had been hovering meet Seungmin’s arms just above the elbows, turning him to face Jeno instead of the wet room.

“Okay?”

“Okay.” He repeats. Seungmin is at a complete loss for words as if he hasn’t been speaking since he was small, as if his mind has stopped working, brain has shut down, hard drive logged off for the day. He doesn’t know what to say. There’s nothing to say.

Of all the things in the world Seungmin was least expecting something like this. It’s surreal, it’s a tree in a bedroom, it’s blood on his floor, it’s his brothers- “Okay.”

Jeno hesitates for only a second before pulling him into a hug, pressing Seungmin’s head to his shoulder and making sure his arms wrap all the way around. There’s nothing else to do.

Nothing.

Jeno expects him to cry, he expects Seungmin to freak out, to run into the room and push through the branches and hurt himself by accident because he’s desperate desperate to see them. But instead, Seungmin is silent. He’s calm.

On the outside.

Inside Seungmin is someone Seungmin himself doesn’t know. It’s like he’s two people, skin and underneath, but the underneath has detached from his skin and it’s deflating and his second person his inner person is collapsing and very soon will sink into his legs until he’s only filled up halfway and no longer is he Seungmin with both Seungmins inside. Now he’s only half a Seungmin.

He needs both to survive.

“Do you want to go downstairs or do you want to see-” Jeno’s tears threaten to spill from behind his eyes, and for a reason no one will ever be able to understand, he seems more broken than the boy who lost his brothers.

Seungmin doesn’t answer, instead he pulls away and steps into the space. The rain is beginning to let up, barely, but still, Jeno can see breaks between the clouds from the crushed ceiling. Jeno follows very gingerly, watching Seungmin walk with silent purpose. He watches him crouch between the leaves, he watches him see it. All of it.

“Fuck, Seungmin-” He whispers to himself, treading carefully. Seungmin is on his knees, jeans soaking wet, running his fingers through Hyunjin’s hair. He found them slightly different than the others, with Hyunjin more visible than Woojin. Jeno prefers this angle, Hyunjin looks almost fine, almost alive. The only unnatural thing- save the tree pinning him to the floor- is how drenched his body is. His dark hair is plastered to his forehead, his clothes clinging to his cold skin.

And then Seungmin is standing up, he’s walking the way he came, turning Jeno around to leave the room. He’s shutting the door.

It closes with a kind of finality that only comes with the clicking of a handle, the completion of an era.

The ending of a life.

Two lives, to be more exact.

Together they walk back down the stairs and Jeno anxiously hovers around Seungmin until they meet flat floor, his own lame leg something Seungmin has long forgotten. They walk into the living room slowly, Haechan standing beside the other two who are sitting on the floor. His eyes are wide and bewildered, like he doesn’t know what to do with them. They sit completely still, Jeongin’s arms wrapped around his knees and Jisung’s head in his hands. Jeno bites his tongue.

“The storm is letting up,” He says because there’s nothing else to say. “Maybe we should go back to our place-” He suggests but he allows his words to trail off. To his surprise, though, Seungmin nods, eyes on Jeongin as he pulls Jisung to his feet, then helping his own brother up.

“We need to leave.”

Haechan looks at Jeno and Jeno shakes his head. Seungmin ushers the youngest ones to the door.

“Your leg, hyung,” Jisung says, pointing at it. Seungmin looks down for a moment, cursing it absentmindedly as the pain rips through his body. He ignores it, looking back up at Jisung with eyes full of forced brightness, something so out of place in the most recent occurrences, and he pushes the door open for them to pass through.

Sun is beginning to reflect off of the vast ocean around them, blinding Haechan as he walks past Seungmin and onto the porch. The droplets have trickled to a slow drizzle now and they dance on his brown hair like morning dew. It’s almost beautiful, save everything they’ve been through and the fact that their streets are full of water.

Jeno plunges first, the water waist deep. He cringes which tells the rest of them that it’s cold, and he extends a shaking hand to Seungmin to help him down the slippery steps. Jeongin follows right behind him, lightless eyes trained on his back to catch him if he falls. It makes sense that Seungmin would agree to leave so quickly- there’s no way for them to stay here.

“Haechan-hyung-” Jisung’s voice is small and quiet, but his deep brown eyes are full of fear. “What do we do now-” His speech is broken up, separated by exhausted breaths that leave him breathless . Haechan frowns, worried about him, his health especially. They’ve been wet, cold and exposed to too much bullshit for a sixteen year old to be okay.

“We go home, kiddo,” Haechan says, pushing back some of Jisung’s blonde hair that’s begun to stick to his forehead. There’s a little bit of blood on Haechan’s hands, be it Seungmin’s or Woojin’s even- that trails along Jisung’s clammy skin.

He quickly wipes it off Jisung’s forehead with his sleeve, feeling disgusted for ever leaving it there. He’d apologize if Jisung knew what had happened in those few seconds, but the kid has no idea and Haechan doesn’t deem it necessary.

“Hyung-”

Haechan looks at him attentively as they start down the stairs themselves, descending into the icy water. Jisung gasps with the cold a little, teeth beginning to chatter as he forces his words out of his mouth. “Fuck- can you-?” He seems to be struggling with what he wants to say, almost ashamed. The older boys have already begun trekking slowly, but Jeno turns his head around to be sure the other two are following. When he sees them, he breathes a sigh of relief and continues to push forwards. Finally, Jisung sticks his hand out, too exasperated to finish his sentence. “Hold my hand.” Haechan knows he’s only ordering him to do so because he’s scared, and very quickly Haechan obligues.

“Of course, Ji, of course.”

 

Yuta’s knees tremble and his teeth click together with the cold despite his jacket. He thinks about how the boys had left the house when it was warmer, he thinks about how when he had gone on the walk with Winwin and Mark only a few days ago he hadn’t needed a coat.

He can’t imagine how fucking cold the kids must be now.

“Jungwoo are you okay?” Yuta hears Winwin ask, but it’s all background noise. The couple is sort of ignoring Lucas right now, and although Jungwoo didn’t do anything himself, Yuta is still pissed off about his drinking habits. Sicheng doesn’t seem to mind so much, sympathizing with him and worrying because the water is a little deeper on the two of them than Yuta and Lucas. Yuta looks behind him at the pair while Lucas trudges ahead and he feels a pang of regret for being so cold hearted. He falls into step with them, looping an arm around Jungwoo’s own.

“We’ll find them, okay?” Jungwoo’s eyes are clouded with worry of his own, but it all revolves around the same fear everyone else has;

The kids have been alone for days.

“What if they went Lord of the Flies?” He says. “What if it’s like The Hunger Games 2.0?” Sicheng laughs, actually laughs, which is a beautiful sound to Yuta’s ears and he sees even Lucas’ shoulders shake with a chuckle he probably tried very hard to hide.

“Jungwoo they haven’t killed each other I’m sure.” Sicheng says, still smiling at Jungwoo who’s staring at the water flowing between his legs. His sweater is soaking and looks really heavy, but Yuta isn’t going to suggest he take it off because of the cold.

Though wouldn’t a soggy sweater make it worse?

There’s no time for him to truly think about the science of it and they keep walking together.

“If they aren’t at the theater they’ll be at Woojin’s, don’t you think?” Lucas says from up ahead and Winwin nods, then realizes Lucas can’t see him and vocalizes his agreement.

“Definitely. If not there then-”

“Dead.” Jungwoo wails quietly and Yuta chuckles again.

“They’re fine, Woo. I’m serious. The kids are resourceful you know this,” Yuta says, but he looks across Jungwoo at Sicheng who sucks on his cheek and raises a quizzical eyebrow as well. They have no evidence the boys are fine.

But they don’t have evidence they’re dead either.

Except they haven’t come home, they haven’t made contact, the storm has been brutal up until only moments ago and even then the flooding is dangerous as all get out-

And the Disappearances have started. In all the bullshit Yuta had almost forgotten about the Disappearances. He’s forgotten that when they find the boys one will be missing, and that’s the only one that they know about. Who knows who they’ve lost since Johnny has come home…

No way. Not the time to be negative.

Yuta’s pessimistic outlook is persistent though and plagues him as they walk, harbouring a lovely pit of growing fear in his stomach.

Wonderful.

After about fifteen minutes of walking towards the theater something catches Lucas’ eye. He throws up a hand to stop the other three behind him and immediately Yuta is standing beside him, not sure where to look.

“Down the side street,” Lucas points in the direction. Through the heize Yuta is able to make out a few human-like forms struggling through the water.

That’s enough for him.

“Jeno!” He starts yelling like a mad man, running- as fast as a man can speed through deep, muddy waters- and waving his arms hysterically. The group pauses, looking like cats do when they’re caught off guard, before they begin to push onwards again, and as Yuta and the others get closer they can see boys more clearly. The kids.

Their kids.

Yuta doesn’t stop running until he’s gathered Haechan up in his arms, and the other three boys do the very same thing.

“Fuck kids we’ve been worried sick-” He’s honestly almost crying, tears prickling so readily at the back of his eyes. He doesn’t let Haechan go for a few seconds, holding the soaking teen to his chest. He feels him breathe unevenly and can hear mucus in his chest everytime he struggles for another breath. They’re in a bad state.

It gets even worse when Sicheng takes a good look at Seungmin, who tried to keep his condition underwater, but failed miserably.

“Shit what happened?!” Winwin puts a hand on his shoulder, holding the kid out to investigate him.

“No point in explaining-” He gasps. Winwin scrunches up his nose, knowing it isn’t good. “Honestly I’m fine though it’s a pain in the ass but not fatal,” Lucas pulls his arm around his shoulder to help support them.

“We’re going to trust you on that for now, kid,” Sicheng cautions, turning his attention onto the others. “You guys look like shit.” He says blatantly. Jungwoo has taken to Jeongin and Jisung’s sides silently and frowns in Winwin’s direction when he says this, but no one else seems to care. Jeno brings up the rear of the group. Winwin walks to Jeno slowly, lowering his voice for the oldest younger boy.

“Are you okay?” He says, sighing at the same time, knowing that he isn’t. Jeno nods solemnly.

“Hyung-”

“Tell me at home?”

Jeno bites his tongue. I guess so? Honestly he’s relieved, when will the time ever be right to bring up Chenle leaving or the other two-

Dying .

Jeno decides he’s glad Winwin just wants to get home.

“We don’t have power right now,” Yuta drones as they walk. “But we have towels and blankets and we’ll heat you guys up and get some food into you in no time and-” Jisung tunes him out, not to be rude, but because he’s too energetic for him to handle right now. Too happy. Too excited. Jisung knows it’s because they’ve just reunited, he’s happy too, ecstatic, relieved beyond belief, but he’s tired as well. Fucking exhausted.

And he’s sad, too.

Really fucking sad.

Even apart from the deaths of Jeongin’s brothers, Jisung feels the absence of Chenle beside him for the first time in a few hectic hours. They’re never not apart, never not glued to each other’s side. They can annoy the hell out of each other, for sure, but Jisung loves him.

He misses him so much.

Jisung’s heart swells in his chest as he thinks about, really stops to think, and he realizes something he hadn’t realized before, which makes losing his everything even worse;

Chenle’s never coming back.

Not if Jisung is being rational.

Jungwoo’s hand stays on his back the whole walk home, guiding him when he gives up on paying attention completely, which is something Jungwoo doesn’t mind. All any of them want is to get the kids inside, prove to Taeyong that somethings can turn out okay, that there’s still hope for this world.

When they enter the apartment building Jeongin is afraid he’s going to float up to the ceiling without the weight of the water tugging on his clothing, and he’s relieved to be out of it for the second time today. He breathes in, and then almost coughs his lungs out, very, very sick.

Shit. He thinks to himself, just a little rain is going to kill me? And then he thinks of Hyunjin and Woojin and his own internal joke made up to comfort himself is no longer funny and he feels like he’s going to be sick and no longer is he happy or alleviated now he’s panicked and terrified and Jungwoo senses the change and holds onto his wrist to steady him.

The kid looks like he’s going to pass out.

Yuta struggles with the keys, his fingers numb from the cold but eventually his shaking hands are able to fit the metal into the keyhole and turn it, waiting for the familiar click that signals the fact that the door is now unlocked and Yuta pauses suddenly.

He can’t help but feel that something’s off.

They all stare at the blue door expectantly, and after only a moment’s hesitation Yuta turns the handle completely, pushing it open to be greeted by ugly red carpet and the metallic smell of rusting pipes.

Except their carpet isn’t supposed to be red and nothing should be rusting.

Chapter Text

Every single one of the boys inside the apartment is bleeding. No exceptions. Some wounds worse than others, but regardless;

No exceptions.

Yuta’s heart drops into the soles of his soaking wet shoes.

Johnny’s arms are wrapped around Mark, a scene that to them and them only is hauntingly familiar, except the roles were switched and the causes less violent.

“Yuta-”

“Johnny-”

“The kids-”

“What the hell-” And then it’s chaos. Ten is lying motionless on the ground, Johnny propped up against the couch with Mark in his arms, Jaehyun and Taeyong nowhere to be seen. The boys fall inside quickly, and Yuta and Winwin, the two most level headed to remain soaked in something very different, take in the situation. They act immediately.

Yuta falls to his knees beside Johnny and Mark, and when Johnny shifts, speechless and shocked, he reveals the gaping hole in Mark’s chest.

“We left- for thirty- thirty minutes-” Yuta stutters, breathing picking up as he watches Mark’s eyelids flutter. “Less than that-” That’s all he can say in these moments, talk about the time. Good one Yuta. Mark shudders, breathing uneven and ragged while Johnny’s grip on him only tightens. His wrist is bleeding badly, but he and Yuta both know that’s not the injury they need to worry about right now.

“A hospital-”

“No ambulances-”

“We can take him there-”

He won’t make it. The pessimism sinks it’s hungry claws into Yuta’s mind.

Mark lies there, feeling, just feeling. He feels the most pain he’s ever felt in his whole lifetime, including that time he burned himself on the stove- that was bad- and that time when he fell off the bike and completely skinned his entire right side- that was even worse.

But this takes the cake, 100%.

He feels eyes on him too, too many pairs, but not more than he’s used to. In a perfect world at least seventeen would stare back at him, and if he were lucky maybe a few extra, new friends and old ones blending together.

And he feels their anxiety and their anxiety especially. Why? What’s wrong?

“Where are Jaehyun and Tae- Who attacked you? Did they break in?” Sicheng tugs at Johnny’s arms gently, trying to get him to release Mark.

Jisung stands in the doorway with eyes so wide they could pop out of his skull. Jeno is torn between grabbing him and pulling him out or running to the rest of the boys to help- help how? This is only the second time in his life he’s seen this much blood, and it’s too bad the first time was hardly hours ago. Jeno decides that Jisung will be fine and he changes his attention instead to Ten’s body. He crashes down beside it, Seungmin already there trying to wake him up.

Ten’s eyes are closed and he groans softly, very weak, very- something. Jeno doesn’t really know what, but Ten looks like he’s been torn into by a wolf. Seungmin holds his head in his lap, leaning over him and trying to get him to open his eyes.

“Hyung- hyung-” Jeno tries too, and he presses on Ten’s wounds desperately. Johnny watches from where he’s seated, horrified. He’s shocked and he’s losing blood and all that’s on his mind is where Jaehyun isn’t-

And where the hell he is.

Johnny grabs Yuta’s arm, almost making him cry out in fear. Yuta wasn’t expecting that.

“Jaehyun-” Johnny spits out. He groans in agony, leftover pain mixing with what’s dripping from his wrist. He should’ve mentioned it sooner. He hates himself for not being able to push the words out. “Jaehyun- the bedroom-” Yuta places a shaking hand on his shoulder, trying to coax the sentence out in the middle of the mess. Everyone else whirls around the two, focusing on Ten, focusing on Mark. For Johnny and Yuta time seems to stop and it’s just John’s wide brown eyes and they’re scared and Johnny finally says it.

“Save him.”

Jaehyun. Jaehyun needs saving.

Yuta misunderstands. Jaehyun doesn’t need saving, that’s not who Johnny was talking about at all, not when he said those words. Yuta doesn’t know this though, and he doesn’t know how dangerous it is for him to run full tilt down the hallway while Sicheng screams his name and he’s thrown himself into the bedroom Johnny was talking about and he sees it. He sees it.

 

“Jaehyun-” Taeyong’s voice rasps in his throat when Jaehyun bolts into the room, not even bothering to pull the door shut. His legs won’t move, and he’s stuck on the bed, and in any other situation; completely helpless.

But he heard everything, every single goddamn thing that occurred outside the bedroom and he’s furious. Nothing is going to stop him.

He heard Mark’s cry of pain and he knows based on the amount of blood on his hands that Jaehyun did the hurting. He heard Johnny, he heard Ten. He’s not even done hearing them, they’re confused and terrified and he can hear Johnny talk to Mark and based on what he’s hearing it isn’t good.

It isn’t fucking good.

It’s too bad that his voice comes out weak like that, otherwise the situation would look way more badass. Taeyong standing upright on fractured legs would be cool, interesting, if it wasn’t so ugly and horrifying when he takes a single step and he can hear himself snap.

Disgusting.

But that doesn’t stop him.

Jaehyun doesn’t waste any time either, he’s broken, he’s gone. When Taeyong looks into his eyes, they’re hard and black. Jaehyun isn’t home.

He’s still holding his knife though, and as he runs for Taeyong, his leader makes a decision. A decision for the entire team, a decision that will protect them, a decision they should have made forever ago. They should have kicked out the drunks, they should have made them sober up.

That’s past now, though, there’s no sobering up for Jaehyun anymore.

With shattered arms Taeyong picks up one of Renjun’s books, the closest one from the box at the end of his bed holding all of old Renjun. The biggest one.

In the mind of a regular person a book might not do that much damage, not when it’s opponent is a knife, but it’s not a knife that rivals a book, it’s a fox that rivals a wolf, a wolf with a pack to protect, a wolf afraid of losing everything, a wolf afraid he already has.

Jaehyun’s head colliding with Renjun’s largest encyclopedia is a sound so revolting it would make the strongest stomach hurl, and his neck snapping to the left only adds to the sickening symphony. Jaehyun is thrown into the ladder of the bed, body and bones and metal and bars meeting at a speed Taeyong didn’t know a body could produce, and he crumples to the floor in a heap of deadweight.

Dead. More dead than Taeyong’s eyes, than Chenle or Doyoung or Kun or anyone gone. Actually dead.

Taeyong then realizes a second fact;

He fucking killed him.

Yuta’s in the doorway hardly two minutes later, taking in his second ugly scene of the day.

“What the- what the hell- what-” He stutters like an idiot in the frame, leaning against it when his legs threaten to give out. He wants to throw up, Jaehyun’s neck-

It should not look like that.

Taeyong is on his knees, sobbing. Yuta has never seen him so broken, and after a second glance he realizes both inside and out. He runs to him quickly, trying to avoid staring at Jaehyun. His breaths come too quick and too short, and he almost hyperventilates himself into fainting.

“Taeyong-” He crashes down beside him, crawling the rest of the way, grabbing Taeyong’s shaking shoulders, pushing him up against the bed, gently, to keep him still. “What happened- what happened? Jae-Jae-”

“I killed him-” Taeyong chokes between gasps for air. “I did this. I did this.” He repeats it again and again and with each syllable shock only weighs down on Yuta further and further. No no no, he thinks. Taeyong is lying, Taeyong is wrong, there’s no way Taeyong did this.

“You didn’t-”

“I did.” He sounds so sure, how can he be so sure?

That can only mean he’s right.

Yuta sits back on his heels, horrified. His hands, shaking, slowly fall off of Taeyong’s shoulders, letting him convulse alone. Jaehyun’s hand is so close to Yuta’s leg, as if he were reaching out, asking for Yuta to help him, save him-

“Jaehyun-” His voice is so low he can’t even hear himself, and very slowly he pivots away from his leader, his murderous leader -Yuta doesn’t know the entire situation yet- and he looks. He looks at Jaehyun. He looks at the boy he’s resented for months but never stopped loving-

Because Yuta doesn’t know, the only thing this moment is tainted with is death, not terror, not horror at Jaehyun’s actions, not questions asking ‘why?’, nothing. Just how oddly bendy Jaehyun looks and how still his chest has fallen.

Chapter Text

“How did it happen? Like, exactly, do you think?” Jaemin kneels down in front of Renjun, who’s seated in the chair. Renjun looks tired, and it’s plain on his face that watching what he just has has put him somewhere dark. Jaemin sees this, placing his palms on Renjun’s knees, squeezing slightly, urging him to answer the question. Jaemin pretends to be excited, he pretends like maybe they could go home, reverse-Disappear, through memory.

It’s obviously not impossible, but whether Johnny died and went home or remembered and went home is debatable, and they have no idea in which state he really arrived.

“I think he died.” Renjun says after a moment, which makes Jaemin freeze. He knows what’s going to follow, maybe not in the immediate future, but if Renjun thinks John died and went home-

He doesn’t want Renjun to do anything stupid.

“I’m not quite sure-” Jaemin stops speaking halfway through. Who is he to say Renjun is wrong? Other thoughts quickly begin to occur to him now too, like Johnny is gone and Kun is missing and now he’s the oldest member with the most experience in this world and it scares him quite a little. Doyoung might be a few years his senior, and Renjun too in all technicalities, but Jaemin feels most responsible.

Fuck.

Responsibility is not his thing.

“I’m thinking maybe it was the memory.” He ends up saying, even if it’s just to dispel any suicidal thoughts from Renjun’s mind. Suicide is suicide, and if Renjun doesn’t show up on the other side- then they’ve lost him forever. “So don’t you fucking try-”

“Jae I would never.” Renjun says, his brown eyes filling up with defensiveness. “Never. You would get lonely.” He raises an eyebrow, teasing him.

“Fuck you Junnie.” Jaemin stands up. He’s reminded that Renjun is not a child, not any younger than him anyways, and that he doesn’t need to babysit him. A little broken, maybe, but not incapable of living. “But you’re right.”

Renjun laughs, standing up as well, but his eyes darken again shortly after.

“Johnny’s gone.”

“He is.”

“We don’t know if he’s okay.”

“We do not.” They stand in silence again, pursing their lips and understanding that what happened might not be as positive a development as they hoped.

“I’m sure he’s fine,” Renjun compensates. “It’s Johnny, he’s always fine.”

 

Johnny is not fine, in fact, in all of the commotion and bigger injuries, Johnny’s wrist bleeds as it pleases. He didn’t realize how deep the cut was; he can’t really differentiate new pain from old anymore, and his entire body aches. This is a side effect of major blood loss, he’ll find out after, but Johnny just chalked it up to the stress of the situation.

This situation is very stressful.

Jisung notices first, and slides, Haechan in tow, around the perimeter of the room. He avoids Ten, with Jeno and Seungmin, and he avoids Mark, who they pried from John’s arms just seconds ago, with Sicheng and Jeongin and Jungwoo and Lucas and he kneels down very slowly beside Johnny who’s head lolls to the side a little as consciousness ebbs away from him the same way his blood does. Haechan drops down on his other side, noting Johnny’s bloodsoaked sleeve immediately. He reaches for the arm, picking it up and removing the sweater, trying to roll it up to Johnny’s elbow to get a better look. In the moment, he wishes he hadn’t, but in retrospect, he knows his brother would’ve died had he not.

Johnny’s arm is quite a spectacle.

“Fuck-” Haechan says as the blood gushes over his hand, dripping down his arm and mixing with the rainwater coating his skin and it’s the most chilling thing Haechan has ever felt; the blood of his brother running between his fingers. And it’s pouring out. Haechan swallows hard, panic setting in that’s been at bay for hours. He looks at Johnny’s face in terror, and realizes very quickly what’s happening. “Hyung-” They haven’t seen him in so long.

Jisung tears at extra clothing immediately, anything he can get at, a sweater, a pant leg, a sleeve. He manages to gather a strip of fabric long enough to press on the wound and Haechan takes over instantly, holding it down and squeezing, trying desperately to stop the blood flow. It flows like a fucking river, it flows faster than the muddy rushes the boys pushed through to get here, it flows like a waterfall. When it slows, Haechan has two things to think about; is he successfully stopping it-

Or is Johnny running out.

Ten’s eyelids flutter and Jeno takes this opportunity to try harder.

“Hyung- hyung we’re here, wake up!”

Seungmin wipes hair away from Ten’s forehead, clearing his eyes and trying to make it easier to open them. The house is poorly lit and Seungmin realizes the boys must’ve lost power in the storm, it certainly wouldn’t surprise him. Ten groans again, agony seizing his entire being.

Mark, where’s Mark? What happened to Mark? His mind races with thoughts like these, interrupted with strain and white pain flashing behind his eyelids. He forces them open, and seeing Jeno, someone who he’s been missing for days, grounds him in milliseconds.

“J-Jeno-” He chokes out, and Jeno pulls closer, taking his hand and continuing to press on the worst of the damage. He nods, encouraging.

“Yeah, yeah I’m here, we’re home, please relax hyung, stay awake for me-”

Ten’s attention flits elsewhere, allowing Jeno’s voice to fall into the back of his mind. He sees Seungmin, he sees the others, he sees Mark-

He sees Johnny.

Jeno sees his sightline too, and when he spots what Ten’s eyes have latched on to, his heart falls into his stomach. He doesn’t want Ten to see Johnny like this, and he doesn’t want Johnny to die. Jeno abandons Ten’s side, knowing Seungmin can take care of him. He runs, through the blood and the many limbs flying trying to resuscitate or control blood loss or simply just hold on to his brothers, and slides down beside Jisung and Haechan. He shuffles Jisung out of the way, taking over pressing on John’s wrist.

“Jeongin we have tape in the kitchen, first drawer beside the fridge, I need you to get that for me right now-” He snaps at gently as he can. Jeongin jumps up from his spot closer to Mark, obeying. He uses stiff legs to sprint towards their kitchen, almost slipping on the red with the blood he’s tracked onto the linoleum. He throws himself at the fridge, gripping the handle of the drawer. It slips in his hand the first time, slick with crimson, and then he’s able to pull it open.

Jeongin is trying not to panic, he’s trying to force down the vomit and the fear and the want to collapse into himself. He’s pushing out painful memories, like Woojin and Hyunjin, like opening this blue door, like seeing the scene registering on Jisung’s face-

Like it registering on his own.

Jeongin goes back even further. He blocks out the memories of Felix, of losing Changbin-

Of losing Minho. Jeongin thinks that maybe losing Minho in the Disappearances was the hardest. His hyung was his idol, his mentor, one of his eight protectors. He taught him everything, they all did, but Minho paid extra attention to Jeongin. It’s that lack of attention, that lack of Minho’s face after a long day or that lack of a hug when things get too hard that really hurts him. Things are really fucking hard right now.

He locates the tape robotically, his mind preoccupied trying to get the painful images of everything out. He grasps it so tightly in his hands that he almost breaks the plastic casing, and when he shoves it at Jeno he almost cuts him with the sharp edge. Jeno pretends that doesn’t happen.

“Hey- Johnny-hyung- Hyung- Listen, everything is going to be okay. You did a great job, okay? You did a great job-” Jeno doesn’t know if Johnny’s done anything in particular recently but affirmations are the only things that fall from his lips.

That and shock.

“You’re back, I can’t believe you’re back hyung!” He says, real excitement truly tinting his voice, except the situation doesn’t allow for any joy and it doesn’t matter how Johnny came back because currently he’s dying and coming back won’t matter if he’s dead. “How’d you do that?” It’s a rhetorical question, partly because Johnny is almost passed out and partly because if Jeno got an answer he wouldn’t be listening. He rips off piece after piece of tape, attaching it firmly to the strips of fabric holding his brother together. When he’s certain it’s not going to budge, he sits back, hands hovering over Johnny’s chest.

It’s dangerously slow moving.

“J-John?” He asks, voice cracking like a child’s. Jisung, Haechan and Jeongin all watch in silent terror as the silence between Jeno’s word grows. Johnny never answers, but his chest never completely stills.

A win, they suppose.

Yuta backs out of the bedroom, crashing into more than one piece of furniture, the back wall of the hallway, and eventually the calendar with it’s ugly red X drawn on the day Doyoung Disappeared, before he’s able to slowly turn around. Sicheng, leaving Jungwoo and Lucas with Mark for a second, stands up, meeting Yuta’s eyes. They’re red, and wide and puffy in a way that Winwin recognizes only too easily. Yuta has seen something Winwin wishes he hadn’t. Winwin wishes Yuta never had to see any of this in the first place. Winwin walks to him, each step easier than the last, because walking towards Yuta is not a hard thing to do.

Yuta doesn’t know what to say as Winwin approaches him, and he can’t summon his limbs to move the way they always do when he does. It doesn’t matter because Sicheng does it for him, pulling his arms around his waist, then bending Yuta’s neck down to rest his head on his shoulder. Then Winwin’s own arms wrap around him and with gentle strength he pulls Yuta into him.

Winwin can always keep a level head, never in their entire history has Winwin been the one to scream, to fight, to freak out. Instead, he listens, and then he speaks with measured words that somehow are always the right ones and arguments are so easily resolved and situations so perfectly fixed.

When the Disappearances started, Sicheng stopped knowing exactly what to say, but instead of beginning to become like the others, with wild emotions and bad drinking habits, he just became much quieter.

So now, in the middle of chaos, he is the only one who can move slowly, the only one who can hug Yuta so he won’t fall apart. He’s the only one with that kind of power.

Dangerous? No. Necessary?

Sicheng’s strength is more than necessary.

“What’s back there, U?” He asks quietly. He itches to go back there himself, but Winwin knows he needs to deal with Yuta here and now, or else Yuta won’t be able to function later.

“Jaehyun is dead-”

Sicheng stiffens immediately, something that Yuta feels. This makes him want to panic, Winwin never falters.

Jaehyun is…

Dead?

Jaehyun is dead. Jaehyun is dead. Jaehyun is dead.

“Repeat that for me, U.” Tears threaten his eyes, tears he hasn’t shed in years, tears he didn’t even know he was capable of shedding. He shakes a little, holding onto Yuta for support, something he hasn’t done in years either.

“Jaehyun is dead.”

And then Sicheng’s eyes are shut, shut against the grey light that filters in through the windows, shut against the cold still seeping into his bones, shut against the noise, shut against the heartbreak.

Against that sentence.

Brothers don’t die. My brothers don’t die.

Not even the drunks, not even the ones who hit him sometimes, not even the ones who’ve gone off the rails. None of them deserve that.

None of them.

It’s so funny how after someone is gone, all the bad memories disappear. It’s a blessing; Sicheng isn’t thinking of the way Jaehyun abused his power. He’s thinking of the way Taeyong used to look at him, as if Jaehyun held his entire world in his hands. He’s thinking of the way Jaehyun would smile, the way he’d laugh at his own jokes, or the way he’d laugh at Haechan’s even if they weren’t funny, just to make him smile. Winwin is thinking of the way Jaehyun would protect them, the way he’d become the fixer if anything needed to be fixed. He thinks of the way Jaehyun would talk when he fell asleep, calling for any random member just to tell them he missed them without ever opening his eyes. Sicheng knows that sometimes he was awake, and he just wanted an excuse to say I love you. Jaehyun was like this.

Lucas’ hand on his shoulder, Yuta still locked in his embrace, scares him a little.

“Sicheng-”

“Go to the bedroom,” He whispers, just loud enough for Lucas to hear. In chinese, he adds a little extra. “Jaehyun is dead.” He can feel without seeing Lucas falter behind him for just a second, before he feels him beside him, and then eventually in front of him, walking in the direction Yuta had come from. He closes his eyes again, not wanting to see Lucas see it. Winwin himself hasn’t even seen it yet.

He doesn’t think he wants to.

In a reverse of roles, because that seems to be what’s happened here, Yuta pulls away. Sicheng is no longer Sicheng and he knows it. Very slowly, he takes a few steps backwards, pulling Winwin into the bathroom. He sits him on the floor, a hollow shell of his former self, and then Yuta walks away, closing the door. Depositing Winwin somewhere away from the noise and the blood is the right thing to do.

He re-enters a world of horrors.

Jungwoo is sobbing. Why is he sobbing? Yuta switches modes, gaining- energy? He’s like a car running on fumes. He kneels beside Jungwoo, who’s kneeling beside something else, until something isn’t something it’s someone and someone is Mark but Mark’s eyes are clouded and his cheeks are sallow and his skin is-

It’s pale. Really pale.

And his chest is open, just a little bit, but Yuta can almost see inside. Something like that is damaging, how is the kid even alive?

Yuta fits this scrambled image together like a thousand piece puzzle, very slowly and then suddenly all at once.

He isn’t.

Mark isn’t alive.

 

Doyoung has kept the house stable for a few days. The kids haven’t set anything on fire, spending most of their time formulating plans and ideas, so he counts that as a win. There are two projects being worked on; project ‘find Kun’, and project ‘get the fuck home’.

“I think we have to die-” Renjun says again, but Chenle cuts him off instantly.

“Renjun no-”

“My god please stop saying that Junnie.”

Doyoung agrees with Jaemin and Chenle, a plan like that is dangerous as hell. Johnny went home, yes, but there were many factors, and he didn’t necessarily die. It makes Doyoung beyond nervous that Renjun might think that, but he also knows that Renjun wants everyone to go home, and wouldn’t do anything rash by himself. Besides, finding Kun is supposed to happen before they go home.

“Let’s talk about Kun,” Doyoung says, bringing cup ramen into the living room for the boys. He’s desperate to change the conversation topic, and just as desperate to actually bring Kun home. He never got to see him, and he longs to see his brother more than anything. He shoves the ramen at Renjun so he’ll shut up. “What do you guys know about the- organization- that you think has collected him.” Jaemin eyes Renjun, these two have been here the longest.

“They’re slimy people. Their whole thing is using other people’s perceptions to rob. And obviously there is other stuff involved-”

“What do you mean ‘other stuff’?” Doyoung asks tentatively. Chenle nods, eyes on Jaemin who squirms and looks at Renjun again, but Renjun has noodles in his mouth and shrugs.

“Like, exploitation. Making money off of them, fight clubs and sex clubs and-”

“Sex clubs?”

“Well I don’t know for sure where they’re putting Kun but-” Jaemin doesn’t really know where to send the conversation. It’s true, everything he’s saying, but it’s very uncomfortable. “Honestly sex clubs are mostly for the girls they grab but-”

“That’s disgusting-”

“I know that-”

“We should get them all out.”

“What?” Jaemin’s brows knit together. “How could we- we can’t even get Kun out hyung how are we-”

“Why can’t we? If we find a way to go in for Kun we can find a way to go in for everyone-”

“We can’t.” Renjun has obviously swallowed his noodles. “Do you remember how this world works, hyung?” He looks at Doyoung like he’s stupid, which makes Doyoung’s eyes flash. “We can’t even get Kun out. We can’t fucking find Kun. I can’t see three streets down from here, do you think you can see exactly-”

“Renjun!” Jaemin is appalled by how harsh Renjun’s tone is. “Why the hell-”

“I’m just telling the goddamn truth, Jaemin! There’s no fucking point in looking for him! We can’t fucking see!” Renjun is standing now, but he has the sense to put the ramen down. “Incase you forgot, Na, we lost Taeil the same fucking way over a year ago.” His body trembles in anger. Why are they so fucking stupid? How do they not see how impossible this task is? “We never got him back, what makes Kun any different?” Everyone else is silent. Honestly, Chenle has never seen this side of Renjun, and this outburst is unpredictable. Doyoung is shocked into complete silence and only Renjun’s harsh breathing can be heard in the room.

-hold us together, I’m just trying to hold us together, Doyoung thinks. When no one responds, Renjun stands up.

“Kun is no different. We’re not getting him back, so there’s no point in wasting time on trying to come up with a bullshit plan. We need to focus on going home.”

“Fine.”

“We- What?” Renjun wasn’t expecting that, and honestly, Doyoung doesn’t know where he’s going with this.

Until suddenly he does, and the words leave his mouth before he has time to think about them.

“Kill me. Let’s go home.”

Jaemin jumps up.

“Holy fucking shit guys calm down- No one is going to die, fuck- Can we talk this out?” But Doyoung’s eyes are locked on Renjun’s and neither boy is backing down. They both ignore Jaemin quite effectively.

“How should we do it?” Doyoung asks, raising a sharp brow, jaw clenched in a manner that would scare any person’s ego back inside them, but Renjun’s stays put, as prominent and obnoxious as ever.

“However you’d like to, hyung. I don’t think it matters.”

“Hyungs!” Chenle exclaims, beginning to stand up when Doyoung does too. Jaemin grabs Doyoung’s wrist, willing him to break eye contact with Renjun.

“Doyoung-”

“Get off me, Na, Renjun is right.” His tone is so icy it freezes Jaemin in place and his eyes never leave Renjun’s face. Renjun shows absolutely no signs of fear.

“This is out of hand-” Jaemin squeaks, but Doyoung just shakes him away.

“Let’s do it.” Doyoung grabs Renjun’s wrist, dragging him into the kitchen. Chenle and Jaemin share panicked glances, following immediately.

“Hyung, stop-” Jaemin’s voice can’t break through, no matter how hard he tries, and very slowly panic begins to saturate his muscles. “Guys I’m serious-”

“Shut up, Jaemin.” Renjun speaks so angrily Jaemin feels like he’s been slapped in the face.

Once in the kitchen, Renjun almost hesitates. It’s Doyoung who wants to be the test subject, which is something that worries Renjun in the back of his mind, but if he believed it wouldn’t work, he wouldn’t have suggested it in the first place, which is why he doesn’t stop. Doyoung grabs a knife with a long blade, the sharpest one in the house. On the other side, it’s doing something very different-

But it’s taking lives regardless.

“Do, no fucking way-” But Jaemin is shoved from the room and the kitchen door that is never shut is slammed in his face, locked. He loses it. “HOLY FUCK LET ME BACK IN-” He grapples with the handle, then pounds on the door with his fist. “I’m going to break this shit down do you hear me? Don’t- do- anything- stupid-” He throws himself again and again at the door but it doesn’t budge. “Chenle! Chenle let me in-” Chenle’s hand flies towards the handle, but Renjun steps between him.

“Don’t.” One word is enough and Renjun pushes him down to the floor, shock and panic seeping through Chenle’s bones. He doesn’t even know what’s about to happen. They wouldn’t-

“Do it,” Doyoung says, handing the blade to Renjun.

“Stab you?”

“Do it.”

Jaemin screams in frustration when he hears these, trying again. Chenle hears something break, and he realizes it’s the chair from their table. Jaemin had thrown it against the handle in an attempt to dislodge the door yet again, but to no avail. Chenle tries to get back to his feet. He is not letting anyone get stabbed.

“Chenle sit back down,” Doyoung says without even sparing him a glance. “Ass on the floor or I’m knocking you out myself.” This is not Doyoung. This is not Renjun. The Disappeared world has driven them nuts, that’s all Chenle can think right now.

“You guys can’t get hurt-”

“Fuck Chenle-”

“Hyung-”

Chenle’s body would hit the floor if Doyoung didn’t care enough to catch it, but his brother is fast, and he’s lowered to the ground gently. Doyoung had moved so fast Chenle hadn’t even seen it coming, and now, after a blow to the head Doyoung had warned him about, there’s nothing he can do for his brothers.

Only Jaemin, terrified of how Chenle has been silenced and stuck on the wrong side of the door is left to protest.

“What that fuck did you just do to Chenle-”

“He’s fine, Jaemin,” Is all Jaemin gets from the other side of the door. Doyoung looks Renjun in the eyes again.

“If you’re so fucking sure this is going to work, then do it.”

“I’m sure.” Renjun takes a step forward and Doyoung has to fight the urge to shrink backwards. I’m sure I’m sure I’m sure. The mood slowly begins to lose it’s edge for both of them though.

“You’re sure?” Doyoung wraps his hand around Renjun’s, the one holding the knife. Renjun breathes deeply. Am I? But he nods. Of course he is. He saw Johnny die. Doyoung pulls the sharp edge closer. “Okay.” They’re looking into each other’s eyes again, but this time they aren’t angry. They’re scared. Suddenly locking Jaemin outside feels like a bad idea. “Let’s try it then.” Renjun nods and Doyoung does so at the same time.

Doyoung should be thinking clearer, he should stop and truly think. He should be the adult like he’s supposed to be in this situation. If Johnny were here-

But Johnny’s not here, Johnny went home days ago. This is how. That makes this better.

Doyoung guides Renjun’s hand to the centre of his ribcage, allowing the tip of the blade to press against his skin. He’s only wearing a thin, white t-shirt, and Renjun is suddenly very terrified of how this is going to feel, what this is going to sound like. They stand like this for a second, both breathing very softly. Renjun’s hand shakes.

“You have to-” Doyoung clears his throat. “actually do it, Renjun,”

“I know.” He says quietly, and then without warning he is.

Jaemin thought maybe they chose not to do it, that could be an explanation for the silence. He leans against the door, exhausted from throwing himself against it, and slides down it until he’s seated on the floor, fear gripping his gut. The longer the silence drags on, the better he feels. Maybe they’ve stopped.

Doyoung’s sudden cry of anguish makes him rethink this quite quickly.

Jaemin is up again, he’s yelling and he’s crying and he’s trying to open the goddamn door but it won’t budge no matter what he does and Doyoung doesn’t stop crying out in pain and Renjun can be heard trying to tell him that he’s sorry and Jaemin is pretty sure Doyoung is dying.

Doyoung is dying and only a door separates them.

“DOYOUNG!” He slams his body against the door. “DOYOUNG! RENJUN! PLEASE OPEN THE DOOR-”

The knife does not slide in easily. It’s nothing like the horror movies or the books, it’s nothing like anything Renjun has ever witnessed or watched or read. It’s real, Doyoung is real, Doyoung’s pain is real.

They’ve made a mistake, but it’s too late because the blade is already being forced into Doyoung’s chest and his cry of agony is echoing through their kitchen. Johnny died Johnny died Johnny died-

Johnny remembered, too. Does Doyoung need to remember?

Johnny died because he remembered. Why are these thoughts only showing up now? A mistake, this was a mistake.

Doyoung falls backwards against the counter, sending two plates they neglected to put away crashing to the floor, shattering. Shards of the corningware lodge themselves in Chenle’s arms, but the child is too out of it to notice.

That’s a ‘not right now’ problem.

The right now problem is the fact that they did this wrong and there’s a knife in Doyoung and Renjun put it there and now he’s going to die.

This is not how this world works at all.

Chenle fights to regain consciousness and Jaemin fights to bring down the door. Renjun unclicks the lock in shock, and Jaemin bursts in in seconds, almost tripping over Chenle whose eyes are slits against the light. Jaemin grabs his shoulders, checking his body over. There are just mini scratches and cuts and Jaemin doesn’t have the time to investigate how they got there because he hears Doyoung cough and he remembers what’s happening. He spins around.

“Do-” Doyoung seems to melt down the cabinets, bleeding all over the floor. “Oh my god holy shit oh my-” Jaemin looks between Renjun and Doyoung, not sure if anger or fear is pushing him further. Renjun’s eyes are too wide and his hands are shaking so wildly and the knife dropped to the floor moments ago. “Why did you do this?” Jaemin pleads, trying to find a way to save Doyoung without knowing what to do at all. “Why did you guys have to do this?”

“I-I told him to-” Doyoung gasps. “This is my fault-” Renjun drops down beside him.

“No- no- no-”

“Maybe it’ll work-” Doyoung tries to comfort Renjun, he takes his hand. He was fucking stupid, he shouldn’t have let his anger take over. But he did, and now he’s paying the price and he might be dying because they have no idea if this will work. “Maybe, Junnie, maybe-” He cuts himself off with blood and coughing and Jaemin is sobbing because what else do you do. He presses on the hole, he truly tries.

“It will work, hyung,” Renjun says, trying not to break down. “It’s going to work.”

In the next few moments, while Chenle is finally able to push himself upright despite the pounding in his brain, Doyoung’s life ebbs away, and by the time Chenle is on his knees, fighting the urge to vomit, it’s almost completely gone.

Disappear, now, it’s time to Disappear- Renjun thinks. All of them think this, because now is the time if it’s going to happen. Time to go, hyung, time to go, please. No one has ever wanted a person to Disappear before.

As his breathing slows and Jaemin’s panic grows it never starts. The shaking and the fear and the rapid breathing and the terror. It never comes. Doyoung’s body shudders only once, not many times, not the way it’s supposed to.

“Hyung?” Nothing.

His body is supposed to go, it’s supposed to Disa-fucking-ppear . Where- why- why isn’t he going anywhere?

“DOYOUNG!” Jaemin shakes him less than gently. “Do-” His voice rises like his panic. “Hyung?!” Doyoung is still.

Doyoung is unresponsive.

Doyoung isn’t Disappearing.

And then Doyoung isn’t alive anymore- and he isn’t going home either.

Chapter Text

Kun wakes up completely alone, and the shock of such a development makes his breaths come quickly and panic rise rapidly, however, he notices that his wounds hardly pain him at all.

How the hell- He sits up, which is something he definitely couldn’t do before. Kun isn’t stupid, he knows to heal like this he must’ve been asleep for days. How many?

Where the hell is Minho?

He’s in the same room as before, so that hasn’t changed, but it’s absent of anyone else and Kun has never felt so alone. He’s reminded of the day he Disappeared, when he awoke in his store without anyone in it. That was lonely too, completely shocking.

But it was nowhere near as dangerous, and Kun suddenly remembers exactly where he is and what he’s going to have to do. He pushes himself to his feet, also something he hasn’t done in days, and immediately he regrets it, head spinning like he hasn’t eaten.

That’s something he hasn’t done either.

“Fuck-” He slips sideways into the nearby wall, using it to prop himself upright, and then his attention is suddenly drawn elsewhere when the door opens. Unfortunately, it’s not Minho on the other side.

“Qian Kun,” A man steps inside and chills the room instantly. If Kun wasn’t already fucking freezing, he definitely is now. The bandages around his middle feel like they start to constrict with the man’s entrance, making it even harder for him to breathe, terror creeping through his useless limbs. Kun can only think run, but how? He can’t see, he can’t move, even. How the hell is he going to get out?

“Mmhmm, who the fuck are you?” He snaps, but his voice isn’t as intimidating as he wants it to be, and he almost falters on ‘you’ when he realizes he’s in no position to be asking questions. The man only raises an eyebrow, slightly amused.

“They were right,” He says between a dry chuckle. “You are fiesty,” Kun bites his lip. The people who hurt him? Is that who he means? Are they here? That thought scares him more, because he remembers the way their eyes gleamed-

Definitely the types to do that kind of thing again.

The man senses his change and laughs, excited.

“Relax, kid, so long as you cooperate with us we have no reason to touch you,” But it isn’t kind, the way he says it. It’s menacing, it’s a warning. “Again.” A reminder. Kun shakes his head gently, though, knowing there’s no fucking way he’s going to give them anything they want.

Unfortunate, he thinks. He’s coming to terms slowly with the fact that he’s going to get himself killed with that attitude.

The man walks further into the room and the closer he gets to Kun, the easier it is for Kun’s fuzzy vision to make out his features. He’s at least six feet tall, with dark hair that isn’t too short yet not too long, pushed out of his face to reveal his forehead. His cheekbones are high and prominent, and his dark eyes shine in the din, any light reflecting off them enticingly. There’s a sheath on his thigh Kun assumes is encasing a knife.

Exciting.

The man takes note of his stare, even if it is truly only because Kun is terrified of him. The thought makes him smile. Kun tries to take a step back but there’s nowhere further to go, and his back meets the wall. Even at a slow pace like this something still threatens to take his breath away.

“Scared?” The man stops a foot away, smile still painting his face. How can a smile look so threatening?

“Should I be?” Kun breathes. The man places a hand on the sheath attached to his thigh.

“A little.”

The door flies open again, making them both start. Two more bodies flood the room, and to Kun’s relief, this makes the man step back. Not too far though, not enough for Kun to take a much needed breath to steady his nerves.

“Rough him up a little?” The shorter of the two men ask the first, and Kun, without looking at him, feels his smile grow.

“No no, didn’t have the chance,” He says, as if roughing Kun up was something he was going to do. Not that Kun isn’t expecting a little abuse here.

“Good.” Says the third man, who eyes Kun with a little more, grace, than the other two. “We have information to gather first, no?” The other two nod, and Kun jumps when the man closest to him grips his arm in one hand. This seems to amuse him, but the man says nothing of it. He walks Kun, on unsteady legs, right out of the only room in the building he’s know.

But the rest of it looks just the same to him of course, and he doesn’t bother memorizing the path they take further than left, right, right, right, left. There’s nothing but left and rights to mark off, entire walls missing. Every goddamn thing on this side of reality is missing.

They open a door Kun doesn’t see and shove him inside, following, and then lead him to a chair in the centre.

“What kind of emotional impact does this have,” Kun says when he’s seated. “-on you, do you think?”

“What’s your favorite pen?” The shorter man asks.

“A sharpie?” Sharpies are hardly pens, dumbass.

“What the fuck do you mean ‘emotional impact’?” Says the man whose fingers bruised Kun’s arm.

“Taking captives, abusing them. Knowing they’re completely blind and defenseless. Isn’t that like, taking candy from a baby or some shit?” The shorter man taps the space in front of Kun, letting him know there’s a desk there. He takes duct tape, something everyone can see, and tapes up the sides, then slams a sharpie and a blank sheet of paper down in front of him. Kun can see the paper and the sharpie easily, which must be why he had asked. If he had picked a random brand Kun might not be able to see it. Smart-

“Fuck for someone we haven’t fed in like, four days, he has a ton of energy,” The second man complains from behind Kun, but the shorter one just shoots him an amused look. The third one, the scariest one with the knife on his thigh, just looks at Kun for a moment while the other two prepare. It’s kind of awkward, honestly, and Kun squirms under his glare.

“None.” He says finally, breaking the silence and even the other two look at him. He leans in close, forcing Kun to slide down in the chair until there’s nowhere else to go, completely trapped. “I’ll have no problem cutting you open, kiddo, so don’t fucking test me.” The other two laugh, but Kun knows he’s dead serious. What’s making Kun so bold? Maybe it’s the thought that he isn’t going to comply ever, or the knowledge that he’s pretty sure he’ll end up on the sharp side of this man’s knife anyways. It gives him wild power, but it’s also making said man antsy.

Annoyed.

“Did that other one explain this shit to you?” The shorter man takes over, sliding his companion out of the way of Kun gently, giving Kun space to breathe. He sets his hands on the other side of the desk, leaning forwards so he’s all Kun can see, but Kun doesn’t mind. He’s much less threatening and his eyes are warmer.

“Yes sir,” Kun says, but the room begins to sway again and he realizes he’s just so tired.

“Great,” Says the man, who then straightens back up, pointing to the sharpie. “Pick it up then,” Kun obeys, doing so slowly if only to try and steady his once again failing vision. He waits for the next instruction.

“Show us everything.”

 

Taeil wakes up where he always does, but this time he manages to think that it’s off. He doesn’t remember going to sleep, he doesn’t remember the end of his conversation with the doctor at all, and when Yuhyeon looks at him her eyes are full of pity. Taeil hates that, she’s never looked like she’s pitied him before.

“What the hell happened?” He asks when she avoids his eyes for the third time, working around him with a few other sleeping patients, checking his vitals and prepping the key for his cuffs. She glares at him with narrow eyes, amber glinting in the light. It’s stopped raining outside, something that unbeknownst to Taeil is only a very recent occurrence. Yuhyeon ignores him. He furrows his brows, narrow his eyes this time. “You’re acting weird.” He says finally, just to piss her off.

“I’m not-”

“She is!” One bed over, the person has woken up.

“Shut up, both of you.” Yuhyeon bites her lip, continuing to do her doctor-things. Taeil honestly doesn’t care for the doctor things, he just wants to go home. He doesn’t want to do more questionings, more studies, more brain tests-

Speaking of which- As his senses return, he can feel three plastic pieces attached to his forehead, only meaning they were monitoring his mind while he slept.

“Holy shit-” He wiggles his head a little but it only hurts his neck. Yuhyeon rolls her eyes.

“Calm down,” She reaches over and with expert skill after years of training painfully rips the tape off his face. She does this to piss him off. “There, happy?” The bed beside Taeil laughs.

“No!” He scoffs, utterly taken aback. “What were the wires for? I did not agree to anything like that-”

“You don’t have the right to agree or disagree, Taeil,” The bed laughs again when Yuhyeon says this. “You have the right to remain silent-”

“And you have the right to a lawyer-”

“Shut up, Shuhua.” They both snap in unison. Taeil is perturbed, and Yuhyeon is pissed. The young girl only laughs a little harder.

“I’m bored and I have no answers for you,” The raven haired girl complains. “Let me out.”

“No.”

“Then I’ll talk all I want.”

“I’m going to tape that pretty little mouth of yours shut-” This only gains itself louder giggles and Yuhyeon exchanges an exasperated glance with Taeil before he remembers he feels violated.

“What the hell were the wires for?” He insists. “This whole idea was not run by me-” The doctor doesn’t even look a little bit pressed, despite Taeil trying to use his most demanding tones. Honestly, the only reason he cares is because if he doesn’t have freedom, he’d at least like to know what it is they’re actually doing with him.

“It’s testing, Taeil. It’s monitoring and seeing what you’re thinking and which memories trigger which unconscious reactions it’s really very complicated,” Yuhyeon finally spits. Shuhua raises her eyebrows and widens her- already moon sized- eyes even fuller, smiling at him with a teasing expression that really say ‘damn look at those fancy things they’re doing to you and not me-

SUCKER’

Taeil scoffs out loud, but then he really thinks about it.

“You can see my memories?” He asks, earnest. Yuhyeon has finally undone both his cuffs and Shuhua’s so they can sit upright and have a decent conversation.  The woman laughs slightly, a dry sound that suggests she isn’t very engaged in the talk.

“Of course not, but we can see when exactly you’re plagued with bad ones and good ones based on the way your body reacts,” She explains it slowly. “It’s really-”

“Very complicated.” Shuhua finishes as if she knows exactly what Yuhyeon is talking about. The doctor shakes her head, rolling her eyes.

“The idea is to figure out when your worst memories show up and to,” She pauses, choosing her words carefully. “Talk about them with you when they do.”

“So you’re gonna wake him up in the middle of a nightmare and just hope he remembers everything he saw? What the fuck is that going to tell you?” Shuhua bounces on her mattress, so much pent up energy trying to force its way out. Taeil feels a pang, reminded of Jisung and Chenle and feeling really very sorry for the teen because she’s just as stuck as he is with no explanation and no way out. Yuhyeon takes a seat on a stool with wheels and scoots around the space, checking documents and doing even more doctor-things.

“Shuhua please, love, that’s not exactly how it works-”

“Tell us how it works then.”

“I did.”

Taeil rolls his eyes, Shuhua is as annoying as always, but she has a point. Yuhyeon has a point as well, and both of them butt heads like this almost on the daily. He chooses to break the angry silence with a question of his own.

“So-”

“So what?”

“So, have you seen anything?” He asks, genuinely interested. Yuhyeon purses her lips. Is this information a patient should have access to? She decides it doesn’t really matter- she’s probably the worst captive doctor ever, her heart is too kind and she bends to the wishes of the inmates too easily.

“On you, unfortunately we have not. Nothing out of the ordinary anyways,” She says, sighing heavily.

“You make that seem like a bad thing-”

“It is! It means you’re telling us the truth.”

Taeil squints his eyes, looking at her with the ultimate confusion.

“Um- of- of course I’ve been telling the truth?” He scoffs, raising his hands to emphasise his point. “Do you really think I’d lie? Give up freedom and a life, because I don’t like your questions? Your questions aren’t even bad,” Taeil is truly taken aback for the second time this morning; why would they think he’s lying?

He remembers nothing. He’s not even convinced he ever left home, let alone this side of reality.

“It means we have no way to access the other side either-” Yuhyeon realizes what she’s saying, and suddenly she’s a much better doctor. “Holy shit, I need to go-” She hops up from her little stool and grabs all sorts of file folders. “I’ll be seeing you two later,” She huffs, angry at herself for being a nice doctor, angry that she can’t be like the other doctors in the other rooms who don’t say a thing and who poke and prod a little more viciously.

But that shit just doesn’t sit right with her.

So instead, she flees. She leaves before she can say anything confidential, even though she’s not quite sure what’s confidential and what isn’t.

In her hurry, she forgot to do her number one job;

Yuhyeon fails to contain her inmates.

When the door slams shut behind the doctor, Shuhua’s eyes gleam with more mischief than Haechan’s. She hops off the bed immediately, wasting absolutely no time. Taeil is slightly slower, not quite sure what they’re about to do, and not quite sure if his body is going to cooperate; he’s been in bed a while.

“Faster old man,” She whines.

“I’m twenty-four-”

“And I’m eighteen get your ass going-”

“Doesn’t that mean you should respect me? As your elder?”

“You’re not that old,” She concedes.

“Not exactly how Korea works but okay,” He says under his breath, truly not caring when it comes down to it. He instead focuses on the door hardly twenty feet away, and prays that it stays closed. If Yuhyeon were to remember- If she came back-

Shuhua approaches the bed across from them, there are only two other people with them here, but Taeil is afraid that something is going to hinder this ill thought out escape plan. In fact, it hasn’t even been thought out or talked over- Yuhyeon just didn’t lock them up.

A betrayal of her trust? Maybe, but did she really ever deserve theirs? She’s a part of them, the ones who won’t let them go. Taeil decides this is okay.

“Do you see keys anywhere?” Shuhua whispers. She’s being careful not to wake their sleeping comrades. “Who am I kidding, your eyesight is probably too poor-”

“I’m twenty-four?”

“-I swear they should be around here somewhere,” Then suddenly her dark eyes have landed on his face in panic. “She keeps them on her doesn’t she!” Taeil presses his lips into a thin line.

“I think so-”

“Fuck!” She slaps her hand over her mouth, shaken by her own noise. She can’t wake them up, and she can’t draw Yuhyeon- or anyone for that matter- back. Taeil understands why she doesn’t want to wake them up now.

“We have to leave them don’t we-” He says slowly, hating every word that comes out of his mouth and agreeing with none of it. He shakes his head while Shuhua nods. I can’t. I can’t do that. She can hear what he says without needing him to say it.

“No-”

“You go,” Taeil says, cutting her off. “You need to go, and now if you don’t want her to come back. I can try to get them free in time and maybe we can follow you, but I can’t-” He doesn’t finish the sentence, he chooses to just let it hang there.

Throwing it away, you’re throwing away your freedom. His thoughts are quite loud. You’re throwing it all away for two people you don’t even talk to- He hardly knows their names.

What are you doing?

But he knows he can’t.

“Go, you really need to go,” He says, tone desperate. “She’s going to come back, she’ll lock you back up and that’ll be it,” He doesn’t mean to sound so dramatic, but it’s the truth. What are they going to do if they can’t get away now? Rot here because they don’t have the answers? Because they can’t remember jack shit? Shuhua doesn’t move, brown saucers for eyes so lost and confused Taeil wishes he could take it all away. He thinks of Jaemin, almost too close to her in age. He thinks of how much he misses him and how his eyes are so similar and vibrant and how he’d really like for her to get free. If Jaemin can’t, she should right?

She hesitates too long, until she’s no longer hesitating and she’s slowly making her way back towards her bed.

“Wait- what are you doing?”

“I can’t go if you’re not going- if they’re not going,” She nods in the direction of the other two. “That’d be rude, no?”

She’s not able to finish that sentence though, and she can’t expand on those ideas. Instead, almost as soon as she sits on her mattress, the door bursts open. It’s like all the movies, when the SWAT teams break down the warehouses and pour inside guns blazing all clad in armour and they take out the bad guys because they did something bad.

“ON THE BED! ON THE BED NOW!” They have guns, Taeil realizes. Something he’s very terrified of. Was he always so scared of guns?

Why? Why do they need them?

Taeil isn’t doing a thing. He’s standing in the centre of the room, that’s really his only crime. Very slowly he steps backwards, trying to make it towards his bed. He should’ve stayed on the bed.

Even though they ordered him to move, they don’t seem to like that very much. With weapons still pointed in his direction, they advance. There are five of them, but Taeil’s attention is somewhere else. It’s attached to a woman in scrubs standing in the doorway, dark hair tied back in a ponytail. It’s stuck to her eyes, the coldest he’s ever seen them.

Even when they hit him to the floor, the very last thing he sees are those eyes.

I thought you were gentle. He’s being beaten for what, standing? Being off of his mattress, out of his bed? Not in shackles? That isn’t his fault. Guilty, she stands in the doorway. Maybe she didn’t need to call the guards, Taeil and Shuhua are harmless right? Small, fragile, broken. No, guards were definitely not needed.

But still, Yuhyeon knows that they would plan an escape, she knows that by forgetting to secure them she would be putting her own life on the line. This is right, this is right. This was the right thing to do.

She can’t erase that image though, the way his innocent eyes cloud dark and angry.

She’s worse than the other doctors, Yuhyeon has realized, because she let them trust her first.

That what makes this worse.

 

Winwin sits on the bathroom floor alone, hugging his knees to his chest, eyes staring into nothing, as he listens to the chaos outside. His chest aches with his, sadness, he guesses. He’s not quite sure what else he’s feeling.

Eventually, it begins to hurt more than it should, his stomach doing somersaults and his heartbeat speeding up rapidly.

Then he understands what’s happening.

Winwin locks the door.

In everything they’ve been through in the past few hours, every single one of the boys has forgotten the truest evil, the largest threat. They forgot it came early, they forgot it came relentless. So when Winwin’s heart beats a little too fast and his chest aches a little too much it takes a few seconds for him to fully realize.

He does, finally, but instead of going out, instead of viewing the damage, instead of forcing Yuta to see yet another loved one go, Winwin double checks his locking job.

He holds himself a little tighter.

It comes just the same as all the others, crashing in and ripping through his ribcage and poking into his lungs and sliding beneath his skin and he has to choke back a scream, although he’s sure it would mix with every other sound in the apartment anyways. He hears the self doubt, the negativity, the insults and the savagery.

Why shouldn’t this happen to you?

Winwin has silent tears of agony rolling down his face and he collapses away from the door, trying to make it hurt less, trying to compensate, trying everything. He pulls himself up with the counter, groaning, his vision is blurred but maybe if he can pretend it’s not happening then it won’t. All this does is make it worse-

He sees himself collapsing inward.

That’s ugly, being able to see yourself at your worst, seeing your tear stained face twisted in agony and you look so small and fragile and frail and it’s just ugly. It’s not really what you want to see when you’re trying to be strong.

It’s okay though, because Winwin’s legs buckle only seconds after his vision clears enough to see himself, and then he’s a crumpled ball of Sicheng on the floor, trying to even his breaths out, just trying.

It’s okay, you’re okay, you’re here, still here, you’re-

Seconds later, Winwin isn’t there at all.

Chapter Text

Winwin’s eyes fly open in the same place they closed, but of course he doesn’t recognize the differences. The little hole in the drywall from home isn’t in front of his face now- that only exists for Renjun- and sunlight filters through the translucent glass, whereas the sky at home is still full of clouds. He pushes himself up onto his knees, getting his bearings.

Did I fall asleep?

Disoriented and confused, he slowly begins to replay the most recent events in his mind, and suddenly his breath is coming quickly and his legs are shaking. Everything is flashing behind his eyes closed against a headache, and his heart begins to hurt more than his skull. Jaehyun is dead? Someone hurt the boys-

Maybe we shouldn’t have left the house. His boyfriend’s voice rings in his mind full of panic; “We left for thirty minutes-”. It’s painful, how much happened in half an hour. How many people they lost.

So Winwin jumps up, he has to go out there, he was stupid to lock himself in the bathroom, why did he do that? He needs to be there for them, maybe there’s something he can do.

When he spins around the door is wide open, which is odd, because he swears that Yuta closed it, but outside is just as loud. It certainly sounds similar to the world Sicheng doesn’t know he left behind. He can hear his family, he can hear them panic, definitely the same. But the voices are a little different, they’re not quite exact replicas. They’re distant memories, voices Winwin hasn’t heard in years.

He stumbles out of the washroom on legs that forget how to work as he makes certain realizations, forcing himself down the hallway, and when someone flies out of the kitchen just a few feet away they plow into him because they didn’t expect anyone to be in the house. Chenle lets out a yelp of surprise as the force sends them both sprawling to the floor. Winwin sits up instantly, eyes raking his younger brother, confused and afraid.

“Chenle-”

“Chenle are you okay?” From the kitchen, Jaemin calls out, exchanging a glance with Renjun when they heard the yell and the sound of a body hitting the floor. Chenle doesn’t answer, instead, his eyes have locked themselves onto Sicheng, who is just as surprised. When the shock wears off and Chenle remembers the situation however, he stands up. Winwin mirrors him, walking with extended arms to eventually grasp Chenle’s shoulders and stare at the blood and the cuts and the terror. Winwin looks him up and down, so lost because Chenle is supposed to be gone and Johnny said he was in one piece.

Johnny said they were supposed to be fine.

“Chenle,” The silence forced Jaemin to stand up, to step away from Doyoung and try not to slip on the blood. He’s in the doorway, concern painting his weary features, and then, just like any person would be, he’s coloured surprised again. It’s pretty repetitive, the whole meeting up after not meeting for so long, but regardless, it happens every time. “Hyung?” Sicheng looks at him dumbfounded for a moment, and then turns Chenle around by the shoulders to face Jaemin.

“What happened to him?” He asks, nodding towards the teen in his arms. But as Winwin looks and really sees his panic only manifests deeper. “What happened to you?” He doesn’t stop holding onto Chenle as he walks towards Jaemin, trying to look for the source of all the blood. Jaemin steps towards him if only to block the kitchen from his view. He doesn’t want Sicheng to see that yet.

Winwin places a hand to the side of Jaemin’s face, trying desperately to keep his cool while the teen’s eyes slowly well up. He doesn’t look hurt, and the worst wounds on Chenle’s skin are little pieces of glass and tiny slits, definitely not the source of the amount of blood drenching them both.

So what is-

When Winwin tries to take a step forward into the kitchen, Jaemin doesn’t let him, instead he drags him to the side and leans against the wall, which only alarms Sicheng further. He releases Chenle to support Jaemin, who feels like his legs are going to give out.

“Hyung-” Chenle helps, and they get him to sit down against the wall. Chenle moves a piece of wood away from them, which Winwin can only assume is from the shattered chair littering this side of the kitchen door.

“Where’s Renjun?” Winwin says to Chenle in Chinese, quietly as if Jaemin would be able to understand. “What happened to him?” He nods towards the boy in front of them. “What happened to you? Where are the other two?” The questions come rapidly, but are slow and thought out at the same time. Winwin is trying not to let the blood panic him, or the way Jaemin looks like he could die of exhaustion, or the absence of Doyoung, the adult, and Renjun- Winwin really fucking misses Renjun. “Where did all the blood come from?” Chenle stares at him with dead eyes, biting his lip and thinking about what his response should sound like. Finally, he opens his mouth;

“There was an accident. The blood is from the accident.”

Winwin shudders against the hysteria, because starting your answer with there was an accident is never a good sign at all. But Sicheng says nothing, waiting for Chenle to spit the rest out.

“Renjun is- in the kitchen?” He says it like a question, which is only more confusing. “Doyoung…” He trails off, but picks himself back up. “Is also in the kitchen.” Winwin itches to jump up, to go there, because that must be where the blood is, where his brothers are, and he just wants to clean it up and laugh it off with them and hope nobody is gravely hurt. Logic says that that is not any type of scenario in Sicheng’s near future, however a boy can hope, no?

“I’m going to go to the kitchen.” Winwin says, measuring each word calmly, but Jaemin’s hand flies up to his wrist, startling even Chenle.

“Please don’t-” He says in Korean. Sicheng curses, and uses his other hand to press on top of Jaemin’s and to finally remove it.

“I’m going to go,” He says again, this time in Korean, because it doesn’t seem to matter which language he speaks apparently, as Jaemin understood enough. When Sicheng stands, the other two do too, but they don’t try to stop him anymore.

“Hyung?”

“Yes?”

“It’s not Renjun’s fault-” The words push Winwin faster, because something cryptic like that only makes his heart beat pound and his blood burn in his veins. What isn’t Renjun’s fault?

He stops running as soon as he starts, because the scene that he takes in at the doorway is enough to stop a train in its tracks.

Doyoung does not look good, and at a second glance, Sicheng realizes his brother might not look anything at all, nothing except still. Too still. Winwin doesn’t move, he doesn’t leave the doorway, not even to rush to Doyoung’s side. Instead, he slides down the frame, connecting with the floor slowly, able to look at Do’s motionless body in its full glory.

They don’t catch a break, do they? They’re never given one chance to breathe, to slow down, to get through one day without a problem, without losing someone. Sicheng’s breath catches in his throat as he looks at Renjun, who’s back is to him. He can see his shoulders shake, he can see the blood coating everything, he can see the way Renjun crumbles apart.

This is not how Winwin envisioned his first meeting with his old friends.

“What- happened.” He forces between grit teeth. The world falls apart around him, away. He’s here, Disappeared, without Yuta, without the others. He doesn’t want to be here, not really. Especially not now.

“It’s not Renjun’s fault.” Chenle repeats, who slips in beside Winwin. He stands there, staring at the body of their brother. He has no idea what to do.

“They thought-” Jaemin pauses. “We thought-” Winwin can’t see him from where he’s sitting, but he wouldn’t look at him anyways. Doyoung’s face, pale and still, like glass or a doll’s, has Sicheng’s entire attention. “We thought we could get home if- if we-” Winwin understands, he understands instantly.

“We were just trying to get home.”

 

They’ve moved Mark’s body to the couch, and Jaehyun’s lies on the floor beside it.

No one will step foot in the living room right now.

Instead, they’re all in the bedroom furthest from it, sitting in silence. Yuta stands up on shaking legs, but Jeno knows what he wants to do.

“I’ll get him, hyung.” He looks Yuta in the eyes, making sure that the trauma induced glaze coating Yuta’s vision is broken through by both his words and actions. Yuta nods, sitting back down slowly, and Jeongin rubs his shoulders gently, forgetting his own losses in favor of comforting the rest of them. They admire Seungmin and him without even knowing what went down at their own house; based on the way they’ve taken on a caring role here no one would know.

Jeno slips from the room, padding down the hallway slowly. He ignores the fact that he’s able to see Jaehyun’s arm, his cold hand never to move again, peek out from around the corner, and to avoid vomiting the teen rushes to the bathroom. He’s stopped by the locked door.

“Winwin hyung?” He asks, trying the handle again. “Hyung?” Silence. “Hyung?” With more urgency he throws himself at the door until finally it pushes open. Bathroom locks are always faulty anyways.

He stumbles inside in alarm, but there’s nothing there.

Absolutely nothing.

Jeno doesn’t know about most bathroom locks, but theirs definitely can’t be locked or unlocked from the outside- trust him, they’ve tried (Haechan takes a really long time). This however leads to a much graver possibility.

“No…” He curses under his breath. “No! Fuck!” Much less under his breath now. “Fucking dick-” But he knows it’s not Sicheng’s fault, and part of him aches thinking he might be lost. “Fuck.” Haechan is in the doorway.

“Jeno what’s wrong-” But he stops and takes in the situation. “Is he-” Jeno shakes his head.

“Gone.”

“Shit,” Haechan grasps Jeno’s wrist, pulling him gently out of the washroom. “What do we tell them?”

“The truth?”

“After-” Haechan trails off. After Mark? And Jaehyun? Taeyong and Jungwoo look like they’re about to die of heartbreak, who’s to say this, losing another brother, isn’t going to kill them?

And Yuta, oh god Yuta. Yuta won’t be able to take this, not at all.

“We have to?” But it comes out a broken question, despite knowing that that’s what they have to do. “Fuck Haechan I’m sorry-”

“Why are you sorry? Don’t be sorry-”

“You shouldn’t have to see this shit.” Jeno gestures to everything, because he’s pretty sure in any space in the house Haechan has seen something awful- the blood painting the floor currently is only a piece of it all. Jeno doesn’t just mean right now. Jeno means Jaemin, Jeno means Taeil, Jeno means Woojin and Hyunjin and Jaehyun on drunken rages and Lucas’ fists and all of it. Jeno means everything he knows just Haechan has gone through. And Haechan is just one of his seventeen brothers, without even counting others he loves like Jeongin or Seungmin. His heart aches with the weight of it, the weight of everything. Winwin, not occupying this space right now is about to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back if the camel is his family and Winwin were straw.

What a weird analogy that is.

“It’s not your fault.” Haechan says, but his eyes have begun to look hazy with memories Jeno has induced. “It’s not-” He takes a step back. “It isn’t your fault. None of it is. We need to go back, we need to tell them what’s happened, and we need to talk about it all. All of it. We sort it out,” Jeno wants to collapse in exhaustion, and Haechan can tell. He closes the space between them again to support him. “We sort it all out, and then everything will be okay. Our brothers will be fine, we’ll sort out the Disappearances, we’ll make it all work. I promise you.” Haechan’s voice is soft and it’s gentle and it’s convincing.

Almost.

Because Mark and Jaehyun are certainly very the opposite of fine, but Jeno doesn’t have the energy to point this out and instead they walk back together, stepping back inside. Nobody moved while they were gone, but Yuta sits up expectantly, releasing Jeongin’s hand as they enter the space. Haechan clears his throat awkwardly, and everyone with the ability to do so looks at him. Johnny and Ten are passed out, which is quite fair based on their deteriorating conditions. Haechan hopes absentmindedly that they’ll be able to pull through this.

What if they can’t-

“Um,” He says, wringing his hands. “Winwin hyung has-” He purses his lips. No good way to say this shit at all. “Disappeared?” Haechan bites his cheek. Well, he’s said it. Taeyong blinks twice, then stands up and blinks again. Lucas lunges for him before his legs give out, making it just in time. Nobody quite knows why he’s so beat up, the stories will flow like blood in a moment, but they roll with it. Lucas steadies him back on the floor, and Taeyong talks from there instead;

“The fuck?”

Yikes.

“He’s gone.” Jeno steps in. “But, like, a safe gone, right?” He gestures towards Johnny, hardly breathing, and raises his eyebrows. “He’s back. Which is news. To me.” The other young boys who’ve spent the last few days freezing and starving together nod along with him. “But that means he lived for like, two years? To come back? So. Therefore-” The crowd is pretty bleak. “He’s okay? For now?”

Silence.

“Okay great thank you Jeno and Haechan.” Yuta stands up. “Wonderful, please sit down.” His voice is a terrifying steady, and externally he radiates power and calm, showing the other two where to sit, giving up his spot. His mind is racing-

Sicheng is gone. Sicheng is gone. Sicheng is gone. Sicheng is gone. Sicheng is gone.

“We need to fucking talk.” He says instead. “We need,” He takes to the front of the space. Sicheng is gone. Sicheng is gone. Sicheng is gone. “To talk about what the fuck, has happened.” He spins around on Jeno. “Jeno, you go. Chenle.” Person to speak: picked. Topic: chosen. Go.

Sicheng is gone. Sicheng is gone. Sicheng is gone. Sicheng is gone.

“Um-” Haechan rubs Jeno’s thigh, ignoring how his pants still haven’t dried. “In the theater,” It hurts to think about.

Like, really hurts.

“He Disappeared in the theater-”

“Great next-” Yuta searches the room. “Anything else go down?” He asks, his tone curt. Yuta wants to waste no time, Yuta wants to get this shit out of the way.

He wants to know why the fuck Taeyong killed Jaehyun and who the fuck killed Mark and what the fuck happened. But instead he waits. He wants the whole story. Everyone’s.

“Woojin and Hyunjin died.” Seungmin says nonchalant in a way that suggests casually that this is the deepest trauma he’s ever felt.

Yuta’s demeanor falters completely.

“Oh.” His eyes cloud and the strength in his limbs recedes. “Oh oh my god-” But the kid doesn’t move, he doesn’t respond to Jungwoo’s hand on his shoulder or Taeyong’s attempt to look him in the eyes.

“Next.” Seungmin spits through grit teeth.

It feels like the worst therapy session ever, where everyone has to spill their guts except there’s no one without a trauma to mediate or tell everyone it’s going to be okay. Unfortunately for them, that important piece of the AA meeting is missing.

“Explain the happy thing.” Yuta says, nodding at Johnny on the bed. Taeyong gets the message, clearing his throat.

“Oh, John came home.” His voice comes out so raspy it sounds as if he didn’t. Jeno and the other kids nod. Obviously John came home. “That’s pretty much it. We haven’t had the chance to talk too much about it.”

Silence.

“Great that was great. Next.” Yuta growls. Sicheng is gone. Sicheng is gone. Sicheng is gone.

“What happened when we left?” Jungwoo says softly, and Lucas nods with him.

“Yes let’s talk about that.” Yuta eggs them on. He’s angry, absolutely furious, but he doesn’t quite know with whom, and why it’s pushing him so close to the edge. He paces, footsteps heavy and intense, causing Jisung flinch with each step.

Not even that makes him stop, eyes locked onto Taeyong.

Murderer.

Sicheng is gone. Sicheng is gone. Sicheng is gone.

“Who killed Mark?” The question hangs in the air heavier than the rain clouds had hung in the sky for days. Nobody knows what to say, because saying it so soon-

It’s too fresh. Saying ‘Who killed Mark?’ only makes it more real. More awful.

Fucking wrong.

“Who. Did. It.” Honestly, Yuta is waiting for his leader to confess, because Taeyong killed Jaehyun-

Sicheng is gone. Sicheng is gone. Sicheng is gone.

Taeyong killed Jaehyun so why doesn’t it make sense that- Sicheng is gone. - he killed Mark?

Taeyong took Mark from them. Taeyong took his life.

“Jaehyun.”

Oh.

Oh.

“Jaehyun killed Mark.” Taeyong speaks very slowly, and the entire room holds its breath as they wait for more.

Taeyong struggles internally. He has to tell them the whole story. He has to tell him certain things he doesn’t want to. He has to-

Ten and Johnny can’t vouch for him, not until they wake up. Mark can’t vouch for him-

Mark will never be able to do that.

“I had to-” He chokes on his words, but tears he thought might come don’t, which surprises him, pleasantly, but nothing really feels pleasant right now. “I had to- kill him- or he’d kill me. And them-” His chest heaves despite his dry eyes. “He’d kill them. Finish them- he went fucking crazy- he went crazy?” Thinking about it, Taeyong has no fucking idea what happened. Where did Jaehyun go? Who- who was that?

Who did Taeyong kill? Who did he use a book to knock the life out of, because it certainly wasn’t Jaehyun. It wasn’t.

It wasn’t Jaehyun who beat him either. It hasn’t been Jaehyun for months.

A year.

Not Jaehyun for a whole year.

“I had to.”

All of Yuta’s anger dissolves in seconds. All of it.

He should’ve seen this coming. He shouldn’t have doubted Taeyong, not ever. He should have thought about it. Who did he think hurt them? Someone broke inside? No you idiot.

Sicheng is gone. Sicheng is gone.- No. Yuta should have seen this coming.

Who was it who took up drinking? Who was it, whose favorite game was ‘pin-Haechan-to-the-floor-and-see-how-long-it-takes-for-him-to-beg-for-air’? while his breath reeked of whiskey and his brothers tried desperately to pull him off? The violence- the anger- who was it?

Why does this make sense. Why does it have the privilege? Why is the one thing so wrong allowed to be right? Sicheng is- Why.

“Jaehyun attacked me, before he- before it-” Taeyong speaks without thinking about what’s coming out. “He hurt me until I couldn’t move and got mad when Mark and Ten found out- he threatened Johnny- Ten got involved- Mark got involved- in the way. Mark got in the way.” The room still hasn’t breathed. “Mark died.” Nobody has moved either, Yuta gave up the pacing the moment Taeyong opened his mouth. “And then Jaehyun came back for me. I didn’t want him to kill me so he could go back out to finish-” Instead of finishing his sentence, Taeyong just looks desperately at Johnny and Ten, both fighting for their own lives individually, somehow doing it together.

Inseparable, those two.

Nothing but death and Disappearance can come between them.

“Why?” Lucas asks what everyone has been thinking, but still it sounds strange and incorrect. Why? What do you mean why? He’s dead, we’ll never know why.

“Why’d he attack you, Taeyong?” Yuta presses instead, because this probably has a cleaner answer, a more sure one, one that can suffice and make Jaehyun a bad guy and allow them to come to peace.

“He just wanted love.” Taeyong finally breathes, and the absent tears finally manifest, falling slowly and silently. Taeyong, who has been expecting tears for ten minutes, doesn’t even register them as they finally come. “I stopped giving him love months ago. He- he was just tired.” Tired. Jaehyun was tired.

Aren’t we all.

“Ah,” Yuta fills the silence with a sudden explanation. “And Doyoung Disappeared while you boys were gone.” He says, matter of factly, directing the words towards their youngest few as if this is exactly what they need right now. “I just thought you should know.”

Sicheng is gone. Sicheng is gone. Sicheng is gone.

Yuta sits back down.

Chapter Text

Kun stares at the blank sheet of paper for a moment, hardly daring to breathe. He’s witty, but he doesn’t know if he’s going to be able to come up with something convincing without a sliver of truth in it. He reaches for the sharpie absentmindedly, then looks up into the eyes of the nearest terrifying man.

“What exactly would you like to see?”

“Tell us about home.”

“I don’t think you know my neighbourhood.” The hands of the tallest man slam down on the table, making Kun jump.

“We picked you up out of your neighbourhood, no? We know it.” He growls. Kun tries to regain a slow, steady breathing pattern.

“Why do you want to know?” He asks. He’s pushing it, he knows he is, he shouldn’t be asking any questions, none, zero, but yet here he is unable to control himself.

“Oh my god-” The tall one is about to lose it but the smaller man steps in, sliding his friend away gently. His eyes are much kinder, as kind as a captor can be, but he still succeeds in scaring Kun a little less.

“To put it simply, we have two missions.” He says, flashing amber eyes. “One of which doesn’t concern you, the second,” He pauses, maybe for dramatic effect, maybe just because he wants to. “Does. That’s this one,” He presses the page forwards with his palm. “So tell us everything you can about home, and maybe then our first mission can benefit your family.”

Well that, is interesting.

“We can get them home.” He says into the silence, but the other two look uncomfortable, as if this is something they shouldn’t be telling Kun, which only pushes him further. He leans forwards.

“How.” It’s a demand, not a question, and the man seems to enjoy his interest to the dismay of his comrades.

“Dae-” The largest one grabs his friend’s arm, pulling him away from the table. “How?” He seems miffed. “This is so unprofessional?! When have we ever talked to them like this?” Them must mean Kun and others like him Kun thinks. “What the fuck?” The man has lowered his voice but Kun is still able to hear every word he says. “Remember what we’re here for- this one can’t go home, and so if he doesn’t give us what we want, he has to die okay? Don’t take away his chance to live by letting him avoid our goddamn questions.” The smaller one, Dae, rolls his eyes but his demeanor completely changes, effected by the words of his partner. The third one just stands still, watching. Dae walks back up to Kun.

“I spoke inappropriately, ignore it all or die.”

“Daehyun!”

“Sorry,” But he spins around, exiting through the spray painted door. Kun watches him leave in surprise before reverting his gaze back to the other two who mask their worry so effectively Kun misses the shifting glances. The quiet one takes a step forward, taking over apparently, as ‘Dae’ does not appear to be returning.

“He’s too emotional I think,” He says, and he presses the sharpie into Kun’s hand. “Just give us something to work with, what does the layout of your street look like?” Simple, that’s something simple, but Kun is distracted. How do they go home-

“Taeil. Moon Taeil.” He blurts out, catching the other two completely by surprise. Kun relishes their looks, he takes in their confused expressions; that means they recognize the name.

“What the fuck did you do with Moon Taeil?”  

 

Moon Taeil.

Moon Taeil you need to wake up. Moon Taeil.

He forces his eyes open, and the first thing he notices is how dark the unfamiliar space is, then secondly, how alone he seems and thirdly, how goddamn cold it is in here.

The most exciting thing however, if Taeil had the strength to be excited, is the fact that he’s completely binding free. He turns his head to the right to view the rest of the room, but cringes and stops halfway. The muscles are so stiff and as he raises a throbbing arm to feel around his throat, the skin is tender and smarts like nobody's business.

“Shit-” He breathes, and then he coughs because his throat is so sore he shouldn’t have used it. Shit shit shit, he curses in his head instead. When he finally steadies himself, he wants to sit up, but to do so he knows he needs to actually move his sore muscles. They throb without movement, though Taeil is also very curious about his location-

But he’s much less eager to leave his bed this time, because the memories flood his mind now and he’s remembering why he was moved away from Shuhua and the others in the first place.

Shuhua. What happened to her? Anxiety pangs his gut as he stares helplessly into the centre of the tiny room. He didn’t get to see. Did they hurt her too? The thought terrifies him and makes him angry at the same time. A child. She’s a child. They wouldn’t hit a child would they?

But they’ve been keeping a child captive for months. Taeil decides that that’s not below them unfortunately, and he closes his eyes, pained by the thought.

The space hasn’t gotten any warmer since he’s woken up. It’s windowless, consisting of the bed he’s lying on and a toilet in the corner. There’s a vent on the wall that must be the source of the freezing air, and Taeil wonders if they’re trying to freeze him to death.

How rude.

He doesn’t really have the strength to do anything at all, and so he lies there facing the centre, thinking about what the fuck happened and why he can’t just go home. He’s sure his brothers filed a missing persons report, right? If he just suddenly disappeared? But maybe with the other Disappearances they thought he had just gone too…

No. No, Taeil is certain that they’re looking for him, definitely because he didn’t go out like the others. He didn’t Disappear, despite everything these people tell him. If he did, he’d remember.

So where’d he go then? How’d he get here? He can’t remember that either. There’s a gaping hole in his memory where Taeil knows important events are supposed to be.

And it’s terrifying. It’s terrifying not knowing what’s happened to you or how you got somewhere so scary and why he’s so completely fucked. It scares him more than anything, being able to recall nothing. It makes him want to die, it makes him want to turn back time. Taeil doesn’t know why he’s here, and that’s what’s most frustrating. A stray tear Taeil didn’t know he was shedding inches across his face awkwardly, thanks to gravity ofcourse, and he doesn’t even have the will or the strength to wipe it away, letting it soak into the sheet. He’s frustrated and he’s cold and he’s hungry and he’s weak and Taeil thinks that the only reason he isn’t shivering is because of how little energy his body has; he isn’t even able to do that basic thing.

All of his inner complainings are silenced in seconds when the door clicks, as if something has been unlocked but there’s no handle on this side, and it’s pulled open expertly. Someone Taeil has never seen before waltzes in, and if Taeil had the ability, he’d sit straight upright to appear more- more, able? Alert? Awake? But he can’t and instead he opts to stiffen, taking in the man in front of him.

He’s tall, slender with brown hair and brown eyes. His demeanor is commanding, and his white coat tells Taeil everything he needs to know.

Fuck.

“Moon Taeil,” The name slides of his tongue like it’s slippery, and his eyes flash like a snake’s. Taeil bites his tongue to keep quiet. “How are you feeling today?” He asks this the way doctors must, in a manner that just tells you they don’t fucking care. It doesn’t matter that Taeil has known this man for the worst of six seconds; he can tell he isn’t someone Taeil is going to be safe around.

“I’m fantastic.” He groans. The doctor chuckles and rubs his hands over his arms.

“Chilly in here?” He sort of asks and says at the same time. Taeil just stares at him. He smiles while making his way closer, something Taeil wishes he wouldn’t do. It just looks scary, evil, as if this doctor knows something Taeil doesn’t.

Which he definitely does.

“Good.” The doctor says without an answer, because Taeil freezing to death is definitely good. Taeil doesn’t cut the cold stare, not even when the man is standing just five feet away and it’s hard for Taeil to meet his eyes with the way his body won’t move.

“Why am I here?” He asks, and to his utter joy and surprise, his voice doesn’t come out nearly as choked or as weak as before and it doesn’t destroy his throat or throw him into a coughing fit. Thank God… The doctor chuckles again.

“Ah, Taeil,” There it is, for the second time. Taeil hates it, he wants this man to never speak his name again. “Shuhua has been asking for you, did you know that?”

Actually, that’s worse. Taeil would rather he say his name a thousand times if it meant Shuhua’s stayed out of his mouth. Something about him is disgusting and slimy, and knowing her by name makes him worse in Taeil’s eyes. Taeil says nothing to him.

To the silence, he sighs heavily, looking around the room as if there’s something he can sit on, and when he finds nothing, he shifts his weight to his left leg, crossing his arms. He doesn’t look awkward, Taeil wishes he looked awkward, but instead, he looks comfortable, at peace. Like standing in the middle of a freezing room with the ability to do whatever the fuck he wants to Taeil is something normal or safe or fair. It only makes Taeil’s fear worsen.

“I’m in here to tell you something very important.” The doctor finally says. “So listen.”

“Carefully.” The doctor looks Taeil in the eyes but speaks as if he’s reciting a written script. His eyes flash in all the right places and everything he says drives a stake of terror further into Taeil’s heart. “Moon Taeil, you have violated the organization. You have disrupted the order and the gentle, calm interior we like to surround our patients with. You have frightened and damaged others surrounding you. You are not cooperative. You are not a positive influence or presence for your fellow guests.

“You are no longer considered a patient with rights within the facility.”

Each word is like a bullet being shot through his chest. What- what did I do? I stood up- I stood up-

“You are now subject to more intense, in depth testing for information about the Disappearances.” The man finally closes his speech, breaking the stoney eye contact. He smiles, fucking proud of what he’s done. Taeil is confused, he has no idea what the hell any of that means.

“Wait-” But the man cuts him off, and what he says is something Taeil knows isn’t scripted; it’s his own pure excitement.

“Thank you for your sacrifice.” Sinister. It’s sinister. It’s the kind of shit that belongs in horror movies and thrillers and it’s the kind of shit that tears the last bit of fight from a person, it’s the kind of shit that let’s Taeil know he’s done.

Whatever they’re going to do to him- there’s nothing he can do about it.

He tries to sit up again but his body screams in agony and his muscles are almost frozen. The doctor laughs at his struggle, and Taeil wants nothing more than the punch him in the face.

That or vomit, he can’t really tell.

“But enough with the formality!” The doctor says, tone light and excited as if he hasn’t just told Taeil that he is no longer a person and is very, very much in danger. “Let’s get started,”

Instantaneous, that’s how Taeil would describe it; it’s instantaneous how the doctor signals his staff in, how they descend on him and there’s nothing he can do about it. It’s a whirlwind of terror as hands grip his wrists harder than his heart is beating until he’s been fastened to the bed the way he’s been hundreds of times before. He doesn’t even have time to scream, to try and fight. He just exists. Taeil exists in pain and terror and confusion and betrayal because if these people weren’t sketchy before, they’ve gone way too fucking far now.

What the hell-

And then they’re done, but something is weird.

Through the way his head spins Taeil can feel that they’ve attached wires with tape and mini contraptions all over his chest. He can feel the same plastic pieces from just a little while ago attached to his head and his confusion only wells up all over again. His body wouldn’t move if he tried, attached to the metal bed frame now, which only presses stronger, more intense waves of hysteria onto his heart with so much fervor Taeil is afraid it might stop.

The doctor has a chart now, and some sort of electronic device in his hands that seem very important and doctor-y. Taeil can recall Yuhyeon’s doctor-things and suddenly, despite what she may have done to him now, he misses her.

Yuhyeon was nicer.

Much nicer.

One of his assistants mumbles something incoherent to the doctor through his mask and the man nods, agreeing with whatever the fuck was just said. His eyes fall back onto Taeil’s face, turned in his direction. That’s all Taeil can do, look at him with so much hate he could kill, but it only activates the psycho in the doctor more, delighting him.

Without breaking eye contact, the man begins to speak, and the busyness of the assistants hovering around him quiets down so that Taeil can hear every word.

“Begin trial one, Synthetic Withdrawal,” The words coat Taeil’s ears painfully. “Initial run-” The people react to his words but Taeil has no idea what it means and he struggles against his bindings in fear. He can hear machines he can’t see start up and he knows they’re attached to the wires all over him. What’s happening- what are they doing?  “Please relax Taeil.” Taeil looks at him in terror as he begins to feel the wires come alive. “This is a good thing.” But the man’s eyes aren’t kind- why would they be? They’re the only things Taeil can hold onto right now, and he watches them light up the same way his chest burns-

But then the feeling becomes familiar.

In the back of his mind, somewhere Taeil hasn’t gone in a long time, something is woken up. Something is sparked by the feeling, the same feeling, the feeling like his chest is going to implode or explode or both or neither at all. Something moves beneath his skin, something pokes into his ribs and jabs at him like it wants to eat him alive from the inside out. Something so fucking familiar that Taeil can swear he’s never felt in his life.

His breathing gets fucked about three seconds into it, and terror only tightens its grip on his heart. Taeil’s entire body shakes with the cold and the fear and the adrenaline and the pain until his mind begins to fall blank. He feels like he’s falling apart.

Falling away.

And after a few moments-

Taeil isn’t feeling anything at all.

Chapter Text

Taeil’s eyes open in their living room, and he sits up slowly.

Damn.

“Jisung?” He eyes the couch beside him; completely empty. He swears the teen was just here, they only passed out minutes ago right? He shakes his head, pushing his dark hair, mussed from sleep, away from his eyes. Taeil stands up slowly, almost gingerly because the headache he fell asleep with isn’t gone.

The space is darker than he thought it was. Maybe I did sleep for a long time. That would explain the absence of Jisung. Taeil comes to this conclusion quietly, heading into the kitchen for some water. As he nears the kitchen door, he can hear someone inside. The light is on and water is running. He slips through the doorway, expecting Doyoung to jump because he was quiet.

But it’s not Doyoung, and it’s not just one person.

Jaemin’s eyes are the widest of the two.

Taeil stops in his tracks, he blinks and he shakes his head and then he frowns.

“When did you-” And then he’s excited, but he’s crying as well, and Jaemin and Johnny are quick to hug him, sharing glances with each other that are a mixture of joy and… well... sadness. “Are you okay?” He asks them between choked breaths, trying to look them both up and down, trying to take in every detail because he hasn’t seen them in months. Johnny nods vigorously.

“We’re okay hyung we’re okay-”

“How’d you get back?”

Jaemin sucks in a huge breath. Honestly, he’s tired of this part, he’s tired of having to break the news every fucking time. He shoots Johnny a look.

You do it.

Johnny understands, purses his lips and then takes the shorter Taeil’s shoulders in his hands, holding him out to look him in the eyes gently. Taeil frowns at the sudden change, but very quickly his eyes change too.

Johnny didn’t have to say a thing.

“Oh,” Taeil’s voice shakes slightly. “Oh- okay.” He’s nodding and he’s pulling away from Johnny very slightly. He flashes his eyes with more energy than he has and he smiles. “That’s okay. We’re together right, so this is okay.” Johnny nods with him, slightly surprised by this reaction. Jaemin is pleased though, because usually they have to say the ugly words out loud and tell their brother; ‘Yep, you’re gone too. Welcome to the club.’

Jaemin hates saying that.

The front door of the apartment opens quietly and the three boys can hear someone step inside. Taeil’s eyes ask the questions for him, and Johnny nods encouragingly to him. Jaemin heads into the living room first, though, because he’s pretty sure the initial shock of seeing Taeil without an explanation might make Kun’s day of work even more shitty.

“Kun hyung!” Taeil hears Jaemin exclaim from one room over. His heart leaps in his chest- it’s Kun! Where is Renjun? He’s the only one that Taeil hasn’t heard mentioned tonight. “Listen-” But the rest of the conversation is muffled as Johnny catches Taeil’s attention.

“Hyung- so-” Johnny can’t really pick his words properly. “How are things- at home I mean- um- how are they doing? What’s happening?” The whirlwind of questions is fair, and Taeil has no trouble understanding Johnny’s heart.

They miss him so much at home- he must feel the same way.

“Things are-” Taeil struggles with words of his own. “They’re shit I guess. The whole world keeps losing people and we have no idea where they go, right. People think you’re dead, people think it’s the Rapture- it’s really very wild.” He pauses, Johnny’s earnest eyes bearing into him. “But life is also still going. If your work hasn’t fallen apart then you’re still working. The boys’ high school is still functioning so they’re attending there um- but nothing feels right. Like, at all.” He sighs heavily. “Nobody is actually doing well.” He says, very quietly, almost inaudibly. “Taeyong is- not the same. Losing family does that to you-” Johnny’s eyes cloud and Taeil’s pain radiates off him only to meet John’s in the middle.

“What about Ten?” Johnny says very quietly. He feels like asking about one person in particular is rude or inconsiderate of the others, but this is a very special person, and that doesn’t undermine John’s love for everyone else. Taeil purses his lips, he can’t bring himself to look Johnny in the eyes.

Johnny’s been gone a whole year. A lot can happen in that time, and Taeil is terrified of saying out loud what has-

“Taeil hyung!” He’s grabbed from behind into a huge hug very suddenly and his inhibitions melt away in an instant. It’s warm and it’s full of life and Taeil breaks away only to turn around to wrap his arms around Kun too. “I’m sorry you’re here,” Kun says into his shoulder, holding onto his brother like he’s afraid to let him go. “But I missed you-”

“I missed you too,” Taeil whispers back. “So much.” The others wait for them to pull apart, and quickly they fall into something almost normal.

“Renjun is sleeping.” Johnny says as he gathers the rest of them in the living room. “I’m not going to wake him right now, he’s kind of had a rough go,” Taeil nods with the rest of the boys as if he understands, but honestly, the ‘parental’ part of him would rather Renjun sleep if he’s tired anyways so he doesn’t complain.

“Taeil listen,” Taeil turns to looks at Jaemin, all of his attention on his younger brother. “Does the house seem weird to you?” Taeil raises his eyebrow.

“That’s a weird question.” He says, but regardless his eyes sweep the room.

A little.

Yes, a little.

“What the hell?” He says as he looks, because there’s something kind of off.

“You can’t put your finger on it, right?” Kun says. “Something is different?”

“Missing?” Says Johnny. Taeil looks at all of them, flustered.

“Y-yes?” Jaemin nods, exchanging a look with the other few.

“That’s normal. It’s part of life here,” Jaemin says, running his hand through his hair. Taeil frowns, exasperated.

“More-”

“Explanation?” Says Johnny, chuckling. “We’ve gathered that we can only see what we can perfectly remember here, everything else just doesn’t exist.” Taeil laughs but the others are dead serious.

“That’s ridiculous-” He says, but slowly he trails off when he realizes they aren’t fucking with him.

“It’s right in front of your face, hyung, shit’s missing. But you don’t know what it is because otherwise you would remember it,” Jaemin’s eyes are steady and he nods with his own words, affirming everything he’s saying.

Jaemin is right, shit is weird, and it’s gone and it’s missing and the house has weird shadows now that Taeil cannot see through.

“That’s-” They all wait expectantly for him to speak. “Fucked.” He finally says, and the three of them laugh a little, getting a kick out of whatever they can.

“It’s weird,” Johnny says. “For sure it’s weird, but it’s not so bad. You’re not missing what’s missing if you can’t remember it right.” Taeil nods slowly.

“I guess so?”

“Don’t let it bother you much, it’s just the way it is here.” Johnny says dismissively, because this really isn’t that important and he’d much rather just spend time with his brothers.

So then the evening becomes normal.

“Kun hyung, how was work?” Jaemin asks, flopping deeper into the couch. Taeil relaxes backwards as well, a little confused, a little out of place and a little-

He looks at Johnny, he remembers how Johnny had asked about Ten…

Fuck. Should he say anything? At all? Should he tell Johnny what’s really happened? Some of the boys have resorted to… not so nice coping strategies. But he looks at Johnny, he looks at how he’s smiling and he looks at how he’s definitely taken over the ‘in charge’ roll here. Taeil can’t ruin that, and it’s not like anyone else is the wiser.

So no. Nobody has to know how bad home really is. It would ruin them too much.

“Moon Taeil-” Taeil’s body doesn’t react, but something in his mind is confused. The voice was unfamiliar, it was different from the world he’s in right now. Taeil has no idea where it’s coming from.

“Hyung?” Taeil’s mind catches up to his body, and to his surprise he has already answered the question, like this is all happening without any real, conscious decision.

Taeil spends the rest of the night catching up, until eventually he heads off to bed with the rest of them.

Johnny clears his throat.

“We all sleep in the same room now,” He says. “If you want.” Taeil nods.

“Of course-” Taeil grabs a blanket, his bedroom is the one they’ve all joined anyways. The boys are right about how awkwardly empty the house feels without Taeil actually being able to place what’s missing and he does his best not to think about it as he settles onto his bunk. He listens to the sounds of the others turn in for the night, and eventually he falls asleep thinking about what the hell has just happened to him-

And what life is going to look like now.

 

“What do we do with the bodies?” Jeongin is at the far end of the bedroom with Seungmin, away from the rest of the boys. They pulled out to let them grieve together- and they needed time too. “Like, all four of them,” Seungmin is horrified, absolutely shocked. A child, a child wants to know what they’re going to have to do with four bodies.

Life wasn’t normal before, of course it wasn’t, but this is too much. Seungmin’s mouth hangs open awkwardly. Woojin would know what to do,

But Woojin is one of them.

“I-i- I don’t know- we’ll  figure something out-” Seungmin doesn’t know what to say, he genuinely doesn't know. Why should he have to know? Why should any of them? Jeongin has a point though, because back home Woojin and Hyunjin are lying, soaked and dead and rooms away Mark and Jaehyun lie still. It’s weird.

Disturbing? But everyone is too shocked and fucked up to really understand the complete and heavy weight of it all.

“That’s a not-right-now problem,” Seungmin says quietly, and Jeno is approaching them. His eyes are bloodshot and red- probably from crying- but his face is warm and gentle. He touches Jeongin’s arm absentmindedly, just out of an attempt at comfort, and he looks between the two of them.

“I think it’s kind of obvious you’re allowed to stay with us,” Jeno says after a few seconds. “If you want to of course- we don’t want to forcibly drag you into our shit…” He trails off because their shit is murder within the family and it’s death and it’s nobody knowing if Johnny or Ten are going to wake up-

But it’s a house too, and its friends and its family if they want it so…

Seungmin shakes his head, dismissing the negative side of Jeno’s offer.

“Of course, of course,” He says softly. Jeno nods. There’s not much more to say, not much to do. The three of them retreat with Haechan and Jisung into the other bedroom- practically forced by Jungwoo, who just wants them to rest. But as each of them lie down, they all know that nobody is going to sleep.

The youngest of Taeyong’s misfit band have always been super close; Jisung, Chenle, Jaemin, Haechan, Jeno, Renjun and Mark, and so the absence of four of them weighs heavy on each small chest. With the light out, Haechan is staring up at the bunk above him, shrouded in darkness.

Mark, Mark hyung should be up there- Haechan almost believes that if he sits up, that if he stands on his bed and peers over the railing at the top, that Mark will be there. Sleeping, peacefully, lying still because he wants to and for no other reason but that.

Unfortunately, this is not the case, and it doesn’t matter how much Donghyuck cries about it; Mark isn’t up there.

Haechan rolls over, curling his arms around his chest a little tighter. His throat closes and his lungs ache as if he isn’t breathing, but he is, he promises, Mark would want that right? They had always been the closest, despite how Mark would complain about him, despite how Haechan would annoy him on purpose, because underneath all that it would be Mark’s arms around Haechan 9/10 times and Mark’s smell he loved the most. This is when he wants it most, when going to sleep is what he should be doing, but laying awake is his only option.

He wants to lie awake with Mark so fucking bad.

Suddenly, he hears shifting behind him and he whips his head around, looking into the darkness. Jeno places a finger to his lips, hush. Haechan obeys and Jeno slips into bed beside him. On any other day, Haechan would ask him what the fuck he’s doing, but today Haechan doesn’t mind.

Today, he wraps his arms around Jeno and he pretends that it’s Mark and he holds him, terrified that if he lets go that Jeno is going to slip away from him- Disappear- or worse; die.

Because that seems to be something his brothers are good at too.

Chapter Text

Winwin swallows hard and looks at the large, awkward bundle he’s had the boys drag into the hallway of the apartment building. He bites his tongue to avoid letting out a sound that might scare the younger few, and he nods at Jaemin to get him to pick up the other end again.

“Hyung are you sure-” Chenle speaks with a voice that hardly sounds like him, gravelly and low like it’s been sent through the shredder. It reminds Winwin of the way Johnny spoke the first day he came home. Sicheng’s eyes flash at Chenle less than gently, and then he remembers who he’s talking to and softens his features.

“Yes.” He almost chokes on the word as Jaemin stays silent looking between them. “Yes, this is to protect Renjun, do you understand?” Chenle nods numbly, just staring at their package. Winwin wishes he could make him look away. “Chenle,” He snaps his attention back up. “Lead the way, okay?” Chenle’s wide eyes look to Jaemin, who says nothing, and finally he’s turning around to take them to the back staircase. They can all see the door, but as soon as Chenle opens it, nobody’s vision is too clear.

“Fuck-” Jaemin curses as he grunts under the weight. “Renjun might know this place better than us-” Winwin shakes his head immediately.

“He’s not leaving the apartment.” It’s dismissive, it’s five words. Renjun is not leaving, not right now. He’s safer in there. He’s safer- Winwin desperately wanted to leave Chenle behind to watch him, but Jaemin and himself wouldn’t be able to get this finished without the third pair of helping hands. He takes another deep breath. “Let’s go,” As he steps outside onto the stairway, he feels it groan. His own muscles are already screaming, begging to drop the bundle, and Winwin is terrified that as they descend them the stairs will collapse. “Slowly- please,” He warns.

It’s blurry out here, colours kind of vague and everything slightly distant. Sicheng wonders if they’ll even be able to get out of this space, he knows they’re only behind their building but because, in the old world, he never really came back here they’re very literally flying blind. Jaemin steps onto the stairs after him, and Winwin descends very slowly, feeling first for the blurred steps. After what feels like much too long he’s made it to the bottom, and waits patiently for Jaemin and finally Chenle to join him on solid ground. He lets out the anxious breath he’s been holding.

“He’s going to be okay in there alone, right?” Chenle says quietly, earnest eyes meeting first Jaemin’s and then Winwin’s. They both shake their heads the way you do when you lie.

“Of course- Renjun will be fine for like, thirty minutes,” Jaemin says, but Winwin cringes because he knows exactly what can happen in thirty minutes.

Thirty minutes killed Mark, didn’t they?

But they don’t know that, Winwin realizes time and time again. They have no idea what’s happening on the other side.

Sicheng has been here for a solid thirty two minutes, he remembers because the first thing he saw when he stepped into the kitchen was the clock on the stove. The second was the blood, of course, and as much attention as that scene stole away from the mini Big Ben Winwin can still remember the time. Thirty two minutes.

Sicheng nods, pretending to agree with Jaemin.

“He’s going to be fine- but we need to pick up the pace,” He gestures at Jaemin to gather his strength again and the three of them press on into the haze. It gets a little clearer the closer they draw to the street, but Sicheng is careful to keep them out of sight.

“It’s busy here-” He exclaims. He doesn’t really know what he was expecting, but the Disappeared world in his mind was desolate and empty- literally nonexistent, because at home they weren’t sure their brothers even existed at all. Upon John’s return, his image was broken and scarred and Winwin truly assumed his brothers were alone.

Traffic of almost regular, everyday occurance shatters this delusion.

“Of course it is,” Chenle says quietly. This makes Winwin nervous, because he honestly believed this trek would be easy and alone. “What did you-”

“Can we still make it to the theater like this?”

“Yes-”

“Unseen?”

“Well I don’t know-” Sicheng drops the bundle, making Jaemin cry out but he ignores it to stare at Chenle.

“Do you not- do you not understand what we’re doing? Right now? Like, at all, Chenle?” He hisses, trying to keep the volume down because they’re closer than he’d like to be to traffic and people, to life as it continues, something he thought didn’t exist here.

“I do.”

“So why didn’t it occur to you to tell me that maybe it would be difficult to carry out such a task at 4pm on a Thursday?”

Chenle looks at Sicheng dumbly.

“I thought you knew- you really didn’t think that with half the town gone we wouldn’t be a functioning society?”

“Fuck- Chenle I didn’t fucking know you were alive until like two fucking days ago- let alone- here but not home-”

“Hyung please calm down-” Jaemin steps in between them, if only to break eye contact. “Hyung?” Winwin doesn’t lose his cool. Winwin knows what he’s supposed to do. Winwin always has the answers.

Sicheng blinks.

“Oh my god- I’m sorry- I’m sorry.” He peers around Jaemin, too guilty to look him in the eyes, to make sure that Chenle isn’t full of bullet holes after such a fiery freak out. Chenle just smiles at him reassuringly. “I’m sorry, we need to go. Everything is okay, everything is okay-” Sicheng continues to shake his head, clearing it.

Fuck, what kind of big brother are you now?

“Everything is okay.”

“Everything is okay.” Chenle echoes, but something doesn’t quite look okay. Sicheng, Sicheng with all the answers and all the patience and the wisdom in the world suddenly doesn’t know up from down anymore, right from left. Chenle is able to watch Jaemin’s constant strength drain from his body.

And it doesn’t make it any better who they’re carrying through the alleyways.

 

Back in the apartment, Renjun is less than fantastic. Less than good. Less than alright, than fine, than okay. Renjun feels less than even awful.

Awful is an understatement.

“Junnie, you wait here while we take care of everything okay?” He remembers Jaemin say. He remembers him stroking his cheek and he remembers the way he bit his lip to choke back a sob so that Renjun could believe his next words; “everything is going to be okay.”

“I’m sorry.” Renjun had said. “I’m so sorry.”

“It’s no fault of yours, Huang Renjun, please know this is no fault of yours.”

He scrubs frantically at the blood on the floor. Renjun thought that if he couldn’t do anything right, that if his ideas kill his brothers, that maybe he can clean it up, Maybe he can help out.

His heart is in the right place, god his poor, beating heart. It’s there, it’s where it should be, it’s trying, he promises, but everything he does results in pain and suffering.

He killed Doyoung.

I literally killed Doyoung.

I killed him. I stuck a knife inside his body I-

There’s no recovering from that is there? There’s no take backs? There’s nothing Renjun can do to make that situation better. He fucked it up more than he could have fucked anything up, he fucked it up so badly that there is literally a person, someone he fucking loves, that doesn’t get to walk away from it. He-

“Oh my god-” He hardly makes it to the bathroom before he’s throwing up into the toilet, induced by the blood and the trauma and the facts. The cold hard facts.

There’s no escaping those at all.

I killed Doyoung. I killed Doyoung. I killed Doyoung.

There’s no debating it.

Renjun returns to the kitchen again.

When will they be home- All he wants, selfishly, is to curl up in Jaemin’s arms. He wants to forget it all, he wants to believe that when he opens his eyes that Doyoung will be there to smack him upside the head for something stupid he’s done. He’d give anything.

Even if Doyoung couldn’t be alive, he’d give anything so that he, Renjun, was not the one responsible. He’d give anything for Doyoung to be in a car accident, to have fallen from a building, to have killed himself even- anything but hearing the sound of a knife he’s wielding slice through Do’s flesh.

Anything.

Renjun sinks back to the ground, colliding with the tile slowly. He gets back to work, scrubbing at the crimson coating everything.

I’m sorry hyung I’m sorry hyungimsorryhyungim-

 

Renjun wakes Taeil up, and the very first thing Taeil does is cry.

How manly.

But nobody can blame him, though, because this is the first time in two years that he’s seeing the person that was possibly the most painful to lose. Such a vibrant young face, such a kind soul and a warm heart and it was so fucking unexpected. Taeil never thought he’d lose any of them at all.

“Junnie-” He’s holding him to his chest so tightly the poor child can’t breathe, and when he realizes he lets him go immediately. Renjun doesn’t seem to care, he laughs and he hugs him back and without saying anything else says;

“Breakfast.” That’s really all Taeil needs to hear.

The two of the pad down the hallway and into the kitchen shortly after and the rest of the boys are already awake and bustling, working on a meal together.

“Kun hyung doesn’t have work today,” Jaemin beams as if it’s something to be proud of.

“Meaning I can spend the day off cleaning up this excuse for a house,” Kun spits, but there’s no venom, just a teasing air. Johnny laughs, sliding eggs onto plates.

“I told you Jae,”

“Told me what?”

“That you don’t keep this place clean enough.” Jaemin pretends to pout, folding his arms across his chest. He’s sitting on the counter, swinging his legs like a four year old on a playset. He looks happy, Taeil observes, perfectly happy. It reminds him of home.

Kun swoops back in, squeezing Jaemin’s knee.

“You keep it plenty tidy, Jae, I’m joking,” When he meets Taeil’s eyes however he mouths no so aggressively it makes Taeil laugh, which doesn’t get passed their younger brother.

The whole morning is like this; it’s normal, perfect, dysfunctional in the way that only a family can be.

“Pass the fucking sugar-” Jaemin says when they do up their coffee. All three of the older men look at him at once, saying in unison;

“LANGUAGE!”

It makes Taeil laugh, it makes him feel safe and warm on the inside because his brothers are okay and he knows somewhere else, somewhere far away the others are doing fine too. Everyone has their struggles, but of course, deep down, things are under control.

“Please?” Jaemin adds sheepishly, to truly complete his statement.

“We’re out of sugar anyways,” Kun says, huffing as he begins to clear the plates. “I can go out for some tonight-”

“I’ll do it,” Taeil pipes up, helping him out.

“Moon Taeil-” The voice punctures his reality again, but the rest of the boys hear nothing.

“Don’t worry, I can go tonight.” Taeil continues and before Kun can complain, Renjun is supporting him.

“I’ll go too, it’ll be an adventure- we’ll see how much hyung remembers,” Renjun winks at him from across the table, and the idea actually seems pretty decent. It’d be nice to know what Taeil can no longer see, despite its existence.

It’s still such a weird concept.

The day is spent just spending time together, and every boy enjoys it with no inhibitions or worries. Eventually, it’s time for Taeil to make good on his promise, and he and Renjun depart.

Together, both boys can gather a pretty put together image of their surroundings, and have no trouble entering the grocery store about a twenty minute walk away. Inside a place like this is even weirder than the outside world; there are so many things you can’t see- in such a tiny space. All over there are guidelines, black tape and signs and sharpie everywhere to ensure every person’s safety. It’s smart and Taeil truly gets a kick out of how little he can see, which is a more positive reaction than most people’s.

“Hyung we need to go soon,” Renjun eyes the doors and grows only more anxious the further the sun falls behind buildings and trees.

“Okay Junnie okay, soon I promise,” Taeil is absentmindedly checking all the shelves, looking at prices, looking at the things he can actually look at. When he finally locates everything they’re here for, he pays at the front and the two of them depart into the cold night.

“Shit Jun you couldn’t have worn a thicker sweater?” He chides, yanking on Renjun’s sweater with one hand, the other occupied with their bag, to make sure it’s covering all of his skin. Renjun squirms away, groaning.

“A short walk, hyung, I’m fine,” Taeil only grunts a disbelieving response and Renjun scoffs, hurt. The further they go away from the light of the grocery store the scarier Renjun’s thought process becomes, though. “Hyung-”

“Yes?”

“There’s something we haven’t told you yet,” Taeil almost stops walking but opts to keep moving, beginning to shiver in the cold.

“Tell me then, kiddo.” He asks, pretending to sound uninterested. Renjun furrows his brow, picking up his speed to be able to walk in stride with Taeil.

“It’s not super dangerous- just a thought-”

“Spit it out.”

“It’s not exactly okay to be out here right now.”

“Moon Taeil.”

“What?” Taeil stops in his tracks, turning to look at Renjun. “What do you mean?”

“Don’t stop, hyung, we just need to get home is all.” Renjun grabs his wrist and they keep walking. Taeil’s hand rests on Renjun’s shoulder and now, in the darkness, he looks all around them, paranoid without knowing what to be scare of. “Just, sometimes people go missing.” Renjun mumbles and Taeil stares at him in horror. The grocery arm is screaming to be relieved and without thinking about it Taeil grasps the bag in the other hand.

“What?”

“Keep moving.” They walk in silence for about five more minutes until Renjun shudders against the cold again and Taeil places a comforting hand on his shoulder again, hoping he can provide any sort of body heat.

“Don’t be afraid,” Taeil whispers to him as they go, and it’s almost comforting, it makes the situation almost okay because Taeil is the older brother and Taeil knows what to do.

Almost.

The bang from behind them makes them both jump and Taeil’s heart is in his throat.

“Hyung-”

“A cat.”

“There are no cats here-” Taeil looks Renjun in the eyes, panic searing their pretty brown.

“Faster, Junnie faster,” Taeil looks behind him, pushing Renjun forward. His heart beat is faster than a hummingbird’s wings and he’s almost scared that it will stop all together. It only worsens when figures emerge from the shadows.

Taeil can’t see anything, but there’s nothing in this situation that can shroud it’s danger.

Nothing at all. He drops the groceries. But Jaemin’s sugar-

“Fuck-”

“Hyung!” Renjun’s voice is laced with panic, and Taeil jumps into action immediately. He doesn’t know what they’re running from, or why these people have begun to follow them- but they’re getting closer.

“RUN!” He sprints behind Renjun, always keeping him two strides ahead. Taeil looks over his shoulder, watching them brandish something. A weapon? There’s no time to decide, but Taeil’s fear only worsens when the people definitely act like they’re holding guns.

Taeil has hardly seen a gun in his life, how is he supposed to be able to see one here? He can’t, but these men can, and the way they load them, point them-

“Oh my god- no no no-” He shoves Renjun forwards. Keep going. Keep going please- These people are definitely who Renjun thinks they are.

Taeil sucks in a breath that hitches in his throat when the worst happens; the people cock their pistols. Fuck.

“Keep going Renjun I’m right behind you.” He whispers to the boy as they run. Renjun’s innocent eyes widen, truly believing. He sees him pick up his pace, and that’s when Taeil chooses to slow down.

There’s no fucking way he’s about to get Renjun shot. He turns around.

He looks them in the eyes.

And then he moves towards them.

What the fuck are you doing- The people slow their pace, seeming pleased that the chase is over. When they get close enough, Taeil hears one speak.

“The boy.” Taeil’s legs want to give out and terror courses through his veins. His body wants to wretch and pass out he’s so scared, but there are guns he can’t see trained on him and a seventeen year old boy he needs to protect.

“Leave him alone-” He’s cut off by the sound of a gunshot, and then the sensation of his stomach ripping apart. Blood flies from his mouth instantly and his knees hit the ground painfully, but Taeil doesn’t notice. All he can feel is the bullet lodged inside him, the way the wound burns and the way he can only think one thing; I’m dead. I’m going to fucking die.

Taeil has never been shot before. He’s never even held a gun in his own two hands.

This is new.

An adventure, Taeil, an adventure, he tries to reason with himself, he tries to stop the panic and the blood flow but he’s on the ground completely now, unable to move, unable to see. He can’t see Renjun.

Oh god Renjun-

Terror grips him. Are they still chasing him? Are they going after him? He cranes his neck the best he can but he can’t see into the darkness-

Or is that just a veil of his own beginning to cover his eyes. This is even scarier, he’s actually losing consciousness.

Because he’s hurt.

People who lose consciousness when they’re hurt are hurt really bad. No no no- Renjun- Renjun please be safe- His eyes close against his will, launching Taeil into a kind of blackness he’s never encountered.

“Renjun-” Save shallow breaths, this name is the last thing to pass between his lips before Taeil is completely gone.

“Moon Taeil.” The voice pierces the night air, and although Taeil is completely lost, something inside him still hears it, despite how his pulse slows.

Chapter Text

It’s been three days since the incident.

Ten and Taeyong are well recovered, and Ten was able to backup Taeyong’s story about it. All of it. The other members hadn’t doubted Taeyong in the slightest, and honestly, hearing it again only made it worse. It made Jaehyun’s memory even uglier.

But Taeyong insists something was seriously wrong, and that no, that was not Jaehyun, and that they need to remember him sans the incident- remember him as a happy man.

“In fact, let’s just forget it ever happened.” Taeyong had said, and that was that. Now, there’s something on Taeyong’s mind that had been pushed to the backburner, but he remembers at midnight one evening, bolting upright in his bunk. He had been sleeping next to Yuta, who’s quieter and lonelier without Sicheng around, which excuses his request to not sleep alone.

“Hyung- hyung what?” He says, groggily, barely able to open his eyes. Initially, fear had gripped him, but Taeyong doesn’t seem to be freaking out and so slowly Yuta’s terror and concern wash away to await his response.

“The TV-” Taeyong gasps, staring at him in the darkness. The bunk below them stirs a little but Taeyong doesn’t care.

“Volume, Hyung the others- what do you mean the TV?” Yuta whispers, slowly pushing himself upright. Taeyong’s eyes glint, excited.

“Don’t you remember- the news- the people-” Yuta is shaking his head in alarm, plain confused. “The returned people, Yuta!” And suddenly the memory comes back.

It comes shooting back with the image of Mark, the one who turned the damn thing on. The one who wanted so badly to go-

How could he have forgotten that?

“Oh my god-” Taeyong has Yuta’s wrist in a tight grip, and when he realizes he releases it. Yuta lets it fall limp into his lap in disbelief. “The flooding is almost down!” Yuta is no longer watching his volume either, and Ten shouts quietly from the bottom.

“The fuck are you two talking about? John is sleeping? The kids are sleeping? Can you watch your fucking volume-” But neither of them are listening, much to Ten’s discontent, and beside him his sleeping boyfriend rolls over. Ten grimaces when Johnny does, because Johnny might be okay, healing mostly from the- well we don’t talk about that. There are leftover wounds, though, and wounds from before, wounds from crossing over. Johnny needs all the rest he can get.

Yuta flops onto the floor ungracefully with a bang that wakes up the whole house- well, the whole house is in one room- and neither Taeyong or Yuta care. Ten is about to lose his shit, but when he’s able to look into Taeyong’s eyes, glinting in silver moonlight, something keeps his mouth shut.

“The police still haven’t done a thing about their claim-” Taeyong says, not caring to explain any further. “But the flooding has gone down a little and I’m sure we could-” Then he’s lost Ten again. Johnny slowly pushes himself up onto his elbow and Ten finds his hand in his hair, playing with it absentmindedly. He hopes that if he strokes it enough Johnny will fall back to sleep, even though Ten knows that’s not where this conversation is going.

“Woah woah woah, what do we mean we need to do something now- Taeyong you can’t do anything stupid, didn’t they say that was dangerous?” Ten says, unwillingly dragging himself out of the bed as Taeyong begins to throw some clothes on. Does he mean he’s going now? “Tae- fuck Taeyong listen!” Yuta stands awkwardly off to the side, pulling on a sweater and hoping Ten won’t notice. “Can you please sit down and talk about this with us first?” None of their minds are even functioning properly right now, not in the middle of the night, not after everything they’ve seen and done recently. Ten isn’t even going to lie, he’s had a little much to drink over the past three days, and the hangover headache that’s beginning to pound him is not aiding his mood in the least.

Old habits die hard.

The boys across the room begin to wake up and soon Jisung is standing beside his bunk instead of in it, a hand on Jeno’s shoulder who’s sitting on the lower bed. Haechan sits up behind him.

Taeyong stops what he’s doing and flashes his eyes like Ten should know.

“Do you not remember? On the news, days ago, they said people came home.” The dark room is quiet. “So- before- everything-” He chokes on that word a little but pushes forwards. “We were- I wanted to-” Taeyong tries to collect everything he’s saying. T he leader, Taeyong, you’re the leader, you’re supposed to be composed. He breathes in once, just to regain sanity. “We were going to fight for them, no? The police hadn’t done anything, and they still haven’t.” He seems much more like an actual person now, and Ten’s anger slowly, very slowly, dissolves. Everyone’s attention is trained on Taeyong, waiting for his next move. “I just remembered, I guess, I still think we should do something.” Yuta nods.

“I agree. They gave us the location-”

“They also told us not to do anything, because the police were going to start work as soon as the flooding was over.” Ten said, cutting Yuta off. He doesn’t mean to kill the mood, but he also doesn’t want anyone to do anything crazy.

“But they haven’t, the water has been low enough to walk through for two days at least, drive through, even- and they haven’t touched it.”

“Has it been on the news since?”

“No-”

“Then maybe it’s been taken care of? Maybe it was a false alarm?”

“We also didn’t have power for a day, hyung,” Jisung says quietly. “They could have said something then.” He’s not quite sure which side he’s trying to aid, but Ten uses this as his own leverage. He raises his eyebrows at Taeyong.

“We could have missed the rescue, or the fact that nothing is there at all.” The truth is, Ten doesn’t believe it. He has a very hard time thinking that people are holding people captive after they’ve Disappeared and come back.

That’s a very difficult concept.

And it’s pointless, why would they be doing such a thing? If people truly have come home, more people than just Johnny, then why aren’t they allowed to see their families? It just seems like bullshit to Ten, it seems out of this world and completely random.

Foolish.

And it is. It is definitely not your everyday occurance. But incorrect? Only possibly.

Taeyong shakes his head.

“I don’t think you understand, Ten.” He says, voice low. “That people we love could be in there.” Taeyong is talking about the absent Taeil, the absent Kun, any of the little old diner woman’s family, any of Seungmin and Jeongin’s brothers, he means them all.

His biggest fantasy is finding them there, where the news has promised him they might be.

Ten can feel Johnny nod behind him.

“I came back, why couldn’t others?” He says softly, but everyone heard him, and Yuta only nods his head with more energy. And Winwin, he thinks, Winwin is gone but maybe Winwin came back-

Ten is shaking his head in disbelief.

“Do you hear yourselves? You want to break into a building based off of a thirty second broadcast? Do you not hear how fucking stupid that is? How potentially dangerous?” Two bunks away Jeongin nods silently in agreement. He didn’t see the broadcast, but even he doesn’t believe what Taeyong is trying to suggest. Ten heaves a sigh. “And even if it’s true-” He’s calmed down, collecting himself and speaking slowly, almost as if it’s painful. “Then can’t you leave it to the police?” He pleads. He doesn’t want anyone to get hurt, he doesn’t want anything to go wrong, and he doesn’t want to believe that there are people trapped in plain sight.

He just doesn’t want that reality.

Everyone is completely silent, the young boys glancing between each other, and the older ones locked in an unspoken staring contest. Lucas hops off his bunk, landing softly.

“Maybe we could just, scope it out?” When Ten’s eyes widen in horror Lucas speaks quickly to fix it. “A harmless escapade I promise! Just, head out over there and check to see if it’s possible- but not do anything crazy!” Ten is still shocked. “To satiate both sides?” He finishes like it’s a question, looking between Taeyong and Ten. Ten flutters his eyes closed, rolling them very powerfully and then forcing them open again.

“Fine. A harmless, eventless, escapade.”

Taeyong almost jumps in excitement.

“In the morning.” He adds. Now Taeyong looks disappointed.

“Why not now-”

“Because it’s dark? Because the water only reaches our ankles but that’s still enough to drown in if someone slips and knocks themselves out?” He has a point, a very valid point and so begrudgingly every boy clambors back into bed to wait until there’s daylight.

Only Johnny falls asleep.

 

“Moon Taeil.”

Taeil’s eyes fly open in terror, his surroundings crashing down around him and his chest threatening to rip itself open. The bullet- the bullet hole- But when he tries to move his hands to feel his stomach, the stomach that’s bleeding and open and killing him, he can’t, his hands are stuck to the side of the cold bed.

In the cold room.

With all the nurses and-

And that doctor.

He’s not bleeding, he’s not dying, he’s laying, heart flying faster than a speeding train, in a cold space that he recognizes and although it’s familiar it doesn’t ease his mind. What the fuck-

“How are you feeling?” But Taeil is shaking his head, there are so many thoughts flying through it. So many moments, so many lost moments- what the fuck happened to him? He looks around.

It looks the same.

The doctor is staring at him with a different expression on his features than Taeil remembers, almost as if he’s actually concerned. Taeil would laugh at this if he could. But he can’t, not with everything he can remember.

Because he remembers it all.

After a year, Taeil remembers it all.

And he also knows that it’s not everything, he knows that somehow, the doctors pulled him out of it before he got to see it all.

“Why did you do that?” He says. His voice shakes, his heart pounds and his skull wants to split in half.

“Do what?” The doctor asks. Honestly, he anticipates his answer, he anticipates that they’ve pissed Taeil the fuck off by sending him back- if he really went back- and the doctor waits patiently to be yelled at.

“Why did you pull me back out?”

That is not exactly what the doctor expected, and it registers clearly on his face.

“P-pardon?” He stutters the word, something very much out of his character and the female nurse nearest the door tries not to laugh; no one has ever seen the hothead this shocked. Taeil swivels his neck- which is quite a painful feat- to look up at him.

“I wasn’t finished.” He says simply, looking at the man as if he should have known.

Taeil is exhausted, he looks exhausted, and the doctor sees that plain as day. But the man also has priorities, and he knows that based on Taeil’s reaction-

The boy fucking remembers.

“Get him some water right now,” He snaps to the nearest nurse, who runs off and when he returns is carrying a full glass and even had the sense to bring advil with him. Good thinking. The doctor unstraps Taeil himself and shoos away everyone when the man sits up. “Come back in an hour.” He says to them, and as the last man leaves he pulls the door closed.

Taeil waits, mulling everything over. He took both the water and the pill immediately, not about to pass up something he has no idea when he had last. He can feel how dehydrated he’s become, and drinks quickly, forgetting to savor any of it.

“We can get you more later,” The doctor says, holding his clipboard in a tight grip. Taeil can see how excited he is, and realizes what’s just happened, why it’s happened, and what Taeil has to do with this new information. The doctor asks for permission to sit on the foot of Taeil’s bed, and Taeil doesn’t care, shrugging over his water glass. He leans against the wall.

Taeil wants to be alone right now, because everything he’s just felt is honestly the most painful, beautiful, thing he’s ever been through. The hole in his mind is almost completely restored, it’s almost whole.

He’s almost whole.

“You know what’s just happened,” The man begins to say. “And we apologize for the pain you must have gone through,” He pauses, but this time Taeil senses a different tone. He’s not being mean, not now, and he definitely hasn’t rehearsed this speech. “So, Moon Taeil,” He waits just a few seconds;

“Tell me everything you can.”

Taeil stares at him in shock. Everything he can? Where the fuck does he start? He needs time to collect himself, to think about everything he’s just seen.

Taeil Disappeared- and he had no fucking idea.

But something else is bothering him too.

“Tell me where Shuhua is.” He speaks with more power than he thought he’d be able to muster and the doctor is surprised, until he’s chuckling softly.

“Don’t worry about her,” He says in between breaths. “We left her where you used to be, she didn’t do anything wrong.” Neither did I. Satisfied, however, Taeil opens his mouth again.

“The fuck do you want to know? I need specific questions I can’t narrow down shit by myself-” The doctor nods at these words, truly looking like he actually understands. Taeil is surprised but says nothing more.

“Of course- but I’m not really sure what to ask… are you somewhere? Or are you floating in darkness or-” It’s Taeil’s turn to laugh, despite how the question makes sense and nobody without experience would be able to know what the other side is.

“It’s like we’re here.” Taeil says, and the doctor begins to take notes. “But without everyone we left behind.”

“Are you in the presence of others?”

“Yes.”

“The people who Disappeared?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know you Disappeared?”

“Yes, but it takes a minute-”

“How long approximately?”

“My brothers told me, maybe five minutes?”

“Your brothers? They were there? If you woke up here, you said, where in this world were you?”

“Where I Disappeared I guess, on my couch.” Taeil tries to tell him everything he can.

You’d think that after the way he’s been treated, Taeil would be apprehensive, you’d think that he’d want to keep these things to himself, or that he’d be scared of the doctor more so now because of how they went about sending him back- which was quite a terrifying ordeal- but Taeil isn’t. He’s calm, he’s understanding that they had to do what they did for Taeil to get his memory back. For Taeil to be more whole.

And as far as he can see it, it sounds like they’re the good guys, sort of in a twisted way. So he doesn’t hold back, he understands them now.

They could’ve just asked, though, or even have told him their plan.

He might have obliged.

“Mmhmm…” The doctor continues to scribble things down. “So this place, the Disappeared place, is exactly like here?” Taeil nods, and then frowns.

“No- no it’s not.”

“Please expand,” The doctor says gently.

“We can’t see everything,”

“What does that mean?”

“We can only see what we remember perfectly-”

“So if you never went down a certain street in real life, then it wouldn’t be there in the-”

“Exactly!” Taeil’s eyes are wide, excited. How does he understand so quickly? The doctor continues his notes, and he looks excited too. Taeil doesn’t know that he’s the very first trial, he doesn’t know that his answers are the very first they’re obtaining. He has no fucking idea how important this is, how groundbreaking. It’s Taeil’s information that this man can use to save the fucking world, to save the people who’ve Disappeared-

“How many people were there?”

“The Disappeared population I guess? No one is going to be there if they haven’t Disappeared.”

“Were there any babies, or anybody under two years old?” The doctor asks. Taeil shakes his head but it isn’t a no.

“I didn’t see any, but I was only around for about a day.” The doctor stops writing.

“Only a day?”

“Yes- but I stopped- you pulled me out before I was done- I might have been there longer but I- I don’t know.” Taeil doesn’t really know what else to say. His memory isn’t 100% restored, he didn’t live through it all.

“Oh.” The doctor didn’t know how long to leave him under. He pulled him out when he did because, well, because it looked like he was dying. “Then… just keep telling me what you can remember,” Approximately fifty minutes have passed since Taeil woke up, but everything is just as vivid as it was five minutes after.

“Any animals?”

“My brother said there weren’t-” Renjun. Taeil gasps suddenly, which makes the doctor jump and then his hand is on Taeil’s knee because it looks like Taeil is about to vomit or pass out or both.

“Taeil what’s wrong?” Doctor mode. He looks at his eyes, checking dilation, feeling his pulse. It’s fucking wild. “Moon-”

“My brother is in trouble-” The ugly things are there too, and Taeil is choking back tears as he looks at the doctor, desperate. “I think I died-” The doctor’s eyes are wide, but he calms himself quickly.

“You couldn’t have.” Why couldn’t he have? But the more he thinks about it, Taeil realizes he woke up before he finished the memory. Maybe he didn’t- there wouldn’t be anything he was missing if he died right?

“I- it was dark-” The doctor lets him speak. Taeil takes a deep breath. “There are bad people there- I think. They attacked my brother and I, and I tried to save him.” He closes his eyes and the doctor writes again, but this information is purely for the care of Taeil.

Traumatic event, he pens, counseling may be needed

“Then what happened?” The doctor says carefully.

“They shot me.” The doctor tries to hide his shock. He crosses out the last part of the sentence.

Counseling definitely needed

“I don’t know what happened after- I woke up here- I-” So that’s why he looked like he was in so much pain, he really was dying.

But his vitals here were fine, and the doctor kicks himself mentally for letting the visuals get in the way. All the cues screamed at him to bring him back, to pull him out, to save his life, despite how the heart monitor beat steadily and even the nurses told him no.

Stupid, stupid.

“Taeil, I’m going to go refill your glass,” He takes the empty cup from the patient’s hands gently and stands up from the bed, tucking his clipboard beneath his arm. “I’ll be back, rest and try to remember everything you can.” When he reaches the door, he turns around, wanting to say something else. “Truly, I- thank you, for doing that. I know it wasn’t your choice, and I’ll apologize and explain more later but-” Taeil looks at him with wet, tired eyes, and the doctor purses his lips, a pang of regret in his gut. “Thank you.” He says again, and then he flees the room, leaving Taeil alone to rest.

He checks his watch as he walks along the hallway. It’s been fifty nine minutes since they got him back, and Taeil’s memory is just as strong.

Truly, this is an exciting event, and as the doctor snakes his way through different rooms and halls to find the kitchen the happiness only grows in his chest. This is actually something, this is information, it’s shit they’ve lacked for two years. They hadn’t developed the technology for Synthetic Withdrawl until only days ago, which is why Taeil, a delinquent, was the only test subject-

In case something went horribly wrong. But it didn’t, it didn’t.

The doctor is humming to himself as he pulls cold water out of the big industrial fridge, filling the glass up, and almost jumps out of his skin when he hears someone in the doorway. He spins around.

“There’s water bottles in there for us, Eugene.” A familiar voice sounds from behind him. Yuhyeon saunters further into the space, hopping up onto the counter. “Cups are for the patients.”

“This is for a patient.” He says matter of factly to the woman, holding up the glass like a trophy. “A very special someone with a very precious mind-” Her face goes bright with surprise.

“You didn’t-”

“We did!” She hops right back off, jumping in excitement.

“Eugene! It’s Taeil? He’s okay? He remembers?” The doctor smirks at her childishness, but he knows how guilty she feels deep down. This means a lot to her for Taeil to be okay, and for him to know.

“He is and he does. Not everything yet, that’s my fault, but if we do it again he’ll have it all.” She frowns a little.

“Again?”

“It’s not that bad, he’s okay so ‘again’ shouldn’t be a problem.” Eugene says without a hint of worry in his voice. “Would you like to come back with me, talk to him maybe?” Apologize? He can see in her face how much she wants to.

“That would be unprofessional.” She finally says. “We need to keep the relationships detached, don’t forget.” She warns against her better judgement and the doctor nods, agreeing.

“I suppose so.” He purses his lips. She is right, but he doesn’t see how apologizing is unprofessional. He does see how it would paint them less tough, though, and doesn't argue with her. “I should go back,” He finally says, but before leaving Yuhyeon behind he turns back. “Is Shuhua okay? Maybe we could work with her memory next-” But Yuhyeon shakes her head.

“Not until she sees that he’s okay, she’s a fucking mess but I’ve lost the privilege of being her doctor.” Yuhyeon is staring at the floor. This is actually quite shocking, but neither doctor can say they didn’t see it coming. Yuhyeon was too nice, giving away too much, and forgetting to lock the two of them up was the final straw.

“I’m… sorry to hear that.” He says finally, before heading back the way he came. He flashes her an encouraging smile she only returns over his shoulder.

Condensation drips from the glass, chilling his hand as he goes, and finally he’s at the right door, excited. He grips the handle with the free arm after tucking away the clipboard and pushes it open. He checks his watch; 64 minutes since Taeil came back.

He steps inside, a stupid smile on his face, because honestly he’s incredibly happy, and Taeil should be happy too; they’re going to do great things.

Taeil is exactly how he left him five minutes ago, sitting upright, staring. The doctor falters at the stare, and he stops moving entirely when Taeil’s eyes reach his;

Fucking horrified.

He pushes forwards after a moment, holding out the glass, but Taeil doesn’t take it, he shrinks backwards, getting as close to the far wall as he can.

“Taeil what the fuck?” The doctor forgets formalities, and he places the glass on the floor, sitting on the bed just like five minutes ago. He pulls his clipboard back out, ignoring the way Taeil stares at him. “You can drink that if you want it,” He nods in the direction of the water now on the floor, a little hurt that Taeil didn’t take it. “Back to business,” He doesn’t look up. “Taeil, I know you didn’t finish remembering it all, but are you able to tell me, possibly, how you came back?” Taeil’s eyes are hard, cold, broken. The eyes are the mirror to the soul, you know.

Taeil’s voice reflects his eyes;

“From where.”

Chapter Text

The doctor stares at Taeil in shock, confusion painting his face like the gray on the cold walls. Taeil doesn’t retract his statement, he doesn’t retract the terror or the fear or the way he’s shoved himself into the furthest corner to make sure he’s far enough away.

The man looks truly shocked. Why? Why should he be? They ask Taeil the same fucking questions everyday, and everyday they get the very same answer. What the hell did he expect this time?

The man looks at him in disbelief, opening his mouth and closing it again more than once. He looks down at his clipboard, back up at Taeil, back down again. He has no idea how to react.

“What do you- Taeil, five minutes ago we were talking about your Disappearance. Your Disappearance, Taeil, can you tell me anything about that?” His voice is high, desperate. This is very different from the doctor Taeil remembers. That man was mean, that man was menacing and out for blood, which is the only thing that makes Taeil wonder. The man in front of him is a stark contrast.

“I’ve told you a hundred times,” Taeil’s voice is low. “I don’t know.” The nurses come in at once, taking in the scene slowly. They’re on time, a little over an hour from the time the doctor sent them away. He looks at them now with confusion and a little anger, honestly.

“Square one.” He spits. “We’re back to square one.” He stands up quickly, anger and frustration radiating off him, all the calm of before missing completely. Taeil just looks at him no differently, still scared, still upset. When the doctor lunges towards one of the machines he knocks the glass of water over, shattering it and spilling water everywhere.

“Fuck-” No one bothers to clean it up though, they take the doctor’s visual cues in stride and set to work.

Taeil has no idea what’s coming.

“Begin trial two, Synthetic Withdrawl.” It doesn’t matter how Taeil fights, the nurses only did this an hour ago, and soon he’s hooked up exactly the same. He’s in pain, the machines whir, and suddenly it’s happening- for the third time in his life, second time in one day.

It feels like it’s death, people have Disappeared enough for someone to know what it feels like, and Taeil is no exception, not at all. He struggles until he doesn’t, and suddenly, he’s back on his couch.

Didn’t I just… do this?

Taeil stands, he goes into the kitchen, he sees Jaemin and Johnny.

Kun comes home.

Everything happens as it should, without anything Taeil can control.

They eat together, they hang out, they talk, they go to sleep.

They wake up,

Make breakfast,

Notice a lack of sugar.

Taeil volunteers and soon they’re at the store,

And then they’re outside.

Then they’re being hunted. They’re hunted until Taeil turns back and then he’s been shot and he falls and he’s terrified of what’s going to happen to Renjun. The doctor is able to see it all happen again, but through his frustration he doesn’t worry about the way Taeil shakes after the bullet is lodged inside of him, he doesn’t worry about the way he screams in pain.

Well, maybe a little.

 

Taeil’s vision has faded completely black and his terror washes away with his consciousness. He falls into a comforting nothingness all at once, and doesn’t notice the way he’s picked up, the way he’s carried away quickly, so quickly that by the time Renjun manages to get back outside, outside to save him, Taeil is long, long gone.

In his nothingness, Taeil doesn’t have to hear the heart wrenching scream just streets away.

The attackers bring him quickly to their building, somewhere that Taeil wouldn’t be able to see even if his eyes were open, and he’s placed on a table to be patched up. After about an hour, he struggles to open his eyes under the glaring light.

“Hello,” Someone says with a gravelly voice and as Taeil looks for the culprit his eyes land on a tall man with dark hair. Pretty, but it doesn’t undermine how dangerous he is. There are two others in the space. “We have just a few questions for you,” He says, and Taeil raises an eyebrow. The memory is not faint, not while he relives it, and his body aches as if it were really happening.

“Who the fuck-”

“Answer us first.” Taeil falls silent. He’s aware that he isn’t tied up or down and nothing is hindering him just standing up and walking through-

Through what? A door he can’t see?

This early in the game the men haven’t yet spray painted doorways, that only happens later. Taeil can’t see a thing, and therefore;

There’s no way he can get out, even if he tried.

“What is your name?”

“Moon Taeil.”

The man makes a mental note. This is probably the fifth person he’s encountered today, and each new name he tries his best to remember, it helps in a conversation to use first names.

“Alright, Moon Taeil, this is the million dollar question, so think about it;

“Have you remembered your Disappearance?”

Taeil is still silent, but not out of rebellion. He’s truly thinking about it, just as they asked, and as he wracks his mind for the answer, he comes up with one solid word; No.

No he has not.

“I- I haven’t.” The thought makes him worry a little, because now there’s a whole in his mind where something quite serious should be, something probably filled with pain and sadness and unbeknownst to him yet; Jisung’s absolute worst nightmare.

But the man seems to be quite pleased.

Taeil is trying his best to ignore the agony he’s feeling but as it saturates into his bones one groan evades his best efforts to keep quiet. He’s terrified of these people, and he has every right to be. He’s even more scared of what they’re going to do to him if he makes too much noise, and the nervousness battles his severe pain relentlessly.

“Does it hurt, Taeil?” The same man asks, and Taeil’s eyes land on him with more weight than he thought he’d be able to muster. They say; what the fuck do you think? “It doesn’t have to hurt.” The man says. Taeil’s breathing is ragged, because no piece of cotton padding or even stitches at this point is going to help that and he bites his tongue in an effort to swallow another wave of nausea. He doesn’t even know what they mean. It wouldn’t hurt if you didn’t fucking shoot me, he thinks, so like, thanks a lot for that. But he doesn’t say a thing, he keeps silent while they watch him.

“He’s telling you there’s a way out, Moon Taeil,” The shorter man beside the one who was speaking before has a voice like honey, something Taeil was not expecting.

Taeil wasn’t expecting words like that either.

“We’re saying you can go home, where this isn’t going to hurt you.” The third says.

“Don’t you want that?” Says the first. “To go home?”

Yes. Yes, Taeil wants that more than anything.

Because despite how he might have taken it all in stride at first, he aches for the loss of it all. He thinks about what he left behind, unwillingly, and he thinks about how much he misses them.

But he thinks about what he’s gained too.

“Fuck- off-” He spits through grit teeth, because going home is impossible, and because they took him from Renjun and Taeil doesn’t even know if he’s safe. Taeil doesn’t even understand how they can even get home, so the entire thing is twisted scam.

A scam in which he’s critically fucked and very much angry.

“We can’t, Taeil, because you’re the first person today who can go home.”

What the fuck does that mean. But they don’t bother explaining, and instead they say something that takes away all of Taeil’s inhibitions.

“The boy you tried to save won’t fare well without your cooperation.”

Renjun.

Taeil freezes, not even daring to breathe. Renjun didn’t get away.

He didn’t get away.

“Don’t you dare- hurt him,” Taeil coughs out, ignoring every physical ailment of his own. He didn’t make it. Renjun didn’t make it.

Taeil has no idea that Renjun, is in fact, fine.

“Then listen to us, we’re trying to help,”

“We can get you home.” Taeil does not open his mouth to argue, not now, not anymore, not with a threat like that hanging in the air.

It’s not that he doesn’t want to go home, of course he wants to go home, but it’s how impossible the feat seems, and how guilty he’d be if he left the others behind.

It’s quite obvious he doesn’t have a choice, though.

“I’ll do what you want,” He says slowly. “Just please-” The others shake their heads energetically.

“The child will be fine!” They assure him. “Thank you for your cooperation.” The rest is a blurr. Taeil is asked to lie down, told to relax, and then finally;

Told to remember.

“You need to push all the way through, no matter what you feel.” Says the tall man. Taeil’s breathing is already a struggle, but with his heart in his throat, he pushes backwards into his mind, desperate, for Renjun’s sake, to do as he’s told. What psychopath would hurt a kid-

Don’t think about that now. Do as you’re fucking told.

He thinks about it, he thinks about how dejected and panicked Jisung looked when he had asked for help with his homework. Taeil thinks about how he had gladly wanted to help, because when the kids felt like that there’s a part of him that feels it too. No one should be that broken up over grade ten math.

“Come here,” They sit on the floor and Jisung whips it out.

“Just look hyung I don’t get it at all-” The kid whines and Taeil laughs, staring at the paper. Some of it makes sense, some of it doesn’t. It doesn’t matter though, Taeil pours his soul into figuring everything out.

Two hours later- yes, two fucking hours- Taeil has helped him finish the first page.

“Boom. Amazing. We’re math gods Ji,” Taeil says, and he stands up, heading for the couch.

“Hyung we only did one page-”

“I’m tired,” Taeil whines, burying his face in a pillow. Jisung purses his lips and narrows his eyes. Then, he gets up.

“Move over.” Taeil does.

They fall asleep, Taeil’s arms wrapped around his little brother. It’s a good moment, especially because Jisung happens to be so comfy, and Taeil is truly happy. They both are.

That is, until Taeil’s breathing gets funny.

Jisung feels him tense behind his back, and suddenly his breath is coming in small, pained gasps that make his blood run cold. His eyes are wide as he stares at the TV across from them, unable to see Taeil but knowing something is wrong. He pulls himself from between Taeil’s shaking arms, sitting up and looking down at him.

“Hyung- hyung what’s wrong?” Why is it all the same? Every fucking time? Everybody knows what’s wrong, but nobody wants to admit it. They always ask the Disappearing boys and expect them to say nothing.

‘Nothing Ji, go back to sleep.’ That’s all Jisung wants to hear in this moment.

For Taeil, this is now a painful moment, and one that in two places, memory and now, agony is searing through his body. It’s cutting at his chest, it’s ripping at his heart.

And what’s so wrong about it?

Does this hurt you Taeil?

Like them all, Taeil can hardly breathe let alone speak, so Jisung never gets an answer. Jisung, who’s tears fall on Taeil’s clammy skin while he seizes, is living out his worst nightmare. He’s lived it before, and he’ll living again.

He’s losing who loves.

Taeil can do only one thing before his world falls away;

He grasps Jisung’s hand, he holds it for dear life.

And when he’s gone, Jisung can still feel the ghost of his fingertips aching against his skin.

 

“We’re five minutes away from the path and I promise that place has nobody in it ever- it’ll be easy from there.” Chenle is trying to make Winwin feel better about the whole ordeal, and Winwin, teeth clenched, just nods.

“Show us, Chenle.” Jaemin says. Chenle steps out into the street, looking both ways, trying to wait for the perfect time to tell his hyungs that it’s safe enough to come out. Is busy best? Or quiet? He really doesn’t know, but he waits until there are only two pedestrians to wave them out.

His brothers tread cautiously, trying to make the conspicuous bundle as inconspicuous as possible. They actually do quite well, and the people sharing the road don’t look twice, probably too caught up in their own realities. Sicheng doesn’t relax though, hurrying his brothers and letting out exasperated breaths every few seconds. He catches the eye of a woman wandering down the road on an evening walk, and she frowns slightly at him.

Winwin does not think this is a good sign and he picks up the pace.

“Faster Jae faster-” He spits and they walk as quickly as they can without breaking into a run. Down the blurry road, down a sidestreet, down another one. There’s a certain block where Winwin is almost completely blind, but Chenle knows the way to the theater so well Sicheng doesn’t need to see a thing for himself.

“Hyung I have a question,” Jaemin says slowly as they go. Sicheng is not in the mood for questions.

“Not right now.”

“It’s important-”

“Not now.” He doesn’t even have it in him to feel bad, not until Chenle can get them and the body out of the watchful eye of the public. Luckily this takes only a few minutes and finally they’re walking down the empty dirt path, one Chenle knows so well he could walk down it with his eyes closed. Winwin takes a deep breath.

“Put him down.” Jaemin obeys and far enough away from the entrance of the pathway they place their burden on the ground. It feels disgusting.

“Can I ask now?” Jaemin says. Winwin’s eyes are shut tight, despite being practically blind here anyways. The guilt is creeping up on him now, and every time he glances at the bundle he wants to throw up. He wants to open up the towels and he wants to pretend Doyoung is sleeping. He wants to move the blankets away from his face so he can breathe.

Doyoung doesn’t need to breathe, and Sicheng is this close to losing it thinking he does.

He opens his eyes back up, turning his attention to his younger brother. Chenle stands in complete silence beside them.

“Of course, Jae, I’m sorry-”

“Don’t be.” They fall into silence for just a few more moments, nobody wanting to speak anymore.

Everything fucking sucks.

“I just wanted-” Jaemin bites his tongue, not because he’s afraid of asking, but because he’s petrified of the answer. “Is- did Johnny-” Sicheng cocks an eyebrow, able to guess where the sentence is heading but not having a chance to jump in. The way Jaemin’s voice breaks, the way his eyes shift anxiously, it makes Winwin’s heart break. How could they know if Johnny got home safe? They wouldn’t, and Winwin realizes that maybe the scene on the other side was just as ugly. “Did he make it back? Is he okay?” Winwin is nodding with everything he has left in him and has to sidestep Doyoung to make it to Jaemin, wrapping his arms around him. He can tell by the way his eyes are wet that this has been something that’s been killing him.

“He’s okay. I promise you he’s okay.” As of making it home, Johnny was completely fine.

As of certain occurrences just moments before Winwin left his old life behind, he’s actually not so sure.

But Jaemin doesn’t need that kind of anxiety right now. Right now, his shattered little brother who’s forced to be big just needs comfort and good thoughts.

“We should get going,” Sicheng says gently and Jaemin’s chest finally relaxes, tension wandering into the embrace. The other two nod, and Winwin pats Chenle’s shoulder before bending down to pick up- well to pick up shit Sicheng doesn’t want to think too much about.

They begin to push forwards again.

Chenle leads them quietly, and after about twenty tiring minutes they’ve arrived at the theater. To their relief, it looks no different from the real world, meaning the Disappeared owners never came back to it. Winwin hadn’t even thought about that, but it had been giving Chenle anxiety the entire walk.

It’s exactly how Chenle remembers it, and the day is honestly just as warm as the day Chenle had shown up here. He heaves a big sigh standing in front of it, taking it all in. His brothers question nothing.

“Let’s go,” He says finally, crouching through the broken glass and pushing the door open for the other two to make it easier. They drag the bundle inside, placing it on the ground.

“Where do we- want to-” Jaemin doesn’t know how to finish such strange sentences falling foreign on his lips.

“Theater eight,” Chenle says without hesitation.

Chenle has unfinished business in theater eight, he has things he wants to leave behind there. Going in is painful enough, and if they leave Do there-

He’ll never have to.

Not for anything.

“Eight it is,” Winwin says under his breath, and they walk slowly through the creaky building towards said space, but a noise makes Jaemin stop in his tracks. “Jae what the hell-” Sicheng snaps before he hears it too.

Voices.

The three of them stop in their tracks, looking at each other in bewilderment. Winwin has never been more scared, he’s never felt more guilty. What if someone catches them?

With a body?

“The owners-” Chenle gasps but Winwin slaps his hand over his mouth.

“Quiet!” He hisses. The voices don’t stop, but something about them, pouring out of theater three, is horribly familiar.

Winwin can’t place it.

“I’m going to go take a look,” He whispers. “I need you guys to get out of the open-” And then he’s placed his side of- the bundle- down and he slinks down the hallway. There’s no way he’s going to get them in trouble for trespassing, and he thinks about all the situations they could hypothetically be in to explain to the owners.

Lost, it seem like it’d be easy to get lost here? Lost makes a lot of sense; if he and the other two are lost they would be escorted out and told where they might be able to get some help. That sounds perfect, so Winwin decides that explaining that they’re lost is most definitely the best idea.

The volume grows as he enters the space, and Sicheng collects himself quickly before stepping out into the open.

“Sorry to bother you-” He starts, staring at the wide eyes looking back at him.

They’re… something he’s seen before.

“Sicheng? Like, wait- are you Jeongin’s friend?” The boy before him is stuttering over his words, mostly in awkward shock. He recognizes him, but isn’t quite sure if he’s right. “I’m Felix- we know each other right?” Winwin is nodding, brow furrowing in confusion-

But relief as well.

“Holy shit.” He says, and he leans around Felix to take a good look at the other two boys who are with him. He recognizes both of them to be Jeongin and Seungmin’s brothers, and the panic and tension in his gut releases once again at the realization.

Chan almost trips racing down the steps and stops just one behind Felix whose eyes are still glued to Winwin.

“Fancy meeting you here!” He says and it’s cheerful, an awkward contrast to all the emotions Sicheng is currently feeling.

“I… wasn’t expecting that at all,” He says finally, but he smiles, because friendly faces are much much better than any alternative. Changbin walks towards them very slowly, cautious of this person he’s only met once or twice back home. Winwin acknowledges him with a small wave, but doesn’t push it.

“Uh- Chenle and Jaemin- they’re with me,” He doesn’t quite know what to say but Chan takes it all in stride, nodding and grasping his wrist gently to start pulling him out of the theater.

“Let’s find them,” Winwin leads them out until they’re standing in the foyer, looking around. Sicheng doesn’t know what to do now.

“I told them to hide-” He says.

“You thought we were dangerous?” Felix laughs and Winwin shakes his head.

“I didn’t know!” He squeals, eyes wandering. “Chenle, Jae, it’s Chan, Felix and Changbin from back home-” He doesn’t have to say it twice, not with how close Chan’s youngest and Winwin’s youngest are. Jaemin and Felix are the same age, and they hug each other when Chenle and Jaemin come out from behind the counters. Winwin notes with relief that they seem to have left the bundle behind it.

Wouldn’t that be hell to explain.

“Lix- I haven’t seen you in a while,” Jaemin exclaims, letting go of his friend. Winwin narrows his eyes.

“This isn’t the first time you guys have seen each other here?” He asks in surprise, and to his even further confusion all three of the new arrivals shake their heads.

“It’s our first time seeing you-” Changbin says quietly. “And the little one, but not Jae, Jae’s been here forever,” Winwin looks between all of them, but Changbin is right. Of course they’ve seen each other, because life went on. He kicks himself for thinking that people are less tight knit on this side.

Boy I have a lot to learn.

“But what brings you guys here?”

Winwin freezes.

He hasn’t thought about that.

“Hm?” He pretends not to have heard the question, giving him time to think.

“How come… you guys are at the theater?” Chan is a little confused by the way Sicheng has very suddenly changed.

Winwin pretends he hasn’t. He forces energy into his limbs that isn’t truly there and a smile on his face that takes everyone aback.

“Chenle likes it here,” He lies blatantly. “Wanted to relive some memories.” Chenle just nods numbly. He hates it here now.

Absolutely hates it.

“Oh-” Is all he gets from anyone else.

“We should head back, actually,” Winwin says, because suddenly he’s thinking of Renjun and Renjun is not in a good place. “We actually,” he exchanges a glance with Jaemin. “Really need to go.” Jaemin gets in, and nods to aid his brother.

“We’ll come with you,” Chan is trying to be helpful, because he’s knows it’s getting dark out and the three of them look especially tired-

And a little covered in blood.

Just a little.

Changbin was probably the first person to notice the little red blotches covering Jaemin especially, something the boys hadn’t even thought about. He had mentioned it to Felix quietly.

“They’re hurt-” He had whispered, and when Felix looked closer at Chenle he could see he was right; the more they observed in the dim light of the theater the worse the three of them appeared. Felix relayed this to Chan.

Chan made sure to hide his panic.

Winwin can’t argue with him, not with the finality Chan has placed in such a sentence, and instead nods to Jaemin and Chenle.

Let’s go.

“But hyung-” Chenle says quietly to Sicheng. “We can’t just-” Nobody else can hear what he’s said, but it’s too obvious that something is wrong.

“Let’s go Chenle.” Winwin cuts him off mercilessly, and turns around to head for the entrance to hide the tears welling in his eyes.

Doyoung is behind that counter. Lifeless.

And he’s walking away.

Winwin is walking away.

He bites his lip and waits at the door for the rest of them to catch up. He wipes his eyes, the fresh grief hitting him like a punch in the face. It grips at his heart, but as soon as Felix is through the broken glass Winwin forces it down.

They were supposed to have time for goodbye, but Winwin knows that under this circumstance there’s no way they can.

Chenle follows Felix through the door, body feeling numb and nothing at the same time. You’d think that numb is nothingness, but if you’re feeling numb you’re feeling something. Chenle is transitioning from numb to nothing quite slowly.

This theater is not a happy place, not like it used to be. It’s hours of deep chats and happy conversation, playful youth from before the bullshit have been erased. They were erased the moment Renjun couldn’t come out with them anymore. Erased the moment Jaemin left, or Felix, one by one little friends Disappearing until only a sad fraction remained. They were erased when Chenle awoke there.

Erased now that Doyoung never can, chest still where Chenle used to hide in childish games of hide and seek.

The theater is not a happy place.

Silent tears roll down his cheeks, very quietly, and Chenle doesn’t dare to make a sound. Instead, he thinks of Doyoung.

He says goodbye without saying anything at all.

Changbin notices.

He pretends he doesn’t.

As they walk towards the apartment in the dusk Jaemin pulls up beside Winwin, voice lowered while Felix, Chenle and Chan have a lively conversation behind them. Changbin is silent, which isn’t abnormal, but Jaemin still glances over his shoulder to make sure he isn’t listening to the wrong conversation. Satisfied, he keeps his eyes forward, trying to stay calm.

“They can’t come inside.”

“I know.”

“What do we do?”

“That I do not,” Sicheng sighs heavily, evening air beginning to pick at his bones. “Should we just tell them?”

Jaemin is taken aback, and then he’s alarmed.

“You want to tell them Doyoung was murdered-”

“Do not fucking use that word.” Sicheng snaps. They’re only about five minutes away now. “Don’t.” He leaves it at that, because fuck answers, who has them anyway? Not Winwin.

Frankly, Winwin has decided something, and Felix, Chan and Changbin can be a part of it if they want.

Winwin has decided he’s taking the kids home.

Like, home, home.

 

Chapter Text

When Taeil’s body is still for five minutes straight, Eugene decides that maybe Taeil has remembered everything, and when suddenly Taeil wakes up by himself, it’s evident that he has. Immediately, anyone extra is shooed away.

“Do you remember?” Eugene doesn’t wait, and apparently, he doesn’t have to.

“Of course I do.” Taeil’s voice shakes and unbeknownst to the doctor, his chest echoes with the searing pain of it all. But now he knows how he got home.

"How did you get here?" But Eugene knows he has an hour, approximately, until Taeil forgets again. Or at least, that's what he's gathered. Taeil's story about being shot adds up as well, because Eugene took the time to look through his medical records dating all the way back to the day he showed up;

he had sustained the same injury. He had shown up with it. In fact, Taeil had almost died when he got here, because the wound was so severe, but no other ailments had been noted in the record.

Taeil collects himself very slowly, trying to think everything over. There's one thought that prevails through it all though; where the hell is Renjun?

If they really had him, what did they do to him after Taeil left? Did they hurt him? Did they leave him alone like they promised? Taeil feels the same terror he felt for Shuhua all over again. Why are his kids always in dangerous situations?

"My brother is in trouble-" Taeil finally says, voice cracking as if it hasn't been used in a while. Eugene just purses his lips, not wanting to say anything. "He's- I have to get him out-"

"Taeil-"

"I left him behind-"

"That was a year ago, i t was a year ago." Taeil has forgotten about the time gap. He's forgotten about the way he's spent months here not allowed to do shit. For all he's remembered, Taeil has forgotten.

"Oh my god-" He shivers in the cold of the room. Renjun is dead by now. Renjun is definitely dead by now.

"I'm certain your brother is fine." Eugene says, but all he really wants are answers to his questions. Already he's lost ten precious minutes, and there's no way to get those back. "I need you to tell me everything that happened to you after-" He looks at his clipboard. Taeil's memory dropped off just after telling him about the shooting, so Eugene asks Taeil to start there.

"How do you know about all that?" Taeil asks, shock lacing his tone. Eugene is flustered. 

"How can you- you don't even remember talking to me about it all?" He asks. He's not in the mood to be toyed with, and it only frustrates him more to know that Taeil isn't playing. How fucked is his brain to not be able to hold onto memories like that?

What else doesn't he know?

Taeil shakes his head slowly.

"I don't remember telling you any of that," He says softly, but in the end, sighs heavily, preparing the rest of the story.

Fifteen minutes are gone by the time Taeil actually begins to speak.

"There's an... organization, I believe, that Renjun mentioned-" Eugene writes down this name, it must be the brother. "I don't really know what they are, but I was told it isn't safe to be

 

out in the dark."

"If it wasn't safe why were you out there?"

"I was told too late," Taeil laughs. "Renjun waited until we were out in the dark to tell me maybe we shouldn't be," It's a bitter sound, the laugh that continues to leave his lips, but it isn't bitter towards anyone in particular. It's just sadness seeping through longing, it's anger that despite everything Taeil tried he wasn't able to protect Renjun. Eugene already knows about this part of the story, but he allows Taeil to continue without any hindering comments, maybe something important will come up.

"So what do they do? How did it happen?"

"Quickly."

"And then what?"

"I woke up somewhere completely blind."

"Like a blindfold?"

"My eyes were wide open."

Eugene blinks. He thinks about what's just been said, and he glances back down at his clipboard. There's a note there that tells him everything he needs to know, but still the question stands.

"So you don't know where you were?" Eugene says carefully. He glances around nervously, taking in the features of the space. Pretty featureless, but does that make it worse?

Would that make it more memorable?

Taeil shakes his head.

"I was never there in the real world- here , I guess. I could've been hours away, fucking anywhere." He says. The doctor can feel the anxiousness of words like these just washing off each syllable in waves. How terrifying must it be, not to know where you are? At all? To not know if you can escape, to not know if you'll ever get home-

Eugene almost shivers at the thought, but keeps his composure.

"It's no different from now."

"Excuse me?" Taeil flashes his eyes at the doctor, suddenly angry. Something is possessing him that's never touched such a sweet boy before.

"You heard what I said." Taeil says, voice turning the doctor's limbs to stone. "I have no idea where I am." Eugene is at a loss for words. No- they haven't created the same space- of course they haven't.

"We're helping you-"

"You're keeping me fucking stuck against my will, with no outside contact- fuck- I wasn't even allowed to be standing out of my bed!" Taeil says, and his hands start to shake with the pent up anger. He hasn't let it out yet, not since he first came here, not for real . "I'm in my twenties but I'm treated like a child." There are other words Taeil would have used, like 'captive' or 'hostage' but he's afraid that if he did, he'd never be let out, because words like those make it seem like Taeil would call the cops the second he's free- what captor in their right mind would let that happen?

The doctor stares at the space on the bed in front of him, thinking about what Taeil has just said and memorizing all the wrinkles in the sheets. He forgets they're on a timer.

"The research we do here is for the betterment of the world," He slowly starts. "The

 

betterment of the whole world, Taeil, why can't you see that? If we can figure out how you came home, we can make it public, so that the world knows how to get home." His dark eyes are hard, rivaling Taeil's angry gaze. "There is no cure for this-" He pauses to make sure his words resonate. "This is it." Taeil blinks slowly.

How selfish is he to put himself above the world? His anger melts slowly, being replaced by guilt and confusion. He doesn't know how he feels, he can't figure it out. Is he angry? Taeil doesn't even know anymore.

Eugene knows it's been twenty-eight minutes.

"So," He's careful. "Please, just answer the questions I ask you," It's a plea, and there's nothing Taeil can do about it. He concedes.

"Ask away,"

It's hard for the doctor to ignore how deflated Taeil has become. The malice is gone, the fight is gone, and it's been twenty-nine minutes since Taeil has come back. The time the doctor thinks they have is ticking away too quickly.

"How long were you with this 'organization', as you called it?" Taeil's eyes close, thinking about it. He's exhausted, too.

"After I woke up, less than an hour," He plays with the white sheet in front of him, wrinkling it between his boney fingers. He just wants to go home. "It's was pretty instantaneous."  

The doctor writes it down.

"And what did they say to you?"

"Who?" Thirty minutes.

After thirty minutes, Taeil's eyes are empty.

The frustration boils up quickly because it takes only one second for Eugene to understand what's happened.

Again.

He stands up, knowing that if he doesn't move now somebody is going to get hurt, probably Taeil, and he doesn't really want that to happen. He storms across the room, stopping in front of the far wall. Eugene runs his hand through his hair and then down his face, holding his jaw. Taeil watches his back, white coat shivering in anger.

Taeil can't imagine why, he can hardly remember getting here.

Where- where the hell is he?

He knows he's somewhere he doesn't want to be; he remembers everything, he remembers waking up in the building, he remembers Shuhua, he remembers being moved. He doesn't remember much from before...

He has a family? Back at a house- right?

Or an apartment.

Faces flash behind his eyes, but they blur together until one is no different from another, and an uneasy feeling begins to fill up Taeil's stomach. He should know who these people are, right? The people he's seeing?

Shouldn't he know them?

Eugene spins around, white coat flying in the breeze created by the speed.

"Taeil- what were we just talking about?"

"I-I don't know-"

 

"What's my name?"

"You never told me."

"The old doctor's name?"

"Yuhyeon."

"Your roomate, the girl."

"Shuhua-"

"Your brother?"

"My-"

"Your brother, you helped him with homework." Eugene's entire body freezes because this was just a warm up question, this was something Taeil should know.

Taeil doesn't say a thing.

Taeil has no fucking idea.

But Eugene knows, Eugene wrote it down.

"His name is Jisung. You told me, just a little while ago, that his name was Jisung." Eugene's words are met with silence. He did not expect Taeil to be missing this. His family? How did that get lost-

"Oh my god we broke you." He says finally, laughing. Taeil stares at him with a frown. What makes that funny? "What do you remember?"

"You ask me that, every day, and I tell you I don't know-"

"Not about that- about before. About your family." Taeil's eyes waver, he looks into Eugene's, he looks away, he looks at the sheets, as white and blank as his mind. Eugene just laughs again.

Shocked. Not only are his memories of his Disappearance only temporary-

the whole thing is taking his real ones away too.

After a moment of standing there in silence, Eugene leaves. He rips open the door, whipping down the hallway, leaving a stunned Taeil to think about what he can't.

Yuhyeon is in her office.

"I have a problem-" She turns around in her chair very slowly, looking relaxed and unimpressed. But as her eyes meet his, she realizes something is actually wrong.

"Damn Eugene what is it-"

"It's Taeil." She sits forwards in her chair, trying to hide the way her eyes changed.

"You told me he was okay."

"He was-"

"So what is it?"

"He... isn't anymore." Yuhyeon rolls her eyes, standing up from her chair. Eugene can see she's biting her tongue to keep from ripping into him.

"Don't be cryptic," She hisses. "Just tell me what's wrong, we're doctors, we'll fix it." Eugene bites his lip, not quite sure if they can.

"His memory of the Disappearance- after Synthetic Withdrawl- only lasted for sixty minutes the first time," Yuhyeon raises her eyebrow.

"It's not permanent?"

"-and only half an hour the second time."

"You've already done it again?" She has to refrain from yelling. "Do you know what a

 

Disappearance looks like? Feels like? You made him go through that twice in under two hours?" Now she's yelling, just a little. Eugene is thankful he closed the door on the way in.

"It isn't supposed to hurt him-"

"You know it does-"

"Yuhyeon." She stops seething. "Remember what we're doing," She blinks slowly, because he's right, and because she's wishing silently that she didn't take this particular placement. She wishes she hadn't fought her coworkers for it, she wishes she didn't win. Working somewhere like here was supposed to be prestigious- it's not.

When the Disappearances began, it was every young doctor's dream to find the cure, and when they couldn't, this was the next best thing. Studying how it worked.

And when people started coming home, that was amazing, that was a revelation.

But it was hidden from the public, it was hidden so that it could be studied, so that eventually everyone could come home.

Taeil happens to be the very first person to actually remember, as far as the studies have gone.

"But after forgetting this time, there seems to be an even bigger space missing." Eugene says quietly, almost too low for Yuhyeon to hear. She freezes in her pacing.

"Where."

"Life before-" Her head whips around to look at him. "Before here." And then she's laughing the way that you do when something is horribly wrong.

"You're telling me that not only are the world saving memories gone, his whole world is gone too?" Eugene hadn't phrased it like that- "You're saying his family isn't there, no names? Nothing?"

"As far as I know-"

"My god Eugene, I fucking asked you to be careful-" Yuhyeon grabs many different things; her jacket, her clipboard, a pen.

"Where are you going-"

"I need to talk to him."

"You're not his doctor-"

"Fuck doctors." She pushes past him angrily, heading back the way Eugene had come. "Tell me where he is," She says as she disappears around a corner. Eugene stands there dumbly for a whole second before racing after her.

"Solitary-" It's all he needs to say for Yuhyeon to pick up her pace and know where she's going, and it's hard for Eugene to keep up. "What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to talk to him-"

"About what?"

"About everything he used to tell me," She says, breathless. "I think it's impossible for him to forget something like that- it's impossible for him to forget people he loves so much-" There's just one more corner to round before they're standing in front of the locked door. Eugene is wrestling with his keys, opening it under the watchful eye of the female doctor. Her stare isn't any less angry or intense, but it softens the moment she steps inside.

Taeil has been pacing the space, because in this room with the locked door he's allowed to be out of bed.

 

Lucky him.

He's been thinking, trying desperately to wrap his head around what he knows and what he doesn't. The only clear memories in his mind begin with waking up in this place. They begin with Yuhyeon, with meeting Shuhua, with the hell that has been the past year. But beyond that...

He's not stupid, he knows that he's lived an entire life, an entire twenty-two years before the one here. Where the fuck did they go-

He's interrupted with the entrance of someone he hasn't seen in days, and he doesn't quite know if he's happy about it.

Yuhyeon stops in the doorway; she hadn't quite thought this far.

Chapter Text

Renjun has placed his bloody towels in the washing machine, forcing the lid down and pressing start. He added the right amount of soap, he put the water setting to hot, and now he's backing away from the robot. It's making more noise than he wishes it would.

Very slowly, he closes the door to the closet the washer and dryer are located in. He knows he probably shouldn't, because washers in closets have been known to blow up. Renjun doesn't care.

Now he's not quite sure what to do. The incident- has been cleaned up. The china, the blood, the knife even. Renjun washed it thoroughly and placed it back in the drawer. There's something to be said about cleaning, and if Renjun were stressed he thinks that maybe it would be relieving.

He doesn't think he's stressed. Renjun really doesn't know what he's thinking.

Actually, there's one thing, but he's not quite sure how to go about it.

Renjun does not want to be here. He's thinking maybe-

But a knock on the door silences everything, and panic resurfaces despite his best attempts at pushing any feeling at all down. Chenle is inside seconds later.

"Junnie hyung listen-" He's shut the door, running into the kitchen. "We need to-" Chenle freezes. "What the hell?" Renjun follows him.

"I cleaned it." His voice is hoarse. Chenle looks around, softening his expression when he lands on Renjun.

"Good- really good job hyung." He says, unsure of what to do. His goal is to step forward to place a hand on Renjun's arm, but something is stopping him. Things just aren't, the same, right now. "Um- so Felix, Chan and Changbin are coming too, we couldn't stop them really, we haven't told them-"

"Told them what."

Chenle shifts anxiously and cocks his head to the left just once, sucking in a breath.

"You know..."

"Do I?"

"Hyung?" Chenle's eyes are wide and confused, almost pleading as he finally gathers the courage to take the step and grab Renjun's wrist.

"I need you to say it, Chenle. Tell me I killed Doyoung."

"Hyung that's not- this is what we can't do when they come okay? You need to say nothing about that, okay?" Even Chenle's breathing is scared, terrified the way a person's breath can be. It's telling, and it's telling Renjun everything he needs to know.

Renjun is scary now.

Renjun wishes Chenle didn't come home, he wishes Chenle waited five minutes.

Why?

There's another knock on the door before everyone is pouring in. Jaemin, Winwin, three extra guests. No Doyoung. Doyoung is gone.

"Hi Renjun!" Felix steps inside with a wide smile on his face, freckles ablaze in the artificial light. "It's nice to see you!" His energy is brilliant, almost contagious. On any other day, Jaemin, Chenle, Renjun and Sicheng would be energized by his presence, but today is a little different. They're a little untouchable.

Changbin notices, because not a lot gets by him. He can see the way each of them twitch nervously, and he takes note of all of the tells that give them away. Something is up, like, bad up. Which is all the more reason Changbin thinks he and his brothers should be here; he doesn't quite trust these four on their own.

Sicheng clears his throat.

"I, uh- thank you for walking us home, guys," He says awkwardly, switching his weight from one foot to the other.

"It's nothing, Winwin," Chan says. "But listen," Chenle, Jaemin and Sicheng exchange a terrified glance. They want them out, not for any malicious reason, but the four of them are trying to hide something quite- wrong. "What's up with you guys?" Well then.

Sicheng only has seconds to decide what he's going to do.

"I just finished telling the boys some awful things about home," He lies. "We're just, shaken up about it all-"

"I'm so sorry to hear that," Felix says softly. "What happened?"

"Where did all the blood come from?" Chan asks, concern lacing his tone. Jaemin and Winwin whip around, scouring the apartment with their eyes immediately. They forgot about all the blood.

Except it's not there, because Renjun cleaned it up.

"It's not there," Renjun tells them so absentmindedly. Felix's eyes are wide with fear.

"Is it supposed to be?" He cries, looking around too. If their panic didn't give something away, Renjun opening his mouth sure did.

"I meant the shit on your clothes guys what the fuck?" Chan says, taking another step towards them all. "What do you mean-" He looks around too, glancing into the kitchen. "Was there more?"

They're fucked, that, and Felix wants to know what happened at home too. Even Jaemin, Chenle and Renjun don't know that yet.

"No of course there-"

"There must've been, you guys are acting bizarre." Changbin steps forwards and talks with more strength than he has all evening. "What happened? Why is Chenle cut like that? Why are all of you covered in blood?" Renjun just raises an eyebrow, as if the subject tires him. He's given up on feeling. Chenle covers his wrists with his sleeves self consciously, as if it's his fault he looks that way.

"We don't want to talk about it," Sicheng finally says, softly. He doesn't, he doesn't want them to know the truth. Talking about he truth is to throw Renjun under the bus too, and that's a definite no.

"It's okay Hyung-"

"Renjun shut up." Chenle says, terror painting his voice a deathly pale.

"We thought there was a way home," Renjun ignores Chenle, he ignores the protests of the others, and he looks Changbin in the eyes. "We thought if you died you'd go home,"

"Oh my god-" Felix is understanding before Renjun even finishes his sentence.

"Doyoung thought so too."

"No-"

"Hyung died. And he didn't go home either." There's silence in the space now until Chan clears his throat.

"We're sorry- to hear that." He's trying to choose his words carefully but knows it's their own fault for asking. Shock doesn't fail to lace his tone though. "That's truly, truly awful- I'm- we're sorry." He looks between the four of them, who now have nothing to hide. Chenle's eyes are welling up. They shouldn’t have asked, they should have left it alone. Chan doesn’t know what to do with this new information; someone fucking died.

"We know how to get home though," Renjun says after a moment, ignoring the way Chenle wipes viciously at his tears. Nobody knows what to do to help him, and his body hurts too much to welcome a comforting touch anyways. Nobody moves.

"You do? You don't mean-" Felix slows down, stopping his sentence himself. No Renjun does not mean they all fucking die.

"It's so simple we over thought it all and that's why- that's why Doyoung..." Renjun shakes his head to clear it because for the first time in hours he's finally able to think. "It's dumb, I can't believe we didn't think of it sooner. All we have to do is remember." Changbin narrows his eyes.

"How do you know?"

"Because Johnny did it. Johnny came home." Sicheng says, letting this click in his mind. Renjun nods.

"But remembering hurt him so bad I thought he died." He says. The guilt washes over him too quickly. "That's where the death idea came from- that was me- that was-"

"Not your fault, Renjun," Jaemin can sense it all ruining him again, he can feel the pain, he can see the panic and the desperation. Felix's eyes look wet.

He feels too much.

"So we remember what," Chan coaxes. The three of them haven't done this before.

"We remember how we Disappeared, and the same feelings come over us," Renjun explains. "I thought it was just the memory, but it's actually-"

"Reverse Disappearance." Jaemin finishes. "And it got Johnny home." Everyone exchanges a glance, but it makes sense.

It's too simple, just like Renjun said. It only makes the whole incident from earlier more understandable.

This way is too fucking easy.

"It's not, easy, actually," Renjun says after a moment of eyes regaining energy at the  seemingly good news. "Johnny had a really hard time, and it, like, ripped him open," The sentence trails off by itself as everyone looks to Sicheng, who forgot it's his job to ensure that Johnny did in fact survive. He jumps on it.

"He's okay though! He made it- weak but- he's fine." He nods to make the point solid.

As solid as he can make such a flimsy statement.

"It just seems... too simple." Changbin finally breathes, standing closer to Felix. "But it's worth a try of course," He says. It seems like this day is full of awkward silence.

"So... should we try it?"

"Maybe one person? Just to test?"

"One at a time?" Sicheng laughs, but then again it makes perfect sense. Making sure one person crosses over after another. Another thought tickles the back of his mind though as the others nod, getting excited. "Guys what about Kun." The statement is so dry it breaks in the middle, brittle. Jaemin's eyes grow so wide they almost pop out of his skull. "Johnny said he went missing just days ago."

"He did." Jaemin breathes. "We can't leave without him we can't-" Winwin is by his side in seconds.

"Hey hey- it's okay! We won't Jaemin listen-" Sicheng regrets saying anything; the teen is so panicked it hurts. He looks around and the others spare concerned looks. Chenle aids him quickly.

"Hyung we're not gonna leave him behind," He says. "We'll get him,"

"But he's gone," Jaemin says quietly. "Like Taeil."

That stings.

That stings a lot.

Winwin shakes his head. He heard about Taeil too, but Kun only went missing a few days ago, and he thinks of something quite interesting.

"I'll stay. I'll find him." There's that damn silence again.

"How?"

"Johnny told us about Taeil, and how he thinks Kun is the same." Winwin is making this up on the spot, but the idea actual seems doable. "I could just get myself kidnapped too, and then we make it out together."

Guess what?

The boys are quiet.

"What kind of crazy idea is that?" Chan finally says. "You mean the way we lost Minho? You want to go out like that?" Winwin shakes his head.

"I'm not going out I'll just find them and make it out with them," He says, gaining momentum.

"That isn't a shit idea," Changbin says. "I want in, to get them home." He says. "Jisung is there too right?" He eyes his members and Felix nods, face stoney.

"He better be, cause if he's not-"

"We don't know where he is." Changbin nods. He turns back to Winwin. "I'm in."

"Hold on a second-" Chan steps forwards. "I want you two to go home." He says, voice level. Felix opens his mouth to protest but Chan holds up a hand instead. "I'll stay, I'll do it I promise, but you guys need to go home." Changbin arches an eyebrow.

"Hyung-"

"Please don't argue with me," Chan says. "I promise if I go with Sicheng we'll get Jisung and Minho and Kun and whoever else and then we'll go right home, right?" His brothers are quiet while they listen to him. "It's risky, Sicheng's plan is dumb and risky but it could be doable. I'm just not going to risk you." Changbin bites his tongue. "That's all." They know better than to fight him, and after that it's settled. Chan turns around.

"I guess I'm going with you,"

"I guess you are." Winwin turns to his three. "You guys are going home too," Renjun and Chenle have mixed feelings, but Jeamin is the only one to voice his out loud.

"I want to come with you, hyung." He says.

"Didn't Chan just have this conversation-"

"Hyung the two of you alone is dangerous, you need more eyes, more, I don't know, backup. Support." Jaemin is earnest. "And besides- if this works, everyone gets out. Everyone goes home." Sicheng is quiet for just a moment, and then, too tired to argue, he speaks.

"Alright."

So it has been decided, the team split in two. Jaemin, Chan and Winwin are going after the missing family, and Changbin, Felix, Chenle and Renjun are going to try to go home. Both quests are terrifying, both dangerous, both potentially deadly.

Everyone is beyond anxious, but they're all beyond excited too. If this all works out, they can have everyone home in no time. It's too good to be true.

 

"We'll watch over you guys while you go," Winwin says, anxiety coursing through his veins. They waited two days to plan for Winwin, Chan and Jaemin, and finally they're about to send the others home. "Make sure you all get over," The others nod and Jaemin takes the lead. He's seen this done before, he remembers coaxing Johnny over.

"Not gonna lie guys- it's probably going to be really ugly," He says to everyone, trying his best to prepare them. "Johnny like... yeah." He stops there, because as much as he's preparing he's also petrifying, which is less good.

Much less.

"We know," Says Renjun, but in truth Felix and Changbin don't, and Felix's lithe fingers squeezing Changbin's wrist give away his fear easily.

"One at a time?" Chenle asks. "I don't really know-"

"I guess so?" Everyone is an amateur, there's no way for anyone to know how to do this properly.

"So who-"

"I can- I guess?" Changbin is the first to pipe up, and if he hadn't, he's not sure who would have. Nobody challenges him.

Jaemin sits down beside him.

"Lie down," He orders. Renjun nods, sitting on his other side.

"Trust us." Changbin does as he's told, eyes locked on Felix's. Terror is eating at his chest and fucking with his ability to breathe. Renjun directed Johnny so Jaemin looks at him for the next step.

"Have you ever done this before?" He asks. "Remembered your Disappearance?"

"No-" He says. "Should I have?" Renjun shakes his head.

"I actually think it's better that way. Nobody bleeds the first time."

"Really?"

"Not that I know of." And Renjun is right, because Changbin goes out the way he came in, nothing extra, not the way Johnny left.

Just agonizing pain in his chest, until no longer is he on this side. He remains quiet, despite how his body wants to implode.

"It's okay-" He can hardly hear a thing they say as the memory takes him. He was alone.

He was fucking terrified. Not very different from the present, if he were being honest. And finally, without any of the struggle Johnny went through, Changbin is gone.

"What the actual fuck."

"How can it be so easy?" Because it was too easy. How has the world gone two years without figuring this shit out? Changbin slipped out of reality easily.

So fucking easily.

Felix is staring at the empty space.

"What- how- how do we know he's home?"

"Well for sure? We have no idea," Winwin says. "But Johnny came home, in the bathroom," Renjun nods.

"That's where he left. Theoretically speaking, Changbin should be in our living room now."

"Which means we have lots of brothers who can take care of him," Winwin is trying to nudge the fear out of Felix's eyes.

"Why was that bloodless?" Chenle asks. It sounds like such a bad question, but it's genuine. Renjun purses his lips.

"Johnny had remembered before, Changbin hadn't. I think that's the difference. Beginners luck if you will?" The others nod.

"That seems... right, actually."

"Sucks to be us then, Chenle," Jaemin laughs to hide the fear. Chenle nods, but Jaemin's words don't register with the humor they were meant to carry.

"I'll go next," He says softly. "I want to get it over with." Felix nods and Renjun doesn't argue, why would he? Chenle is ushered to the floor.

There's no doubt in his mind that this is going to be hard. He knows this is not going to look like Changbin only moments ago.

The thought scares the shit out of him.

"Just relax, Chenle," Jaemin coos. "it'll be okay." Felix, Chan and Winwin don't know what they're about to see.

"Maybe you guys want to step out?" Renjun asks, turning away from Chenle to look at them. Sicheng's brows knit together.

"Why?" Felix asks.

"Just, Changbin was a surprisingly easy case, and Chenle has already remembered once- I don't think it's going to be easy for him at all." Renjun says, trying to talk quietly so Chenle's fear won't grow. Jaemin continues to sit beside him, just waiting for Renjun to tell him to start. "You can stay if you want, I just don't think that you do." He says finally, and then he's turned around. "Okay Chenle, go for it." He sits down, holding his hand. "Hyung grab towels-" Winwin looks like he's been slapped in the face at this request.

"It's that bad?" Felix follows Winwin who runs to the linen closet, but halfway down the hallway there's nothing for him to see. he slowly backs out. Felix has only ever been in their living room. Chan takes his hand.

"We'll stay, to support him," He says and just as the words leave his mouth Chenle is reaching the worst part of his memory.

Jeno's arms are around him, and the theater has never felt so dark. Chenle never wanted to go back, he never wanted to fucking go back.

And yet here he is. In the theater. He's feeling everything come crumbling down, because old memories are mixing with the new ones and his tears don't just come from his physical pain. He's feeling Doyoung. He wants to get up, he wants to go to the counter.

He's stuck on the floor of theater eight, unable to change what he remembers-

Unable to shake Doyoung just rooms away.

He's not there yet of course, but right-now-Chenle feels him just the same, and Disappearing Chenle feels the tendrils and dying Chenle has begun to come out. Felix looks away the second he wretches on the floor.

The nausea that rises up rips at his lungs, it rips his throat and his heart and little pieces of Chenle are on the living room floor now. There's nothing anyone can do about it.

"Chenle keep pushing Chenle-" Renjun is almost yelling. "Keep going- you can do it- you can-" He's crying too, everyone is crying. No one that young should be breaking like that.

Everything takes two minutes. 120 seconds of agony. The longest 1200 milliseconds any of them have ever felt.

But finally Chenle is gone.

He made it.

Jaemin collapses backwards, arms limp. The weight of a whole boy is missing from his embrace, and the shock and the terror doesn't give up, ripping through him. Felix, Chan and Sicheng are beside them instantly. They had no idea.

"Jae-"

"It's okay-"

"Jaemin what the hell-"

"We told you-" Renjun coughs between sobs. "It was just like Johnny-" He laughs too, because relief floods his head worse than a head rush. Jaemin is laughing too. The others stare at them in horror.

"You're saying that was okay?" Winwin snaps. He's completely off his rocker, shocked beyond belief. Johnny was bad but what Chenle went through- just sixteen years old- was awful. Worse than awful. "That was-"

"Supposed to happen," Jaemin finally composes himself. "If Johnny was okay, Chenle should be fine." Winwin bites his tongue. Johnny is hardly a person as far as he knows. He's still so broken he can hardly move, but instead of sharing such pessimistic information, they move on.

"You ready Felix?" Renjun says, and despite it being half a joke he's completely serious. Felix's mouth is gaping open, and nobody can blame him. But he nods with more strength than Sicheng thinks he would have.

"Is he fucked on the other side too?" Felix asks Sicheng as he lays down- away from the blood. Winwin nods.

"Unfortunately-"

"How can I help him, when I get over there-" Granted I'm okay, he thinks. Sicheng doesn't know what to do with this question.

"Don't let him choke," He thinks. "Hold him so he doesn't fall apart," His voice breaks. "Just hold him Felix, for me." He pleads. "Please." Felix's brows are knit together, understanding painting his features.

"Of course I will, of course." Felix doesn't let Sicheng's gaze go, making sure he understands. Felix will do everything he can for Chenle.

"Have you done this before?" Renjun asks, just like Changbin.

"No." Everyone breathes a sigh of relief.

"Hopefully that's the pattern," Renjun says.

"Hopefully," Scoffs Chan. He's terrified of watching them go.

Felix begins to think backwards. He thinks about what it was like. He's gone a few months without thinking about it, he never questioned it, and now that's paying off, because hopefully this won't kill him.

Hopefully.

He begins to feel the Disappearance take him after about thirty seconds of thinking, of remembering. He can hear Chan's voice, but it's memory Chan, not real Chan, and memory Chan is freaking out. Memory Chan is crying because Felix is going so suddenly he hardly has time to think. Real Chan can't watch the way Felix shakes.

"Felix! Felix what's wrong?" Memory Chan catches him when his legs give out. Memory Chan figures it out. Memory Chan accepts reality. "It's okay, it's okay- Felix you'll be okay," Memory Chan holds him in his arms until there's nothing left to hold.

"Chan."

He turns around.

"It's over."

"He's gone?" They nod. Chan's dumbass didn't even think about saying goodbye.

He has absolutely no idea how much he's going to regret that. Renjun sighs heavily.

"I guess it's me now." He says into the quiet. Jaemin bites his tongue too hard but doesn't care enough to notice. He wants to say 'fuck no you're not doing that'. He wants Renjun to somehow not go through that. He's not like Changbin or Felix, he's remembered more than once, and it's going to ruin him.

Winwin nods in encouragement.

"One final push, Renjun, and then you're home." He sits down with him. "And you can leave all of this behind." Their eyes are locked on each other. "All of it, okay?" Renjun pretends to agree.

But he's lying. There's no forgetting what he did.

"Home forever?" He asks.

"Forever." Jaemin says.

Jaemin has no idea. He doesn't know if going home means you never come back, Jaemin doesn't know that, and he shouldn't make any promises. But he's weak, in these moments he's weak. All he wants to do is tell his brothers that everything is going to be okay.

"You can do this," Chan encourages. "You do this, and then we get Kun and my brothers and we do it too. We'll all be home soon." Everyone nods in agreement.

"You ready?" Jaemin says softly.

"Are you?" Renjun jokes back with as much strength as he has to spare. "Can you handle all this?" He teases as he lies down. His hands shake but he pretends they don't, and Jaemin's hand is cold when he takes Renjun's.

Renjun thinks about the couch the day Chenle came home. He thinks about how warm Jaemin had been then, and he thinks about how much has changed since then. He thinks about how many people he's lost.

He counts himself too.

The truth is, if Chenle hadn't come home ahead of the others, Renjun might have done something scary. The truth is, Renjun didn't actually put the knife away in it's drawer. Nobody can blame him for that, nobody should look down on him. Why should he live? Why does he deserve life more than Doyoung did?

Renjun is in a scary place, and he knows how his brothers think.

He knows he isn't entirely Renjun anymore.

He knows that not only did the Disappearances take him away from his brothers, they took him away from himself too. Renjun has come to terms with that.

So the couch is his happiest memory. It is tainted with nothing. It is completely Jaemin, it is completely peace.

And nothing can take that away from him.

"Please be safe Junnie," Jaemin says to him, stroking dark hair away from his eyes. Renjun sighs heavily. For himself? He has no reason.

"For Chenle." He says, nodding. "I'll be safe."

"For me." Jaemin says. Renjun freezes, just locking gazes.

"Indefinitely."

Chapter Text

Changbin groans when he wakes up, chest on fire. It's oddly lit where he is, a little on the dark side, a little unfamiliar. He realizes very quickly that he has absolutely no idea at all where he might be. He sits bolt upright, breath picking up, voice stuck in his throat. He whips his head around, confusion and panic setting in. It dawns on him though where he is after two minutes of terrified silence.

This is Jeno's house. How the fuck did he get here?

Changbin's head aches slightly and he closes his eyes to balance the pains. How?

He pushes himself into a wobbly standing position. Is anyone home? It's late, and when he stumbles into the kitchen to check the time the clock teases him with 4:13am.

"The fuck am I doing here at four in the morning-"

"Yeah, the fuck are you doing here at four in the morning?" Changbin spins around, fear making his heart jump into his throat. Haechan and Jeno frown at him, literally just as confused. Changbin shakes his head.

"Guys I have no fucking idea-" But Haechan is on top of him in seconds, grabbing at his arms and his middle.

"How are you okay?!" He cries out, looking him up and down. Changbin, not a touchy person, fights the urge to pull away, completely and utterly confused.

"Hyuck what the hell-"

"Donghyuck get off him." Jeno orders, grabbing Haechan's wrist and dragging him backwards. His eyes are narrowed, taking in every inch of Changbin which only furthers his unease.

"Guys-"

"How'd you get back? I mean- I'm so happy you're here but- why here? How?" Jeno asks, stepping forwards to pull his friend into a hug. Changbin was one of the theater frequents too- shit wasn't the same after he Disappeared. Changbin shakes his head.

"What the hell do you mean? From where?" Jeno's hug freezes, body tensing. He pulls away slowly, not quite letting him go to look him in the face.

"What are you on about dumbass, you Disappeared or have you forgotten?" It's a joke. It's a joke because how does a person forget they Disappeared? That should be impossible in Jeno's opinion. Changbin scoffs.

No, not 'scoffs', he fucking laughs.

"You guys have to be joking," He says, struggling to breathe. "I never went anywhere," He pauses. "Except here, apparently." His laughter dies away when the other two look at him like he's insane.

"You don't remember-" Jeno says, amazement washing over his face. "Holy shit." Changbin continues to shake his head, dread beginning to suck at his confusion, threatening to replace it.

"Stop fucking with me-"

"We're not."

"How'd you get here?" Haechan asks. "Do you remember sleepwalking?" No, Changbin does not. Changbin doesn't remember a thing. Haechan disappears for a second, returning instantly. "Door is locked Binnie, you came back in here."

So why can't he remember?

"We need to wake everyone up," Jeno says, beginning to exit the kitchen. "This is kind of an important development." Haechan nods with wide eyes. Someone else is home.

Someone else came home-

But they don't get passed the living room, not when Chenle shows up.

Jeno has just stepped inside, about to make his way to the hallway, then to the bedrooms. He's charged with an energy has hasn't had in days. He spins around when the sounds of someone choking fill the whole room. Haechan is staring at the floor in horror, frozen for a whole two seconds before recognizing, and finally reacting.

"HOLY SHIT-" All three of them, even Changbin, launch themselves towards the kid, who's coughing his lungs up onto the carpet. It's not like this is the floor's first battle with their blood anyways.

"What the hell?" Jeno grabs Chenle, turning him onto his side. He doesn't have any time to process what's actually happened. Instead, he sees a dying person and he does what he can to help him. There is no filling in the blanks right now. Haechan and Changbin feel pretty useless, kneeling beside them, terror etched upon their faces. Jeno doesn't know what to do either, little brother trembling beneath him.

In seconds Felix's body makes an appearance. Changbin sees him first, jumping up and running to his side.

What the fuck?

Where is everyone coming from? Felix jumps when Changbin touches him.

"What the hell-" But the sounds from around him shut him up instantly, and when his eyes adjust he has no idea what he's looking at- or how the hell he got there.

There's nothing Chenle's not feeling. Absolutely nothing. Every time his body works against him, coughing up something vital, it's agonizing. Every time he shudders it hurts, every time he tries to open his eyes it hurts.

But Jeno.

He can hear Jeno.

"Hey- hey- Chenle-" He can hear it, on the edge of his consciousness he can hear it. "We missed you so much-"

"No fucking way," He hears Haechan too, and whether Haechan intended it or not, something about that sentence forces Chenle to hold on; those are the very last words Chenle heard before leaving.

He remembers that vividly.

"Changbin how did I get here what’s happening-" Felix is getting to his feet despite how his chest burns. He tries to stumble towards the heap of dangerous happening in the room but Changbin keeps him still.

"I don't know Lix I don't know- Chenle is sick." Changbin watches the commotion with wide eyes. They watch Haechan and Jeno panic.

Nobody knows what to do.

Eventually Chenle stops shaking.

"Chenle-" Felix is able to break away from Changbin, falling beside the other three. "Is he- is he-"

"He's okay I think," Jeno blinks more than he should, sniffling on nothing. Chenle is breathing, despite the pace being slower than a snail's. "I think he's okay." Felix stares at him, eyes round.

"What's going on?" He asks, and Jeno's eyes, glazed, meet his.

"The three of you just un-disappeared."

"Reappeared?" Haechan offers, eyes still on Chenle's form. Jeno shrugs, because the correct words don't matter, not to him, not right now. Felix raises an eyebrow.

"Sure we did." Haechan's head snaps up.

"The fuck you mean 'sure we did'?" He can feel anger, anger completely unnecessary, begin to boil up inside him. His eyes flash in the darkness. Felix is taken aback. "Why the hell are you two unscathed?" Haechan spits in Changbin's direction. "You're the same, why are you oblivious? Do you not fucking know what just happened?" They're shocked into silence. Donghyuck has never been so scathing.

The sun really does burn when it wants to.

"Why is he dying and you're not?" Haechan's voice breaks, and Felix knows he isn't trying to be menacing anymore. Hyuck is confused too, and Chenle is not in good condition. He has every right to be stressed.

But there's nothing Felix can offer him, he has no helpful words for this situation. He doesn't even know why he's in their apartment. Changbin sits beside him, eyes wide.

"Haechan we have no idea what's going on," He says slowly. Jeno looks at them too. "I don't- remember at all how I got here- I don't know why Chenle is here, I don't even know why Felix is here-" Felix frowns. "I'm just lost." Jeno shakes his head.

"We need Johnny hyung." Haechan stands up.

"I'm going to go get him," If it were any other day Jeno would say no, it's four am, but Chenle can't wait. There's no 'no' with injury like this. Jeno takes a deep breath as he hears Donghyuck disappear down the hallway.

"You two don't remember, for some reason, but you Disappeared. Now you're back, but you're okay. When Johnny hyung came back he was like Chenle. I don't know what's different for you two, but something is." He pauses. "Frankly I don't fucking care, so long as the three of you are okay." He takes a deep, shaking breath. Jeno looks down at Chenle, frowning at all the blood in front of him. It makes him sick. How- how could he end up like this?

Felix looks at him too, and something in the back of his mind flickers like a dying ember.

"You should hold him," He whispers. Jeno's eyes flit up to his face.

"What?" Felix shrugs.

"Just, hold him okay?" Jeno's frown never dissipates, but he does as he says, pulling his little brother into his arms. Somewhere, Jaemin is trusting that somebody is holding Chenle together, and Felix has no idea.

Haechan returns in seconds, but instead of just Johnny, Ten, Taeyong and Jungwoo are also in tow. Their voices are low as they speak because they don't want to wake the rest of the apartment, but just the same they work quickly.

Jungwoo kneels down in front of Jeno immediately.

"Can I see him kiddo?" He says and Jeno nods numbly, letting Jungwoo take a look at Chenle. Taeyong's gaze rakes over Changbin and Felix but he says nothing. Haechan must have explained.

"We need to monitor him," Ten says. "we went through this with Johnny, so he should be okay," He addresses everyone as a whole, trying to brighten the mood. "He doesn't even look as bad as Johnny." Jungwoo laughs nervously. Johnny purses his lips, looking at Chenle.

He knows exactly what he's feeling.

"He isn't throwing up anymore, so just handle him gently because whether it's true or not it feels like his insides are dislodged." Nobody challenges Johnny because Johnny knows for sure. "He's going to feel like shit for-" He pauses, trying to gage a time, but for Johnny it's been almost a week and he's still very fucked. "A long time." Ten rubs his arm. The tension fades a little the clearer it becomes that Chenle is going to be okay and they settle him on the couch after a couple minutes, using the table's chair as a mini side table for water and towels. Jungwoo takes care of the mess with the help of Ten.

"Felix, Changbin, can we talk to you," Taeyong says, gesturing for them to follow him. They exchange a glance, only a little terrified, and follow the man into the kitchen.

"I wouldn't bother," Donghyuck says. "They're kind of useless." He smiles sympathetically at them.

"He's right," Jeno says, chuckling. Taeyong sucks on his cheek, taking in a deep breath.

"Water then, you guys look like hell," Taeyong is the king of getting water for everyone, and pretty soon he's filled up eight glasses. He dumps the ninth down the drain, realizing that Chenle probably isn't drinking anytime soon. He hands both Changbin and Felix a glass, and is for the very first time embarrassed to have nowhere for them to sit. Felix adjusts quickly, sitting on the floor with Jeno and Haechan. Changbin follows him. Taeyong leans against the wall beside them, staring down at the four teens.

"I don't suppose in all the chaos anybody told you we have a couple of your brothers?" He says, taking a sip from his glass. Felix almost drops his.

"What?"

"Seungmin and Jeongin have been living with us for a few days." Haechan says. "After-" He trails off, immediately looking to both Jeno and Taeyong. Eyes wider than they should be he takes a sip of his own water, trying to erase that he said anything at all. But Changbin wasn't listening that closely. He spins around to Felix.

He’s only just realized something.

"You!"

"Me what?" His brother exclaims in surprise.

"You Disappeared-" He places his glass on the floor and Jeno picks it up immediately, predicting a spill in the near future. Changbin is almost freaking out. "How are you here-"

"And so it begins," Taeyong says, walking away.

"Changbin," Jeno tries to keep it together. "Fucking hell Binnie we told you what happened-" Changbin isn't listening.

"You Disappeared Lix." Felix is shaking his head, but things are finally clicking for Changbin. He turns to the others. "Holy shit." He's finally understanding that they're right, despite being unable to recall anything. Changbin remembers the day Felix Disappeared so vividly.

So for him to be here. It can only mean Jeno and Haechan are telling the truth. And Johnny… Changbin knows they lost Johnny almost immediately after Renjun, yet here he is. Here he fucking is.

"Do you- get it now?" Haechan asks tentatively. Changbin purses his lips, nodding. Jeno gives him his cup back.

He spills it with the way his hands shake.

 

Chapter Text

Renjun's eyes are clouded and he sits up.

"Junnie what are you doing?" Jaemin sits back to give him space. Renjun swallows hard. He looks at all three of them, he memorizes their faces.

Renjun has a new theory.

If you never remember, nothing but the actual Reverse Disappearance hurts you. If you've remembered once, it'll try it's best to kill you, Chenle is testament. Johnny remembered twice and even Winwin struggles to tell them he's okay.

What the hell happens if you remember nightly the way Renjun does?

Renjun thinks he might die if he does this-

He doesn't say a thing.

"Nothing, sorry, I'm nervous," He smiles gently, lying back down and the others flash sympathetic smiles.

"It's going to be okay, Renjun," Sicheng says gently. "Just relax."

"One more time and you're home."

"One more time."

Renjun takes a deep breath.

Just one more time.

Chapter Text

The night is disturbed for the fourth time after ten minutes post Felix's reappearance, but one could say it was less disturbed than interrupted quietly, because a form appears and nothing else. It takes everyone an entire second to even realize what's happened. Taeyong is in front of the younger four, and Johnny and Ten stand in front of Chenle. Jungwoo is frozen in place, just a foot away from the new arrival.

The very still new arrival.

"What the fuck is going on?" Yuta is standing in the hallway, wiping sleep and mussed hair out of his eyes. They're wide as he takes in the scene, but something in particular pulls at his attention.

It's brown hair, it's the kitchen light reflecting off each strand like a halo. It's the picture on Yuta's phone, it’s brutally fucked up.

"Renjun?" He's not coughing out his guts, and instead he makes no sound.

The very first, the very fucking first, is home.

He's back.

Everyone is beside him in instant.

"Renjun!"

"You're home-"

"I can't believe it-"

"Holy shit-"

"Guys-"

"Junnie-"

"Guys." Yuta pushes Jeno and Haechan away from Renjun. "He's not breathing." He snaps to Taeyong who takes a second look at the form on the floor. He limps to his side, looking.

"Oh my god-"

Yuta continues to move the youngest away with more urgency as the older boys take it in. He has all four of them in the kitchen, closing the door.

"Stay here." He orders, and then the door is shut between them.

They stand there in shock.

On the other side, things only get darker.

"Johnny don't-"

"Renjun-"

"John-" There's nothing Ten can do to stop Johnny from approaching him.

"No no no-" He's on his knees, smoothing Renjun's hair, desperate. He's not dead, how could he be dead? You don't die doing this. Johnny didn't die, why is- why did- "Junnie?" He says softly, eyes never leaving his face. His skin is cool to the touch. Johnny pushes his palms to his cheeks, trying to warm him. "You're okay you're okay-" Johnny knows Renjun best, Johnny knows Renjun is sleeping.

His little brother from the other side, the boy Johnny was alone with for a very long time. The boy who taught Johnny how to survive, the boy Johnny taught to live. "Renjun just wake up-" The heat from his hands isn't helping despite how he presses. "Jun-" His pulse, Johnny grabs his limp wrist.

Nothing.

Bloody throat.

Nothing. Bloody.

It's evident Renjun did exactly what Johnny did, exactly what Chenle did. Exactly. He went through the same struggle, the almost death. Except- except this isn't almost.

This is all the fucking way.

"Renjun please-"

Ten’s eyes are wet while he stands beside Johnny, rubbing his back while he struggles to understand. He looks at Taeyong, who looks right back at him.

Their very first loss is actually lost.

This is quite a bit to process at four thirty in the morning. This is four people home at once. This is one dead brother. Another.

"Should I wake everyone else up?" Yuta inches back down the hallway, desperate to get out. He can't look at the child on the floor, he doesn't even know what's going on. Nobody answers him, but it's not like they can let everyone sleep through something like this.

Yuta ignores Johnny's cry of anguish, sliding through the crack he opens in the door to the bedroom. He closes it immediately, muffling the noise, muffling the horror show. He leans back against it. Why is it every time he closes his eyes, everytime he looks away for even just a moment, something bad happens? Renjun came back? Felix.. that other one... Yuta knows how heart broken Jeno was when they were gone too.  

He tries to understand the situation, but there's a part of his heart that's excited. People came home, like Johnny. He knows he saw someone else on the couch, but Yuta won't let himself think about who it might be.

And then the other part of his heart reminds him of another fact. An ugly truth.

Renjun didn't actually make it.

"Hey, Ji," Yuta kneels down beside Jisung's bunk, pushing the thought from his mind, a certain numbness coursing through him allowing that to happen. He gently shakes Jisung awake.

"Hyung what do you want?" He asks irritably, wondering why someone is taking sleep away from him.

"Some wild shit is going on right now," Yuta says calmly. "I need you to wake up," He doesn't say anything else, leaving a stunned, confused Jisung in his bunk. Yuta makes his way over to Lucas in the darkness. "Lu, up, now," He's much less gentle and Lucas is throwing his sheets off in seconds. "Put some pants on," Yuta barks. He chooses the bunk with Seungmin and Jeongin next, deciding that they're going to be least negatively affected by the most recent events; based on what Yuta saw in the living room, they gained two brothers.

"Seungmin, wake up," Yuta is gentle, and he doesn’t have to tell Seungmin twice.

When everyone is up, or mostly awake, Yuta stands between them and the door. He’s not quite sure what kind of preface he should be giving, he isn’t even sure himself what events are occurring. He doesn’t know if Renjun is actually dead, he doesn’t know who’s on the couch, and he second guesses himself about the boys he thinks he saw.

Maybe he dreamed it all up.

“I’m not sure what’s happening, but everyone needs to be present. I think there’s been a reappearance, but I’m also not sure if everyone is okay.” He says slowly. His hand shakes as it hovers over the doorknob behind him and in the darkness Lucas’s eyes glint with understanding. He nods, they all do, and finally after a moment’s hesitation, Yuta has pushed open the bedroom door.

The descent into hell isn’t easy, they can tell you that for sure.

“Shit- Yuta put the kids in the kitchen why did you bring them out here-” Jungwoo hisses when Yuta and the others are in sight. He’s on them quickly, trying to usher Jisung, Jeongin, and Seungmin away from- all that. Yuta stands there dumbfounded. No one spoke up to stop him before, so he finds Jungwoo’s outburst quite rude.

But something so trivial is forced from his mind immediately because Yuta doesn’t actually fucking care.

Jungwoo opens the door, being quick as to not allow them to slow and look at what’s happening on the floor just feet away from them.

“Wait-” Jisung tries to turn around but Jungwoo pushes him forcefully through the door. None of the groggy teens can fight him, and instead they take in the kitchen. The glowing clock, telling them it’s near five, the dim stove light, and four other kids.

Four other kids.

“Hyung?” Jeongin is the first to speak, eyes wide and excitement igniting his chest. Changbin and Felix, even after being told they were here, are still too shocked to move.

“Hug them dumbass,” Jeno whispers to Changbin, standing rigid beside him. The teen moves on those commands, finally breaking the veil of confusion and disbelief blinding him. He throws his arms around Seungmin and Jeongin both, and Felix follows right after. Jisung joins Haechan and Jeno watching quietly, letting them have their reunion. They remember how it feels, they experienced it themselves. They remember how it felt to see Johnny, and even though the memory is tainted with- other things- they can still feel the ache one does when another piece of their heart has been stitched back into place. They feel it even now, with the return of Chenle-

They feel something else too, though. Something Felix and Changbin will be experiencing in only moments.

Haechan doesn’t want to be here for that conversation, he doesn’t want to see the look on Felix’s face, Felix’s smiling face, and he doesn’t want to hear the way Changbin’s heart will break audibly. As little as he speaks, his emotions are never truly masked. Haechan’s anxiousness grows rapidly, looking between the hug and Jeno, bouncing gently with the fearful energy. Jisung is too out of it to be alarmed.

“Jeno-” Haechan doesn’t know what he wants to say. He knows on one side of the door, awful things are happening, and he knows on this side things can’t stay peaceful forever. Haechan wants out, he’s finished with all the fucking sad. Jeno looks at him quizzically.

“What’s wrong?” He says, voice lowered so the others can’t hear. There’s no point in intruding on their important moment, and Jeno is tired of all the sad too. The look Haechan gives him makes his heart drop into his stomach; more? Really?

Haechan steps closer, and then drags Jeno a few steps back. Jisung stays where he is, almost asleep on his feet. Haechan leans against the counter, and Jeno leans against the stove, facing him. Haechan looks pale.

“Seriously, hyuck what’s wrong-”

“They don’t know yet.” Haechan says softly, nodding towards the four boys in front of them- he means a particular two. “They don’t know yet, and Seungmin will tell them. I don’t-” Jeno bites his lip, feeling his heart make the move from his stomach to his throat. He hadn’t thought about that, but Woojin’s pale face is an image still burned into his brain.

There’s no unseeing that.

“Haechan isn’t that okay? Isn’t that better? If they tell them, then they know, it’s not like it can be kept a secret,” Jeno whispers. “It’s their story to tell, their brothers, they deserve to know despite how-”

“It’ll fucking ruin them.” Haechan turns his head from looking at the reunion to staring Jeno in the eyes. “It ruined me, Jeno, and I barely knew those hyungs. Mark and Jaehyun ruined me, it’s all ruining.” His tone is cold and hard, something that only recent Haechan has been sporting. “I’m ruined.”

“No Hyuck-”

“Look at how happy he is,” Haechan points a thin finger at Felix, who can’t hear a thing they say, enthralled with how his brothers look. Felix’s smile could cure disease, that’s how pure it is. “I don’t want to be here when that’s stripped away forever.” Jeno shakes his head.

“It won’t be.” Jeno argues softly. “It’s not going to be Hyuck, you know that, not forever- you know this hurt isn’t forever right?” Jeno’s voice has become something he hasn’t heard before, something that grabs Haechan’s attention. It’s pleading, it’s unsure.

You know this hurt isn’t forever right?

Haechan is reminded that Jeno hurts just as much as him. He’s reminded that Jeno doesn’t have all the answers. He’s reminded that Jeno is a kid, so for Jeno’s sake, Haechan smiles.

“You’re right.” He’s lying. “You’re right.”

“I’m right.” Jeno repeats this for himself, turning around. The two of them watch in silence, too removed for voices to register, as Haechan’s nightmare unfolds.

Felix stops smiling.

“It rained a lot recently,” Seungmin says quietly. “And it’s caused a lot of accidents, Hyung.” He’s addressing Changbin, because Changbin asked the million dollar question; how are Woojin and Hyunjin doing?

Dead. Jeongin has felt it on the tip of his tongue, ready to jump off with more blunt force than Jeongin knew he had inside of him. Luckily Seungmin stepped up.

“A tree collapsed in our house,” Felix’s eyes cloud with the statement, beginning to put his own story together in his mind. “It- we found it like that- we found-”

“There was nothing we could do when we got there,” Jeongin says finally. He hopes that he doesn’t have to say anything else, he hopes that that’s enough. Felix blinks in disbelief.

“Sorry what?” It’s kind of a bomb to drop, they know this, but what else can they say about the situation. Seungmin shakes his head, letting out a shaking sigh. He doesn’t really like talking about it. Who the fuck does.

Felix they- died, I don’t know what else to say. That would hurt too much, saying something like that despite how it rips at his tongue like a tiger trying to leap from it’s cage.

“They’re safe now, we have to think of it that way,” Seungmin says, using a shaking hand to grab Felix’s cold wrist. Changbin’s eyes are locked to the floor. “Safe from Disappearing, safe from this fucked up world-”

“I don’t want them to be safe I want them to be here.” His voice breaks while Changbin stumbles backwards, taking Haechan and Jeno by surprise.

Haechan leaps forwards, catching Changbin before he can fall to the floor. His eyes are wide, saucer like and glazed over when Haechan looks at them, trying desperately to see the boy inside. Seungmin feels the tears pricking at his eyes as well, pulling Felix, wrist still stuck in his iron grip, into his arms. It’s their second hug.

It’s less happy.

“I know Lix, me too.” He whispers.

 

Renjun didn’t go easy, not at all, and Winwin can only pray he made it alright. After the struggle, the room feels so much emptier, missing the four younger boys. Jaemin collapses against the couch, not on it like a regular human, but awkwardly against it, as though he hadn’t had the strength to make it all the way.

He hadn’t. He’s drained.

“Jae-” Chan walks over to him quickly, helping him up onto the furniture. Sicheng watches with worry, making a move to grab the chair at their table-

Which was shattered across their floor. He purses his lips, remembering. That’s okay who needs to sit anyways. He opts instead to sit on the floor in front of Jaemin, laying weak on the couch. Chan is next to him, stroking his hair to soothe him.

“That was rough,” He whispers, because the three of them are very close together. “But it’s okay,” He says, tone light. “They made it.” Jaemin nods, voice hoarse.

“They did.”

“Which means we can all go home soon,” Chan continues. “We can find them and go home.” Them is everyone. Them is family. It’s happiness. It’s unity. It’s a fairy tale ending. Sicheng nods.

“We have to do that tonight, Jae,” He says softly, taking Jaemin’s hand in his. “I know you’re tired but we don’t have any time to waste.” Jaemin nods again, I know painted on his face in blood.

“Can we clean up first?” Chan asks. Winwin looks around, nodding absentmindedly. “Come with me Jaemin,” Chan says to the tired boy, helping him stand and getting him to lead the way to the washroom.

It’s not like Chan can see it.

Winwin is alone in the living room for just a moment, taking a deep breath. It smells like blood and gross shit, but he doesn’t care. Everything is weird, askew here. Home isn’t (usually) covered in blood. Home is a lot more full. Winwin only wishes he knew what was missing. Regardless, he’s excited about leaving this particular home behind. He’s excited about their plan, excited about seeing Kun.

Excited about making it back to Yuta.

He knows it’s only been hours since he’s seen him, but regardless Winwin feels empty. Maybe that’s what’s missing, not knick knacks he never cared about or a plant he’d never noticed. He knows Yuta misses him too, he can feel it in his heart.

“Soon.” He mutters, standing up. He steps gingerly around the blood of Renjun and Chenle, sending another silent prayer out for their safety, and makes his way to the bathroom where Chan and Jaemin, Chan looking quite funny as he fumbles for the invisible tap, are cleaning up. Jaemin just snorts and turns it on for him.

“Thank you,” Chan says sheepishly and Winwin laughs at him. He can feel the stress slowly being relieved, and he jumps on any ‘happy’ train of thought just for the ride.

“Towel hyung?” Jaemin passes Sicheng the cloth, and he runs it over his face and hands, trying to get rid of the blood covering them. He tells himself repeatedly that the blood is okay, that the blood got them home. It helps him get it off faster. After a few minutes, they all look a little less red than before and Chan is lead out of the bathroom.

“So do we go now?”

“Now seems like a good time,” Jaemin says. “It’s like, super late, which makes it extra dangerous.”

“Perfect.” Sicheng is serious but it can’t help but sound sarcastic and Chan laughs. He shakes his head.

“What if they don’t grab us tonight?”

“They will.”

“How?”

“If not tonight, tomorrow then,” Sicheng doesn’t want to think that this isn’t going to work, he wants to leave now, and he wants to get it over with. “Let’s get going.” He ushers the two of them to the door, looks the apartment over, and steps outside. He’s hoping he doesn’t have to come back here on this side of reality.

As if it isn’t dark enough outside, Chan already can’t see a thing. He never spent a lot of time in this neighbourhood, only coming over about once a month to catch up with Johnny. The kids were always closer than the older boys, and when Johnny Disappeared… well Chan stopped coming.

And then Chan Disappeared.

Now, he stumbles blindly with the help of Jaemin and Winwin, until finally they reach a more familiar part of town. The streetlights are on and the white tarps flap in the wind, reminding people not to step here or there.

The three boys are silent as they go, more scared than anything. The entire city has developed a rhythm due to the threat of the night, and so nobody else is out. Staying inside is the best protection against them. Jaemin and Chan both feel the push to go home, to turn back. They want to protect Sicheng, they want to protect each other, they want to protect themselves. Both of them know what this looks like, and Winwin is walking right into it. Jaemin fights the urge to say so by biting his tongue so hard it bleeds, and Chan just takes deep breaths to calm his nerves.

It’s okay, everything is going to be okay-

“We’re almost at the worst place,” Jaemin says softly, despite the fact that no one else is around to hear. “It won’t be long now.”

Kun has spent quite a few days here.

Quite a few painful days.

The others have been helpful, and he’s found that he’s no longer about to die of his wounds. Now, he lives only in the constant fear of when he’s going to have to give his brothers up. He swears it will be never recent events have served as worse than usual.

The men are becoming impatient.

“Wake up,” Yuqi smacks Kun with her sleeve, sitting back when his eyes open. He squints at her, body aching and wondering why she’s bothering him. “Minseok is gone.” Kun’s soft breath hitches and he pushes himself up on one elbow. Yuqi’s honey eyes are clouded and her messy brown hair is in pretty disarray as she glares at him.

As if it’s Kun’s fault.

“They took him before?” ‘Before’ refers to when they usually take someone out. ‘Before’ means before six am, it means before anyone is awake, it means before they promised. They promised there were ground rules here.

Yuqi nods fervently, tiny shaking hands clasped together in her lap. As Kun shakes sleep off, his own alarm is building up. “Well that’s not good,” He says softly. Yuqi’s head still shakes as she makes room for Kun to sit up completely. Beside them, Eunwoo, Minho and Chan are sound asleep, but Kun knows they should be waking them up in just a few moments. The honey threatens to spill over her eyelids, Kun can tell and very quickly he wraps her in a hug.

“Please don’t cry-” He says, brushing her dark hair down her shoulders. “It’s okay, he’s going to be okay.” In the darkness Kun can’t see much, and then he almost laughs at the thought because if the light were turned on he wouldn’t be seeing anyways. Yuqi shudders in his arms until she finally pulls away, sniffling gently. “You know he’s coming back, he always comes back.” He hushes, not letting her cold hand go. She nods gently, calming down.

Kun knows it must be so scary for her to fall asleep beside the other teen, only to find him vanished when she wakes up. Vanished somewhere bad.

When Kun first got here things were okay, actually bearable, nowhere near as dangerous as right now. Something tells him though, that as time progressed and nothing went anywhere, patience wore as thin as ice in July-

There isn’t any.

He fights the rising panic because this is a first, someone being taken away so early. They have to be hiding something to do something shady- that’s what shade is for- and the thought pushes Kun’s breath right from his chest. He doesn’t let Yuqi see though, and instead he turns to Minho beside him, shaking his shoulder.

“Up up up,” He says, leaning over the teen to slap Eunwoo’s leg and shove Chan’s chest so he rolls from his side to his back, effectively starting awake.

“Hyung what the hell-” Chan flies up, terror coursing through his veins. He’s right to think something’s amiss, but Kun hushes him anyways.

“Relax relax kid, relax.” He says. When everyone is seated upright Kun explains the situation.

“But it’s not a big deal,” he says, to Yuqi pointedly. “Because he’ll come back, we always do.” Eunwoo rubs his wrist absentmindedly, causing it to redden beneath his fingers. Minho pulls his hand off, frowning at him.

“Calm down Hyung,” He whispers and Eunwoo comes back to reality. He nods, saying “i’m calm’ with his eyes. Chan takes a deep breath and struggles not to cough; the amount of must in the space has begun to affect his lungs.

None of them know what to call the space, so it just remains space. They can’t see it, they don’t know. Is it a dungeon? A cell? A bedroom? It could be a five star hotel with all the furniture pushed away for all they know.

Chan doubts that though. He really fucking doubts it.

 

Minseok does come back.

In one piece? Barely.

When the door is opened the teen is shoved back inside, standing upright until the force of the door closing behind him sends him sprawling. Everyone had been anxiously awaiting his return, pacing and trying to think of all the scenarios they could. They knew he wouldn’t die- maybe- and they knew he would come back- most likely. Everything else was up for debate.

Kun is the first to make it to him, kneeling down beside him and propping him upright. He grasps his shoulders, gasping at the blood on his face and shirt, but Minseok is laughing, the way the boy does. Kun almost hits him for scaring him so bad.

“Fucking hell kid-” Kun takes a breath of relief, giving him some space, and Eunwoo sits on his other side.

“Are you okay? Where are you hurt?” Eunwoo scans him with wide eyes but Minseok waves him off.

“I’m okay I’m okay-” He coughs, wiping blood away from his mouth. Obviously he’s been punched, a lot, but nonetheless he seems fine. Yuqi stands a few feet away. From what Kun gathered the two of them are so close they’re practically siblings, and they knew each other even before the Disappearances.

She kicks Minseok’s calf.

Yep, definitely siblings.

“Where the fuck did you go?” She hisses, demanding in a manner that really just proves she’s scared. Minseok laughs at this too, continuing to clean his face with his sleeve.

“Where do you think I went?” He asks, pretending to be annoyed. Yuqi huffs, sitting down on the cool floor. Kun notices her goosebumps, but they’re all used to it by now. Chan lets out a sharp breath. He doesn’t like dancing around the subject.

“Why do you look like that, kid, why did they hurt you, what did you have to tell them,” He fires the questions off rapidly, pacing the space and staring at Minseok like he did something wrong. Minho frowns at him.

“Hey lay off him for just a sec he just got ba-”

“It’s okay,” Minseok pushes himself into a much better position, looking Chan in the eye. “Hyung they woke me up because they’ve finally caught on, I’m not gonna sugar coat it- they’ve started to actually look into our locations,” Minseok looks at everyone. “They’re not going to be happy when they’re bumbling around Walmarts Minho,” He says gently. “They’re mad.”

“They should’ve seen it coming anyways,” Eunwoo spits. “Like hell we’re gonna be accessories to some shit crime-”

“It’s not like the police even work here dumbass,” Chan says, but he changes the subject. “So they attacked you, they think they have the right to attack you?”

“They kind of do,” Yuqi says. Her deep voice has always captivated her audience, it doesn’t matter who’s listening, and the boys have never once found themselves interrupting her speech. “Right now, they own everything about us, which is why I’ve been pushing for days that we escape.” Her words are met with silence, but not because they don’t like the idea, but because it’s impossible.

“Yuqi we can’t see-”

“Don’t you dare say that to me,” She snaps. “There are a lot of things I can’t see, so I’m done waiting around. We all have family to see, and I’m not resting until they’re all right in front of me.” Kun takes a deep breath, looking to the others.

But they’re looking to him. He’s the oldest, he has the answers, he has the life experience, he has the strength. Kun wants to crumble. He doesn’t.

He can’t see.

Chapter Text

“Johnny I think you should lie down,” It’s been six hours.

Nobody went back to bed.

Taeyong is standing in front of him, skin sallow and eyes sunken. He looks even smaller than usual, more defeated, more tired.

Fuck they’re all so tired.

Johnny’s eyes are wide open and they flit to four different places before resting in Taeyong’s deep brown, swallowing him whole like an ocean. They focus in, or at least they try to. Johnny isn’t really focused on anything right now, despite where his gaze might lay. He tries though, he tries when he looks at Taeyong. Taeyong blinks in John’s blankness, a kind of dark that you don’t generally see in the eyes of the living.

“Hyung did you hear me?” He asks quietly, tilting his head to the side. They’re still in the living room, but Renjun, broken and unbreathing, has been moved. Yuta plans on calling the police soon, to report the incident. This time it isn’t their fault, this time it isn’t shady.

They didn’t call the police for the others.

Taeyong reaches out but pulls back after realizing where his fingers were heading. Johnny’s arm hasn’t quite been bandaged as thoroughly as it should be. He lets his hand twitch beside him instead, unsure of what to do. Johnny surprises him after a moment.

“You need rest,” He says finally, voice small, eyes never drifting away from Taeyong’s. Taeyong bites his tongue.

His whole body aches and he feels broken in places that scare him, but what is he going to do about it? The hospital failed them once, they’ll fail them again. Nothing fucking works in the world anymore.

“Of course, hyung,” He whispers. “Come with me?” This is a ploy to lure Johnny out of the problem space, out of the place with too much associated with it. The bedroom, the one without the ugly blank wall, is safe.

Nothing bad has happened yet in there.

Johnny only nods, hardly even detectable, and Taeyong takes his other hand, the one away from the memories, and walks him down the hallway carefully. Ten is in the bedroom, it only makes sense to take Johnny somewhere with him around. When they enter, Ten stands up. He was kneeling beside Chenle, wiping the blood away and listening to him breathe.

The man turns around, walking towards them softly so the steps let Chenle rest.

“You look like shit, Tae,” He says without even sparing him a full glance. It’s supposed to be comforting, and truly it makes part of him laugh, but only for a moment, just a split second. Ten wraps his arms around Johnny and Taeyong ignores how they both grimace in pain.

Where did things go this poorly?

But it’s okay. Taeyong is determined that things are going to be okay.

Part of him hates himself for thinking something like that, and part of him hates himself for truly believing it.

Another part hates him for hating himself- wild, right?

Taeyong knows that the recent events are all a part of one huge, worldwide wave of terror, corruption, fear and disappearing. Morals disappearing, trust disappearing, hope and happiness and people. People too.

It makes him feel better though; makes him feel less alone. If the whole world is suffering, they all suffer together.

Right?

Ten ushers Johnny to the bunk beside Chenle, making sure he lays down gently, resting his head on the pillow. Ten runs his fingers through Johnny’s soft hair, and then very lightly, as the man drifts into a restless sleep, he presses his mouth to his lips. It’s soft, it’s sad and it’s comforting. Johnny kisses back only slightly, already halfway gone, and Ten pulls away. He turns around to look at Taeyong.

“We’re getting them back right,” His voice breaks and Taeyong can see his eyes glisten with tears. “The people in the warehouse?” Taeyong purses his lips.

“Ten you know there’s no guarantee that anyone is there-” He says, but he can’t suppress his own hope, and so in contrast to his words he nods.

He makes that mistake.

Ten walks away from the beds slowly, crossing the room to stand in front of Taeyong, who’s more awkwardly leaning into his right hip because he’s pretty sure his left leg is broken somewhere. They look at each other for a moment, and Taeyong can tell Ten has a thousand things he wants to say, but everytime he opens his mouth he closes it right back up. Finally, instead of speaking, Ten takes Taeyong’s arm and pulls him gently into a hug, saying everything with his embrace that he couldn’t with his tongue.

Taeyong hugs him back and feels him shake in his arms.

Everything disappears with that hug, everything they’ve grown to despise about each other. Like Ten’s alcoholism, or the way Taeyong began to crumble. No longer do they blame each other, because in this fucked up disappearing world all they have is each other.

Too bad it took three dead brothers to get them to realise it.



“You remember who I am right?” There’s a moment of silence hanging in the air after a sentence like that, an anticipation, a certain type of fear drizzling down stain glass windows made of panes of lost. Of forgotten. Where will the water sit?

Will it?

Anywhere?

“How could I forget.” That’s good.

Kind of.

That’s kind of good.

Taeil is seated on the bed, and his eyes are filled with something Yuhyeon doesn’t have the courage to look deep enough inside of to figure out. Maybe it’s pain, or anger, or even just exhaustion. Maybe it’s all three.

She stands in front of him, trying to think of what to say.

“I’m sorry-”

“Please don’t.” Well that didn’t work. She shifts her weight from one side to the other and back again. Eugene leans against the doorframe, taking in a deep breath. It’s hard to watch her struggle for air like that, but there’s nothing he can say about the situation. The whole ordeal is between Taeil and Yuhyeon.

“How are you feeling?”

“Like something is missing.” Taeil speaks so clearly it hurts, voice sharp like broken glass. His eyes are steady, trained on Yuhyeon’s face. He’s using his words carefully, choosing just the right string, choosing how to break her apart the way they’ve been breaking him for a year. Taeil feels cheated. He feels let down by the one person he thought he might be able to trust. He feels hurt.

She took his life away from him by sending him here.

Taeil doesn’t even know what he’s missing.

Yuhyeon makes a sound that reminds Eugene of a strangled animal and she shifts awkwardly again.

“That’s what I’m here to talk to you about,” She says, finally able to decide what she wants to say. Taeil raises an eyebrow. “I think maybe this is only temporary.” Eugene takes in another deep breath, running a hand through his hair. “Do you mind? If I help you try to jog your memory?” She inches a little closer, anxiously twirling her pen in her hand. Taeil looks unimpressed, but he also looks tired.

“There’s nothing to jog,” He says. “It’s empty.” But he leans back against the wall and doesn’t flinch when she sits on the edge of the bed, as far away from him as she can be.

“I think it’s worth a try, just telling you what you’re missing,” She says. She glances down at her clipboard, all the stories she could think of overwhelming her at once. “You live with seventeen other boys,” She says slowly, and then she laughs. Eugene laughs.

Taeil laughs.

“Bullshit,” He says. “How the fuck would we fit in one house?”

“It’s an apartment-”

“That does not make it better.” Taeil scoffs, rolling his eyes. “If you’re here to joke with me then leave, I’m not in the mood.” His eyes go from smiling to hard quite quickly, and Yuhyeon swallows, shaking her head.

“I’m not joking. You’re the oldest. The youngest is sixteen and you think he’s super adorable.” She pushes forwards. “You’re always telling us how Shuhua reminds you of your boys, the younger ones.” Taeil’s eyebrows are furrowed now. He doesn’t want to believe her, he doesn’t want to accept that this is real shit she’s talking about and he doesn’t want to accept that he completely forgets it all.

Them all.

“You only have one chair at your table,” She says. “You wanted to work really hard to buy more.” Eugene straightens up. What a weird thing to make note of, only one chair. How the hell is that going to help him remember?

But Yuhyeon is adamant, she’s sure that she can help. She wants to fix it, she wants to fix it all. It’s her fault they did this to him anyways, using him and his ‘insubordination’ to experiment. It’s sick, actually, the more she thinks about it, but here they are and there’s no way to change the past.

“You don’t usually take charge in the open,” Taeil listens to her with clouded eyes. “But you feel responsible for all of them.” Yuhyeon is searching his face for any recognition, anything at all, but nothing registers.

Nothing works.

Eugene let’s this go on for an hour, but soon his frustration rises as high as Taeil’s who began pacing ten minutes ago, trying to take Yuhyeon’s words and make them real behind closed eyes.

“Enough.” He finally spits, which takes both Taeil and Yuhyeon by surprise. Eugene is shaking his head, and Taeil pauses, wrapping his hands around his elbows and hugging them to his chest. He turns on his heels to Yuhyeon, still seated on the bed.

“He’s right,” His voice is hoarse with tears he isn’t going to shed. “There’s nothing.”

They’re surrounded by complete and overwhelming silence as his words sink in.

“There’s nothing beyond these walls for me.” Taeil says quietly, and it’s words like these that even break Eugene’s resolve, the man who’s proved he hardly feels a thing. But that’s weakness, that’s pure weakness right there and Eugene feels responsible. When did being a doctor result in shit like this?

There’s not a thing beyond these walls.

Not for Taeil.

“Taeil I have something to ask of you,” Yuhyeon says finally. “But before you say yes, you need to promise me-” Both boys look at her in confusion, and then they look at each other, waiting for her to finish her sentence. “You need to promise it’s gone for real.”

Taeil’s chest aches.

That sentence makes his chest ache.

The faces he sees don’t have eyes, they don’t have anything. They can’t see. Taeil can’t see, not them anyways. He closes his eyes, squeezing them shut. He tries so fucking hard to make them real, everything Yuhyeon said.

All of it comes up blank.

He takes a few steps backwards, back connecting with the pale, cold wall, and his eyes fly open, terrified of it and how the ice seeps into his skin.

He can’t. He can’t see a thing.

They’re gone. Whoever they may have been-

They’re gone.

He looks at the doctors.

“Nothing.”

 

It happens just as expected, but Sicheng still finds himself panicking.

When the very first person comes into view he grabs Jaemin and Chan reflexively, pushing Jaemin behind himself and dragging both of them along, almost as if he actually wants to escape the people he knows will pursue them.

He does. He really does. But he doesn’t think they’ll have to be placid and stay still, they’ll be allowed to run- it’s not like it’ll save them.

“Hyung what-”

“We can’t look like we want this,” Sicheng hisses under his breath and the other two understand, picking up their own pace. Winwin takes in a shaking breath, anticipation, excitement and fear coursing through his veins. This is good.

Like, mostly good.

And just like they expected they’re immediately followed. It’s slow at first, but as Winwin slowly pushes the other two into a run the people behind them follow suit, and suddenly they’re racing down the street, dodging streetlights and uneven pavement.

Jaemin can hear nothing but his heartbeat in his ears as he runs, tiny organ beating itself silly inside his chest. His breaths are fast and inconsistent and he pumps his arms and legs as quickly as he can. Everything else is a blur, anything he feels, anything he sees.

Which is how his dumbass steps on a white tarp, which was concealing a nasty piece of uneven pavement. This crack sends the teen sprawling onto the concrete, and no longer are his feelings a blur because blood and searing pain rip across his left side, making him cry out. Maybe it’s for the best that he fell, it’s easier to be kidnapped like that, but it doesn’t make it any less scary. His heartbeat becomes a headache instead and Chan spins around, having heard him make contact with the asphalt.

“Jaemin!” But their pursuers are on top of them before Chan can get there, running with Sicheng now in the opposite direction of safety.

This is what we want this is what we want this is what we want-

Repeating those words to yourself while a stranger jumps on you is not as comforting as it was supposed to be, and the man doesn’t hesitate to grab a handful of Jaemin’s hair in his hand to look at him in the light of the moon and the synthetic bulbs around them.

“You’re kind of pretty,” he says, almost absentmindedly, before slamming Jaemin’s head backwards, cracking it off the pavement. Jaemin groans, because it wasn’t quite hard enough to send him under. The man presses on his throat, which is only to hold him still, as he looks up at his comrades staring down Chan and Sicheng.

“Don’t hurt him.” Sicheng spits, and he isn’t faking the fear in his tone. Jaemin tries to suck in a deep breath to steady his heart rate but the fingers around his neck won’t allow it and only a little bit of oxygen gets through. At least it’s enough to stay awake.

For now, that is.

“Don’t run.” Says one of the attackers. There are four of them, including the one on top of Jaemin, which already has the small band outnumbered.

But it’s not like they want to run away either.

Only a little.

Chan shakes his head and takes a step forwards but that only makes them uneasy and the man presses harder on Jaemin’s throat, cutting his airway off completely now. His hands fly up to his throat immediately, desperately tugging at the impairment but there’s nothing he can do about it. Chan stops in his tracks, eyes widening at the progression.

“Wait I wasn’t trying to-”

“Shut up, if the two of you move he dies.” The man on top of Jaemin growls with a voice so deep it hardly suits him; he’s the smallest of the four. Jaemin can feel his consciousness ebb away, terror eating at his oxygen deprived mind. It’s so funny how easily debilitated people become if you take away just one thing.

Chan and Sicheng stand stalk still, and the remaining three pursuers approach them.

Sicheng keeps his eyes on his little brother at all times, struggling to stay still with the way Jaemin’s body is visibly failing. He doesn’t say a thing when he’s kicked behind the knees and forced to the ground, and he stays silent, involuntarily, when he’s delivered a blow to the head so swift and fast it launches his entire being from his body. All is dark for Winwin, and his part is done. This was his plan.

He got them fucked. He got them taken.

In his nothingness, Sicheng wonders if he made a mistake.

 

Yuhyeon nods and Eugene isn’t sure why exactly she’d ask. She makes it clear quite soon though.

“Eugene you never found out how he got here,” It isn’t a question and she doesn’t look away from Taeil as she speaks to the other doctor.

“I didn’t-”

She ignores him.

“And everything you had is gone,” She says to Taeil, who nods very slowly. He knows where she’s heading.

He hates it.

“How about one more go then?”

 

Chapter Text

Taeil wants to say no. He wants to say no so bad, but why? Who is he, without even a basic past, to deny them the information that’s going to save the world? He thinks maybe somewhere someone might be missing him, but what difference does it make? Taeil can’t miss them back. Taeil wouldn’t know them if he saw them.

His entire body screams please. It screams at him to deny the request, to spare himself the pain, because he’s tired. But there’s no real reason to say no, so Taeil doesn’t. He makes the realization very slowly that he’s admitting he’s gone. He’s admitting he’s a shell, he’s admitting that there’s nothing but a blur of a past life.

He’ll give that up for the world, because the blur is more painful than nothing at all.

“Okay.”

Eugene is shocked, he’s shocked Yuhyeon even asked, he’s shocked that he himself forgot that they still haven’t won yet, that the world is still in peril.

He’s shocked that Taeil has given everything up with ‘okay’.

“Wait Moon are you-” He takes a step forwards but the look the patient sends him freezes him in place. It isn’t icy, or even cold, but just the same it holds him still, it stops him in his tracks. Taeil’s eyes are so sad.

So empty.

The man walks to the bed and Yuhyeon snaps out of it, beginning to set up the machines. Eugene takes a second to collect himself, still confused, still worried about what this is going to do after a third try, but the three of them work quickly and soon, exhausted and somber, Taeil is attached to all sorts of tubes. He’s ready.

He takes a deep breath, swallowing, and he thinks.

He thinks maybe sorrow would be the word he’d use to describe what he’s feeling. Taeil is sorrowful. He’s lonely, despite the presence of others, he’s desolate. He doesn’t feel like a person, not with only a year of memory left inside him. It’s this feeling that’s dragging him down, this ugly, fucked up feeling that makes okay to him to go once more.

Just one more time.

He knows that when he comes back, all the old shit will be gone for real. He knows that he’ll probably only retain the Disappeared memories for a few minutes, and then he knows it’ll be over for him.

There will be no old Taeil.

 

Jaemin is shaken awake roughly, and with consciousness comes everything.

Including the way his head pounds.

Jaemin groans softly before he remembers where he is, what just happened, who he was with-

He forces his eyes open, looking around wildly. The lights are too bright at first but he doesn’t relax until he’s able to spot both Sicheng and Chan beside him, looking like they’ve only just woken up too. He’d be able to breathe a sigh of relief if their surroundings weren’t quite so…

Empty.

And his hands are tied together. That doesn’t ease his anxiety either.

“Jae? Jaemin are you okay?” Chan hisses and Jaemin nods, trying to ignore the intense throbbing in his temples. Winwin is looking at him expectantly as well, and Jaemin can see the tension leave his shoulders when he nods.

“I’m okay,” He says softly. He knows they’re not the only ones in the room, and speaking out loud to the other two feels bizarre with others listening in. A tall man is leaning against the wall with a few other companions littered about the room. A slightly shorter man approaches the three of them on the floor.

“We have a couple questions for you,” He says, getting closer to Chan than Sicheng would have deemed necessary, but there’s nothing he can do about it. Chan presses backwards into the wall and releases a breath he had been holding when the man pulls back. Jaemin bites his tongue to conceal the anger. Get in, find the others, get out.

That’s all they’re here for.

“Ask away,” Sicheng spits, keeping his eyes glued to the wall on the other side of the room. Or at least what he assumes is a wall- of course it’s a wall- walls make up rooms. This is a room.

They can’t see it though.

Their captor sits back on his heels, but he seems uninterested and bored, which is probably better than appearing ecstatic or excited about a situation like this.

Chan wonders why they let Jaemin come again, because with each second that this drags on he’s less confident about the positive outcomes. He forgot the minor detail that none of them know where they are, and he forgot the minor detail that they’re dealing with armed baddies from the underground. It seems delusional now that they’d even think they’d get out of this.

“Question one- and only one, for now,” The man says, pacing up and down in front of them. He stops in front of Jaemin. “Have you remembered?”

Jaemin looks at Winwin. Sicheng nods.

“Answer him,” He whispers gently, and Jaemin turns back to look the man in the eyes as he leers towards him, expectant.

“I have.” The man’s expression changes into disappointment, before it flashes back to those bored eyes. He moves on.

“You,” He says to Chan.

“No-” Chan shakes his head but doesn’t have to say anything else as the man nods at Winwin.

“Have you?”

“What does that have to do with anything?” He asks, which is not really his place- at all- but his mind isn’t in it either. His mind is in his anger and his stress and his want to just make it to Kun and the others and then finally make it home.

To Yuta.

He wants to make it to Yuta.

For that question though he receives a blow to the face and Jaemin has to bite back a scream of terror. He was not expecting that.

The pain blossoms from Sicheng’s mouth and cheekbone and he can feel something warm drip down his neck.

Great.

Good job Winwin.

“You are in no position to be asking questions.” The voice sounds right beside his ear, breath hot on his neck. Sicheng bites his tongue as the man finally steps back and then shakes his head.

“I haven’t.”

“Now that wasn’t so hard!” The man exclaims. He turns to his friends. “It seems like they’re more feisty every day now,” Scoffing, he shakes his head. He closes his eyes, taking in a deep breath. When he opens them, the two men in front of him look beyond disheveled, they look terrified, and they look mad. The teen just looks scared, and he has to laugh. “Is he important to you?” He nods in the direction of the kid, addressing the other two. Sicheng scoffs but doesn’t say anything, scared that, although it’s obvious, if he were to say ‘ yes of course he is’, more harm would come to Jaemin. Chan senses this too and keeps his mouth shut.

The silence is a little disappointing but the man doesn’t worry about it, his job isn’t to be an awful person or to bring torture or any of those things. His job is to send people home.

And if they can’t go home, then he can be awful.

Kindness doesn’t make money, not here anyways.

“Let’s get this over with,” He says finally and Winwin looks at Chan, worry for themselves suddenly settling in. Get what over with. It never once crossed Sicheng’s mind that this whole endeavor might actually be fatal.

The metal taste in his mouth intensifies.

The man nods to another person on the wall, someone none of the boys had bothered to make note of. He comes to stand in front of them.

“It’s your lucky day!” He exclaims, crouching down to be on the same level as them. He’s wiry and thin but taller than a tree, towering over them easily if he stands at his full height. He looks young though, hardly any older than Sicheng- maybe about a year. He sneers from about a foot away and smiles as if they should be happy he’s here. Sicheng pushes it, knowing very well he’ll probably end up getting hit again.

“The fuck are you talking about?” He growls. The man blinks, cocking his head to the left.

“Rude.” He loses the fake sweetness, sighing heavily. “It’s in your best interest not to be rude to me.”

“Stop playing with them,” The first man complains. The second rolls his eyes, staring at Chan and mouthing fine with more attitude than he’s ever gotten from Seungmin. It almost makes him laugh to think about the moody teen, and then it hurts his chest to miss him too.

It bothers him that someone like this man reminds him of his brothers at all.

He avoids eye contact with him and Sicheng clears his throat, taunting them.

“What the hell do you want from us? We’ll give it to you, and take our friends home thank you-”

“You will do no such thing,” He says, spinning on his heels. What a dick- Chan thinks. “You will listen to what I have to say, you will do what I tell you to do, and then we can all go home happy.” He takes a seat on something the boys presume is a stool they can’t exactly see and glares at them. His spunk would be amusing if the boys were safe, if they were home surrounded by the rest of their family and if everything was normal again. It’s just scary here though, because he very obviously does exactly what he wants without anyone’s permission. All sorts of things run through Chan’s head, but the most prominent thing is happiness that he’s nowhere near Jaemin if he stays on the stool.

“You guys get to go home.” His words shatter all of the scenarios Chan had been building up in his mind, but very suddenly both he and Sicheng are exchanging a flustered glance before whipping their heads back around to the man on the stool. “Well, you two,” He nods at Chan and Winwin.

“We already know how to go home,” Sicheng says. “We’re not going anywhere without Jaemin-”

“Or Kun, or Jisung and Minho and-” Chan picks up where Sicheng was interrupted- by himself of course. The man raises his eyebrows.

Yes, he’s confused, and he should stop to think about why they’re saying such a thing, and why they’re demanding names like those. But the first man is bored.

“Shut up.” He pushes himself away from the wall. “Listen to us and you’ll be home in no time.”

“I told you,” Sicheng hisses. “We know how to get home, everyone can go home, and we’re not leaving without everyone we came here for.” That might’ve been a mistake, to admit they came here.

“You came here?” The second man is intrigued. He glances over at the first man. “Well then,” His tone is dry, dust coating every word. “It doesn’t matter to us whether you came willingly or not, we have only one job and it’s getting done today.” Jaemin’s knees hurt from the pressure he’s been putting on them for so long, and he’s still stuck on why he said only Winwin and Chan were going home. What about him?

“I’m going to explain this to you quickly,” The first man is tired of everything- this day has already been long for him- and so he’s running out of patience. Nothing about these three is more special than anyone else he’s dealt with for the past two years. “Think of us as Robin Hood, do gooders for a select few. If you can get home, we get you home, and if not…” He trails off, leaving everything up to a person’s imagination. He nods at Jaemin. “You older two have the ability to make it home, he doesn’t.” Ice trickles down Jaemin’s back. “But I’m in no need of anyone else here, so you’re going to do as I say, because what happens to him isn’t going to matter to me.”

You see he hasn’t cracked the code, just like most people. These men are under the impression that a person can’t go home if they’ve remembered already. They have their reasons too.

Sicheng ignores the man’s ignorance, he focuses on what’s most important in his words; he threatened Jaemin’s life. That is not something Winwin is willing to put on the line. To speed things up it seems, the man doing the talking steps forwards to strengthen his statement, drawing an object from his coat that Winwin can’t make out. He guesses it’s sharp with the way it glints in the lighting.

“Don’t do anything hasty-” He backtracks, terrified of the fact that Jaemin is closer in proximity to the dangerous man with the sharp thing than he is to Sicheng or Chan. Jaemin keeps his eyes glued to the floor, the very same terror he had felt only hours ago creeping back from wherever the hell it had recluded to.

“Then listen to me. Do as your told and don’t say a fucking word.” The man says and the second nods, adding;

“He won’t hesitate to kill him I can promise you that much.” It’s nonchalant, as if he doesn’t really care for the conversation, but nonetheless he strikes fear into them. Jaemin still stares at the floor in front of him, entire body rigid and Winwin can do nothing but stare at him in horror. If he speaks- to explain- they’ll kill his little brother? Sicheng doesn’t like that idea at all.

“Wait-” But he’s cut off when the first man kicks Jaemin sending him sprawling to the right, his body connecting with the floor painfully. He tries not to make any sound but the injury from the hard pavement in the chase causes this to feel agonizing and Jaemin bites his tongue so hard it bleeds in an attempt to stay quiet. The man crouches down beside his head on the floor and drags the teen into a sitting position, hugging his back close to his chest.

The pointy thing digs into his throat.

“Don’t test me.”

 

“Did you have to be so rough with the kid?” Junhong pulls the door shut, casting a rueful glance over the unconscious teen one last time before locking it. They had forced the other two home at the expense of the young boy, and they’re finally leaving him alone for a while to recover. He’ll join the others soon.

“You don’t need to lock it.” His companion says instead of answering his question and Junhong shakes his head, exasperated.

“Habit, Hyung, habit.”

“Kid can’t even see the door,” The other man continues as they walk down the hallway. For them, this place is alive, busy and in full colour. There’s even an old painting hanging on a nearby door on the left side, the words Only missing ‘til it’s found engraved in the gold frame. The men pay it no mind as they walk passed it, having seen it thousands of times. “That time was weird though.” The man says after a few minutes of patrolling empty hallways and Junhong tilts his head. He knows what he means, but he’s afraid to say it out loud.

“You think that maybe we should have listened to them-?”

“Whether we had or not doesn’t matter to us, we did our job the way we were supposed to.” He sighs, stopping at a locked door and taking his keys out of his pocket to open it. “Listening to them might’ve changed the game, but for now we play by the old rules.” Junhong watches him disappear through the threshold, staring after him.

“Hyung?”

“What is it Junhong, we have shit to do.”

“You really think they might’ve known something important?” His hyung sighs, turning around to stare at him with bored eyes. Junhong shifts uncomfortably under his gaze, recognizing that this look is trouble and he caused it.

“No. They were kids off the street, nothings, they just wanted to stall. People are afraid of the unknown, Junhong,” His features soften, pursing his lips. “Now come.” Junhong hesitates for only a moment before stepping through the doorframe with his friend. He doesn’t agree, not at all.

He thinks they made a mistake, one that might cost them.

The captives this time said they knew how to get back. They were so certain. Now, Junhong knows how to go home, but Junhong knows he can’t.

Or at least that’s what he thinks.

‘Everyone can go home’ that’s what the one had said. Everyone. Junhong’s eyes bore into the other man’s back as they continue to navigate through the building.

There’s nothing Junhong wants more in the world than to get out of here.

Nothing he wants more than to go home.

 

Yuhyeon waits until everything is set up, she waits until Taeil is laying on the bed and Eugene is by his side with his clipboard ready and she waits until it’s time.

And then she walks to the door.

“Wait- Yuhyeon where are you going?” Eugene looks confused and for the first time ever lost. She turns around, crossing her arms over her chest and sighing heavily. Taeil looks just as confused.

“I can’t be here- for this.” She admits. “I’m needed in the Arrival Room anyways, we’re on a schedule,” She pretends to remind Eugene of this but it’s really just an excuse to escape. She doesn’t want to be here, she can’t face that kind of pain. She wants to be there when Taeil wakes up and has it all.

She doesn’t want to be there when it’s gone.

Eugene nods.

“O-okay, that’s okay you’re needed elsewhere. Taeil and I can do this.” He’s trying to make it sound fun, sound exciting. They’re saving the world after all, but in the process…

Well Taeil lost his.

She nods once more, and looks Taeil right in the eyes.

“Goodbye, I’ll see you soon.” She says, before backing out of the room. She closes the door behind her carefully and dashes down the hallway, bypassing a painting on her right, making her stop in her tracks. It’s not something she isn’t used to, the painting, but this time it makes her think.

‘Only missing ‘til it’s found’ She stares at it for a moment. Taeil’s memory is missing. She purses her lips, stress eating away at her. He’ll find it, she’s sure he will.

And with that she pushes forwards towards the Arrival Room. She wasn’t lying when she said she needed to be here, but when she enters the space is still, like the calm before a storm.

“We’re expecting something anytime now, Doctor,” A male nurse says to her and Yuhyeon nods.

“Thank you, get the beds and anesthetic ready.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“And we’re sure it should be today?”

“Calendar doesn’t usually lie.”

“Perfect.” She takes in a deep breath. With everything in place, Yuhyeon and the few nurses take to the sides of the space.

Then they wait.

Chapter Text

The house has been in an awkward limbo of quiet for an entire day, everyone kind of just existing without living. Finally, Ten calls all the members into the living room, having had enough of the sulking and the sad.

“Are we doing this?” He asks. “Going to investigate?” The room is full of silence and somber faces but Donghyuck’s lights up at the idea.

“Yes of course-” He begins to say but is interrupted by Taeyong immediately.

“Not you,” He snaps. The man observes the room slowly, eyes skimming over every single body. Changbin, Felix, Seungmin, Jeongin. “Not you,” Jeno, Haechan, Jisung. “Not you,” Johnny. “Not you.” Pretty much everyone else is okay, he thinks. The others look put out by this; so he explains it all too.

“My kids,” He says, gesturing to Jeno, Haechan and Jisung and the others nod their heads in agreement. He looks at Changbin, Felix, Jeongin and Seungmin, sighing heavily. “My kids for now,” This garners a few much needed chuckles. “Half dead.” That’s Johnny, who complains.

“I am not half dead-” He exclaims.

“Don’t argue babe.” Ten says, still chuckling. Ten takes a deep breath, nodding along with Taeyong’s logic. “That’s fair, all of you are too young for something potentially dangerous. We have no idea what to expect from something like this.”

“Which is what, exactly?” Jeno asks, still not quite sure what they’re talking about. Taeyong raises his eyebrows.

“It’s been rumoured that people have come home,” Taeyong gestures to the people in the room who have. “Which was not something we knew how to do a little more than a week ago.” Jeno nods, unsure about where this is going. “The news says they think there’s a bunch of them in the Button Factory-”

“The old medical facility?”

“Exactly, and apparently they’re not allowed to leave.”

“Something along those lines,” Yuta adds. He feels awkward standing around without Winwin right beside him. His boyfriend wasn’t one for hugs, not often anyways, but he’d tolerate the way Yuta always seemed to be attached to him.

Therefore, standing alone is agonizing.

“We think that there’s a slight possibility that we might have people we care about on the inside.” Taeyong finishes and Johnny nods from his place on the couch.

“Taeil in particular, even Kun maybe,” He says to the group. “People went missing over there,” The Disappeared world. “And no one sees them once they’re gone. It’s a possibility-”

“A slight one,” Ten insists.

“It’s a slight possibility that they might have found their way here.” Johnny gives up on the hope though. “But it’s even more possible that they haven’t. Doing this is random guys it could get someone hurt for nothing even-”

“It’s not like the place is full of people with guns about to shoot down anyone who goes near it,” Jungwoo scoffs, speaking up for the first time. “We’re just going to look at it, to see if people are inside, it’s completely safe.” Yuta and Lucas nod, agreeing.

“Nobody is going to do anything stupid, and if there’s a chance that they’re in there-”

“We haven’t seen them in over a year!” Lucas cuts Yuta off but Yuta doesn’t mind, he was heading there anyways. “That’s way too fucking long in my opinion.” He finishes with a growl and suddenly there’s nothing else hindering the idea. Everyone agrees.

There’s nothing they’re not going to do if it means they can bring their family home.

“We’re just going to check it out,” Ten says, stepping closer to the centre of the room. The younger boys watch in wonder, completely infatuated with the idea of seeing more family. They haven’t even gotten the chance to say hi Chenle yet; he hasn’t woken up since the incident.

And the shock of Renjun, well…

“We planned on this forever ago, so let’s just do it,” Taeyong says, sighing heavily. It’s a mundane thing, it’s purely leaving the house to look at a building in town but yet it casts a heavy shadow over the group.

As if it’s something they shouldn’t be doing.

But there’s no real reason for their inhibitions, and Ten pushes past his own smoothly.

“Not everyone needs to go-” He says. “Just whoever wants to.” Lucas nods, taking a step forwards and Yuta follows. Jungwoo does too, a little tentative at first, but finally he stands beside Lucas like he’s proud to be there.

Both of them feel like they’ve fucked this family over too many times, they feel as if the places they hold in the well oiled machine are rusty and unnecessary, they feel like they’re damaging. Lucas and Jungwoo both want to prove they’re just as in this as everyone else. Going out to scout for lost family feels like a good beginning.

Redemption, it’s all they want.

Ten bounces back and forth, unable to decide. He knows what he wants, but he also knows that people at home need help to. What if Johnny falls asleep and Chenle wakes up? What if something happens to the boys? What if someone else comes home while they’re gone? Yuta senses his hesitation and speaks to him softly.

“You don’t need to come, Ten,” He says gently, brushing his own hair off his face. “This really isn’t a job for too many people.” Ten notes how his eyes are sunken, like he’s tired.

Like maybe a little bit of him is missing.

Ten also can’t complain, because despite wanting to save the world, this isn’t a world saving mission, and despite how his world is scattered all over the place- too much of it is staying home to leave behind. He breathes a sigh of relief when they understand without him saying a thing.

Yuta continues, saying;

“I actually think this is good, just Woo, Lucas and I,” He makes sure he speaks loud, clear enough for every mind in the room to process. He looks directly at Taeyong, wanting to convince him in particular to stay home.

Taeyong’s trauma has been deeper than anyone else’s, because his scars aren’t all visible, and his scars render him not all there. He’s been… a multitude of things in the past few years, but broken and stressed seem to be the two biggest umbrella words. Stressed like a rope- they only go so far before snapping- and broken like trust; completely fucking shattered- and never quite the same.

But Yuta doesn’t mention any of that outloud, despite knowing everyone thinks it.

“You’d be a liability, Tae. You’d be slow.” He’s teasing him with valid arguments and the whole room erupts in laughter.

“He’s not wrong, Hyung,” Jisung adds. “You look like you’re on the verge of passing out.” There’s more laughter and even Taeyong himself grins, rolling his eyes.

“I am-”

“Goodgladthat’ssettled,” Yuta says quickly, wrapping up the conversation with relief painting his features. “We’ll be back in like,” He glances down at his watch. “Three hours? It takes a while to get there-” He walks over to the window, pulling the shades open. The flooding is only ankle deep now- which he thinks is going to feel disgusting- but doesn’t appear to be dangerous. “Yeah, three hours would make sense.” Jungwoo and Lucas nod, starting to gather things like their boots and jackets. Jungwoo hands Yuta his without looking at his eyes.

He’s not exactly proud of their current relationship.

Yuta ignores it, taking the coat without a word and slipping his arms through the holes. Everyone else begins to disperse, heading to a bedroom or the bathroom or the kitchen, desperate for something to amuse themselves while Yuta, Jungwoo and Lucas are gone. Something to distract them from the way Chenle doesn’t move-

Something to distract them from Renjun.

Taeyong, Ten and Johnny stand by the door, prepared to watch them leave.

“You’re careful, right? There’s still water and there’s a chance that if people are there there will be some sort of security-”

“Taeyong we’ll be fine-”

“If they’re keeping them in then obviously they’ll attack outside threats!” Taeyong says, cutting Yuta off who just wanted to silence his worries. “Don’t be a threat-”

“Be an observant passersby.” Ten says. Lucas rolls his eyes.

“We’re building up a lot of suspense for this on the off chance-”

“You’re honestly just scaring the kids.” Jungwoo says, voice low and small as he zips up his jacket, not looking anyone in the face. The others look over their shoulders where Jisung, Jeno and Felix are standing quietly, staring at them.

“He’s right,” Johnny whispers. “You guys will be great, see you in a few hours.” He says this a lot louder, as if only to console the young eyes boring into their backs. Yuta smiles confidently.

“Of course!” He flashes his eyes with mischief. “As if anything can stand between us and them, right?”

Us and them. The returned, the missing, the never even left in the first place. Us and them.

Yuta is tired of all the distance, he’s tired of shit standing in his way.

Jungwoo is the last out the door, but he turns around quickly, grabbing Taeyong’s wrist and speaking low into his ear.

“We’re going to get them back.”

Chapter Text

Jaemin’s head throbs when he opens his eyes, but terror is more prominent than any ache. Without thinking, he pushes himself up from laying down, breathing hard on his hands and knees. Everything is white. It’s blank.

And the headrush almost makes him scream.

Panic surges inside him because everything is quiet too; No Chan. No Sicheng.

Alone. Alone in a white place where Jaemin can’t see a thing.

He thinks that maybe this is the first time he’s ever truly been in danger on this side of reality. Sure, he’s never loved it. He’s never enjoyed being separated from his family, he’s never relished the painful memories, he’s never fallen in love with the sun on this side when he knows it shines so much brighter back home-

But it’s been bearable, and because Jaemin is a smart boy he never went outside at night. He’s always been afraid of the threat, despite never having been situated with it. This is different. The threat has knocked the breath from his lungs and the consciousness from his head and now the threat has cut Jaemin away from his friends, from his family and from his ability to see.

And he thinks that he’s terrified, because the danger is everywhere, lurking in shadows he doesn’t even know about.

“Come on Na.” He spits, staring at the blank floor, desperate to fight the nausea and the pain and the killer headache. Desperate.

Very slowly, he regains his ability to relax his muscles- he hadn’t even noticed they were so tense- and very slowly, he sits back, tucking his knees into his chest. He can see his clothing, and he focuses on the way the denim in his jeans looks. It’s woven, almost, and Jaemin is truly astonished by the craftsmanship. It doesn’t matter that the knees are ripped, the fabric is still breathtaking. Have you ever studied denim? Jaemin hasn’t, so this is the very first time he’s staring into the strands, taking in every detail. He’s focusing on what he can see, focusing on the information he can take in.

It makes him feel less blind.

He gets a deep thought after only a few seconds, a thought that makes him sad until it makes him laugh because it’s deep, but it’s fake deep. Jaemin isn’t a fake deep person, he’s not really one for poems- that was always Renjun’s job- but he feels like a metaphor for denim would come straight out of one of Renjun’s best works.

It’s tight knit, every little crisscross of whatever the hell it’s made out of, and it reminds Jaemin of his family. Every single boy kept the house together.

Every single one.

This part of the metaphor isn’t cringey, Jaemin decides, but when he looks at the rips and thinks about the way they’ve been torn apart-

That part makes him laugh.

Fuck being torn apart.

When Jaemin goes home, they can all be together again.

He fiddles with the loose strands around the edges of the rips, pulling at the strings and trying to think of a way out of this. He’s sitting on the floor. He can’t see much.

He’s alone.

He doesn’t know where he is.

He doesn’t know where Kun is-

He wishes Sicheng was here; Sicheng would know what to do. Sicheng always has the answers. This is Winwin’s plan, and Jaemin realizes that apart from find Kun and get the fuck out, he really has no details. Jaemin doesn’t know how.

But that’s okay, Jaemin decides. It’s okay because he’s going to improvise.

He twists the strands a little more, straining their hold on the fabric. He takes note of the blood from the gravel on the road when he fell, but he doesn’t care much for it all. I’ve seen more blood than that, he thinks.

Then he wishes he could un-think that.

“There has to be a door in here somewhere-” He says aloud, but he’s cut off quite quickly. The sound of said door opening makes his blood run cold and heart skip a beat and Jaemin completely freezes, fingers pinching ripped denim so hard they blanche. His heart rate picks up faster than the speed of a hummingbird’s before the man even enters the space, and by the time he does Jaemin fears the damn thing might fail.

Maybe that would be better- Jae’s fight would be over and maybe that would be better.

The man seems to appear out of thin air even though Jaemin knows it’s only because he can’t see the door, and he finds himself on his feet instantly, backing up into the wall as the intruder fills up the space. For Jaemin, it feels like all of the oxygen has been sucked from the room as he presses his back flat into the nothing wall.

It’s the same man as before, the taller one, but his look is different this time. Apprehensive, like he’s contemplating the risks of approaching the small teen (scared for his life) because he’s dangerous.

Jaemin could be dangerous right now if he wasn’t so scared.

Maybe it's the fear that makes him dangerous.

The man takes a couple steps forwards, imprinting himself in the space, and he makes sure that the door behind him is tightly closed. And locked.

Jaemin swallows.

The guy is tall- which was already established- but this time Jaemin takes in other details. The almond shape of his eyes- which are very bright- and the arch of his eyebrows- which is scary. The man clears his throat.

“-um, hi.”

If Jaemin wasn’t afraid of passing out in fear, maybe he would have laughed. The terrifying man with all the fucking power just said hi. He said it gently too, like he was nervous. Instead of anything smart or funny or even plain relevant;  “What the fuck?” comes out of Jaemin’s mouth the second he opens it. This makes the man laugh awkwardly, taking a few steps closer, which only results in Jaemin’s heart dropping further into his stomach and his spine beginning to hurt where the bone meets the wall.

The guy laughs again, sighing heavily.

“Of course you’re scared of me,” He says, but really he mumbles and it’s only for himself. Jaemin’s hands shake as he tries to make sense of what a sentence like that means.

Of course I’m fucking scared of you.

The man reaches up with a big hand to rub the back of his neck, sighing again. He shifts his weight from foot to foot, bouncing in a way that comes off to Jaemin like he’s nervous. Jaemin watches his captor look almost as scared as he is. Why?

Something seems to click in the guy’s mind before Jaemin can figure it out, and Jaemin watches as his demeanor changes. The trembling stops, the anxiety vanishes, and suddenly the tall man with the almond eyes is staring daggers into him.

This doesn’t calm Jaemin’s own nerves at all.

“Wait-” But he doesn’t, and the man is in front of Jaemin in seconds, left hand against the wall.

Face not five inches away.

Stuck. Jaemin’s got himself stuck between a rock and a literal hard place. He gasps, turning his head to the side to stare at the wall to his left- as if there’s anything for him to study over there.

The man towers over him, at least ten centimetres taller, and Jaemin has never felt so small, not even when Johnny would hug him. His breath is hot on his face and his other hand hovers near Jaemin’s left wrist, as if he’s going to grab it if Jaemin tries to move.

Jae is hardly breathing at this point, praying that he’ll pull back, give him space, leave him the fuck alone.

“I need to ask you something.” The man finally says after a moment, and Jaemin doesn’t speak, mouth glued shut. Instead, he nods very slightly, eyes still trained on the white ten feet away. His breath hitches in his throat knowing that this person could do anything to him right now, as if the proximity didn’t already make it hard to breathe.

Jaemin was wrong;

Now he’s in danger.

“Perfect,” The guy mutters again, and then the unoccupied hand slowly raises, gently grabbing Jaemin’s chin and forcing him to look him in the eyes.

They’re dark, but there’s something else in those irises, something Jaemin didn’t catch the first time. Something like hope, something like fear. Jaemin recognizes it;

He’s seen it in all sixteen of his closest companions.

But he never got to see it in Renjun. That kind of gaze, the desperation for something to go right when everything is going wrong, only leapt into existence after he left. It was belief that maybe they’d get him back, as the very first Disappearance-

Coupled with the panic of knowing he was gone.

Jaemin recognizes that feeling.

The man chews on his words, mulling them over one more time before they jump off his tongue. His hand is still clenched around Jaemin’s jaw, tightening without him even realizing. It’s only when Jaemin’s hand flies up to grasp his wrist because the pain became too much that he starts, realizing. He swallows an awkward apology, reverting back to the tentative boy from before, and finally he opens his mouth.

“What do you mean everyone can go home.” His voice sounds strained and Jaemin frowns, chest rising and falling rapidly.

“We mean everyone can go home.” He says quietly. “What about that isn’t clear?”

“Don’t be smart with me.” The man hisses and Jaemin flinches but a blow never comes. “Explain.” Jaemin is staring at the wall again, confidence quickly shattered. He bites his tongue, close to drawing blood.

“Why should I just tell you?” He spits- very quietly mind you. His hands never stopped their shaking. Jaemin isn’t looking at the man head on anymore but he can feel the scoff and the scowl. “What can you take from me that I haven’t already lost?” At this the man leans even closer, wasting no time.

“Your buddy mentioned a few names when we spoke last,” He hisses right into Jaemin’s ear. “They jogged a few memories, I think. They might even be a few rooms over-” Jaemin stops breathing. A few rooms over.

The thought of Kun or Taeil or anyone he knows being only a few rooms over exhilarates him, sending painful excitement through his aching body.

“That’s it,” The man’s voice is smiling now, pleased that his words got a reaction out of Jaemin. “You want to see them, no? In fact-” He pauses, right hand resting on Jaemin’s left shoulder less than gently. “If you can tell me how you get home, I’d be willing to get you all out of here.”

This. This is everything. Jaemin looks at him voluntarily this time, ignoring the pain in his collar bone where the man’s fingers are sticking in.

“Prove to me they’re here.” He says. “Take me to them and I’ll tell you everything.” Jaemin isn’t stupid, he isn’t about to spill everything he knows to the first dick who asks without a reason. Now, this particular dick’s words are a pretty good reason, but Jaemin doesn’t really trust him.

Can you blame him?

The man sits back on his heels, giving Jaemin space for the first time in what feels like hours, though the entire encounter couldn’t have been more than three minutes. Jaemin discreetly sucks in a deep breath, greedy for oxygen he didn’t know he was lacking.

“Done. I’m supposed to take you there anyways.” The guy says, almost excited. “Do we have a deal? You see your friends, you tell me how to get home?” Jaemin steels himself before nodding, cocking an eyebrow. This is precarious, but nobody ever said making a deal with the devil was easy.

“And you get us the fuck out of here right?”

“Of course.”

“Then it’s a deal.”

Chapter Text

The cold seems to seep in from the walls- hungry like it’s been starved- grabbing at Kun’s skin while he tries to rest. His back is on the floor, the unforgiving surface sending shooting pain into the rest of his body. His breath shakes when he tries to steady it and his heartbeat pounds despite his lack of movement.

That’s pretty much all he can do right now; just lay there. He can hear the others around him, speaking in hushed tones. He can’t understand their words, but he can feel the fear settling into him like the chill from the air. Today was his turn for some fun, as the people would say.

Kun sensed immediately, as soon as he was escorted inside the blank space, that the game had changed. Instead of weary and bored like they usually are, the men seemed angered, on edge. Kun knew instantly today was not a good day.

And it wasn’t, so now he can’t be bothered to move because his body hurts too much and instead he opts to stay very still, minimizing each pain.

That is until the door opens.

The door Kun can’t see, not just because his vision is blurry, pushes into the damp space, cutting through the air. Kun is confused, because when the door opens people leave. Kun left this morning, they should be okay.

Instead of someone leaving, however, a new body enters. Kun uses all his strength to prop himself up on his elbow, which is something Yuqi chides him for quietly. Absentmindedly Kun wonders what she would be like outside of this situation. She’s young, and she looks like the type to have a spark in her eye, despite how she looks now. Now she looks defeated and dull and quiet and sad but Kun just blames the bullshit for all that. Yuqi’s small hand is resting protectively on his shoulder like he’d break if she didn’t hold him.

The body is a boy, a young boy, and in seconds Kun is blinking rapidly, desperate to dispel the image.

He knows this boy.

More than that.

This is his boy.

“Hyung-”

“JAEMIN!” Kun can’t hear how his own voice came out, body completely overwhelmed. He’s standing faster than humanly possible- making Yuqi squeak in surprise- and then he’s running.

Seconds ago moving was not an option.

Absolutely wild what love can do.

Jaemin’s eyes are filled with tears but Kun throws his arms around him anyways, ignoring the way he stretches his wounds and ignoring the way his lungs scream and head pounds. He gathers him with everything he can. He’s here.

He shouldn’t be. That’s Kun’s second thought. He pulls back, careful not to let the crying teen go lest he lose him again.

“How did you get here?” He asks gently, and everyone around them looks on silently, waiting for Jaemin’s response.

“We were looking for you.” He whispers, tears streaking his cheeks. “We didn’t know if you’d be here-”

“It’s okay Jae-” Kun is surprised by the crying- not usually Jaemin’s style- and he dabs at his tears affectionately, trying to dry him.

“But you are-” Kun doesn’t wait for him to finish, wrapping him up in his arms again while Jaemin’s chest stills it’s heaving.

“Who’s we?” Kun is still being careful, making sure his words are lighter than air and softer than silk. He stares at the blank walls over Jaemin’s shoulder, taking note of the way Jaemin feels. He feels kind of broken, which makes Kun take another step back to look at him. He’s right, he is a little roughed up. “They hurt you-”

“Winwin hyung and Chan hyung.” Jaemin cuts him off, lithe fingers wrapping themselves around Kun’s wrist so he’ll look him in the face instead of the bruises. “Hyung-” Kun purses his lips, breathing hard as the adrenaline is beginning to wear off his limbs, allowing fresh pain to begin to take over. He fights it with everything he has just to look at Jaemin like he’s strong, because that’s what the kid needs right now.

Little does he know, Jaemin is even stronger.

“We can get out of here.” Jaemin whispers this as if there are people in this space that might betray him. “I made a deal-”

“You what?” Kun does not like the sound of Jaemin doing anything that sounds even slightly unsafe. Deals and the words out fall under that category.

“No hyung it’s okay listen-” Jaemin speaks louder now, grasping Kun’s wrist a little tighter. “I made a deal; one of the,” He pauses. “Whoever the fuck-”

“Language.”

“-these people are, is going to get us out.” Jaemin’s eyes are bright, shining like the sunlight the people in this room haven’t seen in so long. Kun’s brow furrows and the lightheaded feeling in his head only intensifies. That seems too easy.

How can they trust this person.

What are the risks.

What did Jaemin promise back.

“A deal is two sided.” Eunwoo speaks up from the wall, straightening so that his weight no longer rests against it and he can enter the conversation. “What did you do for him?”

“Nothing yet,” Jaemin says, turning to Eunwoo. “But I promised to tell him how to go home.”

Silence. Nobody dares to breathe.

Until Yuqi scoffs.

“We know how to get home,” She spits and nobody has ever heard such venom off of her. She’s timid, kind, but something about this idea pissed her off. “And we can’t. If he could-” -the man helping Jaemin- “He would have already. We’re stuck here.” Jaemin shakes his head. He’s never met Yuqi before, but Jaemin is a people person, someone who can turn almost any expression into a smile.

“That’s what we thought,” He says. “But we were wrong, about everything.” Jaemin explains about everything- almost every single detail- and lays out his plan. He lays out how to get home, he lays out what it costs too.

He leaves out Doyoung.

As if on cue, there’s a knock on the door which opens after only a second. A tall man enters and immediately everybody shrinks back. Kun tries to ignore how something in his back feels not quite right and pretends the shooting pains in his thigh isn’t there. His left hand is gripping Jaemin’s shoulder, ready to launch himself in between.

The man looks cold, but Jaemin swallows hard and takes a step towards him.

“I don’t tell you what I know until we’re out of here.” He says, almost growling. Kun has never heard something so deep and menacing from the kid- any of his kids actually- and has to force down a dry chuckle.

This isn’t really a laughable situation.

Kun was expecting anger to seep off the man- seep off or display itself in punches- but instead he stands with his thin hands clasped in front of him, a kind of calm Kun doesn’t think he’s felt in ages. He envies it.

“A deal is a deal.” He says, voice gruff. “You leave tonight.”



Yuhyeon has been here long enough to no longer be surprised when a person appears, gasping for air like it’s been taken from them and falling apart like bad memories, and when there are two people where there used to be none in the centre of the space she wastes absolutely no time. Her nurses are on it immediately too, swooping in before the pair even have a chance to take in their surroundings.

There are people taking notes, and there are people pumping a liquid into their systems. This liquid takes away their ability to be anything at all but still, asleep. It’s always terrifying for about two seconds, a whirlwind of chaos and activity, but as soon as the new comers are sedated and placed in a hospital bed all is well again. Yuhyeon takes a deep, steadying breath. She’s here for a distraction, she’s here to ignore the fact that Taeil is losing everything, right in this very moment.

“Take note of their vitals,” She hisses at a nurse standing a few feet away from her. Yuhyeon comes to rest at the foot of the beds, looking at the two new bodies. They look young, and she wonders absentmindedly which hell they came from or what they went through to get here.

She knows they’re not going to know either.

The nurse works quickly and sticks needles in their veins, attaching them to all sorts of machines in the name of care. Yuhyeon couldn’t care less, not with where her current thoughts want her to run, but this situation calls for a doctor.

She’s a doctor. One who knows how to save the world now.

“Both males are stable, their bodys have sustained no severe injuries, heart rates are normal-”

“Any minor injury?”

“Just a little roughed up maybe,” He says, sighing and putting down his clipboard. Yuhyeon wonders how much money they spend on clipboards- everyone seems to have one.

“I feel like they keep getting more violent.” She says absentmindedly. “Like-”

“Something is wrong over there?” The nurse says quietly, nodding. “I think so too.”

“You do?”

“It’s obvious,” He says, gesturing to the two laying in the beds, wrists attached to gentle leather bounds to keep them from freaking the fuck out when they wake up. And he’s right, because each man looks like he lost a fight. “But there’s nothing we can do about it-” Yuhyeon laughs.

“When I Disappear I’ll let them know how the fuck we do things.” But she regrets saying this, and the horrified expression on the nurse’s face let’s her know she definitely shouldn’t have. “Sorry-” He bites his lip.

“Can I go?”

Yuhyeon sighs heavily, rubbing her face with her hands.

“Yes get out of here-”

He wastes absolutely no time and when the door closes behind him she sighs heavily, letting out an angry, defeated noise that resembles an animal. Disappearing isn’t something to joke about, she knows this, and that particular man,

Well he’s lost everyone.

Good job Yuhyeon, you really did a good thing there. Even her own sarcasm burns her skin.

Whatever.

The remaining nurses in the space work like mice now, small and quiet because of her mood. She hates how they slink around her, avoiding her gaze. She’s about to lose it when one of the boys opens his eyes.

His disoriented gaze is full of panic initially, and Yuhyeon feels a pang, that doctor’s instinct, to help. She walks to his side quickly, sitting on one of the rolling stools to be more eye level. His arms tense as he realizes he’s bound and his heart rate on the monitor spikes.

“Don’t be afraid.” She says. “There’s nothing to fear here.” His terror is apparent, but he stares at her with those wild eyes almost like he believes her. She continues to read the script behind her open eyes. She goes through the motions. She says all the same things.

When Yuhyeon started the job, she had said these things with conviction, with lilt and with energy, promise. Her words sound dry and lifeless now, ringing out into the empty of the carcass the young, happy woman rots in.

Yuhyeon has created a barrier between herself and that girl, she’s separated them completely. That girl was promised happiness, she was promised a purpose and a point and she was promise the chance to save the fucking world. She’s lost all that hope now.

All she has left is what they’ve learned from Taeil- which isn’t enough. She realizes that Taeil wasn’t enough, and that this boy will have to go through that too. But to protect herself Yuhyeon decides one thing;

He’s going to lose who he is before she has the chance to find him. She isn’t going to make the Taeil mistake again. She isn’t going to care.

Everything is shattered in milliseconds, and one could count this event both a good and bad thing, though most people who observed it will tell you it was bad, and those who took part will tell you it was awful.

Absolutely despicable.

Chapter Text

We’re going to get them back. The promise rings heavy in Jungwoo’s ears, slipping like liquid down the canals and entering a part of his brain he didn’t know still existed; the strong part, the part that didn’t melt away with the alcohol- the part he forgot about. He swallows the lump rising in his throat, it’s irrational fear anyways. They’re going to walk the hour it takes to get there, see that nothing is wrong, and walk home.

Easy.

Yuta walks a little faster than the two of them- Lucas keeping his eyes glued to the pavement while he skulks alongside Jungwoo- and he ignores the way the water swirls around his boots. He wonders what kind of damage the flooding might actually do, and absentmindedly worries about the basement of their building. Something so trivial hasn’t bothered him in years.

He ignores the absence of Winwin as well as he ignores the frigid cold.

So;

Not well at all.

“Pick up the pace,” He snaps to the other two, picking up his own as well. “We need to do this as quickly as possible.” Lucas raises his eyebrows, walking a little slower.

“What’s the rush?” Yuta hears him fall back. We’re not even ten minutes away from home and he’s already pulling shit- He spins on his heels in seconds but stops in his tracks immediately.

Lucas is serious, and his eyes are full of fear.

He left the house without thinking too much, but now that he realizes they might actually be bringing someone home- all of the worst case scenarios run through his head. But not a thing he can think of would be worse than finding nothing. That means they really aren’t home yet.

Yuta’s impatience doesn’t make the situation better, which is why Lucas genuinely asked; he genuinely wanted to know. What other risks might they be taking? Everything sounded harmless, so why is Yuta on edge?

Yuta opens his mouth. Closes it. Opens it again.

“I- I don’t know, all the normal reasons I guess-”

“Like what?”

“Like-”

“This isn’t something we should be scared of right? We’re just looking at a building, just looking-” Jungwoo cuts Lucas off.

“You’re only making it worse,” He says quietly. “There is absolutely nothing to worry about. You’re right, we’re looking.” Yuta nods slowly, confused as to why this conversation even needed to occur. He turns back around, sighing heavily, fear worse than before rising up in his throat. The more they doubt, the worse that shit gets.

“Let’s just… get a move on.”

The trek takes less time than expected due to the incredulous silence falling down on them, and pretty soon they’re just one deserted street away from the supposed location. From far away they can hear the bustle of a city, loud noises, voices, engines, but on their road there’s nothing and nobody and a perfect tranquil feeling that makes Yuta’s panic melt slowly. This is okay. This is an okay thing.

“Wait guys-” Jungwoo speaks quickly, using more volume than Lucas has ever heard from his mouth. The other two stop, looking quizzically at him. He stands with his hands out in front of him as if he’s trying to grasp for something to hold onto, head cocked to the side. “Listen.” And so they do.

The engines are a lot closer, the cars and the voices and the bustling and soon Jungwoo is running because it sounds like something out of a movie-

The trio rounds the final corner and the Button Factory looms into sight. Tall, dark and old, windows shuttered or boarded up like eyes that look without seeing, cracks in the concrete of it’s walls like the wrinkles of an elder. Ancient, wise,

Something valuable as fuck inside.

And it’s surrounded by police vehicles, officers and people of all sorts of professional-looking backgrounds.

News reporters.

“We were not the first to show up to the party-” Lucas says, and the other two stand mouths agape, shocked.

“We’re obviously not wrong then!” Jungwoo starts running, and after exchanging a glance, Lucas and Yuta follow him.

Excited. That’s not quite the right word. Terrified? Maybe both. Maybe neither. Police in such numbers are enough to make even the most innocent cringe in fear- and Yukhei is not innocent. He begins to slow despite Jungwoo’s abandon, and Yuta turns to look at him.

“Lucas they must be here-”

“There’s something wrong-”

“What do you mean there must be something-”

“Hyung-”

“Lucas come on-”

“They’ve got their guns out hyung.” Yuta stops. He stops everything. His eyes fill with horror boring into Yukhei’s, and then very slowly he turns to survey the multitude of crazy waiting outside the building. Jungwoo is still running, but everything else stands still.

Lucas is right.

It’s not just the small pistols cops wear on their belts- no no- these are something scarier, something that much more dangerous. These are for movies, for books with unhappy endings and unrealistic plotlines. Those aren’t for real life-

They’re definitely not for a rescue mission.

Jungwoo doesn’t notice, and he ignores the way the water splashes with each wild footstep. He ignores the way that it continues to swirl around his ankles and lick at his pants and he ignores the way it numbs him. The only thing he focuses on is the nearest officer. The closest answers.

“SIR!” That gets his attention easily, and there’s a woman rushing to meet him. “Sir you can’t be here right now, didn’t you see the roads are blocked off?” She’s caught him before he’s reached anyone important and she effectively stops him in his tracks. He breathes hard, gasping for air.

“We- we-” He takes on finally gulp. “We walked.” She stares at him like he’s stupid.

“What-”

“What’s this?” One of the cops, another young woman, breaks away from the pack. Jungwoo nods excitedly as she walks over and he composes himself once again as she draws near.

He loses his cool very quick, and honestly, he wishes Yuta was a faster runner.

“There are people in that building-” He wastes no time, but neither does the cop. She cuts him off with a brisk wave of her hand, shaking her head.

“We have the situation under control.” She says smoothly, tucking a stray piece of hair behind her ear. “There’s nothing for civilians to worry about, besides,” She glances down at the  dark water. “Shouldn’t you be checking your home for water damages?” She so easily stole the control from him and Jungwoo stares at her in amazement- confusion painting his face like it’s a canvas.

“My home is fine-” Is all his dumbass can come up with, but finally Yukhei and Yuta come to stand beside him. The cop seems unimpressed that there are more of them.

“Did you tell them, Woo?” Lucas asks.

“Nothing we didn’t already know, sirs,” The cop says again, shifting her weight to her other leg.

Bored. She’s bored.

The radio on her uniform crackles.

‘They’re refusal to cooperate only further solidifies our suspicions.’ She raises her hand to it, holding down the button.

“Next move?” She rotates like this isn’t something she wants them to hear, but truly doesn’t care either way.

‘We have the okay to go ahead and break in- this is some Branch Davidians shit-” The radio cuts in and out but her eyebrows raise on her forehead. She lowers her voice for real this time;

“Just like them?”

‘Just like them.’


(Wikipedia insert to let you know *sort of* what went down in the real world)

The incident began when the ATF attempted to raid the ranch. An intense gun battle erupted, resulting in the deaths of four government agents and six Branch Davidians. Upon the ATF's failure to raid the compound, a siege lasting 51 days was initiated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Eventually, the FBI launched an assault and initiated a tear gas attack in an attempt to force the Branch Davidians out of the ranch. During the attack, a fire engulfed Mount Carmel Center. In total, 76 people died, including David Koresh.


 

“They won’t come out?” Heads are beginning to turn in the direction of the three strangers and two women, one of which seems to be of utmost importance to the force.

“No, and they’re harboring the missing for sure-”

That’s all Yuta needs to hear; they’re harbouring the missing. He looks Lucas in the eye, communicating without saying a thing. It sounds like there are people inside, two groups to be exact, the missing and those… not so missing? These officers seem to be in contact with the latter-

And shit doesn’t seem to be working out.

‘We’re carrying out the original plan-’ The cop shoots a look at Jungwoo before beginning to back away, meaning this information is too important for unauthorized ears.

“That plan harms civilians-” She barks. The voice crackles over the radio once more before she’s out of earshot;

‘No one is lost if they never came back in the first place.’

Chapter Text

Jungwoo has never felt more numb. All of the alcohol, all of the experimental drugs, they’ve never made him feel more paralyzed. More frozen. No amount of whiskey or hard liquor has ever taken him  more away from himself. All of those things made him forget, but here, he’s never remembered better. He’s never been so sober, he thinks. Not in the past few years anyway.

It takes absolutely no time after those words are uttered over the police woman’s radio for everything around the boys to become a blur. All of the officers, every single one of them armed and ready, move in synch. They move in instantly.  

It’s the police and the news team and the noise. It’s the panic and fear of the unknown. What the fuck is about to happen?

His question is answered in seconds, because something explodes- an explosion is something Jungwoo has never even heard in real life before- and suddenly the cops and their guns are pouring into the building Jungwoo thought would be empty.

He thought they'd be home in two hours.

“WHAT’S GOING ON?” They can hear the confused cry of a news reporter rise above the sounds of the sudden chaos. The very same female officer stops on her way towards the gaping hole in the building.

“There are no civilians inside,” She says. “There are no innocents. The perpetrators are refusing to surrender, and for the safety of the public this needs to be shut down.” She provides no further explanation-

And all she spoke were lies.

 

Sicheng can hear nothing but a woman’s voice, until after just a few seconds he hears nothing but ringing.

Ringing and gunshots.

“We need to go.” The woman he’s known for only seconds is pushing him forwards, every single order she screams going un-observed by his limbs, aching and sore. But the guns- Chan is beside him.

Everything floods back.

Winwin grabs his hand and the young man’s eyes are wide staring into his.

“Our b-” Chan starts to say but he’s cut off when the woman pushes them harder, through a door and into a clean corridor. White, pristine.

Sicheng looks to his right, and far away he can see the outline of a painting.

Why a detail like that doesn’t go unnoticed neath the gunfire Sicheng will never know.

He looks to his left-

The corridor looks so much messier that way.

It’s like he looked at a picture wrong, like he’s in a museum upside down, like he’s been staring at a renaissance painting just seconds too long; It only grows more horrifying. And it’s obvious that the woman ushering them out the door wasn’t expecting that either, because, who on earth would be prepared? Who would be ready to stare down a hallway and gaze upon bodies.

That’s what’s there, it’s bodies.

Bodies are no stranger of Winwin’s now, but he’ll never get used to them.

 

Yuhyeon’s blood runs cold when she steps in the hallway, hands protectively on the backs of the two most recent Returns.

She wishes they hadn’t left the Arrival Room, she thinks that maybe they were safer in there.

There’s a man standing in front of the group of young, eager doctors awaiting transport to their new position. Anxiety courses through Yuhyeon’s veins as she worries at the edge of her sleeve, pulling at little strands of the fabric.

What an interesting thing, fabric is.

Eugene shifts beside her too, but she can feel his excitement as plain as her own. She let’s her left hand drop to slip her fingers between his. He squeezes back, not looking, but still a smile tugs at the corner of his lips. Yuhyeon has no idea at this time what kind of stress is about to press down on them.

“You are special people now,” The man breaks the silent tension between the doctors and it’s as if the room takes a collective breath, silence falling completely so they can hear every single precious word from his mouth. “And should you succeed, you’re going to make history.” There are a few excited gasps and whispers that die out as quickly as they began. The man is smiling, because he’s excited too.

“You fought tooth and nail for this position,” He continues. “And through your hard work and incredible skills, we believe that you can complete the task we set before you.” Yuhyeon’s inhale is shaky, something she wishes it wouldn’t be. Her nerves are rendering her incapable of sitting still, and she taps the back of Eugene’s hand, loving the way his soft skin feels beneath her calloused fingertips- evidence of hard work.

Everything else passes in a blur. The road trip, the building they were going to call home, the setting up of the labs and the Arrival Room and the spaces with the beds and the cuffs-

She never understood the cuffs.

But there are two things from that day that Yuhyeon will be able to remember clear as day even years later;

Eugene said he loved her.

She said she loved him back.

“GO GO GO!” Instinct kicks in before anything else and suddenly she’s shoving the two groggy men down the hallway in the opposite direction. Someone is screaming, maybe it’s her, maybe it’s them, maybe it’s-

People are hurt.

I’m a doctor and people are hurt.

Her panic never ceases, not while she pushes the others forwards, trying to get them somewhere safe. A plan, they have a plan for cases like this.

Get to the garage doors. There are vans in the garage, vans for cases like this, and if Yuhyeon can get these two to the vans they’ll be safe.

“Don’t you feel rebellious?” Eugene teases her from where he’s sitting on her cot, leaning backwards against the cold wall and crossing his arms across his chest. “Working here?”

“Don’t you?” She spits back, organizing her things. Notebooks, clipboards, pens, a labcoat- all being set up on her desk to start a new day. She does this every evening, the preparing, because it makes her feel put together. It makes her feel like a real doctor.

It only took a month here to make her feel synthetic.

Eugene laughs, pretending to scoff. She can hear the bed creak as he gets up, coming to stand behind her. He breathes gently on her neck while she works and she can feel the goosebumps rising up on her arms.

“This place is dangerous, you know,” He continues to tease. “If only people knew what we did here-” There’s a double meaning.

He means their work.

He also means the sex.

Yuhyeon giggles, turning around and slapping his chest.

“Get off me.”

He reels backwards, laughing. Something about what he said though doesn’t sit right.

“Do you really think this is wrong?” She blurts suddenly.

“The sex-?”

“The work!” Yuhyeon’s eyebrows knit together as her eyes fixate on the ground in front of her. She thinks.

“Yu,” Eugene can feel her falling away the way that she does and he grabs her arm gently, rubbing it with his thumb. “Please don’t do this-”

“Don’t you think people are going to hate us when they find out? When they find out what we’ve tried?” She’s beginning to panic, because the thought of the families she could be hurting… “I didn’t know this was the job when I took it.” She whispers, and Eugene takes a deep breath, drawing her into a hug.

“Me neither, Yu.” He says softly.

“What if they hurt us when they find out?”

“How on earth could they hurt us?”

Yuhyeon keeps running, and she doesn’t look back until they’ve turned all the right corners. People are running in all directions, yelling, but mostly ignoring. Ignoring Yuhyeon, ignoring the patients.

Where is Eugene-

He’s back. Eugene and Taeil are in the other direction.

They’re where the bodies are.

One of the patients trips and the other grabs his arm, lifting him back up. Yuhyeon curses and urges them onwards. “Faster faster-” She says, faster faster faster.

 

Yuta wasn’t sure when they started running, but he knew he followed Lucas. He knew Lucas followed Jungwoo. The three of them tore off into the building together, and any protests from bystanders was drowned out by the growing gunfire. The gunfire.

Gunfire is for books. Movies. Movies and books. Gunfire is for gangwars and general wars and not for a normal Tuesday. Not for a walk. Not for ‘I’ll be home in two hours’.

At first, Yuta thought the building might be empty. He thought that maybe the cops and the fucking SWAT team were shooting into hollow spaces. He thought maybe that’s why it echoed so much.

He was… well Yuta was really wrong, and about fifteen feet down the first hallway told him so. The smell of blood and gunpowder was pungent, raping his senses. He stumbled when he first gained exposure, but Lucas grabbed his wrist, pulled him forwards.

“WE LOVE WHO’S INSIDE!” That was enough.

Yuta could have run on that shit for days.

They were behind the police, and Yuta watched in horror as someone was dragged from a nearby room.

Thrown to the floor.

Aimed at.

He heard someone scream something about “needing one or two” and that was that. The woman was spared, and Lucas, Yuta and Jungwoo were able to slip by in the confusion. In and out of rooms, screaming just the right names.

Maybe it was selfish that only one rolled off yuta’s tongue in particular, but could you blame him?

With every new door, though, the boys came up empty. Running and running and yelling and staying ahead of the gunfire.

The blood.

The bodies.

Yuta would never get the chance to understand why they were shooting at all. He’d never understand why the doctors held out. Why they risked so many lives.

Why they bothered fucking losing them.

Yuta rounded just the right corner at just the right second, and Lucas and Jungwoo followed suit. A bullet whizzed past them- they were being shot at now. But that didn’t matter.

Nothing but those wide, brown eyes.

Frozen. Frozen in time, the both of them. Sicheng sees Yuta, Yuta sees Sicheng.

Everything around them falls away, everything melts, everything but chocolate irises and goodnight kisses and soft hair. Everything but late night meltdowns with arms to cry into, everything but Winwin’s perfect answers and Yuta’s courage. Everything.

He’s safe.

Sicheng was gone.

Barely five feet away from him, Sicheng is standing.

He doesn’t notice the red blossom in his chest.

He doesn’t notice what might have been searing.

He didn’t notice because love, love and relief took everything away. The pain. The horrible, sickening pain, was drowned out with nothing but the healing touch of Sicheng’s gentle gaze.

Yuta didn’t panic until Sicheng did, and by then, it was much too late.

 

“YUTA-” The words aren’t two seconds out of his mouth before the boy he loves is on his knees, chest erupting in a spray of the gunfire Sicheng never thought would touch him. With every bullet Yuta endures, Winwin feels it.

Every fucking one.

“HE KNOWS THEM?” The woman’s words are shrill and terrified.

“-his -family-” Absentmindedly Winwin can hear Chan answer her, but nothing sets in. The woman keeps dragging him, no matter how he fights, away. On the other side of the nearest door lies escape.

Yuta was one door away from safety.

The very last thing Sicheng sees is Yuta bleeding onto the floor. He sees the flashing of the firearms, he sees the stooped forms of Jungwoo and Lucas putting pressure on his wounds.

But he sees Yuta. And Yuta sees Winwin.

And that’s really all that matters.