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the bucket is broken (but the water is pure)

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you're so red in the eyes
either too low or too high
when i met you
you were sick but you did not know why
i was a pretty poor cure
but my love for you was always sure
the bucket was broken
but the water was pure

tell me i got here at the right time
if i did it's probably the first time
no second guesses or secret signs
tell me i got here at the right time






On the first night they don't come home, Sungjong doesn't think too much of it. They've all had schedules before that went into the night. It's never fun, but they do what they have to, trusting that sleep will come soon enough. He hangs up the jacket Hoya left thrown over the back of the chair in their room that morning, and shuffles the discarded pajamas from the foot of the bed into the laundry basket. He considers making Hoya's messy bed but decides against it; it seems a little over the top for just one night, and he doesn't need to be teased by Hoya about being 'domestic' or something stupid.

The rest of the members plow through dinner as usual, chattering about the new choreography they're learning for the comeback in the spring. It's maybe a bit less noisy than usual, without Dongwoo's laughter and Hoya's snarky jokes. But they manage. He sends Hoya a text reminding him to watch his mouth if they tape any new interviews before they see each other tomorrow. Hoya replies back with a couple of choice expletives that Sungjong immediately deletes with a grin.

Sungjong hugs his bear close that night and thinks their room is much too quiet. But he queues up one of the playlists Hoya made him on his laptop, sets the volume low, and manages to fall asleep without too much fuss.





The second night they don't come home, everyone else arrives home so late that there’s nothing else for them to do but get to bed themselves, so they can be up again at four to head to a taped appearance before breaking off for their individual schedules.

Sungjong is so tired he doesn’t take the time to climb into his own bed, just falls into the mess of Hoya’s sheets. He sends Hoya and Dongwoo a text wishing them pleasant dreams wherever they manage to bed down for the night. He gets responses almost immediately from both of them, Dongwoo’s a single emoticon making a kissing face, and Hoya a quick ‘goodnight jjongie sleep well.” Somewhat satisfied but still a bit sad with missing them two nights in a row, Sungjong wills his mind to stop churning out thoughts, and falls asleep not long after.





The third night they don’t come home, the energy in the dorm is noticeably uneasy. The early morning taping had gone well, but it was impossible not to notice that Dongwoo’s smiles were a little less enthusiastic, that Hoya didn’t have a lot to say and leaned against the wall whenever there was a pause in filming, staring off at nothing. The two of them had been ushered out of the building as soon as the taping was finished, before anyone had a real chance to discuss anything important with either of them. Sungjong felt a knot tighten in his chest as he watched their backs leave the studio. He told himself it would be fine. They have to come home tonight, right? They’ve already been working for two days straight. He keeps telling himself not to worry as the day wears on, until Geonam-hyung texts Sunggyu with the news that Hoya and Dongwoo will be spending another night practicing with their dancers and filming ‘more paint shots.’ Sungjong immediately tries to call Hoya, but it goes straight to voicemail.

“Hyung, I just wanted to tell you that I – work hard, okay? I’ll see you tomorrow.” He’d paused, unsure what to say, or how to say it when there was something invisible squeezing his throat. “I - tell Dongwoo-hyung a fan gave me a yo-yo this afternoon – I was walking with Myungsoo to the convenience store. I’ve got it in my bag and I’ll keep it for him. And I – that’s all. Goodnight, hyung.” He has a sour taste in his mouth when he ends the call.

Now the five of them are home, and Sungjong is starting to believe that five is a really crappy number. Woohyun and Sungyeol bicker in the kitchen while they make dinner, and where it's usually light-hearted, there's an undercurrent to their tones that reveals their foul moods. Sunggyu sits on the couch, arms crossed, wearing a tired scowl on his face as he ignores whatever show is barking from the TV. Myungsoo sits on the floor next to their leader, and methodically takes apart and inspects each component of his camera before reassembling it and starting over. Aside from the arguments coming from the kitchen, everyone is quiet and subdued.

Watching them makes Sungjong's skin itch, so he goes to his and Hoya’s room to read. When Woohyun knocks and pokes his head in to ask if Sungjong wants to eat, he begs off, but at Woohyun’s concerned look he reassures his hyung he’s just tired and he’ll fix something for himself later if he gets hungry. Woohyun nods.

“Do you want some company, Sungjongie? I could come in and sit with you while I eat.”

He’d usually make a snappish reply to such a question, lashing at Woohyun for babying him. But Sungjong recognizes the stress tightening Woohyun’s face, knows it’s a reflection of the same internal churning he himself is feeling at the prospect of facing a third night without the rappers safely at home with them. Woohyun won’t say he needs the company; instead he makes his anxiety over their missing members about comforting the maknae. So even though he’d rather be alone right now, Sungjong scoots over on his bunk and nods with an attempt at a smile.

“Sure, hyung,” he says. “I’d like that.”

Woohyun’s answering smile is enough to convince him it’s the right decision. He even humors Woohyun and accepts several messy bites from his bowl, offered precariously from the ends of Woohyun’s chopsticks.

When he’s done eating, Woohyun slings an arm around Sungjong’s shoulders and lets his head fall against the wall behind them. They sit quietly for a few minutes. Sungjong feels tense, and kind of wishes Woohyun would quit touching him. Finally, Woohyun gathers his bowl and gets up to leave.

“Are you okay in here by yourself?” he asks. “You could bunk with Myungsoo and Sungyeol tonight if you wanted.”

Sungjong feels indignation rise in his chest.

“Of course I’m fine. I’m not a baby. I can spent a few nights by myself and not have a mental breakdown.”

He regrets his tone immediately when Woohyun winces.

“Sorry, hyung, I’m just tired.”

“It’s okay, Jjongie. Get some sleep, okay?”

“I will, hyung.”

After Woohyun shuts the door he tries to concentrate on his book again. But the air is uncomfortable, so he turns on some music and starts gathering a load of laundry, before deciding that their shelves are really messy. He rearranges their CDs, books, and the various fangifts they've each kept for one reason or another. When he's done, things don't look much better. He takes the basket of clothes out to the washer and stuffs everything in together, hoping nothing white slipped into the pile. Hoya gets mad when his socks come out new colors. He sets the machine to wash and then dry, then returns to his room, shuts the light off, and climbs into his bunk.

He stares at the ceiling, but sleep is elusive. He drowses and dreams fitfully, finally falling into a deeper sleep a few hours before the alarm goes off. It’s not enough, but it will have to do.






On the fourth night they don't come home, Sungjong has had it. He paces the dorm, popping his knuckles and dreaming up ways to murder Sunggyu. During practice he’d nearly shouted at Sungjong to "Pick up your feet, what are you, a mule?" and "What is with you today, Sungjong? Get it together!" Sungjong had just nodded curtly and kept going. Normally one of the others might have spoken up and said something, but with just the five of them trying to hit their marks without Dongwoo and Hoya there to glue their motions together, everyone was struggling and their faces remained blank and grim while their leader berated the maknae.


Sungyeol drags a glum Myungsoo out the door around nine, intent on getting coffee and junk food after receiving word from the manager hyungs once again that there will be more filming tonight and not to expect the rappers home. Sunggyu and Woohyun shut themselves in their room and Sungjong can hear their voices, rising and falling in what sounds like a heated exchange. Sungjong rolls his eyes and sneers at their door; he hopes Woohyun-hyung is ripping their leader a new one for being such an insufferable dick.

The more reasonable part of him knows that Sunggyu didn't mean it, that he just misses Dongwoo, and Hoya too - that he doesn't cope well when all of them aren't together under his watchful eye. He's always snappish and cranky whenever any of them have to be gone. When Myungsoo was away filming his drama, Sunggyu and Sungyeol had had a rather epic standoff that lasted days, leader accusing Sungyeol for the thousandth time of having a bad attitude, and Sungyeol accusing Sunggyu of picking on him for no good reason. They'd fumed and fumed, and not even Dongwoo could help them get over it. Until Myungsoo came home, at which time Sunggyu decided he'd been too hard on Sungyeol. And Sungyeol decided Sunggyu wasn't the heartless dictator he'd been telling any and all comers about all week. They’d settled their differences over a video game and several bottles of sugary soda, and everything went back to normal.

He knows all this, but the reasonable part of Sungjong is currently being squashed flat by the rest of him, which is trembling with agitation and, yeah, he can admit it, worry. He’d seen Hoya and Dongwoo for about twenty minutes today, when they'd all piled into the van to go visit where they're shooting teaser videos and saying encouraging things to the cameras to give the fans the illusion they're there supporting their bandmates through all their promotions. They hadn't even removed their coats, spending a couple of minutes cracking jokes and hamming it up before being herded back to the van for their next schedules, leaving the rappers behind. Dongwoo had had visible bags under his eyes, though he smiled on cue and he laughed and played with the others, if a bit less bouncily than usual.

Hoya's face had looked drawn, and he didn't have a lot to say to the other members. Sungjong sat on the couch near the sound stage and tried engaging him in conversation. Hoya played along, but it felt forced, distracted, like his hyung wasn't really there. Sungjong is not used to feeling like he doesn't have one hundred percent of Hoya's attention when they're talking just the two of them. Loath as he is to admit it, he’s used to being spoiled and teased. He does not like how Hoya’s distraction makes him feel, like his skin is as tight as Hoya's face looks. Like if he wants to connect he needs to reach out and grab something that's usually there to hold him up without having to ask. Like there's an empty space where his hyung should be.

So yeah, Sungjong has had it. He stomps into his room, hands on hips, and looks around. The shelves look just as shitty as they did before he’d moved things around last night. Hoya’s bed is still messy and unmade. Clutter is everywhere. He sets his jaw and walks to the kitchen, grabs the trash can, walks back to their room, and starts chucking things into the bin. Socks he hasn’t been able to find the matches to for months. Stuffed toys and pictures and knick-knacks from their fans, littering their nightstand and shelves. He pulls a wrinkled poster off the wall and stuffs it in the bin, swiftly followed by two pairs of shorts and a t-shirt Hoya insists on wearing around the house that has a huge hole in the armpit and grosses Sungjong out. If Hoya’s not going to be around to manage his stuff, well then someone needs to clean up all his crap.

He knocks over a jar full of pencils, paperclips, and other odds and ends in his fevered attempts to brush a stack of notes and other papers off their small desk and into the bin. He swears loudly and drops to his knees, grabbing for pens and buttons and hurling them into the now-heaped trash bin. He thinks he must make a pretty loud ruckus, because Sungyeol and Myungsoo poke their heads in the door when they come in from their snack run.

“You okay, Sungjongie?” asks Myungsoo tentatively.

“Yeah, we come in peace,” says Sungyeol. “What are you doing in here?”

Sungjong braces a hand on the edge of the bin and looks at them both with what he hopes is a face not to be messed with.

“Hoya-hyung is a slob, and someone needs to clean up his mess since he’s not here to take care of it.”

The pair stare at him blankly for a moment, eyes wide. Sungjong would find it funny except there is nothing in this room that is remotely humorous right now.

“What?” he demands.

Myungsoo just continues to stare, but Sungyeol finds his voice quickly enough.

“Uh, that’s… kind of dickish of you, Sungjong. Hoya is working, Dongwoo-hyung too. They’re probably dog tired and wishing they were home, you know.”

Sungjong feels blood rush into his face. He clenches his free hand into a fist.

“If he – “ he stops to correct himself, “If they wished they were home so bad, you’d think they’d call or text or something.”

“Leader talked to Dongwoo-hyung a little bit ago,” says Myungsoo quietly. “He said he sounded a little bit tired, but okay. He wasn’t making a lot of sense I guess. But when does he?”

Well, that’s. That’s good, Sungjong supposes. Except it doesn’t make him feel any better. Not when his phone has been silent for two days, Hoya’s bed is still unmade, and their room is still a fucking mess. His eyes dart between Myungsoo and Sungyeol before looking at the clutter surrounding him. He swallows, and relaxes his clenched hand.

“Did he talk to Hoya-hyung too?”

Sungyeol shakes his head. Sungjong nods once in understanding and looks over to where his phone lies on the nightstand. Looks at the disarray again, then back at Myungsoo and Sungyeol and lets out a small, helpless sigh.

Sungyeol steps fully into the room, and Myungsoo necessarily follows. Would be hard not to, clutching the back of Sungyeol’s belt as tightly as he is. Sungjong rolls his eyes. And then blinks in surprise when Sungyeol pries Myungsoo’s grip off of him before kneeling on the floor.

“What are you doing, hyung?” Sungjong would rather poke himself in the eye with something sharp than hang out with anyone right now.

“Helping,” says Sungyeol. He turns to Myungsoo. “Go get another trash bag. This one’s full. And grab the broom.” Myungsoo nods and steps out of the room.

“I don’t need – “

“You think you’re the only one around here upset about this?” Sungyeol interrupts. “We all miss them, Sungjong. I’m fucking worried, okay? So shut up and let me do this.”

Sungjong presses his lips together and a string of sharp retorts race through his mind. He bites his tongue though, when Sungyeol reaches for the overturned jar and starts carefully picking up stray pens with a gentleness Sungjong rarely sees from him.

“Fine,” he says instead, “Just, clean those up and I’ll start sorting through these.” He turns towards a pile of clothes shoved between the dresser and the wall. T-shirts, pants, sweatshirts, underwear – it’s a mishmash of his and Hoya’s stuff, tossed aside to fold at some point and then forgotten about.

Myungsoo comes back with a fistful of trash bags and wet rags, dustpan and broom in his other hand. He tosses a bag to Sungjong and sets everything else down on the floor before grabbing the kitchen trashcan and setting it outside the room. He takes the now-refilled pencil jar from Sungyeol’s outstretched hand and sets it back on the desk, but not before wiping the top down, straightening the set of laptop speakers, and putting the stray notepads in the small drawer underneath the writing surface.

Sungyeol has readjusted his position on the floor and is now stretched out on his stomach, sweeping his arms back and forth under the bunk bed, clutter emerging on either side of him as he reaches farther under.

“Myungsoo,” he says in a brusque tone, “Grab this stuff and put it away or throw it out.”

Myungsoo aims a kick at Sungyeol’s thigh.

“Quit bossing me around, Yeollie,” he says, but he’s grinning and already stooping to grab items off the floor as he says it.

“Ya! I’ll quit bossing when you start making yourself useful.” Sungyeol’s head has entirely disappeared under the bunk, and Sungjong suppresses a smile despite himself as he continues sorting the clothes into piles to keep or throw, stuffing the stained and torn ones into the trash bag.

He comes upon an old sweater of Hoya’s. He inspects it and finds the hem frayed where Hoya must have caught it on something. A tug on the end of the yarn starts unraveling it further. Trash, then. But as he gathers it in his hand to push into the bag, he pauses. It’s been washed and worn so many times it’s a bit misshapen, but it’s also got that soft felted feel of well-seasoned wool. After a surreptitious glance at his hyungs, who take no notice of him, he pulls the sweater on quickly. It’s too large by a couple sizes, but it’s so comfortable draped over him a small part of his anxiety eases. He rolls up the cuffs and continues sorting.

Once he’s got the clothes sorted he folds and hangs up the for keeps pile and sets the bag of discards next to the kitchen trash and the bag Myungsoo just finished filling with junk. When he comes back, Sungyeol is sitting in the desk chair sorting through CDs and Myungsoo is sweeping around and underneath the furniture. A glance at the clock tells him it’s growing late, but the idea of sleeping right now when he knows Hoya and Dongwoo are still working makes his anxiety spike again, and he assesses the room for something else to clean.

His eyes fall on the heap of sheets and blankets on Hoya’s bed. Myungsoo appears to have the same idea he does because he finishes sweeping and moves to pull them off the bed.

“No, hyung!” Sungyeol and Myungsoo both jump and stare at him in alarm, and he lowers his voice as he steps forward. “It’s okay, I’ll do it,” he says, quieter but firm.

Myungsoo backs up, arms dropping to his sides.

“Whatever you say, Sungjong” he says.

Sungjong feels both their eyes on him as he pulls everything off the mattress and strips the pillow. He hauls the armful of linens to the washer and sets the water temperature as hot as it will go, adding extra soap for good measure. He pours in plenty of fabric softener and sets the dryer for the longest cycle.

There’s a pile of clothes that look like his and Hoya’s on top of the machine, so he gathers them up on his way back to the room. He stops when he reaches the doorway, taking in the state of the room. It is spotless. He thinks it probably hasn’t been this clean ever. Hoya’s mattress looks way too bare though, so he dumps the clean clothes onto it and sits down to fold them.

He hadn’t noticed Myungsoo exit the room, but a few minutes later he returns, carrying a small stack of some kind of papers. Sungjong looks at him curiously as he sets them on the desk and starts rooting around in the drawer.

“What are those?” Sungjong asks.

Myungsoo looks self conscious as he turns to Sungjong.

“It’s just – the walls are bare, and I just thought – I don’t have to hang them up if you don’t like them. Or if you think Hoya won’t like them.”

“Oh, good idea,” says Sungyeol. “I think there’s some tacks in the kitchen.” He pops up out of the desk chair and disappears.

Sungjong stands and inspects the pile on the desk. They’re photographs. Printed on plain pieces of paper, which curl a bit at the edges. Buildings, plants, something half-blurred that looks like a close up of the low table in their living room covered with bowls of food, a group of little kids swarming some playground equipment. And underneath the artistic ones are candid shots of, well, them. In pairs and threes and more, talking and walking and goofing off with the managers. All the members going about their day-to-day schedules. And at the bottom of the stack, a selca that includes Myungsoo, Sungyeol, and Woohyun, tongues hanging out of their mouths obnoxiously. Sungjong snorts and opens his mouth to tell Myungsoo there’s no way he wants this picture on his bedroom wall, but then he notices two more figures in the background, slightly unfocused. They’re hugging. It’s him and Hoya, he realizes. His jaw closes with a click, and he looks at Myungsoo.

“Are they okay?” Myungsoo asks tentatively.

Sungjong gives him a small smile and nods.

“Thank you. They’re great. Hoya-hyung will like them too.”

Myungsoo gives him a tired, lopsided grin and then Sungjong gasps as he’s caught up in a crushing hug.

“It’ll be okay, Sungjong-ah,” Myungsoo says, his voice muffled against Sungjong’s neck.

Sungjong pats Myungsoo’s back lightly.

“I know, hyung.”

Myungsoo squeezes him harder for a long moment, and finally releases him, much to Sungjong’s relief. Sungyeol sails back into the room with a handful of thumbtacks, and he and Myungsoo start pinning the pictures up while Sungjong returns to his laundry pile. He gives up after a minute, no longer in the mood to be productive, and shoves everything into the empty laundry basket at the foot of the bed. He scoots back on the mattress and brings his knees to his chest. Watches them work and gives the occasional direction to move that corner up, move that one a little to the left.

When they’ve hung the last photo, Sungyeol sits down beside Sungjong, Myungsoo settling in on the other side of Sungyeol. He stretches an arm around each of Sungjong and Myungsoo’s shoulders.

“This looks really good,” he says. “We’re awesome.”

Sungjong has to agree. It looks homey in here now, welcoming. Save for the bare mattress underneath them, it looks like a pretty cozy place to rest.

“In fact,” Sungyeol continues, “I think I want it.” He gives Sungjong’s shoulder a shake. “Switch rooms with me,” he quips.

Sungjong throws Sungyeol’s arm off and gives him a long-suffering look. “Nice try, hyung. Not a chance.”

“Ya! Lee Sungjong, you better not sass me,” says Sungyeol, baring his teeth at the maknae and struggling unsuccessfully to suppress a smile. “Do as I say right now and give me your room.”

“How about instead I give you a smack if you don’t get out of here and go to bed, hyung.” It’s not a question, and Sungjong is better than Sungyeol at hiding his smiles. He gives him a cool, pointed look. Sungyeol huffs and rolls his eyes. Myungsoo just looks at them both, grinning away like he’s witnessing a touching and funny exchange.

“Whatever, I see how you show your gratitude. Come on, Myungsoo, let’s go to our room where there aren’t any bratty maknaes glaring at us.”

He stands, and Myungsoo grabs Sungyeol’s wrist to pull himself up. They head for the door, and Myungsoo takes hold of the door handle to pull it shut behind them. He pauses though, and Sungyeol pops his head back in.

“Just don’t – I mean – he’ll be back soon, Jjongie,” says Sungyeol.

Sungjong sighs and flips his hair in agitation, but doesn’t meet Sungyeol’s eyes. “I know that hyung. I – but it’s been days since he called or sent a text and – ” He stops, hearing his voice crack and not wanting to let this much of himself out.

“I’m sure that’s nothing,” says Sungyeol, waving him off with a toss of his hand. Which creates a funny picture since Myungsoo’s still got his own hand gripped tightly around Sungyeol’s wrist. “It’s so obvious he misses your skinny ass. Why else would he yap about you to interviewers every chance he gets when he should be talking about Infinite H?”

Sungjong flushes and looks up. Sungyeol’s eyebrows are raised and his mouth is a straight line.

“You’re all he thinks about, brat,” he finishes, and if Sungjong weren’t so flustered at Sungyeol’s words, he’d be able to come up with a wittier reply. Or, any reply really. Instead he just gapes a moment, before collecting himself enough to hurl Hoya’s pillow at Sungyeol’s now-smirking face.

“Come on Yeol,” says Myungsoo. “Leave him alone; I’m tired.” He pushes Sungyeol out of the room ahead of him and shuts the door.

And then Sungjong is by himself again.



He stays where he is for several minutes before the silence starts to get to him. He stands, grabs the frame of his bunk to steady himself as an involuntary shudder runs through him, and looks around the room again. He spots something dark poking up at the head of Hoya’s bed, wedged between the mattress and the wooden support holding up Sungjong’s bunk. When he leans over to get a closer look at whatever it is, his stomach drops. He grasps the end of it and pulls. The cord unwinds where it had fallen, and as the end of it emerges, Sungjong stares down at Hoya’s phone charger.

Hoya’s phone is fancier than Sungjong’s and it uses a lot more energy; he has to charge it all the time to keep it working. It must have fallen out of his backpack in his haste to get ready to leave for promotions on – was it Tuesday?

“Oh, hyung.” He takes several rapid breaths, blinking at the sudden sting in his eyes. He’s tired and sad and it’s been days since he felt anything like comfortable in his own skin and he’s been pissed off at Hoya for ignoring his calls when all this time –

He probably didn’t want to bother anyone. He probably just tucked his dead phone away and kept working, trusting that anyone trying to contact him would understand why he couldn’t respond. He probably figured since Dongwoo had talked to their leader, the rest of them would assume Hoya is okay too. Stupid hyung. Sometimes Sungjong thinks his hyungs are all perfect idiots, but never more so than right now.

He winds the cord around his hand and sets the coil on the desk. Walks out to the kitchen and pours himself some water from the tap. He considers leaving the bags of trash sitting by the bedroom door, to be dealt with in the morning. But he thinks better of it, deciding a little fresh air will help clear his head. He grabs all three bags up and heads down the elevator and around to the back of the building.

The air outside is crisp, but not so cold that he regrets coming out without a coat. Hoya’s sweater keeps him warm enough for the short trip to the dumpster. He looks up at the sky thoughtfully; the clouds are low and heavy. Smells like snow, he thinks. He wouldn’t mind a little snow. The only remnants of the last snowfall are small icy piles along the edges of the sidewalks, stained black with grime. Fresh snow would brighten everything.

After filling his lungs with several bracing breaths of cold air, he goes back inside and makes his way upstairs and back to his room. He doesn’t bother to change into pajamas, just turns off the light, shucks off his pants, and climbs wearily into his bunk. He pulls his hands inside the sleeves of the sweater, tugs his bear to his chest, and falls into a fitful sleep.





The next morning Sungjong gets up before the others and pulls Hoya’s linens from the washer. He carefully makes Hoya’s bed, tucking the corners neatly and smoothing out wrinkles in the surface of the coverlet. He likes the smell of the fabric softener, and takes a moment to press the pillowcase to his nose and inhale before dressing Hoya’s pillow and moving to get ready for the day.

Sunggyu gives Sungjong an awkward pat on the shoulder while they eat cold leftovers and fruit for breakfast. Sungjong remains sullen, but notices Woohyun nodding encouragingly at Sunggyu after he makes the gesture. The two of them are really something else, Sungjong thinks, but he offers Sunggyu half of his orange anyway, and the leader bumps up against him with a ghost of a smile on his face in thanks. Then they’re all marching out to the vans to start their individual schedules and that’s that.

The rest of the day goes by in a blur. They do not see either member of Infinite H; the maknae line spends the morning in vocal lessons, while Sunggyu and Woohyun are off doing whatever Sunggyu and Woohyun do during what Sunggyu calls their Admin Days and Woohyun calls Days from Hell. Sungjong doesn’t know what that entails and he’s grateful no one explains it to him. As long as whatever needs to be done gets done, he’d rather not share in the headache.

The afternoon is spent in choreo practice again, and today everyone visibly drags. It’s the fifth day in a row they’ve been five instead of seven, and it’s obvious they’re at the end of what they can manage in this fractured state. They trudge along as best they can, but all of them make the same mistakes repeatedly, and the strain on their faces in the practice room mirrors is identical. At least they’re unified on something today, Sungjong thinks. The thought is not a comfort. He wonders if everyone else is thinking the same thing he is: that if they don’t make it home, tonight will be the fifth night without Dongwoo and Hoya. The fifth night without good sleep for the two of them. The fifth night of working continuously, the only breaks they’re likely to get occurring in small spurts between promotion engagements, filming, and rehearsals.

When they lumber into the dorm just before eight, it’s been snowing for several hours. The temperature outside has dropped noticeably since they left in the morning, and at least five centimeters of fluffy white is sticking to the streets, making everything slippery and dangerous. The five of them are silent as they slough off wet coats and shoes at the doorway. Despite the quiet, the tension is deafening. They have yet to hear from the rappers about whether or not to expect them back tonight, and with road conditions worsening there’s a shared worry in the house that permeates the walls and sinks into Sungjong’s skin.

After changing into sweats and pajamas, they congregate in the living room. They decide to put on a movie to distract themselves. Sungyeol makes coffee and Woohyun makes tea; each of the rest of them helps himself to a cup of something hot and they gather around the television to wait. For a phone call, a text, anything.

The minutes tick by.

The movie ends a little after ten, and Woohyun suggests they play cards. While no one voices enthusiasm for the idea, neither do they object, so he fetches the deck and they play several hands of Mighty. Sunggyu is stupidly good at cards, and easily wins every time despite playing solo against the two other pairs. Sungjong and Sungyeol manage to hold their own, but Woohyun and Myungsoo lose by an embarrassing margin. On any other night they’d be teased mercilessly for their ineptitude, but tonight no one even cracks a smile when Woohyun repeatedly leads with the trump suit.

It’s a quarter past eleven and Sunggyu is shuffling the deck when they hear noises outside the foyer. Their heads snap up in unison, all eyes on the door. They hear low, murmuring voices before there’s a thud against the door and a jiggle of the handle, and then the five of them are on their feet. A small pause, and Sungjong is ready to jump out of his skin when the door opens and Dongwoo appears, followed closely by Hoya, who is carrying both their backpacks. Hoya nudges the door shut with his hip and then they’re standing there, shoulders wet with snow and hats sodden, blinking at the brightness of the light in the living room.

For a moment everyone just stares at each other, but then Sungjong is nearly knocked over in Myungsoo’s mad rush past him. He practically runs to get to Hoya and Dongwoo, and pulls them both into an embrace, an arm around each of their necks. One of them lets out a grunt at the impact, but Sungjong can’t tell which.

“Hoya! Dongwoo-hyung!” Myungsoo says, and his voice contains multitudes. Surprise. Happiness. Relief. A tiny bit of desperation. “We missed you so much!”

“Hi Myungie,” says Dongwoo. His voice is smaller than usual, Sungjong notes.

“We missed you too, now get off,” says Hoya gruffly. Myungsoo lets them go, though he looks reluctant to do so as he backs away a step.

By this time everyone else has made their way over to them. Woohyun plucks their hats off and goes to work on the zipper of Dongwoo’s coat, while Sungyeol grabs the bags from Hoya and throws them in the general direction of the couch. Sunggyu greets them both and asks how the day went. They give the leader short affirmative answers, and then Woohyun’s asking them if they’re hungry and Sungyeol is jabbering something at them, but Sungjong tunes it all out. He looks back and forth between the two arrivals, and the tension he’s been feeling all week stretches to the snapping point.

They look wrecked.

Dongwoo’s eyes are swollen with exhaustion, and his face is sallow. The hollows of Hoya’s cheeks are sunken and his jaw is clenched as though in concentration or pain. They’re both still wearing full make-up and their hair is stiffly styled, if a bit flattened from their hats. No amount of powder and cream can cover how haggard their faces are. Sungjong considers fully for the first time that neither of them may have gotten any sleep this week. At all. It’s been four nights, five days, and half of a fifth night since they last saw the inside of the dorm. And by the looks of them, they likely haven’t had more than a few minutes rest at a time in the interim. Hoya’s gaze shifts between Dongwoo and the others, before settling on Sungjong. His eyes are red-rimmed and bloodshot, and where Sungjong usually sees a spark or a flicker whenever Hoya looks at him, right now there’s nothing. He’s blank, though his gaze is steady once his eyes find Sungjong’s, and he holds the maknae’s eyes without wavering.

Sungjong feels something balling up in his gut, hot and pulsing. It pushes acid into his throat, sharp and burning in its intensity. He swallows hard to force it back down, but it continues to churn. Woohyun and Sunggyu are clucking around them, tugging Dongwoo towards the couch and touching face, hands, shoulders. Sungyeol rushes to the kitchen, squawking back at them about drinks. Myungsoo follows along in everyone’s wake, a dreamy look plastered on his face. Hoya finally shrugs out of his coat once Dongwoo sits down, though his eyes never leave Sungjong’s. Sungjong swallows again.

“Hello, hyung,” he manages to say, but his voice is an embarrassing squeak. He’s afraid if he tries again he might scream, so he bites his lip instead.

His voice does something to the empty space behind Howon’s eyes; there’s suddenly a glint of something there, and his hyung’s mouth twitches up at the corners.

“Hi, Sungjongie.”

Sungjong blinks, clears his throat, and shifts on his feet. He raises his chin and clears his throat again, though it feels a little ridiculous and if he weren’t currently wrapping himself around Dongwoo, Sunggyu would probably scold him for it.

“Are you hungry?” he asks, and his voice is clipped.

“We ate earlier,” Hoya says, shaking his head.

Sungjong nods.

“Come sit down then, hyung.”

“Okay,” Hoya says, but he doesn’t move from where he’s still standing just inside the foyer.

Sungjong’s brow wrinkles in concern.


“I – ” Hoya looks towards the others again before blinking hard and looking at Sungjong. “Dongwoo-hyung is okay?”

Sungjong glances over his shoulder. Dongwoo is half-sitting, half-reclining on the couch against Sunggyu’s chest. The latter has his arms around Dongwoo’s waist, and Woohyun is holding one of Dongwoo’s hands, running his fingers in between Dongwoo’s and smiling at him softly.

Sungjong returns his focus to Hoya.

“He’s fine, Howon-hyung. Are you okay? You should come and sit down.”

Hoya nods slowly.

“I think – I just want to clean up and go to bed, Sungjong-ah.” Hoya pauses to swallow and run his hand over the back of his neck. “Is that okay?” He looks at Sungjong imploringly, and the maknae feels the boiling, churning thing inside him leap a bit higher. The wrongness of this is burning him up.

“Of course, hyung. You don’t have to stay up.” He steps forward and loosely takes hold of Hoya’s wrist. “Let’s both go.”

Hoya nods again and they both turn to walk to their room.

The others call after them but Hoya waves them off.

“Sleeping now. We’ll talk in the morning,” he says.

There are nods and a chorus of “Goodnight, Hoya!” and “Goodnight, Howon,” and “Welcome home, please sleep well” and “Goodnight, Sungjongie,” as they pass by.

Sungjong offers the group a tight smile, but says nothing. He hears Sunggyu behind him, urging everyone else to get to bed too, that there will be time to hang out tomorrow afternoon and they all need their rest. He hears Sungyeol grumble, but when he looks back everyone is heading to their rooms. He doesn’t let go of Hoya’s wrist until they’re shut inside their room.

Hoya stands in the middle of the room, eyes scrunched and a frown on his face.

“Is this our room?” he asks, puzzled. “It changed.”

“We cleaned,” says Sungjong.

“Ah,” says Hoya. He continues standing motionless, looking more than a little bewildered.

Sungjong clenches and unclenches his hands.

“Why don’t you go brush your teeth and start the shower. Take your contacts out. I’ll find you something clean to wear to bed, okay?”

When Hoya still doesn’t move, Sungjong reaches out a tentative hand and touches his shoulder to nudge him back towards the door. Hoya startles, but finally moves to follow Sungjong’s directions and disappears out their door and into the bathroom.

Sungjong takes a deep breath. His entire body feels like he’s balancing on a wire. He thinks he could fall either direction and come crashing to the pavement if he doesn’t step gingerly and precisely. He needs to focus.

He opens the top drawer of their dresser. Socks and underwear lie in tidy rows. He’d really gone overboard with the cleaning; this orderliness will be gone within days. But it’s a relief to Sungjong not to have to dig. To see clearly what he needs and pluck it out without fuss. He chooses a pair of boxer shorts and closes the drawer, turning to the shelves nearby and taking a plain undershirt from one of the neatly folded piles. Hoya won’t want to bother with pajama pants, so this will do.

When he squeezes his way into the small bathroom, he sees Hoya has managed to keep himself together long enough to start brushing his teeth. His contact case is full and closed on the counter. He’s sawing the toothbrush back and forth, staring blankly in the mirror. There’s a dribble of toothpaste making its way down his chin, and Sungjong feels a stab of affection at how much Hoya looks like a little boy. A little boy with stiff spiked hair, wearing smeared eyeliner and gripping the edge of the sink with a white-knuckled hand that trembles slightly at the wrist.

Sungjong tosses the clothes on the back of the toilet and takes his own toothbrush in hand. He finishes quickly, but Hoya is still seesawing over his teeth after Sungjong is done. After a moment’s hesitation, Sungjong reaches and takes the toothbrush from Hoya’s hand. The latter blinks slowly. Sungjong fills up the little plastic cup they have sitting on the shelf above the sink. It’s water-stained and most likely more than a week outside of a proper washing, but it will do. He hands it to Hoya.

“Swish,” he coaxes when Hoya just stares at the cup. Then he finally takes a sip, swirls it in his mouth, and spits. Sungjong takes the hand towel and wipes at the dribble on Hoya’s chin before stepping around him to start the shower. Steam starts billowing into the room, the water heating quickly.

“Okay, hyung,” he says. “Shower time and then bed for you.” He pulls a couple of washcloths from the cupboard and hangs them over the shower door. Grabs a towel and places it on the hook on the wall. He turns back to Hoya and crosses his arms. “Do you need anything else?”

His hyung is still standing at the sink, holding on to the edge of it with both hands now. He doesn’t respond to Sungjong’s query.


Hoya turns towards Sungjong, looks at him with dim curiosity, and then seems to snap back to himself a little.

“’M, fine.” He pauses. “Thank you.” Sungjong nods. Hoya looks down at himself and brings his hands up to start undoing the buttons of his untucked shirt. His fingers are clumsy and uncoordinated. He frowns and tries again but fumbles.

“Oh, for goodness’ sake, hyung. Here, let me.” Sungjong huffs, steps forward, and pushes Hoya’s hands out of the way. His voice is gruff and annoyed, but underneath the surface the churning, pulsing anxiousness is making his insides feel chewed and twisted. He tries to ignore it. Sets his mouth in a determined line, quickly undoes the buttons of the dress shirt, pulls it over and off of Hoya’s shoulders, down his arms, and tosses it on the floor by the door.

“Aish, you reek, hyung.” Sungjong’s nose wrinkles, but he catches Hoya’s eye and makes himself smile. “No time for a shower during all your promotions?” Hoya just stares at him blankly and then shrugs, dropping his eyes. Sungjong’s forced smile falters.


He grabs for Hoya’s belt to distract himself from the queasy feeling taking over his stomach. They hadn’t even showered all this time. It’s not right, none of this is right, and Sungjong is starting to fear he won’t be able to hold himself together. But he has to. Hoya needs his support right now, and Sungjong is going to give him that support.

Hoya continues to stand docilely as Sungjong strips him. He lifts one foot and then the other at Sungjong’s urging, making no complaint as Sungjong kneels to pull off his pants, underwear, and socks. Sungjong stands and puts a hand firmly on Hoya’s back, turns him and gives him a gentle push into the shower.

“Go ahead, Hoya-hyung,” he says.

When the hot spray hits him, Hoya lets out a low groan that sounds a lot like surrender, bracing his hands on the wall and letting his head fall forward into the stream of water. Sungjong considers leaving him alone for a moment, but just as quickly decides against it when Hoya’s arms start shaking and he leans even further into the shower wall, bracing himself at the elbows now, and making no move to start washing.

Before he can think about it too much, because thinking about it makes him want to scream or cry or hit something, Sungjong pulls off his sweatshirt and pajama pants, tossing them on top of the pile of Hoya’s dirty clothes. His boxers quickly follow, and he tugs one of the washcloths from atop the shower door as he steps behind Hoya and pulls the door closed.




Showering together is not a big deal, Sungjong tells himself. They’ve all showered together at the gym countless times. Nudity is not something that makes him uncomfortable, not around the other members. But despite doing his best to brush away the thought, he knows this is different. He and Howon have never been alone in a shower like this. He’s never done the washing for anyone else before, but he’s pretty sure he’s about to, and Howon is the one he – but no, that’s not something to think about right now. Not now, not yet. Not like this.

He wets the washcloth and lathers it up with some of his facial cleanser. A hand on Hoya’s arm prompts the other to push off the wall and turn around to face Sungjong.

He half expects Hoya to object to his presence, to tease him for clucking over him like he’s Hoya’s umma and Hoya is a baby or something. To order Sungjong out of the bathroom and give him some privacy. But he just stares at Sungjong with an expression of blank openness. His eyes are even redder than when he entered the dorm, and he’s slouching more than a little. Sungjong swallows hard and runs a hand through his own dampening hair to get it out of his eyes.

“Here you go, hyung,” he says, offering Hoya the washcloth. “Start on your face and I’ll do the shampoo.”

Hoya nods, still silent, and takes the washcloth. He holds it to his face, but then falls still again as Sungjong works soapy hands into his hair.

“Ugh, there are about fifty layers of product in here, hyung. Sorry if it pulls.” He works the shampoo through the sticky, tangled strands. Thankfully Hoya’s haircut makes it a bit easier. With the sides shaved it makes the task a little less grueling. He places his fingers on Hoya’s forehead and the base of his skull, prompting him to tip his head back and rinse out the foam. He lathers Hoya’s hair a second time to be sure, and once he’s helped him rinse again, he touches Hoya’s wrists where his hands are still holding the washcloth to his face, unmoving.

His hands fall away, and Sungjong takes the washcloth from loose fingers.

“Close your eyes,” he instructs, and Hoya obeys. Sungjong folds the washcloth into quarters and swipes across Hoya’s forehead, cheeks, chin. The terry comes away stained with makeup.

Sungjong feels a weight pressing on one of his shoulders; Hoya has clasped one of his hands there to steady himself. Sungjong adjusts his stance to shore up that side of his body, making himself as steady as possible so Hoya can stay balanced.

He refolds the washcloth, wipes down the bridge of Hoya’s nose, then rubs small circles around his mouth. He refolds again and wipes gently, carefully, around the edges of one eye and then the other. Black streaks coat the cloth as Hoya’s face emerges from underneath the glamour, looking pale and sick. There are deep shadows underneath the layers of highlighter around his eyes. His nose is pink and chapped. He looks not like someone who hasn’t slept in days, but more like someone who’s never slept at all. The words torn, crushed, and defeated flit across Sungjong’s mind as he finishes with a last wipe on either side of Hoya’s ears and tosses the soiled cloth behind him on the tiled floor. His hyung is an absolute wreck. Sungjong’s chest clenches, the hot tumult that’s been there since the rappers walked in the door grinding against his ribs and making it hard to speak.

“Okay, hyung,” he says in a strained voice, “Now for the rest of you.”

Hoya’s eyes open at Sungjong’s voice. He nods but still refrains from saying anything, and Sungjong is struck with the realization that maybe he can’t say anything – that the work he’s doing to stay upright is taking the last scraps of energy he still possesses. The thought cracks at Sungjong’s heart.

He considers his best mode of attack, so to speak, and concludes Sunggyu’s bath gel is the easiest solution. It smells like melons, which Sungjong thinks might be a little girly and makes a mental note to tease their leader about it tomorrow, but it will do. Much easier to handle than any of the bar soaps the rest of them use. He squeezes a generous amount onto the remaining washcloth and goes to work, being as quick and efficient as he can be, modulating his breaths and willing himself to remember that the only reason he’s doing this is because Hoya cannot do it himself. His heart splinters a little with each broad swipe of the terrycloth, wishing Hoya would show some hint of his normal spark, tease him or smirk at him or something instead of this persistent, weary reticence. But his hyung just continues to stand there, pivoting slowly this way and that at Sungjong’s instruction, eyes blinking lethargically and moving in turns from studying Sungjong’s face to watching his dongsaeng’s hands move the washcloth with surety over his skin to staring blank faced at the tiles.

By the time he’s navigated his way down the front of Hoya’s body, around his legs and feet and made his way up to his hyung’s back, Sungjong is feeling weighted down by the heaviness of this kind of intimacy. He abandons the second washcloth in favor of running his bare hands over Hoya’s back, rubbing more of the gel over his wet skin and pressing in with his fingertips along the length of Hoya’s spine.

He thinks about how this is the life they chose. That they have to remind themselves in times like this that this is what they signed on for. That it’s just one more step to fulfilling their dreams. But trying to make himself think positively only makes him more agitated inside. None of them signed on to become a shell of themselves. None of them can carry a load so heavy and stay upright, and he tries not to get angry about it but it’s just so infuriating, how they walk and walk and walk and never get to lie down and if they fall down they only have each other to help them back up and keep walking. What has happened this week, to Dongwoo and Hoya, is wrong in a way that makes Sungjong’s bones ache. This is not a way anyone chooses to live.

As he moves his hands over Hoya’s back in smooth circles, Hoya’s shoulders slump. Sungjong steps in closer and places a hand on his shoulder in reassurance, a reminder to keep standing just a little longer. Hoya sways instead and Sungjong quickly moves his hand from his hyung’s shoulder to band his arm across Hoya’s chest.

“Hyung,” he says, “Are you okay?”

Hoya startles a bit at the shrill bent in Sungjong’s voice, and Sungjong realizes he is actually falling asleep on his feet. He slips his other arm around Hoya’s waist to support him.

“Hyung, wake up!”

Hoya shudders and sways and settles his back against Sungjong’s chest. His head, chin drooping, lolls back and comes to lean against the juncture of Sungjong’s neck and shoulder.

“Sungjong,” he murmurs. “Sungjong-ah.”

At his words, at his name rolling over Hoya’s tongue in pained exhaustion, Sungjong feels the burn of tears in his eyes. He reflexively tightens his arms around his hyung, and now he is well and truly angry. It’s risen to a boil inside his chest, and his tears force their way out, hot, raw, and choking. He presses his mouth to Hoya’s shoulder, lips parted in a grimace, and allows himself one long moment to cry. Turns to rest his cheek where his mouth had been and rubs his nose into the side of Hoya’s neck while the tears continue cutting their way from his eyes. Hoya makes a low humming sound in his throat, but doesn’t otherwise respond.

But this is not Hoya, the self-proclaimed dancing machine of Infinite. This is not the group’s bastion of cool, who struts on stage and easily flaunts his masculinity like it’s a particularly expensive accessory he picked up in some boutique. This is not the sharp-tongued member who has to be coached before every interview to be careful of what he says for fear of embarrassing the company. This is not the smooth hip-hop voice of Infinite H, smirking and posturing and flirting with everyone around him for the benefit of the cameras.

This is just Lee Howon, limp and naked and unable to stand without help. It breaks Sungjong’s heart. He presses his fingers into Howon’s skin as he continues to hold him up, sniffs once, lets out a choking hot breath, and raises his head.

Sungjong feels very old all of a sudden, like he’ll never be as young as he was before their door opened tonight and delivered their missing members back to them. He knows he’ll never feel it again, the youth he had just a week ago. Standing here, hot water beating down over his back and shoulders, over the tops of his and Hoya’s heads, clutching his hyung’s body to his, Lee Sungjong has finished growing up.

“It’s okay, hyung,” he says as he reaches behind them and fumbles to shut off the water. “It’s okay, I’ve got you.”

He pushes the shower door open and grabs the towel off the hook. He runs it over as much of Hoya’s skin as he can reach, giving his hyung a nudge to stand up straight so he can reach his back. He takes the wet towel and wraps it snugly around his own hips, glancing at Hoya to make sure he won’t fall, before using firm hands at his waist to coax Hoya over to the toilet.

“Down,” he says, and pushes on Hoya’s shoulders until he sits roughly and without grace. As quickly as he can, he uses a fresh towel to dry Hoya’s hair and takes a swipe with the terrycloth over his own head before dropping it and grabbing another dry one to drape over Hoya’s shoulders. He reaches for a brush from the shelf above the sink, yanks it through his own hair first to get it out of his eyes, but takes a softer tack with Hoya’s head. He makes long, clean pulls through the damp strands. Follows each brush stroke with his free hand and runs his fingernails along Hoya’s scalp. His hyung hums in response, and when he starts to sway again, Sungjong bends and reaches for Hoya’s hand, bringing it to his waist.

“Hold on to me, hyung,” he says. Hoya complies, and his grip on Sungjong’s waist, thumb pressing into the jut of his hipbone, both aches and reassures.

He finishes working through the tangles and swipes at the nearest bottle of lotion he can reach from where he’s standing and dabs it over Hoya’s face and under his eyes. It’s not much, but the stretch of Hoya’s skin over his cheekbones needs it. He’ll feel better for it in the morning, Sungjong thinks. After rubbing some of it into his palms and over his own face, he tosses the bottle into the sink and picks up the t-shirt from the back of the toilet.

“Arms up,” he commands, and though he’s trying to be matter of fact about everything to keep from succumbing to more tears, his words come out quiet and pleading. But it doesn’t matter, because it’s just him and Hoya right now, and Hoya isn’t going to judge him. “Come on, Hoya-hyung, arms up.”

Hoya grunts and raises his arms out to shoulder level, but seems unable to lift them any higher.

Sungjong slips the sleeves of the t-shirt over Hoya’s hands, slides the soft cotton up over his arms and stretches the fabric until he gets it over his head and pulls it down to cover his chest. Hoya drops his arms limply to his sides again.

“Almost done,” Sungjong murmurs. He balances on the balls of his feet as he squats down to help Hoya into the clean boxers. He has to lift each of Hoya’s ankles to get the underwear on. Hoya’s hands come up to clutch Sungjong’s shoulders for balance. His grip is heavy, and Sungjong has to readjust his stance so he doesn’t fall over and pull Hoya along with him. He pulls the waistband up and anchors it on Hoya’s knees, before standing. As he rises, he holds Hoya’s hands more firmly on his shoulders and helps him stand up.

“Up,” he coaches, tapping his fingers against the side of Hoya’s ribs. Hoya stands, not without squinting in effort, and drapes his arms more firmly around Sungjong’s neck as the younger gives a firm yank and settles the shorts on Hoya’s hips.

Before Hoya can become dead weight on Sungjong’s shoulders, he steps back and adjusts the loosening towel around his waist and takes hold of one of Hoya’s wrists.

“Come on, hyung, time for bed.”

“Mmmfbd,” Hoya mumbles his reply, and as Sungjong folds their hands together and turns to walk them the short distance to their room, Hoya squeezes his hand and stumbles behind him.

“Careful, hyung.”

Hoya makes no reply, just continues to shuffle behind Sungjong.

Sungjong flips the overhead light off, but not before switching his reading lamp on, casting a dim glow over the top bunk and illuminating Hoya’s bunk enough for Sungjong to see as he pulls the blankets and sheets back. He’s thankful he washed them. He likes the idea of putting Hoya down to sleep in clean clothes on clean sheets with clean-smelling skin. He can’t do anything else to help, but he can do this.

He pulls Hoya by the hand and indicates for him to sit down on the bed. He makes sure to hold his hand protectively over the back of his head as Hoya flops down onto the mattress, afraid his hyung will smack his head on the bunk in his bleariness. Once Hoya is safely on the bed, Sungjong turns to dig through the basket of clean laundry. A glance at the clock as he does so tells him it’s been less than twenty minutes since the two of them first entered the bedroom. It shocks him that they could have gone through something like they just did in such a short amount of time. It felt like they’d been in the bathroom for hours. For days. For all of Sungjong’s life. But nothing has changed outside this room. It’s only inside Sungjong that everything has shifted.

He finds a pair of his sweats and a stretched out tank top he concludes must be Woohyun’s. He reaches for the towel at his waist. Before he can undo the tucked ends, he glances up and sees that Hoya has rolled to his side and is facing him. His eyes are still fatigued, lids drooping, but they’re open. And they’re watching Sungjong.

Five days ago Sungjong would have turned his back, or at least blushed or said something teasing at being so openly appraised while changing. In fact, he has done exactly that in the past. Thirty minutes ago he would have. But his tired hyung’s eyes are watching him, and he can’t stand or dress himself or stay awake without Sungjong, and his eyes are struggling to stay open in their dim room on a Saturday night while it snows outside and the rest of his hyungs are moving to get ready for bed. Things are different now.

He doesn’t make an obvious display of himself. He just meets and keeps Hoya’s gaze as he undoes the towel and lets it drop to the floor. Stretches one leg and then the other into the soft fleece of his pants. Works his arms through the wide holes of the singlet and pulls it over his wet hair, smoothing it down over his stomach. He keeps his eyes locked with Hoya’s throughout.

Hoya doesn’t blink until Sungjong is finished dressing, and when he finally does it is sleepy and languorous. He moves his torso back a fraction on the bunk, eases the palm of one hand across the flat surface of the mattress towards Sungjong, and tucks his other hand under his cheek on the pillow. Though he doesn’t say anything, the younger can see the gesture for the invitation that it is. He only pauses to hang the wet towel over the back of the desk chair and make sure the alarm is set before easing onto the lower bunk.

Sungjong pulls the blankets up over both of them, and after a slight hesitation, picks up Hoya’s arm by the wrist where it lies between them. He slides in close and pulls his hyung’s arm to rest around the side of his waist. Nudges one of his knees between Hoya’s folded legs and settles their chests together. Hoya takes a long breath.

Sungjong brings his hand up and runs his fingers once more through the wet strands of Hoya’s hair, dragging his fingernails across his scalp as he does so. Hoya’s eyes fall closed then, and with what must be the last bit of energy he has, tightens his grip around Sungjong and buries his face in Sungjong’s neck, lips brushing against his collarbone. He goes lax then, and Sungjong knows he’s passed out asleep.

Sungjong sighs, fingers still brushing lightly at the fine hairs at the nape of Hoya’s neck for a few seconds before setting his arm around Hoya’s shoulders and resting his chin against the top of his head.

“Good night, hyung,” he whispers.

He falls asleep almost immediately.

It’s his bladder that wakes Sungjong, which is strange because he usually never wakes up before the alarm goes off. None of them do. He blinks confusedly at his surroundings for a moment before remembering. His memory is aided by the steady, hot breaths coming through the front of his tank top and heating his breastbone.

They’ve shifted in their sleep, but only slightly. Sungjong is on his back now, and Hoya is wrapped around him from sternum to ankles. His head is resting on Sungjong’s chest, and both his forearms are tucked around Sungjong’s waist, resting at his lower back. Sungjong’s arms are lying loosely over Hoya’s shoulders and resting on his back. It should be uncomfortable, but with the exception of the growing pressure in his bladder, Sungjong feels perfectly snug.

Slowly, excruciatingly slowly as far as the call of nature is concerned, Sungjong works his way free of Howon’s grip and slides out of bed. His hyung grunts and mumbles something unintelligible, rolls over onto his back, and then stills again. Sungjong lets out a relieved breath he didn’t know he was holding.

The floor is cold against the soles of his bare feet, and he rushes quickly out of their room and into the bathroom. After flushing and washing his hands he takes a minute to gather up the wet towels, washcloths, and discarded clothes and carry them to the washer. He dumps them all in together but doesn’t start the machine, afraid the noise will wake the other hyungs. Sungyeol, anyway. Sungjong doesn’t need to be on the receiving end of whatever tirade Sungyeol would unleash if he wakes him up before he absolutely has to get up. Besides, he’s sick to death of doing laundry. It can wait.

He stops in the kitchen to grab a bottle of water out of the fridge before turning to head back to the bedroom. He nearly shouts when he sees a figure standing in the dim living room, facing the bank of windows, and clutches the water bottle to his chest to calm himself.

“Sunggyu-hyung?” Their leader turns towards Sungjong when he hears his name.

“Ah, good morning, Sungjong-ah. Sorry I startled you. Don’t mind me, go back to bed.”

“What are you doing out here so early, hyung?”

Sunggyu looks back out the window before responding.

“It’s seven-thirty, Sungjong. Not that early, really.”

Sungjong’s stomach drops. Seven-thirty? They were supposed to be up at five. They’ve got a schedule at eight and they were all going to work out for a couple of hours beforehand and –

“Oh my God, hyung. The others, everyone’s asleep. We’re going to be late. I know I set the alarm but I must have forgotten and Howon-hyung’s still pretty much out cold and – “

“You didn’t forget,” Sunggyu interrupts the maknae, voice calm and steady.

“But it didn’t go off and shit how are we gonna wake Myungsoo and get him going in time? Hyung, this is a disaster. I’m so sorry.”

“Schedules are cancelled today,” says Sunggyu, ignoring Sungjong’s escalating tone, and nods his head towards the living room windows. “Look.”

Sungjong is confused and he’s sure his face must show it, but he takes a few steps towards the windows and looks out. What he sees makes his eyes widen in shock.

“Oh, wow.”

“Yep,” says Sunggyu.

It’s snowing so hard Sungjong’s not sure how he didn’t notice it immediately upon entering the living room. Huge flakes of white are barreling down from the sky at a pace Sungjong’s certain he’s never seen before.

“There’s almost sixty centimeters on the ground,” Sunggyu continues, “And I guess they’re expecting more throughout the day. It’s even more snow than we got the winter before our debut – do you remember that?”

Sungjong couldn’t forget. It had been the only time in his memory that the entire city of Seoul had ground to a halt. It had been the most snow the city had seen in a century. And if he remembers correctly, the accumulation had been less than half of what Sunggyu is describing now.

“So our interview, and the variety show taping, and the hyungs’ video filming?”

“All cancelled. It’s emergency travel only, for at least the rest of the day. Maybe tomorrow too, depending on how much more snow we get between now and then. We’re stuck, Jjongie.”

Sungjong turns to take in the leader’s expression. He’s awfully calm in the face of what Sungjong considers to be a minor to moderate disaster, especially in their leader’s eyes. Losing the opportunity to do needed promotions and appearances should have his hyung in stressed out knots. But Sunggyu doesn’t look stressed. He looks… relaxed.

“Everything okay, hyung?” he asks tentatively.

Sunggyu raises his eyebrows.

“Everything’s fine for me, Sungjong. Is everything okay for you?” There’s something there, an undercurrent of something, but Sungjong can’t place it. He nods.

“Fine, hyung. I’m good. A day off, that’s – “ he feels a smile forming and before he can stop it he’s looking at Sunggyu and grinning widely. “A whole day, hyung? That’s like – a miracle.”

Sunggyu returns his smile with a small one of his own. “I have to admit, it's kind of exciting,” he says. “After Jungryul-hyung called a few hours ago and told me, I was a little shocked. But then I made sure to shut everyone’s alarms off so we could sleep in a while.” He continues looking at Sungjong with an enigmatic expression.

Sungjong processes that, and when Sunggyu’s meaning clicks, he feels himself go still.

Oh. Oh.

“Hyung, I – “

“But everything is okay with you, Sungjong-ah?” Sunggyu interrupts again.

Sungjong searches the leader’s face for a moment before nodding slowly.

“Everything is good, hyung,” he says finally.

Sunggyu nods.

“I called the building’s concierge and he agreed to let us use the main floor conference room. We’ll go down later and practice choreo for a few hours, I think. No need to have this be a totally wasted day.”

The abruptness of the subject change throws him a second, but Sungjong catches up quickly. He… supposes that’s fine. It’d be way too much to expect to have a real full day off, blizzard or not.

“We should dance today, shouldn’t we?” Sunggyu continues, and Sungjong looks at him curiously.


“All of us, together. Don’t you think we should?” Sunggyu turns away from the window and looks at Sungjong again then. Sungjong realizes he’s really asking his opinion, and Sungjong’s not exactly sure how to respond to that. Sunggyu never asks him anything about their activities. He decides and the rest of them follow. Woohyun might intervene if he thinks it’s something particularly grueling. Sungyeol might make a snide remark about it. But Sunggyu doesn’t ask them for their opinions, and most of the time whatever he says goes.

Sunggyu is still looking at him, patient and still. Sungjong squares his shoulders and raises his chin a little.

“Hyung, I think we should wait and see. If Dongwoo-hyung and Hoya-hyung are up for it, then it would be fine to practice our choreography. We should be together today, all of us. But we should only work if they have enough rest and can physically do it.”

Sunggyu looks at him with eyes narrowed for several long moments after Sungjong finishes. He looks away and back a few times, and seems to be weighing Sungjong’s words.

“Okay,” he says, “You’re right. We shouldn’t push Hoya or Dongwoo. But I think if they can handle it, they’ll feel better if they can be a part of the group’s work for a little while. Remind them of what’s the most important.”

Sungjong nods. “That’s fair, hyung. And honestly? After this week I think we could all probably use a reminder.”

Sunggyu nods again and places his hands on Sungjong’s shoulders.

“I’m putting you in charge of Howon,” he says, and he’s so serious Sungjong can’t help but be taken aback a little. Sunggyu doesn’t ask his opinions, and he definitely doesn’t give him responsibilities. “I’m trusting you with him. He’ll agree to whatever we ask of him. So if you think we’re doing too much, you let me know and I’ll put a stop to it, arasso?”

Sungjong bites his lip at Sunggyu’s words. Knowing he saw them this morning and he still – he takes a steadying breath and nods solemnly.

“I’ll take care of him, hyung.”

Sunggyu squeezes his shoulders before moving his hands to either side of Sungjong’s head. He tips the maknae’s head down and forward, presses a kiss into his hair, and releases him.

“I know you already do, Sungjongie. Thank you.”

Normally he would balk at being kissed or coddled by the leader, but Sungjong is so gobsmacked by the gesture and Sunggyu’s words, he just stands there and blinks.

He screws his face up in confusion, though, when Sunggyu abruptly walks over to the pile of shoes by the front door and selects two mismatched sneakers. He comes back and offers one to Sungjong.

“Go back to bed now, Sungjong,” he says.

“What’s this for?”

“Stuff the toe under the bedroom door after you close it. It’ll keep everyone out until Hoya is ready to get up.”

“The door handle has a lock, hyung.”

Sunggyu raises an eyebrow.

“Sungyeol knows how to pick locks.”

Sungjong grins and tosses his head, flipping his messy hair out of his eyes.

“Good thinking, hyung.”

“I’m a good thinker, Sungjong-ah.”

He turns to head back to his room but Sungjong’s voice stops him.

“Why do you need one, hyung?”

Sunggyu pauses. After a few seconds he turns back to Sungjong, and a bashful little smile curls his lips as he speaks.

“I don’t want anyone bothering Dongwoo, either.”

Sungjong’s eyes widen a little at the admission. He tries not to let his surprise show too much as he nods.

“And Woohyun-hyung?” he asks.

Sunggyu shrugs.

“He doesn’t take up much space in bed. Not while we’re sleeping, anyway. We manage.”

He turns around again as he finishes speaking, which is good because Sungjong’s jaw drops open in a rather unattractive way. Wow.

“Sleep well, Sungjong.”

He tries to gather his wits before responding. “You too, hyung,” he manages.

He pads softly back into the bedroom, his brain still processing the heap of surprising information it just received. He closes the door quietly behind him. Sunggyu is right; after he wedges the toe of the sneaker under the small gap between the door and the floor, the door won’t budge even when he yanks on the handle.

The room is dim, but still bathed in the persistent glow of Sungjong’s reading lamp. He can just make out the top of Hoya’s head peaking out from where he’s still cocooned under blankets. He takes a couple of long drinks from the water bottle and sets it on the nightstand. Gently as he can manage, he slips underneath the covers and faces Hoya on his side.

Even in sleep, he still looks wan and spent. Sungjong is surprised neither he nor Dongwoo has gotten seriously sick during the week. Either of them could still come down with something; Sungjong remembers learning in school that going without sleep for extended periods causes the body to break down and be vulnerable to a variety of illnesses. He says a silent thank you to the snow for unwittingly providing them a little reprieve, and mentally crosses his fingers that it doesn’t let up for another day or so. They need a break.

Not wanting to disturb him but needing to be closer, Sungjong moves until he’s just touching Hoya’s side from shoulder to ankle. He curls both hands up under his chin and lets himself lean against Hoya just a little before closing his eyes again.

“Your feet are freezing.”

Sungjong jumps, his eyes flying open at Hoya’s words. There’s nothing to indicate Hoya has woken; he hasn’t moved or even cracked his eyes open.

“Hyung, you’re awake.”

“Why are your feet so cold?” Hoya’s voice is rough with sleep.

Sungjong moves his feet a few inches.

“Sorry. I got up to use the bathroom and talked with Sunggyu-hyung for a couple minutes without my slippers. The whole dorm is cold.”

Hoya turns his head towards Sungjong and blinks. Makes a low noise in his throat, scrunches up his face, and brings a hand up to rub the sleep out of his eyes.

“You can move them back,” he says. “Mine are warmer.”

Sungjong bites his lip.

“Okay,” he says then, and carefully moves his ankles back next to Hoya’s, tucking one foot under Hoya’s calf. “You should go back to sleep, hyung. It’s still early.”

Hoya moves then, turns onto his side to face him and tangles his legs more firmly with Sungjong’s. He feels the cold start to ease from his feet and lower legs.

“Thank you, Sungjong-ah.”

Sungjong looks at him in question. “For what?”

“Last night, I was – it wasn’t good. Thank you for – helping me.” Hoya narrows his eyes a little as he studies Sungjong’s face. “Why did you do that?”

Sungjong feels a sudden nervousness rising in his throat. Of course he’d helped Hoya. He’d helped because – because – “Because you’re my – “ he stops himself from saying too much, and settles on, “You’re my hyung, so of course I would help you.” He tries to keep his tone light.

“We’re all your hyungs,” says Hoya dryly, face open, mouth set in a straight line, eyes speculative. “But when was the last time you gave Sungyeol a bath and tucked him in?”

Sungjong wrinkles his nose and gives Hoya’s shoulder a small shove.

Hoya’s only reaction is to scoot closer and settle a hand lightly along the side of Sungjong’s waist. Sungjong swallows hard. His throat feels scratchy despite the water.

“Why do I get special treatment, Sungjong?”

Hoya stares at him steadily.

Sungjong takes a breath. Listens to himself breathe it fully in and out. Looks at the wall behind Hoya’s head, at Hoya’s ear, and finally looks down to stare at his own hand where it’s curled between them on the mattress. He stares at his fingers as he tries to figure out how to say it. It’s only the truth; he should be able to say it.

“It’s just. You’re - ” He glances up at Hoya, who has the grace not to tease him any further. Sungjong’s next words are quiet, almost a whisper, yet fierce. “You’re my hyung.”

Without thinking he brings his hand up and traces the outline of Hoya’s lips with his fingertips. Hoya’s eyes fall closed at that and he inhales sharply.

“You’re mine,” Sungjong finishes. His expression softens as he’s suddenly self-conscious. He pulls his hand away and averts his eyes, picking at the edge of the pillowcase by his chin. “Aren’t you?”

When he looks up, Hoya has opened his eyes and is looking at him with something Sungjong hasn’t seen before. He’s not quite sure what that look means, but it’s intense. Hoya nods slowly.


It’s only one small word, but once it’s said Sungjong feels something tight uncoiling inside him. He finds courage in the space that word has created in his chest. Yes. He brings his hand back to Hoya’s face. Hoya’s grip tightens at his waist.

“You’re mine to take care of then, hyung.”

Hoya starts to smile but then his mouth freezes and he shakes his head.

“That’s – it’s not supposed to work that way, Sungjong-ah. I’m supposed to take care of you. You’re my dongsaeng; that’s my job. I was a mess last night, I was – ”

Sungjong gets irritated at that. He moves his hand from Hoya’s cheek and wraps his arm around his hyung’s shoulder.

“Whatever. How are you supposed to take care of anybody when you don’t even have time to take care of yourself? Four and a half days without sleep, hyung. And you’re supposed to be able to do that by yourself, take care of me, whatever that means, and watch over Dongwoo-hyung too?”

“I should – ”

He tightens his arm around Hoya’s shoulders and sets his jaw. “You shouldn’t, hyung. You can’t. No one can, and they shouldn’t have to. Besides, it’s not about who should take care of who. We take care of each other, okay?” His voice has risen by the end, his eyes wide and indignant.


Sungjong had expected an argument, so when Hoya just concedes like that it throws him a little.


“Yes, Sungjong. We’ll take care of each other. You’re right.”

“I – yes, of course I am. Don’t argue.”

Hoya grins, and he looks a little more awake.

“What?” Sungjong’s tone is demanding.

“Believe me, I’ve learned not to argue with you. You’re hot when you’re bossy, so why would I?”

Sungjong gapes. Well that’s hardly –

Hoya grins a little wider. His face is still stretched taut, his eyes sunken and exhausted. But the spark, the thereness Sungjong is used to seeing in his hyung’s eyes when he looks at him, is back. Brighter, even.

“Yeah, well. Just. Yeah, okay.” Sungjong is not going to win any awards for eloquence this morning. But somehow he thinks no one’s judging.

He watches Hoya’s Adam’s apple bob as he swallows, his grin relaxing and eyelids once again dropping tiredly. Sungjong moves his free hand up between them and lets his fingers trail over the skin of Hoya’s neck, causing him to swallow again. The flesh there is soft, smooth. His fingers catch on the collar of Hoya’s t-shirt, and he curls them around it, folding it into his palm and letting his knuckles graze over the dip at the base of Hoya’s throat and the prominences where his collarbones meet. He keeps the shirt in his grip and relaxes his arm against the mattress and the base of the pillow.

The hand not resting at Sungjong’s waist inches up between them then, and Hoya presses his palm flat against Sungjong’s chest, over his heart.

“I suppose we have to get up soon,” he says, and Sungjong hears the regret in his voice.

Sungjong gives him a small, satisfied smile.

“Actually, hyung, we don’t.”

He explains the snow situation, and as he does Sungjong finds himself moving even closer to Hoya, who moves closer in turn and wraps his forearm more snugly around Sungjong’s waist. His hyung is surprised by the news but visibly relieved. A day of lost promotions seems somehow beneath his concern when he’s this tired. And Sungjong is relieved that Hoya isn’t disappointed to miss their schedules; he’s feeling pretty content being all wrapped up in each other like this, and he thinks Hoya is too.

He thinks about telling Hoya what Sunggyu just admitted to him about his relationship with the hyungs, and what Sunggyu must have concluded about Sungjong and Howon, but decides against it, at least for now. He’s not a gossip, and this really isn’t the time anyway.

“So we really don’t have to do anything at all today?”

“Well, Leader wants to do some choreography practice later, down in the building’s conference room I think, but that’s it.”

“Good,” says Hoya, “Dongwoo-hyung and I haven’t had time to practice the new songs at all this week. And don’t let me forget I have an idea I’ve been thinking about that I want to run by Sunggyu-hyung.”

“What’s that?”

“A new sub group.” Though his eyes are still sleepworn and his face only a fraction away from haggard, there’s a playful glint in his eye as he says it.

“Oh, yeah? What would that be?”

“It would be the sexiest group ever. We’ll call it Infinite S.”

Sungjong rolls his eyes and huffs. He’d seen that interview just like everyone else had.

“You have to stop saying stuff like that all the time, hyung. People will start getting the wrong idea.”

Hoya’s mouth curves up into a smirk and he raises an eyebrow.

“It’s the right idea, Sungjongie. It’s perfect. Infinite’s maknae and his adorable sidekick being amazingly hot together. Rightest idea ever.”

“You’re very funny. I’m laughing hysterically.”

“What? We’ll melt the world with our sexiness. You can show off your S-line and I’ll be your topless backup dancer. We’ll have nineteen-plus stages and cause a scandal.”

Sungjong refuses to smile. He will not encourage him. He won’t. “You, a backup dancer? That seems really unlikely.”

“Nah, it’ll be great. I want to hear you sing and see you out in front of everything.”

Sungjong hopes Hoya doesn’t feel the small shiver that runs through him at those words. His neck and ears feel hot.

“Besides,” Hoya continues, “I’ll be able to check out your ass much easier if I’m in the back.”

“Hyung!” His voice is indignant, but another shiver moves through him and this time he’s sure Hoya can probably feel it. He feels blood flushing over his face, and he frowns in irritation at his blush.

Hoya just keeps smirking, his tongue darting out to wet his lips. The hand resting at Sungjong’s waist slips under the fabric of the tank top to rest over the skin of Sungjong’s lower back, and gently nudges him a bit closer.

Sungjong complies, and takes the opportunity to pull the blankets farther up to cover their shoulders before letting his arm drop again around Hoya’s side. He stares at the shine of Hoya’s moistened lips for a long moment before looking up to meet his eyes.

“Well. If you start getting your ass home at a decent hour and ask me nicely without that smirk on your face, I might consider it.”

He doesn’t know what response he’s expecting, but he would not have guessed the one his words elicit.

Hoya’s smirk is instantly replaced by a smile so real and relaxed it shocks Sungjong’s insides into a puddle, and he finds himself settling more firmly against the wall of Hoya’s chest. Their noses are almost touching now. Hoya’s breath isn’t exactly fresh, but it’s not horrible either. Sungjong hopes his is okay. The splayed hand on his back skirts higher, fingers pressing between Sungjong’s shoulder blades and radiating warmth from their tips.

“I’ll ask whatever you want, however you want, whenever you want, Sungjong-ah,” Hoya says. “Anything you want.” His voice is raspy, still raw from sleep and maybe something else, and Sungjong can see he’s completely sincere.

Sungjong suddenly feels like his body has separated from gravity. He balls the front of Hoya’s t-shirt more tightly into his hand and clutches him closer to steady himself.



“And what do you want, hyung?” Sungjong’s voice comes out breathy, and he flushes again.

Hoya’s eyes darken at the question. He squirms against Sungjong in a way that makes Sungjong’s heartbeat stutter and his breath speed up.

“I want – I want to tell you things, Sungjong. Things I – things I want you to hear.”

Sungjong nods.

“I’m listening, hyung. You can tell me anything.”

“It’s just – I’m so tired right now I think it would come out wrong.”

Sungjong understands that.

“It’s okay, hyung. We’ve got lots of time, so don’t worry about it. Sleep first, and you can tell me later.”

Hoya nods.

“Will you stay with me, Sungjong?” His voice is as tentative as Sungjong has ever heard it. He tightens his arm around him.

“I’m not going anywhere, hyung. We’ll both sleep.”

Hoya sighs at that. Then squirms again and bites his lip. It makes Sungjong’s head feel light.

“I want – could you – would you want to kiss me, Sungjong-ah?”

It takes only the smallest of movements; Sungjong’s chin moving forward a fraction, for their lips to meet, and yes. The last licks of fire, still smoldering uneasily in his gut since Hoya and Dongwoo left them five days ago, quiet themselves. Something new rises to replace the anxious, worrying churning. It feels cool and heady, spreading to coat his chest, down his arms and into his fingers where they hold his hyung close. It stretches down his thighs and over his knees, bathing his toes as he locks his ankles around Hoya’s and presses as close to him as he can.

The coolness makes his lips tingle, and he deepens the kiss so he can share it with Howon, this feeling of previously unknown lightness. He thinks he succeeds, that his hyung can feel it too, because he smiles against Sungjong’s mouth and then parts his lips to welcome the coolness, to welcome Sungjong inside.

It’s long moments before they pull their lips apart, and when Sungjong finally eases away, he can’t help but smile at the dreamy look on Hoya’s face. There’s a hint of pink in his pale, tired cheeks. His eyes are heavy-lidded, and there’s just a suggestion of a grin on his mouth.

The grin widens as Hoya speaks.

“That was – is there anything else you want, Sungjong? Before we go to sleep? Anything at all?”

Sungjong’s smile doesn’t waver, but he can feel the flush returning to his cheeks.

“I only want one thing, Howon,” he says, and if his voice is a little shaky it’s only because he’s still trying to keep from floating off the bed.

“What’s that?” Hoya is whispering, grin still on his lips.

“I want you to stay home with me today. I don’t want you to leave my sight. And I want us to rest.”

“That’s three things, Jjongie.” Sungjong starts to glare, though it’s hard to manage when he can’t stop smiling, and Hoya jumps to add, “But, yes.” His hyung lets out a long breath and closes his eyes. “With you, definitely yes.” He yawns wide.

Sungjong presses his forehead against Hoya’s and sighs. He feels his body connect with the earth again, his joints loosening and heartbeat slowing.

“Good, hyung,” he whispers, eyes falling closed. “That’s good. That’s all I want.”

The truth is Sungjong wants more from Hoya. He wants so much more, so many things. So much that it fills him up, all of the things he wants tumbling over each other in his chest. They make his ribs ache and his head spin, his wants. But he won’t ask for any of them just now. Not when the exhaustion painting Hoya’s face isn’t easing, even with his eyes shut and his body lying in relaxed repose against Sungjong’s. Not when the dorm is quiet, all of his brothers together for the first time in a week. Not when the world is covered in a fierce blanket of white, keeping them tucked in their cluttered little nest and safe from everything outside for a short while.

Not when he thinks he can have all the things he wants from Lee Howon and probably more besides.

Not when he feels warm and calm and anchored.

They will sleep. And then they’ll dance. And the rest will sort itself out.