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Labyrinth, Ending

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               Jisung isn’t totally sure what Minho is getting at.

               It’s possible that he’s not getting at anything, and Jisung has just crammed a thousand scenarios into his head all at once like he usually does. Because it’s Minho, after all, and things that don’t make sense constantly spill from his tongue like a second language. And it’s not just the obvious, like do you think we’ll be the new Dispatch couple and do you like me in that way—it’s the little things, like when he invites Jisung to his house when they’re on break, but offhandedly dismisses their friendship when they’re on camera. Something about it itches under the surface of Jisung’s skin all day, every day.

               It wasn’t always like this.

               It was different, in the beginning, when he casually held Minho’s hand or slouched against his shoulder. Jisung was like that with a lot of people, and Minho just happened to be there, so it was easy enough to laugh off every we don’t really like each other and I guess he’s just always around me. Jisung fell into it himself—the taunting, jabbing, teasing—and they’d spend countless nights laughing about it until they couldn’t breathe. It was natural. It was easy.

               He wonders if maybe that’s why they kept it up.

               He wonders if maybe that’s why they spent an entire day at Lotte World, or why they took enough sticker photos to fill up that empty pocket in his wallet. Maybe that’s why Minho invited him to his hometown, let him pet Dori, took him out for sushi just to complain and call him annoying—because it was easy.

               But it wasn’t always like this.

               It never crept to the back of Jisung’s mind like this, never kept him awake like this, never morphed into questions that stuck in his throat like this. He wants to ask why and what do you mean, but he can’t. He can’t because he knows Minho will dodge it the same way he neatly dodges everything, and the thought keeps his eyes open, glued to the pitch-dark ceiling until 3 AM.

               So he does the only thing he can do: nothing.

               It’s a weekday night, and he steps through the door to see Minho, Hyunjin, and Felix sprawled on the floor in front of the TV. They’re watching a movie he’s never seen before—some animated thing that has Felix laughing until he chokes on his own spit—and he kicks off his shoes before setting his bag down in the entryway. “What’re you guys watching?”

               Hyunjin glances at him over his shoulder. “I dunno. Felix chose it.”

               Jisung shuffles into the living room. Minho doesn’t look up. “Is it cool if I join, or is this, like, a dance line bonding thing?”

               Hyunjin snorts and turns back to the TV.              

               Minho cracks a smile.

               It makes Jisung feel good, for some reason, when Minho finds him funny. So he steps into the living room, sits down next to him on the floor, and waits for him to say something. Anything.

               He doesn’t.

               Jisung frowns. “So what’s this show about?”

               Minho wraps his arms around his knees. “No idea. Haven’t been paying attention to the subtitles. Felix really likes it, though.” He nods to the other side of the room, where Felix is wheezing and wiping tears from his eyes.

               “Uh, yeah. I can see that.”

               They lapse into silence again. Jisung keeps his gaze locked on the TV. He wonders why it’s like this sometimes—why Minho doesn’t touch him, look at him, say anything to him. Then he wonders why he bothers wondering. It spirals like that, out of control, until he’s stuck so deep in his own head he has to write for days to climb back out.

               It wasn’t always like this.

               He lets out a breath and climbs to his feet. Minho does look at him then, wide-eyed. “You’re leaving already?”

               Jisung hums and turns his face away. “Tired.” He heads to his room without looking back, but he can feel Minho’s eyes on him, prickling and hot between his shoulder blades. He pulls the door closed.

               He tosses and turns for an hour while his mind whirrs like a dying engine.

               Why?

               What do you mean?

               He gives up when the clock on his phone reads ten, and he rolls out of bed to grab his laptop from the floor. He’s halfway through a nature documentary on Netflix, and he figures seeing how it ends will keep his brain occupied enough.

               He’s only five minutes in, with the volume turned up as loud as it can go, when he sees movement from the doorway. It’s Minho, of course, stepping across the threshold like he often does. He’s wearing a graphic tee that Jisung just now recognizes as his own.

               Jisung tugs his headphones down. “Hey.”

               Minho blinks. “Hey.”

               It’s the first time Jisung thinks there’s an awkwardness wedged between them. He swallows. “I’m just finishing that nature thing I started last week.”

               Minho doesn’t say anything, just climbs into the bed next to him and presses close, thigh to thigh. It’s normal. It’s easy. Jisung unplugs his headphones and lowers the volume.

               Ten minutes pass.

               Twenty.

               Thirty.

               Minho falls asleep with his head on Jisung’s shoulder, as usual.

               Jeongin pulls open the door after a while, sets his bag down, looks at them with raised brows. “Does he even use his room anymore?”

               Jisung opens his mouth to reply—though he has no idea what he’ll say—but Jeongin is already snagging a towel from the closet and heading for the bathroom. Jisung lets out a breath and reaches to jostle Minho’s shoulder. “Hyung,” he whispers. Minho doesn’t move. Jisung shakes him again, harder this time, until he hums and looks up with sleepy eyes. He’s so close, Jisung can feel his breath fanning across his face. “A-Are you going back to your room?”

               Minho blinks, long and slow. He doesn’t pull back. “Wanna sleep here,” he murmurs. And it’s normal, it’s easy, it happens all the time, but tonight Jisung’s heart is somewhere in his mouth and he can’t breathe.

               But he won’t ask.

               He won’t ask why and what do you mean because he knows how Minho is. He knows how easily Minho can spout pretty lies and half-truths. He’s seen how deftly he twists questions into warped versions of themselves until Jisung wonders why he even asked to begin with.

               So he lets him stay, he doesn’t ask, and he falls asleep with Minho’s arm around his waist.   

               The next week is busy, and Jisung just doesn’t have time. He doesn’t have time to think about the ins and outs of Lee Minho—why he mentions Jisung’s name in every other sentence, why he stares a little longer than he should, why he clings to him with insistent hands when cameras are switched on.

               He can’t think about it. He can’t, there’s no time, it doesn’t matter—

               Why should it matter when it’s easy for him, too?

               It’s easy because they work well together, they match, they mesh like cogs in a machine—they always have. He doesn’t mind Minho’s hands on him in the middle of a broadcast or the way they laugh together on stage, but Minho is quick to say I don’t like Han; Han likes me, and it’s a reflex for Jisung to spout something similar. It was funny, before.

               Before what?

               Before Jisung started wondering why they bother saying it at all, when their friendship has always been a symbiotic sort of thing.

               And just like that, he’s trapped in the labyrinth of his own mind again.

               He writes like he’ll die without it, song after song after song bleeding across notebook pages until his pen runs out of ink. He can’t think of anything else to do. And it shows because Chan grabs at his wrist after dance practice and gives him that stare—the one that would be intimidating if it weren’t so concerned—and everyone else pauses in the doorway.

               “Jisung and I have gotta talk for a second,” he says softly. “You guys can go ahead.”

               He feels Minho’s eyes on him.

               Felix has that devilish grin on his face that he always gets when he’s about to make a bad joke, but Chan shakes his head and ushers them into the hallway.

               Jisung feels something cold slither down his spine. He thinks it’s dread, maybe, which makes no sense at all—

               Chan’s eyes are soft. “Are things okay?”

               Jisung fiddles with the hem of his hoodie. “Why wouldn’t they be?”

               “You’ve been kinda quiet. Do you need to take a break again? I can let the company know—"

               And God, Jisung hates it when they have to talk about this. “No. I’m okay. Really.”

               Chan’s mouth twists, unconvinced. “You filled up the entire kitchen trashcan with crumpled notebook pages.”

               “So?”

               “So that means you’re stuck in your head, Jisung. Did you really think I wouldn’t notice?”

               He hadn’t thought about Chan noticing—hadn’t thought about anyone noticing, really—and the dread from before sits heavy on his tongue. He swallows. “I mean, I’m kind of always stuck in my head, aren’t I?”

               Chan huffs out a frustrated breath. “We aren’t leaving this room until you give me something to work with.”

               Jisung isn’t entirely sure how to respond to that. He tugs at his sleeves until they slip down to cover his hands. “Do you…” He shakes his head hard because all the words threatening to flood his mouth sound ridiculous.

               “Do I what?”

               He brings his hands to his face, throws his head back, groans into his palms. “It’s fucking stupid and weird, hyung, do I have to—”

               Chan reaches for his wrists and gently pulls his arms down to his sides. “If it’s bothering you, it’s not stupid or weird.”

               It’s a very Chan-esque thing to say, and Jisung almost snorts. But then he thinks about it—of everything Chan’s gone through—and he gives in, like he always does, because Chan deserves that much. “Do you…” He frowns. “I don’t really know how to put this, but do you… think Minho, like… actually wants to be friends with me?” It sounds stupider now that it’s out in the open. His ears start to burn.

               There’s a long stretch of silence. Chan squints. “Sorry, what?”

               “God, it sounds even stupider than I fucking thought it would,” Jisung huffs.

               “Has he…” Chan tilts his head to one side. “Given you any indication that he doesn’t want to be… friends with you? Sorry, I’m not meaning to sound, like, not genuine but I don’t think I really follow—”

               “I mean, no, we’re friends, right? Like… Minho and I, we’re friends, yeah?”

               “Yes?” It lilts into a question.

               “I mean, we’re all friends so I know it sounds like a fucking stupid question, but don’t you think he’s kind of… different?”

               Chan is still squinting, his eyes narrowing into ever-smaller crescents, and he seems to think carefully before replying. “Different with you, or different with everyone?”

               God, Jisung really does not want to say this. “Different with me.” His ears are on fire now, and his fingers tremble where they’re latched onto his hoodie sleeves. What the fuck—

               “I mean…” Chan’s voice is stilted in that way it always is when he’s not sure how to unpack a situation. “He’s really comfortable with you.” Another pause. “He told me that, you know. Before we debuted.”

               Jisung’s breath catches in the back of his mouth. It’s stupid because of course Minho is comfortable with him and of course they’re soulmates or something—it’s hardly a surprise, but he feels himself slipping back into that inescapable labyrinth nonetheless. “He said that?”

               Chan raises a brow. “That surprises you, after everything we’ve been through?”

               “Well you know”—he swallows—“You know he never says stuff like that to me. We don’t really… talk about those types of things.”

               “Is it something you need to talk about?”

               Yes.

               No.

               Maybe.

               “I don’t know,” he whispers.

               Chan lets out a long, forceful exhale. “I’m sorry, Sung, but I really don’t get what you’re trying to say—”

               “I just wonder—” It comes out shaky and soft. He clears his throat. “Are we friends because it’s… easy? Because we fell into a pattern when we first met or something? I can’t fucking tell because we’re always together, no matter what I do, and you know how touchy he is, but then he gets so fucking defensive whenever anyone tries to ask. Why is he so adamant about not liking me when we’ve been friends for so long? What is he getting out of this—”

               Chan snorts then, the slightest bit derisive, and Jisung feels himself bristle. “Why is he so adamant about not liking you? Pretty sure you’re the one who started that whole denial bit when people kept asking.”

               Jisung frowns. “It’s a joke when I do it—”

               Chan raises his voice an octave, puts a whining edge to it that does not sound like Jisung at all. “’Lee Know hyung is so annoying, really, he likes me too much.’”

               “I do not talk like that.”

               “’We’re not trying to always be together,’” Chan mocks. He dives forward and traps Jisung in a headlock that he knows he’ll never be able to escape. “’I try to push him away but he’s always clinging to me.’”

               A strangled laugh squeezes itself from Jisung’s lungs. “Stop! I don’t fucking sound like that!”

               “You guys are both annoying as hell,” Chan says, but the smile is evident in his voice. He ruffles Jisung’s hair. “Just ask him if you’re really that worried about it.”

               “I’m not worried,” Jisung huffs. He reaches for Chan’s arm and tries to pry it away from his neck. “He’s just weird, is all.”

               Chan laughs. It’s the sort of laugh that shakes his entire body, and Jisung finds himself laughing, too. “You guys are both weird.”

               The next day is a little less hectic, a little less sharp around the edges, and Jisung can’t tell if he’s grateful or worried. His nerves have started to fry and he knows he needs the break, but the labyrinth comes back in those soft in-between hours. It rebuilds itself in his head, always a little bit different, until he loses himself in its unfamiliar pathways.

               He’s doing it now, perched against the headboard with his laptop balanced across his knees. Minho had been the same as always—running his hands through Jisung’s hair and winking at him from across rooms—and he had almost asked. It nearly slipped off his tongue in the Music Core waiting room when he felt Minho’s gaze tracing the angles of his face. But all he had managed was an exhausted “hyung,” and Minho had instantly turned away.

               “What the fuck,” he hisses. He pushes his laptop onto the bedsheets and rubs at his eyes.

               There’s a knock at the door, and Jisung knows who it is. No one else comes to his room this late. His heart ends up somewhere near his socks.

               Minho doesn’t wait for a response—he never does—and he shuts the door softly behind him. There’s silence for a long while, crushing in the claustrophobic dark, and Jisung clears his throat. “Hey.”

               A pause. “Hey.”

               Jisung shuffles under the blanket, suddenly more uncomfortable than he’s ever been in his life.

               “Jeongin still at vocal training?”

               He hums.

               “What’re you watching?”

               Jisung glances back at his computer screen. “Some alien thing.”

               Minho nods. He shoves his hands into the pocket of his hoodie. “Want company?”

               Jisung can only shrug. He doesn’t know what he wants, but the current path in his labyrinthine mind cuts off in a jarring dead-end. Minho climbs into bed beside him and pulls the blanket up to his waist.

               They continue with the documentary for a while. It’s weirder than Jisung remembers, but Minho makes little noises of interest here and there, so he doesn’t turn it off. Minho’s fingers trail across the back of Jisung’s hand, absentminded in the way only old habits can be, but it raises goosebumps that were never there before. Jisung clears his throat again and pulls his hand away.

               Minho tenses. “Sorry,” he mutters.

               It isn’t like him to apologize. That cold, familiar dread flits down Jisung’s spine. “What’re you sorry for?”

               “You seem like you aren’t in a skinship mood. Sorry I didn’t ask first.”

               Jisung squints. “You never have to ask. You’ve never asked.”

               “Yeah, but…” Minho’s fingers dig hard into the duvet. “You’re obviously dealing with… something.”

               He should have known Minho would notice. He should have known everyone would notice, with the way paper littered the kitchen tile and shadows crawled into the hollows beneath his eyes. “It’s nothing,” he whispers. He glances over, more of a reflex than anything, and takes note of the way Minho’s profile catches the laptop’s blue light. “Can we just keep watching this?” He turns back to the screen and raises the volume for good measure.

               He’s not sure how much time passes, but it’s silent in a suffocating kind of way. There’s an awkwardness again, slipping into the spaces between them like ice water. The labyrinth hits another dead end, then another and another, and Jisung is so fucking tired. A frustrated sigh slips past his teeth, and he shoves the computer off his lap. “Look,” he starts, and Minho flinches in surprise. Jisung can’t look him in the eye. “Do you… Do you actually want to be friends, or is this just, like, some sort of weird fucking game between us?”

               There’s nothing for a long while except the murmur of voices from the laptop speakers. He hears the confused noise Minho finally makes in the back of his throat. “Excuse me?”

               Jisung’s fingers have begun to shake. He shoves them under his thighs. “Why do you act like this? Why are you so… fuck, I don’t know, hyung, you’re just defensive and it doesn’t make sense because obviously you like me—” He’s cut off by Minho coughing hard, like he’s just choked on his own spit, and guilt crawls up his throat when he thinks about how forceful he must have sounded. He reaches over to pat him on the back until he’s able to pull air into his lungs again.

               “What do you mean defensive? What the hell have I ever been defensive about?” It’s a little choked, still, and Minho wipes at his mouth with the back of a hand.

               The guilt slides into his mouth, curls behind his teeth like a venomous snake. He knew he shouldn’t have said anything, knew he should’ve let it go—“It’s just…” It comes out several shades softer than he intends. “You know what, forget it, I’m sorry I said anything.” He moves to grab the laptop, but Minho’s fingers wrap tight around his wrist. He sighs. “Hyung, really—”

               “You think I don’t wanna be friends with you? What kind of… What kind of stupid fucking question is that?”

               “You just… You don’t make sense.” Jisung was hoping for something with a little more bite, but the words sound plaintive in the space between them. He crosses his legs underneath him. Minho doesn’t let go of his wrist. “Why do you invite me to your house and call me pretty and make all those jokes but then tell everyone you don’t like me?” He thinks he sounds a bit like a petty child, and a flush creeps up his neck.

               Minho blinks, mouth agape, and Jisung hears a half-dozen words die in his throat before he says, “Are you being serious right now?”

               Jisung curls in on himself and thinks he’d give anything to be miles away from this situation. “I know it sounds stupid, just forget I said it—”

               “You’re upset because I say I don’t like you? You call me annoying at least six times a day; if anything, I should be the one who’s upset.”

               “You know I don’t…” Jisung’s fingernails dig into the skin of his own thigh. “You know it’s just a joke when I say shit like that.”

               “Just like it’s a joke when I say I don’t like you.” He releases his hold on Jisung’s wrist. The skin prickles in the places where his fingers were. “We’re close enough to have that kind of back-and-forth, aren’t we?”

               Of course they are. Jisung twists his fingers together in his lap. “I guess.”

               They lapse into silence again. The documentary continues in the background, muffled by the blanket pressed against the speakers.

               Minho sighs. “Is this really what’s been bothering you the past few days?”

               Jisung shrugs.

               “And this is what Chan needed to talk to you about?”

               He makes a noncommittal noise and squeezes at his own hands until the color fades.

               Minho clears his throat. “Look at me.”

               Jisung can’t, not with the way embarrassment is slithering down his neck, so he shakes his head.

               “Seriously, Jisung, I…” His words are stilted and uneven. Jisung wonders if maybe Minho is as embarrassed as he is, which doesn’t make sense because he’s not the one who just made a complete ass of himself. “You know that I… like you.”

               Jisung keeps his gaze on his hands. They’ve started to ache. “I know, hyung. Sorry I asked.”

               “You don’t have to be sorry, just… Look at me for a second.”

               Jisung shakes his head again, harder this time, because he feels the tiniest bit vulnerable and he hates the way it forces hot tears to his lashes. He reaches to swipe at them, quick and fast with the back of a hand, and tries to turn his face away.

               “Are you—” He hears the sharp edge of surprise in Minho’s voice. “Are you… crying?”

               “No,” Jisung bites out automatically. And he thinks he has to get out of here, has to distance himself from this as much as he possibly can, so he swings his legs over the edge of the bed and tries to head for the door. But Minho knows what he’s trying to do—Minho always knows—and he’s quick to scramble out of bed and grab at Jisung’s forearm. He spins him around until they’re face-to-face. They’re close like this, only a handful of inches between their bodies. Jisung keeps his eyes on the ground.

               “Is this really bothering you that much?” Minho’s voice is unbearably soft. “You could’ve told me sooner, you know.”

               Jisung shakes his head. He can’t say anything, he won’t say anything—

               “Seriously, Sung.” He reaches up with his free hand, places a palm against Jisung’s cheek. Jisung wonders when his touch started to feel like a branding iron. “It’s okay.”

               Jisung’s gaze is locked on a warped piece of hardwood. He shifts his weight from one foot to the other, and then back again. He’s lost now, stuck at another labyrinthine dead end, and he thinks he might never be able to escape. Because he wants to be Minho’s favorite, and he wants to be the only one Minho speaks to in those hazy dawn hours when they’re both half-asleep. He wants to be selfish, and it’s terrifying because he has no room to be. “It’s not okay,” he finally says.

               He feels Minho’s palm falter. “What?”

               “It isn’t okay for me to be like this,” he whispers. “Why the fuck am I so desperate to be the center of your attention?”

               They fall into a silence so thick and heavy, Jisung feels it on his shoulders. His ears burn, and he tries to pull away again because Minho isn’t saying anything and that makes it a thousand times worse—

               Minho’s grip tightens on his forearm. Jisung risks a glance upward, prays to every deity he knows of that Minho isn’t looking at him, but they lock eyes instantly and something shudders down Jisung’s spine. There’s a crease between Minho’s brows, the one that’s always there whenever he’s thinking too hard, and Jisung wonders if maybe he’s lost in his own head, too.

               “You’re always the center of my attention,” Minho says softly.

               Jisung opens his mouth to speak, but every single possible response turns to ash in his mouth. He’s too hot, suddenly, from his face down to his toes, and he wonders if maybe Chan turned the heater on—

               “Tell me if this isn’t okay.” Minho’s voice is a shade lower. He takes a step closer, until the handful of inches between them shrinks to centimeters.

               And Jisung thinks he knows where this is going—he isn’t stupid, and he’s hyper-aware of the electricity thrumming just underneath his skin. It feels natural; it feels easy, and maybe that’s why the labyrinth in his mind starts to topple in on itself. Maybe that’s why he brings his hands between them, presses his palms flat against Minho’s chest, tears his eyes away for the first time in minutes. Maybe that’s why his mouth feels like cotton and there’s a ringing in his ears—because it’s natural and it’s easy and it was always going to come to this. It makes a lot of sense—too much, too fast—and he stumbles backward. Minho lets him go, dropping his hands to his sides, and Jisung watches as he tucks them back into the pocket of his hoodie.

               “S-Sorry, I—” Jisung starts, but anything else gets stuck in his chest and refuses to budge.

               Minho clears his throat. “I should… should just go, probably.”

               “No, no.” Jisung waves his hands in the space between them, but the air is still charged with static. “I… I want you to stay.” It’s embarrassing to say out loud—unsure, shaky, small—but the thought of Minho leaving them like this, dangling off a precipice, is so much worse. “I just…” He pauses. “I don’t know.”

               Minho shifts from one foot to the other. “Don’t know what?”

               Jisung shakes his head. “This… Between us, I mean… Should we—”

               “Do you not want to?”

               He digs his teeth into his bottom lip. He thinks about it for the first time, about what it might be like, about how Minho might taste, and his breath stutters hard. “We could… We could try it.”

               Minho clears his throat. “If you’re okay with it.”

               Jisung swallows. “Yeah.”

               Minho takes a step forward—two, three, four—until the space between them dwindles to centimeters again. Jisung’s fingers start to shake, and he twists them into the hem of his shirt to hide it.

               “Nervous?” Minho whispers.

               He is, but he’ll never admit it. “No.”

               The corner of Minho’s mouth quirks upward in a soft half-smile. “I can tell when you’re lying.”

               “If you don’t shut up and kiss me, I’m gonna change my mind—”

               And Minho does, because he’s never been the type to hesitate when he knows what he wants. It’s gentle, chaste, all closed lips and stiff bodies, and Jisung isn’t sure what to do with his hands. But he thinks it’s nice, Minho’s mouth soft against his, and he lets his eyes slip closed.

               It’s only a few seconds before Minho pulls away, and Jisung opens his eyes to see him staring. Something akin to uncertainty flickers across his face. “Not bad?”

               Jisung doesn’t look away. “Not bad,” he whispers. And he thinks he should do it again, better this time, so he leans forward until Minho’s breath ghosts across his lips. “Can I…?”

               Minho only nods.

               The second time starts a little less soft and twice as slow. Jisung moves closer, brings his hands to either side of Minho’s neck, and shudders when Minho sighs against his mouth. And then Minho is grabbing at his hips, digging his fingers into the fabric of his t-shirt, and the smallest, most embarrassing whine slips past Jisung’s teeth.

               “Too much?” Minho murmurs into the kiss.

               “N-No.”

               And Minho must take that as encouragement because he tilts his head, presses close, slips his tongue past Jisung’s parted lips like it’s the easiest thing in the world. And Jisung reciprocates in earnest because he wants it. He slides his fingers into Minho’s hair. Minho hums at that, tongue curling behind Jisung’s teeth, and Jisung gasps at the way his fingernails dig harsh crescents into his skin. He wants them to be closer, closer, closer, so he stumbles forward until Minho’s back hits hard against the bedpost. The soft “ah” that Minho breathes into his mouth sends a spark of electricity skittering down his spine. He wonders, suddenly, what Minho might sound like if Jisung were to leave a trail of bruises down his neck.

               “I kinda wanna,” Jisung whispers, low and quiet, “mark you up a little.”

               He feels the full-body shudder that races down to Minho’s feet. “Y-You probably shouldn’t.”

               He’s right, of course, so Jisung settles with catching his lower lip between his teeth. Minho whimpers at that, breathy and high, and his fingers shake where they’re pressed against Jisung’s waist. He wonders if Minho wants to mark him up, too—if he wants to taste his skin under his tongue and draw his own name from Jisung’s mouth. Jisung thinks he would let him, no matter what the consequences might be. His fingers tighten in Minho’s hair. “Do you…” He lets out a shaky exhale. “Do you want more than this?”

               He feels Minho’s body stiffen against his. “Wh-what do you mean?”

               “I mean…” He tugs at Minho’s hair hard enough for his head to tip back and ghosts his lips over his jawline. “This.” He hears Minho suck in a breath and hold it. “Maybe this.” Jisung moves to press an open-mouthed kiss to the side of his neck. Minho lets the breath go then, all in a rush until his body goes pliant.

               “Yes,” he breathes. “I want it.”

               The words ignite something searing and molten inside Jisung’s bones. He trails his lips down, lower and lower and lower until his tongue traces the line of Minho’s collarbone. Minho’s fingers stutter up Jisung’s spine, taking his t-shirt with them, and Jisung’s mind wipes clean at the thought of them skin-to-skin. “Take it off, please,” he murmurs.

               Minho’s fingers falter. “I—”

               “If you’re okay with it, I mean.” It comes out as a whisper.

               Minho doesn’t reply. He bunches the fabric between his fingers and tugs it gently over Jisung’s head. He lets it fall to the floor at their feet, and the eye contact they make is so dark, so full of something Jisung can’t bring himself to name.

               “God, you’re pretty,” Minho breathes.

               Jisung has to bite back a whine. “So are you.”

               Minho blinks and lowers his gaze. His hands trail up along Jisung’s sides, leaving goosebumps in their wake. “I could mark you up here, and no one would see.” It’s so quiet, Jisung almost misses it.

               “I-I was the one who thought about marking you up first.”

               Minho laughs, just a soft breath through his nose, and dips his head to mouth at the base of Jisung’s throat. “I’ve thought about it since the day I met you.” His lips are so hot against his skin, Jisung thinks his knees might give out. “So I think I win.”

               “Didn’t… Didn’t know this was a competition,” Jisung stammers.

               Minho laughs again and trails his lips to the space beneath Jisung’s collarbone. Jisung yelps the moment his teeth graze skin, but it devolves into a shuddery moan when he bites hard enough to bruise. “Fuck,” he gasps.

               “Quiet,” Minho murmurs. He laves his tongue over the skin, soothing the sting. “You’re kind of loud, you know.”

               Jisung’s breath is hitching in his throat. “Maybe you should shut me up, then.”

               Minho snorts and nips at Jisung’s throat, his ear, his jaw. “Yeah?”

               “Y-Yeah.” It’s barely audible, even to his own ears. “Please.”

               Minho lets out a soft “oh” and his mouth pauses against Jisung’s jawline. His fingers dig harder into his back. “Are you…” He stops and seems to seriously consider what to say next. “Are you gonna beg me for it?”

               Lightning sears itself through Jisung’s chest with enough force to render him speechless. He had never expected in a hundred years—in a thousand years—to hear words like those slip from Minho’s tongue. His body reacts before his brain, and he slides his fingers beneath Minho’s hoodie and tilts his head down to kiss him hard. It’s all teeth and tongue and desperation, and Minho stumbles until his legs knock against the mattress. He loses his footing, tumbles back, pulls Jisung into his lap and never stops kissing him once.

               And God, Jisung wants him more than he’s ever wanted anything in his life. He tugs the hoodie over his head, rakes his fingernails down his back, revels in the way Minho whines into his mouth. Minho’s back arches, he’s pressed hard against Jisung’s chest, his hands tangle in his hair and he tugs hard enough for it to hurt. “Beg me for it, Sung,” he whispers, low and harsh. He tugs again, harder, more demanding, until their lips part and Jisung is left staring at him with his heart in his throat.

               “Please,” he breathes. He doesn’t know where it comes from, doesn’t even know what he’s begging for, but Minho’s eyes flash in the dark. He brings his teeth to Jisung’s neck again and pulls at his hair until Jisung’s head falls back. He takes his time, dragging his lips and tongue down and down and down, sucking marks into his chest until Jisung is left gasping “please, hyung, please” between every sharp breath.

               And it’s natural. It’s easy.

               Minho pushes him against the mattress like it’s easy, draws moans from his mouth like it’s easy, digs bruises into his skin like it’s easy. It slows down after what feels like hours, and Minho kisses him long, deep, lazy. And Jisung’s only thought is no, more, please because he doesn’t know what will happen to them after this, when Minho goes back to teasing, jabbing, taunting like he doesn’t care. His fingers hook under the waistband of Minho’s sweatpants, and Minho makes a soft noise of protest against his lips. His hand wraps tight around Jisung’s wrist. “I don’t think so,” he breathes. “Not this time.”

               Not this time.

               “That implies there’ll be a next time.”

               Minho pulls back and blinks at him. His mussed hair is falling into his eyes. “Did you not want there to be a next time?”

               Something heated and desperate settles in Jisung’s bones. “I do want it,” he whispers. “I… I want it so, so bad.”

               The sound of the front door opening and closing echoes distantly down the hall. “I think Jeongin’s back.” Minho pulls away and reaches for his hoodie, where it lies crumpled between the mattress and the wall. Jisung wonders how it got there. “Should probably—”

               “Could we sleep like this?” Jisung doesn’t know what motivates him to say it, and a flush creeps up his neck when Minho turns to stare at him. There’s a question buried in his eyes, but he doesn’t voice it. Jisung tracks the movement of him catching his lip between his pretty teeth.

               “If anyone’s here when we wake up, they’re gonna see…” Minho gestures to the quickly darkening bruises littering Jisung’s chest.

               “I’ll be extra careful.” Jisung reaches for his hand. “Promise.”

               Uncertainty flicks across Minho’s face, but he laces his fingers through Jisung’s nonetheless.

               When they settle under the blankets, skin-to-skin with Minho’s arm around his waist, Jisung thinks it’s natural. It’s easy. The labyrinth in his head tumbles, crumbles to dust, because he thinks it was always going to come to this—because they work well together, they match, they mesh like cogs in a machine.

               They always have.