It happened after lunch.
(It happened in the dead of night.)
There was nothing strange to warn of it.
(He had felt something shifting, something wrong, following him the whole day.)
There was no indication that Hongjoong should feel fear for anything other than his English final the following week.
(Hongjoong kept twitching, his hand ghosting over the knife at his side, sharp eyes glaring at the shadows of night, as if daring them to attack.)
Hongjoong asked Seonghwa what their plans were for the weekend.
(Hongjoong asked Seonghwa if he could feel that in the air- that buzzing?)
Seonghwa simply shrugged, asking if he wanted to rent a movie.
(Seonghwa frowned in dark concern, glancing around, as if tasting the air against his skin. But shook his head.)
Hongjoong huffed, not really wanting to waste his weekend like that, as he buried himself deep in his hoodie, trying to think of something fun to do.
(Hongjoong tugged the brim of his hat lower, as if to hide his searching eyes from whatever was watching- the dusty boots on his feet creaking as he shifted his weight in preparation.)
Hongjoong glared at the ceiling, bored out of his mind.
(Hongjoong’s eyes snapped around the room, sensing and knowing that something was wrong, something was different-)
The frat house was way too quiet for a lazy afternoon with no classes.
(The base creaked and shifted under its own weight, sending soundwaves bouncing around Hongjoong who stiffened under each shift, like it was a blade pressing closer.)
Call him ungrateful, but Hongjoong was going stir crazy.
(Call him paranoid, but Hongjoong knew something was coming.)
“I’m going to take a nap,” Hongjoong announced, standing. “Don’t wake me for dinner.”
(“Go to sleep,” Seonghwa ordered when he passed by and saw Hongjoong still standing there, despite the darkness that had long since fallen. “You’ll upset yourself enough to attack Jongho getting up for water in the night,” he warned.)
Seonghwa hummed, barely acknowledging him as he continued to pour over his Bio texts.
(Hongjoong glared at Seonghwa for his attitude, but knew that frazzled nerves and no sleep never ended well for anyone here.)
Hongjoong flopped on his bed- shoving Seonghwa’s textbooks aside and hoping Yunho didn’t play his games too loudly, three rooms over.
(Hongjoong didn’t lay down, but he sat in a large armchair, staring at the shadows on the wall that seemed to dance- almost hypnotizing.)
Hongjoong buried himself deep in the covers, eyes closing as the quiet of the afternoon was finally good for something.
(The waltz that the shadows created made Hongjoong’s eyes heavy as the late hour caught up to him as the weariness of the day settled on him like a blanket.)
Hongjoong fell asleep.
(Hongjoong fell asleep.)
Hongjoong woke up feeling stiff and cold, which was odd.
His bed was super fucking comfortable, and his blankets were handmade by his mom (for Christmas), and usually were too good at heating to use during anything but the dead of winter.
Plus, Seonghwa was usually there, being a personal heater when even his blankets might fail him.
But he woke up uncomfortable, his neck aching and his back stiff- as if he had been sleeping on a brick or something.
He whined, trying to burrow deeper into the blankets, rolling onto his side-
His head hit something hard, and Hongjoong jerked into being fully awake as he clutched at his forehead, rubbing at it sharply as his mood soured by being woken up so harshly.
“Fucking hell,” he muttered, trying to figure out if maybe he had fallen asleep next to his laptop again-
The room was pitch black when he opened his eyes, and Hongjoong wasn’t really surprised that he would have napped until nighttime (it happened more than he cared to admit).
However, he was confused when he finally oriented himself, and realized he was sitting up already.
Blinking in the darkness, Hongjoong’s hands groped around for the lamp-
He was in an armchair, he realized, running his hands over smooth leather. He frowned. They didn’t have any leather armchairs, did they?
Was this some sort of prank?
Hongjoong stood, head still throbbing from where he hit it on the edge of the chair, presumably. His room never got this dark…
Had Yunho and them moved him again?
Once, Hongjoong had woken up halfway into the pool in the backyard, and it wasn’t uncommon for him to find himself in another of his friend’s beds, outside, down the block, or even in a trashcan (thanks for that, Wooyoung…).
Hongjoong was still going to kill them, if they stuck him in a shed while he was napping and left him there until midnight- or whatever fucking time it was.
Groping around, he tried to find something to guide him to the door. Not even knowing where he was a little unsettling, but his friends wouldn’t put him somewhere dangerous (without supervision).
A draft suddenly blew through, and Hongjoong shivered through his thin t-shirt and sweatpants, glancing around with a frown. Were there any caves near the university? That’s what it felt like.
But Hongjoong continued to stumble forward, not feeling anything-
His bare feet stepped off of the rough carpet, landing something what felt like cold cement and Hongjoong frowned deeper, feeling the abrasive texture beneath his skin.
“Guys, this is stupid,” he huffed, continuing on carefully. “If I cut my fucking foot open-”
Hongjoong’s foot hit something hard and wooden- a dull thunk ringing in the silence as he cursed, jerking his foot away- his little toe throbbing. His hands ran along rough wood, like that in the shape of a chest.
“I’m going to kill you, Yunho,” he hissed, moving along a bit quicker, sweeping his arms in front of him to find something to guide him-
His hand brushed a wall, and Hongjoong made a triumphant noise, clinging to it- it was rough, like the floor, made of cement. He dragged his hands along it as a guide, knowing that at some point, he must hit a door.
He expected to keep tripping over things, but his path was clear as he dragged his fingertips over rough material until-
His hand touched the wood- the only smooth thing he had come across- and he chuckled in triumph as he groped for the doorknob.
Fingers curling fast around the cold metal knob, Hongjoong twisted, half expecting it to be locked, but it gave way easily- even if the door was heavy enough for him to need to lean into it.
His friends were really going all out, huh? It wasn’t homecoming week, was it? Usually, their pranks stayed pretty mild until then…
Exams must be making them a little more wild.
Hongjoong stumbled out, expecting to see outside or maybe an abandoned fucking warehouse, if San had been involved.
He didn’t expect a long hallway, with dim electric lights and candles studded on the walls that flickered and casted shadows that danced…
Hongjoong frowned, feeling uneasy for the first time as he glanced around.
Where the hell was he? He knew all their usual hiding spots…. He didn’t recognize this place at all…
Frowning, he stepped out into the hall- the rough cement turning to cold tile. He glanced down and saw dark grey flooring leading in both directions- a few doors dotted along the hall.
“Guys?” Hongjoong called, hoping that they might be hiding behind one, or maybe around a corner. “Guys- this isn’t funny anymore,” he called nervously, turning left and walking down slowly.
He glanced at the rough walls, waiting for a door to burst open to try and scare him.
“Yunho?” he muttered, glancing around, like they might drop from the ceiling.
He was going to kill Seonghwa for letting them get away with something so fucking weird. He was going to have to have a serious talk about how fucking far they were allowed to go with pranks.
He had almost reached the end- a slightly brighter light coming from the room it was leading him to-
“Guys!” Hongjoong yelled, fists clenching nervously, but not wanting to go into the room and have them jump out to scare him.
But, if it meant they showed their faces, he would take a heart attack just to get rid of the creepy feeling of this place.
“I mean it!” he yelled, not taking a step forward, his feet aching from the cold. “It’s not funny-”
He heard a door open quickly behind him.
He stiffened, turning-
A hand suddenly grabbed Hongjoong’s hair too fucking tight- like he wanted to tear it out-
Hongjoong almost screamed, his hands scrambling for fist that dragged him to the side, slamming him into the wall hard enough for the abrasive cement to tear through the palms of his hands that tried to catch him-
Real fear hit Hongjoong for the first time- his voice dying even as he tried to scream-
This was not a prank.
His face was pressed hard into the wall- the rough material scratching his cheek roughly as his tried to breathe around the terrified half-sobs sticking in his throat as he breathed too quickly, too loudly-
“How did you get in here?” a rough voice demanded dangerously, shoving Hongjoong harder into the wall, making his forehead rub against the harsh surface that tore through his skin-
He cried weakly in the back of his throat, cold fear making his eyes clench shut tightly-
“I- I didn’t ,” he cried, heart stopping. “I- I don’t know where I am-”
His heart was beating too fast, too painful.
“ Shut it, ” they growled lowly, shoving him further against the wall- one hand wrapped around the back of his neck and keeping him in place-
Something thin and sharp suddenly slid against Hongjoong’s cheek, making him flinch with a whimper and crack an eye open.
A knife that looked sharp enough to cut air pressed against his cheek- just the gentle pressure enough to have it slicing through the top layers of his skin, without drawing blood.
Tears filled his eyes.
Was this a kidnapping? Some sort of organ black market?
“Please,” He whispered, fingers scratching at the wall, voice breaking. “Please, I- I don’t know-”
Suddenly, Hongjoong was being yanked away from the wall, a cry tearing from his throat as he was flipped around, his back shoved against it- a hand on his throat, choking him so harshly, he could barely open his eyes-
Viscous, suffocating fear clogged Hongjoong’s senses as his head spun with each heaving breath his lungs struggled to take.
The figure before him was dressed in black- but all he really saw was a thick leather mask drawn over his mouth, hiding everything but eyes that were sharper than his knife.
Hongjoong’s head smacked against the wall as he was shoved back harshly-
The hand suddenly loosened- the knife he hadn’t even felt being pressed to his chest, withdrawing.
The eyes over the edge of the mask lost some of their anger, brows drawing down deeply.
Hongjoong sucked in shaking breaths around the tears streaming down his face, hyperventilating and shaking so hard, he could barely stand-
“Hongjoong?” the figure asked, utter confusion and shock in their tone. “What-”
“What the hell is happening?”
Hongjoong hadn’t heard another door open, but he risked glancing down the hall as the figure also turned to look-
Hongjoong’s heart stopped as he recognized the figure striding down the hall- a grey shirt and dark pants clinging to their frame-
“ Seonghwa- ”
Hongjoong practically sobbed his name, and maybe moving wasn’t the brightest idea, but the figure before him was no longer holding him so tightly, the knife hanging at his side-
Hongjoong tore away from him, sprinting down the hall- rough cement tearing into his feet as he practically tackled Seonghwa- burying his head in his chest desperately.
Relief flooded him as he conveniently forgot about the man with the knife.
“What-” Seonghwa stiffened as his hand suddenly grabbed Hongjoong’s shoulder-
Hongjoong flinched a the rough tough- fingertips digging painfully into his shoulder as Seonghwa shoved him back-
Shoved him… away...?
Hongjoong stumbled back a step, Seonghwa holding him firmly at arm’s length, and something almost broke in Hongjoong’s chest as hurt and confusion struck him.
Seonghwa… had never acted like that towards Hongjoong. Seonghwa couldn’t even bring himself to deny Hongjoong a hug- much less shove Hongjoong around-
But it wasn’t until he looked up at Seonghwa’s face… that Hongjoong felt a different kind of fear.
Those… Those were not Seonghwa’s eyes.
Those were not the same eyes that scrunched when he smiled in a way that looked almost pained with laughter. Not the ones that rolled when Hongjoong did something stupid. Not the ones that widened when Hongjoong would get brave and peck his cheek while they were walking to class-
These… were like that man’s knife.
Cold… sharp… threatening.
Seonghwa had never… never looked like that before. Certainly… never at Hongjoong.
If Hongjoong were being more coherent, he might also balk at the stark blond of Seonghwa’s usually dark hair, but he could only see those eyes…
Those weren’t his eyes. .
“S-Seonghwa,” he rasped, tears drying on his cheeks. “Wh-What are you-”
“Hongjoong- what the hell are you doing?” he demanded, so rough and… angry. Those sharp eyes dragged across Hongjoong’s body liked a blade- threatening to cut, and making Hongjoong terrified to move.
Hongjoong had never… never felt threatened by Seonghwa before.
He had never felt afraid of him.
Hongjoong wanted to wake up now- from whatever dream he was living, he didn’t want to see this anymore. He was scared, he had never been scared of Seonghwa before-
“San- what the hell happened?” Seonghwa snapped, his voice a kind of angry that never belong there- that had never existed in Seonghwa’s voice before.
Seonghwa yelled at them all the time- he was never supposed to sound so… so dangerous.
Seonghwa looking passed Hongjoong like he was just a crack in a wall.
Hongjoong’s heart stopped as his terrified mind caught up.
He turned quickly, everything wrong, wrong, wrong-
The figure raised their knife, pointing it at Hongjoong as their other hand reached up, pulling the mask down.
San’s face stared at them in annoyed confusion from down the hall. “I heard yelling while on watch,” he said-
It was San’s face. It was San’s voice.
Those weren’t San’s eyes.
Hongjoong blood turned cold because like Seonghwa, that was not San-
He didn’t know what was happening.
“Found him wandering around.” His voice was crisp, like a book you couldn’t force open- fresh from the factory. “I thought it was an intruder because- well, look at him,” he said, jerking his knife, making Hongjoong flinch. “I don’t understand- but it’s… Look at him,” he stressed.
As if there was something wrong with Hongjoong .
As if Hongjoong was not being bruised by his boyfriend and threatened with a knife by one of his best friends-
Seonghwa’s hand squeezed that much tighter on his shoulder, and Hongjoong broke- shoving his painful grip off and stumbling back with a cry of anger, fear, frustration- something.
“Stop it!” he yelled, voice echoing in the hall, heart beating faster as he tried to keep both of them in his sight. “I don’t know what the hell the two of you are doing, but stop it ! This is fucking funny- I’m-”
Hongjoong’s voice broke as fear surged again while they continued to stare at him darkly- as if there was something wrong with him.
“You’re freaking me out,” he cried weakly, glancing between the two of them. “Just- Stop it,” He begged. “I want- I want to go home, just… Stop it- Whatever fucking prank you’re pulling…”
Hongjoong felt like his heart was trying to stop, the longer their cold eyes stared at him- pressing like the blade that was lowered at San’s side.
Neither of them laughed.
Neither of them softened their gaze.
Neither of them comforted him.
Hongjoong started breathing faster, the longer their silence went unbroken, something building in his chest, dangerously cold. He stepped until his back hit the wall of the hallway, eyes flickering back and forth between the two.
“Hongjoong,” Seonghwa said- voice dark and dangerous. “What’s wrong with you?” he demanded.
“ Me? ” Hongjoong practically screamed, tears filling his eyes again. “ Stop it! It’s not fucking funny!” he begged. “I don’t know what the hell I did to make you think this would be okay, but if you don’t call it off right now, I’m going to- to-”
Hongjoong’s legs trembled under his own weight as his arms wrapped around himself. “Stop it, guys… Please…”
Mercilessly, they stared on.
Terror began to writhe its way into Hongjoong’s heart.
“Where the hell did you get those clothes?” San demanded- sharp and brisk. “What- What the hell did you do to your hair ?”
“Stop- You were there !” Hongjoong yelled, fisting his t-shirt. “You were both fucking there when we all tie-dyed shit until 3 AM! You were there when I had a fucking breakdown because of Music Theory and you were the fucking one who told me to bleach it white!”
He japped a shaking, accusing finger at San.
“I’m giving you guys one more fucking chance,” Hongjoong threatened weakly, voice shaking patheticaly. “Call off this prank now- I thought we were fucking friends. This is going way too fucking far.”
He glared at San, who simply stared in almost disgusted confusion- as if Hongjoong wasn’t making any sense.
San was mischievous… but he wasn’t cruel. He would never do something so horrible- that knife had been real … But he still gazed at Hongjoong distastefully.
Hongjoong’s chest cracked as he turned angry eyes on Seonghwa.
His Seonghwa… who never looked at him so coldly. So emotionlessly.
Hongjoong’s eyes held a warning. Seonghwa knew Hongjoong better than anyone else in the world. He knew when he was done playing. He knew when he had reached his limits.
He should have long since called this off…
Hongjoong didn’t know what he could have done that might have pissed them off enough to go so far, but he knew that nothing was worth scaring him like this.
But Seonghwa didn’t crack under his glare. He didn’t lose the mask and apologize.
He didn’t wipe Hongjoong’s tears away and whisper apologies for being so stupid to go so far.
He didn’t tug Hongjoong to his chest and hold him while Hongjoong cried out the fear that still ran through his veins.
He didn’t even blink when Hongjoong’s tear-filled eyes glared at him.
And Hongjoong felt like the knife San carried was stabbed firmly in his back.
Seonghwa… of all people…
“Fuck you guys,” Hongjoong spat, betrayal and anger gripping his stomach sickeningly. “Seriously,” he snapped, stepped away. “Really- fuck you to hell and back.”
He turned, and he ran. He was sick of this game.
His friends could be assholes- he knew this as he practically shoved San aside, running out of the hallway.
“Hongjoong!” He heard San’s voice yelling after him.
They could be assholes, but they had never been cruel.
Hongjoong’s vision blurred with hot tears as he ran into a better-lit room that was nothing more than a few desks scattered around with papers covering them.
There was only one door to go through, and Hongjoong sprinted through it- not even realizing when the ground turned from cement to smooth wood.
He entered another, short hallway- not even bothering to look around. He just wanted to get out of here.
And then cry himself to sleep before finding the others- they couldn’t all be in on this.
He ran through a bright, tiled room, rubbing at his tears.
Yeosang would never go along with something so horrible. Yunho could never bring himself to act so heartlessly.
None of his friends… none of them should have been able to hurt him so badly.
He tore open a door, running through what looked like a study- filled with nothing but books and what looked like scrolls of paper-
“Hongjoong!” He heard someone else’s voice yell, too far to tell who it was.
Hongjoong didn’t want a fucking apology right now.
He tore through the other side of the office, sprinting through a door. He came into an open area- an entrance hall with a large staircase heading up to a balcony floor. Where the fuck had they dragged him to?
He didn’t really care at the moment, his heart twisting in betrayal.
A large, wooden door standing at the other end of the entrance hall. Which had better be the fucking way outside.
Hongjoong stormed across it, skin too wet with more tears to really actually clear his eyes as his bare feet slapped against tile while he ran to the door.
He grabbed the handle, twisting it roughly. “Fuck both of them,” Hongjoong hissed, shaking as he tore the door open, sprinting out a few steps-
Heat blasted Hongjoong’s face painfully- like opening a hot oven too close to your skin-
He cried out, flinching away and bringing his arm up to block the heat-
His face paled, heart stopped.
Through the door, there was no lawn. No street. No path leading to a road that he could take back to the frat house.
There were only flames.
And in the back of his mind, Hongjoong thought he was dreaming of hell.
He could see grass and trees… they were all burning and smouldering. The sky wasn’t blue, but a burnt orange hue with clouds that looked like a toxic black mass staining the sky.
Particles blew in the wind that felt like waves of heat and misery blasting through the air.
Hongjoong didn’t even need to look closely to know it was ash.
He stood, his mouth open in horror, his feet aching at the sudden heat as he stood on the doorstep of a world that was burning.
Why… Why was the world burning?
Hongjoong stared in horror, tears evaporating off of his skin that felt tight and dry-
“ Hongjoong! ”
A hand grabbed his arm with bruising force, yanking him back harsh enough to jar his shoulder- making him cry out-
He blinked, and he was back inside- the chilled air suddenly freezing after the heat, and the door slamming shut loud enough to make him flinch-
“What the hell are you thinking?” Seonghwa snapped, his hand gripping Hongjoong’s upper arm too tight, making him wince. “Going outside without your mask? These stupid clothes-”
“You’re hurting me,” Hongjoong ground out when the fingers digging into his arm became too painful. He shoved at Seonghwa’s hands weakly, teeth gritting against the pain-
“Hurting you?” Seonghwa said flatly, staring at Hongjoong as if he was speaking in tongues. “Hongjoong, this is ridicul-”
“ Let go! ” he yelled, tears prickling as the five contact points throbbed sharply, a cry stuckin his throat- pathetic and weak, but it fucking hurt-
Seonghwa released Hongjoong who jerked away, curling his arm to his chest, breathing heavily-
“What the hell is happening?” Hongjoong panted, breathing too quick, his head spinning too fast to steady himself. Behind Seonghwa, San stood with an ominous dark expression. “What- What the hell is that?” he demanded angrily, pointing to the door that was shut tightly.
“You know what that is,” Seonghwa said darkly. “You know very well what’s out there.”
“No!” Hongjoong yelled fearfully. “No, I fucking don’t! Why- It’s fucking burning out there! What the hell is that?”
“Hell,” San answered flatly. “The same one we see everyday.”
“No, it’s fucking not!” he cried, sucking in deeper breaths as his legs trembled. “Hell is fucking- Mr. Byun’s class! It’s exam week and shit! It’s not- not fucking that !”
Was Seoul burning?
“It’s our world,” Seonghwa said coldly, expression growing harder. “Hongjoong, you know this. We lived through this-”
“I’ve never seen a city burn!” he snapped. “This- What is fucking happening ?”
This… couldn’t be a prank.
How the hell was the city burning?
But if it wasn’t a prank… what the hell was it? Because there was a city burning. These were two of his best friends.
Hongjoong swallowed thickly. “I must be fucking dreaming,” he whispered hoarsely, staring at the two of them in horror. “This can’t be real.”
“Who is Mr. Byun?” San asked, as if he couldn’t hear Hongjoong’s terrified whispers.
“Don’t fucking act like you didn’t almost flunk his Lit class,” Hongjoong muttered, shaking his head weakly.
“Lit class,” Seonghwa repeated, eyes growing dark with confusion. “Hongjoong, you aren’t making any sense- what happened to you? You were fine last night-”
“ I’m not the one being crazy!” he shouted, voice breaking. “ You guys are the ones with fucking knives, and citites that are burning!”
“It’s not the cities,” San replied rotely.
Hongjoong choked. “What?”
“You know it’s not the cities burning,” San pressed harshly, taking a step forward. “You know there’s nothing out there.”
“N-Nothing…” He felt like his legs were about to come out from under him. The edge of his vision began to blur and grow dark- tinged a sickening green. “What do you mean… nothing out there…?”
“Hongjoong,” Seonghwa said sharply- harsh in a way he had never said Hongjoong’s name before, even as his voice sounded distant.
It sounded so wrong, so foreign to be said so coldly-
There’s no way this was his Seonghwa- but what the hell else could he be?
“ Hongjoong, ” He repeated, colder, when Hongjoong didn’t immediately focus on him. “Where do you think you are?” he demanded.
“‘Think’?” he hissed. “Where else would we be?”
Had he hit his head? Was this a coma or something? Did he have amnesia? Was he just plain, fucking insane?
“Where do you think you are?” Seonghwa snarled- an order wrapped in a threat that made Hongjoong recoil another inch.
“Seoul,” He answered weakly.
He wished he was home…
“Seoul?” San asked, his tongue stumbling over the word, as if he had never heard it.
“It’s what they used to call the Capital,” Seonghwa said coldly without looking at San, his expression darkening as he glared at Hongjoong.
“Why the hell would you be near the Capital?” San demanded, his knife lifted again, fire dancing in his eyes. “Did they fucking brainwash you or something?”
“No,” Seonghwa answered, still never taking his eyes off of Hongjoong- his gaze heavy enough that Hongjoong knew he wasn’t breathing. “Who the hell are you?” Seonghwa demanded lowly, another threat rasping in his throat.
Hongjoong couldn’t even be angry anymore. There was only confusion and fear clogging his veins sickeningly.
His head was spinning too much. “Hongjoong,” he answered- maybe trying to be smart, but it came out slightly slurred.
“No,” Seonghwa broke in sharply, making Hongjoong flinch. “No, you aren’t our leader. You are not the man I decided to follow.” He almost sounded betrayed.
Hongjoong wanted to ask questions, but his tongue felt too heavy.
Seonghwa hand flashed backwards, and suddenly San’s knife was wrapped in his hand-
Hongjoong whimpered as he was slammed into the thick wooden door, an arm pressed to his throat and the tip of the knife drawing blood beneath his chin.
He tried to shy away, but he had nowhere to go, eyes clenching shut and the only thing keeping him upright being Seonghwa’s body pinning him to the door.
Tears pricked at his eyes once more as he tried not to audibly sob when they fell.
Was Seonghwa… going to kill him?
So fucking wrong, wrong, wrong-
“ Who the hell are you? ” Seonghwa ground out, chest rumbling with anger and voice cold enough to burn. “ What did you do with our leader? ”
Hongjoong wanted to maybe beg for his life.
Maybe sob. Maybe fight.
But he took a shaking breath through his constricted throat, and he felt his hazy vision go black, swallowed up in a thick darkness.
Hongjoong was being threatened and assaulted by his best friends… and he passed out with a knife pressed to his throat.
Seonghwa… pressing a knife to his throat.
He fell unconscious and knew that while the darkness surrounded him, he would likely die.
Hongjoong woke up… warm.
His mind woke up, taking in his surroundings in an instant, cataloging it all.
He was laying down. Something soft beneath him- a bed? He was warm- wrapped up in something. There was light coming from somewhere- there should be no light in his room.
And there was a body next to his- their quiet breathing loud in his ears the practically twitched in sensitivity.
There was someone in his room. In his bed.
Hongjoong couldn’t think of how anyone would wind up in his bed, but it didn’t really matter.
His eyes creaked open, aching in the practically blinding light-
How was there light in his room, if there were no windows? He didn’t have time to contemplate his surrounds, his hand slowly creeping down to his side for his knife.
His fingers wrapped around the worn handle. Was this that unsettling feeling he had been experiencing?
Didn’t matter. Kill the intruder, and then worry about what was happening.
Hongjoong shifted minutely, getting in position to strike-
The body beside him shifted, a low groan sounding from them.
And even producing a sound Hongjoong had never heard, he recognized that voice.
“Hongjoong?” the familiar voice mumbled into the pillow. “You awake finally?”
There was something tired and amused in the voice-
Emotions that Hongjoong had never heard on Seonghwa’s tongue.
“Hongjoong?” The voice came as if from under the blankets.
The way his name sat on his tongue… Hongjoong stiffened, his stomach curling in warning.
That was not Seonghwa.
The body beside him finally lifted onto their elbows- hair ruffled and cheeks pink from sleep-
Their eyes pulled down. “What are you wearing?” he rasped.
Hongjoong lunged, the entire sight so wrong, it must be some sort of trick.
Seonghwa… did not look like that.
The imposter cried out as Hongjoong’s body collided with his- one hand latching around his throat like a viper-
Shock changed to fear as he jerked his knife from its sheath-
“ Hongjoong! ” he croaked from beneath his hand crushing his throat.
This was not Seonghwa, of that Hongjoong was sure as he held the knife to his throat. “Who the hell are you?” he snapped. “What the hell are you-”
A door burst open. “Can you guys keep your fucking down- What the fuck are you doing!”
Hongjoong turned- risking removing his eyes from this imposter’s pathetically struggling form-
Hands grabbed Hongjoong’s arms and yanked- not strong enough to completely remove him, but enough to knock him off balance.
“Mingi- get in here!” the person grabbing him called out the open door. “Hongjoong- what the fuck-”
His arm in the stranger’s grasp was the one holding his knife, and he flipped it single handedly, aiming the blade towards-
Yunho’s face stared down at him in horror.
Not Yunho. His eyes were all wrong- the weakness in his grip was horrendous compared to their powerhouse-
“What do you- Get off of him !” Mingi’s voice yelled- but not his voice- too foreign.
Hongjoong shoved the flipped knife towards Yunho’s chest, teeth grinding together as his other hand squeezed Seonghwa tighter-
How many of them were there?
Mingi’s grip joined Yunho’s- tearing Hongjoong’s hand off of the imposter’s neck.
“Is that a fucking knife? Is that real?” Mingi demanded as they both dragged Hongjoong off of Seonghwa who rolled over, hacking and choking into the blankets-
Hongjoong brought a knee up, slamming it into Mingi’s side, flipping his knife again-
“What’s going on- Hongjoong! ” Yet another voice yelled in shock.
A foot suddenly kicked at his hand- sending the knife out of Hongjoong’s loosened grip and clattering to the ground.
He cursed internally, pulling against the hands holding him-
“San, what the fuck?” Yunho demanded.
“Grab his legs!” Mingi ordered as Hongjoong thrashed, weaponless, but not helpless-
“Guys!” San called desperately, his entire torso laying over Hongjoong’s legs as they shoved him onto the ground- Yunho and Mingi pinning his arms.
So much weaker than they should be. Even so, Hongjoong may be strong, but even three weaklings were hard to struggle against.
“What the fuck is he wearing?” San demanded.
“What’s all the yelling- What the fuck?”
How many of them were there? Hongjoong twisted his torso- managing to dislodge one leg from San’s haphazard hold-
His boot collided with San’s jaw, sending him back with a cry, hands clutching his jaw-
“What the fuck is wrong with you?”
“Wooyoung- his legs!”
A denser weight landed on Hongjoong’s wildly kicking legs- Wooyoung’s own legs landing on top of his painfully to aid in holding them down.
“Is that a fucking knife?”
“He attacked Seonghwa!” Yunho snapped. “Should we call someone?”
“Hongjoong- what the hell is wrong with you?” Wooyoung snapped, glancing with worried eyes at San’s jaw that was already beginning to bruise. “What- What’s going on?”
So many familiar faces.
And all of them wrong.
Where was his real team? What happened to them? Was this supposed to be some sort of plot from Capital?
In all the shouting, the quiet call stood out, Hongjoong’s glaring, cursing eyes snapping upwards.
Seonghwa leaned over the edge of the bed, one hand touching his throat gingerly and stricken eyes staring down on Hongjoong.
Something… fearful in them.
It made Hongjoong’s stomach curl- Seonghwa did not feel fear.
None of them felt fear- none of them felt this panic and confusion that had grasped this group of fools-
“Is this some sort of split personality?” San whispered in horror.
“Nobody fucking cares that you took a Psych 101 right now!” Wooyoung snapped.
“I’m serious- What the fuck is happening?” San demanded.
“What the hell are you wearing?” Mingi demanded, eyes drawing over Hongjoong’s coat and suit. “This- What the fuck is up with your hair? ”
They acted as if they knew him. As if Hongjoong was the one among them who had changed.
“Is this some sort of plot by Capital?” Hongjoong finally snarled, making several of them flinch as he yanked at their holds. “It’s a pathetic attempt, you mindless idiots,” he snapped. “If you’re going to attempt a trick, at least understand the people you’re trying to replace!”
“Replace?” Seonghwa questioned quietly. “Capital?”
“What trick?” Wooyoung demanded, brows furrowed. “Hongjoong- are you having some sort of mental break?”
“I don’t think finals make you fucking try and kill your boyfriend!” Yunho said sharply. “Someone get Yeosang- Call the police or something-”
“We’re not calling the cops on hyung!” San burst, eyes widening in horror.
“He’s clearly not himself!” Yunho fought. “He just tried to kill Seonghwa- He had a fucking knife, he’s not safe to be around right now!”
Yes, at least they understood that Hongjoong was a threat to him.
“Yeosang and Jongho are in class,” San said, fists clenching. “We can’t call the police! What if it goes on his record or something?”
“Does that really fucking matter?” Mingi demanded.
“He’ll get kicked out of the art program!” San fought. “We can’t let that happen-”
“Did you miss the part where he tried to kill Seonghwa? ”
Once more, Seonghwa’s voice broke through the others- a different level of familiar, despite the horrible emotions they were shoving into his tone.
Hongjoong glared at him- seeing his second in command so fucking pathetic- it made him want to spit in his face.
“What’s going on?” he asked, voice low and calm. “Talk to us- we can work through this… I don’t know if you even understand what’s happening to yourself, but… but you have to trust us. Just talk to us.”
Hongjoong did spit in his face at that.
These worthless actors-
How did they have their faces? Their voices? What new hell was the Capital learning to create?
The others around him erupted into cries of outrage as Seonghwa flinched at the saliva striking his cheek.
“Do you dogs really underestimate us so much?” he spat. “I’ll hang your fucking crew from the burning trees of the Capital!”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Wooyoung snapped. “You’re talking nonsense, hyung-”
He jerked his leg, almost freeing it from Wooyoung’s distracted hold before the other caught it, shoving it down pointedly.
“We have to call someone,” Yunho snapped.
“Let’s calm him down first,” Seonghwa said firmly, confusion and hurt mingling in his eyes.
God, the fucking pathetic expressions on his face. Hongjoong’s lips curled in hatred.
“Calm him down how ?” Mingi demanded. “He had a fucking knife!”
“Hongjoong,” Seonghwa said, one foot coming down from the bed, careful eyes staring at him gently. “Talk to us. Where do you think you are? What do you think we are to you? We aren’t a threat.”
Weren’t a threat? He wanted to laugh.
His eyes darted away from Seonghwa when San suddenly lunged-
He didn’t go for Hongjoong. Instead, his hands wrapped around the knife that had fallen from his grip.
And Hongjoong hesitated for moment- eyes sharpening warily. He was now pinned, weaponless, while this imposer held his knife.
“San!” Seonghwa yelled, eyes widening in horror.
“Talk!” San snapped, voice shaking as fear began to take over his eyes. The knife shook as he pointed it at Hongjoong. “I- I don’t know what the hell is wrong with you, but you need to start explaining!”
Hongjoong’s eyes traced from the knife to San’s shaking lips and wide eyes.
Not only were they fools, they were also completely useless.
“You won’t hurt me with that,” Hongjoong sneered. “You’re fucking weak and afraid.”
“ Try me ,” San pressed, voice trembling. “You tried to kill our friend- I defend my friends, even from each other! I broke someone’s fucking arm for stepping on one of your sketchbooks.”
“San, you did that on accident,” Wooyoung hissed, giving him a wary glare.
“This one won’t be!” San snapped, lowering the knife slightly. “Now, start explaining! Why did you do that?”
“Where do you think you are?” Seonghwa said firmly, lips pressing in a firm line as he held a warning hand out to San to hold on, and still all that fucking pity shining in his eyes.
San jerked the knife, and no matter how obvious it was that he wouldn’t harm Hongjoong with the knife, he’d be foolish to think it impossible for San to act in passion.
He had zero control in this situation.
“A hundred flits south of Capital,” Hongjoong spat, eyes focused on the knife that shook in San’s grip.
He wouldn’t be surprised if San accidentally dropped it on Hongjoong.
“None of those words made sense,” Yunho said, as if it would be news to Hongjoong. “Did he hit his fucking head?”
“Where did you get those clothes?” Seonghwa demanded, frowning and scanning Hongjoong. “Those have never been in our closet.”
Hongjoong didn’t know why the fuck it was important that these imposters act clueless, but-
As he struggled, his head fell back to scan the room fully-
His eyes landed on a window set into the wall.
Hongjoong’s eyes widened.
Through the clear glass, he saw green and blue.
Green leaves… and blue skies-
The edge of a white cloud peeked through the leaves-
“What is that?” he demanded, not taking his eyes off of it. “Some sort of hologram?”
Mingi followed his gaze. “The window? What- do you not remember windows in whatever fucked up world you’re visiting?”
Hongjoong glared at him, making the other almost jerk away, though his grip remained tight on Hongjoong’s struggling limbs.
“Answer my questions before I break my own arm, and then break yours,” he growled.
“What about the window?” Seonghwa asked, patient and calm.
He wanted to rip his tongue out.
“What about it looks like a hologram?”
“That fact that it’s not a burning inferno of a hell?” Hongjoong snarled, fists clenching.
“Why would it be burning?” Seonghwa questioned, brow pulling down.
“Is it part of some programming in you to be ignorant?” Hongjoong demanded through his teeth. “When isn’t the world burning?”
Seonghwa opened his mouth, looking ready to question something more, but he closed it quickly, sliding off of the bed and kneeling beside Hongjoong.
“It’s not a hologram,” Seonghwa said, as if humoring him. “Nothing is burning, Hongjoong. I don’t know what’s going on in your head, but it’s not real. You’re safe- in the frat house, with your friends…”
Frat house. Hongjoong didn’t know what that fucking word even meant.
“You’re just off campus at Seoul University,” Seonghwa continued. “In downtown Seoul-”
“ Seoul ?” Hongjoong spat. “Seoul was destroyed nearly centuries ago- Is the Capital trying to go back to its roots or something equally ridiculous?”
“Seoul isn’t destroyed,” Wooyoung said firmly, looking confused. “It’s not the apocalypse or anything, hyung. It’s just Wednesday.”
“Not the apocalypse,” Hongjoong scoffed.
“Okay, it’s officially too far,” Yunho said firmly. “San, call the police- tell them he’s having a psychic episode or whatever the fuck they called it in Psych 101.”
“No!” San snapped. “They’ll kick him out of the fucking program!”
“He clearly needs help!” Yunho yelled back. “You think this is fucking normal?”
“We can- We can work something out!” San fought weakly, the knife dropping into his lap. “We just need to calm down-”
“Prove it,” Hongjoong broke in with a snarl.
“Prove what?” Yunho demanded.
“Prove that it’s real,” he snapped. “The green outside- prove that’s not a hologram.”
There was nowhere left in the world that was green.
If they proved that it wasn’t a hologram… Hongjoong actually didn’t know what he would do.
Because if it wasn’t a hologram… what else was real? What were these men who looked identical to his team?
Where the hell had he wound up? And where the hell was his real team?
“We’re not taking you anywhere- bringing you outside is crazy!” Mingi fought.
“Let’s show him,” Seonghwa said quietly, standing.
“Hyung!” Wooyoung yelled-
Oh, the real Seonghwa would have likely struck him for such a fucking display. This one… just shook his head.
“He’s freaking out- humor him for now. We have to calm him down.”
“How the hell are we getting him outside?” Yunho demanded.
“Keep holding his arms,” Seonghwa said firmly.
“He’ll wiggle free!”
“Wait,” San said, standing and running out of the room. Hongjoong had stopped struggling… for now.
Now, his heart merely beat out a horribly loud rhythm as he tried to keep his eyes on all of them at once.
“What is this?” Seonghwa asked while San was gone, pointing to his clothing. “It looks like a uniform.”
Hongjoong scoffed, lips curling. “I’m sure the Capital has us marked down to our honor badges- you know what this is.”
“I don’t,” Seonghwa said firmly. “I’ve never seen this before- is it a uniform?”
His voice was gentle enough to grate on his ears.
“The only thing it could stand as uniform for is the amateurs who brought a fucking nation to its knees,” Hongjoong spat. “Report that back to whoever sent you.”
“Here!” San arrived back with three items in his hand.
A chord, a roll of tape, and a belt.
Yunho and Mingi both moved, sitting Hongjoong up and forcing his arms back-
At this, Hongjoong struggled, thrashing in their grip-
“Don’t hurt him,” Seonghwa said quickly, a hand reaching towards Hongjoong-
Hongjoong jerked away from the touch, glaring at Seonghwa, daring him to touch him as he continued to thrash-
Oh, such a look of hurt in the fake’s eyes, his hand withdrawing quickly.
Hongjoong felt tape being wrapped around his wrists that were held behind his back.
“I never thought you’d actually use those skills you learned in taekwondo,” Wooyoung muttered where he held Hongjoong’s kicking feet.
As weak as they were, and as raging as Hongjoong’s blood was- it was very clearly five against one, and even if he did manage to break free, the chances of making it very far were slim.
He felt the thick leather of a belt added to his wrists, and then the thin wrap of a wire joining as well- tight, but not unbearable.
“Did you really steal Jongho’s phone charger?” Wooyoung muttered.
“Would you rather I grabbed yours?” San hissed, tugging on the restraints. “Okay,” he sighed. “We should be okay.”
Hongjoong glared bitterly as he was pulled to his feet- both Mingi and Yunho still keeping hands on his bound arms, nearly lifting him off his feet.
“This is stupid,” Mingi muttered as Hongjoong took a jerking step in the direction they urged him in. “We shouldn’t be indulging him- he’s clearly fucking sick.”
Hongjoong was the one who was sick?
They were the ones in a frenzy.
“Let’s just… hurry,” Seonghwa said quietly, eyes not meeting Hongjoong’s. “I don’t like this- but we have to try.”
Hongjoong’s boots made dull thuds against the wooden floors that were smooth and clean as he was marched from the bedroom.
The hall was short- leading down into a kitchen.
This place was… like nothing Hongjoong had ever seen. Bright lights hanging from the ceiling that weren’t flickering. Their walls were smooth and white. The ceilings were lower, and the floors were nearly spotless.
And when he reached a door with a window in the middle of it… Hongjoong stiffened under their touch.
It had to be hologram. The moment they opened that door, the visual illusion would be broken, and he would feel the heat blistering his skin.
He almost cursed himself for not wearing his mask before all this insanity began.
Maybe that was their plan… shoving him outside without any sort of protection and leaving him there.
But they also wore no protection… not even their clothing.
San stepped forward, grabbing the doorknob firmly and twisting, pulling the door open-
Hongjoong held his breath.
There was no familiar, dangerous blast of heat that blistered your skin. There was no scent of smoke and burning fumes. There was no sight of flames and ash that floating through the air like the long-gone snow.
When San pulled the door open, there was a gentle breeze that brushed against Hongjoong’s face- like a flower dragged across skin.
Hongjoong sucked in a breath without thinking. It didn’t burn his lungs- he smelled… something he had never smelled before.
Like dirt, but cleaner. The only thing he could liken it to was their clothing after it had been washed- crisp and clean.
There was more green. More blue.
An entire sky full of it- stretching as far as he could see, dotted with white- white clouds- that were fluffy and wispy…
An entire patch of green in the lawn, dotted with white and yellow flowers no bigger than his fingernail.
Along the road- trees grew tall and proud- their wiry branches stretching towards the sky and blooming in fistfuls of green…
“Why are you acting like you’ve never seen this before?” Seonghwa asked, frowning in quiet concern.
Hongjoong’s calculating eyes scanned the area, trying to figure out how they could have made a hologram physical too-
How was he feeling a gentle breeze? How could he smell that scent of fresh earth?
“It’s just outside,” Wooyoung said, frowning. “No… hologram or whatever. See?”
Wooyoung marched further out the door, bending down and ripping out a handful of grass, holding it out to Hongjoong.
His eyes widened.
No hologram would do that.
Wooyoung tossed the grass into the air, letting it flutter to the ground.
“How…” Hongjoong calculations turned into numb shock as he stared at a car that drove passed the house they stood before. “How- Capital has never been able to figure out how to regrow the earth. What did-”
How was this possible?
“What?” Seonghwa prompted gently, frowning at him in such gentle concern, as if he wanted Hongjoong to lay all his worries on him.
As if this fake would ever be strong enough to carry them.
“Regrow earth?” San demanded. “What does that mean?”
“The earth is burning,” Hongjoong hissed, unable to tear his eyes away from the blue so vibrant it almost hurt to look at. “Why is the earth not burning?”
“The earth isn’t burning, Hongjoong,” Seonghwa said firmly. “I don’t know what world you think you’re living in… but this is the real one. And it’s not on fire- it’s just… continuing on, see?” He gestured, like Hongjoong could miss it.
“My world is burning ,” Hongjoong repeated, stronger and harsher.
If he knew nothing else, he knew that: his world was burning It had always been burning. The reason they existed was because it was burning.
But this… this was not burning. None of it was burning.
And so, the only conclusion that Hongjoong’s mind could come to in such a shock… was that he was not in his world.
Which only begged the question: then, where was he?
Where were the others?
Hongjoong woke up to his head pounding.
Groaning, he ducked his head down, burrowing beneath blankets and pillow-
He froze, taking a moment. He was laying down, curled up in a bed.
He almost cried with relief, his body shaking beneath the blankets.
Hongjoong had never had a nightmare so real… so utterly terrifying… He honestly didn’t know if he would be able to face the others for a while…
It seemed so… so real.
The fear, the pain, the horror… all if it seemed so vivid and terrifying.
Hongjoong sat up, scrubbing at his scratchy eyes and ready to go find Seonghwa, to curl up and not leave his bed for a week after he cried about this a bit more because it had been terrifying.
Twisted , horrible versions of the people he loved.
Hongjoong lowered his arm.
A man stared back at him.
Hongjoong gasped, scrambling back in the bed, his back hitting a headboard roughly, making a loud sound against the wall as his heart thudded.
On the other side of the dim room, Hongjoong saw a figure sitting in a chair, staring at him- dressed in a crisp black suit and hidden behind a thick mask that only showed his eyes.
Eyes that stared with dark, intense apathy.
Hongjoong’s hands began to shake. “No,” he whispered, looking around-
This was not his bed. It was regal, carved with dark wooden posts and a thick blanket that was far too thick and heavy to be his.
And it wasn’t until now, that Hongjoong realized it didn’t smell like his bed at all. It smelled vaguely of smoke and dirt- but not… dirty.
It wasn’t a dream.
Hongjoong was still living his nightmare.
“What do you want?” he rasped, his voice shot, his knees drawn close to keep him as far from the figure as possible.
The figure neither moved nor reacted in anyway, as if he was nothing more than a statue.
Maybe… Maybe he was a statue?
Swallowing thickly, Hongjoong shifted towards towards the door that he caught a glance of-
He didn’t blink, but he still didn’t see the figure move.
Just a flash of silver and a blade catching the shoulder of Hongjoong’s shirt- tearing through it and pinning him to the headboard with the knife embedded in the wood.
Hongjoong cried out, flinching away, but it held fast, his eyes staring fearful at the man who still didn’t seem to move.
His heart was in his throat as he tried to figure out what to do.
“Is this… some sort of kidnapping thing?” he demanded. “What- do you dress up like the people close to someone?” he snapped weakly, voice shaking almost as bad as his hands.
How did they have their faces? Their voices? How did they seem exact in every way… but their eyes… their tone…
Their cold anger…
“Say something!” Hongjoong burst, lips shaking. “I- I don’t know what the fuck you people want, but I don’t-”
The world burning. The endless hallways. The dark masks.
What the hell did it all mean? Why build something so elaborate?
The door of the room opened swiftly, making Hongjoong jump and flinch away-
Seonghwa entered- seeming ten feet tall with his shoulders squared and his back as rigid as a board.
Hongjoong had never- ever in his life- ever feared Seonghwa. He had never looked at the other boy and ever felt anything but bubbling fondness and warmth.
So it felt like a piercing blade, the way his stomach shriveled at the sight of him.
He wasn’t dressed in those dark pants and grey shirt anymore- he was dressed identical to the figure sitting in the room with him. Identical to San.
A suit… decorated in silver chains and badges that almost looked military lined up neatly on their chests. A brimmed hat sat on the silent figure’s head, but not Seonghwa’s.
Cold eyes cast over Hongjoong, examining him like he was nothing more than a piece of jewelry waiting to be bought. Hongjoong shrank away from the eyes, distrustful and hollow.
Part of him said to stop fighting. Just let them do what they want. He was already so tired… so fucking scared…
Part of him couldn’t. Because that was Seonghwa.
Seonghwa’s face, his voice, his body- but not his eyes. Not his kindness, his warmth, his fondness-
So who was he?
“Thank you, Yeosang, I’ll take it from here,” Seongwha said- yet another order wrapped in a statement.
The figure stood silently, nodding stiffly. And as he brought himself further into the light, Hongjoong could see very clearly the little pink smudge by his eyes that he used to find so cute and endearing.
Yeosang… Yeosang was calm and level headed and cute and liked eating sweet bread and going skating-
Was he supposed to believe that this statue made of ice and indifference was his friend?
But Yeosang didn’t even look at Hongjoong, passing by Seonghwa in swift, precise steps as he exited.
“Have Wooyoung ready the others,” Seonghwa said before Yeosang was completely out of the room. “We aren’t putting off this raid for a bump.”
Yeosang froze, one hand on the door.
Empty, hollow eyes gazed at Hongjoong cowering on the bed. Something in them darkened. “I think we can call this more than a bump,” he said- voice as cold as his eyes, but it was just a quiet as his Yeosang’s voice.
There was nothing cute or excited about it, though.
Yeosang left without another word, the door shutting silently behind him. Hongjoong stared, still trying to figure out how- how was that his Yeosang-
“Here’s what’s going to happen,” Seonghwa said, voice too loud, too threatening as he stepped closer to Hongjoong slowly. “You’re going to tell me who you are and what you’re doing here… and if you lie to me, I’m going to cut your tongue out with that knife that is so very close to your shoulder.”
Hongjoong’s jaw tightened as he tried not to throw up.
Everything seemed almost like a military operation- from their stances to their crisp voices to their uniforms-
Was Hongjoong part of some fucked up Area 51 bullshit?
“That starts now,” Seonghwa stated sharply, eyes like blades. “Who are you?”
Hongjoong’s tongue suddenly felt heavy in his mouth. “I told you- my name is Hongjoong.”
“That’s wrong,” Seonghwa snapped. “You have his face, you have his voice- but you aren’t him. So I’ll give you one more chance before I use that knife on your tongue.”
“I’m telling the truth!” Hongjoong yelled, though his voice broke with fear. “Why would I lie? I don’t know how else to say it- my name is Hongjoong! If anything, you should be telling me why you’re some psychopath wearing my boyfriend’s face!”
Something flickered in Seonghwa’s eyes- quick and dangerous, and Hongjoong almost thought his tongue was already cut out.
But Seongwha didn’t strike. He stared at Hongjoong with lips curled in anger and something dark in his eyes.
“Boyfriend,” he repeated, like the word some acid on his tongue.
Hongjoong didn’t know what he wanted him to say, so he just stared on and prayed he didn’t die.
“Explain,” Seonghwa snapped, looking Hongjoong up and down.
“Explain what?” Hongjoong demanded weakly.
“What you mean by that,” he spat, clearly losing patience.
“How do I explain that?” Hongjoong asked, heart shriveling. “We met in freshman year at college, I tripped, my wet painting landed on you- We were friends, and then we were dating.”
Seonghwa only looked more annoyed the longer Hongjoong spoke. “College,” he repeated back, that same tone as he had said ‘boyfriend.’
“College,” Hongjoong replied sharply. “ School, ” He clarified, like he was speaking to a child.
“School,” Seonghwa muttered under his breath, finally looking away from Hongjoong long enough- his eyes gazing at the floor as if it might have the answers.
Hongjoong swallowed thickly. “What do you want with me?” he asked quietly.
Seonghwa looked up, making Hongjoong flinch. “ Want with you?” he demanded. “What in hell’s name would make you think we wanted you?”
“You kidnapped me!” Hongjoong shouted pathetically. “I don’t know where the hell I am or who you really are- because you aren’t Seonghwa- but I know that I was at home, and now I’m not!”
Hongjoong could almost see Seonghwa’s mind churning a mile a minute, expression almost haunted, as if he was trying not to let himself think about something.
“Why would I not be Seonghwa?” he demanded darkly.
“Seonghwa never looked at me like that,” Hongjoong snapped, part of his anger flaring up at the thought of this person acting so cruelly while wearing someone so kind’s face. “Seonghwa never hurt me or left bruises on my fucking body.”
He could feel the fingerprints on his arm from the rough treatment.
“And where do you think you are?” Seonghwa asked sharply. “Seoul?”
“ Yes ,” he said in reply, not sure how many circles they would go in.
He didn’t know why this person was acting as confused as Hongjoong was.
“We didn’t take you,” Seonghwa spat. “You appeared here.”
“I didn’t do shit !” Hongjoong fought. “I went to sleep, and when I woke up, I was in a pitch black room in this fucking freak show!”
“We didn’t ask for you to be here,” Seonghwa said, voice raising threateningly as his eyes darkened. “You appeared- wearing the face and voice of our leader, but you are not that man!”
Hongjoong was ready to shout back something about not understanding, but he stopped.
Seonghwa thought that Hongjoong was someone else. Someone who was Hongjoong… but not.
Hongjoong thought Seonghwa was someone else. Someone who was Seonghwa… but not.
Hongjoong fell asleep at home and woke up here.
Seonghwa’s person was here, and now they were gone.
Both of them were missing someone- both of them were wearing faces that didn’t match what they should be.
But what the hell did that mean?
“I don’t…. I don’t know what happened to… whoever you think I should be,” Hongjoong said shakily. “But I know that you’re wearing the face of someone I know- all of you are- but none of you are those people. I don’t know how I got here, but I didn’t choose to be here.”
Seonghwa glared, cold eyes appraising Hongjoong like livestock- gauging his honesty and value.
“You claim you are Hongjoong.”
“And you know the people here- all of them?”
Hongjoongs lips pressed together. “I’ve known the ones I’ve seen. I… assume there are others?”
“Jongho, Mingi, Yunho, Wooyoung.”
“Yes,” Hongjoong answered quietly. “They’re my friends. Everyone here was.”
“But they’re different,” Seonghwa prompted shortly.
“In the same way we find you different?”
“You look and sound like them,” Hongjoong agreed. “That’s where the similarities stop.”
So… Seonghwa was just as confused? They didn’t… bring him here?
Then how the hell was he here?
“You slept and woke up here?” Seonghwa demanded.
“Are you just going to repeat back everything I’ve already said, in a question?” Hongjoong demanded, hands shaking as he clutched them together to stop them.
Seonghwa’s eyes darkened. “Watch your tongue before you lose it,” He said lowly. “You’re awfully bold for a prisoner at our mercy.”
“Am I a prisoner?” Hongjoong asked, swallowing.
“For the purpose of this conversation, yes.”
Hongjoong glanced at his hands that rest in his lap and his legs curled against him. “If I’m a prisoner, why aren’t I tied up?”
Seonghwa stared at him darkly before he was moving forward swiftly- like a snake shooting over the dirt-
Hongjoong flinched back with a cry as his hand grabbed the knife beside him, pulling it out to stab back-
No blade pierced him, and when Hongjoong managed to open his eyes, Seonghwa simply stood beside the bed with the knife in his hand- not even raised.
His eyes shone- not with darkness, but disgust as he clenched the hilt.
“You aren’t a threat to us,” he muttered darkly, shoving the blade into a sheath at his side. “You’re a coward at best and an invalid at worse.”
Despite the fact that Hongjoong should give this man no opinion over himself… the words stung.
“You’re weak,” Seonghwa spat, lips curling as he gazed at Hongjoong with growing anger. “And the fact that someone so pathetic wears the same face as the man we all chose to follow-”
For a moment, Hongjoong truly believed Seonghwa would stab him in a fit of rage.
“ Sickening ,” he hissed, turning on his heel and striding from the room- the door slamming shut behind him.
Hongjoong heard a lock audibly click.
He didn’t even try to stand and force the door open. He simply stared at it, the draft of the room making him shiver.
He didn’t know why he was here- and these people obviously didn’t have the answers either.
So, if neither of them knew what had happened… how was he here? Was there some third party somewhere?
Maybe Hongjoong had died and this was some other life of his?
Whatever it was… Hongjoong was alone now, but he felt no safer. He was exhausted, but too scared to close his eyes.
He rested his chin on his knees, staring at the door and waiting with bated breath for it to open- his heart winding up like a spring ready to pounce.
He was cold and alone... and afraid… and missing his friends more than he had ever thought possible.
He wanted them back. The real ones.
Hongjong nodded. It was the only thing that made sense. (Even though nothing was making sense.)
Yunho stared in shock. “That’s it,” He said, standing. “I’m calling the cops- this is gone way too fucking far-”
Seonghwa snatched Yunho’s wrist as he stared intently at Hongjoong, expression reserved and careful. “What other world do you think you came from?” he asked- almost mocking.
Not mocking, he supposed. Indulging.
Hongjoong’s lips curled angrily.
All of them were wrong .
Including this pathetic version of Yeosang was that sitting as far away as possible while still being in the room, shoved in the corner, staring at Hongjoong with wide eyes that were terrified.
This sorry excuse for Jongho- practically cowering behind Mingi, staring out at Hongjoong like he was some monster under his bed he hadn’t thought was real, both of them silent and horrified after walking back from “class.”
So many emotions…
“A different one,” Hongjoong said flatly.
“There aren’t different worlds,” Yunho said, exasperated, rolling his eyes.
All of them pathetic.
Their ridiculous expressions aside, Hongjoong’s mind raced through every book in his study, trying to think. Trying to connect and strategize.
Normally, Seonghwa’s presence was enough to sharpen Hongjoong’s mind into a deadly weapon- but this was not that Seonghwa. This Seonghwa did nothing but cloud Hongjoong mind with a rage that he hadn’t felt before.
Fifth shelf. Red book, brown spine. The Journals of Others and Us.
“There is a book,” Hongjoong said darkly, completely still within the chair they sat him in inside their little kitchen that was too white and bright to be comfortable. “Written by a man decades ago- it describes the possibilities of other worlds that aren’t destroyed.”
“Like ours?” Seonghwa asked seriously.
“Are you really buying this?” Mingi demanded, glaring at Seonghwa. “He needs help, not indulgence!”
But Hongjoong stared at Seonghwa. This other Seonghwa… a wrong Seonghwa.
His eyes were all wrong- too gentle and caring. But Hongjoong narrowed his eyes, looking deeper at the light brown that stared at him intently- nearly covered by the uncharacteristically dark hair in his eyes.
And it was nothing close to the real thing. But… perhaps, maybe… he could see something there.
A spark… a glint… a flash… Something that spoke of determination…
And those were two things he had shared with his Seonghwa in spades. It made Hongjoong want to recoil- not willing to slip into a trap of compliance.
But he kept staring, waiting for this pathetic Seonghwa to break.
But he kept his eyes on Hongjoong- not fiery with confidence and crisp orders. But gentle and prodding… with something more genuine beneath them.
“I suppose,” Hongjoong answered stiffly. “His purpose of researching them was to dominate them- to colonize after our world was destroyed.”
“What destroyed ‘your world ,’” Yunho asked, clearly mocking, fingers making quotes in the air.
“A number of things we don't have time to have a history lesson on,” Hongjoong snapped. “The point is, he mentions within it that each world would have a version of ourselves. Copies.”
“Alternate universes,” Wooyoung said, waving a hand like they knew this and wanted Hongjoong to get to the point.
Wooyoung’s confusion grew. “Are you trying to convince us that you came here from an alternate universe?”
“I didn’t come, I was taken,” Hongjoong snapped sharply. “I woke up with you poor excuses of people I lead-”
“What do you lead?” San asked, leaning against a wall. “You know us in your universe?”
Hongjoong’s lips curled, that disgust rising in the back of his throat as he gazes around them- everything from fear to curiosity to exasperation to apprehension. Everything his team would never and should never be.
“You have the faces of the people on my team,” Hongjoong snarled. “But you aren’t them. The people I lead are trustworthy and unrelenting- not the cowards that you are!”
“ Cowar- You held a knife to Seonghwa!” San fought, glaring.
“The real Seonghwa would have never been so stupid as be unaware like that!” Hongjoong yelled. “My team would have never needed five people to restrain one man! We stormed the Capital together- they wouldn’t shake while holding nothing but a common knife in their hands!”
Yunho stared in blatant disbelief.
“You don’t lead a military operation- you lead a fucking frat house, Hongjoong!” he snapped. “Guys, I’m serious,” he said, glaring at them. “I’m calling someone-”
“Don’t,” Seonghwa said firmly, returning with a sharp look. “Don’t- just- just give us a minute.”
“Why are you acting like you believe him?” Yunho demanded. “Hyung, he’s clearly fucked up in the head!”
“Yunho, we know it’s not just him having a mental breakdown,” Seonghwa fought- his voice almost sharpening into something familiar, but it missed and remained strongly scolding. “Look at what he’s wearing! Look at his hair- there’s no way Hongjoong grew his hair out like this in a night.”
It was the first half-intelligent thing Hongjoong had heard from these people. The tips of Hongjoong’s hair barely brushed his shoulder- cropped short to lay beneath his hat and longer in the back in an effort to aid against the flames they walked through.
“So he grabbed something from the drama department- a wig and some clothes- this is insane, Seonghwa!”
Seonghwa’s lips were pressed together, eyes fearful, even as they tried to appear calculating.
Hongjoong almost warned him not to hurt himself thinking so hard, a bitter anger in his throat.
It was sickening to see such a mockery of such a precious person.
“I don’t think it’s a wig,” Seonghwa muttered, pushing off the counter he had leaned against, striding over to Hongjoong, a hand reaching out-
Hongjoong jerked away from the touch, practically snarling like a rabid dog- fully willing to bite his finger off if he came closer.
Seonghwa jerked his hand away- and Hongjoong watched his expression fall into something softer. Gentler.
As if Hongjoong would need comfort.
Hongjoong had received comfort and support from Seonghwa many a time, but never so sickeningly genuine or soft.
As if Hongjoong was breakable, and not a person with responsibilities he did not have the luxury to shirk.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” Seonghwa coaxed, like calming a wild animal.
“As if you could,” Hongjoong spat.
“Then you have nothing to worry about,” Seonghwa assured him- too fucking gentle.
Seonghwa’s hand reached for Hongjoong’s head, and he flinched away once more, growling in the back of his throat, but Seonghwa followed the movement-
Careful fingers brushed through Hongjoong’s hair- from the tips of his bangs, running backwards gently- as if he was trying not to tug him around-
And then the hand was gone, Seongwha stepped back quickly. “That’s not a wig,” he said firmly. “Something… something weird is happening.”
“What’s your excuse, Yunho?” Seonghwa demanded, throwing his hands up. “He’s got his face- but his hair is real, his clothes are real- You think this is normal?”
“No! Which is why we have to call the police-”
“Do you actually believe him?” Wooyoung asked- not accusing, but curious.
Seonghwa huffed, running an agitated hand through his hair, eyes flickering around frantically, as if searching for an answer. So pathetica and lost. Losing his head to the emotions he was letting run wild.
“I don’t know,” He admitted, voice weak. “I don’t believe all this talk of other worlds and burning- But- But we know that something weird is happening here. And we can’t- can't take any steps that are going to ruin Hongjoong’s life. Can we just- just wait a minute?” he pleaded.
“You think Hongjoong is going to feel any better knowing that he tried to kill you, but we didn’t do anything because we didn't want him kicked out of the program?” Mingi asked seriously.
“I don’t know!” Seonghwa snapped, the anxiety dying into something quieter. “I don’t know… But I don’t want to risk anything until we can figure something out.”
“He had a knife!”
“Then leave, if you don’t feel safe,” Seonghwa spat, voice finally reaching a level of harsh that was almost familiar.
It died immediately though as Seonghwa’s expression turned stricken at Yunho’s shocked expression.
“I’m sorry,” he said quickly, voice shaking. “I’m sorry- I’m sorry, just- We can’t… We can’t do anything yet,” he begged. “I just… I don’t want him hurt. I just want… want to keep him safe, I don’t know why- He won’t be safe if we call the police.”
“Hyung, are you sure you’re not reaching a psychic break?” San asked, fearful concern in his eyes.
“I woke up this morning to Hongjoong trying to kill me, so probably ,” he said- veering towards harsh, but missing once more. He just sounded tired.
He rubbed at his eyes desperately. “Guys, just…” He faded off, like he didn’t know what to say.
Seonghwa always knew what to say. Seongwha did not hesitate.
“If you’re done whimpering,” Hongjoong sneered. “Maybe we can talk about what the hell is happening and why.”
“You, shut up,” Mingi snapped. “You’re acting like a psycho-”
“I’m the one who was stolen from my world and dropped in the middle of this crying festival,” Hongjoong snapped, glaring at all of their weak eyes. “And yet, somehow, I’m the one who is calmest, while you’re all acting like-”
“You don’t remember anything?” Seonghwa asked quietly, eyes intent. “Your major? Your classes?”
Hongjoong’s eyes narrowed. “Considering you were mentioning those related to college, and it’s school- no. School hasn’t existed for us for a while. Not in the way you described it.”
“So, you don’t know which art project you were working on?” Wooyoung tested.
“Art?” Hongjoong scoffed, almost legitimately laughing. “ God, you’re pathetic.”
The arts had not around for… Never. No one remembered who created the few paintings that existed within the Capital- and certainly no one was wasting their time creating more.
“You love art,” Seonghwa reminded him gently.
“Maybe whatever version of me you knew did, but the arts have been dead for as long as anyone can remember,” Hongjoong snapped.
“This is insane,” San muttered, rubbing at his eyes. He shook his head. “Seriously- what the hell-”
“What would it take?” Seonghwa asked, spreading his hands helplessly. “In your world, what would it take for someone to cross over into those other worlds that book mentioned?”
“We aren’t going around jumping worlds,” Hongjoong scoffed. “The author never proved the existence of these other worlds, much less found a way to contact or go to them. It was practically a fiction novel.”
“But you don’t think so,” Seonghwa hinted, staring at him again.
And there was that flash again…
That almost-trust. That near-determination.
As if, despite everything, this horrendous version of his second in command… might still see something to believe in.
“I can’t think of another explanation, unless you choose to admit that this is an elaborate hoax from Capital.” Hongjoong added a threat on the end there, glaring at Seonghwa and daring him to speak out.
Seonghwa’s expression was hesitant, his eyes roaming over Hongjoong’s body. In the real Seonghwa, it might have been analytical- searching for weakness or the signs of weariness he had long memorized.
In this person’s hands, it was almost like searching out blindly in the dark- trying to figure out the shape of whatever was blocking your path.
“If we untie you,” Seonghwa said quietly. “Do you promise not to hurt anyone?”
“Are you insane?”
The uproar was drowned out as Hongjoong continued to lock gazes in what might have been a battle- but truly, it was his eyes holding a threatening blade and Seonghwa’s holding a white flag.
“Why would you?” Hongjoong questioned sharply. “I’ll say I won’t, and then slit your throats.”
Seonghwa’s expression was too fucking gentle. Too fucking understanding for someone who didn’t know anything about Hongjoong. For someone that Hongjoong had pressed a blade to the throat of only hours before.
“Because we aren’t a threat to you,” Seonghwa assured him gently. “And as long as you’re not a threat to us… we can work together to figure something out.”
Hongjoong’s jaw tightened. “You think I’m insane.”
“Maybe,” Seonghwa agreed, surprisingly. “But I don’t think you’re lying.”
“What good would untying me do to you?” Hongjoong demanded. “What do you gain from my freedom?”
“Nothing,” Seonghwa assured him. “But… But you’re wearing the face of someone I care very deeply for… and I don’t like looking at you like this.”
For the first time… there was pain in Seonghwa’s eyes that stared at Hongjoong.
Eyes that were staring at someone who was supposed to be one way… but was acting another.
Boyfriend , echoed in his head.
Though it was nearly laughable, it seemed like this Seonghwa… and this Hongjoong… were intimate.
Oh, to live in a world where that might be possible. It was hilarious.
He wondered what that might feel like? Seeing the face of someone you trusted so ardently holding a knife to your throat.
“I’m not going to let them do anything to you,” Seonghwa promised. “We won’t call the cops, we won’t attack, we won’t try and restrain you.” He held out a hand in a calming gesture. “But you can’t hurt us.”
“What makes you think you can trust me?” Hongjoong scoffed. “I’ve lied in worse situations.”
“Because,” Seonghwa said, voice weakening and tightening. “I’m betting on the fact that there’s some part of Hongjoong left inside of you- influencing you- whatever the fuck you want to call it.”
“And I’m hoping to God, ” Seonghwa hissed, expression twisting, “that I can trust you like I could trust him.”
What would this group know of trust? What would they know of placing your life in another’s hands and knowing that they would give up their own before letting go of yours?
What would they know of never having to turn around because you knew there would always be someone at your back?
What would they know of placing your everything into the hands of another and feeling the weight of their lives in your own hands?
The weight of the eyes that stared and waited for orders- prepared to execute them to the death?
Seonghwa’s definition of trust was as weak as soaked paper- tearing even as you tried to hold it. And Hongjoong was prepared to tell him that.
But the words caught in his throat infuriatingly.
Because Seonghwa hadn’t looked away, his eyes still locked on Hongjoong’s. And… there was more than a flash there.
It was deep- hidden beneath the cowering gentleness- but it was there. Something harder.
Something that was almost like an echo of his own Seonghwa’s eyes.
Nowhere near as cold, as calculating, as haunted, as unrelenting, as fearless. But they were…
They were looking to Hongjoong. And even as his mind screamed to him that the eyes were fake, they were wrong, it wasn’t real…
His chest felt the familiar pressure that always followed Seonghwa’s eyes on him- as if his gaze itself was a weight to bear.
It was a watery version. A weak version- barely even a noticeable presence.
But it was still there, and it was making Hongjoong hesitate.
Because it wasn’t his Seonghwa- nowhere close.
But… But it looked like him, in the most basics of Seonghwa. And Hongjoong had spent years of his life trusting Seonghwa in any condition- drugged and half-dead and disoriented. Hongjoong’s trust never wavered for Seonghwa- regardless of what he did.
And Hongjoong felt betrayal well in his throat. Because how dare he even compare this wraith of a person to Seonghwa- who had stood beside Hongjoong through hells that these people could never even imagine?
What if he could trust this Seonghwa? What if, even in this condition, even in this backwards world… Hongjoong could still trust that base part of the man he trusted beyond anyone else?
Hongjoong wasn’t going to drop his guard- he wasn’t so foolish.
But… if this Seonghwa was staring at him and searching for parts of his Hongjoong… Was it possible that Hongjoong could find parts of his Seonghwa in this?
Hongjoong was prepared this time, as his fists clenched in his bindings. If they tried anything… if they attempted any wrong move…
Hongjoong would be ready to kill this time, regardless of whose face was being worn.
“Untie me,” he said darkly, expression growing cold.
“Do you promise not to hurt anyone?” Seonghwa asked carefully, looking so prepared to trust anything Hongjoong said.
The thought of killing them anyway crossed his mind. But, if they were the only people who had any idea what was going on, Hongjoong might actually need them…
Hongjoong had gotten so used to having the unquestionable ability to rely on whoever stood behind him. He hadn’t had to operate on his own for… many years now.
“I won’t,” Hongjoong ground out. “As long as you don’t give me a reason to.”
“We aren’t letting you get the knife back,” San said firmly, eyes narrowed.
Hongjoong scoffed. “As if you could stop me from taking it, if I wanted.”
“Don’t untie him,” Yunho warned, looking ill. “Seonghwa- he’s crazy, we can’t risk everyone- What if he-”
“I’m…” Seonghwa looked torn for only a moment before his expression hardened. “I don’t know what else to do but trust him,” he said heavily. “We- We have to take that chance.”
He saw more protests on the tip of Yunho’s tongue, but the man obviously was able to swallow them as easily as a stone.
“San, untie him,” Seonghwa said quietly, nodding to Hongjoong. “Gently.”
Gently. Hongjoong wanted to sneer again, his stomach rolling. He wasn’t breakable.
But San stepped behind him, sighing quietly. “This is fucking crazy,” he muttered under his breath.
Hongjoong felt the chord fall away.
Then the belt.
There was the sound of something snipping, and the tape binding his hands came apart, though the adhesive stuck to his wrists.
Hongjoong quickly brought his hands around, tearing the tape from his skin and tossing it to the ground as he rolled his shoulders.
Everyone in the room stiffened- some of them stepping back.
Hongjoong gazed at them and wondered how easy it really would be to kill them. But he simply rubbed at his wrists idly as he glared at Seonghwa.
“Now what?” he spat, still seated in the chair, his senses heightening now that he could move- eyes flickering around to the door and the position of each person in the room.
“Now, we stay calm,” Seonghwa said quietly, voice turning soothing, as if that would change something inside of Hongjoong.
“Keep talking to me like a pet, and I’ll cut your tongue out,” Hongjoong spat, every word sounded so much more patronizing in Seonghwa’s voice.
Seonghwa looked like he didn’t appreciate the threat, but he swallowed. “Why don’t we start with everyone sitting down… and you can tell us about wherever you think you’re from.”
“What good would that do?” Hongjoong scoffed. “Unless this world has knowledge of how to leap worlds?” he asked mockingly.
“No,” Seonghwa assured him. “But I’m really fucking scared right now, and I can’t think of anything else to do.”
His hands were shaking, Hongjoong realized- his eyes flickering down at his sides as his insides curled at Seonghwa’s voice admitting to being afraid.
It was enough to make him sick.
“Fine,” Hongjoong spat, standing.
Yunho, Wooyoung, and Mingi all took a step back, as if he already had a knife. Seonghwa didn’t take his eyes off Hongjoong- whether it was to actually keep an eye on him or not, Hongjoong wasn’t quite sure.
“We can sit in the living room,” Seonghwa said, gesturing through one of the doors. “Wooyoung, can you get some water bottles?” he requested, sounding like he was trying to act calm.
Wooyoung looked grateful to be excused for a moment, walking away and towards the fridge as Seonghwa gestured for the others to move.
“Guys,” Seonghwa said, glancing at all of them. “Go to your rooms, if you don’t feel safe.”
They hesitated, everyone glancing at each other. Hongjoong wanted to scream at them.
Would they truly leave Seonghwa alone with someone they believed to be an enemy?
“I’m serious,” Seonghwa said, firmer. “You don’t have to stay here- you can go to your rooms- or leave completely, just… just don’t tell anyone.”
He glanced at Yeosang in the corner who hadn’t spoken a word. “Yeosang, you can go-”
The silent boy shook his head sharply. “No,” he said, voice softer than a feather in the wind. “We aren’t gonna leave you alone with him,” he practically whispered.
“He’s fucking crazy,” San agreed. “We’re not gonna be out of the room- what if he attacks you again?”
Seonghwa looked disappointed in their decision to remain, making Hongjoong scoff. “Okay,” he finally said reluctantly. “Guys, go in first,” he ordered.
From him, with such a soft voice, it sounded more like a suggestion.
But the others obeyed, filing out of the room- Yeosang pausing to help Wooyoung carry the water bottles.
Seonghwa’s hand reached for Hongjoong again- Hongjoong jerked away with a snarl. “Don’t touch me,” he hissed.
Seonghwa’s expression… was almost saddened. Something heavy as he nodded, gesturing for Hongjoong to move forward.
Hongjoong walked- keeping one eye on Seonghwa who walked beside him.
It was only one room over- a large couch that most of the others were shoved onto, only Jongho sitting on the ground in the jungle of legs that he hid among like vines to conceal him.
There was a smaller sofa with two seats and a larger chair- Seonghwa gesturing to the two of them as a way to tell Hongjoong to pick.
He walked to the chair- not keen on the ability for anyone to sit near him. Seonghwa immediately sat on the smaller sofa, all of them staring at him as Hongjoong sat slowly- waiting for something to stab through the upholstery.
He didn’t trust any of this.
Everything in him was screaming and alarms were blaring, telling him to cut their throats and run back to his team…
Wherever that was.
He waited for an attack, a movement against him. But they remained as frightened and tittering as they had always been.
Seonghwa grabbed a water bottle, holding it out to Hongjoong who glared- insulted that they thought he would ever accept something from them.
Seonghwa’s lips pressed together as he set the bottle back down. “You can start,” Seonghwa said quietly. “Where do you think you’re from?”
“Don’t act as if I’m insane,” Hongjoong snapped. “You know I’m not someone who’s lost their minds- you know that I come from somewhere, ” he hissed, a hand tugging at his hair that was clearly different than they expected.
Seonghwa’s expression said that he did know that. And he was afraid of that.
“Fine,” he whispered weakly, like every second of this was a waking nightmare. “Where are you from, then?”
“Names lost most of their meaning long ago,” Hongjoong muttered darkly. “We stopped naming things, only to have them burn down. Our base is a hundred flits south of Capital.”
The location of his base was of no consequence- not in this world. And even if they were given that information, it wouldn’t be enough to let them locate the mansion itself.
“Right,” Seonghwa said, clearly back to humoring. “What’s Capital?”
Hongjoong resisted the urge to curse. They truly knew nothing. “A place with a history too long and dark to ever explain to you,” he said darkly. “But it’s a place my team and I have been keeping under our boot for years, controlling them like the fires they set on us.”
“A bad place?” Wooyoung questioned.
“‘Bad place’ implies that there would be a ‘good place,’” Hongjoong scoffed. “Consider it the ultimate devil in a land of demons occupying hell.”
“If it’s the devil, but it’s under your control, what does that make you?” Mingi demanded.
Hongjoong turned burning eyes to him, making him shrink away.
“We never entered ourselves in the equation,” he said darkly. “To the people who watched us from afar, though…”
Hongjoong looked at these people. So close, but so far from those he trusted unconditionally… and he realized how truly alone he was in this fight.
“We became the gods in the sky,” he whispered.
Hongjoong hadn’t meant to fall back asleep (if the half-aware, darkened state he existed in could be considered sleeping), but he woke up with a start, jerking up-
He still sat against the headboard, his legs still drawn to his chest, neck aching from the position. He glanced around the room quickly and found no figure looming in the shadows.
Swallowing around his dry throat, he straightened slowly, gazing at the door that was still most certainly locked…
Even if he did run, what was the point?
The world outside wherever this was… was burning and deadly…
The people here were cruel and ruthless and cold… Hongjoong stared at his toes poking out from the hem of his pants. And they thought he was supposed to be someone just like them.
Hongjoong glanced around the room once more- a gas lamp on the wall providing light to see by.
No windows, he noticed. And nothing to occupy the space but the bed he sat in, a chair in the corner, an empty desk, and a chest pushed against the wall.
Hongjoong sat in frightened silence for another moment, glancing back at the door. He didn’t know how long it had been since Seonghwa left. Didn’t know how long until he got back- if he even would come back.
Seconds ticked by before Hongjoong felt like he was going to scream if he didn’t move- the tension in the air building every second he sat in fearful anticipation- like waiting for a jump scare in a movie and shrieking at the microwave going off.
Carefully, Hongjoong slid off the bed- the floor still rough beneath his bare feet.
He passed the bare desk, taking the risk to slowly turn the doorknob. It resisted and Hongjoong huffed in frustration, stepping away from the locked door.
He gazed at the chest- nothing more than a rectangular box reminiscent of a foot locker. There was a hook keeping it closed… but not a lock?
Hongjoong glanced at the door as he dropped to his knees, staring at the dark metal wrapped around it decoratively, fingers brushing over the hook and loop that were secured.
Holding his breath, Hongjoong unlatched the hook from the loop. When he braced his hands against it and lifted, the lid came up with a quiet creak- nothing else to lock it down.
Hongjoong frowned. On one side, there was nothing more than a pile of dark colored clothes- looking similar to what Seonghwa and the others had worn.
One the other, there was nothing but stacks of thin, leather bound books- about ten of them shoved inside.
Brows furrowed, Hongjoong reached in, ignoring the clothes and picking up the book on top.
It was the kind of leather bound that you only found by artisans at fairs- the kind of handmade thing that no one was going to go through the effort to make anymore.
He ran a hand over the brown leather- brighter and less worn than the other books that were faded with handling.
When he flipped it open- somewhere near the middle of it- he only found blank pages. He flipped through them- all of them blank, save for a small handful in the beginning.
The first five pages had writing- the book stiff with newness. And on the very front cover, Hongjoong found his own name written carefully, followed by “Vol 10.”
The words were thin and neat- written in black ink that looked like it was made with fountain pen or something. None of the entries were lengthy- in fact, it looked more like a log book than a journal.
The page was filled with dates, followed by short paragraphs that Hongjoong’s eyes dragged over quickly.
Sept 4 (No year was given.)
Capital raid was canceled due to information that they were alerted. Plans have moved to tomorrow. Seonghwa and the others will be in position tonight.
Raid successful. Grain and gold were obtained. Jongho is overseeing the redistribution.
No action taken.
A Capital subject was taken in. Seonghwa overseeing interrogation.
Capital subject died during questioning. Cyanide pill.
Hongjoong’s stomach rolled as he slammed the book shut, palms sweaty as he shoved it back in.
What were they? Some sort of terrorist group?
With shaking hands, Hongjoong grabbed a different book- black leather, instead of brown.
Every page in this one was filled to the brim.
Raid to take place tomorrow. Yeosang and Jongho to remain behind to receive people from the West.
Feb 24 (The writing on this one was messier- like he had pressed too hard while writing)
Seonghwa was injured during the raid. I will personally be tracking the man who did it.
The culprit has been disposed of.
There was a dark brown smudge beside this entry- one that Hongjoong was too scared to try and identify.
He skipped to the middle of the book.
Yeosang has been trailing Dohyun for three days now. He has found no openings, and we wait for his word. Seonghwa has suggested sending Wooyoung instead. I followed his suggestion.
July 21 (Again, it was written in anger.)
Dohyung has captured Wooyoung. We infiltrate tomorrow to retrieve him.
32 boxes of grain.
45 bottles of wine.
Wooyoung was retrieved. Yunho is overseeing his recovery. Seonghwa disapproved of my actions to rescue him- he called me too reckless with it. It was something I would not discuss. We were able to return Wooyoung to our base. Nothing else matters.
Seonghwa berates me as if I were a child. He acts as if I have never risked myself to regain one of my team- as if I would allow them to remain in Capital. He is caught in the past, believing me as ignorant as I had once been. Even should Capital get their hands on me again, I would tear them down from the inside. Regardless of what Seonghwa believes.
I have trusted Seonghwa with my life and more. And yet, a single reckless act seems to have shattered his faith in me- as if I desired to be caught by the Capital and return to the Black Room. If anything, he should be grateful that Wooyoung did not remain in those chains any longer. If I risked taking his place, so be it.
Requests have come from the East- Dohyun’s men smoking out the village’s vents.
There were no more mentions of Seonghwa. Neither mentioning their closeness nor Seonghwa’s berating of Hongjoong.
Hongjoong’s brow pulled down farther. This Hongjoong was willing to risk himself to save a member of his team…
What were they fighting against? Were they the bad guys? They were killing people- even if it was for his friends.
Hongjoong grabbed another book, flipping it open.
Seonghwa has been missing for 4 days now. All our time is occupied on tracking him down. Those bastards will choke on the blood of their wretched children.
Hongjoong’s stomach rolled at the horrible visual.
Seonghwa was recovered from the Black Room. He says he was not there longer than a day.
3 boxes of water.
Seonghwa will not speak about his experience, attempting to brush it off, but I know that something haunts him. Something always haunts us, but I can see the strain in his eyes. He refuses to be put on break. I am about to destroy ten years of friendship in order to make him.
I have ordered Seonghwa on rest for the next week. He claims he will never forgive me for grounding him before another raid. I find I don’t care.
Seonghwa clings to his cold treatment towards me, but it will not make me waver. Even if the days seem twice as long without his company and council.
Seonghwa is being childish.
43 racks of leather.
I will not lift my orders. I miss my friend, but I will not risk his health. San tracks Dohyun and his men further South.
Seonghwa speaks to no one. I fear what has turned him like this. Trust has never been lacking among us- and nothing has ever made him remain secretive for so long, with such visible consequences. I will bring my friend back, even if I must drag him from the depths of Seonghwa’s mind-
“What the hell are you doing?”
Hongjoong jumped violently, the book leaping from his hands as he whipped around with a half-scream of fear.
Seonghwa stood in the doorway- one hand still holding the doorknob, the other one tearing down the mask over his mouth, showing off the anger that stiffened his lips and lit his eyes in a blaze.
Hongjoong slammed the lid shut, like it might hide what he had been doing.
He pressed his back to it, nowhere to run to, even if he had thought there was somewhere to go. His throat closed up at Seonghwa’s figure that suddenly looked ten times more intimidating from his place on the floor.
Excuses and fights were on the tip of his tongue. They wouldn’t leave as Seonghwa’s eyes slashed from Hongjoong to the journal on the ground, so much damning evidence.
He’s going to kill me.
Hongjoong stared with eyes that stung as his vision blurred with more tears-
Seonghwa quiet fury remained ice cold as he strode forward. Hongjoong flinched away, but he snatched the book from the ground, holding it in a grip tight enough to tear through the thinning leather.
“Are you a spy sent by Capital?” he demanded- the look in his eyes threatening something worse than Hongjoong was capable of imagining.
“N-No!” Hongjoong fought, shaking his head desperately. “No- I- I was just looking-”
“At his personal logs?” Seonghwa snapped.
“I didn’t know what it was!” Hongjoong cried, glancing fearfully at the blade still at Seonghwa’s side. “I just- I don’t know where I am, I don’t know what’s happening- I just- I-”
Hongjoong’s heart was tearing in half as Seonghwa glared murderously down on him- eyes sharper than tongue or blade.
There was anger drawn across the lines of his body- as if he was moments away from striking Hongjoong.
The bruises on his arm seemed to throb in reminder as Seonghwa’s knuckles turned white on the book- Hongjoong waiting for the thick leather to strike him across his face for his audacity.
Hongjoong cried harder as his lips trembled.
It was Seonghwa’s face. And Hongjoong’s body was trying to tell him to leap forward- to hug him and bury himself in him until whatever nightmare chasing him was gone.
But he knew… this wasn’t Seonghwa. And the fear in Hongjoong’s blood at the anger in his eyes- the threat there-
It was so wrong, wrong, wrong-
“S-Seonghwa,” Hongjoong cried, peering up through tears and shaking hands. “ S-Seonghwa , it’s me, ” he whispered desperately.
It was stupid. This wasn't Seonghwa. Begging wouldn’t sway him.
Seonghwa’s stony expression didn’t twitch- the anger in his face only growing colder, as if he was that much closer to harming him.
The imagine of Seonghwa- Seonghwa- being so threatening and angry-
“Please,” he cried desperately through the tears. “Please, S-Seonghwa, stop it- It’s me . You know me , don’t-”
His eyes met Seonghwa’s that felt like ice against his already clammy skin.
“ Stop it ,” he whispered hoarsely, tears streaming. “ Please- Just- Just stop it, I’m begging you…”
His words may as well have been directed to a wall for all the good they did.
“Just- Just give me my Seonghwa back,” Hongjoong cried weakly, pleading through the ache in his chest. “Please, just- I want my Seonghwa back, please- ”
Seonghwa’s grip creaked against the leather of the book, something tightening in his jaw.
Hongjoong closed his eyes, flinching away- waiting for the strike, the slap, the hit.
“Please,” he breathed harshly into his chest. “Please- I just want my Seonghwa-”
Hongjoong knew he was wasting his breath. He knew he was probably only pissing Seonghwa off more.
Seonghwa- Hongjoong’s Seonghwa- knew Hongjoong inside and out. He knew him better than any other person on this earth. And Hongjoong had never felt afraid of him, not even at his most vulnerable.
He feared him.
He hated what this person was doing with Seonghwa’s face- like framing for a crime.
He bent himself smaller. He wanted his Seonghwa back.
The one who had only ever touched Hongjoong with gentle hands.
“ Please, ” he begged into his knees weakly. Uselessly.
Seonghwa’s angry, indifferent face stared back cruelly.