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How Ruins Can Make a Home

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Hoseok maintains his health like a sane person: he works out every day, eats his veggies, and indulges in weekly Chinese. Any health blog would tell you that living a life of denial ruins the self-esteem and the whole reason for trying to balance everything.

So, his one specific day of indulgence is Friday, when his roommate has lab and gets home at exactly 6:30, the same time Hoseok will if he stops at their favorite Chinese place.

He whistles to himself as he strolls down the road, choosing to walk despite the cold, hating the oversaturated heat of the bus when he doesn’t live that far away. The food dangles from his fist, the plastic bag swinging back and forth, and he would worry about it growing cold if he hadn’t tested this exact route numerous times before. The breeze ruffles his hair; it’s the perfect beginning of a long weekend, one chased with Netflix and ended with a little crying over the essay he saved for Sunday night.

This narrative followed him through all prior years of university, and this night shouldn’t be any different.

Then, his scarf, which hangs too low on one side, snags a bush as he steps around a harried pedestrian marching the opposite way.

Groaning, he stops, setting his food on the mulch box as he unfixes himself, when he catches sight of a pair of bare feet.

Pausing, his hand falls from his scarf and he squints at the pair of dirty, pale feet. Following them up, he meets the biggest pair of eyes he’s seen in a while:

The man’s arms are wrapped around his legs, his body language that of a stray, hungry dog appearing to make itself look smaller so the other dogs leave him alone. He’s not dressed for the weather in a stained white t-shirt and tattered sweatpants, and Hoseok finds himself approaching the man before the last, most distinctive feature of the stranger registers to him:

His big, floppy bunny ears.

Swallowing his surprise, he considers how the hybrid shivers, not staring at him, though he can tell by how tense his ears are that the man knows he’s coming. Hoseok shakes off his good sense and steps toward the alley, very aware how much of a pain it would be to lose his punch card for Auntie Anne’s. One more pretzel and he’d get a free one. Also, it would suck to have his cards all stolen.

“Are you hungry?” He finds himself asking, as he steps into the alleyway, the scent of garbage burning his nose.

The hybrid stares up at him, gaze accusing. His nostrils flare, Hoseok notes his nose’s size, and the man’s eyes dart to his bag of takeout.

Without even thinking about it, he reaches for it, apologizing when the hybrid flinches back. He draws out his bowl of jjangmyun and proffers it with a gentle smile. “You can have it, if you’re hungry. It’s just black bean noodles.” He’s no expert on hybrids, but he’s pretty sure a bunny hybrid would be a vegetarian.

His nose twitches. Hoseok represses an urge to coo.

“What’s the catch?”

The hybrid’s voice is husky from what might be lack of use, and Hoseok hears a hint of an unfamiliar accent.

“No catch.” He bows his head slightly, fingers picking over the folds of his jacket. “And you look cold. If you need a jacket—”

“I know how this goes,” the hybrid replies, voice flat, “I’m not sleeping with you. I’m not going with you.”

If Hoseok didn’t expect that, it would have flustered him, but instead he waves him off. “I never would ask you to. Here,” he moves to set his bag down, noting how the man tenses, “if you want it, my coat is yours.” He’d offer his shoes, but the bunny’s feet appear much larger than his own.

The hybrid frowns at him. “Fine. Give me your coat.”

Hoseok never expected it to be so easy, but he shrugs off his coat, nipples immediately pebbling when a breeze sweeps by, caressing him. “Here.”

Snatching the jacket, the hybrid doesn’t flinch back when Hoseok leaves him the jjangmyun and a pair of chopsticks.

“Eat well,” he tells him kindly, not wanting to loiter in the frigid wind.

He doesn’t see the hybrid watch him go, as he flees to his apartment.

 

--

 

Next Friday, donned in a new coat, Taehyung’s astonished words still ringing in his ears, he ventures from the Chinese place, their weekly treat clutched in hand. He wonders if the hybrid moved on, figures he would have had to, but when he passes the same alleyway from the week before, he spies a figure huddled in the shadows again.

Curious, Hoseok steps closer to the shadows, calling, “You’re still here?”

It would have been embarrassing if someone else lurked in the alley—maybe someone from the bank smoking—but a pair of fluffy, white-tipped ears contrasted the dreary, early-winter grey.

Brows hitched, the rest of the hybrid’s face concealed behind his ears, wrapped around his jaw for warmth.

“I would have thought you’d have moved on by now.” Or gotten shoes.

Concern rings through him and he draws out his smartphone. “There has to be some shelter for you…”

“Two in this area.” The hybrid’s voice sounds grittier than he remembers. Almost sick.

“So why are you out here?”

His eyes narrow and he doesn’t answer.

Hoseok tries again. “You sound sick. Have you been to a pharmacy?”

“Can’t.” He nods at his feet.

“Do you want me to get you something?”

The hybrid stares. He looks like he wants to say something, but if Hoseok has to guess, he’s remembering their last exchange. Unless Hoseok’s a patient, twisted fuck, he knows there’s nothing in it for him.

Probably figuring out that Hoseok’s a bleeding heart, he bites his tongue and nods.

“What hurts?”

After being informed that his throat hurts and his chest feels tight, Hoseok takes the symptoms to the nearest pharmacy, moving quickly so his food doesn’t grow cold.

When he returns, the hybrid’s slumped against the side of the building. Almost looks like he’s sleeping.

“Hey. I brought you medicine, and the pharmacist said you need to take these with food in your stomach.”

Not listening, the hybrid takes the paper bag and rips open the bottle of pills, downing one dry, despite the struggle he has swallowing it.

Hoseok frowns as he watches him, repeating, “Do you have food in your stomach?”

The hybrid frowns at him, shakes his head.

And again, he finds himself uncovering one of his bowls. “Vegetarian fried rice?” A large part of him wants to insist on escorting him to a shelter, a niggling at the back of his mind warning that if he becomes worse, he might die out there.

Taehyung laughs at him when he returns home again short food, teasing that he’s never seen him try that hard with grades.

Hoseok swats at him and spends half the following week checking the local news in the morning at night, afraid they’ll report the body of a rabbit hybrid being found downtown. Afraid they’ll ignore it.

 

--

 

The next time he ventures out that way, he’s clutching a grocery bag full of vegetables and it’s a Wednesday.

Two bare feet poke out from behind a pile of garbage, and Hoseok hustles closer, holding his breath, hands shaking around the plastic handles.

“Bunny?” He calls, voice soft to not startle. “Are you here?”

A bag shifts, and the hybrid’s face pokes out, features pinched with displeasure. “Don’t call me that.”

“I’m sorry.” He fights not to wrinkle his nose at the horrible scent. “I didn’t know your name.”

Answering with a hoarse, wet cough, the man wheezing, Hoseok swallows and suddenly his groceries and socks don’t feel adequate.

“Do you really have nowhere to go?”

Another bout of coughing comes over the hybrid, choking him, and Hoseok pushes the bags of garbage out of the way, kneeling beside him. He presses a hand to the center of his back, rubbing, trying to coax him through it, and it scares him how the man shudders. How cold he feels.

“I…don’t.” He finally says.

Hoseok exhales, traces the way his breath steams in the air. “Alright. Then I’m giving you your three options. We can go to a shelter and try to find you a place, or you can come home with me.”

The hybrid’s eyebrows raise. “What’s the third choice?”

He hates himself a little when he says, “You die of pneumonia, or exposure, or something worse.”

Drawing his ears around his neck, the hybrid mutters, “I’m not going to die.”

“Not yet.” Hoseok traces the way the pretty, dove gray of his ears fades into the white tips. “But you’re not in good shape. And I really don’t want to…wake up to your body being reported on the news.” He doesn’t mean to scare him into acquiescence, but if that’s what it takes, then Hoseok will.

He crouches there for what feels like ages with the horrible wind blowing, and the hybrid repeats, “No weird stuff. If you try to sell me to a butcher, I have the full ability to kill you.”

Hoseok fights the urge to coo that comes over him as the hybrid says this. “Deal.”

Rising from the trash, the hybrid stands up, and Hoseok finds himself looking up at him as he stands.

With the size of his big, fluffy ears and big feet, it would make sense for the hybrid to loom over Hoseok, but he never considered it.

Biting back a laugh, assuming the hybrid won’t appreciate it, he gestures to guide them out of the alleyway. “It’s not far.” No bus driver in the world would let someone who smells as bad as the hybrid on.

They walk with a decent chunk of space between them, Hoseok allowing silence to fall over them, knowing this decision must have struck the hybrid weirdly to begin with. People cast him disdainful looks, many veering and bumping into Hoseok in their rush to duck past the smelly hybrid. He can’t guess if it bothers him or not, so Hoseok ignores them, instead asking, “What’s your name?”

“Jeongguk.”

Hoseok repeats it in his head, then he jolts, remembering Taehyung. “Oh, I gotta text Tae and tell him.” He wants to ask the other if he can hold his bag, but his arms are wrapped so tight around his own chest that Hoseok fears what might happen if Jeongguk lets go. It’s like he’s holding himself upright with his physical strength.

With difficulty, he tugs the thumb of his glove to the side to type the world’s slowest message, but he doesn’t dare wait until they reach the apartment, when his attention will fade completely away.

“What’s your name?”

His fingers still. “Hoseok.”

No other words pass between the until they reach his apartment building, Hoseok drawing out his key to the front door and unlocking it for Jeongguk. He holds the door open and the hybrid slips inside, unafraid to brush against him. Hoseok notes this like it might mean something to him, though he has no idea what.

Up the elevator, the stink three times as bad in close quarters, Hoseok’s eyes water something awful, though neither acknowledges his shallow breaths.

The hallways provide some relief, but Hoseok scurries over to his apartment door, punches in the keycode, and pushes the weighted portal inward in a few seconds flat. Taehyung has lab on Tuesday nights, so there’s no one else to witness this transgression as he ushers Jungkook in.

Jeongguk needs clothing, but all Hoseok can think of is the grime caked to him left footprints in the hall, leading to his door. Their entryway contains plenty of its own grit, but Hoseok doesn’t want to dirty their spare pair of house slippers beyond repair.

“Stay there.”

Hoseok rummages in his closet for a pair of sweats and a sweater that he hopes are oversized enough to fit Jeongguk. Then, after another careful thought, he sighs and grabs an old t-shirt.

Venturing back into the main room, he lays the shirt down on the normal floor, nodding to Jeongguk. “You can shuffle on this until you’re showered.”

Nodding, Jeongguk steps up onto it, his ears perking up as he can finally see around the corner of the entryway. In the light, he sees his previous assessment of the hybrid’s fur color was incorrect: as the light brushes over the strands, winks of brown catch his attention.

Hoseok doesn’t let himself stare for long, guiding him to the bathroom and keeping his distance, even though Jeongguk seems consumed with taking in his apartment.

Once they reach the step down, Hoseok considers shifting the shirt, but instead offers him the extra pair of plastic slippers, thinking that they can wash those off at the end, unlike with the house slippers.

“I’ll leave some house slippers out here for you.” Hoseok gestures vaguely to the door. “There should be an extra toothbrush in the cabinet. I’ll get you some towels. Do you know how to use the shower?”

“Of course I know how to use a shower.” Jeongguk casts him a derisive frown, nose wrinkling.

After passing him the towels, Hoseok flinches back as Jeongguk closes the door in his face. The outward door doesn’t lock, but Hoseok will hold it if he has to use the bathroom. Jeongguk deserves a shower devoid of worries about a pervert trying to force his way into the stall.

He sets the slippers down, trying not to fuss too much, and sets to cooking dinner. As expected, he only purchased enough for him and Taehyung, so he will probably have to make a return journey to the supermarket around Friday or Saturday.

Still, he doesn’t resent the rabbit hybrid. If anything, he’s relieved he knows Jeongguk is alive and in a warm house, where he can hopefully recover from whatever sickness settled in his lungs.

Hoseok clicks on some music while he prepares their dinner, dicing more vegetables than three portions would call for, assuming Jeongguk wouldn’t want the seafood going into his and Taehyung’s dinner.

Hips swaying to his newest, preferred girl group song, Hoseok hears when the shower shuts off but doesn’t let himself change his behavior. Jeongguk seems judgemental, but it’s not like he’s here to impress the rabbit hybrid.

“When are we eating?”

Hoseok jumps, almost burning himself, when the question comes almost right in his ear.

Hand pressing to his chest, he turns to Jeongguk with a displeased frown. “You could have just paused the music if you wanted to be heard.”

Shrugging, Jeongguk drifts over to the frying pan on the stove, nose twitching as he sniffs. “This smells good.”

“Thank you?” Hoseok clears his throat. “If you want to help, you can go into the little fridge and get out the bowl of kimchi. We’ll need enough for three.” Part of him wonders if Jeongguk will ask about that, but as the hybrid shuffles over to the little fridge next to the big one, his arms clutched around himself like he can’t get warm, he fishes it out with no issue.

“Where are your bowls?”

Hoseok tells him and tries not to watch as Jeongguk serves out the little chunks of cabbage, stopping to cough hard a few times. He considers putting him straight to bed but knows he’ll need food in his stomach before medicine.

“If you’re cold, you can go into the bedroom on the right and grab a blanket.” He gestures with his knife, not worried about scaring the hybrid with him over at the table.

He hears Jeongguk scramble away, his slippers clapping against the floor, and Hoseok withholds a smile as he gathers up his vegetables to sauté. When Jeongguk exits his bedroom, Hoseok shoots a look at the hybrid, grinning to himself when all he sees poking out of the blankets are his ears and the very top of his messy, black hair.

Unsure if Jeongguk would be open to conversation, he tries, “How did you end up on the streets?”

“I left my home.” Hoseok waits to see if Jeongguk will continue, but he’s able to fetch the squid and peeled shrimp from the bigger fridge before the hybrid sighs. “My…parents were chosen to breed babies to be sold.” The words sound so heavy, yet resigned, like he almost convinced himself that he doesn’t care: “We all got homes.”

“Oh?” But when Jeongguk doesn’t speak again, despite his prompt, Hoseok’s imagination surges, thinking the worst. “It’s alright. You don’t have to tell me, but we should probably get you to a doctor soon, just to make sure that cough’s not something deadly.”

Jeongguk huffs, the sound almost a laugh. “I’m already here; you don’t need to scare me anymore.”

“Sorry,” he checks the seafood, prodding it. “I speak without thinking sometimes.”

Allowing the silence to take hold of his house, Hoseok doesn’t check on Jeongguk again until the rice cooker dings.

“Jeongguk, you can take some rice now, if you’re hungry.”

But there’s no reply.

Setting his pan on a cold burner, Hoseok turns, wiping his hands on his apron, and then melts when he spies Jeongguk, asleep, curled up in his dining room chair. His legs are tucked up onto the seat, his head slumped onto them and his blanket is curled around him like a cocoon.

For a second, Hoseok considers touching his ears, figuring it will be the only chance he’ll get, but he shoos the invasive thought away and instead texts Taehyung not to slam the door on his way in.

Taehyung is home within twenty minutes, and Hoseok represses a laugh when the door creaks open, the man creeping in theatrically. He presses finger to his lips to shush Hoseok when he sees him laughing into his hand.

He slides into his house slippers, shrugs out of his jacket, and scrambles over to the table, chasing warmth after the cold of the outside.

“Your hybrid.” He grins when he comes around the table, crouching next to him to try to catch a glimpse of his sleeping features. “I didn’t believe you when you said he agreed.”

“I still don’t. Part of me worries we’ll wake up tomorrow with all of our expensive stuff stolen.” Hoseok crosses his arms, contemplating chiding Taehyung for invading Jeongguk’s personal space.

Before Taehyung can answer, a hand shoots out from the blankets, quicker than either can react in time to, and closes around Taehyung’s throat.

“Don’t.”

And just as fast as Jeongguk grabbed him, he withdraws back into his blanket, expression sullen as he glances at Hoseok, as if he blames him.

Unsure if he should laugh or apologize for Taehyung, he clears his throat and says unnecessarily, “Dinner’s ready.”

Taehyung rises to fetch his own portion of rice and toppings, groaning exaggeratedly at the smell, dodging the half-hearted elbow Hoseok throws at him.

It’s nice. Homey. Taehyung and he have been living together since their last year of undergrad, and he feels like the single best friend Hoseok never had as a child. Both ignore their weird, drunken hook-up sophomore year that would contest with that, but not in the way that suggests the memory bubbles forever under the surface of their interactions.

Hoseok glances over his shoulder, and when he sees Jeongguk hasn’t budged, he carries over the plate he prepared for himself, setting it down in front of him.

“This is just until you get better, alright?” He says, voice serious. “I don’t mind cooking for you, but if you’re going to look at me like I’m trying to poison you, you at least have to get your own plate.” He’s half kidding, but Jeongguk stares at him, almost dead-eyed.

After collecting a plate for himself, he takes Jeongguk a spoon and a pair of chopsticks, the triad sitting to eat, no talking for the slew of noisy chewing.

Taehyung inhales his food, but neither of them compare to Jeongguk, who shovels food into his mouth using his spoon with a speed only usually utilized in cartoons. Both Taehyung and he slow to watch him, the hybrid deterring for kimchi and soybean sprouts once his plate is clean.

“I didn’t know rabbits ate so much,” Taehyung whispers, giving Jeongguk the chance to ignore his words.

It surprises them when he waits at the table for them to finish, but Hoseok wonders if it’s because he doesn’t know where to place himself if he’s not seated at the table. Either way, before he washes the dishes, he asks Jeongguk to follow him, situating the hybrid in his own bed.

“It smells like you,” the hybrid says, as soon as he plops onto the surface. Some tension bleeds from his shoulders, the comfort of the mattress affecting him.

“Is that a problem?”

Jeongguk shakes his head, burying his face into Hoseok’s blanket, muttering something. But, when Hoseok asks him to repeat himself, he only shakes his head, staying concealed within the comforter.

“Alright,” Hoseok exhales. “Well, do your best to sleep. I’ll bring you a decongestant that will hopefully help you sleep and some tea for your throat?” He waits for Jeongguk to nod, then continues, “I have an early class, but I should be back around lunch time, and we can go to the doctor’s.”

“Kay,” he yawns, mouth gaping, and Hoseok resists the urge to cry at the sight of Jeongguk’s buck teeth.

Trying not to stare, heart swollen with the cuteness, Hoseok murmurs a “goodnight” to him, telling him that he’ll be on the couch if Jeongguk needs anything. He withdraws clothes to sleep in, fetches his extra blankets from under his bed, and then slips out, Jeongguk already out cold when he flicks off the light switch.

 

--

 

He wakes for his early morning class, unable to resist checking on Jeongguk after he showers and eats a quick breakfast. The bunny snores from his bed, his nose sounding horribly plugged, but he is indisputably alive. It’s a relief, but the kink in Hoseok’s shoulders won’t loosen until they’ve seen the doctor and know for certain that Jeongguk’s not contracted anything serious.

Leaving him a note proclaiming that he can eat anything in the cabinets or fridge, Hoseok leaves to attend his morning class, stopping for a coffee he desperately needs after a poor night’s sleep.

Still, he does his best to pay attention, and the hour passes almost painlessly, though it does sadden him to cancel on Seokjin. He gives him an update over text about the hybrid he found, and Seokjin, like he always does when there’s drama, calls him as he’s catching the bus back toward his apartment.

“So you just brought a stray hybrid home?” No greeting to be found. “What if he’s contagious?”

“Hyung—”

“I know, I know, you’re a damn bleeding heart,” Seokjin sighs in the put-upon away he pulls off so effortlessly. “Just promise you’ll call if he goes rabid, or something?”

“I’m pretty sure that’s offensive,” Hoseok snorts.

“Not when it’s a real disease. People can get rabies too, you know.”

Sensing a rant inspired by an insomnia-filled night of Wikipedia searching, Hoseok derails him, promising, “I’ll give you a call if I need help with him, but he’s more like a person than an animal, really.”

He finds himself ruing those exact words when he returns home to bits of lettuce covering every surface in the main room.

Hoseok can feel Seokjin’s essence laughing at him.

“Jeong…guk?”

A low moan answers his question, and he veers around the back of the couch to where the hybrid is sprawled out. It’s summer-hot in the apartment, their thermostat turned to 26 degrees, and Hoseok knocks it down before approaching the hybrid.

Jeongguk swaddled himself in quite a few layers once he woke up, blankets circling him as well, and he moans, “Can’t…move.”

Panic surges through Hoseok, and he asks, “Are you hurt?”

“No…my stomach…”

“How much did you eat?” Hoseok marches over to the fridge and pulls the door open, jaw falling slack when he sees the shelves are cleaned out. Only the meat sits untouched by Jeongguk’s rampage.

“So…much…”

“Can you sit up?” He closes the fridge, trying not to think about his grocery bill, and walks over to Jeongguk, kneeling by his side.

The hybrid moans, stirs, and Hoseok sees the exact moments his face goes ashen. “I think I’m—”

Hoseok scrambles away from him as he vomits onto the hardwood floor, heaving until only his ragged breath comes. He tries to say the hybrid’s name, but suddenly Jeongguk’s on his feet, stumbling into the bathroom, and then Hoseok hears faint retching sounds.

The smell curdles inside his nose, and he exhales, going to fetch his mop.

He cleans it up as fast as he can, cracking the door in the hopes that the scent will vacate, but by the time he scrubs the floor with polish, the pairing scents are making him light-headed. Finally, once it’s at least disinfected, he leaves it and fetches his room garbage can, putting a new liner into it, before going to fetch Jeongguk.

After vomiting up all the food he’d eaten from the past two days, Jeongguk regressed back into a stupor, the hybrid’s body curled around the toilet like he’d given up. Hoseok knows better than to touch him without asking, so instead he calls his name gently until he responds.

“Hrg?” At least is what it sounds like.

“We need to go to the doctors. Can you stand?”

“I…” Jeongguk moans quietly, “I want water.”

“You might throw it back up.” Hoseok exhales. “You can drink and carry this bucket, but that’s your choice, and you have to stand up for either of them.” He watches Jeongguk consider it, then slowly rise to his feet.

His cheeks are sallow and thin. Hoseok thinks back to an essay he’d had to do in high school, about how the survivors of concentration camps couldn’t eat as much as they wanted after being starved because their bodies were no longer equipped to digest such heavy food. He wonders if it’s a side-effect of malnutrition.

“Come on,” he coaxes, voice gentle. “This is the first step in feeling better.”

Jeongguk didn’t talk then, his focus clearly only able to zone in on one thing, but he follows Hoseok out of the bathroom, over to the entryway.

Stupid Hoseok forgot he didn’t have shoes.

“I…” He glances between his and Taehyung’s shoes, trying to find some that might fit the man, but Jeongguk just shakes his head.

“My feet are calloused enough. I can walk barefoot and it won’t matter.”

“It will if it makes you sicker,” Hoseok mutters, but jamming his feet into shoes that would pinch his toes certainly wouldn’t help the situation. Another thing to add to his list of things to purchase for the hybrid.

They exit, Jeongguk shivering as soon as they step outside, his borrowed layers causing him to shuffle as he walks, the bag clenched between his hands. After some deliberation, Hoseok figured carrying a full garbage can to the doctors would guarantee that they’d have to walk. Bus drivers and cab drivers alike could be real assholes.

So, with the bag concealed, Hoseok hails a taxi, not wanting to wait for a bus with the way Jeongguk shivers. Neither talk as they board, and Hoseok gives the hybrid credit—as the car speeds and brakes, he colors an awful, sickly green, but never throws up. The worried part of him wonders if he’s holding it in, but he can’t make him throw up.

Their hospital visit goes off with as much trouble as Hoseok could have predicted: The secretary gives him a hard time for not having papers or insurance for Jeongguk, and Hoseok argues her down to him paying the fee out of pocket. If his hand trembles a bit as he proffers his credit card, he can only hope Jeongguk is too sick to notice. So much money in a few days.

They sit for a while, Jeongguk visiting the bathroom a few times, as he seems determined not to vomit in front of the other hybrids. One stares at him with wide, curious eyes, its arm in a sling, and the other is very pregnant and watching something on her cellphone. Jeongguk doesn’t look up from some fixed position on the floor, and Hoseok wants to ask, but just as he opens his mouth, the nurse calls back the pregnant hybrid.

She rises with a little, relatable groan, and then the staring hybrid, his calico cat ears twitching with interest, calls, “Are you sick, bunny?”

Jeongguk’s head snaps up so fast that Hoseok almost recoils. “Don’t call me that, tuna-breath.”

The cat hybrid hisses, and the man seated next to him lays a hand on his thigh to calm him.

“Jimin,” the man murmurs, “that was rude.”

“What else was I supposed to call him?” He pouts, eyes going big and shiny, as if he’s working a scheme with the human. “You would have yelled if I said, ‘hey, you!’”

“I never yell.” The corner of the man’s mouth twitches, as if he’s aware of what Jimin’s trying, and is amused by it.

“Are you getting your sling off today?” Hoseok calls, recognizing that the conversation will probably slide back to Jeongguk soon, who has never yet expressed a mood that would bode well for this cat hybrid trying to make a friend.

Both men turn to look at Hoseok, Jimin nodding, pleased at the attention. “I am. And it’s about time. I haven’t been able to climb nearly as well with one arm.”

His owner(?) shoots him a pained expression. “That’s how he broke it in the first place, but he refuses to stop.”

“Just because you feed me doesn’t mean you control me,” Jimin says.

Hoseok senses he’s stumbled into an old argument, so he side-tracks to cover for Jeongguk, explaining, “And yes, he’s sick. Pretty sick, actually, though I can’t tell how much of that is actual illness and how much is from overeating.”

The man makes a sympathetic noise in the back of his throat. “Well, I’m sure the doctor will be able to help. We’ve been coming here since I brought Jimin home, and she’s wonderful.” Seeming to realize he hadn’t introduced himself, the man bows his head slightly and says, “I’m Kim Namjoon, by the way.”

“Jung Hoseok.” He glances at Jeongguk, but decides to leave it. “It’s nice to meet you.”

Namjoon doesn’t ask, but Jimin pipes up, “What’s his name? Your pet?”

“I’m not his pet.” Jeongguk’s head snaps up, his glower all the fiercer for the sickly sheen to his skin.

They both start, glancing between the two, and Namjoon asks, “What…do you mean he’s not your owner?”

“He found me in an alley,” Jeongguk says. “I’m not his pet.”

Hoseok’s traces how Namjoon’s hand falls to his cell phone, and he’s quick to input, “He was barefoot and sick. I brought him food a few times, but he got sicker, so I convinced him to come home with me.” It sounds bad, he hears how bad it sounds, and his cheeks go pink.

Namjoon is about to speak again, but the nurse calls for Jimin next, and he jumps up, not looking away from Jeongguk until he passes him. His owner trails after him, his gaze much more assessing, and Hoseok glances away, muttering to Jeongguk, “They’re going to call the cops on me or something.”

But Jeongguk doesn’t reply. And when the nurse calls his name, he only says, “Don’t follow me.”

Swallowing his disappointment, Hoseok draws his phone out of his pocket and checks his email. Seokjin sent him the notes he missed, and the teacher of the class he missed to bring Jeongguk to the clinic reassured him that she understood. He would be teaching in two more hours, but he isn’t worried about rushing. If he has to cancel that, he will.

Otherwise, he dicks around on his phone until Jeongguk emerges from the door to the back, looking substantially more drained than he had when he went in. Hoseok rises to his feet to receive the script the nurse prints him for vitamins and over-the-counter medicine.

“He’s malnourished,” the nurse announces, lips pinched as considers Hoseok. “He should only eat things that aren’t hard on his stomach for a few weeks. You can build him up to stews. No spices or root vegetables or roughage. Only bread and soup pretty much.”

She continues listing instructions for when to take the vitamins and when it’s appropriate to use the medicine for his sickness. Jeongguk listens, expression dull, and Hoseok expects that to be the end.

Hoseok holds out two twenty thousand won notes when they exit the hospital, saying, “You can catch a cab home, I’ll stop by the pharmacy to pick up your medicine and the grocery store to get you some soup.”

Jeongguk stares at the money for a long second, as if not recognizing what he’s looking at, but when he finally glances back at Hoseok, his gaze isn’t hard or dismissive for once—it’s calculating, maybe a little confused. But in the end, he nods and hails a cab, not casting a second glance at Hoseok.

He waits until Jeongguk’s safely in a cab before he sets off at a brisk pace to the pharmacy, and then the grocery store, anxiety pinching in his stomach as he checks the price of everything. So much for wanting a few days off work.

As he waits in line to check out, he sets himself a reminder for when he goes into work tomorrow to ask his boss for more hours. He hates not completely paying off his card every month, but he might have to compromise this month. Jeongguk will need shoes and clothes that fit him properly.

Squashing the anxiety about money, he texts Seokjin, ever his best problem-solving friend, hoping he might come up with something that can lessen this burden.

When his phone buzzes as he waits for the bus, he checks it and almost scoffs aloud.

 

Jinnie hyung

Have you considered becoming a prostitute?

 

--

 

Yet, when he arrives at home and discovers Jeongguk sleeping in his bed, some of the worries fade to the background. In the end, a little money insecurity is nothing next to saving a life. Hoseok doesn’t want to pat himself on the back, but if it wasn’t him, it would have had to be something.

He scribbles a note for Jeongguk on the kitchen table about where his food is located, as well as times to take his medicine, which is left for him on the table itself, then packs up his things for the class he has to teach in about a half an hour.

Life fades back to normalcy as he rides the bus to campus, debating how to best buy shoes for a rabbit hybrid, when Seokjin shoots up from a little table near the coffee shop he usually buys a bottle of water from before class. Hoseok glances at the counter with a pang of regret and instead directs himself just toward his classroom.

“Hey, hey, it’s that serious? You can’t afford a water?” Seokjin frowns, more than familiar with his routine. “Here, hyung will treat you.”

Despite everything, Hoseok snickers. “Thank you, hyung.”

They stand in line together, and Hoseok slumps inwardly when Seokjin doesn’t scold him for taking the rabbit in. Instead, he starts voicing the information he’d spent his day at the service desk searching. Most people would do homework if they had a job that allowed for that level of freedom, but Seokjin was always on top of his work. He could be a bit of a meddler, but the only time Hoseok doesn’t appreciate it is when it falls to his love life. The last two blind dates Seokjin set him up on both ended fairly bland—with one boy clearly not being interested once he saw him, and the other only wanting sex.

“So, how is the rabbit?”

Hoseok snaps out of his thoughts and tells him about the doctor visit and his stress over the things he’s going to have to buy the rabbit hybrid.

“Well, I can help you with one of those things,” Seokjin says. “You said he’s big. Bigger than me?”

“No, just taller than me, broader shoulders.”

Seokjin hums. “Well, let me clean out my closet. I’m due to get rid of some stuff, and it sounds like they would fit him.” He waves off Hoseok’s attempted protests, scolding him, “I’ve been meaning to downsize; it really doesn’t bother me. Obviously I can’t help you with shoes until we learn his size, though. When he gets better.”

“Yes.” Hoseok can’t help himself when he moves to hug Seokjin, his arms tight around him as he feels some of the tension drain from him.

The cashier stares blandly at them, too emotionless to tell if she’s judging them or not, but Hoseok worries about what people might say to Seokjin, so he pulls back.

Offering him a fond smile, Seokjin shakes his head and orders Hoseok his water.

 

--

 

Hoseok manages to focus on his class—partly because he loves his students so much, but mostly because they need him mentally there for workshopping—but he fields questions at the end faster than normal, apologizing when he can’t stick around to chat like he normally would.

He misses it as one student mutters to her friend, “Think Mr. Jung finally got a girlfriend?”

The cramped bus ride home feels twice as tedious, Hoseok wedging himself between a few young people, sweat slicking his back. Normally he wouldn’t mind walking, even in the cold, but he wants to check on Jeongguk and feed him before he must return for dance practice. Missing practice isn’t an option with their first major showcase of the season only a few weeks away, but he does consider that for a split second before writing it off. If he can’t trust the hybrid alone in his apartment, then opening his home to him at all was stupid.

To his credit, once he returns home for the second time that day, he finds the hybrid curled up on their couch, the television tuned to some drama. He’s awake, lucid, and that’s what matters to Hoseok.

“Did you eat today?” He greets him, kicking his shoes off.

Jeongguk shoots him a quick glance, then his eyes are back to the television as he nods.

“Crackers. Was afraid to eat anything else.”

“Did you take your medicine?”

Another glance in his direction, Jeongguk’s brows pinched as he forces himself to look away from the screen. “Yes?” He sounds confused, a little annoyed.

“Are you hungry now?”

The annoyance fades. “Yes.”

That has to be a good sign; Hoseok smiles. “Alright, I’ll heat you up some soup. There’s a few different vegetarian options…” He reads them to the hybrid, then goes hunting for the one Jeongguk chooses.

While he’s cooking, he expects the television’s volume to rise, but Jeongguk keeps it low. Hoseok listens to it as best he can over the bubbling of the soup warming, content with the content silence between them. He gets the impression Jeongguk isn’t much of a talker, and he’s not here to force him out of his comfort zone.

Therefore, when Jeongguk does speak up, it shocks him, though he conceals his reaction before facing him.

“Hoseok…”

It’s also the first time Jeongguk’s said his name. “Yeah?”

Jeongguk turns partially around, a slight frown on his features as he eyes the man up. “Those two we met at the doctors’ today, they gave me their cellphone numbers.”

“Oh?” Hoseok thinks of at least three reasons why but bites his tongue, curious to hear. “That’s nice of them. Did you like them?”

“They think you kidnapped me.”

His pleasant expression freezes, then drops into one of panic. “What?”

“When I went back, they were waiting and asked if I needed help.” Jeongguk delivers this with a deadpan voice so Hoseok has no idea how he feels about it. “They promised they could get the police and that you ‘couldn’t hurt me here.’”

Hoseok slumps back against the counter, heart hurting. “Oh.”

“They gave me their numbers and said I was welcome if I ever needed anything.”

The silence that falls in response no longer feels comfortable, an unpleasant flush in Hoseok’s cheeks. He stirs the soup with a listless hand, not liking that they thought he was a criminal.

“So…why are you telling me this? Do you want to go live with them?” Hoseok tries to keep his voice even, but it wavers anyway. The idea that Jeongguk could hate him so much despite everything stings, but it would be his own fault. Normal people don’t pick up strays like he did—not without some ulterior motive.

“I don’t know.” Jeongguk rises from the couch, facing away from him. “They could easily want to sell me to a hybrid brothel as you once I’m healthy. People like that often have pets to lure other hybrids.”

“I—”

Jeongguk cuts him off as he pads around the couch, the blanket wrapped over his shoulders. “But if you’re going to have problems with money if you keep me here, I’ll go with them.”

This is the first semi-kind thing Jeongguk has said to him, but he can’t focus on that with the other thing still hanging in the air.

“Listen to me,” he says, voice firm, “I would never sell you like that. I wouldn’t even kick you out. I could be down to only being able to afford ramen for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and I wouldn’t do that. That’s morally reprehensible. You might not know me very well, but that’s…completely outside my moral code. And if you want to live with those people, you can, but I promise I will support you if you want to stay here.”

Words expended, he traces the surprise glittering in Jeongguk’s eyes—the way his ears bristle as if he doesn’t know what to say or how to take his words.

Finally, when he does speak, he only says, “Why does it matter so much to you?”

Hoseok shrugs, turning to switch the boiler off. “Because I’m the one who saw you, starving and hungry in that alley. Maybe it’s stupid, but I feel like…I was meant to see it. Like I’m meant to help you.”

He fetches a bowl from the cabinet, stretching up on his tiptoes, and it’s only once his feet are firmly back on the ground that Jeongguk says a final, “You’re right, that is stupid.”

Expecting to feel hurt over the hybrid’s profession, Hoseok searches for the emotion in vain. When he serves him, he only thinks that there was no venom to be heard in those words—just a quavering uncertainty.

And when he checks the door to his room that night, he finds it unlocked.

 

--

 

Hoseok leaves the note with his medication instructions on the table through the next day, wondering if he should bring home more “easy” food that Jeongguk won’t have to warm up or cook in anyway. It worries him. If he’s not well enough to stand for long periods of time, using the stove probably isn’t a good idea.

Sharing his worries with Taehyung doesn’t help either, because the man just says, “If he could stand long enough to get to the doctors’, he can cook his own food.”

After a little more fussing, though, Taehyung agrees, “Alright, just take care of your normal schedule. I’ll cook him some soup or something once I’m home.” Taehyung’s not a bad or selfish roommate, but between him and Seokjin, he’s more worried about Hoseok spending too much.

Classes pass in a blur again, despite Hoseok taking decent notes, and when work comes around, he throws himself into customer service, his smile blinding. Perhaps a bit unnerving.

He works for a makeup store that’s across the road—a blessing, since he doesn’t have to pay bus fare to reach it. The only real downfall is the store is so expensive he can’t ever use his employee discount unless he’s having one of those days where the register candy looks amazing.

Today is one of those days, but he’s already checked his bank account three times that day and knows it won’t help his anxiety to buy a 2,000 won bag of candy.

When they close, he speeds through his cleaning, eager to return home, and he’s one of the first out the door, ignoring the grumbles from the high school-aged girls.

In his run home, feeling the soreness from his dance practice the day before, he worries he might pull a muscle, but doesn’t slow down until he reaches his apartment building.

He bursts into his room, only just stopping the door from slamming against the wall, thinking with a wince of his neighbors, but when he glances around to see if Jeongguk’s in the living room, he stops short.

Huddled on the couch, game controller in hands, Jeongguk plays one of Taehyung’s stupid games, the man laughing and insulting him as he does whatever they’re doing. Seeing Jeongguk interacting with someone is startling enough, without him being out of bed.

Both turn to look at him in another second, and Taehyung’s features bloom into his usual smile. “Hoseok hyung, hey! How was work?”

“Fine,” he says, struck dumb. “Have you guys eaten?”

Jeongguk’s expression, glazed by the light from the television, is as inscrutable as usual.

“Yup! I heated Guk up some soup, I heated up some leftovers, and then I decided to give him a run in Overwatch. He’s not half bad.”

Jeongguk grunts, too focused on the television.

Hoseok, feeling rather silly now, reminds himself that Jeongguk does appear to be around their age and thus really can take care of himself. Part of him feels a weird pinching in his stomach that Taehyung coaxed him out of his bubble, but a larger part is glad. Showing an interest in video games at least shows he’s present mentally.

“Are you feeling better, Jeongguk?” He asks as he unties his boots.

He grunts again, and Hoseok only nods. “That’s good to hear.”

Part of him wants to stick around and watch them play, to see Jeongguk in a normal environment, recovering and having fun, but he doesn’t want to feel any more like a helicopter parent than he already does.

“Well, have fun, guys.”

Hoseok walks into the kitchen, fetches himself a glass of water, then retires to his room to attempt to get some writing done.

 

--

 

That weekend, when he confirms that Jeongguk’s well enough for an extended visit, Seokjin pops over with a bag stuffed full of clothes for Jeongguk.

“Don’t worry,” he greets them when Hoseok opens the door for him, “I washed everything.”

Hoseok laughs. “Thanks again for this, hyung.”

“Of course.” He glances over Hoseok, eyes sparkling with curiosity. “Where is he?”

“Living room.” Hoseok shuffles to the side so Seokjin can lay his eyes on the hybrid, the man engrossed in another game of Overwatch. He probably looked over when Seokjin first entered, but glanced away as soon as the man started speaking.

Seokjin kicks off his shoes and slides on their guest pair of house slippers. Once he turns the corner, he says “hello” to Jeongguk.

A glance. “Hi.” He exits his game and sets the controller to the side, ears slightly perked up.

“I’m a friend of Hoseok’s.” Seokjin hefts his bag. “I brought some clothes for you, if you’d like to try them on.”

“Probably should.” Jeongguk rises to his feet with more ease than Hoseok’s seen since he first met him. He looks healthier already; there’s a softness filling out his cheeks, a sparkle in his eyes even if he’s not very interested in them, and he can stand without swaying.

Yanking his gaze away, Hoseok leans against the back of his couch as Jeongguk disappears into his bedroom. He ignores the prying gaze Seokjin sends him, not acknowledging it in the hopes that Jeongguk pops back out before Seokjin can interrogate him.

“Hoseok—”

The door opens right in time, and he barely conceals a sigh of relief, instead beaming when Jeongguk steps out. “They fit!”

The hybrid frowns. “The shirt does.” It’s a long-sleeved, gray thing that hangs a little big from his chest, but otherwise fits nicely, cutting low to show his collarbones. “But I’m probably going to have to cut a hole in the jeans.”

They also appear to fit well, but when he turns around, they both see the bulge and the discomfited shuffling that suggests the pants are pinching his tail.

Resisting the urge to coo, Hoseok reassures him, “Seokjin sews, so we can always finesse something.”

His friend nods and Jeongguk re-enters the room.

This time, as soon as the door closes, Seokjin pounces on him. “He’s not the most vocal, is he?”

Hoseok blinks, folding his arms, wondering where’s he going with this. “No, but I told you that.”

Seokjin hums. “It’s just…strange. I guess it hasn’t even been a week yet.”

“Some people aren’t as chatty as you, me, and Taehyung,” Hoseok laughs, trying to edge out from underneath the measuring gaze of his hyung. “I’m sure he’ll come around.”

“Unless he’s a jerk.” Seokjin assesses. “There might be a reason he was alone on the streets.”

It’s cruel, but those thoughts wandered around his head, too, in the stupid moment of emotion when he discovered Jeongguk playing Overwatch with Taehyung the second time.

Shaking his head, he brushes those thoughts aside when Jeongguk emerges again in a pair of sweats and a large, cream sweater that softens him. And so it follows: he models a variety of clothes for them, decides to take them all, and Seokjin only leaves with the pants that will need tail holes cut into them.

“Thank you,” Jeongguk says at the end of their visit, glancing once at Seokjin, then away.

“You’re welcome.” Seokjin smiles. “Hoseok has my number if you need anything else.”

Jeongguk doesn’t speak again until about an hour before Hoseok has to leave for work: He finds the human in his bedroom, typing away at his computer, and asks, “Can I try stew yet, do you think?”

It’s the first time Jeongguk sought him out first, and Hoseok jumps, unable to help the large, pleased smile that breaks across his features. “Well, I don’t see why not.” He glances at the clock, figures he can formulate it and leave it to cook with the hybrid. “I’ll put carrots and things like that in it. Stuff that shouldn’t be too hard to digest.”

Hoseok fumbles around in the kitchen, wanting to work fast. He’s done skinning his first carrot before he notices Jeongguk hadn’t returned to the couch, and instead is watching him work. Glancing at him curiously, Hoseok finds the hybrid looking back, his hands gripping onto the kitchen table. He’s handsome, dressed in clothes that fit him properly, and Hoseok wonders where those thoughts came from.

“Do you want any help?”

“Hm?” He refocuses. “If you’d like.” Hoseok gestures to the vegetables he planned on putting in the stew, smiling when Jeongguk steps up beside him, hands slow as he chops and dices. He considers everything carefully, his ears bristling with concentration. It’s endearing. Hoseok almost shaves a layer of skin off his thumb before forcing himself to look away.

Content to cook in silence, Hoseok swallows his excitement when Jeongguk speaks again, saying, “The doctor said I should come back next month to see if there’s any other problems.”

“Alright.” Another hit to his wallet, but Hoseok’s thrilled to hear that they’ve probably passed the most dangerous part of Jeongguk’s sickness. “We’ll have to go in on a Friday, probably.”

Seemingly content with this, Jeongguk chops with a bit more gusto, swearing something awful when he nicks his thumb.

“Oh, Guk,” he fusses, not thinking about the nickname as he runs the tap. “Here; wash it off, I’ll get you a bandage.”

The hybrid obeys, looking disgusted with his hand for daring to bleed, and Hoseok kneels, rummaging through the cabinet nearest the bedrooms for his little box of plasters.

Jeongguk stands still after he washes his hands, Hoseok hustling over and presenting the bandage. They stare at each other for a moment, standing closer than either is used to with the other. Hoseok thinks he’ll take the plaster, but instead Jeongguk points his injured finger, asking for help without saying a word.

Swallowing, Hoseok peels the plastic back and wraps it carefully over the cut, his own hands steady with concern, though he can hear his heart beating in his ears. It’s strange, experiencing Jeongguk’s height up close, seeing that the hybrid towers over him.

When he finishes, he steps back, introducing more space between them in the warm kitchen, and asks, “How old are you?”

Scoffing, Jeongguk says, “I was wondering when you were going to ask. I’m twenty-three.”

Hoseok waits to see if he’ll return it, but when he doesn’t, he merely inclines his head and says, “I’m twenty-five. Guess this means I’m your hyung.” He can’t hold back his laugh when Jeongguk casts him a withering frown. Yet, as piercing as the man intends it to be, all Hoseok can see is the puffed indignance in his stature, as if a Chihuahua is warning him that he’s a real threat, darn it.

He offers Jeongguk a smile, and they turn back to dinner, Hoseok inwardly delighted as Jeongguk pouts down at the offending vegetables that caused him to cut himself.

Without meaning to, he’s radiant at work that night, residual buoyancy carrying him through even the worst customers. And when he returns home, Jeongguk’s curled up in his bed, no signs of the stew making him sick.

Sleeping on the couch that night even feels better than usual.

 

--

 

From there, Jeongguk grows stronger and stronger as the next two weeks pass, Hoseok even relenting in his hovering. He cooks and leaves food for the hybrid, but days he might not come home till late, he doesn’t swing by to check on Jeongguk. And in turn, he comes home to find Jeongguk on the phone occasionally, pacing around, playing with Taehyung, or on the Internet. A restlessness has infected him, and Hoseok even attempts to make him a normal vegetarian dish a few days short of a month.

When he digests it with no issue, Hoseok treats that as a victory—the only one in a situation that leaves him working five days a week and practicing for his dance competition only three. It’s exhausting him, but with Jeongguk recovering like he is, they have to buy him shoes. More groceries, household supplies, and coffee to pull Hoseok through the long days.

After purchasing a decent pair of sneakers and a winter coat for Jeongguk, the rabbit hybrid begins venturing out of the house during the day. Part of him wants to ask where he’s going, but he contains his fussiness to inquiries to please tell him what meals he’ll need to cook for him.

“You don’t have to cook for me,” Jeongguk answers, his voice not unkind. “I can always cook for myself when I get home.”

“But it saves time if I just cook for everyone at once,” Hoseok protests, but Jeongguk waves him off, not making eye contact.

Yet, when he does make extra, Jeongguk inhales the leftovers.

During one of their Friday night dinners, now funded by Taehyung as Hoseok is trying to converse funds, his roommates splits his cheap chopsticks and tells him, voice matter-of-fact, “You’ve done a lot for Jeongguk. Have you talked to him about what’s next?”

“Like, where he’s going to go?” Hoseok breaks his own and they split too wide down one stick. “I figured I would wait until it starts to warm up before I ask.”

Taehyung considers him, then says, “Hyung, you’re going to burn out way before then. You’re working way too much.”

“I don’t have another choice.” He shrugs, trying not to seem affected. “I’m doing what I have to do.”

“Hyung—”

Hoseok waves, cutting Taehyung off. “I’ll tell you when I can’t handle it anymore. Okay?”

His roommate pouts mutinously. “When you pass out and we have to drag you to the hospital, you won’t exactly be in a position to choose.”

Wanting to retort, Hoseok opens his mouth, only to exhale, afraid to speak the words aloud when he worries about the fatigue himself. He’ll just have to keep going until spring and hope for the best.

 

--

 

Despite everything, it feels good to come home to Jeongguk watching dramas with Taehyung, who seems to hate spending too much time in his room. Taehyung chatters to Jeongguk as the show goes on, and to Hoseok’s surprise, the hybrid doesn’t scold him, though he also doesn’t reply.

What does surprise him is the one time he comes home and finds Jimin seated on his couch, the pair talking in low voices as they watch Hulu streaming to the television.

Their gazes snap up to him when he walks in, and he waves, greeting Jimin with an awkward pinch to his lips. He still can’t believe they thought he kidnapped Jeongguk.

But, as Jimin seems to prefer directness, he shoots up from the couch, his tail swishing behind him with agitation, as he says, “Hoseok sshi, I’m really sorry about the doctor’s office… I said when Jeonggukkie invited me over that it would probably be weird, but that I’d apologize, and I really just wanted you to know that I don’t think you’re a creep or anything. Well, yet.”

Then, more astonishing than that, Jeongguk frowns up at the cat hybrid. “Jimin.”

“I said ‘yet!’ Everyone has the potential to be a creep.” Jimin sniffs. “And besides, that’s hyung to you, brat.”

Jeongguk huffs, uncaring, but as his gaze wanders back to Hoseok, he wonders if he imagines how the rabbit’s gaze softens, just a bit.

“It’s fine,” he replies, when the stilted silence continues for a beat too long. “Of course you’re welcome here. I’m glad Jeongguk’s able to have some company.” He smiles at the pair of them. “Do either of you need to eat?”

Jimin’s mouth opens, but Jeongguk rises to his feet as well, declining, “We both ate before. We’re fine.”

Hoseok nods, not noticing the scowl that threatens to crease Jimin’s brow. “Alright. Just let me know if you change your minds.”

As he settles into the kitchen, he thinks he hears them muttering as he cooks, but by the time he convinces himself to glance up over his shoulder, they’ve settled back to watch the show once more.

 

--

 

Taehyung is wrong about the way Hoseok’s world crumbles—he doesn’t collapse. He goes to a preliminary face-off against one of their rival universities. Their competition isn’t for another two months, but this is meant to scope out the teams. New people are added every year and that changes the whole dynamic. So, in a predictable twist of fate, their team danced the past few weeks in preparation for their first public competition, wanting to trounce the other team and scare them early.

Hoseok, coming off his usual class schedule and a late shift the night before, plays a key role in their group as one of the co-captains. Seulgi, the other half of his leadership, scolded him quite a bit since he took Jeongguk in about his waning energy and carelessness.

“You’re going to hurt yourself one of these days,” she fussed, never guessing that it would happen in such a key moment as during the first competition performance of the season.

He stumbles, throws the routine off, and feels an intense pain in his right calf, about a minute into the dance. The rest of the night blurs past him, drowned in his own panic and crushing disappointment, with the disapproving eyes of strangers boring into him from every direction. Team members saw how hard he pushed himself, and now they get to see the fruits of him not taking their team’s success seriously enough.

It’s his fault. He knows it’s his fault. The rival team doesn’t even bother with gloating like they normally would. Instead, they try to be nice and reassure them that they’ll expect them at their best in the actual competition. Well, okay—maybe it was a bit taunting. But things between them could get so passive-aggressive that the captains almost threw hands more than a few times just the prior year. Now, they get to listen to the other team pity them.

The pain muffles everything to an extent, and his team member Hakyeon helps him out, then tries to call him a cab.

Shame pierces through him. “No…I really shouldn’t. I’ll catch the bus.”

“Can you even climb the bus steps on your own?” Hakyeon sounds impatient and frustrated, and all Hoseok wants to do is go home and cry. “You know if you hurt yourself more, that’s not going to help anyone.”

“I-I’m sorry,” Hoseok clears his throat, heart heavy in his chest. It’s late. The cab fees will be twice as expensive. “I can handle the bus, I promise.”

Yet, despite his biting words, Hakyeon helps him over to the stop and gives him a helping hand up onto the stairs, both ignoring the impatient words from the driver.

He barely hobbles to the first chair before the bus lurches forward, and Hoseok just catches himself on his good leg.

Biting his lower lip, he sinks into the chair, and in a moment of clarity, stands two stops from his own, allowing the extra time to limp to the doors. When he sees his stop coming, he descends onto the first step, then reaches back to press the button, so he can leave before the doors close on him.

It takes twice as long to reach his apartment, and he stumbles through the living room, infinitely grateful when Taehyung isn’t there. Tears that had been pricking at his eyes since the injury, from pain and shame, start to bead and slide down his cheeks. A hand presses to his mouth, shame overflowing in his chest at the realization that he’s going to cry.

And for the first time since he brought him home, Hoseok forgets about Jeongguk as he struggles into his room, gasping with repressed sobs, prepared to let them out. Yet, as the first drops plop down his cheeks, a figure sits up in his bed. The lights are out, so they couldn’t have clued him in, and Hoseok stares in shame for a moment as Jeongguk stares at him, his expression inscrutable in the poor lighting.

Forcing a laugh, Hoseok apologizes, “Sorry, I forgot you’d probably be in here.”

He tries to retreat, but Jeongguk scrambles out of his bed, his ears perked so Hoseok can see the soft insides. “Hoseok?”

Not even thinking to admonish him for not using the honorific, Hoseok waves his hand, too choked up to speak again without his voice cracking. But, as he goes for the handle, Jeongguk’s hand closes around it, pushing it back into place. Hoseok examines his arm dully, wondering when the hybrid got so strong. If he was always strong, or if Hoseok is really that weak.

“You’re limping.” Jeongguk clears his throat, though he doesn’t move away. “And…crying.”

“Yeah, well,” his smile is brittle, “I need to take care of the limp.”

Just like that, Jeongguk releases the door handle, his eyes wide, and Hoseok forces himself to stop looking. He leaves, turning toward the bathroom, but the tension doesn’t fade, as Jeongguk follows after him.

“What happened?”

“Nothing,” Hoseok forces out a laugh, “I was just stupid at practice tonight.”

Jeongguk mutters something, and Hoseok swears he’s not going to ask, but he can’t stop himself as his leg gives another pained twang. “What did you say?”

“I said, you didn’t have practice tonight. You had that event.”

Hoseok winces, part of his tired heart amazed that Jeongguk somehow knew that, but keeps his silence.

“Did you get hurt mid-performance?”

He watches the human swallow a pill dry, hands pawing around in a lower cabinet for his compress, scowling when he has to balance weirdly to search.

“Here,” Jeongguk touches his shoulder, “let me. What are you looking for?”

Wanting to protest, Hoseok glances up and finds himself eating his words, taken aback and the earnest, impassioned light in the hybrid’s eyes. “…my compress. I think I strained something in my leg.”

Jeongguk frowns, and it looks scary for a moment, but he presses Hoseok’s shoulder, coaxing him back away from the drawer, and drops to his knees to take a closer look. He searches in silence, not speaking even when he finds the compress, though he doesn’t hand it off to Hoseok.

Standing up, he offers an arm to Hoseok, who glances between it and Jeongguk’s face. When neither moves, Jeongguk clarifies, “Lean on me.”

Hoseok must look like he’s going to protest, because then the unthinkable happens: Jeongguk’s features twist into a pout, and he adds, “Please, hyung?”

It melts his resistance to his utter chagrin, and Hoseok wraps an arm around his waist, pressing against him as Jeongguk’s arm settles over his shoulders.

Taking his first step forward, Jeongguk is patient as Hoseok mimics his moves, only humming when Hoseok apologizes. They meander to his bedroom, Jeongguk ignoring his protests as he tries to redirect them to the couch, and Hoseok can’t help but sit on the edge of his bed when the hybrid all but dumps him there.

“Really, I know you got used to sleeping in here—” he sniffles, the tears refusing to die.

Jeongguk casts a glance at him, then asks, “Does the brace have to go on over clothes?”

“Ah, it should, but it’s fine. My boxers don’t go that low.”

“Put it on.”

Hoseok blushes, considers reminding Jeongguk that he has to disrobe, but instead shifts to slide it on over his sweatpants. Until Jeongguk stops him, a hand grabbing Hoseok’s wrist.

“Take your pants off.”

Embarrassment floods through him, and Hoseok tries again, “You really don’t have to do all this. I’ll be fine; I had my pain pills, I have my brace.”

And instead of replying, Jeongguk turns and leaves the room.

He stares after him in disbelief, and that more than anything draws the tears out of him faster and harder. Hoseok’s hands rise to wipe at his eyes despite knowing the motion is futile, and he sobs, the hard breaths catching in his chest. Everything hurts, and now even the hybrid he took in decided he’s pathetic. Not worth hanging around.

So he certainly feels like an ass when Jeongguk returns a minute later with a box of tissues, his gaze steady and sympathetic.

“Here.”

“Thanks.” He takes a tissue and blows his nose into it, eyes fixed on the ground.

“I thought you would put the brace on while I was gone,” Jeongguk says, lips pursed in what looks like a pout.

“Oh. I thought you were—leaving.” Hoseok laughs, the sound pathetic even to him. “I wouldn’t blame you.”

Jeongguk frowns, the expression disbelieving, and he shakes his head, surprising Hoseok even further when his hands dip to tug at the waist of Hoseok’s sweatpants.

“Yes…?”

“Off.” The hybrid glares at him.

It’s so absurd, Hoseok almost laughs for real. “Are you—”

A petty yank. “Take them off.”

“You’re—” But Hoseok is laughing, Hoseok is crying, Hoseok is melting into a big, stupid emotional ball, and he braces himself back against the bed as he does, flushing a little when Jeongguk yanks his pants off.

The hybrid then snags the brace and velcros it into place, leaving it for Hoseok to adjust. It’s the most Jeongguk’s ever touched him of his own volition, and beneath everything that happened that night, Hoseok wonders about it.

Wonders as Jeongguk asks, “Do you want me to leave you alone?”

Questions himself as he answers an honest, “No.”

Jeongguk nods, as if he anticipated this, and swings himself up to sit beside Hoseok, his expression gentle. Their thighs brush, but Hoseok likes the light bit of physical comfort.

“Do you know what you did?” Jeongguk glances down at his leg.

“Pulled something.”

“Will you have to stop dancing?”

“I don’t know,” Hoseok’s voice wobbles, “I hope not.”

Then Jeongguk, for the second time that night, slings an arm around Hoseok’s shoulders, though he uses it this time to pull him into a hug.

He stops resisting and buries his face in Jeongguk’s shoulder, allowing himself to cry all the embarrassment, disappointment, and even anger out, clinging so hard to the hybrid that later he will discover nail marks. Jeongguk holds him through it all, steadfast, his ears velvet-soft when they accidentally brush against his arms.

It feels like ages pass before he’s cried himself out, and he pulls back, feeling withered and desperately in need of a good night’s sleep.

“I was waiting until I’d saved up enough,” Jeongguk murmurs, right as Hoseok begins to question where to go now. He would still love to lie against the hybrid, but he forces his thoughts away from that. “I got a job when I first started to get better. I know I’m a financial strain on you.”

Hoseok blinks. “What?”

“I got a job.” Jeongguk’s cheeks pinken. “That’s why I’ve barely been eating at home. And why occasionally you’ve had an extra twenty thousand won in your pocket.”

Hoseok’s hands pat his sides now, picturing those delightful, silly moments where he thought he misplaced them. “You…”

“I’m sorry,” Jeongguk’s head bows forward, “I wanted to wait until I had the two hospital bills saved up, but with bus money and food, it’s taken longer than I thought.”

Hoseok feels as if he’s looking at a completely different person than the one he took in. “You…I’m sorry you went out and got a job when you were still sick.” He hates himself a little more, but doesn’t try to deny that the extra money has helped.

“I don’t mind.” Jeongguk’s gaze is piercing—the most intense Hoseok’s ever seen him. “But, now that you know, you can go back to working three or four days and resting.” He glances at the human’s knee. “I’ll help pay for groceries, so don’t worry so much.”

“Jeongguk…” he swallows.

Said hybrid shakes his head. “I mean it. I’ll block you in your room if you don’t. And then you’ll have to pee out the window and someone will make a complaint to the police, and that would be embarrassing. So stop being stupid, or I’ll do it.”

It’s the most he’s ever said at one time, and it’s so absurd that Hoseok can’t help his string of hysterical giggles from escaping.

But Jeongguk continues to sit beside him, face somber, hands tensed where they’re clasped in his lap. Hoseok gets the strange urge to kiss his nose, but bats it away as he shuffles to lie against his pillows.

Yet it returns with a vengeance when Jeongguk insists on tucking him in.

 

--

 

Lest he think he imagined it all, he wakes to the horrible scent of burning.

Immediately thinking Taehyung tried to put something weird in their waffle-iron again, he flails out of bed, gasping with pain when his injured leg gives an awful reminder that he shouldn’t jump around like that. Despite this, he hobbles into the main room and stops when he sees Jeongguk on a chair, attempting to disable their fire alarm.

He stops, staring at the disgruntled look on the hybrid’s face as he shuts it off. A window over the sink already hangs open, blowing gusts of icy wind in. The air still smells smoky, but no smog remains in their air.

When Jeongguk spies him, he freezes and says, “Good morning?”

Hoseok huffs out a disbelieving laugh, arms wrapping around himself. “What are you doing?”

“Trying to make you breakfast.” Jeongguk’s cheeks go a little pink as he hops down from the chair. His teeth find his lower lip and he gestures helplessly to the waffle iron. “I don’t know what I did.”

“Let me.” He limps over to the stove, trying not to smile at how Jeongguk hovers, distressed that he burned the breakfast he’d attempted. “Were you hungry?”

“Something like that.”

Shaking his head, Hoseok considers pressing him, but lets it go, instead asking if he can fetch some pills for the swelling.

“Are you going to the doctor’s today?”

“I’ll go to the one on campus,” he says, sensing Jeongguk wouldn’t take kindly to any other answer.

The hybrid hums, then says, “I don’t have to work until noon. I can help you up onto the bus and stuff.”

Hoseok glances up at him, hand still where he’d been scraping the burnt bits off the iron. “You don’t have to.”

Jeongguk mumbles something, his eyes everywhere but on the human. If Hoseok thought the morning would feel awkward for himself, he grossly underestimated how it would feel for the hybrid. It’s endearing, though, and Hoseok finds something askew in him settling. He wants to reach out and touch, so he does, hand settling on Jeongguk’s shoulder.

“I really appreciate it, you know? It’s like I said when we met: I’m not here to ask you to do anything you don’t want to do.”

“I know.” Jeongguk puffs his chest out. “Are you going to use this stupid thing or not?”

Instead of feeling insulted, Hoseok understands they reached the end of the vulnerability Jeongguk felt comfortable sharing. He follows his lead and teaches him how to use the iron.

“Also, if Taehyung offers to make you something on this, always say no,” he warns him once their batter is cooking. “He’s not a bad cook, but this iron never works when he uses it.”

“Maybe I burnt the waffle because I cooked with Taehyung last night,” Jeongguk muses, leaving off the honorific.

Hoseok considers correcting him, but instead just chuckles. “You’re a competitive bun, aren’t you?” He freezes as soon as the words leave his lips, remembering how much Jeongguk hates being called “bun” and “bunny,” but instead of snapping, the hybrid’s cheeks glow red with heat and he grumbles something under his breath.

He lets the moment pass, and Jeongguk recovers as Hoseok hands him a waffle. Watching Jeongguk eat explains the mess the hybrid left in his fridge that first day—he inhales his food, looking like he barely tastes it. Hoseok teases him about it, then melts when Jeongguk scowls at him, his soft cheeks puffed out with food.

They don’t talk as they eat or as Jeongguk helps him out to the bus stop, but once they’re waiting, Hoseok asks, “So, where did you get a job?”

“Ah, at a petting zoo.” Jeongguk stares fixedly ahead.

“Do you like it?”

Jeongguk huffs. “I guess. It’s smelly and the rabbits like to follow me around, but the tips are good.” Something tightens in the lines of his body, and he adds, “Parents love when I let the kids touch my ears.”

“I’m sorry.” Hoseok, without thinking about it, rests his hand on Jeongguk’s knee. “Humans suck.”

The hybrid glances at him, lips curling into an unwilling smile. “They do, yeah.”

He squeezes his knee, then releases him, their ride to the university conducted in a peaceful silence once they board the shuttle.

Walking leaves no time for conversation, the pair wheezing as they struggle from the stop up to the nurse’s center, Hoseok aching something fierce despite the brace and pain medication. Jeongguk hefts him with no complaint, though the glances Hoseok chances shows a sheen of sweat on the hybrid’s forehead.

When he’s finally able to check in, he thanks Jeongguk in earnest, keeping his voice low.

“I honestly don’t know how much worse I would be if I’d had to walk here without any support.”

“That’s okay,” Jeongguk replies, “I probably would be dead now if you hadn’t taken me in.”

This train of thought, used as a threat about a month ago, catches like a fish bone in Hoseok’s gullet. He swallows, shakes his head, and says, “If you hadn’t decided you could come with me, maybe. I’m just glad you did.”

A beat passes, then Jeongguk seems to work up to saying, “Why did you care so much?” The words start coming faster, “I figure, if you were going to sell me to someone, you would have done it by now. Or chained me up, or something, but you haven’t, and I don’t understand why you would take a stranger into your home who could rob you or worse. And I’ve been eating your food and sleeping in your bed, and now you’re hurt—just. Why?”

Hoseok glances around to ensure his tirade didn’t disturb anyone, and then he says, “Because you…looked so soft. Even though you’re bigger than me, even though I know you must have taken care of yourself up until the point that you ended up on the streets. You looked like you could just really use a friend.”

“So, you were prejudiced and thought the little bunny needed help.”

“No!” His cheeks flush. “I didn’t care about the ears. You just looked…” and it hits him. “You looked so sad. Like you were resigned to your fate. It’s not like you were out in the streets, begging for money or work. You were hidden. Like you were ready to roll over and give up.”

Jeongguk looks stricken, but before Hoseok can figure out what to say, his name pops up on the electronic board, calling him into the doctor’s office. He apologizes, but the hybrid just nods as if he didn’t hear him.

He rises with a wince, worried the hybrid might not be there when he returns, but he is. Honestly, after the doctor pronounces that he pulled a muscle and has to rest it for a few weeks, it would be another blow to find himself alone in the office.

Walking becomes so much easier with the crutches the doctor gives him even though his heart hurts at the knowledge he won’t have as much time as everyone else on his team to prepare for the competition. They might even ask him to sit out. It all depends on how fast he recovers.

Accompanying him as they take the elevator back down, Jeongguk says, “I think I want ice cream.”

It catches Hoseok off guard and he blinks. “Oh?”

“Yeah. Do you?”

He’s trying so hard to be casual, but he casts glance after glance Hoseok’s way, unsure if he’s watching. Hoseok registers what he’s doing and his heart warms.

“Sure.”

Jeongguk treats; Hoseok only gets a single scoop, eating in with horror as the hybrid mixes winter melon with triple chocolate.

“Isn’t that overwhelming the flavor?”

The hybrid shrugs, tongue licking stripes up the whole thing. Hoseok stares a moment too long at it, unsure why it flusters him until his wealth of Internet knowledge crashes around him. It feels like taking advantage of Jeongguk, and he refuses to qualify any thoughts that lead that way.

Hoseok tries to focus on his ice cream, but his eyes wander back to Jeongguk time and time again. He doesn’t know how he missed that Jeongguk got a job—he’s wearing clothes that aren’t familiar to him. They’re simple: a white t-shirt under an oversized jean jacket and a pair of acid-washed jeans. It amuses him to realize the hybrid has a distinct style. Whatever circumstance put him on the streets, he doesn’t seem removed from society.

He wants to ask. Knows it isn’t his place.

Instead, he says, “Thank you.”

Jeongguk hesitates, then smiles—a shy, boyish smile that pulls a new light to his face.

 

--

 

Things from there compound: Hoseok tries not to lean too heavily on his pain pills, and with his injury and Jeongguk’s income, he’s able to reduce his hours at the local Olive Young again. It’s easier in every way but for his dance group. He stays away for a week, then can’t help going to watch, his legs twitching with the urge to perform the moves himself.

Jeongguk, too, seems to finally be regaining a semblance of who he was before his homelessness. No longer fearful of Hoseok or Taehyung, Hoseok often comes home to them gaming together, or taking turns. He also wakes up every other morning to Jeongguk’s much-improved breakfasts. They don’t talk like they did the day of his trip to the nurse’s, but Jeongguk seeks him out when he wants to watch shows with him.

One Friday, he even picks up the traditional Chinese.

The triad of roommates settle to eat it, chatting aimlessly, when Jeongguk mentions plans with the cat hybrid from the hospital.

A twinge of something passes through Hoseok, but he refuses to examine it too closely. Taehyung whines about wanting to play Overwatch that night. It amuses Hoseok that Jeongguk is apparently better than him, but the positive emotion barely touches him. Jeongguk doesn’t use honorifics unless someone yells at him, but that doesn’t change the way he speaks about Jimin, as if this friendship means a lot to him.

He rarely sees the hybrid so excited.

Yet, it’s not as if Jeongguk continues to ice him out like he did at the beginning—he brings him little treats here and there, inquires about his leg, and leaves a little more than Hoseok needs for groceries. Trying to return the extra is futile. If he plays dirty and sneaks it into his pants pockets, Jeongguk just does the same in return.

Things are almost playful between them, and as time progresses, Hoseok recovering and regaining more and more use of his leg, Jeongguk begins accompanying him to dance practice. At first he swore it was to ensure Hoseok wasn’t overexerting himself, but the first night Hoseok attempts to dance, Jeongguk doesn’t stop him.

His eyes cling to him in the mirror, tracing his form. Hoseok runs through an entire dance slowly, trying to learn the moves his group spent the last month on themselves. Jeongguk speaks up now and again to correct him, and when the song ends, they repeat it over and over again.

Eventually, Jeongguk asks, “Can I try?”

Hoseok runs him through the steps to the routine they’d been doing when he hurt himself, stepping gently to avoid putting too much strain on his leg. It delights him to see that Jeongguk is a fast learner, his expression intense when he catches glimpses.

“Have you ever danced before?” He asks.

“Not in front of other people.” The purposeful glance away tells Hoseok so much, and his heart warms.

“You’re good. Really good.”

Jeongguk just huffs and lands his next jump even harder, the pair feeling the floor wobble beneath them.

Hoseok almost chides him that that’s how you pull something, but the embarrassed pinch to Jeongguk’s lips tells him that might have been an accident. So, instead of saying anything, Hoseok changes the music to a silly girl group song.

Freezing when the beat changes, Jeongguk shoots Hoseok a look of betrayal, only for it to drop off when he spies Hoseok dancing to it.

A shocked, single laugh leaves his lips, and when Hoseok starts dancing more exaggeratedly, beaming and fluttering his eyelashes like the girls do on the music programs, Jeongguk laughs in earnest.

It’s the first time he’s heard the hybrid laugh so unrestrained—his voice goes too high and cracks, and Hoseok stumbles, too fixated on how pretty Jeongguk sounds.

That cuts Jeongguk’s laughter off, who acts on instinct and charges forward to steady him.

“Are you okay? Did your thigh stop supporting you?”

“I, um, yeah,” Hoseok mumbles, heat crawling up his cheeks as Jeongguk’s fussy hands pick over him. “My thigh’s fine. I just tripped.”

“Oh.” The hands still, but instead of pulling back, Jeongguk leaves them there for a second. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay.” Hoseok grins, unable to restrain his happiness at the affection. “Do you know any girl group dances?”

They blast Blackpink and Gfriend and Cosmic Girls until Hoseok’s thigh really does start to complain.

He limps over to the bench, chuckling when Jeongguk’s fussing begins anew, but he swears his leg’s just sore from not being used as much recently.

“This was a lot of fun.” He brushes his sweaty bangs straight back, then chugs from his water bottle.

Jeongguk doesn’t comment; he waits for the water bottle and finishes it with a satisfied lick of his lips. A wash of want passes through Hoseok, and he finds himself tracing the shape of Jeongguk’s mouth, noting the mole just under his bottom lip.

Then, when he surfaces, he finds Jeongguk looking back at him, his gaze considering and maybe a little nervous.

“What are you staring at?” He grumbles.

Hoseok decides that his cover is already blown. “You.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m glad to have you here with me.”

Now it’s the hybrid’s turn to blush, and he grumbles something about “stupid Hoseok” under his breath.

“That’s hyung to you, brat.” He flicks his chest lightly, only for everything to pause when Jeongguk grabs his hand.

“Hyung,” he emphasizes, drawling it out.

“Yes, brat?”

He huffs with a laugh. “Never mind.”

“No, say it!” Hoseok starts poking the hybrid, fingers trying to find ticklish spots, but of course Jeongguk turns out to not be ticklish.

The hybrid gets a dangerous glint in his eyes, and then he’s chasing Hoseok around the enormous space—the others who used it long gone. That knowledge produces a few fearful screams from Hoseok when Jeongguk catches him and begins to ply his sides with tickles, since no one will come running.

“Jeongguk no,” he screams, voice shrill, and the hybrid stops only because he’s laughing too hard to continue.

Despite his panic, the whole event comforts Hoseok—as if pulling a leg muscle might have sucked but was necessary to reach this point with the hybrid.

Then Jeongguk looks at him and says, “Me, too.” He pulls Hoseok in for a hug, hiding his face in the human’s shoulder. “I’m glad you found me, too.”

Stunned, Hoseok only gets a second to hug back before Jeongguk is pulling away, trying to mask his flustered expression.

“We should go before the buses stop,” he mutters, returning to the bench where they stashed their things.

Hoseok badly wants to touch him again, but he allows the hybrid some shame and redirects the conversation once they make their way outside.

Their bodies brush together more than a few times as they catch one of the last buses of the night, but neither pulls away, their eyes cast out from nerves and an attempt on Hoseok’s part not to embarrass Jeongguk with the contact.

He admits to himself as he climbs off the bus, Jeongguk’s arm slung around his waist so he can lean his weight against him, that he wants to touch the hybrid more. It feels inappropriate with Jeongguk living in their apartment out of his and Taehyung’s whims, but it’s what he wants.

As Jeongguk unlocks the front door to his apartment building, he finds the hybrid staring back. Not impatient, but curious and soft. Hoseok wants to touch his cheeks and stroke through his hair with gentle hands. Kiss him and wrap him up tight.

They get ready for bed without much chatter, the air heavy with that something Hoseok spent so long trying not to think about, but they retire with gentle “goodnights.” Whatever it is, it weakens the pair of them, rather than leaving them tense.

Hoseok wakes up in the middle of the night when Jeongguk sits on the edge of the bed, his butt barely indenting the mattress, like he was about to shake Hoseok awake but hesitated.

“Guk?” He asks, voice slurring with sleep. “What’s up?”

The covers lift and then there’s a warm body pressing alongside his own, a nose nuzzling into his neck. Hoseok shivers as an arm wraps around his waist.

Nothing comes but Jeongguk’s gentle breath, and Hoseok resigns himself to the hybrid’s usual quiet, when he hears, breathed against his skin like a secret, “Owner.”

His heart careens against his ribcage, Hoseok waking up, but Jeongguk doesn’t notice or react. The hybrid snuffles against him, breathing evening out. Waiting for an answer proves fruitless, and so Hoseok lays there until sleep to drags him back under.

 

--

 

He wakes up when Jeongguk slips away, removing the weight and warmth from his left side. Hoseok considers questioning him about what he thinks he heard then and over breakfast, but lets his knowledge of the hybrid get in the way. Jeongguk, who is not at all in tune with his emotions, would probably blow him off if he tried to ask.

His pulled muscle improves by the week, and soon the world begins to warm and Hoseok begins dancing again, trying to perform well enough that they can justify having him in the competition at the end of the year. As much as it pains him to say, he doesn’t have the time to dedicate to riddling out Jeongguk’s idiosyncrasies.

But, when the hybrid accompanies him to practice, it still makes Hoseok smile. The other members chat to him, and they discover, to Hoseok’s secret delight, that Jeongguk clams up when girls talk to him. Seulgi approachs him at the end of one session, having spied him dancing along behind everyone, to ask if he wanted to join, and he refused to speak more than one word at a time to her.

It shouldn’t have made Hoseok laugh, but it did.

And though he probably wouldn’t dance in the final competition of the year, it brought a smile to his face to see Jeongguk enjoying himself so much.

They make it a habit to dance to at least a few more songs after everyone else clears out. Sometimes they’re competitive, but they’re mostly goofy. The songs usually include the newest hits or a trot song here and there when Jeongguk wants to mess with him.

Hoseok no longer actively compares this Jeongguk, who spends so much time with him, to the cold hybrid he met on the streets. They’re friends now. Jeongguk trusts him.

So perhaps he should have seen it coming when one night, as they towel the excess sweat from their faces, Jeongguk says, “Can we pick up a few bottles of soju on our way home?”

That causes him to frown at the mirrors, scowling at how his hair lies. Whatever kind of constitution hybrids have, Jeongguk rarely imbibes. Hoseok’s come home to drunken Jimin before, meowing and climbing all over Jeongguk, but the rabbit hybrid was usually sober.

“Sure. Is everything alright?”

“Kind of,” Jeongguk exhales, spinning to fetch their bags. “It’s a hard day.”

“You…had a hard day?” Hoseok rephrases.

“No.”

It’s warm enough now that they no longer have to change into street clothes when leaving for the night, so they head out then, the streets clear as the shops close for the night.

Jeongguk exhales. “I lived with an older woman for most of my life. She bought me when my litter went up for sale because she wanted someone to keep her company. Her husband passed a few months prior.”

Hoseok bites down his surprise and instead says, “So that’s why you know how to cook?”

“Yeah. I even know how to cook meat,” he laughs. “She tried to eat vegetarian for me, but humans need the iron and stuff.” He rubs his arms over his jacket. “She couldn’t do a lot for herself. I’m still honestly still surprised she got by on her own for those few months. I loved her a lot.”

Without him saying, Hoseok understands, yet he doesn’t touch him, giving the hybrid a chance to get the words out if he still wants to finish.

He does: “She passed about a year ago.”

“I’m sorry, Guk,” Hoseok does touch him then, fingers brushing Jeongguk’s elbow.

“You know what’s awful? That’s not even the part that still hurts. I knew she was old when she adopted me, and she only got older. I was scared, but we talked about it. I was ready for it when it happened, even though it hurt.”

They pause at the bus stop, both fishing around for their passes. Hoseok can’t find his right away, but Jeongguk waits until all background noise quiets.

“She…left me the house and half of the money she had left.” He has to force the next sentence out, “Her daughter got the other half. But, when she saw her mom’s ‘pet hybrid’ got half of what she thought was her money, she took me to court.” Jeongguk wilts, and even as the bus comes toward them, he doesn’t shake off the melancholy. It seems to have swallowed him, the light refracting in his dull eyes.

“They ruled in her favor. The money was taken off me, and my options were—”

He cuts himself off as the bus stops. They climb on, swipe their cards, and take a seat in the far back, Jeongguk sitting on the side with the armrest, as per usual. Hoseok likes to spread, too, but Jeongguk harbors an unconscious fear of being trapped, he noticed.

Expecting him to continue, Hoseok holds his tongue as he waits. They bump along the road, and Jeongguk says nothing. Hoseok considers pressing him, but he reviews the information along with what he already knew. The defeat in Jeongguk’s body language when he met him, his complete lack of faith in people.

Even by the time they exit the bus, Jeongguk hasn’t spoken up or even looked at Hoseok. He gives him the benefit of space, allowing him as much time as he needs, despite nearly vibrating with curiosity.

Padding through the fresh-cleaned entryway over to the elevator, both refuse to look at each other as they ride it to their floor. They bump as they remove their shoes, and after seeing Taehyung in the living room, Jeongguk waves to him, then outpaces Hoseok to his bedroom.

“What’s with him?” Taehyung asks, glancing away from his movie with a concerned frown.

“Not my place to say.” Hoseok trails after him, casting Taehyung an apologetic frown.

He can hear his roommate’s whine at being kept in the dark, but Hoseok shuts the door on him, focused on the living room and not seeing Jeongguk’s bare chest until the hybrid whips around.

Somehow, that’s worse; his eyes trail over the hybrid’s broad back, tapering down to his thin waist and the little fluff of cotton that pokes out from his shorts. Hoseok doesn’t often get a chance to look at Jeongguk’s tail, so he stares for a moment.

“Hey.” Jeongguk’s voice quivers, and he flushes as he sees the hybrid watching him in the mirror. It shows him superimposed behind the hybrid, whose arms are crossed across his chest, almost hiding both his nipples.

Hoseok stops examining him and pulls his own shirt up over his head, offering his own partial nudity as an olive branch.

“I’m sorry,” he adds, in case Jeongguk feels uncomfortable.

“Can you get me the big sweater out of the closet?”

Assenting, Hoseok fetches it, allowing Jeongguk to lead how this conversation will bend, and when Jeongguk takes the sweater, the minimizing distance between them heats.

Jeongguk doesn’t move away. He dresses, then wraps his arms around himself, as if a chill stole into his bones that he still can’t banish.

“I’m sorry the world is built against you,” Hoseok says. “I might not be able to right any wrongs, but I’m here for you, if there’s anything I can do.”

In the darkness of his room, Jeongguk’s eyes are luminous with the tears building in them.

“Nothing.” He clears his throat when his voice wobbles, but that doesn’t help. “What makes all of this so hard…” Jeongguk’s hands find the bottom of the hand-me-down sweater and fiddle with it. “I was 24 when I lost my home. That’s too old for re-adoption when you look like me. No one wants a bunny that isn’t small and cute.”

Hoseok’s heart cracks. “Oh, Guk…”

The hybrid shakes his head, spinning around, as if he can’t bear to face Hoseok again. But Hoseok refuses to mind this kind of distance; he steps forward, uncaring about his current shirtless state, and wraps his arms around Jeongguk, chin finding the divot in his shoulder.

“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with you. Nothing. And you may not be small, but you’re wonderful.” Embarrassment chokes Hoseok, but he forces out, “You’re really cute. Your ears and your fluffy tail, and just…everything.” It feels lame, not nearly like enough, so he adds, “Big sweaters makes you look especially small and cute.”

He can feel the stiffness in the hybrid’s form, his ears sticking up just a bit, and Hoseok bites back the urge to coo. Instead, he lets go, giving Jeongguk room in case this is all too much for him.

Jeongguk tugs at the hem of the sweater, lost in thought from what Hoseok can make out in the mirror.

“Do you want the bed tonight?” Hoseok offers when it seems like Jeongguk will not say anything.

“Yes.”

“Okay.” Hoseok turns to leave the room, but Jeongguk stops him with a soft call of his name.

“…You don’t have to stay on the couch.”

Now Hoseok fears meeting Jeongguk’s gaze. He wonders what it means for the hybrid and tries not to think about the meaning behind the racing beats of his pulse.

“Okay.”

They climb into bed after brushing their teeth and washing their faces. They climb into bed in the dark. They climb into bed trying not to touch one another. But when Hoseok pulls the covers up and Jeongguk fluffs the pillows, they fall together like puzzle pieces, afraid to breathe too loudly and break the moment.

Hoseok wants to repeat that Jeongguk is so much more than he thinks, but understands the grief that needs the silence of the night to heal just that little bit more.

They fall asleep with Jeongguk hiding his face in Hoseok’s shoulder.

 

--

 

Again, things change: if Taehyung sleeps before them, or at least retires to his room, Jeongguk will trail after Hoseok into his room to share his bed with him. He’s withdrawn again, but blushes when their eyes meet. At dance practice, Hoseok often finds Jeongguk’s eyes on him in the mirror.

Hoseok might take to wearing more revealing clothes to practice, and blames it on the weather.

The competition creeps up on him, as does graduation. He begins pulling all-nighters to finish papers and often has to tuck Jeongguk into bed, the hybrid having fallen asleep seated beside or across from him.

On one such night, Jeongguk’s eyes flutter open as Hoseok scoops him into his arms, the hybrid dazed with sleep. He whispers Hoseok’s name, cuddles closer, and the human feels how far gone he is for Jeongguk. It’s impossible to ignore his feelings any longer or to brush them off as just affectionate—but he can still refuse to act on them. Jeongguk trusts him, and he would never do anything to betray that without at least talking to him first. He’s way too much of a wimp to do that.

But sometimes things must change to adapt to the circumstances, and that’s exactly what happens the Monday his last class is cancelled about a half an hour before the fact.

He texts Jeongguk asking if he would like him to bring anything home and stops to buy a few groceries for dinner.

Arriving home eagerly, mind on the chocolate bar he indulged in buying, he sheds his spring jacket and shoes, and tucks the groceries away, not bothering to call out a greeting. He should be home alone, and his pulse races as he considers what to do with his time.

Of course, he chooses to jack off—being that he never really gets to vary much from doing it in the shower.

Hustling just in case, he slides the door to his room open with an eager push, not letting it slam against the wall in a paranoid fit of “well, what if someone hears and comes to check?”

Yet, by not making as much noise, he gets a few, uninterrupted seconds of Jeongguk’s bare ass on his bed.

Hoseok freezes, not processing, and thus get to examine in gratuitous detail every inch of the dildo being plunged in and out of the hybrid’s stretched hole.

His mouth drops open as Jeongguk whimpers, his hand shaking where it grips the base. He’s naked from what Hoseok can see, little, pathetic noises leaving his lips as he works the toy in inch by inch. For some reason, Hoseok fixates on the toy, thinking Jeongguk had to buy that with his own money somewhere. Had to hide it somewhere he and Taehyung wouldn’t find it.

Jeongguk groans, his hand dropping to the bed, and he makes a little frustrated noise, as if he has to give it a minute.

Returning to his body, Hoseok slips from the room, trying not to make any noise, but he bangs into the open door.

The hybrid shoots up in bed, unwittingly giving Hoseok a look of the stretch of his smooth, unmarred back. A throb of arousal pulses through Hoseok, only to die with shame when Jeongguk grabs a pillow to cover himself and wheels around.

“Get out!” He yells, his face so red he looks like he might pass out. “Get out, get out, get out!”

Hoseok tries to apologize, but chokes on the words, fleeing

He slams the door shut behind him, debates flying out of the apartment, too, but settles in the living room with the television on, waiting for Jeongguk to gather his pride and talk to him.

But he sits there and sits there, registering nothing, until Taehyung arrives home.

“Hey,” Hoseok greets him, but Taehyung only raises an eyebrow at him. “What?”

Taehyung goes straight to his room, opens the door, and then, quick as a flash, Hoseok’s bedroom door slams open and Jeongguk zips out and into Taehyung’s.

Considering calling out, Hoseok slumps back against the couch, feeling worse than earlier at this blatant refusal of wanting to talk with him.

“You pervert.” Taehyung says, sounding like he’s joking, though the serious set to his brow suggests otherwise.

“What?”

“Guk texted me to come rescue him.” He crosses his arms, looking for all the world like he’s trying to scold Hoseok. “Said you walked in on him jerking off.”

Hoseok swallows the defensive words that want to come out. “I tried to leave as soon as I saw, but I ran into the door like an idiot.”

Taehyung’s expression softens. “Look, he’s embarrassed. I know this is our house, but you might want to see if you can’t stay with Seokjin or something tonight. Give him time to recover.” He pats Hoseok’s arm. “He sounded really embarrassed, and the fact he sent me an SOS text tells me that it’s not going to be brushed off so easily.”

Slumping, Hoseok agrees, “You’re probably right. I’ll text Seokjin.” He tries not to dwell on the fact that he didn’t know Jeongguk has a cell phone.

Seokjin, after sending a slew of laughing emojis, agrees to letting him stay the night.

“Just so you know,” he replies, “I do have someone else already staying over.”

“That’s okay. I can share your bed or something, right?”

Hoseok sends a cute, blushing sticker, only for his mouth to drop open when Seokjin replies, “Well…that would be a tight fit with three of us.”

“Hyung!! Did you get a girlfriend?” His excitement eclipses his own emotions.

“Not a girlfriend.” Seokjin sends a picture of his own, flawless smile beside a grumpy frown, black hair framing a small, round face.

“A boyfriend?” Hoseok doesn’t add anything else, not wanting to remind Seokjin of his shitty boyfriend from a few years back. After that, Seokjin had dated only girls. “He must be special.”

“He has to be, if I let him date me.” Seokjin sends him kissy emojis. “Are you going to want dinner?”

“Yes, please!” Hoseok tries not to let his thoughts wander toward Jeongguk as he gathers enough stuff for two days and nights, just in case. He could always stop back, but he’s found it’s better to be prepared.

After retrieving his toiletries, he casts once last, forlorn glance at Taehyung’s locked bedroom door and darts back into his room for a sheet of notebook paper. On it, he writes:

Jeongguk. I’m sorry I barged in like I did. Take as much time as you need and have Taehyung text me when/if you’d like to talk.

Hoseok doesn’t bother to sign it before he slips it under Taehyung’s bedroom door. Then, in a flash of remembrance, he stuffs some work clothes into his bag, too, and finally leaves for the promise of Seokjin’s delicious dinners.

 

--

 

He meets Seokjin’s not-a-boyfriend, who turns out to be a cat hybrid named Yoongi. This floors him, though he pretends otherwise.

“How long have you guys been dating?” Hoseok asks over an after-dinner movie, smiling to himself at Yoongi, who’s rubbing Seokjin’s feet.

“I asked him a few weeks ago.” Yoongi keeps his eyes on the movie, not pausing to glance down at his boyfriend’s feet. “He told me I took too long.”

Hoseok bites back a laugh as Seokjin weakly kicks the hybrid’s thigh. “You’re not supposed to tell him that!”

Yoongi shrugs, a little smirk tugging at his lips. “I thought you said he’s an old friend. He probably guessed.”

Seokjin faux-yells at him for a few moments, Yoongi weathering it like he doesn’t mind Seokjin’s drama, and Hoseok tries not to think about the human-hybrid relationship. Part of him wants to share his own embarrassing exchange with the couple, but he anticipates the response he’ll get—of course someone sensitive like Jeongguk would react badly.

He misses a large chunk of their conversation and apologizes when Seokjin calls him out on it.

Well, at least his sofa bed is comfy.

 

--

 

Hoseok attends school the next day, thoughts on Jeongguk. He texts Taehyung, trying to milk him for details, but his friendship with the hybrid blocks anything informative he could tell Hoseok. Stupid loyal Taehyung.

Yet, when dance practices comes around that night, Jeongguk is there. He situates himself with a few of the members he befriended beforehand, knowing Hoseok won’t cause a scene in front of them.

Jeongguk sticks to Yugyeom for the entire rehearsal, and he must have given the man some excuse, because the man plays buffer without complaint.

He doesn’t push. How could he? It’s not as if he’s out to make Jeongguk feel awful.

They lock eyes only once, when he catches Jeongguk staring at him, and he offers him a gentle smile, just wanting him to know there’s no disgust or cruelty he feels toward the situation.

When practice ends and Hoseok sees Jeongguk hanging around to dance a little more, he approaches him, leaving enough room between them so the hybrid doesn’t feel trapped, and asks, “Did you want me to head back?”

It stings how wary Jeongguk looks when he meets his gaze this time. “Up to you.”

“If you don’t want me dancing here with you, I’ll go home. Er, to Seokjin’s.” He has enough stuff left for one more day. “But I’ll have to come back tomorrow. Jin got a boyfriend, if you can believe that.”

The hybrid says nothing.

“Right, then,” Hoseok backs away, feeling awkward. “Have a good dance.”

Walking away, feeling dejected, he stops when he feels a presence looming up over his shoulder.

“Jin having a boyfriend doesn’t make it less weird.”

Shrugging, Hoseok says, “I assumed you’d want to pretend it never happened.”

“Why? Because it’s so shameful?”

Hoseok stops and turns to Jeongguk, who almost runs into him. His hands reach out to steady the hybrid, and Jeongguk’s cheeks flush, the furrow between his eyebrows deepening.

“I wouldn’t say that. And I don’t think that.” Hoseok exhales. “There’s nothing wrong with liking butt stuff.”

Jeongguk smacks his arm. “Don’t just say it like that!”

“What? You want me to say when you indulge in certain spots—” Hoseok stops when he’s hit again.

“You’re terrible!”

“You started it.” He raises an eyebrow. “You really think Taehyung and I haven’t walked in on each other masturbating before?”

Their voices echo a bit, so they both lower their voices when they stop walking.

“That’s not the same thing.” Jeongguk exhales.

“How is it not?”

“Because I did it in your bed!”

They stop, Jeongguk registering that Hoseok hadn’t considered that the moment the realization slides over the man. His heart gives a confused thump.

Jeongguk recoils as if he would run from him, and Hoseok bites back the most obvious question, instead asking, “Did you want to dance?” He’s so overwhelmed, he doesn’t even laugh at the way the hybrid’s mouth pops open at the redirection.

“I think so.” Jeongguk’s fingers toy with the hem of his tank top, ears partially hiding his face.

“Do you want me to stay?”

“No.”

His heart sinks, but Hoseok would be lying if he said he expected the opposite.

“I’ll be home tomorrow, if you want to talk.” Hoseok steps toward his bag, his body itching with the need to put distance between them before he tries something stupid. “Okay?”

Jeongguk nods.

He leaves him with a heavy heart and may or may not spend an hour venting to Seokjin and his new boyfriend once he returns to their apartment.

 

--

 

Hoseok warns Taehyung via text around which time he plans on returning. Unsure whether to expect any advice in return, he slumps when he only gets a “thumbs-up” emoji for his trouble. He warned Jeongguk twice, despite the apartment being under his name, not the hybrid’s, but Hoseok doesn’t resent him for it. Even if Jeongguk masturbated in his bed instead of the shower, he wouldn’t judge. Being comfortable while jerking off enhances the experience, and Jeongguk slept his first month in Hoseok’s room. The bed probably feels at least 25% like his own. It’s not like the rabbit hybrid was sniffing his dirty underwear while he jerked it.

Yet, despite trying to comfort himself, when he enters his apartment, he feels like an intruder.

“I’m home,” he calls, not wanting to alarm anyone. But no one comes out.

He pushes into his room gingerly, but everything appears untouched. Hoseok hopes Jeongguk didn’t sleep on the couch with his bed vacant, but he could understand if there’s some stigma to it now. Even as he looks upon his bed, he imagines the hybrid.

Breathing deeply, cheeks darkening, he unpacks and flees, rationalizing the need to shower—though he fights not to touch himself like he normally would when he has extra time in the morning.

It’s pathetic how much he misses the hybrid, once he climbs out of the shower unfulfilled.

Hoseok goes to school and work, returning late, and halts in the entryway of their apartment when he sees Jeongguk seated on the couch, eyes fixed on the television screen. It feels like any other night, and he can’t help himself when he calls out, “I’m home.”

Jeongguk’s eyes slide over to him, the weight in them suffocating, and Hoseok finds as much as he hates making people uncomfortable, he hates not speaking to the hybrid more.

“Can you pause?” He figures that’s the best and most polite way to see if the hybrid is willing to talk.

After a long beat, Jeongguk does, and then he stares up at Hoseok, expressionless.

“Look…” Hoseok sinks down next to him, uncaring when their thighs brush. “Sometimes stuff like that happens. But the longer you dwell on it, the longer it feels awkward, you know? It’s not like I was standing there ogling you without your permission.” Sure, he might have been frozen for a few beats, but the thought of playing voyeur to an unsuspecting party makes him feel sick.

“I know,” Jeongguk snaps. “You don’t have to keep talking about it.”

“Then what’s the problem?” Hoseok feels his patience starting to slip. “You haven’t shut me out like this since you first got here.”

“Maybe that’s my business.” But his voice sounds weak, and Hoseok jumps on it.

He wheels, knees bumping the hybrid’s legs, and he declares, “It’s not. Not when you’re not comfortable living here because of me. I’m not moving, so we need to fix this or you need to leave.”

Hoseok adds the last part in a bout of inspiration, relief flooding through him when that finally produces a reaction: Jeongguk’s eyes widen with horror.

“I—” He chokes. “You don’t want me here anymore?”

“That not what I said.” Now he reaches out to touch the hybrid’s knee, trying to ignore the ache in his chest to touch more. “I’m saying we have to get over this or it’ll be miserable for us to live together.”

“You said I need to leave,” his voice raises, upset blooming in the apples of his cheeks. “You know what happened, and you said—”

“That’s not what I said,” he speaks over Jeongguk. “I was trying to get your attention, but the point wasn’t for you to leave. It’s for us to fix this. Who cares if you masturbate?” Hoseok practically yells this, and Jeongguk buries his face in his hands, groaning.

“I care!” Jeongguk glares at him over his hands.

“Why?”

“Because you’re the one who took me in.” His hands fall into his lap with a smack. “You’re the one who’s taking care of me. I can’t own property or work a real job, and no one will adopt me.”

“So you’re saying you’re stuck with me?” His voice wobbles a bit.

“No.” Jeongguk digs his toes into the carpet below the couch. “I’m not supposed to want you like I do. If I screw this up, I have nowhere else to go.”

Something dries up in his throat. “Want…me?”

Jeongguk just looks at him, his features sullen, like Hoseok’s the worst person ever and not someone he just admitted to wanting to date or fuck. “Yes.”

“You could have talked to me about it,” he says, dazed. “I mean, it’s not as if that’s rude or insulting. You like me.”

“Shut up,” Jeongguk says, despite Hoseok only repeating him, “don’t say it like that.”

“Then how should I say it?” When Jeongguk tries to shuffle back on the couch, Hoseok follows him, hands pressing to Jeongguk’s thighs. “I guess we’re both pretty good at hiding how we feel.”

Pausing, the hybrid asks, “What do you mean?”

“I mean, I like you, too.” Hoseok fights through the wave of anxiety those words cause. “You’re the most frustrating combination of adorable and hot. It does weird things to me.”

Jeongguk makes a face at him. “Thanks? I think?”

Hoseok laughs. “We sure are adults that know how to deal with our feelings.”

Looking like he wants to protest, Jeongguk’s mouth opens and closes a few times, and then he’s laughing. It sounds self-deprecating, but when Hoseok joins in, they lean in together, a barrier crashing down.

“It’s stupid,” Jeongguk says. “God.”

“Roommates who fuck always get a little more complicated,” Hoseok agrees, grinning when the hybrid starts at the blunt phrasing. “But we could try. I mean, the worst that happens is we stop.”

“So you just want to fuck?” Hoseok almost misses the little emphasis on “just.”

“I…don’t know.” He swallows. “It’s a bit weird to discuss it like we’re in a business meeting. Having sex is one decision, a relationship is a bunch.”

Jeongguk agrees, voice quiet.

“But,” Hoseok continues, “it has to start somewhere. I know there’s a bit of stigma against humans dating hybrids, but that doesn’t concern me if you’re willing to try.”

“A bit?” Jeongguk scoffs, but when Hoseok’s fingers brush his cheek, he blushes. “I guess.”

“You guess? Or you want to?”

Happiness swells within him as Jeongguk nuzzles his hand, eyes shutting, as if his dignity will only allow such an action if he’s not looking.

No one speaks, and in that moment, Jeongguk’s cheek warm against Hoseok’s hand, he leans in to kiss him.

It’s a chaste touch of lips; Jeongguk’s eyes fly open the moment full contact is made, and they stare at each other, as if puzzling over if they truly want to do this.

Then the moment shatters and Jeongguk reaches for him, hands sliding up over Hoseok’s chest. The touch is greedy, and Hoseok gasps as Jeongguk’s hands close behind his neck to draw him back in.

Their lips meet again urgently. There’s no push to touch or undress, but the fear that things might change if they stop surges up.

He licks over Jeongguk’s bottom lip, smiling when the hybrid’s lips part, and their tongues meet, the kiss slowing as they map each other out. Jeongguk tastes like cherries—an expensive, favored snack he only buys himself—and Hoseok presses him against the backrest.

Hoseok moans when Jeongguk sucks on his tongue and then pulls back, as if the sound broke the moment.

Jeongguk’s eyes open to meet his, a calm swirling in them that wasn’t there before. His fingers curl against Hoseok’s neck as one of Jeongguk’s ears brushes against his cheek. The texture is soft as velvet, and Hoseok coos under his breath.

“What?” The hybrid’s nose wrinkles.

“You’re so freaking cute,” Hoseok groans, before leaning back in.

They kiss and kiss until Taehyung’s door swings open. Hoseok leaps away from the hybrid, as if trying to preserve Jeongguk’s dignity, but Jeongguk just licks his reddened lips and leans back against the couch, calling out a satisfied greeting to Taehyung when he emerges.

Not knowing where to look, Hoseok mimics Jeongguk, eyes dodging to the television screen where he pretends to watch a commercial about Sprite.

Taehyung stops, hovering behind the couch, and he hears him say, “Are you two finally working things out?”

Letting out a huff of a laugh, Jeongguk says, “You could call it that.”

Hoseok freezes right as Taehyung groans and wrenches his hand back. “On the couch? Ugh, no respect at all.”

He stomps toward his room, ever theatrical, and announces, “I’m raising your share of the rent if you two leave cum stains on anything.”

Hoseok’s vindicated a bit when he sees the flustered expression shared on Jeongguk’s features.

 

--

 

They don’t do more than kiss that night, but their relationship changes. Now when they dance, their eyes wander to each other—often to scoldings from Seulgi.

“You wanted to be back in for the competitions, so stop staring at your boyfriend’s ass!”

Neither could really contest that, though Jeongguk grumbled and tucked his ears back for the rest of the practice.

And when they would eat dinner together, Jeongguk’s foot would leave his house slipper to slide over the exposed skin of Hoseok’s foot. More than anything sexual, they touched and touched, as if Jeongguk couldn’t get enough of the contact.

After a few touch-and-go semesters in the early years of university, Hoseok’s libido mostly settled, so while he jerks off what feels like a healthy amount, he feels no intense demand for Jeongguk’s body. He wants, and if he looks too long, he needs a little relief, but he doesn’t demand anything from him.

Yet, when Hoseok finds a repeat of the day that almost broke their relationship, everything surges through him so much worse.

Jeongguk was definitely working that day, Hoseok would later confirm from the texts on his phone, but when he arrives home, he finds the hybrid balls deep in a very anatomically correct dildo.

The sensation of déjà vu crashing over him, Hoseok almost runs out of his room, uncaring about subtlety this time, until he hears, “Hoseok, please.”

Freezing, Hoseok stares at him, disbelieving that he’s pulling this, as the hybrid keens, “Don’t you want me? Was the kissing just to keep me happy?”

He realizes that Jeongguk planned this and is staring at him in the mirror, his pupils blown wide with lust, his pink lips bitten and parted as he pants.

“Hoseok, for fuck’s sake,” his wrist flexes as he draws the dildo out section by section.

Having never heard him be vocal like that before, Hoseok steps forward as if compelled, flinching as if struck when Jeongguk lets out a fluttery whimper. Then he catches sight of the bottle of lubricant—industrial sized and mostly gone.

Decency flies out the window as he wonders aloud, “You do this all the time, don’t you?”

Jeongguk doesn’t deny it. He follows Hoseok’s gaze and then shuts his eyes, breath leaving him in a sharp gasp when he pulls the toy completely out of himself.

“I—maybe.” He collapses onto his front. “The libido kind of comes with the territory. Like being a vegetarian and having jackasses touch your ears.”

Hoseok stops at the edge of the bed, forcing himself not to glance beyond the hybrid’s eyes in the mirror. “This isn’t one of those heat things I’ve read about, is it?”

“This isn’t a sci-fy novel.” Jeongguk snorts, a hand slipping down past his stomach.

“So then why…?”

“Every time,” he grits his teeth, arm tensing and moving beneath him, “I tried to initiate more, you’d shut it down. I thought this would be a rewarding push.”

Hoseok sits down on the side of the bed, smiling to himself. “I’m sorry I’m a gentleman.”

“Boohoo.”

He reaches out to touch the curve of Jeongguk’s butt, smoothing over it with gentle consideration. “Is this better than touching your ears without asking?”

“You think this isn’t asking?” Jeongguk straightens up, eyes burning, and slings a leg over Hoseok’s lap, climbing onto him and situating their hips together.

Leaning in to kiss Hoseok, Jeongguk grasps the man’s collar to yank him closer, but in the show of force, Hoseok feels his hands tremble. When their lips meet, it’s another fragile kiss, as if Jeongguk worries that he dragged an unwilling party member to this game.

Hoseok kisses him back, hands falling to his hips, and he runs his hands down over the hybrid’s bare ass, fingers brushing against his tail. Jeongguk shivers at the touch, and Hoseok nips at his lower lip, soothing it with his tongue.

Jeongguk’s pliant in his arms for the first few kisses, but then he begins to rut his erection against Hoseok’s hip, demanding attention in a way that Hoseok never would have guessed he was capable of.

Allowing him to rub himself against him, Hoseok runs his hands up Jeongguk’s back, fingers light enough that the hybrid shudders.

“Stop that. It tickles.”

He laughs, unable to help himself, and when Jeongguk pulls back to scowl at him, Hoseok reconnects their lips, kissing him again.

“You are so fucking cute, you know?” Hoseok says, placing another kiss on his lips midsentence. He normally hates swearing, but it slips out, him needing to emphasize. “Even when you don’t mean to be cute, you just…”

Jeongguk lets him trail off, content to be offended with fewer offerings. “Just because I’m a rabbit hybrid, I’m cute?”

Despite the glare Jeongguk’s giving him, Hoseok knows better. Knows Jeongguk wants to be cute, so he grabs the hybrid’s hips and lifts him, grinning when Jeongguk scrambles to hold onto him.

“Hoseok…” he growls.

“Never ‘hyung’ with you, is it?” Hoseok shakes his head, amused, then lays him back against the bed. Jeongguk doesn’t let go of him at first, but after plying him with another kiss, the hybrid allows him to start tracing kisses down his neck.

He smells like Hoseok’s body wash, and it’s a heady realization. He shifts to suck a mark on the hybrid’s neck, his cock chubbing up as Jeongguk whimpers and bends for him.

After darkening the mark to his satisfaction, Hoseok withdraws to look down at the hybrid, tracing over the beautiful flush to his skin and the way he pants for breath, excited for the touches.

“You’re so handsome.” Hoseok dips his head to kiss a line along his pectorals. When he gets too close to the hybrid’s nipples, he hears him whimper, and he trails his tongue over a bud, just to hear more.

His hand sneaks down to rub over Jeongguk’s erection, but his fingers pass through the air where he expects him to be. Frowning, wondering if he veered too far one direction, he glances down and stills at the sight of Jeongguk’s cock.

“You lied,” he says.

“What?” Jeongguk props himself up on his elbows, panic covering his expression when he sees where Hoseok is looking.

“You said there was no part of you that is cute and small.” Hoseok brushes a finger over the head of the hybrid’s cock. “But this is super cute, Jeonggukkie.”

The nickname, never before spoken, just slips out, and Jeongguk whines, a hand coming up to try to muffle himself.

“Sh-Shut up…”

Hoseok shakes his head, shimmies down the hybrid’s form, and takes the sight in, cheeks flushing with want. “You’re the cutest. The absolute softest,” he leans down and drags his tongue up the side of him, nosing at the underside of the head, “and prettiest.”

“Hoseok,” Jeongguk begs, “don’t.”

He stops then, peering up at the hybrid, afraid he upset him—especially when he sees tears budding in his eyes.

“Oh, oh, shh,” he immediately moves so they’re pressed front to front again, hands rising to brush Jeongguk’s tears away. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

But Jeongguk shakes his head. “No,” he sniffles, “I just don’t want you to lie to me.”

“Lie?”

“About…me. About my dick.” He closes his eyes tightly, as if he’s trying to steel himself, but Hoseok won’t let him retreat this time.

Leaning in, he kisses his lips with the barest pressure, one hand leaving the hybrid’s face to grasp his cock again. That more than the kiss jolts his eyes open, and he gasps, confusion plain on his features.

“Your cute little cock is my favorite.” He pumps the hybrid once, enjoying how his hand closes fully around him. “And you’re my favorite.”

“Hoseok…”

“I mean it,” he stares down at him, allowing the tension to build, Jeongguk trapped behind his gaze, “I couldn’t count the number of times I lost track of my thoughts because of you pouting or scrunching your nose or trying to intimidate me.” Hoseok’s hand strokes him, the touch light, and Jeongguk whimpers, too overwhelmed for words to come out.

“Like there,” he leans in, lips brushing over Jeongguk’s cheek. “Cute. And here,” he drags his thumb up the frenulum, tugging the foreskin down a little. “I’d tie a cute little bow around your dick if I could. Could probably fit the whole thing in my mouth.”

Hoseok bats away his shyness at saying such vulgar things—but he doesn’t taunt Jeongguk with them. The hybrid seems to hear this, as he doesn’t whine or protest. He might voice such things aloud, but his purpose is one of pure affection.

“I want you to know,” he kisses his jawline, free hand pressing to the mattress so he could pin Jeongguk, “you’re stubborn sometimes, but I wouldn’t trade your being here for anything.” Hoseok nuzzles into his neck. “I’m so glad you decided to stay here. I’m so glad you came to dance practice and cook me breakfast and—are you.”

“Hoseok?”

“Hm?”

“Can you stop talking and stretch me?”

He laughs, the sound startled, and he grabs for the bottle of lube. “Sure, sure.”

Squirting some into his hand, Hoseok stops from using as much as he’d like, the hybrid reassuring him that he’d been working himself open with plenty before.

“You’re going to push in and lube’s going to pour out.”

Hoseok blushes at the mental image as his hand slips down to Jeongguk’s entrance. When Jeongguk’s arms sling up around his neck, he slips his first finger in with ease and listens to the hybrid let out a breath, as if he had been waiting for the touch, gratified now that it happened.

Handling him carefully, wanting to see what level of pressure he enjoys, Hoseok fucks him with his fingers, the motions brisk as he thrusts them in up to the knuckle.

“It’s not enough,” Jeongguk whines when he adds two, repeating it louder with three, and almost crying it out when Hoseok tries to move harder. “I need you.” Even needy, Jeongguk sounds impatient with him, but it doesn’t faze Hoseok.

Tugging his fingers out, he wipes them on his hip then shifts back to undress. He does blush when he sees Jeongguk sit up, drinking in the sight as he tugs his shirt up over his head and kicks off his pants, exposing his thin, toned body.

Not embarrassed by nudity, he takes the time to tug off his socks, yelping when Jeongguk smacks his ass. “What?”

“You’re taking too long.”

Shooting Jeongguk a look, he softens when he sees the pout on the hybrid’s lips, his ears perked up and quivering slightly.

“Guk…” something expands in his chest. “Lay back again.”

Obeying, Jeongguk adjusts the pillows, then lays back, his gaze calm and steady. If it weren’t for the erection pushing up against his stomach, Hoseok would mistake the composure for unaffectedness.

He wants to touch but holds off, instead stepping back onto the floor so he doesn’t have to lean to rummage in his bedside table for a condom. When he closes the drawer and turns back, he almost smacks the hybrid in the face with his cock, as Jeongguk rolled to grab the bottle of lubricant from where he set it on the floor previously.

“Sorry, sorry!” He yelps, but Jeongguk’s quiet laughter stops him.

Despite being so hard to read, the way that Jeongguk smiles at him then leaves nothing to the imagination.

“Come here, Hoseok,” he says, biting back a smile.

“That’s hyung to you, brat,” Hoseok replies, half-hearted as he finally kicks off his jeans and boxers. “And unless you want chafing on your thighs, you should wait for me to strip.”

“Sounds hot.” But Jeongguk says it through laughter, toying with the cap to the bottle of lube.

Hoseok shucks off his clothes, not paying attention to where he tosses them, and then climbs back onto the bed and balances on his knees. Ripping open his condom, he pinches the tip and rolls it down himself with his trembling hands tripping him up. Jeongguk even claps for him when he grabs for the lube.

“What?”

“Condom master.”

“Shut up.”

Squirting some lube into his hand, he slicks his erection up, breath picking up as his eyes pick over Jeongguk’s body, stilling on so many individual spots that he loses track of his goal for a moment.

But, while he enjoyed the examination, Jeongguk began to stir, restless, legs folding together, then spreading open, rinse and repeat. His teeth find his lower lip as he watches Hoseok, not speaking until the man notices.

When he does, it’s instinct to take his old position over top of the hybrid, one hand pressing to the bed next to the hybrid’s head, their faces so close their noses almost graze. The other hand smooths down one of Jeongguk’s thighs, pressing it to the side. His erection pokes against the other thigh, and he swallows back the arousal that coaxes him to plunge into him.

Yet, when he looks up at Jeongguk, he finds a matching want in his eyes, as if he can see right through him. Hoseok contemplates asking him, but instead shifts one hand down, saying only, “Keep your legs wide, okay?” as he positions himself.

Obeying, the hybrid grabs for his legs, bending them wider than Hoseok would dare on his own, and he presses himself into Jeongguk. Rather than easing in, remembering the size of the dildos that Jeongguk so heartily fucked himself on, he pushes until he’s balls deep, moaning at the tightness around him.

Jeongguk lets go of his legs and wraps his arms around Hoseok once more as the man bends over him. His fingernails dig into the bare skin of his back, and he lets out a quiet whimper that Hoseok feels against his lips, rather than hears.

“Let me know when you’re good.”

In his intensity, he started staring at Jeongguk and doesn’t catch it until the hybrid’s eyes open. They’re dark, liquid with want, and he says, voice pure velvet, “You can move.” His fingers relax and rub over Hoseok’s shoulders, as if he expects the man to worry.

Taking a deep breath, Hoseok rolls his hips back, then chases the tightness, thrusting back into him with a sharp snap forward of his hips.

A moan escapes Jeongguk’s lips before he bites down on his lower lip, as if embarrassed the sound escaped so soon.

Hoseok smiles even as he fucks him, finding a pace he likes. “Does it feel good, bun?” The nickname slips out, a part of Hoseok worrying, though it’s an easy enough fix. Jeongguk might scowl, but they are in a grand position to kiss and make up.

Jeongguk’s mouth falls open, but instead of a protest, a small whine leaves him, hands digging into Hoseok’s shoulders as he lifts his hips, legs wrapping up around the man’s waist. His calve muscles tense, and Hoseok finds it harder to draw back, instead snapping his hips forward in smooth rolls.

He might have used a bit too much lube, a wet sound filling the air as his pelvis meets Jeongguk’s ass, but the tight, wet grip keeps him from caring too much.

Shifting the hand on his hip to grasp the hybrid’s cock, Hoseok rubs his thumb along the underside of the head, teasing, “I bet I can make you cum first.” He braces his heels hard against the bed, pounding into him harder, driven by a need to perform well. “It’s easy with my hand on you, right?”

“I—” his voice cracks. “Oh, oh…” His blunt nails drag down Hoseok’s back.

Sucking in a breath, trying not to sound pained, Hoseok focuses on the pleasure—on how Jeongguk squeezes around him, scrambles to cling on, like he might be fucked out of all sound and sense.

“If you cum fast enough, we might even be able to go again.”

Jeongguk says something, but it’s slurred. He cries out when Hoseok jerks his hips forward, rolling smoothly into him.

When he glances down, he sees tears forming in the corners of Jeongguk’s eyes and almost stops.

“Are you okay?” The words leave his lips before he can even process the situation them over, but Jeongguk’s already shaking his head.

“No, no, it…” he blushes, the pretty pink softening his face even further, his ears lying spread on the pillow. “It feels good.”

His worries drain away, and even as the tears begin to drip down Jeongguk’s face, the hybrid’s cock throbs in Hoseok’s hold.

“Are you close?” He asks, trying not to belay his own shortening fuse.

“I—” Jeongguk moans as Hoseok grinds forward, using the hybrid’s distraction to fight against the weakening hold of his thighs.

He pulls himself partially out, thrusting into him with determination. Aside from chasing his own orgasm, he doesn’t feel like he’s going to last must longer.

“I would love to blow you, but I really want to see you cum with me in you,” Hoseok smiles, the expression shy. “Is that gross?”

“A-A little,” Jeongguk says, a smirk curling at his lips.

“Brat.” On an impulse, Hoseok leans down to kiss him, changing the angle just enough that Jeongguk moans against his lips, giving him a chance to suck at his lower lip.

The contact is hungry, Hoseok’s hand on his cock speeding up to match his own mounting orgasm, and just before he feels like he can’t take anymore, Jeongguk’s head falls to the side and he cries out.

Warmth lands on Hoseok’s stomach and he moans, cheeks coloring as he pictures the hybrid’s spunk on his skin, his hand milking him through orgasm instinctively. The way Jeongguk’s arms go limp, flopping back onto the bed to take what Hoseok’s still giving him is too much on top of everything.

Hoseok feels his limbs tighten, and he buries his face in Jeongguk’s neck as he cums into the condom, moaning the hybrid’s name with no sense of shame.

He doesn’t stay on top of him for more than a few breaths, gathering himself together before he pulls out, smiling to himself at the little, surprised squeak that produces.

“Hope that didn’t hurt,” he murmurs as he ties the condom off.

The hybrid is slumped back against the pillows Hoseok arranged for himself, eyes shut as he catches his breath. He looks like he could be sleeping, but he speaks, voice only slightly rough, “It was fine.”

“Just fine?” Hoseok’s afterglow feels like sunshine, and that’s his only excuse for what he does next: he leans up over the hybrid to peck his lips, the kiss chaste.

Jeongguk’s eyes flutter open, and he pouts at him, though Hoseok can see the softness in the depths.

“Can you get me a tissue or something?”

Hoseok does, and he even goes the extra mile to wipe Jeongguk’s chest down himself, enjoying the intimacy of it. Jeongguk seems to, too, if only because, despite his eyes slipping closed every few seconds, he forces them open each time to watch Hoseok.

He tries not to get a big head about it.

“Do you want pjs?”

“No,” Jeongguk shakes his head, “I could use the body heat, though.”

Embarrassed at how good it feels to hear that, he teases, “Never thought I’d be invited to share my own bed.”

“It’s a real honor.” The hybrid flashes a smile at him. “Now get down here before I fall asleep, or I’ll take it back.”

“Yes, sir.” Hoseok slips under the covers and helps Jeongguk accompany him. “Or should that be ‘yes, bun’?”

“You know if you call me that in front of anyone else that I’ll be forced to gut you, right?”

Hoseok hums, careful not to agree, but as he wraps himself around the warm hybrid, Jeongguk doesn’t push him.

It’s only when Jeongguk’s probably asleep does he think to say, “And you’ll always have a home with me. Even if you want to date other people.”

“Didn’t know we were dating.” His voice is rough with sleep. Hoseok wonders if he’ll remember this conversation in the morning.

“If you like. This can be your forever-home, and I can be your forever-boy.”

“Someone should probably ask Tae first.”

“Probably, but stop ruining the moment.”

“You’re the one who woke me up.”

Hoseok can’t fight the happiness that encompasses even this tiny, insignificant conversation. “True.”

Jeongguk noses at his neck. “And I’d love it. Both its.” He glances up at Hoseok, his ears tucked close to his head to preserve the warmth, and he appears so young and bright it almost pains the man.

His heart gives another leap. “Then they’re yours. Both have been yours for a long time, anyway.”

The hybrid’s cheeks go red, and this time Hoseok indulges himself in a sighed “So cute!” that Jeongguk can only shake his head at.

“Stupid owner.”