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Runaways

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From the moving bus, Jongwoon can already see someone waiting. He clutches his backpack a bit closer to himself, averting his eyes when the hooded man zeros in on him from his shadowed spot behind the stop.

He already knows there’s no possible way for him to fight back, not when he hasn’t eaten well in nearly two years. Pretending to have dropped something on the ground, Jongwoon quickly slips his driver’s license into his left sock and his remaining cash underneath his waistband. When the bus stops, he gets ready to get off and braces himself. As soon as he steps off the vehicle, Jongwoon runs.

Suddenly, he’s yanked back by his collar and slammed into the ground. Jongwoon’s back comes in contact with the concrete roughly, and he cries out in pain. The figure—Alpha, judging by the scent—invades his field of vision abruptly and attempts to tear the backpack out of his struggling arms, growling down at him in frustration. Jongwoon grits his teeth and spits at him, only to have a fist smashed into his eye before he finally relinquishes his grip, letting the Alpha grab it away.

However, the mugger doesn’t stop there. Jongwoon only really starts truly panicking when the Alpha pins down his arms and starts groping at his chest. He kicks out, but the Alpha straddles him, running his hands over Jongwoon’s chest until he finally reaches the waistband.

“Fuck you,” he snarls, breath hitching as he writhes in vain. His eyes widen in horror as the Alpha dips his fingers below the elastic.

Only to resurface a few seconds later, a couple of rumpled 5000 Won bills in his hands.

“Us stupid Alphas always think the same,” the mugger says lowly, standing up and delivering one harsh kick to Jongwoon’s stomach before starting to count the money. “Always thinking people won’t go for the pants.”

Jongwoon just glares at him through his watery eyes. Just as the Alpha turns away again, he gets up and breaks into a sprint, ignoring the way his body cries out at him. He scrambles for the corner, and the other lets him go, perhaps knowing that he had nothing else anyways.

He doesn’t stop until he finds a dark spot in an alley, supporting himself on the dirty brick and breathing heavily. Jongwoon’s legs cave in, and he coughs out, the action sending waves of pain through his entire body. Crashing down, he just holds himself. His ability to weep spontaneously has already been eroded away by those past years, so he just closes his eyes.

He’s awakened by an awkward light in the middle of the darkness. Jongwoon snaps his head towards the figure, but he doesn’t have enough energy to prepare himself anymore. His pockets are empty, and he has nothing left except for the driver’s license—practically useless if he’s going to be dead in less than an hour—in his sock.

The stranger approaches him calmly. Unlike what Jongwoon had thought, he doesn’t immediately lunge at him. Instead, he stops right in front of him, expression unreadable.

“You’re one of ‘them’, right?” he asks. Jongwoon squints.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he croaks honestly. The man reaches into his pocket, pulling out what seems to be a card and a pocket light, the latter which he clicks open. Jongwoon hisses, but the other doesn’t even flinch.

“Can you read? Here—” he extends the slip of paper towards him— “A business card of our establishment. We house runaways like you. You can search us up to verify.”

“I don’t have a device,” Jongwoon retorts, taking the card and narrowing his eyes. To his surprise, the man hands him his own.

“The password is 110605,” he says. Jongwoon taps it in, and it opens immediately to the main web page of a strange sort of place.

“Super… Junior?” he blinks in suspicion. He opens another tab on the browser and types it in himself, only for the exact same thing to pop up. This time though, he clicks on the website not hosted by the founders, a news source he knows vaguely. “A ‘haven’ for Alphas?”

“Just Alphas,” the man confirms. “We’re one of the first of our kind.”

“Isn’t that slightly…” Jongwoon shuts up. “Never mind.”

“We don’t just ignore Omegas,” he reassures, as if he knew what he was going to say. “We just don’t shelter them. We give them over to the Omega and Beta only sanctuaries.”

Jongwoon scrolls through the news article further. He swallows, then goes back to the original page and reads through it again.

“This type of thing really exists?”

“We keep a low profile. You can leave whenever you wish, and we won’t keep you there. We just want to help,” the man says. His eyes have softened, not pitying but empathetic. Jongwoon looks away from him, unable to stand it.

“How do I know I can trust you?” he asks quietly.

“You don’t have to. People have walked away before for various reasons. You sign a contract, and then it’s illegal for us to force you to stay if you need to leave.”

Jongwoon thinks. He pulls himself to his feet and looks the man in the eye, noticing their height difference of a few centimeters. Immediately, he stumbles, but the other man brings his arms up to support him, holding him up.

“Where is this place?” he asks, steadying himself on the wall. The man’s face breaks into a smile—relieved.

“Right with me.”

 

 

“I’m Choi Siwon,” the man introduces himself. “I’m not an employee, but I support the motel from the outside.” He extends his hand when they reach a red light on the road. Jongwoon shakes it almost wearily. They’re riding in the car now, and he still can’t bring himself to trust the other completely even though he’s the one driving.

“I’m Kim Jongwoon,” he says tersely. Siwon nods, and the conversation ends there, Jongwoon being uncomfortable and him reading the room.

The car itself seems expensive, leather seats and inoffensive air freshener. Even when they run over bumps in the road, Jongwoon can barely feel it. He glances at Siwon again, now more curious than cautious.

“We’re here,” the other Alpha says before he can ask anything. Jongwoon turns to the window, coming face to face with the motel.

His confusion must show on his face. Siwon coughs, “Like I said, we keep a low profile.” He climbs out first, holding the door for Jongwoon. He gets out cautiously, blinking at the building.

It certainly is humble, with its complete lack of loud signs and lights like he’s come to expect from other “motels” or even shelters, whatever this is. In fact, it’s so completely drab that Jongwoon is starting to doubt whether or not he’s been scammed or not, despite the new articles and websites. Siwon leads him towards the door, and it opens automatically. Jongwoon walks in, and immediately, he’s hit by a huge wave of Alpha scent.

“My God,” he mutters. He sniffs around again, almost amazed. “You really weren’t lying.”

“Masi! Back so soon!” Suddenly a loud voice rings through the lobby, and Jongwoon flinches. He whirls around to see another man approaching them.

“Shindong-hyung!” Siwon engulfs the man in an embrace, “I didn’t see you earlier.”

“You always hug others like you’re going to marry them one day,” ‘Shindong’ grouses, but he’s smiling as he extracts himself from Siwon’s grip. He turns to Jongwoon, expression shifting to curiosity. “Is that a new resident?”

“Pulled him off the streets,” Siwon confirms. “Kim Jongwoon.”

Jongwoon bows, and Shindong nods in his direction. “We’ve been dying to meet someone new for a while now,” he says, “Everyone’s kind of bored with each other.”

“That’s not true. You always keep yourself entertained here,” Siwon responds with a chuckle. Shindong laughs.

“Just let me try to make the new guy feel welcomed, okay?” he responds. “Anyways, I’m just heading out. Kyuhyun’s already off for the night, so you’ll probably have to go to Leeteuk-hyung directly. I’ll see you soon.”

“Soon, Hyung,” Siwon promises. Shindong waves at them one last time before disappearing into another hallway off to the side. Jongwoon watches him go, a strange feeling in his chest. “That’s Shin Donghee or Shindong. He used to be a resident, but now he manages everything.”

“Who’s… Leeteuk?” Jongwoon questions. They start walking in one direction, past the receptionist desk.

“He’s the one who founded the Super Junior Motel.” Suddenly, they stop in front of a door at the end of the hall. It’s decorated with a few signs and photos of men grinning jovially at each other. “And he’s the head.” He knocks.

“Who is it?” a voice calls from the other side, pleasant yet tired.

“Siwon! I’ve brought someone along.”

The sounds of footsteps makes Jongwoon’s knees tremble a bit, but before long, a man opens the door.

Then, he’s hit with the scent. It’s the exact same type of scent that he’s been smelling constantly for almost the past few years, though far more muted. Jongwoon steps backwards, his eyes widening.

“You’re an… Omega?”

Leeteuk looks surprised for a second before his gaze turns more professional. He shuts the door behind him, and suddenly, Jongwoon can breathe again.

“Are you comfortable with that?” the Omega asks.

“I—what?”

“I usually don’t do registrations,” he explains, “Usually, Kyuhyun’s the one that does it in the front, but he’s already headed home.”

“Do you want me to call him? He won’t mind as long as we pay him overtime,” Siwon pipes in. Jongwoon looks between the two of them almost incredulously.

“No, it’s alright. I’m not bothered by Leeteuk-ssi being an Omega,” he says slowly. Leeteuk nods, listening closely.

“Is the scent a bit too much?” he questions.

“Ah… Yes…” Jongwoon admits. He hooks his fingers together, fidgeting slightly. When he notices Leeteuk’s gaze though, he stops. Leeteuk smiles at him gently, bringing out a clipboard and setting it on his lap.

“I’ll definitely keep that in mind. So, let’s start with the questions?” he suggests. Jongwoon nods. “Full name?”

“Kim Jongwoon.”

“Date of birth?”

“August 24th, 1984.”

“How long has it been since you ran away?”

“Uh, just today.”

“Do you have a driver’s license?”

“Yeah, wait—” Jongwoon reaches downwards and pulls it from his sock, hesitating a little before extending it to the Omega. “Sorry, it’s a bit beaten up.”

“We’ll treat your black eye later,” Leeteuk promises. “Do you have any cash on you?”

And like that, the questions continue. They ask whether or not Jongwoon has anyone chasing him or not,—not to his knowledge—whether or not he has access to a bank account,—not a private one, and if he has a phone—he did, but he didn’t take it with him. By the end, he’s fully exhausted, the day catching up to him in full. The pain in his stomach—which had faded earlier—has returned, and he’s barely able to keep his eyes open. Leeteuk, apparently noting this, speeds things up.

“Have you been mated before?”

Jongwoon stiffens. He can see Siwon glancing at him from the edges of his vision, and he gulps down the lump in his throat. Slowly, he raises his hands towards his collar and pulls it downwards, revealing a bright and angry mark.

“Yes.”

Leeteuk marks something down. Siwon looks sympathetic.

“Lastly, are there any preferences you have for a room? For example: no loud noises, a larger space, etc.? And not just for a room, anything in general.”

Leeteuk swallows. He wipes his palms on his lap and stares down into it intently.

“I—I would like a nice view please,” he stutters. Leeteuk smiles again and marks it down.

“We have one available. Just read the terms and sign here. Don’t worry, the first few months are free, and we can negotiate based on your circumstances.”

Jongwoon takes the pencil and paper again. He reads carefully, the feeling in his chest growing stronger with every word.

“You alright?” Siwon asks, a concerned glint in his eyes. Jongwoon nods stiffly and takes a big breath.

“I’m not signing my freedom away again, right?” he chokes out. Leeteuk's face shifts into something sadder, and he shakes his head.

“You can leave whenever you want,” he says. “Whether it’s because you feel unsafe or if you feel ready to get your own place, we’ve had people do all those things before.”

“Okay.” Jongwoon grips the pen in his hand. “Okay.”

He signs.

“Welcome to Super Junior,” Leeteuk says, smiling again. “I hope you enjoy your stay here.”

 

 

Jongwoon’s room is at the end of the hallway. By now, Siwon has bid them goodbye for the night, leaving him and Leeteuk alone. The Omega shows him the room first before handing him his keys and guiding him somewhere else.

“I’ll be retiring, but I’ll be right in my office,” he says. “You don’t have to come in, just knock.”

“Ah, okay,” Jongwoon bows. “Goodnight, Leeteuk-ssi.”

“Call me Hyung if you want,” the Omega replies easily, “After all, I am only one year older than you.”

“Only one year?” Jongwoon echoes. Leeteuk laughs.

“I look young, don’t I? Goodnight to you too, Jongwoon.”

With that, he leaves. Jongwoon keeps his eyes on him until he disappears, and he lets out a sigh. He looks at the keys in his hand and the slight metallic smell coming off of them, marked with the room number. In his other hand, Leeteuk has handed him a slip of paper with another room number on it and a name.

“... Kim Ryeowook?” he wonders.

He looks down the hall again, following the sequential ordering of the numbers to a room closer to the exit. Cautiously, he raises his hand and knocks.

“Hello?”

“Who is it?” The door opens suddenly to reveal a shorter man with perceptive eyes and bow-like lips. Jongwoon bows.

“Hello, I’m a new resident. Leeteuk-ssi—Leeteuk-hyung says you can help with this?” he points towards his eye, and Ryeowook instantly understands.

“Oh, come in! You must’ve been a pretty short notice arrival. Excuse the mess—” he beckons him into what looks like the living room area, and Jongwoon enters carefully. It smells like Alpha, except sweeter. The scent isn’t overpowering or particularly odorous at all, but he wrinkles his nose.

“My scent’s a bit messed up, right?” Ryeowook comes in behind him. He drags out a chair and gestures for Jongwoon to take a seat. “I have a hormone imbalance and can’t afford the medicine yet, so it’s just like this.”

“Ah—I’m sorry,” Jongwoon says awkwardly, sitting down. Ryeowook heads somewhere deeper in the room to open what seems to be the refrigerator, returning with a bag of ice. He grabs a spare towel from the top of a clothing pile and wraps it in it.

“Hold this to your eye,” he instructs. Jongwoon complies easily, letting the coldness swallow up the swelling. “Do you have any other injuries?”

“I got kicked in the stomach earlier,” he confesses. Ryeowook nods.

“After twenty minutes, take that off your eye and hold it to the area of impact. Switch one more time, then I’ll give you more ice.”

“Thank you.”

Ryeowook blinks at him curiously. “Man of few words, aren’t you?” he says bluntly. Jongwoon averts his eyes.

“Actually… well…”

“Ah, you just have to warm up to us, right? Everything will be alright.”

He presses his lips together but nods. Ryeowook stands up again, heading behind. He watches him pull something else out of the refrigerator, a tupperware.

“Have you eaten—wait, I’ve never asked for your name, right? What’s your name?”

“Kim Jongwoon. I was… born in 1984,” he offers the information automatically. Ryeowook hums.

“You’re a hyung then. Hungry? I’ve got kimchi stew.” He holds the container up.

Jongwoon can feel his stomach rumble in hunger. It’s probably been twenty hours since he’d last eaten and even longer since he’d had a good meal. He looks at Ryeowook again, and the Alpha’s eyes are kind and transparent. He swallows again, letting the saliva fill his mouth. Taking a deep breath, he faces it.

“I’d like some, thank you.”

 

 

An hour later, he’s throwing up into Ryeowook’s toilet, the younger patting his back sympathetically.

“You ate too quickly,” he explains. Jongwoon just looks at him, eyes teary.

“Well no fucking shit.”

He slaps his hand over his mouth at that, before he has to bend over the toilet again to dry heave into it. Ryeowook looks startled for a second before breaking into laughter, sound clear and fresh.

“So you can cuss pretty well!”

Jongwoon can only retch in response, and the younger Alpha goes back to consoling him.

 

 

He gets to know the others in the motel fairly quickly.

“The building is small to begin with, but there are so many empty rooms that it makes Teukie-hyung frustrated sometimes. He says there are too many Alphas that can’t find this place but need it. Right now, we only have about five residents, including you.”

“Only five?”

“Honestly, we only really have space for ten if everyone gets their own rooms but yeah.”

Jongwoon can’t stop the surprise from showing on his face. He sets his spoon down, glancing around the room. It’s decently sized for something that’s only one room. Ryeowook hums at his reaction, folding his hands over his lap.

“I should tell you a bit about the guys.”

Jongwoon only sleeps about three hours before he’s woken up, the light softly streaming in through the window. His room is still at its most barebones state, the walls uncolored and the only furniture being the bunk bed, a table, and a couple of chairs. He winces as he turns onto his side, touching his black eye lightly.

When Jongwoon can finally muster the energy to get up, he frees the sun from the curtains and unlocks it, breathing in the fresh air. In all honesty, it smells like petrol and drying tar, but at least it’s different from the stifling scent he was forced to wear on himself back then.

It takes him another hour to allow himself to peek out his front door.

“Leeteuk-hyung, you’ve probably heard about him from Siwon already. He’s usually in his office, but you can catch him during mealtimes.”

True to Ryeowook’s words, Leeteuk is nowhere to be seen in the morning. Jongwoon lets it be, especially because he has no desire in going into that office again.

“Choi Siwon’s the main shareholder and helps us the most financially. He’s the heir to a famous company, but his father still has most of the reins, so he feels like he can’t help as much as he would like.”

Siwon’s not around either. According to Ryeowook, he has a separate job besides taking care of Super Junior, so he can only visit occasionally.

“And also, there’s another employee here. His name is... Cho Kyuhyun. He’s a Beta and he works the desk.”

When he first sees him, Kyuhyun is on his phone, tapping concentratedly at the screen. Jongwoon doesn’t have the courage to interrupt, passing him with only a slight nod that the young Beta probably can’t even see.

“Finally, the Alphas. Kim Heechul, the oldest resident and the most senior. He’s been here the longest since the founding, and rumor is that Leeteuk-hyung started this all because of him.”

Heechul is sharp tongued and beautiful. Jongwoon meets him just as the older Alpha is ducking out of Leeteuk’s office. He grimaces at the Omega scent, and Heechul similarly wrinkles his nose.

“You’re the new one, aren’t you? Come with me, you smell like vomit.”

The older Alpha drags him into a public bathhouse, which is thankfully empty in the morning. Heechul sighs in relief as he sinks into the water, gesturing at Jongwoon to follow. The younger tries to exercise caution at first only to lose it all in the face of the mind-numbing comfort of the hot bath, even if he is naked in front of a guy he had only met an hour ago.

Needless to say, they get to know each other well after that.

“Shin Donghee or Shindong is the second oldest and has been here the shortest. However, he’s quickly made himself a place inside the business of the motel and earns a salary taking care of the technical things.”

“You’re Kim Jongwoon, right? We met last night.” On their second meeting, Shindong extends a hand towards him with a large smile rounding his face. Jongwoon shakes it, feeling strangely like a business partner rather than a flatmate.

“It’s nice to meet you, Shindong-ssi,” he greets politely. Shindong blinks.

“We’re not strangers, are we? You don’t have to be so formal,” he points out. Jongwoon fidgets with his hands, rubbing his thumbs together.

“Call me Hyung then?” he suggests timidly. Shindong grins.

“Call me Shindong then.”

“Shindong-hyung!”

Suddenly, a muscled body barrels into the other Alpha along with a loud cry, completely circling his waist with his arms. Shindong splutters in disgust, shoving the other off of him.

“Lee Donghae I swear—”

“Lee Donghae got here right after Heechul. He’s got a job collecting garbage around the neighborhood. He gets up early for it so you’d have better luck catching him in the afternoon.”

“Hyung!” Donghae stares at them with his puppy-like eyes, and even Jongwoon can feel his heart bend a little. Shindong however, seems to be resistant to it, turning his head disdainfully away from the younger. Donghae wilts even more, and at this point Jongwoon can’t do anything except helplessly look between the two of them. Shindong scoffs.

“Don’t be disrespectful,” he scolds the younger, “Haven’t you been whining all month about wanting someone new?”

“Wait, you’re the new guy?” he immediately whips his head towards him, and Jongwoon has to avert his eyes from the sheer enthusiasm rolling off of this guy. He’s too excited. Too damn handsome.

“Uh, that’s me,” he says. Donghae’s face breaks into a wide smile.

“Nice to meet you! I’ve been waiting for such a long time—”

“Then there’s uh, me. I came here only a little earlier before Shindong-hyung and am still looking for a job. Well, I do… busking sometimes? But that doesn’t really count…”

“You two are going to scare him off,” Ryeowook’s high voice echoes through the hallway. Jongwoon whirls around to see the shorter Alpha casually strutting towards him. He relaxes a little bit at seeing the familiar face, the anxiety calming.

“Good morning, Ryeowook,” he greets. Ryeowook waves in his direction.

“You two met yesterday, right? For his eye,” Shindong deducts. Jongwoon nods.

“I’m very grateful.”

During all this, Donghae just looks at him, tilting his head. “You’re a bit strange,” he declares. Ryeowook elbows him. “But don’t worry, everyone’s like that when they first come,” he adds after.

“Let’s just go eat,” the youngest sighs. “C’mon Jongwoon-hyung.” Him and Shindong start going on ahead. Donghae lags behind, pouting slightly. Jongwoon observes him, scratching at his arm.

“Uh—I’m good with skinship if you were… curious,” he says to the other Alpha directly for the first time. Donghae looks startled at first, but then he beams while leaning onto his shoulder, filling Jongwoon with this inexplicably warm feeling.

They go off together then, to get lunch.

 

 

“Single Alpha?” The interviewer raises her eyebrow at him. Jongwoon presses his lips together.

“Yes.”

The Omega takes another look at his resume, flipping the pages over on her clipboard. He’s lucky enough that Kyuhyun had let him borrow the reception’s computer to write his resume and that Shindong knows a lot more about Microsoft Word than he does.

“I think you’d find a better job elsewhere,” she says upfront.

“Thank you.”

He bows. Donghae’s suit is a little short on him but far too bulky. It makes him look far frowzier than he actually is, coupled with the fact that he hasn’t shaved in a few days and that his black eye is still well and alive on his left side.

When he looks back up, the Omega’s narrowed eyes are a clear sign to get out.

 

 

“It’s not your fault.”

Shindong places a small tray of bread in front of him, and Jongwoon hesitates to eat it, tearing it in half and nibbling on the smaller piece.

“It’s okay, I’m not dejected.”

But he is. It probably shows on his face. Shindong sighs.

“Seriously though, it isn’t. Employers always hesitate to hire Alphas that don’t look their quote unquote best, especially ones without any current partners. They say they’re too unreliable that way, or they’re taking up job positions that could be given to Alphas with families or Omegas in general.”

“That sounds… fair enough.”

Shindong snorts at that. “There’s a reason I started working here in the first place. Siwon pays more than minimum wage.”

Jongwoon buries his head in his hands. “I wish I could afford a suit. Damn robber took everything I had,” he mumbles. Shindong pats him on the back.

“It’s good if you let it all out.”

 

 

Jongwoon goes to more job interviews. He leaves all of them without a job.

“I thought the polite thing to do was to leave an email instead of saying it to my face,” he says to Donghae, who shrugs. He still smells like steam from the shower he always takes after work, not wanting the scent of garbage to intrude into the motel's air.

“Did you put down an email address to write to?”

“I’ve never had a private one,” he admits. Donghae makes a noise in the back of his throat.

“You should have one,” he says firmly. Jongwoon just nods, but he smiles unconsciously. He reaches towards the younger Alpha’s hair and ruffles it. Donghae turns to him, an astonished look in his eyes.

“Hyung—” he sniffs. Jongwoon shoves a spoonful of doenjang stew into his mouth before he can start crying.

Later, he has Shindong walk him through creating an email account. There’s little more he can do than watch the younger panic over the viruses he might have accidentally downloaded onto the software.

“How did you even get tricked so badly? I thought you put 'office worker' onto your resume? How did you even survive in a place like that?”

“I don’t know,” he says helplessly, “I don’t know.”

 

 

“I heard you’re getting closer to Donghae now,” Ryeowook says, spooning some tteokbokki into Jongwoon’s bowl. “He sort of has that effect on people.” They’re the only ones left here in the morning, Donghae off on his job and Shindong trying to make their webpage more accessible.

“I’m getting closer to everyone,” Jongwoon replies because it’s true. And because something in the other Alpha’s musky-sweet scent tells him that it’s the right answer. Ryeowook hums.

“Kyuhyun told me that a new Alpha’s coming soon,” he says. “They found us online through our website.”

“Kyuhyun tells you a lot,” Jongwoon observes. Ryeowook glares at him.

“I hope you choke on the delicious food I make for you. And eat more of it, for God’s sake!”

Contrary to Jongwoon’s rather lackluster reaction however, he is curious about the new Alpha. It’s already been a week since he first came, but based on the arrival dates of the other four Alphas, it’s an extremely small gap between new residents.

“What do you think he’ll be like?” he asks Ryeowook, who shrugs.

“Alphas run away for a variety of reasons,” he replies vaguely. Jongwoon swallows. He stares into his fire red bowl of tteokbokki, which he hasn’t touched.

“Did Kyuhyun say anything else?”

Ryeowook chews on his lip. “No,” he decides. Jongwoon hums.

 

 

He takes a break from job interviews to clean out the extra rooms in preparation for the new Alpha’s arrival, mostly just hitting dust out of tables and scrubbing rust off of metal bed frames.

“Goddamn, they should get some new beds in here. It smells like a robot has bled out,” Heechul complains. Somehow, Leeteuk had convinced him to help out with the process, which is honestly a relief because the older Alpha is a whole lot better at the whole cleaning thing than Jongwoon is.

“We can’t afford it! I’ve crunched all the numbers,” Shindong shouts from the outside.

“Your arms are too skinny!” Donghae adds after that. It isn’t clear who he’s talking to, but judging from the size of the metal frame he’s currently carrying in one arm right now, it’s at least a little bit irritating.

“Damn bastards,” Heechul curses, “Always saying shit.”

“Fucking kids,” Jongwoon agrees automatically. He doesn’t notice Heechul shoots him a surprised glance. What he does notice however is the older clapping him on the back and crowing with laughter.

“You’re my favorite, Jongwoon-ah,” he says warmly. Jongwoon’s chest feels strange. It’s the first time someone has said that to him without other connotations.

It’s nice though. It is.

“Heechul-hyung, do you have a job?” he wonders out loud. Heechul freezes for a split second before he slams the duster into the corner, effectively clearing it of all dirt. Jongwoon watches in amazement.

“You know, the only place that wants to hire me is the brothel,” he says. “Have you seen this face?”

“You’re very pleasing to look at,” Jongwoon responds. Heechul hits him again, this time with the other end of the duster.

“Shut up, brat. Don’t just agree with everything I say, it’s annoying!”

“But I thought—”

“You know we have other rooms to clean, right?” Ryeowook peeks in. “Hey, you two are doing pretty well though. Better than ShinDonghae is.”

“Of course we are,” Heechul huffs. “Shindong’s a hoarder, and the only things Donghae knows how to clean are his dumbbells.”

Jongwoon laughs. Ryeowook raises an eyebrow, but he laughs too.

 

 

“Are you going to wait for him to arrive?” Donghae asks him, his legs swinging from the lobby’s couch. They’re both waiting for the new Alpha’s arrival, Donghae because he’s guilty he wasn’t able to see Jongwoon at first and Jongwoon because he has nothing better to do. He nods in affirmative, licking his dry lips again.

“I’m not asleep until the sun’s at least halfway across the sky anyways,” he says. Donghae looks like he’s about to say something, but he stops midway, eyebrows furrowing. Jongwoon elbows the younger Alpha lightly, not wanting to worry him. “It’s a good thing coffee exists, right?” he jokes. Donghae manages a small smile. On the other side of the room, Kyuhyun stretches, yawning loudly.

“I swear, if this guy doesn’t get here quickly—” he grumbles. He’s usually like that, more of a grump than almost everyone in the motel put together—excluding Heechul. Sometimes, Jongwoon doubts that Kyuhyun’s really that many years younger than him, but other times,

“You’re just bitter that Ryeowook wouldn’t sacrifice his beauty sleep for you,” Donghae teases. The glare he receives from the Beta is murderous.

“Shut up, Hyung,” he sighs and flops down into the chair. “Really though, how long will we have to wait?”

Donghae leaves the couch to throw an arm around his shoulder, guiding him upwards and towards the back where the kitchen area is.

“We’re going to get something. You coming?” he calls behind him.

Jongwoon shakes his head. Donghae gives him a thumbs up and drags Kyuhyun out. The youngest’s eyes linger on him for a moment before tearing themselves away.

They’re only gone for about three minutes when the automatic doors suddenly slide open and a figure stumbles in, a bag on his shoulder. Jongwoon runs over, catching him just before he tilts onto the ground.

The first thing Jongwoon notices about the new Alpha is that his scent is muddled, like a mix between Alpha and others. It’s not like Ryeowook’s. It smells like…

The man suddenly groans.

“A-are you okay?” Jongwoon snaps out of his daze, stuttering. The Alpha cracks his sunken eyes open at him, and the beanie on his head slides down onto the floor, revealing a head of bright blue hair.

Jongwoon almost drops him.

“Is this… Super Junior?” the man rasps. Jongwoon swallows.

“Yes.”

He manages to carry him over to the couch, laying the slender frame delicately onto the soft leather. The Alpha shifts uncomfortably, eyelids scrunching. Jongwoon just stands above him, unsure of what to do.

“I’ll go get someone—” he starts, but the man’s hand quickly comes upwards to grip the hem of his shirt like a vice, eyes pleading. Jongwoon’s breath hitches, his heart palpitating dangerously.

“Please stay,” the Alpha pleads, voice only a whisper. Jongwoon can only nod, settling down right next to him. Gently, he tries to pry the man’s fingers off of his sleeve, but it only relocates at his hand, engulfing his smaller palm into a desperate grip.

It’s cold.

Jongwoon blinks at him but doesn’t protest, letting the other hold onto him even though they’re total and complete strangers. It makes him feel nice, needed.

Of course, that equilibrium is broken when Donghae and Kyuhyun come back to the lobby, admittedly not loudly but loud enough to shock the new Alpha awake. Jongwoon squeezes his hand on instinct, and to his surprise, he calms him down that way. But it doesn’t last long when suddenly, Donghae drops his cup of water onto the floor, sending the paper cup ricocheting off the carpet and the liquid sinking into the ground.

“What the hell!” Kyuhyun complains, but the other doesn’t respond. Instead, his eyes are wide in shock, lips moving only slightly.

“Hyuk... jae?”

The Alpha jerks at the sound of the name, and he stands up suddenly, all traces of exhaustion replaced by the same emotion that has carved itself into Donghae’s face.

“Oh my God.”

The new Alpha staggers forward into Donghae, and Donghae wraps him in a bone-shattering hug, burying his head into the other’s shoulder. They crash into the ground together, clutching at the backs of each other’s shirts and clawing at each other’s arms. The oily scent of the newcomer is quickly smothered by the relieved scent of Donghae, who crushes the other’s much smaller frame to his chest like a lifeline.

Jongwoon is frozen on the couch as he watches tears stream down his dongsaeng’s face, but nothing makes him more surprised than when the new Alpha grasps him just as tightly and wails, his sobs rippling through his entire body.

Him and Kyuhyun make eye contact. The Beta shakes his head.

They’ll have to deal with this later.

Chapter Text

“Lee Hyukjae.”

For the sake of privacy, Kyuhyun orders Donghae and Jongwoon to leave the lobby as he fills in Hyukjae’s information, though the former greatly protests at this. All Jongwoon can do is place a hand onto the younger Alpha’s shoulder and shake his head, guiding him into his room where they sit together now.

“His name?”

“Yes.”

Donghae’s eyes are still rimmed red, and his breathing stutters at the end. Jongwoon pulls him closer to himself, even while knowing that it’s only a bad replacement for the comfort he actually needs.

“We were best friends. But then…”

He loses all ability to speak after that, voice breaking into a sob. All Jongwoon can do is keep stroking him lightly on the arm and hope that Kyuhyun will be done soon. After all, it isn’t like he doesn’t have burning questions either.

He touches his chest. His heart is still beating what feels like a million miles per hour. Jongwoon swallows, and he curls his hand into a fist.

The mark on his neck hurts.

When the knocks come, Donghae immediately jumps to his feet, practically tearing the door open. Kyuhyun greets him, with the new Alpha—Hyukjae—standing closely behind him, head bowed. Donghae goes past the Beta to embrace him again, pressing the other’s eyes to his shoulder. Kyuhyun clears his throat.

“I’ve assigned Hyukjae to the room beside yours,” he tells Donghae. “But he says he wants to stay with you for now.”

“That’s alright,” the Alpha says, clutching the other to his chest. “That’s absolutely alright.”

Kyuhyun nods. “I’ll tell Leeteuk-hyung.” He pads away, leaving only the three of them together, Jongwoon inside of the room and the other two just outside the doorway. Jongwoon stands awkwardly, letting Donghae lead Hyukjae in before bowing to the both of them.

“I don’t want to intrude so—” he says quietly. Donghae brushes Hyukjae’s bangs out of his face and nods in his direction.

“Thanks Hyung,” he murmurs. Jongwoon can only stiffly smile before ducking out as quickly as he can, speed-walking toward his room and slamming the door behind him. He touches his heart, before curling his hand into a fist.

It’s weird. This feeling is… weird.

He’s afraid of it.

 

 

Hyukjae isn’t anywhere to be seen even days after his arrival. The first day, Donghae had called in sick to his job to take care of his friend. Oftentimes, Jongwoon can see him running in and out of his room, carrying with him plates of food and spare bottles of shampoo. He briefly contemplates trying to help the younger Alpha out, but Donghae is in far too much of a rush to notice him hanging around his door, zooming right by him. Jongwoon figures it’s natural. They’re naturally protective after all.

Today, he has another job interview. He feels close to giving up, but he tugs Donghae’s pants up his legs anyways and tries to rub away the dark circles that have formed underneath his eyes.

On the way out, he runs into Leeteuk.

Leeteuk is strange and elusive. Jongwoon has since concluded that the Omega must be wearing scent suppressors by the fact that he doesn’t choke when he passes the office on his way out of the door. And it isn’t just for him either, the eldest has been wearing them since way before he even arrived, judging by just how sterile he smells outside of his office.

“Oh, Jongwoon-ah!” the older Omega greets, heading in his direction. Jongwoon blinks. There are bags under the other’s eyes as well.

“Leeteuk-s—Leeteuk-hyung,” he corrects himself. The Omega smiles at him tiredly.

“Are you doing well? Heechul tells me that you always get iced coffee in the morning. Here.” He hands him the cup he’s been holding, much to Jongwoon’s surprise. He takes it slowly, not quite knowing how to respond.

“W-what about yours?” he blurts out.

“Don’t worry, there’s a coffee machine in my room,” Leeteuk shrugs. “Plus, you have a job interview, right? It’d be better for you to be energized.”

“Ah, thank you.”

Time is ticking. Jongwoon says goodbye first, flailing uselessly when it comes to conversation with the Omega. Leeteuk just waves him out, shoulders hunched and dimples showing. “Good luck!” he shouts.

Jongwoon opens his mouth to call back but decides against it, quickly rounding the corner away from the motel. Once he’s out of sight, he massages his throat, wincing.

 

 

“Your voice, isn’t it a bit too soft for an Alpha?” The Beta interviewer taps his pen on the table, making Jongwoon jump slightly with each click. He clears his throat.

“I’ve always been a little soft-spoken,” he says. "I like listening to others above my own opinions."

“Don’t say anything that makes us seem like animals rather than people,” the younger Alpha says. “Betas and Omegas have always got it down because they know how to follow directions, but it’s the Alpha’s instinct to want to take control. I mean, that’s why we get killed more often.”

The final comment sounds like a joke but isn’t said like one. Jongwoon doesn’t laugh. Shindong purses his lips. “Basically, don’t seem too wild.”

“But what if they want someone a bit more… confident?” he wonders. That’s one of the reasons he wasn’t hired at the last job. Shindong just shrugs.

“It’s always a gamble. You just gotta find a way to know what they want.”

“Thank you for your time. We’ll email you soon,” the Beta says. Jongwoon blinks.

“Oh—thank you!”

 

 

It isn’t surprising that Hyukjae still hasn’t left the room when Jongwoon returns. Donghae isn’t back either, needing to go back to his job. He finds Ryeowook trying to knock at the wrong door, holding a dish of scallion pancakes.

“You’ve met him, right?” the younger Alpha asks him worriedly when he sees him, “I haven’t been spending too much time here, so I haven’t seen him around yet. Do you think he’d like these?”

“He’s staying in Donghae’s room,” Jongwoon says instead, ignoring the ache that suddenly comes from his stomach at the sight of the fragrant pancakes. “They knew each other before.”

Ryeowook’s expression shifts into one of surprise. “Really? That’s really unusual! Ah wait… Is that why he hasn’t come out yet?” he wonders. “Should I just wait until Donghae returns?”

Jongwoon thinks. He moves over to Donghae’s door, and before Ryeowook can stop him, he raps his knuckles lightly over the wood, a hollow noise vibrating out on the surface. The younger Alpha looks at him incredulously but quickly regains his composure, calling out:

“Hello Hyukjae-ssi! I’m Ryeowook from down the hallways and uh—I was wondering if you were hungry? I have some scallion pancakes here…” Ryeowook trails off only to glance at Jongwoon, who has his gaze fixed on the front of the entrance. He nudges him, but the older Alpha doesn’t look away.

It takes a few seconds for there to be any movement behind the door. Jongwoon and Ryeowook both jump as it suddenly clicks open, revealing an exhausted face out along with the startlingly blue hair from yesterday night. Jongwoon’s eyes widen slightly, though not because he’s too surprised to see those things specifically. Instead, that emotion spreads through his torso again, invading.

“Oh!” Ryeowook exclaims. Unlike him, this is his first time meeting the other Alpha. His expression quickly turns apologetic at his loud reaction. “Ah, that was impolite, wasn’t it? Here.” He holds out the plate of pancakes towards the other, who eyes it cautiously and takes it slowly.

“Thank you,” Hyukjae says quietly. His eyes flick briefly over Jongwoon, who just averts his eyes awkwardly. Unbeknownst to this, Ryeowook smiles at the other Alpha genially.

“You don’t have to rush to get to know the others before you’re ready. I’m right across the hall if you need me,” he says brightly. This time, he does elbow Jongwoon a little more harshly, who swallows.

“Me too. I’m at the very end if you’d like to find me,” he manages. Hyukjae bows his head to both of them politely before shutting the door.

“I hope he isn’t going to be scared off by Heechul-hyung,” Ryeowook frets. Jongwoon can only agree.

Less than an hour later though, he finds the plate on the ground, next to the entry of Donghae’s room. There’s no note, but as he runs his fingertips over it, he finds no trace of excess oil left. Jongwoon looks back over to the door, a strange curiosity enveloping his chest.

He finds himself wanting to know Lee Hyukjae.

 

 

Unfortunately though, he doesn’t get much of a chance to. Not when he finally opens that email a few days after on the receptionist computer, heart beating wildly out of his chest.

Jongwoon gasps. Behind him, Kyuhyun whoops.

“He got hired!” the Beta cries.

“I got hired,” Jongwoon whispers in astonishment. Kyuhyun quickly throws him out of the chair and hugs him hard, his long arms wrapping around his shoulders and squeezing tightly. He doesn’t even have time to be shocked when Donghae bursts from his room, hair still wet and a towel still wrapped around his waist.

“You got hired?” He says it as a question, but he’s already heading towards Jongwoon to engulf both him and Kyuhyun into a crushing embrace, his grin pressing into the older Alpha’s shoulders. Jongwoon stumbles backwards, but a smile slowly unfolds from his lips. He brings his arms up around them and presses them close to his body.

“What’s going on, what’s happening?” Shindong wanders out from his room, a pencil still balanced on his ear. Jongwoon staggers forward, and to the other Alpha’s surprise, hugs him too.

“I’m hired,” he says. Shindong blinks, then grins.

“I knew you could do it, Hyung.”

 

 

“Sorry, I couldn’t make you a bigger celebratory dinner. Siwon’s supposed to come soon with more ingredients tomorrow,” Ryeowook apologizes, clearing the dirty dishes off the table. Donghae had fallen asleep after shedding tears again, this time for a variety of different reasons. Shindong offered to carry him back to his room, citing Hyukjae as the reason they couldn’t just leave him in the dining room.

“He’d get worried if they really are long lost best friends or something. I have to meet the guy anyways,” Shindong grunts as he shifts Donghae’s muscled body onto his back, the other murmuring sleepily. Jongwoon just waves goodnight to him when he leaves.

Meanwhile, Heechul had come and gone, clapping Jongwoon on the back jovially with a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. Jongwoon pulls him into an embrace too, which makes the older go red and splutter. It’s amusing. Leeteuk smiles from behind them both, watching the whole display with a twinkle before Jongwoon eventually tugs him in too.

“You’ve changed a lot, Jongwoon-ah,” Heechul says once they part. Jongwoon shakes his head.

“I’m just happy,” he says, not untruthfully.

“I’m glad,” Leeteuk says. Jongwoon resists the urge to comfort him, even if he doesn’t know why. They bid each other sweet dreams and send each other off for the night, and the eldest leaves after that. However, Heechul lingers even after Leeteuk is gone.

“Be careful,” he murmurs. He grasps at Jongwoon’s hands and just holds them, as if he’s thinking about saying something.

But he says nothing more, simply following after Leeteuk after another moment. Jongwoon caresses his knuckles where Heechul had touched, bringing it up to his nose. It smells sweet.

And Hyukjae is nowhere to be found.

In the present, Jongwoon shakes his head at the Ryeowook apology. “It’s alright, Ryeowook-ah. I’m just glad that I can start to make some contribution to the motel,” he replies. The younger Alpha just hums.

“Buy me a Dutch Oven then,” he says casually, “for the good of the team.” When Jongwoon just stares at him blankly, Ryeowook sighs. “You really need to get into the kitchen someday. It’s a basic pot.”

“Only if you teach me,” he responds. From behind him, he can hear a gag.

“Stop flirting, you two.” Kyuhyun joins them. Ryeowook splutters, almost dropping his plates.

“We—we weren’t!” he defends himself. “It was just a joke, okay! Don’t get the wrong idea!” Jongwoon blinks. This is the first time he’s seen the younger Alpha so flustered. Kyuhyun doesn’t reply to that, just taking some of the dirty dishes out of Ryeowook’s hands and brushing some of the crumbs off the table.

“Jongwoon-hyung, you can go to sleep now. After all, you got hired, right? You should rest,” he says to him without sparing him a glance. He retrieves a towel from the other side of the room and starts wetting it, setting down the plates in his other hand. Ryeowook has tensed up, his eyes flicking towards the Beta almost nervously.

Jongwoon looks between the two of them. Then, he stands up, nodding knowingly.

“Good night then. Hope you two can clean up quickly,” he says.

“Congrats, Hyung.” The corner of Ryeowook’s lips curl up. Jongwoon smiles at them one more time before he heads to his room. When he disappears from view, Kyuhyun finally gazes up at Ryeowook, thinking about something.

“You’re jealous, aren’t you?” he asks honestly. Ryeowook looks away and goes back to picking up plates.

“I’m glad for Jongwoon-hyung. He was pretty beaten up when he first came here,” he says. Kyuhyun frowns.

“You’ve been trying for a long time,” he points out. “You sure you’ve got no hard feelings? It would make more sense if that were the case, you know.”

“Why would I have hard feelings? He’s a good person and a good Alpha. He deserves this.”

“Ryeowo—”

“Let’s get everything cleaned up quickly, okay?” Ryeowook interrupts. “After all, you aren’t supposed to be here this late anyways.”

Kyuhyun looks like he wants to say something more, but one more glance at the Alpha deters him from it. Instead, he just furrows his brows and sighs.

“You also deserve it…”

 

 

Jongwoon adjusts his tie nervously. The edges of his sleeves flap at his sides, but they fit better than Donghae’s did.

Having worked up the courage in the early morning to ask Heechul for some extra clothes and advice—he doesn’t have the nerves to knock on Donghae’s door where Hyukjae is—he walks now with a sort of newfound confidence, the suit still loose in some areas but crisp and spotless overall. He’s clean shaven now too, the older Alpha insisting on him not showing up to work “looking like he had just walked out of a dog pound”. He had even dabbed some makeup onto his face to conceal the remnants of the black eye from a week ago.

Jongwoon ignores the slightly saccharine scent that sticks to the sleeves. He adjusts the bend of his mask over his nose and tightens his grip on the briefcase—Leeteuk’s—and his small bento lunch—Ryeowook’s.

He stops right in front of the building, taking a moment to stare at it from the outside. While he had already come for the interview, it feels like a whole different experience now that he’s actually an employee.

Jongwoon swallows. He grasps the handle of the clear glass doors and pulls it open.

 

 

Hyukjae wakes up sometime between the hours of late morning to early afternoon, swallowed by Donghae’s blankets. His entire body feels like it’s made of lead, and even just breathing feels like carrying the whole Earth on his chest.

Yet he still gets up. Dragging himself off of the bed, he wobbles to the bathroom and locks the door behind him.

The shower water turns his skin red after about five minutes. The crown of his head, already burning, screams out in pain at him. Hyukjae scrubs himself clean until he’s choking on the water vapor. Donghae’s scent is still everywhere, from the soap to the shampoo to the shower curtains to the shaving cream. He huffs through his mouth in order to not smell it, even though it manages to creep in through his tongue. It smothers him.

Hyukjae finally turns off the shower faucet after half an hour when he feels like he’s about to pass out, but it feels like nothing has been washed at all. Dripping wet, he creeps back into Donghae’s main room and wraps himself with a random towel, giving up on his quest to clean himself. Every inhale is just a reminder of his piteousness, his pathetic state of mind.

He can’t stay here any longer. Throwing one of Donghae’s shirts over his head, he carries his used blankets back to the closet and shoves it inside.

Fitting the beanie over his head again, Hyukjae quickly slips out of the room.

 

 

“And so you know, the differences between Alphas, Betas, and Omegas slowly waned.”

The Omega higher-up in front of him taps the whiteboard again, where a diagram of the three secondary sexes are sketched. He’s in the middle of a very lengthy lecture about human evolution that is ultimately just leading up to an explanation of the company’s non-discrimination policy. Jongwoon sits uneasily in a sea of Betas and Omegas, tapping his foot inside of his shoe. He’s afraid to breathe almost, if he didn’t purposely choose a seat between a few Betas.

“Yes, Alphas are still built physically stronger, gain muscle easier, and have a tendency towards seeking dominance over others. To this day, they still use these traits to mistreat others, and they still have massive power in many parts of society. To counter this, our company policy prioritizes Betas and Omegas and their comfort. Any power abuse or misconduct from Alphas will not be tolerated, and you will be immediately fired if you are found doing these things.” With this, the Omega looks directly at Jongwoon, who looks down into the table, unable to meet eyes with him. Someone behind him raises their hand.

“What if they try to use their voice?” the female tone asks.

“That’s a very good question. The thing is, studies have proven that with enough conditioning, the Alpha ‘voice’ can be disabled or even permanently done away with. Any Alpha trying to use their voice to coerce others into doing something against their will immediately be sent to such voice therapy centers.”

Jongwoon swallows. The Omega in the front looks expectantly over the new employees, listening for more questions. Just as he seems to be finished, another hand raises itself in front of him.

“What if Omegas sour their scent without any reason?”

The atmosphere of the room instantly turns cold. The Omega at the whiteboard frowns, about to speak before another person in the crowd interrupts him:

“Well the thing is, that isn’t exactly a thing. It’s a defense mechanism. It isn’t just done without any reason. If an Omega sours their scent, you’re doing something to distress them.”

A flurry of murmured agreements echo through the room. Jongwoon just fidgets, head bowing even lower towards his lap now. The higher-up shouts to get everyone’s attention back, but it takes a few minutes for everything to return to the way it was. He coughs into his hand.

“Alright, are there any more questions?”

There are none. As soon as the meeting adjourns, Jongwoon picks up his things and gets out.

 

 

“Donghee-ah?” Leeteuk peers into the Alpha’s room, the door open for ventilation. Half of his office has been turned into a sort of tiny office for the lack of extra rooms in the building. Shindong is there, hunched over his small laptop and a piece of notebook paper with a couple of scribbled numbers onto it. “Hello?”

“Ah, Hyung!” he raises his head finally to acknowledge the older man. “What is it? Is something wrong?”

Leeteuk shakes his head. Slowly, he walks towards him, dodging the various objects strewn about on the floor. It agitates the Omega slightly with how everything is in such disarray, but he knows that it’s just the other’s preference somehow.

“Here, Siwon already came over. He said he left something in your email? And told me to deliver this.” Leeteuk places the file folder onto Shindong’s desk, expression turning concerned. “Have you eaten today? Don’t overwork yourself.”

“Speak for yourself, Teukie-hyung.” Shindong wipes a bit of sweat falling from his temple. “Plus, this isn’t really like work anyways. It’s fun, even if it is Siwon’s leftovers.”

Jongwoon lowers his gaze to the messiness of the Alpha’s tiny desk, stacks of paper and pieces of computer tech all crammed densely into the space. He places a hand on the younger man’s shoulder.

“You know, it’d be okay for you to get a job outside too. It would be a bit more stimulating than all this.”

“People won’t just hire people who dropped out of college,” Shindong replies, looking back towards his laptop, only to see it lagging again. Leeteuk frowns.

“I don’t have many people that I know, but I know Siwon could get you connected to some professors. Taking the test is free too, and you might be able to qualify for a scholarship—”

“Hyung,” Shindong cuts in before sighing. “I’m saying it’s okay. I’m doing pretty well here, and I don’t need to go to college. Let bygones be bygones, you know? I won’t get anywhere with regret.”

Leeteuk looks unconvinced. “Please, just consider it, Shindong-ah,” he tries again. “You’re brilliant, and you’re wasting away here. Even if you say you won’t regret it, I know you’re always searching for something more that can’t be found in a place like this—”

“Leeteuk-hyung, please.” This time, Shindong’s voice is far quieter. “There’s no better place to waste away in than here.”

Leeteuk presses his lips together. He lets go of the other. “If you say so.”

He leaves. Shindong starts typing again, the Wifi finally catching up.

Despite his words, his mind lingers.

 

 

When Jongwoon finally reaches his section of the office, there’s only one seat left, and it’s the one furthest from the exit. He swallows, padding over there slowly like there are weights on his feet. All around, he’s surrounded by the scents of Betas and Omegas that curl around his body and swallow him. Jongwoon swallows, adjusting his mask again. He bows to the others as he sits down in front of a computer, not quite sure what to do. He flinches as the Omega beside him suddenly taps on his desk to get his attention.

“Hey, is this your first day? I’m Park Eunsoo,” she introduces herself sunnily. Jongwoon manages a stiff smile, the corners of his eyes lifting with his cheeks.

“Kim Jongwoon,” he says in reply, extending his hand timidly. They shake on it, and he can see Eunsoo tilt her head, sniffing openly. It makes his skin crawl, but he takes care to not show it.

“Oh, you’re an Alpha!” she exclaims. A couple more heads turn towards them, and she faces them as well, especially the woman in the corner. “Taeyeon, you’re not alone!”

Taeyeon waves at him, a friendly expression on her face. Jongwoon can’t help the wave of relief that hits him when he locates her, waving back bashfully. Unfortunately though, they’re too far away to make proper conversation, both being at the opposite ends of each other. Eunsoo looks back at them, wearing a grin.

“This is really cool, another Alpha! Usually they’re sentenced to the other side of the office which is cool because they are all—” she makes a gagging noise— “Eugh. But you must be one of the better ones if you’re here with us!”

Jongwoon looks around again, at all the strangers sitting around him. Some of them send him curious side-eyes while others are hostile. He swallows.

“You know what they say, too many Alphas spoil the pot,” he says.

The atmosphere lightens. Jongwoon glances to the side to see Taeyeon staring at him., but she quickly looks away. Eunsoo laughs.

“Isn’t that right!”

Jongwoon feels himself be enveloped in the crowd again. Clicking the computer on, he throws himself back into the monotony of work, a sort of comforting but stifling feeling sinking into his chest. He finds himself getting used to everything again, relieved by the fact that his coworkers seem to feel safe enough around him. The first day orientation hadn’t been so much as a wake up call than a reminder after all, despite the slight uneasiness it had stirred in him.

Similarly, he can’t quite rid himself of Taeyeon’s burning gaze.

 

 

Donghae gets home at around three o’clock, exhausted.

“Siwon-ah!” he greets, waving to the Alpha tiredly, who flashes him one of his trademark dimpled smiles. He’s currently carrying a box of groceries, presumably heading towards the back entrance of the motel that’s directly connected to the kitchen.

“Donghae! Just got back from work?” He approaches him jovially, balancing a few heads of cabbage in his arms. Donghae grins, slightly apologetic.

“Yeah. I would help you if I could but I kind of smell.” He gestures to himself. Siwon bumps shoulders with him despite that, the edges of his suit wrinkling with the contact.

“You’ve worked hard, go take a rest,” he says warmly. Donghae salutes him and hops back into the motel, humming slightly. However, as he comes face to face with his door, he remembers. Donghae knocks softly, listening closely. “Hyukjae? I’m back from work now.” He unlocks the door and slowly opens it, searching for his best friend in the darkness.

“Where are you?” he calls. All traces of Hyukjae’s scent is already gone, so he relies on his eyes instead, frowning when he still can’t find the other Alpha. “I’m turning on the lights now.”

They turn on. Donghae’s eyes widen, and he bursts out of the room, startling Ryeowook, who had just left his room as well. His chest heaves, breath quickening in panic.

“He’s gone. Hyukjae’s gone.”

 

 

Jongwoon walks out of his first day of work completely exhausted. He finally takes his mask off after he’s left the premises, breathing in fresh air for the first time in hours. Heechul’s shoes are a bit small on his feet, but they fit well enough for them to not hurt Jongwoon too much when he walks in a new direction.

Even before he had secured himself a job, he wouldn’t return back to the motel until late. It’s too stifling, too small. He’ll go insane if he’ll trap himself between four walls for longer than eight hours. Jongwoon instinctively heads towards the small park in the city, the suitcase warm in his hands and his suit fluttering behind him.

He sees him in an instant.

Hyukjae’s thin blue hair trembles in the faint breeze, sticking out like a cow in a pig pen in the crowd. His slim frame is leaned against the park bench, the younger Alpha’s eyes closed almost peacefully as he hugs his beanie towards himself like a stuffed animal. He looks so young that it makes Jongwoon’s heart squeeze painfully, and he doesn’t hesitate to rush over towards him.

“Hey, it’s dangerous to sleep here,” he gently shakes him awake. Hyukjae shifts, cracking his eyes open slightly. Then, he flinches violently, snapping into consciousness suddenly and looking around frantically. Jongwoon startles, stepping back. Then, the younger Alpha’s eyes focus onto him, and he relaxes, sinking back into the bench.

“It’s you,” he says quietly. All he’s wearing is a light long sleeved shirt and some baggy jeans, contrasting with Jongwoon’s almost unnecessarily fancy suit. He coughs.

“Where’s Donghae?” he asks. Hyukjae’s face twists.

“It’s not like I can’t do anything without him,” he mumbles. “At this point, I’ve lived longer without him than with him.”

“Yes,” Jongwoon agrees. “We’ve still been surviving up until now.”

Then, he folds his hands over his lap and sits down beside him, much to the other’s surprise. The others in the park seem to be avoiding their corner in it now, and it would have bothered him more had he not been sitting beside Hyukjae.

“How do you like the city?” he asks as a conversation starter. The younger Alpha just blinks at him, the yellow street lights reflected in his eyes.

“I don’t know,” he says honestly. Jongwoon hums. For some reason, something inside of him leaps.

“Ah, I could take you around. I’m new too, but I think I’ve figured out some nice spots around. I don’t get a paycheck until next month though, so I don’t think we’ll be able to buy anything,” he says, all in one breath. Hyukjae tilts his head.

“You’re… Kim Jongwoon, right?” he says slowly.

“Yeah. If you’re the same age as Donghae, I’m a hyung,” Jongwoon replies, strangely happy hearing the other remember his name. “But because we’ve only just met, you don’t have to call me that yet if you don’t want to.”

Hyukjae keeps his gaze on him the entire time he’s talking, and it only makes the words spill out faster. Jongwoon’s face heats up after he finally finishes, realizing that he had practically given the other man no time to speak.

“Sorry, I spoke too much…” he says, ashamed. Hyukjae shakes his head. Then, he averts his eyes, hesitating for a second before he speaks.

“Can you—can you tell me about who else is in the dorm? I’ve been in the room for a long time, and it’s not easy for me to get to know other people so…” he trails off. Jongwoon’s mind scrambles for an answer, his thoughts haphazardly combining together to form a coherent response.

“Ah—so let me see… I might not be the best person to ask because I just moved in about two weeks ago but—so firstly, there’s Leeteuk-hyung who’s the founder and an Omega, and there’s Heechul-hyung who’s been here the longest. They kind of come in a pair even though they’re opposites. Then there’s Shindong, who is a resident but works here as well. He knows how to use technology really well, and he’s been a big help overall and really easy to talk to. You know Donghae already and there’s also Ryeowook, who’s the shorter one, and he’s the one that cooks a lot for us. He’s a really good person to talk about your worries to, and he listens well and—and there’s also a Kyuhyun who’s a Beta and the receptionist, and he has this thing with Ryeowook but I’m not so sure… and there’s Siwon too! He picked me up, and I heard he has a lot of money. He isn’t a resident but pays everyone and…” Jongwoon swallows, face heating up. Hyukjae by now has started playing with his fingers, but he still seems to be listening judging by the very slight curve of his lips.

“You’re really talkative,” the younger Alpha remarks. Jongwoon purses his lips and lowers his gaze shamefully.

“I’m sorry,” he apologizes again, staring into his lap. “I really do talk too much for an Alpha. It makes other people uncomfortable.”

“Actually, it makes me feel more at ease,” Hyukjae responds. He suddenly stands up, leaving Jongwoon’s gaze skittering after him. His sleeves flap in the wind, now strengthened by the night. Jongwoon looks up at his back, broad yet clearly bony. The light of the moon illuminates the both of them with a silver light. Hyukjae closes his eyes and lifts his arms, as if embracing the sky.

“I didn’t know fresh air could taste so good until I was deprived of it,” he says quietly. Jongwoon agrees.

“Was it difficult?” he finds himself asking. “Back then?”

“It was—I—” Hyukjae pauses, “Would you believe me if I said it was?”

“Yes,” Jongwoon immediately says. “I’d believe you. Is there a reason not to?”

“There is. Because I’m—they said that I—I’m—” Hyukjae sucks in a breath. “Jongwoon-ssi, would you believe me if I said that I was really… I really… I really…” His expression contorts into one of pain, and he lowers his arms, back hunching as he bows his head, unable to keep his chin up any longer.

Suddenly, something soft makes contact with his spine. He looks up to see Jongwoon fitting his suit jacket over his shoulders, gently creasing the fabric so that it doesn’t fall when the wind sweeps over them.

“I’d believe you,” Jongwoon says. “Whatever you can’t even say right now, I’d believe you.”

Hyukjae stares at him, eyes wide again. Then, his expression screws up, a choked up noise unconsciously escaping his lips. He hugs the jacket closer to himself, squeezing his eyes together and taking a shaking breath. Jongwoon watches him with sorrow in his eyes, unable to do anything except wait for him to steady himself again.

“Thank you,” Hyukjae says finally. “Thank you.”

 

 

It’s too late for them to be strolling outside now in the dark, especially as a pair of Alphas. Hyukjae puts his beanie back over his hair. Unconsciously, Jongwoon finds himself tucking a stray aqua lock behind the younger Alpha’s ear. Both of them freeze before they look away from each other at the same time, cheeks hot.

They don’t talk much as they walk back to the motel. Jongwoon finds himself glancing sideways at the other sometimes, only to quickly turn away when he notices. His chest feels jumpy for some reason, impatient within the silence yet not uncomfortable.

Jongwoon wants to share everything with him.

When they finally reach the front of the motel, Hyukjae slips him back his suit jacket, thanking him softly. Jongwoon smiles back slightly, his eyes crinkling. The doors slide open, but to their surprise, Kyuhyun is nowhere to be found.

Instead, Jongwoon hears singing.

He stops in the middle of the lobby, lifting his gaze towards the slightly opened door. Beside him, Hyukjae pauses as well, looking towards the source of the music.

The quiet melody spills out from the crack in Ryeowook’s door. The sounds of a subdued piano accompany the quietly sung song, Kyuhyun’s sweet tone and Ryeowook’s boyish voice mixing together in the air. Entangled, the separate timbres mingle and tug on each other like woven strings pulled taut against one another.

They listen for a while, silent witnesses to the surprising intimacy.

“Aren’t you going to join them?” the younger Alpha suddenly asks. Jongwoon swallows, grimacing when a sharp twinge runs through his neck. Inside the room, Ryeowook starts a vocal run, his voice gradually increasing volume until it confidently bursts out in a final clear note. In the end, Kyuhyun finishes with a drop of falsetto, the tone vibrating before it eventually fades out. Jongwoon tears his eyes away, unable to look any longer.

“There’s no way I could,” he answers, “Even if I wanted to.”

He turns away. They bid good night to each other and go their separate ways. This time, Hyukjae takes out his own room key, clicking the lock open slowly. Jongwoon watches him, lips pressed together. The younger Alpha looks back towards him, flashing him a very slight smile.

“Good night. And thanks again,” he says to him.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Jongwoon wishes. Hyukjae nods to him before closing his door, leaving him alone. Jongwoon lingers for a few seconds before eventually turning away, heading back to his own door. Even in his room, Kyuhyun’s and Ryeowook’s duet still rings in his ears.

He hopes it will stop soon.

 

 

“What are you doing here?”

Heechul leans on the doorframe of Leeteuk’s office, face pinched. Leeteuk, hunched over his desk, doesn’t even turn to acknowledge the Alpha.

“I should be asking you that. You should be in your room.” He clicks on another article on his laptop, titled ‘ARE ALPHA SHELTERS NECESSARY?’ “And also, please close the door. I doubt the other residents would appreciate the scent of an Omega’s domain polluting the air.”

Heechul closes the door behind him and approaches Leeteuk slowly from behind, frowning. “You’re reading those things again. Aren’t you bored of them? They always say the same thing.”

“It’s important for me to learn about as much as I can in order to keep everything running,” Leeteuk replies. “I barely have any experience with running an establishment like this on my own, so it’s in everyone’s best interest that I keep myself updated.”

Heechul sighs. He turns away and flops onto the couch inside of the room, inhaling deeply. Contrary to the others, the Omega’s scent is comforting to him, a reminder of everything that there still is to live for in the world.

“Your heat is coming soon,” he states plainly. “You can’t hide it. Our schedules are synched.”

Leeteuk pauses. “I’ll take suppressants.”

“That isn’t healthy.”

“It’s necessary.”

“It shortens your lifespan! Goddammit, evolution has already shortened these huge things to only a day or two, and with us, it's even more important that they happen! You’ll kill yourself with those things!”

“Look, what we need is to focus on the present. The motel, with so many new residents, is in no shape to be without me right now. I know the health concerns, and I appreciate your worry but it’s my decision to make.”

“Jungsoo!” Heechul bursts out. Leeteuk freezes. Slowly, he turns around to see the Alpha with his head in his hands, face contorted into an upset expression. Heechul grits his teeth, squeezing his eyes shut.

“I just—I just don’t want you to get sick again,” he chokes out. “You’re always doing a lot while I can only sit here uselessly because of—I don’t want you to die early, okay? Because then I wouldn’t be able to live either.”

Leeteuk purses his lips. Heechul gets up again, showing his shaking back to the Omega. He quickly wipes at something on his face, breathing in harshly.

“I’ll stay in my own room tonight,” he says. Not knowing what to say, Leeteuk looks away.

The door clicks closed.

Chapter Text

Donghae stands in front of Hyukjae’s door, his lone shadow sprawling onto the carpet. The hallways are still dim, the sun not yet risen past the skyline. He raises his knuckles to the wood but hesitates.

“He may feel like you’re smothering him,” Leeteuk explains slowly, sitting Donghae down on the coach inside of his office after noticing the younger man floating aimlessly around the building. There’s the faint scent of an Alpha floating around, but Donghae’s far too agitated to comment on something so minute at the moment.

“I wasn’t trying to—” He clenches and unclenches his fists. “I just wanted to help him.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” the Omega says kindly. “He might just feel like he’s taking advantage of your kindness and your shared history.”

“He isn’t. He didn’t even do much, just stayed in my room for a couple of days. If anything, I’m the one that’s taking advantage of him. He’s—” Donghae shuts his eyes as if he’s in pain. “I’m the one that’s bad.”

Leeteuk touches his shoulder. “Donghae-ah, you know I always say that you’re a really caring person. I’m sure you healed Hyukjae a little bit too just by being there. He just needs a little more space now to process everything. Don’t blame yourself, okay?”

Donghae doesn’t respond. Instead, he presses himself into the older man’s body and hides his face in his shoulder. Leeteuk accepts it as if he is already used to it, rubbing the other’s back comfortingly.

“It’ll be alright.”

He lowers his arm, averting his eyes. He shouldn’t wake the other, not when it’s this early in the morning and when it might not do much good anyways.

Donghae glances at the door one last time before leaving.

 

 

Jongwoon stumbles out of his room as soon as his alarm goes off, nearly running into the wall with the wobble in his legs. Last night had been sleepless, the singing rattling in his skull like a broken record. Even though he’s not sure he can stomach anything, he staggers over to the kitchen anyways, if only to quiet his loneliness with Ryeowook’s easy company.

Unfortunately though, the younger Alpha is nowhere to be found.

He sits down first, scanning the room for any signs of him. Just as he’s wondering whether or not to check the kitchen, a plate of steaming hot food is set in front of him. Jongwoon looks up quickly only to see Kyuhyun above him, a dish in his hand.

“Ryeowook has a job interview today,” the Beta says first, as if predicting what he was going to ask. Jongwoon blinks.

“Ah, so that’s why I didn’t see him,” he remarks. Kyuhyun hums, continuing to look at him expectantly. Jongwoon looks at him in confusion before he finally understands a little, peering down at the plate of food, steaming hot and fragrant. He slowly picks up the pair of chopsticks and slips a piece of kimchi pancake into his mouth.

As he chews, the flavor disperses into his mouth and thins subtly, leaving a nice aftertaste. Jongwoon makes a small sound in surprise, looking at Kyuhyun again.

“I made it,” the Beta says quickly before he can make any of his own comments. “Just a simple breakfast. I’ve been learning from Youtube videos, so it’s a bit crude.” He tries to look nonchalant about it, but Jongwoon can tell that he’s waiting for his response with bated breath.

“It’s delicious,” he says honestly. “Really, Kyuhyun-ah. Did Ryeowook like it too?” He takes another bite, tasting it with more concentration than before. It is noticeably different from Ryeowook’s style of cooking, but it suits Kyuhyun somehow. Fresh and contemporary.

Kyuhyun seems to flush at the mention of the Alpha. “His opinion doesn’t matter that much to me!” he says defensively. Jongwoon’s about to prod further before he spots a timid head of blue hair poking out from the corner.

“G-good morning,” Hyukjae greets mousily, bowing towards the both of them after realizing he’s been discovered. Kyuhyun startles slightly, but he takes care to not let his surprise show too much on his face as he greets back.

“Good morning, Hyukjae… hyung?” He glances at Jongwoon for confirmation. Jongwoon nods before he turns back to Hyukjae.

“Hyukjae-ssi,” he says warmly. Hyukjae scratches the back of his head.

“You can just call me Hyukjae,” he says slowly. “If I am going to be staying here, I guess I should be more familiar with everyone else.” With that, he looks at Kyuhyun and flashes him a small smile. The Beta can only offer a small one back before he remembers.

“You’re here for breakfast?” he asks, a glint returning to his eyes. “I have food.”

“Ah, yes please,” Hyukjae answers, slightly bewildered by the change of attitude in the younger man. Kyuhyun rushes back towards the kitchen, leaving both of them alone at the table together.

“How have you been?” Jongwoon says kindly, albeit a bit awkwardly. Their conversation last night had been intimate yet cut off abruptly. He subtly slides his plate of kimchi pancakes towards the younger Alpha as if trying to apologize. Hyukjae takes it without noticing, nibbling on his bottom lip out of nervousness. Jongwoon can’t help but to be drawn to the action, though he quickly looks away.

“I’ve been well. I slept well,” the other answers after getting a new pair of chopsticks from the holder. He won’t make eye contact, but Jongwoon isn’t bothered by it. Instead, he’s too preoccupied with making sure his cuticles don’t bleed from the way he’s picking at them.

“I hope you’ve been adjusting alright,” he responds. “It was a bit hard for me the first week because everything was so unfamiliar. The bunk beds are fine, but it’s a little weird to have all this empty space. I’m more used to it being a bit more cluttered, you know? That was how I used to like it honestly. I used to live with my—”

He stops himself.

“Sorry about that. I must be talking too much again.”

Hyukjae has paused. His chopsticks are suspended midair above the plate. Jongwoon swallows, and he opens his mouth to apologize again, but the younger Alpha cuts him off.

“I used to live alone,” he says simply. Then, he quickly shoves a piece of pancake into his mouth. Jongwoon is afraid that he’s going to choke for a second, but suddenly, a smile breaks out on Hyukjae’s lips. “Waaah delicious!” he exclaims louds, then covers his mouth in embarrassment. Unable to help himself, Jongwoon laughs.

“Kyuhyun will be glad to hear that,” he chuckles, and as if on cue, the Beta comes out of the kitchen carrying another plate of kimchi pancakes. His expression turns into that of surprise when he sees that Hyukjae has already obtained a bite of it, but he sets the dish down anyways.

“How is it?” he asks, trying to appear nonchalant. Hyukjae turns to him, face bright in wonder.

“It’s really good. Did you make this? I haven’t had something like this in ages.” He takes another bite—bigger this time—and his smile grows again. Kyuhyun cracks a satisfied grin at the display, slumping onto the counter behind them as if he can finally relax. Jongwoon can’t help but to snicker slightly.

“You’re so pure,” he comments at the Beta, who shakes his head rapidly.

“I think you’ve got the wrong person,” he denies. Jongwoon just keeps laughing. Then, he suddenly notices Hyukjae staring at him from the corner of his eye. He blinks at him, but before he can even do anything, the younger Alpha’s eyes are quickly averted.

“I have to go to the desk now,” Kyuhyun says, checking the time on his watch. “Jongwoon-hyung, you’ve got work later, right? Just leave the dishes in the sink, and I’ll get to them eventually. And uh—” he turns to Hyukjae— “I hope your day goes well too.”

“Thanks, Kyuhyun-ah. Cook for us again sometime,” Jongwoon wishes. Hyukjae nods, mouth stuffed like a chipmunk. Kyuhyun just waves, an embarrassed expression finally reaching his eyes before he darts away.

“Was he the one that was singing last night?” Hyukjae asks after he’s gone. Jongwoon nods absently, drumming his fingers against the table. Suddenly, he feels a bit nervous with just the both of them again.

“Kyuhyun might look disagreeable, but he’s actually a softie. Heechul-hyung too,” he says.

“Heechul… hyung scares me,” Hyukjae mutters. “He tried to take me to a public bath just now because he said I smelled like anchovies.”

“You kind of resemble one?” Jongwoon offers, though he laughs a little at the comparison. The younger Alpha frowns, but it comes out more as a pout. It’s a little endearing with the way his bottom lip juts out, even unintentionally. Jongwoon can’t help but to be enraptured by it, even if something inside him tells him that he shouldn’t be.

He even notices when Hyukjae’s expression shifts slightly a few moments later, his lips pressing together into a thin line. He opens his mouth as if to say something but seems to change his mind, shaking his head and taking another bite of the pancake instead. Then, something akin to guilt seems to flash in his eyes, and he sets his chopsticks down.

“There isn’t much to go around, is there? I probably shouldn’t be eating so much. And plus, it wouldn’t be very good if I gained too much weight, right? I’ve always eaten a lot when I’m not supposed to. It’s a bad habit.”

“You should eat as much as you want,” Jongwoon says, voice firm. Hyukjae looks surprised.

“But Hyung, your portion too…”

“That was actually my second bowl. I forgot that my stomach was small.” he lies. “You haven’t eaten well in a while, right? You should make yourself full. It’s no good if my dongsaengs are hungry.”

Hyukjae’s face changes again. He suddenly looks down at his bowl, as if shy.

“Does this mean I’m one of your dongsaengs now?” he asks bashfully. Jongwoon laughs.

“Of course. What else would you be, my hyung?” he jokes, suddenly ruffling the younger Alpha’s hair. However, Hyukjae winces violently at the action, shoving his hands away from his head. Jongwoon flinches, eyes going wide.

“Fuck, I’m so sorry Hyukjae—”

“Hyung I’m sorry I didn’t mean it that way—”

They both stop.

“I’m sorry,” Jongwoon says first. “I shouldn’t have done that so suddenly.”

“It’s okay, Hyung. I reacted badly,” Hyukjae responds. Jongwoon shakes his head, standing up.

“It was my fault,” he says. “Hyung should’ve known better.”

“Still—”

“I have to get to work soon. Don’t fret about it, okay?”

Hyukjae still looks guilty, but he seems to accept the other’s persistence. “You should make good on your promise to me around the city sometime,” he says. Jongwoon smiles, relieved though still a bit shaken. This time, he just places a hand on the other man’s shoulder, squeezing.

“Don’t worry, I will.”

 

 

The faucet leaks into the sink. Heechul wipes his face down with the towel, nudging the lever all the way back with his elbow so that the water stops dripping down. Brushing a bit of excess shaving cream off his razor, he sighs and leans onto the counter, bits of wet hair clinging to his face.

Heat rolls in his stomach. Heechul takes another shuddering breath, eyes drawing themselves to the small pill bottle in the corner. The label indicates that it has been bought recently. He grabs it, curling his fingers tightly around the white plastic.

He usually hates buying things with the money from back then but… What else could Heechul do?

He unscrews the cap and shakes two pills into his palm, red and green colored. Gulping, he quickly shoves it into his mouth and tilts his head back, choking only slightly as the two capsules run down his throat.

Heechul massages his neck, coughing. He staggers back towards his bed and crashes on top of the mattress, shutting his eyes into the stale fabric.

“Jungsoo-ya, I won’t let you go down alone this time.”

 

 

Donghae wipes a trail of sweat off his brow, tilting his face upwards as he exhales heavily into the dirty air. Beside him sits two large garbage containers, recently emptied. He guzzles down a drink of water and offers it to the person standing next to him, who takes it gratefully.

“How far are we, Hyung?” Minho asks him, his baritone voice a welcome change from the screeches of the old truck beside them. Donghae glances down the neighborhood.

“About half,” he answers, and Minho nods. They start back towards the truck, their work boots scraping against the concrete. When they get in, Donghae stops the younger Alpha from starting the vehicle just yet. “Let’s eat lunch,” he suggests.

Although Donghae’s been in the job for longer, the two of them have quickly settled into a rhythm with each other, an easy work friendship blooming between them. When Minho pulls out his lunchbox, Donghae’s eyes follow it.

“Your Omega?” he asks, placing his own on his lap. Minho goes slightly red, but he proudly presents it to the older Alpha.

“He usually doesn’t make Korean food, but he says he wants to try for me,” he explains while smiling. Donghae hums, opening up the lunch that Kyuhyun had packed for him. “How about you, Hyung? Do you make your own lunch?”

“Someone else at the mo—at my apartment made it for me.” He nearly slips up. “We’re close.”

“You’d have to be.” Minho peers into Donghae’s food container. “Whoa, they made like a hybrid of different styles.”

“He likes to experiment. He’s sort of soulless sometimes, but he always puts a lot into what he cooks.” Donghae chuckles at the memory of Kyuhyun shoving the lunch at him in the morning after Ryeowook had left early. Minho watches him for a second before digging in, the corners of his lips tugging up at the taste. Donghae follows suit, and a comfortable silence follows, both of them too absorbed in eating than talking.

It’s only when Minho puts his chopsticks down that it’s broken. His face is solemn, his handsome features schooled into an emotionless mask.

“I’m moving out soon, Hyung,” he says. Donghae looks up in slight surprise.

“From that big house you said you lived in?” he asks. “What about your roommates?”

“They’re trying to find jobs.” Minho shook his head, gaze lowering. Finally, he closes his eyes, leaning backwards in his seat.

“Hyung, we’re being evicted.”

Donghae sits up. He quickly turns to Minho, the younger Alpha’s face contorted into a rare look of pain.

“What?!”

“They said we couldn’t live there anymore,” he says quietly. “Everyone got thrown into a panic because of it.”

“Do you have a place to stay?” Donghae questions. “Does anyone?”

“I’ll stay with Kibum for a bit. He offered for everyone else, but they don’t want to impose.” Minho stares miserably at the steering wheel. “You’re the only person that knows, Hyung. For now.”

Donghae thinks. He taps his knee, eyebrows furrowed in thought.

Finally, he says, “My apartment rents for cheap. I could put in… a word for you guys.”

“Even if it’s cheap, we might not be able to afford it. Our own rent is cheap too, but we’ve all been barely paying it,” Minho responds. Donghae shakes his hand, placing a comforting hand on the other’s shoulder.

“Look, Hyung will take care of everything, alright? You just have to tell me it’s okay for me to tell the others. We can negotiate about the finances,” he says. Minho still looks unsure.

“I’ll tell them about it first,” he says. Donghae nods. He shuts the lid on his lunch box and puts it beneath him. Minho’s expression is troubled, and he’s compelled to do something for his junior, even if it’s admittedly not the best idea.

“I’ll take you out for a drink later. Okay, Minho-yah? My treat.”

 

 

Jongwoon flinches as Eunsoo suddenly slams her bag down onto the table and lets out a loud curse.

“Piece of shit kept fucking catcalling me as I walked to work,” she says angrily. “Fucking done with everything.” She sits down with a loud bang, and the Omega coworker to her side rubs at her shoulder comfortingly, flashing her a sympathetic look.

“You’re okay for work today?” he asks worriedly. Eunsoo sighs.

“Still have to earn money. A coffee would be nice though,” she says. Someone bustles off to grab it for her. Jongwoon just adjusts his mask over his nose, pressing his lips together.

Soon, everything seems to go back to normal, Eunsoo settling down with coffee in hand and gnawing on the rim as she turns the computer on. Jongwoon can’t help but to peer at her past the cubicle walls, and she notices, eyes narrowed as she turns to look at him.

Jongwoon can’t help but to suddenly remember something from his past.

“I-I’m sorry,” he stutters. “I was just wondering if you were… alright.”

Eunsoo’s face softens upon hearing that, and she lets out a deep sigh.

“Sorry Jongwoon-ssi, I’m just a bit pent up at the moment. I’m okay, thanks for asking.”

“Is there anything I can do? That kind of thing… I’m sorry that it happened to you,” he says quietly. Eunsoo looks a bit surprised for a second before she turns back to her computer screen, drumming her fingers against the table.

“Sometimes we have to just put up with things,” she says finally. “Cuz we know that no one’s gonna do shit about it even if they have the power to.” For some reason, the comment seems rather pointed even though Jongwoon doesn’t know why.

He can understand what she’s saying though.

“I’ll take a bit of your workload off?” he suggests. “I think I’ve gotten a hang of things by now.”

“You’d do that?” she asks, eyebrows shooting up.

“If you want me to?” he says. Eunsoo gapes at him for one second more before relaxing into her chair, shoulders finally lowering. Suddenly, she seems to remember something, pulling her phone from her pocket.

“Hey, do you have a phone number? How about going to a karaoke room tomorrow night?”

“A karaoke room?” Jongwoon echoes. Eunsoo nods, her demeanor suddenly changing as she discovers another point of focus.

“It’s tradition! To welcome the new employees,” she finally smiles. Jongwoon swallows.

“Ah—but I can’t sing.” He looks into his lap and starts playing with his fingers. Eunsoo still doesn’t falter, not discouraged at all by the confession.

“Well, I can’t either! We can just sing together!” she says enthusiastically.

“I-I mean… My throat has always been weak. My doctor said that I shouldn’t… strain it,” he half lies.

“Ah, that definitely changes things. But let’s just say you don’t have to sing then! After all, we should be getting to know each other instead of just singing all the time… How about it? You can just listen in, and we’ll just drink a few beers and have a little fun before the weekend!” During this whole time, Eunsoo seems to have gotten much closer to him to the point where he’s almost leaning back to prevent their faces from touching. Jongwoon averts his eyes uncomfortably, trying hard to not inhale the scent in front of him.

“I don’t have a phone though,” he says weakly.

“We’ll just go after work tomorrow! You can tell your family that, right?” She presses.

Jongwoon’s hand flies up to cover the mark on his neck. Hurriedly, he pulls his collar over it, coughing. He still can’t meet her eyes.

“I’m still not sure. It’s been a long time since I’ve had an outing with anyone,” he says unsurely.

“Ah, it can’t be that bad. Just think of it as a way to cheer me up!” Eunsoo responds cheerfully. “Plus, you know, I need an Alpha to walk me home afterwards,” she adds afterwards, tone a little lower.

“... Okay,” Jongwoon finally agrees. Eunsoo beams.

“Don’t worry, Jongwoon-ssi! It’ll be fun! I’ll introduce you to everyone else too. Just let me send out a text!” She quickly unlocks her phone and starts typing furiously into what looks to be a group chat. Jongwoon can only swallow and hope that everything goes as well as the Omega had promised.

 

 

“So like I said, just check some things with the accounting team. There’s a slight error in the calculations.”

Shindong leans back in his chair, balancing his phone between his shoulder and cheek as he straightens files with his hands. Usually he hates talking on the phone like this, but for now, he supposes that it’s the quickest form of communication.

“Thanks, Shindong-hyung. You’re seriously a lifesaver.” Siwon’s voice rings out from the other side of the phone, sounding almost annoyingly chipper. Shindong can’t help the smile that slips out from hearing it, finally letting out a yawn.

“No need to thank me. It’s fun for me anyways,” he replies warmly. There seems to be a slight pause on the other side before Siwon talks again.

“Is everything well over there? I visited yesterday, but there wasn’t much time to ask about any details. I just left you work and left,” the Alpha says, a guilty note in his voice. Shindong sets down the papers, finally taking hold of the phone and pressing it to his ear properly.

“Don’t worry, you’re running on a tight schedule anyways,” he says, though his voice is a little more serious now. “As for Super Junior, we’ll have to spend a little less on outside expenses now. We have two new residents, and although I don’t have any doubt that Jongwoon-hyung will be able to pay rent soon, I’m not sure about Hyukjae. Ryeowook is still trying to get a job, and Heechul-hyung is technically freeloading, but no one can blame him for that.” He mentions the last detail carefully, his eyes watching the crack in the door just in case the older Alpha is passing by.

“I’m not sure I can squeeze any more money out either,” Siwon says regretfully. “My father’s already keeping a closer eye on me.”

Shindong purses his lips. He looks at his laptop again, suffering due to the poor connection but still clearly displaying the truth of their financial situation.

“Well, at least we can still pay just barely. If we piss off the landlord though, who knows what’ll happen to us.”

Siwon is silent. The sounds of paper shuffling filters through the speakers as Shindong waits for a response.

“I wish I could do more,” the other man says finally.

“You’re doing more than enough already, Masi,” he says. “I’ll talk to you later. I don’t want you to be discovered talking to a random dude about these types of things.”

“You’re not just a random dude,” Siwon says. “I’ll talk to you later, Hyung.”

Shindong hangs up first. The laptop is still lagging. He sighs.

Then, there’s movement at the door.

“Who is it?” he calls. The figure freezes, hand on the door handle. He mostly expects it to be Donghae, the younger Alpha being fond of skinship and affectionate gestures. It’d be strange for him to not have returned by now anyways.

However, instead he sees Hyukjae, looking like a deer caught in headlights.

“I-I was just wondering if you’d prefer the door to be closed. You sounded like you were having a pretty important phone call,” he says nervously.

“It’s fine. I left it open because the summer air was getting too suffocating. Come in.” Shindong beckons him in, and Hyukjae hesitantly steps inside, taking care to not completely shut the door behind him. It’s a bit strange to see him without Donghae by his side, his mind automatically associating the two together because of the circumstances of his arrival. “Sorry everything’s a bit messy. Is Donghae with you? He should be back by now.”

“I haven’t seen him anywhere,” Hyukjae replies, averting his eyes. Shindong subtly looks him up and down, humming as he notes something in his mind.

“Well, he’s an adult so I’ll trust him. How about you? Any plans of what to do now that you’re here?” he asks. The younger Alpha fidgets with his fingers, eyes wandering as if he wants to confess something.

“I… heard a bit of your conversation,” he finally admits, “About how Super Junior is running out of money.”

“It’s not as bad as I made it sound on the call. You don’t have to worry about anything.” Shindong says quickly. Hyukjae purses his lips.

“No, I’m sorry… I don’t think I’ll be able to work for a while,” he says slowly. The older Alpha flashes him an understanding look.

“We wouldn’t have the three month guarantee if we couldn’t afford it,” he reassures the other man. “People can’t work for a variety of reasons. It’s our fault that tenants need to pay in the first place.” Suddenly, the laptop lets out a beeping noise, signaling that it’s finished loading. “Finally!”

“What is that? College applications?” Hyukjae asks curiously. Shindong's eyes widen slightly, and he quickly whirls around and clicks out of the tab. Turning back, he covers it up with a smooth smile.

“I'm working on spreadsheets. Are you experienced with this type of thing?”

“No, but I think I remember a little bit…”

In all honesty, Shindong had only invited the younger Alpha into his room for formality’s sake. Although he himself was a friendly person, he hadn’t been sure about the sociability of Hyukjae. However, talking and working through things with him now, he finds himself pleasantly surprised with the fact that they get along a lot better than he thought they would. Their bubble is only broken when the sounds of the doors sliding open interrupts them, causing the both of them to look towards the entrance.

“That must be Ryeowook,” Shindong remarks. He gets up to go greet the younger man outside, but before he can even get there, the sound of a door slamming echoes through the hallway. He and Hyukjae look at each other in confusion, hurrying outside only to find Kyuhyun already there, a worried expression on his face.

“His job interview…” the youngest trails off. Shindong understands, placing a hand on his shoulder.

“You know best that you should just give him some time. He’ll be alright,” he says, but Kyuhyun still looks unsure.

“This time he thought it was going to be different though,” he says quietly. Shindong glances at Ryeowook’s door.

“We’ll be there for him,” he promises him. Kyuhyun just sighs, padding back to the desk with a complex expression. Hyukjae glances at his back then at the entrance to the younger Alpha’s room again. Shindong shakes his head.

“It’s going to be time for dinner soon.” He changes the subject. “Do you think we can drag out Teukie-hyung from his office to cook for us?”

 

 

“Couldn’t you have just cooked? What was the point of making me cook?” Leeteuk sighs as he dribbles some fish sauce into a spoon before dumping it into a bowl.

“Hyungie’s food always tastes like a restaurant’s. Quick and efficient like fast food,” Kyuhyun hums, arms around the older man’s middle and chin resting on his shoulder. Leeteuk scoffs.

“That’s your way of saying it tastes artificial, right?”

“I never said that.” He snarks, tightening his arms around the oldest. Leeteuk can only pat his head before returning his focus to the sauce he’s making. Behind them, Shindong, Hyukjae, and Heechul watch, Hyukjae purposely placing himself away from the latter.

“You good, Hyung?” Shindong asks Heechul, who just grunts.

“It’s fine, just a headache,” he says, face twisted in a painful grimace. He massages his stomach and leans against the wall, eyes squeezed shut. Hyukjae glances at him concernedly.

“Should you sit down?” he offers.

“You think I’m so old that I can’t even stand on my legs?” Heechul retorts, and Hyukjae shrinks back slightly. Shindong nudges the older Alpha pointedly, but he doesn’t respond, just groaning under his breath.

A beep comes from the lobby. Jongwoon emerges from the entrance, looking slightly confused with the commotion.

“Leeteuk-hyung is cooking?” he questions, taking off his mask and immediately wincing from the smell of Omega coming off his own suit. Hyukjae sees him and lights up almost imperceptibly, immediately heading in his direction. None of this escapes Shindong’s observant gaze, but he doesn’t comment on it.

“Hyung! How was work?” Hyukjae asks. Jongwoon blinks. His eyes not so subtly look over the younger Alpha’s figure, but he quickly banishes any distracting thoughts from his head.

“It was… alright,” he answers dumbly. “I’m going on an outing tomorrow though, so I won’t be back until dark.”

“Company dinner?” Heechul says from the wall, eyes slightly narrowed.

“Karaoke,” Jongwoon says. The older Alpha’s lips purse, but he says nothing afterwards, instead fixing his eyes on the form of Leeteuk, who has been released from Kyuhyun’s grip now that he’s using the pan.

“Karaoke? Singing?” Hyukjae says, his eyes brightening. Jongwoon stiffens and tears his gaze away, scanning his surroundings instead.

“Where’s Ryeowook? And Donghae?” he questions.

“Ryeowook’s in his room. Says he doesn’t want to eat dinner. And Donghae…” the younger Alpha bites his lip. “He isn’t back yet.”

“He isn’t?” Jongwoon looks around again in surprise. “What?”

“Donghae’s stayed out this late before,” Shindong says from the side just like earlier. “If he isn’t back after dinner, we’ll go looking for him, but for now, there’s no need to worry.”

“He wouldn’t have gone to a bar, right?” Heechul mumbles under his breath. “He can’t even hold his liquor for shit.”

With that, Hyukjae grows even more agitated, his eyes darting towards the main hallway anxiously. He leans on his side, tapping his foot erratically.

Suddenly, there’s a light pressure on his back.

“We can go out to find him together, okay?” Jongwoon suggests to him kindly, resting his hand just where Hyukjae’s shoulder muscles meet. Hyukjae parts his lips in surprise, flushing slightly in embarrassment. It’s just a simple touch, so why is he so affected?

Before he can respond, there’s another beep from the lobby, and they forget what they were going to say to each other, instead rushing towards the noise with Heechul and Shindong following.

The first thing they see is Donghae, mumbling drowsily and intelligibly with the smell of beer emanating from him. Hyukjae lets out a small gasp and quickly leaves Jongwoon’s side to go towards him, but he stops once he registers the other person in the room, supporting the younger Alpha with his body. He tenses in the presence of the stranger, but then, another gasp sounds from beside them, coming from Heechul. Jongwoon and Hyukjae look at each other in confusion, but the older Alpha is already heading towards the stranger with his eyes wide.

“Sungmin?”

Chapter Text

In all honesty, Minho had thought he’d be the one to get drunk tonight.

He hadn’t even stopped to consider what would happen if he encouraged his hyung to drink one pint of beer.

He wishes he did now. Minho really loves Donghae, but there’s a fair bit of distance between being only hyung-dongsaengs at work to dragging him, drunk, out of a bar less than thirty minutes after they had entered. Donghae shifts in his grasp, murmuring something unintelligibly. Well, at least he isn’t dead asleep anymore.

Kibum answers after about five rings. While Minho’s anticipating a loud burst of noise, he presses the phone to his ear anyways, the other arm supporting Donghae on his shoulder.

“Where are you?! Are you okay?! I’ve been worried sick—” the Omega’s brassy tone practically shatters through the speaker, clearly sounding panicked and fretful. Minho winces slightly.

“Sorry Kibummie, I’m on my way home now. I’m just a little… caught on something right now.”

“Stop talking in circles and get to the point!”

“Okay! Uh, a hyung of mine offered to get me a drink, but long story short, he’s now the one drunk, and I’m carrying him.”

He can practically see Kibum’s frown through the device. “That isn’t very responsible of him.”

“No!” Minho quickly amends. “I mean, I was the one that made him drink in the first place. I didn’t know he’d get drunk so quickly...”

Kibum sighs. “Does he have a place to go tonight? You think you could contact one of his friends or something?”

“His phone’s locked,” Minho replies, slowly. His head has started to hurt. “I think I might have to bring him home with us tonight. Do you think you could—”

“I’ll get Jonghyun’s car,” Kibum agrees quickly, though his voice has fallen somewhat. “I mean, we shouldn’t just leave him there, right?”

“Sorry, I know you were really looking forward to tonight,” he says guiltily. “I shouldn’t have been so irresponsible and ruined everything.”

“Hey, Minho-yah. It’s fine. I can just find another day off,” the Omega’s voice softens. “Are you alright? You sound a bit buzzed.”

“Yeah, I drank a little bit,” Minho admits. “I can usually hold my liquor more, but everything’s been a bit stressful so…”

“I’ll get there as quickly as I can,” Kibum says. “Just hang in there, okay?

“You’re the best, Bummie,” Minho says sincerely. The other man hangs up first, and he sighs. He looks at Donghae, a troubled expression on his face. “I wish I didn’t have to be taken care of all the time. Kibum already has a lot on his plate and then there’s SHINee… Ah, I’m really useless.”

He keeps walking until he sees a sturdy tree. Hobbling towards it, Minho gently lays the older Alpha onto the trunk and takes a deep breath, rubbing at his head. His vision is a bit blurrier now, and he can’t see straight in front of him anymore.

“Excuse me?”

Minho jumps as a figure approaches him. He quickly stands in front of Donghae, haunches raised defensively. The man, an Alpha, puts his hands up in surrender. “I promise I’m not here to do anything! I just…” He glances at Donghae. “He’s a friend of mine, so I couldn’t help but to recognize him.”

“How do I know you’re not lying?” Minho asks suspiciously. “Who are you anyway?”

“I’m Sungmin. Look—” The man pulls out his cellphone, swiping around until he finally seems to find what he was looking for, a selfie of him and Donghae together— “We’re old friends.”

Minho squints at the picture, still not letting go of the older Alpha. Sungmin clicks to another picture and then another and then another.

Finally, he relents.

“Do you know where Hyung lives?” Minho asks, the exhaustion finally showing on his face. Sungmin reaches out and rubs the younger man on the shoulder.

“I’ll take him home safely. You don’t have to worry about anything,” he says kindly. Minho nods, finally letting him haul Donghae onto his back. Donghae hums in his drunken stupor, but he seems to recognize Sungmin, cuddling closer to him. Sungmin waves one last time before turning around, his back slightly shaking under the weight. Minho watches them go until the end before he pulls out his phone again.

“Hey, Bummie. I think there’s a change in plans—”

 

 

Jongwoon sits in the dining room stiffly, his thighs squeezed together and his fingers playing with the stray thread on the edge of his shirt. Beside him, the others and Sungmin chat, their level of familiarity made clear by the way the latter’s arm rests on Shindong’s shoulders and the way even Heechul looks incredibly happy to see him. He finds himself wishing that he at least had Hyukjae beside him to share the awkward moment with, but the younger Alpha had already gone to bring Donghae to his bed and probably would not return.

“How are you?” Leeteuk says first to Sungmin, his eyes twinkling.

“He means, how is your wife?” Shindong supplies, laughing loudly. Jongwoon’s eyes widen in surprise at that, and Sungmin elbows him, grinning.

“We’re doing great, you know. The rent’s being paid, I don’t have to work a grunt job anymore, and I have time to serenade her every night,” he says happily.

“With the guitar that we bought,” Kyuhyun adds from the side. He’s standing a bit apart from them, working at his sleeve with his finger. He seems distracted, constantly glancing to the side. Sungmin smiles at him anyways.

“It’s a great guitar, Kyuhyun-ah,” he says sincerely. Kyuhyun just grunts, but he starts to relax. “Anyways, how is the motel doing? Saw that you’ve added two new residents.” At this, he looks at Jongwoon, who startles slightly at the acknowledgement.

“That’s Kim Jongwoon. Jongwoon, this is Sungmin. He was a resident before you.” Leeteuk introduces them. Jongwoon bows, and Sungmin quickly dips his head back.

“You’re handsome!” he laughs. “Hope you’re doing well here. Everyone’s great!” He extends his hand, and Jongwoon grips onto it, shaking it firmly. “And who’s the other guy? The one that went off with Donghae?”

“That’s Hyukjae,” Jongwoon says first before realizing that he had interrupted Leeteuk. Embarrassed, he ducks his head down.

“Lee Hyukjae. Just came in a few days ago. He took your room,” Heechul thankfully cuts in before he can embarrass himself any further. “He and Donghae have history.”

“Seems like it. He kept muttering his name earlier while drunk,” Sungmin says. Jongwoon tilts his head in curiosity with the information. Meanwhile, the other Alpha glances around, as if looking for someone. “Where’s Ryeowookie? I want to see him.”

“Ryeowook’s in his room. He had a job interview, and as much as he loves you, he probably wants to be alone right now,” Shindong explains.

Sungmin’s face falls slightly, but he nods in understanding, sighing. “He really does deserve better. This isn’t fair at all.”

Kyuhyun purses his lips like he wants to say something but doesn’t. The Alpha’s eyes brush over him knowingly, but he looks to Leeteuk instead, his face hesitant.

“How is… Youngwoon-hyung?” he says carefully. Heechul lowers his gaze, Shindong tenses, and Leeteuk’s expression turns somber.

“We haven’t heard anything. He hasn’t contacted us since.”

Jongwoon makes eye contact with Kyuhyun, but the Beta just shakes his head. Sungmin nods solemnly at the response, suddenly jolting a little bit. He pulls out his phone and stands up.

“Sorry guys, I want to stay longer, but Saeun is waiting for me at home,” he says apologetically.

“It’s nice to just see you,” Leeteuk says, standing as well.

“You too, Jongwoon-ssi. I really came in here too abruptly without bothering to learn much about you. Next time, we should get to know each other more.”

“I-It’s fine,” Jongwoon says quickly. He manages a small smile at the other Alpha. “We’ll have a lot of time, right? You’re a close friend to everyone else, so I should get to know you well too,” he says. “Next time, I’ll drag Hyukjae out with me,” he adds.

“I’m glad!” Sungmin laughs, a softly crowing noise that compliments his sweet features. When he starts to turn away, the rest start going as well to accompany him to the exit. Jongwoon has to almost run to catch up to them, though he’s not quite sure why he’s going in the first place.

The last he sees of Sungmin that night is the Alpha waving at the rest of them from the other side of the automatic glass doors. Heechul calls at him to come again, and Leeteuk just smiles.

For some reason, when he leaves, Jongwoon can’t quell the sudden melancholy unveiling itself within his chest.

 

 

Ryeowook buries his head into his knees, his back pressed into the door. Through the wood, he can hear the sounds of people talking excitedly to each other. He can recognize that voice, his old hyung, Sungmin, who hadn’t visited in months after he got hitched.

Just moments before, he had hovered his hand above the doorknob, his chest itching. Ryeowook closes his eyes and breathes, placing his palm over the cold metal as if he is going to turn it.

Then, he turns away and falls to the ground, unable to cross the barrier.

The lights are off. In the corner, his full length mirror shimmers in the darkness, and Ryeowook looks away from it, not wanting to confront the person staring back at him. His throat clogs up with the feeling of being immature and childish, but his pride can bear that compared to the humiliation he’d have to subject his pride to if he left his room.

Slowly, Ryeowook stands up, walking over to the piano and turning it on quietly. The volume almost turned all the way down, he presses onto a few keys, falling back into the lull of the music with a simple melody. He feels a buzz in his throat, humming softly along with the calm notes.

Then, he cringes, turning it off immediately.

Ryeowook crashes onto the bed face first and exhales into the blankets heavily. Suddenly, the image of Kyuhyun comes into his mind, and a hot wave of shame washes over him. His gut tightens, and he can’t help but to desperately wish for a distraction.

“I hate this,” he whispers. He curls into himself, placing a hand over his crotch. “I hate this. I hate this. I hate this.”

He pulls down his pants anyways.

 

 

Donghae wakes up with his vibrating alarm and a light pressure on his palm. On instinct, he turns the alarm off, only to be struck with one of the worst headaches of his life. He falls back into his bed, clutching his skull in pain.

That’s when he notices Hyukjae.

Donghae startles slightly at the sight of the other Alpha leaned over his bed, his hair messed up as he snores into the bedsheets. Careful to not wake him, he cautiously climbs off next to him, placing a blanket over his shoulders before anything else.

Then, he stares.

His old friend’s face is peaceful. Donghae almost reaches to touch his shoulder but withdraws at the last moment, pressing his lips together into a thin line. Despite that, his chest can’t help but to feel warm at the sight of Hyukjae, like a long asleep part of him had been stirred at last.

How many years has it been? The last things Donghae can remember are his own tear stained eyes and the heat rolling off his body, his sweaty hands gripping Hyukjae’s wrist like a vice. That was back when he didn’t know anything, and that moment had been the scariest moment of his life. The image of Hyukjae’s face, confused and panicked as he was ripped away from him, haunted his dreams for years after that.

They had never seen each other again. Until now.

“I really am glad to see you,” he murmurs, though it brings a bit of a twinge to his heart. Who knew if the other shared his thoughts? He could be forcing himself onto the other Alpha, desperately hanging onto the past.

Hyukjae’s face really does look a bit different from back then in multiple ways, he thinks. Of course it’s to be expected, but it’s a bit of a heavy realization to carry.

The headache hits him again at this time, and Donghae grimaces, finally tearing his gaze away to stumble over to the showers.

 

 

Jongwoon stands at Donghae’s door, holding a bowl of bibimmyeon in his hands. Ryeowook is still nowhere to be seen, and Kyuhyun’s agitation had been apparent in the way his eyes had constantly wandered during their morning encounter. Jongwoon lets the youngest cling onto him for a bit longer before grabbing a bowl of noodles and heading towards where he is right now.

“Where’s Donghae? Is he alright?” he asks Kyuhyun.

“He’ll be alright. He doesn’t have any choice anyways. There’s no more rest days for him in this month,” the Beta says, scooping some more noodles for him even though he had just done so a minute prior. He excuses the other man’s forgetfulness, pressing his lips together instead.

“Is he… okay? Not physically, but…” he trails off.

“He probably just got stupid and decided to take a sip,” Kyuhyun scoffs lightly. Then, his expression turns more serious. “This is strange though. It isn’t really like him to be like this.”

For some reason, Jongwoon thinks about Hyukjae. And his relationship with Donghae. He understands.

“I’ll check up with him when I get the chance,” he promises. Kyuhyun nods. His eyes skitter off again, and Jongwoon finally takes a small sip from the bowl.

But Donghae is already gone for work, and there’s no chance of a conversation happening today. He hopes that his hangover won’t endanger him, silently sending his prayers over to the younger Alpha’s way. He knocks at the door, calling hesitantly.

“Hyukjae-ah? It’s Jongwoon-hyung. I was wondering if you were hungry,” he says.

Within a few seconds, he hears footsteps and then the click of the door opening, revealing a tired-looking Hyukjae. Jongwoon’s heart warms at the sight of him, and it doesn’t escape his notice either that the other Alpha’s face lights up slightly too.

“Jongwoon-hyung?” he says. Jongwoon gestures at the bowl of bibimmyeon.

“Breakfast,” he says, handing it over. Hyukjae takes it slowly, his expression grateful.

“Thanks, I really appreciate it,” he says. Jongwoon hums. On its own, his hand suddenly reaches up to push a few strands of blue hair from Hyukjae’s eyes, his fingers swiping lightly over the other Alpha’s forehead. He doesn’t even notice this action until Hyukjae stiffens, and he sharply recoils.

“Oh shoot, I’m sorry,” he apologizes quickly. “I won’t do that again.”

Hyukjae averts his eyes. “It’s alright. I didn’t really mind. You can... I mean…” His ears turn red. “I don’t really mind people touching my hair… As long as you’re gentle…”

Jongwoon blinks. Lightly, he brushes a few more locks of hair out of the way, arranging the messed up hair in a more visually pleasing manner.

“Pretty,” he remarks. Hyukjae flushes deeper.

“You’re talking about the color, right?” he jokes through his embarrassment. It’s Jongwoon’s turn to get flustered now.

“Of course! The color is very… very pretty,” he finishes lamely. Hyukjae giggles, tilting his head up contemplatively and running his own hands through the hair.

“Should I redye it soon? It’s starting to fade,” he says. Jongwoon rubs a strand between his fingers, eyebrows furrowed in thought.

“You could. But isn’t it a bit too damaged? It’s so thin,” he comments. Suddenly, a realization comes to him. “Your scalp! So that’s why yesterday…”

“It’s fine,” Hyukjae says, though he averts his eyes quickly. Jongwoon doesn’t comment on it, standing up taller to get a look at the younger man’s head. He cards through the blue, gently moving it apart to reveal the reddened skin underneath.

“You’re so reckless, dyeing it so many times,” he mutters. “Do you really want to go bald by forty?”

“I won’t go bald!” Hyukjae protests. “Just because it’s not doing so well now doesn’t mean it won’t be later!”

“Isn’t that what kids say?” Jongwoon scoffs. “If I were to say so, would you really have dyed it? I don’t think you’re that obedient.”

“I would have dyed it the opposite color you wanted.” The younger Alpha sticks his tongue out at him childishly. Jongwoon can’t help but to smile, flicking him playfully on the side of his head.

“You brat. At least let it heal first, so it doesn’t hurt that much. After that, you can do whatever you want,” he says. Hyukjae looks thoughtfully, touching his hair again.

“I should cut it though,” he remarks. “It’s getting too long.”

Jongwoon hums as a response. Suddenly though, an idea strikes him.

“I can help you,” he says excitedly. “Don’t worry, Hyukjae-ah, I’ll handle everything.”

“Handle what?” Hyukjae raises an eyebrow. “What are you going to do, Hyung? It’s just a haircut.”

“You don’t have to worry,” Jongwoon repeats. “I’ll find someone!”

The younger Alpha still looks dubious but he nods anyway, agreeing without another thought. Jongwoon internally celebrates, smiling to himself over his own brilliance.

The clock strikes the new hour. Hyukjae glances towards it, and he places his hand back onto the doorknob, the bowl of bibimmyeon in his other hands. Jongwoon stares at him for a few more moments, knowing that it’s probably his cue to leave. He’ll be late soon, after all.

But there’s something inside him that compels him to linger.

“Is everything alright between you and Donghae?” he asks, not missing the way Hyukjae’s face twists for a split second.

“We’re alright. It’s only a bit strange, being reunited after a long time,” he says without giving much away. Jongwoon takes it anyway, already knowing that the younger Alpha wasn’t exactly the type to immediately share his feelings like that.

“You don’t have to go too fast. Both of you have changed in ways you don’t know, after all,” he responds. “Maybe it’d be better if you two talk without focusing too much on the past, at least for now.”

Hyukjae blinks, clearly surprised.

“Thanks… Hyung,” he says. Jongwoon just smiles at him again, now knowing that he’ll definitely be late if he doesn’t go now.

“Have a good day, Hyukjae-ah,” he wishes, turning away and starting towards the exit.

“Wait!” Hyukjae calls. Jongwoon looks back. “Don’t forget about that karaoke party you have today!”

“Oh.” He frowns slightly at the thought. Nonetheless, he throws the other man a thankful thumbs up. “I won’t!” he shouts back.

Hyukjae beams. Jongwoon wants to never look away.

The minute hand on the clock moves again, and in the end, he has to.

 

 

Hyukjae doesn’t quite get what Jongwoon was getting at until Heechul shows up at his door, a pair of scissors in his hand, a trimmer in the other, and a deadpan expression on his face.

“H-Heechul-hyung!” Hyukjae yelps, nearly falling off the chair. The bowl of finished bibimmyeon sits next to him still, his metal chopsticks resting neatly on top of it. He sees the older alpha glance at it in disgust before returning his attention to him.

“Hyukjae-ssi, you need a haircut?” Heechul flexes the blades of the scissors together, and the sound of metal scraping against itself echoes through the air. Hyukjae gulps.

“I mean, it’s not that—it’s not too urgent. You really don’t have to go through the trouble—” he stammers. The other man steps in anyways, closing the door behind him.

“Well, I am. Move your chair here.”

A few minutes later, Hyukjae sits in front of a full-length mirror that Heechul stole from his room, a piece of water resistant cloth tightly around his neck. He resists the urge to bounce his leg, fidgeting with his fingers instead. Behind him, Heechul inspects his head with narrowed eyes, lifting tufts of hair here and there randomly.

The silence between them is deafening.

“H-hyung, have you done this before?” Hyukjae breaks the void between them timidly. Heechul glares at him, hurriedly snipping off a long chunk from the back.

“Shut up and look forward,” he says, and Hyukjae does. Finally, the shaver starts buzzing and moving alongside the back of the younger Alpha’s neck. He sighs comfortably at last, the pleasant vibrating of the blades easing out some of the worry he had in his body. It’s almost enough for him to ignore the presence of Heechul.

Unfortunately though, it isn’t exactly Hyukjae’s forte to keep up an icy atmosphere.

“Did Jongwoon-hyung tell you to cut my hair, Hyung?” he asks diffidently once Heechul has retired the shaver and resorted to the scissors to snip at the edges of his sideburns.

“Wouldn’t you do it, Hyung? You two don’t know each other too well, so you should try to be more familiar through something like this!” Jongwoon pleads to the older Alpha, who scoffs.

“The kid’s literally terrified of me,” he says flatly. “Plus, I’ve never cut hair before. I doubt Hyukjae would appreciate a bald spot on his head.”

“You won’t do that bad. Hyung is a neat person, so hair cutting should come naturally, right? Just think about it,” Jongwoon says. Heechul eyes him with something in his gaze, as if inspecting him.

“Why do you want me to do this so much anyway? Hyukjae’s not your responsibility,” he states. Jongwoon looks away then, and the tinge of pink on his cheeks doesn’t escape the older Alpha’s eyes.

“I just don’t want him to be lonely,” he mumbles. “Plus, you sometimes look lonely too.”

Heechul’s eyes widen slightly. Then, he groans.

It wouldn’t be so bad, right? After all, Hyukjae did intrigue him somewhat. And there was always something that nagged him in the back of his head when he saw the younger Alpha. Secrets they probably both shared.

He looks at Jongwoon’s imploring gaze again.

“Okay fine, I’ll do it, but only for you, okay Jongwoon-ah?” he relents finally.

“Yeah, he did,” Heechul answers simply.

“I should try to repay him. He always takes care of me,” Hyukjae replies regretfully. Heechul watches him closely, his hands pausing in the process.

He asks bluntly, “A lot of people end up taking care of you, right?”

Hyukjae stiffens. Heechul sighs.

“Don’t be so guilty about it. After all, I would be the same as you, just more pitiful.”

At that, he falls silent, his arm falling to his side and his movements halting completely. Concerned, Hyukjae glances behind him to find the older Alpha with an unusually solemn expression on his face.

Heechul takes a deep breath, then dives off the cliff.

“Hyung?” he asks worriedly. The other man doesn’t move.

“Your scent when you walked in,” he says slowly, “Jongwoon could probably tell too, but he didn’t know what exactly it meant.”

“What are you saying?” Hyukjae tightens his fingers across his lap until the knuckles go white and presses his lips together until they go pale. Heechul glances over it, his expression softening.

“I’m saying that we’re similar, Hyukjae-ssi,” he confesses quietly.

Hyukjae suddenly stands up, whirling around to face the older Alpha. Pieces of hair fall around his feet, and his eyes are blown open, wide with emotion.

“I don’t know what you mean,” he says desperately. Heechul’s face looks apologetic at his distress, uncharacteristic of his usual personality.

“I’m sorry,” he says sincerely. “I didn’t want to pressure you into anything. I just wanted you to know that it really must’ve been difficult after all this time.

“And that you aren’t alone anymore.”

He cringes to himself at the words, but Hyukjae just stares at him, his mouth uselessly moving without any sound coming out.

“What do you want me to say?” he finally chokes out.

“You don’t have to say anything. I just wanted to be honest with you.” Heechul’s almost kind expression is like extending an invitation without saying it explicitly, like him opening his chest for the other to see.

Hyukjae’s Adam's apple bobs. He looks from the other’s face to the ground to the door behind him then back to Heechul.

“I need… I need time,” he says hesitantly. “I’m sorry, Hyung.”

Heechul nods understandingly. Then, he looks down at the floor and the pieces of blue hair littering the ground. “Do you still want a haircut now? If not, I can clear your room.”

“I’ll do it,” Hyukjae says quickly, already grabbing the broom from the side. He tears the broom from the dustpan and starts to sweep, only for the strands of hair to be kicked up and blown into the air. Hyukjae coughs and only tries to sweep harder, causing even more hair to fly up. Heechul watches this and sighs, taking the cleaning tool from the younger Alpha.

“Do you not even know how to clean? Here, Hyung will show you…”

 

 

The day ends when the clock strikes five. Unlike the usual, where Jongwoon drags his work until everyone has emptied from the office, he quickly packs up his things before his hours are even over. Then, he waits until Eunsoo has finished, ready to walk with her outside.

That plan quickly gets derailed when she tells him to go out first.

Jongwoon glances around the busy entrance, fiddling with his case strap. While he wasn’t a newcomer to and even preferred a more lively environment most times, he was still a newcomer to this company and a complete stranger to everyone around. He presses his mask over his nose again, trying not to attract too much attention himself.

“Changminnie! I think I see him!”

Suddenly, a man approaches him, dragging someone even taller with him by the wrist. Jongwoon startles slightly at seeing the two large figures approach him, only relaxing slightly after seeing the genial expression on the shorter one’s face.

“Hello!” he says brightly. “You’re the new Alpha in the office downstairs, right?”

The taller man, presumably “Changminnie”, elbows the one who just spoke.

“Yunho-hyung,” he hisses, “you can’t just stroll up to every single new Alpha employee in the company.”

Jongwoon blinks. Unless he is mistaken, he thinks he hears a bit of jealousy in his voice. Yunho beams anyway, putting a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

“But there are so few! And it’s not like I don’t greet everyone else,” he grins blindingly. Jongwoon looks between the two of them, confused. Still though, he’s in a hurry, and he glances at the exit of the building again, coughing into his sleeve.

“I’m sorry. I have plans later,” he apologizes first. “But you’re right, I’m the new employee, Kim Jongwoon.” He sticks his hand out, and Yunho shakes it, his grip firm and strong.

“I’m Jung Yunho! And my companion’s name here is Shim Changmin.” He gestures towards the other man, who dips his head at him respectfully. Jongwoon bows back despite his confusion. “Both of us are Alphas, and we work in accounting!”

Changmin seems to side eye Yunho at that, but the presumably older Alpha simply ignores him.

“Ah, it’s nice to meet you, Changmin-sunbae, Yunho-sunbae.” Jongwoon bows again, but Yunho stops him.

“You don’t have to be so formal! Just call us… Wait, which year were you born in?”

Before Jongwoon can answer, Eunsoo suddenly emerges from the glass doors, heading towards them quickly. Once she catches sight of all three of them, her eyes narrow.

“Jongwoon-ssi!” she greets him first, latching onto his arm. Jongwoon stiffens uncomfortably at that, though he is glad to see her. “And…?” She looks at Yunho and Changmin sharply.

“I’m Shim Changmin, and he’s Jung Yunho. We were just introducing ourselves to the new employee here,” Changmin says this time, voice almost defensive. Eunsoo raises an eyebrow at him, regarding him coolly. Quickly, Jongwoon rushes to defuse the situation.

“I should get to know my way around the office more, right?” he says hurriedly. Then, he looks towards them again, lowering his head at them. “It was nice to talk to you, but I have to go now.”

“Let’s grab a beer together sometime,” Yunho says warmly before Eunsoo nods once and drags Jongwoon away before he can respond. Jongwoon stumbles along, bewildered by her attitude.

“Eunsoo-ssi, is there something wrong?” he asks confusedly, almost tripping over his two feet. Eunsoo scoffs.

“They’re from the floor above us, so why do they need to even bother?” she mutters. “All those Alphas, they’re always so arrogant and annoying. Can’t they just stick to themselves?”

Jongwoon opens his mouth to reply, but before he can, he’s once again cut off by Eunsoo pulling her phone out and apparently calling a taxi service. It arrives shortly after, and before he knows it, he’s squeezed into a car, heading towards the karaoke place.

 

 

“Eat as much as you want!” Eunsoo shouts at the group, grinning underneath the flashing party lights. Large buckets of fried chicken and fries sit on the table, and the air is thick with the distinct stink of sweat and oil. Jongwoon picks at his fries while listening to the others’ conversations quietly, and this way of not attracting attention works until Eunsoo drags him upwards by the wrist and positions him in front of everyone.

“Introduce yourself! Pick a song!” she urges, shoving a microphone into his hands. Jongwoon turns to her, wide-eyed.

“Pick a song? But I said—”

“Introduce yourself,” Eunsoo repeats, and Jongwoon hurriedly bows to the crowd, clutching the mike to his chest.

“Hello, I’m Kim Jongwoon, the new employee. I joined a few days ago. Please take care of me,” he says. It feels a bit redundant given that he has memorized the names of all his coworkers already, and no doubt Eunsoo has made enough fuss for everyone to know his name already too, but the Omega looks pleased at his obedience.

“Now, a song,” she says expectantly, and Jongwoon’s cheeks turn hot. He swallows.

“Eunsoo-ssi, please. I really appreciate you inviting me, but my throat condition really isn’t good. How about I just pick a song for you to sing, and I can hold your phone and take a video?” he says desperately. Eunsoo’s eyes flick over him for a second, and for a few moments, she’s silent. Jongwoon is about to throw away more of his pride and start pleading again, but she speaks first.

“Don’t worry, that’s what I was planning on from the beginning,” she says smoothly, flashing him another toothy smile. “Pick me a good song, alright? But don’t take a video, I’m too embarrassed.”

Jongwoon sags in relief. He glances towards the screen of the karaoke machine, a few songs coming to his mind. “What kind of songs do you like?”

Eunsoo tilts her head back, placing a finger on her lips as she thinks. “Something sexy,” she laughs, wiggling her eyebrows. “C’mon, don’t make that expression, I was joking again! Something by an idol group would be good.”

“Ah, Into the New World?” Jongwoon suggests. Eunsoo gives a thumb up, quickly pressing the button on the machine.

“Let’s all sing together!” she yells towards everyone else over the chatter. “If I get above a ninety, you’re buying me my first beer,” she adds to Jongwoon, winking. He agrees with a nod, and the music starts up.

He returns to his seat as the noise level rises. Unknowingly, he takes the seat next to Taeyeon, who doesn’t acknowledge his presence. Instead, her eyes are fixed on the screen of the karaoke machine, her lips in a thin line. Jongwoon doesn’t attempt to get her attention, not wanting to arouse her annoyance. He just watches the crowd, squeezing his mask over his face again.

As the loudness swells, and Eunsoo’s voice rises like a fire alarm in an office building, Jongwoon wonders what Hyukjae’s doing.

 

 

Jongwoon doesn’t end up buying Eunsoo her first beer. That doesn’t stop her from getting completely smashed.

By now, most of his coworkers have gone home, haggling for taxis or riding the subway if they’re still sober. He doesn’t know why he’s still here either, and the walls of the karaoke room just seem to get narrower, as if trapping him inside. He chews on his lip, stomach hurting, and watches as Eunsoo visits around the room, thanking anyone leaving and chatting loudly with anyone still here.

Then, her eyes land on Jongwoon.

“Jongwoon-ssi… Jongwoon-ssi, are you having fun? This is fun, isn’t it?” she says, staggering towards him. On the way, she trips, and he quickly catches her by the arms before she can completely fall on top of him.

“Are you alright?” he asks worriedly, holding her up only barely. Her breath ghosts over his cheek, and he stiffens, not daring to breathe. Carefully, he stands up and sets her on his chair, making sure her head is supported. Eunsoo looks at him blearily, squinting.

“Why wouldn’t I be alright? After all, I got to take you to this karaoke party with everyone… Even if you didn’t end up singing,” she says, her words slurring together.

“Eunsoo-ssi is a good host,” Jongwoon replies simply. “You know everyone so well.”

She hums in agreement at that. Suddenly though, she grabs his wrist, pulling him close. Jongwoon stumbles, landing just above her with his hand placed on her waist. He freezes, all too aware of how close they are to each other.

“I want to get to know you better though,” she says slowly. Jongwoon swallows.

“I think you’ve had too much to drink,” he says quickly, but Eunsoo doesn’t budge, leaning closer. He averts his eyes uncomfortably, his mind racing.

“Eunsoo-ssi.”

Jongwoon’s head whips around to see Taeyeon, staring at them coldly. Hurriedly, he tears himself away from the Omega, apologizing profusely. Eunsoo releases him with a slight protest.

“This isn’t what it looks like!” he says frantically. “She’s a bit drunk… I wasn’t going to do anything!”

Taeyeon doesn’t do anything but level a flat expression at him. She glances at Eunsoo before looking back at him, beckoning him with a hand.

“I’ve rented another room. Let’s go,” she says.

“But we can’t just leave her!” Jongwoon objects. Taeyeon shrugs.

“She can handle herself. It won’t be long before time is up anyways.”

With that, she walks off, and Jongwoon has no choice but to go after her. They make their way through a few hallways, and eventually, they reach the room that Taeyeon had rented herself, much smaller and in a much quieter area of the building. She slips inside, and Jongwoon follows, the door closing behind them.

He stands around stiffly until she looks at him pointedly, and he quickly sits down, taking off his mask.

“About back then… it really wasn’t anything,” he begins awkwardly. “I’ll apologize to Eunsoo-ssi after the weekend ends, and I’ll accept anything—”

“It’s fine. You shouldn’t have to be the one apologizing anyways.” Taeyeon replies. Jongwoon blinks at her.

“But it was taking advantage of an Omega while they were drunk.”

“More like the other way around,” she sighs. “Never mind that. Do whatever you want.”

Jongwoon nods, placing his hands on his knees and squeezing them, an uneasy feeling welling up in his chest again. He licks his lips, the additional saliva making the dried out skin sting. Taeyeon watches, gaze lowered towards him. She looks at the door, then back at him.

“You’re a runaway,” she states. Jongwoon stiffens, head snapping up at her. Taeyeon observes him calmly. “I’m right, aren’t I?”

“How did you know?” he asks.

“You don’t have a cell phone. You’re a random Alpha that appeared in our Omega-Beta only department, probably hired because they think you’re not much of an Alpha in the first place. Your scent smells slightly bitter because of the unrenewed mating bite on your neck,” she explains. “Not to mention, the suit you wear to work every day is a host uniform.”

“A host uniform?” Jongwoon repeats dumbly.

“A host uniform? You know those cafe things where Alphas dress up like butlers and the customers get to order them around? There are Omega operated ones too, but you’re called a degenerate if you go to one, so most Alphas don’t.” Taeyeon shrugs. Jongwoon mentally notes that down, remembering to ask Heechul about it later.

The other Alpha’s back is turned to him now, and she scrolls through a list of songs, eyes flicking over every option. He bounces his leg, not quite knowing what to say.

“You’re not going to say anything more?” he asks.

“Not really. You have to do what you have to do, right?” Taeyeon selects a song, grabbing the microphone. “In fact, I’m jealous of you.”

“You’re jealous—”

He’s cut off by the music starting, and to his surprise, it’s the same song that he had chosen for Eunsoo earlier, Into the New World. Except this time, a much slower instrumental creeps out from the speakers, a ballad version.

With the first piano chord, Taeyeon lifts the microphone to her lips and begins to sing.

Jongwoon sits there in shock as a soulful voice echoes through the small room, filling up the entire space with its warm timbre. Taeyeon is undoubtedly skilled, and when the song reaches the end of its first verse, her other hand starts to unconsciously gesture as well, a habit he recognizes from trained singers. It’s completely different from when Eunsoo sang it.

With Taeyeon singing it, despite its hopeful lyrics, the song is now mournful.

Unable to stop the sudden swelling of emotion within him, Jongwoon reaches up to clutch at his chest. It’s almost unbearable, the amount of emotion that the other Alpha sings with. It’s like he’s drowning within the other’s sadness.

As the song progresses, Taeyeon’s breathing gradually becomes more and more frantic trying to keep up with the melody that was written for multiple people to sing together. In the end, she completely abandons phrasing, and she’s nearly bent over, her expression twisted in pain as she belts out note after note.

Jongwoon listens with his eyes closed, leaned against the back of his chair for support. There isn’t a single crack in Taeyeon’s voice, and when the final, sustained note comes, she holds it without faltering, though something breaks after that. The ending instrumental plays, and the arm holding the microphone falls abruptly to her side, her face turning up to the ceiling. Her inhales are ragged.

“I got divorced recently,” she says quietly while the orchestra. Jongwoon opens his eyes at that, looking at her. Her back is still turned towards him, but her shoulders are shaking. “We were married for almost five years. Had kids even.”

The song ends, plunging the room into silence. Jongwoon breathes in. “I’m sorry.”

“The kids went to hum, of course,” Taeyeon continues sorrowfully, “because we were both about equally able to take care of them. I was allowed to get them on the weekends, but lately, he’s not letting me see them. All I can do now is pay child support.”

Finally, she turns to him, and her eyes are forlorn. She scans Jongwoon up and down again, exhaling out a heavy breath.

“I’m so tired. I wish I could run away. Leave this place or become a runaway just like you. Get away from all this pain,” she murmurs. Then, she whirls away again, squeezing the microphone tightly in her hands. “But I can’t. Because I still have people I want to take care of.”

Taeyeon stops there. From behind, her solitary form looks small and even fragile. Her scent is tasteless, like it's been completely robbed of its fragrance. Yet, she stands with her back straight, chin tilted up towards the sky instead of angled towards the ground.

“You’re stronger than me,” Jongwoon says. Taeyeon seems to chuckle at that.

“There’s always a reason why we choose to stay here. You are too,” she replies.

Jongwoon hums. He thinks about his life only a month before now, and its saccharine yet hellish scent. He thinks about the pain in his throat and running away with nothing but a few dollar bills, only to have it taken from him. He thinks about Siwon’s invitation, the first viewing of the motel. He thinks about the residents.

He thinks about Hyukjae.

“I guess I am,” he says. Taeyeon puts the microphone back down, rubbing her eyes and yawning. She stretches her arms up, and it’s a stark contrast to her previous facade.

“You should get back now. I’ll take Eunsoo home, so you don’t have to worry about her,” she says lightly. Jongwoon stands up and follows her to the door. Yet, when she holds it open for him, he hesitates.

“Taeyeon-ssi, we should go to dinner sometime,” he says quickly. “I’ll bring my… my friends, and we can all talk together and eat.”

“Are you sure I won’t be the odd one out?” she asks him, her voice teasing and questioning at the same time. Jongwoon glances at her and shakes his head fervently.

“They’re really friendly!” he says. “Donghae’s got a really good heart, Shindong’s really smart, and Ryeowookie’s kind. They’ll talk to you a lot!”

Taeyeon looks slightly surprised at his sudden enthusiasm. Then, she chuckles, a smile coming to her lips. It’s the first time Jongwoon has seen it.

“Maybe I’ll take you up on your offer,” she says. He smiles back.

“That’s great!”

In the end, they bow to each other before Jongwoon leaves, Taeyeon waving to him as he walks out. Then, he hails himself a cab, which drops him off next to the motel quickly.

 

 

When he walks in, it’s already dark and quiet with all the residents already in their rooms. He catches Kyuhyun packing his things right before he leaves, and the Beta’s eyes clear up at the sight of him.

“Jongwoon-hyung! How did your party go?” he calls. Jongwoon smiles at him.

“It was nice, even if it was boring,” he pauses. “I’ve got someone I want to introduce everyone to.”

“You’re dating already?!” Kyuhyun gasps dramatically, and Jongwoon snorts.

“I’m not interested in that thing right now. Just a friend that needs some support.” He looks towards the hallways with the resident rooms again. “Is Ryeowook okay?”

Kyuhyun’s face shifts, turning into a look of exhausted worry. “He hasn’t come out. I don’t know what to do,” he says. Jongwoon rubs him on the arm comfortingly.

The hour hand on the clock moves again. Kyuhyun glances at the time and promptly says his goodbyes, quickly disappearing past the automatic doors. Jongwoon waves at him before he starts padding towards his room.

To his surprise, there’s a small dish sitting in front of it. When he bends down to read the slip of paper next to it, he can see that it’s written in scrawl, finished off with a cute crescent moon. It sits next to a bowl of galbitang.

Hyung doesn’t seem to eat much, so I didn’t know if you’d like the oily food at the karaoke room. The portions are small so you can finish it! Hope Hyung likes it.~ Hyukjae ☽

Jongwoon’s lips twist up. He unlocks the door and picks up the bowl, opening the door with his leg as he heads towards the desk to delicately set the dish onto it. He reads the note again, smiling.

“I really am so lucky,” he says aloud, though his chest has started to feel heavy again. For some reason, his loneliness seems to be even more recurring nowadays, and he finds himself falling into depression every night, unable to sleep or comfort himself on his own.

Jongwoon peeks out of his room, catching sight of Hyukjae’s room, which still has its lights on. Deciding something, he quickly strips himself and heads towards the bathroom for a quick shower.

About ten minutes later, he’s in front of Hyukjae’s door, knocking. The younger Alpha answers quickly, his eyes widening in surprise to see him. Jongwoon grins sheepishly.

“Are you busy? Let’s eat together,” he suggests. “I think I’ll have more of an appetite that way.”

Hyukjae just stares at him, and he realizes how gaunt the other man looks, with his troubled expression and knit between his eyebrows. Jongwoon’s about to excuse himself out of embarrassment and consideration before Hyukjae finally speaks.

“Isn’t it cold already?” He touches the bottom of the bowl, brushing his fingers against Jongwoon’s. A bolt of electricity shoots up his skin at the touch, and Jongwoon can feel his ears heat up for no reason. “Wah, Hyung’s hands are super small.”

“I know, I’ve been living with them for my whole life,” he retorts. Hyukjae laughs, this time fully enveloping Jongwoon’s hands within his own.

“Look, I can completely cover yours with mine!” he exclaims. Jongwoon snarls, though his cheeks have bursted into vibrant shades of red.

“Are you going to let me in or not?” he says irritably. Hyukjae opens the door wider.

“Sure, Hyung. Because you need me, right?” the younger Alpha jokes. Jongwoon huffs, but for a split second, he sees a forlorn expression on his face.

“Of course Hyung needs you,” he says sincerely. Now, it’s Hyukjae who looks surprised, but before he can reply, Jongwoon heads inside and puts the bowl on the table. Hyukjae follows after him, and the door closes.

The light stays on for a long time.

Chapter Text

“It’s been a while since we talked.”

Siwon’s father is a large Alpha, whose features are severe and unyielding. Like most CEOs, his office is on the uppermost level of the building, appropriately sectioned off from the rest of the employees. The walls of the room are not walls but tinted windows instead, allowing for natural light to come in softly through the glass. Yet, the ceiling is painted an oppressive black, creating an effectively monotone color palette that coats the entire room with certain darkness.

Respectfully, Siwon stands away from the desk, about six feet away.

“We should meet up more, Father,” he replies easily with a smile. The old Alpha just grunts.

“We shouldn’t waste so much time on small talk. We should discuss what you’ve been doing with your branch of the company.”

It isn’t strange for most of the pleasantries of the conversations to end this early. Siwon’s father is a definite introvert and very reclusive, even to his own child. In his younger years, Siwon had found himself desperately wishing for even a bit of affection from him, only to come up empty.

“I believe that I’ve been running everything smoothly,” he says. His father narrows his eyes.

“Don’t play stupid with me, Siwon. I’m your father. I know what you’ve been doing.”

Siwon feels his palms grow sweaty all of a sudden, but he doesn’t show it. Instead, he maintains his unaffected expression, the same one that he’s seen his father wear so much over the years.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“This is embezzlement, you know. I could charge you.”

His father’s scent permeates through the entire space, as if trying to crush him in its grasp. Siwon presses his lips together.

“This is within my power. Don’t forget that you gave me the freedom to operate within the branch business, and it’s been doing better than ever before. I don’t believe that this warrants a money laundering accusation,” he tries again, from a different route. The old man finally looks a bit thoughtful at that, though his expression doesn’t improve.

“You’re right. Rather than that, I’m more disappointed that my son is associating with those types of lowlifes.”

Siwon tightens his jaw at that, his unperturbed exterior beginning to show its cracks. He takes in a deep exhale, smoothing his expression over.

“Father, I’d appreciate it if you did not call them ‘lowlifes’,” he responds calmly. The old Alpha’s frown grows more severe.

“Call them what you will, they are lowlifes. Failure Alphas who can’t find work or provide for their families or even take care of themselves, weak and useless. Utter disgraces,” he says lowly.

“Father!” Siwon interjects, his fists clenched at his sides. His father’s eyes travel towards it, and he stands up, an angry aura emanating from him.

“Don’t you dare raise your hands at me, Siwon,” he growls.

Siwon looks to the ground and slowly loosens his hands.

“Father,” he grinds out, “you of all people should know that Alphas like that are not at fault for their current condition. It is the failure of our society to provide them resources with which to pull themselves back together.”

His father scoffs. “Society? When have Alphas been so weak as to not take responsibility for our own actions? They’re not like Omegas—” he spits that word out— “They set themselves up for failure, so they should be the ones to help themselves.”

Siwon stares at the ground. Then, he says, “Father, then would you say that you set yourself up for failure?”

The atmosphere in the room suddenly grows icy. Siwon immediately shuts his mouth as his father gets up quietly from the desk, approaching him until they are face to face.

The slap is to be expected.

The sound echoes through the room. Siwon’s head is bent to the side, a red mark on his cheek. His father has his hand raised, a cold expression on his face.

“That’s your punishment. I’m being lenient with you now because you’re my son, but attempt this again and you’ll lose everything.”

Siwon stays silent this time. His father returns to his desk and sits down, crossing his hands over his nose and leaning over.

“I’m halving the amount of free money you have within your control. That’s final.”

“Yes Father,” Siwon replies, steadying himself. The old man looks away from him, a silent dismissal.

“You can go now. Don’t forget about what I said.”

He bows first, then leaves quietly. The door shuts with a small click behind him.

 

 

When Jongwoon wakes up, the first thing he notices is the sun streaming brightly through the curtains.

It’s so strange. Lately, he’s only been waking up early to get to work, and even before that, he had always been up before the sun rose because he was unable to fall back asleep. This habit had persisted even as he moved into the motel, though it significantly improved after being able to breathe fresh air. Nonetheless, he usually did rely on his coffee far too much to keep him going throughout the day.

But strangely, after he had gone back to his room after talking with Hyukjae last night, he had been able to fall into a deep sleep.

Jongwoon climbs off the bed slowly and methodically, as if wanting to savor the moment. He stretches and yawns, refreshed. The clock indicates that at least four hours had passed since he passed out, and it’s a definite improvement.

Like usual, Kyuhyun is already there. However, unlike usual, he’s sitting at the table, eating. The Beta notices him first, looking up towards him in greeting.

“Good morning, Kyuhyun-ah,” Jongwoon sits down slowly, asking, “Did Leeteuk-hyung make this?”

“Yeah.” Kyuhyun chews absentmindedly. “You should eat some, Hyung. After all, you didn’t get to eat much of his cooking two nights ago, right? And you came home late yesterday…”

“Ah no, it’s fine. Hyukjae brought me something last night, so I’m not too hungry right now.” He glances around. “Speaking of which, is he around right now? He’s usually awake around the time that I am. I want to talk to him about something.”

There’s a promise that he still has to fulfill after all.

At that, Kyuhyun stops chewing, looking at him curiously. “You didn’t know? The time that Hyukjae-hyung met you in the morning, he went back to his room right after. He probably woke up to greet you.”

Jongwoon blinks.

He thinks back to the previous night, when Hyukjae had stayed up with him late despite looking utterly exhausted. He wonders if it had anything to do with the favor he asked Heechul and if the encounter hadn’t ended as well as he intended. A flash of guilt explodes through Jongwoon, and he swallows.

“I didn’t know that,” he says. Kyuhyun seems to detect his subtle mood change and gently pushes a bowl of food towards him, even getting out a pair of chopsticks from the holder for him.

“It’s not like you forced him too. He was just being an idiot on his own,” he says reassuringly. Jongwoon glances at him doubtfully but can’t help the chuckle that slips out of his mouth.

“He’s still your hyung. Plus, do you even know him enough to call him an idiot yet?” he responds. Kyuhyun huffs.

“We’ve had a few conversations here and there. He’s always in the motel anyways, so I’ve caught him once or twice sneaking out of his room.”

Jongwoon nods. He slowly picks up his chopsticks and bites off a chunk of the kimchi pancake. He doesn’t realize that it’s not exactly like Ryeowook’s or Kyuhyun’s cooking until he actually starts chewing, pausing at the taste. Kyuhyun watches him intently.

“So, mine’s better, right?” he questions. Jongwoon slips another piece into his mouth.

“It tastes different from yours. More balanced kind of. Your levels are about the same though,” he says truthfully with an amused twinkle in his eye. Kyuhyun starts protesting at the notion, but midway, his expression suddenly falls.

“Neither of us are as good as Ryeowook though,” he mutters, shoving a large bite into his mouth. Jongwoon’s eyes go towards the younger Alpha’s room again, still closed and still locked.

“Has he been eating?” he asks worriedly. Kyuhyun shrugs.

“He always leaves the bowl empty at the end of the day,” he says, tone purposely callous as to hide the concern behind it. “This isn’t the first time this has happened.”

“Things must be difficult for Ryeowook,” Jongwoon murmurs. Taeyeon’s face comes to his mind, and he’s once again reminded of how lucky he is, to be free and to have a job. Kyuhyun continues staring into his plate, now cleared of food.

“Hyung,” he says without looking up, “are you going to go out to the city again today?”

“I don’t know,” he answers vaguely, as if he’s purposely trying to dodge the question. Instead, he tries to make eye contact with the Beta. “Kyuhyun-ah, are you always here? Do you have time to rest?”

“Technically, this is my rest,” the younger man says. He shifts in his chair, now leaning backwards and looking towards the ceiling. “It’s nice. I like it here.”

The statement sounds far too imprecise to not be hiding something, but Jongwoon doesn’t pry. Instead, he leans onto his arm, staring off into the distance.

Like Kyuhyun says, Hyukjae is up shortly after, rubbing his eyes sleepily. His blue hair, now shorter than it was yesterday, sticks up in multiple directions.

“Good morning,” he says. The Beta starts to grab him a plate of food, but Jongwoon stops him.

“Hyukjae-ah, shouldn’t you still be sleeping?” he questions the Alpha. “Didn’t you go to bed late last night? Why are you climbing out now?”

“Well, the reason I stayed up so late was because of Hyung, right?” Hyukjae yawns, sitting down anyways. Jongwoon grimaces at the memory. Kyuhyun glances at him and hands the other Alpha a pair of chopsticks with his other hand, which Hyukjae graciously receives. He pulls a plate towards him and immediately starts scarfing the pancakes down. “This is good!”

“It’s actually Teukie-hyung’s cooking but—”

The same conversation repeats. Jongwoon stays silent the entire time, the only movement of his being him subtly nudging his own dish towards Hyukjae. To his surprise though, the younger Alpha notices quickly, directing the conversation towards him after finishing with Kyuhyun.

“Hyung, what are you going to do today?” he asks almost eagerly. Jongwoon shrugs helplessly.

“I don’t know.”

“Are you going to go out?”

“I don’t know.”

“Are you going to stay inside then?”

“I… I don’t know.”

Hyukjae’s frown only grows on his face. “Hyung, are you sure you’re the one that’s not too tired after yesterday night?”

“Ah, no! I’m fine. You don’t have to worry about me…” Jongwoon trails off, pressing his lips together. The younger Alpha tilts his head at him, and he looks away too, twiddling his thumbs over the table as if shy.

“Then… I mean… Hyung still has a promise he hasn’t fulfilled, right?” he mumbles. Jongwoon glances at him in slight surprise.

“What?”

“That! You know? What you said a long time ago… Ah, it’s nothing! Thank you for the food!” Hyukjae quickly stands up and grabs his plate, placing it into the dishwasher and hastily bolting away back into his room. Jongwoon watches him.

“He didn’t eat as much this time,” he says. Kyuhyun finally sighs.

“Hyung, you know you aren’t subtle, you know?” he says.

“Isn’t this better?” Jongwoon looks down, biting his lip. “I didn’t want to hurt him.”

“I already said that he was doing everything because he wanted to. Is that hard to believe?” Kyuhyun reminds him.

“You can’t just say that. Even if he wanted to, he should try to sleep well instead of trying to keep up with my sleep schedule.” He tightens his hand over his lap. “I’ve been annoying him a lot lately with my own requests. I think it’s best if he doesn’t feel like he has to entertain me as much.

The Beta frowns. He changes his approach. “It hasn’t been too long since you two met. Hyukjae-hyung isn’t really the type to be too social with other people. Maybe you’re the only one he feels really comfortable with.”

“He has Donghae though,” Jongwoon tries.

“Those two aren’t exactly talking right now, you know? Just—” Kyuhyun shakes his head— “Look, you two just make sure you keep each other company, alright? There’s too much happening lately. Leeteuk-hyung’s on edge all the time now too. This might sound too easy, but don’t linger on those things.”

He blinks.

“Kyuhyun, you’re really perceptive, aren’t you?” he remarks. Kyuhyun looks at him, a flash of tiredness finally making it past his eyes.

“It’s not me that’s the perceptive one,” he replies, getting up and placing his dishes in the sink as well. Before he goes back to the desk, he says one last thing, “Just don’t break your promise, okay Hyung? He might not have much else to look forward to.”

Then he’s gone, leaving Jongwoon with his mind. After thinking for a few more minutes, he stands as well. He gathers a plate of kimchi pancakes and walks into the hallway.

He knocks on Hyukjae’s door. The response is immediate. As if in apology, Jongwoon holds up the food first in front of his face.

“Let’s go into the city today, alright? Together,” he says. Hyukjae’s expression lights up instantly.

“Let’s go!”

 

 

They stumble outside with the heat on their heels, Jongwoon borrowing another one of Heechul’s more fashion-friendly shirts—who knew his hyung was obsessed with anime—and Hyukjae wearing what he wore when he first arrived at SUPER JUNIOR—except washed this time. He plucks at their clothes regretfully before going out, frowning.

“I’ll save up after paying rent, and we’ll buy ourselves something better to wear, okay?” he tells Hyukjae, who gains a strangely melancholic look on his face.

“The both of us…” he murmurs, so softly that Jongwoon isn’t able to hear him before they leave.

He suggests that they head towards the open markets first, hoping that the earlier time of day will spare them from the crowd. Unable to afford a bus, they walk there together with a companionable silence between them. Or maybe, it’s more of an awkward quiet for Jongwoon, who can’t figure out how to start a conversation for the life of him. All their casual talk topics had been exhausted yesterday after all, in that bright room.

But this time, it’s Hyukjae who speaks up first.

“Hyung, your voice condition isn’t that good, right? What happened?” he asks curiously. Jongwoon automatically reaches up to caress his neck, surprised at the sudden question. Hyukjae’s eyes are open wide and innocent, not a trace of malicious intent within them. He swallows.

“Sorry, does it bother you? Maybe I should speak less,” he half jokes, watching for the younger Alpha’s reaction. Hyukjae snorts.

“You, talk less? You’re always around other people talking like in the city and all that, so I think it’d be more detrimental to your psyche if you did that.”

“Are you saying that I’m annoying?” He grins, and Hyukjae pouts.

“I’m just saying Hyung! It’d probably kill you to not be around other people for too long of a time!”

Jongwoon feels a pang in his heart at those words, which hit a little too close to home. He touches his throat again, feeling the small muscles spasm underneath his fingertips.

“It was my fault,” he says quietly. Then, he flashes a smile towards Hyukjae, trying not to let his carefree mask slip. “But it’ll be alright. After all, these things always heal, right?”

The younger Alpha’s expression changes into one of concern. “Hyung, maybe you should try to use your voice less though. It’s not healthy if you overuse it.”

“Don’t be so worried about me,” Jongwoon brushes him off. “After all, it’s not like I talk too much at work, and I didn’t even sing at the karaoke party yesterday. The only place where I’m like this is at the motel.”

“If you say so, Hyung…” Hyukjae trails off. He suddenly fixes his eyes on something in front of him, and Jongwoon follows him, finding that they’re already nearing the marketplace. Unfortunately for them though, it’s crowded with people, even on an early Saturday morning such as this. He tugs up his mask before starting to head inside, but beside him, Hyukjae has completely frozen.

“Hyukjae-ah? Are you alright?” Jongwoon asks worriedly. He glances towards the crowd again and then back at the other man’s fear-stricken face. “Do you not want to go in today?”

“No!” Hyukjae says loudly, finally shaking himself out of the daze. He stares at his shoes, shifting on his feet. “It’s just been a long time since I saw so many people… We should go in. I want to go in.”

Jongwoon furrows his eyebrows. In a split second decision, he grabs the younger Alpha’s hand, wrapping the other’s longer fingers around his small palm. Hyukjae’s eyes widen, and he looks at Jongwoon in surprise.

“Just hold onto me, okay?” Jongwoon says. Hyukjae nods, and they plunge into the fray together.

The vibrancy of the market during the day is wholly different than the almost melancholic feel it has at night. Above them, paper streamers and banners flutter in the breeze, and the air is filled up with the smells of food and the cries of eager shopkeepers. Jongwoon can feel Hyukjae clutching his hand tighter as he looks around, overwhelmed with his surroundings.

“C’mon, let’s go towards one thing at a time.” Jongwoon tugs him along, and the younger Alpha stumbles after him obediently, eyes still darting around the area.

“Look! It’s a clothes shop!” They stop right in front of a clothing stall, and he uses the free hand to stroke the fabric gently, marveling at the softness of the textile. Hyukjae glances at it but finds himself drawn to something else on the table, examining it as well. Jongwoon turns towards him. “Hyukjae-ah, are you interested in fashion?”

“Yeah,” the younger Alpha responds simply. “I really liked it.”

“I’ll save up as much money as I can, and we can go shopping properly,” he promises. Hyukjae looks pensive before he seems to think of something.

“Hyung, we should style each other!” he suggests with a burst of enthusiasm. Jongwoon smiles.

“But I haven’t approved of your fashion sense yet,” he teases. “How do I know you won’t just put me in something ridiculous.”

“I’d never do that!” Hyukjae insists, but his eyes are twinkling with mischief. Jongwoon chuckles before moving onto the next article of clothing to admire.

They spend about ten minutes in that shop before they leave, back onto the main street. Somewhat eager now, Hyukjae looks around with newfound vigor in his eyes, his irises bright. Jongwoon is ready to bring them to another stall that would appeal to both of them before the other man’s eyes suddenly flit towards a clothing shop across the street, and he quickly pulls them in that direction.

Jongwoon stumbles and trips, yelping as he loses his balance. However, he feels something firm stop him from falling to the ground, and he looks up only to find himself with his chin buried in a startled Hyukjae’s chest. He realizes now that the younger Alpha’s hand is still holding his, and his other hand is on his waist. Embarrassed, Jongwoon quickly pushes himself off the other and dusts himself off, trying to hide the red in his cheeks.

“Sorry, that was my bad,” he says, somehow managing to not stutter. Hyukjae stares at him for a few more moments before he snaps out of his daze.

“Ah, that was my fault, Hyung! I should’ve warned you,” he apologizes before averting his eyes as well. Their hands are still intertwined.

They stand awkwardly together for a few more seconds before Hyukjae scratches the back of his head and leads him towards the store again, this time slower. Jongwoon stares at his feet the entire way, his cheeks burning. It’s only when they stop that he looks upwards, towards the shop name.

He furrows his brows.

“Isn’t this an Omega clothing shop?”

Hyukjae ignores him, pulling them into rows of clothing racks before he can question any further. Jongwoon goes along reluctantly, lowering his head self consciously. Around them, Omegas and Betas glance at them, not malicious but enough to make him feel a different kind of embarrassment.

“What are you trying to pull?” he hisses at Hyukjae when they finally halt at a rack of colorful outfits. Without responding, the younger Alpha pulls out a shirt and starts matching it up with Jongwoon’s figure, eyes concentrated.

“Isn’t it pretty?” he says, grabbing a pink crop top and layering it on top of the shirt. Jongwoon’s ears heat up.

“Are you trying to make a fool of me?” he says exasperatedly. Hyukjae’s gaze meets him, and he shakes his head quickly.

“What do you think I’m trying to make a fool of you? I think Hyung would look good in something more colorful!” He defends himself before mumbling, “Plus, Omega’s clothes have more options anyways. It suits you.”

Jongwoon blinks before sighing. “Fine, do whatever you want, but I’m not going to wear it.”

“Hyung!” Hyukjae protests. He lets go of Jongwoon’s hand, frowning. “C’mon, I’d pick it especially for you!”

“Still won’t,” he insists stubbornly.

Hyukjae’s bottom lip, which had already been sticking out, juts out even more, and he turns his back on the older Alpha, clearly sulking. Jongwoon tries to catch his eyes, but he turns away before their eyes can meet, turning up his chin.

“You seriously can’t expect me to wear it. I mean… ugh, Omega’s clothes wouldn’t even look good on me! I don’t have the figure for it anyways. It’d look bad on me,” he tries. Hyukjae doesn’t budge.

“That’s just what you’re saying! You just think I’d purposely sabotage you, right?” he retorts. “Even if I did try really hard.”

Jongwoon opens his mouth to reply but realizes something. He finally sighs, relenting. “Fine, I’ll wear whatever you want me to when the time comes. After we get the money too.”

At that, Hyukjae whirls around, beaming. “You’re the best, Hyung!” he says with a bright grin. He grabs more clothes off the rock, and Jongwoon notices for the first time that the younger Alpha’s gums stick out when he truly smiles. He can’t help his lips curling up at the sight.

What an innocent smile.

“Yah Hyukjae-ah, we can’t spend too much time here. We have other places to look at too, you know,” Jongwoon says. Hyukjae quickly holds up one more piece of clothing to his body before nodding happily, returning the selected items to the very back of the rack as if he’s trying to save it for later. Jongwoon grabs his hand again, and they leave, satisfied.

 

 

Meanwhile at the motel, two people pick up the phone at the same time.

“What is it, Siwon-ah?” Shindong switches tabs to his workspace, typing something into the blank document. “Is everything good?”

“Shindong-hyung…” Siwon starts hesitantly before coughing, straightening himself. “Shindong-hyung, some things happened on my side. I’m unable to pay you as much as I did before.”

Shindong stops. He looks away from the computer screen, taking the phone off of speaker mode and pressing it to his ear fully. “What?”

“My father,” Siwon states.

“How much less?”

“A lot. My wiggle room got reduced by half. He threatened to charge me with embezzlement.”

Shindong’s eyebrows furrow. “He did give you the authority to do whatever you pleased though. How would that hold up?”

On the other side, Siwon seems to shrug before continuing on in a regretful tone. “I don’t know. All I know is that he can afford better lawyers than I can. Plus…” he adds quietly, “he’s my father. I can’t speak up against him.”

Shindong understands.

“It’ll still be enough to pay rent, right?” he asks cautiously.

“It will. But everything else will have to go to things like rent and the utility bills,” Siwon replies. Shindong leans back in his chair.

“Well, I guess I’ll just have to eat a little less in the mornings, right?” he jokes. When the younger Alpha doesn’t respond, he says, “Look, Siwon-ah. We’re all giving our best, alright? It’ll be fine. Teukie-hyung will find a way.”

“I’m sorry, Shindong-hyung,” Siwon says apologetically. The sound of rustling suddenly fills the speaker, and he seems to say something to someone next to him. “I have to go now. I’m calling on my personal phone, so it looks a little suspicious.”

“You should go, Siwon. Make lots of money and form your own company one day,” Shindong teases, and finally, the younger Alpha lets out a chuckle.

“Sure, Hyung. See you.”

“See you.”

Shindong gets ready to hang up, but Siwon suddenly speaks again. “And… I always have an opening here at the company for you, you know that right? If you ever need a job…”

“I don’t have any credentials. I wouldn’t want you to pay me in,” Shindong says easily. Siwon seems to want to say something more, but he decides against it.

“Just remember, okay Hyung?”

“I will, don’t worry Siwon-ah. But Leeteuk-hyung needs me a bit too much at the moment for me to go.”

He hangs up then returns his gaze to the computer. He clicks onto the original tab again, pursing his lips before he pulls it into a new window and hides it.

On the other side of the building, Kyuhyun jerks up, startled by the sound of the desk phone ringing. He picks it up slowly, speaking in a professional pitch, “SUPER JUNIOR Motel. How may I help you?”

“Kyuhyun-ah, why is your phone turned off?”

The familiar voice shocks him. Kyuhyun’s eyes widen.

“Mom?” He glances around the surroundings, lowering his voice so he isn’t heard. “Why are you calling me right now?”

“I’ve been worried. We haven’t spoken in weeks,” his mother responds fretfully. “I sometimes wonder what you’re even doing over there, and I get so worried about you.”

“Sorry, I’ve been busy lately,” Kyuhyun says, lowering his gaze to the table. “Is something the matter? I’ve been eating well and everything, so you don’t need to be concerned about me.”

“You’re my only child,” she says. “Plus, you’re in a place like that, so I can’t help it.”

Kyuhyun sighs. “Seriously Mom, I’m fine. Everyone here isn’t like you think they are.”

“But…” his mother pauses. “Look, you know where I’m coming from, right?”

“I know. And for you, it’s fair. But I came here to get to know more things, so I can’t exactly agree with you all the way,” he replies.

“Don’t you know enough? Don’t you want to come home? Honestly, I keep trying to think about it, but not a single reason why you’d want to stay comes into my mind,” she says, frustrated. Kyuhyun rubs his temple.

“I like it here,” he says simply.

“How could you?!” his mom explodes, and he takes the phone away from his ear, wincing. “How could you not have learned from my mistakes? Don’t you know what happened to me? How many times have I told you to be careful, yet you keep doing reckless things like this! Can’t you be less selfish?!”

“Seriously, they’re just Alphas,” Kyuhyun says, as patiently as he can. “I am being careful! I’m just not being paranoid, okay? Look—” He takes a deep breath before continuing— “I know what happened, alright? I’ll always remember it. But I also need to expand my mind. I need to be happy too.”

His mother is silent after that.

“I’ll visit soon, alright? I’m sorry I didn’t call more often.” he finally says. When she still doesn't reply, he hangs up.

 

 

Jongwoon can’t stop looking at the jewelry.

It catches his eye from far away, the faint glint of light off of metal. While he isn’t a greedy person, he can’t help but to glance towards it with every store they go into and leave without buying anything.

But little does he know that Hyukjae’s watching too.

It’s only after the younger Alpha finishes styling a more retro outfit for him, a brightly colored, striped shirt, a denim jacket, baggy pants, and a neon orange cap. Because it’s a street stall, there are no fitting rooms, so he settles on putting it against Jongwoon’s body instead, talking excitedly about how good it would look on him. Jongwoon can’t help but to smile, teasing him and watching the other man squawk out defensively. It’s all too fun and good payback for all the ribbing he’s taken from him regularly.

But after they get out of the store, Hyukjae quickly tugs him in one direction again. Jongwoon doesn’t stumble, just looks at him curiously as they cross the street to the other side. He’s fixated on the expression on his face, the one that hints towards an idea.

Jongwoon doesn’t even notice until they stop right in front of a store selling accessories. He blinks.

“Hyukjae—?”

“I want Hyung to pick out an accessory for me,” the younger Alpha interrupts. He turns and smiles towards him, and Jongwoon isn’t sure which he can’t look away from more at the moment, the necklaces or the other’s face.

His heart thumps, and for some reason, heat suddenly rises to his cheeks, and he quickly looks away.

“W-Well, these necklaces should look good on you, right? It would make you look less plain.” He touches the delicate chain, not sure if he should remove it from the holder. Hyukjae takes it off for him and holds it up to his neck.

“Isn’t it a bit too… much?” he grimaces. Jongwoon tilts his head, then picks up something else from the table, measuring it over Hyukjae’s collarbones. The younger Alpha cranes his neck to allow him a better view, and Jongwoon suddenly realizes just how smooth and white the skin there is, his cheeks heating up at the observation.

“It looks pretty,” he murmurs.

“Really? There’s so much hanging off of it though. Isn’t Hyung a bit too materialistic?” Hyukjae jests again. Jongwoon raises an amused eyebrow.

“You really do look fine in it. It’s not like I’d sabotage you,” he says pointedly. The younger Alpha pouts.

“I wouldn’t! The clothes from earlier really were good!”

“Well, you asked me to pick something out for you, right? So don’t complain.”

“I can still complain even if I asked you!” He takes the necklace out of his hands, and just as Jongwoon thinks he’s going to put it back onto the display, the younger Alpha’s eyes suddenly flick towards him. He holds it up to him this time, gaze running up and down his chest. Unconsciously, Jongwoon’s throat bobs.

“It looks nice on Hyung though,” Hyukjae remarks. Then, he sets it down without another word, leaving him standing stunned. Jongwoon watches him as he inspects the table for more accessories, bracelets and rings among other things.

Swallowing, he breaks the silence to ask, “Hyukjae-ah, what kind of thing do you think would like?”

Hyukjae breaks his staring contest with a particularly lovely bracelet to glance upwards at him through his eyelashes. He thinks for a few moments before shrugging.

“I dunno. But definitely not any of that super intricate stuff you kept giving me earlier!” he adds. Jongwoon scuffs him lightly on the ribs.

“You were pret—it fit you really well. It was a nice contrast to your face.”

Hyukjae flashes him a scandalized expression. “Hey! At least I’m more handsome than you!”

“Dream on, Hyukjae-ah,” Jongwoon chuckles. He becomes thoughtful, rubbing his chin. “But what would you like though? Just as a starter before I start throwing a ton of other stuff on you.”

“Something simple would be just fine,” he grumbles. “Why are you so fond of accessories anyways? It’s weird.”

“You just don’t have taste,” Jongwoon shoots back. He scans Hyukjae up and down again, and suddenly, he reaches up to lightly brush the lobe of the other man’s ear. Realizing the strangeness of the action, he quickly retracts his hand, but to his surprise, Hyukjae doesn’t flinch or step back.

He shudders. Jongwoon touches it again, gingerly.

“You’d look good with earrings,” he remarks, letting go. For some reason, both of Hyukjae’s ears are pink.

“D-Doesn’t it hurt to get them?” Hyukjae stammers, covering the reddened area with his hands. Jongwoon takes it as him imagining the pain of the piercing needle goes through and hurries to reassure him.

“It doesn’t hurt that much to be honest,” he says. “Just a little bit if you’re nervous.”

“Really. Don’t they shoot it though? Or they just stab it through?” the younger Alpha says doubtfully.

“How about I come with you? If you choose to go through with it? It’s always easier if there’s something you know around,” Jongwoon suggests. Hyukjae just seems to look at him curiously before breaking into giggles.

“Hyung always makes a lot of promises,” he says mischievously. “I’m definitely your favorite dongsaeng, right?”

“Don’t think that just because I haven’t seen Ryeowook in a few days means that you’ve dethroned him. Kyuhyun’s rising up pretty quickly too.”

“What’s Kyuhyun doing better than me? Just because he cooks…” Hyukjae sulks, and Jongwoon is just about to poke his cheek when someone suddenly taps his shoulder.

He turns around, coming face to face with a man and woman, both staring at them with narrowed eyes. Jongwoon has this urge to step closer to the younger Alpha despite the two clearly being Omegas.

“Excuse me, we’d like to look at the items displayed here. Could you please move?” the man asks politely. His friend nods, though she eyes them with some sort of contempt.

Jongwoon just looks at them in confusion, swallowing. He makes space for them, still wanting to spend a little more time at the front table without going deeper into the shop. They settle in beside them stiffly, and Hyukjae shifts uncomfortably beside him.

It’s only a few moments after that the two Omegas get their attention again.

“I’d like to see the item on your left. Can you move again?”

At first, Jongwoon simply agrees and moves. However, the man and woman quickly take up the entire spot at the table, effectively pushing them out. He looks at them indignantly, but before he can speak again, Hyukjae tugs on the back of his shirt. He shakes his head.

“Let’s just go. There are other shops here too,” he says quietly. Jongwoon falters at the defeated expression on his face and nods silently, leading the path away from the stand. He glances backwards, and Hyukjae flashes him a smile. Jongwoon can only manage a small curl of the lip, his expression quickly sombering as he turns back to the front.

They visit a couple more jewelry shops, but the noose keeps tightening until it becomes nearly unbearable to be within one. Looking into the mirror, all Jongwoon can focus on are his hand-me-down clothes and the strands of hair sticking up from his head. He hasn’t been able to shave recently either, adding to the scruffiness. His eye bags stand out, and his cheeks are sunken and dry, his Adam's apple straining through the skin on his throat.

He suddenly feels like an outsider, an intruder. Just some kind of useless Alpha who can’t even buy things or provide for the people he cares about, always making empty promises and annoying others. He’s of no value to society, a good-for-nothing who can’t offer anything. He had left behind everything, his first love and his old passion. The former was all he had known for the longest time.

That damp room, that bright and blinding wallpaper, that lulling smile, that threat, that locked door…

Of course, he had still left. But what is he even doing now?

He can’t even sing anymore.

Amid his depressive spiral, Jongwoon doesn’t even realize where he’s going. Suddenly, he runs into someone, and the person shrieks. They both fall, and Jongwoon slams into the ground, letting out a small groan. Dazed, he looks upwards and locates the other person, a woman wearing an expensive shirt and leggings.

“Shit, I’m so sorry—”

Don’t touch her.

Jongwoon freezes as the Alpha voice rings through the air, halting every fibre in his body. The Alpha who used it shoves in front of him, helping her to her feet and holding her behind him protectively. He’s well dressed, wearing a nice button up shirt and jeans. Jongwoon can look upwards, and he suddenly feels suffocated with all the people seeming to be staring down on him, at him.

Like dirt.

But then, someone pulls him up. He looks back to see Hyukjae, his eyes worried and his large hands gripping Jongwoon’s shirt. He gets up, focusing only on his face and the fading blue of his haphazardly cut hair.

He’s beautiful.

“Hyung, are you alright?” Hyukjae asks concernedly. Jongwoon breathes. In and out.

Yes, he should hold himself together at least until he’s out of sight. There’s not much else he can do.

“I’m alright, Hyukjae-ah,” he says. He manages a smile. “Shall we get out of here?”

 

 

“How are you, Donghae?”

Donghae leans on the side of the railing overlooking the Han River alongside a taller Alpha, a stockier man who stands a few centimeters taller than him. The man offers him a cigarette, but he declines it politely.

“I don’t smoke anymore,” he says. The other Alpha nods, putting the pack back into his pocket.

“Me neither,” he replies. The hot summer wind blows through them, and he just looks down into the tepid waters, his gaze pensive. Donghae shuts his eyes and inhales the scent of the river. He doesn’t come here often, but maybe he should.

“This isn’t like you. What did you call me here for?” he asks, already somewhat knowing the answer. The man clenches his fist, finally raising his gaze to squint into the sun, the blue skies, and thin clouds.

“I just wanted to talk. I thought you… I thought you’d be able to understand,” he says slowly. Donghae finally opens his eyes, staring into the river with a ruminative expression. A wave of conflicted feelings washes through him, and he hates to focus on it like this.

He’s been a coward lately.

“I’m sorry, Hyung,” he apologizes first. The other Alpha seems to chuckle at that for some reason, as if he had been predicting his response, and suddenly, Donghae feels an arm wrap around his shoulders, pulling him closer. He exhales.

“How’s everyone?” the man asks.

“No one tells me anything. They all miss you. Sungmin visited, and two more people joined. One of them…” Donghae hesitates, “someone I knew from before.”

“When you were a kid?”

“Yeah. I took care of him a little at first, but I feel like now… there’s this distance between us,” he says.

“Is it… related to that?” the other man asks.

Donghae and Hyukjae. Hyukjae and Donghae. They both seem to have changed.

Donghae is afraid.

“I’m still trying to find a place for myself. Away from… I don’t know. Everything just seems so unpredictable still. I can’t get a grip. I’m just lost.”

The Alpha nods. He holds onto him tightly, not saying a word. There isn’t anything to be said anyways. They both just know.

However, Donghae speaks up again.

“But I’m sure that if Leeteuk-hyung hadn’t found me, I would’ve done it again. It’s just what loneliness does. So Hyung—” he leans into the older Alpha, shutting his eyes tightly— “Don’t isolate yourself. It’s not healthy. At least talk to us again.

“Youngwo—Kangin-hyung, please.”

Kangin doesn’t reply. Instead, he turns around and fully pulls Donghae into a tight embrace. Donghae presses his lips together, and when they part, he can feel his eyes growing wet.

“You’re a good dongsaeng,” Kangin says genuinely, “but not now. Not until I get at least some things figured out.”

Donghae can only nod and wipe his nose on his sleeve. The older Alpha smiles at him.

They say goodbyes. He watches as the shadow following Kangin’s feet lengthens as he gets further away.

As if it is reaching out.

Chapter Text

Shindong has always been a lowlife. From even before he dragged his ass out of his parents’ house and finally got himself out of their hair. He’s never been able to have a relationship. He doesn’t have too many friends outside the people in the motel. He’s spent most of his life chronically online and inside a room smaller than one of Siwon’s bathrooms, whether it be rotting away or working on a spreadsheet for a living wage.

A wage that no longer exists, of course.

Shindong’s halfway down the hallway when he sees Kyuhyun crack open a can of beer. It’s barely half past noon.

“Give me a can too.”

If he knew, Leeteuk would have their heads about this. Fortunately, he won’t.

The cool aluminum freezes his lips as he tilts his head back, inhaling nearly half of the can in a single gulp. He groans as he puts it back on the counter, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Similarly, Kyuhyun exhales heavily, sinking into his chair. The placement of the telephone stand has changed slightly from before.

Neither of them say anything for a while.

“You always leave your door open during the summer, Hyung,” Kyuhyun says.

“It’s so I can hear Leeteuk-hyung calling me if I need to,” he replies. They look at each other and sigh at the same time.

“What are you going to do now?” the Beta asks, taking another sip from his can. Shindong leans back, staring down at the table.

“It’s not like Hyung can’t pay me. I just got greedy with Siwon, that’s all,” he says. “He was really doing me a favor by letting me get some of his scraps.”

“But that’s the kind of person that you are, right?” Kyuhyun says. Shindong looks at him questioningly, and he continues, “You know… the type that always wants something to do.”

“Are you calling me hedonistic?” Shindong snorts. He swallows down the rest of his beer and doesn’t open another one. Briefly, he wonders where Donghae is.

“Not really. But it always feels like you have your eye on something away from here.” Kyuhyun shrugs. “You’re always looking for something new.”

Shindong blinks. The Beta stares at him meaningfully.

“There’s nothing that I can’t do here,” Shindong says. “Nothing that I need to do anyways.”

Kyuhyun frowns. He pulls another can of beer from the fridge.

“It’s comfortable here,” he agrees.

They sit in silence.

“But honestly, Kyuhyun, you seem like a person with a lot of ambition. You’ve probably finished college too, so what are you doing here?”

“I don’t plan on using my degree.” Kyuhyun swirls his beer around, staring into it pensively. “And in all honesty, I don’t really know how I ended up here either.”

Kyuhyun had arrived at the motel only shortly after Shindong had. At the time, he’d been prickly and standoffish with almost everyone, only talking to Leeteuk and Ryeowook. He hadn’t provided any reason for his arrival, only that he wanted to ‘widen his perspective’.

“Well—” Shindong shrugs— “it’s nice to have you here and doing the grunt work. Cooking, sitting at a desk doing nothing, playing Starcraft…”

“Heechul-hyung can tell you that I’m amazing at Starcraft,” Kyuhyun grumbles. “Plus, what else can I do? It’s not like I’d be satisfied or anything, not without—fuck—”

He stops, clenching his fist on the table. Shindong hums. He stands up, grabbing Kyuhyun’s beer before he can grab it himself, drawing a protest from the younger man.

“Let’s go to the kitchen so we don’t spill any on the counter and piss Leeteuk-hyung off,” he says. Kyuhyun just slumps forwards.

 

 

It’s like this again. Hyukjae dragging Jongwoon away, Jongwoon stumbling after him.

The voice of the Alpha from before still rings in his ears. He focuses on the grip that Hyukjae’s hand has on the bump on his wrist, the pretty curves of his knuckles around his bony limb. Jongwoon’s arm is like a twig in his large palm, and it gives him a strange feeling.

Hyukjae as a whole gives him a strange feeling.

“Alright, we’re finally out of there.” The younger Alpha turns to him in concern. “Hyung, are you alright? You were really frozen back there.”

Jongwoon just blinks at him. Hyukjae’s eyes are filled with concern, and he’s so focused on them that he doesn’t even notice the other man’s hands reaching up towards his face.

“Ah, Hyung. Your mask is a little off.” Hyukjae touches his mask, leaning close.

His eyes widen, but for some reason, he doesn’t push Hyukjae away like he would have for any other person. Instead, he inhales, and his mouth is suddenly flooded with a sort of fruit-like scent. It’s not sickly sweet like an Omega’s scent, no. It’s unmistakably Alpha in its spiciness. It’s pleasant. He realizes now that he’s been breathing it in so much that he hadn’t even noticed when his mask loosened, baring his nostrils to the outside world.

“Along with their normal emotive scents, Alphas, Betas, and Omegas also have their own unique scents. For Alphas, these are usually emitted during the mating stage. Another Alpha’s scent will often be repulsive to you. This is normal, as in early times Alphas would ward off each other by putting their scents on their ‘property’. Although this is no longer needed in modern times, Alphas today are still averse to each other’s scents.”

The memory comes to Jongwoon randomly. He doesn’t react to it, only letting Hyukjae fuss over the straps on his ears. Still, it rings in his head.

“There, it’s fine now.” Hyukjae draws back after the straps have been sufficiently tightened.

“Sorry about earlier. I wasn’t thinking,” Jongwoon croaks out.

“It wasn’t your fault. All you did was run into someone, so why did everyone have to react so strongly?” the younger Alpha says.

“I bumped into an Omega,” he replies. Hyukjae sighs. He suddenly reaches into his pocket and to Jongwoon’s shock, pulls out a couple of coins and bills.

“Let’s see if there’s anything we can afford,” he says, gesturing to the food street. The sight of food makes Jongwoon’s stomach clench, much more the sight of highly caloric, greasy foods. He looks back at Hyukjae, and in contrast, he’s gazing at the street longingly. It’s cute, but it also makes him feel bad. It’s time for lunch after all. It wouldn’t be right to not let the other man get something to eat.

“Let’s go,” he says, and Hyukjae grins widely. He’s like a completely different person from when they first walked into the shopping street. He grabs Jongwoon again and pulls him towards the line of restaurants.

Honestly, there’s not a lot they can buy. A couple of Hyukjae’s coins are worth only so much, and even though he clutches them in his palm like a lifeline, no one else would bat an eye at the paltry sum.

Jongwoon keeps his eyes trained on his feet, avoiding the enticing pictures of food posted on every sign. Hyukjae notices, but he doesn’t say anything, simply guiding him attentively.

When they finally stop, he looks up to find himself in front of a simple bungeoppang stand.

“Hyung, what do you want?” Hyukjae asks. Jongwoon looks at the options and averts his eyes.

“I don’t want anything,” he says. The younger Alpha frowns.

“But I have enough money for two. And I ate your breakfast,” he says, his bottom lip sticking out. “Please, Hyung?”

Jongwoon gulps. “My face will get swollen,” he tries, the final defense. Hyukjae shakes his head.

“Who cares? It’s not like anyone’s asking you to not have a swollen face. Plus…” he trails off, “it’s not like you wouldn’t be handsome anyways…”

Jongwoon’s eyes widen in surprise.

“Did I just hear you calling me handsome?” he questions. Hyukjae’s cheeks turn red, and he hits him on the chest.

“Don’t let it get to your head! Just let me treat you, alright? I’d feel guilty otherwise,” he says imploringly. Jongwoon makes the mistake of looking into the younger Alpha’s puppy eyes, and he can’t do anything but give in, sighing.

“Sure.”

Hyukjae beams, his gums showing again. He turns towards the stall owner, and for a second, Jongwoon has the thought that he’d do anything for that smile.

A few moments later, the woman hands them their bungeoppang. Jongwoon takes it, and Hyukjae pays, thanking her for her service. Jongwoon reaches into the bag to hand him his pastry after they both walk away.

“You got one without any red bean filling?” he remarks, giving Hyukjae his. “That’s so strange.”

“It tastes good this way!” Hyukjae says, biting into it and moaning in delight. Jongwoon scoffs.

“That isn’t right.”

“It’s delicious,” the younger Alpha insists, his mouth stuffed. Jongwoon opens his mouth to retort but can’t help the fond smile that makes his way to his lips. He brushes a crumb off the other man’s lips, rolling his eyes.

“Sure, weirdo,” he says, finally reaching in for his own bungeoppang. Hyukjae pouts cutely, and Jongwoon wonders when he started to notice those small things. He takes a bite out of the pastry, and a burst of that sweet flavor floods into his mouth. The mellowness is nostalgic, and the pastry is still warm after being pulled fresh off the mold. Unconsciously, he smiles.

Hyukjae peers over at him.

“It’s good, isn’t it?” he says. Jongwoon just takes another bite, slowly chewing.

“Yeah,” he says. “It’s really good.”

Hyukjae looks at him eating, and he smiles. It isn’t one of those gummy smiles from before, but it’s still beautiful. It’s quiet yet sincere. Full of… something. Jongwoon hasn’t seen one of those smiles directed at him in so long.

He reaches for Hyukjae’s hand and squeezes.

He says gently, “The reason you wanted to go out was because you wanted to say something to me, right?”

 

 

Since Leeteuk saved him that day, Donghae had always tried to live his life virtuously. He got a laborious job quickly using his good looks and body, and he tossed away the degree that he had enjoyed getting but earned uselessly. It was a miracle that he had finished college in the first place, but he had only been able to get through it because of his skills of evading authority and his genuine passion for his study. He got sloppy soon after and stopped caring.

Lee Donghae is not a good person. Or at least, he is not a good Alpha.

When he walks back to the dorm, he eyes the various families and couples on the street with a sort of envy in his eyes. However, they would be frightened if they noticed an Alpha staring at them, so he never looks at them for longer than a second or so.

An Omega, an Alpha, and a few children. That would be nice.

There had once been a time when he had wanted to work with children for the rest of his life, but no one would hire someone with a track record like him now.

He gets the text soon after he enters back into the motel. He thinks that his rut is going to come soon, but all he can smell now is the scent of spilt beer. He clicks into the message app on his phone and almost drops it onto the floor.

He doesn’t want to call, but he probably has to. He doesn’t. He sets his phone down on the table and buries his head in his hands, tearing at his hair and trying not to throw something. He walks over to the bed and slams his fist into his pillow, and the metal bed frame creaks. He picks up his phone again and reads the message over again. He looks away without replying, leaving his room and heading for the kitchen.

Shindong and Kyuhyun are desperately wiping at something on the table. Donghae wrinkles his nose, and they see him, their eyes widening. It smells like alcohol. He wordlessly grabs a wet towel from the sink and kneels down to help them. Hearing the noise, Heechul comes out of his room to shout at them. Kyuhyun promises him another bottle of soju if he doesn’t tell Leeteuk. Heechul hmphs, before coughing harshly into his hand and agreeing shortly. He retreats back into his lair soon enough, leaving the three of them to clean up by themselves.

Ryeowook still hasn’t come out yet. Leeteuk is on a business trip, which never happens because there is no business.

It seems like everything is going wrong.

 

 

Hyukjae stiffens, but Jongwoon doesn’t let go, smiling kindly. He takes the younger Alpha’s larger hand into both of his own, and for some reason, the skin is cold even though it’s summer.

“It’s alright if you tell me,” he says. Hyukjae inhales sharply. He gently extracts his hand from Jongwoon’s grip, pressing his lips together. Jongwoon can’t help but to frown, lines of worry appearing on his face. “Hyukjae?”

“Hyung… What kind of person do you think is shameful?” the other man asks quietly.

“How—how do you want me to answer that?” Jongwoon says dumbly. Hyukjae averts his eyes, lowering his gaze to the ground.

“You’re right. That is hard to answer,” he says quietly. “Then, what kind of person do you think I am? Would you be able to accept everything about me?”

“I would,” Jongwoon says automatically. “No matter what.”

“Even if I’m a shameful person? Even if I’m a shameful Alpha? Fuck, I don’t even know what kind of Alpha I can be now. Everything’s wrong. It’s all my fault.”

“It’s not your fault. To me, you don’t seem like a shameful person at all. Is something wrong? Tell me,” he tries, but the other Alpha just ducks his head further down.

“How do you know that? How can you think that? When we’ve only just met? When we haven’t even known each other for that long? It feels like I’m deceiving you now. I seriously—”

Hyukjae finally raises his head, and the younger Alpha’s expression is so pained that his own heart can’t help but to hurt as well. Jongwoon slowly places a hand on his nape, his small, cold hand against the raised hair on the back of Hyukjae’s neck.

“What’s going on, Hyukjae-ah? Did something make you upset?” he asks softly. The other man doesn’t respond, only closing his eyes in agony, his bungeoppang forgotten at his side.

“Sorry, Hyung. I’m usually not the type to get worked up. I guess I’ve been on edge,” he says tiredly. Jongwoon rubs his neck comfortingly, trying to ease off the tenseness in his shoulders.

“It’s alright. After all, we’re all a bit stressed, right? You can talk to me if you want to,” he says. Hyukjae exhales heavily. He seems to play with his fingers for a few moments nervously before opening his mouth again.

“What would you do if someone said that they could understand a part of you that you don’t want others to know about? And they said that you could rely on them?” he asks. Jongwoon tilts his head in thought.

“I guess, if you two could understand each other, it might be alright to lean on them a little bit? There’s less chance of judgement, isn’t there?” he says. “But it’s really complicated. If you tell someone something that you want to hide, it might make you feel worse. At the same time, if you can’t tell anyone, you can only suffer by yourself.”

Hyukjae listens silently. He unconsciously ends up leaning into Jongwoon’s firm hold, shutting his eyes. The older Alpha notices, his expression turning worried.

“Does this have anything to do with Heechul-hyung? I know I’ve been butting into a lot of your life recently, so you don’t have to talk to him if you don’t want to. It was wrong of me to make you two interact in the first place if you didn’t feel like it—”

“No,” Hyukjae finally speaks up. He opens his eyes, the brown reflecting off the blue of the sky. “I’m glad you did, Hyung.”

“That’s a relief,” Jongwoon sighs. He looks to the younger Alpha again. “Look, I’m not going to intrude anymore, but the worst thing for me was being alone. I don’t want that for you, alright?”

He pinches Hyukjae’s cheek. Hyukjae squawks. Jongwoon takes another bite from his bungeoppang and smiles.

“Let’s go home,” he says. “You must be hungry.”

 

 

It’s a few hours past noon when they finally arrive back at the motel. The empty pastry wrapper is crumpled in his hands, and Jongwoon throws it away at the nearest trash can. Hyukjae hasn’t said anything since their last conversation, but unlike a few hours ago, it isn’t an uncomfortable silence. The both of them have a lot on their mind after all.

Jongwoon speaks it right before they re-enter the building.

“It wasn’t too much trouble, was it? Today?” he says hesitantly, pausing right before the entrance. Hyukjae blinks at him.

“What?”

“I heard about you waking up early to see me. I made you promise we’d go out together, and I made Heechul talk to you. I was afraid that I was pushing myself onto you.” Jongwoon presses his lips together, rubbing the pads of his fingers onto each other. Hyukjae just looks at him, head tilted.

“Did it look like I was bothered? Hyung shouldn’t make assumptions without asking me first,” he says simply.

Jongwoon looks at him in surprise. Then, he chuckles.

“You’re right, I shouldn’t.”

With that, he climbs up the stairs and throws his arm around Hyukjae’s broad shoulders one last time before the automatic doors engulf them like a pair of jaws, chewing them up and swallowing them up.

 

 

Kyuhyun fixes them all a late lunch while Leeteuk is away and Ryeowook is still in his room. No one comments on how he gathers a bowl for the Alpha first and goes to leave it at his door before serving anyone else. Jongwoon takes off his mask and slides in next to Donghae while Hyukjae timidly sits beside him. Shindong takes his share and eats it quickly but lingers even after his bowl is empty. They don’t talk about the stain on the table.

Jongwoon glances at Donghae, who looks unusually downcast. He touches him on the shoulder silently, reassuring without prompting him to speak. Hyukjae watches them with his bottom lip between his teeth, averting his eyes as soon as Jongwoon turns towards him.

They eat. Kyuhyun finishes first and heats up Ryeowook’s meal so that it doesn’t get cold before he eats it. Then, he commands Hyukjae to stay behind and wash dishes, to which the older Alpha can only comply. Jongwoon had tried to stay with Donghae, but the other man had disappeared with Shindong as soon as he could.

So, he’s here washing dishes next to Hyukjae, who hasn’t spoken since they came back in, seemingly in deep thought. He rubs the younger Alpha’s nape briefly before grabbing a pair of rubber gloves and starting on the first plate.

When Hyukjae finishes on his first bowl, he passes it to Jongwoon, who puts it into the drying rack. Similarly, Jongwoon nudges the other man for a dash of detergent when he’s about to run out, murmuring a small word of gratitude after it’s given to him.

It continues like that with surprising domesticity. Unconsciously, Jongwoon finds himself humming a small tune while scrubbing the pots and pans, a melody that he used to be familiar with.

At the place where the starlight gathers, I’ll be waiting. Close your eyes and fly, I’ll hug you.

Hyukjae pauses beside him, as if he’s listening. Suddenly self conscious, Jongwoon stops, cheeks reddening and gaze lowering to the sink. He avoids looking into the younger Alpha’s eyes, embarrassed.

“Hyung…” Hyukjae’s voice seems to be usually heavy. “Is your… does it hurt when you hum like that?”

“Huh?” Jongwoon blinks. He almost reaches up to touch his neck before remembering the situation. “A little. It’s hard to get a sound out.”

He should’ve noticed that dull pain earlier. But for some reason, he had let himself get too comfortable. Why was that?

“Ah, I see.” Hyukjae starts wiping the dishes again, returning his eyes to the faucet. “I hope Hyung’s throat heals soon.”

Jongwoon swallows. He presses his lips together, looking away as well.

“Yeah.”

“You two look awfully close.”

The both of them jump as Heechul suddenly appears behind them, patting Jongwoon lightly on the shoulder. Hyukjae looks like he’s about to have a heart attack while Jongwoon is just surprised, laughing soon after the shock wears away.

“Hyung, no way! We’re both Alphas!”

He doesn’t notice how Hyukjae seems to falter at that. Heechul narrows his eyes but shrugs.

“It is what it is. Where’s my share?”

“I-It’s in the microwave. Kyu put it in there to keep it warm,” Hyukjae speaks up diffidently. The other Alpha nods at him before heading towards it on the other side of the kitchen. Jongwoon starts to turn back around, but he’s stopped by Hyukjae’s shoulder pressing into his bicep.

“Hyukjae?” He blinks. The younger Alpha just nudges him again, glancing in Heechul’s direction subtly. Jongwoon tilts his head before the realization hits him. “Oh!”

“Thanks, Hyung,” Hyukjae says gratefully. Jongwoon just removes his gloves and pats the other man’s head lightly.

“I’ll leave everything to you!”

He takes off his apron and hangs it on the rack, leaving with a smile. Hyukjae’s lips curl up as well before he turns back towards his work. Behind him, Heechul sits down with the plate of food warm in his hand.

It’s only the two of them now.

 

 

“You wanted to talk to me, right?” Heechul speaks first after about half his meal is finished. Hyukjae stops himself from trembling, placing the last dish into the drying rack. He takes his gloves and apron off, wiping the sweat accumulated on his hands on his pants. After preparing himself, he turns around, leaning back on the sink as casually as possible. Heechul just watches him patiently, chewing occasionally.

Finally, Hyukjae takes a deep breath.

“To be honest, Hyung, after yesterday, I thought you were really cruel,” he says honestly, surprising the older Alpha. Heechul leans forward on his elbows, looking elsewhere. Hyukjae plays with his fingers, continuing, “I really didn’t want to hear something like that… I wanted it to just disappear.”

“Did something change your mind or something?” Heechul asks distantly. Hyukjae thinks for a second before shaking his head.

“Not really. I still don’t want to think about it,” he says.

“Then why are you talking to me right now? Our personalities don’t really match in the first place. We’re too different from each other,” Heechul scoffs.

“That may be true but—” Hyukjae shifts on his feet— “I have a feeling that Hyung has also been… wanting someone to talk to. And maybe we have more in common than you think…”

To say the older Alpha is surprised is an understatement. He leans back in his chair, not quite knowing what to say.

“So… you want us to be friends?”

“N-Not friends! I mean, if you wanted to…” Hyukjae bites his lip. “I mean, we have to get to know each other first, right? Beyond the first impression…”

“You’re saying that my first impression wasn’t the best, right?” he laughs suddenly, surprising the other. Hyukjae rubs the back of his neck.

“I mean—maybe it could have been better?” he tries. When Heechul keeps guffawing, he just buries his head in his hands, face red. “Ah, Hyung! Things like this are so embarrassing.”

“Don’t worry, I’m not the type either. It’s more Lee Donghae’s thing.” The older Alpha kicks open the chair in front of him, gesturing at Hyukjae to sit. “You still hungry? Kyuhyun, that brat, left me too much.”

“I just ate. I got bungeoppang with Jongwoon-hyung earlier too…” Hyukjae touches his stomach, smoothing over the nonexistent bump. Heechul shrugs before coughing almost violently into his hand. The other man looks at him in concern, but he ignores it.

“If you say so. Jongwoon should definitely eat more. I’ll tell Jungsoo when he gets back.”

“Who’s Jungsoo?” Hyukjae asks, confused.

Heechul stiffens. He shoves a bite into his mouth, gesticulating harshly for Hyukjae to sit down. “No one. Forget about it.”

“Alright…” Hyukjae takes a seat slowly, as if he still isn’t sure whether or not he’s allowed to. Heechul chews, looking back towards the plate.

He finishes everything. He’s surprised by it, but he knows that Kyuhyun will be pleased. Hyukjae insists on washing the dishes, hurrying away to dribble some dish soap onto the plate. It’s still awkward.

But it helps Heechul keep his mind off the pain in his gut for a little bit.

 

 

The day goes by too quickly. Shindong and Donghae leave the door closed behind him as they talk in hushed whispers, and Kyuhyun’s chest grows tighter still as he watches that same door. Jongwoon doesn’t know what else to do but wander outside again, and this time, Hyukjae doesn’t accompany him. Dinner is made, though none of them eat too much.

Heechul is busy staring into the distance with the lights off—thinking about his conversation with Hyukjae—when he hears a timid knock on his door. Tasting the air, he jumps to his feet, almost slamming the door open.

In front of him stands Leeteuk, head lowered and shoulders slumped. He collapses into Heechul’s arms.

“Teukie—?”

“Just hold me.” Leeteuk’s voice is hoarse and rough, wracked with despair. His muscled arms reach up to grab at Heechul’s thin ones, bony fingers grasping his sleeves. “Please.”

For a moment, the Alpha is too stunned to move. Then, he snaps out of his daze, supporting the other man until they reach his bed. He feels around his clothes, fretting at Leeteuk’s disheveled state. “You haven’t even changed clothes yet.”

“It’s fine. But shit… I shouldn’t get your bed dirty, right? Sorry I—”

“That’s the least of my worries right now,” Heechul snaps. He drags Leeteuk to his feet again, tugging down his suit and unbuttoning his shirt quickly. “You’re exhausted. Aish, did you not even think? I should’ve known… You’re always tired, so why did you take a trip halfway across this city? What an idiot…”

“Because Heechul wasn’t there to tell me not to…” Leeteuk says exhaustedly, obediently moving his arms out of his sleeves as Heechul pulls it off of him. The Alpha has been ignoring the implications of his own actions with the Omega, but his eyes widen at the other man’s words.

“Really…” he mutters. “I’m right here…”

Leeteuk shifts again, murmuring to himself in a tone too low to hear. Heechul pauses to sit him back down onto the bed.

“Can you take off your pants by yourself? I’ll find some clothes for you to wear.”

“We’ll get weird glances from the others later,” the Omega says. Heechul throws him a pair of sweatpants.

“Who cares? Not like I’ll let them talk shit for too long.”

Leeteuk hums. Heechul turns around as he switches his dress pants for Heechul’s sweats. It hangs off his hips loosely, and he pulls at it. “It doesn’t fit, Chullie-ah.”

“You can just say I’m fat,” Heechul grumbles under his breath, finally turning around and tightening the string around the waistband for me. “Did you drink or something? It’s weird for you to be like this.”

“Just a little bit,” Leeteuk admits. “Jinki-ah didn’t know… that I don’t drink.”

Heechul sighs. He grabs a t-shirt and hastily fits it over the other man’s head, straightening the wrinkles on his muscled chest. The Omega had always been more built than him, having the motivation and health to actually bulk himself up rather than sit in a room all day playing games.

“I’m the Alpha, I’m the one that’s supposed to be ripped…” Heechul frowns at Leeteuk, who just smiles at him while tossing on a simple t-shirt.

“It’s better for your health if you don’t engage in really intensive exercise for now, Heechul-ah. What would you need to be ripped for anyway? To play League of Legends?”

“Hey! Playing League of Legends is hard work!” He crosses his arms, pouting, much to the Omega’s amusement. “And it’s not like I think that you shouldn’t have muscle, it’s just…”

“You feel like you should be more capable?” Leeteuk finishes. Heechul averts his eyes, nodding. The other man just sighs and pats his hair gently. “You help me out a lot already. It’s good enough for me.”

Heechul can only press his lips together. He squeezes the fat on his arms, only able to watch as Leeteuk bids him goodbye and heads for his office again.

But at least right now, he can appreciate how Leeteuk looks in one of his tacky t-shirts.

“Not going to wash your hair?” Heechul brushes the oily locks of brown hair with his fingers. Leeteuk shakes his head.

“If I shower, I’ll be too awake. I’ll have to work,” he says. Heechul nods. He sits on the bed and pulls the both of them down, throwing the blankets over them.

Leeteuk’s body is hot. So is he. The Omega notices, touching his neck.

“Your rut, is it coming?” he asks. Heechul just pulls him closer, closing his eyes.

“Don’t worry about it, Teukie-ah. Just sleep.”

On a normal day, the other man would have resisted and tried to climb back onto his feet. But today, Leeteuk lets him embrace him with his skinny arms. He clutches onto the Alpha like he’ll disappear if he lets go.

He’s asleep before he knows it.

Heechul brushes his bangs out of his forehead and presses a chaste kiss to his skin. It’s improper, an Alpha and Omega being in the same bed like this, but they’ve long since crossed that barrier. They aren’t lovers of course, and they’ve done nothing like that, despite the rumors circulating around them. Despite what he desires deep inside.

Leeteuk is Heechul’s pillar. He wishes he could be the same.

 

 

“It smells a bit…” Jongwoon covers his nose. Hyukjae sniffs the air, noticing it after it’s been pointed out.

“It smells like an Omega…” he says slowly. Without a word, Jongwoon hurries back into his room to grab a mask.

By the time he’s back, Hyukjae already has two plates of food ready in his hands, one smaller than the next. He smiles.

“Let’s eat in my room,” he suggests. Gratefully, Jongwoon follows him, though his eyes linger on Heechul’s room on the way in.

Hyukjae’s eyes follow him.

 

 

Shindong stares at Donghae, still snoring softly. He resists the urge to wake him up and get his Alpha ass out of his bed, opting to get dressed properly instead. Unlike usual, he doesn’t open his laptop. He doesn’t want to.

Last night, they had talked themselves into exhaustion about the future. Donghae’s face had been haggard, his eyes sunken and his jaw poking out of his cheeks. His voice had been hushed, his fingernails dug into his palms.

Shindong hadn’t been much better. Despite his nonchalance, the only thing he could do after the lights went off was stare into the darkness of the ceiling and let his mind run. He could think, yes. He could think of a solution to both of their problems, and maybe he could even think of something to help the motel stay afloat too.

“There should be something I can do,” Donghae murmurs. He’s been silent thus far, his expression stoic. Shindong had expected him to cry, but he doesn’t. Instead, he just clicks through part-time jobs in the area, eyes blank. Then, he finally looks up to the older Alpha, his lips in a thin line. “I need another job.”

Shindong doesn’t know what to tell him. He opens another tab on his laptop, eyebrows knitting together.

“Me too,” he says helplessly.

Donghae shifts again in his sleep, cuddling further into Shindong’s covers. As much as he is annoyed at the younger Alpha for stealing part of his bed, he can’t help but feel sorry for him, sensing his loneliness. He covers him with a blanket, patting his shoulder afterwards.

“Between you and I, we both need to get Omegas,” he muses. Well there must be a reason that Donghae hadn’t gone looking for a partner yet. He could probably get one easily if he tried.

But for Shindong, it’s just a bit of wishful thinking.

 

 

Kyuhyun puts his chopsticks into the sink, rinsing it off briefly before leaving it there. He’ll just make Hyukjae wash it later. It isn’t like the Alpha had anything better to do anyways.

His eyes wander to that door again. He walks towards it, picking up the empty bowl on the side. It’s been a few days. He knows full well that the Alpha had gone out once or twice to clean up things around the kitchen, to tidy up the things that no one else would think to tidy up except maybe the clean freaks duo.

But he’s been avoiding them. It’s Sunday now. A depressive episode has never lasted this long.

Kyuhyun clenches his fist. He sets the dirty dishes into the sink and starts to angrily wash them, gritting his teeth.

This can’t go on. He won’t let it go on.

He won’t let the other lose hope like this.

 

 

Hyukjae stops abruptly as Donghae suddenly steps out of Shindong’s room right in front of him. Two dirty dishes are balanced respectively in his hands, and the other man rakes his eyes over them. Hyukjae’s breath catches in his throat.

Donghae’s face is gaunt. It’s like he’s aged ten years in the span of a day.

“Donghae…?” Hyukjae steps forward, worry shining in his eyes.

The other Alpha just looks at him. Then, he turns away, leaving him alone in the hallway.

Jongwoon emerges from his room soon after, placing a hand on his nape. He relaxes slightly with the comforting touch, but he still bites his bottom lip between his front teeth. The older Alpha asks what’s wrong, but Hyukjae shakes his head, managing a strained smile. They walk away together.

But, his chest still feels unbearably tight.

Chapter Text

Hyukjae remembers it clearly. Donghae had presented late.

Everyone had been convinced that Donghae was an Omega. Hell, even he had thought that. The other boy at the time had been mousy and even meek at times. He was bad at talking with anyone he didn’t know too well, and he clung to people he did know like a thorn. It didn’t help that he was considered quite cute by all the ajummas. It was clear that he was an Omega.

Everyone had also thought that Hyukjae and him would surely get married.

Their personalities had been perfect foils. Where Donghae had been awkward, Hyukjae had been confident. Where Hyukjae lacked, Donghae made up for. They had known each other since they were young kids, and despite the changes that junior high had brought them, they didn’t drift apart at all.

And when they had, after the funeral, it hadn’t been by choice.

The event itself had been miserable, of course. It hadn’t even rained, leaving all the emotions to collect inside with no water to run itself under. Donghae still cried the entire time though, as he clutched Hyukjae’s hand like a lifeline.

Only a few days later, he had presented. Against everyone's expectations, he had gone into rut, becoming an Alpha. His Omega mother, already in the process of moving them closer to the family, had whisked him away to Mokpo without a single goodbye, and Hyukjae had never seen him again.

But who knew that fate would have them meet here again, of all places.

Who would’ve known that when they finally crossed paths again, Hyukjae would be too ashamed to raise his head in front of him.

 

 

“It’s complicated, Hyung,” Hyukjae tells the older Alpha as they walk through the park together. For some reason, he had allowed himself to be dragged outside once more. But he had felt trapped there, in the company of a person he now longer knew how to approach. “There’s nothing I can do,” he says regretfully. “We might’ve been best friends at some point, but it’s been too long now. We’ve probably both changed too much.”

“That’s a shame though. You two are the only same age friends in the motel besides Heechul-hyung and Leeteuk-hyung. You must be lonely,” Jongwoon responds. Hyukjae shrugs.

“Well there’s nothing I can really do about it,” he says. “Plus, there are a lot of other people in the motel, right? I guess it won’t be too awkward if we just don’t talk to each other…”

Jongwoon nods, though his expression seems doubtful. Suddenly, an idea comes into his head.

“You know, Leeteuk-hyung is the one that knows Donghae the best here. Why don’t you ask him more about it?” he suggests. Hyukjae looks at him incredulously.

“Leeteuk-hyung? Well, even if that were true…”

“You’re not shy because he’s an Omega, right? He’s way out of your league, you know.” Jongwoon elbows him teasingly. The younger Alpha cringes.

“That’s gross, he’s the boss. I’m too indebted to him to think of him that way. It feels improper. And well…” he trails off, thinking of Leeteuk’s scent drifting out of Heechul’s room.

“You’re right. It’s weird to think of him that way,” Jongwoon agrees knowingly. Suddenly, something in his eyes changes, and he nudges Hyukjae again. “But what kind of Omega are you interested in? Your type?”

Hyukjae blinks. He scratches the back of his neck, eyes skittering about like he’s agitated. “I dunno. A cute one? Curly hair and pretty eyes… sweet like cotton candy…”

Jongwoon laughs. “So specific,” he teases, “and descriptive too.”

“Shut up, Hyung!” Hyukjae whines, though his gaze is slightly uneasy. He hurries to get the focus off of himself. “What about you then? It’s not like you’ll be any better than me.”

Jongwoon thinks. “Hmm… someone with sparkly eyes and is warmhearted. And has a nice scent of course,” he adds.

“That’s just as vague as mine!”

“I just do things naturally without thinking much! Plus…” Jongwoon looks away. “It’s not like I’m interested in relationships right now anyways.”

He says that casually, but he’s digging lines into his palms with his nails. Hyukjae watches him. He scoots in closer.

“Me neither,” he says softly. “I’m not interested in dating either.”

Jongwoon blinks before a relieved expression comes over him. He touches Hyukjae’s nape again, and Hyukjae notices that the older Alpha’s hands are hot.

“But anyways, ask Teukie-hyung about it, okay? I’m sure that you and Donghae will be able to communicate eventually,” Jongwoon reassures. Remembering the topic at hand, Hyukjae slumps again.

“I hope,” he says. “I hope.”

 

 

“Thanks for telling me, Siwon-ah. You’ve worked hard.”

Leeteuk puts the phone down before exhaling heavily, leaning back in his chair and pinching the area between his eyebrows. Heechul watches him, leaning against the wall with his eyes narrowed.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s nothing. Just some funds being cut.”

Heechul frowns. The Omega still has dark rings under his eyes and a redness in his eyelids that is impossible to ignore. His skinny fingers card through the paperwork on his desk, cleverly avoiding the sharp edges of the files.

“I told you to get Kyuhyun to make you some hangover soup.”

“I only drank a sip yesterday. It’s not enough to bother someone over it.”

“Kyuhyun loves cooking,” Heechul points out. “You wouldn’t be bothering him. You’d be doing him a favor.”

Leeteuk’s eyes flit towards him, large and soft. He slowly smiles that familiar, dimpled smile, and those eyes turn into little crescent moons.

“I’ll keep that in mind, Heechul-ah. Thanks.”

The Alpha’s eyes widen. A blush rising on his cheeks, he looks away quickly, heading for the door.

“You’d better listen to me instead of just saying you will! Let’s eat with everyone else this time. Donghae’s cooking.”

“Donghae’s cooking?” Leeteuk says in surprise. “What’s he making?”

“Curry. You know, the thing that nearly killed us the last time we ate it.”

Leeteuk laughs, and even though it's a rather peculiar sound, Heechul wishes he could keep hearing it forever. He pulls him upwards by the wrist, just so he knows that the other man won’t hide away in his office forever.

Suddenly though, Heechul feels a warm hand pressed to his forehead, and he jolts, surprised by the other man’s worried face appearing in front of him so abruptly.

“Heechul, isn’t your rut coming? Why are you active?” Leeteuk asks, fretting. Overcoming his shock, Heechul takes the bony hand off his head by himself, pressing the knuckles to his lips slowly.

“I told you to not worry, right? My rut’s not coming,” he says.

“What does that mean? You—” The Omega’s eyes widen in realization— “You took suppressants too?”

“Not like I’m unused to them.” Heechul shrugs. He lets Leeteuk’s hand drop. “I said it, didn’t I? I want to be by your side.”

“But…” Leeteuk looks away, his eyes pained.

“Let’s just go. The kids are waiting.” Heechul opens the door first and pulls the both of them through. Leeteuk stumbles after, and he looks up to find everyone looking at them.

His cheeks color at seeing all of them wearing those amused expressions. He glances at Heechul again and then glances away, pink in the face.

 

 

Kyuhyun doesn’t eat much. He just stares at the table. When Leeteuk sits down, he slides in next to him and wraps his arms around his waist, resting his head on the shoulder. The Omega takes it like it’s normal, and Heechul’s slightly disgruntled expression means that it probably is. He gives all his potatoes to Leeteuk, claiming that he hasn’t eaten enough lately.

“I’m from Gangwon-do, ambassador of the potato,” he tells them very seriously. Leeteuk beside him just laughs in a way that makes it sound like he’s wheezing. Jongwoon stares at him until Shindong elbows him.

“Hyung, can you please not make it so obvious?” he stage-whispers, and Jongwoon splutters.

“Hey, it’s just because Leeteuk-hyung hasn’t eaten with us a lot since I came! It’s just a new sight, right, Hyukjae-ah?” he looks at the younger Alpha, who strategically avoids his gaze.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Hyung,” he says, no modulation at all in his voice. Jongwoon smacks him, and Hyukjae quickly drops the facade, protesting while clutching his arm. “Hey!”

“That’s what you get for making me look like an idiot! I thought we talked about this!”

“But it’s so fun to make you mad—”

Shindong spits something out onto his palm. He squints to examine it before holding it up to Donghae, sitting next to him. “What is this?”

“Uh…” Donghae snaps out of his daze. Previously, he’d just been staring into the distance, his face blank. “An olive oil cap?”

“Were you trying to kill me?” Shindong cries dramatically. Donghae finally breaks out into laughter at the sight, hitting the other man’s shoulder as he does so. “Don’t hit me!”

Hyukjae eyes them, expression turning forlorn. Jongwoon just throws his arm around his shoulder and pretends like he doesn’t notice the younger Alpha leaning into him for comfort.

It’s getting a bit too loud. Everyone’s too excited after having Leeteuk back at the main dining table, talking to him earnestly but noisily. Soon, his smile starts to become a bit strained, and he starts to wince with every new sound. He rubs the back of his head, trying to fight off a headache caused by the hangover and the enthusiasm of his dongsaengs.

“Alright everyone, just shut up. You’re bothering Leeteuk!” Heechul barks at all of them. Shindong is the first to notice and apologize, while the others follow right after. The volume decreases, and Jongwoon can see the Omega flash Heechul a grateful glance right after.

Leeteuk leaves soon after he comes, citing work as a reason to go. Heechul gathers both their plates and puts them in the sink before he follows. Before they disappear, he warns them to behave or ‘face the consequences’. Jongwoon turns to Shindong.

“Are they…”

The younger Alpha shrugs. “Everything’s there except for the actual confession and confirmation. I’m pretty sure that if they actually were though, they’d be even more disgusting.”

“Maybe.”

“They’re sweet though,” Donghae says. It makes Hyukjae look at him and smile slightly. The other man notices him and averts his eyes quickly. Hyukjae’s smile drops, and Jongwoon squeezes his hand under the table.

In the meantime, after being detached from Leeteuk, Kyuhyun has glued himself to his side, laying himself on Jongwoon’s shoulder. Jongwoon pats his head, slightly concerned.

“Is everything alright?” he asks, worried. Kyuhyun doesn’t reply, only burrowing further into him. Hyukjae sees the Beta, something strange and green curling itself into his chest. He settles by sitting closer to Jongwoon, effectively sandwiching the older man between his two dongsaengs.

“Jongwoon-hyung is receiving a lot of love, huh?” Shindong muses. Jongwoon just chuckles while Kyuhyun seems unperturbed by Shindong’s teasing. Instead, he seems to be even more troubled by something else. He hugs Jongwoon closer. On the other hand, Hyukjae sits up and splutters, flustered by the observation. Jongwoon pokes the younger Alpha’s cheek and laughs harder when he gets even more embarrassed.

Donghae watches. When he can’t bear it anymore, he looks away.

 

 

He escapes outside a few hours later, only to find Jongwoon already there. The older Alpha turns to look at him, surprised.

“Donghae-ah, you’re outside,” he remarks, beckoning him towards him. Donghae walks briskly in order to catch up, and Jongwoon squeezes his opposite bicep. They walk together towards the park.

“Where’s Hyukjae?” he finds himself asking before he knows it. He regrets it soon after, but the other man doesn’t judge.

“He wanted to stay inside and do something with Shindong. He’s more of an indoor type,” Jongwoon says. Donghae hums. He doesn’t want to show that he’s jealous that Jongwoon can easily say what ‘type’ of person Hyukjae is.

He wants to ask him more questions, but he holds himself off.

The older Alpha watches him and smiles. Hyukjae and Donghae look at each other in the same way. He’s slightly envious of that too.

“You’ve been down recently. Did something happen?”

Donghae sighs. “It’s nothing much. Money’s just kind of tight right now.”

Jongwoon frowns. “Do you need another job?”

“Maybe. But I can’t just get a job anywhere. I don’t qualify.”

“I thought you went to college?”

“Yeah but…” Donghae hesitates. “It’s for a different reason that I’m not qualified.”

He doesn’t pry. It’s just nice to be out with him after a while. After all, work and Jongwoon’s outdoorist tendencies usually prevents them from hanging around each other too much during weekdays.

The park is crowded today. Jongwoon pulls his mask up, and he sees Donghae glance at the families passing by. A little girl swinging on her parents’ arms. A boy riding on his father’s shoulders. An Omega giggling as his Alpha pecks him on the cheek.

He never stares at them long, but his eyes are watery.

“Do you want something like that?” Jongwoon asks. Donghae quickly looks away from the crowd, lowering his gaze and staring at the ground.

“It’s just wishful thinking,” he mumbles. Jongwoon hums.

“A lot of Omegas would probably be over themselves to date you. You’re handsome and a good guy,” he says, trying to be reassuring. Instead, Donghae’s frown deepens, and he kicks a rock, scraping the soles of his shoes on the concrete.

“Not really. I want to make sure I’ll be a good partner before I start. That way, our relationship can be good for both of us.”

It’s really only half a lie. Or rather, it’s the truth without all the important details. In reality, Donghae isn’t that patient. He isn’t that nice. He desperately wants, yearns for the feeling of warm skin against his naked chest or against his hips.

He’s devastatingly lonely.

But he doesn’t deserve to be helped.

Jongwoon blinks at him. He pulls him closer, lets them both stumble down the park road together. He can tell. Alphas can always tell that about each other, but there’s nothing really they can do.

“But it’s alright. I have everyone at the motel, right? It’s not like I’m dying cuz I don’t have someone to accompany me on my ruts,” Donghae says, trying to bring the mood up.

“It’s more painful though. Aish, you’re making me feel bad about my own relationships now,” Jongwoon ruffles his head roughly, and he grins. “You know, you can’t exactly be the best partner if you’ve never tried. You two have got to learn together, that’s the whole point.”

Donghae blinks. He suddenly thinks about Hyukjae.

“Maybe.”

 

 

“I’m asking you because I know you won’t lie to me.”

Heechul tries to ignore the mess in Shindong’s room. It drives him crazy, but there’s nothing the younger Alpha hates more than others coming in and messing up the order of everything, even though arguably, it’s already messed up.

God, he hates untidiness.

“Well, you’re right about that.”

Shindong pinches his eyebrows. He looks more and more stressed by the minute, eyes darting from his closed laptop to Heechul to the door. Heechul frowns.

“Is your rut coming soon?”

“Yeah. But well… fuck.” Shindong curses and buries his head in his hands. “The truth is, Hyung, we’re losing money.”

“I know,” Heechul responds. “Leeteuk hasn’t stopped going around the halls since he got back.”

“Well, one thing’s Siwon. His wiggle room got axed. I got laid off. He’s giving the rest of his spare money to the motel. Another thing is that we got two new residents recently.” The younger Alpha lists the things easily, as if he had been turning them over in his head for a long time.

“Jongwoon can pay though,” Heechul tries.

“Yeah but Hyukjae can’t. And because of what’s happening with Siwon… It makes a difference.”

Shindong feels guilty about isolating both Jongwoon and Hyukjae from the rest of them. The former is out with Donghae right now, cheering him up, while the latter is probably keeping Kyuhyun company, who has been unusually clingy since the morning. It’s neither of their faults.

Heechul grits his teeth though. He can read between the lines. Him quitting his job months ago, his freeloading, his laziness… It’s all adding up. He slams his fist into the wall.

“Fuck, I need to find a job,” he curses out loud.

“Are you ready for that though? It’s been only a few months,” Shindong reminds him, and Heechul falters. He pushes back his hair, biting his lips.

“I…”

“There’s nothing we can do.” The younger Alpha looks exhausted. “For now, it’s not like we’re bankrupt or anything. We can hold on for as long as it takes to get some more money in. Or at least, long enough for Ryeowook to get hired.

Heechul remains silent. He paces around the room, in deep thought about something. Shindong’s eyes follow him, noticing his expression.

“Hyung?”

“What if we just… What if we just do more promoting? Publicize the existence of SUPER JUNIOR even more than we have?” Heechul wrings his hands out, eyes slowly widening. “What if we open ourselves up to donations? And we wouldn’t have to leech off of Siwon anymore? There are so many Alphas that would need a place like this. We should’ve done it earlier—”

“That’s actually what I wanted to talk about next.”

Shindong’s expression is grave. He opens his laptop finally and types something quickly into the search bar. Something pops up, and Heechul squints at it, recognizing it as something that Leeteuk had read a while before.

“This is…”

Suddenly, they hear shouting from the outside. From the sound of the voice, it’s Ryeowook. Shindong slams the laptop shut while Heechul drops everything and runs outside.

Kyuhyun and Ryeowook are facing each other. The former looks pleading, trying to approach the latter as he yells. The Alpha looks angry, snarling like he’s been backed into a corner. Hyukjae’s there too, trying to hold Kyuhyun back.

Ryeowook is screaming. He says something that makes Heechul’s head rattle. He steps back, feeling as if he’s been stabbed.

“Saying something like that…”

Then, Leeteuk suddenly emerges. His formerly mild features are worn away. He looks pissed.

Heechul’s eyes widen.

 

 

It happens quickly. Kyuhyun refuses to make dinner, but he sends Hyukjae off into the pantry to find some chili flakes or something. For a few minutes, he can’t find it, confused by the labelling and the random empty boxes. He ends up finding them right on the kitchen counter outside.

Then, he hears it.

“You have a job interview tomorrow! Just suck it up and go!”

“Excuse me? Stop trying to tell me what I should do! You’re not my goddamn father. You’re not my goddamn mother. Just piss off!”

Hyukjae has never heard Ryeowook curse so many times, though he admittedly hasn’t spent that much time with him. The younger Alpha’s eyes are wild, his hair messed up and oily. He looks like he hasn’t slept in days. Kyuhyun doesn’t look any better, his desperation showing through every voice crack. Hyukjae hurries towards him, grabbing his wringing hands and trying to keep things in line, but he just keeps shouting.

“How long are you going to spend in there moping like an idiot? I’m not trying to be bossy, I’m just concerned for your stupid ass!”

“Well thanks, I fucking appreciate it. I appreciate all the meals you gave me when I was in my room, and I appreciate all the trouble it took for you to stand outside like I couldn’t fucking tell you were there!”

“Well maybe I wanted you to know! Because you aren’t alone!”

Kyuhyun steps forward. Ryeowook does too.

“Nice to know, that’ll definitely help me when getting a job. Knowing that I’m cared for even when I can’t pull my own weight. Brilliant.”

“For fuck’s sake Ryeowook—stop being such a fucking child!”

The smaller Alpha stops, reeling back as if he’s been hit. Kyuhyun immediately looks guilty. “Wait, shit, I didn’t mean that—”

But Ryeowook’s expression has already shifted into pure rage.

“Fuck you,” he spits. “Fuck you, Kyuhyun. You know, for everything that you’ve said about caring about me, it’s real nice to know that you see me that way. Just like how you didn’t consider me an Alpha when we first met and probably still don’t.”

“Ryeowook—”

“You know how it feels? I say I’m an Alpha in my resume, I know that they don’t consider me one because all Alphas are disgusting animals, and there’s no way that sweet, little Ryeowook could be a ‘real’ Alpha. But then I do some shit during the interview, like talk about my ambitions or demonstrate my Alpha voice or whatever, and their entire viewpoint changes. I know how they look at me when I walk in, and I know how they look at me when I walk out.”

His voice has risen to a scream. It’s ear piercing and high pitched, and even though he’s insecure about it, it doesn’t stop him from shouting lungs out. God, he’s so fucking pissed, and even Kyuhyun seems to be shocked, not to mention Jongwoon and Donghae, who have just come in from the outside. He keeps going.

“I just want to be considered a regular Alpha, is that too hard? Instead, I can’t get any taller, and I can’t get any facial hair. I can’t go to bars, and I can’t apply for a driver’s license, and I haven’t even had a fucking rut yet. Instead, I’m stuck like some kind of child, some kind of pity, some kind of Alpha-bitch—”

“Ryeowook, that’s fucking enough.”

The voice stops everything. Ryeowook freezes. He looks to the side to see Leeteuk, looking more angry than he’s ever seen in his life. Leeteuk clears his throat, eyes blazing.

“Kyuhyun’s right. You’ve been in your room for too long, just sitting there and getting more depressed. Did you forget that we’re still covering all of your expenses too? If you don’t have a job, you can’t pay rent. I think you owe it to me to at least go to that job interview tomorrow,” the Omega says calmly, though it’s barely controlled. Then, he pauses, and his voice becomes quieter, more dangerous. He steps forward, and Ryeowook steps back, afraid. “And don’t—don’t say those fucking words—”

“Jun—Leeteuk!” Heechul quickly appears in front of Leeteuk, blocking him from a shocked Ryeowook. “Stop it!”

“Chullie?” he blinks, and suddenly, he’s back to normal again. Heechul’s chest is heaving, and his eyes are wide.

“It’s fine, Teukie-ah. Just go cool down. I’ll make sure everything goes alright.” He looks around, scanning the group of bystanders. Jongwoon, Hyukjae, Donghae, and Kyuhyun, who looks like he’s trying his hardest not to immediately go to Ryeowook. He gently tugs Leeteuk over towards them. “One of you, take care of him, alright? Someone get Kyuhyun too. He looks like he’s seen his dog die.”

They nod blankly. Heechul turns to Ryeowook, who looks scared.

“Heechul-hyung, I’m sorry… I didn’t mean it that way… I shouldn’t have said something like that…” he stutters, tears slowly coming to his eyes.

“Just don’t say it again, alright? I mean it.” Heechul approaches the shorter Alpha, and Ryeowook squeezes his eyes shut, as if expecting to get hit. Instead, a hand is slowly placed on his shoulder, and he opens his eyes, surprised by the look on Heechul’s face. “Hey, don’t stare at me that way, kid. You said you can’t go to the bar, right? Let’s get drunk tonight.” He gestures towards the kitchen.

“Hyung…”

“C’mon. It’ll help you reach tomorrow.”

Ryeowook follows Heechul to the kitchen like some kind of kicked puppy. Donghae’s the first one to get to Leeteuk, to nudge him and guide him back to the office with the promise of dinner coming soon.

The remaining just look at each other. Hyukjae still has his hands wrapped around Kyuhyun’s wrist, restraining him. Jongwoon is confused, but the other Alpha just looks at him and shakes his head.

Kyuhyun lets out a long groan and collapses.

 

 

“I wanted to help him,” the Beta says softly. His head is resting on Hyukjae’s shoulder. Jongwoon is standing next to the pot. Ramen’s on the stove because there’s nothing else either Alphas know how to cook. Hyukjae dropped a few eggs in though, so that should make it a bit more nutritious.

“He’s not going to stay mad at you. He’s going to apologize to you soon because he yelled at you,” he says reassuringly. Kyuhyun still looks unsure, and he squeezes Hyukjae tighter. Hyukjae pats him on the shoulder. Jongwoon can’t help but notice how he looks a bit troubled. He holds off asking until Kyuhyun is stable.

“Ryeowookie is always the type to do this. He always bottles up and gets depressed after. This is the first time he’s exploded though,” the Beta says quietly. “He’s really dumb. I’m mad too because he yelled. I wanna yell at him even more.”

“You don’t really. He shouldn’t have said all those things,” Jongwoon says. He checks up on the ramen, tasting it slightly. Then, he turns off the heat and gets the bowls out. “It’s a complicated situation. It’s best that Heechul-hyung’s with him because he’s honest.”

“I’m honest too,” Kyuhyun sulks. Then, he looks down, depressed. “Maybe too honest.”

“You’ll be alright. You clearly care for each other, so it’ll get resolved eventually, right?” Hyukjae speaks up. The Beta bites his lip.

“The thing is that… What Ryeowook said about me… Some of it is true. It really is,” he confesses. “When we first met, I really thought he was an Omega. When he told me he was an Alpha, I didn’t want to believe him. I pretended like he wasn’t for a long while. I didn’t realize how much it hurt him…”

He trails off and says no more. Jongwoon looks at him sympathetically, slipping a hot bowl of ramen into both his and Hyukjae’s hands. He tells them that he’ll be back soon after delivering food to the rest of the rooms.

Hyukjae gives him a thumbs up. Kyuhyun sniffles.

 

 

He’s back about ten minutes later. Ryeowook and Heechul were well on their way to get smashed when he got there, but the younger Alpha apologizes to him before he goes, eyes red from the crying, not the alcohol. Jongwoon accepts it easily, handing them their ramen and patting Ryeowook on the head.

Leeteuk seems alright. His outburst was abnormal. He’s the second one to apologize to Jongwoon when he comes by, for not cooking and for making him see that side of himself. Donghae just nods gratefully when he’s given his food. They talk for a little while about things before Jongwoon goes back to the kitchen.

Kyuhyun seems to have opened the soju cabinet. Hyukjae declines a drink, but Jongwoon has one or two just to keep the Beta company. Or rather, he fills up the shot glasses with water instead and drinks that instead. Kyuhyun is too distraught to tell that he isn’t getting tipsy, and soon, he’s also too drunk too. And clingy.

When he finally falls asleep, it takes at least five minutes for Jongwoon to pry his surprisingly strong arms off of his body. Then, he and Hyukjae together haul him into Jongwoon’s bed, bundling the Beta up warmly in his cold blankets.

It’s only when everything is quiet that Jongwoon finally realizes how late it is.

And that he has nowhere to sleep.

“Hyung can just sit in my room,” Hyukjae says when he brings it up. His voice is strange. Jongwoon looks at him in surprise.

“Are you sure? I can just take my top bunk,” he says. “My sleep habits are really horrible, and I stay up almost all night. I don’t want to bother you.”

“You wouldn’t bother me!” the younger Alpha says quickly, though he looks away after, cheeks flushed. Cute. “Unless... you don’t sleep well with someone else in the room. Then I won’t insist.”

In all honesty, Jongwoon is an insanely light sleeper. Even while he’s sleeping, he can hear loud noises from a room away. If Hyukjae is a snorer, then he’s basically doomed for the night.

But, there’s something strange inside that makes him ignore that logic.

“Sure,” Jongwoon agrees. Hyukjae flashes him that gummy smile, and he thinks that he wouldn’t mind a sleepless night if it means that he could just see the other happy like this.

But there’s something else.

He remembers it just as he’s climbing into the top bunk and patting his stiff pillow flat. His hair is wet, and he had taken a shower in Hyukjae’s room after all, not wanting to disturb Kyuhyun.

He sniffs a little at his forearm. Surprisingly, there is no strawberry scent at all, despite what he had thought. Had wanted to think.

He smells himself again, searching for that familiar fragrance. There’s no way that Hyukjae hadn’t been using some kind of special body wash. After all, he’s not even supposed to know what the younger Alpha smells like.

Just as he’s getting nose deep into his arm again, Hyukjae opens the door.

“Uh, Hyung. What are you doing?”

Jongwoon scrambles backwards, and he nearly hits his head on the ceiling. “N-Nothing!”

“You were smelling yourself, you weirdo!”

“I wasn’t! Can’t someone wonder how they smell? Especially walking into a room as smelly as yours—”

“Hey, my room isn’t smelly! Your nose is just stupidly powerful, okay? I’m perfectly hygienic!”

Hyukjae sulks, and Jongwoon just ends up laughing. He has this ridiculous urge to go up to him and press him into his arms, but they’re separated by the height of the bunk bed. For some reason, the distance hurts him. His chest is hurting like he’s dying. It’s squeezing, pressing together. Beating slowly but like a smashing hammer.

Hyukjae goes to put his towel into the closet, but by the time he turns back, he sees Jongwoon sprawled out on his bed, eyes closed.

“Hyung?”

“Is it alright if the window is opened? Your bed is really warm,” the older Alpha murmurs. Hyukjae scoffs, but he heads on over to unlock the latch, sliding the window panes up without thinking too much of the request.

“Maybe it’s because your body temperature is naturally hot.”

“No, it’s not—” Jongwoon feels his forehead, cracking his eyes open. He frowns. “I guess it is.”

“Rut?”

“Dunno. Doesn’t feel like one.”

Jongwoon rolls over on Hyukjae’s covers, wrinkling them underneath him. The younger Alpha squawks.

“Hey, that’s my bed!”

“Are you really going to sleep now? It’s not even midnight.”

Whether he knows it or not, Jongwoon’s pouting. Hyukjae pauses for a second, watching the other man basically spread his scent all over his bed. It’ll smell like him for weeks, he knows. He knows that he’ll have to take morning showers from now on so that no one else can tell. It’ll be everywhere in his room, diffusing into the desk and the chair and the walls.

He’s even more afraid of what it might mean.

“Hello? Dongba-ssi? Are you there?”

Hyukjae blinks to see Jongwoon waving a small hand in his eyes. “Dongba?”

“Neighborhood idiot. It suits you.”

“Hey!”

He snaps out of it, quickly sitting down on his bed and making room for himself. He tries to lay his head next to the other man, but he’s quickly shooed away.

“Your hair is wet!”

“So is yours! And you’re on my bed!”

They bicker for a bit longer. The atmosphere is strange, weirdly charged with something that can’t be named. It makes Hyukjae bite his lip. He had been the one to suggest that they sleep in the same room. It had just been a selfish wish on his part. He didn’t want to be alone, but now, things are going too fast. Too fast.

Jongwoon notices the sudden dip in mood. He slowly shifts towards the younger Alpha and starts carding through the electric blue locks, not even complaining as the fading dye seeps off the thin hair and stains his fingers.

“What’s wrong? It’s strange for you to be like this,” he says. Hyukjae stiffens.

“It’s nothing, Hyung.”

“You always say that after I ask the same thing,” Jongwoon smiles. “It’s fine. I don’t want to trouble you.”

But Hyukjae is already troubled. He’s thinking over it now, turning it over his head and wondering if it’d be better or worse if he said something.

But Jongwoon’s hand on his head is so gentle…

“What Ryeowook said earlier…” Hyukjae begins quietly, “did you hear?”

The older Alpha blinks. “Which part?”

“You know…” he hesitates, “Alpha-bitch.”

Jongwoon stops. Hyukjae avoids his gaze. The silence between them is thick enough to be cut by a butter knife.

Jongwoon knows the words. Hell, he’s even said it before, far too carelessly. He knows what it implies. He knows what kind of person it was tossed to. He had stopped saying it as soon as he entered his third year of high school. It just went out of fashion, that’s all. He couldn’t even recall anything about it at first.

But Hyukjae’s expression… it had been pinched. Hurt. Affected. He had curled his hand into his forearm, scratching it hard. He knows those words but in a different way that he does.

Jongwoon’s eyes widen.

“Wait, are you…”

Jongwoon doesn’t finish the sentence. The younger Alpha hastily pushes himself off the bed, his back facing towards the older Alpha. He looks as if he is shaking. Quickly, Jongwoon stands up too, though he can’t even say anything of worth.

“You don’t have to answer! That was rude, and uh, I mean, something like that was bad to hear, even for me. So you don’t—it’s fine—I—”

Hyukjae turns around. His eyes are regretful. Jongwoon hates that expression on his face, like he thinks he made a mistake somehow by telling him something.

“Hyukjae—”

“It’s alright, Hyung. Just forget what I said, alright?” Hyukjae manages a strained smile, and Jongwoon’s lips press together. He pulls the younger Alpha into his arms quickly, pressing his head to his shoulder.

“It’ll be alright, Hyukjae-ah. I’ll make sure Ryeowook apologizes… tomorrow,” he tries to reassure him. Hyukjae’s shoulders are still tense in his embrace, and he shakes his head.

“Don’t. Please… just forget about everything. If you care about me, Hyung. Please.”

Jongwoon purses his lips. He hugs Hyukjae tighter, and his chest squeezes itself as well, tight.

“... Alright.”

The other man finally relaxes. He sighs, and Jongwoon just holds him until it becomes inappropriate.

Hyukjae doesn’t dare tell the other that he smells like coffee.

 

 

Jongwoon doesn’t sleep. He keeps thinking.

Hyukjae is lying right below him. It had taken him a long time to sleep, but it’s all short compared to the all-nighter Jongwoon will probably pull.

He doesn’t understand. He can’t understand the younger Alpha. He’s too different from him. Too far from his scope. Of course they’re still friends, but there’s something… he just can’t understand it anymore. Being like that…

No… that’s not quite right. It’s not the other man’s fault. He can’t understand this feeling within himself. He’s the one that’s gross and dirty. Hyukjae had never even confirmed anything but him? What about him?

Jongwoon sits in the top bunk and closes his eyes until the scent of the night changes into day. Hyukjae is snoring, and he tiptoes over him, slipping into the shower. He turns the water up almost all the way hot, quietly and desperately trying to wash that strawberry fragrance off of his skin.

He heads out before anyone has awoken without any breakfast or lunch in hand. Kyuhyun still seems to be sleeping away in his room. He briefly wonders what had happened with Heechul and Ryeowook, and he worries about the latter, knowing there’s a job interview today. Before he leaves, he scrawls a small note for him, a little ‘Hwaiting!’ before he goes off.

Jongwoon doesn’t expect for anyone to be at the office this early. He’s not even sure if anyone’s there yet. He pushes the door open and waits for the elevator, putting his mask on just in case and clutching his bag in his hands.

Surprisingly though, someone quickly comes into step beside him. Then, someone else. They seem to be avoiding him somewhat, trying to stand as far as possible while waiting for the same elevator. Jongwoon glances at them for a moment, and he blinks.

“Sunbaenim?”

Yunho looks up at him, eyes wide. He’s still adjusting his weirdly tight collar over his neck. Changmin is right next to him, and he looks almost as if he's on the defensive as soon as he sees Jongwoon turn their way.

“Jongwoon-ssi?” Yunho calls. Jongwoon nods, confused by their strange actions. Yunho sniffs his sleeve for a moment before finally relaxing, sighing. “Sorry for the rudeness. I was just a bit flustered to see you here.”

“You usually aren’t here this early,” Changmin adds, almost hostile. Yunho places his hand on the other man’s arm, shooting him a look.

“No, it was my mistake. It’s true that I’m not usually here this early.” Jongwoon hurries to bow, quickly dipping his head.

“It’s fine—”

The elevator dings. Wordlessly, they step in. Jongwoon swallows and wipes his palms on his pants. Yunho watches him until he notices something.

“Do you buy lunch?” he asks.

“N-Not usually,” Jongwoon stutters. Changmin seems to glare at Yunho, but the older Alpha ignores him. Instead, a blinding smile appears on his face.

“Then you should eat with us!”

Chapter Text

“Ryeowook, what do you want?”

Heechul’s eyes are sincere and earnest. He hasn’t touched his alcohol, but he keeps nudging cup after cup towards Ryeowook. He appreciates the coddling for once in his life. It’s the way the older Alpha’s understanding gaze seems to listen rather than interrogate him. It’s far more than he deserves, given what he had said.

But he had sobbed out his apology over and over earlier. Now, his tears were dried on his face.

“I just want to be normal.”

Ryeowook’s already through his first bottle. He’s so ashamed, and he can’t stop drinking. He wants to stop thinking, wants to stop seeing Kyuhyun’s face, shocked and afraid, in the reflection of the soju glass.

“Hyung, why does your room smell like Leeteuk-hyung?”

He might be drunk. He doesn’t want this attention anymore. But, he sees Heechul stiffen from the corner of his eye, and he immediately takes a step back, retracting his previous words, spoken too harshly and too bluntly.

“I’m so sorry, Hyung. You just want to help, but I’m just ruining everything again. I’m sorry.”

He drinks. This time, Heechul stops him. He extends a different cup towards him.

“Hey, Ryeowookie. Pour me a glass too.”

 

 

Ryeowook nurses his first hangover-induced headache in a while, leaning his head against the cool kitchen counter as he waits for the soup to finish simmering. He groans softly, the humid summer heat certainly not helping the pain.

Then, he smells it. Alcohol.

When he looks up, he finds Kyuhyun standing right at the entrance to the kitchen, wide-eyed and hair messy. The Beta meets his eyes and immediately starts to back out, turning away.

“Wait, Kyuhyun!” Ryeowook calls out desperately. His own shouting rattles his head, and he clutches his skull, a splitting pain running through it. But Kyuhyun has stopped, and he isn’t trying to escape anymore. Ryeowook looks at him again, trying to soften his gaze. “Eat some hangover soup with me?”

Kyuhyun blinks, clearly surprised. He scratches the back of his head, the untamed bedhead fluffing up under his fingers. It’s cute.

“Uh yeah. Sure. Do you—” the Beta nibbles on his bottom lip— “Do you need any, uh, help?”

Ryeowook breaks into a relieved smile. “Guard the pot while I wash last night’s dishes?”

They start working side by side. He lathers up some soap on his palm as the Beta tastes a little of the soup. Kyuhyun exhales, his shoulders finally untensing as his tired eyes close. Ryeowook presses his lips together, looking away. He puts the finished dish on the drying rack and moves onto the next one.

Kyuhyun gazes at the pot of simmering soup. The taste of it still lingers in his mouth, full bodied and delicious. He had barely resisted getting another sip, but he didn’t want to embarrass himself in front of the Alpha, making it too apparent how much he had missed the taste of his cooking.

Suddenly though, he feels a pair of arms wrap around his midsection. And he hears sniffles.

Kyuhyun softens. He pats those hands gently, letting himself fall back into that tight grip. He can feel Ryeowook’s shoulders shaking, his short arms squeezing him around the waist.

It takes a few minutes for the hiccups to quiet down. The entire time, he remains silent, not wanting to rush the Alpha into saying something and not caring if the back of his shirt is wet. After all, he feels apologetic too.

After a few more moments, Ryeowook’s breathing seems to have gone back to normal. He’s still holding onto him like a vice though. He buries his head into Kyuhyun’s back and inhales, shakily.

“I’m… sorry…” he says slowly. His hands tighten again, and he swallows back another hiccup. “Kyuhyunnie… you just wanted to help… I’m sorry that I got so angry at you and yelled at you like that… and that I bothered everyone else too…”

Kyuhyun lets him finish. At the end, Ryeowook detaches himself from his back, rubbing his eyes and pressing his lips together. He goes back to the soup, shakily getting out a spoon and tasting the broth. Kyuhyun watches him and bites his lip.

“Ryeowook… I’m—I’m also sorry. I said something I wasn’t supposed to. It was rude of me,” he apologizes. Ryeowook’s red rimmed eyes become wide when he hears him. He scratches the back of his head.

“No, I overreacted. I should just stop being so sensitive…”

“But that’s unfair to say, right? After all, it’s not like you can accept it that easily. It’s not like you have to.” Kyuhyun pauses, not knowing how to continue. He averts his eyes before opening his mouth again. “I’m just saying. Because I’m also sorry about the past…” he trails off.

The Alpha looks shocked by his words. He wipes at his eyes, unable to respond. Instead, he goes to the counter and gets out two bowls, grabbing the ladle and spooning some steaming soup into it.

Kyuhyun isn’t sure if he gets forgiveness, but he does get a bowl of hot broth placed in his hands. Ryeowook watches him taste it, lifting the hot surface to his mouth.

“How is it?” His voice still cracks at the end. Kyuhyun exhales out a stream of hot air and smacks his lips.

“I’ve missed it,” he says simply. Ryeowook smiles.

“I’ve missed you too.”

 

 

The first thing Hyukjae does when he wakes up is bolt to the shower.

His breaths escape his mouth in little pants, and he claws at his reddened skin as it meets with the almost boiling water coming from the shower head. Biting into his palm, he muffles a scream.

He stays in the shower until he feels like he’s going to pass out. Crawling out of the bathroom, he’s once again hit with a wave of nausea, and he almost collapses into the ground. Stumbling over to his bed while covering his mouth and nose, he climbs in and pulls the covers over his head, squeezing his eyes shut as tightly as he can.

That day, Hyukjae doesn’t come out for breakfast.

 

 

Leeteuk doesn’t really want to talk about it. About why he had gotten so angry at Ryeowook. About why he still is. He doesn’t want to talk about it to Donghae. And he doesn’t want to talk about it to Heechul.

Donghae had respected that. They’ve known each other for almost the longest out of almost everyone. The night before, they hadn’t really touched the subject, instead just chatting about meaningless things. They had both needed to.

Unfortunately, Heechul isn’t as respectful.

“Don’t scold Ryeowookie today. He cried a lot.” Leeteuk blinks as a hand settles on his shoulder, looking towards the sound of that voice. He had been gazing towards both Kyuhyun and Ryeowook together in the kitchen, the both of them now chatting normally after a presumably tearful make-up.

Now, Heechul watches them with him.

Leeteuk can’t help but to tighten his fist. He turns around and starts back towards his office, but the Alpha’s hand on his shoulder catches him, forcing him to stop. He looks back at Heechul’s face, imploring.

“Eat with us,” he says.

“I shouldn’t eat with bad feelings,” Leeteuk replies calmly. “It isn’t fair to Ryeowook.”

“Then don’t be angry for my sake,” the other man pleads. Leeteuk grits his teeth.

“Don’t tell me to do that. Don’t say that,” he says. He harshly pulls Heechul’s hand off of his shoulder, ignoring the Alpha’s hurt and confused expression.

“Don’t tell you what—”

“Don’t tell me to stop doing things for your sake,” Leeteuk grounds out finally. “You of all people aren’t allowed to.”

Heechul stops. He carefully steps forward, a move meant to shield the Omega from the now curious gazes of the two youngest behind them. He sets his pretty hand on Leeteuk’s arm again, and it feels like a sledgehammer has been slammed onto his bicep.

“Are you mad about the suppressants?” he asks, voice sharp.

Leeteuk doesn’t respond. He lowers his head, his chest heaving. Heechul watches him. Then, he lets out a humorless laugh, a cheerless smile coming to his lips.

“You’re really a hypocrite, Jungsoo.”

 

 

Jongwoon thinks it’s interesting, the way that all of his coworkers trickle into their cubicles. His is the one closest to the main door, so he has a good view of everyone going into and out of the room, of the Beta woman always wearing black and the Omega man confidently strutting in with a new pair of heels on his feet every week and the two Omegas that always come in smelling like each other.

For some reason, Jongwoon’s eyes linger on them as they walk in. The Omega on the right notices him, and he quickly looks away.

“Good morning, Jongwoon-ssi.” Taeyeon greets him, warmly but briefly. They sit on opposite sides of the room, probably on purpose to limit contact between them.

“Good morning, Taeyeon-ssi,” Jongwoon says back, dipping his head. He suddenly remembers something, and his eyes flick up. “Hey, are you free during lunch?”

She pauses. “Yeah, why?”

“I’m having lunch with Yunho-sunbaenim and Changmin-sunbaenim. I was wondering—” he offers an awkward smile— “If you want to join?”

She blinks. Then, to his surprise, she shakes her head.

“You already had your appointment, right? It’s fine,” Taeyeon says. Jongwoon tilts his head in confusion.

“Is that alright? I thought—”

“It’s alright. I prefer eating alone, actually.”

And before he can even reply to her, she’s walking away. Jongwoon watches her go, lips pressing together.

“Hey, why are you looking so sullen?”

He looks to see Eunsoo setting her bag down, a grin on her lips. She’s always easy to hear coming in and easy to see, not really because of her clothing choices but because of her bright energy.

He recalls what had happened at the karaoke room and swallows.

“Ah, it’s nothing, Eunsoo-ssi. It’s nice to see you,” he says, managing a smile. She smiles back, leaning on his desk with her other hand on her hip. Jongwoon’s eyes dart towards it, and he swallows again.

“The party last week was pretty cool. I’m really thankful for Taeyeon calling me a cab home,” she says. “Did you enjoy it?”

“You really worked hard putting it together,” he replies. “I hadn’t done something like that in a while.”

Eunsoo beams. Jongwoon plays with his fingers under the desk. The Omega notices him, looking towards his hands.

“There’s a bit of blue on your palms,” she observes. Jongwoon quickly brings them to his eyes, surprised to find that a bit of blue really has colored his skin.

“Oh… I broke a pen at my house yesterday…” He gives an excuse, hoping that it’ll convince Eunsoo enough for her to leave it alone. She narrows her eyes, but she drops it, thankfully.

“Well, let’s work hard this morning!”

She bustles back to her own space. Jongwoon finally relaxes into his chair, his shoulders dropping as he sighs in relief. Suddenly, he’s hit with the memories of the karaoke party, and his chest tightens in guilt and fear. He glances towards Eunsoo’s desk, swallowing.

“It’s fine. You shouldn’t have to be the one apologizing anyways.”

Jongwoon wonders if there’s any truth in Taeyeon’s words. He decides to not tell Eunsoo about what happened.

 

 

Minho’s face is no better than it had been a week ago.

Donghae had texted him a word of apology already regarding the bar incident. They both agree that he should probably never drink so carelessly again.

Now, he’s just glad that he gets to eat Ryeowook’s cooking again.

“My friend finally got a bit better enough to make me lunch,” he says conversationally. “There was a big argument before though. But you know, it ended alright.”

“That’s good, Hyung.” Minho nods, his eyes fixed blankly on his own meal. He stares into the dish and picks at it slightly, splitting apart the piece of meat many times before finally placing it in his mouth. Donghae watches him, frowning.

“Is it the eviction?” he asks gently. Minho presses his lips together.

“To be honest, compared to some of the others, I don’t have it as bad,” he admits quietly. “Jonghyun-hyung is still struggling, and Taemin’s trying to find a place that rents for cheap. Meanwhile, I’m just going to freeload at Kibum’s house.”

Donghae nods. He slips a piece of kimchi in his mouth, chewing thoughtfully. “Then…”

“It’s just…” he takes a deep breath. “Hyung, have you ever felt like you should be doing more? Like… compared to… Omegas or Betas…” Minho lowers his large doe eyes to the ground in shame, fiddling with his fingers. “It’s not like I think they’re not capable, it’s just that I think that I should be more capable, you know…”

Donghae pauses. His mind flickers to Leeteuk, to the look Heechul always gives Leeteuk when he doesn’t think anyone’s looking. It’s the same expression that Minho wears on his face now.

And he thinks about himself. The text message. He swallows his food. “Yeah. I get what you’re saying.”

“Like… a good Alpha should provide for their partner and make a lot of money so that their family can live comfortably, right? They should work hard so that their family can do what they want without worrying. And well…” he hesitates, “I don’t exactly have any good money right now. It’s just Kibum supporting me, and I just…”

“Feel useless?” Donghae says. Minho nods.

“And horrible,” he finishes with a long exhale. Then, he shakes his head, taking a few steps back. “But it’s not like I think Kibum needs me to care for him! I just wish that I could be more useful to him. Instead of leeching off of him all the time.”

Donghae watches him. The younger Alpha has his shoulders drawn up tightly, so tightly that it looks like he might collapse in on himself. Slowly, he raises an arm and pulls him close to his side, jostling Minho slightly.

“Sometimes I wish I could earn more too. But it’s not likely that I’ll be able to do more than this. I just need to wait for a promotion to a harder job as a garbage worker. Compared to me, you could probably do anything with your passion,” Donghae says softly. He nudges Minho on the wrist. “But for now, eat well, alright? You’ll only worry your Omega if you aren’t eating the meals he makes.”

Minho purses his lips and nods sullenly. Slowly but surely, he picks up his chopsticks and begins to eat.

 

 

“How did your meeting with Jinki-ssi go?” Shindong asks. He’s in Leeteuk’s office, settled comfortably on the couch. Meanwhile, Leeteuk looks even worse than he had a few hours ago, the dark circles under his eyes plainly apparent and the paleness in his lips clear.

He suspects it has something to do with Heechul, but he has enough sense to not ask.

“They couldn’t pay the rent, just barely. The landowner hadn’t been too kind to them in the first place and told them to get out first thing. The media jumped on the story right after,” Leeteuk replies emptily. He points to the article, gaze low. “See what they’re saying about them.”

Shindong doesn’t have to see to know. He leans back into the couch cushion and lets out an exhausted exhale, combing his hair back with his fingers. He feels feverish, hot. He won’t be able to work in a few days. He glances at the Omega, who’s reading the article again.

“Hyung, why did you think to start something like this? With a degree and work ethic like yours, you could probably be… anywhere you wanted,” he asks. Leeteuk’s eyes flick towards the door, as if searching for a figure leaning there.

“This is where I want to be. I started SUPER JUNIOR because it was needed, that’s all,” he answers simply.

Shindong nods. He lowers his head, dissecting the carpet with his eyes. Leeteuk watches him, his lips thinned.

The Alpha had so much potential. He was insanely smart and had good sense for his lack of higher education. Although Shindong had said that of Leeteuk, he was sure that if the younger man really did put his mind to something, he could do it.

He feels a flash of guilt suddenly. He was just tying him down at this point.

“Donghee-ah—” he starts, but he’s cut off by Shindong suddenly raising his head, his eyes clearing up as if he has had a revelation.

“Hyung… Heechul-hyung said something yesterday,” he says, almost excitedly. “Something about expanding… About letting everyone know about SUPER JUNIOR publicly instead of just staying on the down-low like we have been.”

Leeteuk frowns. “Didn’t you see the article? And what happened to SHINee? We’d be flayed, and the landlord would tell us to book it out of here in a second. It wouldn’t work at all.”

“But what did you say about this? That SUPER JUNIOR is needed? Maybe… maybe you’re not the only one that has thought that.” Shindong threads his hair through his hands, mind running a hundred miles per hour. “SHINee had the same idea, but they didn’t have anyone to support them. And now that Siwon is gone, there’s no one for us anymore either. Just think about it, if just one or two people came that really cared—”

“And how easy do you think it would be to actually find someone like that amidst everything?” Leeteuk interrupts. “Even if someone cared, do you think they’d really come and help us when everyone else hates us? Do you think that someone like that, someone with enough courage and kindness, really exists?”

“You did it, Teukie-hyung,” he says, surprising himself with the sincerity behind the sappy words that he usually hates. “You were the one that came to us and helped us even though we’re just good for nothing Alphas. We just need someone… just one person. They don’t have to be like you. Just one.”

Leeteuk is silent. He looks at the article, scrolling upwards and downwards a few times. When he finally looks back to Shindong, his gaze has only hardened even more.

“Absolutely not. We’re not doing it. Both of us know the consequences of doing something like that. It’s nice to think about, but it would sink us. You know it would. I can’t… I can’t let something like that happen. Alright, Donghee-ah? Publicizing… it’s not logical,” he says harshly.

With that, Leeteuk turns away. Shindong presses his lips together and takes the silent dismissal as it is. When he steps outside, he ruffles his own hair harshly, groaning as he apparently comes back to his senses.

“Is it the rut? Why am I being like this?” he mutters to himself. “It’s no use being this emotional. I’m not a dreamer. I just need to find a work from home tech job… yeah.”

With that, he goes back to his room. He doesn’t think about the college application PDF loaded on his computer at all.

 

 

For the first time since he started working, Jongwoon anticipates lunch time. Usually, he would hug his lunch box alone in his cubicle, slowly eating the thankfully small portion that Ryeowook had thoughtfully packed for him. Not today though.

Today, he stands up exactly when the hour hits, hurriedly saving his work and heading towards the exit.

“Where are you headed?” He can hear Eunsoo call out from behind him. He glances behind him and prepares to tell the truth, but he suddenly fears her reaction.

“Uh… someone invited me out for lunch. I’ll be back on time.”

Eunsoo blinks before suddenly smirking. “You’d better be back!” she says with a seemingly knowing smile. Confused, Jongwoon just turns back around and keeps going.

Of course, it still doesn’t go smoothly after that. When he steps out, he sees someone else waiting for him, one of the two Omegas that always seem to come into a pair. Her eyes narrow when she sees him, and it makes Jongwoon swallow fearfully.

“Hello?” he greets nervously. The Omega doesn’t acknowledge his presence. Instead, she steps forward and into his personal space, making him take a step back.

“You were staring at us earlier,” she states. Jongwoon blinks as he remembers. Suddenly, he understands, and the Omega’s fury seems justified now.

“It wasn’t what it looked like!” he says quickly. “I’m not… It wasn’t…”

“You should know that it’s not exactly the greatest feeling when you see an Alpha ogling you and your Omega going to work. Wait, you don’t know because you’ll never understand how it feels. You won’t know how it feels to always have eyes on you, to be looked at as if you are an object. So—” she steps forward again, pointing a finger at his chest. “Just remember. We. Are. Not. Your. Fetish.”

“I’m sorry. I promise it wasn’t what it looked like—”

Jongwoon’s breath hitches again as she leans in, her eyes blazing. They just stare at each other for a few tense seconds before the Omega growls at him one last time and turns around, stalking away.

Jongwoon watches her back leave, rattled by the woman's accusations and words. He remembers it, her gaze on him and her fingers locking his wrist into place and her eyes boring into his skull. But he couldn’t really blame her at all. In her eyes, behind the coldness, was a true protective instinct. It was as if she was protecting someone she loved from a threat that she knew all too well and came across all too often.

There was no doubt that such a thing had occurred to her before. Her and her Omega partner.

He swallows, touching his throat. Then, he just leaves on his way again.

 

 

The heat is unbearable. His pants have grown tight, too tight. Still, he can’t stand to take them off. He doesn’t want to look at that part of his body. He doesn’t want to remember that moment, the dirt crawling all over him and covering him until he can’t breathe. The weight pressing down on his stomach, the sickening smiles…

“Hyukjae? It’s Donghae. Please come out…”

Donghae? No, he can’t let him see this part of himself. Fuck, he can’t let him see how much he’s fallen. How much he’s been… ruined.

“Go away!” he screams. He presses down on his crotch again, desperately trying to soften the area but to no avail. Instead, all he can remember is that that time, that heat, that sense of drowning in himself.

He wants to die. Anything but this.

There’s another knock at the door. Hyukjae roars into the pillow, burying his head into it and biting down into the fabric so hard that it tears the entire thing open, spilling cotton onto his bed. Tears bead in his eyes, and he lets out a sob, hugging his knees to his chest while ignoring the hot feeling pooling and spilling out of his gut.

Jongwoon-hyung… Jongwoon-hyung… I need you…

 

 

When he finally reaches the meeting place, Yunho’s waving at him from afar while Changmin scowls. Jongwoon falters slightly seeing that expression, but Yunho seems to elbow the younger Alpha, and he quickly turns his face into a more neutral one.

“Sorry if I kept you waiting, Sunbae,” he says quickly. Yunho shakes his head, smiling brightly.

“It’s fine! We’re always early anyways!” he replies. This time, it’s Changmin who elbows him, but Yunho goes on. “And you don’t need to call us sunbae either! It’s way too formal, isn’t it?”

“Ah…” Jongwoon scratches the back of his head. “Then… well… I was born in ‘84.”

“Oh? You’re a hyung then. That’s so interesting! Actually—”

Yunho keeps on talking even as they walk to the restaurant that they had talked about. Jongwoon finds himself relaxing in the process, and even Changmin looks like he’s loosened up somewhat. He’s now gazing at the older Alpha with a strange look in his eyes. Jongwoon notices, and Changmin quickly sees him, glaring. Jongwoon swallows and hurriedly looks away.

They find a small little place that isn’t too far from the company building. They’ll have to eat fast, but Changmin and Yunho look like they’re used to that sort of thing. They order swiftly and without stuttering, and then, it’s up to Jongwoon to order.

He blanks out. His knuckles are white where they clutch at the menu. He can’t even get a word out.

God, how long has it been since he’s been allowed to make his own decisions at a restaurant?

“I-I’d like kimchi fried rice please,” he stutters out after a straight ten seconds, swallowing. The waitress nods and takes his menu, telling them that it’ll be out as soon as possible. As she walks away, Jongwoon releases the breath he didn’t know he was holding. He glances at the two sitting across from him and lowers his head, embarrassed at his display.

Briefly, he wishes that Hyukjae were with him right now. Maybe then he wouldn’t feel this weird, like he was… third-wheeling.

But then, he remembers the previous night. Hyukjae’s confession. And he shoves that thought away.

“S-so, why did you invite me to eat with you?” he asks conversationally, trying to be casual. Yunho perks up with a word from him.

“We didn't talk too much last time. And you know, you just seemed interesting!”

“He means, we were curious because you’re one of the only Alphas in the primarily Beta-Omega section of the company,” Changmin interrupts. Yunho frowns at him while Jongwoon blinks.

“Oh that. I guess it’s because I didn’t seem too threatening…” he says with an uneasy smile.

“You know, we’re also in a Beta-Omega section too. Just in the accounting department,” Yunho cuts in before Changmin can say any more, his smoothness a clear contrast to the younger Alpha’s confrontational tone. “We got moved after we joined, so I guess we mellowed out a bit to them?”

“Wait, you got moved?” Jongwoon asks, surprised. “Why?”

Changmin suddenly grabs Yunho’s arm and tightens his hand with a desperate look in his eyes. However, the older Alpha ignores him, and he continues to speak to Jongwoon as if nothing is happening.

“They found out that me and Changmin were fucking, so they moved us out,” he says with a smile.

Everything stops for a second.

Jongwoon blinks. Then, his eyes widen.

Earlier in the morning, Yunho had sprayed perfume on himself. Had he been removing Changmin’s scent? Just like Jongwoon had scrubbed Hyukjae’s own scent off of his body?

Changmin stands up and pulls Yunho with him, his eyes blazing.

“I need to talk to you,” he grits out. Yunho goes with him without any complaint. He isn’t smiling anymore. Jongwoon watches them leave helplessly, not knowing what to do. He looks at his hands and traces the fragments of blue stuck there on his skin.

Their food arrives right after. Jongwoon gathers the food for the other two. He starts eating by himself, but he doesn’t have much of a stomach. The portion is too large. He pushes it away, swallowing as he pushes his mask back up. He doesn’t want to keep breathing through his mouth while eating.

Yunho and Changmin return after a few more minutes. They don’t have too much time now to eat. They take their seats quickly, a chilly silence between them. Jongwoon fidgets, the only sound coming from the other two Alphas being the scraping of chopsticks on the bowl and the loud chewing.

When Changmin finally speaks, it is like cutting a knife through metal.

“Jongwoon-ssi, please forget everything you just heard,” he says quietly. From beside him, Yunho says nothing, his eyes lowered to his food. Jongwoon looks at the blue stains on his hands.

All of this is so strange. He thinks it’s all so strange. How could this ever be anything but strange? It was so unheard of, taboo and pulled under the covers. It was… gross and disgusting.

Yet, Yunho had said it so openly. Even now, he’s giving Jongwoon this knowing look, this unabashed, unashamed look.

Does he know? Does he even care?

Jongwoon swallows. He touches the blue again. Should he?

“I won’t talk about it,” he promises. Changmin slumps down in relief. Yunho still doesn’t speak. However, those two seem to be itching for something, somehow. Twitching towards each other as if they want to do something but can’t because of Jongwoon. He notices but doesn’t comment.

He changes the subject. “So, what is it like being moved? Did you settle in well?”

“It was better than being where we were before. Even though it’s a bit strange sometimes,” Yunho says, apparently glad to be able to fill the silence.

“Strange? How?”

“Well… you know. It’s like they don’t see us as Alphas. And sometimes, they look at us with these really weird looks. Like they’re waiting for us to do something…”

“I thought we said we weren’t going to talk about it,” Changmin says softly. Yunho shoots him a look.

“Should I leave? I’m making things uncomfortable,” Jongwoon says, but the younger Alpha shakes his head.

“No, it’s just us. Feel free to eat more.” He flashes him a strained smile. Jongwoon doesn’t think he will, but he acknowledges the other’s effort to be kind.

They eat the rest of the meal quickly and in silence. Yunho finishes first, and Jongwoon notices that the both of them are big eaters. Yunho stands up and addresses him only.

“I’m going to go to the bathroom. Then, we can go back, alright?”

Jongwoon nods, although he’s a bit nervous with the idea of being alone with the youngest, whose cold aura has only increased in the span of his conversation. Yunho pads away, and Jongwoon stares into his lap, not intending on talking at all.

“You can just say what you want to say now, you know.”

He looks up in surprise to see Changmin staring at him. He looks nonchalant, but his shoulders are raised, as if he’s on edge. Jongwoon swallows.

“What would I say?”

“I dunno. That idiot seems too nice and imperturbable, so people usually tell everything to me instead,” Changmin shrugs. “I saw your reaction. I know you’re not unfazed by it.”

There’s a lump in his throat. “I’m sorry,” Jongwoon apologizes first. The younger Alpha doesn’t react to it. “I really wasn’t going to say anything offensive or anything.”

“But you think it’s something strange.”

Jongwoon hesitates. “Yes,” he confesses. “I think it’s… not normal. But at the same time…” He touches his chest, lowering his gaze. “I feel somewhat… relieved?”

Changmin blinks. “Relieved? You mean…”

Jongwoon doesn’t answer that unspoken question. Instead he just raises his head and smiles at Changmin, as kindly as he can.

“It’s just a relationship, right? Nothing too different from Alpha-Omega or Beta-Beta relationships at all…”

“Well actually… we aren’t in a relationship,” Changmin says under his breath. Jongwoon blinks.

“Huh?”

“We’re just fucking. That’s all. I’m still… I don’t love him.”

Jongwoon looks dumbfounded.

“But you always—”

Yunho returns at that moment. Changmin averts his eyes. He gazes back up at the older Alpha and stands up, placing his chopsticks down.

“We’re done,” Jongwoon says for him. Yunho quickly calls over the waitress, and he suddenly realizes that he has no money to pay. “Shit—”

“It’s my treat,” Changmin says. Yunho glances at him in surprise as he hands his card over to the waitress. Jongwoon protests.

“Wait, I can’t be taking your money—”

“It’s fine,” he insists. “We invited you afterwards.”

His words make Yunho smile. Their shoulders are bumping again. Jongwoon sees it and then acquiesces. He asks for his food to be packed into a takeout box before they go back.

The way back is silent as well, except in a different way from before. When they stop in front of the building, Yunho turns to him, almost nervous.

“Was it alright?” he asks. Jongwoon smiles, catching Changmin’s eyes as well.

“Let’s do it again. When I bring my lunch,” he suggests. Yunho’s eyes light up, and the younger Alpha beside him looks surprised.

“Really?”

“Only if you let me bring a friend along. She’s in need of company,” Jongwoon says, thinking of Taeyeon. Yunho nods eagerly.

“Tomorrow then! We’ll see you!”

 

 

When he returns home, it is dark but not as dark as the other days. For some reason, Jongwoon had felt excited to return back for the first time since he got back. He wanted to see Hyukjae.

But when he enters, there’s no Hyukjae in sight. Instead, he sees a panicked Donghae, crouching next to the Alpha’s door. He turns to Jongwoon, and he can see that the younger man is distressed, his eyes wide and frightened.

Suddenly, a guttural scream comes from inside the room. It’s so loud that it pierces through the wall. Jongwoon’s heart drops once he realizes whose voice it is.

“Hyukjae’s rut is coming. But he says… he says that no one can come in. It sounds like…” Donghae lets out a sob. “Fuck, it sounds like he’s hurting himself.”

“Has anyone else tried to help him?” he asks as calmly as he can, though his heart rate has skyrocketed. Donghae nods tearfully towards Ryeowook and Kyuhyun, both pacing the lobby. Jongwoon takes a deep breath and raises his hand to knock before the younger Alpha interrupts him. “Hyung, you can’t go in there right now… you smell like…”

Jongwoon understands. He bolts to his room, stripping his dirty clothes off as fast as he can and leaping into the showers. He turns it up as hot as he can in the time he has, and within five minutes, he’s out, panting and hot from the steam. For some reason, he feels a bit nauseous, but he excuses it on the hot water and the lack of lunch.

Donghae by now is gone, pulled aside by Ryeowook. His gaze is still on the door, though his eyes reflect something distant, as if he is reliving a memory. Jongwoon takes his turn to knock at Hyukjae’s door, clutching his t-shirt.

“Hyukjae-ah? It’s Jongwoon-hyung,” he calls, his voice trembling only slightly. Fuck, why does he feel like’s about to pass out. “You need to get some water. It should be pre-rut only. It should be alright to come out.”

“It’s not. H-Hyung, it’s not. I can’t—I can’t go through this. God, Hyung—I’m going to die. I’d rather die. I’d rather die than do this! Help me, please—Hyung, I need you—I need you—”

Hyukjae’s voice comes out as a hoarse sob. Jongwoon touches the door, his fingers shaking.

“Please, Hyukjae-ah. Let’s talk about this in my room, alright? Listen to Hyung, it’ll be okay—”

“Not your room! Fuck, not your room!”

The scream makes Jongwoon step back. He clutches his head, stumbling. Suddenly, he’s steadied by someone’s hand on his shoulder. He looks to see Heechul, calm and collected as if he knows what’s going on. This time, he knocks, a slow and steady sound that cuts through the scream.

“It’s your Heechul-hyung,” Heechul says quietly. “I have suppressants.”

Jongwoon’s eyes widen. Hyukjae seems to stop, his frenzied movements halting from behind the door. Heechul takes out the pill bottle and shakes it for the younger Alpha to hear. He looks at Jongwoon and nods. Jongwoon presses his lips together.

“P-please open the door,” he pleads again. “Please, Hyukjae.”

The pause seems like hours long. Jongwoon holds his breath, and Heechul grips his shoulder tightly, keeping him on his feet. After what feels like a lifetime, the lock on the door slowly clicks. Heechul slides the pill bottle into Jongwoon’s hand, and Jongwoon waits for it, for Hyukjae’s blue head to poke out of the crack.

However, when the door finally cracks open, he’s hit by something far more potent.

That scent—

His knees buckle. He doesn’t remember handing the bottle to Hyukjae or the whispered “thank you” that the younger Alpha gives him. He doesn’t remember stumbling backwards, Heechul’s arms quickly steadying him. He doesn’t remember Heechul’s eyes, wide as saucers.

A sharp and tearing pain rips through his neck and entire body. He grits his teeth and bites down on his lip to muffle his scream.

Then, he collapses.

 

 

Hyukjae hurriedly reads the prescription and shoves two pills into his mouth, choking them down with some tap water on the sink. He falls onto his bed, limp and breathing hard.

It had come early. Fuck, it had come.

The tent in his pants is tight and disgusting to look at. When he finally musters the energy, he drags himself off his bed and into the shower again. This time, the water is cold. And when he walks out of the bathroom, he’s hit by it.

His entire room smells like Jongwoon.

He goes to the window and opens it to ventilate out the scent. He puts new clothes on and slowly goes to his door, unlocking it and opening it.

Donghae snaps awake from the lobby coach. Hyukjae doesn’t have time to process it all before he’s suddenly engulfed in the other man’s tight embrace. At first, he flinches, but Donghae’s familiar warmth reminds him where he is. In the present day.

“Donghae,” he rasps. Donghae finally pulls away, his eyes wet.

“Fuck, Hyukjae. Hyukjae. You scared me so much. It was… fuck… it was too much like back then…”

Hyukjae remembers. He tugs Donghae in for another hug and buries his head in his shoulder. His body is still hot, but it’s thankfully dormant.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Donghae…”

He’s saying that for so many reasons. He might cry. He does, right into Donghae’s shirt. Donghae smells like sweat and tears and garbage.

They only pull apart when Heechul comes up behind him. Hyukjae quickly goes towards the older Alpha, hugging him as well. Heechul stiffens, but he pats the other’s back slowly.

“Thank you so much,” Hyukjae whispers.

“I said you can ask me for help anytime,” Heechul replies, softening slightly.

When they come apart, the younger Alpha is still smiling. Then, he suddenly remembers something, the one thing that he had cared about the most.

“Where’s Jongwoon-hyung?”

Heechul’s face suddenly turns grave. He looks away towards that room at the end of the hall and presses his lips together. Hyukjae follows his gaze, his breath stopping.

“His rut came.”

Chapter Text

Half of Jongwoon’s mind is absolutely engulfed in Hyukjae. Fixed on him.

He knows the younger Alpha smells like strawberries and sandalwood and spice. It shouldn’t work but it does. It does way too well.

He knows he is hiding something. Something even deeper than the half spoken secret that he had told him to forget the day before. Something that prevents him from trying to form a connection with Donghae, who he used to know.

He knows he is an Alpha. An Alpha who has ruts and urges. And the only reason they had ever met in the first place was because they were both Alphas, runaways.

They are both Alphas… So why?

That gummy smile. That attention-seeking glint in his eye that appears when he teases him. That large hand, squeezing his own. That shy glance thrown at him every once and a while. That vulnerable gaze, staring at him glassily. And… that horribly frightened expression through the door.

In a split second of lucidity, he wonders if Hyukjae’s alright. He wants to know if he’s alright.

But then, he’s struck again by another twinge. He tastes blood in his mouth, and the fantasies return.

Of Jongwoon bending him over on the bed. Of Jongwoon biting his neck. Of Jongwoon burying his knot deep into him. Of Jongwoon fucking him until he cries. Of Jongwoon filling him with his seed.

He buries his nose into his unwashed clothes from two days ago, the only fragments of Hyukjae’s scent that he has left. Only vestiges of the sweetness remain, but he clutches it to his chest and inhales it over and over again to soothe the heat, the yearning, the guilt.

I’m sorry, Hyukjae. I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I’m so—disgusting.

He writhes in agony. A sharp pain rips through his body from his gut to his neck. Momentarily overriding the visions beget by his apparent attraction to the younger Alpha, his mating bite forces memories back into his head as if they happened yesterday. Jongwoon buries his face into the blankets to blot out the frustrated tears leaking from his eyes.

He’s still being forced to think about… to think about her.

Her long hair, wrapped around his fingers. Her head, leaning on his shoulder. Her hands, gripping his shirt tightly. Her voice, twisting and twisting and twisting. And her scent, sweet like apples and sugar, which he had gradually gotten sick of while he was… he was trapped in there…

Jongwoon’s mouth opens in a silent scream. His pants have been off since a long time ago, and he humps his bed like an animal, just to quell the horrible heat. The two polarizing visions in his head swirl and mix together, and they disorient him. Spit drips from his mouth, and he cries out weakly as he ejaculates.

It’s not enough. It’s not. He needs—he needs—

The door clicks open. Jongwoon lifts his head, but his vision is too blurry to see anything. Instead, there’s only a black figure, who slips in and comes towards him with a tray in his hands. Jongwoon registers a cool glass being pressed to his lips, and he gulps down the water greedily, almost choking on it. A hand is pressed to his back to steady him, and he jerks at the touch.

“I left a tray of food on your desk. You can eat it when you regain enough consciousness,” the voice says softly. It sounds like Ryeowook. Desperately, Jongwoon grabs onto his shirt before he can leave. He can feel himself hardening again, the dizziness returning.

“Help me,” he begs. Ryeowook’s eyes are worried, but he strains a comforting smile.

“It’ll be alright, Hyung. We’ll be out there in case you need anything, okay? You just need to bang on the door. We’ll be right there with you.” He begins to pull Jongwoon’s hand away, but he hangs on even tighter, refusing to let go.

“Please—it hurts—it hurts—”

Pain suddenly tears through his neck, and he lets out a grunt of pain, falling back into the bed. Ryeowook hurriedly grabs onto him, eyes widening.

“Hyung!”

The last thing Jongwoon can remember before being thrusted back into hell is gripping Ryeowook’s hand like a vice, the younger Alpha’s head hovering over him. He moves his lips, but only one word comes out.

“Hyukjae…”

 

 

Ryeowook knits his fingers together in his lap, his lips pressed together. Everything is tense, suspended. And they’re all waiting for someone to knock it all down.

“He said that it hurts. Is it because of his mating bite?”

“Yeah. It hasn’t been too long since it was last renewed, so that’s why he’s feeling it now,” Leeteuk answers evenly. Everyone’s seated around the kitchen table, their plates of food untouched in front of them. The Omega sits at the end, eyes stormy and tired.

“Is there nothing we can do about it?” Donghae asks, worried. He’d been too focused on his own issues, and he regrets it now for not seeing Jongwoon’s condition earlier. “I mean… It sounds like it would be hell. Constantly thinking about someone that you had to… break up from.”

“The only thing we can do for him is check up on him often,” Leeteuk says. “Other than that, it’s Jongwoon’s battle to fight.”

Donghae nods, still troubled. Ryeowook bites his lip.

“But why would he say Hyukjae-hyung’s name?”

Everyone knows the answer.

No one responds.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Heechul speaks up finally. His eyes are hard, and he stares at all of them. “Isn’t it obvious why he’s calling out his name?”

Hyukjae shifts in his chair, his body still weak in the aftermath of his suppressed rut. Luckily, the others had the decency to not ask questions and had told him to get some rest, but he needs to be here, to know how Jongwoon is doing. Donghae has his arm thrown around him, and it helps somewhat but not enough. His eyes are unfocused, and he tries to not think about anything.

“You mean Hyukjae-hyung and Jongwoon-hyung…” Ryeowook trails off. Heechul presses his lips together, a silent answer.

“There’s nothing between us!” Hyukjae bursts out, even though doing so makes him feel like he’s going to pass out. “Come on, we only met a week ago.”

“Relationships where the Omega feels attracted first or relationships between two Betas usually take a long time to develop because there’s no signifier in terms of scent. Between two Alphas however, it’s too clear,” Heechul responds, toneless.

Hyukjae curls his hand into a fist on his lap. He’s trembling, still, and tears threaten to fall from his eyes.

He shoots one desperate glance at Leeteuk. The Omega understands, and he stands up, slamming his hands on the table to redirect everyone’s attention towards himself.

“Let’s not talk about this now. I need to make a phone call to Jongwoon’s workplace, and everyone else has to eat dinner. Let’s not talk behind people’s back,” he says firmly, making eye contact with everyone at the table except for Heechul, who refuses to even look his way. He exhales heavily and leaves without another word.

After a few tense moments, Ryeowook uneasily rises as well, inching towards the kitchen. His eyes finally settle on Kyuhyun, and they seem to come to a silent agreement, both exiting together.

Shindong goes next. To Hyukjae’s surprise, he claps a hand on his shoulder, his eyes steady and supporting. He squeezes and nods, leaving after for the kitchen as well without saying anything.

Donghae still has his arm around his shoulders. It’s the closest he’s been to him in a long time. Hyukjae doesn’t know if he should be comforted or on edge. He had heard the other Alpha’s voice from behind the door, back when he was in hell. It makes him uneasy, knowing he had been there while he was in rut. He wasn’t ready yet to expose that part of himself.

Fuck, he hadn’t been ready for any of this. He wants to throw up.

Heechul suddenly stands up. The chair scrapes against the ground, and Hyukjae flinches at the noise. They make eye contact only briefly, and Heechul’s gaze is unreadable. No…

We’ll talk later. That’s what they’re saying. Hyukjae averts his eyes first, and the older Alpha swiftly walks out of the room, his footsteps echoing through the ground.

Briefly, secretly, he wishes that Jongwoon was here. Maybe then, he wouldn’t be feeling so hopelessly uncomfortable right now, like a hole inside of his stomach was threatening to crawl up his throat and strangle him. But thought alone of the older Alpha only makes him more skittish. He swallows and digs his nails into his palms until the skin splits.

“Are you alright?” Donghae asks. His eyes shine with genuine concern, and Hyukjae just wants to avoid it. He nods, managing a strained smile.

“Just tired, that’s it. I’d better… rest on the coach or something,” he says. He pulls himself out of Donghae’s grasp, catching the flash of confusion that flickers on the other Alpha’s face, child-like and naive. As if things hadn’t irrevocably changed.

He’s still the same kid that he was all those years ago.

That realization makes Hyukjae’s chest seize, and he quickly wipes at his eyes again before he walks away, quickly.

Unlike the past, it’s him that’s leaving first this time.

 

 

Everyone’s a bit distracted. Ryeowook checks up on the stew as Kyuhyun scoops the rice into bowls and Shindong chops a few vegetables. Ryeowook blinks, not quite focusing on the broth. He sets the spoon down, staring into the counter. Shindong notices.

“A lot of stuff happened,” he comments casually. “I’m a little dizzy right now.” He transfers the minced vegetables to a bowl at the side, ears open. Ryeowook shifts on his feet, his expression finally opening up.

“Hyukjae-hyung really looked shaken up,” he says uneasily. “When I saw him through the hole in the door… It really looked like he was suffering. It was kind of scary. I’ve never seen a reaction like that before.”

“Ruts usually aren’t like that,” Shindong says. “They’re always a drag if you’re by yourself, but it’s never that… painful.”

“Then…” Ryeowook trails off. “Something must’ve happened then.”

They go silent after that.

“You’ll be fine, Ryeowook. It’ll be alright. The worst that could happen for you is that you’d have to spend your rut alone,” the older Alpha reassures him.

“I hope,” Ryeowook sighs, his shoulder slumping. He drags a tired hand across his face. “So much happened. I don’t even know what to think about it anymore,” he says exhaustedly. .

While they’ve been talking, Kyuhyun has since finished dividing the rice into separate bowls, but he doesn’t call everyone for dinner like he’s supposed to. Instead, he scrapes his nail along the kitchen counter, shaking his legs in an agitated manner. Ryeowook sees him.

“Are you alright, Kyuhyun?” he asks concernedly. Kyuhyun stops and nods stiffly. However, the troubled expression on his face doesn’t fade. He presses his lips together.

“What do you think about two Alphas being in a relationship?”

The question throws them in for a loop. Ryeowook blinks while Shindong narrows his eyes at the Beta. He shoots him a look of warning, and Kyuhyun backtracks.

“I’m not talking about Jongwoon-hyung and Hyukjae-hyung!” he says quickly. “Just, you know, in general.”

“In general?” Ryeowook’s eyebrows knit together. “Like, what do I think about it?”

“Yeah. What do you think about it?” Kyuhyun wipes his palms on his pants. Shindong watches, and he wonders if he’s wiping off steam or sweat.

“Well…” the younger Alpha hesitates slightly. “My dad always said that Alphas like that were disgusting and perverted but… if what Heechul-hyung said was right about Jongwoon-hyung and Hyukjae-hyung… then I’m not really sure. They don’t really seem like that to me.” He sighs. “I guess I just don’t know.”

The Beta nods, though his shoulders are still tense. Shindong rubs them.

He changes the subject. “Ryeowook, I forgot to ask. How did your job interview go?”

 

 

At first, she had really liked to tease him. About his accessories, about his apparent lack of fashion sense, about his mannerisms. He didn’t mind too much. It was a little cute.

It was honestly hard for him to get into relationships. His college years were almost over, and he was basically knee deep into studying and nothing else at that point. He disliked parties because they were loud, and he was too awkward. He disliked them because everyone wanted to fuck and as much as he liked to have his needs met, he had other ones too.

She came to him then, a little younger. She said she had a dream. That’s what made him fall for her, that passion. He promised that he’d be by her side forever.

If only he had known… back then…

Jongwoon’s vocal cords might tear if he screams into the pillow again. His throat throbs, burns like hellfire has scorched it. He covers his mouth with his palm, curling into a ball and convulsing again as another unsatisfying release comes to him.

He lays in his bed for a good few minutes afterwards, staring emptily into the ceiling as a brief period of lucidity washes over him. He’s breathing heavily, and the heat threatens to return. Shaking his head to knock himself out of it, he climbs off the bed and towards the bowl of dry food that Ryeowook had left him. He eats faster than he has in months, and he eats until he nearly vomits, stumbling back to the bed and collapsing on it. Pain blasts through his body again, and he grunts.

No… he doesn’t want to think about her anymore…

Hyukjae flashes through his mind, and he desperately clings onto the vision like a lifeline. But there’s not enough of him. There’s not enough of him here.

Jongwoon cries out. He falls limp again, incapacitated by the pain.

The only thing he can do is to hope for it to pass quickly.

 

 

Hyukjae sits alone in the lobby. It’s after dark. Hours have passed since Jongwoon went into rut. Everyone else has since eaten dinner and washed up. He shivers slightly. He wishes that he had brought out a warmer piece of clothing from inside his room, but it’s too late now. He can’t go back there.

He keeps ignoring the elephant in the room. It’ll be fine if he keeps ignoring it. It will be.

Suddenly, a shadow approaches him. He lifts his head to see Heechul coming towards him. He curls his nails into his elbows, averting his eyes from the older Alpha. He knows what’s coming.

“I fucked up.”

Hyukjae snaps up as soon as he hears those words uttered. Heechul’s standing right in front of him, his gaze lowered.

“What?”

“I fucked up. Earlier at the table. I went too far.”

Heechul looks smaller than he ever has. He’s playing with the hem of his shirt behind his back, gaze wandering the floor. Hyukjae had expected him to come sooner or later but not like this. He's surprised to see nothing but real regret in his eyes, an expression that shows so much more than it’ll ever speak. He looks back up at his hyung again, and he realizes a lot of things about him.

“I never got the chance to thank you properly earlier,” he says suddenly. Heechul’s bewildered face is funny to look at, and it makes Hyukjae relax slightly. He pulls him down to sit, and Heechul almost stumbles as he’s dragged down to the coach.

“I mean, it wasn’t anything. I always have a few suppressants in my room. You can ask me anytime for some,” the older Alpha says slowly. Hyukjae nods.

“They must’ve cost a lot,” he says softly. Something in Heechul’s gaze twists. Is it guilt? But he coughs into his palm, and it disappears as quickly as it had come.

“You know how much they cost,” he says. “It’s harder to find rut suppressants than heat suppressants.”

“I know,” Hyukjae says. His voice quietens. “That’s why I wanted to thank you. If I hadn’t gotten those suppressants… I don’t know what I would’ve done to myself.”

Heechul observes him. The darkness of the night casts shadows on their faces, but there’s always one that accompanies Hyukjae. One that makes it hard for him to get up in the morning, to leave his room, to do things that were apparently so easy for everyone else. One that terrorizes him when his rut approaches, when he wakes up with morning wood, when he thinks he might like someone.

It’s achingly familiar.

He hasn’t felt this ashamed of himself in a while. Subtly, he shifts himself closer to the younger Alpha to allow him to lean on his side. Hyukjae’s still shaking, the small little tremors betraying the memories he doesn’t dare speak out loud. Maybe Heechul will pat his shoulder. Comfort him. Wasn’t that what Jungsoo always did with the younger ones—

Suddenly, Hyukjae tilts his head towards him, interrupting his inner thoughts. “You know, Hyung. I said that I wanted to become closer to you. What happened to that?”

The other man blinks. Then, he looks away. He retracts himself, restraining himself again. “You’re really naive.”

“How?” Hyukjae demands, scooting closer. “Hyung, do you think we can really talk to each other sincerely without actually trying to know each other?”

“What if I don’t want to talk to you sincerely?” Heechul cuts in. At the younger Alpha’s hurt expression, he quickly backtracks. “I mean… fuck. I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just that… fuck. Why am I so bad at this?” He buries his head in his hands, ashamed. “I just wanted to… apologize for what happened earlier, okay? I don’t really know if there’s really anything between you and Jongwoon—well maybe I think I do—but I should’ve known better than to press it.”

The remorse is a new look on him. Even though Hyukjae has only known him for a short while, a part of him can tell that this is one of the first times the older Alpha has done something like this. He thinks he knows why.

“It’s fine, Hyung. Just don’t… don’t do that again, alright?” He flashes him a small smile. Heechul looks surprised by that, but then, he just sighs.

“Hyukjae-ah, you know you’re too nice, right?” he says with an almost exasperated tone. Hyukjae just plays with his fingers. He opens his mouth to reply sheepishly, but suddenly, something comes to his mind.

“What did you mean by “I should’ve known better”?” he asks, confused. Heechul smiles wryly.

“C’mon. You know, with a beautiful face like mine, there’s no way I haven’t been assumed to be gay, right?” he says. Hyukjae freezes.

“Ah,” he says. Heechul nods, staring at him intensely. Hyukjae gulps, his Adam's apple bobbing. “Are you…?”

“No. I guess that’s why I’m so nonchalant about it.” The older Alpha finally looks away, returning his gaze to the wall with a bored expression. “But I thought about it after, and I guess if I really were gay, then I wouldn’t exactly appreciate someone trying to pry that out of me before I was ready. Not that I’m saying you are though,” he adds, rather insincerely.

Hyukjae looks into his lap, playing with his fingers. He blurts out, “Leeteuk-hyung didn’t put you up to this, right?”

Heechul jerks in surprise hearing the Omega’s name. He opens his mouth but closes it. Then, he opens it again. “L-Leeteuk? No, it wasn’t him. Do you think I’m incapable of doing something right without him?”

“I mean… You're acting kind of weird today, Hyung,” Hyukjae says honestly. The older Alpha swats him on the shoulder.

“Look, I did this by myself, alright? I set down my pride and said sorry all by myself! Plus—” he says the next part much quieter— “It’s not like me and him are talking right now.”

Hyukjae stops. “Oh. I’m sorry,” he says awkwardly. Heechul scowls at him again.

“Whatever thought you have in your head, erase it right now! This isn’t a lover’s quarrel or anything!”

The younger Alpha blinks. Then, he smirks. “I didn’t say it was,” he replies innocently.

“Why you—”

“What’s going on right now?”

Leeteuk raises an eyebrow at the two Alphas on the coach. Both Heechul and Hyukjae look up to him, eyes wide. Hyukjae quickly stands up and bows while Heechul presses his lips together and averts his eyes.

“Leeteuk-hyung! Sorry if we were bothering you!” He apologizes quickly. Leeteuk shakes his head.

“It’s fine. I’m glad to see you being alright after what happened earlier,” he says kindly. Hyukjae suddenly remembers, and he looks down, lips pursed. The Omega, reading his mind, presses a reassuring hand to his arm.

“Jongwoon’s going to be alright. He’s strong,” he says. Hyukjae looks at him, eyes suddenly shimmering.

“Do you think so?”

“Yeah.” Leeteuk squeezes his shoulder, smiling. “And you’re strong too. Really.” There’s something in his eyes that tells him that the Omega isn’t just saying this for nothing. He knows. He understands. It’s both a terrifying and comforting realization.

Hyukjae sharply inhales. He wipes his eyes.

No, why is he crying now? It’s humiliating. He quickly rubs his eyes again with his hands, but the tears have come and won’t stop. They won’t stop spilling over. He presses his palms to his eyelids, desperately trying to stifle his swelling cries. He lets out a sob.

“I was so—I was so afraid,” he hiccups out. “Fuck, I thought I was back there again—I was so scared—”

Leeteuk quickly catches him in his arms before he tip over to the ground. He makes eye contact with Heechul, and the Alpha stiffens. Awkwardly, he circles his arms around Hyukjae as well. His knuckles come in contact with Leeteuk’s, and in a desperate movement, he reaches for them. To his surprise, the Omega allows it, and he grips him tightly.

 

 

Hours later, Hyukjae stands in front of Jongwoon’s door. No one’s awake anymore, and even Heechul and Leeteuk have gone off on their own ways. It’s just him and this room. This room with the best view at the end of the hallway. This room with the window always open. This room with the door never locked.

He traces the wood briefly, knowing that what he's about to do is probably one of the stupidest things he's done. Taking a deep breath, he rubs his red eyes one last time and pushes inside of the room.

The smell is overpowering. Hyukjae’s knees almost buckle at the sheer intensity of it, the heat. The worst part is that the scent isn’t even unpleasant. It smells amazing, but he covers his nose anyway. He doesn’t know what he’s protecting himself from.

Jongwoon is asleep. He must’ve gotten tired. Hyukjae doesn’t look at the lower half of his body, instead directing his attention to the older Alpha’s sleeping face.

He has the startling realization that Jongwoon is beautiful.

He brushes a strand of hair out of his face, the feverish skin scorching his fingers. When he retracts them, Jongwoon groans as if on cue. His eyes open, but they’re glazed over, unfocused.

“Hyuk—jae?” he says blearily. He grunts again, expression twisting in pain.

Hyukjae startles and steps back. He puts a hand over his mouth again, reaching backwards for the doorknob. He has to leave. However, Jongwoon is reaching for him now, blindly stretching out his arm.

“Hyukjae!” he says, cracking at the end. “Hyukjae, please… It hurts. Please don’t leave,” he whispers, voice fragile and weak.

Hyukjae’s heart breaks. In a rush of impulsiveness, he pulls off his shirt and places it into Jongwoon’s hand. The older Alpha immediately snatches it and buries his nose in it. Hyukjae watches, his heart rate speeding up for some reason.

Before Jongwoon can look for him again, he quickly darts out of the room.

Only to come face to face with Donghae.

“Donghae!” Hyukjae jumps in surprise. “Aren’t—aren’t you supposed to be asleep?”

“Aren’t you?” the other Alpha asks back. “Your rut just got suppressed. You should be exhausted right now.”

He blinks. “W-Well, I can’t exactly sleep in my room right now.” He makes an excuse, stuttering. Suddenly, he realizes something. “Have you been… crying?”

“Haven’t you?” Donghae counters, almost sharply. Hyukjae looks away, pursing his lips.

“I’m sorry,” he says.

“For what? Why are you sorry? There’s nothing to be sorry for,” Donghae replies, voice cracking at the end. He’s about to cry out again, but he takes a second to compose himself, closing his eyes and breathing deeply. “No, I’m sorry. I just wanted to ask if you wanted to sleep in my room tonight or until you can go back to yours.”

“Ah no. It’s alright. I don’t want to inconvenience you—” Hyukjae tries, but Donghae cuts him off.

“I know you’re trying to avoid me. I’ve been trying to avoid you too,” he confesses, almost harshly. “But honestly, I’m just tired of that. I don’t care if we knew each other before. I don’t care about what happened in between. We can talk about that when you want to. Right now, I just think that it’d really be nice—that it’d really be nice to have a friend my age around here.”

Donghae sniffles, and he turns away, furiously rubbing at his eyes. He shouldn’t be this emotional, he knows. He knows that things have changed, and he knows that even more vividly after today. It’s been more than ten years.

But today’s events have also made him realize that even if he won’t ever be first in Hyukjae’s heart, he wants to be by his side.

The other Alpha seems to have become speechless. His mouth opens, but no words come out. Donghae waits, bracing himself with every passing second.

“I think that would be nice too,” Hyukjae finally says. “I think that’d be really nice.”

The smile that the other man gives him is almost enough to erase the aching inside of his chest.

 

 

When Leeteuk quietly leaves Heechul’s room in the morning, he finds Kyuhyun waiting for him. He startles slightly, but the Beta doesn’t seem all too surprised that he was with the Alpha. Instead, he shifts on his feet, biting his lip as if wanting to say something.

“Is something wrong, Kyuhyun?” Leeteuk asks first, gently despite his ruffled exterior. He adjusts the scent suppressor on his neck, fixing his hair. Kyuhyun’s eyes flick back and forth from his face to the ground, and he opens his mouth to reply. However, he quickly closes it, deciding against something inside of his head.

“It’s nothing.” He exhales heavily. “Hope you’re having a good morning, Teukie-hyung. There’s already a cup of coffee for you already on the counter.”

“You can tell me,” the Omega pushes slightly, not enough to make it pop but enough for the other man to potentially budge. “It might relieve you slightly, and I won’t make a big deal of it.” He already thinks he knows what he’s going to ask anyways.

Kyuhyun eyes him doubtfully. “You’re always like this, you know. Always making people open up to you,” he says after a moment.

“Well, I’m the oldest, and I’m the big boss around here. So, I should do things like that, right?” Leeteuk replies. The Beta shrugs and looks away. He leans on the wall, scraping the sole of his foot against the carpet. Leeteuk leans with him, gazing at him in concern.

Then, Kyuhyun sighs.

“Hyung… What is it like to be an Omega?” he asks quietly. Leeteuk blinks. Out of everything the other man could’ve asked, he hadn’t been expecting this.

“I mean… It just is. There are disadvantages and advantages to it. That’s kind of the only way to explain it,” he says slowly. Kyuhyun’s expression doesn’t improve, and he sighs again, hanging his head.

“I guess that was a stupid question. Sorry for bothering you, Hyung,” he says, almost dejectedly. He starts to walk away, but Leeteuk catches him on the shoulder, worried.

“Why did you ask?”

“It wasn’t anything, okay? I was just wondering what’d be like, that’s all.” Kyuhyun tears himself from the Omega’s grip and escapes, leaving Leeteuk alone in the hallway, his hand reaching out.

 

 

Later that day, Ryeowook sets up his microphone on the street. Alone.

“You’re going to busk tonight?” Donghae blinks, watching him fry a few pieces of tofu in the pan.

“Why not? I need to make a contribution somehow,” Ryeowook says. He scoops the vegetables into a bowl at the side in preparation to be thrown into the stir fry at the end.

The older Alpha bites his lip. “Is this because you didn’t make your new job interview? You shouldn’t let yourself get demotivated by it. It wasn’t fair—”

“It’s not all that,” he interrupts. “Just… I just wanted to blow some steam off.”

Donghae nods, though he still looks unconvinced. “Should I visit you at your spot? I can drag Hyukjae out too.”

“Bring a 5000 won bill too then,” Ryeowook laughs. “It’s fine, Hyung. I can handle myself. It’s not like I haven’t done it a lot of times before. I don’t think Hyukjae would come out with you anyway.”

Donghae pouts at those last words, but his expression shifts back to a serious one quickly. “Yeah but Kyuhyun’s not going with you, right? I’m just worried…” he trails off, not wanting to tread the line of implying that the younger Alpha was incompentent on his own. Instead, he leans on the wide back, pressing his chin to Ryeowook’s shoulder.

Ryeowook offers him a piece of tofu to taste. Donghae eats it eagerly.

He doesn’t want to admit that he’s a bit less confident without Kyuhyun by his side. They usually busked together, supporting each other. It was an arrangement the both of them liked, and although the Beta complained about it, he was strangely the one that always got the most into it.

But he doesn’t have Kyuhyun now. It’s just him, by himself.

Ryeowook finishes setting up by himself, propping his electric piano out and adjusting his microphone so it’s at the height of his mouth. Taking a deep breath, he presses down on a few notes, doing a simple two octave scale just to test out the sound.

It rings out, clear. A couple of heads turn towards him, and Ryeowook purposely avoids looking at them.

“Are kids allowed to busk?”

“Aw, he’s so adorable and precious!”

“What’s his secondary gender? I can’t tell.”

“That’s one pretty Omega.”

“I wonder what kind of voice that cutie has?”

A wave of discomfort floods over him, and he begins to regret coming out here alone with no Kyuhyun to glare at unwelcome commentators. Ryeowook presses his lips together, and he closes his eyes, imagining the Beta next to him even though it hurts his pride to think that he depends on someone else so much.

He takes a breath, tuning out his surroundings, and starts to sing.

 

 

The next few days pass quickly with no incidents. Heechul and Leeteuk return to a no-speaking basis as soon as they’re both lucid, and it’s about time for the monthly rent to be paid. The expansion idea isn’t discussed again. Donghae tries to find a second job, and Shindong wavers on the edge of applying for something new and waiting. Kyuhyun doesn’t call his mom again, Siwon doesn’t contact them, and Hyukjae doesn’t leave his room anymore unless he’s dragged out, usually by Donghae. Ryeowook keeps busking.

The rut subsides quietly. Jongwoon wakes up, and it’s just gone.

Sunlight streams through the window. His first impulse is to go towards it, but as soon as he climbs out of the bed, his legs turn soft, and he slams into the ground with a loud noise.

“Fuck!” he grits out, pain spreading through his body again. He can hear footsteps approaching, and the door suddenly bursts open, revealing Kyuhyun and Donghae. The latter’s nose wrinkles, and he quickly covers it with his palm. Kyuhyun just looks relieved, and he rushes forward to Jongwoon’s side.

“Hyung!”

Jongwoon is engulfed in a tight embrace. He jerks, but the Beta squeezes him to his chest.

“Kyu. You’re going to smell disgusting later,” he croaks out. It hurts his throat too much to speak normally. Kyuhyun doesn’t listen, continuing to cling onto him. Eventually, Jongwoon just has to relax in his grip, allowing himself to be hugged. Even Donghae crawls towards them a few seconds later, and he’s hugged again.

“Can’t—breathe—” he chokes out after a few moments, and they finally get off of him, eyes filled with concern.

Then, Kyuhyun speaks. “Wow, Hyung. You look like shit.”

“Fuck you,” Jongwoon barks back, voice raspy. The Beta snickers, and Donghae nudges him on the side.

“Can we leave?” he whines. “It smells so bad in here.”

“I need to take a shower,” Jongwoon adds. He tries to get back to his feet, but he just flops bonelessly back onto the ground. This time, both Donghae and Kyuhyun break out into loud laughter, and he snarls at them.

They eventually leave but not before supporting him into the bathroom with both of his arms around their shoulders. His feet drag on the ground a little, and he grunts in pain with every step. They carry him until he’s leaning against the glass of the shower door, his legs wobbling to support his own weight.

“Everyone’s waiting outside,” Donghae promises.

At this point, he looks about red from holding his breath, so Jongwoon takes pity on him and tells them to get out. As they leave, he can hear the Alpha whisper into Kyuhyun’s ear. “Ryeowook’s going to kill you if you don’t take a shower too.”

The slap on the shoulder he receives from the Beta is what he deserves. Jongwoon chuckles and closes the bathroom door. Then, he steps into the shower, turns on the shower to blast, and presses his back to the tiled wall, exhaling an exhausted breath. He slowly slides down until he’s sitting cross-legged next to the drain. Something heavy in his chest chains him down.

He waits until his body hurts slightly less to push himself back up. To dry himself with the towel, to dress himself in clean clothes.

When he finally pushes his room door open, he isn’t entirely sure if he’s ready to. But he does.

Donghae and Kyuhyun are absent, probably having gone off to wash. Instead, Shindong greets him, dark rings under his eyes. However, the grin on his face is wide, and he pats Jongwoon on the back, lightly. Jongwoon smiles too and wraps an arm around him.

Leeteuk comes next, looking notably more gaunt and exhausted. Thankfully though, he is scentless. Jongwoon is a little wary of him, but the Omega seems to have expected it. He smiles at him gently and says hello only briefly. Jongwoon tells himself that he’ll greet him properly later when the rut isn’t so fresh on his mind.

Heechul comes next. Jongwoon laughs as the older Alpha pulls him in so that their shoulders are touching, voice loud and energetic.

“You survived,” he says with a grin. “I knew you could, Jongwoon-ah.”

“I’ve missed you, Heechul-hyung,” Jongwoon says back, the corners of his lips curled up even through the hoarseness of his voice. He stumbles slightly, and the older Alpha steadies him.

“Careful there. We can’t have you broken now!” he says with a glint in his eye.

Jongwoon looks at him in confusion and opens his mouth to ask, but then, he hears the click of a door behind him, timid and small in sound. His heartbeat speeding up, he whirls around.

“Hyukjae,” he breathes. The younger Alpha sees him and his eyes widen. It’s only then that Jongwoon realizes that it’s Donghae’s room that he came out of, and something ugly curls at the pit of his chest.

Beside him, Heechul smirks, and he suddenly gives him a small shove. Jongwoon stumbles forward, and he has no choice but to land right into Hyukjae’s arms.

“Shit!”

He squeezes his eyes shut, expecting for the both of them to land roughly on the ground with the momentum. However, Hyukjae catches him smoothly with surprising strength, and Jongwoon lands on his chest.

When he opens his eyes, he’s staring right at the younger Alpha’s face, his hands pressed against the other man’s pectorals and his body supported by two strong arms. Suddenly, the memories from his rut flood over him, and he stumbles back, his hand flying up to hide his flaming cheeks. Hyukjae doesn’t look much better, his ears a shade of flushed pink.

“H-Hyung, are you alright?” he stutters. He quickly looks at Heechul, frowning slightly. “Hyung, why did you push him? He could’ve gotten hurt.”

“I knew you would catch him,” Heechul grins. The pink on Hyukjae’s face turns a shade deeper, and he looks away, embarrassed.

Jongwoon just stands there, frozen and red faced.

“What’s going on?” Donghae emerges from his room now as well, confused. He looks between the two of them, and he brightens up, placing his hand on Hyukjae’s waist as he approaches them. On the side, Heechul sighs at his tactlessness. “Jongwoon-hyung, it’s really good that you’re back,” Donghae says. “Seriously, it’s so hard to drag Hyukjae into the outside world!”

Jongwoon, baffled at the two ‘86 liners’ easy closeness and the apparent ease that Hyukjae has with Heechul now, can only blink in dazed confusion.

“You always went with me really easily though,” he says to Hyukjae. Donghae whines at that, and Hyukjae can only lower his head and cover his pinkening face in his hands.

“What are you guys still doing here?” Kyuhyun appears suddenly, hair wet and a towel slung over his shoulder. Jongwoon is grateful for the distraction, though he can still see Hyukjae in the corner of his eye. “Go to the kitchen. We talked about this,” the Beta says.

“We were just saying hello, Kyuhyun-ah.” Donghae juts out his bottom lip, and Kyuhyun gags.

“Let’s just go and not keep Ryeowook waiting, alright?” he says. Before Jongwoon can even process what’s happening, he’s being dragged along again by Heechul towards the kitchen.

“What’s going on?” he asks him, puzzled. The older Alpha laughs loudly.

“You really did forget.” He ruffles his hair roughly. “C’mon, it’s your birthday!”

Chapter Text

It’s August twenty-fourth, an intensely blue day with a few clouds drifting about in the sky. It’s hot as hell with the warm breeze being the only relief from it. It’s basically a given that no one’s outside or on the streets, and you could probably cook an egg on the road if you found a particularly sunny area.

It’s also Jongwoon’s birthday.

“We don’t blame you for forgetting,” Ryeowook says sympathetically. “You’ve had a rough few days after all.”

Jongwoon nods wordlessly, his throat still a little too sore for him to speak without strain. His eyes are glued to the yellow party hat on the younger Alpha’s head, also strapped to his own head with a little elastic band tying it all together. It’s a strange little thing, made stranger by the fact that literally everyone is wearing one. Even Choi Siwon, who he likens to a large, clingy puppy after spending ten affectionate minutes with him.

There’s no cake, presumably because of money constraints. There are a couple of colorful streamers fluttering about, but their torn edges indicate that they’ve most likely been reused. Everything’s bright, courtesy of the opened windows that let in hot but fresh air. Everyone seems to have this sort of boundless energy, and Jongwoon’s practically tossed through the room from one person to the other, birthday wishes being repeated again and again.

In short, it’s very strange. He doesn’t know what else to think about it.

His palms are itchy. Jongwoon scratches them as he finally sits down, done with his rounds with most of the motel residents. He sighs, a bit tired, before he feels a soft pressure on his shoulder. He looks up to see Siwon, handsome and dimpled.

“I’m going now. Can’t run away from the company for long,” he says with a smile. Jongwoon smiles back. He likes the younger Alpha a lot. He’s tactile, and it’s one of the only times Jongwoon has found himself to be hugged instead of the other way around.

The only other person that does that really is Donghae, and the younger Alpha has been too preoccupied recently, with “things” he’d rather not hurt his head thinking about.

“Visit soon, Siwonnie. It’d be nice to have you here,” he replies warmly. Siwon pats him on the shoulder again and leaves with his oxfords clopping against the carpet. Him and Shindong seem to make eye contact on his way out, and the other man goes to follow him to the exit. Jongwoon doesn’t question it.

He’s alone again. Kyuhyun’s gone to dry out his hair, Ryeowook has gone to make dinner, Heechul is somewhere, and Donghae and Hyukjae are now thick as thieves.

It doesn’t irritate him. It doesn’t. He doesn’t even know how to act around Hyukjae anymore without resorting to burying his head in his hands out of embarrassment and shame. So yeah, he’s not annoyed. He’s not annoyed at all.

Jongwoon yawns. His eyelids now feel awfully heavy. He leans forward on his forearms, laying his head on his table and adjusting his party hat so that it rests on his nape. He’ll just rest for a few moments. It’s his birthday, but he’s just finished his rut and Hyukjae’s been stolen and he needs some sleep—

On the other side, Heechul notices him slumping over, and he elbows Donghae in the rib, effectively interrupting his conversation with his best friend.

“Hey, stop hogging Hyukjae. Jongwoon’s going to pass out,” he hisses. Donghae frowns in the older Alpha’s direction.

“He’ll get a stiff back if he sleeps in that position. We should carry him to a bed,” he says logically. Heechul elbows him again, making him yelp. “What?!”

“That’s not the point! Hyukjae!” He shoots a look at said man, who avoids his gaze. “Don’t you have eyes? Collect him!”

“Hyung…” Hyukjae shifts uncomfortably on his feet. Heechul sighs. Donghae tries to speak, but the older Alpha slaps a hand over his mouth before he can.

“Look, it’s Jongwoon’s birthday. You’re the only one who hasn’t said it to him. Just sit next to him and then come back after you’re done, alright?” he says. The younger Alpha still looks hesitant, but he nods anyway, releasing himself from Donghae’s grip and heading towards Jongwoon’s limp figure, albeit unsurely.

Jongwoon registers the presence next to him faintly. He cracks open an eye, only to scramble back awake. Hyukjae startles a little at his sudden movement, and they meet eyes for the second time in that day, the other man’s expressive, anchovy-like ones with Jongwoon’s intense, puppy-like ones.

“H-Hyung?” Hyukjae tries, blinking first. He fidgets with his fingers and looks at his lap, nervous for some reason. It’s very cute. Jongwoon tries to not notice all those small intricacies and focus on his face instead, except that isn’t much better.

Fuck, is it the post-rut hormones? Why does Hyukjae look so goddamn beautiful?

“Hyukjae-ah?” he says in response. They make eye contact again, but Hyukjae’s eyes skitter away after only a moment. Jongwoon frowns slightly.

“I’m glad that your rut has stopped. It seemed like you were in pain, and it was weird not having you around,” Hyukjae says, stumbling through his words as if he’s reading off a hastily memorized script.

“I’m glad it’s over too. It was really a pain,” he replies, almost as stiff. Hyukjae nods in agreement, still not meeting his eyes. Silence falls over them, along with a thick fog of awkwardness.

Jongwoon wants to curse. He digs his nails into his thighs and bites his tongue. In the background, he can see Donghae and Heechul bickering, and it grounds him.

He wants to say something. He wants to tell Hyukjae that he still has his shirt. That he’s been in his dreams. That he’s been in his fantasies. That the blue hair dye still hasn’t washed off his hands yet. That he was the only thing keeping him sane during his rut. That he’s the only thing keeping him from passing out right now. That he smells like spice and Alpha and strawberry milk—

But Jongwoon can’t smell Hyukjae anymore. He can’t smell anything.

And that fact that he’s disappointed disgusts him.

“Hyung?” the younger Alpha’s worried voice breaks through his thoughts. Jongwoon jerks back into reality, staring at him with widened eyes. He’s trembling. Why?

“Hyukjae-ah,” he says, trying to compose himself. However, Hyukjae’s gaze is on something else. His neck.

Jongwoon lifts his hand to touch his mating mark. It throbs under his touch, angrily.

“Does it still hurt?” Hyukjae asks softly. His hands are extended in front of him as well, but they hesitate, the slender fingers flexing as if wanting to reach forward. Jongwoon realizes that he’s waiting for his permission.

“It gives me hell,” he says with a small smile. He pulls his collar down. “Here.”

His authorization seems to visibly surprise the other man despite the fact that he had inaudibly offered first. He nods and slides closer until his breath tickles Jongwoon’s bottom jaw. His fingers, slow and unsure, hover over his neck. Then, gently, he traces over the red, swollen mark.

Jongwoon shudders. Then, he forcefully exhales and makes himself relax.

Hyukjae’s touch is strangely tender and soft. It makes him forget where her teeth had once sunk in. It feels like overwriting, rewriting. A light strawberry cream scent drifts about again, and he breathes it in greedily, gratefully. He grabs the other man’s extended arm before drowsiness can bowl him over, and his chin slowly droops, eyes closing again.

Before he knows it, he’s asleep.

Hyukjae smiles. He inhales the light coffee fragrance in and circles his arms around the older Alpha. Jongwoon shifts very slightly in his arms but does not stir. He can’t help to think that he looks pretty like this, his eyelashes long and cheekbones high. He traces over the mating bite one more time before attempting to move Jongwoon from inside his embrace. However, the older man has an almost vice grip on his arm, and it’s impossible to make him let go.

He finds that he doesn’t mind that at all. So instead, he just moves slightly so that his head is resting more securely on his shoulder, his body leaning against his.

Less than five minutes later, Leeteuk comes in carrying a bowl of seaweed soup. He pauses, seeing the two Alphas distracted with each other. Quietly, he sets the dish onto the table and disappears without another noise. Heechul’s eyes follow him as he leaves, and he averts his eyes before the Omega can notice him.

“Let’s get everything ready. Jongwoon is asleep,” he whispers to Donghae, who has his eyes fixed on Hyukjae’s back. The younger Alpha nods absently, and they leave together.

Hyukjae just sits there, sharing body warmth with the other man. The coolness of Jongwoon’s skin reminds him that his rut would have stopped today as well, just a bit earlier.

After all, his rut had triggered the other man’s.

He holds that knowledge under his tongue. He thinks about the things he wants to say but will never say, and he thinks about what he would do if Jongwoon said them first.

It’s all going too fast. He presses a feather-light kiss to Jongwoon’s head and wishes the moment would never end, for better or for worse.

 

 

“I know that you don’t have enough time to only be here for Jongwoon-hyung’s birthday party,” Shindong says first to Siwon as they head down the hallway. The younger Alpha doesn’t reply until they’re right in front of the entrance. From the glass, they can see the shiny black paint of Siwon’s expensive black car, the same one that had brought Jongwoon to the motel on that day. Shindong presses his lips together.

“You’re right,” Siwon speaks, slowly. “My father’s chokehold on me is only getting stronger. He’s getting more paranoid these days because of those news articles, and he’s been monitoring me closely. I could only sneak away today.”

“Your old man is really a slave driver,” Shindong mutters. The only thing Siwon can offer is a strained smile. His relationship with his father is a bit too complicated to be summed up quickly, and everyone knows by now.

“He’s always been like that,” he says with a cough, “and you’re right, I did want to come for another reason other than the birthday party.

“I came for you, Shindong-hyung.”

Shindong blinks.

“What?”

Siwon pulls something from his suit pocket. He grabs Shindong’s hand, and he presses the stiff cardstock into it, squeezing both of their palms together over it.

“I’m here to offer you a job,” he says formally.

The older Alpha’s eyes widen. He looks at the object in his hand to find a business card. It has Siwon’s father’s picture on it, and the narrowed eyes bear into his forehead. He presses his lips together.

“Why? No one would ever hire me. I haven’t been to college, and I’m just an amataur in general. Even the things you gave me were never that complex. I don’t qualify,” he says.

“My father’s already aware that I outsource some of my work. It would be easy to integrate you into the company,” Siwon says smoothly. Then, he softens and holds Shindong’s hand again. “Please Hyung, consider it. It’s a really good opportunity.”

“I’d have to quit working for Super Junior then,” Shindong says to himself, almost inaudibly. He takes the card and places it back into Siwon’s palm. “Sorry, Siwon-ah. I can’t accept this.”

“I’ve already talked to Teukie-hyung about it,” the younger Alpha says quickly. “You’ve already done so much for me. I want to repay you.”

“I’m the one that needs to repay you,” Shindong corrects. “You were always giving me ways to relieve my boredom.”

“It worked for both of us,” Siwon argues back. “Please, don’t you want a steady job? With an income like this, you’ll be able to pay rent easily. I don’t have any doubt that you’ll be able to climb up the ladder either. If you want to help out the motel, then this is the best way to do this.”

The other man stops at those words. He looks from the card to Leeteuk’s office and then back again.

“Super Junior needs me right now,” he says softly. “I can’t get a job that requires that I work full time.”

Siwon goes quiet. He carefully lays a hand on Shindong’s shoulder.

“If you’re worried about how you’ll get along with the others, don’t. You’re sociable, fun to talk to, and smart. No one will dislike you. It’ll be different.”

The older Alpha’s expression doesn’t change. He shakes his head.

“A no means no, Masi. I know where I want to be,” he says. Siwon’s face drops, but nevertheless, he hugs Shindong solidly, rubbing his back. When they break apart, he gives him the business card again.

“The offer is up anytime,” he says firmly. He checks his watch. “I have to head back now. Remember what I said, alright?”

The glass doors open and close with Siwon in their jaws. Shindong watches his retreating back for a few seconds longer than necessary before sighing and going back to the kitchen.

 

 

When Jongwoon wakes up again, the windows are dark. He shifts slightly, only to find his head laying on something bony and vaguely humanlike.

Suddenly, there’s a loud noise on his left. He squeaks, jumping into the air and unconsciously flailing his arm, which hits something soft. That “something” sharply reacts, bursting awake.

Chests heaving, both Jongwoon and Hyukjae stare at each other with wide eyes.

“You’re awake now,” the younger Alpha says first.

“So are you,” he responds, still dumbfounded. Quickly, the situation catches up to him, and he covers his mouth, cheeks heating up. Hyukjae seems to be caught in the same dilemma, and he averts his eyes, ears a bright shade of red.

The silence is thick enough to be cut.

“I—” Jongwoon starts, but suddenly, Donghae and Heechul burst in all at once, yelling out something loudly.

“Fucking finally—”

“Hyung, you’re finally awake!”

He barely has time to process what’s going on before Hyukjae’s dragged away by Donghae and Kyuhyun replaces him, bumping shoulders. A trivet is placed on the table and a hot pot of soup on it. The ladle is splashed in, and Shindong appears in front of him, holding something behind his back.

Jongwoon just sits there, confused.

“Here. For you,” Leeteuk says with that same smile he always wears. He places the bowl of seaweed soup in front of him, steaming and fragrant, and Ryeowook hands him a spoon.

Everyone looks at him expectantly. Jongwoon blinks, still dazed.

“What’s… going on?”

“C’mon, Hyung. Use your head!” Kyuhyun grumbles. “On your birthday, you should have seaw—eed soup, right?”

“We’ve waited for you to wake up for hours,” Donghae chips in.

“It was our fault that everyone went on you the moment your rut stopped,” Leeteuk says apologetically. “We should’ve given you a little time to adjust back.”

Now that it’s been hours since his rut was released, Jongwoon can see the Omega a little clearer now without all the excess memories and emotions fogging up his head. He smiles at him gratefully, rubbing his throat a little out of habit.

“How about we all eat together? It feels too awkward if you’re all staring at me,” he suggests. Leeteuk quickly heads to the kitchen to grab more bowls, and Donghae slides in on his other side, Hyukjae timidly sitting next to him.

“Hey, shouldn’t there be alcohol?” Kyuhyun calls out as new bowls are brought to the table. He grins at Jongwoon. “It’s Hyung’s birthday after all.”

From the side of his vision, Jongwoon can see Hyukjae suddenly stiffen.

“Alcohol after a rut isn’t good for the body,” Leeteuk scolds quickly, also seeming to notice the Alpha’s sudden change in expression. Kyuhyun pouts but acquiesces without much of a fuss.

Soon, they’re all sitting with piping hot dishes of soup in front of them, despite the fact that it’s only Jongwoon’s birthday. Heechul raises his glass of water first, grinning.

“Happy birthday to one of our newest residents, Kim Jongwoon!” he says loudly. “Cheers!”

“Cheers—”

“Wait a second!” Shindong stands up, interrupting smoothly as if it was all planned. “We still have to give out presents!”

“Presents?” Jongwoon says incredulously. The younger Alpha finally removes his hands from his back and proudly presents a hastily wrapped box to him, adorned with a small bow at the top. Jongwoon’s eyebrows knit. “What’s this?”

“Open it first, Hyung!” Ryeowook says excitedly.

“It’s from all of us,” Kyuhyun adds, his chin leaning on Jongwoon’s shoulder and his hand on his opposite shoulder. Jongwoon frowns.

“I don’t know how you guys even got something together with the money we have right now…” Clumsily, he tears the wrapping open, undoing the bow and puncturing the tape with his blunt fingers. When the present reveals itself, he lifts it out, slowly. “This is…”

“We could only afford one that takes photos and makes calls,” Shindong says apologetically. “It should work fine though, as far as the reviews say.”

“A… phone?” Jongwoon blinks, staring at it. He turns the packaging in his hands twice before he finally musters the courage to break it open, ripping the cheap cardboard out and letting the phone fall into his hand.

It’s small and compact, black with a built in textured grip at the back. Just like the phones from seven years ago. Nothing like the phones businessmen carry around now.

Jongwoon just holds it.

“Hyung?” Kyuhyun touches his shoulder, concerned. “Are you alright?”

“I know it’s not really a great gift. We could only scrape together enough for this. I wish we had more, but…” Shindong trails off.

Finally, Jongwoon shakes his head. He bows his head, biting his lip.

“No, it’s perfect,” he says quietly. He holds the phone to his chest and breathes out, finally raising his face to smile. “It’s just been so long since I’ve had a device that belonged to me only.”

Donghae hugs him. Jongwoon hugs him back, a little shakily. Kyuhyun pats his back, and Ryeowook exclaims, grabbing the napkins from the side. Heechul and Leeteuk watch while smiling, resembling each other.

From the side, Hyukjae doesn’t know what to do. Eventually, he lays a hand on top of Jongwoon’s small fingers that were hooked around Donghae’s back. Jongwoon sees him, and his lips curl up.

They break apart after a few minutes. He blows his nose, and Donghae rubs his waist. Even Shindong looks a little emotional, though he hides it by turning away. Leeteuk claps his hands to get all of their attention.

“Let’s all eat before the soup gets cold!” he says loudly. “And, let’s wish Jongwoon a happy birthday!”

“Happy birthday!” they chorus before digging in.

Jongwoon isn’t keen on food. He hadn’t been keen on food in a very long time. His last birthday, he had eaten only a spoonful of his birthday meal before feeling too sick and disgusted with himself to go on. Still though, as he looks into the bowl of seaweed soup, his smile and swollen eyes reflected, he feels ravenous.

Even if he’ll throw it up later, he inhales every last drop.

 

 

It’s already dark, so everyone naturally scatters after they finish eating. Jongwoon for once feels full and happy, but it’s bittersweet the way the other residents wish him a nice birthday one last time and pat him on the back before going their separate ways.

Ryeowook finds himself washing the dishes with Leeteuk. And it’s so painfully awkward that for once, he wishes that he hadn’t turned down Donghae’s offer to work out with him.

They don’t speak to each other. Ryeowook keeps his head down into the sink, resisting the urge to glance over at the older man. When he finally does give in, it’s apparent that Leeteuk is bent on ignoring him completely.

He presses his lips together. He knows why the Omega is mad. He knows why he was wrong. Heechul had told him after the event, half drunk and half crying because he was drunk. He knows that he said something horrible.

Secretly, Ryeowook can’t help but to think that the reason Leeteuk had been holding a grudge was because he and Heechul hadn’t been on good terms recently. But that’s just an excuse.

The guilt eats at him like a plague.

“Leeteuk-hyung?” he says quietly. He points to the small plate on the Omega’s left. “Can you pass me that dish?”

Silently, Leeteuk hands it to him. Ryeowook takes it, bowing his head in thanks. The sound of scrubbing fills his ears again, and it’s enough to distract himself from everything.

Suddenly, the Omega sighs.

“Ryeowook-ah, you can head back to your room. Hyung will handle the rest of the washing,” he says tiredly. Ryeowook nearly drops the bowl he’s holding, jolting to attention.

“N-no, it’s alright! It’ll be quicker if I help you!” he says quickly. He grabs a knife from the counter and hastily squirts some soap onto it, but the blade slips, slicing a thin cut into his finger. He drops the knife to hold his wound, now spurting blood. “Fuck!”

“Don’t move. I’ll get some bandages.” Leeteuk quickly moves the knife over to his side and walks across the kitchen to grab the first aid kit, getting a few bandages and gauze pads out of it. Ryeowook sits down, still clutching at his bleeding finger.

“I’m sorry,” he gasps as the older man dabs some alcohol into the cut, his finger wracked with stinging pain. After it dries on his skin, Leeteuk smears some ointment onto it and rips open a bandage with his teeth.

His touch is gentle despite his cold silence. It makes Ryeowook’s chest tighten.

When the bandage has been wrapped securely around his finger, not a single droplet of blood remaining, Leeteuk stands up again. He goes to put the first aid kit away while the Alpha watches, biting his tongue. He swings his legs off of the chair, liking the feeling and hating his lack of height at the same time.

“I don’t think you should be washing dishes now,” Leeteuk says, not unkindly. Still, Ryeowook lowers his head in shame. He touches his bandaged finger, feeling the lingering warmth from the Omega tender hand.

“I’m sorry, Hyung,” he says quietly. He tightens his grip on his hand, curling it into a fist. “I really am sorry.”

Leeteuk’s gaze is emotionless at first. He looks to the dishwasher and at all the pots and pans that have yet to be cleaned, and then he looks to the hallway with its series of brown doors, all closed but only some locked. And the door closest to his office… the one on the left hand side…

“You’re really a hypocrite, Jungsoo.”

He closes his eyes.

“You’re doing all this for someone who’s not only a lowlife but also an Alpha-bitch, huh—”

If Heechul wasn’t going to care, then Leeteuk would care for him. Those had been his thoughts.

But he looks at Ryeowook’s face now, and he can’t help but to think he’s been a little unfair.

“No, Hyung’s also sorry,” he murmurs. He takes the dish rag and polishes the knife gently, running it under the water to wash away the traces of blood and soap. Drying it, he walks back to the knife rack and slides it in securely. He can feel Ryeowook’s eyes watching him, owlish and childlike. He heads towards the sink again and wets another rag. He holds it out. “Do you want to help me with wiping the table? Using your uninjured hand, of course.”

“Really?” Ryeowook utters. Slowly, he gets up and retrieves the wet towel. He peers over at Leeteuk’s face, eyebrows still furrowed. Leeteuk smiles at him.

“I’m old, so I can’t do everything by myself, can I?” he says teasingly. The younger man’s eyes, once unsure, light up lightly, and he nods slowly, heading off towards the table. Leeteuk watches him go, expression wistful. Then, he sighs, pressing a palm to his tired eyes.

The distant memories rattle in his head.

 

 

With startling clarity and his face half out the nearest open window, Jongwoon realizes that he has no bed to sleep on. Well, unless he wants to lay in his own rut again. He shudders with the thought.

So, he considers the options. Shindong’s room would probably be open, but Jongwoon isn’t entirely sure that it’s inhabitable by man, with all the trinkets lying around everyone. Sleeping in Heechul’s room feels a bit perverted and inappropriate considering that the older Alpha had probably laid in it with Leeteuk, and it makes Jongwoon feel a bit too much like a criminal. Ryeowook’s room is an option, but—and he means no offense to the younger man—the scent of it is a bit too ambiguous for him at the moment. He could take the upper bunk in Donghae’s room, but he’s found himself with a tiny, little grudge… not because he’s jealous of him of course. Definitely not.

So of course, the only good conclusion is to sleep in Hyukjae’s room.

Jongwoon slaps himself in the face, cursing his mind for rationalizing such a ridiculous notion to himself. The last time they had slept in the same room, Hyukjae had ended up going into rut and then Jongwoon had gone into rut because of that. Hyukjae’s room is, without a question, the absolute worst option he could take.

He nurses the self-inflicted red mark on his cheek mopingly, curled up on the very end of the couch in the lobby. He thinks more about Hyukjae sleeping in Donghae’s room, how he had emerged from that room earlier, and his frown only grows larger.

Meanwhile, the devil appears, stepping out of his room after a workout just to grab a glass of water. His eyes zero in on Jongwoon, puffing his cheeks up and sulking, and he snickers unconsciously.

“Hyung!” he calls out, throwing his towel over the shoulder. Jongwoon jolts, eyes widening like he’s just seen a demon.

“D-Donghae! Finished working out?” he asks, feeling a bit like he’s been caught doing something bad. Donghae tilts his head at him, sweat dripping down his chin.

“Yeah. Exercise is great, you know?” he grins, and Jongwoon smiles back, unruffling his feathers. The younger Alpha observes him closely in that second, noticing the exhausted rings under his eyes. “Do you need a place to sleep?” he says, a little worried.

Jongwoon blinks. “Yeah. I might just sleep on the couch though,” he says lamely. “After all, I don’t want to bother anyone.”

“You could always just crash with Hyukjae. After all, he’s really been wanting to see you,” Donghae says casually. Jongwoon’s eyes shoot wide open.

“Really?” he says, a little too excitedly. Then, he coughs, composing himself again. “After what happened last time?”

Donghae’s expression changes, almost imperceptibly. He shrugs, turning away. “I dunno, but you can go ask. He’s too shy to do anything on his own.”

Against his own conscience, Jongwoon quickly leaps to his feet, rushing away. He forgets to even say goodbye. The younger Alpha watches him go, a strangely bitter look on his face. He shakes his head vigorously to clear his head of all the swirling emotions.

“I guess that’s what it looks like,” he murmurs to himself. Quickly, he turns away, not wanting to look back.

 

 

Jongwoon stands at the entrance of Hyukjae, his sudden burst of energy now gone. He fiddles with his hands, tracing the base of his fingers nervously. Cautiously, he raises his hand and knocks.

“Hyukjae-ah? I—” He pauses. “I need a place to sleep,” he tries.

The door swings open. Hyukjae’s hair, the blue now faded, is wet, and his collarbone peeks through the shirt. Jongwoon has to force himself to not let his eyes run down over the younger Alpha’s body, and he awkwardly smiles instead. Hyukjae looks at him, then at his own barely clothed form, and then slams the door closed.

A moment later, he reemerges, a hoodie pulled over his head. He scratches the back of his neck.

“Are you sure you want to… with me?” he says hesitantly.

“If you don’t mind,” Jongwoon replies feebly.

Hyukjae bites his lip as he thinks, eyes darting from his face to the ground. Then, he hesitantly opens the door wider, stepping aside. Jongwoon takes that as permission to enter, and he steps in slowly, not sure where to place his gaze. Behind him, the door clicks shut.

“Can we open the window?” he asks first, unsurely. Hyukjae nods, stepping around him to unlatch the window frame and free the nightly breeze. Jongwoon breathes it in, calmly. “Thanks,” he says sincerely.

“It’s no problem,” Hyukjae responds, a little shyly. The air has started smelling of strawberries again, and it’s comforting.

Jongwoon finally smiles. “You’re really the best, Dongba,” he says sincerely, just to watch the color pool on the other man’s cheeks again. Chuckling a little to himself, he ascends up the familiar bunk bed, patting down the blankets before he gets in. However, before he can make himself at home, the younger Alpha’s almost timid voice interrupts his thoughts again.

“Hey, Hyung? Can you come down for a second? I have something to show you.”

Jongwoon peeks down curiously. “What is it?”

“J-Just come down.” He pouts, tapping his foot on the ground. The older Alpha, endeared, quickly climbs back towards the ground, stopping in front of him with an amused smile. When they meet eyes, Hyukjae immediately averts his, fidgeting with his arms around his back. He suddenly clears his throat. “I didn’t get to say happy birthday properly earlier.”

“That’s alright. Everyone else was just loud,” Jongwoon says, still thinking about the party hats.

“I still wanted to say it,” Hyukjae insists. Suddenly, he pulls something out from behind him and presents to him with his arms outstretched and his eyes squeezed shut. “Happy birthday, Hyung!”

Jongwoon blinks. He looks at the neatly wrapped little box extended to him blankly. “For me?” he asks dumbly.

“Who else’s birthday is today?” Hyukjae retorts, face going red. “Are you going to take it?”

“I will, I will!” He laughs, finally letting the younger Alpha hand him the package. He holds it in his hands, running the wrinkled wrapping over his palms. “Should I open it right now?” he says leisurely, smirking as he toys with the askew ribbon.

“You can do whatever you want!” Hyukjae exclaims out of embarrassment, throwing himself on the bed and burying his head in the pillow. Jongwoon sits down on the bottom bunk with him, guffawing harder.

“You’re always teasing me, so it’s nice to see you like this!” he snickers. Gradually, he tears open the paper, making sure the rips are neat. Inside is a box, nice and white and strangely familiar. When he takes off the lid, his eyes widen.

Sitting inside that cheap packaging is an elaborate silver bracelet.

“How could you even afford this?” he says, voice a whisper. He gradually slides the piece of jewelry out of the box and places the container to the side, focusing on the bracelet instead. Carefully, he unclips the clasp and fastens it around his wrist, marveling at how the metal glistens in the dim light.

“I found a cheap place with Donghae.” Hyukjae’s voice is muffled by the pillow. “We had to haggle a little with the shopkeeper, but she eventually sold it to us.”

“This must’ve put a dent into his savings with rent due,” Jongwoon says, still amazed. “I’ll have to thank Donghae later.”

Suddenly, the younger Alpha sits up. His hair is a little messed up from the pillow, but he leans in anyway while balancing on his hands, face getting close. His expression is surprisingly intense, a complete change from earlier.

“I picked it out! Do you like it?” he says loudly.

Jongwoon blinks. “It’s totally my style,” he says, leaning backwards unconsciously at their close proximity.

Hyukjae finally sits back, crossing his arms with a self-satisfied smile on his face. “Donghae said it was too gaudy, but I knew you’d like it,” he says proudly. Jongwoon snaps out of his daze and shoves him on the arm.

“Hey, don’t indirectly insult my taste!” he whines. “How’d you even find this anyway? Back when we looked, nothing actually fit me!”

“Well…” Hyukjae pauses. His grin turns a little more sheepish, and he scratches the back of his head. “I might’ve bought it at an Omega’s jewelry shop?” he says.

Jongwoon stops.

“What?!”

He leaps up, cheeks flaming. He looks down at the bracelet on his wrist again, the accessory perfectly fitting on his hand, and then back at Hyukjae, furiously.“You little brat!”

“There isn’t even much of a difference! It looks great on you!” Hyukjae says defensively. By now, his ears have turned red as well. Jongwoon inhales sharply.

“It’s not the fact that it’s Omega’s jewelry! It’s just that—when you bought it—and even haggled for it—everyone—everyone was going to be making assumptions!” He retreats to the desk, covering his burning face. “Oh God, no wonder that shopkeeper sold it to you! It’s probably because she thought I was your Omega!”

His head is spinning out of control. Fuck, he’s happy. He’s so happy.

But at the same time, he’s so fucking scared for some reason.

It makes him want to sit down and erase everything from his mind, but the beautiful piece of jewelry dangling from his wrist would just remind him again. Fuck, he’s so… He’s so gone.

The thought is absolutely terrifying.

But then, Hyukjae’s quiet voice breaks through.

“But is that really such a bad thing?”

His eyes widen. “What—”

Suddenly, Jongwoon doubles over at pain coming from his stomach. Hyukjae quickly reaches forward and supports him as he dry retches over the ground. The bowl of seaweed soup that he had eaten before, which wasn’t even that much, bubbles inside him.

“Hyung? What’s wrong?” the younger Alpha asks frantically. “Should I get Teukie-hyung?”

“No,” he croaks. “Just… drank too much soup.”

Hyukjae eases him over to the bed and lets him hold his midsection and curl into a ball. Jongwoon is no stranger to stomach aches—in fact, they’re a frequent companion of his—but this one stings even more because of the actual happiness that had preceded it.

“I’m not going to vomit,” he manages. “I just need to… sit down for a bit.”

Hyukjae just nods. His arms, lithe but muscled, circle around his narrower shoulders and keep him grounded with the touch. Momentarily, Jongwoon wonders if this is one of the first times the younger Alpha has actually initiated touch between them.

A wave of nausea washes over him again, and he hunches over, one hand covering his mouth and the other desperately reaching for Hyukjae, who sees and quickly grasps his fingers with a firm grip.

They just sit there, through it.

After who knows how long, Jongwoon’s clutch finally slackens, and he breathes in deeply, turning to the other man with an appreciative shine in his eyes. “Thanks, Hyukjae-ah.”

“It wasn’t much.” Hyukjae fidgets, his bashfulness showing again. “After all, you endured a lot on your own in the past few days, right?”

Jongwoon smiles. He lifts up the wrist with the bracelet on it, gazing at it deeply.

“You bought Hyung something so beautiful. I’ll treasure this forever,” he says. “It’s so pretty.”

“Hyung looks pretty wearing it,” Hyukjae murmurs. Jongwoon blushes, suddenly feeling like a crushing schoolgirl.

“I-I should do something for you too!” he says, flustered. He reaches up and touches the younger Alpha’s hair, the strands thin, weak, and faintly blue. He rubs a lock between his fingers, running his hands over Hyukjae’s head. “I’ll give you a haircut!”

Hyukjae desperately resists the urge to lean into the touch, bouncing his knee instead. “You don’t have to! I mean, that sounds like a lot of work.”

“It’s not! I have experience, and going to a hairdresser is too expensive anyways, so it’s a good idea. We’d be saving money,” he insists. Hyukjae still hesitates, unsure.

But the older Alpha’s eyes are sparkling imploringly. He looks genuinely excited, as if the idea of cutting Hyukjae’s damaged hair is amazing to him. Cute.

He gulps.

“... What time?” he asks timidly.

Jongwoon beams, and it’s absolutely beautiful.

Chapter Text

Ryeowook has come to expect that pair of arms wrapping around his midsection, the chin resting against his shoulder, and the scent of sweet wine that arrives with it.

“Good morning,” he greets the drowsy hugger. “Sleep well?”

“Drank too much last night,” Kyuhyun mumbles against his shirt sleeve. “My head hurts.”

“You shouldn’t drink so much before work,” the Alpha scolds lightly. He flips an egg in the pan. “Do you want me to make you some soup?”

“It’s fine. I ate a few pills before coming here.” He snuggles deeper into Ryeowook. “You’re so warm.”

“Go sit down so that you won’t get burned,” Ryeowook glances over, only to find a strangely mournful expression on the other man’s face. “Something wrong?” he asks, worried.

“Did you make up with Teukie-hyung yesterday?” Kyuhyun says, voice strange. “You smell like him a little.”

“We did! He was probably only holding a grudge because he’s having a fight with Heechul-hyung right now.” Ryeowook presses his lips together. “I still feel bad though. Especially since Heechul-hyung forgave me really easily. You did too, you know.”

“It’s not like things like that are habitual for you, so it’s alright,” he replies easily before pausing again. “I wonder when Heechul-hyung and Leeteuk-hyung are going to get together though.”

“... I guess it’s a little more complicated than we can see. Heechul-hyung is a straightforward person after all,” the Alpha says, though he agrees with the Beta on the inside. Kyuhyun huffs.

“You’re too nice. I’m tired of seeing them like this. One of them should just confess and get it over with already—”

Kyuhyun suddenly stops. Ryeowook looks at him curiously and reaches over to grab a plate from the cabinets, releasing himself from the Beta’s grasp in the process. Kyuhyun watches him as he gently transfers each egg to the dish before turning around and handing it to him with a smile.

“Put it on the table. I’ll make coffee for you.” Ryeowook looks away, humming.

He just stands there, holding a plate of fried eggs and burning his fingers on the bottom. He breathes in, but he smells nothing.

 

 

“Hyung, isn’t it too early?”

Jongwoon notices him as he steps out of the shower. Hyukjae stands in front of him, rubbing his eyes and yawning. It’s absolutely adorable, and it makes his chest clench, his mind whirling as it begins to imagine what it’d be like to wake up to this, to see it every day.

“I want to arrive earlier,” he says first. “You don’t have to come eat breakfast with me if you’re tired.”

“But if I don’t go, Hyung won’t eat anything,” the younger Alpha says sleepily.

Jongwoon blinks. He reaches forward and ruffles his hair, gentle enough to not hurt his damaged scalp. “Don’t worry about that. I promise I’ll eat something, alright? I’ll even eat all of my lunch.”

“But if you eat too much, you’ll get a stomach ache like last night.”

“Then what do you want me to do?” he chuckles. “You’re so cute, Dongba.”

The words slip out of his mouth without meaning to, and he quickly flushes. Hyukjae’s cheeks turn red as well, and he averts his eyes, frowning.

“I want to eat with Hyung.”

“Right now?”

“Yes.”

Jongwoon thinks about it. If they eat a bit quicker than normal—basically him pawning off most of the food off to the younger Alpha, who will no doubt devour it in a few minutes—then he’ll be able to take a shower before meeting with Yunho and Changmin at the company. He wouldn’t be disturbing Hyukjae’s suffering sleep schedule too much either.

He sighs. “Let’s go then. C’mon.”

Jongwoon steps forward first, but the younger Alpha quickly grabs his hand, taking him by surprise. However, Hyukjae doesn’t seem to notice it, still trying to press the sleep out of his cheeks.

“You’re so cute,” Jongwoon says again, softer. The younger Alpha doesn’t seem to hear it this time, but the strawberry scent drifts through the air nonetheless.

Later, after eating and tucking Hyukjae back into bed, he runs into Leeteuk in the lobby. He extends a sleeve towards him, tilting his head in a question.

“Can you smell it?”

The Omega looks at him and shakes his head. He runs his hand over Jongwoon’s arm and the stiff fabric, only stopping at his shoulder blade, misaligned with the seam.

“It doesn’t fit you too well,” he comments.

“It fits fine. I’m just a little taller, that’s all. It’s nice of you to lend me your clothes, Teukie-hyung,” Jongwoon says sincerely.

“I’m just glad you’re not wearing that old suit anymore,” Leeteuk murmurs, almost too soft to hear. He clears his throat. “I never got the time to ask, but I hope you’ve made good friends with at least some of your coworkers.”

“I have. Maybe I’ll even introduce you to some of them,” he replies easily. Eyes then going to the clock, he blinks. “Ah, I’m going to be late!”

“Just go. Remember, you can come to me for anything,” the Omega says, patting down his suit one more time. His fingers come to Jongwoon’s wrist, and he tilts his head, gaze turning curious. “Oh? Where did this accessory come from?”

Surprised, Jongwoon quickly retracts his hand from Leeteuk’s grasp. Flushing, he thumbs the edge of the bracelet almost bashfully. “Hyukjae got it for me.”

“Did he?” A knowing glint flashes in Leeteuk’s eyes. It makes Jongwoon want to shy away from his stare, those deep brown irises seeming to dig into the most innermost part of himself. Fortunately, he looks away quickly, instead patting his shoulder. He smiles. “You’re really handsome, Jongwoon-ah.”

Jongwoon’s eyes widen. “Ah, thank you!” The clock strikes a new hour, and he quickly dips his head to the older man and almost runs away, an embarrassing smile on his lips. Behind him, Leeteuk waves him goodbye, his expression wistful and sorrowful.

 

 

Jongwoon waits for the elevator patiently, listening to the platform move from outside. He adjusts his tie again, a little nervously, glancing from side to side occasionally.

Then, the elevator dings, and the doors slide open in front of him. He hesitates, looking towards the entrance one more time. The doors close, and he’s still there, waiting anxiously. In his right pocket, he squeezes his phone, running his fingertips over the textured back lightly. He pulls it out and checks the time, scanning the numbers intently.

Just when he’s about to give up and press the button again, he hears it, the front doors opening.

But to his surprise, instead of seeing only two people, he sees three.

Taeyeon notices him first. Her eyes widen. “Kim Jongwoon-ssi?”

It makes the other two Alphas look towards him as well. Yunho’s face instantly lights up into a beam, and he waves, grinning as he speeds up his walk, dragging Changmin with him. The younger Alpha doesn’t even seem to be all disgruntled. He might even be a little… relieved.

“Hey man!” Yunho says first, brightly. “You’re finally back!”

“Sorry,” Jongwoon apologizes sheepishly. “My rut came unexpectedly.”

“We guessed.” Taeyeon joins them, an amused smile on her face. “Glad to see you survived though.”

Jongwoon smiles. “Thanks.” He pauses to look between the three of them curiously, and a sense of deja vu hits him. He blinks. “Do you guys know each other now?”

“We went looking for you,” Changmin answers, much to his surprise. “That’s how we met, and we’ve been eating together ever since.”

“Which means I’m technically better acquainted with them than you are,” Taeyeon says, teasingly. Her expression is different from what it was a few days ago. It makes Jongwoon smile.

The elevator suddenly dings, startling them. It reminds him, and he hurriedly opens his phone again, opening his contacts app.

“Can I have your phone numbers?” he asks eagerly. Yunho peers over at his screen inquisitively.

“Sure! Just hand it to me.”

Jongwoon gives it to him, and he types in his number before passing it to Changmin, who inspects the device first.

“Did you just get it? It’s an old brand,” he observes. Jongwoon scratches the back of his head.

“It was actually my birthday yesterday. It was the only thing I could afford at the moment,” he admits. Yunho looks at him in surprise.

“It was your birthday? I didn’t know!” he exclaims.

“That’s because we didn’t ask. Here, I put it in.” Changmin passes the phone to Taeyeon. Jongwoon blinks, slightly bewildered by the younger Alpha’s change in attitude from a few days ago.

Finally, the elevator doors open in front of them. Taeyeon hands him the phone back, and he clutches it tightly as they step in.

It reaches their floor first. Loudly, Yunho wishes him a happy birthday, Changmin repeating the words in a calmer manner. Jongwoon waves back and tells them that they’ll meet during lunch.

As they walk together to the office, Taeyeon bumps against him, a glint in her eyes.

“You know, you look far too happy for someone who just finished their rut alone with a stale bite,” she notes.

“I’ve been wanting your phone numbers for a long time, so I’m happy about it,” he replies honestly, a skip in his step.

Taeyeon shakes her head, gesturing at something on his arm. He follows her gaze, realizing she’s pointing towards the bracelet. He blushes, rolling it up his sleeve so that it’s no longer visible.

“So,” she smirks. “Did you end up spending it with someone after all?”

“I didn’t spend my rut with anyone!” Jongwoon says defensively. “It’s from a friend, that’s all!”

“A friend, huh? Must’ve been a pretty good friend then,” she muses. At his expression, she starts laughing. “Just kidding, alright? In all seriousness, I’m glad to see you like this. After all—” her voice softens— “ruts are hell when your mating bite hasn’t faded yet.”

Jongwoon stops. He looks at her, but she’s already heading in front of him. He trips to catch up.

“H-He’s important to me!” he says loudly. “And I’m sure that you too—Taeyeon-ssi will find someone like that too!”

The smile she sends back is soft. Jongwoon is startled by it.

“So there’s someone after all?” she teases first. Something in her seems to have changed since meeting Changmin and Yunho.

He smiles, the shame and the fear suddenly draining out of him in a single moment, even only temporarily.

“Yes!” he beams.

 

 

Donghae finishes into his hand, breathing hard. The adult movie plays out in front of him, and he watches it for a few more minutes, his eyes half lidded. Just as the scene transitions, he shuts it off, grabbing a tissue from the side and wiping himself.

His hair drips with water, the bathroom mirror still clouded with steam from the shower. He washes his hands slowly, his breath thick. He shuts the faucet off and wipes a bit of the condensation off the mirror, revealing his reflection.

Quickly, he looks away. He runs his hands over his face, exhaling heavily.

Heechul greets him first, joking around with Kyuhyun. Donghae laughs with them but decides to leave them be for now. He heads towards Shindong’s room next, but the older Alpha looks too troubled to not mind being bothered. He quietly closes the door and starts for Leeteuk’s office, only then remembering that the other man is usually embroiled in work around his time.

Finally, he stops in front of Hyukjae’s room, staring at his feet. He starts to raise his hand to knock, but he falters, just standing there instead and staring into the dark eyehole of the door.

“Are you going to knock, Donghae-hyung?”

He turns to see Ryeowook beside him, head tilted in question. Quickly, Donghae tears his eyes away from Hyukjae’s door, massaging his wrists guiltily like he’s been caught.

“I’d just be bothering him,” he laughs, emptily. “Is lunch ready?”

The younger Alpha doesn’t blink. “Everyone else has eaten already. It’s just you.”

“I guess I’ll head down then. Thanks, Ryeowook-ah.”

“Wait, I’ll go with you.”

Ryeowook quickly follows him, his shorter legs slightly struggling to catch up to him. Still, Donghae knows better than to purposefully slow, and he waits until the other man is able to walk with him side by side to wrap his arm around his shoulders.

“I don’t smell, do I?” he frets. Ryeowook shakes his head.

“You smell fine.” The younger Alpha tilts his chin up towards him. “Ugh. Seriously, you’re so handsome, Hyung.”

“Suddenly?” He can’t help the shy smile that comes to his lips. “You say that to me too often.”

“Because it’s true,” Ryeowook shrugs with a pout. “I’m so jealous.”

“You shouldn’t be,” Donghae says automatically. Then, he coughs. “Why did you decide to come with me? I thought you had eaten already?”

“I just wanted to keep you company, that’s all,” he replies easily. He glances back at him. “You really have been looking sort of down lately. The only times you really look happy is when you’re with Hyukjae-hyung.”

Donghae blinks. Then, he hangs his head, averting his eyes guiltily. “I’m sorry. There’s just been a lot going on.”

“Why are you saying sorry? I’m not mad,” Ryeowook says quickly. “I’m glad that you and Hyukjae-hyung are getting along well. After all, you two are friends of the same age, and it helps to have someone around when you’re lonely.”

“It does help. It helps a lot,” Donghae admits, “but I’m not sure how much it’s helping him.”

“Well, without you, he would’ve stayed in his room for the entirety of Jongwoon-hyung’s rut,” he points out. “And even though he always complained about you dragging him out, he still went with you, so it’s not like you’re completely forcing him.”

“... I guess you’re right,” he agrees simply, expression still troubled. He purses his lips and hugs the younger Alpha a little tighter to himself. “Speaking of people born in the ‘same year’—” he changes the subject— “how are things with Kyuhyun?”

Ryeowook raises an eyebrow at the abrupt shift in conversation. “We’re fine. Why?”

“Just fine?”

“Yeah, we are. What are you trying to say?” he asks, suspicious. “Did you forget how to speak again, Donghae-hyung?”

Donghae smacks him on the arm, whining. “No. I was just saying because you two always seem to be chummy with each other, okay? Heechul-hyung said that you two have something on!”

Ryeowook blinks. Then, his cheeks turn red, and he elbows Donghae back, visibly flustered. “Heechul-hyung is saying that?!”

“Shindong-hyung sometimes makes veiled remarks too—”

“Shindong-hyung too?! Aish—” Ryeowook buries his head in his hands. “I’m going to kill them.”

“Is there really nothing? I mean, even I can see it happening,” Donghae says doubtfully. “Kyuhyun’s a good kid, so I’d definitely approve if you wanted to date him. I’d kill you if you hurt them though—”

“There’s nothing between us!” The younger Alpha screeches. “We’re just friends, alright?! Just friends! It’s way too weird to think of him as anything else.” His voice softens. “And I’m too afraid to think about anything changing from what we have now.”

“Huh,” Donghae says. He eyes Ryeowook curiously. “Then what do you think you’re looking for in a partner?”

“Are we really going to talk about this?” Ryeowook chuckles almost incredulously. As he stops to think, a small smile comes to his lips. “Honestly, I’m not so sure, but I’ve had a dream for a long time. After I get treatment, I want to marry an Omega I love. I want to get a nice paying job and buy a big house for my family. When I get old, I want to be surrounded by grandchildren.” He laughs to himself as he says it. “It’s a little old-fashioned, isn’t it?”

“No,” Donghae says quickly. “I think it’s nice.”

How can he blame Ryeowook for wanting something like that when it’s exactly the thing that he desires the most?

The younger Alpha hums. He tastes a bit of wine in the air and glances back, but there’s nothing there. For some reason, some painful emotion floods through his chest, and his heart clenches, even though he doesn’t know why.

After finally expressing his dream, why does he feel so… guilty?

“You alright, Ryeonggu?”

Donghae’s expression snaps him out of it. Ryeowook turns back towards the older Alpha, slightly startled. Then, he sighs.

“Yeah. Let’s go eat before your stomach starts creating a thunderstorm.”

“Hey!”

In the lobby, Kyuhyun sits back down into the receptionist’s chair, leaning backwards and staring emptily into the distance.

He breathes in shakily.

 

 

Hyukjae can’t stop eyeing the pair of scissors a little fearfully. He fidgets a little and gulps as Jongwoon flexes the blades right in front of him, making the protective covering underneath him crinkle.

“Hey, Hyung. Since you’re tired from work and didn’t get much sleep last night, maybe it’d be better if we did this another day?” he suggests nervously. Jongwoon huffs.

“I’m not going to kill you, Dongba,” he states. “You literally let Heechul-hyung cut your hair, and I assure you that I have loads more experience than he does.”

“From where?” Hyukjae’s throat bobs as the older Alpha swings the plastic covering over him, tying it back in a neat knot over his nape.

“From the military. Everyone said that I gave the best haircuts back then.” Jongwoon grabs a long strip of tissue paper, fastening it around his neck to prevent shards of hair from sticking to the skin.

“How long ago was that?”

“Short enough. Now sit back and hold your posture straight.”

Still unsure but without any other options now, Hyukjae can only lean backwards and squeeze his eyes shut, only relaxing after he feels the other man’s hands slowly carding through his black-blue locks.

“How would you like it cut?” Jongwoon asks first, still playing with the younger Alpha’s hair. Hyukjae opens his eyes briefly, glancing at himself in the mirror.

“Uh—just shave down the back and sides until it’s out of my neck and ears. The bangs can be trimmed to just over my eyelid.”

“Shaved down to a two?”

“Three.”

“Got it.” Jongwoon reaches behind him for the razor. It buzzes on, and he massages Hyukjae’s nape for just a second before dusting some nonexistent silt off. “Just relax and bend down.”

The words make Hyukjae’s cheeks flush even if the implications were unintended. He tilts his chin towards his chest and takes a deep breath.

God, why hadn’t he been this nervous when it was Heechul?

The vibrating noise of the razor gets louder as it brushes against the guiding comb. Slowly, the blades are pressed to his hair, surprisingly gentle. Locks of damaged blue hair fall to the floor, fluttering downwards without a sound.

He exhales.

“That wasn’t so bad, right?” Jongwoon asks, smirking.

“I still think you’re going to turn me half bald,” Hyukjae shoots back.

“If you keep doing that, maybe I will.” The razor suddenly starts again, and another few pieces of hair drift down to the ground.

Hyukjae doesn’t respond, letting himself relax instead. Strangely, the buzzing against the back of his head is soothing in a way, even though he’s still distinctly aware of Jongwoon’s spicy coffee scent curling around him.

After some time, the older Alpha makes conversation again.

“Your hair is so thin. There’s no sound or feeling when I cut through it,” he comments casually. “Why did you dye it this far anyways? It must’ve started to hurt even before.”

“Well…” Hyukjae hesitates. “My old partner liked it, so I dyed it a lot.”

Sensing the other man’s discomfort, Jongwoon nods and quickly changes the subject. “What do you do every day while I’m at work? You’ve never told me.”

“I just stay in my room. Nothing too interesting,” he mumbles. “It’s like the opposite of what you do.”

“Really?” Jongwoon says, surprised. “Doesn’t it feel stifling if you stay inside all day long?”

“Being outside is too uncomfortable,” he admits. “It’s better to just stay inside.”

The older Alpha’s eyebrows furrow at that. He snips off another stray piece of hair. “Going outside with me… Did you offer because you thought I wanted you to?”

“No!” Hyukjae says quickly. “Even though it was scary, I wanted to go… with you…” he trails off, embarrassed.

Jongwoon hums. “You went with Donghae too, right? That’s probably healthier for you.”

“It’s different with Donghae,” Hyukjae murmurs.

“Huh? I couldn’t hear you.”

“Nothing! It’s fine with Donghae.”

“After my rut, you two seem to have gotten a lot closer. Did you finally clear up some things with him?” Jongwoon wonders. It had been strange at first to see the two Alphas so close to each other, but on second glance, it seemed natural, like it was always supposed to be that way.

“Ah… well… We only hung out because he’s attached to me. We didn’t actually talk about much,” Hyukjae confesses.

“Oh? Why not?” He raises an eyebrow.

“... It’s complicated. It’s not as easy as just… talking. That’s way too awkward,” he says, fidgeting slightly. “Donghae is more put together than me. He has a job. He can pay rent. He actually has social skills. He longs for a family and can protect his loved ones. He’s… a better Alpha than I am. I don’t even—I don’t even understand why he insists on being with me so much.” Hyukjae finishes, frustration leaking into his voice.

“Maybe Donghae is attached to you because he has to be. And because he isn’t as put together as you think he is,” Jongwoon responds, sectioning off a part of the other man’s bangs and cutting it off neatly.

Hyukjae presses his lips together, lowering his eyes. “I don’t know about that. I just… I just don’t want to taint him.”

His voice goes quiet at the end, pained. Jongwoon pauses in his work.

“You’re not tainted,” he murmurs.

Hyukjae’s hands clench in his lap.

“You don’t know anything about me,” he states, teeth gritted. Immediately, he feels guilty as he sees Jongwoon’s eyes shine with hurt, looking like he’s been stabbed in the heart, but he isn’t wrong at all. To his surprise though, the older Alpha doesn’t lash back. Gently, he cards his fingers through Hyukjae’s short hair, brushing away the tiny fragments still lingering on his reddened scalp.

“Donghae needs you. He’s lonely. For his sake, you should try,” he says absently. “Even if you feel inferior to him, you two both ended up in the same place. Something must’ve happened on his side too. Plus—” he smiles, snipping off a final piece of hair before he turns Hyukjae around to face the mirror— “You seemed happy to be with him too.”

As promised, the ends are meticulously trimmed and shaved, and the bangs are the perfect length. A bit of black hair peeks out from the crown of Hyukjae’s head, and he blinks.

“Didn’t I do a good job? I told you I wasn’t an amateur,” Jongwoon says proudly, removing the plastic sheet over Hyukjae’s chest. The younger Alpha doesn’t respond, and he frowns, bending over to inspect his expression. “Is it not good? I can make improvements if you want—”

“No, I like it,” Hyukjae says slowly. He reaches up and rubs a few strands together, pushing his bangs back slightly. “Thanks.”

Jongwoon hums, satisfied with himself. Suddenly, an idea pops into his mind and he pulls something from his pocket, tapping it open.

“I almost forgot, let’s take a selca!” he suggests, hurriedly, tugging the other man up and towards him. Hyukjae stumbles, his cheeks going pink as he’s pressed against Jongwoon, who raises the phone up in front of him.

But then, he frowns.

“Let’s switch sides,” he says. Hyukjae, though perplexed, does it without complaint. Jongwoon puts his phone in the other hand, and he pulls his sleeve down, revealing the silver bracelet that the younger Alpha had gifted him. “I have to show this off!” he grins. “Now look up!”

Despite his enthusiastic words, it takes a bit of finagling for Jongwoon to find the right angle for the photo. He thinks that maybe Hyukjae will start grumbling like he usually does, but he just stays silent. Finally, he moves them to the right spot where the lighting hits right, and he smiles.

The phone camera snaps. Quickly, he takes a look at it, examining it closely.

He laughs. “Hey, what’s this expression?”

In the selca, Hyukjae has his lips puckered, almost like he’s about to give someone a kiss. Jongwoon chuckles at it as he prepares to send it to Leeteuk and Heechul, knowing the two elders would appreciate it.

As he smiles at the photo again, Hyukjae observes him. He touches his chest, feeling his quickening heart rate, and a wave of emotion washes over him.

If only he could… lean a little closer with the same expression he had made in the selca…

But when Jongwoon finally notices him staring, tilting his head in confusion, there’s nothing Hyukjae can do but to look away.

“Hyung… what you said earlier… I’ll think about it,” he says. Jongwoon pinches his cheek fondly before retrieving something from behind the cabinet.

“I hope you’re not bad at cleaning.” He tosses a broom towards Hyukjae, smirking. Hyukjae catches it in surprise before pouting.

“Aren’t you supposed to treat customers well?” he complains. Jongwoon wiggles a finger at him.

“Just consider this as payment!”

 

 

Silently, Kyuhyun chops the vegetables as Ryeowook hurriedly slides into the kitchen, rolling up his sleeves in haste.

“Sorry about being late! Shindong-hyung just went into rut,” he says, washing his hands in the sink quickly. “Anything I can help with?”

“The pot needs some tending to,” Kyuhyun answers quietly. Ryeowook can’t help but to feel worried at the sound of the Beta’s voice, but he complies anyway, knowing better than to force it.

The words he had said earlier ring in his head. They bother him, and he frowns as he stirs the bubbling pot, glancing at Kyuhyun occasionally.

Ryeowook has always loved this view. Of Kyuhyun, apron clad, his large and pretty hands keeping the vegetables in place as he cleanly slices through them with a knife. Or, of him standing in front of a pan, stir frying meat with a considerable amount of strength, voice raising as he shouts across the kitchen for someone to check up on the stew.

But today, he seems strangely reserved, not even speaking a single word to him as he works.

“Is there something wrong, Kyuhyun?” he asks, concerned. The Beta just sets down his knife, gazing intently at the cutting board.

“Ryeowook, let’s sing together,” he says suddenly. Ryeowook’s eyebrows furrow.

“Tonight? But won’t you have work? And Shindong-hyung won’t be able to replace you either…” he trails off seeing the almost desperate expression on Kyuhyun’s face.

“Please,” Kyuhyun pleads. Ryeowook nods. Hesitantly, he places his hand on the other man’s shoulder, but Kyuhyun only stiffens at the touch. He quickly recoils, hurt, but that’s quickly overshadowed by worry.

“We’ll go right after dinner,” he says softly. Kyuhyun closes his eyes.

“Thank you.”

 

 

The process of setting up equipment is more bearable with someone else around. It’s easier to ignore the various comments thrown his way when he’s busying himself with getting Kyuhyun’s microphone set up despite the Beta’s protests.

“Hey, what a nice ass on that Omega over there.” Someone whistles from the crowd, and Kyuhyun’s head immediately shoots up, lips curling in a snarl. However, Ryeowook stops him, shaking his head.

“Those fuckers must’ve been raised by savages,” he says contemptuously. “They’re not worth it. I just feel bad for the actual Omegas that have to deal with this.”

Kyuhyun blinks at him. Then, he nods, returning his attention to plugging in the amp.

“You know, Ryeowook, even though no one else has noticed, you’ve changed a little thing,” he comments. Ryeowook raises an eyebrow.

“Is that a good thing or bad thing?” he asks.

“It’s a good thing.” Kyuhyun stands up straight, untangling the microphone cord and attaching it to the stand.

At the same time, Ryeowook finishes setting up, settling next to the Beta easily. He looks over to his side, and a sense of rightness washes over him. This is where he wants Kyuhyun to be, he realizes.

“Kyuhyun-ah, what do you think about being my Beta second in the future?” he says suddenly. The look Kyuhyun sends him is incredulous.

“What?”

“Nevermind!” Ryeowook quickly backpedals, embarrassed by his sudden daringness. “It’s an old fashioned idea anyway!”

A mix of complex emotions crosses Kyuhyun’s face, and he quickly looks away, biting his lip. “Well, even if I wanted to, my mom hates Alphas. She’d probably disown me if I did something like that.”

Ryeowook doesn’t know if he should be pleased that he’s being implicitly included as an Alpha or disappointed that Kyuhyun’s mother would never approve of a partnership between them.

“It should be about what you want though,” he says, surprising Kyuhyun. But then, he lowers his head, pursing his lips. “But you’re right. If you don’t want your mom to worry.” He grabs his phone and hastily picks out an instrumental from their tried and true playlist.

Kyuhyun just gazes at him, eyes swirling with a whirlwind of impossible emotions. But as his cue starts, he’s taken away by the music.

At the same time that he starts vocalizing, Ryeowook turns to him, smiling as he recognizes Kyuhyun’s familiar singing posture. He wishes the other man would meet his eyes, but it’s enough for him that he can watch such a beautiful sound flow from such a beautiful pair of lips.

When did he start thinking of Kyuhyun as beautiful?

Ryeowook isn’t sure. For him, he’s always been.

The chorus starts, and they both join in singing together, their voices blending together perfectly. A couple of people in the crowd noticeably stop to listen to the duet.

It’s Ryeowook’s solo part next. Although his voice has always been high pitched, it’s always been the one thing about his delayed development that he didn’t mind. He’s fond of it even. It’s bright, attention catching. It splits through the air like a rocket through a sheet of clouds, a butter knife through a crowd.

It’s purifying.

Kyuhyun thinks this as he tips a bottle of water over his mouth. Although he had wanted to sing together again in order to let himself go, he can’t find it within himself to tear his eyes away from the almost magnetic view of the Alpha.

Ryeowook’s twinkling eyes meet his, and Kyuhyun raises the microphone to his lips again. This time, the chorus splits into a harmony, their voices intertwining and tugging at each other in the air like two threads pulling on each other. Like fireworks bursting in the air.

Kyuhyun’s the one that gets the high note in the bridge. It builds up, steady and calm, until the final belt, and everything just bursts out. For a moment, Ryeowook is so entranced that he almost forgets to lead back into the final chorus. He just watches Kyuhyun, with his throat stretched around the note, his mouth wide open as if it’s going to swallow the sky.

Then, the instrumental hits back at full force. Ryeowook, suddenly impassioned by Kyuhyun’s show of skill, explodes, his ad-libs bright and furious through the air, as if he is challenging the other man. By the way he smirks, there’s no doubt that Kyuhyun has noticed that he’s trying to show him up. He lifts the microphone higher, his eyes closing by habit as he grips the microphone and sings into it as hard as he can.

By now, a large crowd has gathered, marveling at the duo. It’s unclear what they’re witnessing, a duet, a dance, or… something else?

Ryeowook and Kyuhyun don’t notice them. Instead, their eyes are locked onto each other. Kyuhyun’s pupils are dilated and strangely shiny in a way that he’ll probably blame on the dust later. He doesn’t want this moment to end, but he’s come here knowing that it will.

Ryeowook’s eyes are wide.

He realizes that he wants Kyuhyun to remain by his side for all his life.

The two emotions collide and combine, scintillating in the sky.

Their voices soar.

 

 

“Whoa, the money we collected this time was so much more than when I had gone alone!” Ryeowook exclaims, counting the bills in the tin.

“It was because I was here, right?” Kyuhyun grins, though it’s cracking a little at the edges. The Alpha presses his lips together. He stands up and grabs something from his pocket, suddenly using it to dab at Kyuhyun’s eyes. “Ryeonggu, what is this?” He tries to keep up a composed expression, but his voice can only come out in a rasp.

“Even though you’re kind of egotistical, you’re usually not the type to cry at your own singing,” Ryeowook says, gently tracing the other man’s moist cheeks with the cloth. “Did something happen with your mother earlier? I haven’t seen you like this in a while.”

“No, Mom didn’t call. It’s fine, it’s just… Beta hormones,” he chuckles wetly. “You know, I don’t have that thing that makes it ridiculously hard for Alphas to cry like you have.”

“I don’t have it yet. I need to get my medicine,” Ryeowook reminds him.

“After that you’ll just be a regular Alpha, right? And then you won’t have to face all these obstacles towards getting a regular job anymore, and you’ll be able to live life normally,” Kyuhyun says slowly.

He nods. “That’s the goal. Wait…” he stops. “You weren’t thinking that I was going to leave you behind after I got everything together, right?”

Kyuhyun bites his lip. Ryeowook’s eyebrows furrow.

“Kyu, that’s not what I wanted at all. I said so before, right? I want you to be my B—”

“That’s not what I want.”

Kyuhyun suddenly gets to his feet, fists clenched beside him. Ryeowook flinches backwards, shocked.

“Kyuhyun-ah, have I misunderstood something? Your scent—”

“No, there haven’t been any misunderstandings. Fuck—” He rubs his eyes almost violently. “I just wanted to come with you today so that I could sing with you for the last time.”

“Sing with me for the last time?” Ryeowook whispers. He stands, hurt glinting in his eyes. “What?”

“Yes! Things would be easier for me that way. So much easier!” Kyuhyun almost shouts, before remembering that they’re in a public space. He digs his nails into his palms. “All of this time, I was just enduring it and hoping… but you never… In the end, I became the stupid one. I became a fool because of you.”

“You were enduring it?” Ryeowook echoes, feeling like he’s been stabbed. “Have I—have I done something to you?” His mind spirals. “You said that you always enjoyed it when we sang together, but you were always better than me. But you always went along… Was it because you thought you were obligated to take care of me? Or was it because I didn’t treat you well, and you were hiding it this entire time?”

“No!” Kyuhyun backtracks, shaking his head vehemently. “That’s not what I meant at all! I was never better at singing than you, and you—” he breathes in— “You always treated me well.”

“Then why?” Ryeowook’s expression is anguished. “Why are you saying all of those things?”

“I—” Kyuhyun presses his lips together, averting his eyes. The Alpha sees him, and his face crumbles. Quickly, he turns away and grabs the rest of the equipment by himself, hiding the tears stinging in his eyes.

“I’ll carry it back to give you some space,” he says. For some reason, something in his chest feels like it’s been shattered into pieces. “I don’t want you to feel pressured by me anymore.”

“I was never pressured by you! Goddamn it.” The Beta tears at his hair in frustration. “Why did it come to this? Why are you so fucking dense?”

Ryeowook grits his teeth, a burst of anger suddenly blazing through his body. He whirls around, fists clenched, only to be confronted with a crying Kyuhyun.

“Why can’t you just understand me without me having to say it out loud?” he chokes. “Why do you have to do this to me?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Ryeowook responds, tears streaming down his face. Kyuhyun storms forward at that, grabbing his collar with equally wet cheeks.

He spits out, “I’m fucking in love with you, Ryeowook. That’s what I’m talking about.”

Chapter Text

The first time Kyuhyun spoke to Ryeowook, he had hit on him.

It hadn’t been something he had only thought of at the moment. After all, he walked by him almost every day on his way to the school he was an assistant instructor at. By now, he knew the pretty Omega’s crystal-like voice like the back of his hand.

“Can I have your contact information?”

It’s too embarrassing to think about now, but at the time, Kyuhyun had been truly earnest. He had waited until the man had finished his time busking, hiding in a dark corner while desperately blowing hot air onto his hands. He had bought gloves and earmuffs just so he could survive the temperature and hopefully offer them to his person of interest later if he indicated that he’d like it.

He definitely wouldn’t have predicted Ryeowook’s response.

“I think you’ve made a mistake. I’m actually an Alpha.”

 

 

Changmin watches the bus leave, the expression on his face unreadable. A spicy scent lingers on his body, and he keeps his eye on the figure in the back window for as long as he can. When it disappears from view, he exhales a large sigh, turning away and sitting back on one of the empty benches alone. He fiddles a little with something on his neck, breathing a sigh of relief as the scent suppressant patch finally peels off.

His phone buzzes in his pocket, and he takes it out, seeing who it is. Quickly, he answers the call, pressing his ear to his device.

“Hey, Mom. Something up?”

The conversation flows smoothly and easily, like it always does. He smiles as his mother tells him about how she figured out how to do something particularly impressive on the computer for her age, nodding along as the old Alpha adds in humorous details here and there.

“How’s Ma?” he asks, trying to sound casual.

“She’s been doing a little better recently. She’s sleeping right now though, so I have to be quiet.”

Changmin hums. He looks up towards the night sky, wracking his head for something to say.

“Is something wrong, Changmin? You’re a little quiet today,” his mother asks, voice sounding a little concerned.

“Nothing’s wrong, Mom. Really.” He checks his watch. “I need to go now. I have work early tomorrow.”

“Make sure to do everything well, and don’t slack off.”

“You don’t need to worry about me,” Changmin laughs. “Make sure to not strain your back while getting off the bed tomorrow morning, alright? Don’t forget to keep a bottle of water by your side when you’re thirsty, and turn on the lamp whenever you need to use the restroom.”

“Alright, alright. I will. You take care of yourself too, alright Chami?”

“I will. Good night. I’ll call soon.”

“Sleep well.”

The call ends first on the other side. Changmin lingers at the smiling profile photo of his mother before tucking his device away, pressing his lips together. He stares at the discarded scent patch still crumpled in his palm and discreetly shoves it into his back pocket.

Suddenly, his phone buzzes again. It’s a text.

Sorry, Changminnie. I think I left my coat at your place. Do you think you could bring it to work tomorrow?

He squeezes his phone tighter while reading the message.

No problem. I’ll even wash it for you to get the dirt out of it.

Hey! My things aren’t that dirty!

I beg to differ…

Before he knows it, he finds himself smiling again. Despite Yunho’s apparent enthusiasm for all things, that passion apparently never applied to keeping his surroundings or belongings very tidy. He was extraordinarily good at folding laundry, and that was about it. Changmin remembers when he had scolded him for wearing his shoes inside the house, and the older Alpha had sported a cute kicked puppy expression for an hour after.

But he shouldn’t be thinking like this, should he?

As Changmin shakes himself out of his daze, he notices someone hobbling towards him. At first, he doesn’t recognize who it is, and he’s on guard, senses pricked for any sudden movements.

But as he registers who it is, his eyes widen.

The figure stops too. His eyes are swollen, and his cheeks are glistening with moisture. He only takes a second to recognize Changmin, and he completely stops in his tracks, shocked and shaken.

“Changmin?” he utters.

Changmin blinks.

“Kyuhyun?”

 

 

The back of Ryeowook’s mouth is numb with the sour scent of wine. He heads back silently, his knuckles white and his walk stilted. The heavy equipment makes his shoulders ache, and his philtrum is thick with sweat. He keeps going like this, avoiding the shadows on the ground and the looks of curious passerby, and tries to not let his mind wander too much.

The automatic doors slide open. Jongwoon notices him first, and he turns around to casually greet him. Then, he notices the tear tracks and redness on the younger Alpha’s face.

“Ryeowook? What’s wrong? Where’s Kyuhyun?” He rushes towards him, reaching for the singing equipment in Ryeowook’s hands as if to relieve him of the weight. Ryeowook doesn’t let him. Instead, he grips it tighter.

“Kyuhyun’s gone home. I need to take this to my room,” he says, voice thick. “I hope you have a good night, Hyung.”

“Hey, wait—”

But he’s already hobbling away, unable to face the kind older man anymore. He bangs the door open and closes it with his back, letting the boxes spill onto the ground in front of him. Slowly, he slides down the wall, staring emptily into the carpet. His heart clenches, and he closes his eyes, breathing out heavily.

He can still smell Kyuhyun.

Suddenly, there’s a knock at the door. Slowly, Ryeowook rises to his feet, opening it exhaustedly.

“Sorry, I’m not in the mood to talk right now—”

But he stops. In front of his room, Hyukjae glances awkwardly from side to side, playing with his fingers.

“Jongwoon-hyung said you were distressed. I wanted to check up on you,” he says, almost timidly.

Ryeowook blinks. He rubs his eyes, and he forces a smile. “I’m alright. I just need to reflect on some things.”

“Heechul-hyung said that you tend to be very private about everything,” Hyukjae hurriedly says before he can shut the door. “And that you always lock yourself into your room when things get hard.”

The younger Alpha stops, surprised. “And what about it?” he says, almost defensively. Hyukjae doesn’t flinch.

“I get that. And I also get that we don’t know each other very well, so if you wanted to, it might be easier to talk to me,” he offers.

Ryeowook narrows his eyes. He’s aware that he looks like a mess right now, sweaty but fresh from crying. However, Hyukjae’s gaze doesn’t inspect him or judge him. Instead, it’s directed straight at his face, unblinking.

He lets his guard down.

“Sure, come in.” He turns around, letting the older Alpha follow him in. He moves the equipment so that it’s easier to walk around, pulling a chair from his desk and offering Hyukjae the seat. He heads towards his mini fridge and grabs a bottle of water. “Want something to drink?”

“I would, thanks.” Hyukjae takes the bottle gratefully, cracking it open and gulping it down. He hands it back to Ryeowook after wiping his mouth. “You have a nice room.”

“Thanks. It’s really messy though.” He drinks after, probably feeling thirsty having cried his eyes out only half an hour earlier. “It gets more decorated the longer you stay here.”

Hyukjae nods at that. “How long has it been?”

“A year and a few months I think? I came here… in my last semester of college I think,” Ryeowook thinks back, the memories flooding back into his head. Suddenly, he remembers a tall figure, his daring confession and his red cheeks against the snow, and he feels depressed again.

Hyukjae seems to notice the mood falling, and he waits, tracing his hands over his thighs with no trace of impatience. His posture reminds Ryeowook somewhat of Leeteuk, and it comforts him for some reason.

“Hyung… I made a mistake,” he confesses. The words sit heavy in his throat, and speaking them out loud only grants a second of relief before everything floods over him again in a tsunami of complex emotions.

“What kind of mistake?” Hyukjae’s voice is soft but prompting.

“I was stupid.” He presses his lips together. He sits down heavily, his thighs sinking into the bed. “The more I think about it, the more I feel sorry. For some reason, it feels like I’ve let something go that I shouldn’t have.”

“Do you mean…” Hyukjae hesitates. “Does this have anything to do with Kyuhyun?”

“... Yeah. I guess. Because he said—he said—” Ryeowook twists his fingers together, his lips pressing together. “He said that he loved me.”

The older Alpha blinks, visibly surprised. It relieves Ryeowook like no other because finally, someone understands.

“It’s ridiculous, right? Seriously… Kyuhyun must’ve hit his head on something or forgotten everything he learned in college because this is so illogical. There’s no way that he could be in his right mind,” he says, relaxing. “After all, there’s no way he could really be in love with me. He shouldn’t be.”

“... Why not?” Hyukjae questions.

Ryeowook cracks a bitter smile. “Just look at me,” he says, gesturing at his physical appearance wryly. “I can barely stand it myself. The only upside is that it’s temporary.”

The other man doesn’t respond. Instead, he leans forward, and his hand hovers over Ryeowook’s arm.

“Can I touch?” Hyukjae asks, much to his confusion. He nods anyway, and the older Alpha wastes no time running his fingers up and down his skin. It’s far from intimate, more like a gym teacher giving a physical evaluation. Hyukjae pulls away after a few seconds, tilting his head as if he’s been enlightened. “Sorry about that. I just wanted to see something.”

“See something? What?” Ryeowook says, perplexed.

“You’ve been working out,” Hyukjae answers, “a lot.”

“Working out? Oh!” He ducks his head sheepishly, squeezing the muscle on his forearm as if to demonstrate. “I started working out after I broke up with my last Omega. I had tried before, but I got too frustrated and gave up because I had to work twice as hard as other Alphas to gain muscle. It’ll be easier once I can get the medicine.”

“You really worked hard. You’re even bulkier than I am,” the older Alpha says, and it makes Ryeowook blush.

“Well, I didn’t want to keep looking like a stick. Before, with all of my relationships—” he pauses, unsure— “They only dated me because I was small and cute and ‘defenseless’ and... meek. When I told them that I didn’t like how they treated me and that everything would probably change after I got the medicine, they stopped liking me.”

Those words sit in the silence that follows. Ryeowook still dislikes to remember that time, how he had constantly been treated like an infant that had no agency or as an “honorary Omega” that could tolerate all the thinly veiled insults thrown at the other Alphas.

“... Do you think Kyuhyun’s the same?” Hyukjae asks gently, like he’s holding a pair of tweezers to an open wound. It’s an accurate description honestly. Ryeowook’s fists tighten on his knees.

“I can’t see how it could be any other way,” he says quietly. “When we first met, he hit on me because he thought I was an Omega, and he ignored the fact that I was an Alpha for months.” He lowers his gaze and curls his knees into his chest, hugging his ankles. “He’ll probably break up with me after I get everything together.”

“I don’t think Kyuhyun would do that,” Hyukjae says truthfully. He shifts slightly. “He’s always seemed to look at you instead of what you look like.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Ryeowook sighs. A wave of exhaustion hits him, and he yawns. Hyukjae checks the time, and he touches the younger Alpha’s shoulder again, this time to comfort him.

“Tired? You’ve had a long day,” he says sympathetically. Ryeowook manages to weakly smile at him before something suddenly comes to his mind, and he curses, standing up immediately.

“Fuck! I didn’t check if Kyuhyun got home safely! I need to text him… but would he even reply? Fuck—” He tears at his hair, his mind whirling as the worst possibilities fill his head.

“I’ll get someone to text him for you. I’m sure he’s fine. It’s summer, and the sun sets late,” Hyukjae reassures him, pulling him to sit down again. The younger Alpha follows obediently, crashing back onto the bed and burying his head in his hands.

“I hurt him so badly again. Everything’s my fault,” he murmurs.

“It’s not,” Hyukjae tries, but he shakes his head vehemently.

“All along, I had an inkling of his feelings, but I wanted to ignore it for my own selfish reasons. I’m not better than he was to me when we first met,” he says guiltily. “I just… I just wanted everything to stay the same, but I had no idea how much it was affecting him.”

“Then you should make it back up to him when you meet again,” the other man says kindly. “No matter what it takes.”

“No matter what it takes,” Ryeowook repeats. He stifles another yawn, and this time, the force of his tiredness nearly topples him. “I’m exhausted.”

“Sleep early. We’ll handle everything with Kyuhyun,” Hyukjae promises. Ryewoook nods, and against even himself, he extends out his arms for an embrace.

“Thank you,” he whispers against the older Alpha’s shoulder. “It was nice to talk without the others looking at me like they could see into me.”

“Anytime, I’m your Hyung after all,” Hyukjae says warmly, rubbing his back.

They break apart. The other man stands up and heads towards the door while Ryeowook watches him. Before he’s able to leave though, he calls out to say one more thing.

“Hyung, aren’t you going to ask if I like Kyuhyun back?”

Hyukjae turns around. His eyes glow a little in the darkness. “Do you?”

The complicated emotions flood back into his chest. Ryeowook purses his lips and averts his eyes, rubbing his arm until it goes hot and red.

Kyuhyun… has always been there, bright and shining and beautiful like a lighthouse in a storm. He wants him to stay there, right by his side. He needs him.

But only as a lifelong friend? Or is it…

“I don’t know,” he answers, a lump buried in his throat. “I don’t know.”

Hyukjae’s knowing gaze is the last thing he sees before the door closes.

 

 

“I never would’ve expected you to fall in love with an Alpha, of all things,” Changmin comments as he brings a spare change of clothes from his bedroom, a rare pair that Yunho hasn’t worn yet. Kyuhyun’s nose twitches as he accepts it, still hiccuping from his sobs.

“Shit changes I guess,” he mumbles. “I didn’t think I would either.” His eyes glance back at Changmin, red and wrung out. “I’m sorry about my behavior back then, by the way. I was an asshole.”

Changmin blinks in surprise. “It wasn’t entirely your fault though. It was just the way you were raised,” he says, almost dumbfounded by the sudden apology.

“Doesn’t make it fine. Sorry, Changmin.” His voice is tinged with guilt, his eyes lowered to the shirt clutched in his hands.

Changmin just stares at him for a moment. Then, he pats the Beta’s shoulder, chuckling. “I guess this Alpha really changed you.”

“He did,” Kyuhyun says automatically. “He’s the light of my life… I mean—” he pauses— “I’m literally working at an Alpha shelter right now.”

Changmin’s eyebrows shoot up. “What?”

“Yeah. I quit my old job at the academy.”

His eyebrows furrow. “To follow him? Or…”

Kyuhyun lightly shoves him. “I’m not that lovestruck, you idiot. I just realized that I hated where I was at and decided to change things.”

Changmin goes quiet at that. “Your mom must’ve been pissed,” he says.

The other man sighs. “She was. She still is. But—” his gaze grows fond, as if recalling a memory. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”

For the nth time since meeting his college acquaintance again, Changmin is speechless. “You’re totally whipped.”

“I am,” Kyuhyun replies. His expression falls again. “I probably won’t be able to stick around there for much longer though. The confession… I got greedy. It wasn’t supposed to happen. I just got—” he wrings his hands out— “worked up.”

“Did he do something?” Changmin questions, taking a chair right beside the Beta. Even if it’s been years since they last met, he’s still concerned for his old friend. “He didn’t harm you, did he?”

“No!” Kyuhyun says quickly. “He’s just a little… sensitive. And I said the wrong thing.” His gaze lowers in regret. “Fuck, I’m so stupid! If I just hadn’t said anything then everything would be alright right now, and nothing would have changed!” he curses at himself, burying his head in his hands.

“Did he… reject you outright?” the Alpha asks cautiously. Kyuhyun lets his eyes peek through his fingers, looking at him tiredly.

“No, but I did overhear him talking about how much he’d like to have an Omega and kids so I’m pretty sure he would have rejected me if I hadn’t run away,” he says heavily.

“He’s just like you were in college,” Changmin muses, smiling in an attempt to cheer up the other man slightly.

Kyuhyun groans. “Don’t remind me. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t this stupidly dense though. Seriously,” he mutters. He suddenly slams his fist down on his knee, letting out a frustrated noise. “I’m so angry! Honestly! It would have been fine if he just said he didn’t like me, but he had to say shit about wanting me to be his Beta second and being by his side! I can’t believe it! I can’t believe him!”

Tears have started to gather at the edges of his eyes again, and he rubs them away furiously.

Changmin pats his arm sympathetically, squeezing it. “You can stay here tonight,” he says. “It’s too dangerous to walk around now, and from what I remember of your old habits, you’d just drink yourself into a coma if left alone.”

“I wouldn’t!” Kyuhyun whines. “I’m not really an alcoholic!”

“Sure,” he snorts, standing up and extending a hand towards him. “C’mon, you can take the bed. You might feel better after sleeping it off.”

“Me? Sleep in your bed when it smells like that?” The Beta wrinkles his nose. “No offense Changmin, but I don’t want to smell like two Alphas who have just had sex.”

Remembering what had just occurred less than an hour ago, Changmin’s face immediately goes red at that, and he smacks Kyuhyun on the shoulder, flustered. “Shut up! Fine, I’ll take the bed, and you can just sleep on the couch!”

Kyuhyun laughs at his friend’s reaction, pleased to see that nothing much has changed between them. However, he soon stops, quieting down. “Have you still not told your parents yet?” he asks.

Changmin freezes. “No,” he says, looking away. “I haven’t.”

Kyuhyun just looks at him for a few moments. Then, he stands up, heading towards the kitchen. Agitated, Changmin follows him, only to see him pull out a bottle of soju from an opened cabinet. He sighs.

“Is this what you’re using your nose for?” he says. Kyuhyun shrugs.

“I’m heartbroken, and you're stuck in a rut, almost literally. Let’s drink,” he says, grabbing two shot glasses with one hand. “Hey, these are limited edition Jinro cups!”

Changmin gives up. “Just put them down on the table so they don’t shatter before we can use them.”

 

 

“Kyuhyun just texted. He said he was alright. I think he’s drunk though,” Leeteuk says, typing into his phone. Jongwoon visibly relaxes with the information, his head leaned on Hyukjae’s shoulder.

“He really did it. He confessed,” he murmurs. He suddenly sits up straight, eyes twinkling. “Do you think Ryeowookie likes him back?”

“If he liked him back, then do you think they’d be like this right now?” Heechul says, eyes lowered. “I always thought he did though.”

“But he said earlier that he wanted a family with an Omega,” Donghae pipes in, confused.

“Well, maybe he thinks he wants that because—”

“I’ll talk to Ryeowook tomorrow,” Leeteuk cuts in. “In the meantime, we need to find someone to replace Kyuhyun tomorrow because he won’t be coming in.”

“He won’t be?” Donghae’s eyebrows furrow. He can’t help but to think that this entire thing is his fault, and the guilt crawls in him. “Is he alright?”

“I won’t let him come in. He needs a break anyway. The two of them need some time to buffer,” the Omega answers. “The problem is who’s going to replace him at the desk, especially since Shindong can’t.”

Unconsciously, Heechul feels himself stiffen. He knows Leeteuk hadn’t been looking at him when he said that, but on the other hand, both Jongwoon and Hyukjae, the ones that are oblivious, are looking at him almost expectantly. It digs into him like a knife to the gut. After all, he’s one of the oldest and should be one of the most responsible.

The skin on his wrist crawls. He scratches it, hard, and this time, Leeteuk notices. He opens his mouth, but his next words are interrupted by Ryeowook, timidly opening the door.

“I can fill in,” he says, dark rings under his eyes.

“Are you sure?” Leeteuk asks, clearly surprised by the younger Alpha’s sudden arrival.

Ryeowook nods. “I wouldn’t mind. I don’t have anything to do anyway.”

The last sentence doesn’t sting as much as it did the first time he had admitted it to himself. Heechul still ducks his head away, looking vaguely ashamed of himself. Leeteuk nods, one eye on him and the other on Ryeowook’s unblinking, exhausted eyes.

“Thanks. You’re really a lifesaver,” he says, tone warm. It makes the younger Alpha want to crawl into his arms and just stay there, but that’s too embarrassing of an urge to be satisfied with his other hyungs looking.

The door closes. Ryeowook leaves the rest of them looking at each other, different shades of emotion in their eyes.

“We’ll turn in too,” Hyukjae says first. “Hopefully, things will get better tomorrow.”

“I hope it does,” Donghae says forlornly. “I feel so bad for them.”

They start filing out of the room after that, saying their good nights and good wishes. Jongwoon separates himself from Hyukjae and throws his arms over his other dongsaeng, and it’s hard to figure out whether the look on Hyukjae’s face is jealousy or general ambiguity. Leeteuk waves all of them out, forcing a reassuring smile on his face even though they aren’t looking at him.

It’s only Heechul who lingers.

“We should talk,” he says.

“Not now. Too much is happening,” Leeteuk dismisses.

Heechul presses his lips together, leaning onto the desk. “Are you still angry?”

The Omega glances at him from the corner of his eye, unsmiling. “I think I should be asking that to you.”

“I’m not angry. We just need to talk,” Heechul retorts. “We’ve had fights worse than this.”

They have. They’ve had blood spilled and onlookers shying away from them in fright. They’ve had tears running down their faces, and they’ve had sore throats from screaming out each other’s names.

But it’s never been this… intimate.

“After Ryeowook and Kyuhyun get together. Then, we’ll talk,” Leeteuk finally acquiesces.

“You’re sure they’ll get together?” he questions.

“It’s not right if they don’t,” the other man replies, certain.

Heechul nods, satisfied for the moment. He sits on the couch, sliding his slippers off and throwing his legs over the armrests. At the Omega’s startled look, he shrugs. “What? I’m going to stay here until you go to sleep.”

“You need to rest though,” Leeteuk argues.

“Exactly. Which means you’ll eventually go to sleep because you don’t want to bother me,” Heechul smiles. “I’ll stay for as long as you need me too.” He makes himself comfortable while still making sure none of the white leather is dirtied by his feet. “If you want me to, I’d even stay the night. It’s that or sleeping with Lee Donghae because he’s lonely.”

“You should go with Donghae then. He looks a bit depressed these days,” Leeteuk says automatically, crossing his arms.

“So do you,” Heechul counters.

The other man just looks at him before letting out a frustrated sigh. “Just do whatever you want,” he groans. “I need to get work done.”

“I’ll be right here,” the Alpha says, leaning backwards and closing his eyes.

 

 

“You’re not going to sleep?” Jongwoon’s eyebrows are knit together in worry.

Donghae shakes his head. “I need to burn off some energy,” he says, throwing a towel over his shoulder. “I’m too stressed to sleep right now.”

“We’ll go first then,” the older Alpha says, and Donghae nods.

“Good night.”

“Good night.”

He quickly leaves for his room first, not noticing the way Hyukjae’s gaze trails uneasily after him. He glances back at Jongwoon, tugging on his sleeve hesitantly like a little kid asking his mother if he can sleep over at his friend’s house.

“Hyung, I’m going,” he says unsurely.

Jongwoon blinks at him. Then, he smiles warmly, softly patting those freshly cut blue locks. “Looks like you do listen to me sometimes, Dongba.”

Hyukjae doesn’t know what this feeling blooming in his chest is. It’s so subtle that it doesn’t scare him, not yet. It’s like someone has begun to pour concrete into the cracks in his heart. He inhales all the coffee scent, and he feels so full for some reason.

Jongwoon’s eyes widen as he suddenly feels a pair of arms circling around his waist, trapping him in a tight embrace.

“Hyukjae-ah?” he asks, confused but still bringing up a comforting hand to stroke the other man’s back.

“Sorry. Can we just… stay like this for a second?” Hyukjae’s voice is small and fragile, like he’s scared to admit that he’s asking for this little moment of intimacy and reassurance. It breaks Jongwoon’s heart because he’s always been willing to give it, more than the younger Alpha could probably accept.

But it surprises him even more when Hyukjae buries his nose into his shoulder, just below his old mating bite. Jongwoon can feel him physically decompressing in his grip, as if his scent is stabilizing him, calming him down.

When they break apart, it’s almost reluctant. Hyukjae’s eyes promise something, and he carefully steps away.

“I’ll go now, Hyung,” he says.

Jongwoon manages a smile, despite the emotions roiling inside him. “Go talk to him.”

The younger Alpha dawdles for a split second before he nods, eyes now resolute. He rushes away, and Jongwoon watches him with a finger thumbing at his bracelet, both fondness and aching in his heart.

The scent of coffee and strawberries is so strong that the others might have to wear masks tomorrow. He touches his warm neck, right where Hyukjae’s nose had been, and the old mating bite pulses desperately, as if it’s becoming weaker and weaker. He savors the feeling, her influence on him fading off of him, little by little with the light of the moon.

He’ll be free soon, he knows. But what might come to replace it almost scares him more.

They’ll need to talk about this soon.

 

 

Donghae grunts, sweat rolling down his temple as he breathes out, successfully raising the weights above his head. His body cries at him, but he ignores it, the frustration and guilt flooding his chest empowering him to keep going. On the table, his phone buzzes, displaying messages from his older brother, but he doesn’t want to check it yet. He can’t.

Then, he hears the door creak open. Turning his head, he’s surprised to see Hyukjae standing at the entrance to his room, the shadows clearly displaying his broad shoulders and toned frame, which he hasn’t lost even despite his current lack of physical activity.

It smells vaguely disgusting, but Donghae has learned to ignore it by now.

“Hey, have you decided to join me?” he calls out, plastering an easygoing grin on his face.

Hyukjae steps in slowly, closing the door behind him. “Are you alright?” he asks, unfooled by Donghae’s attempt to be cheery.

It makes sense. Heechul has always told him that his face was too honest.

“Maybe. What are you doing here?” He changes the topic, lifting his weights again. “You kind of smell like shit, by the way,” he comments offhandedly.

The observation lands. Hyukjae’s face lights up with bright red blush, and he quickly looks away. “You always offered to let me join. I guess I’m taking you up on the offer now.”

“Really?” Donghae’s eyebrows fly up, and for a second, he can’t contain the happiness that rushes through him. Quickly, he sets down his weights and grabs a smaller, lighter set from his rack, setting them next to Hyukjae’s feet. “Stretch first,” he instructs. “Start out with these so you don’t hurt yourself.”

The Alpha nods like he’s heard this all before, already stretching his thin waist into various positions. It strikes Donghae how much they’ve both filed into their adult bodies, even though Hyukjae’s is hidden beneath layers of baggy clothing. Puberty had truly hit the both of them like trucks, and it’s even more apparent given the context that everyone had thought that Donghae would definitely present as an Omega at first.

But Hyukjae’s more delicate than him now. Thin, just like he’s always been, but fragile, almost shatterable. It looks like he's just barely holding on.

The realization startles him and also fills him with a shameful amount of envy. He can’t stop himself from staring, the remnants of past emotions clinging onto him. He lets himself wonder what's been keeping him going this entire time, but it's almost too obvious.

Hyukjae isn’t completely swaddled in another Alpha’s scent for nothing, after all.

The other man notices his gaze and stops. “It was a part of my last job,” he explains, “to stay flexible.”

Donghae stiffens a little at those words, at the mention of that time period between their separation and reunion. “Sounds like it was a tough job,” he manages.

"It was fun though," Hyukjae replies. He finishes his warmups and reaches for the weights on the ground, picking them both up in one hand before he transfers one to the other. The action looks smooth and rehearsed, a sign of his experience.

They go about ten minutes in silence. Donghae loses track of time as he lifts and releases, switching exercises about midway. A pleasant burn has started to spread through his body, and it’s enough to distract him from the other Alpha doing his reps right next to him.

It’s only when Hyukjae touches his shoulder that he snaps out of it.

“Let’s take a break,” he suggests, breathing a little heavily. “It’s been a while since I’ve worked out anyway.”

Donghae doesn’t want him to get hurt. He agrees, placing his dumbbells down on the group and grabbing a bottle of water from the table, gulping it down greedily. He’s about halfway through it when he realizes that the other man is probably thirsty too, and he offers him the cup, albeit a little sheepishly.

“I’ll grab one for you soon,” he promises.

“You might want to get one for yourself too. You drank a lot,” Hyukjae says, waterfalling the liquid into his mouth. Donghae isn’t sure if his voice is playful or scolding, but he doesn’t have the courage to ask. He doesn’t have the courage to do anything right now, not when he’s so emotionally messed up and exhausted.

Hyukjae watches him closely, observing the heavy way Donghae’s shoulders rise and fall with his breaths and the way that his eyes are a little swollen, as if he’s shed some tears while working out.

“Donghae needs you. He’s lonely. For his sake, you should try.”

Those words echo in his head, the soft and raspy spoken voice sending strength through his body. He inhales deeply, and he decides to leap for it.

“How have you been these past few years?”

The question is casual yet loaded. Donghae stares at him with wide eyes, and for a second, Hyukjae feels like he’s done something terribly wrong because maybe the both of them aren’t ready to answer that question yet and maybe he isn’t ready to answer that question yet—

“I guess I’ve been around,” Donghae answers, cutting off his stream of consciousness. “You?”

“Same,” he almost chokes out. “I’ve been around too.”

They both stare at each other awkwardly after that, unsure of what to say or how to move forward. Donghae brings his hand up to the back of his neck first, nervously scratching at the ends of his hair. Hyukjae watches him with bated breath.

“We’ve really changed a lot, haven’t we?” he blurts out. “Since elementary school.”

“I think it would be a bad thing if we haven’t changed since elementary school,” Donghae points out. “People are supposed to grow up.”

“I guess they are. You don’t look the same at all,” Hyukjae manages a smirk, looking directly at the other Alpha’s muscled arms. Donghae blushes but proudly presents them, flexing gratuitously.

“It’s a product of hard work,” he boasts. Hyukjae laughs, leaning forward to pinch his skin between his fingers.

“It’s all empty muscle,” he snickers. “I bet I could beat you in arm wrestling.”

“You couldn’t,” Donghae objects. “It looks like I could break you in half over my knee.”

“Really,” he snorts. His eyes soften, and he touches the other man’s arm again. “You really haven’t changed, huh?”

“What do you mean by that?” Donghae questions. “Of course I’ve changed.”

“No. I mean your character is still the same. You’re still… Donghae,” he says quietly. “The same goodhearted, crybaby, Mokpo kid from back then, just grown up and buff now. Compared to you, I’m practically unrecognizable from back then,” he lets out a self-deprecating laugh, rubbing his arm insecurely. Jongwoon’s warmth lingers on him, and he focuses on it. He doesn’t notice the way the other Alpha falls silent.

There’s a loud sound.

Donghae had grabbed the towel from the side and raked it over his face, allowing the sweat to collect on the dense fabric before he suddenly threw it to the side, hitting the fallen water bottle and startling Hyukjae. His eyes are narrowed now, reflecting the thin sliver of moonlight leaking from the window.

“After my father died, Mokpo was suffocating,” he says, voice hardly audible. “I got stuck with a bunch of kids who I barely remembered from when I was a baby, and it was lonely every day.” He presses his lips together, clenching his fists. “My mother didn’t know how to raise an Alpha son while also dealing with grief. I started acting out soon after.”

“Acting out?” Hyukjae utters. “What do you mean by that?”

“You know. Just acting out.”

Donghae looks at him, and he’s startled at how child-like the other Alpha looks, head tilted and confused. Bitterly, he wonders how Hyukjae could’ve ever thought that Donghae was the one that hadn’t changed when he was still looking at him like that.

“I got into a lot of trouble growing up and not the harmless kind either. I can still remember Mom’s face when I got caught getting into a bad fight once,” he continues, watching Hyukjae’s expression twist from lack of understanding to shock. “Luckily, I pulled myself together soon after that and enlisted.”

Donghae recalls that time. Him, a troubled, lost, and angry twenty year old fresh out of high school with bruises on his face and cuts on his knuckles. His mother had made him seaweed soup right before he left, but she hadn’t met his eyes the entire meal. The only time when he had actually felt like she was watching him was when he had already been shuffled into those large lines of Alphas, demoted to only a faceless recruit in the crowd.

“Which unit were you in?” Hyukjae asks softly.

“Military police,” he answers simply. “You?”

“I was in the band for awhile,” the other Alpha responds. He shifts on his feet uneasily, eyes flirting with the ground. “How… How was it? Military life?”

Donghae doesn’t reply immediately. Hyukjae lifts his head, and they share a moment of eye contact that only other Alphas could understand, grave and solemn and silent.

“It whipped me into shape,” he says, sugarcoating his words because that’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re talking about enlistment. “After the military, I was meek enough to study for a while and make it into university.”

“How did you end up here then? You should’ve had your life set out for you,” Hyukjae questions, now unsure.

Yes, that’s the question, isn’t it? Back when Donghae had first entered university, worn out from mandatory enlistment but overall optimistic that everything would only get better, that’s what he had thought too.

“I relapsed,” he shrugs. “I couldn’t keep it together, and this time when I got caught, I didn’t get let off so easily.”

He gazes towards the other Alpha, and the look in Hyukjae’s eyes is enough to make his chest tighten shamefully. For a moment, he wonders if he should just run away right now and let him figure it out on his own without needing to tear open his own heart like this, spilling everything out.

But he’s never been the one to keep secrets for too long. He’s always been too honest, too open with his emotions, just like everyone had said. At least he knows he won’t cry from this. He only cries when he’s touched, and this is the furthest thing from it. This is a confession.

He inhales.

“I was incarcerated.”