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aftermath

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Johnny doesn’t know how long it’s been since he woke up.

He knows he’s been in the hospital almost two days, and he’s getting discharged sometime in the next few hours, if all goes well.  It’s late, judging by the protests he heard outside as Dream and the younger members of WayV were shuttled back to their dorms, and most of his members are only just leaving the hospital.  Ten and Kun are still lingering in the hallway, though, and Sicheng disappeared into Yuta’s room at some point and hasn’t been seen since.  Lucas has been glued to Jungwoo’s bedside since he got here, and if Johnny wasn’t so tired himself he’d probably have pried the kid away so both of them could get proper rest.  (Not that Jungwoo seems to mind; exhausted as he is, he still manages to crack a smile every time Lucas says something particularly ridiculous.)

It’s a weird feeling, not knowing where one day ends and the next begins, the minutes blending into each other as the hours seem to stretch longer and longer without any end in sight.  Most of their lives are scheduled down to the minute, but between the atmosphere and his grogginess as he drifts in and out of consciousness, it’s like he’s suspended in one long, interminable moment in time.

Not that he could do much of anything anyway.  His head still hurts, he’ll be kept out of the practice rooms for a while to reduce his concussion risk, and even though they let him off the oxygen mask he still feels winded if he talks for too long.  The others haven’t pushed him, only asked how he’s feeling and managed weak, relieved smiles at his (terrible, but passable) attempts at humor to lighten the mood.  He’s not sure what bothers him more:  worrying about them, or being the source of everyone else’s worry.  Of course, since waking up, he’s had plenty of time for both.

The stream of chatter from Jungwoo’s bedside is starting to die down when Ten reappears in the doorway.  Barefaced and nursing a cup of coffee, he looks every bit as tired as Johnny feels.

“Hey,” Johnny says, voice half-rough from disuse and half from pain.  They’ve already seen each other, technically, but between Johnny’s incredible fatigue and three units’ worth of members fussing over him like a horde of anxious ajummas, they haven’t had the chance to properly talk.

“Hey.”  Ten sets his coffee down on the bedside table before planting himself at the foot of Johnny’s bed.  “How you feeling?”

“Tired.”  Johnny blinks a few times, fighting down his drowsiness.  “I’m alive, though, so I can’t really complain.”

Ten huffs.  “I don’t think anyone in their right mind would stop you from complaining.”

“Still.  I like to look on the bright side.”

Ten smiles, and even against the ever-present din of the heart monitor and the hospital around them his presence is grounding, like a taste of the outside world, a breath of the fresh air Johnny hadn’t known to miss until he lost it.  “Sorry to interrupt your alone time,” he says.  “I just—I wanted to see you.”

Johnny shakes his head.  “Don’t be sorry.”  It’s true he hasn’t had a moment alone since waking up, doctors checking vitals and managers murmuring about press statements and members crowded around the bedside looking like various degrees of death warmed over, but now that his mind is clearing he’s finally starting to process what exactly happened, the reason they’re all here, and—if he’s being entirely honest, he’d rather not have to think about it by himself.  “Thanks for keeping me company.”

Ten hums.  “I went to see Yuta,” he says, tone growing somber.  His finger traces swirls in the sheets, eyes downcast.

Johnny nods, solemn.  No one would meet Johnny’s eyes when he asked about Yuta, everyone glancing awkwardly around the room before Taeil broke the news.  Nobody wanted to talk about him, but his absence hung over them like a fog, omnipresent and suffocating as the toxin that nearly took their lives, the toxin that would’ve killed Johnny had Yuta not burst in and fished him out when he did.

Without Yuta, none of them would be here.

“Doyoung was there,” Ten continues.  “I sat with him for ten minutes and he didn’t say anything, just held his head in his hands the entire time.”

“Has he eaten?”  Doyoung, Taeil had informed him, was the only member left unharmed.  He’d fallen out with Yuta and gone off to clear his head, and although he’d hurried over to see the rest of them as soon he found out, Johnny hasn’t seen him at all since he woke up.  Right now he wants nothing more than to talk to him, to reassure him, to tell him everything will okay.

“Kun said he was bringing him food.”  Ten’s voice falters, and he takes in a deep, shaky breath.  When he looks up at Johnny, there are tears in his eyes.

“Hey,” Johnny says gently.  “It’s okay.”

Ten shakes his head.  “You didn’t see him, Johnny.  He was so pale.  So still.  He looked…”

He doesn’t finish.  He doesn’t have to.

(Something Johnny doesn’t want to think about:  Ten on a plane to Seoul, mind racing, eight of his friends half-dead in hospital beds and nothing he can do about it.)

“He’ll wake up,” Johnny says.

“You don’t know that,” Ten whispers.  His head is bowed; his shoulders shake.  If Johnny could, he’d lever himself out of bed and wrap his arms around Ten, never let go.

“Yes, I do.”  And he means it.  It doesn’t matter what the odds are; he believes it.  There is no way Yuta would get all seven of them out of there only to give up on himself.  “He’s gonna wake up, Ten.  He’s gonna make it.  He’s gonna be okay.”

Ten swallows, takes a moment to compose himself.  “I hope you’re right.”  He reaches up, wipes at the tears streaking down his cheeks.  “God, we owe him so much.”

“A lifetime supply of takoyaki,” Johnny suggests.

“Of dinner, more like.”  Ten smiles a little, and it’s watery and lopsided but it’s something.  “We’ll drive the company into bankruptcy with all the food we owe him.”

“He’ll feast like a king.”

“Like an emperor,” Ten corrects, “and if SM has a problem with that they can take it up with me.”

Johnny knows Ten’s serious.  It’s one of the things Johnny’s always admired most about Ten, and one of the things he’s missed.  There’s a lot about Ten, really, that he’s missed.  He’d managed to ignore them all through tour, swept up in the rush of new songs and new cities and show after show after show, but now that he’s had time to slow down—been forced to slow down, by a fucking gas leak of all things, he can finally appreciate just how glad he is to see Ten again.

Neither of them say anything for a while.  The conversation’s come to a standstill, Ten steadying his breathing and Johnny trying to tune out the noises of the monitors, the edges of a headache resurfacing at his temples.

“You okay?” he eventually asks Ten.

“Do you ever worry about yourself?”  Ten sighs.  “I’m fine.  Really,” he says, but his eyes are still glassy and his fingers are restless, clenching and unclenching around the sheets.  “I just—I keep having to tell myself it could’ve been worse.”  He gazes forlornly at the neighboring bed, at Jungwoo curled on his side and Lucas snoring with his mouth open, hand gripping Jungwoo’s.  They both look painfully young and so, so fragile.  “It’s hard to think about.”

Johnny’s head is pounding now, but he reaches over to place his hand on top of Ten’s.  The tension in Ten’s shoulders relaxes, and his fingers slowly loosen and splay themselves out flat on the bed.

“How long are you guys back?” he asks.

Ten flips his palm to face Johnny’s, tangles their fingers together.  “I don’t know,” he says quietly.  His lips quirk up.  “We were actually supposed to come back next week.  Promotions are finally wrapping up, so we figured we’d finish up our last few interviews and then come surprise you.”

This is news to Johnny, definitely.  The schedules have probably moved quite a bit around in the wake of the last few days, Dream’s comeback in particular getting pushed back so Donghyuck can rest, but he’s having trouble imagining SM cancelling Ten’s schedules for something that didn’t even concern his unit.

“They really let you come back early,” he muses, half to himself.

“I know, shocking,” Ten replies.  “I think they realized how messed up we all were.  Sicheng and Xuxi both took it really hard.”

Johnny thinks of Lucas telling Jungwoo about his exploits in China until they both fell asleep; of Sicheng at Yuta’s bedside, keeping faithful vigil.  “And you?”

Ten bites his lip.  “We had a program scheduled the morning they called us,” he says.  “I couldn’t do it.  I wouldn’t have done it.  If they hadn’t flown us out, I’d have gone my own damn self.”

“What if you’d had a show?”

“What if I had a show?  Johnny, what if you’d died,” Ten counters, eyes flashing.  “What if you died and I was in China because of some stupid radio show?  I had no idea if I’d ever get to see you again.  I wasn’t going to take that chance.”

Tears prick at the back of Johnny’s eyes.  “I’m sorry,” he says.  His voice hitches, knots itself around the lump in his throat.

“Don’t apologize.  Please,” Ten says, voice softening.  He squeezes Johnny’s hand, and the knot in Johnny’s throat loosens and unwinds itself, lets him breathe.  “I’m just happy to see you again.  God,” he says, laughing a little, “you have no idea how happy I was to hear your voice.”

“I’m glad someone likes my voice,” Johnny says.  “I happen to think my voice is very underrated.”

Ten rolls his eyes.  “Well, maybe if you didn’t talk so much, you’d get more lines.”

“Doubt it.”  The drowsiness he’d been fighting off is finally overtaking him, and Johnny’s having more and more trouble keeping his eyes open.  Ten must notice this, because his thumb stills where it’s rubbing circles in Johnny’s palm and comes to rest right in the center.

“You should sleep,” Ten says.  “Almost dying takes a lot out of you, you know.”

Johnny would argue that all he’s done since he woke up is talk and sleep, but he is really tired, so he just nods and closes his eyes, makes himself as comfortable as he can with all the tubes snaking in and out of his body.

“I’d better head out anyway,” Ten continues.  “Someone’s got to check up on the kids.”  There’s a shifting of weight as he leaves the bed, and Johnny’s heart quickens, the monitor matching pace with his anxiety.

“You could stay,” he says, even though he knows Ten won’t.  He knows he’s being selfish, and deep down, somewhere in his concussed, oxygen-starved brain, he knows Ten needs the rest every bit as much.

“I have better things to do than watch you sleep,” Ten says.  His hand lingers in Johnny’s, though, fingers skimming the surface of Johnny’s palm.  “I’ll be here when you wake up.  Stay alive.  No more funny business, Suh.”

Johnny hums an assent.  He can feel sleep taking over him, pulling him under.

“Good,” Ten says.  Kun calls to him faintly from the doorway, and Ten responds in Mandarin, the words unfamiliar to Johnny but still striking in their newfound fluency.  “I’ll see you later.”

“Missed you,” Johnny mumbles, as Ten starts to leave.

The footsteps stop, and Johnny manages to crack his eyes open enough to catch Ten’s smile as he says, “I missed you too, hyung.”