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Our Normal, Boring Lives

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Life was hard. 

 

Sanghyuk had discovered that when he was still too young to remember his own full name. He had grown up with that phrase always simmering in the back of his mind and he could never seem to break free from it. It was as if life took every possible wrong turn just to prove to him that yes, life was still hard, and no, there was no possibility of it ever getting better. 

 

But really, did life have to remind him so unbearably often? Did it have to suffocate him until he really felt like he couldn’t breathe? Did life have to go so hard on him just to give the best of the best to everyone else? Why couldn’t he ever get a break?

 

“Sir?”

 

“Sorry, I know,” Sanghyuk mumbled with the most polite smile he could conjure up, sliding out of the chair. He pushed it back under the desk of the internet café and bowed his head to the attendant before making his way towards the door. He didn’t have enough on him to pay for any more time with a computer. As it was, he had already used what little he had on hand to use the computer instead of saving it to buy himself dinner. Using the computers was cheap, yes, but every 1500 won he spent there was another 1500 he couldn’t put towards a meal for the night. And that 1500 won per hour added up. But it would be okay. Another night without dinner wouldn’t kill him. 

 

Sanghyuk pushed his way out of the internet café, running his hand through his hair in every possible direction just to get some volume in it. He hadn’t been able to shower since the water shut off, and he had been so busy trying to find a job he hadn’t been able to visit the public pool to use their showers. After all, it costed money to get into that place, too. 

 

“What am I gonna do?” Sanghyuk muttered to himself under his breath, holding his hands at the sides of his head and staring down at his feet. It really wasn’t fair. He had applied to so many jobs, not that there were many in the area to begin with, but he applied for every single job he could. He applied for a few he didn’t even have the qualifications for, saying he would do his best. But again, not many companies or stores ran business in the poor areas of Busan. 

 

The internet café was one of the most well known spots, but that was because it boarded a well off sector of the city, and those rich high school kids with their parents’ money practically kept the place afloat. When he was desperate, he asked for a job. They had told him they were already fully staffed, and a week later put out a notice looking for new staff. Sanghyuk, shamelessly and in desperate need for a job, had come back and sent in an application. He never got a response about the job.

 

After all, who wanted to hire a kid who didn’t even have a phone? He couldn’t answer calls, and the only way to check his email was walking five kilometers to the internet café. His shoes were worn out and he couldn’t afford new ones. His clothes were as put together as they could be, but honestly that wasn’t saying much. Who wanted that representing their business? 

 

The answer? Nobody.

 

Sanghyuk didn’t even realize he had tears sliding down his cheeks until he lifted his arm to wipe them away. He took a deep breath, but the air just felt clogged up. 

 

He needed to find a job. His mother was working her ass off, and as it was his siblings were home alone more often than they should have been for their age, but there was nothing to be done about it. His mom worked days at some run down café as a waitress, but that place paid her close to nothing and she rarely got tips. When she did, they amounted to shit. She worked nights cleaning office buildings, but there she got treated like dirt and they always skimped on her paychecks. The one time she spoke up about it; they threatened to fire her. 

 

Sanghyuk could have stayed home with his siblings, and he honestly tried to most of the time. It was hard, though. The walk to the internet café alone took around an hour, and that was only one way. The library was in the opposite direction, so when he had to check out new books or return his old ones, it just took away from any time he could have to be home. When he was home, he spent the time cleaning and trying to keep everything together when his mom couldn’t.

 

He had mastered sewing so he could fix his siblings clothes. He had a deal with them to never tell their mother when their clothes ripped or tore, because Sanghyuk could always fix them and if their mom knew she’d feel bad and try to buy them new ones. They didn't have the money for that. He had also mastered cooking with what little he had to cook with, and he was insanely good about making sure his siblings were always at school on time with everything in order. 

 

Sanghyuk moved his hands to his eyes, rubbing tiredly at them. He had to find a job. If he didn’t… Sangchul and Sangmi might end up taken away from their family, and Sanghyuk couldn’t let that happen.

 

His feet were aching by the time he reached his house, but that was nothing new. The door creaked as he opened it, and he made sure to shut it at just the right angle so it closed properly. He kicked off his shoes next, but they were already so ill-fitted on his feet it was almost like they slipped off on their own the second he let them. 

 

The lights were off which wasn’t a surprise. Sangchul and Sangmi were good about putting themselves to bed on time, and his mom was already out working her second job. He felt around the floor with his feet, but he knew the layout of the tiny house they rented by heart. He let his backpack fall to the ground against the wall before making his way over to the living area where the two ten year olds were asleep on their makeshift cots. He brushed Sangmi’s hair aside, kissing her on the forehead before moving over to Sangchul and pulling the blanket just a bit higher up for him. The boy shifted in his sleep, but Sanghyuk only smiled and moved over to his own bedded area. It was nothing more than a pile of blankets on the floor, but it was comfy enough for Sanghyuk as long as his mom and siblings could sleep well. 

 

He grabbed the two books by his bedside, not even glancing at the wall clock he couldn’t see in the dark anyways before shoving the books in his backpack, hoisting it up on his shoulders and leaving again, closing the door gently behind him.

 

The dark sky loomed over him, but the cool air was more refreshing than ever as he made his way down the familiar street to the library. He most likely wouldn’t get much sleep anyways. He usually didn’t. If he needed rest that badly, he could sleep after walking Sangchul and Sangmi to school, no problem. 

 

He was greeted by a tired looking high school girl behind the library counter, absentmindedly twiddling away on her phone. Sanghyuk made sure to quickly return the two books, and he tried not to mind the girl’s curious glance at the subject matter. Without saying much else to her, he bowed his head and headed into the depths of the library to find a new book to keep himself busy with.

 

His choice this time was a documentary on star evolution. He sat himself down at a dimly lit corner and let himself become completely absorbed with it. Being truly involved in a book was one of the only ways he could really take his mind off his own worries, and whether it was healthy or not he would continue to do it. 

 

He had no idea how long he had been reading, or even how far into the book he was, before a light tap came at the end of the table. He blinked himself back to reality before slowly lifting his head, fully expecting to see the girl from earlier. Instead, he was met with the sight of a very very beautiful guy. He was wearing a collared shirt, but it didn’t look freshly ironed or cleaned, and yet it suited him very well. It was tucked into a pair of black jeans that looked faded and worn, and his black hair was fluffed up around his head. He had specs perched on his nose, and his cheeks were tinted with a natural red glow of his skin. 

 

“You’re in here a lot,” the boy pointed out, taking it upon himself to pull out the chair across from Sanghyuk. He sat down in it almost gracefully, and Sanghyuk had no idea how to respond. He didn’t want to be rude, but he had never seen this boy before, and he was almost sure he would remember seeing this boy before. 

 

“I- uhm,” Sanghyuk stuttered, trying to find the words. “Yeah, it’s just something to do, y’know?”

 

The boy nodded, placing his own book on the table. It was a college level math book.

 

Sanghyuk furrowed his eyes at the choice, and the boy across from him let out a soft laugh. “Weird, right?” he asked with a smile Sanghyuk could only describe as relieving. “Most people don’t come to a library to study math, but it’s something to do, y’know?”

 

“Do- do you take classes?” Sanghyuk asked, blinking between the book and the boy. “You look old enough to be a college student.

 

The boy smiled, eyes crinkling with what could have almost been mistaken for pride. “Thanks! I’m not, though. I just like math, and I want to be good at it.”

 

Sanghyuk nodded, looking back down to his own book. He could feel the boy’s eyes following his. “I just… I like learning about things, too. I want to know a lot of things.” 

 

The boy nodded with another gentle smile, and Sanghyuk couldn’t bring himself to look away. This boy really was pretty, and even if he could never bring himself to become involved with anyone, he could still look and appreciate. 

 

“Do you… do you know me?” Sanghyuk asked suddenly, ignoring his book to meet the mathematician's eyes. “You said you see me here a lot.”

 

The boy nodded. “I do. I come to the library all the time, but I always sit off in the corner during the days because less people sit back there. This is the first time I’ve been here at night, though. I always see you come in, pick your books, and leave. But this is the first time you’ve stayed.”

 

Sanghyuk found it hard to believe anyone would care to watch him that much, but he chose not to question it. He liked people watching, too, so he couldn’t really judge.

 

“I usually don’t stay,” he admitted with a shrug. “But the library is nice, and at night there’s usually nobody here to bother me and I-” he paused. “I did not mean that you- wait a second.” 

 

Sanghyuk desperately tried to save himself, but the boy sitting across from him was already breaking out into a quiet laugh, trying oh so very hard to contain himself as he caught his breath. Sanghyuk even found himself smiling. “I swear I did not mean it like that.”

 

“It’s okay, it’s okay! I did kind of just invite myself to sit here,” the boy told him with his eyes crinkling at the corners, teeth showing between his lips as he smiled. 

 

“Well, consider yourself officially invited to stay,” Sanghyuk offered smoothly, really not minding the company. “I’m Lee Sanghyuk, by the way.”

 

The boy beamed at him, and watching him break out into such a happy smile at just the mention of his name did something to him. “Kim Inseong! Nice to meet you.”

 

Sanghyuk smiled, and just like that, the two fell into their own worlds across from each other. Sanghyuk returned his attention to his book, though that was a strong statement considering his eyes kept constantly flickering up to Inseong and his own book. The boy had an advanced calculus book spread out in front of him with a shabby and dirty notebook beside it. He used a half length number 2 pencil and scribbled the equations and solutions down, covering every single space of every single page in a fashion so unorganized Sanghyuk couldn’t even begin to wonder how Inseong so easily followed along with it. From what he could tell from his angle, Inseong was solving integrals. After a while, he just couldn’t help himself anymore.

 

“Is… is that the Gradient Theorem?” he asked, watching unblinking as Inseong looked up with wide eyes and lips slightly parted. 

 

“You know what that is?”

 

Sanghyuk parted his lips, trying to first justify why he was looking so intently at Inseong’s work, but he didn’t have any excuses so, since Inseong didn’t ask, he decided to leave that part out. “Yeah. I studied it a few months ago. I could never get the hang of L’Hôpital’s rule or Taylor’s Theorem because they both have to do with graphs, and I’m kind of bad with graphs. But the Gradient theorem is mostly evaluation so it was easier.”

 

Inseong just blinked at him, lips hanging open. “You said you wanted to know a lot of things, but I didn’t expect you to know calculus.”

 

Sanghyuk shrugged. “But I’m really bad at graphs. They never taught me how to do them right in high school, so I never learned them right. I figured I’d keep learning what I can understand at least.”

 

Inseong folded his arms across the math book, leaning forward with his notebook long forgotten. “What else do you know?”

 

Sanghyuk blinked. “I- uh- what do you mean?”

 

“Can you speak English?”

 

Sanghyuk licked his lips, still blinking away the shock from having caught Inseong’s attention so intently. “I can speak a little English, but I never practiced as much as I should have. Can… can you?”

 

Inseong nodded. “I’m fluent. What about Japanese or Chinese? I can speak a little bit of Japanese, and oh I know a few Spanish phrases!”

 

Sanghyuk felt stupid blinking again, but that was really all he could do. “I- I’m not so good with other languages. But… I think it’d be cool to be able to speak multiple languages like you.”

 

Inseong smiled, holding his chin up. “'Un chico muy lindo'" he said with a cheeky smile. "‘Una vida normal y aburrido.’ It means a normal and boring life. I love saying that just because I think the words ‘boring’ and ‘life’ are fun to say in spanish.” He didn't explain what the first one meant, but Sanghyuk didn't ask.

 

Sanghyuk snorted, unable to help himself. “I think you live a pretty interesting life.”

 

Inseong shook his head. “Nope. It’s normal and boring. Why else would I be studying calculus at the library twenty minutes before midnight?”

 

Sanghyuk copied Inseong, crossing his arms on the table and leaning forward. “I think that just makes you more interesting.”

 

“How so?” Inseong challenged, tilting his head with a lopsided smile.

 

“Because it’s mysterious. Your clothes look nice, but your notebook is a mess, no offense,” he admitted while Inseong shamelessly laughed. “You’re here so often you’ve noticed me come in multiple times, and you say you’re not a student but you’re studying advanced math as a hobby.”

 

“My life could still be normal and boring, you’d have no idea.”

 

“If your life was really like that, I have a feeling you’d be in college majoring in math right now. That’s what normal and boring people do, right?”

 

Inseong gaped at him. “I never said I was boring and normal! Just that my life is!”

 

Sanghyuk smiled, dropping his forehead to his arms as he quietly laughed to himself. It took him a few seconds to pull it together enough to lift his head again. “Okay, I relent. You’re definitely not boring.”

 

“Thank you!” Inseong replied with an exasperated laugh. “Oh! You live around here, right?” he suddenly asked, changing the subject and the mood between them in an instant. Instead of laughing, Inseong just looked curious.

 

Sanghyuk hesitated before answering. “Uh, yeah, somewhere around here.”

 

Inseong smiled again. “You should come to the high school’s baseball game, then. My friends are both in their last year, and they play on the team.”

 

Sanghyuk parted his lips to say yes, but he stopped himself before he could. He had to bring Sangchul and Sangmi to school in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon. He had to go back to the internet café and check his email for replies from any of the places he applied, and he had to sew up Sangmi’s dress since the sleeve ripped. And even if he could somehow manage to spend time with Inseong, it would end the second Inseong asked for his number. It would end the second Inseong asked where he lived, or where he worked.

 

Inseong probably wouldn’t want to keep up a friendship with someone who had no phone or job. He didn’t want to lead the boy on just to disappoint him, and it seemed Inseong caught on to his hesitation.

 

“You can’t?”

 

“I- uhm…” Sanghyuk began, trying to figure out what to say. He couldn’t lie, right? Inseong lived close by so he would know, but if he said it out right, Inseong might just end up pitying him. He didn’t want that either.

 

“I’m busy tomorrow, sorry,” Sanghyuk decided, trying to mask how upset he was with himself. He really did want to go spend time with Inseong and his friends. 

 

Inseong pouted. “Oh… okay.”

 

“The library is closing in five minutes,” a voice called out behind them, causing both boys to wince. 

 

“Well…” Inseong began, obviously trying to find a solution Sanghyuk somewhat hoped he never found. “The game starts at three. If you want to come, you can come find me in the stands, okay?”

 

“Yeah,” Sanghyuk agreed, knowing he would probably be disappointing Inseong by not showing up. “Okay.”

 

Inseong closed his book and notebook, standing up from his seat. “It was really nice meeting you Sanghyuk! Hopefully we’ll run into each other again if you can’t come.”

 

“Yeah,” Sanghyuk mumbled with a smile as Inseong turned and walked away. 

 

Life was hard, and lately also a nasty bitch.

Chapter Text

“Hyuk, did you sleep at all last night?” Sangmi asked, pulling on the strap of Sanghyuk’s backpack to get his attention.

 

“Of course I did,” he lied, giving her his best smile as they walked to school.

 

“Liar,” Sangchul pointed out without a moment of hesitation, kicking a rock with the toe of his shoe.

 

“I slept! You just didn’t see it!”

 

Sangchul pouted, looking up to him. “What were you doing last night?”

 

“Sleeping,” Sanghyuk lied with a smirk as Sangchul sent him a glare. “What do you mean? What else would I do?”

 

“You always like to go out at night,” Sangmi pointed out, coming to the wrong person’s defense.

 

“Mi, don’t take your brother’s side,” Sanghyuk scolded, though she knew it was a joke. “And you shouldn’t know I go out at night because you should be sleeping.”

 

“Unlike you,” Sangchul pointed out with a smirk, spinning around so he was walking backwards before sticking his tongue out at Sanghyuk. 

 

Sanghyuk gave him a deadpan stare. “That was childish. You are childish.”

 

“And you’re an imsumniac,” Sangmi fired back. 

 

Sanghyuk looked down at the little girl by his side, wondering who had even told her that term. “First of all,” he began, “it’s pronounced ‘insomniac’. And second of all, where I go at night is none of your business as long as I’m back by morning, right?”

 

Sangchul rolled his eyes. “You came back really really late last night, though.”

 

“I came back at one, I was just using the outside light to read until four,” he finally confessed, knowing his siblings would just continue to pester him until he gave them at least part of an answer. 

 

Sangchul pouted again. “But you always just come inside and read. Why were you reading outside?”

 

Sanghyuk wanted to curse. Why the fuck were kids so observant? Why did they have to pick up on the tiniest of details and why did they have no concept of keeping it to themselves? Sanghyuk couldn’t very well tell them that the reason he stayed outside was because before opening the door he literally broke down in a panic. He was stressed about finding a job, parenting his siblings, and realizing at the same time that he couldn’t even have decent friendships because of the mindset he was forcing on himself. It stressed him out so much he had to lay down on the walkway in front of the house in hopes of calming himself down, but in reality it had only made him cry. But he couldn’t say that, really. So what the fuck was he supposed to say instead?

 

“It was nice outside so-”

 

“Bullshit.”

 

“Chul! Hey! Keep that language to yourself!” Sanghyuk was quick to scold with a pointed look. “You don’t say that stuff at school do you? I hope not, oh my god.”

 

---

 

“Hey Taeyang,” Sanghyuk greeted, taking his seat in the chair at the desk of one of the internet café computers.

 

Taeyang barely glanced up at him before returning his attention to his own screen. “Hey Hyuk. How long?”

 

“Two hours,” Sanghyuk mumbled, turning the computer on. “Email, work applications, all of that, y’know.”

 

“Sounds fun,” Taeyang droned, clicking through some game on the screen. He wasn’t wearing his school uniform, and Sanghyuk felt the need to tsk at him, but he knew it would lead to nothing.

 

“What game are you playing?” Sanghyuk asked just to make quiet conversation, pulling up his email. He had a few new emails, but all of them were from junk sites. No places had replied to his applications yet.

 

“Just some stupid game a friend recommended to me,” Taeyang mumbled almost so quietly that Sanghyuk didn’t even hear it. 

 

“So… stupid game instead of going to school?”

 

Taeyang rolled his eyes in a way that screamed one more comment like that and Taeyang would just walk out. “Not today.”

 

Sanghyuk nodded, getting the hint. “Okay. Hey, do you know what pisses me off?” Taeyang made a noise to show he was listening and interested to hear what Sanghyuk had to say. “When businesses just don’t reply to your job applications. I would prefer a definitive ‘no’ over no response at all. It’s infuriating.”

 

“Email them again,” Taeyang suggested with a light shrug. “Do a follow up. ‘Dear whoever, just wanted to follow up on my job application.’ Make some shit up about how you really want the job, they love when people suck up to them.”

 

“Tsk,” Sanghyuk started, smirking at the kid. “That’s not actually a bad idea. I’ll try it.”

 

Taeyang nodded, still not taking his eyes away from the screen. His lack of response was usual, but Sanghyuk had spent enough time with the class ditcher to know when his silence meant he had something more to say. Taeyang often came here with something on his mind, and Sanghyuk had, somehow, become the person to get those things off his mind. Taeyang wasn't exactly the sharing and caring type, though, but he would talk when he was ready.

 

“Hey,” Taeyang finally began after another few minutes of silence. Sanghyuk had already sent one follow up email, and was in the middle of typing another, but he shifted his complete attention to Taeyang. The boy was staring down at his lap, awkwardly chewing on his lip. “Do you… uhm… what do you think about college?”

 

Sanghyuk blinked, honestly shocked that Taeyang would ever willingly bring up the subject. “What specifically about?”

 

“Like what’s your take on it?”

 

Ah , Sanghyuk thought, he ditched today because someone was probably pressuring him about college again. That’s no surprise .

 

He cleared his throat. “I think it’s an incredible opportunity,” Sanghyuk began, deciding how best to lay out his answer to make sure Taeyang didn’t cut him off halfway through. “You get to meet a lot of people, and you learn a lot of things you can’t learn from books. College teaches you a lot of skills, too.”

 

Taeyang sighed, beginning to turn back towards his computer.

 

“It’s my dream,” Sanghyuk added, grabbing Taeyang’s attention again. The boy’s fingers froze over the mouse and his eyes focused intently on the surface of the desk. “I want to go to college. That’s my dream. I want to go because you can get better jobs if you go to college, because that’s just how our society is. It’s not right, because I know as I am now I know a lot more than probably a great deal of college students do, but I still want to go for the credentials. But if what you want to do in life doesn’t need credentials or a degree… there’s no reason to waste the money. Don’t do something you don’t want to or have to do.”

 

Taeyang licked his lips, still staring down at the desk. “So… you think I’d be fine without going to college?”

 

Sanghyuk snorted. “It’s not like you go to class enough to get into a good one anyways,” he half joked, proud of the smile it brought to Taeyang’s face. “But it depends on what you wanna do. Plenty of people make a living without college, you just have to work hard for it.”

 

“You work hard, but you still want to go to college,” Taeyang pointed out, gesturing with his chin to Sanghyuk’s computer screen. 

 

Sanghyuk shrugged. “Yeah, because that’s something I want to do in my life. I want to go to college, get a nice job, and one day own my own house. Nobody says you have to go to college to be able to do all of that, it’s just that I want to. If you don’t, then don’t.”

 

He knew it was odd advice considering there weren’t many people who shared his viewpoint, but that was why Taeyang needed to hear it. He was used to hearing old hags preach about the importance of education without a single thought going into what Taeyang actually wanted to do with his life. They just preached what they were told to, and Sanghyuk knew how sickening that could be. 

 

“Youngkyun has a baseball game today,” Taeyang said suddenly, clearly changing the subject. Sanghyuk didn’t mind, though, if anything he just found it odd to be hearing about the same baseball game again. Inseong had invited him to ‘the high school’ game, right? Well, Taeyang and Youngkyun were both in high school, so it wouldn’t be a far off guess to assume they were the same games. 

 

“I thought you didn’t like Youngkyun,” Sanghyuk teased with a smile, turning his body back to his computer since the mood had shifted. This way he could just make more sly comments at the boy.

 

“I don’t,” Taeyang mumbled. “I just… forget it.”

 

Sanghyuk rolled his eyes. “Go to his game,” he urged. “If he sees you there, he’ll probably know you’re there for him.”

 

Taeyang shook his head. “I don’t want to go alone.”

 

“Then bring a friend.”

 

“Hyuk, I’m trying to ask if you’ll come to his game with me.”

 

Sanghyuk froze, turning his head to give Taeyang his complete attention again. This was the second offer he had in the past 24 hours to come to this baseball game. Saying no to Inseong was obvious, but how could he say no to Taeyang? Taeyang knew about his family situation and asked anyways, and though this was the first time Taeyang had asked to hang out with Sanghyuk outside of the internet café, how could he say yes knowing Inseong would be there? Unless…

 

Sanghyuk swallowed. “I have two conditions.”

 

Taeyang shrunk at those words. “And those conditions would be…?”

 

---

 

“I can’t believe you’re making me run!” Taeyang yelled at Sanghyuk, gasping for air as Sangchul and Sangmi laughed by his side. 

 

“Deal with it!” Sanghyuk called back at him, checking over his shoulder to make sure Sangchul and Sangmi were doing okay. 

 

“I’m gonna tell mom you made a friend!” 

 

“Go right ahead!” Sanghyuk replied with a laugh, trying to figure out how that could possibly be taken as a threat. 

 

“But- you’re…” Sangmi gasped as she ran. “You look like a- like a high school student.”

 

“I am!” Taeyang yelled, causing Sanghyuk to laugh. 

 

“Stay in school! Don’t take after him!” 

 

“This is excruciating!” Taeyang continued to complain as they made it to the end of the street, close enough to see his house. Sanghyuk pulled himself to a sudden stop, gathering everyone around him.

 

“Okay guys, can you figure out sandwiches for dinner?” he asked, watching as both of his siblings nodded and gasped for air. “Perfect. Do your homework before I get home or I’ll feed you to Taeyang’s dogs, okay?” 

 

Sangchul laughed while Taeyang cocked his eyebrows, probably confused by the fact that he didn’t own dogs. Sanghyuk turned to Taeyang as he sent his siblings running towards the house. “It was two thirty when we left the elementary school, so logically it should be close to two fifty, now. We might show up a bit late, but-”

 

“I hate running!” 

 

“Suck it up class ditcher!” Sanghyuk scolded, slapping him on the back of the head and pointing in the direction of the high school. 

 

---

 

Sanghyuk had no idea where to begin looking for Inseong, but thankfully Taeyang did. He felt bad for Taeyang, though, because he had never mentioned that Inseong’s friends were on the baseball team, and most likely friends with Youngkyun. Taeyang might end up finding that out the hard way, but Sanghyuk would call that compensation for playing the role of Taeyang’s older brother over the past year, as if he wasn’t already an older brother to his two actual siblings. 

 

“What does he look like again?” Taeyang asked, looking through the crowd.

 

“Tall, black hair, really pretty.”

 

Taeyang snorted. “Okay, tone down the gay a bit. Describe him objectively.”

 

Sanghyuk rolled his eyes. “That was objective. I wasn’t being gay.”

 

Taeyang’s lips lifted into a smirk. “Oh, because normal people run through hell and back just to come to a high school baseball game for a guy they’ve met once.”

 

“Yup,” he agreed proudly, not willing to let Taeyang get anything over him. “Just shut up and help me find him.”

 

The field was a pretty decent size, and Sanghyuk could see the players cheering on their teammates as they ran the bases. He had no idea which team was winning, or even who Youngkyun was, but it looked interesting. 

 

Thankfully, Sanghyuk found Inseong in the bleachers, cheering with another person. He grabbed Taeyang’s attention and nodded his head, slowly bringing the two of them over. 

 

He was kind of hoping Inseong would turn around and see him before he got there but unluckily for him that just didn’t happen. And apparently Sanghyuk took too long figuring out how to grab the boy’s attention, so Taeyang and his nonchalant personality took care of the situation for him. How kind.

 

“Are you Inseong, the pretty boy from the library?” Taeyang asked, walking forward and looking Inseong up and down. 

 

Inseong looked at Taeyang with wide eyes before bringing his attention to Sanghyuk, who was currently feeling his face turn every possible shade of red and wishing he could disappear. “Uh… yeah I’m-”

 

“Hi!” Sanghyuk interrupted, finally getting himself together enough to come stand by Taeyang’s side. “Sorry, this is Taeyang, the kid I apparently adopted off the streets,” he hissed, aimed at Taeyang.

 

“Nice to meet you. Sanghyuk made me run for fucking ever to get here on time.”

 

Taeyang -”

 

“I’m glad you came,” Inseong beamed, clearly trying to avoid embarrassing Sanghyuk any more than he already was by the situation. He gestured to his auburn haired friend. “This is Youngbin, my brother.” Sanghyuk nodded and bowed his head to him.

 

Youngbin stepped around Inseong with a smile, waving to the both of them. “Thanks for coming. Inseong wouldn’t shut the fuck up about yo-”

 

“Thanks Bin!” Inseong cut him off quickly with a pained smile. “Anyways! Taeyang, do you know someone from the school?”

 

“Oh, I go here,” Taeyang admitted, looking down at the field.

 

Sanghyuk cleared his throat. “But he isn’t in a uniform because he ditched today.” Taeyang scrunched his shoulders up to look smaller. “But he’ll go tomorrow, right?”

 

“Maybe.”

 

“He’ll go tomorrow,” Sanghyuk confirmed anyways before turning to him. “Consider it a favor for me coming with you.”

 

Taeyang scoffed. “You made me run your siblings home from school before running here, and now I’m sweaty and gross. That’s good enough.”

 

Youngbin snorted, and by his side Inseong smiled. “So you came to cheer on a friend from the team, then?” Inseong asked, tilting his head at Taeyang.

 

“Yeah something like that,” Taeyang mumbled, and Sanghyuk decided to let it be. He had probably bullied Taeyang enough today as it was. “But what about you guys? You’re not in high school, so who are you here for?”

 

“Two of our friends. They’re on the team.”

 

Taeyang nodded, but it was obvious he was processing the fact that Sanghyuk had probably (most definitely) known this, and had mysteriously 'forgotten' to mention that. To avoid creating a scene, though, Taeyang seemed to let the issue go for the moment. 

 

“I didn’t think you’d come,” Inseong mumbled, turning to face him like the baseball game they originally came to see wasn’t even happening in front of them. 

 

Sanghyuk sighed with a shy smile. “I wasn’t going to,” he admitted. “But I couldn’t say no to Taeyang when he asked me to come with him. I wanted to come, but I had to pick my siblings up. I just made Taeyang get them with me.”

 

“You and Taeyang must be close,” Inseong commented with a laugh, but Sanghyuk shook his head.

 

“This is actually the first time we’ve met...” he couldn’t really say ‘outside of the internet café’, because he didn’t really want Inseong knowing he was constantly there, “I mean, that we’ve hung out, I guess. We don’t usually do this, we just meet and talk and then go our own ways. It’s usually when he ditches school.”

 

“It’s nice that you’re looking after him, though,” Inseong mumbled, looking between Taeyang and Youngbin who had already fallen into their own side conversation. “I can tell by the way you interact. You totally take care of him.”

 

Sanghyuk shrugged shyly. He wasn’t sure how he felt about Inseong knowing so much about his life already, but the comment made his heart swell in his chest a bit. 

 

They continued to talk on and off until the game ended, and at that point Youngbin suggested waiting until their friends were done so they could all meet. Taeyang tried to get out of it, but Sanghyuk refused to let him, considering the fact that he came specifically for Youngkyun. He wanted Youngkyun’s friends to know Taeyang had been there, and if he had to hold him in place by the skin on the back of his neck, he would do it. 

 

They waited outside of the field with the other parents and groups of friends that had shown up, baking in the sun and bouncing on their toes trying to find them in the crowd. Sanghyuk looked too, despite the fact that he didn’t even know who he was looking for. 

 

“There they are!” Inseong called out, grabbing everyone’s attention as he waved at two boys dressed in shorts and loose t-shirts with their hair still damp with sweat. They were walking over from the doors leading out of the arena, and Sanghyuk easily recognized them from the team. He realized, however, when Taeyang tensed instantly beneath his hand on his shoulder, that he may actually already know one of their names, too. And maybe Taeyang was going to hate him forever after this.

 

“Chanhee!” Youngbin called out, waving. “Youngkyun!”

 

“I am going to-” Taeyang began threatening under his breath.

 

“Later,” Sanghyuk hissed back at him in a desperate attempt to make him not appear like a class ditching homicidal reject for once in his life. He put on a smile and forced Taeyang to follow him as they all met Youngkyun and Chanhee in the middle of the crowd.

 

Youngkyun was a lot different than Sanghyuk expected, honestly. He was clearly fit, but he scrunched his shoulders. He had long, brown hair that hung in his face, and the boy made no effort to push it out of the way, like he preferred covering the corners of his eyes with it. He had gentle features and a cute smile, and oh he was definitely Taeyang's type.

 

“You guys did great!” Youngbin cheered, laughing with the boys as he wrapped his arms around their necks and practically hung on them.

 

“Oh! By the way! This is Sanghyuk and Taeyang!” Inseong introduced, gesturing behind himself before quickly reaching back and pulling Sanghyuk up so he wasn’t standing so far back.

 

Chanhee scoffed. “I’m surprised you came. Inseong said you weren’t going to.”

 

“Ah, well, plans changed,” he attempted with a small smile. 

 

“Oh,” Chanhee mumbled with a nod, his gaze flickering to Taeyang. “Oh,” he mumbled again, just plain staring at him before turning back to Sanghyuk. “You know Taeyang? Is that why you came?”

 

“I uhm… I came because Inseong invited me but Taeyang helped me get here in time. He wanted to come too.”

 

Sanghyuk reached back and pulled Taeyang forward, and all the boy seemed capable of at this point was a wave, tucked in lips, and no eye contact whatsoever. 

 

“You guys know him right? He said he goes to this school,” Youngbin jumped in, looking between the two of them for an answer.

 

Chanhee smirked before looking at Youngkyun, and though Taeyang probably didn’t notice it, Sanghyuk definitely did. “Yeah we know him. Thanks for coming, Taeyang!”

 

“Yeah… no problem,” Taeyang mumbled shyly before being cut off by Inseong’s laugh.

 

“After game drinks? At the café?”

 

Sanghyuk bit his lip. Fuck. “Actually-”

 

“That sounds fun, are you sure we’re welcome?” Taeyang cut off, surprising Sanghyuk by his sudden boldness as he elbowed Sanghyuk as hard as he possibly could without being too noticeable. 

 

“Absolutely!” Inseong confirmed, gesturing for the group to follow him. 

 

“Taeyang this isn’t funny,” Sanghyuk hissed at him, pulling him back as everyone began walking ahead of them. “I don’t have any money on me you know-”

 

“I’ll pay,” Taeyang told him under his breath before moving forward like Sanghyuk was done talking to him. He wasn’t, and he pulled Taeyang back.

 

“I don’t want you to pay,” Sanghyuk spat at him quietly. “I don’t want to go .”

 

“We came all the way here,” Taeyang reminded him. “We’re going. Come on.”

 

But that was the thing. To Inseong, this was a normal outing. Inseong would invite him out time and time again if Sanghyuk gave him the illusion that he enjoyed it, and Sanghyuk would scarcely be able to pay for his own drinks or food, much less Inseong’s. If he went this one time, there was the expectation that he would go again. Not only that, but he never liked other people paying for him. It didn’t matter if it was just a small drink, he didn’t need it. It wasn’t something he needed, so it wasn’t something he could afford to let someone else pay for for him. He just didn’t have the money, and that wasn’t a problem he could fix any time soon.

 

“Taeyang…” Sanghyuk began, but the boy just grabbed onto his wrist as hard as he possibly could and yanked him a bit until they were standing eye level.

 

“Consider it me thanking you for the college advice, because that meant a lot to me. Now, don’t complain about me paying, and never make me admit that ever again. Come on.”

Chapter Text

“So how do you four know each other?” Sanghyuk asked, sipping at the incredible drink Taeyang had bought him. It was hard to fuss and complain when the drink was this good, and he figured still whining about the whole situation would probably come off as rude and annoying eventually, if it hadn’t already. So he had accepted it, he was just determined not to let it happen again.

 

“Oh!” Inseong jumped in, pulling the straw from in between his lips and setting his own drink down on the table. “Well Youngbin is my brother by foster care. I mean I was brought into his family but technically they’re my family-”

 

“Inseong,” Chanhee interrupted with an unamused expression.

 

“Anyways,” Inseong waved off, clearly trying to cut himself off from rambling. “It led to eventual adoption. Chanhee is in a foster home now, too, but he was at the orphanage with me for a while, so that’s how we know each other, and then Youngkyun and Chanhee have been friends ever since they were kids.”

 

Sanghyuk, to be honest, was left speechless. How did Inseong just talk so casually about all of that? Even Youngkyun looked like it was something he wasn’t sure if he should so openly talk about or not, and it wasn’t even his backstory!

 

“I think Mrs. Lee wants to adopt me,” Chanhee mumbled, bringing a silence around the table. He quickly looked up with wide eyes. “I- I don’t know why, I mean I turn eighteen in a few months so it’s kind of pointless but-”

 

“I don’t think it’s pointless,” Taeyang butted in quietly, but it still drew everyone’s attention. He let his eyes fall to the table in front of him as his finger slid over the edge of his cup nervously. “I mean, just because you’re eighteen and can move out doesn’t mean you have to, or that she’ll stop caring for you. It’s nice to have a family that cares about you even after high school.”

 

“Holy shit,” Youngbin mumbled, nodding at Taeyang’s words. “Hey, did you know he was in foster care? Since you go to school with him? You just don’t sound shocked.” 

 

“I heard rumors,” Taeyang admitted with a shrug. “I actually thought maybe both of you were… yeah. But I didn’t care either way so..."

 

Sanghyuk smiled proudly at Taeyang for even acknowledging Youngkyun, while Youngkyun’s cheeks glowed just a slight tint pinker than they had before. He also watched Chanhee’s lips lift into a smirk. 

 

“Oh really?” the boy inquired, which Sanghyuk actually applauded because he didn’t think he would. “You always have your headphones on in class, though. I didn’t know you paid attention to our rumors.”

 

Chanhee ,” Youngkyun hissed, but Chanhee was starting to get into it. Sanghyuk couldn’t stop himself from smiling as Chanhee grilled Taeyang, even though he probably should have come to the boy’s defense. He wouldn’t help. 

 

“Just… it got around. I heard…” Taeyang mumbled.

 

“Okay what the fuck am I missing?” Youngbin asked, cutting in. Inseong pressed his lips together to avoid laughing out loud before sliding his hand across his neck in a cutting motion, still barely holding himself together. 

 

“Anyways!” Youngkyun took the opportunity to jump in. “Sanghyuk, how did you meet Inseong? I feel like he gave us a half assed story.”

 

Inseong gaped at the boy in offense while Youngkyun patiently waited for a response. Sanghyuk had to be proud of him for the clean subject change, but that didn’t mean he wanted to be the topic of discussion either. 

 

“We just ended up talking at the library,” Sanghyuk admitted vaguely, not putting any significant effort into embarrassing Taeyang any further.

 

“I swear to god who the fuck goes to the library at midnight,” Chanhee cut in with a laugh. “Like by choice. You two are weird.”

 

“It’s fun!” Inseong defended. “You wouldn’t know the joy of reading and learning because you’re going to skate by on a baseball scholarship!” 

 

Chanhee held his hands up in defense. “Doesn’t make you any less weird. You need to sleep.”

 

“I did sleep!” Inseong defended, once again, very passionately. “Right when I got home! Sanghyuk slept too, right?!” he asked, turning to face him.

 

“Of course,” Sanghyuk was quick to lie with a nod. It wasn’t like he was embarrassed by his insomnia, he just really didn’t want everyone asking him if he was okay or tired because that always got annoying. He could live without this group knowing he pulled an all-nighter last night and several nights before. But that was on him, mostly, because it wasn’t like he tried to fall asleep either. 

 

---

 

Chanhee was a little bitch. If it had happened to anyone else (which it did) Sanghyuk would have found it hysterical (which he did). But it had happened to him, and now he was kind of fucked.

 

It started when they were all getting ready to leave, and Sanghyuk was ready to drag Taeyang back to his house to pacify his siblings who would probably be dying to see him again. That, also, was Sanghyuk’s fault since he never hung out with anyone or mentioned any friends. 

 

But no. Oh no, that hadn’t been what Chanhee had in mind. Chanhee had to, apparently, go do some ‘important business’ with Youngbin, which everyone and their mother knew was a big fat fucking lie, and he used that as an excuse to suggest Taeyang walk Youngkyun home since he would ‘probably get lost again chasing a stray cat.’ That was funny. What was not funny was when Chanhee suggested Inseong walk him home. 

 

Sanghyuk didn’t want to bring Inseong to his house. He wasn’t exactly embarrassed of the way he lived, but he certainly felt that way right now. Even though Inseong didn’t exactly live under the best circumstances either, it didn’t change the fact that if Inseong knew, he would undoubtedly think of his home life whenever he next saw him. That’s how it always went. Unintentional pity slipped out conversation after conversation and it was something he could never get past. It was like people would see him and think ‘hey there’s the kid that lives in a shitty house, would it be nice if we bought him lunch?’ because oh yeah, that had happened before. Of course, he had had it dumped on him before, too, but that was a completely different topic and story. 

 

The reason Sanghyuk never had any friends wasn’t really because he felt like he was too busy. It was because his situation always seemed to affect how people saw him, and he just couldn’t handle that.

 

It was the reason he had started looking after Taeyang, in a sense. Taeyang knew about his situation and yet not once had he pitied him. It was weird. When he had told Taeyang, the boy had just laughed because he thought Sanghyuk was a loser spending so much time in the internet café, so he was glad the guy looking out for him ‘wasn’t a complete screw up.’ Sanghyuk had wanted to make a comment at the time about how Taeyang was literally ditching school when he said that, but he held his tongue instead. 

 

But Taeyang had his own reasons for not caring what Sanghyuk’s life was like. Taeyang had his own problems. Inseong had a home. He had a family. He had enough money to invite his friends out for drinks like it was nothing. Sanghyuk wasn’t, by any means, saying his life was perfect, only that there was a big chance Inseong would become one of those people: the people that made Sanghyuk realize why he never kept friends around. 

 

“Do you always go to the library so often?” Inseong asked, tilting his head and finally turning to look at him. Sanghyuk was just trying to hide the fact that he was internally panicking. 

 

“I go through books fast,” he said in lieu of admitting he read most nights instead of sleeping and read even more during the day waiting because he really had nothing else like a job to do. That might have been a bit passive aggressive. That was okay. 

 

“Me too! That’s why I always check out the math ones. I spend so much longer on them. And I don’t get the weird looks from that girl behind the desk so often.”

 

Sanghyuk chuckled as he recalled every single judgmental glance she had given him over the years. “I don’t think she likes me.”

 

“She doesn’t like anyone!” Inseong pointed out with a laugh. “I swear to god, Lee Jongsuk could walk through those doors and she would glare at him.”

 

“I just don’t think Lee Jongsuk would ever come to this library,” Sanghyuk mumbled, trying to hold himself back from laughing at the thought.

 

“I’m just saying if he did,” Inseong pointed out, moving his hands around as he talked. “And if he did, I would become his best friend.”

 

“So you just become friends with everyone you meet in libraries?” Sanghyuk asked, tilting his head back as he laughed. He could hear Inseong laughing beside him. 

 

“No! Becoming friends with Lee Jongsuk is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’m not fucking wasting that!” Inseong nearly shouted, having Sanghyuk laughing so hard his stomach was beginning to hurt. “ And stop laughing! You invited me to sit at your table so fuck you!” 

 

Sanghyuk wanted to respond with some witty comment, but he lost every word on his tongue as he noticed Inseong looking around the neighborhood. The laughter practically faded away from his voice and his smile slowly faded away. How disappointed would he be to realize Sanghyuk lived in-

 

“Oh, are we getting close? I think I live about a fifteen minute walk from this area, so we’re not actually too far apart!” 

 

Sanghyuk couldn’t help but gape at the effortless smile on Inseong’s face. “Wait… you- you live in the… isn’t that the area with the apartment complexes?”

 

Inseong nodded. “Wow, you knew that just from a time estimate? I’m impressed!” 

 

Sanghyuk wanted to ask a lot of things. He wanted to know why Inseong was living there, because by the way he talked earlier he was almost convinced he lived with Youngbin and his parents. He wanted to know why Inseong chose to live by himself like that in the first place. And he wanted to know what Inseong did for a job to even be able to afford an entire apartment for himself. 

 

“SANGHYUK?!” Sanghyuk snapped his head up at the voice, realizing how much time he had lost thinking about getting to his house, enough to not even realize they were already there. Sangchul gaped at the door before running out with a smile on his face. “This is a different one!”

 

“I’m glad you can recognize faces,” Sanghyuk joked, still a bit nervous with Inseong standing right beside him. “Sangchul, this is Inseong. Inseong, this is my little brother Sangchul. His twin sister should still be inside.”

 

“No she left a while ago,” Sangchul threw out with a shrug, turning around to lead them back to the house.

 

“Oh no, is that- is that okay?!” Inseong asked, turning to face Sanghyuk with wide eyes.

 

Sanghyuk shrugged. “It should be fine. Chul, why didn’t you go with her?”

 

Sangchul groaned and turned around with the most pained expression he figured the boy could manage. “Did I have to?”

 

“Well where did she go ?” Sanghyuk retaliated as Sangchul plopped himself down on the front step of the house. 

 

“She said she had a playdate.”

 

Sanghyuk rolled his eyes. “Next time we tell mom and you tell me so I can bring you and look responsible.”

 

“She can just… I mean you just let your sister go out alone like that?” Inseong asked, just blinking at him.

 

“No,” Sangchul butted in forcefully with a way too overdramatic pout. “He won’t let us walk home from school alone ever even though we constantly ask. He even brought his friend Taeyang today which is crazy because Hyuk never has any friends, but he made us run just so he could get to some stupid baseball game on time.”

 

“Okay, that’s enough of that,” Sanghyuk interrupted, face glowing red from embarrassment. “When she comes home we’ll talk about it, but go with her next time. And you two were supposed to be doing homework.”

 

“Well if she told you about her playdate then you wouldn’t have gone to the game, because you never do anything for yourself. So we just didn’t tell you.”

 

Sanghyuk did not appreciate his brother analyzing his entire personality in front of Inseong like that. “Okay, okay. Fine. I relent. When is she coming home?”

 

“Why, are you going to be too busy on your date?”

 

Sangchul that’s not-” Sanghyuk lifted his hand up to his face, cradling it in an attempt to nurse both his headache and his ever growing embarrassment.

 

“Inseong, you’re pretty. Sanghyuk likes that.”

 

“Thanks Sangchul,” Sanghyuk mumbled, turning to Inseong. “Sorry he’s ten and stupid.”

 

“Wait what?”

 

“Thanks for walking me home. Sorry about… him.”

 

“I am right here.”

 

Inseong smiled, like none of it had even bothered him to begin with. “Are you busy tonight?”

 

Sangchul bounced up on his feet, pushing his way between the two of them. “Are you gonna ask Sanghyuk to be you’re-”

 

“Sangchul if you say it I really will feed you to Taeyang’s dogs.”

 

“They can’t scare me! I’ll eat them first!” Sangchul challenged, holding his head up high and just daring Sanghyuk to stop him again. He turned to Inseong. “Do you have a girlfriend?”

 

Inseong blinked, looking back down at him. “Uhm, no.”

 

“Do you have a boyfriend?”

 

“No,” Inseong answered again, simply. 

 

“Great, neither does Sanghyuk because he’s socially deficient.”

 

“Where the fuck did you learn that word?” Sanghyuk asked, ignoring the implications and the out right insult. 

 

“Mom.”

 

“Okay great,” Sanghyuk mumbled, grabbing onto Sangchul’s shoulders and turning him around so he wasn’t facing the two of them. “I don’t have any... plans tonight,” Sanghyuk finally responded, switching to what little English he knew so Sangchul couldn’t understand him.

 

“Hey!” the little boy called, but Sanghyuk hardly cared once Inseong’s lips curved into a wide and happy smile.

 

“Then I’ll see you at the library?” Inseong asked, also in English, sparing a side eye at Sangchul to make sure he didn’t understand the word ‘library.’

 

“Yeah, what time?” Sanghyuk replied, causing Sangchul to groan and fall dramatically onto the ground. Sanghyuk didn’t even bother checking if he was okay. He was fine. 

 

“Any time. Just show up,” Inseong told him with a smile before waving to Sangchul. “Bye!” he said, this time in Korean.

 

It took until Inseong was completely out of their sight for Sanghyuk to grab onto the front of Sangchul’s shirt as hard as he could while the ten year old only laughed in amusement. “You have no idea when to stop!”

 

---

 

“Did you not want to come earlier because you were worried about paying?”

 

Sanghyuk laughed nervously, rubbing at his neck. “You noticed?”

 

He wasn’t exactly sure how it happened, but him and Inseong ended up sitting on the steps in front of the library sometime right before the library had closed at midnight. It had been a while since then, though. Crickets chirped from behind tall blades of grass hidden by the night’s darkness and the stars loomed over their heads, twinkling with light. 

 

“You could have just said so.”

 

“I didn’t want pity,” Sanghyuk confessed, pulling his knees up to his chest and hugging his arms around them. “I really just wanted to hang out with you without being judged.”

 

Inseong huffed out a quiet laugh. “I can’t really judge you,” he mumbled almost under his breath, and it was one of the first times Sanghyuk had heard him so vulnerable. “Do you wanna know something?” Sanghyuk nodded instead of interrupting with words, and Inseong sighed as he copied him, pulling his legs up to his chest and resting his chin on them. “Well, obviously I’m an orphan, you know that part. Never knew who my parents were. I think it’d be nice to know even though there’s no reason for me to know, but I don’t care that much. I think of Youngbin’s family as my real family.”

 

“You should,” Sanghyuk agreed, nodding his head. “When did they… I mean for foster care-”

 

“When was I brought into their family?” Inseong worded for him with a soft laugh. “When I was ten, actually. They officially adopted me when I was twelve. Youngbin was actually the final decision maker. He cried when they explained to him what foster care was, and how it wasn’t permanent, so he begged them to make it permanent.”

 

“That’s cute,” Sanghyuk mumbled, a smile pulling at his lips. “But I’m sure they would have done it anyways.”

 

Inseong nodded. “I know they would have. But then Youngbin and I turned eighteen and our mom was diagnosed with Cancer. Dad tried to support her, but the hospital debt was insane, and eventually he left it to us and just never came back.”

 

“He… wait what ?!”

 

“Our dad walked out. He left before she even… well. She didn’t… make it. But she fought for a long time. He left without even saying a final goodbye, and Youngbin and I had to be the ones to tell her. I was already accepted into university at the time on a full scholarship, but I had to recall my application to get a job and help pay the hospital debt. You probably don’t need to know all the full details, but our dad really fucked us over. He didn’t help, he just made it worse. Maybe if he had stayed, the debt would have been manageable, and I still could have gone to university and we wouldn’t have had any problems. But… life doesn’t work out that way. So… yeah. I’m not a student. I was supposed to be, but I can’t be.”

 

“I get it,” Sanghyuk mumbled, trying to think of what to say next. “You wanted to, but you couldn’t be selfish, right?”

 

Inseong nodded. “Exactly. That’s why I’m always studying at the library. I was supposed to be an engineer with an English degree, but that’s just a far off dream at this point.”

 

Sanghyuk nodded. “I’m sorry about your mom. I can’t imagine going through something so hard just to be fucked over like that.”

 

Inseong nodded. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t have done the treatment or anything, and I really shouldn't be complaining. Because, y’know, at the time we had no idea whether it would work or not. But… I wish it just never happened at all.”

 

“You have Youngbin, though, that’s lucky,” Sanghyuk reminded him. “You know he’ll never leave your side.”

 

Inseong nodded. “Hey… I was wondering this since earlier, but why do you look out for Taeyang? It’s obvious you take on an older brother role for him, but why?”

 

Sanghyuk licked his lips as he tried to think of how to start explaining. “Because I always see him at the internet café,” he began. “I mean, my mom is the only one with a phone, and we don’t have a computer, so I can’t check emails or anything at home. But Taeyang ditches school a lot because someone is always pressuring him about something. Teachers telling him to pick a college, his counselor getting on his case about not joining a club even though he has no friends in any of the club, a teacher demanding he work harder to study when they don’t even care how hard it is to study when your parents practically decide everything for you.

 

“He just didn’t have anyone else to go to, so when he saw me filling out job applications one day he asked me why I chose to apply there . I don’t think he cared, honestly, I think he just wanted someone to talk to about meaningless shit. I think he thought that maybe if he listened to me, I’d listen to him, but I would have listened to him anyways. And we just kept meeting at the internet café, and I’d sit next to him so if he needed someone to talk to, he could.”

 

“That’s… so nice.”

 

Sanghyuk shrugged. “I guess. But Taeyang has helped me a lot, too. Sangchul was right, I never have friends. I’m not good at making friends, and my situation always stresses me out so I never put myself first. Taeyang’s helped me with that a bit.”

 

“He likes Youngkyun right?” Inseong asked with a giddy laugh, leaning to the side enough to bump his shoulder against Sanghyuk’s.

 

“Oh my god, he asked me to come to the game with him just so he wouldn’t feel awkward about going to a game just for him,” Sanghyuk admitted with a laugh. “I swear I didn’t know Youngkyun was your friend.”

 

Inseong laughed again, this time letting his shoulder rest against Sanghyuk’s as he looked out towards the sky. Sanghyuk found himself leaning into Inseong, too, not minding the contact.

 

“I didn’t know Chanhee’s foster family was considering adopting. He’s been through a lot of them.”

 

“I don’t know him well, but I know he deserves it,” Sanghyuk agreed. 

 

Inseong giggled, but the only reason Sanghyuk knew was because he felt Inseong’s shoulders rising and falling with each choppy breath. “You should hang out with us more. We probably won’t go places that cost money anyways. This was a rare thing for us since I just got paid.”

 

Sanghyuk sighed heavily. “I need a job. I’ve been looking around, but I can’t look too far away since I can’t drive, and busses don’t run-”

 

“Take a bike,” Inseong suggested, but Sanghyuk just snorted.

 

“Do you have any idea how expensive bikes are?”

 

Inseong was off of Sanghyuk’s shoulder in an instant, nearly gaping at him, but his expression held a mischievous glint to it. “Oh Sanghyuk, please don’t tell me you’ve never gone dumpster digging before.”

Chapter Text

Sanghyuk was going to have a lot of explaining to do when he went home that night. It had been two days since Inseong suggested the idea of dumpster digging, and finally the weather was perfect for it, apparently. And so instead of doing anything normal people do on a sunny day, him and Inseong had taken a bus to a landfill. Inseong heavily insisted this would be worth it, and so Sanghyuk had used what little he had saved for himself from handing out fliers to pay for his own bus ride there. He hadn’t told either of his siblings this before dropping them off at school, and he definitely hadn’t explained why he needed Taeyang to pick them up. Taeyang was so nice like that. 

 

Of course Inseong had asked Youngkyun the same favor so there would probably be a lot of passive aggressive panicked gay anger directed at the two of them when they returned. But it was important.

 

Oh, and he hadn’t told his mom anything about Inseong, nevermind where he was going. And surprisingly, Sangchul had kept his mouth shut. That was a miracle on its own. 

 

“The gateway experience is a sham !” Inseong declared, lifting one leg to prop it up on a tire sticking out of the pile of trash he was looking through, if only to make himself look more righteous. 

 

“Says who?!” Sanghyuk argued back, digging his gloved hands into the trash piles to pull himself up to climb them. “Do your research! It’s real!”

 

“It’s hypnosis .”

 

“Which, by the way, is real.”

 

Inseong let out a loud laugh that echoed over the landfill as he continued digging through the trash. “Okay,” he humored, throwing something metal out of his way. “Theoretically let’s assume hypnosis is a real thing and not just fake science used for magic shows.”

 

“What do you mean? Hypnosis is science, and in this case the synchronization of the two brain hemispheres!” Sanghyuk firmly argued, pulling a pipe out of his way so he could look through more of the trash. 

 

“Sounds fake to me. Isn’t synchronizing the hemispheres dangerous considering one half controls half of our body, or something like that?”

 

Sanghyuk rolled his eyes. “Right half controls the left half and so on,” he droned. “But no! It has something to do with distracting one hemisphere to send signals usually perceived by said hemisphere to the other hemisphere. And it’s real!”

 

“Okay but who thought of this and was like, ‘yeah let’s fuck with the hemispheres of our brains and hope to gain something out of it that isn’t death or parilization!’”

 

Sanghyuk snorted. “Robert Monroe! But I’ll agree with you on that one.”

 

Inseong barked out a short laugh from the next pile of trash over. “How the fuck do you remember that?”

 

Sanghyuk shrugged. “I just do. I read it once.”

 

“ONCE?!”

 

Sanghyuk shrugged again which only caused Inseong to laugh. “Hey!” Inseong called out. “I have a good one. How many nerds does it take to find a bike in a trash heap?”

 

“You’re a nerd, I’m just educated,” Sanghyuk defended with a smug smile, basking in the silence while feeling Inseong gaping at him from behind. He pulled another slab of some shiny material out of the pile, and his eyes widened at it. “Bike!”

 

“Please do not pull a Toph right now like ‘is what it will sound like when one of us finds it’ because you already did that earlier and it wasn’t funny,” Inseong deadpanned, jumping down from his trash pile anyways to come over to Sanghyuk’s.

 

“It was funny, you’re just mad you didn’t think of it first,” Sanghyuk defended, wrapping his gloved hands around the metal frame of the bike and pulling as hard as he could until it came out, sending both him and the frame sliding down a wall of trash until he hit the dirt ground beneath him. “But uh, no I really found a bike.”

 

“Hey, this is a pretty good one,” Inseong mused, pulling the frame from his hands. “It even has tires, which is shocking. No handlebar, but we can fix that. Also, hey stand up, I think this is pretty close to your size. What the fuck? I wanted to find you a kid’s Barbie one first,” Inseong beamed and grumbled, ending his rant with a pout as he grabbed Sanghyuk’s bicep, pulling him to his feet and forcing him to stand next to the bike. “Yeah this should be your size.”

 

“It doesn’t have a seat,” Sanghyuk pointed out, looking down to the empty peg where a seat would be.

 

“Psh, that’s fine,” Inseong said confidently, waving his hand. “We’ll just find a new one. You didn’t expect to find a decent bike here right away, did you? That could take days. The whole point of dumpster digging is to take pieces from several shitty bikes and put them together until one whole bike is formed! Get back to looking! We need a seat and a handlebar!”

 

“Wouldn’t the handlebar have to be made for the bike, though?” Sanghyuk asked, looking at the frame that was missing significant parts. 

 

Inseong shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve never had to do this with a bike before, but how hard can it be?! We’ll use duct tape if we have to. Doesn’t matter as long as it’s still a bike.”

 

It took all day. The two continued searching through pile after pile until they found a handlebar that was at least made for the same build and height as the bike frame they had found, and a seat that wouldn’t just ride up Sanghyuk’s ass if he even attempted riding it. Surprisingly, they found a lot of children’s bikes, and no matter how much Inseong insisted, a Barbie themed bike seat was not big enough for him. 

 

Then they sat down on the dirt and started putting the thing together. It took hours to figure out how to get everything the way it was supposed to be, especially because the chain of the bike was significantly fucked up, but they managed. And honestly, Sanghyuk thought they would be done once the bike was completely put together. He was wrong. Inseong used a hose on the side of some shed by the edge of the landfill and sprayed the bike clean before grabbing a sheet that could almost pass for not hopeless and drying it off. Then Inseong found an old can of red spray paint, and he didn’t hold back. He, surprisingly, managed to not spray paint the tires red in the process, but it was definitely all over his hand and the bandana wrapped around his face.

 

And even after all of that, he still wasn’t done. Lastly, he grabbed a sharpie from the shed, which Sanghyuk was increasingly interested in whether or not Inseong was technically allowed to be in. On the bar across the front frame of the bike, Inseong wrote, in his neatest handwriting: ‘Normal and Boring,’ and underneath that: ‘IS & SH’

 

Sanghyuk couldn’t lie. He loved it. He laughed at the stupid phrase Inseong had written on it, and he smiled at the way the red paint looked in the sun once it was dry. This was his. It may not have been newly store bought, but it was better than that. It was his. He had put it together himself, and sure, maybe the handlebar didn’t completely match the frame of the bike, but who the fuck cared? It was his very own bike, something he hadn’t had since he was little. Something he never thought he would ever be able to have again.

 

“See?” Inseong whispered, looking down at the bike as the sun already began to fall lower in the sky in front of them. “Now you can apply to more places. You can go farther, and you won’t be so tired from walking all the time.”

 

Sanghyuk didn’t know what else to do, so he did the only thing he could think of. He turned to Inseong and wrapped his arms around him, pulling him into his chest and burying his head in his shoulder. 

 

---

 

Sanghyuk cupped his hands in the water of the lake before lifting it up and splashing it over his face. He smiled at the coldness of it, sinking into the feeling of the cool night air surrounding him. 

 

“Soap!” Inseong called, and Sanghyuk barely had to look up to catch the small bottle tossed in his direction. He only used as much as he had to, but cleaning the smell of a landfill off of oneself was not as easy as it sounded, and it didn’t even sound easy. 

 

“Give me another one,” Sanghyuk requested, reaching back to place the bottle of soap on a nearby rock bordering the shore before rubbing the soap over his exposed chest, neck, arms, and legs. 

 

“Okay,” Inseong agreed, followed by a word in English Sanghyuk had sworn he had heard before, but couldn’t quite remember. 

 

Sanghyuk sighed. “I can’t remember these words,” he groaned in English.

 

“This word,” Inseong corrected with a giggle. 

 

“Give me hint- give me a hint, please,” Sanghyuk requested, struggling to multitask as he dipped his body lower into the water, washing the soap away.

 

“It means not special,” Inseong told him, of course in English. Sanghyuk pooled water in his hands again and rinsed his head with it. 

 

“Oh! Ordinary,” Sanghyuk called out in Korean, proud of himself for successfully translating an English word he found rather difficult. “Another.”

 

And so Inseong gave him another. Surprisingly, Sanghyuk enjoyed going back and forth with Inseong trying to learn new phrases and words in English. It was a good skill to have, and practicing with Inseong just felt easier and more relaxed than any class he took ever did. 

 

“Inseong, why do you… wait,” Sanghyuk struggled, trying to keep talking in English so he didn’t look like he was giving up. “You have a… tall… house… place, so why are you washing here?”

 

Inseong laughed, lurching forward with his hand over his bare stomach as the sound of his enjoyment echoed over the lake. “Apartment!” he corrected, still laughing. “Not tall house place, oh my gosh. Apartment.”

 

“Apartment,” Sanghyuk repeated with a small nod. 

 

“The apartment is shitty,” Inseong told him, but Sanghyuk didn’t know what ‘shitty’ meant and it was written all over his face. “Shitty, shitty,” Inseong repeated, switching between English and Korean before going back to English. “So the shower doesn’t work. Youngbin and I are waiting for someone to come fix it, but nobody has come for about two weeks.”

 

“Oh,” Sanghyuk mumbled, letting all of the words completely process and translate in his head. “So, you wash in… big waters... too? Lakes!”

 

Inseong laughed again. “Chanhee’s family lets us in often, too, but it’s nice to use a lake when the weather’s nice.”

 

Sanghyuk dunked his head under the water again, emerging only to run his hands back over his wet hair to brush it out of his face. As he felt the water running down his neck, he left his body tip backwards until he was just floating on the surface of the water, staring up at the sky through the parting of the tree canopies surrounding the shoreline of the lake.

 

“... Sanghyuk?”

 

“Did I ever tell you what my dream is?” Sanghyuk asked in Korean, blinking up at the stars. He found dozens of constellations he recognized instantly, and remembered the stories behind every single one. 

 

Sanghyuk could hear Inseong shifting around in the water before he answered. “No, I don’t think you did.”

 

Sanghyuk smiled, waving his arms around in the water to keep him floating steadily. “My dream is to graduate college.”

 

“You… wait-”

 

“It’s stupid, right? I know I don’t need college, but it’s something I’ve always wanted. I want to be able to hold up my diploma and brag that I have a degree. I want to get a job because of a merit I have, not be denied because of the ones I don’t. I want to earn the most money I can and buy my family a house, a big house. Nothing too big, but big enough that Sangchul and Sangmi can have their own rooms and we can all have mattresses. Oh… a mattress sounds really nice. But, y’know, I want to have my own phone and nice clothes that are all neatly hung up in a closet. I want to have several pairs of shoes that aren’t falling apart, and I want to be able to get food without worrying if I’ll be able to take the bus home the same night.”

 

“That sounds really… simple,” Inseong mumbled, and Sanghyuk could feel him floating the same way he was not too far away, staring up at the same exact sky. 

 

“But it’s not, is it?”

 

“It’s not,” Inseong agreed quietly. “College itself costs money, and unless you get a full ride, debt is a bitch. But even beyond that, you need money for food, books, travel, and everything else. For that you need a job, but it’s not like you can work by yourself for a year at minimum wage and earn enough for that, nevermind how much you’ll end up spending on bills and food, especially when you have a family of four. And for that to even happen, you need to get a job, but every job takes advantage of people like us and we get less than we work for more often than not.”

 

Sanghyuk sighed, feeling his body sink into the water slightly. “Life is a bitch.”

 

“Life is a bitch,” Inseong repeated.

 

---

 

“SANGHYUUUUUKKKKKKKK!”

 

Sanghyuk sat up from his bed to a sharp pain in his stomach as Sangmi jumped on him. He rolled onto his side, coughing away his sleep and groaning away the pain. 

 

“Aw man, what the hell?” he groaned, running his hand over his messed up hair and closing his eyes, wishing for even five more minutes of sleep. He had no idea how much he got last night, but it had definitely been more than he was used to.

 

“Sanghyuk!” Sangchul called, and suddenly there was another ten year old child jumping on top of him. He lurched forward and threw the boy off of him, only to watch through lidded eyes as Sangchul rolled over and sat right back up. “Sanghyuk someone left a bike in front of our house.”

 

Sanghyuk yawned. “Yeah. Me. It’s mine. Can I-”

 

“Where the fuck did you get a bike?!” 

 

Sanghyuk groaned as he fell back on the blankets. “Sangchul watch your mouth. If mom hears that I’ll get in trouble.”

 

“What was that?”

 

“Nothing!” Sanghyuk defended, shooting straight up at the sound of his mom’s voice. “He said nothing.”

 

“I said ‘fuck.’”

 

“Sangchul I swear to god-”

 

“Sangchul, say that again and I’ll wash your mouth out with soap. Sanghyuk, where did you get a bike ?! Did you steal it?”

 

Sanghyuk groaned, covering his head with his arms. “I didn’t steal it,” he whined. “It’s mine.”

 

“Did your boyfriend give it to you?”

 

Sanghyuk shot up, once again, from bed and sent a hard glare at Sangchul, who sent one right back. “Oh you little-”

 

“Boyfriend?”

 

“Inseong!”

 

“Nobody!” Sanghyuk said, but he was too late. He glared at Sangchul again, pointing a finger at him. “I wonder how much I could make selling you for parts.”

 

Sangmi moved forward to slap Sangchul on the back of the head, and she really didn’t hold back. “Taeyang said he would feed us to his dogs if we said anything!”

 

“Taeyang doesn’t have any dogs!” Sangchul claimed, though he had no proof.

 

“He looks like the type of person that has killer dogs.”

 

“Who… who is Taeyang? And Inseong?” his mom asked, blinking between her three children who all sat on the floor in vicarious states of disarray.

 

Sanghyuk swallowed, running his hand over the back of his neck. “Uhm… well…”

 

“It was so cool!” Sangmi jumped in, waving her arms as she decided this was her story to explain. “Sanghyuk showed up at school with this high school kid who wasn’t even wearing a uniform and he just told us to run and so we ran home and then later he came back with a guy but I didn’t see him but Sangchul said he was really pretty and now I wish I met him but on the bike it says IS and SH so I think Inseong gave it to him which is really cute and-”

 

“Breathe, leech,” Sangchul demanded, earning him another light smack on the back of his head, this time from their mom, who in turn looked to Sanghyuk who had literally no idea what to say at this point.

 

“Uhm… so Taeyang is a high school kid I met at the internet cafe,” he began slowly, trying not to give away the fact that he had spent money on him before, specifically cheap dry cleaning for a ruined uniform and some cheap food. “He’s nice. And uhm… Inseong is a boy I met at the library-”

 

“Your boyfriend?”

 

“He is not my boyfriend.”

 

“It’s okay if he is.”

 

“But he… isn’t,” Sanghyuk continued, staring up at his mom with what he hoped was a convincing look. 

 

“Don’t couples do that whole carving their initials thing, though? He gave you a bike !” Sangmi pointed out.

 

“He didn’t give it to me!” Sanghyuk defended, turning to her with a pointed look. “We found it! At… the… landfill. And we… put it together ourselves and… yeah so I didn’t steal it! It’s mine and the only reason it has his initials is because he was the one who painted it so he- hey why are you ganging up on me?! I thought you liked my friends!”

 

“I like Taeyang,” Sangmi confessed at the same time as Sangchul said “I like Inseong.”

 

“Good, then don’t tattle on me. Brats,” Sanghyuk scolded, pushing himself out of bed. He turned to his mom. “I’m… gonna go to the internet cafe. I need to check my email and maybe hand in some new applications.”

 

“Is Taeyang gonna be there?!” Sangchul more or less screamed. 

 

Sanghyuk spun around with a jump, holding his hands up defensively as he moved around his mom. “I don’t know? It’s Saturday, so he has no reason to skip school, so probably not.”

 

“Tell him I said hi.”

 

“I don’t know what part of what I just said you didn’t understand, but okay.”

 

---

 

 Taeyang was not there, but surprisingly Youngkyun was. Specifically, Youngkyun was leaning against the wall outside of the cafe. Sanghyuk blinked as he approached, rubbing the tips of his fingers against the strap of his backpack hanging over his shoulders. 

 

“Hi,” he greeted quietly, still somehow startling the kid. He bowed his head slightly and moved his hand to wave at him. “Are you… were you waiting for someone? Or are you-”

 

“I was waiting for you actually,” Youngkyun confessed, tipping his head down at the ground. 

 

Sanghyuk blinked. “Oh. Okay. Any… reason?” he asked, but Youngkyun seemed a bit too timid to reply without breaking out from stress or anxiety. Sanghyuk nodded to himself. “Okay, do you wanna come inside with me? That’s what Taeyang and I usually do. He sits and plays games while I do whatever I need to do, and when he wants to talk he talks.”

 

Youngkyun nodded, and Sanghyuk smiled and led him into the internet cafe. He really really didn’t have the money to be paying for Youngkyun’s time right now, but he was only paying for an hour so he supposed another 1500 won wouldn’t be the death of him. He set up his computer and opened his email immediately, going to work while simultaneously trying to figure out why Youngkyun came to him, of all people.

 

It was clearly about Taeyang, that wasn’t hard to guess. Youngkyun had only met Sanghyuk once, but Taeyang must have said a thing or two about him and how they met. Did Taeyang mention he was a good person to talk to about things? If so, Sanghyuk was glad Youngkyun came to him instead of some freak or someone who wouldn’t listen. He liked Youngkyun.

 

“Taeyang… Taeyang said you were uhm.. good… about listening to people,” Youngkyun mumbled, clearly embarrassed.

 

Sanghyuk smiled. “I’d hope so, otherwise I’d be confused why he stays to talk to me all the time.” He pulled up another file on his screen before turning his head to give Youngkyun his attention. “Why? Did you want to talk to something you can’t talk about with another adult?”

 

Youngkyun dipped his head. “Ki- kind of?”

 

Sanghyuk nodded, turning back to his computer. “Okay. Just tell me when you know what you want to say. I won’t sit here pressuring you to say something you’re not ready to say.”

 

Sure enough, Youngkyun turned back to his computer and stayed silent. Sanghyuk focused on reformatting his resume which wasn’t much in the first place, before going through his email again. Every now and then, though, he’d let his eyes flicker to Youngkyun’s screen to see if he was actually busying himself with anything, or if he was using it as a distraction to think. Sanghyuk wasn’t surprised to see his computer on the same screen every time he looked over.

 

“Sanghyuk, I’m gay.”

 

The confession was rather sudden, and definitely not what he was used to after dealing with Taeyang all the time, but he didn’t let the shock or hesitation show on his face. After all, he was only shocked by the sudden outburst, not the fact that Youngkyun was gay. That part was kind of obvious. 

 

He turned completely away from his computer to face Youngkyun. “Me too,” was his answer, which caused Youngkyun to look up at him with wide eyes and slightly parted lips. “When did you realize?”

 

Letting Youngkyun just ramble at this point would most likely be inefficient. He had probably been doing that for a while before coming to Sanghyuk, so it clearly wasn’t helping. Sanghyuk, instead, would try and organize his thoughts from an unbiased point of view.

 

“I- uhm,” Youngkyun stuttered. “Last year.”

 

Sanghyuk nodded. “I realized when I was in my second year of high school because a girl flashed her tits at me as a joke but I was kind of disgusted. I’m pretty sure straight guys would just drool.” If Youngkyun was coming to him, that meant he probably hadn’t gone to anyone else. Sanghyuk could only guess the boy had nothing to compare his own experience to. “How did you realize?”

 

“Pass.”

 

Sanghyuk smirked, nodding. “I like that. Okay! Doesn’t really matter how you know, honestly, as long as you know. And you don’t even have to be one hundred percent sure. It’s sexuality and it’s confusing.”

 

“Does your family know?” Youngkyun almost whispered, and Sanghyuk realized maybe this wasn’t about Taeyang. Maybe this was about something much more serious.

 

“Yeah,” Sanghyuk nodded. “But my mom was okay with it, and I made sure my little siblings understood the concept early enough to accept it without prejudice.”

 

“Mine doesn’t.”

 

“Then don’t rush it,” Sanghyuk advised, and that seemed to catch his attention. “Telling your family is hard. I don’t know what yours is like, but every family is different. Nobody can really be the judge of it except you. You know the best way to tell them and when to tell them, even if you haven’t figured it out yet. If it doesn’t feel like the right moment, it isn’t. It’s something you have to work up your courage to say, and that’s not easy, and just remember that nothing is more important than knowing you respect yourself. If nobody else does, you should still respect yourself and say you’re proud of who you are, because otherwise standing up for yourself becomes impossible.”

 

Youngkyun swallowed, scrunching his shoulders up.

 

“Sorry, was that too much?”

 

“No!” Youngkyun denied quickly. “I mean… I’ve just never… had someone actually care about it. I asked online and people said to just come out and say it, but you sound like you’ve actually put thought into it. You actually care about it, or at least it seems like you do.”

 

“Because I do,” Sanghyuk told him with a smile. “Just like I look after Taeyang because I like him, I’ll look after you, too, because you’re a pretty decent kid from what I can tell. I’m not just going to give you half-assed advice like an asshole.”

 

But honestly, why hadn’t Youngkyun gone to Inseong? Sanghyuk was almost positive Inseong was gay even if he wasn’t completely sure, but couldn’t at least Inseong tell Youngkyun was? Wait, no, they had talked about it. Inseong definitely knew. So why hadn’t he brought it up with Youngkyun before? What about Chanhee? Did he not know either? From that one outing, Sanghyuk was almost sure Chanhee knew, too.

 

“Did you know?”

 

Sanghyuk smiled. “That you were gay? I suspected,” he confessed, finding no harm in it. He smiled again. If Inseong and Chanhee really didn’t know, Sanghyuk was willing to bet everything he owned, however little it may be, that Youngkyun hadn’t talked to anyone about Taeyang yet. “Were my siblings okay with you and Taeyang the other day? Sorry about the mix up, by the way.”

 

“I know that wasn’t a mix up.”

 

“It was totally a mix up,” Sanghyuk lied, still smiling to himself.

 

Youngkyun sighed. “Sangchul said something about eating Taeyang’s dogs, so Taeyang threatened to have his dogs eat him instead.” Sanghyuk was going to give Taeyang the biggest hug ever for that one. “I like your siblings, they’re funny.”

 

“Thanks!” Sanghyuk beamed. “But I wasn’t really wondering about my siblings.”

 

Youngkyun’s face instantly lit up. “Oh.”

 

Sanghyuk smiled. “No pressure, Youngkyun,” he assured him, moving back to his computer to print the reformatted resume. “I have to go find work, now. If you ever need my advice and you don’t think you’ll find me here, just come to my house. You know where it is,” he told him with a smile, getting up from his seat. “And I mean it. The whole respecting yourself thing. Hold your head up a bit higher and straighten your shoulders. You look more confident, and psyching yourself up will make you feel more confident. Marni Amsellem came up with that one, in case you’re wondering,” he rambled before moving over to Youngkyun, pulling a black hair tie off of his wrist with his teeth and grabbing Youngkyun’s hair without even asking. He pulled a bit on the top back and carefully tied it. He silently thanked Sangmi for the knowledge of how to tie someone else's hair, before stepping back. “And keep your hair up. Your hair is nice, but it hides your face, and you’re good looking. Again, be confident about yourself. You’d be surprised.”

 

And with that he grabbed his backpack and walked out, ready to apply for countless new jobs, half of which would never even consider him. But at least now he had a bike, and he could confidently say he felt a little bit more sure about himself even with this being his only new notable merit. It didn’t matter if it was small or pointless, as long as it made him feel more sure of himself. And it did. 

Chapter Text

“Did you know that only two percent of the global population has green eyes?”

 

Inseong laughed, folding his hands behind his head as he adjusted his position to be more comfortable. Grass blades stuck out of the ground between the two of them, waving around in the gentle breeze and tickling Sanghyuk’s bare arms. The dark sky, illuminated by twinkling stars and the faint glow of a crescent moon, bowed over them like a shadow, but it was somehow still light. 

 

“Where did you learn that one?” Inseong finally asked, his voice carried by the breeze.

 

“Some random Wikipedia article,” Sanghyuk confessed with a snort. “But I thought it was interesting, because you don’t really hear a lot of people saying green eyes are special, but I think that makes them pretty special.”

 

“You’re weird.”

 

“You’re just not existential enough,” Sanghyuk argued, silently wondering if he had used that word right and hoping to whatever gods were there that he had, because if Inseong corrected him on something so simple his pride would be gone. 

 

“Hey, did any of those places email you back?”

 

Sanghyuk sighed, deflating into the ground his back rested again. “No,” he mumbled with a pout. “But I’ll keep looking. Some place has to be willing to hire me.”

 

“What about the library?”

 

Sanghyuk blinked before turning his head to the side, matching Inseong’s movements. “What do you mean? They’re not hiring.”

 

“No, but the girl behind the counter slacks. Think about it. She could get fired or laid off and still have a million opportunities. You could walk in there and point out how disorganized everything is considering you know nearly every book in the place.”

 

“An exaggeration,” Sanghyuk pointed out.

 

“But it’s true!” Inseong insisted strongly. “You’re there all the time and you know more than any librarian ever would. Ask. Beg on your knees if you have to. It’s what people without many opportunities like us do. I think they’d consider it.”

 

Sanghyuk nodded, turning back to face the sky. “Hey, where do you work? I don’t think you ever told me.”

 

“Oh really?” Inseong asked, shifting on the ground again. “I work in translation. I translate comics and subtitles for a somewhat shitty pay, but at least I get paid to do it. I get paid a lot for the translations I do, but they struggle to get me a decent amount of work. I think I’m going to apply at the convenience store tomorrow.”

 

“How ordinary ,” Sanghyuk said, using the word Inseong had taught him in English. “I mean seriously. A library? Cheap translation firms that give you the scraps of what they can find? A convenience store? Wow, we really are living normal and boring lives.”

 

“At least we’re living,” Inseong consoled. “And as long as we are, we can always try to make things better.”

 

“Making things better is hard.”

 

“So is living, Sanghyuk. And we’re already living so we might as well make it better as we go.”

 

---

 

“I can’t believe the library didn’t hire me!” Sanghyuk complained loudly. Taeyang snorted by his side and Sangchul just shrugged as they walked.

 

“Get a different job.”

 

“Yeah,” Taeyang agreed. “Didn’t you apply at the library before?”

 

“I did but they didn’t hire me.”

 

“So…” Taeyang began, furrowing his brows, “why would they hire you now?”

 

“Because I’m smart and cute and every library needs a cute desk person dammit!”

 

Sangmi pushed Sangchul out of the way, grabbing the sleeve of Taeyang’s uniform to pull him down to ear level. “Who told Sanghyuk he was cute?”

 

Taeyang snickered while Sanghyuk gaped at the group of them. Taeyang looked at Sanghyuk before turning back to Sangmi, covering his mouth like what he said next would be some big secret. “Probably Inseong,” he said loud enough to hear anyways. 

 

“First of all!” 

 

“Here we go.”

 

“I am adorable! I am so cute you just can’t handle it! Second of al l ! Never you mind about Inseong. He’s none of your business.”

 

“Why because you love him?” Sangchul teased childishly. Sanghyuk glared at him.

 

“Wait, no, I want to know, too,” Taeyang interrupted. “What’s going on with you and Inseong?”

 

Sanghyuk shifted to glare at Taeyang instead. “Shouldn’t you be after school studying or something? Go bother someone else.”

 

“Don’t avoid my question.”

 

“You avoided mine when I asked why you came to pick up my siblings with me!” Sanghyuk pointed out, exasperated. “But fine!” he agreed, throwing his hands up dramatically. “There’s nothing going on between Inseong and I. We’re just two nerds bonding over our nerd culture and terrible circumstances. What about you and Youngkyun, huh?!”

 

“Wait who’s Youngkyun?!” Sangmi jumped in immediately, zoning in on Taeyang like a hawk. “Who is he?”

 

“None of your business!” Taeyang stated without hesitation.

 

“Youngkyun is his crush at school,” Sanghyuk offered, earning a hard slap on the back of his head which only caused his siblings to laugh. “What? So you can joke about Inseong and I even though we aren’t a thing, but I can’t joke about your obvious crush?!”

 

“You may not be a thing but you have a thing for him,” Taeyang offered with a nonchalant shrug.

 

“That was too confusing,” Sangmi mumbled, but Sangchul just puffed out his chest.

 

“I understood it! It means Sanghyuk wants him and Inseong to date.”

 

“That’s not what that meant,” Sanghyuk quickly denied. “Hey! Mind your own business you two! You’re getting nosy lately.”

 

“Well you never have friends so we’ve never had the chance to be nosy before,” Sangmi reminded him, and he couldn’t honestly argue with that point. 

 

“I’m not his friend, I’m accompanying him because I need a favor,” Taeyang corrected, causing Sanghyuk to roll his eyes.

 

“So our relationship is just favor after favor then? Acquaintances with benefits?”

 

“Take that disgusting statement back right now.”

 

“I wanna be acquaintances with benefits!” Sangchul announced proudly.

 

“No, you don’t,” Taeyang assured him. 

 

The walk home was as exhausting as usual, and it got even worse when they got to the house, but Sanghyuk somehow managed to persuade the ten year olds to give him and Tayeang some space to talk by themselves. They waited a few minutes once the two had gone inside, sitting idly on the front step to make sure they weren’t eavesdropping. 

 

“So what’s up?” Sanghyuk asked, tilting his head.

 

Taeyang sighed. “I need a favor. Like a big one.”

 

“Okay, depends on what it is, though. I’m not exactly capable of everything in the world right now,” Sanghyuk joked. He propped his legs up, resting his arms on his knees. “But shoot.”

 

Taeyang sighed, bringing his hands up to his hair and ruffling it. “I got myself into a… predicament.”

 

“Well that can’t be good.”

 

“At school.”

 

“Even worse.”

 

Taeyang sighed, sparing a half-a-second glare at him before hanging his head again. “ Please Sanghyuk. I just… I ditched a lot of school. I skipped a lot of classes, but I don’t want to be held back a year. I think staying in that school would be worse than anything else I can imagine. I can’t be held back another year.”

 

“Well, not to be the bearer of bad news, but you did skip several days of school. And I mean a lot.”

 

“I know ,” Taeyang groaned, obviously not happy with Sanghyuk’s reaction, but then again Sanghyuk didn’t exist to please him.

 

“Before you ask for this favor, I hope you know part of me agreeing, if I do, will be a deal that you stop skipping school so often, right?”

 

Taeyang hung his head so low it touched his knees now. “Fine.”

 

“I know you don’t want to go because of so many fucking reasons, but the point stands that you have a record at school. You need to go to school to pass classes and at least graduate. Fuck everything after, but you should at least get that far. You’re no star studier, and you wouldn’t know where to begin to study on your own, so skipping this much school and hoping to make it all up this easily isn’t an option you can-”

 

“I know where to start,” Taeyang confessed, pulling himself up and giving Sanghyuk his full attention. “I want you to tutor me.”

 

“Wha- what?” Sanghyuk asked, actually caught off guard by Taeyang’s favor. He was just rambling about responsibility, hoping to drill some kind of lesson in his head, but Taeyang was asking him to tutor him? “Why me?”

 

“You’re easily the smartest person I know. You don’t have a job, so you can teach me longer than anyone else can. My parents wouldn’t pay hundreds of dollars for a real tutor, and I know you’ll explain things in a way I can understand them. Obviously I’d ask you.”

 

“You actually want to study, though?” Sanghyuk asked, still surprised by the fact that Taeyang asked . “Because seriously I was just lecturing because that’s the responsible thing to do, but you seriously want me to tutor you?”

 

Taeyang sighed and nodded. “I begged my teachers. I asked them, if I can take all of the midterms and pass every single one with a decent grade, would they drop the demerits and punishment from skipping. They agreed.”

 

“Your… midterms ?!”

 

“I think they agreed because they don’t think it’s possible, but Sanghyuk please I just- I wasn’t thinking, okay? Next semester you’ll never see me at the internet cafe during school hours, I promise. Just… please please help me.”

 

Studying for midterms was a lot. However, tutoring someone for midterms who had barely shown up to class was about a hundred times more difficult. Plus, it wasn’t like Taeyang could just memorize things instantly like Sanghyuk could. Not to mention midterms were in two weeks. 

 

But the fact remained that Sanghyuk still didn’t have a job, and no matter how hard he looked, no place would accept him. The least he could do, now, was help someone who still had a chance, and who had never been more honest and sincere before.

 

“Condition one,” Sanghyuk began sternly, watching the way Taeyang’s entire face lit up with shock, like he didn’t actually expect Sanghyuk to agree. “You get five skip days next semester, no more, understood?”

 

“Ye- yes!” 

 

“Condition two, you help me walk Sangchul and Sangmi home from school every single day for the next two weeks, and we’ll go to the library from there. Every day. Got it?”

 

“Yes!” 

 

“Condition three, never do something you think you’ll have to kneel for later, ever . Got it?”

 

“Ye- what?” Taeyang began, but he paused, looking up to Sanghyuk with nothing but confusion.

 

“I know you can do stuff if you try,” Sanghyuk assured him. “That includes studying, even if you don’t like it. But you have to show those teachers who clearly don’t respect you that you’re capable of doing anything, and that you won’t become someone without opportunities. So never do something that you’ll have to apologize on your knees for later if you can do something about it now.”

 

“You’re seriously going to help me?”

 

Sanghyuk nodded, head held high. “I just need you to figure out what subjects will be on your midterm, and what level you’re at in each class. If you can get a rough outline of what the class went over, too, that might be helpful, but if not we’ll work without it. I’ll make you a fucking genius.”

 

---

 

“Inseong is meeting us at the library today.”

 

What ?! Why does Taeyang get to see him and we don’t?!” Sangmi whined, gaping at the two boys as they approached Sanghyuk’s house. 

 

“Because Taeyang needs to study English, and Inseong is fluent,” Sanghyuk pointed out matter-of-factly. “I call it taking advantage of my resources.”

 

“Sounds more to me like taking advantage of Inseong,” Sangchul mumbled.

 

Sanghyuk looked down at him. “That’s what I said. Taking advantage of my resources. Inseong happens to be one of them.”

 

Taeyang held his hand up to his mouth, stifling a laugh. It had been almost a week since Sanghyuk began tutoring Taeyang, and if he was being completely honest he was exhausted. They didn’t always study at the library because Sanghyuk was an advocate for changing your studying environment to find what works best, and he knew Taeyang’s best place probably wasn’t the library, but that’s where the books were. They studied at the library, at the field he and Inseong had nearly fallen asleep at after swimming at the lake, at his house while he simultaneously helped his siblings with homework, and even on the front steps of his house.

 

During the day, while Taeyang was at school, Sanghyuk put together lists of what they needed to study. He outlined information that needed to be gone over and did any research he could at the library or the internet café. And in between doing that, he applied for more jobs, none of which responded. Then, he and Taeyang walked Sangchul and Sangmi home before choosing their new place to study. They went at it for hours, even though it was definitely excruciating for Taeyang. But luckily, Taeyang had enough money from his parents to afford healthy snacks because he read somewhere they helped studying. Sanghyuk made sure they took constant but short breaks, and he made Taeyang write and rewrite everything he taught him. And every single day, Sanghyuk made Taeyang recite information back to him until he had it in his brain. He taught him stupid songs to help him remember things, which he made his siblings learn too so he wasn’t the only one making an ass of himself, and he used mnemonics to help Taeyang remember more obscure things. For really important things, he made up stories around them that were so memorable and stupid Taeyang wouldn’t forget them. 

 

Taeyang was making incredible progress, and Sanghyuk had a feeling he had never put this much undivided effort into anything before. But the strange thing was that Taeyang never complained. He always seemed perfectly fine with picking up Sanghyuk’s siblings, and he was always set up to study before Sanghyuk. He whined about the little things, like ‘this doesn’t make sense’ and ‘this is stupid’ or ‘this trick is dumb and won’t help why would you even think of this.’ But Sanghyuk had a feeling Taeyang was somewhat proud of himself for his progress, and that alone made the experience more enjoyable. 

 

“Hyuk, who’s the guy at our house?”

 

“Huh?” Sanghyuk asked, blinking himself from his dazed thoughts and looking up at the same time as Taeyang, who seemed equally distracted by his conversation with Sangmi about what she should look for in a guy. Sanghyuk appreciated Taeyang making the point that if a guy was bullying her, that didn’t mean he liked her and that was stupid. He also told Sangchul to be better than that, and Sangchul had put his hands up in defense and muttered ‘understood.’ Sanghyuk didn’t remember paying attention to any of this, but nonetheless he could picture it happening in his mind from just a few seconds ago. 

 

Sanghyuk smiled, but he was sure Taeyang had gone rigid beside him. “Youngkyun, what are you doing here?”

 

“Is he here for Taeyang?” Sangchul asked, only to be immediately threatened by the boy to keep his mouth shut. 

 

“Oh… Taeyang… what are you- sorry. I didn’t know, I can-”

 

“It’s okay!” Sanghyuk assured him quickly, jogging over to meet him while Taeyang took his sweet ass time. “I’m helping Taeyang study for midterms this week and next, so he’s always with me now. We can take a walk if you want?”

 

“Wait, he comes to you just like I do?” Taeyang asked, gaping.

 

Sanghyuk looked over his shoulder. “Yeah, because you talked me up.” Then, he stuck out his tongue and winked. “I’m so helpful!”

 

“Youngkyun you look cool today,” Sangmi complimented despite the fact that Youngkyun didn’t look any different than he normally did, and Youngkyun instantly became a stuttering mess, clearly unsure how to interact with kids. 

 

“Uhm, thanks,” he managed. “But seriously it’s not important I can just-”

 

Sanghyuk had a distinct feeling that Taeyang standing right behind him was not of any help in getting Youngkyun to relax. He looked the boy over. He had changed from his school uniform to look a little more comfortable, but his hair was still hanging in front of his face. 

 

If he had to take a guess, and that’s all he could do, he would say Youngkyun just needed to get away. His hair wasn’t up, but then again Sanghyuk had no idea if he had been wearing it up to begin with. And he was serious about how good it made him look. So maybe Youngkyun needed to just be around someone who could understand him for now, and maybe Sanghyuk wasn’t the only person that could fit into that category.

 

“Hey, you’re in Taeyang’s class, right? Or at least you study the same stuff as him, right?”

 

Youngkyun paused in what he was saying, face going pale as his eyes flickered to said boy behind him. “Uhhh,” he began, reaching his hand to rub at his neck. “Ye- yeah-”

 

“Great!” Sanghyuk announced with a smile. “You’re not busy right now are you? Because Taeyang and I were heading to the library to meet Inseong to study,” Sanghyuk explained, turning to face Taeyang as well. “But he has no idea what he needs to study for English, and Inseong is gonna be tutoring him for that. Do you wanna come? Please? I need help figuring out what you learned, and you’re perfect for the job! It’d be really helpful.”

 

Youngkyun stood perfectly still with wide eyes facing the ground. “I- uhm… I guess,” he agreed quietly, but that was all he needed. 

 

“Yay! Mi, Chul, go inside and do your own homework. If you need help that badly, you know where to find us, but don’t come just because you get bored, kay?”

 

Sangchul groaned. “Why do you get to have all the fun and-”

 

“It’s not really fun, it’s just studying,” Taeyang mumbled.

 

Sangmi furrowed her eyebrows and glared at him. “Oh, so now since Youngkyun is here you’ll be shy and awkward? Get a grip Taeyang.”

 

Sanghyuk couldn’t help but laugh at that one, amusing himself at Taeyang’s expense as he ushered his siblings inside, making sure they were really inside before gesturing for the two highschoolers to follow him. Just as they started walking, Sanghyuk pulled his bag in front of him, reaching into the very front pocket and pulling out a simple black hairband. He handed it to Youngkyun without explanation as they walked, and Youngkyun took it with only a little hesitation. 

 

The three walked in complete silence, but he suspected most of that silence came from Taeyang watching the interaction between Youngkyun and himself, wondering what the fuck Youngkyun needed a hair tie for. 

 

Youngkyun exhaled before reaching back for his hair, pulling the front strands out of his face and combing it back until he could tie a small ponytail at the back of his head. The majority of his hair still hung down loosely, but the top of his head and the strands that always covered his face were now pulled back away, neatly tucked into a hair band. Sanghyuk didn’t say anything about the look, and neither did Taeyang (most likely he had already passed out from a heart attack and Sanghyuk just hadn’t cared enough to check).

 

It had been a silent walk to the library, but Sanghyuk enjoyed the silence whether or not the two others in his group felt the same or not. 

 

“Oh?” Inseong asked, perking up on the library’s front steps as he saw their group, one person larger than expected. He then noticed his hair, smiling. “Oh. Hi Kyun.”

 

Youngkyun shrunk under the attention. “Hi- hey.”

 

“He’s gonna help us study!” Sanghyuk announced, having had plenty of time during the walk to figure out exactly what he wanted to do. “So Youngkyun is gonna help me figure out exactly what Taeyang needs to learn. You’ll teach him grammar, and Youngkyun will teach him vocab.”

 

“Wait, what ?!” Taeyang finally chimed in, pushing Sanghyuk’s shoulder back so he would face him. “You said he was helping you figure out what I needed to study.”

 

Sanghyuk smirked. “Yeah, but if he just sits in the corner with me the whole time, you’ll get distracted. So he’ll teach you. But I’m going to turn it into a game!”

 

“You’re a child,” Taeyang nearly hissed.

 

Sanghyuk stuck his tongue out at him. “So what? I’m in charge here so I can do whatever I want. You-” he pointed to Taeyang- “have no choice. Youngkyun will just go along because he doesn’t want to be rude. So here’s how today is gonna go.”

 

“Oh jeez.”

 

“Youngkyun, when you teach him vocab you need to drill it into his head over and over again until he knows it all by heart. Taeyang, every time you translate a word wrong, you need to compliment Youngkyun.”

 

Taeyang’s jaw actually fell open, and Sanghyuk could hear Inseong stifling a laugh. “How the fuck is that supposed to- why would he- why would I -”

 

“Because I want to make sure Youngkyun knows all of his best qualities, but it doesn’t have the same effect if I tell him. This is much better,” Sanghyuk explained simply before spinning around to face Youngkyun whose face had gone completely white. “And you, Youngkyun. Every time you stutter out of nervousness you have to compliment Taeyang.”

 

Why ?” Taeyang asked, mouth agape.

 

Sanghyuk smiled. “Because I think it’s funny. Again, you literally have no choice. Are you two ready to study? I think it’s going to be interesting,” he continued, wrapping one arm around each of them and guiding them into the library.

 

---

 

Inseong sighed, resting his head on his hands and looking to the next table over at Youngkyun and Taeyang. “I have to admit,” he began in a whisper, “this was a really good idea.”

 

“I thought Youngkyun was going to never speak to me again for this,” Sanghyuk confessed with a quiet snicker. “But his hair is still pulled up, and I haven’t heard him stutter in a while.”

 

“It was pretty genius. The more Taeyang compliments him the less he wants to and feels the need to stutter.”

 

“You give me too much credit,” Sanghyuk admitted with a laugh. “I just wanted to embarrass them. Like, yeah, I totally wanted Youngkyun to hear this shit from someone he clearly likes, but my main goal was to make them embarrass themselves. In a good way, though.”

 

“I still can’t believe that Youngkyun just came to you for something,” Inseong muttered, turning his attention completely back to Sanghyuk. “I never knew that.”

 

Sanghyuk shrugged. “I guess Taeyang talked him into it.”

 

“Why do you do it?”

 

“Hmm? You mean look after them?” Sanghyuk asked, blinking. 

 

“Yeah,” Inseong confirmed with a nod. “But… I mean not why specifically , but why do you feel the need to?”

 

Sanghyuk sighed, a sad smile coming to his face. “Well, okay,” he relented, sucking in a breath so he could just let it all out at once. “Sangmi and Sangchul never knew our dad, but I did. He was the worst. He took my mom’s hard worked money to gamble and chain smoke and forgot he even had a kid half of the time. I know my mom wanted a divorce, but the problem was that we just couldn’t afford one. My dad literally wasted all of the money on himself, and my mom and I were left with hardly anything. I have one specific memory of my mom and I sitting outside on the streets begging for spare change for a meal that night, and yet my dad came home drunk off his ass. I screamed at him until he threw me out of the house that night, but it’s not like that was really anything new for me. And eventually, my mom was pregnant again. I knew she didn’t want to be, but she was.

 

“I got worried because she couldn’t afford to take care of me well as it was, but another kid? Then she found out she was having twins and I- I guess I just lost it. I didn’t want them growing up with the same life I did. I screamed at my dad every single night until one day he just left, saying he would never come back. My mom cried and thanked me that night. But about two weeks later my dad came back while my mom was asleep. I… I did something really bad.”

 

Sanghyuk sighed, looking over briefly to check that Taeyang and Youngkyun were minding their own business. “I bashed a rock against my head and lips and ripped my clothes. I rolled in dirt to dirty myself up before calling the cops. Then I went up to my dad and started to hit him. He hit me back, obviously, but I don’t even know if he knew I was his son. He was too high. The cops came, took him away, questioned me, and I never saw him again. I’m not sure if I got him arrested or if he just decided that coming back was too much trouble, but he hasn’t come back since.”

 

“You… you-”

 

“I faked a fight and claimed self defense to get a charge against my own dad, yeah,” Sanghyuk confirmed for him with a nod. “I just… I didn’t want Sangmi and Sangchul to ever have to go through anything I did, y’know? I figured ‘if my life is already wasted, I might as well use it to make sure my siblings don’t turn out the same way.’ And… I don’t know. I just don’t like the idea of anyone being desperate or in a situation they don’t want to be in, because I know what that feels like and it sucks. So if I can help, just by being there, I try to.”

 

Inseong licked his lips, staring down at the table. Sanghyuk wasn’t nervous, though. He knew Inseong wouldn't judge him for doing something so horrible, and he wasn’t even ashamed of doing it. But admitting something that deep was scary no matter what.

 

“Y’know, you and I may not have many opportunities to make our lives what we want them to be, which is why we have to work so hard and struggle so much,” Inseong mumbled, looking over to Taeyang and Youngkyun. “But I think you’ve given your siblings, Taeyang, and Youngkyun a dozen more opportunities just by being there for them. And that’s pretty incredible.”

Chapter Text

Sanghyuk flipped through the book in front of him, smiling at nothing on the pages, but rather what was on his mind. 

 

Yesterday, both Taeyang and Youngkyun had taken their midterms. They wouldn’t know the results for a few weeks, but just having the testing out of the way was a relief on it’s own. But more so than that, today Sanghyuk had received an email. It was for some shitty run down market in the next town over that he had applied for. The pay wasn’t great by any means, and the work looked terrible, but it was a job offer. Sanghyuk had checked too late, way past office hours, so tomorrow he would send an email back accepting the position, or at least accepting the invite for an interview. 

 

Sanghyuk was finally going to get a job. He couldn’t wait to tell Inseong and see the smile on his face, and though that was a weird first thought to pop into his mind, it was what Sanghyuk found himself smiling at. 

 

“Excuse me?”

 

Sanghyuk looked up to see a woman with a neat shirt fitted on her body, elegantly tucked into a skirt. She wore heels and a fancy necklace, not to mention her hair was done almost professionally. Instantly, Sanghyuk pushed his chair back, standing straight before bowing to her. It didn’t matter who she was or the fact that Sanghyuk didn’t yet have any of that information, she looked important so Sanghyuk would suck up to her. 

 

“Hello,” Sanghyuk introduced quietly. “I’m sorry, but I don’t believe we’ve met before.”

 

“No, I don’t think we have. You just matched a description I was given. Can I sit with you?”

 

Who the fuck gave someone who looked this well off and superior my description ? Sanghyuk thought to himself before nodding, gesturing for her to take the seat across from him before resettling in her seat.

 

“What book are you reading?” she asked, and Sanghyuk could see the look of genuine interest on her face. Whether or not she was being fake for courtesy’s sake or not, her kind smile was reassuring enough to make Sanghyuk not care. 

 

“Oh,” he mumbled, turning the book around for her to see. “It’s about theoretical physics.”

 

The woman’s eyebrows raised on her head as she looked from the book back to him. “Why are you reading about theoretical physics?”

 

Sanghyuk shrugged. “I find it interesting. The concept behind it is profound and scientifically grounded, yet it’s completely predicted by probability and chance.”

 

The woman smiled, nodding before looking back up to him again and sliding the book back over. “What’s your name?”

 

“Lee Sanghyuk, ma’am,” he answered with a curt bow of his head.

 

“Lee Sanghyuk? Are you a student at a university right now?”

 

“No, ma’am.”

 

“And why not?”

 

Not to be rude, but Sanghyuk didn’t exactly like spilling his entire life story to a woman he had never met before. But then again, how often did potential opportunities like this occur for him, assuming that’s what this was? He still had no idea. He cleared his throat respectfully. “I don’t have enough money and I have siblings to look after.”

 

“Then do you have a job?”

 

Sanghyuk swallowed. “Potentially. It’s been hard to find one, lately, but I’ve been looking every single day.”

 

She blinked, leaning back in her seat. “And yet you’re up this late studying at a library for no reason?”

 

Sanghyuk shrunk a bit. “I hand out flyers in the mornings sometimes, but it takes a long time to get there and they don’t allow work this late at night. My hope is that if I use my free time to study, there’s a possibility of getting a scholarship to university.”

 

“So you still intend to go?”

 

“Absolutely.”

 

Sanghyuk sat perfectly still as this woman looked over him, eyeing every detail of him and scrutinizing him in her mind. And for the sake of hoping something would come out of it, Sanghyuk let her. 

 

“My daughter gave me your description,” she finally admitted, leaning forward and resting her arms on the table. “She’s a highschool student. She came to the library one day and saw you tutoring a kid I believe she called Taeyang.”

 

“Yes, ma’am.”

 

“She told me Taeyang had ditched more classes than she could count, and yet during his midterm he finished without a single question left unanswered. Apparently, in the past two weeks, this kid hasn’t ditched school once.”

 

“No he hasn’t,” Sanghyuk confirmed. “It was a condition I had him agree to before I began tutoring him. I want him to have the high school experience and graduate knowing something, not just studying for a test.”

 

“I have to be honest, I was shocked and didn’t believe her when she told me that,” the woman admitted. “I thought ‘nobody could make a school ditcher work that hard.’ But apparently, her class had an assessment test not too long ago, and this kid scored a 70.”

 

Sanghyuk blinked at her, unsure of what to say. “I… did not know that,” he settled on. A 70?! In what subject?! Why hadn’t Taeyang come to brag to him about it?! A 70 was an incredible score, especially for Taeyang. What the fuck?!

 

“I’ll make you a deal, Sanghyuk,” the woman began, reaching into her purse and pulling out a card with her number on it. Sanghyuk felt frozen, completely working on auto-pilot as he reached across the table to take the card from her. “I believe my daughter, now. I don’t know what it is about you, but I can tell you’re smart and hard working. I’d like you to tutor my daughter in science, if only for one lesson.”

 

Sanghyuk blinked. What-

 

“I will pay you fifty thousand won if you would sit down with my daughter for just two hours.”

 

Fifty- fifty thousand won?! For two hours ?!

 

“I-” Sanghyuk stuttered, cursing himself for stuttering now. “I would love to,” he quickly accepted, bowing his head. “I’ll go wherever you need me to, just tell me when and where.”

 

---

 

“Fifty… fifty thousand won?”

 

“For two hours!” Sanghyuk reaffirmed, raking his hands through his hair. “Can you believe that?! I can’t remember a single time I thought making twenty five thousand per hour would be anything close to a wage I could make! Eight thousand an hour? That’s- That’s normal to me. But twenty five thousand an hour?”

 

Inseong blinked at him from where he sat on the concrete steps leading up to his apartment. Yes, just after that woman had left Sanghyuk had run straight to Inseong’s apartment and woke both him and Youngbin up to rant about this now, because it was important

 

“Why didn’t we think of this sooner?”

 

Sanghyuk furrowed his brows. “What do you mean?”

 

“Sanghyuk you’re a genius ! When Taeyang’s tests come back, you can use it to get tutoring jobs! You have an in! Imagine how much money you could make just tutoring students, not to mention you love learning!”

 

Sanghyuk froze, staring down at him. “I could… wait are you serious?”

 

“Doesn’t feel real, right?” Inseong asked, pushing himself to his feet and coming to stand in front of him. “I mean… who knew this would happen? But seriously, Sanghyuk you should do it.”

 

“What if I can’t?”

 

Inseong actually laughed at Sanghyuk’s genuine concern, wrapping his hands around himself and closing his eyes just to let it all out. 

 

“Okay, very funny. I’m concerned I might fuck up the one good thing that happens to me and you laugh .”

 

“Okay, no, the best thing that ever happened to you was meeting me ,” Inseong pointed out the second he was done laughing, taking a step towards Sanghyuk just to make himself appear taller. He had a smug smirk drawn across his face and a proud expression. “And yeah, I’m laughing because it’s laughable. You? Fucking up tutoring? After the miracle you pulled with Taeyang? Laughable.”

 

“Tutoring Taeyang is one thing, tutoring kids I’ve never met is another,” Sanghyuk pointed out, looking down at his feet. “I mean obviously I’m going to do it, I’m just nervous !”

 

“About what?” Inseong asked, tilting his head. Sanghyuk carefully lifted his eyes to meet his, watching as Inseong focused on nothing but him. That made his face heat up a bit more than he would have liked. “What could you possibly have to be nervous about? You’re smart, composed, caring, and reasonable. You can make anyone like you by simply smiling, and you know you’re smart enough to teach high school students how to study. So what part about any of that is making you nervous?”

 

“The fact that I could still fuck it up regardless!” Sanghyuk blurted out. “I mean, I just- this is my one chance. I can’t screw this up.”

 

“You won’t,” Inseong assured him, his lips turning into a lopsided smile. “I know because you’re you. You won’t screw this up.”

 

---

 

Sanghyuk had denied the job offer from the market. A lot had gone into the decision, but really the most shocking part was that Sanghyuk would ever find himself turning down an accepted application. That, in and of itself, was crazy.

 

But crazier than that, his tutoring session had gone incredible. He now had fifty thousand won just sitting in his pocket. All he had done was talked to a girl about science and given her study tips, and yet she had told him he was one of the best tutors she had ever had. He didn’t feel like he had done much, and yet he was offered more money to come back and tutor her again. 

 

Sanghyuk had just earned himself a consistent job that paid twenty five thousand won an hour.

 

And that was how he found himself banging on Inseong’s apartment door, again, without going home first with the money. Inseong opened the door, smiling at him immediately. “How did it go?!” 

 

“Really good actually,” Sanghyuk mumbled, smiling with a slight tilt of his head. “Are you busy?” he asked, looking inside past the doorway for no specific reason, maybe only to check if Youngbin was home. “Wanna go to the library?”

 

“Yeah, sure, just let me get my stuff,” Inseong agreed immediately.

 

“Grab a notebook!” 

 

Inseong furrowed his brows at the demand, but did so regardless. He hooked his fingers through the loops of his backpack, similar to the one Sanghyuk always carried with him, as they began walking. Sanghyuk pushed his bike alongside him, listening to the soft sound of the wheels turning against the road. 

 

“How did your mom react?” Inseong asked suddenly, a smile crawling across his lips.

 

“Well…” Sanghyuk began, voice fading. “I didn’t tell her yet. But hear me out!” he defended quickly. “I want to make sure this is a solid thing before I tell them. I don’t think I could bear to give my family so much hope that something was finally going right only for it to slip away from me, and that’s why we’re going to the library!”

 

“Wait what? What does that have to do with us going to the library?” Inseong asked, leaning back only to send a confused glance in Sanghyuk’s direction. 

 

“Because like you said, this was genius. And I don’t only want to tutor one family. Inseong, I want to tutor for a job. Like a full time job. I want to tutor several kids in several subjects.”

 

Inseong smiled, obviously ecstatic with the idea. “I think… that’s the best damn idea you’ve ever had.”

 

“Oh, not just me. You too.”

 

“Wait, what? What about me?”

 

“I’m sorry, you’re fluent in English but you just plan to let this opportunity slip by you when you have an easy in?” Sanghyuk teased, spinning around as he talked to walk backwards, almost taunting him. “Not on my watch. You, Kim Inseong, are going to tutor with me. I bet several high school kids would die for an English tutor as good as you.”

 

“Yeah? Do you plan to advertise yourself or something?” Inseong asked, as if he didn’t believe it was possible.

 

“Oh I’m not,” Sanghyuk told him, a sinister smile creeping up on his face. “Taeyang is. Plus, everyone we tutor is free advertisement.”

 

“Wait, you’re serious about this?”

 

“Dead serious. You said it yourself, people like us don’t have many opportunities. This was a once in a lifetime deal, and I’ll die before I pass it up. So help me plan this shit, because unlike most tutors we don’t have phones, fancy clothes, or piles of books.”

 

It was a long process, but together, tucked away in the back corner of the library, they managed to figure out exactly what their plan was. As much as Sanghyuk wanted to use his money for his family, he couldn’t do that with all of it. Inseong had convinced him that in order to double or maybe even triple their profit, they had to look the part. That meant nice clothes and a phone to communicate with. 

 

So far, fifty thousand every week or so was not going to get them there. It was an incredible start, but it wasn’t enough. First they needed more jobs, and that’s where Taeyang came in. Taeyang was no doubt going to be the talk of his class with his test scores (hopefully) and everyone would ask how he did it. Sanghyuk was hoping to become the talk of the school by the end of the day, and he had told Taeyang to specifically mention he could be found at the library. That would be his main “home base” considering he didn’t have a phone and was hard to get in contact with. 

 

The next problem was their rates. Since neither of them were popular by any means necessary and had no credibility with anyone important, they couldn’t charge much. Their studying sessions would have to be cheap, but hopefully they would be able to earn more money if it all worked out well. This was the grand hope, after all. 

 

They settled on twenty thousand an hour for both of them. Now, they just had to wait for Taeyang’s test scores to come back. Sanghyuk was kind of riding on the fact that Taeyang would do well, so he just really hoped he had worked some kind of miracle with that boy. 

 

---

 

“I need help.”

 

For Sanghyuk, this was not uncommon. Obviously. But when he left his house this morning with his siblings eyeing him suspiciously after he stupidly fumbled over an explanation as to why he didn’t have a job yet, he was not expecting to find Chanhee waiting for him outside of the internet cafe in the middle of a school day.

 

Sanghyuk sighed before nodding, accepting his fate. “Okay do you wanna-”

 

“I slapped an older kid at school who just so happens to be the son of a very wealthy CEO because he spilt milk on me and I need you to help me deal with this because if my foster family finds out they’ll second guess adopting me and I don’t want to give them any reason not to, and Inseong and Youngbin would kick my ass. Please.”

 

Sanghyuk blinked for a second before nodding, taking the whole thing in. “Okay first of all, your family would not second guess adopting you. Second of all, he deserved it, clearly. Third of all… uhm. What… what exactly do you expect me to do about that?”

 

“I was hoping you could talk to the CEO’s son. You’re really good at talking to people.”

 

“What do I look like? How would I even start that conversation?” Sanghyuk asked, wondering what the fuck Chanhee thought he was supposed to do about this situation. “Maybe you should just apolo-”

 

“I’m not apologizing.”

 

“Okay, but maybe you should. Learn to suck up to the people above you in the world and you’ll-”

 

“I don’t care if he has more money or power than me,” Chanhee spat, crossing his arms over his chest. “He’s the same age as me, and he’s in the same class. There’s no reason I should have to apologize when he started the whole thing by acting indecent in the first place. Now he’s gonna overreact like a whiny baby. I get that his family is powerful, but that doesn’t mean I should apologize. Fuck his rich family. Eat the rich.”

 

Sanghyuk could feel a headache coming on. “Okay. Okay that’s… that’s okay. I get it. But what do you want me to do, exactly? If you won’t apologize? It’s not like you want me to apologize for you.”

 

“I just want you to knock some sense into him. Please. I’d offer to pay you, but you’d probably hit me, so I’ll take you out for lunch instead, okay? Just let me know what your favorite food is and it’s my treat for the trouble.”

 

Sanghyuk snorted. “What am I? A modern day sell-sword for high schoolers? Jeez. What’s this kid’s name?”

 

“Kim Seokwoo.”

 

“Cool,” Sanghyuk agreed, rolling up his sleeves for dramatic effect. “Come on, let’s go. I’ll meet him outside the school when the day ends, but you have to tell Taeyang and Youngkyun they’re in charge of picking up Sangchul and Sangmi today.”

 

“You’ve made babysitters out of them. Lovely,” Chanhee commented with a laugh, leading Sanghyuk back towards the school. The internet café could wait until later, he supposed. “I’ll go with them. Youngbin and Inseong will come too.”

 

“So suddenly picking my siblings up from school is a group activity? Good luck with that.”

 

“I just think it’s unfair if Youngkyun and Taeyang are alone together without us there to tease them,” Chanhee confessed, and Sanghyuk really couldn’t argue with that point. 

 

It didn’t take long to get to the school, and once he did Chanhee left his side to recruit Taeyang and Youngkyun, who wouldn’t be at all shocked. It felt like other people were picking up Sanghyuk’s siblings more and more lately, yet conveniently it also felt, at the same time, like Sanghyuk was suddenly more busy. Hmm. Weird.

 

Chanhee had given Sanghyuk a rough description and a class picture to help him spot the rich boy, so he had no trouble finding him. Once he did, he just walked right up to him. Nobody else would probably be that stupid. 

 

“Kim Seokwoo?” Sanghyuk asked, catching the boy off guard. Seokwoo jumped, pulling his ear buds out of his ears. Oh man, he was tall. He was really tall. Why the fuck did Chanhee have to pick a fight with him .

 

“Uhm… hi?”

 

“Hi,” Sanghyuk introduced with a bow. “I’m Lee Sanghyuk, a friend of Chanhee’s. Do you have a second?”

 

Somehow, Seokwoo made himself look small. “Uhhh yeah sure I guess.”

 

In order to not be suspicious, Sanghyuk only led Seokwoo a few feet away from the majority of the crowds. It would just look sketchy if he took him somewhere secluded. But now that he was here, what the fuck was he supposed to say? ‘Hi, please don’t press charges against Chanhee like some bitch-ass rich kid for slapping you because you deserved it’?

 

“I’m really sorry!”

 

Okay, wait a second.

 

“For… for what?” Sanghyuk asked, cocking his eyebrows.

 

Seokwoo licked his lips nervously. “For… I mean I accidentally ran into Chanhee and spilled my milk over him and I know it looked intentional because it was literally in my hand and I was laughing with a friend and literally all of that looked wrong so sorry about that. I tried to apologize but he just slapped me so… I wasn’t really sure if I should approach him again. Just please, I don’t want Chanhee to get his family involved because I don’t want mine involved so please tell him that.”

 

Somehow, Sanghyuk got the feeling he was about to add another high schooler to his roster of children he was currently big-brothering for no fucking reason

 

“Okay, well, Chanhee definitely doesn’t know it was an accident. So… but anyways. Uhm… if you don’t mind me asking, why don’t you want your family involved? Because that was kind of Chanhee’s concern. Like… aren’t you rich?”

 

Seokwoo groaned. “Yes, and the heir to a company, please don’t remind me.”

 

Okkkaaayyyyy. New approach. “Oh. So obviously you don’t want your parents finding out. They find out, scold you, and you get more responsibilities, right?”

 

Seokwoo turned to look at him with the most mind-boggled expression Sanghyuk had ever seen. “You… how did you know?”

 

“No offense, but you kind of made it obvious,” Sanghyuk admitted. “I can’t imagine being the heir to a company. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’d actually love to be set up like that, but wanting it and living it are two different things. I imagine it’s a lot of pressure.”

 

Seokwoo groaned, nodding before leaning his head back against the stone wall behind him. “It’s stupid. Everyone wants to be my friend because I have something to offer them, and whenever I mess up it somehow affects everyone around me and- wait I literally just met you why am I-”

 

Sanghyuk shrugged, cutting him off. “I have that effect on people. Sorry. But anyways, why don’t you apologize to Chanhee and settle things? I’ll mediate.”

 

Seokwoo blinked. “School’s over.”

 

“Yeah, but right now he’s picking up my siblings from school, so I know where he’ll be. Let’s go.”

 

Sanghyuk began walking before he had even confirmed that Seokwoo would really follow him, but ultimately it was his decision. And of course, no more than a few seconds later Seokwoo was running to catch up with him, pulling out his phone and probably texting some excuse to whoever cared where he was. 

 

“What does your parent’s company do?” Sanghyuk asked to pass the time.

 

“Oh,” Seokwoo mumbled, snapping back to attention as he stuffed his hands in the pockets of his pants. “It’s a real estate business, but that’s pretty boring to me.”

 

Sanghyuk nodded. “So if business is boring for you, what do you intend to do instead? Surely you must have a plan by now?” 

 

Seokwoo sighed. “I wish I could say I did. But no, I’m just going to take over the company like I’m supposed to. It’s less trouble and I should be grateful for what I have. After all, I practically already have my life planned out for me. A lot of people can’t say the same.”

 

Sanghyuk was right. No matter how things went once they got to his house and confronted Chanhee, Seokwoo was undoubtedly going to come to him again. But it wasn’t like Sanghyuk was arguing. He was happy with his little family of helpless high schoolers. 

 

“Take it from someone who doesn’t have their life planned out for them,” Sanghyuk began, gesturing with his head for Seokwoo to follow him down a different road, “you don’t need to do that to yourself.”

 

Seokwoo smiled like he was putting it on just to pretend he was okay. “I should, though. I don’t have another plan.”

 

“Who cares?” Sanghyuk blurted out, shrugging. “Life is all about trying new things and doing plan after plan until you find out what works for you. You’re going to die miserable and empty if you dedicate your whole life to something you don’t give a shit about. Just because you have it set up for you doesn’t mean it’s what you have to or should do.”

 

“Then I don’t know what else I would do,” Seokwoo admitted with a slight shrug, kicking a rock at the toe of his shoes. 

 

“You don’t have to,” Sanghyuk reminded him, tilting his head back to stare up at the sky as they walked. “Just think about what you do give a shit about, and try to do something with that.”

 

Seokwoo didn’t say anything in return, and Sanghyuk didn’t try to push any more on the boy than he already had. They just walked quietly side by side in a content state of calmness until they reached Sanghyuk’s neighborhood. Even when they got there, Seokwoo made no comments on the area, which Sanghyuk had to admit he was expecting. But Seokwoo just held his tongue, letting his eyes rake over everything in sight. 

 

Unsurprisingly, everyone was waiting on the front step and right outside his house instead of inside it, considering how small the inside really was. Taeyang was sitting on the far end of the step next to Sangchul and Sangmi, who looked up at the group with more interest and fascination than Sanghyuk had ever seen them show. Youngkyun was standing to Taeyang’s side, hair pulled back into a bun on the top as he laughed at something someone said. Inseong sat with his legs crossed on the ground in front of the step, and Youngbin sat by his side only with his legs stretched out and his arms propped up behind him. Chanhee was standing beside Youngkyun, recounting some story with wild hand motions and a big smile on his face.

 

And how weird was it that just a few weeks ago, Sanghyuk could never imagine having this many people in his life?

 

“Oi! Sanghyuk!” Youngbin called, noticing him first as he turned around to stretch his neck. Everyone turned around to face him, but Chanhee’s darkened expression outshined everyone else’s.

 

“Oh Sanghyuk, you brought a friend,” he muttered, almost glaring.

 

Another one?!” Sangchul asked, jumping up to gape at Sanghyuk. “Do you just keep picking them up off the streets?! What’s his name?!”

 

“This is Seokwoo,” Sanghyuk introduced before turning to Seokwoo. “Seokwoo, Youngkyun, Taeyang, Youngbin, Inseong, my siblings Sangchul and Sangmi, and you know Chanhee,” he introduced in return, gesturing to each person as he dropped their name before dragging Seokwoo over, who was definitely showing how uncomfortable he was at this point. 

 

Chanhee raised an eyebrow at Sanghyuk. “And you brought him here because…?”

 

“I’m sorry!”

 

The whole group blinked silently as Seokwoo bowed a full ninety degrees towards Chanhee. Inseong turned to face Sanghyuk with a look of pure confusion, but Sanghyuk opted to ignore it.

 

“I’m sorry for what happened in the cafeteria, and I understand it totally didn’t look like an accident, but I swear it was! And… and I’m not mad about how you reacted because I know it looked like I did it on purpose, but I didn’t, I promise.”

 

“O… oh,” Chanhee mumbled, shrinking in on himself. 

 

“Chanhee,” Youngbin mumbled, pulling everyone’s attention back to him. “What exactly happened in the cafeteria?”

 

Chanhee giggled nervously. “I uhm… well… I may have thought Seokwoo… spilled milk on me on purpose so I uh… I slapped him?”

 

“That shouldn’t be phrased like a question,” Sanghyuk cut in, but nobody was paying attention to him.

 

“Nice going Chanhee,” Youngkyun congratulated with a sly grin. “Slap the most powerful kid in the school because of a misunderstanding.”

 

“Powerful? What does that mean?” Sangmi asked, looking to Inseong for answers, who only shrugged, just as confused as she was.

 

“Seokwoo is really rich,” Taeyang filled in for the little girl before turning his attention to Chanhee. “Did you seriously ask Sanghyuk to confront him instead of doing it yourself?”

 

“I thought he- I mean…” Chanhee began, realizing he shouldn’t be justifying himself to Taeyang, but to Seokwoo. “I thought you were going to tell your parents, and maybe they would bring it up with the school and… I thought you really did do it on purpose so I didn’t want to apologize and Sanghyuk’s good at talking so…”

 

“Speaking of apologizing,” Sanghyuk mumbled, causing Chanhee to shrink even more in on himself before straightening up and bowing.

 

“Sorry for… slapping you.”

 

“That’s… seriously it’s okay,” Seokwoo reassured. “I uhm… I was worried you would tell your parents and get mine involved so… I’m glad we settled that.”

 

“Hey Seokwoo,” Taeyang interrupted, probably realizing how immediately awkward things would become if Seokwoo just continued to awkwardly stay, completely unsure of what to do. “We were going to bring Sangchul and Sangmi to throw rocks into a lake. It’s not something you’re used to, I’m sure, but it’s good for stress relief. Are you coming?”

 

Seokwoo stood frozen for a second looking around the group. “I’m… invited?”

 

“Duh,” Inseong chimed in, spinning around to face him. “Sanghyuk brought you here, so that means your part of the group now. Isn’t that how it went with everyone else, pretty much?”

 

Youngkyun smiled, nodding. But seriously, looking at this group from an outsider’s point of view, it must have seemed incredibly odd. A smart kid with no money, an optimistic translator, a regular school-ditcher, a less than confident closeted gay, an easily excitable foster care kid, two ten year olds, and now a CEO’s son. Their group was definitely something to behold, and yet it worked for them. 

 

It worked because of their struggles, and the ability for everyone else to understand them. It worked because of who they were, and Sanghyuk thought that was pretty cool.

Chapter Text

Sanghyuk wasn’t sure who started it, and that was kind of frustrating. But he wasn’t mad. How could he be mad?

 

Taeyang’s test scores hadn’t come out yet, but one day while Sanghyuk and Inseong were sitting in the library together, a high school aged boy came up and asked if his name was Lee Sanghyuk. That would be the third time someone had approached him at the library, and if he had learned anything it was that something good always came out of people randomly approaching him at the library. 

 

Again, Sanghyuk had no idea who told people, but word had gotten around. Regular tutors were expensive, and hiring someone to come to your house was exhausting. There was paperwork and a schedule, and that was just annoying. But Lee Sanghyuk, a boy who could most likely be found at the library if you were lucky enough to go at the right time, would tutor you on anything you needed to learn for just twenty thousand won. That was cheap as far as tutors came, and the best part was that it could only be a one time thing, if needed. Students wouldn’t have to tell their parents about their grades dropping, and they could go whenever their schedules were free. 

 

It wasn’t even just one kid that came to him, it was several. Day after day, kids came to the library asking the lady at the front desk if Lee Sanghyuk was there today, and after just a week the girl had asked Sanghyuk to post his schedule on the front counter for kids who were wondering. Sanghyuk had to actually schedule what times he would be at the library. And surprisingly the library didn’t kick him out, because in actuality the library had never had so many high school kids come in before.

 

And while Sanghyuk became popular almost instantly, he always redirected kids who needed help with English, which was a surprising amount, to Inseong. And somehow, over the past three weeks, they had managed something incredible. It wasn’t planned, and Sanghyuk still had no idea who told the kids, but it wasn’t like it really mattered now. Sanghyuk and Inseong had both become well known names in the high school. They were good teachers, and still the best part was their cheap prices and the fact that kids didn’t have to tell their parents and fuss about it. 

 

Almost every single day of the week now, Sanghyuk had more and more money, more than he could honestly count. He had never had so much money before, and it was insane to think that in just three weeks they had made around two million won, nevermind the one hundred and fifty thousand extra he had made from tutoring that family. Of the two million they had made together, just a little over one million was his alone. 

 

The only problem was that he hadn’t quite told his family, yet. Rent was due in a few days, so Sanghyuk would tell them before then so he could use his money to pay the rent. He had meant to tell them sooner, but he felt like it would only last a few days before kids would get bored of coming. That just didn’t happen, and his worries that this ‘job’ would be short lived vanished. So he had no worries about giving his family false hope now. 

 

Inseong had agreed to tell his family with him considering they worked together, but he also refused to let Sanghyuk say anything until they had gone shopping together. Sanghyuk, of course, had no desire to use any of his money on himself now that he had it, but Inseong absolutely refused to let him put it towards anything else, including food and bills, until he had a cheap 60 thousand won phone and at least two sets of decent clothing to wear to the library. 

 

So that’s how Sanghyuk ended up walking through a street market more expensive than his original go-to, looking for clothes he never would have considered buying before. 

 

“I think I’m fine with the clothes I have,” Sanghyuk argued for maybe the twentieth time. “The kids see me look like that and they still come, so I don’t see an issue.”

 

Inseong snorted. “The issue is that the majority of your clothes are over four years old, and you haven’t bought new clothes since you started forming memories. You said your clothes come from donation bins or thrift shops, right? Well no more of that. You’re getting some real clothes, now.”

 

“I don’t want to waste the money on them,” Sanghyuk insisted.

 

“You’re not,” Inseong insisted, lifting his arm and placing it around Sanghyuk’s shoulder. It was probably meant to be a friendly gesture, but Sanghyuk couldn’t deny the hint of blush it brought to his cheeks. “Having a phone and nicer clothes is like advertising yourself. This way you’ll make more money.”

 

It felt awkward knowing he was going to spend money on himself, but he knew Inseong was right. After all, this was money he had earned himself right?

 

“Over here!” Inseong dictated, pulling Sanghyuk over to a stall to their right where some older man smiled at them like they were the light of his life. Did smiling more make more business? Should Sanghyuk smile more? Or was smiling too much? 

 

“What are you two boys looking for today?” the old man asked with a voice that was sweet like honey. 

 

“Some cheap button up shirts, if you have any,” Inseong told him, letting his eyes roam over the selection of clothes. Of course, the man had plenty, and he led the both of them to a rack that had a whole section of button up shirts before leaving them with some privacy to make their decisions. “This one is nice,” Inseong mumbled, pulling it out to show him.

 

Sanghyuk nodded. “Yeah, that works.” Apparently, though, that did not work for Inseong, who merely stood still with an unimpressed expression. 

 

“No, Sanghyuk, that’s not how you shop for clothes.”

 

Sanghyuk felt his shoulders curling up and his neck shrinking into them as he tried to make himself feel just slightly more comfortable in this situation. “Why not? It looks good enough.”

 

“Oh my god you have no idea how to shop for yourself. Did you pick out any of the clothes you wear?”

 

Sanghyuk licked his lips nervously, bouncing on the heels of his feet. “No,” he mumbled, looking away from Inseong. Was that wrong, though? They were just clothes.

 

“Okay, we’re fixing that right now,” Inseong decided, placing his hands on his hips. “You should be wearing clothes you feel comfortable in, and I don’t mean the fabric is nice and doesn’t rub you the wrong way. I mean, the clothes you wear should make you feel comfortable in public. Fashion is all about feeling confident,” he continued lecturing, but Sanghyuk just watched and listened with a dazed expression. “Anyone can look good in anything as long as they feel confident enough to pull it off. The clothes you wear should express how confident and comfortable you feel with yourself. Like, for instance, I can tell you already I know you don’t think you look amazing in what you’re wearing because you don’t walk like you feel like the hottest guy in the room, and you should.”

 

Sanghyuk shrank. “I don’t know what I feel comfortable in, though,” he mumbled, still refusing to hold eye contact with Inseong. “And how- I mean how could I- I’m not so-”

 

“Sanghyuk, shut the fuck up,” Inseong deadpanned, finally grabbing his attention. “You are easily the hottest guy in any room you walk into. Make everyone else know it.”

 

Sanghyuk shook his head rapidly. “I’m not, though.”

 

“Okay,” Inseong agreed lazily with a shrug before a sly grin melted on his lips. “I guess I’ll just have to prove it to you. Screw button up shirts.”

 

“Huh?” Sanghyuk mumbled, following after him as he moved over to a new rack of clothes. “But I thought we needed button ups to look professional.”

 

Inseong shrugged. “Yeah, but button ups and collared shirts aren’t the only way to look cleaned up and professional. How much won do you have? One million?”

 

“A little more,” Sanghyuk mumbled, still unsure of the whole situation.

 

Inseong nodded. “Okay, we’ll use three hundred thousand.”

 

“What?! No!”

 

Inseong rolled his eyes. “Sanghyuk, be quiet. You have over one million from a little over three weeks of working your ass off. You can spare three hundred thousand to treat yourself to things you clearly need. We already used sixty thousand on a phone, so that leaves two hundred and forty thousand for shoes, clothes, and everything else we’re going to get you.”

 

“What- what else is there to get besides clothes and shoes? I don’t need that much!” 

 

Inseong rolled his eyes before turning to face him straight on. “First, we’ll get you a few shirts, then pants. Then a nice pair of shoes or two, because yours are clearly on their last leg of life, not that I’m one to talk, but still. We’re going to get you some cologne, too. It won’t be anything fancy because that shit’s expensive, but something to make you smell nice because people notice that, weirdly enough. Also, maybe some hair care stuff, because you could do a lot with your hair. Makeup? I don’t think you need that, never mind.”

 

“That’s too much!” Sanghyuk insisted. “Use- we’ll use two hundred thousand instead… that’ll leave…”

 

“One hundred and forty thousand,” Inseong answered like he didn’t even have to think about it, “but I’m not cheaping out on things you clearly need. Using three hundred thousand will leave you plenty of money to give your family for food and rent, not to mention extra for your siblings and mom. Plus, you’re still working. You’ll make more. So let’s upgrade you now, before Taeyang’s test results come back. Okay?”

 

Sanghyuk grumbled, but he was dead set on using no more than the one hundred and forty thousand he had left. 

 

By the end of their shopping trip, Sanghyuk had been successful. Inseong changed his mind about the button up shirts, claiming plain black t-shirts would do him just as much justice tucked into some nice jeans. So they got a few shirts, a few different colored pairs of jeans, and a black belt to pull the look together. And Sanghyuk had to be honest, the clothes he had now were clothes he knew without a doubt he would wear. 

 

They got him some new socks with no holes in them, and a new pair of sneakers. Inseong wanted him to buy a second pair, but Sanghyuk just refused. They also got him some basic cologne that actually smelled amazing in Sanghyuk’s opinion, and some new shampoo and soap that also smelled nice. 

 

“I want to get one more thing,” Inseong insisted, grabbing Sanghyuk’s wrist and pulling him over to one last stall he hadn’t intended going to until he noticed it not even three seconds ago. Sanghyuk almost ran into his back when Inseong skidded to a stop, glaring at him from behind even if the taller boy couldn’t see it. 

 

That’s when he let his eyes roam around the stall. It was a bunch of useless gadgets and jewelry that was most likely way over priced and stupid to begin with. “What are we doing at this one?” Sanghyuk asked, but within the blink of an eye, Inseong was already walking up to a stand filled top to bottom with colorful string bracelets.

 

“I want two,” Inseong decided instantly.

 

“They’re stupid, and you shouldn’t use your money on them,” Sanghyuk argued, knowing full well he was right even as Inseong continued to completely ignore him. 

 

“Which one do you think is the prettiest? Help me pick,” Inseong asked and ordered him, and instead of fighting the boy on useless bracelets that cost one thousand won, he knelt down by his side to look over them.

 

“This one,” he picked easily, knowing the second he saw it. It was a simple string bracelet with no added fancy gems or anything. It was only black and dark blue, but it was pretty and elegant. It wasn’t flashy or too bright to even look at. 

 

“Okay, perfect,” Inseong agreed, picking two of the same bracelet off of the stand and bringing them up to the counter. Sanghyuk furrowed his brows as Inseong paid, wondering why the fuck he needed two of the same bracelet. Until Inseong walked back over to him, grabbing his wrist without even asking and tying the strings around it. 

 

Sanghyuk stood completely frozen as Inseong made sure it wasn’t too tight or too loose, before handing his to Sanghyuk and holding out his own wrist.

 

“You…” Sanghyuk began, not really knowing what to say as he looked up to meet Inseong’s eyes, holding the bracelet carefully in his hands but not moving to tie it. “For… for us?”

 

Inseong nodded proudly. “It might seem a little weird, but I wanted to have matching bracelets with you. We did this together, right? So we should have something like this.”

 

Sanghyuk could feel heat crawling up his neck as he quickly shifted his attention to tie the bracelet on to Inseong’s wrist. It made his chest swell a little to think that Inseong wanted to wear something that would remind him of Sanghyuk. Inseong had whole heartedly wanted these just to have something that matched something Sanghyuk had. He didn’t have any other bracelets. He didn’t have one with Youngbin, Youngkyun, or Chanhee. But he wanted one with Sanghyuk. 

 

“Hey… are you okay?” Inseong asked, looking down at him with a slight bit of concern as Sanghyuk finished tying the strings. 

 

“Yeah,” he said, nodding. “I’m just really happy.”

 

---

 

“They’re going to freak out,” Sanghyuk pointed out, holding the two large pizza boxes carefully in his arms. Sanghyuk hadn’t wanted to spend the money on take out, but Inseong reasoned that the only surefire way to confess what he had been doing was to show them, so Inseong had paid half since he would be eating, too. So now Sanghyuk was standing in front of his house on the one day his mom came home early with Inseong by his side and two pizzas carefully balanced in his arms.

 

“So what?” Inseong mumbled, letting his shoulder bump gently into Sanghyuk’s. “They’ll be happy.”

 

Sanghyuk exhaled, trying to just breathe his nerves away. He wasn’t even sure why he was so nervous. His mom wouldn’t be mad at him, and neither would his siblings. He hadn’t done anything wrong. He was just… nervous. He didn’t have a reason.

 

“Okay,” he agreed with a short nod of his head before he could convince himself he was too nervous and would much rather back out. He turned to look at Inseong, but any further confirmation that he was unnecessarily scared shitless died on the tip of his tongue when he saw Inseong smiling at him. Maybe it was the way the shitty street lights outside made his skin glow, or maybe it was just him. On second thought, though, Inseong was always just like that.

 

It was the gentle pressure of Inseong’s hand on his back that brought him back from most likely staring at his friend for no particular reason, and had him moving slowly towards the door to his house. Inseong opened it for him, and the second Sanghyuk could peek through the crack of the door, he opened his lips and willed his voice not to crack.

 

“I’m… I’m home!” he called, gesturing with his chin for Inseong to follow him inside, which he did so courteously by closing the door behind himself. 

 

“Hyuk! Guess what!” he heard from the side room as Sangmi no doubt flung herself off the floor to get up and greet him. After all, they had no idea Sanghyuk had a phone now, and therefore no way to know when he would be home. But Sanghyuk always came home on the days his mom could come home early like this. 

 

The second Sangmi stumbled around the divider to see fresh pizza held in Sanghyuk’s arms, she stopped dead in her tracks and just stared at him. 

 

Sanghyuk shrunk in on himself a bit. “I uh… I got dinner for us tonight?” It wasn’t a question, but he sure as hell phrased it like one. Sangchul peaked around the corner, most likely from the smell of food alone. “Oh,” he mumbled, stepping back slightly to nudge Inseong forward. “And Inseong came for dinner too… if that’s okay-”

 

“How did you afford pizza?”

 

Sanghyuk looked up as his mom stepped out from behind the divider, staring between the two of them with creased brows. She looked tired, like she was only awake to spend time with her kids for the small time she could. 

 

Sanghyuk licked his lips. “I… uh…” God, he wanted Inseong to take over from him. But he didn’t,  Inseong just stood there and waited, and Sanghyuk both wanted to punch him and thank him for that. He sighed. “I have a job now, and I have for three weeks, actually.” Nobody in the room shifted, or even said anything. Not even the two rowdy ten year olds. They just stood still and watched him. “I’ll explain a little bit more,” he agreed without even being asked, nodding his head and sucking his lips in. “But for now, Inseong and I bought pizza! It’s… okay that he stays over to eat right?”

 

Sanghyuk watched with a still mind as his mother’s face broke out into what could have almost been read as a sad smile, but it wasn’t sad. She was just happy. 

 

She nodded as she walked right up to Inseong and pulled him into her arms. Inseong stared past her shoulders with wide eyes, clearly unsure of what he was supposed to do, or even what he was capable of doing. He looked like he couldn’t even fully process what was happening to him.

 

“You’re always welcome here,” she mumbled with a smile as she pulled back from Inseong, turning her gaze to Sanghyuk. “Shall we eat?”

 

It was nice. They didn’t have a dining table, but they did have one of those smaller tables that the group of them could all sit around. Inseong sat next to Sanghyuk, and everyone else just sat wherever there was room as they dove for fresh slices of pizza. And while they ate, Sanghyuk told them all about how he had tutored Taeyang, which the group had already known, and how that had led to him being approached for tutoring. He told them about the lessons he gave and when people started approaching them in the library, and how him and Inseong had the idea to start regularly tutoring kids. 

 

Honestly, Sanghyuk couldn’t remember the last time he was this incredibly happy. He had his whole family gathered around the table, eating food they hadn’t had to scrape for for once. He had a job and for maybe the first time ever, a friend. Friends. He had a group. And he was happy.

 

---

 

“It was you who told the whole school about Inseong and I, wasn’t it?”

 

Youngkyun dipped his head lower as they walked, folding his hands in front of himself nervously. He was sort of bouncing on his toes, avoiding any and all eye contact and possibly the very idea of confrontation.

 

“Kind of?” Youngkyun finally answered, his voice rising at the end like he didn’t want to take credit for it all, and maybe wasn’t even sure if he deserved to. He moved his hands to curl his fingers around the metal wire of the chain link fence in front of them, letting his eyes flicker up to the playground of elementary aged children. “I mean… I just…”

 

“Thank you,” Sanghyuk mumbled, letting his lips curve into a smile as he kept his eyes focused on the playground. “Seriously.”

 

“I didn’t really… I mean it sounds selfish… but I didn’t… uhm… it wasn’t all just to- I uhm.”

 

“You don’t have to explain yourself if you don’t want to,” Sanghyuk offered, almost like he could feel the nervous energy Youngkyun was radiating. He turned to face Youngkyun to assure him that it was okay, but he was shocked to find Youngkyun taking a deep breath, clenching his fists, and closing his eyes tightly.

 

“I did it because Taeyang felt bad for making you tutor him instead of looking for a job!”

 

Sanghyuk blinked at Youngkyun’s outburst, watching as the boy slowly released his pent up breath and cracked his eyes open. He still didn’t meet Sanghyuk’s eyes, though. 

 

“I mean… uh… he was- he felt really bad, y’know? He knew you had to look for a job but he- he took up your time. And then that- you said someone approached you for a tutoring lesson because she saw you with Taeyang so I uhm… I figured it couldn’t hurt to maybe spread the word a bit? Just to help a little bit. So Taeyang would feel less guilty. I mean! I don’t know that he was guilty it’s not like he told me that or anything it was just kind of I don’t know I feel like I could tell and maybe I stepped over the line a bit but I seriously just wanted to-”

 

“Where do you get your confidence from when you’re on the baseball field?” Sanghyuk asked, cutting him off quickly and turning to face him. Youngkyun just blinked at him, finally making eye contact. Sanghyuk didn’t mind the lack of it, though, he was just shocked that Youngkyun had actually managed it. 

 

“I… I don’t… what do you mean?”

 

Sanghyuk leaned more of his weight against the fence in front of him. “I mean, you look confident when you’re playing. You smile at Chanhee on the field and you run to the next base and you always make it, even though I’ve definitely thought several times that you wouldn’t. But you take that chance. Where does that confidence come from?”

 

Youngkyun dropped the eye contact again, lowering his gaze. “I don’t know,” he admitted, almost so quietly that Sanghyuk couldn’t even hear him. “It’s baseball, it’s different.”

 

Sanghyuk hummed in slight agreement as he nodded his head. “When did you start playing?”

 

“When I was about Sangchul and Sangmi’s age,” Youngkyun confessed with a slight sigh. “My parents wanted me to play basketball, but I hated the sport. I really didn’t want to play, but they wanted me to so I didn’t tell them no. Then I started ditching practice and going to watch the baseball players play instead, and it was just different. It’s not like baseball is my life or anything, it’s just that it was something I liked, and not because someone told me I should like it, but just because I thought it looked cool.”

 

Sanghyuk nodded as Youngkyun spoke, not daring to interrupt him. When was the last time Sanghyuk listened to him talk for this long without stuttering or putting himself down? And Sanghyuk knew it wasn’t because he was suddenly feeling comfortable enough to talk without stuttering, that was just bullshit. It was because he was talking about baseball. 

 

“My parents found out after only a few days that I had been ditching, and they started to scold me,” Youngkyun continued. “They just didn’t want me to become a ‘bad child.’ And when they told me I had to start going to basketball practice again, I told them right to their faces that I didn’t want to. I told them I wanted to play baseball instead, and so they signed me up.”

 

Sanghyuk nodded, a smile finding its way onto his face. “You’re confident because it’s one of the few times you’ve stuck up for yourself,” he realized, and Youngkyun nodded.

 

“I guess, yeah.”

 

Sanghyuk didn’t comment any further, not because he had nothing to say, but because he was too busy thinking of the whole situation. Youngkyun had first come to him as an outlet, because Youngkyun was gay and was scared to confront people, specifically his friends. Youngkyun felt confident with baseball. Youngkyun wanted to be more confident around his friends.

 

And Sanghyuk had an idea.

Chapter Text

“Chemtrails is not real are you fucking kidding me?”

 

Sanghyuk watched, gaping, as Inseong climbed over the top of the chain link fence, slowly beginning to descend on the other side. And his mouth wasn’t hanging open in disbelief because Inseong was climbing a fence, he was standing like that because Inseong believed chemtrails were real. Because Inseong was an idiot. 

 

“Nope, not kidding you,” Inseong replied smugly as he jumped down, a cloud of dust appearing where his feet landed on the other side of the fence. He smirked. “Chemtrails are totally real.”

 

“You are a fucking moron, no they’re not,” Sanghyuk defended seriously while Inseong just stood there smiling proudly. “Next you’re going to try and tell me the Earth is flat.”

 

“Chemtrails are not on the same conspiracy level that the flat-Earthers are!” Inseong called out, stepping back from the fence and gaping at him. “The flat Earth theory is just idiotic. Chemtrails are-”

 

“Just as stupid!” 

 

“No they’re not!” 

 

“Inseong open the goddamn fence so I can kick your ass because chemtrails are not real.”

 

Inseong rolled his eyes with a smile and made his way over to the fence gate, easily unlocking it from the inside and pulling it open, stepping aside so Sanghyuk could pull himself and the large duffel hung over his shoulder through the opening. 

 

“Why not?” Inseong challenged, taking the duffel from him. Sanghyuk let him, making sure to leave the door open behind him.

 

“What do you mean ‘why not’? There is no proof chemtrails are real. Literally none.”

 

Inseong rolled his eyes, walking ahead of Sanghyuk without a care in the world. “That’s why it’s a conspiracy theory .”

 

“Oh? So you admit it’s on the same level as ‘the earth is flat’ and oh! ‘The new world order’?”

 

Inseong spun around immediately, mouth hanging open again. “You’re comparing the possible existence of chemicals being dumped into the atmosphere to fucking lizard people ?!”

 

“Yes! Because it’s just as ridiculous,” Sanghyuk stated, walking past Inseong while the boy stood dumbfounded. 

 

“No, no it’s not!” 

 

“Yes it is.”

 

“No it isn’t!” 

 

“Okay, give me one piece of evidence that shows chemtrails are real,” Sanghyuk bargained, throwing his duffel down on the ground and surrendering himself to one of the cold, metal bleacher benches. He pulled one of the baseball gloves from the duffel onto his left hand while he waited before entertaining himself by tossing the baseball up above his head with his right hand, catching it with his gloved left. 

 

“No fuck you,” Inseong defended, not taking a seat but rather standing nearby, probably with his arms crossed. “Give me one piece of evidence that proves they’re not!”

 

“Okay,” Sanghyuk agreed, catching the ball again before turning his full attention to Inseong who was staring at him accusingly. “Chemtrails would exist to dump chemicals into the atmosphere with the condensation trails planes leave behind, right? The purpose is allegedly to prevent global warming, however global warming is partly caused by the increase of natural gasses in our atmosphere, so the goal would be to decrease the amount of gasses, not increase them. The greenhouse effect, etc, right? So first of all, your theory doesn’t even make sense, and second of all, an operation that large would require people running it, so point me in the direction of the company responsible for chemtrails! Korean Air? Air Seoul?”

 

“Those are commercial! This is speaking in private airline organization terms!”

 

Sanghyuk rolled his eyes, almost tempted to laugh. “So you’re ignoring the whole point I made discrediting the chemtrails theory to point out that commercial airlines wouldn’t stoop to such low levels?”

 

Their conversation was cut short just before Inseong could make some useless attempt at defending himself, when the gate to the baseball field squeaked open. Both boys looked over to see Youngbin pulling himself inside with Seokwoo and Chanhee trailing behind him.

 

“Okay! Youngbin! Help me out here!” Inseong called immediately, running over. 

 

“Unbelievable,” Sanghyuk mumbled, opting to lay back on the bleacher bench instead of paying attention to Inseong for once. He stared up at the dark sky above him. In about four hours, the sky would begin to glow with color from the sunrise, but Sanghyuk intended for the group of them to be gone long before that. 

 

It was no problem for him considering the lack of sleep he usually got, and the surprising amount of sleep he had gotten over the past two days, but he figured everybody else must be tired. Save for Inseong. Inseong was definitely not tired, if anything he was just stupid. 

 

“Hey Hyuk!” Inseong called, sprinting back over and practically leaping onto the benches. They rattled with noise as Inseong scooted closer to him, and all Sanghyuk could manage was a raise of his eyebrows. 

 

“Doesn’t this remind you of Twilight?”

 

Sanghyuk scoffed, pushing himself up to a sitting position just to give Inseong the full extent of his ‘are you fucking kidding me?’ look. “What does this have to do with Twilight?”

 

“Remember when they all played baseball at midnight during a thunderstorm? It’s like that.”

 

Sanghyuk blinked down at Inseong who wasn’t even sitting on a bench, but rather the small foot space between two benches. He looked like a little kid. 

 

“First of all, I don’t like the way you automatically assume I’ve read Twilight, because you know for a fact I haven’t seen the movies,” Sanghyuk pointed out, causing Inseong to hold himself back from laughing so hard he looked like he might combust. “And second of all, no it’s not like that, because they played baseball as a tradition, and only because they were so jacked they couldn’t play it regularly, whereas we’re playing it because we’re good friends.”

 

“So you have read Twilight?”

 

“Fuck off, so have you, clearly.”

 

“No! Nope!” Inseong declared, pushing himself to his feet. “Youngbin back me up here! I never read the books! I only saw the movies!”

 

Youngbin snorted from behind him, leaving Seokwoo and Chanhee’s sides to join their conversation. “He was a team Jacob fanboy.”

 

Youngbin !” Inseong whined, deflating onto the benches and groaning in embarrassment. 

 

“If you two gays are done fantasizing over what Twilight could have been, can I ask what the fuck we’re doing in the high school’s baseball field at one in the morning?” Chanhee cut in, raising his eyebrows at the two of them. He walked over with his hands shoved in the pockets of his hoodie, Seokwoo lingering slightly behind him. 

 

Sanghyuk smirked. “Oh yeah.” He had only actually explained what they were doing to Inseong and Taeyang. “So, Youngkyun likes baseball, and he’s really confident when he plays baseball. And I think he wants to feel more confident around the rest of us, so I figured if we all played baseball with him it could help a little.”

 

“You think playing baseball with Kyun is going to get him to open up?” Chanhee asked, tilting his head like he didn’t believe it would actually work. After all, Sanghyuk didn’t know either. 

 

“I’m just saying it might help!” he defended, shrugging his shoulders. 

 

“And uhm… I’m part of this group now?” Seokwoo spoke up, looking around the group of them.

 

“We’ve established that already, yes,” Chanhee confirmed for him, barely turning to look over his shoulder at him while he spoke. Sanghyuk opened his mouth to make some unnecessary comment between the two of them, like maybe pointing out how Chanhee had pulled Sanghyuk to the side to demand he invite Seokwoo to the outing he still had no information about, but the gate squeaked open again before he could.

 

Sanghyuk was up on his feet, jumping away from the bleachers instantly, lightly jogging over to meet Taeyang and Youngkyun there. “Hey!” he called with a wide smile. 

 

Youngkyun cocked his eyebrow at him. “You… everyone is… here?” he asked, and suddenly his expression looked just slightly less confident. “What are we doing?”

 

“You know all the rules of baseball, right?” Sanghyuk interrupted, throwing his arm around Youngkyun’s shoulders and dragging him towards the rest of the group, Taeyang lingering behind only slightly. He didn’t wait for the boy to answer. “I hope so, because the most I know about baseball is you throw the ball, someone hits it, and you catch it. So go on,” he encouraged, pushing Youngkyun in front of their crowd of friends. “Tell u how to play baseball with seven people.”

 

Youngkyun turned around to stare at him with wide eyes. “What? Why?!”

 

Sanghyuk smiled, looking over his shoulder at Taeyang for only a second before looking back at Youngkyun. “Because we’re playing baseball duh.”

 

---

 

So playing baseball with seven people wasn’t the easiest, but they somehow made it work. There were no teams, because in reality they didn’t have enough players to form actual teams, and there was no real score being kept because you can’t keep score without teams to score points. The version of baseball they were playing was more or less just to see how far the batter could get before they were stopped, and when they were up to bat again, they would add together the bases. So, if Sanghyuk had made it to second base on his first hit (he had) and then to second base again on his next hit (he hadn’t) he would have counted that as a full run. Too bad Chanhee was a little bitch and got to second base before him on his last hit and got him out. 

 

Nobody had any set positions either, they just kind of took whatever was open. They forewent the catcher and put the batter in charge of retrieving the ball instead so they could have an outfielder. Oh yeah, they only had one player covering the entire outfield, so they were getting more runs than anybody else would usually ever be able to get. They would have had two, but both Chanhee and Youngkyun insisted shortstop was an important position and Youngbin would be fine handling the field on his own. Youngbin was not and struggled a lot, but he was playing first baseman now anyways, so at least he wasn’t there for the whole game. They had basemen for every base, a pitcher, and a batter. 

 

“Ready?” Sanghyuk asked, raising his brows as he dramatically prepared to pitch the next ball.

 

“Throw this one straight, please,” Chanhee practically begged, pleading with Sanghyuk who had no good sense of aim, and never claimed to.

 

“It’s called a curveball ,” Sanghyuk emphasized.

 

Chanhee blinked at him. “Throwing it twenty feet to my left is not a curveball.”

 

“Okay whatever just hit this one,” Sanghyuk ordered with no warning, winding his arm back and pitching the ball. Chanhee somehow managed to hit it, which was honestly some miracle because Sanghyuk had not, in fact, thrown it straight. 

 

Chanhee took off running through the bases, feet skidding over first base as Youngkyun jumped up, catching the ball instantly in his gloved hand. 

 

“You’re out fucker!” 

 

Chanhee skidded to a stop, crashing into Seokwoo, the second baseman, and sending both of them tumbling to the ground in a cloud of dust. “Goddammit!” Chanhee screamed at Youngkyun, who stood in the outfield laughing hysterically to himself, ignoring the fact that him and Seokwoo were completely tangled together on the ground.

 

“Are you okay?” Seokwoo asked, gently pulling himself back from Chanhee.

 

“I’m fine!” Chanhee declared, but he just stared with a determined look in his eyes at Youngkyun. “Next time I bat I’ll make you chase the fucking ball.”

 

“Maybe if Sanghyuk could actually pitch,” Taeyang offered up from the shortstop position, and Sanghyuk turned to gape at him. 

 

“Hey! It’s every man for himself, and Chanhee didn’t get any more bases! Done whine about my pitching!”

 

“You’re pitching sucks,” Youngkyun threw in with a giggle, running back from the outfield. “You’re batting next anyways. I’m pitching.”

 

Sanghyuk pouted, moving off of the pitcher’s mound and sulking his way over to home base to grab the bat. “So, let me get this straight. Chanhee, an actual baseball player, gets an amature to pitch to him, but me, an amature, gets Youngkyun, a fucking baseball prodigy, to pitch to me? And this is fair, how?”

 

“Nobody said it was fair,” Youngkyun pointed out, rolling his shoulders back. “Get ready.”

 

“Fuck you,” Sanghyuk mumbled, pulling the bat back over his shoulder and getting ready to swing it. Of course, Youngkyun didn’t hold back on his pitch, and Sanghyuk almost closed his eyes as he swung the bat. But it was the telltale feeling and sound of the bat making head on contact with the ball that pried his eyes back open, watching as the ball flew into the outfield, Chanhee quickly sprinting after it. 

 

Sanghyuk didn’t waste another second, dropping the bat behind him and taking off to first base. He almost tripped over himself rounding the base as he started sprinting to second base. He watched as Chanhee got the ball and tossed it. It made it to second base just after he had passed, and yeah the smart thing definitely would have been to stay at second base because he was safe, but nope. Sanghyuk kept going, sprinting as fast as he could as he watched the ball fly over his head and into the air. He slid his body back, shoes sliding across the dirt as his body fell to the ground. As his shoe touched the base, he looked up to see Inseong standing above him, the ball landing almost perfectly in the pocket of his glove. But he made it to third base first, and therefore was not out. 

 

Inseong looked down at him with a smile, and Sanghyuk found himself unable to move, or even breathe, for a second. He was still lying in the dirt while Inseong smiled at him, teeth poking out between his lips and eyes crinkling at the corners. His hair was all messed up, sticking out in several directions and frizzy from the late night exercise. His forehead gleamed with a bit of sweat, but it didn’t seem to have any effect on him. For some reason, though, it definitely had an effect on Sanghyuk.

 

Looking up at Inseong like this, Sanghyuk realized one of many things. Inseong was really attractive. Now, that was nothing new to Sanghyuk, the only new thing was that this fact was the only thing his puny brain could currently think of. 

 

What the fuck was wrong with him?

 

He shook his head quickly, ignoring Inseong still beaming above him as he pushed himself to his feet, face beat red from a mixture of exhaustion and pure embarrassment. What the fuck was Sanghyuk thinking, though, really? There had been several jokes by several people and several implications, and Sanghyuk had dodged them all skillfully up until now, but the fact still remained staring him in the face and he really didn’t like the sudden certainty of it. 

 

Sanghyuk felt a headache coming on not even five minutes later, and he knew exactly why. He was stretching himself thin trying to pay attention to everything at once. He kept trying to watch out for Youngkyun and how he was acting with the group, how confident he felt and how he held himself. He was trying to keep an eye on Chanhee and Seokwoo because he just knew there was something going on there. He was trying to focus on playing a game enough to at least avoid suspicion that he was lost in his thoughts. And, oh yeah, he was unwillingly thinking about Inseong constantly. That was one distraction Sanghyuk neither welcomed nor wanted, and yet it was the most prominent thing on his mind right now. 

 

But he couldn’t stop watching Inseong now, his eyes flickering him in moments they didn’t before. When Inseong swung the bat, when he cheered for making it to third base, when he hit a foul and pouted, when he caught the ball at first base and got Taeyang out. And somehow, even though every other person on the field was doing those things too, and they were completely normal, regular, boring things that all people could do, Sanghyuk couldn’t help but notice he liked when Inseong did them the most. Inseong’s smile sent a small rush of heat up his cheeks and Inseong antics made him smile. 

 

And no, Sanghyuk was not an idiot. If anything, Sanghyuk had read too many books to know what all of that meant. But no, Inseong was supposed to be Sanghyuk’s friend. Inseong was his friend. Would always be his friend. Would stay his friend.

 

Sanghyuk would not catch feelings this bad for Inseong. 

 

And if he had started to already, he was stopping it now. Because he cared about Inseong as his friend, and he didn’t want the extra baggage that came with caring any more than that. 

 

Sanghyuk would not catch feelings for Inseong. 

 

---

 

“Thank you for that.”

 

Sanghyuk hummed in acknowledgment as the two walked side by side. Sanghyuk had offered to walk Youngkyun home afterwards, knowing Taeyang’s parents would be up soon and would freak if they knew their son snuck out again, so Taeyang couldn’t go out of his way to walk the boy home. Yes, Taeyang was still a working progress. 

 

Inseong had almost offered to come along, but it was obvious both him and Youngbin needed a nap, at least, before their day began. Seokwoo was also drained, and Chanhee made a point of offering to walk ‘Seokwoo’s prissy ass’ home to make sure his ‘pissy ass self’ didn’t get lost without a GPS. Believe it or not, Sanghyuk had almost told Chanhee to cut it out and play nice, but Seokwoo had laughed and agreed. And Sanghyuk promptly realized he needed an update on exactly how much time those two had recently spent together and how long they had been crushing on each other. 

 

“I hope you had fun,” Sanghyuk mumbled, rubbing his eyes. He was tired, too, like everyone else was. In fact, he was practically a walking zombie, but he had gone without sleep before and he knew it would be a struggle to drift off anyways. 

 

Youngkyun nodded, yawning. “I did actually. It was nice to just… hang out like that and not feel… anxious.”

 

Sanghyuk copied Youngkyun, yawning. “Just wanted to show you that you don’t have to be anxious around the people you’re close to.”

 

Youngkyun nodded, opening his mouth to say something else, when the door to the house opened. A woman dressed in a night robe came running out, and instantly Youngkyun swallowed his words. He tipped his head down, almost like a bow of apology, and Sanghyuk found himself slightly stepping to the side as the woman pushed open the front gate and swallowed Youngkyun in a hug.

 

“Where the hell were you?!”

 

Okay, so yeah this was definitely Sanghyuk’s responsibility. He folded his hands in front of himself and bowed. “Hello ma’am, I’m-”

 

“You’re not a highschool kid,” was her first observation, and Sanghyuk mentally kicked himself. 

 

“No, I’m not,” he confessed, pulling himself out of his bow. 

 

“Then who are you?”

 

“Mom this is-”

 

“I want to hear it from him,” she interjected, cutting Youngkyun off. By the expression on Youngkyun’s face, Sanghyuk could tell a lot of his issues with confidence came from his parents. Standing up to them when he was younger must have been a lot more difficult than he was letting on. 

 

“My name is Lee Sanghyuk,” he introduced softly. “I help tutor Youngkyun and his teammate Chanhee after school sometimes. I’m sorry for bringing him home so late, in return for the tutoring he was teaching me how to play baseball. Chanhee was with us as well and-”

 

“Kyun, since when do you hang out with older kids like this?”

 

Okay there weren’t a lot of things that pissed Sanghyuk off, but adults talking about him like he wasn’t right in front of them was one, and being called an ‘older kid’ was another, when he was clearly an adult and acted more like one than several parents did. He had just told this woman he was tutoring her son and she still looked at him like a hoodlum. 

 

And if Sanghyuk had to take a guess, Youngkyun’s parents didn’t know about Inseong or Youngbin either. That was probably even more shocking, and it made Sanghyuk sigh in relief that he hadn’t brought up their names. 

 

The woman turned on him, glaring at him. “When and where do you tutor him?”

 

And another thing that really pissed Sanghyuk off was adults acting like their children couldn’t make their own responsible decisions. But the trouble was, Sanghyuk understood her concerns. She was a parent, and though Sanghyuk didn’t keep nearly as much of an eye on Sangmi and Sangchul as he should, he cared where they went, too. The trouble now was acting like an adult without making decisions his friends would despise.

 

“I tutor him after school,” Sanghyuk lied, knowing very well Youngkyun was not always with him. “It’s not every day, and it’s not scheduled. Youngkyun knows where to find me if he needs help, and so he comes when he does. I have a coworker who tutors kids in English, as well.”

 

“Where do you-”

 

“If Youngkyun wants to share that information with you, he may.”

 

That comment seemed to silence both Youngkyun and his mom. He looked over at Sanghyuk with wide eyes, like maybe Youngkyun expected him to just rat him out in the first place, or give it all away so Youngkyun would have nowhere left to escape to. Meanwhile his mom just gaped at Sanghyuk like he was the most brazen kid she had ever met. 

 

“I tutor a lot of kids who have rough home lives,” Sanghyuk confessed, which wasn’t a lie. “Some of these kids can’t pay for expensive tutoring, and some are afraid to admit to their parents they need help. I will not speak for Youngkyun, he can use his own words and explain himself, but the way I see it he has no obligation to.”

 

“But-”

 

“Youngkyun will be graduating this year. He is close enough to being an adult, enough so that I believe he can soundly make his own decisions. He’s mature, smart, and incredibly understanding. He doesn’t always come for tutoring, he sometimes comes because it’s somewhere he can study on his own, knowing help is right there if he needs it. I’m not a capitalist ringing kids dry, I’m helping them, Youngkyun included. So for these kids, the location of my tutoring staying between us is something incredibly important, and I would hope you would respect that and keep the location to yourself if you ever found out.” Sanghyuk finished with a nod, turning to Youngkyun. “You can tell her if you want. Invite her to sit in on tutoring if she’d like, too, I don’t mind. It’s your decision.”

 

“He doesn’t need to invite me,” his mom nearly growled, and Sanghyuk didn’t hesitate to straighten his back, raise his chin, and practically look down on her.

 

“Youngkyun is my student, and my tutoring lessons are private. If you want to sit in, I won’t allow it without his invitation, in case I didn’t make that clear,” Sanghyuk butted in, and he could hear the silence following that demand. “I don’t ask for parental permission because I treat my students like adults. If they want to get extra help, that is their decision. Nobody can tell them they need more help, that makes no sense. So the way I see it, the kids can handle themselves, your son included.”

 

Sanghyuk almost enjoyed the silence that followed his words. He really despised people who looked down on others just because of their age. It disgusted him. But he was pretty proud of himself for making his point clear, and he knew he had. 

 

He turned to Youngkyun again. “I’m going now, sorry for keeping you out too late, that was my fault.”

 

“I insisted we stay that late!” Youngkyun quickly lied, staring at Sanghyuk with big, round eyes. “So…” he swallowed, hands clenching. “Thank you for coming after I invited you, and thank you for walking me home to make sure I got home safe. I appreciate it. And… and thank you for sticking up for me!”

 

He said that right in front of his mom. Youngkyun had just thanked Sanghyuk for standing up to his mom… right in front of his mom. Holy shit. Sanghyuk had never expected Youngkyun to speak up in this situation, and he was prepared to stick up for him the whole time just so Youngkyun wouldn’t have to. But he did it anyway. 

 

Sanghyuk was smiling before he could stop himself, reaching up and ruffling Youngkyun’s tied-back hair. “I’m proud of you,” he mumbled, watching as Youngkyun’s anxiety ridden expression slowly curved to reveal a subtle smile. “I’ll see you on Monday, kay? Or tomorrow, but make sure you get some rest.”

 

Youngkyun nodded, looking breathless. “You too, Hyuk.”

 

Sanghyuk smiled, and with that he turned and walked away, knowing full well Youngkyun would be okay to handle the situation on his own.

Chapter Text

A lot had happened in the past week. On Sunday, Sanghyuk’s mom was fired from one of her jobs because of something that wasn’t even her fault. The employer had faked some bullshit to get her out of the position just because she could ‘be replaced.’ She insisted it was okay, that she could find a new job for her night shifts with no problem, but he could see the panic, stress, and strain she was under. He had told her it was okay, and that she should take a few days to focus on herself and her kids (Sangmi and Sangchul) instead of worrying. That was blind assurance, though, and Sanghyuk really hoped she would be able to find a job soon. 

 

He seriously didn’t mean to get so worried about the situation, but he ended up feeling like his chest was clogged up and he couldn’t breathe, so he left in the middle of the night while everyone was sleeping and went to the field Inseong had taken him to. He laid down in the grass and just started to breath, hoping to chase the remnants of panic away. He just ended up breathing heavier, and without a noise he silently cried into the open air of the field. He fell asleep there that night. 

 

On Monday, Youngkyun met with Sanghyuk before he had to bring Sangmi and Sangchul to school. He told him his mom was coming to one of their tutoring sessions, and he invited her to only one to show her it really was tutoring. So they sat outside of his house and planned what Sanghyuk would teach him so he could brush up on it, just so he wouldn’t slip. 

 

Sure enough, Youngkyun’s mom walked with him to the library after school and met Sanghyuk there. He bowed courteously and said he was glad she could make it, even if it was a lie. Youngkyun paid him for the lesson considering Sanghyuk was actually teaching him something he needed help on, and Inseong less than secretly listened in from the next table over while helping two students with their English vocab. By the end of the session, Youngkyun’s mom approved of the tutoring style and permitted her son to continue coming, and Sanghyuk had to bite his tongue from pointing out Youngkyun didn’t need her permission. He just thanked her instead, too tired to put up a solid defense. 

 

On Tuesday, it occurred to Sanghyuk that they weren’t making as much money as they originally were. Obviously it was because the interest of the kids who only came one time died out, and they didn’t really advertise so it wasn’t like word was spreading. But Sanghyuk’s mom was out of one of her jobs, and they needed more money if anything, not less. Sanghyuk, even at this point, still didn’t tell Inseong about his mom losing her job. He didn’t want to put any pressure on him about their work, and he just wanted to present the issue as it was on its own, without the added stress. 

 

On Wednesday, Sanghyuk got a call from the elementary school. Sangchul had gotten in a fight. He grabbed his bike and rode down as quickly as he could, and he arrived as the representing adult. Sangchul sat quietly and looked very guilty in the chair in front of the principal’s desk beside another boy his age who had a tissue stuffed up his nose and a bruise on his cheek. The mother of that little boy glared daggers at Sanghyuk.

 

“Your son hit my son, is that how you raise him?” the mother asked him, and Sanghyuk was already tired.

 

“I’m sorry ma’am,” he replied with a bow. “This is my brother, so-”

 

“Well where’s his unruly mother?” 

 

Sanghyuk bit his tongue to stop himself from arguing with the outright unreasonable comment. “Working. Again, I’m sorry about what happened but-”

 

“No wonder your son is such a prick, he takes after you!” Sangchul threw out, and Sanghyuk couldn’t help but turn to gape at him.

 

“Sangchul, okay listen,” he began before being interrupted by the woman he had no interest in dealing with. He ignored her as he crouched down by Sangchul’s chair. “If you’re upset because something happened, throwing insults isn’t going to help. Remember what I taught you about being professional?”

 

Sangchul sighed. “‘Always act respectful so you don’t get thrown under the bus,’” he repeated in a mumble, and Sanghyuk gave him a lopsided smirk as he patted his shoulder. 

 

“Good boy. Now what happened?”

 

The principal tried to interrupt, and so did the son and the mother, but Sanghyuk silenced them all by standing up and firmly telling them he didn’t have any interest in hearing what happened from anyone else until he heard the story from his brother first.

 

Sangchul let his head fall down to his lap. “Sanghyuk, he was making fun of you,” he whimpered, and he could hear how clogged up the younger boy’s voice was. “He called you my babysitter, and when I told him you were my brother he told me he would rather die than have a brother like you and I- I don’t want people to say stuff like that about you. They have no right! I told him to stop!” he recounted, finally lifting his tear filled eyes to Sanghyuk. “I did what you told me to do I promise! I didn’t say anything mean to him and I just told him I didn’t like him saying that and he needed to stop, so he pushed me on the ground and called me dirty! And then he said I live this way because of you, but that’s not true! I pushed- I pushed him back and then he grabbed me and so I hit him really hard and pushed him onto the ground but the teachers only saw me hit him but he pushed me first!”

 

“Not true!” the other son deflected easily, but Sanghyuk didn’t believe him for a second. If Sangchul said the other boy pushed him first, then that was what happened. Sangchul never lied to him. 

 

It took over half an hour to settle, and even then it wasn’t really considered settling. The mom refused to believe Sangchul and the other son sat there like the little brat he was. Of course, he came from a rich and privileged home so he always had the benefit of the doubt, even from the principal. The mom demanded compensation for having to bring her son to the doctor’s office, and Sanghyuk didn’t hesitate to come back by saying he had a bloody nose and a bruise, he could just slap some ice on it and deal. The mother didn’t like to hear that, but it was true.

 

She wanted sixty thousand won for compensation, and the demand left both Sanghyuk and Sangchul gaping. 

 

“No way,” Sangchul told her, standing up from his seat and looking her right in the eyes. “Your son pushed me first and started the fight. He should have expected to get hit after the mean things he said. You wouldn’t need… comp… compensation... if you raised your son right!”

 

Of course, provoking an angry mother was never a good idea, but everything Sangchul said was valid, and Sanghyuk would never let him believe it wasn’t. But then she threatened to make a huge deal out of it if they didn’t just pay her, which would have cost even more money and created even more trouble.

 

“Ma’am, I don’t have sixty thousand won to give you,” Sanghyuk told her truthfully. “I told you his mother is working right now, but we struggle as it is. Even the principal-”

 

But the principal didn’t vouch for Sanghyuk. He insisted Sanghyuk just pay even when he couldn’t . He could feel himself collapsing under the pressure but he had to keep standing because if he fell, Sangchul was on his own. 

 

Eventually, the principal threw out the offer for Sangchul to do community work for the school every day for the next two weeks to repay for what happened, but Sanghyuk shut him up right there and asked for the woman’s number so he could pay her the sixty thousand in a week. He would not make Sangchul do work for this godforsaken school for something he had nothing to make up for. He pulled Sangmi out of class and brought them both home early. It was a very quiet walk.

 

“Hyuk…” Sangchul began, and within seconds he was crying. He sniffled and lifted his arm up to wipe his tears away, but it didn’t help. “Hyuk I’m really sorry. I really am.”

 

“It’s okay Sangchul, you didn’t do anything wrong. That boy hit you, so he deserved to get hit, too. That’s how the world-” Sanghyuk sighed. “That’s how the world should work.”

 

That afternoon, Sanghyuk was left with the same problem of less and less kids coming to tutoring. He wasn’t sure he would have sixty thousand won to spare by the end of the week, but he didn’t tell anyone that either. He didn’t want anyone else offering. 

 

On Thursday, midterm scores came out. Taeyang’s were higher than they had ever been, and half of the school was whispering about it. Taeyang was really happy about it, too, coming right over to the library after school to boast about it, telling everyone who was there for Sanghyuk and Inseong that they were the reason his scores improved. Sanghyuk appreciated the effort, but he knew Taeyang’s scores alone wouldn’t bring anymore kids in. 

 

Thursday night Sanghyuk came home to his mom laughing and playing with his siblings. He had made Sangchul promise not to tell their mom about what happened at school, but as he watched them play together he realized everything he was throwing onto himself was an awful lot to handle on his own, and as much as he hated admitting he needed help, he wasn’t sure how much longer he could handle everything on his own. 

 

On Friday, Taeyang ditched school. Sanghyuk was about to call him out on it, chastising him about how he promised he wouldn’t do that anymore, but after seeing the mood the boy was in, he decided against it. And that’s where Sanghyuk was now, sitting on a rock off to the side of a creek while Taeyang stood ankle deep in it whipping pebbles into the rushing water. 

 

“I mean,” Taeyang continued to rant, grabbing another pebble and whipping it at the water. “since when do better test scores mean anything?! It proves I don’t want to fail, yeah. But that doesn’t mean I suddenly want to go to college!” Taeyang growled out a muffled yell as he whipped another rock, watching it bounce back out and make another splash. “I just don’t get why they’re so dead set on it! They took my test scores improving as a sign that I suddenly care, as if I didn’t before!” he kicked his bare foot at the water before throwing another rock, this time not even at the water, just into the woods behind it. “I cared before, because if I didn’t then I’d just play their puppet like they want me to! No, I cared! I care! I don’t want to fucking go to college! Never did, never will! But they think I suddenly care in the sense that now my education is important to me and I’m ready to care about my future. Fuck that!” 

 

Sanghyuk, admittedly, had not gotten enough sleep in the past week to deal with this. As if he wasn’t already stressed enough, his insomnia had been worse than usual, and he was practically running on fumes. That, and skipping more meals than usual to save some money for that sixty thousand he now owed some random bitch. 

 

“Have you told them you don’t want to go?” Sanghyuk asked, trying to keep himself as attentive as he could manage. He wasn’t sure it was working. 

 

“No,” Taeyang mumbled, whipping another rock at the water. “My dad already told me he would kick me out if I didn’t go, and he was serious. It wasn’t a joke. They’ll kick me out onto the streets because a degree is more important to them than their own damn son.” Another rock. “I make it so obvious that I don’t want to go, but they just don’t care ! And now that my test scores are up, they’re bothering me about it even more. Why can’t they just leave me alone?!”

 

It wasn’t guaranteed that they would kick Taeyang out. It could have been a threat. But then again, if Taeyang told them and they didn’t kick him out, would he really feel comfortable staying? Either way, Sanghyuk quickly accepted the reality, even if Taeyang hadn’t quite reached that point yet. If Taeyang was going to get kicked out, he needed a place to stay. 

 

Taeyang could probably stay with Sanghyuk or Inseong and Youngbin, but neither of them really had the room, and Taeyang would have to pay for his own food. Seokwoo’s parents would never approve of a random kid mooching (not exactly how it would be, but that’s how it would seem) off of their wealth. Chanhee was in the process of being adopted, so adding another random kid was a load most likely too heavy for the new parents, so he wasn’t an option. Youngkyun was completely out of the question. If Youngkyun’s parents didn’t know he was gay by the time Taeyang needed a place to stay, his parents would undoubtedly label Taeyang as a bad influence and cast him out. And even if they didn’t, Youngkyun would probably end up going to college, so he was leaving soon anyways. If they somehow knew he was gay, no way were they letting a guy live in their house, that was if the same thing didn’t happen to Youngkyun, too. If Youngkyun didn’t get kicked out. 

 

What if Youngkyun got kicked out, too? Not that that was something Sanghyuk should have to worry about now, because Youngkyun clearly showed no intention of telling them any time soon, but what if? What if both Taeyang and Youngkyun were left without places to stay, worst case scenario? Sanghyuk wanted to help, but he didn’t have any money to spare right now. He couldn’t help even if he wanted to. What if his own situation got so bad that someone found out about their situation and took Sangchul and Sangmi? What if his mom lost her second job? What if Sanghyuk couldn’t make enough money tutoring kids? What if-

 

“Sanghyuk? SANGHYUK!”

 

He didn’t realize everything was dancing in his vision until he was already tipping over and falling as everything went black. 

 

---

 

The room was dark when Sanghyuk finally blinked his eyes open. He felt groggy and out of it, especially because he knew for a fact he hadn’t been in a room when he passed out. Right, he had passed out. He had really stressed himself out so much that he passed out, unbelievable. 

 

He rolled himself over until he could push himself into a sitting position, but that just made his ears ring and his vision burst into colors and swatches of black. He steadied himself with a firm hand curling into the side of the mattress before looking around. The room was dark with curtains shut, but it was obvious it was nighttime anyways with the lack of light around the windows, curtains or not. He was sitting on a mattress on the floor in the corner of a room that wasn’t his own, and when he finally let his eyes drift down to the floor he saw Inseong curled up beside the mattress, a single blanket covering his sleeping body.

 

Sanghyuk felt himself still, just watching the boy breathing and appreciating the fact that wherever he was, Inseong hadn’t left his side. He must have been out for hours if it was already nighttime. He missed picking his siblings up, he missed work, he couldn’t have contacted his mom, and he passed out in the middle of Taeyang having his own problems. God, he was just the worst. 

 

But somehow, with Inseong sleeping so peacefully beside him, Sanghyuk had no doubt that everything was taken care of. So Instead of letting himself worry over it any more, he slowly lowered himself down into the mattress. Inseong stirred slightly beside him, but he didn’t wake. Once his head was resting on the pillow, blankets comfortably tucked over his shoulders, Sanghyuk reached out his hand. Even in the dark, he could somehow still see every detail of Inseong, and he couldn’t tear his eyes away. His hand found Inseong’s easily, and without tearing his eyes away from the boy’s face, he intertwined their fingers. He shifted slightly, one more time, before closing his eyes with a gentle smile pulling at his lips, hand in hand with the one person who never failed to leave him completely speechless every single time. 

 

Everything was going wrong, and he was struggling a lot, but knowing he had Inseong and everyone else by his side made him feel a hell of a lot better. 

 

“Thank you,” he whispered under his breath, lips barely moving as he spoke. “For making me feel better.”

 

---

 

Sanghyuk had no idea what time it was when he next opened his eyes, but when he did the first thing he saw was Inseong staring back at him. Sanghyuk expected him to maybe shut his eyes and try to pretend he wasn’t already awake, but he just blinked and continued staring. Sanghyuk was too tired to do anything else, and it clearly wasn’t daytime, so he just moved himself over on the mattress, slipped his hand out of Inseong’s, leaving it cold and unfavorable, and gestured for Inseong to get off the floor. 

 

Inseong didn’t hesitate to comply, scooching over until him and Sanghyuk were sharing a pillow, noses so close they were almost touching. 

 

“Tomorrow,” Inseong whispered, his voice so quiet and groggy Sanghyuk almost missed what he said. “You’ll tell me what’s wrong then, right?”

 

“... yeah,” Sanghyuk agreed with no hesitation, closing his eyes and lowering his head to tuck it under Inseong’s chin. He wrapped his arm around Inseong’s waist and cuddled into him and Inseong instinctively wrapped his arms around him in return. And all of this was fine. Sanghyuk had a rough week, and Inseong cared. This was fine. 

 

Inseong moved his legs to tangle them between Sanghyuk’s. “You promise?” he mumbled, clearly already halfway drifting off to sleep. 

 

“Yeah… I promise,” Sanghyuk mumbled back, burying his nose deeper into Inseong’s shoulder. He might regret this situation later, and he knew that. But right now he couldn’t have been more comfortable, so he could deal with it. Because in the end, cuddling with Inseong definitely felt worth it. 

 

---

 

Awkward, that’s what waking up was. Sanghyuk woke up completely tangled with Inseong, just as he had willingly positioned himself the night before, and now both of them were staring at each other wide eyes like they both realized their mistakes at the same time. It only took two seconds to untangle and fully wake up, now that both of their hearts were beating ridiculously fast. And Sanghyuk wasn’t sure if he should be embarrassed because of how fast his heartbeat was beating, because Inseong definitely knew, or because of the fact that Sanghyuk’s head had been on Inseong's chest and he also heard how fast his heart was beating, so now they were kind of at a crossroads. Sanghyuk could take a decent guess at why his heart was racing, that being because he just woke up tangled with the one person he might actually admit he has feelings for which he really shouldn’t , but that was an issue that had slightly gone away and he really wished it wouldn’t have come back at all. Inseong was probably just startled. 

 

“How are you feeling?” Inseong managed to ask, clearly pretending like that never happened. Sanghyuk could respond several ways to that, so at least he had options. He could say ‘ fucked up because I’m hung up on the fact that I might actually have a serious thing for you ’, ‘ scared shitless because I have sooo many fucking problems and all of them are impossible to deal with, you being involved in several’, or something like ‘wonderful, I passed out while Taeyang was having an actual problem because I’m scared I’ll have to take care of everyone myself but I’m not even taking care of myself anymore and I don’t know what to do, and for once in my life I think I might actually need help.’  

 

He went with a simple “not tired.” To which Inseong responded with “that’s good.” Followed by Sanghyuk yearning to bash his head through a window for thinking he could get away with any of this shit, cuddling with Inseong not only included, but topping the list. 

 

“Are you… okay?”

 

“I’m-” Sanghyuk began, his voice hitching in his throat. Inseong looked at him expectantly, and it was clear Inseong only asked because he had no idea what else to say, but the question still stood and would have been posed seriously sooner or later anyways. And Sanghyuk suddenly found himself incapable of lying and saying he was okay, because the truth was he needed help and saying he was okay was only going to frustrate everyone involved, including himself. He bit his lip. “I think… I need… help.”

 

Inseong didn’t respond right away, merely blinking at him. It was obvious Inseong didn’t expect a serious answer to that question, which he posed so nonchalantly in the first place. Then, piercing the quiet that had fallen between them, he nodded. “Okay, then let me help you.”

 

“It’s a lot, and you can’t help with all of it.”

 

“I can try,” Inseong responded without even time to think over that statement, but the lack of thought put into it was what comforted Sanghyuk the most. “Come on,” he urged, pulling himself to his feet before offering his hand to Sanghyuk. “Let’s go to the field.”

 

It was a quiet walk, but thankfully it wasn’t awkward. For the most part, the two boys just enjoyed the quiet company together as they walked through the chilly morning air. 

 

“What happened with Sangmi and Sangchul?” Sanghyuk asked suddenly, remembering his thoughts from the night before.

 

Inseong smiled proudly. “Youngkyun and Taeyang picked them up after making sure you were okay. I’ve never seen Taeyang panic that much before, seriously. You scared him.”

 

“He was just shocked.”

 

“Hyuk, he was seriously on the verge of having a mental breakdown,” Inseong told him with a snicker, which Sanghyuk felt was probably not something to laugh at, but whatever. Maybe it was, he wouldn’t know since he was passed out the whole time. “He called everyone. Youngkyun, Chanhee, and Seokwoo even left school to make sure you were okay.”

 

“They what?!”

 

Inseong smiled. “Yeah, they all left. Don’t blame yourself for that, though, because I can already see you starting to.”

 

“Well… yeah!” Sanghyuk admitted, panic filling his own nerves again. “Have you met Youngkyun’s mom?! Wait, of course you ha- that woman is crazy! She is going to whoop my ass if she ever finds out Youngkyun ditched because of me, nevermind that she’s going to be pissed at him in the first place. And Seokwoo ?! Oh my god his CEO dad is probably going to give him hell for that so why would he put himself through that just to make sure I’m okay? It wasn’t like I almost died, I just passed out! Chanhee… honestly his parents probably won’t be happy about it but he still shouldn’t have had to- and Taeyang was already ditching so… well, there’s a whole- I mean his family will be pissed but they’re always pissed I’m just worried about how he is like mentally because he was kind of- well I probably could have passed out at a better time not gonna lie, and-”

 

Sanghyuk didn’t realize he was rambling and not even paying attention again until he realized Inseong was standing in front of him, holding him in place by the shoulders. Sanghyuk promptly forgot everything he was saying, not that he was saying it coherently to begin with. 

 

“Hyuk, stop.”

 

“I’m just… I’m just say-”

 

“Is this what stressed you out so much?” Inseong asked, leaning down a bit with wide eyes. “Were you worried because of everyone else? Sanghyuk, it’s not your job to-”

 

“It’s not my job to take care of them?” Sanghyuk asked, raising an eyebrow and promptly silencing Inseong. “I… I know. I know it’s not my job, but Inseong they’re my friends, right? I want to help Taeyang with his parents and Youngkyun with his-” his sexuality was a secret “-what he has going on, and Chanhee with whatever he goes through and Seokwoo with his whole issue and I just… I want to be able to help them in any way I can. It’s not just them that was stressing me out, it’s just everything but Inseong I get worried. I’m really worried for them.”

 

“And I’m worried for you,” Inseong whispered, shaking Sanghyuk’s shoulders a bit to make sure his mind wasn’t wandering. “We all are. You’re our friend, kay? You passing out worries us a lot, especially because you help everyone else so selflessly.” Sanghyuk stayed silent, avoiding Inseong’s eye contact intentionally so he wouldn’t feel guilted into agreeing. Inseong continued speaking. “So tell me what’s going on… please? You said you would.”

 

Sanghyuk exhaled slowly, still not lifting his head. “Can we go to the field first?” he managed to get out in a whisper, and Inseong seemed to instantly understand he wasn’t ready to lay it all out yet. 

 

“Absolutely,” Inseong agreed, wrapping his arm around Sanghyuk’s shoulders and pushing them both to keep walking. Sanghyuk was ready to fall back into the abyss that was his current mental state, but Inseong began talking instantly, and he made sure Sanghyuk was listening. There was nothing he was more thankful for at the moment. 

 

“I learned a cool French idiom the other day at the library. Some college kid with a degree in French taught it to me. Ask me why he taught it to me.”

 

Sanghyuk rolled his eyes playfully. “Why did he teach it to you?”

 

“Because I begged him to teach me something in French and refused to leave him along until he did,” Inseong announced proudly, pulling Sanghyuk along like he was dragging him as they walked, but Sanghyuk didn’t mind. “And this guy was smart enough to know I wouldn’t leave without something cool in French! The idiom is ‘ on se fait iech de ouf’ and I’m honestly not sure if I’m pronouncing any of that right, but it means literally feeling death coming as all time and space slows down from boredom.”

 

“How… interesting,” Sanghyuk felt the need to comment, watching as Inseong giggled beside him. 

 

“What? It fits our theme! I thought it was really cool that out of all the idioms he could have taught me he chose that one. Normal and boring lives, right? Remember?”

 

“I remember,” Sanghyuk confirmed quietly, nodding his head. His life certainly didn’t feel normal and boring right now. It felt chaotic and messy.

 

“I love it. Now I know how to say something about my life being boring in four languages!”

 

Sanghyuk squinted his eyes as he thought back to the day he met Inseong. Inseong had said something in… he couldn’t remember which language. He talked about his life being normal and boring, and he was proud of saying it too. Sanghyuk remembered the phrase made him extremely happy, because he could visualize the happiness on Inseong’s face as he told Sanghyuk in his memory. 

 

“Why do you like it so much?” he suddenly asked.

 

“Like what?” Inseong asked immediately, turning to face him even with his arm still wrapped around his shoulders. 

 

“Calling your life normal and boring. That day in the library you told me that for the first time, but you looked really happy about it, like it was your favorite thing in the world.”

 

Inseong blinked for a minute before stopping, halting Sanghyuk suddenly with him. “I told you it was my favorite phrase in Spanish, because it is. Wait, how do you not remember what I said, but you can remember how I smiled like you took a picture?” 

 

Sanghyuk blinked at him before tilting his head. “Wait, did you not know I have eidetic memory?”

 

Inseong blinked back, standing still without seemingly any idea what to say. “What the fuck is that?”

 

Sanghyuk rolled his eyes. “Photographic memory, idiot.”

 

“You what ?!”

 

“Yeah? Is that… is that some big deal?!”

 

“No it’s just really fucking cool!” 

 

Sanghyuk rolled his eyes, turning to begin walking again, but Inseong was immediately on his tail. “So you can remember visual things better than auditory things? Is that why you like reading so much? Because you can-”

 

“Reading stuff once does not commit it to memory, because then everything gets jumbled. I still go over the information like I’m studying, it’s just easier to remember because I have a system,” he tried explaining in easy terms, but it was something he always struggled to explain. “Like… files. Only I don’t file things away… there’s just a system okay?! It helps me remember stuff I read from books.”

 

“But what about memories? You can just remember those whenever you want?!” Inseong asked wide eyed and very very loudly, like he was so excited about Sanghyuk’s ability that he lost control of his own voice. 

 

“I mean, yeah. That’s why I remember your smile. I tried to remember what you said but I couldn’t, so instead I just kind of remembered the moment you told me. And you were smiling.”

 

“That’s so fucking cool,” Inseong mumbled as Sanghyuk rolled his eyes, already bored of talking about his memory. “What exactly was I wearing that day?”

 

Sanghyuk rolled his eyes again, using his head with the motion this time. “White collared shirt,” he remembered, the memory easily coming into a picture in his mind as he walked. “But it was like really not clean or ironed-”

 

“I would not have worn that if I knew you were going to take note of-”

 

“Black faded jeans. Your hair was really fluffy, and you were wearing specs,” Sanghyuk finished, ignoring Inseong’s interruption. “I can pretty much remember what you wear any day I see you.”

 

“Wait… really?”

 

Sanghyuk nodded, finally turning to face him a bit shyly. “Well, I can’t remember what everyone wears every day, but if there’s a specific moment that I can remember, or I can think of, I can remember that moment or shuffle through until I find it, and then I can picture you, so I can picture what you’re wearing. It’s not- it doesn’t work like that with everyone every day, though, because I have to actually notice something to remember it in the first place, but I notice you so… so…”

 

“So… you notice me… every day?” Inseong chose to comment on, not that Sanghyuk didn’t already expect that he would. 

 

“Well… I guess,” Sanghyuk answered lamely, not at all interested in elaborating.

 

“Well, hey, I don’t have some super memory like you have, but I notice you, too. I can’t… I can’t picture what you look like every day or remember- oh my god how many stupid things can you remember? Oh no .”

 

Sanghyuk giggled, shaking his head. Too many .

 

“But wait, does Taeyang know? Do Sangmi and Sangchul know?”

 

Sanghyuk shrugged. “It’s not like I really try to hide it, I just don’t bring it up unless I’m questioned. I haven’t told Taeyang, but he may have just noticed. He’s smart, he just doesn’t like to show it. And Sangmi and Sangchul know, but to them it’s just normal. They might have actually forgotten.”

 

“I think you should brag about it all the time,” Inseong confessed, wrapping his arm back around Sanghyuk’s shoulders. “It’s cool.”

 

“No it’s not,” Sanghyuk mumbled with a pout. “I mean… I can remember the good little things like… I remember what positions we were all playing at that impromptu baseball game, and I remember the score because I made sure I kept looking at the scoreboard so I could remember it. And I remember dumpster digging and painting the bike. I remember meeting you and everyone else and just everything in between. But… I remember every single night my dad came home high, too.” Inseong went completely still and silent, but Sanghyuk kept walking, so Inseong had no choice but to catch up. 

 

“I remember every night I screamed at him and how miserable my mom always looked. I remember hitting myself with the rock to get him out of the goddamn house, and I just… I remember all of that, too, and sometimes I just see it. And it’s not like I can’t focus on other things, but it’s just there sometimes in the back of my mind and I can’t forget any of it because I saw it all… and that makes me really wish I didn’t have eidetic memory. Because I don’t want to remember all of that.”

 

“Is… is that why you?”

 

“Why I passed out?” Sanghyuk finished, actually laughing with the question. “Inseong, no,” he continued, turning around to walk backwards with a pained smile on his face. “My life is so much more fucked up than you can imagine.”

 

“Oh, I like a challenge,” Inseong quickly replied, a smile coming onto his expression as well.

 

“You might regret that,” was the only thing Sanghyuk could think of to say while simultaneously trying to figure out how Inseong had made him completely forget about what had been troubling before to the point where he was borderline smiling about his stress now. 

 

Inseong continued walking towards him as he walked backwards, still smiling. “Well then we can just be fucked up together, then, can’t we?”

Chapter Text

“You know what your problem is?” Inseong asked, as if Sanghyuk had always had some prominent issue that Inseong had been just waiting for the chance to fix. 

 

Sanghyuk rolled his eyes, adjusting his head which laid back against his hands folded behind him. He was laying back in the field, just feeling the grass dance around him in the breeze. “Oh yeah? What’s my problem?” he asked with a laugh, just amused because Inseong was being Inseong. 

 

“You like to help people. It’s disgusting.”

 

Sanghyuk actually snorted. “What?!” 

 

“Like,” Inseong began, pausing as he tried to find the words. He turned around from where he was standing, looking down to meet Sanghyuk’s eyes. “You like to help everyone, and I mean everyone . If you see someone in distress you automatically make that your problem too. Because you like to help people, but you feel like since you have to help everyone, there’s no one to help you.”

 

“How poetic,” Sanghyuk insulted so he wouldn’t have to admit that Inseong was right. 

 

“Hey, you know I’m right,” Inseong accused, pointing at Sanghyuk before reaching down and snatching a strand of straw grass from a patch growing out of the ground. He inspected it for no more than half a second before sticking it between his lips, and Sanghyuk couldn’t even pretend to not see that coming. “So-”

 

“If you are going to give me a life lesson I do not want to picture you with a piece of fucking straw in your mouth every time I remember it.”

 

Inseong lurched forward, hands around his stomach as he cackled. “Oh my god I forgot about that!”

 

“I told you literally fifteen minutes ago!” 

 

“Yeah, and I already forgot,” Inseong defended with no defense, grabbing a new piece of straw grass since the one he had fell out of his mouth when he laughed like a hyena, which Sanghyuk would surely never forget. “Anyways, you’re distracting me from my point.”

 

“Oh, you had a point?”

 

“I swear to God I’ll shove this spit covered piece of straw up your nose.”

 

“WOAH!” Sanghyuk interrupted, immediately sitting up with wide eyes. “When you joke threaten someone it’s supposed to be something hilariously funny not terrifyingly horrible!”

 

Inseong shrugged. “Whatever works. And like I was saying you are allowed to let people help you, you know? Like me? I’m right here. I can help you! Or at least I’m trying to but you’re being a little prick about it and don’t think I can’t tell that you’re using humor to distract me!” Dammit. “And anyways, you said you would tell me what was bothering you, but you haven’t yet. And my feelings are hurt. So spill it.”

 

Sanghyuk rolled his eyes. “I told you it’s fucked up. My life.”

 

Inseong mockingly copied him, rolling his own eyes before sitting down with his legs crossed in front of him. “And I told you we can be fucked up together, didn’t I? So come on. Being serious now.”

 

Sanghyuk sighed, looking down as he dropped his hands into his lap. Was it better to get it all out little by little, or to just say it all at once and hope Inseong chose to focus on only one of the several things he said? That would make for a shorter conversation, right? But then again, if Sanghyuk really did need help… wouldn’t it be better if Inseong could actually help him? He couldn’t do that if Sanghyuk tried cutting the conversation short. 

 

“My… my mom lost one of her jobs,” Sanghyuk finally pushed out, stopping himself from continuing and reminding himself that Inseong was here to help him, and he needed to say everything slowly enough to give him the chance. “And… I told her not to stress about it. She’s always so stressed, I just wanted to give her a break. But our tutoring lost the hype already, and I don’t think it’s enough without her second job. But I can’t bring myself to tell her that when she is finally spending time with Sangmi and Sangchul again. She’s so happy, I don’t want to ruin that for her.”

 

Inseong nodded, his smile long gone and replaced by genuine concern. “... and?”

 

Sanghyuk sighed. Of course Inseong could tell there was more. “And… Sangchul got into a fight at school, and the mother is some prissy bitch who thinks a bruise on her son’s cheek is the end of the world. They offered to give Sangchul community service work, but he wasn’t in the wrong so I refused to make him do that. So… instead I have to give that bitch sixty thousand won by Wednesday, and again, we’re struggling as it is. My mom… doesn’t know. Because I didn’t want to worry her… and I didn’t want to ask anyone for help with money.”

 

Inseong bit his lip. “... and ?”

 

Sanghyuk sighed again, hanging his head even lower than before. “And Taeyang was talking about how he doesn’t want to go to college, and his parents might kick him out when he tells them, and I don’t know how to help him. He can’t get a job as a student because they’d never let him, and once they kick him out he’ll have nothing. This group isn’t exactly the type of group that can take in their misfortunate friends, and I don’t know how to help him, but I want to. But I don’t even know how to help myself at this point.”

 

Inseong nodded, leaning forward a bit. “There’s a simple solution to every single one of those things.”

 

“There can not possibly be one solution to all of that!” Sanghyuk accused immediately, but Inseong just shook his head, completely sure of himself.

 

“Yes there is. Simple. We need more business.”

 

“That will not solve everything.”

 

Inseong just shook his head again. “More money from tutoring means less stressing about your mom not having a second job because you’ll be making the money you guys lost. More money from tutoring means you can pay that bitch without worrying about losing food money. More money from tutoring means you don’t have to skip meals anymore, and yeah, don’t think you got away with that one just because you didn’t bring it up. I noticed. And more money from tutoring means less on your mind, and then we can think about how to help Tae.”

 

Sanghyuk opened his mouth to argue, but Inseong was technically not wrong. More money literally would solve every single one of his problems. But there was one big flaw with Inseong’s grand idea.

 

“Yeah? And how are we getting more money?”

 

Inseong smiled. “I’m already working on it. Chanhee still owes you a favor, doesn’t he?”

 

---

 

So Inseong wasn’t stupid. In fact, Inseong had spent all that time Sanghyuk spent worrying and stressing out figuring out how to get them more business. The most surprising part was that his plan was insanely detailed, and might actually work. 

 

They spent the day tutoring as they usually did, but after they were done, they stayed at the library. Inseong pulled out his calculus notebook he had brought with him, flipping to a clean page so he could draw the whole plan out for him. 

 

There was something about sitting in a library feeling confident enough about change under the dim light of desk lamps that just made Sanghyuk feel more comfortable than anything else, or maybe it was because Inseong was by his side. He had no way of telling. 

 

“I was thinking,” Inseong began quietly, still looking down at his notebook. “We’re doing this secretly, but we don’t really need to. Because we run our advertising only by passing word and a poster at the library, our business is only actually known to about a fourth of the local high school, maybe closer to a half, I don’t know. But what I’m suggesting is that we broaden that.”

 

“You want to advertise to the whole school?” Sanghyuk asked, tilting his head. 

 

Inseong shook his head. “I want to advertise to the whole high school, the middle school, and the neighboring high school.”

 

Sanghyuk gaped at Inseong before trying to find the words to respond. “You… what? Inseong that’s-”

 

“Possible!” Inseong finished for him quickly. “But that’s not even all. I have more planned, too. Sanghyuk, we’re going to be huge.”

 

“You said that last time.”

 

“Yeah, but this time I’ve felt the waters a bit. I’m serious this time, okay? Listen. I’m having Chanhee hook us up with two other kids at the high school, and I’m pretty sure Seokwoo is helping. I don’t know their names, but one works for the school newspaper and does a podcast, and the other is going to go into college for advertising and business.”

 

“And you found these kids… how?”

 

Inseong shrugged. “I asked around with the kids we tutor. Hyuk, you have to realize we have a tiny network of kids that come to us. Use it! But anyways, the newspaper kid is going to help us get the word around the local high school. The business kid is going to help us design flyers and posters that will actually work , and we’re going to talk to the teachers at all three schools about putting them up. We’re a tutoring service, and we have student interest, so they shouldn’t say no.”

 

“Inseong this is-”

 

“Wait, I’m not even done!” Inseong interrupted happily, eager to tell Sanghyuk every single detail of his plan. “We’re going to have a strict schedule we’ll stick to, including weekends now. I want each of us to do two days a week where we hold topic specific group studies that kids are free to come to. These ones will be slightly cheaper since they’re not one-on-one lessons, but kids are free to come and go as they please. You’ll have your private lessons you still do, right? So neither of us will start tutoring on those days until after your lessons are done, to be consistent.”

 

Sanghyuk was left staring blankly at Inseong as he explained everything he had planned, and Sanghyuk honestly couldn’t find much to argue about. How they hadn’t thought to do any of this before, Sanghyuk had no idea, but it all made sense and sounded like it would work. 

 

“Okay but…” Sanghyuk started, having only one specific problem with everything Inseong had planned, “what about the image we already created for ourselves? The one where kids can just come to at random without worrying-”

 

“And we won’t change that,” Inseong guaranteed with a calm smile that instantly dissipated every one of Sanghyuk’s unnecessary nerves. “We’re posting information in the schools, right? If the kids don’t want their parents to know, they don’t have to tell them. Our tutoring is offered cheap, session by session, and with no parental permission required. That’s our brand, right?”

 

“Our… brand,” Sanghyuk couldn't help but repeat, dazed in his own thoughts. Could this really fix everything? Would this really work?

 

“Exactly,” Inseong confirmed with a smile. “So no need to stress your mom out about her getting another job. We got this, right? We can do this.”

 

“Yeah,” Sanghyuk breathed out with a tiny nod, finally lifting his eyes back to Inseong. “We can… do this.”

 

---

 

“I’m sorry!” Sanghyuk called, biting his lip with guilt ridden all over his face as he walked up to the café table. He bowed deeply at everyone sitting in front of him, still feeling like the most unprofessional person ever.

 

“Oh,” Inseong mumbled, eyes undoubtedly moving past Sanghyuk. “Hey Mi, hey Chul. What’s up?”

 

Sanghyuk pulled himself up from his bow, looking at the two new faces at the table. “Hello, my name is Lee Sanghyuk. These are my siblings Sangmi and Sangchul.” Neither seemed upset with him, but Sanghyuk still felt guilty for the unexpected company he was forced to bring with him. 

 

Sanghyuk opened his mouth to continue to explain, but he was almost shocked when both Sangmi and Sangchul bowed. “Nice to meet you,” Sangchul said before rising and looking up at Chanhee, Seokwoo, and Inseong. “Hi.”

 

“Chanhee, are you and Seokwoo best friends?” Sangmi butted in.

 

“Sangmi not now,” Sanghyuk quickly hushed, not wanting to admit he was curious to hear an explanation as to why both boy’s faces suddenly lit up in a wonderful shade of embarrassment. “Uhm, if you don’t mind, I’ll set them up with a table real quick and join you guys, please just give me five minutes.”

 

As quickly as he could, he ushered both of his siblings to the line for the counter. He wanted to make sure they at least had something to keep them busy, and he had no idea how long this get together meeting would take, and he knew they were at least thirsty, nevermind hungry.

 

It wasn’t his fault. The plan was to pick up the two from school, drop them off at home, and then meet everyone at the café. Sadly, this had been the one day with an accident at the elementary school involving two cars, and Sanghyuk couldn’t get past the police managing the accident to pick up his siblings early enough. The café was closer to the school, so going back home and then to the café after the prolonged wait would take too long. Sanghyuk’s solution? He had to bring Sangmi and Sangchul. 

 

“Who are the two new guys?” Sangmi asked, looking up at Sanghyuk.

 

“I don’t know their names, but they’re going to help Inseong and I with work. That’s why I’m going to get you some drinks and… whatever I can afford with what I have on me, and please please just sit at the table and entertain yourselves. You have homework right? Do that or something just please wait while we do this,” Sanghyuk begged. He loved the kids, he really did, but this was technically a work thing, and he didn’t need Sangmi and Sangchul’s inappropriately timed comments. 

 

“Okay,” Sangchul agreed with a shrug. “But more importantly, are Chanhee and Seokwoo dating?”

 

Sanghyuk rolled his eyes. “Probably? I don’t know. Hey,” he quickly diverted the conversation, snapping in front of both of their faces before pointing to the menu. “Pick something reasonable. One drink each and food to share.”

 

They settled on fruit punch like drinks and some food, Sanghyuk wasn’t really paying much attention to what it was if he was being honest, only how much it cost. The order took most of what he had on him which wasn’t the highlight of his day, but whatever. 

 

He brought the two over to a table close to their booth but not directly next to it. “Just behave, okay guys? You are seriously the best thank you so much,” he mumbled before returning back to the booth and bowing his head in apology. It was a round booth around a circular table so everyone could fit, and Sanghyuk didn’t waste a second sliding in next to Inseong. 

 

“Sorry, again,” Sanghyuk bowed. 

 

“No worries,” one of the unfamiliar kids said, bowing his head in greeting. He had short blond hair that usually would have been considered horrendous, but somehow the boy made the style work for him. “My name is Juho, I work for the school newspaper and I’m in the podcasting club.”

 

“Thank you so much for coming, seriously,” Inseong said, nudging Sanghyuk in the side happily. 

 

“And I’m Jaeyoon,” the other boy introduced, brunette hair fluffed up around his head with a mochi-like smile on his face. “I’m the one that does the advertising and business stuff.”

 

Chanhee leaned forward suddenly, grabbing the attention of everyone at the table. “Okay, so, to get you caught up,” he began, looking pointedly at Sanghyuk. “Inseong asked us to get these morons on board to help you because we owed you … so Inseong used your favor however that doesn’t change the fact that we don’t owe you after this anymore, right? I just want to make sure!” 

 

Sanghyuk found a smile pulling at his lips, unable to control his laugh. “First of all, Seokwoo never owed me anything, just you. But yeah, we’re good. Oh! And hey, second of all, ‘morons’?”

 

Juho smiled. “I’ve known Chanhee since we were little because I lived across the street from the home.”

 

“And… Jaeyoon?” Sanghyuk asked, looking between Chanhee and Jaeyoon, expecting some type of story.

 

“Oh I just met him a few days ago,” Chanhee admitted like he didn’t just insult the boy ten seconds ago. Sanghyuk waited for Chanhee to elaborate further, but the boy just leaned back in his seat and waited for someone else to continue the conversation.

 

Inseong nodded at Chanhee. “Okay,” he accepted easily enough, turning to Juho and Jaeyoon. Inseong went over with the two of them exactly what he was looking for, and how much the two boys wanted to be paid for the work. Surprisingly, both declined the money but gave no explanation as to why before agreeing to take on the project. 

 

“Do you guys want a website, too?” Jaeyoon asked, and neither Sanghyuk or Inseong replied right away.

 

Eventually, Inseong managed to stutter out an unsure reply. “You can… do that?”

 

Jaeyoon nodded. “Yeah, advertising is all about social media, now. Flyers and an announcement or two won’t really get you far with teenagers. A website would help, and so would probably an Instagram or Twitter.”

 

Sanghyuk gave a sheepish smile and lifted up his phone. “I don’t think I can do that on a flip phone.”

 

“I can run the accounts,” Juho offered quickly, pulling out his own smartphone to display it, as if anyone needed proof. “Chanhee told us you wanted the tutoring thing to be kind of on the downlow, so if you make most of your updates online, kids are more likely to find them than parents anyways. That way, you guys can have a place to post last minute updates and show off what’s going on.”

 

“And you’ll… help us run those?” Inseong asked a bit skeptically.

 

Juho nodded confidently. “I’d be happy to. I’ll make them look good, too. Promise.”

 

“Now,” Jaeyoon interrupted, leaning forward with an excited smile. “You just need a name.”

 

“A… name?”

 

“A name for your tutoring business. Something to call you guys. You don’t have one?”

 

Sanghyuk looked to the side, hoping Inseong might have some idea, but the boy just looked back at him equally stunned. They actually had to think of a name? Oh God. 

 

“Well, take your time on that, then. Just make sure you have one before we publish or post anything. But first we can at least start on the basic design. So what ideas do you guys have?”

 

---

 

Having a clear head to think was something Sanghyuk didn’t realize he missed so badly until right this second. Last week had been nothing short of a disaster, but this week was turning out better. Next week they would start a more professional tutoring business, if they could even call it that, and hopefully he wouldn’t have to worry as much. And now that he was already starting to worry less, he could focus on other things as well, things like Taeyang. 

 

He had texted the boy about fifteen minutes ago asking him to meet him by the nearby park, but what he didn’t expect was to look up from the bench he was currently occupying to see the boy running full force toward him. Sanghyuk didn’t waste a second standing up before Taeyang was in front of him, hitting him as hard as he possibly could on the shoulder.

 

“Ow?! Tae what the-”

 

“Are you okay you bastard?!”

 

Sanghyuk closed his mouth and tried to think of a coherent response, but none really came to mind. He bit his lip in the silence. Was Taeyang really that worried about him? No it was just-

 

“You can’t just pass out like that man, I thought- I don’t even know but you can’t just do that! Do you know how fucking worried I was? I literally called everybody because I had no fucking idea what to do because I was just talking and then all of the sudden you passed the fuck out! And Inseong only told us you had some shit going on but what the fuck does that mean, huh?! Fuck, man, if you have shit going on just say so.”

 

“Are you done swearing at me?” Sanghyuk deadpanned, only raising his eyebrows in waiting for a response. 

 

“No! I was worried! You can’t just do that you prick! Asshole! Fuck you!”

 

“Okay,” Sanghyuk mumbled, nodding his head before shoving his hands into the pockets of his light sweater. “Are you done now?”

 

“Nope!” Taeyang announced energetically and forcefully. “Still not done! You’re a bitch, you know that? Fuck you, fuck you for caring for everybody else but not about yourself and fuck you even more for making me care about you and then making me worry, fuck you for passing out like that! Who gave you the right?!”

 

“Tae, seriously?”

 

“I’m still not done! I’m pissed!” 

 

“Why? Because I-

 

“Because you scared me Hyuk!” Taeyang yelled. Sanghyuk was expecting the boy to swear at him again just to vent his pent up frustration, but he wasn’t expecting the realization to sink in that Taeyang was frustrated because he was worried. He was genuinely worried for Sanghyuk. 

 

“Sorry,” was all Sanghyuk could manage. 

 

“Are you okay?” Taeyang asked in a softer voice this time, raising his eyebrows and clearly expecting an honest answer. 

 

Sanghyuk shrugged with a lopsided smile. “We’ll see. I’m trying to work everything out right now, so don’t worry about it. I won’t pass out again.”

 

“Was it because of what I was saying?” Taeyang asked even quieter this time.

 

Sanghyuk quickly shook his head. “No,” he lied, because that had been part of the overall strain at the time. “It was because of other things. Money related things. And I got stressed and couldn’t figure it out, but Inseong is helping me now, so it’s okay.”

 

“Good,” Taeyang mumbled, pouting before taking a seat on the bench Sanghyuk had previously been sitting on. He exhaled slowly before sitting down beside him. “I’m… glad you have Inseong to help you. I like Inseong.”

 

“I would hope so,” Sanghyuk mumbled with a giggle. “He’s your friend too, isn’t he?”

 

“Hyuk, I’m trying to- okay fuck you.”

 

“What now?!”

 

“I’m trying to say that I’m happy for you for finding a person you can trust enough to help you instead of you feeling obligated to help them for once in your life! And I’m glad it’s Inseong because he’s good for you! Fuck you. I hate you.”

 

Sanghyuk couldn’t stifle his laughter this time, curling over himself as he tried to laugh quietly, but Taeyang didn’t miss a bit of it. 

 

“Ha ha, yeah very funny,” Tayeang mumbled, crossing his arms and looking away. “I was just being honest. You’re embarrassing.”

 

“Why- but why did you make it sound like a dad giving his approval of a significant other?” Sanghyuk pushed out with another laugh, particularly focused on the ‘he’s good for you’ part.

 

“Well because I kind of am!” 

 

Sanghyuk stopped laughing. “What?”

 

Taeyang looked down at his lap. “You like Inseong, right? I’m saying I like that you like him and I’m happy it’s him you-”

 

“Woah what ?!”

 

“I’m sorry do you… not?!” Taeyang asked, finally meeting Sanghyuk’s gaze with wide eyes. “I thought friends were supposed to support each other and I just figured since it’s so obvious I would try to be supportive… wait there’s no way you don’t like him. No, I’m sure !”

 

Sanghyuk coughed, trying to conceal his beat red face at the implication that Sanghyuk made it obvious. He didn’t make it obvious, right? “Mind your own business.”

 

“Oh, like you minded yours with Youngkyun and I?”

 

“Oh, speaking of that-”

 

“No, God no please-”

 

“Are you dating yet?”

 

“What do you mean yet ?!”Taeyang nearly screeched at him out of embarrassment, curling his hands around his head like it was a protective shell.

 

“What? It’s obvious you two should be a couple already,” Sanghyuk teased. 

 

“Fuck you!” Taeyang yelled at him for the eighth time within the past ten minutes (Sanghyuk was counting). “I have too much shit to deal with. Youngkyun doesn’t need to be involved in all that so… rain check.”

 

“Rain check? Seriously?”

 

“Why does it have to be that asks him anyways?!” Taeyang asked defensively. “Why can’t he ask me if he’s interested?”

 

“Tae, have you met Youngkyun?” 

 

“Okay point made,” Taeyang grumbled in agreement, crossing his arms again and pouting. “Then… it’s not happening. So… enjoy your own love life, assuming you can work up the nuts to get it.”

 

“Okay that was rude,” Sanghyuk pointed out with an accusatory glare. “But anyways, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”

 

“Your nuts?”

 

“What? No. No ! The shit you have going on in your life!” Sanghyuk cleared up quickly. “The whole parents pressuring you into college thing.”

 

“Wait,” Taeyang interrupted, turning to him seriously. “You remember all of that? You passed out so I-”

 

“Of course I remember it,” Sanghyuk cut him off with a smile. “And I’ve been thinking about everything you said. You’re sure they’ll kick you out if you tell them, right? But even if they don’t, you won’t want to stay, obviously. I never imagined you staying with your family past the legal age to move out anyways. So you need a plan.”

 

“Wait, you’re seriously taking my side on this?” Taeyang asked, blinking at him with no clear readable expression. “You’re not gonna tell me they won’t kick me out because they love and all that bullshit?”

 

“What? No,” Sanghyuk replied with a scoff. “Let’s be realistic, Tae. We need to be prepared in case they do, because there’s nothing worse than ending up on the streets with nothing. So first, we need to find you a place you can stay while you save up money, and then we need to find you a job.”

 

“I can’t have a job, my parents won’t let me,” Taeyang pointed out.

 

“You won’t have to have one until they kick you out. This is the plan, okay? They kick you out or you leave, whichever, and then you go to wherever you’re set up to stay temporarily and work, and when you have enough saved, you can get an apartment. But to work full time, we’ll need to wait until the end of the school year, or as long as we possibly can, okay? So you need to hold out until we have a solid plan.”

 

“And… you’re serious about helping me with all of this?” Taeyang asked, eyeing Sanghyuk like he would flip him off and laugh at him any second because he was joking. 

 

“Of course,” Sanghyuk said with a smile, tilting his head to the side a bit. “I care about you, too. And I help people I care about. So let’s start brainstorming.”

Chapter Text

The day Sanghyuk and Inseong ‘hired’ Juho and Jaeyoon to help was a prominent memory in Sanghyuk’s mind. He constantly looked back on that day and replayed it just to remember how desperate he had been for help, and when Inseong’s plan had started to become a reality. 

 

That was two months ago, now. Two months had passed since Sanghyuk and Inseong begged the school systems to let them hang flyers up, designed by Jaeyoon and printed and organized by Juho. They made an outstanding team when they worked together, and it showed. Juho had written an advertisement about their tutoring, and raved about it on his podcast. The baseball team bragged to the whole school about it because Chanhee started doing it and roped everyone else into it with him. They didn’t even ask him to do that, he just did. 

 

Sanghyuk and Inseong had very strict schedules now, and it seriously was like working a real job. They started at the same time every day, meeting up at the library as soon as Sanghyuk could get there after bringing his siblings home. Some days, the two of them came to the library too. They did their homework at a table off to the side or just hung out in the kids area. Really, it depended on if they wanted to, because Sanghyuk never forced them to come. The only days they started tutoring later was on Tuesdays and Fridays, because Sanghyuk had two hour lessons with the girl he had first started tutoring still, and he had even earned a raise. He tutored her for two hours twice a week, and by the end of every week he had an extra one hundred and forty thousand won. 

 

On Wednesdays, each of them had specific group lessons planned. They each did three, and each lasted an hour and a half, starting at specific times and ending at specific times. Inseong focused on different aspects of English, mainly vocabulary, grammar, and structure or usage. Sanghyuk, on the other hand, did one in science, one in math, and one in history every Wednesday. These lessons sometimes pertained to what was being learned in class, information provided by all of his friends who were more than happy to complain about their classes, and if they were specific to any lesson, Sanghyuk made sure to post it so everyone would know. 

 

That’s right, Sanghyuk would post it himself, and so would Inseong. Forget the dingy flip phones, last week they had both saved up enough money to afford actual smartphones. They weren’t even close to the latest models, but it allowed them easier contact, and the ability to update their website and social media by themselves. Before that, though, Sanghyuk would text the information to Juho, their account admin, and he would post it. Some days he would come to the library just to take pictures so they could post them on Instagram, and it attracted way more attention than Sanghyuk had ever thought it would. 

 

The kids loved Sanghyuk and Inseong. Their tutoring was still a cheap twenty thousand an hour which kids could afford, and they always put the kid’s needs before any family circumstances, which apparently most privately hired tutors never did. Word spread fast with the flyers, website, and social media platforms, and they had more kids coming in no time. Most became regulars every week, or every other week, but kids came from three entirely different schools. 

 

Tutoring was tiring, and they had long hours. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, the two tutored kids from four to ten. Every Tuesday and Friday, it was six to ten. And every Saturday and Sunday, they offered private lessons and occasion group studies from eight in the morning to eight at night. If a kid needed help on a specific subject, they lined them up with other kids who needed the same kind of help and tried to put their scheduled blocks together, because yeah, they needed to schedule kids now. So many kids came in requesting tutoring that they had to start a spreadsheet scheduling kids to come in and working out times so they could teach multiple kids at a time. 

 

They made about one million won a week. Each.

 

The most Sanghyuk had ever made in a week was one million four hundred and eighty thousand, and the least he had made in the past two months had been seven hundred and fifty thousand. So really, it depended on the week. But even seven hundred and fifty thousand won was more than he could ever hope for, and none of those numbers included the extra one hundred and forty thousand he made from private tutoring. 

 

Sanghyuk was worn out, though, but that didn’t stop him from working. He slept when he could at night, and ate food he packed with him. Sanghyuk actually had the ability to buy a lunchbox so he could pack his own lunches. Of course, that didn’t really seem like something to brag much about, but it was for Sanghyuk. He packed himself snacks that he bought himself and his siblings, and he was eating more than he ever had before. He bought his siblings new clothes and his mom never had to get a new second job. He helped pay the bills, and of course he saved the rest. He didn’t buy much for himself besides food and basic necessities, but he did save up for a phone. The rest, though, he put away. He wasn’t sure what he was saving it for, exactly, he was just saving it. 

 

Inseong was paying the majority of the hospital bills now, and Youngbin was shocked each time at how much Inseong was able to pay. Youngbin was still working, but it was no shock that constant tutoring every day was doing wonders. 

 

Even Juho and Jaeyoon came for tutoring lessons from them, but they never paid (Inseong and Sanghyuk refused to let them). Youngkyun came every now and then for some help, and Taeyang came with him to sit and watch. Of course, Taeyang didn’t care enough to learn his lessons now that he wasn’t ditching class several times a week. Chanhee came in with Youngkyun a few times, too, or sometimes Youngkyun came in with Chanhee. Seokwoo had also come with Chanhee a few times, and Sanghyuk still had no idea what was going on between them. One time he had sent an offhanded look towards Youngkyun, as if asking, but Youngkyun just shrugged with wide eyes. So nobody knew, and clearly the two had no interest in sharing with the group. 

 

It was good. Everything was really good. For the first time in maybe his entire life, Sanghyuk could confidently say he was comfortable where he was. It felt weird, but it was true. 

 

“Hey,” Sanghyuk whispered, already starting to giggle as he let his legs hang down the slide Inseong was sitting criss-cross at the end of. Yeah, it was Sunday night and they were at a playground at close to ten o’clock at night. 

 

Inseong tried to stifle his smile, but he couldn’t. “Wha- what?”

 

Okay… so they were at a playground at ten o’clock at night after having met with Chanhee who gave them a bottle of alcohol to dispose of because he found it, he didn’t tell them where, and he didn’t want to be spotted disposing of it. But both Inseong and Sanghyuk were of age to drink, so it wouldn’t matter if they got rid of it. Well, that didn’t happen. Instead, they drank it. 

 

Turns out, you get drunk quite a bit faster when you’ve never had alcohol before because you’re too poor to afford it. 

 

“Do you… do you ever think about how if we had never met, we’d both still be shit poor?”

 

Inseong scoffed, but it was over-dramatic. “No.”

 

“No you don’t think… about it? Cuz I do,” Sanghyuk continued, letting his forehead rest against the opening to the slide. “Cuz Taeyang never would have asked me for the thingy. Because… I would have said no to going to the baseball game. But I went… b’cuz of you.”

 

“You went because of me ?” Inseong asked, blinking up at him before leaning a bit too far backwards with a smile and falling off the edge of the slide. “Ow.”

 

“I’m coming to save you!” Sanghyuk declared, pushing himself down the slide until he fell off the edge, too, right on top of Inseong. It hurt like hell, but neither of them could stop laughing as they laid side by side underneath the slide. Their hair was covered with wood chips and their brains were way too inhibited to think straight, but none of that mattered to either of them right now. 

 

“Hyuk, I don’t think we should have drank the juice,” Inseong said after a while of just laughing, and that only caused Sanghyuk to laugh more. 

 

“The… it’s alcohol … not juice!” 

 

“I kinda wish it was juice,” Inseong hiccupped with a laugh, sending them both into a fit of it again. “What even was it?”

 

Sanghyuk laughed again, his sides hurting from how hilarious he thought everything was. “I don’t know. We didn’t… I don’t think we read it.”

 

“Look back at your memories.”

 

Sanghyuk reached over and hit him on the shoulder. “That’s not how that works!” 

 

“Can you still do it?” Inseong asked instead of fighting. “The memory thing.”

 

“It doesn’t just-” hiccup “-go away, stupid.”

 

“Then what’s the first memory you think of when you think of me?”

 

It wasn’t even like Sanghyuk could take a moment to think. Instantly the memory was playing in the back of his head like background noise, but in the moment Sanghyuk chose to close his eyes and focus on it. He started smiling just picturing Inseong in front of him, and he had to admit, that was a pretty good memory.

 

“In the lake,” Sanghyuk mumbled, still with his eyes closed. “After we found the bike. We were talking in English, and then I told you what my dream was. That’s what I think of.”

 

“So you can remember… you can remember with sound? Like-”

 

“Of course I can!” Sanghyuk retaliated immediately. “I just can’t remember stupid things I hear as well as I can with- like with everything I can see. But that memory was important so I remember what we were talking about, too.” The air between them went quiet, and Sanghyuk almost wanted to say Inseong was thinking of something. He wanted to interrupt him. “What’s the first memory you think of when you think of me?”

 

Inseong hummed for a second, eyes closed and facing the starry sky above them. He didn’t respond right away, he simply just moved his hand until his fingers were tracing Sanghyuk’s wrists. He wasn’t supposed to like that feeling, right? Something in the back of his mind was telling him that sober Sanghyuk did not like thinking about how nice it was to have Inseong next to him. But he couldn’t deny it, he liked when Inseong touched him.

 

Inseong’s fingers slowly curled around the string bracelet still tied around his wrist, and then he giggled. “When I gave you this.”

 

Sanghyuk remembered that. It was the first time they had money to spend after tutoring, and Inseong had bought two identical bracelets for them to wear. They both still wore them. 

 

“I like that memory,” Sanghyuk hummed contently, closing his eyes to copy Inseong. Everything spun much less when he had his eyes closed. They stayed there like that for so long that Sanghyuk was sure Inseong had fallen asleep, but even after that he just continued to lay there. It was so nice just laying next to Inseong. 

 

“Are you awake?” he asked after a long time, listening to the sounds of crickets in the background. Inseong hummed to show he was, but barely. “I don’t want to go home like this,” Sanghyuk continued in a mumble. “Sangmi and Sangchul will know, and I don’t think my mom will like that I drank alcohol.”

 

Inseong scoffed. “You’re old enough.”

 

“Yeah, but still,” Sanghyuk reasoned as he scrunched his nose. “Can I sleep over?”

 

“Only if you let me cuddle you like that one time,” Inseong mumbled, clearly very drunk and half asleep, but Sanghyuk didn’t mind.

 

“That sounds really nice, not gonna lie,” Sanghyuk managed to mumble back, and after another long silence of just sitting under the night sky, Sanghyuk managed to pull both of them to their feet long enough to walk back to Inseong’s apartment. The lights were dimmed since Youngbin was sleeping, thank god, but that didn’t last for long considering Inseong tripped and fell the second he got through the door and woke him up. 

 

“Inseong?” came a sleepy voice from the single bedroom down the hall. Sanghyuk rolled his eyes as he picked Inseong up off the floor. Inseong was heavy, and Sanghyuk honestly almost gave up, but helping him up gave Sanghyuk a reason to touch him, and he liked that. 

 

Both of the boys froze the second Youngbin appeared from the hallway, decked out in nothing but a crop top and a pair of boxers. Why the fuck was he wearing a crop top to bed?

 

“Are you… hold on a second did you guys drink ?!”

 

“Chanhee… Chanhee gave us alcohol,” Sanghyuk ratted out immediately as he finished helping Inseong to his feet.

 

“And where the hell did Chanhee get alcohol?” Youngbin asked with wide eyes, looking between the two of them. All either of them could do was shrug in response. “Okay,” Youngbin sighed, cradling his head in his hands. “So… Chanhee gave you alcohol… you drank it… and now you’re coming home at midnight so drunk you can barely stand? Hyuk, why’d you come here?”

 

“B’cuz I don’t want Mi and Chul seeing me all… drunk,” Sanghyuk mumbled, leaning his head on Inseong’s shoulder. “And Inseong said I could sleep over.”

 

Youngbin sighed. “We don’t have an extra mattress or blankets, you know that right?”

 

“It’s okay, he’s just gonna sleep in mine with me,” Inseong pointed out matter-of-factly. “Like that one time he slept here and we cuddled.”

 

“I don’t…” Sanghyuk started, smiling into Inseong’s shoulder. “I don’t think he knew about that.”

 

“Oh,” came Inseong’s elaborate response which just caused Youngbin to sigh again, clearly way too tired to deal with their bullshit. 

 

“Fine, whatever. Keep your pants on though, please.”

 

“Why wouldn’t we keep our pants on?” Inseong asked in a dazed blink as he raised his head to face Youngbin. Sanghyuk, for one, thought sleeping next to Inseong with no pants didn’t sound like a terrible idea, but he decided to keep that opinion to himself. Something about the way Youngbin gaped at Inseong convinced him it wasn’t something he would gain anything from saying, not that he really cared about that now, but he knew he would later. 

 

“Please… please just go to bed and sleep you two. I swear to god…” he mumbled, gesturing for both boys to follow him back to the room. The first thing Inseong did was look for his pajamas, which Youngbin promptly told him he could sleep without, but the second he laid down on the mattress, Inseong decided the pants he was wearing were too uncomfortable, so he took them off. Youngbin really tried to get Inseong to put pants on, any pants, but it was too late. Inseong had decided he was going to sleep in only his shirt and his underwear, and Sanghyuk had no complaints. In fact, his shirt was quite scratchy, so he took that off and threw it somewhere across the room. And at that point, Youngbin had given up. “You two are fucking hopeless,” was the last thing he said before Sanghyuk fell asleep tangled in Inseong’s arms. 

 

---

 

Sanghyuk had too many regrets to count, and all of them stemmed from the night before. 

 

The first thing that had happened in the morning was both boys waking up at the same exact time and freezing like deer caught in headlights. The first person to speak had been Sanghyuk with the question “are you not wearing any pants?” to which Inseong replied “was your, uh, was your hand up my shirt?” The answer to that one was yes, much to Sanghyuk’s embarrassment. 

 

The second thing that had happened was Sanghyuk crawling out of bed shirtless and then proceeding to pull the shirt on backwards out of hurried embarrassment before he was asked to pass Inseong his pants. Not really how Sanghyuk expected to start his Monday. 

 

Then Sanghyuk had walked out into the main room of the apartment to Youngbin red in the face laughing before he pulled out Inseong’s phone to show him the lovely pictures he took of the two of them getting downright cozy. Youngbin’s favorite was the one where the blanket dipped just low enough on Inseong’s thighs to show he really wasn’t wearing any pants. That same picture also showed Inseong’s shirt ridden up and Sanghyuk’s hand just shoved up there for no fucking reason, which was Youngbin’s favorite part. 

 

The fourth thing that happened was Sanghyuk checking the time and realizing he was going to be late taking his siblings to school, so he ran out the door screaming “SORRY BYE!” to Inseong before running out the door. His head was fucking pounding and he really did not feel like running. 

 

He got to his house just in time to walk his siblings out the door, but he regretted living at that point because the first thing Sangchul pointed out was that Sanghyuk was wearing Inseong’s shirt. And why, yes, he had accidentally grabbed one of Inseong’s shirts instead of his own. So he was wearing Inseong’s shirt, flushed red in the face, and annoyed by his raging headache. 

 

“I slept over,” Sanghyuk mumbled, hoping to god neither of them knew anything about sex yet, because if they did he knew what the first assumption literally anyone would make, nevermind his nosy little siblings. 

 

“And Inseong gave you his shirt?”

 

“Well…” god, his head hurt way too much right now to think of a valid excuse. “Mine was dirty, and since I slept over last minute I didn’t have a change of clothes. He offered me his.”

 

“Since when have you cared about dirty clothes?” Sangmi asked with a laugh, skipping ahead of him. “Are you sure it isn’t because you’re dating and he thinks you’re cute when you wear his clothes?”

 

Well, at least she didn’t assume they slept together. That was something. “We’re not dating,” was all Sanghyuk tried to offer, to which Sangmi immediately called bullshit in a more kid friendly way.

 

He dropped the two of them off at school before being asked by one of the teachers if he was okay. “Long night,” was his response, and the teacher seemed to understand immediately and hoped for him to feel better soon. He was really never going to drink again, and more importantly, he was never going to drink around Inseong again. That had just been a fucking disaster. 

 

At this point, he was just honestly glad he hadn’t confessed his three month long crush on the boy while he was intoxicated. Not that he wanted to confess it in the first place, but doing it while drunk would have definitely been the worst way to drop the bomb by far. 

 

Sanghyuk decided to forego breakfast because he was feeling sick to his stomach already, probably because of his own stupid actions and how embarrassed he was by them, and instead went to the internet café. He needed to update the website, and Juho had shown him how about a month back. He could manage that, at least. Or maybe he was so eager to do that so he wouldn’t have to go home, because if he went there Inseong would probably know where to find him. 

 

Of course, Inseong could always call or text, but the two of them rarely did anyways. They met every single day and texting just wasn’t something they were used to. They always just preferred to talk in person, so Sanghyuk just hoped Inseong wouldn’t even consider that an option.

 

And this, Sanghyuk realized, was what running away from your feelings looked like. At least he had a prime example now.

 

About thirty minutes into him procrastinating everything going on in his life in favor of fiddling around with a website that didn’t need much editing to begin with, Taeyang walked in and proudly took the seat next to him.

 

“You are definitely supposed to be in school right now,” Sanghyuk pointed out, glaring at him for going against their agreement. 

 

“Consider this as one of my five skip days. But technically I did go, I just got pissed at my teacher for being a prissy bitch in the first ten minutes and walked out,” Taeyang explained nonchalantly before turning the computer on. “But that’s not even close to important right now,” he decided, ignoring the computer to spin around in his chair and face Sanghyuk who absolutely knew what was coming. “What I wanna know is why are you wearing Inseong’s shirt?” Taeyang, of course, added a suggestive eyebrow wiggle for no reason. 

 

“Because I slept over his house last night, slept in, and grabbed the wrong shirt in a hurry,” Sanghyuk tried to explain, but oh that just fueled Taeyang’s fire.

 

“So-” he started, covering his mouth as he snorted. “You… you mean you were sleeping over… without a shirt on?”

 

Sanghyuk didn’t even try to make up an excuse this time. He just let his forehead drop to the counter while Taeyang laughed hysterically. 

 

“Please tell me you were sharing a bed.” 

 

“... yes,” Sanghyuk mumbled, causing Taeyang to laugh even more. “It was just… ugh. Fuck you.”

 

“What the hell led to that, huh? So are you two dating now?”

 

“Uhm! No!” Sanghyuk quickly denied, picking his head up to gape at the boy. “First of all! Inseong had his shirt on so we weren’t just both shirtless. Second of all, I didn’t take off my shirt because we were doing anything like… that , I was just drunk and-”

 

“You guys got drunk together?”

 

“Chanhee gave us alcohol.”

 

“This story just keeps getting more and more confusing where the hell did-”

 

We don’t know ,” Sanghyuk groaned before dropping his head to the counter again. “Long story short: Chanhee brought us alcohol to get rid of, we drank it instead, I didn’t want to go home drunk in front of Mi and Chul, then I slept over and at some point decided my shirt was too uncomfortable to wear so I threw it off. Happy?” 

 

“Oh definitely,” Taeyang giggled, leaning back in his chair. “I find this amusing.”

 

“Oh you’ll find it real amusing when I kick your ass,” Sanghyuk growled as a weak threat, forehead still pressed against the desk. 

 

“Maybe you should just tell him you like him. I think that would solve a lot of problems.”

 

“That would solve nothing, and I’d hate myself more than I do right now, and I hate myself a lot right now,” Sanghyuk quickly ranted. He never actually told Taeyang he liked Inseong, the boy was just so sure of himself and never let up on it that eventually Sanghyuk just relented. His life was a mess. “Imagine if I told you to just tell Youngkyun you like him! You’d have a breakdown.”

 

“I can’t, remember? Too much shit going on,” Taeyang excused.

 

“I told you, I’m working on finding you a place to stay. You haven’t found anything yet, have you?” Sanghyuk asked, finally lifting his head only to see Taeyang pause and shake his with a downcast expression. “And that’s a bullshit excuse. I think you should just ask him out. It’d make you happier.”

 

“It’d stress me out more. But you on the other hand? Man you need to get laid.”

 

“Watch it.”

 

“Like… badly.”

 

“You know what? Fuck you.”

 

---

 

Sanghyuk looked up from his book to see twenty thousand won being dropped onto the table in front of him. He hadn’t had any students schedule to come tutoring right now, so he had just taken the time to pick up a book instead. Youngkyun, it turned out, had other ideas.

 

“I want an hour of your time.”

 

Sanghyuk smiled. “Kyun, I’m not tutoring right now, just take ur money and sit down.”

 

Youngkyun sighed before pulling the chair out and taking the seat, slowly taking his money back as well. If he would be actually tutoring Youngkyun, he wouldn’t mind. But it was obvious Youngkyun wasn’t here for tutoring. 

 

“Hey, is something up with you and Inseong.”

 

“Nope,” Sanghyuk answered quickly, immediately earning an ‘are you fucking kidding me?’ look from Youngkyun. Sanghyuk sighed. “We’ll work it out later tonight.”

 

“So something did happen, and you are wearing his shirt.”

 

“Why does everyone know this is Inseong’s shirt? Even Sangmi knew! It’s not like Inseong is the only one in the world who owns this shirt!” Sanghyuk quickly ranted, moving his hands to run through his hand before lowering them to close the book in front of him and turning his attention to Youngkyun. “Can we talk about anything but that right now? Like maybe what you came here for?”

 

Youngkyun sighed, scooching his chair in closer to the table. “Can I just get some of my thoughts out right now? You’re good at letting me do that.”

 

“Of course,” Sanghyuk agreed, leaning back in his chair and waiting. 

 

“Okay, I’m supposed to go to college at the end of this school year, right?” Youngkyun asked, lifting his hand up to brush a stray strand of hair behind his ear. He still wore it up, but this time it was all pulled back, none left hanging at the back. “But I don’t think I’d be happy going to college, and I can’t be happy and go to college at the same time.”

 

“Why not?” Sanghyuk asked, tilting his head and leaning back in his chair. 

 

“Because-” Youngkyun paused to take a breath. “I just… I want to be… you know? I want to be who I really am, because right now I’m happy when I’m with you guys, but I’m so uncomfortable in school and even more so at home. And I know that unless I’m being me, I won’t be happy.”

 

“What’s stopping you from being you, then?” Sanghyuk asked, but it took only a second after he had finished his question to see the answer more or less spelled out in front of him. “You want to come out to your family.”

 

Youngkyun took a deep breath and nodded, shifting his eyes down to his lap. “And… to everyone else? I know it shouldn’t be such a big deal, right? You’re gay, Inseong is gay, I’m almost positive Chanhee and Seokwoo are dating at this point, and Taeyang is gay too, right? So there shouldn’t be any reason why I’m worrying but-”

 

“Just because everything seems fine, doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to worry,” Sanghyuk cut in quickly, leaning forward and folding his arms on the table. “Coming out is a big thing, remember? Maybe you think it’ll change the way people think about you, or it’ll change the way people treat you. But that’s just something that comes with coming out. Remember the first time you told me you were gay? I told you not to come out until you knew you were ready, and when you were ready you would just know . Well? Do you feel ready?”

 

“No,” Youngkyun answered quickly, shaking his head with wide eyes still staring down at his lap. 

 

“For what? Not ready to tell your family? Or not ready to tell the group?”

 

“Isn’t that the same thing?”

 

“No,” Sanghyuk said, shaking his head and pursing his lips. “You can be ready to tell some people and not others. You sound ready to tell the group, but not your parents.”

 

“Yeah, well if I tell my parents they’ll either kick me out or not let me go to college at all, and if I don’t tell them I’ll just be shovelled off to college away from you all, and really this group is the only group of people that has ever made me feel ready for anything.”

 

Sanghyuk sighed as he tried to sift through the information. Youngkyun made a really good point, though. He was right about the repercussions that could come from coming out to his homophobic family, but he was only considering the external circumstances.

 

“Kyun, you said you wouldn’t be happy going to college because you wouldn’t be you, right?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Don’t live your life being miserable,” was the sole advice Sanghyuk felt he could offer. Unlike with Taeyang, how he had distinctly told him to fuck college, Sanghyuk wasn’t about to make Youngkyun’s decision for him. If he really wanted to, the boy would find a way to be happy in college. But if he already knew that wasn’t what he wanted, he would figure that out. 

 

Youngkyun huffed, pouting. “Yeah? And what if I try to make myself less miserable, and instead I only fuck everything up?”

 

“If you’re brave enough to try and make yourself happy when there’s a chance of fucking something up, then you’ll be brave enough to try again knowing you can’t fuck the same thing up twice.”

 

“I don’t want to fuck things up at all, that’s the problem,” Youngkyun mumbled, still hiding his face. 

 

“So you’d rather be miserable?”

 

“Well…”

 

“Think about it, Kyun,” Sanghyuk interjected, giving him a supportive smile. “Nobody is pressuring you to do or to not do anything right now. You can make up your mind when you’re ready.”

Chapter Text

“Can you stop avoiding me?”

 

“Avoiding you? I’m not avoiding you,” Sanghyuk replied with a snicker, turning around as he walked so he could face Inseong who was pouting behind him.

 

“Yes you are! You just left without even saying bye to me!” Inseong pointed out, gesturing around wildly with his arms as if to make his point any stronger.

 

“I didn’t say bye because I assumed you were going to follow me?” Sanghyuk said with another huff of a laugh, turning the pitch of his voice up towards the end to phrase it like a question. “Y’know, after I said I wanted to go to the lake.”

 

“I figured you were just gonna leave and go by yourself.”

 

“And why would I go by myself?” Sanghyuk asked, unable to stop smiling as he rolled his eyes and turned back around to face forward. “Come on, nerd. Unless you don’t want to come?”

 

“Who said I didn’t want to come? … Nerd.”

 

Sanghyuk snorted and rolled his eyes but kept walking with a smile on his face nonetheless. He would never avoid Inseong, no matter how awkward he unintentionally made anything. Inseong was his partner and best friend right now, and avoiding him would just tear that relationship apart. Sanghyuk wasn’t stupid. 

 

Inseong quickly caught up to Sanghyuk, nudging him in the side with a smile on his face before keeping his pace by his side. “Hey Sanghyuk, did you know polar bears are pretty much invisible to infrared cameras?”

 

“What the fuck?”

 

The walk down to the lake felt almost like nothing awkward had ever happened between the two boys. They continued to bicker about stupid science facts they had heard or read somewhere, and they stuck to their arguments like it was life or death. After the topic of polar bears and infrared cameras, Inseong started saying it would be cool to be invisible to technology, and then delved into the conspiracy that the government was watching their every move. That sparked an entirely new debate, and Sanghyuk only relented that ‘yes it’s a possibility that the government could be run by technologically advanced vengeance seeking ninjas' once they arrived at the lake because he was tired of having to refute a point as stupid as that. 

 

Once they made it to the bank of the lake at Sanghyuk’s favorite part, he abandoned their debate in favor of stripping down to his underwear and diving in. Other banks along the lake were littered with weeds and slimy plants, but this one particular bank had once been used as a very small beach-like edge, so the bottom was still sandy. Sanghyuk much preferred that under his feet than slimy weeds. 

 

He resurfaced from the water with a smile on his face, shaking the droplets of water from his hair before looking over to smile at Inseong. 

 

The boy wasn’t looking back at him, too busy pulling his shirt over his head. Sanghyuk seriously didn’t mean to stare, and he hoped Inseong couldn’t tell since it was so dark. Slowly, Sanghyuk sunk down into the water until he was fully submerged in it again. He let air out through his nose as he sunk until he was deep enough that he wouldn’t just float back up. 

 

All the sounds around him were instantly drowned out by the sound of water surrounding his ears, except his heartbeat which he could very much still hear. At least this way he couldn’t see, because if he opened up his eyes above the water he was sure they were going to stray and linger on Inseong. He didn’t need to watch his friend pull his shirt off because then he would undoubtedly focus on every inch of his skin glowing under the moonlight, and he would think about holding him in front of him like that. He didn’t need to watch Inseong strip down to his boxers because then he would think about last night in bed, and he didn’t want to think about that either. 

 

Before he could think about how long he had already been underwater, or how little breath he had left, he could hear the sounds of something heavy splashing into the water. He figured that was Inseong, but before he could even consider resurfacing, he was being pulled up. The gentle touch on his arms pulled him up, and he barely sucked in a breath as he came above the water again, too stunned by the sound of Inseong’s laugh right in front of him as he held him steady above the water.

 

“Any reason you’re trying to drown yourself?” Inseong asked with a lighthearted giggle. And wow, was Inseong beautiful. The moonlight made his eyes absolutely glow, and Sanghyuk couldn’t help but watch the light of the night sky reflect off of his soaked hair, highlighting every droplet of water that dripped down his skin. 

 

“I’m not trying to drown myself,” Sanghyuk denied in a mumble, pouting at Inseong specifically because he knew if he didn’t keep dead eye contact with him, he would look away and get flustered and Inseong would catch it. “I just wanted to be underwater.”

 

“Okay, freak,” Inseong laughed, letting go of Sanghyuk and leaning back to float facing the sky. “Hey do you like stars?”

 

Sanghyuk furrowed his brows, sending Inseong a confused look before copying him to float on his back as well. “Yeah, why?”

 

“The day we met you were reading a book about stars.”

 

Sanghyuk pursed his lips, picturing the memory in his mind for only a second. “Oh, the one about star evolution.”

 

“I really hate that you can just do that whenever you want, show off,” Inseong mumbled, but it was obvious he was trying hard not to smile. That alone made Sanghyuk smile, too. 

 

“Yeah, I like stars, why?”

 

“What’s your favorite constellation?”

 

“Easy. Cygnus. It’s a swan shape, and on a clear night you can see that it goes right across the milky way,” Sanghyuk recounted easily, frowning at the fact that he couldn’t currently see it. He sighed, moving his hands around in the water to keep him floating. “The Chinese myth about it is the coolest, though. In that version, it’s not a swan, it’s a bridge of magpie birds. It’s about a fairy and a mortal who were in love, which was forbidden, so the Goddess of Heaven created a river to separate them. Story goes that once a year all the magpies in the world will gather and create a bridge so the two lovers can meet each other again. I think it’s sweet.”

 

“Oh,” Inseong mumbled, just staring up at the sky. “I just thought you would have a favorite because of the shape. I didn’t expect you to know the whole story.”

 

“What’s your favorite?”

 

Inseong clearly wasn’t expecting to also be asked this question, pushing himself around in the water until he was floating slowly closer to Sanghyuk. He turned back to look up at the sky, humming in thought. “Cassiopeia,” he finally decided with a faint smile. 

 

“She was a queen in Greek mythology,” Sanghyuk recalled easily, having read about constellations and their meanings until he really did have close to every one committed to memory. “She succumbed to vanity, though. I think there’s something in her story about her daughter almost dying, but I don’t remember how.”

 

“Damn, wasn’t expecting you to know that one either,” Inseong mumbled under his breath with a laugh, and just seconds later Sanghyuk felt their shoulders brush. Inseong had floated right over to him, and Sanghyuk hated the realization that he had no intention of moving farther away. 

 

They floated in silence for a while, just enjoying being in each other's presence as they both stared up at the same sky. The air was cool, but it didn’t cause either of them to shiver. Both the air and the water remained at the perfect temperature and Sanghyuk found himself thinking maybe he would just never like to let go of this feeling. 

 

“Hey Hyuk?” Inseong whispered, and Sanghyuk almost didn’t hear him over the sounds of the water and the night surrounding him.

 

“Yeah?” he whispered back, relishing in the peacefulness. 

 

“Sorry about last night.”

 

Sanghyuk didn’t like the turn of the conversation topic, but he could handle it. All he had to do was make sure everything stayed just as peaceful as it was right now, because that’s the feeling he liked more than anything else, Inseong by his side included in that feeling. 

 

“Why? No need to be.”

 

“We shouldn’t have drank,” Inseong whispered, his shoulder bumping into Sanghyuk’s again. “That was a stupid idea.”

 

“Yeah? Well our lives wouldn’t be normal or boring if we didn’t make stupid decisions like everyone else,” Sanghyuk reasoned, genuinely meaning what he said. “People make… dumb choices… sometimes. Shit happens. That’s life, right? Normal and boring.”

 

“So… normal and boring friends just casually share beds like we do? That’s… that’s normal? That’s boring?” Inseong asked, voice wavering a bit as he did. 

 

Sanghyuk didn’t really have an answer to that question, though. Did normal friends do that? Sanghyuk wanted to say yes just to stop feeling guilty that he had to have a stupid crush on Inseong, and that was clearly what was causing all of the misunderstandings, but he didn’t feel confident giving that answer. 

 

“We can always just… create our own normal, you know? We can be normal and boring in our own way. We don’t have to be like everyone else,” he decided on.

 

Suddenly Inseong was shifting, planting his feet on the sandy bottom of the lake again. Sanghyuk lifted his head to look, but once he saw that Inseong was looking at him, he found himself doing the same thing. The water rose just to his collarbone, a little lower on Inseong. And again, Sanghyuk felt like he couldn’t stop staring. 

 

“You think we can just… set our own normal?”

 

Sanghyuk shrugged. “Well what I consider boring and what Seokwoo considers boring are probably two very different things, so I think everyone has... their own… version,” Sanghyuk trailed off, unsure of why he was suddenly so nervous under Inseong’s intense gaze. 

 

“I want you to be my normal,” Inseong whispered, and suddenly he was just a bit closer to Sanghyuk than he was before. Sanghyuk felt frozen in place. He felt his heart beating so hard in his chest he thought he might just have a heart attack and keel over. 

 

“Meaning…?”

 

“I want you to be normal for me- in my life,” Inseong breathed out, wading even closer. “So boring that if I don’t see you it’s weird and fucks everything up.”

 

“Then I hate to break it to you Inseong,” Sanghyuk mumbled, wishing he didn’t just let his eyes flicker down to Inseong’s lips like he knew they did. “But I think I’m already your normal.”

 

“Am I yours, then?” Inseong asked, and suddenly his hand was raised above the water, hovering just over Sanghyuk’s cheek. He felt blood rush to his face, but everything in his body was telling him this was really happening and he was going to just let it.

 

“Absolutely.”

 

Inseong’s hand fell to his cheek, cool water burning against his red hot skin, and he leaned in. Sanghyuk leaned in, too, eyes fluttering closed as he felt Inseong come so close he could feel his breath ghosting across his lips. He felt their lips touch, the sensation of their kiss lighting up like a million fireworks in Sanghyuk’s chest, and then-

 

“Sanghyuk?!”

 

Sanghyuk fell back from Inseong instantly at the sound of the voice, and Inseong didn’t waste a second pushing away from him either. Sanghyuk fell back so hard he lost his footing under the water and his head went under, and all he could think about was what the fuck was Sangchul doing outside looking for him and why the fuck did it have to be right now? 

 

Slowly, Sanghyuk pulled himself back up from the water, eyes darting to the bank where the innocent ten year old stood just staring out across the water at them. 

 

“What are you guys doing out here?”

 

Minding our own business, like you should be doing , Sanghyuk thought before straightening up, trying not to give anything away. “We just came to relax after work. How did you find us?”

 

“You told us you would be here when you walked us to school this morning, remember?”

 

Fuck .

 

“Okay well what are you doing here?” Sanghyuk questioned in return, finding much more interest in that than the thought of turning to look in Inseong’s direction. 

 

“The light broke again,” Sangchul said with a shrug. “Mom and Sangmi are already asleep, so I just came to get you.”

 

“And that couldn’t possibly wait until morning?” Sanghyuk asked, blinking across the water at the boy.

 

“Oh, sorry,” Sangchul began with a smirk, and Sanghyuk immediately regretted giving the ten year old any reason to be snarky. “Were you two too busy kissing to-”

 

“WE- NO!” Sanghyuk denied quickly, wincing even as he did. Would Inseong be mad if he denied it? Which was worse, Inseong being mad for a moment or Sangchul knowing him and Inseong kissed? Both. Both were terrible. 

 

“Then why did you jump away from each other so fast you almost drowned?”

 

“Why don’t you mind your own business?” Sanghyuk growled, frowning as he moved towards the bank. “Come on, Inseong, I think it’s time to go home.”

 

“I told mom you slept over Inseong’s house and she said you two were doing couple things.”

 

“First of all, no we weren’t.” A lie. Kind of. “And second of all, none of your business. Could you please just not embarrass me for just like, twenty minutes?” he asked, grabbing his discarded shirt and pants before throwing them on over his soaking wet body. Inseong stayed right where he was in the water. “Inseong, are you coming?” Sanghyuk gathered the courage to ask, finally looking out towards him.

 

“Uhm, listen. You’re Chul’s brother. I am not. Standing in front of him in only my boxers is kind of…”

 

“Chul turn around,” Sanghyuk told him, grabbing his shoulders and turning him around without waiting for him to do it himself anyways. “Come on out.”

 

“Wait, but you’re not Inseong’s brother. Why do you get to see him in his underwear?” Sangchul questioned, almost like he was offended. 

 

“Because we’re the same age,” Sanghyuk excused, knowing it was weak as shit. 

 

“I thought only couples could see each other naked.”

 

“You should- okay you should not know that. And he has his boxers on, he’s not naked,” Sanghyuk pointed out, rolling his eyes as Inseong quickly ran out of the water, grabbing his own clothes and throwing them on as quickly as he could. “And didn’t I just ask you to stop embarrassing me?”

 

“Why are you embarrassed if you’re not a couple?” Sangchul challenged, and holy shit not even Sangmi would be this clueless, either that or Sangchul knew very well what he was doing but played stupid just because it was more embarrassing for Sanghyuk. 

 

Because ,” Sanghyuk groaned, gesturing with his head that the three were leaving now, “people don’t usually like being interrogated about that stuff.”

 

“I was just asking a question!” Sangchul defended, throwing his hands out to the side. He turned to Inseong, and Sanghyuk wished he could have stopped the boy before he had a chance to open his mouth. “Are you embarrassed?!”

 

“Very,” Inseong mumbled under his breath, hiding his face as he walked. 

 

“Oh… why?”

 

“I will go out of my way to buy you any snack you want tomorrow if you just don’t say anything else until we get home,” Sanghyuk bribed, and miraculously the boy was instantly silent. 

 

Inseong didn’t walk with Sanghyuk and his brother home, and Sanghyuk didn’t offer to walk Inseong while Sangchul was still with him. They parted with an awkward ‘I’ll see you at work tomorrow’ and it was left at that.

 

The second they got home, Sangchul jumped in front of Sanghyuk to stop him from escaping. “Did you two really kiss?”

 

Sanghyuk rolled his eyes. “Doesn’t matter. Worry about yourself.”

 

“I just wanna know!” Sangchul insisted, forcing himself between Sanghyuk and the door to prevent him from ditching the conversation. 

 

Sanghyuk sighed, rolling his head back before looking down to Sangchul. “You don’t need to know. That’s a me and Inseong thing, okay? Not a you and me thing.”

 

“But you’ll tell us when you start dating, right?”

 

Sanghyuk sighed again, crouching down so he was lower than Sangchul now. “What makes you so sure we will? You don’t know that.”

 

“Do you want to date him?”

 

“I told you-”

 

“I have to tell you and mom when I start dating, right? That’s the rule? But why do I have to tell you if you won’t tell me? You’re not my parent, you’re my brother, so that’s not really fair,” Sangchul pointed out with a pout, lowering his head in some sense of dejection. But the worst part was that Sangchul had a very good point and suddenly made Sanghyuk feel like a bad brother. 

 

Sanghyuk sighed, lowering his head. “Yes, I want to date Inseong,” he mumbled, just barely loud enough for Sangchul to hear. “But that’s a secret, okay? I don’t… I need to figure it out. Dating is hard. Liking someone is hard. So, please just let me handle it, okay? And remember, this is a secret. Brother to brother. You can’t tell anyone.”

 

“I won’t say anything,” Sangchul promised seriously, nodding his head frantically. “But did you actually kiss?”

 

“Well we were going to before you interrupted.”

 

“Sorry.”

 

“Yeah you better be.”

 

---

 

“HEY!” Sanghyuk called as he ran as quickly as he could towards the library. He had just finished his two hour private tutoring session but the family had kept him a few minutes past to discuss his lessons. All good things, except now he was running up the stairs to the library to make sure he wasn’t late. Inseong stared at him wide eyed from where he sat on the steps. Inseong ran right up to him and stopped only when standing directly in front of him. “I forgot to make myself dinner.”

 

Inseong sighed. “Again?”

 

“Lemme eat some of yours and I promise we can go out and get some convenience store ramen after,” Sanghyuk bargained, plastering a smile on his face hoping it would appeal to the boy. At least this was a perfect conversation starter that didn’t make things awkward. They would just talk about it after work instead. Work came first. 

 

“Yeah that’s fine,” Inseong agreed easily, pushing himself up and gesturing with his chin for the boy to follow him into the library. 

 

Work started just as it usually did. Kids came in for their lessons and Inseong and Sanghyuk taught them. Halfway through, Sanghyuk did steal some of Inseong’s dinner only because he had skipped out on lunch, and he had a feeling Inseong knew that. But even that was normal. Everything was normal, or as they always called it, normal and boring. It was just the way it always was, and nothing was unexpected. 

 

Well, nothing was unexpected until a small TV crew helped themselves into the library and wasted not even a second interrupting lessons before calling out that they were looking for Sanghyuk and Inseong. 

 

Students all around the room turned to look at the two boys, and Sanghyuk was thoroughly unsure what to do. He felt like every one of his senses was frozen in a state of ‘what the hell?’ even when the whole crew moved forward and started throwing questions at both him and Inseong left and right. Sanghyuk tried to turn to Inseong, but the camera lady just jumped in front of him. A few of the students tried hiding their faces from the lens and when some lady with no sense of respect pushed herself into Inseong’s personal space Sanghyuk stood up, his chair squeaking horribly across the floor and sending everyone into a silence. 

 

“Who is running this team?” he asked sternly, fuming with anger. “Right now you are interrupting our work, you’re disregarding every common rule of a public library by making the most noise you could possibly make, and you’re not showing respect to a single person in this building. Who are you?”

 

“Are you Lee-”

 

“I asked who you are,” Sanghyuk repeated sternly, crossing his arms over his chest. “Turn your cameras off now.”

 

“We can’t-”

 

“I don’t consent to being recorded right now. Everybody say it, please,” he said, looking at the students at his table and the nearby tables. A chorus of that exact phrase rang out across the library and the reports looked dumbfounded. “Now, turn the camera off and tell us who you are, why you’re here, and why you couldn’t wait, and instead had to interrupt our lessons.”

 

A woman with a microphone stepped forward, plastering on a professional face, or the best she could manage. “Lee Sanghyuk? I’m Kim Eunkyung, reporter for Sepgu news. We just received information about your private tutoring business and we were wondering if we could-”

 

“No.”

 

“I… no?”

 

“You have been quite disrespectful since walking in here,” Sanghyuk pointed out, having no interest in a news crew or anything that came with it. Their tutoring business was fine without some biased report. As it was, they wanted to stay on the downlow. A news report was the exact opposite of what they wanted. “This is a breach of privacy to not only myself and Mr. Kim, but also to the students we work with. Please take your equipment and find a new story to cover, thank you and have a wonderful day.”

 

“Mr. Lee-”

 

“There’s no story for you here. Please leave.”

 

“We’re not interested,” Inseong piped up, standing to match Sanghyuk’s dominating aura. “Have a good day, now.”

 

“But we-”

 

Sanghyuk lifted his hand, and surprisingly the news team went quiet. “We have made ourselves clear. Goodbye.”

Chapter Text

“A news crew?” Taeyang asked, sipping at his drink. This was the second day of this week he had skipped, and Sanghyuk tried really hard to warn him about using too many of his five allowed skip days at once, but Taeyang didn’t seem to care much. He just didn’t want to be there, so much so that he even avoided the topic. Sanghyuk was left to wonder how stressed out Taeyang really was without saying anything. 

 

“It was crazy,” Sanghyuk recounted, deciding to subtly bring that up later. “They came in and started recording everyone and making a shit ton of noise. This morning they posted an article about us, too, just bashing us because we were ‘rude’.”

 

Taeyang sipped at his drink again, eyebrows furrowing. “They literally barged into your lessons and made a scene, but you were being rude?”

 

“That’s what I’m saying!” Sanghyuk exclaimed, picking up his own drink. It was some kind of lemonade drink Taeyang had suggested when they first arrived at the café. Apparently, Taeyang had been to this place quite a lot. The woman behind the counter didn’t recognize him, so he couldn’t have been a regular, but Taeyang knew the menu well. 

 

The only reason Taeyang had brought him here was because the café closer to the school was closed for renovations, and this one was the next closest, but it was obvious Taeyang liked this one more. 

 

“But anyways, Inseong and I are worried some parents might find out about our tutoring, since half of the kids that come to us do it secretly, y’know?”

 

“That’s kind of worrying, yeah. Did they post the video?”

 

Sanghyuk nodded, lifting the straw to his mouth and taking a sip. “They just blurred out everyone’s faces, but yeah, even after everyone in the building said they didn’t consent to being recorded, the news team still posted it. It sucks.”

 

“What happens if adults start to butt into your guys’ business?”

 

Sanghyuk shrugged. “We’ll deal with that when we get to it, I guess. One problem at a time, right?”

 

“Hyuk, a news team ratting you guys out is a bit more important than finding me a job isn’t it?” Taeyang asked, placing his cup down on the table and giving Sanghyuk the type of look that just screamed ‘I dare you to tell me I’m wrong’.

 

“Nope, both are important to me, and since I can’t do anything about the news team right now, I’m going to focus on you,” Sanghyuk decided quickly, leaning forward over the table. “Did you see the sign on the window, though? This place is going to rent out the apartment above the café. That’s something you should be on the lookout for.”

 

“Why? I don’t even have a job yet,” Taeyang pointed out.

 

Sanghyuk shrugged. “Just because you don’t have a job yet doesn’t mean you can’t always keep your eye open. There are dozens of places that rent out their upper apartments, and I think that would be cheaper than you getting a regular apartment. It’s something to look into.”

 

“And what about me getting a job?”

 

Sanghyuk nodded, pursing his lips. “Well, we’ll have to keep our eyes open. I think it’d be better to apply before telling your parents you don’t want to go to college. Applying takes a while, and it’ll be a few weeks before you’re hired anyways. Once you have the job, then you tell them. That way the second you’re out, you can start working.”

 

“And where would I stay until I can afford to rent my own place?” Taeyang continued questioning, sipping his drink again. “That’s the first thing we should be figuring out.”

 

“I’m working on it,” Sanghyuk mumbled, not wanting to admit how much he had slacked off in the past couple of days. “There’s still three months until finals anyways, right?”

 

“Yeah, but my parents are going to realize I don’t want to go to college way before then,” Taeyang reasoned, and he was absolutely right. Sanghyuk nodded without response, because really he had none. Finding Taeyang a place to stay was becoming the hardest part of their plan. 

 

“Fuck you!”

 

Both boys turned their heads to face the counter, just like the rest of the café, as some heated man ripped his apron off and threw it to the ground. 

 

“I’m done working in this shit-hole!”

 

A small old lady ran out from behind the counter after the employee, practically begging him to stay, but the man just spat at the ground in front of her before walking out. Sanghyuk felt inherently bad for the woman.

 

“What do you think happened?” Sanghyuk mumbled, side eyeing Taeyang before turning back to his drink.

 

Taeyang didn’t pull his eyes away from the older woman, watching her struggle to think of what to do with a sad look in his eyes. “That guy always treats her like shit. He wants a raise when all he does is slack off.”

 

Sanghyuk blinked for a second before turning his attention completely to Taeyang. “How do you even know that?”

 

Taeyang finally turned his attention back to his drink, staring down at it but not drinking from it. “I’ve… run into him once… before.”

 

That was possibly the most vague answer Sanghyuk had even been given, and it was almost blindingly obvious that there was more to the story. But clearly Taeyang didn’t like him, right? But he liked this place and the woman? And that was all that mattered, because that was all Sanghyuk needed for the best plan he had quite possibly ever come up with. 

 

He stood up from the table instantly, grabbing an alarmed Taeyang’s wrist before pulling him over towards the counter. “Excuse me ma’am!”

 

“Sanghyuk what the fuck what the fuck what the-”

 

The old woman turned towards them as Tayeang struggled to not look like he was struggling, but his whole face was lit up red and he was practically begging Sanghyuk to let go of him so he could run. Not a chance. “Hello, boys, how can I help you?” she offered, trying to appear as little stressed as possible. 

 

“My name is Lee Sanghyuk, and this is Yoo Taeyang. I noticed your barista just quit, but the place is packed. We’re not very experienced, but we’d like to volunteer to help for today.”

 

“Sanghyuk,” Taeyang mumbled under his breath, fighting against Sanghyuk’s firm grip on his wrist. “What are you doing?”

 

“I’m afraid with nobody renting, I can’t afford to pay-”

 

“No need to pay us, ma’am, we’re volunteering to work for free,” Sanghyuk interjected immediately, and he felt Taeyang tense by his side. “We’ll do whatever we can to help.”

 

The woman stared between the two of them, clearly shocked by the unexpected offer, before a thankful and relieved smile appeared on her face. “You two boys are lifesavers.”

 

---

 

Sanghyuk rubbed his neck as he walked at a slow pace towards the library. He should have just taken his bike, but he was honestly so exhausted he had forgotten. So… maybe he hadn’t slept much the night before, especially after what had happened with Inseong. And then he had had the brilliant idea to work in a café with Taeyang for the majority of his day, which he left only a while ago because of his own job and his responsibility to his siblings. Taeyang stayed and agreed to help work until the cafe was ready to close, and Sanghyuk could see the thankfulness radiating off the old woman. And now he had to go work six hours at his actual job. 

 

When Inseong finally saw him, it didn’t even take him a second to realize something was off. “Hey, what happened? You look like shit.”

 

“Oh thanks for the compliment,” Sanghyuk deadpanned, rubbing his hand over his face. “I’m just… tired. I was working with Taeyang at a cafe all day. I’ll… I’ll explain later, okay? Let’s just work.”

 

Sanghyuk managed to hide his stress and exhaustion from every student he worked with up until nine o’clock, since he had no kids scheduled to come in for the nine to ten slot. And immediately after the last kid left, he crashed. 

 

Next thing he knew, Sanghyuk’s eyes were fluttering open as his body was being shifted onto something. Carefully, his arms wound around whatever was in front of him as he heard a small “go back to sleep, Hyuk.” He wished he could, and honestly he felt comfortable enough to, now. 

 

Inseong carried him out of the library on his back and though Sanghyuk felt bad, he couldn’t help but feel insanely at peace curled around Inseong like this. He let his cheek rest against the back of Inseong’s shoulder and closed his eyes, paying attention only to the beating of his own heart and the way Inseong’s weight shifted as he walked beneath him. 

 

The night air was just cool enough to surround him with a vague sense of comfort, not too warm and not too cold. It was perfect, and Sanghyuk, in his sleepy state, couldn’t help but associate the word ‘perfect’ with his current situation. It didn’t really matter if he was exhausted, that was a constant in his life. But Inseong was beneath him, holding him more gently than he had ever been held before, trying not to disturb him. He might have thought Sanghyuk had already fallen back asleep, and while he was close, he was still plenty awake to appreciate the man he had undoubtedly fallen for. 

 

How idiotic of him to put himself in such a position.

 

He must have dozed off at some point, though, because he jumped back awake with only a slight ping of attention at the sound of a door opening. Following the familiar sound of it closing came the gentle hush of Inseong as little feet scampered over to come meet him. The house went near silent, yet Sanghyuk could still feel himself being moved. 

 

Then, slowly, he was being lowered to the ground. Inseong didn’t drop him, but rather placed him down gingerly on the folded up sheets and pillows. Sanghyuk immediately curled into them, but they didn’t have the same warmth that Inseong did. Even though he wasn’t actually cold, Sanghyuk still felt so without his arms curled around the taller boy. 

 

“In… seong,” Sanghyuk mumbled, rolling over and reaching out for him. Inseong wasn’t there to reach, though, and Sanghyuk’s fingers curled around nothing. He sighed and let his head sink into the pillow, subjecting himself to the realization that Inseong had probably gone the second he had Sanghyuk off of him.

 

“Inseong,” he heard whispered, but he couldn’t distinguish whose voice it was. “Can you stay?”

 

Sanghyuk wanted to ask that same question, and he was a bit surprised to know he hadn’t been the one to ask it. He almost wanted to check and make sure it had been someone else and not him sleep mumbling, but he decided he was too tired to lift his head or even open his eyes.

 

“Wha- why?”

 

“You should stay,” came the whisper again, followed by a less than light thump on the floor as weight was carried over in Sanghyuk’s direction. He reached out one last time to find his fingers weaving together with Inseong’s, or at least he hoped they were Inseong’s. But he could tell from the warmth how familiar they were, and he refused to let go. 

 

“Sangchul I-”

 

“Sangmi and mom are already asleep. They won’t mind. And Hyuk wants you to stay, see? You should stay.” 

 

If Sanghyuk had the energy, he would have smiled at Sangchul’s attempts to get Inseong to stay just to cuddle him to sleep. He knew the small boy didn’t quite understand what it meant to like someone, yet, but he appreciated the little wingman. He was doing a good job.

 

Sanghyuk dozed in and out again, missing bits and pieces of hushed conversation to his drowsiness, but the one thing he knew for a fact he didn’t miss was the rustling of the blankets and the warmth enveloping him as Inseong slid under the covers next to him. And that was about all the invitation Sanghyuk needed to wrap his arms around him and finally slip into an undisturbed sleep.

 

---

 

“Sanghyuk.”

 

Sanghyuk groaned.

 

“Sanghyuk.”

 

Sanghyuk groaned again, a bit louder this time, before curling his head into the nearest solid thing, which just so happened to not be a pillow. If that was Inseong, Sanghyuk didn’t care. Even better if it was Inseong, actually, because that meant he hadn’t hallucinated.

 

Sanghyuk .”

 

“Fuck off and let me sleep,” he continued, curling his fingers into the fabric of what was definitely a shirt as he continued to hide his face. 

 

“Hyuk swore!”

 

“Sanghyuk be nice,” he was scolded, and the sound of his mom’s laidback voice made him scrunch his nose. So was everyone just watching them cuddle at this point? That was kind of embarrassing. 

 

“I am being nice,” he continued to complain, hugging Inseong tighter against him. “I swore at Inseong, not Sangmi,” he defended. “Inseong stop trying to wake me up.”

 

“So… you’re not going to walk us to school, then?”

 

“It’s not that late, yet,” Sanghyuk stated despite having absolutely no idea what time it was. He didn’t care, though. Inseong was too comfy.

 

He felt Inseong’s hand softly land on the back of his head, brushing through his hair in a way Sanghyuk was definitely enjoying a bit too much. “I can walk them if you’d rather sleep a bit more? I don’t mind.”

 

“No you have to stay with me,” Sanghyuk argued like a child.

 

“Hyuk, get up! Mom has to go in five minutes and you need to walk us to school in twenty.”

 

“You woke me up twenty minutes early when I could have gotten up thirty seconds before leaving and been fine? I’ve been robbed,” Sanghyuk complained, tucking his head into Inseong’s chest again.

 

“I know how to get him up,” Sangchul proclaimed, and Sanghyuk winced in fear at the realization that he could hear the confident smirk in the tone of his voice. “Inseong did you know that Hyuk lik-”

 

Sanghyuk bolted up instantly. “Sangchul shut it!” 

 

Sangchul laughed, falling back in a fit of hysterics as Sangmi struggled to keep herself from bursting out laughing as well. 

 

Inseong looked over at him with a questioning look. “Wha- what?”

 

“Yeah, what’s the matter Hyuk?” Sangchul questioned, holding in his laugh, and all Sanghyuk could do was glare. “I was just gonna tell him you like the school project I did. I was gonna show it to Inseong and make him get up so you’d get up.” That was definitely not what Sangchul was going to say and it was written all over that smug grin of his. “What did you think I was going to say?”

 

“Nothing, fuck you.”

 

“Sanghyuk!”

 

“This time it was valid!” Sanghyuk defended to his mother who was used to his swearing by now. He turned to Sangchul. “Do you want me to walk you to school or drag you? Let’s go! Get ready!” 

 

---

 

“Hello ma’am,” Sanghyuk greeted with a bow. The old woman standing at the door had a pleasant look of surprise on her face, considering the door had displayed a very prominent ‘closed’ sign, and yet Sanghyuk had still knocked until he had gotten some form of attention. 

 

“Sanghyuk, hello,” she greeted with a tip of her head, stepping aside so he could come inside the cafe. He closed the door gently behind himself, continuing to stand by it out of respect. He had a crazy idea, one so insane that it probably wouldn’t even work out, but Sanghyuk was willing to try anything at this point. He had to help Taeyang somehow. 

 

“I was honestly expecting the cafe to be open when I got here, I’m sorry that I-”

 

She waved away his concerns, moving over to flick the lights on inside. “No worries, child. What can I do for you? I presume you have something to say to me, I can see it all over your face. Would you like to sit? I’ll make some tea.”

 

“I…” Sanghyuk blanched, still processing how well she had read him. Once the shock and the awkwardness of not knowing what to do next had passed, he let a smile fall on his lips. “Tea would be great, thank you.”

 

The two sat down across from each other at a small table in the middle of the cafe, warm tea sitting in front of the both of them. The woman looked stressed by her situation and by life in general, but she appeared welcoming and open to Sanghyuk. He knew what that felt like, and because of that he appreciated her just a bit more. 

 

“I can’t run the cafe without a barista,” she admitted, gesturing to the sign hanging on the door. “It’s sad, but I can’t run the whole place by myself. I’m a bit too old. I can’t do it. But without rent from the apartment upstairs I can’t afford to pay more than one worker. It’s a tough situation but- oh my goodness I’m sorry you had something to say to me how rude-”

 

“Not at all, ma’am,” he interrupted politely. “I actually came because I wanted to talk to you about that.” He folded his hands around the warm cup in front of him, basking in the warmth. “You remember Taeyang from yesterday, right?”

 

“Of course, such a kind young man,” the woman said, and Sanghyuk was forced to remember, for a moment, that Taeyang didn’t act like the rabid dog he did around Sanghyuk when he was in the company of other people. Surprisingly, Taeyang could be a decent kid. 

 

“There’s a situation right now,” Sanghyuk introduced vaguely, knowing he would have to divulge a bit more than Taeyang probably would have liked to convince this woman to work with him. “Taeyang has about a month and a half left before he’ll have to find a new place to live.” Of course, there were three months left until the school year ended, but Taeyang’s parents would find out before then. A month and a half was his best guess, and even that could have been a bit of a reach.

 

“Oh dear, really? Is he okay?”

 

“Yes, he’s okay,” Sanghyuk said with a nod. “Our problem, however, is that Taeyang can’t get a job until he moves out. Then, when he moves out, he won’t have a place to stay, but he won’t have enough money to find one either. We… I’m really trying to help him, but figuring out how is harder than I thought it would be.”

 

The woman pursed her lips in thought. “Does he have friends he could perhaps stay with?”

 

“Unfortunately our… uhm… circumstances won’t allow us to keep him under our roofs for very long,” Sanghyuk described vaguely. “But I saw the sign on your door yesterday. You’re looking for someone to rent the upper apartment.”

 

“Yes,” the woman confirmed with a nod of her head. “But you said he had no money to pay for-”

 

“Would you please allow Taeyang to work here and rent the upstairs apartment?” Sanghyuk asked, bowing his head as much as he could from where he sat. He held his head down as he inhaled a shaky breath. “Instead of paying him, could you perhaps put the money he makes working here towards his rent? I don’t even know if that’s possible, but I can’t think of anywhere else he could stay. I’m just asking you to consider it, please.”

 

Silence followed his request, but honestly Sanghyuk was too scared after his brazen request to lift his head. He stayed still in his bow, waiting for the woman to reply with something. Anything

 

“Does Taeyang know you have asked me this?”

 

“No, ma’am,” Sanghyuk admitted. “And I understand that working here now would mean Taeyang would have to take his schooling completely online, and that shouldn’t be my decision, but I don’t… I really don’t know what else to do for him. I don’t want to wait until it’s too late to realize we don’t have a plan.” The woman stayed silent for a moment, so Sanghyuk continued rambling. “If Taeyang disagrees with this idea, then that’s that, but I figured I could at least ask before getting his hopes up that something could work out. So I’m asking you before asking for his permission.”

 

The woman hummed, and though Sanghyuk wanted to lift his head and see her expression, he couldn’t bring himself to. “I suppose… that could be possible. I would still have to pay him on payroll, but he could put that money back towards rent. That is-”

 

Sanghyuk had no choice but to lift his head when the door to the cafe swung open. His eyes were immediately drawn to Taeyang who was wearing his school uniform with his bag clenched at his side. He dropped it by the door like it was nothing, not even bothering to fix the mess that was his hair before walking right up to the table, ignoring Sanghyuk, and bowing deeply to the woman. Sanghyuk looked at him with wide eyes and no words, and the lady seemed just as shocked as he was considering Sanghyuk hadn’t even told him about any of this. 

 

“Please let me work here,” Taeyang requested, rising from his bow and taking a shaky breath. “I’m not experienced, but I will learn everything you’re willing to teach me.”

 

“Tae, your classes-” Sanghyuk began, but Taeyang just shook his head.

 

“I just went to the guidance office and filled out a form so I could take all my classes online. So please,” he requested, bowing to the woman again. “Please let me work here.”

 

“And… where would you stay? Did you think of that before coming here?” Sanghyuk unintentionally scolded, but in his defense it was a valid point. 

 

“I’ll think of something, I promise,” Taeyang mumbled, turning guiltily to Sanghyuk. “I won’t make you figure out my life for me. I’ll figure something out. But I want to work here. Please.”

 

The woman smiled, standing up from her chair and watching as both sets of eyes travelled to her. She turned to Sanghyuk first. “No wonder you’re looking out for this boy, he didn’t think half of this through.” Taeyang winced, but straightened up the second she turned to look at him. “I’ve closed the cafe for the week. Fill out an application for not only the job, but the apartment upstairs as well. Your paychecks will go towards rent each month, but I’ll make sure you have enough for food and clothes every two weeks, too, okay? You’ll have to-”

 

Taeyang bit his lip as he turned to Sanghyuk, eyes watering over. “You… you came here… for that?”

 

Sanghyuk smiled, standing from his seat before throwing an arm around his shoulder. “Do you want the apartment or not?”

 

“Yes! Yes please!” Taeyang said, bowing again several times. “Thank you. Thank you, thank you so much.”

 

“And… you’re okay with online classes? You’re okay with moving out now? And your paycheck going towards rent, you’re-”

 

“Thank you, Hyuk,” Taeyang mumbled, turning to him and wrapping his arms around him in a hug.

 

“Woah… you’re emotional today,” Sanghyuk pointed out with a lopsided smile.

 

“Shut up, I’m happy.”

 

“Good,” Sanghyuk mumbled, patting the back of his head gently. “That’s what matters to me the most.”

 

---

 

“Are you Mr. Kim Inseong?”

 

Both boys paused in their steps, Sanghyuk gaping at the professional woman in front of them. He had been cackling about some stupid joke about a cow Inseong was telling him as they left the library for the night, but the punchline slipped his mind now that he realized how dumb he looked. He closed his mouth and straightened up, watching Inseong do the same at the exact same time.

 

“Uh, yes ma’am,” Inseong confirmed with a small bow. 

 

The woman in front of them had her hair pinned up into a bun, makeup done perfectly to accompany it. Her outfit was professional and clearly expensive, and Sanghyuk couldn’t help but wonder what she was doing in a slums area like this. 

 

“My name is Emily Rose,” she introduced in English, pulling a card out of her shirt pocket and handing it to Inseong. While Inseong took it, Sanghyuk leaned over to see what was on it. “I’m an English professor for Yonsei University.”

 

Sanghyuk opened his mouth in a silent ‘wow’ as he peered down at the card, officially stamped by one of the three SKY Universities. He looked back up to the woman, waiting for her to continue as Inseong had already lost interest in the card. 

 

“We saw the video from the news, and how you and your associate stood up for the students you tutor. I’ve seen English test results at the local high school increase in the past few months you’ve tutored kids, and I, as well as my fellow staff, are impressed,” she spoke, all in English. Sanghyuk did not appreciate the use of big words he couldn’t understand, but at least he could get the general gist of what she was saying. It was only fine because she probably couldn’t speak Korean well. Even though she looked Asian, she was definitely fluent in English first. 

 

Inseong bowed. “Thank you.”

 

“Though you have no formal degree, your empathy for your students and your language skills are impressive. Therefore, we would like to offer you a position officially tutoring kids in English for Yonsei University, specified for our classes and our curriculum.”

 

Sanghyuk couldn’t help it this time; his mouth dropped open at the offer and his eyes instantly darted to Inseong. He wanted to see the boy smiling and biting his lip to keep from screaming in excitement, but Inseong remained completely neutral, cheeks tinted a bit red and expression a bit more dazed than focused. It wasn’t the reaction Sanghyuk wanted, but at least he could watch it finally settle in later. 

 

“I-” Inseong stuttered, looking down for a second to compose himself. “This is a very generous offer, thank you.” Sanghyuk smiled by his side, practically vibrating with excitement for Inseong. Hadn’t he wanted to go to school? He wouldn’t be attending, but he would be at one of the most prestigious schools in the country! He would make so much money he could pay off the hospital debt in no time and-

 

“But I can not accept this offer.”

 

Sanghyuk’s eyes snapped to Inseong immediately, and his chest bubbled with suppressed doubt. Why the fuck wouldn’t Inseong accept that?! Why would he decline the best offer for anything he would probably ever get?!

 

“He just has a lot to think about,” Sanghyuk interrupted in his best attempt at English, which clearly shocked the girl in front of him. Did she not think he could speak English? Granted, he wasn’t very good at it, but that didn’t matter. “Please, give him some time to think about it.”

 

“Sanghyuk I don’t-” Inseong began to mumble in Korean, but Sanghyuk didn’t give two shits.

 

“You’re not thinking this through enough,” Sanghyuk shot back at him in Korean before turning to the lady again. “Will it be okay if he makes a… if he…” Fuck! “If Inseong can decide in two days, will that be okay?”

 

“I don’t need to-” Inseong began again in Korean, but Sanghyuk shot his hand out to hit him in the side and proceeded to ignore him. 

 

“It is a big…” he began in English again, but goddamn his inability to remember that one word. He turned to Inseong. “How do you say ‘decision’ in English?!” 

 

“It is a big decision,” the woman chimed in, this time in Korean, and Sanghyuk wanted to gape at her for speaking in English, assuming Sanghyuk couldn’t speak it, when she just could have given her whole speech in Korean to start with. Her accent was good in Korean, too, and that kind of pissed Sanghyuk off. “I will give you a week to make your decision. Please email me when you have decided. Thank you,” she continued before bowing and taking her leave.

 

The two boys stood in complete silence until she had closed the door of her fancy car behind her and driven off. Sanghyuk was the first to snap.

 

“Why the fuck would you deny an offer like that?! What is wrong with you?!”

 

“What?!” Inseong asked, exasperated and gaping at Sanghyuk. “Just because it’s a good offer that means I have to take it?”

 

“Why wouldn’t you?!” Sanghyuk continued, not caring if he was yelling at this point. “Inseong, you would get paid probably four times more than you would here, or more ! You’d have the credentials for working for Yonsei University of all fucking places. You’d get hired anywhere after that! You could pay off the hospital debt within a year and you’d even get to live in Seoul instead of this shit hole! What reason is there not to accept this offer?!”

 

Inseong bit his lip, turning his head away for a second, and Sanghyuk could tell the taller boy was getting a bit angry, but Sanghyuk would take it if it meant driving an ounce of sense into him. 

 

“Do you want me to leave that badly?” Inseong asked, turning his head to face Sanghyuk. Sanghyuk narrowed his eyes. 

 

“If you tell me you denied this offer because of me I swear to God-”

 

“Yeah, it is because of you, actually,” Inseong had the balls to say, stepping right up in front of him. “I finally have friends and a job I care about here, so why the fuck would I want to move all the way to Seoul? We literally built this business from nothing and we’re finally doing so well, and you want me to just ditch it?!”

 

“For something ten thousand times better? Absolutely,” Sanghyuk argued sternly. “You’ve barely known me and the rest of our group for four months, but you’d give up the opportunity of a lifetime for us? That’s stupid.”

 

“It’s not stupid.”

 

“Yes, it is!”

 

“Why can’t you just accept that I don’t want to go?!” Inseong yelled, not particularly like he was mad, but more like he was just pleading with Sanghyuk to drop it. 

 

“Because every single reason you have given me is stupid and you didn’t even take a second to think this through!”

 

“I shouldn’t have to give you reasons! It’s my life and my decision!” Inseong defended, and Sanghyuk felt himself really boiling over with anger now. 

 

“You just told me you’re going to throw away the best opportunity you have ever had listing me as the main reason! So don’t sit here and say you don’t owe me a reason. You’re using me as a reason, but I won’t let you throw away something so good for me . Fuck that. Find a different excuse if you can, or accept the offer and-”

 

“Why do you want me to leave so badly, Sanghyuk?!”

 

“I don’t!” Sanghyuk blurted out, glaring at Inseong. “I don’t want you to leave, I want you to be happy because you won’t have to struggle to pay bills. I want you to be comfortable because you don’t have to put the majority of every paycheck you get towards medical bills. I want you to be able to do whatever you want and not be stuck in this godforsaken town! I don’t want you to leave , but you won’t get any of that staying here!”

 

“You’re wrong.”

 

“No I’m fucking not.”

 

“I already have all of that!” Inseong screamed at him, nearly glaring back at him. “Incase you haven’t noticed, we have built a whole business from the ground up and I have never been more proud of anything in my life!”

 

“But you could do so much better at-” Sanghyuk began, but Inseong instantly cut him off.

 

“At Yonsei? I could do better at a place where I’ll be the least experienced employee there? I’ll do better at a place where I don’t know anyone? I’ll do better miles away from the only family I have left? Or maybe I’ll do better working someplace I couldn’t give two fucks about!” Inseong screamed.

 

“You can always make new friends. You’re a natural extrovert, you’ll meet new people,” Sanghyuk reminded him in a lower voice this time. “Bring Youngbin up with you, nobody said you couldn’t. You’ll gain more experience there than you ever would here, and within a month you’ll love that place and forget all about this stupid halfassed tutoring business we have!”

 

“You don’t-”

 

“Think about more than just right now , Inseong, because you’re not thinking !”

 

“No, I am thinking! And I’ve already made my decision!”

 

“You’re really going to give up everything for-”

 

“No!” Inseong yelled, and the sheer power behind it silenced Sanghyuk instantly. “You think I’d be giving up everything by staying here? Well how about you take a look from my perspective, because if I go there, I’m giving up everything I have here . Fuck that. I have a group of friends I care about. I have a job I’m proud of that pays my bills and the medical debt. Because of you, I don’t need to grasp at every single thing I’m offered anymore. Because of you, I feel included in a group. Because of you, I have things I care about and actually don’t want to leave. So yeah, the reason I’m not going is because of you. Because somehow you’ve already given me every reason to stay, and you can’t fucking convince me to leave now.”

 

“Bullshit,” Sanghyuk seethed. 

 

“Bullshit? Sanghyuk I already have a tutoring job. I don’t need one with a fancy title. I have one that makes me happy, and no matter how important you think opportunities are, I’ve already decided that I took the best one I was presented with already, and I did that with you,” Inseong defended, staring right through Sanghyuk as if daring him to contradict that last point. “Being happy is what’s most important to me, and going away to Seoul won’t make me happy, it will make me miserable. I never wanted to teach English, I wanted to be an engineer, remember? But I don’t mind being an English tutor if it means doing it with you and paying the bills. I don’t want my life to become English tutoring, and I don’t want to leave everything I have for a chance that something could be better.”

 

“You… you really wouldn’t be happier if you could just get rid of all your burdens?” Sanghyuk asked, biting his lip as he tried to take in every single reason Inseong had given him. 

 

“You know what’s a burden? You trying to push this on me when I’ve already made my decision. So stop,” Inseong sneered at him, clenching his fists by his side before taking off down the steps of the library and beginning to make his way home.

 

Sanghyuk felt the color drain from his face as Inseong walked away from him. “Inseong-

 

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Inseong called back at him, but it wasn’t friendly, the way it always was. It was frustrated, and Sanghyuk felt the realization sink like a weight in his chest as he realized he had caused Inseong to feel that way. 

Chapter Text

Sanghyuk went home that night alone, but he didn’t walk inside. He sat down on the side of the road and just held his throbbing head in his hands as he tried not to cry. He didn’t like fighting with Inseong, especially when he knew the whole thing had started because of him. He couldn’t bring himself to go inside knowing he would just break down the second he walked in. He had to be strong for Sangchul and Sangmi, at least, right? 

 

Sanghyuk let a shaky breath fall past his lips as he clutched his head in his hands. He felt sick. He felt like he was going to puke any second just recapping everything that happened in his head. But that wasn’t the worst part. The conversation wasn’t even close to being the worst part. It was the look of anger and irritation on Inseong’s face. It was the image Sanghyuk couldn’t stop replaying in the back of his head no matter how much he tried. All he could see was Inseong being angry with him, and that alone made him feel even more sick than he felt before. 

 

“Sanghyuk?”

 

Sanghyuk whipped his head around, sucking in a breath at the sight of his mom leaning against the doorframe with a concerned expression. Sanghyuk didn’t want to worry her, so instead he brushed his hair back neatly and gave her his best smile. “Hi mom, sorry I was just planning out what to do for tomorrow at work.”

 

His mom stepped outside, gently closing the door behind her before making her way over to him. “Hyuk, do you think I’m stupid?”

 

“Wha- what?! No I-”

 

“Then tell me what’s wrong,” she insisted with a comforting smile, wasting no time sitting down beside him. Sanghyuk turned his head away. 

 

“Nothing’s wrong momma,” he whispered quietly. “Seriously, it’s okay. Just a slight problem, but it’ll be fixed tomorrow. Promise.”

 

“Oh my, you’re just such a big boy aren’t you now?” she stated, but it was laced with sarcasm. “But guess what? You’re still my boy, so come on.”

 

Sanghyuk kept his mouth shut and continued looking down. It was his problem to solve, not his mother’s. She didn’t need to know about what had happened, because Sanghyuk would fix it tomorrow. She didn’t need to concern herself with something so trivial.

 

“In all honesty, Hyuk, you’re the best kid I could ever ask for.”

 

“Momma-”

 

“Hey, I’m talking! Listen!” she demanded sternly, promptly silencing Sanghyuk. “I mean it. You never complained about anything, you just did everything you could to help. Even now, you work to support us, not yourself. I don’t think I could have done any of that without your help.”

 

“I’d be a shitty son if I didn’t,” Sanghyuk mumbled, twiddling his fingers in his lap. “But I didn’t mind anyways.”

 

“And I’d be a shitty mom if I didn’t help my son, right? Even when he helped me so many times?”

 

“Momma it’s fine, really,” Sanghyuk mumbled unconvincingly, but he wasn’t sure how to make it any more convincing. If he smiled again she would see through it just like she did the first time. “It’ll be fixed by tomorrow.”

 

“I don’t care,” she said with a shrug. “It’s bothering you now . That makes it important to me.”

 

Sanghyuk sighed, biting his lip. “What would you do if I got the opportunity to go tutor in Seoul?”

 

His mom’s eyes widened. “Did you?”

 

“Let’s just say I did,” Sanghyuk mumbled, still not looking up to see her any clearer than out of the corner of his eyes. “One… one of the most prestigious schools in the country offers me a tutoring position. What would you do?”

 

“What would I do? Why does that matter? What would you do?”

 

“I would… I should go, right?” Sanghyuk asked, biting his lips even harder as his eyes began to tear up again. “It’s the best opportunity I could probably ever get, so why wouldn’t I go? Even… even if it meant leaving… leaving things behind y’know? I could help you guys if I got- if I got that opportunity, and I would be able to do so many good things so why would it even be a question?”

 

Sanghyuk didn’t want to lift his hand to wipe away the tears dripping down his cheek because his mom would be able to tell he was crying if she couldn’t already. He just just let them fall, tilting his head down so far his hair completely hid his eyes. 

 

“But would you want to go?”

 

“Yes! Obviously!” Sanghyuk stated, despising the way his voice clogged up as he spoke. 

 

“No, Hyuk. I mean taking all the other factors out of it, would you want to go? Is going worth leaving everything else behind?”

 

Sanghyuk closed his eyes and bit his lip even harder, tilting his head down. “I just… I don’t want him to-” Sanghyuk hiccuped as he tried to hold back his tears, but they just came pouring out anyways. “Momma I don’t want him to make a mistake because of me.”

 

“Who, Inseong?” she asked, but all Sanghyuk could do was nod his head and sniffle. “Baby, why the fuck would Inseong be making a mistake by staying here with you?”

 

“Because!” Sanghyuk began, trying to blink his tears away but they just wouldn’t stop. “I’m not worth giving that up! Our group of friends… he could make new ones. He could have a better group of friends but he won’t even consider that! He says he doesn’t want to give up what he already has because what he was offered isn’t something he ever wanted, but this isn’t something he ever thought he wanted and yet he refuses to give it up for something better! He could be happier and worry free. He could have new friends and a new life and he would find someone else who loves him. I’m not- I’m not worth giving all of that up for!” 

 

“And who the fuck told you that? Inseong? Because to me it sounds like he would give up anything for you.”

 

“That’s the point momma! I don’t want him to! I can’t… I’m not-”

 

“Don’t you dare say you’re not worth it, baby,” his mom interrupted, grabbing the sides of his tear stained face with her hands and pulling his head up so she could see him. “I’d let you go anywhere you wanted to do anything you wanted, and four months ago you would have considered leaving if it meant helping us, but you wouldn’t leave now even if we begged you too, now why do you think that is?”

 

“I… I don’t-”

 

“It’s because for you, Inseong and that tutoring business you have are worth it. Because you know you’d be happier here with him, doing something you love. It’s the same way for Inseong, too. Don’t say you’re not worth it when you would make the same choice he did. If he thinks you’re worth it, then you’re worth it, because you don’t get to decide how much you mean to someone else.”

 

Sanghyuk couldn’t help it anymore, he collapsed into his mom’s arms and let the tears start falling down his face again as he buried his nose in her shoulder. 

 

“Momma I don’t want him to leave,” he whispered, hugging her tightly against his chest. “It’s selfish and that’s why he got mad at me, because I told him he should leave even when I don’t mean it. I don’t- I don’t wanna lose him.”

 

“Then you go tell him you don’t want him to leave, Hyuk.”

 

“I can’t it’s-”

 

“Baby, if he’s the one you love, then stop giving a shit about everything else for once and just say what you mean. If you want him to stay, then tell him you want him to stay.”

 

“This shouldn’t… this shouldn’t be about me though, this is about him,” Sanghyuk cried, still hiding his face in her shoulder.

 

“And hasn’t he already decided what he wants? Now it’s your turn to decide what you want.”

 

---

 

Sanghyuk was so bad at caring about himself. Honestly, every time he thought about telling Inseong he wanted him to stay because he cared about him, he felt like he was going to puke. Some of the resistance was his pride, but honestly he didn’t care that much about that. But he didn’t even know how to word everything he was thinking. He didn’t want Inseong to leave him, but he wanted Inseong to be happy, but Inseong said he was happy here with him, but that’s a lot of fucking pressure and what if Inseong stayed and then regretted it? What if he stayed because of Sanghyuk and then realized he should have gone? Then would it be Sanghyuk’s fault for telling him he wanted him to stay?

 

Things would just be so much easier if that girl had never shown up. Things would be… normal. 

 

Sanghyuk wanted his normal back. 

 

He took a steady breath in, raising his hand and letting it hover over the door to Inseong’s apartment. He knew it was completely his fault they fought and therefore entirely his job to fix things, but holy shit he was nervous. His palms were sweating and he was sweating and although he knew he was breathing just fine it certainly didn’t feel like he was okay. 

 

“It’s…” Sanghyuk began to mumble, looking down at his feet. He took a few more breaths to steady himself, closing his eyes and thinking. “It’s just Inseong,” he mumbled to himself, pulling forward every memory he could think of. Inseong approaching him for the first time in the library, meeting Inseong at the baseball game, walking home with Inseong, dumpster diving, going to play baseball, swimming at the lake, tutoring together, and everything in between.

 

It was Inseong, and any anxiety that this situation was bringing on would be worth it once they were okay, right? It would be worth it because it was Inseong. 

 

Slowly, he brought his knuckles down to knock on the door. Immediately after, he pulled his hands down in front of himself, twiddling his sweaty fingers together in hopes of distracting himself. He waited patiently, too scared to knock a second time, but when the door knob turned he still wasn’t ready.

 

He flinched back as the door swung open, revealing a very disheveled and shocked Inseong. He was in shorts with a long t-shirt not tucked into the waistband. His hair was sticking up in a thousand different directions, and he avoided eye contact the second he realized who was at his door. 

 

“Sanghyuk… hi,” Inseong mumbled softly, still avoiding eye contact while he moved his hand up to rub nervously at the back of his neck.

 

Why couldn’t Sanghyuk speak? What the hell was stopping him now after he came all this way? Why did he feel frozen? Why couldn’t he just say what he wanted to say? He couldn’t even find his voice long enough to say hi! 

 

“Listen… I- uhm… I thought about… what you were saying last night.”

 

Sanghyuk’s eyes widened, lips parting slightly in fear as he tried to catch Inseong’s gaze, but Inseong wasn’t looking at him. He just hoped it wasn’t what he thought it was. Inseong wasn’t considering it now, was he? He wasn’t going to leave him, was he?!

 

“And maybe-”

 

“Please don’t leave.”

 

Inseong’s attention snapped to Sanghyuk, but Sanghyuk’s scratchy voice had already blurted out exactly what he wanted to say and he couldn’t take it back even if he wanted to.

 

“Wait,” Inseong mumbled, furrowing his brows. “But yesterday you said-”

 

“I know what I said and I meant all of it, but that doesn’t mean I want you to go,” Sanghyuk continued to blurt out, casting his eyes downward so he wouldn’t just shut himself up out of embarrassment. “I… I want you to be happy and comfortable with your life no matter what you do, and I just- I didn’t want to be selfish and admit I wanted you to stay just because I didn’t want you to leave, so I tried to find every single reason why you should go and I meant all of it. It’s a great opportunity and passing it up would be stupid.”

 

“Sanghyuk-”

 

“But I don’t want you to go. I want you to stay right here with me and walk my siblings to school with me and go for stupid lake night swims with me. I want you to stay and tutor with me so I don’t have to do it alone because the truth is that you make the job fun. I’m never bored when I’m with you, and living finally feels like more than a responsibility and I don’t want you to leave because I know if you do I’ll just miss you and every time I tutor I’ll think about how much different it would be if you were there with me. But I don’t want to be the reason you regret not going later! And I don’t want to stop you from considering it if you really are, but if you really want to stay then I want you to know that I want you to stay.”

 

Sanghyuk bit his lip to force himself to stop talking, not even realizing how shallow his breathing was or how panicked he felt, still refusing to look up and meet Inseong’s eyes. 

 

“You really… want me to stay?” Inseong asked in a quiet voice after a small moment of silence. “You’re not just saying that to make me feel better?”

 

“No, Inseong, I’m saying I want you to stay because I’m being selfish.”

 

“Selfish?”

 

“Obviously,” Sanghyuk mumbled, turning his eyes away again. “Because this is a big opportunity for you and-”

 

“Oh shut up and just tell me you want me to stay again,” Inseong interrupted, stepping forward until he was right in front of Sanghyuk, placing his hands on his shoulders and practically holding him there. If Sanghyuk dared to be whipped and gay in this moment of all moments, he had to be honest and say Inseong’s eyes were literally sparkling, but there was something else there, too. He was looking down at Sanghyuk with such hope that Sanghyuk wasn’t sure he’d ever been looked at with before. 

 

Sanghyuk swallowed the lump in his throat, finding his hands subconsciously floating to Inseong’s forearms. He licked his lips, not understanding why the moment suddenly felt so stuffy, but not in a bad way. 

 

“I want you to stay,” Sanghyuk finally pushed out, unable to tear his eyes from Inseong’s. “With me. I want you to stay with me .”

 

Inseong moved forward almost instantly, his hands moving up to cup Sanghyuk’s face as he brought their lips together in one movement. Sanghyuk’s hands flinched to Inseong’s waist as their lips collided, but he barely noticed as his eyes fluttered shut and his lips moved against Inseong’s. He felt himself chasing the feeling Inseong gave him, reaching out for more and grasping onto it so tightly he would never be willing to let it go. One of Inseong’s hands trailed down to curl around his neck, so Sanghyuk leaned his cheek into the one hand Inseong left cupping his cheek, lips still moving together. 

 

They parted for only a second before they were back together, and then Inseong was taking a step back, pulling Sanghyuk with him. He shut the apartment door with the toe of his shoe and leaned Sanghyuk’s back against the wall beside it. Sanghyuk didn’t care one bit, curling his fingers around the fabric of Inseong’s shirt and pulling him even closer. Inseong moved closer the second his fingertips pulled him in that direction, tilting Sanghyuk’s head up with the slightest touch and melting into him.

 

He felt like his head was spinning with the feeling Inseong gave him, and every sense in his body was numbed by the feeling of wanting more

 

He pulled his hands away from Inseong’s waist, snaking up between his arms and cupping his face, practically pulling him down as if he was leaving in the first place. Then Inseong was smiling into their kiss, and within seconds he had to pull away because he was laughing. Sanghyuk couldn’t help but smile at the sound of Inseong’s laugh, slowly blinking open his eyes and giving the laughing boy a questioning look.

 

“Inseong, what?”

 

“Hey next time we fight can I be dramatic at your doorstep?”

 

“I wasn’t being dramatic!” Sanghyuk yelled in defense, slapping Inseong’s shoulder and only causing the boy to laugh even more. “I was being serious! I thought you were seriously considering leaving!” 

 

“I mean- I mean I was ,” Inseong told him with a laugh, lowering his hands to Sanghyuk’s waist and resting them there. “I was, I’m serious. But you came and told me to stay, so I’ll stay.”

 

“Inseong I’m not-”

 

“You’re not going to be the reason I regret anything because I’m not going to regret anything, got it?” Inseong asked, tilting his head and lifting an eyebrow at him. “I am very happy where I am right now.”

 

“Metaphorically or physically?” Sanghyuk deadpanned, causing a Cheshire smile to grace Inseong’s lips. 

 

“Can I say both without you hitting me?”

 

“Only if you stop being a dumbass and let me kiss you again.”

 

Inseong rolled his eyes with a lopsided smile. “I mean technically I was kissing you but-”

 

“I said stop being a dumbass,” Sanghyuk mumbled, reaching up and pulling Inseong’s lips back down to meet his. Inseong, unsurprisingly, has no complaints. 

 

---

 

“Hey Sanghyuk!” 

 

Sanghyuk turned around as he walked, a happy smile coming onto his face as he saw who was running up to him, backpack slamming against his back as he jogged to catch up.

 

“Oh? What’s the rush?” Sanghyuk asked, shoving his hands in the pockets of his pants with a grin, walking backwards with his excited siblings at his side. 

 

Youngkyun let out a heavy huff of air as he finally came to a stop with the group of them, panting for breath with red cheeks, hair pulled back into a bun. “What?” he asked, mirroring Sanghyuk’s grin. “I can’t walk with you and your siblings?”

 

Sanghyuk tsked at him, shaking his head as he continued walking backwards. “You have ulterior motives.”

 

“Don’t I always?”

 

“Yeah but I know what it’s about this time and I don’t like it,” Sanghyuk said, narrowing his eyes and continuing to back away. “Who told you?”

 

“Told him what? What’s the secret?!” Sangchul butted in, but Sanghyuk ignored him. 

 

Youngkyun shrugged, finally composing himself and bringing himself to walk towards Sanghyuk at a leisurely pace. “A little birdy who will not be named-”

 

“Fucking Taeyang.”

 

“Hyuk don’t swear,” Sangmi called out, only to receive Sanghyuk sticking his tongue out at her in response. 

 

“I didn’t even tell Taeyang!” Sanghyuk defended, holding his arms out wide as if to invite the explanation as to how the fuck Taeyang found out about him and Inseong. 

 

Youngkyun shrugged, still with a smile plastered on his lips. “Maybe you’re just too obvious.”

 

“Oh, what? Like you and Taeyang?”

 

“Take that back!”

 

“Nah, don’t feel like it,” Sanghyuk teased with a smile, jumping back with a laugh when Youngkyun launched forward, pulling his arm around Sanghyuk’s shoulders and practically jumping on him.

 

“Kyun! You and Taeyang are dating?!”

 

“No.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Sanghyuk no !”

 

Sanghyuk giggled, pulling himself from Youngkyun’s grip while the boy only glared at him. Sanghyuk shrugged, backing away from him again. “I mean… how much longer are you going to wait?”

 

“Wait? Until what? Wait wait wait- no hold on a second this was about you and Inseong!” 

 

Sangchul yelled as he punched Sanghyuk in the side, thoroughly distracting him from the angsty gay teenager in front of him.

 

“Ow?! What the-”

 

“You said you would tell me when you and Inseong became a couple!”

 

“I was going to bring you two to the library so we could tell you together! Y’know, before everyone else found out!” Sanghyuk yelled, shooting Youngkyun a glare. “Thanks, Kyun.”

 

“Oh you so deserved that one,” Youngkyun responded with a sly grin. “And my point stands. You shifted the conversation.”

 

“Uh, no, you did,” Sanghyuk pointed out, spinning around and shoving his thumbs through the loops at the end of the strings hanging from his backpack. “I was talking about you and Taeyang, and you avoided that to talk about my relationship instead. That’s called shifting the conversation.” 

 

“So about you and Inseong-”

 

“I bet you the second you spill your ‘secret’ to the group, Taeyang confesses.”

 

“That’s stupid,” Youngkyun retorted, rolling his eyes like it really was stupid. Sanghyuk blinked in the presence of true stupidity as he turned away from Youngkyun, whistling. “Tae could have anyone he wants, he wouldn’t just pick me because I say I’m…”

 

“Gay?” Sangmi supplied, and Youngkyun swallowed. 

 

“Yeah… that.”

 

Sanghyuk shrugged. “Okay, whatever you say. Are you coming to the library with me or did you really just come to gloat about how you somehow found out about Inseong and I?”

 

“To gloat,” Youngkyun admitted truthfully. “But I guess I’ll come to the library, too.”

Chapter Text

“CHEERS!” 

 

Sanghyuk raised his can of soda up in the air to meet everyone else’s, combined with a plethora of cheers and screams into the chilly night air. A fire burned in the center of their circle casting light onto every single one of them as they all lowered their drinks, tipping the can to their lips.

 

Sanghyuk leaned back into the light touch of Inseong’s hand hovering right over the small of his back… well okay it was a bit lower than that. But it was there and Sanghyuk liked the feeling of Inseong being constantly near him. 

 

Youngkyun giggled by his side, tipping his head back and smiling up at the sky as the drink washed down his throat, happy for no particular reason. The sight gave Sanghyuk a gentle but proud smile. 

 

“I have an announcement to make!” Taeyang happily announced, standing up and raising his drink. The fire casted a lovely glow onto him, lighting him up like the center of attention around the fire. He sat on the opposite side from Youngkyun, not because anything happened, but because that’s where Youngbin was sitting and Taeyang and him had been whispering to each other and giggling like little school girls all night, all at the expense of Sanghyuk and Inseong who hadn’t even announced they were a couple yet!

 

“You’re gay!” Chanhee shouted out, pointing at Taeyang and smiling widely. Seokwoo rolled his eyes by his side.

 

“Everyone already knew that!” Taeyang exclaimed shamelessly, pointing back at Chanhee with a half amused half ‘shut the fuck up’ kind of look. “No! Tomorrow, my form for online classes goes through, so I’ll be officially telling my family I won’t be going to college.”

 

“Wait no fucking way!” Juho accused, standing up from his seat and narrowing his eyes at Taeyang. “You told us literally three weeks ago you still had no plan.”

 

“Yeah?” Taeyang asked, raising his eyebrows before gesturing to Sanghyuk. “Well take a good long look at my plan.”

 

“I’m not the one that nearly busted down the door to a fucking cafe to get the job there,” Sanghyuk pointed out with a laugh. “Oh! And speaking of that! How the fuck do you know that woman? And don’t bullshit your way out of this one, I know you know her.”

 

Taeyang smiled sheepishly, dropping his hand with the drink. “She took in a street cat I cared for, so when that asshole started working for her I overheard him trashing her and broke his nose.”

 

“You should not be proud of breaking someone’s nose we need to get your morals checked-”

 

“You broke that guy’s nose… because that lady took in a cat?” Sanghyuk clarified, raising his eyebrows.

 

Taeyang nodded. “Yes. That’s literally the whole explanation. The cat’s name was Brick.”

 

Chanhee leaned forward with a snort. “You named the cat Brick ?”

 

Taeyang nodded. “He tried to eat a brick the first time I met him, so I gave him some of my food and named him Brick. It suits him.”

 

“Smart cat. Reminds me of you,” Sanghyuk mumbled, turning to face Inseong with a shit-eating grin while Inseong just stared back at him with a deadpan look. 

 

“Oh yeah, speaking of announcements,” Youngbin piped up, gesturing for Taeyang to sit down as the two smiled menacingly at Sanghyuk and Inseong. “Got anything to share with the class?”

 

“Nope.”

 

“Nothing.”

 

“Inseong you’re practically grabbing his ass while saying that.”

 

“No I’m not! My hand is hovering!” 

 

“... over his ass.”

 

“Took them long enough,” Chanhee chipped in with a snort. “I thought you two were going to get together months ago.”

 

“I… I kind of thought you were already a couple until a month ago,” Seokwoo offered with an embarrassed smile. 

 

“Wait what?”

 

“Nah I thought that, too,” Jaeyoon pitched in with a smile.

 

“So did Sangmi and Sangchul.”

 

“Okay thank you everyone for pointing out how stupid we are! Much appreciated! Thanks!” Sanghyuk thanked with sarcastic bows to the group, causing a few of them to burst out into laughter. “But don’t play dumb, half of you already knew anyways. Thanks Taeyang .”

 

Taeyang cackled, tipping his chair and almost falling if it wasn’t for Youngbin by his side, catching it before he could tumble back. His laughter paved the way for everyone else to start adding in their own snickers until the whole situation was so funny, because of course everyone had found out from Taeyang, that they were all keeling over holding their stomachs laughing. 

 

“How the fuck did you even find out?” Jaeyoon asked, still gasping for breath from laughing.

 

“I would also like to know,” Inseong mumbled, causing a few more snickers to pass around the fire. 

 

Well ,” Taeyang began, already unable to speak because he found himself so hilarious. “I- I went to your- Sanghyuk’s house two days ago because y’know I thought he wouldn’t have left yet, but he did. Turns out he left early with his siblings for once which was weird, but his mom was still there!”

 

“You did not-”

 

“Oh yes I did and we had a lovely talk about what happened,” Taeyang announced with a devilish smile, only revealing just enough to make everyone curious, except Sanghyuk of course who was now blissfully aware that his mom had told him about him saying a specific few words about loving Inseong, because no doubt she brought that up. Taeyang’s grin practically screamed ‘you said you love him, you said you love him’ and Sanghyuk wanted to punch him.

 

“After everything I’ve done for you-”

 

“Oh yes, well I was going to be a good friend and visit Inseong to see how he was doing and all that being-a-good-friend shit,” Taeyang explained, moving his hands around dramatically as he spoke, “but turns out you were already there!” Oh hell no… “And kissing Inseong and I wouldn’t say you two were keeping it PG-13-”

 

“Yes thank you Taeyang,” Sanghyuk cut him off, smiling his way through the embarrassment as the crowd around them erupted into laughter. “Thank you so much for that.”

 

Inseong leaned down close to his ear. “Syringe of air between the toes. Mimics a heart attack. That’s all I’m saying,” he whispered, and Sanghyuk failed to suppress his smile. Of course Inseong would know how to kill someone inconspicuously.

 

“Hey are you two keeping it PG-13 over there?”

 

“Shove it up your ass,” Sanghyuk bit out at Chanhee who just fell into Seokwoo laughing hysterically while Sanghyuk glared. Inseong’s hand moved from hovering over his back to wrapping around his waist, and Sanghyuk wasn’t about to argue. 

 

“Hey uhhh Chanhee,” Inseong instigated, causing the youngest boy to grin, as if daring Inseong to bring up anything around the fire. “Don’t you have a little something to announce?”

 

“What? No,” Chanhee decided quickly, but Sanghyuk was already smiling. Oh if only Chanhee had learned how to lie as a child, maybe he wouldn’t be absolutely screwed right now.

 

“Oh? I beg to differ,” Inseong said, leaning into Sanghyuk’s shoulder with a shit-eating grin.

 

“Hey now don’t do anything you’re going to regret it was Taeyang that spilled your secret to the group not-”

 

“Chanhee and Seokwoo fucked.”

 

“-me - oh my god I am going to kill you in your sleep just you fucking wait,” Chanhee threatened while the group went dead silent. The only sound that followed was the sound of seriously repressed snorts. 

 

“You… you what ?” Juho asked through a cracked laugh, and Chanhee sent him the nastiest glare ever given by a human while Seokwoo’s entire upper body turned bright red. 

 

“Oh yeah, you guys didn’t know?” Inseong asked, smirking to himself as Chanhee turned his glare on him. 

 

“Inseong watch your damn mou-”

 

“They’ve been fucking for months.”

 

Chanhee stood up instantly, smile on his face and the light of mischief in his eyes. “Inseong came to me the day after meeting Sanghyuk gushing like a girl with a crush talking about how fucking hot this library boy was and-”

 

Chanhee !”

 

“Oh you fucking earned that one!” Chanhee announced, but everyone was already laughing too hard to pay attention, Sanghyuk included. “Oh but wait! What about that time you almost kissed but Sanghyuk’s brother walked in on you guys and you were in nothing but your fucking underwear?!”

 

“I caught Chanhee and Seokwoo fucking and Chanhee is a bottom .”

 

“Oh you’ve gone too far.”

 

“Hello?!” Seokwoo cut in, looking so embarrassed he might just get up and run. “Why does your family spat have to be at the expense of me?!” 

 

“Because it’s funny?” Chanhee questioned, calming down instantly and leaning down to plant a simple kiss on the crown of Seokwoo’s head, earning a chorus of coo’s from around the fire as he sat down by his fuck-buddy’s side. 

 

While everyone was distracted with the newly found… couple, for lack of a better term and lack of knowledge in exactly what the fuck was even happening there, Sanghyuk turned his attention to his left, to the one person around the fire who had laughed the least. He had smiled and chuckled, but he had nothing to offer when just the other day he had no problem spitting out anything he wanted to. And Sanghyuk felt like he understood exactly what was going on in that boy’s mind.

 

“Hey Kyun,” Sanghyuk whispered, leaning towards him so he wouldn’t have to raise his voice any higher. “Is there maybe… something you want to share?”

 

Youngkyun quickly shook his head, staring down at his lap with a smile. “I was… I was thinking of it maybe but… but everyone is having fun and- and I don’t… now’s not the time.”

 

Sanghyuk pouted, listening to the stutter he hadn’t heard from the boy in quite a long time. “Even though they’re all being dicks to Inseong and Chanhee, you know they wouldn’t do that to you, right?”

 

“Doesn’t- doesn’t matter,” Youngkyun mumbled, smiling again but quickly dropping it. “I don’t want to wreck anything, remember? And… everyone is having fun so- so I’d be wrecking that. I mean… look at Tae. He’s… he’s really happy right now so… not now.”

 

Sanghyuk sighed, but nodded in acceptance. If Youngkyun wasn’t ready to confess his sexuality then the wasn’t-

 

“Aw, now we have five out of the four left without the company of men. How sad,” Juho teased, causing a laugh from some people from the group, and silence from others. Those others only included Sanghyuk, Chanhee, Youngkyun, and Taeyang. How surprising, honestly. 

 

“You know…” Taeyang began to mumble, and though Youngkyun missed it because he was too busy looking at his own goddamn feet, Sanghyuk didn’t miss the quick unconscious flicker of the boy’s eyes to Youngkyun. “Some of us… might not be… gay.”

 

“No, but you are,” Juho pointed out, and really how was Taeyang supposed to argue with that? But oh my god if now was ever a time for Youngkyun to stand up and prove him wrong… because this misunderstanding was getting kind of unbearable on Sanghyuk’s part. “But how about this? Jaeyoon and I met with a few photography guys that helped us with tips for Hyuk and Inseong’s site a while back, and one of them saw a picture of you that had been posted, and he asked us to give you his number.”

 

Sanghyuk bit his lip, almost unwilling to spare a glance in Youngkyun’s direction. The boy had his hands tightly shoved between his knees, lips sucked between his teeth, and his head completely tilted down. 

 

Sanghyuk was the first to try and diffuse, quickly but silently grabbing Juho’s attention and shaking his head, making an X with his fingers. Taeyang cocked his eyebrows at Sanghyuk, but looked unsure of what to do next. 

 

“So… uhhh… should I?” Juho asked, gesturing to his phone like he wasn’t sure if he was just supposed to take back the offer or not now. 

 

Sanghyuk internally begged Taeyang to outright decline it because at least that would mean something for Youngkyun and-

 

“Uhm… sure, I guess,” Taeyang mumbled, handing Juho his phone while Sanghyuk felt the need to shove his head into the fire. That could not have possibly been more of a confidence killer for Youngkyun. A meteor falling down from the sky and spiraling the world into an apocalypse could not have been more of a confidence killer than Taeyang accepting that fucking number was. 

 

Sanghyuk bit his lip, leaning towards Youngkyun again. “You know-”

 

“It’s fine,” Youngkyun mumbled sternly, so Sanghyuk just sucked in a breath, nodded, and leaned back so he wasn’t in the boy’s space. 

 

Well… that went… awful.

 

“Why-” Chanhee began, quickly clearing his throat. “Why would you want to go on a date with a guy you haven’t even met before? That’s a bit stupid, you should just date someone you know… like someone in your life that you like,” he continued, and Sanghyuk appreciated the obvious effort to help Youngkyun despite the boy never asking for it. It was still a mystery as to how Chanhee ever found out Youngkyun was gay considering Youngkyun said he had never told him. 

 

Taeyang licked his lips, eyes again flickering to Youngkyun. “Well… yeah,” he mumbled, tucking his head downwards. “But… that doesn’t matter unless the person likes me back, too. And so… wouldn’t I just be better off-”

 

“I’m gay.”

 

Sanghyuk almost choked on his own breath as his head whipped sideways, staring with wide eyes at the shy boy who was very clearly on the brink of emotional destruction. His hands were balled into fists at his side and his eyes were shut so tightly he was probably going to give himself a headache. Sanghyuk could see how heavily and how uneven he was breathing by the unsteady rise and fall of his hunched over shoulders, and all he could hear was Youngkyun’s jagged intake of breath.

 

Not a single person spoke. The only sounds that followed was the sound of Youngkyun struggling to remember how to breathe, and the cracking of the fire. Even Taeyang was frozen, now looking up at Youngkyun with wide eyes and parted lips, like he didn’t even know what he was supposed to do with himself at this point. 

 

“Didn’t you hear me?” Youngkyun asked, and it sounded like he was crying just from the fear of what he was saying. “I said I’m gay.”

 

“We… we heard you,” Chanhee mumbled softly, his hand moving to reach out to comfort Youngkyun, but he didn’t have the chance. 

 

“Kyun,” Sanghyuk mumbled under his breath, not loud at all yet perfectly loud enough for Youngkyun to hear. “Deep breath.”

 

Youngkyun nodded, taking a deep breath in and letting it out slowly, still refusing to open his own eyes. “I… I don’t- I can’t- I-”

 

“Deep breathes, Kyun.”

 

Sanghyuk’s neck almost snapped from the shock of the voice by his side that he hadn’t expected. Carefully, with the most gentle movements Sanghyuk had ever seen come from the rambunctious boy, Taeyang leaned down on his knees in front of Youngkyun and carefully placed his hands over Youngkyun’s fidgeting fingers. 

 

“It’s okay. Deep breaths. Open your eyes.”

 

“No, I’m not opening them,” Youngkyun mumbled, shaking his head vigorously.

 

“Okay,” Taeyang mumbled with a smile, gently patting Youngkyun’s hands. “But… you know when you do, we’ll all be smiling, right? Are you scared someone is going to be mad? Or that… you screwed something up? You didn’t.”

 

Sanghyuk turned his attention away from the boys at the slight tap on his hand. He turned to face Inseong for a second to see and expression of ‘what the fuck is going on?’ but Sanghyuk just shrugged and turned back to look at the two boys. 

 

“You’re been doing really good with your anxiety lately,” Taeyang continued, lifting up his hand to brush a few stray strands of Youngkyun’s hair behind his ear. “I’m impressed. But that doesn’t mean some things can’t still scare you. That- that was really hard to say, right? That’s okay. That’s a hard thing to say.”

 

“I-” Youngkyun started, still refusing to look up as he swallowed. “I don’t- I don’t want to- to mess- I’m gonna mess something up I can’t-”

 

“You can do and say anything you want,” Taeyang whispered, rubbing his thumb over Youngkyun’s hands. “You won’t mess anything up. I promise. But you don’t have to say anything now, okay? Take a deep breath, and finish what you want to say when you’re ready. We can change the subject if you’d-”

 

“Taeyang I said I’m gay because I like you.”

 

Taeyang opened his mouth, probably to give Youngkyun more softly spoken words of comfort, but he froze at Youngkyun’s confession. Everyone froze, once again holding their breath as they waited for something else to happen. 

 

“Wait… wait seriously?!” Taeyang asked, finally blinking himself out of his daze and tilting his head to try and catch Youngkyun downcast look. “You… me?! Even though I’m a mess and literally the definition of what you don’t need in your life? Youngkyun you… you thought- you thought you would mess something up because… because I wouldn’t like you back?!”

 

“Tae… I-” Youngkyun started, lips pulling back in fear, but it seemed like Taeyang didn’t even notice.

 

“Holy shit you like me !” Taeyang announced as if everyone hadn’t already heard it loud and clear, moving his hands to cup Youngkyun’s face instantly, guiding him up and laughing with the biggest smile ever plastered on his face. Youngkyun finally blinked his eyes open, and Taeyang made sure the first thing he saw was his smile. Youngkyun blinked away the water in his eyes, a look of confusion washing over his face before Taeyang pulled Youngkyun right out of his seat and wrapped his arms around him, spinning him around with the happiest laugh Sanghyuk had ever heard. “I can’t believe you like me!”

 

“Wait… you…”

 

“Youngkyun I have been head over heels for you since I fucking saw you,” Taeyang shamelessly admitted, burying his happy smile into Youngkyun’s collarbone. “I invited Sanghyuk to that baseball game because I was too much of a nervous wreck to go on my own! I can’t… I can’t believe after all that you like me!” 

 

“I… I do. Like you,” Youngkyun whispered, causing another giggle from Taeyang. 

 

---

 

The hours by the fire mellowed out the group, but it was the most calm anything had felt in a long ass time. Everything went back to normal once Taeyang had settled by Youngkyun’s side, linking their hands together as a reassurance whenever Youngkyun needed one that he definitely hadn’t fucked anything up. 

 

They continued talking about the most random of things around the fire, joking about everything going on in their lives and all the little things they had failed to mention here and there. At some point, Youngkyun had begun to fall asleep from the exhaustion that usually came after an anxiety attack, and Taeyang had no problem moving his arm around Youngkyun’s back to hold onto his shoulder, letting him rest on his side. From that point on, Taeyang really became just a ghost in the conversation, barely listening and definitely focusing almost completely on Youngkyun. That was valid, though. 

 

They stayed around the fire for hours, basking in the night air until well past midnight even when Youngbin insisted the kids should head home at reasonable hours. Taeyang quickly defended that he never had to go back to that shit hole again, so he didn’t care. Youngkyun was asleep, so he couldn’t say anything. Chanhee told his family he would be coming tonight, and they were okay with it because they knew Inseong and Youngbin would be there, and Seokwoo assumed his family didn’t care as long as he showed up to school tomorrow. So the fire continued with their misfit rag-tag group. 

 

When Sanghyuk began to droop a bit, he leaned on Inseong’s shoulder and snuggled into his side. Inseong kissed the crown of his head, and he couldn’t help but smile and let his eyes blink just a bit slower than they had before. 

 

“Hey… Hyuk.”

 

“Mm?” he responded tiredly from Inseong’s shoulder, feeling the weight of Inseong’s head lift off of his as the taller boy woke up from what was likely an impromptu and unexpected nap. 

 

“I though-” Jaeyoon began, yawning in the middle of his sentence from his spot on Juho’s lap. “I thought the road wasn’t close enough to the field to hear the cars.”

 

Sanghyuk furrowed his eyebrows for a second, but before he could confirm that fact, he heard what Jaeyoon had probably heard before everyone else. The engine of a car.

 

Sanghyuk pulled his head off of Inseong’s shoulder and turned his head towards the sound, but the second he did he was bombarded by headlights turning around the corner and blinding them. A chorus of groans and complaints spilled from around the fire immediately as hands lifted up to block their eyes.

 

The car stopped, and the headlights went out. 

 

“Youngkyun?! Youngkyun?!?!”

 

Slowly, Youngkyun’s tired head lifted from Taeyang’s shoulder, his lazy eyes blinking up at the sudden disturbance. Meanwhile, Sanghyuk jolted awake with the realization that fuck Youngkyun’s parents were here and fuck Youngkyun was in the arms of the man he was in love with.

 

His mom raced forward, sending a glare to every single person around the fire before grabbing a shocked Youngkyun’s wrist, pulling him out of Taeyang’s frozen grasp. Youngkyun stumbled over the ground as his mom steadied him, looking him over like he had been kidnapped by a group of thugs. 

 

“What the hell were you thinking staying out this late?!”

 

Youngkyun blinked, a sense of fear coming over him. “I… I fell asleep. So-”

 

“You said you were going to be with Chanhee, but why are you with this hoodlum group of older kids? And you !” she continued, glaring daggers at Sanghyuk. “His tutor? That’s funny. You’re nothing but a bad influence on him.”

 

“I- what ?” Sanghyuk asked, pushing himself to his feet instantly. “Ma’am, I am his tutor.”

 

“Not anymore.”

 

“That’s not your decision to make,” Sanghyuk hissed. He hated this woman, and if someone didn’t hold him down pretty soon he was going to do something stupid. 

 

“Youngkyun we’re going home,” she decided without further conversation, pulling Youngkyun by the wrist in the direction of their car, but strangely enough, Youngkyun didn’t follow after her. He didn’t get dragged after her because he pulled his wrist out of her grasp.

 

“You…” he began, taking a step back towards the burnt out fire. “You tracked my phone? To come find me? Even though I told you I would be with Chanhee and my friends?”

 

“Really, Kyun?” his mom chastised, tilting her head like she couldn’t believe the audacity of her own son. “This group isn’t your friends, they’re bad influences if that wasn’t clear enough by the queer you were sitting next to.”

 

“Shut up,” Youngkyun hissed, and his mom actually looked taken aback by the sudden command. “You don’t know him, so don’t say shit about him.”

 

“Oh Youngkyun I know enough.”

 

“Do you?!” Youngkyun nearly yelled, looking so conflicted with everything he wanted to say and his internal reaction to hold everything back. “Is that why you judged him immediately by the fact that he was within two fucking feet of me because that must mean he’s gay and oh the fucking horror!” 

 

Youngkyun !”

 

“Youngkyun please don’t do anything you’re going to regret,” Taeyang hissed, leaning forward as he said it. 

 

“You literally tracked me because you don’t trust me to make any decisions for myself!” Youngkyun continued to yell, clenching his fists. This time, though, he wasn’t nervous. This time he was just pissed. “I- I said I was with my friends and I wasn’t lying! Sanghyuk is my tutor but he’s my friend! Inseong and Youngbin knew Chanhee since he was a kid! Juho and Jaeyoon help Inseong and Sanghyuk advertise their tutoring business, and Seokwoo is my friend from school! But you’d rather I be friends with the assholes that treat everyone else at school like shit because they fit your freakish standards of perfect appearance and perfect academic level bullshit.”

 

“Oh? And this one?” his mom asked, gesturing to Taeyang, who Youngkyun had clearly left out when giving his mom a lecture on the background of his friend group to prove his point. 

 

Sanghyuk wanted to step in and do something because he knew what was going to happen next and he wasn’t sure that’s what Youngkyun really wanted. He should have stepped in. 

 

He was too late. 

 

“This is Taeyang, the guy I like.”

 

Taeyang’s face paled as his mom’s eyes shot to Taeyang like he was the devil himself.

 

“You, Youngkyun, need to come home right now. You’re not hanging around these no-for-good hoodlums any-”

 

Youngkyun shrugged. “I’ve always been gay. They didn’t push shit on me.”

 

“Youngkyun. Get in the car. Now.”

 

“No, why the fuck should I?” Youngkyun continued, and if Sanghyuk knew what to do he would have stepped in but he had no idea what to do. “You tracked me here when I told you I was fine, and now you’re trying to pull me away from my friends.”

 

“Youngkyun-”

 

“I’m not like Dokyun.”

 

Sanghyuk parted his lips like he had something to say, but any possible words he had died at the unfamiliar name. Did… did Youngkyun have a brother ?!

 

“You’re not listening to me, Youngkyun,” his mother hissed. 

 

“No, you’re not listening to me. You want to control my life so I turn out exactly like your prodigy son. ‘Youngkyun, be more polite like Dokyun.’ ‘Youngkyun, be smarter like Dokyun.’ ‘Youngkyun, be top of your class like Dokyun.’ ‘Be healthier like Dokyun.’ ‘Do everything like Dokyun.’ Hell, I might as well just be Dokyun at this point, huh?!” 

 

“Youngkyun…” Taeyang mumbled, but he didn’t even hear him.

 

“Guess what mom?! News flash! I’m not like Dokyun! My friends aren’t star athletes and top of the class representatives. I don’t want to go into medicine and become some rich doctor. I don’t have a loving highschool sweetheart girlfriend that’s practically my soulmate and the exact picture of perfection. I don’t have a million fake friends because I’m social, because guess what? I’m not! I have anxiety! I have friends that would rather swim in a lake than go out and talk about their futures! I’m gay ! I’m not Dokyun, I never will be, so stop acting like I will.”

 

The silence that followed Youngkyun’s anger fueled outburst could have sliced through a brick, and nobody dared speak through it. 

 

“Youngkyun get in the car.”

 

No .”

 

“We’ll talk about all of this Dokyun stuff later, but first we’re going to talk about this phase of yours-”

 

“It’s not a phase, try again,” Youngkyun hissed, clenching his fists again.

 

“Homosexuality is wrong .”

 

“The way you raise your children is wrong ,” Youngkyun hissed, and Sanghyuk could feel his heart sinking in his chest at every single word. Before his mom or he could get another word in, Sanghyuk finally pushed himself between the two of them, standing in front of Youngkyun but staring daggers at his mother. 

 

“Youngkyun will be home later once he’s cooled down. He won’t change, and neither will his opinion, but I hope you’ll be a bit more open to what your own son is trying to tell you, because for once in his life he’s trying to show you who he is instead of who you want him to be. We’ll bring him home safely. Please leave, now.”

 

“You have some nerve, boy,” the woman hissed at Sanghyuk, but he didn’t even flinch.

 

“I guess I do, don’t I? I’ll see you later when I walk Youngkyun home.”

 

The woman barked out a laugh, turning to face Youngkyun like she was amused. “You think you’re coming home? Not as long as you still have that filthy idea in your head. Don’t come home until you’ve fixed yourself,” she spat, turning back around and heading towards her car. “Fucking disappointment.”

 

They all watched without a word as the car door slammed shut behind Youngkyun’s mother, the car backing out of the field and driving away without a second of hesitation. And even after that, nobody seemed to have any idea of what to say next. Taeyang was the first to speak.

 

“Youngkyun… I’m sorry I-”

 

“It wasn’t your fault,” Youngkyun mumbled before raising his eyes to meet Sanghyuk’s. “I told you this… that this would happen eventually right? I was… I was prepared so… you’ll help me figure out what to do next, right?”

 

Sanghyuk began nodding without hesitation. “Absolutely. First we uh…” he trailed off, looking around the group. All eyes were on him now. “First we should go get your stuff.”

 

Youngkyun nodded, accepting the idea without question. “Okay. Then… let’s go,” he decided quietly, tilting his head down and beginning to walk away. Nobody seemed to know if they were supposed to follow him or not, but Youngkyun didn’t stop. 

 

Sanghyuk turned to Taeyang first. “Did you know Youngkyun had a brother?”

 

Taeyang took a second to look over Sanghyuk’s expression before slowly shaking his head. Sanghyuk looked to Inseong next, but the boy gave him the same reaction. Then Sanghyuk turned to Chanhee, hoping at least someone around this fire had known how many problems Youngkyun actually had with his family. But Chanhee just bit his lip, and shook his head.

 

“Okay,” Sanghyuk mumbled, licking his lips and rolling back his shoulders. “Well… uh… I’m gonna… follow Youngkyun then.”

Chapter Text

Sanghyuk walked with his hands shoved in the pockets of his pants, staring down at his feet as he walked and only looking up every so often to make sure Youngkyun was still there, walking silently in front of him. Inseong matched his pace by his side, casting his worried looks every few minutes. Sanghyuk really wasn’t the one that needed the concerned looks right now, though. 

 

Youngbin, Chanhee, and Taeyang trailed a bit farther behind them, and Sanghyuk wasn’t even sure if the rest of them had followed. It was too dark to see that far back, but Sanghyuk didn’t try very hard to find them anyways. They all walked in silence towards Youngkyun’s house, not really knowing what to do next with anything. 

 

It felt like forever until they reached Youngkyun’s house, every light on the bottom floor turned on as if the house itself was an angry beacon awaiting Youngkyun’s return.

 

When Youngkyun stopped walking just in front of the walkway to the door, Sanghyuk kept going, not stopping until he was right by his side with a comforting touch on his shoulder.

 

“I know you expected it,” Sanghyuk mumbled quietly, gently patting Youngkyun’s shoulder. “But if you want to talk to them and work something out, there’s no shame in that. You can still-”

 

“I don’t want to live here anymore,” Youngkyun snapped, but his voice was quiet and gentle. “I’m done trying to match my mother’s standards and always falling short of the rest of my family. They kicked me out, so I don’t have a reason to stay anymore.”

 

Sanghyuk exhaled, nodding as he gave Youngkyun’s shoulder a confident squeeze. “Then let’s go, okay? Do you want me to come?”

 

Youngkyun licked his lips, dropping his head again. “Yes, please.”

 

“You got it, Kyun,” Sanghyuk mumbled with an encouraging smile, wrapping his arm around his shoulders now and pulling him up to the door. Halfway down the walkway, he let Youngkyun take the lead as they made their way up to the door. And when they got there, Youngkyun didn’t even knock. He just opened it and pushed himself inside. 

 

“Youngkyun you’re- Youngkyun?”

 

“I’m here to get my things,” Youngkyun bit out, but even with how confident he tried to make himself seem and how sure he was about his decision, his voice cracked like a broken record. 

 

“You- Youngkyun wait a second,” his mother practically begged, running up to him quickly. Sanghyuk took the courtesy to close the front door behind himself, watching Youngkyun ignore his mother and make his way straight to his room. “You can’t be serious, can you?”

 

“You told me not to come back, so I’m leaving,” Youngkyun bit out.

 

Sanghyuk made his way a bit further into the house, eyes flickering to the side where a stern looking man with his arms crossed over his chest sat at a dining table. “Let him go,” the man said harshly, like he despised Youngkyun’s very existence. “If he wants to ruin his life so badly so be it!”

 

Sanghyuk turned his eyes away from the man to see the pictures lining the hallway to his left. He found himself drifting over towards them as Youngkyun’s parents continued to struggle between what they wanted for Youngkyun.

 

The first picture Sanghyuk came up to was an old one. Youngkyun was just an elementary kid at the time, a bandana wrapped around his forehead with a smile on his face. He had what was most likely his first ever baseball bat tightly held in his small hands. His hair stuck up in every possible direction and there was dirt covering the entirety of his face. But he looked happy, and by his side was an older kid. The older boy was in a school uniform, a proud smile on his face with his hand on Youngkyun’s shoulder. Dokyun.

 

The next picture showed the family all together. Both parents had their hands on Dokyun’s shoulders, centering him in the picture. Youngkyun sat on the ground beneath him. It was probably meant to be some professional pose, but Youngkyun’s smile wasn’t as bright as Sanghyuk knew it could have been. If anything he looked bored.

 

There was a picture of Dokyun graduating middle school, but Youngkyun wasn’t in that picture. There was one of Youngkyun graduating middle school, and Dokyun stood behind him, hands on his shoulders, with the proudest smile on his face. Youngkyun’s smile looked nothing but forced. There was a picture of Dokyun standing next to who was probably his high school sweetheart girlfriend at the school field for a game. It looked like a baseball game, and if Sanghyuk had to take a guess it was probably Youngkyun’s. There was a picture of Dokyun graduating high school surrounded by his classmates, and another picture of his family standing with him outside of his college. Youngkyun was there standing right by Dokyun’s side. He smiled like he was proud, and he probably was.

 

But where were the pictures of Youngkyun fresh after a big game? Where were the pictures of him and Chanhee together? Why wasn’t he in half of the family pictures yet his brother was in all of them?

 

Sanghyuk turned his attention away from the pictures as the sound of Youngkyun’s parents having a screaming match came back to his senses. He sighed as he looked down the hall to where Youngkyun was packing, and without wasting another second Sanghyuk was making his way over there. He stopped right beside Youngkyun’s mother, crossing his arms over his chest and looking her dead in the eye. The second she noticed, she stopped yelling, attention completely caught off guard. 

 

“You’re kind of pathetic,” Sanghyuk spat out, and for once he didn’t care if she was an adult. She showed no respect to him or anyone else around him, so she deserved no respect in return. Welcome to the real world, bitch. 

 

“Ex- excuse me?!”

 

“You told your son not to come home but now you’re trying to get him to stay, but you don’t actually want him to stay you just don’t want to be seen as a failure of a parent because your son didn’t turn out the way you wanted him to.”

 

The woman gaped at Sanghyuk, but he barely showed any expression but a raise of one eyebrow as he waited for her to deny anything he had just said. 

 

“Youngkyun isn’t a trophy,” Sanghyuk continued after realizing she had no response. “He’s a person. He’s leaving because he knows no matter what he does here, you’ll never deem him worthy enough to advertise in picture frames on your wall. You won’t gossip to your friends about him like you would with your other son, and you won’t ever accept him for who he is. That’s why he’s leaving, but you’re trying to convince him to stay despite the fact that you won’t change.”

 

“Why- why should I have to change when-”

 

“I already told you,” Sanghyuk snapped, cutting her off quickly. “If you want him to stay so badly, change your stance on homosexuality. Change the standards you hold him to. Change your ideals. But you can’t, and you wouldn’t even try.”

 

“You’re biased,” she hissed at him, like he was some infectious parasite in her life. “You’re taking his side because he’s your friend but maybe he should be the one to change!” 

 

Sanghyuk shrugged. “He has. He got tired of your bullshit and built up some confidence, and that’s the best change he’s ever made for himself. But you haven’t noticed, because that’s not the change you wanted, is it?”

 

“Listen here-”

 

“I think Youngkyun is amazing the way he is,” Sanghyuk continued, and the fact that he kept cutting the woman off was clearly beginning to irritate her more than it already had. “He doesn’t have to change anything about himself to meet your standards, because he’d just be lowering himself to meet them.”

 

“Wha-”

 

“Youngkyun are you done?” Sanghyuk asked, cutting her off yet again.

 

“Yeah, I’m done,” Youngkyun mumbled, zipping his duffel shut and swinging it over his shoulder. 

 

“Good, then we’ll be leaving. Goodbye Mrs. Kim,” Sanghyuk said with a tip of his head before marching off towards the front door, Youngkyun trailing behind him. Both parents continued to yell and make a fuss out of it all, but both boys just kept their heads straight and walked right out the door. The whole group was waiting for them at the end of the walkway, and there was no second wasted before the whole group encompassed Youngkyun, ushering him away from his old home. 

 

---

 

Surprisingly, the siblings had taken an instant liking to the idea of Youngkyun and Taeyang staying for a few days. They both stayed the night after everything happened, and every single person in the house instantly vouched that they should stay as long as they needed to. There was no room in the house, and everyone was sprawled out on blankets on the floor of their sitting room, but there were no complaints. 

 

That same night, Sanghyuk hadn’t been able to sleep. It wasn’t a shock, and clearly it was expected, because Sangchul pulled himself up from bed as quickly as if he was never there and ushered for Sanghyuk to follow him outside. 

 

“Why are Taeyang and Youngkyun sad?” he asked once they were sitting on the front step outside. The sky wasn’t even close to brightening up yet, but Sanghyuk could tell it would be soon. 

 

“Well,” Sanghyuk began, licking his lips as he tried to find the perfect words to explain their situations. “Sometimes, families aren’t as close as ours are,” Sanghyuk mumbled, patting Sangchul’s knee. “And sometimes… things just don’t work out. They’re here because things didn’t work out with their families.”

 

“So… they’re not going back?”

 

Sanghyuk nodded. “No, they’re not.”

 

“Ever?”

 

To that question, Sanghyuk shrugged. “They might, I don’t know. It all depends on… a lot of stuff actually. It’s complicated.”

 

That morning, both Youngkyun and Taeyang woke up with smiles on their faces as they helped Sanghyuk walk the twins to school. They were so happy to have the extra company, but the second the twins were gone both of their faces fell. In fact, so did Sanghyuk’s. 

 

Youngkyun didn’t say anything about going to school for the day, and nobody dared bring it up. He would be doing the same online form Taeyang had signed up for, but first he needed a breather day. He deserved that much at least. 

 

They walked Taeyang to his house together and waited outside while Taeyang sat his parents down and told them he wouldn’t be going to college. He had almost suggested he wait to do it, but despite everything that had happened, Youngkyun made sure to let him know it was important, and he shouldn’t hold that off because of what happened to someone else. 

 

Taeyang came back out with a bag swung over his shoulder and a distant expression, but he almost looked proud of himself. Sanghyuk patted him on the back but said nothing, and Youngkyun just reached down to grab his hand. And just like that, both of them had been kicked from their homes within the span of a day. 

 

They both stayed with Sanghyuk even when it was time to head to the library, and the two claimed their own table while Inseong and Sanghyuk worked. And when it was time to go back, they both stayed by Sanghyuk’s side. He wasn’t sure exactly what it was that kept them so close to him, but he figured maybe it was the guilt of asking him to do so much for them. Sanghyuk, truthfully, wouldn’t have done anything less for them. 

 

The lady from the cafe gave them a call two days later saying Taeyang could move in, but when he showed up to the cafe, he had Youngkyun bashfully standing by his side. Sanghyuk stood behind the both of them, rubbing his neck with a guilty smile. 

 

“I know the deal wasn’t two workers renting out your apartment,” Sanghyuk started out, licking his lips. “But… same deal? Do you… do you think you could pay them to work and allow them to pay the rent with that?”

 

Youngkyun bowed deeply. “My name is Kim Youngkyun. I promise I will work hard if you’ll have me.”

 

Then the old woman smiled, tilting her head and crossing her arms over her chest. “My my, Sanghyuk, where do you find these boys?” she asked with a grin, and Sanghyuk felt himself smiling in return. 

 

“I seriously have no idea,” he mumbled, patting both of their shoulders.

 

“I have no problem with it, as long as you’re both willing to work.”

 

“Absolutely!” the two said simultaneously, both bowing again as the woman laughed. 

 

“Thank you, seriously,” Sanghyuk told the woman. “These kids mean a lot to me. I’m leaving them in your care, so please take care of them well,” he requested with a bow. 

 

“Sap,” Taeyang mumbled from the corner of his mouth, and even though he couldn’t see it, Sanghyuk shot him a quick glare and held back the urge to slap him on the back of the head. 

 

Sanghyuk went to the library alone that night with a content smile on his face. His backpack hung lightly off the back of his shoulders as he pedaled his bike towards the familiar place. He leaned his head up towards the sky to feel the cool breeze pass by him, and when he parked his bike at the bike rack, Inseong was there waiting for him with a knowing smile on his face. And everything was absolutely, perfectly, normal.

Chapter Text

Sanghyuk smiled down at his hand, fingers perfectly intertwined with Inseong’s. Their arms swung leisurely as they walked in a content silence. The sun shined down on them, and Sanghyuk could feel the heat of the sun surrounding them. 

 

“Did you know there are seven different types of love?” Inseong asked suddenly, but his voice almost sounded like he hadn’t even realized he spoke out loud yet. Sanghyuk cocked his eyebrows at the word ‘love’ but chose not to comment on it considering his own outbursts, of which Taeyang was excruciatingly aware of. 

 

“The Greek ones, right?” Sanghyuk asked, trying to recall them but only being able to think of two. “I know eros and agape.”

 

Inseong rolled his eyes. “Good to know you watched Yuri on Ice.”

 

“Fuck off, what are the other five?” Sanghyuk asked with a laugh, bumping his shoulder into Inseong’s. 

 

Inseong smiled, straightening his head again and squeezing Sanghyuk’s hand. “Well, eros is obviously physical love, and agape is basically an overall love for anything and everything including humanity and the universe itself.”

 

“You can tell me that’s what agape is all you want, but they associated Yuri Katsuki with it and that boy was not agape with Victor at all.”

 

Inseong snorted. “Why are you getting so offended over the symbolism in a gay anime? How many times did you watch it?!”

 

Sanghyuk shrugged, not wanting to admit how many times he had used virus ridden sites on the internet cafe computers just to watch his gay comfort anime. “Come on, what are the other five types?”

 

“So there’s ludus which is like a flirty fling type of love. Basically one night stands and short term things.”

 

“There’s a word to define one night stands as love? Seems stupid,” Sanghyuk mumbled with a shrug.

 

“Okay. You have a good point there, actually,” Inseong confessed with a giggle, unable to deny that Sanghyuk had some sound logic on that point. “There’s also storge, which is love between family. In most cases, it’s unconditional and familiar, so... like you, Mi, and Chul.” Sanghyuk nodded to show he was listening, so Inseong continued. “Then there’s philautia. That’s self love, but not vanity, it’s just similar to self care.”

 

“So… Chanhee?”

 

“No, Chanhee is just the epitome of vanity. Philautia is more graceful than that,” Inseong countered with a laugh. “The sixth type is philia which is friendship and soulmates. Very pure, very supportive,” Inseong explained, eyes lighting up as he got the chance to explain something to Sanghyuk he didn’t already know. “That’s like you and Taeyang, or me and Youngkyun,” he added. 

 

“Did you just call Taeyang my soulmate while you’re holding my hand?” Sanghyuk asked, cocking his eyebrow and looking up at the boy.

 

Inseong shrugged with a suppressed smile. “But that’s like a friendship soulmate. There are different kinds of soulmates, shut up. Anyways the seventh type of love is pragma.”

 

Sanghyuk couldn’t exactly describe the feeling settling in his stomach, but his reaction to it was to stroke his thumb over the back of Inseong’s hand unconsciously. “What’s pragma?”

 

“It’s… committed love. It’s long term, respectful, everlasting companionship.”

 

Sanghyuk hummed as he nodded, stroking his thumb over Inseong’s hand again. “I like that one.”

 

“Yeah, me too,” Inseong mumbled, and from the corner of Sanghyuk’s eye he could see Inseong tilting his head down with a bashful smile. Then he suddenly turned, stepping in front of Sanghyuk and stopping him in his path, still holding his hand gently. “You don’t have to do anything right now, right?”

 

“If I did, would I be here with you?” Sanghyuk questioned with a raise of his eyebrows, wondering exactly where Inseong was going with this. “Why?”

 

Inseong smiled, like the best idea in the world had suddenly popped into his head and he couldn’t contain his own excitement. “I want to do something.”

 

Sanghyuk couldn’t help the smile spreading across his face even though he still had no idea what Inseong was talking about. “Something?”

 

“With you. Is that- wait is that considered a date now? Wait! Hold on hold on!” Inseong rambled, shaking his head and composing himself. “Even though you’re already here with me, would you do me the honor of letting me take you on a date?” Inseong asked formally, tilting his head with the same goofy smile that hadn’t left since the idea sprung into his head. 

 

Sanghyuk could feel heat rushing up to his cheeks despite the fact that there was nothing to be embarrassed about. Maybe it was because he had never been asked that before, or maybe it was just because it was Inseong. 

 

“Well? What are you waiting for?” Sanghyuk asked, both of them breaking out into wide, identical smiles. “Let’s go!” 

 

Inseong held onto his hand tightly as he dragged him off running down the road. Sanghyuk didn’t hesitate to keep up with him, only able to let out small giggles as he tried to figure out where the hell Inseong was going. 

 

Inseong took him right to the woods, gently pulling him through grown-over trails until they came out on the other side of a dirty, old building. Trees and weeds surrounded the area behind the building, almost like nature was hiding it from the rest of the world. The foliage created a canopy above them, but the sun still managed to get through plenty. Opposite Sanghyuk was a grey and rusted wall with a chained off door, and in between was the remnants of an old playground. 

 

The playground didn’t look nearly as filthy as the building, in fact it still looked usable. The rust only appeared in small patches on the poles of the swings from what Sanghyuk could see, because the rest just looked like dirty plastic covered in pine needles and dust.

 

“It’s my old elementary school,” Inseong mumbled, as if the idea didn’t seem so great anymore. “They closed the school a few years ago because it was shitty, but I still like to come back to the playground every now and then. I haven’t been in a few months, though.”

 

“Why not?” Sanghyuk asked, pulling his eyes away from the playground to turn and face Inseong.

 

“Because I always came here when I was overwhelmed or upset,” Inseong mumbled, smiling at Sanghyuk. “I just haven’t felt so burdened these past few months, I guess. But… I like this place. If- if you don’t- I mean it’s-”

 

“I call the swing!” Sanghyuk cut him off immediately, pulling his hand from Inseong’s and racing over to the swing. It took a few seconds for Inseong to catch up to him, but when he did Sanghyuk had already thrown himself onto the swing. Inseong grabbed onto the rubber covered chains, pulling the swing back as Sanghyuk protested, pushing him as high as he could. Sanghyuk let out a childish yell as Inseong backed away, laughing. He couldn’t actually swing, his legs were too long and no matter how much he tucked them under the seat his feet would just brush the ground and slow him down anyways, but it caused them both to break out laughing nonetheless. 

 

Inseong pulled on the swing to stop it as Sanghyuk tried to control his laughter. He moved to stand in front of the swing, leaning down in front of the swing and waiting for Sanghyuk to calm down enough to stop cackling. 

 

“What? What are you doing?” Sanghyuk finally asked, his smile still spreading across his face as he looked up to meet Inseong’s eyes.

 

“Nothing,” Inseong whispered, a gentle smile on his lips as he continued to look down at Sanghyuk. “I’m just happy.”

 

“Yeah? Well me too,” Sanghyuk agreed with a smile and nod, curling his fingers around the sticky rubber and leaning just a bit forward. 

 

Inseong smiled again before leaning down, slowly pressing his lips against Sanghyuk’s. Sanghyuk’s toes curled in his shoes as he kissed back, melting into Inseong. Butterflies erupted in Sanghyuk’s stomach as Inseong pulled away, leaning in one more time just to peck his lips.

 

“I’m never gonna get tired of that,” Inseong whispered, his breath ghosting across Sanghyuk’s face. 

 

“Hey, Inseong?” Sanghyuk mumbled, receiving a hum in return. “I’m glad you came up to me in the library that day.”

 

“Are you gonna be mad if I admit I only did it because I had the biggest crush on you?” Inseong asked with a small giggle.

 

“No, because apparently within the twenty minutes I told Taeyang about you before going to that game, I mentioned you were pretty so many times he considered that your defining trait,” Sanghyuk admitted with a laugh, leaning in a bit closer to Inseong’s chest. “So I can’t really judge.”

 

“You thought I was pretty?”

 

“You are,” Sanghyuk didn’t hesitate to admit, blinking as he met Inseong’s eyes.

 

They continued to stare at each other for another moment until Inseong pulled away from the swing, turning around to hide the blush and embarrassment on his face. Sanghyuk was left proudly smiling. “Weak,” he commented, and Inseong spun around to gape at him.

 

“Don’t turn this into a competition,” he warned, narrowing his eyes. “I’ll win.”

 

“Doubtful,” Sanghyuk continued to challenge, only because it was Inseong and when had either of them ever backed down from any of their antics? He got up from the swing with a cocky smile. “You already lost,” he said, walking right past Inseong before running over to the main body of the playground. “Come go down the slide with me, loser!” 

 

“Fuck you!” Inseong called, running after Sanghyuk who was already climbing into the body of the playground. Sanghyuk lowered himself carefully at the top of the slide so he wouldn’t hit his head on the low arch built for a child to go through, and he just barely started pushing himself down the slide when Inseong was diving at him, hugging his arms around his back and sending both of them flying haphazardly down the child sized slide. Sanghyuk landed on the ground first, and Inseong landed on top of him in a fit of laughter. 

 

“I said with me! Not on me!” Sanghyuk pointed out as he tried to catch his breath from not only laughing, but having the wind knocked out of him. 

 

“I thought it’d be funny,” Inseong defended with a laugh, holding himself up above Sanghyuk now. “And I was right. This is funny.”

 

“You’re a big man child.”

 

“And you’re stuck with me.”

 

---

 

Two more months passed in the blink of an eye. 

 

There was some good within those months, and there was some bad, as there always was. Youngkyun’s mother had found out where he worked a few weeks after he started working for the cafe, but the nice old lady running the shop had thrown the woman out. Apparently, Youngkyun had talked to her afterwards though, reinforcing that he was happy where he was. 

 

Youngkyun and Taeyang were doing good at the cafe. Sanghyuk made sure to become a regular, and the woman was always updating him about the boys, telling him how well they were doing and how much she loved having them around. 

 

Since Youngkyun had left school, he was no longer part of the baseball team, but that didn’t mean shit to Chanhee. Every other week or so he got his whole team together and invited Youngkyun out for a late night game at the field. Everyone always came to watch, and they became close to the baseball team. 

 

At some point, Chanhee and Seokwoo had become something a little bit more than just fuck buddies. This, in hindsight, might have resulted from the endless amount of questioning each of them was subjected to by Sanghyuk, but if it worked it worked. They held hands when they walked and Seokwoo didn’t seem to have any problem with being seen in public. 

 

Seokwoo had agreed to take over the company he wasn’t interested in, but he said he would be fine as long as he could be himself while he did it. That meant keeping Chanhee by his side. Sanghyuk had a feeling the boy would have done it anyway, but it was a nice bargaining chip to keep Chanhee. 

 

Chanhee was officially adopted, and he invited everyone from their group over for dinner with his new parents. They were nice people and Sanghyuk liked them a lot. 

 

Youngbin got a better job offer and a raise, so that was incredible. Even though Inseong made plenty to pay their bills, food, and debt monthly, having some extra wasn’t the worst thing in the world. 

 

A nearby college found out about Inseong and Sanghyuk’s tutoring business, and after doing their research, invited Juho to their school on a scholarship. Jaeyoon already had plans for the school he wanted to go to, but he was able to use his work for Inseong and Sanghyuk on his resume. It was nice to know the two of them had helped those boys get just a bit farther with what they wanted to do. 

 

Inseong was officially introduced to Sanghyuk’s family as his boyfriend, and Sangmi and Sangchul couldn’t have been happier. Of course, they all already knew, but it was different sitting down and having a meal with him. 

 

It was strange how over the course of just a few months, this group of people had become so normal to him that not having them in his life felt wrong. He hadn’t known most of them for very long, but without them he wouldn’t be where he was. Whether it was coincidence or fate, he wasn’t complaining. 

 

“What are you guys gonna do over the summer?” Taeyang asked, leaning back in his chair and folding his arms over his chest. It was funny, because Sanghyuk was so used to him always looking angsty and dark, but his hair was dyed blonde now, and he was sitting in front of Sanghyuk in a collared shirt with an apron tied around his waist. A lot of shit could change over two months. 

 

“We’re working on that,” Sanghyuk admitted, scrolling through their tutoring schedule for the day on his phone. He didn’t mind being on his phone while Taeyang was talking to him only because Sanghyuk had come here to do just that. Taeyang had decided all on his own to spend his break sitting with Sanghyuk. “I’m sure there will be opportunities, just not as many.”

 

“What about that girl you tutor for?” he asked, tilting his head to the other side this time. 

 

“Not over summer, which sucks,” Sanghyuk admitted with a sigh. “If we don’t think of something before the end of next month we’ll be fucked over the summer. I’d rather not have to deal with that.”

 

Taeyang shrugged his shoulders. “You could always get a second job to tide you over. Isn’t that what most teachers do?”

 

“What’s the problem?”

 

Sanghyuk looked up from his phone, leaning his head back and smiling as Youngkyun came up to the table. He was dressed identically to Taeyang with a confident smile on his face, his short, brown hair swept perfectly over his head. 

 

“Aren’t you supposed to be working?” Sanghyuk teased, looking back to his phone and opening up his email. 

 

“In case you haven’t noticed, the cafe is nearly empty right now, Hyuk,” Youngkyun said with a roll of his eyes. “I’m sparing a moment of my precious time to ask why you would have to get a second job.”

 

Sanghyuk stifled a laugh, closing an email from a kid that had to cancel their appointment. “Fortunately for everyone except those relying on teaching to pay their bills, school doesn’t run year round,” Sanghyuk reminded him, tsking. 

 

“Okay smartass.”

 

“Taeyang your bad influence is rubbing off on him,” Sanghyuk pointed out monotonically, but all he got in response was a proud grin from Taeyang. Sanghyuk opened the next email in front of him, not bothering to check the sender first. His eyes scanned over the contents, but after realizing it wasn’t a normal email he was used to, his eyes flickered up to the sender. 

 

‘International University of Korea’

 

He could hear Youngkyun and Taeyang still talking, but none of their words registered as anything more than a blur of sound around him as confusion flooded his brain. His eyes darted to the message below. It was addressed to both him and Inseong. It wasn’t just junk mail or some invitation to look into the school, sent out by a list. It was an email written specifically for them.

 

Apparently, the daughter of a former student studied under the both of them and had her test scores improve drastically. She told the university about them, and the school was inviting them to come for an interview on campus next week. They wouldn’t be going as potential employees, they would be going as potential students , invited specifically by the school.

 

The school wanted them to attend as students with full rides. 

 

Sanghyuk barely registered anything going on around him as he stood up from the table, silencing both Taeyang and Youngkyun who clearly hadn’t realized he wasn’t paying attention anymore. 

 

He could feel his heart beating so fast in his chest it felt like it would burst out of it. He couldn’t tell whether he was scared or excited, or if it was even a possibility for him. But he was offered a full ride to an actual university. Sitting in the palm of his hand was the invitation to the dream he had held onto for years now, and no matter whether he would be able to go, the thought alone was intoxicating. 

 

“I- I have to go- I have to go get Inseong,” Sanghyuk mumbled, leaving without saying goodbye as he ran out of the cafe. He jumped on his bike as quickly as he could, not even bothering to put his helmet on before taking off down the road. He pedaled as fast as he could until his lungs were burning and his sides were aching. 

 

He didn’t stop until he got to the familiar field, watching Inseong sit up from the grass with a puzzled look on his face as Sanghyuk pulled the bike to a quick stop, tripping over it and hearing it crash to the ground behind him without the kickstand. 

 

“Sanghyuk? Sanghyuk what’s-” Inseong began, pushing himself up and discarding the book he was reading, but Sanghyuk was quick to pull out his phone and shove it into Inseong’s hand, still gasping for air as he waved his hands to demand Inseong read it. Inseong’s eyes lingered on Sanghyuk for a few more minutes, probably to make sure he was okay, before reluctantly falling to the phone screen. 

 

“We…” Inseong started after a moment of silence, but it was like he didn’t even have the words to finish what he wanted to say.

 

Sanghyuk nodded in place of that. “We just got offered full rides to a university.”

Chapter Text

“You want to go.”

 

“No I don’t.”

 

Sanghyuk shook his head from where he sat on the grass, stubbornly denying anything Inseong threw his way.

 

“You literally came here gasping for breath because you were so excited! Of course you want to go!” Inseong pointed out, but Sanghyuk just shook his head to deny it despite knowing that was exactly what had happened. “Sanghyuk I swear to-”

 

“I wasn’t thinking, okay?!” Sanghyuk confessed with a pout. “I got excited because yeah that would be really cool, but I forgot for a second that that’s not something I can have.”

 

“Why not?!” Inseong challenged quickly, raising his chin at him as if daring him to argue. 

 

“I have to take care of my family!” Sanghyuk reminded him. “I work so I can pay the bills and feed the kids. I can’t-”

 

“Your mom has a job, and you could always get a job while studying and send money back.”

 

“Inseong, that’s not enough,” Sanghyuk denied, but Inseong was already shaking his head in retaliation. 

 

“Why not? Hyuk, you have money saved up, I know you do. We make more than we need every week, and your mom is still working. You have that, another month’s worth of tutoring work which is closing in on finals so we’re doing better than ever, and you can get a job there. There’s no reason you can’t go!”

 

“I don’t want to,” Sanghyuk denied like a kid without a reason. “I don’t want to leave Sangmi and Sangchul.”

 

“But you want to go to college,” Inseong reminded him, finally taking a seat in front of him. He grabbed his hands to hold them softly. “Remember? It’s your dream. You just got offered a full ride to a good university and you want to turn it down?”

 

“Yes,” Sanghyuk answered without hesitation. “I’m not putting my family in that position. I don’t want to leave Mi and Chul. I don’t want to leave all my friends here. There’s too many reasons.”

 

“If you really don’t want to go, I’m not trying to force you,” Inseong reasoned, bringing back harsh memories of the last time one of them had been offered something like this, “but I know you want to go.”

 

“Doesn’t matter if I want to or not,” Sanghyuk mumbled, turning his head away. “I have reasons to stay, so I’m not going. You can go if you want to-”

 

“I’m not going if you’re not going.”

 

“Inseong-”

 

“I’m not trying to guilt you into it or anything!” Inseong corrected quickly, shaking his head. ‘I just… I have no interest in going by myself. We were both offered to go. I want to go with you.”

 

“Last time you didn’t go because that wasn’t something you wanted to do with your life,” Sanghyuk reminded him. “That was what was stopping you. But… but you wanted to be an engineer, right? You could do that. That’s something you actually want to do, and you just got the offer to do it, so go do it.”

 

“What is it with you and trying to make me leave you behind?” Inseong mumbled under his breath, but the way he said it was almost playful. “You want to go to school more than anything, I know you do.”

 

“Not at the cost of putting my family in a hard place,” Sanghyuk stated, shaking his head. 

 

“Sanghyuk,” Inseong said sternly, and the sudden seriousness of his voice caused Sanghyuk to blink in shock. Inseong readjusted his hold on Sanghyuk’s hand in front of him, gently moving his thumbs over them. “Can you be selfish again? Just… just one more time? Can you be selfish for a second and think about what you want for once? Don’t think about everything stopping you for a second… just think about what you want.”

 

“It’s not that easy-”

 

“You did it before when you told me you wanted me to stay, and we’re both so much happier now because you did,” Inseong reminded him quickly. “Stop thinking about what everyone else wants or needs for a second. What do you want?”

 

---

 

Sanghyuk bit his lip at the small table in the middle of the room. Sangmi and Sangchul were too preoccupied with their food to notice how quiet it was, but it was obvious by the way his mom was staring daggers at him that she noticed something was wrong. Damn her perceptiveness. 

 

Sanghyuk poked at his food with his chopsticks, not daring to look up and meet his mom’s eyes. She was just waiting for him to collapse but he was going to sit here and ignore her if it killed him. 

 

“Hyuk, why aren’t you eating?” Sangmi asked, mouth full of food. 

 

“Don’t talk with your mouth full, Mi,” Sanghyuk mumbled instead of giving her a direct answer before picking up just a bit of food and eating it. “See? I’m eating.”

 

“You always do this when something is bothering you,” Sangchul pointed out, but it was more like Sangchul stuck a knife in his direction and Sanghyuk really didn’t appreciate it. 

 

“What? No I don’t,” he denied defensively.

 

Sangchul nodded as he continued eating. “Yeah you do. You don’t eat when you’re stressed.”

 

“Name one time-”

 

“When mom lost her job, when Youngkyun came to stay with us, when you and Inseong had a fight, when--”

 

“Okay I get it,” Sanghyuk mumbled with a pout, continuing to poke at his food in despair. 

 

“So…” Sangmi trailed off, looking in Sanghyuk’s direction. “What happened this time?”

 

“Nothing, okay?” Sanghyuk snapped quietly, but he really wasn’t trying to snap at anyone. He just wanted people to leave it alone. Yes, he wanted to go. He wanted to take the offer and go to college more than anything else in the world, especially since Inseong would be going with him and he wouldn’t be all alone. But he couldn’t. He had to help his family. He had to take care of Sangmi and Sangchul. He couldn’t just leave them.

 

“Liar,” Sangmi mumbled, and though Sanghyuk wasn’t trying to lose his cool, that wasn’t helping. 

 

“Could you please just leave it alone?” he asked as calmly as he could. 

 

“You make stupid decisions when you don’t ask for help,” Sangchul pointed out, and Sanghyuk actually dropped his chopsticks at that statement to turn and give a questioning look to Sangchul who looked completely unbothered. “Inseong told me that.”

 

“Remind me to thank him later,” Sanghyuk replied sarcastically. 

 

“But he’s right,” Sangmi pointed out, putting her own chopsticks down to give Sanghyuk her full attention. “You always help everyone, but then when you have a problem you wait for another person to help you, because you can’t do things for yourself by yourself.”

 

“I don’t wait for-”

 

“Yeah you do,” Sangchul agreed without even letting Sanghyuk finish. “When mom lost her job you tried to do everything by yourself but then you passed out because you wouldn’t let anyone help you, remember?”

 

“I never told you that so I don’t even know why you know that,” Sanghyuk mumbled. “But that doesn’t-”

 

“Did you talk to Inseong about it?” Sangmi asked, boring holes into Sanghyuk with her stare.

 

“Yeah, I did,” Sanghyuk said, honestly.

 

“Okay but did you let him help you?”

 

“I don’t need him to-”

 

“That’s a no,” Sangchul cut in with a huff of a laugh. 

 

Sanghyuk turned to glare at his brother. “You are on thin ice.”

 

“Bite me, weakling.”

 

“Okay, boys, Sangmi, that’s enough,” his mom finally cut in, shaking her head as she dispersed the chaos that had unfolded. “Sanghyuk, just tell us what’s bothering you.”

 

“I don’t need you guys to-”

 

“Big surprise.”

 

Sanghyuk bit his lip and slammed his hands down on the table. “I got offered a full ride to a university but I can’t go.” The room drifted into a thick silence, and even the two siblings held their tongues this time. “I need to stay here and help with money, and I need to help take care of you two. Going to university just isn’t an option for me, and it never was. I know that. I just… got my hopes up for a second and made myself upset. Let it go, please.”

 

The silence continued for a few more moments until his mom put her chopsticks down, turning her full attention to him. “I think you should go.”

 

“Momma I’m not-”

 

“This isn’t the same as all those years ago,” she told him, and Sanghyuk closed his lips to let her continue. “When you graduated highschool, you couldn’t go, I know. I had three jobs, your siblings were too young to stay home alone, and we were still struggling for money. But you act like nothing has changed since then.”

 

“Just because it’s changed doesn’t mean-”

 

“Sanghyuk, we have enough money to save up now because of you. Sangmi and Sangchul can stay home alone, they have for a while now and they’re fine. If you’re worried about money, you can work while you’re at school and it will be just fine.”

 

Sanghyuk shook his head. He didn’t want to get his hopes up. He wanted people to stop telling him it was possible when in reality it would put strain on his family if he decided to go. 

 

“Who’s gonna pick Sangmi and Sangchul up from school? I won’t be able to work as much at school, so I won’t send back nearly as much money as I make now. You’ll be stressed taking care of everything by yourself. Why aren’t you thinking of these things?”

 

“But you’re not thinking either,” Sangchul cut in. “You always tell us you want to go to college so you can get a really good job and earn more money, right? Well… if money is the problem, why don’t you go to college so you can make more?”

 

Sanghyuk tilted his head back, sucking in a breath. Because in the four years he would be at college, how much would his family struggle? How many hardships would Sangmi and Sangchul have to go through because he wasn’t there for him? How much would he regret when he finally came back?

 

“We’re done talking about this,” he decided suddenly, bowing his head and excusing himself from the table. “I’ll be back later.” He grabbed his jacket from off the hook by the door and pulled his arms through the sleeves, pushing the door open and walking out like he could just leave all of his problems behind him. 

 

What he didn’t expect was Taeyang standing right outside his door, knuckles raised to knock, with a look of shock on his face. Sanghyuk sighed and nodded his head for Taeyang to follow him, but the boy just looked completely confused.

 

“Sanghyuk, wait, what’s wrong?”

 

“Nothing, can people just stop asking me?”

 

“You just… did you just walk out of your own damn house because you got frustrated?” Taeyang continued to pry, jogging quickly to catch up to Sanghyuk’s pace.

 

“Yeah, why?”

 

Taeyang shrugged. “I just didn’t know you could do something like that. Hey,” he said, quickly walking in front of Sanghyuk and stopping him in his place. “Do you want to go talk?”

 

“Didn’t you come here to talk?” Sanghyuk asked, tilting his head in confusion.

 

Taeyang shook his head. “I came because Kyun went out with his old teammates and I got lonely. Why do you always assume I only come to you for advice? Come on, let’s go,” he urged, tapping Sanghyuk’s shoulder with his knuckles before leading him down the road. Sanghyuk bit his lip, wondering if listening to yet another person tell him the same damn things would be worth it, but in the end he just ended up stuffing his hands in the pockets of his jacket and following Taeyang anyways. 

 

They ended up walking all the way to the highschool. Taeyang climbed the fence to the baseball field and opened the gate for Sanghyuk, all the while insisting ‘there is no better place to talk than on cold metal bleachers in a pitch black field.’

 

They laid down on the bleachers, Taeyang one row higher up than Sanghyuk. They sat in complete darkness just staring up at the sky together, hands folded behind their heads and ankles crossed. 

 

“Is this about what had you running out of the cafe earlier?” Taeyang finally asked.

 

“Oh yeah…” Sanghyuk mumbled, pursing his lips. “I forgot I did that.”

 

Taeyang snorted. “So what was it? Some news station publishing a petty article about you again? Did the school decide they won’t let kids come to you anymore? Did a parent find out?”

 

“Inseong and I both got offered free rides to International University of Korea,” Sanghyuk mumbled, still staring up at the sky twinkling above him. 

 

“Oh…” Taeyang mumbled breathlessly. “Well damn.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“So when are you guys leaving?”

 

Sanghyuk shot up from the bench, shooting a glare in Taeyang’s direction even though he could barely see him. “What do you mean?!”

 

“I- what ? Are you seriously telling me you’re not going?!” Taeyang asked, exasperated as he shot up on his bench to match Sanghyuk.

 

“Of course I’m not!”

 

“Sanghyuk this isn’t the big brained move you think it is.”

 

“Tae, why the hell would I leave?”

 

“Why the hell wouldn’t you?!” Taeyang asked, standing up and holding his arms out wide like he could give a million answers to his own question. 

 

“I can’t just leave Sangmi and Sangchul like that.”

 

“Why is everything always about them?” Taeyang butted in offensively. “Why can’t this be about you, for once? It’s not like you’ll never be home for the rest of your life! That university is in Jinju or something, right? That’s like a two hour bus ride. You can come back on weekends and not to mention you have summer break every single year. What? You can’t support your family? Bullshit, get a job like any other broke college kid and send some of that money back to them. And hey, your mom is working too, right? It’s not like the responsibility of supporting your family lies solely on you.”

 

“Tae-” Sanghyuk tried to cut him off, but the boy wasn’t done. 

 

“I am sick and tired of you caring so much for everyone else that you don’t even give a shit about yourself anymore. You can’t make a single excuse for not going that I can’t shut down! You want to go, you’d be going with Inseong, and you’d be going with no student debt or loans. What the fuck is the problem?!” 

 

“I-”

 

“Nope! There’s no problems!” Tayeang decided, sitting back down on the bench and crossing his legs. “Youngkyun and I will bring the kids to and from school while you’re gone. You can send money from school, and don’t even worry about Inseong, because he’s paid more of his medical debts recently than he thought he would ever be able to. They’re almost gone. You can get an education and then get one of those big boy jobs you always dreamed about. Yeah, we’ll miss you, but when one of us bumps our knees we’ll call you crying about it so you don’t feel completely useless, sound good?”

 

Sanghyuk bit his lip, taking in every single thing Taeyang had nearly thrown at his face. “You… you really want me to go?”

 

“Hyuk, do you want to go?” Taeyang asked instead. Sanghyuk sighed, curling his fingers around the metal of the bleachers before slowly nodding his head. “Then that’s all that matters. Stop worrying about what I want for you, what your mom wants for you, or what you think Sangmi and Sangchul need from you. You’ll still be there, and we’ll be there too. Your family will be okay even if you’re just a little bit far away. It’s not like you’ll be gone.”

 

---

 

“I accepted the interview,” Sanghyuk blurted out, biting his lip immediately after and letting his eyes fall to his hands which curled delicately over the chain link fence in front of them. Kids screamed from the playground behind it and Sangmi and Sangchul ran around playing a big game of tag. They all pretended to be Marvel characters, and Sanghyuk was pretty sure Sangmi had claimed Black Widow. Sangchul was Hawk Eye, because if Sangmi was Black Widow then he had to be her partner. 

 

“You… you what?” Inseong asked, turning instantly to face him. 

 

Sanghyuk sighed. “I… accepted the interview. At the university. It’s next week, so we’ll need to take a bus there. They want to give us a whole campus tour, so they booked a cheap hotel for us to spend the night.”

 

“You… you want to go,” Inseong mumbled, still too dazed to probably take in any of the details Sanghyuk just gave him. 

 

“Yeah,” Sanghyuk mumbled. “And Tae told me I could always come back if I needed to so… that was kind of convincing.”

 

“Shut up,” Inseong told him, grabbing him and wrapping him up in the tightest hug he could manage. “Shut up for a second and stop sounding so depressed about it! You just got offered a full ride to college! Be happy!”

 

“I’m still nervous,” Sanghyuk mumbled with a pout as he returned the hug. “I’m just… testing the waters.”

 

“I’m happy enough with just that.”

 

---

 

The school was nice. The faculty there was nice. Their interviewers were polite and informative, and the campus looked very nice. The curriculum had Sanghyuk nearly starry eyed, and the students they got to talk to were all pretty cool. 

 

It felt like a childhood dream come true to finally walk around a campus he had potential to call his own. And yet… it all felt so unreal.

 

His entire life had been nothing more than helping others do what he never could. Everything he did was to make sure the people he cared about wouldn’t have to struggle the way he did. And it wasn’t like he hated living that way, in fact he was content with it as long as he knew he had the ability to make other people’s lives better. It was just weird to suddenly realize that this was something he wanted, and something he was scarily close to getting. He wasn’t doing this for someone else, he was doing it for him. 

 

He wanted to feel happy about it, but he just felt kind of sick and nervous. It didn’t feel real. Maybe it wasn’t at all. Maybe it was just some sick joke that would get his hopes up only to be ripped away at the last minute. Maybe it just wouldn’t work out. 

 

“You’re thinking too hard,” Inseong mumbled, tapping his shoulder and jerking his attention back to the real world. Right. Him and Inseong were brushing their teeth in the bathroom of their hotel. The hotel had two beds, not that they would use both of them, and it was pretty poorly lit. Outside both the bedroom and bathroom windows were fluorescent purple lights that flooded the rooms in color if they turned off the main lights. 

 

Sanghyuk shook his head, spitting and rinsing his mouth. “I’m just tired,” he said, rinsing his toothbrush before placing it on the counter. He turned around to walk back out towards the beds, but he was stopped by Inseong’s hand on his wrist. 

 

“Wait, wait for me.”

 

“To finish brushing your teeth?” Sanghyuk asked, cocking his eyebrows but agreeing as Inseong spat into the sink and washed his brush off. Sanghyuk rolled his eyes when the boy was done, turning to move out of the bathroom before being pulled back again so Inseong could close the door behind him. Then Inseong turned the light off, leaving the room drenched in fluorescent purple as he pinned Sanghyuk against the door. “What are you-”

 

“You know how humans only have three color receptors, red, green, and blue, right? Did you know the mantis shrimp has twelve?”

 

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

 

“I saw it on a poster in the hallways,” he bragged like he hadn’t just said the most random thing ever, as usual. “And that made me think like wow, if they have twelve color receptors they must be able to see more colors than we can, right? Like imaginary colors? But I guess not. I looked it up when we got back, and it turns out we can differentiate more colors than the shrimp can, so we don’t know why they have twelve color receptors.”

 

Sanghyuk tilted his head, trying to figure out why Inseong had to pin him against the door in a dark bathroom to tell him this. “So… the moral of this fact is?”

 

“Oh, there is none, I just thought it was cool,” Inseong told him with a laugh.

 

“Then why am I pinned to a door?”

 

“Because you got distracted by your thoughts so I undistracted you with my charms and cool facts,” Inseong boasted, proudly smiling like he knew Sanghyuk was head over heels for him and couldn’t change that fact if he tried. He was right. “Plus, I think everything looks better in fluorescent purple, including me.”

 

“Oh trust me you look good no matter what,” Sanghyuk teased, and Inseong only groaned. He reached up to weave his fingers through Inseong’s hair, leaning Inseong’s head down so he could press their foreheads together. “Thanks, though.”

 

“Hey, if I suggest something totally stupid will you just go along with it?”

 

“Depends how stupid it is.”

 

“Okay hear me out,” Inseong started, already causing both of them to break out into a smile. “I’ve always had a shower, right, but not a bathtub. I’ve been in a bathtub once that I can remember, and it has the same feeling of sitting in a laundry basket and I love it. And there’s a bathtub here and…”

 

“You wanna sit in the bathtub,” Sanghyuk finished, unable to control how big his smile grew on his face.

 

“I really wanna sit in the bathtub.”

 

And that was ultimately how Sanghyuk ended up sitting right outside the bathtub on the floor, arm hanging over the edge of it, while Inseong sat with his back up against the opposite wall tucked into the empty bathtub like a happy kid. 

 

“Do you still want to go?” Inseong asked after a moment of silence. “To the university, I mean. You didn’t actually look that excited.”

 

“I’m just nervous,” Sanghyuk admitted with a shrug. “This isn’t… it’s not my normal and boring. It’s not something I ever thought I could have, and no matter how much everyone tells me I should go without worrying, I’m still worried something is gonna go wrong and it won’t work out.”

 

“I bet Taeyang and Youngkyun didn’t think their situation would work out either, but you helped them, right?” Inseong asked, and Sanghyuk nodded in agreement. “So you have people helping you, too. And besides, when has our normal and boring ever been complacent and consistent? We just go with whatever hand we’re dealt with next.”

 

Sanghyuk exhaled, nodding his head and sucking his lips in. Of course he was worried. But he was allowed to be worried, right? Even if things didn’t work out, it wouldn’t be detrimental. It wouldn’t be something he couldn’t fix. Even if he was nervous about a lot, why shouldn’t he at least try? He owed at least that much to himself after all these years. 

 

“Okay.”

 

“Okay?”

 

“Let’s enroll,” Sanghyuk decided, nodding his head with determination before looking up to meet Inseong’s eyes. 

 

“Wait you’re… you’re serious?”

 

“Yeah! Let’s do it!” he decided before he could chicken out. “Let’s go to college together!”

 

“You’re not joking right now? You want to do it? Like actually? Seriously? You want to take the offer?” Inseong asked, leaning forward in the tub with wide, hopefully eyes.

 

“Yes! I’m serious!” Sanghyuk defended, nodding his head, pushing himself up onto his feet only for a moment so he could sit on the rim of the tub. “I- I want to go. I want to go to school so let’s do it!”

 

“Fuck yeah let’s do it!” Inseong agreed quickly, pushing himself up just enough to grab Sanghyuk’s wrist before pulling him down so he was lying on top of Inseong in the tub. Inseong grabbed the sides of his head, eyes closed and mouth wide open as he let out the happiest laugh Sanghyuk had ever heard. Even as Inseong pressed their foreheads together again, Sanghyuk could do nothing but stare as his heart basically erupted in his chest. “I can’t believe we’re doing this! We’re going to college together!” Inseong continued through his laugh, but Sanghyuk felt speechless.

 

“Yeah…” he mumbled under his breath, unable to get anything else out as their foreheads fell slightly apart from each other. He just couldn’t pull his eyes away from Inseong.

 

Without Inseong, he would probably be working at some shitty convenience store for minimum wage while his mom struggled for a second job. Without Inseong he wouldn’t have been as close to Taeyang, and he never would have met the rest of the group. He never would have started tutoring, and he never would have been as happy and content with his life. He never would have had the same opportunity to go to college. Simply put, it was all because of Inseong. 

 

He had no idea. Inseong sat here laughing because he was happy with what they had, but he didn’t even realize that without him Sanghyuk never would have had any of this. 

 

It was all because of Inseong. 

 

“I love you,” Sanghyuk found himself mumbling before he could stop himself, but even after that he didn’t regret it. Inseong stopped laughing instantly, stuttering with his breath as he looked up to Sanghyuk with wide eyes, but Sanghyuk was still just staring down at him completely captivated. “I love you,” he repeated, just in case Inseong wondered if he had heard him wrong. 

 

“You… but-”

 

“I mean it,” Sanghyuk mumbled. “I love you.”

 

Inseong looked at him for a second, but that was all it took for Inseong’s hands to shift to cup his jaw. “I love you, too,” Inseong told him before lowering Sanghyuk’s head and raising his own to let their lips meet. Sanghyuk moved his knee to hold himself up above Inseong, but Inseong shifted up to sit instead. Inseong moved one of his hands from Sanghyuk’s face, wrapping it around the small of his back and pulling him forward. Sanghyuk pushed himself into the kiss, letting himself fall into Inseong’s lap.

 

Inseong’s fingers tangled with Sanghyuk’s hair and pulled gently, and Sanghyuk didn’t even care how obvious it was he was enjoying the feeling, pressing himself even further against Inseong and letting his hands slide over his neck. Inseong pulled back from their kiss for a moment, supporting the base of Sanghyuk’s head with his hand before moving down to kiss Sanghyuk’s neck. His head tilted back instantly, fingers curling into the fabric of Inseong’s shirt before their lips were together again. 

 

Within minutes Sanghyuk was pulling at Inseong’s shirt, pulling it up and over his head and tossing it somewhere across the bathroom. Inseong grabbed the bottom of Sanghyuk’s shirt instantly, pulling it over his head and throwing it somewhere he didn’t care to look before pressing himself into Sanghyuk again and holding him at the waist. 

 

“Are you sure?” Sanghyuk managed to whisper, and he instantly regretted the short loss of contact as Inseong pulled his lips just centimeters away. 

 

“Absolutely,” Inseong replied, pressing himself back into the kiss and causing Sanghyuk to absolutely lose himself in it. 

Chapter Text

“Ready? Set… GO!” 

 

Sanghyuk stepped forward with his left foot and threw his arm out, fingers releasing the bit of paper held between them. The paper airplane shot into the air with the rest of them, gliding with the wind and at some point plummeting to the grass below. 

 

“Mine made it the farthest!” Chanhee called instantly, running ahead of everyone to get to his paper airplane. 

 

“Only because yours got in the way of mine!” Juho argued, running ahead of everyone else to find his airplane, as if he would somehow find that it went the furthest despite the midair collision. 

 

“Children, stop fighting,” Youngbin chastised, stepping forward as everyone looked over to him. “It’s obvious mine went the farthest so there’s no point in-”

 

“Found mine!” Seokwoo interrupted, waving his hand up in the air and pointing down at his plane which was tangled in the field’s tall grass. “Youngbin I beat yours!”

 

“No you didn’t!” Youngbin called back, racing into the field to get to his plane. 

 

“Fuck! Taeyang yours beat me by literally five centimeters!” Jaeyoon called out, gesturing to their planes like it was an atrocity. Taeyang barked out a laugh and ran over to get to his plane, pointing at Jaeyoon and laughing right in his face. 

 

“Oh my god, suck it Jae!” 

 

“You’re both losers,” Youngkyun called out from his plane, sticking his tongue out and winking from beside his plane, which beat everyone’s so far. 

 

“You are the most anal person on the planet when it comes to making paper airplanes I swear to god,” Taeyang called back out him, and Youngkyun laughed in response.

 

“And it paid off! Yours are boring.”

 

“Uhm, mine has anime all over it,” Jaeyoon pointed out, like that in no way could ever be considered boring.

 

“You spent all your time drawing anime on it, that’s why you lost. You literally made the most basic paper airplane ever,” Youngkyun pointed out, hands on his hips and head cocked to the side. 

 

“You spent so long making yours you didn’t even get to decorate it!” Jaeyoon shot back.

 

“And I won! So suck it!” 

 

Sanghyuk shook his head and laughed from beside his own plane which sat nearly perfectly in the field side by side with Inseong’s. They had built very similar planes because out of literally all of the things they knew, folding paper airplanes was not one of those things and it would have been very embarrassing to admit that to the rest of the group, so they kind of just worked together to try and hide this fact. 

 

“I’m just glad we didn’t lose,” Sanghyuk mumbled, and Inseong nodded in bland agreement. 

 

“Okay, now that we know they all fly, are you all ready for the real launch?” Chanhee interrupted with a smile on his face, grabbing his paper airplane and gesturing for them to all follow him back to the clipboards they had left scattered across the field. 

 

They sat around each other in a big circle, everyone quietly immersed in the task of unfolding their planes and writing small messages inside. When they were all done, they packed up everything and set off as a group to go to the highest point in Busan. It took all day to get there, but they stopped along the way to laugh and fool around as they walked, and nobody complained. 

 

When they got to the hill, the sun was nearly setting. Chanhee stood in front of everyone, looking out over the ledge of the hill and towards the city with a smile. “Is everyone ready?” he asked, turning around and practically vibrating with excitement.

 

“Yeah,” Sanghyuk said quietly, nodding. They all lined up along the ledge, and one by one they shot their paper airplanes out into the air, watching them float down to the city carrying their messages with them.

 

My name is Sanghyuk,

It’s been a long road so far, and I’m finally getting my dream after years of thinking I never would. I’m not going to wish for any miracles, for nothing to go wrong, or anything like that. I just want to keep these people in my life. I want to keep my friends with me for as long as I live, and I want to always be there for my family, and for them to always be there for me as well. I hope the wind carries this wish to the heavens, or wherever it could end up that someone would read this and hope for me as well. 

 

---

 

“Are you sure ?”

 

“Sanghyuk we are absolutely positive!” his mom told him for possibly the fiftieth time in the past ten minutes, ushering him out the door with the second of two boxes of things he had to bring with him. “Stop worrying so much.”

 

“Okay but are you sure ?!”

 

“You guys rented a fucking car!” Sangchul screamed, running circles around the truck the two of them had rented for the trip. The trucks were surprisingly cheaper to rent than the cars, so they had gotten the cheapest one they could. 

 

“Hey,” Sanghyuk mumbled, shooting his arm out and stopping Sangchul in his tracks. The boy obeyed as Sanghyuk crouched down. “I’m not gonna be here every day anymore.”

 

“I know,” Sangchul told him with a nod. “But don’t worry, we’ll be okay. You can come back and see us still, remember?”

 

“I know, but that means mom is completely in charge of you. So behave you brat! That means stop swearing.”

 

“I think it’s unfair that you get to swear and I don’t, but fine,” Sangchul responded with a pout, crossing his arms. He turned away from Sanghyuk quickly as he stood back up, dashing over to the tailgate of the truck and climbing up on it. “When you get back, I’ll be taller than you.”

 

“I doubt that,” Sanghyuk mumbled with a smile, feeling Inseong’s arm wrap around his shoulders. “You promise you’ll be okay, right?”

 

“Hyuk, we’ll be fine,” Sangchul told him again with a smile.

 

Sanghyuk took a breath and nodded, turning around to face his mom again. By her side, Sangmi stood curled into her leg, lip quivering. 

 

“Mi…” Sanghyuk started, leaning down and holding his arms out. Within a second, Sangmi was running into his arms and sending both of them to the ground. She tucked her head into his shoulder and started to cry, and Sanghyuk could only bite his lip and pat her back.

 

“I’m gonna miss you,” she mumbled through her tears, quickly trying to compose herself as she pulled away. “I can’t believe you’re leaving me alone with Sangchul!” 

 

“You’ll get used to it, you two are together all the time anyways,” Sanghyuk whispered, taking her hand in his. “Plus, you have Tae and Kyun. And Mom. Okay? And when I get back, you’ll have Inseong and I again.”

 

“Promise?” Sangmi asked, holding out her pinky. Sanghyuk smiled, wrapping his pinky around hers with a bittersweet smile.

 

“I promise.”

 

“SANGHYUK!” 

 

Sanghyuk spun around as quickly as he could only to see the tail end of Taeyang’s sprint before he was barreling into Sanghyuk, knocking the both of them over and onto the pavement again. Tayeang rolled on top of him and Sanghyuk had to take a second to remember how to breath again.

 

“You said goodbye to me this morning you prick!” Sanghyuk called out, slapping him on the back as hard as he could to get the kid off of him. 

 

“Yeah but I wanted to say goodbye again.”

 

“You had to have seen this coming.” Sanghyuk rolled his eyes, pushing Taeyang off of him harshly and sitting up to see Youngkyun with the most amused look on his face ever. “I mean seriously, he’s an overly emotional puppy when it comes to you.”

 

“Hey! That’s rude!” Taeyang threw back at him before pulling himself on his feet, offering his hand to help Sanghyuk back up. Sanghyuk rolled his eyes and let the boy pull him up. “The real problem here is that we didn’t get a picture together this morning, so fix yourself.”

 

“You knocked me on the ground!” 

 

“Yeah? And now you look like a mess. Not my fault.”

 

Taeyang grabbed Inseong’s arm, pulling him over to the tailgate of the truck and gesturing for Sanghyuk to go stand by his side. “Mi! Chul! Climb up here!” he ordered, grabbing his phone and running over to the window sill of some random house that was perfectly in line to set up and take a good picture. “Mom! Stand next to Hyuk,” he ordered as he set up the camera.

 

He set the timer for ten seconds as everyone got in their places, and then he sprinted over. He jumped over the side of the truck, climbing into the tailgate and dropping to his ass behind Sanghyuk and next to Sangchul. Youngkyun climbed up and sat next to Sangmi, and Sanghyuk let himself smile, completely happy even though he knew he was leaving. He smiled, grabbing Inseong’s hand by his side, and wrapped his other arm around his mom’s shoulders. He could feel Taeyang throwing up a peace sign behind his head, but it just made him smile even wider as the timer went off and the phone took a burst of pictures. 

 

“Okay, we have to go soon if we’re going to make it there on time,” Inseong cut in, grabbing Sangmi off of the tailgate and pulling her into his arms before lowering her to the ground. 

 

Sanghyuk turned to his mom and wrapped her up completely in his arms, smiling into her shoulder. “I’m very proud of you, you know?”

 

Sanghyuk sucked his lips in, taking a slow breath. “Yeah, I know,” he pushed out, hugging her even tighter. “And I’ll make you even prouder.”

 

“I know you will,” she mumbled, finally pulling away from the hug and gesturing to the truck. “Get going. I’ll see you in a few weeks, baby.”

 

“Yeah,” Sanghyuk mumbled, tears building up in his eyes as a smile spread across his face. “See you in a few weeks.”

 

He turned around and ran to the truck door quickly, pulling the passenger side open and climbing up inside. Taeyang and Youngkyun moved over to the back of the truck with his family as he hesitated to get in. Inseong waved from his side before closing the door behind him, and Sanghyuk gave everyone one last smile before doing the same. 

 

He exhaled as he collapsed into the seat, Inseong looking at him expectantly. “Are you ready?” Inseong asked, a smile growing on his own lips as he stuck the key in the ignition and turned the vehicle on. 

 

“Yeah,” Sanghyuk said with a smile, reaching over to grab his hand quickly before dropping it, rolling down the window and shoving his head out of it. Inseong began driving away, and Sanghyuk waved from the window as his family grew smaller and smaller. 

 

Inseong turned up the music as he drove, and soon they were on the expressway heading out of Busan. Sanghyuk kept his window rolled down the whole drive, leaning out of it and feeling the breeze pass by him.

 

No matter what went wrong from this point on, Sanghyuk was determined to make his life something he could be happy with. With Inseong by his side and a whole group of friends and family waiting for him back home, there was no doubt in his mind that everything up until now had been completely worth it. 

 

He would make a new normal for himself with Inseong that was so new and different that his old life would feel like some crazy dream. And when he became happy with that normal, he would make a new one. He would keep making new normals one after the other because complacency just wasn’t something he wanted. He had had enough of it for one lifetime, and he was ready to keep changing things up until he got dizzy. 

 

This was just the start to the next adventure in their normal, boring lives.