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Hoya doesn’t realize he has a problem until the day he realizes that when he looks at the others, his first feeling is a rush of protective, possessive Mine. He starts to feel itchy when they aren’t all around him or home together, he watches their faces for signs of fatigue and each wince of pain or jaw-cracking yawn makes his heart ache, he feels barely containable surges of fury whenever they’re asked to do more than anyone should have to, and his dreams are full of the silk of Sungjong’s flawless skin, the musk of Myungsoo’s warm scent, the line of Sungyeol’s long legs.

At first he thinks it’s just leadership responsibilities getting to him: he doesn’t have time to think of anything but Infinite, worrying about the others’ schedules and preparedness all the time to the point where it just makes sense that he’d be dreaming about the three of them every time he manages to snag a few minutes’ sleep. He remembers the way Sunggyu had called them all “kids”—a label that might have screamed patronizing if it weren’t for the affectionate responsibility behind it—the way Sunggyu’s eyes never rested but were constantly roaming, locating all of the members and ticking them off a mental checklist, making note of their locations and moods and energy-levels. Being leader means breathing the other members without break, and Sunggyu had tried to communicate something of that when he’d clasped Hoya by the shoulders—more skinship than usually passed between the two of them—and met his gaze, eyes just as serious as always but somehow different under the peach fuzz of his regulation haircut. They’d never had a concept that called for his hair to be that short before.

“You’re leader now,” Sunggyu had said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s not official—I’m trusting you to take care of them. And of Infinite.”

Hoya knows without ever being told that Sunggyu dreams of the members, thinks of them constantly, has built his life around them. But somehow he doesn’t think that Sunggyu wonders about the exact shade of Sungyeol’s skin when flushed with arousal, doesn’t fantasize about Myungsoo’s gasps and whimpers, doesn’t imagine Sungjong’s catfish mouth going slack with pleasure. He doesn’t think Sunggyu’s whole world is lit up by Myungsoo’s laughter, by Sungjong’s wisdom, by Sungyeol’s moments of careless kindness. This, Hoya knows, isn’t a side effect of leadership. This is all Lee Howon himself.

“Damn you, hyung,” Hoya mutters to the bottom of Sungjong’s bed above him, all too aware of Myungsoo’s shifting and Sungyeol snoring on the other side of the room. Sunggyu had tried to pass along ‘leader wisdom’ in the weeks leading up to hyung-line’s departure and still sends him emails full of tips he’s just thought of or commands for news on the kids’ activities. Hoya sometimes has the brief impulse to email Sunggyu back and demand, “What are you supposed to do when you fall in love with your members?”

But it wouldn’t do any good. This problem is all Howon’s own and no one can help him figure out where to go from here.

 

i.

The company, always eager to save money wherever they can, moves the remaining members into a new—smaller (cheaper)—apartment the day after the hyung line leaves for their military service. It’s a cold decision, maybe, but Hoya’s thankful for it after the night before when Myungsoo snuck into Dongwoo’s empty bed and cried himself to sleep. Maybe it was exhaustion in the wake of the final round of promotions as seven-member Infinite, but either way, the sobs kept Hoya awake, and not because of their volume. He’s glad to leave their echoes behind.

The new place is nice enough—anything is after that first house in Mangwon-dong—and Hoya’s long stopped feeling attachment to places, so he looks around the empty rooms with only mild curiosity. There’s a bigger bedroom and a smaller one, and the managers tell Hoya he can claim the single for his own if he wants to but that the room assignments are up to him to sort out. The others drop their bags and backpacks in the box-strewn emptiness that will be their living room and without discussing it hold out their hands for kaui baui bo.

“No,” Hoya says and three faces turn to him with identical looks of surprise. “The four of us together in the big room. Hyung can take the single.”

This announcement starts Sungyeol whining about unfairness—about how kaui baui bo is the best way to decide things, about how it’s stupid that they even still have to have a manager live with them like they’re trainees or something, about how Hoya’s already throwing his weight around and Sunggyu hasn’t even been gone for twenty-four hours—“And we’re chingus; I’m not your dongsaeng! You better not forget it!” Normally Hoya would tune out that kind of whining in annoyance, but he hears the sharp edge of uncertainty in Sungyeol’s tone that reveals the out-of-place-ness they all feel at suddenly being four where they were always seven. “Like amputation,” Sungjong had said, and yeah, that’s what it feels like. No, Hoya won’t miss the old dorm. It had felt far too big for what they’ve become.

So Hoya doesn’t tell Sungyeol to shut up, especially because Sungyeol is the first to grab his bag and head to the bigger bedroom even as he’s still complaining, confirming Hoya’s suspicions that the whining was all for show in the first place. Hoya slings his backpack over his shoulder and follows, feeling Sungjong’s eyes on him. When Myungsoo and Sungyeol are busy bickering over who gets the bottom bunk, Sungjong sidles up, says in a dry undertone, “Your first executive decision, hyung?”

“You want to dispute it?” He doesn’t need to say that he’ll listen to any opinion Sungjong wants to offer. Sungjong’s always known that.

“I think it’s a good idea, actually. We need each other now. If we don’t pull together it could all fall apart. I love the manager hyungs, but they aren’t Infinite.”

Hoya doesn’t answer, but then he doesn’t need to confirm that that was his own line of thinking. Sungjong knows.

Hoya’s never roomed with Myungsoo before, but it’s no different than with any of the others except that more of the clothes on the racks are black and he has to make sure not to ever jostle the camera bag sitting on the desk if he doesn’t want to be on the receiving end of Myungsoo’s furious glare. Sungyeol’s snores are familiar enough that the nostalgia overwhelms the annoyance factor, and Hoya’s never felt right when he’s not rooming with Sungjong anyway. This will be fine.

 

ii.

Management has long arguments over how quickly they need to have a comeback. There’s a contingent that thinks it’s better to take the time to make sure that they’ll be absolutely polished and perfect when they “sub-debut” (as Sungyeol is calling it) as four, just to prove that Infinite is still worth investing in even without both of their main vocalists and their lead rapper. The other half says they need to come out with something new soon so that they can coast on the momentum they still have from their last round of promotions.

Hoya doesn’t get consulted like Sunggyu would have; he hasn’t established himself as leader enough to have an opinion that’s valued, for all the joking that he’s Woollim’s golden boy. But he doesn’t mind; in a way he’s glad, because he isn’t sure he’d want that kind of pressure. He doesn’t know at this point what’s worse: nearly killing themselves with trying to record a new EP and master new choreo in a too-compact stretch of time or have more time to prepare—which means more time to notice all the empty spaces in every room they enter and more time for the pressure to mount and doubt to build up. So he lays on his bed with Usher pumping through his headphones and stares up at the awards on the shelf high on the wall, tracing the trajectory of Infinite’s career from their first for “Be Mine” up to the last one they won just three weeks ago (fans of other groups said it was more a consolation prize than a deserved win—the fans’ and industry’s way of saying goodbye to Sunggyu and Dongwoo and Woohyun—but Hoya’s not yet that cynical. It had been a really great single). When the text comes and says they’re pushing for a comeback date two months out, he’s not surprised.

 

iii.

Hoya snags Myungsoo by the sleeve outside the bathroom one night. “Tell me how to encourage Sungyeol to practice his vocals more without pissing him off.”

Myungsoo gives him a look only he could manage. For someone with a reputation as an ice prince, he’s actually prolific when it comes to amassing new expressions. “Are you serious? Nobody pisses him off more than me.”

Hoya considers the explosive and frequently pointless arguments the best friends have on a seemingly weekly basis. “Good point.”

So he emails Woohyun.

Don’t be too serious about it, but don’t make it a joke either, Woohyun writes back. If you’re too serious, he’ll buckle under the pressure and probably blow up in your face. If you joke about it too much, he’ll feel like you’re implying that he’s a joke and he’ll joke back but it’ll make him moody. Compliment him, but only for things he deserves, and keep it casual. And don’t leave him alone in the practice rooms for too long. But don’t boss him around too much either.

Hoya snorts and shakes his head at the words: that’s so Sungyeol, all contradictions and prickly insecurities, and of course only Woohyun has enough insecurities of his own to really understand. Still, Hoya’s a pretty matter-of-fact guy, so he thinks that as long as he keeps the inappropriate jokes to a minimum, he’ll be able to pull it off reasonably well.

And the weird thing is, he does. He requests that their vocal coach schedule Sungyeol’s next lesson in the largest practice room and arranges it so that he’s in a chair in the corner working on his raps when Sungyeol comes into the room.

“Aren’t you going to clear out?”

Hoya looks up to find Sungyeol eyeing him warily. He keeps his voice casual as he shrugs. “The girls have got all the other rooms today. You know their comeback is next week. You don’t mind, do you?”

Hoya doesn’t really phrase it as a question, but he can see that Sungyeol very much does mind and is probably about to argue with him, but the coach enters just then and Sungyeol just rolls his eyes and turns away.

Hoya makes sure to keep his head bowed over his notebook and to do a lot of scribbling and crossing things out, but he’s not really working, all of his attention on Sungyeol on the other side of the room. It takes all his acting skills not to wince, not so much at Sungyeol’s singing—which is not nearly as bad as he’s still convinced it is—but at the frustration from both singer and coach. Hoya can tell that their coach doesn’t understand why Sungyeol keeps breaking off and wanting to start over when he’s doing perfectly fine, and that exasperation just makes Sungyeol more flustered and annoyed with himself, and that, in turn, makes his voice crack or his notes lurch sharp over and over.

No wonder he doesn’t feel like he’s made any progress, Hoya thinks, and he resolves that his goal for Sungyeol for the foreseeable future is to get him to be comfortable enough not to be embarrassed by his own singing. That’s a lot to ask, but Hoya’s never been one to be discouraged by the seemingly impossible.

Sungyeol slams one of his huge feet into the leg of Hoya’s chair, jarring him out of his thoughts and making him drop his pen. “Enjoy the show, jackass?”

Hoya can hear the brittle fear of judgment in Sungyeol’s attempt at flippancy, but he keeps a bored look on his face as he scoops his pen off the floor. “I’d’ve enjoyed it more if you were in a showgirl outfit. We need to make sure our next concept shows off your legs. You should be the one in the skirt next time.”

The nonsequitur throws Sungyeol out of his sulk and into protests long enough for Hoya to coax him into bickering instead, and Hoya tosses snarky but harmless lines back even as his mind is churning.

Their CEO is not impressed that Hoya’s first real decision as leader is to request that Sungyeol not have vocal lessons for a while, but he hears him out.

“I’ll make sure he spends all that time practicing. But the lessons are too much pressure for him. I think he’ll do better just practicing without the formal structure.”

He can tell by the set of CEO-nim’s mouth that he’s keeping himself from saying something about how if Sungyeol can’t handle formal structure he isn’t cut out to be an idol, but Hoya is granted permission to give it a trial run, and as he heads back to the dorm, he reminds himself that management must have had a reason to let Sungyeol debut, that they must have seen something in him if they hadn’t cut him loose a long time ago. Hoya sees it, too, and now he just wants to make sure Sungyeol does as well.

“What do you say to letting me coach you on vocals for a while?” Hoya asks, leaning over the back of the couch so he can see Sungyeol’s long limbs sprawled out on the living room floor.

Sungyeol’s jaw is set when he raises his eyes from his laptop. “Oh, have they made you a vocal coach now, too? Why am I not surprised? Are you going to be vice-president next? CEO-nim should look out if he wants to keep his job.”

Hoya doesn’t let the edge of resentment in Sungyeol’s voice get to him, reminds himself of the not-too-serious-not-too-jokey advice Woohyun had given him, ignores everything but the first question. “Not really. I just thought you might feel more comfortable if you took some time to practice without overbearing coaches. Coach-nim gets all worked up and drives you crazy, doesn’t he?”

Sungyeol’s eyes are still suspicious even though he Hoya can tell his words struck a chord. “What is this? Are you turning into a micromanager? Not even Sunggyu-hyung tried to teach us all himself.”

“I just thought you might like it if you just got straight practice—just going over it again and again till you feel comfortable with it. Like choreo practice. And I’ll only give you advice if you want me to.” When the skeptical look doesn’t fall off Sungyeol’s face, Hoya switches tactics. “Look, you taught yourself how to act before SM, didn’t you? How’d you do that?”

Sungyeol’s answer is grudging. “Lots of time in my room alone in front of the mirror.”

Hoya keeps himself from smiling at the mental image of awkward, chubby-cheeked Sungyeol, all gangly limbs and braces on his teeth, talking to himself in the mirror. “Right. So it’ll be like that, only with singing. And I’ll give you pointers or whatever if you want. Or Myungsoo or Jjongie can. Or you can call Niel or Yejin-noona or whoever. I just know you hate being told what to do, so I thought it might help.” He shrugs again, hoping he’s tightroping the right balance between casual and serious.

Sungyeol is stonily quiet for a long minute, and he’s scowling when he looks away. “What the fuck do you know? You’re good at everything.”

“I suck at making my parents happy. At least you’ve never made your dad kick you out of the house and your mom cry. They’ve always been proud of you.” Maybe mentioning Sungyeol’s mom was going a bit far, but it’s not like it’s not true, and Sungyeol, like most of Infinite, is a mama’s boy.

After a while, Sungyeol waves a dismissive hand. “Whatever. Go away now. I’ve got to write an email to Sunggyu-hyung asking him to come back before your head gets too big to fit in the dorm.”

Hoya keeps the grin off his face till he gets back to the bedroom.

“Here’s the only thing I’ll tell you to start,” he says the next day when he and Sungyeol are back in one of the smaller practice rooms. “If you think you make a mistake, just keep going. Sing the part all the way through every time, like you’d have to do on stage.”

Sungyeol has his arms crossed and a look of adolescent resentment on his face. It’s so Sungyeol that Hoya wants to take a picture and send it to the three in the military to remind them of home.

“Are you going to stand over my shoulder the whole time?”

Hoya grabs his bag off the floor. “I’ll be outside today. You can kick me out at the beginning of every lesson if you want.”

And at first, Sungyeol does just that, stalking into the room at every scheduled practice time and giving Hoya a fierce look. Hoya spends a lot of time in a chair in the hall just outside the room, polishing his lyrics. Writing raps doesn’t come as easily to him as it always has to Dongwoo, but it’s more rewarding for that. He misses having Dongwoo around to bounce ideas off of, and though he Skypes with him about it sometimes, it’s not the same. It’s also not the same trying to write while straining his ears to hear how Sungyeol’s doing inside.

But after the first week or two, he doesn’t have to strain his ears anymore because Sungyeol stops kicking him out. He doesn’t ask him to stay, exactly, just doesn’t look at him when he enters the room. Hoya’s nowhere near Woohyun or Myungsoo or even Sungjong’s level of fluent in Sungyeol-language, but he’s learned enough over the years to figure out that that means Sungyeol doesn’t want him to leave.

“I’m not fucking with you,” he says one day when Sungyeol’s botched the same note four times in a row. “You’re not nearly as bad as you think you are. Your voice is perfectly okay.”

Sungyeol’s shoulders tighten as he keeps his eyes straight ahead, away from Hoya. “‘Perfectly okay.’ Gee, thanks so much. You really know how to sweet-talk a guy.”

“Do you have any idea of how many idols are just perfectly okay? The majority, really.”

“Yeah, and that’s why all the music snobs in Asia rag on kpop for being full of idols who can’t sing.”

“So what if they do? Kpop makes people happy. And anybody who pays attention to it knows good and well there are tons of talented singers. And all those perfectly okay singers have other stuff to offer.”

“Yeah, good thing I’m tall.”

That note of bitter self-recrimination in Sungyeol’s voice pisses Hoya off, but he keeps his voice level. “If you’re wanting me to fall all over myself naming all the other stuff you have to offer, I’m not going to do it.”

Now Sungyeol spins to stare at him. “Excuse me?”

“You heard me.” Hoya lifts his chin. “You run yourself down all the time because you want people to tell you that it’s not true. But I’m not going to do that.”

Sungyeol’s eyes narrow and his nostrils flare as he opens his mouth to shoot something back, but Hoya stands abruptly from his chair, cutting him off. “You already know, Sungyeol, so I’m not going to play that game with you. You already know you look like a manhwa character and you charm everyone when you do variety and you’re a really fucking good actor. You know that you have fans and everyone in the industry likes you. You know you make people watching believe that you’re just a regular guy and you could be their friend and that makes them care about you. You already know all that, so I’m not going to baby you by repeating it just because you’re feeling sorry for yourself because you’re not a good singer.”

Sungyeol’s cheeks are flaming as bright as his eyes now as his voice grits out between his teeth. “Who the fuck do you think you are?”

“I’m your bandmate,” Hoya says, then forces himself to add, “And right now I’m your leader.” They sound wrong, those words, feel strange in his mouth, but he keeps going so he doesn’t have to think about it. “And I hear you sing in the shower and when you’re goofing off with Myungsoo, and I know you have a respectable voice even if it’s not strong, but you keep shooting yourself in the foot with your lack of confidence. And you could do that and get away with it before because of everything else you’re good at and because our main vocalists were so good, but that’s not good enough anymore. It’s only the four of us now and we don’t have the hyungs’ vocals to rely on, so you’re going to have to pull your weight if you don’t want everyone thinking you’re a baby who gives up on stuff just because it’s hard. I’ve already talked to CEO-nim, and you’re going to have way more lines this time around. And you’ll either pull them off and people will forget your vocals were ever in question, or you’ll bomb it and hate yourself more when they talk about it. So get your head out of your ass and practice. And no, don’t give me that shit about how I’m good at everything. Do you know how many years I practiced dancing before I came to Seoul? And singing, too, because I knew I’d have to have a ‘perfectly okay’ voice if I didn’t want to embarrass myself as an idol. Just because you didn’t see all that work doesn’t mean everything comes easily to me. I don’t feel sorry for you, Lee Sungyeol, not at all. Now get off your lazy ass and make it work.”

Slamming the door behind him comes from a place of genuine frustration, but his anger’s already dissipating at the memory of Sungyeol’s pale face. Now he just has to wait and see if he went too far.

Sungyeol doesn’t speak to him that night or the next morning, but when Hoya comes into the practice room the next afternoon, Niel is there, grinning up at his Sungyeol-hyung in that adoring way of his. Hoya closes the door and sits back down in the abandoned chair in the hall, and a few minutes later he hears Sungyeol start to sing and Niel’s calm voice correcting him, and Hoya thinks maybe it’ll be okay.

 

iv.

Hoya has to get Sungjong to make him promise he won’t read anything at all about Infinite on the internet. Even the most innocuous articles have comments sections full of the kind of negativity that raises Hoya’s blood pressure. He’s never much cared about other people’s opinions and has always shrugged off any criticism of himself easily. But this shit isn’t about him, and he finds that his skin is thinner than he’d ever imagined, at least when it comes to his bandmates.

The Infinite’s going to be worthless without Woogyus and Good looks aren’t enough. Who’d listen to a group that can’t even sing?s aren’t nearly as infuriating as the ones that suggest that Hoya’s going to be carrying the group. Hoya should have just gone solo; I would have bought that album right after Three deadweights and one member who’s genuinely talented, but at least they’re easy on the eyes have him so angry that if he didn’t have better self-control he’d have put his fist through the wall. He takes it out on the machinery at the gym instead, for once oblivious to the quiet that Dongwoo or Woohyun would have filled up.

The fury starts because he hates anyone slagging on his members, especially when all three of them work themselves to exhaustion in preparation for every comeback. Even if the netizens think that the maknae line can’t sing, shouldn’t their annoyance be aimed at the company for debuting them, not the members themselves? But there’s no rationality when it comes to the kind of people who hate on things on the internet, and even if Hoya made a series of fake accounts for himself and spent all his time arguing with the negative commenters, he still wouldn’t convince anyone. The only thing that can do that is them blowing everyone away with their comeback.

But that’s what really upsets Hoya: how on earth can anyone expect the kids to do well when everyone is rooting against them? If he were the target of those comments, the criticism would just inspire him to work harder. But the other three aren’t wired like that. He considers passing a rule that none of them are allowed to use the internet for anything but kakao chat and email (and porn—if he didn’t allow for porn, Sungyeol would revolt) as an attempt to keep them away from even the fancafe, but he rejects the idea pretty immediately. None of them are stupid: they all have to know what’s being said and attempting to shelter them from it will only make them more curious, so he just tries to keep them busy enough that they don’t have time to waste on those sites. Whenever they have spare time, he drags them to the bathhouse or convinces them to watch a movie together, citing the need to build group solidarity, and though Sungjong begs off quite often to go hang out with one of his millions of friends and Myungsoo sometimes wanders off to take pictures around the city, the plan seems to work pretty well.

Not that Sungjong would care what anyone has to say about him. Hoya catches him scrolling through a forum one day and snorting at the negativity being hurled at Infinite, and he’s pretty sure Sungjong forgets all about it once he’s not looking at it anymore. Myungsoo sticks pretty close to his own fansites and the fancafe, which is good because his fans tend to be completely loyal as long as the topic isn’t his love life. Hoya’s pretty sure all the stuff dedicated to L is full of squee about how maybe L-oppa will get to play his guitar again on the next album and speculation about his upcoming drama role. It seems like Myungsoo misses the more toxic commentary completely, and Hoya’s nothing but grateful.

Sungyeol’s the difficult one, of course, and Hoya knows good and well that when he’s in one of his funks, he seeks out negative internet chat about himself as a practice in self-flagellation or self-fulfilling prophecy or something equally ridiculous. It’s no good telling him not to, either; Sunggyu learned that the hard way. He’s going to do it, Sunggyu tells him on kakao chat one night. You can’t stop him. All you can do is keep him busy afterwards so he doesn’t think about it too much. He gets stuck in his own pessimism really easily. Hoya figures that’s the best advice on the subject he’s going to get.

One day in the van, Hoya glances back and sees Sungyeol scrolling through his phone, the sulking look on his face all the evidence Hoya needs that Sungyeol’s reading something nasty about himself. He pulls out his own phone, sends Sungyeol a message. Prove them wrong.

Sungyeol rolls his eyes when he reads it, but at least he doesn’t look quite as sulky anymore.

 

v.

Just because they’re officially on hiatus while preparing for the new comeback doesn’t mean they don’t still have schedules. Sungyeol has a supporting but juicy drama part, Myungsoo has a million photoshoots and variety appearances, and Sungjong’s doing radio shows with his sunbaes again. Hoya’s actually the one with the fewest extracurriculars going on, just being a featured artist and providing raps for a couple of other people’s albums and starring as the love interest in a new female idol’s music video, in addition to a few variety appearances with the others. He’d have a lot more to do if he hadn’t turned down the last drama role he was offered, citing his desire to focus more on Infinite right now. It’s a good thing he had, though; he hadn’t realized how much more work the leader does.

But it’s now his job to know where everyone is all the time, keeping track of all four of their schedules and making sure each member knows where he’s supposed to go next. Sure, that’s technically what the managers are for, but the others just look to him to instruct them, the way he always looked to Sunggyu, and how did Sunggyu do this for three more people? And then there’s being called into the CEO’s office every few days to give him reports, and making sure he’s always there for Sungyeol’s vocal practice, and talking with the stylists and the composers and the producers to get a feel for the upcoming EP, and working with Dongmin-hyung on the new choreo, and also trying to make sure the other three eat enough to keep going, and it’s just a lot.

Military life is relaxing after Infinite, Sunggyu texts him, and Hoya starts to think it’s not entirely a joke.

 

vi.

Their first few days of practice on the new choreo are lackluster, and not just in the typical bungling-any-new-choreo way. It’s psychological, Hoya can tell, mostly because he feels the edginess, too. The way the practice room suddenly seems too large bothers him least of all of them because it’s always been more about the dance itself with him, but the change is enough that it’s noticeable even to him, and the other three—even Sungjong, who can usually be counted on to be collected no matter the circumstances—are thrown by it.

It doesn’t help that the choreo is really different than what they’re used to. The song has the same dark feel as most of their singles, though it sounds different without the two most familiar vocals and without the flair of Dongwoo’s rapping, but as Myungsoo says with a grin when he hears the finished product, at least it sounds like Infinite. The choreo doesn’t feel very much like Infinite though, not their soldier-sharp synchronicity or the cuter moves from something like “Nothing’s Over.” Hoya and Dongmin-hyung had spent a long time discussing how best to accommodate just four bodies and the loss of two of their best dancers and ultimately decided that instead of trying to get the other three to dance more like Hoya, it’ll be easier to get Hoya to dance like them.

So Hoya’s sharp, precise level of control is thrown out and he and Dongmin-hyung have crafted something more fluid and loose that will really complement Sungyeol and Sungjong’s long lines. It’s so different than anything Hoya’s worked on before that the novelty itself makes it his biggest challenge yet, and he’s proud of what they’ve crafted: intricate and challenging enough that no one will think they’re slacking, but much more suited to the styles of the maknae line. It’s surprisingly hard for Hoya to dial down his own power so as not to draw all eyes to him, and he remembers that when he first became a trainee, having to do that had irritated him. But he’s learned a lot about teamwork and unity in the interim, and he’s the leader now. He does what he has to do.

But it’s hard to get a feel for how this choreo is really going to work out when they’re all dancing like deer in headlights. The third day, Hoya has a breakthrough on the way to practice.

“Just think of it like a special stage,” he says before he turns on the music. “Like for a concert. Hyung line are doing something power vocal-y and Dongwoo’s doing a rap, and the four of us are doing something different to make the Inspirits happy, and after it’s over we’ll all do ‘BTD’ together.”

Myungsoo nods grimly, though Sungyeol and Sungjong look skeptical at the idea. But even if it’s a dumb thought experiment, their dancing improves that day.

You do what works, Sunggyu writes to him, and Hoya thinks that might be the key to the whole leader thing.

 

vii.

“Can you help me, hyung?” Myungsoo asks, and then looks just as confused as Hoya feels. “I mean Hoya. I don’t know where that came from.”

Hoya does, but he doesn’t really care to explain it to Myungsoo, so he shrugs it off. “What do you need?”

Myungsoo shakes the dazed look off his face. “The new choreo—I’ve been trying to practice on my own when I have to miss because of filming, but I’m pretty sure I’m not getting it and—”

“Yeah, come on, let’s go now.”

Myungsoo has always had the hardest time remembering the choreography. Where Hoya and Dongwoo could remember it after seeing it once or twice and the others after five times, for Myungsoo it takes ten or fifteen walk-throughs and even then his movements look awkward. It’s not that Myungsoo isn’t capable of doing it, it’s that it takes him longer to remember what to do and the moves aren’t natural to his body so he doesn’t know when he’s not doing it right unless someone tells him. But he’s Myungsoo, so he’s willing to work as hard as it takes to get it right, and that’s always been his salvation.

And it does take a lot of work. The two of them end up spending every spare moment that pops up on both of their schedules in the practice room going over and over the steps. The spring is heating up into summer and the practice rooms still don’t have air conditioning, but Hoya’s used to the heat after all these years. Myungsoo feels it a lot worse, always drenched with sweat after five minutes, but he never whines, just obediently follows all of Hoya’s instructions. The key with Myungsoo is muscle memory, Hoya knows, but the trick is making sure that what his muscles remember is just right. And that means watching Myungsoo like a hawk to pick up on anything he gets wrong. Which is rather a lot.

Myungsoo isn’t a good student in the classical sense, at least when it comes to dance: he doesn’t learn fast. But he’s patient and determined and never complains, and Hoya finds that he really likes spending time with him despite how annoying it can be to have to go over things twenty times. Myungsoo is willing to follow his lead, to laugh at Hoya’s bad jokes during their water breaks but then to buckle down at give it his all when it’s time to work. He accepts each of Hoya’s pointers without question and he doesn’t lose his temper with himself no matter how tired he is. Hoya knows it would have been so easy right from the beginning for Myungsoo to coast on his looks and not bother with anything else, but that’s not who Myungsoo is—he wants to deserve everything he has, and Hoya respects that. Myungsoo can keep going forever without any encouragement, but his face lights up every time Hoya praises him, and Hoya finds himself looking for more excuses to do just that. Well, whatever keeps his members happy.

 

viii.

“How does it feel, being in charge?” Soojung asks when she passes him in the hall outside the CEO’s office.

He offers her a wry grin. “I’d rather not be.”

She laughs, her long ponytail bobbing. “That’s good to hear.” Off his questioning look, she clarifies. “That means you probably won’t turn into a dictator. The best leaders are reluctant ones.”

Hoya thinks of Sunggyu’s face the day their old leader quit, all those years ago when they were just trainees. Sunggyu had looked a little sick but very determined, and Hoya had known without having to ask that he was marching off to management to volunteer to be leader.

“I don’t really think he wants to,” Dongwoo had whispered. “But he thinks it’s his duty as the oldest.”

Hoya, perfectly content to just work as hard as he could at being the best idol he could possibly be, hadn’t really understood why Sunggyu would volunteer for something he obviously didn’t want to do. But when he gets back to the dorm and finds the other three in the kitchen trying to scrape together dinner without Woohyun’s expertise and giving each other advice on mastering the choreo, he thinks he’s beginning to get it.

 

ix.

It’s always been Sungjong, right from the beginning. Hoya thought the younger trainee was unspeakably cute from the first day they met, and his sass and confidence brought a lot of sunshine into the tedious world of trainee-dom. But it was when they started rooming together and talking together that Hoya realized just how amazing Sungjong really is. Sure, Sungjong did girl group dances and got away with talking back to Sunggyu because he was so cute and flippant that it was hard to stay mad at him, but Sungjong has also always been far more intelligent than he lets most people know, not to mention searingly insightful. Hoya and Sungjong would stay up late at night talking even as their aching bodies begged them to sleep, and Hoya figured out pretty quickly that Sungjong had to be pretty extraordinary if he was worth sacrificing sleep just to talk to. But those talks were the most important part of Hoya’s day; Sungjong’s wisdom kept him grounded and Sungjong’s wit kept him smiling, and Sungjong’s beauty was just a bonus.

Debuting didn’t change any of that, and neither did, eventually, them moving to different rooms. Whether they’re roommates or not, Sungjong is the one Hoya goes to when he’s exhausted or overwhelmed or angry at the whole world, and Sungjong’s presence is relief and comfort. Hoya would feel guilty about his dependence on Sungjong if it weren’t for the fact that he doesn’t demand that Sungjong actually do anything. Sure, they talk sometimes for hours, but only when Sungjong wants to. When he doesn’t, they’re silent, but that’s enough for Hoya. Being with Sungjong is all he needs, and sometimes the thought of spending five minutes alone with him later is all that gets him through a day. And Sungjong has always been willing to give that relief to him, and so Hoya has never felt guilty.

But he does now. He feels needy, never wanting Sungjong to be out of his sight, growing irritable (even if he doesn’t show it) when Sungjong isn’t around, needing to spend more and more time with him. Sungjong doesn’t seem put off and he doesn’t say anything about it or pull away, but Hoya is aware of how much more he needs Sungjong now that he’s got so many more responsibilities, and the last thing he’s ever wanted is to suffocate Sungjong or ask for more than he’s willing to give.

That stress must show, because one night when Myungsoo and Sungyeol are out somewhere, Sungjong stands in front of Hoya with his arms crossed.

“Hyung, you’re being an idiot,” he announces. Hoya would bristle at that said in seriousness by anyone else, but this is Sungjong, so he doesn’t argue.

“I know you’re stressed, and there’s nothing I can do about that, no matter how angry it makes me.” Knowing that Sungjong gets angry on his behalf makes Hoya grin, but Sungjong keeps talking. “But you’re making it worse by being worried and that is just idiotic.”

“Worried?” Hoya echoes.

Sungjong rolls his eyes. “Yes, worried. Worried about me. Feeling guilty that you rely on me. I can tell by the way you look when you come in the room when I’m alone. I thought you’d get over it, but you haven’t, and I’m starting to get annoyed.”

“Sungjong—”

“Hyung, do you really think that if you were annoying me by wanting my attention that I wouldn’t make that perfectly clear? Do you really think I wouldn’t just tell you to fuck off?”

Oh. Suddenly Hoya is so incredibly tired, and he braces his elbows against his thighs, dropping his head into his hands. “I just don’t want to keep taking from you. It’s not fair to you.”

“Did it ever occur to you that I like your attention, too?”

Hoya’s head shoots up, and his eyes go wide when he sees the slightest hint of pink in Sungjong’s cheeks. But Sungjong, as always, manages to keep his voice matter-of-fact. “I happen to like you, too, hyung. I like spending time with you.”

Hoya knows that. He’s known it all along—the others always tease him by saying Sungjong only takes care of him, and all of them know that Hoya is the one Sungjong is closest too. But Sungjong doesn’t say things like that often, so when he does….

“In fact.” Sungjong’s face is still completely composed, but there’s the slightest tremor in his voice, so slight that probably only Hoya would notice it, because Hoya knows him better than anyone, but there are still ways for Sungjong to surprise him because he gets up from the chair and starts walking to Hoya and he doesn’t stop. Hoya feels like he’s been slammed in the back of the head with a baseball bat except it doesn’t hurt, it feels amazing, and Sungjong is standing right in front of him, raising one of his long legs to rest his knee on Hoya’s thigh, and Hoya’s hands are somehow gripping Sungjong’s hips and— “In fact.” Again with the voice-tremble, only more perceptible this time. Hoya’s heart is slamming against his ribcage. “I don’t just like you, hyung,” Sungjong breathes, and then Sungjong’s kissing him and—

Well, Hoya stops feeling guilty. He has all the reassurance he needs, because when he and Sungjong end up tangled in the sheets, Sungjong presses his mouth to Howon’s ear and whispers, “Tell me what you need, hyung.”

And it’s Sungjong, so it’s so easy for it all to spill out, for Hoya to tell him how sick he is of being the leader, how much he just wants to not have to make the decisions, how he doesn’t know how Sunggyu did it without going out of his mind, how he just wants to be able to rest.

And Sungjong is smart, so smart, so of course Sungjong puts it all together without him having to say what he actually needs, and after that whenever they’re alone, Sungjong is in charge.

Hoya’s always deferred to Sungjong, let him have his way because he’s Sungjong and he’s perfect. But this is different: now it’s so intentional, and the way Sungjong looks at him makes him feel like crashing to his knees. Sungjong is completely in control. He decides when he’ll see Hoya alone and what they’ll talk about and he’s always the one to climb onto Hoya and kiss him senseless, to push him back down onto the bed, and Hoya is so grateful to just let Sungjong make all the decisions, to do what Sungjong instructs him to do, to take anything Sungjong is willing to give. He gives himself over to Sungjong, and it’s all he wants.

The other two know, because Sungjong will trail a possessive hand over Hoya’s shoulders some mornings when he comes into the kitchen, and sometimes on nights when the manager doesn’t stay, he’ll grab Howon by the wrist and drag him into the manager's room and close the door behind him. Sungyeol clearly doesn’t care except to make jokes about it, and though Myungsoo is all wide-eyed surprise at first, he quickly adjusts and takes no more notice of it than he does of Jureumi wandering around the dorm.

And okay, maybe Hoya still does feel a little bit guilty, but not because of Sungjong this time. He just sometimes catches Myungsoo watching him and Sungjong with this wistful look on his face and sometimes when Sungjong kisses him Sungyeol’s smile is a little strained, and Hoya gets it: it isn’t fair to those two that they can’t have what Hoya and Sungjong have. Hoya thinks about nudging them towards each other; he’s wondered more than once if Myungsoo’s feelings tend in that direction anyway, but he decides that the best friends’ relationship is complicated and close enough that he’d only make a mess of it if he tried something. If that’s what they want, they’ll figure it out on their own, he tells himself, and so he isn’t surprised a few weeks later when he turns a corner in the dorm and finds that one of Sooyeol couple’s blow-ups has turned into fierce making out against the wall. It seemed inevitable, somehow, with the four of them trapped together in such an insular world. Hoya’s happy for them if they want each other, but he still feels a twinge of something he can’t understand.

But he sets it aside—he’s getting good at doing that—and meanwhile, Sungjong is helping him keep his sanity.

 

x.

It’s hot and they’re all sweaty, muscles aching and twitching from dance practice, collapsed on the floor of the practice room and staring at the sagging ceiling. Hoya had been the last to lay down (he can hear Sunggyu’s voice in his head: That’s what the leader is, Howon: always the last to rest. He’d teased his hyung that if he was always the last to rest, why didn’t the rest of them have back problems from laying down too much too? But now he knows. Now he sees how it must have been for Sunggyu), had seen Myungsoo’s hand wrapped around a few of Sungyeol’s fingers, the most contact any of them will tolerate in this oppressive heat, even though Myungsoo probably wishes he had his head resting on someone’s stomach or his legs intertwined with someone else’s. Hoya thinks they probably look like kids who fell down against the snow to make snow angels, arms and legs spread. That’s a nice thought: snow. Cold and wet seeping into his skin and draining the heat away. He focuses on the memory of it, the smell of snow, the snap in cold air. He can hear the others breathing hard, recovering from exertion and he imagines little smoky clouds streaming out of their mouths and hovering in the air above them.

“I miss Dongwoo-hyung,” Myungsoo says suddenly. “I miss him laughing and being weird. And sitting in my lap.”

Hoya snorts. Dongwoo has been with him practically from the beginning. He was Hoya’s work partner, the only one who challenged him with his dancing, the one he could bond with over hip-hop, and they dragged each other through every round of grueling Infinite H promotions. Being without him is strange. “I don’t miss him grabbing my butt all the time.”

“I’m sure Myungsoo-hyung will be glad to grab your butt when you start to miss it, hyung,” Sungjong says lazily.

“I miss Woohyun.” That’s Sungyeol, no surprise. Myungsoo may be Sungyeol’s best friend, but there was always a part of Sungyeol that only Woohyun seems to understand.

“I don’t miss him nagging me about every little thing,” Sungjong says, voice taking on a testy tone he only ever used to sass back at Woohyun. Woohyun and Sungjong were always at each others’ throats—like cats and dogs, Dongwoo would say with a grin—but they also love each other fiercely, even if it’s sometimes hard for the others to really see that through all the sniping and fighting. “But I miss him cooking for us.”

Myungsoo nudges Hoya’s foot with his own. “What about you, Howon-ah?”

Hoya thinks of long hours in the practice room with Dongwoo, bodies moving in sync, the satisfaction of working with someone who is his equal in every way. Of long hours in the gym with Woohyun, sometimes mocking each other, sometimes working out in silence, sometimes even talking about things like the future or where they came from. But mostly he thinks of the time when he wasn’t leader, when he only had to worry about himself and becoming the best he could be.

“I miss leader,” he says, and all of them are silent. Somehow he thinks they understand.

 

xi.

Myungsoo clings to Sungyeol more than usual and wraps his arms around Sungjong whenever he can, and Hoya, as he has for years, marvels at their patience.

“What’s so impressive?” Sungjong asks with a shrug. “He needs affection, and Sungyeol-hyung and I have to make up for the fact that there’s three less people to give it to him.”

“But neither of you really like it,” Hoya points out. “I know he’s not good at picking up hints, but I could tell him to back off a bit if you want me to.”

Sungjong shakes his head. “It’s what he needs, hyung. What kind of family would we be if we didn’t give it to him?”

Still, Hoya doesn’t feel like it’s right, Sungjong and Sungyeol trying to split between them the skinship hyung line would typically offer, so he starts reaching out for Myungsoo sometimes himself. Myungsoo is visibly surprised the first couple of times, which almost annoys Hoya, though he’s honest enough with himself to admit it’s probably because he feels guilty that he never let Myungsoo know he could touch him before. It’s just that he’s never been all that big on touching (Sungjong aside), and there was always Dongwoo grabbing his butt, and honestly he just didn’t think he could handle more touching, even if it was of a slightly more appropriate nature.

But it turns out not to be so bad, because Myungsoo is apparently more adept at picking up hints than Hoya thought and doesn’t take the new skinship as permission to touch all the time the way he does with the other two. He always gives Hoya an expectant face when he wants Hoya’s arm around his shoulder or to hold his hand, and Hoya is the one who reaches out, usually laughing as Myungsoo folds himself into his side and lets out a contented sigh. Hoya even learns not to be too weirded out when Myungsoo presses his nose to his shoulder and smells him.

“He’s just really tactile,” Dongwoo says over Skype one night. “He gets lost inside his own head, and touching people and smelling them and knowing they’re really there makes him feel grounded. And reminds him that the people he cares about are still there with him.”

“I guess you wouldn’t know anything about that, hyung, would you?” Hoya asks and laughs at Dongwoo’s face.

Myungsoo is happy as long as he has affection and food and sleep and his camera; he’s as simple to please as Jureumi. Sungyeol, though, remains a mystery even as he falls into his moody funks far more often than he used to.

Hoya knows Woohyun is probably stressed enough about military life as it is, so he tries not to email him every time he has a Sungyeol-related question, though Woohyun doesn’t seem to mind. “I’m the Sungyeol-whisperer!” he crows one day during a brief phone call. “I should write a book!” He’s not at all dispirited when Hoya points out that it would have limited appeal.

Still, Hoya wants to learn to be a good leader in his own right, so he tries to figure Sungyeol out himself. He thinks of how Sungyeol misses Woohyun the most and asks himself what it is that Woohyun offered that none of the rest of them do, excellent cooking aside. Some of the answers are easier for Hoya to put into practice than the others. His own brand of wordplay is pretty different than Woohyun’s, which has always matched Sungyeol’s as though they were performing from a script, but once Sungyeol figures out that Hoya’s trying to instigate banter, he falls into the rhythm of it pretty quickly. Hoya can tell Sungyeol doesn’t enjoy it as much as he always did with Woohyun, but there’s nothing he can do about that. Sometimes when he’s especially tired his jokes become so bad that Sungyeol pats him on the shoulder and says, “Take a rest, Lee Howon. We’ll just say I won this round.” Even Hoya’s competitive nature can’t resist the invitation to just flip his brain off.

The serious talks he knows Woohyun and Sungyeol used to have are a lot harder. Woohyun has always been really open about his affection for Sungyeol, giving him compliments with the same ease that he has with his interactions with fans though with a lot more obvious sincerity. Hoya knows that Woohyun’s encouragement has probably done as much as Myungsoo’s unwavering adoration to keep Sungyeol in Infinite, but Hoya’s not so good at that kind of reassurance. Still, he tries to do what he can, making sure to tell Sungyeol whenever he’s done a good job at something or worked especially hard. Sungyeol’s expression is skeptical each time, but Hoya doesn’t think it’s his imagination that convinces him that Sungyeol seems less tense and moody after a few days of compliments.

“It’s cute, watching you try to give the others what they need,” Sungjong says one night when they’re in the top bunk in the manager’s empty room. “It’s sexy.”

Hoya is always happy to continue doing anything Sungjong finds appealing, but he has to laugh at that. “Sexy?”

“Watching you figure out how to become a leader,” Sungjong clarifies, unflappable in the face of Hoya’s amusement. “You’re good at it.”

The smile falls off of Hoya’s face as his eyes sink closed. He runs a hand up the smooth skin of Sungjong’s back. “I don’t feel very good at it.”

“You are,” Sungjong says. “And you’re getting better all the time.”

Hoya ponders this. He can hear Myungsoo and Sungyeol fighting again in the other room; they’ve been doing it more often lately, though, weirdly, after the fight is over they neither forget about it nor avoid each other. They stay right by each other’s sides even as they glare at each other and refuse to speak, and it’s weird but it seems to be making them pull even closer together than before. Other than that, they don’t act any differently than they ever have, despite the fact that Hoya’s caught them a few times shirtless and kissing, tangled up together on Sungyeol’s bed. Hoya’s pretty sure he’s never going to understand their relationship.

“It’s weird, all the things I’m noticing about them that I never had to notice before. I thought we’d been together so long that we knew everything there was to know about each other. But I guess there were things I never had to pay attention to before.”

“And I’m telling you, that’s why you’re a good leader.”

Hoya props himself up on his elbow and looks down at Sungjong’s flawless face. He knows he’s whipped, but that face is even more beautiful to him bare of makeup as it is now. “And what do you need? What do I need to work on giving you?”

Sungjong rolls his eyes. “Idiot. Don’t you know I always take what I need?”

And Hoya lets himself be pulled down till he can lose himself in Sungjong all over again.

 

xii.

The comeback doesn’t blow anyone away. But it’s reasonably well-received; the more loyal Inspirits rally around it hard and the consensus of the netizens is that it’s not nearly as bad as they’d been expecting. Hoya is grimly satisfied: no one’s going to claim this single is among Infinite’s standouts, but there’s also nothing to outright mock or be ashamed of. The grudging reaction of the majority of the kpop audience just does what falling short always does for Hoya: lights a fire in his belly to push harder for better next time.

He likes the song they’re discussing for the next promotions better anyway; the more R&B style of it suits the vocal arrangements the producers coaxed out of their four voices, and it’s probably his second favorite cut on the EP after his own solo featuring Soojung, which is his favorite because it’s the most hip-hop sounding of all the songs. Meanwhile, their nonstop practice of the choreo for their current round of promotions is paying off: each stage they perform is professional and full of energy, and of course Dongmin-hyung’s choreo is fantastic. It feels limited in a way that the seven-member choreo never did, but Hoya knows that’s just a manifestation of missing the others, so he ignores it. When he watches their stages—compulsively, after every single one—he doesn’t see anything lacking. If you didn’t know they weren’t meant to be four, you’d never know anything was missing.

(But Hoya knows.)

 

xiii.

They all have to talk more in interviews and at appearances, to make up for the lack of Woohyun’s constant chatter and Sunggyu’s leader speeches and Dongwoo’s laughter. There are weird pauses sometimes where they’re expecting someone who isn’t there to answer a question and Hoya knows some people are saying that Infinite is lacking in some of its appeal now. They’re not wrong. But he drills the other four even when Sungyeol complains, and the awkwardness gets less and less noticeable to anyone but the four of them.

Well, at least he thinks so until he gets messages from hyung line that let him know that they notice too. Somehow, that’s a comfort.

 

xiv.

The possessiveness slams into him one day when Daeryong drops down beside him backstage somewhere and grins. “Hey. CEO-nim said something about us maybe joining you for your next comeback. Special promotions or something. I saw your dance practice video and the choreo’s pretty fun. We’d be up for it.”

Hoya has to keep himself from biting Daeryong’s head off, which is just stupid because he’s not suggesting anything wrong. It would probably be pretty easy to work the twins into the choreo, and they’re talented enough at any and all dancing that he knows they’d pick it up pretty quick, not to mention all the members of Infinite really like them. It would be a boost for Tasty and the novelty would probably appeal to audiences. But there’s no way in hell he’s going to agree to that, and he doesn’t even bother to check with the others. Sometimes it’s nice being leader.

“Maybe for just one stage,” he says, voice steady. “But I think we’ll do the promotions just us four.”

“Sure, I get it,” Daeryong says with an easy smile, and Hoya can tell he’s not offended. He’s glad that Daeryong gets called away almost immediately though, because it means he can escape into the bathroom and make himself breathe deep for a while until he gets his emotions under control.

He tries to tell himself that the sudden wave of possessiveness is about Infinite, about wanting to prove that they can do this on their own, about his pride in what their group is. And it’s true enough that if that was all he’d felt, he’d still have turned down the offer and probably been annoyed with the implication that the four of them can’t keep Infinite alive. Infinite has always been the seven of them and no one else, and just because three are gone for the moment doesn’t mean interlopers are allowed in.

But he knows that what he was really worked up about was the thought of sharing the other three with anyone, that he doesn’t want the twins to join them for long hours in the practice rooms, to always be there in the van or backstage. The idea of anyone else inserting themselves so completely into the four of their lives puts Hoya on edge, and he’s not going to let it happen.

The possessiveness isn’t a passing thing, he realizes a few days later when he overhears someone at the studio refer to them as “Hoya and the pretty boys.” If Hoya were the violent type, he’d have hurled himself around the corner and pounded whoever said that into the ground; as it is, he stalks back to the practice room and the rush of mine he feels when he sees his bandmates waiting for him is strong enough to leave him lightheaded. He swallows it down and tries not to think about it.

But it seems like life is determined not to let him forget it.

 

xv.

When he finds liquid fire ripping through his veins at the sight of Sungyeol trapping Myungsoo against the wall and sliding a sly hand up the inseam of Myungsoo’s jeans or when he goes instantly hard when finding their long bodies intertwined on the couch and Myungsoo tracing Sungyeol’s collarbones with his tongue, Hoya tells himself that it’s just like porn: it’s not about it being Myungsoo and Sungyeol, it’s just about the simple factors that make porn a billion dollar industry: hot people touching each other sexually equals just about any viewer getting turned on.

Hoya isn’t one for self-deception, but this lie seems necessary, at least until things start happening that shatter any veracity it might have had.

 

xvi.

It happens with Sungyeol like this: Hoya’s still going to the practice room every day while Sungyeol practices his vocals, though mostly he sits in the corner and does other things because Sungyeol doesn’t need instruction so much anymore. “I told hyung to practice it so much that he can sing it all without thinking about it; I think that’ll help,” Niel had said, and Hoya thinks it’s true. When Sungyeol knows just what notes to sing when and knows that he can sing them, it helps his confidence onstage.

He sounds a lot better now. Not confident, really, but his insecurity is no longer so tangible and he doesn’t mess up nearly as often as he used to.

“I could really go for an iced coffee,” Sungyeol says, wiping sweat from around his hairline with the back of his arm.

“No coffee.” Hoya’s adamant about this. “Not when it’s this hot and we’re dancing so much. I’m not having you fuck up your heart again. Woohyun will worry so much he’ll go AWOL and run right to where you are, and Infinite can’t handle that kind of scandal.”

“Nice to know you care, dad,” Sungyeol says dryly, and Hoya wrinkles his face in distaste.

“I’ll buy you a coffee popsicle,” he offers, and, wow, Sungyeol really does look like a prince out of a manhwa when his face lights up with a grin like that.

He buys their snacks at the corner store and they end up on the playground two blocks over. It’s empty in the heat of the afternoon, the air still and the ground dusty as Sungyeol drags his feet while they sit on the swings. Hoya’s ice cream is a relief on his tongue and the spoon is sticky in his hand, and the heat makes the sound of traffic on the larger streets seem very far away.

“When I think of being a little kid, it’s always summer,” Sungyeol says and Hoya lets out a short laugh as he looks over at him, a laugh that dies in his throat.

Because—fuck—Sungyeol’s hair has gotten long again and it’s all sweaty and disheveled and his cheeks are flushed with heat and he’s sucking away at his popsicle and his mouth holy fuck how is that a mouth that exists? Swollen and dark pink from his treat, it’s the most appealing thing Hoya’s seen in forever, and he wants to throw his ice cream down and grab Sungyeol by the shoulders and—

Sungjong. Sungjong, he reminds himself, and is immediately terrified because that thought isn’t enough to stifle the heat curling in his belly, to dim his desire to explore Sungyeol’s mouth in every way possible. And that doesn’t make sense, because Sungjong is the only guy Hoya’s ever felt that way about, the only guy he’s ever really felt attracted to on a visceral level. He’d made his peace early on as a trainee with the fact that he likes to look at certain guys just as much as he does women, but other than Sungjong, who he’s wanted for years with a kind of helpless desire that he hadn’t known he could feel, his appreciation of other men has mostly been aesthetic. Sure, it might have gone a little further than that with Inguk, but he thinks that was mostly being too stuck in Junhee’s mind, and every night when he went home and saw Sungjong he was reminded that nothing could compare to him.

“Dude, where are you going?”

Sungyeol sounds half-amused and it’s only when Hoya registers his words that he realizes he’s jumped up from his swing.

He clears his throat. “I—uh, I want to take a shower. Right now. As cold as possible.”

Sungyeol doesn’t look totally convinced, but he shrugs and stands up, too, and has his body always been that long? Fuck. It just goes on forever. “Yeah, this tastes good, but it’s not cooling me off enough either. Let’s go.”

Hoya keeps his eyes off of Sungyeol as much as he can on the walk home, and even though he cranks the water as cold as it will go, his shower doesn’t help much, and he’s really fucking frustrated. He’s never wanted any guy besides Sungjong, not the way he finds himself gripped with want for Sungyeol. Despite the cold sting of the water, he still ends up jerking himself off to the thought of Sungyeol’s slick, plush mouth.

That night, he pretends he doesn’t see the expectant look in Sungjong’s eyes when they pass at the door of the bathroom, and he lays in bed pulsing with guilt and thinking that his life can’t get any more fucked up.

 

xvii.

Except then it’s Myungsoo. They’ve taken to fitting extra practice into their schedules again now that they’re learning yet another dance, and it’s easier this time because Myungsoo’s drama is over. Hoya’s glad that Myungsoo seems a little less stressed now, but this choreo is actually harder for him than the last one. It involves a lot of sexier moves instead of powerful ones, and while no one else has a problem swiveling their hips and running their hands over themselves, with Myungsoo it still looks awkward.

It’s probably two in the morning and maybe that would be enough to let him write it off as exhaustion-induced hysteria, but that isn’t what it is and he knows it. It’s Myungsoo with the long tan lines of his arms showing in his tank, his sweat pants clinging to his ass, the sweat returning his hair to his natural kinky texture, his determined eyes and his handsome face and the way he runs his tongue over his lips. Hoya’s been feeling a little antsy about how much he’s enjoying looking at Myungsoo, but it all comes together when Myungsoo awkwardly hip-swivels again and Hoya finds himself moving behind him, hands falling to Myungsoo’s hips, guiding him through the motion, pressing his own lower body to Myungsoo’s to let him feel what a natural roll feels like.

Myungsoo doesn’t tense up at the contact, and his face in the mirror across the room is just as intent as it has been, but suddenly Hoya feels himself hardening and jerks back so fast Myungsoo almost trips when he lets go. Hoya catches a glimpse of his own reflection, flushed and glassy-eyed, and he has to turn away because it’s showing. Everything he’s feeling is showing right there on his face and—

“Uh, Hoya? Are you okay?”

And Myungsoo sounds so totally oblivious, and Hoya is glad because it means that Myungsoo didn’t feel anything he shouldn’t have felt, but at the same time it’s so frustrating it makes Hoya want to scream, because how is Myungsoo like this—how does he forget how appealing he is? Sungjong always knows just how sexy he is and just how attracted anyone in the room is to him; Sungyeol feels it but his low self-esteem sabotages him by convince him it isn’t real. But Myungsoo just doesn’t even notice at all when he isn’t performing for fangirls or for a photoshoot, and it makes Hoya feel even more out of control than he would otherwise.

“Yeah, I’m—” He clears his throat. “I’m fine. It’s just late. Let’s head back, okay? We can try again tomorrow.”

That night, they’re all three there in his dreams, gorgeous in three completely different ways, and when he wakes he hates himself for his own greed, but there’s no denying it: he wants them all.

 

xviii.

And it’s not just the wanting them. That would be bad enough, but he could write it off, maybe, if only that were all, tell himself that it’s close proximity to two undeniably hot guys coupled with not getting to spend much time alone with Sungjong—sexual frustration, totally normal.

But that isn’t all, and there’s nothing normal about it. There’s nothing normal about the way his insides ache at how cute Myungsoo is when he laughs or how he wants to pull Sungyeol to him when he gets that self-loathing look on his face. Nothing normal about how easy it would be to walk up behind Myungsoo when he’s washing dishes and slide his arms around his waist and kiss the tan skin of his shoulder revealed by his wide-necked shirt. Nothing normal about the urge to massage Sungyeol’s feet when they watch TV at night or burying his nose in Sungyeol’s hair after he showers and smell the scent of his shampoo. Nothing normal about how he is quite sure he’s falling in love with everything both of them are even as he’s still so in love with Sungjong that he shouldn’t even be able to look at anyone else. It’s like this new way of looking at them, looking at them and asking himself how they work and what they need has revealed new sides of them, new aspects of who they are that he can’t help but fall in love with.

Hoya has never been one for self-loathing. If he doesn’t feel good enough at something, he just works at whatever it is until he is. But no matter how hard he works at convincing himself to get over Sungyeol and Myungsoo, he can’t.

(For the first time, he really does hate himself.)

 

xix.

“Lee Howon, do you want to break up?”

Hoya very nearly falls off of his bed but doesn’t even notice because he’s so busy gaping. Sungjong’s face is totally serene except for one cocked eyebrow, and how can he look so calm when every single one of Hoya’s internal organs are all crowding into his throat, trying to choke him to death? Fuck, he should have known this was coming, Sungjong notices everything, but he’d convinced himself he was smothering it all inside him and—

“Wha—no—no!”

“So you’re still in love with me?”

How can Sungjong be so cool about all this, like he’s just asking whether Hoya was the one to use the last of his toothpaste again? And how can he even ask that when Hoya knows he’s terrible at hiding the way he feels when it comes to Sungjong?

Yes!

“And you still want me? You haven’t stopped being attracted to me?”

Hoya cannot imagine a universe in which he wouldn’t be weak with attraction to Lee Sungjong. “No! I mean—yes—I mean—I always want you, so bad I can’t—”

“So why are you avoiding me, then?” Hoya opens his mouth to protest, but Sungjong’s eyes go sharp. “Don’t you dare deny it. You know I hate it when people patronize me. I will knee you in the balls so hard you won’t be able to dance for a week if you even try to lie to me about this.”

“Sungjong—”

“Are you afraid someone’s found out? Because I understand paranoia when we’re in public, but not when we’re at home. Myungsoo and Sungyeol already know and none of the managers are even here eighty percent of the time. No one’s going to find out, hyung.”

Hoya has to grab hold of the bedspread underneath his hands; he feels like the room has turned into a merry-go-round when he wasn’t paying attention. “That’s not it at all, I—”

“Because I’ve been over it in my head, and there are only three explanations I can think of for why you’d be avoiding me. You’re either over me and too cowardly to break up with me, you’re scared about someone finding out and you’re becoming annoyingly paranoid, or you cheated on me.”

Hoya’s eyes go huge and round at that last, and yeah, all his organs are still trying to suffocate him. He can only stare at Sungjong.

“Did you cheat on me, hyung?” Sungjong’s voice is still totally calm, and it’s even scarier than if he were yelling—and yelling Sungjong is really damn terrifying. “Because if I thought you cheated on me, I would make sure that you’d never be able to cheat on anyone ever again.”

“Sungjong, I didn’t, I swear, I would never—” And it’s true, it’s true: he wants Sungyeol and Myungsoo so badly the ache of it almost hurts more than hating himself, but he would never, ever cheat on Sungjong. Not even if he was being tortured to death. He wouldn’t.

“Then why are you acting like this?”

Hoya kind of feels like he’s being tortured to death right now. And he can’t think of a single thing to say. He just looks at Sungjong helplessly.

“Ah,” Sungjong says after a long moment. “Who is it?”

Yes, torture. Sungjong is going to torture him to death. He should have known this was the way he’d die. “What?”

“The person you want. The one you have feelings for.”

Again, Hoya can’t even begin to find words. How does he know?

Sungjong sighs and sits down in his desk chair. “It’s very simple, hyung. I know you didn’t cheat on me, but it can’t just be that you’re attracted to someone else. You’re not so naive that you don’t know that sometimes people are going to be attracted to people they aren’t with. That isn’t a big deal, as long as you don’t spend time around that person and let it get out of hand, which I know you haven’t. That means you must have feelings for someone else—”

“Sungjong. Sungjong, I love you, I’ve always—”

Sungjong holds up a hand. “I know that. I didn’t really think you weren’t in love with me anymore. But it’s possible to have feelings for more than one person at a time. And you clearly do. So who is it?”

Hoya can’t tell him. If it was just one of them, just Myungsoo or just Sungyeol, he could do it and get it out of his system, and he knows Sungjong would help him figure out a way to get over it and wouldn’t be angry with him. But it’s not just one, it’s both and that’s fucked up, right, being in love with three people at once? That’s greedy or abnormal or—or something he doesn’t want Sungjong to ever think that he is. He’s always wanted to be the best person he can be for himself, but ever since he’s known Sungjong he’s wanted to be the best for him as well. Sungjong deserves nothing less. He can’t let Sungjong see this part of him. Shame is a new feeling for Hoya, and he thinks it’s the worst he’s ever felt.

“Is it one of the others?”

Hoya’s silence must seem like a confirmation, because Sungjong nods. “I thought it must be. You don’t have any time to spend with anyone else except the managers and the coordi noonas, and I don’t think any of them are your type. So which one is it?”

When Hoya just lowers his head, Sungjong’s voice snaps with impatience. “Just tell me, hyung! Is it Myungsoo or Sungyeol? I don’t care, but just fucking tell m—”

“Both.”

The quiet word seems to absorb all the air in the room. For the first time, Sungjong looks shocked. It’s not a look that rests well on his face. “What?”

“Both of them.” Hoya’s voice is still low. “It’s both of them.”

“Oh,” Sungjong says.

 

xx.

Sungjong recovers from his shock pretty fast, or at least stops showing it. He still looks a little dazed, but his face takes on the fiercely thoughtful look that tells Hoya he’s setting his formidable brain to figuring this out. But when he notices Hoya sitting in his misery, he grabs him by the hair and jerks his face to his.

“I will figure this out, hyung. I know you can’t avoid them and let it die away, but I will figure it out. And until I do, if you even think about avoiding me or feeling guilty or bad for yourself, I will destroy you. Do you understand?”

So things go back to normal for him and Sungjong, except that maybe he needs that escape even more than he did before, and sometimes he catches Sungjong with that calculating look on his face as he watches the other two.

Maybe that’s some fundamental weakness in Hoya, how willing he is to pass his problem off to Sungjong, to not worry about it anymore, but it’s who he is. He trusts absolutely Sungjong’s ability to keep his word and figure this out, and if Sungjong tells him not to feel guilty, he’s not going to feel guilty. Oh, he still wants Sungyeol and Myungsoo, all the time, but especially when it’s the four of them alone together in the dorm or in the practice room, where it would be so easy to reach for both of them and pull them as close as he’s ever held Sungjong. But he’s been fostering his self-control all his life and Sungjong will figure it out, and so he carries on with what he has to do and escapes into Sungjong when he gets the chance, and he doesn’t try to convince himself that he isn’t in love with three different people because he’s never found any use in lying to himself. Laid-back Hoya who does his best and doesn’t worry about anything else takes over, and he begins to trust again that it will all work itself out.

But he couldn’t have ever let himself imagine just what Sungjong would decide the solution is.

 

xxi.

It’s one of their rare nights off, and they’ve already eaten and tossed all the carry-out containers and are lying sprawled out in the living room with the TV on Running Man and the air conditioning pumping. Sungjong disappears for a few minutes, and when he comes back, he doesn’t flop back down beside them on the floor but stands over them, looking down at them with an expression Hoya doesn’t recognize.

Sungjong doesn’t have many expressions that Hoya doesn’t recognize, so maybe if Hoya hadn’t been so warm and full and tired from the week’s promotions, he would have realized that something was coming, but by the time he figures out that a new Sungjong expression probably means a bombshell, it’s already been dropped.

“Hoya-hyung has feelings for both of you.”

If Hoya weren’t laying on the floor, he very definitely would have fallen to it. As it is he lurches upright as Sungyeol’s whole body jerks and his elbow slams against the wooden floor and Myungsoo lays absolutely still as if he’s turned to stone. Sungjong flips his eyes over all three of them and seems utterly unruffled by their reactions.

It’s very quiet for a moment, a moment that Hoya is quite sure is going to kill him, and then, “Kid,” Sungyeol says, voice strained, “You have one fucked-up sense of humor.”

Sungjong tilts his head as if in agreement. “But this isn’t a joke, hyung.”

“What the fuck, Jjongie?” Sungyeol says, and even though Hoya’s staring at Sungjong in horror, he’s very aware that Sungyeol isn’t looking at him at all. He tries not to let that hurt.

“He wants you both and he has feelings for you.” Sungjong is still so fucking calm, and Hoya knows he must have been thinking about this for days, planning it and considering it from every angle, but he doesn’t have the right to spring this one the rest of them so suddenly, he hadn’t even talked to Hoya about this—

Except yes he had. Two nights ago, manager gone and the two of them in his room, Sungjong had twisted his fingers in Hoya’s hair and asked, “Hyung, do you trust me to take care of this thing with the others for you?”

It’s all reflexes: Sungjong asks Hoya if he trusts him, Hoya says yes. “Yes,” Hoya said, and he meant it. His trust in Sungjong is absolute.

Sungjong’s catfish mouth curved into a pleased smile. “Good,” he said, then rewarded Hoya very nicely.

But still. Still. How could Sungjong do this? How is Hoya going to be able to live with Sungyeol and Myungsoo after this, with them knowing? How could Sungjong have thought this through and still decided it was a good idea? Doesn’t he know how uncomfortable this is going to make everything? They’ve been doing so well, even with missing the others, and now this. This could break them.

“Why the fuck are you telling us this?” Sungyeol presses, voice strangled. Myungsoo, still silent and holding himself still, slowly sits up.

Sungjong looks Sungyeol dead in the eyes and says, “Because I think you have feelings back.”

Hoya’s head snaps around to stare at Sungyeol, and he thinks Myungsoo’s does the same. Sungyeol’s mouth bobs open a few times as if he’s trying to get out words of protest, but Sungjong just shakes his head.

“Don’t lie to me, Sungyeol-hyung. I’ve seen the way you look when Howon-hyung kisses me.” Without waiting for reply, he turns his attention to Myungsoo, and his voice goes softer if still unwavering. “And you’d like it if Howon-hyung kissed you, too, wouldn’t you? You’d like to have him touch you.”

Myungsoo’s eyes are very wide and there’s no emotion on his face at all, but Hoya gets the feeling that it’s less because he’s hiding what he’s feeling and more because he can’t decide what those feelings are. Hoya wants to take that beautiful face in his hands and—

“He’s your boyfriend, Sungjong—” Sungyeol chokes out. “Why are you—why—?” He sounds desperate and confused, and Hoya’s body aches to reach out to him.

“Because I want him to be happy, hyung.” Sungjong’s face and voice are still so steady, but Hoya sees the fingers of one hand tugging at the hem of his shirt and thinks maybe he’s more nervous about this than his preternatural placidity would have them believe. “The thing I want most in the world is for the four of us—the seven of us—to be happy. All three of us, we make him happy, and being close to you two would make him happier.” When Sungyeol stirs, Sungjong raises his voice just a bit. “We all love each other. And right now, we’re all we have, all of us. We barely get to see any of our other friends, and when was the last time any of us saw our families? It makes sense that we would rely on each other for everything. Howon-hyung wants to give us whatever we need, and I want to do the same for all three of you.”

Again there’s silence and then Sungyeol hurls himself upright and across the room to fist his hands, pressing them into the wall and leaning his body weight into them. “Fuck,” he whispers harshly, and when he spins around, his face is desperate. “It’s bad enough, with him—” A jerky gesture to Myungsoo. “But not with—I like girls.”

It’s so completely Sungyeol that Hoya wants to laugh, but he knows that would not be taken well so he bites it back. Sungjong always says things better than he does anyway.

“But there aren’t any girls around, hyung. We’re the only ones you have. And we love you.”

Sungyeol drops back down onto the floor like a marionette whose strings have been cut, arms and legs akimbo, and buries his face in his hands. Sungjong takes a step towards him and runs his fingers through Sungyeol’s hair, and Sungyeol lets out a choked sigh as Sungjong turns his attention to Myungsoo.

“Hyung? What are you thinking?”

Myungsoo raises his face to Sungjong like a saint seeking absolution. He’s so beautiful it makes Hoya’s chest hurt. They’re all so beautiful, all three of them.

“I love you all,” Myungsoo says. “And I like whenever you’re touching me. I like—I could like it.” He swallows hard. “But what if—what about you, Sungjongie?”

Ah, so Myungsoo had noticed that, too, that Sungjong hasn’t said anything about what he wants. Sungjong has a way of making it seem like he thinks of himself as the center of the world, but the members of Infinite know better: he’s kind and patient with people he loves, and he cares far more about what they want than he lets most people see.

“I love you both very much,” Sungjong says carefully, and it’s in his very caution that Hoya sees just how worried Sungjong is that this will explode in his face. “More than I can say. In other circumstances, it probably wouldn’t have come to this, but…” He shrugs, and all three of them understand what he’s saying—in another life, it wouldn’t have come to this, but this is where they are, and Sungjong is fine with pursuing this if it’s what the others need.

“Fuck,” Sungyeol says again. “This is so fucked up.”

Nobody argues with him.

 

xxii.

Sungjong tells Sungyeol and Myungsoo to take a few days to think about it, and those three days are the most awkward Hoya’s experienced since joining Woollim. It’s not that they treat each other differently, though he notices that Myungsoo is careful not to touch him or Sungjong too much. Other than that, everyone acts normally, except that Hoya can’t help but be aware that there’s this huge thing hanging over them and that if they allow it to fall it could crush them all. He goes dizzy sometimes, thinking that if Myungsoo and Sungyeol reject this, it could easy destroy Infinite’s dynamic entirely: nothing will ever be the same again. The pressure of that knowledge is almost unbearable.

Sungjong only brings it up once more, one night when they’re all getting ready for bed. “It’s not a commitment,” he says without segue. “It doesn’t have to be forever. Just as long as we need it, and when we don’t need it anymore, that’s it.”

None of them respond, all of them climbing silently into bed and flipping out the lights, but Sungyeol and Myungsoo must find some time to talk about it when they’re alone, because a few days later when Hoya’s sitting slumped against Sungjong on their bed, trying not to think about anything at all, the door opens and the other two enter hand in hand. Sungyeol is doing a very poor job of trying to look casual, but Myungsoo is clear-eyed and determined. Hoya finds himself holding his breath as he looks up at them, and he feels Sungjong go still beside him.

“Okay,” Myungsoo says after a minute, and something inside Hoya snaps.

 

xxiii.

Sungyeol is nearest to him, so Hoya grabs him first, pulling him down and gripping—firmly but not harshly—the back of his head and steering him into a kiss, and Sungyeol lets himself be steered. It’s not like kissing Sungjong, like he’s found the meaning of life. But it’s better than he imagined it being, Sungyeol’s tempting mouth opening to his, Sungyeol’s pretty fingers biting into his biceps. Sungyeol kisses sloppier than Sungjong, uses his teeth more, but Hoya doesn’t really compare them, because that’s not what this is about.

When they part, panting, Hoya finds that Sungjong is watching them with the expression he wears when he’s reading a particularly fascinating book, but Myungsoo’s eyes have gone dark and his cheeks are flushed, and Hoya’s so grateful he doesn’t have to keep his hands to himself that he could cry. Because how could he resist Myungsoo like that, how could he keep himself from reaching out for him, too? He doesn’t even have to pull Myungsoo to him, because Myungsoo launches himself at him, and he gives off more body heat than anyone Hoya’s ever met, and his lips are thinner than Sungyeol’s but almost as soft, and his kiss is so eager that Hoya chuckles into it, running his hands up Myungsoo’s arms and throbbing with affection.

Myungsoo’s eyes are shining in that way they do when the kiss is over, breath hitching in his chest, and when he turns and looks at Sungjong with that light in his eyes, Sungjong’s face breaks into a fond smile. “Okay, hyung, c’mere.”

Myungsoo’s eagerness meeting Sungjong’s serenity is hotter than Hoya could have imagined, and Sungyeol must agree because he lets out a strangled whimper as he watches the other two kiss, Sungjong’s surprisingly strong hand holding Myungsoo’s jaw.

“Fuck, I should record this,” Sungyeol says as Sungjong pulls back and presses a kiss to Myungsoo’s forehead. “I would make a zillion won. It would be the hottest gay porn ever.”

“If you record anything I will castrate you, Lee Sungyeol,” Sungjong says in banmal, and Sungyeol is protesting that he wouldn’t ever actually do it when Sungjong straddles him and pulls his head back by his long hair and kisses him deep. Myungsoo makes a little hungry sound, and Hoya reaches out for him again, pulling Myungsoo’s back against his chest and wrapping his arms around Myungsoo’s shoulders as they watch. Watching, Hoya is fast discovering, is almost as good as touching them himself.

Almost.

 

xxiv.

Their narrow bunk beds obviously aren’t big enough for four, but someone pulls the mattresses onto the floor, and though they shift around sometimes, it works well enough. Sungjong has apparently learned to read Hoya well enough to know exactly what he wants, because he stops the other two from pulling off their own clothes and just nods at Hoya with a hint of a smile. Hoya flushes but he’s grateful; slowly undressing all three of them, revealing what seems like acres of beautiful skin is like the culmination of every fantasy he’s had for the past few months.

He’s seen them all naked before, of course, Sungjong often since their relationship deepened but the other two not infrequently due to shared bathrooms, trips to the bathhouse, and quick changes backstage. He knew how fucking hot all three of them were, but it’s different now, different when they’re naked for him—for each other—and he can touch.

It’s really awkward, figuring things out when there are so many limbs and elbows to sort out. Hoya wants all three of them at once, wants to surround himself with them or pull them inside him or something, but he holds himself back, letting Sungjong, as always, orchestrate the whole thing. It should be funny: he’s the leader, and Sungjong is the youngest, and yet all of them defer to Sungjong instinctively, even Sungyeol, who usually has to put up at least a token protest when anyone else is in charge. There’s some laughter, when a mattress jerks suddenly with someone’s movement and Myungsoo’s ass hits the floor, when Sungyeol shouts at Sungjong about the boney knee in his ribs, and Sungyeol turns out to be as much of a smart-mouth in bed as he is anywhere else, but mostly it’s just intense exploration.

Myungsoo, Hoya discovers, is exactly like he’d have thought he would be: all he wants is to touch and be touched, and he watches all of the others with eyes so intense it could almost be scary. He makes the most helpless noises with no conscientiousness about his volume and uses his fingers and mouth greedily no matter what or who they’re concentrated on. He’s totally absorbed in the physical sensations, and loses himself in them. Sungyeol is different: if he’s left undistracted for too long, he starts to curl in on himself, insecurities rising in his eyes, but Hoya and Sungjong figure that out quickly enough and make sure to keep him occupied so he can’t become self-conscious. It’s easy to tell that the snark is all about protecting himself, but it falters into something close to fear when he’s got Hoya’s complete attention.

“Why can’t you relax?” Hoya rumbles, fingers tangled in Sungyeol’s long hair and mouth sucking at his beauty marks, his hand sliding up one of Sungyeol’s legs. Sungjong turns his attention away from Myungsoo for a moment to scoot up to look into Sungyeol’s face; Myungsoo scoots right behind him and wraps his arms around Sungjong, burying his face in silky dark hair and breathing deep.

“Hyung, we want you,” Sungjong says, kissing Sungyeol briefly. “It’s just us.”

Sungyeol’s mouth twists wryly, but then it falls open in a gasp when Hoya’s hand reaches the apex of his thighs and it takes him a moment to recover. “I’m pretty sure this is just the best wet dream ever,” he manages to gasp as Hoya’s hand falls into a firm rhythm.

Sungjong trails his fingers down to Sungyeol’s chest and pinches a nipple, drawing a long whine from Sungyeol. “Even if it is, we’d all still love you. Right, Myungsoo-hyung?”

Myungsoo has gotten impatient with the attention being focused on someone else and pulled Hoya up by his hair to kiss him, long and filthy and hungry. But he pulls back long enough to say, “I’ve loved Sungyeollie the longest,” before ducking down for another kiss and whining with dissatisfaction when Hoya has to pull back to laugh.

“Well, I’ve loved Sungjongie the longest,” Hoya chuckes, almost giddy with the ridiculousness of this situation. “But I love you two, too.” It’s the first time he’s said it himself, and it’s a relief to say, such a simple thing, even with one hand pumping Sungyeol to pleasure and the other sliding over the curve of Myungsoo’s ass and Sungjong watching him with an amused smile. It’s so much, all of them together, and Hoya doesn’t blame Sungyeol at all for thinking it’s a dream.

 

xxv.

There’s lots of lube and condoms and mouths in the best places, of course, and it’s mindblowingly good for all of them, Hoya is quite sure. But he’s secretly a sap—though Sungjong says it’s no secret—and maybe the best part is just having all three of them close and sated and sleepy, smelling of sex and each other, together.

 

xxvi.

They never actually talk about rules, but they work themselves out: anyone can be with anyone—or anyones— whenever, but everyone has to make sure that no one else gets neglected, and everyone agrees the best times are all together. Hoya sometimes still needs nights just with Sungjong, and he’s pretty sure that there are times when Sungyeol and Myungsoo’s yelling fights are only settled with sex. It takes a while to work out the logistics when more than two of them are together at once, but each time it gets more natural, and other than the sex, well, things are really pretty normal.

They’ve functioned as a household for so long that nothing really has to change, except that the domesticity takes on a slightly different air when anybody might interrupt anybody else’s laundry sorting for a kiss or when Myungsoo insists on feeding all of them with his own chopsticks whenever he makes dinner. Their fights are harsher, too, with a desperate atmosphere that Hoya knows comes from fear that it will all fall apart, but whenever two of them fight another is always ready to step in and make sure things don’t get too ugly. Hoya has to make a rule of no fooling around in the practice rooms, though, because otherwise they’d never get anything done, and maybe they get slightly less sleep now, but the sleep they do get is deeper and the managers haven’t said anything to them about looking less rested, so Hoya doesn’t worry about it. He makes sure no one touches anyone else with real intent outside the dorm—concession being made for fanservice, of course, because Sooyeol couple has to make up for the lack of Woogyu these days, but he gives them a very stern lecture, mostly for Myungsoo, about making sure not to be a tease and no one’s given themselves away thus far. When they’re home, though, and no manager around, they reach for each other without hesitation, and the stress seems to melt away.

The only time they have a serious talk about it is when Myungsoo tentatively raises the question of whether to tell the others.

“They’d understand, wouldn’t they?” he asks, and Hoya knows it would kill him if any of the hyungs were disgusted.

Dongwoo would get it, Hoya’s pretty sure, and Woohyun might be weirded out at first, but his heart is needy enough that he wouldn’t be able to maintain any discomfort for long. But Hoya’s not so sure about Sunggyu; he’s so conservative, for one thing, and always so worried about Infinite in ways Hoya’s only just beginning to understand. He suspects Sunggyu’s fear of this backfiring and hurting Infinite would be impossible to overcome. Hoya isn’t sure he’d blame Sunggyu for that; he has worries of his own in that regard.

But even if Sungyeol found a girlfriend and pulled away from them, Hoya and Sungjong would take care of Myungsoo’s broken heart, and honestly that would probably end up better than if Myungsoo had no one to turn to. If Myungsoo were to fall in love with some other chocolate-obsessed girl, the rest of them would be happy for him, even if they’d miss him being with them terribly. The only danger Hoya sees is if Sungjong broke up with him. Hoya is quite sure he’ll never be the one to dump Sungjong, but he also knows that relationships don’t always last forever. If Sungjong found someone else, it would level him, but that would have been the case even if Sungjong had never kissed him for the first time.

And anyway, for now they’re happy in ways that Hoya had thought they’d never be again after hyung-line left. Exhausted and overworked and stressed, but happy. And life was never going to be easy. They’re idols, after all.

“I think,” he says, “We should keep it to ourselves for now. When it gets closer to them coming back, we’ll talk about it then.” He doesn’t add that they might not even be doing this then, but it’s true. There’s no point in worrying Sunggyu-hyung—and Sunggyu-hyung will worry—until they have to.

“It’s nobody else’s damn business anyway,” Sungyeol says defiantly, and for now, anyway, Hoya agrees.

 

xxvii.

“What if they next time an MC asks us how we maintain our synchronicity, I tell them that lots and lots of sex is a really great way of learning to anticipate each other’s moves?”

Myungsoo throws his water bottle at Sungyeol’s head. “Do you want Jjongie to kill you?”

“I think my muscles would thank him for the chance to rest,” Sungyeol answers, rubbing his sweaty head furiously with a towel and tossing it down to re-tie his hair.

“We can cut you off for a while if you think your body’s being overworked,” Sungjong says sweetly, not pausing in his stretches.

“I don’t think our broadband could handle the amount of porn it would take me to deal with my sexual frustration if I had to go back to my hand,” Sungyeol says. “Not when I’m living with three porn stars.”

Sungjong snorts at that last, but Hoya and Myungsoo just laugh. “Porn stars, hyung?” Sungjong demands.

“I’m telling you, if we just filmed one little sex tape, we’d be able to buy our own island and never have to work again. It’d be awesome.”

“Yeah, after bringing shame to our families and making it so we could never show our faces in Korea again,” Hoya says dryly.

“Did you miss the part about our own island? Who cares about shame when you have your own island?”

Hoya just shakes his head. “Okay, back to work. Sungjong, hit the music. Stop making that face if you ever want to get laid again, Sungyeol, it’s really fucking ugly. Ready?”

Sungyeol’s wrong, Hoya thinks as the choreo starts and he watches their bodies move in sync in the mirror. It’s not the sex that makes their dancing better—they were already synchronized before. It’s the dancing that helped them figure out the sex so quick. He laughs to himself as he pictures the look on Sunggyu’s face if he ever told him that.

 

xxviii.

Hoya still doesn’t relish being leader, and he’ll gladly turn the position back over to Sunggyu when he gets back. When the four of them are together, he’s still so aware that three are missing, and all of their dances and songs look and sound unfinished to him no matter what anyone else says. He misses working through new choreography with Dongwoo and going for long runs with Woohyun and making jokes on variety shows at Sunggyu’s expense. When hyung line gets back, it’ll be so easy for everyone to slide back into place, for Infinite to be complete again, to be seven like they were always meant to be.

But for now he has Sungjong and Myungsoo and Sungyeol. And for now, it’s enough.