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These Grey Walls (Can't keep me from you)

Chapter Text

It had been four years since Jungkook discovered this place, the one place in the whole Institute he didn't feel like there were eyes constantly watching him. It was no surprise to find a hallway he'd never been to before, as any sort of unauthorised wandering, while not expressly forbidden by the Institute staff, drew unwanted attention. It was always better to just fall in line.

 

Jungkook, usually so scrupulous about following the unspoken rules, was distracted that day four years ago by a boy who looked as if he was made of fire and earth and rage, by the colour in his golden skin which contrasted so much with the pasty flesh of all the other children in the Institute who had never been allowed outside.

 

Realising his mistake at coming down this hallway, Jungkook cursed under his breath and looked around, finding every detail exactly the same as any other hallway in the Institute. He began walking faster to the end of the long, grey room, aiming to find the plaque inscribed with the hallway number to gauge where he was, when a glint of silver near the floor caught his eye. A ventilation grate.

 

Shooting a tentative look over one shoulder to check there were no other students or staff in sight, Jungkook knelt by the grate and peered through it. There looked to be some sort of small passage, probably meant for fresh air to circulate through, however he couldn't feel any air coming out of the shining grate. He'd never seen one so accessible before, as usually they were placed on the ceiling, presumably to prevent students being distracted by them as he was being now.

 

He bit his lip, knowing that what he was considering would definitely result in a painful punishment and perhaps hurt his chances of employment by The State. But all the while his head screamed at him to stand up, to run back to his ward before lessons began again or anyone noted his absence as suspicious, Jungkook's fingers began unscrewing the large metal bolts keeping the vent cover in place. Within two minutes he was holding four lustrous bolts in his hand.

 

His deft fingers reached for the edge of the metal grate, pausing only for Jungkook to hurriedly survey the hallway for anyone else. Not that anyone could have been there without him knowing, living for so many years in somewhere as quiet as the Institute meant his ears were sensitive to even the slightest of noise. He slid quickly inside and found there was much more room behind the grate then he had thought, giving him ample space to turn around and replace the metal cover. Dust immediately rushed into his lungs as soon as he took a breath, leaving him to frantically try and repress a loud coughing fit which would almost definitely have given him away as he surveyed the small, dingy room he'd stumbled upon.

 

There was a pile of disused, broken looking desks and chairs stacked against one wall, a blackboard and wooden dais with a desk bolted down on top of it at the other end of the room. There were rectangular lights on the ceiling, most broken with bits of glass lying underneath them, shattered on the hard wooden floor. Dead insects littered the floor underneath the lights, but even those were covered with a thick layer of dust. It was as if he was the only living creature which had been in this room for decades. Breathing shallowly so as to avoid the worst of the dust, Jungkook saw why he could still see despite being away from the harsh lighting of the hallway: three large, boarded up windows with light shining through the gaps in the wooden planks.

 

Moving hesitantly and ever so slowly, trying not to make a sound, he pulled one of the planks off the first window to make a gap big enough to put his face through. He looked through the gap in the first window, and noticed with surprise that it overlooked a larger grey building hardly five hundred metres away from the main Institute. That must mean...

 

Jungkook smiled and looked through the window to the one side of the building that wasn't covered up by huge grey walls. This room overlooked the junior institute. This room was the one place in this entire Institute from which you could see the outside world, even if it was just a sliver of it. Jungkook mentally thanked the boy with the golden skin and dangerous eyes for being so distracting.

 

~-~

 

Four years later Jungkook was still grateful to the boy, Taehyung as he now knew. Or 7-1159 as he was supposed to know him. He stood at the first boarded off window, with the plank he had removed all those years ago lying on the floor at his feet. Once a year, on the first of January every time, new students from the Junior Institute would be escorted the few hundred metres to the huge, intimidating grey doors of the Senior Institute where they would be given their numbers and left alone, not even allowed to join the rest of the students for food in the canteen, until they were collected for the first address.

 

Jungkook had gotten into the habit of watching them arrive every year, studying their faces by squinting and seeing how some of them chattered naively to their friends. It was refreshing, seeing how the children were still allowed to socialise in the Junior Institute. It had been eight years since Jungkook had been allowed to hold a friendly conversation. It made Jungkook smile ever so slightly when he saw that this time there were a couple of boys holding hands at the back of this year's group, being told to separate every time the staff member accompanying them turned around but reattaching every time.

 

All too soon the children were inside the grey block of concrete and the doors swung shut with a resounding bang, startling Jungkook out of his reverie and prompting him to put the old board back onto the gap he'd made in the window planks. Opening the lid of one of the ancient desks piled up on the left side of the room, he pulled out a dog-eared device he was unashamedly proud of.

 

It had taken a year of waiting before Namjoon, or 7-1148, had accidentally broken a mirror by falling into it when he was tying his green tie. Jungkook had gone to help him clean up, slipping a couple of shards into his pocket when Namjoon had gone to report the incident to the staff. After carefully picking threads out of his clothes and breaking the legs off one of the broken old chairs, Jungkook had finally managed to assemble his device: a makeshift periscope.

 

Poking it carefully up to the surface of the air vent, he adjusted the angle until he could see that the right side of the hallway was clear. Turning the device the other way around showed that the hallway was completely empty. He tucked the lovingly crafted equipment safely away in the desk lid and grabbed the metal bolts from where he always stacked them near the door, slipping silently out of the room, which had become such a sacred place to him, and replacing the air vent with a practiced precision.

 

With the bolts all replaced, Jungkook took the other mirror shard he had taken all those years ago and smoothed down his hair, brushed the ever-present dust from his shirt and straightened the green tie which proclaimed that he belonged to Ward 7. Giving one last look around, he began walking briskly back through the identical grey hallways to Ward 7. The closest thing he had to a home.

 

~-~

There were ten official wards in the Senior Institute, each set up to hold up to ten people, but only one of them was completely occupied. Most held six to eight. Each ward had a main room, kitted out with ten identical desks for students to complete their work, and a dormitory with ten identical beds. Even with seven boys living full time in ward 7, it always looked the same as it had when Jungkook had first arrived all those years ago. Always spotless, no sign of anything personal. No sign that the occupants were even human.

 

Yoongi (7-1132) looked up from his work when Jungkook entered, but there was no curiosity or indeed any emotion on his face, rather a cold, trained impassivity. Jungkook had no doubt his face bore the same lack of expression. He sat heavily on the desk he usually occupied in the far corner of the main room, taking the notes he was supposed to be memorising out of the desk and pretending to study them. He had chosen this desk because he liked to be in the corner, liked to observe the fellow occupants of ward 7. Liked to feel, if circumstances were different, they could have been like family.

 

Jungkook sighed and got to work himself, having to cram the memorisation and note taking into half the time he usually would due to his little venture to the dusty room. The only disturbance, after about an hour of almost complete silence, was Hoseok (7-1143) dropping several pens on the floor. There were no clocks anywhere in the Institute except for in the canteen, so after a while Jungkook had developed an almost infallible sense of time.

 

After around two hours more of being cooped up in that main room, the only sounds being that of scratching pens or turning papers, a bell tolled twice to announce it was time for dinner. Wordlessly ward 7 packed their assignments into their sturdy wooden desks and began the short walk to the canteen in single file line from oldest to youngest, Seokjin (7-1126) at the front and Jungkook at the back.

 

Jungkook kept his eyes trained on his feet and followed the rest of the ward without deviating or faltering, the picture of obedience. He figured if he followed every other rule exactly, the staff wouldn't suspect him of sneaking around and being places he wasn't supposed to.

 

The canteen was a large, grey room with a main area on the floor with tables and benches for the students, and a raised area for the staff to eat and observe. Much as he always wanted to study the faces of the students in other wards, perhaps to recognise someone he had known back in the Junior Institute when the rules permitted friends, Jungkook forced his attention back onto his feet and grabbed a tray from the pile near the start of the serving area.

 

The serving staff, almost entirely androgynous in their hygiene masks and unflattering uniforms, handed out plates of unappetising slop with a lump of stale bread on the side. Another staff member stood by the end of the serving line handing out pills.

 

Jungkook watched ward 7 each take the three red pills and place them carefully on their trays next to their empty cups then move on to the water dispenser. When they all sat down at the seventh table he swallowed the pills one by one, eyes watering ever so slightly at the mild burning sensation down the back of his throat, washing them down with water from his battered aluminium cup. He thought nothing of taking the pills. After all, he always had.

 

~-~

 

The first address was a mandatory occasion for all the students in the Institute, as all the subsequent assemblies were, even though the subject matter never changed and the older students had all memorised the rules years ago. Already sat in the old, uncomfortable metal chair near the back of the assembly hall Jungkook watched the new students file in, some stumbling and listless from the lack of food and some with hardened expressions and hungry eyes. They would all have only been ten, yet today marked the end of their childhood.

 

They were seated right at the front of the hall, probably so that they couldn't be distracted by looking at all the other students in the school, and their heads seemed to turn in unison as a small, grey man ascended the steps to reach the wooden dais and the speaking stand at the front of the hall. It was not adequate to describe him as grey-haired, or clad in grey, for it seemed to go deeper than that. While the students were pale, and their faces cold and impassive, his bore more resemblance to the lifeless concrete the whole place was built of. He seemed grey to his core, a spectre with a body, lifeless stone which could move.

 

His every step echoed in the otherwise completely silent lecture hall, as the new students were too weak with hunger and fatigue to gossip as they probably would have done on any other day. The man cleared his throat and suddenly, as if by some form of magic, seemed to gain colour and life and began speaking animatedly, loudly, ringing through the cavernous space.

 

"Students both old and new hear my words: you are privileged to be here. The mighty State has selected you to serve it as intellectuals, not as labourers or as soldiers for its great armies. Your intelligence, new students, has been judged great enough for you to be sent to this Institute for your education to begin. You will be given a test to determine which profession you will serve the State best in, then you will be taken to your respective wards and taught. This test may even deem you intelligent enough to be transferred to a more advanced Institute for training as a surgeon or a research scientist.

 

Your profession however matters not. What matters is that you serve the state without question, devotedly for the rest of your life. You do not matter, the State is all that matters. The mighty State has abolished the individual, as humankind now thrives as a single unit. Without this system which the magnanimous State has bestowed upon us, we would all have been annihilated in the war with the Americas three years ago. Since all of you are pure genetic stock, at least half stand a good chance of being allowed to reproduce and spread your bloodline into the future, to serve the State even after death through your offspring."

 

Jungkook was barely listening at this point, dozing in his chair and not paying any attention to the words he had heard every year ever since he came to the Institute. He sensed that all the old students were doing the same, relaxing almost imperceptibly as the torrent of words meant to inspire them prompted their eyelids to begin drooping. The speaker paused in his tirade to smile in a way which reminded Jungkook of a snake.

 

"Now I notice a few of you new students have been talking amongst yourselves, gossiping and making faces at your..." He paused for a second to wrinkle his nose in an abject display of disgust.

 

"...Friends, and this is understandable considering the freedom the state allowed you during childhood. But," The Speaker's face suddenly became hard, all traces of feigned humour gone from his steely brown eyes, "This kind of behaviour will no longer be tolerated. As of right now you have no friends. Friends are unnecessary, and the fond feelings you have for them will be nothing but a liability. Emotions are a choice, and one you will regret."

 

Jungkook couldn't stop himself from tensing his jaw, from curling his hands into fists at the speech no matter how many times he heard it. He was sure the hatred for this place showed clearly on his face but couldn't bring himself to care, thinking of the boys he had seen holding hands on the way over from the Junior Institute and how they would be forced apart. He willed himself to calm down and tuned back into the disgusting man speaking from the raised dais,

 

"...From this moment onward you will live your lives by these rules: the first is that the number you received upon acceptance to the Institution is now your identity. Forget any names you were called before, the only name that's important is your number. Because these numbers are long and inconvenient to address people by, you will be allowed to keep your name from the Junior Institute, but this name is temporary and is not your true identity.

 

The second rule is that any communication with another student, unless completely necessary, is prohibited. For example, 'Eight dash three zero five, pass me the pen I dropped by your chair' is completely fine, and you may even refer to another student by their nickname instead of their number, but any sort of friendly conversation like 'Amelia, how was your day?' will result in immediate punishment.

 

The third rule is to never help a fellow student, even if that student is not in your ward or age group. Every student here is your opposition and your enemy. They are all here to try and get the jobs and the positions you want. The fourth rule is to never seek help for any problem you may have, as it is most likely your own weakness that you have failed to eradicate which led to the problem. Do not seek counsel from another student or an staff member for problems as they will report you immediately and this will result in punishment."

 

Jungkook saw a slight twitch in the corner of his eyes and turned slightly to see an expression of hate twisting Taehyung's features, knew an identical expression must be visible of his own face. As if noticing he was being watched, Taehyung turned to meet Jungkook's gaze and as their eyes met it felt to Jungkook like the world had stopped turning.

 

The speaker's words faded into the background as Taehyung's dark eyes seemed to stare right through him, lips quirking up ever so slightly in a sort of smirk. Then Taehyung was staring straight ahead, fixated once more on the speaker, familiar impassivity fixed on his face. Jungkook was left reeling, frightened, yet underneath that hopeful.

 

After all, it was the first interaction he'd had with any sort of emotion in eight years, and he couldn't help but be pleased that the boy with the golden skin hadn't lost the fire in his eyes.

Chapter Text

The next morning Jungkook woke as usual at 6:00 to the three rings of an alarm bell, bolted to the ceiling of ward 7's dorm. As soon as he was awake enough for his brain to replay what had happened in the address yesterday he was struck again with that odd, exhilarating mixture of fear and hope.

 

For the first time he was conscious of Taehyung in the bed opposite his, sitting up and sleepily rubbing his left eye with one hand, and watched him with as much caution as he could muster this early in the morning. It was as if before he had viewed Taehyung as something he could see but not interact with, the same way he saw the other boys in the ward, reducing them for all intents and purposes to little more than more mobile furniture.

 

the conditioning did its job

 

He thought bitterly, thinking of the Speaker’s hatred thundering down from the raised dais, infecting the new children with the spirit of the Institute. He shuddered, and resolved to find some way he could talk to Taehyung privately. He hoped that this monumental act of rebellion would rid his mouth of the bitter taste of ash when he thought about how deeply he had internalised the rules, of how he had ignored the other members of his ward for all the years he had been here now.

 

So yes, he decided resolutely, it was time to have a real conversation. Plus, despite the obvious violation of the rules , he had a strange longing to be close to Taehyung. Perhaps it was the desperation for human contact, or the excitement of finally finding someone who was as disgusted by the place as he was, or maybe…

 

Maybe it was something he’d seen in those deep brown eyes, something he’d seen four years ago but still haunted the back of his mind whenever he closed his eyes. Maybe he was drawn to the boy’s courage, that wild spirit that had kept him kicking against the staff members wrestling him through the ward’s door. Maybe that was why Jungkook couldn’t help but want to

 

Jungkook shook his head slightly, trying to rid himself of those treacherous thoughts. The only reason he wanted to talk to Taehyung was because he was another person who hated the Institute, who perhaps broke its oppressive rules just as he did by sneaking to look through the window in that abandoned old room. That was the only reason. Nothing more.

 

Moving mechanically, muscle memory completing the actions without needing any conscious thought, he dressed and moved in front of the small mirror by his bed to tie his green tie. The uniform of the Institute was dark grey trousers, a white shirt with your number embroidered on the pocket in black thread, and the tie to indicate which ward you belonged to. The number 7-1157 had long since ceased to be just an embroidery, but rather stood out to him like the number of a prisoner. It may as well have been seared into his skin for the amount of pain seeing it there caused.

 

 There was a small, silver scar across one of Jungkook’s cheekbones, and he brushed it absentmindedly as he combed his hair in the mirror. He’d have liked to cover it up, perhaps by growing his hair a little longer so it rested there, but the Institute staff cut their hair in a uniform, slightly longer version of a crew cut.

 

When he turned his head slightly to the left Jungkook could see Jimin standing in front of his identical mirror, to the right he could see Yoongi sitting on the edge of his bed turning a pair of trousers the right way round, dressed in only a white pair of boxers and black socks. He didn't need to look to know that Seokjin and Namjoon would already have managed to dress and head off to the shared bathroom to clean their teeth before breakfast, as they were both freakishly fast at getting dressed.

 

It was usually ten minutes after the wake up alarms that the announcement for breakfast was made, but today the intercom system sputtered into life after barely three.

 

"Six month physical exams today and tomorrow. Collect your times from the bulletin board before breakfast. First exam is at 6:30, eat quickly. Classes are suspended for the next three days."

 

The tinny voice came from the speakers, pitched somewhere between bored and comatose.
Jungkook's blood ran cold. Had it really been six months since the last exams? Even though his sense of time was excellent, Jungkook couldn't help but lose track of the date in the Institute. The students were never required to know the date, so never bothered.

 

Six month physical exams were something he dreaded. He felt completely healthy, but the exam went into such minute details with blood tests, X-Ray's and all manner of scans that he couldn't help but worry they would declare him possessed of some odd medical condition. Declare he wasn't good enough. With a tight knot of fear in his stomach he straightened his tie one last time and headed to the bathroom.

 

~-~

 

As the occupants of ward 7 trudged slowly to breakfast, passing other wards silently and falling into line as always, Jungkook sensed that the same anxiety he felt about the physical exams was affecting the other students too. When each ward stopped in front of the bulletin board to check their times there were feet tapping the floor, hands clenched or fiddling with some article of clothing, and pursed lips.

 

Jungkook could see Jimin chewing on the side of his cheek and almost smiled, remembering how that had been his habit even back in the junior institute, when they had been close friends. Before they weren't allowed to be friends anymore.

 

When wards one through six had finally passed by the bulletin board and gone to breakfast all of ward 7 abandoned their orderly line to crowd around the long lists to search for their numbers. The physical exams were one of the only events in the Institute which were not organised by ward, so it usually took a minute or two of searching for Jungkook to find his time. Today however, his name was right in front of his nose, and his exam was at 12:30 the next day.

 

The knot of fear abated slightly at not having to go through the invasive tests today, conveniently forgetting it would still have to experience them the next day. Jungkook saw that the rest of ward 7 were still searching the huge bulletin board for their numbers and decided to try and find Taehyung's appointment time. Perhaps if it was tomorrow as well, they could use the free time without classes today to meet somewhere safe and talk.

 

Scanning the long list of names from top to bottom he quickly found it very near the top. 07-1159, 07:00. Jungkook bit his lip slightly in annoyance. No such luck. The exams usually lasted at least three hours and left you physically and mentally exhausted, hence the day of recovery after all the exams were over.

 

Ward 7 began their walk to breakfast again, Jungkook trudging dejectedly at the back. He took his breakfast from the thick-gloved hand of one of the serving staff and held the grey tray in one hand, reaching out absently to take the pills from a regular staff member in the other.

 

The staff member seemed to freeze. Jungkook looked at her in surprise, and she shook her head. Her frozen  expression was replaced with slight disapproval. The staff member shook her head, making a plastic rustling sound as the cover over her hair rubbed over the clinical fabric of her coveralls.


"Physicals." She said simply. It was enough. Jungkook cursed himself for not paying attention. They never got pills on the days with no classes. Now he'd drawn unnecessary attention to himself, which was always dangerous in the Institute. He looked around apprehensively, feeling tension bleed into him from the other students waiting in line behind him. None of them would meet his eye.

Jungkook nodded and silently moved on, praying that slip wouldn’t earn him any unwanted attention.

 

Feeling his features slip into the impassive mask which was his best defence, Jungkook moved down the dining hall without looking back at the woman, and walked after Taehyung with his head down. It was frustrating to say the least to always be next to Taehyung, as they were the closest in age, but never to have a moment to speak to him without endangering them both.

 

Sighing to himself, Jungkook sat down at ward 7's table and ate a spoonful of the thick, lumpy porridge which was breakfast every other morning. He suppressed a grimace at the slimy sensation of the lukewarm stuff sliding down his throat and forced himself to take another spoonful. No matter how uninspiring the taste, it didn't do to leave any food. There was never quite enough of it as it was.

 

~-~

 

Jungkook had mixed feelings about the days when there were no classes. On one hand there were no long, mind-numbing lectures delivered by staff members with dreary, monotonous voices, but on the other hand there was quite literally nothing to do.

 

All his work had been completed in the designated time slot yesterday, he couldn't go to his hidden room on consecutive days for fear his absence would be deemed suspicious, he couldn't work out as he usually would for the gyms were closed off to be used in the physical exams. It was as if every process in the Institute ground to a halt for a day.

 

Jungkook sat at his corner desk, absent-mindedly doodling on a spare sheet of paper. There was the faint sound of Hoseok's snores wafting out of the dorm, who probably had the right idea getting some rest before physicals. Jungkook would have tried to sleep himself, but the lights were all automatic and wouldn't switch off until the designated time in the evening.

 

Yoongi was at his desk, but his slumped position suggested he'd also succumbed to sleep. Jungkook watched Yoongi's chest rise up and down for a little while, trying to see if he was actually sleeping or merely resting his head on the desk, when he rolled over slightly and Jungkook could see the shining trail of drool on his chin. He suppressed a smirk and turned away before the sight made him laugh.

 

Definitely asleep.

 

Seokjin was the only other member of ward 7 who was sat in the main room, as Taehyung was still at his physical and the others were in the dorm. Seokjin kept opening and closing his eyes, looking around the main room in between. Jungkook leaned forwards slightly in his chair to get a better look. What on earth was he doing?

 

Before he could figure it out, Seokjin got up and walked to study the temporary clock every ward was given to ensure students would be on time for the physicals. He tutted ever so slightly and went quietly into the dorm. Unable to curb his curiosity, Jungkook got up as quietly as he could and peered round the doorway leading to the dorm.

 

He saw Seokjin bending over a bed, clearly Namjoon's by the size of the lump under the blankets, and shake him by the shoulders. Jungkook barely managed to stifle his gasp.

 

Namjoon grumbled something unintelligible and sat up, blinking in the light. Seokjin replied, too softly for even Jungkook's well-trained ears to pick up, then walked swiftly back to his desk.

 

Namjoon was out of bed now, and changing out of his wrinkled uniform into the sporting uniform of shorts and a short sleeved airtex top. He was evidently still half asleep, putting the top on back to front but managing to catch the mistake just as he was leaving the dorm and darting back to fix it.

 

Without glancing anywhere but his feet, Namjoon strode hurriedly to the door of the ward, opening it only slightly and closing it after him slowly enough that only a muted groaning came from the rusting door's hinges. In the other room Jimin grunted and rolled over in his sleep at the noise. Jungkook looked at Seokjin, astonished. Did he just remind Namjoon of his physical? He had memorised Namjoon's time as well as his own, and saved Namjoon from a painful punishment?

 

Seokjin met his inquisitive gaze with a familiar impassive expression, turned away to the work on his desk and began writing. Jungkook ran a hand through his hair and bent back over his desk, keeping his composure externally while his mind raced.

 

Was it possible that both Seokjin and Namjoon could break the Institute rules? Was the time in the mornings before anybody else got into the bathrooms the time they used to talk? Was the ward full of dissolutes, all longing for contact but too afraid to reach out to each other?

 

or maybe,

 

Thought Jungkook,

 

it’s only me who’s too afraid

 

~-~

 

Jungkook saw hazy glimpses of grey walls and black, heavy boots stomping their way down empty hallways. He felt oddly weightless, rocking back and forth and occasionally coming into contact with something white and scratchy, swinging gently to the rhythm of the black boots. As he became more aware of his surroundings he also became aware of the deep, throbbing pain in his head.

 

He raised a hand to feel his scalp, where there was a raised lump painful to the touch, before a deep, flat voice ordered him to lower the hand. It was then he realised he was slung over someone's shoulder. Jungkook began to squirm and the voice shouted for him to be still, bringing a large hand up to slap the side of Jungkook's face when he did not with such great force that his teeth rattled and his vision blurred again.

 

Deciding it was better to just stay still, Jungkook let himself be transported without complaint the rest of the way. Suddenly the large man carrying Jungkook stopped in front of a rusting iron door with WING B stencilled in huge white letters on the front. Abruptly he was dropped from the man's shoulder and landed painfully on his back, winding him and leaving him to gasp for air on the cold concrete floor.

 

It was then, lying in a haze of pain and oxygen deprivation, that the door creaked open and he was thrust inside, a bundle of clothes and shoes thrown in beside him. The door slammed shut, the immense noise echoing through the cavernous room as Jungkook took in his surroundings.

 

There were perhaps a dozen children, ranging from around four to ten staring at him and eight sets of bunk beds leant against the far wall. Cabinets, most half open or strewn with clothes were slotted in between the beds, all a clinical shade of white. Most of the children had turned back to whatever they were doing by the time Jungkook had finished inspecting the place, apart from one small child with chubby cheeks who looked to be about six or seven, and who was still staring at him.

 

The child got up and walked towards Jungkook, timidly offering a wave in greeting and standing next to him. They were about the same height.

 

"Hello," the child said shyly, "I'm Jimin."

 

"J-Jungkook" he replied, offering a small wave in return. The boy smiled so widely his eyes became crescents.

 

Suddenly Jungkook was looking at the clutter of desks in the main room of ward 7, and the small boy with the widest smile he'd ever seen was staring blankly ahead, with cold, empty eyes and his mouth set into a thin line. It looked to be a good ten years later.

 

A rush of static from the intercom machine told him there was going to be an imminent announcement, and Jungkook was on edge because it had only been a couple of weeks since their last physical exams. There was no conceivable reason for there to be an announcement.

 

"Ward 7," The emotionless voice droned, "Stand to attention in the main room."

 

They all duly shuffled into their places in age order. It was at least ten minutes before Jungkook heard footsteps coming down the hallway outside, by which time his arms burned from being held at 45 degree angles behind his back, and he had ten different itches in ten different places and knew he couldn't afford to scratch even one.

 

The door swung violently open, shoved by a man in the black uniform and tinted visor of an Enforcer who strode into the room, his heavy boots sending echoing footsteps through the ward. There was the sound of a scuffle behind the door then a groan of pain, after which a second Enforcer came in, dragging a thin teenager behind him.

 

The boy was bleeding from an obviously freshly inflicted wound on his temple, with more blood running down from his nose and bruises littering the visible skin on his arms. One eye was darkened by another bruise marring his golden skin. He was panting, his thin frame heaving with the deep, shuddering breaths. A staff member had come in with the Enforcers and spoke to the ward.

 

"This boy is 07-1159, name Taehyung. He will join your ward." With that she tossed the bundle of clothes and shoes he was carrying onto the floor by Taehyung's feet and motioned for the second Enforcer to let go of him.

 

Taehyung's blood dripped onto the pale concrete floor, staining it with his colour.

 

The Enforcer complied, throwing him roughly to the floor then turning on his heel to leave, slamming the heavy door shut with a resounding bang behind him. Jungkook found his eyes could not leave Taehyung, who looked as if he was made of fire and earth and rage. He was the most beautiful thing fourteen year old Jungkook had seen in a long, long time.

 

~-~

 

A sudden noise startled Jungkook awake, his dream shattering and dissipating before he remembered what it was he had dreamed of. It was Namjoon, slinking as quietly as he could back onto the ward with exhaustion evident in his face and his gait. Looking pointedly down at his feet, he walked in an almost corpse like way with how tired he was, heading straight for the dorms and the comfort of his own bed.

 

If Namjoon was back, surely that meant Taehyung was too. Jungkook got out of the uncomfortable desk chair he had somehow managed to doze off in and stretched, trying to get rid of the crick in his neck and the stiffness all along his back. Seokjin was gone from his desk and so was Yoongi.

 

It was odd seeing the main room unoccupied, and Jungkook tried to gauge how long he'd been asleep. Probably no more than three hours, but long enough for everyone to leave or sleep. Peering into the dorm he saw that Yoongi was not at his physical exam but had merely shifted from sleeping on his desk to sleeping curled up at the top of his bed as was his habit, while Jimin was still asleep just where he had been earlier and Hoseok was gone.

 

Jungkook felt Hoseok's bed and found it was stone cold. Hoseok had been gone for a while. Namjoon hadn't even stopped to take off his shoes before falling straight into bed, no doubt falling asleep before his head hit the pillow. With everyone asleep or absent, it was the perfect time to talk to Taehyung. Jungkook walked over to his bed, stretching his hands out to shake Taehyung awake, but stopped when he saw Taehyung's face.

 

The impassivity he had grown so used to seeing there across the years was completely gone. One of his cheeks was squished against the pillow, his lips stuck out slightly in a pout and his hair was plastered to his forehead by the half dried sweat that was still there from his physical. It didn't feel right to disturb him. Jungkook hesitated, then sighed and let his hands drop down to his sides. Looks like they'd just have to talk tomorrow.

 

Chapter Text

The next morning Jungkook woke to the same three bells he'd always woken to. Taking special care not to let his eyes wander over to Taehyung's bed in the corner opposite his own, he sat up and grabbed his clothes from the cabinet beside his bed.

 

Now that he knew Seokjin and Namjoon were involved in some way, their always going to the bathroom before everyone else had even dressed seemed to hold special significance. Jungkook watched them discreetly to see if he could pick up any small interactions between them as they walked, with Seokjin slightly ahead, through the wide doorway leading to the bathroom, but there was nothing. Perhaps they realised that Jungkook had seen them yesterday and were being careful. Or perhaps they weren't involved at all, and it was all wishful thinking on Jungkook's part.

 

Jungkook shook his head slightly and reached for his tie, realising he had frozen in place while he allowed his thoughts to wander. It was no use second guessing what he had seen. He stood to look in the bedside mirror above his cabinet and straighten his tie. He tried to avoid looking at the number emblazoned on his shirt pocket, but the bold black lettering stood out just as much as it always did, the numbers 07-1157 ever-present as a foul chant in the back of his mind. He let out a sigh and waited for the bells to toll again and usher them to breakfast.

 

~-~

 

When Jungkook and the others returned in the usual silent fashion to ward 7 when they were dismissed after breakfast, Jungkook noted with exasperation that everyone was present and awake, with the exception of Yoongi who had gone to his physical as soon as he was finished eating. There was no conceivable way that wouldn't arouse suspicions to get Taehyung alone.

 

Jungkook groaned inwardly in frustration. If he couldn't speak with Taehyung before his physical he would most likely have to wait until the next day, when there would be a completely full ward and likely no one sleeping.

 

talk about tempting fate,

 

He thought grimly. The uncertainty he had carried with him for the whole of his life was stronger than ever – it was impossible to tell who in the ward might be willing to rebel, and who was likely to inform at the first sign of anything amiss. Even Taehyung, despite that brief moment of desperate, electrified eye contact, might still inform the second Jungkook tried to speak to him.

 

It felt like the universe, or maybe just the Institute, was conspiring against him.

 

He tried to turn his thoughts away from Taehyung, instead choosing to worry over his physical exam. He thought, as he always did, that he was perfectly healthy and capable of passing the strength and stamina tests without any issue, but there was always that nagging doubt in the back of his mind. For however bad things were for him in the Institute now, they would undoubtedly be worse if he failed the physical exams.

 

If they discovered he had some small flaw or condition it meant he was forbade from entering society, forced to remain as little better than a slave. Being sent to ward 11 was the thing Jungkook feared most in the world. While there were ten official wards, the eleventh had been built soon after the main building of the Institute, and it's only inhabitants were students who had some defect.

 

They weren't allowed to have proper jobs, live outside of direct State supervision, and were treated as third class citizens, used as slave labour for the dirty work no one 'whole' wanted to do. Jungkook saw them occasionally around the Institute, always with sunken cheeks and hollow eyes, like they were fed barely enough to keep them alive.

 

When a student reached adulthood, their adult number was tattooed on their left cheek to mark that they were a full, functioning member of society, serving the State. For those who had been caught out by the physical exams, or had been born with some disability, this was not the case. As soon as this flaw was discovered, the word NULL was put there instead. This ensured that none of them could ever escape.

 

Out of all the horrific things which happened in the Institute, the isolation, the violent punishments for the slightest step out of line, Jungkook was repulsed by the treatment of ward 11 the most.

 

~-~

 

Jungkook changed into his sports uniform, with six minutes left until he had to be at the gym for his physical. He willed his heart to stop racing long enough to stop him fumbling with the buttons of his shirt. No one else was in the dorm, they were all sitting in the main room twiddling their thumbs or attempting to find some smidgen of work to do that they hadn't already completed several days before. Jungkook cursed under his breath, the last couple of buttons stubbornly refusing to move for his trembling fingers.

 

He was seriously considering just ripping the damn things off when a light touch on his back made him jump. He spun around, mouth opened to berate whoever had scared him half to death, but the words died on his lips when he saw the tanned skin and carefully blank face before him. Taehyung put one long finger to his lips and gently took hold of the bottom of Jungkook's shirt.

 

Jungkook held his breath, heart thumping so hard he thought it might explode, as Taehyung's fingers ghosted over the skin on his stomach, undoing the buttons with enviously steady hands. He avoided Jungkook's gaze and left as quickly, as quietly, as he came. Jungkook stood open-mouthed and stunned, the now completely undone shirt slipping off his right shoulder.

 

He could practically feel where Taehyung’s fingers had been, feel a hot flush rising in his cheeks as he stared at the space where Taehyung had been just a second ago. He shook his head, trying to fight down the deep blush. The intense physical reaction puzzled him for a second, as even though it was more confirmation that Taehyung was willing to go against the Institute this hot feeling seemed an overreaction. Then he realised.

 

no wonder I’m so rattled,

 

He thought, looking down at a hand which still shook,

 

that’s the first physical contact I’ve had with anyone since I left the Junior Institute

 

He looked at the clock and saw that he had only four minutes left until the physical. That really didn't help him control his heart rate.

 

Arriving a couple of seconds before he could be officially called late, Jungkook knocked urgently on the door and entered to see a tall man in a white coat. The man was young for a doctor, but the number tattooed on his left cheekbone clearly showed that he was an adult rather than still a student.

 

"Age and number." The man in the white lab coat said without looking at him, fingers poised above his keyboard.
"Nineteen, 07-1157." Jungkook replied. The man nodded slightly and tapped the information into his computer. He frowned.
"What was your number again? I can't seem to find you."

 

Jungkook dutifully repeated it, feeling his anxiety increasing by the second. It was barely half a minute into his exam and something had already gone wrong. The man made a soft exclamation to himself and swung the monitor round to face Jungkook.

 

"Here's why I couldn't find you; you turned twenty two days ago. Remember that so you won't cause any further confusion." Jungkook read the flickering digital text with a sinking feeling. Another year wasted in this place. The doctor finished typing and walked to a machine, hooked by a half dozen wires to the wall. He picked up an attached syringe and depressed the plunger a couple of times, an impassive stare on his face. He turned to Jungkook, brandishing the syringe like an executioner's blade.

 

"Ready to begin?"

 

~-~

 

Three hours later, staggering a little from the exhaustion, Jungkook left the Institute gym. The physical had gone well, as far as he could tell anyway, so that particular struggle was over for another six months. Now he was free to worry about his next big issue: actually talking to Taehyung. Taking a quick look around him first to ensure no one was around to see, Jungkook allowed himself a huge sigh.

 

He'd reached the corner where he should turn left, back to ward 7. Wanting to climb into bed and sleep the rest of the day away, he took one step down that hallway and found himself grinding to a stop immediately. Willing himself to continue, he managed only one more step. Jungkook sighed again, this time exasperated at himself. However, he understood why. The silently oppressive atmosphere of ward 7, while it had not changed in the slightest for the last eight years, had been especially difficult to bear ever since he had allowed himself to consider the alternative.

 

Jungkook turned on his heel and headed right. Even though it was risky going to his hidden room on occasions so close together, no one really kept track of where anyone else was on physical exams days, plus he could feasibly still have been in his exam for another half hour. Hell, maybe even an hour wouldn't be pushing it.

 

He felt his mood lifting ever so slightly as he turned into the perpetually empty hallway with the metal grate, his own personal beacon of hope, until...

 

Jungkook felt his stomach drop and his mouth fall open in horror. The screws- oh god, the screws were missing from the metal grate. Someone was there, inside the hidden room. He quickly composed himself, feeling that familiar blank, impassive stare mould his features into a safe expression, and peered through the grate. He couldn't see anyone in the gloom.

 

Stepping back and leaning against the wall opposite the ventilation grate, he weighed up the options in his head. It was obvious to anyone entering that room that someone had been there, there were trails made in the thick dust from Jungkook's footsteps, but surely there was no way anything could be traced back to him.

 

That was assuming the person inside was even planning on reporting it, as perhaps they were just seeking a place to feel safe just as he had. Jungkook made up his mind to return to ward 7 for now and visit the room tomorrow. He began walking swiftly, but not swiftly enough to draw any attention to himself, back down the empty hallway. After all, there was no way he could think of to be found out...

 

The device. The periscope he'd made out of a mirror shard three years ago. That could be traced back to ward 7, as there had probably not been another mirror broken in the place for years. Jungkook stopped walking immediately and turned back towards the grate, a growing sense of dread pooling in his stomach. He found himself almost running back to stand once more in front of the grate, staring at the holes where the screws should have been, wringing his hands in terror. If the staff traced it back to ward 7, he could really be in trouble.

 

They wouldn't blame you. It would be traced back to Namjoon

 

Some part of his brain piped up. Jungkook abruptly stopped moving his hands. It was true, Namjoon would be the one blamed for this. After all, he had reported breaking the mirror and no one knew that Jungkook had helped to clear it up. But even as he considered walking away again, Jungkook found that he couldn't. He couldn't let Namjoon take the blame for him.

 

What does it matter to you?

 

That rogue part of his brain hissed, still trying to move his feet back along the empty hallway.
Why did it matter? He'd never spoken more than a couple of words to Namjoon in all the eight- in all the nine years they'd lived together.

 

He thought back to the previous day, when Seokjin had gone to the trouble of reminding Namjoon to go to his physical. Perhaps it was just because it would have reflected badly on Seokjin, being the eldest in a ward where the other students couldn't keep the most important appointments of the year, but something had happened there.

 

They had interacted in a way which wasn't approved by the rules of the Institute.

 

So, even if he wasn't quite sure why, Namjoon mattered enough to Jungkook that he couldn't let him take the blame for Jungkook's own rebellion. He tried to take a deep breath but found it was impossible and settled for a thin, gasping one. Moving slowly in an attempt to stay quiet and settle his nerves, Jungkook eased the grate from where it sat near the bottom of the wall and placed it to the side, beginning the familiar crawl through the grating.

 

What wasn't familiar however was the dread threatening to choke him. He quickly replaced the grate and surveyed the room with terror, certain there would be a staff member there waiting to punish him. What Jungkook saw made him momentarily forget to take shallow breaths due to the dust in the small room, and he collapsed to his knees coughing and spluttering as the room's occupant looked at him in equal parts bewilderment and amusement.

 

For there, sitting in an intact chair at a desk he'd salvaged from the broken pile at the side of the room, was Taehyung.

 

~-~

 

Once he'd recovered from swallowing enough dust to clog his lungs for weeks, Jungkook stood to face Taehyung. He felt incredibly nervous for reasons he could not explain. When Taehyung opened his mouth to say something, Jungkook, in a tone which could almost be taken for hostility, blurted out,

 

"Why are you here? How did you find this place?"

 

Slightly taken aback at Jungkook's tone, Taehyung replied sheepishly,

 

"I noticed a while ago that you kept disappearing in study time, so I followed you here last time you came."

 

Jungkook was astonished. Taehyung must have been quieter than a mouse, as Jungkook could hear a pin drop in those cavernous hallways. After standing in awkward silence for a painful few seconds, Jungkook sighed and stepped forwards from where he was standing with his back pressed uneasily against the wall.

 

"We should... I don't know, ask questions and get to know each other." Jungkook said.

 

"Ok," Taehyung nodded, seemingly relieved, "My question for you; why did you come here right after your physical instead of going to bed like everyone usually does?"

 

"I'm never really that tired after the exams. Well I am tired, just not so exhausted I can't do anything but sleep." Taehyung's eyes widened and he shook his head slightly.

 

"What are you, some kind of alien?"

 

"What's an alien?" Jungkook asked, puzzled.

 

"You don't know what an alien is?" Taehyung looked completely taken aback, then nodded, a look of understanding coming across his fine features. "Of course you wouldn't, growing up in this place. Have you ever even seen the sky?"

 

"Yes, plenty of times. I broke the planks covering this window so I could see outside."

 

Jungkook gestured to the splintering planks, at the sunlight filtering through in beams where the planks didn't cover. Taehyung walked over to the window in curiosity, moving the broken plank and peering outside. He grinned suddenly, mouth forming an odd box-shaped smile.

 

"It's been years since I've looked outside. Nice view, isn't it?"

 

He said sarcastically, pointing to the grotty concrete rectangle which was the junior Institute. Jungkook couldn't help but smile back, coming to stand by Taehyung and stare out of the window with him.

 

"Have you seen the sky at night? Do you know what stars are?"

 

"No." Jungkook said, unused to conversation like this and not sure how he was meant to respond. Taehyung didn’t seem to mind the short answers, seeming happy to keep the conversation going with minimal input from Jungkook.

 

"Ah I can't tell you about them, it wouldn't do them justice. They only appear in the sky at night. I'll just have to show you the stars someday." Taehyung was staring almost wistfully outside, as if wishing he could see the stars right now.

 

"How? We can't get out of the dorm at night, and besides we have to sleep."

 

"Do you always sleep through the nights?" Something flickered in Taehyung's eyes as he turned to face Jungkook, something which made him think this question held more weight than it seemed to. Jungkook took a few seconds to try and guess the hidden meaning behind the question but found he couldn't think of anything.

 

"Always. Why do you ask?"

 

Taehyung nodded, as if he'd expected that answer.

 

"I'll tell you at some point." The tone of finality he used told Jungkook that there was no point in trying to get the answer out of him, so he simply nodded and turned back to look out of the window again. After a few minutes of this silent contemplation, Taehyung sighed and straightened up.

 

"I've already been here for an hour or so, I should get back before someone decides to report me." He turned and began walking away, feet kicking up small clouds of the ever-present dust as he did. As he knelt and reached for the metal grate, Jungkook found himself calling out for him to wait, needing to ask the question he had wanted the answer to for so long.

 

"Are any of the others... Have you talked to any of them?" He tried to keep the desperation from his tone but his voice wavered, a small crack in his usual composure which betrayed him. Taehyung gave him a wry look, as if knowing exactly what he was asking and disapproving. He stood up from where he was kneeling by the grate and walked back over to stand opposite Jungkook.

 

"You've never tried talking to them?" Jungkook shook his head, feeling slightly ashamed even though he had done nothing wrong in the eyes of the Institute.

 

"Afraid of being reported? Or have you accepted this place's ideals?" Jungkook shook his head again, slightly frantically and replied,

 

"I've never agreed with the policies the Institute has about talking, it was more the former. They all seem so indoctrinated, I didn't ever think talking was an option." The slightly offended air left Taehyung in a long exhale and he nodded slightly, dark hair bobbing with the movement.

 

"So did I," he admitted, "But I walked in on Hoseok crying in the dorm a few years ago. He'd been short of breath in the last few weeks and was terrified of being caught out in his physical exam and being sent to ward 11. He had a panic attack when he saw me come in,"

 

Taehyung chuckled slightly, but the smile didn't reach his eyes,

 

"Turns out that'd been his problem. He calmed down once he realised I wasn't going to report him and we've talked on and off since. More off than on, he only talks when he's absolutely sure we're alone or can't be overheard." Jungkook nodded, relieved that there was another ward member who had undeniably broken the rules.

 

"I think Seokjin and Namjoon may be involved in some way." He said, watching Taehyung's reaction closely to try and see if he already knew.

 

"They are?" He raised one eyebrow, assuring Jungkook of his ignorance. Jungkook told him about what he'd seen the day before.

 

"So?" Jungkook asked when he'd finished, "Do you think they are? And why were they so indiscreet?" Taehyung was nodding to himself faintly, then looked at Jungkook appraisingly.

 

"I don't think it's a coincidence you saw this yesterday." He said, making eye contact.

 

"What do you mean?" Jungkook asked, feeling uncomfortable under the intense gaze. He couldn’t remember keeping eye contact for this long with someone, wanting to look away, but somehow felt compelled to stay in place, staring deeply into Taehyung’s brown eyes.

 

"Well, if that's what you saw then they're obviously involved, no two ways about it. The interesting thing is how obvious they were being." Taehyung broke the eye contact and opted instead to stare at a spot just behind Jungkook's head, a blank look coming over his face as if he was in deep thought.

 

"Seokjin isn't stupid, he didn't just get careless and think you were asleep or not watching. There would be far less obvious ways to wake Namjoon up if that was all it was. I think that Seokjin suspected you didn't adhere to the rules, perhaps because he saw something in your face or your eyes at the first address like I did, and wanted to test his theory. He figured you wouldn't report him, and maybe even they you'd take that as an invitation to talk to him or Namjoon."

 

The more Jungkook thought about it, the more Taehyung's explanation made sense. Seokjin and Namjoon wouldn't have lasted long if they made a habit of being careless. Taehyung knelt down and began removing the grate again, stopping briefly to call back over his shoulder,

 

"Shall we meet here again at some point? Or when there's no one else in the dorm?"
Jungkook nodded all too quickly.

 

"Yes of course, I... I really like talking to you." He said quietly, looking down at the floor. Taehyung looked surprised for a moment, then flashed a box-shaped grin which made Jungkook's heart stutter in his chest. Then he was gone, leaving the grate slightly askew in its holdings and Jungkook all alone, with hope filtering in like a sunbeam through the planks of a boarded up window.

 

The next time Jungkook made the journey to that dusty, hidden room, he found that there was another unbroken chair placed opposite the first.

 

Chapter Text

A few days later Jungkook noticed that his number was listed on the bulletin board for textbook collection. This meant that at some point during the next day, in the allocated study time they had between classes, he would have to make the trek to the other side of the Institute to the requisitions office and lug seven or more heavy textbooks back.

 

Usually the task would have been the last thing Jungkook wanted, but the knowledge that Hoseok, Seokjin and Namjoon may be willing to talk had been playing on his mind and a textbook run was the perfect opportunity to get one of them alone.

 

In the dorm the following morning Jungkook saw Taehyung headed for the bathroom and realised there was no one else in there. They had managed little snippets of conversation ever since their meeting in the secret room the previous week, but there hadn't been a moment when Taehyung was completely alone so they could have a proper conversation.

 

It looked like today was Jungkook's day.

 

He walked into the bathroom, forcing himself to walk slowly so as not to arouse any suspicion from Jimin or Yoongi, who were still dressing in the dorm. Taehyung was brushing his teeth at the low sink in the bathroom when Jungkook walked in.

 

"Taehyung, I'm on textbook duty." He said in quietly, coming to stand next to Taehung and grab his own toothbrush. Taehyung looked at him thoughtfully, pausing with the toothbrush still in his mouth.
"I'm guessing," he mumbled around the toothbrush, beginning to move it over his front teeth again, "There's something behind you telling me that."

 

"You know how sometimes they send two people to collect them?" Taehyung's face lit up in understanding at this and he nodded vigorously, removing the toothbrush to speak animatedly in a low voice.
"You're planning to-" he paused to spit white froth into the sink- "Take Hoseok?" At Jungkook's nod Taehyung looked off to the side in thought, biting his lip in a way Jungkook found very distracting.

 

"For him to go with you it would have to be written on the board, Hoseok is nothing if not careful."
"I hadn't thought of that." Jungkook furrowed his brow in annoyance and rubbed at his forehead. Taehyung smiled fondly at him and patted Jungkook's arm to get his attention.

 

"I can get it on the board. I'll sneak there when no one's around and write Hoseok's number on the textbook requisition order." Jungkook gaped at him for a second before composing himself.
"Taehyung, you can't do that. There'll be hell to pay if they catch you." He said guardedly. They locked eyes and once again Jungkook felt like Taehyung could see far more than just his irises in the gaze.

 

He shuddered slightly as Taehyung broke the eye contact to cuff sleep out of the corner of one eye. When he turned his gaze back to Jungkook, his expression seemed all too serious for his face.

 

"You really want to meet them, don't you." He said softly. It wasn't really a question, but Jungkook still felt compelled to answer.

 

"Yes Taehyung, I do. I always have."

 

"Then screw the consequences. I want to do this for you." Taehyung met his eyes again, as if sealing the deal. Then the serious air was gone and Taehyung's cute box smile had returned.

 

He tapped his nose playfully a couple of times before rinsing his mouth out and turning away. Jungkook watched the impassivity descend onto his face, warping it into something unapproachable and so different from the bright, talkative Taehung he'd known for only a few days that it made his head hurt.

 

~-~

 

Jungkook's internal clock told him there were forty minutes until the next class. Enough time to set his plan into action. He stood up from the low desk, chair scraping obnoxiously on the floor as he did so.
"Hoseok, you're to come and collect textbooks with me. There's too many for one person to manage."

 

Hoseok looked up from the papers scattered on his desk to stare unblinkingly at Jungkook for a couple of seconds before pushing his chair away, standing up and stretching slightly. If he thought there was anything odd about the request, as almost every time textbooks were collected only one student went, it didn't show on his face. Then again, emotions rarely did.

 

Taehyung caught Jungkook's eye as he walked to the heavy metal door and raised an eyebrow, looking meaningfully at Hoseok as he did. Jungkook gave an almost imperceptible nod and Taehyung's face broke into a seemingly irrepressible grin before he turned and buried his head back into the paperwork strewn haphazardly across his desk (and spilling onto the floor on one side), hiding that infectious box smile in the pages and pages of psychology notes they all had to memorise.

 

Meanwhile Hosek had fallen into step behind Jungkook, in the typical walking rhythm of the Institute which wasn't fast enough to look stressed or emotional, but not quite slow enough to look complacent. Hoseok turned to close the door so that it wouldn't bang, making the unnecessary booming noise that would no doubt echo through the halls for a good ten minutes.

 

"My name is on the bulletin board, I take it?" Hoseok said, breaking the heavy silence. Jungkook glanced sideways at the older man, and notice his tight-lipped gaze that held resolutely forwards, the drawn look to his pale face. Jungkook guessed that he knew something wasn’t right about this situation, so wanted to ensure his ass was covered if he were caught up in anything that could lead to trouble.

 

Knowing it was the reassurance he needed, Jungkook nodded in reply and Hoseok seemed satisfied. They walked side by side through the grey, featureless expanse of the well-lit hallway, headed for the supply room which was, usually inconveniently but suitable for today's purpose, as far away from ward 7 as you could go within the Institute.

 

Plenty of time to find out where Hoseok's loyalties lay.

 

Jungkook swallowed in apprehension, trying to observe Hoseok out of the corner of his eye without turning his head towards him. Of course he believed Taehyung that he and Hoseok had talked in the past, but Taehyung had also admitted the last talk they had was months ago. Months was definitely enough time for the Institute to worm its way back into someone's head, and Jungkook really didn't feel like being reported today.

 

Idly he wondered when the last time anyone was put into the solitary confinement room, a cruel punishment for misbehaviour involving frequent beatings and total isolation. At least in a ward, surrounded by fellow students at all times, you could pretend you weren't alone.

 

They turned a corner at the end of hallway B, heading right towards hallway J. Although it was the furthest you could go inside the Institute, the route there would take a little under ten minutes, at least four of which had already passed while Jungkook hadn't been paying attention.

 

"Focus..." He muttered under his breath, eyeing Hoseok as he walked , face impassive and eyes downcast, slightly in front of Jungkook. Jungkook took a deep breath, trying to muster the courage to say something.

 

"H-Hoseok..." He trailed off, unable to think of anything else to say. Hoseok was looking at him with an expression so blank it seemed like he hadn't heard Jungkook.
"Yes?" He said curtly, curiosity now swimming in his dark eyes.
"I... I know you've talked to Taehyung." Hoseok gaped for a second before getting control over his features.

 

"Of course I've talked to 07-1159 over the years. I asked him for some paper last week."

 


"You know that's not what I meant." Hoseok's eyes narrowed and he turned away, fixing his gaze on the hallways stretching out in front of them.

 

"I have no idea where you're getting these ideas from, but I assure you all interactions between 07-1159 and I have been entirely appropriate." Hoseok's mouth was a hard line, his body turned away from Jungkook, walking faster to get away from him. The subtext was clear: don't talk to me. Jungkook cursed and sped up, trying to keep up with Hoseok's hurried pace. He mentally kicked himself for making such a mess of this.

 

"Hoseok, I'm not trying to report you. I'm asking because I've also talked to Taehyung. He told me that you two knew each other." Hoseok didn't react, perhaps pretending he hadn't heard Jungkook.
"I want to talk to you!" Jungkook didn’t raise his voice, but the desperation was clear in his tone. Hoseok stopped dead and turned to face Jungkook again. This time the hardness was gone from his face.

 

"Why now?" Hoseok whispered, darting quick worried glances along the hallways.
"It's been far too long already." Jungkook said softly, looking down at his feet. Hoseok hummed agreement at that.
"I wasn't actually needed for the textbook collection, was I?" He said, looking at Jungkook with slight disapproval.

 

"No, Taehyung and I wrote your name on the bulletin board to make sure you would come. He said you were too careful to talk without reason." Hoseok laughed at that.
"He's right there, you're lucky there's no one around. If I could even hear footsteps three hallways over I wouldn't be talking."
"Have you talked to anyone else? Apart from Taehyung?" Hoseok nodded tersely.

 

"Jimin and I talk fairly often." Jungkook couldn't hide his surprise at that.

 

"Jimin?" He breathed, sure that it couldn't be right. He and Jimin had been such good friends in the junior Institute, surely if he was willing to talk he would have tried at some point.
"Yes Jimin, why does that surprise you?"
"I just thought... We were really close in the Junior Institute so I thought that since he never tried to talk to me he must have accepted the rules... Or..."

 

Hoseok cackled at his confused expression.
"You thought Jimin was the one indoctrinated? Really? Because before today, if I was going to bet on the most indoctrinated in ward 7 it would be you without a doubt."

 

"But surely Jimin-"

 

"Jungkook, you play the part to perfection. I'm sure Jimin thought that a single word to you would have got him beaten or sent to solitary. Plus if you were so close, why didn't you ever try and talk to him?"
Because I'm a coward. Screamed Jungkook's mind.

 

"I don't know." Said his mouth. Hoseok huffed and shook his head.
"Aish, you kids. Come on, we've been here too long." With that he turned on his heel and headed off at a brisk pace down the grey hallway. After a pause, Jungkook followed.

 

He fell into step behind Hoseok, who was striding purposefully down the halls to try and make up for lost time. The silence that settled upon them, usually so oppressive, felt different this time. It was comforting to know that this silence was by choice, rather than by force.

 

~-~

 

Fourteen new textbooks still lay stacked in the corner of the dorm when the wards returned from their final lesson of the day, exhausted and hungry but having to wait an hour until dinner. Jungkook's mind was still racing a mile a minute from his conversation with Hoseok earlier.

 

He kept unconsciously looking over at Jimin, hoping that he might go to the bathroom or somewhere they could talk but knowing that he would be too scared to approach Jimin. Had he really wasted 9 years not talking to him when Jimin had wanted to all this time?

 

Jungkook groaned and sank down further into his chair, dislodging a pile of papers from his desk. They fell with a light thump and scattered, a few coming to rest underneath Namjoon's desk. Namjoon jolted in surprise when he felt something touching his leg, annoyance flashing over his face before he bent to pick the papers up. He stood up and walked to where Jungkook was sat on the floor, picking up page after page of notes, then began to pick them up as well.

 

Jungkook froze for a second, amazed. Here Namjoon was breaking one of the Institute's core rules, do not help another student, and here was the rest of the ward ignoring it. Of course there was the possibility that no one else had seen Namjoon come over and pick up the papers, but that was ludicrous.

 

Especially since Namjoon had managed to knock his chair over and shatter the stifling silence on the way over.

 

Jungkook looked around the ward to see the others pointedly averting their eyes from the scene. He felt his heart quicken at the site. This was a rebellion of the whole ward, no matter how small. Namjoon handed Jungkook the last few papers, looking off to the side to avoid making eye contact.

 

"Thank you." Jungkook murmured, so quietly he thought it may not have even reached Namjoon. The way his mouth tightened around the edges showed he'd heard. Before Jungkook could even recover from this surprise he saw out of the corner of his eye Seokjin getting up in an exaggerated way and heading for the bathroom. It looked as though he was calling for someone to follow him.

 

He probably wants Namjoon

 

Jungkook thought, thinking of the way they seemed to meet in the bathroom every morning. When Namjoon stayed firmly seated, Jungkook let his eyes wander back to the bathroom door. Could he possibly have meant for Jungkook to follow him?

 

Jungkook gritted his teeth at the scraping noise as he pushed his chair back and started over to the bathroom. Only one way to find out. The bathroom was in its usual clinical white state, seven toothbrushes and seven bars of soap lined up on the small shelf in various states of use. They were given three toothbrushes a year and as much soap as necessary, all collected from the requisitions office when the time was right

 

Jungkook at first couldn't see where Seokjin had gone, until he looked in the mirror to see Seokjin's broad frame waiting behind the door. He was leaning against a white tiled wall, staring right at Jungkook. Jungkook started, surprised to see him there. He decided he would have to go about this with the utmost tact and subtlety.

 

"S-Seokjin, will you report me if I try to talk to you?"

 

Nailed it, good job Jungkook.

 

Seokjin looked taken aback, stepping forwards to stand opposite Jungkook.
"You know I wouldn't. I thought I made that clear a few days ago when I let you see Namjoon and I." Jungkook nodded at this.
"I had to be sure. I thought you were just being careless at first, but Taehyung said you were trying to send me a message." Seokjin huffed at that.

 

"You thought I'd be so careless as to let you see that by accident? Namjoon and I would have been caught ten years ago if that was the case. Of course it was a message." He said, shaking his head and smiling slightly, as if Jungkook's misunderstanding amused him.

 

"Message is received. I've been trying to talk to everyone, and so far it's going well."
"See, I knew you wouldn't keep to the rules. I got into such trouble from Namjoon when I let you see us, but he's not so good at reading people. Who have you talked to?"
"Hoseok and Taehyung so far, but apparently Jimin talks too. Hoseok said so." At this Seokjin's eyes lit up.

 

"Jungkook," he breathed excitedly, "If that's really true then everyone in ward seven breaks that rule. Yoongi and I talk very often, he's never even tried to keep to the Institute rules."
Jungkook's mouth widened into an irrepressible grin.

 

"Really? Oh my god..." He trailed off, unable to speak in his joy. Seokjin nodded, eyes sparkling.
"I-I'll talk to Yoongi at dinner. I'll make it obvious enough that the ward notices, but not the staff." Seokjin nodded eagerly at this.

 

"Good idea. I'll tell Namjoon on the way over. Now we should get back to the main room, just in case Jimin isn't safe. Not that I don't trust your information, Jungkook, but I'm not getting caught today or any other day if I can help it. Also-" he reached behind Jungkook and pressed the flush on the toilet,
"- Gotta keep up appearances."

 

He winked and turned on his heel, returning to the cold silence of the main room. Jungkook felt like his heart would explode with hope.

 

~-~

 

Yoongi was sitting opposite Jungkook in his usual position at the small table ward 7 shared, stabbing at the vegetables absent-mindedly as the quiet sounds of eating filled the air. Seokjin, Namjoon and Taehyung had been tasked with keeping lookout, glancing as subtly as they could over to the staff tables and fixing their eyes on the staff who walked occasionally through the gaps between tables to ensure there was no food swapping.

 

Jungkook had to force himself to get through his food, so nervous about talking in such a public place that his appetite had completely vanished. The nerves didn't seem to be getting to Taehyung, who was devouring his food like he hadn't eaten in a week. Jungkook had to stop watching him, fearing he would smile or laugh and get punished for it.

 

They didn't need any extra attention on ward 7 right now.

 

Namjoon cleared his throat quietly, sending a meaningful look down the table to Jungkook. The look clearly said now or never.
I'm in so much trouble Jungkook thought, before taking a couple of deep breaths to prepare himself.
"Yoongi." Yoongi froze for a fraction of a second before continuing to spear vegetables.

 

"What is it?" He said, sliding a carrot into his mouth. The subtext was clear though; what are you trying to do, Jungkook?
"The whole ward talks. We all break the rules." Yoongi choked on the carrot, doubling over his plate to hack the bits of vegetable out of his lungs. Jungkook could see Taehyung frantically shoving bread into his mouth to suppress the giggles. When Yoongi had recovered, he shot Jungkook a murderous look.

 

"Thanks for the warning, kid." He muttered, looking round the table curiously.
"Have you talked to anyone before Yoongi?" Hoseok piped up, head down and resolutely facing his meal to avoid any suspicion by the staff.
"Seokjin, Namjoon and Jimin. Well, now Jungkook and yourself too, Hoseok." Jungkook was taken aback. Someone else had talked to Jimin as well? This was getting ridiculous.

 

"Don't talk anymore." Seokjin whispered from the right end of the table. A quick glance to the staff side of the canteen showed why. There were staff members getting up to perform rounds of the student tables, staff who without a doubt would punish all of them for speaking out of turn. Jungkook shut his mouth and focused back on his meal, content in the knowledge that all hell would break loose when they all got back to the dorm later.

 

~-~

 

They got back to ward 7 without incident, taking special care to appear as impassive and dead inside as they usually would, before chaos broke out in the ward. Suddenly the words and emotions everyone had repressed for years burst out as they all talked at once, laughing and raised voices mingled with the slightly hysterical tirade coming from Hoseok proclaiming how much he'd wanted to talk to them all these years.

 

In the midst of this chaos, Jungkook felt a slight tap on his back. He turned to see the only one he hadn't talked to yet, biting his lip and looking at Jungkook with apprehension clear on his face. Jungkook saw Jimin's eyes drawn as they always were to the sliver scar on Jungkook's cheek, to the slightly longer than was appropriate hair always flattened down to try and cover it up. The boy cleared his throat and stepped forwards, stretching out a hand almost unconsciously.
"H-hi Jungkook." He said, smiling nervously. Jungkook smiled back.
"Hello Jimin."

 

Chapter Text

Thirteen years previously

 

Jungkook shook with terror at the sounds of heavy footsteps making their way along the echoing passage outside. Complete silence had fallen over the room, in total contrast to the usual boisterous sounds of the forty or so children who slept there playing and running around manically. The cause of it all: a broken cabinet.

 

Jungkook had been playing tag with Yugyeom and BamBam, sprinting at a considerable pace to try and escape Yugyeom's grasping fingers, when he had slipped and pelted into the side of a bed, driving it into the cabinet next to it with enough force to splinter the flimsy plywood. The side of the cabinet was now a gaping hole, the side of the more sturdy bed still rammed through it.

 

Jungkook cringed as the door banged open and all the small heads in the room, his included, whipped round almost in unison to see the matron striding in. She looked a little taken aback at the complete lack of noise or activity, looking quizzically round at the children to see what was wrong, until her prowling eyes fell upon the broken cabinet.

 

"Who did this?" She screeched, stomping over in her heavy boots to pull the bed away and get a closer look.
"Which of you has so little respect for what the glorious State provides?" She continued ranting in this way for quite some time, punctuating parts of her speech with a finger waving in the air or a stamp of her foot. When no one spoke up, a sadistic smile crept across her gnarled old mouth.

 

"If the child who destroyed this cabinet does not admit to their wrongdoings, then all of you will be punished."

 

Jungkook couldn't help the whimper which escaped his lips, as he tried not to let his eyes be drawn to the truncheon and cane hanging at the matron's side. Jimin looked over at him, eyes wide with concern.

 

"I'll give the culprit five seconds.... Five..." Jungkook swallowed, unable to control his shaking at this point.
"Four..."

 

The room seemed to hold its breath, everyone pointedly avoiding looking at Jungkook. There was no way they would give him up, as one of the few positive things the children had in their lives was the sense of community they shared. Surviving together in the unforgiving grey prison, where every adult was an enemy, it was comforting to know that on the other hand, every child was a friend.

 

"Three..."

 

BamBam and Yugyeom were trembling too, sitting next to each other and clutching at each other's clothes in fear.

 

"Two..."

Jungkook opened his mouth but found he could not form any words. He closed his mouth in defeat, resigning himself to cowardice.

 

"One..."

 

The matron was tapping a long finger on her truncheon. Jungkook could feel tears forming in the back of his eyes, disgusted that he couldn't own up.

 

"Zer-"
"It was me."

 

A small voice came from behind, surprisingly steady. Jungkook turned in astonishment to see Jimin, who had stood up in the middle of the room and was looking at his feet. The matron made an exasperated noise, and Jimin looked up in defiance, meeting her eyes.

 

"I didn't mean to, I fell and pushed the bed through the cabinet." At this the matron's eyes bulged.
"Such carelessness! I weep for the future of the State when such children as you are allowed to continue. Put out your hands."

 

Jimin duly did so, shuffling nervously from foot to foot. The matron unfastened the thin came from her hip and gave it a few experimental swings through the air near Jimin's head. The cane made a hissing sound as she brought it down on Jimin's tiny hands, impacting with a sickening slapping noise.

 

Jungkook covered his eyes, unable to watch, the fleshy thumps of the cane mingled with Jimin's cries of pain searing themselves into his memory. The matron went on hitting Jimin, in fact showed no signs of slowing down, until the cane itself began to splinter. It split in two with one final, savage blow to Jimin's poor, bleeding hands and she made a sound of disbelief.

 

"Look at that. More State property ruined."

 

She threw the cane disdainfully at Jimin's feet then strode out of the room without another word. The door closed with a resounding bang, and Jungkook immediately rushed over to where Jimin was swaying unsteadily on his feet, looking like he might keel over at any point.

 

Jimin sank to his knees, still holding his hands out in front of him, and looked over the bleeding digits. He drew in a short, hysterical breath as Jungkook reached him and wrapped his arms around the boy's shaking frame. Jungkook felt the tears soaking into the back of his shirt as Jimin's quiet sobs echoed round the room. They stayed like that for a few minutes until the pain subsided enough for Jimin to stop crying, deciding instead to sit with Jungkook on his bed.

 

"Why did you do that Jimin?" Jungkook asked, not understanding why Jimin had volunteered himself for a savage beating in his place. Jimin looked down at his hands, fiddling gingerly with his swollen fingers.

 

"You looked so scared, I didn't..." Jimin trailed off, then looked at Jungkook and smiled, his eyes becoming crescent shaped with the force of his smile. "You're my best friend Jungkook, I couldn't let the matron hurt you." Jungkook felt fondness bloom in his chest and turned away, looking awkwardly at his feet.

 

"You're my best friend too Jimin." He mumbled at the ground, before turning and flashing Jimin a small smile. The rest of the children were back to their usual loud games and conversations, as if the matron had never shattered the mood. As if there wasn't a broken cane lying in the small drops of blood on the floor.

 

~-~

 

Eleven years previously...

 

The State was at war with the rest of the world. The war had been going on for years, but it wasn't until Jimin was ten and Jungkook was eight that it really affected them. They knew it was happening of course: the staff at the junior Institute often talked about it in low voices when they didn't think the children were listening, but the threat of truncheons and boots were of more concern to the both of them.

 

That was until the chemical bombs were dropped.

 

It had been on a normal, boring rest day when there were no classes. Jimin and Jungkook were playing together, trying to enjoy it as they knew it wouldn't be long before it was impossible. Jimin was ten after all, and in a few days would be moved to the Senior Institute with the rest of the children his age. Jungkook would be without his best friend for two years, and there was nothing he could do about it. The only thing they could do was try to enjoy what little time was left.

 

That was, until the bombs changed all that.

 

There was a crashing sound from outside the grey walls of the Institute, followed by explosions and the screams from the terrified children. They rushed to the main room, shoes skidding on the polished floors as they raced round corners so fast they should really have tripped, to join the clamour of small children all trying to reach the one window in the room.

 

The window was used for light and was set high up on the wall, perhaps seven or eight feet from the ground, and had to be accessed via a small step ladder by the head staff member when she wanted to close it due to the weather or bugs. It couldn’t actually open, and was made of thick shatter-resistant reinforced glass so the kids couldn’t ever break it. As it turned out, this might have saved their lives that day.

 

Around forty children all started climbing over each other to try and see out of the tiny, barred window until the matron burst into the room with her entourage of staff members.

 

They ushered the children away, marching them down the grey hallways that were never this busy under normal circumstances, marching them away to darker rooms in the heart of the Institute that the children never saw. They waited there, trapped in the dark, haunted by the sounds of explosions and the shockwaves making the walls vibrate. Jimin and Jungkook held hands, desperately clutching at each other in an attempt to soothe their nerves.

 

The staff left them in those damn, dingy rooms for hours, until it was hard to breathe because of the stifling heat and some were struggling not to pass out. Passing out would be a sign of weakness, and wouldn't go down very well in the Institute. Eventually the staff returned and opened the doors again, allowing the children to leave, blinking in the sudden harsh overhead lighting of the hallways.

 

The staff informed them that the enemy had attacked with chemicals, that the students due to leave for the Senior Institute would not be able to go. That was all. That was the most they ever knew.

 

~-~

 

Both Jungkook and Jimin were glad, although they felt guilty about it, that the chemicals had been dropped. If it hadn't been, Jimin would already be at the Senior Institute. There were terrible rumours about the rules and the staff in the Senior Institute, and no child spoke of it without fear. They both knew, however, that it must truly be bad if the frequently punished and beaten students of the Junior Institute were this afraid.

 

So yes, Jungkook was glad not to lose his friend. Jimin was glad to stay where he knew what was safe and what wasn't.

 

That is until kids started dying.

 

The staff in the Junior Institute tried to cover it up without much success, even going as far to quarantine any children who so much as looked sick. Jungkook still remembered when they were in a lesson and BamBam collapsed, sprawling over his desk and moaning from the pain in his stomach until he was literally dragged out of the room by a staff member. The teacher never even paused.

 

Out of the seventy children who lived at the Junior Institute, fourteen died the week following the chemical attacks. Four had died as soon as the bombs dropped, as they had been cleaning the pathway to the Senior Institute outside. They were engulfed by the flames that spread from the impact site, the flames that left sooty stains on the grey stone outside, like a memorial to all those deaths.

 

The remaining ten had been near open windows and doors when the chemicals became airborne, quickly becoming feverish and vomiting so much that they eventually died of dehydration. After those fourteen deaths came five more in the next few months. Three died in one day almost a year after the bombs had hit, leading to an investigation into whether some careless staff member or student had opened a window.

 

As for students who got sick however, that was almost half of the remaining fifty odd. It was a crisis the Junior Institute was thoroughly unprepared for, having only ten beds in their medical wing and not enough food stocked to last for a long quarantine period.

 

For almost two years the students grew lean and hungry, grew accustomed to death which always seemed close. Death lurked in the dark corners of the Junior Institute when they no longer had the power to keep most of the lights on, it lurked in the hollow cheeks and sunken eye sockets of the hopelessly ill children.

 

After about a year of this, of children beginning to turn on each other and fight savagely over small scraps of food, the staff began teaching whoever would listen the lessons they would have learnt in the Senior Institute. Jimin attended, which meant Jungkook did too. Jimin told Jungkook that he was attending so he wouldn't run into trouble when he finally moved to the Senior Institute, as these lessons were a year overdue for him anyway.

 

Jungkook knew better.

 

The lessons were a distraction for an aching belly and a dry throat. If he poured all his attention and effort into those lessons, perhaps he could ignore the bodies that were piled up in a room downstairs. Tiny bodies, some belonging to children as young as three. The air was so toxic that the doors couldn't be opened for a second, couldn't be opened long enough even to throw the bodies outside.

 

Jungkook knew that if they threw themselves into new information and lessons, perhaps they could forget the rotting stench which wafted through the cavernous halls on hot days. Perhaps.

 

It was because of this crisis that Jungkook, despite being two years Jimin's junior, found himself in the same class with the same numbered group as Jimin when they finally entered the Senior Institute, two years after Jimin was supposed to. Death had plagued the Senior Institute as well, leaving empty wards and a sparsely populated canteen.

 

The great hall on the day of the first address was barely a quarter full. It was because of the lack of students, which persisted long after the air had ceased to be toxic, that there was space for Taehyung to join their class when he came at the age of sixteen. Even so many years afterwards Jungkook found it difficult to look at his number, 7-1157, when every time he caught a glimpse of that black embroidery on his shirt he was reminded of the fact that 1152 through 1156 were dead.

 

Jungkook could pinpoint the exact moment he first felt like he was missing a limb. the day the speaker had thundered from the pulpit that it was wrong to talk to people, wrong to have friends and emotions. Jungkook had turned, disbelieving and scared, to his side to look at Jimin. Jimin's lips were pressed so tightly together that they had lost all colour. He avoided Jungkook's gaze, pointedly fixing his eyes straight ahead at the speaker on his raised dais.

 

Something broke inside Jungkook when Jimin wouldn't meet his gaze. Slowly he turned back to stare at the speaker, trying to ignore the pang in his chest.

 

Surely,

 

He had thought

 

Surely Jimin isn’t listening to this? He must just be keeping up appearances

 

But when Jungkook tried to talk to him the next time they had a moment alone, in the bathroom of ward 7, three whole days after that first address, Jimin had roughly brushed past him and returned to the front room, still refusing to meet his eye.

 

After that Jungkook learnt to live with that feeling of loss, but was plagued with phantom pains ever since.

 

~-~

 

The present...

 

It felt surreal to be facing Jimin again, to see anything on his face except a cold impassivity which morphed his features into something grotesque. Jimin was shifting nervously from foot to foot, fiddling with his hands at the same time and Jungkook felt his heart clench with the familiarity of the gestures. It really had been too long.

 

They stayed like that for what seemed like hours, but in reality was only a minute or two. They faced each other, each unsure, wanting to say something but having the words die on their tongue each time. Eventually Jungkook couldn't stand any more silence. That he silence had been their only reality for far too long.

 

"I missed you." He blurted out without thinking, quickly clamping his mouth shut and feeling embarrassed. Did he have the right to say that after ignoring Jimin for nine years? Jimin looked a little put out, folding his arms over his chest.

 

"If that's true, why didn't you ever try to say something?"

 

"Why didn't you?" Jimin looked as if he would protest, opening his mouth and raising a finger, then shutting his mouth again almost instantly and rubbing the back of his neck with a hand.

 

“That time in the bathroom back when we just came to the Senior Institute,”

 

 Jungkook went on, feeling that familiar pang of abandonment,

 

“Why didn’t you say something? If you talked to others in the ward, why did you ignore me the day I needed to know you were still there?”

 

 He sighed, shoulders sagging.

 

“I thought you were trying to trick me. I’d seen you having a private talk with one of the Staff and thought you were going to report me if I replied. I almost reported you.”

 

He paused to see Jungkook’s reaction, and smiled sadly at the surprised widening of his eyes.

 

“I know, I know. I was so paranoid after that first address I thought it was meant to be a test on the part of the State, them seeing if I’d be a good little citizen for them.”

 

“The staff member was just telling me I’d have to work twice as hard as my peers to keep up, because I was so much younger.”

 

Jungkook said, remembering the conversation with the Staff member all those years ago. It had been such an insignificant conversation that it was almost surreal to think it had been enough to confuse a paranoid, 12 year old Jimin into thinking his best friend was a double agent.

 

Jimin nodded, looking as upset as he had following the savage beating that had left his hands almost useless for more than a week. There was another minute or two of awkward silence. It seemed as if the rest of the ward has stopped their conversations to watch and see what might happen between the two. The tension was becoming too much, when Jimin finally broke the silence.

 

"I missed you too." He muttered, stepping forwards and wrapping his arms around Jungkook's chest. Jungkook spluttered slightly in surprise, before melting into the hug.

 

"I’m an idiot, Jungkook, and I’m sorry." Jimin said, voice muffled by his chest.
"You are," Jungkook replied, "I would never have reported you. But I should have tried harder to talk to you, and I’m sorry too."

 

They broke apart and saw that the rest of the ward was staring at them. Jungkook could sense somehow that Taehyung was thinking something completely inappropriate for the touching situation, and turned to stare menacingly at him. Taehyung's lips were stretched into a slight smirk, eyes swimming with mirth.

 

Don't you dare, Taehyung

 

Jungkook tried to project his thought, staring into Taehyung's eyes and trying to ignore the slight flutter in his stomach as he did so.

 

"Are you two gonna make out?"

 

Yoongi and Hoseok snorted in unison, then made eye contact and began laughing in earnest at the fact that they had snorted.

 

Jungkook sighed and found he was smiling in spite of himself. Evidently he and Taehyung didn't have telepathy.

 

Chapter Text

The whole of ward 7 was sat on the floor in their dormitory, in a rough semi-circle facing the door so that they would all know if someone was coming in. They'd been talking non-stop for the whole of their study period so far, which was almost two hours, and showed no signs of stopping.

 

It had been awkward, stuttered conversation at the start, with no one knowing what to say or reply to any questions being asked, but they slowly shed the suspicious instincts they'd learnt through living in the Institute. At the one hour mark Hoseok had suggested they play a sort of truths game, where each person got to ask a question, either to the whole group or to just one, and whoever was asked had to answer truthfully.

 

It was a huge success.

 

"Ok... Everyone! Would you rather lick the matron in the Junior Institute-"
There was a mixture of groans and gagging at that, but Taehyung smirked and continued anyway,
"Or eat whatever weird stuff is in the biohazard bins in the medical bay. Bear in mind there could be some kind of medical leakage in there."

 

"That's so grim Taehyung!" Jimin laughed, scrunching up his face in disgust.

 

"Where on the matron would we have to lick? Like could I just lick her clothes or something?" Yoongi interjected.

 

"Nope, has to be some part of her bare skin. No easy way out!" Taehyung grinned, rectangular smile making an appearance.

 

"I'll take my chances with whatever's in the bin." Namjoon laughed, dimples forming on his cheeks.

 

"What if the matron's medical leakage is in there?" Hoseok prodded Namjoon with a finger.

 

"Eww Hoseok I don't want to think about the matron's medical leakage thank you very much." Namjoon huffed in return, trying to act aloof but his amusement was given away by the dimples still present on both sides of his face.

 

"Come on guys, answers!" Taehyung snapped his fingers, "I'm dying of terminal curiosity over here!"

 

"If anyone could it would be you," Jungkook quipped, "I'll lick the matron. Rather that than have any chance of eating her medical leakage."

 

"This question is the worst by far," Seokjin chuckled slightly, "Medical bin for me!"

 

"Medical bin!" Came Jimin and Hoseok's reply.

 

"Matron!" From Yoongi and Taehyung himself.

 

The question order was going round in a circle, and it was Seokjin's turn next.
"My turn?" Everyone nodded.

 

"Hmm... Another question for all of you. If you could swap beds and sleep next to anyone, who would it be?" Namjoon made a snorting noise next to him and Seokjin shoved his shoulder. "Shut up Namjoon I can ask what I like. Answers everyone!"

 

"Jimin." Hoseok and Yoongi answered simultaneously then looked at each other calculatingly for a couple of seconds. Hoseok broke the stare to address Jimin.

 

"Wow, you're a popular guy!" Hoseok chirped.

 

"Seems I am!" Jimin laughed, sat between Yoongi and Namjoon.

 

"I'd pick Seokjin." Namjoon said, "But that's probably not a surprise."

 

"I'd pick Namjoon, again no surprises here." Seokjin prodded Taehyung. "Come on Taehyung, I'm getting old here."

 

"Jungkook of course!" Taehyung said cheerfully, without missing a beat. Jungkook looked up from his hands' which he'd been idly fiddling with, and felt a heated blush begin forming on his cheeks. He prayed no one would notice.

 

"Aww look at that! Jungkook's all embarrassed!" Jimin pointed, eyes swimming with mirth. "Who'd you pick Jungkook?"

 

"Taehyung."

 

He said shortly, willing his red cheeks to go down and strategically avoiding looking to his right, where he knew Taehyung would be staring at him with his rectangular smile there to make his heart flutter in his chest.
He looked up briefly to see Yoongi nudge Hoseok and make a heart shape out of his hands, jerking his head towards Taehyung and Jungkook. Hoseok nodded gleefully. Jungkook thought he saw Hoseok making kissy faces for emphasis.

 

"Jimin, who'd you pick?" Jungkook asked to shift the attention off him and Taehyung.

 

"Yoongi!" Jimin said, sending a wide smile in his direction. Yoongi started slightly, as if he hadn't been expecting that answer, and grinned back at Jimin.

 

"The main reason I asked," Seokjin began, swatting at Namjoon who was poking him with a pen, "Was that we could all swap beds. No one ever comes in our room anyway, we wouldn't be caught. We could figure out an arrangement we're all happy with and stick with that."

 

There were noises of agreement from everybody, so they began picking beds. The beds were arranged in two rows of four, facing each other on opposite walls in the dorm. Seokjin took the bed closest to the bathroom on the edge on one row, with Namjoon next to him. Jungkook wanted to have a bed in the corner, so Taehyung went next to Namjoon and Jungkook next to him. The other row consisted of Hoseok opposite Seokjin, then Jimin opposite Namjoon and Yoongi opposite Taehyung.

 

. Ward 7 were sitting on their new beds, about to resume their game of truths, when the bell tolled twice to tell them it was lunch time. They hurried out of the ward as usual, faces set in impassivity and giving nothing away. When they finally sat down at their table, in complete silence as they always did, Jungkook felt a tiny tap on his thigh.

 

"I'm happy we're next to each other Jungkook." Came a whisper, almost too soft for Jungkook to make out.

 

"I'm happy too." Jungkook said, and patted Taehyung's thigh in response.

 

Jungkook had to work much harder than usual to keep the smile from showing on his face.

 

~-~

 

And so things proceeded like that. A brief, muttered conversation on the way to breakfast, glances sneaked across near-empty hallways, walking slightly closer to each other than was appropriate. Their conversations would span hours but consist of only a couple of sentences.

 

Walking to breakfast Jungkook would lean closer to Taehyung, whispering a question or some observation. The first time they'd managed to sustain the same conversation for an entire day without needing to repeat themselves or forgetting the previous reply, it had been about colours.

 

Sitting next to each other in breakfast, so early it was before the first pills of the day were taken, Taehyung placed a small note on Jungkook's tray. Jungkook fought the urge to look quizzically over at Taehyung, painfully aware of the staff members watching from their tables in the corner.

 

They never used notes, never used anything which could leave a trace. Smuggling it into his lap so he could unfold it safely, Jungkook read the tiny handwriting.

 

What's your favourite colour?

 

Jungkook put the note into his porridge and quickly spooned it into his mouth, swallowing it whole to make sure there was no evidence. The question burned into the back of his mind for consideration, and they ate the rest of the meal with no further interaction.

 

Later on they left first lesson together. Taehyung obviously sensed there was an answer waiting for him, so slowed his walking so that they could talk.

 

"I don't have a particular favourite, as long as it's not grey." Jungkook whispered, eyes trained downwards and face impassive. "There's enough grey here to make me hate the colour."

 

Taehyung nodded almost imperceptibly to communicate he had heard.

 

"Mine used to be green," Taehyung told him three hours later, sitting in the dorm bathroom so they wouldn't disturb the others while they worked. "But since I came here I've sort of gone off it."

 

He looked significantly down at his tie, and Jungkook nodded in understanding.

 

"What would you say it is now?"

 

"A deep blue colour, like the night sky.”

 

"I've never seen deep blue."

 

Taehyung sighed sadly.
"I forgot you hadn't. Never seen stars either, you poor soul."

 

Jungkook shook his head.

 

"I'll show you. Mark my words, I promise to show you the stars someday. Show you the night sky too, the moon and all the constellations."

 

Jungkook didn’t know what most of those things were, but he saw the fierce determination in Taehyung’s face and felt his heart pound in his chest. If Taehyung wanted to show him, Jungkook would do whatever he could to help it happen.

 

"I'd like that. I'd like that a lot."

 

Jungkook found himself wishing later that he'd kept the tiny note with the question written in Taehyung's flowing script.

 

~-~

 

Enjoyable as his conversations with Taehyung were, they gave Jungkook so much to think about that he was mentally exhausted. On a rare occasion he was completely alone, away from the watchful eyes of staff members, he let himself lose focus and trudge along the hallways without paying attention in the slightest.

 

It was refreshing to let his mind go, to not thing about what he was learning in lessons or outside of them but rather just go into autopilot. Of course it wouldn't last. His calm state was shattered by the hiss of static that always preceded announcements on the intercom. Jungkook groaned slightly and stopped walking, staring instead at the black box in the corner of the hallway still hissing.

 

"Victory Day is tomorrow. Afternoon lessons are cancelled for a lecture from an ex soldier. Lecture will be held in the assembly hall."

 

Jungkook sighed. Victory Day was a day to commemorate the State for winning the war against the enemy three years previously. It was hard to get excited or patriotic about it, however, when the students were never told who the enemy were or why the war had begun in the first place.

 

All they knew of the war was the bodies that piled up after the chemical attacks.

 

Victory Day was usually a mixture of a celebration and a chance to shove even more propaganda than usual down the young student's throats under the guise of patriotism. Jungkook sighed again and continued walking the short way back to his ward. It was time for a study period, so Jungkook was hoping it would be quiet enough to daydream or that the others would be up for a conversation if they weren't too busy with their work.

 

He trained his eyes downwards, facing the floor as usual, and didn't look up when he heard the footsteps of someone other than himself coming down the hallway. Why would he? If it was a staff member they would punish him for looking up, if it was a student they would be looking down as well. That's why Jungkook was so unprepared to feel a hand on his shoulder.

 

"Go to the room, we need to talk." A tall, muscular boy was gripping his shoulder, slightly pale with obvious fear. Jungkook peered closer at his face.

 

"Yugyeom? What-"

 

"Go to the room Jungkook. I'm sure you know who this is from."

 

Then Yugyeom's hand was gone from his shoulder, Yugyeom himself walking briskly away with his eyes trained downwards. Jungkook was left stunned, standing in the middle of the hallway with an arm half raised towards where Yugyeom had been. So much for having a relaxing study period.

 

~-~

 

When he reached the stretch of wall, that would be completely blank and grey like the others if not for the dull metallic sheen of the old air vent, Jungkook listened and shot practised, furtive glances up and down the hallway to make sure no one was following before working his way inside and replacing the vent behind him.

 

Taehyung was sitting on his side of the dusty, splintering old school desk, and upon seeing Jungkook appeared to relax and gestured at the chair opposite. Jungkook took his seat without hesitation, watching Taehyung's face intently for any clues as to why he sent for him. The silence between them wasn’t the usual comfortable silence they shared when they came to have a moment away from the stress of the Institute, but more like an extended pregnant pause. There was something major coming, Jungkook could see it in Taehyung’s serious face. He couldn’t stand the silence, so broke it with a question.

 

“How come you used Yugyeom for the message? How do you know him?” Jungkook asked, still surprised at meeting his childhood friend.

 

“I met him a while ago, and he owes me a favour. I needed to be in here, so I told him to get you at a specific time.”

 

Jungkook nodded, knowing he’d get no more out of Taehyung until the reason for this impromptu meeting was out there.

 

Taehyung shifted in his chair, opening his mouth as if to say something then closing it. He looked at Jungkook, who was on the edge of his chair leant towards Taehyung in anticipation. Taehyung sighed, knowing he had to speak now, despite how hard the subject would be for Jungkook to swallow.

 

"Jungkook, you need to stop taking the pills." Jungkook inhaled sharply in shock, his normally flawless composure slipping as he opened his mouth in protest, but Taehyung raised a hand to cut him off.

 

"I know it's hard for you to hear, but you shouldn't keep taking them."

 

"But I've been taking them my whole life and I'm fine! How can they be bad?"

 

"Well I've never taken them and I'm fine, so how are they necessary?" Taehyung countered without missing a beat, as if he'd been expecting the response.

 

"Why haven't you ever taken them?" Jungkook was shocked. The pills had been a constant ever since he could remember.

 

"My father never gave me pills, and I've seen what they do to people." He looked down at his hands, twisting in the dark material of his tie. "The pills are there so the state can maintain control over the children."

 

Jungkook shook his head in disbelief.
"They've always been given to us, how can they be so bad? I've heard they're going to increase the dosage as well, why would they give us more pills if they harm us?"

 

Taehyung sighed and leaned back in the chair, eliciting a creak from the ancient wood.
"Think of it this way: if they told you today, right after you left this room, that they were going to beat you until you could no longer stand, until there were broken bones and you could hardly breathe through the blood. You would be scared, try to get out of it, end up rebelling against them to try and save yourself. Maybe your plight would even reach others, start some kind of riot.”

 

Jungkook nodded after some consideration, uncertain of the point Taehyung was trying to make.

 

"But imagine what would happen if they had been beating you every month? Leaving bruises, the occasional sprain or cracked rib? The savage beating would almost seem routine. It's the same with the pills. They start you off young, get you used to taking them, then up the dosage year by year until they can give you whatever pill they damn well please and you won't even think to argue. If the only reason you follow a rule is because you always have, perhaps you should question the necessity of that rule."

 

Jungkook's eyes darkened and he felt a hot stab of anger course through his stomach. What right did Taehyung have to sit and calmly tell him that everything he knew was wrong? And more than that, tell him that he should have known it was wrong?

 

"Taehyung, these accusations are ridiculous." Jungkook started to get up, pushing his chair backwards with a sickening screeching noise, when Taehyung seized his wrist in a vice-like grip.

 

"Wha-"

 

"Sit back down Jungkook. Please listen to me."

 

Jungkook tried to pull free, ignoring the way his stomach tightened at the desperation in Taehyung's tone.

 

"Stop, you're insane!" Jungkook felt his mind shut down, revert to the mantras and ideologies he'd been brainwashed with since he could remember. "The State is always right, you can't oppose the state, you can't convince me-"

 

"Shut up!" Taehyung hammered his fist down on the old wood of the desk, cracking and splintering it with the force. Jungkook was stunned into silence.

 

"I know what I'm talking about here, so just listen to me!" He spat, slowly unclenching his fist. There was blood on the desk now, blood running from his hand in two separate places: where the splintering wood had pierced the side of the hand and where his nails had raked deep crevices in his palm.

 

Taehyung watched the small rivulets of blood well up on his palm and seemed to shrink in on himself, shoulders hunching and head dropping to face the floor.

 

"I'm sorry Jungkook, I'm really sorry, I didn't mean to get angry, I'm sorry-" Jungkook could see the tears threatening the corners of Taehyung's eyes and started forwards almost instinctively.

 

"It's ok, it's fine, don't be sorry." Jungkook babbled quickly, feeling panic bubble up in his chest.

 

He had no idea what to do or say, only knew that Taehyung was about to cry and that he was not ok with that. Not in the slightest. He put a hand tentatively on Taehyung's shoulder and began to stroke it in a way he hoped was soothing. Taehyung jerked with surprise at the contact, head snapping up to look wide-eyed at Jungkook.

 

"It's ok Taehyung." Jungkook repeated gently, awkwardly rubbing Taehuyng’s shoulder and trying to remember what he had done the last time he’d had to comfort someone, back when Jimin’s poor hands had been caned until bloody. Slowly, tentatively, Jungkook wrapped his arms around Taehyung and squeezed. Taehyung was frozen at first, then his hands came up to return the hug.

 

They stayed like that for a minute or so, before it became almost too much for Jungkook. It had been so many years since he’d had human contact like this that the feelings just a hug produced were so intense they were almost stifling. For some reason the feeling was different to the hug shared with Jimin yesterday, and this scared him slightly. He felt tears welling up in his own eyes and blinked them away fiercely. Taehyung felt Jungkook shift uncomfortably and released him. He looked at the tears standing in the younger’s eyes and smiled sadly, understanding why. Jungkook sat back on his seat and crosses his arms over his chest, suddenly feeling vulnerable.

 

Taehyung badly wanted to comfort him, but figured it was all a little much for Jungkook at the moment. He probably needed a distraction, and Taehyung needed to carry on with what he was saying.

 

"It's just..."

 

Jungkook looked at him slightly startled, as if he’d forgotten they were here because Taehyung wanted to talk about the pills.

 

Taehyung bit his lip again, looking down at the floor briefly before his eyes were fixed on Jungkook's again. "Do you remember three years ago, the day we won the war?"

 

Jungkook nodded, slightly puzzled as to how this was relevant.

 

"There was a nasty illness going round the Institute around that time, starting in one of the east wards and spreading throughout the Senior Institute. On Victory Day almost half the wards were sick. People thought it was more chemical bombs, or some kind of chemical warfare at least, except this time students weren't dying."

 

"I remember, I was the first to come down with the illness in ward 7." Jungkook said, remembering the day only vaguely through a feverish haze.

 

"Exactly, you were sick on Victory Day. All our lessons were cancelled in favour of a film lecture in one of our classrooms, meant to inspire us all to serve the State more willingly with its propaganda and patriotism. We were meant to go to the lecture hall at the usual time we have first lesson, so you'd all taken your first pills at breakfast. Everyone arrived on time except for you."

 

"Every time I moved it was like the walls were spinning. I left the ward later than everyone else because I threw up and almost collapsed in the bathroom."

 

"But you didn't go to the medical bay, did you?"

 

Jungkook had no reply to that. There was no real reason he shouldn't have gone to the medical bay, but all he remembered of that morning was the irresistible urge to get to the lecture.

 

"I... I couldn't. I don't know why, but I couldn't think of anything except getting to classes."

 

Taehyung nodded, as if he'd expected that answer.
"So you arrived maybe four minutes after the rest of us were all sat down and the film was playing on an old projector the staff managed to dig up from somewhere. There were no staff members in the room because it was a film lecture, requiring no teachers. They all went to some sort of meeting I think. Anyway, as soon as you opened the heavy doors to that lecture hall it was clear something was wrong."

 

"But how did you know? No one turned around when I came in, even though the doors slammed loudly."

 

"You were the only one not in your seat, and you're usually the most punctual. There was definitely something up. You arrived in the lecture hall walking shakily, barely able to walk, and as soon as you started down the steps to your seat you passed out. You fell the whole way down the steps and hit your face on the way down."

 

Jungkook put a hand instinctively to the scar on his cheek, stopping when he saw Taehng had noticed. Taehyung smiled sadly.

 

"You lay there, unconscious at the bottom of the stairs for the next three hours of the lecture. It was only when the staff returned to turn the projector off when the film had finished that anyone helped you."

 

"I kept waking up and passing out again. All I can remember is being angry I was missing the film though." Jungkook chuckled slightly, but Taehyung didn't share in the joke.

 

"You never even tried to get up, did you? Just focused on the film again every time you woke up?"

 

Jungkook opened his mouth to protest, but stopped to consider it for a second. Surely he'd tried to get up... Hadn't he? Or had he just lain on the floor, mesmerised by the blaring trumpets and troops marching to victory, flickering slightly on the old projector screen?

 

"No." He said finally, confusion apparent on his face. "It never even occurred to me. All I wanted to do was watch that film, and whenever I woke up my eyes were glued to the projector."

 

"Exactly Jungkook. The others were the same.Too focused in on the propaganda playing on a flickering old projector to lift a finger. The voice from the film proclaims with pride how great and benevolent our wonderful State is in victory, all the while a poor, sick child lies bleeding on the dark floor of the lecture hall, with the other children too drugged up to notice or care. I-"

 

His voice cracked for a second before he could continue,

 

"I couldn't do a thing. I had to keep up appearances, couldn't let them know I was the only one not on those pills. I'm so sorry for that. Please Jungkook, don't carry on taking them." Jungkook felt his protests melt away when Taehyung looked imploringly at him. He sighed and leant back in his chair.

 

"Ok Taehyung, you've convinced me. I won't take them anymore."

 

One of his hands rested unconsciously on the silver line on his cheek. Taehyung smiled boxily at him and clapped his hands in glee, belatedly remembering his injured hand and wincing when they met. Even the pain from the red, torn skin couldn't put a damper on his mood however, and he smiled so hard Jungkook feared Taehyung's cheeks would break.

 

"Jungkook I'm so glad-"

 

"How are you going to hide the cuts on your hand?" Jungkook asked, suddenly realising the staff members wouldn't take kindly to Taehyung injuring himself. Only the staff were allowed to hurt the students.

 

Taehyung's smile faltered for a fraction of a second before it was back.

 

"I'm sure it will be fine, I'll keep my hands out of the way a bit in classes. The staff aren't even that observant anyway."

 

That was a lie. Barring some kind of miracle, keeping injuries secret from the staff was a venture doomed to fail.

 

"Maybe you should trip in front of one of them, make it really convinc-"

 

"Really Jungkook, it'll be fine," Taehyung met his eyes and smiled more softly. "We've managed to keep our talking a secret, so they can't be that sharp can they? Eh?"

 

He elbowed Jungkook lightly in the ribs and waggled his eyebrows so goofily that Jungkook couldn't help but smile in return. Taehyung looked satisfied, then a serious air came over him again.

 

"I have to tell you this, before you stop taking the pills. I've been researching them as much as I can in this place, stealing the directions on the bottles, talking to whoever will talk back et cetera, and I know there's side effects when you stop taking them."

 

"Side effects? Does that mean I can't just stop taking them and be fine?"

 

"No, there's-"

 

Taehyung was cut off by the sound of a bell tolling once. They looked at each other in panic.

 

"We have to get out right now, in a second those halls are gonna be teeming with students and staff." Jungkook said, already on his feet and powering towards the air vent. Taehyung hesitated for a second.

 

"Wait.

 

Jungkook paused, metal grate in hand.

 

"Give me the pill you usually take before this lesson."

 

Jungkook froze for a second before putting the grate down and fumbling for a couple of seconds with his left pocket, before chucking the pill in Taehyung's direction and leaving the room. They always staggered their exits so as to be less suspicious.

 

Taehyung caught the pill deftly and stared at it for a couple of seconds, trapped between his finger and thumb. He dropped the pill on the polished stone floor and crushed it with the heel of his shoe. He looked at the crushed remains for a long moment, before turning to head for the air vent.

Chapter Text

Taehyung arrived in the assembly hall as one of the last students, slipping quietly into his seat between Jungkook and Jimin under the disapproving glares of the staff. He could see the speaker's balding head and viper-like features waiting in the seats beside the stage, looking like a robot which had been powered down due to the lack of expression on his face, and another man who he hadn't seen before. 

  

The unknown man was sitting just slightly out of Taehyung's view, tucked behind a jutting part of the stage, but he could see something clearly different about this man. He wasn't wearing grey. Taehyung knew better than to crane his head to get a better view but still found it maddening to have to curb his natural curiosity. 

  

He was considering risking a trip to solitary just so he could see the man properly, but felt a hand on his leg. Jungkook squeezed slightly and leant towards him, under the guise of stretching his back, to murmur softly into his ear. 

  

"Not worth it Taehyung, he's obviously going to speak soon. Wait a couple minutes yeah?" 

  

Taehyung nodded sheepishly, a little embarrassed that Jungkook was able to follow his thoughts so easily. The assembly hall was still filling up with the occasional straggler, the heavy wooden doors banging open and shut every so often to cut through the unnatural silence that lay heavily over the student's heads. 

  

Jungkook had always liked watching the other wards for any signs of interactions, to pick out the kids he'd known nine years ago and see how they'd changed. Sometimes he was pleasantly surprised. Sometimes they looked bright and awake, like they had something more then the monotony of Institute life to keep them going. 

  

Mostly though they leant back in their chairs with impassive faces, with eyes devoid of any light. 

  

A slight movement caught Jungkook's eye and he turned his head ever so slightly to the right. His gaze fell right onto Yugyeom. Yugyeom belonged to ward five, whose ties were a deep burgandy, and like ward 7 consisted of seven students. As he watched Yugyeom turned and muttered something to the person next to him, glancing warily at the staff seating to check he wasn't being watched. 

  

Jugkook couldn't quite see who he was whispering to, the smaller boy almost completely hidden by Yugyeom's broad frame, but recognised another member of ward 5 who was sitting tersely beside Yugyeom's unidentified friend, only visible to Jungkook because of the way the seating curved round on either side of the stage. 

  

It was Jinyoung, a boy only a couple of years older than Jungkook. The last time he had seen Jinyoung was when the latter had collapsed from hunger and dehydration outside the junior canteen, in the summer of the year the chemical bombs had been dropped. The sweltering heat had meant many children couldn't function on the small amounts of water they were afforded. Jinyoung had recovered after this collapse, which was lucky for him.Many others hadn't. 

  

Before Jungkook managed to get a good look at the mystery man Yugyeom was breaking the rules with, there came the sound of heavy boots making their way up the metal steps to the stage and Jungkook prepared to sink into a comfortable half-asleep state he usually used for these sorts of assemblies. 

  

Victory Day talks were usually the most boring of all. The speaker reached the stand in the middle of the stage and started to animate, as if merely being on stage filled him with a passion he was unable to find anywhere else. 

  

It was truly astonishing how quickly he turned from a grey, wasting man like every other staff member in the Institute to a fanatic pounding on the wooden stand like a mad prophet, personality alternating between smug philosopher and galley -slave drummer. 

  

The man in odd clothing was still hidden from view to the side of the stage but was standing up now, head no longer out of sight. The harsh artificial light in the assembly hall made his scalp gleam through his hair, which was so close-cropped he was practically bald. Jungkook saw Jimin stiffen slightly when he noticed too, watching the man warily. 

  

Was he some kind of prisoner? A prisoner of war perhaps? He didn't look foreign, but it was never made clear to the students who the war had actually been fought with. 

  

The speaker tapped the small microphone on the stand twice to gather the attention of the room. "Students, another year has passed since the State's great victory. Today marks the third anniversary of Victory Day." He paused, looking expectantly out at the audience. A great clamour arose, students cheering and shouting in a show of patriotism. 

  

It was a trained response for Jungkook, to follow along with whatever the crowd and the staff deemed fit, but he couldn't help but wonder for how many students the cheering was genuine. It was impossible to distinguish between an actor and a believer. 

  

"Last month marked a historic momentous occasion. Our troops, who have been cleaning up the last dregs of resistance in enemy territory ever since the war was won, were finally recalled. The enemy land is ours!" Another dutiful, passionate round of applause rose from the well-conditioned students. 

  

"Today we have a guest. A soldier, one who fought from the beginning right through to the glorious end, and has returned to his homeland for the first time in almost eight years. 39587, come to the stage." 

  

The mystery man walked slowly, painfully slowly, seemingly favouring his left leg, up the steps to the left of the stage. There were prominent scars on all the visible skin of his neck. The lighting reflected from the medals pinned to his lapel, sending glints of light to dance on the walls nearby. He was wearing an olive green military uniform. 

  

Due to adult numbers being given in sequence, increasing with every year that went past, it was possible to estimate how old someone was from the digits tattooed on their cheekbone. This man was, to Jungkook's best guess, only a couple of years older than Seokjin. 

  

"What was your job as a soldier, 39587?" 

  

"I operated several large artillery guns for the duration of the war, blowing enemy planes and supply drones out of the sky. It used to rain corpses when I was behind the sights." He didn't sound proud, but neither remorseful. He spoke with as much emotion as someone would when discussing the weather. 

  

His eyes scanned the audience slowly, as if he was trying to study every student one by one. Jungkook couldn't suppress a shudder when 39587's eyes met his own for a fleeting second. They were cold, empty and harsh. The eyes of a killer. 

  

"The State has rewarded you for your services," the speaker gestured to the medals on his chest in an exaggerated motion so the whole audience could see, "And, if I am correct, also for your losses." 

  

The young man nodded and bent to tug at one trouser leg, untucking it from his black boot and lifting it above one knee. Where there should have been flesh and blood was a glinting prosthesis, silver metal standing out starkly against the ruined, bright red tapestry of scars that was the remainder of his thigh. 

  

Jungkook heard Jimin inhale sharply beside him in horror, saw Yoongi's fingers begin to turn white from how hard he was gripping the arm of his chair. He felt sick to his stomach as the soldier proudly displayed how he had been mutilated for the State, to win a war against an unknown enemy for unknown reasons. 

  

"How did this happen, 39587?" The speaker asked delightedly, excitement practically radiating from his tone. "An enemy shell went off close to base. Thirty three soldiers died, many more were seriously injured. In addition to losing my leg, there are shrapnel scars over most of my body and burns on the rest of it." He bent to tuck the trouser leg back down over the horrific injury. There was no movement at all from the audience, all frozen in shock and awe. 

  

"When did this take place?" 

  

"During the Seoul Battle, around six years ago. When the war was only two years in." They had been taught about the Seoul Battle. It took place in the rubble of an ancient city, and was the biggest and bloodiest the war had seen. The death tolls were astronomical , and although only enemy deaths were reported officially the numbers were still past half a million obliterated. God knows how many State soldiers died there too. 

  

"But this was when the war was young, you stayed out there even after losing your leg?" 

  

Seokjin stirred, whispering sharply in Namjoon's direction.

 

"That can't be possible..." A rush of feedback from the microphone drowned out most of Seokjin's words, so that Jungkook's trained eavesdropper's ears only caught the back end of his sentence, "...fresh, it still looked red." Namjoon nodded ever so slightly in assent, looking worriedly at the soldier and chewing his bottom lip slightly. 

  

"Of course. As soon as my leg was healed enough for a prosthesis I went back into battle." 

  

"How old were you when the war began, 39587?" 

  

"I was seventeen. The State was benevolent enough to allow me to join its army, to fight for the success of the State system." Taehyung exhaled in horror, shaking his head, his grip on Jungkook's leg getting tighter. 

  

It was hard to imagine someone that young wanting to go to war for the State. Someone only Jungkook's age when he lost a limb, killing without remorse even before he got an adult number. Jungkook wondered how many of the men he'd killed had been even younger than that. 

  

"And the State won the war." The speaker said almost blissfully, leaning back from the stand with his eyes closed. Something flickered across the soldier's face, too briefly for Jungkook to catch the expression. A tiny ripple, fading too fast to be seen. 

  

"Yes. We won." 

  

~-~ 

  

"There will be side effects. Withdrawal symptoms actually." Taehyung said in a matter of fact way, staring intensely at the pills he and Jungkook were supposed to take before their next lesson began in half an hour. Jungkook knew that withdrawal symptoms were a serious problem, having learnt about illegal drug users in psychology lessons, but couldn't take Taehyung seriously. 

  

Not when he was sitting cross-legged in one of the ward's showers with a towel draped round his shoulders. 

  

He claimed the towel guarded against shower drips. Taehyung's head whipped round to glare at Jungkook when he heard a loud snort. At the sight of Taehyung's face, tongue sticking out to the side in concentration and a crazed look in his eyes, Jungkook lost it. The barely repressed guffaws burst out and he doubled over with the force of the laughter, pounding at the ground with a fist. 

  

Taehyung shoved his shoulder, but Jungkook was laughing too much to resist even a small push and fell onto his side, continuing his laughter on the floor. Taehyung scoffed and snorted a little himself. 

  

"You're too much Jungkookie! This is serious!" He tried to keep a straight face, but when their eyes met he erupted into a peal of laughter too. An angry head popped through the bathroom door. 

  

"Keep it down would you? Some of us actually have work to do." Yoongi grumbled, shutting the door loudly behind him. 

  

There was a moment of stunned silence before Taehyung snorted and they were both laughing again. It took a minute or two before they both had their breath back enough to speak, and had stopped laughing every time they made eye contact. 

  

"Why," Jungkook panted, tears of laughter streaming down his cheeks, "Did you call me Jungkookie?" 

  

"Because it's a cute name, and you're cute!" Taehyung wiped his own eyes and smiled widely at Jungkook. 

  

"Am not cute." Jungkook huffed, feeling himself begin to blush unwillingly. 

  

"See! That was totally cute." Taehyung patted his head. "I won't call you Jungkookie if it bothers you that much." 

  

"No," Jungkook blurted out almost too quickly. Taehyung looked questioningly at him for a second before he managed to stutter,

 

"I-I mean it's fine, it doesn't matter..." Jungkook trailed off, twisting his hands awkwardly. Taehyung gave him a knowing look. 

  

"Anyway, Jungkookie, I was trying to tell you about the withdrawal." He gestured to the pills, and Jungkook recovered his wit enough to nod and listen. 

  

"Ok, so from what I've managed to find out about the daytime pills you'll find it difficult to focus, have more of an appetite," Jungkook winced at that. He could barely manage on the meagre meals in the Institute with his regular appetite. "You could also feel paranoid the whole time, which wouldn't be too bad considering we have to try and hide the rebellion of a whole ward." Jungkook had to give him that one. He made a valid point, after all. 

  

"And the night ones?" 

  

"Here's where things get a little interesting. Obviously you'll find it hard to sleep, as you've been doing it artificially all these years. The interesting symptoms can be sweating and anxiety." 

  

Jungkook groaned. "I already sweat so much! I'll be swimming between lessons if that's true!" He whined, flopping into a heap on the floor. Taehyung tried to suppress a smile and failed. 

  

"You're laughing at me." Jungkook said grouchily, fixing Taehyung with his best menacing glare. "I'm not!" Jungkook gave him a look. "Ok, I am." Taehyung finally crawled out of his position in the shower to come and pat Jungkook's head. "But it's ok Jungkookie. It won't be easy, but you can get through it." 

  

He moved Jungkook's head so it was resting on his lap and began stroking his hair, gently moving his long fingers to untangle the knots. Jungkook felt himself relaxing, melting into the light touches, feeling overwhelmed at the proximity to Taehyung. "I'll help you get through it." Taehyung murmured. 

  

"Aww, you two are so cute!" Jungkook jerked up suddenly in surprise and hit his head on the sink, falling back down almost immediately and rubbing his head in annoyance. 

  

"Hoseok!" He hissed, face scrunched up in pain and annoyance at the blatant grin Taehyung wore. 

  

"Sorry to ruin your little moment or whatever, but remember this is still the bathroom," Hoseok laughed, "And I have to use the loo. Vacate, young lovebirds!" 

  

Jungkook left quickly, trying to hide his face so Hoseok wouldn't see the blush which he was sure had taken over his whole face. So Taehyung hopefully wouldn't see it either. It's hard to play it cool when your face is as red as a sunburnt beetroot. 

  

~-~ 

  

Taehyung was right about one thing; it wasn't easy. Jungkook felt trapped in consciousness that night, lying awake in his bed when all he wanted was to sleep. His body wanted sleep too, eyelids drooping and a deep fatigue making it impossible for him to lift his heavy limbs, but still his mind was racing at a mile a minute. 

  

He lay awake with his blanket bunched at the foot of the small bed, cast aside at some point during the night in an attempt to cool down, not sure how much time had passed since The lights had been turned off. It was an unfamiliar feeling; his stomach knotting with unease for no discernible reason, filling Jungkook with a restless, unwanted energy, denying his body sleep. When sleep finally came, however, he wished fervently that the insomnia would return. 

  

It had been so long since he'd dreamed, the pills had made sure of that. The pills put every child into a state of sleep so deep it was practically like slipping into a coma every night, impossible to wake until the designated time and impossible to dream. 

  

Jungkook had forgotten dreaming. The dreams hadn't forgotten him. 

  

A recurring dream from his childhood, from the Junior Institute where there were no pills so he would occasionally wake in the middle of the night sobbing, came floating back to torment his unconscious brain. Jungkook awoke suddenly from his dream, sitting up in shock, breath coming in short gasps. 

  

The dream had always the same, always centring around a woman and a young boy who seemed familiar in a way he could never quite place. He could almost feel their ghostly touches. This time, however, it was different. Taehyung had managed to find himself a place in Jungkook's subconscious, appearing in his terrible dream. 

  

Jungkook lay back down and felt his emotions rise up almost hysterically, sadness gripping his chest like a vice as he struggled to keep tears from flowing. He was unsuccessful. Heaving sobs wracked Jungkook's body as he curled reflexively into his thin blanket. He felt like he was seven years old again, felt pathetic as his eyes stung with tears. There was a stirring in Taehyung's bed to his right, and Jungkook quieted himself as much as possible. Taehyung was not so easily misdirected. 

  

"Jungkookie?" He whispered, and climbed out of bed. His bare feet made small slapping noises as he walked the short distance between their beds. Jungkook shuddered when he felt a light touch on his back. "What's wrong?" Taehyung's voice was laced with concern and it was too much for Jungkook. His resolve crumbled and he found himself sitting up, no longer bothering to mask his tear-stained face. 

  

"I-I had a dream..." Jungkook trailed off, deciding instead to look at his hands twisting in his lap. Taehyung sat on the bed next to him, making the old springs creak slightly. 

  

"A nightmare?" He said, edging closer to Jungkook. 

  

He nodded, and almost without thinking found himself speaking. 

  

"Th-there was a woman with long, black hair and a ragged dress. She was holding me close to her, clutching me against her chest, and threatening someone to stay away from her, to not touch me. There was a little boy as well, probably about eight, and he was hiding behind her skirt. I don't know what they were looking at, who she was threatening, but they both looked terrified. Then they was gone, I thrown to the side and fell into a place where there wasn't anything. Only the dark and the cold and I couldn't see that woman anymore. Then I was back here in the Institute." 

  

He sniffed and cuffed a couple of times at his nose. "And the staff caught us speaking. They dragged you away, down to s-solitary-" at this Jungkook's face crumpled and he began to sob again in earnest. 

  

It broke Taehyung's heart a little to see him like this, so he instinctively wrapped his arms around Jungkook, pulling him close. Jungkook buried his face into Taehyung's chest, soaking the thin material of his shirt with tears. 

  

"It's ok, don't worry Jungkookie." Taehyung murmured, rubbing his back soothingly. 

  

"I d-don't want to lose you." Jungkook stuttered, words muffled by Taehyung's chest and thick with tears. 

"You won't," Taehyung said, gently rocking Jungkook back and forth in an attempt to comfort him. "I'm not going anywhere. I promise you." 

  

Taehyung continued to rock Jungkook until the hysterical breathing subsided slightly, and he felt Jungkook's arms relax their grip around his waist. He looked at Jungkook's face, sweeping the sweaty bangs off his forehead to get a better look at his face. He was out cold, probably far more exhausted than he realised. 

  

Taehyung lay him down on the bed and stood up to return to his own, hissing slightly as the cold air in the dorm hit him properly. The noise or the sudden lack of warmth must have woken Jungkook, as through the darkness came a small voice. 

  

"Taehyung?" Taehyung turned to see Jungkook sitting up again on his bed, rubbing at one eye with the back of a hand. 

  

"Yeah?" 

  

"Will you..." Jungkook bit his lip, looking away to the side in embarrassment. "Will you stay? Sleep in my bed I mean?" Taehyung's eyes softened immediately and he grabbed his own blanket before walking back over to Jungkook's bed. 

  

"I can manage that." 

  

He got in, sighing blissfully at the blissful warmth that spread through his body as soon as he lay down. He unfolded the spare blanket on top of them and turned so he was facing Jungkook. He still looked a little embarrassed at the request, blushing furiously in a way Taehyung found completely adorable. He wrapped his arms around Jungkook once more, and Jungkook snuggled closer in the embrace. 

  

"Goodnight Jungkookie."

 

"Goodnight Tae." 

  

Curled up in Taehyung's warm, golden arms, Jungkook found that sleep wasn't so difficult after all. 

Chapter Text

Every single morning for the past nine years Jungkook had woken to the sound of the three bells, to bright fluorescent lighting and a dorm as cold as ice, even with his thin blanket. That was the routine, and he would rise every morning like clockwork to get dressed in front of his cabinet and mirror.

 

This morning, however, was a little different.

 

Jungkook woke to a dark ward, probably a good hour or so from being time to wake up, and the first thing he was aware of was a warm, heavy weight half on top of him. His heart thumped when he realised the position he was in.

 

Taehyung had tucked Jungkook protectively into his chest at some point during the night and was now resting his face against the top of Jungkook's head, his deep, slow breaths ruffling the hair at the back of his head. One of Taehyung's arms encircled his waist, the other rested across his shoulders.

 

It would have been adorable, if not for the fact that Taehyung was definitely drooling on the pillow. Maybe a little on Jungkook's hair as well. Jungkook sighed and considered waking him, as, completely aside from the drooling, Taehyung should probably return to his own bed before the others woke up in the morning.

 

Jungkook mentally steeled himself and began to push off the bed, but stopped still when he heard a soft whine. Still sleeping, Taehyung shifted so that his face was right next to Jungkook's and tightened his grip subtly, as if his subconscious was trying to pull him even closer, trying to stop him leaving. Jungkook relented and lay back down, snuggling comfortably back into the circle of Taehyung's arms with a contented sigh.

 

Yeah, leaving wasn't going to happen.

 

As he wrapped his arms around Taehyung in return and felt how soft and warm the skin on his back was, where his shirt had ridden up to expose both his back and stomach, Jungkook was ok with that.

 

The second awakening was a little less nice. The three bells forced Jungkook out of a peaceful sleep and he opened his eyes, feeling groggier and more lethargic than he ever had waking up in the past. He saw Taehyung stir beside him and open his eyes, blinking in the harsh artificial light. They made eye contact, held for a couple of seconds before Taehyung smiled sleepily at him.

 

"Morning Jungkookie." He said, voice an octave deeper than usual with a husky edge that made Jungkook's heart stutter in his chest.

 

"Morning Taetae." He managed to reply, breaking the eye contact and pressing his face into the pillow to mask the accursed blush which was staining his face red again.

 

'I'm so screwed' he thought, knowing he wouldn't be able to get the thought of that voice with its tired smile out of his head. A small squeak from Taehyung derailed his chain of thought and he sat up to see five stunned faces staring at them both.

 

Taehyung was frozen, eyes wide in shock, and looked like a guilty child who'd been caught with his hands in the cookie jar as Jimin tried unsuccessfully to muffle his laughter. Jungkook wanted to fade into the sheets and never be seen again, sure his face was burning an even brighter red now that all eyes were on him and Taehyung.

 

"Told you! You owe me your bread today Namjoon." Hoseok said gleefully, hitting Namjoon lightly on the shoulder.
"Awww look at how much he's blushing!" Seokjin pointed to Jungkook in amusement, and Jungkook got up huffily to get dressed.
"Wait come back, that was so cute!" Jimin called after him, before poking Taehyung in the side playfully. "So so so so, how was cuddling with Jungkook?"

 

Jungkook heard Taehyung make a mortified noise and throw a pillow.

 

"You little..."

 

"Sorry Yoongi, it was aimed for Jimin... Wait stop! Have mercy-"

 

A splashing noise then a high pitched squeal came from behind, and Jungkook turned to see Yoongi holding an empty cup and smirking at a soaked Taehyung, who was dripping forlornly onto the floor and looking like a drowned rat. Jungkook turned back to put on his tie, biting his lip to keep the smile from showing.

 

~-~

 

"Your first lesson minus pills won't be easy Jungkookie." Taehyung informed him as they brushed their teeth. His hair was covered by a small towel to stop it dripping on his uniform, which wasn't working so well as there was a large damp spot at the back of his neck. "They were essentially forcing you to focus on the lesson. Without them you'll have to do that yourself, and so well that you look like you're still taking pills."

 

"Perfect." Jungkook said, voice thick with sarcasm and toothpaste. "How does one look completely focused."

 

"Like this." Taehyung furrowed his brow in a ridiculously exaggerated way and pouted slightly, making a deep humming noise.

 

"You just look like a constipated Namjoon."

 

Taehyung snorted and managed to inhale toothpaste froth, spluttering and laughing at the same time. He turned to Jungkook with mirth swimming in his deep brown eyes,

 

"Well think about how focused Namjoon usually is, it'd surely be double if he was constipated!"

 

This time it was Jungkook's turn to snort, spitting out his mouthful of froth so he could laugh properly without fearing it would come out of his nose.

 

"In all seriousness though Jungkook, you'll have to be careful. I'll watch you for any signs you're giving away, but it's gonna take a bit of acting to look like you're still on the pills. Just try and look like a mindless drone."

 

"Shouldn't be too hard." Jungkook set his face in impassivity. "I live to serve the State. If the State allowed me to dream it would be a wet dream... About the State."

 

That set Taehyung off laughing again, as he gripped the edge of the sink shaking with toothpaste running down his chin.

 

"Stop, stop," he gasped, trying to stop laughing and failing miserably. "I can't take it."

 

"Why are you so obnoxious Taehyung? I can't even clean my teeth in peace with you around." Jungkook said in mock seriousness, eyes shining with laughter.

 

Taehyung was laughing so hard it was silent now, just shaking and the occasional dying walrus sound betraying his laughter. Namjoon stuck his head round the door looking vaguely annoyed.

 

"What are you two doing in here? We have to leave for breakfast."

 

Taehyung's wide smile shrank by a couple of molars and he spat the rest of his toothpaste into the sink, quickly wiping the remainder off his chin and following Namjoon into the front room. Jungkook sighed and did the same. Yet another sober reminder that they weren't meant to be laughing. Weren't meant to be having a good time. Weren't even meant to be talking.

 

Jungkook wondered idly what the staff would do to him and Taehyung if they found them sleeping together. Send them to solitary probably. Separate rooms, obviously. Jungkook sighed again and shut off the sink, wiping his hands down on the towel Taehyung had dropped in his rush to follow Namjoon and putting it back on the towel rack. His thoughts drifted to waking up next to Taehyung, to the incredible warmth and comfort of being wrapped up in his arms. He wondered if Taehyung would sleep next to him again.

 

~-~

 

Taehyung was completely right: trying to focus in a lesson was incredibly hard. Jungkook wondered how the pills had managed to so completely suppress his senses, dull down his brain so much that he found the monotonous droning of the staff member teaching enrapturing.

 

He'd never noticed before how hard and uncomfortable his chair was, how stiflingly hot the room grew after half an hour or so, the distracting way the staff member would tap on her desk with one long, spindly finger. The grey classroom was suddenly a hive of activity, the sounds flies buzzing around the fluorescent lighting and the breathing of seven students all that he could hear. Desperately trying to keep up his facade of obedience, Jungkook tried to block out the noise and movement so he could take notes at the same pace as the others were, but still found himself staring more at the others than the blackboard.

 

Jimin was sitting to Jungkook's left, the scratch of his pen on paper grating on Jungkook's nerves enough that he couldn't help but turn to stare at Jimin. Jimin's looked impassive, which wasn't a new sight for Jungkook, as he looked like this whenever they left the relative safety of their ward.

 

What was new was the complete vacancy in his eyes that blindly followed the writing on the board. It was as if Jimin's mind has completely left him, leaving only an empty shell behind. With growing unease, Jungkook looked around to see that same terrifying blank stare on everyone's face, including the staff member's. Despite his obvious movement in his chair, no one looked Jungkook's way. They were all completely dead to the world.

 

Jungkook felt light-headed and tried to regain control over his emotions, feeling his breathing speed up and begin to hiss in his chest as those terrible empty eyes seared themselves into the back of his mind. He bent over his desk and trembled slightly with the effort of getting control over himself.

 

I can't do this I can't I can't I can't the noise is too much oh god the noise I Can't-

 

"Eyes forward Jungkook." Came a quiet whisper, only just audible over the scratching of chalk on the blackboard. "Never take your eyes off the board."

 

Jungkook fought the urge to snap his head up and look behind him at Taehyung's chair, forcing himself to turn his gaze slowly, so as not to attract the staff member's attention, back to the scrawling handwriting on the board. The teacher was writing a list of important psychological vocabulary, the pale grey of her military-esque uniform almost matching the fading, muted colour of the ancient, peeling concrete walls as she scratched white lines into the blackboard.


.
"That's good, now slow your breathing. Like you're trying to sleep."

 

Jungkook complied, moving the hand which gripped his pen so tightly he feared it would shatter back and forth slightly so it looked like he was taking notes.

 

"Perfect. I'll give you the notes after class. You're fine Jungkookie, you'll be-"

 

Taehyung broke off abruptly as the teacher turned round and surveyed the class slowly. Although her face was blank, as was expected, there were signs of suspicion there that Jungkook had learned to pick up over the years. He prayed that his sober state didn't show on his face, fought to keep his breathing steady and his posture rigid, wrote what was on the board studiously without looking down at his notes just like everyone else did.

 

It was harder than it had any right to be to act like he had no emotions. The teacher turned back to the board and the grating chalkboard noises began again, cutting through the slightly less infuriating scratching of ink pens. Since Taehyung and the others would have all the notes, Jungkook spent the remainder of the lesson practicing his acting.

 

The impassivity of face and body he had learned throughout the years was suddenly inadequate after barely a week of intermittent disuse, cracks in the facade revealing his true emotions. For almost an hour Jungkook set and reset his face into a blank stare, making sure not a shred of humanity could be seen, that no one could possibly tell he was narcotic free and breaking rules. By the end of the lesson he was good. Perhaps a little too good, Taehyung had half-joked when they got back to the ward.

 

"It looks like there's nothing inside your head. Just the State." He said, and lightly tapped the top of Jungkook's skull.

 

Even hours later, when dinner was over and they had returned to the dorm just before lights out, Jungkook was still practising his 'State of mind' as Taehyung had so cleverly dubbed it. If he let the ideals of the State seep into his unconsciousness, only temporarily of course, it made it far easier for him to act like he wasn't breaking any rules.

 

Wasn't breaking all the rules.

 

About an hour after the lights had been turned off, Jungkook was sure he had mastered his State of mind. He let all ideals and propaganda dissipate and finally, for the first time since he'd left the ward that morning, relaxed. He turned in bed to see if Taehyung was still awake and wanted to talk, then stopped in his tracks.

 

Taehyung's bed was empty. He wasn't in the bathroom, as the first thing Taehyung had told him when he stopped taking the sleeping pills was not to use the bathroom during the night. The staff members would most likely know when water was used, and therefore know that someone in their ward wasn't taking the pills. Puzzled, Jungkook got up and felt Taehyung's bed. It was stone cold.

 

Where the hell had he gone?

 

Jungkook lay back down, worry forming a tight knot in his stomach as he closed his eyes and willed sleep to take him. It was as if the empty bed had some kind of psychological influence on him, burning itself into his subconscious. Sleep was a long time coming to Jungkook that night.

 

~-~

 

The next morning Taehyung was back in his bed. Jungkook watched with a vaguely suspicious feeling as Taehyung stretched and sat up slowly, looking like he was dragging himself out of bed exhausted. Jungkook made a note to ask him where he'd been when the others were out of earshot. Which could take a while.

 

Barely a minute after the three bells had roused them from bed, the sharp crackling from the intercom speaker cut through the light chatter in the ward and they all fell silent in nervous expectation.

 

"Six month physical exam results are in." Jungkook saw Seokjin visibly stiffen, staring at the intercom with a terrified intensity as Namjoon shot him nervous glances.
"Ward seven is clear. That is all." The intercom faded out again as the students let out breaths they hadn't realised they were holding.

 

"Thank god." Seokjin breathed in relief, a hand on his chest as he flashed a watery smile around the ward.

 

"Do you think they got anyone?" Hoseok asked. "They've never announced that the ward is clear before. It has to be because they caught someone, right?"

 

"If so we can find out." Yoongi said tersely, eyes darting to the door. "There's a tradition of sorts- well, more of a convention- where someone in the ward writes their ward number and name of the person caught on a folded scrap of paper, which they then slip out of the door when the staff members aren't looking. A ward is on lockdown briefly whenever someone gets caught so its the only way information gets out."

 

"How do you know this Yoongi?" Jimin asked, eyes wide.

 

"Everyone Hoseok's age and above knows. When Hoseok's age group had just arrived, probably only been there for a week, a guy in one of the bigger wards got caught. His name was Luhan I think. The older ones in our ward went out to see if there was any paper in the halls, and when they found it came back to tell us what had happened."

 

"Yeah, I remember. That was the last time someone got sent to ward 11." Seokjin mused, almost to himself.

 

"I'll go and see. People should have found the paper by now if they're quick. If not then I'll go on a hunt for it." Taehyung volunteered, slipping his shoes on and tying his tie simultaneously.

 

"I'll go too. It'll be easier to find with two of us." Jungkook said, taking the opportunity to speak to Taehyung alone for a minute.

 

They opened the door to the ward a tiny fraction, peering out into the gloomy hallways for any sign of teachers and students. When none appeared, Taehyung pushed the door wide open and they both piled through.

 

"Tae-"

 

"Shush!"

 

Taehyung pushed Jungkook round a corner just before heavy footsteps came down the hallway. They stayed frozen, backs pressed up against the cold concrete and breaths held in an attempt to keep quiet. The sound of boots thumping their way through the halls paused for a second near the entrance to ward 7, as if surveying the hall for any sign of life. Obviously satisfied, the footsteps retreated after a long thirty seconds. Taehyung exhaled in relief and pushed his hair back from his forehead, rubbing the back of his head a couple of times before grabbing hold of Jungkook's arm.

 

"Wha-"

 

"We gotta move Jungkookie! Scan the ground as we go past."

 

He pulled Jungkook towards the end of the identical hallway, past a couple of ward doors. Wards 8 and 9, no paper. They turned a corner to another long corridor, this one slightly different to the others in the Institute as one of the over-bright fluorescent lights was broken, buzzing more than they usually did and flickering into life every so often for a brief second before it was out again.

 

Ward 10, no paper.

 

The layout of the Institute meant that, to get back to the first ward from the last, you had to travel down a sequence of completely blank hallways without a door or window the whole length in a very specific pattern, or else you would get lost in the intricate maze of identical passages. It may as well have been a labyrinth in certain hidden parts of the Institute.

 

"Do you know the way?" Taehyung asked, letting go of Jungkook's hand to turn and face him.

 

"I don't, we should go back to ward 7 and go the other way. We probably still have time before the staff members leave whichever ward they're taking someone from." Taehyung bit his lip in consideration, then nodded.

 

"You're right, it isn't worth getting lost in there."

 

They headed back past wards 10, 9 and 8 in succession. When he was certain there wasn't anyone else nearby, either staff or student, Jungkook asked what he'd wanted to all day.

 

"Where were you last night? You weren't in bed when I looked over."

 

"Oh?" Taehyung said slightly sheepishly and smiled. "I didn't think you'd notice."

 

Of course I did

Jungkook thought,

I was hoping you'd sleep in my bed again.

 

"Yeah. What were you doing?" He asked instead.

 

"I... Can't really tell you. Not now at least. Soon, you'll know soon." Taehyung rambled, looking more flustered by the second.

 

The curiosity was nagging at Jungkook's mind, but he suppressed it for now and accepted that answer. Taehyung probably would tell him soon, and it wasn't worth pestering him for it.

 

"How will we know whoever we run into won't report us?"

 

"Think about it Jungkook, if they're in the hallways looking for the paper too then they can't be too particular about the rules." Taehyung waved a finger in the air to illustrate his point. "We could make some new friends!" Jungkook couldn't help but smile and agree at his optimism.

 

The next corner they turned after passing ward 6, they ran into someone walking their way. Someone holding a crumpled piece of paper in one fist. Someone with a storm on his face and fury in his eyes. He looked surprised for a brief second at seeing them before anger swallowed up his expression again. It was a boy from ward 5, the ward where everyone was strangely tall, and he was no exception. He was a good three or four inches taller than Jungkook,

 

"Ward 4. They got Jaebum and Jackson." He said quietly when they met in the middle of the hallway, shaking with rage.

 

"What do you mean got them? What for?" Jungkook asked.

 

"Unspecified mental disruption." The tall boy practically spat. "They caught them, I don't know how or when but they caught them."

 

"Y-you can't be saying what I think you are." Taehyung gulped, a visible pallor creeping over his usually tanned skin.

 

"Some staff member, or even a student, caught them together and reported it. They've been sent to ward 11 because they were together." He spelled it out, then darted a glance over his shoulder to where the door to ward 5 was. "I've gotta report back. Spread this as far as I can. This is-" he paused to take a slow breath, to try and compose himself. "I can't believe this happened to them. Neither deserved it."

 

He walked back to the heavy doors of ward 5, opening one of them slowly when Jungkook called out.

 

"What's your name?"

 

He paused, door half open and purple tie shimmering in the bright light coming from his ward.

 

"Jihun."

 

He turned away without another word, disappearing back inside his ward and closing the door quietly, so that the closing barely made any sound at all. Jungkook and Taehyung were left stunned. They made the rest of the way back to the ward in complete, shell-shocked silence.

 

That night, when Jungkook woke gasping from nightmares which seemed all too real, the empty bed seemed to taunt him.

 

This time, when Jungkook lay on his side, desperately trying to stop the tears flowing, Taehyung wasn't there to comfort him.

 

Chapter Text

The ward did not take the news well.

 

"The fuck do you mean they got them?" Yoongi growled, Jimin patting his arm slightly in an attempt to calm him down. Seokjin had left as soon as Jungkook and Taehyung broke the news, saying he was going to go round the wards and speak to all his acquaintances, trying to get any information about what had happened.

 

"They were caught out on their six month physical exams for unspecified mental disruption." Jungkook said in a dull voice, twisting his hands together in his lap. Taehyung was sitting on a table nearby, one large hand covering the bottom half of his face and eyes unfocused, seemingly staring through the wall as opposed to at it.

 

"What does that even mean?" Yoongi replied, swatting Jimin away and leaning forward towards Jungkook.

 

"It means there wasn't anything physically wrong with either." Hoseok said, eyes dark with anger. "The staff wanted to make an example of them. They obviously knew that people were breaking the rules, and it just so happened that Jackson and Jaebum were the first couple caught."

 

“Couple? You think they were together?” Jimin asked, eyes flickering to Yoongi in fear for a second before focusing back on Hoseok’s grim face.

 

“Friends, lovers, either one could have got them in trouble…” He looked round the ward slowly, trying to get his point across. "It could have been any of us." His gaze came to rest on Jimin, who's eyes were wider than usual in a mix of shock and fear, and his eyes softened immediately.

 

"B-but it won't be, not now at least. We'll just have to be careful." Hoseok laughed weakly and tried to smile reassuringly, but it came out as more of a grimace. "Don't worry, it will be fine now, we're all gonna be fine..."

 

Hoseok trailed off, flushing as he realised he had been babbling. Yoongi made an inarticulate noise of annoyance.

 

"I'm gonna go to ward 4 and ask them what the hell happened."

 

Yoongi said, pushing his chair back from his desk and heading for the door. Just as he was walking over to it, the door swung violently open, missing Yoongi's face by only a couple of inches as Seokjin rushed clumsily back in, bowling right into Namjoon who had rushed over to the door as soon as he saw it open. They both went down in a tangle of gangly limbs, crashing painfully to the floor.

 

"The door!" Seokjin gasped, pointing frantically at the rapidly closing door to try and communicate that it was about to slam. Hoseok got the message, running over quickly and catching it, swinging it gently shut so that it made minimal noise. Seokjin disentangled himself from Namjoon and stood up, brushing dirt from the floor off his white shirt.

 

"Thanks for the soft landing Namjoon." The quip fell flat, and by the look on Seokjin’s face he had said it as a reflex, as his face was as devoid of any humour as Jungkook had ever seen it. Seokjin got up slowly, pulling a disgruntled Namjoon up after him.

 

"Mind telling us what happened there?" Jimin asked, gesturing towards the hallway outside with a bemused expression.

 

"I heard a staff member coming around ward 4 and legged it." Seokjin said, coming to sit at his desk with an exhausted sigh. "Almost had a heart attack out there."

 

"What did you find out?" Namjoon said unsympathetically, rubbing at an elbow bruised when Seokjin barrelled into him.

 

"Not much really-" Yoongi made an exasperated noise and went over to the door again.
"Again, no one seems to know anything. I'm just going to go right to ward 4 for answers, that's the only place they know the full story."

 

"I wouldn't do that if I were you." Seokjin said, raising a hand to stop him. "I ran into Seungjun out there-"

 

"You know Seungjun, hyung? From ward 5?" Taehyung interjected, ignoring the indignant splutter from Seokjin as he was interrupted.

 

"Rude kid. Yes, I do. As I was saying, Seungjun told me that someone inside ward 4 gave Jackson and Jaebum away."

 

"You mean they informed on them?" Hoseok said incredulously. "Who would do something like that?"

 

"Only a few weeks ago you would have suspected almost everyone here, Hoseok. Wouldn't have put it past any of them to report you over the slightest thing." Namjoon piped up, still holding his bruised elbow gingerly. Hoseok bowed his head slightly in acceptance, conceding to the point.

 

"Remember this is just speculation. Seungjun himself got it from someone in ward 3 who supposedly saw someone informing." Seokjin sighed, leaning back in his chair.
"The only thing we can be sure of is that someone caught those poor boys and reported it. Whether that was student or staff, no one can be sure."

 

Jimin opened his mouth to speak again, but was cut off by the static rush of the intercom speaker. The whole ward looked skyward, to the metal box fixed to their ceiling. It seemed to be going off almost every day nowadays, the tinny voice inside barking out commands all too often for their liking.

 

"All wards, proceed to assembly room. Mandatory attendance." Jungkook and Taehyung locked eyes for a fleeting moment before joining the scramble to get in line.

 

~-~

 

Jungkook was even more apprehensive of this assembly meeting than he usually was, a tight knot of equal parts fear and anticipation seizing his stomach in a vice-like grip which made it difficult to breathe. He looked surreptitiously over to Taehyung, hoping for some reassurance or to be met with his infectious box smile, but saw instead that the tendons in Taehyung's arms were standing out with the force of his clenched hands, jaw set and lips pressed together as his eyes bored holes in Jimin's head directly in front of him.

 

"Calm down hyung," Jungkook whispered softly, more keenly aware of the dangers talking in public could have than ever. "You look like you're about to keel over. Blank face and body language Tae."

 

Taehyung inhaled deeply and held it for a couple of seconds, before exhaling heavily. As the breath rushed out of his body, it seemed all the tension and worry did too. Taehyung's shoulders slumped, head dipped slightly and palms relaxed to hang by his sides. He turned round a shot a shaky smile at Jungkook.

 

"Showtime."

 

He said without a hint of his usual playfulness, watching Seokjin open the door to the hallway outside their ward and look left and right for any staff members, an automatic reaction even though they were actually authorised to be outside the ward this time.

 

They left one by one as always, in order of age, with Jungkook shutting the door behind them as the last member to leave the ward. As they turned the first corner on the way to the assembly hall, shoes squeaking slightly on the freshly cleaned concrete floor, they saw other wards with their heads trained to the floor all trudging the same way.

 

While none of them acknowledged each other, fearing they would he reported for breaking the rules, there was an odd sense of community which affected everyone when they walked past each other. Well, perhaps not quite community.

 

More a feeling of all being in the shit together.

 

Ward 7 reached the cavernous assembly hall as one of the first wards, filing quickly to their designated seats as their footsteps echoed through the massive and nearly completely empty room. While usually they would have talked quietly or watched the other wards take their own seats, this time they kept their heads trained at their feet and sat as far away from each other on their seats as they could.

 

None of them wanted to have to blank the others, but all agreed they couldn't take any more chances.
Couldn't let any of them be caught out.

 

The rest of the absent wards arrived soon enough afterwards, filling ten regular rows with ward 11 sitting in the wings. The auditorium was only around a quarter full, as a lot of the staff were missing, and even with the whole Institute there they barely filled half. Jungkook risked darting a quick look to the side of the hall, searching the rows of dead-looking students for Jackson or Jaebum. None of the ward 11 members, all staring forward with dead eyes and NULL tattooed on the left cheekbone, even seemed to blink.

 

Jackson and Jaebum weren't there.

 

Jungkook's attention was drawn back to the stage with the sound of State regulation heavy, black boots making their stomping way up the grey concrete steps to the left of the stage. The speaker stepped up to his shining dais, cleared his throat a couple of times and began speaking, voice cracking slightly due to the strain of speaking loudly enough to be heard even at the back of the assembly hall.

 

"It has come to my attention that several students have decided to disobey the rules we have in place here. To practice infidelity against the State. To this I have one reply,"

 

He paused and took a deep breath,

 

"Is there a rational bone left in your bodies? To defy the State means to relinquish everything, to destroy whatever chance you may have for a future. Remember that everyone here is your rival, everyone here is competing for high-privilege jobs like you are, and there are not enough spaces for even half of you. Your priorities are as follows: serving the State for your whole life, and putting yourself in the best position to do that. To even think about having a relationship with someone, especially a member of the same sex, is treason of the highest order."

 

Taehyung could feel Jungkook tense up at his left side, and fought down the urge to place a comforting hand on his leg. His hyungs were right: they had been far too obvious, and the staff would be on high alert after catching Jackson and Jaebum. The venomous man on the speaker's dais continued, sweat beading on his pasty forehead from the effort of speaking.

 

"The State is kept strong through eugenics, which is the only permitted form of intimacy between men and women. Individuals with superior genes are bred with others of similar genetic quality to produce new students, a lot of whom will go on to do the same. This is what has kept the State superior for the fifty glorious years since this system was established, and the soldiers and strategists produced through this selective breeding process ensured that the State was not crushed by the numerous forces of the West in the Great War. Many of you,"

 

He paused to survey his audience, sinister smile twisting his gash of a mouth at the sea of impassive faces.

 

"Many of you will be allowed to breed, given that you have for the most part superior genes. Most of the inferior children perished due to the chemical bombs nine years ago. Their immune systems were not sufficient, their bodies too weak to survive the sickness. Do you not want to be better than that?"

 

He was shouting now, spittle flying from his mouth to spatter lightly on the stage and lie glistening in the sickly yellow lighting.

 

"We are giving you a chance here, an opportunity to serve the State even beyond death through the offspring you can provide, and you want to throw they away for the sake of a meaningless, illegal relationship with another student? Anyone here,"

 

The speaker violently stabbed at the air with a bony finger to punctuate his point.

 

"Who so dares to consider breaking the rules, engaging in a relationship with a fellow student, is an immoral, disgusting sinner. The State will crush you like a bug and leave you bleeding by the wayside to die."

 

The speaker grinned widely round at the motionless, stunned or desperately trying to stay impassive students.

 

"That is all gentlemen. Return to your wards and shower before dinner. The State cannot tolerate lazy students."

 

He stepped down from the dais and seemed to visibly shrink, fading from the fanatic who screamed curses from the elevated stage to another grey, lifeless, faceless staff member who wandered the halls of the Institute like a ghost. He left quietly down the stairs to the left of the stage and went out through a back door, closing it behind him with a resounding bang which snapped the immobile students out of their trance.

 

They rose en masse and, with no chatter or noise other than the slight shuffle of feet and rustling of uniform, trudged dejectedly towards the large double doors out of the assembly hall.

 

~-~

 

Jungkook walked the rest of the way back to the dorm in a trance and headed for one of the showers the second they got back. There were five showers all next to each other at one end of the long, clinical white bathroom, meaning that even during the time allocated for showers there was usually one free.

 

The perks of not having a full ward.

 

Jungkook usually preferred to take one of the corner showers, as they had hooks on one wall which were far enough from the water that anything hung on them didn't get properly wet, merely slightly damp from the condensation.

 

"Where are you going so fast, Jungkook? The shower isn't going anywhere." Jimin asked half-jokingly when he saw Jungkook power walking towards the shower. Jungkook mumbled some unconvincing excuse about wanting to shower before the hot water ran out, and hurried off without waiting for a reply.

 

He just wanted to get away from the others as quickly as possible, to hide just how much that latest speech had affected him.

 

He grabbed a towel from a small pile next to one of the sinks and a bar of soap from the dish on the leftmost sink, where his toothbrush and comb were also stored, then headed to the shower in the left corner of the room. Hanging the towel on one of the convenient wall hooks just above head height, Jungkook pulled the curtain on the shower cubicle shut and stripped with an absent-minded efficiency, hanging the clothes on the top of the shower cubicle so that they hung over the shower curtain mostly on the other side.

 

He turned the grimy metal dial to the left, pressing himself against the wall to avoid the water which was always freezing cold for half a minute or so before it began to heat up. Although his movements were slow and deliberate, formed by habit over many years of the exact same schedule, his mind was racing almost too fast for him to keep a hold over it.

 

He found himself questioning everything he'd gone through in the past few weeks, every conversation with the others in the ward.

 

Every conversation he'd had with Taehyung.

 

The shower turned warm enough that it didn't make Jungkook shiver whenever he touched the thin stream of water, and he moved to the centre of the shower cubicle and faced upwards, letting the lukewarm waves wash over him. He didn't want to follow the rules or be a part of the State system, but what was the point in rebellion when he would have to grow up in it anyway?

 

The only alternative was breaking the rules so severely he was exiled from society and forced to live like the poor students in ward 11, which was an even worse situation than he was in right now. And although his skin crawled at the thought of being bred to produce new mindless slaves for the State, did he really have a choice in the matter?

 

In all honesty he was likely to be picked for his genes, going by his physical health and the fact that he hadn't got sick at all when the chemical bombs fell. Jungkook sighed and grabbed his soap. He hated having to ask himself these questions, but couldn't help but wonder if it was worth talking to all the others. The risks of getting caught were potentially more severe even than they had been a few weeks ago, the threat of solitary confinement being replaced by the threat of exile.

 

Then there was Taehyung.

 

Jungkook, even though he was incredibly dense at times, could see that he and Taehyung were on the brink of something dangerous. Their every meeting, every fleeting time their eyes made contact and they smiled at each other, every whispered conversation had a quality to it which was different to the times Jungkook talked to his other hyungs.

 

But what was really going on between them?

 

Was Jungkook prepared to risk losing everything for whatever they had?

 

losing what,

 

He thought, staring at the blank wall ahead of him

 

what kind of a life is this anyway?

 

Jungkook turned off the water and wrapped the towel around his waist, grabbing the clothes from the top of the shower curtain and the soap from the floor before leaving the cubicle. Taehyung was grabbing his soap from the dish on the sink right next to Jungkook's when Jungkook returned his own, and jumped slightly when he saw Jungkook coming.

 

"Oh, hi Jungkookie," Taehyung said brightly, eyes flickering over his exposed torso for a brief second before returning to his face. "Nice shower?"

 

Jungkook moved his head ever so slightly, looking more like a muscle spasm than an answer. He turned away, ignoring the way his stomach twisted when he saw Taehyung's face fall in his peripheral vision.

 

Later that night, when the others had all taken their pills and were fast asleep (or more accurately in a temporary drug-induced coma), Taehyung called his name ever so softly.

 

"Jungkookie! Do you want to come and help me with something?"
Jungkook shifted slightly, burying his head deeper in his pillow.

 

Of course I do, Tae. I just can't.

 

Taehyung's low voice came calling again.
"Kookie! You deaf?"

 

Jungkook squeezed his eyes closed, praying Taehyung wouldn't come over and start shaking him or something.

 

"I guess you're pretty tired today…" Taehyung said quietly, rueful smile creeping into his tone. Jungkook could tell that Taehyung knew he was awake and listening.

 

"That's okay, I'll let you sleep in peace." Taehyung tried to keep the hurt out of his voice, but Jungkook heard it anyway and clutched at his pillow in guilt. He couldn't face turning around, knowing he'd be met with a face that was unhappy because of him. Because he couldn't make up his damn mind.

 

When he next looked over at Taehyung's bed, as he had become accustomed to do whenever he woke up during the night, Taehyung was gone again.

 

~-~

 

Taehyung dashed across the grey floor of the Institute hallway seventeen, just past ward 1. He'd covered the ground from ward 4 to ward 1 the previous night and was trying to get past ward 1 as quickly as possible so he could start on the other hallways. The dangerous hallways, as they led to the staff quarters in the other part of the Institute.

 

Taehyung squinted, his eyes not quite adjusted to the gloom yet, trying to pick out any unusual features in this hallway. There was none. The ventilation grill was in the usual, unreachable place near the high ceiling, around ten feet above the ground. Now Taehyung considered himself pretty damn tall, but that was taking it too far.

 

He skipped over to the other end of the hallway, keeping his footsteps light and quiet, before pressing himself flat against the wall on the right so he could peek round the corner and check for patrolling staff members. Not that he thought there would be any, as his hearing was like a bat's.

 

Unsurprisingly, the hallway was clear. In all his night time ventures, Taehyung had only seen a staff member out of bed twice. Both times they had completely missed Taehyung.

 

In this hallway there was a ventilation grate only about five feet up, shining in the emergency green lighting coming from small luminous tiles that were pressed into the concrete of the floor every couple of feet. Bingo. He darted a couple of reflexive looks down the hallway before descending on the grate, fumbling fingers making a mess of trying to undo the screws.

 

'How does Kookie make this look so easy? 
He thought, twisting one of the screws desperately with no results.
Too bad Kookie was... Too tired... To join in tonight. 
His thoughts interjected rudely.
Yeah, he's probably really worn out. 
Taehyung reasoned with himself.

 

This had always been his way of thinking things through and processing what had happened during the day, formulating arguments against himself and talking them through. Perhaps it was a little insane, but it sure helped to calm him down.

 

Yeah right. Convenient timing for him to be tired, right after that speech.
Don't be such a negative nancy! 
Taehyung chastised himself, finally removing the final screw and setting the vent aside.
I'm sure Kookie is just worn out.

 

He stuck a long arm as far as he could down the hole behind the vent and found that it was a dead end, getting too thin for a person to crawl through after only a couple of feet. Taehyung cursed and began putting the screws back in. He had covered all the ground which was easy to get to in the Institute and still hadn't found what he was looking for. The next step was to go to the sprawling labyrinth of half finished tunnels, empty hallways and dead ends which was the right wing of the Institute.

 

It had originally been built as a female wing to the Institute, but construction had to be abandoned when war broke out and building materials became too scarce.

 

Taehyung tiptoed quietly to the end of the hallway, stopping in shock when he heard noises coming from the next corridor. Against his better judgement telling him to run right back to ward 7 and go to bed, Taehyung peered round the corner to see what was going on.

 

A young woman, probably one of the catering staff as Taehyung didn't recognise her and the caterers always wore masks, stood with her head half out of a door, flooding the corridor with the yellow light of a desk lamp. A man behind her was saying something Taehyung couldn't quite catch, voice a barely audible low grumble.

 

She replied something equally inaudible, stepping fully out of the door and turning to face the man. She kissed him quickly then hurriedly began walking away, heading straight towards Taehyung. He ducked back behind the wall and tried to quiet his breathing as he heard her frantic steps pass right by, then fade into the distance.

 

Taehyung peeped back around the door again and saw the man watching the woman go, a strangely wistful expression on his face. Taehyung couldn't be quite sure, but he thought the man was one of the Institute's doctors.

 

Oh doctor 
Taehyung thought, grinning widely,
We'll have to chat at some point 

 

He was sorely tempted to knock on the man's door and ask him what was going on and how long it had been going on for, but pulled his mind back to the task at hand. Heading into the labyrinth. He ran swiftly down a couple more empty hallways before finding himself in front of the intimidatingly large hallway leading down to the abandoned wing.

 

I feel like Theseus searching for the Minotaur,

 

He thought, feeling a stab of fear when he saw a crumbling part of the wall inside the corridor which looked as if it would collapse at any moment.

 

Except I don't have some girl hopelessly in love with me to give me a string so I can get back.

 

His mind drifted to Jungkook, to the way he'd looked when he'd come out of the shower earlier, half naked with water droplets glistening on his exposed torso and... Taehyung shook his head to rid himself of the memory.

 

"Focus Tae, task at hand." He muttered to himself.

 

He was doing this for Jungkook after all, and it wouldn't do to get lost in there and starve to death just because he was distracted by Jungkook's (admittedly fantastic) abs. Taehyung breathed deeply a couple of times and turned to face the gaping entrance to the dark, twisting architecture in front of him. He stared into the gloom, trying to pick out the next corridor he should go down, then, before he could lose his nerve, gulped and headed inside.

 

Chapter Text

The next day, during the first study period when everyone was gathered in the main room at their desks and there was no chance of being interrupted, Namjoon told them all to gather around his desk for a brief meeting.

 

The small room was filled with the grating sounds of chairs scraping on concrete floors as the occupants of ward 7 grumbled and pushed back from their desks, stretching stiff backs and closing pen lids to trudge over to where Namjoon stood above his own desk.

 

Jungkook pointedly stood between Yoongi and Hoseok, close enough to both of them that there was no way Taehyung could come near enough to talk. Maybe it was stupid, but Jungkook was determined to nip whatever he and Taehyung had in the bud before it got them into trouble. Seeing Taehyung's face fall slightly as he went to stand next to Jimin hurt his chest, but Jungkook was far too stubborn to acknowledge that.

 

It's heartburn,
Jungkook told himself insistently, trying to block out all other explanations,
Must be breakfast repeating on me.

 

He chose to ignore the voice in his head telling him that half a bowl of soggy porridge can't cause heartburn two hours after consumption.

 

Namjoon and Seokjin looked at each other for a brief second before they nodded in unison, their wordless conversation complete.

 

"We need to set some ground rules and regulations if we all carry on talking to each other," Namjoon began seriously, leaning over his chair with both hands resting on the top of it, "The most important being never communicate outside of the ward."

 

"Before Jackson and Jaebum we could let some of the obvious behaviour slide, but now that the staff are on red alert there isn't any more room for messing about." Seokjin added, leaning against the back wall of the main room.

 

"We understand that Namjoon-"

 

"Do you really, hyung?" Namjoon cut Hoseok off straight away, "Because a blind staff member could probably see the way you whisper to Jimin at mealtimes. You aren't even next to each other, it's probably the least subtle way you could possibly talk."

 

Hoseok looked as if he would protest, opening his mouth to argue, then appeared to think about it for a second and nodded guiltily instead.

 

"You're right, I'll save it for the dorm." He replied sheepishly.

 

Namjoon looked satisfied and moved on to Yoongi.

 

"You're always talking unsubtly to Jimin as well, probably even more than Hoseok."

 

"Plus you sit almost as far away as you can be from him at meals, your 'projected whispers' carry further than you think."

 

Seokjin chimed in, looking equal parts amused and exasperated. Yoongi sighed but agreed anyway, seeing no point in arguing when they both raised valid points.

 

"Jimin?"

 

"Yes hyung?"

 

"Stop encouraging the both of them. Save your flirting for the dorms." Namjoon said, obviously trying not to laugh.

 

Jimin flushed and huffed, crossing his arms in mock annoyance at the joke.

 

"Fine fine, I'll keep quiet from now on!"

 

"Good choice. Now Taehyung and Jungkook," both looked up immediately at the mention of their names, Jungkook pointedly keeping his gaze on Namjoon while Taehyung's flickered once or twice to look at Jungkook.

 

"You two were pretty damn obvious these past few weeks, but in the last couple of days I haven't noticed anything between you at all. Whatever you're doing, keep it up."

 

"Okay hyung." Taehyung said spiritlessly, looking down at his shoes.

 

Namjoon and Seokjin exchanged a worried glance but didn't say anything, so the rest of the ward took that as a cue to filter out back to their desks to carry on with their work. Seokjin called out to Jungkook, who was beginning his weaving way back through the chairs and desks strewn everywhere.

 

"Hey Jungkook, we didn't hear an answer from you."

 

Jungkook froze where he stood, mid-step, and turned back to face Namjoon and Seokjin.

 

"That shouldn't be a problem, Seokjin." Jungkook smiled tightly and turned away, not bothering to wait for a reply.

 

Namjoon raised an eyebrow and looked at Seokjin. Seokjin shook his head in bewilderment, eyes following Jungkook's retreating form.

 

"What the hell just happened there?"

 

~-~

 

Jungkook went a week without saying a single word to Taehyung. It was fairly easy (physically at least) to manage, considering the new ban they had on talking outside of the ward, which only left study periods and the brief window between dinner and lights out to try and avoid him.

 

Taehyung had stopped trying to talk to him after lights out, having realised from day one that Jungkook was just going to fake sleep every time.

 

He still snuck out every night around an hour after lights out.

 

Jungkook felt awful lying there in the dark, listening to the sounds of Taehyung padding over to the heavy door alone, but forced himself to lie completely still, knowing that if he let himself turn over and watch Taehyung he wouldn't be able to stay away from him. The muted noises the door made as it shut echoed in Jungkook's head long after they'd faded out in real life.

 

It's for both our benefits, we'll be caught and separated anyway.

 

Jungkook would mutter to himself like a mantra, trying to make the words sound less empty and false as he lay there each night, unable to fall asleep until he was sure Taehyung was safely back in his bed and the door was closed for the night.

 

Jungkook was falling apart, so tired from the inability to sleep that concentrating in lessons took twice the effort it had before. Until he'd begun avoiding him, Jungkook hadn't realised just how much more bearable Taehyung had made living in the Institute.

 

Jungkook's new personal schedule consisted of half avoiding Taehyung, and half avoiding his feelings for Taehyung.

 

In the morning he would sprint to dress and get to the bathroom before Taehyung was even out of his pyjamas, sit at his desk instead of his bed in the few minutes of free time before breakfast and go to his place in line seconds before they left the ward so that there was no time for them to talk anyway.

 

During study periods he kept his head bent over his desk, either doing work or pretending to if he had none left. He began taking longer showers in the evenings, staying in there so long that his skin pruned and eyes burned from the over-chlorinated water. He hardly talked to the others either, only to answer their questions with single words or gestures, figuring that he'd be better off avoiding them too.

 

He didn't look at himself in the mirror, not wanting to see what the avoidance was doing to him. He didn't look at Taehyung for the same reasons.

 

Every night he lay awake in bed for hours, praying to fall asleep before he fell apart.

 

On the eighth day of this schedule, Jimin followed him to the bathroom during the small window of time they had before lights out. His whole demeanour and body language radiated concern, eyes questioning.

 

"Jungkook, what's going on between you and Taehyung?"

 

"Nothing." Jungkook said shortly, deciding that a bathroom break wasn't worth this hassle and turning away, intending to return to his desk.

 

"That's exactly the point!" Jimin protested, grabbing Jungkook's shoulder and pulling him so they were facing each other. "You haven't talked to him in a week! Barely talked to the rest of us either. What's going on with you?"

 

His voice hitched ever so subtly at the question, eyes swimming with hurt. Jungkook felt guilt rise up in his chest and rubbed his eyes tiredly, trying to ignore the painfully tight feeling.

 

"I just don't feel like talking. There's nothing wrong Jimin." Jimin tutted and shook his head.

 

"That's a lie. This isn't just you wanting a break, you haven't even looked at Tae or made eye contact with him ever since that assembly we had. You know how I know that?"

 

He didn't wait for Jungkook's reply, too worked up to stop.

 

"Tae came to me three days ago asking if you'd mentioned anything to me, because you were completely blanking him and he didn't know what to do. I thought I'd leave it a bit because in an ideal world you'd realise how stupid ignoring him his and sort it out like grown ups but clearly,"

 

He stopped the tirade briefly to take a hurried breath,

 

"Clearly that approach isn't working. So whatever it is, you need to talk it over with him. You both look like death and we're all worried."

 

Jungkook visibly deflated, feeling his cheeks burn with shame.

 

"I'm sorry Jimin, it's just ever since they caught Jackson and-"

 

"Not to me." Jimin stopped him straight away and smiled gently. "To Tae. You two can sort things out in the morning, lights out is in a couple of minutes."

 

He patted Jungkook's shoulder a couple of times before heading back to his desk.

 

Jungkook was left alone with himself again. For the first time since he’d decided to separate himself from everybody, he took a look at himself in one of the slightly dirty bathroom mirrors. Under the cold, clinical lights of the bathroom he could clearly see the deep purple bags under his eyes, the lifeless way his gaze seemed to go beyond what he was actually looking at.

 

you should stay away this can’t last you’ll be caught and punished it’ll be bad it’ll HURT

 

Hurt. Jungkook could see hurt, but not as a vague consequence of being caught and punished by Institute staff. He saw it in the was Seokjin had recoiled from his biting tone when he’d just been trying to help. Heard it in Jimin’s worried voice as he talked about how Taehyung had come to him in desperation, longing to know what he’d done wrong. It was in the bags under Jungkook’s eyes, and in the deep silences that swept over the ward, just like back when none of them had talked to each other.

 

Hurt was in the way the footsteps always paused when Taehyung was leaving the dorm at night, how Jungkook somehow knew he had stopped to look sadly back at Jungkook’s bed, wishing Jungkook would finally come with him.

 

And in the way those footsteps left the dorm alone.

 

Jungkook turned away from the mirror, feeling slightly sick. He splashed some water on his face and sat down heavily.

 

ive been so stupid, how could I have thought avoiding everybody would be the best move? You cant get the cat back into the bag…

 

He'd go insane if he tried avoiding Taehyung any longer.

 

~-~

 

When the lights were turned out Jungkook lay motionless as always in his bed, planning to wait until he heard Taehyung get up and begin going wherever it was he went at night and then apologise. Jimin probably had the right idea in saying he should sort things out in the morning, but Jungkook felt like an arsehole and couldn't bear to wait any longer than he had to.

 

His eyes ached from tiredness and his limbs felt too heavy for his body and simultaneously too weak to move, but still he wouldn't let himself succumb to sleep. He couldn't miss this opportunity to make things right again.

 

After lying in the dark for half an hour or so, less time than usual, Jungkook heard the tell-tale sound of bare feet slapping down against the concrete floor. He heard Taehyung's suppressed hiss at the cold and was about to sit up when he felt light touches on his shoulder.

 

"Jungkookie," Taehyung whispered, and Jungkook's heart practically melted in his chest at the familiarity of the nickname. "I know you aren't speaking to me, but I found something. You'll really like it, I promise."

 

Jungkook got up immediately and, relief coursing through his system, hugged Taehyung. He made a squeak of surprise and froze for a second before wrapping his arms around Jungkook and hugging him close, bewildered as to what exactly had happened but definitely not complaining.

 

"What's brought this on then Kookie?" He asked, fiddling affectionately with Jungkook's hair.

 

"I'm really sorry Tae." Came Jungkook's reply, slightly muffled by Taehyung's shoulder. "It's just I didn't want to get caught and after the assembly I th-thought-"

 

"Woah woah calm there, it's ok." Taehyung said, breaking the hug to face Jungkook with both hands on his shoulders and smile brightly. "I forgive you. Now come on, I finally found what I've been looking for these past few nights."

 

Jungkook sat in bed for a couple more seconds, stunned that Taehyung had so easily forgiven him and brushed the whole drama aside. Then he was following behind him, grinning from ear to ear.

 

Taehyung grabbed Jungkook's hand led him to the ward 7's heavy door, pulling it open ever so slightly so they could peek out into the corridor beyond.

 

"You look left and I'll look right?" Jungkook suggested, resting his chin on the top of Taehyung's head as the elder bent down to look through the barely open door.

 

"Sounds good to me." Laughed Taehyung, pushing the door outward completely and holding it open ceremoniously. "Ladies first."

 

Jungkook snorted at that.

 

"Age before beauty." He retorted, extending his arm to hold the door in an equally exaggerated way.

 

"So mean to me." Taehyung mock huffed, accepting the gesture anyway and turning to shut the door slowly after Jungkook was through.

 

As soon as the door sounds had stopped echoing through the halls Taehyung had grabbed hold of Jungkook's hand again and was running at breakneck speed through the empty corridors, practically dragging the still half-asleep Jungkook behind.

 

"Tae!"
He hissed, trying to keep his tone indignant and quiet at the same time.
"Where are we going?"

 

"Somewhere cool! You'll love it." Taehyung replied mysteriously, pulling Jungkook backwards around a sharp corner so that his feet tangled together and he nearly went crashing to the floor.

 

"Oh well that's reassuring." Jungkook grumbled, "We're gonna get caught, we're gonna spend a month in solitary for this, they might send us to ward 11, we're gonna DIE-"

 

"That's so not true Kookie," Taehyung smirked, stopping behind a wall so he could peek at the corridor ahead. "We'd get at least three months solitary for this."

 

Jungkook groaned and rubbed the bridge of his nose with his free hand, the other still locked in Taehyung's. They ran haphazardly down a couple more corridors, passing the point where there were no more wards or even staff quarters, until, panting from the effort of running from their ward, they came face to face with the beginning of the sprawling morass of half-abandoned corridors that was the right wing of the Institute.

 

"This surprise," Jungkook swallowed, mouth suddenly dry, "Is down here?"

 

"Yep." Taehyung said, popping the p sound.

 

He didn't sound scared at all, merely excited. He flashed Jungkook a boxy smile and stepped forwards into the gloom. Jungkook sighed and followed after him, noting the confident way Taehyung began to pick out a route between the abandoned bricks and caved in walls on the floor.

 

It was obvious he'd been here a lot.

 

Jungkook was incredibly curious about what could possibly be down here, and could have apparently taken Taehyung over a week of night time searches to find. He thought back over all the conversations they'd had over the weeks since they started talking, but couldn't think of anything which could plausibly be in this part of the Institute. Looks like he'd just have to wait and find out.

 

Taehyung faltered in a small junction after taking three right turns and a left, looking confused. The derelict corridor looked exactly the same as the others had, all peeling walls and rotting wood, so it was no surprise that Taehyung would get a bit confused.

 

Jungkook took the opportunity while they were pausing for a little bit to take in the surroundings properly, his eyes adjusted to the gloom enough that he could see most of what was in front of him. The corridor was generally about ten metres wide, just like they were in the completed Institute, but in some places the walls had fallen in so that other corridors or cavernous empty rooms the size of wards were visible on either side of the main hallway.

 

The floors were completely covered, save for the footprints Taehyung had made on several different occasions, by a thick layer of dust which lay heavily in the air as well, making it difficult to draw breath.

 

There was a faint dripping sound in the background, and Jungkook looked above his head to see naked pipelines running along the whole roof of the hallway, rusted iron and shining brass mixing together to project a dull metallic sheen. A satisfied noise from Taehyung tore Jungkook's attention away from the scenery.

 

"I knew it was here!" Taehyung said triumphantly, brandishing a dirty sock.

 

Jungkook couldn't help but burst out laughing at the serious expression on Taehyung's face, when his hair was covered in dust and cobwebs and he was waving an old sock around like it was the best thing since sliced bread.

 

"This is no laughing matter Kookie, I left this sock here last time to help me remember which way to go!"

 

This did nothing to stop Jungkook's laughter.

 

"So you ran the whole way back to the ward with one sock after this?"

 

"The price of success."
Taehyung said solemnly, then pointed the sock at another small passage.
"The sock decrees we go this way!"

 

"I won't argue with the sock."

 

Jungkook smirked, following the direction the sock had pointed out. This passage was slightly less dusty than the others and colder, so cold in that their breath came out in clouds of white smoke, and there was a-

 

"Taehyung, is that a breeze?"

 

Jungkook said incredulously, seeing the way their breath clouds were blown slightly backwards as soon as they left their mouths. Taehyung just grinned. He pointed to a section of the high ceiling at the far end of the corridor. There was a large hole in the ceiling, with a massive chunk of thick concrete lying beneath as if it had cracked at some point and fallen through. Above the hole Jungkook could see... Not more hallways. This was a way outside.

 

"I promised I'd show you the stars Jungkookie."
Taehyung said, jumping over some rubble and standing on the chunk of fallen concrete.
"I found a way to keep that promise."

 

Jungkook stood dumbstruck in amazement as Taehyung beckoned him over to a makeshift staircase made out of unstable looking rubble.

 

"I actually found this hole a couple of nights ago, took me a while to make the stepping stones high enough to reach it though."

 

"All this time you... You were looking for a way to show me the night sky?" Jungkook asked, still disbelieving. Taehyung's cheeks reddened a little.

 

"Well I thought it was really sad that you'd never been outside at night, so I had to find a way out." He pushed Jungkook towards the pile of stacked rubble. "You go up first, I'll be right behind."

 

Jungkook tried to climb while looking up at the small patch of sky revealed by the hole in the ceiling but soon found it was impossible to do both, so climbed up looking at his hands. The hole lead onto a flat roof with a foot-high wall running around the edge of it, with huge puddles stagnating in the dips in the concrete. Some irrational part of him feared that the sky would be just as empty and grey as the rest of the Institute, devoid of the beautiful stars and colours that Taehyung had told him about.

 

He took a deep, nervous breath and looked up.

 

Vast, nebulous clouds extended for what looked like miles across, ranging from deep black to pale white colour around the edges and forming strange patterns where the wind blew them across the sky. The air was cold, the wind biting down to the very core, and Jungkook had never felt so alive. It was like the night had some kind of electrifying power, filling him with a restless energy which thrummed through his veins.

 

"Look at it! It's amazing!" Jungkook said in awe, looking the way the moon's light illuminated the clouds in front of it to turn them from grey to silver.

 

Taehyung stumbled clumsily out of the hole in the ceiling and went to sit on the wall at the edge of the roof, head tilted to look up at the clouds.

 

"Of course," he sighed "The clouds are covering the stars completely the one time I take you up here. You can't even see the blue colour either."

 

"But look at that Tae! It's so cool, I've never seen a cloud so dark and big before. What's that patch of silver over there?"

 

Taehyung followed Jungkook's finger to where the moon shone dimly from behind a thick layer of cloud.

 

"That's the moon Kookie, it's a massive rock in space which orbits the planet. It reflects the light from the sun, which is why it shines like that."

 

Jungkook nodded in awe and went to sit next to Taehyung, who was swinging his legs over the edge of the roof.

 

"The stars were out in all their glory just yesterday. Seems we've got the worst timing." Taehyung said with an amused tone.

 

"What do stars look like?"

 

"Little luminous dots in the sky, really bright and there's millions of them." Taehyung answered with a wistful look on his face. "They make these patterns called constellations which look like ancient gods, animals and... This weird ladle spoon thing called the Big Dipper."

 

"Sounds like quite the sight."
Jungkook smiled, tearing his gaze away from the sky to look at Taehyung.
"I'm really sorry about ignoring you for so long." He said, guilt flaring up again in his chest.

 

"That's ok, you probably had a good reason." Taehyung gave Jungkook a sideways glance, clearly hinting that he wanted to hear the reason.

 

Jungkook inhaled quickly, held it for a couple of seconds then exhaled.

 

"It's just that... The staff and the speaker in that assembly kept talking about how wrong it was to have relationships of any kind. They've talked about how wrong it is since birth, and how pointless it is anyway considering the eugenics system. When they caught Jackson and Jaebum I was so scared, and with the staff threatening worse punishments for anyone else caught I just thought we'd be better off pretending nothing was going on."

 

Jungkook looked down at his hands.

 

"I thought that, since it's so wrong for us to be involved, that maybe we could just stop talking. Move back to our own beds, refer to everybody by number again and pretend to forget one another."

 

Taehyung made a protesting noise at that and Jungkook smiled ruefully.

 

"You saw how well that turned out. No matter how wrong it may be, seems I just can't stay away from you."

 

"You should never have to. The State's way of thinking is so distorted that they won't allow relationships, just because it means it's one more thing that the State can control. Don't-"

 

Taehyung broke off for a moment to stare out at the darkness beyond the grey walls of the Institute as if collecting his thoughts.

 

"Don't say that this is wrong. Don't believe it is either. Talking to you, spending time together- well it's not hurting anyone is it?"
Jungkook shook his head.
"It makes me happy. Hopefully it makes you happy as well. So bearing that in mind, how could a relationship like this be wrong?"

 

Jungkook didn't know how to respond to that. He'd been told ever since he was old enough to talk that relationships of any kind were prohibited, were practically treason against the State.

 

Not knowing what to say, he chose to stare out over the black abyss beneath his feet in silent contemplation, processing what Taehyung had said.

 

Eventually he turned to face Taehyung, sitting cross-legged sideways on the small wall. Taehyung noticed his shift of position and mimicked the action exactly, leaning forwards to rest his head on both of his hands, elbows propped up in his lap.

 

"You're different to the others." Jungkook said, absent-mindedly studying Taehyung's expression.

 

Taehyung tilted his head quizzically and Jungkook flushed red. He hadn't really meant to say that out loud, but continued anyway.

 

"I never realised how unhappy I was in the Institute before. I never had a basis for comparison I suppose, just accepted my fate, never even tried to talk to anyone and was silently miserable for years. Then..."
He trailed off, then took a breath to steady himself and continued,
"Then within two days of making eye contact with you I was suddenly talking to everyone in the ward. Even a couple of people outside of the ward like Yugyeom. But with you... It's not like the friendship I have with Jimin or Hoseok. There's something more than that. Maybe it's just because we talked first..."

 

Jungkook realised they were both leaning forwards, to the point where their foreheads were almost touching. Taehyung was looking at him, an unreadable expression on his face and Jungkook could feel the tangible tension in the air, like they were both waiting for the other to make some kind of a move.

 

"...Or maybe it's because you're more than a friend to me." Jungkook murmured, heart thudding in his chest. He found his eyes were irresistibly drawn to Taehyung's features, and they flickered between his eyes and lips.

 

Tentatively, as if nervous of how Jungkook would react, Taehyung leant in, closing the distance between them and slowly pressed his lips against Jungkook's. He pulled back, watching for some kind of a reaction, but Jungkook was completely frozen. Taehyung panicked.

 

"Sorry Jungkookie I just thought the moment was right or something did I misread the situation complete-"

 

Jungkook recovered from the shock of Taehyung kissing him and returned the favour, stopping the stream of barely coherent apologies to slot their mouths together gently. Taehyung started in surprise before melting into the kiss, closing his eyes and moving his lips against Jungkook's.

 

Jungkook felt a blissful warmth tingling under his skin and pressed closer, not quite believing this was happening. He was actually kissing Taehyung, and it should have felt like the most dangerous thing he could possibly do, but instead it just felt warm and safe and right.

 

Taehyung sighed contentedly against his lips and wound his arms around Jungkook's neck to pull them even closer together. The kiss was sloppy, the occasional clack of teeth banging together and a little too much tongue betraying the clear lack of experience on both sides as they committed to being traitors against the State. It was dangerous and stupid, and yet Taehyung never wanted this to end. Jungkook broke away first, leaving Taehyung to chase that contact for a second or so before he spoke.

 

"Tae?" Jungkook said, voice husky from the cold.

 

"Mmm?" Taehyung hummed in response, eyes still closed. He held some vague hope that if he just kept his eyes shut Jungkook would kiss him again.

 

"You're shaking. I think your toes might be turning blue as well."

 

Taehyung nearly fell off the roof trying to rub his feet back to their usual colour. Jungkook laughed and got up, carefully avoiding stepping in a puddle just next to the small wall they'd been sitting on.

 

"Come on, let's get back to the ward before there's a fatality." He began walking towards the hole, where the stepping stones were just about visible poking out of the top. He stopped and turned back to face Taehyung again quizzically when he didn't hear footsteps following after.

 

"We..." Taehyung trailed off, biting his lip in a very distracting way. "We don't have to leave quite yet."

 

Jungkook knew he should probably disagree, get them both inside and warm before they got hypothermia or something, but a greater part of him agreed with Taehyung's reluctance to leave. This was like the abandoned room where his mirror device was stashed, a safe place where the State couldn't reach them.

 

He sat back down and put an arm around Taehyung in an attempt to keep him as warm as he could. Taehyung snuggled happily into his shoulder and stilled, letting out a huge yawn.

 

"How much sleep have you been getting these past couple of weeks?"

 

"Not much." Came the sleepy response, "Too busy trying to find-" Taehyung unsuccessfully tried to stifle another massive yawn by pressing his face into Jungkook's shoulder.

 

"We should get back to bed before you fall asleep on me, I'm not carrying you the whole way back to the ward."

 

"Ok." Taehyung said, making no move to get up.
Jungkook sighed and ruffled Taehyung's hair fondly. After a few moments of comfortable silence Taehyung spoke again.

 

"I'm sorry I couldn't show you the stars, Jungkookie."

 

Taehyung mumbled, eyes drooping, obviously on the brink of sleep.

 

"That's ok,"

 

Jungkook said softly, resting his cheek against the top of Taehyung's head.

 

"You showed me something better."

 

Chapter Text

They staggered with exhaustion back into the dorm, wracked by violent shivers from the cold which seemed to have seeped down to their bones. Taehyung realised belatedly that neither of them had been paying attention to the door after opening it and turned with outstretched hands to catch it before it banged shut, but he was too late. A metallic clang echoed through the ward, loud enough that Jungkook cringed away from the noise and Taehyung screwed up his face in displeasure.

 

"Shit, come on."

 

Jungkook whispered urgently, pulling Taehyung towards their beds in the corner of the room and hurriedly throwing the blankets aside. He stopped in his tracks as if remembering something and turned to Taehyung, flushed and embarassed, looking at his feet.

 

"D-do you want to..."

 

He made an inarticulate gesture towards the beds and between the two of them, and Taehyung couldn't help but smile despite the way all his limbs felt like lead.

 

"It's just that we're both really cold, you especially, and we can't get sick or the staff will notice and it'll mean trouble in the long run-"

 

"Jungkook." Taehyung cut him off, still smiling at his cute rambling. "You don't have to make excuses. Do you want to sleep together?"

 

Jungkook went an even deeper shade of pink, managing to somehow stutter out a yes. With fumbling fingers (he was pretty sure he had frostbite at this point) which wouldn't quite do what they were supposed to, Taehyung grabbed the blanket and pillow from his own bed and put them on the bed next door. Jungkook was still standing awkwardly by the side of the bed, looking frozen and unmoving apart from the occasional shiver, so Taehyung pulled the blankets back and sat down on the bed.

 

"Coming then?"

 

He asked playfully, fighting down the urge to laugh when Jungkook jolted immediately and got into the other side of the bed. Taehyung settled under the covers and pressed his feet to Jungkook's leg.

 

"Ah stop, that's freezing!" Jungkook grumbled, trying fruitlessly to move his leg away.

 

"I'm freezing all over, warm me up?"

 

Taehyung said, edging closer to Jungkook and pressing their bodies together. Slowly, as if afraid he wasn't allowed to, Jungkook wrapped his arms around Taehyung's torso and shifted them so that Taehyung was tucked protectively into his chest.

 

Taehyung sighed in contentment at the warmth beginning to spread through his tired limbs and tangled their legs together, feeling his eyes droop in exhaustion and knowing he was on the verge of sleep. Judging by Jungkook's breathing he was already sleeping or almost there, so it was a surprise to say the least when Jungkook spoke.

 

"Night Tae." He said, pressing his lips to Taehyung's forehead. Taehyung hid his face in Jungkook's chest to hide the huge grin and blush he knew had spread across his face.

 

"Night Jungkookie." He mumbled back.

 

~-~

 

Jungkook was woken up the next morning by hushed voices, obviously trying to stay quiet so as not to disturb him or Taehyung.

 

"I told you they'd make up, hyung."

 

Came Jimin's voice from the foot of the bed, and Jungkook cracked open one eye to see him elbow Yoongi in the ribs lightly.

 

"Yeah yeah, I admit you're right about that one. Looks like they didn't just make up." Yoongi said, looking at the two curled up on the bed, with Taehyung still nestled in Jungkook's arms.

 

"Aww. Don't you think it's adorable?"

 

Yoongi scoffed and shook his head. At that moment Taehyung made a sleepy noise and shifted closer to Jungkook, nuzzling his head again Jungkook's chest.

 

"...ok, it might be a tiny bit adorable. I think Taehyung might be drooling though."

 

Jimin laughed.
"I hadn't noticed that, look at the massive wet spot on Kookie's shirt. We should wake them up though, breakfast is in like two minutes."

 

Yoongi cracked a gummy smile, which would have been cute except for the evil glint in his eyes.

 

"Let's fill the mop bucket with water and chuck it on them."

 

Jimin nodded, smiling wickedly, then the two of them headed off into the bathroom. Jungkook waited until they were completely out of sight before quickly shaking Tae awake.

 

"What-" Jungkook clamped a hand over his mouth quickly and out a finger to his lips.

 

"We need to get Jimin and Yoongi's blankets and stuff the bed with them." He said, while Taehyung looked at Jungkook with a confused expression.

 

"Why's that?" He asked, sitting up and rubbing his eyes.

 

"No time to explain, get all our blankets and pillows off and grab theirs."

 

Within thirty seconds they had made convincing enough human-shaped lumps on the bed that Jungkook was sure it would fool Jimin and Yoongi, who would probably be struggling too much under the weight of the huge mop bucket to notice that Taehyung and Jungkook were no longer in bed.

 

Sitting on their blankets and pillows, Taehyung and Jungkook watched from behind a wardrobe as Jimin dragged a bright red bucket along after him. The bucket scraped obnoxiously on the floor and Yoongi sauntered along beside it.

 

"When you suggested this," Jimin wheezed, veins standing out in his arms from the weight, "I was under the impression you'd be helping."

 

"I'll help when we throw it." Yoongi grinned, patting Jimin's head in amusement. They picked up the bucket together and, just as Jungkook had planned, thoroughly soaked all of their own bedding.

 

"What?" Jimin said, stepping forwards and pulling the blanket back to see pillows there instead of people. It was at that moment that Jungkook and Taehyung nonchalantly walked past in the direction of their cabinets.

 

"Hey hyung, Jimin." Jungkook said casually, nodding to the both of them.

 

"You.. You.. Hey, call me hyung!" Jimin couldn't decide what to accuse him of and settled for incoherent screaming noises.

 

"Here's your pillow, hyung." Jungkook said, passing it to Taehyung who winked and put it at the top of his bed.

 

"See?! He calls Taehyung hyung!" Jimin seethed to Yoongi, who was very obviously trying not to laugh.

 

"Unbelievable." Jimin huffed. "They're your soaked blankets too Yoongi!"

 

Jungkook and Taehyung couldn't even look at each other throughout breakfast for fear they would burst out laughing.

 

~-~

 

It took Taehyung and Jungkook only four days of snatched kisses in corridors or when the others weren't in the wards before they snuck out to the roof again. It took extreme strength of will from Jungkook to keep his guard up and keep looking left and right, keep his ears open for staff members through the long, empty corridors.

 

As soon as they'd made it out onto the roof, after wiping the dust from the empty right wing off their clothes and coughing it out of their lungs, Taehyung snaked his arms around Jungkook's waist and pressed their mouths together.

 

Jungkook's lips parted and he moved his mouth against Taehyung's ,fumbling a little due to inexperience but content to let Taehyung guide him. He tangled his fingers in Taehyung's hair, accidentally pulling a little when his tongue delved deeper into his mouth, and he was about to break away and apologise when Taehyung let out a little moan and the apologies died on his tongue.

 

God, Jungkook would do anything to hear that again.

 

Letting his instincts take over, Jungkook walked forwards until Taehyung's back hit the wall on one side of the roof and leant over him, arms wrapped around his waist, one thigh pressed between his legs and Taehyung moaned again, grabbing Jungkook's shirt with both hands to pull him in even closer.

 

A strange metallic noise reached Taehyung's ears and he panicked, thinking it must be some kind of door opening onto the roof.

 

"W-wait." Taehyung gasped, breaking away and panting heavily. Jungkook looked at him with eyes slightly unfocused and red, kiss-swollen lips. Taehyung's heart lurched at the sight and he almost disregarded the noise to carry on making out, but logic took over and decided that the possibility of getting caught outweighed kissing for now.

 

Traitor

 

He thought, forcing himself to get back into ‘we could get caught at any moment’ mode rather than ‘horny teen’ mode.

 

"Wha-" Jungkook began before Taehyung shushed him.

 

"I heard something," Taehyung said, darting nervous glances back and forth. "Some kind of mechanical click."

 

Jungkook listened for a couple of seconds, heart thumping against his ribcage in an odd mixture of arousal and fear.

 

"I can't hear anything now. Are you sure?"

 

"Yes, it came from past that roof section." He grabbed Jungkook's hand and pulled him towards the edge of the roof.

 

"Over here, it looks like we can climb over this bit and see what's on the other side."

 

Taehyung said, pointing at a steep section of roof which jutted into the black sky and loomed over them like some kind of monster. It glinted slightly in the half-light of the moon, probably due to some sort of waterproof covering, and extended a good hundred metres upwards.

 

Jungkook took a second to get his bearings, remembering which directions they'd turned in the right wing on the Institute and fitting them together in his head, making a mental floor plan to piece together where everything was.

 

"The junior Institute will be that way, it's the direction the secret room faces in."

 

"Oh cool, let's try and get an aerial view of it!" Taehyung smiled brightly, excitement glittering in his eyes, any hint of arousal seemingly forgotten with the prospect of some kind of adventure, and attached himself to the side of the huge roof. Jungkook sighed. There was no point trying to talk Taehyung out of this now.

 

Tentatively Jungkook put his hands on the glittering surface of the roof, expecting the waterproofing to make it slippery and impossible to grip, but found instead that there was so much friction between it and his hands that they practically stuck to it. He stuck and unstuck his hand a couple of times to test it, a little nervous about trying to climb so high.

 

"Socks Kookie, you'll never make it with them on." Taehyung called. Jungkook looked up in surprise, not realising how high up Taehyung already was, and saw Taehyung clinging to the sheer face like a spider a good five metres up. He laughed.

 

"You look like a scared cat, hyung!"

 

"A scared cat who's gonna beat you to the top Jungkookie!"

 

Taehyung retorted, trying to move his hands again but stilling when he wobbled dangerously. Jungkook chucked his socks to the side and began climbing. Although Taehyung had a pretty big lead, Jungkook started to practically jump up the wall instead of merely climbing it and had soon closed the gap, stopping his mad ascent only briefly to flick the back of Taehyung's head playfully. He was already sitting at the top of the roof before Taehyung dragged himself over the lip and collapsed onto his stomach.

 

"Remind me never to challenge you again." He panted, pulling himself to his feet and going to join Jungkook.

 

"Hey you were right, it's the Junior Institute." Taehyung said, peering into the gloom beyond the roof.

 

They were around fifty metres above a long, flat rampart which looked like it went the whole way around the roof of the Institute. Below them was a man with close-cropped grey hair, leaning against the wall with a rifle resting at his feet. What was surprising was the fact that he was smoking.

 

"Look he's got a cigarette, those have been completely banned by the State." Jungkook said excitedly. "It isn't just students, there are adults who rebel as well."

 

"He looks like he's on guard duty. I've never seen any guards in the Institute before." Taehyung said, leaning forwards to try and see if there were any more guards nearby.

 

"They must eat somewhere else, or surely we'd have seen them in the canteen. I didn't even know the Institute had guards."

 

"Neither did I. He looks older than the other staff as well."

 

They both went silent, watching in fascination as the man inhaled and exhaled smoke, watching the curling patterns it made in the freezing air. Watched the faint red glow at the end.

 

"Isn't it funny Tae," Jungkook said, pointing towards the man. "The one adult we've seen breaking the rules has hair as grey as the walls in that place."

 

~-~

 

The man with grey hair glinting in the floodlights looked out of the corner of his eye back to the roof. Those kids were still there, heads poking over the edge and fingers clasped tightly together as if they feared they would lose each other. He took another drag of his cigarette and watched them with a growing anxiety.

 

Move, you'll be spotted. Come on kids, don't let yourselves be caught.

 

By the look of it they were engrossed in conversation, probably completely unaware that the guards below could see them just as well as they could see that guards. The man felt his heart clench as one of the figures, the one with darker hair, put his arm around the other and press a gentle kiss to the top of his head.

 

You'll be separated, leave the roof while you still can. Let there be some kids still inside who disobey.

 

He heard footsteps coming from around the corner of the roof, perhaps a minute or so away, and cursed under his breath, quickly spitting the cigarette out and crushing it with his boot. He'd lost track of time watching the two children who'd managed to get out somehow and hadn't realised it was time for the patrol to stop by his position.

 

Cigarette hidden under one boot, he stole one last rapid glance at the space on the roof where those two kids had been, and saw with a sigh of relief that they were no longer peeking out over the roof. He took a small bottle of mouthwash out of his pocket and rinsed briskly, pouring a little of the minty liquid down his front to try and mask the smell of smoke he knew would hang around him like a bad aura if it wasn't overpowered by something else.

 

The patrol finally turned the corner and the two men, silhouetted by the intense light of the floodlit rampart, marched smartly towards him. The men were perfectly in time, arms swinging so in unison they were practically one being, uniform neatly pressed and boots polished until they shone. The man knew from one look at them, despite them being guards he had never seen before, that they were so indoctrinated by the State that they practically belonged to a hive mind.

 

"Halt."

 

Called the man on the left, and they both stepped one more pace before stopping and stamping one foot harshly to the ground with a final noise which echoed in the sudden silence left by the absence of their footsteps. The two zombies saluted tightly, and the man on the left who was apparently in charge barked out,

 

"4352. You are relieved of your duty by the next patrol, in approximately three minutes. You are free to leave."

 

The man on the right nodded curtly and anger swirled in the grey-haired man's belly,

 

The both of them don’t need to talk, their thoughts are so in tune with the State each one says what the other would in his position

 

"Understood."

 

He said, painfully aware of the cigarette still pressed under his boot, no doubt still smouldering a little and giving off a smell which would probably reach the pair of clones in a short while.

 


Thank god there's no wind tonight.

 

The pair saluted again and turned in a polished motion completely around, heading back the way they came. The main benefit of having the sentry post at the furthest point of the Institute walls was that the patrols only came once every three hours and never had a reason to pass through otherwise, leaving plenty of relatively safe alone time without fear of being observed.

 

When the footsteps had retreated enough that he knew he was out of sight and in the clear, he knelt down to pick up the crushed cigarette. Sighing and flicking at the mud that had been pressed into its battered surface, he pocketed the thing and gave one last look at the now-empty roof before heading to the metal door in the side of the wall.

 

His room was at the edge of the staff quarters, very near to the sprawling mess that was the right wing of the Institute, which was probably the reason he was assigned the furthest guard duty. He walked down the hallways almost in a trance, thinking of the two boys he'd seen on the roof.

 

How the hell have they not been caught yet?

 

He thought, as they'd pretty obviously known each other for a while, talked for a while.

 

Security over that sort of thing had really tightened up after another couple were caught for having a relationship with each other. He remembered…

 

…standing guard alone outside the door to that ward, seeing the piece of paper slide out from under the doorway as someone inside tried to get the word out. The State had told the guards nothing, but that note told him they were taking some student away. He picked it up, tentatively looking around for more Staff, and read the brief text written in a messy scrawl, which had obviously been written quickly in a panic.

 

Jackson + Jaebum, caught kissing in corridor

 

It  said. Short but sweet, it had told him everything he needed to know about why he was standing guard, and what was going to happen to the boys. He folded the note a few times, then chucked it as far as he could down the corridor. It didn’t go that far, being as aerodynamic as a brick, and he cursed under his breath as it landed a only about 10 metres away and lay conspicuously in the middle of the corridor. He was about to go and get it, hoping he could be back at his post before anyone noticed, but someone entered the end of the corridor instead.

 

The boy was tall, thin, and froze like a rabbit in the headlights when he saw the guard. It looked like he hadn’t expected any security outside the accused ward. The guard stayed still. The boy saw the note on the floor, and walked cautiously towards it. He picked it up, darting another look at the guard. Their eyes met, and the boy grasped his shoulder and gave a slight nod. The guard smiled in return, then the boy was gone, running back along the corridor in an impressively quiet run. He had thought about that brief encounter for the rest of the day, how glad he was to find that there were still young students rebelling against the brainwashing techniques and abuse, but only allowed himself to smile when he reached his quarters, his home…

 

…The man arrived outside his door, which was beginning to show the reddish brown stains at the edges that let him know it was rusting. He reached for the doorknob and found his hand wouldn't move any further. The boy in the corridor, the boys on the roof, they were in danger as real and immediate as he was.

 

He felt like he had to do something.

 

Sighing, he removed his hand and, with a furtive glance behind him to make sure no one would see, set off down the corridor to his left.

 

There was someone he had to see.

 

~-~

 

The grey haired man knocked sharply on the door in front of him, ready to run at a moments notice should someone approach. After a couple of seconds he knocked again, more urgent, in the same pattern of three quick knocks and four more spaced out ones. This time, the door opened a fraction and he was met with suspicious eyes.

 

"Sanghun? What the hell are you doing here?"

 

The grey haired man opened his mouth to reply but the man at the door shook his head and shut the door. There was a brief fumbling before the chain was released from the door and it opened fully, the man ushering Sanghun inside and looking quickly left and right before closing the door again. He replaced the chain and turned hesitantly to the grey haired man.

 

"Why the sudden visit Sanghun? Is there an emergency of some kind?" He gestured towards the single chair at the kitchen table, but the grey haired man shook his head.

 

"It's your apartment Minho. No need to try and be polite."

 

Minho scoffed.
"I'm not being polite, you're as old as time itself and I'd rather not have you keel over."

 

Sanghun tutted, trying to keep the smile from showing on his face, but took the chair anyway. His legs ached from standing on sentry duty for hours, and despite not wanting to admit Minho was right, he had been feeling his age more and more as the days went by. Minho leant against the grey wall, fixing him with an expectant look. Sanghun sighed.

 

"Never much for small talk, were you. Disrespectful to your elders too. I'll never know what Eunseo sees in you."

 

"Don't change the subject, hyung. The age hierarchy and respect system died with the old Korea. Besides, I haven't seen Eunseo in a week. Last time she came she said that when she left, late at night when no one should have been around, she felt like someone was watching her. I'd ignore it but..."

 

"Can never be too careful." Sanghun finished, nodding in agreement. Minho smiled tightly before gesturing expectantly.

 

"Come on old man, I don't have all night. Besides, don't you have sentry duty again in five hours or so?"

 

"I do. Sleep isn't my priority right now however." He learn forward to rest his head on his hands, staring straight ahead at the plain apartment wall.

 

"Tonight I saw a couple of students on the roof of the right wing. They must have climbed up from inside the right wing, then onto the abandoned staff roof."

 

"They were awake?" Minho said, raising his eyebrows incredulously. "After the two were caught last week you'd think they'd be more careful."

 

"They really weren't careful. While I was watching they were all cuddled up to each other, exchanging the odd kiss." Minho nodded seriously.

 

"They'll be caught. No two ways about it. Why did you come to talk to me about it, you know just as well as I do what's going to happen."

 

Sanghun took a deep breath and leant back, releasing the breath slowly and slumping his shoulders.
"We didn't do anything to warn the last two, and now they're gone. We can't let it happen again. You could say there's a computer error so they need to do some tests for their physicals or something."

 

Minho blew air through his nose and bit his lip, considering.
"I could do that. Call the both of them in for a special appointment."

 

"Are you insane? If you only call in both of them you may as well put a red flag over their heads and announce to the rest of the staff there's something going on. Even calling in just their ward would be suspicious."

 

"Right, of course. I'll call in three or four full wards to be on the safe side. Now we just need to find out who these kids are. Would you recognise them if you saw them around the Institute?"

 

"Perhaps. It was dark and they were far away. Don't you know a couple of students who could keep an eye out?"

 

"Yes, two from ward 7. Knowing them and their contacts, there's a good chance they already know of these rule breaking lovebirds. I'll send the word out in the canteen if I pass them."

 

Sanghun nodded, tiredly trying to stifle a huge yawn.

 

"Thank you for agreeing to help, Minho. I should leave before the other sentries are relieved and start walking down the corridors."

 

He stood up slowly, trying not to put too much pressure on his aching knees. Minho looked at him with pity in his eyes before reaching over into a cupboard on the wall and pulling out a foil disc with half a round of pills in little plastic compartments.

 

"Have these, Sanghun. I can't promise it'll do wonders, but you'll find it easier to hide the joint pain at least." Sanghun began protesting, backing up towards the door and refusing as politely as he could, but Minho put the pills into Sanghun's pocket anyway.

 

"Please take them. You know I worry about you sometimes. Sentry duty is full of informants, you can't afford to let them know you're in pain." Sanghun sighed and nodded reluctantly.

 

"I'll take them. Remember to let the word out to your ward 7 contacts as soon as you can. We can't let these unknown boys be so reckless."

 

"Will do. Hurry up and get some sleep, it's not healthy to be missing so much."

 

Sanghun rolled his eyes and made his goodbyes, trudging out of the small, dimply lit apartment to the much colder, greyer hallways just outside. They were abandoned as usual. He sighed and pulled up his fraying state-issued scarf to cover his mouth. The nights were getting colder, the wind harsher which made sentry duty that much more miserable.

 

Those kids should get coats or something if they're gonna go out in this weather.

 

He thought, and turned to begin the way back to his meagre, grey quarters where a bottle of strong (and illegal) alcohol and an empty bed waited for him.

 

Chapter Text

The whole of ward 7 were gathered in the dorm rooms again in the hour or so between dinner and lights out when they were meant to be having showers and preparing for bed, but rather decided to meet up and talk.

 

Jungkook, Taehyung, Jimin and Hoseok were all squashed up on one bed, facing Yoongi who was on a pillow on the floor, Namjoon who was on the opposite bed and Seokjin who was sat on an uncomfortable looking cabinet. He’s got up there in protest when Namjoon wouldn’t give him enough room on the bed, but judging by the way he kept shifting and rubbing his thighs to try and keep warm, he would probably fold soon and come down.

 

 Yoongi was talking animatedly about music.

 

"What I'm saying is, they banned it for a reason. Music had the power to move people, to really make them feel something. The State didn't want people to experience any kind of feeling they didn't directly cause, didn't want to allow them any freedom of expression, so they stopped it from happening."

 

The rest of the ward nodded in various degrees of contemplative agreement. The conversation had been going this way for a while, discussing things the State had forbidden and the twisted reasons behind it.

 

"We should find a way to make music." Jimin said softly, resting his head on his hands and his gaze on the wall.

 

"It'd be near impossible to practice, unless there's some soundproof room we don't know about somewhere secluded in this place." Namjoon said, tapping one foot repeatedly on the floor in a regular beat.

 

"Still, it'd be fun. Nice to listen to as well." Taehyung piped up, staring at the opposite wall as if his thoughts were a lot further away than the short distance to Yoongi’s pillow on the floor. "I used to listen to music all the time, sing along occasionally too. Mostly in the shower."

 

He laughed slightly and shuffled closer to Jungkook, putting an arm around his waist and huddling in close. "It's way too cold in here."

 

He grumbled, only looking appeased when Jungkook draped a blanket over his thin frame and left his arm there, chafing at Taehyung's shoulder in an attempt to warm him up.

 

"So cute." Hoseok said, nudging Jimin and pointing at the two of them.

 

Jimin nodded and put a hand over his heart in an exaggerated motion. Hoseok chuckled and shoved Jimin jokingly. Jungkook screwed up his face in annoyance, blushing slightly. He and Taehyung couldn’t do anything in front of the others without being teased for it. It was like being watched by giggly staff members, except the punishment for being together was being babied by overbearing hyungs instead of beaten or exiled to ward 11.

 

Taehyung didn’t seem to mind, but Jungkook did. He got embarrassed too easily, something the others gleefully exploited every time they could.

 

“Aww look you guys made him all embarrassed, leave the lovebirds alone.” Seokjin said, still staunchly sat on the rough cabinet. Jungkook nodded in agreement, trying not to smile. However annoying they could be sometimes, he still looked forward all day to spending time with the others in the evenings.

 

Seokjin finally got off the cabinet.

 

“You win.” He grumbled and flounced over to the bed, pulling Namjoon’s blanket up so he could sit beside the other in the warm. Meanwhile Yoongi was watching Taehyung with a strange look on his face.

 

"How did you listen to music Taehyung?" When Taehyung blinked, not understanding what he meant, Yoongi elaborated. "Surely the Institute you were at before didn't allow it?"

 

Taehyung looked up in surprise and saw the question reflected in everyone's face. He rubbed the back of his head with the hand that wasn't around Jungkook's waist.

 

"You all think I came from a different Institute?" He asked, genuinely puzzled.

 

"Of course, where else would there be?" Jimin laughed, thinking that Taehyung was telling some kind of joke.

 

"You came here a year or so before the State won the war, I just sort of assumed your Institute was bombed or something." Hoseok said, watching Taehyung's expression with an increasing curiosity.

 

"If that was the case wouldn't there have been other new students that year?" Namjoon said half-rhetorically. "I always thought you broke some rules at a more lenient Institute so they sent you here as a punishment."

 

"Huh," Taehyung said, nodding to himself, "I can see how those theories make sense. Wouldn't all Institutes operate under the same level of strictness though, since they're all governed by the State?"

 

"Tae." Yoongi cut in, interrupting his musings. "Off topic. Where did you come from if not some other Institute?"

 

"I came from out there." He gestured broadly in the direction of the bed, presumably trying to communicate that he was from whatever lay beyond those grey, confining walls. "I grew up outside of State jurisdiction."

 

A disbelieving silence descended upon the room.

 

"H-how?" Jimin managed to stutter out, looking stunned at the very notion.

 

"I grew up in a... Well I suppose you could call it a commune in the middle of nowhere, so far away from any cities or populated areas that we were pretty much undetectable."

 

"I think you'll have to start from the beginning. How did this commune even come to be? How did you end up there in the first place?" Hoseok asked, still looking like he'd seen a ghost. Taehyung suppressed a grin at his stricken expression.

 

“It’s got a whole backstory, wanna hear it?” Taehyung asked, seeming pleased that everybody was so interested. “It’s kind of long.”

 

“Yeah go on,” Namjoon said, perking up, “Always useful to know how people evade the State.”

 

“Alright then, I’ll start from the beginning.” Taehyung grinned, seeing all the expectant faces turned his way.

 

"My mother's parents owned a farm a good hundred miles from the main State city, and lived out there with some neighbouring families who all helped to farm the land. They’d been there for generations, some of the last people resisting the push to move into the big cities. They produced a lot of food and animal products, so the State probably found them useful and let them be. When the New State System was introduced about twenty five years ago they pretty much unanimously decided they'd rather be shot dead as fugitives than move to the city and live as the State commanded.

 

They planned to gather as much of their livestock and grain as possible to set off inland, hoping to find somewhere with fertile enough land to sustain themselves. They were all set to go, but didn't have the vehicles or space for the ten or so people and all their equipment, cattle and so on." Taehyung smiled to himself, looking at the hand in his lap which was entwined with Jungkook's.

 

"That's where my father comes in. He was a low-level State employee, worked in the storehouses, not important enough that they kept tabs on his comings and goings but trusted enough that he had access to a number of official documents. He found out about the system of total control, numbers and forced selective breeding that the State planned to implement, and told a couple of his closest friends.

 

They began plotting ways to leave the city and leave it fast, before the State began cataloging its citizens and assigning them numbers. One of his friends was a mechanic, so he searched through the retired trucks and State vehicles in one of the huge warehouses he catalogued until he found two he could fix up, enough so that they ran smoothly enough with some tender love and care.

 

They knew that the State would find out about their absence, it was just a matter of when.

 

My father had access to State facilities and, about a month after the initial plans had been made, stole an armoured car and drove it out of the city in the middle of the night, while the other two left a few hours apart in the patched up old trucks.

 

Eventually they met on the road when the sun was on the brink of rising, several hours away from the city. They didn't have enough food or water to last for more than a week, but they did have a truly disproportionate amount of petrol. I'm sure you can guess where they ended up."

 

"Your mother's farm." Jungkook said, piecing together the story. Yoongi still looked dissatisfied.

 

"Even if there was enough room for all the people and livestock on the trucks your father and his friends brought, how the hell did they escape? Twenty five years ago was when the State brought all registered citizens in to get their numbers tattooed, there's no way they'd just let ten or so people slip away."

 

"Of course not." Taehyung said, grinning. "That's where it gets interesting. They knew that the only way they were getting away safely was if the State believed they were dead. They made it look like they were planning to leave, to get away in the State truck that my father had stolen, but were all killed in a house fire after a drunken struggle knocked over an oil lamp. It was pretty ingenious how they did it."

 

"How?" Jimin asked, eyes wide.

 

"First slaughtered eight pigs, one for every person. They took the trotters and recognisable parts off of the pigs so that they didn't have anything that couldn't at a stretch look human, then put them all in sleeping bags. They doused everything in alcohol, smashed an oil lamp on the floor, then set fire to the farmhouse and left the State truck outside, making their escape in the farm vehicles and the retired trucks."

 

"And that worked?" Hoseok asked in disbelief.

 

"Must have done. The State didn't follow. They drove for days across the countryside, deep into the heart of Korea until they found a suitable place to set up fields, their livestock and build a house from scratch. It was a really terrible house if I'm honest, we spent at least half an hour a day fixing some hole or support problem. The roof fell in pretty often too, and it was draughty as hell." Taehyung smiled to himself a little sadly, looking down at his hands.

 

"What hap-" Jimin's heavy question was cut off by two sharp bells in quick succession. There were a couple brief seconds of calm before that was shattered.

 

"Shit." Yoongi cursed, scrambling up off the floor and practically sprinting to his bed as the others ran in similar fashion to their own beds and cabinets. These two bells meant that there was only a minute left until the lights would be turned out, which was a call for all students to immediately take their pills and lie in bed waiting for them to take effect.

 

Usually students were all already in pyjamas and in bed before the bells, the bells themselves just serving as a time indicator and a specific schedule for taking the pills, but ward 7 was in complete disarray. Half were in uniform still, the rest frantically trying to clean their teeth before the lights went out and it was forbidden to use the running water.

 

Jimin was halfway through filling seven cups of water to ease the taking of the pills, three balanced precariously in one of his tiny hands and the remaining four waiting in the sink, getting water on the outside of the cups. In the midst of this chaos Jungkook, still sitting on the bed with Taehyung, wondered if he should tell the rest of his hyungs to stop taking the pills.

 

After all, he wanted them to be drug free and lucid as he and Taehyung were throughout the day.

 

Just then they were plunged into darkness. Jimin let out a small cry of frustration, still in the pitch black bathroom with seven cups, and made his slow way around the ward distributing them. The two plastic containers made a dull clink as he sat them down on Jungkook's bedside table, reminding him of the sound the trays made in the canteen when they were slammed down onto the tables.

 

He heard the swallowing sounds from around the dorm as five boys downed three pills each, pills designed to completely immobilise them for a precise amount of time and trap them in unconsciousness.

 

I'll just have to tell them next time

 

He thought, then rubbed his eyes and lay down to try and sleep. Taehyung stayed sitting, hands folded in his lap, as if he hadn't quite registered what was going on around him.

 

"Tae?" Jungkook questioned gently, tapping the back of his arm. Taehyung visibly started, then flashed him a smile illuminated by the green slight fluorescent light from the bathroom ceiling which never went out.

 

"You ok?" Jungkook asked as Taehyung lay down next to him.

 

"Yep! Don't worry about me Kookie, I'm fine." He said brightly, kissing Jungkook quickly on the nose before settling down into the blankets and closing his eyes, beginning to breathe heavily and more regularly after barely a thirty seconds. Taehyung was a brilliant actor. He could almost fool Jungkook.

 

Almost.

 

~-~

 

Minho hurried along the grey corridor, clipboard full of the staff's medical notes clutched under one arm. His lab coat billowed out behind him as he practically ran down the hallway, shoes squeaking on the polished concrete floor. Just while he was waiting for his contacts within ward 7 to arrive, he had been called out for an emergency in a staff canteen.

 

One of the teachers had slipped on some spilled food, gone flying and got a nasty knock to the head, and as the closest doctor Minho was called out to make sure there wasn't any permanent damage. Luckily enough for the teacher, she just had a concussion.

 

Minho skidded to a halt outside his door and took a brief moment to smooth down his ruffled clothes and hair before pushing swiftly into his clinic room, where he examined patients usually and completed his paperwork. Two boys were sitting on the leather observation table, a careful distance between them as if they were prepared for someone to come in at any moment and catch them. They both looked up as Minho burst in and turned to lock the door behind him.

 

"You called us in?" Namjoon blurted out before Minho even had a chance to speak. "Is there a problem with..."

 

He glanced worriedly at Seokjin, biting his lip and putting a hand on his knee comfortingly. Seokjin stared at Minho wide-eyed and stricken, one hand obscuring his mouth and looking to be on the edge of a panic attack. Minho realised immediately his mistake.

 

"God no, no," he shook his head fervently, taking his seat opposite the two.

 

"I'm so sorry boys, I realise how this must have sounded to you. Your secret is still safe, Seokjin, nobody even suspects a thing."

 

He rubbed the back of his head with one hand, leaning back in his chair and feeling like a complete moron. Considering what Seokjin was hiding, the surprise summons must have seemed like an execution warrant.

 

"W-why are we here then?" Seokjin asked, obviously making a huge effort to compose himself, straightening up where he sat to study Minho curiously. Namjoon was still side-eyeing Seokjin intermittently, making sure he was alright after the panic he had gone through at Minho’s summons. Minho met Seokjin's questioning gaze with a sigh.

 

"I was told by a friend of mine yesterday, a friend who had been on guard duty in the middle of the night, that he saw a couple of young looking students out on the roof." Namjoon's eyes widened.

 

"The Institute has guards?"

 

"They were on the roof?" Seokjin said at the same time.

 

"Yes to both questions. The guards have their own canteen and quarters near the old right wing so you wouldn't see them often, and the roof used to be a space for the staff to go during their breaks before it was shut off completely around ten years ago."

 

"Why was it shut off?" Namjoon asked.

 

"Probably because it offered the staff too much freedom. Probably because we don't have breaks anymore. Who knows, it's another one of those reasonless decisions we have to follow anyway or be punished."

 

Seokjin nodded in agreement at that.

 

"Besides the point, what were you saying about these kids on the roof?"

 

"My friend said that they were around twenty to the best of his guess, although he did see them from rather far away so it was hard to tell. One skinny and one more well-built, both tall and looking to be around the same height." Minho saw Seokjin and Namjoon exchange a quick glance and pressed on, confident they probably knew the boys he was describing.

 

"He said they were very close. Very obviously close. You see the issue here?"

 

Namjoon exhaled slowly, nodding and lacing his hands together in contemplation.

 

"You want us to warn them, is that it? Separate them as best we can outside of the dorms?"

 

"That won't do it." Minho said, then held up a hand for silence as Seokjin began to protest.
"What I mean is that neither I or my friend want to see more kids sent away just because they care about each other. If that means we have to traumatise a couple then so be it."

 

Namjoon and Seokjin blinked in unison, uncomprehending. Minho sighed.

 

"Which ward are they in? My plan was to call in a few wards under the guise that there were technical issues with the six month physicals, then get the two of them alone and pretend like I'm going to report them."

 

Namjoon leant forwards with a slightly evil smirk.

 

"They're in our ward, Jungkook and Taehyung. We've told them before to keep their hands off each other when they're out of the ward, but evidently they completely ignored their hyungs. Make sure you terrify them Minho."

 

"Any chance you could film their faces?" Seokjin piped up, "I'd love to pinpoint the exact moments they shit themselves."

 

Minho laughed at that.

 

"And what kind hyungs you are. Don't worry, this should get the message through to them."

 

Namjoon and Seokjin exchanged a relieved glance.

 

"Thank god. I don't think we could stand to lose them." Namjoon said, worry pervading his tone again. Minho nodded in understanding.

 

"It was the same with my ward when I was your age. We were a close knit group." His expression was wistful for a moment, as if his mind was far away from the dingy, grey, cramped doctor's room with its faded leather examination table and uncomfortable chairs.

 

"Anyway, the two of you should get going. Go carefully, staff will be heading for their classrooms soon."

 

"Understood. Thank you, hyung."

 

"And thank Eunseo for the extra food she's been sneaking us, I haven't had a chance to speak to her personally." Seokjin added, smiling gratefully.

 

Namjoon, with Seokjin in toe, looked left and right at the door to be met with only empty hallways and made his goodbyes, before the door was shut behind them and they were left alone. Seokjin let out a huge breath and leant against the wall, composure slipping completely, eyes closed and breathing heavily.

 

"I really thought it was all over." He said, shaking his head slightly in disbelief. He wiped a hand over his face and stared at it for a few seconds before turning to Namjoon with a blank expression.

 

"Look," he presented the trembling hand, "I'm shaking this much... I really thought I was done for."

 

He laughed nervously and swallowed, looking like he had something caught halfway down his throat. Namjoon bit his lip again and put an arm around Seokjin's broad shoulders, rubbing his arm soothingly with one of his large hands.

 

"Don't worry Seokjin, Minho is a good man. He's kept the secret for what, five years now? Plus, for the eight or so years before that we kept it hidden on our own. We've got this covered."

 

Seokjin rested his head on Namjoon's shoudlder for a brief moment to compose himself, then pushed him away with a playful shove.

 

"Hands off Joon, you're as bad as the kids. How are we meant to tell them to tone it down if we're all over each other?"
Namjoon laughed at that.

 

"You know best, boss. Do you want to go back to the ward first?"

 

"If you don't mind. I need to sit down for a bit after that."

 

Seokjin leant forwards and kissed him quickly before heading off down the corridor in the direction of the wards. The reassuring smile slipped quickly from Namjoon's face as he watched Seokjin slip into the familiar walk of the Institute, moderate pace, impassive face, eyes cast downwards at his feet.

 

He sighed and began pacing up and down outside Minho's surgery door, waiting until he could begin his way back to the relative safety of the ward.

 

Chapter Text

Minho was getting very tired (both mentally and physically) of unexpected visitors in the middle of the night. It wasn't that they woke him up, as due to his unorthodox working hours he was often up until the early hours of the morning and only woke up at midday, but rather that they always wanted something from him, some kind of item or service that he felt obligated to provide every time because there were so few people who disobeyed state rules.

 

When Sanghun came bustling in that night it was a prime example.

 

Minho opened the door cautiously and was pleasantly surprised to see his friend, raising a hand in greeting.

 

"Hello Sang-"

 

Sanghun brushed past him hurriedly and went immediately for the tangle of shelves and cupboard at the other end of the room.

 

"I need to borrow some urine sample bottles if I may." He said over his shoulder, distractedly pawing through a cupboard full of medical supplies. Minho dropped the hand which had still been raised in a frozen greeting back to rest on his hip.

 

"For what exactly?" Minho asked, raising an eyebrow, closing the cupboard that Sanghun was currently mauling.

 

"Mine broke today on guard duty, accidentally hit it with my rifle while coming to attention. Smell my uniform."

 

Minho rolled his eyes but did so anyway, wrinkling his nose in anticipation of a foul stench, then lines furrowed his forehead in confusion.

 

"Mint?" He said in disbelief, poking the starched fabric of Sanghun's jacket.

 

"I keep mouthwash in the sample bottles."

 

Minho eyed him disapprovingly.

 

"For the cigarettes you somehow keep getting your hands on? Hyung, you know it's not healthy."

 

Sanghun scoffed at that and tried to carry on searching through the cupboard, but Minho blocked his way with arms folded. Sanghun sighed.

 

"What do you know about the life expectancy rules the State has, Minho?"

 

He flinched slightly and unconsciously avoided Sanghun's eyes.

 

"Look at me Minho." Minho raised his eyes reluctantly, locking them with Sanghun's.

 

"How old do you think I am now?"

 

"Fifty-five? Fifty-six? Those are my best guesses."

 

"I'm fifty-nine." Minho inhaled sharply, eyes widening in shock. "What are the State rules for life expectancy?"

 

"All citizens will reach sixty and be taken in by the State. Five extra years may be afforded to particularly useful citizens, but ninety percent of these citizens will be terminated." Minho recited the words that had been drilled into him all throughout his medical training, the words used when the State teachers had told him to never treat people over the age of fifty because their lives were almost over.

 

"How many guards do you think get extra years? They're expendable, barely a step above cannon fodder. I have less than a year left, Minho, and I refuse to live it on their terms. If that means I get to keep one of my vices," Sanghun smiled bitterly, "Then that's just a perk."

 

Minho shook his head and turned, getting out two sample bottles and handing them to Sanghun without a word. Sanghun nodded in thanks and headed for the door.

"Wait." Minho said.

 

Sanghun paused with his hand on the door, looking at Minho over his shoulder with a quizzical look.

 

"How," Minho swallowed, his throat suddenly tight, choking up a little and making him stutter, "H-how long exactly?"

 

"Five months." Sanghun said, a grim but resigned look on his face. "But it hardly matters. I am old, I am in pain, I am tired of living like this. When they sentence me I will welcome the gun to my head like an old friend."

 

He didn't wait for Minho to reply to that, but pushed through the door and left it to swing slowly closed. Minho didn't move to catch it but stayed leant against the wall, head in his hands, the heavy footsteps in the hallway echoing through his mind.

 

~-~

 

Jungkook lay awake a good hour or so after lights out that night, thinking about what Taehyung had told them about where he'd come from. Something still didn't seem to make sense; how had he ever been caught by the State? If the clever plan with the house fire his parents executed had been a success then the State presumed all the adults in the commune were dead, and would never have known Taehyung existed.

 

He thought of the far away look on Taehyung's face when he'd talked about his parents, about the way he had stared almost wistfully out into space. It was clear that there was more to the story, and Jungkook ached to know what it was.

 

He was so curious it even tempted him to wake Taehyung up and ask, but Jungkook resisted. He couldn't bring himself to disrupt Taehyung's sleep just to satisfy his own curiosity, so instead resigned himself to another sleepless night.

 

~-~

 

The next day was fairly eventless, with lessons proceeding as usual and nothing drastic needing their attention.

 

Dinner however was a different story.

 

Jungkook felt a hand resting on his thigh, which wasn't an unusual occurrence as he and Taehyung often played games at dinner to see who would laugh or choke first when being tickled and poked under the table. What was new, however, was the way the hand was slowly but surely creeping up his leg.

 

"Tae?" He whispered questioningly, not daring to turn his head and look over in fear of the ever-present gaze of the staff members.

 

"Taehyung!" He hissed as the hand advanced further up his thigh.

 

Under the table he felt a kick to the shin coming from the place directly opposite where he was sitting and looked up to see Seokjin pointedly not looking at him. He slowly, deliberately raised a hand to his head and pushed a stray bit of hair behind his ear, letting the hand linger on his ear for a couple of seconds longer than necessary.

 

You're being too loud, do you want to get caught?

 

The gesture said, and by Taehyung's kicked puppy look Jungkook could see in the corner of his eye it seemed like Taehyung had got the same warning. Taehyung nodded even so slightly, tilting his head subtly to defer to Seokjin, as if giving his assurance that anything going on would stop.

 

The hand on Jungkook's thigh didn't seem to agree.

 

Jungkook steeled his expression, reverting to the impassive mask that he had perfected across the years.

 

Whatever game Taehyung was playing, Jungkook was determined not to lose.

 

Right at the corner of his vision, he could see Taehyung's mouth quirk up ever so slightly in a repressed smirk, felt his large hand move further up again and come to rest right over Jungkook's crotch. Looks like Taehyung wasn't losing either. Jungkook bit down on his lip hard to suppress the involuntary gasp when Taehyung palmed him roughly through his thin, scratchy slacks.

 

oh shit, oh shit

 

Jungkook thought, eyes darting around the huge canteen to try and pinpoint anyone who had noticed something going on.

 

this is really happening? Right in the middle of dinner?

 

Just at that moment Taehyung's hand stilled at the buttons keeping Jungkook's trousers closed, resting motionless in his way of asking permission.

 

It didn't need much considering.

 

Even though it was incredibly dangerous, incredibly stupid, possibly the worst time to be doing anything as there were staff members everywhere, there was no way Jungkook wanted it to stop. He turned to meet Taehyung's eyes and blinked slowly, tilting his head down as he did. Although Taehyung's face didn't move a muscle his eyes were smiling, letting Jungkook know that if he was free to show any expression apart from indifference, he would be fixing Jungkook with one of his wide, infectious box smiles.

 

The hand on his lap began fiddling with the buttons, clumsily and blindly groping around trying to undo them. Jungkook fought to control his breathing, bringing his arms which previously had been resting at his sides to grip the edge of the table in an attempt to keep himself grounded. He felt the blood rushing downwards and suppressed a groan as Taehyung finally managed to undo the button on his trousers to slip the wandering hand inside.

 

Taehyung ran his fingers lightly along Jungkook's length, still covered by the fabric of his boxers, tracing circular patterns around the head. There was a wet spot forming at the front of his grey boxers now from where his dick leaked precome, and Taehyung seemed to be having far too much fun poking it.

 

"Hurry up already Taehyung." Jungkook half-grumbled half-gasped, voice straining with the effort of keeping the words quiet enough so only Taehyung could hear them.

 

"Patience is a virtue Jungkookie." Taehyung murmured in response, but took pity on Jungkook and shoved the boxers down his thighs to release his straining erection.

 

Taehyung wrapped his large hand around it and squeezed once before running the hand up and down it in earnest, twisting his wrist with each practiced stroke in a way that made Jungkook lose his mind. Yoongi was looking at him curiously, slight worry clouding his features.

 

"You ok Kook?" He whispered, gesturing subtly at Jungkook's half-eaten food. "You haven't eaten in like five minutes."

 

Jungkook nodded hurriedly, picking up his fork and shovelling some soggy potato in his mouth to prove the point.

 

"I'm f-" at that moment Taehyung dug his thumb into Jungkook's slit and used the head of precome there to make the slide of his hand up and down Jungkook's length easier. Jungkook's voice stuttered with the feeling and he struggled to finish before Yoongi got even more suspicious.

 

"I'm f-fine hyung. See?"

 

He forked some more potato and shovelled it into his mouth as fast as he could to muffle the gasp he made when Taehyung's long fingers traced the pulsing vein on the underside of his dick. Yoongi looked unconvinced but dropped the matter, and Jungkook breathed a small sigh of relief.

 

His relief was short-lived however, as Taehyung took that exact moment to pick up the pace and god, Jungkook felt like he was in heaven. He was breathing more heavily now, thighs beginning to shake as he tensed them hard to keep himself from bucking his hips up into Taehyung's touches, knuckles turning white on his hand lying clenched in the table as he felt a heat pooling in the base of his stomach.

 

"T-Tae, I'm gonna... Ah-"

 

He bit back the moans on his tongue. He felt pressure build up in his stomach and shifted his hips slightly to warn Taehyung, when suddenly his boxers were being pulled up and the hand was gone from his length. Jungkook came crashing down from his high and stared incredulously at Taehyung, erection positively throbbing with the need to come.

 

"Hyung!" He hissed, outraged, and Taehyung blinked innocently at him. Seokjin was glaring at him for being so loud but that was the least of Jungkook's worries.

 

"It's the end of dinner Kookie, let's get back to the ward."

 

Taehyung joined the line heading for the door behind Jimin, picking his tray up with a deliberate nonchalance. Despite how annoyed he was, Jungkook couldn't help but laugh when he saw Taehyung wrinkle his nose and wipe his hand on Jimin's shirt.

 

-~-

 

Jungkook pulled Taehyung aside as soon as they got inside the ward, shoving him in the direction of the bathroom and keeping his hands strategically placed over his crotch so his other hyungs didn't realise he'd just walked through half of the Institute with a raging hard-on.

 

"You did that on purpose!" Jungkook accused him, grabbing a towel and placing it on his lap as he leant heavily against the bathroom wall. "Oh my god anyone could have seen my boner on the way back, I'm pretty sure BamBam did cos he gave me this shit-eating grin..."

 

"Yeah," Taehyung grinned, very obviously laughing at Jungkook's predicament. "What're you gonna do about it?"

 

Taehyung walked forwards and put a hand on the wall next to Jungkook, leaning in close to whisper seductively in his ear.

 

"Because I think," he said, hot breath fanning over Jungkook's neck, "That we should finish what we started." He pulled back and winked. "Meet me in the right corner shower in five."

 

He saw Seokjin approaching out of the corner of his eye and retreated, shooting finger guns at Jungkook before running off back into the dorm room, swerving to avoid crashing into Seokjin. Seokjin shook his head in fond exasperation at Taehyung's haphazard sprint between the beds to his cupboard, then fixed Jungkook with his best stern look and leant against the wall next to him.

 

"What was that about at dinner? I'm surprised the staff didn't catch you then and there!" Seokjin poked Jungkook with an annoyed look on his face, other hand resting on his hip. Jungkook fought down the flush on his face and kept the towel close to his body.

 

"N-nothing hyung," he somehow managed to stutter out, praying Seokjin didn't notice the slight tent underneath the towel.

 

hopefully,

 

He thought,

 


He wouldn't be looking at my crotch. Otherwise I might have an even bigger problem than Taehyung...

 

Meanwhile Seokjin was still staring at him with suspicion, arms folded, not saying anything. Jungkook's mind raced to come up with something to say that might get him off the hook.

 

"I think I'm getting sick." He decided on, watching Seokjin's face hopefully for any sign that he bought it. Seokjin merely raised an eyebrow.

 

"I'm sorry hyung, it won't happen again!" Jungkook pleaded.

 

At that moment Taehyung snuck into the bathroom on tiptoes, dressed only in his boxers, holding a towel and giving a thumbs up to Jungkook. Jungkook inhaled sharply through the nose and Seokjin looked confused, beginning to turn and follow his line of sight.

 

Jungkook panicked and coughed very loudly, pretending to choke on something and doubling over, hacking up his lungs and wheezing quite convincingly. Seokjin rushed over and began thumping him on the back, but Jungkook kept coughing until he saw Taehyung slink into the corner shower and close the curtain behind him.

 

He straightened up and, red-faced with eyes streaming (hey, he was nothing if not convincing), told Seokjin wi a completely straight face that he must have accidentally choked on some food that had been stuck between his teeth. Seokjin rolled his eyes exasperatedly and turned, heading for the door.

 

Just as Jungkook thought they were finally safe, he turned round again.

 

"Tell Taehyung to tone it down at dinner too. I have no idea what went on at dinner-" Jungkook opened his mouth to answer with some kind of excuse but Seokjin held up a hand, "-And frankly I don't want to know, but I don't doubt that Taehyung was involved in some way. Ok, you may shower in peace now."

 

As soon as his figure retreated back into the main room, Jungkook practically sprinted to the corner shower and threw his towel over the top of the shower door. The long conversation with Seokjin had made his boner go down a bit but it was still semi-hard, swollen enough that the fit of his trousers was uncomfortably restrictive and he was eager to remove them as soon as possible.

 

Taehyung laughed at the way he practically tore the trousers off, chucking them to the side when he was done and moving onto the buttons of his shirt. Taehyung took hold of his hands and moved them out of the way, stepping forwards and beginning to pop the buttons open with his slender fingers teasingly slowly, one thigh between Jungkook's legs and pressing against his dick as he worked his way down Jungkook's chest, leaving a trail of little kisses there whenever another button came undone.

 

He sank to his knees to undo the last couple, thumbing at the waistband of Jungkook's boxers and admiring the close-up view of his boyfriend's perfect thighs and toned stomach.

 

"Enjoying the view?" Jungkook asked cockily, shrugging off the now unbuttoned shirt with a smirk and hanging it on one of the hooks extending from the wall.

 

I wonder if he's a mind reader?

 

Taehyung thought absent-mindedly.

 

"Don't be smug Jung-cock," Taehyung quipped, pulling the boxers down to Jungkook's knees. Jungkook hissed as the cold air hit his rapidly hardening cock, hands balling into fists at his sides.

 

"Hurry up and turn the shower on so we can at least pretend we're here to get clean,"

 

Jungkook obliged, turning the shower knob on full heat so the scalding water washed over the both of them. Taehyung grinned and gave the head of Jungkook's dick a couple of kittenish licks, before opening his mouth wide and taking in half of his length at once, flattening his tongue against the underside.

 

He relaxed his throat and sank down a little more, swallowing around Jungkook's dick and stroking the base with his free hand as he supported himself up with the other. Jungkook gasped at that, one hand coming to grab at Taehyung's hair.

 

"Oh fuck, Tae-"

 

his voice was cut off by a moan as Taehyung looked up to meet his gaze, deceptively wide-eyed and innocent looking as he pulled off almost completely to tongue at Jungkook's slit. Jungkook felt like he was going to explode from the pleasure, already knowing he wouldn't last much longer with Taehung's perfect mouth engulfing him so sinfully.

 

Taehyung took him deeper again, humming low in his throat so that the vibrations travelled up Jungkook's length and fuck, Jungkook could already feel that familiar white-hot pressure building in his stomach as he went slack-jawed, eyes rolling back in his head.

 

"I'm almost Th-there." He warned, pulling slightly on Taehyung's hair to get the message across, and Taehyung slid his mouth off him with a lewd pop.

 

Jungkook half expected, Taehyung being the tease he was, that he wouldn't finish the job again, but instead Taehyung grabbed him and began jerking him off leisurely, opening his mouth in preparation.

 

Jungkook couldn't help but come at that sight, whole body tensing as he shot thick, white ropes over Taehyung's face. Taehyung swallowed what had landed in his mouth and looked up at the shower head to let the rest get washed off his face, then stood back up and kissed Jungkook with a fervent kind of passion. Jungkook could feel Taehyung's own erection pressing into his stomach through the fabric of Taehyung's boxers, which Jungkook realised with surprise he'd neglected to take off this whole time.

 

"Hyung, you've still got your boxers on." Jungkook said, reaching down to palm Taehyung through the soaked material.

 

"No... We've got to get out of the shower before someone suspects something." Taehyung whined, grinding his crotch against the pressure of Jungkook's hand in a way that suggested he really did not want to get out of the shower just yet. Jungkook smirked.

 

"Come on hyung," he said, pinning Taehyung against the wall and hooking his thumbs into the waistband of his boxers, "Let me return the favour."

 

Taehyung bit his lip and looked at Jungkook through hooded eyelids.

 

"Well, since you insist..."

 

-~-

 

Yoongi came into the dorm from the main study room stretching out his back, which ached from where he had even hunched over his desk trying to complete some work. Jimin was the only one working in the dorm rather than the main room, and lay sprawled out on his bed with papers strewn everywhere feverishly writing what looked like an essay.

 

Yoongi decided not to disturb him and headed for the door to the bathroom, wanting to shower before it got too close to lights out. His footsteps must have been heavier than he intended, as Jimin looked up as he passed by and smiled tiredly at him. His smile shrank by a couple of molars when he saw that Yoongi was heading for the bathroom with a towel draped over one hand.

 

"Don't go in there!" Jimin cried desperately, reaching out as if to pull Yoongi back and making grasping movements at the air. Yoongi eyed him with amusement and reached to pat his hair a couple of times.

 

"And why's that? Someone stink out the place?" He asked jokingly, dropping the towel on Jimin's head.

 

"TaeTae and Kookie went to shower." He replied, voice muffled comically by the towel covering his face.

 

Yoongi raised an eyebrow, uncomprehending. He went through the door of the bathroom slightly to have a look, not understanding what the issue was, and peered into the clinical white space.

 

"Are you sure both of them are showering? Only one of the showers is-" Yoongi broke off abruptly in sudden realisation and laughed.

 

"Don't laugh at that hyung!" Jimin pouted, "There were..." He broke off to shudder in horror, "... noises."

 

Yoongi laughed even more.

 

"So poor unsuspecting Jimin just wanted to shower in peace and instead heard the sounds of his two friends-"

 

"That's enough thanks! I'll have nightmares for a year after that." Jimin shook his head in disgust and went back to the work strewn out on his bed. "I just hope they keep it down next time."

 

"Well if they don't," Yoongi said, leaning in closer to whisper in Jimin's ear, "We'll just have to be louder."

 

A deep flush spread across Jimin's cheeks as he looked at Yoongi in surprise, before smirking in return.

 

"I suppose we will."

 

Chapter Text

Jungkook was rudely awakened once again by the three bells blaring and the lights turning on, almost blindingly bright on his tired eyes. From his side Taehyung let out a groan and rolled over onto his back, blinking lethargically and letting out a huge yawn.

 

He had weird seam patterns imprinted on his skin from where he'd somehow managed to sleep directly on his face without suffocating, and had managed to remove one of his socks during the night. Jungkook rubbed his eyes and sat up, turning to smile sleepily at Taehyung.

 

“Morning TaeTae.”

 

Taehyung groaned slightly in response and tried to roll over again. Jungkook rolled his eyes. Instead of trying to nag him awake, he decided to instead slap his ass. Hard.

 

“Oi!” Taehyung sat up and scrabbled off the bed, “I was awake, no need to bully my poor ass like that.”

 

“No need to,” Jungkook agreed, “But I wanted to.” He patted said ass again and winked at Taehyung.

 

"Do you two mind? You two are so gross sometimes." Came Yoongi's rather dry voice from behind, shaking his head in mock disapproval and reaching for his shirt. Taehyung scoffed at that, walking to another drawer to get his own clothes.

 

"Speak for yourself hyung." An evil smirk twisted his mouth and he waggled his eyebrows suggestively. "Don't think we haven't noticed what's going on between you and Jimin."

 

Jungkook looked with wide eyes over to Jimin, who seemed laser focused in on tying his tie but was betrayed by the pink flush of his cheeks.

"We've noticed? By the look on Kookie's face he didn't know there was anything out of the ordinary."

 

"Well now I do!" Jungkook laughed as Jimin's blush went a darker red.

 

"Jimin just confirmed my suspicions." Taehyung said, grabbing his tie and heading for the bathroom.

 

Jimin chucked a balled up pair of socks after him but they missed and bounced off the wall next to the entrance to the bathroom, coming to rest at the foot of Hoseok's bed. He picked them up with confusion.

 

"Why are you throwing socks at me Jiminie?" He asked, neatly tossing them back so they landed on Jimin's pillow. He opened his mouth to reply but Jungkook cut in first, taking every opportunity to berate his hyungs.

 

"Taehyung just exposed Jimin and Yoongi, the socks were aimed for his head."

 

"I was aiming for his butt actually." Jimin grumbled, unrolling the offending socks so he could put them on. Hoseok laughed.

 

"As if there was anything to expose! You may not be quite as blatant as Tae and the maknae," he directed a withering glare to Jungkook, who tried his best to look appropriately chastised, "But if you were trying to keep your thing a secret it's failing."

 

"You're just jealous cos you can't get a secret boyfriend Hoseok." Yoongi quipped on his way past to the bathroom.

 

"Don't need one, I love myself enough for two!" Hoseok replied, throwing up a peace sign and grabbing his tie from his dresser. Jimin wrinkled up his nose.

 

"Gross, hyung." He said.

 

"Not like that, Jeez! Dirty mind much?" Hoseok practically squawked, flapping his arms at Jimin as they both headed for the bathroom.

 

Jungkook watched them go with an amused smirk before panicking slightly when he realised it was only a minute or so until breakfast started and he didn't have any socks left. He headed for the nearest drawer before stopping dead when he realised it was Hoseok's.

 

given that latest confession,

 

He thought, turning to the drawer after that instead,

 

probably not the best idea to take socks from Hoseok.

 

He grabbed a pair of Jimin's and made sure to mess up the carefully arranged rows of underwear so that the next time he opened it, it would be a horrific jumble of boxers and socks. Because he was such a good dongsaeng.

 

-~-

 

Three hours later, in the study time the wards had before lunch, the intercom crackled into life.

 

"Wards five to eight proceed to the third level examination rooms in shifts. Schedule for the shifts is on the pin board outside the canteen."

 

Hoseok, who'd jumped so violently when the speakers came on that he'd spilled papers all over the floor, was picking them up one by one and muttering slightly in annoyance, trying to mask his nerves at the sudden announcement by filling the stunned silence with his chatter.

 

"What could this be for?" Jimin asked no one in particular, worry clouding his face. Namjoon and Seokjin exchanged a knowing look.

 

"I'm sure it's nothing to worry about, after all it's four wards that have been called in." Seokjin said reassuringly.

 

"If someone had been caught out they would only have called out their number." Namjoon continued that line of reasoning, bending down to retrieve the rest of Hoseok's papers and ushering him into line.

 

"Come on, we have to go and check the board for our shift time." He said, standing behind Hoseok.

 

"Can't we just send one of us?" Yoongi asked, not wanting to move from his comfortable position on his bed.

 

"That will let them know we talk to each other. If only one of us goes, then obviously we've talked amongst ourselves and elected one of us to go. We all have to go I'm afraid." Namjoon said logically, in a firm voice letting everyone know there were to be no arguments. When they'd lined up they all filed out of the door, joining the bemused looking ranks of the other wards that had been called out.

 

Jungkook spotted Jihun there in the crowd, the boy who had told him and Taehyung about what had happened to Jackson and Jaebum. Jihun looked tense, angry almost, standing in line behind a boy slightly shorter than he was.

 

Jungkook had never really registered how tall most of ward 5 was, but seeing them all lined up with the other wards he could clearly see how they towered over the rest. He wondered briefly if the State had something to do with it, perhaps wanting all the tallest people in one place for some reason, but his thoughts were interrupted when they arrived at the pin board.

 

He quickly scanned the rows and rows of tiny writing for his number before finding it in the last slot of the day. The rest of the ward were just before him, in age order, and ward eight had been scheduled to go in the first study period the next day.

 

There was an hour before the appointments began so, with nervous butterflies in his stomach, Jungkook turned tail and headed back to the ward. Seokjin and Namjoon watched him go and made eye contact for a brief second before looking away, lest they be spotted. It was time for their plan to be put into action.

 

-~-

 

An hour later Jungkook opened the heavy metal door to the doctor's surgery his appointment had been scheduled in to see Taehyung sitting on the old leather examination table, hands folded in his lap and jaw subtly tensed. He looked up when Jungkook entered, turning to the door so Jungkook could see his apprehensive expression.

 

Jungkook raised an eyebrow questioningly and Taehyung shook his head, gesturing to the small door on the other side of the room. As if on cue, a very young-looking came through holding a clipboard. He looked satisfied to see Jungkook had arrived.

 

"Excellent, you arrived promptly." He sat on the chair opposite the examination table and gestured to the old leather apparatus. "Please, sit."

 

Jungkook did so, his every instinct screaming at him that something was wrong.

 

"I'll cut to the chase boys."
The doctor, Minho, said, leaning forwards and smiling nastily. He was quite enjoying playing the part of the villain.
"I know that you have an illegal relationship with each other."

 

Jungkook's eyes widened, and he suddenly couldn't breathe. He looked at Taehyung with utter panic, feeling his stomach drop and mouth become instantly dry. Taehyung was staring at the doctor, fists clenched on the edge of the examination table so hard Jungkook feared he would break the ancient leather covering. He swallowed and rubbed a hand reflexively over his mouth, still staring at the doctor like he was trying to figure something out. Jungkook prayed it was something that would save them.

 

"Now, you perhaps wonder how I know this," the doctor continued, switching his gaze between the two stricken boys in front of him, "And how many others know."

 

Taehyung nodded curtly. Jungkook couldn't move.

 

"I saw what happened at dinner yesterday. With how blatant that was, I'm surprised others haven't reported you already."

 

Minho was bluffing of course. Seokjin had told him that something went on at dinner the previous night, but he had no idea what is was.

 

‘They were acting weird the whole time, something was happening for sure,’ Seokjin had told him in the note he slipped to Eunseo at breakfast, ‘They’ll shit themselves, you just have to sell it’

 

Luckily enough, acting was one of Minho's strong suits. He surveyed the boys, trying to gauge their reactions and therefore whether they believed him or not.

 

The younger boy, Jungkook, had turned a deathly pale colour and his hands, resting awkwardly in his lap, shook intermittently. Taehyung on the other hand was watching him with a strange sort of intensity which made him a little nervous.

 

probably just need to sell it more

 

He thought, fighting the urge to look away as soon as he met the boy's unwavering gaze. Minho didn't like conflict, not in the slightest, and he had to fight down the urge to apologise when he saw the stricken looks on the boy's faces.

 

"Y-you will be immediately separated." Minho said, cursing inwardly,

 

a State psychopath wouldn't stutter, idiot

 

"The State has been informed of your disobedience, and appropriate measures will be taken."

 

"Like what?" Jungkook managed to force out, trying not to shake in fear.

 

"Typically in cases like these, offenders are sent to ward 11 in Institutes far less prestigious than this one. Institutes where they administer corporal punishment far more frequently than we do, even to the point of breaking the bones of serial offenders."

 

Minho was panicking slightly now, making up the most terrible things he could thing of in an attempt to scare the kids. The younger one, Jungkook, was obviously rattled, fists tensed at his side with his fingernails digging into his palms hard enough to draw blood. The other one however was staring contemptuously at him.

 

"Ok that's enough." He said, standing up to face Minho directly.

 

"I don't know what you're trying to do here, but it won't work. I know you." He stabbed Minho in the chest with a finger to punctuate the point.

 

"I've seen you before. I didn't recognise you at first because it was dark and I only caught a brief glimpse. You come to us about an illegal relationship when you yourself are involved with one of the canteen staff."

 

Minho looked taken aback at this, mouth falling open in shock.

 

"How the hell do you know about that?" He hissed, then bit his lip and winced, knowing he'd just confirmed Taehyung's suspicions. A predatory smile played across Taehyung's face.

 

"So it was you. How do you think the State would react if I informed the staff here that one of their own prestigious doctors was having illegal meetings with a young woman? That it had been going on for months, possibly even years?"

 

Minho opened his mouth to retaliate but Taehyung cut him off.

 

"Even if you went to the staff about Jungkook and I, it would be too late. If I had told them already, it would just be interpreted as the inane rambling of a panicking criminal desperate to shift the blame onto someone else. Onto two poor, innocent students."

 

"You can't possibly-"

 

"Leave us alone, doctor." The smile was gone from Taehyung's face now, replaced with a grim, serious mask. "Or we can make life a living hell for you."

 

Taehyung sat back down on the examination table and flashed a smile at Jungkook, who stared at him agape. The doctor had much the same expression, before he sighed and slumped heavily in this chair.

 

"This is the last time I try and do anyone a favour. Seokjin could have warned me I was dealing with such stressful people." Minho muttered half to himself, but loudly enough that Jungkook picked up on it.

 

"Seokjin? You know Seokjin hyung?"

 

"I've known him and Namjoon seven years now."

 

Both Taehyung and Jungkook stayed silent in confusion. Minho sighed again.

 

"I'll explain what's going on." He said, running a hand through his hair.

 

"A friend of mine saw the two of you cuddling on the roof a couple of nights ago and told me, so together with him, Seokjin and Namjoon we planned to scare you into thinking the State had found out, to hopefully make you a bit smarter about hiding yourselves."

 

Jungkook , who was still recovering from the shock earlier, scoffed at that."

 

Well it worked, my heart hasn't recovered. You nearly killed me there."

 

"It didn't really work though, did it," Minho said, grinning a little despite himself, "I pity the one who actually catches you in the end, I'm sure you'll manage to blackmail them into silence somehow."

 

Taehyung laughed sheepishly at that.

 

"Sorry about that hyung- what's your name?"

 

"Minho."

 

"Sorry Minho hyung, I panicked and remembered seeing you and that girl. Maybe you should worry more about yourself being caught than us, hyung!"

 

Minho nodded seriously.

 

"I suppose I have been a little lax with security as of late. I'll take that into account. Anyway, you'd better leave. Come and talk with me sometime when I don't have work to do."

 

"Which would be?" Jungkook asked, hand on the door in preparation to leave.

 

"Practically never." Minho laughed, "Get out of my office before we get reported. And tell Seokjin to give me advanced warning if I have to deal with kids like you two again."

 

Taehyung smirked, nodding his agreement before leaving through the door Jungkook considerately help open for him.
The second they left the room Taehyung collapsed against the wall, clutching at his chest and breathing almost comically heavily.

 

"I've never been so scared," he wheezed, one hand braced on Jungkook's shoulder to steady himself, "In my whole life. And I've heard State enforcers break down my door."

 state enforcers breaking down his door?

 

Jungkook thought, looking at Taehyung, who was still melodramatically clutching his chest. He didn’t seem to realise he’d said anything strange, probably slipped out without thinking about it.

 

“Tae-“ Jungkook was about to ask about it, when Taehuyng made a face weirder than he’d ever seen a human face look before.

 

Jungkook tried to keep a serious face, nodding and patting Taehyung's back as he made strange dying whale noises, but the second they made eye contact he couldn't hold it together.

 

I’ll ask about the enforcer thing later,

 

Jungkook thought, trying to keep his laughter quiet in the echoing halls,

 

we get little enough fun here, I’m not gonna spoil this.

 

"What happened to the cool hyung who just tried to blackmail a doctor into silence?" Jungkook asked, laughing so much he gasped for breath. Taehyung huffed.

 

"At least I'm not freaking out in front of Minho, you looked like you were gonna shit yourself or cry!" Taehyung was having a hard time controlling his laughter now, and flapped wildly at Jungkook to try and shut him up.

 

"Come on Kookie, even though his little plan to scare us straight failed Minho does have a point. If it hadn't been a friendly guard who'd seen us, we'd be in serious trouble."

 

Jungkook looked sheepishly at his hands, mirth subsiding when he was reminded of their dire situation.

 

"That's true. I really didn't think the guard would be able to see us over the edge of the roof."

 

"We should keep it all for inside the ward, really tone it down." Taehyung continued, nodding his head to himself in agreement.

 

"You're right, we have to be sensible and mature about this."

 

Taehyung and Jungkook stared at each other earnestly for a couple of seconds.

 

"So sneak onto the roof tonight?" Taehyung said, smiling his odd rectangular smile.

 

"Totally."

 

-~-

 

They lay on Taehyung's blanket, spread out on the frosty surface of the roof in an attempt to keep warm. Every time either of them took a breath a cloud of white smoke curled out into the black night sky.

 

It was the first time the sky had been so clear in all the times they'd snuck out onto the roof, completely free of the large, grey clouds which usually obscured half of the view. Taehyung had decided it was the perfect time for an impromptu lesson on astronomy.

 

"Those two are Castor and Pollux," he said, pointing to a spot just to the left of the moon where there was a cluster of stars, "Named after twins from Greek mythology."

 

"One side is Castor and one Pollux?" Jungkook asked.

 

At first he'd been admiring Taehyung's profile rather than actually looking the stars, but soon found that all the stories behind the names of each constellation was too interesting to zone out on.

 

"Sort of. The stars there,"
he pointed to one particularly bright star on one side of the group,

 

"And here,"

he indicated one in an almost identical position on the other side,

 

"Are Castor and Pollux. The whole constellation is called Gemini."
He paused for a second as if considering something.

 

"When's your birthday Jungkookie?" He asked, rolling onto his side so he could face Jungkook. Jungkook blushed slightly at the sudden close proximity.

 

"It was pretty recently, the first of September. I only know because of the six month physical, the doctor told me I'd turned twenty."

 

Taehyung poked him in the ribs.

 

"Why didn't you tell me you'd turned twenty! I would have tried and failed to steal you some nice food!"

 

Jungkook laughed at that.

 

"Well if you're offering, don't tell on me when you get caught in the kitchen." He joked, rolling onto his side too so that they were face to face. Taehyung tutted and reached out to ruffle Jungkook's hair.

 

"Such an evil child." He said fondly, and Jungkook rolled his eyes, trying not to laugh.

 

"Why did you ask my birthday anyway hyung?" He smirked and flicked Taehyung's forehead.
"Trying to figure out if you're going to jail after yesterday?"

 

Taehyung spluttered a bit and reddened. "No, I knew you were at least eighteen... That's not the point anyway! Stop berating me so I can be all romantic and shit!"

 

He said quickly, trying to get back on track and pointedly ignoring the very unsubtle way Jungkook was trying to stifle his laughter.

 

"I asked because I was wondering what your star sign is."

 

"Star sign?"

 

"A few of the constellations match up with dates in the year. You're the first of September, so your star sign would be Virgo,"

 

Taehyung's coffee-coloured eyes scanned the sky with a sort of practised expertise.

 

"That one." He pointed to a group of stars which looked a bit like a double ended Y.

 

"Which is your's, hyung?" Jungkook asked, eyes fixed on the Virgo constellation.

 

"My birthday is December the thirtieth, which makes me a Capricorn."

 

He pointed out another cluster of stars slightly to the right. They fell silent, staring up at the bright spots of light forming their intricate patterns across the midnight blue expanse above their heads.

 

"You're shivering, Tae." Jungkook said, poking Taehyung's cheek.

 

"You're just lucky you have the core temperature of the sun," Taehyung grumbled, shoving his freezing hands under Jungkook's shirt. Jungkook winced and tried to shove him off, but Taehyung clung on like a limpet.

 

"Come on Kookie, I'm about to lose a finger here!"

 

"Do you even have circulation?" Jungkook groaned, accepting his new role as a human hot water bottle and settling back down on the blanket.

 

"No," Taehyung replied, "I am a poor circulation-less child. Looks like you'll just have to keep me warm."

 

"I suppose I will."

 

Jungkook smiled to himself and turned his eyes to the stars again, picking out the constellations Taehyung had pointed out earlier. He found Corvus, a smattering of stars in a vaguely rectangular shape, but saw something moving behind it. He sat up in confusion, trying to get a better look.

 

"What's wrong Kookie?" Taehyung asked, sitting up with him and trying to follow his eyes.

 

"Look up there, over by Corvus. What's that thing moving behind it?"

 

Taehyung squinted, eyes locking on to whatever it was.

 

"It's not a shooting star, they're smaller than that. Quick!" He jumped to his feet, dragging Jungkook up as well. "Let's climb the roof part we did the other day, it'll give us a better view."

 

Jungkook knew it was a bad idea, especially considering it was the exact place they'd been spotted by Minho's friend, but the mysterious moving thing was too tempting.

 

oh well, worth the risk

 

He thought, and sprinted to the sheer wall to begin climbing. The thing in the sky was getting closer, racing towards them seemingly faster and faster the higher they climbed. When Jungkook reached the top and turned to help Taehyung over the lip of the roof it was right overhead, roaring across the sky and leaving a trail of flames behind which ripped the sky in two.

 

The noise was becoming deafening and Jungkook panicked, grabbing Taehyung's hand and tugging far too hard so that he was pulled onto the roof and sprawled into a puddle.

 

"Sorry, sorry-"

 

"It's coming down!" Taehyung gasped, pushing his torso up from the floor.

 

"What?"

 

"Look!"

 

He got up and ran to the edge of the roof, leaning over to watch a bullet-shaped hunk of metal soar in an arc, fire streaming from one end. Jungkook felt his blood run cold as the thing sailed towards the junior Institute, knowing immediately what it was from the black and white propaganda films they were forced to watch every victory day. Taehyung was still hanging over the edge of the roof, seemingly oblivious to the grave danger he was in.

 

The problem with automated missiles was that they were too loud for anything else to be heard.

 

There was no way of warning Taehyung.

 

Jungkook froze for a second in pure panic before throwing himself at Taehyung, wrapping his arms around his waist to shove him to the floor with his shoulder. They hit the ground just as the missile exploded with an immense crash and blinding flash of white light.

 

Rubble rained down in light patters onto the roof and Jungkook's vision blurred, head throbbing and ears ringing. He brought a hand to his head and it came away bloody, and he tasted blood in his mouth where he'd bitten his lip in the panic. He sat up to see Taehyung, on his back but propped up on his elbows with blood running from some scrapes on his temple and the left side of his face.

 

He was saying something but Jungkook couldn't hear over the ringing in his ears, could just see the movement of his bloodied mouth through vision which was still slightly blurred. He got shakily to his feet and staggered to the edge of the roof, dizzy from the pressure in his ears and bleeding, but couldn't quite process what he saw. He blinked furiously, trying to clear the dust from his eyes and praying it was just his damaged vision deceiving him. When he opened his eyes again and it was still there, he had to accept the reality.

 

The silver missile had hit the Junior Institute, and shining pieces lay mangled in the pile of debris that comprised the whole right side of the grey, concrete building. Taehyung came to look too, and when he saw how much of the Junior Institute had been destroyed he swore under his breath.

 

The ringing in hears had subsided enough for Jungkook to be astonished at ow quiet it was, with only the faint crackling of the burning remains of the Junior Institute piercing the dark night. There was no screaming. Jungkook's heart lurched when he realised why; the pills.

 

Those poor children were completely unconscious, unable to wake up under any circumstances and unaware of what had happened. Many would wake up covered in the blood of their friends, missing limbs, barely alive and cold as death, wake up screaming as they realised they'd shared a room with a mangled corpse.

 

They would have no idea what had happened, only knowing how much pain they were in.

 

Over the ringing in his ears, Jungkook suddenly heard retching sounds. He looked over to see Taehyung bend and vomit over the side of the roof.

 

He must have realised what had happened to the children as well.

 

Jungkook walked over rubbed Taehyung’s back gently, absently, eyes still fixed on the carnage before them. Taehyung tried to straighten up but vomited a second time, knuckles white where he gripped the side of the roof.

 

"I knew somehow, I knew." He muttered, voice rough from the stomach acid that had burned his throat on the way up.

 

“What d-“

 

“That damn war, I knew even when they brought us in, how they got her with their -“

 

Taehyung broke off to retch over the side again, and Jungkook lunged forwards and grabbed his shoulders to pull him back up to eye level.

 

“Who’s her? Does she have something to do with the State enforcers?”

 

There was a spark of something in Taehuyng’s eyes, then he shook Jungkook off and pointed at the flames.

 

“That missile,” He spat, wiping some of the grime from his face with his other hand, “That missile means the war isn’t over.”

 

Jungkook’s eyes flickered towards the fire, then back to Taehyung. He was breathing heavily, and the arm that had been pointing at the wreckage of the Junior Institute dropped slowly back to his side.

 

There was dirt and rubble stuck in his hair, blood running from a large scrape down his left side from where Jungkook had thrown him to the floor before the missile hit. His eyes were wild, expression as angry as Jungkook had ever seen him before. He’d been wearing that same expression the day he’d been brought to the Institute, a younger boy knelt beneath expressionless guards and snarling.

 

Their lives in the Institute were based on lies. Lies and deceit and hardship and suffering until death or torture. It was only now, seeing Taehyung like this, that he finally understood.

 

"They lied to us, Tae."

 

Jungkook turned back to the carnage, the heat of the inferno starting to burn his skin. The heat must have been affecting Taehyung too, as his hair was matted to his forehead and a single bead of sweat ran down his face to mingle with the drying blood on his cheek.

 

"They lied to us." He repeated in a voice devoid of any outrage, only resignation.

 

Taehyung nodded grimly.

 

"They always have." 

 

Standing together on the side of the roof, watching the burning building turn the sky an angry red, Taehyung’s hand found Jungkook’s and squeezed.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Jungkook and Taehyung stayed rooted to the spot, frozen as they watched more of the grey building before them become blackened by the flames, crack and crumble to the ground while support beams began to bend. So much of the building had been destroyed by the missile it seemed like there couldn't be any survivors, and certainly none without grievous injuries.

 

They didn't even bother to hide themselves, leaning on the wall at the edge of the roof with shaking arms for support, as all the guards below had either been knocked unconscious from the blast and lay bleeding on the parapet or had run to pull children from the billowing smoke.

 

As Taehyung watched, a hand clamped over his mouth in horror, another guard emerged with a young child over each shoulder, face stained with black from the soot and grim. One of the children's bodies appeared disjointed; around the stomach it was less like a torso and more a bloody gash, a mess of red and black burnt flesh.

 

Taehyung looked away reflexively, head swimming and feeling like he was going to throw up again.

 

That poor child had undoubtably been dead.

 

The guard dropped the body carelessly on the stony ground near a rapidly growing pile of tiny corpses and took the live child to where some guards were desperately trying to administer first aid, unsuccessfully on the whole by what Taehyung could see.

 

It was unlikely any of the guards had medical training, and even if they had there was no way they could have handled something on this scale. Knowing how to bandage a small laceration means nothing when faced with the tattered remains of someone's leg, hanging on by mere threads.

 

While Jungkook was watching four guards shifting a huge chunk of concrete out of the way of a door, he noticed that another adult running across from the Senior Institute. She was not dressed in the black uniform of a guard, but rather the semi-suit of a doctor. Jungkook nudged Taehyung, who started in shock then looked at him with wide, red-rimmed eyes.

 

"There's a doctor down there." Jungkook said, gesturing frantically, not quite able to articulate his point.

 

"So... It's not just the guards who are awake at nights?" Taehyung gripped Jungkook's arm in sudden panic, realising the danger they were in. "There are staff members awake right now, wandering the corridors and probably checking the wards."

 

"We have to leave, right now." Jungkook said, tugging on Taehyung's hand to get him to move away from the edge of the roof. With one more regretful glance at the shattered building, Taehyung complied.

 

"How did you not know this Tae? Haven't you been sneaking around at night for years?"

 

"I have," Taehyung said, a little defensively, "But the only staff I've ever seen were Minho and his girlfriend. I just assumed they refused to take the pills like we do."

 

Jungkook nodded. It was an understandable assumption. When they got to the part of the roof they had to climb carefully down, Taehyung paused for a second.

 

"Grab the blanket," he said, pointing down the steep roof to where they'd left it. "You've got time, you're far faster at getting down this thing."

 

Jungkook agreed and hurried to grab it, bringing it back when Taehyung was still ten feet or so up the steep roof incline. Jungkook looked nervously over his shoulder, half expecting staff members to burst onto the roof at any time.

 

"We need to be faster Tae, jump," he spread his arms and stood closer to the wall, "I'll catch you."

 

Taehyung hesitated, but took a couple of deep breaths to steady himself and leapt from the roof, eyes screwed tightly shut. He landed in Jungkook's arms with a thud which drove the breath from Jungkook's lungs, but it was a safe landing.

 

Almost as an automatic response Taehyung laughed breathlessly and pushed the hair back from Jungkook's face, tucking the unruly strands behind his ears as Jungkook lowered him to the floor. Taehyung's hands faltered when he saw glinting silver poking from a spot just behind Jungkook's left ear.

 

"Tae? Is something wrong?" Jungkook asked, seeing the way his face had frozen.

 

"Hold still a second, you've still got shrapnel stuck in your head." Taehyung grabbed hold of the glittering shard between his finger and thumb and hesitated, looking at Jungkook for permission with a stricken expression.

 

"It's fine, we have to get it out. No evidence." Jungkook conveniently ignored the fact that their numerous small injuries were evidence enough that they'd been near the explosion when it happened.

 

Taehyung took a deep breath and pulled on the shard, wincing as Jungkook hissed with pain and fresh blood trickled from the gash. The shrapnel hadn't been too deeply embedded in Jungkook's skin so there was relatively little blood.

 

Taehyung pulled it free with shaking fingers and tossed it to the side, where it bounced a couple of times on the hard concrete before it was still. Breathing heavily, hands reddened and face grim, he pushed Jungkook towards the hole in the roof they always used to get back inside without another glance backwards to the carnage they had witnessed. He went through first, jumping clumsily through the gap to land just about on his feet.

 

Jungkook turned, seeing how the flames made odd, looming shadows dance on the black and silver sky, before he shook his head to clear it and followed Taehyung down.

 

~-~

 

The corridors, usually so eerily quiet, were filled with the faint sounds of doors opening and closing, boots stomping away the silence and raised voices attacking each other with shrill pitches and harsh words.

 

Jungkook and Taehyung shared a quick, nervous glance, unused to any noise at all in these halls even during the day time. That so many people were awake at this time was almost unthinkable. Jungkook rubbed the back of his head, thinking that one of them needed to make the first step if they were to ever get back in time and unnoticed.

 

A quick look at Taehyung showed that the older boy was seemingly lost in thought, chewing lightly on his bottom lip, most likely figuring out how to avoid being caught

 

that is, if we haven't been caught out already

 

He pushed that thought aside and began to walk right down the corridor, looking back over his shoulder to see if Taehyung was coming yet. Taehyung made a squeak of protest and ran forward, grabbing hold of his hand to stop him.

 

"We can't go the normal way," Taehyung whispered urgently, tugging on Jungkook's hand to pull him back the way he'd come.
"Wha-"

 

"That corridor is where the staff quarters are," He said, half running and half tiptoeing to the end of the hallway, "There's no way we'd make it past there unseen."

 

Jungkook followed behind , shooting nervous glances behind him every so often as he heard noises coming from further away. Taehyung help up a hand to stop him and peeked slowly, afraid the slightest movement could give them away, into the next corridor.

 

He waved Jungkook forwards and closed his eyes for a second, lightly tapping his fingertips together. When he opened his eyes again, he pointed with certainty down the path to the right and set off. Jungkook hurried to keep up with his frantic pace.

 

"Do you know how to get back this way Tae?" He asked, looking at the walls which were simultaneously unfamiliar and giving the impression that he'd been here many times before, as they were identical to almost every other wall in the Institute.

 

"More or less." Taehyung replied quietly, rounding another corner and sticking close to the wall. "I've only been this way once, maybe twice. Enough that I can probably find the way."

 

Jungkook nodded. That was the best they'd get, and certainly better than trying to get past the staff quarters. When they reached the end of a corridor marked 17C, Taehyung peered round the corner as he had done every time to make sure there was no one waiting on the other side.

 

Instead of giving the all clear as he usually did, instead he gave a sharp intake of breath and drew back, pressing himself as flat against the wall as he could and putting a hand on Jungkook's chest to push him back as well. Jungkook could hear the tell-tale heavy stomping of hard-soled boots approaching, heard Taehyung's increasingly fast breaths. He clamped a hand over Taehyung's mouth to try and reduce the noise the rushes of air were making.

 

"It's ok Tae, he'll miss us." He whispered, but Taehyung just shook his head and pointed to the direction of the noise.

Jungkook bit his lip when he realised the footsteps were coming closer, desperately looking round for something, anything, that could save them.

He saw nothing.

Taehyung shrank back towards Jungkook when the unseen man rounded the corner, wide torch beam throwing harsh light along the corridor, as if staying as far back as he could would help them. The man was very tall, bald and unfamiliar to either of them, leading Jungkook to think that he might be one of the guards.

 

Jungkook quickly pulled his shirt up to cover most of his face and gestured for Taehyung to do the same. He looked confused for a second before a look of understanding flooded his face and he nodded once in assent. Jungkook moved forwards, stamping his feet down on the ground to make as much noise as possible and making no effort at all to hide, becoming all the staff member could focus on. He was caught immediately in the torch beam.

 

"What the hell are you doing up?" The man spoke incredulously, as if he couldn't quite believe what he was seeing. Jungkook made no response and the man just seemed to get angrier.

 

"Insolent prick," he muttered, stepping forwards after Jungkook, "You're really going to regret this."

 

He reached to his side, presumably going for his truncheon, but Taehyung was quicker and had already taken a couple of steps away before he noticed it was gone and spun to see who was behind him.

The man's eyes darkened when he saw it was another young student who'd taken his weapon and he lurched forwards, swinging a huge fist at Taehyung. Taehyung hefted the truncheon but hesitated at the last moment, so that the heavy punch was heading straight towards his mouth. Jungkook practically threw himself forwards to shove the man and unbalance him so that he slipped and dropped to one knee, giving Taehyung the chance to use the truncheon again.

 

This time he didn't hesitate.

He smashed the wooden weapon into the man's temple brutally hard, so that he crumpled bonelessly to the ground with blood trickling from the new wound in his head. Taehyung dropped the truncheon and stepped backwards.

 

"Sh-shit, uh-" he took the blanket Jungkook still had tucked under one arm and cleaned the small splatter of blood off the truncheon, then tucked it back into the holster at the bald man's side. He grabbed one of the man's arms.

 

"Give me a hand will you, we'll make it look like he didn't have a torch so ran into a wall. With some luck he might not even remember getting hit when he wakes up."

 

Jungkook took hold of the other large arm and helped manoeuvre the man into a slumped position against the nearest wall, even rubbing his head against it to get a bit of blood on the wall. Taehyung walked over to the man's torch, which was lying on the ground still emitting that almost blinding white light in an arc across the dark hallways, and turned it off before pocketing it.

 

The torch had completely obliterated their night vision, sending green and pink patterns dancing in front of their eyes, but they stumbled around the corner anyway in their half blind state. They couldn't afford to waste any more time.

 

~-~

 

They were so close to the relative safety of the ward that Jungkook felt like screaming, laughing or both the next time they had to stop.

 

They'd once again heard footsteps approaching and had ducked behind a corner, the corner leading onto the long corridor where wards six through ten were situated, and were pressed up against the rough walls with hearts beating so fast Jungkook feared whoever was in the corridor could hear them.

 

Slowly, tentatively, Taehyung poked his head around to see if there was a chance they could make a run for it, and instead of withdrawing his head as he would if he thought they could be seen he left it there. Jungkook's head soon joined him, resting on top of his soot-streaked hair.

 

"What's she doing?" Jungkook asked in a whisper, watching as the woman walked very slowly right at the other end of the corridor.

 

She changed directions suddenly and Jungkook gave a sharp, panicked intake of breath.

 

"She's headed straight for our ward!" He hissed, tugging at Taehyung's shirt. "We're done for, she'll know how many people are meant to be in each ward."

 

Taehyung put a hand on his lips to warn Jungkook to keep quiet, to just watch and see what her next move was. She was heading towards the point of the corridor where the doors to wards began, away from the long empty stretch of wall at the beginning which was the back of a lecture hall. She raised a hand in preparation to grasp a door handle, Jungkook and Taehyung watching unable to breath from the suspense, and opened the nearest door.

 

"She went to ward six." Taehyung breathed in relief, clasping Jungkook's hand and resting another on his chest.

 

Jungkook squeezed the hand reassuringly and pulled them both to the entrance to ward 7, opening the door as quickly as possible and closing it with a metallic clang which he was unable to completely muffle, but hoped that the staff was distracted enough with the exploding building that they didn't care too much about one little noise.

 

Jungkook could hardly see at all in the darker gloom of the ward's main room, his night vision a little unreliable and not quite adjusted after being destroyed by the bald guard's torch, but he heard Taehyung's gasp of shock beside him and stumbled half-blindly after him into the dorm room. Even with his vision being a little messed up, he could see what had caused Taehyung alarm.

 

The whole room was in disarray, three of the wall-mounted mirrors had come loose and shattered on the floor, one of the empty cupboards had fallen onto a (thankfully) unoccupied bed. That wasn't the worst of it however.

 

Namjoon and Hoseok were lying on the floor beside their beds, still passed out from the effects of the sleeping pills, and to Jungkook's horror he saw that Hoseok was lying face down on top of what looked like a blood spatter. He looked hurriedly around at the rest of the ward, seeing them all in a slightly off position; Seokjin's sheets were almost all on the ground beside him, Yoongi looked to be on the edge of falling off himself, one of Jimin's legs was completely out of his bed.

 

the explosion

He thought, kneeling beside Hoseok and helping Taehyung to roll him over,

the shockwave from the impact must have hit the Senior Institute too

 

They moved Hoseok so he was lying on his back and Jungkook winced at the bloody mess covering the bottom half of his face, at the slightly wrong way his nose seemed to be pointing.

 

"Do you think it's broken?" Taehyung asked, biting his lip with concern.

 

"Pretty sure. Look at the angle." Jungkook replied, gesturing at the way the nose bent off to the left.

 

"We should clean him up or something, move the nose back to its usual position. Or - shit, can't people with injuries to the nose choke on their own blood?"

 

Jungkook shushed him, hearing something coming from the wall nearby.

 

"Listen." He pointed to the wall they shared with ward six, over to the right. There came the faint sound of voices, one female and one most likely male, talking urgently and moving towards the main room of ward six. Jungkook's stomach lurched.
"I think they're coming now, we have to get to bed."

 

"Agreed." Taehyung said, rolling Hoseok back into the position they'd found him in, grabbing his blanket from Jungkook and sprinting barefoot to his bed.

 

He stopped for a second as if considering something, then bent his head to the floor and began picking at one of the drying cuts on his face. Before Jungkook could ask what he was doing, Taehyung lightly bashed his head against the floor next to his bed and scraped his bloody cheekbone against it. Jungkook was slack-jawed in shock, but snapped out of it and grabbed Taehyung's head between his hands.

 

"Stop stop, what are you doing Tae?" He brushed his thumb over the reopened wound on Taehyung's cheekbone, hands coming to gently cup Taehyung's face.

 

"Our injuries, we can't be found in bed." Jungkook shook his head, no less confused, and Taehyung darted a quick look at the door to check before explaining.

 

"Hoseok got hurt by falling out of bed. If we're going to get away with these injuries from the shrapnel and roof gravel, the staff have to think we fell out of bed while on those pills as well." Jungkook understood now.

 

"Right, so there has to be blood on the floor too. Not just on us."

 

"Exactly. Make sure-"

 

There was the sound of footsteps directly outside the door and Taehyung shoved Jungkook in the direction of his bed, lying down face first in the little splatter of blood he'd created on the floor to give himself some credibility. Jungkook hit the deck a mere second or two before the door opened, only stopping to take the blankets off his bed and tangle them around his legs, making it look like they'd fallen off with him.

 

Jungkook could see out of half one eye, through a small gap in his fringe, that the limping woman was there with a taller man in a lab coat. He willed his breathing to settle and tried to focus in on their conversation, even though they were still in the main room so it was practically impossible to pick up their fairly quiet conversation. The man in the lab coat hefted a small clipboard and said something just out of earshot, but he could hear the woman's response.

 

"Seven here." She paused for a second to peer into the gloom of the dorm room then continued. "Four displaced by explosion."

 

"Casualties?" Said a vaguely familiar male voice.

 

The woman walked into the dorm and, with a practiced eye that gave Jungkook the impression that she might be a nurse, honed in on the red spatters beneath the three bloody students. She turned over Taehyung first and inspected his scraped face with a clinical efficiency.

 

"Nothing noteworthy on this one."

 

She moved over to Jungkook, and he had to force himself not to tense up or shudder when her clammy hand lifted his head so she could stare at his reddened temple.

 

"Nor here."
She shuffled over to Hoseok and rolled him over, just as he and Taehyung had a mere minute before. Here she beckoned over the doctor.

 

"Broken nose here by the look of it, fairly badly as well."

 

"We only document serious injuries." That familiar voice said again, speaking coldly.

 

"But-"

 

"We have a whole Junior Institute full of grievously injured children, 43392. Children who could be missing limbs, have severe burns, smoke inhalation and so on. These children will die if we can't get there in time, but I am stuck here going through these wards of young men with tiny scrapes just to check on them , "

 

The man practically sneered those last words.

 

"So please, insist I write down and treat this kid. God forbid he goes the rest of his life with an ever so slightly crooked nose." The woman didn't protest any further, merely nodded.

 

"I'll complete the rest of this blasted paperwork. Go and complete the check for ward 8." The woman left swiftly, no doubt pleased to get away from this rather rude (if justified) doctor. Jungkook craned his neck subtlety to try and get a glimpse of the man's face, annoyed that he didn't recognise where he'd heard that voice before. The doctor came to kneel beside him.

 

"Jungkook." He said, tapping him lightly on the shoulder. Jungkook sat up in surprise to face Minho, the man he had met earlier that day.

 

"M-Minho?" He stuttered out in disbelief, seeing Taehyung sit up behind him.

 

"Get your friend over there in the recovery position so there's no chance of him choking. Straighten out the nose as best you can, it probably won't be perfect whatever you do." Minho got up and headed to the door before Jungkook could say another word, but paused on the threshold of the ward.

 

"There won't be another inspection tonight so the two of you feel free to talk. I won't report how your injuries obviously didn't come from falling out of bed to either the State or Seokjin. Take care Jungkook, Taehyung." He opened the door.

 

"Stay safe. Stay secret." He added almost as an afterthought, leaving the door to slam shut after him and echo through the ward, returned once more to the usual silence of the night.

 

Taehyung scrambled to go and fix up Hoseok, running to the bathroom presumably for some toilet roll to wipe up a little of the blood. Jungkook went to help, folding Hoseok's limp limbs into the recovery position and rolling him onto his side so the blood presumably clogging up his sinuses could drain out onto the floor.

 

"Poor Hoseok, he had a really nice nose." Taehyung was saying, patting Hoseok's head sympathetically and dabbing at his mouth with a little pad of toilet paper.

 

"Oh well, we can probably fix it just about. Minho could be wrong about it not going back to normal, how hard can noses be, we'd make excellent doctors I'm sure-"

 

Jungkook tried to focus on Taehyung's nervous stream of chatter, thinking he could probably block out the shouting he heard coming from outside the Institute. Perhaps it could drive the images of bodies and silver shrapnel and burning and pain out of his head.

 

Jungkook sat back on his heels with a sigh and rubbed his eyes slowly, tiredly. Sleep wasn't going to come that night.

Chapter Text

"Grab his legs." Jungkook said, hooking his arms underneath Namjoon's armpits in a tight lock.

 

Taehyung quickly replaced the blanket on Seokjin's bed next door, which had fallen on the ground and exposed most of his body to the sharp cold of the dorm room, and bent to pick up Namjoon's long legs.

 

"Two, three, lift." Taehyung counted, aware that he was carrying the smaller portion of Namjoon's weight but still struggling a bit.

 

i'll blame that on the pitiful meals here,

 

He thought,

 

not the lack of time I spend in the gym

 

With a groan they hefted Namjoon's unconscious form onto the bed, realising too late they'd put him on top of all the covers. Taehyung swore under his breath and started pulling the blanket free so they could tuck him safely underneath. Jungkook rolled Namjoon onto his side to make it a bit easier, and after some more tugging they managed to get him snugly wrapped up in blankets and sheets.

 

"Looks like he's not getting hypothermia now." Taehyung said, satisfied with their work.

 

"You know, he's actually not as heavy as I thought." Jungkook said, prodding one of his large feet. "For a guy his height he's pretty light."

 

"Hey that rhymed!" Taehyung pointed out, grinning his signature rectangular smile. "I know what you mean though, they need to feed us more."

 

Jungkook hummed in agreement at that. "Hoseok was really light as well, hardly took any effort to move him. Took more effort to straighten his nose."

 

"You say that," Taehyung winced, "But he was heavy enough to hurt my arms."

 

"Not my fault you're so fragile." Jungkook said, peering around the room absent-mindedly to check for anyone else out of bed.

 

Taehyung spotted Jimin's muscular legs hanging out over the side of his bed before Jungkook did and ran off to help, leaving Jungkook's eyes to fall on Yoongi. Yoongi was right at the edge of his bed, one pale arm and most of his shoulder exposed to the freezing air. Jungkook took hold of the arm and nearly dropped it in shock at the icy fingers.

 

"Tae, feel Yoongi's arm!" Taehyung patted the blanket down on Jimin's legs fondly before rushing over. He gasped and flinched away when Jungkook pressed the freezing hand into his neck.

 

"Does Yoongi have blood, or just liquid nitrogen?" He asked seriously, touching the fingers nervously, half-fearing they were going to fall off.

 

"Definitely the nitrogen." Jungkook shoved Yoongi's skinny body completely under his blanket, tucking the arm into his side where it would hopefully be the warmest.

 

He heard a muted sound like two pillows colliding and spun around to see that Taehyung had collapsed, face first, onto his bed (more accurately their bed, as neither had slept alone for a solid month). Taehyung rolled over onto his back and gathered up the two blankets on the bed, wrapping one around himself so that he sat up, swathed in a blanket with only his face on the outside. He gestured to the space opposite him and Jungkook laughed, grabbing the other blanket so he could do the same.

 

His fond smile faltered slightly when he saw the scorch marks on the blanket Taehyung was wearing, the tears which no doubt came from falling shrapnel. They’d have to dispose of that blanket somehow.

 

 He sighed and made himself a blanket cocoon opposite Taehyung, both of their faces the only things poking out.

 

Jungkook found himself studying the sharp line of Taehyung's jaw, found his eyes drawn to the purplish bruises under his eyes, to the small cuts and scrapes all over his face, to the slight hollowness that lingered on his cheeks. His usual radiant smile covered up the weariness underneath, but in the rare moments he dropped his guard it was all Jungkook could focus on.

 

"Did you lose weight when you came here, Tae?" He asked. He remembered the first time he had seen Taehyung without a shirt on and really looked, remembered how he could count the other’s ribs the whole way down his chest. Taehyung looked at him in slight surprise, blinking a couple of times to wake himself up from the zoned out state he'd been in.

 

"Why, because of my fabulous figure?" He joked, then shook his head. "I don't think so. I've always been pretty skinny naturally, and there wasn't much food on the run from the State. If anything I gained weight."

 

"I think you came here when we had the least food," Jungkook said, remembering the painful hollow of his stomach, "It was near the end of the war- well, near the supposed end of the war. Point is food was pretty scarce."

 

"Yeah, I remember. I was just glad to be getting meals."

 

They fell silent for a couple of seconds before Jungkook asked the question which had been bothering him for the last few days.

 

"Tae?"

 

"Hmm?" He replied a little sleepily, rubbing his eyes.

 

“What happened to your family?”

 

Taehyung froze, hand still resting on the bags under his eyes.  Jungkook went on.

 

“Your commune, the State had no way of knowing it was there. You should never have been caught, and yet you’re here. You mentioned something about State enforcers, and being on the run…”

 

He trailed off at the sight of Taehyung’s stricken face, then swallowed and continued.

 

“And just now, on the roof, you said they got her. How did the State get to you too?”

 

Taehyung stayed silent, twisting his hands in his lap uncomfortably. Jungkook tried to make eye contact, but Taehyung was deliberately looking to the side. Jungkook put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed comfortingly.

 

“It’s okay if you don’t want to tell me. It’s probably painful to remember-“

 

Taehyung shook his head and Jungkook stopped talking. Taehyung smiled at Jungkook, a painfully sad smile that didn’t reach his eyes.

 

“No, I trust you.” He said, and those simple words said so much. Among the rebels in the Institute, trust was everything.

 

Besides,” He looked fondly at the other, “I’ve not told anybody before. It might help me feel better telling you.”

 

Jungkook nodded cautiously. He did agree that in the long run having someone to talk to about it might help Taehyung, but didn’t doubt that telling the story was going to upset him. Taehyung nodded, mostly to himself, and sat up a bit. The blanket he had wrapped around him sipped a bit so it no longer covered his head and shoulders, giving him a much more sombre look as it revealed the cuts and bruises from the explosion.

 

After taking a few moments to collect himself and get the story in order in his head, Taehyung began.

 

“My grandparents, parents, and their friends escaped the State by the skin of their teeth, like I told you the other night, and for a long time that was that. After they all set up the commune they settled down a bit, had children and tried to forget what they'd run from. A couple of years before I was born my father's friend had a son called Jiho, and we were best friends from the beginning. I had a little brother and a little sister as well, they were really cute."

 

Jungkook noticed the use of the past tense and felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. He had a feeling this story wasn't a happy one.

 

"My mother and her family had never been exposed to the state, living in the middle of nowhere as they did, and my father wanted to keep it that way. He and his friends refused to talk about what it was like back in the main State city, trying to keep us as sheltered as possible from it.

 

He never even told my mother about it, she was left trying to piece together the story through books and guesswork. What we didn't know couldn't hurt us was the logic they used. In fact, Jiho and I didn't even know what the State was until around a month after I turned fifteen. That's when things went wrong."

 

Taehyung sighed and rubbed a hand on the back of his neck.

 

"My mother had a battered old radio which she kept from her childhood, as it would sometimes pick up the odd military transmission which was interesting while the war was going on. One day while she was messing about with the frequencies she found something she’d never picked up before – a channel which was entirely State propaganda. ”

 

“A propaganda radio frequency?” Jungkook asked, surprised. His apprehension grew at the sight of Taehyung’s face when he nodded.

 

“They must have figured some people like us slipped through the cracks, so kept the channel going to try and draw us back in. Genius really, low running costs and could catch system outliers without wasting manpower on searching empty countryside.”

 

Jungkook nodded again, apprehension rising.

 

 My mother didn't tell anyone about it, but listened in secret for a whole day and through most of the next night. I have no idea what they were saying,"

 

Taehyung's eyes darkened,

 

"But it was powerful enough that it completely converted her overnight. My poor mother never stood a chance against their brainwashing. She took the biggest one of our vehicles, almost all our fuel, and set off in the middle of the night to try and find the State. We woke up to find a pile of slashed tires and the word ‘TRAITORS’ painted messily on the sides of the cars we had left.”

 

“They got her.” Jungkook said, stomach twisting. He’d never known his mother, or any kind of parental affection growing up, but it wasn’t hard to see how much his mother’s betrayal had hurt Taehyung.

 

“They got her.” Taehyung nodded. “It was hard to believe at first, but when she didn't come back the next day or the day after we all began to panic. There had been spare tires my mother didn't find stashed in one of the cowsheds, but it wasn't enough for all the cars. Only two of the trucks.

 

There just wasn't enough room for everyone to get away, so my grandparents and a couple of their friends volunteered to stay at the house and misdirect the State soldiers when they finally came, send them across the wilderness to hopefully die when their provisions ran out in the opposite direction to where we'd gone. It must have worked, as it was nearly eight months before the State finally caught up."

 

"How did they manage to find you?" Jungkook asked, and Taehyung laughed bitterly.

 

"From the air. We'd angered them so much by managing to live outside of the system that they took one of their helicopters out of the war just to search for us. By the time it found us, we were all tired of running. We weren't a family anymore, practically a group of strangers. My mother's betrayal had changed my father. He could hardly bear to look at me, and admitted once when he was drunk he couldn't stand my presence. Said I looked too much like her."

 

Jungkook opened his mouth to speak, but Taehyung shook his head.

 

"It is what it is, Kookie. When they caught up we were staying in a run down old farmhouse we'd found with two floors. The State Enforcers broke down the door and dragged Jiho’s parents outside, getting them out of their way. Jiho jumped out of the window first and broke his ankle on the hard ground, but he still waited down there to catch my little siblings when they jumped themselves. He was cursing even louder than the sound of the helicopter."

 

Taehyung smiled, but it didn't quite reach his eyes.

 

"I was just about to jump when the enforcers broke into the room. My father tried to buy more time for me and the other children to escape, but as soon as he rushed at them they just s-shot him in the leg-“

 

Taehyung broke off and took in a couple of heavy breaths, trying to keep himself together to finish the story. Jungkook was frozen to the spot, mental pictures of what Taehyung had seen going through his head.

 

“One of them grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and pulled him out of the door, while he was screaming from the pain and bleeding s-so much. I was frozen, watching the enforcer’s boots stomp through my father’s blood on the floor.

 

Jiho was screaming at me to jump, but the second I turned to him I was grabbed by the hair and pulled back. The Enforcer wrestled me down the stairs, and I saw my dad kneeling in a line with Jiho’s dad, and the other three of my dad’s friends. Jiho’s mother was lying on the floor at the end of the line, and I didn’t realise what had happened to her until an enforcer moved on to Jiho’s dad, and shot him in the head. His blood spattered all over my father and I must have made a noise or something because he looked over at me one last time, before they…”

 

Taehyung covered his face in a way that made Jungkook's heart clench. He pulled his shaking frame close and wrapped his arms around him.

 

They killed the rest and tied my hands and feet together then threw me in the back of a van. Just before he slammed the doors shut I saw another Enforcer tackle Jiho to the ground while my sister screamed at him to stop, saw my brother crying when the State troops started dragging the bodies towards the open fields. I never saw them again."

 

Taehyung's voice hitched and he pressed his face into Jungkook's chest, taking shuddering breaths to try and calm down.

 

"They took me to some kind of prison facility and kept me there for a few months administering all kinds of physical and mental tests, including the aptitude test which determined I could be sent here. Just after I turned sixteen I arrived, and you know the rest."

 

He fell silent, curling his body into Jungkook's for comfort. Jungkook was happy to oblige, gently rubbing soothing circles on Taehyung's back. Slowly he seemed to calm down, sobs becoming less frequent as he relaxed more into Jungkook’s soothing hold, feeling the warmth from his body while the rest of the world seemed so cold. They stayed like that for a while, Taehyung tucked tight into Jungkook’s chest, as Jungkook stared at the ceiling with his thoughts far away, absent-mindedly carding his hands through Taehyung's soft hair.

 

If Jungkook really strained his ears, listening to more than just the empty silence of the Institute’s corridors, he could hear shouting and flames crackling in the distance as the Junior Institute continued to burn.

 

~-~

 

"Why do you think they lied about the war?"

 

It was a few hours after Taehyung had told Jungkook about what happened to his family, as neither of them could sleep. There was a moment of silence as Taehyung thought the question over, shifting to lie on his side still inside the blanket.

 

"Probably because it had gone on too long. The State thought it made them look bad, being unable to defeat an enemy after eight years. What do you think Jungkook?"

 

"About the same. The battle of Seoul was so bloody it probably brought both sides to a standstill anyhow, which is probably why we haven't been attacked before tonight since they told us the war ended."

 

Taehyung hummed in agreement as Jungkook continued.

 

"They probably thought it would be easier to control the people if we were celebrating the defeat of a common enemy, unite us all in victory or something like that."

 

"That's where we disagree, Jungkookie." Taehyung said, inching slowly over so he could put his head in Jungkook's lap. "We have the common enemy, sure, but have they ever really let us be united over it? All this time we've had propaganda and hatred for this faceless enemy shoved down our throats, but still have to treat the people around us the same. What does the State want you to feel about the enemy?"

 

"Hate." Jungkook replied dutifully, thinking of the snarled speeches the Speaker thundered from his stage on Victory Day.

 

"And what are we supposed to feel for our fellow man here in the Institute?"

 

"Apathy. Either nothing or negative feelings."

 

"Exactly. Essentially we have to treat everyone like an enemy. When they show us those old, flickering propaganda films we know we're meant to be angry but we just find ourselves standing there, elbow to elbow with people we're never meant to talk to, and we have no idea what we feel."

 

Jungkook found himself nodding along to this, knowing exactly that kind of empty feeling Taehyung was talking about.

 

"They've never even told us who the enemy is." Jungkook laughed slightly, but the laughter didn't reach his eyes.

 

"Because the details don't matter to the State, all that does is the overall effect. They need an enemy, and whether that's the 'forces of the West' or whatever other lie they've told us across the years-"

 

"I remember when they called the enemy insurgents, there was a rumour they were a remnant of the old Korea that refused to adapt when the State took control."

 

"Exactly, or that they're troops from the old supercontinents. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter who the enemy is. At the end of the day, we're all made of flesh that can be cut. Bones that can be broken."

 

Taehyung's eyes were drawn almost unconsciously to the silver scar on Jungkook's cheek, and he smiled wanly.

 

"But while the enemy lives, the State has a reason to continue. The people have a reason not to rebel. With enough followers, an ideal never dies."

 

Chapter Text

However many hours later, Jungkook and Taehyung were still talking in low voices about anything and everything. They hadn't been able to sleep, too haunted by the sound the missile had made when it destroyed half the Junior Institute in a single fell swoop. Then the lights turned on, and there was a moment of quiet.

 

Jungkook watched as everyone woke with confusion, not understanding why they were in pain. Namjoon rubbed his head and pressed gingerly on the raised bruise there from falling out of bed, with Seokjin sitting up and looking worried. Meanwhile Hoseok could feel something dried on his face and rushed to the bathroom, letting out a panicked cry when he saw that that lower half of his face was caked in dried blood.

 

He felt the slightly crooked nose and winced, mouth falling open in shock. Jimin got up and went to help him, grabbing some loo roll and wetting it to get the blood off Hoseok's face.

 

"What the hell happened?" Yoongi asked nobody in particular, looking around the ward as if for answers. Jungkook opened his mouth to say something but was interrupted by the crackling of the intercom system.

 

-There has been and explosion at the Junior Institute. This was caused by a gas leak in their canteen. Breakfast is delayed by half an hour.-

 

There was a surprised murmur as people made soft exclamation to themselves or some shocked noise.

 

-Any in the ward with first aid training assist the injured within your ward. If injuries require more comprehensive care send the eldest in the ward to get either a doctor or a more extensive first aid kit depending on the severity of injuries. That is all.- 

 

Seokjin got up swiftly and headed to the bathroom, knowing their first aid kit was on top of one of the bathroom cabinets. It hadn't been used in years, not since the time Namjoon broke a mirror and cut his hands trying to pick up the splintered shards. Those cuts had been minor, easy to fix.

 

Seokjin had first aid training, yes, but a broken nose was something he had no idea how to deal with.

 

He stole a glance back onto the main room to assess the damage, and it looked like the nose had already been put back almost exactly into place. Almost. It had a lump near the top it didn't have before, the bridge no longer running straight down but rather diverted slightly, gradient changing halfway. With a sigh Seokjin decided he wouldn't try and straighten it any further. Maybe Minho could at some point, but he doubted it would ever get much straighter now it had been broken.

 

"Who's got cuts?" Seokjin said, sitting down on his bed and opening the small medical kit to reveal the number of gauzes and plasters.

 

There was a sterilised needle and thread in there too, but Seokjin really hoped he wouldn't have to try and stitch one of his friends shut. Namjoon, Hoseok, Taehyung and Jungkook got into line in front of Seokjin, all a little battered but on the whole alright. It looked as though they wouldn't have to go and collect a more extensive first aid kit.

 

"I don't know if I'm actually bleeding or anything," Namjoon said, "The rest of you go first."

 

Hoseok shuffled into place.

 

"Anything you can do about the nose?" Seokjin winced and shook his head sadly.

 

"Sorry Hobi, I wouldn't do it any good. I'll get someone to look at it soon I promise."

 

Hoseok nodded dejectedly and went to sit on his own bed, with Jimin patting him on the back sympathetically. Jungkook and Taehyung had similar injuries; scrapes on their knees and elbows that looked to be from a rough concrete surface, strange cuts on their faces. Taehyung had scrapes on the left side of his face as well, red welts starting at his temple and extending down until his jawline.

 

"These don't look like they came from falling out of bed." Seokjin remarked, dabbing antiseptic on Jungkook's small scrapes. He winced at the stinging, muttering something under his breath too quietly for Seokjin to pick up.

 

"What's that?" He asked, picking plasters out of the first aid kit with one gloved hand.

 

"They didn't come from falling, hyung. We..." He looked to Taehyung for reassurance, who nodded nervously and bit one lip. "We were outside on the roof last night. We saw what happened, and it wasn't a gas leak."

 

"What the hell was it then?" Namjoon asked when he fell silent, getting up from his sitting position on the floor to stand by Seokjin's shoulder.

 

"A missile." Taehyung said, "Like the ones in the propaganda films. A huge missile hit the Junior Institute and I have no idea how many of the poor kids it killed, but it completely destroyed half of it."

 

Yoongi swore under his breath, echoing the thoughts of the rest of the ward. Jungkook nodded in confirmation.

 

"There's probably still shrapnel stuck in my head if you need proof of that." He said, touching the wounded spots on his scalp gingerly. Seokjin slapped his hand away.

 

"Leave that alone, I just put the antiseptic on." It was sort of reflex nagging, Seokjin's automatic response while he was still processing what they'd been told.

 

"A missile." Namjoon repeated, sitting down heavily and putting his head in his hands.

 

"That means the war never finished," Jimin breathed, looking around wide-eyed. "They lied to us."

 

"Talking of lies..." Yoongi said, narrowing his eyes at Jungkook and Taehyung, "How were you on the roof? After all, we all slept through an explosion soundly enough that Hoseok didn't wake up when he fell and broke his nose. How were the two of you awake and up to see this?"

 

Taehyung looked like he'd swallowed something and got it caught halfway down his throat.

 

"T-the pills, hyung, they keep you asleep. They keep you so asleep that you can't possibly wake up for anything." Jungkook said, suddenly nervous at Yoongi's clipped words.

 

"We stopped taking them. Stopped taking the pills during the day as well." Taehyung added, the look on his face showing he knew just what Yoongi's response to that would be.

 

"And why," Yoongi said evenly, calmly, "Why exactly didn't either of you inform the rest of us about this?"

 

"We were just... Just waiting for the right time." Jungkook offered lamely, grasping for a reason himself. Why hadn't they told their hyungs? It didn't make any sense, and Yoongi's anger did.

 

"Oh really, is that so." Yoongi said, laughing drily. "So while the rest of us are drugged up to the nines in bed the two of you get to run around making out like horny children, leaving us here all conveniently asleep so we can't disturb you. That about it?"

 

"H-hyung no!" Taehyung protested, reaching his hands out to Yoongi half-desperately.

 

"Because it doesn't matter about the welfare of anyone else, as long as you can have a good time right?" Yoongi laughed bitterly, shaking his head in contempt.

 

Jimin made a noise of discontentment and Yoongi turned to look at him, still very obviously seething with anger.

 

“Got something to say Jimin?”

 

“Yes, you’re being too mean to them. Come on, there’s no need to shout or be so angry.”

 

"No need-" Yoongi replied incredulously, before Jimin cut him off.

 

"Yes, no need. Leave them alone, they probably didn't think it was that much of a big deal."

 

"Jimin, do you even hear yourself right now? You're defending them with no basis at all!"

 

They were staring each other down now, bristling with anger. Jungkook and Taehyung exchanged a glance. It seemed to both of them that the argument was more about Jimin and Yoongi than it was them keeping quiet about the pills.

 

Namjoon stood between them, palms raised to try and placate the angry pair.

 

"Try and be civil you two, don't make this a shouting match. For one thing it's dangerous, and I don't think anyone here appreciates it. So stop the arguing, back me up Seokjin?" He looked to the older man for help, but Seokjin shook his head.

 

"I'm with Yoongi on this one, Namjoon. Don't try and play the pacifist here, I need a reason we've not been told about these pills and it'd better be a good one." A wave of despair hit Jungkook when Seokjin took Yoongi's side, a growing panic that made it almost impossible to think. He met Taehyung's eyes and saw that same alarm.

 

"Hoseok? You with me on this?" Yoongi asked the man who was dabbing at an ebbing flow of blood from his nose with a rolled up bit of tissue. Hoseok looked trapped for a second, eyes flitting between the others in the ward, before he sighed and shook his head.

 

"You're being a little unreasonable, Yoongi hyung. I have to side with Kookie and TaeTae." Yoongi rolled his eyes.

 

"Of course you take Jimin's side." He half muttered in exasperation.

 

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Hoseok asked defensively.

 

"What it means is that you got your fucking nose broken because those kids couldn't be bothered to tell us about the sleeping pills we've all been hooked on, and you still take whatever side Jimin is on because you're too whipped to think for yourself." Yoongi said harshly. Hoseok's eyes widened and his mouth gaped for a second, hanging open but making no noise.

 

"T-this has nothing to do with Jimin!" He finally managed to reply, tone filled with genuine outrage. Yoongi scoffed and turned away, waving a hand dismissively at Hoseok.

 

"Please. Even if Jimin was neutral in this like Namjoon is, you'd still take the opposite side to me because you're bitter that he chose me."

 

"Stop being a dick Yoongi! Leave Hoseok alone, you're just accusing him of whatever you can think of because you’re pissed off." Jimin fumed, standing over Yoongi who was still sitting on his bed with a fake air of nonchalance.

 

The rest of the ward had stopped their fighting and were watching the three seethe at each other with awe.

 

"Oh yeah? You're really that naïve?" Yoongi spat, his calm exterior cracking as he finally stood to face Jimin. "Or is it just that you want to fuck him just as much as he clearly wants you?”

 

Jimin’s mouth dropped open and he shook his head, too stunned to reply. Yoongi was practically seething, and Jungkook wondered just how long he’d been keeping that outburst to himself.

 

"D-don't talk to Jimin like that!" Hoseok interjected angrily, causing Yoongi to scoff again.

 

"And you say you aren't whipped. I just basically accused you of trying to steal my boyfriend, having no moral character and thinking with your dick instead of your head, and the only thing you're concerned about is how I talk to Jimin? Defend yourself for fucks sake, and leave him to defend himself!"

 

Hoseok looked ready to throw a punch, fists clenched angrily by his sides, when they were interrupted by the two bells signifying that the delayed breakfast was due to start in two minutes and they needed to leave. Hoseok flounced angrily to his place in line while Jimin went to the bathroom and Yoongi followed, looking a little sheepish now the bells had interrupted his anger. Namjoon exhaled heavily and looked towards the entrance to the bathroom, shaking his head in disbelief. Jungkook and Taehyung looked at each other in shock.

 

"S-Seokjin?" Jungkook said, not quite sure what he was asking. Seokjin sighed in response and ruffled Jungkook's hair absent-mindedly.

 

"Go and line up, boys. Don't worry about that," he gestured to the bathroom, where slightly raised voices could be heard, "Because something tells me that wasn't about you two. We'll talk later."

 

Taehyung grabbed Jungkook's arm and gently tugged in the direction of the line.

 

"Come on Kookie, I'm starving now." Jungkook nodded and walked behind.

 

"Me too, hyung. Me too."

 

Just as Seokjin was opening the door, Yoongi and Jimin came out of the bathroom. Jimin walked in front, his body language clearly turned away from Yoongi, who looked more upset than angry as he took his place in line with one final, pointless glance at Jimin. Jimin kept his head down and his gaze steady.

 

Jimin kept his face blank.

 

~-~

 

Jungkook could hardly stop his foot from tapping nervously on the ground as they waited in the queue for the canteen. The wait was longer than usual, the combination of nerves and the delay for breakfast making his stomach growl fairly loudly. The silence among the ward felt like it had a few months ago, before they all talked to each other, but this was somehow worse.

 

Jungkook could practically feel the hostility radiating from Jimin, could see the way Yoongi walked as if he was in a dream and the way steam was practically boiling out of Hoseok's ears. The line filed slowly into the canteen, Jungkook catching a brief glimpse of the tall ward 5, heads of the tallest members too close to the top of the doorframe for comfort, disappearing into the large room as they moved forwards.

 

The mass of bodies before him stopped Jungkook from getting a good look inside to see why there was such a delay, but the line was going down quickly enough that the curiosity was manageable. Then ward 6 disappeared inside, and Seokjin flinched at whatever he could see inside the canteen. He got control over his featured and limbs almost immediately afterwards, but there was no doubt whatever was in there had disturbed him greatly.

 

Jungkook felt the nervous knot in his stomach tighten just a bit more and he gulped, certain enough that he was hidden from the staff's watchful eyes by being at the back of the line that he could take a couple of moments to compose himself without risking danger.

 

Then the line shuffled forwards again and Jungkook traipsed out of the dim corridor into the cavernous canteen, well lit by buzzing fluorescent lighting so bright that it took his eyes a second of blinking to adjust. He scanned the canteen for whatever had so upset Seokjin, then understood when he saw the three tables right at the start of the canteen, next to where the food was given out.

 

Sitting there were a small number of battered, tired, half-dead looking children, some seeming even younger than the age minimum of five for the Junior Institute. Jungkook's heart lurched painfully.

 

surely that's not all of them,

 

He thought

 

there's barely twenty there, surely more of them survived than that

 

He forced himself to look away and took a tray, holding it out as usual to receive the meagre portion of whatever slop the Institute was serving today. A serving woman (or at least he thought it was a woman, the masks always made it difficult to tell) handed him a plate, and he glanced at it in passing before double taking.

 

It looked like there was practically half the food there as usual.

 

As if mourning the lack of food, Jungkook's stomach gave a plaintive wail as he trudged along behind Taehyung tp get to their ward's table, taking a red pill from the staff member at the end of the food line. He pocketed the pill as secretively as he could, making it look like he swallowed it, and saw Jimin doing the same a space away.

 

At least some good came out of that argument

 

Jungkook thought, turning his attention to the tiny amount of grey porridge and the slab of unidentifiable meat on his plate.

 

the Junior Institute must have had a lot of food supplies there, that's why there's so little today

 

He reasoned, willing his growling stomach to quiet down and accept that the food today was scarce.

 

When every student and staff had been given their pitiful meals, the muted scraping of utensils on meat that was more cardboard than cow was suddenly not the only noise heard in the long, low canteen.

 

A small boy, probably no more than six if appearances were anything to go by, with one painfully thin arm wrapped up in a tattered bandage, had finished his food and begun to cry. He was not being loud, but the sound carried across the grey room until all the students were either staring at the boy or, as the staff were also doing, pointedly fixated on the plates in front of them. Looking anywhere except the crying child.

 

The sobs continued despite the sharp looks and kicks the boy was no doubt getting, his companions at the table darting quick, terrified glances towards the staff table every so often. That was when the sound of a chair scraping on the concrete floor drew even those who had been so adamantly focused on their plates to turn and gawk.

 

Taehyung stood up with half a chunk of thick bread clasped in his shaking hands, knuckles slowly whitening with the force of his grip.

 

Jungkook could do nothing but watch in horror, frozen to his spot, as Taehyung darted a glance to the staff tables, where incredulous staff members were watching equally stunned. Then Taehyung was running, throwing chairs down behind him as the staff members were snapped out of their trance and began pushing their way after him, taking the truncheons from their sides and desperately trying to cut Taehyung off before he reached the crying boy.

 

They had moved to late, and Jungkook watched with fascination, feeling sick to his stomach as he heard the staff gaining ground, as Taehyung held the bread out and the child snatched it with his tiny hands.

 

"P-please eat quickly, before they take it."

 

Taehyung's voice had a quality of defiance which made Jungkook wince, while in the corner of his vision he saw a grey-suited woman barrelling towards the table, ahead of the other staff members. Jungkook bit his lip as she approached and blindly stuck out his foot, knowing he wouldn't be able to live with himself if he didn't at least try and delay the staff's approach. The woman went sprawling into another table, getting tangled with an empty chair and buying the crying child enough time to shove the bread into his mouth and start chewing frantically.

 

Taehyung smiled with tight, bloodless lips and closed his eyes. He didn't try and run, or get back to his own table.

 

He knew what was coming, and knew there was nothing he could do to stop it. He had doomed himself the second he heard the crying child and decided he couldn't do nothing anymore.

 

Mere seconds later a truncheon struck him on the side of the head, driving him to his knees as a second staff member hit him in the stomach. Jungkook turned from the scene, unable to watch anymore, as the fleshy thumps of wood hitting defenceless skin filled the room. He could see the tendons in Namjoon's arms standing out against his skin at the force with which he was clenching his fists, could see Jimin's tightly set jaw through the tears threatening the edge of his vision.

 

The sounds of several more brutal blows came from the corner of the room before the staff retreated remorselessly to their own section of the canteen, the first woman wiping some blood spatters from her truncheon, another man flexing his fist. Jungkook turned around again and felt like all the air had been punched out of him when he saw Taehyung gasping and retching, leant against an empty table with blood running from his nose and the side of his face.

 

Slowly, painfully, he began to practically drag himself back to Ward 7's table, his every footstep echoing in the now entirely silent canteen. He sat back down without a word, without even a sound, then his face crumpled. He gave a sob and clamped one bruised hand over his mouth, grabbing the edge of the table with the other.

 

His crying, although quieter than the sounds of the hungry child, seemed to resonate through the silent canteen as if he were screaming.

 

 

Chapter Text

Staff members walked briskly through the canteen, picking up the chairs Taehyung had thrown to the ground behind him in an attempt to buy himself more time. There was no other noise in the cavernous room now apart from the soft scraping of the wooden legs on hard concrete floors.

 

 Jungkook ached to look beside him and see how badly Taehyung was hurt, but knew that there was no way he could get away with any kind of communication now. There could be no more second chances. Taehyung had drawn attention to the ward in a way which couldn’t be reversed. With considerable effort Jungkook forced the final few bites of stew down, the usually watery texture turning to a foul slime as he reached the bottom of the bowl.

 

From his spot at the table to the left of Jungkook, Taehyung coughed with an odd wet noise and wiped his mouth with his shirt sleeve. A small spot on the grey tabletop caught his eyes, as they flickered out over the table trying to check on Taehyung.

 

Blood spatters.

 

His stomach twisted and he beat down the waves of anger threatening to choke him. Fought to keep a blank expression, refused to give the staff another reason to attack their ward. He looked down at the hunk of bread on his plate, still half-submerged in a small layer of gelatinous soup, and pushed it aside.

 

There was no way he could stomach another bite, not after seeing Taehyung ruthlessly beaten down for trying to give a starving, injured child some food.

 

A single bell rang out across the huge room, signifying it was the end of breakfast and that lessons would begin in half an hour. Seokjin got up, holding his empty tray with apparent nonchalance, but the slight shaking in his fingers betrayed him to anyone who looked closely. The rest of the ward looked much the same, as if they were desperately trying to hide the signs of their distress behind the impassive masks they usually wore.

 

Jungkook joined the line behind Taehyung, trying to ignore for the sake of hiding his emotions the way Taehyung was hunched over his tray. The way he tried not to limp but favoured his right foot, cringing unconsciously whenever the left foot hit the ground. Seokjin reached the conveyer belt at the end of the canteen just behind a short guy from ward six, deposited his tray and left.

 

Jungkook breathed an unconscious sigh of relief. He’d been afraid the staff might not have let them leave, preferring perhaps to keep them all in the canteen for some kind of punishment.

 

The rest of the ward escaped similarly without interference, even when it came to Taehyung. Taehyung put his empty tray down, keeping his eyes down at the floor, giving the staff members around the belt a wide berth. One of the female serving staff reached out and Taehyung flinched away from it instinctively, ducking his head away from the raised hand. She faltered for a second, gaze flickering to see if anyone else was watching. She smiled quickly at him and pushed the door open, holding it open so he wouldn’t have to use the arm that was possibly broken, clutched close to his chest. Taehyung hurried out, nodding gratefully at her before the door swung closed behind him.

 

Jungkook moved to put his tray down as well, but a hand gripped his shoulder and pulled him away from the conveyer belt. He turned in surprise to see a tall woman dressed in the dark grey guard’s uniform, with black soot stains and scorch marks marring the starched surface. Her face bore several nasty looking scratches and one of her hands was bandaged, the uniform cuff on that side rolled up to reveal a badly burned arm. She gestured at Jungkook’s plate.

 

“Your food isn’t finished.” Jungkook’s mouth went dry.

 

“I wasn’t hungry.” He said, pushing back towards the conveyer belt, but the woman shook her head and stopped him again. He tried to move forwards but found she was far stronger than he was. He looked up at her gaunt face, seeing the dark circles around her eyes. It looked like she had been up the whole night, probably dealing with the explosion.

 

“That doesn't matter. Eat.” She shoved the tray towards his face. The smell of the disgusting stew floated up and Jungkook wrinkled his nose.

 

“I’d rather not. I’ll eat more at lunch.” Jungkook tried once more, feeling like he’d throw up if he had to eat anything.

 

“That isn’t an option.” The tall woman said, and Jungkook barely contained his anger.

 

He was being forced to eat even when he knew it would make him sick, even when the reason for his nausea was the savage way they attacked his boyfriend.

 

Gritting his teeth, Jungkook gulped down the hunk of bread and the gelatinous mass it sat in as quickly as he could, trying to swallow it whole so that he wouldn’t have to taste it too much. As soon as it was down his throat he retched, the foul textured stew still coating the inside of his mouth and throat, taste choking him and smell invading his nostrils. He straightened up and deposited his tray, brushing roughly past the burnt guardswoman on his way to the door.

 

The serving woman at the door pushed it open again, but tapped him on the arm as he went through. As Jungkook turned to her, questioning look on his face, she tucked something into the crook of his arm and shut the door quickly behind her. Jungkook looked left and right, then transferred whatever it was into his front pocket, intending to look at it when he got back to the ward. It seemed to be a folded piece of napkin by the way it had felt when he had pocketed it, and he wondered who this seemingly nice woman was.

 

He wondered if she was just some kind of Institute spy meant to catch out anyone disobeying the rules. Or perhaps she was one of them.

 

~-~

 

Jungkook walked through the halls faster than he usually would have, knowing that the rest of the ward would most likely have already reached their dorm room and would be waiting for him.

 

When he opened the heavy door only Hoseok was in the main room, the rest were sat on their beds or leant against the walls in the dorm. Hoseok started when Jungkook entered, looking ready to sprint back into the other room, but exhaled loudly in relief when he saw it was Jungkook. Jungkook opened his mouth to speak but Hoseok shushed him, indicating that he wait until the heavy door slammed shut.

 

He waited dutifully, peering past the open doorway into the dorm room to try and catch a glimpse of Taehyung, but he was obviously sitting on one of their beds out of sight from the door. As soon as the heavy metallic clang echoed through the main room, Hoseok grabbed Jungkook's hand and pulled him quickly into the dorm, stopping to lean on the doorframe and shoving Jungkook the rest of the way into the dorm. He spun around for a couple of seconds, getting his balance back after Hoseok's attack, and saw that Taehyung was indeed sitting on his bed, the rest of the ward gathered around in a silent semi-circle.

 

Taehyung was pale, his usually more tan complexion a pallid white, as he leant backwards against the wall for support. It was like the gravity of what he'd done had hit him, and all he could do was slump against the wall with his injured arm held tightly against his chest. Jungkook sat down and put an arm around him, and Taehyung immediately leaning into him for comfort and lay his head heavily on Jungkook's shoulder.

 

He was shaking slightly, and Jungkook looked round worriedly, bottom lip caught between his teeth. He saw the new cuts on Taehyung's head, perhaps from his head being thrown against the corner of a table, and shook his head in futile anger.

 

"Seokjin, why haven't you got the first aid kit?" He asked, trying to keep the emotion out of his voice. Seokjin looked drained and upset, a hand over his mouth, and shook his head.

 

"We can't." Namjoon explained. "The staff will see that we patched him up. We can't take chances like that anymore, their eyes are gonna be focused on this ward."

 

"I'm sorry." Taehyung said, voice wavering. His face stayed buried in Jungkook's shoulder so his words came out muffled. "I'm so sorry to all of you."

 

Jungkook hugged him tighter, bringing one of his hands up to play with Taehyung's hair. Seokjin sighed, running a hand through his own hair and coming to sit down on the bed opposite Taehyung. 

 

"Taehyung, look at me." Taehyung looked up, eyes glassy with unshed tears. "Nobody is blaming you. It's ok." He didn't seem very reassured, curling his long fingers in Jungkook's shirt. "We just want to know why you did that." Seokjin continued, leaning forwards to rest his head on his hands.

 

"He reminded me of my little brother." Taehyung said quietly. Yoongi arched an eyebrow, opening his mouth to ask about them, but Jungkook shook his head ever so slightly.

 

Tell you later

 

He mouthed, running his hand up and down Taehyung's back soothingly as he carried on talking.

 

"B-because the last time I saw him he was crying like that."

 

"Like what?" Hoseok asked from the doorway.

 

"Like, like..." He trailed off and took a shaky breath. "That injured boy in the canteen cried like he had no hope left, like his heart was broken and there was nothing in the world left that would make it ok. The last time I saw my siblings they cried like that too, because they saw their father and uncles shot in front of them."

 

Jimin made an involuntary sound of anguish, both hands clasped to his chest in horror.

 

"I couldn't comfort them because I was tied up and thrown in the back of a state van. I couldn't do anything for them, but I thought I could do something for the poor kid in the canteen."

 

"By giving him your bread." Namjoon said almost like he was thinking aloud, not quite understanding the significance.

 

"It's not about the bread, hyung." Taehyung replied, looking down at the floor and refusing to meet anyone's eyes. "I wanted him to know there are still some people in the world that care when he's hurting. Wanted to give him some hope, show him that maybe things aren't quite as bad as they seem. It's too late for my siblings, but not for those kids downstairs."

 

No one spoke for a good few seconds after that, before Seokjin broke the silence.

 

"Come on, let's clean you up. We can't use the first aid kit, but a wet towel will get rid of the blood and might help with the swelling." Taehyung nodded and followed Seokjin blankly to the bathroom, walking like he was in a trance.

 

The others watched them go, various expressions of horror and worry on their faces. The second Taehyung and Seokjin were out of sight, and they could hear the bathroom tap running, they turned expectantly to Jungkook.

 

"Sort version is that the State caught up to Taehyung and his family, shot the adults execution-style in front of him for 'resisting' and captured the children. State soldiers set fire to the house they'd been staying at, then threw the kids in separate vans so they never saw each other again."

 

Jungkook said sadly, eyes turned towards the bathroom. The occasional slight wince of pain was audible over the running tap, along with Seokjin's voice murmuring in a low, soothing pitch.

 

"Oh my god." Jimin sat down heavily, hand over his mouth in shock.

 

"That won't be the end for poor Tae either." Yoongi said, leaning against the wall near where Jungkook was sitting. 

 

"What do you mean? They beat the shit out of him." Jungkook said darkly, looking down at his hands.

 

"I mean they won't see that as adequate punishment." Yoongi replied. "He'll get solitary for this, no doubt about it. Last time something like this happened it was only for a couple of days, but that was ten years ago and all that guy did was talk friendly to someone. Nothing on this scale."

 

"It's so wrong he's getting punished for helping a hungry, injured kid. TaeTae doesn't deserve this." Hoseok sighed, rubbing the back of his head.

 

The others made vague noises of agreement, lost in their own thoughts. The speaker in the corner of the room crackled and alerted their attention.

 

-07- 1159 will be confined to solitary for as yet an undetermined period of time. Be ready at breakfast time tomorrow. Wear sport clothing rather than the usual uniform. Lessons continue as normal for all members of the ward today.-

 

Yoongi nodded sadly as the speaker turned off again, and from the bathroom came the sound of the shower turning on. Seokjin walked out alone, wiping his wet hands on his trousers. Jungkook got up immediately, walking over to meet Seokjin before he even got back into the dorm room.

 

"How badly is he hurt, hyung?" 

 

"Not too badly. He's covered in cuts and bruises all over, one twisted ankle, nasty bumps on the head from the tabletop and when he was thrown on the ground, split lip. The worst of it is his arm." Seokjin tapped his own left arm to illustrate the point. "I can't tell whether it's broken or not, but he can't really move it. Hopefully they'll fix that up before he goes into solitary. His ribs looked pretty battered too, but he said..." Seokjin trailed off uncomfortably, but continued after a pause. "He said he'd had ribs broken before, and they hurt a hell of a lot more than those bruises."

 

Jungkook thanked Seokjin for helping almost on autopilot mode and sat back down on his bed. It didn't really surprise him that Taehyung's ribs had been broken in the past, considering the violent way the State brought him into the system, but it made it no less distressing to hear about.

 

There was a lump in his pocket, and Jungkook remembered the serving woman slipping him something on his way out of the canteen. With all the happenings in the ward, he'd completely forgotten it. He slipped whatever it was out of his pocket and saw a scrap of tattered napkin, with neat handwriting scrawled all over it in black ink. It read:

 

Jungkook, although we have never spoken before please consider me a friend and ally. You will know of me through my lover, Minho. If I can ever do anything for you and your Ward, please ask

 -Eunseo

 

Jungkook clutched the rough note in one hand, moved by the kindness despite everything that had happened. Eunseo had taken a serious risk, both in writing the note and in signing it with her name, and all to offer help in a time of need.

 

It was like Taehyung had said; it was comforting to know that there were still good people in the world who cared.

 

~-~

 

That night Jungkook was woken up with soft lips pressing against his own, hot breath ghosting across his face. "Taehyung?" He said groggily, sitting up and realising the blankets were gone. Taehyung seemed back to his usual self, eyes sparkling with excitement as he grabbed Jungkook's hand, intertwining their fingers and pulling him out of bed.

 

Jungkook complied, glad he'd kept his socks on that night as he could still feel the chill of the floors through the thin fabric.

 

"What are we doing, Tae?" He asked as Taehyung stopped by a drawer, letting go of his hand to open it and pull out some socks. He was a little clumsy putting them on with just one hand.

 

"I'm going to solitary tomorrow morning, Kookie." Taehyung said, tugging his second sock on, "I don't know how long for. Let's go to the hidden room and spend some time together before I go."

 

Jungkook agreed of course, grabbing their blankets from the bed so they'd have something to sit on and to guard against the thick layer of dust on the floor of that hidden room. Taehyung's hand found his again and they crept across the room, freezing into place when they heard something shifting behind them. Jungkook turned to see a black figure turning over on the bed closest to them, but couldn't tell who it was because the small emergency light shone behind him, effectively silhouetting him.

 

“Jungkook?” The figure said, sitting up in bed. “Taehyung?” His voice was clearly recognisable.

 

“J-Jimin…” Jungkook replied, looking at Taehyung with uncertainty. “We were just… We weren’t-“

 

“You were sneaking out right? Don’t look so nervous, I’m not going to spoil your fun. Out onto the roof again?” Jimin had gathered his blankets around him in a little nest and lay down in it, half his face peeking out but the rest covered by blankets.

 

“To a little abandoned room Kookie found, too cold for the roof.” Taehyung replied, then added hesitantly, “So Yoongi-hyung isn’t with you tonight.”

 

He gestured to a nearby bed where Yoongi was asleep, curled up at the top of the bed.

 

“Yeah,” Jimin sighed. “He keeps trying to apologise but I’m still pissed. We’ll probably talk it out tomorrow.” Taehyung and Jungkook exchanged a guilty look.

 

“Hyung-“ Jungkook began.

 

“Now don’t start-“

 

“Hyung. I know there’s more to your argument, but please don’t be mad at Yoongi-hyung because of us.”

 

“Yeah, we were in the wrong for keeping the info about the pills to ourselves anyway. He was well within his right to get annoyed.” Taehyung jumped in, looking over at the lump in the covers where Yoongi slept. Jimin sighed, pulling his blanket up so that it muffled his mouth slightly.

 

“I know. I’m not so pissed at him because of the way he treated you two, even if it was too harsh and kind of uncalled for. It’s mostly the stuff he said to Hoseok.”

 

“Do you think it’s true? That Hoseok likes you?” Taehyung asked, sitting down on the bed next to Jimin. Jungkook was suddenly aware that his own legs were a bit wobbly and sat on the floor in front of them.

 

“I don’t know.” Jimin said, looking troubled, “We’ve known each other for years now, so surely if he liked me he would have said something by now. Wouldn’t he? That’s what Yoongi did.”

 

“Ah, so it was Yoongi who asked you out. I thought it would have been you who asked him, but it’s kind of cute this way around.” Taehyung said, half thinking aloud. Jimin smiled, cheeks dusting pink with embarrassment.

 

“He was really cute about it, he tried to play it cool but I could tell he was super nervous.” There was a certain sadness which lingered after Jimin finished speaking, as if the contrast between the nostalgia and the fight him and Yoongi had just hit him full force.

 

“But even if Hoseok does like me, it shouldn’t be an issue. Yoongi should trust me, he knows I’d never cheat on him.”

 

“He should trust Hoseok as well, we’re all friends here. Hoseok’s a good guy, he wouldn’t do anything that might upset you two.” Jungkook said, thinking back to that time many months ago when he’d first talked to Hoseok, the way his hyung had only cracked and agreed to talk when Jungkook got upset.

 

“Exactly, Yoongi’s being unreasonable about it and I’m not going to let him carry on treating poor Hobi like that.” Jimin nodded mostly to himself, breathing slowly in then exhaling through his mouth in an exasperated puff. “Anyway, you’ve let me keep you too long. Get out of the ward and have fun while you still can. But please don’t get caught, nobody wants to see either of you getting hurt again.” Jimin’s eyes lingered on the bruises littering the visible skin on Taehyung’s arms and legs.

 

“We’ll be fine, Jimin. Try and get some rest.” Taehyung said, patting his fluffy hair affectionately and getting off his bed with a small bounce. Jimin lay back down on his bed, watching the two younger boys creep the rest of the way to the ward’s door with exaggerated caution, probably trying not to wake anyone else.

 

As Jungkook opened the heavy door as quietly as he could, Taehyung turned and tried to wave at Jimin with his battered arm, but it ended up more like flailing. Jimin waved back as jauntily as he could manage, but seeing Taehyung struggle to move the arm which was probably broken left a bad taste in his mouth. The door closed with a barely audible metal clang.

 

they must have left at night quite a few times before, being so quiet

 

He thought, turning over to lie on his other side. He realised he was facing Yoongi’s bed, the small lump at the top of the covers shifting every so often as Yoongi moved in his sleep. He realised after a couple of minutes that he'd been watching Yoongi intently and quickly turned over to face the other direction.

 

you are not watching him sleep 

 

Jimin thought, pulling his blanket up to his nose,

 

you're not doing that

 

But then Yoongi let out an adorable sleepy sound, contrasting so much with the stoic, badass aura he exuded when awake that Jimin could practically feel it tugging on his heartstrings.

 

"Goddammit." He muttered to himself and got out of bed, tiptoeing as quietly as he could through the other beds. Halfway across he tripped, arms flailing, and hit something fleshy and distinctly human.

 

"What was that?" Came a disgruntled Namjoon, rubbing his thigh and looking a hilarious mixture of confused and pained.

 

"Sorry hyung." Jimin whispered, and continued on his way. When he reached Yoongi's bed he pulled the covers back and climbed in, sliding down alongside Yoongi's skinny body and shifting him across so he could fit.

 

"Wha-"

 

"Shush." Jimin said, trying to pull the covers back up as they has somehow tangled themselves around their feet in the short time it took for Jimin to get in bed.

 

"Jimin, I'm really sorr-" 

 

"Shut up." Jimin cut him off, still feeling for the covers and squirming slightly. Yoongi sighed and pulled them up the whole way, tucking the blankets in around Jimin and wrapping his arms around the younger boy. Jimin made a noise of contentment and snuggled up closer, so that the top of his head rested just under Yoongi's chin.

 

"I'm only here because it's cold." Jimin murmured against Yoongi's neck.

 

"Okay." Yoongi replied, choosing not to comment on how warm Jimin felt. He pressed a gentle kiss to the top of Jimin's head.

 

"Night Jimin."

 

"Night hyung." Came the sleepy response after a couple of seconds. Yoongi's chest felt like a great weight had been lifted, and he went to sleep with a faint smile stretching his chapped lips.

 

 

Chapter Text

“Hurry up Kookie, I’m freezing my arse off out here.”

 

Taehyung grumbled, standing guard and nervously looking back and forth along the empty corridor while Jungkook worked on the bolts holding the air vent shut with shaky, slightly blue fingers.

 

“Yeah yeah Tae, the cold isn’t doing me any favours with this either.”

 

Jungkook retorted, wincing at the metallic clatter when he dropped another screw on the floor. He picked it up with a curse. His hands were shaking so badly that he’d dropped two out of the three bolts he’d undone so far, and if the corridor leading to their secret room had been any closer to the staff quarters, or even the other wards, they would have been caught long ago.

 

He was struck suddenly by the realisation that the other wards in the Institute were quite possibly in the same state his own had been before he started talking to Taehyung, or perhaps even worse. After all, within his ward people had still talked separately to each other, albeit terrified of discovery and being exposed by the other people in the ward. He could hardly imagine a completely silent ward now, as ward 7 was often filled with the sounds of bickering, seemingly inane chatter and bad jokes (mostly from Seokjin), and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

The final bolt clattered loudly to the ground and he grabbed it with fumbling, numb fingers. He slid the two blankets they’d brought from the ward through the vent with some force, so that when he rolled the bolts along the air vent passageway they would come to a stop quietly, resting on the blankets covering the dusty floor beyond where he could retrieve them later, and gestured for Taehyung to get in.

 

“Age before beauty, hyung.” Taehyung snorted at that.

 

“I’ll accept this once, considering I can’t close the vent behind me with just one arm.”

 

Jungkook swallowed, any reminder of Taehyung's injuries left a bad taste in his mouth. Taehyung, oblivious to Jungkook's worry, sank carefully to his hands and knees, keeping his (maybe) broken arm tucked tightly against his chest so as not to damage it even further. He crawled through in a slow, awkward way, knocking his back against the top of the small air vent shaft every so often as he tried to crawl through quietly. Jungkook got in feet first behind him, twisting to replace the air vent before shuffling backwards the short length of no more than five metres through the dark metallic tunnel.

 

When he got through, squinting in the dim light, Taehyung was already over by the window, pulling at one of the loose boards there to let the moonlight come through. Since there were none of the small, omnipresent green emergency lights that littered the halls of the Institute inside this little cordoned off room, it was almost pitch black apart from the small spaces near the window illuminated by thin beams of moonlight filtering through the gaps in the planks over the old, dusty glass.

 

Jungkook grabbed the other end of the board Taehyung was struggling clumsily with and together they lowered it slowly to the ground. The moon was almost full, although Jungkook didn’t know whether it was waxing now or waning, and there were few enough clouds that the moon’s usually insufficient glow was enough to cast light as far as the passageway, glinting off the silver bolts that lay in a pile on the blankets just underneath. They sat facing each other on the grey blankets laid out on the floor, inside the hidden room where they could talk freely (albeit quietly) without fear of being caught, as they were almost certain no one else knew of the room's existence.

 

Jungkook had a feeling Taehyung had something to say, so was waiting quietly while he built up to it. Taehyung was making a very odd face, and suddenly grabbed both of Jungkook's hands with his one working arm. He held them securely in his big, warm hand and locked eyes with Jungkook, who didn't know quite how to respond and chose to just keep the eye contact. Taehyung continued the intense staring match for a full ten seconds before actually speaking, long enough that his eyes began to water ever so slightly from the dust in the air.

 

"Jungkook." He said.

 

"Yes." Jungkook replied, mimicking Taehyung's serious tone.

 

"I'm going to solitary tomorrow."

 

"I know."

 

"In solitary I will be punished, probably get beaten up more than I am right now." Taehyung said, unconsciously drawing his not-quite-sure-if-broken arm closer to his body. Jungkook nodded sombrely, feeling bad for his boyfriend but not quite understanding the point he was trying to make. Taehyung took his confusion as a sign to continue.

 

"We don't know what the punishment will consist of. Nobody knows what happens in solitary." Jungkook agreed.

 

"Exactly. So that means there's a chance, a very small one but still a chance, that they will cut my dick off." Jungkook blinked at him, completely lost. "Hear me out okay, hear me out. Because we really don't know how bad the punishments are, there's a chance they will cut my dick off and it would be a tragedy if that was to happen when I've never got a chance to use it properly."

 

Jungkook burst out laughing, then clamped a hand over his mouth in an attempt to keep the noise down to a minimum, but was hit by a fresh wave of laughter when he met Taehyung's eyes again and saw the mirth there. He straightened up, gasping for air after laughing so hard, and managed to speak.

 

"Did you really," he broke off to snort, "Just imply that we should have sex right now because they might cut your dick off?"

 

"Yeah basically." Taehyung laughed, getting up and opening one of the old desks that lay littered around the room. "You know Minho's girlfriend?"

 

"Eunseo?" Jungkook said, turning to follow Taehyung with his eyes. "She slipped me a note at breakfast today, saying she's always there if we need anything."

 

"Aw, she's so sweet isn't she," Taehyung said, frowning when he realised he couldn't hold the desk open and grab what was inside with just one arm. Jungkook got up and held the desk lid open for him. "Thank you Kookie," Taehyung said, kissing him distractedly on the cheek and reaching to the back of the desk, pulling out a small bottle. "I chatted to her a while ago and managed to talk her into smuggling this in from one of the eugenics centres in the city."

 

Jungkook studied the small bottle with interest. It was full of a transparent substance that looked almost like water, but didn't move nearly as much as water would when he shook the bottle.

 

"Is this..." Jungkook trailed off and flushed, realising exactly what was in the bottle.

 

"Yep." Taehyung grinned proudly, giving Jungkook a thumbs up. "You up for it?"

 

"Completely." Jungkook replied without even a moment of consideration. Taehyung's box smile only grew.

 

"So how do you wanna do this? I'm okay with either option." He asked, plonking himself down on the blankets they'd laid down on the floor.

 

"I'm alright with either as well, but surely since you're going into solitary there will be an examination. Wouldn't they be able to tell if you'd..." Jungkook coughed

 

put it delicately Jungkook, put it delicately

 

"Taken it up the arse?"

 

perfect, very tactful

 

Taehyung laughed at that and patted the blanket beside him. Jungkook complied and sat down, putting the bottle of lube on the floor next to him.

 

"Jungkook, are you suggesting that the Staff have some kind of anal trauma detection machine?"

 

"Hey don't make fun of me, you're the one who's scared they're gonna cut your dick off! Also," he grumbled, "You are completely ruining the mood. Not that there really was one to begin with." He sat down beside Taehyung, fighting to keep his face in a playful scowl.

 

"Oh really?" Taehyung said, obviously taking that as a challenge.

 

He leant forwards, bringing his hands up to caress Jungkook’s well-muscled chest, before pushing him flat against the blankets with a smirk. He loomed over Jungkook, arms on either side of his head, before Jungkook grabbed the front of Taehyung’s shirt and pulled him down for a bruising kiss. It had a different quality to most of the other kisses they’d shared, secretly and tenderly in the bathroom when no one was around or on the roof while looking at the stars.

 

This kiss was hard and dizzying and it made Jungkook’s head spin.

 

Taehyung broke the contact all too soon and he couldn't suppress the needy whine which bubbled up in his throat. Taehyung let out a low laugh, looking down at him with pupils blown and eyes dark with lust.

 

“How’s the mood now?” His voice had gone so low he practically growled.

 

“Better.” Jungkook replied breathily, feeling a rush of blood flow downwards. He flipped them over in a sudden show of strength to straddle Taehyung, who gasped in surprise at the sudden shift in positions, grinding down on his crotch. He smiled as he felt a hard bulge pressing into his backside, meeting Taehyung’s intense gaze as he arched his back to press against his chest and rub his body slowly, teasingly against Taehyung’s clothed erection. Taehyung brought his hands to grip Jungkook’s muscular thighs with a low groan, the heat from his palms spreading through Jungkook’s cold skin.

 

He trailed his hands over Jungkook’s chest, grabbing the hem of his shirt and pulling if off over his head in one fluid movement. He should have been cold, the temperatures throughout the Institute practically sub-zero at this time of year, but he didn’t even flinch as the cold air hit his exposed chest. Taehyung flipped them back over again and pressed Jungkook down into the blankets, kissing down along his neck and pausing to suck a hickey into one of his prominent collar bones. Jungkook’s eyes, which had been half closed as he enjoyed the feeling, snapped open and he sat up.

 

“Don’t leave marks like that, the staff will see!” He said almost panicky, bringing a hand up to rub at the blemished skin. Taehyung made a soothing noise at the back of his throat and continued his way down Jungkook’s chest.

 

“It’ll be under your clothes Kookie, don’t worry. Physicals aren’t for another month.” Jungkook relaxed slightly, lying back down and feeling the sudden knot of fear in his stomach ease slightly. Taehyung playfully pinched one of Jungkook’s nipples, pausing when he heard the sharp intake of breath.

 

“You like that?” He asked, mildly surprised, and tweaked the reddening nipple again. Jungkook didn’t answer but flushed a deeper red, turning his head slightly away in embarrassment. Taehyung grinned and filed that information away for later. He trailed butterfly kisses down Jungkook’s flushed torso until he reached the waistband of his shorts, looking up at him for confirmation.

 

“I’m fine hyung, keep going.” Jungkook said, hands grabbing the blankets beside him with a tight grip in anticipation. Taehyung slid the grey garment down his thighs, slowly enough that the friction on his half-hard cock elicited a muffled moan, until it sprung free from his shorts and Taehyung practically started drooling.

 

“No underwear Kookie?”

 

“Who the hell wears underwear to bed, Tae?” Jungkook snorted, and Taehyung slid the thin fabric the rest of the way off so that Jungkook was completely naked. He ran his eyes up and down his muscular frame, enjoying the nice view. An impatient noise from Jungkook snapped him out of the appreciative trance and he fumbled in the nearby folds of the blanket for the ill-gotten bottle of lube. He saw that Jungkook was holding his breath, whether from nerves or anticipation he didn’t know, and stroked his side soothingly as he knelt between his legs.

 

“Just relax Kookie, alright?” He said, and received a slightly terse nod in reply. He poured a generous amount of lube over his long, bony fingers then paused, deciding to be considerate, and waited a few moments for it to warm up. He traced his fingers around Jungkook’s rim, watching as it clenched slightly at the unfamiliar, slightly ticklish feeling. “Ready, Kookie?” He nodded, and Taehyung took the head of Jungkook’s cock in his mouth at the same time he slid his index finger into Jungkook.

 

Jungkook groaned softly, his legs instinctively spreading wider and his cock jolting with the surge of a bloodrush. Though the room was silent, volumes spoke in the form of labored breathing and billowing chests. When the first met no resistance anymore, Taehyung added another finger and took Jungkook’s cock deeper, flattening his tongue and swallowing as he left it hit the back of his throat. Jungkook’s eyes were closed and he was panting hard, looking lost in the intense feeling. Taehyung moved his slender fingers, pushing them deeper until Jungkook gasped, hands moving instinctively to grip Taehyung’s hair.

 

“W-what-“

 

“Prostate, Kookie.” Taehyung said, pulling off Jungkook’s cock to speak before taking most of the length back in his mouth. Jungkook responded with a low moan, shoving his hips downwards onto Taehyung’s fingers. He was relaxed and stretched enough now to add a third finger, the pleasure from the blow job probably helping to ease the discomfort of the stretch. The room was silent apart from the slick, wet sounds of Taehyung scissoring three fingers inside Jungkook, and he couldn’t help but laugh inwardly at the thought of the shock on the staff members face if they were discovered like this now. Jungkook felt tightness coiling in his stomach and his legs clamped together around Taehyung on reflex, grip tightening in his messy hair.

 

“T-Taehyung!” Jungkook gasped, pulling at Taehyung’s hair desperately. Taehyung pulled off his cock with an obscenely wet sound to suck lightly on the tip, eyes wide and teary at the edges when he met Jungkook’s gaze.

 

“What is it Kookie?” He said teasingly, voice deeper than usual and scratchy. He curled his fingers so they brushed over the edge of Jungkook’s prostate, teasing it gently to elicit more soft groans from Jungkook.

 

“Stop, g-gonna come.” He somehow managed to stutter out, making a conscious effort to control his breathing and supress the rising heat between his legs.

 

“You don’t want to?” Taehyung slowed his ministrations and looked at Jungkook with slight confusion, pulling his fingers out of Jungkook.

 

“Not yet,” He replied, looking to the side sheepishly, “Not without…” He trailed off, looking significantly at the bulge in Taehyung’s thin pyjama bottoms. Taehyung raised an eyebrow, smirking playfully as Jungkook blushed a furious red. “Without what exactly, Jungkookie?” He said, sliding his mouth completely off of his cock. Jungkook groaned slightly at the lack of stimulation, feeling himself come crashing back down from his high. He decided to just say what Taehyung wanted to hear and save himself the blue balls for any longer.

 

“You, Tae. Would you please get inside me already?” He tugged at Taehyung’s shirt, amusing him to no end as Jungkook struggled with the clingy fabric. He laughed and Jungkook fixed him with a murderous glare. “Stop laughing and get this off, hyung!”

 

“Get this off or get you off?” He teased, and Jungkook smacked him in the chest. “Alright alright, keep your panties on Kookie. Or rather…” His eyes wandered leisurely over Jungkook’s naked body, “Don’t.” Jungkook huffed a laugh at the terrible joke.

 

“Come on then Tae, we don’t have all night.”

 

“Shame we don’t,” Taehyung said, dumping what was probably far too much lube straight onto his dick. Its hard to do with one arm “Or we could go for round two afterwards.”

 

“Focus on round one first.” Jungkook laughed, shivering slightly when Taehyung rubbed the blunt head of his cock against Jungkook’s entrance. Taehyung pushed in, and he wasn’t prepared for how incredible it felt.

 

“Sh-shit,” he cursed softly, pressing his forehead against Jungkook’s, sweat beading on his brow and drops sliding down his chest. They stayed like that for a bit, panting against each other, and Jungkook’s hand held Taehyung’s in a white-knuckled grip. Taehyung slide out when he felt Jungkook relax, and presses in again, slowly. Jungkook groaned, arched his back at the slightly painful feeling of being stretched wide open, and Taehyung held him down, kissing him indulgently. Taehyung wasn’t even fully pushed in yet, taking it slow, pulling out and pushing back in a little deeper each time to help Jungkook adjust better.

 

When eventually Taehyung was seated fully inside, balls pressed flat against Jungkook’s ass, he sighed, bending over to press kisses onto Jungkook's chest and along the hollow dips of his collarbones. With a nod of assent from Jungkook he pulls halfway out and slams back in a little harder, revelling in the little moans that escaped Jungkook and meeting Jungkook’s mouth with a kiss which quickly grew sloppy, too much tongue and teeth but neither of them cared, too caught up in the feeling. Taehyung picked up the pace, thrusting into Jungkook and capturing all the sounds that spilled from his mouth.

 

Jungkook stroked mindlessly at Taehyung’s face, scratched at Taehyung’s scalp, and dug his nails into Taehyung’s back as he fucked in harder. His body slid against the scratchy blankets with the force of Taehyung’s thrusts, leaving his back reddened and scratched. When Jungkook’s moans get higher with the approaching orgasm, Taehyung grabbed Jungkook’s free hand with his only working one and pinned that down too, tangled their fingers together and pressed him down to fuck him harder, faster. Jungkook’s eyes rolled back as he felt the heat pool in his stomach, down to his core.

 

Taehyung fucked him until he couldn’t take the intense stimulation anymore coming in spurts all over his stomach. Taehyung came just moments later, body coiling and tensing with the feeling, and they stayed there like that, panting heavily, coming down from the high, bodies overheated and drained. Taehyung pulled out with a groan and looked over the mess on Jungkook’s stomach, before shrugging and grabbing a discarded sock from the ground near the edge of the blankets. He wiped the drying come off with a grimace and threw the sock over his shoulder before picking up Jungkook’s clothes from the pile on the dusty floor, sensing Jungkook was a bit too out of it to move.

 

“Better put your clothes back on Kookie,” He said gently, “It’s really cold in here and we’re gonna start feeling it soon.”

 

“Ok.” Jungkook agreed, feeling dazed, voice croaky and hoarse. He pulled his clothes on lethargically, limbs heavy. Taehyung was already dressed and packing things up, trying to fold one of the blankets with his one good arm and failing, but the thought of leaving the room just yet didn’t agree with Jungkook.

 

“Tae?” he said, sitting down on the remaining blanket and looking up at him,“Can we stay a bit longer?”

 

Taehyung looked nervously around the room, as if expecting staff members to pop out at any time and catch them, but folded. He lay down next to Jungkook and pulled the second blanket up to cover the both of them, spreading his arms so Jungkook could cuddle closer and lay his head on Taehyung’s arm.

 

“Tae?” Jungkook said again, this time muffled by the thin blanket.

 

“What is it Kookie?” Taehyung turned to meet his eyes.

 

“I..” Jungkook said, feeling the words at the tip of his tongue, rattling round in his head.

 

I love you Taehyung, oh god do I love you

 

Jungkook swallowed. He didn’t even want to consider the consequences of loving Taehyung. At best they would never see one another again after staying hidden for the remaining years they had left in the Institute, at worst they would be taken away somewhere or killed in secret, in pain, and away from each other anyway.

 

besides, does he love me back?

 

“I care about you.” Jungkook said, taking the coward’s way out. He looked up and met taehyung’s eyes, and for a brief second he thought he saw disappointment in his expression, but looked away before he could be sure.

 

“I care about you a lot. I’m so scared they’re going to… to…”

 

Jungkook broke off, unable to put what he meant to say into words. Taehyung nodded, and patted the younger man on the back gently.

 

“I know. Tomorrow I’ll go away for who knows how long, and they’ll probably do terrible things to me in there.” Jungkook opened his mouth to protest, but Taehyung shook his head.

 

“But tonight it’s just us. And I care about you too.” Taehyung  said, leaning forwards to plant a chaste kiss on Jungkook’s forehead. He said the word ‘care’ with a strange emphasis. Jungkook looked up at Taehyung, and saw the glimmer in his eyes. It seemed like Taehyung understood what Jungkook was trying to say.

 

“But… it’s not safe.” Jungkook looked questioningly at him, a little afraid of the sudden serious tone in his voice.

 

“Being with you like this… it terrifies me. I-It should terrify you too, think about where we are…” Taehyung trailed off, voice wavering, but Jungkook understood. They could never slip up, never let their guards down for even a second or their lives were as good as finished.

 

"What do you see in our future, Jungkook?" He went on, "Because all I see is separation a-and..."

 

just like Jackson and Jaebum

 

Taehyung turned away, shaking with emotion, to face the slanted beams of moonlight on the floor. He might have been crying. Jungkook couldn't see his face anymore.

 

The heat from the feverish press of their bodies was dissipating, stolen by the cold floors and the dark, grey walls.

 

Jungkook shivered and pressed himself closer to Taehyung’s body. He could almost see the air fading from passionate red back to the grey with which they were cloistered. Taehyung had gone completely silent, looking towards the window where dim moonlight filtering through the splintering boards. Jungkook couldn’t see his face, only the sharp, tensed lines of his jaw as he stared away with an expression completely unreadable from behind.

 

“Taehyung?” He said, but there was no reply. “I don’t want you to go.” Jungkook’s voice wavered, and he turned to hide his face in Taehyung’s shoulder. There was silence for a few long breaths, the pounding of Jungkook’s head and Taehyung’s heart the only audible sounds.

 

“Yeah,” Taehyung replied eventually, his voice distant, quiet, empty. “Me neither.” Jungkook shivered again. Although they were touching from head to toe, it felt like there was an ocean of distance between him and Taehyung.

 

A silver shaft of moonlight from the window fell on Taehyung’s battered, purpling arm.

 

Chapter Text

The all too familiar tolling of the three bells woke Jungkook from a light and fitful sleep. On most mornings it took him a while to wake up completely, eyes and mind foggy for at least the first few minutes of being awake, but that day the cold knot of nervous apprehension in his stomach hit him as soon as he was conscious enough to remember what was going to happen to Taehyung, banishing the haze of sleep immediately. His face was mostly buried in Taehyung’s hair, body curled around the other’s slim frame protectively, as if his subconscious was trying to hold onto him even in sleep.

 

Taehyung shifted and blinked sleepily in the fluorescent lighting a few times before his eyes fully focused on Jungkook’s face. He didn’t smile when he saw Jungkook, not with that infectious box smile which never failed to make his heart stutter in his chest no matter how many times he saw it. His lips barely lifted, in a sort of forced grimace probably intended to reassure Jungkook that he was fine, the rest of his face fixed with a serious look which was almost alien on Taehyung’s usually radiant features.

 

“You look terrible.” He said, gently reaching out a hand to stroke along the length of Jungkook’s jaw.

 

“Yeah?” Jungkook replied, turning sideways under the blankets so he could inspect Taehyung properly, “So do you.”

 

“I’m alright.” Taehyung said, smiling that terrible half-smile again. The bags under his eyes told a different story. “Just didn’t sleep too well.”

 

“Me neither.” Jungkook mumbled. It was as close as he’d get to mentioning how he was up most of the night, exhausted beyond belief but unable to sleep and practically sick with worry about what the staff were going to do to Taehyung in solitary. From the look of the purplish bruises under Taehyung’s eyes, he’d been doing the same.

 

They stared at each other for a moment, eyes meeting and communicating all their mouths would not. Taehyung broke the eye contact first, swallowing and pushing himself up off the bed to go and get dressed. Jungkook watched him go, biting his lip in distress. The others in the ward were already getting dressed, Namjoon and Seokjin clothed freakishly quickly as usual so they could use the bathroom first, but unlike most mornings there was a stifling silence in the ward. The silence seemed somehow worse than it had been months ago, when they were all too scared to talk to each other for fear of being reported.

 

Jungkook went to grab a fresh uniform from his chest of drawers, catching a brief glimpse of himself in the tiny mirror above as he did. He really did look like living hell, hair in a dishevelled tangle, cuts and bruises from the explosion still red and raw on his face, dark circles ringing his bloodshot eyes. Taehyung instinctively, working almost on autopilot, picked out a crisp white shirt and tie from the top drawer of his cabinet and lay it down on his bed. Looking uncomfortably at Yoongi for guidance first, Jimin stepped forwards and laid a gentle hand on Taehyung’s arm.

 

“They want you in gym kit Tae, remember?” He said. There was the uncomfortable feeling that everyone in the ward was listening, even while arranging their own uniform or doing whatever else, holding their breath. Taehyung shook his head as if to clear it and picked the shirt back up again, returning it to the still-open drawer.

 

“Of course, thank you Jimin.” He nodded absently at him and grabbed gym clothed from the neat pile next to his usual uniform.

 

“Aish TaeTae, you’d forget your head if it wasn’t attached to you!” Seokjin teased gently, trying to relieve some of the awful tension in the room. Taehyung laughed weakly in response.

 

“I suppose I would.”

 

The uncomfortable silence descended again as the joke fell flat. Namjoon was unconsciously pacing the short length of his bed, footsteps making muted noises on the ground, muffled by the thin fabric of his socks. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth he went, over and over again. Six pairs of eyes watched him as he walked, honing in on what was practically the only movement in the entire ward. Then Taehyung was dressed, and he came to stand facing Jungkook, in front of the bed which was no longer just Taehyung’s but belonged to the both of them.

 

“Kookie…” He trailed off, as if unable to find the words, and wrapped his arms around Jungkook instead. They clutched at each other in a desperate hug, neither one willing to let go.

 

“You’ll be okay, Tae, you’ll come back okay.” Jungkook blurted out, not sure whether he was trying to reassure himself or Taehyung.

 

“C-Course I will. Solitary can’t be worse than what they’ve already done.” He replied, trying to sound flippant but failing, voice shaking. Jungkook buried his face in Taehyung’s neck to hide the tears pooling in the corners of his eyes. Taehyung felt the wetness on his skin and pulled back slightly to wipe at Jungkook’s eyes.

 

“Don’t cry, Kookie, they’ll take you too! It’s not called solitary because they let you take a friend you know.” Jungkook found himself smiling against all odds, and saw that Taehyung too was grinning back with red-rimmed eyes.

 

“It won’t be too long. I’ll be back before you know it.” He said.

 

“I-I shoud be trying to comfort you, not the other way around.” Jungkook said, as Taehyung gripped his hands tightly.

 

“I think we both need a bit of comfort, don’t you?” Jungkook nodded, still teary-eyed. Taehyung sighed fondly and brought one of his hands to play with Jungkook’s dark hair. “You really do look a mess, should probably try and clean up a bit before the staff gets here.”

 

Jungkook tensed up slightly at the reminder.

“Yeah, probably. I’d rather not waste whatever minutes I have left with you on my shitty hair though.”

 

Taehyung let out a little hiccup – caught somewhere between a laugh and a sob.

 

 “I’m going to miss you, Kookie.”

 

“I-I’ll miss you too,”

 

Jungkook half expected Jimin or one of the others to tease them for being too PDA, being ‘disgusting’, as Seokjin would often jokingly say, but when he looked around the room he met no scandalised looks. It was distress, rather than humour, he saw on their stricken faces.

 

Hoseok swallowed and looked away, feeling like he was going to cry too if this carried on much longer. He felt so bad for the poor kids. He’d heard the rumours from years ago, before Taehyung and Jungkook entered the senior Institute, about what went on in solitary confinement. Taehyung was going to go through hell, and for what crime? Trying to give a starving, injured little kid some food. Taehyung didn’t deserve this.

 

“S-Shit.” Hoseok muttered, feeling his eyes burn. A warm hand landed on his shoulder and squeezed slightly, and he looked up in surprise to see Jimin, in much the same distressed state as he was.

 

There came the sound of heavy footsteps coming down the hallway. Jungkook and Taehyung exchanged a panicked look, still wrapped up in each other’s arms in the middle of the dorm room. Jungkook was frozen, mouth hanging open as if he wanted to say something, so Taehyung grabbed him by the front of his pristine white shirt for a quick, desperate kiss, before running to take his place in the lineup in the front room. Jungkook was left dazed again, standing dumbly in the dorm room.

 

“Jk!” Seokjin hissed, gesturing insistently at the space beside Taehyung.  He just managed to smooth his shirt and fold his hands in the typical ‘at attention’ position behind his back before the door opened. Two tall, imposing looking men, clad in the black, starched uniform of the Institute guards, half-walked half-marched in, as if they had been given orders to walk normally but didn’t quite remember how. A slightly shorter, razor thin woman walked in after them, carrying an official document in one of her spindly hands.

 

no wonder she brought muscle, looks like you could snap her like a twig

 

She cleared her throat and handed the document over to Taehyung, who took it with confusion.

 

 “07-1159, given name Taehyung, for offences against the rules of the Institute you are to be taken to solitary confinement for a currently undetermined period of time. This document is the official requisition order, signed and dated by the supervision of the Senior Institute.”

 

Taehyung unfolded the document and scanned it quickly, hoping to find any kind of discrepancy that could get him out of going. There was nothing.

 

“Your ward will continue their usual schedules, and your education will not be hindered. Lessons will be administered to you by the Staff for the duration of your stay.” She turned smartly on her heel and left, leaving the guards to deal with Taehyung. One stepped forwards, patting the handcuffs on his belt.

 

“Give us no trouble and you will be allowed to walk unrestrained. Take a swing at one of us and you will be beaten, then taken there in cuffs.”

 

Taehyung’s wide, frantic eyes met Jungkook’s one last time, before he nodded and stepped forwards. The guards closed in on either side and escorted him to the door, feet shuffling quietly along beside the heavy stomping of black leather boots. Jungkook watched him leave, hoping for Taehyung to give some indication that he wasn’t beaten yet. He wished he could say that Taehyung fought, that he spat on his captors or waved back at his dear friends before they took him away but that simply wasn’t true.

 

Taehyung walked freely down that corridor, looking down at his feet, clutching the official requisition order so hard his knuckles were white.

 

~-~

 

It had been almost two weeks since they’d taken Taehyung. Jungkook only knew that because he’d been keeping a tally. Whereas usually the days melted into each other and passed pretty quickly, blurring so that he never quite had a proper grip on how much time was passing, these days seemed like they were crawling by at a slow pace that would have driven him mad if it were not so dangerous to be mad in the Institute.  

 

He’d kept some semblance of his normal routine for the first few days, sitting in the main room with his hyungs during breaks and trying to make conversation, he soon found the looks they gave him when he thought he wasn’t watching unbearable.   

 

Made him constantly feel like screaming.

 

Soon enough he abandoned the main room altogether and just spent his free periods lying on his and Taehyung’s bed, waiting for the lessons to start again and distract him so he wouldn’t feel so damn lonely. It was ironic, in a way, how Jungkook had managed to make his own solitary confinement out of the ward.

 

In bed one day, twelve days exactly since they’d taken Taehyung away, he heard footsteps tentatively enter the room. He burrowed further into the sparse blankets on his bed, groaning inwardly at the thought of hearing another awkwardly delivered pep talk from one of his hyungs, none of whom had any idea how to comfort him. Yes, he was missing Taehyung, no, he didn’t want to leave the dorm, YES, he was coping. He was coping just fine.

 

The padding footsteps approached his bed, faltering a couple of times as if whoever was there was deliberating whether or not to just leave him be.

 

please, whoever, leave me alone

 

“Jungkook?” Came Jimin’s slightly wary voice. Jungkook felt a stab of guilt. He’d-

 

“Shut up, just shut up-"

 

-Not treated Jimin too well in the past couple of weeks. It really wasn’t Jimin’s fault at all, he’d just been so tired-

 

“You can’t know what it’s like, your boyfriend is barely a room away, probably napping, not being beaten or tortured or whatever they do to people there…”

“J-Jungkook-“

 

-So tired of concerned hyungs trying to tell him it would be ok, that Taehyung would be back soon and back safe. Maybe he’d even believed them at first, but when a day turned into three, five, ten-

 

“Hell, you’ve basically got Hoseok as well. Bet you wouldn’t even notice if Yoongi was gone, just replace him for a week no problem-“

 

-and there was still no news of Taehyung, no indication he was coming back any time soon and Jungkook had been so on edge he’d just-

 

“Not all of us are so FUCKING lucky-“

 

-snapped.

 

“Jungkook?” Jimin said again, slightly more insistently. He still sounded worried he was going to get shouted at.

 

“Yeah?” Jungkook replied quietly, face still buried in the pillow.

 

“Someone came to the door earlier on. Told us we’re missing lessons in the last period tomorrow. They didn’t say why, but it was only this ward so that probably means-“

 

“He’s coming back?” Jungkook said shakily, almost refusing to believe the news so he couldn’t be disappointed again. Jimin smiled softly at the younger boy.

 

“Yes. TaeTae’s coming back.”

 

Jungkook felt relieved tears prick at the back of his eyes and sat up, turning round so he could smile widely at Jimin, but he was looking at the floor. Avoiding Jungkook’s gaze. He felt his stomach twist in guilt.

 

“I’m so sorry for the things I said, Jimin. I didn’t mea-“

 

“It’s fine.” Jimin cut him off quickly. “You were upset. It’s okay.”

 

Jungkook got the distinct impression that it wasn’t fine. He nodded agreement anyway. Jimin smiled once more, distantly, still avoiding eye contact, and left as quietly as he’d come. Jungkook could practically see the rift between them growing.

 

good job,

 

He thought bitterly, turning over to hide the guilty flush of his cheeks in the scratchy blankets,

 

you’ve pushed away your oldest friend because you can’t control your damn temper

 

Jungkook groaned in shame and covered his head with his hands.

 

what would Taehyung think?

 

~-~

 

Pacing. Up and down, back and forth, again and again Jungkook traversed the length of their small dorm room, on edge and unable to sit still. As Jimin had said, ward 7 had been let off lessons for the final two hour period of the day, but roughly halfway in and there was still no sign of Taehyung. Jungkook had long since given up trying to use the free time productively, his work lying abandoned and scattered in a disarray mimicking his mess of thoughts over the small wooden desk in the corner of the main room, and he was filled with a kind of restless energy that wouldn’t dissipate.

 

“… why else would we be given this lesson off if Taehyung wasn’t coming back?” Jungkook overheard a snatch of Namjoon and Seokjin’s conversation.

 

“I don’t know, and if it wasn’t Tae then why has no one come in yet? Surely a staff member would have been sent to get us or something?” Seokjin murmured in response, obviously trying to keep his voice down so his voice didn’t get in the way of Jimin, Yoongi and Hoseok’s hearing.

 

They were on three-levelled defence duty; Yoongi right by the door so he could hear if anyone was coming down the hallway, Hoseok sat at his desk in the middle of the room and bent over work, looking like  a dedicated and thoroughly brainwashed Institute student, and Jimin at the doorway between the main room and the dorm, hiding the people in the dorm from immediate view.

 

It was a strategy they had developed many months before, soon after they all started to talk to each other, so that four people at a time could relax a little, out of sight in the dorm room, without the fear of being caught. It had saved them many times in the past, and this time was no exception.

 

“Pass me some paper, Hoseok.” Yoongi said in a casual tone, walking quickly away from the door to sit at his desk.

 

It was the code to let everyone know that he could hear footsteps coming, and Jimin and Hoseok quickly relayed the message. Jimin looked through the doorway into the dorm room to see Seokjin and Namjoon hurriedly separate, Namjoon heading in the direction of the toilet while Seokjin practically ran to his desk. Jimin gestured for Jungkook to go through into the main room, sitting down at his own desk while Hoseok passed a sheet of paper to Yoongi. The door opened just as Jungkook took his seat in the corner of the room and he grabbed a test paper from his desk, pretending to read the questions about halfway through.

 

“Line up.” Said the spindly woman at the door, holding it open with one arm. Jungkook fought down the urge to crane his neck round the corner, desperate for a glimpse of Taehyung. He shuffled into his place at the left end of the line, leaving a gap where Taehyung would usually go.

 

“No gap. He won’t be re-joining your ranks quite yet.” The woman said flatly, voice and face giving no indication of what she’d meant.

 

Jungkook froze, before nodding and stepping sideways so he was barely half a foot from Jimin. Then Taehyung finally came through the open door, shuffling painfully in like a shambling, reanimated corpse, and Jungkook couldn’t supress his horrified intake of breath.

 

They were all thin, sure; teetering on the edge of being underweight because of the strict rationing and constant food shortages, and Taehyung had been no exception to that rule before solitary, but now? He looked sunken, tired, weak, like they hadn’t fed him for all the time he’d been there. His visible skin was peppered with bruises, cuts and painful-looking abrasions, down to where his sport shirt covered up the majority of his chest.

 

They’re probably worse under his clothes

 

Jungkook thought, staring with abject horror at the purple skin. The arm which had been (probably) broken when Taehyung had given food to the child in the canteen was wrapped up in a white cast, but more concerning were the large wound dressings on his other arm, and one just barely visible on the sliver of skin exposed at his side, where his shirt was caught on the dressing and had ridden up a bit. The skin surrounding the dressings was an angry red, making a sickening contrast to Taehyung’s usual tan.

 

are those… burns?

 

Jungkook felt bile rising in his throat, breath beginning to quicken. The colourful blooming of bruises on Taehyung’s skin, the clinical white of the dressings, the way the dark circles under his eyes were so dark now they blended in to the contusions on his left cheekbone.

 

Red and purple, yellow and green, blue and white. The room spun a little.  

 

Taehyung was still standing in the way of the door, and the guard behind him grew impatient and gave him a shove forwards. He fell forwards, barely catching himself on his one good arm so as not to cause any more damage to his already beaten up face, and lay gasping in pain from whatever injuries he’d hit on the way down. He made no move to get up, so the guard roughly grabbed his unbroken arm and forced him to stand, swaying slightly, on his own unsteady feet. The guard shut the door, sound echoing through the near-silent ward. The only other sound was Taehyung’s ragged, rasping breaths.

 

“07-1159 broke the Institute’s rules two weeks ago. Under the system of rules we have in place here, it is forbidden to talk to a student from the Junior Institute. It is forbidden also to offer help to another student, to cause disruptions in the canteen or indeed in any part of the Institute, and completely against the rules to not finish the food the State toils so tirelessly to produce.” The woman said.  “In going against the Institute, you make yourself an enemy of the State. The State must not be questioned.”

 

Although the accusations she made were grave, the woman’s voice remained monotone, her face a passive mask. Taehyung let out an involuntary cough, the noise sounding wet and rattling in his chest, and the woman gestured sharply to the guard. He drove his boot into Taehyung’s ribs, brutally hard, face expressionless as he delivered yet another savage blow to an injured, gasping boy who groaned with pain but made no move to defend himself.

 

It was like the spirit had gone completely out of him.

 

Jungkook could see Jimin’s hand clench into a fist out of the corner of his eye, the other obviously having a very hard time controlling his anger at what they were doing.

 

“This is a warning. Next time, the punishment for such offences will not be so merciful.” The woman left, pet guard in toe, leaving the ward stunned and frozen in her wake. Then the door slammed shut, and it was like waking everyone up from a trance. Taehyung’s knees gave out and he collapsed painfully to the floor, shaking from the effort of standing.

 

Jungkook rushed forwards to help him up, reaching out a hand to grab Taehyung’s, but all Taehyung saw was a raised hand coming for him. He flinched away sharply, looking up with fear and panic in his eyes, and Jungkook faltered immediately.

 

“T-Taehyung?” He stammered, freezing into place with shock, hand still extended towards him. Taehyung swallowed, shaking his head and pushing up with his good hand on the floor. He grimaced as he slowly, painfully stood, uncertain on his own feet. He cradled his broken arm close to his chest protectively.

 

“I…” He looked as if he might say something to Jungkook, but decided against it at the last moment. “I’m going to g-go and shower.” He said quietly, refusing to meet Jungkook’s eyes. Jungkook nodded, trying to keep himself from staring at Taehyung’s terrible injuries.

 

“You can barely walk, let me help you over-“

 

“No!” Taehyung  blurted out in panic, drawing back a pace and breathing heavily, like he was on the verge of a panic attack at the idea of being touched. He swallowed again, trying to compose himself, hating himself for being the cause of the confused hurt written across Jungkook’s face.

 

“N-No. I’ll… I’ll go myself. It’s fine.”

 

He turned away before Jungkook could say anything, hobbling as quickly as he could over to the shower room and leaving the ward in stunned silence. Jungkook opened his mouth to say something, anything, but found his throat was dry and he couldn’t quite find words.

 

“Jungkook?” Came Yoongi’s tentative voice from his right. When he didn’t reply, Yoongi carried on anyway,

 

“What happened? What did he say?” He said, watching Taehyung hobble alone to the bathroom.

 

“H-he’s-“ Jungkook cut off with an involuntary sob. He shook his head and didn’t try to say anything else, clenching his jaw to try and control the crying. Yoongi pulled him into a hug, rubbing his friend’s back soothingly.

 

“Whatever happened, whatever they did,” Yoongi practically spat those words. His hatred of the Institute was always there, burning just below the surface like a volcano ready to erupt, “He’s still Taehyung. He’ll get through it.”

 

Jungkook nodded, hugging Yoongi back. They broke apart, and the elder gave him a warm smile.

 

“You’re looking rough yourself. You gotta remember to take care of yourself too.”

 

Yoongi put a hand on his shoulder, then walked back into the main room to join the others. He was good for Jungkook in situations like this – he always seemed to know what to say, and also when to leave Jungkook alone to have a moment of privacy.

 

we’re very similar, hyung and I,

 

Jungkook thought,

 

and I think he knows that too

 

With Yoongi gone Jungkook was left to think about what had happened to Taehyung. Besides all the physical injuries, he had seemed so off in character that Jungkook didn’t know what to make of it.

 

He went to sit on the bed that he and Taehyung had shared for all these months, but stopped dead in the middle of the room, rooted in place and staring at the spot on the ground where Taehyung had collapsed. There were crimson droplets spattered on the grey concrete ground, fresh and glistening.

 

 

Jungkook just prayed Taehyung hadn’t been coughing blood.

 

Chapter Text

Taehyung hadn’t said another word to anyone by the time night came and the lights turned off. It reminded Jungkook of those days, months and months ago now, when every night had been like this, no one talking to each other out of fear. Their fears were a little different now, but the cold tendrils of dread curling in a half-empty stomach never felt any different.

 

Jungkook was scared; of course he was. Anyone who wasn’t scared these days was a fool, and none of them in the ward had got this far by being fools. Fear kept them alive, kept them looking over their shoulders for guards while others were complacent and were caught. They’d learnt to listen to instincts early on, to cower on the safe side rather than step boldly into the unknown.

 

That was the way of life Jungkook had known before, before Taehyung pulled him to places they’d never be allowed to go, pulled him with a wonderful smile and wide, wild eyes. So perhaps he was channelling a bit of Taehyung when he crept out of bed that night, padding over to the corner bed where Taehyung slept.

 

“Taehyung?” He asked quietly, tentatively, not daring to touch the huddled figure on the bed. It was funny how, after all they’d been through together, even a light touch of the shoulder seemed like crossing a line now. Taehyung made no reply and Jungkook bit his lip in consideration, looking from his own bed to Taehyung’s and wondering if it was best to just leave him alone.

 

“Can I join you?” He whispered, leaning down close to the bed so he wouldn’t disturb any of his hyungs who were presumably sleeping.

 

Again there was no response.

 

Jungkook sighed and straightened up, rubbing his arms to try and make the gooseflesh disappear. The winter chills had come and gone, so that the ward was no longer so cold in the nights that they were liable to get hypothermia if the blankets fell off during the night, but it was still chilly enough to be uncomfortable. It was going to feel much colder tonight, seeing as he’d been sleeping with both his and Taehyung’s blankets for the last week. Not to mention all the months he’d slept curled up next to Taehyung.

 

Taehyung may need space, but he needs warmth too

 

With a slightly regretful sigh at the thought of a cold night with only his bed sheet to cover him, Jungkook picked up his blanket and took it over to Taehyung’s bed. He gently lay it down on top of the shadowy shape on the bed, tucking the edges in and adjusting it so that it covered Taehyung’s feet as well.

 

“Goodnight TaeTae.” He patted the blanket a couple of times where he supposed Taehyung’s head would be, and was turning to go back to his own bed when a large hand gripped his wrist weakly.

 

“W-wait.” Came Taehyung’s voice, scratchy and thin, sounding as if he hadn’t talked properly for days. Jungkook turned to see that he was sitting up, still mostly underneath the two blankets, looking off to the side to avoid Jungkook’s gaze. He licked his lips nervously, still refusing to look up.

 

“You can-”

 

He cut himself off abruptly, shaking his head and tugging on the edge of the blankets with his broken arm as the hold on Jungkook’s wrist with the other got stronger, more desperate. Jungkook nodded, pulling back the blankets so he could get in beside Taehyung, who had moved over right to the edge of the bed to let him in. He didn’t let go of Jungkook’s arm. They lay down on the blankets, Taehyung stiffly as if he wanted to touch Jungkook but couldn’t.

 

Gradually he relaxed, body melting slightly in Jungkook’s protective hold, but still hadn’t spoken another word. This more than anything else was the sign that something was seriously wrong; Taehyung could talk about anything and everything, for as long as you’d let him. Jungkook would listen with a fond smile as he ranted about aliens, furniture or Jimin’s cute eye smile. He wasn’t used to being the one to do the talking. Felt like every word could be some kind of mistake, had no clue how to be tactful in this situation.

 

what the hell did they do to him

 

Jungkook fought down a hot flash of anger, knowing it would be more harm than good with Taehyung in a (probably, it’s not like Taehyung had said anything about it) fragile state. He could see from the way Taehyung’s shoulders rose up and down in a fairly fast pattern that he wasn’t asleep yet, probably because he knew Jungkook would ask him about what had happened in solitary.

 

“Taehyung?” Jungkook asked timidly, sitting back up in bed. Taehyung screwed his eyes tightly shut.

 

Please don’t kookie, don’t ask, don’t make me-

 

“What…” Jungkook swallowed, words catching in his throat. “What did they do to you?” He asked, voice shaking.

 

What didn’t they do?

 

Taehyung sat up to face Jungkook, but found he still couldn’t meet his eyes. His breathing quickened, hands fisting at the sheets.

 

he can't know, not poor kookie

 

He made a stifled sound in the back of his throat and finally looked at Jungkook, looked at him properly. He looked somehow older than the passage of a mere two weeks could account for, thinner and leaner in the face

 

– It’s the eyes, oh god, his eyes

 

-with wide, concerned eyes fixed on the sunken bruises that served as Taehyung’s. Taehyung opened his mouth to speak but flinched instead, feeling phantom cruel hands at his back. In his head. Jungkook didn’t say anything, merely opened his arms, an invitation he gladly took. He hugged Jungkook like he’d wanted to the whole two weeks they’d been apart, holding him close like he was the only thing Taehyung had in the world.

 

Jungkook was still for a second, as if he hadn’t been prepared for Taehyung to actually accept his open armed offer, then snapped out of it and wrapped an arm around his shoulders, and pulled him close, gently rubbing his broken arm. Despite the heaviness in Taehyung’s stomach, it fluttered at the feeling of being with Jungkook again. He sunk into the warmth of his side, appreciative of the simple gesture. His touch made the room warmer somehow. Made the grey concrete all around melt away so that for a brief moment, it was just them. Nothing more, nothing less.

 

It didn’t last for long, that moment of bliss, not with Jungkook’s heavy question hanging in the air above them. Not with the uncomfortably painful way the bruises and burns on Taehyung’s skin were pulled at roughly by scratchy blankets. Jungkook’s dark eyes bored holes into his back, and Taehyung found himself speaking almost as if due to some compulsion.

 

“T-They didn’t like me talking,” Jungkook could feel Taehyung getting more and more worked up, clutching more tightly at the fabric of his sleeping shirt, “S-so they… did things to me.” Taehyung whispered quietly, keeping his face buried in Jungkook’s shirt. He trembled, but didn’t cry.

 

They hadn’t liked that either.

 

Jungkook held Taehyung tighter, clenching his jaw and hands to keep him from shaking with anger. Taehyung had reverted to silence, more heart-breaking than before now that Jungkook knew why he was so silent. He still clutched at Jungkook’s shirt like it was a lifeline, fingers white and shaking. Jungkook breathed deeply, fighting down his sudden urge to rush out of the ward and start destroying things. Keep it together, he’s been through enough Instead he just rested his head on Taehyung’s shoulder.

 

“You’ll be alright, no one can hurt you now.” He murmured, stroking Taehyung’s back soothingly, but the words felt empty. Felt like a lie.

 

~-~

 

In the dead of night, a slender woman slipped through the doors of the dorm room where she slept. She had done this many times before, but the intense fear of meeting someone else in those long corridors never abated. She took a deep breath, back pressed against the cold metal of the door behind her, and stepped out into the hall.

 

The small emergency lights on the fire and smoke alarms lit the corridor so that it was barely light enough to see, but she knew the way well enough now that it didn’t phase her. She had only socks on her feet so that she was practically silent as she ran towards the corner ahead. It wasn’t far, where she was headed, and it was where most staff had rooms.

 

But they were all asleep.

 

She knocked in a distinctive pattern – two knocks, wait two beats, three knocks and scrape of the foot along the bottom of the door. Inside she could hear movement. Steps came towards the door, and it was opened a crack. A suspicious eye looked through the slight opening, and relaxed when it confirmed it was her. The young doctor, Minho, opened the door all the way and quickly ushered her inside.

 

“What are you doing here?” He asked, giving her a quick embrace. He closed the door slowly, making sure it didn’t make a single sound when he let it close.

 

“We haven’t seen each other in almost two weeks, Minho. You wouldn’t even meet my eye when I saw you in the canteen. What happened? Has someone found out?”

 

Minho shook his head tiredly. He sat heavily down on the chair that he had pulled slightly out from his desk , and massaged his eyes gently.

 

“Nothing like that, I’ve just had things… things came up, and I had to deal with them, and it took a lot out of me. I’m sorry Eunseo.”

 

Eunseo nodded. Minho looked tired and defeated, run-down, empty, and she’d only seen him like that once before. She hoped with all her heart that things weren’t as bad as they had been last time.

 

“Is it…” She swallowed, remembering how upset Minho had been when she asked questions about it last time.

 

He looked up, and when their eyes met she saw the guilt there. He regretted what happened last time she had asked about something like this-

 

-“He was so young, goddamit!” Minho shook her a couple of times, his hands clenched so tightly on her arms that they left small finger-shaped bruises.

 

“M-Minho please let go, you’re scaring me. What happened?”

 

He let her go, slowly unclenching his fists and looking down at his hands. They shook. He sat back down in his chair and took a shaky breath, burying his face in his hands.

 

“How could I have known,” He sounded like he was crying, “How could I? N-nobody knew.” 

 

Eunseo watched him warily, wanting to comfort him but scared of what he would do. What he had done.

 

“They made me do those things to him, Eunseo. They’d have killed me if I didn’t. And it shouldn’t have been as bad as it was, he just…”

 

Minho dissolved into tears, full, heart-wrenching sobs, and Eunseo rushed over to wrap her arms around him, stroking his hair and wondering what the hell it was that they had made him do.-

 

 

-but there was new guilt there too. Eunseo swallowed nervously, and opened her mouth to ask him directly what had happened, but Minho answered before she had the chance.

 

“It didn’t end like last time, thank god. Taehyung’s still alive.”

 

Eunseo breathed a sigh of relief, but was concerned by the tone Minho had used. He had sounded spiritless, flat, and empty.

 

“Is he okay?” She asked. Minho laughed bitterly.

 

“He was never even close to death this time, they had me to make sure of that. I’m sure he wanted to be though.”

 

Eunseo felt a little sick, unwillingly picturing some of the possibilities in her head. She had been there watching when the staff members beat Taehyung in the canteen, and had cleaned the blood off the floors when the students had left. She knew that in solitary the punishment would have been so much worse.

 

“You see it makes sense, the way they do it.” Minho went on. He was practically delirious, and Eunseo thought he probably hadn’t been sleeping much since they brought Taehyung in. Not that he ever got much sleep – Minho was ridiculously overworked, much more so than the other doctor in the Institute. Then again, the other doctor was barely qualified to use a stethoscope, let alone actually deal with illness and injury.

 

“They hurt Taehyung, but they don’t want him dead. They’ve got their suspicions, you see, about the ward he’s from, so they want to make an example of him. Only problem is they’re brutal monsters,” Minho spat, “And they don’t know how to make the kid hurt without killing him. That’s where I come in, the big medical man.”

 

Eunseo felt sick. There were tears stinging at her eyes, and she could see them in Minho’s too. She ached to ask him what he had done, but the words died on her lips when she saw his expression.

 

“So yeah, Taehyung’s not dead. I wish I was.”

 

Eunseo went to him then, and wrapped her arms around him. She kissed him gently on the cheek, but he didn’t respond. They held each other for a long moment, then Minho yawned.

 

“You should probably go back to your dorm.” Minho said. Eunseo nodded. It was clear Minho needed some time to himself to get his emotions in order, and besides he needed sleep more than he needed her company. She walked to the door, and had begun to turn the handle when Minho called out.

 

“Wait,”

 

Eunseo turned round questioningly. Minho smiled faintly.

 

“I love you.” He was looking intently at her, with a look in his eyes Eunseo couldn’t quite place. The words had an odd weight to them, a gravity that she didn’t understand. His face looked somehow desperate, like he needed her to respond, and soon.

 

So Eunseo smiled back.

 

“I love you too.”

 

And she did. Too much, given how dangerous that was.

 

Eunseo opened the door and slipped back out into the night. Minho watched her leave from his chair across the room, sitting motionless, hearing her feet pad almost silently back along the corridor until he couldn’t hear anything anymore. The night was silent.

 

He could almost believe that no one except he and Eunseo were awake, given the deep, enveloping silence that meant he could hear his own heartbeat, but he knew better. His friend and constant source of stress, the old guard Sanghun, would be up guarding the walls outside, or drinking in his room. Ward 7 didn’t take their pills anymore, and he seriously doubted Taehyung would be sleeping easy.

 

It was too silent.

 

Filled with a surge of impotent rage and no immediate target for it, Minho got up suddenly, drew his fist back and smashed it hard against the wall. The pain brought him sharply back to himself, and he cursed under his breath.

 

“Stupid stupid useless, fucking disgusting coward…” He sat back down heavily, holding the hand out in front of him. The wall was rough concrete, and his knuckles were scraped and bleeding. He let the hand drop to his side. There was a smear of blood on the wall now, and blood dripping down onto the floor.

 

He thought of Taehyung, what he had done to him, what had happened to the last boy he had to ‘punish’. He wondered what Namjoon and Seokjin would think of him if they knew.

 

That night was another night Minho’s conscience wouldn’t let him fall asleep.

 

 

~-~

 

 

A couple of hours or so before the lights turned on and woke up the rest of the dorm for breakfast, Taehyung woke in a cold sweat. He opened his eyes and blinked a couple of times to clear the blurriness, but no sooner was the sleepy film gone from his eyes that the room started to swim before his eyes, and his stomach danced to the same erratic, sickening beats. He clamped a hand over his mouth and bolted, feeling the first acrid hints of bile rising up his throat.

 

Throwing the blankets off carelessly in his panicked rush, Taehyung grabbed his swimming stomach with the other hand. He stumbled to the corner of the room, and with each step his stomach tightened and ached all the more. He kept swallowing, desperately trying to keep the rising tide of bile back, but no matter what he did the feeling wouldn’t go away. Then he could taste it at the back of his mouth and buckled over on the pristine white floor of the bathroom.

 

Jungkook was woken up by Taehyung throwing the blankets aside and sat up groggily.

 

“Taehyung?” He asked, a little confused at the lack of warmth beside him. He saw the bedclothes on Taehyung’s side strewn in a disarray half off the bed as if he’d got up in a hurry. Over the faint buzzing of the fluorescents, Jungkook could hear the sound of weak choking coming from the bathroom. He sprinted through the sleeping dorm, adrenaline kicking in as he saw Taehyung’s thin frame bent over on his hands and knees.

 

“Are you okay?” He asked frantically, watching in horror as Taehyung gripped the edge of the toilet and heaved weakly, whole body shuddering as he did so. Jungkook knelt down beside him as he retched again, bringing up nothing but bile. Taehyung shook his head, sinking down into a slumped sitting position against the toilet, breathing heavily as if he’d just been sprinting.

 

His face was pale, like his natural tan had drained out to leave behind a whitish pallor, against which his flushed cheeks looked startlingly red. His eyes were glassy and unfocused, skin shining with sheen of sweat. He looked so ill Jungkook feared he might pass out.

 

He felt Taehyung’s forehead with the back of his hand and found, unsurprisingly, Taehyung’s skin was feverishly hot. Jungkook panicked and grabbed a towel, intending to run it under a cold tap in the hopes that the wet material would cool Taehyung down, but remembered at the last moment that he couldn’t use the running water.

 

If it’s used during the night they’ll know someone was awake

 

Taehyung groaned quietly and let his head drop backwards, resting heavily on the white porcelain behind.

 

“I-I’ll get Seokjin up, he knows some first aid so maybe he can...” He trailed off when he saw Taehyung’s expression, the sudden flash of panic in his tired eyes. Taehyung shook his head weakly.

 

“You don’t want Seokjin?” Jungkook asked gently, kneeling down beside Taehyung and pushing his sweaty bangs back off his forehead. Taehyung shook his head again.

 

“They give me the same look. I-it makes me want to cry.” Taehyung said, voice scratchy from throwing up. Jungkook was at a loss. Due to the hygiene standards at the Institute, he’d never dealt with more than a cold before. He started to get up again.

 

“Surely Seokjin can-“

 

“Please, Jungkook.” Taehyung closed his eyes, leaning back and swallowing as if he was trying not to be sick again. “Just sit with me for a while.”

 

Jungkook wasn’t going to refuse that plea. He shuffled Taehyung across slightly so he could fit, grabbing Taehyung’s hand and squeezing it tightly in support. A ghost of a smile flickered across Taehyung’s parted lips and he squeezed back, eyes still closed to fight back against the nausea.

 

“What do you think’s wrong, TaeTae?” Jungkook asked, seeing how close to vomiting again that Taehyung was. Taehyung shifted slowly, painfully, to pull up the side of his shirt closest to Jungkook and show him the bandaged wounds there. The edges visible from under the white, peeling gauze were an angry red, the bandages themselves looked like they’d needed changing at least three days ago. Jungkook gave a sharp intake of breath at the sight, feeling a little sick himself as he looked at the weeping wounds.

 

He knew nothing about medicine or first aid, but he was willing to bet anything that those wounds were infected.

 

Taehyung pulled his shirt back down with a grimace and lay against Jungkook, using his leanly muscled shoulder as a support as he tried to fall asleep again. Sleep didn’t come so easily to Jungkook, haunted by the thoughts of what they’d done to poor Taehyung and the oozing wounds in his side. That was why when, hours later, just before the three bells tolled to wake up the rest of the ward and Namjoon came in to use the bathroom before anyone else could, he was still awake. Taehyung was still either asleep or passed out from his fever, leaning against Jungkook and breathing lightly on his shoulder, occasionally making little snoring noises. Namjoon looked questioningly between the two of them.

 

“What’s going on?” He looked more closely, brow furrowing in distaste at the smell of vomit. “Is-Are you both okay?” Jungkook shook his head tiredly.

 

“Taehyung’s sick Namjoon, really sick. Can you get Minho to see him?”

 

Namjoon opened his mouth to reply, but was cut off by the three bells loudly tolling to wake everyone else up. Namjoon smiled sadly and patted Taehyung’s head, before heading back into the dorm room. Taehyung slept through the bells.

 

Maybe he was passed out instead of asleep after all.

 

 

Chapter Text

 "Bathroom."

 

The low whisper startled Jungkook out of the half-daydreaming state he'd been in, bent over his work but mind on anything and everything else. He steeled himself so he didn't turn around straight away to look, thinking whoever it was must have wanted to keep the meeting a secret. By the time he'd let his curiosity get the better of him and turned to see, the owner of the voice had already disappeared round the corner of the bathroom. Jungkook sat for a few seconds more, feeling like he shouldn't go.

 

isn't it wrong for us to keep things from each other now?

 

He turned back to his work and tried to fill in a worksheet, but couldn't help but notice that whoever it was didn't come back from the bathroom.

 

"Shit." He cursed under his breath and quietly pushed his chair back, hoping it wasn't too obvious that he was meeting someone.

 

must be Namjoon or Yoongi.

 

He thought, looking around at the people working in the main room. A large part of him had hoped that it was Taehyung, that maybe he was ready to tell Jungkook what exactly had happened to him in solitary, but Taehyung was diligently writing what looked like an essay, eyebrows furrowed and a sliver of pink tongue poking out of the corner of his mouth in concentration.

 

cute

 

Jungkook thought, trying to ignore the pained knot of worry in his stomach at the pallor of Taehyung’s usually tanned skin, the unnatural red of his flushed cheeks and the way his fringe was plastered to his forehead.

 

Jungkook walked as quietly as he could to the bathroom, then halfway across the main room realised how suspicious he sounded.

 

maybe I should just walk normally

 

Second-guessing the way he was walking and whether or not the rest of the ward would even be paying attention to the way he was walking, Jungkook made it to the bathroom without anyone even looking up.

 

they probably didn't even notice me leaving

 

He thought, smiling sheepishly to himself at all the overthinking.

 

"Kookie." Jungkook startled violently, turning around with an unhinged look in his eyes to see Namjoon leaning nonchalantly against the wall on the left of the door.

 

"Namjoon!" Jungkook hissed, taking a few deep breaths to make the sudden panic subside. "Don't do that to me! I nearly had a heart attack. What is it with you and Seokjin and secret bathroom meetings?"

 

He said bitterly, remembering the time almost six months ago when Seokjin had ambushed him in much the same way. Namjoon looked like he wanted to laugh, but controlled it and kept a relatively straight face.

 

"Sorry Kookie, I forgot how on edge you must be." He was still smiling subtly.

 

"You should be on edge too, with Seokjin and all." Jungkook grumbled bitterly, as a sort of passing retort, but Namjoon paled.

 

"W-what do you know about Seokjin?" When Jungkook didn't answer, looking confused, Namjoon grabbed both of his shoulders. "What do you know?" He asked, visibly rattled. Jungkook shook his head, raising an eyebrow in question.

 

"That you two are together...? What are you talking about?" Jungkook asked, studying Namjoon's stricken face. The odd intensity faded from Namjoon's eyes.

 

"N-nothing. Sorry." He let go of Jungkook's shoulders and brushed them down sheepishly, a little ashamed of his strong reaction.

 

"Right." Jungkook said suspiciously, knowing something was wrong but not wanting to push the issue.

 

it's obviously something pretty sensitive

 

"So what did you call me in here for?" He asked instead. Namjoon blinked a couple of times, having completely lost his train of thought. “You pulled me out of the front room all secretively? Have you talked to Minho about Taehyung?” Jungkook said, unconsciously stepping towards Namjoon. Namjoon started, suddenly remembering, then looked at Jungkook guiltily.

 

“Well, you see Jungkook, I discussed it with the others and-“

 

“So you haven’t talked to him.” Jungkook said flatly.

 

“There’s a reason-“

 

“What reason could there be? I told you two nights ago that Tae was sick.” Jungkook was looking angrier, and Namjoon put his arms out in front of him in what was hopefully a placatory gesture.

 

“Hear me out on this Kook.”

 

Jungkook gave him a small, tight nod.

 

“Taehyung, he’s… he’s been different since he got back. Some of us have been worrying that the reason for that is that he’s been, well…converted.” Namjoon trailed off, trying to find a way to articulate what he was saying in a way which wouldn’t seem insensitive.

 

“You think he’s one of them now. Sold out to the State.”

 

“Not that exactly, but-“

 

“That’s bull, hyung. You know that Tae’s not like that.” Jungkook was getting louder, whispers getting closer to shouts with every word as Namjoon frantically motioned for him to quiet down. “ If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t all be talking now. I can’t believe you’d even think-“

 

“Jungkook.”

 

“Even think in a million years that Tae would sell us out-“

 

“Jungkook!” Namjoon hissed, finally losing his cool a little. Jungkook looked like he wanted to protest more, but fell silent.

 

“I understand why you’re angry. I don’t believe Taehyung would go to the other side, but there is always the possibility, and there’s one person in particular who’s scared to talk in his presence now.”

 

“Hoseok.” Jungkook said sullenly. He’d always been the most paranoid in the ward, refusing to talk at times just because he had a bad gut feeling about it.

 

“Hoseok is well within his rights to be suspicious. You of all people should know why we’re more scared now than ever of being caught, after Taehyung got put in solitary.” Namjoon said, but cut Jungkook off with a raised hand before he could protest. “We know he wouldn’t tell them anything about us willingly, but we have no idea what happened while he was in there. Do you know how many words Taehyung has said to any of us since he got back three days ago?”

 

“That’s-“

 

“Zero. He hasn’t spoken once, and ignored us every time we’ve tried. Even Jimin is getting worried that he’s somehow with the State now, and you know how trusting he is.” Jungkook shook his head.

 

“That’s not fair, Namjoon.”

 

“We have to be careful-“

 

“They stopped him from talking!” Jungkook blurted out, a little too loud but it made Namjoon stop in his tracks. He looked questioningly at Jungkook. “They decided he must have been talking to other students, so they put a stop to it. He’s hardly spoken to me either, couldn’t even tell me what they did to him. He feels like crying whenever someone talks to him, because he knows that you guys don’t understand when he can’t reply.” Namjoon rubbed the back of his head guiltily and made to speak. Jungkook beat him to it.

 

“So when you accuse him of siding with the State, you’re wrong. Taehyung’s no traitor.” His voice wavered with the emotion of what he was saying.

 

“He’s just scared, and hurt. Now he’s sick too. Are you going to help him, or are you just going to accuse the guy who’s just been tortured for two weeks for trying to give a starving child food of being a traitor?” Jungkook’s breath came in shudders as he faced Namjoon down, anger blazing across his usually impassive face. He shook his head in contempt and left the bathroom, face positively murderous. Namjoon exhaled heavily and ran a hand through his hair.

 

 

~-~

 

Namjoon hesitated at the plain, grey painted door, knowing it wasn’t safe for him to linger in the hallway. Despite the worry that a staff member could come around the corner at any point and catch him where he wasn’t meant to be, he couldn’t quite work up the nerve to knock on the door.

 

“Come on, it’s only Minho, what are you afraid of?” He muttered to himself, knowing full well it wasn’t Minho making him nervous. The anger in Jungkook’s voice as he hissed that Taehyung was no traitor, the debilitating uncertainty in his gut when he thought about the way Taehyung had been looking at them recently. Always looking, always looking away as soon as they gazed back.

 

“Taehyung’s no traitor.” He repeated Jungkook’s words, trying to convince himself. He really didn’t want to suspect Taehyung, not after everything he’d been through, but…

 

-he’s just waiting for us to break the rules again, he’ll run straight to the staff-“

“Hoseok, you’re not being rational-“

“Run straight to the staff and get us all exiled to ward 11. Can’t you see?” Hoseok’s question was left hanging heavy in the air. Namjoon looked around, half-smiling at Hoseok’s suspicious rant, expecting to be met with the same scepticism. His expression faltered when he saw Yoongi swallow, Jimin bite his lip and bring a hand to rub nervously over the nape of his neck, and Seokjin cast his eyes downwards and keep them trained on the floor.

“I’m not being rude or p-paranoid here,” Hoseok said, breathing more heavily than the small speech should have caused. “B-but we can’t afford to be c-complacent. Not even for T-Tae.”

 He’s about to have a panic attack

 Some rational part of Namjoon pointed out.

You should help, sit him down and tell him to take deep breaths

 But he stayed frozen, watching the doubt and guilt spread over the faces of his friends. Jimin replied long after the silence had become uncomfortable.

“We know Taehyung, he isn’t like that.” The end of the sentence seemed more like a question, voice devoid of all conviction. “He- he’s our friend.”

 Hoseok shook his head.

“Are you willing to stake your life on how well you know him?”

Jimin didn’t reply, looking helplessly for affirmation to Yoongi, who stayed rigid and unmoving. Seokjin just kept staring at the floor.-

 

The name plate on Minho’s door glinted, reflecting light directly into Namjoon’s eyes whenever he paced past again. 

 

126472, M.D.

 

“Damn Minho, damn his stupid name plate, damn Hoseok and his damn paranoia.” Namjoon muttered bitterly, stopping directly outside the door again and finally knocking on the door, in two triple knocks to let Minho know who it was.

 

He answered almost immediately, opening the grey door a fraction and peeking around the edge. The room behind him looked mostly dark, accentuating the murky bags under Minho’s eyes. The young doctor always looked stressed to some extent, what with the immense workload and keeping the secrets of half the rule-breakers in the Institute, but Namjoon had never seen him so haggard before.

 

Something’s not right here

 

“Why are you standing in the middle of the hallway?” Minho hissed, grabbing Namjoon by the collar of his shirt and pulling him quickly into the gloomy room.

 

“I was just-“

 

“Waiting around to get caught where you shouldn’t be, get the both of us into trouble I have no way of getting us out of.”

 

“You’re right, sorry hyung.” Minho sighed and released his shirt, smoothing the rumpled material half-apologetically.

 

“You’re a smart guy Namjoon, you should know better.” Namjoon nodded sheepishly in agreement.

 

“Why are you here anyway?” Minho asked tiredly, sitting back down at his desk in the corner of the small, cramped room. The desk was littered with what looked like medical forms and paperwork, practically spilling off the sides of the desk.

 

This isn’t normal, Minho’s always neat

 

“Namjoon, what is it? I’m inundated with work right now if you couldn’t tell.” He gestured widely at the state of his desk, dislodging a small stack of forms which slid to the floor as if to prove his point. Namjoon bent to pick them up.

 

“Don’t-“ Minho protested, pushing his chair back to get the papers himself, but Namjoon was already gathering them up.

 

“I’m here about Taehyung.” He said from the floor, too occupied with reaching one of the papers which had slid underneath a chair that he missed the way Minho froze, panic darkening his eyes and blanching his face. Namjoon picked up the final paper and handed them towards Minho, glancing idly at the top sheet.

 

07-1159, Taehyung:

Burn-induced aversion-

 

Minho snatched the sheets away before he could read the rest of the page. He looked up at the doctor, feeling his stomach tighten at the blatant guilt on the man’s haggard face when Minho met his eyes for the first time since he’d come in. Then the moment was lost, Minho clearing his throat and turning to put the papers back on his desk.

 

“T-thank you Namjoon. Now…” He settled back onto the chair, breathing once, heavily, before resting his chin on his hands. “What about Taehyung drove you here?”

 

“He’s sick, badly sick. Throwing up, feverish, dizzy, the works.” Minho swallowed and nodded.

 

“Poor kid, it’s to be expected after…” Minho muttered under his breath.

 

“After what?” Namjoon asked, the knot of suspicion in his stomach growing tighter.

 

“A-After solitary. The hygiene in there is not good, especially not for o-open wounds.” Namjoon didn’t miss the way Minho stuttered at the mention of Taehyung’s injuries.

 

“Can you help him? I’ll bring him in after-“

 

“No!” Minho almost yelled, eyes wide, half-pushing himself up from the desk. At the sight of Namjoon’s expression he tried to appear less rattled.

 

“I-I mean…” He searched for an excuse, and found none. He sighed. “Taehyung… it wouldn’t be good for him to see me right now. He wouldn’t want to, believe me.”

 

“Why?” Namjoon asked, trying to keep his voice even. Trying to hide the way his grip on the edge of the desk was tightening, driving splinters into his palm. Minho looked up helplessly.

 

“I think you know why.” He muttered under his breath, resting his head in his hands.

 

“What was that?” Namjoon asked tightly. Minho avoided the question, looking down at his hands.

 

Hyung. What happened to Taehyung. What did you do?”

 

Minho sighed, looking more broken down that Namjoon had ever seen him.

 

“When the Junior Institute was hit, there were so many injuries, so many deaths. There were 67 students there. 33 died immediately as it was hit. 4 died shortly after being pulled out of the rubble, because their injuries were fatal, and even if they were rushed to an operating theatre there was nothing anyone could have done. But 3 more died after that.”

 

Namjoon stared at Minho, not quite sure why he was telling him this. The deaths at the Junior Institute were terrible, of course, but he didn’t see what relevance it had to Taehyung. Minho twisted his hands in his lap, again not meeting Namjoon’s eyes.

 

“Those three deaths were entirely preventable, and happened because the guards who arrived at the building first had no idea how to treat injuries like that. How to treat burns.”

 

burn-induced aversion,

 

Namjoon thought, seeing the pieces start to fall into place but desperately hoping he was wrong.

 

“And the State wanted to train them better. But all the children have had their wounds treated now, so how are the guards meant to learn?”

 

“Taehyung.” Namjoon said, feeling bile rise in his throat.

 

“The very next day, someone disobeys the rules so severely they can take him in for punishment. So they kill two birds with one stone. They modify their usual re-indoctrination to include burns, the guards treat the wounds, and I’m the one they have hurt him because I know medicine, and I know exactly how far they can push a human body before it gives out. They didn’t want another fatality, of course.”

 

Minho was shaking with emotion now, angry and disgusted with himself and ashamed all at once. Namjoon’s hands were shaking fists, his jaw clenched so tightly it felt like his teeth were going to break.

 

Minho looked up at Namjoon, and Namjoon could see for the first time clearly the shame and anger Minho was feeling, the intense hatred of both the state and himself. Minho stood up suddenly, and started pushing Namjoon towards the door.

 

“I-I’ll get the permission for Seokjin to use the first aid kit. All you’ll have to do is clean the wounds out, hopefully antibiotics aren’t needed at this stage-“

 

Namjoon thought of Seokjin, and forced himself to take a shaky breath. He couldn’t afford to lose his temper, not with so much riding on Minho’s help.

 

“Thank you so much for your help, hyung.” Namjoon said, voice dripping with poisonous insincerity. Minho flinched, keeping his eyes trained on the paperwork on his desk. He didn’t reply. Namjoon shook his head and turned to leave, his hand closing around the door handle before Minho spoke again.

 

“Tell him I’m sorry.”

 

Namjoon turned around, questioning look on his face, hand still on the door handle.

 

“I-I’m sorry, they made me do those terrible things, it was never me, never me who wanted to-" He cut himself off and shook his head, as if he hadn't realised he was still speaking out loud. "Tell Seokjin I’m sorry too.”

 

“Why Seokjin?” Namjoon asked, the anger turning to panic as Minho shook his head and got up, pushing Namjoon towards the door.

 

“The things I’ve had to do...” He muttered under his breath, shoving Namjoon out of the door with a strength it seemed impossible for him to possess.

 

“Wait- hyung!”  Namjoon called with desperation as the door was slammed in his face, immediately going to try the handle again. He heard the sound of the door being locked from the other side.

 

“I’m so sorry.” Minho said again, voice muffled by the door but clearly wavering.

 

“Hyung, what are you doing? What are you going to do?”

 

There was no answer, and Namjoon stood stunned in the hallway. His mind raced trying to figure out what was going on.

 

Minho was forced to give Taehyung those terrible injuries so guards could treat them, but where does Seokjin come in? Unless.. he won’t be here to help with-

 

Namjoon heard footsteps coming from down one of the corridors and snapped out of the contemplative daze, starting carefully back along the corridor towards ward 7.

~-~

 

 When Namjoon came back into the ward later that day, around half an hour or so since he’d left to go and see Minho, he was greeted by Yoongi, Jimin, Seokjin and Hoseok sitting in the front room. They were in work positions, like they’d heard the footsteps coming down the hall and assumed it was a staff member, so there was a collective sigh of relief when Namjoon’s lanky frame slipped back into the ward and quietly closed the door behind him. The relief was short-lived however, bleeding out of Seokjin’s face to be replaced with anger instead.

 

“Where the hell did you go, Namjoon?” He hissed, getting up from his desk. Hoseok looked equally angry, while Yoongi and Jimin shared a worried look. “Why did you run off somewhere without even telling me- telling us you were leaving?”

 

Namjoon started, looking at the worry on his friend’s faces with guilt. With how sick Taehyung had been, not to mention how close to snapping Jungkook had seemed, he’d just left without thinking to see Minho as soon as Jungkook stormed off.

 

“I went to see Minho hyung, he seemed really off-“

 

“You went to see Minho?” Seokjin’s fury seemed to have deflated a little, replaced with mostly curiosity.

 

“Yes, but-“

 

“Who’s Minho?” Namjoon heard Jimin whisper in Yoongi’s ear, who leant over to whisper the answer back.

 

“Why did you go to see him?” Hoseok asked, eyes narrowed. Namjoon ignored him and turned to Seokjin instead.

 

“He said something really weird, I need to talk to you privately hyung because I think-“

 

“Answer me Namjoon.” Hoseok interrupted, stepping in front of Seokjin to cut the two of them off. Namjoon sighed.

 

“I went to see him about Taehyung. Please move, Hobi, I really need to talk to Seokjin.” He didn’t wait for a reply and brushed past Hoseok. Seokjin had on his composed expression; the one where he was the opposite of composed inwardly, but was trying to keep a hold on his emotions.

 

“Is it about my…” He whispered, clutching at Namjoon’s shoulder just a little too hard.

 

“I think so.” Namjoon replied, taking Seokjin’s hands in his own. “Which is why we need to leave so we can talk properly, I can fill the rest of the guys in later about what happened but-“

 

“Namjoon?” Jimin cut in, sounding nervous. Namjoon stopped mid-sentence, ready to snap at Jimin for interrupting while he was trying to get him and Seokjin out of there, but the words died on his tongue when he saw Jimin’s fearful expression. He nodded at him to continue.

 

“Why did you go to a doctor about TaeTae?”  Jimin was looking at him with wide, worried eyes, as if knowing what the answer to his question would be but desperately hoping Namjoon had a different answer for him.

 

Oh Jimin, don’t look at me like that.

 

“Taehyung’s sick.” Namjoon said shortly, not trusting himself to say more. Jimin nodded and looked away, tears forming in the corners of his eyes. Yoongi squeezed his hand comfortingly.

 

“How sick? Is it- is it serious?” Hoseok asked, obviously working very hard to keep his voice from shaking and his facial expression neutral. Namjoon suppressed a bitter laugh.

 

Feeling guilty yet, Hoseok? Don’t worry, so am I.

 

“Sick enough that I needed to see Minho, even with the staff on high alert and patrolling the halls.” Hoseok looked dissatisfied with the answer. Namjoon sighed, knowing what he had really been asking. “Sick enough that it explains his suspicious behaviour. I don’t think he’s eaten anything since he got back that he’s kept down for more than an hour or so.”

 

Now the guilt showed clearly on Hoseok’s face, reflected back by the others in the room. Namjoon knew his own face bore the same shameful blush.

 

“Is that why he hasn’t talked to us?” Jimin asked, the hurt at being ignored by his friend seeping through the remorse in his tone. Mouth suddenly dry, Namjoon swallowed uncomfortably. He didn’t know exactly why Taehyung wasn’t talking anymore, but…

 

-“They stopped him from talking!”-

 

But after what Jungkook had said to him, and what Minho had said about the State re-indoctrination, he had an idea. An idea that made his stomach churn, like some morbid impression of Taehyung’s own illness. By this point the silence had lasted too long; pause going from a pregnant one to just uncomfortable. Namjoon knew they needed an answer, preferably a simple one to let their guilt play out and absolve Taehyung of any lingering suspicion, so he sighed and resigned himself to a slight omission of truth.

 

Not a lie.

 

“Probably. With how much he was throwing up, I wouldn’t be surprised if even opening his mouth made him want to spew.”

 

There was a collective exhale, and Yoongi, Hoseok and Jimin began exchanging guilty looks.

 

“Hyung-“ Jimin began,

 

“Now don’t start.” Seokjin said, sensing accurately that Namjoon needed a bit of a break from the conversation.

 

“It was a defensive response for us to be suspicious – who wouldn’t be after seeing something like what happened in the canteen?” Yoongi was nodding along almost unconsciously, while Hoseok still looked doubtful.

 

“Hoseok, it’s okay. We’ll explain to TaeTae that we got scared and panicked, and that’s why we treated him like some kind of suspect. He’ll understand, you know he will.” Hoseok nodded slowly, looking like he was stuck somewhere between relief and self-deprecation, not quite knowing where he was. Seokjin gave him a wide, reassuring smile and turned to Namjoon.

 

Hoseok probably needs a bit of time to process that and get over his suspicion,

 

Seokjin thought, still smiling fondly,

 

Soon he’ll be all over Taehyung apologising and trying to hug the poor kid back to health.

 

At the sight of Namjoon’s grim expression his smile shrank by a couple of molars. He opened his mouth to ask what was going on but Namjoon gestured for him to be quiet, shaking his head and tugging on his arm to move them away from where the others were beginning to talk shakily amongst themselves. Seokjin understood the carefully guarded actions.

 

They hadn’t made it more than ten years under the oppressive iron fist of the Institute by being casual about their secrets.

 

Namjoon lead him to stand just to the side of the doorframe separating the main room and the dorm rooms, closer to Hoseok and the others than Seokjin thought they would be. He cocked an eyebrow quizzically at Namjoon, darting a slightly nervous look behind him to check the others weren’t paying close attention to them.

 

“Tae and Jungkook are in the dorm, I don’t know how fond Jungkook is of us right now.” Namjoon explained,  jerking his head ever so slightly over to the end of the dorm room, where Seokjin could just about make out a lump on the bed, a blurry figure leaning sat on a chair next to him.

 

Jungkook had covered the lights nearest to Taehyung’s bed with their blankets, presumably to block out the light so Taehyung could sleep, so that he appeared, with his dark hair and clothes, as a shadowy mass by the pale white of Taehyung’s sheets. Seokjin shook his head ruefully, not knowing how he could have missed that Taehyung was so ill.

 

To be fair, the blanket light-covers are new.

 

Namjoon was looking at him softly.

 

“Don’t do that hyung. I can see you beating yourself up, remember what you said to Hoseok. We were all suspicious of him.”

 

Seokjin forcefully tore his eyes away from the painful sight, shaking his head again to try and clear his thoughts. The anxiety about whatever had happened with Minho, which he had been suppressing while they talked with Jimin, Yoongi and Hoseok present suddenly surged up and Seokjin felt his own breathing quicken, heart beating faster in his chest. Namjoon, it seemed, was letting his composure slip a little, his grip on Seokjin’s arm getting tighter.

 

“He told me what they did to Taehyung. Then he told me to apologize to you.” Seokjin blinked, uncomprehending.

 

“What happened to Taehyung? A-and why apologise to me? I don’t understand.” Namjoon ran a hand roughly through his hair, letting his true state of panic show.

 

“I’ll tell you about Tae later.” He said, needing a big more time to process it himself before he told Seokjin about it.  “And I don’t understand either, hyung. It was like he was going crazy, talking about the-the ‘things they made him do’. Then he pushed me out of the room before I could even ask properly what he was talking about, but the way he said sorry…”

 

“What is it Namjoon, don’t you dare trail off, not now.”

 

“it was like he wasn’t going to see me again, hyung.” Seokjin could only stare, chest constricting tighter and tighter with a rising, helpless sense of dread.

 

“Whatever he was saying sorry for, whatever he was planning to do,” Namjoon went on,

 

“He won’t be around to help us anymore.”

 

Seokjin’s mouth opened and closed, but only small strangled noises escaped. His eyes were locked on Namjoon’s, and he clung to the other’s large hands with disbelief.

 

“Y-you mean we’re on our own again? This close to physicals?” Seokjin asked. Namjoon looked as if he was about to reply, but was cut off by a mechanical whine coming from the ceiling. The intercom speaker was starting up with a familiar screech of feedback and static, almost deafening for a good five seconds or so before the announcement started.

 

They should probably replace those, I bet they’re older than I am

 

Thought Seokjin, looking up at the metal speaker box instinctively.

 

“Ward 7, the first aid kit is now unlocked for use. Any with first aid training within the ward tend to the sick and injured.”

 

Seokjin looked at Namjoon with confusion.

 

“I thought you went to see Minho? Isn’t he treating Taehyung?”

 

“Shit, I  got so distracted with what else he said I forgot to tell you. Minho said that he couldn’t treat Taehyung-“

 

“Wait, why’s that?”

 

“Tell you later. Point is, he said the only thing he could do was to get permission for you to use the first aid kit on him.”

 

Seokjin nodded, accepting the vague answer for now and letting his tight grip on Namjoon’s hands go, starting off in the direction of the bathroom so he could retrieve the medical kit from its spot on top of one of the bathroom cupboards.

 

“Seokjin wait, we haven’t finished talking-“ Namjoon put a hand on his shoulder to pull him back, but Seokjin shrugged it off gently, stopping to talk to him.

 

“I’m done talking right now Namjoon. I don’t know what kind of danger we could be facing, or how to fix it, but I know exactly what kind of danger poor Taehyung is in right now,” Seokjin grabbed a hand towel from a bedside drawer in the dorm room, intending to run it under cold water when he reached the bathroom.

 

“Think of something to do about Minho while I do this. You don’t need me here right now, but I’ve behaved appallingly towards a very sick friend of mine in desperate need of medical attention.”

 

Namjoon made to protest but quickly saw Seokjin’s point, closing his mouth and nodding. Hoseok tapped Seokjin on the shoulder, rubbing the back of his neck guiltily.

 

“Is there anything I can help with?” He said, craning his neck past Namjoon’s large frame to peer at the bed Taehyung was lying in. He winced and bit his lip at the sight of the makeshift sickbed. Seokjin’s sharp, slightly defiant expression softened when he saw the obvious regret on Hoseok’s face, and he nodded.

 

“You can tell Jungkook to let Seokjin take a look at poor TaeTae. Tell him that Minho couldn’t look himself, so this is the only option we have right now to try and help him.” Hoseok nodded tightly, turning to look at the corner of the room. He took a deep breath, preparing to possibly get attacked by a rightfully angry Jungkook, and headed to the corner of the dorm room. Seokjin got out a couple more towels and a clean sheet, dumping them both into Namjoon’s waiting arms.

 

As he walked through the bathroom door towards the cabinet where the first aid kit was kept, Seokjin’s legs buckled and he pitched forwards onto his knees, dropping the hand towel on the tiled floor with a curse. Namjoon rushed forwards in concern to pick him up, but Seokjin waved him off and got up himself, dusting off his grey slacks and picking up  the towel.

 

“You okay?” Namjoon asked, watching warily to see if he was going to collapse.

 

“A bit shaken is all,” Seokjin replied, reaching for the first aid kit, “Bad news does that sometimes.”

 

“You sure-“

 

“We’ll talk about it later.” Seokjin cut him off firmly, then grimaced at the sound of raised voices coming from the dorm room.

 

“Right now we need to rescue Hoseok before our dear maknae eats him.”

 

Chapter Text

Hoseok tentatively approached the darkened corner of the dorm room, eyes darting nervously back and forth in a half-compulsive way. Even though they’d all been talking for months now, there were still more paranoid parts of him which expected deception and punishment with everything he did.

 

You can’t take it out on them anymore

 

He thought, deliberately trying not to look at the huddled figure under the startlingly white sheets. There were more sheets covering a few of the lights on the ceiling of the left wall, fastened into place by makeshift ropes made out of what looked like several ties. It was an ingenious set-up, probably disrespectful enough to the ideals of the institute to make any rule-abiding student have a fit. Jungkook was…

 

He looks awful, how can it be that none of us noticed what was happening?

 

He was crammed into the tiny space between Taehyung’s bedside table and his bed, hunched over on the floor and completely asleep. By the look of his position he’d not meant to fall asleep, and by the look of the bags under his eyes he’d not had much choice in the matter. Hoseok’s heart clenched when he saw that one of his hands was resting lightly on the bed, pinned there by the weight of Taehyung’s own. It looked like he’d fallen asleep holding onto Taehyung’s hand, their fingers still mostly interlaced, although Jungkook’s had slipped off to the side a little.

 

Hoseok didn’t want to move them, especially seeing as Jungkook had literally passed out due to exhaustion, but what Namjoon had said about Taehyung’s condition…

 

“Sick enough that it explains his suspicious behaviour. I don’t think he’s eaten anything since he got back that he’s kept down for more than an hour or so.”

 

Hoseok swallowed, stepping closer to the bed. Taehyung didn’t have any blankets, probably because Jungkook hadn’t wanted to make the fever any worse, but the top half of his face was mostly obscured by a damp-looking flannel.

 

Another measure for controlling the fever?

 

Reaching out with a hand that shook like a leaf in a hurricane, Hoseok hesitantly lifted the corner of the flannel. Immediately he felt the heat of Taehyung’s skin, recoiling slightly in shock. He felt like he was literally burning up; parts of the flannel which had obviously been soaked through before were practically dry. He tried not to look at the half-healed cuts and bruises still littering the flushed skin. Wincing again at the feverish heat radiating from Taehyung’s body, he took the flannel and folded it, laying it by the side of Taehyung’s head. He patted the sleeping boy apologetically and turned to the figure huddled in the tiny space beside the bed.

 

Despite the worryingly dark eye-bags and unruly, unwashed hair, it was one of the only times Hoseok had seen Jungkook look peaceful. Or rather, free from the intense but somehow empty look he always saw in those dark eyes. While Jungkook was sleeping, it was as if the bruises faded a little. Just enough that he didn’t look like the exhaustion had spread to his mind as well. Hoseok swallowed and gripped his shoulder, shaking him ever so slightly. Jungkook stirred, making an uncomfortable noise in the back of his throat and swatting at Hoseok with the hand that had been tangled with Taehyung’s. Hoseok found himself smiling slightly, despite the circumstances, and shook him a little harder.

 

“Come on Jungkookie, we need your help with TaeTae.”

 

His eyes opened blearily and he blinked a couple of times, as if not quite remembering where he was or what he was meant to be doing. He looked with utter confusion at Hoseok.

 

“H-Hoseok?” His voice was slightly rough with sleep. His gaze became more focused and he narrowed his eyes, the sleepy haze replaced with anger. Shoving Hoseok’s hand roughly off his shoulder, he stood up and crossed his arms over his chest. Hoseok swallowed again. The unbridled aggression in Jungkook’s stance was pretty impossible to miss.

 

“J-Jungkook, I know I’m not your favourite person right now-“

 

“What do you want?” Jungkook interrupted curtly, shifting his position so that he was standing between Hoseok and Taehyung. He rested a hand protectively on the end of Taehyung’s bed.

 

“There was an announcement, I think you were asleep. Seokjin was given permission to use the first aid kit.”

 

Jungkook’s look of anger softened a little, replaced in part with confusion. He glanced over at Taehyung, who was still asleep (passed out) despite the conversation.

 

“But- Didn’t Namjoon talk to Minho about him?”

 

“He did,” Hoseok nodded in response, “But something happened between the two of them. He didn’t tell us what it was, but Minho wouldn’t come himself. Seokjin and the first aid kit is the only thing we’ve got right now.”

 

Jungkook looked at him blankly for a second. Hoseok winced when he saw his hands clench into fists at his side, expecting an outburst. He looked as if he was about to attack Hoseok, but shook his head and glanced back at Taehyung instead. Jungkook looked up at the ceiling for a couple of breaths, breathing in and out heavily, slowly unclenching his fists. Hoseok stayed silent, defensive still, and flinched when Jungkook moved towards him. Jungkook half-smiled.

 

“I’m not going to do anything stupid. Taehyung needs you all. Even though I’m nowhere near happy with you right now,” He gave Hoseok a withering look, one which made him want to slink back to the front room in shame, “I’m okay. Get Seokjin.”

 

Hoseok nodded, refusing to meet Jungkook’s eye. He snuck one last look at Taehyung’s sweat-drenched form on the bed, then left as quietly as he could.

 

~-~

 

“But he must have said something.” Seokjin said, filling a bottle with drinking water from a tap next to the sinks. “He wouldn’t have just kicked you out, not when he knows what’s at stake.”

 

Namjoon shook his head.

 

“It was like he’d seen a ghost, Jin. The moment I mentioned Taehyung he shut down.”

 

Namjoon decided not to mention the disturbing things Minho had told him about what he had to do to Taehyung. There was enough pressure on Seokjin as it is, without the knowledge of how their long-time friend had tortured someone they practically considered family.

 

Seokjin bit his lip, still obviously unsatisfied with the answer. He lay the water bottle on top of the towels in Namjoon’s waiting arms and picked up the medical kit from where it was resting on the floor.

 

“It’s bad enough that Minho’s scared us like this, without throwing poor Taehyung under the bus as well. I’ve only done a basic first aid course, I’m way out of my depth here.”

 

“Don’t think like that Seokjin, you’ll do fine. While I don’t know what’s going on with him right now, Minho wouldn’t have just left Taehyung without someone competent to look after him. You give yourself too little credit.” Namjoon rested a comforting hand on Seokjin’s shoulder, but the older man didn’t react.

 

“What if I make it worse.” He mumbled. Namjoon knew he wasn’t just referring to Taehyung’s illness. He didn’t respond, rather shifted the towels and supplies to the side so he could give Seokjin  slightly awkwardly positioned hug, ending in Seokjin’s face being almost smothered by the towels. He didn’t try and push them away, rather pressed his face closer and tried to breathe normally.

 

“It will all be fine, Seokjin. We’ve been alone before and we managed just fine.” Namjoon said, hugging Seokjin closer.

 

Seokjin nodded. He knew that things were different now, and Minho’s help these past years had been the only thing keeping Seokjin from discovery. It was past the point where just the two of them could make it okay.

 

But he didn’t need to say that out loud. He knew Namjoon understood.

 

“We’ll be okay.” Namjoon said quietly. He didn’t sound like he believed himself, and Seokjin held him tighter.

 

“Yeah, we will be.” He lied.

 

“Jungkook agreed to- oh…” Hoseok came in the doorway to the bathroom without really looking, then stopped awkwardly by the doorframe “I-I can come back in a minute if-“

 

“It’s fine!” Seokjin said, sounding slightly flustered, detaching himself from Namjoon’s hold to follow Hoseok with the first aid kit clutched in one hand. Hoseok looked questioningly at Namjoon, who hefted the towels and nodded.

 

“Come on then, TaeTae’s waited long enough already.”

 

Hoseok didn’t move off straight away however, looking ashamedly down at his feet. Seokjin knew he was still feeling guilty about telling everyone not to trust Taehyung.

 

“Hoseok?” He started and met Seokjin’s eyes, guilt and surprise taking over his face. Seokjin smiled.

 

“Are you squeamish?” Hoseok hesitated for a moment before shaking his head, looking quizzically at Seokjin.

 

“Good. Go and wash your hands very thoroughly, I’ll need someone to help me with all the sterile stuff.” Hoseok froze for a second, realising what Seokjin was doing, and shot him a grateful smile.

 

“Thanks Seokjin, you know I’ve been-“

 

“Shush,” Seokjin gave him a little shove on the shoulder, “Your thanks is received, now hurry on and wash up.” Hoseok nodded and practically ran off to the sink. Namjoon looked at the retreating form with amusement and turned to Seokjin, expecting to see a similar smirk on his face, but he was staring into the dorm room with apprehension.

 

“Seokjin-“

 

“I’m fine.” He walked into the dorm without looking back at Namjoon. Namjoon sighed and ran a hand through his hair, then hefted the towels back into his arms and followed on into the dorm.

 

The first thing Seokjin noticed as he came near the bed was the smell; decay, rot, infection. Judging by the smell, the cause of Taehyung’s fever was definitely an infected wound, especially given that the dressings hadn’t been changed the whole time he’d been in bed. Taehyung looked almost as if he was at death’s door, paler that Seokjin had ever seen him with his hair damp, clinging to his forehead with sweat, breathing laboured and irregular. Jungkook looked up at his approach, nodding in a sort of reflexive deference.

 

“Can you help him?” He asked, the desperation clear in his tone.

 

“I’ll try Kookie, I’m a little out of my depth but I’ll try.”

 

Jungkook hardly looked placated at all, opting to stand by the bed and pace up and down the room occasionally. Jimin and Yoongi had joined the small crowd around Taehyung, looking on in horror as Seokjin sat down next to Taehyung on the bed and peeled one of the dressings off his stomach, just at the corner so he could get a glimpse of what he was dealing with. Immediately the slight stench in the air grew stronger.

 

Jungkook swallowed, feeling his mouth grow dry immediately as he shifted uncomfortably in his seat. That smell, of ruined flesh and decay, made him feel like he was 9 years old again, stuck in the Junior Institute with the threat of chemical bombs and illness, and the stench of the corpses down in the lower levels which wafted through the almost-empty hallways. He felt a hand grab his arm and looked up to see Jimin standing there, jaw clenched so that Jungkook could see the tendons standing out in his neck, and he knew that Jimin was thinking the same way. He clutched at the hand in return, trying to remember that he was older and stronger than he had been back then. Reminding himself that Taehyung wasn’t dead, and convincing himself that Taehyung wasn’t going to die either.

 

Seokjin had meanwhile, with Namjoon's help, shifted Taehyung so that he was lying on top of a clean towel, off of the soaked and unhygienic bedsheets.

 

“Could someone pull the sheet out from under him, it’s an infection risk in itself.” Seokjin said, gesturing at the spectators. Yoongi started slightly, as if he’d completely zoned out while watching Seokjin work, and nodded. He got up and started tugging, process hindered by the fact that he was trying very hard not to touch Taehyung.

 

“Would it be dangerous for him if we get too close?” He asked, slowly turning a bit red from the effort of removing the sheet from underneath Taehyung, who was lying there unconscious as essentially deadweight.

 

“Try not to touch the wounds or dressings.” Seokjin said, putting on some disposable gloves. Hoseok came back into the room, holding his hands up in front of him, which glistened with a slight sheen of water. Seokjin tossed another pair of gloves to him. Another couple of seconds of Yoongi tugging fruitlessly on the soiled sheets underneath Taehyung snapped Jungkook out of his half-flashback daze. He rolled Taehyung on to his side, freeing half of the sheet so it made it a lot easier to pull out. Yoongi nodded gratefully at him and pulled. Seokjin, first aid kit open and everything laid out ready, turned rather hesitantly to look around at the others.

 

“If anyone has a weak stomach, I’d advise they look away now. Even if not, please give Tae a little room to breathe. Stay close though, I’ll likely need clean water and towels every so often.”

 

This was met with a little chorus of agreement and nodding all around.

 

 “Jungkook, take his shirt off please.” He said, gesturing towards the white material. Jungkook stepped forwards, finding it a little hard to breathe. He could feel the same tension radiating off the others as well; even he hadn’t seen the full extent of Taehyung’s injuries yet, merely brief glimpses of gauze underneath his shirt when he moved. He removed it as gently as he could, trying not to move Taehyung too much, but it kept getting snagged on something covering Taehyung’s chest. He finally pulled the shirt completely off, and there was a collective intake of breath at the sight.

 

Bandages and dressings covered most of the surface of his chest, stretching round to the back so there was no doubt he was lying on some pretty nasty wounds as well. Worse even than the amount of bandages was the state of some of them, yellow patches and wet spots seeping through, mixed with both dried and fresh blood. Seokjin had frozen with his hands hovering in the air above Taehyung’s body, looking over with wide eyes when Jimin nudged him tentatively.

 

“Seokjin? You alright?”

 

“Yes, yes I just didn’t expect him…” He trailed off, swallowing uncomfortably, eyes looking a little more watery than they had been. He swiped his forearm across his eyes and nodded to himself, steeling himself to continue.

 

“Hoseok, ready the antiseptic. We’ll need a lot.”

 

~-~

 

 

The last of the old bandages were being taken to Minho’s surgery by Yoongi and Jimin, along with the gloves and towels Seokjin and Hoseok had been using, so there was a lull in activity in the dorm as Jungkook and Taehyung slept, while the rest stayed silent. Hoseok was sat in the dorm, on his bed at the opposite side to Jungkook and Taehyung, either sleeping as well or keeping an eye on them to make sure nothing further happened to Taehyung.

 

Cleaning and dressing  all of his wounds had taken more than two hours, as there were some which required stitching or re-stitching as well as meticulous cleansing. Seokjin was slumped listlessly against the wall. He stretched out his hand, blinking lethargically at the blurry fingers. It was like he could still see the blood on them, still hear Taehyung’s suppressed crying when he’d briefly woken up-

 

-“You’re okay TaeTae look, it’s just Seokjin, he’s gotta fix you up before you get worse.” Jungkook was trying to sound reassuring, gripping Taehyung’s hand and looking him straight in the eyes as he made small whimpers, eyes full of tears. Taehyung nodded and opened his mouth to speak, shutting it and looking away almost immediately. Jungkook reached over to wipe away some of the tears, turning Taehyung’s face back towards him.

It’s okay, you can speak.” From the look on Taehyung’s face, the words had more significance than everyone except the couple realised. Taehyung nodded, one hand balled into a fist in Jungkook’s sleeve.

“It hurts, Kook.” He said quietly, defeated. Jungkook’s breath hitched and he gripped Taehyung’s hands tighter. Seokjin looked away, chest painfully constricted, and grabbed the bottle of antiseptic again. Taehyung unsuccessfully bit back a scream of pain, twisting but battling to keep his body still as he felt the next bandage being pulled off, and Seokjin couldn’t suppress a sob as he dabbed antiseptic onto the raw, bleeding skin beneath.-

 

Seokjin drew his knees up to his chest and put his head in his hands, shaking slightly. Namjoon, sitting nearby on the wall, put a comforting hand on his shoulder.

 

“You did what you had to.” He said quietly.

 

“You think I don’t  know that?” Seokjin snapped, shooting him an angry glare. Namjoon’s eyes widened slightly and he took his hand back, an unreadable expression on his face. Seokjin deflated and returned his head to his hands.

 

“I’m sorry Joon I didn’t mean it,” He said, voice muffled by his own knees, “You know it isn’t you making me angry.” Namjoon nodded, still watching Seokjin with slight apprehension. He didn’t try and put his hand back on Seokjin’s shoulder.

 

“What the hell did they do to Taehyung?” Seokjin asked, half-rhetorically. He sighed and removed his hands from his face, letting them drop and hang heavy at his sides. He looked at Namjoon. “There’s more to it than you told us, isn’t there.” He didn’t phrase it as a question, rather a statement.

 

“What made you think that?” Namjoon replied, being careful not to confirm or deny his suspicions.

 

“You seemed hesitant when talking about him and Minho. Jungkook too, he seemed…” He trailed off, trying to think of a way to put it into words. “He treated Taehyung talking like it was a big deal. Taehyung was hardly making any noise despite the- the pain. It seemed like he was trying not to make a sound.”

 

Namjoon nodded.

 

“I saw some papers that Minho had.” Seokjin could feel dread building in his chest, a sickening feeling that he knew where this was going.

 

“Minho was involved in this?”

 

“The papers made it seem like Minho was the one who gave Taehyung his injuries. I pushed him a little and he admitted to it.”

 

Seokjin stared at him, slack-jawed in horror, and Namjoon nodded grimly.

 

“They used Minho because he’d know when it became dangerous, the limits the human body can take.” He said, glancing over to the doorway to the dorm room ,where he could just about see Taehyung lying down in bed.

 

Crackling from the speakers cut through the shocked silence, as the autocom system groaned back into life.

 

‘Six month physicals begin tomorrow. Times posted before breakfast on the bulletin board. In ward 7, 07-1159 will be picked up by staff.’

 

The crackling stopped with a small click, like a cut-off button had been pressed. Seokjin and Namjoon looked at each other in fear.

 

“If Minho’s not here-“

 

“We managed before.” Namjoon said quickly, defensively, “We did it alone for years.”

 

Seokjin smiled sadly, the expression not quite reaching his eyes.

 

“You know as well as I do it’s worse now. Things aren’t like they were before,” his tone was one of finality, as he locked eyes with Namjoon and this time didn’t look away.

 

“This time, it’s over.”

 

Chapter Text

cold. dark. pain. cold, cold, why’s it so…

 

Taehyung tried to move, but found the exertion of merely trying to move his head had him slumping back against the pillows. The pain came and went in flares as he drifted in and out of consciousness. His body was exhausted from the lack of sleep and the fever, but the pain and the cold kept pulling him back. He didn’t know how long he spent like this, stuck in a haze of barely-lucid, disjointed episodes which didn’t fit together but neither seemed like dreams, but eventually the discomfort won out against his fatigue.

 

The room was dark, illuminated only by the green emergency lights set into the tops of the walls. Taehyung shivered a little and looked to see he was shirtless (albeit with most of his chest covered by fresh bandages), with only his legs covered by one of the thin bedsheets. As his eyes slowly adjusted to the gloom, he could pick out a dark lump huddled near his bedside table.

 

Jungkook was sat cross legged on the floor, with his head slumped against the side of the bed. His arms looked like he’d been folding them across his chest when he fell asleep, but now they hugged his sides almost protectively. Taehyung smiled fondly at the sight. He looked so young like this; it was easy to forget he was still a teenager, a couple of years his junior, when most of the time his expression was so carefully constructed and controlled. He shifted uncomfortably, trying to grab the edge of the sheet without bothering him, but Jungkook stirred as soon as he felt the slightest movement from the bed.

 

“Taehyung?” He asked sleepily, sitting a little more upright and blinking. Taehyung nodded through the darkness.

 

“Yeah Kookie, I’m-“ He stopped mid-sentence to try and bite down another shudder of cold. “-Awake.”

 

“You cold?” He asked, sounding more alert this time, voice laced with concern, peering through the gloom so he could see Taehyung’s face. Taehyung nodded, teeth clamped together to stop them chattering. Jungkook stood up and stretched, back cracking and joints aching from sleeping in such an odd position. He leant over and felt Taehyung’s forehead, humming to himself in approval.

 

“You don’t feel so hot anymore. Your fever must have broken during the night.”

 

Taehyung coughed a couple of times, trying to get rid of the congested feeling in his throat.

 

“I’ll get a blanket or something.” Jungkook said softly, as if to make sure he didn’t wake anyone.

 

“Wait.” Jungkook stopped, looking questioningly at Taehyung. He was about to ask what, when Taehyung held up a hand for silence.

 

“Do you hear that?” He asked. Jungkook listened for a moment. The only noise he heard was the faint humming from the emergency lights. He shook his head, slightly confused.

 

“Exactly. Where are the others? I can’t hear breathing.” Taehyung craned his neck to see around Jungkook, and his speculations were confirmed; there was no one in the  dorm room. It was very odd given it was obviously past lights out.

 

“What time is it?” Taehyung muttered, half to himself.

 

“Last I remember it was well before lights off. The others went to the front room after Seokjin had finished fixing you up, wanted to give you a bit of quiet. They’re probably still out there.” Jungkook stood there, staring at the wall in thought. Taehyung shivered again, and he snapped out  of his contemplative trance.

 

“Right, shit, blankets, I’ll be right back Tae.” Taehyung nodded gratefully, sinking back against the pillows. He tried crossing his arms over his chest for warmth, but found the pressure on the unhealed gashes and burns was unbearable. Jungkook was picking blankets off of all the unoccupied beds.

 

even Yoongi’s left, he really must have been worried.

 

Taehyung thought guiltily, feeling awful that his poor hyungs were probably piled up in the front room with no blankets. Jungkook came back over with an armful of blankets and even some more pillows, dumping them in a pile beside the bed and grabbing one off the top of the pile. Taehyung began to protest but Jungkook cut him off immediately with chatter.

 

“I was mostly right about where the hyungs are, Hoseok is asleep over a couple of desks in the front room. Namjoon and Seokjin are there as well, sorta slumped up against the far wall together, but Yoongi and Jimin aren’t there. No clue where they’ve got to.” He lay the blanket as gently as possible across Taehyung’s upper body, but he still couldn’t stop the sharp hiss of pain when it settled over the top of his chest. Jungkook winced.

 

“Sorry hyung.” Taehyung shook his head.

 

“No Kookie, don’t worry. I’m sorry to be such a burden. Hey, don’t-“ He put a hand out to stop Jungkook putting another blanket and pillow on his bed. Jungkook froze, looking with cautious alarm at Taehyung. He patted Jungkook’s arm in reassurance.

 

“It’s not you, Kook. I …” He trailed off and looked in the direction of the door to the main room. “They’re already sleeping on desks and the floor for me and I-“

 

“Taehyung.” Jungkook cautioned, still leaning over his bed with blanket at the ready.

 

“I don’t want to keep causing so much trouble for you all. I can’t let you give up blankets and pillows for me too.”

 

Jungkook straightened up, tucking the blankets under one arm and looking away to the side. He took a couple of breaths to collect himself, and that was when Taehyung noticed he was shaking.

 

“Y-you okay Jungkook?”

 

“No. Just take the blankets.” Jungkook held a couple out to him, still avoiding eye contact.

 

“Jungkook-“ He began, taking hold of the hand with the blankets and gently turning it away from the bed. He couldn’t get another word out before Jungkook abruptly cut him off.

 

“We were so worried. They beat you senseless then took you away for two weeks, we had no clue what they did in solitary. The rumours were awful. The hyungs tried to keep up a strong front for me, because I wasn’t, well,” Jungkook fumbled for words to describe what he’d been like during Taehyung’s absence,

 

neurotic comes to mind, sullen, scared,

 

“I-I wasn’t doing so well.” Taehyung’s heart lurched at the quiet confession, thinking of how desperately he’d wanted to see Jungkook during those awful weeks.  

 

“But even then they couldn’t hide how much they were worried. I was behind Jimin in the queues every day, I could see how often he checked the damn bulletin board looking for news about you. I thought it would be okay again when you came back but then you, you couldn’t even t-talk to me because of what they did to you.”

 

Jungkook’s voice had become progressively louder, less composed. He looked over at Taehyung for the first time since he’d started speaking, eyes red-rimmed and jaw clenched, trying not to cry. Taehyung jolted at the sight of his obvious distress and reached out to bring him closer, but Jungkook crossed his arms over his chest, shaking his head, and carried on talking.

 

“Then you got sick, and I’ve never seen anyone that sick before. Tae, I was so scared. I thought you were gonna die, or get taken away or-“ He cut himself off and swallowed, desperately trying to keep some sort of composure to finish his point but getting too choked up.

 

“And your wounds too, they were so bad. They’re still so bad. You haven’t been able to eat practically anything since you got back a week ago, and now what? You wanna get hypothermia on top of all that?” He laughed bitterly, and Taehyung had never felt so guilty before.

 

“I’m so sorry Jungkook, I never meant to-“

 

“You don’t have to apologise, none of this was your fault and we hate them for what they did to you. It’s just…” Jungkook swiped at his eyes a couple of times, trying to collect his thoughts. Taehyung waited silently in the bed, bottom lip quivering slightly, feeling a little like he was going to burst into tears next.

 

“The hyungs all cleared out voluntarily. You think Yoongi would have given up his bed if he didn’t want to?” Taehyung chuckled a bit despite the heavy feeling in his chest, and Jungkook gave him a watery smile.

 

“We’ve all been worried sick, so stop being stubborn and let us take care of you.”

 

Taehyung nodded sheepishly and lay back without protest, as Jungkook lay the extra blankets on top of him. He tucked them in with a careful diligence, making sure he didn't disturb Taehyung's wounds, staying by the side of the bed and looking over his work when he was finished. He touched a square of gauze on Taehyung’s cheek gently, as if afraid the lightest touch could hurt him.

 

“Does it hurt?”

 

“N-not badly at all, in fact it’s…” Taehyung trailed off when he saw Jungkook’s expression. “It’s not fooling you, is it?” Jungkook gave a curt shake of his head, and Taehyung sighed.

 

“Yes.” He admitted quietly. “Worse than ever.”

 

Jungkook nodded, biting his lip as he bent down to lay another blanket down. Taehyung felt Jungkook’s tears before he saw them, small drops falling on the bare skin of his arm. He took hold of Jungkook’s arm to get him to stop what he was doing, and wiped the tears away from under his eyes.

 

“What are you trying to do Kookie, put salt in my wounds?” He teased, pinching one of Jungkook’s cheeks, “That’s not gonna help, is it!”

 

Jungkook let out an odd hiccupping sound, a mixture of a laugh and a sob.

 

“That’s the first time you’ve made a joke since you came back.”

 

Taehyung grabbed Jungkook’s tie, pulling him down to the bed so he could plant a soft kiss on his lips.

 

“Well, despite the pain,” He said, trying not to laugh at Jungkook’s surprised expression,

 

“I’m beginning to feel more like myself.”

 

~-~

 

“I can hear raised voices, they better not be fighting.” Hoseok said. He’d woken up from his desk nap to the sound of faint chatter coming from the dorm room and, under the guise of stretching his aching neck, kept it at an angle as close to the dorm as possible. Namjoon snorted.

 

“They’re both too whipped to be fighting. Especially with TaeTae so ill.”

 

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that. Jungkook’s voice is sounding pretty emotionally charged.”

 

Seokjiin looked over at Hoseok with vague, tired disapproval.

 

“You’re such an old creep, Hobi. Leave the kids be.”

 

“You never complain when I turn up decent gossip.” Hoseok muttered, but reluctantly walked away from the divide between the two rooms a little and went to sit beside Seokjin. There was relative silence for a minute or two, before the faint sound of voices reached where the three men were sat propped up against the wall. Seokjin sat up straighter, hearing the genuine distress in what he could just about recognise as Jungkook’s voice. Namjoon seemed to have heard it as well.

 

“Okay maybe they could be fighting, Jungkook seems pretty torn up about something.”

 

“Do you think they’re breaking up?” Hoseok asked worriedly, looking at the other two for answers. Seokjin and Namjoon exchanged a glance, and Seokjin shrugged.

 

“I wouldn’t think so, but it’s not like either of them are very up front about what’s going on. Part of it’s lingering caution from hiding everything all day, which is understandable, but-” Seokjin smiled slightly, remembering something, and nudged Namjoon “Remember when we asked Taehyung, back when we’d only just started talking, about the two of them?”

 

Namjoon nodded, smiling as well.

 

“Never seen someone blush like that before, or since.”

 

“But?” Hoseok prompted.

 

“Oh, right. But partially they get too embarrassed when anyone brings it up. Pretty adorable.”

 

Hoseok smiled fondly at that.

 

“Well, they are just kids.”

 

“Kids who’ve gone suspiciously silent.” Namjoon said, shooting a glance over at the doorway to the dorm room. He couldn’t see the two of them from his position on the floor. Seokjin tried to look and found the wall was blocking his way. Images of Taehyung fainting or of Jungkook accidentally hurting him in an argument ran through his head, so he poked Namjoon.

 

“Hey Joon, you’re closest. Check to see if they’re okay?”

 

Namjoon made no move to get up.

 

“Oh don’t worry Jin, I’m sure they’re-“ Seokjin gave him his patented done-with-your-shit look. “-not fine at all I’ll go and check right now.”

 

Ignoring Hoseok's snide comment about him being the whipped one, he practically leapt up and peered cautiously around the doorframe. He couldn’t quite see what was going on at first, due to the poor lighting and the distance, but when his eyes adjusted a little he recoiled faster than he thought he was able to move. For the second or so he’d become an accidental voyeur, he’d seen Jungkook perching on top of Taehyung in a slightly alternative way of straddling, so as not to disturb his injuries, Namjoon presumed.

 

Like straddling’s more safety-conscious cousin.

 

He shuddered and walked back over to sit down next to Seokjin.

 

“So?” He asked, alarmed by Namjoon’s near run back from the doorway.

 

“They’re fine, don’t worry.” Seokjin blinked, a little confused. Namjoon sighed.

 

“They’re getting, uh, reacquainted.” He said uncomfortably, and Seokjin’s face flooded with understanding. Hoseok cackled in delight from over Seokjin’s shoulder.

 

“No wonder you look so shook Namjoon!” Namjoon grimaced and slumped back against the wall.

 

“Last time I agree to go and check on anyone. At least they were both fully clothed."

 

“I hope they don’t tear Taehyung’s stitches.” Seokjin sighed, “I really don’t wanna have to stitch him back up again.”

 

“Well if you yell at them to stop getting frisky they’ll hear it, and probably be so embarrassed they’d never make out in the dorm again.” Hoseok suggested, gesturing over to the doorway.

 

“Well that’d just be too cruel.” Seokjin said, and leant back against Namjoon’s shoulder. “Although if they get loud enough to hear from here I’m getting involved. There’s a limit.”

 

Hoseok nodded in agreement and the main room returned to relative silence. A minute or two later Hoseok suddenly sat up.

 

“What?” Seokjin said slightly grumpily, having been on the edge of sleep. When Hoseok didn’t reply he sat up as well and tapped him on the back.

 

“Hobi? Something up?”

 

“Hyung, I’ve just thought- Hey Namjoon, did you see Jimin or Yoongi in the dorm when you looked in?” Namjoon sat up as well to join them, and thought for a moment.

 

“I didn’t look for too long but,” His face suddenly darkened with realisation, “No, no I didn’t.”

 

“Didn’t they go to dispose of the medical waste?” Seokjin said, thinking back to the afternoon. The memories of Taehyung writhing in pain as he tried to stitch up infected wounds, hardly able to see through his tear-blurred vision, came to mind. He shook his head to try and clear it.

 

I’ll be having nightmares tonight.

 

“I thought they must have come back when we all fell asleep.” Hoseok said, forehead furrowed in thought, “But surely it would have woken one of us.”

 

“It’s been at least an hour since lights out.” Namjoon said grimly.

 

“There would have been an announcement if they were caught or something though, surely?” Hoseok asked hopefully, “There must be some reason they’re not back.”

 

“Maybe they are back and Namjoon missed them in the dorm.” Seokjin said, twisting his hands in worry, and walked over to the doorframe.

 

“You two!” He yelled. He heard quiet, panicked voices for a couple of seconds before Jungkook answered.

 

“Y-Yeah?” Came Jungkook’s slightly shaky, caught red-handed voice.

 

“Relax, you sound like you’ve been doing something illegal. Are Jimin and Yoongi in there?”

 

Jungkook was silent for a second. Then,

 

“Aren’t they in the front room somewhere?”

 

“Shit.” Cursed Namjoon.

 

“I-It’s not like we can do anything right now.” Hoseok said, tentatively patting Namjoon’s arm. “We gotta wait it out.”

 

Namjoon nodded and went to sit back down against the wall, this time opting for a spot directly opposite the door. Seokjin and Hoseok exchanged a worried look.

 

 ~-~

 

It took close to half an hour of waiting in terse silence before Jimin and Yoongi showed up again, by which point Hoseok was almost frantic. Given his slightly paranoid tendencies, the wait had provided his mind with a full half hour to theorize about the worst case scenarios and the dire fates which could have befallen his friends, locked outside the relative safety of the dorm and surrounded by hostile State drones.

 

To be fair, a lot of the scenarios he envisioned were completely plausible within the Institute.

 

The door opened and Namjoon stood up straight away, folding his arms over his chest in anger, as Jimin came quietly into the room, stopping afterwards to close the door carefully, and Yoongi walked in more casually with his head pointed at the ground. Seokjin could tell there was conflict coming and went to stand by Namjoon, ready to intervene if necessary.

 

“Where have you two been?” Jimin looked at Yoongi uneasily, but he kept staring down at the floor. Namjoon didn’t like that. “What, hanging your head in shame? Is that supposed to be-“

 

Yoongi clenched his fists and looked up at Namjoon, who stopped dead in his tracks when he saw the expression on Yoongi’s face. He’d never seen his hyung look like that, look so angry that he felt it would be a better alternative to just let the State capture him than to be on the receiving end of another look like that.

 

“What the fuck didn’t you tell us about Minho?” Yoongi hissed. Namjoon was completely unprepared for the question, struck dumb as his mind raced a mile a minute trying to think of the possible situations which would have prompted Yoongi to ask that. He was vaguely aware of Hoseok and Jimin talking in low voices in the background.

 

(“Jimin, what happened? Are you okay?”)

(“Y-yes yes, fine, it’s just… I’ve never seen him angry like that before.”)

 

Seokjin stepped in to talk, seeing Namjoon hadn’t quite recovered from the shock.

 

“W-why, what’s happened?” He asked, eyes flickering between Jimin and Yoongi.

 

“All those little secrets you two had, all those private conversations.” Yoongi muttered bitterly, taking a couple of shaky breaths as if to steady himself.

 

Jungkook was peering around the doorway from the main room, eyes wide as he took in the scene, looking scared at the shouting and at Yoongi’s very apparent aggression.

 

Jimin, a hand clamped over his mouth, sank down against the wall by the door. Yoongi turned at the noise and the anger drained out of him completely as he rushed over to help, kneeling down in front of Jimin and talking to him in a soft voice, rubbing his back gently, like he understood why Jimin had collapsed. Seokjin thought he might collapse as well, having a hard time keeping it together at the thought of something happening to Minho. From what Namjoon had told him, about Minho’s strange goodbye, he’d been trying to prepare himself for the inevitable day they’d end up alone, but preparing conceptually and facing the reality were two very different things.

 

“Help me get him to bed, he’s had a shock.” Yoongi said, and Jungkook jolted, running over to help out. Namjoon and Hoseok went to help too, lifting Jimin as gently as they could, while Yoongi took some more deep breaths to try and compose himself. As they took Jimin through the doorway, Seokjin grabbed hold of Yoongi’s arm. He turned around, expression still seething, but his face softened a little when he saw how obviously shaken Seokjin was.

 

“Look hyung, I’m sorry for shouting like that, I didn’t mean to upset-“

 

“W-what happened to Minho?”

 

Yoongi looked at him sadly.

 

“You need him still, don’t you.”

 

Seokjin nodded, clutching tightly at his arm.

 

The system we worked out,“

 

His gaze flickered briefly to Namjoon, then focussed back on Seokjin’s desperate face,

 

“There’s no way we could do it again? No way he could think up something else.” Yoongi gestured slightly at Namjoon.

 

Seokjin shook his head, his hand on Yoongi’s arm now less to keep Yoongi there and more to keep himself upright.

 

“No, he never figured out a way to crack the new tests. He’s been trying ever since the first way fell through, just in case something happened and we couldn’t reply on Minho anymore.”

 

“Nothing?” All the colour had drained from Yoongi’s face as he looked at his oldest friend, shaking and clutching at Yoongi’s arm like a lifeline. Seokjin had been there from the start, over fifteen years ago, and he couldn’t even imagine the ward without the older man.

 

“No. Minho is the only way.”

 

Seokjin saw the hope leave Yoongi’s eyes. He was wearing an expression like Namjoon had when he came back from meeting Minho, of grim certainty that there was nothing the three of them could do anymore. They had protected Seokjin for years, but Yoongi’s face told him that they couldn’t do it this time.

 

In a way, he knew what was coming. Knew as soon as Yoongi had stormed in and demanded to know about him.

 

“I’m so sorry, hyung. Minho’s dead.”