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Adventures in Fiction

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Vernon liked spending time with Jihoon. It wasn’t a common occurrence, a bit of a rare butterfly for them to hang out one-on-one, but when it did land, it was beautiful. They would just sit somewhere alone, usually on their phones and usually with good music playing, and would end up consuming a startlingly large amount of food. It was one of Vernon’s favorite ways to unwind, especially when Jihoon was relaxed enough to sing along to whatever music they had on and Vernon could listen to him, his voice pretty even when it was barely above a mumble. If he ever decided to join in and sing too, Jihoon would glance over and grin at him. 

They were in the middle of one of those chill sessions, the two of them sitting in WOOZI’S ROOM together and about to completely destroy some cups of instant ramen when Seungkwan stepped in. He froze in the doorway, both of them glancing up at him. 

There was… There was something wrong, something bad about Seungkwan’s expression, about the way he was just staring at Vernon, his lips bunching together, his eyebrows drawing in. And he wasn’t saying anything.

“Uh… Hi.” Vernon finally said. Jihoon, already refocused on his noodles, made a large slurping sound on Vernon’s left. 

“Oh, yeah, sure.” Seungkwan’s voice was harsh with sarcasm. He sounded astoundingly upset. “That’s rich, coming from you.” 

“...what?” Vernon managed out, too stunned to say anything else. With a huge huff of breath, Seungkwan turned on his heel and stomped from the room. The silence after him seemed to echo. 

“Did… Did you just see that?” Vernon asked Jihoon, unable to wonder if he’d fallen asleep before eating, and had landed in some nightmare hellscape where Seungkwan was mad at him. Seungkwan was mad at him.

“Yup.” Jihoon responded, not even looking up, his statement punctuated by another large slurp. Vernon had lost his appetite. 

He found he just couldn’t sit still, and after fifteen minutes of scrolling listlessly on his phone and squirming with discomfort and concern, he gave his noodles to Jihoon and left to find Seungkwan. But Seungkwan wasn’t anywhere to be found, Vernon’s texts left on read, Vernon’s attempts at calling him sent straight to voicemail. The message was loud and clear: Seungkwan didn’t want to see him or talk to him. So, for about two days, Vernon left the issue alone. 

On day three, he couldn’t stand it anymore. Seungkwan couldn’t properly stay away from Vernon like he so clearly wanted to because they all had to live and work together, which meant that Vernon had to endure uncomfortably grumpy glances, painfully obvious avoidances, and Seungkwan stumbling over excuses and leaving rooms as soon as Vernon entered them. It was awful, and Seungkwan had the subtlety of a car accident, Vernon afraid that Seungcheol would notice and say something. He didn’t want to get their leader involved, not when he hadn’t even had the chance to try to talk it out with Seungkwan on his own first. 

Thankfully, the first person that noticed--or, noticed and said something, because Jihoon didn’t seem to want to try dipping his toes in the issue--was just Seokmin. Seokmin saw Seungkwan shut a door in Vernon’s face to keep Vernon from following him out of the room, and gave him a look. 

“Is something going on?” He asked. “What happened?” 

“I don’t know!” Vernon said, some of his frustration bleeding into his voice. Because damn it, he was getting upset now too. “He’s just… Mad at me, but I don’t think I did anything. I don’t think I didn’t do anything either, so… I don’t know what happened.” 

“I don’t even know what you just said.” Seokmin told him. “But I’ll try to look into it for you, okay? I’ll try to talk to him.” 

“Okay.” Vernon said. “Thanks.” 

Vernon didn’t have a lot of faith in Seokmin, truth be told, but he was getting a little desperate. He hadn’t had the comforting weight of Seungkwan’s elbows on his shoulders in three days, hadn’t felt Seungkwan playing with his ears for a solid seventy-two hours, and maybe missing that made him a little weird, but Vernon was feeling a too despondent to really look that hard into it. 

Seokmin didn’t really get back to him either, not before Vernon managed to catch Seungkwan by the arm after practice and tug him into a corner, letting the other members walk past. 

“What did I do?” He asked. Seungkwan didn’t ask him what he meant, or what he was talking about, which encouraged Vernon to continue. “Why are you mad at me?” 

Seungkwan’s eyes were on his feet but he was squirming a little, so Vernon just stood and waited for the uncomfortable silence to wear him down. 

“You forgot my birthday!” Seungkwan finally blurted, and Vernon could only stare at him. He didn’t know if he needed to remind Seungkwan that no he didn’t, because Seungkwan’s birthday wasn’t for another nine months, or no he didn’t, because the sweater he’d given Seungkwan for his birthday this year was the one he was currently wearing. It was a cute, fluffy lilac thing that went well with the golden brown color he’d dyed his hair. Minghao had helped Vernon pick it out.

“I didn’t, though?” He said, unable not to make the words a question in his confusion, and Seungkwan puffed his cheeks out, his lips drawn together. Seokmin chose that moment to step out of the practice room, and Vernon thought it really couldn’t have been a worse time, because he immediately inserted himself into the situation. 

“Alright, what’s going on?” He asked, straightening his back and putting his hands on his hips and giving Vernon a slight nod as if to say “I’m doing it, I’m helping”. Thankfully Seungkwan disregarded him, seemingly too caught up in his own head, the words that burst from him a moment later all loud and upset.

“But--but forgetting my birthday was how I knew you would break up with me!” 

Vernon’s brain completely blue-screened. Seokmin’s eyes went dangerously wide, everything about him frozen except the way his eyebrows kept going up his forehead. 

“We…” Vernon didn’t know how lightly he needed to tread, because Seungkwan looked really and truly upset, but Vernon had the feeling that if he’d actually been dating Seungkwan--and more than that, if he’d actively broken up with Seungkwan--he would probably know about it. “We aren’t dating, Seungkwan.” 

“I know that!” Seungkwan exclaimed. Seokmin had gone from concerned to shocked to confused so quickly that Vernon was worried about his facial muscles cramping up. “But… You know those stories, right? The stories that Carats sometimes write about us?” 

Stories Carats wrote about them. Vernon could feel his face burning. Because yes, he knew about those. With how close they were to their fanbase, it was impossible not to learn about and discover fan made content. A lot of the things that their fans created were truly wonderful and beautiful, but Vernon usually paid more attention to video edits and memes; things that made him laugh, and didn’t leave him wondering about who did what with who when the cameras weren’t looking. 

He knew about fanfiction. He tended to stay away from fics that were about himself or his friends, though he’d stumbled across them a couple of times. Not to say he’d never read any fanfic, though; his phone was not a stranger to the Avatar: The Last Airbender tag on AO3, and one night at nearly three in the morning Joshua had sent him a five thousand word long Spongebob Squarepants Wattpad monstrosity that he still had mental scars from. 

But this... This was different. Seungkwan had read something about the two of them, about the two of them going out with each other, and had been upset for nearly a week because fiction-Vernon had broken up with him. 

“That… That’s what you're angry about?” Vernon asked weakly, and Seokmin laughed a little. 

“Come on, Seungkwan! It’s not real. You don’t need to be mad about it.” Seokmin was beaming, wrapping an arm around Seungkwan’s shoulders. 

“But it was mean! It was so, so mean!” Seungkwan exclaimed, shaking Seokmin off him. “I’ll send it to you. If you read it, you’ll understand.” He was already pulling his phone out, starting to scroll through something, and Vernon now wanted very much to be excluded from this narrative. “You read this, and I promise that you’ll be mad at Vernon for being mean.”

“I’m not… That’s not me though, that’s...” 

Vernon’s faint protests went ignored. 

As Seungkwan had predicted, the first thing Seokmin did the next day when he saw Vernon was give him a look usually reserved only for when someone woke him up by screaming in his ear. He looked almost ready to kill, and for how nonthreatening Seokmin usually looked, it was absolutely chilling. 

If Seungkwan had the subtlety of a car accident then Seokmin had the subtlety of a trainwreck, and the two of them together were a five-car pileup on the tracks with an oncoming locomotive in the distance. It didn’t even take a full day for the entire group to notice that something was going on, and Vernon felt the bottom drop out of his stomach when Seungcheol cut dance practice short by an entire half hour so they could conglomerate in a circle--everyone somehow touching both of the people next to them, despite being all sweaty and tired and unshowered--about why Seungkwan and Seokmin were glaring at Vernon like he’d somehow injured Bookeu. 

Well, not injured Bookeu. Injuring Bookeu would be a deed punishable only by death, a verdict that Vernon would accept willingly. Mildly inconvenienced Bookeu, maybe. 

“I’ve noticed that some things have been… Tense.” Seungcheol said carefully. Everyone nodded at his words. “And I was hoping that maybe Vernon, Seungkwan, and Dokyeom--and anyone else I’ve missed that might be involved--would like to say a few things.” 

Seungkwan and Seokmin both glared at Vernon, the rest of the group watching them do it. Then Vernon had twelve pairs of eyes on him, and felt very much like he probably just had to start speaking. 

“Seungkwan and Dokyeom are… They’re mad at me.” Vernon couldn’t meet all twenty-four eyes at once so he didn’t even try, playing instead with the shoelaces of his falling-apart tennis shoes. He’d been meaning to toss these shoes out for months. “They read something that someone wrote, and now they’re angry.” 

“Something someone wrote?” Joshua repeated. “Like what, on the fancafe?” 

“Is there something that’s going to be in the press that the company needs to know about?” Jeonghan asked hesitantly, Vernon quickly shaking his head. This needed to never, ever make it to the press. 

“No, no… Well, I haven’t read it.” Vernon admitted, looking up. “But it’s… You know. Fanfiction.” 

Nobody seemed to expect that, and thankfully Seokmin and Seungkwan had the decency to look embarrassed as ten pairs of incredulous eyes turned on them instead. 

“It’s really well written!” Seungkwan began his defense immediately, his lips going that pouty way they always would when he got that whiny tone to his voice. “It felt so real!” 

“Send it to the group chat.” Seungcheol said after a moment of consideration. “If it’s going to cause this much of a problem, we should at least all know what it is.” 

After a moment of staring at Seungcheol to make sure he was serious, Seungkwan did as he was told. All of their phones went off with the notification a moment later, a link sitting in the text box. Letting out a breath, Vernon tapped on it.

Thankfully, the piece of fiction didn’t take too terribly long to read, everyone lounging around the room with their phones in their hands and serious looks on their faces. Once he was finished reading it though, two things were completely undeniable to Vernon. One: this writer was incredibly talented, and two: this writer did not like him. At all. 

“Holy shit.” Mingyu said, setting his phone down and giving Vernon an open-mouthed look of surprise. “How could--how could you do that?” 

“I didn’t do anything!” Vernon protested. “Hey, hey! Don’t--don’t actually get mad at me, come on.” 

“Okay, is it just me, or is evil Vernon kind of sexy though?” Soonyoung asked, wiggling his eyebrows a bit, and the entire group burst out laughing. That opened the way for a genuine discussion about the fanfic, and while they’d all come to the conclusion that fiction-Vernon was indeed a complete bag of dicks, Seokmin and Seungkwan were able to hug him by the end of it, Seungkwan even sitting himself down next to Vernon and slinging an arm around him, leaning his squishy cheek so hard into Vernon’s shoulder that it bunched his lips together, and Vernon had to use an arm to steady himself from falling over from the weight of it. He didn’t mind, though. 

While the discussion ended successfully, the story itself bothered Vernon a little bit as he went to bed that night. Not the content of it. He’d told the entire world that his favorite part of Seungkwan was his ass; some writing of him groping said ass was not only expected, but almost required. It was the way he’d been portrayed by the author, the way they obviously didn’t like him. And people were allowed not to like him, he knew that well enough too, but he couldn’t stomach the malicious way he’d behaved to Seungkwan. Seungkwan, who Vernon had a hard time stepping on during the Getting Closer choreography because sure, it looked cool, but it almost felt too mean; Seungkwan, who was probably one of the few people in the entire world that would be soft and emotional enough to sob out of love while watching the blast of energy that was the HIT music video. 

It was fiction, and Vernon knew that. But there had to be other fics, right? Fics in which Vernon was a certified Good Boy, fics in which he treated Seungkwan right and kissed his painfully kissable cheeks and didn’t metaphorically rip Seungkwan’s still-beating heart from his chest and stomp it into a million pieces… Right? 

Thus, Vernon’s hunt began. 

 

Minghao knew about this fanfiction thing. He’d known about it for a long while, and he could appreciate the art of it. It was creative expression after all, a test of what a human being, armed with zero training and plenty of free time, could do with the written word. He even liked to read some, some of the ones written about his bandmates, but only the good ones--those ones that were only one chapter, usually around twenty-five thousand words in length, named with an almost inappropriately long song lyric that barely fit the theme and had some kind of vague flower metaphor woven throughout, capped off with an ambiguous ending. Bonus points if someone died. 

The thing about it though, was that Minghao kept that shit to himself. It was weird, now, for the group to so suddenly be open about the whole fanfiction situation. Especially when he found out that what Seungkwan liked to read was almost exclusively fluffy garbage. 

Fanfiction was now circulating through the group chat on a near-daily basis. It was like required reading; if someone didn’t at least skim the piece of fiction sent out, they would miss out on jokes and references made for the next couple of days. It was surprising how invested everyone was, because all of them participated; it was anyone’s guess who would send a piece of fiction in next. Something Minghao wasn’t sure that they were noticing, though, was that some preferences were also being revealed. 

Mingyu loved romantic fluff. He also absolutely couldn’t handle it. It didn’t matter who was in the fic, or what pairing it was; if someone kissed someone else on the forehead, Mingyu could be found rolling on the floor with his cell phone in his mouth. Seungcheol, on the other hand, could barely handle anything at all; it was evident when he was reading because there would be a wild yell, followed by the thunk of his phone hitting the floor or a wall or wherever else he threw it, and the absolutely gut-busting laughter of whoever else was in the room with him. 

Jeonghan liked to send things that were more on the risque side, but Minghao had the feeling that instead of liking to read them himself, he just liked to watch the other members squirm. Joshua sent them so many coming out fics that Minghao would think he was trying to send the group a message, except he’d already come out to them all four years ago, so Minghao wasn’t sure what message it was he was trying to send. The ones that Junhui sent in were always hilarious, despite never being tagged as comedies, and Chan began whining about being lonely, because pairing him up with someone else in the group seemed to be a relatively unpopular trend. 

It was the best when a fic could get a reaction out of Jihoon. He breezed through most of them with a straight face--and maybe some slight traces of embarrassment--so when someone got him to laugh out loud it felt like an accomplishment. There was, however, one fateful Dokyeom and Wonwoo get-together fic that ended up taking the cake, Jihoon laughing so hard at it that he began to cry, Seungkwan filming a video of Jihoon sitting in his chair in the studio, his shoulders still shaking while he giggled and wiped at his eyes, and sending it to the group chat. The fic in question was a Food Truck AU, Dokyeom and Wonwoo painted to be rival food truck owners set up on the same block, except when Wonwoo gave Dokyeom a Spongebob Squarepants popsicle for free, Dokyeom consequently fell head-over-heels in love. It was delightful, and they all began referencing it in front of Jihoon just to make him laugh. 

The real killer came at around three in the morning, in the middle of a night dance practice. They were taking a break, some of them still going over choreography and some of them trying not to fall asleep on the floor when Seokmin and Wonwoo got up, making their way to the middle of the room. 

“One piece of pepperoni pizza, please.” Wonwoo said, loud enough to get everyone’s attention. And sure enough, everyone looked over at him. 

“Of course.” Minghao wasn’t sure where Seokmin had found the paper plate he was now holding, but there definitely wasn’t any pepperoni pizza available; the prop being used for the food was a dirty washcloth folded into a triangle. Minghao had no idea what the two of them were doing until Jihoon burst into laughter, Seokmin grinning in excitement while Wonwoo pulled out his phone. He looked at it for a few moments before speaking again. 

“I’m glad you’re back. Your arm is healing up well?”

Oh. Minghao recognized the words; this was the emotional climax of the Food Truck fic. Somewhere in the middle of the three thousand word epic, the pizza oven in Dokyeom’s truck exploded and Wonwoo had to rush Dokyeom to the hospital, realizing his own feelings in the process. It was all incredibly dramatic. Now that Dokyeom was healed and back in his food truck, Wonwoo was to confess his feelings. 

“What was it you did?” Seokmin asked. “What did you do while I was gone?” 

In the most emotional voice Wonwoo could muster, he responded. 

“Wait for you to get back.”

Those lines were what did it. Everyone knew what was going on now, everyone bursting into laughter. Soonyoung and Seungkwan helped where they could, running up props that were needed, and together Seokmin and Wonwoo acted the fanfic out to the end, all the way up to the breathtaking kiss. Seokmin kissed Wonwoo on the cheek instead of the lips, but he still picked him up and dipped him so forcefully that Wonwoo was almost completely upside down. Jihoon had melted into a complete pile of giggles in Mingyu’s lap by the end of the reenactment, and now that they’d been exposed to the reality that they could act out the fanfictions instead of just reading them--the fics were about them anyway, what better actors could there be?--it became a new favorite pastime. 

Because of their hectic schedules and busy lives, they didn’t usually act out an entire story, picking snippets that were voted on by the other members. It was an easy way to simply have fun, able to do it anywhere as long as they had their phones with them, though their manager did end up asking them to maybe tone it down when they were out and about after having to explain some things away to music show staff as “acting practice”. 

The best reenactments though, came from having moments of free time at home, where they had whatever props they wanted and some extra time to rehearse. They’d try to dress up and try to set the scene, really going all out, enjoying it so much that they began penciling “Fic Time” into their schedule when they could. It was fun to do something this extravagant and stupid and just keep it to themselves; filming things like GOING was great and all, but they were still on camera. This was just them, alone. Not that cameras weren’t out; Wonwoo liked to sometimes get shots of them acting, probably planning on cutting them together into something someday. But for now it was just fun, and that was enough. 

 

Mingyu had a plan. It wasn’t a very good plan, and it wasn’t a very thought out plan, but the fact that it was a plan at all was more than he was usually working with, so he was feeling rather inclined to just go with it. 

These fanfics just had him feeling some type of way. They were all perfect romantic fantasies, everything going beautifully, everything working out in the end. The relationships always deepened. The lovers always got together. And sure, that would happen in movies and dramas too, but it was easier to just sit down and read three-thousand words of pure happiness than it was to slog through twenty-two episodes of slow motion camera shots and questionable character choices. 

Fan fiction was easily becoming one of Mingyu’s favorite forms of media. It made him want a real life romantic fantasy too. And when he really thought about it, out of all the members, he and Jihoon had a lot of romantic tropes that already fit the bill. They shared a room, so close to the “bed-sharing” trope that it was almost too much for Mingyu when he thought about it too hard. They were childhood friends. They had an absolutely swoon-worthy height difference. They had that sought after opposites attract, cat-and-dog dynamic. 

They’d had a lot of moments, really, when Mingyu stopped to consider them. The way he could just amble over and wrap Jihoon in his arms without Jihoon getting suspicious or pushing him away. The way Jihoon would always laugh so hard at him when he made jokes or did dumb things, putting his whole body into it, his smile incredibly bright. The way Jihoon would constantly steal his shirts, looking so small and precious as the fabric almost drowned him. The way that if they were next to each other, they were always touching, be it a hand on a shoulder or their knees pressed together. How Jihoon had written him a solo song, and how nostalgic yet romantic the lyrics were, calling upon years of past memories.

Mingyu’s breath sped up, his heart in his throat. Oh. Oh.  

Jihoon was in love with him. 

Jihoon loved him. How had he not seen it before? And one-sided love would not be tolerated, not in a perfect fanfic world where the protagonist always got the girl. Guy. Whoever the author wanted them to get, really. Who was Mingyu to deny the ways of the universe? 

It was more of a “jump in when the moment presents itself” type plan, which really should have been his first warning sign. And the opportunity came along--well, not really, but Mingyu decided it was opportunity enough--when it was Seungcheol and Jihoon’s turn to act out a cutesy wedding scene in their dorm. They had a whole set made, a very dangerous arch in the center of their living room crafted of perilously stacked chairs courtesy of Vernon himself, and Minister Joshua already fully cloaked in his Halloween costume from 2015. 

Jihoon had shown up to the scene in a full suit, looking almost offensively handsome, and when the group saw what he was wearing they rushed to get Seungcheol’s unshowered self dressed up at well, Seungkwan insisting that if he didn’t look at least mediocre, there was no way this wedding could continue. The author had put both S.Coups and Woozi in nice crisp tuxedos, but Jeonghan wanted to punish Seungcheol for showing up so underdressed to his own wedding, working together with Chan and Minghao to craft Seungcheol a wedding dress by raiding the members’ closets for white clothes and knotting them together. It almost worked too, but the sleeves of Junhui’s white hoodie weren’t quite long enough to tie properly around Seungcheol’s ass, and the skirt part of the outfit had to be given up on. 

Rings were exchanged--the scene was so reminiscent to their own ring ceremonies that Mingyu had a bit of an “oh, that’s kind of gay, huh” moment--and vows were said, Jihoon and Seungcheol reading from their phones, the embarrassment in the room so thick that everyone could almost taste it and it was hilarious. Then the Minister, in pure movie drama fashion, said:

“If anyone can show just cause why this couple cannot lawfully be joined together in matrimony, let them speak now or forever hold their peace.”

Mingyu decided to stand. 

“Jihoon.” He said, every single eye turning to him, Jihoon looking the most surprised. “We should be together.”

Jihoon simply stared at him. Half of the room began breaking down into laughter, but this decidedly wasn’t a joke, so Mingyu continued. He had to get Jihoon to dramatically jump into his arms somehow. If he talked himself into enough of a circle, maybe it would happen. 

“We’ve known each other a long time. You’re handsome, you’re sexy, you’re talented, and the way you care for the members is something that is always felt, regardless of how little it’s verbally expressed. The way you care for me.”

“Hey, where are you reading this from?” Junhui asked loudly, scrolling on his phone. 

“I don’t think he’s reading anything.” Wonwoo answered, his voice hushed in shock, and all the laughter died immediately.

“Jihoon, you’re amazing. You’re the best dancer I know--”

“Hey!” Soonyoung protested. 

“--the best singer I know--”

“I beg to differ.” Seokmin piped up. 

“Then beg.” Mingyu told him, and Minghao let out a snort of laughter. “Jihoon, I love how grumpy you are in the morning. I love how you always have to reach for my hand when you laugh. I...”

Mingyu’s breath sped up, his heart in his throat. Oh. Oh.  

He was in love with Jihoon.

“Don’t marry him.” 

The room was achingly silent. Jihoon was still looking at him, Mingyu dying for him to say something. Anything. Then, finally, Jihoon opened his mouth. 

“That’s not in the script.” He said. Then he turned to Joshua. “I do.”

The entire room broke out into raucous laughter. The scene finished in the background to the chaos around them, everyone commending Mingyu on his memorized monologue, on how naturally he’d delivered it, praising Jihoon for not laughing, for being able to finish in such a deadpan way that just made everything that much funnier. 

As the scene fully ended and the members began going different ways, Jihoon managed to grab Mingyu by the wrist, still in that knee-weakening suit. 

“I think we need to talk.”

 

After Mingyu’s interruption, a “no ad-lib” rule was enacted. Not because it hadn’t been funny--it had been, had been the most Wonwoo had laughed all week--but because they were trying to appreciate the art, trying to do it justice, trying to perform it the way it was meant to be experienced. They shouldn’t go off script. Besides, things the Carats thought up were usually funnier than anything they could imagine themselves. Joshua’s delivery of the line “What did you think a tiger shark was, Hoshi?” after a scene of himself and Soonyoung going on an aquarium date had been so perfect that it had every single one of them in tears, Stingray Woozi completely wrapped up in the grey sheet he’d used to flap around the room as he rolled across the floor. 

On top of that though, Wonwoo was starting to suspect that it hadn’t been much of a joke after all. Only an idiot would pick that time, of all times, to confess his feelings, but it wasn’t as though Mingyu was notorious for making good decisions. 

Wonwoo also had a feeling that while Jihoon had turned Mingyu down in public, something very different might have happened in private. Mostly because the fic they were performing now had Wonwoo and Mingyu as the main pairing. Mingyu was pretending to fawn all over him and Jihoon was sitting on the sidelines, looking very much like he’d thoroughly enjoy stringing Wonwoo up by his balls. 

“Did you break up with Woozi in a fic too?” Jeonghan asked him, once the scene was over. “Why was he looking at you like that?”

“You noticed?” Wonwoo let out a breath. “I think... I think he’s jealous.” 

Jeonghan just sat with his answer for a moment. 

“...I really didn’t think Mingyu was that stupid, but Jihoon must really be a goner if a confession like that worked.” Jeonghan finally said, Wonwoo able to see that he’d put all the pieces together. “It’ll be tough, since you and Mingyu are so loved by the fans; I’ll try to help keep the two of you from being paired up for a little while, yeah? I’ll find something cute where you’re with someone else.”

“Thanks.” Wonwoo said. Not that he minded being paired up with Mingyu for things--on the contrary, Wonwoo loved doing absolutely anything with Mingyu--but it had been very distracting to try and act while Jihoon was in the corner, planning out all the ways he could style the suit he was going to make out of Wonwoo’s skin. 

Jeonghan picked a painfully precious Hoshi-Wonwoo Friends-to-Lovers two-shot that got everyone very much in their feelings, and while it was almost offensively cute, none of the scenes between the main couple were what got picked to be acted out. Instead, they all voted on a scene with the story's side couple, Jun and The8, making bets among each other to see how long Minghao could act across from Junhui without completely breaking. Junhui was notorious for making whoever he was in the scene just break down in giggles until “CUT!” had to be called. 

Minghao, somehow, got through the entire thing without a single smile. Even when the scene called for one, even when Junhui said "I'd put that ass on a t-shirt" and slapped Minghao's butt. Everyone was in shock, most of them completely dead on the floor. 

"How?" Seokmin asked. "With all the innuendos and everything... How did you do it?" 

"Guys." Minghao looked relatively unimpressed with how much they'd fallen apart. "The first thing Jun did when we met was spit on my face. Nothing this man says or does will ever be sexy to me." 

From Jeonghan’s special treatment also came the chance for Wonwoo to pick the next fic they all read together. He'd gotten very into the Hanahaki Disease concept lately, loving all the flowers and the heart-wrenching melodrama, sending in an angst-filled, unrequited, major character death, pining extravaganza with Seungkwan and Dokyeom. They voted on making Seokmin act out the scene where he finally succumbs to the illness, because it had the highest drama and none of them could imagine anything much better than Seokmin flopping onto the floor and sticking his tongue out. 

Unfortunately, thanks to his stage play, Seokmin was actually good at acting now. Wonwoo had read a number of Hanahaki Disease fics in the past week, and none had made him get too emotional. Now though, he was teary-eyed, a bawling Chan in his lap. Minghao was crying, Jihoon silently sniffling, Seungkwan and Vernon holding each other. The entire group were a puddle of tears, all watching as Seokmin leaned heavily against the refrigerator, deciding not to go to the hospital to get the help he would need. The staging and props really took away from how emotional the scene was supposed to be; they hadn't managed to get their hands on hyacinth petals--or any petals at all, for that matter--so after some digging around some craft bins and the refrigerator, Seokmin was lying on the floor surrounded by confetti and ketchup. 

The lack of appropriate props didn't matter, probably because all of them understood the way Dokyeom felt, all of them agreeing with Dokyeom's absolutely tragic decision to die rather than to forget the way Seungkwan looked when he smiled, to no longer care about what an absolute shining ball of light he was, to get rid of how much he loved Seungkwan. Wonwoo didn’t know if he wanted to hug Seokmin or Seungkwan more.

The silence at the end was resolute. Despite Seokmin being completely covered in ketchup, Seungkwan made his way over to Seokmin, flopping on him to sob. Everyone was crying. 

Well, almost everyone. Wonwoo was surprised to see that out of the entire group, Soonyoung was the only one in the room with dry eyes.

"Hey, quick question." He said, in the middle of everyone's sniffling. He was frowning, scrolling on his phone, so distracted that he’d barely paid the scene any attention. "Why in the hell does this author think I'm allergic to cabbage?"  

 

Seungcheol needed attention like a flower needed water, and right now, Jeonghan was letting him wither. 

Jeonghan had been in bed when Seungcheol found him, so Seungcheol flopped down next to him, scooted up close to him, and tried to engage him in conversation. But Jeonghan hadn't once looked up from his phone. 

"Hey!" Seungcheol whined, unable to take it anymore. "Pay attention to me." 

"I am paying attention to you." Jeonghan answered, but instead of glancing over, just moved his head up from his pillow to put it on Seungcheol's shoulder instead. That wasn’t enough. For reasons Seungcheol couldn’t really explain, he wanted Jeonghan to look at him. 

"You are not." Seungcheol insisted. "If this were a fanfiction, you would be listening to me just to watch my eyes light up!" 

"If that were a fanfiction, I would stop reading it because the author doesn't have a good handle on my personality."

Seungcheol whined at that, prompting Jeonghan reach down, grab a shirt from the floor, and whack him in the face with it.

"I'm trying to rest, Coups." 

"You can rest and look at me at the same time." 

"I literally can't." 

"But--" 

"All this fic is teaching me things. Don't make me shut you up." 

"What are you learning, ways to kill people?" Seungcheol asked. He knew Jeonghan liked to watch romantic comedies, but maybe his taste in movies and his taste in reading material were different. "The only way to make me shut up would to be--"

Whatever highly dramatic, strange, action-movie scenario Seungcheol was about to supply was completely killed as Jeonghan turned to him, pressing a brief, light kiss to his lips. It wasn’t much, just soft contact, but… But it was also a lot somehow, almost too much, and Seungcheol felt his heart in his throat, unable to do much more than stare. Jeonghan was staring back, looking unfairly unaffected by the fact that he’d just kissed him, his eyebrows raised. 

Seungcheol tried to talk. He tried to say something, truly, but felt couldn’t even move his lips, still able to feel where Jeonghan’s mouth had covered his own. There was heat rushing to his cheeks and all at once he was just unable to stand it, rolling over on Jeonghan’s blankets and shoved his face into the pillow. Next to him, Jeonghan went to sleep. 

Seungcheol was on his phone a lot for the next following weeks, but whenever people asked him what it was he was doing, he just responded with "research".

 

Chan was getting increasingly frustrated about being fictionally single, deciding to take matters into his own hands. Unfortunately, Chan also had a very bad habit of disregarding ratings and not reading through tags, so desperate to act with someone that as soon as he saw his own name up in the pairings section, he was interested. That led to him sending them all a piece of fiction over dinner one night that had Seokmin spitting a mouthful of ramen noodles all over Vernon. 

“Dino.” Jihoon’s voice was flat. “What the fuck.”

“Wait, what? Why?” Chan looked around at them all. “What is it, do you guys not like werewolves?” 

“This isn’t about werewolves!” Seungkwan cried out, flailing an arm in panic as he spoke and consequently hitting Vernon in the side of the head with his phone. Vernon, already needing a new shirt and now feeling a forming bruise, was considering going to bed early. 

“What is it then?” Chan asked, his eyebrows furrowed and his lips pulled together in a pout as he looked over his screen. “What is ABO?” 

“Chan.” Joshua’s voice was faint. “There are twelve pairings on this thing.” 

“I know! That’s why I picked it.”

“Chan.” Joshua’s tone suggested that Chan wasn’t understanding what he was trying to say. “And they’re just each of us with you.” 

“Well, I didn’t want to be the thirteenth wheel this time, so--”

“Chan.” Joshua seemed to decide that he was done beating around the bush. “This is… This is just…” 

He seemed unable to say it, his face going redder by the second, so Jihoon did it for him. 

“This is just straight up porn.” 

Junhui, who had been too busy shoveling down his dinner to check his phone and see what they were all talking about, choked and spit beer in Vernon’s face. Vernon decided that it was time to go to bed. 

“What does ‘mpreg’ mean?” Mingyu asked, going through the tags. Soonyoung was muttering to himself and giggling wildly as he scrolled, “anal fisting” the only phrase that was decipherable. Wonwoo had his face in his hands. 

“So, I guess Chan is into some kinky shit.” Minghao said dryly, and at “kinky shit”, Seungkwan fully fell out of his chair. 

“Wait! Stop!” Chan was waving his hands desperately. “I just--I didn’t read the tags! I didn’t know!”

“It says it right here!” Seokmin exclaimed, shoving his phone screen in Chan’s face. “That tag literally says ‘porn without plot’! There’s no plot! It’s just--it’s us, and it’s you, and it’s--how does this go on for fourteen thousand words?!” 

“Well wait, that’s not so long.” Jeonghan’s voice was disturbingly calm as he scrolled through Chan’s submission. “If it’s all of us, that’s barely one thousand words per person.”

“Jeonghan--” Seungcheol started, looking very much like he thought this conversation had lasted about an hour too long, despite it only having happened for the past ten minutes. 

“What? Think about it.” Jeonghan told him. “I know that I’d be pretty mad if you only lasted that long.” 

In every way except literal those words seemed to kill Seungcheol, who fell on his face on the floor and didn’t move for the next thirty-five minutes.

 

From an outsider's perspective, this looked like it was Jeonghan's fault, since he had been the one to submit the fic to the group chat. Or even Chan's fault, for exposing all of them to the 'mpreg' tag in the first place. But Soonyoung knew that it had been his own stupidity that allowed him to agree to the terms of the Rock Paper Scissors match, so when Junhui shoved a pillow up his shirt, Seungkwan turning to Seokmin and saying "Congratulations, you're going to be a father", Soonyoung knew that he had nobody to blame but himself. 

It was painful. It was frighteningly uncomfortable. Everyone was thoroughly enjoying watching them squirm, though they were also doing a little squirming themselves. Jeonghan was openly cackling as the discomfort in the room. 

Somehow though, it was all extremely familiar too, sitting across Seokmin and talking about how he was just positively glowing. He met Seokmin's eyes, the two of them having the exact same realization at the exact same time. 

“Grandma!” Seokmin narrowed his eyes and drew in his chin, the way he always did when he put his elderly man voice on, his voice loud and gruff. “How lucky you are to still have children of your own in this old age of yours!” 

Soonyoung’s attempt at a response was completely drowned out as the entire group just started screaming. 

 

Vernon was getting a little worried about the direction this fanfiction extravaganza was taking. They were going down what seemed like a dangerous rabbit hole, Vernon wondering if he should maybe say something when Joshua found the holy grail, sending it to the group chat.

Not the actual Holy Grail--the link he sent to them all definitely didn’t have the same international implications as everyone’s favorite emotional support K-Pop boy finding the Cup of Jesus Christ--but it was much more fun. 

It was a piece of fiction. It was an AU, though none of them could really tell what AU it was supposed to be. It was called something ludicrous, the summary completely nonsensical, the tags absolutely buckwild. And the plot… The plot was something to behold, something each of them got to discover for themselves, because Joshua had sent nothing along with the link except two words. 

Guys. This.

It wasn’t written well. The characterization was off the rails and varied wildly with each chapter. The story seemed to both be moving at a rollercoaster pace but also not going anywhere at all, with typos and tense changes galore. Every single one of them loved it. The fic was thirty-seven chapters long and still ongoing, and all searches for other fics to read were dropped, because the group collectively decided that they absolutely had to act this one out from start to finish, and they were going to film the whole thing.

“Okay! The Breath Beneath the Sails of our Wings, chapter six! This is it!” Soonyoung had his phone in his hand, waving an arm like he was directing traffic. “Are you ready, Jun? This is the part where you hit Shua with your car.” 

“I’m ready.” Junhui told Soonyoung. He looked over at Joshua. “Are you ready?” 

“I’m ready.” Joshua answered, bouncing a little on the balls of his feet. “Let’s get it.”

With all of the strength he possessed, Junhui swung a couch cushion at Joshua at full force. Joshua sent himself flying across the room with as much dramatic flair as he could muster, the room completely exploding in laughs as he flailed across the rug. 

“And… Jeonghan!” Soonyoung directed, almost unable to get the name out as he choked back laughter, Jeonghan running in. He bent over Joshua’s body, trying to give the extravagant weeping performance that he was written to have, but he couldn’t stop giggling as he cradled Joshua’s face in his hands. 

“Arms, arms!” Mingyu corrected, looking at his phone screen. “You’re supposed to cradle his face in your arms.”

“...just his face?” Jeonghan asked, and at Mingyu’s nod, tried to reposition their bodies. He ended up just kind of squishing Joshua’s face with his forearms, but it was deemed perfect anyway.

The fic was incredibly fun. Everyone was important, with a criss-cross of overlapping storylines. Everybody was cheating on everybody else, and fighting each other, and always going to the hospital for absolutely wild reasons--Woozi even got a dramatic death scene at the end of chapter sixteen after Dino shot him, but he was alive again at the start of chapter seventeen with absolutely no explanation--and it was heavily hinted at the end of chapter thirty-two that Hoshi might be pregnant. Again, somehow. Through all the chaos though, Vernon began to notice one thing that stayed the same. He and Seungkwan were always together. 

He and Seungkwan were a constant in the story, already established to be a couple at the start and never really changing. They were often in scenes together, just in the background, usually just holding hands and offering emotional support to whatever new couple was breaking up that week. Though Seungkwan did occasionally get jealous of the dramatic scenes that the other members got, Vernon found he quite enjoyed it, enjoyed being around Seungkwan, getting to hold him and give him light kisses when the script allowed. It had him favoring the idea of holding Seungkwan and giving him light kisses even when the script didn’t call for it. Then it had him favoring the idea of holding Seungkwan and giving him light kisses without a script at all. 

The thing was, none of this was particularly new. Holding hands with Seungkwan, cuddling with Seungkwan, and getting compliments from Seungkwan weren’t foreign territory; those were things that had been happening for years. The difference, Vernon supposed, was that they were now being put in a romantic context, and somehow Vernon liked them more that way. He liked the idea of it all happening because Seungkwan liked him. He wanted Seungkwan to like him, and he wanted all of that because… Because he liked Seungkwan back. 

Seungkwan was just everything Vernon wasn’t. Not in a good way or a bad way, just a different way; loud where Vernon was quiet, excited where Vernon was calm. It made Seungkwan a delight to watch, a delight to know and be around, and Vernon couldn’t really believe that he took him being made to stand with Seungkwan and tell him, in the face and in the most romantic way, “I love you”, for him to understand that it was true. 

The first thing this conclusion made him realize was that he needed to be more aware of his own feelings, because when thinking back, he was hard-pressed to find a point in their history together where this wasn’t the case, and he just hadn’t noticed it yet. The second thing he realized was that he needed to think up some kind of confession. Because really, the fact that he liked Seungkwan, wanted to let him know, and wanted to know if Seungkwan liked him back all felt relatively straightforward, but when it came to actually pushing through and doing the job, he was completely drawing a blank. 

What kind of confession would Seungkwan like? There had to be something. There were a multitude of Carats on the internet that had written him doing this in a hundred different ways; surely he could figure out something himself?

He ended up turning to said internet for help. He went back over some of the fics he’d looked up when this whole thing started. He scrolled through all the stories the members had sent back and forth to each other, picking out all of the ones that had he and Seungkwan as a couple in them--a surprising amount, he realized--but none of the confession scenes felt right. He ended up back at the top of the list, where this all had begun, with that upsetting fic of him destroying Seungkwan’s heart. Vernon clicked on it. 

The author had written a couple of things since then. The one she’d written almost immediately after the angst-filled tear fest was startlingly light-hearted, full of ‘Getting Together’ and ‘Fluff’ and ‘First Kiss’ tags, so Vernon clicked on it. The first thing he saw was an author’s note, so he read it. 

He was surprised to find, through the little snippet at the top about the author’s life, that he was actually their favorite member. That they’d just been in a certain headspace when they’d written Vernon crushing Seungkwan’s heart under his heel. That their Carat friends had cheered them up, and that this story was a bit of a thank you present. 

The new fic was so precious that Vernon had to physically restrain himself from rolling around on his bed like an idiot, grinning until his face hurt. It was sweet, and it was perfect, Vernon bookmarking it and sending it to the group chat, asking if they could do this one while they were waiting for their favorite fanfiction to update. They readily agreed. 

 

Seungkwan looked nervous, standing across from Vernon in the living room. Of course, the members had picked the confession scene as the one they had to act out, which Vernon had been counting on. The confession scene was very specific to the story it was in though, so Vernon had already written out what he actually wanted to say, dipping his fingers in his jeans to feel the note in his pocket. Now he just… Needed to get through this. 

In front of everyone. 

This truly was a terrible idea. 

Before he could try to think of another one though, the scene began. 

“What is it with you?” Seungkwan asked loudly, sounding scripted. Then his voice faltered and fell softer. “You’ve been… I don’t know. Acting weird.”

“Sorry.” Vernon told him. “It’s just… To tell you the truth Seungkwan, I…” 

Then he swallowed, pulling the handwritten page from his pocket. 

“Seungkwan, years ago, in front of probably way too many people, I said that my favorite part of you was your butt.” He started. 

“Off script!” Mingyu called out. He’d been a stickler about people not saying their proper lines since the whole Woozi Wedding fiasco. Vernon looked over at him. 

“Could you—could you not, right now?” He asked. That, unfortunately, tipped everyone off to the fact that something was going on, the room falling silent. Seungkwan’s eyes were big as Vernon looked back to him. 

“Hey, what are you doing?” He asked Vernon. 

“I’m trying to tell you that I like you. Please let me get through this, okay?”

One of Seungkwan’s hands went to his mouth, quiet cooes going through the room. And that was just embarrassing, Vernon unable not to smile reflexively, focusing fully on trying to read his letter instead. 

“And… That wasn’t a lie. It wasn’t the whole truth though, either, but the real answer would have sounded like a cop-out. Because my favorite part of you is everything. It’s everything you are.”

“Yes!” Seungkwan exclaimed, jumping forwards and slinging his arms around Vernon’s neck, pressing a kiss to Vernon’s lips. 

“I didn’t—” The kiss was brief, light, and a little clumsy, but it was so sweet too, and it made Vernon’s fingers twist a bit in Seungkwan’s shirt. He wasn’t complaining about having an armful of Seungkwan, not at all, but he hadn’t said everything yet. “I didn’t even finish.”

“Yes.” Seungkwan said anyway. “I’ll be your boyfriend. I’ll go out with you. I like you too. Yes, yes, yes.” 

The whole room cheered and Vernon just began to laugh, his arms going around Seungkwan, the two of them rocking back and forth a bit as Seungkwan pushed his face into Vernon’s neck. 

“I can’t believe you wrote me a note.” Seungkwan said, pulling the handwritten confession from Vernon’s hand and skimming it with his eyes. Vernon didn’t really mind though, because Seungkwan was beaming, looking from the note to Vernon’s face. “Hey, now that you’re my boyfriend you’d better do that thing where you notice and appreciate all the small and cute things about me. Like how precious the three freckles by my left ear are, and the way my lips pout when I talk, and—”

“And the shape your eyes make when you squeeze them closed? When you’re embarrassed?” Vernon traced the shape on Seungkwan’s cheek; the way his eyes went up at the ends, his eyelashes dipping towards his cheeks in the middle. Seungkwan stared at him for a moment. 

“You can’t just say things like that to me!” Seungkwan exclaimed. He was adorable. “I’m gonna kill you.” 

“Okay.” Vernon said, unable not to watch the light in Seungkwan’s eyes, the rest of the group laughing behind them. 

“You’re not supposed to smile at me when I say that!” Seungkwan protested, hitting Vernon in the chest so lightly that it was more of a tap, his hand resting there against the fabric of his shirt. 

“I can’t help it. I have to smile when I look at you.”

Seungkwan just made a slight whining noise at that, shoving his face into Vernon’s neck again, Vernon wrapping his arms around him. Vernon’s chest felt incredibly light, too happy to get embarrassed at all when Mingyu started a loud cheer. It was nothing more than an excuse to be loud so the others took it up with no hesitation, Vernon glad to see that they seemed happy too. He very much wanted to kiss Seungkwan again, but doing it in front of everyone else did feel like a bit much. 

“Not that this isn’t cute and all,” Jeonghan cut in, “but you know what this means, don’t you Vernon?” 

“What?” Vernon asked back, wondering whether or not he should worry. 

“You’re going to have to be really careful.” Jeonghan told him. “You can’t slip up. You’ll have to really pay attention.” 

“I--I’m not…” Was Jeonghan going to give him the shovel talk right now? “I’m not going to hurt Seungkwan. I promise.” 

“Oh no, it’s nothing like that.” Jeonghan laughed a little. “You just can never, ever, ever forget Seungkwan’s birthday.”