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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 her, 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, she’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 command 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.