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Draw & Draw

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“Are you feeling better now?” Yunho asked. Mingi nodded his face against the floor of their waiting room, and closed his eyes contentedly. They were two and a half hours out from their first ever MAMA — the biggest performance of their lives, and Mingi's first performance after his back-injury-induced hiatus. Mingi had been a ball of nerves the entire morning until Yunho offered to give him a massage to help calm him down and work out the knots in his back. Mingi had readily agreed and now, half an hour later, he was a puddle of sleepy satisfaction with an 184 cm giant perched on the back of his thighs. Yunho huffed fondly at him and pulled out his phone, absently tracing the edges of the birthmark on Mingi’s back as he scrolled through his messages.

Jongho entered the room, took one look at them, and playfully shielded his eyes from the sight.

“God, you guys are so married,” he laughed.

“What are you talking about?” Mingi asked, lifting his face an inch from the ground to squint at their maknae. “He was just giving me a massage, we all do that pretty often?”

“I guess,” Jongho said doubtfully. “You guys touch each other so familiarly though? Like you belong to one another. I don’t know, it’s just different.”

“It’s because we’ve known each other for so long,” Yunho replied placidly, not even looking up from his phone. Jongho shrugged and went over to join San and Wooyoung in the far corner of the room. Mingi frowned from his position on the floor. It shouldn’t have been a big deal — the members teased one another about the closeness of their relationships all the time — but he was in an overthinking mood and couldn’t stop replaying Jongho’s words in his head. Sure, he and Yunho were close, but he had never thought that there was a noticeable difference in the way they touched one another, of all things.The more he thought about it, though, the more he realized that Jongho might have been on to something.

Yunho was everything to him, the one constant from his pre-trainee life that was there with him wherever he went. He loved the other members deeply - deeper than he cared to examine at the moment - but he still turned to Yunho the most because Yunho simply knew him inside and out in ways no one else could. Yunho was his center of gravity, the person he first looked for in every room he entered, Yunho was just...his. He craned his head back to frown at Yunho speculatively, surprised at the intensity of his own feelings. If they were practically already married, why not just make it official and date? Surely it was the logical progression of their relationship, Mingi reasoned, ignoring the way his heart beat faster at the thought of what else might come with dating Yunho.

He was shaken out of his reverie by a hand waving in front of his face.

“You’re staring at me,” Yunho said in bemusement once he had caught Mingi’s attention. “Is there food on my mouth or something?”

Mingi glanced at Yunho’s mouth automatically and then quickly looked away, flushing in embarrassment. Now that he had come up with the idea he was suddenly eager to share it with his best friend and he scanned the room for a private place for them to talk. The room was filled with staff and other members, though, so he gently pushed Yunho off of his back and pulled the dancer out the door into the hallway.

“Where are we going?” Yunho asked, following him curiously. Mingi waved the question off distractedly, searching for a place where they could talk alone. Finally, he spotted an unlocked supplies closet.

“Aha,” he said triumphantly, glancing down the hallway to make sure it was deserted and pulling Yunho in behind him.

“Mingi-ah, why are we in a closet?” Yunho asked exasperatedly. “We have the literal MAMA in two hours we can’t just-”

“I think we should date.” Yunho gaped at him, stymied.

“You - I - what?”

“Jongho was right, we do act like we’re married, so why not just make it official?”

“What exactly do you mean by that?” Yunho asked skeptically. Mingi’s heart dropped. Caught up in his initial eagerness at the prospect of dating his best friend, he hadn’t really considered the idea that Yunho might not actually want to be with him that way.

“Everything could stay the same,” Mingi assured, deciding to bluster ahead and hope for the best. “Just, like, presumably we’d kiss, and…” He trailed off awkwardly, confidence evaporating quickly. Yunho glanced down at Mingi’s lips, staring at them for what felt like an eternity before appearing to come to a decision and squaring his shoulders.

“Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Okay, let’s date,” Yunho said, nodding firmly. A small, teasing smile broke out over his face. “If we’re boyfriends now, is it okay if I kiss you?”

Boyfriends. Mingi blushed all over at the term and he nodded eagerly. Yunho stepped forward, crowding Mingi against the back wall of the closet, and gently locked their lips together. Yunho’s lips were just as soft and pillowy as they looked and Mingi shivered at the sensation. His hands came up to grasp Yunho’s waist for stability, and he pressed back tentatively. It wasn’t Mingi’s first kiss, but it was his first with Yunho and he wanted it to be perfect. They parted to take a quick breath and came back together with increased urgency. Mingi tried running his tongue lightly around the edge of Yunho’s plump bottom lip, delighting in the shiver that ran through his boyfriend’s body. Yunho groaned when he did it again and pulled them flush together, this time daring to slide his tongue into Mingi's mouth. A shout from somewhere outside the closet broke through their haze and they sprang apart, breathing heavily.

“We’d better go back,” Mingi sighed reluctantly, leaning his forehead against Yunho's broad chest. “I’m sure they’ve noticed we left by now.”

“Anyone would think you weren’t excited for our first MAMA,” Yunho teased.

“Kissing you is better,” Mingi said confidently. Yunho rolled his eyes but squeezed Mingi’s hand tightly and gave a slight nod of agreement before stepping back to smooth their clothes back into place. They managed to duck out of the closet and wind back through the hallways without anyone giving them a second glance. Hongjoong was leaning against the door to their waiting room on his phone and he looked up at them with a frown as they approached.

“Where on earth have you been?” he groaned, grabbing Yunho’s hand and pulling them both inside without waiting for an answer. Mingi caught Yunho’s eye and they shared one last, secret smile before letting themselves get swept up in the flurry of preparations for the biggest stage of their life.

 

 

 

***************************************** Two Months Later ****************************************

“You know, I wouldn’t mind if you wanted to hook up with Hongjoong,” Mingi said faux-casually, drawing random patterns on Yunho’s forearm as they spooned on the couch together on one of the rare evenings they had the dorm to themselves. An anime movie was playing on the TV in front of them for plausible deniability in case someone came home early, but they had been too focused on exploring each other’s bodies to pay much attention to it.

Yunho halted where he had been trailing kisses down Mingi’s neck and looked up.

“What did you just say?”

“I wouldn’t mind if you wanted to hook up with Hongjoong,” Mingi repeated, focusing on Yunho’s sweater-covered chest with forced nonchalance so he wouldn’t have to meet his boyfriend’s gaze. He watched carefully out of the corner of his eye as Yunho studied him thoughtfully for a moment before leaning back down to bite gently at the base of his neck.

“And I wouldn’t mind if you wanted to get with Wooyoung,” he replied evenly.

“What?” Mingi yelped, turning in Yunho’s arms to stare up at him.

“C’mon, you have the cutest crush on him. Those Christmas letters were adorable.”

“I do not!” Mingi protested, blushing. “Wait...you actually wouldn’t mind if I did stuff with someone else?” He wasn’t sure whether to be offended or not.

“You just said you wouldn’t mind if I wanted to hook up with Hongjoong,” Yunho pointed out, brow furrowed.

“Well, yeah, but… wouldn’t you be jealous?” Yunho hummed thoughtfully and wrapped his arms around Mingi more securely.

“Well, I hadn’t really thought about it much before, but I think if it was one of our members I wouldn’t mind? Anyone else feels wrong, somehow. I think it’d be hot, though. You’d still be mine, no matter what, right? But in a way, the eight of us all belong to each other, don’t we?”

“I guess,” Mingi said uncertainly. “But, if you and Hongjoong - I’d still be yours, too?” Yunho softened and he gently cupped Mingi’s face so that the younger had no choice but to meet his eyes.

“Mingi,” Yunho said seriously, “We’re for forever. We haven’t just been friends all these years, we’ve gone through some of the most stressful times in our lives and only come out of it stronger. I - I’m not going to say I don’t have a bit of a crush on Hongjoong because I think that would probably be a lie, but my feelings for you haven’t changed at all through that and they never will. All of us are so different from one another I don’t think it’s really comparable, you know? Like, do you love Wooyoung more than Seonghwa?”

“Of course not,” Mingi said indignantly. “But...Hongjoongie-hyung is so pretty.” He added in a small voice.

"Are you sure you don't have a crush on him?" Yunho asked, laughing at him.

“Hey!” Mingi said, smacking Yunho’s shoulder angrily. “You can’t laugh!”

“Princess,” Yunho started, knowing that nickname flustered Mingi like no other.

“Oh my god,” Mingi said, flushing.

“Do you remember last night?”

Oh my god,” Mingi moaned, burying his face in Yunho’s chest.

“I promise I don’t do things like that with people I’m not desperately attracted to,” Yunho finished, eyes sparkling with humor.

“Okay, fine, point made,” Mingi said, snuggling closer. After a few minutes of silence, Yunho glanced down from the movie to see a thoughtful frown on Mingi’s face.

“What are you thinking about?” he asked curiously. “I wouldn’t do anything you aren’t completely okay with, you know that, right? You’re more than enough for me.” Mingi scanned his eyes before replying.

“I think I’d actually be fine with you hooking up with Hongjoong, though? Or even dating him fully. You guys have such a cute dynamic, and it would be nice to see him be able to relax a bit more and have something else to focus on aside from work.” Yunho smiled a bit sadly down at him.

“Thanks, but honestly at this point I don’t think there’s any possibility of it happening. He’s even more oblivious than you are, and if he were to go for anyone it would be Seonghwa. He relaxes in a different way around him, like he’s letting down his burdens completely for once and just letting himself be a kid.”

“They are really sweet together. But don’t sell yourself short! You two will always share something special for being the first two trainees, you know? He told me he relied on you a lot those days, both professionally and personally, and I think he still does.”

“Maybe…” Yunho said skeptically.

“And wait, I’m not oblivious, I’m the one who made the first move!” Mingi pointed out belatedly. Yunho laughed.

“Yeah, but that's just because you're impatient and didn't stop to think. It took you way longer to figure out your feelings for me.” Mingi stared at him.

“What? When did you figure that you had feelings for me?” Yunho smiled absently, a far away look on his face.

“Well, I figured it out just before our debut, actually, when we were filming for Code Name Is Ateez. Things were starting to get really real and you were my anchor through all of it. I already knew you were amazing, of course, but you just blew me away more every time we performed and I felt so comfortable on stage knowing that you were there with me. I knew we could be successful so long as you were with us.” Mingi stared up at him, at a loss for words.

“You,” he stopped and swallowed thickly, trying to loosen the lump in his throat. “All that time? Why didn’t you say anything?”

“Ah, well,” Yunho shifted awkwardly. “Everything was happening so fast I thought it would be better to wait until after debut stuff calmed down, but then….I was pretty sure you didn’t feel the same and our group chemistry was still a bit new so I didn’t want to mess anything up. And I thought as long as we were together it didn’t really matter. I don’t really regret it, honestly, even if I wanted to kiss you and cuddle more and stuff. We’ve made some amazing memories together, haven’t we? It means more now.”

“I guess that’s true,” Mingi said thoughtfully. “I don’t have any regrets. But, just so you know, I would have said yes if you had asked me out then, too. It might just have taken me some time to think through it all, but I would have accepted in the end. When I figured out that I liked you it was more like I was figuring out that the way I felt for you from day one was a lot more than just friendship. Even from the beginning you were the brightest star in my sky. No, that’s not enough… it was like you’re the planet I was always meant to revolve around, and everything just slotted into its destined place once we met.”

“Ah, Mingi-ah, you’re too much” Yunho muttered, face burning a bright red in embarrassed pleasure. Mingi laughed, deciding to take pity on his boyfriend’s neverending-allergy to serious moments and change the subject. He shifted so that his lips were hovering over Yunho’s and ran his hand suggestively down the other’s chest.

“C’mon, we only have another hour or so before the others return, let’s make the most of it.”

Yunho took the change of subject eagerly, sealing their lips together and letting all thoughts of the other members slip away for the time being.

Chapter Text

“What about this one?” Yunho offered hopefully, holding up yet another patterned hoodie. Mingi frowned at it thoughtfully for a moment before shaking his head decisively.

“It makes my eyes look smaller, Yunho-ah,” he explained nonsensically, turning back to his now half-empty closet.

Yunho sighed in defeat and sank back amidst the piles of discarded clothes on Mingi’s bed. They had been in Mingi’s room for over an hour, choosing his outfits for the next week, and Yunho’s patience was wearing thin. Mingi had always enjoyed putting thought into his outfits, but recently the time he spent choosing clothes had gotten a bit excessive and Yunho had no idea what was motivating the sudden change. They had just finished their promotions for Answer and had less than a week before their first ever Seoul concert, so these outfits would only ever be seeing the inside of a practice studio. Yunho loved spending time with Mingi in any way but, when he had been invited to his boyfriend’s room after returning from their final music show performance, he had been anticipating a drama marathon and cuddles rather than an evening of watching said boyfriend getting increasingly stressed over practice outfits that would probably never even be photographed.

“Why is this so important, anyways?” he asked curiously, adjusting himself so he was laying more comfortably against the pillows. Mingi blushed and fumbled the shirt he was holding, a sure sign that he was hiding something, and Yunho leaned forward with renewed interest.

“No particular reason,” Mingi shrugged with forced casualness. He turned to hide his face under the pretext of hanging the shirt back up and Yunho couldn’t help smiling fondly at his back. Mingi could actually keep secrets pretty well when he truly wanted to hide something, but he was never very good at lying to Yunho.

“Princess…” he cajoled. Mingi caved immediately, as Yunho knew he would.

“It’s your fault!”

“How is it my fault?” Yunho asked, genuinely taken aback. “Don’t I tell you how cute you look every time?” Mingi blushed again and waved that off impatiently.

“It’s not that. Ever since you accused me of having a crush on Wooyoung and Hongjoong-hyung I can’t stop thinking of them that way! And then last week San whistled when he saw me, Yunho. Whistled. And called me a ‘sexy man!’”

“The horror,” Yunho deadpanned. Mingi glared at him and Yunho softened instantly.

“Alright, c’mon, let’s see what’s left,” he said, getting up off the bed to wrap Mingi up in a back-hug. He propped his chin on the rapper’s shoulder and scanned the contents of the closet.

“What about this purple sweatshirt with that t-shirt Hongjoong tie-dyed for you underneath?” He offered eventually. “San loves anything purple, the possessive monster Hongjoong tries to suppress loves to see us in stuff he makes, and the way the t-shirt clings to your abs after you’ve sweat a bit is sure to impress Wooyoung.”

Mingi hummed thoughtfully, nodding with growing satisfaction as he envisioned the outfit.

“That’s perfect, thanks babe,” he approved, dropping a relieved kiss on Yunho’s lips.

“Just make sure you time the removal of the sweatshirt properly,” Yunho cautioned. “Lift it slowly with a bit of an arch when you’re talking to one another during a break or something. And, for god’s sake, warn me before you do it so I can make sure I’m not drinking water.”

“Wait, why?”

“I don’t want to choke again.”

Again?” Mingi stared at him. “You’ve choked during practice because of me?”

“It only happened a couple times!” Yunho whined, hiding his face in his hands. “And it was a long time ago. I was young and impressionable back then.”

“Your face is red,” Mingi laughed gleefully.

“Your face is wrong!” A voice shouted angrily from the hallway. Yunho and Mingi turned to face the door, watching in surprise as it slammed open and Jongho stormed in. The vocalist threw himself down on his bed, ignoring them completely, and drew in a suspiciously shuddery breath.

“Jongho-ah,” Yeosang soothed, following him into the room. He laid a tentative hand on Jongho’s back, wincing when the maknae shrugged it off and curled even further into himself. “I was just trying to help.”

“I don’t want your help,” Jongho snapped. A stricken look passed over Yeosang’s face.

“Oh,” he said hollowly, turning to leave. Mingi frowned and started to step forward but Jongho jumped out of bed before he could intervene.

“No, no, hyung, I’m sorry,” He back-pedaled quickly, reaching out to grab Yeosang’s hand tightly. “I didn’t mean it, I promise.” Jongho tucked his face into the dancer’s shoulder and Yeosang patted him on the back awkwardly, exchanging confused looks with Yunho and Mingi over his shoulder at the rapid change in attitude. Jongho was usually pretty even-keeled, even when he was exhausted or sick.

“What happened?” Yunho asked eventually, after Jongho showed no sign of moving from Yeosang's loose embrace.

“He was practicing English, and-” Jongho flinched and Yeosang cut himself off abruptly, looking down at the maknae worriedly. “There were only a few mistakes, Jongho-ah, you’re doing really well otherwise.”

“I’m awful,” Jongho groaned. “I wanted to be good in time for our tour but I’m not getting better at all. It’s like banging my head against the wall.”

“That’s not true,” Yeosang protested gently. “You shouldn’t be so hard on yourself. You’re improving a lot even though you haven’t been taking lessons as long, and English is an extremely difficult language to learn. It’s so different from Korean.”

“And you’re doing better than Wooyoung and I,” Mingi pointed out. “If you’re so bad, what does that make us?”

“Atrocious,” Jongho pronounced in careful English. Yunho laughed delightedly at the bewildered look on Mingi’s face and Jongho peeked up from the shoulder he was hiding behind with a tentative smile.

"You're definitely not bad if you can pull out words like that," Mingi told him, clearly still having no idea what it meant.

"It was the first word on my vocab list," Jongho confessed glumly. "I was only just staring at it a minute ago. I'm sure I'll forget it by tomorrow."

“C’mon, maknae, I’ll help you finish properly, okay?” Yeosang urged, giving Jongho one last pat on the back before stepping back. Jongho nodded and laced their hands together, turning to shoot a finger-heart-apology to Mingi before following his hyung.

“They’re really close, aren’t they,” Yunho observed, tone slightly off as he watched the pair leave the room. “He doesn’t do that much skinship willingly with anyone else, except maybe Sannie.”

“Jongho definitely has a soft spot for his Sangie-hyung,” Mingi agreed. He gave Yunho a speculative look before shrugging inwardly and turning to stare at his clothing-covered bed dispiritedly. “Let’s just cuddle on Jongho’s bed for now, I’ll deal with this mess later.”

 

Jongho and Yeosang were still attached at the hip when Yunho and Mingi emerged from the bedroom for dinner with the members. The two were whispering with their heads tucked close together — probably planning their next prank, if the intermittent giggles and speculative glances were anything to go by — and Jongho was clinging to Yeosang’s right arm with both hands like a particularly cute koala. Seonghwa and Wooyoung kept looking over to smile at the other pair indulgently while they distributed takeout containers around the table, and Hongjoong was busy distracting a pouting San after the younger had repeatedly failed to keep Jongho’s attention for more than half a minute.

“Jongho-ah, wanna try out that podcast Dox-hyung recommended before we go to sleep?” Mingi tried hopefully, pulling Yunho down to sit next to him.

“I wanna sleep with Yeosangie-hyung tonight, though,” Jongho protested. Yeosang nodded in smug agreement, patting Jongho’s arm and sticking his tongue out at Mingi.

“But I’ll be lonely,” Mingi whined exaggeratedly. He squeezed Yunho’s hand meaningfully under the table and the dancer rolled his eyes at Mingi’s dramatics before offering to come spend the night with him.

“Then Wooyoungie can join me and no one will be alone!” San chimed in happily.

“Whatever you kids want,” Hongjoong agreed amiably, exchanging a tired glance with Seonghwa. “Just make sure you get some sleep, we’re going to have to hit the ground running tomorrow for concert prep.”

They devoured the food quickly, chattering excitedly in anticipation of their concert and the prospect of seeing their families so soon. They were careful not to get too carried away, though, mindful of the intense preparations necessary in the intervening days. Rather than dispersing in pairs and trios after dinner as usual to game or catch up on their favorite shows, the members went straight to bed in preparation for their early practice the next morning.

San changed into his favorite robe and settled into bed with his plushies, sleepily hugging Kuma and watching Yunho gather his things before leaving to join Mingi. Wooyoung entered the room as Yunho left and climbed straight up into San’s bunk. He kissed San happily on the cheek, and shifted them so that San’s head was pillowed on his shoulder and their legs were intertwined.

“Do you wanna…” Wooyoung trailed off, waggling his eyebrows playfully at San, and the elder snorted a laugh.

“Let’s just make out tonight, okay?” he proposed. “I’m really tired. And there’s always the possibility that Yunho forgot something and could come back.”

“Whatever you want, babe. Don’t you think we should consider telling them soon, though? So we don’t have to hide?” Wooyoung asked, petting San’s hair. “I feel guilty keeping it a secret, especially from Sangie. And it’s not like this is just some casual fling or mutual relief. I love you about as much as it’s possible to love anyone. I’m not going to be able to refrain from bragging about it forever and I’d rather it not come out as an accident.”

San smiled sappily up at Wooyoung, heart melting at the casual declaration of love, and kissed him deeply. The two of them had been hooking up casually for a while, but it was only recently that they had confessed to being in love with one another. San, who had so much love to give that he sometimes felt like his relationship with the others would always be one-sided, reveled in the constant affirmations of their relationship that Wooyoung was careful to give him. It was partially due to this persistent insecurity in his relationships with the others that San had wanted to date Wooyoung secretly, at least at first. He was desperately worried that the other members, particularly their hyungs, would ask them to break up and give them the cold shoulder, and he didn’t think he was strong enough to bear any type of unified reproach from the people he respected most in the world. Wooyoung had tried to assure him that it didn’t matter what the others thought, and that they were sure to love them no matter what anyways, but it wasn’t very convincing when he himself already felt like he caused too much trouble for the hyungs and was paralyzed at the thought of Yeosang’s disapproval.

Their parents knew, of course — Wooyoung’s mom was far too sharp for him to keep something like this a secret, and San had always told his dad absolutely everything. San was still terrified at the prospect of coming out to the group but he also had to admit that he was feeling increasingly guilty sneaking around, especially because it had gotten to the point where they were having to flat out lie to the others.

“What about after the Seoul concerts, right before our break?” He proposed. “That way if there’s any type of explosion we’ll be home with our parents, and they’ll have some time to cool down?”

“And we won’t have to see their disappointed faces every day?” Wooyoung teased wryly.

“Exactly.”

Wooyoung poked his chin playfully.

“It’ll be okay, you’ll see,” he assured San, pushing his own misgivings down in favor of comforting the other. “But I do think that’s a good plan. Make-out now and worry about it later?”

San huffed a laugh and rolled on top of Wooyoung, bracing the younger’s head in his hands and letting their lips slide together in a languid kiss.

 

That night was the last peaceful evening they were able to spend for the rest of the week as concert preparations hit them with full force. They spent the whole day practicing or filming, scarfing down quick meals during their breaks with the dancer-hyungs and coming home only to shower and drop into their beds for a couple hours of much-needed sleep. They were exhausted but excited at the same time, bodies coursing with adrenaline as the long-awaited concert drew nearer. They were thrilled to finally have a strong enough fan base in Korea that they could host a full concert just for Atiny, and they couldn’t wait to show off how much they had improved to their family members who would finally be able to be in attendance.

The two days of the concert themselves flew by in an absolute whirlwind of practice, filming behind segments, snagging quick hugs from their visiting family members and then pouring their souls out onstage. The first night they were still too keyed up on excitement to go to sleep immediately so they gathered in their kitchen for a giddy session of the animal kingdom game over late-night snacks before going to sleep. The second night, however, the bruises and exhaustion caught up with them and they barely had enough energy to scrub off their make-up in the shower, eat the takeout their manager had ordered them and collapse into bed.

Seonghwa and Hongjoong had offered to take the last showers as usual, shooing their dongsaengs into the bathrooms despite the tired protests and using the extra time to help their manager clean up the kitchen. Seonghwa enjoyed long showers so he was expecting Hongjoong to be finished well before him. He wasn’t expecting to find their violently anti-skinship leader curled up in Seonghwa’s bunk, wet hair dripping onto the elder’s pillow. He turned out the lights and felt his way over to the bed in silence, not daring to question the sudden change.

“Is this okay?” Hongjoong whispered into the dark.

“Yeah, of course.” Seonghwa slid into the bunk beside him, stomach twisting with butterflies when Hongjoong tentatively laid his head on Seonghwa’s shoulder and curled in close.

“Are you going to come home more, now that we’re done with the concert?” He asked playfully, trying to distract himself from the futile hope that always rose whenever Hongjoong sought him out. He sometimes felt like he was failing Hongjoong with how much the other refused to be looked after, and he constantly wished that he had the producing or management skills to relieve some of their leader’s burden.

“Probably not,” Hongjoong laughed ruefully. “There’s still so much to be done, you and the kids have worked so hard and I can’t let our momentum die down now.”

“Hongjoong-” Seonghwa started to scold, sitting up.

“I know, I know, I'll try to rest more, too,” Hongjoong placated, pulling him back down. “Let’s not fight tonight, please?”

“Okay,” Seonghwa relented. “You should know, though, that even if everything fell apart tomorrow what I would regret the most is missing out on spending more time with all of you, not whatever accolades or opportunities we might get in the future.”

“Seriously?” Hongjoong asked, the shock plain in his voice.

“Seriously. These two concerts, being able to perform in front of my parents, winning that first award for Wave and all the ones after, performing at MAMA and winning there again — even just one of those milestones feels worth everything I’ve put into this. Obviously I don’t want to stop, I want to keep going as long as we can, but I feel more comfortable trusting things to fate and our hard work, now. So I appreciate everything you do for us, but please don’t feel like I’ll be disappointed in you if things don’t work. I’ll only ever be grateful.”

Thank you” Hongjoong said fervently, voice shaking slightly with suppressed emotion. Seonghwa shrugged minutely, Hongjoong's words making him think of something he had been wondering for some time but was still nervous to ask.

“Joong-ah?”

“Mmm?” Seonghwa hesitated.

“For Thank U...did you really mean it? The lyrics?” There was a moment of silence, and then-

“Every word.”

“Even-”

Every word, Seonghwa.” Seonghwa lay in silence for a minute, running through the lyrics again in his head.

“Wait, but.” He sat up and switched on his bedside light, turning to face Hongjoong properly. “You say that you like going to sleep together and waking up to my humming, that you feel like everything will be okay if only we’re together, that it’s a good day if you spend it with me, even if we don’t exchange a single word. Me specifically.”

“Seonghwa, you know how I feel about you,” Hongjoong sighed, exasperated. “What’s the point of this?”

“What on earth are you talking about,” Seonghwa asked, mystified. The other watched him silently, unwilling to say anything more. “How you feel about me… your feelings for me… wait, you have feelings feelings for me?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Hongjoong muttered, slightly bitterly.

“No? I had no idea. You never ask to spend time with me, so how would I know? You - but why would you like me like that?” Hongjoong stared at him in amazement.

“How could I not, with your, well, everything,” Hongjoong waved a hand at Seonghwa’s body and Seonghwa looked down at himself, still in shock.

“So you’re attracted to my looks?”

“No! Well, yes, of course I think you’re attractive, but I like all of you. How kind and caring and strong and determined and dorky you are, all at the same time. How much you give up to let others shine without ever asking for the spotlight yourself. The way you play with the kids even when you’re tired, the way you look after me even though I'm never able to give you anything in return. You feel too much like home, I always let my guard down around you in ways we can’t afford. I feel too much around you, it was always safer to just push you away, instead.”

“But why didn’t you ever tell me?”

“How could I? Nothing could come of it, anyways. I knew you didn’t feel that way about me, so what was the point?” Seonghwa frowned.

“Of course I feel that way about you! I mean, I told management there wasn’t any point in the group if you weren’t our leader, I always told you I wanted you to come home more and do more skinship with me and stuff. I was practically begging you to love me until I realized it would be better to just let our relationship grow naturally. It was like I was always missing you even though you were right there. I thought it was pretty obvious I worship the ground you walk on.” His final words hung in the air between them and Seonghwa bit his lip, half-wishing he could take them back.

“Really?” Hongjoong asked in wonder.

“Yes,” Seonghwa admitted softly, glancing down at the leader. Their eyes met and held, both of them blushing at the mutual confessions but unwilling to look away.

“Should we-”

“Does that-” Hongjoong started. They both laughed lightly and Hongjoong gestured for Seonghwa to go first.

“Should we date?” Seonghwa blurted out. Hongjoong opened his mouth to speak and then closed it again, grimacing at the wall.

“Oh,” Seonghwa said hollowly, heart sinking as the silence stretched out. He should have known that this was too good to be true.

“No, wait!” Hongjoong exclaimed, reaching out to take Seonghwa’s hand. “I want to, I do, it’s just I don’t know if we can? We’re at such a critical point in our careers and I...I’m not willing to stop working so much or do anything that could put that in peril.”

“I wouldn’t expect you to,” Seonghwa promised, squeezing Hongjoong’s hand. The rapper smiled up at him weakly.

“I know you wouldn’t, no one understands more than you do, but honestly, with the tour and producing work and our normal practices I wouldn’t be able to give a relationship with you the time and effort it would deserve, you know? I can’t take you on fun dates or do the small thoughtful things or look after you the way a boyfriend should, I just… I’m not enough right now, Seonghwa.”

“You’re always enough,” Seonghwa replied immediately. “I don’t need you to be anything other than who you are, or to protect me or anything like that. You know my track record with dating, just by existing you’d be the best boyfriend I’ve ever had. I just...I just like you a lot. I had no idea you could think of me like that, too.”

“I know you don’t need someone, you’re one of the strongest people I know, but I want you to be able to lean on me in our personal lives. You deserve the world, Seonghwa, even if no one’s ever shown you that before. I know there are times where you don’t talk to me about things because I’m stressed about work and you don’t want to bother me, and I don’t see how we could build a healthy romantic relationship with that type of dynamic. I saw that happen with my hyung once and it just ended so messily. They both loved each other but there was so much resentment built up… I really don’t want that for us.”

Seonghwa stared at him for a moment and then sighed, flopping back down against the pillows and staring up at the slats of the top bunk.

“I’m sorry,” Hongjoong said awkwardly. He watched the micro-expressions flickering across Seonghwa’s face carefully, not sure if he was still welcome in the bed after essentially rejecting the elder.

“Okay, I have an idea,” Seonghwa said finally, looking up at Hongjoong and searching his face thoughtfully. He seemed to find what he was looking for, because he nodded to himself and reached out to take Hongjoong’s hand again. “You definitely have romantic feelings for me?”

“Yes?”

“Then what about we wait for, like, a year? We’ll have a couple more comebacks and a tour under our belt, and a better idea of where our careers are heading. Everything will have settled down a bit and we’ll be able to focus on balancing a relationship with our work life.”

“You’d really be okay with that?” Hongjoong asked doubtfully. “With waiting? It doesn’t seem fair to you.” Seonghwa nodded.

“Just knowing that you want me is more than I ever thought I’d have. And in the meantime...we can be more comfortable together, right?”

“Yeah,” Hongjoong nodded, watching the light play across Seonghwa’s face and basking in the newfound freedom to just stare. “Can we- can we seal it with a kiss?” Seonghwa nodded immediately and Hongjoong stared down at him numbly, not having expected him to agree. Seonghwa chuckled and slid a hand into Hongjoong’s hair, pulling the rapper down on top of him. The kiss was almost chaste, soft and sweet with just a hint of tongue, and Hongjoong sighed into it contentedly before pulling back.

“Really, you mean so much to me, Hwa,” he whispered sincerely, gently running his thumb across Seonghwa’s lower lip. “I feel so lucky every time I look at you.” Seonghwa flushed and tilted his chin up slightly to look the other in the eyes.

“I love you, too, Joong-ah,” He replied gently. “We’d better sleep now, though. You need rest and we promised the kids breakfast tomorrow.”

Hongjoong agreed happily, floating on the combined high of the concert and their shared confession. He stole one last, quick kiss from Seonghwa’s fond lips before turning out the lights and snuggling into his not-yet-boyfriend’s embrace.

Chapter Text

“Yeosangie, it’s time to wake up.” A quiet voice broke into Yeosang’s consciousness and he wrinkled his nose, turning away from the noise and snuggling into his pillow.

“‘M asleep,” he mumbled. A familiar, windshield-wiper giggle broke through his sleepy haze and he squinted one eye open to glare at the interloper daring to disturb his rest.

“Good morning!” Wooyoung beamed down at him.

“Too bright,” Yeosang groaned, holding one hand up to ward off the offensive cheeriness on his best friend’s face. “Go ‘way.” Wooyoung laughed again and crawled into Yeosang’s bed fully, curling his body happily around his roommate.

“We’ve been friends for seven years and that’s how you treat me?” He pouted teasingly.

“I’ve been telling you to go away for seven years and it still hasn’t worked,” Yeosang mused sleepily, reaching up with one hand to pull Wooyoung’s arm around his waist and closing his eyes again with a satisfied hum. “Maybe I need to change tactics.”

“Hey, are you okay?” Wooyoung asked, voice suddenly serious. “You’re usually up way before me. It’s not like you to be this tired.” Yeosang sighed and opened his eyes, resigning himself to waking up fully.

“I’m fine, I was just up late thinking so I didn’t sleep as much.”

“What were you thinking about?”

“Just stuff — plans and ideas and things,” Yeosang replied vaguely, stretching as much as Wooyoung’s insistent embrace allowed. “None of them were any good, though.”

“You always have the best ideas though,” Wooyoung countered loyally. “What was it? The one that kept you up? I bet it’s amazing.”

“Ah, it’s not that type of idea,” Yeosang laughed awkwardly. “Not like about our performances or anything. Or, well, not directly, anyways.”

“You can tell me, Sangie, I won’t tell anyone else if you don’t want me to,” Wooyoung promised. Yeosang hesitated, tilting his head back to search his best friend’s eyes for a long moment before deciding to take the plunge.

“I just thought it would be cool to learn to write songs too, like Hongjoongie-hyung,” he confessed quietly. “But I don’t even know how to go about it, and I doubt I’d be that good, anyways-”

“Oh my god, that would be amazing!” Wooyoung shouted. Yeosang hushed him quickly, glancing around, and Wooyoung grudgingly lowered his voice to a whisper. “You should ask hyung for help, I bet he’d love getting to play teacher for once! You should really do it, Sang-ah. You have so much to say, too, I would love to listen to your music.”

“Maybe,” Yeosang decided, smiling shyly up at Wooyoung, unable to hide his happiness at his friend’s support.

Definitely,” Wooyoung corrected. He opened his mouth to urge Yeosang on further only to close it abruptly when the door to their room opened and San danced in.

“It’s breakfast time!!” he yelled, jumping to a stop and hitting the woah excitedly.

“Ugh, why is everyone so awake?” Yeosang groaned, rubbing his eyes. San cooed delightedly at the cuteness overload and launched himself on top of Wooyoung and Yeosang, attacking both of their faces with kisses.

“Stop, you’re gonna squish him,” Wooyoung grumbled, pushing San off and onto Yeosang’s other side.

“He’s so adorable, though, this face practically demands to be cuddled,” San complained, cupping Yeosang’s face in his hands.

“This face is demanding nothing of the sort,” Yeosang muttered on principle, even though they all knew that he secretly loved the attention.

“Nonsense,” San scoffed confidently, plastering himself to Yeosang’s front and mischievously trying to push Wooyoung off of the bed. Yeosang rolled his eyes as they began fighting over him and decided to amuse himself by inflaming the fight even further, as he often did. He strategically pinched Wooyoung so that it seemed as though San had done it, then lay back to enjoy the ensuing chaos.

“Yeosangie, our sleeping statue,” Hongjoong’s voice called from the hallway. The three boys on the bed paused their fighting to look towards the doorway. Jongho poked his face around the door curiously and groaned when he saw the three of them on the bed.

“Hyung, they’re all in bed now,” he reported plaintively. “Guys, come on, I’m starving.”

“I’ll get you in bed too,” Wooyoung threatened playfully, jumping out of Yeosang’s bed to run after Jongho with puckered lips and outstretched arms. Jongho fled, giggling despite himself, and Wooyoung blew a kiss towards San and Yeosang before chasing after their maknae. Hongjoong flattened himself against the hallway wall to avoid getting run over by the pair before coming into Yeosang and Wooyoung’s room.

“Sang-ah, San-ah, can you get ready please?” He asked with an unusually patient smile. “We’re going to be leaving soon for breakfast.”

“Did something happen, hyung?” Yeosang asked suspiciously “You’re in a really good mood today.”

“No, no, of course not!” Hongjoong denied hurriedly. “What could have happened in between last night and this morning, anyways?” Yeosang hummed skeptically, eyes narrowed in suspicion.

“You’re not even going to scold Jongho and Wooyoung, though?” San wondered. “Didn’t you say that the next person to run in the house was going to have to do all our laundry for an extra week?”

“Eh, it’s fine, they’re just excited,” Hongjoong said generously. “I was probably a bit harsh that time, anyways.” San slumped on top of Yeosang dramatically.

“It’s my week to do the laundry, I was hoping he’d make Wooyoungie do it instead,” he whispered into Yeosang’s ear. Hongjoong frowned at their matching, badly-suppressed smirks, but shrugged it off and turned to leave the room.

“Meet us by the door in ten, okay?” he called back.

“‘Kay,” Yeosang and San chorused cheerfully. San kissed Yeosang’s hair one last time before getting up and bodily pulling the older out of bed, sending him off towards his closet with a teasing smack on the butt. Yeosang groaned but obediently pulled out his clothes and started to get changed.

 

The group lingered over their breakfast, soaking in the beginning hours of their two precious free days before tour prep started up again. They would have a longer break to go home at the end of February, but their families were all in town for their Seoul concert and the company had decided to give them a brief break to make the most of the rare time with their relatives before their second international tour. The fact that the tour, or at least some dates of it, could be canceled due to the corona virus hung over all of their heads, but the members had collectively decided to prepare as though everything was proceeding as planned.

Most of the members split up to visit different relatives for the entire time off, but San and Wooyoung’s families had decided to spend the second day of the break with one another so the two arrived back at the dorm together early the next evening. They had exited the elevator and were about to open the door to their apartment when Wooyoung grabbed San’s arm and pulled him to a stop.

“Wait, San, I’ve been thinking-”

“Dangerous,” San teased. Wooyoung smiled half-heartedly, but remained serious.

“I really think we need to tell the others about us, as soon as possible,” he said. San started shaking his head immediately and Wooyoung hurried to make his case, a tinge of desperation leaking into his voice. “Yeosang, at the very least, I’ve been feeling so guilty since yesterday morning. He was so vulnerable with me about something and I’ve been basically lying to him for months now. I probably would have slipped if you hadn't come in, I’m honestly not sure how much longer I can keep doing this.”

“Young-ah, I want to, I do, but...” San trailed off and Wooyoung waited patiently while he gathered his thoughts. “I know we’re all close, but I feel like I just keep coming in between you two? Even if neither of you are mad at me or anything, it doesn’t feel right. What if he hates me? I love him so much, I really don’t want things to get weird between us.”

“Why would he hate you, though?” Wooyoung asked, mystified. “He loves you, even if he has a hard time saying it sometimes. And he’s made it very clear he only sees me as a friend, so it’s not like he could be jealous. Well, maybe jealous of me since he adores you, but that wouldn't make him mad at you either.” San stared at Wooyoung incredulously.

“Young-ah, you can’t honestly still believe that he doesn't treasure you above anyone else. Back when we talked about that I thought you were just worried that dating would mess with your seven years of best-friendship or something, I didn’t think you were this blind.”

“Okay, look, we’re getting off topic,” Wooyoung deflected. “I’m worried about the hyungs because I really don’t want to make Hongjoong-hyung choose between his role as a leader and being a supportive hyung, and Seonghwa…”

“You desperately want the approval of your pretty hyungie and are worried he won’t give it,” San finished neatly. Wooyoung threw a half-hearted glare at him but didn’t contest that description.

“Honestly, Jongho’s probably the safest bet,” he continued quickly, “but I don’t want to add any more weight to his shoulders. He already puts up with so much from us, and he hates keeping secrets from the hyungs unless it's about birthdays and things. So what about just the 99z? Or just Yunho and Mingi at first if you really need more time for Yeosang?”

“It’s not fair to just tell half the group, though,” San protested. “C’mon, I want my bed, let’s just keep talking there. No one else should be back yet.” Wooyoung nodded and they entered their dorm in thoughtful silence. San’s pace quickened as he neared his bedroom. He flung the door open, excited to be reunited with the plushies he hadn’t brought with him to his parent's hotel, only to screech and slam it shut again. There was a matching shout and a loud thump from inside the room, followed by a deep, pained groan. Wooyoung looked from San, who was staring at his room in shock, to the door and back again in complete confusion. When San failed to react any further, Wooyoung opened the door cautiously and poked his head in, gaping at the scene in front of him.

Mingi was lying in Yunho’s bed, mostly naked with a series of fresh hickeys blooming on his neck and a horrified look on his face. Yunho was sprawled on the floor in a similar state of undress, seemingly having fallen out of the bed in surprise when San opened the door. Yunho winced when Wooyoung appeared and climbed back into his bed, pulling the duvet up over both himself and Mingi.

Wooyoung recovered from the shock first, laughing delightedly and reaching back to pull San further into the room. He crawled on top of Mingi and Yunho, ignoring their half-hearted mumblings about privacy, and propped his face up on his hands to study them with an overly-innocent look in his eyes. He was followed by a more hesitant San, who gingerly climbed on the bed before snuggling in on top of Yunho like a particularly fastidious cat.

“You don’t happen to want to just leave us for a bit and forget this ever happened, do you?” Mingi asked hopefully.

“Nope,” Wooyoung said, popping the 'p' and looking at San meaningfully. “This was the most perfectly timed discovery of our lives.” San’s eyes widened and he exchanged a rapid series of looks with Wooyoung before nodding in resigned agreement.

“What was that?” Yunho asked curiously.

“Nothing,” San said quickly. “Just - are you guys only hooking up, or…?”

“We’re dating,” Mingi filled in grudgingly. “Have been for a while, now.”

“Since MAMA,” Yunho added proudly, glancing at Mingi with soft eyes.

“Noo, that’s way longer than us,” San whined, carefully watching for the reception of his deliberate slip out of the corner of his eye. Mingi and Yunho both relaxed minutely at the tacit admission that they were dating, but didn’t show any other outward reaction.

“Aren’t you surprised?” Wooyoung asked, slightly offended. “That was so anticlimactic, jeez.”

“We kind of suspected you had something going on for a while,” Yunho admitted.

“Why didn’t you say anything, though?” Wooyoung pouted. “We could have gone on a double date!”

“I’m deeply sorry for respecting your relationship boundaries and the fact that you obviously wanted to keep it a secret,” Mingi said solemnly. “We’ll never do it again.”

“I thought we were good at keeping it a secret, though,” San frowned, glancing at Wooyoung worriedly. “Do you think the others-”

“I doubt it,” Yunho interjected, pulling one arm out from under the blankets to give San a comforting half-hug. “Mingi-ah and I were talking about other potential couples for...reasons." Mingi shot Yunho a panicked look and quickly spoke up as well to distract San and Wooyoung from reading too much into Yunho's words.

"Honestly, a lot of our suspicions were probably just us projecting onto you a bit,” he confessed. "We didn't really want to be the only couple."

San relaxed into Yunho’s broad frame with a relieved sigh and Wooyoung surreptitiously tapped Mingi’s leg with his foot in thanks.

“Where was your first date?” Wooyoung asked, partially to distract San further and partially just because he was curious.

“It was on one of our off days after MAMA — we went to the arcade, and then the spa, and then we had a giant dinner at this super fancy restaurant Yunho found,” Mingi boasted.

“Aww, our golden retriever is total boyfriend material,” San praised, hugging Yunho’s arm approvingly. “Good planning, Yuyu.”

“How d’you know he planned it?” Mingi exclaimed indignantly.

“I did, though,” Yunho pointed out, laughing when Mingi hit his arm.

“Tell them that my dates were great, too,” Mingi insisted. Their playful squabble was interrupted by matching notifications from their phones, and they all glanced down to see a message from Jongho saying that he was leaving his parent’s place and would be home in half an hour. Yunho and Mingi exchanged nervous glances.

“Guys, as interesting as this is, we really have to shower before he gets back,” Mingi started.

“No scarring the baby,” San agreed, getting up from the bed.

“Can we talk about this tomorrow, though?” Yunho requested. “Honestly it’s been getting a bit difficult to keep quiet about it all. It’ll be nice to discuss things openly.”

“After night practice, maybe?” Wooyoung suggested. Yunho and Mingi nodded and looked meaningfully between Wooyoung, San, and the door.

“It’s not like we haven’t seen you naked before,” San rolled his eyes at them, nevertheless pulling Wooyoung out so that the other two could clean up in privacy.

Wooyoung and San barely had time to discuss what had just happened in shell-shocked whispers before Jongho arrived back home and they were swept up in the excitement of all the members returning home. It had only been 36 hours since they had all seen one another, but they were used to spending practically every minute together so it felt like a much longer period than that. More importantly, they had gotten to know one another’s families well enough that they were all very invested in the piles of updated gossip that each member had learned from their relatives during their time off. They spent their evening cooing over Wooyoung’s cousin’s baby and angrily denouncing Yunho’s aunt’s new boyfriend. They collectively decided that it was time to go to bed when a heated discussion over the budding love triangle between Seonghwa’s brother and two friends showed signs of turning into a full-on food fight.

The plans that Yunho, Mingi, Wooyoung, and San had made for the next day slipped to the back of their minds amidst all the chaos, but the memories came back with force when they woke up in the morning and it was suddenly all they could think about. They spent the entire day exchanging excited glances and whispered confirmations.

The members usually took their time after the last team practice of the day, taking some time to stretch together and chat before dispersing for individual practice sessions. This time, though, the two couples were too excited to hang back. They quickly grabbed their bags and gave the others jumbled excuses about picking up snacks before rushing out the door together.

The remaining members stared at the door as it swung shut behind the four ‘99 liners.

“O-kay,” Hongjoong said after a minute, shaking his confusion off and gathering his stuff. “That was weird. I’m gonna go to the studio for a bit, I’ll see you all at home later.”

Yeosang made an aborted movement to stop him but pulled himself back. He watched Hongjoong leave with a conflicted gaze, frowning to himself before suddenly grabbing his bag and running after the leader.

“Ah, wait, hyung, can I talk to you for a bit first?” he called down the hallway. Hongjoong turned back and nodded, waiting for Yeosang to catch up to him. He watched patiently as Yeosang took a few deep breaths, clearly anxious about whatever he was about to say.

“Hyung, I, I wanttotrywritingmusic,” Yeosang rushed out, biting his lip nervously.

“You - you want to try writing music?” Hongjoong clarified. "Like producing and composing and stuff?"

Yeosang nodded, bracing himself for the inevitable rejection. He was sure that Hongjoong would kindly tell him that he just didn’t have the time and that Yeosang would be better off focusing on his own performance skills, so he was taken by surprise when the leader’s face positively lit up with excitement.

“Do you really want to?” Hongjoong checked, visibly restraining himself. “You’re not just saying this to make me happy or because you feel guilty or something?”

“No?” Yeosang said uncertainly, a bit thrown by the rapper’s excitement.

“Ah, Yeosang-ie, you should absolutely give it a try,” Hongjoong enthused. “I always thought you would be a great composer, actually, you have such a nice musical style.”

“I don’t know about that,” Yeosang laughed awkwardly and looked away, too bashful to maintain eye contact.

“You’ll be amazing,” Hongjoong promised. “Ah, it’ll be so fun!” Yeosang hesitated. Hongjoong had been unusually giddy about everything recently, for reasons the dancer couldn’t quite figure out, but the rapper did seem to be genuinely excited at the prospect of a him composing.

“If you think it’s a good idea, I’ll try,” Yeosang decided. “Do you have any recommendations of where to start?” Hongjoong eyed him speculatively.

“Do you want to come with me to the studio?” he offered. “I was going to fine-tune a couple tracks for the next album — it might be good for you to watch a bit to see how the programs work? And then I think we have an extra laptop with the software on it, so you could try messing around with some samples, if you want.”

“Are you sure? I won’t get in the way?”

“No, of course not,” Hongjoong reassured. “There’s nothing really pressing to get done tonight, and it’ll actually be helpful to have you there to listen to my drafts. You can tell me if there’s anything you think the members won’t like.”

“Okay,” Yeosang agreed, smiling tentatively. “Thank you, hyung.” Hongjoong smiled at him fondly, wrapping an arm around his waist to guide him downstairs.

“I’m really proud of you, Sang-ah,” Hongjoong told him quietly. “Honestly.”

Yeosang blushed, not even trying to suppress his pleased smile, and leaned into Hongjoong’s one-armed embrace in tacit acknowledgement.

 

 

Back in the practice room, Seonghwa looked over at Jongho in amused confusion.

“And then there were two,” he joked. Jongho smiled back, looking a bit lost before he shrugged and started gathering his stuff as well.

“What are your plans now, hyung?” he asked.

“I wanted to practice my choreo a bit more,” Seonghwa said apologetically. “Will you be okay going home by yourself? I think manager-nim is downstairs with the car.” Jongho shook his head.

“I actually wanted to do a bit of vocal practice. I’ll come get you when I’m done?”

Seonghwa paused his stretching for a moment before nodding in agreement. Jongho hesitated, but decided to deal with the odd behavior later when they went home. He packed up his stuff quietly, watching out of the corner of his eye as Seonghwa focused back in on his practice, and made his way over to his favorite vocal room.

He ran through their entire concert set-list, fine-tuning where necessary, before closing the computer with a yawn. He went back down to check on Seonghwa, slipping back into the practice room and watching as his eldest hyung ran through the same eight-count over and over again. He faltered on the same step every time, muttering under his breath, and Jongho frowned. Seonghwa sometimes got into these overly-perfectionist moods where he was far too hard on himself when he practiced. Of course, in true Seonghwa fashion, he always refrained from sharing his struggles with the others because he didn’t want to stress them out. Knowing that he would never admit he needed help, the other members were careful to keep an eye out for the danger signs so that they could at least try to urge him to rest.

“Hyung?” he interrupted. “Can we go home?”

“You go ahead,” Seonghwa told him, pausing the music to come over and brush a stray piece of fuzz off of Jongho’s sweatshirt. “I’m gonna stay a bit longer.”

“I’ll stay with you, then,” Jongho decided, setting his bag down.

“Baby, you need to go to sleep,” Seonghwa protested.

“So do you,” Jongho countered evenly.

“You have this part down perfectly, I keep messing it up.”

“I’m not leaving until you do.”

“Jongho.”

“Hyung.”

Seonghwa stared at the younger tiredly. He didn’t think he would be able to sleep if he didn’t get the part down perfectly — his mind usually kept him up by running through his mistakes whenever he got fixated on one like this — but he couldn’t be the reason that Jongho stayed up. The younger carried too much weight on his shoulders as it was, Seonghwa never wanted to add to that load. Jongho must have seen the desperation in his eyes because he sighed and softened visibly.

“Hyung, if you keep going, best case scenario you’re going to be too tired to do our rehearsal tomorrow properly anyways. And you know it's an important one, with all the dancers and everyone. Worst case, you’ll injure yourself and have to sit out the next couple weeks. You’ve done the dance perfectly before, the only problem this time is that you’re getting in your head about it. C’mon, we’ll go to sleep and you’ll feel better tomorrow. Promise.”

“I...I really don’t think I can leave here, Jongho. I just can’t. Please go without me.”

“Let’s just sleep on the couch, then!” Jongho said brightly. Seonghwa valiantly resisted the urge to face palm.

“You won’t be able to sleep on the couch, though,” he objected.

“‘Course I will, I nap on it all the time in between vocal and dance lessons. It’s wide enough for the both of us, and there’s blankets in the closet and everything, it’ll be fun!”

Seonghwa didn’t have any fight left in him, so he reluctantly gave in and let Jongho monitor him through eight more practice rounds before pushing him into the shower.

By the time he was finished and changed into an extra set of sweats, Jongho had set up the couch with blankets and pillows and dimmed the lights.

“Alright, hyung, you lie down first,” the maknae said, gesturing to the couch and looking up at him expectantly. Seonghwa obediently lay down, scooting close to the back of the couch so that there would be plenty of room for the younger. The extra space went unused, though, as Jongho plastered himself along Seonghwa’s back and swung a leg over his hips.

“Is this okay?” Jongho asked quietly. Seonghwa couldn’t repress his shiver as the younger’s breath fanned over Seonghwa’s neck and he swallowed thickly.

“I should be asking you that. What happened to not liking skinship?”

“I like doing it sometimes!” Jongho protested. “I just don’t like receiving it as much.”

“Our spoiled maknae, hm?” Seonghwa teased. “Likes to be in charge of everything.”

“Hyung!” Seonghwa laughed and pulled Jongho’s arm tighter around his waist.

“You know I’m right. But don’t worry, I just wanted to fluster you a bit. You get all blushy and cute.” Seonghwa’s smugness lasted for all of a second until Jongho pinched his stomach in revenge.

“Yah!” Seonghwa whisper-yelled, flailing dramatically. Jongho giggled and clamped down on him tighter.

“Stop, hyung, you’re gonna throw us both off.”

“Would serve you right,” Seonghwa grumbled, settling down nevertheless. They were quiet for a moment, breaths slowing down in tandem.

“Hyung,” Jongho said tentatively. “Mingi and Wooyoung and Yunho and San earlier… that was a bit weird, right? The way they went off so quickly like they all knew a secret?”

“Yeah...I’m sure they’ll tell us soon, whatever it is. And you know those four, they’re always cooking something up.”

“I guess. I just wish…” Jongho trailed off. Seonghwa tilted his head up when it became apparent Jongho wasn’t going to continue on his own.

“You wish what, Jongho-ah?”

“I just don’t like being on the outside all the time. Mingi and I room together so of course we have our own things, but… it’s like, we always say eight makes one team, right? But lately it doesn’t really feel like that. Yunho and Mingi will always be best friends first, and they've been extra clingy with each other recently. Everyone's been so busy lately and we always go into the same unit pairings, so there’s the 98s and the 99z and I’m just left over. Hongjoong-hyung spends all his time with the producers anyways, Wooyoung and San are attached at the hip, you and Yeosang have been quiet recently — and that’s fine, of course! — but now if the four of them are off all the time, too...it's just so many groups and I'm not in any of them.”

Seonghwa’s heart tightened at the vulnerability in Jongho’s voice. It was really rare for him to confess his feelings like this, and Seonghwa realized the younger must have been feeling this way for some time if he was willing to talk about it.

“I’m sorry things have been like that for you, Jongho,” he started slowly. “You know the others treasure you more than anything, right? I can assure you absolutely none of us think of you least or last in any way, baby. The others talk about how proud of you they are all the time, and I think some of it stems from not wanting to put any more on your plate with everything you do for us, but it does seem like lately we’ve been grouping off a lot, hm? Hopefully things will settle down a bit now that our Seoul concert prep is over so I think we should give it a bit of time and see if the others start spending more time at home all together. I'll keep an eye on it and if things just seem to be getting worse we'll have a family meeting, okay? Perhaps next week before our break. In the meantime, maybe you and I can do some stuff together? It’s been too long since we spent time together outside from work and practice.”

“I’d like that, hyung,” Jongho said quietly. “Thank you.”

“Thank you, Jongho. Really, for earlier and for telling me how you’re feeling. I’ll take you out for meat tomorrow, okay?”

“Aw, like a date, hyung?”

“Aish, go to sleep you brat,” Seonghwa said, thankful that the darkness hid the sudden blush that had spread across his cheeks. Jongho laughed lightly.

“G’night hyungie,” he said, snuggling in closer.

“Good night, baby,” Seonghwa replied, closing his eyes and slipping easily into sleep.

Chapter Text

“Sannie?” Yunho whispered into the darkness. It was still early, but Yunho’s attempts to go back to sleep hadn’t been successful. He had decided to just resign himself to messing around on his phone until his alarm went off, but San was shifting in the bunk above him and Yunho figured they might as well enjoy their sleepless misery together. More importantly, Yunho still had a lot of questions about Woosan's relationship and wasn't sure when they would next get a chance to talk about it alone.

“What?” San whispered sleepily, flopping over onto his other side.

“Come down and cuddle.”

“I don’t wanna move though. Come up here?” Yunho considered. He didn’t particularly want to move either, but he knew from experience that getting San to leave his bed when he didn’t want to was an Ordeal. Besides, San was particularly clingy and loving when he got his way, and Yunho could really use that reassurance after the emotional turbulence of the last couple days. So, complaining profusely just on principle, he left the warm cocoon of his blankets and climbed into San’s bunk. As predicted, San greeted him with open arms and a shower of compliments on everything from Yunho’s good looks to his kindness and exemplary manners. Yunho happily stroked San’s head where it lay on his chest and soaked in the praise, waiting until the younger had moved on to nuzzling his face in Yunho’s neck to ask the question he had been wondering.

“So how did you and Wooyoung get together? We talked about Mingi and I, but we never talked about your guys’ story?”

San sighed, wrapping his arms more firmly around Yunho’s abdomen.

“Honestly, it wasn’t pretty. I think we both kind of avoided bringing it up on purpose.”

“You don’t have to-”

“No, it’s okay. It’s not traumatic or anything, just messy. So, remember how I told you guys I’m demisexual in January?” Yunho nodded. “Well, I had no idea that my lack of sexual attraction wasn’t what most people were experiencing until I started feeling it for Wooyoung last year — right after Wave promotions. I honestly don’t even know when my feelings for him turned romantic, but they must have been like that for a while because I can’t remember ever feeling differently for him. Anyways, initially I just suppressed it all, but then - oh god, this is so embarrassing - we were playing a kissing game? Where you take turns kissing each other’s nose and cheeks and stuff and try not to laugh?”

“Of course you were,” Yunho cringed.

“It’s not that much weirder than half the games we play for reality content,” San pointed out.

“Yeah, but you guys actively came up with it and chose to do it for fun.”

Anyways, we accidentally kissed on the lips and one thing led to another and then we basically started hooking up whenever we had a moment alone. Except it was really confusing because I was realizing my own sexuality and, at that point, Wooyoung was the only person I’d ever wanted to have sex with. So I hated that he found tons of people attractive and I literally felt sick at the thought of doing things with anyone else. We say ‘I love you’ all the time so I had no idea whether his feelings were sincere or if I was just a convenient hookup. So I was overly clingy and he kept pushing me away because he didn’t like all the lovey-dovey stuff and was trying to play it cool, and eventually we snapped and had that massive fight after Christmas.”

“Oh, that’s what that was about,” Yunho exclaimed. “We were so confused. Jongho was campaigning to lock you both in a closet until you made up just to see if that works like it does in the movies, and the hyung’s were probably only a day away from actually letting him do it.”

“Honestly, that might have worked,” San smiled ruefully. “I went to him on New Year’s because I didn’t want to start the new year like that, and we talked it through and kissed at midnight and talked some more, and then we started dating properly. And he helped me get to a point where I could tell all of you.”

“Good, I’m glad,” Yunho said softly. “And don’t be embarrassed about it, you were going through a lot. You feel secure with him now?”

“Yeah, once we talked it was totally fine. Just knowing that he wanted to date me exclusively and not just hook up fixed most of it, but he’s also been really good about meeting me half way with my love languages and things. He made us take the test and then, after I got words of affirmation as my main one, he kept this counter on his phone so he could make sure he was praising me a couple times each day. It was...kind of overboard, but I appreciated the effort.”

“Cute,” Yunho smiled. “Wait - what did you mean that at that point he was the only person you’d ever wanted to have sex with. Are you guys dating someone else that we don’t know about?”

San tensed.

“Not yet?”

Yet?!” Yunho exclaimed, sitting up and staring at San in shock.

“Noo, Yuyu, come back,” San protested, pulling the dancer back down. “It’s- look, I probably can’t say names without Wooyoung saying it’s okay, but he’s had feelings for someone for a while and then I started developing both sexual and romantic feelings for someone else recently someone else, and we didn’t know what to do, but then he was reading this BTS fanfiction and it all just snowballed-”

“Why am I not surprised,” Yunho interrupted dryly. “Wait- if a BTS fanfic is relevant, are any of these people our members?”

San inhaled sharply when he realized what he had just let slip and turned over to bury his head into Kuma’s soft fur.

“Woo is going to kill me,” he groaned. Yunho laughed and tugged San back into his arms.

“Don’t worry, it’s fine,” Yunho placated. “Anyways, it would be a bit hypocritical of me to judge.”

San looked up at Yunho with wide eyes.

“You also-”

“Yeah, kind of. It started with just one person for each of us - Hongjoong for me, and someone else for Mingi. But then other people sort of started coming up sometimes? I don’t want to speak for Mingi, but honestly….” Yunho paused and took a deep breath, breaking eye contact with San nervously. “I think I kind of would be open to all of the members? Mingi and I have been partners in crime forever, of course, but everyone’s so different and special in unique ways and I can’t imagine my life without any of you. I want to love and protect and spoil and laugh with all eight of us forever, together. I know that it’s not realistic, but-”

“The heart wants what it wants,” San finished quietly.

“Exactly.”

“Hey, we’re really perfect roommates, right?” San patted Yunho’s chest happily, cuddling in close. “Wooyoung will be in because he’s a devilish possessive bastard who wants nothing more than an excuse to attack all of us with kisses, so we just have to convince Mingi and then the four of us can seduce everyone else.”

“I’m not sure it’ll quite work like that, Sannie,” Yunho laughed. “The hyungs, and our Yeosangie and maknae, too, are a bit less open about feelings and relationships and things. We have no idea if they’d even be interested.”

“They’ll be interested,” San scoffed confidently. “It’s destiny. Eight makes one team and all.”

Yunho hummed noncommittally.

“Either way, I don’t think we should rush things. Let’s talk with Wooyoung and Mingi today and take some time to figure out our own dynamic, if they agree, okay?”

San pouted but nodded his assent.

“You really mean it, right Yuyu?” San asked tentatively.

“Yeah, I mean it,” Yunho confirmed. “I don’t think I’d have been able to say it to anyone else, though. You love all of us so openly I knew that you’d understand even if you didn’t feel the same way.”

“Aww,” San smiled up at him, reaching up to pat his hair approvingly. “Of course I understand. And, once we talk with the others, this will be so convenient. I’m not sure about sex yet but, since we’re roommates, we can make out all the time. No worrying about if someone’s gonna interrupt us, and-”

The door to their room burst open and both of them startled, sitting up in bed and squinting as the hallway light flooded into their room.

“Oh, thank god, you’re awake,” Hongjoong sighed in relief, slumping against the door. “Can you guys get ready a bit faster than normal today? Seonghwa and Jongho never came back last night. I swear, I almost had an aneurism when I saw their empty beds. Jongho texted saying they stayed at the company overnight, but I want to just go a bit early to check on them to make sure everything’s okay.

“Aren’t there hyungs at the company already who can make sure they’re in one piece?” Yunho asked curiously. “Why are you so worried?”

“Seonghwa had that look in his eyes — you know, the one he gets whenever he’s about to push himself too much because he doesn’t think he’s perfect enough or whatever nonsense he cooks up in that pretty head. I should never have left…” Hongjoong trailed off and shook his head. He tapped his knuckles on the door frame in parting and left to wake up the others, still muttering to himself.

Yunho and San exchanged confused looks.

“I guess we might as well go? I’m sure they were fine if they're together, but Hongjoong-hyung does seem kind of stressed.”

They got dressed and went to the kitchen, in which a shirtless Mingi was trying to placate an increasingly-frazzled Hongjoong while Yeosang sat calmly at the table spooning kimchi fried rice into his mouth.

“What’s going on?” San asked.

“Wooyoung’s taking a while to wake up, and hyung wants to leave,” Mingi explained.

“Hyung, why don’t you and Yeosang go ahead since you’re fully ready?” Yunho offered, looking significantly at Mingi. “The three of us can corral Wooyoung and come in the second car.”

“I have to go, too,” Mingi said apologetically. “I have some fresh clothes for our maknae, and I had promised yesterday that I’d help him with a trouble spot in this dance cover he’s practicing before our group practice.”

“Why’d he ask you?” Yunho wondered.

“I-I don’t know?” Mingi replied. “I mean, we were talking yesterday during break and he said he was having trouble so I offered to help and he agreed. Does it matter?”

“I guess not…” Yunho shook himself. “Anyways, the three of you can go and Sannie and I will follow with Wooyoung?”

“Thank you, Yunho-ah,” Hongjoong said fervently, looking a bit shamefaced at his own dramatics but still eager to get going.

Yunho and San helped the other three get out the door before cheerfully bursting into Wooyoung’s room, swinging their linked hands.

Wooyoung froze in the middle of stepping into his pants, eyeing the two of them suspiciously.

“Why do you two look like that?” He asked, waving his hands at the pair with a shudder. “All glinty-eyed and smiley. It’s creepy.”

“Well,” San said, exchanging an excited glance with Yunho. “We have an idea.”

Chapter Text

By the time they arrived at the company, Hongjoong had managed to calm himself down a bit. He knew that he was being a bit overdramatic, but he couldn’t help it. He and Seonghwa weren’t technically dating but he was almost overwhelmed with fondness for the elder at the moment, and the thought that Seonghwa might have spent all night picking himself apart when Hongjoong was sleeping calmly at home didn’t sit right with him. What type of boyfriend would he be if he was too work-absorbed to notice when his partner was stressed? And what type of hyung and leader was he to leave the care of his eldest member to their maknae? Jongho was mature beyond his years, of course, but he already bore more than enough weight for the group. Moreover, Jongho himself was sometimes inclined to get absorbed in dark, perfectionist moods when he was stressed about his vocals. If both members had been left vulnerable at the company overnight...well, Hongjoong didn’t want to think about what state they might be in this morning.

Hongjoong speed-walked down KQ’s corridors until he reached the open door of their practice room, coming to a surprised halt when the scene inside was completely different from the doomsday scenarios that had been running through his head. The two missing members were wrapped contentedly around one another on the floor, with Jongho sleepily resting his head against Seonghwa’s chest as they chatted lightly. Hongjoong stared at them, silently taking in the besotted look in their maknae’s eyes and the indulgent way Seonghwa listened to him. They were so absorbed in one another that they didn’t even notice Mingi, Yeosang, and Hongjoong had entered until Mingi cleared his throat loudly.

Jongho startled, then jumped up happily to greet his roommate. The two of them moved to the far corner of the room and started running through the maknae’s cover dance while the others stretched. Yeosang watched them curiously, eventually just heading over to join them. Hongjoong took the opportunity to move closer to Seonghwa and check in on him.

“Did you practice all night?” He asked Seonghwa, keeping his voice low.

“I probably would have,” Seonghwa admitted, “but Jongho came in and made me stop. I actually slept really well, even if we were a bit squished on the couch. I feel really good now.”

“Good,” Hongjoong managed to say, pushing down the voice in his head that said that he should have been the one to calm Seonghwa’s anxiety. He felt off, somehow, even though there was nothing wrong with what had happened. The members cuddled with one another all the time. Even if skinship was relatively rare from both Hongjoong and Jongho, it still happened and it wasn’t anything to make a big deal over. Hongjoong should be happy that Seonghwa had been able to rest, not...well, not whatever that bitter feeling twisting in his stomach was.

“Are you okay?” Seonghwa asked, frowning at Hongjoong’s tone. “Did you and Yeosangie sleep well?”

“Yeah,” Hongjoong smiled, heart lifting at the memories of last night. Yeosang really seemed dedicated to learning and it was thrilling to have such a passionate student looking up to him. He couldn't wait to see the masterpieces the younger would eventually produce.

“Good,” Seonghwa approved. “Now, will you help me stretch out my thighs? They’re really sore from practice.”

“Hm,” Hongjoong teased, firmly pushing away the last of his sour thoughts. “You can just ask if you want me a bit closer, you know.”

“What - that’s not - Kim Hongjoong,” Seonghwa spluttered, face flushing red. Hongjoong laughed happily and gently pushed Seonghwa into the first position of their standard partner stretch routine.

The rest of their members had arrived by the time they finished stretching, so they warmed up and settled in for a long day of practices with their backup dancers and production crew. By the time their last run-through was over, the sun was setting and their legs felt like jelly.

“What’s everyone’s plan for the rest of the night?” San asked from where he was starfished on the floor, still panting heavily.

“I was just going to go through my vocals for that cover I’ve been working on,” Yeosang offered.

“And we wanted to do a bit more dance practice,” Wooyoung motioned to San.

“Us too,” Yunho added, gesturing to Mingi.

“We did?” The rapper asked in surprise, looking over at Yunho and catching the tail end of a wink. “Oh, right, we did.”

“Jongho-ah and I are going out for meat,” Seonghwa announced happily, sharing a small smile with the maknae.

“Ooh hyung, can I come too?” Yunho pleaded. “I havne’t had meat in ages.”

“I’m pretty sure it’s been about two days, Yunho,” Seonghwa corrected dryly. “Anyways, this is a maknae-only treat. I promised last night.”

Hongjoong listened in silence, that familiar bitter feeling from earlier rising in his chest. It had flared up at inopportune points throughout the day, and the rapper was finally ready to admit that it might just be jealousy. Of course, knowing that didn’t make his emotions go away. Hongjoong didn’t even know what he was jealous of. He adored his maknae to bits, even if he wasn’t always the best at showing it.

“Why don’t the six of us stay here for an hour or two and then go home and have dinner together?” He suggested, hoping that burying himself in work and looking after his members would be a sufficient distraction. “None of us need to be staying too late tonight, we all did well.”

“You’re buying, right, hyung?” Wooyoung asked mischievously.

“Yes, you brat, I’ll buy,” Hongjoong sighed fondly. The ‘99 liners cheered and he smiled inwardly. As much as he complained about the resultant, not-insignificant dent in his bank account, he loved the feeling of providing for his members. He wasn’t always great at looking after them emotionally, but he did his best to protect and support them in every other way possible.

Seonghwa and Jongho peeled themselves off the ground first, clearly motivated at the prospect of meat after a long day of practice. Hongjoong and Yeosang followed soon after, walking together to the practice rooms before each claiming one for their individual work.

 

 

Mingi turned to face Wooyoung, San, and Yunho suspiciously as soon as the door closed behind Yeosang and Hongjoong.

“So, are we actually doing dance practice? Because I didn’t make a mistake all day.”

“You missed the beat in your solo not half an hour ago, Mingi-ah,” Yunho laughed.

“I haven’t made a mistake since the day I was born,” Mingi informed him archly.

Anyways,” San cut in quickly. “Yunho and I were talking this morning and we had a great plan, and Wooyoung agreed too. About the relationship stuff.”

Mingi frowned, trying to follow the jumbled sentence.

“What-?” he asked, turning to Yunho.

“Well, San confessed this morning that he and Wooyoung have thought about dating other members, as well. So I said that we had talked about it too, and the three of us decided that we should all date. First the four of us, and then we can slowly see if the rest of the members would be interested in joining us."

"What he means is that we're going to seduce them," Wooyoung summarized, winking salaciously.

“Come to the dark side, we have cookies!” San chimed in, giggling.

Mingi stilled. It was one thing for Yunho to gently tease him about his crushes on various other members, but it was another to actually be confronted with the real prospect of a relationship with them. Wooyoung, Yunho, and San were beautiful and charismatic and kind. Of course they would be able to seduce the other members. But Mingi...well, his famous confidence only stretched so far. He was skilled on stage, of course, but off of it he knew he was high-maintenence and clingy and, well, not exactly handsome. Yunho and he had been best friends for so long that it was a bit understandable why they worked together, but Mingi genuinely didn’t think that anyone else in the group was attracted to him and he didn’t want to just be the last piece that made a set complete. More disturbingly, the fact that they were even having this conversation meant that Wooyoung and San must know that Mingi had feelings for them and Mingi really wasn't ready to confront that reality so quickly.

The expectant smiles on Wooyoung, San, and Yunho’s face faded as the rapper remained silent, face stony even as his palms started to prickle with nerves. Yunho opened his mouth to speak but Mingi cut him off.

“What did you tell them?” he demanded, glaring at his boyfriend.

“Nothing private! I just said other people had been mentioned when we talked about crushes, and then I said that I would be interested in all of the members. I specifically said I couldn’t speak for you. But don't you want to?”

“No,” Mingi whispered, shaking his head and looking between the three of them desperately. “I - I can’t, no.” He backed up slowly, reaching for the door. Yunho frowned and stepped forward, reaching a hand out towards his boyfriend.

“Mingi, princess, what-” Mingi flinched at the nickname and turned around. He threw the door open and bolted out of it, leaving the three of them staring after him in frozen shock.

 

Mingi ran blindly down the hallways, not really sure where he was going. All he knew was that he needed to get away. His breaths started coming faster and faster, the world blurring around him even as his legs kept pumping. He skid around a corner, chest tight, and collided with another body that seemed to come out of nowhere. Someone’s hands gripped his arms painfully tight, preventing him from crashing to the ground, and he tried to focus on whoever was holding him up. His breaths were still coming in harsh pants and he couldn’t quite make out the words that the other person was saying, but he vaguely recognized the voice and scent.

It was Yeosang. A small knot in Mingi’s chest unraveled and he stopped trying to run away. Yeosang was safe. He was calm and beautiful and good and Mingi had never once felt pressured to be anything more than who he was in Yeosang’s presence. The world was still blurry around him and his heart was still beating too fast, but Mingi let the dancer pull him into a room somewhere and sit him down in a padded chair. Yeosang started talking, the words coming out slowly even though the tone was slightly tense. He was saying something about breathing, and - oh. Mingi hadn’t really been doing that enough, had he. He took one big, gasping breath and sighed in relief as the pressure in his chest loosened slightly. He kept breathing to the rhythm of Yeosang’s voice and, gradually, the world stopped spinning. Yeosang’s face came back into focus, somehow looking even more angelic than normal to Mingi’s scattered brain.

“You’re so pretty,” He breathed dazedly. He was met with resistance when he tried to lift one hand to trace the delicate curve of Yeosang’s jaw, and he looked down to find that he had subconsciously entwined their fingers together at some point. “Oh,” He muttered in surprise, starting to pull back.

“No, keep them there, it’s fine,” Yeosang assured, squeezing gently. “Just focus on your breathing, okay?”

“Yeah,” Mingi replied shakily, trying to mimic the steady rise and fall of the other’s chest. They were in one of the vocal rooms, he realized belatedly — the one that Yeosang tended to favor. It was small and safely confined, and Mingi slowly relaxed even further.

“What happened?” Yeosang asked once Mingi’s breath had calmed back down to a normal rhythm.

“I…I don’t think I can tell you,” Mingi sighed. He studied Yeosang’s face, catching the slight flicker of hurt, and impulsively pulled the dancer into his lap. “Don’t worry about it, Sangie, it was just my stupid insecurities. San and Wooyoung didn’t really know so it’s not their fault, but Yunho suggested something knowing how much it terrifies me and I panicked. It was sort of to do with our whole group, and I know that you all love me but I’m inevitably going to be left behind and-”

“We’re never leaving you behind, Mingi-yah” Yeosang interrupted fiercely, turning around in Mingi’s embrace to glare at him. “I don't know what this is about but you can't even joke about that. We practically fell apart during Wonderland without you. You should have seen the fights San had with the hyungs because he was in such a sulky mood, and Jongho was scarily quiet during practices.”

"I guess," Mingi smiled sadly, scooting them backwards so that he could lean against the wall.

“I don’t know if this helps,” Yeosang tried slowly, “but Maddox-hyung once told me to embrace your insecurities rather than trying to ignore them? Like instead of telling myself I was being stupid and just needed to get over my lack of confidence in my voice, I should be understanding with myself and focus on smaller goals. It really made a difference for me. I was trying so hard to control and ignore my insecurities that I just kept pushing myself into breakdowns and that ended up controlling me even more, you know?”

“Huh, that does make sense.” Mingi mused. He felt a sudden burst of overwhelming fondness for the dancer in his arms and squeezed him tightly. “You’re the best, Sang-ah.”

“Ah, yes, yes, definitely,” Yeosang nodded his head in joking agreement, nudging his shoulder back into Mingi’s affectionately.

Mingi smiled at the cutely awkward response and leaned his head against Yeosang’s shoulder. Maybe that idea could actually work for his own situation, he thought. He nodded in grim satisfaction to himself once he had come up with a suitable solution before temporarily pushing it to the side, letting himself just relax and enjoy cuddling with Yeosang for the moment.

Yeosang didn’t initiate much skinship with most of the members, but he did enjoy it. Mingi, for his part, loved nothing more than taking advantage of their height difference to wrap the elder in a giant bear hug. There was something so satisfying about the way Yeosang would inevitably melt into his embrace and let Mingi envelop him, even while steadfastly pretending to be completely unfazed by it. The two remained there for several minutes, content to just soak in one another’s presence until the silence was broken by the sound of Wooyoung calling Mingi’s name from the hallway. The rapper couldn’t help tensing and Yeosang glanced back at him worriedly.

“It’s okay,” Mingi assured him, purposefully unclenching his muscles. Yeosang frowned but the door opened before either of them could say anything and Wooyoung peered into the room.

“Oh, you’re both here,” he said in surprised relief. “Mingi, can I talk to you for a minute?”

Mingi took a deep breath before nodding. Yeosang pat his thigh in silent encouragement before getting to his feet and brushing off his clothes.

“I’ll see you two later,” Yeosang told them, moving towards the door. Wooyoung smiled at his best friend with hearts in his eyes, snagging him by the waist and pulling him in for a quick cheek kiss before pushing him away again. Yeosang rolled his eyes dramatically but he couldn’t control the happy flush that covered his cheeks as he walked out the door.

 

Wooyoung turned back to Mingi once they were alone, and the rapper held up a hand.

“Before you say anything, I changed my mind. Kind of. I don’t mind you guys going ahead with your plan — you and Sannie dating Yunho, and eventually the rest of the group, too. Just leave me out of it, okay? I’m not going to try to seduce them or anything.”

“But that wasn’t the plan,” Wooyoung protested in frustration. “Why don’t you want to? Yunho thought you were going to react positively, so you must have indicated some openness to the idea before.”

“I just don’t want to,” Mingi said tightly. “Anyways, you’ll have an easier time just doing it by yourselves. I’m not good at the whole wooing thing, I’m too straightforward.”

“You’d be great at the ‘wooing thing,’” Wooyoung vowed. “You’re handsome, Mingi-ah, I’d totally date you if you'd let me.”

Mingi groaned, sinking to the ground and burying his face in his hands.

“Can you please stop lying to me,” he bit out painfully. “I get that you guys just want to make me feel loved and I appreciate that, I do, but it doesn’t actually help when you pretend like this. It just reinforces what I already know. Compliment me on my fashion sense or a particular part of my rap you like, or something concrete but don’t say things you don’t mean. Even if I’m sensitive, I’m not so immature that I can’t take being last in some things. I know intellectually that I’m a good dancer and I contribute to the group. Saying that you find me super handsome and would date me just reminds me of everything I’m not and I can’t...I just can’t, Woo-ah.”

“Ugh I can’t believe you’re making me do this,” Wooyoung groaned, double-checking the empty room for witnesses before crouching down next to Mingi. “I got off to one of your concept photos last year.”

“What?” Mingi yelped, falling back in surprise.

“I said what I said,” Wooyoung replied firmly. "And, in the spirit of full disclosure, I did it to the sound of your growl once, too."

“You - but - what growl?”

“You were fooling around rapping and started doing this deep, husky growl thing, and-” Wooyoung cut off, blushing fiercely. “Look, Mingi, Yeosangie and Seonghwa-hyung are the prettiest people I’ve ever seen and no one’s going to change my mind on that. But my attraction for you isn’t just something I’m making up. You’re so handsome that it hurts to look at you sometimes, and I’ve wanted you for longer than I care to admit — longer even than I’ve wanted some of the others. In terms of coolness, no one can match you except Hongjoongie-hyung. I love your shameless confidence and the way you dance, the raps you write are brilliant-”

“I know that” Mingi interrupted hurriedly, floundering under the barrage of compliments. Wooyoung giggled and launched himself at Mingi, sending them both crashing fully to the ground.

“So you’ll let me date you?” he asked, nuzzling into Mingi’s neck.

“I’m not going to try to seduce everyone,” Mingi reiterated. “You can’t change my mind on that.”

“I’m not trying to,” Wooyoung said patiently. “I’m just trying to change your mind about me. Let me date you?” The rapper sighed.

“We can explore things slowly, Young-ah,” he conceded. “Very slowly. And I really mean it about the rest of the group.”

“Perfect,” Wooyoung beamed, jumping up and reaching out his hands to pull Mingi to his feet as well. “I’m the best at boyfriending, you’ll see.”

“We’re not boyfriending,” Mingi grumbled, linking hands with Wooyoung nevertheless.

“Well, I’m the best at non-boyfriending, too,” Wooyoung adjusted smoothly, swinging their hands together. “I’ll non-boyfriend you right to the altar.”

“Wooyoung!”

Chapter Text

“Yunho, stop, this isn’t helping,” Mingi said firmly. Yunho flinched back as though he had been stung, and Mingi sighed. From the moment he and Wooyoung entered the room he had run out of earlier, Yunho had been all over him repeatedly asking if Mingi was okay without giving him time to respond. He seemed contrite, but the panicked undertone in his voice was just making Mingi’s heart rate ratchet up again. “Look, I don’t know exactly why I reacted so violently, but...you knew that this is something I’m insecure about and encouraged it anyways.”

“I thought that you were just worried they wouldn’t express interest in return,” Yunho explained slowly, watching Mingi with unusual trepidation. “But that’s not it, is it? I promise Mingi-ah, I never meant to make you uncomfortable. I honestly thought it would make you happy that they're open to the idea.”

“I wish I could just be happy with it,” Mingi said bluntly. He glanced at San and Wooyoung out of the corner of his eye and groaned inwardly. He and Yunho hadn’t had a serious fight since they started dating, and had certainly never fought in front of the others. After the long day of practice and his breakdown, he was just too mentally exhausted to stretch this out further. He wasn’t really mad anymore, anyways, just… tired. “I’m not that mad, Yunho. It was just too much. At any other time it wouldn’t even have been a big deal, even if I was upset about it, so there’s no way you could have predicted what happened.”

“I guess,” Yunho frowned uncertainly, clearly wanting more of an explanation but hesitant to push. “I’m still sorry, though. So you don’t want us to do the plan, right?”

“You guys can go ahead with it,” Mingi answered. “But I’m not going to date anyone.”

“Except for me,” Wooyoung interrupted smugly.

“Except for slowly exploring things with Wooyoung,” Mingi corrected.

“What about me,” San pouted.

“He doesn’t think we actually find him handsome,” Wooyoung whispered loudly. “You have to convince him otherwise.”

“Of course he’s handsome!” San exclaimed, looking offended at the very idea. “Just last week-”

“Don’t tell me you thought of me too when you- ” Mingi finished with a crude hand gesture and Wooyoung collapsed into giggles, leaning heavily on the rapper to hold himself up.

“That wasn’t what I was going to say!” San yelped, face reddening rapidly.

“You're not denying it,” Yunho pointed out, laughing.

Just last week,” San repeated, glaring at Yunho and Wooyoung in a futile attempt to silence their snickering. “My eomma asked me what your parents fed you to make you grow up so strong and handsome. And I said that they fed you well, but you’re handsome because you’re Mingi and not even society's meaningless definition of so-called ‘perfect’ visuals can match that. So can we please date too? I’ve had a crush on you since back when I first arrived and you used to help me so much with dance — it’s not just a new thing because you debuted with us or anything, I promise.”

Mingi stared at him, determinedly not thinking about the implications of the non-denial, and looked to Yunho helplessly.

“You should do whatever you’re comfortable with,” Yunho advised gently, not wanting to repeat his earlier mistake. “We all love you, no one’s going to be upset either way. But… they like you a lot and, so long as you like them too, it makes sense to at least explore it, right?”

It did make sense, which was part of the problem. Mingi had no idea why he was so nervous at the thought of dating San and Wooyoung. He hadn’t even realized the depth of his insecurities until he had been confronted with them today, but all of the evidence suggested that they did return his feelings. San and Wooyoung loved to tease the members, of course, but they would never play around with something so serious that he had literally run away from it.

For all that Mingi loved the creative grandiosity of performing and songwriting, at the end of the day he was a logical person. He liked numbers and beats and things that had a clear answer. He didn’t want to be ruled by his nerves when there wasn’t any clear reason for them, but Yeosang’s words from earlier were still on his mind and he didn’t want to push himself into yet another breakdown by ignoring his insecurities, either.

“We can try, San-ah,” he decided. “Like I told Wooyoung — we can move forward gradually, but I really don’t want to try seducing the others. I can’t do that. I- I do like everyone, probably more than even Yunho knows, to be honest, but I’m not ready to dive into a massive relationship like that.” Or face the inevitable rejection that would come with it, he thought to himself.

“And no one will make you,” Yunho vowed firmly, glaring at San and Wooyoung and wrapping a supportive arm around Mingi’s waist. “Can we go home now? I want to cuddle before dinner.”

“Yeah, okay,” Mingi laughed, tension slowly leaking out of his frame. “You can tone down the protective boyfriend act, though, Yunho. It’s not like they want to hurt me and I’m more than capable of keeping them in check.”

“You three go,” Wooyoung urged, holding back a smile at the way Yunho deflated immediately. “I’m gonna go help Yeosang. He was kind of nervous about this cover, so I want to make sure he’s feeling good about it before he leaves tonight otherwise he won’t sleep well.”

“I’ll cuddle them extra to make up for it,” San declared, pushing Mingi and Yunho towards the door. “Give Sangie lots of compliments for us!”

 

 

Mingi, San, and Yunho came home in time to enjoy a solid two hours of cuddling before Wooyoung managed to drag Hongjoong and Yeosang out of their respective studios so that they could all enjoy dinner together courtesy of their leader's wallet.

Seonghwa and Jongho didn't return to the apartment until long after the other six members had finished eating and dispersed — Hongjoong to his spot on the couch to work, Yunho and Mingi to Mingi's room for more cuddles, and Yeosang, San, and Wooyoung to San's bed to continue the drama they were currently watching. Hongjoong looked up from his laptop as his eldest and youngest members entered the living room, eyes sparkling and cheeks still flushed from the cold.

“Hyung, you have to try that restaurant,” Jongho enthused. He detached his hand from Seonghwa’s to come snuggle up to Hongjoong, evidently in one of his rare clingy moods. “Their portions were generous, the food was delicious, and the plating was so pretty.”

“It was really good,” Seonghwa confirmed. “But not quite as good as the pictures Jongho took of me while we were out.” Jongho blushed cutely and the jealous feelings that Hongjoong thought he had dealt with that morning came rushing back in full force.

“D’you wanna see them, hyung?” Jongho asked hopefully, pulling up the camera roll on his phone.

“Of course,” the rapper responded, taking the offered phone and starting to scroll.

"I'm gonna go shower while you two do that," Seonghwa decided, patting them both on the shoulder before heading towards his room.

Hongjoong murmured an acknowledgement absently, already completely absorbed in the photos. As he had expected, they were stunning. Seonghwa was an easy subject, of course, because he was just so pretty, but the photos Jongho had taken went far beyond aesthetic beauty. Seonghwa looked both delicate and powerful, his innate gracefulness displayed in every line of his body. One could almost say he looked fragile, but the determined set of his shoulders and sharp glint in his eyes hinted at an inner strength. In one picture his head was thrown back in laughter, in another he looked to be scolding the photographer, in yet another he was staring in wonder at a shop window. Hongjoong clicked through the photos twice before coming to a pause at the last one, staring down at it for a long moment.

The lighting was poor and the angle slightly off, but there was something about it that was magnetic despite the lower quality. It had been taken outside the internet cafe a block away from their apartment, probably as the two walked back from their dinner. Seonghwa was looking away from the camera, the hint of a smile playing at his lips as he watched a puppy gamboling down the opposite sidewalk. His mask was just visible swinging from one hand — even though it really should have been on his face while they were still in public, Hongjoong thought absently — and his other arm was stretched back towards the camera, fingers laced tightly with Jongho’s in the bottom left corner of the frame. Seonghwa just seemed so alive in the picture, relaxed and happy and nostalgic and confident all at the same time. Jongho had a real talent for capturing all of the dimensions of his subjects exactly as he viewed them, Hongjoong realized as he studied the screen, and this was a photo etched in love.

“These are amazing photos, Jongho-ah,” Hongjoong told him, belatedly realizing that the maknae was still waiting for his feedback. “I like them better than even the ones from our photoshoots.”

“Ah, they’re not as good as all that,” Jongho demurred, blushing proudly nevertheless at the praise.

“I’m not exaggerating,” Hongjoong said seriously. “Of course I’m sure you’ll only get better as you practice, but those professional photos always show Seonghwa of Ateez, you know? These are just… Seonghwa, and they’re all the more beautiful for that.”

“Thank you, hyung,” Jongho mumbled quietly, taking the phone back and looking down at the last picture again. “They’d be better with a proper camera, of course, and I still have a lot to learn, but I do think these came out well.”

“Of course they did,” Hongjoong encouraged, squeezing Jongho’s shoulder as he stood up. “I’m gonna get ready for bed now since I have an early producing meeting, but why don’t you send a couple to Seonghwa’s mom? I’m sure she’d love to see them.”

“Okay, hyung,” Jongho agreed happily. “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Jongho-ah.”

Hongjoong entered his room and got ready for bed on autopilot, mind spinning as he thought over the events of the past day. Jongho was definitely in love with Seonghwa, and probably had been for a while, judging by the gently resigned way he had looked down at those photos. Seonghwa seemed oblivious, but he had also been talking about their maknae with increased fondness and respect recently. It was likely only a matter of time before his feelings developed into something more serious, whether he realized it or not. So where did that leave Hongjoong?

 

 

Practice the next day was...strange, to say the least. Yunho, San, and Wooyoung were practically fawning over Mingi and showered him in praise every time the group stopped for a break, much to the rapper’s embarrassment. Hongjoong seemed off, but no one could quite figure out why. Seonghwa and Eden had each, separately, pulled him aside in the morning to figure out what was going on, but both had been brushed off with vague excuses of work being stressful. Between his worry over Hongjoong and the way Mingi kept trying to hide behind him to evade Yunho, San, and Wooyoung, Seonghwa was frazzled and preoccupied the whole day. Jongho, who hated being left out of things at the best of times and had already been feeling a bit vulnerable about his relationships with the rest of the group, grew progressively more sullen and withdrawn as the hours wore on.

Yeosang watched the resultant mess in disapproval. He really was the only normal member of the group, wasn’t he? Hongjoong would never confide in one of his dongsaengs as long as they were at work and his leader hat was on, so Yeosang left that issue to the hyungs. Yeosang actually usually prided himself on his ability to surreptitiously dictate the flow of the pure chaos that was the 99z — a sneaky suggestion of a prank or whispered in San or Wooyoung’s ear, or a pleading look towards Mingi or Yunho, typically caused immediate drama that he could sit back and enjoy. He wasn’t in a particularly playful mood today, though, and Mingi had seemed in dire need of an ego boost when he ran into Yeosang yesterday, so it was probably better to just keep an eye on them from afar to make sure they weren't stressing the hyungs out too much. That just left Jongho and his pouting for Yeosang to deal with.

“Hey, maknae,” Yeosang called during their next break. “Will you stay back with me after practice for a while?”

“Hm, will you pay me?” Jongho bargained playfully, brightening at the prospect of 'earning' free money.

“I’ll buy you dinner,” Yeosang proposed. “Only from downstairs, though. And it’s gonna be fun, I promise.”

“What are we doing?” Jongho asked, curiosity peaked.

“You’ll just have to wait and see,” Yeosang teased. He didn’t actually have a plan yet, but he'd be able to come up with something by the end of practice. Probably. Moreover, Jongho loved secrets and would hopefully be distracted enough by the idea of one that he would forget to be sulky with the others.

Predictably, Jongho spent the rest of practice happily chasing Yeosang around the room and making increasingly ridiculous guesses as to what they could be doing at work that would be fun.

“Hyung, what are we doing?” Jongho repeated for the millionth time after practice was over and he and Yeosang were eating their convenience-store dinner on the floor of their practice room.

“Practicing English,” Yeosang announced happily. Predictably, Jongho groaned.

“You said it was going to be fun, hyung,” he whined.

“Let me rephrase,” Yeosang said smugly. “We’re going to be ‘practicing’ English.”

“What does that mean?” Jongho asked curiously.

“Well, you know how the recording studio has that projector? I figured we could have a movie night for just the two of us in there. The sound system is way better than the one at home and we won’t get interrupted. So you can pick the movies without anyone arguing and I’ll grab some blankets from closet. Just pick some that are in English so if anyone asks we’re ‘studying’ and not just using Edenary’s office for fun.”

“Really?” Jongho looked up at him with hopeful, shining eyes and Yeosang all but melted with fondness. It had really been too long since they had spent proper time together if this was the reaction a simple movie night got.

“Really. Pick out anything you want, okay? I won’t complain.”

 

****************************************

 

Hongjoong’s weird mood had continued all through dinner, despite the combined efforts of Yunho, Mingi, San, Wooyoung and Seonghwa, and the latter was getting a bit worried. Hongjoong always got more energetic and playful when he was stressed about songwriting, to an almost disturbing extent, whereas the current broodiness he was exhibiting tended to be a sign of something personal going on. He picked at his food, answering their questions politely but otherwise not contributing to the conversation until dinner had ended and he asked Seonghwa to help him with the guide for a song he was working on.

Seonghwa agreed readily, following the rapper into their shared room. He remained quiet through the process since it seemed that Hongjoong wasn’t in the mood for aimless chatter. He noted gratefully that the tension in his leader’s shoulders seemed to fade with every note that he sang, and he smiled inwardly at the unspoken praise. By the time they had finished the song, Hongjoong seemed almost back to normal. His body was relaxed, although there was still a hint of despair in his eyes.

“You know, yesterday,” Hongjoong started unexpectedly as he was double-checking that the new recordings were saved properly.

“Yeah?”

“I was watching Jongho with you, and I think he has a bit of a crush.” Seonghwa stared at the back of Hongjoong’s head, mystified.

“What?”

“I think he has a crush on you. It’s pretty obvious, in retrospect, actually.”

“...okay?” Seonghwa didn’t agree, but Hongjoong’s tone was odd and it didn’t seem like an appropriate time for a debate on the subject.

“I’m trying to say that you should go for it,” Hongjoong said, finally clicking out of the program and turning to face the elder. “As long as you guys are discreet in the beginning, at least, and talk with the others about it once you’re comfortable, it shouldn’t be a problem.”

“But...I thought,” Seonghwa trailed off, feeling like he was hearing things under water. “Wouldn’t it bother you?”

“No, why would it bother me?” Hongjoong asked, quirking one eyebrow. Seonghwa stared at him, waiting for an explanation that never came. They weren’t technically dating yet, sure, but Seonghwa had said he’d wait for Hongjoong and he’d meant it. They’d all but confessed to being in love with one another less than a week ago, so shouldn’t the thought of Seonghwa dating someone else bother the rapper at least a little bit, even if it was Jongho? Unless that post-concert confession had been driven by adrenaline rather than genuine feelings...

Hongjoong met his gaze evenly, eyes unfathomable, as though the conversation and kiss after their concert had never even happened. So this is what it feels like to have your heart shattered, Seonghwa thought numbly as the silence stretched between them. The world tilted dangerously around him as the rosy haze Seonghwa had been floating on for the past five days dissipated, leaving nothing but pain and loss in its wake. Hongjoong was still looking at him with that awful, expressionless face so he pulled the last threads of his composure together and stood up, face impassive even as his stomach rolled.

“You didn’t need anything else for the guide, right?”

“Nope, I think we got it all,” Hongjoong replied, turning to his computer again and opening up another track.

“Great,” Seonghwa said blankly, staring at his back. “I’ll head to bed, then.” He got up and made his way out of the room without waiting for a response and went straight to Wooyoung and Yeosang’s room, the one furthest away from the room he shared with Hongjoong. Yeosang was still out with Jongho, but Wooyoung and San were curled together in bed watching something on San’s phone.

Seonghwa didn’t bother with a greeting, just crawled on top of them and collapsed into tears.

“Hyung? What happened?” San asked, automatically pushing his phone away and wrapping his arms around the elder. “I thought you were recording with Hongjoong?” Seonghwa flinched at the name, gasping in between gut-wrenching sobs as though he was being torn apart, and Wooyoung’s face hardened.

“What did he do,” He asked coldly, starting to get up from the bed. “I’ll kill him, I swear,”

“No, no no,” Seonghwa protested hastily through his tears, reaching up to pull Wooyoung back down. “Don’t do that.”

“He must have done something, you don’t cry like that for no reason,” San pointed out.

“He didn’t do anything,” Seonghwa said, unable to keep the tinge of bitterness from his voice. “It’s not his fault,” he added more quietly.

After all, it wasn’t Hongjoong’s fault if he didn’t have feelings for Seonghwa any longer, or if he had just been caught up in his artistic expression when writing Thank U and had felt obligated to go along with things when Seonghwa had asked about dating. He had hesitated at the time and tried to explain that it wasn't practical. Seonghwa couldn’t really be mad about it — tonight had probably just been Hongjoong’s way of letting him down gently. No, Seonghwa didn’t blame Hongjoong at all, but that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt. From the moment they had met Hongjoong had shone like the brightest star, and for a couple blissful days Seonghwa had really thought they might have a chance together.

San tightened his arms, stroking his hyung’s hair gently with one hand and exchanging a worried glance with Wooyoung. They had never seen Seonghwa like this before. Seonghwa was a bit sensitive and the members had all seen him cry several times, but those were usually relatively quiet tears that dried quickly. These were completely different, and San and Wooyoung were honestly a bit scared. They comforted their hyung as best as they could, murmuring soothing praises and pressing gentle kisses to the top of his head until his shoulders stopped shaking and he melted into their embrace properly.

“Hyung, do you want to sleep in here with me tonight?” Wooyoung asked after a while had passed.

“Is that okay?” Seonghwa asked, lifting his head hopefully.

“Of course,” Wooyoung said easily. “You know I always love my Hwa-hyung cuddles.”

“No fair,” San complained. “I want that too!” Wooyoung rolled his eyes.

“There are literally five other people in this dorm you could cuddle with, Sannie.” San pouted and Seonghwa frowned, not wanting to be the cause of another Woosan fight.

“Don’t sulk, Sannie," Wooyoung scolded quickly, noting the sudden tension. "This room is further away from theirs and my lower bunk is better for sharing than your top bunk, anyways. Just go sleep with Mingi or Yunho-ah, instead.” San brightened a bit at the thought of one-on-one cuddles with Mingi. He needed all the time he could get to convince the rapper to date him properly, after all.

“Fine, I’ll go to Mingi,” He said, keeping a hint of dissatisfaction in his tone on principle. He dropped one last, gentle kiss to Seonghwa’s cheek and squeezed him tightly. “You’ll be okay, right, hyung?” Seonghwa smiled sadly at him.

“I’ll be fine, Sannie, go to sleep and don’t worry about me, okay?”

 

****************************************

 

As soon as Seonghwa left the room, Hongjoong let his mask of indifference fall. He stumbled up to close the door and leaned against it heavily, burying his face in his hands. He knew it was the right thing to do, but it still hurt like hell to push Seonghwa away. Hongjoong had thought from the beginning that he wouldn’t be half the boyfriend that Seonghwa deserved, but he hadn’t considered the possibility that Seonghwa might be missing out on something better by waiting for Hongjoong. Given the non-stop schedules and public attention that came with being an idol, they almost never met people outside of their company for long enough to build the type of connection and trust necessary to justify a romantic relationship. Knowing that Seonghwa would never risk his career for someone he didn’t know well (and somehow completely forgetting the existence of their dancer hyungs, staff, and the other members), Hongjoong had just assumed that there weren’t any alternative options available to him.

Seeing Jongho’s photos last night had wiped away the naive illusion he had constructed and made Hongjoong realize just how selfish it was of him to ask Seonghwa to wait for a year just for the dubious reward of dating him. At least it’s Jongho, Hongjoong told himself firmly. For all that their maknae could be a bit impetuous and attention-seeking at times, he was mature beyond his years and absolutely worshipped his eldest hyung. He would be someone reliable and safe for Seonghwa to lean on when needed, and he had a knack for getting Seonghwa to lighten up when the elder was taking himself too seriously. Seonghwa clearly yearned for someone to shower with love and Jongho would welcome him with open arms, unlike Hongjoong who always ended up reflexively lashing out at any sign of affection. Jongho could be trusted, and Hongjoong could go back to burying himself in work secure with the knowledge that Seonghwa was being looked after.

Hongjoong smiled ruefully to himself and pulled himself up from the floor. He took one last deep breath, firmly locking down his feelings before gathering his things for yet another long night in the studio.

Chapter Text

When a full day passed without the hyungs exchanging a single non-work-related word, the rest of the members started to get a bit unnerved. Seonghwa and Hongjoong rarely fought outright, and when they did they had always solved the issue between themselves within a day. Moreover, their fights were usually a bit more...active. They would snipe at one another when they thought the others weren’t listening, complaining about various small gripes until what was really bothering them came out and they talked it through. This time, though, was completely different. Hongjoong kept glancing longingly at Seonghwa before catching himself and practically flinching away, seemingly scared of the elder. Seonghwa, on the other hand, was apparently determined to pretend that their leader was a stranger that just ceased to exist as soon as work was over. The two were almost scarily professional during work hours, to the point that it took their dance instructors a full day to realize that the tension in the room wasn’t due to just normal stressors.

The night after the presumed fight, the remaining six members took advantage of their eldest hyung’s penchant for long showers to hold an impromptu meeting in Jongho and Mingi’s room. It didn’t take long for the meeting to devolve into a heated argument, of course — Wooyoung and San had been shaken by their hyungs tears and firmly believed the blame lay squarely on Hongjoong, whereas Yunho and Yeosang didn't believe Hongjoong had it in him to hurt Seonghwa like that. Jongho and Mingi sat somewhere in the middle, and tried to mediate the two sides with limited success. Eventually they decided to give the hyungs six more days to get their act together in the hopes that they wouldn't have to intervene. The group had a break coming up in just over a week, and none of them wanted the issue hanging over their heads while they were with their families.

The rest of the week passed slowly. Hongjoong returned to the dorm exactly once to grab extra clothes while Seonghwa was in an extra dance lesson, but otherwise spent all of his offtime at the producing studio. Seonghwa, on the other hand, steadily went through the motions of his usual routine as though he was a robot. He cooked, cleaned, monitored, and watched dramas with the other members, all the while with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. The staff side-eyed them and were extra kind to the entire group, but seemed to collectively decide to hold back on getting involved as long as it wasn’t interfering with work.

When nothing had changed by the end of the allotted time, the six younger members again convened during Seonghwa’s evening shower.

“We need to call a full team meeting,” Jongho stated decisively. “I begged Hongjoong-hyung to sleep in his own bed at least once and he promised he’d leave the studio after he finished the song he’s working on, so I think tomorrow morning is best. We have a couple hours off in the morning before our last dance practice.”

“I guess so,” Yunho agreed reluctantly. “It’s so awkward for us to call it though. Why do they have to be like this.”

“They’re emotionally constipated fools,” Yeosang answered flatly. “And I, for one, am over it. Just say you love each other and get over it. They’ve been dancing around one another for literal years already. If you’re lucky enough to have someone you trust love you back, you shouldn’t waste time apart.”

“It’s not that easy, though,” Wooyoung objected. “Especially given our circumstances, I’m sure Hongjoongie-hyung’s just trying to look out for the group. He always puts us before himself, you know that.”

“What happened to ‘I’m going to murder that stupid leader for daring to touch a hair on my pretty Hwa’s head,’” Yeosang asked disbelievingly. “Kind of a dramatic turnaround.”

“Well, maybe I realized I can relate to him more than I thought,” Wooyoung replied defensively. “Not everyone can just-”

“Alright!” San interjected, looking between Yeosang and Wooyoung nervously. “I think we should remember that we don’t actually know exactly what happened. Hongjoong does seem to be acting guilty but, as Wooyoung pointed out, he’s definitely been known to have a bit of a martyr complex. So let’s just hold off judgement until tomorrow, okay?”

“Fine,” Wooyoung and Yeosang muttered in tandem, avoiding eye contact.

“Hug one another,” Jongho demanded, tugging at Wooyoung’s sleeve. “I don’t like this atmosphere.” They rolled their eyes but hugged one another quickly, unable to deny their maknae anything. He always hated it when any of them fought and, no matter how mad they were at one another, they usually at least put on a front for his sake. Jongho frowned at them, clearly not satisfied, but Mingi squeezed his hand gently and shook his head.

“Yunho can call the meeting because he’s the oldest,” the rapper decided mischievously, hoping to redirect the conversation.

“Perfect,” Yeosang agreed, standing up and pulling the maknae up along with him. “C’mon, you promised you’d help me stretch before bed.” Jongho looked a bit confused at the abrupt end of the meeting, but followed his hyung obediently out of the door.

“Wooyoung,” Yunho started, "What was that with Yeosang just now? Why would-"

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Wooyoung interrupted. “The more important question is when we’re telling the others about our relationship. Sannie and I had made a pact after our concert that we would do it before break started, but with everything that’s happened since…”

“We’re going to Jeju with Seonghwa-hyung, though,” San pointed out. “Both of our families know, there’s no way we can keep it a secret the whole time.”

“Why don’t you two just tell him about your relationship alone during break, and then we can tell everyone the rest of it right before Spain?” Mingi suggested reasonably.

“I’m just not sure we should drop this type of a bomb when the hyungs are fighting,” Yunho mused. “I didn’t want to tell them in the first place because I don't want Hongjoong-hyung to have to choose between leader and hyung duties. He’s already pulled in so many different directions, it’s only going to add stress into his life. Seonghwa-hyung is no better — he has very strict ideas about our success but also tries to shield us from the world and I have no idea how he'd try to reconcile those two sides in this situation.”

“And what if they don’t approve,” San whispered tentatively. “What are we supposed to do then?”

“So what?” Mingi asked defiantly, draping himself over San in a protective back-hug. “Hongjoong-hyung always said to dream big, so I’m not letting go of you guys unless you make me.”

“Cute,” Wooyoung smiled fondly, leaning up on his tiptoes to kiss Mingi’s cheek approvingly. “Let’s just go to sleep and figure it out tomorrow. If things go well, maybe tomorrow night…”

“I guess,” Yunho agreed uneasily. “Why do today what we can do tomorrow, right?”

“That’s...not very reassuring, but okay,” Mingi agreed. He dropped a quick kiss on each of their lips, cheeks reddening rapidly as he steadfastly ignored the stunned looks on Wooyoung and San’s faces, and pushed all three of them out of his room with a bashfully hurried ‘goodnight.’

Wooyoung and San exchanged giddy smiles and Yunho laughed, rolling his eyes at them. Wooyoung kissed them both goodbye outside their room and took a deep breath before continuing to his own. He and Yeosang had only had one true fight during all their years of friendship, and their current tension didn’t sit well with him. The dancer was already in bed so Wooyoung changed quietly, trying to figure out what to say.

“Yeosang,” he started once the lights were off.

“I’m sorry,” Yeosang interrupted quickly, before he could continue.

“I’m sorry, too,” Wooyoung replied instantly. There was a slight pause.

“You just feel so far away, sometimes,” Yeosang blurted out. Wooyoung’s heart clenched and he started to get out of bed.

“Let’s sleep together tonight,” he proposed. “Like old times.”

“You know I don’t like sharing beds,” Yeosang refused gently.

Wooyoung froze, then slowly slipped back between his covers. There was a long, awkward silence.

“I love you,” Wooyoung said quietly, holding his breath as he waited for Yeosang’s reply.

“I love you, too,” Yeosang answered eventually, equally softly. “Get some rest, Young-ah.”

 

 

 

“HYUNG!!!!”

Mingi woke up to the piercing screech and he sat up frantically, wincing as his head hit the bottom of the bunk above him. The bed frame shook as Jongho practically slid down the ladder from his bunk in an apparent hurry to evacuate the area.

“Wha’s going on?” Mingi mumbled blearily, looking around the still-dark room for the cause of the disturbance. The door flung open and light from the hallway poured in, along with the other six members in various states of sleepiness and undress.

Jongho leapt into the arms of the closest member — San — and pointed back to his bed with one shaky hand.

“There’s a spider!” San startled and jumped backwards, crashing into the rest of the members huddled in the doorway and causing a brief scuffle.

“Why did you call us then?” Wooyoung demanded once he regained his balance, holding onto San protectively and glancing at Jongho’s bunk suspiciously.

“I just said hyung!” Jongho protested, burrowing further into San’s arms defiantly. “Maybe, to prevent confusion next time, I should just stop calling you hyung at all? What do you think, Wooyoungie?”

“I think you’re just asking for a spanking, maknae,” Wooyoung replied darkly.

“Oh my god stop bringing up spankings!” Seonghwa complained. “You do it on camera literally all the time, do you have any idea how many theories you've spawned?”

“That’s the fun of it, though,” Wooyoung whined.

“Will one of you kill the spider so we can all go back to sleep please?” Hongjoong interrupted from the relative safety of the hallway, his leader genes clearly the only thing keeping him from bolting back to his spider-free room.

Seonghwa flinched at the sound of his voice, evidently not having realized that the rapper was standing behind him, and came further into the room to stand next to Yeosang.

“Yunho-ah can do it,” San decided with an admiring look up at the dancer. “He’s not afraid of anything.”

“Don’t kill the spider, though,” Yeosang requested quietly. “It shouldn’t die just for existing.”

The seven members turned to stare at him, torn between exasperation and adoration.

“Alright,” Yunho sighed. “Can I have a cup and a piece of paper, then? I can just capture it and put it outside our door or something.”

Jongho handed him an extra mug and card from his desk, watching with bated breath as Yunho carefully captured the spider. The other members gave him a wide berth as he took it out to their front door, Yeosang going ahead to open the necessary doors.

“Do you think there’s still spider juice on the wall?” Jongho asked tentatively, leaning forwards gingerly to peer at the spot on the wall where he had seen the spider last.

“So cute,” Mingi muttered, smiling at the way Jongho seemed unwilling to move any closer to the bed. “Just sleep with me instead, Jongho-ah.”

“That’s not far enough away, though, hyung,” Jongho argued doubtfully.

“Sleep with Yunho instead, then,” San suggested. Jongho looked at the door hesitantly.

“I don’t know if he’d be comfortable with that...”

“What’s going on?” Yunho asked, re-entering the room with Yeosang in tow.

“Can the maknae sleep with you?” Mingi requested, seeing that Jongho wouldn’t ask by himself. “He’s scared there’s ‘spider juice’ near his bed.”

“Hyung!” Jongho hissed, flushing.

“Of course, Jongho-ah,” Yunho agreed easily, wrapping an arm around him. “C’mon.”

Jongho followed reluctantly, watching as Yunho climbed into bed and gingerly sliding into the dancers open arms when prompted. Yunho wrapped his limbs around Jongho’s smaller form loosely, practically hiding him from view like a turtle in its shell.

“See?” He said comfortingly. “No spiders allowed.”

Jongho huffed a laugh and slowly untensed his muscles. This was fine, right? He didn’t usually like this type of skinship but he couldn’t deny that it made him feel a bit safer. Any bugs would have to go through Yunho first before getting to him, and his hyung would never let that happen. He pressed back a bit more against Yunho’s broad chest and closed his eyes contentedly.

“Cute,” San cooed from the door, pulling out his phone to take a picture. Jongho opened his eyes again, having completely forgotten that San slept in this room too, and lifted his head slightly to squint at his hyung from between Yunho’s arms. San snapped another picture and Jongho retreated immediately.

“Just go to sleep,” Yunho pleaded, not bothering to open his eyes. San grinned victoriously and quickly sent the two pictures to the Ateez group chat before turning out the lights and slipping easily into sleep.

 

 

The members woke up slowly the next morning, exhausted from the emotional turmoil of the past week and their interrupted sleep from the night before. Jongho and Yunho were the last up, both dreaming deeply until San eventually came in to drag them up.

“I don’t want to,” Yunho groaned, flopping back against the bed and playfully wrestling Jongho back under the covers when the maknae tried to get out of bed. “Mediating this meeting is going to be awful.”

“I’ll do it,” Jongho volunteered easily, pinching the delicate skin behind Yunho’s knee so that the dancer would let him up. San hummed noncommittally and yanked on Yunho’s arm, sending him crashing to the ground.

“Alright, alright, I’m awake,” Yunho muttered, trailing the two into the living room where the others were already up and chatting quietly. Jongho sat down on the floor next to Yeosang, grabbing a pillow from the couch and hugging it to his chest sleepily. Seonghwa and Hongjoong were each occupying one of the armchairs and ignoring one another so casually that it was glaringly obvious — Hongjoong was tapping away furiously at his laptop even though his tell-tale work headphones weren't in, and Seonghwa was sharing increasingly repetitive cat videos with an impatient Yeosang. San and Yunho both joined Wooyoung and Mingi on the couch, cuddling close in anticipation of a stressful conversation.

As soon as they were settled, Hongjoong shut his computer and clapped his hands together.

“We have some time before the managers pick us up for practice, and I’d like to have a conversation with everyone before we head out.”

Yunho sighed in relief as the others agreed, grateful that he wouldn’t have to bring up the subject. Every single member expected that the meeting would be about whatever was going on between Seonghwa and Hongjoong, so they were completely blindsided when their leader instead held up a clear plastic bag with two used condoms in it. Jongho gagged in surprised disgust and Yeosang helpfully covered the maknae's eyes. Wooyoung less helpfully thumped Jongho on the back to clear his throat, earning himself a furious glare and firm finger flick to the sole of his foot.

“You know that normally I try to stay out of your sex lives so long as it follows the rules we’ve set out,” Hongjoong started uncomfortably, determinedly ignoring his dongsaengs. “But I found these in the bathroom when I came home last night. I know you all know that it’s not allowed to bring someone back to the dorms without everyone’s approval-”

Wooyoung burst out into nervous, hysterical laughter, clutching at Yunho desperately as he tried to keep himself from tipping over. Hongjoong turned to him suspiciously, his initially accusing look fading into confusion as the peals of laughter went on...and on.

“Young-ah,” San tried eventually, getting a bit worried.

Yunho looked down at Wooyoung and then over at Mingi questioningly. Mingi nodded imperceptibly at his boyfriend and entwined their hands.

“It was Yunho and I,” he said boldly, lifting his chin up and looking Hongjoong in the eye.

“You...and Yunho,” Hongjoong repeated, face blank with shock. “No one was sneaking someone into the dorm?”

“Not that I know of,” Yunho answered steadily, squeezing Mingi’s hand tightly. “Mingi and I are dating.”

“Dating?” Jongho sputtered, completely taken aback. “For how long?”

“Since you said we acted like we were married at MAMA,” Mingi answered, slightly apologetically. He glanced at Wooyoung, who was staring up at him apprehensively, and squeezed his hand in reassurance. “Wooyoung walked in on us once and we asked him to keep it a secret, which is why he was laughing so weirdly.”

“That’s not true,” San blurted, throwing caution to the winds. “It wasn’t just Wooyoung, I was there too. Youngie and I-” he broke off and looked down at the younger.

“San and I are also dating,” Wooyoung continued shakily. “And we’re dating Yunho, too. And-”

“And they’re dating me,” Mingi finished firmly, wrapping an arm around them both. “The four of us are dating one another.”

“Well...I’m glad you’re being safe?” Seonghwa tried painfully, breaking the stunned silence. He exchanged a bewildered glance with Hongjoong, the events of the last week momentarily forgotten as his parenting instincts kicked in. “Wait, when was the last time we all got tested? We should probably do another slate, just in case. You know not to just blindly try what you see in porn, right? Maybe we should take a seminar or something. And if you’re engaging in oral-”

“Hyung, the baby’s here!” San cut in, looking scandalized.

“I’m not a baby!” Jongho ranted angrily. “I’m less than a year younger than Wooyoung, and he was talking about all this stuff even before debut.”

“Jongho, Wooyoung isn’t as shy about these things as you are,” Yunho pointed out patiently. “Sannie is just looking out for your comfort. Woo-ah is very experienced but you haven’t even kissed anyone yet.”

“I have too! With tongue and everything,” Jongho protested indignantly. Seven heads turned to gape at him in astonishment.

“Baby,” Seonghwa started gently. “We talked about this the night before debut and you said you hadn’t yet. So if you’ve done things since then… I want you to explore and live your life, of course, but you need to be careful who you spend time with. We’ve already had trouble with sasaengs…”

“It was someone trustworthy, though! And it was before our debut anyways.”

“How could it have been before, though?” Hongjoong wondered. “Unless you were lying that night when you said you hadn’t kissed anyone.”

“Ugh,” Jongho groaned. He glanced towards the four members draped on the couch and then straightened his spine determinedly. “I didn’t want to debut without at least knowing what it was like, and all of you had kissed people, so I asked Mingi-hyung to show me what it was like. And then…well, and then he did. Thoroughly.”

“I knew it!” Wooyoung shouted triumphantly. “Well, not that you had kissed. But I knew Jongho had a crush on you, Mingi-ah!”

“Our Mingi just doesn’t know his own worth,” San added sagely. “Wait, but you guys aren’t dating?”

Mingi rolled his eyes at them, swallowing down his unease at the subject.

“Jongho doesn’t have feelings for me. He didn’t then and he doesn’t now.”

“Jongho-ah wouldn’t kiss someone unless he had feelings for them, though,” Seonghwa interjected knowingly. “He’s sentimental like that. Right?”

“Well… right,” Jongho confirmed, shifting awkwardly.

“What?” Mingi gaped at him. “But you said you liked S-”

“Hyung, no!” Jongho yelped, leaping on top of the rapper and clapping a hand over his mouth. Mingi licked a long stripe up Jongho's palm and he jerked back in disgust, nearly falling backwards off the couch until Mingi caught him around the waist and pulled him in close.

“You’re staying here for now,” he told the maknae firmly. “And we’re going to have a long talk after practice.” Jongho wrinkled his nose at the idea and looked down, flustered, but settled into the hold anyways.

“Wait, does that mean every one of us has kissed someone else in this group?” Yunho asked incredulously.

“How did you know Hwa and I kissed?” Hongjoong wondered, still looking shell-shocked from the deluge of information.

“Well we weren’t sure, but thank you for confirming it for us,” San smirked smugly. Seonghwa buried his face in his hands in embarrassment.

“If you ever want to expand your Ateez kissing horizons, just let me know,” Wooyoung added, winking lasciviously at his hyungs.

The sound of a key at their front door halted the discussion in its tracks, and they all turned towards the doorway. Their manager walked in a second later, still shrugging off his jacket.

“Oh, good, you’re all up,” he said in some surprise, taking in the awkward atmosphere and visibly choosing to ignore it for now. “None of you were answering your phones so I wasn’t sure. Can you be ready in 15 minutes or so for practice? I’ll just wait downstairs in the car.”

“I’m ready now, hyung,” Yeosang said woodenly, getting up and moving towards the door. The others startled, suddenly realizing that he hadn’t spoken up the entire time they were talking. “I’ll come down with you, I wanted to talk about the Spain logistics anyways.”

“Okay…” Their manager exchanged an uncertain glance with Hongjoong before following Yeosang towards the car. “15 minutes!”

“He didn’t say anything the whole time, did he?” San asked worriedly after the front door had closed behind the two. The others shook their heads, frowning.

“Let’s just get ready for now,” Hongjoong decided. “We’ll figure it out after practice. No one’s leaving Seoul until after tomorrow, right?” They all nodded.

“Alright, you heard your hyung,” Seonghwa said briskly, getting up himself. “Go get changed and grab a bar or something to eat on the way.”

 

 

Practice was awkward again to the point that their manager and instructor pulled Hongjoong aside during their first break to check in, only letting up when Hongjoong assured them that the group was in the process of working things out and wouldn’t let anything interfere with their focus. The tension between the two oldest members had eased up a bit after the morning’s revelations, even though they still weren’t talking to one another any more than necessary. Yeosang was quiet — almost aggressively focused during practice and then seemingly almost immediately lost in thought as soon as they were given a break. He stuck close to Jongho, Seonghwa, and Hongjoong, flat out ignoring the increasingly concerned looks from the rest of the 99z.

Jongho made his escape from the strained atmosphere during their last extended break under the guise of filling up his water bottle. He leaned his forehead against the wall next to the water dispenser with a sigh, wondering if things would ever return to normal. If the normal he thought he knew had even existed, anyways. He usually prided himself on being observant and someone for his hyungs to lean on, so he was a bit unnerved to realize that he had missed so many important dynamics.

“Are you okay, Jongho-ah?”

Jongho spun around, shoulders relaxing when he saw it was only Mingi.

“I’m fine, hyung,” he assured tiredly. “It’s just a lot in there. We’re really a mess.”

“Yeah...I guess things have to get worse before they can get better,” Mingi tried optimistically. Jongho snorted.

“We don’t have much time before break. Just tomorrow, really. I don’t want to go home with everything so up in the air.”

“Well, let’s resolve one thing right now, then,” Mingi proposed, coming closer.

“You know what, I actually think I’m good, hyung!” Jongho said quickly, taking his mostly-full water bottle out of the dispenser and screwing the cap shut. “I’ll see you back in practice!”

“Don’t you dare,” Mingi warned, blocking Jongho’s path so that he had no choice but to stay where he was. “We need to talk this out, Jongho-ah.”

“There’s nothing to talk about,” Jongho replied resignedly. “I had feelings for you, and that’s that. You already know that.”

“I didn’t know that at all. We kissed and cuddled and then the next day I asked you if you wanted to talk about your sexuality and you told me you had a crush on Seonghwa-hyung. What was I supposed to think?”

“It’s possible to like more than one person, hyung,” Jongho retorted curtly. “Given what came out today, I should hope you’re well aware of that.”

“Jongho, please be serious,” Mingi groaned in frustration. “Obviously I know that, but I wasn’t going to just assume! So did you like us both? The crush on hyung stayed, right? Every now and then, the way you look at him…”

“You guys only ever see me as a kid,” Jongho burst out, staring determinedly at the ground to avoid eye contact. His voice wavered as he continued, “I knew you weren’t going to return my feelings when you always talk about how you practically raised me and I didn’t want us to be dealing with the awkwardness of a rejection around debut so I just didn’t say anything. With Seonghwa-hyung — well, all he sees is Hongjoong, isn’t it? There was never any chance and I knew that, so it was easier to just love him from afar and settle with being his dongsaeng. Although recently...well, it’s just been harder, that’s all.”

“Ah, Jongho,” Mingi gently tipped the maknae’s chin up to search his face. His eyes were wet with unshed tears and Mingi tsked, stepping closer to cage him protectively against the wall.

“I’m not crying,” Jongho said defensively, leaning slightly into Mingi’s hold in spite of himself.

“Of course not, you’re our brave maknae, hm?” Mingi smiled down at him tenderly. “Look, Jongho-ah, it’s true that I just saw you as just a cute dongsaeng during our trainee years, but that kiss really changed things for me. When we talked the next day...I was going to offer to do it again. And maybe see if you were open to a relationship.”

“What?” Jongho stared at him, hope dawning in his eyes. “You mean - would you still, even now…?”

Mingi hesitated and Jongho’s face tightened.

“Oh, right,” he mumbled, looking away again. “You’re dating Yunho, Wooyoung, and Sannie hyung now.”

“That’s not- they’d be thrilled if we got together,” Mingi laughed ruefully. “Probably even be jealous of me, to be honest. It’s just… I only started dating Wooyoung and San recently — as dumb as it probably was, I wasn’t even technically dating them fully until I told you all that I was this morning — and I practically had a panic attack when they first talked to me about it. I want to be with you, Jongho, I just don’t know if I can handle it all.”

“Hyung, I’ll do everything,” Jongho insisted, looking up at him earnestly. “I can plan all our dates and give you lots of space if you need it, you won't have to lift a finger. We can take it super slow. Like, glacially slow. We don’t even have to go out on dates if you don’t want to. I just… I just want to be close to you, hyung.”

“You didn’t even want to sleep with me last night,” Mingi teased.

“There was spider juice!” Jongho protested. “That was an extraneous situation!”

“Okay, okay, just… can I think about it?”

“Whatever you want, hyung,” Jongho replied immediately. Mingi nudged his shoulder companionably and leaned against the wall next to him with a sigh.

“All this drama is too much for my poor heart, you know.”

“Your age is showing,” Jongho teased. Mingi rolled his eyes and relaxed against the wall again.

“You should ask Seonghwa-hyung out,” He said suddenly, standing up straight again. “I think you’d be surprised at how he sees you now, Jongho-ah. And it’d make me feel better if you had someone else, too.”

“You can’t try to bribe me into dating someone else,” Jongho complained grumpily.

“I didn’t mean- okay, that’s fair,” Mingi admitted. “Sorry. But if it’s something that would make you happy, and you decide to go for it of your own volition, I just want you to know I’d support it fully. You two suit each other.”

“You and I suit each other, too, hyung.”

“Yeah,” Mingi mused quietly. “I guess so.”

“Will you show me again?” Jongho requested, hands coming up to hold Mingi’s waist gently. “Just once before we have to go in?”

Mingi cupped his cheek with one hand, scanning his face seriously. He leaned down and pressed one long, unbearably gentle kiss to Jongho’s lips before pulling back and clearing his throat.

“Let’s go back now, the others will be coming to find us soon. We can talk more later tonight, okay?”

“Yeah, alright,” Jongho agreed hoarsely, picking up his water bottle again. “I’ll even sleep in your bed all night if you ask nicely, hyung.”

Mingi rolled his eyes and quickly filled his bottle as well. They returned to practice with linked hands, steadfastly ignoring the knowing looks from the other members as they entered. Jongho squeezed Mingi’s hand one last time before moving over to join Yeosang and Seonghwa in the corner of the room as their practice restarted.

By the time they finished for good, the sky was darkening outside and the members were drenched in sweat. They had vaguely planned on a gentler practice to preserve their bodies going into break but, between their pent up emotions from the conversation that morning and the knowledge that it was their last practice before break, they had ended up pushing themselves even harder than normal.

“Can we all go home together for once, hyungs?” Jongho pleaded from where he was spread-eagled on the practice room floor, panting.

“I have to go re-record something with Eden,” Yunho winced apologetically. “It shouldn’t take too long, though, and then I'll come straight home.”

“I’m staying to practice,” Yeosang told Jongho quietly. “I’m not sure when I’ll be back. Sorry, Jongho-ah. We can get coffee tomorrow if you want?”

“I’ll stay too, then,” Seonghwa and Hongjoong said at the same time. They glanced at one another awkwardly and Seonghwa turned back to the others determinedly.

“Okay,” he said slowly. “The four of us will stay and the rest of you can head back. We’ll try not to come home too late, though, Jongho-ah.”

Mingi pulled Jongho up and squeezed his shoulder bracingly.

“C’mon, let’s have some chicken to celebrate the break,” he suggested. “Maybe we can watch a drama after or something.”

Jongho nodded grudgingly and gathered his things, following the other three out of the room. Yunho left as well to go meet Eden, shouting over his shoulder that he would text them once he was done.

“Hwa, can I talk to you for a bit?” Hongjoong asked quietly, watching Yeosang in the mirror. He had been wanting to talk with Seonghwa since the conversation that morning and Yeosang usually preferred to have a bit of time to himself when something was bothering him, so the timing worked out well.

“Okay,” Seonghwa agreed after a slight pause. “Let’s go to one of the vocal rooms.”

“Yeosangie, we’ll be back within the hour to pick you up on the way home, alright?” Hongjoong called.

“I want to practice for longer than that, hyung,” Yeosang objected. “Just go without me.”

“Absolutely not,” Seonghwa said firmly. “We get breaks for a reason, Sangie. If you want time to yourself tonight that’s fine, but not like this.”

Yeosang turned away without acknowledging them and Seonghwa sighed heavily. “We’ll just get him later,” Hongjoong mouthed, turning to lead the way out of the room. They wove their way through the company to one of the vocal rooms and sat down in silence, Hongjoong still trying to figure out what he wanted to say and Seonghwa focusing on locking down his emotions.

“Hwa, look, I think I said things the wrong way last week,” Hongjoong started.

“The wrong way? So that was still what you wanted to say? That I should give Jongho a chance instead of you?”

“Well, yes, but-” Seonghwa scoffed and turned towards the door.

“No, wait,” Hongjoong pleaded, grabbing the edge of Seonghwa’s sleeve to stop him.

“What is it you want from me?” Seonghwa asked tiredly, leaning against the door.

“I just want you to be happy,” Hongjoong answered quietly. Seonghwa snorted in disbelief.

“So you broke up with me?”

“We weren’t technically-”

“Kim Hongjoong,” Seonghwa said coldly. “Please, for once in your goddamn life, can you stop equivocating. No one cares about the minutia, give me a real answer.”

Hongjoong opened his mouth and then closed it again, taking a deep breath.

“I love you,” he answered simply. “You’re everything to me, Hwa, like I said that night and in the song. That’s what I wanted to apologize for. I realize that the way I said it that night could make you think my feelings weren’t there — I was trying to say things logically and went too far. What I meant to say is that I realize that you’re your own person and the agreement we made isn’t fair. Part of loving someone is knowing when to let them go, and Jongho-”

“Part of loving someone is trusting them enough to not make decisions for them,” Seonghwa interrupted angrily. “And why on earth do you keep bringing up Jongho? Wait, are you just saying this now because we found out this morning you were wrong and Jongho actually liked Mingi?”

“I definitely wasn’t wrong though,” Hongjoong protested tentatively. “Mingi said Jongho had a crush on someone who’s name starts with an ‘S’ around our debut time — that doesn’t exclude you at all.”

“That’s not the point! The point is that you keep pushing me off onto him and breaking a promise that I was planning on keeping.”

“That’s exactly the point, though. I don’t want you to miss out on other...opportunities, let’s say, because you’re sitting around waiting for me. If you have feelings for Jongho at all — which you still aren’t denying, by the way — then you should pursue them.”

“So you want an open relationship?” Seonghwa asked skeptically

“No, not exactly. Like I said before, I don’t have the bandwidth-” Hongjoong broke off, shaking his head. “Look, Hwa, I’ll give you anything you want of me. I just want you to feel free to date as freely as you would if we had never had that conversation, in the first place.”

“Really?” Seonghwa challenged. “And what if it wasn’t Jongho? Would you still be supportive if I hooked up with one of the dancer hyungs? Minho from Stray Kids is hot, why don’t I just go have sex with him?”

Hongjoong couldn’t hide his wince.

“If you want to, I guess I’d support you?” He said tentatively, clearly uncomfortable with the idea.

“I don’t want to, though,” Seonghwa grumbled, sliding down the door to bury his face in his hands.

An awkward silence ensued, eventually interrupted by the insistent, synchronized buzzing of both of their phones. They exchanged confused glances and Seonghwa unlocked his phone to check his messages.

“Is it the group chat?” Hongjoong asked.

“No,” Seonghwa replied slowly, frowning down at the screen. “It’s Yunho to the two of us only. He said something’s wrong with Yeosang and he needs help? He sounds like he’s panicking, Joong, there are a ton of messages. They're still in the practice room...”

“Let’s go,” Hongjoong said immediately, grabbing his bag. “We can finish talking later.”

Chapter Text

Yeosang fell to the ground coming off a simple turn and buried his face in his hands, desperately holding back the frustrated tears that wanted to fall. It had initially been a relief to finally be alone and have some space to process the bomb that had dropped that morning, but Yeosang was starting to regret mentally opening that particular can of worms. He had tried to dance his way away from his feelings, hoping that the burn of his muscles might distract from his breaking heart, but he just couldn’t stop thinking about that awful team meeting no matter how much he pushed his body.

Yeosang had been in love with Wooyoung ever since the younger had playfully bit him on the arm two days after they first met at Big Hit. Yeosang had flinched back reflexively at the time, staring at the younger in shock. Their eyes had met and held, and Yeosang’s entire world lit up as though Wooyoung had flipped a switch within him.

He knew from the beginning that his crush was hopeless, of course — Wooyoung’s entire class practically worshipped him and he was never without a partner when he wanted one. He dated and flirted his way through the most popular kids in his school as Yeosang watched from the sidelines, but it never seemed to matter because none of them would ever understand what really made Wooyoung tick. As soon as he arrived at Big Hit each day, a determined glint entered Wooyoung’s eyes that only Yeonjun and Yeosang were able to crack. None of his paramours saw the tiny, satisfied smirk that played at Wooyoung’s lips when he nailed a difficult dance step for the first time, none of them saw the tears that were only allowed to flow at 3 am when the practice room had been deserted by everyone except their tiny circle of trainee friends.

Yeosang saw it all, though, and tried to convince himself that he could be happy with just being best friends with the younger. Wooyoung was unlike anyone Yeosang had ever met before. He flaunted his body endlessly in public, yet privately confessed that he ‘knew’ how ugly he really was. He was the type of charming that usually hid insincerity and callousness, except that Wooyoung was one of the most sincerely thoughtful people Yeosang had ever met. He joked about playing hard to get, and yet he gave and gave to everyone around him until Yeosang worried that he wasn’t keeping anything for himself. Wooyoung protected Yeosang from the cutthroat industry, staff pressures, and intense trainee competition, but Yeosang did his best to protect Wooyoung from Wooyoung himself. They were opposites in every way except the ones that mattered, and understood one another on a level that Yeosang had never before experienced.

Eventually, however, Yeosang realized he needed to come to a healthier balance in his relationship with the younger. It wasn’t sustainable for him to be pining after Wooyoung so desperately, greedy for any indication that their relationship was special and unique and somehow more than anything Wooyoung shared with anyone else. Being forced to choose between staying at Big Hit with Wooyoung and potentially not debuting for over three years or leaving all that he knew behind and starting anew somewhere else was scary, but it almost felt like a gift. No matter how painful it was, Yeosang knew with bone-deep certainty that he needed to leave. He needed to strike free and chase his dreams elsewhere, on both a professional and personal level.

And, as desperately as he missed the friends he had made at Big Hit, the trainees he met at KQ somehow clicked with him from the beginning just as Wooyoung had. The much-needed space and the excitement of exploring these newfound relationships finally started to heal the cracks in Yeosang’s heart to the point that, by the time Wooyoung joined KQ, Yeosang was able to treat Wooyoung just like any of the others. Of course they shared a past that their teammates would never be able to fully understand, but his love for Wooyoung had faded like a vintage poster on the wall until it was just a simple fact of Yeosang’s existence rather than the raging inferno that had once threatened to consume him from the inside out.

And thus it had stayed over the years as they grew into their own little family of eight, until Wooyoung had suddenly announced that morning that he was dating all of the 99z — except Yeosang — and would be happy to add Seonghwa and Hongjoong to the mix, as well. Wooyoung had always dated people outside of work, so finding out in a team meeting, of all things, that he was dating nearly half of their team had been like a slap to the face. On some level Yeosang was angry that Wooyoung had been doing something that posed a real risk to all of their careers for months without telling him, but mostly he was just hurt. Hurt that his best friend hadn’t trusted him with this when Yeosang had let himself be so vulnerable with the other, and hurt that Wooyoung was seemingly attracted to practically everyone in their group except him.

Yeosang caught sight of himself in the mirror out of the corner of his eye and stared. The members and fans — and even his old classmates — had always told Yeosang that his appearance was stunning, but what did that matter if the boy he loved wouldn’t love him back? What did it say about him as a person that he was the only one left out? Whenever Yeosang had struggled with his self-confidence, Wooyoung had always been there to assure him that he was the most brilliant person the younger had ever met. In the beginning it had just been nice to hear, but over the years Yeosang had slowly started to actually believe that that was how Wooyoung saw him. He snorted bitterly. What a fool he had been. He clearly wasn’t anything special after all.

He focused back on the mirror, searching in vain for something that might explain the emotions washing over him. Yeosang had worn an immeasurable number of different costumes, hairstyles, and make-up looks over the past two years for work, but he had never felt so disconnected from his reflection as he did today. He ghosted a hand down the edge of his jaw and watched numbly as the person in the mirror did the same. The pale face and dark eyes staring back at him from the mirror looked almost disturbingly flawless, no hint of the turmoil and heartbreak inside. Yeosang felt like he was floating, completely disconnected from the tangibility of his body. The sculpted arms shimmering with sweat, the strands of hair still sticking to his forehead — none of it felt real. Everything was just...empty.

 

 

 

Yunho hummed happily as he walked back down the hall towards the practice room. His recording with Eden had gone unexpectedly well — Yunho had been having trouble pinning down the tone of the part when they recorded the guide the first time, but this time it had come out easily and they had been done with the necessary takes within just half an hour.

He opened the door to the practice room, surprised to see Yeosang staring at himself in the mirror rather than dancing.

“So much for practicing,” Yunho teased. “Are you admiring your pretty face?”

There was no response and Yunho’s smile slowly started to fade.

“Yeosang?”

When the younger still didn’t react, Yunho approached tentatively and laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. Yeosang flinched violently and, finally seeming to recognize Yunho’s presence, turned to study his face absently. Yunho froze and watched uncomfortably, completely unable to read the younger’s face.

Yeosang could be a bit quiet sometimes, of course, but this was...robotic, almost. Yunho carefully wrapped the dancer in a one-armed hug in the hopes that the touch might ground him a bit, watching carefully for any sign that his touch was unwelcome, and reached the other hand down into his pocket to pull out his phone and send a flurry of SOS messages to the hyungs. Seonghwa replied almost immediately that they were on their way and Yunho breathed a sigh of relief.

He liked to think he was okay at comforting his members when they needed an ego-boost or had a concrete problem he could help solve, but he was never quite sure how to react in more murky, emotional situations, and this one was particularly scary. They had all noticed that Yeosang was slightly off the whole day, but Yunho had mentally explained that away as residual shock from the morning’s conversation (and perhaps a bit of anger at being left completely in the dark for so long by his best friends). This complete absence of emotion was something different, though, and Yunho had absolutely no idea how to address it.

The hyungs burst into the room panting and Seonghwa immediately wrapped his arms around Yeosang. The younger tipped his head forwards to rest lightly against his hyung’s shoulder, but otherwise didn’t acknowledge their presence in any way. Yunho stepped back gratefully, watching as Hongjoong slipped into his leader mode and took in the situation.

“Yunho-ah, would you mind going home and getting the others out of the apartment?” he requested quietly, eyes still fixed on Yeosang and Seonghwa. “You can take my card. They should be done with dinner by the time you get back so maybe offer to buy them ice cream?”

“I’ll text Mingi to show them this cafe we found the other day,” Yunho offered, eager to do something to help. “It’s really good and a bit of a ways away, so if I say I’ll meet them there you can probably go straight home and have a couple hours to yourselves?”

“That’s perfect, Yunho-ah, thank you. Text me when they’ve left, okay?”

Yunho nodded and, after glancing back one more time at Yeosang, turned to leave the room.

 

 

 

Seonghwa focused on Yeosang while the other two talked, trusting Hongjoong to take care of the logistics. He gently squeezed his dongsaeng’s arms, hoping that the sensation would bring him back to the present a bit. He vaguely registered Yunho leaving and Hongjoong coming closer to hug Yeosang from behind. Gradually the dancer started to relax in their arms, although Seonghwa got the sense that it was more due to exhaustion rather than any increased comfort.

“We can go home,” Hongjoong told them quietly, moving over to the desk to pack Yeosang’s things on his behalf. “The others are out and I’ve called a car.”

Yeosang still didn’t really react to their words, but he followed obediently as they bundled him downstairs and into the waiting car with a steady stream of meaningless chatter. Seonghwa fell silent as their driver merged into traffic, glancing at Hongjoong helplessly over Yeosang’s head. Part of him wanted to call their manager, but he knew from experience that Yeosang would be mortified and absolutely refuse to open up until he was ready no matter who was asking. There had been no indication of any physical danger or discomfort, so Seonghwa decided he would give himself and Hongjoong an hour to try to get the younger to open up before calling reinforcements.

“Yeosang-ah,” Seonghwa started gently, waiting until the younger’s distant eyes turned towards him before continuing. “Did Eden mention which song he wanted you to record first when we’re in Spain?”

Yeosang’s eyes sharpened slightly as he thought.

“Inception, I think,” he answered eventually. Seonghwa hummed in acknowledgement, ignoring the dull tone, and continued asking him short questions about work that wouldn’t take much effort to answer. By the time they reached their apartment, Yeosang’s posture was looser and he seemed aware enough of what was going on to make Seonghwa feel comfortable handling whatever was bothering him without involving anyone else.

“Alright, we should probably all shower before doing anything else,” Hongjoong decided, plucking at his own sweaty shirt in distaste. Neither Hongjoong nor Seonghwa wanted to leave their dongsaeng alone in the state he was in so they all showered together, Yeosang pliantly letting them wash his hair and towel him dry. Seonghwa dressed quickly and stopped by the kitchen to grab food for the three of them. He quickly devoured a few leftover rolls of gimbap from their lunch earlier that day while making two portions of ramyeon for the other two. When it was nearly finished he made his way back to the bathroom, pausing in the doorway to smile fondly at the way Hongjoong and Yeosang were completely absorbed in one another.

Hongjoong was still in his towel, seemingly uncaring of the water dripping steadily down his back. The rapper was intensely focused on drying his dongsaeng’s hair, tongue poking slightly out of the corner of his mouth the way it always did when he was concentrating particularly hard on something. Yeosang, on the other hand, was sitting on the counter fully dressed in a pajama set and one of Jongho’s sweatshirts, clutching the sweatshirt to himself as he watched his hyung trustingly.

Seonghwa let himself enjoy the sweet sight for a moment before gently pushing Hongjoong aside to get dressed while he finished Yeosang’s hair himself.

“There’s ramyeon in the kitchen, baby,” Seonghwa murmured once he was done. “Why don’t we go eat and then we can talk a bit?”

Yeosang stiffened at the mention of talking, but nodded with a resigned sigh and slipped off the counter obediently. They ate quickly and moved to Hongjoong and Seonghwa’s shared room, both hyungs watching nervously as Yeosang started to shut down again.

“Come here, sweetheart,” Seonghwa said, scooting back into the corner of his bed and opening his arms invitingly. Yeosang hesitated slightly before crawling into Seonghwa’s lap, pulling a bemused Hongjoong insistently after him.

“Can you tell us what happened earlier?” Hongjoong asked once they had gotten settled. Yeosang started to shake slightly as he remembered his earlier spiral and he wrapped his arms around himself more tightly without answering.

“Am I correct in thinking you didn’t know that any of them were dating?” Seonghwa asked gently, waiting for the small nod before continuing. “Are you mad at them?”

Yeosang swallowed heavily.

“I guess, a bit,” he admitted, stuttering slightly over his words. “But that’s not, it’s just...hyung, am I ugly?”
He looked up at his hyungs tentatively.

What?” They both burst out at the same time, staring at him in shock.

“Not like that,” Yeosang corrected. “I- I mean, inside,”

“Baby, you’re perfect,” Seonghwa said in bewilderment. “You’re smart and kind and funny and hard-working and an absolute genius when it comes to dance and performance. Where is this coming from?”

Yeosang shrugged, wringing his hands awkwardly and clearly struggling with what to say.

“I just...there must be something wrong with me, right? I know I’m not always the most expressive but I’ve been trying, I have, and everyone always says I’m pretty but...that’s all people really say and that’s not enough for love, right? I thought I didn’t have a chance because of circumstance, and I was okay being just best friends — I was, I swear! — but now it’s like it’s everyone except me. You’ve all kissed one another and he’s attracted to everyone else, so… what’s so wrong with me that he can love all of you but not me? Why am I the only person who hasn’t kissed anyone else? Am I too cold, or just not interesting enough, or..”

Yeosang broke off on a sob and looked up at them, tears rolling steadily down his face. Seonghwa’s heart clenched and he pulled the dancer into a tight hug, looking at Hongjoong helplessly. It was obvious who Yeosang was talking about, of course, and it was honestly a question both of them had been wondering. Neither doubted that the rest of the 99z loved Yeosang just as much as they loved one another, so how had they all ended up in a relationship without him?

“Nothing’s wrong with you,” Hongjoong told him fiercely, wrapping himself around Yeosang as well. “You know I only give compliments when I mean them, and I’ve meant every word I’ve ever said to you, Sang-ah. You’re just as attractive and worthy of love as any of us. I can't speak for the others, but we still don't know how their relationship progressed, do we? I'm sure they wanted to tell you earlier. Maybe they were just worried about how the news would be received.”

“I just, I don’t want to be here anymore,” Yeosang sobbed. “I want to be at home and...well, it’s not possible, is it?”

“You could go home tomorrow instead of the day after, if you want,” Hongjoong said slowly, unsure of how to comfort him. “We don’t have any official schedule. But, Yeosang-ah, will that really help fix things or will you just lock everything away only for it to explode at some point in the future? I know I haven’t exactly been a great example of communication lately, but...I really think it would be better to talk with Wooyoung before break starts so that things don’t fester. Seonghwa or I can mediate if it would make you feel more comfortable.”

“I really don’t want to, though, hyung,” Yeosang groaned. He slid down in their embrace so he was lying with his head on Seonghwa’s lap and looked up at them with puppy eyes, tears still wet on his face.

“No one’s making you do anything at the moment,” Seonghwa assured firmly, drying Yeosang’s face with the corner of his sleeve and looking sternly over at Hongjoong. “But if you do decide to leave tomorrow, can you just give Jongho a big hug before you go? I think he’s been a bit lonely lately.”

“I’ll go out to coffee with him in the morning like I suggested earlier,” Yeosang promised, pulling out his phone to send a quick message to the maknae. He closed out of the app and stared down at the picture of him and Wooyoung that filled the home screen, face falling again. Hongjoong deftly stole the phone and put it down next to the bed.

“Why don’t you go to sleep, Yeosang-ah,” he suggested. “See how things look tomorrow morning, hm?”

Yeosang nodded tiredly in Seonghwa’s lap, exhausted from the emotional turmoil, and let his eyes fall shut as they tucked the covers around him and stroked his hair.

 

Seonghwa and Hongjoong waited until they were positive that Yeosang was fully asleep before lying back with matching sighs of relief.

“Do you think we helped at all?” Hongjoong asked, staring down at their sleeping dongsaeng sadly.

“I don’t think it’s a problem we can fix,” Seonghwa said quietly. “He seemed to calm down, at least. It was so scary seeing him like that in the beginning. And he never did completely explain what made him shut down, but I didn’t want to push so much.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Hongjoong admitted, looking up and studying Seonghwa thoughtfully. “Listen, about our conversation earlier-”

“Can we just not?” Seonghwa begged quietly.

“Not...what?

“Not talk about it for now. I know we’ll need to eventually, but can’t we just proceed naturally as though the last week never happened for a bit before defining everything? There’s only one more day until break, and then right after we come back we’ll be going to Spain. Can’t we wait until then?”

“That seems too tempting to be a good idea,” Hongjoong admitted. Yeosang shifted in his sleep, burrowing deeper into Seonghwa’s arms, and they both froze. He settled and they relaxed back against the pillows again.

“At the very least we shouldn’t talk much now,” Seonghwa whispered. “I don’t want to risk waking him up.”

Hongjoong nodded in agreement.

“You have headphones next to your bed, right? We can watch a drama?”

“Really?” Seonghwa asked hopefully. Hongjoong always listened patiently while he rambled about whatever drama he was watching at the moment, but was rarely willing to actually sit down and watch one with him. “Is there any particular one you want to try?”

“Whatever you want,” Hongjoong said quietly, eyes soft as he watched Seonghwa fumble for the headphones in his excitement. “Maybe we can continue something you’ve been watching recently, or watch one of your old favorites so I can understand better when you talk about it?”

 

They had finished watching the first episode of Seonghwa’s current favorite and were just about to start the next one when the door to their room flung open and Wooyoung burst in. He skid to a stop at the sight of Yeosang sleeping in between Seonghwa and Hongjoong, shoulders slumping in relief, and tip-toed forwards towards the bed.

“Is he okay? What happened? Yunho said he found him sort of unresponsive? He wouldn’t say anything else — didn’t even say that until we were on the way back — but Sangie’s not injured or something, right?”

Wooyoung’s voice, initially quiet so as not to wake his best friend, steadily rose in pitch as he worked himself back up. Seonghwa and Hongjoong quickly shushed him, but the warning came too late. Yeosang shifted in Seonghwa’s lap and blinked his eyes open, freezing when he caught sight of Wooyoung.

“I’m sorry, Yeo-ah,” Wooyoung apologized regretfully. “I didn’t mean to wake you up. I just wanted to make sure you’re okay.”

“He’s not injured, Wooyoung,” Seonghwa said softly, when it became apparent Yeosang wasn’t going to reply.

“Okay, that’s good…” Wooyoung trailed off uncertainly, trying in vain to meet Yeosang’s eyes. “Are you gonna head to bed now? I can carry you over if you don’t want to walk.”

“I’m fine here,” Yeosang whispered curtly, still refusing to look directly at Wooyoung.

“You’re...going to sleep with hyung?” Wooyoung asked incredulously, remembering how he had offered to sleep with his roommate just last night and been rejected. Yeosang glanced up at Seonghwa to make sure it was okay and nodded.

“If you want to have the bed to yourself I can share with Joong,” Seonghwa offered. Yeosang flinched and immediately shook his head, clinging to their legs under the covers.

“Please don’t leave me, hyungs,” he pleaded. “Not tonight.”

“Of course we won’t,” Hongjoong soothed, stroking Yeosang’s hair back from his forehead. He looked back to Wooyoung just in time to see a look of absolute devastation cross over his face before it was replaced by a stone-cold version of his stage face.

“Alright then, I know when I’m not wanted,” Wooyoung said pointedly, backing all the way to the door before pausing.

“Young-ah, baby” Seonghwa started.

“Goodnight, hyungs. I love you, Sang-ah,” Wooyoung interrupted quietly, darting out the door before anyone could reply. Hongjoong sighed and let his head fall back against the wall with a quiet thunk before pulling out his phone to ask Yunho to check on Wooyoung. He didn’t feel comfortable leaving Yeosang after the conversation they had just had, but he also hated to see Wooyoung hurting.

“Sorry, hyung,” Yeosang said shamefacedly. “I know that was a bit petty, but I really couldn’t look at him and I don’t want to be alone.”

“It’s totally fine, sweetheart,” Seonghwa reassured.

“You can have my bed instead if you want?” Yeosang offered reluctantly.

“The one time I tried to get into your bed I got a half-eaten lollipop stuck in my hair,” Seonghwa said dryly. “I’m never going near your bed again. And, come to think of it, if you even think of bringing your breakfast in here tomorrow morning, I’ll-”

“I won’t, I won’t!” Yeosang giggled, pushing him away playfully. Hongjoong watched them both fondly, relieved at the sight of the younger’s smile even if it only lasted for a minute before fading into pensive sadness once more.

“C’mon, we’d better brush our teeth and things if we’re going to bed,” Seonghwa urged. “I will kick both of you out of bed if I have to go to sleep surrounded by your ramyeon breath.”

 

 

Wooyoung shut the door to Seonghwa and Hongjoong’s room numbly, feeling like his friendship with Yeosang was slowly slipping through his fingers. He had hoped to talk with Yeosang after their practice, sure that his best friend would understand why he had kept his relationship with San a secret if he could only have the chance to explain. He certainly hadn’t expected to be completely iced out by a clearly-hurting Yeosang and ditched in favor of his hyungs. Wooyoung faltered for a moment in the hallway, unsure of where to go next, before turning decidedly toward Jongho and Mingi’s room.

Jongho and Mingi were cuddled on the rapper’s bed watching what looked to be the most recent episode of The Show. Wooyoung hesitated in the doorway, reluctant to disturb the blossoming relationship between the two of them. He was about to leave when Jongho glanced up and caught sight of him.

“Hyung, are you okay?” he asked cautiously. “What happened with Yeosangie-hyung?”

“I- he’s fine, physically, I think,” Wooyoung said. “Emotionally...I don’t know. He’s upset with me.”

“Are you okay?” Mingi repeated, pausing the show.

“No, I think he hates me,” he burst out, shrugging helplessly. “Last night, even before the whole conversation, he hesitated when he said he loved me and at this point I honestly think he might not even say it back at all. I wanted to explain about what happened this morning, but he couldn’t even look at me let alone hold a conversation.”

“Aish, hyung, you’re both being idiots,” Jongho groaned. “That definitely means he still loves you. He only gets mad at us when he feels too much and misses us. You just need to get him to talk to you.”

“But he refused!”

“Just make him,” Jongho said dismissively. “Give him until tomorrow to recover a bit and then corner him tomorrow."

“Don’t corner him,” Mingi protested.

“Cornering me worked out pretty well for you today, though, didn’t it?” Jongho asked cheekily. Mingi sputtered.

“Do as I say, not as I do?” He tried. Jongho rolled his eyes.

“Anyways,” the maknae continued, “Don’t tie him down or anything — ew, hyung, I saw that spark of interest in your eyes. I said don’t tie him down! He’ll have to go into your room at some point tomorrow to pack, so just lie in wait like a lion and pounce as soon as he comes in.”

“Okay,” Wooyoung frowned doubtfully. “And then what?”

“Tell him you love him, idiot,” Mingi scoffed. “Even I know that. Just, maybe a little differently than the way you confessed to me.”

“How did you confess?” Jongho asked, looking between them with wide eyes.

“None of your business,” Wooyoung said briskly. “So, I get him to talk and explain everything and tell him I love him and hopefully he’ll let me down easily and everything will be fine.”

“Young-ah, we’re not allowed to be defeatist, remember?” Mingi scolded, pulling Wooyoung onto his lap properly and ruffling his hair. “Hyung’s orders — we have to dream big.”

“He’ll definitely say yes,” Jongho assured. “I bet he’s been in love with you even longer than you have, hyung.”

“Not possible,” Wooyoung snorted. “What do you want to bet?”

“I want San-hyung as my roommate in Spain,” Jongho decided after making a show of hmm-ing and haw-ing through his answer. “I miss him. You’ve been hogging him too much, hyung. Even if you’re dating, that’s not an excuse for maknae-abuse!”

“Fine,” Wooyoung grumbled, shaking his hand to seal the deal. “You’re going to lose anyways. Although honestly, you sound so pathetic about it that maybe I should just give you him for free.”

“Well, sue me for missing my hyung,” Jongho said sulkily.

“Normally I’d say you shouldn’t bet on a person, but I think the only thing San will be upset about is that he wasn’t in on this,” Mingi joked.

“Just make sure you add in plenty of nostalgia,” Jongho cautioned, briskly moving on. “About the good old days and things. He likes that sort of thing even if he doesn’t show it. Bring back some memory that he’s sure you’ve forgotten but was actually really meaningful. And-”

“I know, I know!” Wooyoung exclaimed. “He is my best friend, I think I can figure out how to woo him properly.”

“All evidence to the contrary,” Mingi muttered, laughing as Wooyoung leapt at him. Jongho carefully moved Mingi’s laptop to the side before leaping on the top of the two of them to join the wrestling match. Once Jongho joined they managed to pin Wooyoung quickly, panting more from their giggles rather than the exertion.

“Do you feel better now?” Mingi asked hopefully. “I still think it’s a slightly sketchy plan, but as long as you don’t pressure him too much it’s probably okay.”

“Yeah,” Wooyoung sighed contentedly. “Thanks, guys. I’ll give him space tonight and fix it tomorrow, and everything will be okay again.”

“Perfect,” Jongho said, sitting back in satisfaction. “Are you gonna stay the night?”

“Nah, I’ll go sleep with Yunho. I’m gonna miss him over break.”

“Cute,” Jongho smiled. “Goodnight, hyung.”

“Goodnight, both of you,” Wooyoung replied cheerfully, kissing Mingi and Jongho on the cheek and quickly running out of the room before Jongho could jump at him again.

Chapter Text

Hongjoong and Seonghwa woke up the next morning to an empty bed and equally empty apartment.

“Yeosang’s with Jongho for coffee and the others are out...somewhere,” Hongjoong reported, reading through their group chat. “Mingi said we looked too cute to wake so they just decided to let us sleep.”

“Kids these days,” Seonghwa mumbled lazily, stretching out and flopping back down on top of Hongjoong. “Wake me up when they get back.”

“But - well, fine,” Hongjoong acquiesced reluctantly, trying not to shift the older too much as he pulled out his laptop and started casually flipping through the script for their next reality series.

He had finished that script and moved on to editing the tracks for their next album when Seonghwa suddenly jerked awake, nearly knocking Hongjoong’s computer to the ground.

“Joong,” he exclaimed excitedly, motioning Hongjoong closer. The leader put his laptop on the floor cautiously, glancing around instinctually despite the empty apartment before turning back to Seonghwa.

“What?”

“I figured out the solution to all of our problems!” Seonghwa whisper-shouted triumphantly. “Well, one of our problems. The Yeosang-ie one.”

“What is it?” Hongjoong asked suspiciously. There was a maniacal glint in Seonghwa’s eyes which, while frustratingly adorable, was also a bit terrifying.

“A witch hunt!” Hongjoong groaned, letting his head fall forward to rest against Seonghwa’s shoulder.

“Seonghwa, I love you, but the solution is never a witch hunt.” Seonghwa started to argue, and then paused.

“Wait, can you say that again, please?”

“The solution is never a witch hunt?”

“No, the other part.”

“Oh.” Hongjoong blushed. “I love you.”

“Can we?” Seonghwa asked, glancing down at the rapper’s lips. Hongjoong pulled Seonghwa down on top of him for a kiss instead of answering, and they completely forgot about the conversation for several minutes in favor of languidly exploring one another’s mouths.

“Okay,” Seonghwa panted, dropping one last, soft kiss on Hongjoong’s mouth and pulling back slightly. “Where was I?”

“Witch hunts?”

“Yes, all we have to do is find someone who wants to date Yeosang and set them up together.”

“So he knows he’s wanted?”

“Yeah, exactly. It can’t be that hard. I mean, it’s Yeosang, all of us have been in love with him at one point or another.”

“So instead of a witch hunt, why don’t you just do it?” Seonghwa gaped at him.

“That’s - I - just… what?”

“Why don’t you just do it?” Hongjoong repeated patiently, running a hand through the older’s hair. “Court him, feed him, set up cute dates, the whole nine yards. He loves you, it’d totally work.”

“I thought we literally just talked about you not being okay with that, though?” Seonghwa pointed out, momentarily derailed from his original goal.

“Well, honestly," Hongjoong said thoughtfully, "last night I realized that watching you love our members just makes me love you more. I think I was so caught up in jealousy because I thought it was just the first step to you moving on, you know? And I really didn’t like the thought of you with people who aren’t our members even though I knew I didn’t have the right to control what you do. But it feels like the eight of us are all fated to be together, whether it’s romantic or platonic. Even if I’m the leader on paper you’ve always been my partner in everything with them — you know and look after them in ways I can’t. And... I kind of want you to have all the love in the world right now.”

Seonghwa couldn’t resist kissing him deeply for that, and they made out lazily for several minutes before he remembered his original point.

“Okay, wait, that’s...good to know, but I really meant one of the others — I bet the 99z, at least, have talked about it if they’re all dating one another.”

“That’s probably true,” Hongjoong admitted. “We should wait until after break, though, right? And what I said earlier still holds – a witch hunt is never the answer.”

“Shows what you know,” Seonghwa muttered petulantly, lying back down with a disappointed sigh. They lay in silence for a couple more minutes, enjoying the rare quiet and comforting warmth of one another’s bodies.

“I do mean it, though,” Hongjoong said suddenly. “About being okay with you doing stuff with the others. I was thinking about it as we fell asleep last night, too, and that’s where my boundaries are. Is that okay?”

“Yeah, I haven’t been interested in anyone else in years, anyways,” Seonghwa confessed. “I think I feel the same about you, for the record. I wouldn’t mind if you wanted to do stuff with our members.”

Hongjoong shrugged.

“It’s not going to come up,” he said confidently.

“You’ve seriously never even considered one of the others sexually?”

“Of course not!” Hongjoong yelped. Seonghwa raised a skeptical eyebrow at him.

“Never?”

“Well, Wooyoung occasionally, but that’s just because...I mean, he’s Wooyoung, sex is basically a lifestyle for him. And he’s so annoying, sometimes...”

“Sometimes…” Seonghwa urged. Hongjoong shook his head, suddenly flustered, and refused to continue. He steadfastly avoided Seonghwa’s knowing gaze and squirmed his way out of the bed.

“C’mon, we should go eat something — it’s basically lunchtime already.”

Seonghwa laughed at the obvious deflection but followed him to the kitchen, lacing their hands together happily.

 

 

 

 

Jongho paused as he and Yeosang exited the cafe they had breakfasted at, frowning down at a message on his phone.

“Hyung, do you mind if we just stop off somewhere else first? I wanted to bring my mom flowers tonight when I go home and the order’s ready now.”

“Sure,” Yeosang agreed readily, eager to spend a bit more time away from their currently-stress-inducing apartment. He glanced out the car window as they drove to the florist, absently noting that they were nearing the neighborhood where he had trained at Big Hit all those years ago. The car slowed to a stop at a very familiar corner, and Yeosang exited slowly, memories washing over him. He hadn’t been to this area in ages and many of the stores had changed, but a lot of his old favorites looked exactly the same. There was the hotteok stall run by the Ajumma who had a soft spot for Yeonjun and used to always slip them extra food, there was the corner Yeosang had embarrassingly tripped over when a pretty girl smiled at him once, there was… there was Wooyoung, waving them over from underneath the entrance of pizza place they had once frequented.

Yeosang spun around to glare at his maknae.

“What is he doing here?” He hissed, glancing around desperately for a way out of this sudden confrontation even as Jongho tugged him closer to Wooyoung.

“He texted asking to meet us here. Well, to meet you here. I have to go pick up those flowers.”

“From where?” Yeosang asked suspiciously.

“The place near our apartment,” Jongho admitted, finally having the grace to look slightly apologetic.

“You- I - the things I’ll do to you if I survive this, maknae,” Yeosang sputtered, unable to do much without drawing unnecessary attention. Jongho rolled his eyes and pulled him bodily across the street to the restaurant. Wooyoung snagged his arm, not giving Yeosang time to protest, and waved Jongho off before opening the door for them to enter.

Yeosang looked around curiously despite himself, taking in the subtle changes in decor and layout. The restaurant was more like a dive bar, really, a tiny hole-in-the-wall place that he and Wooyoung had discovered after the first evaluation they passed together. Their parents had sent them a little extra money and they had decided to forget their nonstop diet and practice regimen to celebrate for just one meal. It had been an odd night for them both — they were happy, of course, to have passed, but they had also just said goodbye to several of their friends who had failed and were privately each wondering if their love for music and performing would be enough to carry them through a trainee life that was very different from what they had anticipated. They had been starving that first night, and there had been something so magical about both the food and the atmosphere that they had come back after every successful evaluation since. It had been theirs and theirs alone, a place where they could take two blissful hours every month to just relax completely and be themselves. Those nights had formed the bedrock of their friendship, and they had jealously safeguarded the restaurant from even their other friends.

Yeosang shook himself out of the bittersweet memories and focused back on the present.

“Why did you kidnap me here?” he asked cautiously. He still felt like a complete mess on the inside and couldn’t quite believe Jongho had lied to him so easily, but the familiar calming atmosphere of the restaurant was dulling his emotions enough for him to relax a bit.

“I haven’t been back here since the day you left Big Hit and I missed it,” Wooyoung answered, lacing their hands together. “And, well, I wanted to talk to you. About...us. I thought this might be a good place since we have so many memories here. ”

“That sounds ominous,” Yeosang complained, glancing back longingly at the door.

“Oh come on, it’s my treat,” Wooyoung coaxed. “What do you want to order?”

“I’m too sickened by Jongho’s betrayal to eat,” Yeosang muttered sulkily. “But...maybe we should get that bulgogi pizza. And the sweet potato crust one with steak. And-”

“Let’s just get those two and that weird chicken combo you went crazy for,” Wooyoung decided. “We can always come back another time. We should come back, sometime.”

Yeosang hummed noncommittally, deciding pettily to not even offer to help. He grabbed a table for them in a secluded corner instead, waiting as Wooyoung ordered, collected their pizzas and drinks, and carefully balanced the food on his way to the table. Wooyoung slid into his seat with a relieved sigh after setting the pizzas safely down, looked up at Yeosang’s face and burst out laughing.

“What?”

“Did you seriously force yourself not to help because you’re annoyed at me?”

“Of course not,” Yeosang huffed, avoiding eye contact. Wooyoung giggled delightedly.

“I told you you need more obvious revenge plots! No one else would have even realized. God, I love you so much.”

Yeosang froze, face shuttering, and stuffed a piece of the chicken pizza in his mouth to avoid answering.

“Do you - do you not love me anymore?” Wooyoung asked shakily, face falling.

“I couldn’t stop if I tried,” Yeosang snorted bitterly, feeling emotional enough to be angry at how good the pizza was.

“You want to stop though? Sang-ah, what did I do? Please, just tell me and I’ll fix it, I promise.”

“You didn’t do anything, Wooyoung,” Yeosang said quickly, still not meeting his eyes. “I’m sorry, I know I’m being dramatic. I just thought - well, it doesn’t matter, I was wrong. I just need a bit of space to get over things. I’ll be fine after break, don’t worry so much.”

“If it’s something you’re struggling with, I want to know, though. If it’s still bothering you it won’t just go away. You can tell me anything, right?”

“What, so I tell you everything and you tell me nothing?” Yeosang challenged, finally staring him straight in the eye. Wooyoung flinched.

“That’s part of what I wanted to talk about. Look, I can’t speak for Yunho and Mingi, but for Sannie and I, we were so scared to tell you, Yeosang. I know that’s not an excuse but we just...every time one of us thought it might be time the other chickened out. San-ah thought you would resent him — well, maybe you two should have that talk yourself. Anyways, I couldn’t bear the risk of losing you and I was so scared of your reaction.”

“Why, though?” Yeosang pleaded. “I don’t understand at all.”

“You - please don’t hate me for this,” Wooyoung begged. “I never wanted to put you in this position, I know you don’t love me back, but-”

“Love you back?” Yeosang repeated numbly. “Did - are you making fun of me?”

“No! Of course not, Sang-ah, not about something like this. I’ve been in love with you — well, probably forever, but I realized it after you left Big Hit.”

“No,” Yeosang whispered. “No, no, no, no.”

“Do you hate me?” Wooyoung asked tearfully, pressing himself into the corner of their booth. “I’m so sorry, I wasn’t going to tell you because I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable, but then everything was ruined anyways and I thought…”

“I don’t hate you,” Yeosang responded automatically, mind spinning. “But...what does that have to do with you and the others.”

Wooyoung wiped a few stray tears away and straightened, determined to get the full story out.

“I was scared you’d be mad, but there was a part of me that was scared you’d be happy for me, too, you know? I can never bear it when you’re angry with me, of course, but...as long as I never confessed to you I could always cling to the hope that someday you might return my feelings. I know it was selfish and stupid and hopeless and I’m so sorry I kept it from you so long, Sang-ah. I just-”

“But I’m in love with you, too,” Yeosang blurted out, inhaling sharply as what he had just said caught up with him.

Wooyoung stared at him blankly.

“What?”

“I’m in love with you too,” Yeosang repeated slowly, swallowing nervously before continuing. “I had the biggest crush on you from basically the day we met, and you dated all those other people, so...so I just gave up.”

Wooyoung winced slightly and stared at him, hope dawning in his eyes.

“You’re serious?” he pressed, reaching out for Yeosang’s hand desperately. “I thought we could try once I came to KQ, but you treated all of us exactly the same — and said you never thought you’d find another friendship like ours but the others proved you wrong, so I thought…”

“I was trying to get over you,” Yeosang explained dazedly, still not quite able to believe what was happening.

“It’s like ships passing in the night,” Wooyoung said wonderingly. “All those years... You were the reason I never dated at KQ until Sannie, you know? And even that was kind of an accident-”

The final bits of tension leaked out of Yeosang as he listened, believing the younger more and more with every word. He clung tightly to Wooyoung’s hand with one of his and ate steadily with the other hand, suddenly ravenous for the nostalgic taste of the pizza and all the comfort that came with it. Wooyoung was still talking when he finished his half of the food and he smiled fondly, squeezing the other’s hand to get his attention.

“Eat, Young-ah,” He urged gently. “The pizza’s half-cold already.”

“Will you tell me about it, then?” Wooyoung requested, obligingly lifting a piece of the bulgogi pizza onto his plate. “How you - how you fell in love?”

Yeosang blushed and started explaining, slowly at first but gaining confidence rapidly with the star-struck way Wooyoung looked at him.

“I used to dream that you’d give me my first kiss here, you know,” he confessed after he had finished. “That we’d leave, holding hands like always, and you’d press me into that alcove next to that bookstore in the alley next to us and kiss me. It’s stupid now, but-”

“It’s not stupid,” Wooyoung argued. “I wish I had known, back then. We could have had so much more time.”

Yeosang shook his head.

“It wasn’t healthy back then. At least, it wasn’t for me. I would never have been able to leave the agency or make my own decisions, and you would have felt completely smothered by my clinginess. And we might never have become Ateez — or even debuted, for that matter. It hurt, of course, but I wouldn’t have wanted things to change. Except maybe the last 24 hours. Those really sucked.”

“I’m sorry,” Wooyoung apologized again.

“Don’t be, really. It’s not your fault. And...I’m glad we got to come here again. It really feels exactly the same, doesn’t it? It’s still just as magical as it was all those years ago."

“It’s because you’re here,” Wooyoung told him, fondly watching him look around in wonder. Yeosang snorted.

“Yeah, right.”

“No, I mean it,” Wooyoung insisted. “The day after you left I was feeling sorry for myself, so I thought I’d come here because it always made us feel better, right? But I entered and...it just felt like any other hole-in-the-wall cafe. I mean, the food was still great and everything but it didn’t have that magical feeling of home and safety. That was...that was when I realized I was in love with you. My world was literally duller without you in it, Sang-ah.”

Yeosang blushed and they smiled sappily at one another, the implications of their mutual confessions slowly sinking in.

“About the others,” Wooyoung remembered, sobering slightly. “You’re - does it bother you?”

Yeosang shook his head, blushing slightly.

“No, I think it’s cute. You and, well, all of them, actually. It just felt like it was everyone except me, and-” Yeosang swallowed thickly and looked down at his hands again, and Wooyoung reached across to tip his chin back up.

“It was always you, Yeosang,” he said softly. “Destiny might have brought the eight of us together, but I chose you. And I’ll keep on choosing you every day for the rest of our lives, okay?”

“Okay,” Yeosang agreed, unable to suppress his grin. “Can we go home now? I do want to come back here again, but…”

“Aww,” Wooyoung cooed, ruffling Yeosang’s hair as he stood up to put their plates away. “You’re just trying to get me in bed, aren’t you.”

“No!” Yeosang yelped, flushing bright red and glancing around frantically to see if they’d been overheard. “I’m breaking up with you, I can’t be boyfriends with someone so shameless. I’ll go date...ugh, why am I the only normal member in this group?”

Wooyoung laughed, lacing one hand with Yeosang’s and calling for a ride on his phone with the other.

“You can’t break up with me, you’ve been in love with me since we met,” he bragged happily as they exited the restaurant and started slowly strolling down the street.

“Yeah, well, you said your life was hopeless without me in it,” Yeosang pointed out.

“No, I said it was duller — oh, wait, this is it, come here!” Wooyoung pulled Yeosang into a tiny alleyway and pressed him against the door of the (thankfully closed) bookstore so that they were partially hidden from view.

“Are you serious?” Yeosang laughed, glancing at the store window elatedly. He meant to say more, but his breath caught at the sight of Wooyoung’s smiling face and he completely lost his train of thought. Their lips met, both of them were grinning too hard to do anything more than press their mouths together.

“Stop smiling,” Wooyoung whined between kisses.

“You stop,” Yeosang whispered back, smile growing at the familiarity of it all. Their lips brushed as they bickered playfully in between kisses, neither willing to move even an inch further away from the other. They stood there exchanging long, drugging kisses until they were rudely interrupted by the chiming of Wooyoung's phone several minutes later.

“Car’s here,” He explained, waving his phone vaguely. He looked up at Yeosang’s face again and, unable to resist, pressed one more to the dancer’s lips before pulling back and waggling his eyebrows suggestively. “The sooner we go home the sooner we can do this on a flat surface.”

“Now who wants to get who into bed?” Yeosang grumbled, coming back to himself a bit and panicking slightly as he realized that they could have been interrupted at any moment. “Wait, did anyone see us?”

“It’s fine, don’t worry,” Wooyoung said placated, sneaking one more giddy kiss before Yeosang pulled him back to the street. “We’re wearing scarves and hats, and even if anyone recognized us it wouldn’t seem that weird. People know I kiss you guys all the time, so I’d just up the affection with one of the others for a bit and no one will be any the wiser. Besides, members of Super Junior used to practically make out on stage, remember?”

“Oh my god,” Yeosang shuddered. “We are never, ever doing that on stage. Leave that for Mingi or Yunho-ah, thank you very much.”

“Whatever you want, darling,” Wooyoung agreed playfully, knowing petnames always made the dancer squirm. Their car arrived and he bundled Yeosang into it quickly, pressing as close as possible to him within the confines of their seatbelts.

“That- that was my first one, you know,” Yeosang said quietly after the car pulled off into the road, blushing furiously at the admission for what seemed like the millionth time in just the past hour.

“What?” Wooyoung yelped loudly. The driver glanced back at them and he apologized quickly before turning back to Yeosang with a quieter, but no less vehement, “Are you serious right now?”

Yeosang shrugged awkwardly.

“It’s not that big of a deal, right?” he asked, looking as though it were very much a big deal.

“Not a big deal? Not a big deal! It wasn’t even a proper experience — we were in an alley, oh my god what have I done,” he groaned, burying his face in his hand and muttering to himself.

“It was perfect, Young-ah,” Yeosang assured. “Better than I ever dreamed it would be. Anyways, I didn’t want a ton of attention put on it. I like that it was natural.”

Wooyoung softened at his words, still looking slightly scandalized.

“I’ll show you perfect,” he grumbled. “We just have to get back home, first.”

 

 

 

 

Hongjoong and Seonghwa were just washing up their dishes when the door to the apartment burst open and Jongho bolted in, mask askew and hands full of flowers.

“Choi Jongho, your shoes!” Seonghwa yelped, groaning at the thought of the extra cleaning required. The maknae halted guiltily and backtracked quickly, slipping off his shoes before rushing back to the kitchen excitedly.

“Hyungs, hyungs, hyungs,” he chanted. “It happened! I’m a genius.”

“What happened?” Hongjoong asked, taken aback. “Come to think of it, weren’t you with Yeosangie? You didn’t lose him, did you?”

“I kidnapped him!” Jongho exclaimed gleefully. “To the pizza place, and now he and Wooyoung are in a taxi on the way back. I’m tracking their location — they’re only fifteen minutes away so we have to find a place to hide! I wanted to spread rose petals in their room but the Ajumma said it’d take her half an hour to collect enough so I just settled for a bouquet instead.”

“You — what?” Seonghwa frowned, struggling to understand his rambling. “Can you start from the beginning, please, Jongho-ah?”

“Ugh, okay, so Wooyoung was trying to confess his undying love for Yeosang, but hyung was ignoring him so I told him I had to get flowers for my mom after coffee but really I was taking him to meet Wooyoungie-hyung. Then I really went to get flowers, but I got distracted talking to the Ajumma at the shop so I was helping her design boutonnieres. Then Wooyoung texted me saying I’m rooming with San in Spain, which means Yeosang’s in love with him back because of this bet we made — long story, don’t look so worried, hyungs — and I checked their location and they’re coming back here. So I got them a congratulations-for-talking-about-your-feelings bouquet and rushed back to tell you to hide so we don’t disrupt their mood when they come back.”

“I really wanted to do a witch hunt, though,” Seonghwa complained, sulkily taking out three vases for the various flowers and filling them with water.

“What do witch hunts have to do with anything, hyung?” Jongho wondered, staring at Seonghwa in confusion before quickly dismissing the thought. “Whatever. The more important thing is — oh, I got you guys a congratulations-for-talking-about-your-feelings bouquet, too! Here.”

Hongjoong accepted the bouquet numbly and slid it into the appropriate vase, still completely lost.

“Thank you?”

“You’re welcome, hyung,” Jongho beamed. “Now, come on, they’ll be back soon! Can we hide behind the couch? There’s a good view of the hallway from there but I don’t think they’d see us as they’re coming in.”

Hongjoong and Seonghwa exchanged glances before shrugging and following their maknae to the living room.

“I guess it can’t do any harm,” Hongjoong reasoned. “But what happens if they come in here and see us?”

Jongho paused, stumped for a moment before reaching under the entertainment center for the secret deck of Uno cards stashed there.

“Playing banned card games?”

Seonghwa rolled his eyes but agreed, following the other two behind the couch obediently. Jongho opened the tracking map on his phone and watched Yeosang and Wooyoung’s dots slowly come to a stop outside their apartment building. Seonghwa and Hongjoong leaned forwards as well, getting caught up in the maknae's excitement and holding their breath as they waited. The sound of their door unlocking came a moment later and the three of them cautiously rose up to watch the hallway.

A series of thumps, punctuated by intermittent giggles and the unmistakable sounds of lips meeting carried to the living room and Jongho grinned triumphantly. Seonghwa and Hongjoong watched wide-eyed as their two dongsaengs appeared outside the living room doorway, so completely intertwined with one another that they could barely walk.

Yeosang and Wooyoung laughed and kissed their way straight to their room, the door slamming shut behind them, far too wrapped up in one another to notice the three heads peeking over the living room couch.

“That was even better than I thought it would be,” Jongho declared happily, sitting back with a sigh of contentment.

“It was pretty exciting,” Seonghwa admitted. “Please note, though, Jongho-ah — even while they were making out they remembered to take their shoes off.”

“I’ll clean the hallway later, hyung,” Jongho promised, widening his eyes earnestly. “But can we go get lunch, now? I got too distracted by hyungs and all the flowers and forgot to have lunch.”

“Of course, baby,” Seonghwa agreed immediately.

“We literally just ate,” Hongjoong grumbled, getting up and heading to the door nevertheless.

“Thanks, hyungs,” Jongho chirped cheerfully. “Maybe the others can join us, too. Ah, they looked so happy. I’m going to brag so, so much.”

“Why don’t we just start with lunch,” Seonghwa suggested dryly, pushing the maknae out the door. “It’ll probably be good to give them some privacy, anyways, they didn’t look like they were planning on separating any time soon.”

Chapter Text

By the time Jongho, Mingi, San, Yunho, Hongjoong and Seonghwa returned to the dorm several hours later, Wooyoung and Yeosang had emerged from their room and were tangled up on the couch ‘watching’ old drama reruns. Yunho squinted at them suspiciously, but they seemed to be chatting relatively innocently so he decided it was probably safe to join them in the living room.

“We brought food back,” he told them, dropping the containers in their lap to announce his arrival. “We weren’t sure if you’d realized it’s dinner time or not.”

“Do you think I’d let my boyfriend starve?” Wooyoung demanded, puffing up his chest happily.

“I’ve gotten the boyfriend treatment from you, too, and I know exactly how distracted you can get,” Yunho pointed out, ignoring the voice in his head that was reminding him that he might not be getting the boyfriend treatment from Wooyoung for much longer. Yeosang might not have been okay with Wooyoung dating multiple people and Wooyoung might very well have chosen his oldest friend over his very new relationship with Yunho. Wooyoung and Yunho hadn’t even gone on a proper date yet, the older remembered uncomfortably as he sat down at the other end of the couch. And it was kind of weird for him to have brought up Wooyoung getting distracted anyways, even if their relationship was theoretically out in the open. Maybe-

“Wait, I want a kiss,” Wooyoung complained, disentangling his arms to make grabby hands at Yunho. “I’m not gonna see you for a whole week Yunho-ah.”

“Is that okay, though?” Yunho asked cautiously, glancing between the two of them.

“As long as you give me a kiss too,” Yeosang winked. Yunho gaped at him, scandalized.

What?”

“I’m practicing being sexy,” Yeosang informed him proudly. “ Wooyoungie’s teaching me. Did it work?”

Yunho and Wooyoung shook their heads in tandem.

“Too cute, hyung,” Jongho interjected knowingly, entering the room with Mingi and San. “Don’t worry, I’ll give you lessons on sexiness after break.”

“What do you know about being sexy?” Wooyoung scoffed, wrapping his arms back around Yeosang possessively.

“Hey, Jongho can be sexy!” Mingi protested. “He can break coconuts just by looking at them.”

“I... hyung, isn’t my strength impressive enough in real life?” Jongho pouted, forgetting about the others for a moment. “You don’t have to lie about it!”

“Of course it is, Jongho-ah,” Mingi soothed. “It just drives our Young-ah crazy when I exaggerate so much.”

“Oh, that’s okay then,” Jongho shrugged, turning back to the other 99z. “Hyung, you’re too biased when it comes to Yeosang-hyung. It doesn’t make a good teaching environment.”

“Like you’re not,” Wooyoung snorted. “He’s the only one of us you do any skinship with!”

“That’s not true!” Jongho protested. “I do skinship with Mingi-hyung all the time.”

“Punching doesn’t count,” Yunho laughed. “Although, admittedly, I did hear a very cute story of you snuggling with Seonghwa-hyung the other night.”

Jongho blushed bright red and Wooyoung gasped, glancing towards the doorway to make sure the hyungs hadn’t come in yet.

“Wait, your S-crush?!” he whispered eagerly. Jongho glared at Yunho and the older quickly put his hands up.

“I didn’t mean it like that!” he protested quickly. “But now you’ve totally given it away.”

Anyways,” Mingi intervened smoothly. “I think we can all agree that Seonghwa-hyung’s the best teacher for sexiness.”

“But I don’t want to do weird things with my tongue,” Yeosang protested, looking a bit green at the thought.

“Babe, I hate to break it to you but we’ve been doing ‘weird things with your tongue’ all afternoon,” Wooyoung pointed out apologetically, patting Yeosang’s back in commiseration.

“Are you kids done?” Hongjoong interrupted dryly as he entered from the kitchen with Seonghwa, arms laden with drinks and napkins for the eight of them. “I really don’t want to be talking about anyone’s tongues while we’re eating dinner.”

“Jongho-ah said you went to some type of pizza restaurant you used to go to?” Seonghwa asked pointedly, knowing he was probably being teased if they were talking about tongues and eager to change the subject quickly. “Why don’t you tell us about it?”

Yeosang launched into an animated explanation of how they had discovered the tiny restaurant years ago, leaning forward in Wooyoung’s lap in his excitement.

“....and I think we ordered the chicken one the first time, right Wooyoung?” he asked expectantly, pausing to turn and look down at the other. Wooyoung just stared sappily back at him and Yeosang scrunched his nose in confusion. “What? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Wooyoung replied cheerfully, pulling him impossibly closer and indulging in a quick kiss. “You’re cute, that’s all.”

Hongjoong gagged and Seonghwa patted him on the back sympathetically, looking vaguely disgusted himself.

“I regret everything,” Jongho groaned dramatically, flopping sideways into Mingi’s lap and hiding his eyes in the rapper’s sweater. “Why did I ever help you two get together?”

“I thought you wanted to be roommates with me,” San pouted.

“Of course I do, hyung,” Jongho assured him quickly. “But you have to admit, this is a bit much.”

“I think it’s cute,” San insisted loyally, watching the pair whisper and giggle to one another. “Yeosang?”

There was no reply from the younger, and San sighed. He did think it was sweet, but he also needed to clear the air with Yeosang if he was going to enjoy his break at all. He was still worried he had somehow gotten between Yeosang and Wooyoung and that the older would resent him for it. From what Jongho had said, it sounded like Yeosang and Wooyoung had been in love with one another for years. He and Yeosang had always shared a close relationship, and he knew that Yeosang was the type to suppress his hurt and insecurities until they practically exploded out of him. San had a sneaking suspicion that the way the relationship between the other 99z had come out had revived all of the pain the older must have been suppressing all these years, and he hated that he had played any part of that. He wished he had just been brave enough to talk with Yeosang about all of this months ago, but he couldn’t do anything about that now.

Wooyoung and Yeosang were feeding one another now and his heart ached at the cuteness even as he longed to be wrapped up with them. He needed to talk to Yeosang as soon as they were all finished eating, no matter how adorable the two were together.

 

 

“Yeosangie?” San tried again once the dishes had been cleared and the eight of them were just chatting lazily as they lounged in the living room. “Can I talk to you?”

Yeosang stiffened and Wooyoung glanced at him worriedly.

“I can join,” he offered, glancing between Yeosang and San.

“No, you can’t,” San objected firmly. “Yeosang and I have a relationship independent of you, you know.”

“Are you mad at me, too?” Wooyoung asked incredulously.

“I’m not mad at anyone!” San exclaimed. “I just need to make sure Yeosang isn’t mad at me.”

“I’m not mad at you, Sannie,” Yeosang said confidently. “So don’t worry.”

San faltered, glancing around the room full of members studiously pretending to be focused on their phones in a rare show of unified diplomacy.

“Can we still talk, though? I promise it’s nothing bad.” Yeosang hesitated, eventually nodding and reluctantly detaching himself from Wooyoung to follow San into his bedroom.

“What do you want to talk about?” he asked gingerly, sitting down on Yunho’s bed.

“I- I don’t even know where to start,” San sighed, running a hand through his hair and sitting down next to Yeosang on the bed. “I guess, first of all, I wanted to make sure you aren’t mad about Wooyung and I dating.”

“Is this about the whole 'who's his best friend' thing, still, San-ah?” Yeosang asked hesitantly. “I don’t think of you as, like, a rival or something, you know that. We’re friends too, independently of Wooyoung like you said. I'm happy for the two of you, it doesn't bother me at all.”

“But how?” San burst out. “How can you be okay with us being together for months when you two have been in love with one another this whole time and could have been dating if not for me? Don’t you feel like… like I’m just in the way?”

“Ugh I hate emotional conversations,” Yeosang groaned, burying his face in San’s chest to gather himself. “San-ah,, all of this was never about you and Wooyoung. It was my insecurities about losing him. Wooyoung is more important to me than anyone could possibly imagine, and he’s played a huge role in my self-confidence. The idea that I might just be an afterthought to him is what hurt — I’m not even that mad about you all hiding it since I can see how it would be really hard to talk about given the lives we live. But his relationship with you...honestly, it makes me feel more comfortable. We complement one another, all eight of us do. He really likes doing things with others and I need time to myself sometimes, but with all eight of us — and with you, especially — I know that I can just tell him I’m not up for it that day and there will be someone else to go with him. You have the energy to play with him in ways that I don’t, and you love me in ways that he can’t, and we all just fit. I used to do everything for him, even if it made me uncomfortable or unhappy, and that wasn’t sustainable. He never asked me to, of course, but now that he has others to play with I put less pressure on myself to be everything for him. I like that. I just didn’t want to lose him in the process.”

San fell back against Yunho’s bed with a deep, relieved sigh, tugging Yeosang with him so the older was cuddled into his chest.

“Okay, I believe you.”

“Thank you ever so much,” Yeosang said sarcastically.

“No, I mean, I feel like I can actually fully believe what you’ve been trying to tell me for months now,” San corrected. “It clicked. Thank you, Yeosangie, for your patience. I’m sorry it took me so long.”

“You have the least to apologize for out of anyone,” Yeosang laughed, waving it off. “Nothing’s your fault!”

“It’s at least half my fault Wooyoung and I didn’t tell you we were dating, though,” San pointed out. “I was just so scared…”

Yeosang shrugged.

“You didn’t tell me you were dating for a couple months, Wooyoung didn’t tell me he’s been in love with me for literal years. And, come to think of it, Mingi and Yunho didn’t tell me they were dating for months either and neither of them have so much as come up with a reason for that. I’m too busy being annoyed with all your other boyfriends to be annoyed with you, San-ah, so unless you’re secretly massively in love with me or something you don’t have anything to worry about.”

San winced.

“Yeosangie...”

“What? Why do you look like that?”

“I’m kind of secretly massively in love with you.”

Yeosang scrambled backwards off of San’s lap and onto the pillows at the head of the bed.

“Are you joking or something? Like when I told Yunho to kiss me? Because it’s really not funny, San.”

“No, of course not! I was still so confused about my sexuality when I got together with Wooyoung but then we talked everything out, including about him being in love with you, and…well, he talked about you so much that I started looking at you differently. I hadn’t really thought about the eight of us like that before because, well, who would? But once I had the thought I couldn’t get rid of it and you’re so easy to fall in love with, Sang-ah. Sang-ah? Oh my god, are you crying?”

San drew Yeosang back into his arms tentatively, petting his hair and wiping at his tears.

“I just, I really thought I might be unlovable,” Yeosang confessed quietly, sniffling. “People say I’m handsome, but-”

“Of course you’re lovable!” San protested, squeezing him tightly. “I’m sure everyone in this dorm has had a crush on you at some point. And not just because of your looks, you're so much more than that! If anything, you’re too lovable, Yeosangie. It’s a bit dangerous, the power you hold.”

Yeosang giggled, but his face fell almost immediately as he realized the implications of what San said.

“Wait, does that mean you want to date me as well?” He asked cautiously. San froze.

“Well, yes, eventually, I would like that a lot. If you could ever bring yourself to love me, too.”

“I don’t — I’m sure I could, just I never thought about it before? I only ever really thought about Wooyoung and getting over him. I never even considered the idea of dating multiple people at once until you guys said you were all together, and...well, I just don’t know.”

“Will you think about it?” San asked gently. “Over break, maybe? If you don’t want to I understand, of course, and it might be too much with you and Wooyoung just getting together, but if you ever decide it’s something you want…”

“I’ll tell you,” Yeosang promised, mind already spinning at the idea. “But, San-ah, no matter what I say, please know that you’ve become just as important to me as Wooyoung is. I know I’m not good about expressing my emotions like you and the others, but I do love you. You’re always there for me when I need it most, both at work and in our personal lives. I want us to be together forever, even after we retire. I really do love you.”

“I love you, too,” San replied happily, hugging Yeosang and feeling like the weight of the world had been lifted off his shoulders. The secret had been driving him crazy, especially the last couple weeks, and it was a relief to not have to keep it from Yeosang anymore.

“Good,” Yeosang agreed, clearing his throat and leaning against San heavily. “We don’t need to keep talking about emotions, right? I’ve been an ‘open and honest communicator’ all day and it’s awful. I’m going to need months to recover.”

“Yes, we can be done,” San laughed. “I bet if you pull out your puppy eyes we can even convince the hyungs to let us have a pillow fort.”

 

 

The hyungs turned out to be in the mood for anything that would distract Wooyoung from Yeosang’s lips, so they didn’t even need the puppy eyes to convince everybody to spend their last night together before break sleeping in a pillow fort.

They stayed up far too late laughing and bickering and woke up blearily to Jongho’s alarm the next morning, only to realize that they had overslept and none of the 99z had even started packing yet given all the chaos of the previous two days. The dorm launched into an absolute whirlwind of clothes and members. Before Hongjoong had even woken up fully, San and Seonghwa were rushing out the door to meet San’s father, with Hongjoong barely having time to sneak a quick goodbye kiss from Seonghwa in their room as the older grabbed his bag (which had been neatly packed a full week ago, of course). Yunho followed soon after, and then Wooyoung, Jongho, and Mingi until it was just Yeosang and Hongjoong left in the dorm.

“Are you sure you’ll be okay, hyung?” Yeosang asked worriedly, about to go meet his parents to head home. “I could probably stay another night…”

“Of course I’ll be okay,” Hongjoong said confidently, keeping a cheerful face for his dongsaeng despite his inner worries.

He had one more meeting with Edenary that night before heading home the next day and, while he had originally thought it would be kind of nice to have the dorm to himself for a night, he was starting to feel a bit unmoored. Everything had happened so fast in the last couple days, and the emptiness of the dorm made him realize just how much had been left unresolved still. No one was fighting anymore, which was good, but he had never really had a chance to check in with the 99z about their relationship. He needed to talk with them about it, both as a leader and a friend, to make sure that they knew he supported them fully — but also to find out why they had felt like they needed to keep it from him.

Yeosang seemed like he was doing better after his talk with Wooyoung, but his breakdown had been terrifying and Hongjoong was worried those insecurities had merely been pushed aside rather than healed. Seonghwa had mentioned Jongho feeling left out and Hongjoong had meant to talk with the younger and spend some one-on-one time with him before break, but break was here and Jongho was gone. And Seonghwa…. Hongjoong felt like he was actually in a pretty good place with his roommate considering where they had been a week ago, but there was still a lot up in the air between them.

Anyways, there was nothing to be done about it all right now. Hongjoong hugged Yeosang goodbye and closed the door behind the younger firmly, not really feeling sure of anything at all.

Chapter Text

Yunho woke on his second day home to three missed calls from Wooyoung and a message asking him to call back as soon as possible. He sat up blearily and dialed Wooyoung’s number, trying not to immediately jump to the worst conclusions.

Wooyoung answered cheerfully, no trace of urgency in his tone, and Yunho let himself relax slightly.

“Did you call for a particular reason earlier?” he asked cautiously.

“Yes, actually,” Wooyoung answered. “I wanted to tell you I’ve been thinking a lot since Yeosangie and I figured stuff out, and I think… I think I’m done.”

Yunho froze, blood running cold. He’s not breaking up with you, he told himself firmly. Wooyoung wouldn’t do that over the phone.

“You’re done with what?”

“Our seduction plan,” Wooyoung explained. Yunho’s heart started beating again and he forced himself to take a deep, albeit shaky, breath. “I want to focus on my relationship with Yeosang for a bit instead.”

“Did he have a problem with it?”

“We didn’t really get a chance to talk about it,” Wooyoung said, his shrug almost audible through the phone. “He’s fine with the four of us. But I have a problem with it. Mingi was already worried that he was some type of collector’s item for Sannie and I, and the last thing I want is for Yeosang to feel like that too. He deserves to feel special, and I want to be able to focus on our relationship as we move from platonic to romantic. He’s not very good at asking for what he wants because he always thinks he’s being selfish, so I want to make sure I’m being attentive to him and building us a strong foundation, you know?”

“Yeah, that makes sense,” Yunho replied numbly. “You’re a really good boyfriend, Young-ah.”

“I know,” Wooyoung replied smugly. “What’s up with you? How does it feel to be home?”

“Good,” Yunho said vaguely. “Listen, Wooyoung, I think I need to go, actually. My mom was almost finished with breakfast, so…”

“Oh, okay,” Wooyoung said awkwardly. “Give them my love.”

“Yeah, of course. Have fun with the others.”

Yunho hung up without waiting for a reply and dropped back against his pillows, burying his face in his hands. He felt weird and off-balance, the leftover fear of a break-up still thrumming through his veins. Wooyoung hadn’t actually broken up with him, of course, but their conversation had still sort of felt like the beginning of the end.

He was reasonably convinced that Wooyoung and San were both invested in him romantically, but he hadn’t actually been able to spend any one-on-one time with Wooyoung since they started dating so that really just left San and Mingi as boyfriends he had a solid relationship with. The problem was that he was increasingly in love with their other members the more he thought about it, and at this rate he wasn't sure if he'd ever even find out if they cared for him back. Yeosang and Jongho were both aware of the 99z relationship and yet had expressed no interest in him, which was starting to sting more and more, and Hongjoong had barely spoken to him since the news of their relationship came out.

Of course, none of them were required to love him beyond their Ateez bond, but his relationship with half of his members felt distinctly off and Yunho hated living with uncertainty. They hadn’t had time before break to properly talk through any of the recent developments in their relationships, and Yunho knew he would be second-guessing everything until they could.

He sighed and opened his phone again to dial Mingi, hoping that the rapper would be free to talk. Mingi was his boyfriend, but he was also Yunho’s oldest friend and had the seemingly-magical ability to come up with weird conversation topics that were unpredictable enough to distract from the most persistent of worries.

****************************************

Wooyoung closed his phone with a frown and walked back into his hotel room, flopping down on the bed next to San.

“Did it go okay?” San asked, not looking up from his phone.

“I think so? Yunho didn’t really give me a chance to ask him how he felt, though. He seemed kind of distracted.”

“Well, he is at home.”

“You seem kind of distracted, too,” Wooyoung said pointedly, draping himself over San’s back so he could see what he was reading. “What’s ‘The Great Emu War?’”

San laughed, tilting the phone so Wooyoung could see the screen better.

“Sang-ah sent it in the group chat — he’s been on a Wikipedia kick recently, I guess? He keeps sending me funny articles that aren’t actually that funny, although this one is kind of hilarious. The way it’s written makes it ten times funnier.”

“Your face is ten times funnier,” Wooyoung said lazily. San wrinkled his nose in disgust.

“That’s really not it, Young-ah. Anyways, do you know what’s taking Seonghwa-hyung so long? I want him.”

“He has to pretty himself up,” Woooyoung explained knowingly. “He takes ages in the bathroom.”

The door clicked open as Seonghwa let himself in and San immediately bounded over to hug him.

“You guys really need to stop harping on about my shower length,” Seonghwa grumbled, letting San drag him down to the bed in between the two of them. “We live in a crowded apartment, it’s totally normal to want some alone time.”

“You’re anything but normal, hyung,” Wooyoung teased, sticking his tongue out at Seonghwa. San pushed Wooyoung off the bed and wrapped himself around an amused Seonghwa protectively.

“Don’t bully hyung, Young-ah,” he scolded. “I missed him.”

“As sweet as that is, we ate dinner with our families just last night,” Seonghwa pointed out. “And you’re suffocating me. Maybe you’re secretly a boa constrictor instead of a wolf pup, hm?”

“No, Wooyoung’s the snake,” San decided. “Ooh, hyung, can't I be a mongoose?”

Wooyoung hissed playfully at him and San abandoned Seonghwa to leap on top of the younger, starting a playful wrestling match that only ended when the elder forcibly inserted himself between the two and pushed them apart.

“Did something happen?” he asked tentatively. “You guys seem a bit weirder than normal, if that’s possible.”

Wooyoung and San exchanged glances.

“I don’t know, hyung,” Wooyoung said slowly. “It just still feels like there’s a lot of stuff up in the air. And Yunho seemed kind of off this morning as well. I just feel on edge, like something’s about to happen. But there’s nothing going on, right? We’re just here with our families for another day and then back home.”

“If you’re thinking about the others anyways, why don’t we try going gift shopping?” Seonghwa suggested. “I’m sure they’d all love something from here, and my birthday is coming up soon…”

“We’re definitely not buying you a present after such shameless advertising,” Wooyoung objected. “But that isn’t a bad idea.”

“I suppose it’s not horrendous,” San agreed, insistently poking them both towards the door.

“Would it kill you to just say it’s a good idea?” Seonghwa asked exasperatedly.

“Yup,” Wooyoung and San chorused cheerfully, each pressing a kiss to their hyung’s cheek before bouncing past him on their way out the door.

****************************************

Hongjoong had spent the full first half of break worrying about his members before he eventually decided to give up resisting temptation and just call them all. The eight of them kept in contact through sporadic messages in their group chat during break, but nothing could really replace a phone call, right?

Wooyoung was the first person he tried, but the call went straight to voicemail so Hongjoong decided to try Yeosang instead.

“Hello?” Yeosang answered curiously. “Is something wrong, hyung?”

“No?” Hongjoong replied, taken aback. “I was just calling to check in.”

“About work?”

“It’s break, Sang-ah, of course I’m not calling about work.”

There was a short pause and Hongjoong lifted the phone away from his face to stare at it in bewilderment. This was definitely the awkwardest conversation he had ever had with Yeosang. Sure, he didn’t usually call because they were together nearly 24/7, but it wasn’t that weird to call because he missed his members, right?

“Okay, what did you want to talk about, hyung? You don’t usually call...”

“How are you doing? Are you having fun? Is your family well?”

Hongjoong cut himself off, kicking himself for the banality of his questions. He had lived with Yeosang for years, he shouldn’t be resorting to small talk like this.

Yeosang answered readily enough, but the conversation never fully recovered from there and Hongjoong hung up fifteen minutes later feeling even more confused than he had to begin with. He took a deep breath to recenter himself and was about to dial Seonghwa when his phone rang with an incoming call from Jongho.

“Hello?” he answered distractedly.

“Hyung, I’m in the hospital,” Jongho whispered shakily, voice thick with suppressed tears. Hongjoong snapped into his hyung-mode, all thoughts of San and their awkward conversation forgotten.

“What happened, baby? Is anyone with you?”

“There was an accident when I was coming home and I hurt my leg. My eomma’s here and manager-nim is coming soon, too. But, hyung, it really hurts. They gave me meds just now but I can’t-” Jongho cut off on another sob, gasping in pain, and Hongjoong’s heart clenched. “I’m so, so sorry, it was an accident, I swear. I wasn’t doing anything risky, I didn’t mean to mess up, hyung.”

“Of course it wasn’t your fault,” Hongjoong said immediately. “I’m not mad at all, Jongho-ah, I’m just worried about you. Am I the first member you called?”

“Yes.” Jongho hesitated, still sniffling slightly. “Hyung, can you please not tell the others?”

“Jongho-ah, they’ll want to know. Don’t you at least want Seonghwa?”

“No, don’t tell him!” Jongho protested urgently. “Please, hyung, especially him. He’s supposed to be on vacation. You know he’d get all worried and I want him to enjoy the day with his parents. I wasn’t even going to call you because you need the rest too, but...well, then I caved.”

“I’ll leave it up to manager-nim to tell them,” Hongjoong decided, not sure what to do with the information that Jongho had almost not called him. Was this a subtle plea for company? Jongho didn’t always like too much attention when he was hurt, but he sounded terrified and lonely and every inch of Hongjoong’s body was yearning to be with his maknae. “Shall I come to the hospital to stay with you while the doctors do their thing?”

“You don’t have to if you’re busy,” Jongho mumbled reluctantly.

“I’m not busy at all. And even if I was, of course I’d come for you, Jongho-ah. I want to be with you, so long as you’re okay with it.”

“I’m okay with it,” Jongho said hastily, adding a hopeful, “are you coming tonight?”

“I’m coming right now,” Hongjoong answered firmly. “Text me the address and I’ll head straight over, I promise.”

 

 

It took Hongjoong over an hour to get to the hospital but he stayed on the phone with Jongho for as much of the time as possible, trying to keep his dongsaeng’s mind off the pain until the meds kicked in. It was clear when they started to come into effect — Jongho started rambling longer, his words blurring together slightly until he eventually dropped off to sleep and Jongho’s mom picked the phone up to give Hongjoong the directions to the correct ward.

 

 

“Thank you for coming,” Jongho's mom said gratefully, greeting Hongjoong with a tight hug when he arrived. “Do you mind sitting with him for a bit? His father and I decided to stay in shifts so that we can be here overnight, but there’s a lot of doctors to talk with and I don’t want him to wake up alone.”

“Of course,” Hongjoong replied immediately. “Anything. I think it would drive me crazy to not be with him, actually.”

“Thank you,” she repeated sincerely, gathering her things to go meet with their manager and giving him another warm hug. “I’ll bring you both some food in a bit, okay? Text me if there's anything you're particularly in the mood for. He was in too much pain to eat earlier but hopefully he’ll be feeling better once he wakes — they said he probably wouldn’t sleep for too long given everything going on, the meds aren’t strong enough to knock him out for long. And just let me know when you want to leave, I’m sure we can figure out a ride home for you.”

Hongjoong nodded, eyes focused on the tearstained face of his sleeping maknae. Jongho rarely cried so openly, and it was startling to see how small and forlorn he looked in the pristine white hospital bed. One of his legs was elevated with some type of sheet covering it and Hongjoong determinedly avoided looking too closely, knowing that it would just make his stomach turn. From the way Jongho had been talking he knew it had to be a serious injury. He pulled one of the chairs up next to the bed and settled down to wait, watching Jongho carefully for the slightest sign of him waking up.

 

 

Jongho took one look at Hongjoong when he woke up an hour after the leader had arrived and promptly burst into tears, reaching out for a hug. Hongjoong complied immediately, squeezing tight and burying his face in Jongho’s neck to hide how stunned he was at the maknae’s unusually needy behavior. He pulled back eventually to sit back down in the chair, one hand laced securely with Jongho’s while the other dabbed at the tears still running steadily down his dongsaeng’s face.

Hongjoong’s worry only increased over the next half hour as he brushed off Jongho’s repeated apologies and gave him sips of water, telling every random story he could think of in a desperate bid to distract the younger from their surroundings. Jongho’s mom and their manager were coming in and out of the room as they discussed treatment options with various doctors, and Hongjoong could tell that Jongho was getting increasingly stressed the longer time passed without a concrete plan.

“Hyung,” Jongho said anxiously the third time their manager re-entered the room with a shake of his head. “Why is it taking so long to schedule the surgery? Is something else going on?”

“It’s just that scheduling the logistics of it all is complicated,” their manager answered soothingly. “They’re trying to figure out how best to stabilize the area so you can go home as soon as possible, and then there’s the matter of which doctor and where since the surgery needs to fit around our schedule, and what meds will be best, and what the projected recovery length is, and how much can be done through our doctors versus here. It’s a lot of tongue-wagging, really.”

“But why does it have to fit around our schedule?” Hongjoong asked stiffly. “Jongho-ah is injured, he shouldn’t be working.”

“I want to, though,” Jongho insisted. “I told them I need to go back as soon as possible. I’m already making things difficult enough.”

“Jongho…” Hongjoong started, not sure where to even start unpacking that.

“You can definitely come to Spain with us, Jongho,” their manager interrupted gently. “Recording for the next album and singing concerts from a chair should be easy enough to arrange, and they can make sure nothing will get aggravated or be unduly painful while we travel. The problem is just scheduling, but that’s for us to worry about. We can talk about the rest of it tomorrow once you've had some rest — it’s one thing to want to keep singing, but you will not push your foot any further than the doctors allow. Understood?”

Jongho nodded reluctantly, lips pursed in a slight pout.

“You won’t tell the members yet, right?” he pleaded. Their manager nodded and stood up, running a tired hand through his hair.

“I can hold off on telling them until tomorrow if you really want me to. But we’re going to have to announce something publicly soon, and they will need to know before that.”

“Just until tomorrow,” Jongho promised. “They should enjoy their breaks as much as possible, I don’t want them feeling obligated to come back early just for me. Ugh, it'll be so much extra work for everyone.”

Their manager started to disagree, but was interrupted by an incoming phone call. He sighed and answered it, stepping out into the hallway so he wouldn’t disturb them while he talked.

“You’re not an obligation,” Hongjoong burst out, unable to take it any longer. “You’re not a burden, or a disappointment, or whatever else is running through your head. You were injured in an accident that was absolutely not your fault, and no one is going to blame you for that. You aren’t letting anyone down.”

Jongho rolled his eyes, clearly disagreeing, and Hongjoong groaned. He gingerly climbed onto the bed to straddle Jongho’s waist, careful to avoid jostling the injured leg, and cupped the younger’s face in his hands determinedly.

“Jongho-ah, am I older than you?”

“Yes?” Jongho replied, confused.

“Yes, hyung,” Hongjoong corrected. “And am I your leader?”

“Yes, hyung.”

“So that means you have a duty to obey and listen to me, right?”

Jongho just stared up at him with wide eyes, mouth slightly parted. Hongjoong (and Seonghwa, for that matter) had never pulled rank on their dongsaengs so completely, knowing that all eight of them needed to be able to argue and challenge one another in order to have a healthy team dynamic. As long as they knew they all respected one another, there was no need for excessive control. Hongjoong was the leader so his word was final, of course, but he would never dream of demanding blind obedience from his members and tried to keep his nagging focused on their public behavior and important meetings. And he certainly didn’t demand any type of real obedience in their personal lives, careful to keep the line between work and rest clear.

This was different, though. Jongho was acting completely lost and erratic in a way that Hongjoong had never seen before, and seemed determined to almost punish himself for whatever problems he felt that he had caused. It was strange and out of character, and worrying enough that Hongjoong was willing to try anything to nip it in the bud.

He shook the maknae’s chin slightly when Jongho didn’t reply, waiting for a verbal response.

“Yes, hyung,” Jongho said obediently.

“So I decide when you’re in trouble and need a scolding, not you. When I say it’s not your fault it’s not your fault. You haven’t let anyone down at all. Can you repeat that for me?”

Jongho squirmed slightly in embarrassment.

“Hyung-”

“Say it, please, Jongho-ah,” Hongjoong interrupted firmly.

“I haven’t let anyone down,” Jongho repeated softly, just barely holding eye contact with Hongjoong before looking down again.

“Good,” Hongjoong said, satisfied. “You focus on resting and getting better, and let your parents and hyungs figure out everything else. The doctor will tell us how to help you recover and all you have to do is follow those instructions.”

Jongho nodded slowly, shoulders relaxing as he looked up at Hongjoong trustingly, still a bit dazed from his hyung’s unusual sternness. Hongjoong’s heart swelled with love and pride in his brave, strong maknae, and he pulled Jongho forward into a light hug, holding him in place with one hand at the base of his neck while the other massaged the tense muscles in his back.

By the time Jongho’s mom returned with bowls of jajangmyeon for them both, the maknae was calm and settled, albeit a little clingy. He had point blank refused to let Hongjoong sit back down in his chair, instead insisting that the bed was big enough for the two of them. Hongjoong was also feeling rather attached and gave in easily, letting Jongho play with his fingers and update him on the various places he’d been during break.

Hongjoong forgot his own meal as he fondly watched Jongho stir his jajangmyeon, the sight reminding him of a trick his dad always used to pull whenever they got bingsu.

“Ah, wait!”

Jongho froze, chopsticks halfway to his mouth.

“It looks a bit poisonous,” Hongjoong continued solemnly, taking the bowl and chopsticks out of the maknae’s hands. “Why don’t you let me try it first to make sure it’s safe? Can’t have our main vocal getting sick, after all.”

“You’re our leader,” Jongho pointed out, reaching out with cute grabby-hands for the food. “Surely you shouldn’t get sick either.”

“Eh, it would probably be good inspiration for lyrics,” Hongjoong said breezily, preparing a bite as though he was about to eat it. “And raspy voices are in these days.”

“That...would be concerning, but I know you’re too work-obsessed to actually let yourself get sick.”

Hongjoong rolled his eyes and held the chopsticks up to Jongho’s lips.

“Eat, Jongho-ah,” he ordered gently. Jongho complied, a small smile finally playing at the corner of his mouth after their light-hearted exchange, and Hongjoong let his shoulders relax a fraction. He fed Jongho the entire meal carefully, taking advantage of the rare opportunity to baby him properly. Jongho for his part seemed to enjoy it, patiently letting himself be fed small bites of the jajangmyeon and sips of tea without even a token protest.

By the time the food was gone, it was getting late and Jongho was drooping. He kept himself awake only long enough to go to the bathroom and beg the nurses to let Hongjoong stay the night (without first asking the rapper himself, much to their amusement), and was out like a light as soon as both tasks were successfully accomplished.

Hongjoong looked down at Jongho’s sleeping head on his shoulder and sighed, feeling like he had aged about ten years over the course of the past two hours. He still felt wired, his body screaming at him to protect Jongho even though he intellectually knew they were perfectly safe, and he wasn’t sure if he would be able to sleep or not no matter how tired he felt.

Jongho had seemed stressed enough about telling the others about his accident that Hongjoong knew it had been the right decision to hold off and give Jongho time to calm down a bit, but he couldn’t help wishing that Seonghwa, at least, was there with him. The older always seemed to know exactly how to comfort each member perfectly, and Hongjoong desperately missed falling asleep to the sound of his voice.

****************************************

Seonghwa was out at dinner with his parents when he got a text from Hongjoong asking to call. He frowned down at the oddly-worded message even as he excused himself from the table and moved to the bathroom hallway for some privacy.

“Hwa?”

Seonghwa frowned. Hongjoong sounded utterly exhausted, drained in a way that Seonghwa had only seen a handful of times — all of which had occurred during extremely high-stress periods, never a break.

“Are you okay, Joong-ah? What happened?”

Hongjoong laughed bitterly.

“I’m...I’ll be alright. I can’t tell you what happened, though, it’s about someone else. Just- are you busy?”

“No, I’m not busy,” Seonghwa lied, glancing towards the table his parents were eating at. “What can I do?”

“Can you sing to me, please?” Hongjoong requested tentatively. “I can’t sleep.”

“Of course, baby, what would you like?”

“Anything. Something slower, maybe?”

Seonghwa thought for a moment before pulling up the lyrics to Just For You by iKon on his phone and softly starting to sing.

“Thank you,” Hongjoong breathed fervently, soft rustling noises coming through the phone as he nestled down.

Seonghwa smiled but didn’t reply, continuing to gently sing through the song. He sang the last ‘I’ll make good days for you and me’ and huffed a fond laugh when Hongjoong’s only response was a faint snore.

“I love you, Joong-ah,” he whispered quietly. He stayed on the line for an extra moment, savoring the slow breaths of a sleeping Hongjoong, before hanging up the call and heading back to join his parents at their table.

Chapter Text

“Hyung? Hyung, you need to wake up.”

Seonghwa reluctantly forced his eyes open and squinted up at Wooyoung and San’s blurry faces. He blinked more firmly and glanced around in confusion, starting to sit up.

“What happened? What time is it?”

“We fell asleep while we were talking last night,” San explained, lovingly petting Seonghwa’s bedhead. “It’s morning now.”

“Oh,” Seonghwa slumped back against the pillows. “Aren’t we on vacation? Why are you awake when it's dark?”

Wooyoung and San exchanged glances.

“We got a text from manager-nim,” Wooyoung started slowly, reaching over to the bedside table and handing Seonghwa his phone. “Jongho-ah got hurt yesterday and is in the hospital.”

Seonghwa shot up, horrified, and San quickly pushed him back down.

“He’s okay, hyung, he’s not in any immediate danger. He broke his leg badly in an accident, but he’ll make a full recovery. He said he didn’t want us to rush back, and that we should continue our vacations. Hongjoong-hyung is with him for now.”

Seonghwa frowned, mind spinning as he recalled his call with Hongjoong last night and reconciled it with this new information.

“I’m going back,” he decided firmly, pushing back the bed covers. “I’d better go talk to my parents. You two can have a little honeymoon by yourselves.”

“Do you think we should go, too?” San asked anxiously. Wooyoung rolled his eyes and flopped on top of both of them to stop them from moving.

“No, none of us should go. You know how Jongho-ah is with injuries and sickness, he always thinks it’s a weakness and hates us babying him over it — especially if he thinks you’re doing something you wouldn’t do for the others. Hyung is there with him, and I’m sure Mingi will visit him tons since he isn’t too far away. We're going back in a day anyways, and then we can baby him to our heart’s content.”

Seonghwa shook his head.

“You two stay, Wooyoung’s partially right. But Jongho has always let me baby him a bit more than the rest of you, and Joong-ah has been stressed lately. I don’t want him to be the only hyung there. I’ll talk to my parents and try to get back tonight.”

“Okay,” San agreed reluctantly, climbing into Seonghwa’s lap for a long hug. “Look after yourself, too, hyung.”

Wooyoung nodded in agreement, pressing close to hug them both from behind, and Seonghwa let himself sink into their embrace for a moment before disentangling himself and getting up.

“I’ll see you both in a couple days, okay? Don’t cause your parents too much trouble.”

“We would never,” Wooyoung gasped, affronted. “Give Jongho-ah lots of kisses for us.”

“And hyung, too,” San added.

“I will,” Seonghwa promised confidently. “I’ll take good care of them.”

He took one last glance at the two of them and closed the door to their room, determinedly setting off in the direction of his room.

****************************************

“Thank god you’re here,” Hongjoong said fervently, practically melting into Seonghwa’s arms as soon as they were alone in the elevator. “Are you sure you’re not mad at me for not telling you?”

“I’m upset he didn’t feel comfortable with us all knowing,” Seonghwa admitted, frowning as he remembered what Hongjoong had explained over text. “But I can’t be mad at you for respecting his wishes if he was as adament as you described. Is he doing better now?”

“I don’t know,” Hongjoong sighed. “A little? Honestly, Hwa, I’ve never seen him like this. Even with his last injury. He was disappointed then, of course, but he was positively frantic this time. It was really scary even just seeing it, I can’t imagine what it was like for him to experience it. I would never have asked you to come back, and he might lash out at you a little, but honestly I think he’ll appreciate having you here even if he doesn’t admit it outright. I’ve been doing my best, but you’re...warmer than I am.”

“I’m sure you’re doing fine,” Seonghwa assured him. “He insisted on you staying the night, right?”

Hongjoong nodded uncertainly and Seonghwa frowned, filing it away to figure out later as they approached the door to Jongho’s room. Hongjoong squeezed his hand and he squared his shoulders, taking a deep breath before entering with a confidence he didn’t feel.

Despite Hongjoong’s warnings, he was still unprepared for the sight of his maknae propped up in bed and looking more vulnerable than he had ever seen. He was even less prepared for the mixture of utter devastation and fear that flickered over Jongho’s face at the sight of him before disappearing as though it had never existed in the first place.

“How are you feeling, Jongho-ah?” he asked gently, crossing the room in two quick strides and bending down for a loose hug.

“I’m okay,” Jongho replied quietly, clinging to him for a second too long before visibly forcing himself to let go. Seonghwa’s heart broke at the sight and he launched into the overprotective mother-hen mode that his dongsaengs constantly complained about and yet secretly loved.

He fluffed Jongho’s pillows and straightened his rumpled covers, fed him snacks by hand and brushed his hair. He playfully scolded Hongjoong for not vacuuming the room well enough, reveling in the tiny giggle their dramatics earned from Jongho, and gave both members a neck massage to make up for their night sleeping in the (probably perfectly comfortable) hospital bed. All the while he kept up a steady stream of praise and over-the-top pet names, calling Jongho ‘baby,’ ‘treasure,’ ‘sweetheart,’ ‘darling,’ and ‘love’ until the maknae’s cheeks were burning with embarrassment and there wasn’t a single trace of wariness left in his eyes.

“Hyung, you’re being weird,” Jongho finally protested, two hours after Seonghwa’s return.

“I just missed you a lot, bunny,” Seonghwa replied breezily. Jongho wrinkled his nose in distaste and Seonghwa tapped it playfully.

“Not that name, hyung.”

Seonghwa’s perked up at the unexpected slip.

“Does that mean you liked the other ones?” he asked eagerly. He had mostly been hoping to both reassure and annoy Jongho with pet names in the hopes that the combination would rebuild some of his dongsaeng’s trademark self-confidence, but he hadn’t anticipated they might actually be received positively.

“They’re fine,” Jongho muttered reluctantly, blushing and avoiding eye contact.

“Whatever you say, treasure,” Seonghwa teased.

“Don’t say that if you don’t mean it,” Jongho said suddenly, face serious.

“Sweetheart, I do mean it,” Seonghwa replied, carefully not looking at Hongjoong. “Of course I want you to be safe and healthy always, but I love and treasure you for who you are, not whether or not you can dance.”

“But I injured myself, and-”

Jongho,” Hongjoong interrupted sternly. Seonghwa watched in surprise as the two exchanged a silent conversation, Jongho eventually looking away with a muttered ‘sorry, hyung.’

“Don’t apologize to me,” Hongjoong corrected gently, brushing Jongho’s hair back with unusual tenderness. “I don’t like seeing you blame yourself, but I’m not the one you’re hurting by doing so, right? You’re doing well, Jongho-ah, I know it’s hard. But we’ll keep reminding you that it wasn’t your fault until you believe it yourself.”

Jongho nodded slowly, shyly glancing at Seonghwa before looking away again.

“Jongho-ah,” Seonghwa said seriously, holding both of Jongho’s hands in his and waiting until their eyes met. “I can promise you that, when we all heard the news, the only thing running through our heads was worry for you. The last thing on my mind was work, and even when I did think of the tour, the only regret I felt was on your behalf. Changing the choreography and adjusting our schedules is meaningless compared to your happiness, okay? Every single one of us believes that.”

Jongho bit his lip and nodded again, eyes suspiciously shiny, and Seonghwa folded him into another hug. This time, though, Jongho clung openly and Seonghwa carefully straddled his lap without disturbing his leg so that they could cuddle as long as the maknae liked.

Hongjoong watched them fondly, relieved. Jongho had, for whatever reason, been particularly reluctant to tell Seonghwa about his injury and Hongjoong hoped that this moment would prove to be a breakthrough. Sure enough, Jongho seemed to be increasingly stable as the evening wore on, slowly regaining some of his usual good cheer and mischievousness. He took full advantage of having his hyungs all to himself, knowing that they found it impossible to say no to him, and unrepentantly insisted that they both sleep in his room that night — Seonghwa in Jongho’s own bed along with him, and Hongjoong safely in Mingi’s.

****************************************

Mingi and Yeosang arrived first the next day followed closely by Yunho and then, several hours later, by Wooyoung and San. Each made their way straight to Jongho’s room without stopping to do anything more than dump their bags in their room, eager to check on their maknae and confirm that he was okay with their own eyes. Jongho, who’s spirits had improved drastically after a near 24 hours with just Seonghwa and Hongjoong, absolutely lapped the attention up. He was still a little more clingy than usual, but the members happily rallied to make sure that he had at least two hyungs at his disposal to cuddle with at any given moment.

They all ate lunch together in Jongho and Mingi’s room, with Mingi and Yunho feeding Jongho in turns as the others looked on approvingly, before starting to disperse in the afternoon to unpack. Yunho left for a shower and Hongjoong disappeared for a much-needed nap, leaving space for San to squeeze himself onto the bed along with Yeosang, Seonghwa, and Jongho.

Mingi draped himself over Wooyoung’s back and watched the four of them bicker contentedly for a few minutes before refocusing on the mission he had set himself during break.

“Young-ah, can I talk to you for a bit?” he asked in an undertone, gently pulling Wooyoung out into the quiet of the living room when he acquiesced.

“Of course,” Wooyoung agreed. He pushed Mingi down onto the couch so he could crawl into the rapper’s lap, kissing him briefly before settling back to listen. “What’s up?”

“I’m kind of worried about Yunho,” Mingi confided. “I don’t want to betray his confidence, but I think you should talk to him in person about the whole seduction plan thing.”

“He seemed totally fine when I talked with him about it over break, though? He said I was a good boyfriend and everything.”

Mingi hesitated for a moment before just deciding to take the plunge.

“He called me up after your talk and as soon as I answered the phone he just burst into tears.”

What?”

“I know, I had no idea he was upset until I heard him crying but I think it had been building up for a while. He’s quieter about his feelings, in a way, but he feels things so intensely. It kind of scares me sometimes, to be honest, because he’s so thick-skinned but when he does get hurt it’s really, really bad.”

Wooyoung sighed, sinking into Mingi’s lap exhaustedly.

“I thought dating everyone would be easy because I already love you all, but I’m starting to wonder if we made a mistake,” he admitted. “Like...wanting something isn’t enough all by itself, you know? In retrospect you were completely right when you decided not to pursue everyone, it would have been better to do it naturally rather than trying to leap into everything all at once. There's so many things to balance all at the same time and I feel like I just keep messing up.”

“I don’t know,” Mingi said thoughtfully. “A lot of that decision was dictated by my own personal fears, but for you...I kind of think the opposite, actually. There’s eight of us, it was bound to be messy no matter what. And it’s all very well to say that you should have waited to develop relationships with some people in theory but who would you leave out? Yeosang already thought he was excluded because he’s unlovable and all of us have fallen apart over it at one point or another. I think we just have to keep going and work at it together. As long as we’re honest about what we’re feeling and make sure to take some time one-on-one with everyone I think we’ll be okay.”

“I guess,” Wooyoung agreed, heart lifting with Mingi’s unwavering certainty. It was funny how they had switched places in terms of confidence in their relationship, he thought to himself, before the sound of a door opening in the hallway distracted him.

“I think that’s Yunho,” Mingi said. “Why don’t you go say hi while I go back to Jongho-ah? You haven't really had any private time since before break, right?”

Wooyoung nodded and rounded the corner excitedly, heart skipping a beat as he caught sight of his boyfriend. Yunho looked really good, rested and freshly-showered, and it seemed as though he was appreciating the sight of Wooyoung as well if the way he stopped dead in the hallway was anything to go off of.

“Aren’t you going to kiss me?” Wooyoung demanded playfully, smile fading as Yunho just stared at his lips without coming closer. Wooyoung was just about to try asking again when Yunho’s face cleared as though he had come to a decision and he strode forward, effortlessly lifting Wooyoung up into his arms and kissing him deeply. Yunho turned to brace Wooyoung against the wall and pressed closer, one hand coming up to slide into Wooyoung’s hair and hold his head still so Yunho could explore his mouth properly. The kiss was messy and demanding and Wooyoung sank into it eagerly, completely forgetting about everything except the addictive heat of his boyfriend’s body against his.

When they finally broke apart several minutes later, both panting heavily, Wooyoung leaned his head back against the wall in an attempt to ground himself. That kiss had been amazing, but there was something off about it that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. It had almost seemed sad? The type of kiss you would give someone going away for vacation, not coming back from one.

“Are you okay?” he asked hesitantly, recalling what Mingi had said. “That kiss was… you seem a bit melancholy?”

“What, so I have to be happy all the time or you won’t like kissing me any more?” Yunho snapped, putting Wooyoung down and taking an agitated step back.

“No,” Wooyoung said slowly, taken aback, “because I love you and if you’re sad I want to help.”

Yunho looked at him blankly for a moment before deflating.

“Sorry, Young-ah,” he apologized. “I’ve just had a lot on my mind.”

“Why are you upset?” Wooyoung asked curiously.

“I’m not upset.”

Wooyoung scoffed.

“You sound pretty upset to me.”

Yunho closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

“I’m not upset with you, I’m upset with the situation.”

“About Jongho? Or… our relationship situation?”

“The latter,” Yunho admitted slowly. “I was just thinking about what you said about the seduction plan stuff.”

“I know we planned to do it together, but I told you, things changed. I thought you were okay with that? You even agreed with my reasoning, we both know it’s the right thing to do. I don't want to hurt Yeosang anymore, and the only way to do that is to put a pause on everything.”

“Yeah, but my relationship with everyone else can’t just go along with the whims of someone else I’m not even dating.”

“Don’t talk about Sangie like that,” Wooyoung said sharply. Yunho stilled, and Wooyoung sighed. “Yunho, what is this really about? Whether you decide to continue with the seduction plan or not — we really need a better name for that, by the way — it has nothing to do with Yeosang. He can only impact my relationships with other people.”

“I’m one of those ‘other people’ you’re in a relationship with, though! We haven’t even properly gone out on dates yet, and if dating other people is too much, then...look, I really can’t handle this prolonged limbo situation. If you’re going to break up with me, then just do it.”

Wooyoung stumbled back a step in surprise and glared up at Yunho.

“How could you possibly say that? You’re just manufacturing problems where there are none, Yunho, and it sounds like you're giving up on our relationship before we’ve even given it a proper go. I made a commitment to you, I’m not going to just back out at the first sign of trouble."

Yunho hesitated, firmly swallowing down his first instinctive reply, and then his second.

“Look, I just need some time to think,” he said quietly. He held Wooyoung’s gaze for a moment before turning and shutting himself into his room.

****************************************

Yunho lay on his bed, door firmly closed and one arm thrown haphazardly over his eyes as he tried to unravel the tangled knot of emotions in his mind. He was self-aware enough to admit that Wooyoung was probably right — he was making problems where none existed — but knowing that wasn’t enough to change the way he was feeling. The door to his room creaked open and he groaned inwardly, stubbornly keeping his eyes closed. He really wasn’t in the mood to talk to either Wooyoung or San yet.

“Yunho?”

Yunho’s eyes popped open and he sat up, staring at Yeosang in surprise.

“Oh, good, you’re up.”

Yeosang closed the door quietly behind him and approached the bed, climbing in on top of a surprised Yunho.

“What are you doing?” Yunho asked, automatically wrapping his arms around Yeosang as the younger curled up into a tight little ball on top of Yunho’s chest and gave him a cute little pat on the arm in thanks.

“I need to think,” Yeosang replied vaguely.

“And you can only think on top of me?”

“Obviously.”

Yunho pulled the blankets up over them both, a strange surge of protectiveness running through him at Yeosang’s oddly touchy behavior. Yeosang usually didn’t initiate skinship unless he was especially happy or feeling vulnerable and in need of reassurance, and this clearly wasn't the former. They lay in silence for several minutes, Yunho's heart flip-flopping with the idea that Yeosang had chosen him for this rare display of trust. Yeosang uncurled slowly as his muscles relaxed until he was draped heavily over Yunho’s body and he snuggled even closer, wrapping his arms around the dancer with a happy hum. The comforting weight was soothing and Yunho had just started to drift off to sleep when Yeosang spoke again.

“Yunho?” he murmured tentatively.

“Hm?”

“Wooyoung told me about the seduction plan.”

Yunho tensed.

“Did he now?”

“Yes, and...I was wondering, what does it feel like to have feelings for multiple people?”

Yunho startled slightly at the unexpected question. That was not where he expected this conversation to go. Did that mean Yeosang knew Yunho had crushes on all seven other members? And, more importantly, the way he was asking it...did that mean Yeosang might have feelings for more than one person? Yunho shook his head slightly to focus, deciding that it was best to be completely honest now and try to figure out the details later.

“Well, I don’t know how to describe it. I mean, it feels the same as having feelings for one person, in terms of the intensity of the feelings, but my love for each of them is different just as my relationships with each of my friends is unique. It’s sort of like...okay, you know how all eight of us complement one another in different ways and fit together, and when any one of us is missing on stage it doesn’t feel quite right? It’s exactly like that, just in every other aspect of life as well.”

Yeosang hummed thoughtfully, biting his lip.

“Thank you,” he said eventually, in the tiniest, most vulnerable voice Yunho had ever heard him use.

“Of course, Sang-ah.”

Yunho was burning with curiosity, but it was clear that it had taken a lot out of Yeosang to even bring the subject up so he restrained himself and didn’t press. Instead he remained silent, cooing inwardly as Yeosang’s eyes started to sleepily flutter shut.

 

Yeosang had barely been asleep for five minutes when the door to Yunho’s room opened again and the dancer quickly put a finger to his lips before even looking up to see who was there.

Wooyoung froze, visibly melting at the sight of Yeosang sprawled on top of Yunho, and shut the door quietly behind him before tip-toeing over to the bed.

“Is it okay if I join?” he asked cautiously. Yunho nodded, most of his earlier frustration having faded away with Yeosang’s rare initiation of skinship, and opened one arm in invitation. Wooyoung quickly climbed in and snuggled into his side with a sigh of content, careful not to disturb Yeosang. Yunho tried to suppress the sudden flare of possessive satisfaction that washed over him at the sight of them in his arms but he must not have been successful because Wooyoung let out one startled giggle before managing to choke back the rest of his laughter.

“Stop,” Yunho hissed as Wooyoung shook with suppressed mirth in his arms.

“Your face,” Wooyoung gasped out quietly, hiccuping. “You’re such a caveman, Yuyu.”

“You of all people should know that that stereotype is flawed and overly reductionist,” Yunho scolded reprovingly, his stern tone setting Wooyoung off all over again.

Yunho rolled his eyes, fighting a smile as he resigned himself to waiting out Wooyoung’s giggle fit. He needed to apologize to Wooyoung properly once they were alone and they really needed to go on a date, but...they would be alright. Yunho was sure of it.

****************************************

San took a deep breath as he left Jongho’s room, sinking against the wall for a moment to recalibrate. Jongho was still a bit wan and quiet two days after his accident, so San could only imagine how terrified he must have been the day it happened. The entire apartment seemed a bit subdued even though all of them were home and San frowned as he realized he hadn’t properly talked with Hongjoong since he returned. He set off towards the hyung-line room determinedly, wondering if their leader had woken up from his nap yet.

The door was ajar when he got there so he pushed it open and froze at the sight of Hongjoong curled in bed, shoulders shaking with what could only have been tears.

“Hyung? Is everything okay?”

“I’m fine,” Hongjoong sniffed, wiping his tears away hastily and straightening up. “Did you need something?”

“No, I just missed you after break,” San said awkwardly, entering the room and closing the door behind him. “Hyung, why were you crying?”

Hongjoong opened his mouth to deny it, but San raised one stern eyebrow and he immediately caved.

“I’m so sad, San-ah,” Hongjoong admitted, glancing down at his hands. “I’m messing up everything. Even when I try to protect you all I just end up hurting someone all over again.”

“What on earth are you talking about?” San asked in bewilderment, sitting down cautiously on the bed next to him. “There was that one thing with Seonghwa, but from what hyung said over break it sounds like you were martyring yourself unnecessarily like always and you two have worked it out since. Other than that you’ve looked after everyone so well, hyung. Especially Sangie and Jongho-ah recently.”

Hongjoong shook his head in denial.

“Sure I held Yeosang for a couple hours and complimented him a bit, but I completely dropped the ball after that and I could barely talk to him over break without resorting to work for conversation topics. And Jongho...he was so scared, San-ah. I didn’t know what to do and he kept blaming himself and trying to push himself too far so I- I kind ordered him not to? It seemed like the right thing to do at the time because he was so scattered, but I totally took advantage of him, didn’t I? I’m in a position of authority over him and I reminded him of our age difference and then gave him orders.”

“What did you order him to do?”

“I told him to say ‘yes, hyung’ instead of ‘yes,’ and then I ordered him to stop blaming himself and just focus on resting while manager-nim and his parents figured out his recovery schedule, and then I gave him a bit of a massage and fed him dinner. And then he insisted that I stay the night so I held him while he slept. And yesterday I told him to stop blaming himself again.”

San laughed incredulously.

“Hyung, are you seriously blaming yourself for that? Of course Jongho looks up to you, but that’s because you’ve earned his respect. He’s probably the most stubborn of all of us — if he doesn’t want to do something he absolutely won’t, especially if he feels cornered and vulnerable. He responds to stress by lashing out, and from everything I’ve heard it sounds like he was on the brink of snapping at everyone there until you calmed him down. It’s probably a good idea to talk with him about it, but that was an unprecedented situation and I honestly don’t see how anything you did was improper. And, maybe he'll be embarrassed that I'm saying this, but I was just with him and he wouldn’t stop talking about you, hyung. Even just mentioning your name seemed to make him feel safer. So whatever you did, it really comforted him.”

“Maybe,” Hongjoong shrugged, clearly not reassured.

“Hyung, you’re a good leader,” San insisted. “The fact that you’re worried about this just makes me trust you more.”

Do you trust me though?” Hongjoong countered. “I don’t know what I did to make you 99z feel like you couldn’t tell me about your relationships, but your happiness always comes first for me, San-ah. I want you to know that. I’ll always, always prioritize you over work without hesitation."

“Hyung,” San interrupted, reaching out to grab Hongjoong’s hand. “That’s exactly why we held off telling you so long. You do so much for us, and are constantly working to balance our personal lives and professional careers. Of course I trust that you have my best interests at heart, but Wooyoung and me dating was something that could combust our entire group and hurt all eight of us. I didn’t want to put you in the position of having to choose some of us over others because I knew exactly how much that would weigh on you. And, honestly, hyung, I was scared that you would confirm the uncertainties we both had about the relationship. I trust your opinion more than anyone else, and if you thought it was a bad idea from a practical standpoint...then you’d have been right, because you always are.”

Hongjoong studied him thoughtfully, relaxing slowly as he processed what San had said. He still wanted to talk to the others and make sure they knew he always wanted to know how they were feeling no matter how difficult it made his life, but it didn’t seem like there was any underlying, irreparable issue to be worried about.

“Do you want to know my honest, Leader-Hongjoong opinion?” he asked eventually. San tensed.

“Yes?” he said cautiously, bracing himself for rejection.

“You and Wooyoung was dangerous,” Hongjoong admitted bluntly, “so was Mingi and Yunho, and a polyamorous relationship will be even more frowned upon if it ever comes out. But honestly, San, any relationship is dangerous for the group, even a totally heteronormative one. At the end of the day, our goal is longevity. Suppressing our private lives and romantic goals will only breed resentment in the end, so I’d never ask you to do that even from a purely business perspective. The skinship standards for idols make it easier for us to hide relationships behind our public personas, and dating within the group is much more convenient for everyone involved so long as everyone communicates honestly and fairly rather than just playing around. If you wanted to come out publicly that would be a harder decision, but...I’d still support you, San. It would probably combust us if it happened now, and I’m not going to lie about that to you, but I don’t think there’s a single one of us who wouldn’t stand by that decision. So, yes it carries some risk, but I’m behind you 100% of the way, okay? Wherever you decide to take this.”

“How did this go from me comforting you to you reassuring me?” San half-laughed, half-cried.

Hongjoong laughed, letting San flop sideways into his lap and stroking the younger’s hair affectionately.

“I’m trying to steal the ‘Most Comforting Hyung’ title from Seonghwa,” he confessed playfully.

“Good luck,” San snorted. “You did a good job, hyung, but Seonghwa-hyung's in a whole different league.”

“He is excellent at it,” Hongjoong agreed fondly. “He and Jongho have been so cute these past two days, I love seeing them together. Jongho turns to him like a sunflower turns to the sun.”

San nodded, snuggling closer contentedly.

“If Seonghwa-hyung’s the sun, you’re the roots of our tree, and Jongho-ah’s a sunflower, what does that make me?”

“Our petal,” Hongjoong decided firmly. “Because you’re beautiful and inspirational and artistic and soft and loving and precious, just like a flower petal.”

San blushed, head-butting Hongjoong’s stomach lightly in embarrassment.

“Will you call me that, sometimes?” he requested in a small voice. “Not in public, just...sometimes.”

Hongjoong smiled down at San and tugged him a little closer, feeling warm and content now that he had all of his members safely by his side again.

“Of course, petal. Whatever you want.”

Chapter Text

Jongho jerked awake and glanced around the dark room frantically, shaking in residual fear from his nightmare. His gaze caught on Seonghwa’s sleeping face beside him and he sank back against the pillows in relief, taking deep breaths to slow his racing heart beat.

“Baby?” Seonghwa mumbled blearily, one hand reaching over to pat clumsily at Jongho’s face.

“Go back to sleep, hyung,” Jongho murmured soothingly, catching Seonghwa’s hand and squeezing it. Seonghwa’s brow wrinkled and he opened his eyes fully, sitting up sleepily.

“Your palm is all sweaty. Did you have a bad dream?”

“Just a bit,” Jongho admitted. “Don’t worry, though, it was just a dream. I- I can tell you tomorrow, after the surgery.”

“What was it about? C’mon Jongho-ah, tell me. I won’t be able to go to sleep unless I know.”

“It was about the accident,” Jongho explained reluctantly. “After I got injured, while I was waiting for the ambulance. I was all alone and my foot was a mess, and-”

His voice wavered and Seonghwa pulled him into a tight hug.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for you then, sweetheart, that must have been so scary.”

Jongho tilted his head up to study Seonghwa’s face, heart aching at his hyung’s beauty.

“I guess, but...can I tell you something?” he blurted out, not wanting to hold back any longer.

“Of course, Jongho-ah,” Seonghwa said in surprise, adjusting Jongho in his arms so he could pay attention properly. “You can tell me anything.”

“I remember thinking at that time, before the paramedics arrived...well, obviously I didn’t think I was going to die, the only bad injury was my foot, but if things had gone differently and I had hit my head maybe I would have.”

“Baby,” Seonghwa started, looking down at Jongho sadly.

“No, it’s okay, that’s not the point,” Jongho dismissed, lacing his fingers with Seonghwa’s. “The point is, I was thinking about if I’d regret anything, and... the only thing I’d regret is not telling you how I feel about you.”

Seonghwa froze. Hongjoong’s conviction that Jongho had feelings for him ran through his mind, but that couldn’t be it — could it?

“Have you secretly hated me this whole time? Did I hurt you or something?”

Jongho stared at him.

“Hyung, I’m literally holding your hand,” he pointed out dryly.

“So?”

Jongho laughed incredulously.

“Okay, I’m going to choose to be impressed that you think I can act that well and move on. What I was trying to say is that I’m in love with you. I had the biggest crush on you when we were trainees — you were the S-crush Mingi mentioned a couple weeks ago — and those feelings haven’t gone anywhere. I know you have Hongjoong-hyung, and I’m happy for you, I really am. I just wanted you to know that you’re loved. So loved, by so many people, including me.”

Seonghwa opened his mouth and closed it again, completely at a loss.

“You’re in love with me?” he stammered. “Like...romantically?”

“Yes, hyung,” Jongho confirmed patiently, quietly amused. “Is it really that shocking? I thought it was pretty obvious. I guess it’s a good thing I made sure to tell you.”

“Why are you so zen about this? What on earth- you and Hongjoong are both a lot more subtle than you think, you know, in what world did you make it obvious? And what do you mean you’ve been in love with me since debut?”

“Hyung, relax,” Jongho laughed. “Honestly, I think everyone knew except for you. And I’ve had years to accept you’d never date me back, so it’s easier for me to be calm about it. Most of the time. Anyways, I just wanted you to know.”

“Why wouldn’t I date you?” Seonghwa asked, bewildered. Jongho froze, his composure slipping.

“Aren’t you and hyung dating?”

“We- well, I don’t know exactly what Joong and I are doing,” Seonghwa admitted. “But either way, he’s been campaigning for you and I to date for weeks now.”

“Oh.”

Jongho looked away, his previous confidence deserting him. It had been easy to confess when he was reasonably sure where he stood with Seonghwa but, with the way things were going, it seemed like his chances weren’t as slim as he had thought and that was somehow even more terrifying. Seonghwa was just so beautiful, inside and out, and Jongho was too overwhelmed by his pure goodness to process the possibility of actually dating him. Whenever he dared to take down the walls he had built over the years and actually look at Seonghwa properly, his brain melted into mush and he found himself unable to string two words together let alone a full sentence.

“Jongho-ah?”

“Yes?”

“Are you still with me? It’s okay if you don’t want to actually date me, you know, I-”

“No!” Jongho interrupted quickly. “I want to, hyung. Do...do you?”

Seonghwa considered Jongho for a long moment. His gaze flickered down to Jongho’s lips and held. Jongho shivered at the naked desire in Seonghwa’s eyes, skin prickling with awareness. It was still dark in the room but his eyes had adjusted enough to read Seonghwa's expression and he didn’t need to be able to see clearly in order to feel the rising tension in the air between them.

“Hyung?” he asked nervously, not sure what to do with the sudden heat flickering through his body. Seonghwa’s eyes softened in realization as he glanced up, and Jongho slumped in his arms as though a spell had been broken.

“I’m sorry, sweetness,” Seonghwa apologized, moving away a little and squeezing Jongho’s hand comfortingly. “My mind got away from me a little bit. But I do want to, too. Honestly, ever since Joong-ah brought it up I couldn't stop thinking about you that way but I thought... Wait, is Mingi okay with that?”

“Yeah, he was the same way as hyung,” Jongho said distractedly, pouting at the space between them until Seonghwa rolled his eyes and cuddled closer again. “It sounds like he and Hongjoongie-hyung have a lot in common. Ugh, they’re going to be insufferable.”

“Eh,” Seonghwa shrugged. “I think it’s pretty easy to suffer the teasing when you have a cute boyfriend by your side. And now you have two, right?”

“Yeah,” Jongho agreed, slowly starting to smile giddily as he realized Seonghwa was serious. “Hyung, hyung, can I plan our first date? Please?”

“Whatever you want, Jongho-ah,” Seonghwa yawned, tucking his head in the crook of Jongho’s shoulder. “Just hold off on your planning until later, okay? We both need to get some rest.”

“I can’t believe you’re going to sleep right now,” Jongho huffed. “We won’t even be on the same continent after tomorrow! Hyung, pay attention to me.”

“I will,” Seonghwa murmured sleepily. “In my dreams. And in yours, if you’re good.”

“That’s not fair, I wanted to kiss you!”

“Kiss me in the morning.”

“But, morning breath.”

“Believe me, your breath isn’t exactly minty fresh right now.”

Hyung!

Seonghwa pulled back from Jongho’s shoulder, laughing at the disgruntled look on the maknae’s face.

“Alright, alright, don’t sulk.”

Jongho stuck his tongue out at Seonghwa and tried to sit up, wincing when the movement jostled his leg.

“Are you okay?” Seonghwa asked in concern, pushing Jongho back down and moving closer so the maknae wouldn’t move. Jongho nodded impatiently, pulling on Seonghwa’s shirt and slotting their lips together. Seonghwa’s stomach flipped and he laughed shakily, not totally sure how they had gotten here.

“Again,” Jongho demanded. Seonghwa rolled his eyes and complied, carefully leaning down and kissing Jongho deeply.

“There,” he said hoarsely after a long minute, pulling back. Jongho looked up at him with wide eyes and Seonghwa couldn’t resist pressing a few more kisses to his lips before lying back down half-on top of the singer, belatedly remembering to be thankful that Mingi was sleeping with Yunho tonight and not awkwardly listening in on their conversation.

“Hyung, can’t you stay a couple more days?” Jongho pleaded, pulling Seonghwa into a tight hug.

“You know I can’t, Jongho-ah,” Seonghwa said reluctantly. “It was hard enough scheduling the flight so we would be leaving after your surgery instead of before. But Hongjoongie, Yunho, and Yeosangie will all be with you and you’ll be joining us in just a couple days, anyways. We can have our first date in Madrid, hm?”

Jongho brightened at the idea and he nodded, loosening his grip so Seonghwa could shift into a more comfortable position.

“I guess it’s good we have a couple days,” he admitted, reaching for his phone. “I need to do research.”

“You need to go to sleep,” Seonghwa corrected, firmly taking the phone and putting it back on the bedside table. “Please, Jongho, I have a flight tomorrow and you should rest for the surgery.”

Jongho sighed but snuggled down obediently, sneaking one last kiss.

“G’night, hyungie,” he whispered against Seonghwa’s lips, smirking proudly at the way Seonghwa’s breath caught. Seonghwa swallowed heavily and tugged Jongho closer.

“Goodnight, baby. Dream of Madrid, okay?”

****************************************

Madrid was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind the next morning as Jongho prepped for his surgery. It wasn’t a particularly dangerous procedure and they all knew he would be completely fine afterwards, albeit a bit sleepy from the pain meds, but he had been extremely clingy in the past couple days and none of them liked the thought of letting him out of their sight for even a few hours.

“Give me your hands, Jongho-ah,” Hongjoong ordered gently as he fussed over his maknae in the parking garage. He pulled out two pieces of cloth — one a simple strip of black lace and the other a colorful bandana — and wrapped them neatly around the palms of Jongho’s hands.

“What are these?” Jongho asked curiously, holding his hands up to take a closer look at the fabrics. “They look familiar?”

“They’re from Seonghwa and my past outfits,” Hongjoong explained, tugging at the knots to make sure they were secure. “The lace is one of his collars, and the bandana is mine from a show, so we can be with you in spirit.”

Jongho ghosted his fingers over the fabric and clenched his hands experimentally, the contrast of the textured fabric against his skin grounding him and settling his nerves slightly.

“Thank you, hyung,” he said softly.

“Of course. Now give the others a hug and go inside, okay? We’ll be waiting right here when you come out.”

The members had insisted on coming with Jongho to the appointment by arguing that it would be a good team bonding experience, despite their manager’s exasperated protests that they wouldn’t even all be able to go inside and would have to wait in the cars. They all hugged the maknae tightly before stepping back to watch as Jongho was wheeled into the elevator, heading back to their seats once he disappeared from view and settling down to wait.

True to form, their manager pulled out a bag of snacks for everyone and Yunho suggested playing a game while they waited, the whole thing almost feeling like a school field trip. Hongjoong tugged Seonghwa next to him with the thinly-veiled excuse of needing to discuss logistics for Spain, San curled up in Mingi’s lap with no excuse whatsoever, and Yunho playfully flung himself across San and Mingi's laps in the backseat before pulling back slightly so they could set up for a game.

Yeosang denied their offer to join, instead turning to tug at Wooyoung’s sleeve. With only hours left before his boyfriend left for Spain, time was quickly running out and Yeosang knew he needed to just swallow down his nerves and ask.

“Wooyoung,” he hissed under his breath. “Can I talk to you? Privately?”

“Of course, O Prince,” Wooyoung agreed loudly and enthusiastically. “Anything for my most stunning, beautiful, precious-”

“Never mind, I don’t want to talk to you ever again,” Yeosang interrupted, wrinkling his nose in distaste firmly settling back in his seat.

“Nooo,” Wooyoung whined dramatically, knowing that Yeosang would cave if he was annoying enough.

Predictably, Yeosang groaned and tugged him out of the car immediately, promising their manager they wouldn’t stray too far.

“Let’s talk here,” Yeosang decided once they had reached the concrete support pillar several spaces away from where they were parked and turning to face Wooyoung determinedly. “Did San tell you what he and I talked about before break?”

“A bit,” Wooyoung said cautiously. “Why don’t you just summarize the relevant parts from your perspective, though.”

Yeosang hesitated, glanced around one more time for good measure, and then launched into the story in hushed whispers.

“Okay, so San said he had feelings for me and asked me to think about whether I might return them and so over break I was trying to figure out whether or not I could like him back and at first I just thought the idea of kissing him and stuff was nice-”

“Awwww,” Wooyoung cooed, hugging Yeosang’s arm excitedly.

“Stop that,” Yeosang complained, blushing and batting him away. “The problem is that then I realized the intensity of my love for him isn’t different from how I feel for everyone else. And the worst part is I knew ages ago, I just didn’t know that I knew! Remember how I told you that getting to know them felt just as natural and exhilarating as getting to know you? Obviously no one can replace what we went through together at Big Hit but... Ugh, it’s so obvious in retrospect.”

“I’m still not seeing a problem,” Wooyoung said gleefully. “Sang-ah, you’re making my dreams come true!”

“I’m pretty sure when Hongjoong-hyung told us to dream big he didn’t mean eight person orgies,” Yeosang pointed out dryly.

“I don’t just want sex!” Wooyoung protested hotly. “I want eight person cuddle piles, and cute dates with all of you, and us growing old together.”

Yeosang rolled his eyes impatiently.

“And that’s very cute, Young-ah. Eight makes one team and all that. But that doesn’t help me now.”

Wooyoung looked at Yeosang quizzically.

“But...you just have to ask them out?”

“Exactly! I can’t do that! You had to ambush me and confess to me first, and even then I let my feelings slip mostly on accident! I can’t just tell someone I like them on purpose.”

“What do you want me to do about that?”

“I want you to tell Sannie for me,” Yeosang said proudly. “You two are going to Spain together first, just arrange to sit next to one another on the plane and text him about it so no one overhears.”

Wooyoung raised a skeptical eyebrow at him.

“Yeosang,” he started patiently. “I love you, but that’s pretty much the worst idea I’ve ever heard. You can’t confess to someone over text — let alone our Choi I-write-heartfelt-love-confessions-in-my-sleep San — and you definitely can’t have me confess to someone over text on your behalf when you aren’t even in the same country.”

“Please?” Yeosang tried hopefully.

“Absolutely not.”

Yeosang kicked at the ground sulkily.

“Do I tell him after we get to Spain, then?” he asked reluctantly. “That’s so far away, though, I honestly think I’ll explode from overthinking if I have to wait that long.”

Wooyoung considered him thoughtfully before brightening with a realization.

“Oh, I have an idea! Wait here, I have the perfect thing in my backpack.”

Yeosang watched him run back to the car patiently, confusion swiftly turning to cold horror when Wooyoung emerged from the back seat holding San’s hand instead of a backpack. He glanced around the empty garage desperately, torn between running away as fast as possible and trying to sink into the ground right where he stood.

“Yeosang has something lovely to tell you,” Wooyoung announced triumphantly. San turned to Yeosang in expectant confusion.

“O-kay?”

Yeosang just looked back at him helplessly, unable to speak.

“Sang-ah?” San waved a hand in front of his face, glancing back at Wooyoung in bewilderment. “Is this a prank?”

“No!” Yeosang denied, snapping back to the present. San hummed doubtfully, playfully leaning forward to crowd Yeosang against the pillar behind him.

“Are you sure about that?” he checked with a teasing smile. Yeosang nodded, mind spinning as he tried to make up a viable excuse that could extricate him from the situation. San leaned in even closer, one corner of his mouth quirking in a devastatingly arrogant smirk, and Yeosang crumbled immediately.

“Iloveyoutoo!” he blurted out, heart beating a mile a minute. San froze, taking a half-step back to give Yeosang some air.

“You- sorry, what did you say?”

“I love you too? Like we talked about before break?”

San cocked his head, tilting Yeosang’s chin up with one hand to study his face intently. His face cleared as he seemed to find what he was looking for, and he smiled with such pure joyfulness that it took Yeosang’s breath away. San had such pretty eyes, Yeosang thought absently as he stepped forwards subconsciously. They were close enough now that he could see the tiny amber flecks in San’s irises, close enough that Yeosang could feel the light puff of air on his lips as San exhaled and leaned closer and-

“Woah, woah, cool your jets, lover boy,” Wooyoung interjected, pushing San away. “We’re in a parking garage, there are cameras everywhere. And manager-nim is in the car. No matter how great he is, I’m not sure he’s the ideal audience for your first kiss?”

“But Yeosangie likes me back,” San pouted, stubbornly tugging Yeosang back into his arms. Yeosang melted into the embrace happily and wrapped his arms around San’s waist.

“Too bad,” Wooyoung said mercilessly, stern tone belied by the fondness in his eyes as he watched the two of them. “C’mon, you can kiss later.”

“But, Wooyoung,” Yeosang called, eyes starting to gleam mischievously. “Can’t you just block us from the cameras like Yunho did that one time when Hongjoong-hyung had to help you fix your fly?”

Wooyoung glared at him, recognizing the trap but not quite sure how to escape it.

“I’m not tall enough,” he said through gritted teeth, ignoring San’s delighted laughter. “You both suck. Just get back in the car and reflect on how maybe you should be thanking me for getting you together instead of making fun of me.”

San and Yeosang complied eventually, though they refused to let go of one another and spent the rest of their time in the car squashed into one seat as they whispered to one another and snuck kisses when they thought no one was watching. Mingi took one look at them and immediately pulled out his phone to send a series of question marks in the group chat. San and Yeosang were too absorbed in one another to pay attention so Wooyoung gleefully took the opportunity to tell his version of events, making sure that he was sitting in the back corner behind both Yunho and Mingi so San and Yeosang couldn’t reach him when they finally noticed.

That didn’t stop them from trying, of course, and the three of them bickered playfully until Jongho emerged from the elevator again and the atmosphere rapidly turned serious again. He seemed to be in good spirits, albeit increasingly drowsy from the post-surgery pain medications that were just starting to kick in. He was awake enough to say goodbye to Seonghwa, Wooyoung, San, and Mingi, and they shamelessly took advantage of his unusual clinginess to shower him with affection (and kisses, in Mingi and Seonghwa’s case) before they finally had to depart for the airport.

****************************************

Seonghwa pushed his bag under the seat in front of him and glanced across Mingi and out the airplane’s window to watch the tarmac below them. A motion in the bottom right corner of his vision caught his attention and he glanced down with a frown. Mingi’s left knee was bouncing so fast it was almost a blur and both of his hands were clenched in his lap.

“Mingi-ah?” Seonghwa asked gently, reaching over to lay one of his hands comfortingly over his dongsaeng’s. Mingi startled, whipping his head around to look at Seonghwa with wide eyes. His shoulders relaxed slightly when he realized who it was, but his knee kept moving and Seonghwa started to feel a bit concerned. “Are you worried about something?”

“I don’t know,” Mingi admitted slowly, following Seonghwa’s gaze to his knee and staring at it in surprise as though he hadn’t even realized it had been bouncing in the first place. “I guess?”

“You aren’t normally afraid of flying,” Seonghwa mused, bewildered. “Was someone rude to you in the bathroom or did you get an upsetting message?”

“No, I just...it feels like something bad is about to happen.”

“Maybe about the coronovirus?” Seonghwa guessed. “Baby, there aren’t too many cases in Korea yet, we’re wearing masks, and airplanes have really good air filters. And we’re heading to Europe, where there are even less cases.”

“I know!” Mingi snapped. He flinched at the volume of his own voice and lowered it hastily. “Sorry, hyung. I- I know intellectually there probably isn’t anything to worry about so long as we aren’t going near Wuhan or anyone traveling from there, but...I’m just nervous. It’s fine, I’m probably overthinking and being dumb again.”

“You’re not dumb,” Seonghwa scolded sharply. “What- what do you mean again?”

Mingi glanced at him out of the corner of his eye hesitantly.

“I kind of freaked out when Wooyoung and San and Yunho proposed the idea of all of us getting together,” he admitted.

“All of us?” Seonghwa repeated quizzically.

“The four of us,” Mingi corrected hastily. It definitely wasn’t the time to broach Wooyoung, San, and Yunho’s OT8 agenda. “Anyways, I didn’t think they actually had feelings for me and I didn’t like that they already knew I might be open to dating them without me controlling the way they found out, so I ran away from them and started hyperventilating and everything. I literally ran into Yeosang and he calmed me down, and then Wooyoung and San convinced me to give them a try and eventually I realized that my worries weren’t grounded in reality

“Seeing as I didn’t believe either Hongjoong or Jongho when they confessed their feelings to me, I don’t think I can judge,” Seonghwa said dryly. “But in all seriousness, Mingi-ah, it doesn’t seem like those concerns were ‘dumb’ at all. Maybe it all got to your head a bit too much, but it sounds like things were happening quickly and it’s not like your worries came from nowhere.”

“I guess,” Mingi agreed, sinking back against his seat and lacing his fingers with Seonghwa’s tightly. “Thanks, hyung.”

“Anytime,” Seonghwa assured. Mingi was more relaxed now, but his shoulders were still tense and Seonghwa cast around for a happy topic to distract the rapper even further. “Speaking of, I never did get to hear the full story of how you all got together. It was just you and Yunho for a couple months, right? Who asked who out? What type of dates do you guys go on? Are they good to you? Do they make you happy?”

“So happy, hyung,” Mingi said earnestly, eyes softening as he thought about his boyfriends. “It all started at MAMA…”

****************************************

“I’ve decided to be an adult,” Yeosang announced, flopping down on Yunho’s chest with a self-righteous sigh.

Yunho paused his game and put his phone to the side, bored enough to be intrigued by what seemed to be Yeosang giving himself a pep talk. Jongho had practically sleep-walked to his bed the moment they arrived and Hongjoong had departed for his studio as soon as he had finished tucking the maknae into bed. Yeosang and Yunho had eaten dinner and watched a movie together before separating to their respective gaming devices — Yunho lying down on the living room couch and Yeosang at the desk in his room. That had been over an hour and a half ago, and the unusual quiet in the dorm was starting to get to Yunho’s head.

“Okay?”

“I mean, I’ve done brave things, right?” Yeosang muttered, staring down at his hands. “I basically ran away from home to pursue my dreams against my parents wishes, and managed to debut against all odds. I can probably have a simple conversation.”

“Fighting!” Yunho cheered awkwardly, confused but willing to support Yeosang in whatever scheme he had cooked up this time.

Yeosang flinched as though he had just realized Yunho was there.

“Thank you?” he said hesitantly, frowning for a moment before his brow cleared. “Right, thank you!”

“So, what’s the simple conversation?” Yunho prompted when it became clear that Yeosang wasn’t planning on continuing.

“When you wanted to date everyone-”

“Want,” he corrected automatically, numb with surprise at the topic. He had expected this to be about making friends with one of their dancers or asking Wooyoung to be quieter at night or... literally anything else except this. “I want to date everyone. Present tense.”

Yeosang gulped.

“Yes yes, want. That- that means me too?”

Yunho tensed. He had been half-expecting this to come up ever since their conversation the day break ended and yet, somehow he still wasn’t prepared for it.

“Yes,” he answered eventually, voice shaking. “Everyone. Including you.”

“Good, good,” Yeosang nodded, eyes darting around the room nervously. He took a deep breath, visibly steeling himself, before breathing out a quiet “I do, too.”

“You want to date me?” Yunho guessed, mind moving too fast to really process what that meant. Was this actually happening?”

“Everyone,” Yeosang repeated with unusual firmness. “Including you.”

Yunho gaped up at him, heart fizzing like a cold soda bubbling over its glass. He opened his mouth to say something — anything — but was interrupted by a tentative voice coming from the hallway that led to their bedrooms.

“Hyung?”

Yeosang shot up in surprise, falling off of Yunho with a startled yelp and turning towards the hallway that the voice had come from. A sleep-mussed Jongho rounded the corner, wobbling on his crutches with a blanket trailing over one arm, and Yeosang quickly jumped up to steady him.

“What are you doing out of bed?” Yeosang scolded, tucking the blanket securely around Jongho’s shoulders and wrapping one stabilizing arm around his waist. Jongho melted against him, nuzzling into his neck and Yeosang stumbled under the sudden weight before finding his balance.

“What are you doing out of bed, Jongho-ah?” Yunho repeated softly, coming up to gently take the crutches from Jongho’s tired hands and support his other side.

“Couldn’t sleep,” Jongho mumbled, eyes slipping shut as he rested his head on Yeosang’s shoulder. “‘M so tired but hyung's not there so I couldn’t get comfortable.”

“Let’s get you back to bed,” Yeosang said quietly, not wanting to disturb the maknae in his half-dreaming state. “I’ll sleep with you, okay?”

Jongho hesitated, brow wrinkling even though his eyes remained firmly shut.

“But hyung, you don’t like-”

“It’s okay,” Yeosang interjected firmly. “And anyways, with your leg in its cast you can’t sneak-spoon me like Wooyoung always does.”

“Like you don’t love it when he does that,” Yunho snorted. Yeosang ignored him and turned Jongho towards his bedroom. He and Yunho maintained a steady stream of mindless praise as they half-carried Jongho to his bed, carefully positioning his leg as the doctor had shown them. Yunho sat on the bed and gently pet Jongho’s hair while Yeosang changed into his pajamas and brushed his teeth, so absorbed in his task that he barely noticed Yeosang coming back into the room. Yeosang laughed at his startled face and pushed him aside to slide under the covers next to Jongho.

“Do you want to sleep in Mingi’s bed?” Yeosang offered. “It’s so empty in here without everyone.”

“I’ll go get hyung from the studio,” Yunho decided after deliberating for a moment. “Seonghwa-hyung asked us to look after him the next couple days, after all. I might at least be able to get him to take a short break. He's been stressing himself out worrying about all of us so much, he could really use the rest.”

“Good luck,” Yeosang shrugged doubtfully. “Come back here if it doesn’t work, okay?”

“I will,” Yunho promised, squeezing Yeosang’s shoulder. “We can talk more tomorrow.”

Yeosang nodded and pulled the covers up to his chin, snuggling closer to Jongho’s warmth.

“G’night Yunho.”

“G’night, Sang-ah,” Yunho replied softly, waiting until Yeosang’s breaths had evened out before turning to go collect his wayward leader.

****************************************

“Hyung?” Yunho said tentatively, waving the hamburger he had brought in the hopes that the smell would shake Hongjoong out of the trance he seemed to be in. “It’s late, can we leave now?”

Hongjoong shook his head, reaching for the food eagerly without looking away from his laptop.

“There’s still a lot of work left to do, I can’t leave now. But thank you for this, you’re a lifesaver, Yunho. I didn’t realize how hungry I was.”

“Hyung,” Yunho said disapprovingly. “You must have been locked in here for hours. Can you even see straight anymore?”

“I do have a bit of a headache,” Hongjoong admitted, glancing around his messy studio dazedly.

“Come home?” Yunho pleaded. He hesitated a moment before deciding to pull out his trump card. “I’m lonely, hyung, I can’t sleep. Yeosang’s in with Jongho and the house is so cold and empty, I-”

“I’m coming, Yunho-ah,” Hongjoong said immediately, closing his laptop and sliding it into his bag. “Just give hyung a couple minutes to pack up, okay? Did you eat enough? We can pick up some food on the way back if you want?”

“I’m fine,” Yunho laughed, taking Hongjoong’s bag and pulling him out of the studio. “Let’s just go home. It’s getting late.”

Hongjoong nodded agreeably and followed, evidently worried enough by Yunho’s admittedly-rare request for comfort to forgo his usual protests.

 

 

By the time they got back to their apartment, Hongjoong’s concern had faded and his fingers had started to twitch again as they always did when he was sleepy and needed to keep working in order to stay awake.

“Do you think we should stay up a bit in case they need anything?” Hongjoong wondered out loud, starting to open his laptop.

“Why don’t we watch a movie,” Yunho suggested hurriedly, knowing that Hongjoong would just end up getting sucked back into work again. “You promised you’d stop working, remember?”

“Oh, right,” Hongjoong agreed sheepishly. “What would you like to watch, Yunho-ah? It’s been a while since it was just the two of us, hasn’t it?”

Yunho nodded, suppressing his victorious smirk by turning towards the TV to grab the remote.

“Hyung, put your head here,” he urged, settling down on the couch and patting his lap. “I’ll give you a head massage.”

“Why?” Hongjoong asked, squinting at Yunho suspiciously. “If this is a ploy for extra skinship…”

It was, but Yunho wasn’t about to admit that.

“It’s for your headache,” he said patiently, relaxing into the couch and cueing up Iron Man. Hongjoong muttered something sarcastic Yunho couldn’t quite catch but lay down nevertheless, curled up cutely under one of the blankets they kept slung across the back of the couch. Yunho slid his hands into Hongjoong’s long, silver-blonde locks and the rapper practically melted into his lap, humming in content.

As Yunho had predicted, Hongjoong fell asleep on his lap less than fifteen minutes after the movie had started. Yunho lowered the volume and tucked the blanket closer around the leader, glancing towards his room with a sigh. He really didn’t want to face the eerie, San-less stillness of his room, but he would definitely get yelled at if he slept on the living room floor next to Hongjoong like he was tempted to do.

He thought for a moment before sliding out from under Hongjoong, carefully lifting the rapper into his arms. Hongjoong shifted slightly in his sleep but kept snoring lightly as Yunho carried him into the hyung-line room and settled him snugly in Seonghwa’s bed. Yunho quickly got ready for bed before returning with his own comforter and climbing up into the upper bunk to sleep on top of the sheets so that he wouldn’t technically be violating the sanctity of Hongjoong’s bed. It was actually pretty cozy to be sandwiched in between two sets of covers and Yunho snuggled in contentedly. He fell asleep easily, Hongjoong’s steady, slow breaths a comforting reminder that his hyung was safely tucked in below him and no one would wake up alone in the morning.

Chapter Text

Jongho glanced over at Yunho quickly out of the corner of his eye and defeatedly slid down a few more inches in his seat. They were only an hour into their flight to Madrid and he was already somehow both sleepy and too antsy. He desperately wanted to know what movie Yunho was watching and had spent the past fifteen minutes trying to work up the nerves to interrupt him before his curiosity ate him alive. Yunho was unfailingly good-natured and wouldn’t actually get mad at Jongho, but he also hated when people were too distracting during movies and Jongho didn’t want to annoy him. Not for the first time, Jongho wished he was sitting next to Yeosang or Hongjoong instead. Yeosang had requested to sit next to Hongjoong for some reason, however, so Jongho had grudgingly accepted that he would just be making a fool of himself next to Yunho for the entirety of his trip.

Jongho didn’t know what it was about Yunho that made him feel both amazing and tiny at the same time, but he had settled into the seat next to Yunho with a mixture of eagerness and trepidation. Yunho’s presence was so cheerful and comforting and he always listened to Jongho so patiently that Jongho couldn't help but feel safe and adored whenever they were together. At the same time, he always felt so good about himself that he got cocky and took things a little too far. Jongho didn't know what to do with that confusing mix of feelings, so he just...avoided the problem as much as possible. Avoiding one-on-one hang outs with Yunho was even harder now that his leg was injured and he was feeling particularly vulnerable, though, because his heart was craving Yunho's particular brand of affection and didn't really want to be separated from any of his members if he could help it.

"Is everything okay?"

Jongho jumped, belatedly realizing that he had started staring at Yunho's face instead of his movie screen, and looked away quickly.

"Yeah, I just...what movie are you watching?"

"It's one of the more obscure Marvel TV shows, actually," Yunho explained, taking out his right earphone and offering it to Jongho. "Do you want to watch?"

"Ah, that's okay," Jongho shook his head hastily. "I should probably sleep, anyways."

“Oh, Jongho-ah,” their manager said as he passed by from the bathroom to get to his own row behind them. “Remember, we got the two seats next to you so you can keep your leg propped up whenever you need it. If you're going to rest you should probably prop it up before you fall asleep so you don't go too many hours with it down.”

“Ah right,” Jongho muttered, embarrassed. He glanced at the far seat reluctantly. “I’ll just move over there, then.”

“No, don’t move,” Yunho said suddenly, remembering how much trouble Jongho had been having sleeping by himself. “Turn sideways and prop your foot up on the empty chairs, then you can lean your back against my shoulder and sleep like that.”

“Is that okay?” Jongho asked tentatively. Yunho nodded, stomach fluttering as it always did in the unusual moments when Jongho was vulnerable with him. He lifted one arm and angled his body slightly so Jongho was half-leaning against his chest, making sure that the blankets were tucked in properly around them, and plugged his headphones back in. He watched another two episodes before falling asleep himself, curled protectively around his injured dongsaeng.

 

 

One row behind them, Yeosang watched anxiously as Hongjoong listened to the track he had been working on composing. It was the first time he had shared his music with Hongjoong and he was terrified even though he knew realistically that Hongjoong wouldn’t be anything but gentle with him. As though sensing his nerves, Hongjoong absently wrapped one arm around his shoulders and pulled Yeosang close so that his head was resting against the Hongjoong’s chest. The piece ended and Hongjoong slid his headphones off.

“Hm.”

“Was it really bad?” Yeosang asked timidly, heart sinking.

“Yeosang-ie,” Hongjoong sighed, wrapping his arms more firmly around his dongsaeng. “Don’t think of things as good or bad when it comes to music, okay? There were technical flaws because the keys didn’t match the rhythm, but you’ll figure that out easily as you get more used to it and that’s not the most important part, anyways. It’s like learning a language, it’ll take you ages to learn all the tools to be able to convey what you’re trying to say in a way that others will understand it. Music is ultimately about communication, not just technique. It’s just like dance - a dancer can have the best technique in the world, but if they aren’t able to convey emotion with their emotions and link the steps with one another in a fluid way, it will make a boring performance.”

“That makes sense,” Yeosang admitted. “It’s so frustrating though. I can hear what I want to say in my head and it just won’t come out.”

“Remind me to find some of my first tracks and play them for you. They were awful.” Hongjoong shuddered at the memory and Yeosang giggled, heart feeling lighter. Hongjoong smiled down at him softly.

“Get some sleep, Sang-ah, okay? We can go over it in detail once we get to the hotel and then you can make some edits and show me again, but you should rest for now. It will be a long journey, and I know you have trouble sleeping sometimes.”

“I was just going to go check on Jongho really quick,” Yeosang demurred, leaning forwards to try to see how Jongho and Yunho were doing.

“He’s asleep on Yunho’s shoulder,” Hongjoong smiled fondly, peeking through the gap in the seats in front of him. “If you stand up you should be able to see. It’s really cute. Aside from that picture of the two of them that San sent that night when Jongho woke us all up about the spider, they never really cuddle.”

“They’ll get there,” Yeosang said confidently. “They’re infuriating, though, aren’t they? Jongho looks up to him so much but is too shy to say a word and Yunho just assumes that Jongho doesn’t feel very close to him but is too allergic to emotions to talk about it properly.”

“Well, it’s a relief that at least one of you doesn’t think I’m the most emotionally constipated person in the group,” Hongjoong confessed wryly.

“No, you definitely are,” Yeosang corrected him confidently. “They’re just the most emotionally constipated relationship, now. Before two weeks ago I would have said it was you and Jongho but it seems like the surgery was a breakthrough for you. Anyways, you should get some sleep, hyung.”

“I literally just told you to do that! I have to do work for a bit, you go ahead.”

Yeosang frowned in dissatisfaction, eyes flickering over Hongjoong thoughtfully before he brightened in realization.

“Look, hyung,” he said quickly, stowing away his laptop. He wrapped both arms around Hongjoong’s right one and intertwined their fingers, tipping his head to rest on Hongjoong’s shoulder. “Now you have to sleep, too!”

Hongjoong looked down at Yeosang’s bright eyes and sighed. Yeosang looked so hopeful, there was no way Hongjoong could turn him down. He could just nap for a bit until Yeosang shifted in his sleep and start work then.

“Fine, you win,” he relented. He rested his head on top of Yeosang’s, stoically pretending his heart didn’t melt at the cute little ‘yay!’ Yeosang let out in response, and shut his eyes.

****************************************

“Wait, wait,” Yeosang blurted, turning back towards his hotel door the next morning and pulling it open again. “Can we practice one more time?”

“No!” Wooyoung laughed, pushing him out into the hallway. “It’s literally two lines.”

“You’ll be great,” San assured him slightly more empathetically from over Wooyoung’s shoulder. “Just go and get it over with, okay? And don’t be too loud, I left Jongho sleeping in our room and I don’t want him to wake up yet. Fighting!”

“Fighting,” Yeosang echoed half-heartedly, dragging his feet to the room two doors over. He stared at the unnecessarily ornate knocker for a long minute before taking a deep breath and tapping firmly at the door.

“Hey,” Mingi greeted him with mild surprise. “Did you sleep well?”

“Yeah,” Yeosang answered distractedly. “Listen, what are you doing for lunch?”

Mingi shrugged.

“Probably just grab something at one of the cafes around here, why?”

“How would you feel about going on a date with me instead?” Yeosang rushed out, eyes darting up to meet Mingi’s before focusing back down on the ground. There was a weird brown stain on the carpet, Yeosang noticed, and he rubbed at it awkwardly with his shoe as the silence stretched out.

“Mingi-”

“Amazing!”

Yeosang frowned in confusion.

“Huh? Amazing?”

“I would feel amazing about going on a date with you,” Mingi explained, tips of his ears red. “Great, wonderful, stupendous, ecstatic-”

“Okay, okay,” Yeosang beamed. “Really?”

“Yeah, really,” Mingi smiled back, bouncing slightly in happiness. “Ah, this is such good timing, Yeosangie. I was just talking with Seonghwa-hyung last night about how my relationships with everyone finally feel really solid. Jongho and I are still new, of course, but...well, anyways, the point is, my answer is yes. And how on earth did you get up the nerve to say that, Mr. Kang I-can’t-even-say-hi-to-strangers Yeosang?”

“That was years ago,” Yeosang pouted. “I’m really smooth and charming now. I am, don’t laugh at me like that! Anyways, is it okay if we go now?”

“Wait, wait, I’m not wearing a date outfit!” Mingi protested, looking down at his t-shirt and jeans in horror. Yeosang cocked his head quizzically.

“You look great, though?”

“Give me ten minutes, okay? I’ll meet you downstairs. Agh, Sannie hinted this was coming and I still didn’t prepare properly...”

The door slammed shut and Yeosang stood there for a moment in shock before heading back to San and Wooyoung to let them know the plan had worked and he had finally been brave enough to ask someone out under minimal duress.

 

Predictably, it was not ten minutes but a full half hour later by the time Yeosang and Mingi finally exited the hotel and made their way towards the waiting taxi.

“How far are we going?” Mingi wondered excitedly. "I'm starving, should I have a snack first?"

“It’s not a long ride, don’t worry,” Yeosang assured, pulling Mingi in behind him and saying something to the driver in Spanish.

Mingi stared at him in shock.

“Since when do you know Spanish?”

Yeosang giggled, bumping their shoulders together as the car pulled out of their hotel.

“It was literally just the name of the place we’re going to,” he explained. “Although Jongho and I did do a bit of Madrid research together and practiced a couple phrases that should come in handy where we’re going. He’s been obsessing over his first date with Seonghwa ever since his surgery so he wanted to be really prepared. It’s cute.”

“Is it?” Mingi asked doubtfully. Yeosang frowned, hand tensing slightly.

“Are you jealous?”

“No! No, that’s not it at all. Well, to be honest I was...envious of Seonghwa-hyung for a while? When I thought Jongho like him instead of me. But it was hard to be jealous because, I mean, how could I expect him to look anywhere else when hyung is, well, hyung? Anyways-”

“Seonghwa’s amazing,” Yeosang interrupted quietly. “But, no matter how hard he tries, he can never be you. So I don’t think you need to be envious of anything, Mingyah.”

“I-thank you,” Mingi said, blinking rapidly wrapping an arm around Yeosang for a quick half-hug. “But wait, what I meant earlier was that I feel like Jongho is fixating a bit on his relationship with Seonghwa — and maybe with me, too? — to avoid thinking about his leg. He’s been so clingy lately and it’s kind of freaking me out? I can’t tell how much is because we are dating and how much is because he’s sad and scared. He's been clingier with the rest of you, too.”

“I think it’s a control thing,” Yeosang mused. “When he’s hurt emotionally or stressed about a show he withdraws within himself but when he feels vulnerable it seems like he throws himself at us continuously to make sure there’s someone to catch him?”

“That’s true,” Mingi agreed thoughtfully. “Anyways, let’s not talk about the others for a couple hours and just focus on us. Where are you taking me?”

“It’s a surprise!” Yeosang laughed delightedly. “Although we’re almost there. I think it’s just a couple blocks down this street...ah, yes, here we are.”

The car slid to a stop and Yeosang leaned forward to tip the driver before following Mingi out and across the street.

“What is this place?” Mingi asked, clutching Yeosang’s hand and staring up at the tall ceiling in awe.

“It’s called the Mercado de San Miguel,” Yeosang pronounced carefully. “It’s a food market! I remember you always liked trying new dishes on our last tour so I thought you might like- Mingi! Where are you going?”

He ran after Mingi, desperately tracking the curly head through the crowd until he finally caught up to him as Mingi was exchanging some money with a stall owner.

“You can’t run off like that!” Yeosang scolded breathlessly. “I thought I had lost you for a moment there.”

Mingi ignored him, focused on the paper cone full of ham that he had just been handed.

“It’s a cone of meat, Sang-ah,” he said, staring down at his bounty in wonder. Yeosang couldn’t help giggling at the look of rapture on Mingi’s face, exasperation melting away. He snuck a piece of ham off the top of the pile and popped it in his mouth.

“Mmm, it’s yummy meat, too.”

“It’s mine, though,” Mingi pouted, holding the cone to his chest protectively.

“Believe me, you’re going to want to save a bit of room. There’s no way you can eat that whole thing plus try all the other stalls you want.”

“Watch me,” Mingi said determinedly. “But...you should have some more, Sang-ah, it’s really good.”

Mingi carefully picked out a few extra-succulent pieces and pushed them past Yeosang’s lips, wiping the extra grease away with a napkin as Yeosang chewed. They shared the meat between them companionably, Mingi happily feeding Yeosang every other bite while Yeosang leaned against him comfortably and watched the swirl of people around them in between bites.

“Ah, this is the best!” Mingi said suddenly. “Usually you never let me clean your mouth, but now you’re being all nice because it’s a date.”

“Is it really that much of a prize?” Yeosang asked doubtfully, poking his tongue out of the corner of his mouth to check for any last crumbs.

“Sangie, it’s a free pass to touch your mouth as much as I want for the next couple hours. If that’s not a prize I don’t know what is.”

Yeosang rolled his eyes, blushing.

“Whatever. But don’t run off like that again! I promise we’ll get to everything, we don’t have to go back to the hotel for hours.”

Mingi sighed exaggeratedly and linked arms with Yeosang, tipping the last of the ham into his mouth before tugging Yeosang impatiently to the next stall.

 

 

“Woah, babe, you look so good,” Wooyoung said enthusiastically, tucking himself under Yunho’s arm and looking his boyfriend up and down appreciatively.

“Ah, it's nothing really special," Yunho laughed modestly, leaning over Wooyoung's head to kiss San hello.

"Oh, really?" San asked doubtfully. "So Mingi was lying when he said you spent an hour with him on the phone picking out an outfit?"

“Of course he was,” Yunho said smoothly. "And, speaking of, Mingi and Yeosang have been sent off successfully?"

"Yup!" San confirmed cheerfully. "It worked like a charm. Although I think they both knew it was coming so I doubt it took much of a discussion. The hyungs are holed up somewhere and Jongho-ah is sleeping like a baby. I'll go wake him up after you two head out so he doesn't spend all day in bed."

“Such a good hyung," Yunho teased, knowing how much San enjoyed coddling their youngest. "Are you ready to go, Young-ah? Was there anything specific you want to see today?”

“Is it ok if we do something a bit selfish first?” Wooyoung asked cautiously. “It’s just, I really want to see this site but someone insisted he was history-ed out and didn’t want to see anything except the inside of his hotel room for the next ten hours so I couldn’t get to it when I did the other ones on my list.”

“You made me go through three major tourist attractions in one day!” San protested hotly. “The smell of sunscreen alone was enough to give me a headache.”

“As much as I’d love to watch you two fight,” Yunho interrupted, “I really want to go out and see the city so save it for later, okay? And of course we can go, Wooyoungie, whatever you want. I still feel bad about last week. Have fun with Jongho-ah, Sannie.”

Wooyoung frowned, trailing Yunho out the door.

“Yunho,” he started determinedly. “I know you keep saying you’re sorry about before, but I want you to know that I’m sorry, too. You were right to point out that you were affected by those decisions a lot too and I should have talked with you instead of just informing you. You seemed okay on the surface so I focused more on Yeosangie, but you’re still a priority to me no matter what’s going on with the others and I should have paid more attention to your needs. Anyways, I want to do stuff that you want today, too. I like seeing you all happy and excited about things."

"Okay," Yunho agreed quietly. Wooyoung sighed, knowing that Yunho probably didn't believe him fully, and decided to just prove that he meant it through actions rather than words. He nestled closer as they waited for a taxi, slotting his head into his favorite place in the crook of Yunho's neck. They parted to climb into the taxi and Yunho waited until Wooyoung had given the driver the address before lifting his arm and tugging Wooyoung back into place against him.

“Temple de Debod?” Yunho repeated. “What’s that?”

“It’s Egyptian!” Wooyoung explained buoyantly, dropping a quick kiss on Yunho’s neck for good measure. “It was transported here in the 1960s but it was originally built in Egypt in the second century BC.”

“Is that when King Tut ruled?” Yunho asked tentatively. Wooyoung laughed, petting Yunho’s cheek affectionately.

“Cute. No, King Tut was like a thousand years earlier or something. I’m impressed you know his name, though! I didn’t think you knew anything about Egyptian history.”

“I don’t really,” Yunho admitted. “I just started listening to this history podcast during workouts the other week and there was an episode on King Tut.”

“You were listening to a history podcast of your own volition? Why?”

Yunho shrugged helplessly and glanced around the car as though looking for an escape.

“Because you like history?”

Wooyoung inhaled sharply and Yunho glanced down at him reflexively. Their eyes met and held for a moment until a car horn broke their concentration and they both smiled sheepishly. Wooyoung lurched sideways to hug Yunho adoringly, practically climbing into his lap.

“I seriously love you so much, Yunho,” he said earnestly. “Ah, if we were back at the hotel…”

“I love you, too,” Yunho replied, flustered. “But maybe we should tone it down a bit so we don’t give the poor taxi driver a show? Who knows what he has to deal with every night, it’s better not to add to it.”

“Alright, fine,” Wooyoung agreed with a slight pout, adjusting himself slightly so they were cuddling more casually. “I’m giving you all the snuggles in the world after we get back, though. Gosh, Yunho, really, you put us all to shame. Even the way we dote on our maknae can’t quite compare.”

 

 

 

“Baby?” San whispered, pulling the curtains open and placing a gentle hand on Jongho’s shoulder. “It’s time to wake up and do your exercises, okay?”

Jongho wrinkled his nose and hugged one of the extra pillows to his chest.

“I can wake up, but I don’t want to do the exercises, hyungie. Please?”

“You have to,” San said reluctantly, face falling at the sleepily pleading expression on Jongho’s face. “They aren’t foot exercises, though, so they shouldn’t hurt, right? It’s just to keep the other parts of your leg strong.”

“I always jolt my foot by accident while I’m doing them and then it really hurts,” Jongho pouted.

San sighed inwardly, cursing whoever had had the bright decision to leave him alone to defend against their maknae’s puppy eyes, and gently praised and cajoled Jongho until he dragged himself out of bed and pulled out the sheet of exercises the physical therapist had suggested. San tried to help as much as possible, but the exercises proved to be much harder for Jongho to complete than he had anticipated. Every time Jongho forgot about holding his foot at just the right angle (which tended to happen towards the end of every set), he would accidentally jolt his cast and set off another wave of pain. San debated calling it quits from the first time that happened, but Jongho had apparently decided to put on a brave face and assured him that it wasn't causing any extra harm and was just an unfortunate side effect of the healing process.

By the time the exercises were finished, Jongho's face was wet with tears — thankfully mostly from frustration rather than pain, but heart-wrenching nonetheless. He propped his leg up carefully across the foot of the bed and promptly collapsed across San's lap, hugging San like a teddy bear as his breaths slowly calmed back down to a normal rate.

“Let’s go on a nice, relaxing walk in the park outside,” San suggested hopefully, petting the back of Jongho's head. “Hyung will buy you some lunch, okay?”

“Can we just stay here for a bit longer, hyungie?” Jongho requested shyly, face still buried in San’s chest. “My legs are tired.”

San’s heart flipped at the affectionate address and he dropped a quick kiss on top of the maknae’s fluffy head.

“Whatever you want, baby,” he agreed immediately, unable to deny Jongho anything after seeing his tears. “Just tell me when you’re ready and I’ll help you wash up.”

 

 

“Hyung?” Jongho asked cautiously several minutes later. “Can I ask you a really personal question?”

“Of course, Jongho-ah. What is it?”

“Have you had sex before?”

San laughed in surprise and nodded.

“Yeah, several months ago. With Young-ah.”

“Was it good?”

San stared at him.

“Yes? I mean, Wooyoung would kill me if I said otherwise, but it did feel amazing at the time. In retrospect I had no idea what I was doing and we’re way better at it now, but I was completely euphoric afterwards. All happy and floaty.”

“Oh.” Jongho bit his lip, processing that information. “How do you get better at it?”

San hesitated.

“Jongho-ah, where are these questions coming from? Did you...have sex recently? Or are you planning on doing it soon? I feel like I would have noticed if-”

“No, hyung!” Jongho denied quickly, face beet red. “Just, both Mingi-hyung and Seonghwa-hyung are kind of experienced and so far they’ve been taking the lead but I want to surprise them a bit and make things good for them, too. In the far future, hyung.”

“Well, I can assure you neither of them have any complaints so far,” San winked, ignoring Jongho’s sputters. “But if you’re looking for fancy tricks I suggest asking Yunho. He definitely knows the most out of all of us.”

“I can’t ask Yunho for sex tips!”

“You mean you won’t,” San corrected, shaking his head in disapproval. “Maybe Wooyoung, then? He’s very good, just not quite as experimental as Yunho is. Yet, anyways. And most of his experience is on me so it’s very tailored to my preferences.”

“Maybe,” Jongho agreed skeptically. “Are you having sex with all the 99z, then?”

San flopped down against the bed, pulling Jongho down with him, and frowned up at the ceiling thoughtfully.

“I’m not right now,” he said slowly. “Other than Wooyoung I haven’t done much. Made out with Yeosangie and gone a bit further with Mingi and Yunho.”

“You don’t sound very happy about that,” Jongho pointed out. “Do you want to go further with the others?”

San shuddered involuntarily and froze, looking at Jongho guiltily.

“Not yet?”

Jongho frowned dubiously.

“That was a pretty strong reaction, hyung. If you don’t want to I’m sure they’d-”

“No, no, that’s not it, I do want to, it’s just-” San sighed, glancing at Jongho and sitting back up again. “Okay, it’s like this. Wooyoung and I leapt into physical intimacy way too quickly, in retrospect. That's all our relationship was, at first, and it really messed with me. Once we figured our feelings out I didn’t really feel the need to take a step back from it because our relationship was so strong, but it terrified me at the time and I’m still a bit scarred from that period even though everything ended well and neither of us meant to hurt the other. My attraction to the others is growing every day but I want to take things really slow in any relationships I have from now on. I like all the cuddling and dates, but anything sexual...I just don’t want it to be a big part of my relationships until there’s a strong foundation, you know? But Yeosangie’s downright aggressive about making out so he’s getting comfortable really fast, Wooyoung is practically sex personified, and Yunho and Mingi have experimented so much with each other, I’m just a bit worried...”

“About missing out?” Jongho finished gently.

“Yeah.” San huffed a short laugh. “It’s dumb, I know.”

“No, it’s not,” Jongho said firmly. “It's totally natural even if it's important to not let their desires push yours. I don’t feel exactly the same way, but I want to take things slow, too. I think I’m a bit too old-fashioned about this type of stuff and I’m trying to tone that down a bit, but...I want to do it properly, you know. Not that anyone else’s relationships are improper! I mean, like, romance them a bit. Court them or whatever. ‘Make love’ instead of just have sex. Everything I’ve done with them has been really meaningful so far and I want it to stay that way.”

“As long as you aren’t trying to control anyone else I don’t think you need to change anything, Jongho-ah,” San assured him. “I’m not offended. It’s totally fine to be a bit of a romantic. Cute, even. Our cute maknae who wants sex lessons so he can show his boyfriends a good time. Ah, you’ve grown up so much.”

Jongho flushed and swatted at San.

“I’m hungry,” he announced firmly, ready to abandon the subject before his cheeks combusted with the force of his blushing. “You’re buying me lunch, remember?”

“As if you’d let me forget,” San snorted. “You’re lucky you’re cute, Jongho-ah.”

“And you’re lucky you have money,” Jongho returned sarcastically. "I definitely wouldn't leave this bed if bribes weren't involved."

“Awww, I love spending time with you, too,” San cooed, pinching Jongho’s cheeks. “Now come on, maknae dearest. I’m starving.”

Chapter Text

Yunho entered San and Jongho’s shared room cautiously, surprised at the relative silence given how many members were hanging out there. San and Yeosang were sharing a pair of earbuds and watching a movie together on one of the beds, while Mingi and Wooyoung were cuddled up and flipping through a stack of Spanish fashion magazines on the other. Jongho and Seonghwa were sitting in the armchairs facing one another, immersed in some type of children’s hand game Yunho didn’t recognize.

He approached the latter two hesitantly, reluctant to interrupt but knowing that it was necessary.

“Hyung, can we work out? I need to do some abs.”

Seonghwa froze for a second, glancing back at Yunho and then down at his hands.

“Can we just finish this game?” Jongho pleaded.

“What are you playing?” Yunho asked curiously, unable to help himself.

“It’s called chopsticks!” Seonghwa explained enthusiastically. “My cousin went on a trip to the U.S. and some kids taught it to her.”

“It’s super easy,” Jongho added, watching with disdain as Seonghwa tapped one of his hands and lost the game immediately. Seonghwa frowned and Jongho rolled his eyes, leaning forward to drop a quick kiss on Seonghwa's cheek before turning back to Yunho with a slight blush. “If both players have even a modicum of rationality it just goes on forever but hyung keeps losing really quickly.”

Wooyoung rolled his eyes.

“Because you kiss him every time he pouts at his loss, Jongho-ah.”

Anyways,” Seonghwa said hurriedly, the tips of his ears red. “You wanted to go to the gym, Yunho-ah?”

“Yeah,” Yunho confirmed quietly. “Is that okay?”

“Of course, love, the game’s over. Let’s go.”

 

They reached a secluded vending machine alcove in an empty corridor and Seonghwa stopped, turning worriedly towards Yunho.

“What’s going on, is everything okay? We haven’t had to use that code in a while.”

“It’s-” Yunho’s voice broke and he sank to the ground, burying his face in his hands.

“Hey, come here,” Seonghwa coaxed, sitting down on the floor and pulling Yunho into his arms. “Tell hyung what’s wrong.”

“You know how there was that big rise of cases in Daegu?” Yunho started, voice shaky. “I didn’t want to scare the kids, but this guy I was friends with in school moved there for work — he’s a couple years older than me — and my mom just told me he’s in the hospital with Covid. I used to dance with him, he’s in the prime of his life, and now his parents don’t know if he’ll wake up tomorrow. All those people saying it’s just like the flu...it’s nothing at all like that, hyung, it’s really serious and I just- I’m so scared. For him, for my family, for us, for Atiny, for everyone.”

Seonghwa’s heart broke for Yunho and he hugged him close, muttering soothing nonsense and petting his hair even as he wracked his brain for what to say. What could he say, in this situation? It was times like these when Seonghwa wished there was a class for hyungs where he could learn how to make his dongsaengs feel better. They all turned to him when they needed comfort, even Hongjoong, and he didn’t know how to tell them that he didn’t have the answers, either. This wasn’t something he could fix with hugs and empty reassurances.

Before he could come up with a proper response, however, both of their phones chimed with the message alert tone the group used for emergencies.

“Hyung says we’re having a group meeting in five minutes in his room,” Yunho read, staring down at the message nervously for a second before getting to his feet and brushing off his knees. “I guess we’d better go.”

“Wait, are you feeling up to it?” Seonghwa checked, frowning at Yunho’s wan face. “I’m sure we can-”

“It’s an emergency, hyung,” Yunho pointed out flatly. “I can’t just not come.”

“Take a minute, first, love,” Seonghwa encouraged, hugging Yunho one more time. “I’ll sit next to you the whole time so you can hold on to me if you need to. And you’re sleeping with me tonight, alright? No protests.”

“If you insist, hyung,” Yunho agreed, a small smile flickering over his mouth. He reached over to grab Seonghwa’s hand and laced their fingers together, leading them both back towards the elevators. “Let’s go see what’s imploding this time.”

 

 

“I just finished talking with Manager-nim,” Hongjoong started unceremoniously as soon as they had all entered the room, not even waiting for Wooyoung and San to sit down. “The cases here are rising as well and it looks like our schedule is going to be a bit touch and go for a while. Some of that we already knew or guessed, but the new bit is that we’re going on a bit of a lockdown, okay? I’m glad everyone got to do a bit of sightseeing already because we aren’t going to be going to any crowded public places for a while. So no tourist-y spots, no more going into the central part of the city unless it’s for work — and, for work, just straight into the studio and out, okay? Masks always, of course, wash your hands, all the usual precautions. Understood?”

They all nodded quietly, expressions somber.

“Where’s manager-nim?” Wooyoung asked curiously.

“He’s on the phone,” Hongjoong answered distractedly, glancing down at an incoming message. “He’s been calling people all day trying to figure out logistics. And, Wooyoungie, no sneaking out this time. This is serious.”

“I only snuck out once!” Wooyoung protested, offended. “And that was just to see the stars, I didn’t do anything dangerous.”

“Exactly!” Hongjoong said. “You listen to the rules and then decide whether or not you want to obey them. This is serious though. The company does know better than us in this case because they’re the ones keeping up with all the research about how this is progressing and whether or not we’re in danger.”

“I know that!” Wooyoung exclaimed. “I respect the staff just as much as anyone, and I would never go against their judgement for something like this. And don’t even try to pretend you’re warning me out of some type of holier-than-thou leader responsibility. We all know you like me the least and don’t think I’m responsible enough to follow simple instructions.”

Hongjoong stared at him, mouth open.

“That’s not true at all! What on earth are you talking about?”

Wooyoung snorted, disentangling himself from Yeosang angrily.

“Mingi and Yeosang are the ones who sneak out often to go explore, but of course you barely ever scold them unless they do something really overtly wrong and you’re obligated to. Meanwhile you yell at me all the time even when I didn’t do anything and never bother to see if that was fair or not because it’s me, right? I’m always the one causing you trouble, always too loud or too playful or too sulky. No matter how hard I try you always find something wrong with me. Actually, what’s the point in behaving if I’m just going to be yelled at anyways? Someone tell me later if I missed anything, I - I’m done.”

He stormed out of the room and slammed the door, the sound reverberating in the stunned silence that followed.

“I’ll go to him,” Mingi said after a minute, glancing around the room awkwardly. “He was a bit right, though, hyung. Objectively I’m way less responsible than he is but he gets scolded just as much, if not more, than I do. Maybe give him space tonight while he cools down and apologize tomorrow?”

Hongjoong nodded numbly, still in shock, and watched Mingi leave the room.

“That was all there was to talk about,” he said eventually. “I guess we can go back to whatever you all were doing before I messaged? I’ll talk to Wooyoungie tomorrow. I...I trust you all, of course, but please stay safe, okay?”

The others nodded quietly and left the room in pairs. Seonghwa hesitated, glancing between Yunho and Hongjoong, and Hongjoong waved him off tiredly.

“Go with the kids,” he urged. “I’ll be fine. I want to be alone for a bit, anyways.”

 

 

Hongjoong lay awake in the dark, replaying his words over and over in his head and wincing at how cruel he had been. Everyone else was piled into two of the other rooms but he had stayed alone in his room to think. How long had Wooyoung been feeling so targeted? And, for that matter, how long had Hongjoong been scolding him unfairly?

The door to his hotel room opened and a slim figure slipped in. Hongjoong squinted through the dark as the person approached, trying to figure out who it was. It looked like Wooyoung, but that couldn’t be-

“Hyung?” Wooyoung whispered, sliding underneath the covers next to Hongjoong. “Are you awake?”

“Yeah,” Hongjoong breathed back, not daring to speak normally lest he scare Wooyoung away. It was extremely unusual for Wooyoung to approach someone so quickly after walking away from a fight, especially when he felt like he was in the right. “Are you okay?”

There was a slight pause before Wooyoung spoke.

“May I have a hug?” he requested timidly, voice small.

“Of course,” Hongjoong agreed immediately, pulling Wooyoung on top of him and hugging him tightly. “Did something else happen or-”

“I don’t know, I just - I just needed you,” Wooyoung confessed, burying his face in Hongjoong’s chest.

“I’m here,” Hongjoong assured him quietly, petting his hair gently. “I’ll always be here for you, Wooyoungie, whenever you need me. I love you so much, Young-ah, I’m sorry-”

“It’s okay,” Wooyoung interrupted, face still hidden. “I’m not entirely blameless.”

“It’s not okay,” Hongjoong insisted. “How I’ve been acting towards you, even if it wasn't intentional, is unacceptable. I’ll work hard at being a better hyung for you, I swear. But for now I just want you to know that I really don’t think any of those things about you, okay? I know you’ll take this seriously, I never should have said that. I’m the one more likely to break the rules, anyways — you’re one of the most thoughtful people I know and wouldn’t do something that might endanger others. I care about the people I love, of course, and would end anyone who tried to hurt one of you, but you embrace everyone with so much care whether you know them or not and it’s something I really admire about you. I do trust and respect you, even if I haven’t been showing that properly.”

“Thanks for telling me, hyung,” Wooyoung mumbled, embarrassed.

“I mean it, Wooyoung,” Hongjoong said firmly. “Every day I spend with you makes me a better person, and I’ll be forever grateful to you for that.”

Wooyoung swallowed thickly and hugged Hongjoong tightly.

“Thank you, hyung,” he said quietly, wiping furiously at the tears suddenly running down his face. “Your opinion means a lot to me.”

“Not as much as you mean to me,” Hongjoong replied resolutely, curling tighter around Wooyoung. “Now go to sleep, Wooyoungie. Things will be better in the morning, I promise.”

****************************************

“Are you sure this is allowed?” Seonghwa asked dubiously, trailing Jongho out of the hotel doors and into the bright afternoon sunshine after a morning of recordings.

“Of course, hyung,” Jongho answered reassuringly, leading him across the street and around a corner. “I checked with manager-nim last night. Now stop talking about rules, I’m trying to romance you.”

“Alright, alright,” Seonghwa relented, laughing. “Am I allowed to peek in the basket?”

“No!” Jongho whirled around, tripping over his crutches and just barely regaining his balance before he fell. “Don’t you dare, hyung.”

“But I’m the one carrying it,” Seonghwa pointed out teasingly. “And it’s really heavy, too. Surely I can be paid in knowledge?”

“It’s not my fault I have to use these stupid crutches,” Jongho said sulkily. “You’re trying to take advantage of an injured person! What type of example does that set for the rest of us, hyung?”

Seonghwa looked at Jongho with sudden seriousness.

“I’m so proud of you, Jongho-ah,” he said earnestly. “Just one week ago you were convinced the whole thing was your fault and we would be upset with you, and now you’re able to tease me about it. I’m really happy for you, baby.”

“That’s really not the mood we’re going for,” Jongho berated him, turning away to hide the pleased blush spreading across his cheeks. “Ah, we’re here! I found this park yesterday with Sannie-hyung and thought it would be a good place for our date. You can put the basket down here, hyung, under this tree.”

“This is amazing,” Seonghwa said frankly, watching Jongho carefully spread out a picnic blanket and start laying out packages of cold meats, cheeses, fruit, olives, nuts, bread, soda and sweets. “Consider me properly romanced. Where did you get all this stuff?”

“I had Yeosangie-hyung get some of the meat and cheese on his way back from the market with Mingi yesterday, and then Hongjoong-hyung and I got the rest this morning from the store,” Jongho explained, watching Seonghwa’s reaction happily. He sat down and stretched his legs out carefully in front of him on the half of the blanket not covered in food. “You like it? Given how crazy everything has been I thought it might be good to do something quiet, but I know it’s probably not what you were expecting-”

“It’s perfect,” Seonghwa interjected firmly. “I love it, Jongho-ah. It’ll be fun to try all of these different foods that we don’t usually get, but it’s private and quiet enough that we can just focus on each other.”

“Come sit here,” Jongho suggested, confidently patting the space between his legs. “I want to feed you.”

“Oh you do, do you?” Seonghwa said as he settled down carefully, leaning back against Jongho’s chest and looking at the food with interest. “I suppose whatever our maknae wants, he- mmph!”

“That’s manchego viejo,” Jongho informed him archly, ignoring the way Seonghwa glared as he savored the mouthful of cheese. “An aged variety of manchego. How is it?”

“Really good, actually,” Seonghwa admitted. “Want a taste?”

“Yeah, let me just cut-”

“Not that type of taste,” Seonghwa corrected, tilting his head backwards to capture Jongho’s lips with his. Jongho surged forwards, licking the taste eagerly out of Seonghwa’s mouth, and Seonghwa kissed him back deeply for a few moments before breathlessly pulling away. “What do you think?”

“Delicious,” Jongho agreed quickly, licking his lips and staring at Seonghwa with wide eyes.

“Yeah, I thought you might like it,” Seonghwa laughed smugly. “What’s next?

Chapter Text

San slowly became aware of a hand stroking the back of his head, just the way he liked it. He pushed into the contact happily and snuggled closer to the warm body wrapped around him, breathing in the familiar scent contentedly. It was Seonghwa, which meant that this was a dream because he distinctly remembered falling asleep in his room with only Jongho across the room from him. He would probably wake up soon since he was becoming increasingly aware of the feel of the covers against his skin, but he could enjoy the dream in the meantime.

Dream-San was comfortable and safe and warm and feeling just a little bit frisky, so San turned his head and tongued a few gentle kisses into the warm skin of Dream-Seonghwa’s neck. Seonghwa inhaled sharply, hand stilling, and San suppressed a proud smirk. He leaned in again and nibbled lightly at the skin he had just kissed, only to be rudely awakened when Seonghwa reflexively pushed him backwards off the bed and he hit the hotel floor with a painful thud.

San stared upwards at the very real, very red Seonghwa above him, his blood running cold as it dawned on him that he hadn’t been dreaming and had, in fact, just practically mauled his hyung’s neck without permission.

“What’s going on?” Jongho asked sleepily, sitting up and glancing blearily between Seonghwa and San. Neither moved, both of them frozen in a mixture of shock and horror. “Guys? Hyung, why are you on the floor?”

“Nothing!” San squeaked nonsensically, finally tearing his eyes away from Seonghwa and looking desperately around the room for some form of escape. He cleared his throat nervously.

“San,” Seonghwa started.

“I have to go!” San blurted out quickly, not ready to hear whatever San was going to say. “I promised Yeosang!”

He stumbled to his feet and ran out the door before either of them could protest, sprinting around the corner and banging desperately on the door to Yunho’s room. It seemed like hours before Yunho finally answered the door and San glanced behind himself nervously while he waited, sure that Seonghwa would round the corner any minute.

“Where’s the fire?” Yunho yawned, leaning against the door sleepily. San ignored him, pushing into the room and slamming the door shut behind him before sinking to the ground with his face buried in shaking hands.

“I’m finished,” he lamented dramatically. He replayed the last five minutes over again in his head and groaned loudly.

“Woah, babe, what happened?” Yunho asked, sounding marginally more awake as he came over to place a comforting hand on San’s back. “You were with Jongho, right? Didn’t you just wake up?”

“Not as recently as I thought I did, unfortunately,” San muttered. He took a deep breath and lifted his head to meet Yunho’s eyes. “Seonghwa somehow ended up in bed with me last night. I woke up but I thought I was still dreaming and, without thinking, kissed his neck a little? And then he sort of seemed to react positively so I bit a little but then he flailed and I was thrown out of bed and realized I wasn’t actually asleep after all and- stop laughing at me, Yuyu!”

Yunho held up a hand in protest from where he was bent double in hysterics.

“I’m not laughing at you!” he gasped out between giggles. “Keep going, I’m listening, I-”

He broke off, overcome by mirth, and collapsed to the ground in front of a pouting San.

“What’s so funny?” Yeosang asked curiously, coming into the room from the bathroom.

“San thought he was sleeping, made out with Seonghwa’s neck, got literally thrown out of the bed in response, and then ran away as fast as his little legs could carry him.”

“I’m not that short!” San protested sulkily as Yeosang also started laughing. “It’s not funny! You’re both awful boyfriends. What am I supposed to do?? I can’t ever look hyung in the face again. Maybe I should just cut my losses and quit now. We’re in Spain, I could...learn Spanish and live here?”

Yunho sobered slightly at that, calming enough to talk without laughing.

“No, wait, I refuse to lose my roommate to this nonsense.”

“Just tell him you were thinking of Wooyoung,” Yeosang suggested reasonably. “Or Mingi, or me, or Yunho. Or Hongjoong, if you want to see a particularly interesting reaction.”

“I can’t lie to hyung!” San objected. “Oh my god, I think he knew, anyway. And Jongho woke up right after I fell! Their faces...”

Yeosang and Yunho burst out laughing again at the imagery and San flopped against the floor, hoping he could sink right through it and disappear.

 

 

 

“Stop laughing!” Seonghwa pleaded, burying his face in his hands as Jongho continued to shake the bed with his giggles.

“That was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen,” Jongho declared decisively. “Why are you even here, hyung? I thought you were sleeping with Hongjoongie hyung last night."

"I thought I'd come kiss you awake," Seonghwa said reluctantly. "You don't always like having someone in bed with you, though, and I didn't have the heart to wake you, so I joined San. He always appreciates an extra cuddle...I had no idea that was going to happen."

"What did you do to get San to thirst after you like that?" Jongho wondered. "Ah, wait, no, that was a stupid question — it’s you, of course he’s thirsting after you. I just never thought I’d see you get defeated by someone else’s tongue.”

“You’re so clever,” Seonghwa said sarcastically, crawling over to the other bed and collapsing grumpily on top of his boyfriend. “He probably thought I was one of the 99z, anyways.”

“Ow!” Jongho protested, shifting so they were lying in a more comfortable position. “I don’t know...San’s the best at distinguishing between us without looking, I don’t think he’d make that type of mistake even subconsciously. I bet he thought he was dreaming.”

“I don’t know...ugh, what do I do? It’s so awkward.”

“Well, did you like it?” Jongho asked bluntly, cackling as Seonghwa’s face flushed bright red. “There’s an easy answer, then, right? Just ask him out?”

Seonghwa frowned and moving so that he could look Jongho in the eyes properly.

“Would you be okay with that, though?”

“Yeah, I don’t care. Or, I mean, I care, but — you said Hongjoong was okay with you dating anyone else within Ateez, right? I feel the same way.”

“Ugh, you two are both alike in the most frustrating ways... Don’t you want to know how I’d feel about you doing the same?”

Jongho shrugged.

“I know you’re okay with Mingi and that’s all that matters to me.”

“So you’d be fine if I dated literally everyone else in this group and you were only with Mingi and I.”

“Of course, why wouldn’t I be? I have two amazing boyfriends, and that’s two more than I thought I’d get anytime in the next five years. Past me would be so proud.”

“Yeah, but...I don’t know.” Seonghwa bit his lip pensively before saying slowly, “It feels unequal for my side of the relationship to be open if yours isn’t.”

Jongho stiffened.

“It’s not about that, though, hyung,” he protested, squirming out from underneath Seonghwa and putting a little space in between them. “I don’t think about them like that. It took me a full year of liking Mingi to be okay with anything involving tongues, and even longer for you. I still don’t think-”

“Hey, take a breath,” Seonghwa interrupted, looking down at Jongho’s heaving chest worriedly. He laced their fingers together and squeezed gently. Jongho obeyed, breathing deep and letting his heart rate slow down before opening his mouth to continue again.

“I just-”

The emergency chime on both of their phones sounded, cutting Jongho off in the middle of his sentence. They both looked down at their phones to read the message and sighed in unison.

“Ugh, it’s another so-called emergency meeting,” Seonghwa complained, feeling unusually on-edge and rebellious after the events of the morning. “Literally every important conversation I ever have gets interrupted by one of these.”

Jongho frowned at him suspiciously.

“Wait, what other important conversations have you been having? You came in with Yunho to the last one, right? Is hyung-”

“Oh, well, it’s an emergency, we’d better go!” Seonghwa said hastily, grabbing Jongho’s hand and pulling him bodily out of the bed. “Joong-ah doesn’t like when we’re late to these things, hurry up.”

“I want it put on record that that was a miserable distraction attempt but I’m going to graciously pretend I noticed nothing because I’m just that good of a boyfriend,” Jongho said archly, distractedly adding, “And I’m trying to be good for Hongjoongie-hyung these days,” a second later.

Seonghwa stopped in his tracks, apologizing as Jongho crashed into him and nearly fell onto his broken leg all over again before refocusing on what Jongho had just said.

“You’re trying to be good for Joong? What on earth does that even mean?”

Jongho blushed, caught.

“Okay, now we’re even!” he decided quickly, taking Seonghwa’s hand again and moving towards the door. “I won’t ask about Yunho and you don’t ask about that.”

Seonghwa narrowed his eyes at Jongho before shrugging in agreement and following him out the door.

“Fine.”

“But I’m definitely going to keep asking about San,” Jongho added, hopping out of the range of Seonghwa’s pinching fingers with a delighted laugh. “This meeting is going to be so entertaining with the both of you desperately avoiding one another.”

 

 

Unfortunately, the meeting was the furthest thing from entertaining. Jongho and Seonghwa were the last two to enter and their manager barely spared them a glance before starting to talk.

“Alright, boys, I know we were expecting this to happen soon, but it’s official as of an hour ago — the tour and all further in-person events are cancelled, and we’re heading home immediately. We haven’t finalized the tickets yet, but there’s a flight out late tonight that we’re going to try our best to be on, okay? So schedules are cancelled for today, and you’re free to do whatever you want within the hotel until we leave. Stay close so we can update you, and pack up your stuff as much as possible so we can depart at a moment’s notice as soon as our flights are booked. The announcement won’t be released publicly for a bit, so please don’t say anything about it to anyone aside from immediate family for now, okay?”

They nodded numbly, and their manager gave them a wan smile before rushing out again to coordinate the details of their flights. Hongjoong let out a long breath and looked around, exchanging a quick, but silent, conversation with Seonghwa as he did.

“How are you all feeling?” Seonghwa asked gently. “I know it’s disappointing, but-”

“Like manager-nim said, I think we all knew this was coming,” Jongho interjected, tightening his grip on Seonghwa’s hand. “It doesn’t make it any more pleasant to hear, but we had a bit of time to prepare.”

“And yet it still feels like a shock, somehow,” San said hollowly. “It’s the right thing to do, though, we all know that. The world is collapsing around us, this isn’t really a situation the show can go on in.”

“And it’ll be nice to be home,” Yunho added wistfully, oblivious to Jongho’s considering gaze. “I suppose we should go pack, right?”

“I think that would be best,” Hongjoong agreed. “There isn’t a flight out for at least another six hours so you can take your time a bit, but let’s stick together for now, okay? It’s already been around for months and everything is shutting down. I think we should prepare ourselves mentally for a long-term interruption even if the company isn’t ready to admit to that yet.”

They all nodded and started to file out in pairs. San fled immediately, avoiding eye contact with Seonghwa. Seonghwa sighed and followed San at a more sedate pace, stopping by the hallway vending machine to grab a snack and collect his thoughts. Hongjoong headed off towards their manager’s room to check one last question, Mingi left silently after him, and Wooyoung gave the remaining members a quick hug before heading to his own room to call his family.

“Yunho-hyung,” Jongho called tentatively before the dancer could leave, not sure if his plan was a good idea or not but determined to go ahead regardless. “Can I run a song cover by you?”

He would keep his word and not bring up Seonghwa’s mysterious comment about important conversations being repeatedly interrupted by the emergency chime, but it didn’t take a genius to guess that Seonghwa must have been comforting Yunho about something when that first meeting had been called. They had come in together, Yunho had been unusually serious, and then the two had slept together that night. Jongho had no idea what it could have been about, but he couldn’t just sit back and watch Yunho hurting without trying to help. The trick was to not make it obvious that he knew something was up until Yunho let it slip himself.

“Me?” Yunho asked, bewildered. “Of course, if you want, but...don’t you want another opinion?”

“Why would I need another opinion when I have yours?” Jongho countered, internally patting himself on the back for the smoothness of his reply.

Yeosang coughed back his laughter at that and clapped Yunho on the back.

“You guys can take the room, I’ll go hang with Wooyoung,” he offered quickly, heading out before Yunho could protest.

“Okay…” Yunho visibly gathered himself and turned back to Jongho. “What’s it a cover of?”

“It’s an OST,” Jongho explained, pulling up the lyrics on his phone. He hadn’t really practiced this one much, yet, but the lyrics were perfect for what he wanted to say. He took a deep breath, pressed play on the track, and started to sing.

Yunho’s face set as soon as the song started, clearly recognizing it. Jongho continued, lifting his phone slightly so he could keep an eye on his hyung as he kept reading the lyrics.

I’m still and I’m here
I’ll hold you like this
Even if we push each other out
We’ll be engraved even deeper

Here and there
Even under different skies
I will remember your heart
And I’m still, I’m here

Yunho started crying and Jongho reached forward instinctively to hug his hyung even as he kept singing. The song ended and Yunho took a deep, shaky breath, reaching up to wipe his eyes without making any attempt to leave the gentle circle of Jongho’s arms.

“Hyung,” Jongho started eventually. “You don’t have to talk about it with me if you don’t want to, but I just wanted you to know...I’m still, and I’m here, okay?”

Yunho nodded, swallowing his tears.

“I don’t think I want to- If I talk about it, it becomes real, you know? But thank you, really. I- I love you a lot, Jongho-ah.”

“I love you too, hyung,” Jongho whispered, his own eyes misted over with tears as he stared unseeing over Yunho’s shoulder.

 

 

 

“Wooyoung,” Hongjoong started as he entered, only to stop short at the sight of Wooyoung and Yeosang cuddling together on the bed. “Oh.”

Yeosang glanced between the two of them before disentangling himself from Wooyoung and getting to his feet.

“I’ll go see what Mingi’s up to,” he decided.

“You don’t have to leave,” Hongjoong protested half-heartedly. “I can-”

“It’s okay,” Yeosang interrupted, smiling reassuringly at Hongjoong. “I haven’t really seen him much since our date so I wanted to check in with him, anyways.”

“Give him a cuddle from me,” Wooyoung said softly. “He seemed a bit nervous at the meeting.”

Yeosang nodded and leaned down to drop a light kiss on Wooyoung’s cheek.

“Goodnight, Young-ah. I love you.”

Wooyoung melted and pulled Yeosang down by the shirt to press their lips together properly before letting him go.

“I love you too, Sangie,” he replied, watching fondly as Yeosang left the room. “Okay, hyung, what’s up?”

“I wanted your advice about something,” Hongjoong said slowly.

“Are you just asking me because of what happened the other day?” Wooyoung asked bluntly. “Because I don’t want your pity.”

“No!” Hongjoong protested instinctively. “Or, well, I probably wouldn’t have come to you before we talked that night, to be honest. But this has nothing to do with pity, I genuinely want advice from you specifically.”

“Why wouldn’t you have come to me before, though?” Wooyoung wondered suspiciously.

Hongjoong hesitated, debating whether or not to explain.

“I don’t want you to think this is your fault,” he started nervously, “because it isn’t, at all. But before you told me how much my opinion matters to you, I always kind of thought you didn’t pay attention to me because I’m boring. You talk a lot about me being cool on stage, and I guess stage-me is kind of me, too, but off-stage, especially at work, I just-”

“I don’t think you’re boring at all, though, hyung!” Wooyoung said earnestly. “I’m sorry-”

“No, don’t be sorry! I was just projecting my own insecurities onto your actions, you didn’t do anything wrong. But that’s part of why I was a bit less tolerant to you. That was my fault, and I’ll work harder on reminding myself-”

“Hyung, I think you’re really cool,” Wooyoung interrupted, unable to stay silent. “I - to be honest, sometimes I act out intentionally to get your attention. Not that much, but it was sometimes on purpose, and that’s not fair of me either.”

“I- okay, thank you,” Hongjoong laughed awkwardly. “I’m sorry, Young-ah.”

“Me too,” Wooyoung said briskly, eager to move on from the apologetic atmosphere. “Now, what is this problem that needs me specifically?”

“It’s about Seonghwa,” Hongjoong admitted, relieved to have that final bit of tension between them released. “I know he’s probably told you bits of what happened before break, so...do you think I should just bite the bullet and date him officially?”

Wooyoung stared at him.

“Um, duh? Why is this even a question? You two love each other, what more is there to figure out?”

“So much!” Hongjoong moaned. “You know what his past relationships were like — we all worried about him for ages after that last one, in particular, and I guess...I know he can look after himself but I’m worried he holds too low standards for himself when he says he doesn’t need much out of a relationship. I want to be a relief for him, not a cause of more stress, and I feel like my life isn’t balanced enough for me to be the boyfriend he deserves. I work so much, but I can’t lessen it because I need to invest time now so we can lay a strong foundation as Ateez, but I don’t have the time to do that and be an attentive boyfriend all the time even though he’s so important to me. He has Jongho now, too, but...I don’t know, I don’t feel comfortable committing to dating him when I know I won’t be able to change yet.”

“Hyung, you shouldn’t change for a relationship! If it will only be successful if you’re a different person, it won’t be successful at all. That’s literally relationship 101. Look at it this way — what’s the difference between a friendship and a romantic relationship?”

“What?” Hongjoong asked, bewildered. “This isn’t a philosophy class, Wooyoung, what-”

“Just humor me,” Wooyoung insisted. “What’s the difference? It’s not sex, obviously, because it’s totally possible to have a romantic relationship without sex. So what’s different between the way you feel for Seonghwa and the way you feel for, say, Eden-hyung.”

Hongjoong made a face at the comparison and Wooyoung laughed but didn’t say anything, waiting for Hongjoong to come up with an answer.

“I want Seonghwa beside me forever,” Hongjoong admitted eventually. “I want to go to sleep next to him and wake up to his stupid cleaning and listen to him babble on about ASMR and cheesy dramas and his favorite songs. I want to know that, no matter where he goes, he’s always coming back to me. For Edenie-hyung, I want his approval and respect and I love working with him, but...I would understand if he needed to move away and I don’t expect our lives to be tied together so closely forever. I never want to not be close with him, but I don’t crave him. I need Seonghwa like I need air to breathe.”

“Once a rapper, always a rapper,” Wooyoung muttered, willing his heartbeat to calm down.

“What?”

Wooyoung cleared his throat.

“Well, that’s your answer, right? If the fundamental difference between romance and friendship is that commitment and desire for their presence, and you already feel that way about Seonghwa, what’s the point in holding back? All that will change is maybe your sex life, and the fact that you’ll have an anniversary to celebrate. You’ve been trying to spend a bit more time with each of us recently — yes, I did notice, hyung — so if you just think of those moments with Seonghwa as dates, you’re already there, right? And...honestly, with everything going on in the world around us, wouldn’t you rather focus on strengthening your relationships with the people most important to you than on other people's arbitrary measures of success?”

“That’s kind of what prompted this conversation,” Hongjoong admitted, watching Wooyoung thoughtfully. “Thank you, Young-ah. I think Hwa had some stuff he wanted to do, but I’ll ask him afterwards, once he’s free. Do you- are you going to start packing?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Wooyoung smiled, overcome with a sudden surge of fondness for his hyung who never seemed able to just ask for what he wanted. “Want to keep me company?”

“Yes,” Hongjoong agreed immediately, relieved he didn’t have to ask. “And thank you, Young-ah, really. You give the best advice.”

 

 

Yeosang listened at the door quietly to make sure he wasn’t interrupting yet another important conversation before tapping the key card and entering. Mingi looked up briefly, shoulders relaxing minutely at the sight of Yeosang, and returned to packing his clothes with shaking hands.

“Is everything okay?” Yeosang asked cautiously. Mingi didn’t usually show nerves like this for anything except stage performances, and Yeosang wasn’t totally sure whether it would be better to push or just try to distract him.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Mingi replied roughly, not looking up from the shirt he was folding. “Just packing.”

Distraction it was. Yeosang hummed in response, scanning the room for something to play off of.

“Do you think I could wear that type of hat as well?” he tried after a minute, pointing to the brightly tie-dyed bucket hat Mingi had just picked up. It wasn’t really his best work, as far as distractions-on-the-fly went, but it would have to do.

“You would look handsome in anything,” Mingi said loyally, looking down at the hat thoughtfully. “But I think, for the style that you tend to wear…”

Yeosang mentally pat himself on the back as Mingi launched into an in-depth analysis of every single type of hat known to man and how they might work with Yeosang’s wardrobe. Ten minutes later Mingi was happily occupied with a game of dress-up-Ateez'-statue, hands steady on Yeosang’s shoulders and half-packed suitcase forgotten in the corner of the room as they took progressively ridiculous selfies to send to the rest of the members.

 

 

 

Seonghwa took a deep breath, staring at Jongho and San’s shared hotel room and rehearsing what he wanted to say one more time before knocking firmly on the door.

“Who is it?” San’s voice called out in a playful aegyo. San opened the door a second later, his bright smile slipping off his face immediately at the sight of Seonghwa.

“It’s me,” Seonghwa said inanely. “I-I think we need to talk.”

Chapter Text

“It’s me.”

San froze, heart skipping a beat at the sight of Seonghwa in front of his door. He knew they couldn’t leave things as they are, but he hadn’t expected Seonghwa to seek him out so quickly — neither of them were very confrontational people, when it came to serious matters, and enough was going on around them that he had hoped they could just silently agree to pretend the whole debacle that morning had never happened. Apparently not.

“Can I come in?” Seonghwa asked awkwardly when San just stared at him without saying anything to him.

“Of course!” San blurted, jolting back into the present and trying to convince himself that maybe Seonghwa had just wanted to check on his packing process.

San stood back to let Seonghwa pass, eyes catching on a small red mark on Seonghwa’s throat right where San had- oh, god. San gulped, brain fritzing out as he realized he had been responsible for that hickey, and he quickly started talking to distract them both from the memory. “You’re always welcome, hyung, did you come to check my packing? I’m almost done, kind of, I just have to gather my toiletries and my dirty clothes and fold my dance clothes and fit them in, and then-”

San kept rambling, hoping that the entire situation might disappear if he kept talking long enough. Eventually, though, he had to pause to take a breath and Seonghwa took his chance to speak.

“It kind of sounds like you haven’t even started,” he pointed out dryly, watching San move a pile of sweatshirts from one end of the bed to the other for no discernible reason.

“What?” San paused and frowned around at the room. “No, I did a lot last night so I’m in a good place! I just-”

“San-ah,” Seonghwa interrupted.

“-had to take out my outfit for the plane because-”

San-ah.”

“-obviously we’re flying today, and that ruined the sorting system Young-ah made me use, so mmph!”

San squinted his eyes in annoyance above the hand Seonghwa had clapped over his mouth and Seonghwa sighed.

“As fascinating as your sudden and uncharacteristic passion for packing is,” he said, keeping his hand firmly where it was. “I wanted to talk with you about what happened this morning. I can’t bear you avoiding me right now, San-ah, with everything going on. To be honest, when it first happened I thought you were asleep and thought I was one of your boyfriends. But now...you're so embarrassed I’m starting to feel like maybe that wasn’t the case.”

San bit his lip under Seonghwa’s hand, looking down at his feet uncomfortably as reality set in. There was no point beating around the bush — it was better to just get this over with, he decided. Despite what the others had suggested, he couldn’t bear the idea of purposefully misleading Seonghwa. So he took a deep breath and took the plunge, gently moving Seonghwa’s hand to the side.

“I thought I was dreaming,” he admitted grudgingly. “But I wasn’t thinking of anyone else. I know you don’t want that, so...I’m really sorry, hyung, I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again even in my dreams.”

“Aw, Sannie have you been dreaming about me?” Seonghwa teased, starting to smile a bit as he realized Jongho had been right.

“Hyung!” San spluttered, face turning bright red in embarrassment and hurt. “Don’t make fun of me, I-”

“I’m not making fun of you!” Seonghwa interjected hastily, pulling San into a hug. “I just had no idea you thought of me like that. I didn't think that anyone I know would think of me like that before Hongjoong confessed and that wasn't as long ago as it seems.”

San blushed even deeper and bit his lip so he wouldn’t spill just how many of their members had been thinking of Seonghwa like that.

“But I- I liked it, this morning," Seonghwa continued. "Though it would have been better if it had been on purpose, of course.”

“Wait, what?,” San choked, belatedly processing what Seonghwa had said. “You liked it?”

“I might have pushed you out of bed because I liked it a bit too much,” Seonghwa mumbled, looking anywhere but at San. “I don’t- honestly, all of this is a bit sudden for me, but I didn’t want to leave things as they are and I don’t want you to think your...thoughts are unreciprocated.”

“My feelings, hyung,” San corrected gently, eyes shining as he looked up at Seonghwa with dawning hope. “Hyung, are you sure? Because I really love you a lot and I don’t think I could bear-”

“I’m sure,” Seonghwa said firmly. “Honestly, Hongjoong has been obsessed with me dating other members recently — long story, his insecurities are manifesting in the most contradictory of ways — and it made me start thinking about it more. I was kind of confused and flustered about it, but this morning…”

San tightened his hold on Seonghwa and nuzzled into his shoulder, body shaking slightly with how excited he was. He was thrilled for himself, of course, but if Seonghwa had already been thinking about other people...maybe the 99z seduction plan was back on track, after all. Even Mingi had been less closed-off about those discussions recently as he grew more certain about Wooyoung, Jongho, Yeosang, and San's feelings for him.

“San-ah? Are you paying attention?”

San tabled his train of thoughts and beamed up at Seonghwa again.

“I am, hyung, I’m just so happy.”

“Cute,” Seonghwa laughed, tugging him impossibly closer.

“Hyung, can we cuddle for a while?” San asked eagerly, clinging tightly as he looked around in dismay at the clothes-covered surface of his bed.

“Here, baby,” Seonghwa murmured, tipping them both down onto Jongho’s mercifully-clear bed so that San was sprawled on top of him. “We can even do a bit more than cuddle, if you want — but only for a little bit! And then you actually do have to pack.”

 

 

 

“Hyung, we have to pack quickly,” Jongho called out as he entered the room he had shared with San. Mingi, Yunho, and Yeosang followed behind him, each rolling their own fully-packed suitcases behind them.

“I already packed,” San said proudly from his bed where he was wrapped up firmly in Seonghwa’s arms.

“You mean, you already watched me pack for you,” Seonghwa corrected, half-heartedly trying to get up from the bed only to be pushed back down by San. “Where are Wooyoung and Hongjoong?”

“They’re bonding,” Yeosang explained airily, letting Mingi tug him down into the rapper’s lap and curling up there. “I think we should leave them alone until we need to leave, unless they come find us first. I think they were both mostly packed, anyways.”

Seonghwa frowned.

“I don’t know if-”

Hyung,,” Jongho spoke over him loudly. “With all due respect, no one cares about Wooyoungie-hyung and Hongjoong-hyung when you’re leaving us in suspense about you and San. I was right, wasn't I?”

“We’re dating,” San assured him before looking smugly at Yunho, Yeosang and Mingi. “Hyung looooves me.”

“Don’t be obnoxious about it,” Seonghwa chastised half-heartedly, reaching out one hand for Jongho to come sit on his other side. “You were so shy just an hour ago, can we return to that please?”

“Nope,” San said decisively, popping the ‘p.’ “I just found out the most beautiful man in the world likes me and I’m going to-”

Yeosang coughed and San blushed, hastily correcting himself.

“I just found out one of the eight most beautiful men in the world likes me and I’m going to shout it from the rooftops.”

“A bit narcissistic of you, isn’t that?” Jongho teased, squeezing Seonghwa’s hand lightly before pushing away to pack. “One of the eight most beautiful men in the world? Not seven?”

Yunho chuckled and San watched in interest as Jongho’s eyes flickered over to Yunho’s direction, softening distinctly. San hummed thoughtfully and leaned back against Seonghwa, completely forgetting to be offended in the light of this new information.

He knew that Jongho had a massive soft spot for Yunho, but he had never seen their maknae be quite so protective over the dancer before. He watched carefully as Jongho packed, fascinated by the way Jongho seemed particularly attuned to Yunho’s reactions and making a mental note to tell Wooyoung about it later. He had so much to tell Wooyoung, he thought happily to himself. All of the 99z loved Seonghwa, but Wooyoung had had a crush on their eldest for the longest and would be ecstatic to hear that Seonghwa could at least look past Jongho and Hongjoong. It probably wouldn’t be fair to tell Wooyoung exactly what Seonghwa had shared about thinking of other people, but the fact that Seonghwa had been receptive to San might embolden Wooyoung a bit. San glanced at the door reflexively before focusing back in on the conversation, hoping Wooyoung would walk through any minute.

 

Wooyoung and Hongjoong stayed occupied with one another right up until they had to leave the hotel, however, and San never got a chance to fully update him. Their departure was even more chaotic than normal given the situation, and San completely forgot to try to pull Wooyoung aside in his rush to double-check he hadn’t left anything behind. It had been possible to forget the situation for a little bit as they had all cuddled and teased one another in that isolated hotel room, but reality came rushing back as soon as they stepped outside that little bubble.

They took turns trying to cheer the staff up as usual, but everyone seemed a little bit off and no one’s smiles really seemed to stick. As San focused on causing as little trouble for their staff as possible and helping Jongho manage his leg, the morning’s events completely slipped his memory. He didn’t forget that Seonghwa returned his feelings, of course, but the entire dramatic situation felt so far away that it simply didn’t feel like news anymore. They had been so comfortable together for so long, anyways, that their interactions in public felt almost the exact same as they always did with just a little extra spark behind every moment of eye contact. Almost like they had been dating forever, San thought contentedly to himself before hurrying over to help their manager with some more luggage.

 

 

“I call sitting next to Jongho-ah!” Yeosang announced suddenly out of nowhere as they all waited at their gate to board the plane back to Korea.

Hongjoong looked up in surprise.

“I thought we were going to sit together and talk about your music, Sang-ah,” he pointed out. “Should I come join the two of you?”

“But you told me you wanted to sit with Seonghwa-hyung, hyung,” Wooyoung countered loudly, squeezing in between Jongho and Yeosang and wrapping his arms around them both. “I’ll sit with Sangie and Jongho-ah so you can have my spot next to Seonghwa-hyung.”

Hongjoong frowned, not remembering telling Wooyoung anything of the sort and knowing this was just his dongsaeng's well-intentioned way of giving him some alone time with Seonghwa. He had his own plan to ask Seonghwa out, though, thank you very much, and it certainly didn’t involve confessing on a plane with their managers and members all around. He didn’t know very much about romance but he had arranged something at least a bit better than that.

“I don’t think-” he started.

“Thinking is good for you, hyung, you should try it sometime,” Mingi interjected as he pulled out his headphones, not having heard any of the conversation but eager for the chance to tease Hongjoong.

“It’s okay, we can sit together,” Seonghwa said quietly over Hongjoong’s offended sputters. “You don’t have to be shy about asking me, you know, no matter what else is going on.”

“I-that’s not-” Hongjoong hesitated, finally catching the tentatively excited look on Seonghwa’s face, and melted. “I know, Hwa, Wooyoung was just teasing me about something, that’s all. But I’d love to sit with you. The kids are alright?”

“Yeah, I think so,” Seonghwa nodded, glancing around at all of them. “For now, anyway. I have some news to tell you later, though. If things are quiet we can talk on the plane? Maybe through text or something so no one overhears.”

Hongjoong nodded and squeezed Seonghwa around the waist briefly in agreement as their boarding class was called. He couldn't wait to get back home.

 

 

“I didn’t invite you to sit with us,” Yeosang groaned, pushing at Wooyoung impatiently. “You’re ruining my plans!”

“Why do I need an invitation?” Wooyoung demanded, still floating on residual content from his conversation with Hongjoong and eager for the familiarity of a bickering match with Yeosang. "We're basically the same person, Sang-ah, you-"

“Ugh, hyungs, don’t start now,” Jongho complained sulkily. “If you’re just going to banter with each other the whole flight I’m going to go sit with Mingi-hyung instead.”

“No!” Wooyoung yelped, quickly returning his attention to Jongho. “Jongho-ah, please, I want to hang out. And you’re the one Sangie wanted to be with to begin with, as hurtful as that is. You can sit in between us, okay? We’ll focus on you.”

Yeosang nodded in agreement, and pulled Wooyoung and Jongho away from the others a bit. They had serious matters to attend to, after all.

“Okay, you can join, just don’t tell anyone,” Yeosang ordered sternly, carefully showing them the plastic packet he had hidden underneath his sweatshirt without letting anyone else see.

“What’s so cool about stickers?” Wooyoung wondered. “Seriously, Yeosang-ah, that’s what you were so upset about?”

“They’re cool stickers,” Jongho defended loyally, even though he was a bit confused himself. They definitely weren’t ‘cool’ stickers — the colors were garish and the images themselves were almost ridiculously cliche. “Are they for our phone cases, hyung? They’re a bit…”

No,” Yeosang groaned, glancing back as their boarding group was called and starting to speak more urgently. “Everyone seems really stressed and I saw these when I was on my way back from the bathroom so I thought we could play a prank game. Jongho and I each get three sheets of stickers and try to stick as many of them as possible on the others without anyone noticing.”

“Jongho-ah, Yeosangie, Young-ah, we’re boarding, hurry up!” Hongjoong scolded, coming up behind them suddenly. Yeosang startled and shoved the stickers back under his jacket awkwardly, earning himself a suspicious look from Hongjoong. Luckily, the leader was too focused on herding the others to follow-up and they managed to pass his scrutiny without any further questions.

Jongho and Wooyoung exchanged looks as soon as Hongjoong looked away and nodded decisively at Yeosang to signal their agreement before picking up their bags and hurrying to join the rest of their group.

 

 

“Hyung,” Jongho whispered under his breath as they settled into their seats, with him snugly in between Wooyoung and Yeosang. “Can we include Yunho-hyung? He seems like he could use a distraction and you have enough sticker sheets, right? We could just do like one and a half per person?”

Yeosang hesitated, looking over at Mingi for a moment thoughtfully.

“What if we just did everyone except the hyungs?” he proposed. “We could target them and manager-nim?”

“I feel like it might be a bit too much for manager-nim,” Wooyoung objected. “He’s been so stressed lately and the stickers might not come off easily.”

“What are you talking about?” Mingi asked loudly from where he was standing up in the row behind them, trying to see what Yeosang was holding. Wooyoung, Jongho, and Yeosang flinched violently and looked up at the expectant faces of Mingi, Yunho, and San. Yeosang reached across Jongho to push at Wooyoung in annoyance.

“Look what you did, you’re too loud!” he complained, pulling his stickers out despondently. “It was a good idea!”

“It’s not my fault,” Wooyoung protested, offended. “Jongho was talking just as loudly!”

“Guys, what’s going on?” Yunho asked tiredly. All five of them turned to look at him in concern, frowning when Yunho avoided eye contact.

“I have stickers!” Yeosang blurted out, hoping to wipe the sad look off Yunho’s face. The very public plane wasn’t really the place to talk about emotions, and Yeosang probably wasn’t the person to talk about emotions with, but games had never failed to cheer Yunho up before and surely now wouldn’t be an exception?

“We’re going to try to compete to see how many we can put on the hyungs without noticing,” Jongho explained, catching on.

“We were arguing about whether or not to include manager-nim,” Wooyoung added. “I don’t want to add any stress for him, but it’s kind of boring to just have two people to do it on.”

“What if we put nice surprise notes in his bag?” San suggested after a moment’s thought. “And just do the stickers for the hyungs?”

Jongho made a face.

“Isn’t that a bit too much?” he asked doubtfully. “Kind of...romantic?”

“I think it’s cute,” Mingi decided. “It could just be a drawing or something, it doesn't have to be sappy, but it’ll be nice for him to see when he’s unpacking. And I think he said he was going to sleep at least part of the flight so we should have a good chunk of time to do it.”

“I’ll go tell the hyungs before the seatbelt signs come on,” Wooyoung offered enthusiastically, jumping up from his seat before Yeosang could add his own objections.

“I guess we’re doing it, then?” Yunho laughed, reaching out to snag a sheet of stickers from Yeosang before sinking back down into his seat. “I bet you a box of chicken I’ll beat both of you, Mingi and San.”

“I look forward to eating your chicken,” Mingi said boldly. “I’ve never lost at anything before in my life, you know.”

“You idiot, you’ll never learn,” San giggled, taking stickers for both him and Mingi and sitting down again. “Remember, that’s what got you into all that trouble last time when…”

Yeosang watched their heads disappear with a smirk and glanced around again before slipping yet another set of stickers into Jongho’s hands, these ones even more obnoxiously touristy than the previous set.

“I guess this is a three-layer prank, now,” he whispered happily. “Shall we save these for the other 99z and use the others for the hyungs? I’ll bet you a month’s worth of drinks? Americanos for you and something actually yummy for me?”

Jongho’s eyes lit up and he nodded, making sure the second set was securely hidden away so Wooyoung wouldn’t see them when he returned. “You’re on, hyung.”

Chapter Text

Mingi blinked awake, momentarily disoriented at the unfamiliar surroundings and strange thrumming noises before he remembered that they were on a plane flying back to Korea. He did a quick head count — his fifth of the flight — before relaxing back into his seat. Pretty much everyone in their group was asleep, taking advantage of the slight lull in activity while they traveled to get some much-needed rest.

Jongho was, unsurprisingly, asleep with his head on Yeosang’s shoulder and Wooyoung snuggling into him from the other side. Yunho and San were both slumped against Mingi on either side, and Hongjoong had slipped down completely in his sleep until his torso was draped across Seonghwa’s lap. Mingi laughed lightly at the array of stickers scattered across everyone — Yunho seemed to be winning so far — and closed his eyes again, resting his head against Yunho’s and drifting off back to sleep.

****************************************

“I’m so tired,” Yeosang moaned, dropping his bag in their apartment and collapsing to the floor as though he were going to curl up and go to sleep right there.

“At least get out of those sticker-infested clothes before you go to sleep,” Hongjoong laughed, leaning down to pick Yeosang back up. “Although really you should try to stay awake — it's not even close to evening yet.”

“I told you guys you should have slept more on the plane,” Seonghwa added exasperatedly. “Joong-ah and I slept like babies and we’re totally fine. You’re going to be jet-lagged for ages if you sleep now.”

“Not like it matters, anyways,” Jongho muttered bitterly, glancing around at the apartment. “We’re performance idols. What are we supposed to do if we can’t perform?”

“There are people literally dying right now, or losing their ability to pay for necessities, Jongho,” Yunho said sharply. “Try to have some perspective. You not getting to hear crowds of people shouting your name is not what we should be worrying about.”

Jongho flinched as though he had been struck, and everyone else stared at Yunho in frozen horror.

“That’s not-” Jongho started.

“Whatever,” Yunho dismissed, picking up his suitcase and turning towards his bedroom. “I’m going to sleep.”

He slammed the door behind him and Jongho flinched again, stunned tears welling up at the harsh scolding as he stared after his hyung. He hadn’t meant to trivialize anyone else’s problems, he really hadn’t. It had just been so weird walking back into the apartment he hadn’t expected to see again for months and he didn’t know how to handle the sudden feelings of loss and futility that seemed to be swallowing him whole. But Yunho was right, he really-

“Stop, Jongho-ah,” Seonghwa ordered gently, jolted out of his shock at the sight of their usually-composed maknae in tears. “Don’t blame yourself, you aren’t in the wrong here. It’s not okay for Yunho to speak to you like that, especially when we all know how concerned you’ve been about everyone’s safety this entire time.”

“He’s right, though,” Jongho sniffed, turning to bury his face in Mingi’s neck. “I’m so selfish, especially with him, and-”

“You’re not, makdoongie,” Wooyoung assured him. “You always take on so much for us in every aspect of our job, without ever complaining. It’s okay to be upset about this — it’s an upsetting situation, I would be more worried if you weren’t bothered by this whole thing.”

“I guess I’ll go yell at Yunho,” Hongjoong said reluctantly, running a tired hand through his hair and frowning at the closed door. “Jongho-ah, why don’t you go to bed with Mingi, hm? Get some rest, and Yunho will apologize to you when you wake up.”

Jongho nodded reluctantly and wiped at his eyes, clearly embarrassed that he had cried in front of them but still upset enough that tears kept leaking out.

“Don’t go to Yunho now, hyung,” San said quietly once Mingi and Jongho were out of earshot. “He won’t be receptive now and he was clearly upset about something else, anyways. I’ll go cuddle him so at least he has someone, but I think talking to him after he wakes up and has had time to reflect will be better.”

“I guess so,” Hongjoong agreed after a quick glance at Seonghwa to check his opinion. “All of you go to bed, you look exhausted. Hwa and I have something to do, anyways.”

“Do we?” Seonghwa asked in surprise. Wooyoung giggled and nudged Yeosang towards their bedroom, pulling a curious San behind them as well.
“Yes, we do,” Hongjoong said firmly, watching their dongsaengs leave with a fond smile. “Go shower like you wanted to, Hwa, and then come meet me in the kitchen? Just for a little bit.”

Seonghwa nodded and turned towards their room, mind spinning as he wondered what Hongjoong could possibly want them to do in the kitchen of all places.

 

 

He still had no idea by the time he finished his shower and he dried his hair quickly before padding out towards the kitchen in his comfiest pair of sweats. He opened the door and stopped in his tracks, staring in amazement at how the room had been transformed.

Somehow, in the twenty minutes Seonghwa had been in the shower, Hongjoong had managed to hang up fairy lights all around the room to give it a gentle glow, as well as cute photos of the two of them with the lyrics to ‘Thank U’ written as captions. There was a huge spread of food on the table of all the Korean foods Seonghwa always missed most while they were on tour, and a beautiful bouquet of pink flowers.

Hongjoong looked up from where he had been laying out plates for the two of them and smiled nervously, cheeks flushing a pretty pink to match the flowers.

“What- what is all this?” Seonghwa asked in awe, entering the room and reaching out for Hongjoong.

“I-I want to ask if you’ll be my boyfriend, Hwa. Officially, no reservations or qualifications.”

“Seriously?” Seonghwa checked, eyes shining with happiness.

“Seriously,” Hongjoong confirmed, squeezing his hands with an awkward smile. “I’ve been thinking about it for a while and Wooyoung sort of straightened me out on some things yesterday morning, so I prepared this. I know it’s not much, and our kitchen is kind of an awkward place, but I didn’t want to wait for too long, and given the situation…”

“It’s amazing,” Seonghwa reassured him. “Of course I say yes, Joong, I would have even if you had just asked me on the plane. This makes it so much more special, though. How on earth did you manage to put this together from Spain?”

“I asked Binna from BB Trippin’ to drop the stuff off since she lives near here,” Hongjoong explained. “She ran a hard bargain, so I had to bribe her a little bit, but she really went above and beyond. I told her to get pink flowers if the store happened to have it, but these are from a completely different store than the one she went to originally so I think she must have tried a couple places to get them. She left really detailed heating instructions on the food, too — I think she was worried I’d burn the place down.”

“I’ll have to thank her when we next see her,” Seonghwa murmured, grazing the edge of one petal with his hand. “The flowers especially are just so beautiful. No, don’t say it, Joong-”

“Not as beautiful as you,” Hongjoong interrupted triumphantly, laughing at the disgusted look on Seonghwa’s face.

“I said don’t say it,” Seonghwa complained, suppressing a pleased smile.

“Well, let’s eat now and sulk later,” Hongjoong proposed, starting to serve him. “We can reheat the leftovers for the kids once they wake up later.”

“Oh, let’s do a toast!” Seonghwa exclaimed suddenly, putting his chopsticks back down and reaching for his can of Pepsi.

“To my boyfriend,” Hongjoong decided proudly, clinking their cans together.

“Yeah,” Seonghwa grinned, leaning in for a quick kiss and scooting his chair even closer to Hongjoong's. “To my boyfriend.”

Chapter Text

Yunho sighed and shifted under San’s weight for what felt like the hundredth time in the past ten minutes, his guilt making it impossible to sleep. He had regretted snapping at Jongho the moment the words left his mouth, but the shocked gazes of everyone pressing in on him and the emotions he had been suppressing for the past two days had just been too much.

Instead of apologizing as he should have, he had slunk off to his room, almost looking forward to the lecture he knew was coming from Hongjoong. Yunho didn’t get angry often but, when he did, it was intense enough that he even scared himself, sometimes. One of the things he was most grateful for about being part of such a tightly-knit team was that, if he ever did step out of line, there was always someone there to call him out on it and support him as he tried to improve himself. So Yunho changed into his pajamas, got into bed, and waited for Hongjoong to knock on his door like the leader always did before one of their talks.

Except, the knock never came. Instead, San opened the door quietly and poked his head in to see what Yunho was doing. Yunho quickly slammed his eyes shut and pretended to be asleep, willing his body to relax as he listened to the soft rustling noises of San changing before the younger carefully joined Yunho under the covers. San must have known Yunho was awake but he thankfully didn’t say anything, just snuggled in on top of Yunho and drifted off to sleep.

At any other time, the silent comfort would have been exactly what Yunho needed, but now it was grating. He didn’t deserve the familiar comfort of his bed and cuddles from his boyfriend after what he had done to their maknae. Jongho was just so good. He had been through so much at a young age and yet was still so unfailingly generous and thoughtful and caring towards them all, and Yunho couldn't believe that he had paid Jongho's kindness back by lashing out at him.

Yunho could still remember the shy, reserved trainee Jongho had been when he first joined their company, so determined to prove himself and show no weaknesses after years being beaten down by an industry constantly telling him he wasn’t good enough. Yunho didn’t know how anyone could have done anything but love and nurture their handsome maknae given how bright he shone, but he was endlessly grateful that Jongho had eventually left that company so he could become theirs. Jongho had somehow gotten both cuter and scarier over the years as he started to feel safe enough to soften his edges, and he had matured into a man that Yunho was endlessly proud to have by his side.

However, no matter how much of an adult he had become, he would always be their baby. Other members might have more aegyo, but Jongho was the one they worried after the most because he rarely admitted just how much he was hurting. On Jongho’s bad days he slipped back into the serious trainee who wouldn’t ever admit to a weakness, and all they could do was be there for him quietly until he recovered.

Jongho could be a bit bratty sometimes, eager to be the center of attention and earn praises from his hyungs, but Yunho secretly liked that — liked the evidence that Jongho finally felt comfortable enough with them to ask for the affection he needed and wasn’t too intimidated by the (admittedly small) age gap between them.

This time, though, Jongho had clearly been cowed by Yunho’s unusual harshness and hadn’t defended himself at all. Yunho winced at the memory, eyes popping open again. It was no use waiting, he decided, he needed to see Jongho now.

Yunho carefully shifted San off of his body without waking him and cautiously padded out the door towards Jongho’s room, only pausing to wrap a stray blanket around his shoulders for warmth. He could hear faint voices in the kitchen but the rest of the apartment seemed quiet and he entered Jongho and Mingi’s shared room without running into anyone. Jongho and Mingi were adorably intertwined in the bottom bunk, Jongho’s foot carefully protected by a wall of pillows and his head resting peacefully on Mingi’s chest as they both slept.

Yunho paused, not sure what to do now. He didn’t want to wake them, of course, but he didn’t want to go back to his room, either. He didn’t want to go up into Jongho’s bunk and invade the maknae’s space like that without permission, so the only other alternative was the floor. In a way it felt good to settle on the hard surface, like it was what he deserved after his actions earlier. He was tired enough that it didn’t really matter, anyways, and he fell asleep quickly under his blanket, calmer knowing that he would make it up to Jongho as soon as the maknae woke up.

 

 

 

“Hyung?”

Yunho startled awake at the sound of Jongho’s voice, the events of the day rushing back to him.

“I’m so, so sorry, Jongho-ah,” he blurted out before he had even opened his eyes fully to look at Jongho. Mingi must have woken up earlier and left to let the two of them sleep, Yunho realized as he felt a pillow underneath his head that had definitely not been there earlier. “I-the reason I was upset earlier was because I know someone who’s in the hospital with Covid and I was stressed and just projected that onto you even though I know you’re taking this seriously, and of course you should be upset and feel comfortable telling us so, and-”

“Okay, hyung, it’s okay!” Jongho laughed, holding up both hands to stop him. “Thank you for sharing that with me. I was a bit upset before I fell asleep, but I can see that it’s not really that big of a deal now and I’m not mad so you don’t have to keep on apologizing. I knew you had something else going on with you, anyways.”

“You forgive too easily,” Yunho informed Jongho, still feeling guilty.

“Maybe you’re just too hard on yourself,” Jongho countered lightly. Yunho opened his mouth to argue and Jongho quickly pushed on, not in the mood to fight. Yunho clearly hadn’t meant it and the comment didn’t bother Jongho any more, so there was no point in dwelling on it. “Hyung, why are you on the floor?”

Yunho hesitated, trying to figure out how to answer that without lying but also without telling the truth, but was distracted by the sound of yelling coming from their kitchen area.

“Do you hear that?” he asked Jongho, half-wondering if he had imagined the noise. Jongho nodded, though, so Yunho helped him up from the bed and guided them both towards the clamor.

 

 

Wooyoung had entered the kitchen happily after his nap, feeling well-rested and ready to eat his weight in ramyeon. The kitchen was busy, with Mingi and Yeosang both digging into an array of dishes spread out on the table and Seonghwa and San cuddling at the other end of the table as they watched something on their phone. Wooyoung blinked at the pink bouquet in the middle of the table, belatedly noticing the streamers and photos hung up everywhere and realizing that Hongjoong must have finally asked Seonghwa out while everyone else was napping.

He turned towards Seonghwa to congratulate him, only to see San laugh at something on the phone and lean up to press a casual kiss to Seonghwa’s lips. A casual kiss that very quickly turned intimate as Wooyoung watched in stunned surprise.

“What the fuck.”

San and Seonghwa jumped apart in surprise, relaxing when they saw it was Wooyoung.

“Good morning, Young-ah,” San greeted cheerfully, reaching out grabby hands for him. Wooyoung didn’t move, too bewildered by what he had just witnessed to do anything.

“What- did you two just kiss?”

Mingi laughed at the other end of the table, reaching out a hand to shake Wooyoung’s shoulder playfully.

“You’ve done worse than that in the living room with both San and Yeosang, I don’t think you can complain about PDA.”

“Yeah, but I’m dating San and Yeosang. Seonghwa and San aren’t - what? What am I missing?”

Wooyoung’s heart dropped as a look of awkward realization dawned on everyone else’s face and he turned back to San.

“I - Seonghwa and I are dating?” San announced awkwardly. “I’m so sorry, Wooyoung, with all the craziness I completely forgot to-”

“How long?” Wooyoung asked flatly, hoping against hope that this had just happened while he was sleeping.

“Since our last morning in Spain,” Seonghwa answered cautiously, looking a bit worried at the lack of emotion on Wooyoung’s face.

“I accidentally kissed hyung in the morning-”

“More like mauled him,” Yeosang interjected unhelpfully.

“And then after that meeting we talked and decided to go out,” San continued, starting to look nervous as he realized how much he had forgotten to tell Wooyoung. “But, I really didn’t mean-”

“Who else knows?”

“...Everyone,” San admitted quietly. “You were with Hongjoong, and then on the plane we were in different rows and then when we got back the Yunho-Jongho thing happened and we napped. I really just forgot, Young-ah.”

Seonghwa hugged San protectively and Wooyoung just stared at the two of them, still sharing a chair, trying to keep his face blank even though he felt like his heart was physically splintering into pieces at the sight.

“That’s basically two days ago,” he pointed out tightly. “We’ve been together on a plane or in a car that entire time and you couldn’t even tell me over text during that time? We’re - we were supposed to-”

Wooyoung’s voice cracked and he swallowed down the tears, letting anger rise up instead. He had wanted Seonghwa for so long, had finally gotten up the courage to tell San about it a month into their relationship, had discussed adding Seonghwa to their relationship countless times with San over the past several months, and yet now he was somehow here staring from the outside while Seonghwa and San cuddled in apparent domestic bliss.

His heart dropped even further as he realized that he would have to watch San and Seonghwa be all lovey dovey together for another several months without any hopes of joining in. From what Seonghwa had told Wooyoung after getting together with Jongho, Seonghwa was already a bit overwhelmed at the idea of balancing two relationships and wasn’t looking for anything else. It sounded like the relationship with San had happened somewhat accidentally, but that just meant Seonghwa would be even less likely to consider expanding his relationship further and Wooyoung would just continue being stuck on the outside indefinitely.

More than just the sheer jealousy coursing through him, though, was growing anger at San. They had been supposed to do all of this together, they were supposed to be a unit in this more so than any of the other 99z. It was San that Wooyoung had first confessed to, San who had always convinced Wooyoung he stood a chance with the hyungs, San who was supposedly more timid than Wooyoung about getting together with everyone so quickly but had wanted to support Wooyoung as he tried to woo Seonghwa. Wooyoung should have been the first person San told, even if it was over text, because they had been sharing this crush for months between just the two of them.

“Are you mad?” San asked tentatively, watching the emotions wash over Wooyoung’s face.

“Yes I’m mad!” Wooyoung exploded. “How could you- we were dating first San, we talked about everything first, I shouldn’t be the last one to know! I don’t expect you to love me more than the others but I do expect you to communicate with me when it’s about something that we discussed so many times and you promised me we would make any decisions like this together. You were the one who was so worried about it to begin with, and now you’re breaking all the rules you set, and for Seonghwa-hyung of all people. You know exactly how I feel about that, San, I’m- I can’t believe you, I really can’t. You know exactly what this means to me and you don’t even seem to care.”

Wooyoung shook his head, jealousy and self-pity twisting nastily together in his stomach, and turned to storm out of the kitchen before San could close his gaping mouth and reply. He pushed past Jongho and Yunho in the hallway and beelined towards Hongjoong.

Their leader always professed to be bad with emotional support, but Wooyoung had personally always found his brand of stern, straightforward support to be particularly comforting. He had never gone to Hongjoong with something like this before but, well, everyone was having to adjust to something today, it seemed.

 

 

Hongjoong was lying peacefully in his bed, lazily editing a beat with no real intent when he felt his bed frame shake as someone climbed up the ladder to his bunk. He pulled off his headphones in confusion, having been absorbed enough in the track that he hadn’t noticed the door opening, and watched with a numb sense of impending doom as Wooyoung appeared over the railing and flung himself on top of Hongjoong, crying.

Hongjoong patted Wooyoung’s back awkwardly as he tried to recover from his shock, mentally wishing Wooyoung had chosen literally anyone else to seek comfort from. Hongjoong always felt so awkward when he tried to comfort any of his members, and never seemed to know the right thing to say. It was easy to praise them at practice or order them to ignore the haters because they were the best damn performers he had ever met and no one could tell them otherwise, but comforting them when they were already distraught required a level of delicacy Hongjoong just didn’t believe he had.

Wooyoung and he had made some serious strides in their relationship recently, though, and Hongjoong couldn’t deny feeling a bit of possessive gratification at the idea that Wooyoung wanted him right now, of all people. So he tamped down his nerves and reached over for a tissue to wipe Wooyoung’s face with as he waited for the younger to explain what was going on.

“Hyung,” Wooyoung sniffled eventually, tears rolling down his face. “I think I’m being unreasonable.”

Hongjoong carefully kept his face straight and did not laugh.

“What happened?”

“Well-did you know Seonghwa and San are dating now?”

“Yes?” Hongjoong answered, not really sure how that was relevant. Seonghwa had seemed sure that Wooyoung knew about San's feelings for Seonghwa and would be okay with the two of them getting together.

“Everyone knew except me,” Wooyoung groaned despondently, looking genuinely heartbroken. “San didn’t even tell me, I walked in on them kissing in the kitchen.”

Hongjoong winced.

“Are you mad about them dating, or the way you found out?”

“I-ugh, I can’t explain it fully to you, hyung,” Wooyoung complained. “It’s kind of a secret. But...both?”

Hongjoong wavered, not really sure what to do. There was definitely something deeper going on here that he couldn’t understand, but it didn’t seem like Wooyoung would be willing to explain it, either.

“Is there anyone who does understand why you’re upset?”

San,” Wooyoung said through gritted teeth, anger flashing briefly over his face before it melted once more into pure loss. “Everyone in this group is either dating me or Seonghwa, anyways. Or both, now. This is not the reality I wanted when I-”

Wooyoung broke off and stared into the distance, thinking over something Hongjoong couldn’t begin to guess at.

“Wooyoungie,” Hongjoong interrupted, not wanting to let Wooyoung spiral too deep. “Why don’t you try to tell me what you can about the situation and we’ll try to think through it together? Just given how upset you are, I don’t think you should dismiss your feelings as mere overreactions. Relationships are built off of communication and you’re allowed to feel hurt when your partner doesn’t share something with you, even if it was an honest mistake on their part.”

“Thank you, hyung,” Wooyoung said quietly, looking up at him. “I really don’t think I can tell you, though. You'll- it would be a domino effect of things I can't really share about everyone's relationship goals.”

“What if we imagine an alternate universe?” Hongjoong proposed suddenly. Wooyoung raised an eyebrow at him.

“Hyung, this is not the time. Unless you have a Cromer I can use to go to an alternate dimension where this never happened.”

“Well, no,” Hongjoong admitted. “But, say you’re in this alternate universe anyways, and it’s one in which you tell me what was going on. What would that Hongjoong tell you to do?”

“He’d tell me that I should apologize for exploding like that.”

“Would he be right?”

“...Maybe.”

“O-kay then. Since you clearly aren’t planning on doing that and don’t want to tell me what this is about...do you want to watch something together?”

“Nooo, hyung, I want you to fix it,” Wooyoung whined, clinging tightly and smushing his face into Hongjoong’s neck.

“Um,” Hongjoong faltered, panicking slightly. “I can't make them not date, but...want to help me write a song? It might be a good distraction?”

Miraculously, that seemed to do the trick.

“Ooh, hyung, make me a song to dance to!” Wooyoung pleaded, some of the light returning to his eyes. Hongjoong reached for his laptop in wordless agreement, shifting them so that he was sitting up against his pillows with Wooyoung reclining back-to-chest in his lap and the computer carefully balanced over both of them.

 

 

 

They had actually managed to come up with a half-way decent intro based on an old sample Hongjoong had put aside months ago and were tweaking it when the door to Hongjoong’s room banged open and Jongho stormed in.

“Jung Wooyoung,” Jongho said angrily, dropping all formalities. “I can’t believe you’re just happily cuddling after what you did. Seonghwa hyung is crying because of you, Sannie-hyung is a mess, and-”

Wooyoung froze in Hongjoong’s arms as Jongho continued berating him, breath hitching, and Hongjoong groaned inwardly even as he tightened his embrace in a paltry attempt at comfort.

“Jongho,” Hongjoong said sternly. “We absolutely do not yell in this household. If you are angry you talk about it respectfully-”

Jongho snorted disdainfully and Hongjoong stared at him in shock, completely taken aback by the uncharacteristic disrespect. Someone else appeared in the doorway before Hongjoong could say anything, tugging insistently at Jongho’s sleeve, and Jongho whirled around angrily only to deflate completely at the sight of Yeosang. Hongjoong breathed a sigh of relief, watching in amazement as Yeosang whispered something to Jongho and their maknae quietly left towards his own room with only a half-hearted glare in Wooyoung’s direction.

Yeosang remained, leaning against the doorframe and taking a deep, fortifying breath.

“I know why you’re mad at San,” he said carefully, eyes flicking to Hongjoong before returning to Wooyoung. “But Seonghwa-hyung thinks you’re disgusted by him.”

What?” Wooyoung yelped, flailing into a sitting position. “Why on earth would he think that?”

“I don’t know,” Yeosang sighed, shaking his head tiredly. “But San sulked off into his room so he’s not much help, and Yunho went to go try to calm him down. Jongho was making some headway with hyung but then hyung started crying and Jongho got all mad and, well, came here. Mingi’s doing his best but I don’t think hyung will believe reassurances coming from anyone except you. You know how he is once he gets these things into his head.”

Wooyoung sighed and nodded, wiping the last traces of tears from his eyes and straightening his shoulders. Hongjoong watched in worried confusion, not really sure how to approach the situation when it was increasingly clear there was so much he didn’t know.

“You go take care of Jongho,” Wooyoung told Yeosang. “I’ll tell hyung he’s an idiot and I’m not mad at him. Just...sad. And mad at San.”

Yeosang hesitated.

“Are you okay, though?” he asked softly. “I had no idea you didn’t know about any of it, Young-ah, that must have been such a painful way to find out.”

Wooyoung looked away, eyes shining bright with tears, and Hongjoong’s heart broke yet again. He had no idea what was going on, but he had now seen Wooyoung break down twice in just one week and he hated it.

“It’s fine,” Wooyoung lied transparently. “Hyungie and I are making me a song.”

“Ooh, what’s the song?” Yeosang asked, latching onto the distraction. “I want a dance break, hyung, can you make room for one?”

“It’s my song,” Wooyoung objected protectively. “You can’t have it.”

“I thought we were two halves of the same soul?” Yeosang pointed out innocently. “What’s yours is mine, right? Which is why you never ask if you can borrow my things, or if I mind if you eat my last drumstick, or-”

“Okay, okay!” Wooyoung relented, sliding off the end of Hongjoong’s bed and into Yeosang’s arms. “One dance break for Sangie, hyung.”

“Do I get a choice?” Hongjoong grumbled playfully. “Seeing as I’m the one writing the song and all?”

“But it’s our song,” Wooyoung and Yeosang said in unison, grinning smugly up at him. Hongjoong sighed and waved them off, heart eased slightly. Wooyoung’s smile hadn’t fully reached his eyes, but it had been there and Hongjoong knew that Yeosang was probably better equipped to handle the situation, anyways.

He debated getting up to go comfort Seonghwa, but it seemed like Wooyoung was on his way to reassure him and Hongjoong was pretty sure Seonghwa would come to their room afterwards to get away from everything.

 

 

Sure enough, not ten minutes later, Hongjoong’s bed frame shook once more and Seonghwa appeared. Hongjoong opened his arms for his boyfriend silently, taking in the tired set of Seonghwa’s eyes and tear tracks still visible down his face.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Seonghwa said quickly when Hongjoong opened his mouth to speak. “It’s late and we didn’t nap, so we should go to sleep soon. Things will be better in the morning, anyways. Probably. Maybe. Potential-”

“Of course they will,” Hongjoong interjected firmly, burrowing close and laying his head comfortably on Seonghwa’s chest. “Do you want me to come down to your bunk with you?”

“Can we stay here?” Seonghwa requested tentatively, as though Hongjoong could ever say no to him. “I like being in your bed”

“Whatever you want,” Hongjoong stuttered, desperately trying to control the possessive flare in his chest when Seonghwa pulled the covers over his chin and and looked up at him with that look. That drowsy, trusting look that said he felt utterly safe with Hongjoong and would follow him anywhere. The look that-

“Joong-ah? Did you hear me?”

“Sorry, what?” Hongjoong asked, startled out of his sappy musings.

“Play me a song? One of yours.”

Hongjoong nodded, heart in his mouth, and cued up the gentle ballad he’d been working on recently.

“Is this for Jongho?” Seonghwa asked sleepily. “The date’s from when he was in the hospital, right?”

Hongjoong smiled ruefully.

“Yeah it is. Nothing gets past you, hm?”

“Not when it comes to my boyfriends,” Seonghwa agreed smugly, closing his eyes and relaxing fully against Hongjoong. “You can’t hide from me.”

Hongjoong laughed and watched with undisguised fondness as Seonghwa’s breaths evened out before the song had even finished. He let it play one more time to make absolutely sure that Seonghwa was asleep before closing his laptop and turning out the light.

He was so lucky.

 

 

Jongho sat down heavily on Mingi’s bunk, still fuming as Yeosang tried to calm him down but unwilling to take it out on his fluffiest hyung. A tentative knock on the door sounded and Wooyoung slipped in, cautiously crossing over and joining them on the bed before Jongho could protest. Not that he would have — as Yeosang had patiently reminded Jongho, he did love Wooyoung a lot and didn’t want him to hurt any more than he wanted Seonghwa or San to be upset.

Jongho was about to apologize for yelling, even though he was still mad at Wooyoung for the way he had handled the situation, but Wooyoung spoke up first.

“Jongho,” he started, lacing one hand tightly with one of Yeosang’s and looking Jongho straight in the eye. "I already apologized to Seonghwa, but I want to explain a little bit about why the situation set me off so much because, well, it’s not something that’s going to go away and I think you deserve to understand why. I couldn’t tell Hongjoong because I think the implications would freak him out a bit, but...you and Yeosang are the only ones who have really been in a similar situation.”

Jongho nodded cautiously, motioning for him to go on even though he had no idea where this was headed.

“So, you know that San and I were dating first before we got together with Yunho and Mingi and, later, Yeosangie. But even before that, when it was just San and I, I started having feelings for Seonghwa. After that things sort of snowballed a bit, and we ended up where we are. But San and I had talked about Seonghwa from the very beginning, talked about expanding our relationship together and seeing if Seonghwa might be open to a relationship with one or both of us together. I know San said this just happened, but I’ve loved hyung for so long and now it turns out I was completely cut out from the whole thing even though everyone else knew for a full two days — while we were all stuck on a plane together, no less — and Seonghwa definitely isn’t going to be interested in me for ages, if ever. I know San probably didn’t mean for it to work out that way, but I can’t just not be upset at the situation."

Jongho stared at him, open-mouthed, mind swirling with thoughts. First was the grim realization that he had really messed up earlier. Just like Wooyoung and Yunho he had let his emotions get the best of him and had snapped without giving his members the benefit of the doubt. Second was a fierce surge of protectiveness for Wooyoung and the sheer devastation in his voice. Third was curiosity about whether or not the situation was actually as hopeless as Wooyoung seemed to think it was, and why Wooyoung was comfortable telling him and not Hongjoong. He pushed the last thought aside to think about later and focused back on the distraught hyung next to him.

“Jongho?” Yeosang prompted him gently when he took too long to reply.

“I still don’t think you should have made hyung cry,” Jongho insisted half-heartedly. No matter how bad he felt for Wooyoung, the image of Seonghwa in tears wasn’t one he could forget easily.

“No, probably not,” Wooyoung agreed bitterly. Jongho suddenly couldn’t bear the atmosphere and scooted back so he could drape himself over his hyung — Wooyoung was meant to be loud and mischievous and exuberantly loving and full of life, not worn out and defeated like this.

“I’m sorry for snapping at you,” Jongho admitted quietly, playfully leaning his full weight against Wooyoung’s back until they were both in danger of falling off the bed. “I’ll make it up to you.”

“Ooh, you will?” Wooyoung brightened immediately, twisting to look Jongho in the eye. “What will you do?”

Jongho sat back, feeling distinctly like he had made a mistake somewhere but not sure how to fix it.

“What do you want?” he asked warily.

“I want you to tell me you love me,” Wooyoung said promptly. “And give me a kiss, anywhere.”

Jongho tilted his head consideringly. He didn’t want to kiss Wooyoung’s face, but he was feeling a bit overly affectionate towards his hyung at the moment, so maybe there was something else he could do…

Wooyoung’s hand tightened involuntarily in his — why, Jongho wasn’t sure — and he came to a decision. He gently turned their hands over and dropped a quick kiss on Wooyoung’s knuckles before looking up and breathing out a quiet ‘I love you.’ It came out a bit too stern because Jongho was feeling kind of awkward about the whole situation, but it didn’t seem to matter.

Wooyoung inhaled sharply, apparently not having expected Jongho to actually follow through, and something flared in his eyes that had Jongho unable to look away. The silence stretched out as they sat there, Wooyoung’s hand still grasped tightly in Jongho’s and their eyes locked on one another, until Yeosang broke it with a firm cough.

“Are you satisfied with your penalty?” he asked Wooyoung, looking half-exasperated and half-intrigued at the tension between the two of them.

“Yes!” Wooyoung exclaimed, voice cracking as he got up from the bed too quickly and pulled on Yeosang’s arm insistently. He turned back towards Jongho when they were halfway to the door, face softening slightly. “Thank you, Jongho-ah. For understanding. I love you too, makdoongie.”

And with that, Wooyoung and Yeosang disappeared out the door leaving a still-frozen Jongho staring after them, one hand belatedly coming up to touch his lips.

Chapter Text

Hongjoong woke up to the unfortunately-familiar feeling of a dongsaeng crawling in between him and his boyfriend. He squinted his eyes open, all frustration immediately disappearing when he saw the adorably wide-eyed expression of apprehension on Jongho’s face.

“What’s going on, baby?” Seonghwa asked sleepily, pulling Jongho close and snuggling into his neck.

“Wooyoung-hyung’s obsessed with me,” Jongho whined. “He just made me lunch! And kissed me on the cheek and said I was his favorite makdoongie. Without even asking anything from me. I don’t know why you guys are napping at times like these, hyungs, honestly.”

Hongjoong squinted at him suspiciously.

“So...the problem is that you’re liking his attention a little too much and don’t know what to do about it?” he surmised. He was still half asleep, but he wasn’t oblivious. No matter what Seonghwa kept insisting to the contrary.

No,” Jongho huffed. “The problem is that he’s never done this before so he clearly wants something from me. Something big. Which means you guys should be concerned! He's been acting like this all week.”

“I’m terrified,” Seonghwa yawned. Hongjoong snorted and carefully moved Jongho’s bicep to the perfect position for him to pillow his head on it.

“Stay,” he ordered Jongho firmly. “Hwa said I have to nap for at least two hours before going back to work, so we just have another half an hour left.”

Jongho squinted at him suspiciously, sure that there was something else at stake.

“I think Woo’s just remembering that he loves you a lot, baby,” Seonghwa said hastily, successfully distracting Jongho. “But you’re welcome to hide with us if it’s overwhelming you for a bit.”

“You make a good pillow,” Hongjoong confirmed seriously.

“I’m not hiding!” Jongho protested, carefully not moving his arm from underneath Hongjoong even as he sat up slightly to glare at Seonghwa.

“Ah, Jongho, if your hyung says you’re hiding, you’re hiding,” Hongjoong declared. He was joking, of course, but Jongho unexpectedly shut his mouth and settled back down in the bed quietly as they watched in surprise.

“Wow, you really are trying to be good for- mmph!

Jongho slapped his free hand over Seonghwa’s mouth and adjusted the covers over his body, closing his eyes innocently.

“We’re going to sleep now, hyung!”

“Okay, okay,” Seonghwa laughed. Hongjoong silently tried to ask him what was going on but Seonghwa just shook his head with a wink and closed his eyes as well.

“Goodnight, Joong-ah!” he sang teasingly.

“Goodnight, betrayer-of-mine,” Hongjoong muttered back grumpily, closing his eyes as well. “And you too, Jongho-ah. Dream about Wooyoung!”

 

 

 

 

Yunho was shaken awake from a blissful dream involving puppies, steak, games, and seven beautiful boyfriends by a very stressed Yeosang hovering over him like some type of pale, pajama-wearing wraith. Yunho groaned, pulling the covers up over his head as though that could make Yeosang go away.

“Why did you drag me out of my perfect dream world and into this cold, hard reality where I only have four boyfriends?” he moaned dramatically.

“Wow, I’m really feeling the love here,” Yeosang said dryly, pulling the covers back down from Yunho’s face again and kissing him cutely on the nose. “C’mon, wake up. We have work to do.”

“We definitely have no work to do,” Yunho corrected, trapping Yeosang easily with his arms and manhandling him into the bed. “But that was adorable enough I’m willing to overlook your offense for the price of cuddles. And more sleep.”

“Noooo, Yunho, let go,” Yeosang wriggled and Yunho clamped down firmly, refusing to let his new cuddle buddy go. “Yunho, really, it’s about Mingi.”

Yunho wavered.

“What about Mingi?”

“I want to make him breakfast. He seemed a bit off yesterday and I don’t think he ate much at dinner.”

“That’s very sweet,” Yunho admitted. “But what are you waking me up for?”

“To help. Isn’t that obvious?”

“I can’t cook, though.”

“Neither can I. Pleaasee, Yunho, you’re the only person who isn’t wrapped up in a bunch of drama right now. Well, aside from Hongjoong hyung but he would be absolutely no help. And you made decent fried rice that time, remember? We can just do that, he’ll be happy with any effort we make it doesn't have to be gourmet.”

“Ugh, fine,” Yunho agreed, pulling himself out of bed and wrapping a blanket around his shoulders. “Surely you can make fried rice, though.”

“I guess we’ll find out,” Yeosang said cheerfully, pulling Yunho to the kitchen where he had already set up all the ingredients. “Thank you, Yunho.”

Yunho melted, groaning at himself inwardly. He was way too whipped for Yeosang, surely it was unhealthy.

“Of course, Sang-ah. Let’s make the green onion oil, first. I bet I can chop them finer than you.”

“I’m actually really good at chopping onions,” Yeosang informed him seriously. “If I win you have to buy me food, okay?”

“I’m going to be buying you food even if you lose, aren’t I?” Yunho asked rhetorically. Yeosang smiled in satisfaction and nudged Yunho’s shoulder companionably with his as they set to work chopping the green onions and some spam he had found in their fridge.

Four dance challenges, two accidentally-smashed eggs, and one fire alarm later, they were finally ready to cook the bacon and plate the finished rice.

“He’ll like it, right?” Yeosang asked nervously, flinching back from the pan slightly as the bacon sputtered.

“Of course,” Yunho agreed. “It tastes way better than the one I made in Australia, and that one wasn’t even that bad.”

“It was amazing,” Yeosang said loyally. “Ugh, I wish we could all have breakfast together again like that.”

“Everything'll get patched up eventually,” Yunho assured him, draping his arms over Yeosang’s shoulders and pressing their heads together. “If it gets to two weeks we’ll stage an intervention, okay?”

 

 

 

Wooyoung didn’t even last two weeks of Sanhwa before he caved. It was torture seeing San and Seonghwa being together, especially since he and San were still not on good terms, and Wooyoung felt like he would burst if he didn’t do something. He had kind of been able to act normally with Seonghwa whenever San wasn’t in the same room, but it took all of his energy and he was snappy with everyone else as a result.

The more he thought about it, the more Wooyoung wanted Seonghwa — wanted to love him and pamper him and play with him as boyfriends, wanted to cross every boundary until there was nothing left except just them. He had initially just resigned himself to watching from afar until Seonghwa displayed interest in him but, well, subtlety had never really been Wooyoung’s style and he didn’t want to accidentally cause a repeat of the whole mutual-pining-for-literal-years situation that had happened with Yeosang.

So, he decided, he should ask Seonghwa out and just get an answer one way or another. Surely hyung felt something for him, right? They played together all the time and Seonghwa was never really able to resist him no matter how much Wooyoung teased him. More than that, though, they had shared some really serious conversations together and Seonghwa had even started to turn to Wooyoung sometimes when he was upset.

Wooyoung was pretty sure Seonghwa did have some feelings for him, even if it was perhaps a bit quick on the heels of the beginning of Seonghwa’s relationship with San, so what could really go wrong? He had always thought he and San might talk with Seonghwa around the same time and come up with a proper plan to woo their hyung gently and ease him into the idea, but he wasn’t the one who had broken that promise, was he? At this point, Wooyoung just needed to know, one way or another.

So he carefully waited for a time when the members were all busy — Hongjoong off at work, Mingi still simping over the meal Yeosang and Yunho had made for him that morning in the kitchen, and Jongho and San off in their rooms — before pausing the drama he and Seonghwa were watching and telling his hyung that he was in love with him.

“You what?” Seonghwa screeched, lurching backwards in surprise. Wooyoung startled at the reaction and repeated himself uncertainly.

“I love you? That’s why I was so upset about San. I was...jealous, a bit. But I realized it’s not fair to just mope around and let it affect our relationship, so I wanted to come clean to you. I love you, and I want to go out with you. I know you’ve been a bit overwhelmed lately, so we could take it really slow, if you want? I don’t need sex, I just want to be close to you. But we don’t have to take it slow, if you don’t want to! I-”

“Wooyoung,” Seonghwa interrupted, face pale. Wooyoung’s heart plummeted at the expression on Seonghwa’s face and he stilled, hands clenched uncomfortably on his knees.

“Hyung, please-”

“I don’t think it’s a good idea, Young-ah. You know I love you a lot, of course I do, but I’m not sure that a relationship now-”

“Please stop,” Wooyoung begged. Every word felt like a dagger, and he was only vaguely aware of the way his heart was pounding as the rest of his body shut down at the rejection. He felt like he was both on fire and freezing at the same time, somehow, his skin prickling with the force of emotions rolling through him. He could tell from the devastated look on Seonghwa’s face that his heartbreak was broadcasted plainly in every line of his body but he couldn’t bring himself to care.

“I’m not saying no, exactly, Wooyoung,” Seonghwa said desperately, reaching out to him. Wooyoung backed away numbly, sure that he would shatter if anyone touched him.

“You’re not saying yes, either.”

Seonghwa bit his lip without answering, still pale with shock, and Wooyoung nodded.

“Right,” he muttered to himself, turning to leave. He managed to walk at a semi-normal pace to the entrance of their apartment, brain still not processing what had happened, before reality came crashing down on him at the door in an instant and he bolted.

He ran instinctively for the stairs and sprinted up them, spiraling up flight after flight until he had reached the top level of their building and he crumpled to the floor with a heaving chest. The floor had been reserved for various common spaces — such as the gym and pool — before the pandemic but all of those rooms were currently closed so the sound of his panting echoed through the empty halls. He fumbled for his phone through blurry eyes, dialling his mom, and hoping against hope that she would pick up.

“Young-ah?” she answered. He closed his eyes against the sound of her voice, the tears he had barely been holding back spilling over. “What-”

“I really loved him, Eomma,” he sobbed, not bothering with a greeting. “I didn’t even realize how much, but I loved him so much and he doesn’t love me and I don’t know what to do. It feels like my heart is exploding and freezing at the same time, and San and I aren’t talking, and everything’s messed up, Eomma. I want to come home, but-”

Wooyoung choked on his tears and his mom inhaled sharply as though she were in pain as well.

“Take a deep breath, Young-ah,” she pleaded gently, no traces of her usual sarcasm left in her voice. “And don’t cry, please, baby. What’s - you and San didn’t break up, right? Who doesn’t love you?”

Wooyoung froze, momentarily distracted as he realized just how much he had let slip.

“I-”

“It’s okay, you don’t have to tell me-”

“No, I can explain some of it, just one second.” Wooyoung took another breath and got to his feet, wiping the tears away from his face impatiently so he could find the little store room he sometimes hid in when he needed to be away from everything. He tried the door and breathed a sigh of relief as it opened, closing the door gently behind him and squashing himself into the far corner. “It’s Seonghwa-hyung, eomma, he’s the one…”

Wooyoung slowly explained as much of the situation as he could without sharing anything that his boyfriends hadn’t told their own parents. His voice broke several times and his tears never quite stopped flowing but, in a weird way, the concentration required to make sure he didn’t tell her anything secret helped distract him from what had just happened enough for him to calm down a bit.

She wasn’t able to talk for very long, but even just hearing her voice reassuring him that he was loved and accepted no matter what helped enough that he at least didn’t feel like he was in danger of exploding at any moment. He hung up the phone and buried his face in his knees, tears still rolling down his face as he tried to figure out where to go from here. He desperately wanted someone to hold him, but he also couldn’t imagine facing anyone yet let alone actively asking for help.

 

 

 

 

San was lying on Yunho’s bed, absently scrolling through twitter, when Seonghwa burst in with wild eyes.

“San,” he said slowly, “Wooyoung just asked me out.”

San’s heart leapt and he tossed his phone aside with an excited smile.

“Ooh, hyung, I’m so happy for you!” he congratulated eagerly. “When are you guys going to-”

“I said no,” Seonghwa interrupted quietly, sending San’s excited train of thought screeching to a halt.

“You- you said no?” San repeated in disbelief. Seonghwa stared at him uncertainly, hands twisting together.

“I - of course I said no, how could I- San-ah, it’s all too much for me! I can’t say I don’t feel something for him, but you can’t build a relationship off of that! If I wasn’t dating anyone else maybe I would be willing to start something slow with him to explore the idea, but I’ve somehow started dating three people in a matter of weeks and I can’t just leap into another when I’m still trying to figure out those dynamics.”

“If you aren’t certain about it, of course you shouldn’t say yes,” San agreed hastily, not wanting Seonghwa to feel guilty for something he couldn’t help. “But...if it had been Wooyoung who kissed you that morning, would you have been dating him instead of me right now?”

Seonghwa flinched and San held his breath, dreading the answer but needing to hear it all the same.

“Maybe,” Seonghwa admitted eventually, sinking down to the floor and burying his face in his hands. “Not that you’re replacements for one another, just-”

“I know,” San said quietly. “I understand.”

“But what do I do now?” Seonghwa asked desperately. “He completely shut down and left the apartment and I just don’t know how to make this better. You knew he liked me, right? That’s why he was so upset when he found out?”

San nodded, starting to feel truly, bone-deep guilty for the first time since he and Wooyoung had fought. He had felt bad for not telling Wooyoung immediately, of course, but the pandemic and their evacuation from Spain had been far more pressing at the time and he privately felt like Wooyoung was overreacting a little bit. San had seen the way Seonghwa looked at Wooyoung sometimes, had picked up on all the times his new boyfriend mentioned potential future relationships with others, and had taken those to mean that Wooyoung and Seonghwa would be dating as soon as one or the other got up the nerve to ask.

Now, though, the situation took on an entirely different meaning. Wooyoung had certainly taken Seonghwa’s answer as a point-blank rejection, and San couldn’t even imagine how much that would have hurt. Wooyoung loved all of the members intensely, but he had always looked to Seonghwa for emotional support and approval, and San secretly thought even Wooyoung didn’t know the true depth of his feelings for their eldest hyung.

They weren’t exactly talking at the moment, but San needed to go to him.

“Hyung,” San said slowly. “I think you should go to Jongho-ah, okay? It’s not your fault, you did the right thing, just give Wooyoung a bit of space for now. I’m going to go to him and-”

San broke off helplessly. He didn’t know what he was going to do, he just knew he needed to be with him. Seonghwa nodded, looking a bit relieved, and hugged San tightly before practically fleeing the room in search of Jongho.

San paused long enough to grab a blanket and bottle of water before heading out the apartment in search of his boyfriend. He couldn’t have left the building, which meant that he had probably gone to one of the upper, deserted floors. San glanced briefly at the elevator before turning towards the stairs and climbed up to the gym on a whim. He remembered a time, months ago, when they had been playing hide and seek and Wooyoung had found this small, unlocked storage closet filled with extra linens for the athletic facilities. San was pretty sure Wooyoung still went there sometimes when he wanted to be alone, so he decided to try it on the off chance it was still open despite the floor being technically closed.

San could hear the sounds of Wooyoung’s crying before he even opened the door and his heart broke for his boyfriend. Wooyoung was the first thing San saw when he entered the room, pressed into the corner of the room, knees pulled up and face buried in his arms as his entire body shook with sobs. San crossed the room in two swift strides, gathering Wooyoung in his lap and squeezing him close.

“I’m here, baby, I’m so sorry,” he whispered over and over, wrapping the blanket around them. Wooyoung melted into his arms and San sighed in relief at the tacit acceptance, holding him as he cried and whispering whatever reassurances he could think of.

 

 

 

 

Mingi hooked his chin over Yeosang’s shoulder and sighed, staring blankly at the TV. Jongho was in with Seonghwa, Yunho had went to collect Hongjoong since their leader wasn’t answering his phone, and San still hadn’t sent any updates after leaving to find Wooyoung an hour ago. Yeosang had pushed Mingi down onto the couch and crawled into his lap barely ten minutes after they had heard the door slam behind San and come out of the kitchen with Yunho to a deathly quiet dorm, and neither of them had moved since.

A door in the hallway opened and Mingi and Yeosang both jerked to attention, turning to see Jongho coming towards them with a scarily focused expression on his face.

 

“Hyung's asleep, and I have some questions,” Jongho said evenly, eyes flickering between the two of them. Mingi swallowed heavily at the sight of his boyfriend being so confident and demanding, tightening his hold on Yeosang. Now was not the time.

“You guys knew that Wooyoung-hyung had feelings for Seonghwa-hyung, right? Before any of this happened?”

Yeosang nodded slowly.

“We knew from the beginning,” Mingi confessed. “We’ve all been open about crushes as soon as they became anything more than fleeting attraction. Yunho and I were like that, and I know San and Wooyoung were as well.”

Jongho nodded thoughtfully and Mingi wondered what was going through his head. He definitely had an agenda, but Mingi couldn’t for the life of him imagine what it might be.

“Does Wooyoung also have feelings for Hongjoong-hyung?” Jongho asked. Mingi gasped slightly in surprise and felt Yeosang flinch.

“If he did, that’s not something we would share with you, Jongho-ah,” Mingi said carefully, knowing from the look on Jongho’s face their reactions had given it away anyways. “Jongho, I don’t think-”

“Does hyung also have feelings for me?” Neither Yeosang nor Mingi responded, but Jongho nodded as though they had. “Right, I’m going to find him.”

Mingi’s brain fuzzed out for a second as he tried to compute what had just happened. Surely Jongho wasn’t- but of course he was, this was their idiot maknae he was talking about.

“Jongho-ah, I’m sure your intentions are good but I don’t think this is the time to-”

“If he wants all of us, he’s getting all of us,” Jongho said firmly. “The hyungs will take more time, but I don’t need it. I know you’re fine with it, and I know it’ll make Seonghwa-hyung feel better to know Wooyoung has me even if he’ll never admit it, so I’m doing it.”

“I’m not worried about me!” Mingi protested. “I’m worried about you, Jongho-ah. You’ve explicitly said you weren’t interested in anyone else for now and want to take things slow even with Seonghwa and I who you’ve had crushes on for years. I know you’d do anything to make one of us feel better, but pushing yourself into a relationship that you’re not ready for to try and replace Seonghwa-hyung for Wooyoung is just not fair to any of you.”

“You’re wrong,” Jongho said tightly. “I’m not doing this because of any of that. I’ve been thinking about it for a while now — Yeosang-hyung knows, right?”

“I don’t think I should get involved in this,” Yeosang demurred. “And anything I 'know' is just conjecture. I know there’s no stopping you when you put your mind to something, but...please be careful. I don’t know if now is the best time-”

“I’m going,” Jongho said determinedly. “Thank you for your help. Kind of.”

“Wait!” Mingi shouted after him, grabbing onto Jongho’s sleeve. “Promise me you’ll lay out your boundaries clearly, okay? Please, Jongho-ah. If I find out you didn’t, I’ll...well, I’ll do something. And use your crutches properly!”

Jongho rolled his eyes but locked pinkies with Mingi and shrugged on his jacket as he made his way to the elevator. Once there, he hovered his hand over the up button in the elevator, suddenly remembering the bakery downstairs. Chocolate was good for broken hearts, right?

Ten minutes later he was in the elevator again, this time heading straight to the top of the building. It was the only place San and Wooyoung could have gone, really, if they wanted to be alone with all of the restrictions currently in place.

Wooyoung had turned off his location, but San hadn’t and Jongho knew the two would still be together. He wound through the upper level of the building, carefully tracking the dot until he heard the low sound of San’s voice from a door at the end of a hallway and followed that instead. He knocked on the door, nervously clenching his fist around the paper bag in his hand.

“Who is it?” San asked after a moment.

“Me,” Jongho replied awkwardly. “I have cake.”

The door swung open to reveal San and Wooyoung curled up in the opposite corner, Wooyoung still with obvious tear tracks on his face. Jongho handed the bag to Wooyoung and closed the door, sitting down on the floor with his back to it.

“Um, Jongho,” San started hesitantly, glancing between him and Wooyoung. “I’m not sure now is the best time for-”

“I have something to say to Wooyoung,” Jongho interrupted. “Well, to ask, really.”

“What is it?” Wooyoung asked tonelessly, still staring down at the cake with an unreadable look in his eyes.

“Is it true that you have feelings for all seven of us and want us all to end up together? In one giant relationship?”

Wooyoung and San looked up in mutual horror, cake forgotten.

“What?” Wooyoung sputtered. “Where did you get that idea from?”

“From you,” Jongho answered with a calmness he didn’t feel. “You’re already dating the 99z, you have feelings for Seonghwa-hyung, and you didn’t want to tell Hongjoong-hyung about any of it, presumably because you have feelings for him, too, and were worried he would catch on.”

Jongho’s palms were sweating now, and he carefully hugged his legs to his chest to hide how nervous he was. He was certain about Hongjoong and Seonghwa, and the reactions from Mingi and Yeosang implied Jongho was included in that as well, but it was always possible he was the one person Wooyoung wasn’t interested in…

“What does it matter?” San asked defensively, hugging Wooyoung close.

“I’m going to make it happen,” Jongho said patiently. “I just need to make sure that you want it, Wooyoungie-hyung. If you have a dream, I’ll make it come true.”

“That’s the most romantic thing anyone’s ever said to me,” Wooyoung sniffed. San rolled his eyes and hauled Wooyoung up into a proper sitting position, putting aside the cake for now.

“What are you saying, Jongho?”

Jongho took a deep breath and looked Wooyoung straight in the eyes.

“I’m saying I’d like to become your boyfriend, hyung. Maybe the hyungs will take a bit more time, but I don’t need it. I know where I stand.”

Wooyoung gaped at him.

“You...want to be my boyfriend. You barely even touch me on a good day and you want to date me?”

Jongho frowned.

“Skinship isn’t the same thing as love.”

“I know, I know,” Wooyoung said hastily. “But…you’re the only one my charm doesn’t work on.”

“I’m the only one of us who can smash a watermelon,” Jongho replied. “What’s your point?”

“Touché,” Wooyoung laughed, starting to look a bit brighter. “You mean you’re not immune to my many charms and sexy body?”

Jongho wrinkled his nose.

“Gross, hyung. But...I’ve never been immune to you, surely you know that. I think I’m pretty obvious.”

“You are,” San chimed in helpfully, earning glares from both Wooyoung and Jongho.

“You’d really want to go out with me?” Wooyoung asked hopefully, staring at Jongho as though he couldn’t quite believe he was real. “Even though you were running away from me all last week?”

“I was just a bit overwhelmed,” Jongho admitted quietly. “I didn’t know what it meant. But I’m serious, hyung, I want to if you do.”

San’s phone rang insistently and he glanced down at it, brow wrinkling in confusion.

“Um, Mingi’s wondering if you were a ‘Good Lil’ Boy’ and kept your promise?”

Jongho rolled his eyes.

“Ignore him, he's trying to play the overbearing protective boyfriend role.”

“I feel like that means we shouldn’t ignore him?” Wooyoung guessed, raising a pointed eyebrow. “C’mon, you can’t break a promise to Mingi. It’s like stealing food from a baby.”

“I steal food from Mingi every day,” Jongho pointed out, sighing when San and Wooyoung just waited patiently for him to finish. “Fine, he just wanted metotellyouIwanttogoslow.”

“Gesundheit,” San said. “What did he want you to tell Woo?”

“That. I. want. to. go. slow.” Jongho gritted out. “But-”

“So no making out?” Wooyoung clarified. Jongho blushed bright red and didn’t answer. Wooyoung and San both giggled delightedly at the way he avoided eye contact. “What about just a plain kiss?”

“San’s here!” Jongho protested, flustered.

“Tell me you love me?”

“...You can sit on my lap,” Jongho compromised. “And maybe I’ll tell you later.”

“Victory!” Wooyoung shouted, pumping his fist in the air and turning to look at an unimpressed San. “Aw, come on, San-ah, our baby’s being cute.”

Jongho stiffened.

“I’m not a baby! I’m not even a year younger than you.”

“I know, Jongho-ah," Wooyoung placated hastily. "You’re more mature than any of us. When I say ‘baby’ it doesn’t mean anything about age, I even call hyung- oh.”

Wooyoung’s face fell as he thought about Seonghwa, and Jongho and San both immediately moved to comfort him.

“Jongho-ah, I don’t know if this is a good idea,” Wooyoung confessed suddenly. Jongho stiffened.

“What do you mean?”

“Just...you’re not a replacement for hyung, you know that, right? Both of you deserve more than that. I do want to be with you, but I don’t want to always look back on our relationship and think that it started because you felt bad for me or whatever, even if your feelings are genuine. I would rather you waited until it just happened organically. I can- I know I’m not the most patient person, but I can learn to wait.”

“That’s not it at all, though,” Jongho argued, hands shaking slightly in agitation.

“I feel like I should leave,” San cut in before they could continue. “I know the situation’s unusual but it’s not right for me to-”

“Please stay, hyung,” Jongho requested quietly. “I really hate it when you two fight and I want you to be together. You know half of this stuff anyways.”

“Stay,” Wooyoung agreed, eyes still fixed on Jongho. “Just let’s let Jongho talk.”

Jongho nodded and looked down, gathering his thoughts.

“Honestly, I started thinking about you from a couple weeks ago when-”

“When you kissed my hand really dramatically and told me you loved me?”

San choked on air.

What?”

Wooyoung waved a hand back at him, shushing him and focusing on Jongho.

“Since before then,” Jongho continued quickly, “but it kind of seemed like you were just playing. Like it was a fad. Even before, you’re so close to a lot of people so I wasn’t really sure about us.”

Wooyoung winced, reaching out to lace their hands together.

“You mean more than that to me, Jongho-ah,” he said seriously. “That’s why I don’t want us to just be about someone else.”

“But I’m not asking you out because of Seonghwa-hyung!” Jongho burst out. “What we talked about the other day when I yelled at you, and then what happened today, made me realize that we quite literally mean everything to you. As awful as it was seeing you devastated, it made everything really clear to me. There’s something you want, and I want to give it to you. I can’t fix everything, but this is something I’m in control of. I would be thinking about you that way, and exploring the thought of us together whether we date officially or not, so what’s the point in not making it official?”

“I wish Seonghwa-hyung saw it that way,” San muttered bitterly. “I really thought…”

“You can’t blame hyung for being worried about relationships, after what he went through,” Wooyoung said fairly, sobering as he remembered the boy Seonghwa had dated briefly during their trainee years. The relationship hadn’t been long, but it had left a lot of scars. “Thank god you chased him off, Sannie.”

San preened proudly.

“I did well that time, right?”

“Yes, babe, good job” Wooyoung praised distractedly, reaching over to pet the back of San’s head a couple times. Jongho leaned forward earnestly to regain their attention, widening his eyes slightly in the way he knew Wooyoung couldn’t resist.

“I want it, hyung. You said you’d always give me what I want, remember?”

“God, you’re a spoiled brat,” Wooyoung said feelingly. Jongho grinned, sensing victory.

“And who’s fault is that?”

“Yeah, yeah, alright,” Wooyoung agreed, shifting so that he was in Jongho’s lap as promised. “Boyfriends, then, hm?”

Jongho nodded shyly and ducked his head behind Wooyoung’s to hide, resting it on his shoulder. Wooyoung and San graciously let him have a moment, instead reaching out for the bag of cake and making impressed noises at its contents. Jongho took advantage of the slight reprieve to firmly suppress the stirrings of guilt that rose whenever he looked at San.

Jongho hadn’t been fully honest with them — figuring out Wooyoung’s OT8 desires had only been a small part of his thought process over the past couple weeks. After realizing Wooyoung’s crushes on their members, he had started wondering about the other 99z and whether or not they might feel the same way. Yeosang had always had a special relationship with both Seonghwa and Hongjoong, Yunho and Hongjoong practically functioned like a married couple already even if their dynamic was very different from the Seongjoong one, and Mingi - well, Mingi was about as transparently whipped for their hyungs as anyone Jongho had ever seen. From there, it hadn’t been a very difficult leap to assume that all five of them might have banded together in the hopes of eventually pulling the hyungs and Jongho into their relationship as well.

San was the most transparent of all of them, but Jongho didn’t feel like it would be fair to say anything about it when San had kind-of-accidentally stolen Seonghwa from Wooyoung. Now San had Seonghwa and Wooyoung had Jongho and things were kind of balanced, right? Jongho knew that he was being petty but he just...couldn’t bring himself to do anything differently. And that in itself meant he probably wasn’t ready to pursue something more with San, he reasoned.

Surely he had been brave enough recently to buy himself a couple months of not asking anyone out, especially when he wasn’t sure exactly what he felt for the others. His relationships with Hongjoong and Yunho had improved a lot, recently, but he still felt like they had a long way to go before he could imagine having the type of bluntly honest emotional conversations necessary for dating with them.

The sound of San getting to his feet distracted Jongho and he lifted his head from Wooyoung’s shoulder, disoriented.

“I’m going to go downstairs and give you two a bit of time alone,” San explained, smiling down at the two of them. “I know you wanted me to stay, but I think it’s important. And I won’t be offended if you want to sleep together tonight, either.”

Jongho shook his head immediately.

“I’m sleeping with Mingi-ah tonight.”

“Not Mingi-hyung?” San asked pointedly. Jongho blushed at the slip. Mingi sometimes liked for Jongho to just talk to him informally when they were alone, and apparently he had gotten used to it enough that he sometimes did it when Mingi wasn’t even there, too. Great.

“He’s okay with it,” he muttered, hiding his face behind Wooyoung again.

“Cute,” San laughed, patting Jongho on the head and leaning down to kiss Wooyoung before opening the door to the closet. “Come find me later, Young-ah. I love you.”

“Love you too,” Wooyoung murmured, watching San go with soft eyes. “Okay, can we finally eat this cake?”

“It’s yours, hyung,” Jongho insisted, definitely not staring at Wooyoung’s mouth as he experimentally licked some of the frosting off one finger.

“Ooh it’s really good!” Wooyoung exclaimed enthusiastically. “I’ll even forgive you for forgetting to bring something for us to eat it with since it’s so delicious. Here, try a bit.”

He held a piece up and Jongho leaned forward, eating it straight from his hand without thinking. They both froze as they realized what had just happened and Jongho swallowed carefully before deliberately leaning forward again and slowly licking the remaining frosting off of Wooyoung’s fingers.

“We’re going slow,” Wooyoung sputtered, voice an octave higher than normal. “Slow is not licking cake off of one another’s fingers!”

“Right.” Jongho nodded and took a deep, steadying breath. Sometimes the things he felt for his hyungs scared him even though he knew intellectually that he would always be safe with them and could let himself go a bit. He did want to take things slowly, though, so that he was certain of his feelings by the time things progressed physically. “Slow.”

Jongho leaned against the wall, enjoying the weight of Wooyoung in his lap as he watched him eat. And if he found himself unable to take his eyes off of Wooyoung’s tongue the entire time — well, he was only human, right?

Chapter Text

Mingi sighed and crumpled up his sixth sheet of paper, tossing it towards the recycling bin and huffing in exasperation as it fell short. Like everything had been, lately. Mingi usually wrote his raps last minute, preferring to mull over the concept of the song for a while before writing the draft in one sitting and sending it to the Edenary hyungs the next day. This time, though, he was trying to write far in advance so that he could play with his flow and fine-tune his word selection a bit more.

It was a great idea, only he quite literally couldn’t do it. He had written about three words all day, despite the fact that this song was about love and he had five amazing boyfriends to use as inspiration. Maybe the problem was that this specific topic felt too emotional and real for him to confine it to the black-and-white banality of mere words.

Mingi stared despondently at the ball of paper on the floor of their room for a full minute before getting it up to put it in the bin where it belonged. He stretched and glanced around the room, eventually deciding to get a glass of orange juice in the hopes that a short break might help. Orange juice in particular usually did the trick when he was in a slump — Mingi was pretty sure it was because of the sugar, but Yunho liked to say that it was because the drink had inspired his first ever genius rap and Mingi enjoyed that reasoning too much to protest. Maybe both were true.

He was on his way back from the kitchen, orange juice drunk and hopefully already working its magic on his lyric-writing-abilities, when Hongjoong poked his head out into the hallway and yanked him into the hyung-line room.

“What’s going on?” Mingi asked, taken aback and slightly off-balance from the sudden change in direction.

“I was wondering if you could give me advice about something,” Hongjoong told him quietly, eyes darting around the empty room. “About sex with Seonghwa.”

“Why me?” Mingi asked in surprise. He understood why Hongjoong might not want to bring the situation up with Wooyoung given the Wooyoung-Seonghwa situation, but wouldn’t it be better to bring up whatever it was with Seonghwa himself? Or Yunho, or Yeosang, or...literally any of the other five members? Mingi and Hongjoong were close, of course, they all were, but...they never really talked about emotional stuff with one another unless it was related to work.

“Well, half of this group is also dating Seonghwa,” Hongjoong pointed out, making a face. “Isn’t it weird to ask someone about this when they are intimately involved with the person I’m talking about having sex with?”

“I mean, I don’t personally think so, but I could see how it might be? You could have asked Yunho, though. He’s more experienced than I am and isn’t dating Seonghwa-hyung.” Yet.

“I can’t talk about sex with Yunho,” Hongjoong protested, flustered. Mingi stared at him, a thought dawning.

“Wait, hyung, do you have a crush on Yunho-ah? Are you just too shy to talk about it with him because-”

“Of course not!” Hongjoong cut him off. “I don’t have a crush on anyone, Mingi, I’m loyal to Seonghwa.”

Mingi stilled, the implications of Hongjoong’s words twisting in his stomach.

“What, so my love for Yunho is less because I’m dating other people as well? Or, for that matter, Seonghwa isn’t loyal to you because he’s dating other people?”

“No!” Hongjoong exclaimed, paling slightly. “Just - well, I don’t know what I meant. Not that.”

Mingi took a deep breath and reminded himself that Hongjoong probably hadn’t meant it the way it sounded.

“What do you need help with, then?” he asked evenly. Hongjoong hesitated, eyeing him cautiously.

“Mingi-”

“Just tell me,” Mingi interrupted, not in the mood for the potentially-devastating conversation that topic would inevitably start. Either Hongjoong did have a crush on Yunho, in which case he probably also had a crush on basically everyone else except Mingi, judging by the way he acted around them — exactly as Mingi had feared when he first pushed back against pursuing the whole OT8 agenda. Or, equally likely, Hongjoong really didn’t have a crush on anyone else in which case they were all doomed to be broken hearted. Neither was a reality Mingi wanted to face any day, let alone the one during which he was supposed to be writing lyrics about love.

“I-I’ve never really done much before,” Hongjoong admitted in a small voice. “I’d barely even kissed anyone before Hwa, and he and I haven’t done much beyond that. But I think I want more, I just don’t know how to proceed when I’m ready?”

“How far exactly have you gone?” Mingi asked curiously. He knew that they often shared the same bed, these days, but he had barely even seen Seonghwa and Hongjoong hold hands outside their bedroom let alone kiss.

“Just like a bit of kissing? Or, making out, I guess? With clothes on, though.”

That was...surprising. Mingi was pretty sure that Hongjoong and Seonghwa had been doing stuff for at least a month, now, even if there had been bumps along the road in the middle of that. He and Yunho had jumped into physical intimacy relatively fast, as it was the only aspect of their relationship that was new and they were already so comfortable with one another, and he was knew the other 99z had done that as well, with the obvious exception of San. Hongjoong was his own person, of course, and there was nothing wrong with taking things slow, but the hyungs shared a room and moved around one another’s bodies so comfortably that Mingi had just assumed they were at least at the heavy-make-out level. According to what Hongjoong was saying, though…

“You’ve never even kissed him while you guys were shirtless?” Hongjoong blushed red and shook his head jerkily.

“Sometimes...sometimes I let him put his hands under my shirt a bit? Like to hold my waist? It makes me feel good but, well, it’s a lot, too. And even when I want to, it’s embarrassing to ask him to take his shirt off, you know?”

Okay, that was really cute. Mingi firmly pushed down the part of him that wanted to bundle Hongjoong in his arms and never let him go. Now was definitely not the time, especially since he was still a bit annoyed at the 'loyalty' comment from earlier.

“If it feels too overwhelming you shouldn’t push yourself, hyung,” he said seriously. “But, if it’s overwhelming in a good way and you’re embarrassed to ask to take shirts off in the heat of the moment, maybe try initiating something while you’re shirtless anyways? Like when you’re changing for bed or after a shower. He can always say no, of course, but that way you don’t have to actually say it out loud? Honestly, though, you should try to practice asking for what you want explicitly. He can’t read your mind and it’s something you need to be able to talk openly about as you go further. And also, if you're still feeling overwhelmed when you want to go even further...there’s a lot of things that you can do that are sexual but not penetrative. I think it’s good to explore those things until you’re fully comfortable with one another’s bodies before you tackle something that you might have more mental expectations around, you know? The most important thing, both emotionally and physically, is being comfortable and relaxed enough to communicate with one another and just enjoy it without stressing over the details.”

Hongjoong hummed thoughtfully, clearly impressed and surprised as he turned the words over in his head.

“That’s actually very thoughtful advice, Mingi-ah, thank you.”

“I can be useful sometimes,” Mingi responded bitterly, wondering why Hongjoong had even asked him if he hadn’t expected a good response. Mingi had been surprised as well, but it hurt to have his own insecurities confirmed like that. He really had been Hongjoong’s last resort, hadn’t he. Hongjoong opened his mouth to respond and Mingi waved him off, not in the mood for another round of apologies.

“Don’t, hyung, I’m just in a bad mood because my lyrics aren’t coming out right,” he excused. It wasn’t a lie, exactly — Mingi always felt touchy when he was having trouble at work — but this conversation certainly hadn’t helped his mood any, either. It had just reminded him of everything he wasn’t, and everything he would never have.

“Do you want help?” Hongjoong offered tentatively, reaching out to squeeze Mingi’s hand because he was a fundamentally good person and knew that hand-holding was one of Mingi’s favorite things even though Hongjoong himself wasn’t a big fan of skinship. Mingi’s heart ached and he shook his head, reluctantly pulling their hands apart and turning back towards his room.

“It’s fine, hyung. I can do it.”

He bit his lip at Hongjoong’s quiet ‘I never doubted that’ and didn’t respond, turning into his bedroom with a sigh and burying his face in his hands as soon as the door was closed behind him.

“What’s wrong?”

Mingi startled, falling backwards against the door in surprise at the sound of Jongho’s voice. He looked up to find that Jongho had come in and made himself comfortable in Mingi’s bed at some point in the last fifteen minutes. He was now cutely curled up under the covers, evidently about to take a nap.

“You do know you have your own bed, right?” Mingi pointed out dryly. Jongho squinted suspiciously at the deflection but didn’t press, instead just shrugging and snuggling into Mingi’s bed even further.

“I like yours better,” he said airily. “Anyways, climbing is annoying with my leg. Come join me, you can be my pillow.”

Mingi laughed and obliged, sliding underneath Jongho and letting the younger drape over his chest comfortably. Jongho had been very cuddly and demanding, lately. Mingi wasn’t sure what had inspired it but he had been trying to accommodate the newfound clinginess as much as possible so that there was no possibility of Jongho thinking he wasn’t wanted.

Jongho tilted his head and bit Mingi’s chest harshly — right on the nipple, although he couldn’t have known that. Probably.

“What was that for?” Mingi yelped, staring at Jongho in horror. “I knew Wooyoung would be a bad influence on you, honestly.”

“Hongjoongie-hyung taught me, actually,” Jongho informed him imperiously. “He said biting you is the most effective way to get your attention.”

Mingi gaped down at him, not sure how to react to that particular tidbit of information, especially in the context of his earlier conversation with Hongjoong. He must have looked a tinge desperate, because Jongho softened and apologetically patted the place he had bitten. Mingi swallowed heavily and tried to regain his scattered thoughts.

“Wait, so what did you need my attention for, then?” he remembered.

Jongho studied his face for a minute with that scared-but-determined look he always had when he was about to be vulnerable. Mingi squeezed him close and waited patiently until Jongho finally squared his shoulders and looked him in the eye.

“When- When I’m ready to have sex, Mingi-ah, will you please be my first?”

Mingi choked on nothing and sat up hastily, clutching Jongho close even as he tried to calm his coughing fit. No way was he letting his boyfriend out of his clutches after that.

“Are you trying to kill me?” Mingi gasped out eventually, somehow feeling like he was both flying and melting at the same time. Just the thought of Jongho trusting him like that, watching Jongho fall apart in his arms and knowing that no one else had ever been honored with the sight. And the way Jongho had asked, too — with that unique mixture of polite shyness and brash confidence that Mingi so adored about him. "Of course I will, Jongho-ah, of course."

“I want you to be all of my firsts,” Jongho confessed quietly. “So many of my friends laugh about their first kiss stories, and talk about how the movies exaggerate things, but mine was everything I dreamed of and more. Seriously, hyung. You made me feel so good and safe and powerful. Like I was being taken care of but also completely in control at the same time. I know the others would look after me well, too, but...it feels right for it to be you.”

“You know,” Mingi said, feeling a sudden urge to make Jongho equally flustered and even things out a bit. “It doesn’t have to just be one of us there. Seonghwa-hyung and Young-ah could join too. You would like that, right? All of our attention focused entirely on making you feel good?

Jongho blushed bright red, burying his face in his hands, and Mingi smirked in victory.

“One hyung kissing you,” Mingi continued mercilessly, “maybe one holding your hands and whispering in your ear so you don’t get overwhelmed while I-”

“You can do all of it yourself, though, right hyung?” Jongho interrupted boldly, half-teasing and half-sincere. “If it’s just you and me? I- I do want that with all three of you, one day, but I think the first time…”

“I can do anything you want,” Mingi promised, feeling for a moment like that might actually be true. He would bring back a pearl from the bottom of the ocean if Jongho asked for one. “Just tell me when.”

Jongho smiled in satisfaction and leaned up to drop a quick kiss on Mingi’s lips before settling back down.
“Well, right now I just want to nap. I think I’ll have very good dreams, this time, Mingi-ah.”

Mingi smacked the back of his head lightly at the audacity and shifted so that he was in a position comfortable enough to maintain for a couple hours.

“I really like when you call me that,” he said softly. “Mingi-ah. It makes my heart flutter.”

“I know,” Jongho yawned, closing his eyes contentedly. “That’s why I like it, too. Your eyes always light up when I say it.”

Jongho’s entire body slumped slowly against Mingi’s as he drifted off to sleep and Mingi smiled to himself, replaying the conversation in his head. He knew Jongho still had a while to go before being ready for any type of sex, but he would never have brought the topic up if he hadn’t already thought seriously about it and Mingi couldn’t help being proud that he had earned so much trust. The rest of their lives might be a mess, but at least he was doing one thing right.

Mingi’s heart swelled as he looked down at Jongho’s sleeping face, so full of emotion that he just needed to preserve the moment somehow. He leaned over awkwardly, hand scrabbling to pick up his notebook from where he had tossed it on the floor earlier while the rest of him stayed as still as possible so he wouldn’t disturb Jongho’s rest, and started to write.

I’m just walking behind you
I might be a fool but I’ll protect you by your side
You can do whatever you want all the time
Because I'm on your side

Chapter Text

Yeosang frowned as he watched Seonghwa run through the final four eight counts of Answer yet again. He wasn't really paying attention, too absorbed in sorting through his own tangled emotions, but he noted absently that his hyung kept repeating the same section of a dance he had been confident in just an hour ago.

“Are you mad at me?” Seonghwa asked suddenly, breaking his train of thought.

Yeosang stared up at him, genuinely taken aback by the question.

“No? Why would I- is that why you’ve been running through the same part over and over again even though you already know it? Because you think I'm annoyed and got stressed about it?”

“I was just seeing if you were paying attention,” Seonghwa admitted sheepishly. “You were looking at me weird.”

“Oh, sorry,” Yeosang apologized awkwardly, getting up from the floor and resuming his cool-down stretches. They hadn’t practiced for too long but they had pushed pretty hard, this time, and he could already feel a couple bruises forming. Maybe he could try borrowing that cream Wooyoung swore by. Or, better yet, he could ask Wooyoung to apply it before they went to bed. They hadn’t really had a chance to do much more than sleepy make-out sessions, recently, but he felt like he was finally ready to experiment with the flavored lube Wooyoung had stolen from Mingi and they didn’t have an early start tomorrow morning so maybe-

Yeosang,” Seonghwa exclaimed loudly, waving a hand in front of his face and pulling him out of his thoughts once more. “Where on earth did your mind go?”

“To Wooyoung,” Yeosang responded automatically, eyes widening in horror as he realized who he was talking to. “I mean-”

“It’s fine,” Seonghwa sighed. “We can’t all tip-toe around it forever. Is that why you were looking at me like that before?”

“Maybe?” Yeosang guessed. “I just...hyung, I don’t get why you said no to him. I don’t mean to pressure you or anything, but I really thought you might have had feelings for him? The way you look at him sometimes is really romantic, sometimes.”

“I don’t know,” Seonghwa groaned, flopping down across Yeosang’s lap dramatically and burying his face in his hands. “Or, well, I do know, but I don’t know why I can’t get past it.”

Yeosang frowned, letting himself slump forwards over Seonghwa’s torso in an awkward hug.

“What do you mean, hyung? I thought...didn’t you tell him that it was too fast? And didn’t you tell San that it was just a matter of timing?”

Seonghwa hesitated, studying Yeosang’s face.

“If I tell you, can you keep it a secret?” he asked nervously. “No one has actually pushed me properly about it before you — I think they wanted to be respectful of my boundaries — but I think it might be good for me to verbalize it? Or actually... never mind, I don’t want to put that on you.”

“Tell me,” Yeosang urged. “I’m good at secrets. I know we haven’t talked seriously between just the two of us for a long time, maybe since before the comeback, but we used to share things like this all the time, hyung.”

“That’s true,” Seonghwa acknowledged with a nostalgic smile. “Okay, do you remember my ex, Beomseok?”

“He was a dick,” Yeosang said feelingly, eyes dark with protective anger. “I don’t think any of us will forget him anytime soon.”

“Right,” Seonghwa laughed mirthlessly, “Well, apparently I can’t forget him, either, no matter how hard I try. I think it’s that...Wooyoung sometimes reminds me of him? I know they’re nothing alike, not really, but they're both sort of irresistibly charming in the same way? Wooyoung's sincere in a way Beomseok never was, and he's thoughtful and caring and sweet but I can't always quite keep up with him and he likes to play hard to get in a way that is fun in a friend but scares me in a relationship. I never felt in control with Beomseok — he was hot and cold and I could never predict what it would be so everything was always off balance and I just…the more uncertain I felt the more trust I felt like I had to put in him because he always said everything was okay even if I didn’t feel like it was, and then- well, you know how it ended, when San kind of snapped after seeing me break down and chased him away. I think it was easier for me to fall for Hongjoong after that because he was so different, you know? He was there for me through the whole ordeal and he’s the polar opposite of Beomseok so he felt really safe. Lately I had been thinking about others partially at his urging, and Wooyoung was on that list — you weren’t wrong about that. But...”

Seonghwa trailed off, biting his lip.

“But…,” Yeosang prompted gently after a few minutes when Seonghwa showed no sign of continuing.

“But I just panicked as soon as he asked me,” Seonghwa admitted helplessly. “With Hongjoong, Jongho, and San I feel in control the whole time, even when they're being super frustrating. They all treat me really gently, and my dynamic with them is actually a bit calm, even with San. With Wooyoung his affection is so all-consuming, you know? I do like it when we play, but as soon as romance became connected with that I started to feel all unsteady again and it terrified me. I know intellectually that he’s safe and I can trust him but I just can’t make that emotional leap of faith yet. I love him, but the intensity of it all scares me and I just can’t do it in a relationship yet, Sangie, I can’t. I think someday it will feel really good to be loved like that — therapeutic, even, because Wooyoung’s just so caring and good — but I genuinely think he’s too much for me right now.”

Yeosang thought through that answer in silence, heart aching for both Seonghwa and Wooyoung.

“Hyung,” he started eventually, not sure if it was his place to meddle but knowing he’d regret it if he didn’t at least try. “Did you ever think of explaining all this to Wooyoung?”

“What, tell him that he reminds me of my abusive ex?” Seonghwa snorted sarcastically. “That would devastate him.”

“Well, maybe don’t put it like that,” Yeosang laughed. “I meant telling him that the strength of your feelings for him scare you because of your jerk ex and walking him through all of the things that might trigger you — like being a bit hot and cold sometimes, even if it’s meant in a playful way. I won't speak for him, but if you gave him the chance to tone down some of those things and help make it a relationship you could feel comfortable in...”

“I don’t want him to change himself for me,” Seonghwa said quietly. “He does that sometimes, you know, for fans and for us both. Being loud and unpredictable and overwhelming are some of his defining characteristics, though — I don’t want him to feel like he has to change all that and stop playing with me in order to date me.”

“There is such a thing as compromise,” Yeosang pointed out gently. “If anyone can find new and creative ways to tease you mercilessly while still respecting your boundaries, it’s Wooyoung.”

“I guess,” Seonghwa agreed quietly. He sighed, staring unseeingly into the distance as he thought through Yeosang's words.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to push so hard,” Yeosang apologized, feeling a bit guilty at the lost look on Seonghwa’s face. “I’m not exactly an expert on relationships, anyways. But hyung...please don’t be mad at me for saying this, but have you considered talking to someone who is an expert on these types of things? I’ll always be happy to listen and talk things through, but I can’t be as helpful as someone who’s trained to be, you know?”

“I’ll think about it,” Seonghwa said in a tone that implied he was already done thinking and the answer was no. Yeosang smiled ruefully and Seonghwa softened, nuzzling into the ticklish part on Yeosang’s stomach playfully. “Thank you, Sang-ah. It did help to talk it through a bit.”

“Anytime,” Yeosang giggled, pushing away Seonghwa’s head and scrambling to sit up. “I’m gonna go to the bathroom and then we can hang out a bit longer before heading home? Maybe try a few new dance covers?”

“I’d like that,” Seonghwa agreed, sprawling out on the cool floor contentedly. “Hurry back, Sang-ah, I really did miss spending time with you so let's make the most of it, okay?”

 

 

 

Yeosang was just turning the corner on his way back to the practice room he and Seonghwa had been in when he quite literally ran into Yunho.

“Fancy seeing you here,” Yunho teased, steadying him gently.

Yeosang rolled his eyes.

“How’s practice with Wooyoung and Sannie?”

Yunho sighed, running a hand through his hair tiredly.

“Well, it was fun until they started talking about how cute Jongho is. Wooyoung kept bragging to San about how he’s the one dating him, and I think San still feels guilty about the whole Seonghwa thing so he just let him, and-”

“And they forgot that you were there and might be upset because you're not yet dating Jongho or Seonghwa and they're essentially rubbing that in your face?” Yeosang finished knowingly.

“Yeah,” Yunho laughed bitterly. “I’m sure they’ve realized by now and will be all apologetic when I get back, but I needed a bit of space for a minute.”

“Does it bother you that everyone else is jumping into relationships left, right, and center?” Yeosang asked cautiously, glancing down the deserted hallway to make sure no one could overhear. “It’s kind of starting to bother me and I wasn’t aware of my feelings for half as long as you.”

“I don’t know,” Yunho sighed. “On the one hand, of course I’m happy for them and I know every relationship will happen on its own time frame and it was really funny to watch everyone stumble along, you know? But on the other hand...I guess I’m just jealous. I want it too, but I feel guilty for wanting it because I’m already so lucky with the four of you, and I don’t know how to ask the hyungs and Jongho for a relationship when I don’t think they even think of me that way. It doesn’t seem fair, but then life isn’t fair, right?”

Yeosang winced at the helplessness in Yunho’s voice. He had honestly expected Yunho to have some really balanced and saint-like answer to match his cheerful demeanor, but maybe he should have expected this — Yunho always held his feelings close to his chest and tried to deal with any negativity himself. The fact that he was even admitting this much to Yeosang meant that he must have been sitting on it for a while. There wasn’t much Yeosang could do while they were at the company, though, and he needed a bit of time to think through exactly how to respond to what Yunho had said, anyways.

“It sounds really frustrating, Yunho-ah,” he tried awkwardly. “I think it’s perfectly valid for you to be a bit impatient after wanting this for so long. It’s not like you’re pushing anyone to do something they’re not comfortable with, just wishing for things to be different. Although, for what it's worth, I don't know how any of them could not want you back, even if they're slow about admitting it. You're the one we all envy, Yunho-ah, remember?”

Yunho nodded, looking slightly mollified, and Yeosang breathed a sigh of relief. He really wasn't cut out for this type of thing, he thought to himself desperately. Maybe...

"Want a distraction? So you can have a break from thinking about it for a little while?"

“Okay? What do you-”

“Catch me,” Yeosang interrupted, jumping without warning and smiling in satisfaction as Yunho caught him without even stumbling.

“Is this your idea of a distraction?” Yunho asked, smiling slightly despite himself. “We could have kissed just fine with you on the ground, you know.”

“Mingi told me you love it when I do this because it gives you an excuse to grope my butt,” Yeosang informed him smugly, wriggling slightly to make his point.

“This whole thing was kind of romantic until you said that,” Yunho complained, blushing. “Anyways, Mingi is a lying liar who lies.”

“Mingi is an angel from heaven,” Yeosang said matter-of-factly, intending to extend the joke but getting distracted by something in Yunho’s hair, instead. “Is that...a piece of tissue?”

“Confetti,” Yunho corrected quickly, shaking his head vigorously to dislodge the tissue. Several more pieces fell to the ground and Yeosang tsked playfully, leaning forward to pick through Yunho’s hair for any remaining scraps.

“I thought we were going to kiss,” Yunho complained after a minute of waiting in vain for Yeosang to finish, arms starting to shake from the weight.

“And I thought I was dating people smart enough not to spend god-knows-how-long tearing tissues into tiny pieces to use as fake confetti, so I guess we’re both disappointed," Yeosang replied. "You can’t even throw tissues up in the air properly since they’re so light, you know.”

“Yes, well, we found that out,” Yunho muttered, finally putting Yeosang down and backing him against the hallway wall.

“What were you doing with your fake confetti?” Yeosang asked breathlessly as Yunho faux-casually leaned over him.

“Pretending to shoot music videos,” Yunho murmured vaguely, sliding one hand into Yeosang’s hair and pressing a teasing kiss to the corner of his mouth.

“More,” Yeosang demanded, throwing aside any pretense at interest in the conversation. Yunho laughed, leaning back down to slot their lips together properly, and Yeosang let his concerns melt away with their kiss. The past hour had been a lot with the confessions from both Seonghwa and Yunho, but maybe it was a good thing these pent-up emotions were starting to be released. There were probably a lot more serious conversations necessary before things truly started to clear up, but for now he could just focus on the familiarly sweet feeling of his boyfriend’s lips on his… and on trying not to choke on the tiny pieces of torn tissue that kept falling out of his idiot boyfriend’s hair.

Chapter Text

Hongjoong closed the door of his studio behind him and sank down into the desk chair with a sigh of relief. That conversation with Mingi had been...a rollercoaster of emotions, to say the least. Mingi’s advice had been very helpful, so that was one problem semi-solved, but everything else about their interaction had been stilted and awkward and Hongjoong had the distinct feeling that he had deeply hurt and offended Mingi in at least two different ways, even if it had been completely unintentional.

He would apologize to Mingi later, of course, but for now he needed to do some research. Hongjoong hadn’t realized how little he really understood the whole polyamory thing until he had let slip the comment about being loyal to Seonghwa. He didn’t mind Seonghwa dating other people, and he didn’t begrudge the rest of the group their increasingly tangled relationships — indeed, a part of him was even thankful for it because it was a way his members could be happy romantically without involving NDA’s and the otherwise-inevitable pain of long-distance relationships. Hongjoong just didn’t really get it, how you could be in a relationship with multiple people and give your all to each of them.

But...maybe that was a bit of a double-standard given his relationship with Seonghwa? As he had told Seonghwa earlier, watching his boyfriend love their members just made him fall even deeper in love himself. Seonghwa was love personified; it was only natural for him to bestow that on the little family they had created for themselves. So if he was okay with Seonghwa doing that with the members, why didn’t he feel the same way when it came to the idea of him having a second boyfriend?

Initially Hongjoong had just not seen any reason for it. He didn’t have feelings for anyone else, so why would he push himself to date his members too? It had been easy for him, Jongho, and Seonghwa to navigate their changing relationships — they hadn’t even needed to talk about it for the three of them to settle into a perfectly natural dynamic without any of the awkwardness that might have occurred with the both of them dating Seonghwa but not each other. It had probably helped that he and Jongho had bonded so much in the aftermath of Jongho’s injury and settled into a more intimate version of their friendship before Seonghwa arrived, but he was sure that it would be equally easy to navigate the platonic/romantic boundaries with the other members as the group’s relationships continued to evolve.

But then Mingi had asked if he had a crush on Yunho and the words had stuck in Hongjoong’s mind the entire trip to the company. Yunho was...very like Seonghwa, to Hongjoong. Of course they were very different people and required completely different types of care, but both of them had always been partners he had relied heavily on almost since he met them.

Back in their early trainee days, when Hongjoong was still figuring out what it meant to be the unofficial leader of their motley trainee crew when all he had ever aimed for was a small studio to make music in, Yunho had been the person everyone turned to for emotional support. He was Hongjoong’s first true partner, the one who was still the most attuned to his emotions after all that they had been through together, the one who could always be counted on to cheer the members up no matter how tired he was.

Hongjoong was taken aback by the depth of his feelings for Yunho every time he thought about them, but that didn’t necessarily mean they were romantic. Maybe if he tried to imagine kissing Yunho? Hongjoong shivered involuntarily at the thought of Yunho’s lips against his and he firmly pushed those feelings away, taking a deep, cleansing breath before turning back towards the computer. He could think about Yunho later (or never, preferably) and just focus on understanding more about polyamory now so he could apologize properly to Mingi when he got home. Hearing other people’s stories and experiences had always helped him for songwriting, so maybe it would help him figure this out, too.

 

Sixteen hours later Hongjoong’s eyes were bloodshot from staring at the screen almost continuously, with only a few short nap and food breaks, but he barely even noticed the exhaustion underneath his excitement. He might have gotten a bit obsessed, but it had been productive — he had sorted through a lot of his own tangled feelings towards relationships, and had even managed to come up with a couple song ideas inspired by some of the stories he had heard.

The sound of his door opening startled Hongjoong and he rushed to close the video he had playing, heart pounding as he realized that the guest was Yunho of all people.

“What were you doing?” Yunho asked curiously, trying to peer around the chair to see his screen.

“Nothing!” Hongjoong yelped hastily, voice cracking slightly as he checked to make sure all of his tabs were safely closed.

Yunho squinted at him suspiciously.

“Were you watching p- no, you know what, I don’t want to know.”

“I wasn’t doing that,” Hongjoong sputtered, cheeks burning. "I'm at work!"

“Whatever you say,” Yunho smirked.

“Oh, Yunho-ah,” Hongjoong remembered suddenly, tabling the sudden heat he felt at that smirk for later analysis. “What do you want for your birthday?”

Yunho hesitated, a shadow passing over his face, before shrugging.

“I don’t need anything, hyung,” he said quietly.

“Well, what do you want, then,” Hongjoong pressed impatiently. “You never ask for what you want, Yunho. Please be selfish, just this once.”

“I just want all of us to be together,” Yunho replied steadily, fiddling with his bracelet and avoiding eye contact. “And maybe some meat.”

“Well, that can certainly be arranged,” Hongjoong answered, trying to stay upbeat. That wasn’t exactly a satisfactory answer, but he knew from experience that it was the best he was going to get. He would just have to come up with something himself, then.

They weren’t technically supposed to be getting each other birthday presents this year, but he could make an exception for Yunho, right? And he was dating Seonghwa so of course he was getting him a present, and Yeosang was, well, Yeosang, and Sannie had been really precious recently and...yeah he probably just needed to get them all presents and make up an excuse for it later.

“Cool,” Yunho said awkwardly. Hongjoong frowned.

“Yunho, are you-”

“I’m going to go practice for an hour,” Yunho told him bluntly. “If you’re not ready when I get back I will carry you out, hyung. Your children require food.”

“They’re perfectly capable of getting it themselves,” Hongjoong said half-heartedly.

“Well, maybe sometimes we like having you there,” Yunho said sharply, turning to leave.

The door closed behind him and Hongjoong stared at it for a second before darting out and leaping on a surprised Yunho’s back.

“Hyung, what-”

“I’ll be ready when you come, Yunho-ah, I promise. And I’ll be looking forward to our drive back together with just the two of us because I like spending time with you too, okay? It’s the best part of my day.”

Hongjoong realized belatedly that he might have laid it on too thick, but it was worth it to see the pleased flush on Yunho’s face and a smile that finally reached his eyes, even if it was a bit bemused.

“Okay, hyung, now are you going to let go or am I doing my practice with you clinging to my back?”

“I’m going, I’m going,” Hongjoong said hastily, dropping down from Yunho’s (very comfortable) back and retreating back towards his studio. “See you in an hour!”

 

 

 

 

Yeosang put his pen down as he finished his worksheet, resisting the urge to glance over to see how Jongho was progressing. The two of them were working on their English homework together, as had been their tradition ever since Jongho’s minor breakdown before their Seoul concerts. Yeosang wasn’t sure why but Jongho had declared him a genius and asked so politely for help that he just hadn’t been able to say no.

And, really, Yeosang had come to enjoy their little sessions even if it inevitably took longer than when he did it himself — it was nice having something that was just theirs, and the extra practice was actually starting to make a noticeable difference in his comfort with the language. Yeosang had never had trouble memorizing words and creating sentences when he was alone doing homework but, whenever he actually had to talk to someone, his nerves got the best of him and it became impossible for him to string more than three words together in English.

Today Jongho had been a bit hard on himself so Yeosang had occupied himself by coming up with fifteen extra compound sentences using their weekly vocab, silently pretending to need more time on the worksheet than he actually did so that his dongsaeng wouldn’t feel bad about the speed he was working at in comparison. Now, though, Yeosang had finished that and the homework for their next class and he was running out of assignments to make up.

Jongho dropped his pen to the table with the familiar sigh he always gave when he was finished and Yeosang judged it safe to finally look up.

“Finished?” he asked cautiously. Jongho nodded, looking up with a rueful smile.

“Hyung, you don’t have to tiptoe around me, I’m not upset. Just tired.”

“You did get up early today,” Yeosang agreed, patting the bed beside him and melting inwardly as Jongho sat down right next to him and wrapped around him like a sleepy koala.

“Do you think it’s too early to go to sleep?”

“You haven’t even eaten dinner yet,” Yeosang laughed. “I guess you could nap but we have to get up early again tomorrow so it’s probably better to just push through until after dinner. Why don’t we monitor some stages for a bit? I’m sure whoever's on dinner duty tonight will be back soon with the food.”

Jongho’s nod of assent was interrupted by a yawn and Yeosang frowned to himself. Ever since his injury, Jongho had been working himself far too hard. Things weren’t as bad as they had been in the immediate aftermath, when he had been pushing himself almost to panic attacks with his desperation to keep up, but he still wasn’t back to normal yet and Yeosang couldn’t help worrying a bit. They still had schedules, thankfully, but they weren’t so busy that anyone should be falling asleep during the middle of the day from exhaustion — let alone their maknae who was still recovering from a serious injury.

He had been unusually clingy recently, too, Yeosang thought as they settled back against the pillows on Wooyoung’s bed and Jongho pulled him so close that they were practically in one another’s laps.

“Hyung?”

Yeosang pushed his worries aside and focused back on the present, pulling up a random Answer stage and pushing his mind back into work-mode.

To Yeosang’s surprise, they actually made it through a solid hour of monitoring stages — first their own, and then some from other idol groups — before Jongho became too tired to participate. It wasn’t exactly unexpected when Jongho’s head finally slumped fully against Yeosang’s shoulder, face finally smoothing out until he looked almost as young as the day they had first met, but the sweetness of it still took Yeosang's breath away after all these years.

Yeosang blushed as he remembered the way Jongho always talked about that first meeting. At first he had thought that Jongho’s line about ‘so that’s what a face is’ was just a manufactured gag for the cameras, but it had been repeated enough in private that Yeosang eventually realized that there was actually some truth to the story. Jongho had always been a bit flirty with Yeosang, though, and none of it had ever seemed to really mean anything until recently.

Recently, Yeosang had started to wonder. It had barely been a month since Yeosang had first started to contemplate the idea of polyamory, and he felt in turns both overwhelmed at the idea and impatient for them to all just get together, already. He understood that the hyungs would probably take some time, especially Seonghwa after what they had talked about the day before, but he couldn’t really tell what Jongho was thinking and would never initiate anything himself. As a group they had made sure that age hierarchy didn’t play a meaningful role in their respect for one another, but Jongho was always trying to prove himself to them nevertheless and Yeosang worried that even bringing up the topic might pressure Jongho to accept even if he wasn’t ready for another relationship.

Jongho had been pining after Seonghwa and Mingi since their trainee years, apparently so it made sense that they had eventually come together, and even the relationship with Wooyoung seemed like it had been building for a long time to Yeosang as well. Wooyoung had never really liked being in the hyung role so he had treated Jongho more like a particularly cute playmate and now, years later, Jongho remained the one person who could go head to head with Wooyoung when the dancer was in his most antagonistic of moods and still somehow come out on top. They had bonded on a deeper level when they were roommates on tour, and Yeosang had noticed a few months ago that it was to Wooyoung Jongho looked for approval whenever they were filming and he was trying to be funny.

So Yeosang wasn’t surprised that there had been actual romantic feelings within Jongho for him to find once he had realized Wooyoung was attracted to him, but he had been taken aback by just how quickly the two of them had started dating. Although, maybe it was fitting for them — Wooyoung and Jongho had always been an ambitious and impulsive pair when they were together.

Yeosang and Jongho, on the other hand, had sort of just slotted into place next to one another years ago and grown slowly together ever since. Jongho was sweet to him, bold and vulnerable and possessive all at once, but their overall dynamic hadn’t changed much over the years and Yeosang genuinely had no idea if Jongho thought of him romantically or not. The foundation was probably there, but whether it would happen next year or next week, Yeosang had no way of knowing.

In a way, though, it didn’t really matter, Yeosang thought as he tucked the covers more securely around them. He was happy that things had fallen into place so smoothly with the other 99z, but there was something equally comforting about the slow build of intimacy and trust he and Jongho had been experiencing lately, too.

Yeosang was jolted out of his pensive thoughts by the sound of his door slamming open as Wooyoung bounded in excitedly.

“Shh, you’ll wake up the baby,” Yeosang hissed, glancing nervously at Jongho’s still-peaceful face.

“Jonghooooooo,” Wooyoung sang loudly. “Wake up, bunny bear, there are important matters to attend to.”

“I told you not to call me that,” Jongho mumbled with his eyes still determinedly closed, turning his face further into Yeosang’s neck to block the harsh light from the hallway.

“Well, then, get up and do something about it.”

Jongho didn’t move and Wooyoung sighed, climbing onto the bed to wrap both Yeosang and Jongho into an embrace that would have been sweet if not for the fact that he couldn’t keep still and was literally shaking the bed with his energy.

“What matters do we have to attend to, anyways?” Yeosang asked belatedly, frowning in confusion. “We definitely don’t have work?”

“Planning for Yunho’s birthday,” Wooyoung explained. Jongho squinted one eye open.

“Isn’t it a bit too late to plan much? His birthday is in, like, hours.”

Days,” Wooyoung corrected. “Admittedly not that many, but enough to at least come up with a small surprise for him.”

“Does it have to be now?” Yeosang asked softly, tilting his head towards Jongho’s sleepy expression meaningfully. Wooyoung softened but nodded his head.

“I’m afraid so,” he said, turning to Jongho and gently petting his hair. “Hyung’s sorry to wake you up, baby, but this might be the only time we have where we’re all in the same place without Yunho and we should try to make the most of it.”

Jongho nodded and pulled himself out of bed, grabbing a stray blanket and wrapping it around his shoulders before taking Wooyoung’s outstretched hand and letting himself be guided into the living room where everyone else was already sprawled out.

“Come sit with me, Jongho-ah,” Mingi urged. Jongho cutely pulled both Wooyoung and Yeosang along with him as he settled on the couch, curled up comfortably against Mingi’s chest, and Yeosang's heart swelled even further at the gesture.

“Alright,” Wooyoung announced once they were all settled. “I called this meeting because we have a Code Silver situation and need to take advantage of it.”

“A code what?” Seonghwa asked, completely bewildered.

“It means that Yunho’s gone,” San explained proudly. “Yunho’s gold because he’s a golden retriever, and silver is the opposite of gold so it means he’s the opposite of here. Obviously.”

“Obviously,” Seonghwa echoed, laughing a bit.

“Where did he go, though?” Yeosang wondered. Yunho had been at the dorm when he and Jongho had started their English work, and he hadn't seemed to be in any hurry to leave.

“He’s wrangling our illustrious leader,” Wooyoung explained. “We thought hyung had been home but it turns out he’s been at the studio all night. So Yuyu went to go do a bit of extra dance practice and convince hyung to come home. He left about an hour and a half ago? But Mingi and Sani were out, so now we have like an hour and a half before they come back, probably.”

“How’d you get hyung to go?” Jongho wondered curiously. “Wasn’t it your turn to wrangle Hongjoongie-hyung?”

“I bribed him,” Wooyoung said cheerfully.

“With what?” Jongho pressed. Wooyoung hesitated and then leaned down to whisper something in Jongho’s ear that Yeosang couldn’t quite catch. Whatever it was, it shocked Jongho awake properly. His face turned bright red in embarrassment and he pushed Wooyoung away in favor of burying his face in his hands.

Anyways,” Yeosang said over Wooyoung’s satisfied laughter, deciding to take pity on Jongho and change the subject. “What exactly are we planning for Yunho-ah? He deserves a lot, this year.”

“A surprise party,” Seonghwa answered. “We can set it up while he’s doing his birthday vlive after practice and pretend like we have more work right after. We just have to figure out what to include.”

“Definitely meat,” San started. “As much meat as he could ever want to eat — maybe from that super fancy place he likes around the corner from work. And then I thought we could maybe get some new games since he likes playing them so much?”

“Won’t that be a little expensive?” Seonghwa asked doubtfully. “We can eat a lot of meat between the eight of us.”

“Hongjoongie-hyung will just pay for whatever we agree on,” Wooyoung dismissed. “I think he wants to, since it's Yunho's birthday. And the company will cover everything else. So we just need to choose the restaurant and what exactly to order, and then manager-nim said he’d take care of letting everyone at KQ know so that anyone who’s able to be in the office can stop by to wish him.”

“I think he’d like all of that so long as we’re all together,” Jongho said softly. “We don’t need a cake because the staff will get one for his vlive that we can use, right? He’s not that crazy about sweets anyways, so I think he’d appreciate a ton of food and all of us playing and having fun together the most.”

“The 99z have a special present for him that we’ll give some other day,” Mingi added, “but I think it would be cute if we each wrote a card for him? Nothing too fancy, since he doesn’t like things that are too cheesy, but just something funny and nice.”

Yeosang sat back as they continued throwing ideas back and forth, content to just listen for most of the discussion. He privately felt like Yunho’s birthday couldn’t have come at a better time this year — Yunho had been a bit uncharacteristically pensive, recently, and it would be good for all of them to have a day to just spoil him like he deserved.

 

 

 

Seonghwa sighed as they wrapped up the impromptu meeting, feeling a bit lost and lonely despite San’s hand in his. Wooyoung hadn’t really looked at him for more than a second since asking him out, and Seonghwa hated it. He knew he didn’t have the right to demand anything from Wooyoung and that he should be giving him space, but he missed his peskiest dongsaeng.

He had been doubting his decision ever since the words came out of his mouth, but talking with Yeosang the other day and watching Wooyoung’s current cheeriness be directed at everyone except for him was making him question himself even more. Seonghwa sighed again and refocused back in on the conversation.

“Okay, that’s everything then, right?” Yeosang was asking. “I can call manager-nim to update him.”

“Yes,” Wooyoung agreed. “But...hyung, can you stay back for a minute?”

Seonghwa nodded, surprised into silence as the others filed out into their respective rooms.

“Did you want to talk about something?” he asked carefully, noting that Wooyoung still wasn’t looking directly at him.

“It’s about Yunho’s birthday,” Wooyoung replied slowly. “What he wants most is for all of us to have fun together. Whenever some of us are fighting he always gets preoccupied trying to make sure all of us are happy and I don’t want him to be thinking about anything like that on his birthday.”

“I agree,” Seonghwa said softly, not sure what he was supposed to say here. They weren’t exactly fighting, but wasn’t he supposed to be giving Wooyoung space for now?

So,” Wooyoung continued, “I think we should just do our best to go back to normal and wanted to make sure you’re okay with me, like, hugging you or leaning on you when I laugh.”

Seonghwa stared at him, completely bewildered.

“Of course it is? It’s always okay, Young-ah, I thought you knew that I like that kind of stuff.”

“Then why haven’t you been doing it?” Wooyoung demanded, finally looking him in the eyes. “Ever since I told you… that, you’ve been avoiding me.”

“I thought you wanted space,” Seonghwa explained helplessly. “You’ve been avoiding me, too, you know.”

Wooyoung shrugged half-heartedly, clearly not wanting space, and Seonghwa’s protective hyung instincts came roaring back into place.

“Come here, baby,” he urged gently. Wooyoung’s breath caught and, the next thing Seonghwa knew, he had an armful of shaking dongsaeng in his lap.

They clung to one another tightly, melting slowly into the embrace without loosening their grip on one another, and Seonghwa tried to convey just how much he cared for and missed Wooyoung through his body language.

Yeosang was right, Seonghwa decided as he leaned his head against Wooyoung’s and stroked his back soothingly. He needed to come clean to Wooyoung and explain everything properly. There had to be some way for them to move forward that wasn’t this emotional mess that was somehow worse than anything Seonghwa had been scared of when he rejected Wooyoung in the first place, but both of them needed to be aware in order for them to find something that would work. Seonghwa wouldn’t start that conversation now, of course — he needed time to figure out how to phrase it in a way that was both delicate and honest — but he would do it.

 

 

 

 

Yunho walked back through the hallways of their company towards the room Hongjoong had claimed, body aching with the familiar satisfaction of a good practice session. He smiled slightly as he remembered the way Hongjoong had jumped on him earlier and entered the office with an extra bounce in step, only to stop in shock at the sight that greeted him.

Hongjoong was honest-to-god crying as he typed away at something on his phone, big fat tears that he kept sniffing away impatiently. He looked up at the sound of the door closing behind Yunho and, before Yunho could so much as close his gaping mouth, was stumbling off his chair for a tight hug.

“You’re such a good boy, Yunho-ah,” Hongjoong sobbed into Yunho’s chest. “So perfect and kind and handsome and generous and-”

“Hyung, get a grip, please,” Yunho begged, awkwardly patting Hongjoong on the back, torn between being worried, flattered, or amused and settling on all of the above. “What on earth is going on with you?”

“I was writing your birthday card,” Hongjoong told him, suddenly sounding very pleased with himself. “Ahead of time, Yunho. Aren’t you proud?”

“Very,” Yunho replied dryly, trying to straighten the probably-ridiculously sappy look on his face as he slowly processed the fact that his work-obsessed, emotionally-constipated hyung had apparently driven himself to tears thinking about how amazing Yunho was.

“You’re so ungrateful,” Hongjoong scoffed, tilting his head back to look up at Yunho with a fond smile. “Maybe I shouldn’t get you a present after all.”

“We’re not doing presents this year,” Yunho reminded him. Hongjoong shrugged, unfazed.

“Eh, if I give it to you the day after your birthday it’s not really a birthday present, right?”

“That’s definitely not how it works,” Yunho laughed, trying in vain to disentangle himself from Hongjoong. This prolonged contact was definitely not helping his attempts to control his pathetic pining for his hyung.

“I’m the leader,” Hongjoong informed him pompously. “If I say that’s how it works, that’s how it works. And please stop tickling me, Yunho-ah, I’m pretty sure I’ll collapse if I let go of you.”

What? Hyung, when was the last time you ate?”

“I ate a lot,” Hongjoong assured him, tugging Yunho over to the desk so he could pack up his stuff without unwrapping his arm from Yunho’s waist. “I think I even slept on the couch for a while. I was doing Important Research, though, and my brain was all fuzzy, and then I got really emotional — which is your fault, by the way — and just now when I stood up my vision went spotty. I think I’m high off of feelings? Is that possible? Because-”

“O-kay,” Yunho interrupted, a bit overwhelmed at the influx of information and emotions he was currently trying to navigate. “That doesn’t exactly sound promising, so why don’t you drink a bit of water and I’ll piggy-back you to the car? You can sleep on the way back, eat a bit of dinner, and then get a good night’s rest in your own bed for once.”

“You’re an angel,” Hongjoong sighed, climbing onto Yunho’s back and resting his chin on Yunho’s shoulder sleepily. “I’m not gonna go to sleep, though, ‘member? We’re gonna hang out.”

Predictably, Hongjoong fell asleep within minutes of them getting in the car, snoring lightly with his head tipped back on Yunho’s shoulder. Yunho watched his eyelids flutter in his sleep for a full five minutes before he finally managed to tear his eyes away, firmly scolding himself for letting his hopes rise too much. It was hard not to, though, with the way Hongjoong had acted that afternoon.

Yunho had known Hongjoong long enough to expect occasional bouts of sappiness, but today had felt different somehow. He had seemed genuinely pensive and eager about his compliments for Yunho, as though he were thinking about their future together rather than feeling guilty about their past like usual. And his compliments hadn’t really been about work at all this time, the way they often were. Hongjoong had been looking at him, and with a distinct note of appreciation that was usually reserved for Seonghwa. The type of look that said Hongjoong liked looking.

Yunho pushed those thoughts away firmly and looked out the window instead. He had kind of been looking forward to talking with Hongjoong on the way back, but it was probably for the best that he had a bit of space to process what had just happened and put his feelings back into the appropriate boxes. It would be easy enough to get Hongjoong to take him out for dinner or something another time, anyways.

Hongjoong was soft enough for him that Yunho knew he just needed to widen his eyes a little for his hyung to drop everything so they could spend time together. And if that didn’t work, Yunho just had to threaten to tell the others that he had caught their composed leader crying over a simple birthday letter and Hongjoong would buy him all the meat he could ever want.

Chapter Text

“I understand hyung, you’re very sorry, I get it,” Mingi snapped uncharacteristically, glancing around his small studio at everything except Hongjoong. “Is there anything else you wanted?”

“Two more things,” Hongjoong said uncertainly, still not sure what he was saying that was making Mingi so upset. He had thought his apology was a good one — he didn’t make excuses, he had told Mingi about all the research he had done and described how he was working to understand polyamory better, and had sincerely promised that he respected Mingi’s relationships and would do better from now on to show him that.

He could tell from the firm set of Mingi’s face that he wouldn’t be getting any explanation out of him, though, so he decided it would be better to move on rather than dig himself deeper. Hopefully the rest of what he had to say would help, too.

“First of all,” Hongjoong continued carefully, “I want you to know that I initially didn’t think to seek your advice about this type of thing because you and I are so different in the way we approach affection and love. I was surprised not because your advice was good but because of how well you understood me and how you catered your advice to my limited abilities to talk about these kind of things upfront. I know we all know each other well at this point, but I still get taken aback sometimes by how perceptive and sensitive you are.”

Mingi did soften slightly at that and Hongjoong breathed a silent sigh of relief. It was awkward for him to be so blunt about these types of things, but it was worth it if it wiped that sad, hurt look off Mingi’s face. Now for the scariest subject. Hongjoong took a deep breath and carefully pulled out the letter he had spent a few hours crafting last night.

“The last thing was, I wanted your advice one more time. About Yunho. I wrote this card for his birthday and I got a bit carried away with it, so I wanted to get your opinion. I know he doesn’t like very cliche things, sometimes, so I wasn’t sure…”

Mingi tilted his head curiously and reached out to take the letter, smiling down at the illustration Hongjoong had sketched out on the front before flicking it open. His smile faded slightly as he read what was written on the page and Hongjoong’s heart dropped.

“Is it bad? I knew I should have-”

“You’re in love with him, aren’t you?” Mingi interrupted quietly, taking one last look at the card before handing it back. “Are you going to ask him out with this?”

“I- wait, how did you know?” Hongjoong demanded, staring at him in surprise. “It’s just a card! Admittedly a bit soft, but still just a card!”

“Hyung, you never say things like this,” Mingi pointed out, laughing at the look on his face. “You and Yunho have been together since the beginning, I know you rely on him a lot, and...well, you look at him the same way I do. Whether you’ve noticed it or not.”

“Well, I’ve noticed now,” Hongjoong said, miffed. Since when had it been Mingi’s style to notice these types of things and not speak up about them? “Do you think I should do it? I don’t know if it’s better to wait for a while with these things or go for it? Hwa and I pined for ages but I don’t want to go through that again if I can help it.”

“I asked Yunho out before I’d even fully processed what my feelings for him meant,” Mingi admitted. “I guess I can’t tell you what exactly to do, but if you think your feelings are there for good — which you must, or you never would have told me — then I don’t really see the point in sitting around waiting, you know? And...for what it’s worth, I think waiting until the end of his birthday party to ask would be perfect timing. He’ll be relaxed and happy, then.”

“Okay,” Hongjoong agreed thoughtfully, smiling at Mingi gratefully before turning to head back to his own room. “Thank you, I’ll think it through a bit more, then.”

“Wait, hyung,” Mingi said urgently, reaching back to grab Hongjoong’s sleeve. “Whatever you decide, don’t do it halfway. If you do want to ask him out do it, but if you don’t...don’t give him this letter, okay?”

Hongjoong nodded, scanning Mingi’s determined face. Their baby had really grown up, hadn’t he, Hongjoong realized absently. Jongho was technically their maknae, of course, and he had always been their baby in a different way, but Hongjoong had always seen Mingi as one of his most vulnerable dongsaengs. Easily scared and easily hurt. Mingi gave him a lot of trouble but was also a fundamentally sensitive and selfless person who laughed through his pain so that no one else would see it. Back in their early days it had seemed like he never took anything seriously, but now Hongjoong understood him well enough to know that it was the opposite. If anything, Mingi cared too much about things and would sometimes stay up at night dwelling on minor events from that day.

Despite their Tom-and-Jerry dynamic, he had a lot of respect for Mingi — both as an artist and as a person. Hongjoong just didn’t tell him enough how important he was, and maybe that was something that needed to change.

“Mingi-ah,” he said softly, twisting his arm so he could hold Mingi’s hand the way the rapper always liked. “I know I can’t take credit for your hard work or anything, but I want you to know I’m so proud of you. You were amazing when you arrived, but you’ve really grown into a man anyone would be honored to know. I’m honored to know you.”

“You’re just feeling sentimental,” Mingi grumbled, turning away as though Hongjoong hadn’t already seen the tell-tale glisten of touched tears in his eyes. He seemed embarrassed, though, so Hongjoong let him off with just an affectionate poke to his stomach and went back to his own studio to think.

 

 

 

San looked up from the desk as his door opened, unable to hold back his laughter as Mingi danced in cutely and did a little spin in the center of the room before launching into a ridiculously bad rap about the soup they had had with their dinner.

“Stop, stop,” San begged playfully, hands over his ears. Mingi only started rapping louder at that, of course, and San decided to try another tactic. He launched himself at Mingi without warning, sending them both crashing down to the ground. Mingi twisted slightly as they fell to ensure that he would absorb the brunt of the impact, and San felt a pulse of pure love for his ridiculous, overprotective idiot of a boyfriend that he disguised by pinching Mingi’s stomach to start a wrestling war.

They played like that on the floor for nearly a full half-hour, until they were both flushed and panting from the exertion.

“Never change, Ming-yah,” San huffed contentedly, snuggling into Mingi’s neck and closing his eyes. “You’re the only person I can win against every time.”

“Hey,” Mingi protested half-heartedly. “I’m not that bad at games.”

“Whatever you say,” San laughed, comfortable and relaxed enough that he could feel himself drifting slightly. “You’ll sleep with me tonight, right?”

Mingi hummed in acknowledgement.

“Of course, but let’s move to my room instead. Yunho keeps complaining that he’s scared the top bunk will crash down on him whenever the two of us are up there.”

“Yuyu isn’t actually scared of anything, though. He slept just fine the last time — so fine he woke us up with his little snuffly not-snores, if I remember correctly.”

“Yeah, but his pout is deadly,” Mingi pointed out, making a face. “He guilted me into watching not one, but two horror movies with him for that.”

“How did you ever survive?” San mumbled sleepily into Mingi’s shoulder, thinking privately that he would be fine just going to sleep right here. It wouldn’t be good for Mingi’s back, though, so he reluctantly pushed to his feet and led the way to Mingi’s bed.

He was tired enough to fall asleep immediately, but he sensed that something was bothering Mingi so he pulled out his phone and started putting together a playlist for Yunho’s birthday instead. And sure enough-

“Sannie?” Mingi said tentatively, tucking his nose into San’s neck. “I could be described as polite, stable, and classic, right?”

San frowned. Mingi wasn’t rude or flighty, but those were not the three words San would have chosen to describe him.

“I knew it,” Mingi sighed, reading the answer on his face and flopping back against the wall. “I couldn’t be that no matter how hard I try.”

“Why would you want to, though?” San wondered. “I love you as you, you’d be so boring like that.”

“Seonghwa and Yunho are like that, though,” Mingi objected. “Well, kind of. To Hongjoong, anyways. He was kind of rambling to me earlier and he said he thinks that’s his ideal type — someone who he feels steady around.”

San sighed, mentally scolding Hongjoong even though it probably never even crossed his mind that Mingi might hope to one day be Hongjoong’s ideal type himself.

“Mingi-ah, I love our leader but he has no idea what he’s talking about. He even said he thinks that’s his ideal type, right? It’s probably because he’s only let himself consider so few people. Anyways, remember we had that whole long talk with Yuyu and Wooyoung and Yeosangie in Spain about how what matters most are shared values and compatible future goals and chemistry rather than distilling someone down into a category and picking based off of who they are on paper?”

“I guess, but-”

“No buts,” San said firmly, pulling Mingi back towards him so they could cuddle properly. “We share all of those things with hyung and he loves us so much he cried in a car about it in the middle of the night, remember?”

Mingi laughed a little, heart lightening at the memory, and wrapped his arms around San gratefully.

“Right, how could I forget. Hyung loooooooves us.”

His voice went a little uncertain at the end but San didn’t comment, instead pulling the blankets up over both of them and turning out the lights. They needed to get a good night’s sleep to prepare for the surprise party, after all.

 

 

 

 

Yunho left the small room he had been doing his birthday vlive in and headed back to their practice room happily. It had been a really good birthday so far, one of his best. Nothing special had happened, exactly, but he had talked with his family earlier, woken up to kisses and breakfast in bed from his boyfriends, and then enjoyed an unusually fun practice session with his favorite dance teacher. Everyone had been showering him with attention all day which he secretly loved even if it was embarrassing and, best of all, everyone actually seemed to be getting along well.

Ever since the whole Seonghwa-Wooyoung-San debacle there had been a noticeable tension in the air as the entire group tried to tip-toe around them and support them at the same time, all without taking sides. Today, though, there wasn’t a trace of that in the air and Yunho felt like he could fully relax for the first time in weeks. He liked being the energizer of the group but it did take a toll on him sometimes and it was a relief to see his members playing around happily with one another like there was nowhere else in the world they would rather be.

Yunho missed his family, of course, but he was an adult now and this was the family he had chosen for his future both personally and professionally. These were the seven people he wanted to wake up to every morning and grow old with. Hongjoong, Seonghwa, and Jongho didn’t yet return his feelings and he had no way of knowing if they ever would, but none of that mattered on a day like this. Yunho had always meant it when he said that his happiest times were when they were all having fun together, and a day dancing together as a team was genuinely the best present he could have asked for.

Yes, Yunho thought to himself as he reached the hallway with their practice room, today was-

“SURPRISE!”

Yunho froze in shock, hand still on the door, and stared around the transformed practice room at the beaming faces of what looked like literally every staff member that had been in the office today. A necklace of streamers was slung around his neck as he stood there, and a gold crown placed upon his head.

“We don’t actually have practice for a few hours,” their manager explained proudly. “The members arranged a bunch of games for you all to play, and there’s food and drinks at that back table for dinner — all of your favorites.”

“Thank you, hyung-nim,” Yunho said fervently, still not quite able to believe his eyes. His members had never successfully kept a secret like this from him. He could tell, too, that everything — from the games to the decorations — had been done specifically with his tastes in mind and he blushed to think of the effort they must have taken on his behalf.

He still couldn’t quite believe it as he greeted everyone in the room, accepting congratulations after congratulations until he finally made it to his members and could wrap them into a giant group hug.

“Don’t get emotional, Yuyu,” San ordered, hugging him around the waist and looking up at him with a smile. “Pick out a game for us! Let’s play until dinner, whatever you want.”

Whatever I want?” Yunho teased, knowing there were some games in the stack that both San and Mingi were scared of.

“Anything,” Mingi promised. “It is your party, after all.”

 

 

Jongho came back from fetching a new bag of ice for the cooler and paused in the doorway of the dance room, wincing at the familiar ache of love and pain that he felt when he looked at his members. Seonghwa and Wooyoung were on either side of San in one corner, not touching like they usually would but heads bent towards one another as they all watched a video nonetheless. Yunho and Hongjoong were nowhere to be found, presumably still downstairs waiting for the delivery of steak Hongjoong had splurged on in honor of Yunho’s birthday. Yeosang and Mingi were over by the food, giggling as they shared a glass of pepsi and picking the drumsticks out of the chicken container.

Jongho stood in the doorway and watched the latter two for a minute, noting the subtle ways their bodies were turned towards one another and the constant smiles playing at their lips. People liked to tease Yeosang and Mingi for being awkward with one another, and they were when their relationship was the center of attention, but they had always shared something that none of the rest of them were able to understand.

It had started back when they were trainees and used to travel home in the same direction, and continued through visits to internet cafes and convenience stores now that they all lived together. Mingi and Yeosang’s minds somehow worked on the same wavelength and it had been clear to Jongho for years now that they were completely open with one another on their long excursions, talking about everything and nothing until their deepest fears had been shared and soothed. Theirs was a quiet friendship, but a sincere one, and that bone-deep comfort they shared had evolved naturally as they moved from a platonic relationship to a romantic one.

It was cute, but...the more Jongho looked around the room the more left out he felt. There were so many dynamics at play in front of him, and he didn’t fit in any of them. The past two months he had slowly forgotten his previous concerns about being left out of the group dynamic but they had all been rushing back, recently. His relationships with Seonghwa and Mingi had made him feel like he shared something special with them that no one else could touch but now, as more and more members started dating one another, he was starting to worry that he would just be left behind once more.

Jongho had always been keenly aware of his position as the maknae of the group and entered KQ determined not to let that define him. It was part of the reason he had resisted the cuter sides of him so much initially and hated being called a baby so much. He just wanted to be one of them, to fit in seamlessly the way the others did, and be something special because of his personality rather than his strength, vocal abilities, or maknae position.

“Jongho-ah?”

Jongho startled as Seonghwa slipped the ice bag from his hand and guided them both over to the cooler, starting to pour the ice inside. Mingi came over to join them, with Yeosang splitting off to see what San and Wooyoung were up to, and Jongho sighed in frustration.

He didn’t understand why he was feeling like this, and had no idea how to make it better. Intellectually he knew they all loved him just as much as he loved them and he did share some special activities with some of them — like his English sessions with Yeosang. But knowing that he fit in and feeling like it were two completely different matters, and Jongho had no idea how to fix the latter.

Seonghwa straightened up, tossing the empty ice bag into the recycling bin and turning to help himself to another piece of cake.

“Want any, treasure?” he offered, holding a forkful up in the air. Jongho shook his head, instead wrapping his arms around Seonghwa and resting his head on his hyung’s shoulder.

“Are you okay?” Mingi asked him worriedly.

“Just tired,” Jongho murmured, not wanting to bother his boyfriends with something so trivial. This was Yunho’s day, after all, not his. “Where did Hongjoongie-hyung and Yunho-hyung go? They’ve been gone for ages.”

Seonghwa and Mingi exchanged a glance and Jongho’s stomach dropped at the confirmation of yet another secret he was the last to know about.

“Hyung is asking Yunho out,” Mingi confided. “All thanks to my advice, of course.”

“It really was, though, Mingi-ah,” Seonghwa praised, dropping one hand from Jongho’s hip to reach out and squeeze Mingi’s hand. “You did well, I never thought he’d admit to his feelings so soon let alone actually do anything about them.”

Jongho tuned out as they continued laughing about Hongjoong between the two of them, mind spinning. So after tonight, there wouldn’t be a single monogamous person in their group. If Hongjoong was taking that step it meant he might soon be ready to consider other members, and Jongho could very well become the last hold-out of the group if he didn’t come to terms with dating the other members more quickly.

And maybe it didn’t actually make sense to hold back? He was already committed to all of them on a level deeper than some people committed to their spouses, so did he really need to wait to let his romantic connection with them build more? It would just develop as things went, probably. In the meantime, though, he needed to throw off his dark mood as quickly as possible so that he could join the others in congratulating Yunho and Hongjoong on being the group’s newest couple once they came back. If Yunho said yes, of course.

 

 

 

Yunho yelped as Hongjoong yanked him into one of the extra vocal rooms on their way back from collecting the massive order of expensive steak Hongjoong had bought for them.

“Why are we here, hyung?” he asked, waving the bag of meat under Hongjoong’s nose. “We need to eat.”

“I know,” Hongjoong assured him. “I just wanted to give you your birthday card in private, and this was the best opportunity. Here, open it.”

Yunho squinted at him suspiciously for a moment before shrugging and slitting open the envelope, still too happy to question things much. The card had a hand-drawn comic of their first ever evaluation performance together, back before the other members had joined KQ, and Yunho smiled fondly down at it as he remembered those days.

“Don’t read it out loud,” Hongjoong requested suddenly, twisting his hands together. Yunho hadn’t been planning on it, but he was always up for teasing Hongjoong so he cleared his throat extra-dramatically and started to read.

“My Yunho-”

Yunho stopped abruptly, staring down at the words with burning cheeks. He and Hongjoong didn’t say things like that to one another.

“I think I’ll read it silently,” he muttered awkwardly, not daring to look up as he leaned against the wall and started to read.

My Yunho,
Happy birthday! This is the fourth time we’ve celebrated your birthday together, and I hope to be there for so many more birthdays that we lose track of the number completely. As we always say, I hope you are healthy this year, too, and don’t get sick. Especially this year, Yunho-yah.

Every day of every year I am grateful to you, but today I feel it just a bit more as I look back on our beginning and think about how far we’ve come together. Maybe I was the one who started our little band of trainees, but you were the one who started our family and I can never thank you enough for holding us together happily all these years.

I didn’t know, when we first met, how much I’d come to rely on you. At that time, meeting you simply meant that I wasn’t alone anymore, and that in itself was a reason to celebrate. In a way I think that first impression has stayed true even today, though. As long as you’re in my life, I’m never truly alone and I don’t think I’ve told you just how much that means to me. When I’m too tired or am in danger of shutting myself off from the world you’re always right there to comfort me and bring me back to myself so gently I barely notice until you’re gone without getting any thanks.

I feel guilty now, as I look back on the burdens I’ve placed on you that you shoulder without complaining. You’re always smiling but I know you get tired sometimes, too, and hide away to soothe your hurts rather than asking for help. We all have our own ways of dealing with things by now, but I want you to know that you can rely on me, too. I’m never too busy to listen, or too happy to share your sadness, or too anti-skinship to give you a hug if you need it. Or even just if you want it. You’ve always been my partner in everything, and I hope you could see me that way, too.

It’s a bit awkward to write this letter now that I think about it, but I would always regret not giving it to you now that it’s done. So I’ll finish simply with the words I promise to say more often, now and for the rest of our lives:

I love you, Yunho-yah, and I’ll forever be

Yours,
Kim Hongjoong

 

Yunho read the letter again, and then one more time for good measure, before looking up at Hongjoong uncertainly.

“Hyung, what is this?”

“I’ve been thinking a lot, these past few days,” Hongjoong said quietly, staring down at the letter in Yunho’s hand with a far-away look in his eyes, “and I started to realize some things I should have seen a long time ago. This is the letter I was so emotional about, the other day. I thought writing you a card would push the matter from my mind for good, but all it did was make me realize just how much I feel for you. I’ve never - well, you know that Hwa is my first true relationship and I hadn’t even begun to understand polyamory until a few days ago, but if you’re willing to bear with me, I want to try it. With you.”

“You’re asking me out?” Yunho stammered, clutching the letter tight in his hand to remind himself that it was real. “Hyung, please don’t-”

“I’m asking you out,” Hongjoong confirmed firmly. “If you’ll have me.”

Yunho whooped and jumped at Hongjoong, nearly knocking them both to the ground with the force of their hug.

“Of course I’ll have you!” he declared, bouncing slightly in excitement and carefully setting the letter to the side so he could hug Hongjoong properly.

He hadn’t expected the surprise party but he really hadn’t expected this and he didn’t think it would truly sink in until tomorrow. But that was okay, he realized giddily, because he would still be dating Kim Hongjoong tomorrow.

And for now, he had a new boyfriend in his arms and a massive order of meat on the desk just waiting for him to devour.

This really was the best birthday he had ever had.

Chapter Text

Jongho cleared his throat, leaning against the door to the small vocal room he had tugged San and Hongjoong into after practice and crossing his arms in an unconscious imitation of their manager during important meetings.

“I called this meeting today because we’re all dating Seonghwa-hyung-”

“Oh my god, it’s like a meeting of Seonghwa-hyung’s harem!” San realized, laughing. “Get it, hyung.”

“You have more of a harem than Seonghwa does,” Hongjoong pointed out dryly.

“Huh,” San said, wheel’s spinning in his head. “I do, don’t I? And now Yuyu and Wooyoung and Mingi are tied with me, no thanks to you, hyung... Hey, Jongho-ah, wanna join forces? I’ll join your harem if you join mine.”

“How could he join your harem without you joining his?” Hongjoong asked, nose wrinkled in confusion.

I called this meeting today,” Jongho repeated firmly, glaring them both into silence. “Because Seonghwa-hyung’s birthday is coming up and I think we should prepare something for him like we did for Yunho hyung.”

“Do you think my harem has plotting sessions, too?” San wondered aloud. “I should talk to them about it before my birthday.”

“I think it loses its charm if you have to ask them,” Hongjoong advised him seriously.

Guys,” Jongho complained, a tad desperately. “The next person to say the word ‘harem’ gets a finger flick on their forehead, okay? I know I’m the most mature one here but this is embarrassing, honestly.”

“Har-”

“Actually,” Hongjoong interjected loudly, speaking over San and distracting an infuriated Jongho. “I was thinking we should spend the full day together as a group as much as possible, and then each of us can maybe do something separately on another day? He really loves spending time with everyone all together, and with our schedules we haven’t spent much time together outside of the company lately.”

“Oh,” Jongho said, frowning slightly as he realized he had probably been overthinking the entire thing. It was his first time celebrating a boyfriend’s birthday, and he had spent a couple hours last night trying to come up with good ideas to make the day special for Seonghwa. But Hongjoong was right — Seonghwa always made an effort to be present with everyone and play with them, and had even mentioned missing hanging out with them all together while they were planning Yunho’s party. “Yeah, that’s probably the best idea. I guess this meeting can be adjourned, then?”

“Aw, don’t pout, maknae-ah,” San laughed, poking Jongho’s cheek. “This was the best meeting I’ve ever been to. Except that company one at the meat restaurant where we just ate the whole time and let Hongjoong-hyung do the talking.”

“Thanks a lot for that,” Hongjoong muttered, still annoyed. “I barely got to eat anything at all.”

“Yes, yes, we all feel very sorry for you,” Jongho dismissed.

“Maddox-hyung told me he and Eden take turns buying you meat every week, so don’t try to play that card on us,” San added. “Wait, Jongho-ah, why were you so worried about hyung’s birthday? Do you have something special planned?”

Jongho shrugged with forced casualness, carefully not looking either of them in the eye.

“It’s a surprise,” he answered breezily. “It’ll take a couple hours, though, so I’ll probably tell him about it on his birthday and then we can go on our next off day. Anyways, I have things to do and places to be so I’m leaving.”

“Has he always been that cute?” San asked, flopping sideways into Hongjoong’s lap and smiling fondly at Jongho’s flustered, abrupt departure. “He’s so focused and serious, sometimes, I just want to kiss his cheeks.”

“Well, I can’t relate to the kissing bit,” Hongjoong laughed, “but, while he’s always been cute, I will admit I am appreciating it a bit more these days. Maybe you should take some lessons from him, petal, you’re losing your position as the honorary maknae to the real maknae.”

“Hyung!” San hissed, blushing furiously. “You can’t just say that?”

“What, petal?” Hongjoong asked, bewildered. “You asked me to say that, remember? And there’s no one here to hear, anyways.”

“I need warning, though!” San protested. “It makes my heart flutter if you just pull it out like that.”

Hongjoong hummed in acknowledgement, patting San’s hair and tucking that piece of information away for future use.

“Whatever you say, petal. We’d better get going, though, I think manager-nim ordered food for us and there won’t be any left if we wait too long.”

 

 

 

San looked up from his phone as the door to his and Yunho’s room opened, hoping there weren’t any last minute work issues to deal with. Practice had been long, today, and then there had been a slew of meetings about their future schedules as everyone worked overtime to shift gears and adapt to the new situation. San had been exhausted after all of it, both mentally and physically, and had bolted down dinner before cocooning himself in Yunho’s bed to relax for a few hours. He did still need to workout later, but he had hoped to take some time to rest first without having to hold any more business conversation.

All thoughts of business fled San’s mind, however, as Yeosang tripped into the room, coming over to the bed and playfully poking San’s shoulder several times.

“Saaaan-ah, help me,” he groaned, poking a couple more times before giving up and climbing on top of San for a cuddle.

“Yeosangie, are you tipsy?” San checked, watching fondly as Yeosang fussed with his position before pulling the covers up over them and snuggling down as though he were about to nap. “Isn’t it a bit of a random day to drink?”

“People always say that drinking helps them be creative so I ran an experiment,” Yeosang explained. “I drank a little and then tried to work on this song for Hongjoong but the alcohol just made me kind of sleepy and restless at the same time.”

“So you want to take a nap?” San guessed, melting inwardly at the cute tone Yeosang was talking with.

“I want cuddles,” Yeosang corrected with an adorable attempt at a stern glare. He wriggled in San’s arms to make his point and San tightened his grip to trap Yeosang more firmly against himself.

“Well, this is a nice surprise to come back to,” Yunho joked, entering the room and pushing them over so he could join. “Do you ever even use your own bed anymore, San?”

“I used it last night!” San protested. “Because someone put their sheets in the laundry and then ditched me to go sleep with Wooyoung.”

“Yunho washed his sheets?” Yeosang gasped, clapping a dramatic hand over his mouth. “We should have a moment of silence for this rare, but glorious, event.”

“I wash my sheets,” Yunho complained quietly, wrinkling his nose in complaint when both San and Yeosang snorted at that.

“When was the last time you washed your sheets without a reminder from Seonghwa-hyung?” Yeosang asked, holding an imaginary microphone below Yunho’s mouth.

San laughed at Yunho’s silence, unable to resist kissing his sulky pout.

“To be fair, hyung has an alarm on his phone to remind us every two weeks,” he pointed out. “So Yuyu probably doesn’t have time to remember to do it himself before hyung tells him to.”

“Wooyoung makes me change mine once a week,” Yeosang groaned, wrinkling his nose at the memory. “Ever since the Jelly Incident.”

San shuddered instinctively at the memory.

“I still don’t understand how you never noticed that you were literally sticking your feet into a pile of jelly when you got into bed every night.”

Yeosang shrugged.

“I sleep curled up so my feet don’t go down that far. It serves Mingi right, anyways, for trying to steal my bed.”

“Mingi was traumatised,” Yunho laughed. “He still pulls back the covers of any bed he gets into to make sure there’s nothing there. It makes it very difficult to prank him.”

San tilted his head thoughtfully at Yunho. There was something about the way Yunho was talking that was particularly...bouncy. Like something really good had happened.

“Why are you so happy?” San demanded, giving Yunho his best puppy eyes. “I knew Hongjoong asking you to help him with dance was a cover-up. Did you go on a date?”

“He really did want help with dance!” Yunho insisted. “But...we did kiss a little after.”

“Did you seduce him?” Yeosang teased.

“No! He fell asleep in the car on my shoulder and then, when I woke him up, he just...kissed me.”

Yeosang and San exchanged a gleeful glance, unused to Yunho being so shy about anything to do with relationships, and pounced on him in a unified tickle attack that Yunho easily rebuffed by rolling out of the bed and onto the floor.

“Come back,” Yeosang demanded, hanging over the edge of the bed so precariously that San had to grab the seat of his pants to stabilize him. “The whole point of coming here was to get cuddles.”

“Wow, you love me so much,” San said sarcastically, heaving Yeosang back into the bed and moving over so Yunho could join them. Yeosang ignored San, snuggling down half on him and half on Yunho, and closed his eyes to go to sleep.

“Well, I guess we’re napping now,” Yunho laughed, turning his head on the pillow to face San. “Was he drinking?”

San nodded and explained Yeosang’s ‘experiment’ to Yunho, yawning almost before he had even finished. He hadn’t been that sleepy before, despite how tired he had been, but something about the warm weight of Yeosang on top of him and Yunho’s fond smile made it hard to keep his eyes open. Maybe a short nap wouldn’t hurt...

 

 

 

 

 

Mingi startled as the door to his room burst open and Seonghwa jumped in, landing in a mock-Taekwondo pose and pointing at Mingi dramatically.

“Quick, make a rap!”

Mingi stared at him.

“What? Why?”

“Wooyoung and Jongho made a couple rap,” Seonghwa pouted, dropping his pose and going over to sit on Mingi’s bed, “and Hongjoong refused to make one with me, and San’s sleeping with Yunho and Yeosang, so I figured we could make one instead.”

“You know you could just ask me out, hyung,” Mingi teased, getting up to join him on the bed. “What even is a couple rap, though? Were they rapping about their relationship?”

“No, they just dissed me a bunch,” Seonghwa admitted mournfully. “C’mon, Mingi-ah, remember we made that one rap that was a socio-political criticism of the train network when I first joined the company?”

Mingi choked on his laugh.

“That was a masterpiece, for sure. Honestly, manager-nim is a hero for keeping a straight face during that. Hongjoong-hyung didn’t stop laughing for days.”

“We could be Mars and Lyaah again,” Seonghwa joked, giggling at the memory of their old stage name candidates. “I bet Atiny would love a remake of one of our old creations, anyways.”

“Oh my god,” Mingi groaned, burying his face in his hands. “Mars is fine, but I absolutely refuse to use Lyaah, even for a joke. And with that rap...please never bring it up again.”

“That was the OG, though,” Seonghwa complained, adding a tiny, aegyo, “flex.”

Mingi raised one disappointed eyebrow.

“Hyung, you’re being weird,” he whined plaintively, valiantly not melting at Seonghwa’s pout. Outwardly, anyways.

“Okay, anyways,” Seonghwa moved on briskly, shaking himself and flushing slightly in embarrassment. “I actually had something serious to talk about with you. I feel like it’s weird to be saying this rather than to Jongho directly but I wasn’t sure and you’ve dated him for longer...”

“Is this about Jongho wanting to ask Yeosang out?” Mingi asked.

Seonghwa nodded.

“It makes you feel a bit uncomfortable, too, right? He really wanted to take things slow before and now he’s suddenly starting a new relationship practically every week...if he’s happy about it of course I’m glad for him, but-”

The door opened and they both startled, relaxing when Wooyoung entered.

“What are you talking about?” he asked, looking between the two of them curiously. “You look serious.”

“We were talking about Jongho chasing relationships like he’s a lion hunting down its prey,” Mingi explained. “Honestly, hyung, I’ve been a bit worried about him, recently. I don’t know if it’s exactly related to Yeosang, but he’s been unusually clingy to me? I’m worried he feels insecure about something.”

Wooyoung frowned.

“I thought that was just because we’re dating now so he might be open to more skinship.”

“I think that’s part of it in your case,” Seonghwa agreed, “but there’s been an underlying desperation recently, like he’s fighting for every moment of time he can get.”

Mingi started to agree but the door opened once more and Jongho came in.

“Were you talking about me?” he asked suspiciously in the sudden silence, glancing between the three of them.

“We were just sharing what you told us earlier,” Mingi said awkwardly. “About asking Yeosang out.”

“What about it?” Jongho asked, a note of defensiveness creeping into his tone as he leaned against the desk. “I know you don’t approve, but-”

“Who said I didn’t approve?” Mingi interrupted, bewildered.

“You had the same look you wore when I asked Wooyoung out. And that turned out to be the right decision, so-”

“Are you sure you’re not rushing things a bit, baby?” Seonghwa tried gently, trying to steer the conversation to safer territory. “I know you’ve always had a soft spot for Yeosang, but nothing would change between you two if you just wait a bit to be more comfortable.”

“I’m perfectly comfortable,” Jongho replied stiffly.

“You’re clearly not, though,” Wooyoung said, exasperated. “Someone’s going to get hurt if you keep pushing yourself to date all of us only to realize you’re not ready and change your mind afterwards and I swear to god, Jongho, if it’s Sangie I’ll-”

“What if it’s me?” Jongho demanded, standing up and angrily swiping away a frustrated tear. “What’ll you do then?”

He glared at their shocked faces for a moment before turning and storming out of the room.

“Well, that went well,” Wooyoung sighed, glancing at the other two.

“I still don’t think it’s a good idea,” Seonghwa said, staring after Jongho. “But at the end of the day it is his choice. I’d better go to him. Do you two want to stay here for now? I know it was an accident the way it happened but I don’t think we should have all had that conversation with him at the same time.”

Wooyoung and Mingi nodded silently and watched as Seonghwa went to go find Jongho.

 

 

Jongho half-walked, half-ran down the hallway, vision blurry with tears, and stumbled into someone coming out of one of the bedrooms. It was Yeosang, of all people, and Jongho instinctively clung tightly to his arm. He honestly wasn’t sure why he had snapped so quickly, or why he had been feeling so emotional and raw recently, but he suddenly felt like everyone was moving full speed ahead and leaving him behind in the dust. Now that Hongjoong and Yunho were dating every single one of them was dating multiple people and it was only a matter of time before even more relationships were created.

Dating Mingi, Seonghwa, and then Wooyoung had helped alleviate some of the loneliness Jongho had been feeling before but he was worried that, once they settled into whatever new equilibrium they were building towards, things would just go back to the way they were before and Jongho would continue to be on the outside. The thing was, Jongho didn’t know why he was so scared. It wasn’t like his hyungs didn’t love him, or didn’t try to spend time with him outside their crazy schedules, and surely it was greedy to want anything more?

Telling himself that just made him feel even more unmoored and desperate, though, and he had started to feel like he needed to ask Yeosang out or risk having that relationship slipping away from him. They already only really spent time together for work — either during schedules or for their English homework — and, as much as Jongho enjoyed that, he felt like Yeosang was slowly slipping out of his grasp since the older was so occupied with everyone else, his songwriting, and his burgeoning relationships with the 99z.

Wooyoung’s comment about Jongho changing his mind had struck home, though, even if he didn’t want to admit it. It’s not that he had any doubts about the strength of his relationship with Yeosang, exactly, but Yeosang had always felt untouchable to Jongho in a way that took longer to overcome and he wasn’t sure that he was totally there yet. He knew he would be some day, but he still felt a bit anxious at the thought of actually dating him immediately. But if he wasn’t dating Yeosang...how was he supposed to make sure he didn’t lose him, either?

And now, raw from what had felt like a rejection from all three of his boyfriends, the sight of Yeosang in front of him was almost painful. He clung to Yeosang tightly, opening his mouth to ask if they could spend time together before noticing Yunho and San had followed Yeosang out of the room and closing his mouth abruptly. All three of them were in workout gear, clearly about to use the limited set of athletic equipment they had in their living room. More importantly to Jongho, they were exchanging secret little glances and touches as though they were in their own little world.

Jongho dropped Yeosang’s arm like it was burning hot, suddenly feeling very, very alone. Seonghwa came up behind him, tugging gently on Jongho’s sweatshirt, and something in Jongho just snapped for the second time in a row. He turned away from a surprised Yeosang and launched himself into Seonghwa’s embrace, shoulders shaking with confused sobs.

“Come here, sweetheart,” Seonghwa murmured, tugging him towards the hyungline bedroom. Jongho followed blindly, barely registering Seonghwa asking Hongjoong to leave, until a thought struck him.

“Hyung,” he said through the tears still dripping down his face, “Wooyoungie-hyung and Mingi-hyung-”

“Don’t worry about them now,” Seonghwa interjected. “They’ll talk to you later, I’m sure. They have each other for now, and I’m sure they’re just feeling sorry and worried about you.”

 

 

“This is so bad for my heart,” Mingi groaned, picking nervously at the frayed hem of his sweatpants and frowning after Seonghwa. “Literally and figuratively. What do you think the stylists will do if my hair goes grey prematurely?”

“You’d look good with grey hair,” Wooyoung encouraged, running an appreciative hand through Mingi’s hair. “But anyways, grey hair can still be dyed.”

“I guess,” Mingi agreed, still watching the door distractedly and pulling Wooyoung into his arms for a hug. The two of them lapsed into silence, torn between a mixture of guilt and worry.

“I really messed up, didn’t I?” Wooyoung sighed after a few minutes, burying his head in Mingi’s chest. “I made him cry.”

“Maybe that wasn’t the best phrasing to use but you couldn’t have known enough was going on for him to snap over it,” Mingi soothed. “You two have always talked bluntly like that with one another, and...honestly I forgot to worry about how this all might make you feel, so I’m sorry about that. Especially since you’ve only been dating him for, what, a week? It’s fair to feel like he’s moving too fast into another relationship.”

“I guess,” Wooyoung agreed doubtfully. “I’m mostly just worried about him. I think he’s just been so confident with me that I forgot how easily he can be hurt, too. I am second-guessing everything, though, now. I’m glad you made him tell me that he wanted to go slow, Mingi-ah. I’m worried he might not have said anything if you didn’t push him, and that-”

Mingi shook his head.

“He wouldn’t do anything physical he isn’t comfortable with, don’t worry, Young-ah. He might be reluctant to talk about it but he’s pushed me away plenty of times when he wasn’t in the mood. He just pouted really cutely and hugged my arm and cuddled a bit instead. Really, Young-ah, I know he was upset and we should all definitely apologize and talk to him about it, but I’m kind of glad it exploded now rather than later. If he was crying about it now just imagine how bad it would be later.”

Wooyoung hummed in acknowledgement, hugging Mingi tight.

“I love you a lot, Mingi-ah.”

Mingi blushed and went to answer, only to be interrupted by the door opening yet again and Hongjoong poking his head in.

“Do you guys happen to know anything about why Jongho is sobbing in my room?”

Wooyoung stiffened.

Sobbing? He was crying a bit earlier but he definitely wasn’t-”

“I think something happened in the hallway,” Hongjoong explained. “And he calmed down a bit even in the time it took me to grab my laptop and leave. Seonghwa has it well in hand, don’t worry. Just...is it something I should know about?”

“I don’t think it’s something we can tell you about,” Mingi answered apologetically. “Jongho would be mortified and we’ve already upset him a bit, so…”

Hongjoong nodded and started to leave before hesitating.

“Are you guys busy?” he asked tentatively. “Can I hang out in here for a bit?”

“You can even join us if you like,” Wooyoung offered mischievously, just to see Hongjoong’s reaction.

“I think I’m good here,” Hongjoong replied primly, pulling the desk chair over. “Oh, no, you don’t have to move! Just stay there, I’m fine, honestly. Anyways, what did you guys do today?”

Mingi stared at him in surprise.

“You were there half the time, weren’t you? You know what we did today.”

“Well, yeah, I guess,” Hongjoong said, stumbling over his words. “But I wanted to hear about it from, like, your perspective. How are you feeling about the new choreography? Do you actually like the reality idea manager-nim pitched or were you just trying to be supportive? Did you see any cool posts from Atiny? Although I know you didn’t have much time to search...Oh, speaking of free time, are you-”

“Okay, okay!” Wooyoung laughed, exchanging a glance with Mingi and silently agreeing to just go along with the sudden bout of questions instead of questioning it as they usually might. The attention felt nice, actually, and he could tell Mingi felt the same from the way his boyfriend sighed in almost inaudible contentment underneath him. “Mingi, you go first.”

Mingi hesitated before shrugging and starting to talk. Wooyoung tucked the covers up around them a bit more as he listened, thankful for the distraction even if he couldn’t help worrying about Jongho. Had he really been sobbing?

 

 

“Are you feeling a bit better now, baby?” Seonghwa asked once he was pretty sure that Jongho’s tears had stopped. They had been lying under the covers of his bed for several minutes, now, Jongho wrapped around his torso exactly like the koala bear they always teased him about being. Seonghwa couldn’t see Jongho’s face clearly because it was still tucked into his neck, but his pillow wasn’t getting any damper under his head and the terrifying, heart-wrenching sobs from earlier had slowed to occasional sniffles.

“I’m fine, hyung,” Jongho sighed, turning his face to nuzzle slightly into Seonghwa’s shoulder. “I was just being an idiot.”

“Don’t talk about yourself like that,” Seonghwa chided, confused. Jongho was still clinging onto him as though his life depended on it, but his voice sounded dismissive and almost cold. “Being sad doesn’t make you an idiot, no matter what the cause was. And I’ve never seen you cry like that since...well, since ever, I think. What happened, treasure?”

“Can we talk about it later?” Jongho pleaded. “It’s so embarrassing, hyung. Ugh, Hongjoongie-hyung is going to yell at me so much later.”

Seonghwa tightened his arms protectively.

“Why would he do that? I won’t let him, don’t worry. You have been spending a lot of time together since your accident but I thought you were enjoying it. Has he been nagging you too much?”

“No, no, it’s nothing like that,” Jongho protested hastily. “He just helps me quiet my mind, sometimes. Like he asks me to help sing a guide for him or whatever and then afterwards he makes me sit with him for a while and talk about what was bothering me. But he said I’m not allowed to dismiss my feelings. I did tell him he was a hypocrite for that advice but then he just started moaning to me about the trials and tribulations of being a leader and what disrespectful dongsaengs he has and it’s less annoying to do what he says than deal with all of that.”

Seonghwa smiled.

“You sound like you kind of enjoy ‘dealing with all of that,’ so to speak.”

“It’s alright,” Jongho shrugged dismissively, pausing for almost a full minute before adding in a small voice, “we only ever used to talk about work, really, so it’s nice. It’s still ostensibly about work, of course, but he looks after me well.”

“If you don’t want to talk with me about it, do you want to talk to him?” Seonghwa offered, a bit surprised at the quiet satisfaction in Jongho’s voice. He had known that Hongjoong and Jongho were a lot closer these days, but something about what Jongho was saying sounded so intimate in a way that was entirely unexpected for the two members who talked about their feelings the least.

“No, hyung,” Jongho said quietly, pulling back to look at Seonghwa shyly. “Can we just watch something first or something, please? I’ll tell you later, I promise.”

Seonghwa hesitated, looking down at Jongho’s face pleading face and sighed. He was a bit worried Jongho might try to gloss over whatever was going on in his head if they waited too long, but he also couldn’t bring it upon himself to purposefully dig at something that had made Jongho fall apart like that.

“Alright, baby, whatever you want,” he agreed, pulling out his phone and handing it over to Jongho. “Why don’t you choose what to watch?”

Chapter Text

Wooyoung woke up slowly, snuggling deeper into whoever was cuddling him as he slowly remembered where he was.

“Hyung?” he checked, too lazy to open his eyes.

“Hmm?” Seonghwa answered, sounding wide awake. Too awake, Wooyoung thought grumpily. Although...

“Were you thinking about Jongho?” he asked sympathetically. He, Mingi, and Seonghwa had talked with Jongho individually and apologized for the way the conversation had gone. Jongho had shrugged their apologies off and claimed that his breakdown had just been caused by stress and pressure. None of them had been able to get much more out of him, and Wooyoung suspected that Seonghwa was still overthinking everything he could have said to try to get Jongho to tell him the real reasons.

While Mingi had clung to Jongho in the aftermath of their conversation, Wooyoung had followed Seonghwa to his room. They couldn’t really tell anyone else what was going on with Jongho without breaking his confidence, and Wooyoung couldn’t leave Seonghwa to mull over things alone without anyone to talk things through with. Seonghwa had let Wooyoung join him in bed — supposedly for a nap — but hadn’t seemed to want to talk and now here they were, with Wooyoung the only one who had apparently gotten any sleep.

“I was thinking about him a little,” Seonghwa acknowledged slowly. “But I thought about other stuff, too.”

Wooyoung hummed in acknowledgement, not really sure what to make of that vague answer, and finally opened his eyes. He turned his head to look up at Seonghwa but was distracted by some tan-colored smudges on Seonghwa’s clothing.

“You got makeup on your shirt,” he mumbled tiredly, pawing at the foundation that had rubbed off across the upper right shoulder of Seonghwa’s sleep shirt.

You got makeup on my shirt,” Seonghwa corrected gently, stroking Wooyoung’s sleep-mussed hair back from his face.

Wooyoung sniffed skeptically. His face hadn’t been anywhere near there, had it? He always either slept on someone’s chest or their arm, not the space in between.

“Do you have proof?”

“What- how would I have proof?” Seonghwa sputtered. “You fell asleep on top of my phone, too, so I had to stare up at the ceiling twiddling my thumbs until you woke up. Why would I have gotten makeup on my armpit, anyways?”

I don’t know what you get up to in your free time,” Wooyoung said cheekily, enjoying the way Seonghwa’s face was getting progressively more red. “Maybe you enjoy- eek!

Wooyoung giggled madly as he squirmed away from Seonghwa’s tickle attack, falling onto the floor in his haste to escape and bruising his tailbone.

“Are you okay?” Seonghwa asked worriedly, leaning over the side of the bed and reaching for him. “Come here, Woo-ah.”

Wooyoung obeyed silently, burying his face back into Seonghwa’s chest. Seeing Seonghwa looking down at that with loving concern etched into his beautiful face had been an unwelcome reminder of just how little progress he had made in getting over his hyung, and he needed a moment to push his feelings back down again. Seonghwa remained quiet as well, rubbing the bruised spot on Wooyoung’s lower back gently and humming random OST melodies under his breath. They lay like that for several minutes, until Seonghwa eventually took a deep breath and pushed them both into a sitting position.

“Young-ah?” he asked softly. “Can I tell you something?”

“Of course,” Wooyoung replied quickly, not sure where this was going but hopeful nonetheless. Ever since his ill-advised confession to Seonghwa, they hadn’t really had many serious conversations and he missed being his hyung’s confidant. Yunho’s birthday had broken some of the ice between them, but Wooyoung was impatient for them to return to normal despite the strain it put on his heart.

“It’s about you asking me out,” Seonghwa explained. Wooyoung froze.

“Is it bad?” he asked cautiously.

Seonghwa frowned thoughtfully and Wooyoung’s heart squeezed unpleasantly.

“I- In another world, I’d hope you would be a little happy,” Seonghwa confessed eventually, staring down at his hands. “But...realistically, I think you’ll probably be pretty mad. You have to know at some point, though, and I’ve put it off for too long, so-”

“Just tell me,” Wooyoung interjected quietly, not sure he could take this beating around the bush. “Bluntly, please.”

Seonghwa straightened his shoulders and nodded.

“I do have feelings for you,” he said, watching Wooyoung carefully. “And I wasn’t entirely honest with you about why I said no, that time. I- okay, this part can’t be blunt, Young-ah. Just please bear with me and listen to everything before reacting.”

Wooyoung nodded his agreement, still reeling from the suddenness of Seonghwa’s confession. He had asked for bluntness, but Seonghwa hardly seemed happy about what he was saying and Wooyoung wasn’t sure what to do with those contradicting signals.

“I- honestly, I was really scared, when you asked me out,” Seonghwa started. “In retrospect I think my relationship with Beomseok left me really messed up, and I didn’t realize quite how much until you asked me out. You make me feel so much, Young-ah. You’re aggravating and adorable and sweet and affectionate and funny and so incredible at so many things that it takes my breath away. Loving you makes me feel like I’m falling, and it scared me, so I said no.”

“I don’t understand,” Wooyoung admitted, when no further explanation followed. He reached out to hold Seonghwa’s shaking hands, not willing to process the fact that Seonghwa might love him until he knew where this was going. He couldn’t risk that horrible feeling of heartbreak again. “Don’t you feel those things for Hongjoong, Jongho, and San?”

Seonghwa hesitated, turning his hands over in Wooyoung’s grasp to study them as though they held the answers he was looking for.

“Not really? Hongjoong is ornery and reluctant with his affection, like a cat — it always has to come on his terms, even though he’d go to the ends of the earth for me in a heartbeat. At the same time he’s so safe. He’s always been my rock through everything, so I never feel unsteady with him. Jongho is...well, you know how Jongho and San are. Overprotective and possessive at one moment and then shy and embarrassed the next, even if the way that manifests is totally different between the two of them. Jongho is so serious about being a good boyfriend, and San is so genuinely gentle to everyone that everything with them just feels so soft.”

“And I’m not genuine?” Wooyoung asked, voice cracking with devastation. He had always thought Seonghwa was one of the few people who saw him for who he truly was, saw all of his vulnerabilities and softer sides and still loved him for all of it, but-

“Of course you are!” Seonghwa yelped, shaking his head hurriedly. “That’s not- that’s the thing, it’s not logical. It was hard for me to believe in the beginning that you were as kind as you were and yet so charming at the same time, but you were such a shy kid at the same time and so hurt and all I wanted to do was wrap you in blankets and protect you so I didn't think about it much. I think it’s just...I had already started to see you romantically, recently, but I wasn’t really ready to admit it yet, you know? And then you asked, and suddenly I was seeing you as a fully grown man instead of the teenager who used to cry in my arms because he was too scared to appear on camera, and I panicked. I was so scared and confused and it felt exactly like how I felt when I was with Beomseok and my mind couldn’t handle that so I said no. I know it wasn’t logical, I know, Young-ah.”

“Your feelings don’t have to be logical to be valid,” Wooyoung pointed out quietly, mind spinning. He had unintentionally hurt San a lot in the early days of their relationship by reacting instinctively rather than taking time to process what San had been saying, and he was determined not to repeat the same mistakes with Seonghwa, but...he couldn’t help feeling hurt. Both that Seonghwa didn’t think of him as stable and reliable, and that this was only just now being explained to him.

Mostly, though, Wooyoung felt guilty. Partly because Seonghwa had never talked about Beomseok since the horribly stressful break-up and Wooyoung had naively assumed that meant his hyung would be okay, and partly because he felt like he hadn’t been as good a person as he had hoped these past few years if Seonghwa was uneasy about him. He knew he had a fiery temper and could sometimes hit someone’s weak spots when his teasing went too far, but he had put a lot of effort into working on that and genuinely thought he was getting better. Seonghwa was clearly trying to soften the blow of his words as much as possible, but Wooyoung could read between the lines and the idea that Seonghwa could see any similarities between him and that abhorrent excuse for a human being was just-

“Please stop thinking whatever’s going on in your head,” Seonghwa said quietly, tugging at Wooyoung’s hands. “I don’t know how to explain this properly, but I really don’t think any of those things about you. It’s just...I’m so messed up from him, Wooyoung. I want someone like you, I-I used to dream about someone like you when I was a kid, to be honest. But I thought Beomseok was all of that and then he turned out so bad and my self-esteem was so low and I convinced myself that I had been delusional and could never be with someone like the people I used to imagine. I think I mentally always blocked off the possibility of dating you because I told myself I couldn’t keep the interest of someone who’s so extroverted and charming like you are. But all of that — it’s not about you, it’s about me and my brain being scared to approach anything remotely like Beomseok. The ways you and him are similar are the 5% of things that were good about him, not any of the negatives. Even your temper is never scary. He got mad quickly, but it was cold. You’re always so warm with everything you do, even in anger, and I could never be scared of you no matter what you did. Because I know you, Wooyoung, even if my instincts are still scared. I regretted it after saying no, you know, because the time since has been far worse than any of my fears. But...you were so sad, and I didn’t know how we could build a relationship on this type of foundation anyways, so I didn’t know how to say anything without hurting you even more.”

Wooyoung listened silently, Seonghwa’s words bringing back something he remembered an old school friend saying a full year after breaking up with a manipulative ex. He had been walking her home when she had tearfully confided in him that she sometimes worried she’d never find someone who could share the interests her ex had, and that she still had to refer to a list her friend had written down of all the reasons why their relationship had been toxic and she should definitely not call him no matter how much she wanted to. Wooyoung had been completely blindsided and had no idea how to react aside from comforting her as best as he was able, but the conversation had stuck with him for a long time.

Seonghwa’s situation was obviously completely different from his friend’s, and Wooyoung was sure that any nostalgia he might have had from that relationship had been long erased by Hongjoong, but Wooyoung could see elements of similarities in the battle between logic and instinctual fear that both Seonghwa and his friend had experienced. He was still hurt and confused, but keeping that in mind lessened the sting of it all. And if there really was a possibility that Seonghwa loved him in return...maybe it was selfish of Wooyoung, but the heartbreak he had gone through after Seonghwa said no that first time had taught him just how deep his feelings ran for his hyung and he would quite literally do anything for the chance to prove to Seonghwa that he could be a stable and loving boyfriend as well as anyone.

“What do you want to happen next?” Wooyoung asked finally, pushing aside his messy feelings for now so that he could sort through them later and trying to focus on Seonghwa. His hyung was still shaking he noticed belatedly, wrapping his arms around Seonghwa and hugging him tightly until the shivers ceased. “You said you regretted saying no...does that mean that you’re open to exploring something? Or were you just explaining why it can’t work between us.”

“The former,” Seonghwa said slowly, staring up at him, “but...aren’t you mad?”

Wooyoung shrugged, looking away. He didn’t really know how to describe what he was feeling, he just knew he still loved Seonghwa with everything he had.

“I’m upset,” he acknowledged, keeping his hold on Seonghwa tight, “but...hyung, I’ve loved you for a long time. As a friend for years, and as more than that for months. I’m upset, but it’s a drop in the water compared to how much I love you and how grateful I am to you for everything. So if you want to-”

“I want to,” Seonghwa said firmly. “The only reason I said no is because of him, and I don’t want him to have power over me like that. I won’t let him. When I said no to you before it was rash and based on instinct, but now… I’ve been thinking about this for ages, and I even talked about it with Yeosang. It’s a conscious decision, now, and I’m sure of it.”

Wooyoung stilled at the mention of Yeosang and then tossed that little tidbit into the enormous mountain of things he would need to process properly later. He had more important things to do for now.

“Hyung, do you want to go slow?” he asked cautiously, not sure what the way Seonghwa was staring at his lips meant.

“No,” Seonghwa shook his head. “I haven’t done very much sexually ever since him, and I want- will you show me what it can be like when you love each other? If you’re not comfortable with that, I unders-

Wooyoung cut him off with a kiss, dry but firm, and pulled back to cradle Seonghwa’s face in his hands.

“Tell me when to stop,” he said seriously, skin prickling with nerves and eagerness. “I mean it, hyung, I can’t do this if I don’t know that you’ll tell me when you need to stop.”

“I will,” Seonghwa promised. “But...I feel really safe right now, Wooyoung. Like nothing can touch us.”

Seonghwa’s eyes were shining with calm satisfaction and Wooyoung couldn’t help leaning down to kiss him again. And again, and again, the giddy happiness finally starting to sink in as he realized that he realized that this was actually real. He smoothed his hands down Seognhwa’s sides luxuriously, not quite able to believe that he had free license to touch now. They had always shared a lot of skinship, of course, but he had never been able to worship Seonghwa with the reverence he deserved. Now, though, he had an entire evening ahead of him to do just that.

“Just let yourself feel good, hyung,” he murmured in between kisses. “I’ll take care of you, I promise.”

 

 

 

 

 

The backtrack in Jongho’s earphones cut off and he frowned, turning to look at Eden questioningly through the glass of the recording booth. Eden patted the seat next to him, gesturing to the fresh Americano in front of it the way he always did when he wanted to Talk. Jongho sighed, slid off his headphones, and made his way over as slowly as possible without quite crossing the line over into rudeness.

“Are you hiding from something, Jongho-ah?” Eden asked bluntly. “Or someone?”

“No,” Jongho replied, widening his eyes innocently. “What gave you that idea?”

“Well, I don’t know,” Eden replied sarcastically. “Maybe it’s the fact that you’ve been in the studio even more than Hongjoong this past week. Maybe it’s the way you flinch whenever your phone rings and make excuses to leave when any of the others are scheduled for a session. Or maybe it’s-”

“Okay, okay, I’m hiding from something,” Jongho interrupted, cheeks red. “It’s not a big deal, hyung.”

Eden didn’t dignify that with an answer, instead just taking a sip of his tea and waiting for Jongho to cave as he always did.

“You remind me of my dad,” Jongho grumbled, stalling.

“I’ve been reading parenting books,” Eden informed him proudly. “I made all of Edenary do it, too. Maybe your dad read the same ones, too.”

Jongho stared at him, momentarily distracted by that horrifying thought. As far as he knew, Eden wasn’t currently looking to start a family, so that meant…

Why?

Eden rolled his eyes.

“For you lot, obviously. Mostly for the trainees, to be fair, but I’ve learned plenty of tips that apply to your illustrious members as well.”

“Like what?” Jongho asked, intrigued despite himself.

“Like how not to let your kid distract you when you need to have a serious conversation,” Eden said pointedly, crossing his arms and raising an eyebrow at Jongho.

Jongho sighed, looking away and trying to figure out what to say. He obviously couldn’t say anything about the dating aspect of everything, but Eden wouldn’t be satisfied with a half-hearted excuse, either. It was rare that any of their Edenary hyungs sat them down like this, and rarer still for Eden to do it. They usually tended to try to make the studio a safe space of sorts, where the members could all just sink into the music they were making and forget about everything else for a little while. Jongho knew a couple of his hyungs had had breakdowns in the studio and been comforted accordingly, but he had never had any reason to feel sad or frustrated while there. Until now.

“I’m just lonely, hyung,” he confessed eventually, draining the rest of his Americano and standing up to gather his things. “It’s really not a big deal, I’m making a lot out of nothing. I’m sorry for taking up so much of your time, I’ll be more respectful in the future.”

“That’s not-” Eden started, but Jongho was already gone. He left as quickly as he could with his still-not-fully-recovered leg, not stopping until he had reached the parking garage below their building. He leaned against the wall next to it, panting, and resisted the urge to bury his face in his hands.

Now all he was left with was one more person to avoid.

 

 

 

Having nowhere to go, Jongho typed out a sincere, but bland, apology to Eden — carefully ignoring the several missed calls and messages from him — and made his way home hoping that the others would be busy. Their schedules had been packed the past few days even without his impromptu extra recording sessions, to the point that none of his boyfriends had dared to question him any further about his breakdown because they didn’t want him to lose out on any of the already-too-little sleep he was getting.

Tonight, though, their schedules had ended early and he was pretty sure all of his hyungs had been planning to eat dinner together. He had begged off claiming yet another recording session and had been grateful when Eden backed him up, although in retrospect it was clear Eden had only helped with that excuse because he had been hoping to talk to Jongho himself.

Jongho took a deep breath as he stood in front of their apartment door before squaring his shoulders and entering, hoping that the others had already eaten and dispersed so that he would be able to sneak to his room without anyone noticing. Of course he couldn’t be so lucky, though.

“Ah, Jongho-ah,” Yeosang greeted, snagging Jongho’s arm as he passed the kitchen and pulling him in. “We were waiting for you to eat.”

The other six members were all in the kitchen as well, in various states of helpfulness, and every single one of them froze as Jongho reluctantly followed Yeosang in. For a second he was sure that Eden had told them about what he said, but then Hongjoong’s expression cleared and the rest of the room melted back into action as they finished dishing out the takeout they had ordered.

 

 

 

“Try this,” Yunho offered, holding a piece of soondae up to Jongho’s mouth. Jongho frowned at him skeptically but accepted the bite of sausage nevertheless. He was always weak for soondae and wasn’t about to resist an extra portion, even if he didn’t understand why everyone seemed so eager to feed him tonight. The thought that Eden might have told them crossed his mind several times but, if that were the case, wouldn’t they be talking to him more? They weren’t ignoring him at all, but they weren’t exactly focused on him, either, and the conversation swirled around him easily without him saying a word.

Dinner dragged on, Jongho unnerved by the weird balance of overly affectionate behavior and simultaneous lack of attention from his hyungs, and Jongho couldn’t get up from his seat fast enough once the food was finished.

“We’d like to talk to you in the living room, Jongho-ah,” Hongjoong said quietly but precisely, the rest of the room suddenly quiet around him.

Jongho froze, one hand on the door as he tried not to panic.

“Take a deep breath,” Seonghwa instructed gently, coming up from behind and wrapping his arms around Jongho. “It’s just us, you’re not in trouble, okay?”

Jongho nodded numbly and made his way into the living room. He started to climb into one of the massage chairs so he could curl up by himself but Seonghwa pulled him towards the center of the couch instead.

“Are you okay sitting here?” Seonghwa asked quietly. “You don’t need to touch us if you don’t want to, but-”

Jongho gently pushed Seonghwa down onto the couch and climbed into his lap without a word, carefully ensuring that the bulk of his weight was on the couch and tucking his head into Seonghwa’s neck. He was pretty sure he knew what this was going to be about, but that just made the anticipation worse.

Wooyoung and Mingi sat down on either side of them and the others gathered around, close enough that Jongho could touch all of them without even extending his arm fully.

“I don’t think there’s any point beating around the bush,” Hongjoong said tightly, looking up at Jongho from his cross-legged position on the floor, “Since I’m pretty sure you know what this is about. Edenie-hyung was really worried about you, you know.”

Jongho felt a stab of guilt at that but he didn’t answer, not knowing what to say.

“Jongho-ah,” Seonghwa sighed. “Baby, I know we’ve let you down, but please talk to us. Let us fix things, sweetheart, we’d do anything to-”

“You haven’t done anything wrong, though,” Jongho pointed out dully, confused at the turn this conversation was taking. “You look after me and feed me and kiss me, what else are you supposed to do?”

“We were talking about it before you came home,” Mingi said slowly, ignoring the last part of Jongho’s answer, “and collectively realized that almost everything we do with you is related to work, somehow.”

Jongho stiffened, not having expected for them to land on the thing that had been upsetting him the most. He always felt like he was the one watching everyone else go off on excursions in pairs and trios during their off periods, and it was one of the first things that had made him worry about being left behind. After all, at some point work would start to dictate their lives less, and then where would he be? Trapped watching the rest of them go and come back happily while he was left behind?

Of course, Jongho had known from his trainee years that it was possible for him to not even get along with anyone in his future group and counted himself lucky that that had never been an issue for him. The eight of them truly were a family, with all the flaws and mistakes that that entailed, but he had never doubted that they loved him. Just...that love hadn’t been quite enough, recently, and Jongho didn’t know what to do with that. It was selfish of him to demand more than they were willing to give, so he restrained himself from asking for attention and let them spend time with him whenever they wanted. Which wasn’t that often, but that was okay, he was dealing with it.

“It’s not okay, though,” San said sadly, making Jongho flinch with horror as he realized he had said some of that out loud. “Makdoongie, I love hanging out with you. I’ve been missing you lately and I should have just done something about it instead of worrying that you were too tired and wouldn’t want to go out.”

“Jongho-ah,” Wooyoung said carefully, “That stuff we were talking about the other day — was this also at the root of that?”

Jongho hesitated, and then nodded, stealing a glance towards Yeosang out of the corner of his eye and shuddering at the memory.

“I’m really happy for everyone,” he explained slowly. “I am, I’m just... scared. I don’t want to be left behind.”

Wooyoung’s face crumpled in understanding and he flung his arms around Jongho tightly, nuzzling into his shoulder.

“And I was so mean! I’m so sorry, baby, I’m so, so, sorry. Hyung will make it up to you, I promise. ‘M gonna take you out every day, wherever you want. Where do you want to go first, darling, hm?”

“Wherever you want?” Jongho answered awkwardly, feeling a lot like a deer in the headlights with all of this sudden attention. “Hyung, you don’t have to-”

“Ah,” Hongjoong cut him off, wagging a warning finger at him. “Don’t finish that sentence, Jongho-ah, we want to, and we will. Unless you explicitly ask us not to, we’re all going to be spending a lot more time with you these days, okay?”

Jongho nodded, not really sure whether to believe it or not. He had always known they loved him and would baby him to the ends of the earth if he let them, and of course they would feel guilty that he had been feeling like this for so long, but he couldn’t honestly believe that anything would change in the long-run and he felt like he needed to accept that.

They did know him really well, though, Jongho realized as he watched their faces and saw just how accurately they had guessed what was going on with him from the few words Eden must have said. They all seemed almost angry, though, and he just needed to check…

“Are you mad?” he asked in a small voice, nervously glancing up at Hongjoong. He had been doing so well with his leader-hyung recently, and he really hoped this hadn’t walked back all of their progress.

“I’m not mad, baby,” Hongjoong assured him, reaching out to squeeze his knees. “I’m upset about the situation, and worried about you, and I think you should probably apologize to Eden and maybe spend a bit of quality time with him after this, but I’m not mad at you. I always thought I was doing the right thing, working on songs at night, but I should have done more with you outside of work.”

“I like working on songs with you, though,” Jongho couldn’t help pouting,”I don’t want to stop.”

Hongjoong grinned suddenly, face clearing.

“Believe me, I know how much you like all the extra singing and compliments, Jongho-ah,” he said, laughing at Jongho’s sudden blush. “But there are other ways for us to spend time together, both at home and just casually out and about.”

“We’ll prove it to you,” Yunho said suddenly, watching Jongho intently. “How much we love spending time with you, outside of work as well. I know it might take some time for you to believe, but we’ll show you one day at a time. We can build new habits and traditions together, Jonhgo-ah, so long as you tell us when we’re hurting. You- maybe I don’t say this often enough, but you’re so important, baby. Eight makes one team isn’t just for show, there isn’t a single one of you I could do without even if I don’t always show that. I would do anything for you, makdoongie, you-”

Hyung,” Jongho hissed, embarrassed despite how pleased he was. Yunho stopped and studied him before smirking to himself.

“I’ll just shower you in praises another time, when it’s only the two of us, shall I?”

Hyung!” Jongho repeated, cheeks flaming. “That’s not the point!”

“I think that’s exactly the point,” Yunho said, sitting back on his heels and looking very satisfied with himself. “You’re going to get more attention than you know what to do with, Jongho-ah.”

“Come watch a drama with us?” Mingi requested tentatively, gesturing to himself, Wooyoung, and Seonghwa. “We’re so sorry, Jongho-ah, we should have looked after you better. No, don’t protest, we should have.”

Jongho followed them quietly, glancing back towards Yeosang’s still-silent form on the couch, and let them settle him on Mingi’s bed with them all tucked around him. He wasn’t sure what to expect, given that he had never really hung out with all three of them alone at once like this since they had started dating, but...it was really nice.

They let him pick which drama to watch, and focused on him the entire time — asking his opinion on certain scenes, laughing at his predictions, feeding him snacks, and occasionally pressing kisses to his forehead and nose that he pretended to swat away but secretly enjoyed. He did feel a bit better as the night wore on and their attention never wavered, even if he wasn’t sure how things would settle down after this.

He still felt overly clingy and sensitive, and slowly admitted to himself that that probably wasn’t going anywhere soon until he got used to spending time with them enough that he wasn’t constantly wondering when he would next see them. So he let Mingi and Seonghwa kiss him goodnight, thoroughly but tenderly, one after another while Wooyoung watched with wide eyes, and then stood with Wooyoung while the other two combined Jongho and Mingi’s mattresses on the floor to make a bed for all four of them to share that night.

He fell asleep slowly, sandwiched in between Mingi and Seonghwa with Wooyoung draped across his chest, letting the secure weight of the three of them around him loosen the worry that had been constantly thrumming under his chest the past few days. He wasn’t alone for tonight, and maybe he wouldn’t have to be at all if the rest of his hyungs carried through on their promises like they always did.

 

 

 

 

 

“Yunho?” San whispered, climbing down from his bunk and peering down at Yunho’s pillow to see if his boyfriend was still awake. “Yuyu? Are you asleep?”

Yunho opened his eyes and flinched back instinctively at the sight of San’s face two inches away from his own before sinking back into his pillow with a sigh.

“Well I’m not now,” he grumbled.

“Good,” San said happily, climbing into the bed and wrapping himself around Yunho contentedly. “Aw, don’t give me that face, we both know you’re impossible to wake up when you’re actually asleep. You were just pretending.”

“Bboing,” Yunho said seriously, tweaking San’s nose. San wrinkled it in distaste and rubbed his face against Yunho’s sleep shirt to get rid of the sensation.

“Yuyu,” he repeated once he was finished. “I think we should go to Gretna Green.”

Yunho stared at him.

“What’s that? Is this some alien joke again? Because I swear, San, the last time we did one of those that green goop-”

“It’s a place,” San interrupted, frowning in annoyance and rubbing his eyes. He was too old for this nonsense. “It’s in Scotland, Yunho. Obviously.”

“Why do we have to go there?” Yunho asked tiredly. “There are plenty of places that start with G here in Korea. Anyways, we can’t travel internationally right now. May I suggest Gwangju?”

San sighed dreamily at the thought of meeting Yunho’s family as a boyfriend before shaking himself and getting back on track.

“You may, but my point is that we should elope. I was researching it and Gretna Green is a famous place to elope.”

Yunho snorted.

“For who? British nobles from three centuries ago?”

“Well...yes, actually,” San admitted. “But people still do it today!”

“Don’t you want to wait until you have six other boyfriends for us both to elope with?” Yunho pointed out, yawning and turning to shove his face into San’s neck. “Wait, is this the marriage talk? Because-”

“I just wanted to rant about how dramatic our boyfriends are,” San complained, half-heartedly pushing Yunho away in annoyance. “You’re no better. Maybe I should just elope alone. I bet Hongjoong-hyung would come with me. He was muttering something about grey hairs earlier...”

“Yes, you can both have fun eloping alone and being each other’s witnesses. You’ll say ‘I do take thee, no one, as my lawfully wedded wife,’ and then Hongjoong can go up and say it, too, and you can both go back to your own individual honeymoon suites while the rest of us go to Gwangju and play together.”

“That’s not even the right vow,” San complained, voice wavering. “You’re too mean, Yunho, I’m going back to my own bed.”

“No, wait, are you actually upset?” Yunho asked, pulling back and squinting at San through the darkness of their room. “San-ah, I thought you were just joking.”

“I was,” San sniffed, not sure why he was so emotional all of a sudden, “and then I remembered how Wooyoung and Seonghwa were so somber even if they’re getting together, and Jongho’s been lonely for so long but just suffered in silence, and Mingi’s still not sure that he’s lovable and perfect just the way he is, and — well, I think Hongjoong-hyung and Yeosangie are okay, but apparently we’re not very good at telling when people are secretly not okay, right? I just want everyone to be happy again, but-”

“They will,” Yunho promised, folding San into his arms and hugging him close. “C’mon, San-ah, you know they will. Of course we’ve made mistakes but we could all also work on communicating a bit better when we’re upset, and it’s not any one person’s fault. We’ll work on it as a team, and get to a better place, just like we always do.”

“Only someone still in the honeymoon phase could say that,” San said sulkily, cuddling Yunho back aggressively and biting his neck just on principle. “You’re too optimistic.”

“I’m very sorry,” Yunho apologized dryly. “Whatever can I do to make you forgive me?”

“Maybe if you pet my head and promise to cuddle with me all day tomorrow I’ll forgive you,” San decided, wondering if he had the bargaining power to add anything else. “And take Jongho to Noraebang with me on the next off day?”

“If you insist,” Yunho laughed, opening his arms so they could settle into their usual snuggling position. “Now come here and let’s go to sleep.”

“You have to pet my hair,” San reminded him stubbornly.

Yunho rolled his eyes and pulled the hair at the back of San’s head in retaliation before starting to play with it.

“Thank you, Yunho-ah,” San breathed out a minute later, already half asleep. “I love you forever.”

“Goodnight, San-ah,” Yunho whispered back, feeling a sudden surge of fondness for the ridiculous bundle of human he held in his arms. He wasn’t ready for any type of marriage talk, and the logistics for them would be a nightmare, but maybe in a few years... he smiled giddily to himself and hugged San tighter. “I love you to Gretna Green and back.”

Chapter Text

Jongho lay awake in the dark, listening to the steady breathing of his boyfriends around him and trying to shake the image of Yeosang’s drawn face from the group intervention last night. He had woken up about half an hour earlier with the imprint of a dream he couldn’t remember at the forefront of his mind and hadn’t been able to stop thinking ever since. It was kind of annoying because it was the middle of the night and he could feel how tired he was in his bones but, at the same time, it felt a bit invigorating.

For the first time in weeks Jongho felt like he was actually making progress sorting through his tangled feelings. The others were right that almost everything they did with him was related to work in some way, shape, or form. To some degree that was natural because work consumed so much of their lives and Jongho himself was a bit of a homebody when they had free time, but it was exactly that that had been making him feel so insecure about his place with them and the realization felt revolutionary.

When Jongho thought about relationships he was thinking about marriage and happily-ever-afters, and that necessitated a certain level of connection that he wasn’t actually sure he had with all of them. Of course they loved one another, but if work didn’t exist would they all still spend time with him? Or would he just fade into the background as someone they used to know?

With Mingi and Seonghwa he had never really been as worried about that (until his other insecurities had spiraled to overwhelm even those previously-secure relationships) — both of them had always gone out of their way to look after Jongho, as a roommate in Mingi’s case and as the designated team mom in Seonghwa’s case. With everyone else, though, Jongho had never even admitted to himself how concerned he was. He knew where the feelings lay on his side, but a relationship had to go two ways and he just didn’t know if the others wanted to put that effort in for him when they were already so close to other members of their group.

Before the previous night, Jongho hadn’t understood his instinctual hesitation about leaping into a relationship with Yeosang and had viewed asking his hyung out as just that — a leap of faith, with the implication that his reservations were irrational. Now, though, Jongho felt like he was finally understanding what had held him back, and it wasn’t irrational at all.

Yeosang saw all of his vulnerabilities and was unfailingly there for Jongho when he needed him most while Jongho simultaneously protected Yeosang with everything he had, but they understood one another so perfectly that they rarely actually sat down and talked. And for Jongho, having deep conversations was the foundation of every romantic relationship he had ever considered. He needed to verbally share his entire self and know all of the deep, ugly parts of another person’s heart in return in order to feel fully comfortable with them, and he wasn’t willing to date someone he didn’t feel totally secure with them in that way.

For his three boyfriends, he had already developed that bond by the time they started dating. Wooyoung and he had talked endlessly when they were roommates on their tour, curled up under the covers of one of their beds with the sheets held over their heads as they talked about their hopes and dreams for the future, and he and Mingi had had similar conversations almost nightly over the years that they shared a bunk bed. With Seonghwa it had happened a bit differently during their trainee years. Seonghwa had been incredibly insecure about his vocals and had ended up coming to Jongho for help singing, while Jongho had felt so alone after leaving his previous company and relied a lot on Seonghwa for reassurance and praise. They had forged a deep bond through those shared insecurities and had never really looked back since.

Jongho had no doubts he would get to the same place with Yeosang — and with Hongjoong, San, and Yunho, for that matter — but he just wasn’t quite there yet and maybe that was actually okay. It would just take some effort, and all seven of his members had made it very clear during their mini intervention that they were ready and willing to put that effort in. Because they wanted him, Jongho thought to himself happily, smiling involuntarily into the dark.

Although...thinking about last night just made him think about Yeosang’s face one more time and Jongho couldn’t help but be a bit worried. Yeosang was often quiet, of course, but he had seemed unusually reserved throughout the whole conversation and had barely looked at Jongho the entire time. It was worrying, and Jongho honestly didn’t know if he would be able to go to sleep as long as his hyung’s lost face was still in his mind. Jongho sighed and gave up, squirming his way out from under Wooyoung and padding quietly over to Yeosang’s room.

 

Yeosang was sleeping in a tight ball in Wooyoung’s bed and Jongho’s heart clenched a little at the sight, remembering the times he used to sneak into one of his hyung’s beds for the night if he was missing them a bit extra during a break or family visit.

He only hesitated a moment before sliding under the covers to spoon Yeosang, rubbing his shoulder lightly first so it wouldn’t be too much of a shock.

“Jongho?” Yeosang mumbled, clearly still half asleep.

“Go back to sleep, hyung,” Jongho whispered soothingly, pulling the covers up more securely over them and making sure Yeosang was tucked in.

“But...why are you here?” Yeosang asked, turning slightly in Jongho’s arms to study his face. “Is everything okay?”

“I wanted to ask you that,” Jongho explained hesitantly. “But honestly, hyung, go to sleep. I didn’t mean for you to wake up so much, I just didn’t want you to be alone.”

“I don’t mind being alone,” Yeosang demurred. Jongho hummed noncommittally.

“That’s why you’re in Wooyoungie-hyung’s bed, right?”

“Go to sleep, makdoongie,” Yeosang said after a telling pause. “It’s late.”

“It’s early,” Jongho corrected. “And you should tell someone in the future. I bet Hongjoong-hyung would have been fine with you joining him.”

Yeosang shrugged, pursing his lips and turning more fully into Jongho’s arms so that he could press his face into Jongho’s chest.

“Hyung,” Jongho asked, starting to get a bit concerned. “What’s going on? Don’t say nothing, please, you can trust me I promise.”

“That’s the problem,” Yeosang sighed. “Of course I trust you, Jongho-ah, I wish you didn’t even have to question that. I just… I think I’m a good boyfriend, but I don’t think I’ve been a very good friend to everyone. I’m not, like, upset or anything, exactly, I’m just thinking things through.”

“I don’t understand,” Jongho admitted. “How could you not be a good friend? You’re the best, hyung, I like how you quietly look after all of us.”

“I just don’t always think it’s good to be the quiet one in matters of love,” Yeosang frowned. “It's a bit existential, but I don’t want to let life happen to me. I just don’t know how to take charge more and still be...me. I don’t know, I just feel like such a fool. I thought I was showing my love for everyone well even though I’m not good at talking about my feelings, but-”

“Hyung, it’s not your fault,” Jongho interrupted earnestly. “Please don’t blame yourself for my own insecurities. And anyways, I was worried about the same thing for all the members, even Sannie-hyung who expresses his feelings too much.”

“I guess,” Yeosang agreed doubtfully. “But I shouldn’t only mark myself in comparison to others, right? You and I…”

He trailed off and Jongho watched him with his heart in his mouth, not sure exactly where that sentence was going. Eventually it became clear that Yeosang had no idea how to continue and Jongho tightened his grip on him, not quite brave enough to push.

“You know I love you, right, hyung?” he whispered eventually, half-thinking Yeosang had fallen asleep.

“I love you, too,” Yeosang replied immediately, voice breaking on a yawn. “I’m sorry I can’t-”

“It’s okay,” Jongho soothed guiltily. It was his fault Yeosang was up to begin with, anyways. “I know you’ve always needed time to sort out your feelings when you’re upset, I don’t need to understand right now. And we really should go to sleep. I didn’t mean to wake you up to talk like this, I just wanted to be with you.”

Yeosang yawned again.

“I don’t mind,” he insisted, burrowing down against Jongho. “Sleep?”

“Yeah. G’night, hyungie.”

“G’night. And thank you, makdoongie.”

Jongho squeezed him in response and listened as Yeosang’s breaths slowly evened out once more before heaving a relieved sigh. He hadn’t really gotten any concrete answers, but having Yeosang in his arms helped soothe his worries enough for him to finally relax enough to slip into sleep.

 

 

 

Wooyoung woke up and immediately panicked as soon as he registered that Jongho wasn’t underneath him anymore.

“Calm down, he’s fine,” Mingi laughed. “You look deranged, Young-ah.”

“You can’t really blame me after the past couple days,” Wooyoung pointed out, running an overwhelmed hand through his hair as his heartbeat slowed down. “Where are they?”

“I think Jongho left in the middle of the night — he texted us that he was going to Yeosang so we wouldn’t worry — and then hyung and Hongjoong-hyung are scheming. They claimed Jongho for the morning since we don’t have work until late.”

Wooyoung hummed in acknowledgement, automatically patting the blankets for his phone until he found it. There was a text from Yeosang and he frowned in confusion, heart freezing as he read the message.

Come over once you wake up? I miss you.

“Wooyoung?”

Mingi’s voice came to Wooyoung as though he was hearing it through a fog and he looked up at him shakily.

“Yeosang misses me, Mingi,” he whispered.

“O-kay?” Mingi answered, sounding confused. “So go to him?”

Wooyoung shook his head, his earlier panic returning.

“You don’t understand, Mingi-ah, he never says things like that unless he’s been pushed to the absolute limit.”

“It’s not that weird?” Mingi argued cautiously. “Are you sure you’re not reacting a bit over-dramatically?”

Wooyoung shuddered at that word, realization crashing down, and something crumbled inside of him.

“That was exactly the problem with Seonghwa!” he groaned, feeling sick. “He was scared of me because I’m too loud and dramatic, and none of the rest of you had any idea how much I loved you. I’m too much, and not enough, and-”

Wooyoung’s voice broke off helplessly and he buried his face in his hands, shaking.

“What on earth are you talking about?” Mingi asked, wrapping around him and squeezing tightly. "Where is all of this coming from?"

“I’m such a bad boyfriend,” Wooyoung gasped, wincing as memories flooded him. “Or maybe just a bad person. Oh my god, Mingi, why on earth did you let me date you? Don’t you see I’ve hurt literally everyone in our group already? I remind Seonghwa of his abusive ex and he had to work up his nerves to date me, and I was stringing poor Yeosangie along for literal years and practically rubbed dating all of you in his face, and Hongjoongie-hyung thought I didn’t respect him or like him outside of work, and even right after dating Jongho I hurt him and made him feel like he’s not the literal light of my life, and I did such a bad job praising you all these years that you thought I was lying when I said you were handsome, and San was crying for practically a month because of me when we first started dating, and Yunho thought I was going to dump him for Sangie because he felt like a leftover, and- mmph!”

Wooyoung stared at Mingi above the hand clapped firmly over his mouth with teary eyes, feeling like a dam of negativity had broken inside of him. He really had hurt everyone, hadn’t he? Only some of his friends outside the group were safe, like Yeonjun and Changbin, but maybe that was just because they didn’t spend enough time together for him to hurt them seriously?

“Wooyoung, stop,” Mingi ordered firmly, ensuring Wooyoung’s full attention was on him before continuing. “All of those were situations in which someone had pre-existing insecurities that had nothing to do with you — and that you didn’t know about — which got unknowingly triggered by your actions. Sannie was figuring out his sexuality, which would have been turbulent no matter what you did and he’s had nothing but praise for how much you supported him once you realized what was going on. You also pined after Yeosang for years, and were so insecure about it that you never dared to tell him — he’s not the only one who was hurt there. My insecurities were entirely self driven after growing up in a society that told me I was ugly so often that I internalized it. You’re a powerful person, but a few years of praise can’t overcome a lifetime of nasty comments just like that. And for Jongho and Yunho, in addition to their own insecurities, navigating a relationship with multiple people when our lives are crazy was going to be a mess no matter what. It’s a miracle you’ve made it through as smoothly as you have so far, honestly. Of course you’ve made mistakes, but that doesn’t make you a bad person, just human. And you’re not too dramatic, or too much or not enough — all of those things make you Wooyoung, and that’s why we love you.”

“That last bit sounds oddly familiar,” Wooyoung pointed out suspiciously. “Are you sure you’re not quoting someone?”

“It sounds familiar because you gave me nearly exactly the same speech less than a week ago,” Mingi informed him dryly. “So you’re not a bad person, just maybe a bit of a hypocrite.”

“Oh,” Wooyoung said numbly, turning that over in his mind as Mingi rolled his eyes at him.

“Yeah, ‘oh.’”

“I still feel like a rotten person,” Wooyoung admitted after a moment. “Just...a rotten person who had the wind taken out of their sails.”

Mingi huffed a laugh.

“Well, I guess that’s progress,” he shrugged, scooping Wooyoung into his arms and carrying him determinedly towards the room he shared with Yeosang. “Now go, you have a boyfriend who misses you.”

“Put me down,” Wooyoung hissed, squirming in Mingi’s tight grip to no avail. “Yeosang won’t stop teasing me for ages.”

“You’re right, I won’t,” Yeosang laughed, putting down his phone and watching in amusement as Wooyoung was dumped into his lap. “Wait, were you crying?”

“No,” Wooyoung said hastily, trying to discreetly wipe his face on Yeosang’s shirt.

“Yes,” Mingi corrected mercilessly. “Buckets and buckets of tears, Sang-ah. I nearly drowned in his sadness.”

“Right,” Yeosang said faintly, gripping Wooyoung tightly around the waist to prevent him from launching himself at Mingi. “What happened?”

“I-”

Wooyoung hesitated, studying Yeosang closely. He looked tired, Wooyoung realized suddenly, concern pushing aside his previous, more self-centered, worries.

“Are you okay, Sang-ah?”

“I’m fine,” Yeosang muttered awkwardly, looking away. “Last night just made me...think about some things. Jongho and I talked a bit about it last night, though.”

“Did you actually talk about it or did you talk about talking about it,” Mingi asked suspiciously, sitting down on the edge of the bed and instinctively reaching out for Yeosang’s hand.

“Some of both,” Yeosang admitted eventually. “But I don’t really know what I’m feeling, anyways.”

“You’re being unusually blunt,” Wooyoung noted, watching Yeosang curiously. In all the years they had known one another, Yeosang had never taken initiative in these types of conversations without being pushed a lot first. “And you said you missed me?”

Yeosang shrugged, blushing.

“I’m just trying to be more open about feelings,” he said, stumbling over the words and avoiding eye contact with both of them. “I think it might be good.”

Wooyoung melted inside at that, suddenly feeling so fiercely proud that he couldn’t stand it.

“You’re such a good person,” he sniffed, suddenly feeling teary all over again and peppering kisses all over Yeosang’s face. “So pretty and cute and kind and hard working and generous and-”

“Okay, I’m going to go now,” Mingi laughed, watching the two of them fondly. Wooyoung’s heart clenched in worry and he shook his head, reaching out for Mingi.

“No, don’t be alone, I want you too.”

Mingi and Yeosang both stared at him in surprise at the sudden desperation in his voice and Wooyoung shrank back slightly.

“Okay, seriously, what is going on?” Yeosang asked. “Mingi’s secure enough in us to let us have some alone time without freaking out, you know he is.”

Wooyoung hesitated and Mingi sighed, kissing him on the forehead.

Talk to him,” he urged, getting up from the bed. “Anyways, Yunho said he prepared something for me so I won’t be alone.”

“What?” Wooyoung asked, intrigued at the sudden blush on Mingi’s cheeks. “Why are you so flustered?”

“San and he agreed to do an online pilates class with me,” Mingi explained, bouncing with excitement. “And then he somehow prepared an indoor sauna? I don’t know how that’s going to work, but I don’t really care.”

“We need to up our game,” Wooyoung told Yeosang seriously, making a note to properly reward Yunho and San later for making Mingi look so giddy with happiness.

Yeosang agreed, watching Mingi all but skip out the door towards Yunho and San’s room, before turning back to Wooyoung.

“So what’s going on?”

 

 

Wooyoung watched Yeosang nervously after telling him everything he had confessed to Mingi earlier that morning, albeit more calmly and thoroughly, wondering what his reaction would be. A part of him felt bad for dumping all of this on Yeosang when his instincts said that his best friend was sorting through his own internal mess of feelings, but he also knew that Yeosang sometimes needed days before he was ready to talk about whatever was bothering him and would have been more hurt if Wooyoung kept something like this from him.

“You know,” Yeosang said eventually. “I talked with Seonghwa yesterday, before everything went down, and he was telling me how happy he is with you. He said you’ve been so patient and loving with him that he’s overwhelmed but overwhelmed with softness and it’s so different from before that he feels like he’s floating. I don’t think...like, of course it’s going to be complicated, but you’re doing really well, Young-ah. You’re not the one who hurt him, and I think you’ve done more to help him heal than you realize, just by being you. He never thought he would be able to date someone who pushed him in the ways you do, and yet here he is feeling about as good about your relationship as it’s reasonable to expect given the circumstances. Like, he trusted you enough to have sex for the first time since Beomseok. That’s huge, Wooyoung.”

“I guess,” Wooyoung admitted, softening at the memory. “I think he was really happy after, too.”

“Of course he was,” Yeosang laughed. “You’ll make it work, Wooyoung, just keep going steadily.”

Wooyoung hugged him tightly, nerves settling a little further. He still felt guilty and gross, but Yeosang had never lied to him and things couldn’t be as bad as all that if Yeosang said it was okay.

“Are you sure you don’t want to talk?” Wooyoung checked, worrying he had been too selfish. “I- I’m kind of a mess, I know, but I want to know what’s going on with you, too.”

“I’m sure,” Yeosang said hurriedly, looking faintly nauseous at the idea of talking about his own feelings. “But...I was thinking about testing things out with Hongjoongie-hyung? Like I mentioned I want to be more bold, and I was getting so impatient about getting with the others but then I was too anxious to actually do anything about it, and I want to try to be a bit braver. I don’t really have anything to lose, right?”

“Of course not,” Wooyoung agreed loyally. “Just a hot boyfriend to win. Or, well, not win, but you know what I mean. Do you want help? I could try to feel out hyung’s feelings about you, or-”

Yeosang shook his head.

“I want to at least attempt to do it myself,” he said in a small, but firm, voice. “I really want to try, even if it takes me a long time. Not that I don’t appreciate the help! Just, I want to see if I can.”

“I’m not offended, I’m proud,” Wooyoung assured him truthfully. “My baby is growing up so well.”

Yeosang gagged in disgust and Wooyoung laughed happily, somehow feeling a lot lighter than he had that morning even though nothing had really changed. For all that Yeosang was overly kind and gave people the benefit of the doubt far more than Wooyoung himself was willing to, he had an impeccable moral compass and wouldn’t fake comfort with someone for anything. The fact that Yeosang was acting so free and secure in Wooyoung’s arms despite knowing him inside and out after years of friendship had to mean something.

“Are you still trying to seduce him?” Yeosang asked curiously. “You’ve been...playful around him, recently.”

Wooyoung shook his head, wincing at the thought of Hongjoong.

“No, I think I have a lot to work on, first. You’re a good boyfriend, though, you deserve him.”

Yeosang sighed, tipping forward to rest his head on Wooyoung’s shoulder for a moment.

“Okay, that’s it,” he said firmly, disentangling from a surprised Wooyoung and pointing at the bed. “Take off your shirt and lay down.”

“Why?” Wooyoung asked curiously, obeying nonetheless and resisting the urge to laugh at the adorably imperious look in Yeosang’s eyes. A giggle escaped despite his efforts and Yeosang frowned.

“Stop laughing!” he complained. “I’m being sexy.”

“Sang-ah, that’s not how you do it,” Wooyoung groaned. “We’ve done so many lessons on this!”

“That sounds like a you problem,” Yeosang informed him imperiously, scanning him up and down before climbing into the bed to straddle his hips. “Clearly you’re not a very good teacher.”

Wooyoung swallowed thickly, forgetting what he was going to say as Yeosang stripped off his own shirt with a suddenly-intent look in his eyes and leaned down to pin both of Wooyoung’s arms above his head with one hand.

“You’re going to stay just like that and listen to me for a while, Wooyoung,” Yeosang ordered firmly.

“Am I?” Wooyoung asked, suddenly breathless. Yeosang wasn’t exactly the commanding type of person but, well, Wooyoung had always been ridiculously soft for him and this was really working for him.

Yeosang hummed, barely even acknowledging him. They both knew Wooyoung would do anything he asked, anyways.

“You know,” Yeosang started, ghosting a hand over Wooyoung’s ribs and watching as he shivered at the light touch. “I’ve always loved your body. The muscles of your biceps, the v of your chest, the long line of your throat, the dip down the center of your abs…”

He stroked each curve as he mentioned it and Wooyoung gulped, hands instinctively reaching up to touch in return only to be pinned back firmly in place. What had gotten into Yeosang today? He had never been like this with Wooyoung before.

“But what I like most,” Yeosang continued casually, a tinge of possessiveness flaring in his eyes, “Is that it’s mine. Your body and sexiness only work because they’re you, Wooyoung. Every muscle and curve is a sign of how hard you work and how passionate you are about your art. Whenever I’ve had doubts or my self-confidence has wavered, it’s always you who have been there to support me and build me back up again. I love your arms because they’re the ones that hold me whether I’m sad or happy, and your chest because it’s the one I lean against when I’m tired. I love your throat because it’s the one I bite when you’re being particularly infuriating, and your lips because they’re the ones that kiss me.

All those years that I pined after you I was never really jealous until the very end because the parts of you that matter the most don’t have anything to do with sex, and you’ve always opened up to me so genuinely and beautifully. I wish you could see that more, Young-ah, but it doesn’t matter because you’re ours now and we’ll keep proving it to you every day for the rest of our lives. You chose us and we chose you and all of us knew exactly what we were getting into and I think there's something beautiful in that. You’re the reason there’s an ‘us’ to begin with, and we’re so grateful for that, Young-ah. The reason I can’t get enough of touching all of this is because it’s you.”

“You have to stop or I’m going to cry,” Wooyoung told him, blinking furiously. He didn’t know whether to focus on Yeosang’s words or his roving hands or the fact that he was firmly pinned shirtless to his bed by his very attractive boyfriend, and was feeling completely overwhelmed. Plus maybe a little turned on.

“You’re a great boyfriend, and an even better best friend, and I love you a lot,” Yeosang finished firmly, leaning down and hovering so close above him that their lips brushed on every other word. “Okay?”

“Okay,” Wooyoung breathed out, melting into the bed under Yeosang’s firm grip and staring up at him with wide eyes. “And you win, by the way, that was somehow definitely very sexy.”

“That?” Yeosang laughed, biting at Wooyoung’s lower lip roughly for no apparent reason. “I guess you’d better brace yourself, then, Young-ah. I haven’t even started.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Wait,” Seonghwa blurted, grabbing Hongjoong’s shoulder. “Are you sure this is a good idea? It feels...a bit greedy.”

“How?” Hongjoong asked, bewildered. “We’re just hanging out with Jongho?”

“Well, yeah, but...I mean, I’m dating both of you and you’re both just going to lavish attention on me for several hours. Isn’t that a bit self-centered?”

“Seonghwa, repeat after me,” Hongjoong said sternly. “I deserve good things.”

Seonghwa stared at him incredulously.

“Hongjoong, repeat after me,” he deadpanned, “I will practice what I preach.”

Hongjoong made a face and sniffed imperiously, moving past him to enter Yeosang’s room and coax Jongho out of bed.

“I’m comfy, though,” Jongho argued, hugging an amused Yeosang tightly. “Hyung doesn’t want me to leave, right?”

“I’ve had to go to the bathroom for the past thirty minutes but he won’t let me out of bed,” Yeosang told Hongjoong and Seonghwa. “Please rescue me.”

“You didn’t tell me that,” Jongho huffed, reluctantly freeing Yeosang. “Wait, what’s that smell?”

“It’s your reward if you get out of bed,” Seonghwa laughed, showing him the bag of savory breads he and Hongjoong had woken up early to collect from a famous bakery they had been wanting to try for a while. Jongho perked up at the promise of food and slid out of bed to inspect their offerings. Seonghwa kissed his temple fondly and showed him the options, noting the vulnerability in Jongho’s face despite his bold words.

Their maknae had always been like this, feigning confidence when he felt exposed and wasn’t sure how to deal with it, and it never failed to make Seonghwa’s heart melt with a mixture of fondness and concern. It was hard to tell whether Jongho was truly okay because he always appeared to recover so quickly from everything on the outside, but this time they wouldn’t let anything fester. All seven of them had talked about it last night at length before Jongho came home, determined to keep a close eye on him and ensure they followed through with their promises no matter how much Jongho seemed to brush off their attentions.

“Come on,” Hongjoong urged, tugging them both out of the room as Jongho made his first selection. “Eat on the way.”

“Why’re you kidnapping me?” Jongho asked curiously, eyes widening in awe at the taste of the bread. “And where did you get this? It’s the best thing I’ve ever eaten.”

“I thought it would be fun to do a photoshoot for Seonghwa,” Hongjoong explained, “We all know you like doing makeup and styling, so-”

“Ooh, what look are we going for?” Jongho asked eagerly, swallowing his mouthful of bread and studying Seonghwa up and down critically. “Can we do sparkles today, hyung? I saw this sort of ombre eyeshadow look the other day that looked a bit overwhelming but I bet you could pull it off with the right outfit and lighting. Or maybe-”

Hongjoong gave Seonghwa a smug look as Jongho kept spouting ideas without even waiting for them to reply, and Seonghwa tipped his head in grudging acknowledgement. It was nice to see the unreserved brightness in Jongho’s eyes and the return of his lovingly bossy side.

Seonghwa had always secretly liked the way both Hongjoong and Jongho would sometimes focus in on their tasks to the point that they almost talked at him because they could both be so closed off sometimes that it was refreshing to see them light up with passion and say literally everything that came to their mind. Usually he didn’t see them both like that at the same time, though, and Seonghwa wasn’t sure he could bear the double dose of adorableness he got as they bent over the collection of tools Hongjoong had laid out on his desk together, vigorously debating the best look to start out with. Seonghwa finished the last of his chocolate cream bread and licked his fingers in satisfaction before heading to the bathroom to wash them. Hongjoong and Jongho were still comparing ideas when he returned, although they had at least moved on to hair by now, and Seonghwa sighed.

“Do I get a say?” he asked, amused. "Since I'm the one being dressed and all?"

“No,” Hongjoong and Jongho answered simultaneously without looking up from the desk.

“You two really are getting along well.”

Seonghwa watched in amusement as they both fumbled their phones at his words and pretended to ignore him, definitively not looking at one another. Seonghwa knew it was weird to be enjoying the way they were ignoring him, but he couldn’t help feeling happy to see them getting along so well. He had been kind of curious about their dynamic from the occasional hints Jongho had been dropping recently, and it was fascinating to see the way they moved around one another now. There was so much freedom there, somehow, beyond the familiarity that came from living and dancing with one another for years. Every movement and touch just seemed more intimate than it had before, like there was a new magnetism drawing them towards one another.

Maybe...maybe there was something more than friendship there? Seonghwa frowned at the thought, taken aback by how attractive it was. It would be nice if all of his boyfriends were dating one another, if they could all love one another freely without any boundaries between them. Wooyoung was already dating everyone except for Hongjoong, after all, and Hongjoong had all but admitted to being attracted to Wooyoung months ago. Their relationship had progressed a lot recently as well, so maybe it could go even further?

And if Seonghwa was having these thoughts now, what did the others think? Did the 99z also want their boyfriends to be together more intimately or did they view each of their individual relationships more separately. Because the group was already so entangled that, if they felt the same way Seonghwa did, that...basically meant all eight of them would be dating one another, right?

Seonghwa’s stomach flipped at the thought and what it meant for him feeling both hot and cold at the same time. He stood up abruptly, mind spinning too much for him to sit still.

Hongjoong, who was closer than Seonghwa had realized, jerked back in surprise.

“What-”

“I need to go,” Seonghwa blurted, too frazzled to come up with any type of excuse. “I- we can do this later, right?”

He left without waiting for an answer, slamming the door behind him in his haste. He needed to talk to the others.

Chapter Text

Jongho and Hongjoong gaped after Seonghwa as the door slammed behind him, baffled.

“Do you have any idea what that was?” Jongho asked uncertainly. “He wasn’t annoyed, right?”

“No, definitely not,” Hongjoong assured him, keenly aware of how vulnerable Jongho was probably feeling after last night’s uncomfortable, but necessary, discussion. “If anything, he seemed happy with us at first. Maybe he remembered he needed to tell one of the others something?”

“I guess,” Jongho shrugged. “Shall I do your makeup instead? I’ll make you look really pretty, hyung, I promise.”

Hongjoong hesitated, then shook his head.

“No, that’s okay, I don’t have anything today anyways. I can do you instead?”

“It’s enough to want to look pretty for yourself,” Jongho pointed out softly. “Although we could take some nice photos of you? Ooh or sexy ones to make Yunho-hyung and Seonghwa-hyung see what they’re missing.”

Hongjoong choked and turned beet red, glaring at Jongho.

“Absolutely not. No, nope, no way, never ever, ever.”

“But hyunnnngggg, Yunho-hyung would like it! You’d do anything for him, even that, right?”

“...maybe. But anyways, even if I would, I don’t know how to do that type of thing.”

“Don’t worry, hyung, I’ll teach you,” Jongho promised bracingly. “It’s not that hard, it’s just like being on stage but with less clothes. Well, less clothes for me, anyways, the rest of you prance around half-naked all the time.”

“How often are you sending thirst traps?” Hongjoong asked doubtfully, looking a bit traumatized at the thought.

“Once a week,” Jongho answered promptly. “Wooyoungie hyung makes me do it and then he grades them.”

Hongjoong choked.

“I’m sorry, he what? You let him coerce you into doing it once a week?”

“Well, originally he wanted me to do it every day like Yeosangie-hyung. But I just pouted and complained a little and very grudgingly said I’d let him sit in my lap and cuddle for a maximum of one hour every day instead and he caved really quickly.”

“Seonghwa said you like it when people sit in your lap,” Hongjoong pointed out suspiciously.

Jongho smiled smugly.

“He’s not wrong. But don’t tell Wooyoung-hyung that or else he’ll want to do it all the time and then Mingi-hyung pouts and then he goes and complains to Yeosang-hyung and it turns into a Whole Thing. I probably could have pouted a little and convinced Wooyoungie-hyung to drop the whole thirst trap thing altogether but I figured it might be useful to practice for the future.”

“What type of future are you preparing for?” Hongjoong demanded, aghast. “Who else would you send thirst traps to?”

“Are you sure you want to know?”

Hongjoong shuddered.

“On second thought, definitely not, I’m scarred enough as it is. We are never talking about this ever again, Jongho-ah.”

“Wooyoung sends us all thirst traps every morning,” Jongho continued mercilessly, ignoring him. “Yesterday’s concept was ‘oops, I just woke up’ and he spent like half an hour getting the sheets perfectly tousled so that it covered the right parts. And then he sent me Seonghwa-hyung’s version. And also accidentally Sannie-hyung’s, but in retrospect I’m not sure if that was an accident or not…”

“Did he tell you all that?” Hongjoong asked, reluctantly intrigued. “About spending half an hour and, like, how to get the right lighting and everything?”

“No, Seonghwa-hyung told me. Hwa-hyung is super into it, it’s really cute.”

“Oh.” Hongjoong determinedly focused on not imagining Wooyoung pouting naked in bed with only a rumpled sheet covering him. The idea of him spending half an hour making the set absolutely perfect — probably sticking his tongue out the way he always did when he was really focused on something — just added an unfairly adorable layer to the whole thing and- no, Hongjoong needed to think about literally anything else. “How long has Wooyoung been running this thirst trap academy for? And, wait, he sends them to all of you?”

“A few months, probably, I- oh my god!” A gleeful smile dawned on Jongho’s face and Hongjoong sighed, bracing himself. “Hyung, are you jealous? I can just tell Wooyoungie-hyung to just send them to the group chat, if you’d like.”

“I- that’s not the point!” Hongjoong sputtered, cheeks burning. “Stop smiling like that, Jongho-ah, it’s unbecoming.”

“You’re suppressed thirst for Wooyoung-hyung is unbecoming,” Jongho retorted, grinning from ear to ear. “How-”

“Let’s watch a movie!” Hongjoong burst out, voice higher than normal. Jongho squinted at him for a minute before sighing and nodding.

“Fine,” he agreed, making himself comfortable on Seonghwa’s bed and reaching his hands out for the laptop. “But, hyung...if you ever want to talk about it, I’m here. I can be serious about it, I promise.”

“Thank you,” Hongjoong said stiffly, heart warming despite the embarrassment. “Now be quiet and put your headphones on.”

 

 

San smiled to himself as he slipped out of his and Yunho’s shared room to go grab a snack after the online pilates class he had done with Mingi and Yunho. He had honestly never really liked pilates, but doing it with Mingi and Yunho had been surprisingly enjoyable and he had-

Someone crashed into San as he rounded the corner and he stumbled backwards, just barely managing to stay upright on his already-exhausted legs. He glanced down, surprised and worried at the sight of Seonghwa’s pale face mushed against his chest. He gently put Seonghwa back onto his feet and pulled him into a comforting hug.

“Hyung? Did something happen? What’s going on?”

“Do you want all eight of us to end up in a relationship with one another?” Seonghwa burst out, voice high and shaky and very, very loud. San froze in shock, mind completely blank.

“I- you - what?” he stammered, looking around helplessly hoping for someone to tell him what the correct response was here.

“I knew it!” Seonghwa exclaimed, burying his face in San’s chest and shaking. “But if all of us are together that means I’m dating everyone else, too, and-”

“What on earth is going on?” Yunho asked, poking his head out of their room.

“Yeah, is everything okay?” Wooyoung chimed in, coming out of his room half-naked with an equally undressed Yeosang half-hiding behind him. “We were kind of…up to something.”

Seonghwa looked up at Wooyoung’s voice, noticed Yeosang and yelped, pointing at his surprised face with shaking fingers like he was a ghost.

“Hyung-” Yeosang started, cutting off as Seonghwa flinched at the sound of his voice and half-turned away with his arm still raised, only to see Yunho in his sweat-soaked tank-top and biker shorts.

“Aah!” Seonghwa yelped again, turning back to bury his face in San’s chest once more without explanation. San suppressed the urge to face-palm at the dramatics and hugged him close, not sure how to explain this to the others.

“Hyung just got nervous about some relationship things,” he said eventually. “Wooyoung, can you…?”

Wooyoung faltered, looking back at Yeosang and starting to shake his head.

“Go,” Yeosang urged, turning to look at Yunho. “Yuyu, is it okay if I join you and Mingyah instead of Sannie?”

“Of course,” Yunho replied tonelessly, watching Seonghwa with a distinctly hurt look on his face. “C’mon, Sangie.”

San watched them go with a sinking heart, knowing that there would be a lot of explaining to do later, before shaking those thoughts off to focus on Seonghwa.

Wooyoung discretely pulled his clothes back on and opened a window as San guided Seonghwa to sit on the non-rumpled bed, determinedly not thinking about whatever Yeosang and Wooyoung had been up to before they were interrupted.

“Hyung asked me if I wanted all eight of us to be in a relationship together,” San explained to Wooyoung delicately. “I think he’s a little nervous at the idea.”

A little nervous?” Seonghwa repeated incredulously, voice still uncomfortably high. “How are we going to find a house big enough for all of us? How do you file that on a tax return?”

“You’re actually thinking about taxes right now?” San snorted, unable to help himself. “Hyung, think about love and the relationships you want instead, there’s no point planning tax returns for relationships that don’t even exist yet.”

“That’s the crux of the problem!” Seonghwa protested. “Are we...we’re forever, right? What if some of us break up and some of us don’t? And for all of us to date one another, that means I’m supposed to date Yunho and Mingi and Yeosang, too, but-”

“Hyung, stop,” San interrupted firmly. “You’re definitely not supposed to do anything except continue naturally.”

“And it’ll hurt them more for you to date them just because you feel like you’re supposed to, remember?” Wooyoung added.

“I- oh,” Seonghwa’s eyes widened as he processed what Wooyoung had said and San frowned, feeling like he was missing out on something. “We just talked about that a few days ago, didn’t we?”

Wooyoung nodded and San shook off the distinct feeling that there were two conversations going on here.

“About the other stuff,” he continued determinedly. “We’ve had a lot more time to adjust to the idea, but I think it’s better to just focus on what comes next. We’re going to be Ateez for the foreseeable future anyways, which takes care of a lot of those things, and the breakup thing...that’s not something we can control aside from making sure our relationships are solid, right? So long as we’re communicating and entering into our relationships on the same page with the appropriate amount of commitment — which we’re all doing anyways because we’re colleagues and care about each other a lot.”

“I guess,” Seonghwa admitted reluctantly. “But...I don’t know, it’s a lot. And part of the problem is that I don’t think lack of feelings for Yunho, Mingi, and Yeosangie are going to be an issue on my end and isn’t it better to just be open about that now?”

“Are you one hundred percent sure?” San asked doubtfully. “Because you literally just started thinking about them that way and you tend to take a long time to think through these types of things.”

“No, you’re right,” Seonghwa sighed. “It’s hard to imagine but it just feels wrong to do nothing, you know?”

“Hyung, repeat after me,” Wooyoung ordered sternly. “I will let my relationships grow naturally.”

“I will let my relationships grow naturally,” Seonghwa parroted obediently.

“I won’t panic and ask everyone out at the same time.”

“I won’t panic and ask everyone out at the same time.”

“I won’t point at people and scream anymore.”

“I won’t- wait, how can I promise that?”

Wooyoung stared at him.

“That’s literally the easiest one!”

“You guys are idiots,” San groaned.

“But we’re your idiots,” Wooyoung sang cheerfully, doing the flower pose. Seonghwa copied him cutely and San sighed, smiling reluctantly at their antics.

“Yes, yes, you’re both adorable,” he said impatiently. “Hyung, are you gonna be okay?”

Seonghwa took a deep breath, face sobering.

“Yeah, I’m sorry, I was just so taken aback. But I guess it’s not that different, really. Like, it was always going to be the eight of us forever, this just puts a slightly different spin on it.”

“And a house that fits eight people is easier to afford when you have eight salaries,” Wooyoung added practically. “I’m pretty sure Jongho already has a selection of designs drawn up.”

“Wait, what exactly does Jongho know about all of this?” Seonghwa asked.

Wooyoung froze.

“Why don’t you ask him?” he answered cautiously. “I don’t want to lie to you, but I don’t think it’s my place to tell you that.”

San frowned, Wooyoung’s determined avoidance of his gaze bewildering him. As far as he knew, Jongho had only known that Wooyoung wanted to be with all eight members. But the way Wooyoung was acting, it seemed like there was something more to it that he was purposefully keeping from San and that was...a bit worrying. He exchanged apprehensive looks with Seonghwa and Wooyoung groaned.

“Guys, calm down, it’s not that big a deal. Look, why don’t we grab Sang-ah and do today’s thirst trap photoshoot? Mingi and Yunho could use some alone time, anyways.”

San sighed. He loved Wooyoung, he reminded himself, counting to five slowly in his head. He loved him, but he didn’t want to do a photoshoot at any given opportunity. They got enough of that at work. At least Seonghwa was still innocent enough to be intrigued.

“What’s today’s theme?”

“Studying hard,” Wooyoung smirked. Seonghwa stared at him, visibly confused, and San buried his face in his hands.

“Do you ever wonder if maybe you’re going a little overboard on this?” he asked Wooyoung through his fingers. “And by a little I mean a lot.”

“Nope,” Wooyoung answered easily. “Anyways, it’s not like you don’t benefit from all my hard work.”

San snorted.

“Yeah, right, we both know you’d take daily thirst traps anyways. Every picture you take is a thirst trap.”

“But Yeosang wouldn’t,” Wooyoung pointed out smugly. “And you can’t pretend you don’t enjoy those.”

“Neither would Jongho,” Seonghwa added. San stilled, stomach flipping at the thought of a thirst trap from Jongho of all people.

“Jongho does what now?” he demanded. “Why didn’t I know about this?”

“Because he’s shy about it,” Wooyoung explained patiently. “Anyways, he only sends them to his boyfriends and you haven’t made that cut yet. I’m winning in the boyfriend competition by a mile.”

“It’s not a competition, Young-ah,” Seonghwa scolded.

“Everything’s a competition,” Wooyoung corrected him sagely. “Right, San-ah?”

San tilted his head consideringly. Maybe it was time he upped his efforts. Ever since San had realized he had feelings for Jongho he had been extra careful to hold himself back when it came to their maknae, knowing that Jongho tended to try too hard to keep up with the rest of them no matter how often they told him he had nothing to prove. He didn’t want to pressure Jongho now, of course, especially with their maknae’s recent vulnerabilities, but maybe San’s restraint towards him had become too noticeable and had been a part of the reason Jongho felt so left out earlier. Jongho hated asking for attention at the best of times and would probably be acting overconfident the next few days to make up for the vulnerability he had shown them the night before, so San letting himself be a bit more needy than normal might actually be received positively.

And then that only left Hongjoong. San had mentally blocked off him before, sure that their leader only had eyes for Seonghwa and not wanting to get his hopes up, but the fact that Hongjoong had actively asked Yunho out changed things completely.

“Right,” he agreed belatedly, only barely listening as Wooyoung moved on to explaining the picture concept to Seonghwa.

Maybe there was hope, after all.

 

 

 

 

 

Yunho followed Yeosang back into his room numbly, trying to shake off the hurt and confusion from the way Seonghwa had acted at the sight of him. He was supposed to be enjoying some rare time off with Mingi and gifting them both a relaxing afternoon in an imitation-sauna, not stressing over something he evidently wasn’t allowed to know.

“Yunho?” Mingi called worriedly from the bed. “Are you okay?”

Yunho pasted a bright smile on his face, one that wouldn’t fool Mingi or Yeosang but would at least help him feel some semblance of normal, and nodded.

“Of course I am,” he answered lightly, determined to push his hurt aside and make his words come true.

And it mostly worked — for a few days, even — but it never disappeared completely and other things started popping up and Yunho just...didn’t like it. The eight members had always purposefully talked about everything with one another, partially out of necessity and partially just because they genuinely enjoyed talking important decisions through with one another, and Yunho had thought it was impossible for them to really keep secrets from one another for any length of time by now. And yet, here he was, with almost everyone just a little bit off and no one saying anything as the days just kept rolling by.

Hongjoong had confessed to Yunho that he had recently been trying to play with them all a little more and be more present, but he hadn’t reduced his work time in compensation and Yunho was seriously worried they were only a few days away from a breaking point. Seonghwa had apologized to him after that hallway incident and returned to their usual dynamic, but Yunho still sensed a certain hesitance in their relationship that had never been there before and was too nebulous for him to really ask anyone about.

Mingi was having off-days more frequently than ever before but didn’t seem to see anything wrong and Yunho didn’t know how to push without making his boyfriend even more stressed out than he already was. Wooyoung was more reserved and less teasing than normal, Yeosang had also been off even though Yunho didn’t know why, San was all but throwing himself at Jongho, and Jongho….Jongho had been kind of distant with Yunho despite Yunho’s concentrated attempts to spend more time together and it was starting to seriously worry him.

None of it was really something that Yunho could pin down and have a conversation about, but everything felt distinctly wrong and he had no idea how to help the others or fix things. He had tried listening carefully to Jongho so that the younger would open up to him, but Jongho had closed off even more after that and Yunho was too worried he had inadvertently done something wrong to try anything too intervention-y with the others.

And now here they were at practice just like any other day and nothing was right and Yunho felt like he was going to scream.

He shoved the feelings aside once more and went to call the others so they could start, only to find no one listening. He called them again and got nothing except Wooyoung doing some weird type of wiggle-dance on the floor with San while Jongho and Seonghwa frowned down at them disapprovingly. Mingi and Yeosang were completely absorbed in a conversation in the corner, and Hongjoong still had his headphones on with his laptop in the corner.

“I can’t do this,” Yunho burst out, louder than he intended. Everyone turned to look at him in shock and he flinched, shaking his head. “I didn’t- sorry, I’m just going to get some water.”

He all but ran out of the room before anyone could say anything, opening the first vocal room he could find and sinking down to the ground as hot tears of frustration spilled over his face. He wiped them away impatiently, burying his face in his hands with an overwhelmed groan. What was he supposed to do now?

The door opened and Yunho looked up, expecting Hongjoong.

“Yunho?” Yeosang asked cautiously, slipping into the room and closing the door behind him.

“Oh,” Yunho said, deflating. “I thought you would be Hongjoong.”

Hurt flickered across Yeosang’s face and Yunho bit his lip, wishing he could take the words back.

“Why do you want Hongjoong?” Yeosang asked evenly.

The ‘and not me’ was implied and Yunho winced.

“I don’t think you’d understand why I’m upset,” he admitted ruefully. “Not because you’re not empathetic or I don’t like talking with you, but because you’re not as controlling as hyung and I. I'm sorry, Sang-ah, I...didn't mean that the way it came out, when I asked about Hongjoong.”

“You’re not controlling at all, though,” Yeosang objected. “You’re literally the most easygoing out of all of us...except maybe Seonghwa-hyung.”

You’re definitely the most easy going,” Yunho corrected with a laugh, “but that’s not really...I am controlling, I just usually decide not to be. Hyung’s controlling because he has to be, so he doesn’t try to suppress it, but I usually just consciously decide to just go along with the ride so I don’t stress about it. But with this...”

“What is ‘this,’ exactly?” Yeosang asked. Yunho sighed, not sure how to explain it without making it seem like Yeosang was part of the problem.

“I just...everything seems off balance,” he confessed eventually. “Something’s up with Seonghwa-hyung, I know you’ve noticed that too, I can’t make things click with Jongho and I don’t understand why, Mingi’s randomly got it into his head that Hongjoong-hyung hates him and has been kind of off ever since we left for Spain for some reason but he keeps saying he’s fine whenever I ask — and I don’t think he’s lying to me, he just seems different, somehow — you’re upset too, Wooyoung’s being less annoying and I don’t like it, Hongjoong-hyung is stretching himself too thin trying to spend time with all of us and yet still work at the same pace he used to, San is so focused on getting Jongho to like him that I think he’s being a bit overwhelming, and-”

“I think you’ve run out of members to be worried about,” Yeosang said dryly. “Yunho, even if none of them will admit that they’re running out of steam, those are issues we all have to work through ourselves.”

“That’s the problem,” Yunho groaned. “I just want to fix it all but I can’t and it’s driving me mad.”

“Do you want to fix my problem?” Yeosang asked after a minute. Yunho perked up immediately, nodding. Even if all he was able to do was listen at least he would be helping somehow.

“Okay,” Yeosang said, taking a deep breath. “I thought...I thought we were supposed to let relationships develop naturally, and that chasing people was wrong because it sort of objectifies them and can push things that aren’t ready, you know? If they don’t have feelings for me then...well, then that’s that, right? But then the whole thing with Jongho happened, and more relationships started forming, and I feel like it’s not enough. I want things to move faster, but I feel like it’s wrong to want that, and I don’t want to put any pressure on Jongho and Hongjoong because they both already do things they don’t like just to make me happy. After that whole debacle I tried to be more open with all of you, and I think it makes you guys happy-”

“It does,” Yunho confirmed quietly.

“-but I just can’t do it with Jongho and Hongjoong no matter how hard I try. I just feel guilty every time because I know what I’m really thinking inside about them and I don’t think they even noticed that I was trying more and-”

Yeosang’s voice broke off and he shrugged helplessly. Yunho wrapped him into a tight hug, trying to navigate what exactly Yeosang had said.

“Okay, obviously don’t apply this advice to people who definitely don’t like you,” he started, “but hopefully, if all goes right with us, you’re never going to have to think about people who don’t like you, so….right, nevermind. What I meant to say is, it sounds like you feel guilty for loving them? Of course it’s not wrong to want things to move faster, or to want your dynamics to change, so long as you don’t put pressure on them which you aren’t doing. But on the flip side, if you never tell them, they might never even think of you as an option. I know I’m not exactly an authority on this given how long I pined after Hongjoong-hyung, and how much of a mess I am with Jongho right now, but I think you need to be very blunt with the hyungs, Sang-ah. Both of them seem more open to polyamory and relationships at the moment, but they’re never going to take the initiative if they don’t know you’re interested in the first place.”

“What’s going on with you and Jongho?” Yeosang wondered. “You’ve been hanging out more than normal, lately.”

“It’s like banging my head against a wall,” Yunho sighed, shaking his head at the thought of it before focusing back in on the original topic “But Jongho and I aren’t the point, you are.”

“I’ll make you a deal,” Yeosang proposed suddenly, holding out his hand. Yunho reached out to hold it cautiously. “I’ll do something bold with the hyungs, and you have an actual, honest conversation with Jongho.”

Yunho hesitated. He didn’t like the idea of putting even more strain on Jongho’s back when their maknae already took so much on for them, but he was tired of feeling this way and it would be worth the awkwardness of being so vulnerable if it meant that Yeosang might have a breakthrough with the hyungs.

“Okay,” he decided, shaking Yeosang’s hand firmly before leaning down to steal a quick kiss. “We have a deal.”

 

 

Mingi groaned very, very quietly, frustrated but not daring to wake up Jongho in the bunk above him. They had both gone to bed over an hour ago, and Mingi still couldn’t fall asleep. The covers were too warm but he shivered without them on, his skin felt all prickly, and the faint humming of the air humidifier sounded almost thunderous in the silent room. Usually Jongho’s soothing breaths were enough to lull him to sleep but tonight they just weren’t cutting it and Mingi had no idea what to do.

He had briefly considered the idea of going to one of his other boyfriends and cuddling with them but had quickly dismissed it because the last thing he wanted was for them to be worrying about him. They had been particularly cautious around him recently — why, Mingi had no idea — and he increasingly felt like he was more of a hindrance to them than a help. He wasn’t any different than anyone else who had occasional sleeping problems, and they were in the middle of a worldwide pandemic no less so it obviously made sense to be a bit anxious sometimes, but they always fretted over him and he wasn’t willing to set off that whole, unfortunately-familiar chain of events in the middle of the night. Seonghwa would typically have been the other best, most comforting option, but he always spent so much time looking after everyone else that Mingi didn’t feel comfortable infringing on one of his few peaceful nights. So that just left Hongjoong.

Mingi sighed, wondering if it was really worth it to bother Hongjoong for something so small. Hongjoong was definitely up, probably still working in the living room like he had been when they had all finally gone to sleep, but Mingi’s feelings about their leader were so turbulent and he was just so exhausted that he honestly thought he might start crying if Hongjoong turned him away. Hongjoong had never truly turned any of them away in need, of course, but sometimes he was so deep in work that he couldn’t tell the difference between a serious problem and a prank and Mingi unfortunately had a track record of coming to him with the latter more often than not. At this point Mingi thought he might start crying out of sheer frustration from not being able to sleep, though, so maybe it was better just to try.

He carefully slid out of bed and gathered his favorite pillow and blanket before sliding his feet into his slippers and braving the blinding light of the hallway. As he had suspected, Hongjoong was still curled into the corner of their couch, headphones askew over his ears as he edited his latest song. He looked up as Mingi rounded the corner, though, and Mingi sighed in relief at the sign that Hongjoong wasn’t too deep in his work to pay attention.

“Mingi-ah?” Hongjoong said in surprise. “What are you doing up? You look exhausted, I thought you went to bed an hour ago.”

“I couldn’t fall asleep,” Mingi explained quietly, squinting at the light to avoid looking too nervous. “Can I sleep on the couch next to you, hyung, please?”

“Of course,” Hongjoong agreed immediately, sounding confused. “Why - of course, Mingi, whenever you want. Why would I say no?”

Mingi shrugged, not wanting to open that can of worms, and nestled down on the couch with the crown of his head pressed against Hongjoong’s thigh.

“G’night, hyungie,” he mumbled, pushing his face further into the back of the couch to block out the light. Hongjoong got up and Mingi’s heart froze, but the lights dimmed a moment later and he melted internally as he realized Hongjoong had only gotten up to make him more comfortable.

“There,” Hongjoong said in satisfaction, squeezing back into his spot and tucking the blanket more firmly around Mingi before opening his laptop once more.

“Thank you,” Mingi whispered, grateful that the couch hid his blush. Hongjoong hummed in acknowledgement and absentmindedly started to stroke through Mingi’s hair, evidently already half-immersed in his song once more.

“Anytime. Have sweet dreams, Mingi-ah, baby. Hyung loves you always.”

Chapter Text

Yunho watched Jongho toy with the cardboard holder on his takeaway cup of Americano, trying to figure out how to broach the distance between them. In an attempt to try to listen to their maknae a bit more he had been taking Jongho out for coffee a few times a week ever since their group intervention the previous month, but Jongho’s initial excitement at the prospect had faded into distinct reluctance — to the point that Yunho had had to actually beg to get Jongho out of the building this morning.

At this point, Yunho just...didn’t know what to do. How was he supposed to understand what was going on and fix their relationship if Jongho didn’t feel comfortable talking to him about even the smallest things? Every time he asked a question Jongho seemed to withdraw into himself even more, until he was getting almost coldly polite one-word answers to everything. Yeosang had been right, though, Yunho reminded himself firmly. He needed to just be upfront and honest and hope that Jongho was as invested in fixing their relationship as he was.

“Jongho-ah,” he started, clearing his throat to show that he was being serious. “Can you tell me where I’m going wrong? I want us to be close again, but...I’m sorry, baby, I just don’t know how I hurt you. I promise I’ll listen carefully, please just talk to me, Jongho-ah.”

“I don’t want to talk to you, though,” Jongho burst out, hands shaking, looking both shocked at the direction the conversation had taken and yet also fiercely determined.

Yunho flinched back from the harsh words, blood running cold. Had they...was this the end for them? They had been so close before and he had never doubted that Jongho cared for him, but this-

“Okay, I’m sorry, I’ll leave,” he rushed out, stumbling over his feet as he stood up from the bench they were sitting on.

“No, wait, hyung!” Jongho called urgently, catching Yunho’s arm and pulling him back. “I didn’t — well I did mean that, but not how it sounded. I- hyung, I don’t want to talk at you anymore. Every time we do one of these it ends up with me talking and talking at you while you just...listen. Every time I ask you a question you give me a shallow answer and turn it back to me. I kept trying to make it an equal conversation but...it’s like you don’t ever want to share anything about yourself. I'm sorry for how that came out, but I'm not sorry for the sentiment. You don't ever truly talk to me, it's always just a one-way conversations.”

“Oh,” Yunho said numbly, sitting back and running through their coffee dates in his head. “I guess I have been doing that, haven’t I? But...I still don’t really understand. You love it when the other’s listen to you, why would you want to listen to me instead?”

“Why do you want to listen to me so badly?” Jongho countered.

“Because you’re smart and observant and philosophical and adorable and…” Yunho trailed off, realizing that he might have gone a bit further than he meant to. “I just- I just like hearing what you have to say,” he finished quietly.

“Well, maybe I feel the same way about you,” Jongho said pointedly, the tips of his ears red from embarrassment.

Yunho’s heart flipped at that and he gulped, trying not to show how flustered he felt.

“Well, then,” he started, still feeling a bit doubtful but willing to try anything to avoid the awkwardness between them that morning. “Ask away. I’ll talk at you all morning if you like.”

“Until ten,” Jongho corrected, laughing despite himself at Yunho's eagerness. “I have my vocal lesson at ten thirty.”

“I’ll talk at you until ten, then,” Yunho amended, the weight lifting off his shoulders at the sound of Jongho’s usual cheerful giggles. “I’ll tell you everything and anything, Jongho-ah, promise.”

And so he did.

 

 

 

 

“What on earth has gotten into you?” Wooyoung asked, laughing as he and San entered their dance practice room only to be greeted with the sight of Yunho practically bouncing his way through their Wonderland choreography in an almost comical fashion.

“Jongho looooves me,” Yunho sang excitedly, unable to stop grinning as he finished the choreo and launched into Illusion next.

“You asked him out?” San yelped, staring at him in shock. “I thought he was being really reserved with you recently? Congratulations, though, I-”

“No, no,” Yunho interrupted impatiently, slowing down slightly so that he could talk and dance at the same time. “I asked him how to fix our relationship and it turned out that I was trying to listen to him more but he felt like I never really told him anything of substance in exchange so then I answered all his questions for ages and…”

He rambled to Wooyoung and San happily about their conversation, blushing as he remembered how embarrassingly flustered Jongho had been able to make him with just a few blunt, sincere, compliments.

“Aw, he’s such a smooth talker sometimes,” Wooyoung smiled fondly. “We went out to this cafe the other day and he kept tugging my hand whenever I looked down at my coffee because he said he only wanted my eyes to be on him. It would have been cringey from anyone else, but then he got all cutely earnest — you know that tone I mean, right? — and said that when I look at him he feels like the world is fading away around him and he never wanted that feeling to go away, and I just-”

“Ugh, I want him,” San groaned, flopping dramatically across Wooyoung’s lap and watching Yunho dance with an appreciative gleam in his eyes. "I want him now."

“He’s not an object,” Yunho chided, although he privately couldn’t agree more with the sentiment. He still felt so warm and heard from his talk with Jongho, and greedily wished Jongho hadn’t had a vocal lesson to go to so that they could have spent the whole day together. He wanted him badly, even though it was clear from today that they still had a ways to go before Jongho would be ready to consider a relationship together.

“You should try courting him,” Wooyoung suggested to them both smugly. “He likes little romantic gestures.”

“Do you ever take any of your own advice?” San asked sourly. “Didn’t you throw yourself at him until he ran hiding to the hyungs?”

Yunho laughed at Wooyoung’s offended look.

“As far as I recall it was Jongho who bribed you into dating him with a piece of chocolate cake,” he added, adding a few quick extra turns into the routine just because he could.

“Do as I say, not as I do,” Wooyoung sniffed archly. “C’mon, you know I’m right.”

“Maybe,” San admitted with a sigh. “I think I’ve been following your poor example a little too much, anyways. He doesn’t seem to like it when I compliment him.”

“Try the classical romance route?” Yunho suggested, ignoring Wooyoung's pout at San's words. “I’m going to give him a bit of time before trying, but for you...maybe try giving him flowers and pretty foods and love notes and things?”

Wooyoung hummed in agreement and San nodded thoughtfully to himself.

“Yeah,” he mused slowly. “I think I will.”

 

 

 

 

“Mingi?” Hongjoong called, poking his head around the door to Mingi and Jongho’s room to see if Mingi wanted to come into the studio with him. “Mingi-ah, do you...is everything okay?”

Mingi looked up from the pile of clothes he had been sifting through on his bed, eyes wide and slightly manic.

“I-I’m fine, hyung,” he said quickly, some form of normalcy flickering in his eyes as though he was trying to mask his nerves but couldn’t quite manage it.

“C’mon, Mingi, tell me what’s going on,” Hongjoong urged, coming into the room and wincing internally at the explosion of clothes. “I’ll fix it, baby, I promise. Like always.”

Hongjoong didn’t feel very confident in that promise, but he had learned early on in their time together that all of his dongsaengs seemed to have a ridiculous amount of faith in his abilities to solve the most impossible problems. No matter the situation, if he promised them that everything would be okay, they usually calmed down enough to find a solution themselves. He knew that they were the miraculous ones — they just needed someone to believe in them and give them the confidence to continue — but they never believed him when he tried to tell them that and he had eventually given up on convincing them. All he could do was have faith and trust them the same way they always, always trusted him.

This time was no exception — something in Mingi loosened at Hongjoong’s words and he turned towards Hongjoong. Like a flower turning towards the sun, Hongjoong thought wildly, not sure where that imagery had come from.

“Hyung, I don’t have anything to wear,” he said hollowly, gesturing around the room. “Everything’s too tight or drapey or itchy and I just can’t — I just can’t, hyung.”

“A closet full of nothing to wear,” Hongjoong murmured, thinking of a song he had heard the other day.

“Not helpful, hyung,” Mingi gritted out, clearly nearing the end of his tether. Hongjoong refocused, trying to think of a way to break Mingi out of the panicked spiral he was falling into. He had had days where he didn’t feel like anything in his closet fit right, but they had never affected him quite like this. Mingi seemed like he was about to burst with frustration, one hand unconsciously rubbing at his opposite wrist as though it itched. Maybe something out of the box enough that Mingi had to stop panicking to try to understand what he was saying?

“The problem, Mingi-ah, is that you’re looking in the wrong place,” he said hastily, reaching out to squeeze Mingi’s hand in silent comfort. And to get him to stop rubbing at his wrist. “Put on that pair of ripped jeans under your pillow — the ones you said feel as comfortable as wearing pajamas — and come with me.”

Mingi obeyed automatically, halfway out the door before he had even realized the pants were in his hand. He trailed after Hongjoong to the hyung room, grateful for Hongjoong’s hand in his and curious enough that that awful crawling sensation under his skin settled a little.

Seonghwa, already fully dressed and back in bed watching something on his phone, looked up as they came in but thankfully didn’t say anything. Mingi didn’t really know what was happening or why he felt the way he did, and he certainly wasn’t up to answering questions about it from anyone else.

“Put on those pants, Mingi-ah,” Hongjoong ordered quietly, digging through his drawers. Mingi obeyed silently, still feeling unsettled and shivery even though he couldn’t figure out why. It did feel a little better to put on the jeans, and the matching black belt Hongjoong thrust backwards at him without even looking to make sure he was putting it on. Then he waited, shirtless and shivering slightly as he avoided Seonghwa’s thoughtful gaze and tried to relax his tense muscles.

“Here,” Hongjoong said gently. Mingi looked up at the plain black turtleneck Hongjoong was handing out and frowned even as he pulled it on. It fit perfectly, surprisingly, and he glanced up in bewilderment.

“Is this Yunho’s?”

“Yup,” Hongjoong said smugly, smoothing the thin shirt down over Mingi’s abdomen and tucking it into his pants for him. “I stole it from him. Now this.”

He held up a t-shirt, one of his oversize soft, worn, sleep shirts — this one strategically torn in various places with some type of Latin phrase that Mingi didn’t understand stamped across the center — and watched approvingly as Mingi slid it on. Mingi rolled his shoulders back, feeling the way his body moved in the new outfit, and sighed in relief as nothing immediately stuck out to him. He still felt a bit naked, even though nearly every inch of him was covered, but the fabrics were supple enough to not feel restraining while still providing enough structure to dull the feeling that he was about to shatter into a million pieces.

He ran his hands over Hongjoong’s t-shirt in wonder, privately loving the subtle claim it symbolized, and kneeled when he was asked to. He wrapped his arms around Hongjoong’s waist in a gentle hug, tilting his head back so Hongjoong could slip a chain necklace over his head and apply a thin coating of lip balm.

“There,” Hongjoong said in satisfaction, reaching over to put the tube away — without stepping out of the circle of Mingi’s arms, Mingi noticed in surprise. “Good?”

“Perfect, hyung,” Mingi affirmed, leaning his head against Hongjoong’s stomach and enjoying the feeling of Hongjoong playing with his hair until the bottom half of his legs were numb and he reluctantly stumbled to his feet.

“Mingi-ah?” Seonghwa called gently. “Do you think you could help me with something? My aunt has been having trouble sleeping lately so I was going to send her an asmr video to try, but I’m torn between these two.”

“Of course, hyung,” Mingi agreed, glad for the excuse to cuddle and soothe his residual unease a bit more as he slid into bed next to Seonghwa. Seonghwa smiled in silent gratitude and slipped the headphones over Mingi’s ears, shifting them both so that Mingi was draped sideways across the bed with his head in Seonghwa’s lap. Hongjoong left, murmuring something about going to work in the living room for a bit, and Seognhwa turned the first video on.

Knowing Seonghwa, this had probably been a deliberate response to Mingi’s frazzled demeanor instead of the spontaneous request it seemed, but Mingi couldn’t bring himself to complain. Instead he just let time slip away, lost in the soothing asmr tracks Seonghwa had picked and the feel of his hyung drawing aimless, swirling patterns across his body with one finger.

Eventually the track stopped and Mingi stirred as reality faded back in.

“I think the second one, hyung,” he decided, turning his head to look up at Seonghwa. “The first was nice, but a bit…”

Mingi trailed off, words dying in his mouth at the intense look in Seonghwa’s eyes.

“Hyung, what are you…?”

Seonghwa started and refocused, smiling softly down at Mingi and stroking a hand through his hair.

“You just look so pretty like this,” he said, voice raw with honesty. Mingi stared up at him, glanced down at his outfit, and then stared back at Seonghwa again.

“In these clothes? They’re nice, but are they really-”

“In my lap,” Seonghwa interrupted. “You could be wearing a potato sack and I would think the same. It feels like you belong here, baby.”

Mingi swallowed, mouth dry.

“You- you almost sound like you’re flirting, hyung,” he confessed unthinkingly, brain still a little fuzzy from how relaxed he was feeling.

“Maybe I am,” Seonghwa said boldly, maintaining eye contact.

Mingi choked on air and scrambled up into a sitting position, mind spinning.

“Hyung, are you serious right now?” he demanded. “Because it’s been a long morning and I really can’t-”

“One hundred percent,” Seonghwa promised immediately, eyes softening. “I- do you remember the day you did that DIY spa thing that nearly ruined the bathroom? I figured it out that day, that all of you wanted the eight of us together, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I was trying to figure out the right way to tell you, Yunho, and Yeosangie, but...I eventually decided not to actively try and just let it happen, you know? I was panicking about it a lot and I don’t want that to mar the beginning of my relationships with any of you the way it would if I tried to force things. And now… it feels perfect, with you. Wooyoung and San were totally right, just don’t tell them that.”

“I won’t?” Mingi said, a beat too late. “Okay, I just- you want me?”

“How could I not?” Seonghwa returned. “You’re so handsome and brilliant and goofy and adorable and affectionate and kind all at the same time, I... I couldn't help falling for you fast and hard as soon as I realized dating you was a possibility. Mingi, I would never play around with something like this. You know that. I know you know that.”

Mingi nodded, unable to take his eyes off of Seonghwa’s face as he tried to process what was happening. He did know that — Seonghwa had never been very good at playing any type of prank on them, let alone a mean-spirited one — but it was still a lot to take in considering he had recently, privately, started to give up on ever getting the hyung’s to notice him.

“Can we just stay here for a bit, hyung?” he requested tentatively, not feeling up to doing anything remotely active after the emotional turbulence of the morning. “I think I need a bit of time to actually get myself to believe it, like, emotionally.”

“Of course,” Seonghwa assured him, settling back more comfortably against the pillows and tugging Mingi close. “Take all the time you need, angel, I’ll be here.”

 

 

Yeosang took a deep breath outside Hongjoong’s studio, wiping his sweaty palms on his pants and trying to get up the nerve to enter. Their evacuation from Spain had slowed his motivation to write music as he focused on trying not to freak out about everything going on around them, but he and Hongjoong had agreed to meet up today and do a working session together. Or at least, that was what Hongjoong thought he was agreeing to. Yunho had already filled his end of the bargain by talking with Jongho, so now it was Yeosang’s turn to be bold with Hongjoong. Or try, anyways, he amended silently as he knocked on the door before entering in the key code.

“Yeosangie!” Hongjoong greeted happily, moving his notebook aside and pulling up the extra rolling chair he must have brought in earlier that day. “I was getting lonely.”

“I come bearing gifts,” Yeosang teased, sliding over the strawberry yogurt smoothie he had brought for Hongjoong and pulling out his own chocolate drink.

“You’re my savior,” Hongjoong declared dramatically, taking a long slurp of the smoothie and then practically choking as soon as he leaned around Yeosang to check his birthmark. “Wait, are you barefaced?”

“I have some mascara on,” Yeosang admitted. “I ran into Chija-noona on the way here and she wanted to try this new shade on me.”

“I think it should be illegal,” Hongjoong decided firmly, still staring up at him in wonder. “Your face, I mean, although the mascara does look good. The whole look is lethal, honestly. Wahh, Sang-ah, I swear you get better looking every day.”

Yeosang blushed furiously, gulping his drink down to disguise how flustered he was.

“You look good, though, hyung,” he replied awkwardly and a beat too late.

Hongjoong dismissed the compliment like always and turned back to his computer while Yeosang pulled out his own materials and futilely attempted to calm his racing heart.

“Oh, Yeosangie,” Hongjoong remembered suddenly, wrapping an arm around Yeosang’s shoulders and tugging him close. “Will you listen to this for me? I can’t decide if it sounds better with all seventeen tracks at the bridge or if I should take out the lower line — see?”

Yeosang leaned his head on Hongjoong’s shoulder with a sigh and listened, giving up on his plans from earlier. How on earth was he supposed to ask Hongjoong out in this type of atmosphere? He could barely think straight through all the compliments, let alone gather up the courage to be bold and flirtatious. Hongjoong was always like this with him, so steady and affectionate and admiring that Yeosang didn’t really know how to react.

Hongjoong thumbed away a smudge of chocolate from Yeosang’s lips and licked it off his finger distractedly, still focused on the song he was working on. Yes, Yeosang decided faintly, trying not to stare at Hongjoong’s mouth. He would just have to admit defeat for today and regroup to try again tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

Jongho hauled himself up the ladder into his bed, exhausted from practice and looking forward to just lying in bed on his phone for a few hours until one of his hyungs came to call him for late night snacks. Maybe it was because he was so tired that it took him a minute to process the fact that there was a small, clearly handmade, bouquet of pink flowers sitting innocently on his pillow as though it belonged there. He blinked at it, trying to remember if it had been there when he had left, and belatedly noticed the small note tied to its base.

His name was written on it, in what was clearly San’s handwriting, and Jongho hugged his hands to his chest in anticipation before reaching out tentatively to open it and inhaling sharply at the lyrics written there.

The person who protected me in my difficult times
Now I will protect you

He knew immediately that it was meant to refer to that time just after debut, when San never felt like he was good enough and had broken down into tears almost every night during their joint vocal practice sessions. Jongho privately regretted his actions back then — he had made sure San never practiced alone so that someone was always there to build him back up, and had done his best to listen to San’s worries, but he had been even worse about talking about his feelings back then and always felt like he hadn’t done enough. It was just like San to see only the best in Jongho from those moments, though, and try to better himself in exchange.

Jongho blinked back sudden tears, surprised at how emotional the simple note was making him feel. It wasn’t just the note, though, really. The flowers added a hint of the classical type of romance that Jongho loved and, in the context of the past few weeks, were almost an apology for San’s lately-overwhelming skinship. Like a signal of acceptance for the way Jongho approached relationships, and a promise to move slower from now on.

Together, the flowers and note were a gentle nod to the affection and trust the two of them had shared for years, to the love they had found in one another during their darkest moments, and to the possibility of a future they might grow into together, if Jongho wished it. Which he did, he realized with a sudden rush of fondness for his hyung. It was just a bundle of hand-picked flowers and a few words on a card, but it did more for Jongho than any number of kisses or grand romantic gestures ever would.

He didn’t know how to handle San’s overt declarations of love and over-the-top skinship, but this...this was perfect. This was safe and San, and gave him space to feel all the fluttery, melty feelings San’s tenderness inspired without having to worry about anyone else watching his reactions. It made Jongho envision a future together filled with the belly-deep laughter and overwhelming softness San always inspired in him. It made him want to hug his hyung tight and never let go.

Jongho carefully placed the bouquet and its note to the side so he could slide under his covers, glancing towards the door hesitantly. He wasn’t quite brave enough to go seek out San for cuddles right now, but...maybe tomorrow. Maybe.

Chapter Text

Yeosang woke up to the now-ridiculously-familiar feeling of someone sliding into bed with him and shifted to the side automatically to make room, freezing for a moment in surprise as he realized it was Seonghwa and not one of his boyfriends.

“Hyung?” he asked worriedly, cracking his eyes open and squinting through the dark to check Seonghwa’s face. “Is everything okay?”

“No one came to sleep with me tonight,” Seonghwa pouted sleepily, nuzzling into Yeosang’s neck.

Yeosang laughed, relaxing at the reassurance that nothing was wrong, and pulled Seonghwa closer so that they were both safely tucked beneath the covers.

“How dare they,” he teased, resting his head comfortably on his hyung’s and breathing in the familiar soothing scent of Seonghwa’s shampoo. He was pretty sure all of them associated it with safety and comfort and Yeosang was no exception, no matter how sulky and demanding Seonghwa was acting at the moment. Although, actually...Wooyoung was sleeping with San tonight, so Yeosang and Seonghwa had a rare minute to themselves right now even if it was the middle of the night. Maybe it was finally the time to ask Seonghwa out, despite his previous failure with Hongjoong?

“Hyung?” he whispered nervously, “can I ask you something?”

Seonghwa turned towards him inquisitively, his pout fading, and Yeosang’s breath caught at the sight of the moonlight shining on Seonghwa’s already-stunning face. Yeosang was always praised for his visuals, but this...this wasn’t fair, right?

“Yeosangie?”

Yeosang blushed furiously and shook his head, frantically trying to think of something to say.

“Nevermind!” he squeaked hurriedly. “I don’t remember anymore.”

Seonghwa hummed doubtfully and went back to rubbing his face against Yeosang’s shoulder like a sleepy cat.

“Whatever you say,” he said lazily. “You know you can always tell me anything, though, right?”

“I know, hyung,” Yeosang assured him, melting enough to press a sneaky kiss to the top of Seonghwa’s head that he knew Seonghwa would feel but not acknowledge. “Go to sleep, though, you need rest.”

You need rest,” Seonghwa retorted playfully, settling down and wrapping his arms around Yeosang properly nevertheless. “Goodnight, baby. Dream of me.”

Yeosang snorted to cover up his embarrassment at knowing he was going to do just that and closed his eyes once more, Seonghwa’s steady weight in his arms easily soothing him back to sleep.

 

 

Jongho rubbed his eyes blearily at the scene that greeted him in the living room, not really sure if it was real or if he hadn’t actually woken up too early like he thought he had and was, in fact, still dreaming.

All three of his boyfriends were in the living room but Wooyoung was sequestered alone on the couch furiously working at something on a laptop. That was unusual enough by itself — Wooyoung was only quiet if he was sleeping or cuddling or sad, none of which looked to be true, and he certainly never worked like that at home — but what really made Jongho wonder if he was dreaming was the way Mingi and Seonghwa were tangled up in the armchair, childishly pushing at one another and giggling as they whispered in each other’s ears. They had started dating recently but Jongho hadn't yet seen them flirt so obviously with one another and it was unbearably endearing. Like two kittens tangled in yarn and playing with one another, except that they were fully grown men making fools of themselves in broad daylight.

Jongho approached them tentatively, eyes still half-closed because the light was too bright, and reached out one cautious hand to poke Mingi only to find himself hauled on top of them.

“What...what?” he asked awkwardly, struggling to string an intelligible sentence together.

“You should be asleep, baby,” Seonghwa reproached. “You probably only slept a couple hours after how late you got back last night.”

“Can’t,” Jongho answered, resting his head on Mingi’s chest and closing his eyes even though he knew it would be in vain. “‘M too awake.”

Seonghwa hummed disbelievingly and pulled him a little closer.

“Why are you guys being so weird, anyways?” Jongho remembered to ask, frowning up at them suspiciously. “Just because you’re dating now doesn’t mean you have to be nauseating. Poor Wooyoung probably has a toothache from watching you two.”

“‘Poor Wooyoung’ hasn’t even noticed us,” Mingi pouted. “We were going to try to put on a show for him a bit to see if that would make him pay attention but Seonghwa-hyung refuses to even make out on the couch. It's not like manager-nim would care, anyways.”

"Please tell me you don't know that from experience," Seonghwa begged, running an exhausted hand through his hair. "If he walked in on you..."

Mingi shuddered at the thought and shook his head.

"Of course not! Oh my god, can you imagine - agh, hyung, why did you put that image in my head?"

"You're the one who brought him up!" Seonghwa pointed out reasonably. "Why would he be the first reason that comes to your mind when you think about making out on the couch?"

“Hyung doesn't like it because of cleaning,” Jongho explained knowledgeably, trying to get the conversation back on track. “He’s worried about getting carried away. He doesn't actually care much, though, you just have to know the best ways to convince him.”

“Like what?” Mingi asked curiously. “You have to tell me all of his secrets.”

“I’m right here,” Seonghwa grumbled half-heartedly, knowing that he had brought this on himself when he told Jongho he didn't mind his boyfriends talking about him like this even if he wasn't there. “This is becoming a pattern with you, Jongho.”

“That’s because you like knowing we care about each other even without you being involved, hyung,” Jongho told him, glancing meaningfully at Mingi. “He gets all soft and mushy when he sees us get along, it’s gross.”

“What does Mingi like?” Seonghwa asked in an attempt to turn the conversation around. “I know Yunho calls him princess but-”

“He likes when I speak to him informally,” Jongho confided, laughing at Mingi’s blush. “But I think he’ll like different things with you, hyung, right Mingi-yah?”

“Maybe,” Mingi admitted grudgingly. “And I don’t mind if you talk about me with Sannie and Wooyoungie, hyung. Just nothing weird.”

“What-”

“Oh, he likes being underneath me!” Jongho remembered, interrupting Seonghwa and startling in surprise at their matching yelps. “What?”

“That’s weird!” Mingi hissed, face bright red in mortification. “That’s- I - Jongho!”

“That’s not- oh. Oh.” Jongho blushed as he realized what he had accidentally implied. “Wait, that’s not what I meant! I was just talking about for skinship! You like feeling safe when you're cuddling and holding hands, everyone knows that! Anyways, preferring one type of sexual role isn’t anything to be embarrassed about and doesn’t have to mean anything about power dynamics, hyung. Don’t be so reductionist.”

Mingi and Seonghwa stared at Jongho in surprise at his suddenly-educational tone before starting to laugh.

“Who taught you that?” Seonghwa asked between giggles. “Manager-nim?”

“Hongjoong-hyung, actually,” Jongho answered with dignity. “He knows lots of stuff.”

“You two are the virginest virgins in our entire group,” Mingi pointed out disbelievingly. “You expect me to believe you’ve been sitting around talking about sex?”

“Virgins can know things,” Jongho protested hotly. “It's called sex education and it's important.”

“Virgins in general can,” Seonghwa agreed, “but your particular brand of virginity is blushing if anyone so much as says the word ‘tongue,’ so don't try to convince me that-"

“That’s not the point!” Jongho protested, accidentally proving Seonghwa right by blushing furiously. “Anyways, virginity is nothing more than a social construct.”

“Who taught you that one?” Mingi asked skeptically.

“I’m not stupid,” Jongho huffed. Seonghwa and Mingi raised matching, suspicious eyebrows and Jongho sighed, looking away. “It was Wooyoungie-hyung,” he admitted reluctantly. “He cornered me back in December and gave me this whole lecture about all sorts of things, like how sex and romance are two completely separate things and virginity is a manifestation of patriarchal BS and it's totally valid to never want romance or sex and so on. In retrospect it was a really cute gesture to protect Sannie-hyung and educate me on the asexuality spectrum, but at the time it was just terrifying. He got all manic and then he kissed me on the cheek and said I didn’t have to worry about anything beyond being myself because he’d kill anyone who so much as looked at me in the wrong way?”

“Classic Wooyoung,” Mingi nodded sagely.

“Cute,” Seonghwa agreed sappily, leaning over precariously to wave his hand in Wooyoung’s face.

“What?” Wooyoung asked curtly, pushing back his soundproof headphones without lifting his eyes up from the computer.

“We’re talking about how cute you are,” Seonghwa told him. “Don’t you want to listen?”

“I don’t have time for that,” Wooyoung informed them self-righteously. “I’m working.”

“Wooow,” Mingi drawled sarcastically. “I’ve never seen you do that before.”

Jongho nodded in agreement and started to slow-clap to show how impressed he was.

“We’ll watch carefully to learn from your example, Wooyoung-nim,” Seonghwa added faux-earnestly.

“You all suck,” Wooyoung declared, gathering his stuff up to leave and sticking his tongue out at them. “Except you, Mingi, maybe you should take lessons from Seonghwa-hyung.”

Mingi turned bright red and ducked his head, avoiding eye contact with both Jongho and Seonghwa.

“What does that mean?” Jongho demanded before thinking better of it. “Wait, no, I don’t want to know.”

“He’s just holding a grudge because one time I-”

“What part of ‘I don’t want to know’ did you not understand?” Jongho yelped, covering his ears firmly with both hands.

“Don’t traumatize the baby,” Seonghwa said patiently, laughing at the disgusted glare Jongho sent him.

“I’m leaving, too,” Jongho decided. “You idiots can-”

“Oooh, hyung!” Mingi burst out suddenly, winking meaningfully and very unsubtly at Seonghwa several times.

“What does that mean?” Seonghwa asked, mystified. Mingi sighed and shook his head in disgust, gently pushing a confused Jongho to his feet and gesturing to Seonghwa to help him carry Jongho.

“I have the perfect place for you,” Mingi told Jongho enthusiastically. “It’s a surprise.”

Jongho sighed and let himself hang limply between the two of them as they clumsily carried him down the hall. He could have evaded them at any point, of course, especially since Seonghwa clearly had no idea what was going on either, but...they looked really cute and relaxed and happy together and he wanted them to enjoy their honeymoon phase to the fullest. Or at least, he did until Mingi shouldered open a door and he realized exactly where they were taking him.

Oh, good idea,” Seonghwa approved, hoisting Jongho a little higher and tightening his grip more securely. Jongho shook his head frantically.

“Wait, no, what- ow!

Yunho and San, who were curled up together in Yunho’s bunk and had been so focused on the video they were watching that they hadn’t even noticed the door opening, flinched back in surprise as Seonghwa and Mingi tossed Jongho onto their laps.

“What’s going on?” Yunho asked, instinctively steadying Jongho and moving over to make room for the maknae in between himself and San.

“We brought you a present!” Mingi said, glowing with triumph. Jongho glared at him half-heartedly, cursing his traitorously soft heart for being unwilling to move lest he upset Mingi.

“Ugh, fine,” he groaned. “Go do your sex things, I’ll stay here, I promise.”

What?” San demanded, staring at Seonghwa and Mingi in horror. “Are you sexiling our most precious maknae? Because-”

“We’re not going to do sex things!” Seonghwa protested, scandalized.

“Aren’t we, though?” Mingi asked, bewildered. “I thought you-”

“Not listening, not listening, not listening,” Jongho chanted, hands covering his ears once more. San protectively put his hands over Jongho’s ears as well, glaring at Seonghwa and Mingi until Seonghwa gave up protesting and just hauled Mingi back outside.

Yunho watched in amusement, tugging San and Jongho’s hands away once they had left.

“You know, you’re acting awfully shy for someone who’s been crushing on both of them for years, and dating them for well over a month,” he pointed out, laughing as Jongho turned bright red and avoided eye contact. “I know you’re going slow with Wooyoung, but with them...weren’t they your sexual awakening?”

“Why do you need to say these things?” Jongho groaned, burying his face in his hands. San patted him on the back supportively and frowned up at Yunho.

“Yeah, Yuyu, you know he doesn’t like talking about it. Let him pretend to be innocent, even if we all know-”

“You know nothing!” Jongho insisted, grasping frantically for a distraction. “What were you watching, hyungs?”

Yunho gave him that familiar, knowing, crooked smile that always made Jongho feel extra small and shaky before graciously taking the change of topic.

“We’re monitoring facial expressions in other idols’ fancams,” he explained, adding, with a hint of vulnerability, “Sannie’s helping me practice a bit.”

Jongho melted a little at that half-confession, knowing that Yunho was purposefully making an effort to be more open with him after their conversation the other day.

“Can I join?”

“Of course, baby,” San agreed immediately, fishing out his phone from where it had fallen when Jongho had been thrown on top of them and pulling up another video. “We were on Shinee when you came in, so let’s watch Sherlock. It always makes me think of you singing at that fan sign, Jongho.”

Jongho smiled at the memory and nodded in agreement, and settled himself more comfortably between them with his head resting on Yunho’s shoulder.

“Okay, I’m ready.”

 

 

Jongho blinked awake several hours later, not sure when he had fallen asleep but feeling too warm and sluggish to care. He did blush when he realized that he had somehow turned sideways in his sleep so that his head was smushed against San’s stomach and their legs were tangled together. He hesitated, trying to figure out how to extricate himself without drawing attention to their predicament, but then San started stroking his head gently and Jongho just...gave up. He was still half-asleep and way too comfortable to consider moving, even on principle.

“Where’s Yunho?” he mumbled tiredly, belatedly realizing that the bed felt a lot more empty than it had when he had fallen asleep.

“He had a date with Yeosangie,” San explained. “I think they’re doing an ice cream tour?”

Jongho wrinkled his brow in confusion.

“What does that mean?”

“They’re going to a few different ice cream stores and taste testing to see which place they like the best.”

“That sounds like something you’d enjoy,” Jongho pointed out. “Didn’t you want to go?”

San shrugged.

“I wanted to stay with you,” he said lightly.

“Oh,” Jongho said faintly, grateful that his face was still partially hidden in San’s stomach.

"Are you disappointed?"

Jongho hesitated. In truth he was a little disappointed because he had secretly enjoyed the opportunity to be close to both Yunho and San for a bit, but he knew any hint at dissatisfaction would be taken as disappointment in San's presence rather than Yunho's absence, and that was the last thing Jongho wanted to signal.

"It's just a bit colder without him here," he said instead, blushing as San immediately tucked the blankets more closely around him.

There was a touch of uncertainty in San’s actions that bothered Jongho too much for him to dwell on the embarrassment, though. San had sent him little bouquets with notes every day for the past four days and Jongho had tried to reciprocate in little ways that he knew would be noticed by San without him having to explicitly address the gifts — he added a little extra weight in his voice when complimenting San during practice, brought him late night snacks, and took San’s side when they were debating over what to have for dinner despite craving dakgalbi himself. He had even offered to carry San down to the car after a particularly hard practice even though his muscles had felt so weak a part of him hadn’t been sure if they’d make it or not.

That had felt like an appropriate response to the gently loving lyrics San had written each day, but this morning’s note had been different. It had been taken from the song All for you by Seo In Guk and Jeong Eun Ji — a song Jongho had been singing a lot right when he joined the company — but San had altered the lyrics in a way that made Jongho wonder.

On the note San had written:

Actually, I worried about this a lot
Because I had nothing I could do for you
Even though I lack so much and I don’t have much
Love – in my small heart – oh love – I want to fill it up with your scent
So even if I’m eternally trapped inside
I can be happy

Jongho knew, though, that the original lyrics for the first part should have included an extra line:

Actually, I worried about this a lot
Because I had nothing I could do for you
Even though I lack so much and I don’t have much
Will you still accept me?

Knowing San, he had probably chosen to leave the last line out to avoid sounding too desperate, which only made Jongho wonder how much San craved an answer to that final question. San had always struggled with self-esteem and, while it had certainly gotten better as they grew up, Jongho knew there was still a part of San that questioned himself and his worth far too easily. And Jongho didn’t want thoughts of him to ever cause any pain for San, no matter where they were on a romantic front. Their relationship had always meant the world to Jongho, and he needed San to know that.

“Hyung,” he started cautiously, twisting his head so he could see San’s face and firmly ignoring the awkward feelings twisting in his stomach. “You know I’ve always admired you, right? Your athleticism, your drive and passion, your integrity and character, your voice and the way you play with it, your artistry on stage...you’ve always been someone I look up to and want to learn from. But even without any of that, if all you ever did was love me — that would be enough. I would still want my Sannie-hyung with me always.”

“Really?” San breathed out, eyes shining with hope.

“Of course,” Jongho replied as gently as he could, swallowing down the part of him that was dying with embarrassment long enough to hold San’s gaze and make sure his words had hit home. Then, because he could only suppress his embarrassment for so long and felt like he was about to explode with all the sentimental tension hovering in the air, he took refuge in petulance.

“Hyung, I told you I was cold,” he complained, tugging San down the bed until he was lying down completely and spooning him possessively. “You have to stay there, okay?”

“Okay,” San murmured, glancing back over his shoulder and smiling unbearably fondly at whatever he saw in Jongho’s eyes before turning around fully so that he could curl into Jongho’s chest. “Actually, I like this better.”

“I guess I’ll allow it,” Jongho said with feigned reluctance, lifting one leg to hook around San’s lower half and tug him even closer. San all but melted against him and Jongho buried his face into San’s hair, desperately trying to calm the intoxicating mixture of protective possessiveness and adoration he was feeling towards his hyung.

Despite how awkward he had felt, Jongho couldn’t help feeling a little proud of himself for being brave enough to bring up the topic at all. He had always felt uncomfortable with expressing any type of sappy sentiment, and so far Wooyoung, Seonghwa, and Mingi hadn’t seemed to require it from him. They all needed praise, of course — a truly ridiculous amount of praise considering how incredibly talented they all were — but compliments on a job well done were easy. Exposing just how much he loved and respected San had been much harder, but San had spent the past few days demonstrating that he was willing to adjust his style of love for Jongho’s sake and it felt right for Jongho to adjust a little bit for San in return.

He wasn’t sure that he was ready to leap into something romantic yet, exactly, but he was getting there and he wanted San to know that. Because, no matter how much San doubted himself, he would always be enough.

 

 

Wooyoung hesitated outside the door to Hongjoong’s studio, not sure if this was the right decision or not. He wasn’t sure of a lot of things, really, like why Seonghwa, Mingi, and Jongho’s teasing had affected him so much when he knew they didn’t mean anything by it and he said similar things to them all the time. Maybe it was because he had still been feeling a little uncertain about himself ever since he found out why Seonghwa had initially refused him, or maybe it was because he was realizing Jongho might have insisted on going slow with him specifically for the same reasons Seonghwa had felt overwhelmed, or maybe it was just because he was feeling particularly vulnerable about this project to begin with.

Either way, what he did know was that he had instinctively sought out Hongjoong without consciously ever making the decision to, and now here he was standing outside of the studio trying to work up the nerves to get in. A part of him, the old part that worried Hongjoong found him annoying and exhausting to deal with, told him that there was a reason he had never disturbed Hongjoong in his studio and now wasn’t the time to change that. The other part of him, the part that remembered Hongjoong thinking that Wooyoung didn’t like him outside of work, told him that this might actually make both of them happy. Wooyoung wrinkled his nose in annoyance at his inner dialogue and bitterly thought that if even he was frustrated with himself maybe it wasn’t a good idea to be bothering-

“Wooyoung?”

Wooyoung spun around, heart leaping into his throat at the sight of Hongjoong with a convenience store bag swinging from one hand and a smoothie in the other.

“Hi, hyung,” he said lamely.

“What are you doing here?” Hongjoong asked, glancing around as if the empty hallway might contain an answer. “Is everyone okay back at the dorm?”

“Yeah,” Wooyoung answered helplessly, realizing once more just how weird it was that he had come. “I...nevermind, hyung, it was nothing.”

“No, wait,” Hongjoong said, awkwardly reaching around Wooyoung to open the door to his studio and hold it open. “You didn’t come all this way for nothing. Have some yogurt and tell me.”

Wooyoung gingerly accepted the offered yogurt and sat down on the armchair in the corner, trying to figure out what he was willing to share.

“I was just wondering if it would be okay for me to work here for a little,” he said eventually, licking the spoon of his yogurt clean and tossing the empty container in the recycling.

“Of course,” Hongjoong agreed immediately, watching him curiously. “What are you working on?”

Wooyoung shifted uncomfortably. He had never really been good at keeping things like this a secret and he wanted to tell the others, but… he also really wanted to keep going with his little passion project and knew he would lose the motivation at even the slightest negative response.

“Just a project,” he answered evasively, looking away. Hongjoong watched him in silence for a moment, finishing his own yogurt, and then suddenly got up to squeeze in next to Wooyoung and pinch his cheek.

“My Wooyoungie’s working on a project?” he asked in that ridiculously high aegyo tone he had been using recently — the one Seonghwa swore up and down he practiced in the mirror before bed every night.

“Hyung, gross, what are you doing?” Wooyoung screeched in disgust, making a show of squirming away although he made sure to only move his head so that the rest of their bodies stayed pressed together in the chair.

“Show me or I’ll do it again,” Hongjoong demanded triumphantly in his normal voice.

“This is extortion,” Wooyoung grumbled, blushing in flustered embarrassment as he opened the laptop he had brought with him — one their manager had leant him from the company’s stock — and pulled up the clips he had been working on.”I-I was just experimenting with video editing? I was watching our log and thought it might be kind of fun to make my own, like with subtitles and everything. So I was just practicing with some random videos I have to see if I can do it or not.”

“Of course you can do it,” Hongjoong said sternly, reaching over to cup Wooyoung’s face in his hands for a lecture. “You are one eighth of the best performance group in the world, you’re on your way to being certified in Korean cooking, you’re charismatic and sexy and kind and generous and you can do anything you set your mind to, understood?”

“Oh my god, hyung, why are you like this?” Wooyoung complained, flustered, as he tried in vain to escape Hongjoong’s grip. “Okay, okay, I understand!”

Hongjoong sat back, satisfied.

“Good. Now, I’m going to nap while you work and I expect demonstration of your talent to be ready by the time I wake up. Capiche?”

“Capiche,” Wooyoung echoed, watching incredulously as Hongjoong closed his eyes and promptly fell asleep between one breath and the next. He adjusted his arm around Hongjoong’s shoulders so that he could access the keyboard and let himself take a moment to process his relief as Hongjoong napped peacefully practically draped across his lap. “I’ll make you proud, hyung.”

 

 

 

Yeosang stood outside Seonghwa’s room, shaking with nerves and clutching the envelope to his chest. Yunho had been right, on their date, that Yeosang needed to be a bit more creative if he didn’t think he would be able to ask the hyung’s out bluntly, and Yeosang couldn’t help feeling very proud of himself for the plan he had come up with. It was simple, but there would be no ambiguity in it and, best of all, he probably wouldn’t even have to say more than a few words to them out loud.

He glanced behind himself cautiously, double-checking that Yunho had been true to his word and distracted the 99z and Jongho with his promised game tournament before raising his hand to knock firmly on the door.

“Come in,” Seonghwa called, voice distracted as though he was focusing intently on something.

Yeosang pushed it open hesitantly, the knot in his chest loosening at the familiar sight of Seonghwa putting together a lego set at his desk.

“Hyung, can I ask for your advice on something?”

“Of course, baby,” Seonghwa replied, immediately putting down the figurine he had been holding and pushing back from the desk to look towards Yeosang. “What’s up?”

This was it, Yeosang told himself firmly, mentally reciting the lie he had prepared one more time before saying it out loud.

“I took some polaroid pictures to post on twitter for Atiny but I don’t know which ones are better. Will you help me choose?”

Seonghwa nodded immediately, carefully pushing back the piles of pieces he had been sorting to clear some space along the edge of the desk.

“Come put them here, Yeosang-ah. What’s the concept?”

“Boyfriend,” Yeosang replied automatically, snapping his mouth shut in embarrassment as he realized how close he was to giving it away. “I mean- well, they’re of me holding a sign.”

Seonghwa frowned in confusion but watched patiently as Yeosang laid out the photos on the table, mouthing the words in the signs as each was put down.

“Will...You...Go...Out...With...Me…Seonghwa-hyung? Will you go out with me Seonghwa-hyung?

Seonghwa stared at the photos for a long minute, mouth opening and closing without making a noise, and then turned to gape at Yeosang.

“Yeosang-ah, baby, is this…?”

Yeosang swallowed thickly.

“Will you go out with me, Seonghwa-hyung?” he asked tentatively, feeling like his heart was about to beat right out of his chest. It was worth it, though, for the sight of the huge, giddy smile that lit up Seonghwa’s face. Yeosang grinned back helplessly, melting at how happy Seonghwa looked.

“Is that a yes?” he checked.

“Yes!” Seonghwa confirmed almost before Yeosang finished the sentence, wrapping his arms around Yeosang and spinning them both in a circle. Yeosang clung to him, weak with relief that his plan had worked, until he felt the first drop hit his neck and had to jerk back to make sure it wasn’t somehow raining indoors.

“Hyung...are you crying?” he asked in disbelief, awkwardly reaching up to wipe the tears away with the edge of his sleeve.

“Happy tears,” Seonghwa sniffed, smiling through his tears and bouncing slightly in place. “Yeosang-ah, I’m so happy.”

Yeosang giggled incredulously and pulled him close, petting the back of Seonghwa’s head and trying to contain his own excitement.

Now all he needed was to make sure that Seonghwa was on the same page with him in terms of polyamory, and then he could enact his plan to ask Hongjoong out.

Really, what could go wrong?

Chapter Text

Seonghwa wandered into the kitchen after a much-needed nap in search of food, heading straight to the fridge without processing the rest of his surroundings.

“Hyung?”

Seonghwa jumped, nearly slipping on the tiled floor, and grabbed the handle of the fridge to steady himself as he turned around to see Yunho sitting at the counter eating a bowl of ramyeon as he scrolled through his phone.

“Oh,” Seonghwa said, shoulders relaxing. “It’s only you.”

“Who did you think it was?” Yunho asked as though he was deciding whether or not to be offended. “A ghost?”

“Don’t joke about that,” Seonghwa warned, glancing around nervously. “There could be one listening, you know.”

Yunho glanced around curiously, bewildered.

“Hyung, since when do you believe in ghosts?”

“Since Mingi and I watched this foreign documentary last night,” Seonghwa explained, pulling bowl after bowl of rice and side dishes out of the fridge as he spoke. “As a joke we noted the locations of different objects before we went in to shower, and when we came out they had moved.”

Yunho stared at him incredulously.

“Are you sure it wasn’t someone playing a trick on you?” he asked dubiously. “Wait, is this why Jongho complained about getting so little sleep last night? Because you and Mingi were freaking out?”

“‘Freaking out’ implies that we were making a big deal out of nothing,” Seonghwa told him archly. “Things moved, Yuyu.”

“It was very scary, I’m sure,” Yunho placated, not doing a very good job of hiding his amused smile. “Hyung, do you think this is mold in my ramyeon?”

Seonghwa groaned, coming around the counter to check.

“Yuyu, you really need to learn how to tell whether food is safe to eat before blindly putting it in your mouth,” he chided. “Remember those pancakes? You- eek!”

Seonghwa yelped as he was pulled unceremoniously into Yunho’s lap, wriggling half-heartedly to escape.

“You’re trapped, hyung,” Yunho informed him proudly, hooking his chin over Seonghwa’s shoulder contentedly. “How could you believe there was mold in my ramyeon, hyung? Ramyeon never goes bad.”

“I’d believe anything when it comes to you,” Seonghwa grumbled, reaching out in vain for the dishes of food he had set out that were now just out of his grasp. “Yunho, let me go, I’m hungry.”

Yunho rolled his eyes and easily reached across the counter to tug the dishes closer.

“There, you big baby, eat up.”

“I didn’t get chopsticks yet, though,” Seonghwa pouted, feeling genuinely torn. Yunho’s lap was warm and comfortable and perfect for post-nap cuddles, and he couldn’t decide if chopsticks were worth getting up for.

“I’ll just feed you,” Yunho decided happily, lifting a soy-sauce braised potato up to Seonghwa’s mouth.

“I’m not a baby,” Seonghwa protested belatedly, embarrassed at how much he was liking this. It was kind of nice to not have to do anything for once. His dongsaengs looked after him well, of course, but it was usually in a more emotional way — making sure he was praised and cuddled enough and didn’t feel lonely. They fed one another bites routinely, but rarely a whole meal unless someone was sick enough to have a hard time feeding themselves, and it was a welcome change to just sit back for an entire meal and let his mind wander while Yunho took care of the rest.

Of course, positioned as he was, his mind didn’t wander very far — all he could think about was Yunho, Yunho, Yunho. Pretty, adorable, sweet, bouncy Yunho who he had been trying to ask out for ages only to fail every time because of that look Yunho always had in his eyes when he watched Seonghwa — that fond, knowing look that he was giving him right now, in fact.

“Why are you watching me like that?” Seonghwa complained, unable to meet Yunho’s eyes without blushing.

“Like what?” Yunho asked innocently. “Am I looking at you in a particular way?”

Seonghwa squinted at him suspiciously.

“Anyways,” Yunho continued breezily. “I was only looking at you like that because you were looking at me all soft and sentimental.”

Seonghwa startled, face hot with embarrassment, and hastily took a sip from Yunho’s still-half-full ramyeon bowl to hide his face for a moment until his heart could calm down.

“I was thinking about the food,” he protested half-heartedly, rushing on so that Yunho couldn’t call him out on the obvious lie. “Anyways, you’re feeding me too slow. I’m still starving, Yuyu.”

“Well, we can’t have that,” Yunho teased, shoving a large bite of kimchi and rice into Seonghwa’s mouth. “Eat up, hyungie.”

Seonghwa sighed in resignation, knowing he could never win even a verbal battle against Yunho in this state, and slumped back against Yunho’s chest to pout for the rest of the meal. Yunho laughed at him and tugged him a bit closer, apparently content to just keep feeding him in silence. Seonghwa relaxed even further as the tension between them faded, starting to feel a little sleepy again. He let his eyes flutter closed, still opening his mouth automatically when Yunho prompted him even though he was starting to feel full.

“Are you actually going back to sleep right now?” Yunho asked, amused.

Seonghwa nodded slowly against his chest, everything around him fading except the comforting sensation of being cradled securely in Yunho’s arms.

“Keep the ghost away, okay?”

Yunho laughed and put the chopsticks down with a clink, adjusting Seonghwa into a more comfortable position in his lap and squeezing him affectionately.

“Of course, hyung,” he promised with only a tinge of sarcasm. “I’ll defend you with my life.”

 

 

Yeosang touched the surface of his finished project tentatively, smiling in satisfaction at the dryness of the paint and packing it carefully into its box. He had finished it last night and hidden it in the drawer of his desk but, now that their schedule was over for the day, he was finally ready to head over to Hongjoong’s studio to ask him out. They had an off day tomorrow, so he was hoping he might be able to drag Hongjoong away from work long enough for them to actually go out together almost immediately. All he had to do was actually pop the question, so to speak, and everything would be set.

Yeosang fluffed his hair up in the mirror and made sure his clothes were sitting just right on his frame before grabbing his bag and turning to leave.

The door swung open before he had taken more than a step, though, and he startled in surprise at the sight of Jongho’s face poking around the corner.

“Oh, hi hyung,” Jongho smiled cheerfully, clearly fresh from his shower and looking adorably happy and relaxed. “Are you ready for English practice?”

Yeosang’s heart panged with that familiar longing feeling that he always felt when he saw Jongho but he stamped it down quickly, reminding himself firmly that Jongho still seemed a bit too uncertain of their group dynamics to seriously consider entering a new relationship. He ignored the voice in his head that whispered Jongho didn’t really seem to reciprocate his feelings very much any more, not wanting it to be true.

The thing was, ever since Jongho had come to him that night after their intervention, it seemed like their relationship had stalled. Yeosang had initially been content with the slow growth of their relationship, feeling like there was something special and sweet about how careful they were being with one another in contrast to how quickly Yeosang had moved with everyone else, but that contentment had faded as time passed without any progress.

He just…didn’t understand. He and Jongho had always been so close, united by a quiet understanding, and he had always been secretly proud of how clingy and possessive Jongho acted around him. Yeosang had always been the exception to Jongho’s stated aversion to skinship and excessive emotion, with Jongho always going out of his way to praise Yeosang and compliment him whether it was on topic or not. Their relationship was special, and yet Jongho had been so focused on his boyfriends and developing relationships with Yunho and San recently that it seemed like he completely forgot to pay attention to Yeosang.

Which was…okay, kind of, because it wasn’t like there was anything wrong with their relationship, but Yeosang couldn’t help missing his maknae. He just didn’t know how to say that without sounding jealous and needy or demanding that Jongho date him when he had no idea of Jongho’s true feelings on that matter.

“Hyung?” Jongho asked, interrupting his thoughts. “Are you going somewhere?”

“To Hongjoong’s studio,” Yeosang answered automatically before his brain caught up with his mouth. He hesitated, deciding whether or not to explain, before throwing caution to the winds and watching Jongho’s face carefully as he added, “I’m going to ask him out.”

Something shuttered in Jongho’s eyes, an expression that Yeosang couldn’t identify flashing across his face before it smoothed into a slight frown.

“I don’t know if that’s a good idea, hyung,” Jongho told him haltingly. Yeosang stared at him, starting to feel genuinely angry at Jongho for the first time in what felt like forever. He had been so excited just a second ago and, really, who was Jongho to take the wind out of his sails?

“Well it’s a good thing I’m not asking your permission, then,” Yeosang said tightly, regretting the harshness a little when Jongho’s eyes widened in surprise. “Anyways, I need to go, Jongho.”

“I really don’t think you should do this, hyung,” Jongho said urgently, catching Yeosang’s arm as he tried to push past to the door. Yeosang shrugged off his grip, glaring at him.

“What does it matter to you, anyways?” he asked angrily, dismayed at Jongho’s lack of support. He hadn’t really anticipated the topic ever coming up, but he hadn’t thought that any of his members would be anything else than supportive and it genuinely hurt to know otherwise. “I like hyung, so why shouldn’t I ask him out?”

Yeosang left without waiting for an answer, calling out something about going to the company in case any of the others were listening before heading downstairs for a cab, trying to push the conversation with Jongho from his mind.

It didn’t really work, though, and he was still fuming as he wove through the hallways towards Hongjoong’s studio. He took a deep breath outside Hongjoong’s door, pushing down his annoyance and trying to regain the peace he had felt earlier as he opened the door and laid down the puzzle box in front of a surprised Hongjoong.

“What are you doing here?” Hongjoong asked in surprise, instinctively holding one arm out for Yeosang to perch on the armrest of his chair. “What is this?”

“It’s a wooden puzzle,” Yeosang told him, melting into the familiar embrace and watching as Hongjoong slid off the lid curiously. “I painted it myself.”

“Our artist,” Hongjoong smiled fondly, instinctively starting to put the pieces together.

They were intentionally big and easy to put together, and Yeosang watched breathlessly as Hongjoong’s hands slowed as he started to realize what it said.

Hongjoong stared down at the finished product, fingers ghosting over the delicate border Yeosang had painted with Ateez symbols and hehetmons interspersed amongst a meadow of flowers, all surrounding the message he had carefully painted in the center over a sky-blue background.

Yeosang shifted awkwardly as the silence stretched a little too long, Hongjoong’s hand tense and stiff against his side.

“Hyung?” he asked cautiously, his skin starting to prickle as he slowly realized that it wasn’t excitement or happiness that had Hongjoong frozen in his chair. “Hyung, are you-”

“Where is this coming from, Sang-ah?” Hongjoong asked him desperately, finally looking up to meet Yeosang’s gaze with nothing but confusion and bewilderment in his yes. “Is this a joke?”

Yeosang slid off the armrest, taking a few, stumbling steps backwards.

“No? Why would it be a joke? Hyung, I like you. I-”

Yeosang cut himself off as Hongjoong glanced between him and the puzzle in pure shock, the reality of the moment crashing down on him. Jongho was right, he realized distantly. He never should have done this. Somehow he had read the signs wrong, because it must have been a couple minutes by now and Hongjoong still hadn’t reacted positively. Which meant he wasn't going to.

“Are you saying no?” he asked numbly, frozen in place at the awkwardness of the situation.

“I-I don’t know,” Hongjoong answered helplessly. “Sang-ah, I had no idea, honestly. I just…I never thought of you that way. I love you, of course I do, but-”

“But not that way,” Yeosang finished dully, jerkily reaching forwards to collect the puzzle and bitterly remembering how he had so hopefully stayed up late last night to finish it.

“Don’t!” Hongjoong yelped, reaching out to stop Yeosang from ripping it apart. Their hands brushed and Yeosang flinched backwards a few steps, feeling behind himself for the door handle.

He all but ran out of the studio, ignoring Hongjoong’s startled calls and rushed outside, hailing the first cab he could find and directing it to the company. He didn’t really have anywhere else to go, now — he couldn’t go home and face the others after he had made such a fool of himself, particularly since he hadn’t told anyone else what he had been planning because he had wanted to surprise them with his triumph. He had wanted so badly to construct the entire plan all by himself, without anyone’s help this time, and see it through to completion before sharing it with his boyfriends. Idiot, he thought to himself bitterly, filled with enough self-loathing for now that he wasn’t in danger of breaking down in tears in the taxi.

The adrenaline from the emotions seething within him carried him all the way to his favorite vocal booth, his face almost cold with numbness until he looked down at his shaking hands, looking almost disturbingly pale in the darkness of the room, and just lost it.

He sank to the ground with a strangled scream of frustration, burying his face in his hands and almost choking on his sobs, wanting desperately not to be alone and yet so mortified at his foolishness that the thought of telling anyone else what had happened was unbearable.

 

 

“I like hyung, so why shouldn’t I ask him out?”

Yeosang’s parting words echoed in the empty room as Jongho stared after him, unsure at how the conversation had gone wrong so quickly.

“You shouldn’t ask because I don’t think hyung will say yes,” Jongho answered belatedly, hand dropping uselessly to his side as he stared after Yeosang.

He instinctively started to follow Yeosang before consciously pulling back, knowing that Yeosang wasn’t in the mood to listen to him right now and hating how helpless he felt. He couldn’t just do nothing though, even if he couldn’t go after Yeosang, so he made his way to the company, instinctively checking his phone every few minutes to see if there was any news. Not that Yeosang seemed interested in sharing with him, after that conversation, but Jongho would have settled for even a snarky, ‘I told you so’ text from his hyung, so that he would know he was okay.

The minutes stretched by, though, and nothing changed until Jongho heard footsteps coming up the hall and glanced outside the room of his practice studio to see Yeosang rushing blindly past. He froze in shock for a moment before lurching out of his chair and tracing the footsteps down the hall towards Yeosang’s favored vocal room, hesitating a moment in front of the door before shrugging to himself and pushing it open. It didn’t matter if it resulted in another fight, he just needed to know what was going on.

Jongho’s heart broke at the sight of Yeosang curled into a tight ball on the ground and he was shutting the door and hauling Yeosang into his arms before he even processed what he was doing.

“I’m sorry, hyung, I’m so sorry,” he murmured, crushing Yeosang tightly to his chest as though that might stop his hyung’s gasping sobs. “Breathe, hyung, I’m here. I’ll take care of everything, okay? Just breathe with me.”

“You were right,” Yeosang choked out, burying his face in Jongho’s neck and trying to mimic his breaths. “I never should have done that.”

Jongho shook his head and murmured reassurances, trying not to be mad at Hongjoong for breaking Yeosang’s heart like this. He knew intellectually that it wasn’t anyone’s fault, but that didn’t make this any less painful to watch. Yeosang had always been the one they strove to protect the most, and seeing him so clearly broken without any clear solution in sight felt like torture. All Jongho could do was try his best to help Yeosang put himself back together again, and wait for the wounds to slowly heal.

 

 

 

 

Wooyoung looked up from his phone in surprise as San bolted into his room, slamming the door behind him and panting heavily.

“Mingi told you about the ghost, right?” San asked, wrapping his blanket more tightly around himself and coming to sit nervously at the edge of Wooyoung’s bed. “He and Seonghwa-hyung said we have one so they’re sleeping with Yunho to protect them, but there wasn’t room for me too so I had to come here.”

Wooyoung stared at him, a frisson of fear traveling up his spine at the thought of a ghost living in their apartment.

“I thought Mingi was only afraid of Satan?” he asked, trying to lighten the atmosphere a little.

“Well, maybe it’s a satanic ghost,” San shrugged impatiently. “The point is, what if there actually is one?”

“Ghosts aren’t real, Sannie,” Wooyoung told him half-heartedly, pulling back the covers so that San could slide in next to him. “Anyways, what makes them think we have a ghost?”

“Apparently some stuff moved without explanation while they were in the shower? They had just watched a documentary about ghost stories so the idea was on their mind already, but…what if stuff has been moving the whole time and we just didn’t notice it? Honestly, I kind of thought it was you playing a joke on them but if you had no idea…”

Wooyoung shook his head, clinging tightly to San as he started to think about it more.

“I had no idea, seriously. I was out with Changbinnie last night, remember?”

“Maybe Yeosang?” San offered. “Wait, speaking of, where is Sang-ah?”

“I dunno,” Wooyoung shrugged. “He left a while ago saying something about going to the company, but I haven’t heard from him since.”

San frowned, glancing down at the time.

“It’s late, though,” he pointed out. “Do you think we should go bring him back? What if he’s in one of his obsessive practice cycles?”

“I’ll check his location,” Wooyoung decided. “Maybe he’s on his way back home.”

San peered over his shoulder as they waited for the app to load, relaxing as they saw Jongho’s dot together with Yeosang’s at their company.

“Let’s just go to sleep,” Wooyoung decided. “If nothing’s wrong he’ll probably wake us up when he comes back, and if something is wrong…honestly, I sometimes feel like Jongho is better at handling his moods than any of us, except maybe Hongjoong-hyung.”

“He comes to you a lot when he’s sad,” San objected loyally, even though he kind of agreed. “You’re a good listener.”

“I know,” Wooyoung agreed unselfconsciously. “Honestly, I’m proud of how often he comes to me when he’s upset. But at the times when he won’t go to someone, Jongho is best. C’mon, you know what I mean. We all feel that way, right?”

“Yeah,” San admitted, smiling at the thought of their hyung-like maknae. “Jongho is always a strong shoulder to lean on when Hongjoong-hyung’s brand of love feels too stern but you're not ready to actually talk about or process anything.”

“Exactly,” Wooyoung agreed, cuddling down in satisfaction. “Anyways, let’s just sleep and ask them about it in the morning. I’m sure nothing is wrong.”

 

 

Something was definitely wrong. Wooyoung had woken up that morning entwined with San and promptly panicked at how late it was as soon as he checked his phone until he remembered that they didn’t have a schedule until late that night and he was free to spend as long in bed as he wanted. His calmness fled as soon as he managed to pull San out into the living room to join the others, though.

The atmosphere was strained and tense, with Seonghwa, Mingi, and Yunho all glancing worriedly towards the corner where Yeosang and Jongho were pressed tightly together in the armchair as they monitored previous stages in near-silence.

Yeosang refused to say anything to anyone the rest of the afternoon, his face pale and set as he stuck to Jongho like glue. Jongho, for his part, held Yeosang close the entire day, shaking his head at the others helplessly when they sent him questioning glances to indicate that he couldn’t tell them anything.

“He made me promise not to tell anyone for just one day,” he confessed quietly when Yeosang went to the bathroom. “I’ll tell you tomorrow, though, okay? Just…don’t push him for now, he had a bad night. I think he wants to pretend it didn't happen, and I know that's not healthy, but...just for one day?”

It went against all of Wooyoung’s instincts to let Yeosang be so clearly heartbroken without doing anything about it but he knew from experience that pushing would only make Yeosang retreat even further into his shell. It wasn’t until that night, when Hongjoong finally joined them for their schedule after spending the entire day at his studio, that Wooyoung started to put the pieces together. Yeosang completely ignored Hongjoong, his tight grasp on Jongho’s arm the only sign that anything was amiss, and Hongjoong kept sending Yeosang the saddest, most lost-looking glances that Wooyoung had ever seen on their captain’s face.

Aside from their squabbles during trainee years Yeosang and Hongjoong had never truly fought that Wooyoung could remember and, while even this didn’t exactly seem like a fight, the entire situation just felt surreal. Everyone was off that night, thrown by the unusual tension in the air, unable to do anything except hope that things would go back to normal soon.

 

Perhaps predictably, they didn’t. The uncomfortableness faded but never quite disappeared, even once Jongho explained to them what had happened and they were able to try to help comfort him to the best of their abilities. Yeosang opened up to them a little at a time but clammed up too quickly for them to really make any progress, still clearly mortified and heartbroken by the exchange. Hongjoong was no different — he hid away in his studio, refusing to talk properly with anyone about what had happened beyond just emotionlessly recounting the bare facts of his conversation with Yeosang and immediately changing the subject.

No one could really tell what was going through his mind, no matter how hard they tried, and Wooyoung couldn’t help wondering if things would ever change. If Hongjoong wouldn't talk about it, and just ignored the problem in the hopes that it would go away...how would they ever get past this?

 

 

Hongjoong groaned in frustration and slid his headphones off, burying his face in his hands. Ever since Yeosang had asked him out a few days ago, he just…hadn’t been able to produce properly. None of his tracks sounded right anymore, lyrics weren’t flowing the way they usually did, and he couldn’t keep his gaze off the completed puzzle still sitting innocently at the corner of his desk.

He had thought about taking it apart and putting it back into the box, but…he just felt so loved every time he looked at it, despite the guilt and sadness that had been his constant companions for the past few days, and had never been able to bring himself to actually do it.

He hadn’t lied about only seeing Yeosang as his dongsaeng, of course, but he couldn’t stop wondering if he should have just said yes. He knew intellectually that agreeing to date just to make Yeosang happy would have eventually imploded in his face, but Yeosang was pretty and smart and sarcastic and cute and perfect and surely it wouldn’t be hard to fall in love with him if Hongjoong tried?

After all, he had kind of been attracted to Yeosang when they first met, he admitted to himself reluctantly. At the time relationships had just been so far from his mind, and Yeosang was so far out of his league that Hongjoong had firmly pushed any inappropriate thoughts of his dongseang’s attractiveness from his mind. At the time they had clashed too often for Hongjoong to seriously consider anything romantic, anyways, and his budding relationship with Seonghwa had been confusing enough that Hongjoong had decided to forget any ideas of love at all. And that had worked, honestly, up until this year.

Now, though, Hongjoong wasn’t sure if those thoughts were gone completely or just long-buried. He loved all of his members so much, to the point that he would quite genuinely do anything for them, and he knew he had an embarrassingly large soft spot for Yeosang in particular, but…was that romantic love? Or just a product of the eight of them being one another’s everythings for so long? For all that their producers and managers and stylists and dancers were an incredible support system for them, only the eight of them truly knew exactly what it was like to live as a member of Ateez and Hongjoong knew no one else would ever quite be able to understand him the way his members did.

Yeosang in particular just got the quieter sides of him in a way that no one except perhaps Jongho did. Whereas Yunho and Seonghwa inspired Hongjoong to let go of all of his boundaries and act a bit like a kid again, Yeosang almost did the opposite — he triggered every protective, adoring, care-taking bone Hongjoong had in his body, to the point that Hongjoong sometimes felt overwhelmed by how bright Yeosang shone in his eyes.

But…none of that was new. He knew his feelings for Yeosang went far deeper than friendship, and he knew he found Yeosang attractive the same way he knew the sky was blue, but the two emotions had always felt so separate and he wasn’t sure if that meant that he had a crush or not because he had never let himself even remotely consider the idea.

Maybe now was the time, though, with all of these long-ignored feelings sweeping over him. Hongjoong braced himself and tried to imagine dating Yeosang. Going out together to eat and feeling electricity spark between them even when they weren’t touching, having the freedom to tug Yeosang closer whenever he wanted without having to make excuses, spending time and effort on building a relationship with him that had nothing to do with work, kissing him and maybe even doing a bit more-

Hongjoong suddenly felt hot all over and he shook his head firmly to clear his thoughts, casting desperately around for something to distract himself with. His eyes fell on his wallet and he randomly remembered his mom’s recent joke that shopping therapy was the best way to heal a broken heart. It had been a joke, and Hongjoong didn’t actually need anything at the moment, but he needed to stop thinking about Yeosang’s lips for his own sanity and wasn’t sure what else would work. Composing clearly wasn’t going to happen given how scattered his mind was, so maybe it would actually help to get out of his studio and just hang out with a friend for a bit. A small slice of normalcy after his world had been flipped upside down, something to give his brain the space to calm down and process without overwhelming himself even further.

Hongjoong nodded decisively and grabbed his wallet and jacket before heading over to Mingi’s studio, entering without knocking.

“Get in, loser, we’re going shopping,” He announced, tossing Mingi’s coat over to his dongsaeng.

Mingi caught the jacket automatically and stared up at Hongjoong.

“What? Get in where?” Hongjoong groaned.

“I know you’ve seen Mean Girls like ten times, Mingi-ah, it’s a quote.” Their English teachers let them watch an English-language movie at the end of every month, and the members had liked Mean Girls so much that it was now a recurring pick for their team movie nights.

“Oh. Oh.” Mingi laughed bashfully and Hongjoong couldn’t help smiling fondly down at the younger rapper, some of his irritable mood fading away at his dongsaeng’s easy happiness. It was nice to see Mingi so purely himself for once, given how on-edge he had been recently, and the his lightness dulled some of the confusion Hongjoong had been feeling ever since Yeosang had asked him out. “But why are we going shopping, hyung?”

“Words aren’t working and I’m in the mood to spend money.”

“Don’t you want to buy something for yourself though? Why are you bringing me?”

“I don’t need anything, so we’re gonna go to that cool vintage streetwear pop-up you were talking about and you’ll pick out what you like and let me buy it for you.” Mingi stared up at his hyung with wide eyes, surprised at the stern tone. Hongjoong softened, adding a belated “If that’s okay with you?”

Mingi smiled brightly, clicking his computer off and jumping up from his chair.

“Wait,” Mingi halted and turned an accusing finger towards Hongjoong. “Is this your emotionally constipated way of asking me out on a date?”

“I - emotionally constipated - date - no!” Hongjoong sputtered, the tips of his ears burning red. He didn’t quite understand how Mingi could be so nervous one moment and then bubbly and overconfident the next, but, well, that was part of why Hongjoong loved him. Even if the last thing he needed right now was the topic of dating on his brain. Surely Mingi knew that? “Of course not! I just want to buy things for you, don’t read so much into these things.”

“Whatever you say, hyung,” Mingi grinned. “You’re still gonna buy me food after, though, right?”

“Of course,” Hongjoong muttered, vaguely insulted at the idea that he would do anything less.

Mingi laughed gleefully and pulled out his phone.

“Who are you texting?” Hongjoong asked suspiciously.

“Sannie,” Mingi muttered, tongue sticking out between his teeth as he typed furiously. Hongjoong was struck by a strange urge to kiss him and he shook himself firmly. He really needed this outing if his mind was already playing tricks on him like this. Just because Yeosang had asked him out didn’t mean he could suddenly start imagining things about all of his dongsaengs.“Gotta tell him I bagged a date with you first.”

“It’s not a- oh, whatever,” Hongjoong sighed, giving up. He wasn't sure what Mingi was up to bringing the topic up constantly, but he had long since learned that the best way to deal with Mingi was just to go along with his crazy plots. “I certainly hope you don’t spend your dates texting, though. I’m sure we’ve taught you better than that.”

“Of course I don’t!” Mingi protested, slipping his phone back into his pocket and holding the door open for Hongjoong with a flourish. “Don’t worry, hyung, you’ll have all my attention from now on. You can tell me everything on your mind.”

Chapter Text

“Can we go get some ice cream, first?” Mingi asked, bouncing impatiently in place as he waited for Hongjoong to catch up to him and linking their hands before continuing to weave his way through the streets. “There’s this new place just around the corner that’s supposed to be pretty good and not too crowded yet.”

“Sure,” Hongjoong agreed indulgently, still feeling a little lost from his confusing thoughts earlier and willing to do anything Mingi was in the mood for. All he needed was a distraction to make him stop thinking about Yeosang like that, but even this didn’t quite seem to be working. Whenever he spaced out his mind just went right back to the decisions he had been trying to think through in the studio, and he didn’t know how to process the fact that all signs were leading towards him actually potentially having romantic feelings towards Yeosang.

He hadn’t been lying when he had said that he had never thought of Yeosang that way before, but he was starting to realize that he might have been subconsciously repressing a lot of not-very-platonic feelings for his dongsaeng for a very long time. He had left his studio to try to tamp down the overwhelming strength of those emotions and hopefully give himself some time to process them, but now he had to grudgingly admit to himself that running away wasn’t going to do anything. Those feelings and emotions weren’t fake, which just made them all the more terrifying. It was as though Yeosang’s confession, as scary and confusing as it had been, had broken some type of dam within Hongjoong and let years worth of feelings towards his dongsaeng rush out.

And, unfortunately, as sweet and cute as Mingi was being, it was the opposite of helpful for Hongjoong’s scattered thoughts. Far from being distracted, it seemed like every second Hongjoong wasn’t thinking about Yeosang he was thinking about how adorable Mingi was. Adorable and cool and genius and sexy and…Hongjoong swallowed heavily, feeling hot and overstimulated by the bright sunlight and city noises around him. Coming out had been a mistake, he decided firmly.

He was about to say as much to Mingi when the other rapper stopped in his tracks, saying with embarrassingly fake surprise, “Oh look, hyung. It’s Jongho, Yunho, Sannie, and Wooyoung. Whatever could they be doing here?”

Hongjoong followed Mingi’s pointed finger to where Jongho, Yunho, San, and Wooyoung were indeed walking towards them, and froze with the realization that this had all been a set up. Mingi’s teasing comments about their ‘date,’ the message to San he had sent…Hongjoong buried his face in his hands in disgust at how oblivious he had been. Mingi had never been very good at pulling off this type of intervention, so the fact that Hongjoong genuinely hadn’t noticed was a testament to how scattered his thoughts had been. He was never going to live this down, was he?

“Hi, hyung,” Wooyoung greeted him cheerfully. “How generous of you to agree to buy us all ice cream!”

Hongjoong didn’t even bother protesting as they all ordered the most expensive combinations possible, sensing the sharpness behind their jokes and figuring it was best to conserve his energy for whatever was coming.

“So,” Jongho started, with a certain steeliness in his eyes that made Hongjoong distinctly uncomfortable, “How are you doing, hyung?”

“I’m good?”

“Are you asking us or telling us?” Yunho asked lightly, nudging his knee against Hongjoong’s under the table.

“I…what’s this about, guys?” Hongjoong asked bluntly. He was pretty sure he knew, of course, but he was a little unnerved by their demeanor and wanted to know where they stood before deciding how to answer.

“It’s an intervention,” San announced. “About Yeosangie. Are you…are you okay, hyung?”

Hongjoong stared at him, startled. He should have known better, of course, because his dongsaengs never failed to surprise him with their empathy and consideration, but he had expected them to be mad about how upset Yeosang clearly was rather than worried about him.

“I’m okay,” he said slowly. “I just…feel like I led him on, in retrospect. I can see why he thought I might like him, and I-”

Hongjoong broke off, unsure how to say that he was starting to think Yeosang might have been right.

“Hyung,” Jongho said gently. “Did you say no because you genuinely have no feelings for him — which would be okay! — or because you were too overwhelmed and blindsided?”

Hongjoong stared at him in surprise.

“How did you know that?” he demanded.

“I know everything,” Jongho told him smugly, wincing as someone kicked him under the table.

“Really, hyung,” Wooyoung said, shaking his head in disappointment. “You’re seriously predictably obtuse sometimes.”

“I am not!” Hongjoong sputtered, offended. “Yuyu, I wasn’t obtuse at all with you, right?”

“Hyung, I’ve had a very noticeable crush on you for forever,” Yunho told him dryly. “And yet you never noticed? Although, to be fair, Mingi didn’t notice my crush on him for ages as well. Maybe it’s a rapper thing?”

“It is not!” Hongjoong and Mingi protested in tandem.

“Okay, okay, guys that’s not the point,” San interrupted hastily. “The point is that you might have feelings for Yeosang?”

Hongjoong hesitated, studying their faces cautiously. He wasn’t used to talking about this type of thing so openly, but he had been thinking himself in circles all morning and…his members were his everything. If he couldn’t talk to them, he couldn’t talk to anyone. So he took a deep breath and started explaining all the emotions he had been trying to process and disentangle ever since Yeosang had asked him out.

“So, I don’t know what to do,” he finished, watching their unreadable faces nervously. “I don’t think I’m in a place where I can just suddenly date him, you know? He clearly feels strongly about me and it feels unfair to enter into a relationship when I’m still struggling to even admit my feelings to myself.”

“I think you should tell him and let him make that decision,” Yunho said quietly after a minute. “I don’t think you’re wrong, exactly, but…right now he thinks you don’t have feelings for him at all. And maybe spending some time together with the air cleared might help you get to a better place with it, you know?”

“I agree,” Wooyoung decided. “If you weren’t sure if you had feelings at all I might disagree, because then there would be the possibility that you could change your mind. But it sounds like you’ve been conflicted a lot over the past few days and if you are positive that you have feelings — which, for my part, I think you do — then I think being open about it might give you the freedom to figure out how to let yourself be more open with your emotions to both him and your self.”

The others nodded in agreement and Hongjoong slumped back against the booth, mind spinning despite how surprisingly relieved he felt after that conversation.

“I think I’m going to go back to my studio after this and think about it,” Hongjoong decided, finally starting to dig in on his mostly-melted bowl of ice cream. “But…thank you guys, seriously. It helped a lot even just to be able to say it out loud, and I do think you’re right.”

“Anytime, hyung,” Jongho promised cheekily, looking far too proud of himself for Hongjoong’s liking. “Ateez consulting services are at your disposal, whenever you want us.”

“No, Jongho, that’s not the name we decided on!” Mingi protested, groaning in dismay. Jongho stared at him.

“Is it not?”

“No,” San, Wooyoung, and Yunho told him at the same time. Hongjoong laughed and continued eating his ice cream, keeping an eye on them out of the corner of his eye as he started to think through what they had suggested. Yes, he decided. He’d go back to his studio and think about it seriously for a few more hours, and then he would finally have that much-needed talk with Yeosang.

 

 

 

“What do you think?” Seonghwa asked expectantly, dropping his hands after the third version of his Inception center part and waiting for Yeosang’s judgement. “The last one is cutest, right, but I feel like it’s too far away from the mood of the song?”

“I think so,” Yeosang agreed reluctantly, shifting over on Seonghwa’s bed so that there was room for both of them. “Maybe for an interview or concert performance? If we’re ever able to perform this at a concert…”

“We definitely will,” Seonghwa assured him. “It’s a title track — no matter how long this takes, we’ll perform it at a concert. And maybe MAMA, too, hm?”

“True,” Yeosang agreed, brightening. “I can do my solo part.”

“It’s the highlight,” Seonghwa praised, relieved to see Yeosang genuinely excited and properly light-hearted for the first time in days. “Will you do it for me, baby?”

“I can’t,” Yeosang groaned dramatically, pretending to be trapped by Seonghwa’s weight on top of him. “I can’t get up, I’m suffocating!”

Seonghwa laughed and rolled his eyes, draping himself across Yeosang more fully and pretending to fall asleep.

“What a comfy bed I have,” he joked.

“Oh my god, you guys are worse than Jongho,” Yunho groaned from the doorway. Seonghwa startled at his sudden presence and shot up into a sitting position, accidentally elbowing Yeosang in the stomach and hurrying to apologize with flushed cheeks.

“Smooth, hyung,” San teased, ducking under Yunho’s arm to watch them fondly. “What were you two up to?”

“Just relaxing,” Yeosang shrugged, wrapping his arms comfortably around Seonghwa and leaning his head against his shoulder. “You guys?”

“We got ice cream after practice,” Yunho said smoothly. A little too smoothly for Yeosang’s comfort, but he shrugged after a second and pushed that thought aside. Ignorance was bliss, right? He was happy right now, unreservedly happy, and the last thing he wanted was to learn something that might ruin that.

“Where’s Jongho and Wooyoung?” he asked instead. “I thought they were practicing with you guys?”

“They’re arguing in the kitchen,” Yunho explained, rolling his eyes.

“You mean they’re flirting in the kitchen,” San corrected. “They’re kind of yelling at one another? Something about Wooyoung eating all of Jongho’s ice cream after claiming he didn’t want any. But they’re holding hands and Jongho’s doing that pout he always uses when he wants attention.”

“It was disgusting so we left and came here instead.”

“Where you two are being equally disgusting,” San finished, shaking his head in disappointment.

“You’re welcome to leave,” Seonghwa pointed out. “The door’s right behind you.”

“Ooh, burn,” Yeosang giggled, shrieking and trying in vain to hide behind Seonghwa when San launched himself at the bed to attack him with tickles. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”

Yunho flinched as a knee swept a little too close to Seonghwa’s head for comfort during Yeosang and San’s subsequent tussling and he quickly scooped his hyung out of the way.

“What was that for?” Seonghwa panted, breathless from the surprise of being lifted so suddenly.

“You nearly got kneed, hyung,” Yunho explained, tossing Seonghwa a little in the air just because he could and laughing as Seonghwa clung to him in response. “Comfy, hyung?”

“No,” Seonghwa said petulantly, snuggling in nevertheless. “Did you use a new shampoo? Your hair smells extra good.”

“I borrowed one from some of the BB Trippin members,” Yunho confessed. “I forgot my supply at the company ran out.”

Seonghwa frowned at him suspiciously, remembering something.

“Did you do your laundry this week, Yuyu?” he asked skeptically. “Come to think of it-”

“I did, hyung,” Yunho promised patiently. “Don’t worry about that stuff for now, take a break.”

“I was just taking a break,” Seonghwa pointed out, feeling himself relax a little at Yunho’s words nevertheless. “You’re so good to us, Yuyu. Our perfect, handsome, angel of a puppy.”

Yunho blushed and hugged Seonghwa close.

“Thanks, hyung,” he mumbled, hiding his face in Seonghwa’s neck for a second before looking up and catching the matching, very interested gazes of San and Yeosang peeking at them from over the covers. “I can see you, you know,” he told them sternly, letting some of the eager tension that had built up fade. He was definitely going to ask Seonghwa out, but…he wanted it to be special. Something for them and them alone, as much as he loved his other boyfriends.

Anyways, there was no rush, and it was kind of fun to flirt like this with Seonghwa with the tacit acknowledgement that they both knew what was coming — he kind of thought it might be nice for his hyung to have a relationship that genuinely did progress slowly after the turbulence of his beginnings with Wooyoung. Yunho and Seonghwa somehow hadn’t spent as much time together one-on-one as Seonghwa had with Yeosang, and Yunho had always had a harder time being vulnerable with others than Mingi did — one of the many reasons he had always respected Mingi was because of how open he was no matter how many times it had come back to hurt him in the past.

Yunho had always relied on Seonghwa emotionally, like they all did, but lately he had only been vulnerable with his eldest hyung when he truly needed the comfort, too worried about letting his true feelings show, and it was relieving in a whole new way to finally have permission to think about a future with Seonghwa that was completely separate from their work or identity as Ateez.

 

 

“Hyung, are you okay?”

Wooyoung looked up into Jongho’s flushed face and melted all over again at the worried, earnest expression he found there.

“Of course I am, baby,” he promised, snuggling further into Jongho’s chest and pulling the covers up around them more firmly. “You made hyung feel really good.”

“I know that,” Jongho huffed, the tension seeping out of his body at Wooyoung’s words despite the cockiness in his own voice. Wooyoung laughed indulgently and leaned up to steal another kiss, privately wondering if it was possible for someone to be cuter than his maknae.

Jongho was always so confident and bossy on the face of things that it was sometimes easy to forget just how much he depended on the approval of his hyungs. He preferred physical affection to happen on his own terms, and yet always made sure to hug or squeeze all of his hyungs (except for Hongjoong, of course) because he knew that skinship was important to them. He pouted and pleaded and always got his way, but almost-obsessively checked in with them to make sure that they were happy and fulfilled with whatever they were doing. He was demanding, but only for things that he knew they wanted themselves, and Wooyoung was perfectly comfortable admitting that he found it a little sexy. A little sexy, and a lot adorable.

“Our baby is so cute,” he cooed, playfully pinching Jongho’s cheeks and laughing at Jongho’s flustered reaction. “How did I get so lucky with my baby bear?”

“Gross, hyung,” Jongho complained, batting Wooyoung’s hands away. “Baby bear? Seriously?”

Wooyoung smiled in satisfaction at the reaction and settled back down, absentmindedly tracing the lines in Jongho’s palm.

“Hey, hyung?” Jongho asked suddenly, a strangely cautious undertone in his voice. “Do you remember last week when I came into the living room and you were there with Mingi-hyung and Seonghwa-hyung?”

Wooyoung stiffened slightly at the memory.

“Yes?”

“I’m sorry if we hurt you, then,” Jongho apologized in a rush, clearly feeling awkward about what he was saying. “You don’t have to tell me what you were doing, but…I’m proud of you for doing something that makes you feel happy and focused like that, for what it’s worth.”

Wooyoung swallowed heavily, blinking back the sudden, touched tears that sprang to his eyes, and turned around in Jongho’s lap to hug him properly.

“Thank you, makdoongie,” he choked out. “Really, baby, that means a lot.”

Jongho patted his back in surprise, clearly taken aback by the sudden rush of emotion, and Wooyoung giggled through his tears.

“Calm down, Jongho, I’m fine,” he promised. “Just emotional.”

“I’m gonna tell the others I’m so good in bed that I made you cry with happiness,” Jongho teased, relaxing at the reassurance. “They’ll all think-”

“Don’t you dare!” Wooyoung laughed, hastily covering Jongho’s mouth with his hand. “Anyways, they’ll just demand you show them your skills and you’re not ready for that, are you?”

“No,” Jongho admitted, sobering. “I’m sorry, I know it’s been a long-”

Wooyoung shook his head immediately.

“Don’t apologize,” he said firmly. “You do what you want whenever you’re ready. This was more than enough for me, and I would have even been fine if we never got past the make-out stage. Anyways, you should brag about your skills to them — I definitely wasn’t half so good when I started out. I’m sure Mingi and Seonghwa-hyung are good teachers, but-”

“Can we change the subject?” Jongho requested hastily, cheeks flaming. Wooyoung laughed, kissing his cheek and nodding in agreement.

“Of course, makdoongie,” he promised. “Anything you want, you’ll get.”

 

 

 

It was late that night by the time Hongjoong got back to the dorm but he could hear the tell-tale laughter of his dongsaengs even through the front door, signalling that they were still awake. He took his time slipping off his shoes and putting away his bag before coming in, not quite sure how to start this conversation but knowing it was necessary. All of the members were in the living room, watching Yunho and Jongho compete on some type of game, and Hongjoong hovered in the doorway watching them for a minute before clearing his throat to alert them to his presence.

“Yeosang-ah, can I talk to you for a minute, please?” he asked before he could lose his nerves. Yeosang stilled, smile fading, before nodding stiffly and getting up to follow Hongjoong into the hallway.

“My room or yours?” Hongjoong asked awkwardly.

“Yours,” Yeosang answered after a minute, not meeting his eyes even as he thanked Hongjoong for opening the door for him and walked past. Hongjoong watched Yeosang settle into the desk chair and fidget uncertainly, desperately wishing he could comfort him physically but knowing it wouldn’t be fair to push at the very clear boundary Yeosang was laying out between them.

“I wanted to explain about the other day,” he started hesitantly. “I-”

“There’s nothing to explain, hyung,” Yeosang interrupted, still not meeting his eyes. “You don’t have feelings for me, and that’s that. Finished.”

“No, not finished,” Hongjoong protested. “Sang-ah, listen to me, please. I never actually said no for a reason. I was just thrown off. I can see in retrospect why you thought I might have feelings for you and, honestly, I think you were onto something.”

Yeosang’s head jerked up at that and he stared at Hongjoong with wide eyes.

“Hyung-”

“San said me about what happened when he first asked you out,” Hongjoong confessed, watching Yeosang carefully. It was terrifying knowing how vulnerable he was about to make himself, but Yeosang deserved to know exactly where he stood. “Not any details from your end, but he talked about his feelings and waiting over break and getting together after, and I…I think I was in a similar place as you. I never considered any of you as a romantic possibility for so long that I instinctually pushed down any non-platonic emotions towards you. That’s part of what went wrong with Seonghwa, but… I don’t want to repeat those mistakes with you. When you asked me I genuinely had never considered you that way consciously, and even now that I can recognize that I- that I feel more for you I still instinctively recoil before I can stop myself and I don’t know how to fix it.”

“You feel more for me?” Yeosang repeated tentatively.

“I have a crush on you,” Hongjoong said bluntly, mouth dry. “I just… I just don’t know where that leaves us. I didn’t want to leave you thinking that I feel nothing for you and I definitely want more with you in the future, but I think it will take me a while to get there.”

Yeosang sighed, tension bleeding slowly out of his frame until he looked more like the happy-go-lucky dongsaeng Hongjoong was used to.

“That’s okay with me, hyung,” he promised. “We can…build up to things?”

“I’d like that,” Hongjoong agreed, smiling tentatively at him putting a hand over his chest when his heart fluttered at Yeosang’s responding grin. “May I hug you?”

Yeosang laughed properly at that and nodded, meeting Hongjoong halfway and practically melting into his arms.

Hongjoong hugged him close and breathed in his familiar scent for the first time in what felt like forever even though it had only been a couple days, relief washing over him. He knew things weren’t exactly perfect, but…they were okay. Yeosang was in his arms again, with a smile that reached his eyes for the first time in too long, and that was enough for now.

Chapter Text

Hongjoong woke up in the middle of the night to one of his dongsaengs climbing into bed with him and cuddling close — San, judging by the scent of his shampoo.

“Wha’s going on, petal?” he mumbled tiredly, sprawling haphazardly over San and trying not to drop off before getting an answer. He was exhausted after spending three straight nights in the studio and was pretty sure he had fallen asleep while Seonghwa was saying something to him, but he could keep his eyes open for a few minutes to talk San through whatever was keeping him awake. Probably.

“Just a nightmare,” San shrugged, tucking the tip of his cold nose right up against Hongjoong’s neck and sighing as though the weight of the world was on his shoulders. “I don’t really remember it, I just didn’t want to be alone and Yunho’s sleeping with Wooyoung tonight. You’ll protect me from the ghost, right?”

“Ghosts don’t exist,” Hongjoong answered patiently, biting back a smile at how world-weary San sounded when they both knew he had spent the entire day in bed marathoning old Running Man episodes with Wooyoung, Yeosang, and three massive tubs of ice cream that had suspiciously not been seen since. “But yes, I’ll protect you. Were you looking for Seonghwa? He was here when I went to sleep, I think.”

“Oh, he’s out like a light below you all curled around that plushie Jongho won for him at the arcade,” San said airily, as though the knowledge that he had specifically chosen Hongjoong when he sought safety hadn’t just set off a storm of emotionally devastated butterflies in Hongjoong’s stomach.

Hongjoong always vacillated back and forth between spending every possible second at the studio to make the songs that would allow all of their dreams to come true, or listening to Eden's increasingly unsubtle suggestions to come back home more often and spend quality time with his dongsaengs. Maybe, if Seonghwa and Yunho hadn’t been there, he might have made a different decision, but both of them were more than capable of looking after the members and Hongjoong didn’t regret choosing the studio more often than not because he knew he did have to make a choice at the end of the day. Even if he wished he didn’t.

But the more time spent at the studio defining the sound of their group, the less time he spent with his members and the less he fit in with their natural dynamic. It was a weird place to be, where he was the core of their group in some ways and completely outside of it in others, and he was never quite sure how to feel about it.

As their leader, he knew he was indispensable — he just understood the company and Edenary better than any of them, though it felt weird and egotistical to admit that even to himself. As a person, though…as a person he usually felt redundant. Awkward, oblivious, too serious, and uptight.

Moments like this, though, where one of his dongsaengs specifically sought him, not as a replacement but because they wanted their Hongjoong hyung — those meant everything to him. Hongjoong hugged San a little closer, pride and adoration washing over him in waves.

“Anyways,” San continued, “there definitely is a ghost. We’ve been running experiments.”

“I- wait, what?”

“We’ve been running experiments,” San repeated impatiently. “C’mon, hyung, I know you know about the scientific method. Hypothesis, replicable conditions, the whole thing.”

Hongjoong stared at him, momentarily shocked out of his sappy haze.

“Why are you using the scientific method on something scientists claim doesn’t exist?”

“Clearly you’re not getting your information from the right scientists,” San informed him condescendingly. “Plenty of scientists believe in ghosts, hyung, there are documentaries on it and everything.”

“You weren’t watching Running Man today, were you?” Hongjoong realized with dawning horror. “San-ah, how many conspiracy theories do I need to beg you not to mention in front of…well, in front of anyone.”

“They’re not conspiracy theories if they’re supported by facts,” San protested half-heartedly, shoving his face further into Hongoong’s chest in embarrassment. “And we did watch one episode of Running Man.”

Hongjoong sighed, resigned to the spate of PR meetings they were sure to have as soon as the company caught wind of this, and decided to let someone else deal with it. He wasn’t working right now, he could just be a hyung instead of a leader.

“Well, as long as you’re happy I’m happy,” he decided magnanimously. “You’re welcome.”

“I never said thank you and I don’t intend to,” San said archly. Hongjoong said nothing, knowing he just needed to wait him out. San had never been able to even tease at impoliteness for long. And sure enough, a few moments later-

“Thank you,” San grumbled, tucking the covers carefully around Hongjoong in silent apology. “For letting me sleep here. I’m sorry I woke you up, I thought you would just keep sleeping.”

“It’s okay, petal,” Hongjoong assured him, wishing the room wasn’t dark so he could see the pretty blush San always lit up with whenever he used that particular nickname. “I want to be woken up if you need me — or even if you just want me. Go to sleep, baby, I’ll be here.”

 

 

Yeosang poked his head around the door to the hyungline room tentatively, not sure whether Hongjoong was awake yet. Perhaps predictably given the hours he had been putting in at the studio, he was still asleep — arms curved protectively around the empty space where San must have spent the night.

Yeosang only hesitated a moment before carefully climbing up into the bunk to join him, settling down with his phone at the opposite end of the bed and opening his current favorite game to pass the time with until Hongjoong woke up.

It had been a couple weeks since Yeosang’s ill-timed confession, now, and most of the residual pain had disappeared — helped along by his growing confidence in the feelings for him Hongjoong professed to have. They had been spending a lot of time together recently, mostly either in the studio or practice room but occasionally out at the endless supply of semi-nice restaurants Hongjoong seemed to know.

They weren’t date restaurants, exactly, and Yeosang was pretty sure he and Hongjoong weren’t actually technically in a relationship, but Hongjoong had slowly been ramping up his skinship and visibly paying more attention to Yeosang — to the point that not a day went by without Yeosang catching Hongjoong watching him several times. Whereas before there might have been an awkward laugh and excuse of being lost in thought, now Hongjoong would just hold eye contact for long enough to make sure Yeosang knew he had been looking before giving him a sweet smile and returning his focus to whatever they were doing at the moment.

And then there was the praise. Constant praise, for everything from Yeosang’s appetite to his dance skills to the cadence of his voice when he was pouting to the way he got dressed (socks first before pants, always) to his non-mint-chocolate-chip choice of ice cream to the curve of his lips. That last one had startled Yeosang so badly he had dropped his open bottle of water all over the dance practice floor and hadn’t been able to look Hongjoong in the eye for a full three hours. Hongjoong had seemed flustered himself, then, but he hadn’t walked the compliment back or made any excuses and there had been a new meaning in his eyes every time he looked at Yeosang since. Something not exactly sexual, but distinctly wanting.

Yeosang wasn’t exactly sure how to react to all of it, but he felt desirable and cared for and happy, and just as comfortable around Hongjoong as he had before the whole puzzle debacle. Or more, honestly, now that he didn’t have to hide his feelings at all. Both of them knew they were there, and it was refreshing to not have to constantly worry if he was showing too much of his love for his hyung and to just be able to enjoy his presence freely.

The rustling noises of Hongjoong shifting awake distracted Yeosang from his thoughts and he quickly pretended to be playing the game as Hongjoong’s eyes finally opened.

“Were you San in the middle of the night?” Hongjoong asked seriously, apparently still half-asleep if his brain thought that was a viable possibility.

“Not that I know of,” Yeosang answered, feeling extra chipper and a bit playful now that Hongjoong was awake and apparently ready to play. “Maybe it was the ghost?”

“Oh my god,” Hongjoong groaned, flopping back against his pillows dramatically. “There is no ghost.”

Yeosang giggled, the noise startlingly bright as he rushed to muffle it with a hand over his mouth, and something in Hongjoong’s eyes softened imperceptibly as he watched him.

“Are you going to be mad at me if you lose your game?” Hongjoong asked suddenly. Yeosang stared at him, bewildered. He had been too distracted to really play seriously, so…

“No? But what-”

Hongjoong reached forwards and unceremoniously tugged Yeosang forwards so that he was draped across Hongjoong’s lap, Yeosang’s phone falling out of his hands at the sudden movement and getting lost somewhere in the tangled sheets.

“Play here?” Hongjoong requested, gaze determined despite the embarrassed blush spreading high across his cheeks. Yeosang swallowed, skin tingling as Hongjoong traced the movement down his throat with one delicate finger, and nodded mutely.

He adjusted himself more comfortably so that he was leaning back against Hongjoong’s chest and reopened the app with shaking fingers, now sure how he was supposed to concentrate now when he had already been distracted sitting on the other side of the bed.

If Yeosang had thought Hongjoong had an uncanny ability to fluster him before the whole puzzle debacle, that was nothing compared to the clumsy-yet-devastating flirtations of a Hongjoong apparently now determined to prove to Yeosang just how attractive and loved he was. Yeosang had initially worried that Hongjoong was just acting that way to make him feel better, but those doubts had fled within just one day of their conversation when Hongjoong had shyly shown him the still-complete puzzle he had mounted into a frame that he had carefully hung in a position that wasn’t visible from the door but was directly in his eyesight whenever he recorded. The frame had to be covered with a photo over the top for secrecy purposes, but Hongjoong had stubbornly chosen a photo of him and Yeosang together, and the sight had immediately melted away any reservations Yeosang had about Hongjoong taking their relationship seriously. It was a small gesture, but Hongjoong’s music was everything to him, and the idea that he was thinking of Yeosang every time he recorded was just…a lot.

Hongjoong had gotten bolder since then, intense and adoring and unusually touchy in a way he wasn’t even with Seonghwa and Yunho, and Yeosang was honestly a bit scared about what would happen when they started dating if this was just their pre-relationship stage.

He did his best to focus on his game and not on the gentle puffs of Hongjoong’s breath against the shell of his ear, but halfway through Hongjoong started tracing delicate patterns on the sensitive strip of skin above his waistband and Yeosang threw his phone down in defeat.

“Hyung, how am I supposed to play if you insist on doing that?” he demanded, flushed and overwrought after literal weeks of these intimate touches that went nowhere.

“Sorry, sorry!” Hongjoong apologized hastily, looking genuinely surprised at his reaction. “I thought…Hwa likes when I do that, he said it’s soothing.”

Yeosang stared at him, equally surprised. Seonghwa practically melted under his hands the second Yeosang so much as brushed against him, so this secret iron-hearted side of his hyung was news to him.

“I- well, it feels nice,” he admitted, avoiding eye contact. “But it’s not exactly what I’d call soothing.”

Oh,” Hongjoong said with dawning realization, tracing a heart right on Yeosang’s hipbone with the very tip of his nail and watching the resultant shiver with a truly unsettling amount of interest.

Hongjoong’s alarm went off before Yeosang could unscramble his brain enough to say anything, because of course it did, and both of them flinched at the sudden noise.

“We have to leave for practice in twenty,” Hongjoong told him with a sigh, palm now resting flat against Yeosang’s hip with a light pressure that did actually feel a bit soothing. “But…Yeosang-ah, do you want to do dinner together tonight?”

“As a date, this time?” Yeosang asked bluntly, emboldened by the sheer want in Hongjoong’s eyes. “Just so you know, I don’t put out until the third one.”

That startled a laugh out of Hongjoong, bright and clear, and Yeosang smiled to himself in satisfaction.

“Yes, idiot, as a date,” Hongjoong answered affectionately. “And maybe we’d better have one for breakfast tomorrow, as well — I’m fine waiting, but you don’t seem like you’re going to last to the third date at this rate.”

“That’s not true!” Yeosang protested, pushing ineffectually at Hongjoong and blushing bright red in embarrassment. “You’re the one who keeps pawing at me.”

Hongjoong gaped at him, offended.

“I do not! You’re the one who climbed into my bed with your fluffy hair and satiny skin and-”

“As interesting — and weirdly adorable — as this conversation is,” Seonghwa interrupted dryly from below them, “can you guys please shut up and get dressed? Any more of this and I’ll be too nauseated to eat breakfast.”

Hongjoong snapped his mouth shut and leaned forward to rest his head on Yeosang’s shoulder, eyes closed as he briefly wondered if it was possible to sink through the bottom of his bed in embarrassment. Although, that would just dump him out right on top of Seonghwa which wouldn’t exactly help, so…yeah, it was probably best to just get ready in silence and pretend like nothing had happened.

 

 

 

Mingi frowned at the empty page in front of him, throwing his pen down in frustration. He had started early on his lyrics for once — his guide version wouldn’t be due for another couple days — but for some reason he just couldn’t get himself to write anything down either on paper or on the computer. He had been in his studio for over three hours, which was usually enough time to write a full album’s worth of four-line lyric drafts, but this time…he had sat down and then his mind had blanked out until suddenly he was checking his phone for the time and it was three hours later.

There was a knock on the door and Mingi flinched so violently he nearly upended his apparently-still-full coffee cup. He just barely managed to catch it before it spilled all over his laptop, heart racing with adrenaline and something else he couldn’t identify, and he took a deep breath in an attempt to calm himself down before answering the knock.

It was only Jongho, though, and Mingi breathed a sigh of relief, slumping back in his chair with a sigh as Jongho closed the door and draped himself over Mingi’s back.

“Were you expecting someone else?” Jongho asked curiously, his sharp eyes clearly noticing the complete lack of progress Mingi had made even though he didn’t say anything about it.

“No, you just startled me,” Mingi explained. “I don’t know what I was worried about. I wasn’t, like, doing anything wrong. What are you doing here, though, baby? I thought you had a vocal lesson.”

“Cancelled,” Jongho shrugged. “He had a positive covid test, although he just messaged me and said it turned out to be a false positive so we’re back on for tomorrow again.”

Mingi frowned, tilting his head back to look into Jongho’s eyes.

“Are you sure? Had he been exposed? Maybe it’s better to wait for a bit, just in case t-”

“I’m sure,” Jongho said patiently. “He got tested twice more and hasn’t been in contact with anyone who has it, don’t worry. And they’re going to have me do the lesson in the recording studio, anyways, so I’ll be on the other side of a wall from him.”

“I guess,” Mingi said slowly, skin still prickling with nerves. “Did the hyungs say it was okay?”

Jongho nodded, gently massaging the base of Mingi’s neck soothingly.

“Hongjoong-hyung asked a bunch of questions but he said it seems fine, and Seonghwa-hyung agreed. But really shouldn’t it be the doctors you’re worried about? They said it was fine too, and so did manager-nim and the rest of the staff — and they all know way more about it than we do.”

“Maybe,” Mingi acknowledged. “Of course I trust them all, but…well, it’s different with the hyungs. You know what I mean, right, Jongho? I would always trust them first, no matter what. At the very least they’re good at picking what experts to trust. Anyways, you still didn’t tell me why you’re here.”

“I thought I’d take you out to lunch,” Jongho told him, a thread of happy excitement in his voice that Mingi couldn’t turn down no matter how badly he needed to finish his lyrics. Not that he wanted to turn Jongho down in the first place, of course, but there were so many people waiting on him to finish the lyrics and their schedules over the next few days were busy enough that Mingi wasn’t sure when he’d be able to squeeze in another writing session. Although…maybe going out would help with his writer’s block, or whatever it was that was making his brain fuzz out?

“We can just get something quick if you need to keep working,” Jongho offered, correctly interpreting Mingi’s silence. “I really just wanted to be with you for a little while but it doesn’t have to be over lunch necessarily. Maybe jajangmyeon? And then I can come back and hang out here while you keep working?”

“No, let’s go out,” Mingi decided. “It’s been too long since you and I got to do something low-key and nice like this with just the two of us, although honestly I wouldn't mind jajangmyeon even still. But first…is there something on your mind, baby? Do you want to talk about it?”

Jongho hesitated, hands reflexively clenching in the soft wool of Mingi’s sweater, and Mingi waited patiently for the answer.

“I was thinking about our schedule and when we next have days off,” Jongho began slowly, “and I was wondering how many days break from dance practice you think I should budget for after we have sex for the first time?”

“Days off?” Mingi repeated, thrown by what seemed to be a completely separate topic. “Why would you- oh. You want to bottom for your first time? Are you sure?”

Jongho nodded but his eyes were unsure and Mingi wavered, starting to wonder if Jongho was antsy to have sex for the first time because he was worried about the way his other relationships were progressing.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked bluntly. “Or do you just feel like you should.”

Jongho stared at him in transparent surprise before sighing and slumping more heavily on Mingi’s back as he thought through his reply.

“It’s not only because of the others,” he assured Mingi first. “I…I’ll admit I’m feeling really conflicted about everyone else, but when I think about you…I’m ready, hyung. I’ve been ready for a long time, really, I just needed to catch up with myself a little. I want it to be like that first, and I want it to just be me and you.”

“And whatever you want, you’ll get,” Mingi promised him, already wondering if it might be possible to get a hotel room for the night so the two of them could have a private staycation. It probably wasn’t — there was nowhere he could afford that would be discreet enough and he didn’t really know how he would explain their disappearance to their manager — but maybe if there was a time Mingi’s parents were away that happened to line up with their off day…

“Hyung, stop plotting,” Jongho teased, finally smiling without any reservations. “I know that expression, you can’t fool me.”

Mingi smiled back, studying Jongho’s open face and deciding to ask the question he had been wondering for a long time. He had always chickened out the other times, too worried about Jongho closing off from him in response or relapsing into his previous worries that he wasn’t included enough in the group, but Jongho had seemed relatively stable recently and he was clearly in the type of leisurely, self-reflective mood that was perfect for conversations like this.

“Why aren’t you dating Yunho, San, Yeosang or Hongjoong-hyung yet?” Mingi wondered, watching Jongho’s face carefully and noting the way it shuttered immediately. “It’s been ages since you started exploring things more seriously with them, but…it seems like it’s kind of tapered off with everyone except Hongjoong-hyung? Which I don’t understand, because he should be the one it’s hardest to see romantically, right?

Jongho shifted uncomfortably, avoiding Mingi’s eyes.

“Well, Hongjoong-hyung and I have been spending more time together…intimately, I guess? Not physically, of course, but ever since my injury things have been different between the two of us. Better. I feel like he treasures me.”

“Of course he does,” Mingi affirmed, itching to know the memories that had Jongho glowing at the mere thought of their leader. He had known that Hongjoong and Jongho tended to go off with one another rather a lot these days, but he had always assumed that that was either for work or just normal hanging out, rather than something more intimate.

“I guess that’s fair,” Mingi admitted. “But for San, Yunho, and Yeosang…especially Yeosang, Jongho-yah, you’re so close? I know you and Yunho are still working on your relationship, and San was a bit overwhelming for you at first, but-”

“I don’t know!” Jongho burst out unexpectedly loudly, fingers shaking on Mingi’s shoulder in agitation. “I don’t-I don’t know,” he added more quietly. “For both San and Yeosang I know I feel a lot for them, but I don’t think it’s what I should be feeling? Like, physically.”

Mingi stared at him, completely taken aback. That was not what he had expected.

“You…are you not attracted to them?” he asked cautiously, not quite sure how it was possible to not be attracted to two of the most beautiful people in the world but trying not to judge. Jongho blushed, shaking his head in denial, and then hesitated and nodded.

“That’s the problem,” he said quietly, playing absently with Mingi’s hair. “For you and Seonghwa-hyung, like, it took me a while to recognize that I had feelings for you and I knew from the beginning that I wanted to go slow and I was young so that was fine, right? And by the time I actually started dating you, I had been wanting you for so long that I couldn’t get enough of touching either of you because…you were everything I had ever wanted. For Wooyoungie-hyung I fell kind of hard for him during tour. He and I always used to bicker so much but then on tour I saw his more sensitive side a lot more and it just felt so good to be with him. And then Wooyoung basically is sex, so I started thinking about that immediately and had a long time to realize that I might be attracted to him before I even considered dating him.”

“It sounds like you like to have an emotional connection with someone before wanting to do anything physical with them,” Mingi guessed tentatively, very aware of the term he was dancing around.

“I’m not demisexual,” Jongho objected immediately. “Don’t give me that look, hyung, I know exactly what you’re getting at.”

“Okay,” Mingi said simply, reaching up to lace his fingers with Jongho. “You know yourself best, of course.”

“...I don’t think I’m demisexual,” Jongho said barely audibly, voice shaking. “I don’t - I don’t feel the way San describes it. And, like, what does it matter, anyways?”

Mingi swallowed, trying to tread carefully.

“Sexuality is different for everyone,” he said slowly, trying to remember what San had told him about the early process of coming to terms with his sexuality. “But, Jongho, if putting a label on it is stressing you out of course there’s no need to do that. You feel how you feel, and all of us will respect that. The only thing that matters is you being gentle with yourself. Because…if you aren’t there with Sannie and Yeosang yet, that’s okay. But you know they don’t need you to be ready to have sex with them if dating them is something that you want to do — they would be fine with dating and never having sex with you for the rest of our lives if that’s what you wanted.”

“I…okay, I don’t know,” Jongho admitted for what seemed like the millionth time. “But to be honest I didn’t mean to say all of that stuff about sexuality it just kind of came out because I’ve been thinking about it with regards to Hongjoong-hyung and Yunho-hyung. But I think the real issue is with skinship? Because with you and Seonghwa-hyung and Wooyoung-hyung I escalated skinship a lot after I started dating you, right? Like I really like holding your hands and cuddling sometimes.”

Mingi couldn’t help cooing at how flustered Jongho was getting admitting (for probably the first time in his life) that he did like some forms of skinship. He reached up and pinched Jongho’s blushing cheek, laughing as Jongho swatted him away and lightly smacked the back of his head in retaliation.

“The point is that I already do a lot of skinship with them,” Jongho said nervously. “And I don’t want to escalate that. I like it the way it is, just maybe with a bit more kissing and things, you know? I already sleep with Yeosang-hyung a lot and Sannie-hyung acts like I’m his own personal teddy bear.”

“Baby, that’s fine,” Mingi promised, not quite seeing what the problem was but knowing Jongho sometimes got worried about his skinship boundaries given how touchy the rest of the group was. “They’re not going to expect you to suddenly turn into a different person. They fell in love with you as you are, you know that.”

“I know they won’t because they’re always too nice, but shouldn’t I feel something different for them if I start dating them?”

“I mean, not if you’ve had budding feelings for them for a while?” Mingi pointed out. “And it’s totally normal for some people’s boundaries to change over the course of a relationship, you know. There’s nothing wrong with not liking skinship, even in a romantic relationship. And there’s nothing to say that you can’t like more contact with one person and a different amount with someone else.”

“I guess,” Jongho admitted thoughtfully. “It just doesn’t feel fair.”

“I…don’t think that’s something I can help you with,” Mingi said eventually. “But I promise you no one’s expecting you to change for them except yourself.”

“Ugh, let’s just go eat,” Jongho decided, biting Mingi’s head playfully. “I don’t want to think about this anymore.”

Mingi glanced back at his empty screen before nodding and shutting his computer down. It wasn’t like he was making any progress, anyways, and one blissful hour holding hands with his boyfriend under the table as they both devoured plate after plate of noodles sounded like exactly what he needed.

 

 

 

 

“What are you making?” Seonghwa asked curiously, peering over Wooyoung’s shoulder.

“Hyung, don’t jostle me,” Wooyoung complained, pushing aside the radish he had been chopping and starting on a new one. “I’m just making some kimchi.”

Seonghwa stared down at the small mountain of cubed radishes on the counter, bewildered.

“Do we need that much? I know there’s eight of us, but-”

“It’s for BBTrippin, too,” Wooyoung answered distractedly. “I wanted to practice the chopping method I learned and Yuyu said he misses his mom’s version so I got the recipe and I’m trying it out. I thought we could have it with post-practice chicken later this week.”

A wave of pure love and affection swept over Seonghwa and he wrapped Wooyoung in a tight hug, peppering kisses all over his face despite the earlier warning to stay away.

“Such a good boy,” he praised, laughing as Wooyoung pretended to be annoyed.

“Hyung, you’re being embarrassing,” Wooyoung grumbled, scrunching up his face to hide the little, pleased smile he could never suppress when they complimented him. “Were you looking for food or something?”

“No, I was looking for you,” Seonghwa replied, sneaking a piece of radish and making a face at the taste. “Did you move the couch 4.5 cm to the left since we measured it this morning?”

Wooyoung stilled and shook his head, glancing around instinctively to make sure the kitchen was empty before turning around in Seonghwa’s arms so they could whisper face-to-face.

“But the only person here this morning was Jongho, and we already ruled him out.”

Seonghwa nodded.

“I know. And we ruled him out twice over — it definitely can’t be him, because he wasn’t here that first night when we watched the documentary, either. He and Sang-ah were at the company together, remember?”

“Does that mean it’s actually a ghost, then?” Wooyoung asked nervously. “Even manager-nim wasn’t here.”

“I’m sure it’s just a friendly ghost playing an April Fools trick on us or something,” Seonghwa assured him unconvincingly. “Maybe people lose track of the month after they die so he doesn’t realize it’s not April?”

“I guess…”

Wooyoung trailed off, frowning, before an idea struck him.

“What if it’s two people?” he suggested thoughtfully. “We’ve only been crossing people off one-by-one so far.”

Seonghwa sighed, thinking mournfully of the spreadsheet Mingi had spent so long creating.

“Can’t we just say it’s a ghost and then be done with it?”

Wooyoung tsked at him in disappointment.

“Hyung, this is a challenge! A gauntlet thrown at our feet! Are we going to just give up and blame our innocent neighborhood ghosts?”

“No?” Seonghwa guessed timidly.

Wooyoung nodded approvingly.

“No, indeed! We shall take this fight to the death.”

Seonghwa raised an eyebrow and Wooyoung laughed sheepishly.

“Okay, okay, maybe not the best word choice. But that was pretty inspirational, right?”

Seonghwa rolled his eyes and just kissed Wooyoung instead of bothering with a reply, a little confused but so in love it didn’t matter.

 

 

“Okay,” Yunho declared, clapping his hands together in excitement. “I have called you here today-”

“Babe,” San interrupted gently, “we were literally already in your bed when you came in, you didn’t do anything.”

Yunho rolled his eyes.

“Not the point, babe,” he said with the hint of an edge to his voice.

Yeosang bit his lip to suppress his laugh and lay his head back down on San’s chest, settling in for the ride this conversation was sure to be. He wasn’t really sure what was going on — he and San had just been peacefully cuddling and wondering when Yunho would get back home to join them, but now it seemed like their planned night of snuggles-and-snacks was turning into something…more.

“Okay, okay,” San said hastily, squishing himself against the wall and hauling Yeosang fully on top of him so that there was room in the bed for Yunho to join them. “Why did you call us here today? And did you bring any extra food? Sangie finished all of my chips.”

“You brought them for me!” Yeosang protested, offended. “You said-”

“I’m going to ask Seonghwa-hyung out,” Yunho interrupted, smiling obnoxiously serenely when San yelped in surprise and choked on air. “I just need help planning how to do it. Yeosangie is apparently secretly the smoothest out of all of us so I thought you could help me? Sang-ah?”

“What about me?” San asked with an injured look on his face.

Yunho shrugged.

“I just didn’t want to deal with you complaining that I’d left you out,” he answered, laughing at San’s pout. “I’m just kidding! You’re always good at being open and vulnerable, and you know the type of praise hyung likes, right? Together you and Yeosangie are the perfect wingmen.”

“I’m just happy you’re finally doing it,” Yeosang told him. “Watching the two of you flirt was torturous, especially because hyung has principles and didn’t want to ‘use’ any of us for release when you were the one who worked him up — even though we literally offered — so we all just had to suffer in silence.”

Yunho snorted.

“I wouldn’t exactly call what you and Wooyoung did after seeing hyung and I snuggling on the couch suffering in silence.”

“Or what you and Mingi did after that time when you walked in on Yuyu feeding Seonghwa-hyung corn dogs,” San added. “Or-”

“Do you have any ideas or are we starting from scratch?” Yeosang interrupted hastily, desperately needing a change of subject.

Yunho’s eyes lit up and he eagerly abandoned teasing them in favor of expounding on his plans for Seonghwa.

“Okay, so here’s what I was thinking so far…”

Chapter Text

Yunho was in the kitchen heating himself up some fried rice when he heard their front door open, followed by an unsettlingly loud thump and a grunt of pain. And then nothing.

Yunho’s heart froze uncertainly and he put down his half-drunk mug of tea, rushing to see what had happened. Seonghwa was sprawled on the ground, not even trying to get up as he tugged half-heartedly at his shoes, and Yunho frowned.

“Did you fall over?” Yunho asked, bending down to help him back to his feet.

“I didn’t fall over,” Seonghwa sniffed, a little too insistently. Yunho paused in the middle of checking him over for injuries and raised a doubtful eyebrow. “Okay, I fell over a little bit,” Seonghwa admitted. “But I was already trying to sit down! I knew I wouldn’t be able to stand, I was being self-aware.”

“That just sounds even worse, hyung,” Yunho pointed out in concern. “What happened? Are you okay?”

“I just practiced a little too hard,” Seonghwa sighed, leaning heavily against Yunho and closing his eyes. Yunho stiffened, not sure if this was one of those nights where Seonghwa had gotten into his head too much like he sometimes did and practiced obsessively until he literally couldn’t anymore.

“Hyung, did-”

“I didn’t mean to,” Seonghwa assured him, noting the look in his eye. “Honestly, Yuyu, I really had no idea how much I had been pushing myself until I got out of the cab and tried to climb up the stairs. You know how it sometimes is with working out, where it will feel great and you’ll float on adrenaline for a bit but then you get off the treadmill and suddenly can’t feel your legs? It was like that, just I think delayed a bit because I got straight into the car after I finished so I didn’t realize how exhausted I was until I got up again and tried to climb the stairs for a bit of extra workout.”

Yunho relaxed slightly at that comparison, because he did know exactly what Seonghwa was talking about, but still instinctively tightened his arms around Seonghwa protectively. He believed that it had been an accident, but Seonghwa tended to have an alarming disregard for his own health despite looking after everyone else so tenderly (or perhaps because of it) and Yunho was determined to provide him the care he never provided himself.

“Did you shower yet, hyung?” he asked tentatively. He winced internally at the way his voice changed into something softer and ridiculously gentle, knowing that any type of over-protectiveness was usually read as condescension by his members, but Seonghwa just relaxed further into his arms as though he was relieved at the idea of someone else taking care of him and shook his head.

“I didn’t even think of it,” he admitted, looking a little unnerved. “I can’t believe — I guess I was more out of it than I thought. But honestly I’m not sure I have the energy right now.”

“I’ll help,” Yunho offered immediately, knowing that Seonghwa needed to be clean after his workouts or else he couldn't rest properly. It was a little strange to see his hyung so shaken, but…Yunho would look after him well for now and press him to be more careful once he was feeling better. Seonghwa didn’t protest, yet another sign that he was feeling extra vulnerable and probably in need of cuddles, and Yunho’s heart swelled impossibly large as he realized Seonghwa felt safe enough with him to just let go and trust Yunho take care of him.

Yunho stopped in the kitchen just long enough to grab a spoon and the heated bowl of kimchi fried rice he had been preparing before ushering Seonghwa into the bathroom and hoisting him up to sit on the counter. He carefully prepared one of those lavender shower steamers Seonghwa, Yeosang and San (and secretly Jongho) were obsessed with before spooning some rice into Seonghwa’s mouth as they waited for the water to heat up.

“You’re too good to me, Yuyu,” Seonghwa mumbled, tipping forward to rest his head on Yunho’s chest comfortably.

“There’s no such thing,” Yunho insisted quietly, feeding him the last bit of rice before putting the bowl to the side and helping Seonghwa undress. “You deserve the world.”

Seonghwa nuzzled into him slightly as Yunho washed him instead of replying, silently letting Yunho guide him through the normal routines of his shower and wrap him in towels once they were done before carefully starting in on Seonghwa’s skincare routine. Yunho leaned back slightly after the last layer of moisturizer, intending to make sure it had all gotten absorbed, but his eyes met Seonghwa’s and all thoughts of skincare fled his mind.

Seonghwa was looking up at him with molten eyes, utterly relaxed and content, and Yunho suddenly couldn’t hold back any longer.

“Hyung,” he started, reaching out to tip Seonghwa’s chin up so they were looking one another in the eyes properly, “I- I really love you a lot, you know that, right? Not just as a hyung, as mine. So, will you...would you go out with me? As my boyfriend?"

“Of course, Yunho-yah,” Seonghwa replied quietly, straightening slightly so that they were on a more even level and pulling Yunho towards him for a kiss. Yunho wrapped his arms around Seonghwa and sank into it, melting at the simple softness of the moment.

Yeosang and San had been helping him plan an elaborate ask with flowers and candles and literal poetry, but it had been stressful trying to make all the details work out properly and something about it had never felt quite right. This, though…this was perfect.

 

 

 

 

Wooyoung looked down at the tiny white ‘five’ staring up at him from the counter app on his phone and groaned, sinking to the ground and burying his face in his hands. He was supposed to be working out, but he couldn’t concentrate anymore. This was only his first day using the app, the download of which had been a result of him tossing and turning until late last night because he was still so worried about how he was treating Seonghwa, and he had already messed up five times.

“What is that?”

Wooyoung startled, having thought that San was still across the room warming up on the treadmill, and quickly locked the phone. It didn’t work, though, because San knew his passcode and simply reached over Wooyoung’s shoulder to unlock it quickly enough that Wooyoung couldn’t stop him.

“What is that?” San repeated steadily, curiosity clearly piqued by Wooyoung’s furtive reaction.

Wooyoung hesitated, guiltily casting around for a plausible excuse. San huffed behind him and Wooyoung gave up, hesitantly explaining that it was to count the number of times he teased Seonghwa too much so he could work on doing it less.

“That’s fucked up, Wooyoung,” San said bluntly, stealing the phone and deleting the app before Wooyoung’s frazzled brain could catch up with what was going on.

“Hey!” Wooyoung protested, reaching out for it. “That’s mine, you-”

“Wooyoung, seriously, you can’t do that,” San told him seriously. “That’s…that’s so messed up. If you go too far you apologize and make it up to him, you don’t record the event and guilt yourself with it over and over again.”

Wooyoung snorted.

“C’mon, this is hyung we’re talking about. He never complains, he just puts up with everything, he can’t tell me when he’s upset with me. And it shouldn’t be his responsibility to police my behavior, anyways. If I’m a bad person, that's on me, not him.”

San closed his eyes for a long minute and Wooyoung scowled in silence at the implicit plea for strength.

“You. Are. Not. A. Bad. Person,” San said slowly, as though Wooyoung was being particularly slow that day. “And, as much as I’m all for protecting hyung from everyone including himself, he is an adult, it’s on him to tell you when he’s upset and set his own boundaries. If you’re deciding these things for him…aren’t you just taking away his agency all over again? A relationship is built on trust, and if you don’t trust him to be clear about what bothers him and what doesn’t, I-”

“I’m not breaking up with him,” Wooyoung interrupted, appalled. “I love him, and you know he has abandonment issues. I’m not just going to trigger those for no reason.”

“I didn’t mean you should break up with him,” San sighed patiently. “But you should talk to him about it, instead of driving yourself crazy like this. Come on, Young-ah, this is insane even for you. I know you just want to be nice to him, but-”

“But I’m not a nice person,” Wooyoung blurted out, voice rising slightly hysterically as his true fears started spilling out. “I-”

“You do not talk about yourself like that,” San interrupted fiercely. Wooyoung broke off and stared up at him with wide eyes, a little in awe at the way San’s eyes were literally glinting. It wasn’t the time for it, but his boyfriend was seriously stunning. And the sweetest, most supportive person on the planet, Wooyoung reminded himself firmly as San continued lecturing him. “You’re an incredible person and I have receipts. Did you order extra food for the staff at every given opportunity last week? Did you take that break during the Answer video shoot because you knew Jongho needed one but wouldn’t ask? Did you not support me unquestioningly throughout the entire process of discovering my sexuality, even when neither of us had any idea what ‘demisexuality’ meant at all?”

San paused for a breath and Wooyoung went to nod automatically before pausing, something about San’s tone striking him as remarkably familiar.

“Oh my god, you’re copying Hongjoong’s lecturing style!” he burst out with a delighted laugh once he finally figured it out. “The whole break-the-situation-down-into-statements-we-have-to-admit-are-correct-so-we-admit-guilt method that he uses on Mingi all the time.”

“Wooyoung, this is serious,” San complained, actually sounding a bit upset.

“I’m sorry,” Wooyoung apologized immediately, straightening his face as best as he could. “I didn’t- I just felt awkward. I know you’re at least kind of right, I just…I want to be good for hyung. He took a chance on me, and I don’t want to let him down.”

“Wooyoung,” San said gently, “he didn’t take a chance on you. He knows you, inside and out, and he wanted you for a long time. The relationship you two shared — teasing and all — was so worth it to him that he’s started facing up to all of the hurt he buried in the past. I think…I think you bring out the best in him, Wooyoung-ah, honestly. You’re good for all of us, but he blossoms under your attention, you know he does. He really, seriously, genuinely loves you for everything that you are, just like the rest of us do.”

“Except Hongjoong,” Wooyoung groused, flushing at the compliments and not sure how to react. He loved teasing the others with compliments and praises but it always threw him off-guard when something this sincere was told to him. Deflection was his automatic response, but it didn’t really work on any of his members because they knew that, and San was no exception. He was however, apparently feeling gracious enough today to let it slide. For now.

“Even Hongjoong,” San said lightly instead of pushing, hauling Wooyoung to his feet and smacking him playfully on the butt. “He loves us all, it’s only a matter of time.”

 

 

Hongjoong was…maybe having a bit of a crisis. He had only been dating Yeosang for all of two and a half days, but their relationship felt so good and it was making Hongjoong reconsider what had made him freak out about it to begin with. With the benefit of hindsight it was easy to see that his feelings for Yeosang had always been there in some shape or form, suppressed and locked away in a box firmly labeled ‘Dongsaeng: Must Protect.’

Hongjoong still felt protective over Yeosang, of course, maybe a bit too much, even, but part of him starting to see Yeosang as a potential boyfriend had been deconstructing the barriers Hongjoong had apparently constructed between himself and his members and now Hongjoong was starting to wonder if he had misjudged what he thought he wanted their group dynamics to look like.

Hongjoong had always felt the weight of responsibility for the group lay heavily on his shoulders, but Yunho and Seonghwa had always felt a bit different from the others. Yunho was his first true partner and the person who kept them all going, and Seonghwa was the one they unfailingly turned to for the unquestionable love and support they craved when they were struggling emotionally.

Yeosang, on the other hand, was tiny and small and so unendingly kind that Hongjoong arguably felt more protective over him than any member of their group. Mingi was their baby, San was their petal, Jongho was their precious maknae, and Wooyoung was their infuriatingly adorable little terror, but Yeosang was without doubt the one every single member worried after the most.

And now Hongjoong was dating him, which meant that he had to look at Yeosang as a partner and an equal rather than a dongsaeng to protect. It wasn’t that he hadn’t respected Yeosang before, of course, because he did, he just had tried hard to lead his dongsaengs by example and that meant hiding some of his insecurities and darker moments in ways that were tolerable from a leader but wouldn’t be acceptable in a boyfriend.

None of that was a problem, of course. Hongjoong was grateful for it, loved the way their relationship had grown, and had found it surprisingly reassuring last night to confess some of his deepest fears to his newest boyfriend while Yeosang gently played with his hair and soothed him with that lovely deep voice that Hongjoong could listen to all day.

No, the problem was that breaking down the mental barriers he had constructed around his dongsaengs in order to disentangle his feelings for Yeosang had meant seeing all of the others in a whole new light, as well. Hongjoong wasn’t entirely sure where this new reckoning was taking him, but he did know that he wanted to be closer to his dongsaengs beyond just the deeper conversations he had had with them lately.

Or at least, that’s what he was telling himself as he tried to talk himself into actually opening Mingi’s door, unsure as to why exactly he was so anxious about something so routine.

His nerves fled the moment he heard Mingi call for him to come in, though, his dongsaeng's voice worryingly dry and emotionless, and he pushed his way into the studio hastily.

“Are you okay baby?” he asked tentatively, glancing over Mingi’s hunched form carefully. There weren’t any visible injuries, but-

“I’m fine, hyung, just working through some writer’s block.” Mingi laughed hollowly at his predicament and Hongjoong frowned in concern.

“Do you…do you want to take a break?”

Mingi stared up at him in confusion, clearly not having expected the question, before glancing back at a screen for long enough that Hongjoong started to walk back his offer.

“You don’t have to-”

“It’s fine,” Mingi decided eventually, closing his computer and grabbing his jacket. “Where are we going?”

“I was supposed to take you shopping a few days ago, remember?” Hongjoong reminded, excited at the prospect of getting to dress Mingi up to his heart’s content. “Hyung will buy everything, what do you say?”

He was consciously trying to keep his own feelings on the matter suppressed a bit so that Mingi didn’t feel any undue pressure to go, but unmistakable interest sparked in Mingi’s eyes and Hongjoong relaxed a little. He had never really seen Mingi so thrown off by writer’s block, something they were both used to, but he knew that shopping worked like therapy for the both of them and hopefully a successful trip would put Mingi in a better frame of mind to continue writing. He had always felt like creativity in a different form — usually reforming, for him — helped him with his music, so maybe it would work like that for Mingi, too.

“Is this a date?”

And there went all of Hongjoong’s soft, concerned feelings.

“I-I- Mingi!” he sputtered, face hot and flushed as the simple question had a completely different effect on him than it had before. He hadn’t intended for it to be a date, but the idea was a little too close to home for comfort and it threw Hongjoong into a whole new spiral. Did he want to date Mingi? Mingi was handsome, of course, and a lot more mature than he pretended to be, and so cute and bouncy and brilliant and sweet and-

“Hyung, it’s okay, I was just teasing,” Mingi said hastily, clearly seeing the obvious panic on Hongjoong’s face. “I know you’re not asking me out.”

There was a hint of something in Mingi’s voice that had Hongjoong pausing, something self-deprecating and hopeless as though Hongjoong asking him out wasn’t even a possibility, and it brought out all of Hongjoong’s protective hyung urges. It was clear Mingi didn’t want to talk about the subject anymore from the speed with which he turned off the light and shut the door, but Hongjoong ran a little to catch up and boldly slipped his hand into Mingi’s.

It wasn’t a date, because he hadn’t asked with that intention, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t make Mingi happy by holding hands and showering him in compliments and pretty clothes until Mingi was holding himself with pride.

And when they finally returned to the dorm, laden with bags of clothes and flushed with the success of their thrift shopping treasure hunt, and Mingi ambushed Hongjoong with a brief, grateful kiss to the side of his cheek that was so close to the corner of his lips that it made them tingle, well…it still hadn’t been a date, but it shifted something inside Hongjoong.

Something fluttery and excited and happy that had him locking himself in the bathroom and grinning to himself like a fool until Yeosang banged on the door and demanded cuddles. Hongjoong carefully controlled his face — because it looked ridiculous — and opened the door to sweep a surprised Yeosang into a hug.

“Blech, hyung, gross,” Yeosang squeaked, voice muffled by Hongjoong’s shoulder as he attempted to squirm out of Hongjoong’s arms.

“You wanted cuddles,” Hongjoong pointed out, heart turning to sentimental mush at the sight of the pretty blush dusting Yeosang’s cheeks. He really needed more sleep if he got this sappy at the sight of a mere blush, he told himself sternly, ignoring the fact that pretty much everything Yeosang did made him feel soft and sentimental.

“Not like this,” Yeosang complained, giving up on his half-hearted escape attempts and slumping against Hongjoong with a huff. “Normally you require a lot of convincing and complain a bunch and bite me to register your disapproval and then I pretend to leave so that you remember that you actually like some forms of cuddling and manhandle me back into your lap so you can pet my hair. You’re skipping like five steps right now, hyung.”

“Sorry?” Hongjoong replied, momentarily pushing away his thoughts about Mingi as he tried to figure out if Yeosang was actually right. Which…of course he was. Hongjoong huffed in disappointment at being so predictable and decided to just keep skipping steps with a shrug. Although, Yeosang was being a little impertinent so he contented himself with a stern bite to the meat of Yeosang’s shoulder. Except he was a little surprised at just how firm with muscle it had gotten these days so he obviously had to try biting it again, just to see, plus one more time, and…yeah, okay, maybe his efforts to be less predictable required a little more creativity.

He smiled to himself and took a few purposeful steps forwards until Yeosang was pressed against the opposite wall of the hallway and Hongjoong could look him over properly. Yeosang went pliantly, like he always did, and Hongjoong kissed him thoroughly as a reward so that Yeosang didn’t get bored while Hongjoong took the time to run his hands over the hard planes of his torso. Not that he thought boredom was on the table given how sensitive Yeosang tended to be to even the lightest touch, but Yeosang was petty and tended to huff and complain about these types of things afterwards until Hongjoong made out with him all over again and today was all about not being predictable.

The kiss started off messy and a little desperate, but Yeosang knew that Hongjoong wasn’t ready for much more than kissing and didn’t protest when the kiss turned slow and gentle at the end.

“Okay?” Hongjoong checked, pulling back slightly but careful to keep Yeosang caged protectively against the wall the way he liked.

“Yeah,” Yeosang breathed, flushed and wide-eyed as he tilted his head up for another kiss.

And, well, who was Hongjoong to deny him?

 

 

 

 

Jongho peeked into the hyungline room and smiled fondly at the sight of Yunho and Seonghwa curled up together in the bottom bunk, sleeping peacefully. He was pretty sure they were together now judging by the million exclamation marks Seonghwa had texted him earlier, and he had to admit they looked adorable together.

It was kind of funny to think about the fact that Seonghwa was the first to be dating everyone, though. It didn’t make Jongho panic the way he would have a month ago, and yet somehow that realization — the realization of how far he had come, even though he hadn’t felt like there was anything wrong to begin with — made Jongho impatient for them all to finally be together.

He hadn’t put much thought into the concept of them as a group recently, too focused on juggling his individual relationships with each of his members and overthinking his relationships with San, Yunho, and Yeosang into the ground, but seeing Yunho and Seonghwa together and knowing that the only thing standing in the way of joining them was his own mental block made him take a step back.

And once Jongho did he realized he was excited for that future. Excited to melt away the last of the boundaries that existed between them so that he could freely love them however he wanted and whenever he wanted, excited to see how their home shifted from a living-with-friends-home to a boyfriends-moved-in-together home, and excited to finally be able to plan a concrete future for the eight of them beyond work.

It wasn’t like he had forgotten the positives of dating them, of course, but Mingi’s words from a few days ago had stuck in his mind and seeing Seonghwa and Yunho together felt like the final push Jongho needed to just take a leap of faith and trust that Yeosang, San, and Yunho would continue to love him unconditionally no matter how much or little he was ready to give them physically. Because, at the end of the day, maybe it was as simple as Mingi had sleepily whispered it was later that night.

Jongho loved them, was in love with them, and didn’t want there to be any barriers left in between them anymore. He didn’t regret taking his time, exactly, because the slow build-up the three of them had granted him was what made the final step seem less scary, but…he didn’t need time anymore.

He just needed them.

Chapter Text

Hongjoong had made a mistake in coming to Jongho for advice, he decided about half a minute after opening his mouth. Or, well, he hadn’t technically gone to Jongho because the maknae had already been in Hongjoong's bed when he entered. Hongjoong didn’t bother asking why anymore — for some reason Jongho liked to curl up under Hongjoong’s covers when he was tired, or sad, or sore from practice, or just a little bored, and Hongjoong not-so-secretly loved it. His relationship with Jongho had blossomed ever since that one night in the hospital, turning into something soft and sweet and possessive that Hongjoong didn’t dare question because he was scared of messing it up.

He wasn’t feeling very soft and sweet right now, though, too frazzled to spend his energy doting on Jongho when there were bigger problems at hand. Like the fact that Yeosang, Seonghwa, Yunho, and now Jongho’s, reactions to Hongjoong mentioning that he had taken Mingi out shopping had been the same ridiculous question.

“Did you buy him food?”

“Obviously,” Hongjoong groaned, flopping back against his pillows in exasperation and noting grumpily that Jongho had fluffed them up the wrong way. “Why does everyone keep asking that? What type of hyung would I be if I didn’t?”

Jongho frowned disapprovingly at him, clearly displeased with his tone, and Hongjoong huffed a silent apology. He just…was a bit on edge at the moment. Hongjoong had already been a bit too distracted by dumb things like the curve of Mingi’s lips when he smiled and the way his eyes lit up when he saw a jacket he really liked and the way he had casually wiped away a spare bit of sauce on Hongjoong’s cheek with his thumb instead of a napkin, and- and Hongjoong was very quickly going mad. The thing was, he was at least a little self-aware this time around and was determined not to hurt anyone the way he had hurt Yeosang. He was ready to admit he might be a little bit (or a lot-a-bit) in love with Mingi, but…wasn’t that too fast? He had only just been in denial about Yeosang, and less than six months ago he hadn’t been in a relationship with anyone, let alone with three of his bandmates who were all also dating the rest of his group.

So he had come to Jongho in desperation, hoping against hope that his pragmatic dongsaeng would set him straight — a hope that had been dashed almost immediately as Jongho happily unearthed a worryingly-worn copy of a teen magazine (that had apparently been tucked under Hongjoong’s mattress without his knowledge) and flipped open to the relationship quiz section. Hongjoong had groaned and complained and whined but Jongho’s puppy eyes were really hard to resist so Hongjoong just made the educated decision to not even try.

“Did you walk him to the door afterwards?”

“We live in the same apartment!”

“Did you kiss at the end?” Jongho looked up, pencil between his teeth, when Hongjoong didn’t answer. “Well?”

“He might have kissed me on the cheek,” Hongjoong mumbled.

“Hm. Did you have sex?”

“What? No! You know that, you were here when we came in!”

“Definitely a date,” Jongho decided. “If you had hooked up you could have passed it off as a friends with benefits situation, but since there were no benefits involved…”

“No benefits? I bought him like six different outfits!”

“This is starting to sound more like a Sugar Daddy relationship to me,” Jongho mused, squinting suspiciously at Hongjoong.

“You little- oh,” Hongjoong finally caught on and his shoulders slumped. “You were teasing me this whole time, weren’t you?”

“Maybe,” Jongho said a bit guiltily, watching Hongjoong pick nervously at the fraying cuff of his jeans. “Hyung, why are you so nervous about this anyways? I thought you were working through this with Sangie-hyung?”

“I don’t know,” Hongjoong sighed, throwing himself back against the bed dramatically.

“Did you want to kiss him at any point?” Hongjoong didn’t reply but his blush answered the question for him.

“Ah,” Jongho said sympathetically. “Why don’t you ask him out properly, then? Wine and dine him and everything.”

“Why don’t you take your own advice and ask out Yeosang?” Hongjoong asked pointedly, figuring out it was better to go on offense late rather than never.

“I’m planning to,” Jongho informed him pompously before deflating a bit. “Just…I keep feeling like whatever I plan won’t be good enough. I think…I don’t know, I know he loves me unconditionally but that’s not healthy, right? Like, he shouldn’t forgive me for stringing him on for so long, and I feel like he’s mad at me but-”

“Jongho,” Hongjoong interrupted sternly, thankful to be on the other side of this conversation for once, “ask him. Ask him right now, as a matter of fact. Save all the fancy planning for your first date and just tell him you love him and want to be with him forever and have his babies or whatever nasty things you’ve come up with in your head.”

“Having babies isn’t nasty, hyung,” Jongho said, scandalized. “Anyways, that’s biologically impossible.”

“I don’t like you today,” Hongjoong decided sulkily, poking at Jongho until he sat up properly. “You know what I mean, baby, just go ask. It’s his responsibility to tell you if he’s mad at you, remember? Communication is key, and all that nonsense.”

“You sound drunk,” Jongho told him unceremoniously. Hongjoong stuck out his tongue and Jongho sighed. “Fine. But you need to sober up, hyung, and get your life together so you don't have to hate yourself for thinking too much about Mingi's lips. Oh, and by the way, they feel about a million times better than whatever you're imagining.”

Jongho took advantage of Hongjoong’s offended sputters to leave before he could come up with an appropriate retort, and Hongjoong glared at the door resentfully. Okay, maybe it had been his fault for telling Jongho to leave, but he had kind of liked sharing the bed with his maknae and had been hoping for a repeat of one of their lazy surfing-the-web-in-bed sessions that always ended with one or both of them fast asleep on the other’s shoulder.

“It’s your fault,” Hongjoong complained to the magazine still lying on his pillow, looking deceptively innocent. One of the titles caught his eye and he leaned in closer to just read the first paragraph. It turned out to be kind of interesting, though, and he adjusted his sitting position to something more comfortable for reading. He wasn’t going to read the whole magazine, of course. It was probably trashy nonsense. But this one article was okay, so he’d just read that. And maybe that one other article it referenced, too. And maybe...

 

 

Jongho found Yeosang in the kitchen, frowning in confusion over the new packaging on their favorite brand of pre-cooked sausages. He couldn’t help smiling at the familiar sight, and let himself luxuriously soak in the adorable sight of clumsy, fuzzy, post-nap Yeosang before walking forward to wrap around his hyung and open the package for him.

“It’s like this, see?” Jongho explained, hooking his chin over Yeosangs shoulder and breathing in the familiar scent.

He might, maybe, kind of, have had a thing for his hyung’s scents — that was why he liked being in Hongjoong’s bed, sometimes, because it felt like being surrounded by Hongjoong and Hongjoong meant safe. Yeosang felt different, like something softer and sweeter but no less important, and Jongho quietly promised to himself that he was going to spend the rest of his life showing his Yeosangie-hyung just how important he was.

Yeosang didn’t seem to mind his sudden clinginess, instead just leaning comfortably back against his chest and munching on his sausage straight out of the package, and Jongho was just so fond he couldn’t bear it.

“Hyung?” he started nervously, clinging slightly to Yeosang’s hips to distract from how anxious he was feeling. “Hyung, you know I love you, right?”

“Of course,” Yeosang agreed absently, still a little too focused on his sausage for Jongho’s liking.

Hyung,” Jongho complained, tugging lightly at one of Yeosang’s hands. “You’re not paying attention to me.”

Yeosang popped the last bit of sausage into his mouth and washed it down with a drink of water so long Jongho honestly started to wonder if he had been heard. Finally, though, Yeosang bit into an apple and turned around in Jongho’s arms to look up at him inquiringly.

Jongho inhaled sharply at the sudden proximity, instinctively swaying just that little bit closer to cage Yeosang back against the counter, and glanced down at Yeosang’s lips. Once he had started looking, though, he found it almost impossible to look away. Now that he had finally given himself permission to want, he couldn’t help noticing how Yeosang’s mouth curved up a little extra on one side, and had this cute little divot just inside the bottom lip, and-

“See something you like?” Yeosang joked.

Jongho gaped at him, a little bit lost and very mortified at being caught out. But, well, at this point he had to keep pushing through, right?

“I do see something I like,” he replied boldly, taking one extra half-step forward and tightening his arms around Yeosang so that they were properly pressed together. “I- hyung, I’m ready. I want to be your boyfriend and date you and kiss you and love you for as long as you’ll let me. Will-”

Yeosang jerked forward in his arms to mash their lips together, cutting Jongho off, and Jongho stumbled backwards briefly before recovering and leaning back into the kiss. He hadn’t expected Yeosang to be so…enthusiastic, but he certainly wasn’t complaining.

By the time Yeosang pulled back several minutes later, lips swollen and bearing very noticeable bite-marks, Jongho’s brain was melted so completely that it took him a full minute of hugging a very clingy Yeosang before he could form a proper sentence.

“Was that a yes?” he asked cautiously, knowing it was probably an annoying question to ask but needing to be sure. Yeosang laughed and nodded.

“We can go out tomorrow?” he offered. “Practice ends early, right? Maybe we can do dinner, or…well, I don’t know. We can figure something out.”

Jongho started to nod and then paused, remembering how he had wanted to do something extra special for his first date with Yeosang. There wouldn’t be time to prepare before tomorrow, though, so-

“We can do anything you want, hyung,” he promised, “but it’s just a lowercase-d date, okay? Our official First Date has to be later. I have Plans.”

Yeosang stared up at him, half exasperated and half fond, before agreeing with a shrug.

“We can still count our anniversary as today, though, right?” he checked. “Because I like that we got together on a Wednesday.”

Jongho went a little cross-eyed at the thought of their anniversary, shivering in happiness. They would be totally settled, then, and maybe they’d finally all be together as a group of eight, and-

“Kiss now, think later,” Yeosang demanded with a pout that was too pretty for Jongho to resist.

“Kiss now, and later,” Jongho mumbled nonsensically against Yeosang’s lips, feeling a little drunk from the feeling of finally being able to touch his hyung freely without wondering about that little bit of emotional space between them. That barrier was gone now, had disappeared somewhere in the breath between their first and second kisses, and Jongho genuinely felt like they were the only two people in the world. He hoisted Yeosang into his arms and carried him over to the wall so that he could press Yeosang back against it properly as they continued making out, satisfied with the feeling of surrounding his hyung so completely.

They stood there in the kitchen for what felt like forever, one of Yeosang’s legs hooked around Jongho’s calves to hold him in place as they exchanged slow, drugging kisses and clung to one another as though they’d never let go.

 

 

 

 

 

Mingi stared at the front door of their apartment in some surprise, not quite sure how he had gotten there. He had been out on a tteokbokki run with Yunho and San — time he couldn’t really afford to take off given how behind he was on work — but then somehow they had started teasing him for being a procrastinator and Mingi had just snapped. He couldn’t really remember what had happened, just flashes of sound and color, but he was pretty sure he hadn’t said anything to them before turning around to run back home.

And now here he was, panting and sweaty from the run, his heart beating a mile a minute as he stared at their door and wondered what to do. There was a sound from somewhere behind him and he flinched, wrenching open the door and slamming it safely behind him before darting instinctively to his bed and curling up in a tight, shivery ball under the covers as he started sobbing uncontrollably.

Yunho and San’s words were just a reminder of what Mingi had already been panicking over for the past several days, and Mingi felt like something had finally snapped inside of him. It was like the weight of the world was literally on his shoulders, pinning him down to the bed even though he knew he needed to get up and get back to work.

Every time he thought of work he panicked all over again, though, his heart pounding and his breath coming in gasps. His lyrics were overdue by a full two days now, and the questioning texts from Edenary had started piling up earlier that morning. The thing was, Mingi couldn’t write them. He didn’t know what was wrong with him, but he had been staring blankly at both his laptop and notebook in turns for days now and still hadn’t been able to come up with a single word.

Even worse, Mingi was pretty sure he was losing time at some points. He would look at the time one second and it was only midnight, and then he would look at it again and suddenly it was three in the morning even though he couldn’t remember doing anything in between. Mingi had never experienced anything like it before, and it terrified him.

He truly hadn’t procrastinated this time, but nothing he tried seemed to help. Every time he went out with his members, hoping that the distraction might allow him to come back in a fresh and productive mood, he was just consumed with guilt the entire time and would come back feeling even worse than before. He had tried to hide it as best as he could, not wanting the others to realize how incompetent he was being, but it was getting to the point that it just wouldn’t be possible to hide any longer.

He couldn’t avoid Edenary forever, and he was sure it was only a matter of time before they asked Hongjoong to check up on him. They probably wouldn’t be mad mad, but what if everyone assumed he had just procrastinated too much? Or what if they were understanding, but decided they couldn’t rely on him to write lyrics in the future? Or what if-

Someone slid into bed next to Mingi and he startled, hastily trying to wipe his eyes even though he knew it was probably too late at this point.

“Baby?” Seonghwa asked gently, dropping a kiss on top of his head and reaching around Mingi to gently tangle their hands together. “Darling, what happened?”

“I messed up, hyung,” Mingi sobbed. “I’m so stupid, I can’t- I just can’t, I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

Someone else climbed into bed to hug him from the other side — Wooyoung — and the steady pressure of being sandwiched between two of his boyfriends helped Mingi relax slightly. He was still feeling slightly frantic, but they were petting him so soothingly that he couldn’t help leaning into their touches and soaking in the comfort they were offering. Even if he didn’t deserve it.

“Tell us what happened,” Wooyoung requested quietly. “Without the self-flagellation, Mingi-yah. You’re not stupid and you’re not bad — you’re a lovely, sweet, baby of a genius and we love you to the ends of the earth.”

“But I’m not,” Mingi burst out, angrily wiping at the tears still leaking from his eyes and shuddering as he thought about that awful blank page once more. Seonghwa frowned and prompted him one more time, and Mingi…just caved. He couldn’t look at them as he talked, too ashamed at the fact that he had been working on the same four lines of lyrics for nearly a week and still hadn’t been able to write a single word, but they listened patiently as he told them everything that had been happening up until Yunho and San’s teasing before he ran home.

 

 

Wooyoung clung tightly to Mingi, heart breaking as he realized just how much pain his boyfriend had been hiding from them, and tried very hard to focus on comforting Mingi rather wasting energy being furious at Yunho and San for triggering this panic attack. Because it was a panic attack, despite the way Mingi kept skirting around the term, and the revelation that Mingi had essentially been having non stop panic attacks for the past several days and none of them had noticed was…sobering, to say the least. Wooyoung had known that something was off with Mingi recently, that he had been overthinking things that hadn’t seemed to bother him much before and, now that Wooyoung thought about it, had been a bit twitchy and on edge ever since Spain. It hadn’t been very noticeable in the context of the pandemic, though, because everyone was abnormally distressed and processing it in different ways.

That wasn’t an excuse, though, Wooyoung told himself firmly, wrapping impossibly tighter around Mingi and trying to convey just how much he was loved through the strength in his grip and shaky praises whispered into Mingi’s ear. Mingi didn’t really seem to be registering anything but the soothing cadences of their voices did appear to help, and Wooyoung let out a slight sigh of not-quite-relief as Mingi’s breath started to settle into a more normal pattern and some of the tension leaked out of his shoulders.

Then the sound of their front door shutting and Yunho and San’s voices floated into their room, and Mingi stiffened like a board. Something dark and furious curdled in Wooyoung’s stomach and he disentangled himself with a whispered promise that he would make sure Yunho and San gave him space. Seongwha watched him go worriedly before focusing back on Mingi, apparently deciding it wasn’t worth questioning the furious shimmer in Wooyoung’s eyes when any hint of anger could trigger Mingi again.

Yunho and San were coming down the hallway when Wooyoung intercepted them. He nervously pushed them back into the living room, ignoring their increasingly frustrated protests and yanking San backwards by the seat of his pants when he tried to push past him.

“What is wrong with you?” San demanded, checking to make sure his jeans hadn’t ripped before glaring at Wooyoung. “Mingi left our date in a hurry so we just want to make sure he’s okay. Is that a crime or something?”

“Mingi most certainly isn’t okay,” Wooyoung told them, shaking with an unidentifiable mixture of sorrow, hurt, frustration at not being able to help enough, and, finally, anger. Anger at Yunho and San for teasing Mingi that afternoon, even though he rationally knew there was no reason for them to have known what Mingi was going through, anger at himself for not realizing what was going on earlier, anger at the rest of the members and their staff for not noticing either, anger at…well, the world.

“I just want to apologize,” Yunho tried. He glanced past Wooyoung as though thinking about trying to force his way past and Wooyoung moved to block the door more completely.

“Please don’t,” he begged, switching tactics. “Seriously, Yunho, please don’t, it’ll just make it worse. Just wait, please, we only just got him to calm down, please.”

San opened his mouth to protest but the sound of their front door opening once more interrupted him. Wooyoung cast a desperate glance back at Yunho and San, not sure what to do, before quickly darting into the hallway to snag an unsuspecting Hongjoong and push him into the living room as well.

Wooyoung,” Hongjoong scolded, rubbing at his arm where Wooyoung’s hand had pulled a little too roughly. “Eden-hyung just wanted me to-”

Don’t go near him,” Wooyoung hissed, distantly aware that he was acting deranged but not sure how to stop. He just knew he needed to protect Mingi, needed to give him time to calm back down a little bit and get to a place where he could explain what was going on to the others — because they would understand, they had to —

The door opened one more time and the bright sound of Yeosang’s happy giggle filled the hallway. Something inside Wooyoung lurched — in relief, this time — and he stepped back into the hallway to intercept them.

The carefree smiles on Jongho and Yeosang’s faces faded at the sight of Wooyoung’s expression and they hurried forward to meet him. Wooyoung brushed off their concerned touches, too on-edge to let anyone touch him for now, and focused his attention in on Jongho. Seongwha needed someone else with him, and there was no one he trusted more than Jongho and Yeosang to be there for Mingi when he needed it most.

“Jongho, baby, Mingi’s a bit sad right now. What do you want to tell him?”

“...that I love him?” Jongho answered awkwardly, clearly confused. “Hyung, what-”

“Go to your room, baby, Seonghwa-hyung is there with him.”

Jongho hesitated just long enough to squeeze Wooyoung’s hand in his and glance nervously into the living room before quietly disappearing down the hall.

“You can probably go, too,” Wooyoung told Yeosang reluctantly, knowing that Mingi’s need for comfort was more urgent than his right now.

Yeosang didn’t move.

“Are you okay?” he asked quietly, ignoring Wooyoung’s protests to wrap him in a hug. “What happened, Young-ah? You don’t have to do it on your own, you know that.”

Something about the tone of Yeosang’s voice, light and unbearably soft, reminded Wooyoung that this was the person who had stood by him during the toughest times of his life and never once wavered. This was Yeosang, his friend of seven years, his home.

“I’m just so scared,” Wooyoung admitted, voice cracking on a sob as he buried his face in Yeosang’s neck and let his fear spill out. “Mingi ran in crying and when Seonghwa-hyung and I followed he was having this panic attack, and he said all these awful things about himself, and I just…I’ve never seen anything like that, Sang-ah. Even during eliminations and everything. I didn’t know what to do and he’s hurting so much — has been hurting so much, for so long, I-”

“It’s going to be okay,” Yeosang promised quietly when it was clear Wooyoung wasn’t capable of going on. “I promise, Young-ah, you don’t have to do it alone, remember? We’re here. All of us.”

Wooyoung didn’t even have to look up to know Yeosang was glaring at the others over his shoulder and he smiled tearfully into his neck. Yeosang was the gentlest person he had ever met, but he did have a fiercely protective side that always made Wooyoung feel so ridiculously safe no matter what was going on in their lives.

“You’re not alone,” Hongjoong added from the living room, clearly having overheard the entire conversation. “Baby, can you come in here please? I promise we won’t go anywhere you don’t want us until Mingi’s ready, but can you just explain what’s going on?”

Wooyoung let himself rest on Yeosang’s shoulder for one more long, stabilizing breath before nodding and pulling them both over to the living room couches to sit next to Yunho and San.

Yunho silently opened his arms for Wooyoung and San whispered a quiet apology as they clung together, visibly upset.

“It’s not your fault,” Wooyoung admitted reluctantly, trying to figure out how to explain to them what was going on without sharing too much of what was really Mingi’s story to tell. He hesitated for a minute, gathering his thoughts, and then took a deep breath and told them what was happening.

Chapter Text

When Mingi came back to himself, he was tucked safely into Seonghwa’s lap with Jongho rubbing soothing circles into his back. He shifted slightly as he tried to get his bearings, not sure if he had been asleep or just completely spaced out, and winced as he realized his muscles were much more sore than he had anticipated.

“Hi, love, welcome back,” Seonghwa said gently, loosening his grip slightly to let Mingi shift before squeezing him close again. Everything that had happened that day came rushing back and Mingi's breath started to come faster as he remembered the work he still had to do. He started to sit up, mumbling an explanation, but Seonghwa gently pulled him back down. “You don't have to worry about those for now, baby. Joong-ah made some type of excuse to Edenary and they shifted their production focus a bit so you can take your time with the lyrics, okay? The song won’t be released for a while, anyways, since everything on this album is done and the next one is mostly complete too, so don't feel guilty about it. No one’s upset or angry or anything, they were just worried they hadn’t heard from you. And that goes for the others, too — no one is upset with you, I promise.”

Mingi mulled that over. It was a bit of a relief, of course, to know that no one was angry at him, but…it also kind of made him feel like he had freaked out over nothing. God, what was wrong with him?

“I’m sorry, hyung,” he apologized miserably, shrinking in on himself as much as he could. He didn’t feel like he deserved the comfort and pampering he was getting, and kind of just wanted to go hide in a dark room somewhere where he could wallow in peace. But, well, that required inconveniencing even more people and he did still have to write those lyrics, and-

“Hey, hey, baby take a deep breath,” Seonghwa urged softly, kissing Mingi’s forehead. “What are you apologize for, hm? You didn’t do anything wrong. I’m so proud of you, baby for telling us all that. We’re sorry, for not seeing how much you were hurting.”

“But it’s not-” Mingi swallowed, not sure how to explain how utterly useless and incompetent he felt. “I caused so much trouble, over what — like five lines of text? It’s not even that hard, I should be able to do it in like five minutes but I was too useless to-”

“Do you think I’m useless because I can’t write good lyrics?” Jongho interrupted evenly.

Mingi froze, blood running cold.

“No!” he protested hastily, reaching out for Jongho. “Of course not, you’re the best, you-”

“I know, I know,” Jongho said, lips twitching a little. “I know you don’t think that about me. But don’t be so hard on yourself, hyung. You’re brilliant, and whatever you’ve been struggling through doesn’t change that and never will. But also…the way you talk about it makes it seem like you think you were just being dramatic? And I know we tease you a lot for being a coward and stuff, but this…this is not the same thing, hyung. I saw how hard you were working before, when I came to take you out for jajangmyeon, and we all know how strong you are. If anything you’re stronger than the rest of us, because you still watch horror movies and go to haunted houses even when you’re scared. I don’t think I could do that, if they actually scared me, but you still do it and shrug it off and laugh about it the day after. I’ve always admired that about you, so please don’t say or imply that you’re weak, hyung, because you’re not.”

Mingi nodded and squeezed Jongho’s hand, unable to talk past the lump in his throat. It didn’t exactly change the way he was feeling, and he wasn’t sure he agreed with Jongho about him being brave, but he did recognize the logical flaws in him being upset for not being able to write when plenty of people he respected had difficulties writing lyrics and producing as well. He didn’t think he would be able to internalize that any time soon, but at least there was now a Jongho-sounding voice in his head that countered that thought as soon as it crossed his mind.

“I guess,” he said eventually. “But… I still need to write those lyrics. I don’t want to be left out of the song. And I had so many ideas for it, too, I just couldn’t make myself write them down and I kept losing time and-”
His voice broke off and Seonghwa hushed him for what must have been the millionth time, cuddling him close and pressing little kisses all over his head. Mingi sank into the embrace, hiding his face in Seonghwa’s neck and sighing in relief at the combination of soothing darkness and familiar scent of his hyung’s conditioner and skincare products.

“Stay like that, hyung,” Jongho said after a moment. “But could you just tell me about the ideas you had about the song? I was kind of interested in the concept when Hongjoong-hyung told me about it, and I always learn so much from the way you think about things.”

Mingi squirmed a little at the praise — Jongho wasn’t very good about making himself vulnerable, which was something they had been working on in their relationship, but he did love to randomly shower all of the members in almost achingly-sincere compliments that demonstrated just how much attention he paid to them, and it seemed like this was one of those times. The mixture of compliments and genuine interest in Jongho’s voice made the song easier to talk about, so Mingi took a deep breath and started to explain.

He had even more thoughts about it than he had realized so he rambled on for a bit, face still safely tucked into Seonghwa’s neck, reveling in the opportunity to finally let out some of the mess that had been building inside his head.

He raised his head a bit sheepishly when he finished, calm enough now to realize that listening to him blather on about connotations and synonyms for words that Jongho and Seonghwa both knew probably wasn’t very interesting, only to see Jongho nervously holding out the notes app of his phone towards him.

“What-”

“I wrote down everything you said,” Jongho said nervously. “I- I don’t know if that was the right thing to do? But I though, you said you were having trouble getting stuff down and it’s easier to edit something than write on a blank page, right, and-”

Mingi stopped listening, instead taking Jongho’s phone from him and quickly rearranging a couple of the words that were just wrong. He went to give the phone back and then hesitated, one of the phrases written there sticking out so clearly he could almost hear it in his head. He cut that and put it at the top of the note, and then added a word to the next line to make it the correct length before adding in a bunch of empty lines between the rest of it and copy-pasting a few phrases from the paragraph Jongho had transcribed back up to the top again.

He tilted his head to consider the fragments, humming the result under his breath, and made a few more edits so that it flowed a bit better before handing it back to Jongho.

“I think that’s right,” he said belatedly. “And you didn’t overstep, thank you, that was actually helpful.”

Jongho accepted his phone back numbly, looked down at the note, and then back at Mingi, eyes wide.

“Did you just- did you just finish it?” he asked in surprise. “Like…should I send this to Eden-hyung?”

Mingi stared at him, his brain catching up to what had just happened.

“I- well, it’s not finished, exactly, but you can send it, I guess? Anything’s better than nothing, and it’s probably enough for them to work with for now. But-”

Tears sprang to Mingi’s eyes again and he tried to wrestle them down, feeling lost and scared and distinctly out of control. Why hadn’t he been able to do that at literally any point during the past several days? He had spent hours trying to get half as much as that done, and then somehow essentially finished the draft in the space of ten minutes.

“Why- what’s wrong with me?” he asked brokenly, knowing it wasn't really fair to ask them for answers but not sure where else to go. “I hate this hyung, I hate it.”

“I- I don’t know, baby, I’m sorry,” Seonghwa said softly. “I don’t think we can answer that question on your behalf, exactly, but you said you’ve been getting anxious sometimes about things that didn’t use to make you nervous, right? And what you had earlier…it seemed a bit like a panic attack, to me. Does that sound right?”

Mingi made a face.

“Can I say no?” he asked half-heartedly. Objectively he knew that was probably right, but…he didn’t want to face up to what that might mean. Anyways, it wasn’t like this was a long term thing. He had just freaked out about this one song, but now he had a draft and felt better about it and that was probably fine. It had been an unpleasant experience, of course, but…it wasn’t going to happen again. It couldn’t happen again, because Mingi honestly wasn’t sure if he would be able to survive that.

“You can say whatever you want,” Seonghwa replied, always so frustratingly understanding that it was impossible to be annoyed at him. “But, Mingi-yah, why didn’t you tell anyone? Please tell me you know that none of us would have judged you or gotten upset with you.”

Mingi rolled his eyes.

Mingi,” Seonghwa repeated more sternly. “Don’t roll your eyes at me, baby.”

“But, hyung, you guys treat me like I’m…like I’m a glass that can break at any minute,” Mingi said, frustrated. “I can’t tell you these things because then none of you tell me what’s going on with you and I hate it. I’m not so weak I can’t be there for you, too.”

“I- okay, that’s fair,” Seonghwa admitted. “You’re not weak at all, but we should also do a better job of making sure you know we don’t think that. And, well, I can’t speak on behalf of the others, but please remember that at least half the times I don’t tell you why I’m upset it’s because I don’t want to admit that I’m upset in the first place. It’s not because I think you can’t take it, it’s because I’m still working on asking for help. And I know it’s a bit hypocritical to ask you to ask for help, but…maybe it’s something we can all work on together?”

“Me, too,” Jongho added quietly. “We don’t think you’re fragile, hyung.”

“Okay,” Mingi said, not really wanting to talk about it any more. “I think- hyung, we can go to bed now, right?”

There was a moment of silence and then Seonghwa nodded, adjusting his arms around Mingi.

“Are you comfortable sleeping with us here?” Seonghwa asked tentatively.

Mingi hesitated. A part of him wanted to be alone, to lick his wounds without anyone else there, and he didn’t fully believe that they actually saw him as reliable, but a bigger part of him wanted nothing more than to be the center of a cuddle pile with his boyfriends. Maybe even Yunho and San, even if a part of him still twitched uncertainly at the thought of them. And Hongjoong-hyung…

There was a knock at the door and Mingi tensed, ducking down underneath the covers at the sound of Hongjoong’s voice asking if he could come in.

“Is that okay, Mingi-yah?” Seonghwa asked. Mingi nodded reluctantly, knowing it was better to just face Hongjoong and get whatever scolding was coming his way over with. He stayed hidden as Hongjoong entered, though, startling with surprise as Hongjoong unceremoniously climbed on top of him and bundled him into a tight hug.

Something inside him broke and he started crying all over again, clinging to Hongjoong desperately like he wouldn’t ever be able to let go. All of the members symbolized safety and love to Mingi in one way or another, but Hongjoong was…different. Mingi craved his approval more than that of any teacher or mentor he had ever had, and there was something about Hongjoong’s sternness that made Mingi feel like no one could ever hurt him so long as he was in his hyung’s arms. He wasn’t sure exactly what was going through Hongjoong’s mind at the moment, but the hug meant that he was still loved and that was enough for him to face anything else that was coming.

“I’m sorry, hyung,” he apologized eventually, pulling back a little because he knew Hongjoong liked to make eye contact when they were having a serious discussion. “I’ll be better in the future, I promise, I-”

“Don’t apologize,” Hongjoong interrupted, looking equal measures sad and frustrated. “Mingi-yah, the only potential thing you did even a little bit wrong was not ask for help, and…well, I don’t think any of us are exactly in a position to lecture you about that. I’m not mad at you about the song, and I don’t even think I know half of what you were going through because Wooyoung didn’t want to tell us anything you might want kept private.”

Mingi relaxed in relief at that, feeling a burst of pure love and affection for Wooyoung. For all that Wooyoung sometimes crossed the line when teasing them, he was so, so careful with boundaries in any type of serious situation and Mingi had never appreciated that more than he did right now. He hadn’t realized how much the idea of everyone knowing had been weighing on him until now, but it was an immeasurable relief to know that he’d be able to control how the members found out at least a little bit. It made him feel a little more stable and less like the world was rushing by without him.

At the same time, he wasn’t sure he was up to having that conversation now. It would just make him cry all over again and he already had a headache from the amount of sobbing he had done earlier, and-

“You don’t have to talk about it right now,” Hongjoong said, apparently reading his mind. “I just wanted to ask you a few questions before you go to sleep, and make sure you know I’m not upset at you at all for anything.”

Mingi nodded, not sure how to reply.

“Is it okay if I tell the company that you weren’t feeling well today?” Hongjoong continued cautiously. “I’m not really sure…covid kind of complicates things, because if I say you’re sick then we’ll have to do the whole testing and quarantine protocol and that’s not what’s going on here, but maybe a migraine?”

“You don’t have to lie for me, hyung,” Mingi protested. “Anyways, what does it matter? It doesn’t affect practice or anything, so-”

Hongjoong hesitated.

“I don’t feel comfortable with you going to practice tomorrow,” he said slowly, wincing at the look on Mingi’s face. “Baby-”

“I’m fine,” Mingi insisted. “I can’t - hyung, please, it’ll just make me feel even more useless than I already do.”

Hongjoong winced, shaking his head immediately.

“Mingi-yah, you’re not useless. But…you must be exhausted, right? I’m not going to make you do anything you don’t want to, but-”

“Then don’t tell them anything,” Mingi said flatly, feeling uncomfortable under their attention. “I’m fine, hyung.”

Hongjoong opened his mouth and then closed it again, hands still clenched in Mingi’s shirt.

“I- okay, whatever you want,” he said eventually. “But, Mingi, we are going to have a lighter practice day tomorrow whether you like it or not. I don’t have say your name to the company — although I know you know Manager-nim will want to know, at the very least, and I’m not willing to keep it a secret forever — but the others got in a bit of an argument and I don’t want anyone doing anything beyond our scheduled practices tomorrow, okay? I am still our leader, after all, and that’s my decision. It’s too dangerous when we’re in a mental state like this, and our comeback is too soon for anyone to risk any of us pushing ourselves too much.”

“Okay,” Mingi said reluctantly, knowing there was nothing he could really say to that. He still felt distinctly guilty, like he had ruined the few hours of unscheduled peace the group had, but he could tell from Hongjoong’s tone that actually admitting that wouldn’t go over very well. He stared down at his hands, uncomfortably aware of Hongjoong studying his face as the silence stretched on.

“Mingi-yah,” Hongjoong said eventually, cupping Mingi’s face in his hands and brushing his thumb lightly over his tear-stained cheeks. “Have I told you recently how handsome I think you are? Like this, not just when you’re all dressed up and pretty. You take my breath away every time I look at you.”

Mingi stared at him uncertainly, not sure what was going on.

“Okay?”

Hongjoong huffed a laugh at his response, shoulders relaxing for some reason.

“What I mean to say,” he continued awkwardly, “is that I know I don’t always do a very good job of balancing my roles as hyung and leader — particularly with regards to you and Wooyoung — but I want to make sure you know, without a doubt, that I love you in all ways. As your leader, but also as your hyung, and even…even as a chingu. I know you’re technically younger, but I rely on you so much. Not just on stage, not even just in the studio, but even in our everyday life. You always make me laugh and feel more confident, even when I’m having a bad day. And…if you ever need me to be your friend and not your leader, you can always say that, okay? I- I’ll be anything you want me to be, Mingi, I mean that.”

Mingi’s breath caught at the aching sincerity in Hongjoong’s voice and he nodded mutely, the tension in his stomach loosening slightly. He did know that, because Hongjoong was undoubtedly devoted to them all and always made up for any scoldings by showering Mingi in proud, adoring affection, but it was nice to have the reminder.

“Will you even be my dongseang if I ask?” Mingi teased, wanting the atmosphere to lighten a bit.

“What would you say to me if I was?” Hongjoong laughed fondly, humoring him.

“Stop working so hard and go to sleep,” Mingi answered promptly. “And, if you were my dongsaeng, you’d have to let me watch that R-rated movie you banned from the dorm. And you’d have to get me a snack if I wanted, and-”

“Okay, okay!” Hongjoong interrupted, squeezing Mingi’s hands. “After I send a message to manager-nim I’ll go to sleep this time, as a compromise. I’m definitely not letting you watch that movie, though, it was awful and I’m not paying for it again. I didn’t ban it though, I just said I wouldn’t buy it for you! You have money, you’re perfectly capable of getting it for yourself.”

Jongho shook his head.

“It’s not the same, hyung,” he said. “Wasting your money is way more fun than wasting Mingi’s.”

“Jongho!” Seonghwa scolded, shocked. “We do not talk about Hongjoong’s money like that, and we certainly don’t try to waste it.”

Jongho subsided, pouting, but Mingi caught the sideways glance he snuck towards Hongjoong out from under his eyelashes and frowned suspiciously. He had never heard Jongho talk about Hongjoong’s money so callously (even if he kind of agreed that it was fun begging Hongjoong for things as though they weren’t all perfectly capable of ordering treats for themselves) and was pretty sure Jongho had only said it to get a reaction out of Hongjoong. Why, though, Mingi wasn’t sure.

“It’s okay, Hwa, I can handle him,” Hongjoong said softly, smiling at Seonghwa before turning to Jongho. “Would you like to repeat that, Jongho-yah?”

And suddenly, Mingi understood all too well. Hongjoong’s voice always got this dangerously silky undertone when he was about to scold a dongsaeng, and Mingi was pretty sure that every single person in their group had been guilty of deliberately provoking their leader when they needed a bit of extra reassurance. Yeosang had done it a lot when they were still trainees, prickly and stubborn as he had been at the time, but Mingi and Wooyoung tended to be the most common culprits these days. San never purposefully tried to get scolded but had too much impulsive energy to avoid it, and always subsided like a kicked puppy whenever Hongjoong was annoyed at him (Mingi suspected Seonghwa and Hongjoong knew that scoldings from Hongjoong hit San particularly hard because it was almost always Seonghwa who took him to task, these days). Yunho just never really seemed to be in trouble, these days, and Mingi had been under the impression that Jongho didn’t particularly care one way or another. He just did what he wanted, and let the hyungs scold him if necessary.

Now, though, Mingi couldn’t help but watch in fascination as Jongho reacted to Hongjoong with more eager anticipation than he and Wooyoung had ever had. Rather than Jongho feeling vulnerable, this just seemed like he was feeling a bit…playful. Like a tiny puppy pouncing on an older one just to see what would happen and then recoiling apologetically as soon as they were scolded, even if the comparison was almost comical applied to Hongjoong and Jongho.

“Baby, you’re not answering me,” Hongjoong said mildly, glancing up and down Jongho as though he was bored.

“I’m sorry, hyung,” Jongho apologized, squirming a little under Hongjoong’s scrutiny and clinging lightly to Seonghwa’s arm. “I didn’t mean it, I promise.”

Hongjoong raised a skeptical eyebrow and Jongho winced.

“I mean…I kind of like it when you buy things for us,” he admitted. “But I promise I don’t want to waste your money or anything, hyung, really. I didn’t- I don’t know why I said that.”

Hongjoong sighed, softening slightly, and tugged at Jongho’s hair.

“Treasure, we both know you said that to get a rise out of me,” he sighed. “But I’m trying to talk to Mingi right now. If you want attention, ask for it and wait your turn, my love.”

Mingi startled at the endearment, and he could tell Seonghwa was surprised as well (and maybe a little pleased) because the hand on his hip tensed slightly, but neither Hongjoong or Jongho reacted like it was in any way unusual. Things really had changed a lot between the two of them, Mingi realized all over again, even if it usually wasn’t as obvious as it was now.

“I’m sorry, hyung,” Jongho apologized, more soberly now, before glancing shyly towards Mingi as well. “And you too, hyung, I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“I- that’s okay?” Mingi answered, confused and not sure where he fit into the dynamic between Hongjoong and Jongho right now. Hongjoong seemed to realize that as well because he softened completely, one hand playing with Jongho’s fingers as he focused back on Mingi.

“Sorry, Mingi-yah, I got a bit distracted.” Hongjoong apologized quietly. “But, I’ll get some rest tonight if you promise to do the same, okay? And…would you like to see the others?”

Mingi hesitated. He honestly really just wanted to go to sleep and have this entire day be over with, but he knew that San and Yunho probably felt guilty.

“Hyung, if you’re hesitating this long I think you should just wait until tomorrow,” Jongho suggested tentatively. “They’ll be fine, really.”

“Okay,” Mingi agreed reluctantly disentangling himself from Seonghwa to stretch. “I should at least brush my teeth and things though. Are you- are you going to stay here?”

Jongho glanced at Hongjoong and the two of them had a silent conversation.

“Stay, baby,” Hongjoong said eventually, sliding off the bed and ruffling a playful hand through Jongho’s hair. “Just go straight to sleep, okay?”

Jongho nodded, leaning into the touch almost imperceptibly before bouncing out of bed and tugging Mingi towards the bathroom.

“Hyung, did you know I went out with Yeosangie-hyung?”

Mingi laughed, grateful for the distraction, and let Jongho excitedly detail every single minute of his date with Yeosang to him as they got ready for bed. He felt distinctly shaky still, like nothing was really coordinated properly, but that was easy enough to push aside for the time being. He would be fine. His lyrics were mostly done and fine-tuning them would be easy now that the draft was there, and…it was kind of nice what Hongjoong had said to him earlier.

There had been an undertone there that Mingi hadn’t heard before, as though Hongjoong really did think he was attractive and handsome and reliable, and it had lit a flicker of hope in Mingi’s chest. He knew Hongjoong didn’t mean it the way Mingi wanted him to mean it, but it was nice to hear nonetheless. It made him feel more grounded in himself, strangely enough. Like he was loved for more than just his work, and his breakdown hadn’t actually ruined anything at all.

Jongho’s light chatter as they got ready only reinforced that, and Mingi settled into bed sprawled out on top of Seonghwa feeling surprisingly okay. His minor headache had worsened, his body ached, and he cringed at the thought of the others every time they crossed his mind, but Hongjoong was still there to press a goodnight kiss to his forehead and assure him that no one was upset with him. Then Jongho curled himself contentedly around both Seonghwa and Mingi, putting just enough pressure on his body to stretch out some of the tense muscles, and Mingi melted bonelessly into the bed.

“Love you, hyungie,” Jongho mumbled sleepily into his neck. “And you, too, hyungie.”

Seonghwa laughed, lifting one hand up from Mingi’s back to pet Jongho’s hair affectionately.

“Love both of you, too,” he said softly as Hongjoong clicked off the lights and slipped out of the room. “Sleep well, okay?”

Mingi nodded into Seonghwa’s chest, letting their steady breathing lull him gently to sleep.

As awful as today had been, he felt a bit optimistic about tomorrow. His lyrics were almost done, no one was mad and, most importantly, he was surrounded by people who really, genuinely, adored him.

Chapter Text

San felt like he was going to be sick.

It had been three hours since Mingi had literally run away from him, and he still had no idea exactly what had happened except that something he said had hurt his boyfriend so badly that the mere sight of San would send him into another panic attack. Another, because Mingi had apparently been having panic attacks on and off for the past several days (if not even longer, but that was a thought so horrible San couldn’t even comprehend it at the moment) without any of them knowing.

Wooyoung had calmed down enough at one point to assure San that it wasn’t his fault, but the sentiment rang distinctly false and only served to show that Wooyoung didn’t blame him anymore.

The thing was, even if San was rational enough to not co-opt the issues Mingi was clearly suffering from, he couldn’t help feeling like this particular situation was his fault. Sure, he couldn’t have known that procrastination was a trigger for Mingi at the moment because it had always been one of the safest topics to tease him about in the past, but he had noticed Mingi’s reaction was a bit lackluster in the middle of his sentence and still kept going.

Even worse, as San sat on the couch in silence thinking back over the past few days, he slowly started to realize that he had flat out ignored each and every sign of Mingi struggling without once checking in on his boyfriend. He had noticed that Mingi was a bit quieter and on edge lately, but kept forgetting to check in on him about it. A part of him had thought it was just a phase, but if he had stopped to think for even just a minute he would have remembered that Mingi was rebellious when he was going through his phases, not withdrawn. There were a million little clues that were so clear now in hindsight, and San honestly couldn’t believe that he had missed them.

He had always prided himself on being a supportive, attentive friend, and had thought that strength carried over to his boyfriends. Even on the days he doubted his looks, talents, and charm, he had always been confident in the knowledge that he would quite literally drop everything for the people he loved — and that they knew that. Now, though, San wasn’t so sure.

The eight of them were literally constantly with one another, and yet he somehow had missed something so big and essential for ages. Mingi had always been San’s biggest supporter, the one who essentially taught him how to dance long before Wooyoung had even joined the company, and the knowledge that San had let Mingi down so badly right when he was needed was, quite literally, sickening.

His heart felt like it was breaking for Mingi, and he desperately wished there was something, anything that he could do to fix things so that his precious, angelic, sweetheart of a boyfriend would be okay again, but the cold truth of the matter was that Mingi’s panic attacks weren’t so black and white and San had already revoked his right to even hold his boyfriend as he cried.

On some level, San recognized that his thoughts were incredibly selfish — rather than thinking about how much he had messed up he should be thinking of Mingi — but that only sent him further down his spiral of self-recrimination until he felt like he was swimming underwater, unable to hear or see or breathe or-

“San-ah!”

San jerked, the world suddenly sharpening back into focus around him, and stared up into Wooyoung, Yunho, and Yeosang’s scared faces.

There was a wet tingling sensation on his cheek, he realized belatedly, where Wooyoung had apparently pressed his still-cold can of pepsi in an attempt to pull him out of wherever his mind had been.

“Sannie?” Yeosang asked, reaching up with one hand to wipe away the stray drops of condensation before tugging San’s torso into his lap and wrapping him in a protective embrace. “Are you…what happened?”

“I don’t know,” San answered faintly. The tension slowly leaked out of his body as he breathed in Yeosang’s familiar scent, his muscles as sore as if he had just finished a full-body workout at the gym. “I just- I was thinking about Mingi, and what I said, and I started to feel sick.”

“It wasn’t your fault, San-ah,” Yunho reiterated firmly, his own face as pale and wan as San felt. “I’ve been going over it in my head over and over, but…we really couldn’t have known this time.”

“But he’s been so off these past few days,” San pointed out. “I should have-”

“Do you blame me?” Yeosang interjected suddenly, cutting him off. San stared at him in horror, shaking his head immediately.

“Of course not, Sang-ah, never. You couldn’t have-”

“What makes you to blame any more than me, then?” Yeosang asked evenly. “Is it because you’re more thoughtful than me, or more observant, or-”

Of course not!” San protested, offended on Yeosang’s behalf. “You’re the sweetest, loveliest, kindest person there ever was. Sang-ah, you must know I don’t-”

“I know,” Yeosang assured him patiently. “But can you now see a bit of why it’s ridiculous to blame yourself? It wasn’t our fault for not knowing; there was no reason for us to expect that and this entire year has been a mess so it’s understandable to attribute any strangeness to the pandemic and the sudden tour cancellation.”

“I guess,” San admitted, reaching out so he could hold Wooyoung and Yunho’s hands as well while he snuggled in Yeosang’s lap. “But…I’m really worried about if it happens again.”

“I don’t think we can control if it happens,” Wooyoung said slowly, “and I do think we should try to learn from this whole situation so that we’re more aware of potential signs earlier on, you know?”

“And maybe be a bit more careful about the teasing,” Yunho added quietly. “Just until we figure out new boundaries and thing.”

San nodded, still raw and upset at the thought of Mingi feeling so utterly alone and sad, but a bit reassured at the knowledge that none of them would let a situation get so bad again. At the very Mingi wouldn’t have to be alone through any of it, ever again.

 

 

Mingi woke up to the sight of Wooyoung curled into a tight little ball on top of his chest and smiled fondly at the sight before both a pounding headache and the memories of the past few days came rushing back. He dropped his head back against the pillows with a sigh, closing his eyes and wishing he could hide in them. Seonghwa and Jongho were still asleep on either side of him, just barely fitting in the bed with their limbs haphazardly piled on top of one another, and Mingi took advantage of the quiet to reach for his phone.

Heart in his throat, he carefully ignored the flurry of notifications that popped up and quickly navigated to the note Jongho had sent him of the lyrics he had made the night before. They actually weren’t that bad, somehow, and Mingi carefully made a few minor tweaks here and there before sending it to Edenary in their group message. He left the phone on silent and half-placed, half-tossed out of sight on the ground next to his bed. He was feeling a lot better than yesterday, aside from the persistent headache that was presumably a result of crying too much, and it was hard for him to panic too much with three of his boyfriends all snuggled together and peacefully dreaming away.

So Mingi contented himself with drawing lazy patterns on Wooyoung’s back and toying with the pads of Jongho’s fingers as he waited for them to wake up. It didn’t take long for Seonghwa and Wooyoung — Seonghwa had always been a bit of an early riser and Wooyoung tended to wake up with whoever he was cuddling at any given time — but Jongho kept on sleeping peacefully as the other two stretched awake.

Mingi watched in concern as Wooyoung’s face fell slightly at the thought of something and he pushed aside his own leftover worries to focus on Wooyoung’s.

“What’s wrong?” he asked. Wooyoung hesitated, transparently worried about worrying Mingi, and Mingi sighed. “Please, Young-ah, don’t treat me like I’m breakable. I want to know, I want you to tell me like normal.”

Wooyoung waited a moment more but seemed to hear the note of desperation in Mingi’s voice because it didn’t take long for him to relent.

“I think hyung’s mad at me,” he confided in a whisper, his breath tickling Mingi’s ear.

“What?” Seonghwa blurted in surprise, staring at him. “No I’m not. Why would I be mad? Also I’m right here?”

“Not you, hyung,” Wooyoung rolled his eyes. “Hongjoong-hyung.”

“He texted me and told me to give you a lot of kisses for him,” Seonghwa said, clearly trying to be reassuring. “I don’t think he’d say that if he was angry at you.”

Wooyoung opened his mouth to reply and then closed it again, a flurry of different emotions flickering over his face.

“He said…to give me kisses for him?” he repeated incredulously. “Like, on his behalf?”

Seonghwa faltered and Mingi started to smile.

“I don’t - I don’t know?” Seonghwa said eventually, looking a little disturbed. “Why did he say that?”

“Why did who say what?” Jongho yawned, eyes widening slightly in surprise at the sight of Wooyoung before he wrapped his arms more firmly around Mingi and Seonghwa and closed them again.

“Hongjoong-hyung said to give kisses to Wooyoung on his behalf,” Seonghwa explained, pretty sure that Jongho was still awake. “Anyways, I think he was just a little worried about you, Young-ah. He’s still a bit twitchy about kisses even with me, except when they’re on the lips. I think he just really hates the sound so you have to distract him with…other things.”

“He and Jongho are going to be so funny together,” Wooyoung giggled, brightening slightly at the thought. “They’re such little - ow! I didn’t even finish what I was going to say!”

Jongho shrugged and bit Wooyoung’s hipbone one more time for good measure before innocently snuggling back down as though nothing had happened.

“There weren’t any places that sentence was heading that didn’t deserve a bite,” he pointed out. “Anyways, hyung and I aren’t gonna date.”

“Really?” Seonghwa asked doubtfully. “You’re going to date every single person in this group except Joong? You practically live for his approval.”

“I do not!” Jongho protested hotly, squinting up at Seonghwa in annoyance. “I just…like it when he’s happy. He works too hard. Anyways, it’s not like I would say no if he wanted to date me, but he doesn’t like me like that. And I have a lot to fix in my other relationships before getting to that point.”

“Of course he likes you like that,” Wooyoung vowed loyally. “He just…doesn’t know it yet.”

Jongho hummed noncommittally and Mingi laced their fingers together in support.

“Young-ah, will you do something for me?” Mingi asked after a moment.

“Anything,” Wooyoung said immediately, perking up in readiness. “Do you want some of that fancy boutique ice cream you really liked the other day? I’ll totally get it for you, just, it might take an hour for me to bring it back. Is that okay? Or-”

“Not the ice cream!” Mingi interrupted, laughing a little. “Although…no, not the ice cream, I don’t need that. I want you to go talk to Hongjoong-hyung. So you’re not worried about him being angry anymore.”

“But then you’ll be alone,” Wooyoung tried, purposefully ignoring Seonghwa and Jongho’s offended looks. Mingi rolled his eyes, pulling Wooyoung in for a brief kiss before pushing him away.

Go, Young-ah,” he said firmly. “I’ll be fine. I want to talk to Sangie for a bit, anyways.”

“I’ll go get him,” Jongho offered. “I was thinking I might talk with Sannie-hyung this morning, anyways.”

Mingi’s eyes lit up and he nodded eagerly, all but pushing Jongho out of the bed as well before pulling Seonghwa closer and snuggling in contentedly.

Wooyoung frowned slightly and laced his hand in Jongho’s for reassurance as they left the room, not quite sure how to vocalize what he was feeling.

“I’m glad he’s happier this morning, of course,” he started hesitantly, glancing sideways at Jongho, “but does it feel a bit…false? Or is that just me overthinking it?”

Jongho pulled him into a hug, resting his head on top of Wooyoung’s as he thought.

“I don’t think it’s false, exactly,” he said slowly. “I think he seems convinced that whatever it was is over and is trying not to dwell on how awful it was. I don’t- I don’t know, though. It seemed awfully serious for something that’s just a one-off, and he has been a bit on edge for months even if he won’t admit it. I don’t want to, like, presume to know better than him or anything, though, you know? Like if he says he feels good…”

“Yeah,” Wooyoung sighed glumly, squeezing Jongho tightly before pulling back to continue down the hall. “I guess at least we all know what to look for, when it does happen again.”

“In case,” Jongho corrected gently.

“In case,” Wooyoung agreed, hoping against hope that whatever rationalization Mingi was doing in his head would work out. For all that Ateez tended to baby Mingi and protect his sensitive side, he had always been something of a pillar for Wooyoung to lean on and it had truly shaken Wooyoung to the bone to see him fall apart so completely. He wanted to be there for Mingi during times like those, rather than the support system just go one way, but that didn’t change how much it sucked.

“Go to hyung,” Jongho said quietly, interrupting his train of thoughts. “He’ll make you feel better. And Mingi will appreciate the ice cream, I’m sure.”

Wooyoung nodded, sneaking a quick kiss from Jongho and wishing him luck with San before heading warily toward the hyungline room and knocking on the door.

There was no answer so Wooyoung knocked one more time and waited a moment before cautiously opening the door and peering in.

As he should have expected, Hongjoong was lying on Seonghwa’s bed with his headphones on, working. Wooyoung suppressed his fond smile at the sight and wavered, trying to decide whether or not to climb into bed with him. Usually he wouldn’t have hesitated — the potentiality of leader-cuddles were absolutely worth the admittedly-more-likely threat of getting pushed right back out again — but he still felt a bit uncomfortable about how he had acted with Hongjoong earlier. Their relationship had improved a lot over the past few months, with both of them taking the time to forge something deeper and sweeter than what it had been before, but there had been a lot of murky boundaries between Captain-Joong and Hyung-Hongjoong last night and he wasn’t sure if he had navigated him properly. He distinctly remembered practically yanking Hongjoong into the living room at one point and borderline-yelling at him, and that-

“Hi, treasure,” Hongjoong said, sliding his headphones off and reaching out with grabby hands towards Wooyoung. “Will you come sit on my tailbone for a second? I was in a kind of awkward position earlier this morning and the muscle is all tense.”

Wooyoung firmly pushed away the dirty thoughts that flooded his brain at the thought of Hongjoong’s backside and sat down gingerly, carefully sinking more and more of his bodyweight down until Hongjoong sighed in relief and snuggled down with his head resting on his forearms.

“Mingi wanted us to go get ice cream for him,” Wooyoung said cautiously after a few moments, a little worried Hongjoong was about to fall asleep again. “Do you want to nap, or-”

Hongjoong twisted his head back to study Wooyoung’s face, brow knitting into a small frown.

“Why are you so nervous?” he asked bluntly, flipping over so he could look at Wooyoung’s face properly. Wooyoung gulped at the rapid change in position and quickly slid off Hongjoong onto the bed instead.

“I just-” he swallowed again, remembering Mingi’s encouragement, and threw caution to the winds. “Are you mad at me? For pulling you and yelling at you and-”

“Hey, hey, no, precious, no,” Hongjoong said immediately, sitting up and bundling Wooyoung into his arms. “I mean, you could have stopped me a bit more gently, but…it was kind of an insane situation and I wasn’t upset about that even for a minute. If anything, I’m grateful to you. I…I know I have a hard time telling when you guys need me to be your leader and when you need me to be your friend, and you’re the one I can always count on to keep me straight. I rely on you for that, Young-ah. Anyways, you know I always scold you idiots right away if possible, or as soon as we can grab a moment in private if not. I wouldn’t let it fester, right?”

“I guess,” Wooyoung said reluctantly, looking down and toying with the hem of Hongjoong’s shirt. He was relieved, vaguely, but…it felt like this had been happening a lot, recently. Him freaking out because he thought he had upset someone only for it to be a complete overreaction. He just still felt so vulnerable and unsure, still, ever since the whole Seonghwa debacle. He was at a better place with the second-guessing of himself than he had been, but it sometimes felt like it would never go away, at this rate.

“What is all this really about?” Hongjoong asked, taking Wooyoung aback all over again with his perceptiveness. Wooyoung hesitated and then, emboldened by the patient openness Hongjoong was watching him with, explained the entire story to him.

“Hm,” Hongjoong said thoughtfully, hands resting lightly at the base of Wooyoung’s hips. “Thank you for sharing all that with me, treasure. Do you mind if we have that conversation while we get ice cream? It'll take a while to get Mingi-yah the special type, so we can talk thoroughly about it. How does that sound?”

Wooyoung nodded, a little flushed and pleased at the thought that Hongjoong clearly wanted to spend the entire hour it would take for them to get ice cream just on helping him feel better about himself. That amount of time was a rarity for them, and it felt positively luxurious to have his hyung’s focus purely on reassuring and comforting him.

“Good,” Hongjoong said in satisfaction, squeezing Wooyoung’s hip bones lightly and sneakily biting the tip of Wooyoung’s nose before gently extricating himself from the bed and getting up to get dressed. “Let’s go, then, that ice cream won’t eat itself!”

 

 

Jongho slipped into Wooyoung and Yeosang’s room, knowing that San tended to sleep with Yeosang when he was particularly stressed, and let himself take a minute to appreciate the sight of San hugging Yeosang’s pillow to his chest as he slept. Yeosang had clearly risen early as usual, leaving San to sleep in as long as he was able. Jongho carefully climbed under the covers as well, heart melting when San immediately latched onto his thigh and clung to it in his sleep, and nervously clutched the slip of paper in his hand as he waited for his hyung to wake up.

“Makdoongie?” San mumbled half an hour later, nuzzling sleepily against Jongho’s hip as he struggled awake. “What are you doing here?”

“I wanted to see you,” Jongho answered simply, sliding down against the pillows a bit so they were on more of an equal level. San apparently took that as permission to clumsily flop into Jongho’s lap and Jongho decided to let him, feeling extra tolerant (and maybe a little clingy himself, even if he would never admit it) that morning. “Want some water, hyung?”

San nodded against Jongho’s chest, lazily opening his mouth like a baby bird. Jongho rolled his eyes but humored San, carefully tipping a stream of water into his mouth and wiping the stray drops away with the corner of his sleeve.

"I thought you were the ghost," San confessed nonsensically, smiling as he remembered those few moments in between dreams and full consciousness when he had thought he was cuddling with a ghost. Jongho went tense underneath him, as though he was startled, and San stared up at him, aghast.

"Makdoongie, do not tell me you were the ghost," he said sternly.

"I'm not the ghost?" Jongho said awkwardly, avoiding eye contact.

"You- I - but-" San sputtered, his brain still too fuzzy from sleep to properly rationalize this new knowledge with the careful spreadsheet he and the others had been using. "We ruled you out, though!"

"It wasn't that hard to get around you system, hyung," Jongho shrugged, looking a little too smug for San's comfort. "I just pretended I had lost my airpods a couple times and asked manager-nim or Hongjoong-hyung to check behind the furniture you were monitoring at a time I had a clear alibi. I knew they'd have to move the furniture to check, and they wouldn't put it back in exactly the right position, so..."

"You're evil," San decided, snuggling closer and remembering for the millionth time why he was glad Jongho was on his team. "Hey, baby, do you think we can keep the joke going?"

"We can try," Jongho said doubtfully. "You're not very good at secrets, though, hyung."

San wrinkled his nose, his eyelids growing a bit heavy all over again, somehow. He distantly heard Jongho huff in fake annoyance but he had already slipped too far back into his dreams to respond.

 

“Are you awake now?” Jongho asked after another half hour had passed, starting to feel a little impatient. And a lot nervous.

“I guess,” San said reluctantly. “You did need something, after all, didn’t you?”

“Ah, not exactly,” Jongho hedged. “Just- I have a note for you. Well, kind of, anyways.”

That got San’s attention and he looked up at Jongho hopefully. “Like…the song lyric notes I was giving you?”

Jongho nodded, taking a sip of water for himself and clearing his throat.

“It’s just- I have it as a note, but I thought I could sing it for you, too? And- it references that moonstone necklace your parents got you ages ago, so do you mind wearing that, too?”

San nodded silently, the effort not to coo at his maknae’s cuteness taking all of his strength and then some. Jongho handed him the note — wrinkled from being clenched in his hand for too long — and carefully fastened the necklace for him, waiting for San to unfold the piece of paper before opening his mouth to sing.

When you’ve had a bad day, you’re losing your way
I will be your lantern, shine for you all day
Like the promise of a rainbow
Feel the love that I yearn to give you
I’m the light within your moonstone
Just close your eyes now, feel the ray
Through this song I’ll keep your demons away

San blinked away the tears stinging at the corners of his eyes, realizing all of a sudden what this was.

“Baby, did you- those lyrics-”

“I wrote them for you, hyung,” Jongho confirmed quietly, the tips of his ears burning bright red. “I didn’t write the melody, and I know it’s not very good, but it’s what I wanted to say to you and-”

“It’s the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard,” San said immediately, wrapping Jongho in a hug and wondering if it was possible to literally overflow with pure love for another person. Jongho so rarely put his thoughts plainly like that, even if he had been making a clear effort to be more vulnerable with them recently, and the fact that he had written that specifically for San was almost overwhelmingly touching.

“You don’t have to exaggerate, hyung,” Jongho chided gently. “We live with a whole Kim Hongjoong, I don’t have that much hubris. But anyways, I- honestly, I wrote some of that a while ago while thinking of you, but I’m singing it to you now because…you’ve waited for me patiently for a long time, hyung, even if you didn’t say so outright, and I’ll always be grateful for that. But I’m ready now, you don’t have to wait any more, and I wanted to sing you that so you know that even if I’m lacking I’ll-”

San flung his arms around Jongho and crushed him into a tight hug, abruptly cutting off the rest of whatever self-effacing nonsense Jongho had been about to say. The song had been perfect, Jongho was perfect and already everything he promised to be in the lyrics, and San couldn’t wait to spend every day of every year for the rest of their lives proving that to him. Starting immediately.

Chapter Text

San threw himself down on the floor in the entryway, uncaring of the grumbles of his members as they stepped over him to swap out their shoes for slippers. He was utterly exhausted, both from the long day of rehearsals and schedules for Inception and the emotional weight of the tension still hovering between him, Mingi, and Yunho. Ever since that horrible, two day period, Mingi had seemed determined to act as much as though nothing had happened as possible.

None of them really felt comfortable bringing it up now that Mingi was so clearly averse to the topic, but San knew they’d have to talk about it properly at some point. At this point, though, he’d settle for Mingi talking to him at all.

Of course, it wasn’t like Mingi flat out ignored him and Yunho — Mingi still touched them as normal and joked around with the rest of the group, still even kissing them sometimes — but he didn’t seem to seek them out when he was feeling emotionally vulnerable anymore and the knowledge of why was endlessly painful for San.

He didn’t really know what to do about it, either. Yunho had already tried talking with it about Mingi but Mingi just brushed off the entire incident as though it were nothing and stubbornly kept directing the conversation elsewhere until Yunho gave up. San had been planning on trying for a discussion later that evening but he was so tired he honestly didn’t know if he’d have the emotional wherewithal to stay balanced through it.

A warm weight above him pulled San out of his thoughts and he glanced up in surprise to see Mingi carefully lowering himself down to lie on top of San. San wrapped his arms around Mingi automatically, in shock at the casual display of intimacy that Mingi hadn’t initiated in what felt like forever, and tried not to cry as Mingi snuggled against his shoulder affectionately.

They lay there together for several long minutes, San gently rubbing random circles at the base of Mingi’s back until he finally gathered up the nerve to say something.

“I missed this,” he murmured quietly, trying to keep his tone as neutral and non-confrontational as possible. Mingi tensed above him and San held his breath, but nothing changed.

“I just needed some time,” Mingi said eventually, face still hidden in San’s neck. “I didn’t- it was never your fault, or Yuyu’s. But I couldn’t…I don’t know. It doesn’t matter now, anyways. It was a bad period, but writer’s block has to hit everyone one day and now I know to tell someone if I’m freaking out about it.”

San hesitated. What he knew of the situation didn’t at all sound like writer’s block, but he also didn’t want to ruin any of the progress they had just made by pushing Mingi before he was ready. A conversation like that needed to happen on a day when they were both in a mental space to talk about it, not literally lying on the floor because they were too tired to get up. So, for now, he’d settle for just providing as much love and reassurance as he could so that, when it did come time for that conversation, their relationship would be in as solid of a place as possible. Still, he couldn’t resist addressing one thing about the situation.

“It wasn’t your fault either, Mingi-yah,” he said quietly, heart clenching when he felt a silent tear drop down onto his cheek. He squeezed Mingi as tightly as possible until both of their breathing calmed and Mingi’s demeanor shifted back to relaxation.

“C’mon,” Mingi said eventually, rubbing his cheek on San’s shoulder to get rid of any remaining tears and smiling tentatively at him. “Let’s go eat the food manager-nim ordered with Yuyu? I need to tell him the same thing, probably.”

“I’ll go heat it up and bring it to our room,” San offered, feeling very generous considering the fact that all he wanted to do was crawl into his bed and never leave. “You go ahead, baby, I’ll be there in a second. Unless you want me there too?”

Mingi, who had been looking a little nervous at the prospect of talking to Yunho, relaxed as soon as San offered and shook his head.

“No, that’s okay. It’s Yuyu, even if my nerves seem to keep forgetting that. Bring a lot of soup if you can, though — he didn’t drink as much water as usual today.”

San’s heart melted at the reminder of just how much Mingi cared for them, even if he wasn’t always as explicit about it as San was, and nodded happily.

The others left the three of them to their own devices for the most part that night, knowing how much they needed the bonding time. Even if all they did was feed one another and cuddle (with Mingi sandwiched securely in between them, of course), San couldn’t help feeling like those few hours went further towards healing their relationship than anything else they could have done. The quiet intimacy and tenderness of it, combined with the reminder of just how well the three of them got along, reminded him for the millionth time why he had fallen in love with them to begin with.

 

 

 

Seonghwa watched in disgust as Yeosang and San helped one another stretch, the routine somehow looking a lot more…intimate than the normal ones they did as a group. They were practically plastered against one another, every stretch started and ended with a kiss, and the happy little fits of giggles they kept collapsing against were almost grating against Seonghwa’s post-nap ears.

“What are you two even doing?” he asked eventually, taking a moment to appreciate all the different muscles their tight-fitted running shorts and transparent t-shirts showed off before returning to being vaguely annoyed and grumpy once more.

“We’re going to workout,” San informed him, pressing yet another kiss to Yeosang’s lips.

“Is that a euphemism?” Seonghwa asked doubtfully. He knew San and Yeosang had been really into working out recently — and the results were already very evident — but surely this was too much? They looked like one of those annoying commercials where the filter was extra warm and an unnaturally good looking couple in too-tight clothing fawned over one another in that kind of disgustingly cute way that always made you crushingly aware of how single you were.

Of course, Seonghwa wasn’t single, but he was sitting on the couch in two-day-old sweats eating his third bowl of ramyeon to celebrate the end of his diet and lamenting the little city of zits flourishing happily on his chin, and the sight of them looking so fit and sunshiney made him wrinkle his nose in distaste.

Yeosang gave him a disappointed look and Seonghwa blushed, straightening his posture a little before remembering that he was actually proud of himself for taking a break.

Of course it’s not a euphemism, hyung,” Yeosang said. “We’ve been trying out the apartment gym a bit.”

Seonghwa shuddered at the thought of even more extra workouts on top of the practice they had done earlier and tried to decide if the overfull feeling a bag of chips would give him was worth the taste. Yeosang and San slipped out while he was thinking, and Wooyoung came bouncing out of his room in their wake.

Seonghwa grunted as Wooyoung bounced right into his lap, knocking the breath out of him with the force of his snuggles.

Snuggles were more palatable than health commercials, Seonghwa decided, wrapping his arms around Wooyoung and wondering if he could bribe one of their other members to bring them snacks so they didn’t have to get up. Wooyoung apparently had other plans, though, because he sat up barely a minute later and started tugging Seonghwa up to his feet.

“Hyung, come watch San and Sangie work out with me?”

Seonghwa paused, intrigued.

“Just watch?”

Wooyoung laughed at him but nodded, dragging him into Seonghwa’s room before pulling out the tightest pair of leggings Seonghwa owned and cajoling him into them. Seonghwa grumbled but let Wooyoung dress him up a bit, only drawing the line at the diamond earrings Wooyoung tried to add.

“Wow, hyung, you look good,” Wooyoung said appreciatively, looking him up and down.

“Don’t give false praise,” Seonghwa protested half-heartedly. “I have too much acne on my face right now to look that good and we both know it.”

Wooyoung rolled his eyes.

“Hyung, you saw that meme that went ‘when the photo’s blurry but you’re Park Seonghwa of Ateez,’ right?”

Seonghwa nodded, flustered. He knew that he was considered good looking by now, of course, but it wasn’t exactly a thought that floated around the top of his head and it never failed to surprise him a little when someone brought it up like that/. As though he was something beyond just everyday handsome.

“Well, this is just like that,” Wooyoung continued. “A ‘when you have a breakout but you’re Park Seonghwa of Ateez’ moment — you look like a model or something. A model for zits.”

Seonghwa stared at him and Wooyoung giggled, pushing him playfully.

“Okay, okay, I know that was dumb. But forget the last part and just remember the part where I said you look handsome.”

“I definitely didn’t hear you say the word ‘handsome,’” Seonghwa teased, heart lightening nevertheless. “Anyways, let’s go before they stop working out.”

“We don’t have to worry about that,” Wooyoung promised. “They stayed down there for hours last time. Sannie said they found a secret massage room that has a lock on the inside, so-”

“I knew it was an euphemism!” Seonghwa exclaimed, vindicated. “I mean, I know they’ve been working out, but there’s no way they were that excited for it.”

“To be fair, I’m that excited just to watch,” Wooyoung pointed out as they started making their way out of the room. “And they do- oh, Jongho-yah! Do you want to join us to come watch Sannie and Yeosang work out? Now that you’re dating them too you can enjoy the view a bit more…openly.”

“I already worked out, though,” Jongho protested. “And this is my nice sweatshirt, I don’t want to get it all sweaty.”

“No working out is necessary,” Wooyoung promised. “We’re just wearing workout clothes so it looks like we’re there to work out. Just change your jeans into sweatpants and come join us, makdoongie. Your sweatshirt is good enough.”

Jongho shrugged and changed quickly, lacing his fingers with Seonghwa’s as they made their way to the gym.

Wooyoung led the way eagerly. Aside from dance practices when he was usually either too focused or exhausted to properly appreciate the view of his post-workout boyfriends, he hadn’t seen Yeosang or San work out in over a month. He had experienced first hand just how much their bodies were changing, and he was excited to see the new results.

San had always teased him for how much Wooyoung liked seeing him work out, not understanding what was different from appreciating their bodies at other points in the day, but what Wooyoung had never quite been able to explain was that watching his boyfriends work out was more about the working out part than just seeing their muscles.

He loved the way Yeosang and San were so intentional about it, the intense focus in their eyes as they made their way through reps and the feeling of proud satisfaction they exuded after a successful session. There was just a certain sense of peace when they worked out, different from the artistry and drive when they practiced at the company, and he…maybe kind of had a thing for it. Even more than that, he knew that they both took pride in slowly building up their endurance and strength, and couldn’t help feeling a bit proud of them himself.

Seonghwa and Jongho seemed to understand where he was coming from almost as soon as they arrived, gaping at the laser-focused intensity on Yeosang’s face as he did some type of footwork drill in the center of the room.

“I can’t believe we get to date him,” Jongho muttered under his breath. Wooyoung preened, congratulating himself for bringing the two of them only to take it back a second later when San and Yeosang noticed them and immediately drew Jongho into a lifting contest.

He and Seonghwa watched with open mouths as Jongho took one glance at his ‘nice’ sweatshirt and stripped it off with a sigh, revealing that he hadn’t actually been wearing anything underneath it the entire time. Yeosang and San seemed similarly startled, momentarily distracted from their competition plans as they stared at the pretty curves of Jongho’s body.

“This was the best idea you’ve ever had,” Seonghwa said, a little too loudly. Jongho heard and blushed, preening a little as though he was trying to show off for them, and Wooyoung’s heart melted when San and Yeosang subconsciously mimicked him with their postures. His boyfriends were honestly, seriously, the absolute cutest.

 

 

 

Yunho was…worried. They were in a momentary lull of their promotion period, during which they should have been happy and taking advantage of break between music shows to get some much needed sleep, but Yunho couldn’t stop thinking that Hongjoong seemed distinctly off, somehow. He didn’t think anyone else had noticed, yet, and he wasn’t exactly sure himself, but he had always been a bit sensitive to Hongjoong’s mood change and something told him that there was something weird about the way Hongjoong looked at the others these days.

It got to the point that Seonghwa noticed and pulled Yunho to the side to ask about it, and together they decided to divide and conquer — Seonghwa distracted the others while Yunho took Hongjoong out to the quiet traditional restaurant around the corner from their new apartment to ask him what was going on. He half expected Hongjoong to pretend that everything was fine, as he tended to do, so he was startled when Hongjoong looked him straight in the eye instead.

“How long have you known it was a possibility for all eight of us to be together?” Hongjoong asked point-blank.

Yunho choked on the mouthful of stew in his mouth and hastily drank some water, knowing he needed to be truthful but wondering why it had to be him that got ambushed that way.

“I didn’t know it was a possibility back then,” he said carefully, trying to be a bit exact with his wording and not give anyone else’s feelings away too much, “but…months, hyung. I told you about how I had a crush on you for a while, and at first it was just you and Mingi, but that changed after San and Wooyoung walked in on us. The four of us got together and naturally started talking about crushes in the group and things kind of just spiraled from there. I- are you mad?”

Hongjoong hesitated and Yunho’s heart dropped. He honestly thought they had made the right decision to abandon the whole seduction plan and just let things proceed more naturally, but he also knew that it would seem to Hongjoong like they had purposefully left him for last. And sure enough-

“I- I’m not mad, exactly,” Hongjoong answered eventually. “Just…a bit at a loss, I guess. I don’t- I feel weird about it. And a bit lonely. And