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The Low Bird

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There are almost three hundred people in Namjoon’s town, and not one of them could tell him much about Chamberlain Academy, except that it houses youths with special abilities from all across the country, and that it sits just beyond the old wheat field behind Namjoon’s family home. They couldn’t even tell him where the entrance road is because the road to the entrance road is blocked by a guard station. An actual guard station, stationed by a guard. To do what?, Namjoon had wondered, stop one of the old farmers from accidentally getting too close to school grounds?

“Maybe to keep those freaks inside,” Donghyuk had posited, his head turned away as he stood on look-out for nightly patrols. Namjoon had merely hummed, sliding the head of his sucker into the pocket of his other cheek and shaking the spray can before resuming his design.

“I doubt one guard is gonna make a difference if any of those freaks actually do get out. That place has electric fences all around. If they get out of there, I think they could do whatever they want.” Namjoon would know. He’s been right up upon the outermost fences several times. He’s even spent an entire afternoon throwing pieces of grass and stones at the fence, struggling over how to get inside.

“They could dig under it,” Donghyuk had combatted, but weakly. Namjoon has never even seen one of the Chamberlain students on the grounds, which makes him certain that there’s something much more powerful than an electric fence keeping them inside.

Nobody in town had understood why Namjoon even cared. Chamberlain isn’t the town’s pride. It’s a secret; a heavily guarded, fenced-in, brick secret. There are no records of Chamberlain online. It can’t be pinpointed on any satellite map Namjoon has searched; instead, the ground where it should be is empty and golden, just like the field all around it. Its presence is not noted by signs with concise arrows. And then there’s that guard station, sitting alone on a road seemingly to nowhere. Chamberlain isn’t announced and celebrated. Instead, its name was passed down from the first people who saw it being built, Namjoon’s parents and their parent’s parents. Whispers about Chamberlain Academy, home for gifted youths, they’re bringing those monsters into our town, they’re locking them up here, in Chamberlain.

(Nobody in town, not even Namjoon’s parents know that he’s only curious because it’s where his sister would have ended up, if she’d lived long enough for anyone to find out. Her accident is no longer a gaping wound; instead, it’s an unpleasant itch. Like a scar that’s still settling. Namjoon can look over the field behind his house and see the fence that would have bound his sister away from him, with wires and brick walls and locks and a fucking guard station. She was too small to knock down the tall bookshelf in the living room all on her own, except Namjoon saw her do it, saw her before he could stop her or save her. Watched her put her hands up and pull it towards her without touching it, all because her favorite book was out of her reach.)

Namjoon’s parents don’t even know why he’s so interested in Chamberlain. Why he can’t just ignore it like the rest of the town. After all these years, he’s almost certain that they don’t actually care anymore. He’s read that losing a child can do that to a family. They don’t really care about much of anything anymore. The missing homework assignments. The insubordination towards his teachers. The fights, the many, many fights. If it weren’t for Namjoon’s test scores, he’s almost certain he wouldn’t be in that school anymore. And they still don’t care.

“Super hero background,” Donghyuk had told him when Namjoon spilled all of this like vomit over a few bottles stolen from the cabinet in his father’s office that should have been locked but wasn’t. Namjoon’d thought he’d have to break it, but he didn’t. “All the super heroes have tragic backstories. Abusive parents and shit.”

“Super hero background,” Namjoon had agreed without feeling much of anything at all.

“You’re gonna save the world one day,” Donghyuk had said, his voice twisting over the words with mockery. Namjoon had indulged in a small snort of laughter and never mentioned his sister again. By the next morning, Donghyuk didn’t remember calling Namjoon a super hero, for which Namjoon is still grateful because, well.

Monsters don’t save anything.

Monsters destroy a lot of things, though. Like school desks and straight teeth, knocking his chair back so hard that it topples over as he scrambles into a fight, almost a head taller than the boy who tried to knock the book out of his hands. See, Namjoon gets into a lot of fights, but by his count, he hasn’t started very many of them. Something about being too tall, too smart, too curious, it makes a good target just as much as it makes a good monster.

Namjoon gets suspended for a week the night before the blizzard hits. There are only two weeks of school left until winter break, but there are no holiday decorations in his house. No lights or ornaments or tinsel. Namjoon supposes it would all feel out of place anyways, since his home doesn’t even have a family picture on the walls. There’s no foundation upon which they could build a celebration, so instead of feeling empty, home still just feels like home. Namjoon hasn’t told his parents about his suspension. He deleted the voicemail the school left on the answering machine, and as long as both of his parents keep going to work the way they do, without really glancing back at him, he’ll get away with this week just fine.

But the blizzard hits and it’s not fine. The weatherman from the city an hour east of their remote little town had predicted a thin sheet of snow. What they get instead is a blanket, quilt, and comforter, all stacked fluffily upon one another. Namjoon has to dig his way out of the back door just to find the porch. His mother tests the faucets, only to find that several of their pipes have frozen. In the basement, they have water stored in jugs just for this sort of emergency. His father plays with the breaker in the garage, but ends up coming back with flashlights and a battery-powered radio instead. The weather broadcasters advise residents to stay in their homes if at all possible just as Namjoon’s father is plowing out the front door in snow shoes to check on their neighbors a mile down the road. Namjoon tries to call Donghyuk, but his cell service is down. His mother sets to making a fire in the fireplace. Namjoon retreats to his bedroom.

He has a store of blankets there, packed deep in his closet. He pulls them out and piles them on his bed, burrowing into them with a book he stole from the school library. He usually abides by the check-out policy, books being the only sacred thing in this world, but this one is too good for that small, dirty room, overcrowded with cheap, plastic shelves that are sparsely occupied by thin, worn paperbacks. Along the back wall, there is a set of encyclopedias that students are not allowed to use; they look brand new. Everything else is in terrible shape. Besides, his stolen book is dark and awful and as soon as some simple-minded parent finds out that it’s stocked in the school’s library, it would only end up getting banned, anyways. Namjoon is entitled to this book that nobody else would treasure. One about broken people, monsters far worse than him. He’s read this book several times over, and a blizzard seems like just the time to read it again.

Whatever dinner is, nobody calls out to him for it. When he wanders out around eight by the count of the analogue alarm clock perched on his bedside table, his mother is asleep in a hoard of blankets before a dying fire, and his father is nowhere to be found. Namjoon tries the faucets again, but he gets nothing. He tries the light switches. Nothing. He takes the hallway back to his room and strips down to his t-shirt, scrabbling through his drawers for a pair of socks and some sweatpants before burrowing into his covers. The chill has begun to take the house. By morning, he knows he’ll be wishing he’d worn a hoodie to bed, too.

Hell, even before morning. The world is black outside, only lit by the moon and the mighty glow of moonlight on untainted snow. Namjoon wakes blearily, unsure of whether or not he fell asleep in the first place. Reality is a fluid thing as he comes to consciousness, blinking into the cold darkness and barely managing to see his breath. It’s white in the light reflected from the snow outside. Namjoon pats the floor beside his bed until he finds a sweatshirt, snatching it up and pulling it over his head. He’s got his arms through the sleeves and he’s searching for the head hole when the hoodie is pulled back off of him.

Namjoon curls his fingers into it so that it doesn’t pull all the way off, and he groans at whoever yanked on it. His mother, maybe? Coming to bring him out to the living room where his parents have rekindled the fire? Surely not. He shoves his head through the hole of the hoodie and shoves it down over his t-shirt, squinting into the ghostly glow of his bedroom. There’s nobody there. Namjoon sighs and scratches his head, then his stomach. He slides back down in bed, curling his long legs up into his torso to conserve some warmth. Someone pulls on his ankle, yanking him back out.

Namjoon sits up with a ferocity this time, his eyes narrowed and his jaw set. Whoever it is pulled his sock halfway off, and his heel meets the cold air of his bedroom helplessly. Namjoon reaches down and pulls it back up sharply, irritation beginning to simmer feverishly inside of him. Something pulls at his shoulder, and then his hood. Namjoon cries out as it drags him out of bed, but only a short distance. He slumps to the carpet and realizes that he must be dreaming. He feels a weight at his back, like somebody pushing on him, but when he looks over his shoulder, he’s alone. He’s been alone. There’s nothing in here. He’s either sleeping, or he’s crazy. He eases himself to his feet, and the pull is back, tugging at the strings of his hoodie and nudging gently between his shoulder blades. Namjoon lets it walk him through the house.

He follows the hallway out into the living room. The fire is dead and his mother is snoring and his father is still nowhere to be found. The pull has been dragging him to the left, in spite of the hallway wall, so as soon as it opens into the kitchen, Namjoon goes there. The pull takes him straight to a the counters, trying to drag him through them. He sighs and glances over at the back door. Of course his hallucinations would want to drag him out into a blizzard.

Sluggishly, with sleep still caked in the corners of his eyes, Namjoon picks his coat up off of the floor and slides it over his hoodie. He drags his scarf out of the pile, and then kicks around for a few moments before he finds where he knocked his snow boots earlier in the day. All the while, being pulled. Twice, his scarf slides off of his shoulders and onto the floor. The second time, Namjoon just leaves it there, letting it slide closer and closer to the door until it settles, knocking against the threshold like it’s trying to slide straight through.

Namjoon scoops it up as he clunks across the kitchen, pulling his gloves out of his pockets and sliding them on as he slips through the door. The night is blustering with wind and snow. On the back porch, the pull gets stronger, more insistent. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he groans, letting it lead him off the porch. The snow comes up past his knee, and Namjoon has to climb up onto it before he can begin following the pull again. His feet sink into it, but not so much that he can’t goose-step his way through. The snow has completely covered the dead grasses of the field. It looks much farther when it’s empty like this.

The walk takes a long while, Namjoon’s nose frozen by the time he gets to where he can see the school clearly through the electric fence. The snow has climbed its wiry face, clinging icily to the metal. Namjoon reaches forward, holding his hand out to the fence before deciding to kick it instead. It rattles, dead as any other fence in this town. The pull yanks on him, sending him sprawling straight into the fence. Namjoon has to turn his head to keep from digging his face into the chain links. He shoves away from it angrily, struggling against the pull when it begins to drag him to the left. It yanks at his hood again; Namjoon shouts his fury, scrabbling against nothing to get away from whatever crazy thing has led him out here.

His struggle ends with a burst of snow just to his side. It splashes him, spattering lightly against his coat and messily in his hair. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” he shouts as he loses his footing and slides into the pit produced by the blast. Down here, he gets his knees under him and rubs at his hip, blessedly cushioned by his coat and his sweatpants, but still sore from his awkward landing. The cold, wet grass beneath him drenches into his pants. Everything about tonight is terrible. He’s about to stand up when he’s yanked back down by the collar. Namjoon wants to be pissed about this, but before the spark can catch, he sights the bottom of the fence in front of him. It’s bent. Like someone has been pulling at it for awhile, which makes no sense seeing as nobody can touch it. Namjoon pushes at it hesitantly, surprised by how easily it gives.

He is yanked down by his hoodie, and Namjoon ends up practically on his belly. He shoves at the fence, pleased to see it bend back just enough for him to wrestle his shoulders through. The rest of him doesn’t come so easily, especially the layering of his coat hood and his sweatshirt hood. Both of them get caught in the errant wiring of the bent chainlink. He shoves his scarf away from him before it strangles him, the insistent tugging beginning to wear on his patience, and he reaches back to untangle himself with no hurry or rush. When he gets to the other side, his scarf is wiggling a few feet away from him, surfing along the snow like a snake towards the school. Namjoon lets it go, choosing instead to stare up in wonder. Namjoon decides that his imagination is a force to be reckoned with, pulling all of this together, because there is no way that this is real.

It looks so much smaller from a distance. It may only be four stories high, but up close, its height still towers over him, as large as any skyscraper he saw when his parents took him into the city as a child. Namjoon is a tall boy, but he still has to crane his head back to see where the walls disappear into the dark night sky. Its girth is more than twice its height, sending it sprawling through the empty field in a long, lumbering repose. Each corner is flanked by a turret-like protrusion, the architecture old-fashioned but oddly charming. Its edges are blurred by the flurries of snow. Like some Lovecraftian beast, Namjoon can only see the parts of it that are closest to him, and he feels very small in comparison. He could stare at it forever were it not for the pull, which grabs him like a hand in his shirt and yanks him forward. He could be wrong, but it feels stronger than before.

His legs are beginning to grow weary from stomping through the snow. The school looms ever closer, but Namjoon feels that he is only continuing to advance on it because of whatever is pulling him. It bears some of the burden of carrying his long, awkward body through this mess of a night. Namjoon even fell on it at one point, held up briefly before whatever it is vanished and let him fall down into the snow. When Namjoon finally comes upon the closest wall, the pull stops completely. Namjoon stands and waits for a few minutes, but nothing happens. He blinks and looks around. Perhaps he had imagined it all?

Namjoon is just considering turning back when a sharp grip on his left drags him to the side. He stumbles a little but catches himself on the wall just in time to stop from flopping into the snow again. He’s already wet and frozen and angry about being outside right now, and he shoos angrily at the pull as though he can argue with it. Still, when it leads him a bit more gently, he follows, all the way around the building. It’s much faster traveling when he can hold onto the wall, stepping upon snow that has already packed itself against the hard face of the brick building. To the back of the school, the ground begins to slope, and Namjoon has to dig his heels in to keep from slipping around. The pull does not have any qualms about dragging him down, so Namjoon spends the first few minutes behind the building fighting to stay upright rather than observing his path.

So he supposes he passes the place where he’s supposed to stop because the pull grabs him by the hood and holds him still. Just as Namjoon turns around, there’s another burst of snow, much like there was at the fence. Namjoon shelters himself from it this time, dragging his coat up to cover his face. When he lowers it, he can see a small window on the ground. He slides down onto the bare ground and looks inside. It’s dark, but he knows that it’s a basement.

The uneven slant of the earth around the building has left just a big enough window for him to crawl inside. Namjoon pushes at the window, and then he pulls at it, and then he looks for a lock, but it’s too dark and too frosted to see. Then, the window groans as if it’s being pushed on, then pulled on, and then something rattles on the inside. Namjoon sighs and looks around out of habit. There’s nobody around, but it’s better than doing nothing as he pulls his gloved hand back into his coat sleeve for extra protection. It takes two strikes, but he does break the window without hurting himself, and when he reaches in to find the lock, he finds it jammed anyways.

Namjoon clears the broken glass out of the pane with his elbow and slides in through it. His coat gets caught, its bulk too much for the small opening, so Namjoon sides out of it as he goes down. He turns back and drags the coat inside, setting it on the desk he’s just landed on. He swings his feet over and drops down onto the floor, turning in a circle as he surveys the room. There are shelves stacked with boxes in long, long rows. The room is bigger than any Namjoon has ever been in, even with its low ceiling and narrow breadth. Its length alone is farther than Namjoon can see in the abject darkness. He slips through the nearest opening in the shelves, no longer being guided but merely curious. Across the room, he meets a wall stacked with the same shelves and the same discrepant assortment of storage boxes.

The pull jerks at his pant leg, like a dog begging to go outside, and Namjoon follows its directional hint. From where he was standing, it was impossible to see, but further down, there’s a door. Namjoon waits for the pull to unlock it or open it for him, or to at least try, but nothing happens. He is jerked forward, almost right into the door, so hesitantly, Namjoon reaches for the handle and lowers it.

The door swings open with an echoing squeal. Namjoon flinches and steps out into the hallway beyond, turning his head to look around. Beside the door, there is a keypad. Namjoon reaches out and presses a button, but nothing happens. His hoodie snatches him forward into the hallway and to the right. Namjoon follows, head swinging around at the slightest of noises. He’s led to another door, one without a keypad, and this one opens upwards instead of outwards, into a stairwell. Namjoon takes the first set, praying that the pull won’t try to jerk him around as he climbs. He pauses at each landing, for fear that he’ll miss his stop, but nothing happens until he gets to the fourth floor. When there is nowhere else to go, he goes through the door. This one has a keypad; when Namjoon plays with it, nothing happens.

Namjoon lets the door swing shut behind him. It closes with the cushioned hiss that heavy doors have, but otherwise, it is silent. He’s found himself in a long hallway of doors, one that is split in the middle by short hallways connecting him to the other side of the floor. Neat and orderly, with cards that seem to have names written on each of the doors (it’s too dark to tell for sure), Namjoon realizes that he’s probably been led to the dormitories. Deeper onto the floor, there’s a clinking sound. Namjoon’s entire body freezes, and then he turns to escape back into the stairwell. The grip on his hood pulls so hard that he crashes down onto hiss ass. He stares wildly around, waiting for someone to come around the corner and find him. What was he thinking, breaking into a place like this? It has a fucking guard station, shouldn’t that mean something?

But the longer he sits there, the more he realizes that the clinking is neither coming any closer nor moving any further. It’s relatively stationary, if a little bit erratic in its rhythm. Namjoon crawls back up to his feet and follows it, tiptoeing along the halls towards the sound. The pull is gone, but Namjoon feels like it’s still with him somewhere that he can’t see. Like if he makes a wrong turn, it will grab him and guide him. The clinking is louder now, and clearer, too. It sounds like jangling, like metal brushing against itself, like—

Keys.

Namjoon can see them in the darkness, but barely. His night vision breaks through to find the movement, a ring of keys sliding along the floor to rap up against one of the doors. Namjoon stares at it for a moment, amazed by the sight even after everything that’s happened. Belatedly, he remembers where he is, and that he isn’t dreaming or hallucinating. When it felt like somebody was pulling at him, somebody actually was. They push at his head, a small tap to catch his attention, and the keys slam more resolutely into the door. The large keyring prevents them from sliding smoothly underneath. Namjoon approaches the door slowly and presses his ear to it. He can hear whispering inside, but nothing coherent, and it quiets after a moment anyways.

He reaches down, picks up the keys, and puts one into the lock. There’s the hissing of shushing behind the door, but nothing more. Namjoon tries the doorknob, but he has the wrong key. He tries again with another key out of what must be a hundred on this ring. He gets another wrong key. “Fucking—,” he mutters aimless. “Which one is it?” he hisses into the darkness.

Behind the door, someone says, “I don’t know.”

Namjoon’s skin crawls with surprise and fear. The ever-growing realizing that there is somebody in that room and that they brought him here is almost a tangible weight on his chest, an itch under his skin. He swallows thickly and continues to work his way through the keyring, glancing up and down the empty halls every once in awhile. When he slides the right key in and turns it, he almost slides it right back out to mechanically move onto the next one. He stops himself just short, and then the door yanks open and somebody pulls him inside. They grab the keys and shove the door shut again, and Namjoon finds himself in a dormitory bedroom. Two beds, two dressers, two desks, barred windows. Namjoon’s eyes linger on that, wondering if maybe this is more of a prison cell, instead.

One boy is sitting on his bed, glaring suspiciously, but when Namjoon turns around, there’s another boy against the door, his chest heaving and his eyes round and trained on Namjoon. The bedroom is much lighter than the hallway, moonlight spilling into it until it glows like the snow outside. The boy against the door has messy hair and a long face and heart-shaped lips, just the kind that one of Namjoon’s old boyfriends had. He looks shocked, but he also looks smug and happy, and Namjoon likes him instantly.

“Fuck, fuck, you did it,” the boy says, finally looking away from Namjoon to look at the keys in his hands. He turns around and opens the door again, as though to make sure it’s still unlocked, and then he closes it and turns back around. “Yoongi, he came.”

Well, you dragged me, Namjoon thinks before he hears rustling behind him. He turns to watch the boy on the bed slide off the side, ambling over to Namjoon like a feral cat. Namjoon backs up a little, but Yoongi reaches out before he can get too far and yanks him down by the front of his hoodie to scowl right in his face. “I don’t know who you are,” he starts with an angry snarl, “but if you even think, for one second, about ruining tonight for me, I will rip your—”

Something blossoms up between them, a push, separating them, shoving them both back, and in a moment, the other boy is standing off to the side, frowning discontentedly. “Hyung, you can’t just threaten him like that. He just got us out.”

“So?” Yoongi snaps. He turns his cold gaze back to Namjoon, his hands curled into fists. The drawers in his dresser and the books on his desk quiver in a way that makes Namjoon’s head hurt when he tries to put it all together. “You remember what happened the last time you trusted somebody? And the time before that? And every fucking time you try to trust someone normal?” Yoongi spits, rabid with uncontrolled anger.

“I can help,” Namjoon offers timidly when the other boy doesn’t say anything in response to Yoongi’s outburst. Namjoon looks between them. The thought crosses his mind that he could die tonight, though just as it does, Yoongi sighs deeply. He’s still breathing hard, but at least nothing around him is shaking anymore. The other boy is just standing off to the side, watching Yoongi contemplatively.

“Well, he’s here now,” the boy says conclusively. Yoongi scowls before turning away, dropping back onto his bed face-first.

“You’re going to get us sent off,” Yoongi groans into his bedcovers, sounding tired. “What’re we gonna do when we’re dead, Hoseok? What’s gonna happen to Jeongguk? You just—pull someone out of thin air,” Yoongi says, pointing at Namjoon as he rises up off of his bed in a new wave of fury. His voice rises with him. This time, he rounds on Hoseok. “And you think that this is a good idea? That this changes anything? They’re gonna send us away and nobody is ever going to see us again.”

“If you’ll stop shouting long enough for us to get out, I think it’ll be just fine.” Hoseok’s face is flat, but he cracks into a string of giggles when Yoongi punches at his shoulder, huffing in a way that makes him look younger than Hoseok even though Namjoon is pretty sure Hoseok just called him hyung. Hoseok turns his attention to Namjoon, who feels like he’s been drenched in ice water all of the sudden. He isn’t sure if Hoseok’s eyes always do that, or if he can really tell what Namjoon is thinking. No, wait, that’s telepathy.

Thank god, Namjoon thinks, his eyes lingering on Hoseok’s mouth a second too long.

“But you can go, if you want to,” he offers, in a way that’s probably supposed to placate Yoongi more than it is Namjoon.

“’S fine,” Namjoon says with a shrug. “I’ve always wanted to see the inside of this place, anyways.”

Hoseok’s face creases nervously, and Yoongi scoffs with his back turned to Namjoon. Namjoon knows he’s said something wrong, but he isn’t exactly sure what. The silence feels longer than it actually is, and Namjoon is grateful when Hoseok finally breaks it.

“Okay, so…I guess, let’s just go, then.” He reaches for the bedroom door slowly, like he’s waiting to hear someone on the other side. When he opens it, he peeks his head out first, peering around for what feels like an eternity before opening it wider and slipping out. Yoongi follows, and then finally Namjoon. Hoseok is standing in the middle of the hall, looking around unsurely. He glances back at the open door. “Should we lock it back up?”

“I don’t know,” Yoongi grumbles, but he’s already turning back to do it. “You got the keys?”

“They’re on the bed.”

And then they fly into Yoongi’s waiting hand faster than Namjoon can offer to go get them. Namjoon jumps, and if he gets questioned, he’s ready to blame the sharp jingle of their impact rather than the sight of them flying through the air as if thrown even though he knows the room is empty now. But nobody questions him; Yoongi foregoes locking the door and instead just throws the keys to Hoseok, who holds them with a dissatisfied look on his face. He looks to Namjoon, frowning, mouth open in a thoughtful, “Um…”

“Namjoon?” Namjoon offers on a wild guess.

Hoseok smiles brightly. “Namjoon. You have pockets, right?” Namjoon nods absently before he realizes that Hoseok doesn’t. The soft cotton of his nightclothes are uncreased by pockets, which means Hoseok would have the carry the keys in his hand. They’re already making a lot of noise whenever he can’t hold them steady enough.

Namjoon grunts and holds his hand out, slipping the keys into the front of his hoodie when Hoseok gives them over. Hoseok takes the lead at first, slipping through the hallways silently on bare feet. Namjoon thinks he must be freezing, he can feel the chill through his sweatshirt, but Hoseok shows no signs of discomfort. If Namjoon still had his coat with him, he would offer it over. Instead, he’s left shivering under his layers as Hoseok takes them back to the stairs. He stops when they’re all on the top landing. He glances back at Yoongi, but doesn’t say anything. In the silence, he takes to the stairs.

The school is so large and the hallways so bland and unblemished that Namjoon could have believed that he could walk through its halls over and over and never feel that he was treading the same floors, tracing the same steps. But on their third loop around several of the first floor hallways, Namjoon finds that he was wrong. He was so wrong. It’s too dark to make out room numbers on the placards beside each door, but even as directionally incompetent as he can be, Namjoon can feel that they’ve been here before. It’s the way they took a left instead of a right, or how it’s geometrically impossible for them to have not come full circle.

“Where are we going?” he finally asks, trying to sound as neutral as possible when he’s quite certain that Yoongi would knock him out if given a good enough excuse.

Hoseok sighs and stops. Namjoon almost walks into him. He turns around, but Namjoon can’t see much more than that. “I don’t know,” Hoseok admits. “I thought it was on the first floor, but…”

“You’re kidding me,” Yoongi drawls to Namjoon’s side. Namjoon can feel the irritation radiating off of him, so strong that it’s almost warm in this cold night. Hoseok sighs and shifts his weight.

“Sorry, hyung, when I woke up, I was already locked in.”

Namjoon’s attention snaps to so fast that he thinks he cracks his neck turning to look at Hoseok. Locked in? Hoseok just shrugs and tells him, “Lockdown,” like that explains anything.

“Fuck, this is stupid. Can we please go somewhere where I can fucking see at least?” Yoongi snaps, shoving at the first door he comes to and storming into the largest library Namjoon has ever seen. It’s larger than his house. It’s larger than the auditorium at his school. Namjoon thinks it might be the largest room he’s ever been in in his entire life, even larger than the storage room downstairs, and to top that, it’s filled to the brim with books. Each wall is packed from ceiling to floor with shelves; there are shelves in aesthetically haphazard rows all around the middle of the floor, all of them standing at least two stories high beneath the tall ceiling, and every one is crammed with books. There are no empty spaces anywhere. Namjoon searches by moonlight, which rains in through skylights and large, modern windows, but he can’t find a single one.

“What, you’ve never seen a library?” Yoongi flares when he catches Namjoon staring. The stupid fucking hick is unmentioned but implied. Namjoon sets his shoulders and scowls back for once.

“Not everyone gets to have a library like this,” he says lowly. “Some of us have to settle.”

Yoongi’s lips quirk in a smirk. A mean one. Namjoon thinks he could cut himself on it if he were to reach out and touch. “You want it?” Yoongi spreads his arms out, but satirically. “You can have it. This, and everything that comes with it. You want it? You fucking want it?”

“Hey,” Hoseok snaps, stepping between them. Namjoon didn’t realize that Yoongi was stalking closer to him until Hoseok has to shoulder them apart in order to keep them separated. “Maybe there’s a floor plan in here somewhere. We should split up and look.”

Yoongi is silent for a very long moment, glowering at Hoseok before storming off and disappearing into the shelves. Namjoon sighs, breathing out all of his tension, only to breath it right back in when Hoseok turns to him. “Sorry. Yoongi-hyung is actually a really nice person. He’s just nervous. His—our friend, Jeongguk, he’s in lockdown right now, and with the generator out…we’re just really worried about him.”

Namjoon frowns. “What’s lockdown?”

Hoseok starts walking, and Namjoon follows. “Time-out, sort of.” Hoseok clears his throat and lowers his eyes. “Actually, it’s more like solitary confinement.” He says it casually, but with finality. Namjoon bites his tongue to keep from pushing. None of it feels right; none of it feels real. Hoseok’s shoulders are hunched practically to his ears and he’s walking stiffly, so Namjoon knows that he’s upset. His silence is so powerful that Namjoon thinks he might never speak again; he’s shocked when Hoseok does, and even more so by what Hoseok says. “They’re really awful here. You should stop acting like this is such a great place.”

“Sorry,” Namjoon says, and honestly. “I didn’t mean to…I just…” He stops and takes a moment and starts again. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

“Well, if you were here, you wouldn’t even be allowed in unsupervised.” Hoseok scans the labelling on each shelf, eyes darting around in the shadows they cast. “And if you got in trouble a lot, you’d never see this place, anyways.”

Well, fuck. Namjoon kind of laughs at that, loud enough that Hoseok looks back at him. For a moment, Namjoon is worried that Hoseok will be upset with him for not taking this seriously, but Hoseok looks him up and down and then cracks a smile. “You do, don’t you?” Namjoon just smiles and shrugs, turning his eyes back to the shelves. “It’s harder to act up in here. I used to talk a lot, back in my elementary school. Before they brought me here. I got in trouble every day for not paying attention.” He smiles, but it fades too quickly from his face for Namjoon to appreciate it. “Here, they just light you up and throw you in a dark room for a few days. You can’t get away with anything.”

Namjoon frowns and stops walking. “What do you mean, light you up?” Hoseok stops walking too and fiddles for a moment with the collar of his shirt again. Then he huffs a quick what the hell and pulls it down, revealing two large freckles. Or moles. Namjoon can’t tell. He squints and leans closer, momentarily distracted by the way Hoseok’s breath catches when he does. He wants to think more about it, what Hoseok would sound like if Namjoon actually touched him, but then something horrible strikes him and he doesn’t have the capacity to feel much more than horror.

They’re scars. Namjoon knows these type of scars because he’s seen them on television and in books and online and sometimes Namjoon wishes he didn’t know as much as he does. He could just pretend that they’re moles; in the dark, they could be anything. But Namjoon can see what they are, and he knows that when Hoseok said light you up, he meant with something like twelve-hundred volts. “Fuck,” he hisses, taking a step back. Hoseok lets his collar go, letting it slide back into place to hide his hurt. His frown is deep, but Namjoon can’t stop talking. “Fuck, Christ, what the fuck. What did you do?”

Hoseok shifts his weight from one foot to the other, and then turns around to start looking at shelves again. Namjoon knows he’s not really looking, he thinks that they both know there won’t be floor plans just sitting out on the shelves. But Hoseok looks a little bit less upset when he’s working. Finally, he whispers, “I skipped lunch to practice dancing, like, a year ago? With Jimin. He’s my friend. We just wanted to dance together.” He sniffles and rubs his nose on his sleeve. Namjoon takes a tentative step forward. If Hoseok can feel the warmth of him at his back, he doesn’t say anything or move away. “When they found us, they dragged us to the warden’s office, like—”

Hoseok cuts off and clenches his hands in the empty air, like he’s trying to find the right word. “Jimin started shouting that his shoulder hurt. They were pulling him too hard, you know? And they fucking—they don’t even care. They’ll just rip your arm right out of the socket and leave it for three fucking days until somebody finally comes to fucking get you—”

“Hoseok,” Namjoon murmurs, placing a hand on his shoulder. Hoseok jumps and spins around to look at Namjoon. All of the sudden, Namjoon realizes he’s crying.

“We’re not monsters,” he snaps. “I just pushed him away from Jimin. I just wanted to make sure Jimin didn’t get hurt, and they—they acted like I took someone hostage or something,” Hoseok mumbles, rubbing his wrists through his shirt sleeves. Namjoon doesn’t know what to say. When he asked, he didn’t know what he would find. Now, his stomach is in knots and it feels like a part of him has been dislocated, something inside of him not sitting right like it used to. It’s strange to think he could feel any more wrong than he did when he went to bed, but he does. He feels so, so wrong. And there’s nothing he can say to make it better. Hesitantly, Namjoon wraps an arm around Hoseok to pull him closer. Hoseok looks like he doesn’t appreciate the pity, but he goes for the warmth. Namjoon lets him savor it.

“This is stupid,” Hoseok says after a moment, pushing away enough to rub his eyes until they’re dry. “Come on, we’re wasting time. We gotta get Jeongguk out before he freezes.” He turns away quickly, walking with a hasty determination. Namjoon scrambles to follow him. He thinks that Hoseok is walking too fast to find anything, and that maybe they’ll blow right by what they’re looking for when Hoseok stops suddenly and Namjoon barrels into him. They stumble together, but Hoseok recovers quickly and moves to the wall to look at something. Namjoon, who’s still fighting to keep his balance, can’t see what.

“What is it?”

“Archives,” Hoseok says in wonder. “There’s gotta be something in here, right? Hyung—hyung,” Hoseok hisses into the library, as loud as he dares.

“What?” Yoongi’s voice echoes back towards them.

“Come here, we found something.”

“Oh, yeah, sure,” Yoongi drawls impatiently. “Just come over there. Wherever there is. Thanks, Hoseok, you’re a real help.” But Yoongi’s voice is getting closer and closer and before Hoseok can identify the shelves closest to them, Yoongi appears through their opening like some scowling, ethereal nymph, pale and sour in the moonlight. “What is it?” he asks as he approaches. Hoseok gestures to the door.

“We found the archives.”

“Is it open?” Yoongi asks. Hoseok turns around to check. He grabs the doorknob, which turns a quarter of an inch before the lock stops it. Hoseok jiggles at it helplessly and then lets go.

“No.”

Yoongi sighs. “Of course not.” He turns to Namjoon. “Keys,” he says shortly. Namjoon hands them over without a fight. “Do you think any of these will work?” he asks Hoseok.

“I don’t know. They might just be for the dorms.”

“Okay, well, we need a key to get inside, Hoseok. Got any ideas?” Yoongi drops the keys and glares at Hoseok in a mean, dangerous sort of way. Hoseok shifts uncomfortably.

“Hyung, we’re working on it—”

“No, I’m working on it. Move.” Yoongi shoves Hoseok out of the way before Hoseok can protest, and he puts his hands up into the air. What comes next happens so fast that Namjoon can’t process it correctly. It takes reflection to understand what’s just happened. Yoongi’s hands clench into fists. Something groans, then snaps loudly, and Yoongi moans in exertion as he takes a step back and tears the door out of the wall. The moment it’s ripped off of its hinges, Yoongi hauls it to the side, letting it slam deafeningly against the shelves, which wobble and spill a few books here and there but ultimately hold firm.

Hoseok’s eyes and mouth are round with shock, and his hands are up in front of himself, almost defensively. “Hyung,” he hisses. “You’re being too loud, somebody is going to find us—”

“Am I? Am I being too loud?” Yoongi clenches his fists and the whole world seems to tremble around him. “What, what’re they gonna do to me? Shock me? Beat me? Throw me in the same fucking room as Jeongguk? Good. Then I want them to hear me—” Book aren’t falling but flying off of the shelves. Yoongi is almost shouting now, and Namjoon is certain they’ll be caught. Hoseok leaps into action while Namjoon feels frozen to his spot. He slaps a hand over Yoongi’s mouth, cupping the other behind his head so that he can’t pull away. Yoongi struggles at first, but then he meets Hoseok’s eyes and Hoseok stares back patiently. Yoongi quiets, and slowly, the books all fall out of the air. Nothing moves.

“Hyung, you need to be quiet,” Hoseok pleads in a whisper. “For Jeongguk.”

“Let go of me,” Yoongi huffs, shoving Hoseok’s hand off of his face. He doesn’t sound angry anymore. Just tired. “Just help me find him and I’ll be quiet for the rest of my life. I don’t fucking care. Just help me, please.” He runs his hands through his hair, and then digs the heels of his palms into his eyes. Namjoon looks to Hoseok, who places his hand on Yoongi’s shoulder and lets him have a silent moment. When Yoongi finally drops his arms back down to his side, he ducks out from under Hoseok’s touch and escapes through the gaping doorway of the archives. “Let’s just get this over with.”

The light in the archives is dimmer than the rest of the library. There are windows, but they are hidden for the most part by tall bookshelves. Only scant amounts of light creep over their towering shoulders. Besides the bookshelves, there are countless filing cabinets. Namjoon thinks they might be locked, but Yoongi and Hoseok take to yanking them out so quickly that Namjoon doesn’t have time to check. Instead, Hoseok hands him one of the drawers and Namjoon sets it down on a nearby table to begin searching. Mostly, all he gets is records. He fishes through several folders before setting the drawer on the ground and reaching for another one. They work quietly together like this for what feels like an eternity before Hoseok starts making these curious, wordless noises, holding up a sheet of paper, and then another into the moonlight.

“What’s—hyung, I think—,” he starts, breaking off as he squints his eyes and leans closer to see better. Yoongi almost tears the paper out of Hoseok’s hands, but Namjoon puts up an arm to stop him. Yoongi glares, but only for the few seconds it takes Hoseok to say, “This is it.” Hoseok hands it over freely after that. Namjoon can see it as Yoongi takes it—the layout of the first floor. Everything is labeled. Hoseok pulls more papers out of the same file. Second floor. Third floor. Four floor. Even the roof has a plan, marking emergency exits and utilities. They scour over the documents, but the longer they search, the more obvious it becomes. Not a single one of these plans has the lockdown cell. Hoseok’s searching is becoming frantic, and Yoongi’s silence feels heavier than before.

Namjoon doesn’t mean to say anything particularly prolific when he asks Hoseok if he has the basement floor plan, since he’s looked through everything else. Hoseok shrugs and opens the folder, leafing through its remaining contents, and then leafing through them again. He closes the folder, sets it aside, and begins to search the papers they have on their table. Yoongi has set down what was in his hand and is watching curiously. Namjoon checks the documents closest to him, but none of them have the basement.

“Oh,” Hoseok says after a moment. He glances up at Yoongi, who doesn’t hesitate. He’s already leaving the archives when he says,

“Let’s go. We don’t have time, we’ve probably been out for, like, hours by now.” Namjoon and Hoseok glance at each other before trotting to catch up. Yoongi leads the way down the stairs this time, their group descending into the pitch blackness of the basement. Namjoon’s eyes adjust slowly, and he appreciates that Yoongi is no longer storming the hallways but creeping through them instead. Any faster and Namjoon would surely lose them both. He reaches out blindly and finds Hoseok’s arm. Hoseok takes his hand as though that’s what he was looking for; Namjoon squeezes it in thanks.

“We’re never going to find anything like this,” Hoseok sighs.

“Well, what do you want me to do about it?” Yoongi gripes, his voice echoing back to them from further down the hallway than Namjoon expected. “I can’t just pull night vision out of my ass. It’d sure be nice if I—what’s this?” His voice is just to the left. Without even having to see what door Yoongi is pulling on, Namjoon says,

“Storage.” Hoseok pulls him towards where Yoongi has just yanked a door open, the smallest bit of light leaking into the hall. “I came in through here earlier.”

Yoongi pokes his head in, glances around, and then turns away. He leaves the door open, and like that, Namjoon can see the faintest outlines of their surroundings. The end of the hallway they’re in juts off to the right a ways down, where it will trace back along the wall to the opposite side of the building. The middle of the floor is one solid, unbroken wall, no intermediate hallways to branch the distance. Namjoon follows Yoongi to the corner, leading Hoseok along with him, and when they breach the turn, it’s obvious.

Not as obvious as it would be if they actually had a worthwhile light source, but like this, Namjoon can just barely see what could be a small reflection. Yoongi turns around and opens up another one of the doors to the storage room, and the light from it reveals exactly what it looked like in the dark. A metal door, spanning the height of the wall from ceiling to floor. Hoseok’s hand tightens around Namjoon’s, and Namjoon pulls him that much closer. On the wall beside the door is a keypad. None of the keys or the lights are lit. Namjoon stares in wonder as Yoongi charges right up to the door, fighting against the long handle. Hoseok buries himself against Namjoon’s side, and Namjoon is surprised by how cold his cheek is when it brushes his bare skin.

“You’re freezing,” he whispers, his eyes never leaving Yoongi.

“I’m fine,” Hoseok whispers back.

The longer Yoongi works, the more Namjoon begins to worry that the cell is locked. That there is a second mechanism, something they can’t see. The door has no keyholes, no deadbolts, nothing but the blank, smooth face of the metal and the dead keypad off to the side. Yoongi steps back and grinds the handle in a quarter turn with his hands like claws in the air before him. The door groans and slides open with a whoosh of air; Namjoon realizes that it wasn’t locked, just heavy. Inside, the darkness is like a liquid, sloshing and spilling into the hallway. It’s so thick that it looks like it actually swallows Yoongi when he rushes inside. In the silence, Namjoon can hear the smallest voice croaking out a small, “Hyung?” Hoseok releases his hand and rushes forward to follow. Namjoon hovers between standing back and following them. The stench of urine and vomit waft through the open door; Namjoon swallows thickly to keep himself from throwing up in solidarity

“Jeongguk, yes, yes, it’s me,” Yoongi moans, his voice cracking. Hoseok is speaking beneath him, asking Jeongguk if he’s alright, if he’s cold, if he’s hurt anywhere. Jeongguk doesn’t answer either of them. When Hoseok and Yoongi carry him out of the room, Namjoon can see why. The kid—he can’t be much older than a kid—is hanging by his arms around their shoulders. His feet stumble listlessly against the floor. His head hangs. When he lifts it just enough to catch a glimpse of Namjoon standing there, Namjoon can see the bruises on his face, clear even in the darkness. Hoseok is sniffling and whimpering to the side. Yoongi is silent, but as they walk past the storage room and its scant light, he can see the wet tracks of tears on his face. Namjoon wants to offer to help carry the kid, since he’s bigger than either Yoongi or Hoseok, but as they walk, it seems like carrying Jeongguk is important to them. He walks behind them and lets them have it.

It’s a long walk back to the dorm. The stairs seem to take hours, coaxing Jeongguk up eight flights an unreasonable ambition. Hoseok tries to carry Jeongguk after the third flight, but Yoongi pushes him away and lifts Jeongguk as though he’s a bride. Jeongguk’s head lolls tiredly against Yoongi’s shoulder, and Yoongi turns to nose at his dirty hair, nuzzling into Jeongguk’s face. “Come on,” Hoseok urges them. Yoongi, to Namjoon’s surprise, obeys without a complaint.

It has to be nearing dawn when they finally make it. Namjoon feels as though he’s aged a thousand years since he left his bedroom; a thousand years wiser, a thousand years more bitter. Hoseok and Yoongi lay Jeongguk out on the bed further from the door; Yoongi’s bed, if Namjoon has it right. They crowd around him, pushing the hair out of his face and feeling his throat for his pulse. Yoongi puts a hand on his chest and looks equal parts surprised and relieved to find Jeongguk breathing easily. While Yoongi takes to changing his soiled clothes, Hoseok leaves the bedside just long enough to root through one of the drawers of his desk. When he comes back, he comes with the crinkling of food wrappers—granola bars, snack cookies, small things that he’s stowed in the back of his desk. In his other hand, he holds a water bottle. He passes both of them over. Yoongi takes them gratefully, more pleasant than Namjoon realized was within his capacity.

Namjoon sits down on Hoseok’s bed to watch the trio, Hoseok breaking off pieces of food and handing them to Yoongi, who sits Jeongguk upright against his chest and feeds him, bite by tedious bite. They hold the water bottle up to his lips, giving him only small sips to keep him from choking. They don’t stop until Jeongguk raises a shaking hand, pushing the next bite away from his mouth and instead burying his face in Yoongi’s shirt. Yoongi tosses the food aside and strokes Jeongguk’s hair, holding him close with his other arm.

Hoseok sets the water bottle and the rest of the snacks on the bedside table. He sits beside Namjoon, just watching Yoongi rocking Jeongguk back and forth. When it looks like Yoongi might cry again, Hoseok says, “He’s going to be okay, hyung. Just keep him warm and keep giving him water.”

“I know,” Yoongi mumbles, pressing his face into the fluff at the crown of Jeongguk’s head. Jeongguk has since fallen asleep, the rise and fall of his chest much more relaxed and rhythmic now. He looks so sad, so broken, cradling Jeongguk to him tightly. “I just—we could have lost him. I could have lost him. All because of me.”

“Hyung—”

“It’s my fault, Hoseok. We were already late. He didn’t even want to stop. He said we’d get caught. But he just…he just looked so happy. I just wanted—”

“Hyung, it’s not your fault.”

Yoongi snorts derisively, but instead of arguing, he lays back against the head of the bed and takes Jeongguk with him. Jeongguk sprawls against his chest, clutching weakly at Yoongi’s shirt. Yoongi takes his hand, weaving their fingers together. After a moment, he tells Hoseok and Namjoon, “You guys need to go. Before checks start.”

“You guys?” Namjoon turns to look at Hoseok, who is chewing on his lip and staring at Jeongguk.

“You could come, too,” Hoseok says to Yoongi. “You don’t have to stay here. You’re gonna be in big trouble if you stay.”

Yoongi scoffs. “Nah. There’s nowhere out there for me to go. Him, either.” Hoseok looks like he wants to argue, but Yoongi interrupts him before he can. “It’ll be easier to get away if it’s just you. Three would be too easy to catch. Especially with Jeongguk…”

They all lower their eyes to the sleeping boy. Hoseok sighs. “Okay,” he says, his voice trembling. Namjoon wishes he had the balls to reach over and take his hand again. Yoongi reaches a hand out for him before Namjoon can work himself up to it, and Hoseok rises from his bed to join Yoongi and Jeongguk.

Yoongi takes Hoseok’s hand and strokes it tenderly. Hoseok visibly relaxes beneath his touch. Yoongi shakes his arm to get Hoseok to look up at him and smiles wickedly. “Jimin and Taehyung are gonna be pissed when they find out you left without saying goodbye.”

Hoseok shakes Yoongi’s arm back. With a trembling voice, Hoseok says, “I’ll tell them I’m sorry when I come back to tear this place down.”

Yoongi hums, holding onto Hoseok for a minute longer. Finally, he lets go, telling Hoseok, “Be safe.”

“Of course, hyung,” Hoseok says. Namjoon rises from the bed; he lets Hoseok lead the way out, waving to Yoongi as they go. Hoseok stops before they can close the door, though, poking back in to say, “Promise me you’ll tell them I did this.” Yoongi blinks back at him blankly, and Hoseok takes another step forward. “Promise me, hyung. Tell them I broke the lock, and I trashed the library, and I pulled Jeongguk out. The cameras are down, they can’t prove anything.”

Yoongi’s mouth twists to the side. “Like it’s gonna make a difference who we say did it,” he grumbles.

Hyung.”

“Yeah, yeah, fine. I’ll tell ‘em. You better be long gone by then.”

Hoseok smiles, if only weakly, and he takes Namjoon’s hand to pull him out of the doorway. They close it; when they go to lock it, Namjoon realizes that the keys are still somewhere in the library, so they leave it be. As they walk down the hallway, Namjoon asks, “You’re breaking out?”

Hoseok shrugs, pushing open the door to the stairwell. “I just figured, if I ever got the chance, you know?” He doesn’t say anything else, so Namjoon hums his acknowledgement quietly.

Hoseok takes them out the same way he brought Namjoon in. The air from the broken window has made the storage room that much more freezing, and Namjoon knows that Hoseok will not be able to walk across the field the way he’s dressed right now. He grabs his coat where it’s still sitting on the table, and he passes it to Hoseok. “Put this on,” he says. Hoseok looks like he’ll object, but Namjoon tells him, “You’re gonna freeze out there whether you put it on or not. You might as well freeze a little less.”

Reluctantly, Hoseok obeys. Namjoon clears the table before them of broken glass before helping Hoseok up onto it, and then up through the small window. The bulk of the coat isn’t nearly as cumbersome on Hoseok’s smaller frame. Namjoon follows him quickly, bending over and demanding that Hoseok climb on. Whether it’s the new urgency in Namjoon’s voice or the snow against Hoseok’s bare feet, Hoseok obeys without question this time.

“So,” Namjoon says as he hitches Hoseok up and begins the awkward walk back to the fence. His voice is almost lost in the howling of the wind. “I’m assuming this kind of thing isn’t a regular occurrence for you guys?” he asks playfully.

Hoseok laughs, shaking his head against the back of Namjoon’s neck. Namjoon can feel it, the way Hoseok’s hair teases at his skin. “We can’t even regularly do our psychic thing,” he says, unwrapping one hand from around Namjoon’s neck to hold it out in front of them and wiggling his fingers demonstratively. He pulls back the sleeve of Namjoon’s coat, and then the sleeve of his shirt, and Namjoon sees a glint of metal around his wrist.

“What’s that?”

“Quantum field manipulator,” Hoseok says sagely, holding out his other wrist so that Namjoon can see both pieces of the pair. “They interfere with my superpowers. It’s like kryptonite, except now that the power is out, they’re dead, and I’ve been unleashed.”

There’s a character to his voice, something put-on that makes Namjoon smile a little. “That’s so fake.”

Hoseok laughs, loud and bright at having been caught. The sound of it makes Namjoon’s chest light up until he feels like he’s on fire. “Yeah,” Hoseok says, “but the truth is so much worse.”

He sounds tired, but he doesn’t sound upset. Not like he did when he told Namjoon about lockdown. Hesitantly, Namjoon ventures an inquiry as he meekly says, “I can handle the truth,” and hopes that it’s enough. Hoseok is quiet for a moment, but then he sighs against Namjoon’s neck and leans a little more heavily into him.

“They’re just shock collars. Sort of. Whenever we do our—you know, our thing,” Hoseok waves his hand around vaguely, and Namjoon knows. “It makes a matter wave. Just like, you know how every movement shakes up spacetime? Our thing does that, too. And these things pick that up. And then they shock us until we stop.”

Hoseok, who has yet to lie to him, was right. The truth is so much worse. Namjoon tightens his grip where he’s holding onto Hoseok’s legs, hoping that he’s something of a comfort to Hoseok rather than an awkward companion who keeps prodding old bruises until they throb again. “It really is kryptonite,” he says, just to break the silence. Hoseok sort of laughs. It’s nothing like his laugh from before; it sounds pretty choked up, actually. Namjoon is shocked when Hoseok continues.

“The worst part is that they’re so inaccurate. Like, sometimes they’ll just start shocking you for no reason. I thought it was a glitch the first time it happened, like I got the broken ones or something. But Seokjin-hyung said that it happened to him, too, sometimes. They’re just…picking up the wrong wavelengths.”

Namjoon doesn’t know who Seokjin-hyung is, but he sounds like another bad memory, so he refrains from asking. Instead, he says, “We have some bolt cutters in the garage.” Hoseok perks considerably at that.

The walk back to Namjoon’s house leaves them both soaked and frozen. There’s snow in Hoseok’s dark hair, which Namjoon brushes out casually. Or at least, he hopes it comes across as casual. Hoseok has a perceptive gaze that leaves Namjoon feeling like he’s constantly being read as plain as newsprint no matter what he does. He lets Hoseok into the kitchen before he freezes, escorting him through the living room where his mother is still asleep, and back to his bedroom. He only leaves Hoseok long enough to retrieve the bolt cutters.

Namjoon supposes he should have expected the scars beneath the bands, but he’s honestly startled by them. Hoseok catches him staring and huffs a short sound that’s almost a laugh. “They never really stopped me,” he says, pulling his sleeves down. Namjoon pulls out dry clothes for them both, dutifully keeping his eyes lowered as Hoseok changes. When he looks up, Hoseok has been swallowed in a hoodie and a pair of track pants. He’s pulled his sleeves up just enough that his fingers protrude from their dark opening, like bear claws. Namjoon’s heart beats a little bit harder at how beautiful Hoseok looks, even like this. He tosses his old clothes aside and crawls onto his bed, stretching himself out and turning to peer up at Hoseok. Hoseok has his eyes averted, looking around the room uncomfortably.

“Tired?” Namjoon asks. Hoseok’s looks over at him and nods hesitantly. Namjoon pats the bed beside him. It’s only a double, but there’s room for both of them if they don’t mind overlapping a little. Namjoon knows that he doesn’t. He feels a little hopeful when Hoseok slides in beside him, settling down on his side to stare at Namjoon.

“Where should I hide when your parents wake up?” Hoseok asks.

“Here. Nobody ever comes back to my room but me.” Hoseok looks unconvinced, so Namjoon adds, “Ever. Literally. The last time my parents were in my room, I think I was in grade school.” Hoseok slowly begins to settle in, glancing at the door behind his back. When he turns back to Namjoon, he sighs, his breath ballooning out in an opaque cloud. Namjoon asks him, “You cold?”

“Yeah,” Hoseok mumbles.

It doesn’t take much for Namjoon to open his arms, just a suggestion of some very platonic, friendly cuddling, just to keep warm. He won’t admit to having to bite the inside of his cheek to contain his smile when Hoseok slides forward more than eagerly, curling his arms protectively between the two of them while Namjoon wraps his around Hoseok’s back. He pulls the covers tight around them both, fighting to economize the warmth that brews between them.

“Namjoon?” Hoseok asks quietly.

“Mm?”

“Are you scared? Of me and Yoongi?”

Namjoon frowns, quiet for a beat too long and only realizing it when Hoseok begins to squirm against him. Namjoon squeezes him and shakes his head. “No.” Maybe it’s all the secrets Hoseok has already told him, but Namjoon doesn’t feel his throat lock up like it normally does when he says, “I used to have a sister. Like you guys.” Hoseok lifts his head to look at Namjoon, but Namjoon stays looking straight ahead. “You’re all just people, anyways, right? Someone’s brother or son or something. You’re human, too.”

Hoseok swallows thickly. He burrows his head back into Namjoon’s chest and mumbles out a small, “Yeah.” He doesn’t say anything else. Namjoon falls asleep like this, to the boyish smell of Hoseok’s hair and the warm puffs of his breath through the layer of his hoodie.

When he wakes up, it’s because he’s being jostled. He rubs his eyes and rolls onto his stomach, groaning unhappily. When he looks up, he can see that Hoseok has scrambled over him to press his face up to the window, staring out over the covering of snow, out past the field to where the smallest sliver of Chamberlain can be seen on the horizon. His lips are slanted downwards, like the long sides of a triangle, so acutely downturned that his whole face looks longer. His brow is furrowed. He looks pale.

“Hoseok?” Namjoon asks. Hoseok spares him a glance, but ultimately continues to watch the school. His hair is sticking to his forehead, as though he’s been sweating, but when Namjoon reaches out and takes his hand, his fingers are cold. “What’s going on?” Namjoon asks.

Hoseok lets Namjoon pull him back down into the bed, but his expression doesn’t lighten. “What if Yoongi didn’t let me take the blame?” he asks quietly. “What if they don’t care? They’re not gonna care. He’s gonna be in trouble. I shouldn’t have left,” Hoseok rambles, tears gathering in the corners of his eyes. Namjoon stares on helplessly, startling when Hoseok turns his attention onto him. “I…I’m sorry,” he says. “I had a bad dream.”

Before Namjoon can say anything—and probably for the best, considering his track record of uselessness in the face of crying boys—a series of knocks rings through the house. Hoseok flinches wildly, his hands finding Namjoon’s shirt and clinging there. Namjoon, himself, isn’t exactly sure what it is at first, the sound oddly out of place in the cold silence of this new, overwhelming winter, but when it repeats, a triplet of polite, wooden raps, Namjoon realizes it’s the door. “Stay here,” he says, throwing his blanket up over Hoseok’s face as he scrambles out of his bedroom. In the living room, his mother blinks blearily up at him.

“Don’t worry, I got it,” he says. He opens the door a crack, just enough to see a man standing in the packed snow in front of their house. The man crouches down and Namjoon can see his badge. His heart leaps into his throat, but Namjoon has faced the business end of enough cops in his life that he knows his fear doesn’t show on his face. He doesn’t recognize this one; not from the local force, then.

“Good morning, son. Is one of your parents home?” the man asks.

Namjoon just shakes his head. “Then went out to help the neighbors last night. I think they got stuck overnight.”

“Mm,” the man says. “Well, I have a couple questions for you, and then I’ll be on my way.” The cop reaches into his breast pocket, pulling out a wallet-sized photo. He hands it to Namjoon, who takes it cooperatively. “Can you tell me if you’ve seen this boy at all?”

Namjoon looks down into Hoseok’s face. A much younger Hoseok. He stares into the camera like a mug shot, but the speckled blue background is more reminiscent of elementary school photos. His mouth has that same downward slant as Namjoon saw this morning, but his lips are thinner, like he’s biting them or pressing them together. Whatever it is, it makes him look like he’s holding something in. His eyes stare back at Namjoon blankly, but not flatly. There’s a promise in there. Maybe something to do with his split lip or the twin black eyes and the gash across his nose. Namjoon frowns and tilts the picture this way and that before handing it back to the cop.

“No. Never seen him before.” The cop sighs, and Namjoon ventures some small-talk. “He’s not from around here, is he?”

The cop smiles at him. Definitely not local force. Not a lot of local cops smiling at Kim Namjoon. “Nowhere near,” the man says before thanking Namjoon for his time. Namjoon watches him stomp off in his snow shoes, maliciously hoping that he falls through but knowing that he probably won’t. He closes and locks the door behind him, passing his mother on his way back to his room. He thinks she might ask who it was, but she’s already fallen back asleep. Namjoon sighs as he passes her, pulling her blanket further up around her chin.

When he gets back to his room, Hoseok has dutifully kept himself hidden beneath the covers. Namjoon closes and locks the door behind him, and only then does Hoseok peek his head out. “Who was it?” he asks.

“Cop. Looking for you.”

Hoseok closes his eyes and deflates a little. “I thought they’d wait until the roads cleared,” he moans pitifully. Namjoon shrugs and sits down at the edge of the bed.

“It’s no big deal. Just stay here until then.”

Hoseok glances down at Namjoon and watches him for a moment. Namjoon shifts beneath his gaze, wondering if his suggestion is too hasty or too demanding. He could retract it, tell Hoseok that he can do whatever he wants, but Hoseok snorts before then, his lips twitching up just a fraction. “You’re gonna get in trouble because of me, too,” he says.

“No,” Namjoon says, “I’ll get in trouble because of me. I could kick you out if I wanted.”

“Oh, right. Free will,” Hoseok mumbles, but sounding amused all the same. Namjoon smiles and pulls out the chair at his desk to sit down. Hoseok pushes the covers away from himself, sitting up and rubbing his hands together through the sleeves of the hoodie. He pulls the hood up and glances around, and then glances back out the window where the snow has slowed to a flurry but is still piled up high enough to be seen over the sill of Namjoon’s window. “Okay,” he finally says. “Thank you.” Hoseok smiles at him, and Namjoon thinks, I could thank you just for saying yes.

Thankfully, he manages to hold his tongue.

They’re locked in for another two days before the state can get salt trucks and snow plows out to their small town. Some people attach personal snow plows to their trucks to clear up what they can, but Namjoon insists on waiting until there’s a clean road out all the way out of town. Hoseok, for his part, does not argue much. As little as there is to do between them for two days, he doesn’t seem to tire of Namjoon’s presence. Namjoon likes that a lot, because he’s thinking about asking Hoseok if he can leave with him when he goes. Not because he needs to, just because he wants to.

He’s a little bit more confident about asking when he wonders aloud how Hoseok plans to get out and Hoseok answers with a shrug and a careless, “Hitchhiking? I don’t know.” Namjoon frowns and immediately tells Hoseok how much he hates that plan. Hoseok just rolls his eyes and clucks his tongue, but he doesn’t have a good rebuttal. Which is good; as soon as Namjoon can charge his phone, and as soon as he has cell service, he’s texting Donghyuk, telling him that he’s coming over. Donghyuk responds with a lazy acknowledgment, and Namjoon begins dressing Hoseok up, pulling an extra oversized hoodie over his head and then tugging a beanie over his hair and a mask over his face. When he steps back, he can still recognize Hoseok, but that’s because he thinks he would know those eyes anywhere after the few days he’s spent staring at them.

Hoseok just stares back at him curiously. “We’re going out,” Namjoon explains, not responding to the way Hoseok’s brow shoots up in surprise, or the way he kind of fiddles around to convey his reluctance. “I could give you sunglasses too, but I think that’d be more suspicious than this.” Hoseok just shrugs, shoving his hands into the pocket of the hoodie.

“Why are we going out?” he asks.

“My friend has an old truck that he’s fixing up. I’m gonna go ask him if we can use it, since you’re not hitchhiking anywhere.” Namjoon thinks Hoseok will say something about how snide Namjoon sounds about his hitchhiking plan, but instead, Hoseok says,

“We?”

Namjoon fidgets a little and nods. “I wouldn’t want you to get lonely,” he says to hide the fact that he’s terrified Hoseok will shut him down right now. But Hoseok is silent for a long moment, and Namjoon isn’t looking at him so he doesn’t know what Hoseok is thinking until he glances up.

Hoseok is smiling. Namjoon can see it even through the mask, the way his cheeks plump up and his eyes crease into crescents. Namjoon breathes out, offering a small smile in return, and Hoseok sets upon him before Namjoon can do anything to stop it. He grabs onto Namjoon’s sleeves, tucking his head under Namjoon’s chin as he says, “Yah, Kim Namjoon! I knew I dragged you into this for a good reason.” He didn’t, it was luck that he grabbed onto Namjoon and not his mother or anyone else, and it was luck that Namjoon even followed. But with Hoseok tucked against him, Namjoon actually has to remind himself of these things.

“We should get going. Donghyuk is waiting.”

The house is empty, but Namjoon still checks before leading Hoseok through it to the front door. He locks it behind them and begins the trudge down the front walk to the street. Donghyuk’s house is closer to downtown, just a few miles’ walk. They make it in relative silence, only accompanied by the sound of their boots on the snow (Namjoon’s boots just slightly too large for Hoseok, so he has to walk carefully in order to not stumble) and the swishing sound of their coats brushing. Namjoon conscientiously tries to keep from drifting too close to Hoseok, but they always seem to come back together. Namjoon has almost worked up the courage to just take Hoseok’s hand when they get to Donghyuk’s house. Namjoon knocks, and Donghyuk answers.

“Hey, man,” he says as he lets them in. He casts a sparing glance at Hoseok, but doesn’t say anything. Namjoon trails behind him to Donghyuk’s bedroom, glancing back every few steps to make sure that Hoseok is still hidden and still following. “Who’s this?” Donghyuk asks as he’s closing the door to his bedroom. Namjoon glances at Hoseok, who is looking back at him.

“This is my friend, Hoseok.”

“Okay, cool. Well, you can tell your friend Hoseok that he can take his hat off if he wants. We got our heat back yesterday.”

Hoseok looks to Namjoon, who shrugs. He pulls the hat off, and very slowly tugs the mask down from his nose and mouth. Donghyuk casts a cursory glance at him, and then does a double-take. He starts, like a deer realizing it’s being watched, but at least he doesn’t so anything rash. “Shit, fuck, Namjoon.” Donghyuk looks at him with wide eyes. “You know they’re looking for this guy, right? The cops?”

“I know,” Namjoon says, taking a seat on Donghyuk’s bed. Hoseok continues to stand awkwardly to the side. “They came to my house, too.”

Donghyuk doesn’t look placated. “So you knew and you still brought him over to my house? Where did you even find him?”

Namjoon, who is more interested in Donghyuk’s truck at this particular moment, heaves a heavily put-upon sigh. “I kind of helped him break out. Look, I wanted to—”

“Of prison?”

Hoseok kind of laughs at that, though he bites it off early. Namjoon glances over at him, biting his lips to hide his smile. “No,” he says when he turns back to Donghyuk. “He’s from Chamberlain. I wanted to ask you a favor—”

Chamberlain,” Donghyuk hisses as he drops down onto the bed beside Namjoon. His eyes haven’t left Hoseok since he took his mask off, but at least it’s faded into a look of awe rather than one of fear and skepticism. “How the fuck did you get into Chamberlain?”

“It’s a long story. I need a favor.”

“Yeah, okay,” Donghyuk says, reaching back behind himself absently. “So does he have, like, powers, then?”

“Yes,” Namjoon says. “And we’re leaving town. Can we use your truck?”

“My truck? Why?” Donghyuk finally finds his pillow, grabbing it and throwing it at Hoseok, who reacts too late and gets hit in the face with it. It drops to the floor, Hoseok staring at Donghyuk like he’s just been asked to sing Canada’s national anthem. Namjoon supposes he doesn’t look any smarter, sitting there with his mouth hanging open, and when he looks back at Donghyuk, he’s almost irritated by the look of disappointment on his face. “My ass. He doesn’t have powers,” he says.

Hoseok scoffs and sends the pillow flying back into Donghyuk’s face with a flick of his wrist. Namjoon ducks and Donghyuk shouts his surprise, peeling the pillow off of his face with a renewed admiration in his expression. “Fuck, Namjoon, what have you done,” he mumbles, dropping the pillow to the side. “And why do you need my truck?”

“We’re leaving town,” Namjoon says. “We can’t take anything public.”

“Where’re you going?”

Namjoon glances at Hoseok, but his face is blank. “Not sure.”

Donghyuk frowns. “Wait, are you asking to take my truck?”

“Ah…yes?”

Donghyuk glances between them, looking very certainly like he’s going to deny the request outright, but then he looks at Hoseok for a longer moment and says, “Ah, shit, he’s on the run, isn’t he?” His voice has this defeated quality about it that tells Namjoon that they’ve got the truck already, so Namjoon doesn’t even bother to wax poetic about Hoseok’s situation. Donghyuk slides his gaze back to Namjoon. “And what’s this we shit? You’re leaving, too?”

Namjoon shrugs. Donghyuk sighs. “Fine. Good riddance, I guess. Call me sometime,” he says as he begins digging through his bedside table. When he hands the keys over to Namjoon, he pulls him into a tight one-armed hug. “Stay safe. Take care of him. Or make him take care of you. I don’t know which of you is gonna be in bigger trouble in the end.”

Namjoon just laughs, hugging Donghyuk one more time before leaving with Hoseok through the back door. The truck is in the garage, built a ways back behind the house. Namjoon knows the key code, so Donghyuk lets them go rather than suffer the cold beside them. It’s not a new truck, and it’s not the best getaway vehicle Namjoon could ever ask for, but it runs. Donghyuk has made sure of that. The doors only unlock manually, so Namjoon starts with the passenger side, holding it open for Hoseok who comes around but stops just short of getting in.

He looks up at Namjoon and pulls the mask off of his face and steps sort of into Namjoon’s space except they’ve been sharing space for long enough now that Namjoon isn’t sure what Hoseok means by it. “Thanks for this,” he says, and when Namjoon just sort of brushes it off, Hoseok presses. “No, really, thank you. I didn’t mean for all of this to happen after that night. I thought—maybe you would come. Maybe you would unlock the door and leave. Maybe you wouldn’t do any of that. This? I never…” Hoseok looks down, but he steps forward again so that they’re almost touching. Namjoon’s grip on the door handle has tightened to the point of discomfort.

“Hoseok?”

“Okay, please tell me I’m not reading this wrong,” Hoseok says in a rush. “Because you’ve been staring at my mouth since the night you broke me out, and if I’m wrong, then sorry, I’ll just walk away and never mention it again, but I swear—”

Namjoon cuts him off with a kiss, a real one, sliding his hand beneath Hoseok’s jaw to tilt his head up into it. Hoseok makes a small noise of surprise, but to Namjoon’s delight, he doesn’t hesitate to kiss back. It’s good reinforcement for the ballsiest thing Namjoon thinks he’s ever done. Hoseok’s hands find Namjoon’s shoulders, pulling him down into the embrace. Namjoon lets go of the door and grabs Hoseok by the waist. This is honestly the worst place they could be doing this, but Namjoon couldn’t care less. Not when he has Hoseok pressed right up against him and Hoseok still wants him closer. He can tell by the way his hoodie strings pull taut, Hoseok accidentally yanking them forward as though there is any distance between them that they haven’t covered.

“Come on,” Namjoon says when they part, breathing heavily and frostily into each others’ faces. “We gotta go pack a bag before we can get on the road.”

Hoseok looks up at Namjoon with the brightest smile, and Namjoon sort of sways forward, barely stopping himself at the last minute. Hoseok pulls the mask back up and slides into the passenger seat. Namjoon closes the door for him and goes around to get into the driver side; the truck starts after a few pitiful coughs, and the roads are cleared all the way back to Namjoon’s house. His parents are still gone, so he parks in the driveway.

They don’t need much between them. Hoseok already wears whatever he pulls out of Namjoon’s dressers, so Namjoon just packs twice what he would for a weekend bag. They’ll have to figure everything else out as they go. He grabs his toothbrush, the spare that Hoseok has been using, and a bar of soap from the bathroom, and then his stolen library book. Hoseok pulls his severed shock cuffs from where they’ve been shoved under Namjoon’s bed. Namjoon stares at then skeptically when Hoseok places them in the bag.

“I’ve been thinking,” Hoseok begins nervously, “about taking this to court. A big court. Like, international court.” He slides his thumb along the biting edge of the metal, angling the pad away from the lifeless mechanisms along the inside. “And I was thinking, they’re gonna want evidence, right?”

Namjoon scratches the back of his head and sighs. “Bring whatever you want,” he says. “But I think the, uh,” he holds up his hands and wiggles his wrists, “scars should be enough evidence.”

“Should be,” Hoseok agrees, “but you can never really count on people come through that easy.” He slides Namjoon’s drawer open and draws another hoodie into his waiting hands. He folds it crudely and stacks it on top of the cuffs, hiding them. “Better safe than sorry.”

Namjoon swipes some nonperishables from the kitchen and ties them up in a grocery bag. He fills two water bottles and passes one to Hoseok, and like that, they’re packed up in the truck on the road out of town. Hoseok has the mask on and is sitting low in his seat, but their hands are clasped together on top of the gear shift. “So,” Namjoon says when they’re only a few miles down from the interstate, “where are we going?”

Hoseok hums thoughtfully, but only comes up with, “Anywhere.”

“Well. If you’re planning on suing the government, you probably want to get out of the country first.”

“That’s gonna be a long drive,” Hoseok says, sounding a little amused. Namjoon hums his assent. Hoseok strokes his thumb back and forth over Namjoon’s knuckles, squeezing his hand before asking, “How far is this thing going?”

Namjoon knows that he’s talking about the truck, but it sounds like he could be talking about everything. He doesn’t risk taking his eyes off the road, but he wants to, he wants to so bad when he smiles and tells Hoseok, “All the way.”