Hoseok nudges Jooheon as they sit in the audience. Jooheon doesn’t look but nudges back. He looks up at the stage and locks eyes with Changkyun before sending him a small thumbs-up. Changkyun presses his lips together in an attempt to smile, his mortarboard sitting crooked on his head.
“I can’t believe our baby is finally graduating,” Hyungwon whispers from Jooheon’s other side.
“I can’t believe he beat out Jihoon for valedictorian,” Hyunwoo whispers back, leaning across Hoseok’s lap to say it.
“Could you please be quiet?” Kihyun hisses under his breath.
“Or what? You’ll burn this place to the ground? How would that make Kyunnie feel?” Minhyuk hisses back.
Jooheon purses his lips in an attempt to keep himself from laughing. The Headmaster is wrapping up his speech about how well this class has done throughout their career here at the school, knowing full well that most of the graduating students wouldn’t be going anywhere at all. Just moving from one dormitory to another just like Jooheon and all his friends had. Just like Changkyun was planning on doing.
“Is he nervous?” Hoseok whispers to Jooheon.
“Rule number six, Hoseok,” Jooheon replies under his breath. Hoseok sighs in response but doesn’t press any further.
“Now I’m very pleased to announce this year’s Valedictorian, Changkyun Im.”
Everyone around them politely claps while their little cluster of friends lets out a collective whoop with a few “You go, Changkyun!”’s sprinkled in for good measure. The Headmaster throws them a weary glance while Changkyun smirks down at his speech.
Jooheon smiles fondly up at Changkyun the entire time he talks while not listening to a single word he says. After hearing Changkyun rehearse it for three days straight, he’s sure he could probably give the speech himself.
It’s after graduation that matters, when the six of them are all huddled around the table full of pretzels and chips as they stare at every single graduate flowing out of the gym into the corridor.
“What are the chances he makes himself invisible and just leaves?” Hyungwon asks before shoving a whole handful of pretzel sticks into his mouth.
“I’d freeze his toes off,” Minhyuk replies easily.
“Harsh,” Jooheon says before nibbling on an almond from the trail mix bowl.
“You realize we’re the only alums here? Hell, Hyunwoo really is embarrassing himself by being here,” Kihyun says.
“There’s nothing embarrassing about supporting your friend,” Hyunwoo replies before just picking up the bowl of trail mix to eat from, holding it between him and Jooheon, so Jooheon can still eat from it if he wants.
“I agree with Hyunwoo,” Hoseok pipes up.
“Of course you do,” Hyungwon mutters under his breath with a roll of his eyes.
Jooheon feels an unpleasant tingle run down his spine before he grabs a handful of the trail mix and waves Hyunwoo away a bit too rigidly.
Hoseok always had a slight hero thing for Hyunwoo. He looked at him like he was the reason the sun lit up the skies, and the firmament didn’t come crashing down around them. It had been bad enough when they were kids, but now? It gnawed a bit on the inside of Jooheon’s cheek like that raw spot you accidentally bit down on a few days ago, but now you can’t stop messing with.
“I’m sorry that he’s right most of the time,” Hoseok counters smugly before popping a chip into his mouth and biting down.
Jooheon wishes he was the chip or Hyunwoo or a weird hybrid of both of them as long as Hoseok looked at him like that or maybe held him between his teeth.
“There he is!” Kihyun exclaims as Changkyun hurriedly makes his way over to them. He runs straight into Kihyun’s arms, and Jooheon decides that’s also another talk they’ll probably all have later over a bonfire.
“Congrats, grad!” Minhyuk says with a huge grin, and Changkyun groans, his face and hair disappearing for a moment, leaving his mortarboard floating in the air.
“That’s so cheesy. Like a greeting card,” Changkyun’s disembodied voice says before he phases back into being and hugs Minhyuk.
“Aw, let him be cheesy, he’s proud of you,” Hyungwon says before he pulls Changkyun into a hug of his own.
Changkyun pats Hyungwon’s back, eyes closing contentedly before he sets his sights on Jooheon, a big grin lighting up his face.
Jooheon holds his arms open like they don't cuddle every single day, and Changkyun throws himself into them like they don’t hug every chance they get. Jooheon feels a tickle in his mind, an overwhelming collective thought, and he opens one eye to look around them at all their older friends smiling fondly at them. Jooheon sighs because he knows that the collective thought was just the word cute! being screamed in every one of their minds.
Sometimes they all made it hard to follow Rule Number Six.
“I can’t wait to finally officially room with you,” Changkyun says with one final squeeze before he kisses Jooheon’s cheek and pulls away.
“I can’t wait either, roomie,” Jooheon says back, and Changkyun bounces a bit in place before moving on to give Hoseok and Hyunwoo their hugs.
“So where do you want to eat? My treat,” Hyunwoo says.
Jooheon smirks to himself before Changkyun even answers, already knowing without knowing.
“Fuck, I would kill for some bottomless fries,” Changkyun says.
He hears Hyungwon sigh. “He could’ve asked to go to the fanciest restaurant, but no, we’re going to travel two hours to go to Red Robin again.”
“Hey, it’s his day, let him crave Red Robin,” Kihyun says.
Jooheon laughs as they head outside to watch Changkyun toss his mortarboard in the air with the rest of his class. The mortarboards are a mess of them catching fire, freezing, teleporting, going all kinds of crazy directions, and Changkyun’s little weird flickering invisibility thing he is far too proud of.
It’s summer now, which means they don’t have to do anything. They all study here on scholarship for their “extraordinary skills”, and now that they’re all legally adults, the school lets them run wild during the summer.
They’re sitting around the fire pit, watching as Kihyun snakes an arm beneath the glimmering shield that Hyunwoo insists they make (because Rule Number One, safety first, protect your friends ) before he snaps a fire to life on the wood and dry leaves they collected on their way there. Once it really gets going, Hyunwoo drops the shield, and Kihyun gets up before he goes to sit down next to Changkyun.
“Wanna see something I’ve been working on?” Changkyun asks. Jooheon feels the collective apprehension at the question, and he rolls his shoulders back to wave it off.
“What exactly have you been working on?” Hyungwon asks, a beer from the cooler floating through the air toward him. Jooheon squints his eyes at it. Telekinesis had always been the much preferred mind power in his opinion. Much better than reading minds ever was.
“Something cool,” Changkyun replies cryptically. The apprehension rises again, and this time Jooheon coughs a bit to make it go away.
“Do I have to set up another shield?” Hyunwoo asks, pouting at Hyungwon until Hyungwon sighs and another beer floats through the air before landing in Hyunwoo’s lap.
Jooheon doesn’t miss the way Hoseok watches Hyunwoo pop open the beer and drink down half of it in three gulps. He doesn’t miss it, and he’s never wanted to break rule number six so bad.
“Nah, it should be fine, just watch the fire,” Changkyun says.
They all watch as the flames flicker once, twice, and then they flicker out of existence even though Jooheon can still feel the heat coming from a fire.
“Holy shit,” Minhyuk says.
“Kihyun isn’t even reacting,” Hyungwon grumbles past the beer bottle on his lips.
“Well, now we know who he’s been practicing with,” Jooheon says. Changkyun giggles softly before the flames roar back into reality, and everyone claps a bit for him, for a new parlor trick he has up his sleeve.
“I’m working on multiple objects at once, but it’s trickier,” Changkyun says.
“I’m sure you’ll get it down,” Kihyun says.
It doesn’t take a mind-reader to see Changkyun internally combusting at the praise, though it might take one to see how pleased Jooheon is with his own pun about Kihyun making someone combust.
Jooheon looks around the circle and sighs. He’s happy here with them. Has been for years. But he can’t help but notice that he’s the odd one out even with all the love and affection he gets.
Changkyun sits next to Kihyun on the log to his left. Hyungwon and Minhyuk share the log across from him. Hoseok and Hyunwoo sit to his right, and he sits on a log by himself, the cooler full of beers the only thing keeping his direct company.
He wishes Hoseok would sit next to him and smile at him the way he does at Hyunwoo. Like he was so glad that he was alive and there and with them . Although Jooheon guesses that Hoseok is glad that Jooheon is there with him. He is the reason that Jooheon even became friends with this strange little motley crew in the first place.
Kihyun clears his throat. “So um, I’m sure it’s kind of obvious, but we thought we should tell you guys officially.” Kihyun snakes his hand into Changkyun’s, and Changkyun gets that look in his eyes like he’s so fond he could die.
“We’re dating,” Changkyun says simply, and Jooheon had expected as much, so he just smiles and nods as everyone else grumbles about finally .
“Kihyun, you know we’ll have to kill you if this goes south, right?” Minhyuk says, bottle of beer pressed against his bottom lip. Kihyun frowns at him.
“Yes, I’m aware of the vague threats to freeze my nuts off like I couldn’t beat you in a fight,” Kihyun replies. The fire flickers up a little before settling as much as a fire can. Jooheon smirks. Rule number four in action. Don’t be a hothead.
“Ha! You wish you could beat me in a fight,” Minhyuk says, cheeky grin starting on his face.
Kihyun rolls his eyes. “I could melt you,” he grumbles.
“I mean, if we’re that concerned we could always use an exception to rule six?” Hoseok says.
Jooheon frowns. That’s his rule. The rule he had made when he was twelve, and they had all snuck out to make a weird friendship pact because that’s what kids do. Especially kids knowing they’re about to form a team forever. All of them came up with a rule. Jooheon’s was simple.
No reading a friend’s mind.
Simple, even though at the time Jooheon couldn’t really control it, and he would end up exhausted everyday, fighting off their stray thoughts until he got better. Until he got used to it. Now he barely heard their exact thoughts unless they were screamed in his direction or increasingly loud like the cute from graduation. Now it was general feelings like an empath.
“I don’t think it’s necessary,” Jooheon says, looking over at Hoseok.
“Actually, you can. I revoke my right to rule number six for the next few seconds,” Kihyun says.
Jooheon sighs and turns back to him because once they get here, he has to. He peels away the little layer he had around his brain just enough to let Kihyun shine through.
“I’m going to stay with him forever. I fucking love him,” Kihyun’s mind says before Kihyun blinks a bit and shakes his head. “I mean I really like him, shit, please don’t tell him that.”
Jooheon snorts and looks up at the blue sky above them. “I think they’ll be fine,” is all he says, much to the disdain of the group who are all wondering why Kihyun has turned three shades of pink, and the fire keeps flashing higher.
They sleep outside, rolling out the sleeping bags they had hidden away out here long ago. Everyone passes out quickly, but Jooheon finds that he can’t sleep. When he gets sleepy, everything is harder to control, and his friends’ dreams show up in front of his eyes like strange flickering from a TV. It makes his mouth taste like copper, and he’s about to get up and grab another beer, hoping the alcohol will make him sleepy enough to just pass out when he hears movement.
He freezes, his mind reaching out, searching for an intruder, but there’s nothing other than the seven of them, and Jooheon turns around to see Hoseok sitting up, staring up at the sky. They were at the end of the group, Hoseok between him and Hyunwoo, and Jooheon at the end because sometimes he wanted to be a bit further away from everyone’s thoughts.
Hoseok doesn’t know he’s awake, but he’s just staring up at the sky, a small smile on his face, and Jooheon wants to break rule number six again just to know what’s going on there. Instead, he shifts around in his sleeping bag to make enough noise for Hoseok to glance down at him.
“Oh! Did I wake you?” Hoseok whispers to him.
Jooheon shakes his head. “You’re fine. What are you doing?”
Hoseok clears his throat a little, pointing up above the trees. “You can see it,” he says softly.
Jooheon rubs his eyes as he sits up and squints at where Hoseok is pointing. At first, he’s not sure what he’s looking at until he shifts a bit and sees the light shimmer in a way it shouldn’t up there. Jooheon recognizes it immediately, and his heart sinks.
“Hyunwoo’s shield?” Jooheon asks softly.
“It’s incredible, right? He’s asleep, but he’s still protecting us. And look how big it is. It covers the whole little campground,” Hoseok says, and he sounds like a kid explaining how his imaginary world worked. It’s terribly endearing while also making Jooheon feel kind of miserable.
“Yeah, I guess it is,” Jooheon says because at the end of the day, he really can’t believe Hyunwoo does this. He doesn’t even know how he’s doing it in his sleep.
When Hyunwoo had first come to the school, his parents had called him invulnerable. Invincible. The Headmaster explained to him that while that may seem true, it wasn’t really Hyunwoo’s skin that was. It was this perfectly strong invisible shield he carried on his skin.
It wasn’t long before Hyunwoo was being taught to move the shield, make it bigger, move it around other things, make it into shapes, suction it around others to protect them.
Hyunwoo was the defense and the leader of every team he got sent out with, and he was good and kind, and Jooheon couldn’t even be mad that Hoseok looked at him like he hung the moon because Hyunwoo was literally asleep, his most vulnerable state, and he was giving up his precious impenetrable shield’s protection around him to protect all of them when nothing bad had ever happened here. When the worst thing that’s ever happened to them was when they woke up to it pouring rain on them, and Hyunwoo did exactly this to make it stop while Kihyun used his fire to help them all get dry again.
“I just think it’s so pretty the way it glimmers,” Hoseok explains.
Jooheon sighs and nods. “You really love him, don’t you?”
Hoseok is quiet for a few seconds as he hugs his knees to his chest. “Of course, I do. We all love each other.”
Jooheon shakes his head. “You know that’s not what I meant.”
Hoseok looks down and over at him. “We’re not together,” he says simply.
“No, but you want to be,” Jooheon says, and he gets it. He does. He understands wanting to be with someone and being around them all the time and still not having them. He probably gets it better than anyone.
Hoseok sighs and runs his fingers through his hair. “I know it’s bad. I know it’s obvious. But I can’t help it, you know? He was my first friend here. My first friend ever, maybe. And everyone kinda falls in love with their first friend somehow, right?”
Jooheon wonders if Hoseok is aware that he’s Jooheon’s first friend. If he knows how Jooheon feels everything inside him calcifying and turning to dust because he’s a good friend and will always be there to try to help Hoseok through his problems even when he’s so in love with someone that isn’t him.
Jooheon licks his lips and looks up at the glimmer of Hyunwoo’s shield against the sky again. “Yeah, I think so, too. The first friend falling in love thing.”
“You know, Hyunwoo was the only kid who wasn’t afraid of me? He never once treated me like i was dumb just because I was strong. He was never afraid to hold my hand or let me hug him,” Hoseok says softly.
Jooheon smiles, glad that Hoseok had that for him. Maybe that was why Hoseok had been so kind to him his first day. He remembered feeling left out and suddenly someone reached out to him. Hyunwoo was a lifeline for Hoseok like Hoseok had been for Jooheon. Maybe that was how they ended up like this.
“Have you ever told Hyunwoo?” Jooheon asks.
Hoseok shrugs. “I don’t want to ruin everything.”
Jooheon nods. “Yeah. Yeah, I get that.”
“Besides, I don’t think he would ever feel the same way,” Hoseok says, and his voice sounds vaguely sad and vaguely resigned like he just knew he was going to pine for him tragically forever.
Jooheon feels his throat get tight. He remembers a much smaller Hoseok holding up two fingers before saying that his rule was to be strong for his friends when they couldn’t be. Not to beat up their enemies. Not to be scary and intimidating because he could lift a grown adult above his head only using the tip of his pointer finger. But to be a rock and strength for the rest of them when they needed it. And it was so very Hoseok that Jooheon wanted to cry then, and he still wants to cry now thinking about it.
And Jooheon wants so badly for Hoseok to be happy because happiness is what Hoseok deserves. So he swallows down the growing lump in his throat. “I think you should talk to him. I don’t think Hyunwoo would let it ruin your friendship. And you never know. Maybe he’s in the same boat as you.”
Hoseok chuckles a bit. “Are you giving me advice or do you know that for a fact?”
“Rule Number Six. I’m just going off what I see,” Jooheon replies.
Hoseok hums softly. “We should try to sleep,” he says.
Neither of them move to lay down, though. Hoseok chuckles again, a soft airy thing between his lips, and Jooheon aches.
“Thank you for listening, honey. Good night,” Hoseok whispers before he slowly lays back down.
Jooheon watches him as he closes his eyes and falls asleep in three breaths.
Jooheon sighs and rubs his eyes. “Night. Love you,” he mumbles, mainly to himself, before laying down and trying his damndest not to see the flashes of Hyunwoo’s tan skin appearing in Hoseok’s dream.
Jooheon hates that he can’t help. Not really. There’s a pressure on his right temple that comes with trying to communicate like this for too long. He knows he should try to focus on them, try to see what’s going on in there, but there’s only one voice he seeks out.
Dangerous situations ahead.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“God, I hate these things,” Changkyun mutters as he pulls at his sleeves. Kihyun frowns as he helps pull his sleeves down, so it’s not bunching up uncomfortably around his elbow anymore.
“Guys, focus for a sec. It’s a hostage situation. A brother keeping his sister in their house. Police have been in a standoff with him for over ten hours, and three officers have already been shot,” Hyunwoo calls out, going over whatever is in his folder in front of him. He could have used the giant screen behind him, but Hyunwoo never liked it. Always preferred something he could make notes on.
Their little team goes quiet as soon as he speaks up. Just hanging out, they were a mess, but on missions they all fell perfectly in line behind him.
Not that Jooheon was complaining. This was why they were so good at what they did.
“What happened to their parents?” Hoseok asks softly as he grips into the seat of the van. Jooheon itches to put his hand over his but stops himself. Maybe this isn’t the time.
Hyunwoo sighs and looks back down at his folder like he wishes the words would change. Jooheon presses his lips together. He doesn’t have to read his mind to know what he’s about to tell them.
“They’re dead,” is all Hyunwoo says. No further details.
“What’s the plan then?” Minhyuk asks as he blows cold air over his fingertips and watches them turn icy blue like he’s checking if his powers still work.
“Well, first we need to put a temporary moratorium on Rule Number Six,” Hyunwoo says with a glance at Jooheon.
Jooheon clears his throat a bit. “How much of a moratorium?”
“You think you can handle sending thoughts back today?” Hyunwoo asks, eyebrow raising. Jooheon swallows. He’s been working on that, but it’s incredibly tiring work. He was like an old-timey telephone with only the receiver working. Everything came in crystal clear, but he had to use all his focus and scream to get his thoughts through to someone else.
“I can try,” Jooheon replies.
Hyunwoo nods before looking back down at the papers. “Okay. Apparently the front door has been blown off, so it’d be possible for Changkyun to slip in and give us some eyes in there.”
“Can do,” Changkyun says from the back.
“Jooheon, you’ll relay to us what Changkyun is seeing, so we don’t risk him talking.”
Jooheon nods, already starting to lift the veil up out of his mind, so everything is easier later.
“Kihyun and Minhyuk, you’re cutting off escape routes,” Hyunwoo says with a nod toward them. Minhyuk reaches behind him for Kihyun to squeeze his hand, their strange best friend handshake of fire and ice sizzling together for a moment before they both pull away.
“Hyungwon, you’ll be hopefully causing a distraction away from the front door, so Hoseok can go and grab the girl. I’ll be working with both of you to keep you guys from getting hurt, and hopefully the SWAT team can handle the actual arrest and apprehension. And, Hyungwon, it'd be great if you could get his gun from him.”
“Great. Gun duty. Always gun duty,” Hyungwon grumbles. Minhyuk looks behind him, hooking his chin over the back of the seat. For a moment, Jooheon regrets already starting to listen when he hears Minhyuk’s very loud thoughts about wishing there wasn’t something solid between them.
“You do a great job at it though,” Minhyuk says.
“Minhyuk, I love you, but can you please keep the thoughts just a bit quieter,” Jooheon sighs out. Minhyuk turns to him with a grin, definitely about to say something when Hoseok speaks up.
“How old are they?” he asks. The van goes quiet in the wake of it. They always try to distract themselves, try to keep it light, but Hoseok could never really do that. He’s a tight bundle of nerves hidden beneath taut muscles, and all Jooheon can hear is how afraid he is of messing up while everyone else’s thoughts become just tense. Jooheon rolls his neck a bit to try to keep it from making him tense, too.
Hyunwoo swallows and glances back down at the folder. “The boy is nineteen. The girl is twelve.”
Hoseok sucks in a breath and looks down at his lap. He opens and closes his hands. Jooheon reaches over and takes one of Hoseok’s hand in his and squeezes it, not being able to stop himself anymore. He tries not to get a big head at how he can hear Hoseok’s mind calm down, be less frenetic and soften. He tries to calm the thumping of his heart when Hoseok squeezes his hand gently back.
“Arrived at destination,” the electronic voice of the van calls out. Hyunwoo takes a deep breath.
“Codenames only once we step out. Everyone ready?” he asks.
Jooheon takes a deep breath before finally letting himself fully hear.
“I love you, stay safe, please stay safe,” Kihyun’s thoughts call out.
Jooheon can hear Changkyun and Kihyun kiss somewhere behind him, and then Changkyun thinks, “ So cute and soft. ”
Hyungwon leans forward and presses his lips against Minhyuk’s. Jooheon shuts his eyes as he tries to ignore Minhyuk’s thoughts about “ Just wait til this is over, babe .”
“ Just tell him, Hoseok. What if something happens and you never get another chance? Just stop being a coward and tell him.”
Jooheon looks over and sees Hoseok staring right at Hyunwoo as he shoves the folder into his backpack and kicks the bag beneath the chair.
“Hey, Hyunwoo,” Hoseok says, his hand falling out of Jooheon’s grip. Hyunwoo looks up at Hoseok.
“I love you. Have loved you forever. I need you to know. I needed you to know. Please love me back.”
“Good luck out there,” Hoseok says instead, and Jooheon hates himself for feeling relieved before he pushes Minhyuk out of the van and steps out after him.
They’re parked a few houses down from the very obvious police stand-off. The chief of police is standing there, hand outstretched, and Jooheon shakes it.
“Thank God you’re here,” comes calling out of his mind, and Jooheon nods at him.
“Are you...Jet?” The man asks.
Minhyuk snorts at the old and frankly embarrassing code name their leader had given himself when he first started. “No, he’s definitely not,” Minhyuk says.
Hyunwoo walks up and clears his throat, nodding a bit at the man.
“I don’t go by Jet anymore. Sorry. Call me Shownu,” Hyunwoo says.
“Ah! Right. Sorry. Our system is a bit outdated, and the last time we called you was a few years back. I’m Chief Lopez.”
“We got your report and have been briefed, sir. Are there any new developments?”
Hyunwoo and Chief Lopez start walking toward the police barricade, leaving the rest of them to follow after them. Jooheon is already struggling to deal with all the screaming thoughts, trying to focus in on just the team.
“I.M., we got the go ahead for our plan, are you ready to go?” Hyunwoo calls.
“Ready,” Changkyun says, throwing him a thumbs-up before pushing his hair out of his face. Kihyun squeezes the back of Changkyun’s neck one last time.
“Be safe, babe. Please just be safe.”
Changkyun blows Kihyun a kiss before he disappears entirely, fading right out of existence. Jooheon takes a deep breath before he sits on the ground and focuses in.
“Honey? You there?” Changkyun asks.
Jooheon bites his lip and feels the strain above his right eyebrow already. “I’m here. You hear me?”
“Loud and clear!”
Jooheon smiles a little and looks over at Hyunwoo, giving him a nod. Hyunwoo lets out a sigh and nods back.
“Where are you, Changkyun? I can hear, but I can’t see.”
“I’m walking up the porch steps now. It’s really quiet in here.”
Jooheon looks over at Hyunwoo and shows him the okay sign. Hyunwoo signals towards Minhyuk and Kihyun, and they start walking behind the neighboring houses to flank the house.
“Talk to me, Changkyun.”
“He’s in the corner of the kitchen. Only one gun as far as I can see. Parents’ bodies are in the living room. There’s a door out to the garage he’s next to, and there’s a back door. Lots of windows, too.”
“Got it. What about the girl?”
“I don’t see her down here. I’m heading upstairs.”
Hyungwon squats down next to Jooheon. “Got your comm with Shownu up. Don’t try to relay all this with your mind, you’ll burn yourself out,” he says, holding out the little ear piece.
Jooheon sighs and rubs at his temple before taking it and putting it on. “Thanks.”
“No problem. Just tell him what he needs to know.”
Jooheon quickly relays everything Changkyun is telling him. The girl is in a room upstairs, locked in. First on the left when you go up the stairs. He watches as Hoseok puts his gloves on and takes a deep breath.
“I can’t believe I couldn’t just tell him,” Hoseok thinks. Jooheon frowns as he tries to focus in on Changkyun again.
“I hear you, Honey. I think that’s all the info I can give you. Am I good to get out of here before Minhyuk and Kihyun light this place up? I can see them outside getting ready to pounce.”
“Give me a second.”
“I.M. wants to know if he’s fine to leave,” Jooheon says into the comm.
“Tell him to get out,” Hyunwoo responds.
“You’re good for Rule Number Seven.”
“Always have an escape route,” Changkyun dutifully thinks back. Jooheon can almost see his smile as he says it.
Jooheon stares ahead at the house and sucks in a breath, waiting for Changkyun to suddenly reappear. But then more and more seconds tick by, and Changkyun doesn’t.
Hyunwoo gets a bit restless, looking back over at Jooheon. “Where is he?” he says over the comm.
Jooheon frowns. “Changkyun? Rule Number Seven?”
Jooheon shoots up to his feet. “You what?”
“He heard it. He’s looking around for what made the noise, Honey.”
“Changkyun, where are you?”
“I’m staring at the front door. I tripped over the fucking rug, Jooheon, I fucked it all up.”
Jooheon walks over to Hyunwoo, eyes wide. “I.M.’s stuck,” he hisses out.
Hyunwoo’s eyes widen a bit before he steps forward, finger tapping on the comm in his ear. “Rime, Pyre, start.”
“Is I.M. out yet?” Kihyun asks, voice crackling over the comm.
“Pyre, start now,” Hyunwoo says seriously.
Jooheon reaches out to Changkyun again. “Ki and Min are about to start, stay where you are.”
“Honey, I’m so sorry.”
“Stop that, you’re fine. Tell me what’s happening.”
“I can hear him walking behind me, but I’m so afraid to look.”
Jooheon looks as Hyungwon crouches behind a car, probably trying to find something to make another noise.
“Changkyun, tell me there’s something Hyungwon can knock over away from you.”
“There’s a bookshelf in the room next to me. Next to the window.
Jooheon’s eyes search over the house until he sees the little glint of shiny black paint next to the window on the left. “Got it.”
“Haunt, bookshelf to the left,” Jooheon says into his mic.
“Got it,” Hyungwon replies.
Jooheon can hear the crash from here, can hear the scream that Changkyun somehow manages to keep inside his head, and he’s grateful, so fucking grateful that he does.
Jooheon watches as the gunman goes over into the room, gun pointed and ready.
Changkyun reappears just as he falls to his knees behind the police barricade. Jooheon holds onto the table at the control center, willing his knees to stop being so wobbly.
“He’s out. Everyone go, now,” Hyunwoo says.
Jooheon hates that he can’t help. Not really. There’s a pressure on his right temple that comes with trying to communicate like this for too long. He knows he should try to focus on them, try to see what’s going on in there, but there’s only one voice he seeks out.
“Got the girl, gotta get her safe, gotta get her out,” Hoseok’s thoughts call out. Jooheon sighs, glad that it's going relatively fine.
Hoseok comes running out, girl cradled in his arms. He hands her off to the paramedics before he turns right back around and runs right back into the now slightly smoking house. Jooheon watches as the flames skate around inside for a moment before someone runs out of the house, empty-handed. He’s instantly swarmed by police officers, and the flames die down inside.
Hyungwon comes out first, frowning as he rubs at his chest, the gun held away. Jooheon snorts. It's not the first time Hyungwon got a bit overzealous and knocked himself a bit too hard with what he was trying to move.
The rest of them spill out quickly, Hoseok and Hyunwoo coming up last. Jooheon walks forward and smiles at them. Hyunwoo claps his hand on Jooheon’s shoulder.
“You did a great job, Honey,” Hyunwoo says.
“Definitely saved my ass,” Changkyun says as he walks up to Kihyun and hugs him. Jooheon is already putting the veil back on, cutting off the buzzing of everyone’s thoughts again, but the last thing he hears is Hoseok’s quiet little, “ He’s incredible,” before the pressure in his head finally manifests as an actual thudding headache.
He groans and leans forward before he falls into a pair of strong arms.
“Hey, you’re okay, I got you. I knows it’s tiring,” Hoseok says before he picks Jooheon up bridal-style because they’re all used to Jooheon’s stupid migraines after he does even a tiny bit of mental flexing. And Jooheon lets his head fall against Hoseok’s shoulder, covered by that dumb leathery outfit they all wear, and he shuts his eyes and breathes in the smell of smoke from Kihyun’s goddamn fire, and salt, and then that clean smell of soap that Hoseok always carries around him.
For a moment, he lets himself pretend that Hoseok loves him back. That this is something more than Hoseok’s overabundant love for everyone that he somehow manages to keep locked up in his body.
Only for a moment though.
Then he’s back in reality where he’s being laid down in the backseat of the van, and his head is laying on Hyunwoo’s thigh as he runs his fingers through his hair.
“You did so well, Jooheon. If you need to sleep, go ahead, I’ll wake you when we get back to the school,” he says.
Jooheon lets his eyes close and tries to will the pain away. And he can’t even be jealous of Hyunwoo, not really. Because he’s just the epitome of good. The man that you wanted on your comic books and cereal boxes and taking pictures with the President. The man he always wanted on his side and was always glad he was. And if Hyunwoo could give himself up to make sure none of them would ever feel pain again, he would.
He understands why Hoseok would pick him. Jooheon would pick him too if it wasn’t for that strange little first friend curse that Hoseok has talked so much about. If his heart didn’t already have everything set on Hoseok.
And as he tries to drift off to sleep, he hears Hoseok whisper.
“Hey, Hyunwoo, can we talk when we get back? Alone?”
“Yeah, Seokie. Sure. Try to rest now, okay?”
And Jooheon turns and buries his face in Hyunwoo’s thigh, willing the world to go black, so he could sleep.
Jooheon is standing under the showerhead, letting the water run over him. Changkyun is spending the night in Kihyun’s room, so he could afford to take his time. He presses his forehead to the cool tile and tries hard not to think about how Hoseok is probably confessing right now. Jooheon can imagine it so clearly.
Everyone had their own way of dealing with the aftermath of any mission. Minhyuk would run on the adrenaline high and pull Hyungwon into bed for what Hyungwon liked to call probably the best sex ever. Kihyun used to sing and hum loudly and when they all used to share showers, it was his music or no music at all. Changkyun got into his own head too much and would find company, whether it was real or just playing an online game. Jooheon needed to sleep off the headache and shower. Hoseok watched television. And Hyunwoo liked to stay behind and run diagnostics on the van to make sure nothing got damaged even if it wasn’t anywhere near the actual mission.
Today, Hoseok had lingered, staying behind as everyone else ran off to do their little rituals. Jooheon rubs his eyes a bit, convincing himself the sting was from leftover shampoo he didn’t fully rinse out and nothing else. Maybe by now Hoseok had told Hyunwoo how head-over-heels he was for him. Maybe Hyunwoo had smiled and quietly admitted that he felt the same way because Jooheon couldn’t ever imagine someone rejecting Hoseok. And maybe they were still in the garage, smiling awkwardly and giggling because they were just so happy to finally be together. Maybe they would kiss. Maybe they’d do more.
Jooheon sniffs and turns the water off before stepping out of the shower. He grabs his towel and runs it over his head roughly, ignoring the way Changkyun’s voice pops into his head saying, “You need to treat yourself more gently.”
He dries off and gets dressed in the all gray sweats from the school because Jooheon and Changkyun keep it cool in their room because of the heat outside. He stares at the TV in their shared space and contemplates turning it on when there’s a knock at the door. He scrunches his face up as he walks over to look through the peephole.
Hoseok is standing there, but he’s not smiling all bright like Jooheon had imagined. He’s just flat, sighing a bit. Jooheon opens the door.
“Hey,” Jooheon says.
“Hey,” Hoseok replies before he walks into the room. Jooheon closes the door and hovers for a second as he watches Hoseok sit down on their couch.
“I didn’t tell him,” Hoseok says.
Jooheon sighs a bit, and it’s from relief, but he’s sure that Hoseok thinks it’s disappointment.
“You want a soda?” Jooheon asks.
“Yeah. Sure. Thanks.”
Jooheon walks over to the mini-kitchen area and opens up the fridge to pull out two cans of soda before sitting back down next to Hoseok and handing him one.
Hoseok takes it and just holds it in his hand for a while, staring at the coffee table in front of them. Jooheon pops open his can and takes a sip.
“So you didn’t tell him. That’s fine. It’s not like you’re on a time limit,” Jooheon says. Hoseok sighs before he sinks back into the couch and opens his can.
“But I am. Every time we go on a mission, we’re in danger. Every time we go could be the last time one of us see each other.”
“You can’t think like that. Hyunwoo would—“
“He’d be the first one to sacrifice himself for one of us. Hell, he was stressed today because he couldn’t see Changkyun to put a shield around him when he tripped. He was fully ready to just barrel in there head first just to distract the shooter, so he could get out.”
“But he didn’t because he’s smart,” Jooheon says.
“And because of the bookshelf. Thank God for you and that bookshelf.”
“That was all Hyungwon. I was just the messenger,” Jooheon says, but there’s a smile twitching at the corner of his lips at the praise.
“It’s so cool that you can talk back and forth now. You worked so hard.”
Jooheon chuckles a bit and plays with the soda tab. “Thanks.”
Hoseok sends him a smile before he sighs again. “I’m just so scared it’ll ruin everything. We were all alone, and all his attention was on me, and all I could say was that I thought he did a great job leading the team today. And he just smiled and told me I did a great job, and everything hurts , Jooheon.”
Jooheon swallows down his want to repeat the words back to him. Because Hoseok has a chance at having his perfect love, and Jooheon doesn’t want to ruin that just because it hurt .
“You think there’s no going back, and maybe there isn’t, but Hyunwoo loves you too much to let your feelings ruin your friendship,” Jooheon says.
Hoseok sighs again, and the sound is so sad it makes something ache and rumble inside Jooheon.
And everything does hurt. Because he just wants Hoseok to smile and be happy even if his happiness is with Hyunwoo, and he would never be with him. So Jooheon pokes his cheek and puts on a smile.
“I support you, Hoseok. And don’t feel so rushed. One day the perfect moment will come, and you’ll tell him, and I’m sure everything will work out because you’re amazing. Who wouldn’t love you?”
Hoseok looks at him, and a tiny smile quirks up on his mouth, making his cheeks go all round, and Jooheon smiles because it’s adorable.
“Thank you for listening to all this. You really do make me feel better.”
“And you’re right. I’m sure the perfect moment will come.”
Jooheon feels like the soda bubbles are burning back up his throat as he nods.
“I’m sure it will.”
“You know, I don't worry about you because it's my job. It’s my job because I worry.”
Lots of stress and danger and feelings.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Heartbreak had been an easy manageable trickle. Jooheon had steeled himself against it for years and years now. He'd been so used to it. It was like the veil he put over his mind to keep the buzzing out.
But this? This was a tidal wave crashing onto a shore because he hadn't prepared himself. He wasn't ready at all.
Bomb missions were always the worst, but they were always worse when they never started out as a bomb mission.
It had been a robbery. Just a simple robbery until Jooheon heard the apprehended man think about it.
“They didn't even find the bomb. Any second now.”
“There’s a bomb! We need to find it!” Jooheon had screamed, eyes wide, pressure starting over his right brow as he focused in on the man, pushing past his current thoughts to dig deeper into his memories.
It hurt. It was much more taxing than sending his own thoughts back with the added need to sift through useless information. And the thudding pain filled up the entire right side of his skull until he found the memory, the little snippet of sound he was looking for.
“In the cabinets beneath the rings, Wonho!”
Relief floods him once he can stop, but he can almost physically feel his energy drain from him. Jooheon wobbles a bit on his feet until he feels someone hold him up, help him down into a sitting position.
“I got you, Honey, you're doing great,” Minhyuk says. But all Jooheon can do is watch and listen as Hoseok pushes the rest of the team out of the store as Hyunwoo stares down at what has to be the bomb.
“I can help! I can throw it so high it won't do anything to us.” Hyungwon yells.
But Hyunwoo’s mind is already reeling, and it’s louder than usual, and Jooheon feels weak, too weak to transition back to silence.
“We can't move it at all, what if it's movement sensitive? What if someone gets hurt? Only three minutes left, fuck.”
“Stand down, Haunt,” Hyunwoo replies with the calmest, smoothest voice.
“Rule number five,” Hyungwon hisses right into his comm, and it feels like crackling static against Jooheon’s eardrums.
Hyunwoo groans, and Jooheon sees the glimmer of his shield for a moment, and he knows that he's trying to wrap it around the bomb.
“Rule number one trumps rule number five, Haunt. No mountains to move here,” Hyunwoo replies.
“Rule number one applies to you, too,” Changkyun says.
But there's no arguing with Hyunwoo. Not right now. Hyungwon lets out a little frustrated huff and changes tactics, pushing Kihyun and Changkyun back toward where Minhyuk and Jooheon were standing with his powers.
“Get back, Haunt,” Hoseok says.
“What about you, Wonho? Why aren't you getting out?”
The line is silent before Hyunwoo sighs. “Both of you shut up, I'm trying to focus here,” he grumbles.
And Jooheon knows that three minutes are ticking by faster than they think.
“Haunt, come on. Come back here,” Minhyuk breathes into the comm, and Jooheon can only feel the stress coming from everyone, can’t do anything to shrug it off, and it fills him up.
Because Hyunwoo’s shields are amazing, but everytime they tested it with explosives, it never held up quite right. The Headmaster thought it had to do with how much focus Hyunwoo had to use, and how an explosion would frazzle anyone enough to distract them. A bullet? Stopped in an instant. Fire? Water? Repelled. But shrapnel in that little instant where Hyunwoo flinched?
“Listen to Rime. Both of you, get out,” Hyunwoo whispers, not sparing a glance over at Hoseok or Hyungwon.
“I'm not leaving you,” Hoseok says back, and Jooheon hates it. Hates that he feels like he's watching a movie, and he can't do anything at all to help.
“Haunt, please. Please ,” Minhyuk says, his voice high and quiet with all the things he wants to say right now but can't.
“None of you have to be in there, damn it,” Kihyun grits out. He tries to step closer, but Hyungwon waves a hand behind and pushes him back again.
“If the shield gives, I can try to redirect shrapnel,” Hyungwon says. Jooheon looks up at Minhyuk, and his lip is quivering as he stares at Hyungwon's back.
“It's too fast. You can't stop shit you can't see,” Minhyuk screams in his head so loud that Jooheon couldn't keep it out if he tried.
“Thirty seconds,” Hyunwoo yells out.
Changkyun turns around and buries his face in Kihyun’s shoulder. Kihyun shuts his eyes. Minhyuk trembles, and Jooheon thinks that he should be the one holding him up now, so he wraps his arms around Minhyuk’s waist.
“He'll be fine, it'll be fine,” Jooheon says because he has to believe it. Has to believe all of them will be fine.
Jooheon shuts his eyes when he hears a beep.
And then he hears the explosion, and the whimper that escapes Minhyuk’s lips at the sound.
He opens his eyes when he hears Changkyun yell.
And then he sees Hyungwon jump up into the air. “Fuck yeah, Shownu! Hell yes!” He yells.
Everyone is fine. Hyunwoo is all smiles as he and Hoseok come out of the store, pulling Hyungwon behind them. And Jooheon feels the relief from everyone around them at once, like warm water poured over a tense body, and he smiles as he hugs Minhyuk closer before he lets him go to run straight at Hyungwon. Jooheon pushes himself up to his feet again, slowly making his way over to the celebrating group.
And then right there in front of everyone, Hoseok grabs Hyunwoo’s collar, and pulls him down, crashing their lips together.
And heartbreak is a tsunami crashing over Jooheon. And his head pounds , and he the buzzing turns to full booming static, and there's just words and emotions crashing into him so hard, it almost knocks him over.
Never do that again
He did it.
He fucking did it.
Relief. Confusion. Joy.
I love you so much, so fucking much.
The pain turns into something sharp and stabbing against his temple, against his skull, down his spine, and he doubles over.
“Honey? Honey, what's wrong?”
Jooheon groans, and retches because it's too much, so much, and he feels so dumb and overdramatic, but fuck everything is so fucking loud why is everyone screaming.
“Oh, shit, we need to get him out of here.”
Jooheon retches again, and he can't take a full breath, his whole body filling with the static and noise, and it's in the way whenever he tries to inhale. Someone is picking him up, and movement makes it worse, and he retches again, trying to force everything out, just get it out, so he can close everything off.
“Honey? Honey, can you hear me?”
Fuck, what's wrong?
“He's sweating so much.”
We need to go home.
“Jooheon, we’re in the van now.”
Jooheon sobs. “Loud, too loud,” he manages to croak out.
Hands are on his face, and he manages to open his eyes to see Hyunwoo there, staring at him, brows bunched up with concern. Jooheon aches, but he focuses on Hyunwoo’s eyes. Tries not to look at his lips at all.
“Focus on me, Jooheon. Just on me, okay? Break rule six, focus on just me,” Hyunwoo says softly.
His head pounds again, but Jooheon forces his brain to close in on just Hyunwoo, fights himself to do that, and he’s so tired, and everything is heavy and slow, but eventually it works.
“I'm here. Let me know when you're here.”
Jooheon nods once.
“Better? Still too loud?”
He shakes his head a bit.
“Can you put the veil on now?”
Jooheon takes a deep breath and closes his eyes and feels quiet drape lightly over him.
“I'm so tired,” Jooheon whispers.
Hyunwoo sighs and pulls Jooheon into his arms. “Go to sleep. I got you. I'll wake you up when we get home.”
Jooheon buries his face in Hyunwoo's shoulder and let's himself relax. He’ll deal with the empty feeling in his gut later. He just lets his mind go blank as he falls out of consciousness.
When Jooheon wakes up, he's in his bed. He can hear quiet talking outside his room, and he thinks about just turning over and going back to sleep, but his throat is way too dry to do that.
He pushes himself up and realizes he's just in his boxers. He sighs and sends out a silent prayer that Changkyun was the one that got him into bed even though he feels like it probably wasn't.
He pads out of his room to find Changkyun and Kihyun sitting on their couch, legs crossed as they faced each other, their hands intertwined. Changkyun looks up and smiles.
“Hey. You're awake,” he says.
“Yeah,” Jooheon says. He makes his way to the kitchen to get himself water, drinks a whole glass down before refilling it and drinking that one down too.
“We were worried about you,” Kihyun says.
Jooheon sighs before he walks to the couch and plops down on the opposite end from them. “Sorry.”
“You feel better?” Changkyun asks.
Jooheon feels the question trickle down like someone just cracked an egg on his head.
“Yeah,” Jooheon answers because at least his head doesn't hurt anymore. He still feels slightly gross though. Like when a cake doesn't set all the way.
“You sure? You looked really bad out there,” Kihyun said.
Changkyun shoots Kihyun a look before turning back to look at Jooheon. “It wasn't that bad.”
“It's okay, I can kinda tell it was bad. I haven't lost control like that in a minute.”
“Well everything was kinda crazy. It's hard to control everything when there's so much going on,” Kihyun said.
“God, we’re not going to see Minhyuk and Hyungwon for like a week,” Changkyun snorts.
Jooheon lets himself smile a bit. “I mean, can't blame them. I didn't think you guys would be here.”
“Someone had to take care of you. Hyunwoo wanted to, but we thought he had other things to deal with,” Kihyun explains. Jooheon and Changkyun glance at each other.
“Yeah, definitely,” Jooheon says.
Changkyun is frowning at him, but Jooheon ignores it. Now is not the time for his best friend to try to have a heart-to-heart. Jooheon just wants to watch a shitty movie in a cocoon of blankets and drink a beer or two and forget today happened.
“Are you good? You want us to hang out with you?” Changkyun asks.
Jooheon feels something flare up which is most definitely Kihyun wishing his boyfriend didn't say that.
“Nah, I'm fine. I'm sure you and Kihyun are tired of babysitting me.”
“You sure?” Changkyun asks again, and this time Kihyun pouts a little guiltily like he knows he shouldn't have reacted that way.
Jooheon smiles at them. Makes himself smile at them. “Yeah. Just go back to do whatever it is you guys do when you're alone together.”
Changkyun snorts for a second before getting up. “I'll text you later. Let us know if you need anything, okay?”
And then Jooheon’s veil gets pierced with a loud, “ I DON’T WANT YOU SULKING! PLEASE TREAT YOURSELF KINDLY! AND TAKE IT SLOW! AND TEXT ME IF YOU NEED ME, I DON’T CARE IF I’M WITH KIHYUN, OKAY?! ”
Jooheon flinches and glares at Changkyun who is just grinning at him, seemingly proud of himself for managing to scream that loud in his head.
“I will,” Jooheon grumbles out. Changkyun winks at him before pulling Kihyun out of the room by his hand.
And then it's just quiet. Quiet in the way that Jooheon usually prefers.
He sighs and turns on the TV, pulling the fleece blanket they keep on the couch around him. He puts on Twilight because no matter how bad it is, it always manages to make him happy. Changkyun once told him he liked it because of the weird blue filter and the fact that Edward read minds like he could, and Jooheon had been offended for a second before he realized he was probably right.
He gets to the scene where Edward is saying that everyone in the restaurant is thinking about sex or money when someone knocks on the door.
Jooheon sighs as he pushes himself up, holding the blanket in place around him as he shuffles to the door. When he opens it, Hyunwoo is standing there, face filling up with a small smile when he sees Jooheon.
Jooheon doesn't want to know why he's smiling, but a little part of him wants to know if it's because of Hoseok. But then there's rule number six, so Jooheon just steps aside to let Hyunwoo walk in.
“Hey. I'm glad to see you up and about,” Hyunwoo says.
“Yep. Up and about. Headache gone. Veil in place. Life is good.”
Why is he so awkward? He knew this would happen one day. Knew one day Hyunwoo would know, and he would have to watch him and Hoseok be together like everyone else in the group.
“Right. I thought you could use some company since I saw Changkyun and Kihyun weren’t doing that anymore.”
“You saw them?”
Hyunwoo makes a face. “Okay, maybe I walked past Kihyun's room, and I could hear that they were in there.”
Jooheon snorts, walking back toward the couch and sitting down on it. “Sounds about right.”
Hyunwoo chuckles as he walks over and hovers near the couch. “You need anything before I sit down?”
Jooheon sighs. When Hyunwoo got like this, worried and doting, it was hard to make him stop, so Jooheon lets him be. “I could use a beer?”
Hyunwoo frowns. “Alcohol? After you had a migraine?” Jooheon pouts up at him for a moment, and they stare at each other before Hyunwoo sighs and walks toward the kitchen. He comes back with two bottles of beer in one hand and a glass of water in the other.
“You better stay hydrated, too, okay?” he chides.
Jooheon takes one of the bottles and twists off the top. “I will. I know how to take care of myself, you know.”
It's quiet as they both sip at their beers and stare at the TV. Hyunwoo was always great for Jooheon that way. He was steady. No flare ups of emotions to pass over him, no yelling piercing thoughts, no paranoia about Jooheon secretly reading his mind.
Hyunwoo liked to say that he learned to lead because of Jooheon. Because a few months into Jooheon joining the school, the Headmaster told Hyunwoo that the younger boy would need him. That when things got overwhelming for him, he'd have to be the one to take care of Jooheon, calm him down. If he could lead Jooheon out of his own head, a whole team wasn't as hard.
And he still did it. Still let Jooheon sleep against him after a mission. Still was the one to focus him when he couldn't stop the world from turning too fast under his feet.
“Why do you still watch this movie again?” Hyunwoo asks.
“Mostly out of habit. Partly because I love it.”
Hyunwoo chuckles. “You did a great job today, by the way. If it wasn't for you, we never would have known about the bomb.”
Jooheon shifts a bit. Still feels like that cake that hasn't set. Everything a bit wobbly and jiggly where it shouldn't be. He puts his beer on the coffee table, afraid it might slip right out of his grasp if he tries to hold it.
“And I know it had to be hard to search his mind for the location, but you did it without asking.”
“I had to. We would've run out of time if I hadn't.”
“Exactly. You're so valuable to the team.”
Jooheon sighs and pauses the movie before turning toward him. “Okay. What's going on?”
Hyunwoo tilts his head at him. “What do you mean?”
Jooheon frowns. “Did you give everyone on the team a pep talk or is it just me?”
There's a pause where Hyunwoo looks back at the TV and sips at the beer again. Jooheon groans. “I'm not that insecure middle schooler anymore, Hyunwoo.”
“You're not,” Hyunwoo agrees easily.
“Then why do you do still do this?”
“Because I know you think all you do is watch all of us work when that's not the case.”
Jooheon stops and scoffs weakly. “That's... That's not true.”
“I may not be a mind-reader, but I know you,” Hyunwoo says softly. He's still not looking at Jooheon. Still staring at the paused movie.
Jooheon sighs and slumps forward before pulling the blanket over his head like a hood. “Fine. You made your point. You done now?”
“Actually, no. I still have to fill out the mission report, and I don't know what exactly triggered your loss of control.”
Every curse word in the world cycles through Jooheon’s mind. “The stress,” he answers.
“You know that doesn't make sense, right? Every mission is stressful.”
Jooheon groans. “Well this was extra stressful. There was a fucking bomb.”
“We've had bomb missions before, and you've never reacted like that. You acted like you had a concussion. Gagging and stumbling around like you couldn't see.”
“I don't have a concussion.”
“We don't know! Sometimes these powers have effects we don't anticipate. I have half a mind to sign you up for an MRI or something.”
“You know that doesn't work with me, right?” Jooheon asks.
Hyunwoo sighs and leans over and pulls the blanket off Jooheon’s head. Jooheon whines as he tries to stop him, but Hyunwoo grabs his wrists.
“I'm worried about you, Jooheon. Like really fucking worried. I've never seen you like that before,” Hyunwoo says softly.
Jooheon huffs, but he stops fighting, guilt emptying out into his gut. “I'm sorry.”
“Just tell me what happened, please? If you're so sure it wasn't a concussion.” Jooheon bites his lip, and Hyunwoo lets his wrists slip out of his grip. “Take your time,” Hyunwoo says.
Jooheon doesn't know what to say. He doesn't want to lie, but telling the full truth isn't an option. After a little while he sighs and settles with vagueness.
“Going searching through people’s minds isn't good for me. It's more tiring and painful than trying to talk back and forth. And then I was really afraid of losing my teammates for the first time. Like terrified. And everyone else was terrified, and I could feel it. And then when the bomb went off, there were so many emotions and thoughts bombarding me at once, that it was like a flood breaking over the dam. I got really overwhelmed really fast, and it was too many different things at once, and I couldn't stop it.”
Hyunwoo nods slowly. “Okay. That makes sense. You said it was too loud?”
Jooheon nods. “It got real loud in here,” he says, tapping his forefinger to his temple.
“Okay. I'll put that in the report.”
“Do you need to go do that?”
Hyunwoo shakes his head. “I can do it later. I can stay as long as you need me to.”
Jooheon raises an eyebrow. “You can?”
He thinks about Hoseok somewhere, waiting on Hyunwoo to be done, so they can be together. How Hoseok’s face will light up when he sees Hyunwoo again, like it always does, but different this time. Probably giddier.
Hyunwoo blinks at him. “Yeah? Where else would I have to be right now?”
Jooheon widens his eyes at him. “Um, I can think of a few places. Or a person you could be with?” He prompts.
Hyunwoo blinks at him a few times before his mouth falls open in a little circle. “Oh! Oh. You're...you're talking about Hoseok?”
Jooheon groans and leans back into the couch, finally unpausing the movie. “Yes, Hyunwoo. I'm talking about Hoseok.”
He waits for Hyunwoo to start gushing and explaining and talking about him, but he doesn't. The movie drones on, and Hyunwoo doesn't move or talk. Jooheon sighs again before picking up his beer and drinking down the rest of it.
Hyunwoo clears his throat a little. “Hoseok and I already talked.”
Jooheon feels like the alcohol ran straight up into his head. He can feel how apprehensive Hyunwoo is, and how Hyunwoo is trying to keep it together.
“I'm more worried about how you’re doing right now.”
Jooheon sits up and pauses the movie. “Excuse me?”
“Whatever is happening between me and Hoseok can wait. You got hurt on a mission--”
“I did not,” Jooheon says, pointing a finger right in Hyunwoo’s face, “get hurt on a mission.”
Hyunwoo frowns. “What else would you call it then? Because you looked pretty hurt, and we were on a mission.”
“God, I'm not hurt. I get a little bit overwhelmed and everyone acts like I almost died.” Hyunwoo’s face goes flat, and maybe Jooheon took it a bit too far dismissing his worries. He looks down and away, rubbing at his temple. “I'm sorry.”
“You know, I don't worry about you because it's my job. It’s my job because I worry.”
“My team member, no scratch that, my best friend was in so much pain that he almost puked after a mission. A mission that wouldn't have been as stressful if I was better,” Hyunwoo says.
Jooheon shakes his head. “Don’t say that.”
“It's true. If you were confident in my shields, you wouldn't have been that stressed.”
Jooheon wants to scream and shake Hyunwoo. But he couldn't explain what was wrong. He turns toward the paused screen and takes a deep breath. “I'm sorry for worrying you. You're a great leader, and I appreciate it, really, I do. But I'm fine. You don't have to sit here with me all night when you have better things to do.”
Hyunwoo sighs and puts his beer down on the coffee table before getting up. And there's some sickening feeling coming from him. Painful. Jooheon shuts his eyes, trying to block it out.
“You really want me...to go to Hoseok?” Hyunwoo asks, and his voice is soft and small.
Jooheon takes a deep breath and lies. “Yes. You guys have stuff to work out, and honestly, I kinda want to be alone for a bit, you know?”
There’s another flare of something behind Jooheon where Hyunwoo is, but it dies quickly, like Hyunwoo physically shut it down.
“Okay. Let me know if you need me. I'll see you later, okay?” Hyunwoo says.
Jooheon holds the okay sign above his head where Hyunwoo can see before he clicks play on the movie again. He listens for the door opening, then closing.
Jooheon counts back from seven because that's what he's always done. When he gets to one, he sniffles a bit. He hugs the blanket closer around him and finally lets himself cry.
It'd be easier if heartbreak was one tidal wave. Make it past that one and be fine. But it isn't. It's the tidal wave, and then the tide that follows. Jooheon was still in the upswell, caught drowning in it. He just hoped that if he cried hard enough this one time, he could get over it. He could smile tomorrow at breakfast and act like he wasn't in love with Hoseok. Like it didn't squeeze around his chest when Hoseok looked at Hyunwoo. Like he was just happy for them.
He was half-way through New Moon when he fell asleep again on the couch, mind finally quieting enough to let him rest.
Sometimes very real possibilities never cross his mind, and when they suddenly appear, large and looming like an inevitability, Jooheon feels himself shrink and go blank.
His mother is smiling with teary eyes as they drop him off. The plane ride was so long for a small child like him, especially when everyone is so loud around him. People thinking about being late, and people happy for a vacation, and people angry for no reason, and lots of uneasy turbulence dreams.
She tells him that she’ll come visit whenever she can. She tells him that it’ll be better for him here. She tells him she loves him.
She thinks it, too. Thinks it loud and clear like a bell. She loves him loves him loves him so much.
Then she's gone, and he's alone, and he's sniffling as he stares down at his unfamiliar lunch, and he had learned English at home, but it's so hard.
And then there's a pale little hand in his view and a big smile when he looks up and everything is okay again.
Jooheon wakes up to Changkyun gently shaking him. Changkyun is quiet when he wants to be, probably something that comes with turning invisible your whole life. But quiet is welcome around Jooheon.
“You slept here all night?” Changkyun asks.
Jooheon groans as he sits himself up. He's still on the couch in the living room. The beer bottle is still sitting on the coffee table along with the water bottle. “What time is it?”
“Ten in the morning. You still have an hour left of breakfast time,” Changkyun says.
“Shit.” Jooheon stands up and rubs at his face before he stumbles over to the bathroom to brush his teeth. Changkyun hovers around him, not stepping into the bathroom, but leaning against the doorframe.
“I came to check on you since no one had seen you all morning,” he says.
Jooheon spits out a mouthful of toothpaste before he grumbles, “Thanks.” Then he’s back to brushing his teeth again.
“We got a leave until next week, by the way,” Changkyun says.
Jooheon nods. Hyunwoo’s report must've been pages and pages long for that to happen. He probably ranted about how life-threatening it was. How it ended with someone hurt. Jooheon washed out his mouth.
“You going to be locked up in the lab all week then?” he asks.
Changkyun laughs. “Maybe not all week. It's not like I have a timeframe to finish my research on.”
“Good.” Jooheon walks past him to his room to change his clothes, putting on a t-shirt and basketball shorts. And Changkyun, again, is hovering at his door.
“I heard that Hyunwoo came to talk to you?” he asks.
There it is . Jooheon nods. “Yeah. It wasn't really anything. Were there a lot of people at breakfast?”
Changkyun just shook his head. “Honey, I think we need to talk before you rejoin the general population.”
“I don't think we do,” Jooheon answers. He's purposely ignoring that .
“No, I think you need to know what you're walking into.”
Jooheon sighs as he turns to Changkyun. “What then?”
“Things are really weird and serious right now. I don't know if it's because of the mission or what, but Hoseok and Hyunwoo aren't…” Changkyun trails off.
Jooheon blinks. “Aren't what?”
“They didn't work out together this morning like they usually do. Hoseok didn't even leave his room, and when Ki asked Hyunwoo about it, he just had this weird look on his face before saying he didn't know,” Changkyun says.
Jooheon can almost physically feel his mind screech to a halt. Like he stopped short but momentum kept pushing his internal organs forward.
Changkyun groans and his whole face disappears like it does when he gets huffy. “I don't know what happened but it was awkward and tense, and I hate it.”
“Is...Hoseok hasn’t left his room?” Jooheon asks.
Changkyun's face reappears, and he's just pouting and looking down. Jooheon hates it. Hates that he should go eat, but all he can think about it Hoseok being sad.
Jooheon stumbles forward, past Changkyun, past the living room, and out of their dorm. He doesn't think about where he’s going. He just follows his feet forward until he realizes he's in front of Hoseok’s room.
“Shit,” Jooheon sighs out before he knocks.
He hears movement before Hoseok barely opens the door a bit, just a crack. He sniffs, and Jooheon can feel how Hoseok feels. Confused and sad and gross.
“Hey. You okay?” Jooheon asks.
Hoseok sniffs again before he opens the door wider and walks back into the room. Jooheon takes this as his cue to follow after him, so he does. He walks in and closes the door behind him.
Hoseok’s room is like Kihyun’s. It's one big studio with a kitchen to his right, and a door to the bathroom on his left. The rest of the room is always a variable with Hoseok since he has a habit of moving around his furniture whenever he gets bored. This time the bed has been shoved into the far left corner under the window and the TV is across from it. The couch has just been left abandoned in the middle of the room. Hoseok walks past it to flop down onto his bed.
“Hoseok?” Jooheon tries, stepping slowly toward him.
“I don't know what's going on, and I hate everything,” Hoseok says directly into his pillow, but Jooheon is listening hard enough to know exactly what he's saying.
“What happened?” Jooheon asks as he walks toward the bed. He hovers like Changkyun was. He doesn't want to sit on the bed, but he wants to comfort him so bad. Wants to pull him into his arms and kiss his cheeks and tell him that everything will be alright. Instead he thumbs at the edge of his comforter, waiting.
Another wave of just sad hits him before Hoseok pushes himself up and sits, hugging his knees to his chest. Now that Jooheon can look at him, everything inside him pulls. His eyes are pink and puffy, and his face is just a tad bit swollen, and his mouth is turned down into a frown that Jooheon hates more than anything.
Jooheon licks his lips before he finally climbs onto the edge of Hoseok’s bed. “You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to. It's okay. I just wanted to make sure you were okay,” he says.
“When...when we kissed, he kissed me back,” Hoseok says softly, and his voice is shaky and quiet, and this is almost as bad as seeing him kiss Hyunwoo.
Jooheon sucks in a breath. “That’s...that's good, right?”
Hoseok shuts his eyes. “I thought so. I thought it would be. I thought it meant...I thought we’d...shit.” He licks his lips and rubs at his eyes like he’s about to cry again, and that's the last thing Jooheon wants. Jooheon reaches up and fixes the hairs on the back of Hoseok’s head as gently as he can.
“Shh, it's okay. Take your time.”
Hoseok sniffs again, and he looks up at the ceiling, willing his tears away before he talks again. “I got a lecture about how inappropriate that was. Which fine. That's his job or whatever. But then he just. Apologized to me. Like he looked so sorry, Honey.”
“Sorry?” Nothing makes sense. Hyunwoo was supposed to love him back. They were supposed to run off into the sunset together. Jooheon had resigned himself to that. To watching the man he loves be happy with someone else. This isn't how things were supposed to happen.
Hoseok scoffs before rubbing his eyes again. “He said that he might, might , have feelings for me, but he can't reciprocate my feelings for him. Not the way I want or whatever.”
Jooheon frowns. “What is that supposed to mean?”
Hoseok slams his hands down on the bed, and if it wasn't galvanized and made specifically for him, the whole bed frame would've fallen apart. Instead, it shakes hard, the headboard buzzing. “It means he likes someone else more than he likes me. God, I'm so stupid.”
“You're not stupid,” Jooheon says, squeezing a bit at the nape of his neck, trying to make him less tense. But it still doesn't make sense.
Even now, teary-eyed and sad, Hoseok was beautiful. He's sweet and amazing and caring, and Jooheon couldn't imagine anyone loving someone more than him. Especially not Hyunwoo. The man who spent almost every waking moment with Hoseok. Working out, training, watching TV, eating. He saw every side of Hoseok, and still smiled and laughed and leaned on him for support. He had to love him back. It didn't make any sense.
“God. And now he said maybe we should stop doing so much together, and I know he's doing it to try help, but it's making things so much worse,” Hoseok says.
And Jooheon feels like he's so close to him and yet not. They’re on a bridge, and Hoseok just stepped off the other side, and Jooheon is right behind him, but he just can't take that step.
“If you tell him that, I'm sure he’ll stop acting like that,” he says.
Hoseok sighs and runs his fingers through his hair. He lays back on his bed and presses his palms against his eyes, and everything is frustrating around Jooheon again.
“You eat breakfast yet?” Hoseok asks, changing the subject.
“Have you?” Jooheon asks back.
Hoseok nods. “You need to eat. I'm sure you haven't eaten since yesterday.”
Jooheon had almost successfully ignored his empty stomach, but as soon as Hoseok mentioned, he felt just how hungry he was.
He stares down at Hoseok for a moment before nodding. “Come with me to the cafeteria?”
Hoseok doesn't move his hands. Doesn't look at him at all, and it makes Jooheon feel cold. “I just wanna stay in here for a bit, you know?”
Go away. Leave me alone.
Jooheon freezes. Did he accidentally listen in? Did Hoseok scream that in his head?
Did everything have to hurt this much?
Hoseok doesn't move. Doesn't act like he knows that Jooheon heard that. So Jooheon takes a deep breath and gets up.
“Yeah, okay. If you need anything, though,” he says.
“Got it.” And then Hoseok was turning toward his window and pulling the blanket over himself.
Tears sting almost as much as the piercing headache from yesterday, but Jooheon keeps it at bay. He shuffles out of his room and closes the door gently behind him.
He's not hungry anymore. All he can think about is those words.
Go away. Leave me alone.
It didn't sound like Hoseok at all. He'd never told Jooheon to go away. Not once in the long years they've known each other.
Jooheon feels even emptier than before as he makes his way down to the cafeteria to grab just as much food as he can stomach before breakfast officially ends.
He chews through a bowl of cereal and an apple before he's just sitting at the empty table, staring idly at the pattern on it. It takes a while before he realizes he should move. He needs to talk this out, or he’ll feel miserable forever.
With a destination in mind, he finally gets up and walks out of the cafeteria, not noticing the pairs of eyes following him.
When Minhyuk opens the door, his hair is messy, and he’s only wear a pair of basketball shorts. He only opens the door just wide enough for his face and a sliver of his body to show, and Jooheon just blinks at him.
“Um, did I interrupt...something?” Jooheon asks.
Minhyuk grins but shakes his head. “Hyungwon’s asleep. What’s up?” he says softly.
Jooheon nods slowly as he clears his throat. “I'm sorry if you're busy, but I need... a moment .”
Minhyuk’s eyes widen a bit. He clicks his tongue before looking behind him for a moment, presumably towards his bed where Hyungwon is. Sighing, he turns back to Jooheon.
“Give me one second, okay?” he says with a smile.
The door closes again, and Jooheon sighs as he takes a few steps back and leans against the wall. It isn’t long before Minhyuk steps back out, now dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, hair combed into place, and he throws Jooheon a jacket and blanket.
“Ready?” Minhyuk asks.
“Yeah,” Jooheon says, peeling himself back off the wall. “And thanks.”
“Don't worry about it. I wasn't doing much more than watching Hyungwon sleep.”
“Slightly creepy, but okay.”
Minhyuk shoves at Jooheon’s shoulder, but he's still smiling all bright, and Jooheon just laughs before he hugs the bundle Minhyuk gave him closer to his chest.
They walk, and Minhyuk chatters. About what he had for breakfast. About the break they got. About maybe sparring with Kihyun later in the evening. About anything at all that's easy to digest. Jooheon just listens, laughing whenever he makes a joke, shooting him looks when he says something ridiculous. It feels fake. He's still weird and empty, but if he acts like that, Minhyuk’s concern would sky rocket, and instead of chattering, he’d be interrogating.
They walk out of the back of the school, past the gardens and courts and outdoor training facilities until they reach the edge of the forest that surrounds their school. Minhyuk takes a quick look around to see that no one is around before walking into the forest, Jooheon following after him.
It's not a very long walk. There's a creek that runs nearby that's surrounded by lots of thin trees all bunched up close like a fence around it. They slink their way carefully past them before Minhyuk walks over to the giant flat-topped boulder that's their destination. He climbs on first before Jooheon tosses him the blanket and jacket. Minhyuk catches them and puts them aside before helping Jooheon up onto it.
Jooheon looks around for a moment.
It's beautiful here. Quiet with the exception of the soft rushing of the creek, and never too bright because of the trees, but never too dark. He sits down on the boulder before slipping the jacket on over his shoulders and putting the blanket in his lap.
“You ready?” Minhyuk asks as he sits down across from him.
“The flashlight should be in the jacket pocket if we need it.” Jooheon reaches into the pocket to squeeze around it and nods at Minhyuk to confirm it’s there. “Cool,” Minhyuk concludes, smirk already in place.
“Do you not get tired of that one pun?” Jooheon asks.
“Never,” Minhyuk replies before he blows on his fingertips, turning them blue again. He stretches his arms out around him, looking up a bit before he moves them up over his head.
When Jooheon was younger, he thought all the ice walls Minhyuk made came straight up out of the ground. It was because Minhyuk always worked from the bottom up, making the illusion of them shooting up from somewhere. Jooheon never liked to think about the science behind how this all works. Changkyun explained it once, talking about molecules and freezing temperatures and how Minhyuk could manipulate them because God-only-knows-why. All Jooheon knows is that Minhyuk can make a damn good ice fort or igloo at a moment's notice, and that's what he was here for.
All it took was one raise of his arms, and they were surrounded by walls of ice, coming up to make a point above them to make a pyramid before it gets incredibly dark in the little room Minhyuk has made. All Jooheon can feel for a second is how incredibly cold it suddenly is.
Then Minhyuk huffs, and Jooheon feels the frustration just jump off of him before a layer of the ice disappears above them, making it more translucent and letting in some sunlight.
“I can never get the gradients right,” Minhyuk says, staring up at the skylight he's made.
“Hey, it works,” Jooheon says.
Minhyuk sighs before he looks back down at Jooheon and smiles. “Okay so. You know how this works. Rule Number Three, freezing everything out and all that jazz.”
“And what’s said in here,” Jooheon starts.
“Stays in here,” Minhyuk finishes. He reaches out and pats Jooheon’s knee. “What's up? You haven't asked to do this in a long time.”
Jooheon takes a deep breath before he hugs the jacket tighter around himself. “I never talk about this, so it's hard for me, okay?”
“Okay,” Minhyuk says with a nod. His face is serious now, and he's giving Jooheon all of his attention.
Jooheon opens his mouth to just say it, but the words get stuck in his throat. He frowns and clears his throat before settling with something else. “I...have feelings for someone.”
Minhyuk just blinks at him, obviously waiting for more. Jooheon groans before he runs his fingers through his hair. “Someone in the group. On the team,” Jooheon adds.
Minhyuk clicks his tongue. “Okay, I won't ask who even though it's pretty obvious who it is.”
Jooheon feels his like something is screaming inside him, and it probably is seeing how Minhyuk ducks his head down and leans away for a moment before Jooheon gets himself under control again. Minhyuk squints up at him again.
“Holy shit, you should use that on missions. It's like a bomb,” Minhyuk says before he shakes his head a bit and blinks away whatever it was.
“Sorry, I just. I didn't know I was that obvious,” Jooheon says.
“Well maybe not to everyone, but I’m pretty sure I can see it,” Minhyuk says.
Jooheon bites his lip. “Do you think it's obvious to him?”
Minhyuk bites his lip for a second before shaking his head. “I'm pretty sure he probably has no idea.”
Jooheon nods, feeling a bit better. “Well, yeah. I like him, a lot, but he definitely confirmed he has feelings for someone else and--”
Jooheon stops. He licks his lips and immediately regrets it because of the cold. “I like him. He very obviously likes someone else. And like, it hurts, but I just want him to be happy, you know? But now he's sad, and he's literally never pushed me away like he just did, and it really fucking sucks.”
It's quiet. Eerily quiet considering he just dropped so much information on Minhyuk that he would normally jump to dissect. Jooheon looks at him, and Minhyuk’s mouth is slightly open as he just stares at him. He blinks, blinks really fast, before he leans forward.
“You. You’re talking about Hoseok. You like Hoseok,” he says, and the words are coming out in fast little whispers.
Jooheon frowns. “Yeah? I thought you said you knew who it was.”
Minhyuk just keeps blinking for a bit before he nods. “Yeah. Okay. So you’re here to talk about…”
“I don't know. When he kissed Hyunwoo yesterday, my heart just...broke into pieces.”
“Aw, Honey,” Minhyuk says softly, reaching up to card through Jooheon’s hair.
Jooheon sniffs and tries to blinks away tears. “It just hurts. And then this morning Hoseok said that Hyunwoo kinda rejected him, and he didn't say it, but he told me to go away and leave him alone.”
Minhyuk frowns a bit, lips pressed together as he pats gently at the top of his head. “You broke Rule Number Six?”
Jooheon shakes his head. “No! I would never. He just...screamed it so loud I couldn't keep it out.” And saying it out loud almost makes it worse. Because that's real. Hoseok wanted him gone so badly his thoughts flung themselves into Jooheon’s head even when Jooheon tries so hard all the time to keep everything out.
“Hey, hey, it’s okay. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to seem angry or anything,” Minhyuk says. He pulls Jooheon into his arms, cradling the back of his head, and Jooheon lets himself slump forward into the embrace.
“I know. It just all sucks, and I can't do anything about it,” Jooheon mumbles.
Minhyuk is quiet again, just holding Jooheon against him. Jooheon takes the time to collect himself again. Volatile emotions were never good for him.
“Have you...told Hoseok?” Minhyuk tries.
“...no. He’s liked Hyunwoo for as long as I've liked him.”
Minhyuk sighs, squeezes him close for a second before pulling away to look him in the eyes. “Has Hoseok talked to you about it?”
“Has he talked to you about how he feels about Hyunwoo?”
“And what did you tell him?”
Jooheon blinks. “I...I told him he should confess.”
Minhyuk grins at him like he has the whole world figured out. “Take your own advice, Honey. Tell Hoseok.”
Jooheon immediately starts shaking his head. “No. He's hurt right now, and I told him to confess because I thought he had a chance. I thought Hyunwoo liked him back.”
Jooheon pulls away from Minhyuk, eyebrows furrowing. “God, you think so loud sometimes.”
Minhyuk slaps his hand over his mouth as if his mouth was the culprit. “Sorry, sorry, didn't mean to,” he mumbles into his palm.
“Why are you so surprised I thought Hyunwoo liked him back? They spend like every waking moment together, and Hoseok is just so--” Jooheon shuts his mouth when he sees Minhyuk scrutinizing him.
“No, keep going. So what?” Minhyuk asks, mischievous smile starting to appear on his face.
“Nope. No. I'm done, melt this all away now, please,” Jooheon says, feeling his cheeks warm as he slaps his hand against the annoyingly solid ice wall.
“Oh come on, don't be all embarrassed now. You were just telling me about literally everything.”
“The only person that kinda knows is Changkyun, and he doesn't even know all this new stuff!”
“That's fine! Hoseok is so…?” Minhyuk prompts.
Jooheon glares at him. “Look. I wanted advice, and now you're just being mean.”
Minhyuk snorts and shakes his head. “I gave you my advice. Tell Hoseok you like him. I'm sure it'll at least make you feel better.”
“Not after what I saw today. Hyunwoo is avoiding Hoseok, and that's the last thing I want to happen to me.”
Minhyuk swallows, and Jooheon certainly feels something , but it's a mess, so he doesn't try to linger on it too long.
“Did...did Hyunwoo give Hoseok a reason why he rejected him?” Minhyuk asks softly.
Jooheon sighs and leans back against the ice. It's cold enough to eke its way through the thick jacket he had on, but Jooheon doesn't mind. Not right now.
“He told him he liked him but not as much as he likes someone else I guess,” Jooheon says, trying to pick out the important pieces of their conversation from memory.
Minhyuk groans as he stands up, touching the walls around him lightly.
“Do you have any idea who the other person is?” he asks. Jooheon shakes his head, feeling apprehension start to turn his stomach. Minhyuk sets his jaw again. “Rule Three, yeah? We don't talk about any of this outside of here?” Minhyuk asks. And it feels like he's saying it more to himself than anything. Jooheon just stares up at him.
“Yeah. Of course.”
“Great,” Minhyuk says. His hands against the walls close to fists, and the ice sublimates to nothing around them. Minhyuk sighs and brushes his hands against his pants. “I think I'm going to call my parents later. It's been a while.”
Jooheon can tell Minhyuk is slightly annoyed, but he doesn't know why.
“I'm...sorry for bothering you?” Jooheon tries.
“What? No, you're not bothering me,” Minhyuk says, looking down at Jooheon again.
“Then why are you all...upset?”
Minhyuk sighs before he hops down from the boulder and reaches his hands up to help him down. “Rule Three. Can't talk about it.”
Jooheon frowns, but he knows better than to try to fight that. He takes the jacket and blanket off before tossing them to Minhyuk and sliding down the boulder. “Look, l’ll think about telling Hoseok, but I'll give him a few days first. He obviously wants to be alone for now.”
“I'm sorry I can't help you more,” Minhyuk says with a pout.
“It's fine. I feel better now that I talked about it.”
“Can I ask you something though?”
“Are we still under rule Number three?” Jooheon asks, eyebrow raised. Minhyuk nods. “Then sure.”
“If Hyunwoo and Hoseok really got together, do you really think you could handle it? You say you just want him to be happy, but you can't live your life watching someone else be happy in your stead.”
Jooheon frowns. “I'm not a baby. I can handle it.”
“Okay, sure. But one kiss, and you literally were about to black out.”
“I was already exhausted when that happened!”
“Fine, fine,” Minhyuk says, putting his hands up in surrender. “But I'm thinking about the good of the team here. If you keep showing up in those reports as hurt, they’re going to try re-assigning you.”
Sometimes very real possibilities never cross his mind, and when they suddenly appear, large and looming like an inevitability, Jooheon feels himself shrink and go blank.
He didn't think about how under his name in the database there would be the words Incident Reports with the number one sitting next to it now. Because the little migraines? Those were par for the course as far as the school was concerned. Fatigue caused by exercise.
But what happened yesterday wasn't that. It was enough to worry the whole team. Enough for Hyunwoo to mention it in a report. Enough to get him flagged in the system as potentially a problem for this otherwise perfectly built team.
“N-no. We’ve been grouped together since I was eight , Min. We literally all picked our codenames together. We’ve been trained to handle things together .”
“And Seungcheol and Jihoon did literally everything with Jonghyun and Minki until they decided they just couldn't anymore.”
“But their powers were too similar. They didn't work well together.”
“And when you work with us, you end up hurt. That's how the system is going to see it. And if being around Hyunwoo and Hoseok triggers volatile reactions from you--”
“Stop. It's not going to be like that. One incident doesn't mean I'm going to be re-assigned,” Jooheon says firmly.
Minhyuk presses his lips together and nods. “You're right. One incident is nothing.” And he doesn't have to finish his thought. Jooheon doesn't have to hear it to know what he's leaving out. One is nothing. But if they stack up? If it happens more?
He doesn't want to think about it.
“Let's get back. I'm sure Hyungwon is missing you,” Jooheon says.
“And what are you going to do?” Minhyuk asks.
Jooheon shrugs as he snakes his way through the trees. “Hyunwoo said he wanted me to do some tests, so I'll probably go look for him and do that.”
Minhyuk doesn't answer until they’re walking back through the forest again. “For your head?”
Jooheon snorts. “Yeah, for my head.”
Minhyuk folds the blanket and jacket as small as he can as they walk before he ruffles Jooheon’s hair. “Well, let us know how that goes, okay? We were worried.”
“Yeah, yeah. It should be fine, but I'll text the group chat.”
“Good.” They finally get back to the proper grounds. It's further in the day, so there’s more people around, and it's noisier. Thoughts buzzing everywhere. Jooheon sighs as he tries to keep them away. Focuses in on just himself to help make the veil stronger.
“Jooheon?” Minhyuk says.
“If you need anymore...moments? I'm here, okay?”
Jooheon smiles and nods. “I know.”
“And...talk to Hoseok, yeah?”
Jooheon nods as they walk into the dorms again. “Yeah, yeah. Go back to your boyfriend already.”
And Minhyuk sighs a bit before he smiles again. “Don't have to tell me twice. See you.”
Jooheon doesn't know what emotion Minhyuk leaves in his wake. He only knows that it feels like something tall standing behind him. Like when it's about to rain but it just won't yet.
He has to shake it off hard before he feels normal enough to go find Hyunwoo.
They’re giving off a mess of emotions that Jooheon could drown in. He stares out the window, taking deep measured breaths. It’s almost suffocating, everything they’re feeling and trying not feel filling up the whole van.
“This sucks. Why the hell are we the ones doing this?” Kihyun whines from the back seat.
“I don't know why you’re complaining, I think this is great,” Minhyuk pipes up. He has a way too pleased grin on his face, lounging in the normal uniform while the rest of them are tightly bundled up in thick padded jackets.
Although Kihyun is the most bundled, keeping his un-gloved hands trapped between his thighs for warmth.
“You know, you’d think you’d be able to keep yourself warm, babe,” Changkyun says.
“Trust me, if I could set myself on fire right now, I would,” Kihyun responds.
“I don't get what the issue is. Snow is great!” Minhyuk says. Kihyun glares at him, his lips pressing together.
“Listen, if you want to blame anything, blame my bad luck. We got a week off, and then this mission came up. Jihoon was the one who said we should pick straws,” Hyunwoo says. He's sitting in his usual spot in the front of the van, though Jooheon isn't in his usual spot.
Jooheon is sitting next to Kihyun in the back, he and Hyungwon having switched places.
It's been a week, and he hasn't talked to Hoseok since he had told him to leave. Well, wanted him to leave.
According to Changkyun, Hoseok hasn't talked to much of anyone in the past week.
Jooheon glances over at him, wrapped up in his white jacket that only makes him look even bulkier. He's staring out the window, decidedly not looking at Hyunwoo.
Hyunwoo, for his part, isn't looking at him either. Only glancing over every once in a while before guiltily staring down at the papers in front of him.
They’re giving off a mess of emotions that Jooheon could drown in. He stares out the window, taking deep measured breaths. It’s almost suffocating, everything they’re feeling and trying not feel filling up the whole van.
It doesn't help that Kihyun is radiating annoyance next to him, and Minhyuk is screaming excitement in front of him.
Everyone thinks and feels too loudly for Jooheon’s current taste.
“Look, it should be pretty straightforward. A research expedition left behind some equipment, and we just have to retrieve it,” Hyunwoo says.
“I thought this was a rescue,” Hyungwon pipes up.
Hyunwoo grimaces. “Rescuing equipment, I guess.”
Something flares up that has to be Changkyun, and Jooheon just shuts his eyes, imagines himself like a kid pulling his covers up over his head.
“Why do they need a whole superpowered team to do this? Couldn't they...you know. Get it themselves?” Changkyun asks.
The atmosphere changes quickly. Suddenly, everyone is all feeling and thinking the same thing.
He’s right. This is weird.
One loud unanimous thought is much easier to deal with than the weird emotion soup Jooheon was trying to swim in just a few seconds ago. So he leans forward in his seat and focuses in, too.
Hyunwoo shrugs. “We didn't get many details other than the coordinates, and that there's no one there. And you have to go through a pretty rigorous process to contact the school.”
“Yeah, they can't let us get up to weird shenanigans,” Minhyuk agrees.
Changkyun hums an agreement, leaning against Kihyun again. “I know. It just. Feels weird. A whole team of us? To pick up some shit in the arctic?”
Hyunwoo frowns down at his papers before putting them away in his bag. He leans his elbows against the back of the seat and looks at all of them. All of them. Even Hoseok.
“Look, we’ve gone into situations blind before. Hell, that's how we trained. So we just follow protocol like we always do, and everything will be fine, yeah?” Hyunwoo says. And he even smiles at the end, encouraging.
Jooheon can't help but glance over at Hoseok again. He’s looking up at Hyunwoo, face serious.
Jooheon looks back outside. He can feel the cold seeping through the thick glass. Everything around them is white, covered in snow.
“Are we almost there?” Hyungwon asks.
Hyunwoo turns back toward the GPS. “Just about, I think,” he answers.
It goes quiet again.
Jooheon feels like he might puke, but that's the last thing he needs.
Minhyuk sighs and turns around, holding his hand out to Kihyun. It's slowly turning blue.
“Come on,” he says.
Kihyun squints at Minhyuk, then at his hand. “If you think I'm going to touch your freezing hand in this weather--”
“You have to. I have to touch your flaming hand even if we’re in the desert,” Minhyuk says back.
Kihyun rolls his eyes, but he’s grinning now as he reaches out, hand turning red.
Jooheon smiles as their hands sizzle together for a second.
At least one thing in this weird mess is still normal.
“We’re here,” Hyunwoo says. The van stops a few seconds later, and Jooheon can’t open the door and slip out fast enough. He almost doesn't notice the cold.
Until it smacks him directly on his uncovered cheeks, and he stops in place only a few steps away from the van.
“Oh fuck ,” he says because that's the only possible reaction.
“Wow, this is nice,” Minhyuk says as he steps out past Jooheon. Jooheon glares at him. He’s only wearing one layer to Jooheon’s four.
“Oh fuck this,” Kihyun yells out as he walks up. In his cupped hands, he's holding a little ball of flame. Changkyun is already holding his gloved hands out toward it, and Jooheon is quick to join him.
“You know, I swear you guys keep better composure in riskier situations,” Hyunwoo said as he walked up.
“Risky situations. Perfectly normal temperatures,” Kihyun grumbles.
“God, where is this thing so we can get out of here?” Hyungwon asks, looking around.
“Right. It should be around here somewhere. The coordinates were pretty exact,” Hyunwoo says.
“We should split up,” Hoseok says. Everyone turns to look at him. It's the first words he's spoken all day. He pulls his scarf up over his mouth. “You know. To make looking easier.”
“Right. I.M and Haunt--”
“It's just us, you don't have to use codenames,” Changkyun interrupts.
Hyunwoo sighs and nods. “Right. You two, head south. Hyungwon can pull stuff out of the ground if need be. Minhyuk, I assume you’re fine looking by yourself?”
“Sure am!” Minhyuk’s already wiggling his fingers, ready to manipulate all the ice and cold around them.
“Great. You head West. Jooheon, you and Kihyun can head east. Ki, don't melt everything, okay?”
“Got it. Don't melt everything.”
There's a moment in the very pregnant pause where all Jooheon can hear are very surprised internal expletives.
“I'll head north with you in case you need some extra muscle,” Hoseok says.
“Yeah. That. Call on your comms if you find anything.” A very succinct dismissal.
Kihyun nods away from the van and starts walking. Jooheon takes one last look at everyone else heading off before he trails after him.
The snow crunches under Jooheon’s boots, and his cheeks still sting, but at least things are calmer the further they walk. He doesn't feel like puking anymore. Or like he's suffocating.
“I wish we knew what we were looking for,” Kihyun says.
“Agreed,” Jooheon says.
Kihyun is still holding a ball of fire, but he’s let it grow bigger now, holding it out between them. It definitely helps, Jooheon’s side already feeling a lot warmer.
“If only I had fireproof clothes,” Kihyun says.
Jooheon snorts. “It probably would be nice to walk with a human-shaped fire right about now.”
“It'd be nice to be a human-shaped fire right about now.”
They walk a little more, eyes searching the barren landscape. Jooheon turns around to find that they’ve walked quite far. The others are already smaller shapes far away.
“It was so awkward in the car, too,” Kihyun says softly.
Jooheon looks at him. Kihyun is staring ahead, fire going steady.
“W-what do you mean?”
Kihyun clicked his tongue. “You know exactly what I mean. Hyunwoo and Hoseok,” he whispers out.
Well, at least Jooheon wasn't the only one getting second-hand suffering.
“Yeah. I know. I'm sure they'll work it out soon, though,” Jooheon offers.
Kihyun nods. “I hope so. Sooner rather than later. It's weird to see Hoseok moping and sulking, and it's weird to see Hyunwoo feeling guilty.”
“It's weird not to see them together,” Jooheon says. He turns around again to look for their silhouettes, but he can't find them. He frowns. The white of the jackets weren't that good of a camouflage.
“Yeah, it’s just...bad. Feels gross. I don't know. Ugh, where the hell is this thing?” Kihyun’s voice sounded far away as Jooheon’s eyes searched the frozen plain.
Their comms come to life in their ears, static and a groan and then nothing. Kihyun turns toward Jooheon, eyes wide.
The fire went out.
“Hello? Everyone alright?” Kihyun asks.
Jooheon holds his breath, but his feet are already shuffling forward.
“Changkyun and Hyungwon here. That wasn't us.”
Kihyun's voice came in through the comm. “Minhyuk? Hyunwoo? Hoseok?”
“Wasn't me,” Minhyuk’s voice crackles through.
Jooheon’s running, he realizes. He doesn't know quite when he started, but he’s sprinting now, veil already lifting off and probably falling lost in the snow somewhere behind him.
“ Hoseok! Hyunwoo! ”
He’s screaming out in his mind, waiting, hoping for a response. He doesn't know how far they got, but it couldn't be that far.
“ Hoseok! Guys! ”
Jooheon takes it all back. He would rather see Hoseok miserable and dejected than not at all. He needs him there, he needs all of them there.
“ Can you hear me? Yell back! ”
The cold rakes at his cheeks, and his eyes water because he didn't put on his goggles, but he still runs forward. He ignores the little tug he feels on his right temple as he keeps yelling out and listening, yelling out and listening.
“ Guys, please! ”
“ JOOHEON, DON’T-- ”
But it was too late.
The snow gives way under his feet, and he falls straight down.
This time when he yells, it isn't just in his head.
“ Jooheon! ”
He doesn't fall as far as he thought he would, crashing hard into something strangely warm first. When he opens his eyes, he realizes what it is.
Hyunwoo's shield. All of it doubled up over and over again to make a strong enough surface to hold him up.
It and Jooheon slide slowly down onto a ridge before it disappears, and Jooheon shudders.
The first thing Jooheon registers is pain . Someone else’s pain. Thoughts about pain. It hurts it hurts it hurts.
Jooheon shuts his eyes to keep that out. He can't be useful if he's suffering through someone else’s pain.
The next thing he registers is annoyance , but it isn't towards anyone. That’s doubled back again like the shield was.
Jooheon takes a deep breath and looks up.
Hyunwoo is panting, doubled over and leaning against a wall of ice as he tries to catch his breath. Hoseok is laying on the ground next to him, scarf now folded up and under his left foot.
“What happened?” Jooheon asks, and he realizes that the question is stupid. It's obvious what happened. They, like him, fell down a crevice in the ice, and Hoseok probably broke his leg.
Hyunwoo straightens up, and he looks up at where they fell from. Jooheon follows his gaze. It’s only about a ten-meter fall to the ridge they were on, but when Jooheon looks to the side, he realizes how lucky they are that they fell here instead of further down into the black mouth of a ravine.
“I tried to tell you guys to be cautious,” Hyunwoo says, face stoic and serious as he looks over at Jooheon.
Jooheon rolls his eyes and stands up, brushing the snow off his pants. “Your comm must've taken damage in the fall because all we heard was static.”
“Great,” Hoseok grumbles.
“Look, I can get you both out of here, just give me a second to work my strength back up,” Hyunwoo says.
And then Hoseok looks at Hyunwoo like he had at the store with the bomb.
“I’m not leaving you here alone,” Hoseok says.
Hyunwoo sighs as he rolls his wrists. “We’re not having this argument again.”
“Your leg is probably broken. I need to get you up there so someone can take you to the van, and, at the very least, elevate it before we get back,” Hyunwoo says.
“He’s right. You can't stay down here,” Jooheon says.
Hoseok looks at him, and he looks so small sitting there in his white jacket, it makes Jooheon ache.
“How are you going to get out then?” Hoseok asks, turning his attention back to Hyunwoo.
“I’m sure Minhyuk could get me back up. I'd be up there right after you.”
“W-what about the mission?” Hoseok tries again.
It's desperate, but Jooheon doesn't understand why. Hoseok is asking for something, but not for whatever he was saying out loud.
“Whatever it was, it fell down the ravine. There is no saving it,” Hyunwoo says with a glance back past their ridge.
Hoseok groans as he falls back, laying all the way down. “You don't even know if you can do it.”
Jooheon stares. Hoseok has never doubted Hyunwoo before. He blinks and turns to find Hyunwoo staring too.
“I-I caught Jooheon. It worked with him,” Hyunwoo says softly.
“You shouldn't overexert yourself like this,” Hoseok whines, and Jooheon sighs. That made more sense.
“I think you both need to calm down a bit. You’re both agitated, and I get it, but that's not going to help us get out of here,” Jooheon says.
And then he feels it again. He hadn't felt it since that day a week ago when Hyunwoo came to check on him. An overwhelming feeling of something .
And just as soon as he registers it, it's gone. Like it hadn't been there in the first place.
“You're right,” Hyunwoo says softly.
Jooheon looks at the two of them for a moment before he looks back up at where they fell from.
“I’ll try to call them, okay?” Jooheon says.
“Yeah. Go ahead,” Hyunwoo says.
Jooheon steps a bit away from them. He tries his comm first.
“I found them, but we need help,” he says into it.
There's nothing. Not even static.
Jooheon swallows and looks up. He takes a deep breath, and he feels that tug again, but he balls up his fists and calls anyway.
“ GUYS! I found them! Someone respond please! ”
“ Don’t let him stay down here by himself. ”
Jooheon blinks and looks back over to them. Hoseok is staring right at him, one eyebrow raised as if he was checking.
Jooheon looks up and tries again, tries as loud as he can.
“ GUYS! HERE! ”
“ The snow above is at least a meter thick. One wrong move and that all falls down on top of us. On top of him. And if he gets us out the way he wants, he won't have enough energy to use his shield to protect himself ,” Hoseok’s voice drones somewhere in the back of Jooheon's skull.
The snow is thick. Thick enough to block out the sun, but not strong enough to hold up their weight. Jooheon squints, and he can see the glimmer of Hyunwoo’s shield already around them, put in place just in case.
Hoseok is right. The snow would be nothing to Hyunwoo’s shield, but if lowering Jooheon down tired Hyunwoo enough to have him panting…
Jooheon swallows. He looks back over to Hoseok, and he’s still looking at him. He still looks small.
“Hyunwoo, maybe we should wait together for everyone to come,” Jooheon says.
Hoseok smiles a bit at him before he looks away. Hyunwoo just stares at him.
“You can't be serious,” he says.
“I mean. The snow--”
“Has anyone checked in with you?” Hyunwoo asks.
Jooheon stops. “No.”
“Then we have to assume that they aren't coming. That's protocol. That’s the way this works.”
“No. If I can get you guys up there, then you could get them over here to help me,” Hyunwoo says.
“You know they're coming for us, though,” Hoseok says.
“Sure. But they can find us faster if I get you guys out of here.”
It's tense again. They’re snapping at each other, and Jooheon can feel the anger come off them like heat from a fire.
He tries to just call again, shouting as loudly as he can in his mind.
“Just because I might have broken my ankle--”
“That's exactly why, Hoseok. You’re hurt on a mission, and it's my job to treat it as best as I can.”
“Well, causing me distress because you’re staying down here is not treating anything.”
“Why are you being petty right now? I know you're hurt, but this isn't the time. I’m trying--”
“You’re not trying anything! You're too tired to do it anyway!”
“What is the big problem with me trying to get you out of here? It's not like I'm going to be stuck down here forever.”
“I don't want to leave you down here by yourself when you can get hurt!”
Jooheon hates this. His head is starting to hurt, and everything feels raw. He leans against the wall and calls out again despite the stabbing pain he feels on his temple.
“You cannot keep putting yourself in dangerous situations just because I might get hurt, Hoseok. If I get hurt, whatever. If you get hurt because of me--”
“I’m already hurting because of you!”
The first and only thing Jooheon can register is pain .
His pain and Hoseok’s mirrored into one.
He buckles, knees and waist, and the only real thing he can ground himself in is the burning cold seeping through his gloves.
The next thing he registers is being scooped up, and he almost struggles, tries to push off whatever is trying to hold him, but then he realizes there's nothing there to fight. He gets dragged up fast, whole body heaving upwards, until he's slumped into the snow, and the wind is cutting at his face again.
When Jooheon opens his eyes, they aren't in the ravine anymore. Hyungwon is squatting a few feet away, breathing fast. He blinks and looks around. All of them are there, Hoseok and Hyunwoo next to him. They both look just as shocked as Jooheon feels. And then there’s anger again, but it isn't coming from them.
“What the hell is wrong with you guys?” Minhyuk asks.
Jooheon opens his mouth to speak, but he feels the stabbing pain again, and then Changkyun is next to him, wrapping his arms around him.
“Shh, Honey, it's okay. You did so much,” he whispers against his hair.
“Babe,” Hyungwon croaks out, and he’s worried. Very worried. When Jooheon looks up, he instantly sees why.
Minhyuk’s throat has turned the icy blue of his fingers, his lips too. It's cold, but it's colder than it was. Than it should be.
It's been a long time since Jooheon has seen Minhyuk truly angry. He had almost forgotten how scary it could be.
“Minhyuk, come on. Rule number four,” Kihyun says. He's walking up next to him, trying to smile. “If I can't be a hothead, you certainly can't either,” he says.
Minhyuk looks at him, and then up at the sky, takes two deep breaths, and then he looks back down, narrowing his eyes at Hyunwoo and Hoseok.
“Hyungwon got here first, and when he saw you guys, he thought it had to be bad. He literally yanked all three of you up at once. He’s never strained himself so much.”
“Babe, stop,” Hyungwon says. He pushes himself up slowly, and Jooheon can see how exhausted he is. He’s slouching and dragging his feet as he walks up behind him.
“We...we were disagreeing about how to proceed,” Hyunwoo says softly.
Minhyuk scoffs and points over to Jooheon, still cradled against Changkyun's chest. He knows he probably looks bad, grimacing and eyes half-shut because his head hurts.
“Jooheon was screaming his mind out at us. You both know how hard that is on him. Especially after last mission,” he says.
Jooheon can't deal with this anymore. He’s so tired, and everything hurts.
It hurts it hurts it hurts.
“Minhyuk,” Hyunwoo says, and it's supposed to be a warning, but it doesn't feel like it.
“I don't care what happened between you guys, but you need to fix it. I'm not losing my fucking team, my fucking family , because you two couldn't figure it out,” Minhyuk says.
And then he turns around, the snow sifting and shifting and moving in front of him as he goes to work making a sled of ice to put Hoseok on.
Jooheon stays awake out of sheer will. They can drag Hoseok back to the van, but probably not both of them. He lets Kihyun help him up to his feet, and somehow is able to ignore the stabbing pain in his head. He knows Hyunwoo keeps looking over at him, but he ignores it until they make it back.
They put Hoseok in the back seat, laid out with his foot up in Changkyun's lap. He winces as they take his shoe and sock off, but he doesn't say anything else. He lets Changkyun try to make each layer of his skin and muscle invisible one by one, so he can look at the bones beneath.
“That's gross,” Hyungwon comments as he piles into the seat in front of them, claiming the window seat. Minhyuk sits next to him, and then Kihyun slides in next to him, so he can turn back to look at whatever Changkyun is doing.
Jooheon looks over at Hyunwoo, and Hyunwoo looks at him. They silently get into the van and close the door.
The van comes to life and starts moving. It'll be a long while before they get back, even with the van changing around them to become a helicopter.
“I don't see any fractures. It could just be a really bad sprain,” Changkyun announces.
Good, Jooheon thinks. He glances over at Hyunwoo, and Hyunwoo holds an arm out toward him.
Jooheon feels like his brain is turning to goo inside his skull. He leans closer, laying his head against Hyunwoo’s chest, listens to the familiar rhythm of his heart.
Something wraps around him, warm and strange, but it's not unwelcome.
“Don't put me in the incident report,” Jooheon asks softly.
Hyunwoo sighs. “I won't. Just get some rest.” His hand scratches gently at the back of Jooheon’s scalp, and Jooheon finally lets himself give into his own exhaustion.
When he wakes up, it isn't in the comfort of his own room. He groans as he realizes he's in the infirmary, monitors on both of his temples.
He sits up slowly, pushing himself up on his elbows to find Changkyun sitting in the corner of the room. They look at each other for a second.
“You’re awake,” Changkyun says finally.
“I am. Any reason why you took me here instead of the room?” He pulls the monitors off of him and swings his legs over the side of the bed he’s in.
“Well, we did at first,” Changkyun says carefully. He walks over and looks at Jooheon, lips tight.
Jooheon tilts his head. “And?”
“I brought you here when you didn't wake up after a day.”
His heart falls down into his gut.
“How long have I been out?”
Changkyun frowns as he looks down at his watch. “Two days total,” he answers.
Jooheon presses his palms against his eyes. “Fuck.”
“I'm in the incident report, aren't I?” Jooheon asks.
Jooheon looks back up at him. “Well?”
“I...kinda didn't tell anyone? Everyone thinks you're just...moping?”
Jooheon glances back around and realizes this isn't really the infirmary. Not the main one. This is the old one that no one ever went to after they remodeled. It’s mainly used for storage, and if there were too many people for the main one, but they never got to that point.
“So you've been nursing me back to health...by yourself?” Jooheon asks.
Changkyun shrugs and looks down. “I didn’t do much. Just put monitors on you and put in an IV and shit. Oh, and I checked your brain, but it looks pretty intact.”
“You know, you're scary enough without the whole genius thing,” Jooheon says. He looks down at his arm to see a pink band-aid there where he assumes Changkyun had taken the IV out.
“I took it out because your brain activity starting ticking back up and changing, so I figured you might be waking up soon. Didn't want you to yank it out or something.”
Jooheon grins. Changkyun sometimes got shy about how smart he was, but it always made Jooheon feel proud of him.
“Thanks. But hasn't Kihyun been worried about you?”
Changkyun scoffs and shrugs. “Everytime he came by, I told him I was busy with my research, and I needed to focus. He knows how important that is to me.”
“Don't we all. Am I free to go, doctor?”
“Shut up,” Changkyun says, head disappearing entirely. Jooheon just laughs until it comes back. “I think you’re fine. You probably overexerted yourself out there, and the stress probably caught up to you.”
“Lucky we haven't gotten assigned new missions, huh?” Jooheon says. He finally slides off the bed, a bit unsteady on his feet, and Changkyun grabs onto his arm to help.
“Hyunwoo put us in for an official leave. It was hard to swing with the mission fail, but since it's our first one, they let it slide.”
The words turn over slow in Jooheon’s mind.
“Yeah, although Hyunwoo tried fighting the headmaster on it. He said there was no saving the equipment. Not with our team.”
Jooheon nods a bit, internally analyzing himself. His head doesn't hurt anymore, and he doesn't feel weak. Everything feels fine.
“Official leave?” He asks.
“Yep. One month to shoot the shit because of Hoseok’s sprained ankle.”
Hoseok. Jooheon couldn't imagine him laying up in bed or walking around in crutches.
“How is he?” Jooheon asks.
Changkyun clears his throat as he busies himself turning off all the machines. “Fine.”
Jooheon stops and looks at him. “Fine?”
“I mean, I haven't seen him much, but I'm sure he's fine,” Changkyun says.
Jooheon tries to stare a hole into the back of his head.
“What do you mean?”
Changkyun coughs a bit before he turns to look at him. He tilts his head side to side like he's considering something. Jooheon waits, staring at him.
“Apparently, he and Hyunwoo had a really big talk,” Changkyun says. He enunciates every syllable carefully, no stumbling or slurring.
Jooheon raises a brow. “And?”
Changkyun clucks his tongue and then he's just gone entirely. Jooheon blinks and reaches out toward where he was.
“Changkyun, you can just run away,” Jooheon says.
There's a sigh, and then Changkyun rematerializes next to him.
“They came by a lot to try to check on you. They must've fixed whatever it was because they always came together.”
Jooheon shuts his eyes and takes a deep breath. He knew it would happen eventually. Had planned on it. Had hoped for it, even.
And it still makes something deep inside his chest ache enough for him to slow down.
“Good. I’m glad they figured it out,” he says.
“What...happened down there? It seems like it was tense,” Changkyun asks.
“They were fighting. I think everything just piled up on them, and then it just came to a head there.”
Changkyun nods along, staring at the ground. “When we got back they couldn’t even look at each other. And then a day later they were inseparable again. I think Hyunwoo has made himself Hoseok’s personal nurse while he’s halfway out of commission.”
Jooheon nods, remembering how Hyunwoo’s annoyance was doubled in on himself. He wasn’t mad at Hoseok. He never was mad at Hoseok. He was mad at himself for letting something happen to him.
Hyunwoo never said his apologies. He showed them. It was one of the reasons he always ended up in Hyunwoo’s arms after a mission. It was an apology. Sorry that I can’t make you not hurt, stay here until it doesn’t anymore instead .
Jooheon can almost hear it in his voice. Wonders what it’s saying to Hoseok right now. Wonders if it makes Hoseok smile like he had before.
“Good. That’s good. I’m glad,” Jooheon says.
“Honey, stop. Stop doing that,” Changkyun says.
“Stop acting like everything is fine when I know you’re not fine.”
Jooheon has no response to that. He just looks around the room to find his wallet, keys, and phone. Changkyun points to the chair he had been sitting in, and Jooheon walks there to grab them.
“Honey,” Changkyun tries again.
“What am I supposed to say? I have feelings for someone that will never have feelings for me. What else is there?”
“I don’t know. Fuck. Talk about it or something instead of letting it all build up inside you like that. It can’t be good for you.”
Jooheon rolls his shoulders back. “Talk to who, Changkyun? You? Minhyuk? I’m sure you’ll get tired of it eventually.”
“I’ll deal with it if makes you feel better,” Changkyun says easily. The worst part for Jooheon is he knows he means it.
“I just don’t know how it would help,” Jooheon says.
Changkyun shrugs. “I don’t know. But it might. Might help a lot.”
Jooheon sighs before he looks down. “Fine.”
“Oh, and call your mom. She was messaging earlier.”
At that, Jooheon perks up. He hasn’t talked to his mother in a while because of everything going on.
“Okay, yeah. Are you going back to the room or are you going to hang out with Kihyun tonight?” Changkyun smiles at him, and Jooheon has his answer. “Well, thanks for taking care of me, I guess. And thanks for keeping this secret.”
“No problem,” Changkyun says.
Jooheon nods and heads out, stretching as he went. Everything was stiff from laying down for so long. The only things on his mind are calling his mother when it isn’t the middle of the night in Korea, and the emptiness that’s starting to open up inside of him.
At least somewhere, Hoseok and Hyunwoo were happy together. Hoseok was happy. He had to be.
Steeling himself with that image, Jooheon goes back to the room to finally shower and watch Twilight like he always did after hard missions.
Resignation. It's a strange emotion to have wash over him. It's not an emotion he deals with often. A stale sadness that's been freshened up with determination and stained with inevitability.
Jooheon went home. A guaranteed month off was nothing to give up at the school, and Jooheon hadn’t been home in years.
It felt good to be back in Daegu even though it didn't feel like home anymore. He hadn't lived there since he was a young child, but his mother always folded him back into her life easily whenever he visited. She always kept a room clean and ready for him. She would always cook his favorite dumplings for him when he came. She would smile and pinch his cheeks and call him her baby before she kissed his forehead.
And he had needed to get away. The only calls and texts he responded to were Changkyun’s checking in on him.
His first day back he started crying when he hugged his mom. She had asked if his head hurt a lot, and Jooheon just shook his head, hugging her tighter.
His mother knew something was wrong, but she didn't know what to ask. She just gave him soup and kissed the top of his head and hoped that whatever was ailing him would stop soon.
It helped to be surrounded by only one voice and one person's feelings. It helped that it was his mother, and they were all something comforting and routine.
Have to go to the market today.
Ah, this old rice cooker is giving up on me.
What should I make for dinner?
He’s smiling more, that's good.
Jooheon went out and bought her a new rice cooker. He made himself useful, doing all the chores he could for her even when she tried to get him to rest.
It feels like shutting off. Like resetting.
He goes a whole month without a single headache. Without suffocating in a sea of too many emotions. Without stressing about everyone's lives and feeling like he can't help as much as everyone else.
Without feeling or thinking much at all.
At the end of the month, his mother sends him off with too many Korean candies and snacks and her recipe for dumplings. A kiss on his forehead. The thoughts I love you so much, so so much .
Jooheon doesn't want to go back. Not really. He doesn't want to leave his mom alone again for who knows how long. He doesn't want to go back to feeling anything at all when he knows it'd probably just hurt more than anything. Even if there’s a timer inside him ticking by every second it's been since he last saw Hoseok.
And the last time he saw Hoseok, he was laying in the back of the van, Changkyun looking through his skin to find broken bones.
When he lands fourteen hours later, Minhyuk is the one there to pick him up.
“Hey. Wasn't expecting you,” Jooheon says as he walks up to him to give him a hug. Minhyuk squeezes him tight.
“I know, but Changkyun sent me. He’s splicing Kihyun’s genes or something,” Minhyuk says.
“Is that what they're calling it nowadays?” Jooheon asks with a grin.
Minhyuk snorts and grabs his suitcase. “How's your mom doing?”
“Good. She sent me home with way too much, but good.”
“That's how it always is.”
Jooheon hums as they walk up to the car. They all share one car between them, a blue mini-van that any soccer mom would be proud of. Jooheon loads his bags into the trunk and then settles into the passenger seat.
Minhyuk gets in and starts driving, hands tapping at the steering wheel in time with the music.
“We missed you, by the way,” Minhyuk says.
Jooheon grins a bit. “Yeah, I heard.”
“It's not the same when one of us is gone. Feels like a part of us is missing.”
Jooheon stares at the streetlights as they pass. He got in late, so there aren't many people on the road.
“Yeah. It's been a while. Last time I saw you, you were all icy still,” Jooheon says.
Minhyuk smacks him in the arm, and it only makes Jooheon grin.
“I might've been icy, but at least I wasn't hiding in my room for three days before I fucked off across the world.”
Jooheon’s grin slips. He turns to look at Minhyuk, and he's gotten serious, staring intently ahead at the road.
“We were worried, Honey. You just up and left and went radio silent with most of us. Hell, even Changkyun couldn't get much out of you. Hyungwon had to convince Hyunwoo not to fly out after your ass.”
The temperature drops slightly in the car, and Minhyuk has to take a deep breath and roll his neck before it goes back up.
“I just needed to be alone for a while. I was exhausted, Min. That last mission felt like it had literally melted my brain.”
“And I get it. But when you shut down like that, we can't help but worry.”
Jooheon frowns and turns back towards the streetlights. Minhyuk goes back to tapping his thumbs against the steering wheel.
“You know Hyunwoo is going to call you in, right?” Minhyuk asks.
Jooheon sighs. “I had hoped not.”
“You’re lucky it's Hyunwoo. Any other team leader would've just sent you straight to psych eval.”
Jooheon stops breathing for a second before he regains his composure.
“Why are you talking about psych evals? I didn't do anything that out of character or strange.”
Minhyuk doesn't reply for a while. Jooheon eventually starts staring at the road passing by again.
“You hungry?” Minhyuk asks.
Jooheon laughs a bit. “Yeah, I guess I am.”
Minhyuk pulls off at the next exit and goes through a McDonald's drive-thru. He buys them each 20 nuggets and large fries and sodas before they start driving again.
Jooheon munches on a fry. “Did something bad happen or something?” He asks.
Minhyuk swallows. Anxiety seeps from his pores, and it's just enough for Jooheon to know that he's probably right.
“When you left, you didn't talk to Hoseok or Hyunwoo, right?” Minhyuk asks.
Jooheon stares at him. “No?”
“Well, I'm not a mind-reader, but something is up with them.”
Jooheon decides to ignore the slight jab. “Are they fighting?”
Minhyuk frowns. “No.”
“Are they avoiding each other?”
Another pause. “No.”
“Then what's the problem?”
Minhyuk sighs before he stuffs a handful of fries into his mouth. Jooheon rolls his eyes and turns back to his own food.
“The problem is,” Minhyuk smacks his lips before he starts again, “The problem is that it's weird.”
Jooheon snorts. “We don't tell you that you and Hyungwon are weird. Why are you analyzing them?”
Minhyuk’s face scrunches up. “Why are you comparing me and my boyfriend to Hyunwoo and Hoseok?”
Jooheon stares at him. “Are...are you serious?”
“Aren't they...you know...also dating?”
Minhyuk actually glances over at him for a second before looking back at the road. “No? Why would you think that?”
Jooheon frowns. He focuses back on his food and starts eating again.
“Changkyun told me they were inseparable again. I guess I just figured,” Jooheon explains slowly.
“I get that, but no. I don't think they are. They would've told us if they were.”
There's a mix of emotions running through Jooheon. For a moment, he's almost heartbroken because he knows that Hoseok isn't with the man he loves. He had imagined Hoseok and Hyunwoo happily together. Happily being the most important part of that.
But there's also relief. A selfish greedy relief that at least officially, Hoseok isn't taken.
“I think you need to tell Hoseok, Honey,” Minhyuk says.
“I'm serious. I think, no, I know this is messier than you all think it is, and you keeping this a secret is making it worse.”
“What do you mean?” Jooheon asks.
Minhyuk groans. “Rule number three.”
Jooheon nods. “I can't even get a day to settle back in, can I?”
Minhyuk goes quiet, but all Jooheon can feel is guilt.
“You’re right. I shouldn't have just dumped all of this on you as soon as you got back,” Minhyuk says.
“Look, it's fine, I just. Want a few hours? I know I'm not going to get a day if what you said about Hyunwoo is true. He's going to be knocking on my door at first light.”
Minhyuk laughs. “That's true.”
“I just hope we get a few chiller missions. The past few ones have been so stressful.”
“That is very true.”
They spend the rest of the trip singing to the radio and talking about Daegu.
When Jooheon wakes up the next morning, he's surprised that no one woke him up. He gets ready for the day and heads down to get breakfast.
It's there that he sees Hyunwoo and Hoseok for the first time since the mission.
They’re sitting together at a table next to the window, plates piled up with what's left of their breakfast. Jooheon looks away as soon as he spots them, going to grab at least some cereal before Hyunwoo probably takes him away for a big huge talk. He sits by himself at a table on the other side of the cafeteria. Other people walk by and greet him happily before going on their way, and Jooheon manages to grin back at all of them.
He's almost finished eating when someone sits in the chair across from him, and Jooheon doesn't need to look up to know who it is.
“Hey, Hoseok,” he says before taking another bite.
“Hey, Honey. I missed you.”
Jooheon looks up, and Hoseok is smiling at him, and he aches again, just the slightest bit, around the edges of his chest.
“I missed you too.”
“I...I know the last time you saw me things were really volatile, but it's fine now, okay? You don't have to worry about me.”
Resignation. It's a strange emotion to have wash over him. It's not an emotion he deals with often. A stale sadness that's been freshened up with determination and stained with inevitability.
And that's what Hoseok is giving off in waves so strong, Jooheon can't even feel anything else. He feels resigned, too, though he doesn't know about what.
“What do you mean? I always worry about you guys,” Jooheon says.
Hoseok grins and perches his leg up on the chair next to him before putting his elbow on it. He's wearing shorts and Jooheon’s eyes skim over his strong thigh for a second before settling on his eyes again.
“I know! But I mean. I'm fine, you know. I'll be fine. No matter what happens.” Hoseok says.
Jooheon blinks. “What are you talking about?”
Hoseok licks his lips. “I just...needed you to know.”
Jooheon squints at him. “Alright. How's your leg?”
“Oh! Totally fine now. Sprains go away really quickly if you rest.” Hoseok even pats his ankle for good measure.
Jooheon smiles. “Good. I'm glad you're all healed up.”
Hyunwoo walks up then. Jooheon figures he was just putting up their dishes. He hovers behind Hoseok, a hand landing on his shoulder. Hoseok looks up at him and smiles like the warmth of the sun is brushing against his face for the first time.
And then resignation screams out of him again as Hoseok stands up.
“I'll be heading out then. I think Changkyun needed my help moving some equipment or something,” he says.
“See you later,” Jooheon says.
Hoseok grins at him one last time before he walks off. Jooheon’s eyes follow him until he rounds a corner, and they can't anymore.
“You done eating?” Hyunwoo asks. Jooheon looks up at him.
“Yeah. Do we need to go?”
“I was thinking we could talk in my room if you don't mind? About...well, everything.”
Jooheon furrows his brows. Hyunwoo’s nervous. He can feel it coming out of him like static electricity, finicky and jumpy.
“I figured I'd get lectured when I came back,” Jooheon says.
Hyunwoo frowns. “Am I really a big lecturer?”
“Nope. But you try when you have to be,” Jooheon says as he stands up. He picks up his plate and walks over to the dish drop-off before walking back up to Hyunwoo.
“So, my room is fine? We can do it somewhere else if you want,” Hyunwoo asks.
Nervous nervous nervous. Almost to the point of anxiety. Jooheon tries to shake it off as he nods.
“Your room is fine. It's not like you have a roommate to interrupt us or something.”
“Great. Let's go then.”
They take the relatively short walk from the cafeteria to Hyunwoo’s room. It’s familiar and clean and homey and would've been calming if it wasn't for the fact that Hyunwoo kept getting more and more nervous as they walked.
It's shaped exactly like Hoseok's room is, the big open studio filled up with a bed, a couch, the TV system, and seven beanbags. Jooheon waits to see where Hyunwoo sits.
If the man plopped himself down on his beanbag, he probably didn't think this was that big of a deal. It would be a slightly more serious check-in.
If he sat down on the couch, then he was planning on being here for a while, talking things out.
Hyunwoo sits down on the couch, and Jooheon presses his lips together. He didn't want this to be a huge deal.
He walks over and sits on the other side of the couch, curling up on the seat, so he can face Hyunwoo.
Hyunwoo clears his throat and copies him, putting one leg up on the couch to turn towards him.
“ First thing’s first… ”
“First thing’s first, I'm glad you're doing better,” Hyunwoo says.
Jooheon rolls his shoulders back and tries to make the veil stronger. Bigger. Something.
“Thanks. Going home helped a lot,” Jooheon says.
“Helped,” Hyunwoo repeats, an eyebrow going up.
“Um, yeah. I was getting really stressed and overwhelmed. Going home helped.”
Hyunwoo nods. “Good. And your mom? She doing okay?”
Jooheon knows that isn't what Hyunwoo wants to talk about. Hyunwoo knows that's not what he wants to talk about. He's staring down at his shorts, pulling at their hem, and Jooheon doesn't know what this is, but it feels like stalling.
Hyunwoo still isn't looking at him.
“Is...is that all?” Jooheon asks.
Hyunwoo takes a deep breath. “No.”
There's a cloud of anxiety settling thick in the room, and Jooheon starts feeling it too. Starts wondering what could be this bad. And then Minhyuk's words come back to haunt him.
They’re going to try re-assigning you.
Panic rises up in Jooheon's throat.
“Am I…am I being reassigned?” Jooheon croaks out.
Hyunwoo’s face flies up to look at him, eyes widening.
“What? No! Jooheon, no one is getting reassigned. Especially not you,” Hyunwoo says.
Jooheon sighs and rubs at his eyes. “Then what? What is it?”
Hyunwoo bites his lips and pulls at the hem of his shorts again. “We’re...we’re friends. I'm not just your team leader.”
Hyunwoo takes a deep breath and stares at him.
“This is from me, your friend, not your team leader,” he says.
Jooheon nods. “Okay. What's up?”
The anxiety hits again, swells up like the tide, and Hyunwoo readjusts so he’s sitting up straighter.
“I...I don't talk about my feelings a lot, so bear with me,” he says softly.
“I know. You try to keep them locked up. I can feel it, you know,” Jooheon responds.
Hyunwoo laughs a bit, and everything gets light for a moment. And Jooheon smiles because he gets it.
Hyunwoo is warm like the sun. He's steady when the rest of the world isn't.
It must've been so easy for Hoseok to fall in love with him.
“Sometimes it's easy to forget how in-tune you are with everything. It feels like you know everything way before everyone else does,” Hyunwoo says.
Jooheon rolls his eyes, but he relaxes. He leans his head against the couch and watches Hyunwoo relax a bit too.
“So? What's up?” he asks.
Hyunwoo takes a deep breath and leans his head against the couch like Jooheon is.
And then there it is. Something.
Jooheon tries to ignore it.
“We’ve been friends for a really long time,” Hyunwoo starts.
“Yeah. Since forever it feels like,” Jooheon says.
“Right. And we’ve been through a lot together.”
Jooheon just listens, tries to let Hyunwoo work through whatever mess he’s feeling and thinking.
“And you...you mean the world to me, Jooheon.”
Jooheon grins. “I know.”
Hyunwoo nods and swallows.
Something is a mess. It's all kinds of indiscernible feelings and memories mashed into one looming thing. Jooheon can almost feel it like humidity on his skin.
And then Jooheon recognizes it. Knows it for what it is.
And his heart sinks down into his stomach.
This can't be happening.
“And that's probably why I never...said anything. I didn't want what we have to change,” Hyunwoo says softly, and he's not looking at Jooheon anymore. He's staring down because Hyunwoo gets shy, and Jooheon had always found that endearing, but everything is crashing down right now.
He remembers the way Minhyuk was shocked to find out it was Hoseok he had feelings for. How he kept urging him to tell Hoseok. How Hoseok had pushed him away after Hyunwoo told him he had feelings for someone else.
For someone else.
Jooheon hadn't even given the someone else a thought.
“But I can't just keep...pushing this down anymore. I realized that after me and Hoseok talked.”
Jooheon shuts his eyes.
The resignation Hoseok had around him. The way he was trying to tell Jooheon that he'd be okay.
It was for this.
Jooheon opens his eyes again and sees Hyunwoo looking at him. Everything feels fond, and Jooheon wants to tear his own hair out for not recognizing it earlier.
“I…I have...feelings for you, Jooheon. Have had them for a long time,” Hyunwoo says. His voice is softer than Jooheon has ever heard it.
Something. It was always a mess and indescribable because that's exactly what love is. Especially this love.
And Jooheon had been too stuck in his own head, too busy shutting everything down, to recognize it.
“Hyunwoo,” Jooheon says.
“And you don't have to say anything. I'm not trying to pressure you or anything like that. I just wanted you to know,” Hyunwoo says quickly.
Jooheon doesn't know what to say. He doesn't know what he could say.
Minhyuk had thought Jooheon had feelings for Hyunwoo, too. And, obviously, so had Hoseok.
Hyunwoo shifts, clearing his throat a bit.
“So yeah. That's what I had to say,” he says.
There isn't anxiety in the room anymore. It's serene and calm except for Jooheon.
Jooheon is a mess. All he can think about is how Hoseok was crying after Hyunwoo rejected him, and how he doesn't think he could do that to Hyunwoo.
And then every moment crashes down on him. All the times Hyunwoo held him close to let him sleep. All the times he went out of his way to make sure he was okay. All the times he let him into his mind, his most private place, just to help him calm down.
And Jooheon knows that he had feelings for him too. Feelings that he had ignored because he was so focused on Hoseok. On his feelings for Hoseok.
Feelings that swallowed him whole.
“Jooheon? You okay?” Hyunwoo asks, and he's not moving any closer. He just tries to make eye contact with him, and Jooheon avoids it.
“I just...I wasn't expecting that,” Jooheon says.
“Oh. I'm sorry,” Hyunwoo says. Jooheon hates it. Hates that he's apologizing for his feelings.
He wishes he had listened to Minhyuk and had just told Hoseok.
Not that he thinks that would’ve fixed anything.
“Stop. Don't apologize. You shouldn't have to apologize,” Jooheon says, and his brain is turning to goop again, but it has nothing to do with his powers.
“I just don't know what to do with myself now, you know? It's…”
“Scary,” Jooheon finishes for him.
Hyunwoo smiles, and it's shy, and everything is cracking apart.
“No matter what, we’re still friends. Best friends, right?” Hyunwoo says.
Jooheon just nods. Makes himself smile. “Yeah. Always. No matter what.”
Hyunwoo smiles. “Good. And if we go on a mission, I'm not going to act like you laying on me means anything. We can act like we always have.”
“Can...can I go? I just--”
“Yeah! Sorry,” Hyunwoo says as he scrambles up.
Jooheon moves slower. He uncurls, then pushes himself up, and he waits to see if his legs will just give out under him. They don't. He and Hyunwoo walk to his door, and he’s never felt more awkward in his entire life.
“I'll see you later?” Hyunwoo asks as he opens the door.
“Probably,” Jooheon responds.
“Good. Bye, Honey,” Hyunwoo says. And then he hesitates for a second before patting his shoulder and smiling.
Jooheon grins at him. Or at least he tries to. He presses his lips tight together to make his dimples pop out before he turns around and walks down the hall. When he hears the door close, he runs.
“This is...a lot,” Changkyun says.
“Thanks, I'm aware,” Jooheon says.
They’re laying on their living room floor, staring up at the ceiling fan that Changkyun keeps blinking in and out of existence.
“Okay, let's break this down to something easier,” Changkyun says.
“Do you have feelings for Hyunwoo?”
Jooheon sighs. “Changkyun.”
“No, I'm serious. Forget about Hoseok for a second. Do you have feelings for Hyunwoo?”
Jooheon frowns up at the ceiling fan. “Maybe.”
“Okay, look. I love him. I love all of you.”
“That's not what I'm asking. I know you love me, but you don't want to make out with me,” Changkyun says.
“Why is it always making out with you?”
“I'm just saying there's a difference. Kihyun has always loved me, but he hasn't always loved me the way he does now. Husband-love, not brother-love.”
Jooheon turns to him, grinning. “Oh, it's husband love?”
Changkyun disappears entirely. “You know what I mean, stop changing the subject!”
Jooheon chuckles and looks back up at the ceiling fan. In the corner of his eye, he can see Changkyun become visible again.
“You know we live on the top-floor for a reason,” Jooheon says.
Changkyun hums, and then the entire roof disappears to show the blue skies and clouds above them.
“Better?” Changkyun asks.
“Okay, now answer the question.”
Jooheon groans and shuts his eyes.
“Me and Hyunwoo have always had a different kind of relationship, I think. Hoseok was the one who reached out to me first, but Hyunwoo has been my training partner since I first came here.”
“Like the headmaster just put us together. Like no matter what happened, we’d always be a unit together, and it's been true.”
“I mean, even when he was a kid, Hyunwoo has been pretty chill. He's always been good at helping you get out of everyone’s head.”
“Everytime I had to try something new it was with him. I've been inside his head so many times, and he always just...let me. No complaints about privacy or anything. He just...trusted me.”
Changkyun hums. “No wonder he's in love with you.”
Jooheon elbows Changkyun, and Changkyun whines in response.
“I'm serious! You've been in his brain, and you didn't judge him at all. I've never once heard you complain about him thinking too loud or something like you do with Minhyuk.”
Jooheon frowns. the clouds are largely stagnant over them, moving slowly across the sky.
“That doesn't change how I feel about Hoseok, though,” he says.
“I know. But Hyunwoo likes you, and it sounds like maybe you like him too.”
“Let's not forget that technically, Hyunwoo has this same situation going on with Hoseok. He likes him, too, but you know. I exist apparently.”
Changkyun snorts. “You sure do exist.”
“I just feel so dumb. Looking back, it was kinda grossly obvious that Hyunwoo liked me. At least it should've been to me. I could literally feel it, and I just ignored it.”
“Well, to be fair, you were really convinced he and Hoseok would end up together. When we get caught up on a version of the truth, it's hard for us to consider other alternatives.”
“Thanks for the psychology lesson, I'm still fucked.”
Changkyun snorts again, and their ceiling appears again.
“Maybe the three of you should all sit down and try to sort it out.”
“Yeah, that's a great way for us to never talk again.”
Changkyun shoves at him. “You're all in this mess because you guys never talked about your feelings. And now Hoseok and Hyunwoo have. You're left, Jooheon.”
“What are you going to do otherwise? Pretend Hyunwoo never said anything?”
Jooheon shuts his eyes, and internally screams.
When he opens his eyes again, Changkyun is a few feet away, sitting up and staring at him.
“What the fuck was that?” Changkyun asks.
“Next time you want to scream, just do it out loud. That'd probably be better than whatever you just did.” Changkyun pinches at the bridge of his nose, frowning, and Jooheon pouts at him.
“Sorry. Does it hurt?”
“No, it was just really disorienting and loud. I'm fine.” Changkyun shifts back over and lays his head on Jooheon’s shoulder. “Scream all you want, but you still need to talk to them.”
“And then what?”
“I don't know. You guys will figure it out during the talk hopefully. I'd recommend having Minhyuk put the three of you into a nice ice cone until you guys are done.”
Jooheon scoffs, but he starts laughing despite himself. “Shut up.”
“I'm so serious. Use rule number three.”
“Who’s getting us out of the ice cone?”
“So he’ll just be there the entire time we talk? How would that help?”
“He can wait outside! He's done it before.”
Jooheon turns to him. “He has?”
Changkyun turns invisible again, and Jooheon grabs onto him, not letting him get away even as he squirms.
“Im Changkyun! When has he done that?”
Changkyun is still wriggling and whining, and Jooheon is used to wrestling someone he can't see because of these exact situations.
“It doesn't matter!”
“Why are you so embarrassed?”
Changkyun stops moving, and he huffs, and then he becomes visible again, full pout on his face.
“It's how I confessed to Kihyun,” he grumbles.
Jooheon smiles. “That's cute.”
“Yeah yeah yeah, let me go,” Changkyun says softly. Jooheon does, and Changkyun slumps against him with no intention of actually moving.
“You know, I thought Kihyun was the one that asked you out,” Jooheon says.
“Yeah, well. He wasn't.”
“Wait, did Minhyuk know about you and Kihyun before you told me?” Jooheon asks, suddenly offended.
Changkyun doesn't respond.
“Im Changkyun! I'm your best friend!”
“Listen, I told everyone at the same time! We didn't tell Minhyuk anything! Now, if he figured it out by himself, there's nothing we can do about it,” Changkyun says.
They stare at each other for a second before they both start laughing. Laugh so hard even though it shouldn't be that funny.
“Just imagining Kihyun willingly surrounding himself in ice for you is just,” Jooheon says after he's calmed down a bit.
“That's how I knew he was totally into me, actually,” Changkyun responds smugly.
Jooheon rolls his eyes, but he's happy to take the distraction of Changkyun's happiness. It flows from easily out of him, and Jooheon doesn't mind being surrounded by that emotion.
“Everything will work out, Jooheon. I’m sure of it,” Changkyun says.
Jooheon hums. And Changkyun is so sure, he can almost feel sure himself. He doesn't try to shake it off. He lets himself be sure for at least a little while in Changkyun's presence, even if he feels slightly terrified about everything.