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Hongjoong doesn’t remember getting abandoned, everything before Research Institute is a blur of anything that a child’s brain could carry through time—he’s four already but doesn’t have any magical abilities, it’s a scorching summer evening with screaming cicadas when he scratches his knee falling off the sidewalk and sees staining black dripping down his leg, few days after this he comes to an empty house, a policeman promises to help him but puts him into the Institute. Then Hongjoong learns that he’s a nature’s mistake.

The majority of the Institute part of his life is hard to reminisce about—as if the brain itself blocks out the unpleasant memories, but the body still remembers the pain and fatigue.

“Hey, hey, hey,” Yunho suddenly grabs him into a tight hug and pats the back of his head with his big hand. “I’m here, you’re here. Deep breath, buddy.”

Hongjoong stops feeling his legs completely and melts, trying to breathe. The speaking voice on the radio is changed to a soft sound of electric guitar, and he forgets what triggered the reaction in him.

Yunho is big and soft, hugging him feels like being behind a stone wall or hidden in the closet from the bulgars; after hearing Hongjoong has no powers he says “I’ll protect you then” and does a few silly punches in the air—Hongjoong laughs and thanks him even though he knows the most harmful thing A negative can do is to summon a handful of sand. It’s still the only protection they would have. The other whispers suggest him to learn dark magic like many negative newtypes—Hongjoong promises to think of it but deep inside knows he’s too scared of it.

In the sense Yunho was his first friend ever—even this little group they ran away from the Institute together with had more of an accomplice type of relationship. Hongjoong didn’t have to warn Yunho and his family that they could serve jail time for hiding him—he walked in their backyard covered in dark bruises and black scratches, and it was obvious—but again he didn’t really plan to stay here at all. On day two in Jeong estate Hongjoong found a letter in his clothes that gave him the locations where he can meet other newtypes. Hongjoong was seventeen, new people are always needed in their community, so he could’ve found a place where he’d be safe. Yet he finds himself hesitating—maybe because it’s been thirteen years before someone had given him parental love like Yunho’s parents did, and he had never had a friend before. They didn’t ever tell him to leave—rather than that, they always urged him to stay.

“Don’t let go. I’ll fucking kill you,” Hongjoong grips into the handles like a cat sinking claws into your shirt when you try to dunk it into the bath and wash—he’s terrified of falling, partially because he doesn’t want to get hurt and feel embarrassed and mostly because any little scratch or bruise will draw out black blood and expose him.

“I will not. Promise,” Yunho laughs, but his hold on the handle is obviously weak. “Now just push the pedals.”

Hongjoong curses under his breath but does as instructed. The bicycle takes him like ten meters forward and topples on the opposite side from Yunho—he still puts his leg out and stands before he could fall over.

“What was it?” Yunho grins and puts his hands on his hips.

Hongjoong scoffs. “I got distracted. Shut up.”

Yunho just bursts out laughing and reaches to pat his back.

He gives him a ride back home—Hongjoong is forced to hug him, pressed with his chest and face to his back, and watches the sun settle on the horizon—behind the hills and the forests, there is a sea. Hongjoong likes the sea even though he never saw it personally, but something calls him from that side of the earth. It’s strange—he had never read stories as a child to get some weird obsession, so his fascination as an adult is quite strange to him. Maybe in another life he’s a sailor.

Hongjoong doesn’t fall in love, it’s rather slowly growing into it. He wouldn’t even question his relationship, because he didn’t ever learn what love is—here’s fear and pain, here’s emptiness and loneliness, and Yunho’s mom doing nice things for him, and there’s Yunho swearing to protect him from the wild animals at night and clutching his hand tightly when they hear a distant wail of a siren—whether it’s police or just ambulance. Yunho whose hugs feel like a fortress. It’s not a sudden italicized oh., it doesn’t feel like anything—Hongjoong just doesn’t have enough knowledge to differentiate anything positive he’s feeling. He just accepts—Yunho’s parents are nice to him even while risking their freedom; Yunho himself is his new home.

Hongjoong still joins whispers—just passing the letters in the neighbourhood, but still a sense of connection with other nature’s mistakes like him. It lasts for three years until among the letters he finds one that’s for him—from someone introducing himself as Namhae Witch asking for help. That’s how they meet San, and then Seonghwa and Yeosang. Then they meet Mingi and Wooyoung, and then Jongho. Then they move to Mokpo and Hongjoong gets designated as the neighbourhood's local main whisper.

At first it was fun, knowing other people’s secrets, maybe kind of exciting to connect the news to each other and find out the conclusion to something that happened last month. Now it’s purely exhausting for absolutely the same reasons he used to like it. Because he knows too much now.

“But why?” The guy that came for the news, Bang Chan, a positive newtype, walks closer and slams his hand on the table. Hongjoong jerks but tries to keep his neutral face—Chan will not attack him unless he wants his entire little gang eaten by Nemesis.

“I told you, the desert only whispers to newtypes,” he replies calmly and fixes his hat by the wide brim.

Chan clenches his teeth. “Half of your alphabet boys aren’t newtypes. Everyone knows that.”

Hongjoong stares back with the same calm expression but inside he misses a heartbeat and feels his throat drying. “Whispers keep their blood type in secret, but we’re all newtypes—we aren’t given permission otherwise. My pack has only two oldbloods, one of them is magnetized to a newtype and another one is a person I owe my life to. Both of them aren’t allowed to pass the rumors and do not hear anything either.”

It’s a lie—Seonghwa and Mingi are also oldbloods and they whisper, just not listed in Victoria’s imaginary database of South Korea’s whispers. Just like Wooyoung and Yunho, all eight of them pass the whispers. He, Jongho, Yeosang and San just felt too bad excluding a whole half of the team out of their business. Especially Yeosang, who practically itched with an urge to pour everything on Wooyoung and would literally start withering if they separated as far as staying in different rooms.

Chan angles his eyebrows in a plea. “Hongjoong, please. Ayeon is Yerin’s sister. She deserves to know what happened to her.”

Hongjoong feels pity—something he forbade himself to feel for his clients. He signs and looks down. “I’ll try something. We have a newtype in the jail.”

“Thank you,” Chan says quietly and straightens his back. “Is there anything for me?”

Hongjoong thinks a bit and then remembers it. He reaches for a box on the shelf and picks out a letter with the recipient signed as Bang Chan—actually, he probably should’ve given it as soon as he walked in.

He opens it, reads the first few words and sighs.

“The policeman that helped you… Lim Jaebeom,” Hongjoong looks up from the paper. Chan visibly tenses. “Someone snitched on him, so he was fired and put in jail.”

Chan inhales deeply and slowly sighs out.

Going to jail for helping newtypes is a death sentence—you get locked for five years but in these five years you will probably get killed here. Or kill yourself. Or they will just “forget” to release you. All in all, this just means you won’t see the light again. Hongjoong again feels forbidden empathy for him—Chan unintentionally put two people in the jail already, first Baek Ayeon who he wants to pass a message to, now Lim Jaebeom.

“Well,” Chan locks his fingers and puts his hands behind his head, “this was expected.”

He leaves without telling goodbye, and the time interval between the door closing and car parked under the window starting is about 20 minutes.

Hongjoong returns home too late and passes around the house with a simple question of “how are you?”:

“Bored. Might as well go to sleep too,” Mingi nods to the direction of the stairs, where his and Jongho’s room is located, together with Seonghwa and San’s.

Jongho shows him a thumbs up and walks into the bathroom, door creaking followed by a sound of tap water running.

“Great. Dinner is in the fridge, you were too late,” Seonghwa says and passes the music cassette on the chair next to him as he lays down on the sofa.

“Physically—surprisingly fine,” Yeosang then grabs the glass of water and downs it. “Mentally I’m going insane.”

“What? Why?” Hongjoong tilts his head in confusion.

“I’m just… trying to train myself to depend on the magnet less,” he fumbles with his hands nervously and then crosses his arms. “That’s ridiculous that me and Wooyoung feel like dying while being in different rooms. The guy in the library we work at, Jeongin, is a minus side of the magnet. His other side works in a restaurant and does delivery around the whole Mokpo. They can separate across the whole city, I feel like gnawing on the brick wall just in separate rooms.”

Hongjoong scratches his head. “Isn’t that this Jeongin guy that accidentally made a magnet and spent half a year trying to get his other side killed? And you two did it deliberately. Maybe that’s the difference.”

Yeosang sighs deeply and lowers his head on the table. “Maybe.”

“Don’t worry, you can work it out. I believe in you,” Hongjoong reaches to pat his head and then gets up to heat the dinner—the pan is hot already.

Negative newtypes don’t form magnets—they don’t need it. It’s the opposite—they can suck out the energy from positives without getting connected. Jongho seems stable, but on some days he would lie down to Hongjoong who's reading or listening to music, and take a nap; but San requires a dogpile of Mingi, Yunho and Hongjoong himself, with Wooyoung sometimes. With his whole heart Hongjoong is thankful negatives don’t need magnets—he can’t imagine what he would do if he felt overwhelmed by his power (no, he would probably be also dogpiled by all the negatives). He couldn’t form a magnet not only because he literally doesn’t have an ability but also because there wasn’t a single occasion when they could’ve exchanged saliva, but somehow he can relate to what Wooyoung and Yeosang were saying—unbearable separation anxiety, dull chest ache upon the realization of how much you miss the other side, feeling of indescribable comfort after reuniting. No delusions, sharp pain in the bones and fever though.

Maybe that’s just how love feels—Hongjoong, as a newtype, was only made aware of the concept of the magnet. As Luna says, magnet is the purest and strongest form of love someone can experience, so he’s probably on the right track of thoughts.

Yunho is sprawled on Hongjoong’s bed, still in shorts and t-shirt, holding the book he was reading but now it’s lying over his face. Hongjoong thinks he should probably lie on Yunho’s bed then and work a bit before sleeping but his body doesn’t listen—to think of it, if he cuddles Yunho a bit, nothing will happen, right?

Yunho whines as he feels weight by his side, he puts his book away on the other side of the bed and turns on his side, not opening his eyes. “Everything okay?” He slurs out, letting him rest his head on his arm.

“Yeah, just tired.” Hongjoong hooks his arm over Yunho’s torso and cuddles closer. He immediately feels the burden he didn’t know he had leaving his body all at once.

Yunho hums in response and tries to go back to sleep. Hongjoong listens closely to his heart beating, to the way his breath slowly evens out as he falls asleep, and feels hyperaware of how content he is right now—how content he had always been in Yunho’s arms.

He forgets about the unsorred letters he has in his backpack and falls asleep.