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Fruit of Lies

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„Where is that brat?" Jaewoo was glaring at the door of Shax' apartment.

"He is not answering my calls." Leehyun pocketed his phone, a bored look on his face.

Dojin turned his own screen towards the leader, showing 6 unanswered messages in the group chat Maknaes On Top. "And he left me on read, Hyung" the second youngest pouted.

Ryok glanced at the screen and scoffed, "You should overthink that group name. If I miss my casting, because Hyuk can´t be punctual, the maknaes will be so not on top."

Dojin pressed his phone into his chest protectively. "Not I´s fault" he defended himself.

"It´s Not MY fault," Jaewoo corrected their foreign member automatically.

 

Leehyun stood up without a word.

"Where do you think you are going?" The Shax leader sounded stressed.

"I have better things to do than sit around waiting for our maknae to grace us with his presence, Hyung" the songwriter answered "I will work on a track in my room. Just call me, when Hyuk appears."

"Ok," Jaewoo called after the retreating form, "But nobody leaves this apartment! Do you know how long I had to arrange everyone's schedule to find a slot where we were all free? And we really need to talk about a possible reaction to the rumour that we bullied Eunjo till he left the group. If we don´t come up with something fast, this could be the end of Shax."

Dojin patted his back comfortingly, "You worked hard, Hyung."

An apologetic tilt to his voice, Ryok stated "I really have to leave for that casting in half an hour, Jaewoo. I have a shot at the lead role. It could be a really good opportunity…"

"I know, I know, " Jaewoo rubbed his face tiredly, "You can´t miss a chance like that. I am really angry at Hyuk right now. I thought I explained clearly why this meeting was important."

 

Dojin played with the sleeves of his stylish washed out jeans-jacket, a worried frown crossing his face, "Could something have happened?"

Jaewoo shook his head and his voice grew tense with anger "He texted manager-Hyung that he did not want to be picked up because he wanted to hang out with his friends after school. He is just acting selfishly. I know Eunjo leaving hit him hard, but that is no excuse…"

Dojin looked at his Hyung with big eyes. Their leader never got angry at them like that. Exasperated - often, but he never raised his voice. Preferring to calmly explain why you were mistaken and why the punishment was necessary.

 

Before the leader could finish his tirade, the beeping of the door announced a new arrival.

The small form of Shax´ maknae shuffled into the living room. His face was obscured by the hood of a pink rain jacket that was obviously designed for a girl and far too tight for him.

Dojin grimaced at the sight of the unstylish attire, "What are you wearing?!"

"Where have you been?! Do you know what time it is?" Jaewoo cursed at the same moment.

Leehyun opened his door again and stepped out at the sound of raised voices.

Hyuk froze for a second before he shrugged.

"Sorry, Hyung" he mumbled, barely hearable. Then he turned towards his own room with a quiet "I am tired. I will just take a nap."

 

Jaewoo stared at his dongsaeng, mouth open in shock.

"Joon Hyuk!" He bellowed, incredulous, "You will explain yourself right now! We have been waiting for over an hour."

The Shax members were left speechless when Hyuk just ignored the leader and made his way towards his room.

Before he could get there, Leehyun stepped in his way and forcefully grabbed him by the arm.

Showing more emotion than usual, the producer turned Hyuk around and scolded him in a strict tone, "You will look at leader-nim, when he is talking to you."

Hyuk just struggled against his hold, holding his head low.

With one swift movement, Leehyun pushed the pink hood down.

 

Shax needed a few seconds to process what they were seeing.

The left side of Hyuk´s face was swollen and red. His lip was split, blood had dried on his chin and his makeup had left dark tear tracks on his face.

 

Suddenly Ryok´s voice broke the silence.

"Did somebody see you like that?" He asked, "Were paparazzi outside?"

Slowly Hyuk raised his head. His gaze clearly portrayed how hurt he was by Ryok´s lack of concern for him.

"Fuck you, Hyung" he spat out, before ripping his arm free from Leehyun's slack grip and fleeing into his room.

The door slammed shut with a deafening sound before they heard the key turning in the lock.

 

Dojin pointed at Ryok with a disbelieving frown on his face, "Why would you ask that when he looked like… When he was probably…". He trailed off, the right words escaping him.

Their centre wasn´t able to answer, too shocked about his own lack of compassion. How could their image be the first thing he thought about when he saw the dongsaeng, who practically grew up under his care, in pain?

Ryok stood frozen next to the sofa, while the other members jumped into action.

Jaewoo rushed towards the room the maknaes shared. "Leehyun," he called for help, "Please get the first aid kit from the bathroom."

The songwriter was thankful, that he had a task because he always got overwhelmed while dealing with emotional situations.

Dojin had gone straight for their box full of take-out-flyers. "Burgers and Ice Cream," he mumbled in English.

 

Jaewoo knocked on the closed door softly.

"Hyuk? Can I come in?"

There was no answer.

"Sweetie," the leader paused. It had been years since he had called Hyuk that.

"Let me clean your injuries, please?"

Still nothing.

With a sigh, Jaewoo propped his shoulder on the doorframe.

"I am sorry, Hyuk-ah," he tried again, "I promise everything will be ok. Let Hyung in, please?"

Leehyun appeared next to him and thrust the first-aid-kit in his direction with a frown on his face.

"Thank you," Jaewoo mouthed. Leehyun took a few steps back and stared at the door as if it was to blame for all their problems. Dojin appeared next to him, tugging at Hyun´s sleeve insistingly.

In one hand he held his phone, in the other a menu.

"They don´t understand me," he explained offended and pressed the phone into Leehyun´s hand.

The older boy nodded in understanding and took over. "What do you want to order?" he asked Dojin and let him point out the designated comfort food.

 

Ryok felt his phone vibrate with the alarm he had set to get to his casting on time.

Nobody noticed how he packed his bag and silently made his way towards the door.

On the shoe cabinet lay Hyuk's backpack. The white material of his jacket was spilling out of it. Ryok lifted the lit of the bag to take a look. The state of the designer piece explained why Hyuk had switched to that pink attire. The jacket was cut open in multiple places and somebody had scribbled insults on the material with a red marker, `Faggot, Bully…`. Ryok balled his hand into a fist and let go of the jacket to leave the dorm.

 

It had been half an hour, but Jaewoo's pleading did not have any effect.

Leehyun had taken a seat on the couch, staring at his leaders back expressionless. Only his hands were fluttering nervously.

When the doorbell rang, Dojin literally sprinted to get the food he ordered. Seconds later, he was back, his arms loaded with a snack collection, their manager would get a seizure over.

"Let me, Hyung?" He nudged Jaewoo with his shoulder. The leader took a step aside to let the second youngest try his luck.

"Hyukie, you must be hungry?" Dojin lured their maknae, "I have all your favourites and that ice cream with whole pieces of chocolate in it. Hyung´s treat."

A moment it seemed, that there would be no reaction and Dojin´s shoulders slumped, but then they heard the key turn.

Slowly the door opened and Hyuk`s battered face appeared in the crack.

His eyes fixed on the boxes in Dojin´s arms. He sniffed and mumbled, "We are not allowed to eat that."

Hurriedly Jaewoo took the opportunity to squeeze himself into the room.

"I am allowing it," he stated resolutely.

Tempted Hyuk took the ice cream from Dojin and pressed it to his chest as if somebody would rip it from him any second.

 

"Come here, Hyuk-ah," Jaewoo gently tugged the maknae onto his bed and kneeled in front of him.

Dojin reached around the leader to hand Hyuk a spoon, before dragging his nightstand from his own bedside into the middle of the room to dump the food on it.

With careful fingers Jaewoo started to dab at Hyuk´s chin, using a wet wipe to clean off the blood.

The maknae ignored him to spoon the sweet treat into his mouth.

For a minute, there was no sound, besides Hyuk´s chewing.

When Jaewoo had finished his work, he cupped the maknae's face with one hand.

"What happened, Hyuk?"

The spoon froze in the air between them and Hyuk´s big eyes flittered through the room as if he was searching for an escape route. Finally, his gaze fixed on Jaewoo.

Confronted with his leader's worried eyes, he could not hold it in anymore.

Hyuk´s bottom lip begun to tremble, before a heart-breaking sob ripped out of him.

"Oh, baby," Jaewoo instantly freed Hyuk´s hands from ice cream and spoon, which were collected by Dojin. Then he pulled himself on the mattress beside his maknae and hugged him close.

It spoke volumes about how Hyuk felt, that he did not protest the nickname or the hug.

Instead, he threw his own arms around Jaewoo´s neck and climbed into his lap.

Painful sobs wrecked his whole body.

 

Between the crying, his Hyungs could make out chopped sentences.

"They said I needed to feel what it was like to be bullied. They said, I am a stuck up and spoiled wannabe-singer. One of them was sent by his sister because she was a fan of Eunjo."

Jaewoo's shirt got drenched with tears, but he only held his dongsaeng closer. Dojin had crouched down in front of them to rub Hyuk´s back comfortingly.

"They destroyed the jacket my mom gave me for my birthday," the maknae wept, "She saved up to give it to me."

Jaewoo started rocking back and forth with his charge. His own insides were twisted in sympathy and anger.

Dojin´s eyes, usually filled with sparkling mischief, were teary.

"They took my phone and texted manager-nim," Hyuk continued to explain, "I did not want to be late! They held me behind the gym the whole time. I am sorry, I was not here for the meeting, Hyung-nim."

"No no no," Jaewoo shushed him, "That is not your fault at all Hyukie. I am sorry, I scolded you!"

 

It took a while before Hyuk´s sobs died down and he lay exhausted in Jaewoo´s arms.

The leader carded his hand through the maknaes red hair lovingly.

"Was it our fault, Eunjo-Hyung left?" Hyuk suddenly asked in a small voice, "Did we bully him?"

Dojin´s hands halted their gentle rubbing. "Of course not, Hyuk!" He exclaimed, "You know that. We bickered sometimes, but we never treated him differently. Nothing that happened is your fault."

Jaewoo reached for another tissue. This time to clean the snot and tears from Hyuk´s face.

"Leaving was Eunjo´s own decision and you could have done nothing different to prevent that."

Hyuk winced when the leader rubbed the tissue over the swollen side of his face.

Suddenly Leehyun was there to thrust an ice-pack at Jaewoo. The older boy nodded thankful, before pressing the ice to Hyuk´s swollen cheek.

"I won´t be able to do the shoot tomorrow," Hyuk spoke up with panic in his voice.

"We will reschedule. Don´t worry about it now," Jaewoo shushed him before he could start obsessing about work, "Are you hurt anywhere else?"

The maknae shrugged. "My side aches a little, somebody landed a kick there."

An enraged sound escaped Dojin. Hyuk squirmed in protest when the second youngest pulled his T-shirt up.

They did not encounter any bruising, but Hyuk flinched at Dojin´s careful prodding.

"Call the NOG doctor please," Jaewoo asked Leehyun, "And we need to inform manager-nim."

 

Instead of following the request, Hyun suddenly asked, "What are their names? Do you think they are still there?" His gaze was fixed on Hyuk´s side.

Only now did Jaewoo realize that the producer was fully dressed.

"What are you planning to do?" His voice raised an octave. Leehyun just levelled him with a no-nonsense glare.

Dojin jumped up, "I will come with you!"

"NO!" Hyuk screamed before Jaewoo could intervene himself.

"You will get in trouble Hyungs," the maknae looked tiny and miserable sitting on the leader's lap. It was such a difference from his usual self-confident, straightforward appearance that they halted.

"You can´t get in trouble," Hyuk´s breath started to speed up, "It will be all over the internet and we will have to stop promotions. Then you will be asked to go on Hiatus and never return! And Shax will disband and and…"

"Breath slowly, Hyuk-ah," Jaewoo threw a disapproving gaze at his other two dongsaengs.

Dojin dropped down on his own bed looking defeated.

Hyun still stood at the door undecided. "They can´t get away with that," he sounded lost.

"They won´t," Jaewoo promised, "The company will handle it or we use Ryok´s connections."

 

There was an awkward pause at the mention of Ryok´s name. But Dojin came to the rescue again.

"You need to eat more than ice cream," he exclaimed, opening up boxes. He started shoving food into Hyuk´s mouth until their maknae looked like a little hamster.

Leehyun took the position at the door like a bouncer as if he had to prevent an enemy attack and pulled out his phone to make the necessary calls.

Jaewoo did not know if he should be concerned or endeared by the fact, that Hyuk did not leave his lap for the whole meal.

 

*

 

When Ryok returned to the dorm it was already night.

He found Leehyun sorting out the leftovers of a variety of take-away food, that could have fed an army. The producer looked up at him and asked casually, "You want some?"

Ryok shook his head but was thankful to know that Hyun did not hold a grudge against him.

 

Jaewoo was sitting on the couch and had turned around at his entrance. On the TV the credits to Hyuk´s favourite marvel-movie were creeping over the screen without tone.

Their leader looked terribly tired, making Ryok´s guilt double.

He rounded the couch and saw Dojin in his pyjamas sprawled out on the floor, snoring softly.

Their maknae was also fast asleep, head pillowed on Jaewoo´s lap, red hair in disarray.

Carefully Ryok stepped over Dojin and sunk down next to the leader.

"How is he?" he whispered, gently stroking a red lock away from  Hyuk´s face, to show, that his injuries had taken on a purple colour.

"Only bruises the doctor assured us. He will be fine within the week. How did your casting go?"

Ryok snorted, "They made me do a scene, where the character has to defend his younger sister, who was being bullied at school. Apparently, I portrayed exactly the right mindset for the part."

"Congratulations then."

The centre shook his head, "I wished this here was also just part of some K-drama. What did management have to say?"

Jaewoo rearranged Hyuk on his lap, eliciting a sleepy whine. "They consider home-schooling him for his last two years."

Ryok closed his eyes disheartened, "That is the only normal part of his life. And his only chance to have friends his age outside of the industry."

"You went to school and still don´t have a single friend," Jaewoo teased him lightly.

"Hey!" the centre complained offended, "I just need you guys. Besides, you are all around my age. Hyuk is so… young."

"True…"

 

They sat in silence for a few minutes, deep in thought.

The leader was aware that he would not need to tell Ryok to apologize to Hyuk. He knew him long enough to see the guilt in his eyes.

"Let´s get them into their beds," Jaewoo finally proposed.

The centre nodded and lifted Hyuk up. His new workout routine for the action roles had paid off.

The maknae sluggishly blinked his eyes open, when Ryok tugged him in.

"Hyung?" He croaked.

"It´s ok, just sleep," Ryok gave him one of his rarely seen smiles. Appeased the maknae rolled onto his uninjured side and was knocked out again in seconds.

 

Behind them, Jaewoo dragged Dojin across the threshold.

"Why are you not carrying ME?" The second youngest complained.

"Because you are an unfairly tall runway model and I am not Mr Ryok-Muscle-Kwon," the leader dumped Dojin on his bed, where he bounced up and down with a pout on his handsome features. He crawled under the sheets, before turning to his Hyungs with a mischievous glint in his eyes, "But I want goodnight kisses!"

Jaewoo rolled his eyes and flicked his dongsaengs forehead. Dojin squawked in protest but was appeased when the leader soothed the hurt spot with a short kiss.

Ryok lifted an eyebrow and asked, "How much tongue do you want to have mixed in?"

Dojin fended the older boy off giggling.

 

Back in the hallway, Hyun bid them goodnight and reminded Jaewoo, "You going to show Ryok the jacket, Hyung?"

"Ah, yes," the leader gestured for Ryok to follow him.

They stopped in front of a sideboard. The pink jacket Hyuk had worn this afternoon was placed on it neatly.

Jaewoo pulled it open while explaining, "A Fin, a grade below Hyuk, saw him with his ripped jacket. She lent him her jacket with the hood, so he could get home without being recognized. He asked us to sign it on the inside and we plan to send it to her together with some goodies."

"Oh, sure," Ryok took the proffered marker, silently thanking the heavens that there were still people out there who liked them.

The others had left little greetings and sketches on the material already.

'You are a true Fin! Thank you for taking care of our maknae. We will never forget your help' Ryok added his signature carefully, before folding the jacket back together.

"Oh, that makes me remember," he shuffled over to his belongings and lifted up an elegant shopping bag.

"What´s that?" Jaewoo asked when Ryok placed the bag in front of the door to the maknaes' room.

The centre rubbed his neck sheepishly, "Um, just… I saw what they did to his favourite jacket on my way out…"

The leader crossed his arms smirking, "Isn´t there a waiting list for that jacket, or something?"

"I might have flirted with the sales lady," Ryok mumbled, before fleeing to his room with a "Goodnight, Jae."

 

*

 

Ryok was rudely awoken the next morning when a small body dropped onto him.

"Oh… What the heck!" He groaned.

"Thank you, Hyung! Thank you, Thank you!" A cheery voice pierced his sleep riddled brain.

"Arg, Hyuk," Ryok cursed, no real bite to his words, "Get off me, you brat."

"Nooo", the maknae happily rolled his full weight onto the older boy.

Swiftly Ryok flipped them around and looked down threateningly at Hyuk.

The redhead just grinned up at him and whispered, "You can´t do anything to me. I am severely injured! Leader-nim said everyone has to take it easy with me."

"Oh, just watch me," the centre started wrapping his dongsaeng up in the sheets, trapping him.

"Jaewoo-Hyung!" Hyuk screamed, "Ryok-Hyung is not being gentle."

The leader appeared in the doorway, his toothbrush in hand, and looked at them unimpressed. He just raised a finger and warned, "Behave, both of you," before leaving again.

"Arg," Hyuk protested, before trying again, "Dojin-Hyung, Save me!"

Dojin´s voice reached them through the wall, "No time. I have to choose an outfit for today. You know," he added in English, "It is all about fashion!"

"Ha," Ryok triumphed, "I win. Don´t even try Lee-Hyun. He is probably even sleeping with his damn headphones on."

 

 

The Maknae-Burrito looked up at him in anticipation of his next move. His face was still badly bruised, but life had already returned to his round eyes.

"I am sorry, Hyuk," Ryok suddenly apologized, "I promise, I will always put you before the concerns of our label from now on."

Hyuk´s gaze turned soft, "Thanks, Hyung," then he smirked playfully, "I know that you love me the most in Shax!"

 

While Ryok started strongly denying Hyuk´s loud shouts of, "Hyungie loves me so so much!", he swore to himself that he would do everything to prevent seeing their maknae in pain ever again.