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You're Worse Than Nicotine

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***Seungcheol's POV***

“No. There’s absolutely no way. You have to be kidding.” Seungcheol gapes, dumbfounded, at Seokmin. The younger man shakes his head sadly.

“No, I’m not kidding. They didn’t have any rooms left and Seungkwan has placed you with Jeonghan and Joshua.”

“Why?” Seungcheol literally sinks so low on the couch that he nearly slides off onto the floor like molasses. Dread is building in him quickly, filling his lungs with sand. Seokmin sighs and pats him on the leg.

“He says it’ll help the three of you make up with each other.” He replies.

“There’s nothing wrong.” Seungcheol states, crossing his arms.

“Seungcheol, you haven’t talked to each other in two months.” Jihoon deadpans from his place on the floor. His laptop is on the coffee table and he’s scanning something furiously, clicking every few seconds. The young producer is hard at work.

“We talk.” Seungcheol argues.

“Saying ‘hi’ and ‘bye’ is not talking to them.” Seokmin tells him gently.

***

Seungcheol has been avoiding his two former best friends, Jeonghan and Joshua, for months now. They’ve been doing the same to him and to each other.

It was immediately obvious to everyone around them. The three of them went from being attached at the hip, spending every waking moment together, to barely looking in each other’s direction. The first two weeks were spent trying to drag an explanation out of any of them, but after that, everyone gave up. Seungcheol could tell it was hurting all of them. Their precious, close friend group had been stirred up in a major way.

It was hurting him, too, to be honest. As much as he tried to convince himself he was fine without the other two, he still had nights where all he could do was curl up into a tiny ball and cry as silently as he could without tipping off his roommate, Mingyu.

It had happened one night when they were all at Jun and Minghao’s place. Seungcheol referred to it in his head as ‘The Night His Life Was Ruined Forever’. It was a typical Friday night. Seungcheol got off work, swung by Jeonghan and Seokmin’s apartment, then by Joshua, Seungkwan, and Hansol’s to get Jeonghan and Joshua. They would ride to Jun and Minghao’s in Seungcheol’s truck, stopping on the way to grab alcohol, and arrive in time for the pizza to get there.

The night would be spent playing Mario Party, drinking, and eating as much as they could. Fitting thirteen people into one cramped apartment was hard, but they managed.

Seungcheol had two too many shots. He knew his limit, but he was feeling extra stressed, so he welcomed the extra two that were offered. By the time he’d finished off the second extra, his head was swimming.

The fairy lights Jun had strung along the edges of the ceiling were dancing, swirling above him like shooting stars. Mario Kart looked extra fun and was suddenly way harder to win.

Jeonghan and Joshua looked equally as smashed. Jeonghan had mentioned a rough week at his photography job and Joshua just wanted to drink more because everyone else was.

It was no surprise to him when Jeonghan and Joshua followed him out onto the balcony when he went out to smoke. He only smoked about once a day, less if he could manage it. Jeonghan and Joshua had been trying to talk him out of it for years now.

Jeonghan was always handsy, but he was worse when he was drunk. He pressed himself into Seungcheol’s back like an octopus, arms around his stomach. He hooked his chin over Seungcheol’s shoulder, practically purring. He smelled like mango vodka and the peach shampoo he always washed his long, gorgeous hair with. Seungcheol welcomed the warmth against him, content. Joshua was at his side, staring out over the city with a dazed grin on his kitten-ish mouth.

Looking at both of them, Seungcheol’s heart began inflating like a balloon. God, they were both so gorgeous. They always had been. They’d known each other since middle school, and even before they went through puberty, they’d been cute. And now that they were grown up, Seungcheol couldn’t take his eyes off either of them, no matter how much he wanted to.

It ate at him constantly. The way he couldn’t help staring openly at Jeonghan anytime the boy was around. The way butterflies exploded in his gut when Joshua smiled at him. It wasn’t natural.

“You guys are both really pretty.” Seungcheol blurted, the liquor forcing words from him.

“Aw, thanks. You’re pretty too, Cheollie.” Jeonghan swayed them both side to side, voice oozing with alcohol. Why did he sound like… sex?

“Yeah, but you’re like… really, really pretty.” Seungcheol slurred, taking a drag off his cigarette. A frown came to his face. They were both pretty. Too pretty for Seungcheol.

“What’s wrong?” Joshua noticed his demeanor change, even in this state. His kitten smile faded.

“My brain is all… gunky.” Seungcheol sighed.

“Gunky.” Jeonghan repeated, giggling. The vibration of his chest against Seungcheol’s back sent chills all over Seungcheol’s body.

“What are you thinking about?” Joshua asked, stepping closer to study Seungcheol’s face. Seungcheol stubbed out the end of his cigarette on the railing and blew out one last puff of smoke. He could feel liquid courage warming his bones. His brain urged him to talk. Say what he was feeling.

They won’t remember in the morning, silly!

“I wanna kiss you.” Seungcheol said into the cool night air. He looked at Joshua’s lips, full and adorable and… perfect. The number of times he’d thought about pressing his lips to Joshua’s was obscene. It was wrong. And yet…

“Huh?” Joshua blinked, clearly trying to make sense of this. Seungcheol immediately wished he could take it back. Suck the statement back into his mouth and swallow it.

“I wanna kiss Jeonghannie, too.” He said instead, letting the second confession tumble from his lips. Jeonghan slid from his back slowly, coming to stand beside Joshua. They were both staring at him, confused, but not angry.

“Why?” Jeonghan asked. Seungcheol shrugged.

“You’re pretty.” Was all he could manage. Romantic.

Joshua looked at Seungcheol for a moment longer before he turned to look at Jeonghan, blinking a few times before his eyes went to Jeonghan’s mouth. His lucious, pink mouth.

“Oh… I wanna kiss Jeonghan too.” His shoulders dropped, almost defeated. He looked back at Seungcheol. His eyes went to Seungcheol’s own lips. “...and I wanna kiss you, Cheollie.”

“I always wanna kiss Seungcheol. And you.” Jeonghan said, looking between them. “But my dad always says it’s wrong to kiss boys.” He deflated then, a little bit of light draining from his eyes. Joshua made a sad noise.

“Yeah… my dad says it’s bad too.” He agreed. Hurt laced his face and it made Seungcheol’s stomach ache. His own parents had never outright said it, but he had the feeling they weren’t into gay people either. The thought made him want to cry.

“We should just kiss. Nobody will know.” Seungcheol stated. Jeonghan and Joshua seemed to think about it for a second.

“Yeah. We should.” Joshua said suddenly, blinking in realization.

“Our dads aren’t here.” Jeonghan added, shrugging.

Seungcheol’s excitement rose. He was going to kiss his best friends. On the mouth. After dreaming about it for years. This was the best night of his life.

“Who should go first?” Joshua asked, looking between them.

“You two should kiss first.” Seungcheol decided, pointing. Jeonghan grinned and turned slightly toward Joshua. Joshua reciprocated the smile and the two of them seemed to glide into each other's arms. There was a moment of hesitation while they lovingly looked each other in the eye for just a brief second before their lips met softly. Jeonghan’s eyes fluttered closed, followed by Joshua’s. Seungcheol felt some kind of content puzzle piece slide into place in his chest, seeing them kiss.

It was over too soon, and then Jeonghan was turning to Seungcheol.

“Kiss me, Cheol.” He laughed breathily. His face was beet red, but he looked so happy that Seungcheol wanted to grab him and spin him around. He settled for pulling Jeonghan in by the waist. His heart sped up to eight times its normal rhythm as he realized how close the two of them were. He could see the soft bags under Jeonghan’s eyes. The smile creases beside them. He’d been waiting his whole life for this.

He took a deep breath and leaned in. Their lips pressed together like they were made for each other.

There were no fireworks. Instead, there were symphonies of color. The blooming of golden flowers. Pinks and purples in the sky at sunset. The glittering blue of the ocean. Jeonghan was a warm summer day. He was laughter. He was pure joy. He was the feeling of riding a roller coaster, pure exhilaration.

Seungcheol almost wanted to chase his lips as he pulled away. Jeonghan’s eyes met his once again, and the happiness he saw there made him want to pull Jeonghan in for another kiss.

But then Joshua was beside him, holding his hand. Gazing at him with pure adoration. A gentle smile tugged at his mouth. Seungcheol took another deep breath, cupping Joshua’s cheek in his hand, and kissed him.

Again, no fireworks. Seungcheol felt at ease. Right with the world. The weight of a freshly washed blanket. Waves crashing against the shore at night. Lullabies and soft, lingering touches. Joshua was a cool autumn night spent by the fire. He was comfort. He was calm. He was the feeling of peace and serenity.

He was equally as amazing as Jeonghan.

And Seungcheol knew at that moment that he loved them both with every fiber of his being.

This thought made him feel simultaneously overjoyed and completely terrified. As they pulled away from each other, he couldn’t help wanting Joshua’s lips back. He wanted that comfort again.

And then, reality set in.

The two of them seemed to recognize the terror in his eyes immediately.

“What’s wrong?” Jeonghan asked, holding his other hand.

“What… what did we just do?” Seungcheol breathed. He had to struggle to swallow the lump in his throat.

Jeonghan and Joshua were still for a second before seeming to come to terms with what had just gone down.

All three of them had just kissed each other.

At that moment, Seungcheol had never felt more sober in his life. Unconsciously, he took a step back, letting go of both of them. Joshua did the same, backing toward the railing. Jeonghan hugged himself.

“My dad… my dad’s going to kill me if he finds out.” Joshua’s voice was shaking.

“Why did we do that?” Jeonghan stared blankly out into the city lights.

The sliding door to the balcony opened and Minghao peeked out at them.

“Hey. Whatcha guys doing out here?” He asked, cheerful.

“I have to go.” Seungcheol was moving suddenly. He couldn’t stay. He couldn’t look at either of them.

“Huh? But you’ve only been here a few hours.” Minghao called as Seungcheol rushed toward the living room.

“I need to get out of here.” Seungcheol’s was starting to panic. He scrambled to find his keys and his wallet.

“Uh, no. You’re not driving.” Jihoon’s deft fingers were snatching his keys. Seungcheol’s heart sank and he reached after them.

“Jihoon, I need to leave.” He was sounding desperate now. Blood was roaring in his ears.

“Seungcheol, what’s going on? Are you okay?” Mingyu was beside him without warning, eyes very worried.

“I want to go home. We have to go home.” He begged. His eyes were starting to water and he knew he was going to cry any second now. He wanted out. He wanted to be at home, in his bed, where he could process what the hell he’d just done in the privacy of his room.

“Okay, okay, hold on. I haven’t had anything to drink. I can drive us home. Let me find my jacket.” God bless Mingyu for being such a saint. Having lived with Seungcheol for a few years, he knew when the older boy was being serious.

“Are you leaving?” Minghao asked, re-entering the room.

“I don’t know what’s wrong, but Seungcheol’s not feeling great.” Mingyu responded, gathering his things.

“Aw, okay,” Minghao sounded disappointed, but Seungcheol knew he would understand. “Are you gonna say bye to Jeonghan and Josh?”

“No.” Seungcheol couldn’t take it anymore. He was turning on his heel and bolting from the apartment, leaving the door swinging behind himself.

Mingyu found in the bed of the truck a few minutes later, where he’d curled himself into the corner near the window and was struggling not to completely break down.

“Come on, let’s get you home.”

Mingyu tried to ask him what was wrong all the way back to their own apartment, but Seungcheol couldn’t talk. Nobody could know about what had happened between the three of them. He would take it to his grave if he had to. When they arrived at the apartment, Seungcheol locked himself in his room, threw himself face-down in bed, and began to cry.

After that, the three of them avoided each other like the plague. None of them could talk about it. Seungcheol certainly couldn’t. He didn’t know what he’d say. He obviously wasn’t going to admit that he was in love with both his best friends. He supposed they were both embarrassed that they’d indulged in his drunken fantasties and couldn’t handle being around him anymore. He couldn’t blame them.

And so, years and years of friendship seemed to come to a screeching halt. He’d spent two months feeling sick when he saw them. Wanting to cry when either of them looked in his direction. Avoiding questions about what had happened.

And now they were being forced into a hotel room at the beach with each other.

***

“Earth to Space Cadet Seungcheol.” Seokmin waves a hand in front of his face. Seungcheol falls out of his trance, suddenly aware that Seokmin has been trying to get his attention. There’s also an extra body in the room. Mingyu is home from work.

“I take it Seokmin told you the news.” He says upon seeing Seungcheol’s face.

“I get it. You’re all conspiring against me.” Seungcheol says feebly.

“Cheol.” Mingyu sighs. He drops his bag and comes to sit on the coffee table in front of the two of them.

“I don’t understand.” Seungcheol frowns.

“Let’s put it this way. I know something’s wrong, because a few months ago, you would have literally been fist fighting everyone to make sure you got to room with Jeonghan and Joshua.” He settles his elbows on his knees and clasps his hands.

Seungcheol has nothing to say in reply.

“Can’t you just tell us what happened? I’m sure whatever it was, we can help you resolve it. Did you have a fight? You were only out there for a few minutes that night. Unless you’d been fighting all day and we didn’t notice.” Seokmin babbles, holding onto his arm.

“No, we didn’t fight.” Seungcheol rubs at his face with his palm.

“Then what was it? Did you… wait.” Jihoon slams his laptop closed. “Did one of you kiss each other?”

The silence that follows is deafening. Seungcheol’s mouth opens. It closes. It opens again.

“No.” He finally says in a small voice.

“Holy shit. Who kissed who?” Mingyu gapes.

“No, it wasn’t like that. Nothing happened.” Seungcheol springs up off the couch and walks into the kitchen. He takes a glass from the cabinet, fills it, and starts chugging ice water.

“Did Jeonghan and Joshua kiss? Is that why you’re upset?” Seokmin follows him in, crossing his arms.

“Why would I be upset?” Seungcheol finds himself asking.

“Cheol. It’s kind of obvious you’re enamored with them both.” Jihoon rolls his eyes and joins them in the kitchen. Mingyu isn’t far behind.

“I’m not. Wait, do I act that way? Is it obvious?” He slams his glass on the countertop so hard that water sloshes out the top. Mingyu raises his eyebrows. Seungcheol slumps in defeat and lets his face fall into his hands.

“So was that it, then? They kissed each other?” Jihoon asks.

“No.” Seungcheol mumbles into his hands.

“You kissed Jeonghan?” Mingyu guesses.

“You kissed Josh?” Seokmin pulls himself to sit on the countertop.

“No.” Seungcheol pushes his hair out of his face. The three of them look between each other, communicating silently. Then Mingyu gasps, sending Seungcheol jumping half a foot in the air.

“All three of you kissed each other.”

Seungcheol just looks at him.

“Oh. My. God! All three of you kissed each other!” Seokmin screams. Seungcheol slaps a hand over his mouth.

“Minnie. Please.” He begs. Jihoon and Chan’s apartment is directly on the other side of the wall, and if Chan hears, there will be yet another person to try to explain himself too. When nothing happens for a few seconds, he lets his hand slide from Seokmin’s mouth.

And then the door slams open and not only Chan, but Minghao slide inside.

“You kissed Jeonghan and Joshua?” Minghao shouts incredulously. Seungcheol gives Seokmin a piercing glare and is met with a sheepish smile.

“I never said that I did.” He mutters.

“If you didn’t all kiss each other, then tell us what actually happened.” Chan demands, crossing his arms.

Seungcheol just takes another sip of his water.

“That’s what I thought.” Chan huffs.

“How the hell? What happened?” Minghao questions. Seungcheol pours the rest of his water down the drain and slinks off to the living room. They flock like geese toward him, settling on the floor and the couch to see what he says.

“I had two shots more than usual.” Seungcheol begins. His heart is starting to pound.

“I told you to stop.” Mingyu leans back against the couch dramatically.

“In my defense, both of them were drinking more too. Anyway, we just went out on the balcony and… I don’t know. It just happened. I wanted to kiss both of them and they wanted to kiss each other. So we did.” Seungcheol almost wants to cry saying it out loud. All five boys stare at him in disbelief.

“And you can’t just… talk about it?” Jihoon asks. Seungcheol curls into a little ball against the arm of the couch.

“I can’t.”

“Why not?” Mingyu pouts.

“I just… can’t.” Seungcheol picks at a thread on his pants.

“Cheol… do you love them? Both of them?” Seokmin inches closer.

Seungcheol’s heart does a nosedive through his stomach, out of the bottom of his spine, through the couch, and down, down, down until it hits the middle of the earth. Time seems to slow way down. He blinks slowly.

“I’m… I don’t know.” He says in a near whisper.

“We’ve never really talked about this. You never came out. Do you think you’re gay?” Jihoon, who is generally disinterested in anything, is sitting on the coffee table, watching him with worried eyes.

Is he? He thinks he might be. He never gets the urge to even think about women. He has no interest in finding a girlfriend. Nobody has ever made him feel the way Jeonghan and Joshua do.

"I don't know. I think so.” Seungcheol’s throat is burning. Jesus, not now. He can’t cry. He lifts a trembling hand to fiddle with the zipper on his hoodie. He can’t look anyone in the eye.

“Alright. Well… you know we all love you, right?” Jihoon’s voice gets uncharacteristically quiet and gentle. All Seungcheol can do is nod slowly.

“Oh… oh geez, Jeonghan and Joshua’s parents are painfully homophobic.” Seokmin sounds distraught.

“It doesn’t matter. I don’t think they feel that way about me anyway.” Seungcheol says through his tightening windpipe.

“Why would you think that?” Mingyu asks.

“I mean… look at both of them. They’re like… greek gods. Jeonghan is the prettiest photographer on this side of the planet. Joshua is the most gorgeous author, period. I’m just some janky guy who edits books and spends lots of time alone. Besides, even if I did… like them, and they… liked me back… that’s three people. That’s… that’s not something people generally accept.” Seungcheol’s voice is starting to shake along with his hands. “We were just drunk. It was nothing.”

“Then maybe you should talk to them. Find out how they feel. It can’t be healthy to torture yourself like this.” Seokmin pats him on the arm.

“I can’t, Min. I can’t do that.” Seungcheol hugs his knees.

“Don’t you miss them? You three used to be the closest of any of us. And Minghao and I are dating.” Mingyu is frowning deeply.

“Of course I miss them.” Oh, god, his eyes are starting to burn now.

“Maybe you could at least try. Maybe you don’t even have to talk it through. You could just try to go back to normal with them.” Chan suggests.

“I don’t know if we can.” Seungcheol blinks frantically in an attempt to keep it together.

“Cheol… I can’t believe you’ve been dealing with this by yourself for so long. Why didn’t you tell us?” Mingyu cooes.

A sob builds in his throat faster than he can stop it and all he can do is press his face into his knees before the tears are spilling. He tries to swallow the sob and his chest heaves. Someone pulls his hands away from his knees and forces his feet back to the ground. A small body climbs into his lap and arms curl around his neck. He presses his face into their shoulder.

“Um… hey… is this a bad time?” A new voice says from the door. Seungcheol completely freezes. Just the sound of Jeonghan’s voice makes every hair on his body stand on end and a shiver runs down his back.

“Hey, Han. What’s up?” Mingyu tries to sound nonchalant.

“I was just looking for Minnie. Thought we might head to the grocery store.” Jeonghan explains.

“Oh, I forgot it was Thursday. I’m coming.” Seokmin rises from the couch. He bends back down for a second, next to Seungcheol’s ear. “I’m going to call you later, okay? Think about what we were talking about.” He presses a kiss to the top of Seungcheol’s head and then he’s gone, talking loudly all the way down the hallway.

“Do I still have to room with them?” Seungcheol asks shakily.

“Yep.” Jihoon responds from his lap.

“But why?” Seungcheol whines.

“Because I think it’ll be good for you. You’ll be around each other, at least at night. Maybe you can talk it out. Or just get used to being around each other again.” Jihoon pats him on the back of the head and then pulls away to look at his face. Seungcheol squeezes his eyes closed.

“It’s gonna be alright.” Mingyu squeezes him on the shoulder.

“God, I hope so.”

Chapter Text

***Seungcheol's POV***

The next two days are spent packing. They’re leaving Sunday morning and he’s waited until the last second to get everything together.

“Here are your swim trunks.” Mingyu says, tossing the said trunks on Seungcheol’s bed.

“Thanks, Pup.” Seungcheol smiles and scoops them up to squish them in his suitcase.

“We’re headed out early in the morning,” Mingyu flops down on his unmade bed. “How are you feeling?”

Seungcheol has spent the past few days dreading what’s about to come. He can’t imagine what it will be like to have to dance around them, showering and sleeping and hanging out in their room. It doesn’t help that the torture is starting early - they’re picking Seokmin and Jeonghan up so they can ride down in his truck with himself, Mingyu, and Minghao.

“I’m just anxious.” Seungcheol zips his suitcase, struggling slightly.

“Yeah. Well, listen, if it gets bad enough, you know you can come visit Minghao and I. Just… you know… text first.” Mingyu flushes bright pink.

“Yeah, I know. You’ll be fucking like rabbits.” Seungcheol rolls his eyes. Mingyu flushes even darker.

“It’s our first vacation together since we started dating.” Mingyu tries to defend.

“Yeah, I know. I don’t blame you.” Seungcheol starts packing his toiletries bag. “Listen, I know we talked about this before, but if you ever want to move in with him, I understand. You’ve been dating for almost two years now.”

“I know. I just don’t want to leave you by yourself.” Mingyu has unzipped his suitcase and is reorganizing the contents. He does this when he’s stressed - cleans, organizes, bakes, just generally mothers people.

“You wouldn’t be abandoning me. We’re growing up, Gyu. You’re going to want to move in with him someday. I can’t see you breaking up. Besides, maybe Jun and I could move in together.” Sure, Seungcheol isn’t thrilled at the thought of having to give up his roommate. He and Mingyu have been living together since they graduated high school. He nearly moved in with Jeonghan and Joshua, but at the last minute, they decided they probably shouldn’t. Jeonghan’s parents didn’t like Seungcheol. They never had, even when they were kids. They seemed to think he was a troublemaker. Joshua and Jeonghan didn’t think it was fair to move in together without Seungcheol, so they just decided to move in with other parts of their friend group and move in together later.

“I guess it’s something to think about eventually.” Mingyu finishes folding Seungcheol shirts up nearly and zips his suitcase back. He doesn’t have to struggle with it.

***

Seungcheol has issues sleeping that night. His mind is running drills of all the worst-case scenarios. Jeonghan and Joshua being painfully awkward. Jeonghan and Joshua trying to talk to him about that night. The two of them being mad at him. He tosses and turns for hours. No amount of soothing cello music or YouTube can lull him to sleep. At three in the morning, he wants to scream. He has to be up at six to get ready and head out.

He finally shuts everything off, curls up on his side, covers his entire head with a pillow, and starts literally counting backward from a hundred in his head. He gets down to twenty before he finally drifts off into an uneasy sleep.

Morning comes too soon. Mingyu is bustling into his room at six sharp, already showered and dressed. He’s babbling about how they’ll grab breakfast on the road. He has to force Seungcheol out of bed and into the shower.

Seungcheol falls asleep twice in the shower before he finally finishes washing and stumbles out. He takes his time getting ready, brushing his teeth and his hair and pulling on a comfy pair of joggers and a hoodie. When he finally shuffles into the living room, Mingyu has gathered their suitcases in the entrance and is running around turning all their lights off. They’ll be gone for an entire two weeks, so they’ve hired someone to come by and water their plants a few times.

“Ready?” Mingyu asks, clearly excited. His eyes are bright for so early in the morning.

“As I’ll ever be.” Seungcheol mutters. He gathers his wallet and keys and grabs his own suitcase. Mingyu follows him out the door and locks it behind them. Chan and Jihoon are emerging at the same moment. Jihoon is pretty much still asleep and Chan is in the same position as Mingyu, excited and far too awake. They’re riding with Joshua and Jun in Jun’s car. This leaves Seungkwan, Hansol, Soonyoung, and Wonwoo in the last car.

They all ride down in the elevator. Jun and Minghao have already arrived and Minghao is standing patiently beside Seungcheol’s truck, looking very sleepy. His suitcase is already in the bed. Seungcheol flings his own suitcase in beside it and Mingyu follows suit. He and Minghao climb into the backseat together, where Minghao sidles up against him and promptly falls asleep. Seungcheol gets in and rolls his window down so he can talk to Jun.

“I’ve got to swing by and grab Jeonghan and Seokmin and then we’ll be on the road. I guess we’ll see you down there?” Seungcheol calls. Jun salutes him.

“Drive safe.” He calls back.

As they pull up in front of Seokmin and Jeonghan’s building a few minutes later, Seungcheol feels his stomach plummet. Jeonghan is standing on the sidewalk clad in sweatpants and a hoodie. His eyes are basically closed. Seungcheol knows Seokmin had to make real effort to get him up this early. He has a small flashback of having sleepovers and waking in the morning to find a sleepy Jeonghan pressed against his side, smelling of peach shampoo and sleep and… Jeonghan.

Seokmin and Jeonghan put their suitcases in the back. They seem to be having a discussion for a moment, and then, much to Seungcheol’s horror, Jeonghan comes around to the passenger side and climbs in. He blinks sleepily.

“Good morning.” He rumbles, more to the whole car rather than Seungcheol himself.

“Good morning.” Seungcheol manages to reply as Seokmin gets in the back on the other side of Minghao. Seungcheol shoots him a glare in the rear-view mirror. Seokmin just gives a smile in return.

And so, they hit the road. Seungcheol puts his usual playlist on low. Minghao is fast asleep in the back and Jeonghan is asleep against the passenger side window, fogging up a small patch of the glass every time he breathes out. Seokmin and Mingyu are talking quietly about the plans they’ve already made for when they arrive.

Seungcheol can’t relax. Jeonghan is sitting an arm’s length away from him, soft and warm and half of what Seungcheol has been missing for two months.

It’s going to be a long six hours.

***

Two hours in, Jeonghan wakes up from his nap. It seems to take him a moment to realize where he is, but when he does, it immediately feels awkward.

“So uh… breakfast?” Seungcheol breaks the silence. Mingyu lets out a deafening agreement in the backseat, waking Minghao from his own nap. He gets a half-hearted smack on the chest and a pout in return.

“I could go for food.” Jeonghan says, staring out the window.

They exit and find the nearest McDonalds. Seungcheol takes the requests. When he gets to Jeonghan, he can’t help tripping on his own words as he spouts out Jeonghan’s usual breakfast order. The boy has gotten the same thing every time they go. A sausage biscuit with an extra order of hashbrowns and an iced coffee. Jeonghan blinks in surprise as Seungcheol asks if that’s still what he gets.

“Oh… yeah. Thanks.” He finally manages, meeting Seungcheol’s eyes for only a second before he returns his gaze out the window. Seungcheol orders the food, heart still beating way too fast for it to be healthy.

They sit in the parking lot for a second while Seungcheol sucks down his own egg and cheese biscuit. He’s terrible at eating and driving at the same time. Half his breakfast usually ends up on the floor of the car, along with all his hopes and dreams.

“Four more hours and then we’ll be on the beach.” Seokmin sighs dreamily.

“How do you eat so fast?” Minghao asks in amazement as Seungcheol tosses his wrapper over his shoulder and pulls out of the parking lot. Seungcheol shrugs. He’s just a bottomless pit. He can put food away faster than anyone he knows.

The next hour of the road trip is completely silent. Jeonghan is on his phone, Minghao has gone back to napping against Mingyu’s shoulder, Mingyu is also on his phone, and Seokmin seems to be watching a movie.

“Oh!” Seokmin exclaims as they reach the next hour. He pops an earbud out. “Jeonghan, we forgot to pack your EpiPen!” He’s panicked, voice rising in pitch. Jeonghan is extremely allergic to all tree nuts. So much so that Seungcheol used to research restaurants ahead of time to make sure they didn’t serve anything with tree nuts in it.

“Shit.” Jeonghan blanches a little. Without his EpiPen, if he goes into anaphylaxis, it could be fatal depending on how far they are from a hospital. Just as he and Seokmin start to freak out about what to do, Seungcheol clears his throat. They both look at him. Without saying another word, he leans over in front of Jeonghan and pops the glovebox. Inside is a perfect, unused EpiPen.

“Oh. What?” Seokmin asks, tilting his head.

“I kept one of your backups in the car. Just in case we went out somewhere and you forgot yours.” Seungcheol explains slowly. His face is burning.

“Oh… right…” Jeonghan closes the glovebox. “Well thanks.” He adds.

“Yep.” Seungcheol hums. In the backseat, he sees Mingyu and Seokmin exchange a pointed look.

***

 

The next couple of hours are uneventful. They stop once to let a sleepy Minghao pee, and by the time they’re about twenty minutes away, Seokmin is chomping at the bit to get out of the car. At this point, Seungcheol has relaxed. Jeonghan hasn’t tried to talk to him again. In fact, he hasn’t said much at all except to ask Seokmin a question.

They finally pull up in front of the hotel. They can just barely see the ocean as they pass by buildings, but when they climb out, Seungcheol stands up straight and he can see the water glittering in the distance. He can’t help but smile. They’re here. They’re finally on vacation and the weather is gorgeous.

They go to the trunk and Seungcheol starts pulling out suitcases and handing them off. His hand brushes Jeonghan’s as he hands over the man’s obnoxiously pink suitcase and he tries not to blush too hard.

They start for the hotel. Seungcheol tells them about the reservation and learns that Joshua has already arrived and collected all their keys. Minghao and Mingyu check in after them and Seokmin stands patiently waiting. Since there’s no real excuse to waiting around, Seungcheol begrudgingly starts toward the elevator with Jeonghan right behind him. They get on and hit the button for their floor. The ride up is done in complete silence. They walk down the long hallway to their room and Seungcheol tentatively knocks on the door.

Joshua answers, eyes flashing in slight fear before he manages a small ‘hi’ and lets them in. Seungcheol enters and lays eyes on their room for the first time. The air wheezes from his lungs almost comically.

He was hoping for two twin beds and a sleeper sofa. At least. Instead, he’s met with the sight of one big king bed and a small couch, that from what he can tell, is not a sleeper sofa but just a small, decorative couch that probably feels like concrete.

“Oh.” Is all Seungcheol can say.

“I guess… um…” Joshua is knitting his hands together like he always does when he’s anxious, and the tips of his ears are red. “I guess two of us could take the bed and one of us could take the couch. I can take the couch if you want.”

“No, it’s okay. I can take the couch.” Seungcheol offers, already striding toward it.

“You don’t have to do that.” Jeonghan says.

“It’s fine. I can handle it.” Seungcheol give another tight smile and deposits himself on the couch. As expected, it’s harder than a rock. His back is going to kill him.

“Seungcheol, you have a bad back.” Jeonghan points out, crossing his arms. The smile drops from Seungcheol’s face. Jeonghan remembers.

“Really, I can handle it -”

“I’ll take the sofa. I can sleep anywhere. You and Han - er, Jeonghan - can take the bed.” Joshua motions toward the plush bed.

“Are you sure?” Seungcheol asks. Joshua nods. Hesitatingly, Seungcheol rises from the couch and transfers to sit on the edge of the bed. Jeonghan wheels his suitcase to the closet, where he starts hanging up some of his clothes. Joshua retreats to the bathroom. Seungcheol can see part of his face in the mirror. He’s just standing there, messing with his hair just so he has an excuse to be out of the main part of the room.

What kills him is that before, this would have been no problem. They used to squish into beds this size and smaller together, snuggled up like puppies. Jeonghan was always in the middle. They would lie tangled in each other's legs and watch movies until they fell asleep.

A knock sounds on the door. Seungcheol praises god that there’s a small distraction. Joshua answers and lets in a tentative-looking Wonwoo, who looks at each of them in turn like he was expecting someone to be dead.

“Hey. I wanted to come to check on you guys. I haven’t gotten to catch up with you guys in a couple of days.”

“Baby Nonu!” Jeonghan dashes across the room, pulling Wonwoo into a bone-crushing hug. Wonwoo grins, hugging the long-haired boy back. Seungcheol’s heart twists. He always loved Jeonghan’s hugs. Tight, warm, genuine. You couldn’t help but hug him back and just keep holding on. It was the same with Joshua.

“How’s work been treating you?” Seungcheol asks, kicking his shoes off.

“Not too bad, I guess.” Wonwoo is a receptionist in the emergency room at a hospital. He works twelve hour shifts, luckily during the day. Six in the morning to six at night. He only does it four days a week, but it still leaves him stressed and tired.

“See any fuckery this week?” Joshua wonders for all of them, getting his turn for a hug. The way Wonwoo hooks his chin over Joshua’s shoulder makes Seungcheol frown in envy.

“Someone came in with a tampon stuck in their gauges.” Wonwoo sighs. Jeonghan makes an alarmed squawking noise. “Her boyfriend shoved it in and she couldn’t get it out no matter how hard she tried.”

“Jesus. People are weird.” Joshua murmurs.

“Yep. Oh, also, Soonyoung wants to go down to the beach if you guys want to come with us.” Wonwoo offers. Right. The beach. As a second thought, Seungcheol gets up and walks out to the balcony. Sure enough, they have a gorgeous view of the water.

Wonwoo stays and chats while they all get changed. He must sense the silent tension in the room. He doesn’t know about the kisses (Seungcheol made everyone swear on their lives that they would tell no one else), but Wonwoo seems to be able to pick up on other people's’ emotions. Seungcheol thanks him with a silent look and gets a nod in return.

As he steps out in swim trunks and nothing else, Wonwoo whistles.

“Someone’s been hitting the gym.” He eyes Seungcheol’s abs. Seungcheol can’t help but blush a little and try to cover his naked torso with his t-shirt. He has to admit he has been spending more time at the gym lately. He wanted to look nice for the beach. His eyes flit over to Joshua and is a little surprised to find him staring at Seungcheol’s abs. Jeonghan appears to be doing the same. They both look away when they realize he sees them.

They gather all their beach things and swing by to get Soonyoung on their way down. As soon as his feet hit the sand, Seungcheol takes off running toward the water. He drops his things a few feet from the water and keeps running until he’s in the waves, the tide lapping at his ankles. Soonyoung is right behind him, jumping onto his back with a battle cry. Seungcheol spins them around a few times before he dumps Soonyoung into slightly deeper water, laughing at the scream he lets out.

“Me! Me! My turn!” Mingyu appears, throwing himself onto Seungcheol’s back. Seungcheol obeys his wishes, spinning them until they’re dizzy and throwing Mingyu into the waves. He splutters as he comes up, laughing with giddiness.

Minghao is squatting near them, looking for shells with Chan. They’re competing to see who can find the prettiest one.

Wonwoo and Jihoon are up under a beach umbrella. Wonwoo has a book cracked open and Jihoon is just lying next to him, watching everyone play.

“How was the drive?” Jun clings to Seungcheol’s arm as a wave threatens to make him lose his balance. Seungcheol loops an arm around his waist. Jun looks gorgeous. His hair is scraped back in a baseball cap and he seems to have also been working on his body. Jun is gorgeous enough, tall and chiseled and model-like, but Seungcheol can tell he’s got some extra definition in his torso. Seungcheol leans in. He smells like coconut-scented sunscreen and saltwater.

“It wasn’t that bad.” He admits. Jun presses a kiss to his cheek.

“You need sunscreen. You’ll be a lobster by tonight.” Seungcheol allows Jun to drag him back up to where Wonwoo and Jihoon are sitting and stays still while Jun rubs sunscreen into his skin. Now they smell the same. When he’s finished, he pats Seungcheol to let him know he can run back to the water, but Seungcheol sinks back against his chest. Jun just giggles, wrapping his arms around Seungcheol’s chest and cuddling him despite how hot it is.

“We got food!” Seungkwan comes jogging down the beach with three whole grocery bags of food. He’s gotten a bunch of pre-made sandwiches, snacks, and drinks. Everyone flocks to the umbrellas, crowding around to get to the food.

It’s like locusts have descended. The food disappears quickly and soon they’re all lounging in a big puddle, full and warm. Seungcheol eyes Jeonghan as he rests his head on Mingyu’s gorgeous, greek-god-level abs. Joshua is talking quietly with Seokmin, stroking the younger boy’s hair.

Soonyoung is the first one back out into the water. He drags Seungcheol along with him. They hit a volleyball back and forth for a while. Chan goes back to his shell hunt, running back up the sand to show Minghao his finds like he’s a little kid.

***

They stay for probably close to six hours. By that point, Seungcheol definitely has a little bit of a sunburn on his cheeks. Soonyoung is a different story. He’s red all over. Wonwoo has warned him about twenty times that he needed to reapply, but he would hear nothing of it. As they’re gathering their stuff to leave, he whines at how hot and icky he feels.

Seungcheol feels all his energy and happiness leak from his body as he steps into his hotel room. Jeonghan and Joshua are already back. Joshua is standing out on their balcony, and from the sounds of it, Jeonghan is in the shower. Seungcheol chooses to wrap his towel around his shoulders and walk to the balcony as well, trying to put as much space between them as he can.

“So… I actually had something to ask you.” Joshua’s voice is barely audible over the sound of the waves. Seungcheol forces himself to look at the smaller boy. He’s staring out at the water, worrying his bottom lip in his teeth. Seungcheol’s hands start to sweat.

“Yeah?”

“I’m writing a new book. I’m almost done with it. But my editor just quit. She’s pregnant and she’s due in a month, so she decided to stop editing for a while. I’m basically screwed…” Joshua starts rubbing the back of his neck. Seungcheol wants to grab his hand to make him stop, like he used to in the old days. “But I know you said you were looking for more clients… and I was wondering if I could talk you into doing it. We would obviously have a lot to discuss. But Lacey was my ride or die, and I don’t know if I can trust anyone else except you.” He talks so fast that Seungcheol is worried he’s going to run out of breath and pass out.

Seungcheol doesn’t know how to answer for a moment. He’s always wished Joshua would let him edit his books. In fact, he was a little hurt the day Joshua announced he’d found Lacey. He always assumed he’d be the one Joshua went to.

“Yeah. Of course.” He hears himself say. He meets Joshua’s eyes.

“Thanks. We can wait until after vacation to discuss it. I was just really worried about it and I wanted to get it off my chest.” He breathes out like he’s genuinely feeling lighter. Seungcheol’s heart aches. He wishes Joshua had felt comfortable asking him earlier so he didn’t have to suffer like this.

They slip back into silence.

“Shower’s free.” Jeonghan states, making them both jump. Seungcheol lets his gaze stay on him for a moment. His long hair is damp and pushed out of his face. He’s wearing a loose t-shirt and a pair of joggers. His bare face is still just as breathtaking is always.

“You can go next.” Seungcheol tells Joshua, who thanks him softly and skitters off to the bathroom. Seungcheol turns back to the view while Jeonghan settles on his side of the bed, rubbing lotion into his hands.

Seungcheol stands on the balcony, watching the sun sink lower and the tide come in closer. It’s peaceful out here, with the warmth and the soft breeze.

His turn for the shower comes and he takes his toiletries into the bathroom with him. His face burns a little as he sticks it in the water, but it quickly fades and he gets to work washing up so he looks decent for when they go out for dinner. When he’s done, he gets out and makes sure to use the aloe moisturizer he packed just for this moment. He brushes his hair out and puts on more deodorant. Then he looks for his clothes - and realizes he never brought them in with him.

He spends a few seconds internally cursing himself out before he takes a deep breath and barges into their room with nothing but a towel around his waist. He makes no eye contact and gets to his suitcase, where he digs out random clothes. He hurries back to the bathroom, praying neither of them were able to see his junk. He pulls his clothes on and re-emerges. Joshua is curled up on the couch on his phone and Jeonghan has crawled underneath the covers. He’s asleep. Seungcheol was panicked for nothing.

He sits carefully on his side of the bed so he doesn’t wake the sleeping princess up and gets his phone out. They have a little bit of time before they need to head out to meet the others for dinner. Just as he’s thinking about taking a nap, there’s a knock on the door. He gets up to answer it before Joshua does and is met with the sight of Jihoon on the other side.

“Hey. Thought I might come visit you guys.” He says, letting himself in before Seungcheol can tell him otherwise. He surveys the room. “One bed?”

“Yep.” Seungcheol sighs.

“Joshua, I can call room service and get them to bring you a cot. You don’t have to sleep on that piece of shit.” Jihoon calls. Joshua’s eyes light up. Seungcheol wants to cry. If he’d stayed strong on the couch, he could have gotten a cot to himself.

“I didn’t think about that. Thanks, Hoonie.” Joshua reaches his arms out and Jihoon diligently comes in for a hug, pretending he doesn’t like it. Seungcheol goes back to sitting in the bed. When Joshua finally releases Jihoon, he wanders to their room phone and calls the front desk, politely asking for a cot to be brought to their room.

“Where are we going for dinner?” Seungcheol asks as he hangs up. Jihoon crawls into bed between him and Jeonghan, settling himself down.

“Some fancy place that Soonyoung and Seokmin picked out. It sounded nice.” He shrugs one shoulder, uncaring. Jeonghan stirs beside him and turns to cradle the smaller boy in his arms, smiling contently. Seungcheol watches on in envy.

“I might go check up on Wonwoo and Soonyoung. Soonyoung had a pretty big sunburn.” Seungcheol slides off the bed and finds the aloe he packed. Jihoon gives him a ‘you coward’ stare, but waves as he walks out the door.

Finding Soonyoung and Wonwoo’s room is easier than expected. As soon as he walks into the hallway, Seungcheol can hear Soonyoung whining. He locates the door it seems to be coming from and knocks. Wonwoo opens it, eyes the aloe in his hands, and sweeps his arm to tell him to come in.

Soonyoung is standing mostly naked in the middle of their room, seemingly even redder than he was when Seungcheol saw him last. It looks painful. Seungcheol clicks his tongue and holds up the aloe. Soonyoung almost sobs in relief.

“Cheollie, it hurt so bad to shower.” He wails.

“I bet it did.” Seungcheol cracks the cap open and starts lathering the cold aloe on with careful fingers. Soonyoung shivers and cries out at the first touch. Wonwoo starts on his front. Soon, they have him covered head to toe in sticky aloe. He plops himself on their couch looking completely miserable.

“So this mean Wonwoo is topping tonight?” Seungcheol snickers. Wonwoo punches him lightly in the arm. Ever since the singular time Seungcheol overheard them talking about whose turn it was to bottom, he teased them about it incessantly.

“Seriously though, Soon. How did you do this on the first day we’re here? It hasn’t even been a whole twenty-four hours.” Wonwoo sits beside him.

“I don’t know.” Soonyoung lets his head loll dramatically.

Seungcheol hangs out in their room until Wonwoo shooes him out and tells him he needs to go get ready. He slumps back to his own room and goes inside to find Jihoon and Jeonghan curled up together, asleep. Joshua is in the bathroom, dabbing at his face with a beauty blender.

“Jihoonie. Time to get up.” Seungcheol shakes his shoulder until he opens his eyes a crack, scowls, and shakes Seungcheol’s hand off. Seungcheol pulls at his arm. “Get up. It’s time to go eat.”

“I’m tired.” Jihoon grumbles. Beside him, Jeonghan stirs, blinking sleepy up at Seungcheol before he realizes where he is. He sits up, rubbing at his eyes. Jihoon mumbles angrily to himself as he slides out of the bed and storms off to his own room to wake up and get ready.

Seungcheol goes to find his clothes and waits patiently until Joshua is done with the bathroom. He spends the few minutes of silence buttoning the simple light blue shirt he brought with him. He rolls the sleeves to his elbows and tucks the front into the waistband of his jeans. He then dabs a little bit of concealer and pinky lipgloss on. He fixes his hair and studies himself in the mirror for a while before he finally relinquishes the bathroom to Jeonghan.

Joshua is standing out on the balcony again. It’s pretty much dark outside now, the sun a distant blip of pink. Joshua looks gorgeous standing there, clad in a simple black t-shirt, some black jeans, and a ripped-up jean shirt over the top.

Seungcheol locates his pack of cigarettes and a lighter and steps out onto the balcony to smoke. He hasn’t touched them all day, which he considers a victory. He’s been smoking more recently. He guesses it's stress. Joshua doesn’t say a word. Months before, he’d be trying to bat the cigarette out of Seungcheol’s hand, reminding him that they were unhealthy. “I want to grow old with you, Seungcheol,” he’d beg. “I want all three of us to live long, happy lives together.” Seungcheol would stub it out almost immediately.

Jeonghan emerges from the bathroom in white jeans that hug his thighs, a flowy, long-sleeved pink shirt, and a pair of fake round glasses. His hair is half-up, half-down, the top layer tied into a little knot at the back of his head.

They all silently start for the door. They run into Minghao and Mingyu in the hallway on their way to the elevator and Seungcheol feels the tension leak from his shoulders as he slips into conversation with Minghao about Soonyoung’s sunburn.

***

The restaurant is gorgeous. They sit outside, next to the water. There are twinkling fairy lights everywhere and the tables are covered in simple - yet elegant - white tablecloths. Seungcheol is lucky enough to sit between Hansol and Chan.

The menu is fancy and extensive. Seungcheol looks it over while he scarfs down bread dipped in olive oil. He ends up choosing some extravagant seafood dish. He figures he hasn’t treated himself in a long time and he’s on vacation.

“Shua, how is your last book doing? Last time I looked, it was nearing the top of the charts.” Jun speaks up. Joshua takes a sip of his water.

“It’s doing really well. I’m actually looking at writing the sequel. I actually started something else in the meantime, though. I’m almost done with the first draft.” He glances at Seungcheol. “I’m actually going to let Seungcheol be my editor.”

“What happened to Lacey?” Chan furrows his eyebrows. Seungcheol watches him take a big sip of wine and fights the urge to roll his eyes. He’ll be drunk in a matter of half an hour. Chan is a lightweight, especially with wine. He can drink beer forever, but it takes him no time to get wine-drunk.

“She’s having a baby, so she’s not editing for a while. Seungcheol’s the first person that came to mind. Otherwise I’d have to spend months trying to find someone that… gets me. You know?” Joshua takes a bite of bread.

“Well, we always thought you’d use Seungcheol anyway, when you started writing. He’s been an editor forever, and then you dropped out of school and started writing and we just assumed he’d be your editor.” Seungkwan mutters. Seungcheol feels his face heat up and he hopes it’s too dimly lit for anyone to see. Joshua seems at a loss for words for a second. He takes another sip of bread before he talks again.

“Yeah… I just… I don’t know. I guess I didn’t want to mix work and friends.” He says. Seungcheol feels his heart sink.

“So… are you saying you and Seungcheol aren’t friends anymore?” Minghao says at the exact moment Seungcheol is having similar thoughts in his mind. Seungcheol sinks back in his chair, fighting the urge to get up and bolt. He sneaks a peek at Joshua to see the reaction. The other boy opens his mouth, a mere squeak noise coming out before he starts backpedaling.

“No! No, that’s not it. I just -”

"Then why haven’t you guys been hanging out?” Seungkwan blatantly questions. He points accusingly at Seungcheol, then Jeonghan, and then Joshua. “You guys have been acting fucking weird. We’re all thinking it, right?” He glances around the rest of the table. Chan, Seokmin, Minghao, and Mingyu all stare at their plates, obviously trying not to make eye contact with anyone.

The food comes then, momentarily pausing the discussion. Everyone starts to eat. Seungcheol suddenly isn’t all that hungry. He starts poking at his fish with a fork. There are tears burning at the back of his eyes and he doesn’t know why.

“Cheol? Are you okay?” Hansol asks quietly, trying to lean in so nobody else hears him. Seungcheol puts on a brave face and nods.

“Yeah. Just trying to wait a second. Let it cool down.” He lies. Hansol pierces him with a suspicious look, but goes back to his own food.

“So anyway, back to what I was saying. What’s been going on? I tried to ignore it, but it’s been months, you guys. Spill the beans.” Seungcheol can’t tell if Seungkwan is drunk already, or if he’s just trying to stir the pot. Either way, Seungcheol wishes someone would shut him up. He really doesn’t want to be doing this right now.

“Nothing is going on.” Jeonghan spears a bite of fish on his fork and shoves it in his mouth. Seungkwan huffs.

“Clearly, you’re lying through your teeth. Why did you freak the fuck out when I put all of you in the same room? Joshua did the same thing. Why did Jihoon have to call room service for a cot? I got you one bed on purpose. You used to crawl into the same bed together like it was nothing.” Seungkwan is practically yelling at this point.

“Kwannie.” Hansol reaches for his hand.

“No! I’m not doing this. I want to know why three of my best friends are avoiding each other like the plague. Did you have a fight? I want answers.” He’s rising in pitch now.

Across the table, Joshua bursts into quiet tears. Seungcheol and Hansol are the only ones to notice, as far as Seungcheol can tell. The kitten-eyed boy pushes his chair back and walks quickly from the table. Seungcheol feels like someone has taken his knife and plunged it deep into his chest. He hates to see Jeonghan or Joshua upset. It’s devastating.

“Seungkwan. You have to stop.” Hansol states as he gets up. He drops his napkin on the table and hurries in the direction that Joshua had been rushing. Seungkwan stares after him in confusion until he looks and sees Joshua’s empty chair.

“See? What’s that about?” He motions to the seat. He’s met with silence. In fact, most of the people in the restaurant around them are silent too. Some of them are staring. Seungcheol lowers his head, picking at his food. Chan squeezes him on the knee, as if to ask him if he’s okay. Seungcheol just nods once in return. In reality, he wants to scream. He wants to get up and launch himself into the sea. Joshua is crying and it’s his fault.

Chapter Text

***Jeonghan's POV***

Joshua is crying and Jeonghan feels partially responsible. He watches the other boy rush from the table and feels like he could puke with worry. He longs for the days he could get up and follow Joshua to the bathroom and hold him while he cries. In fact, he’d be there to make sure Joshua wasn’t crying in the first place.

He sneaks a look at Seungcheol across the table. He’s staring way too hard at his plate, poking a piece of shrimp with his fork. He looks upset himself, but Jeonghan knows there’s no way he’d ever show it in public. He’d rather die.

Jeonghan doesn’t really know what he was expecting to happen on this vacation. It was almost like he thought Seungcheol would pick them up, they’d get to the beach, and somehow everything would be okay again. They could go back to being inseparable. Talking about everything. Hugging and cuddling and generally being themselves. The three musketeers.

But it was day one and every time he even breathed, Seungcheol seemed to tense like Jeonghan was about to pull out a gun and shoot him point blank.

Jeonghan shares a look with Jun, the only other person that knows about what happened that night. Jun wasn’t supposed to know, but one night after far too much wine, Jeonghan fell, weeping, into his lap and spilled the entire story. He made Jun swear not to tell Minghao, or anyone for that matter. Nobody else could know. He was terrified word would get back to his parents somehow. He’d be done for.

Jun pats him gently on the shoulder with a sad smile. Jeonghan heaves a sigh and takes another bite of his food. He wants to leave, fall asleep in the plush king bed, and forget about this day entirely.

Joshua takes a full ten minutes to come back, Hansol not far behind. He’s puffy-eyed and won’t look at anyone, but he sits down and starts eating again like nothing ever happened. Jeonghan fights the urge to crawl across the high-class dinner table on his hands and knees, hold Joshua’s face in his hands, and kiss his cheeks until he’s smiling.

The rest of the meal goes by far too slowly. There’s forced, uncomfortable conversation until Soonyoung cracks a joke that makes the entire table laugh, shattering the awkwardness. Jeonghan reminds himself to hug Soonyoung for it later.

Afterwards, they pay and walk back toward the hotel. They stop at an ice cream shop and Jeonghan gets two scoops of cookies and cream. He takes his cone and starts strolling slowly down the pier to the right of the shop. The moon is sparkling bright in the water and a warm breeze brushes his hair over his shoulders. He can hear the sounds of a carnival off in the distance. If he cranes his neck, he can see the top of a ferris wheel.

“Rough night.” Mingyu mutters, coming up beside him and matching his slow, leisurely pace.

“Tell me about it.” Jeonghan takes a lick of his ice cream.

“I think Kwannie took it just a little too far. I don’t think he realizes. But he did give Joshua a half-assed apology.” Mingyu jerks a thumb over his shoulder. Jeonghan makes the mistake of looking back. Not only is Joshua sitting on a bench near the pier, far too pretty for having just cried for ten minutes, but Seungcheol is walking slightly behind them, talking quietly to Seokmin. He and Jeonghan accidentally make eye contact and Seungcheol is quick to look away, pretending to see something in the water to the left of the pier.

“Has Seungcheol said anything to you? About the three of us?” Jeonghan finds himself asking.

“Nope.” Mingyu answers without a second thought. “Why? Is there something I need to know?” He gives Jeonghan a pointed look.

“No.” Jeonghan clears his throat and takes a big bite of ice cream that makes his teeth hurt. Mingyu makes an ‘mmm-hmm’ noise and takes a sip of his milkshake.

***

They finally all make it back to the hotel. The closer Jeonghan gets to his shared room, the more dread pools in his stomach. He opens the door and is relieved to see he’s the first one back. He takes his pajamas into the bathroom and climbs into them before he takes his makeup off. When he comes back into the room, Seungcheol and Joshua are both back. Joshua is putting sheets on the cot they provided him and Seungcheol is sitting on the edge of the bed, staring down at the pajamas he’s holding in his hands. He waits until Jeonghan climbs into the bed before he gets up and all but runs into the bathroom.

Jeonghan sinks into the bed, basically melting. He plugs his phone in and curls up on his side.

Seungcheol eventually emerges and silently crawls into the other side. He moves carefully, slowly, like he’s waiting for Jeonghan to spring. Jeonghan starts falling asleep while the lights are still on, listening to the sound of Joshua typing on his laptop and Seungcheol breathing slowly behind him.

A few minutes later, he stirs lightly at the sound of someone clicking off the lamp. He cracks an eye open to watch Joshua pad lightly over to his cot and climb in, curling up on his side like a kitten. Jeonghan longs to press himself into his back and nuzzle into his neck.

Beside him, Seungcheol clicks off his own lamp and shimmies himself down under the covers. Jeonghan rolls onto his back. Seungcheol shifts a little and Jeonghan catches a whiff of the cologne he always wears. It’s slightly intoxicating.

Normally, it takes him seconds to fall asleep once he’s comfortable. Tonight, his mind is keeping him awake. He can’t stop listening to the gentle breathing of the two boys in the room with him. He aches to shuffle over onto Seungcheol’s side of the bed and press against his side, drawing warmth and comfort from him. But he can’t do that.

He curls up on his side, pulls the covers up to his chin, and prays that he can fall asleep as soon as possible.

***

He wakes to the sound of quiet moans. His eyes pop open immediately and he stares into the dark. Seungcheol is shifting next to him. His first thought is, ‘oh my god, is Seungcheol jerking off next to me?’. But then he moans again and Jeonghan can hear the pain in it. He sits on on his elbows and looks over at the other boy. It’s dark, but he can see the outline of Seungcheol tossing back and forth restlessly. Jeonghan reaches over and turns the lamp on.

Seungcheol’s broken out in a cold sweat. His hair is wild and he looks pale. He’s breathing kind of heavily. Jeonghan contemplates what to do for a second. Does he wake him up? Does he wake someone else up to wake him up?

“Seungcheol?” He slowly reaches out and pats the other on the shoulder. Seungcheol wakes upon the first touch, blinking up at him in confusion. “Hey, are you okay?”

Seungcheol’s eyes flash and he ratchets into a sitting position. There is literally no time for Jeonghan to do anything before he’s hunching over on himself and vomiting violently all over their comforter.

“What’s going on?” Joshua is awake now, blearily staring over at them.

Seungcheol retches again, clutching the comforter between his fingers so tightly that it looks painful. Jeonghan finally moves, hopping out of the bed and jogging into the bathroom. He wets a washcloth and comes back. He hesitates for just a moment before he takes the washcloth and lays it over the back of Seungcheol’s neck. He shivers.

“God… do you think it’s food poisoning?” Joshua is standing at the foot of the bed, eyes wide.

“It has to be. Jesus, I thought it was supposed to be fancy. He had that big expensive one with the lobster on it. Did anyone else get it?” Jeonghan gets his phone out.

“Mingyu. Mingyu did. Fuck.”

Jeonghan dials Minghao’s number. He answers on the second ring.

“Hey. Is Seungcheol puking?” He doesn’t even wait for Jeonghan to say a greeting back.

“He sure is. Is Mingyu?”

“Yep. All over our floor. Housekeeping is here. I’ll send them your way next.” He sounds as tired as Jeonghan feels.

“Alright. Thank you. Call me if you need help, okay?”

They hang up. Jeonghan tosses his phone over next to his suitcase.

“Let’s move to the bathroom.” Joshua speaks like he’s calming a startled puppy. Seungcheol whimpers, shivering again. He swings his legs over the side of the bed and slides off the side, wincing as his feet touch the ground. Between the three of them, they finally get Seungcheol to the bathroom. He sinks to the floor, leaning back against the wall. He looks miserable.

“I’m gonna go get you drink. I think I have some medicine in my travel bag. I’ll look. Sit tight.” Jeonghan hurries back into their room. He searches through his travel bag and finds the pepto bismol tablets he packed just for an occasion like this. He takes them to the bathroom and tosses them to Joshua before he takes a key and wanders down the hall to the vending machine. He buys Seungcheol a Sprite and hurries back.

“The pepto made him puke again. We’ll have to wait a minute.” Joshua informs him when he returns. Jeonghan sighs and squats beside Seungcheol, who is clutching the side of the toilet bowl like a lifeline.

“Sit back a second. Try to take a drink.” He opens the sprite and hands it over. Seungcheol takes a tiny, tentative sip.

A knock sounds on the door and Jeonghan goes to answer it, letting the bathroom door settle closed. It’s housekeeping.

“Hi, thank you so much for coming.” Jeonghan lets the two women in and they smile. “Sorry about this. He has food poisoning.”

They assure him they’ve seen way worse as they glove up and take the sheets and blankets off the bed. They replace them with brand new ones and leave as fast as they came. Jeonghan returns to the bathroom. Joshua has started the shower and is feeling the water to see if it’s warm enough.

“I thought a shower might help a little. He’s all sweaty.” He says.

Seungcheol is hugging himself, eyes half-closed. He’s shaking violently. Jeonghan finds himself wanting to sit down beside him and rub his back until he feels better. He has a flashback of being shitfaced and throwing up at a party. Seungcheol was there with him the entire time, pulling his hair back into a messy ponytail and rubbing his back and shoulders until the feeling passed.

“Alright, you ready to get in?” Joshua asks. Seungcheol audibly swallows and starts to stand. Jeonghan grabs his arm, helping him up. “We’ll leave you be, but yell if you need help.”

“The blankets are all fresh when you’re done.” Jeonghan adds.

“I’m sorry.” Seungcheol sounds close to tears. Jeonghan’s heart twinges and a lump starts to build in his throat. What he wouldn’t give to sit down and hold Seungcheol in his arms. Stroke his sweaty hair and sing to him.

“You can’t help it. Just take it easy, okay?”

They leave the door cracked in case he calls for them.

“This sucks. It’s literally our first night here and Seungcheol is sick.” Joshua slides the balcony door open to let air circulate and Jeonghan is glad for it. The room smells slightly of vomit and it’s making his own stomach turn.

“If it’s food poisoning he should feel better in a day or two. Maybe he and Mingyu can hang out together tomorrow.” Jeonghan sits in the bed. Joshua clicks the TV on so it’s not so silent and flips until he finds the home improvement channel. Jeonghan settles back at the familiar feeling. They used to watch this channel together all the time.

The shower clicks off and they listen to the sound of Seungcheol pulling back the shower curtain. Jeonghan assumes the silence is him drying off.

“Joshua?” He calls softly.

“Yeah?” Joshua’s up on his feet in milliseconds.

“Can you bring me some clothes? Mine are… gross.” Seungcheol sounds embarrassed just asking for clothes. Joshua bends down and digs out some sweatpants and a t-shirt and diligently takes them to the bathroom door. He hands them over and Seungcheol thanks him.

“Do you want to come sit out here? We can find you a trash can.” Jeonghan calls. Seungcheol nudges the door open as he’s pulling his t-shirt down. He shuffles into the room with damp hair, bringing the bathroom trash can with him. He sets it on his bedside table and gingerly climbs under the covers, propping himself up slightly with pillows. Joshua brings his Sprite from the bathroom and tosses it onto the bed between them.

“So Mingyu’s sick too?” Seungcheol pulls the blankets up higher on his chest. His glazed eyes are focused on the TV.

“Yeah. It must have been the lobster.” Jeonghan hugs his knees to his chest. He’d much rather be snuggled under the covers, falling asleep, but he wants to be prepared in case Seungcheol needs something.

“I guess I’m not going to the aquarium tomorrow…” Seungcheol’s voice makes Jeonghan look at him. His chin is wobbling. Jeonghan knows it’s not just because he isn’t going to the aquarium. It’s hard to make Seungcheol cry. Jeonghan speculates that it’s the fever Seungcheol undoubtedly has.

“Hey…” He doesn’t really know what to do. He can’t hug him. He can’t hold his hand. He settles for awkwardly patting Seungcheol’s shoulder. Seungcheol lets out a shaky exhale and tears start to well in his eyes. Jeonghan looks at Joshua, who’s perched on the end of the bed, observing.

“Do you want us to call someone else?” He asks. Seungcheol bites his lips together, full-body shuddering like he was holding in an intense sob.

“I want Jihoon, but I don’t want to wake him. It’s almost four in the morning.”

“Jihoon won’t care. If he hears you’re sick and you’re asking for him, he’ll come.” Jeonghan assures him. Seungcheol makes a choked noise in his throat and shudders again. With this one comes a gag and he snatches the trash can, putting his face down in it. He breathes into the bag for a few seconds before he rocks forward, vomiting. Jeonghan hisses and thumps him on the back a couple of times.

“I’ll call Hoonie.” Joshua gets up and goes for his phone.

***

 

A few minutes later, they have a squinting, slightly grumpy Jihoon standing in the room, scratching at his cheek.

“God. You look like hell.” He croaks. Seungcheol whimpers and Jihoon sighs, shuffling to the side of the bed and pulling his head in toward his stomach. He strokes the poor boy’s hair, still trying to wake himself up.

“He woke up and puked all over the bed. Mingyu’s sick too. Hao had to send housekeeping to us. Seungcheol’s puked… five times?” Jeonghan looks to Joshua for confirmation.

“Pepto?” Jihoon rubs his eye with a knuckle.

“He threw it up.”

“Alright. Well, I guess you’re just going to have to ride it out, huh? Let’s try to go back to bed for a little while. Maybe you’ll feel better when you wake up.” Jihoon crawls over Seungcheol into the middle of the bed, gathering Seungcheol up in his arms despite the size difference. Seungcheol pushes his face into Jihoon’s chest, sniffling.

“Did Jun even wake up when I called?” Joshua asks.

“Nope. He’s sleeping like a fucking log. He’ll probably really confused when he wakes up.” Jihoon is already sleepy-voiced, falling back into unconsciousness. Joshua takes this as his cue to go back to his cot, curling up and pulling the covers up over himself. Jeonghan climbs under the blankets himself and leans over to click the lamp off.

“We’ll leave the bathroom light on. Wake us up if you need us.” He says to nobody in particular. He gets no answer in return.

***

Jeonghan only wakes up a few more times after that. Once at the sound of Seungcheol clicking the bathroom door closed and turning the tap and the fan on. The second time is at the sound of him retching violently into the trash can, Jihoon shushing him and whispering words of comfort. He doesn’t wake again until it’s well into the morning. When he rolls over and looks at the clock on the bedside table, it’s nearing nine.

Someone knocks on the door. Joshua, who is already up and brushing his teeth, answers it and lets in a concerned Seungkwan. He makes a beeline for the bed, cooing at the sight of Seungcheol curled up against Jihoon’s chest. Jeonghan heaves himself into a sitting position. Seungcheol has a little bit of dried vomit on the front of his shirt and he’s still pale.

“Poor baby. Mingyu looks bad too. Minghao says he was up all night throwing up. He ate a lot more lobster than Seungcheol. I’m writing that fucking restaurant a strongly-worded letter. They paid so much for that food.” Seungkwan sits on the edge of the bed and runs his fingers through Seungcheol’s nappy bedhead.

“You’re too loud. It’s early.” Jihoon whines.

“It’s almost nine, Hoon.” Joshua tells him. Jihoon flaps his hand as if to dismiss him.

“So my plan is to get Mingyu in here so they’re together and leave someone behind with them. I imagine Minghao will probably volunteer.” Seungkwan gets up and retrieves a warm wet washcloth. He wipes at Seungcheol’s face, waking him in the process.

“Kwannie.” He mumbles, turning onto his other side so he can press his face into Seungkwan’s leg.

“Why are you so cute?” Seungkwan cooes.

There comes another knock on the door that Joshua answers. In walks Minghao, supporting a very tired, very pale Mingyu. Jeonghan moves to get out of the bed and pats the spot for Mingyu to lie down in. He does, burrowing down in the covers and velcroing himself to Jihoon’s back. Jeonghan scratches lightly at the base of his neck like he likes.

“Poor Puppy. Was it a rough night?” He asks.

“I want to die.” Mingyu’s voice is muffled by Jihoon’s back.

“They both smell like puke.” Jihoon mutters. He makes no move to get away from either of them.

Seungkwan conveys his plan and Minghao agrees that he wants to stay without a second thought. Seungkwan tells him that he’s sent Hansol to get supplies to help them through until they get back. Jeonghan slips away to take a shower, delighting in the warm water and the feeling of his muscles loosening up. He takes his time getting out and blow-drying his hair. When he emerges, the room is slightly more full.

“Hi, Han.” Wonwoo is standing beside the bathroom door, smiling sweetly. Jeonghan allows himself to be manhandled into a hug, which Soonyoung adds to as he clings to Jeonghan’s back.

“How’d you sleep?” Jeonghan asks, squeezing Wonwoo around the waist.

“Pretty great. Sorry we didn’t know what was going on, we would have come to help.” Wonwoo responds. His voice rumbles low in his chest, vibrating Jeonghan’s skin in a pleasantly tingly way.

“Don’t worry about it. He wasn’t too bad. Just really emotional.” Jeonghan pulls back and pats Wonwoo on the face. Soonyoung is still connected to his back, chin hooked over his shoulder.

“Well hopefully it passes soon. I feel bad for them. We’re supposed to be on vacation.” Wonwoo wanders away while he talks, pulling the curtains open and cracking the door again to let some fresh air in. It makes the room feel way less depressing and stuffy. Jeonghan shifts closer to the bed, bringing Soonyoung along with him.

He kind of feels bad for thinking it, but he’s a little relieved Seungcheol isn’t coming with them. Of course, he doesn’t want him to suffer. Not at all. He just feels like he’ll enjoy the aquarium fifty percent more knowing he won’t have to look at Seungcheol while he’s there.

“I’m excited about the shark tunnel.” Soonyoung comments like he’s reading Jeonghan’s mind.

***

An hour later, they’re all ready to go. Minghao is posted up in bed between Mingyu and Seungcheol. The two said boys are armed with a trash can each, lots of fluids, and medicine. After much discussion, Jihoon is staying too. He says it’s because he’s tired and isn’t really interested in the fish anyway, but they all know it’s because he has a slight phobia of being at the aquarium. He always used to say he was worried the glass was going to break in some kind of freak accident and they’d be attacked by various sea creatures. Therefore, he looks rather content with himself where he’s curled up on Joshua’s cot, flicking through the TV channels.

They make it down to the cars and Jeonghan ends up in Seungcheol’s truck, but Wonwoo is driving it. This is alarming, considering Wonwoo has never driven a vehicle this big, but he seems to be handling it okay. Jeonghan still clings to Hansol, who’s sitting in the middle between himself and Seungkwan. Soonyoung is in the passenger seat, giving directions.

Somehow, they make it to the aquarium without any serious injury and with minimal yelling. As soon as they pull into the parking spot, Jeonghan is flinging himself from the backseat. Wonwoo tells him to stop being dramatic.
They pay for their tickets and head off into the wonderland that is the aquarium. Jeonghan falls into the back of the group with Jun, letting the other boy lace their fingers together.

“How’s it going?” He asks as soon as the others are out of earshot.

“It’s fucking awful.” Jeonghan admits. Jun makes a sad noise and squeezes Jeonghan’s hand. “Cheol keeps doing this thing where he just like…”

“Breathes?” Jun supplies.

“Yeah. He breathes or he moves or he looks at me and I feel like I’m dying. And Joshua is doing the same thing. But they’re both acting like skittish kittens around me. Meanwhile, I want one of them to just give me a hug and forget the whole fucking thing.”

“Han, I know we already talked about it, but are you sure you’re not gay?” Jun spears him with a worried look as they walk up to the stingray exhibit. Jeonghan chooses to stay silent for a moment. He follows a giant stingray with his eyes as it glides effortlessly and silently through the water.

“Even if I were, I couldn’t come out. You know I couldn’t.” Jeonghan’s voice starts to go up in pitch and he forces himself to shut up. He refuses to think too deeply about this right now. The aquarium is not the place to weep about your parents possibly disowning you.

“You okay?” Chan pops up out of nowhere, forehead creased in concern. Jeonghan forces a smile and pats him on the face.

“I’m fine, baby.” He assures him. Chan looks unconvinced, but he walks away anyway, jogging to catch up with Seokmin so he can point out a really cool fish in one of the giant tanks to their left. Jeonghan blows out a deep breath and his smile slides away with it.

“I know you say you couldn’t. But if you were gay… Hannie, you know we would support you. If that’s how you feel, you shouldn’t go your whole life trying to hide it. I know we can’t compare to real family, but we’re here for you. All of us.” Jun stops and pulls Jeonghan’s shoulder so they’re face to face. He holds Jeonghan’s face in his hands. “If you’re gay, you can tell me. You can tell any of us. We wouldn’t tell anyone else. I’m positive I can speak for all of us, and you know it too. And if you were ready to tell your parents, we would be with you every step of the way.”

“Damn it, Jun.” Jeonghan’s eyes are starting to well with hot tears. The younger boy gives him a sad grin and gathers him up in his arms, squeezing him tight. Jun always give such amazing hugs. When he lets go, he uses his thumbs to wipe the escaped tears under Jeonghan’s eyes.

“Let’s go to the bathroom and get you cleaned up. We can talk more later, okay?”

They do just that. Jun helps him dab his face and fix his makeup and they hug some more before they catch up with the rest of the group. Wonwoo catches his face and gives him a quizzical look, but doesn’t say anything.

Jeonghan thinks about what Jun was saying all the way through the aquarium. He thinks about it as he’s watching a gorgeous turtle float past the glass, sailing upwards toward the surface. He ponders it as they’re standing in the jellyfish room, studying the mystical beings glide back and forth with no effort.

They’re entering the shark tunnel when Jeonghan catches sight of Joshua. He’s a few feet away, face tilted toward the ceiling. The tunnel is made completely of glass, surrounded by water, the floor included, so there are sharks above, below, around beside them. Joshua is staring at a hammerhead just above his head. The light is cutting through the water, painting his face a dappled blue. His mouth is slightly agape and his eyes are wide and glittering with wonder. The hammerhead makes a sharp turn and heads toward the side of the tunnel and the corners of Joshua’s mouth turn up into a smile and his eyes crinkle at the edges.

He’s breathtaking and innocent and graceful and it hurts Jeonghan to the core.

“Junnie.” Jeonghan whispers. “I’m gay.”

Chapter Text

***Jeonghan's POV***

Jeonghan is so far from okay. He’s managed to keep his tears at bay through the rest of the aquarium. He nearly loses it in the gift shop, where Joshua is petting every possible stuffed animal he can get his hands on, but he manages to take deep breaths and get himself under control again.

“We should get Seungcheol, Mingyu, Hao, and Hoonie souvenirs! Since they couldn’t be here.” Joshua is saying, picking up a penguin plushie. They all know Mingyu is a sucker for stuffed animals. Seungcheol collects shot glasses, so really, neither of them are hard to buy for. However, Jihoon and Minghao are a different story. They have to hunt a little.

In the end, they end up with three different plushies for Mingyu, all five varieties of shot glasses for Seungcheol, a bunch of unique postcards for Minghao (he likes to tack them up on the wall behind his desk), and a plug protector in the shape of a shark for Jihoon. Joshua says it’s so he doesn’t bend his laptop charger cord while he’s writing music well into the morning. They also grab him a neck pillow with turtle print all over it. Jeonghan chips in for all the gifts, along with the rest of the guys.

They separate into the same cars to get to their lunch destination. Although Jeonghan wants to ride with Jun so he can have help trying to keep himself in check, he knows everyone would be suspicious if he tried to change cars now. So he hops into the truck beside Hansol and prays to god he doesn’t start to cry.

“Hey… is everything okay?” Wonwoo looks at Jeonghan in the rearview mirror. He, Hansol, and Jeonghan are the only ones in the car. Seungkwan and Soonyoung are standing outside with Seokmin, talking loudly about jellyfish.

“No.” Jeonghan can’t even force a lie. His chest hurts and he just wants to get out of the car, walk to the beach, and throw himself into the ocean. Wonwoo, alarmed that he got an actual response, twists in his seat. Hansol is staring at him, too, waiting.

“What happened?” Wonwoo questions.

“I don’t want to talk about it right now or I’m going to lose my shit.” Jeonghan’s voice shakes. Because Hansol and Wonwoo are the two most calm, respectful human beings in their friend group, they both return to minding their own business without another word. They sit in complete silence for a second before Wonwoo clears his throat, but doesn’t even glance in his direction as he speaks again.

“If you want to talk about it later, just let me know.”

“Same here.” Hansol adds without looking up from his phone. Jeonghan settles his head on Hansol’s shoulder in response.

***

He makes it through their late lunch just fine. Chan and Soonyoung make him laugh. His food is delicious. Jun is sitting at his side, holding his hand under the table whenever his hands aren’t occupied. He feels alright. He feels like he might be able to have a better day now.

All it takes is for him to look at Joshua’s face a single time for him to feel that happier spirit come crumbling down to ashes.

They return to the hotel. As they split up, Wonwoo squeezes his elbow, Hansol runs a single finger across his back, and Jun gives him a look. Jeonghan feels thankful for all three of them.

He pushes open their hotel room door, expecting the worst. He’s met with the sight of Jihoon passed out on the cot, hands pillowed under his head like he’s legitimately posed for a picture. Minghao is curled up in the bed with Mingyu big-spooning him, Mingyu looking slightly more his regular color. Seungcheol is nowhere to be seen.

“Where’s Cheol?” He blurts. Minghao picks his head up.

“Oh, I ran him a bath. He was feeling a little better but he said he was sore so I thought a bubble bath might help. I gave him a bath bomb and everything.” He explains.

“I brought presents!” Joshua says over Jeonghan’s shoulder. He holds up his two giant bags of goodies, looking way too happy with himself.

“Presents?” Mingyu perks, suddenly interested. His eyes look clearer.

“Yeah, Pup. We got you some stuff.” Joshua hurries to the bed and starts pulling all the plushes out. Mingyu squeals louder with each one. He hugs all three to his chest, cooing about how much he loves them.

A pajama-clad Seungcheol peeks at them from the bathroom door. He looks a little better. There’s color to his cheeks and he isn’t shaking or crying. Jeonghan considers that a win.

“Seungcheol’s only vomited once since you left and he’s been better in the last couple of hours. Mingyu hasn’t puked at all this morning. I think he got it all out of his system last night.” Minghao informs Jeonghan and Joshua.

“We got you some stuff too.” Joshua holds up his bag, speaking with a little less confidence. Seungcheol’s eyes brighten. Joshua digs out the shot glasses wrapped in brown paper and holds them out, depositing them into Seungcheol’s waiting hands. He unwraps them, grinning a little when he sees the glass.

“Shot glasses. It’s almost like you know me.” His voice is a little crackly, but Jeonghan can tell he feels way better than he had. Joshua nods slowly, a sad little smile playing on his face. Jeonghan has a brief memory of himself and Joshua standing in a gift shop in California two years before, debating for a full ten minutes on whether to get Seungcheol a shot glass with a turtle on it or a shot glass with a shark on it. They had ended up with both and Seungcheol hugged the two of them forever, absolutely tickled with his present.

“Hao!” Joshua hands over the little stack of postcards and Minghao acts like it’s Christmas morning. He flips through all of them, observing every little detail with his methodical eyes.

“They’re beautiful! Oh my god, the detail on this one.” He’s holding up postcard that’s hand-painted to look like an aquarium scene, complete with little painted people standing in front of the glass.

“There are presents?” Jihoon is awake from his nap now, voice laced with sleep. Jeonghan can’t help but come to lie down with him, snuggling him to his chest. As he does so, he catches a whiff of Joshua’s pillow. Clean laundry, fruity hair product… boy. It’s alluring and it makes him breathe a little deeper.

“We got you some presents too.” Jeonghan promises, carding his fingers through Jihoon’s hair. Jihoon makes a content grumbling noise, already falling back to sleep against Jeonghan’s chest. Jeonghan lets his eyes slip closed while he listens to Seungcheol and Minghao talk. He loves Seungcheol’s voice. His deeper, honeyed tone. The laugh in his words when he finds something amusing. He used to ask Seungcheol to talk to him over the phone until he fell asleep. It was like listening to ASMR.

This is how he finds himself falling into unconsciousness, cradled in the sound of Seungcheol’s voice.

***

“Hannie, come on. Time to get up.” A hand strokes his cheekbone and he manages to pop an eye open. Jihoon is fully awake beside him and he’s even changed outfits. Jeonghan rubs at his eyes.

“What time is it?” He yawns.

“It’s almost six. We took a long nap.” Jihoon snorts.

“It’s dinnertime?” Jeonghan sits up. Joshua is fixing his hair in the mirror beside the bathroom. Jeonghan’s still on his cot, which means he slept for several hours in Joshua’s sleeping spot without asking. He feels kinda bad.

“Yep. The plan is to go eat and then get some drinks at that tiki bar on the beach.” The explanation comes from Chan, who has appeared in their room and is getting Minghao to help him pick an outfit.

“Seungcheol and Mingyu are feeling a lot better so they’re coming with us. They’ve been told to eat something gentle if anything.” Minghao inputs, holding up an artsy t-shirt to Chan’s chest. He nods in affirmation and tosses it into Chan’s waiting hands.

Mingyu himself is nowhere to be seen. Jeonghan assumes he’s off getting ready. Seungcheol stands in the bathroom, patting concealer under the huge dark circles he has under his eyes. Jeonghan makes himself stand up and goes to the closet. He pulls out an outfit he deems worthy and stands beside the bathroom door patiently. Seungcheol sees him and hurries to finish his makeup.

“Sorry.” He mutters as he ducks out. Jeonghan tells him he’s fine and goes in to get ready. As he’s buckling his jeans, he looks at the array of stuff Seungcheol’s left out on the counter. His comb - complete with stray hairs - his concealer; his cologne (which Jeonghan picks up and takes a deep inhale of), and his toiletry bag. Just out of curiosity, he picks it up and opens it even though he knows he really shouldn’t. Deodorant, face wash, floss… Jeonghan pauses as his fingers touch foil packaging. He feels heat creep up his face as he pulls out a singular row of condoms. Six, to be exact.

He drops them like they’ve shocked him. He spends a full thirty seconds just eyeing them, trying to convince himself they aren’t real. Why does Seungcheol have condoms on vacation? Was he planning on meeting a girl and taking her back somewhere? Was he planning on meeting a… boy? Oh, god, was he planning on having sex with Joshua or Jeonghan?

He stuffs the condoms back in and layers the other stuff back onto them before he zips the bag up and sets it back on the counter where it was.

His jeans are suddenly uncomfortably tight. God, this isn’t happening. He isn’t getting a boner over thinking about reasons why his best friend might have condoms. He tries to think of sad things while he hurriedly does his makeup. Abandoned puppies, the face Joshua makes when he’s about to cry, funerals, anything.

He’s calmed down by the time his makeup is done. When he opens the door, Seungcheol is lying on his stomach on the bed, clicking away on his phone. His ass is right there, front and center, perfect and round and muscular.

“I’m going to lose my mind.” Jeonghan says out loud before he can stop it. Minghao sends him a concerned frown.

“What? Why?”

“Where’s Jun?” Jeonghan asks instead.

“In his and Jihoon’s room, probably. Jeonghan, what’s up?”

“I’ll see you guys at dinner.” Jeonghan grabs his wallet and takes off, nearly sprinting down the hallway to Jun and Jihoon’s room. He knocks wildly on the door until Jun answers, eyes wide.

“Where’s the fire?” He asks.

“I’m going to lose my goddamn mind, Jun. Seungcheol brought condoms with him.” Jeonghan pants.

“Uh, Jeonghan -”

“Why does he have condoms? Is he planning on hooking up with random people while we’re here? Jun, what if he wants to hook up with me or Shua?”

“Jeonghan -”

“I’m going to lose my shit. I started thinking about what that would be like, Jun. Do you know how messed up that is? I was thinking about what it would be like to have sex with my best friends or for my two best friends to have sex with each other.”

“Jeonghan!” Jun grabs his shoulders, stilling him. Jeonghan realizes, with much horror, that Soonyoung and Wonwoo are standing in Jun’s hotel room, looking very confused and extremely shocked as they listen to Jeonghan pour his heart out.

“Oh, fuck.” Jeonghan whispers.

“Jeonghan Yoon, what the hell is happening?” Soonyoung demands. Wonwoo silently perches himself on the couch, waiting.

“It’s a joke -”

“It’s not a joke. What’s going on?” Soonyoung crosses his arms.

“Soonie, don’t force him into this.” Wonwoo scolds. Soonyoung shoots him a glare.

“I want to know what’s going on. We’re all supposed to be friends, aren’t we? Why can Jun know, but we can’t?” Jeonghan knows he’s not trying to be mean. He’s hurt. Jeonghan understands that. But he doesn’t know if he has it in him to tell his friends the mental torture he’s currently going through.

“Soonyoung, it’s not like that.” Jeonghan steps all the way into the room and lets Jun close the hotel room door. Soonyoung looks like he’s about to cry and Jeonghan absolutely can’t let that happen.

“Then what is it like? Seungkwan was right. You guys are acting weird and it’s making me worried. I miss seeing you guys the way you used to be. And it’s been awkward and scary for so long. What happened?” Soonyoung is practically pleading with his words.

Jeonghan looks between Wonwoo and Soonyoung, trying to decide exactly what he should say here. He could start from the beginning. Or he could explain his crisis for the day. Either way, he’s going to have to explain. He takes a deep breath, trying to still the trembling in his entire body. Everything is about to be fucked up and there’s no taking it back.

“I realized something very major today,” Jeonghan begins. “And it’s scaring me, because I think I’ve known for my entire life and just haven’t wanted to admit it. And I don’t know what to do.” A lump is forming in his throat. “If you want me to tell you, I’ll tell you. But I mean it with every fiber of my being when I say that you can’t tell anybody else. Please.”

“Of course we won’t tell anyone.” Wonwoo’s voice is so genuine and gentle that the lump in Jeonghan’s throat grows tenfold. He can’t cry. Not right now.

“We won’t.” Soonyoung agrees. The anger is melting from his features, replaced by curiosity and concern. Jeonghan glances at Jun, who gives him an encouraging nod.

“I’m gay.” The words explode from him like he can’t possibly hold them in any longer.

The silence that follows makes him start to panic almost instantly. Tears are welling in his eyes at an alarming rate and his chest begins to heave.

“Jeonghan… Hannie…” Soonyoung breathes.

“I think I’m in love with Joshua. And Seungcheol. Both of them. What am I supposed to do about that?”

“Oh, god…” Wonwoo covers his mouth with one hand, eyes the size of dinner plates.

“We all kissed each other, Won. I kissed Joshua and he kissed Seungcheol and Seungcheol kissed me. We were drunk. And now they both regret it and I’m absolutely screwed because I don’t know how to talk to either of them and neither of them are talking to me.” He can’t stop himself now. He sounds childish, hysterical.

“Jeonghan.” Soonyoung is starting to tear up with him.

“I want to take it all back. Can you imagine me telling my insanely homophobic father that I’m gay? And not only that I’m gay, but I love two different boys?” Jeonghan’s chest hurts and he wants so badly just to open his mouth and scream as loudly as he can.

Soonyoung crashes into him, hugging him to his chest as tightly as he can. Jeonghan lets go of everything that’s been building in him for two months. He sobs loudly into Soonyoung’s shoulder. Someone else back hugs him, rubbing their thumbs against his ribs in an attempt at comfort. Jeonghan holds handfuls of Soonyoung’s shirt in his hands, trying to get himself under control. He holds so tightly that he can feel his fingernails through the fabric, digging into his palms.

“Hannie. It’s going to be okay. I promise it’s going to be okay.” Wonwoo rumbles against his shoulder. All Jeonghan can do is sob again, the sound muffled by Soonyoung’s shoulder.

***

He cries until he literally feels like a dried-out prune. They’re running late for dinner. Seokmin has already come to the room to look for them and Jun has turned him away, promising they’d be out as soon as they could.

They’re still standing in the middle of the room. Soonyoung is still holding him, rocking the two of them back and forth slightly. Wonwoo has let go in favor of going to retrieve Jeonghan’s makeup bag.

“I love you so much.” Soonyoung hums, squeezing him a little tighter for a moment.

“I love you too.” Jeonghan sniffles.

“I’m sorry I was so harsh. I had literally no inkling that anything like this was happening.” Soonyoung pulls away from him a little, reaching up to rub at his own teary eyes.

“It’s okay. I understand. If you and Wonwoo ever stopped talking to each other and didn’t explain, I would be upset too.” Jeonghan thumbs at a stray tear on Soonyoung’s chin. He’s calming down. He feels slightly lighter now. He’s gotten all this off his chest and now he has two more people to confide in.

“I’ve got them.” Wonwoo strides back in with Jeonghan and Soonyoung’s makeup bags and hands Jeonghan’s off to Jun. They spend the next few minutes fixing their makeup and trying to look less like they’ve been crying their eyes out. In the end, Jeonghan still looks rough. His eyes are slightly bloodshot and his eyelids are puffy. Even with makeup, you can still tell he was crying. Honestly, he doesn’t care at this point.

They all ride in Jun’s car to the restaurant. Everyone is already seated outside and have their drinks.

“Hey! We were wondering if you’d ever make it!” Minghao cheers as he sees them walk up. His face falls a little when he sees Jeonghan’s expression, but Jeonghan forces a smile and Minghao lets it go without asking what’s wrong.

He eats like he’s never had a meal in his life. He thinks it’s because he’s felt so on edge and emotional all day.

“Hungry?” Chan giggles at him. Jeonghan can’t help but give a genuine grin back.

“Yeah. Really hungry.” He replies.

***

Dinner goes by without a hitch. Jeonghan manages to act like an emotionally stable human being, nobody makes Joshua cry, and Seungcheol is eating, slowly but surely. When they’re done, they wander slowly back down to the beach and find the tiki bar.

“I plan on getting plastered.” Jeonghan coughs. Minghao raises his eyebrows.

“Alrighty then.”

“That’ll be fun to see.” Seungkwan laughs, linking his arm with Jeonghan’s. They’re standing in line, waiting to order drinks. Seungcheol and Mingyu have elected not to drink, so they’re down by the water. Mingyu is crouching by the darkened shore, shining his phone flashlight at the water.

“He’s looking for crabs.” Minghao snorts.

Jeonghan orders a long island iced tea and twirls away toward the shore while he sips. He locates Seokmin and glues himself to his back.

He gets drunk probably way too fast. Three long island iced teas later, he’s singing at the top of his lungs with Seokmin and Seungkwan, occasionally tripping on the sand and cackling. He feels like liquid. No bones, no worries.

“Another!” He cheers as he holds up his empty cup.

“Maybe slow down a little.” Mingyu laughs, holding him upright. Jeonghan presses a wet kiss to the taller boy’s cheek and trips toward the tiki bar. He orders another long island iced tea and returns, humming happily.

“So why were you guys so late, anyway?” Minghao questions out of nowhere. Jeonghan takes a long sip of his drink.

“Everything is shitty and I had a breakdown.” He shrugs like it’s no big deal. Mingyu and Minghao share a look.

“Why?” Mingyu asks.

“It doesn’t matter. Minghao, what are you drinking?” Jeonghan feels amazing. Who needs Seungcheol or Joshua? Speaking of Seungcheol, he’s a few feet away, holding Chan’s seashell collection in his hands while he looks for more shells. Joshua is down by the shore with a drink in his hand, laughing so hard he’s doubled over.

“Hannie, it matters because we love you.” Minghao says. Jeonghan takes another sip of his drink and shrugs one shoulder.

“I’m fine. Don’t worry. Hey, you guys should move in together. Why don’t you live together? You’ve been together a long time. You need to move in and get married and get a dog and adopt kids -”

“Alright, let’s slow down. Don’t get another drink after this one.” Minghao points at his half-empty cup.

***

Jeonghan does not listen. He finishes his drink and has another one before Minghao finally takes his wallet. By the time he’s finished with his last one, he’s barely able to walk and his head is spinning. He laughs at anything everyone says, even if it’s not really funny. He builds a messy sandcastle and loses his mind laughing when a tipsy Soonyoung walks through it on accident.

“Alright, I think it might be time for you to go to bed.” Jun says as Jeonghan jumps on his back. Jeonghan takes a deep inhale of Jun’s hair, complimenting him on his shampoo choice. Jun hooks his arms around Jeonghan’s legs and hikes him further up his back.

“I don’t want to go to bed.” Jeonghan pouts. Everyone else is starting to wind down around them. Minghao is dragging Mingyu through the sand toward their hotel. Chan is asleep on Seokmin’s back. It’s late and everyone is tired.

Jun carries him back up to his room. Jeonghan wants to cry as soon as they get in the door. Seungcheol is shaking the sand out of his shoes on the balcony and Joshua is pulling on a long-sleeved shirt, face flushed with alcohol and eyes sleepy. He grins lazily at Jun.

“Hi, Junnie.”

“Hi, Shua. You look tired.” Jun deposits Jeonghan on the bed and starts taking his shoes off for him. Jeonghan whines, kicking his feet. In the back of his mind, he knows he’s being difficult. But he’s tired and sad and he doesn’t want to be here.

“Junnie, can’t I come sleep with you and Jihoon?” The sound of his own voice is annoying to him. Jun meets his eyes. He looks torn between sympathetic and authoritative. He stands up straight and pinches Jeonghan’s cheek.

“You need to stay in here and get some sleep. If I let you come sleep with us you’ll irritate Jihoon well into the morning.” Jun isn’t wrong, but Jeonghan knows he’s also just making excuses. “Goodnight, Han.”

“Goodnight,” Jeonghan mumbles. “Traitor.” He adds when Jun is out of earshot. The other boy says goodnight to Seungcheol and Joshua and escapes, giving an apologetic wave to Jeonghan as he slips out.

Now it’s just the three of them again. The awkward silence blankets the room, stifling. Seungcheol is smoking on the balcony. He’s changed into joggers and a hoodie and he looks like sleep personified. Jeonghan wants to sidle up next to him, sap the heat from his body, and fall asleep cradled in his muscly arms.

“You still haven’t quit?” He slurs. He’s up on his feet before he can stop himself and then he blinks and he’s on the balcony. Seungcheol stiffens. He exhales a lungful of smoke and taps the ashes off on the rail.

“No.” The single word seems to take all the effort in his body.

“You’re going to kill yourself that way, you know.” Jeonghan wants to stop himself from taking, but he can’t seem to shut up. Seungcheol doesn’t say anything in reply. He averts his gaze to the water and takes another drag.

None of them do or say anything for the next few minutes. Seungcheol finishes his cigarette and drops the butt into a cigarette tray on the little table outside the sliding glass door. Jeonghan shifts to the other side of the balcony so he can peer over the side at a group of people still on the beach. They’re clearly as drunk as he is, cackling loudly and trying to drag each other to the water.

“This is so stupid.” Jeonghan coughs a sarcastic laugh. Seungcheol blinks in surprise. Jeonghan rolls his neck. Oh, god. He has to stop. He has to turn around and march himself into the bathroom and take a freezing cold shower to sober up. Now is not the time to spill his feelings.

“What?” Seungcheol asks. Jeonghan silently begs him to take it back. His drunk brain is in control now.

“All of this. Us tiptoeing around each other and pretending we aren’t all suffering. It’s stupid as fuck. I’m goddamn miserable. I want to be out of his room and far away from both of you. Don’t pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about. You both act like I’m going to snap and beat you up any second now. I wish I’d never kissed either of you.” He’s essentially snarling. His voice has risen to shouting level.

Seungcheol takes it all, standing stock still. Jeonghan switches his attention to Joshua, who is sitting straight-backed on his cot, teary-eyed and staring at the wall opposite himself.

“Don’t act like a fucking kid, Joshua. You were part of this too. I kissed you and we both kissed Seungcheol and it was the worst thing that ever happened. Admit it. Both of you regret it just as much as I do.” Despite the fact that he’s yelling at Joshua for tearing up, his own eyes are welling and his throat is on fire.

Joshua’s eyes swing to meet his. Jeonghan falters a little at the absolute hurt there. The pain resting on his face.

“I do regret it, Han. I lost both my best friends the second we stepped out on that balcony. I’ve been dying inside ever since. Don’t you understand that? I want to take it back and pretend it never happened. I was determined to act like it never happened and go back to the way we were, but that first day we saw each other again, you both acted like we’d never met each other.” Joshua is yelling now too, voice just shy of sobbing. “Being in this room with both of you is like someone has ripped my still-beating heart out of my chest and tossed it in a blender. We used to spend every waking second together. I’ve had nobody. Seungkwan’s been mad at me for not telling him what’s wrong, so he’s mostly been avoiding me. And since Hansol is his boyfriend, he’s been avoiding me too. I’ve never felt so alone in my life.” He finally breaks down, slumping and burying his face in his hands. This should have been the point that Jeonghan apologized. Explained his feelings in a better way. Held Joshua and wiped his tears. But he’s fired up. He’s drunk and on a roll.

“Yeah? Well I’ve felt the same way. Seokmin has been begging me to tell him what happened this entire time. We had this massive fight and I almost moved out. The only reason we made up is because I promised him I’d suck it up and room with you two to try to fix this. But it’s not fixable. It’s never going to be fixable. I’m in hell.” Jeonghan heaves a sob, hugging himself.

Seungcheol is still frozen in his spot, blank-faced. His eyes stay on the horizon. He has his hands shoved in his hoodie pockets, but Jeonghan knows, distantly, he’s probably having a silent panic attack. When Seungcheol is quiet and unmoving like this, something is wrong.

“What the hell is going on in here?” Wonwoo’s voice cuts through the room like a knife.

Joshua pulls himself upright and literally bolts from the room, brushing past Wonwoo’s shoulder. Jeonghan drops to a crouch, clutching handfuls of his hair. God, he’s made it worse. He’s fucked it up so, so badly.

“Seungcheol?” Wonwoo’s voice rises in pitch. Jeonghan forces himself to peek through his arms. Seungcheol is shaking so badly that Jeonghan can see it. He’s vibrating. His face stays blank. Wonwoo shifts his attention to Jeonghan. “Han, what happened?”

Jeonghan, unable to form an answer, just sobs again and falls back on his ass. He folds himself into a little ball where the wall meets the railing. He can’t get a full breath and his lungs are heaving. Stars are dancing behind his eyelids, dizzying and terrifying.

“Jeonghan!” The voice sounds like it’s far away, underwater. He understands then that he’s blacking out. Try as he might, he can’t stop it. All sound fades slowly into the distance and he loses consciousness.

Chapter Text

***Joshua's POV***

Joshua sits on the beach, folded over on himself. The wind is blowing gently across his neck and it’s making him shiver. He’s not crying anymore. He’s spent the last ten minutes doing so and now he just feels like a damp dishcloth that someone wrung out and tossed on the clothesline. His skin is too warm and too cold. His head hurts, but he’s numb.

One of the two men he’s in love with has basically just crushed his soul to dust and blown it out over the ocean.

He was so determined to make this trip work. A small part of him believed he would come away with them and find himself patching up their friendship. And in his wildest dreams, he’d admit to both of them that he was in love and they’d hold hands and walk down the shore at sunset with no cares in the world.

But Seungcheol hates him, Jeonghan hates him more, and his own family hates him the most. His father does, anyway. This has been the case since two weeks prior, when he sat both his parents down and told them he was gay. He’d been begging the universe to let the confession go right. His father would hold him and tell him it was okay. Instead, he was told never to come home unless he could take back what he said.

“Shua.” A gentle voice floats down the beach on the breeze. It takes all his strength to lift his head. Hansol is coming towards him, barefoot and carrying a blanket in his hands. Joshua blinks, slowly, and watches until Hansol finally gets to him. He plants himself down in the sand at Joshua’s side and wordlessly drapes the blanket around Joshua’s shoulders.

Joshua lets his head drift back down to his knees, too tired to keep it upright. He feels Hansol’s hand rest on his back, a welcome weight.

“I’m sorry I avoided you until last night.” His deeper voice comes again. Joshua squeezes his eyes shut tight enough to see fireworks. He knew he shouldn’t have let those words slip. Seungcheol or Jeonghan has told them everything he said. He’s positive Seungkwan is probably even more hurt than Hansol is right now.

“It’s okay.” He manages to say.

“It’s not okay. You needed me and I wasn’t there for you. I’m supposed to be one of your best friends. We’re roommates, even. You’re supposed to be able to talk to me about anything. I’m supposed to know what’s wrong and help you. I just… got caught up in how Seungkwan was feeling. He was upset that you weren’t talking to him, so I found myself being upset too. It was stupid.”

“I should have told you how I was feeling. It’s not entirely your fault.” Joshua counters. Hansol sighs, stroking Joshua’s back.

“Listen… it’s not too late to tell me how you’re feeling. I know something’s wrong. It’s kind of obvious now. Especially since this is your second night in a row having a breakdown. You can tell me anything. You know that, right? There’s nothing you could say to make me love you even a little less.”

Hansol’s words make Joshua’s eyes well up yet again. He wants to punch himself.

“I told my dad I was gay.” He says. Hansol’s hand pauses on his back.

“You’re gay?” He asks in a hushed tone. Joshua nods into his knees.
“I’ve always known I’m gay, but I was terrified to tell anyone. Especially my parents. But I just couldn’t keep it from them. You know how I am. I feel guilty when I’m dishonest. So I told them and just hoped he wouldn’t be mad. But he was. He was so mad.” Joshua finds himself crying forcefully again, chest caving in.

“Oh, my god. You’ve been sitting on that this whole time?” Hansol sounds choked up for the first time literally ever, and it startles Joshua so much that he can’t help but pull his face from his knees just so he can see Hansol’s face. Tears catch the moonlight as they snake down his cheeks.

“I had to. I didn’t know how to tell any of you.” Joshua sniffles. Hansol, lightning-fast, pulls him into his own lap and holds him close to his chest.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry you’ve been hurting and I didn’t realize.”

“It’s okay.” Joshua buries his face in Hansol’s shirt. He’s crying with pure relief now. He’s not alone. He’s okay. Someone is here, holding him and caring about him. Someone else knows he’s gay and there’s a small part of his heart that feels lighter, even if it’s just a minuscule amount.

***

Joshua ends up telling him everything beginning to end. He’s been in love with Seungcheol and Jeonghan since they met. He tells him about the kissing and the fact that they’ve been avoiding each other. He tells him about the words Jeonghan was hurling at him. He feels a little better with each confession. Not good. But better.

Hansol continues to hold him. He cries with him, talks to him, and tells him he’s sorry countless times.

“I’m so tired.” Joshua finally states, releasing a deep breath. Hansol hums.

“It’s really late. I’m sure someone is wondering where we are. Do you think you want to head back? We can figure out what’s going on. I’m sure Seungkwan would let you room with us, at least for now. Shua, I know you probably don’t want to, but -”

“I’ll tell him everything. I promise. I shouldn’t have kept it from either of you.” Joshua promises. Hansol cracks a smile, smoothing down Joshua’s hair.

He ends up getting piggybacked to the hotel. He’s terrified to go up to their floor. He’s positive there will be chaos and he’s not prepared to deal with it. Maybe everyone will have gone to sleep and he can be carted off to Seungkwan and Hansol’s room, where it’s safe.

But his hope is short-lived. The door to their room is cracked and he can hear lots of talking inside. Hansol nudges it open with his foot.

There’s a huddle around a lump in the covers. Minghao, Mingyu, Seokmin, Chan, and Jihoon all look up like they’ve been caught. Joshua can only assume it’s Seungcheol under the covers.

“Where’s Kwannie?” Hansol asks, shifting Joshua on his back.

“He, Wonwoo, Soonyoung, and Jun took Jeonghan to Soonyoung and Wonwoo’s room.” Mingyu replies. Hansol nods his thanks and backs out the door, letting it slide to where it had been previously. He continues down the hall to Soonyoung and Wonwoo’s room. Joshua’s stomach clenches up with nerves as Hansol knocks.

Soonyoung answers the door. His eyes are puffy like he’s been crying and he just steps aside when he sees them.

Jeonghan is sitting in the middle of the bed, eyes closed and knees drawn to his chest. He almost looks like he’s asleep. Seungkwan, Wonwoo, and Jun are perched close to him, talking to him softly like he’s a baby. They stop when Hansol and Joshua come in. Jeonghan opens his eyes at the silence and he and Joshua immediately make eye contact like he sensed they were in the same room.

Joshua feels himself crumbling again. All he can do is let his face drop to Hansol’s shoulder and pretend like he isn’t there. He doesn’t have the energy to cry again, but his brain is damn near trying to make it happen.

“Sollie. Hey. I was about to come looking for you.” Seungkwan says. Joshua hears the squeak of the bed and footsteps pad over to them.

“Hey. Shua wants to talk to you about some stuff. I was wondering if you wanted to come back to our room.” Hansol tries to keep his voice low, but Joshua knows everyone else in the room is listening too.

“Yeah. You go ahead and I’ll be right there.” Seungkwan replies.

Hansol takes Joshua back to their room and deposits him on their bed. Joshua burrows into the covers. He feels cold and damp and icky. He wonders if he could ask Minghao for a bath bomb.

Hansol produces a makeup wipe and hands it over, allowing Joshua to wipe all his makeup off. It makes him feel a little better. Just as he’s wiping off one last streak of foundation, Seungkwan enters the room. He kicks his shoes off and takes a few deep breaths before he looks at Joshua.

“Hey.”

“Hi.” Joshua responds, feeling smaller than ever. Seungkwan pads over to the bed and burrows under the covers beside him. Hansol clears his throat and perches on the end of the bed, legs crossed.

“So… you said you wanted to talk.” Seungkwan’s eyes are dancing over his face, probably taking in the ugly tear stains and how puffy he looks. It can’t be pretty.

“Yeah. I have a lot to say that I probably should have said a long time ago.” Joshua is suddenly really nervous. He tries to calm himself. This is his friend. He’s safe.

“I’m listening.” Seungkwan reaches over and grabs his hand, squeezing it between both of his own.

Joshua opens the floodgates and starts rambling, so fast that he wonders if Seungkwan can even understand him. He starts with the kiss and spirals from there. Seungkwan listens in complete silence, tucking one of his hands under his cheek and clutching Joshua’s hand with the other.

When he gets to the part about being gay and telling his parents, Seungkwan’s eyes glisten with sympathetic tears. He sniffles and dabs at his eyes with the sheets, but he doesn’t interrupt.

“-And that brings us to tonight. Everything sucks and I feel like I might die at any moment.” Joshua huffs a watery laugh. Seungkwan closes the gap between them and tangles their legs. He wraps both arms around Joshua and pushes the older boy’s face into his chest, threading his fingers through Joshua’s hair.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have pushed you so hard to talk.” Seungkwan can barely talk with how much he’s choked up. Joshua lets warm tears soak into Seungkwan’s shirt. He’s so happy to be held.

“I should have communicated. But I bottled it up and now I can’t stop crying like a fucking baby.” Joshua chuckles.

Seungkwan lets him cry until he can’t anymore. When he’s done, Seungkwan pulls back a little so they can look at each other. He tries to smile comfortingly.

“You can sleep in here tonight, okay? But tomorrow you need to try to work it out with them. It may not happen, but you have to try.”

“Okay.” Joshua isn’t willing to try, but he agrees anyway. Anything to be able to stay out of that hell hole for one night.

“How was Jeonghan?” Hansol asks, patting one of Seungkwan’s ankles.

“Not great. He passed out after Joshua left. Too much alcohol, too much panic, not enough deep breathing.”

“He fainted?” Joshua sniffles, worried.

“Yeah. I can tell he wishes he never said all that stuff, Shua. Try not to take it all to heart. He was drunk and he’s been having a hard time. Mingyu says Seungcheol was having a panic attack too. The poor guy. He can’t just have one night of peace.” Seungkwan sighs wistfully, playing with a piece of Joshua’s hair.

“Alright, well I think there’s been enough emotional trauma for one day. Let’s go to bed. Please.” Hansol, already in his pajamas, stretches.

“I have to go get some pajamas.” Joshua sighs.

“Do you want me to go?” Seungkwan asks.

“Nah, it’s okay. I think the other guys are still in there anyway. It’ll just take me a second.” He rolls out of bed and reluctantly slips out the door and down the abandoned hallway.

Seungcheol is out of hiding now. He instinctively looks up at the sound of Joshua coming in. Joshua feels a pang in his chest at the expression on his face. His eyes are glassy and the tip of his nose is pink. He looks wrecked and devastated, much like Joshua feels. For just a second, Joshua thinks he catches a glimmer of hope, but it's gone as Seungcheol looks away.

“Hey.” Minghao smiles at Joshua, clearly tired but trying to show otherwise.

“Hey. I just came to grab some pajamas.” Joshua digs around until he finds his clothes. He bids them all goodnight and escapes before anyone can say anything else. When he gets back to Seungkwan and Hansol’s room, they’ve fixed the bed and turned all the lights off. They have a movie playing on TV. Joshua throws his pajamas on as fast as he can and returns to crawl over Hansol so he’s lying in the middle of them.

There, snuggled between them, he feels more at peace than he has for the last two months of his life. He feels loved. He falls asleep to the sensation of Hansol against his back and Seungkwan petting his hair.

***

 

The next morning, Seungkwan wakes him up as he sings and dances around the hotel room, getting ready. They’re supposed to spend another day at the beach and maybe the hotel pool today. Joshua forces himself to get up and climbs in the shower with Hansol, who passes him the shampoo without another thought.

They lather each other in sunscreen and head for the beach. It’s slightly overcast, but Joshua doesn’t mind. He doesn’t like lying in direct sunlight.

There’s a small group of them already there, lounging on their towels. Chan has bought himself a paddleboard and Joshua can see Seungcheol pushing him out through the waves. Well, at least he’s up and out of bed. He can’t be entirely out of commission.

“Jeonghan’s still in bed.” Joshua hears Jihoon mutter quietly to Seungkwan when he thinks Joshua isn’t listening.

“Is he okay?”

“I don’t know. Mingyu and Seokmin are trying to get him up. I know he’s got to be really hungover.” Jihoon replies.

Joshua discards his shirt and walks out into the water, letting his head fall back and his eyes slip closed at the feeling of the water lapping over his toes. It feels deliciously good against his skin. He opens his eyes at the sound of Soonyoung screaming. Wonwoo is chasing him with a piece of seaweed, wiggling it at him like it’s a weapon.

Maybe things aren’t so bad, Joshua decides. Maybe he was just drunk and overreacting last night.

The familiar noise of Seungcheol squealing catches his attention. Someone with a golden retriever has walked down the beach and the dog is drawn to Seungcheol, as most dogs are. Seungcheol is crouched in the sand, making happy noises as he scratches the happy dog behind the ears and talks to him in a baby voice. Joshua has always loved the way Seungcheol is obsessed with animals. His heart twists painfully.

Yeah, so maybe things are still bad.

“Hey, stranger.” Jun pops up beside him out of nowhere, wrapping his arms around Joshua’s middle and nearly making him lose his balance.

“Hiya.” Joshua grins, enjoying the feeling.

“Hansol mentioned you might be feeling a little lonely lately, so I wanted to come to say hi and that I’m sorry I haven’t been paying attention to you.” Jun squeezes him, looking genuinely sorry.

“It’s alright.” Joshua reassures him, patting his hands where they clasp together on Joshua’s side. “We all had a lot to worry about. I’m just needy.”

“No. You’re human. I’m truly sorry, Shua. The last couple of months have been really strange and I don’t know what happened. But I promise I’m here now.”

“Me too. I haven’t been checking on you like I should.” Without warning, a remorseful Jihoon is hugging him from the other side. Joshua furrows his eyebrows and ruffles the hair on the back of Jihoon’s neck.

“You let me cuddle you yesterday.” He says.

“Yeah, but you and I both know that things haven’t been the same between us. Things between all thirteen of us have been shitty.” Jihoon deflates against him, worming his head up under Joshua’s chin. It’s uncharacteristic and it makes Joshua frown.

“It’s alright, Hoon. I feel like things will get better soon.” He doesn’t fully believe his own words, but they seem to comfort Jun and Jihoon for the time being. They finally release him. Jun grabs his wrist and drags him knee-deep into the water.

***

Jeonghan doesn’t appear until lunchtime. Mingyu and Seokmin are with him, walking on either side like they’re his bodyguards. They approach completely dressed for lunch and round them all up so they can go eat.

Joshua studies Jeonghan while he’s not looking. His hair is pulled back in a ponytail and he’s wearing dark sunglasses. Joshua assumes it’s because of the sun, but he also thinks Jeonghan is probably still hungover and has puffy eyes from the night before. Judging by the way Mingyu and Seokmin seem to be observing him, waiting for something to happen, he thinks Jeonghan must still be upset.

They go to eat at a seafood place on the same beach. It’s sunny, bright, and painfully hot now, so it feels good to sit underneath a huge umbrella with a cold drink. Despite sitting across the table from Jeonghan somehow, Joshua feels peaceful and calm.

“Seafood is triggering.” Mingyu whines from Jeonghan’s side. Joshua can’t help but laugh at the pout on his lips.

“They have other stuff.” Seungcheol leans over and points at the meat section, reading off some of the options. Mingyu brightens, wiggling in his seat at the sight of ribs listed on the menu.

“Hannie, what are you going to get?” He turns to the smaller boy at his side, waiting patiently for an answer. Jeonghan bites his lips together and flips the pages of the menu for a second before he shrugs.

“I don’t know. Nothing sounds great, to be honest. Maybe I’m just not hungry.” He keeps his voice low. Mingyu frowns deeply.

“You need to eat something.” Jeonghan takes a deep breath and nods a little, flipping back through the menu, more slowly this time. Mingyu, clearly still distraught, leans over closer to him. Joshua knows he should stop listening, but he can’t help himself. “Do you feel sick? Or are you just upset?”

“I’m alright, Puppy. Don’t worry about me.” Jeonghan forces a smile and presses a kiss to his cheek. Joshua can tell Mingyu doesn’t want to let it go, but he sighs and goes back to his own menu anyway. Joshua tunes into Seungcheol and Minghao’s conversation instead. It’s not on purpose, but because they’re having a completely different conversation than the rest of the table, he listens subconsciously.

“Did you think about what we talked about last night?” Minghao asks. Joshua can’t quite hear, but he thinks Seungcheol might make a noncommittal noise across the table. Minghao sighs and reaches across the table to pick his hand up and hold it. “I know you don’t really want to. But maybe you should just consider the pros and cons. It could be really good for you, especially now.”

“What are you gonna eat, Shua?” Chan chirps on his other side. He grins and starts explaining what he plans on ordering. Chan listens with great interest, always genuinely caring about what he has to say.

***

After lunch, everyone is tired and sleepy. They head back to the hotel. Joshua assumes he’s going back with Hansol and Seungkwan, but at the last second, Chan and Seokmin drag him off to their room. He hasn’t even been in here yet, but it’s sort of a whirlwind of clothes and toiletries strewn all over the place. Joshua picks up for them a little before he flops onto their bed, stomach full.

“So a lot’s been going on.” Seokmin sits beside him. Chan’s metaphorical ears prick at this and he abandons the facemask he was studying in favor of standing in the bathroom doorway to listen to what’s going on.

“Yep.” Joshua agrees, suddenly a lot more on edge. He stares at the ceiling, waiting for the next blow.

“You wanna… tell me your side of the story?” Seokmin asks. Joshua chews on the inside of his cheek.

“Well, I think there’s something kind of important I need to tell you both.” He sits up so he can look at both of them. Chan comes closer, sitting on the floor beside Joshua’s legs. He perches his chin on Joshua’s knee, listening.

“You can tell us anything.” Seokmin promises, reaching for his hand. Joshua knows he can. He realizes that now. He lets his head rest on Seokmin’s shoulder and looks down at their intertwined hands. He doesn’t know why he’s so nervous.

“I’m gay.” He says. Chan springs from the floor as soon as the words leave his lips and drops himself in Joshua’s lap, hugging him tightly around the neck. Seokmin gathers them both in his arms. They don’t talk for a second.

“Did you tell your parents?” Chan asks tentatively, voice muffled by Joshua’s shoulder.

“Yeah. It didn’t go well.” Joshua mumbles. Seokmin makes a painfully sad noise and nuzzles his nose against Joshua’s hair in an attempt at comfort.

“How do you feel?” Chan asks. Joshua closes his eyes, letting himself be calmed by the younger boy’s voice.

“I don’t know. Good and bad. Terrible, because I don’t know if my dad is ever going to talk to me again. Any of my family, for that matter. But I feel good because I’ve been keeping this to myself for such a long time. It feels nice to get it off my chest.” He talks slowly, determined not to let himself get choked up. He’s done enough crying to last him a lifetime.

“Well, you know we love you. We’ll always love you.” Chan’s voice is wavering a little and it’s making Joshua’s heart ache. Joshua rubs his back.

***

They end up cuddling for a while, tangled together on the bed on top of the covers. It’s too hot to get under them. Joshua is once again hit with a wave of happiness at the fact that he’s being snuggled and babied, despite the fact that he’s older.

He’s about to nod off to sleep when Seungkwan comes in and rallies them all. They’re all going back down to the beach. Joshua sort of wants to decline, but he gets up anyway and goes back out. It’s cooling down a little now that it’s past noon, but it’s still hot and sticky. He takes his towel and lounges under a free beach umbrella. He’s satisfied watching the rest of them run around.

“Mind if I sit?” Wonwoo appears next to his towel, looking just as thrilled to be out in the sun. Joshua pats the empty spot next to him and Wonwoo spreads his towel out and stretches out beside him. Neither of them talk, happy to sit in each other’s silent company. Joshua sees Seungcheol light a cigarette out of the corner of his eye. He wants more than anything to get up, rip it from his hand, and stomp it out in the sand.

“What time did you finally get to sleep last night?” Joshua asks Wonwoo. The taller boy stretches toward his toes.

“Pretty late, I guess. Jeonghan was having a really rough night.” He flips over onto his stomach. “What about you? I know you were having a pretty bad night too.” His voice is laced with curiosity and worry.

“I’m alright.” Joshua is lying to Wonwoo’s face, but he isn’t about to have a deep conversation out on the beach, where there are several other families. Wonwoo doesn’t seem to believe him, either, but he isn’t one to pry, so he just pins Joshua with a look and drops his head down onto his folded arms.

***

They stay out on the beach for the rest of the afternoon. Joshua swims with Mingyu and Jun for a little while and plays chicken until he’s laughing so hard his stomach hurts. He pushes all negative thoughts away for the moment, determined not to be upset for the rest of the afternoon. He also tries not to think about the fact that he might have to go back to his own room tonight.

By the time they drag themselves back to the hotel, they’re bone-tired, hot, and ready for dinner. It’s an unofficial date night, so all the couples are going out by themselves. This leaves Jun, Jihoon, Chan, Seokmin, Seungcheol, Jeonghan, and Joshua to figure out dinner on their own. Chan and Seokmin are discussing room service in the elevator and Joshua thinks it’s not that bad an idea.

“Hey.” Seungkwan catches him by the arm as they step out and takes him to the side. “Are you going to be okay in your guys’ room? I bet Seokmin and Chan would let you hang out with them.”

“I don’t want to be a burden. I’ll just stay in our room and order food and see what happens.” Joshua wants to scream, ‘god, no, I can’t stay in our room’, but Seungkwan deserves to have a good date night with Hansol without having to worry about how any of them feel.

He slips into their room, expecting the worst. Seungcheol has beat him to the shower. Jeonghan is sitting on the edge of the bed, hunched over on his phone. He must know Joshua is the one at the door, because he makes no move to give a greeting.

Joshua sits on his disheveled cot and gets his own phone out. He scrolls the hotel’s menu, thinking about what he wants to eat. He supposes if Jeonghan or Seungcheol plan on getting room service, too, they’ll have to talk to each other to place the order. He finds himself spacing out, worrying incessantly about what he’ll say when the time comes.

“...shua… Joshua…” He’s vaguely aware that someone is saying his name. A large hand touches his shoulder, shocking him out of his stupor. Seungcheol is standing beside his cot warily. His hair is damp and his cheeks are pink from the hot bathwater. “Hey. Sorry. I was just saying I was going to order room service. Did you want to get something?” He’s talking hurriedly.

“Oh, yeah. I was going to ask you that, actually.” Joshua rubs the back of his neck and Seungcheol follows his hand with his eyes. He stops, dropping his hand back to his leg. Seungcheol used to stop him from doing that all the time.

“Jeonghan?” Seungcheol barely looks at Jeonghan as he says his name. Jeonghan makes a small noise in agreement. Seungcheol asks them to write down their order and he’ll call room service himself. Jeonghan grabs the hotel memo pad from the bedside table and scribbles down what he wants. He gets up to pass it to Joshua, avoiding eye contact and holding it by the tips of his finger so they don’t touch. Joshua writes his own order and passes it to Seungcheol. He watches the oldest pick up the phone and politely put in their request. He smiles and nods even though he’s on the phone and they can’t see him - a quality Joshua has always found cute.

“Do you want to shower first?” Jeonghan asks as Seungcheol hangs up the phone. Joshua blinks, surprised that Jeonghan is even speaking to him.

“No, you can go first.” He replies. Jeonghan pads into the bathroom. Joshua feels the tightening in his chest loosen a little now that he’s out of the room. He’s still terrified to be in the room with Seungcheol, but he doesn’t think he’ll get yelled at. Seungcheol curls up under the blankets, facing away from him, just a lump under the comforter.

Joshua pulls his laptop out to work on his book. He wonders, briefly, is Seungcheol still wants to edit for him. At this point, he might take back what he said. Joshua wouldn’t blame him. Still, he hopes Seungcheol still wants to do it, if not for him then for the money. Seungcheol is a perfect editor and Joshua really doesn’t think he’d be comfortable finding someone new. He thinks back to the night before last, when Seungkwan pointed out that Joshua never made Seungcheol his editor. Did Seungcheol talk about it? Was he hurt that Joshua didn’t pick him? Guilt floods his chest.

“Hey, Seungcheol?” Joshua finds himself calling. He regrets it immediately. He should have kept his mouth shut. Seungcheol turns over just enough to look at him, blinking owlishly. Joshua swallows the lump in his throat. “I’m sorry. About the other night when I said I didn’t mix work and friends. I didn’t… I wasn’t trying to say we aren’t friends. And I’m sorry if it hurt you that I didn’t pick you in the first place. I just thought maybe it might hurt our friendship if I were to have you as my editor and we got into an argument.” He knows he’s rambling. Seungcheol is just listening, seemingly terrified, as if he couldn’t break all of Joshua’s bones just by poking him too hard.

“Oh… it’s okay. Seungkwan just takes things the wrong way. Don’t worry about it.” He laughs nervously.

“Are you sure? I just… never mind. I’m thinking about it too hard.” Joshua shakes his head, forcing out a mostly-empty chuckle.

“It’s fine. Really.” Seungcheol says. Joshua nods, unable to find words, and Seungcheol rolls back over to resume scrolling his phone. Joshua shifts on his cot and resumes typing, trying to focus. He technically told himself he wouldn’t work while he was on vacation, but writing soothes him in a way. It’s his creative outlet.

Jeonghan returns with his wet hair in an incredibly messy french braid. Joshua studies it while he fixes the covers. He used to be the one to braid Jeonghan’s hair, twisting the strands with extra care and attention. He loved doing it.

Joshua writes until their food arrives and answers the door when it gets there. Seungcheol and Jeonghan sit up in bed. Jeonghan turns the TV on and wordlessly scrolls the channels before he finds a Disney movie. He puts it on and doesn’t even have to ask if they want to watch it, because he knows they do. They used to watch Disney movies together whenever they got the chance.

Joshua eats his food on the floor, sitting at the little coffee table in front of the couch. He feels like a little kid, eating and watching a Disney movie on the floor. He might as well be eating dinosaur chicken nuggets and drinking out of a sippy cup.

When he’s done, he sneaks off to the bathroom to take a bath. He runs the water and washes his face while he’s waiting for the tub to fill up.

He climbs into the hot water and slides down until it’s up over his chest. He bites back a satisfied moan and lets his eyes close. The water feels amazing. It’s exactly what he needed for his aching back and the stress tension in his shoulders.

He stays in the bath until the water gets cold and his fingers are completely shriveled up. He half considers running a brand new bath, but decides he probably shouldn’t and gets out. He dresses, feeling slightly better about life, and goes back out into the room. Seungcheol and Jeonghan are still watching the movie, but there are two more bodies occupying the room. Jun is squished between Jeonghan and Seungcheol in the bed, already in his pajamas. Jihoon is in Joshua’s cot on his phone.

Joshua crawls in behind him and forces the other boy to be little spoon, facing the TV. Jihoon settles back against him without protesting. Joshua, cozy and content, presses his face into the back of Jihoon’s neck and closes his eyes. Exhausted, he’s already falling asleep to the sound of Lilo and Stitch playing in the background.