Season Two: The Breakup

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This story is part of a series.

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            L spent hours in bed.  Sometimes asleep.  Sometimes staring at the wall, awake, unmoving.  He didn’t get up because there was nothing to get up for.  There was no point.  No point to any of it.

            He crawled into Sungyeol’s bed sometimes, needing comfort, seeking reassurance, wanting to connect.

            He got dressed and went out.  Went for a shopping spree, spent money, let fans gather around him.  He knew he looked good, and he smiled for the paparazzi, let everyone take photos.

            He had sex with Dongwoo, with Woohyun.  Overstimulated his body, overloaded his mind, focused on pleasure.  He just wanted to escape, he just wanted to feel good.

            He did a load of laundry, and when he took everything out of the dryer and went to hang it up, he found a shirt that wasn’t his.  It belonged to someone else.  He stood there, in front of his closet, with the shirt in his hands, frozen.  Just staring at it.  Feeling everything.

            He threw the shirt away, dumped it in the trash.

            He came back later and grabbed it out of the trash can, overcome with guilt, overwhelmed by grief.  He shook it out and brushed it off and crouched down beside the trash can and sobbed.

            He snapped at Sungjong and told Sungyeol off and made a big show of looking for his own place.

            He had a schedule and he didn’t want to go.  He didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything.  There was no point, there was no point to any of this, why did he keep putting his heart and soul into things that were never going to last, that had never really meant anything in the first place?  Why did he keep trying?  When was he going to learn?  Sunggyu came and dragged him out of bed, scolded him, bullied him into the shower and into his clothes, forced him to go and warned him to be professional.  He spent his day smiling and professional on the outside, and a seething cauldron of hatred for Sunggyu inside.

            As soon as his schedule was over, Sunggyu was there to pick him up.  Sunggyu took him out and bought him dinner and teased him until he laughed.  It was the best he’d felt in a while.  Back at the dorm, Sunggyu confessed to him like it was the first time, shy and earnest and full of meaning.  It was such a sincere confession, it meant so much to him, he cried.  And then they made love, and that made him cry, too.

            Everything made him cry.  His grief, his confusion, his regrets.  His anger, his frustration.  Happiness made him cry, even if it was just in relief at being able to feel something positive again.

            Sometimes he felt nothing.  Sometimes he felt everything, all at once.  Sometimes he couldn’t control himself.  Sometimes he felt cool, calculating, in control, and he resolved that nothing would ever hurt him again.  Sometimes the wrong T-shirt in his laundry broke him down.

            He gave the shirt to Dongwoo, because he knew that Dongwoo would do the right thing with it.  When he did that, he knew that parts of him were still the same, that his heart still functioned the way it had before.  He still trusted in Dongwoo.

            When he recognized that, he felt doomed.

            He still trusted people.  He couldn’t break his habit of believing in the people around him.

            God damn it.  Even after this, he was never going to learn.

            He spent the next day in bed again.

            Chen had nowhere to go.

            There was no place that was his, just his.

            The dorm belonged to eight other people.  The practice room belonged to SM.  His other home away from home, his other refuge, Infinite’s practice room…

            He had nowhere to go, but he kept walking.

            There had been one place, one person, who had felt like his.  Someone he’d been able to go to, no matter what.  Even if it wasn’t face-to-face, even if it was just a phone call, just a text, he’d felt known and loved and better, every time, better, for connecting.  But that wasn’t his anymore at all.

            Hearing movement, Niel froze.  Shit!  It was too late, who was up all of a sudden?  He didn’t need somebody catching him awake and complaining at him, and he really didn’t need anybody telling management.  He hurriedly shoved his snacks behind himself on the couch.  Then he wiped at his mouth and stashed his phone under himself.  He left the TV on, because the maknaes had warned him that the hyungs only got more suspicious if they heard the TV go silent suddenly.  Closing his eyes, he pretended to be asleep, just an innocent guy who’d fallen asleep in front of the TV.

            Somebody came into the room.  And went to the front door?  He tried to peek out from under his lashes.  If he caught Changjo sneaking out, how great would that be?

            It was Chunji, putting shoes on.  Chunji was sneaking out?!  Jackpot!  Wait, no, that was no good, he didn’t want Chunji tired and dragging around practice tomorrow.

            A shoe flew out of the darkness and bounced off of his leg.  “I know you’re awake.”

            He opened his eyes, sitting forward.  “Where are you going?  We have practice tomorrow, early, you can’t go out and run around like this.”

            “I’m going to see Dongwoo hyung.”  Finished with his shoes, Chunji straightened, flipping his hood up over his hair.  “Hoya hyung isn’t re-signing, he isn’t - - he’s out, he’s leaving.”

            Whoa.  No, what?  “Hoya hyung?”  Niel got up, on his feet, staring at Chunji, walking closer.  “Why?  Suddenly?”

            Chunji shoved his phone in his pocket.  “It’s done, he’s leaving.  They’ve known for a couple of days, they’ve been, you know, dealing with it, working it out.  Tell the maknae, okay?  I gotta go.”

            “But Hoya hyung?”  Niel ended up asking an empty room; Chunji was already closing the door.

            Slowly, Niel shuffled back to the couch.  He flopped down.  “Well, shit,” he told the room.  He dug his phone out from under his butt, thought about calling Sungyeol, decided to do it later.

            What had Chunji told him to do?  Tell the maknae?  Why should he-

            Oh, right.  That guy Changjo was dating was in Infinite.  Changjo would probably want to know about this.  But why was it suddenly Niel’s responsibility to tell him?  Wouldn’t L tell him?  Changjo always knew everything, anyway; he probably already knew.

            Besides.  Waking up Changjo in the middle of the night to tell him that his boyfriend was upset didn’t sound like a good idea.

            Then again, if Changjo found out that Niel had known and not said anything, that would just mean trouble.  He’d find out that Chunji had known and gone off to see Dongwoo, and he’d start yelling about that, and Chunji was the kind of hyung who’d point at Niel and say, “I told him to tell you,” like it was all Niel’s fault, somehow, like Niel was the villain, here, when Niel had just wanted to enjoy some quiet time relaxing and eating snacks.

            Aw, damn it.

            He checked the time.  Okay.  He’d have five more minutes of peace - - twenty at the most - - and then he’d go tell Changjo.

            “Where’s Chen?”

            Walking across the front room, Sehun yawned, frowning at where Baekhyun was sprawled on the floor, surrounded by soda cans and game controllers.  “Are you still up?”

            “Where’s Chen?” Baekhyun repeated.

            If he wanted to know so badly, couldn’t he just open bedroom doors and look?  “I don’t know, he’s probably sleeping.  Maybe he went back to your room after Suho hyung went to bed.”

            Baekhyun blinked at him, looking surprised.  “Is he here?  He’s home?”

            “Where else would he be?”

            “He’s out!” Baekhyun exclaimed.  “It’s date night!  He went out with Hoya hyung, maknae, god.  He hasn’t come back yet.”

            “So he’s probably sleeping over.”  Sehun held back a laugh.  “Are you waiting up for him?”

            “When he gets back from seeing Hoya hyung, he’s really friendly and he likes to cuddle and - - ya!”  Baekhyun glared, blushing, when Sehun couldn’t hold back the laughter anymore.  “Who do you jump on the second you get back from date night, anyway?”

            Okay, true.  Sehun grinned, ruffling his hair.  “He’s probably still with Hoya hyung.  They probably just fell asleep.  Go to bed, he can cuddle you later.”

            Baekhyun grumbled, but he got up.

            Changjo was up early.  Maybe he’d go over to the company building and work out.  Humming to himself, he shaved and threw on some clothes.  No reply from L about his last text, but it was too early to call.  He texted again, a string of nonsense symbols and emojis.

            Niel was on the couch, passed out with an empty bag of chips.  He stole Niel’s phone and looked through it.  Look at all of this flirting with Xiumin, Suho was going to hate that.

            Changjo hid Niel’s phone in the kitchen and left.

            Suho rolled over and stretched.  He found his phone and relaxed against Chanyeol’s back and checked his messages.  Sasaengs’ messages, deleted.  Journalists’ messages, forwarded to management.  He went quickly through everything else, saving the personal stuff for last.  Lay had texted from China, and Changjo had texted, “Still in bed?  Lazy!”

            He checked Sunggyu’s message last.  Hearing from his favorite hyung was always something he savored, and he felt a little tremor of anticipation as he wondered what Sunggyu might have to say.

            “You’ve heard about it already, but I’m not a coward, so I’ll tell you myself, anyway.”  Halfway through the message, Suho felt sick.  No, no, what was this, was there bad news?  Something had happened.  Sunggyu was breaking up with him.  Sunggyu had cheated on him!  Sitting up, he forced himself to read the rest.  “Our Hoya isn’t re-signing.”

            He read it again, making sure that he had it right.

            He sat there for a moment, staring at the wall.  He was stunned.

            Not Hoya.  Not Infinite.  He felt a stubborn wave of resistance, of denial.  This couldn’t be happening, this wasn’t supposed to happen.

            But he also felt a surge of muted acceptance.  Another one.  It was inevitable.

            He rubbed his face, absorbing the news.  He’d wanted better for Infinite, for Sunggyu, than this.

            Thinking of what to say, knowing that none of it would make a difference, he started to call.

            Then, abruptly, he ended the call.  Chen.  Last night had been date night.

            Suho was three steps to the door before he remembered clothes.  He grabbed underwear from the dresser and shorts from the floor and hustled into the hallway.  Ya,” he said, spotting Kai wandering around.  “Where’s our Chen?”

            “I don’t know,” Kai said, shrugging.  “Around.”

            “Well, find him for me, I want to talk to him,” Suho said impatiently.  Worried, he brushed past Kai and started looking around, sticking his head into bedrooms.  His members were asleep, on the phone, not helpful at all.  Ya, where’s Chen?” he asked, finding Baekhyun on the couch.

            “That’s what I want to know,” Baekhyun said, sitting up.  “Hasn’t he texted you?  If he stayed over with Hoya hyung, he should’ve been back by now.”

            “He’s not here at all?”

            “Why am I the only one who pays attention?” Baekhyun demanded.  “No, he never came back last night!  Aren’t you our leader?  Shouldn’t you know where your own members are?”

            Suho wanted to scold Baekhyun for snapping at him, but he had more important problems.  If Chen was with Hoya, was it okay to interfere?  Shouldn’t he just leave them to it?  He double-checked the time.  He guessed that there was no immediate rush.  There were still a couple of hours until Chen would have to be ready for filming.

            He decided to text, just to get in touch, and see how Chen responded.

            “Chen spent the whole night out without permission, and he’s not in trouble?” Baekhyun asked.

            “He’s an adult, he can use his own judgment,” Suho said, distracted, trying to decide what to text.  What to say to Chen, overall.  What to say to Sunggyu.  What to say to L!  God.  Maybe Chen would be the easiest.  In a way, Chen had been through all of this before.  This was new, for Sunggyu.  He wanted to say that the first was the hardest, but…  He sighed, pouting at his phone, running a hand through his hair.

            “He’s an adult?” Baekhyun repeated.  “I’m five minutes late and it’s a felony, and he spends all night out and it’s okay because he’s an adult?  Do you even know that I’m older than he is?”

            “Baekhyun-ah, hush.”  Suho tapped at his phone, then lowered it without sending anything.  “Hoya’s leaving Infinite.”

            Leav-…”  Baekhyun’s voice trailed off and he stared at Suho.  “Don’t joke about that, that’s not something to joke about, are you trying to be funny?  You’re not funny, hyung, this is why you should just let the rest of us do variety, it-”

            “It isn’t a joke.”  He sat beside Baekhyun, sighing.  “Sunggyu hyung just told me.  That’s why Chen’s still out.  There’s probably a lot for them to talk about.”

            “Hoya hyung.”  Baekhyun shook his head.  “What the hell.”

            “Well, their contracts were up, so-”

            “I know, but-  Baekhyun cut himself off.  “What about everybody else?  Is it just him, or are there going to be more?”

            Suho hesitated.  “Sunggyu hyung didn’t say.  But that must be it, there can’t be any more,” he reasoned.  “They wouldn’t announce anything unless it’s final.  Somebody would’ve said something - - well, nobody said anything about Hoya until now, but…”  Suddenly uncertain, he wondered.

            “If Hoya hyung’s not signing, no way L’s signing,” Baekhyun said.  “And Sunggyu hyung’s definitely going solo, and Woohyun hyung’s probably looking for a solo career, too, and Sungyeol hyung wants to get into acting more, so-”

            “Sungyeol wouldn’t leave while his little brother’s trying to debut,” Suho said.

            “Sure, no one’s ever left a company while her dongsaeng’s still signed,” Baekhyun said.

            Suho sighed.  He really needed to talk to Sunggyu.  He really needed to check in with L.  But he had to text Chen first, and he couldn’t think of what to say while Baekhyun was turning into a bundle of nerves.

            Baekhyun was chewing on his thumbnail.  “If Chen…  They don’t have to break up, do they?”

            They did.  Suho nodded, then looked down, flexing his toes.  He wished that Baekhyun hadn’t started speculating about who else might be on the way out.  This was enough to deal with, without panicking about other things, too.

            “That…”  Baekhyun closed his mouth, looking upset, looking away.

            Suho wasn’t going to get into the industry politics behind it.  It was what it was.

            Baekhyun looked at him again.  “Do you think Hoya hyung knew that?”

            He nodded.


            Suho sighed.  “Baekhyun-ah.  It’s about his career, it’s not about that.  Signing a contract or not, it’s business.  It’s not a personal decision.”

            “Yeah.”  Baekhyun got up.  “The fuck it’s not.”

            Changjo was in the practice room, stretching, when his members came in.  Three of them, anyway.  As they started stretching, he asked, “Where’s Chunji hyung?”

            “He’ll be late,” C.A.P. said.

            “Unprofessional,” Ricky said.  “Unacceptable.  He should be punished.”

            “He’s with Dongwoo hyung,” C.A.P. said.  He gave Changjo a serious look.  “How’s L doing?”

            “Fine.”  He didn’t like how real C.A.P.’s expression was.  “Great.”  He was starting to feel really uneasy about how little L had talked to him, lately.  “Why, what, what’s going on, what happened?  Something happened to Dongwoo hyung?”  Something had happened to L?

            “This is the first I’m hearing of this,” Niel said.

            “What, what?” Ricky asked, looking from one member to another.

            “What?” Changjo demanded, bouncing on his toes, then lunging at C.A.P., impatient.

            “Hoya hyung,” C.A.P. said.  “He’s not signing, he’s out.”

            “What?” Ricky asked.

            “Who, hmm, you said what?” Niel asked.

            “Why are you being weird?” Ricky asked Niel.

            “I have to go,” Changjo said, already heading for the door.

            “Maknae!” C.A.P. yelled after him.  “Get your ass back here.”

            He was already out of the room, down the hallway.  He started jogging, picking up speed.  He was almost at the stairs when someone grabbed him, pulling him back.  Refusing to be slowed down, he tried to keep going, but C.A.P. dragged him away.  “You can talk to him later.”

            “No, I’m going now.”  L needed him.  He had to be there.

            “You can talk to him later,” C.A.P. repeated.  “Practice doesn’t last forever.  It just feels like it.  Come on.”

            C.A.P. pushed him towards the practice room, but as soon as C.A.P. let go, he started for the stairs again.  C.A.P. grabbed him and he resisted and they struggled for a second and then he was pinned, his back to the wall, C.A.P. holding him there.  “We’re not doing this, we’re not making a thing of this,” C.A.P. told him.

            There was a warning in C.A.P.’s eyes.  He didn’t care.  Chunji hyung gets to miss practice, and I can’t?”  Right.  “You never gave a fuck about L hyung, anyway.”

            “He doesn’t get to miss it, he gets to be late.  He’s going to show up.  If you walk out now, you’ll skip the whole thing, and that’s not happening.  Get through this, do the damned choreography, and you can go do whatever the hell you want after.”

            Hoya wasn’t signing.  L hadn’t even told him.  L hadn’t said anything.  His thoughts were racing, going back over the last few days, analyzing, tracking what L had said, how quiet L had been, how often he’d called and not gotten an answer, how often he’d texted and not gotten a response.  And L’s last selca hadn’t been real-time, either, it had been a repost, an old one.  He’d teased L about recycling shots, about how bad L had to look at the moment.  He hadn’t thought - - he hadn’t realized.

            Footsteps clattered up the stairs.  Chunji strolled up.  He’d been crying, but he smiled at C.A.P. like everything was okay.  Then he pushed at Changjo.  “Where were you all morning?  I thought you were going to come to see your precious hyung.  Did you get grounded or something?”

            “The fuck,” Changjo spat.  “When did you find out, why the hell didn’t you tell me?”

            “I told Niel to tell you,” Chunji said.  “This morning, as soon as I talked to Dongwoo hyung, I told him to tell you.”

            “Oh, shit,” C.A.P. said.

            Wrenching himself out of C.A.P.’s hold, Changjo stormed back to the practice room.

            Chen had to be back at the dorm by three.

            He walked in one minute before.  Silently, he took off his shoes and headed to the bathroom.

            “Chen-ah!”  As he passed in the hallway, Xiumin reached for him.  “You - - how are you, are you okay?”

            “Just going to wash up.”  He went into the bathroom and undressed.

            Xiumin was in the doorway.  “I’m sorry about, uh.  We just heard, Suho said…”

            “Yeah.”  He turned on the water.  Stepping under the spray, he tilted his face up, closing his eyes.

            “Oh, you’re back,” Suho’s voice said.  “We’ve been worried about you.  I know it’s difficult.  If you have trouble today, the other members will help you.”

            “Yeah, we’ll cover for you,” Xiumin said.  “We’ll just get Chanyeol to talk a lot.”

            Chen didn’t reply.  None of it seemed to matter.

            “We’ll leave you alone,” Suho said.  “Come on, what are we doing, standing around watching?”

            “What, I watch him in the shower all of the time,” Xiumin said.

            “Yes, I know.  I think that our members are getting a little too creepy, we should have a talk about that,” Suho said.

            As their voices drifted away, Chen looked at the body wash he’d used last night, when he’d been getting ready for his date, when he’d been full of romantic, erotic thoughts, full of anticipation about how good he wanted to smell for Hoya, imagining being skin-to-skin.

            He reached past that, not wanting to use it again.

            The next one on the shelf was Lay’s.  Left behind, waiting for Lay to get back from China.

            He stared at that one for an extra beat, then picked up a different bottle.

            “L-ah,” Sungyeol said.  “That maknae’s here.”

            L rolled over.  He hadn’t been asleep, anyway.  Changjo was here?  He got up, fixing his clothes, feeling his brain start to work again.  He hadn’t felt the urge to see Changjo, but now, all of a sudden, that was exactly what he wanted.

            Changjo walked in too fast, looking at him hard, silent, demanding, attentive.  A wave of emotion washed over him - - he’d lost a lot, but he still had this - - and he pulled Changjo into his arms.  Changjo’s arms wrapped around him tightly, squeezing hard, and they just stood there for a while, holding onto each other.  He felt a little better, he hadn’t thought that anything could help but he felt better, now, and he ran his hand over Changjo’s hair, petting.

            “I didn’t know,” Changjo said.  “I would’ve been here faster.”

            Changjo was hugging him too tightly, but he didn’t mind.  He was used to that, with Changjo; he liked it.  It made sense to him.  Love hurt.  Life hurt.  He felt his face start to crumple, and he tried to stop it, but he was crying.  Old habits kicked in and he pulled away, to hide that he was crying, to cry on his own, but Changjo caught him around the waist and drew him in again.  Not squeezing him this time, just holding him, secure and reassuring, here with him.  Changjo was always here for him, always had his back.

            He still had this.  He cried for that, and he cried even harder for what he didn’t have anymore, for everything he’d lost, for everything that had been taken from him, for everything he’d been so wrong about.

            So.  Chen wasn’t okay.

            Baekhyun tried to perk him up, get him to smile.  Get him to talk, at least.

            It kind of seemed like he wasn’t even in there, like Baekhyun’s best friend had been replaced by a robot who was still working out how to replicate human behavior.

            He also seemed angry.  Like, really angry.  He didn’t say anything angry, but he was really tense.  Baekhyun wasn’t used to seeing him like that, and it was a little scary.  Some of the other members were keeping their distance, but Baekhyun didn’t know how to leave him alone.  He was really upset, something was really wrong, and Baekhyun couldn’t just pretend that wasn’t happening.

            But what Baekhyun wanted didn’t seem to matter.  As soon as their schedules were over, Chen left.  He wouldn’t say where he was going, he wouldn’t let Baekhyun go with him, he just said that he was leaving, and he walked out.

            Baekhyun wandered around by the door for a minute, at a loss.  Then he walked around the dorm, checking on everybody.  Suho was out, and Lay was in China, and Chanyeol was working on music.  Sehun was on the couch, not doing anything, so he climbed on top.  Sehun got annoyed and tried to push him off, and they wrestled, and Sehun started laughing, and that was good, that made him feel better, they were laughing together.  He flirted, just to make Sehun laugh some more, and then they went to the kitchen to complain about the mess and scrounge up something to eat.

            Changjo had expected to find L holed up in his room, in his bed.  Instead, he was in Dongwoo and Woohyun’s room.  It was a little thing, but it seemed like a good sign.  He wasn’t hiding away; the members weren’t pulling away from each other.

            His first priority was L, far above everything else.  But he needed to know that L’s members were going to take care of L; if somebody wasn’t helping L through this, if somebody was making it harder, he needed to know about it.  Seated on Dongwoo’s bed, with L slumped against him, he asked how the other members were taking it.

            “I don’t know.”  L stared at nothing for a while.  “Sungyeol hyung’s really upset.  Sungjong was crying a lot, Sunggyu hyung’s been babying him.  Dongwoo hyung keeps acting normal, like he’s over it, like - - I don’t think that he forgets, I think that he just gets caught up in whatever he’s doing.  But it’s kind of like he forgets.  And then he remembers, or it hits him again, and he starts crying.  There’s been so much crying, are we all a bunch of babies?  I didn’t know we had so many tears in us.”  He exhaled, shifting, stretching across Changjo’s lap.  “What am I supposed to do when my hyungs are upset?  How am I supposed to feel when they’re crying?  I hate it.  But at least I’m not the only one.  If they didn’t care, if I were the only one upset about it, that would be worse.”

            Changjo got that.  He rubbed L’s chest.  “Is Sunggyu hyung babying you, too?”

            “Yeah.  I guess, some.  He keeps trying to be tough and act like it’s time to get over it, but he checks on us over and over and asks us how we’re doing and worries about us.  Dongwoo hyung said that leader Gyu wants to lead us right past it and move into the future, but Sunggyu hyung wants to shield the kids and make it all better.”

            There was a name Changjo wasn’t hearing.  An important one.  “What about Woohyun hyung?”

            L twitched, slowly sitting up.  “Let’s go to my room.”

            “Why?”  Why suddenly?  Because they were in Woohyun’s room?  Would something bad happen if Woohyun caught them in here?  Was L trying to avoid him?

            “Come on,” L said without answering.  He got up and pulled Changjo along.  Changjo wanted to resist, to push L into explaining, but this wasn’t the right time to be hard on L.

            As they passed Sungjong’s room, Changjo snuck a quick look inside.  One set of furniture was completely gone, already.  He wondered whose idea that had been.  Management, cleaning up?  Sungjong, not wanting the constant reminder?  Sunggyu, forcing everyone to get over it?  Dongwoo, just taking the next natural step?

            L noticed him peeking in.  “Dongwoo hyung wants to redecorate.”  Like he had for Chunji.  Changjo didn’t feel like bringing that up, and L didn’t mention it specifically, either.  “Sungjong wants to, too, he thinks it’s a good idea, but I don’t know if that’s going to be his room, from now on.  Not just his room.”

            “The maknae’s going to be the last member to get his own room,” Changjo said.  They went into L’s room, and L pushed him down on the bed and wrapped all around him.  This was an interesting point, a logistical question, a relief for his brain to think about, a break from heavy emotional crap he couldn’t do anything to fix.  Would Woohyun move into Sungjong’s room, and leave Dongwoo alone?  Would Dongwoo move, and leave Woohyun alone?  Dongwoo was the hyung and first in line for a single room, but Woohyun probably wanted the privacy, especially for sex.  Getting a new roommate, though, Sungjong would probably rather room with L, so maybe everybody would shuffle around.  Would that make the change easier?  Losing Hoya would be harder if everything else stayed exactly the same.  Or maybe too much change would be worse, would be too disruptive or something.

            He wrapped his arms and legs around L as completely as he could, trying to match L’s skinship challenge.

            L huffed and buried his face against Changjo’s neck.  His cheek was damp and hot.

            Changjo deliberately relaxed himself.  He was still and quiet, and L was still and quiet.  He caught himself drumming his fingers against L’s back, and he stopped, and then he did it anyway, because he knew that L didn’t mind.

            The quiet was okay, he didn’t need L to talk, but his brain was busy.  Full of all kinds of thoughts.  About L and about Infinite and about other things.  Thoughts that hurt and thoughts that didn’t hurt as much and thoughts that distracted him from the thoughts that really hurt.

            One thought kept popping back up.  Eventually it got so busy in his brain that he had to bring it up, out loud, just to get it out.  “Do you want me to get revenge?”

            “No.”  L didn’t sound surprised that Changjo would ask, and he didn’t bother to think it over, either.

            He shut his mouth to keep from offering again.  Getting revenge was something that he could do.  A way to help.  He hated not being able to do anything.  He couldn’t just let L go through this and not do anything about it.

            “It’s okay,” L said.

            It wasn’t okay, but he didn’t say that, because L knew it already.

            L lifted his head.  He looked tired and sad, and when he smiled, it broke Changjo’s whole heart.  “He put himself first.  People do that.  It’s not the first time.”

            Changjo didn’t know what to do with the outrage burning in his chest.  He didn’t know what to do with the grief in L’s eyes.  “You deserve better than this.  You deserve better than all of this.”

            L’s smile was pained.  When he laughed, the sound of it made Changjo want to scream.  “No one gets what they deserve.”

            As soon as Suho’s schedule ended, he called Chen.  He was still walking to the van when he started dialing.

            It went to voicemail.  He called again; voicemail again.  Getting in the van, he called Baekhyun.


            “Where’s our Chen?”

            “I don’t know.  Out, he went out, he didn’t say where he was going.”

            That was no good, but what could Suho do about it?  Chen was an adult, and going through something difficult.  He could spend time on his own if he wanted to.  “Tell him to text me when he gets back.”

            “Aren’t you coming back?”

            “I wanted to talk to him, but if he’s out, then I’ll see if I can stop by Infinite’s dorm.”

            “Okay.  Yeah.  Okay.”

            “Don’t just sit around,” Suho instructed.  “Find something to do with your time, Baekhyun-ah, be productive.  Go and practice, or look up new places to volunteer, or you can clean up our room so that Chen doesn’t come home to a mess.”

            “It’s your mess!”

            “I don’t think that’s what’s important right now.  I’ll hang up first.”  He hung up and called Sunggyu.  No answer.  He called L.  No answer.  He called Woohyun.


            “Ah, it’s Suho.”

            “I know that, caller ID exists.  He has you saved under ‘Joonmyeon’ with dollar signs around it.  I figured it was you.”

            Suho frowned.  Who was he talking to?  “Key?”

            “Who else do you think it is?”

            He shook his head.  “Is Woohyun there?”

            “No.  He’s in the other room.  You think he’d let me answer his phone?  Hurry up, what do you want?”

            Key couldn’t answer Woohyun’s phone?  Was that just something Woohyun didn’t like in general, or did that have to do with the, uh, nature of their relationship, the power imbalance in the private, um - - Suho quickly stopped speculating about that.  He just wasn’t going to spend any more time thinking about that.  It wasn’t any of his business, anyway, it had nothing to do with him.  “I just wanted to check in and see how he’s doing.  I wanted to go over to Infinite’s dorm, to see everyone, but no one’s answering.”

            “Yeah, go over,” Key said.

            “I can’t just stop by, it’s rude, I don’t want to intrude.”  They might not want visitors right now, it might be awkward.  He felt like he had every right to burst in on L unexpectedly, but he wasn’t as close with, say, Sungjong.  They were sunbaes, they were going through a difficult time, he had to respect that.

            “Just go,” Key said.  Abruptly, the call disconnected.

            Suho pouted at his phone, offended.  Now what?  Should he take Key’s advice, or not?

            He’d go, but he wouldn’t intrude too much.  He’d just stop by for a second, and then he’d leave again.  He wouldn’t overstay his welcome.

            Maybe they were all fine, maybe it would be okay to visit.  Every group was different, and every person was different, and he couldn’t assume how hard anyone was - - or wasn’t - - taking it.

            Determined to be considerate and polite, he went to Infinite’s dorm and rang the bell.  He felt like he should have brought something.  He should’ve picked up dinner first.  It was too late to be stopping by unannounced, he was being rude.

            Sungjong opened the door.  “Hey.”  He didn’t seem happy to see Suho, but he didn’t seem especially unhappy about it, either.  “Come on in.”  He stepped back, gesturing Suho onward.

            Carefully, Suho stepped inside.  “I don’t want to bother anybody.”

            “Young Money’s here!” Sungjong called to the rest of the dorm.  He crossed his arms over his chest and watched Suho take his shoes off.  “How’s Chen hyung?”

            “He’ll be all right.”  Suho didn’t want to minimize what Chen was going through, but he didn’t want to turn it into Infinite’s problem, either.  “Have you eaten?  I can get you something.”

            “Yeah, I ate.”  He glanced over his shoulder and edged closer.  He looked like he wanted to say something.  Then he didn’t say anything at all.

            Suho wondered what he wanted.  “Have you been working?  Going to schedules?  Seeing friends?”

            “Yeah, I’ve had some stuff.”  He glanced over his shoulder; Changjo was coming over.  He smiled prettily, meaninglessly, at Suho and said, “I’ll go so you can talk.”

            Suho felt like this was a missed opportunity, somehow.  “You don’t have to go.”  But Sungjong was already slipping away.

            “Hey,” Changjo said.

            “You’re here.”  Suho hugged him.  “How’s L, I’m worried.”

            “He’s in his room.  Go and talk to him for a minute, I have to take a leak.”

            “Are you okay?”  Suho knew this had to dredge up memories, and Changjo’s memories were a lot fresher than his were.

            “Yeah, I’m cool.”  Changjo gave him a reassuring, totally fake smile and shooed him away.

            He paused for half a second at the threshold, steeling himself, then went into L’s room.  The lights were out and L was sprawled across the bed.  “Why is it so dark in here?”  He shouldn’t start out by complaining, but he couldn’t help himself.  Staying in the dark wasn’t going to do L any good.  He flipped the lights on.

            L grimaced.

            Suho sat on the edge of the bed, patting L’s back.  “I just heard this morning.  You should have told me, this isn’t something to endure all on your own.”

            L gave him a slow, assessing, disbelieving look.

            “I’m glad that Changjo’s here, it’s good to keep people around you, stay busy.  You haven’t been spending too much time in bed, have you?  I think that you should get up.”  Suho patted his back again and stood up.  “Come on, we’ll sit out in the other room.”

            “I don’t want to be in the other room,” L said.  “If I wanted to be there, I’d be there.”

            “Have you been in here a lot?” Suho asked.  He was sure that L had.  “It’s too much time with these four walls.  We should go out, you should leave the dorm, but it’s late, now.  We’ll go out tomorrow.  Do you have any schedules?  Maybe we can meet.”

            L tilted his head to one side, studying Suho with a bored, speculative look.  “I don’t know why we’re close.”

            “Of course we’re close.  Come on.”  He tried to pull L up, out of bed.

            Resisting, L refused to budge.  “Why are we close?  Why the hell do I ever spend time with you?”

            Suho sat beside him.  “Do you think that taking things out on me is going to make you feel better?  You can try it, but it’s not going to help.”

            L gave him a baffled, annoyed look and turned away.  “Changjo.  Changjo!”

            “He’s peeing,” Suho said.  “Or he might be snooping around.  He probably likes snooping here more than he does at my dorm.  Sunggyu hyung lets you all get away with owning things you really shouldn’t keep around.”

            L glanced at him.  “Does Sunggyu hyung know that you think you’re a better leader than he is?”

            “I’m not a better leader,” Suho said.  “I’m a different kind of leader.  But that makes sense.  We have different teams with different members.”

            “How long do you think you’re going to keep him around?” L asked.  “Is it just a sense of obligation that makes you stay in touch with him, or do you just like the sex?  When are you going to tell him about that hoobae who’s been sniffing around you, does he know about that yet?”

            “No,” Suho said firmly.  “That’s enough of that.  You can be rude to me, I’ll put up with it while you’re upset, but you aren’t going to talk about Sunggyu hyung like that.”

            L smirked at him.  “Sensitive?”

            “I hope that you aren’t treating everyone this way.  Not while your members are going through a hard time already.”

            “God, just go home.”  L got up and walked out.

            He was out of his room.  Good.  Suho followed.  He went to the doorway of Dongwoo’s room and posed there, one arm against the doorframe.  Dongwoo was in bed, fast asleep.  Changjo was crawling around on the floor in the dark, peering under Woohyun’s empty bed.  “What are you doing?” L asked.

            “I lost a contact lens,” Changjo whispered.

            “Maknae, get out of there,” Suho whispered.

            “I lost an earring,” he tried.

            “Now,” Suho whispered, exasperated.

            He got up and came out of the room, pulling the door shut.  “When did-  He cut himself off, looking down as L patted his pockets.  “Right in front of Suho hyung?  You know he doesn’t like this kind of thing.”

            L pulled a strip of red cloth out of Changjo’s pocket.

            “I thought that I might need to blow my nose, later,” Changjo said.  “It’s a handkerchief, right?”

            It wasn’t a handkerchief at all.  Suho knew Sehun too well, and knew too much about Woohyun, to pretend that.  “Leave other people’s things alone,” he scolded.  “What’s private is private.”

            L opened the door, dropped the fabric inside, and closed the door again.  “Let’s go to your dorm,” he told Changjo.

            “You hate my dorm.”

            “What are you doing tomorrow?” Suho asked.

            L rounded on him.  “What are you doing here?”


            “No, seriously, what the fuck are you doing here?” L demanded.  “Did you even come to see me?  Did you come to see Sunggyu hyung, and you thought that you’d kill some time lecturing me and acting like a hyung while you wait for him?”

            “Don’t take shit out on Suho hyung,” Changjo said.  “Pick fights with me instead, come on, let’s argue.”

            “He doesn’t want to argue with you, that’s terrible,” Suho said.  “Where do you get these ideas?”

            “I can take it, I don’t care,” Changjo said.

            “You’re only wasting time, coming here.  Do you think we’re fooled?” L asked.  “There’s nothing here for you.  There’s no future for you with Sunggyu hyung, do you think he thinks that’s going to last?  You’re getting what you can while it’s convenient, and everybody sees it.  You’re fucking using him while it’s fun.  As soon as it’s not so easy anymore, you’ll be gone.  You know that, you fucking know it, and you tell him that you love him, anyway.  You know you’re going to ditch him, you’re halfway out the door, and you’re still making promises, you’re still telling him that you love him?!”

            This was bad.  This was really bad.  He’d been afraid of this.  “You’re twisting everything together,” Suho said.  “I don’t want to hear you talking like this.  You’re not this cynical, I know you.”

            “Yeah,” L said, breathing hard, glaring at him hatefully.  “Yeah, and I know you.  I know what a fucking coward you are.  I know what a scared, selfish, self-righteous piece of shit you are.”

            Suho pressed his lips together, trying to be big about this.  L wasn’t upset with him, L was just taking things out on him, and he didn’t want to get dragged into a fight that wasn’t really about anything.  “I don’t know why you think that acting out like this is going to impress me.  There’s nothing here that I haven’t seen before.  It isn’t even interesting, I know you don’t mean any of it.”

            L smirked at him, wicked and edged with anticipation.  “Interesting?  Oh, you want to make things interesting?  Yeah, all right.”  He pushed his sleeves up, nodding.  “Let’s make things interesting.”

            Now he was just talking nonsense.  Suho wasn’t going to reply to that.  “Are you all right?” he asked Changjo.  “Something like this can dredge up memories.”

            “Yeah, I’m okay,” Changjo said.  “How did you find out, why didn’t you tell me?”

            “Sunggyu hyung texted me this morning.  I thought you already knew, you always know everything.”

            “Nobody told me, I had to find out from C.A.P. hyung in the middle of practice.”

            “L-ah,” Suho said, disappointed.  “You should’ve told Changjo.  You keep things to yourself too much.  It’s easier to get through something like this if you stay close to the other people around you.”

            “Yeah?” L asked.  “Is that what you did the last three times this happened to you?”

            Suho gave L a grim look.  “Weren’t you going to make things interesting?  That’s not an interesting thing to say.  Do you think that no one’s ever thrown that in my face before?  Do you think that no one’s ever thought to blame me for that?  You’re bringing up old anti comments, try being more creative.”  He turned back to Changjo.  “How did C.A.P. know?”

            Chunji hyung told him.  Chunji hyung’s been over here, talking to Dongwoo hyung about it.”

            “That’s good,” Suho said sincerely.  “I’m glad to hear that.  Where’s Sungyeol, is he all right?”

            “I don’t know,” Changjo said.  “He’s not here, where he should be, taking care of L hyung.”

            “He’s out with Chanyeol hyung,” Sungjong said from the next room.

            “My Chanyeol?” Suho asked.

            L laughed, shaking his head.  “Don’t even know where your own goddamned members are.”

            “He’s an adult, he’s allowed to have a private life,” Suho said.

            L eyed him, then smirked again, dangerously.  “How much do you know about Sehun’s private life?”

            Suho glared at him.  “That’s not something for you to throw in my face, either.  You’re not upset about Sehun, or me, or what kind of future I have with Sunggyu hyung.  You’re upset because you feel hurt and abandoned and betrayed and confused.  You and your members have all been a part of something together, and you were all working as one, moving in the same direction, and now someone’s left to go off on his own.”

            “He has the right to do it,” L said.  “I’m not confused, shit, it’s not confusing unless you’re stupid.  It’s business, it’s a contract, the contract’s up, he didn’t want to sign again.  Nobody’s betrayed, he didn’t owe us anything.”

            “It can still hurt,” Suho said.

            “He finished the contract,” L snapped.  “He did what he’d agreed to do, he completed the terms.  This isn’t hard.”

            “I don’t know, I think that I’d at least feel a little regretful about it,” Suho said frankly.  “You’ve all been together for years, you’ve worked hard, you’ve been through a lot.  You’ve had to take care of each other, you’ve fought, you’ve endured, you’ve accomplished a lot.  You all want to keep going, but one member doesn’t, at least not together, not anymore.  I think that I’d be sad, I’d do a lot of reflecting.  But, well, maybe you’re right.”  He inhaled, nodding.  “Maybe this isn’t a time to think of losses.  Maybe this is a time to celebrate what you have.  Six of you have gone through all of that, and you’re signing up to do it all over again.  It’s been hard, there were a lot of times you suffered, but it’s still something you want to stick with.  That’s really special.  Really, a lot of groups never get to this point.  They don’t make it this far, and once the first contract terms are up, they just can’t agree to do it again.  But the six of you have something unique, something the rest of us all wish for.  I envy you, I really do.  I hope that my members and I can follow our sunbaes’ example.  I hope that I can lead as well as Sunggyu hyung has, and I hope that my members are as dedicated and close as you and your members, that we can believe in each other this much, when our turn comes.”

            L stared at him.

            “Have you prepared a celebration?” Suho asked.  “Or did you already have a party when you signed?  I didn’t hear about it, but maybe that’s something you wanted to keep private.  It’s like a recommitment ceremony, isn’t it?  Like redoing your wedding vows.”  He smiled, chuckling at himself.  “Is that too romantic?  But Infinite’s always been romantic, anyway.”

            Tears filled L’s eyes, and his shoulders heaved with a sudden sob.  He looked helpless for an instant, and Suho’s heart went out to him.  Moving in, gathering him up, Suho hugged him.  He clutched at Suho, shuddering, weeping on Suho’s shoulder.  “Ah, our L-ah,” Suho sighed, rubbing his back.  It hurt to see L cry, but this was better than before, better than all of that tense bile.

            Suho held him while he cried, and Changjo slowly circled them.  When he was finished, they went to sit on the couch together.  L was vulnerable, red-eyed, but he wasn’t so defensive or angry anymore; he was more relaxed, more affectionate, more himself.  They talked a little about the contracts, and signing, and what Infinite’s plan forward was.  Blushing, embarrassed, L apologized for being so rude, and Suho accepted the apology.  He wasn’t thrilled about being talked to like that, but he didn’t want to take it personally.

            Sungyeol and Chanyeol came in.  Sungyeol was drunk, and Chanyeol’s ears were red, and they only said hello for a minute before they disappeared into Sungyeol’s room, tugging each other through the doorway and laughing.

            When the door closed, L rolled his eyes.  “Where am I supposed to sleep?”

            “You can come to my dorm,” Changjo suggested.

            He snorted.  “God, no, I hate your dorm.”  He slumped comfortably against Suho’s shoulder.  Smiling, Suho stroked his hair.

            They were still on the couch, talking, when Sunggyu came back.  One hand cupped over the back of L’s head, heart leaping, Suho searched Sunggyu’s face anxiously, needing to see that he was okay.

            Sunggyu’s expression gave away nothing.  He glanced over the three of them, scratched his elbow, nodded briefly.

            L stirred sleepily against Suho, then got up.

            Sunggyu gave him a patient one-armed hug, then kissed his cheek.  “Go to bed, you have to look good tomorrow.  Is that maknae staying?”

            “Yeah, can we have your bed?”

            “What?  No, you can’t have my bed, where do you think I’m going to sleep, the floor?  You have your own bed.”

            “Sungyeol hyung closed the door, he’s in there with Chanyeol.”

            “Sleep in Woohyun’s bed, he’s not coming back tonight.”

            L laughed.  “I can’t screw Changjo in Woohyun hyung’s bed, not now.”

            “Why is this complicated?” Sunggyu demanded.  “Why are you bothering me with this?  Sungyeol closed the door, does that mean that you can’t open it again?”  He marched over and shoved the door open.  Chanyeol yelped and Sungyeol shouted, sounding flustered.  “There, it’s open, go in, get in bed.”

            “Shit, hyung!” Sungyeol exclaimed.

            Suho smiled.  Some things about Infinite might change, but Sunggyu was still Sunggyu.

            L gave Suho a self-conscious smile.  “Thanks for, ah.  Sorry about.”  His embarrassed laughter was charming.  He finally just ended on, “Good night?”

            “Good night.”  Getting up, Suho hugged him.  He was so emotional, this dongsaeng.  But he’d be all right.

            L took Changjo’s hand, then gave his room a disgruntled look.  “I can’t screw in front of Park Chanyeol.”

            “God, just take my bed, shit,” Sungjong said, storming out of his bedroom in adorable pink-and-yellow pajamas.  “God, can I just get some goddamned sleep?”  He stalked into L’s room and slammed the door.

            “Oh, our own room,” Changjo said gleefully, and danced in.

            L looked after Changjo, looked at his closed door, scratched his head, and then followed Changjo.

            Suho wondered where Sungjong had gotten those pajamas.  They were really cute.

            Sunggyu looked at Suho, then sighed.  He tugged the edge of his knit cap over his ear, nudged it up again, looked monumentally unsure, then headed for the kitchen.

            Suho followed.

            “Have you eaten?” Sunggyu asked, opening the fridge.


            Sunggyu closed the fridge again.  The room was dark without that source of light.

            “I’ve missed you,” Suho said.  “I wondered why you were being so quiet.  It must’ve been a lot to deal with.”

            “You don’t have to talk around it,” Sunggyu said.  “Hoya, his name is Hoya.”  He took his hat off, ruffled his hair.  “For now, anyway.  I don’t know if he’ll keep it.  Maybe.”

            Suho nodded.

            “Are you spending the night or going back?”

            “I want to stay, if it’s okay.”

            Sunggyu nodded.

            “If you don’t want to talk about it, we don’t have to.”  He felt like it was his responsibility to get L to open up, but it was different with a hyung.  He wasn’t going to push as hard.

            “What is there to say?”

            “Well, a lot of things, maybe.  You might have a lot of ideas and feelings about it.”

            “I have to pee.”  Sunggyu walked away.

            Suho waited a moment, then wandered over to Sunggyu’s room.  He picked up socks from the floor and put them in the hamper, then put a couple of empty hangers back in the closet.

            Sunggyu walked in.  Closed the door and sat on the edge of his bed.

            Suho sat beside him.

            “You think I’m a failure,” Sunggyu said.

            Suho was shocked.  “I think you’re an example for the rest of us to follow.  You got Infinite through seven years.  It’s intense, what we do.  Do you know how many groups start out, and how few make it?”

            “You’ve looked up to me because I was a leader, because I was a sunbae who knew what he was talking about.  You won’t see me the same way, anymore.”

            Suho didn’t understand this.  “You’re worried about me?  This doesn’t have anything to do with us.  I see you how I see you, that doesn’t change.  You’re still Kim Sunggyu.”

            “I was the Kim Sunggyu who was Infinite’s leader.  You thought that I had good advice, you thought that I knew what I was talking about.  I must’ve been full of shit all of this time, I was the only one who didn’t notice.”

            “You’re still Infinite’s leader,” Suho said.  “You and L, you’re both too focused on one thing, when there’s so much else that you’re missing.  You only see the one thing that hasn’t gone the way you wanted, and you won’t notice anything else.  You’ve been Infinite for seven years, and look at everything you’ve accomplished.  Look at your fans, and your tours, and your awards.  Look at all of your memories.  You made a commitment, you looked at each other and you said, ‘Let’s do this for seven years, let’s start this and give it everything that we have,’ and you did.  You gave it everything, I’ve seen you.  You committed to it and you made it work, you did something incredible that’s reached people all over the world.  All over the world!  You, little Kim Sunggyu from the middle of Jeonju, you took those six nobodies that nobody had ever heard of, and you created something that everybody in Korea knows about.  You created something that moved Hallyu.”

            Sunggyu was looking at him with a slight frown, listening to him, concentrating.

            “You think that people care about these little hoobae groups coming up now?  Fans all over the world were cheering for Infinite before anybody had ever heard of those nugus.  And you’re not even finished!  Infinite’s still here, and we’re all still counting on you.”

            Sunggyu hesitated, then shook his head, looking stressed out, conflicted.  “I’m supposed to be Infinite’s leader, that’s who I’ve been all of this time.  If I can’t keep my members together, I - - what kind of leader am I?  Counting on me, who can count on me?  My members, Inspirit, everybody counted on me until now, they all trusted me, and what did they get?”

            “They got everything,” Suho said, gazing at him with frank adoration.  “You’ve given them everything you had to give.  You’ve worked hard for them, you’ve worked hard for Infinite, you’ve worked hard on yourself.”  When he shook his head again, Suho slid closer, putting a hand on his arm.  “We’ve asked for a lot.  Most of the time, we expect too much.  You only ever promised us seven years.  And you gave us seven years.  You gave us that,” Suho insisted, when he looked troubled.  “You got us all through it.”

            “Us, who’s us?” Sunggyu asked, looking distracted.

            “What, I can’t be an Inspirit, too?” Suho asked.  “I’m a very loyal Inspirit.  I know that you think I’m an akgae fan who only cares about L, but I’m here for all of the members.  And I don’t know why you’re thinking backwards about all of this.  You finished your seven years, you made it.  That’s something to celebrate.  That’s a great thing to achieve.”

            Sunggyu scowled at him.  “You’re only trying to make me feel better.”

            “You’re too hard on yourself, and I don’t like seeing this side of you,” Suho said.

            Sunggyu’s jaw dropped.  “You can’t talk to me that way!”

            “It looks like I’m going to have to pull rank,” Suho decided.  “Between us, I’m the sunbae here.  When it comes to this, I have more experience than you.  Except I don’t, because it’s not the same.  That’s what we all keep getting wrong,” he reasoned.  “It’s not the same.  L.Joe, that was the same, but this is contract time.  This is about completing one term, finishing it out, setting that aside, and starting out fresh.  This is a new beginning for Infinite.  I think it’s exciting.”

            “Exciting,” Sunggyu repeated.

            He nodded.  He almost said what he’d told L, about renewing wedding vows, but it seemed too embarrassing to bring up.  Sunggyu would tease him for it.  Turning to face Sunggyu, he pulled his legs in.  “Do you know what my sunbaes told me, when my members left and I doubted myself?”

            “Yes,” Sunggyu said.  “Yes, you’ve already told me everything.”

            Yeah, he had.  He smiled, remembering.  He was glad that he had such a close hyung, someone he could confide in.  “Okay, then you know all about it.  Tell me, then, what did our sunbaes have to say?”

            Sunggyu crossed his legs.  “EXO is bigger than its members.”

            “Right, but Infinite, this time, not EXO.”

            “Infinite is bigger than its members.”  Sunggyu broke off and scowled at him.  “Why am I repeating to you what you’ve already told me?  If we both know it already, why-”

            “Are you this kind of hoobae?” Suho asked.  “I didn’t expect such a bad attitude from you.”

            Sunggyu made a disgusted face.

            Suho waited expectantly.

            “Infinite is bigger than its members,” Sunggyu finally said.  “There are the members, but there’s the music, and the performances, and there’s all of the staff and everything they put into it, and there are all of the fans.  Infinite is its own creature, and it’s bigger than any one member is.  We’re all just our own individual part of it, like all of the cells of one animal.  All of the rooms of one house.  Members can come and go, and Infinite is still Infinite, and it still has meaning.”

            “That’s right,” Suho said.  “That’s what my sunbaes told me, and they were right.  Infinite isn’t Hoya.  Infinite is Infinite.”

            Nodding to himself, looking down, Sunggyu rubbed his hand over his thigh.

            “You aren’t Infinite all by yourself,” Suho said.  “The leader’s a big part of it, you’re important to us, but you aren’t everything there is.  You aren’t responsible for every individual cell.”

            “When it comes to Infinite, the members aren’t little cells,” Sunggyu said.  “They’re whole body parts.  You want us to keep going without whole organs?  How do we dance without our feet?  We’re not nothing, but we have to figure out how to still be Infinite, and I don’t know if the fans are going to see that in us anymore.”

            “Maybe you feel like you’re missing a leg,” Suho said.  “But Inspirit doesn’t love you for your legs.  They love you for your heart.  And the heart of Infinite is still here.”

            Sunggyu gazed at nothing for a moment, looking lost in thought.

            Suho hated to see him doubt himself.  Being Infinite’s leader was a lot of pressure, but it was a source of his strength, too.  It was a fundamental part of his identity, now, and he was still committed to it.  Suho loved him for that.  “Not a lot of leaders get their teams to this point.  You should be proud of yourself.  You honored your commitment, you led your team the whole way through to the end.  This isn’t a loss, it isn’t an emergency or a failure.  It’s a new start, it’s another adventure.  You finished part one, and now you’re just starting part two.”

            “New start,” Sunggyu mumbled.  He rubbed his jaw and eyed Suho with suspicion.  “You weren’t this smart, before.”

            “I’ve always been very smart.”


            Suho laughed.  “Is this more proof that you’ve only ever liked me for my looks, and you never even noticed my personality?”

            Ya, who says that your looks are so special?”

            Well, that wasn’t even up for debate, really.  Suho patted Sunggyu’s leg.  “I don’t want to see you being hard on yourself.  You got to the end, it’s a success.  And you’re starting on round two!  That’s a big challenge.”

            “It hasn’t felt like a success.”  Sunggyu covered Suho’s hand with his own.  “My members are taking it hard.  Everyone’s upset, they’re all crying.  Sungjong’s a mess, Sungyeol thinks that everything that’s ever gone wrong is all my fault, all L ever wants to do is hide under the covers.”

            “I talked to L, and he has Changjo with him now,” Suho said.  “He’ll start feeling better, he just needs time.  You know how emotional he is.”

            “They’re too old to act like this!  We’ve been in this industry for too long, we know how the world works by now.  You can say what’s private is private, well, what’s business is business, isn’t it?  This is work, it’s not a big, happy party.  There’s no cake and balloons here, we’re business partners.”

            Suho wasn’t buying it.  “The same Kim Sunggyu who makes love to his members and thinks he’s married to his lead vocal can’t talk about ‘just business.’  Of course they’re taking it hard, this is a break-up.”

            Sunggyu stared at him.  “You just said this was a success, not a loss!  And now it’s a break-up?”

            “There are a lot of different things going on,” Suho objected.  “There’s the professional side and the personal side.  It’s complicated, things get tangled together.  That’s why it feels so confusing, that’s why it’s so hard to get through.  On one hand, a guy’s contract was up and he decided not to sign a second one, okay, that’s normal, that’s life, that’s not even anything worth talking about.  On the other hand, someone you loved and counted on and went through the hardest parts of your life with just walked out and decided he’d rather be on his own than stay with you.  It hurts like hell, I can’t pretend you aren’t going through anything.”

            “You’re terrible at this.”

            “Well, what do you expect, that’s what you get when you choose your dongsaengs based on their looks.”

            Sunggyu sighed and put an arm around him.

            He relaxed against Sunggyu’s shoulder.  He loved this hyung.  He was glad just to be there, just to be able to show Sunggyu some support.

            “You’ve gone through this three times?” Sunggyu asked in a tone of wonder.

            “No, EXO hasn’t even gotten to our contract renewal yet.”  He grimaced.  “Maybe then it’ll be your turn to give me the talk.”

            “How’s Chen?”

            “He’s unhappy about it.  He got a lot from Hoya, he saw a lot in their relationship.  I want to give him a little time before I talk to him about it.  He’ll have a lot to get through.”

            “If he needs anything, he can come to me.  If he wants to see me.”

            “Why wouldn’t he want to see you?”

            “He thinks of me as Hoya’s hyung, and Hoya just dumped him.  Nobody wants to see their ex’s hyung after that.”

            “You and Chen have always been close.  He’ll want to see you, he’ll want to know that you’re okay.”  Suho had to ask.  “Sex or conversation?”  He shouldn’t have asked.

            “What?”  Sunggyu sounded startled.

            “Sex or conversation,” he repeated, embarrassed but refusing to be shy about it.  “You said, if Chen needs anything, he should go to you for it.  What were you talking about, are you offering to talk things over or to offer him, you know, healing?”  He shook his head, immediately wanting to take it back.  “I won’t ask that, never mind.  It’s none of my business.”

            “He’s your dongsaeng and I’m your boyfriend, why isn’t it your business?”

            “That’s private, it’s between the two of you.”

            “I don’t think that he needs healing sex from me, I think he needs it from you.”

            “There’s nothing wrong between me and Chen.”

            “His boyfriend just ditched him like this, in these circumstances, and you think that EXO-M’s main vocal doesn’t think anything about that?”

            “Well, of course, I…”  Letting his voice trail off, Suho sighed.  “I know.  I know, that has to be making it harder for him.  It’s a different situation, but it’s hard for those thoughts not to come up.”

            Sunggyu kissed the side of his head.  “You’re a good leader.”

            “You and I, the two of us, we’re perfect leaders,” Suho said.  “We just don’t live in a perfect world.”

            Sungyeol was awake for a few minutes before he remembered.

            His thoughts were still sort of hazy.  He was trying to think of what he’d planned to do today, and he was trying to decide whether to get up or just stay where he was and enjoy having Chanyeol’s hard-on prodding his stomach, when he looked over Chanyeol’s shoulder and saw Sungjong in the next bed.

            For a second, that wasn’t really significant.  It just told him that L and Sungjong had gone to bed together last night, and that L had gotten up and Sungjong was sleeping in.  But that didn’t seem quite right, and a moment later, he remembered seeing Changjo in the dorm last night, remembered Sungjong storming into the room, remembered Sunggyu shoving the door open and totally interrupting a great, hot moment.

            Remembered Hoya.

            It knocked the wind out of him.  For a second, it hit him all over again, and it hurt.

            He closed his eyes.  Fuck.  Just, fuck.

            But it didn’t have the same effect it had a day ago, or the day before that.  It had an impact.  It raised all kinds of feelings, and questions, and problems.  Shit he didn’t even want to think about.  But it didn’t launch him out of bed, on the attack.  It didn’t leave him in tears.  It just really fucking sucked.

            He heard laughter.  Dongwoo’s laughter, from another room.  It made him smile.  He brushed at Chanyeol’s bangs and kissed Chanyeol’s cheek.  “Hey,” he said softly.  Chanyeol made a little, sleepy sound and squirmed closer against him.  He grinned and drew his thumb over Chanyeol’s stubble.  “Hey, oppa,” he whispered.

            Chanyeol groaned, grinding against him.

            He laughed, amazed.  Shit, that was hilarious.  Ya, wake up.”  His phone was ringing.  He kissed Chanyeol and found his phone.  Oh, it was Niel.  “Yeah, hey.”  Belatedly, he remembered that he and Niel hadn’t talked since they’d started telling people the news.  For a second, he hoped that maybe Niel didn’t know yet and this conversation wouldn’t be awkward.

            “Hyung,” Niel said.  “Want to meet for coffee?”

            He relaxed, smiling.  He should’ve known that he could trust Niel.  “Sure, yeah.  Can I bring Chanyeol?”

            “Park Chanyeol?  Yeah, he’s cool, bring him, too.  He can pay.”

            Sungyeol chuckled.  “Okay, see you there.”  He hung up and kissed Chanyeol again.

            Eyes opening, Chanyeol blushed, easing back a little, putting a hand down to cover himself.  “Uh, hey.”

            Sungyeol grinned at him.  “Hey, oppa.”

            He blushed scarlet.  “I, uh.”

            He was so cute, Sungyeol kissed him again.  Niel wants to meet for coffee, you got time?”

            “I think we should do it in yellow,” Dongwoo said.  Pushing his bangs out of his eyes, he studied the walls, the ceiling.  “What if we put like a border up there, around the top?” he asked, gesturing.  “We could do it in yellow and, what goes with yellow?  Purple, I guess.”  He stopped short, and for a second, he was plunged into memories, into emotions.  He was lost there for a moment, and then he remembered himself, coming to, shaking it off.  “That might be awkward.”  He looked around the room again, where there was only one bed now, where there had been two, before.  “Purple is Hoya’s color.”

            “I know,” Chunji said.  “Everybody knows.  Everybody who knows Infinite knows about purple.  And lemon candy.  Sungjong really needs a new concept.”

            “I think that I might have to get a new concept,” Dongwoo said.  “Did you know that I might have to be the main dancer, now?”

            Chunji gave him an amused look.  “Haven’t you always been?”

            He laughed, surprised.  “No!  I’m the lead, I’ve been the lead dancer.  The main, that’s a whole new job!  I think it’ll have to be me.”

            “Well, it’s not going to be Sungyeol hyung.”

            He laughed again.  Chunji’s dismissive tone was so funny!  “Sungyeol’s a good dancer, he works hard.”

            Chunji snorted.  “It’s not going to be Sunggyu hyung, either.”

            Ooohh!  It could be!  Main vocal, main dancer!  Or is that too much, all at once?  It might be a lot to ask.”  It was funny to think of Sunggyu as the main dancer, though.  Sunggyu would be too embarrassed.

            Chunji snorted again.  “It’s not going to be Sungjong.”

            Chunji cracked him up!  “Are you just going to name everybody?”

            “It’s sure as hell not going to be L hyung.”

            “It could be Woohyun.  He’s always danced well, and he likes the spotlight, he likes the attention.  He’s never been the main anything, and I’m already the main rapper.  I don’t think that our CEO would approve it, though.”

            Now Chunji was the one laughing, and the happy sparkle in Chunji’s eyes was so pretty, he smiled, pulling Chunji into his arms.  “Hyung, are you seriously trying to have this conversation?”  So pretty, so sparkly, Chunji shone all over.  When he felt Chunji’s arms settle around his shoulders, he shimmied, enjoying it.  “Of course you’re going to be Infinite’s main dancer, that’s already been decided, nobody has any questions about it.”

            “I hope that I can do it!  The bar’s already been set really high, it’s a lot to live up to.”  He loved being this close, he loved how good being around Chunji made him feel.  He leaned in, touching his forehead to Chunji’s, just appreciating what he had.  Every day he had Chunji in his life was a special one, and he didn’t want to forget that.  “The people we love in our lives, we should tell them, every day.  The people we’re grateful to, we should thank them, every day.”  He skimmed his fingers over Chunji’s nape.  “I’m always thankful for you.”

            Chunji smiled at him.  “Are you confessing to me?”

            “I don’t think it counts as a confession!  It’s not new, don’t you know all of it already?  I’ve already told you everything.”  He touched his lips to Chunji’s, and Chunji stroked his cheek, and it felt so nice that he kissed Chunji again.  “I love you,” he whispered, closing his eyes, rubbing his nose against Chunji’s cheek.

            Chunji laughed.  “If I already know everything, then why are you telling me again?”  Chunji’s hand was in his hair, and he tilted his head back, moaning a little, enjoying it.  “I love you, too.”

            Mmm.”  Love wasn’t something to take for granted, and Chunji’s love for him was as unique and sparkly and magical as Chunji himself.  He tipped his head forward again, kissing Chunji.

            Oh, Chunji.  The kissing was so good, and Chunji was so sexy, that he got caught up in that for a minute.  Gripping Chunji’s ass in one hand, he kissed Chunji hard, groaning, flicking and fucking with his tongue.  Chunji turned him on so much, he was hot all over from the way Chunji moaned, from the sinuous way Chunji undulated against him.

            He backed up, but he’d miscalculated, somehow; the bed wasn’t where it should’ve been.  He backed up a little farther, disoriented, too turned on to figure it out.  And then his back hit the wall and he remembered, no bed, a room with just one bed, a group with just six members.  That was rough, and for a second, he felt uneasy and uncomfortable and unhappy; he missed Hoya, his other half in H, the main to his lead, the lead to his main, his partner.

            Chunji’s voice was soft, Chunji’s hands skimming over his sides.  “You okay?”

            Hoya had been there for him, helped him through it, when he’d been missing Chunji so much, before.  Now Chunji was here with him, helping him, while he was missing Hoya.  Maybe it was sad that he kept losing people, but that was only one way to look at it.  He was lucky to have someone at his side, lucky to have people to care for him and comfort him.

            It was hard, these days.  He felt like he kept stumbling.  But he had friends who would help him to get up again.

            He opened his eyes, and Chunji was right there, in front of him, gazing at him with pretty, patient eyes.

            There was love in the world.  There was still magic in the world.  He smiled, and he kissed Chunji again, and his smile grew.  “Should we paint the walls yellow?”

            Chunji laughed.  “No, forget yellow.  Let’s put Sungjong in L hyung’s room, and Woohyun hyung and Sungyeol hyung can stay in here.”

            But Woohyun was his roommate.  “Then I get my own room?”

            “You’re their hyung, aren’t you?”

            “Then shouldn’t C.A.P. have his own room, and you-”

            “It’s different, on our team.”  Chunji said it in a dismissive tone, and the teasing glint in his smile told Dongwoo that he was full of shit and he knew it.  Dongwoo laughed, delighted.  “But you should totally have your own room.”

            “Do I get a double bed, too, like Gyu hyung?”

            Chunji’s eyes widened in pure joy, and Dongwoo laughed again.  He’d obviously said something great!  “Yes,” Chunji said.  “Yes.  King-sized.  Let’s order one now.  Do you want to stay in the room you’re in?  Which one’s biggest?”

            Sunggyu felt better this morning.  He’d felt like shit, the past few mornings.  He’d dragged himself out of bed because he’d had to, to get done what had to get done, but he’d felt like something that had been run over with a truck and left for dead.

            He’d been angry, lately.  He’d been grieving, too.  There wasn’t any better word for it than that.

            But he felt better, today.  He felt healthier.  More whole, more hopeful.

            He’d had bad times, before.  Personally, and as Infinite’s leader.  This wasn’t the first.  It wouldn’t be the last.

            It really wouldn’t be the last.  Because he wasn’t over.  Infinite wasn’t over.  Infinite was still going, still had a real future.  Next month, something else would go wrong.  Next year, who the hell knew what they’d have to face next year.

            But they’d face it.  Him, and his members, and Inspirit, together.

            He was glad that Money had come over.  He’d been having the same conversations over and over with the same people.  Talking to management, to his members, going in the same circles.  It had helped to hear from someone else, to get an outsider’s perspective.  Suho understood the situation, understood the industry, understood how complex everything got when what was personal and what was professional got too enmeshed.

            That was a huge part of the problem.  Right now, that was the problem.  That inside of Infinite, their personal and professional lives were tangled too messily together.  That was mostly his fault, and he knew it.  He’d pushed those boundaries too far.  And that only set them up for pain when something like this happened.  Pain they could’ve avoided if he’d kept those barriers up.

            He couldn’t take it back, now, and he didn’t want to, either.  He’d take responsibility for that, and he wouldn’t apologize for it.  No matter how much they’d risked and lost, they’d gained a lot more.  If he had a chance to go back and do it again, that was something he’d never agree to change.

            Chen didn’t want to be out in public, scrutinized, photographed, followed.  He wanted privacy.  He wanted to be somewhere he could be alone, somewhere no one would bother him.  Somewhere he felt even a little bit safe and stable.

            He didn’t want to have to explain himself.  He didn’t want to have to answer questions from strangers or, worse, sunbaes, or, worse, managers.

            He took a chance - - did he really have a lot to lose? - - and found a spot.  Somewhere he could get away and sit down and just be by himself.  The first time, he went in and sat down and cried.  Just cried.  The second time, he bought a book on the way there, and he turned his phone off, and he just got away from the world for a while.

            The third time, when he showed up, there were snacks waiting for him, and a blanket.  It was so unexpected, he didn’t know what to think.  After a moment, he accepted it.  It made his getaway even nicer, even more comfortable.  When he left, he folded the blanket and gathered up the trash, cleaning up after himself, his way of saying thanks.

            Sungyeol was digging through the clean laundry for a pair of pants.  He knew that he should just take the laundry to his room and put it away, but he didn’t feel like doing all of that; he just wanted to grab this particular pair of pants and go.  He was meeting Baekhyun and Kai later, and going out with EXO always meant being plastered across fan sites.

            Well, except for when EXO-L edited him out.  Nothing like being the mosaicked blur in the corner.

            Finally locating his pants, he plucked them out of the basket and turned to go.

            Alarm jolted him.  Shit, Woohyun was there, in the doorway, watching him.  Trying to look cool, like that hadn’t scared the shit out of him, he smiled.  “You’re back.”

            “Your good pants?” Woohyun asked.  “Going somewhere special?”  He usually looked really relaxed, really sated, after he got back from his time away with Key.  He didn’t look relaxed now.  “Seeing someone special?”

            “They’re not really good pants.”  He couldn’t have explained to anybody what he was feeling.  It was hard to put his ideas about Woohyun into words that would make sense to a normal person.  “How’s Key?”

            “How does that go?” Woohyun asked, as if trying to remember something.  “What’s private is private.”  He was walking forward, coming closer.  The laundry room wasn’t that big to begin with.  “Has Young Money been here?”

            “Uh, yeah.  He was around last night.”  He edged past Woohyun and headed for his room.

            Woohyun followed him in and closed the door.

            Sunggyu wanted to get all of the members together, so he ordered dinner and told everyone to show up.  Their first real group practice would be tomorrow, but that was work.  He wanted them to get together on their personal time, first, to get all of the personal stuff out of the way before they went back to work.

            They ate.  L seemed quiet.  Sungjong kept flirting with Dongwoo.  Sungyeol and Woohyun whispered and giggled and fed each other.

            “Is your room and Sungyeol’s the same size?” Dongwoo asked Sungjong.  “Does it matter to you which one you’re in?”

            “Ah, no,” Sungjong said.

            “No, not the same size?” Dongwoo asked.  “Which one’s bigger, then?”

            “No, I mean, no, I don’t want to talk about bedrooms.”

            “I do,” Woohyun said.

            “Let’s do rock, paper, scissors for it,” Sungyeol said.

            “Are we competing for it?” Dongwoo asked.  “I thought the hyung got the single room, isn’t that how it works?”

            “It’s my room,” Sungjong said.

            “Okay, it’ll stay your room, then,” Sungyeol said.  “L can move in and share it with you.”

            “What happened in EXO?” Sungjong asked.  “Chanyeol hyung has his own room.  What about Teen Top?  Chunji has his own room.  I get my own room.”

            “This isn’t Teen Top, do I look like C.A.P.?” Sunggyu asked.  “What does that have to do with us, you’re bringing up nonsense.  You don’t get to have your own room all to yourself.”

            “You do,” L pointed out.

            “Six people and four rooms,” Sungyeol said.  “I say we do rock, paper, scissors.  It’s the only fair way.”

            “I think that hyungs get their own rooms,” Dongwoo said.

            “I need my privacy more than you do,” Woohyun said.

            “I knew you’d think so!” Dongwoo said, laughing.

            “Okay, you want it by age, you want it for privacy, you want it because your bed’s in there now, what about you?” Sungyeol asked L.  “You got an excuse, too?”

            “It’s not an excuse,” L said.  “It’s a reason.  I have the most individual schedules.”  Woohyun groaned and Sungjong dropped his chopsticks, looking disgusted.  “I do,” L said.  “I need to be able to come and go without worrying about a roommate.  I need to get up early, I need to sleep late, it makes a difference.”

            “And then when you’re in Japan, your room just sits empty, and we’re all doubled up,” Sungyeol said.  “No.”

            “When I’m in Japan, you can use my room,” L told him.

            “It’s my room!” Sungjong argued.  “I can’t help that this is the way things worked out, but why should I be punished?”

            “Oh!  I can have my own room, and you can have your own room,” Dongwoo told L.  “Sungjong and Sungyeol can room together, and Sungyeol can take your room when you’re away.”

            “And where do I go?” Woohyun asked.  “Forgot about me?”

            “You should share a room with Gyu hyung, shouldn’t you?” Dongwoo asked.

            “Yes,” Sungyeol said.  “Yes, put them together.”

            “No,” Woohyun said.  “Then what would happen when Young Money comes to visit?”

            Sunggyu was going to have to say the right thing, here.  It would be very bad if he gave the wrong answer.  “I’d be happy to have you in my bed every night,” he told Woohyun.  “But I think that I’d be too spoiled.  And it’s not fair to the other members, the leader’s not supposed to have favorites.”

            “I’m not giving up my room,” Sungjong said.

            The maknae wasn’t going to have his own room.  That was ridiculous.  And L had to share, too.  Sunggyu didn’t want L holed up alone too much.

            He was tempted to give the solo room to Woohyun.  He could justify it, and Dongwoo would go along with it if he put his foot down.

            But Dongwoo was the oldest.  And he gave so much of himself and obeyed so well, it would just be taking advantage of him to brush him aside now.  It would just be playing favorites.

            “Dongwoo gets his own room,” Sunggyu said.  “Woohyun, you’re next oldest, so you can choose your own roommate.”

            “L,” Woohyun said immediately.

            “What?” Sungjong demanded.  “No!”

            “Shit, thanks,” Sungyeol told Sungjong.

            Sungjong pulled away, on the verge of tears.

            “Can I have a double bed?” Dongwoo asked.

            “So now we all have to move around?” L asked.  “Why can’t Woohyun hyung just move into Sungjong’s room?”

            “Don’t want to room with me?” Woohyun asked.

            Sungjong turned his back to them, curling in on himself.

            This was why Chunji and Chanyeol had their own rooms.  It was easier to ignore the issue and just let things stay the same.  But Sunggyu wasn’t a coward, and he wasn’t afraid of his own dongsaengs.  “You should get one,” he told Dongwoo.  “But don’t get weird about the bedframe, just get something simple.”  He reached over and ruffled Sungjong’s hair.  “Are you crying because you have to room with Sungyeol?”

            “He’s feeling sorry for himself,” Sungyeol said.

            “No one else ever does!”  Erupting, cheeks wet, eyes flashing, Sungjong whirled around, glaring at them.  “Of course I feel bad, you all treat me like shit!  I can’t even have this?  Xiumin hyung’s the oldest, he has a roommate.  Suho hyung’s the leader, he has two roommates!  C.A.P. hyung has a roommate!  I thought that maybe I could at least have this, I thought maybe there was one little silver lining, and you won’t even consider it!”

            “Why do you only think of yourself?” Sunggyu asked.  “If you deserve your own room, what about Dongwoo?  You deserve something and he doesn’t?”

            “When do you ever think of me?” Sungjong demanded.

            “All I ever do is think of the members!” Sunggyu argued.  “That’s my life!  What about the members, what about the kids, who’s hurt, who’s healthy, who’s busy, who’s complaining, I have six full-time jobs, looking after all of you.”  He caught himself and closed his mouth, and then he put a soothing hand on Sungjong’s knee.  “Let’s not get upset and say something we’re going to regret.  A lot’s happened, lately, everybody’s emotional.  It’s not a good time to argue.”

            “What do you have to argue about?” Sungjong asked.  “You get your way no matter what.”

            He nodded, thinking about that.  “I do.  I make a lot of decisions, a lot of things are up to me.  Do you think that more things should be up to you?”


            “Okay.  This is a fresh start for Infinite, so we can talk about that.  Maybe tomorrow, at practice, or after practice, we can talk about taking on new roles or trying new responsibilities.  But that’s tomorrow, and that’s work.  This is tonight, and this is our personal time, and I’m still your hyung.”  Squeezing Sungjong’s shoulder, he looked into Sungjong’s eyes and smiled.  “Hyung cares about you, and hyung doesn’t negotiate.  I get to have things my way, because I’m the oldest.  If you want things your way around the dorm, you need to be born five years earlier.”

            Wiping at his tears, Sungjong laughed.  “God, I hate you.”

            “What?” he demanded, giving Sungjong a shake.  He laughed.  “Hate me?  Now you have to clean all of this up all on your own.”

            “I was going to have to do that, anyway,” Sungjong said.  “When have you ever helped?”

            “I don’t clean up after dongsaengs!”

            “Should we not decide about the room tonight?” Dongwoo asked.  “We can wait.  It’s not important.”

            “It’s all right,” Woohyun said.  “No one wants to room with me.”

            “Nobody wants to be a permanent puppy,” Sungyeol said.

            “What?”  Woohyun laughed.  “Dongwoo hyung’s never been that.”

            “He’s a hyung,” L said.

            “I don’t want a permanent puppy.”

            “Isn’t Key your permanent puppy?” Dongwoo asked.

            “We already decided about the bedrooms, we’re done with that,” Sunggyu said.  “You can all switch rooms when the new bed gets here.  The dorm rules are still the same, you have sex when you want to with whoever you want to however you want to, and you get to say no whenever you want to.  No special rules for hyungs or puppies or anybody.”

            “You don’t want to room with me,” L told Woohyun.

            “Sungyeol’s too much trouble, and Sungjong says no,” Woohyun said.  “You’re pretty and you’re easy, of course I want you.”

            L chuckled and looked away, quirking his eyebrows like he did when he wasn’t sure whether to be flattered or insulted.

            “If I have my own room, I can decorate it however I want?” Dongwoo asked.  “L-ah, will you help me?”

            L smiled at that.  “Sure.”

            “Has anybody talked to Chen?” Woohyun asked.

            “No, I haven’t heard from him,” Dongwoo said.  “I called, but he didn’t answer.”

            “I texted him a couple of times,” Sungyeol said.  “Baekhyun says he’s not doing great.”

            “Hard to feel sorry for him,” Sungjong said.  “He’s not the one who has to rework seven years of performances before our next festival.”

            “God, don’t remind me.”  Sungyeol pushed his plate aside and stretched his legs out.  “Let’s do something fun tonight, before we have to get back to work tomorrow.”

            “Have we been on vacation?” L asked.

            “Okay, you have a lot of individual schedules, we know that,” Sungyeol said.  “We have practice tomorrow, let’s do something fun tonight.  Go out, get drunk, go to karaoke, have an orgy, let’s - - what?” he asked when Sunggyu burst into laughter.

            “Did you just do that?” Sunggyu asked.  “Did you slide ‘have an orgy’ in there, right in the middle?”

            “What?” he asked, blushing.  “It’s not like we’ve never had one before.”

            “Not this week,” Sungjong said with a teasing smile.

            “Just us?” Dongwoo asked.  “I’ll start.”

            “What, just, here?  Right now?” Sunggyu asked.

            “Clean up,” Sungyeol told Sungjong.

            “Do you have anything for me?” Dongwoo asked.

            “I can’t just start - - right in the middle - - I’m still digesting,” Sunggyu said, flustered.  He felt shy; they hadn’t just jumped into it, all of them together, in a while.  “Start with Woohyun, I don’t have the only cock in the room.”

            Dongwoo went down on Woohyun, and Sungjong grumbled and started cleaning up.  Woohyun leaned back on his hands, head tilted back, breathing through parted lips, snarling a little, canines showing.  Sungyeol started kissing L.  Dongwoo licked Woohyun’s shaft slowly, tenderly, kissed it, full lips brushing lovingly over the head.  Sungjong got rid of the last discarded napkins, then came back and dropped a can of beer in Sungyeol’s lap.  Startled, Sungyeol cursed, and L laughed, and Sungyeol shoved the can away and went back to kissing.

            Watching, Sunggyu was getting kind of turned on.  L and Sungyeol looked sexy, making out like that, and he’d always loved watching Dongwoo and Woohyun together.  Always loved Dongwoo’s uninhibited, appreciative, sometimes sweet and gentle, sometimes obscenely raunchy approach to sex.  Always loved watching Woohyun being treated right.  Woohyun’s parted lips and bared teeth, the pink flush staining Woohyun’s skin, the tension running through Woohyun’s body as pleasure turned to need, the soft gasping as Dongwoo sucked harder, made it difficult for Sunggyu to hold back and just look.  He wanted to join in now, take over, give Woohyun pleasure, take some for himself.

            He reached up and pulled Sungjong down, into his lap.  Laughing, Sungjong squirmed, and he kissed Sungjong’s cheek.  “Do you want to play, too?”  He squeezed Sungjong’s soft ass.  “Hyung won’t ask for a lot.”

            Instead of playing coy or asking what he was going to get in return, Sungjong nodded.  Looking pretty and pleased, he said, “Yeah, okay.”

            He hadn’t expected it to be that easy.  Sungjong must be in a good mood.  They kissed, and he guided Sungjong’s hand to where he needed it.  Sungjong’s kisses were deep tonight, assertive, and the breathy way Sungjong moaned turned him on.  He was good and hard and looking forward to a blowjob, listening to Sungyeol groan, when Sungjong whispered, “I’ll go get the lube, okay?”

            Oh?  He opened his eyes.  “Do we need lube?”

            Blushing, Sungjong nodded.

            Oh.  “Yes, go get that,” he said decisively.  Sungjong got up and skipped away.  He got up and took his shirt off, fondled his cock, watched Dongwoo reaching for Sungyeol and L moving towards Woohyun, wandered towards the couch.  There had always been lube here by the couch, but things had been tense around the dorm lately, the mood strange, rhythms off.  It would be good to get back to normal.  Even if it was a new kind of normal.

            Changjo didn’t want to give L a lot of time to get all up in his own head, so he showed up again the next day.  Things seemed okay.  Not great, but not dangerous, either.

            There were a few bad moments, though.  Like when he was digging through Infinite’s fridge, finding a bunch of appalling crap to throw away, and L said, “Maybe we should just break up now.  Get it over with.”

            He straightened up and stared at L.  It was a good thing that the fridge door was between them; that barrier held him in check from doing something violent.  “No,” he said.  “No, and don’t ever bring it up again.”

            L blinked at him, looking wounded, then nodded and looked away.

            “No,” he said again.  “No, and you’re fucking pissing me off.”

            L curled in on himself, hugged himself, eyes watering.  “It just.  It seems easier,” he mumbled.

            “Well, you’re not with me because I’m convenient, so who cares what’s easy?”  Changjo didn’t understand why anybody would keep a whole big takeout carton just to hold one moldy drumstick.  He threw it away.

            L was quiet for a minute.

            “Your whole team is disgusting, this is the grossest thing I’ve ever seen,” Changjo said, crouching down to dig into the back corner.  “I don’t know why you think it’s okay to live like this.”

            “I’m not easy, either.”  L had that sad, vulnerable, doomed tone that always meant bad things.  “Maybe if I were easier, maybe if I were different, people wouldn’t keep-”

            “Wouldn’t keep leaving you?”  Changjo shot to his feet, smacked a hand against the fridge, and stared at L, hard.  “Good.  Don’t be easy, don’t be convenient.  Be difficult as shit.  Be as hard to goddamned deal with as you can, do it.”  He had L’s attention, and he kept going, talking fast, emphatic.  “The weak people around you will leave, the stupid ones, the selfish ones, out, they can’t handle it, they’re out the door.  Get rid of all of them, screw it.  You know who’s left?  The strong ones, the smart ones, the ones who are going to be there when you need them.  If people can’t handle you when you’re just being you, then they’re not going to stick by you when shit gets rough.  Let them go, all of them.”

            L grabbed the door and swung it away, dragging Changjo into his embrace.

            Changjo’s arms clamped around him.  “Be as inconvenient as fuck,” Changjo muttered against his shoulder.  “Fuck everybody who can’t handle it, they can go to hell.”

            Their first practice.

            Standing outside of the practice room, facing the closed door, Sunggyu tried to psych himself up.  It was just practice, they’d done this thousands of times.  It would be the same as it always was.  Terrible and painful and frustrating and hard on his body.

            He reached for the doorknob.

            He faltered.

            It wouldn’t be the same as always.  It would be completely different.  How did they get six people to do what was meant for seven?  There were all of the logistics of the old performances to work out; everything would have to be reshaped.

            But there was how to move forward, too.  New dynamics to figure out.  Without Hoya, everything was off-balance.

            They were entering new territory.  And he had to lead them through it.

            It took him a few tries to get his leader face on.  He took a deep breath, braced himself, nodded to himself, and charged in.  Confident, determined, chin up.

            The other members were there, some sitting around talking, some stretching.  They all looked up when he walked in, heads swiveling in his direction.  Looking to him, expectant, counting on him, just like always.

            “Okay,” he said briskly, ready to start.  “Everybody here?”

            It seemed like the worst thing he could’ve said.  L blanched and Sungjong looked away.  Woohyun’s mouth tightened, his head turning, and Sungyeol looked lost and conflicted.  For a second, Sunggyu wanted to walk out.  He’d failed his team, he couldn’t do this, he wasn’t up to it.

            “Yeah,” Dongwoo said, getting to his feet, his gaze steady.  “All ready.”

            “Yeah,” Sungyeol said, catching on, following Dongwoo’s lead.  He got up.  “Everybody’s here who needs to be here, anyway, right?  So what do we do, where do we start?  Are we prepping the new stuff or redoing the old stuff?”

            Sunggyu kept in mind the way his members had all looked up when he’d walked in.  That instinct was still there; they still relied on him.  They still turned to him as their leader.  Dongwoo still trusted him.  Sungyeol still expected him to have the answers.

            Good.  Okay.  “We have the festival to prepare for, first,” he said.  Woohyun was getting up and coming over to join them.  “Let’s focus on what the audience is going to want to hear, and what we can have ready in time.”  L was helping Sungjong up.

            “Right,” Dongwoo said.  “Okay, set list.  I’ll write it down.”  He went to get his phone.  “What do our fans want to hear?”

            Sungyeol started throwing out ideas, and Woohyun started vetoing some and approving others, and Dongwoo was taking notes.  L leaned against Dongwoo, advising, and Sungjong asked Sunggyu to help him stretch while they went over it.

            Things were different.  But a lot was still the same.  He still enjoyed tormenting the maknae, anyway.

            By the time he’d finished stretching Sungjong, the others had their list together.  Woohyun took the phone from Dongwoo and showed it to him.  He read it over and nodded.  “We can do this, it’ll work.  Let’s run through the songs first, to refresh our memories, and then we’ll decide how to cover the extra parts.”

            Someone knocked at the door.

            Interruptions?  It had to be management.  Sunggyu went to the door.

            Their manager was there, holding a little bakery box.  “Delivery guy brought this.  Figured it was for you guys.”  He peered past Sunggyu.  “Are you working in there or having a party?”

            “Working,” Sunggyu said.  He was annoyed that anyone would think otherwise.  It reflected badly on them.  He took the box, closed the door, and turned to stare at his members.  “What is this, do you know about this?”

            “What is it, cake?” Dongwoo asked, coming over.

            “Maybe it’s from Inspirit,” Sungyeol said.  “For our first day back in here.”

            “I didn’t hear anything about it,” Woohyun said.

            Dongwoo was opening the box and peering inside.  Sunggyu didn’t like the way L was avoiding his eyes.  Ya, L-ah.”

            L blushed red and ruffled his hair, wincing.  “I just, uh.  I thought - - it’s stupid.  Sorry, I’m sorry, I’ll - - it was a mistake.”

            “You bought yourself a cupcake?” Dongwoo asked.  There was a single cupcake in the box, decorated with a music note made of frosting.

            “Selfish,” Sungyeol said, laughing.

            “At least get one for everybody to share,” Woohyun said.  “Are you celebrating yourself?”

            “No, it.”  Looking embarrassed and tormented, L tried to explain himself to Sunggyu, who still wasn’t impressed.  “It’s for Dongwoo hyung.  For his first day as our main dancer.  I thought - - it seemed like - - he’s taking on a big role, it’s a big job, I wanted to show him some support.  I wanted them to put feet on it, like dancing shoes, but the lady at the counter didn’t understand what I wanted, so I asked for a music note, I figured that was easier.”

            Sunggyu thought about that.

            A cupcake.  Like it was a party, like they were having a celebration.

            Losing Hoya wasn’t something to celebrate, and that L would think that made him angry.

            But L wasn’t talking about that.

            He thought of what Suho had said, that he was looking at all of the wrong sides of the situation.  Focusing only on what hadn’t gone the way he wanted, and not noticing anything else.

            Dongwoo had a new job.  He was stepping up, accepting a big promotion.  There was going to be a lot of new pressure on him, now, and L wanted to acknowledge that and encourage him.  Show him some support.

            “I like seeing you be so thoughtful towards your hyungs,” Sunggyu told L, approving.  “L’s right, we should give you congratulations,” he told Dongwoo.  He patted Dongwoo’s back.  “I’ll take you out after practice, when we’re finished here.  Hyung will buy.”

            Dongwoo smiled at him.  “Thanks.”

            He kissed Dongwoo.  “Eat your cupcake, and we’ll start.”

            “So this is, like, congrats for the promotion?” Sungyeol asked.

            “Dongwoo hyung, fighting!” Sungjong cheered cutely.  Dongwoo laughed and bit into the cupcake.  For a second, it was a little bit like a party, after all.  Sunggyu smiled.  They took their jobs seriously, and they’d work hard.  But it was okay to celebrate sometimes, okay to mark the occasion.  This was a big day for Infinite, they had a new main dancer.

            A new start.  Season two.

            “Should we get you a cake, too?” L asked Woohyun.  “One for our new lead dancer?  I should’ve gotten you something.”

            “You know, as long as we’re switching things up,” Sungyeol said.  “I think it’s time for a new visual.”

            “I think it’s time for a new maknae,” Sungjong grumbled.

            “New main rapper?” Dongwoo offered.  Yeolie?”

            Woohyun grinned at Sunggyu.

            Reading Woohyun’s mind, he smiled right back.  “It’s a new Infinite,” he said, putting his hands on Woohyun’s shoulders.  Leaning in, laughing, he added, “Same leader, same main vocal.”

            Laughing, Woohyun cupped his elbows, leaning back.  “Okay, okay.”

            “Same leader,” he insisted, nose-to-nose.  “Same main vocal.”

            “I got it, I got it.”  Woohyun twisted away from him, flushed, chuckling.

            “You can be the visual, if you want,” L told Woohyun.  He stretched his arms out, smiling, looking contemplative.  “I think I’ve had a good run.  I could try something else.”

            “We could let Inspirit take a poll, see what they think,” Dongwoo said, chewing.  “Maybe they’d want a new visual.”

            Sunggyu burst into laughter.  “After seven years, you don’t know anything about Inspirit?”

            Dongwoo laughed, licking icing from his fingers.  “I don’t know!  Maybe they’ll want a change.  People can surprise you.”

            It was true.  People did surprise him.

            Hoya had wanted a change.

            But already, today, L was surprising him by being more considerate and positive than he’d expected.  Dongwoo was surprising him, seemed ready to take on this new role, seemed prepared to be responsible.

            He was starting to feel optimistic.  He wondered what else this new Infinite, season two, had to show him.

            Sungjong said yes.

            He’d been holding back, and for what?  He’d been trying to exert control, trying to make himself a scarce, valuable resource.  But when he looked back, he didn’t see how much that had gained him.  He saw all of the times he’d said, “Not tonight, hyung,” and missed out on sex, and pleasure, and intimacy, and skinship with someone he loved.

            He started saying yes more often.  He started going for what he wanted, instead of holding back.  When Dongwoo grabbed his ass, he laughed and got some hot, fun kisses.  He didn’t wait for Sunggyu to have something for him; he initiated it when he wanted it, and he didn’t care how it looked.  When Woohyun crawled into his bed, he pushed the covers aside and invited Woohyun in, and, oh, god, maybe he’d overestimated himself.  After Woohyun left, he spent the morning shivering and shyly running his hands over his own skin and feeling too shaky, too beautiful, to get out of bed.

            Maybe he wasn’t ready to say yes to just anything and everything, all of the time.

            He went out with Kai.  He went out with Chanyeol.  When Suho asked him how he was doing, he thought about it for a second and then he let his walls down and just answered, honestly.  They ended up having a real conversation, a really good talk.  Then it happened again, with Chunji, and they had a completely different good talk, a really open and honest conversation about members and hyungs and the industry and sex and all of it.  And then Chunji invited him out shopping with Dongwoo, and he agreed.  They picked up all kinds of fun stuff to decorate Dongwoo’s room, and he felt like they were creating memories together, like when he looked around Dongwoo’s room in the future he’d remember tonight.  And none of this would’ve happened, he wouldn’t have created memories or gone shopping or even received healing from their talk, if he hadn’t opened up to Chunji.

            He was glad that he was putting himself out there.  It wasn’t even turning out how he’d expected.  Saying yes to Dongwoo every time didn’t mean nonstop, hardcore, dirty sex, like he’d thought.  It meant that sometimes, but sometimes it meant fun, playful groping or a quick, dizzying blowjob.  And a lot of times it just meant making out.  Dongwoo would just climb on top of him and kiss him senseless and then wander off again to do something else, leaving him breathless and intoxicated and wanting more.  It was addicting.  Had he been missing out on this all of this time?

            Then C.A.P. texted him, and he felt his walls coming up again.  Hey, how are you?

            It took you forever to care.

            Am I late?  I thought that you’d still be dealing with stuff, I didn’t want to get in your business.

            He didn’t know what to say.  He told himself to relax and open up.  He didn’t have any reason to hold back.  What was he preserving?  But he felt tense.  He set his phone down.

            It pinged again.  Chunji said that you were doing okay, so I thought it’d be okay to check in.  It’s not that I didn’t care until just now.

            He cradled his phone for a minute, feeling reassured.  He thought about how he could reply.  But he didn’t want to seem too easy.  He didn’t want this hyung taking him for granted.  He’d wait and reply later, like he wasn’t just mooning over his text messages waiting to hear from C.A.P.  Or he’d wait and see what else C.A.P. had to say, and then he’d reply, after that.

            C.A.P. didn’t text anything else.

            He gave it a couple of hours.

            Nothing new.

            So that was it?  C.A.P. asked how he was doing, and when he didn’t even really say, that was enough?  C.A.P. didn’t even really care how he was, didn’t even need a real answer.  What was this, then, C.A.P. just wanted credit for checking in?  Like, “See, I did my job, I asked how the kid was doing, what else do you want?”  Or did C.A.P. even care how he was?  Maybe Chunji had said, “Hey, I hung out with Sungjong,” and C.A.P. thought, “Oh, hey, I like the way he gives head,” and decided to get in touch?  And then when Sungjong wasn’t grateful and eager enough, C.A.P. just gave up?

            Sungjong was so pissed off, he turned down his members when they moved on him later that night.  Then, alone in his room, alone in the dark, listening to Sungyeol and L through the wall, he cursed himself.  What was he doing?  What did this get him?  He was alone for what?  He didn’t want to be alone!  He just didn’t want to be taken advantage of.  He just didn’t want to be taken for granted.

            He got up and padded down the hallway to Sunggyu’s room.

            The door was locked.

            He squeezed the knob in one hand, feeling tears prick his eyes.  See.  This was what it got him.  Now he was too late; now he was shut out.

            He went to Dongwoo’s room and crawled into Dongwoo’s bed.  Muttering, “Yeah, grapes would be good,” Dongwoo slung an arm around him and tugged him in, then went right back to sleep.

            He snuggled in, tucking himself against Dongwoo’s firm chest.  Comforted, he slept well.

            The next afternoon, he texted C.A.P.  Are you busy?  Do you have a lot of schedules?

            Eh, not today.

            Hyung.  Buy me lunch.

            What?  C.A.P. added a string of laughing emojis.  Okay.  Where should I meet you?

            It was that easy.  He felt astonished.

            He changed into one of his prettiest shirts and met C.A.P. at a quiet place in a nice neighborhood.  They didn’t even talk about Hoya, they talked about TV shows and videogames.  C.A.P. had a new one that Sungjong had wanted to try, so they went back to Teen Top’s dorm.  He was terrible at it, and he got embarrassed and tried to give up, but C.A.P. coached him through it.  He hadn’t expected C.A.P. to be so patient.  Or so relaxed and fun, not with him.

            Feeling happy, feeling bold, he kissed C.A.P.

            C.A.P. pulled back a little, giving him a questioning look.

            He felt hopeful, but he felt unsure, too.  Had he gone too far?

            C.A.P. leaned in, lashes drifting down, and his heart fluttered.  C.A.P. kissed him, and his lips parted, encouraging more.  He felt C.A.P.’s arm slide around his waist, and it felt strong, firm, supporting him.  He scooted closer, running his hand lightly over C.A.P.’s chest, and C.A.P. angled for more, deepening their kiss.

            He loved that this was happening.  He loved that he’d opened up, that he’d gone for it.  It was exhilarating, just taking the risk, not playing games.  It felt so honest, so real.

            He loved that they were on their own, just the two of them.  No other members around, no pre-arranged MT.  C.A.P. had met him just for the sake of meeting him, without the extra incentive of other guys to flirt with or screw.  And C.A.P. was kissing him just to be kissing him, not getting turned on as preparation to go nail his hyungs.  Maybe that was the best part of all.  C.A.P. didn’t even do this, really, didn’t just sit around kissing.

            He decided to test C.A.P. by only kissing.  He’d just make out now, and then end things, and then he’d see if C.A.P. got pissed off, if C.A.P. was reluctant to do this again another time, if C.A.P. was still interested.

            No.  No, he was playing games again.  It would hurt to be taken for granted, but it would hurt even more to hold back and miss out on all of the fun and pleasure and closeness he could’ve had.  He didn’t want to get hurt, but what did holding back win him?  He’d already had a great afternoon, just by reaching out this much; if he kept opening up, kept putting himself out there, he might gain a whole lot more.

            Slowly, he walked his fingers down C.A.P.’s chest.

            Grunting, C.A.P. shifted against him, cupping his ass.  The slow, appreciative kneading really turned him on, and he moaned, not for show but just because he felt good.  The thick length of C.A.P.’s hard-on made a gorgeous, promising bulge, and he skimmed his fingers over C.A.P.’s fly.

            “Yeah,” C.A.P. whispered, squeezing his ass.  “You want to touch it?”

            His emotions skittered around for a second, and he almost said something coy, something testing.  Then he just said, honestly, “Yeah,” and cupped it.  God, it was so hard, he ached, moaning.  “I really want it,” he whispered, squirming a little, meeting C.A.P.’s mouth for quick, lusting kisses, breathless.  “I really want you.”

            “Yeah,” C.A.P. said, kissing him again like it felt good just to kiss him.  “You wanna go to my room?”

            He absolutely did.

            The sex was great.  God, he loved the way C.A.P. did it to him, so direct, so thorough, giving him what he needed and then giving him more.  He wriggled around a lot on purpose, bucking and squirming, just to get C.A.P. to pop out of him, because that got C.A.P. to shift positions, to roll him over and nail him from a different angle, and he loved that first, rough thrust, loved the spike of pleasure, loved the way C.A.P. pushed and rolled and manhandled him.

            When it was over, when his thighs were trembling and his heart was pounding and he felt amazing, C.A.P. rolled away and flopped down beside him.

            No cuddling.  Right.  Not even one last kiss, a nice comment.  Right.  Well, what should he have expected, anyway?

            He lay there, stewing, conflicted, resentful, feeling stupid.

            Then, feeling daring, feeling resolute, he rolled over and tucked himself against C.A.P.’s side, splaying his hand over C.A.P.’s chest and throwing a leg over C.A.P.’s thigh for good measure.

            C.A.P. worked an arm around him, patting his hip.

            Oh.  This was really nice.  He smiled.

            “Feel like talking about anything?” C.A.P. asked.

            That was sweet.  “No, it’s okay.”  He snuggled in closer.  He felt like he was relishing a victory.  He felt like he was growing stronger.  Learning things about himself.  And about his hyungs.

            “I didn’t, like, uh.  I would’ve texted you sooner, or called.  I just, it can be weird.  I thought you all might still be working stuff out, inside the team, and you wouldn’t want a bunch of people poking their noses into it.  Before, I couldn’t turn around without somebody wanting to ask how I was doing and were the other members okay, wanting to talk all about it.  Thought you might not want more of that.”

            He pushed himself up on one arm, wanting to see C.A.P.’s face.  “You were being considerate?”

            C.A.P. laughed.  “What, you don’t have to act so shocked.”

            “I thought you forgot I existed.”

            Now he just looked puzzled.  “Why would I forget about you?”

            “I don’t know.”  He settled down again.  Stretched his legs, flexed his toes.  Drew patterns across C.A.P.’s chest with one finger.

            Things were quiet for a while.  Comfortable.  It was really nice.  It was a relief not to be stressed out, second-guessing the past, worrying about the future.

            “You gotta work on your spatial awareness,” C.A.P. said.  “You know how, onstage, you always know where all of the members are and you know what they’re doing?  It’s that way in the game, you have to keep track of everything.”

            “How am I supposed to know what’s going on behind me?  I don’t have eyes in the back of my head.”

            “You gotta position yourself better, so you know where the rest of the team is.”

            He pushed himself up again, frowning.  “How?”

            They got dressed and went out to work on the game some more.  Once C.A.P. explained more about positioning, he did way better, and the game was twice as fun.  They played, and they laughed, and they stole snacks out of the maknaes’ room, and they made out on the couch.

            He went down on C.A.P., and he didn’t expect C.A.P. to return the favor, he didn’t even want that, he just wanted the pleasure of listening to C.A.P.’s deep, heartfelt moans, of feeling this hyung get off in his mouth.  But when he was finished, when he curled up in C.A.P.’s lap again, C.A.P. kissed him, made out with him some more, stroked down between his legs.  He moaned, shuddering, and C.A.P. drew his cock out, fondled his hard-on.  “You, you, oh, hyung,” he panted, aching, pleasure burning and expanding and taking him over.  “Yeah, just like this, it’s good,” C.A.P. murmured, kissing him again, jacking him off.  He came hard, gasping, balling C.A.P.’s shirt in one hand.

            “Yeah, good, it’s nice,” C.A.P. murmured, hugging him close, kisses gentle.

            Catching his breath, relaxing his hold, he melted against C.A.P.’s chest and soaked up more kisses.

            L crawled over Changjo’s naked back, planting kisses.

            Relaxed under him, Changjo was going through his phone.  He dusted kisses over Changjo’s shoulder blade.  These quiet, comfortable moments were precious to him.

            Changjo snickered.  “How much time do you and Suho hyung spend recommending products to each other?  Is that all your friendship with him is, skincare chats?”

            Oh.  Remembering, L kissed Changjo’s shoulder.  “I found some really nice toner, I bought extra.  Can I give you some?”

            Changjo flipped through more text messages.  “I’d just give it to Chunji hyung.”

            “Really?”  He rested his weight on Changjo’s back, hooking his chin over Changjo’s shoulder, curious.  “You’d give it to him?”


            Oh.  Well, fuck that, then.  “Never mind.”  He went back to kissing, touring Changjo’s back, sliding downward.

            “You and Chen hyung haven’t talked to each other in decades.”

            He blinked, falling still.  He felt…conflicted about that.

            “I’ll ask him how he’s doing,” Changjo decided.

            “No.  Wait.”  He frowned.  “Why do I care how he’s doing?”

            “Because he’s your friend.”

            “We’re not friends.”

            “You are friends, and he’s going through a hard time.”

            “Why is he going through a hard time?”

            “Why are you going through a hard time?”

            “That, no, that’s different.”  Offended, L pushed himself up.  Changjo twisted under him, looking up at him, and he frowned.  “You think that’s the same?  One of my closest hyungs just walked out on me, we’ve been together for years.  Chen, what, it’s a break-up, he’ll get over it.”

            “Okay, so let’s say that you and I are dating-”

            “We are dating,” he insisted, annoyed.

            “-and I leave Teen Top.  I just freaking leave, I run off to join the circus, I want to be a lion tamer from now on, fuck that idol shit.  Right?  And then you’re like, upset or whatever, I guess that might upset you a little, right?  And Chunji hyung is like, what, screw him, he’s not going through anything, Teen Top’s the only one really suffering here, no one else gets to have any feelings about it at all.  That seems fair, right, you’d be okay with that, you’d agree.”

            “What you and I have.  L was so frustrated, he couldn’t get started.  “No.  No, you can’t compare this, us, with Hoya hyung and Chen.”  He didn’t believe this.  “You think I should feel sorry for him?  You think that I should be comforting him?”

            “You lost the same person, at the same time,” Changjo said.  “You can comfort each other.  Talk about stuff, cry or something, you’re really good at crying.  His boyfriend just dumped him for business reasons, that’s a shitty thing to go through.  Who’s he going to talk to about it?”

            “He has Suho hyung,” L said, not ready to give in yet.  He didn’t feel sorry for some hoobae.

            “That’s a hyung.  He needs a friend.  Who else is there, you think Chanyeol hyung’s going to know what to say to him?  You think he can turn to C.A.P. hyung?”

            L laughed at that.  “Yeah, okay.  You can at least ask him if he’s okay,” he said, gesturing to his phone.  He wondered how Chen was taking it.  If Chen was brushing it off, over it already, or if Chen really cared, if losing Hoya hurt.  Curious about that, he watched Changjo send the text.

            “If he texts you back later, don’t just ignore it,” Changjo said.  “Say something nice.”

            He smiled.  “Do you think I’m not nice?”

            “I think you’re a lot of things.”

            He laughed.

            Changjo shifted, getting comfortable, on his back now.

            L kissed the fingers holding his phone, then lowered his head and kissed Changjo’s stomach.  He was licking Changjo’s abs when he thought of something.  Ya.”  He lifted his head.  “When I gave you that moisturizer, did you give that to Chunji, too?”

            “No,” Changjo said, pulling the phone closer to his face.  “Why would I do that?”

            Changjo wouldn’t lie to him, so that had to be the truth, but.  He narrowed his eyes, suspicious.  “Where is it?”

            “In my room.  It’s totally in my room.  It gets used every day, it’s great stuff.”

            He pinched Changjo’s thigh.  “You gave it to Ricky.”

            Changjo lowered the phone, wincing.  “Yeah, but he really likes it.”

            Woohyun kept going into Sungjong’s room.

            He was in there all of the time.  He went in to talk to Sungjong.  Went in to borrow things.  Slept in there.  Worked out on Sungjong’s floor, since there was more space now.

            He was trying to get used to it.  Trying to come to terms with it, make his peace with it.

            He couldn’t.  It was like a bad sweater, too small, too tight, making him itch.  He just couldn’t get comfortable.

            Sunggyu was trying to make distinctions between the professional side and the personal side.  And in a way, the professional side was easier.  He was fully committed to Infinite.  He was ready to step up, to adjust to the changes, to embrace a new role.  He was ready to reach out to Inspirit, to reassure everybody, to work harder to show how strong Infinite was.

            But the personal side…

            He felt rejected.  He felt hurt.  He felt helpless.  And he wasn’t any good at those feelings.

            L got out of his meeting early.  He met an actor for lunch and then went shopping.  He found himself standing in front of a bridal shop, gazing in, looking at all of the white, lacy things in the display window.

            For a second, he was tempted to go in.  Not to buy anything!  Just to see.

            Then he realized that Infinite’s L shopping for wedding stuff would start rumors he couldn’t deal with, and he moved on.

            He was walking back into the dorm when his phone pinged.  He collapsed on the couch.  “Maknae!”

            “He’s not here,” Sungyeol called from another room.

            Aw.  “Do I have to get my own drink?”

            “I’m not getting it for you!”

            He sighed.  Not interested in getting up, he checked his phone.

            Chen had texted him.  Sorry, I’ve had my phone off a lot these days.  It’s good to hear from you.  I hope that you and your members are looking out for each other.

            Well, nobody would hand him a drink, so there was room for improvement.

            After he had that thought, he took a second, and then he smiled.  Hunh.  He felt like he’d just had a healing moment.  Things were getting back to normal.

            He texted back.  I guess we’re getting used to it.

            It’s good that you have each other.

            Chen kept saying that.  It made L think of what Changjo had said, that Chen was kind of going through this alone.

            That thought gave him a pang.

            Chen wasn’t just some hoobae, he was Hoya’s boyfriend.  Ex-boyfriend, now, but not because he’d done anything wrong.  He hadn’t hurt or betrayed Hoya, hadn’t done a thing to cause Hoya to want to break up with him.  And now he was hurt, and he was alone.  And Hoya wouldn’t want that, Hoya would be upset by that.

            L felt like, out of loyalty to Hoya, he should do something.  It seemed wrong to just abandon someone one of the members loved.  If you’re not busy, later, we can meet up.

            Oh?  I have a bunch of schedules, later, but I have time now, tonight.  Unless you’re busy!

            Yeah, tonight’s good.  He wanted to see Chen, but he still felt kind of lazy.  I don’t know about going out and doing something complicated.  Let’s just hang out.

            A quiet night’s okay.  I can go over.

            He was surprised that Chen would offer that.  Was Chen okay hanging out in Infinite’s dorm, after the break-up?

            He was texting his reply when Woohyun came home.

            Woohyun.  Chen.  In the dorm together.

            He hurriedly edited his message.  Actually, maybe I’ve been spending too much time in.  There’s a place I’ve been wanting to go to, we could have dinner?

            Sehun looked up.  His gaze sweeping over Chen, he raised his eyebrows, impressed.

            Beside him on the couch, Chanyeol whistled.  “Hot date?”  Halfway to the door, Chen glanced over at them.  Sehun elbowed Chanyeol hard, and Chanyeol winced.  “I mean, uh, you look good.  Going out somewhere?”

            “Yeah, going out.”  Chen walked away.

            “What the hell,” Sehun whispered.

            “I know, ah, sorry.”  Chanyeol winced.

            “Where’s he going, though?”

            “I don’t know.”

            He wasn’t dating somebody new, was he?  Chen was emotionally resilient, but Sehun didn’t think that he’d be ready for a new relationship so fast.

            “Has he, uh.  Has he, you know, done anything with you, lately?”

            “What?”  Sehun laughed.  “Are you asking me about sex?”

            “He keeps turning me down.  I’ve got no game.  Are you getting any?”

            “No.  I figured he’s just sensitive about it.  Sex was really good with Hoya hyung, he might just need some time.  He’s still doing Suho hyung, though, I’m not worried about it.”

            “Oh.  Good, yeah.  Wait, just Suho hyung?”

            “I haven’t seen him with anybody else, but I don’t watch him every second.  He might be going down on Xiumin hyung all of the time, I wouldn’t know.”

            Chanyeol rubbed his nose.  “If he’s going out dressed like that, though, whoever he’s meeting is getting it.”

            “Definitely getting it,” Sehun agreed.  He wondered who it was.

            This might have been a bad idea.  Being face-to-face with L brought up emotions Chen hadn’t expected, more than he was ready to deal with.  When he walked into the restaurant, and L stepped forward to greet him, just looking into L’s eyes brought a wave of affection and grief.  For a second, his eyes watered.  And then L smiled at him in complete understanding and chuckled at him, embarrassed and fond, and tried to comfort him, and that only made everything worse.

            L put an arm around him.  “We can’t talk in here, anyway, let’s find somewhere else.”

            They went for a long walk, finding quieter and quieter streets.

            He hadn’t really talked about the break-up.  People kept asking him about it, but he hadn’t been ready to talk to any of them.  His feelings were too complex; the situation was too complex.

            But this was L.  He didn’t have a complicated history with L; the conversation would simply be about whatever they chose to say, without seeming to allude to a lot of other people, other things.  And he knew how Hoya had felt about L, how much Hoya had cherished L.  This was someone he wanted to open up to.

            They couldn’t talk in public, so they went back to EXO’s dorm.  He knew that, if he had L with him, he’d have privacy here, so he went into his room and closed the door, and trusted that everyone would stay out.

            They talked about the past, and about how Hoya had broken the news to them.  They talked about his good points, and his bad points, and how the rest of Infinite was taking it, and how Chen was taking it.  It turned out that he’d had a lot to get off of his chest.  Maybe he was sharing too much, but he’d kept a lot inside, and it was a relief to express it.  It hurt, but it was a cleansing kind of pain.  He told L about all of the hopes and dreams he’d had for their relationship, all of the plans they’d made, the future that was impossible, now.

            “He wanted that future with you,” L said, and then L’s expression flickered, a wry smile, a little tragedy.  “We’re the ones he didn’t want a future with anymore.  But he still wanted that with you.”

            “That’s awful,” Chen said.  He leaned his back against the wall.  “I don’t know what I was thinking, anyway.  I was so excited to have a boyfriend, and he’s so good at romance, I had all kinds of ideas.”

            “Ideas like what?” L asked, leaning closer.

            “Oh, it’s nothing.  It was never real, we never had concrete plans.  It’s just little stuff.  I’d say, like, ‘Oh, Greece, I’d love to go to Greece,’ and he’d say, ‘Let’s go together, let’s meet there sometime,’ and we’d talk about that for a second.  It was just flirting, it was just how we talked.”

            L nodded.

            L listened so well and gazed at him with so much quiet understanding, he felt like he could share more.  “It’s really hard, dating.  Dating as an idol.  Dating as a gay idol, all of it.”

            “It’s not easy,” L said.

            “It’s hell,” he said frankly.  “But I loved it.  I’ve never been so happy.  I have my career, and I have my friends, and I have my family, and I have that, that, my boyfriend, our relationship.  For a long time, I thought, if I want to be an idol, I can’t have that, too.  That was a really hard decision to make, there were times I wondered if I’d made the wrong choice.  What kind of life is this, if I have to give that up?  But then I had it, and it was even better than I thought.  I got so much out of it.  Hoya hyung gave me so much.”

            “Then you aren’t always so happy all of the time?” L asked.  “It was because of him?”

            “I’ve been freaking high, dating him,” Chen said.  “You think bad rehearsals and broken mics and sore feet can bother me, when as soon as it’s over, I can call Hoya hyung?  You think I mind how tired I am and how long practice runs and how annoying my leader is, when I have a date lined up?”

            “Really,” L said, stretching out on his side, hugging the pillow, gazing up at Chen with a smile.  “I thought you were just kind of simple.”

            “No!”  He laughed at the teasing.  “I was just happy.  The good stuff feels great, and the difficult stuff isn’t as hard to take.  And it was all going so well, I thought maybe…”  He hesitated, unsure about saying it out loud.  “I believed in it.  I believed in us.  I thought that we’d stay together.  I thought that maybe someday we’d get to Greece together.”

            L nodded.

            He wasn’t talking about Greece, specifically.  Or, not just Greece.  He meant so much more.  A real future.  It had been a fantasy, but there had been so many moments it had seemed possible.  There had been so much potential, between the two of them.

            “I’m sorry.”  L shook his head, looking conflicted, emotional.  “Fuck, I’m sorry.  You must be going through hell right now.”  He sat up again, his hand on Chen’s knee.  “I don’t know what to say.”

            Suho had warned them that L was manipulative, but in that moment, Chen believed him.  He seemed earnest in his empathy.  And that was what Chen had needed.  Someone to talk to, someone who understood, someone who’d just listen and care.  Someone else who loved Hoya, and knew what losing him meant.

            “Have you and Changjo met each other’s families?” Chen asked impulsively.

            L looked bemused.  “Sure, of course.”

            It took a second, and then Chen laughed.  “No, not Infinite and Teen Top, I mean your real families.”

            “Oh.  Ah, no, not yet.”  L stroked Chen’s hair and smiled.  “He’s not ready to introduce me to Andy sunbaenim, that’s a big step.”

            Chen burst into laughter.  Okay, he could take a hint, he wouldn’t push.  “Well, maybe someday.  Andy sunbae’s nice, I’m sure that he’ll like you.”

            L smiled.  “Do you think he’d approve?”

            “Suho hyung approves.  Do you think that Andy sunbae has stricter standards than that?”

            L chuckled.  “Good point.”  He rubbed Chen’s shoulder.  “You can come over, when you want.  To our dorm, to see us.”

            “Infinite’s dorm?  It seems awkward,” he admitted.  “Nobody wants the ex showing up.”

            “I don’t know.  Some people still stay close to their in-laws, after the divorce.  Sunggyu hyung wants to see you, anyway.”

            “Does he?”  Chen had really wanted to see Sunggyu.  And Woohyun.  And all of them, really.  “I miss your members,” he admitted.  “I already liked you all, anyway, on my own, but you were such a big part of Hoya hyung’s life, and he loved you so much, I think that maybe I accidentally fell for you, too.”

            “You should come by,” L said.  “But, uh.”  His gaze flickered and his lips quirked.  “Woohyun hyung’s taking it hard.  He might seem a little strange.  If he takes anything out on you, you’ll have to forgive him, okay?”

            Chen felt a pang of sympathy.  “I understand.  I won’t hold it against him.”  The Infinite members had all been so close for so long, it would be weird if parting ways didn’t affect them.  He felt eager to visit Infinite’s dorm, now, felt eager to check in with the members.  Just being with L had a powerful effect on him.  “I’ll come by soon, when I can.  I want to see everybody.”

            They talked some more, and they ended things on a really good note.  Chen had never felt closer to L, and it seemed genuine this time, a real bond between them.  When he walked L to the door, L hugged him.  It was such a good hug, he hated to let go.  “I’m sorry,” L told him, soft in his ear.  “He really loved you.  It’s not your fault.”

            “He loves you, too,” Chen said, rubbing his back.  “It’s not your fault, either.”

            L pulled back, gave him a watery smile, and left.

            For a moment, he felt better.  Like poison had been gathering up inside of him, and L had helped to drain it out.  He was better off, now, healthier, more whole.  He felt like, in time, he’d be able to move on, like he could start the healing process now.

            “Hey,” Kai said, walking up to him.  “L hyung’s gone?”

            “Wow, you were right, he really did dress up for it,” Baekhyun said, trailing after Kai, Chanyeol wandering in out of nowhere.  “How is stuff, did you guys talk?”

            He couldn’t deal with this.  “I have to go,” he said, pocketing his phone.

            “What, suddenly?” Chanyeol asked.

            “Yeah, I have somewhere to be.  I might not get back for a while,” he said, putting on his shoes.

            “Can I come-”

            “I’ll be back later,” he said, and walked out.

            Dongwoo was bad at relationships.

            He was bad at break-ups, too.

            He kept falling into old habits.  Hoya had been such a constant part of his life for so long, how was he supposed to account for suddenly not having Hoya around at all?  When he ordered drinks, of course he ordered seven, that was how ordering drinks went.  When he heard a really sick new beat, he started to text Hoya about it; that was what he’d always done.  When he was shopping and he saw a great-looking pair of purple shoes, the first thing he did was ask for a pair in Hoya’s size.

            He gave the extra drink to their manager.  He texted the beat to Woohyun.  He bought the shoes in black, instead, and gave them to Sunggyu.

            It took time to pick up new habits.  He’d get there.

            Woohyun was jealous.  He was possessive.  It was in his nature.

            His members were hurt, and he paid a lot of attention to who they turned to, who was comforting them.

            Sungyeol was distracting himself by focusing on Golden Child and hanging out with Niel, but Niel wasn’t a threat.  Dongwoo spent a lot of time with family and with Chunji.  So far, Chunji had been bearable; a complication, but one Woohyun could mostly tolerate.  L was spending a lot of time with Changjo, but Changjo was what Woohyun considered a known issue, an ongoing problem that Woohyun was going to have to confront eventually but had let L steer him away from until now.

            Sunggyu was spending a lot of time with management.  He’d seen Suho, but Suho wasn’t his primary source of comfort.  Was Suho being neglectful?  Was Sunggyu losing interest?

            Sungjong was suddenly hanging out with C.A.P.

            The same C.A.P. he’d used to scorn and loathe for breaking L’s heart was suddenly his favorite new hyung.  He was full of smiles now, energetic, dressing up, going out more often.

            Woohyun asked Sungyeol what that was about.

            “It’s weird, right?” Sungyeol asked.  “I didn’t get it, either, didn’t he used to hate C.A.P.?”

            “I guess he got over it,” Woohyun said.

            “It’s just sex, I think,” Sungyeol said.  “He was telling me about it last night, how great it is.  Can’t really blame him, I like it, too.”

            Sex.  Was that what had turned Sungjong’s head?  A little sex?

            The dorm was quiet when Sungjong slipped in.  It was late; it seemed like his hyungs were asleep.  He went to the bathroom to wash up, and then he put on his pajamas.  He considered finding a hyung’s bed to crawl into, just for some skinship, but he didn’t mind being on his own, tonight.  Not when he had such good memories to keep him warm.

            He turned off the light and hopped into bed.  Head on his pillow, he got comfortable, smiling to himself in the darkness.  He’d had such a great time with C.A.P. tonight.  C.A.P. was really uncomplicated, and he liked that.  There was enough upheaval in the rest of his life that it was really nice to have a hyung who kept things simple.

            His door opened.  He rolled over; there was just enough light from the other room for him to see Woohyun coming into his room.  “Hyung,” he murmured, scooting over to make space.  Woohyun had been sleeping with him more often, lately.  He liked the skinship.

            “Sungjong-ah,” Woohyun whispered, crawling on top of him.  The soft, coaxing sound of Woohyun’s voice sent a thrill through him, and he caught his breath.  Jongie love,” Woohyun whispered, teasing up his shirt.

            He shuddered, feeling a pulse of heat between his thighs.  “Hyung, no,” he whispered, coiling his arms around Woohyun’s neck.  “Not tonight, okay?”  He couldn’t take all of that.  Even just regular sex with Woohyun was really intense lately; even that was a lot to handle.  This was too much to ask.

            “No?”  Woohyun didn’t keep making moves, but didn’t pull away, either, just stayed on top of him, on all fours, a hand splayed over his stomach.  “You’ll give yourself to C.A.P. and not to me?”

            “It’s not like that.”

            “What’s he been doing for you?” Woohyun asked.  “Tell me about it, you like the way he gets that big cock in you?”

            Embarrassed, he pushed Woohyun away.  “It’s just sex.  Come on, let me go to sleep, it’s late.”

            “Remember how you used to think that C.A.P. was a criminal for breaking L’s heart?  Remember how you thought so much of L that you were never going to talk to C.A.P. again, for throwing him away like that?  But I guess if enough time passes, things start to look different.”  Woohyun slipped off of his bed.

            Stricken, he said, “It’s not like that.”

            Woohyun walked away without saying anything else.

            Did Woohyun really think that?  Did L think that?!

            C.A.P. had been a selfish, thoughtless asshole, but that had been years ago.  L was over it, L didn’t care anymore.  Sungjong had checked with him - - discreetly, not making a big deal of it, just bringing it up - - and he really didn’t care at all anymore.  He loved Changjo so much, he didn’t even see anybody else.  C.A.P. didn’t mean a thing to him.

            It wasn’t like Sungjong was trying to date C.A.P.  They were just hanging out, it was just sex.  Everybody had sex with C.A.P.  If Sungjong was dating C.A.P., then he was also dating Kai and Chanyeol and Baekhyun and Xiumin and everybody.  There was nothing serious going on.

            Was he being disloyal?  He’d never be disloyal to L, of all people!  He felt sick, just thinking about it.

            Ashamed, he rolled over in bed.

            Maybe he shouldn’t see C.A.P. anymore.  Not on his own, anyway.  When he thought about what C.A.P. had done to L, how devastated L had been, he hated himself.  Woohyun was right.  C.A.P. shouldn’t be forgiven for it.  Sungjong had been letting his hormones get to him; he’d forgotten what really mattered.

            Sunggyu was still in the dorm.  In the middle of the living room, on the floor, surrounded by lengths of wood and little bags of nails and screws.

            “What is this?” Woohyun asked, mystified.  Amused, he crouched down at Sunggyu’s side.  “Becoming a carpenter?”

            “It’s Dongwoo’s bookshelf, I’m putting it together for him.  Why did he get something so complicated?  It has too many parts, why couldn’t he buy one that shows up already in one piece?”

            He smiled, enjoying Sunggyu’s fussing.  He picked up a bag of screws and examined it.  “Why isn’t he helping you with it?”

            “He’s not here, is he?  I’m doing it for him, I thought I could do it now and it’ll be all assembled when he gets back.  I’m trying to be nice.”

            “Do you want help?”

            “Yes.”  Looking grateful, Sunggyu thrust a booklet of instructions at him.  “Figure this out, I don’t know these languages.”

            “There’s no Korean?” he asked, flipping through it.

            “It’s all French and Italian and Martian, I don’t know.”  Sunggyu picked up a piece of wood, gave it a very serious, considering look, and delicately set it aside again.  “I think there are too many parts, here, this has to be from a different bookcase.”

            Woohyun tried scanning the Japanese, glanced over the English, and handed the booklet back.  “What are you doing here, anyway?  Shouldn’t you be out?  EXO’s in town.”

            “Am I an EXO-L?  Should I spend my time outside their dorm, waiting for a glimpse?  I have my own life.”  He flipped through the booklet, then turned it upside-down.  That seemed to inspire him; he gathered up a couple of pieces of wood and tried fitting them together.  “Where are the B screws?”

            “Do you have a screwdriver?”

            “I did,” he said.  His gaze roamed the junk spread out around him.  “Did it roll away?”  He checked under his legs.

            Woohyun found it and passed it over.  “Suho’s busy tonight?”

            “How should I know?”  Sunggyu gestured to him; he held the boards in place so that Sunggyu could screw them together.  “He’s spending time with his family.”

            “Is something going on between the two of you?”

            “Nothing’s going on.”

            Woohyun gave him a look.

            He carefully sorted screws.  “We’re having a very comfortable, very friendly, very short break period.”

            Woohyun’s first thought was that Suho was breaking up with Sunggyu.  He was immediately convinced that he was going to have to kill Suho.  He was going to have to destroy Suho, break him down until absolutely nothing was left.

            “No.”  Sunggyu looked startled.  “No, it was my idea, mine.”  With a quick laugh and a gorgeous smile, Sunggyu reached for him, cupping the back of his neck.  “Woohyun-ah, it’s okay.  It’s not like that, it’s not serious.  I just told you, it’s a friendly break, it’s still comfortable between us.  It was my idea.”

            “It wasn’t your idea.”  He didn’t believe that for a second.  “You don’t want to take a break from him.”  He knew how Sunggyu felt about Suho.  He knew all about it.  It ate him alive every single day.

            “It’s just a little break,” Sunggyu said.  His hand dropped from Woohyun.  He toyed with the screwdriver.  “I need to focus on other things for now.  I need to give my attention to Infinite.  It’s not an emergency, but some of the members are still having trouble adjusting, and we have a lot of work to do, preparing for the comeback, so-”

            “You’re pushing him aside for us?” Woohyun asked.  “Some of the members, which members?”  He couldn’t believe this.  “Did you throw Young Money away for me?”

            “I didn’t throw him away!  We’re still boyfriends, we didn’t break up, why are you making it sound so dramatic?”

            “He’s EXO’s Suho!” Woohyun exclaimed.  “You can’t treat him like this!  Do you know how many other guys are after him?”

            “You’re going to make me panic, why are you talking like this?” Sunggyu complained.

            “Call him,” Woohyun ordered.  “Tell him that you’re sorry, tell him that you didn’t mean it.”

            “I can’t call him now, he’s with his parents.  Why are you being so noisy about this?” Sunggyu demanded.  “I’m trying to be considerate and spend more time with you and help you through a hard time, and you’re yelling at me.”

            “Why did you do this?” Woohyun asked, at a loss.  “You don’t make compromises like this, you’ve always said that Suho has to respect your time with us, and we have to respect your relationship with him.”

            “There are going to be times that he needs me,” Sunggyu said.  “This is a time that you need me.”

            Woohyun ran his hand through his hair.  “This can’t work.  You push him away to be with me, and then later when he breaks up with you, you’ll wonder if this was the beginning of the end.  You’ll blame me.  If he dumps you, and it’s my fault, you’ll never forgive me for it.  I can’t do something you can’t forgive me for, I can’t be responsible for this.”

            “None of that’s happening, you’re making things up.”

            “If I could get away with breaking you up, if I could get away with getting you to take a break to focus on Infinite, I would’ve done it already.”

            “You’re not doing it, I’m doing it.  This was my choice.  You need me.”

            “I need you to be happy with Suho.”

            “You want me to break up with him.”

            “Yeah,” he admitted.  “Yeah, but because you hate him, not because of me.  If things go wrong because of me, that’ll ruin everything, you’ll never look at me the same way again.”

            “What am I supposed to do?” Sunggyu asked.  “I have to take care of you, I can’t leave you on your own right now.”

            “He’s with his parents?” Woohyun asked.  “Text him and apologize to him and say that you’ll see him tomorrow.  And then let’s go do something, let’s go out.”  They had tonight to be together, anyway.

            “I didn’t think that you’d react this way,” Sunggyu said.  “What about this?” he asked, gesturing to the two boards he’d screwed together.

            “Sungyeol can do it.”

            Sunggyu’s eyes widened.  He nodded, happy with that, and they got up.

            Woohyun hugged him.

            “I love you.”  Sunggyu hugged him back.  “Hyung’s here, okay?  You’ll be okay.”

            Woohyun hated Suho.  Hated Sunggyu for ever noticing Suho, for being so attracted to someone else.  Hated himself for not being enough for Sunggyu.

            He hadn’t been able to keep Hoya.  He wouldn’t be able to keep Sunggyu, either.  He felt like this was just the first break, a sign of tragedy to come.  Maybe he should fight Suho off now, get rid of Changjo and Chunji while he could.  Hold his world together while he still could, fight harder.

            Making concessions now, giving in here and there, wasn’t working.  He’d let Hoya have Chen, and how had that turned out?  He’d thought that if he let Dongwoo just go ahead and be with Chunji, that long-term, it would work in his favor.  It would keep Dongwoo pacified; it would keep Dongwoo with him.

            Maybe that was the wrong tactic.  Sunggyu giving Suho too much breathing room might lead to losing Suho altogether, and letting Hoya have Chen had given Hoya freedom to roam.

            He needed to keep his puppies on the leash.  Keep other dogs from wandering through the fence.  He didn’t want anybody slipping out, getting loose.

            Sunggyu stroked the back of Woohyun’s neck.  Slowly, his eyebrows went up, and his grip tightened, as he studied Woohyun’s face.  “Woohyun-ah.  This isn’t a time to cause problems.  Everybody’s going through enough, right now.  Let’s focus on healing.  It’s a new start.”

            He smiled, leaning closer.  “Let’s not go out,” he suggested, toying with Sunggyu’s hair.  “Let’s stay in.”

            “We’ll do whatever you want to do,” Sunggyu promised, rubbing his sides, stroking up and down his ribcage.  “If you want to stay in, if you want to go out, we’ll do what you want.  Nam Woohyun’s night.”

            He leaned in for a kiss-

            -and then he pulled back, second-guessing himself.  He wasn’t in the right mood for this.  He didn’t want to corrupt his relationship with Sunggyu, one of the most important things in his life.  “Text Suho, and give me a minute.  I’ll meet you in your room.”

            Sunggyu gave him a questioning look, but nodded.

            He went into his room.  He changed into sexier underwear, first of all.  Then he tried to clear his mind, tried to get his emotions in the right place.

            Sunggyu loved him.  Sunggyu was willing to nudge Suho out of the way to make room for him.  That was a huge concession he hadn’t been sure that Sunggyu was willing to make.

            He was standing there, in his underpants, rubbing his arms and questioning his instincts, fighting himself, when Sunggyu walked in.  Looking him over, Sunggyu smiled, looking pleased and interested and flattered.

            Flustered, he laughed.  “Aren’t we meeting in your room?”

            “You took too long, I missed you.”  Sunggyu’s hand brushed over his side.  Sunggyu’s smile was bright.  “Did you wear this for me?”

            “Yeah,” he admitted.  He loved the slide of Sunggyu’s palm over his bare skin.  So intimate, so sensual.

            “I like it.”  Pulling him close, Sunggyu murmured softly, cheek close to his.  “I’m going to have a good night, if you’re treating me this well.”

            Not trusting what might come out of his mouth, he smiled, sliding his hands over Sunggyu’s waist.

            “You’ve gone through a lot, lately,” Sunggyu said quietly.  “It’s been hard for you.”  His touch was soothing, gentling.  “Let hyung take care of you.  Let hyung be good to you.”  Sunggyu’s expression was calm, and understanding, and kind.  There was a steadiness behind Sunggyu’s eyes, a confidence in the way Sunggyu touched him, a familiar strength here, that he trusted.  It settled him.  “We’ll go in my room, and lock the door, and not worry about anything else.  It’ll be just us.”

            He needed that.  Sunggyu had been making love to him a lot, lately, but he kept needing more.  He felt like a bottomless well, felt like he craved more than anyone could ever give him.  But Sunggyu kept trying, anyway.  Pouring love into him, not realizing that he could never get enough.

            Cradling the back of his head, Sunggyu kissed him.  The brush of Sunggyu’s lips over his was so tender, he felt his tension melt away.  Sunggyu was right.  He didn’t want to worry about anything else.  He wanted to take a night off, wanted to lock the door and leave everything else on the other side.

            He’d get everything he could out of his time with Sunggyu tonight.  All of the love, all of the healing, all of the magic.

            And tomorrow, well.  He’d see how he felt about it tomorrow.

            Sungyeol had come home last night and found parts of something strewn all over the floor.  He’d been too tired to make sense of it, and he’d had Baekhyun with him, so he’d been kind of distracted.

            The next morning, though, after Baekhyun left, he was interested.  Was it a bookcase or something?  He found the instructions.  None of it was in Korean, but the illustrations were simple enough.  He worked on it, and by the time the other members were up, he had it all put together.

            “Is that my bookcase?” Dongwoo asked, petting it.

            “Looks great,” Chunji said, curling up on the couch.  “When does your bed get here?”

            “Soon, I hope!” Dongwoo said.

            “This is nice,” Sungjong said, studying  it.  “You should paint it white.  It’d be pretty.”

            “It won’t fit in there, now,” Dongwoo said.  “Can I keep it out here?  Gyu hyung will be mad if it’s in his way.”

            “You can keep it in my room, there’s space,” Sungjong said.  So Sungyeol helped to move it into the maknae’s room.

            He liked the way it looked.  It was just a bookcase, but he felt like he’d accomplished something.  Built something, done something he could point to.  Contributed something.  “You got anything else you need put together?”

            “The bedframe, when it gets here,” Dongwoo said.

            “Any, like, other shelves?  A table or something?”

            “How many shelves do I need?” Dongwoo asked.

            “There was that desk you liked,” Chunji said.  “That big glass thing.”

            “A glass desk?” Sungjong asked.

            “A glass top,” Dongwoo said.  “Ah, I liked that one,” he admitted.  “I liked the way it looked.  I wanted to see Chunji lying on top of it.  But it seemed so expensive.”

            “Expensive, or expensive?” Sungyeol asked.  “If you want it, just get it.”

            “It won’t go with the bedframe, they won’t look right at all,” Dongwoo said.  “Let’s find something that’ll match, you want to come?”

            “Sure,” Sungyeol said.

            Sungjong’s phone rang.  He glanced at it, silenced it, and smiled at them.  “I’ll go.”

            When Sungjong didn’t answer, C.A.P. texted.  Hey, just wanted to say hi.  Lunch or something?

            Sungjong didn’t get back to him.

            Chen heard voices.  Sehun’s voice, specifically.  He froze, then slowly recoiled, staring at the closed door.

            “Did you even come to see me?” Ricky’s voice asked.

            They were right on the other side of the door.  Chen checked his phone to make sure that it was off, that it wouldn’t make noise and give him away.

            “Sure I did,” Sehun said.  “I just thought, if Up10tion’s around, I can say hi while I’m here.”

            “Oh, are you dying to say hi to Kogyeol?” Ricky asked.

            “Yes, I’ve been looking forward to it.  Which one’s Kogyeol?”

            Ricky laughed.

            Their voices faded away.

            Chen breathed easier.  He waited a moment, but he didn’t hear anything else.  He went back to his book.

            “Oh, god, I missed this,” Suho moaned, laying back, pulling Sunggyu down on top of himself.

            Undoing his fly, Sunggyu laughed at him.  “Already?  We’ve gone longer without seeing each other a lot of times.”

            “I hated it, let’s not do that again.”

            “Okay.  I’m sorry, it was a bad idea,” Sunggyu said, and kissed him, tugging his pants down.  Eager for it, he moaned, lifting his hips.  Sunggyu’s kisses were a sensual luxury, and when Sunggyu’s hand spread his thighs, he squirmed, unbearably aroused.  “Sorry, Money-ah.  Hyung will make it up to you.”

            Sunggyu more than made it up to him.  By the time Sunggyu was finished, he was blissfully fulfilled.  Moaning dreamily, smiling at nothing, he stretched out across the bed.

            Sunggyu patted his back.  “Do you forgive me?”

            “Yes.”  It came out breathy and dazed.  He couldn’t remember what he might have to forgive Sunggyu for, but whatever it was, yes, it was definitely forgiven.

            “You won’t leave me for some hot chaebol now?”

            That didn’t make any sense to him.  “What?”  He rolled over, wanting to understand, but as soon as he met Sunggyu’s eyes, everything else faded from his mind.  Melting again, he sighed.

            Leaning over him, Sunggyu patted his side.  “I like seeing you like this.  Thank you, Money-ah, you’re very good for hyung’s ego.”

            Mmm.”  He reached up limply, stroking Sunggyu’s cheek.  He loved the way Sunggyu smiled at him.  He loved how special this hyung made him feel.

            Sunggyu gently brushed his hand aside, then leaned down and kissed him.  It felt so good that when Sunggyu started to pull away, he chased Sunggyu’s mouth, stealing more kisses, greedy, drunk on pleasure.

            Sunggyu nudged him over and spooned up behind him.  He snuggled back into Sunggyu’s embrace.  He wanted to talk, there was a lot to say, but he already felt his eyes closing, and in a moment, he was asleep.

            He woke up a while later to hear someone knocking at the door.  Sunggyu grumbled, “Go away,” and then, louder, “Go away!”

            “It’s Young Money’s phone,” Sungjong said.  “An alarm is going off.”

            “Oh!”  Oh, he’d forgotten!  “Sorry!”  Suho hopped up.  He hurried into his clothes and opened the door.  “Sorry, thank you,” he said, taking the phone from Sungjong.  “Should you call me ‘Young Money hyung?’” he wondered.  “No, that sounds ridiculous.  ‘Money hyung?’” he tried.

            “Get back in here,” Sunggyu ordered.

            “Maybe just Suho hyung,” Sungjong suggested, smiling.

            “Okay, that’s fine,” he agreed.  He went back to Sunggyu, but he didn’t get into the bed.  If he touched the bed, he wouldn’t be able to get up again, it was too dangerous.  “It’s my alarm,” he said awkwardly.  “I have to go.”

            “You’re leaving?”  Sitting up, Sunggyu looked betrayed.  “Suddenly?  It’s the middle of the night.”

            “I can’t stay.  I shouldn’t stay.  It’s too bad, I wanted to talk, I shouldn’t have fallen asleep.  Tomorrow, or, no, if we’re taking a break, I shouldn’t see you two nights in a row,” he mumbled, pawing at his hair, trying to smooth it down.

            “What break, there’s no break.”

            “Maybe there should be.  I’m being selfish,” he admitted.  “Your members really do need you.  You always tell me to put my members first, to take care of them, and if we had a problem in EXO, you’d be understanding.  I should be that way, too.  If Infinite needs you-”

            “There’s no break,” Sunggyu insisted.  “Are you being stubborn?  You won’t listen to me?  The break’s over, there’s no break anymore.”

            “Is everything the way you want it to be, between your members?” Suho asked, giving him a direct look, a challenge.  “You’re satisfied?”

            Sunggyu scowled at him.

            “Then we’ll take a break until that’s taken care of.”

            Sunggyu started to object.

            “You’d do the same for me.  You’d tell me, ‘Take care of your members, Money-ah, a leader’s responsibility is real.’  Well, your responsibility is real, and I respect that.  I won’t be selfish.  You wouldn’t like me anymore if I were.”

            “What is this, I’m being bullied by my own dongsaengs,” Sunggyu said helplessly.  “Woohyun says don’t take a break, breaks aren’t allowed, get back together immediately.  Money says take a break, let’s not see each other anymore.  What am I supposed to do, who’s in charge here?”

            “Woohyun’s against the break?”  Suho smiled.  “He’s so romantic.”

            Sunggyu scratched the side of his head.

            “How is he?”  Suho sat on the edge of the desk chair.  “I’ve been worried about him.  He’s the only member I haven’t talked to.  We’ve made plans, but he’s always so busy that we have to cancel.”

            “You’ve made plans?”  Sunggyu looked surprised.

            He nodded.  “We were going to meet a few times.  I really want to see him.  L says that he’s taking it hard.  Are you looking after him?”

            “Of course I am.”  Sunggyu grimaced.  “It’s hard.  He needs a lot of things, and not just from me.  If it were just from me, I could take care of it, but I can’t do it all by myself.  He needs things from other people, too, from the other members.”

            Suho frowned, trying to understand.  “Are the members having trouble bonding?  They won’t comfort each other?  But Infinite’s so close.”

            “I won’t tell you too much,” Sunggyu decided.  “You and Woohyun should grow closer on your own, I won’t say everything about him all at once.”

            “Okay.”  Suho could accept that.

            “Why are you leaving, where are you going?  Come back to bed, I like having you beside me.”

            “Whenever you visit my dorm and you sleep over, my members get sensitive about missing a night with me.  I thought that your members might feel the same way.  So I won’t spend the night.  You should share your bed with them.  It means a lot to them, they get a lot from it.”

            “They’re all already in bed, they don’t care.  Come here,” Sunggyu insisted, reaching for him.

            He quickly rolled the chair away, out of reach, then got up.  “I’ve already made my decision.  Sungjong’s still up, maybe he’ll want to stay with you.”


            “I’ll go ask him,” he decided, backing towards the door.  “Or is there someone else, does another member need you more?  I’ll see who’s still up.”

            Ya!  Money!”

            He took a quick tour of the dorm.  Sungjong was on the couch, making out with Sungyeol; he wouldn’t bother them.  Woohyun was out.  That was too bad; he really wanted to see Woohyun.  Dongwoo and L were in the kitchen, talking.

            “Hey,” he said.  L smiled at him; Dongwoo offered him an apple.  “No, thanks, I have to go.  Sunggyu hyung-  He stopped talking, suddenly self-conscious.  He felt himself blushing hotly.  This had all seemed so reasonable, a minute ago.  “Uh, he, well.  Sometimes, I think, members like to be close to their leaders, don’t they?”  L was giving him a puzzled smile; Dongwoo’s head was tilting to one side like a confused dog.  “I’m going, but he doesn’t need to stay alone all night.  If you want to go, ah, go and see him, maybe sleep with him.”

            L laughed.  “Are you asking us to go and sleep with your boyfriend?”

            “Screw your boyfriend?” Dongwoo asked.

            “Sleep, I said!” he exclaimed, indignant.  “Sleep together.  I don’t know about all of the rest of that, that’s up to you, that doesn’t have anything to do with me.”

            “I like screwing your boyfriend,” Dongwoo said, grinning.  “I like screwing your boyfriend,” he told L.  “Do you like screwing my boyfriend?” he asked Suho.

            Oh, god.  “He’s very pretty,” he mumbled, almost dropping his phone.  “I have to go.”

            Coming to the end of a chapter, Chen set his book aside.  He finished his smoothie and checked his watch.  He’d been turning his phone off so much, he’d started wearing a watch not just for fashion, but for the actual time.

            Oh, shit!  He hadn’t realized how late it was.  He’d better go; he had to get to practice.

            He tucked his book into his bag, folded up the blanket, and grabbed his empty smoothie cup.  He turned off the lamp and went to the door.  Not hearing anything, he nudged the door open and started to creep out.

            Ah!  Startled, he ducked back inside, easing the door shut.  C.A.P. and Niel were coming down the hallway.  Grimacing, he held the doorknob, waiting.

            “He seems okay,” Niel was saying.

            “He’s all right?” C.A.P. asked.  “I guess he’s busy.”


            “With the comeback and everything.”


            C.A.P. laughed.  “Is he not busy?”

            “I don’t know.  I’m not in charge of Sungjong hyung’s schedules.  I have enough to do already, keeping track of mine.”

            Chunji’s with Dongwoo hyung all of the time,” C.A.P. said.  “Changjo’s always with L.  Sungjong can’t be that busy, if everyone else has free time.”

            “Okay,” Niel said.  “I don’t care.”

            C.A.P. laughed, and their voices drifted away as they passed by.

            Chen counted to one hundred, then slipped out.

            Baekhyun had shown up early for practice.  Chen had been out a lot, lately, and they’d barely seen each other.  When they did see each other, they were in front of cameras or getting their make-up done or something, and they couldn’t talk.  He had no idea where Chen kept going or what Chen kept taking off to do, but he’d figured that Chen had to show up for practice.  He’d hoped that they’d have a chance to talk tonight before practice started.

            Six minutes before practice, Suho showed up.

            Four minutes before practice, Suho left.

            Practice time hit.

            Chen wasn’t there.

            Baekhyun exchanged glances with D.O.

            “Let’s just get started,” Xiumin said.  So they started.  The whole room felt really uneasy.  Baekhyun was so flustered and distracted that he bumped into Sehun twice and missed the first line of his part.

            Nine minutes into practice, Chen walked in.  He didn’t say anything, just came in and set his bag down.  Baekhyun, moving on clumsy auto-pilot, kept dancing with everybody else, watching him.  He stood to the side, waiting, like nothing was going on, until the song ended.  Then he came over and got into his spot like there was nothing wrong.

            Two minutes after that, Suho came in.  “Good, you started without me.  Sorry to be late.”

            Baekhyun and D.O. exchanged another look.  But nobody said anything.  They weren’t going to tell on Chen.  The last thing Baekhyun wanted to do was turn traitor, get Chen in trouble.

            But if stuff was going on with Chen, if he was starting to go rogue, shouldn’t Suho know about it?  Like, to ward off trouble, get him back in line?

            Baekhyun didn’t want to be a hard-ass, and being late once was the most normal thing in the world, but Chen’s behavior hadn’t been normal, lately.  This grim, quiet, distant guy wasn’t his best friend Chen, it was somebody else, and that was freaking him out.  The normal Chen wouldn’t be late, and if he were late, he’d come in flustered and guilty, and they’d all conspire happily together to keep it from Suho.  There was no conspiring happily, anymore.  Nothing was ever done happily.  Chen was unhappy.  And Baekhyun didn’t know how to fix it, if Chen wouldn’t freaking talk to him, or ever be in the same room with him.

            At this point, apparently Infinite’s L knew what was going on with Chen better than Baekhyun did.

            L’s phone was ringing.

            Rolling over in bed, Woohyun picked it up from the nightstand.  The caller ID said, “EXO B.”  Baekhyun?  Since when did L talk to Baekhyun?

            He answered.  “Hello, this is Kim Myungsoo’s phone.”

            Under him, L gave him a questioning look.

            He showed L the screen.

            L grimaced and shook his head.

            So L wasn’t eager for Baekhyun’s calls.  Then why was Baekhyun calling?

            “Uh, hi?” Baekhyun asked.  “Is L there?”

            “Sure, hold on.”  Woohyun handed him the phone.

            L hung up and tossed the phone aside.

            Laughing, Woohyun kissed him.  “L-ah, that’s no way to treat a hoobae.  That’s one of Suho’s precious members.”

            “I’m busy,” L said, his fingers playing over Woohyun’s ribcage.  His gaze was knowing, seductive.  Moaning, falling for it, Woohyun kissed him.

            The phone rang again.

            Mmm, ignore it,” L whispered, nipping at his jaw.

            “He knows you’re here, he’ll think you’re being rude.”  Woohyun answered again and handed the phone to L.

            Huffing a sigh, L gave the screen a bored look.  “Yeah, this is L.”

            “Uh, hi,” Baekhyun said.  “Sorry, we just got disconnected.  I, uh.  I was just wondering if you’ve seen Chen.”

            Chen?  Woohyun leaned closer, wanting to hear.

            L kissed his cheek, fingers sinking into his hair.  “No, haven’t seen him.”

            “Oh.  I just thought, yeah, okay.  How’ve you been?  Sorry, I know that’s the worst question, you’re probably sick of people asking that.”

            “I’m all right.”

            “Baekhyun-ah,” Woohyun said.  “It’s Woohyun hyung.  How is our Chen-ah?”

            “Oh, hey, hyung.  He - - ah, it’s a little weird, it isn’t something I want to burden you with.  He’s not that great, actually.  I’m worried about him.  Just between us!  Don’t start rumors, everything’s fine.”

            Woohyun chuckled.  “It’s okay, I understand.  He’s taking it hard?”

            “Yeah, he’s not really himself.”

            “That’s too bad.  I’d like to see him, tell him to call me.  It’s good of you to care so much, I’m glad that he has members who can help him through it.”

            “I’m sorry about everything,” Baekhyun said.  “I’m really glad about the rest of you, though.  All six members who did renew.  I’d be devastated if we lost the rest of you, too, you know?”

            “Ah, do I say thanks?” Woohyun asked, chuckling.  “Let’s meet soon, okay?  I’ll hang up first.”

            “Okay, hyung.”

            Woohyun hung up.  “Baekhyun calls you when he’s looking for Chen?”

            “You don’t care about Baekhyun,” L said, running his hand over Woohyun’s ass.  His gaze was dark and direct.  “You don’t ever have to think about Chen again, he doesn’t mean anything to us anymore.  Don’t waste time on what doesn’t matter.”

            L’s eyes were mesmerizing.  Woohyun ran his thumb along L’s chin, tipping it up.  L’s lashes drifted down to half-mast, sleepy, his lips parting.  He was beautiful.  “You’re mine,” Woohyun said.

            “I know,” L said, his voice soft and sure.  “I’m yours.”  His fingers slipped across Woohyun’s collarbone.  “Will you tell me that you love me?”

            Woohyun’s lips drew back in a feral smile.  “You’re mine,” he repeated, dragging his nails down L’s chest.  “And I love you.  I love you,” he whispered, over and over again, sweetly, forcefully, grinding his cock against L’s, making L shudder against him.

            “God, unh-hh.”  Gasping, L writhed under him, grinding up against his hard-on.  Eyes squeezing shut in a spasm of pleasure, L gripped his ass.  “You love me?”

            “I love you,” Woohyun promised, rocking urgently against him.

            “You want me, do you want me?” he panted, groaning.

            “Always, L-ah, always,” he hissed, bracing a hand against the headboard, his hips rolling, his erection stroking right against L’s, L’s pre-cum making him slick.

            “Then fuck me, god, I don’t understand why you aren’t fucking me,” L said, arching against him, needy, demanding.  “I want you inside me.”

            He growled, breathing against L’s cheek.  Reaching down between L’s legs, he tugged out the plug holding his haven open and replaced it with his cock.  As he thrust in, L groaned, pulling a knee up.  He rocked his hips quickly, hammering in deep, and L writhed against him, hand sliding over his shoulder, pulling him closer.  Ahh-hh, yes, hyung,” L panted, chest heaving, brown eyes staring up at him with a direct, seductive plea.  “Fuck me, please, more, I want to feel how much you love me.”  He sped up, snarling, and L moaned blissfully.  Yes, yes, L was right.  As he drove in deep and his dongsaeng shivered against him, begging for him, he smiled.  This was what mattered.

            “All right, D.O. won’t be able to make it to the festival,” Suho explained.  “But he’ll be on the track, so we won’t have to cover his parts.”

            “Didn’t he already finish filming?” Chanyeol asked.

            “And where is he now?” Sehun asked, looking around the practice room.

            “He’s promoting,” Kai said.

            “Members,” Suho said, disappointed.  “It would be good if you’d express some interest in each other’s activities.  Of course D.O.’s promoting right now, you should know that.”

            “I - - I know that he’s promoting,” Sehun said, exasperated.  “I was just asking, specifically, I don’t remember which event he’s doing tonight.”

            “Does it matter?” Chen muttered, looking away.

            Suho frowned at him.  “Yes, it matters.  I like to know what all of my members are up to.  I think that we should all feel that way.”

            “I care,” Chanyeol said.  “I care about all of you guys,” he added, stretching his arms around Kai and Xiumin on either side of him.

            “That’s great,” Xiumin said patronizingly, patting his thigh.

            “I care, sure,” Kai said.

            “You care about D.O.,” Chen said, still looking away, his expression tense.

            Baekhyun gave a confused, startled laugh.

            “I care about everybody,” Sehun said.

            “You care about whoever will let you rough him up,” Chen said, and got to his feet like he couldn’t sit still anymore.  “Can we start?”

            “In a hurry?” Suho asked, tense, not appreciating this, not liking any of this.  “Have somewhere to go?”

            What, like a date?”  Chen finally looked directly at him, and Chen’s eyes blazed with such hot emotion, he almost fell back a step.  “No.  No, I don’t have a date tonight, I don’t have anyone to meet at all.”

            Everyone was dead silent.  Baekhyun had shrunk back against Xiumin and frozen in place.

            Suho had been trying to give Chen room to process what had happened.  He’d thought that if Chen wanted to pull away, he should let it happen, and Chen would open up to him when Chen was ready.  He’d been trying to stay out of it until he was invited in.

            He’d taken the wrong approach.  He needed to address this, as soon as possible.  But right now, in the middle of practice, wasn’t the time.  “We’ll talk later,” he told Chen.  “For now, you’re right, let’s start.  Music?” he asked Kai.

            Kai nodded and got up, edging past Chen.

            Gradually, the others got up.  The mood was subdued, and the rest of practice was mechanical, everyone just getting it done.

            They were just finishing up when a manager came in for Suho.

            He nodded, then turned to Chen.  “Wait for me here.  This won’t take long, I’ll be right back, and then we’ll talk.”

            Chen nodded.

            When he got back, Chen was gone.

            Sungyeol opened the door.  “Hi,” he said, surprised.

            Chen smiled hopefully.  “Hey, hyung.”

            “Come on in.”  He gestured Chen in and closed the door.

            “I don’t want to bother you.”  Chen glanced around.  That quick, assessing look made Sungyeol want to say, automatically, “Hoya’s not here,” but, yeah, they both knew that.  “I should’ve called first.”

            “No, it’s great.  I’m bored, anyway.”  He was used to seeing Chen around more than this, used to hearing about Chen, getting regular updates.  Now it had been a while since they’d hung out, and he wanted to catch up.  “Get comfortable, have you eaten?”

            Suho couldn’t tolerate this.  He was the leader; he expected respect.  He gave his members as much freedom as he could, and in return, he expected them to acknowledge his authority when he took command.

            He’d told Chen to wait for him, and Chen had taken off.  He’d been direct about it; there hadn’t been a misunderstanding.  This was willful disobedience.

            He’d been lenient until now, but he wouldn’t accept this kind of behavior.  He couldn’t allow Chen’s personal problems to affect EXO.

            He called.

            Was Chen’s phone off again?  That was unacceptable!  He’d told Chen to stop doing that.  What if there was an emergency, what if he needed to get in touch?  He understood that the constant barrage of messages from whoever got their hands on Chen’s number was frustrating, but Suho and management had to be able to get in contact.

            He wanted to confront Chen about it, but he didn’t know where Chen had gone.  He asked the members.

            No one else knew, either.

            “You don’t have any idea?” he asked, looking from one face to another.

            Xiumin shrugged.  “He just leaves.”

            “He’s never here,” Baekhyun said.  “I wouldn’t recognize him if I bumped into him on the street.”

            “Well, he sleeps here, he eats, he…”  Suho’s list trailed off as the members shook their heads.  “He doesn’t eat?”

            “He’s never here,” Baekhyun repeated emphatically.

            “He hasn’t slept here in days,” Sehun said.

            “He comes in to change his clothes,” Kai said.

            “One day he took some grapes from the fridge, and some crackers,” Baekhyun said.  “That was exciting, I thought that was a pretty good day.”

            “Should we buy more grapes?  To lure him back?” Chanyeol asked.

            “Don’t joke about that, I honestly thought about it,” Baekhyun said.

            “He’s at least taking his turn, though,” Sehun said.  “That’s a good sign.”  Not sure what Sehun was alluding to, Suho gave him a puzzled look.  “His turn with you.”

            “Oh!”  Suho blushed, catching on.  But, “No, he hasn’t really - - nothing’s happened between us.  He sleeps in his own bed.”

            “What?” Xiumin asked.

            “He comes in, and, well, it’s a little awkward, I’m always happy to see him and then nothing happens, I get embarrassed about it,” Suho admitted.  “He just gets in his own bed and goes to sleep.”

            “Wait, what?” Kai asked.  “He’s not taking his turn?  He doesn’t do anything?”

            “He doesn’t have to, it’s okay if he-”

            “No, it’s not,” Sehun said.

            “Maknae, don’t interrupt.”

            “But I mean it,” Sehun said.  “If he skips his night, if he passes it to Chanyeol hyung, that’s one thing, that’s what we all agreed on.  If he’s deliberately taking his night and not using it, that’s fucked up.  It’s like a big ‘fuck you’ to you and the rest of us.”

            “I don’t want you to make a big deal of this,” Suho warned.

            “But it is a big deal,” Sehun insisted.  “He’s fucking with you.  He’s hurting you on purpose, he’s being passive-aggressive as hell.”

            “That doesn’t sound like Chen,” Xiumin said.

            “No, this is new Chen, this isn’t our Chen,” Baekhyun said.  “With new Chen, who knows?  Anything’s possible!”

            “I’ll talk to him,” Suho said firmly.  “I don’t want the rest of you bothering him about this.  With everything else going on, he doesn’t need to be harassed about how he takes his turn.”

            “Talk to him when?” Baekhyun asked.  “Where?  How, even?”

            “He’ll be at the festival tomorrow,” Chanyeol said.  “Ambush him there.”

            “What, onstage?” Baekhyun asked.

            That was a good point.  Suho couldn’t confront him in public, and they were always surrounded by staff.  “Maybe I can meet him at the salon.  We can talk while the rest of you are with the stylists.  In the van, maybe.”  It wasn’t the best plan, but he didn’t have anything better.  “Or maybe he’ll come home tonight.”

            “Yeah, maybe,” Chanyeol said, but he didn’t sound very convincing.

            Dongwoo came home and heard voices.  “Hello!” he called, taking off his shoes.  “I brought barbecue!”

            “Hey, hyung!” Sungyeol’s voice called from the kitchen.  “Good, there’s nothing to eat in here.”

            “I don’t remember your fridge looking so clean, before.”

            He knew that voice!  Recognition sent a spark of happiness through him.  “Chen-ah?” he asked, moving faster.  “Our Jongdae?”

            As he entered the room, Chen smiled at him.  Oh, that smile!  “Hi, hyung,” Chen said, coming forward to hug him.

            He set the take-out aside and gathered Chen in for a hug.  “Chen-ah.”  Delighted, he cupped Chen’s face in both hands.  He was so fond of this dongsaeng!  “We’ve missed you.”

            Chen was smiling, but his eyes were starting to water.  “I’ve really missed you, too.”

            “Aw, oh, no.”  He hadn’t meant to make Chen cry!  Laughing, he wiped at Chen’s tears with his thumbs.  “Is it a sad moment or a happy one?”

            “Both,” Chen admitted, hugging him again.

            He kissed Chen’s cheek.  “Ah, our Chen-ah.  What are you doing here, you just came to visit?  How’ve you been?”

            “Ah, I’m okay,” Chen said.  “How are you?”

            Sungyeol was digging through the delivery bag, already chewing.  “Did you know that he used to sing Hoya to sleep?”

            “Sure, of course I knew!  Didn’t everybody?” Dongwoo asked, cupping Chen’s ass in both hands.  “He’s lucky to have had someone who would do that for him.  I asked Gyu hyung to sing me to sleep, but he got pissed off and wouldn’t do it anymore after the first time.  He was angry that I fell asleep and wouldn’t appreciate his vocals.”

            Chen laughed.  “That’s the point, it’s supposed to put you to sleep!”

            “That’s what I said!”  Still squeezing Chen’s ass with one hand, he plucked at the front of Chen’s shirt.  He was starting to feel horny.  He’d had a lot of fun with this dongsaeng.  “It’s been a while,” he admitted.  His hands crept up under Chen’s shirt.  “I miss Hoya with my heart, but my body misses him, too.  Do you feel that way?”

            “Yes,” Chen said.  “A lot.”  His breath caught and he leaned closer as Dongwoo’s hands caressed up his sides.  Dongwoo loved his fit, muscular body.  “Is it okay?” he asked, his arm around Dongwoo.

            Mmm.”  Dongwoo kissed him, tongue stroking into his mouth.  He groaned, swaying and clutching at Dongwoo, and Dongwoo pushed him back against the counter, grinding against him.  His kisses were hungry, pushy, and Dongwoo wanted him, felt hot for him.  Peeling off of him for a second, Dongwoo tugged his shirt off over his head, and as soon as it was gone, he reached for Dongwoo, wanting more.  Yeah, yeah, more, “Mmm, let’s do it,” Dongwoo breathed, undoing his fly.

            Oo-uuhhh, hyung,” Chen moaned, rubbing him down, feeling him up.

            Dongwoo tried to get to the bedroom, but they never made it that far.  They did it on the couch instead.  When he thrust in, Chen moaned, “Ounnh, it’s been forever, god, I need it.”  The way Chen arched under him and pulled his hair and moaned, “Oh, hyung, hyung,” was really sexy.  It was really heartfelt, Chen really loved this, loved sex, loved all of the sensual things that they could do together, and Dongwoo tried to make it all last, tried to give him a lot.  Chen came hard, shooting a thick, sloppy load, and when it was all over, they cuddled up together, panting, kissing.

            “Has it been a long time?” Dongwoo asked.  He plucked at Chen’s nipples.  So little, so pink, like tiny, perfect treats.  He snapped his teeth, wanting to nibble on them.

            Chen snuggled lazily against him, caressing his chest.  “I’ve been trying not to keep track.  How many days since this, how many weeks since that.  It won’t do any good, it only makes me feel worse.”

            “It takes me by surprise, it hurts,” Dongwoo said.  “The first time we had a practice without Hoya, or the first time I bought socks without him.  Whenever I buy socks, I always get some for him.  He’s very picky about what he puts on his feet, he only likes certain kinds, and I don’t want him to run out, so I get some for him, when I can.  I was at the counter, I was getting my wallet out, and then I thought, oh.  I guess I don’t need these, after all.”

            Making a regretful noise, Chen hugged him.  “You’ve been going through a lot.”

            “You, too,” Dongwoo said, rubbing his back.  “I’m sorry, Chen-ah.  I didn’t realize that leaving the company would have to mean leaving you, too.  Can’t anything be done about it?  I thought that he’d still have you, I didn’t know, and when Gyu hyung explained it, I couldn’t understand.  You already know and love and trust Hoya, and SM already knows and trusts him, so it seems like everything should be okay, still.  They’ve already approved of him, right?  It’s too bad that it has to be this way, I don’t know if I could take it.”  Chen’s arms were tightening around him, and then he heard a stifled sob, and he moaned, sure that he’d said the wrong thing.  Chen shook against his chest, weeping, and he just patted Chen’s back and said reassuring things and wished that he had a better way to help.

            With new song lyrics in his head, Woohyun was preoccupied as he returned to the dorm.  Mentally, he repeated the lines over and over, needing to remember them until he could write them down.  Kicking his shoes off, he headed towards his room to grab a notepad.

            He was halfway there when he heard a happy peal of laughter.

            Chunji.  He’d known Chunji for years and he hadn’t really cared how Chunji laughed, but now he recognized the sound of it instantly.  That particular happy brightness, that gleeful pleasure, was no one but Chunji.

            Chunji had spent a lot of time in the dorm, lately.  Even more than usual.  Constantly at Dongwoo’s side.  And Dongwoo loved it.  Dongwoo was always thrilled to see Chunji, always lit up around him, always looked forward to more.

            Ahh-hha, no, not like that!”

            That rich, happy cry.  Chen.  The sound was disorienting.  Chen was back.  Back like a ghost, haunting him.  He’d thought that he’d gotten rid of Chen.  At least, despite everything else, at least he’d been rid of Chen.

            Prowling across the dorm, lyrics forgotten, Woohyun went to Sungyeol’s room and looked in.

            They were seated on the floor, playing a card game.  Sungyeol and Dongwoo were there; Chunji was in the vee of Chen’s thighs, leaning back against Chen’s chest, with Chen’s arms loosely wrapped around him.  Everyone was laughing, teasing, tossing cards down haphazardly.

            They all looked really happy together.  Comfortable, friendly, like close friends.  The vibe in the room was bright and strong.

            Chen was back here.  Without Hoya.  Acting just the way he had when he’d been with Hoya.  Like nothing was different.

            Maybe for him, nothing was different.  Maybe for him, it was all the same.  With Hoya, without, what did it matter to Chen?  His life was unchanged.  His career was untouched.  He still got to drop by whenever he pleased and hang out with a bunch of sunbae idols.  He’d probably give it up to the members just as easily now as before, no thinking twice.

            Slinking back, Woohyun moved from the doorway before anyone noticed him.  Beside the door, he leaned back against the wall.  Tilting his face up, he closed his eyes and breathed deeply.  His hands curled into fists, muscles in his arms straining, as he struggled to control himself.  Fighting his demons, he breathed through parted lips.

            He didn’t want to ruin Chen.  He didn’t want to hurt Dongwoo.  He didn’t want to destroy Chunji.  It wasn’t about Chunji.  Getting rid of Chunji wouldn’t bring Hoya back.

            Hearing a click, he opened his eyes.  L was coming in.  Pushing away from the wall, he raised a hand to get L’s attention.  With L’s eyes on him, he touched his finger to his lips.

            Glancing around, L nodded.  Chunji laughed that distinctive laugh, and he saw L look quickly past him, towards the sound.

            He gestured for L to follow him, and he marched to Sunggyu’s room.  Once inside, he ripped off his shirt, turning, agitated, conflict seething within him.  L was closing the door, and when L turned to him, he growled, bracing his forearms on either side of L’s head, trapping L between himself and the door.  He squeezed his eyes shut, lowered his head, his muscles so tight that his back ached.  “They’re here,” he whispered.  He pushed his palm flat to the door, fighting himself.

            “I heard Chunji,” L said.

            He snarled, shaking his head.  “Chen, too, he’s back.  I can’t get rid of him.  I can’t get rid of any of them.  Chunji was gone, how long was Chunji gone, out of our lives, he was keeping his distance, he was just an idea to deal with, he was just a memory to fight.  And now he’s back, and Chen’s back, they’re like ghosts, I can’t get rid of them.”

            L touched him, hands on his sides, running up his chest.  “I’ll get rid of them,” L whispered.  “I’ll do it for you, hyung.  Chen, Chunji, anybody you want, you’ll never have to see them in here again.”

            Yes, yes.  Yes, and for a second he believed in it.  No more boyfriends, no more competition, he’d be free, everything would be right again.  The future looked so bright that he relaxed, ready to smile again.

            And then he opened his eyes and saw L’s face.  And he saw the naked, dark intent in L’s eyes, the stubborn threat of L’s expression, the murderous clenching of L’s jaw.

            And he realized what it would mean, if he let L do this.  He couldn’t let L be a weapon for him.  He couldn’t let L be responsible for that kind of damage.  “No, no,” he said, and he put a hand on top of L’s head.  “No, L-ah, don’t do it.”

            “You hate it, you hate having them around,” L insisted, his voice low.  “I’ll get rid of them for you.  No more outsiders.  Dongwoo hyung doesn’t need Chunji, he doesn’t need anybody but us, and Chen shouldn’t even be here.”

            “No, no.”  He cupped the back of L’s head, pressed his mouth to L’s cheek in a kiss.  He loved this dongsaeng so much, he loved that L would do this for him.  “It won’t help, it’s not the answer,” he whispered.  L was hugging him, making frustrated, distressed sounds, and he stroked L’s hair, their faces close.  “Get rid of this one, and someone else will take his place.  We were on the lookout for women, and Young fucking Money showed up.”

            L groaned, arms tightening around Woohyun.  “I love Suho hyung, I love Suho hyung,” he whispered to himself, chanting it.  “He’s good for Sunggyu hyung.  They’re good together.  It’s okay.  Good together.  It’s okay.”

            “Getting rid of Chunji won’t solve everything,” Woohyun said.  “There’s still Suho.  There’s still everyone else out there.”  Grip tightening on a handful of hair, he dragged L’s head back, and L winced, moaning, allowing it.  Hissing, he sank his teeth into L’s jaw, biting just hard enough to make L twitch in his arms, and then he whispered, “Are you offering to get rid of Chunji and Chen and all of my competition for me, when you came home smelling like Choi Jonghyun’s sex?”

            L wedged his thigh up between Woohyun’s, nudging against Woohyun’s cock.  “I wanted you to smell him on me,” he whispered.  “I wanted you to make me yours, I wanted you to fuck his scent right off of me.”

            A growl rose up from deep within him.  He felt dangerous, powerful, triumphant.  “Get on the bed,” he ordered, shoving L across the room.  While L climbed on, he stripped his clothes the rest of the way off.  In seconds, he was crawling onto the bed, intent on taking what was his.

            L shuddered under him, arching.  “I want to feel you all over me.”

            “You know what I’m going to do to you.”  Sliding down the bed, lowering his head, he undid L’s fly with his teeth.  And then he was nuzzling L’s cock, whispering, “Mine, you’re mine,” and L was moaning, “Yeah, hyung, I need it, ooohhh,” and he could forget about Hoya for a little while.

            I’m trusting you, Changjo-ah.

            Immediately intrigued, Changjo texted Suho back.  Of course you can trust me.  I’m your favorite dongsaeng.

            This is serious, maknae.  Don’t take this lightly.  I’m trusting you.

            What was going on?  Changjo went into his room and sat on Ricky’s bed.  You can trust me five thousand percent.  I mean it.

            A couple of minutes passed.

            He tapped his thumbs against the bottom of his phone case, wondering if Suho was having second thoughts.

            Then: Where’s Chen?

            Oh.  Something so simple as that?

            Where was Chen?  He checked.  It didn’t take long to find an answer.  He didn’t know why Suho wouldn’t be able to figure it out.  But he loved-loved-loved that Suho had come to him about this.  He wanted his hyungs to come to him with this stuff.  Suho almost never let him help, and he felt like this was a big moment in their relationship.  He totally wanted to prove himself so Suho would come to him again, next time.

            He reported back: Infinite’s dorm.  He sent proof shots.

            Is that where he’s been this whole time?

            What whole time?  Immediately, Changjo hopped on Ricky’s computer to find out.

            When Sungjong got back to the dorm, Chen was there.

            He’d wondered if seeing Chen again might be awkward.  It turned out to be a really positive, healing moment.  He was glad that they were meeting like this, and not backstage on a music show somewhere.

            They hugged, and they talked, and they hung out with the others.  While Dongwoo and Sungyeol and Chunji were distracted with something else, the two of them slipped away.  They went into Sungjong’s room, and Chen looked around in wonder.  “Oh!  I was worried about how seeing it again would feel, I thought that it would bring up too many memories.  But it’s different!”

            “It’s a mess,” Sungjong admitted.  Dongwoo’s new furniture was slowly taking over.  “I’m storing things for Dongwoo hyung.  He’s going to get his own room, and Woohyun hyung and L hyung are coming in here, and I’m moving in with Sungyeol hyung.”

            “A new roommate!”  Chen sat on the bed with him, giving him an empathetic smile.  “Sungyeol hyung and Dongwoo hyung are exactly the same, it’s like nothing ever changed, I felt like maybe everything was the same after all.  I guess some things really are changing.”

            “Some things.  Sunggyu hyung’s still a bully, and I still never have any privacy or any time in the bathroom to myself, but some things are different.”

            Chen laughed.  “Ah!  My hyungs always rush me in the bathroom, too, and I’m nowhere near the maknae line.”

            They had a good, long talk.  It was really comfortable and really satisfying.  Sungjong had sometimes really liked and sometimes resented Chen, but today they really got along.  He felt like they understood each other.  He’d never opened up to Chen so much before, never been so completely candid, and he was surprised by how forthright and friendly and responsive Chen was to it.  It gave him regrets; it made him wish that he’d opened up to Chen before.

            When he admitted that part of missing Hoya included missing the sex, Chen immediately agreed with him.  When he found out that Chen hadn’t even been getting laid lately, he was shocked.  “What about your members?  Should we call my hyungs in here?  You can start with Dongwoo hyung and Sungyeol hyung, at least.”  Sunggyu had always complained that Suho didn’t take care of EXO properly, and this seemed like proof.

            “Dongwoo hyung actually.”  Chen blushed.  “He, ah, took care of that earlier.  It was a little sudden!  I think that I was too eager for it, we might’ve embarrassed Sungyeol hyung.”

            “No, he’s used to Dongwoo hyung, he probably didn’t even notice.  You can get more of it while you’re here, if you want.”

            Chen glanced at the door, then smiled at him, shifting closer.  Realizing what that meant, he blushed, feeling warm.  “Do you want to - - am I being too bold?” Chen asked.  He laughed self-consciously.  “I think I’m out of practice!  I don’t remember how to hit on guys anymore.”

            “Yeah, with such pushy hyungs, I don’t have any practice at it,” Sungjong admitted.  He smiled, tipping his head to one side, leaning closer.  “Should we close the door?”

            “Oh, if we don’t, your hyungs will just walk in, won’t they?” Chen realized.

            He laughed.  “They really will!”

            Sungyeol tried to go into Sungjong’s room.  Was the door locked?  He knocked.  Jongie!”

            “Busy!” Sungjong called back.

            “Where’s Chen?”

            A giggle.  “He’s busy, too!”

            What - - oh.  “How long is it going to take?  We’re ordering pizza.”

            “Oh!  Order me some!” Sungjong called.  “Chen hyung wants pepperoni!”

            Sungyeol ordered the pizza.  He was on his way to the bathroom when he noticed that Sunggyu’s door was closed.  Sunggyu wasn’t home, was he?  He tapped at the door.

            The door swung open and L kissed him.  One second, he was just standing around like a normal person in the middle of his regular life, and the next, L was cupping his face and pulling on his shirt and sucking on his tongue and dragging him into some fierce, sexual vortex.  Groaning, he flailed, stumbling forward as L’s urgent, claiming kiss and demanding hands pulled him into the room.  He was hot all over, like L’s kiss had lit a fire.  Disoriented, panting, his cock straining in his pants, he held onto L for balance, and when L started kissing his neck, he groaned, trying to recover.  God, he was so turned on, he wanted to push L on the bed and get to business.  It was impossible to think straight when L got like this.

            One hand braced on the back of Sunggyu’s desk chair, his other hand buried in L’s hair, he tried to catch his breath.  L was moaning, making some deep, seductive, purring sound and nibbling on his neck, sucking at his skin, hot and hungry.  His whole body ached with need, and L’s hands were creeping under his shirt, greedy for him.  “God, okay,” he said breathlessly, and then he noticed that Woohyun was on the bed.  On the bed, lounging against the headboard, one knee up, smiling.  Woohyun’s cock was rock-hard, gleaming wet at the tip, so long and thick that it made Sungyeol groan, made Sungyeol’s mouth water, just looking at it.  But Woohyun’s smile, that friendly, romantic, conspiratorial smirk, the promise in it, was what made Sungyeol’s cock leap to attention.

            “Lock the door,” Woohyun said, like he was offering Sungyeol a treasure chest of riches.

            He fumbled it shut, locked it.  He had to turn away from L to do it, and then L was behind him, dragging his shirt up, hands hot against his skin, L’s palms sliding forward and splaying over his chest while L covered his back in hungry, sucking kisses.

            Groaning, he sank forward against the door, clawing at it for support.  Kneading his chest, pulling his nipples, L pressed against him, kissing his back, erection lodged against his ass.  He was panting, making choked noises, shaking in L’s hold, grinding against that hard-on.  “God, you, you, you want pizza?” he asked.

            “I want you,” L whispered, and L’s hand was between his thighs, cupping him, giving him something to hump against.  Whimpering gratefully, he fucked L’s hand, desperate for it.  L’s voice was wicked and loving, just like Woohyun’s smile.  “I want you to put your cock in my mouth.”

            “Yeah,” he panted.  Yeah, that was a way better idea than pizza.  “Yeah, okay.”

            When Sunggyu got back to the dorm, it was quiet.

            He peeked into his members’ rooms, wanting to make sure that everything was as it should be before he went to bed.

            Sungyeol’s room was empty.

            Sungjong was in bed with…who?  He walked over, squinting, and leaned in to see better in the dark.  Oh!  Chen!  He smiled, pleased.  Good, he was glad that Chen had come over.

            Dongwoo’s room was empty.

            Where was everybody?

            In his room, apparently.  There was an empty pizza box on the floor.  Woohyun was asleep.  L was curled up in a ball across Woohyun’s chest like a beloved cat.  Sungyeol was splayed out, long limbs everywhere.

            He heard snoring.

            Frowning, he turned around.

            He opened his closet.

            Dongwoo was curled up, asleep, on the floor.

            Exasperated, Sunggyu grabbed Dongwoo under the arms and lifted.

            Coming awake mid-lift, Dongwoo blinked and grabbed at him.  He set Dongwoo on his feet, and Dongwoo stumbled, holding onto him.  “Can I come out now?”

            “We’re not playing that now,” he said.  “Go to bed.”

            Dongwoo smiled, melting against him, gazing up at him with innocent glee.  “I’m not allowed on the bed.”

            “Were you naughty again?” he guessed.

            He laughed.  “I didn’t try to be!”

            “It’s my bed,” he said, “and I decide who gets to be there, nobody else.  Come on, get on.  I have something for you.”

            They climbed over Sungyeol.  Dongwoo was eager for it, hungry for him.  He fucked Dongwoo hard, took his time in Dongwoo’s hot, responsive body.  Dongwoo squirmed excitedly on his cock, rocking joyfully against him.  By the time Dongwoo was coming, the other members were awake, watching.  It didn’t slow him down; he had the right to do this, his dongsaeng, his bed.

            Groaning, he hauled his cock out of that slick hole and came on Dongwoo, milking himself onto Dongwoo’s abs.

            Whimpering eagerly, L leaned in, sucking it up, tongue scrubbing greedily over Dongwoo’s skin.  Arching, panting, Dongwoo writhed, pulling at L’s hair.  “Yeah, yeah, L-ah, oh.”

            “Shit,” Sungyeol moaned, sliding off of the edge of the bed.  “God, I can’t take it, I don’t want to get hard again.”

            With L still in his lap, Woohyun met Sunggyu’s eyes.  “He’s supposed to be in the closet.”

            “Was I bad?” Sunggyu asked.  Leaning over L’s back, he kissed Woohyun.  “Are you upset with me, are you going to punish me, next?”

            Writhing between them, L groaned, rubbing himself against Sunggyu’s body, scraping his teeth across Dongwoo’s chest.  “Roll over, I want to fuck you, I want to bury my cock where Sunggyu hyung’s was, I want to feel how open and loose you got for him.”

            “Is that an invitation?” Woohyun asked Sunggyu, his expression teasing, his fingers walking up the side of Sunggyu’s neck.  “Do you want me to punish you?  I know just what kind of punishment you need.”

            “Yeah, right now, right where he was,” Dongwoo urged, rolling over, spreading his cheeks apart with both hands.

            L slithered out from between their bodies, fondling himself, crawling onto Dongwoo.  Just like that, he was sliding in, groaning, sinking deep.  “Fuck, yeah,” he moaned, his groans shaky, his expression radiant.  He closed his eyes, his mouth slowly falling open, as he thrust in again, again, his erection rocking steadily.  Oohhh, unnhhh, I can feel him, yes, I’m fucking you right where he was.”

            “Yeah, got me all sloppy, I’m wide open for you,” Dongwoo groaned, writhing under him.

            Ooohhh, oh, hyung, I’m sliding in his precum, it’s so hot and wet where he was, I’ve got his juice all over me.”

            Sunggyu was a little embarrassed.  “Maybe we should close the door,” he decided.  He didn’t need Chen to hear this.  When no one moved, he looked around.  Yeolie, the door.”

            Red-faced, crouching on the floor, clinging to the foot of the bed, Sungyeol gave him a mortified look and whimpered.

            Woohyun laughed.  “Oh, sorry.”

            “What are you doing to my dongsaengs?” Sunggyu demanded.  You’re going to be punished,” he threatened.  Woohyun laughed again, looking flattered, and L groaned, thrusting slowly, panting, “Yes, like that, keep squirming, rub his hot juice all over me.”

            Giving up on them, Sunggyu went to help Sungyeol.  Looking humiliated, Sungyeol mumbled, “I’m okay, you don’t have to, I can get it,” which was how he knew where to look.  The thick end of a plug was poking out from Sungyeol’s ass.

            Crouching down behind him, Sunggyu glared up the bed at Woohyun.  “You can’t leave it in him like this.”

            “I was saving him,” Woohyun said.  “He was going to be a treat for L.”

            “Was L a good boy tonight?” Sunggyu guessed, feeling around the base.

            “L’s always good for me, aren’t you?” Woohyun asked affectionately, watching fondly, and L shuddered, breathing, “Yes, hyung,” putting a hand on Woohyun’s bare thigh.

            Sungyeol groaned, clutching at the mattress, and L whined eagerly, fucking harder, lost to pleasure.  “Yeah, give me all of that cock, yeah,” Dongwoo chanted, rocking against him.

            “Relax,” Sunggyu told Sungyeol.  “It’s going to come out nice and easy, just let it go.”  Rubbing Sungyeol’s side encouragingly, he kissed Sungyeol’s nape.  “Nice and slow.”

            “Can you f-f-fuck me?”  Sungyeol was sweating, and he kept twitching, moving shyly into the hand petting him, shivering away from the fingers brushing against his ass.

            “I just - - how much do you think I’m capable of?” Sunggyu asked.  “No, no more sex, everybody’s going to bed.”

            “He’s already open and lubed,” Woohyun said.  “You don’t want to waste it.”

            “What he said,” Sungyeol panted.  Sunggyu tried to ease the plug out of him, guiding it gently.  Ahh!  Don’t, don’t rush me.”

            He looked so pretty, on his knees, with his back arched, his ass spreading so tenderly around the thick, smooth plug.  Sunggyu wasn’t immune.  “All right, Woohyun can do you, he can finish what he started,” Sunggyu decided.  Sungyeol shuddered, hips shifting, ass pushing up into the air.  Woohyun smiled, victory gleaming in his eyes.  “But then everybody sleeps.  In your own beds, on your own.  No more games.”

            There were a few more games.

            Sungjong was glad that Chen had come over last night.  He felt like he’d overcome something he hadn’t known was blocking him.  Last night, he’d connected with Chen better than he ever had before.  They’d really opened up to each other and become closer.  He’d never understood, before, how much Chen loved Hoya and how big a part of Chen’s life Hoya had been.

            He wished that he’d appreciated it earlier.  He should’ve given Chen more of a chance.

            He liked knowing that there was someone else out there who loved Hoya that much, who believed in Hoya that much, whose feelings were so much like his own.

            He felt like, after last night, he was closer to being able to let Hoya go.

            Chen left Infinite’s dorm with a lighter heart.  Seeing the Infinite members gave him a chance to reconnect with what he’d lost.  It kept him in touch with his heart.

            Part of what had him feeling better was the sex, too.  It was a primal thing, but he was still a physical creature, and that pleasure, that release, had been important.  He hadn’t wanted to have sex with anyone else in his life, lately, but he’d needed to experience the act, and Infinite had given him a safe place to get it.

            The future was easier to bear, this morning.

            Mmm, maknae.”  Warm hands slid over Sungjong’s stomach, strong arms surrounding him from behind.

            Laughing, he leaned back as L embraced him.  “Hyung?”  So L was awake now, he guessed.  The last time he’d looked, L had been fast asleep on Sunggyu’s bed, completely naked and cradling Sungyeol’s foot to his chest.  He set his spoon down, giving up on making breakfast for now.  “How was it last night?”  Pretty good, he could assume.

            Mmm.”  L nuzzled the side of his neck, sending pleasure buzzing through him.  “I missed you.”

            “I think the hyungs kept you busy,” he said, smiling.

            “But I missed you,” L whispered, like he was the secret ingredient to L’s greatest joy.  L’s hands swept over his chest, turning his spine liquid.  He exhaled softly, resting his head back on L’s shoulder, his eyes drifting shut.  It was such a dream, to feel like this, having a hyung who treated him like this.  “Let me in, Sungjong-ah, let me make you feel good.”

            “God, ahhh, you do,” he breathed, guiding L’s hand down to his crotch.

            L was alone in the shower when his thoughts ticked over.

            He stood there for a moment, completely still, letting the water drum down onto his scalp.  Staring at nothing, one hand on the faucet, he thought about last night.

            The room hadn’t been complete, last night, because there had only been five of them.

            So he’d gone searching for Sungjong, first thing.  And Sungjong had been right there.

            But Hoya…

            He swallowed.

            He tried to refocus his thoughts.  He turned the water off.  He dried off.

            Hoya was never going to be there again.  Never going to be a part of a night like that.  Never going to be a part of any of it, ever again.  Not onstage, not in bed, not in the practice room, not in the van, not anywhere.  Not with them.

            He tried to shake it off.  He put on underwear.  He brushed his teeth, while he was there.  He shaved, and then he leaned over the sink, studying his face in the mirror.  Checking his pores, looking for blemishes.

            Remembering how his members had come on his face last night, he smiled at his reflection.  Such a great memory.  He gave himself a bright, proud look, relishing it, and then he chuckled at himself.

            Hoya was never going to come on his face again.

            His smile faltered and his gaze dropped.  He ran his hand over the edge of the sink, blinking.

            He wondered what Hoya thought about the sex they’d had.

            He thought about his former partners.  What they told people about him.  He swallowed, tears hot in his eyes.  No, he was being paranoid.  Of all of the people who’d ever left him, this was the one he could trust.  Hoya wouldn’t talk about it.

            But there sure was a lot to say, wasn’t there?

            Other people had talked about him.  And it was always tempting to confide in just one person.  Make an exception just this one time.  I can trust you, but it’s just between us, right?  And then some time passed, and whatever allegiance the guy - - Hoya - - felt to L was a little bit weaker, and there was someone new to confide in, someone who wanted to know about the guy’s - - Hoya’s - - old sex life, former sex partners, time with Infinite.

            Ashamed, betrayed, L rubbed at his cheek, scratching it until it hurt, until it turned red.

            Suddenly in motion, he went to his room.  No matter how swiftly he moved, he couldn’t leave his treacherous thoughts behind.  He got dressed.  He put on too many layers.

            Trying to stay busy, he checked in with his manager.  On impulse, he texted Chen.  He had messages from Suho, but he couldn’t talk to Suho right now.

            L wondered how Suho’s former members talked about Suho, these days.  Wondered exactly how much Suho hated that there were people wandering around out there who knew so much about him.  People talking about Suho’s sex life, how responsive and needy he was in bed, how he looked when he gave head, how he begged for it, that was Suho’s worst nightmare.

            Suho shouldn’t have trusted them.

            No.  It wasn’t Suho’s fault, it was theirs.  They shouldn’t have betrayed him.

            No.  It was Suho’s fault for being so naïve.

            No one could be trusted.  Not really.  People always revealed themselves.  They always treated each other like shit.  The smallest motive, the slightest excuse, and they turned on each other like wolves.

            L went out to the front room.  He burrowed into a corner of the couch, crossing his arms.  He shouldn’t have given so much of himself to Hoya.  He always made that mistake, he did it over and over, he exposed his heart.  He’d given himself to his members completely.  He’d thought that being in Infinite made them safe.

            But they were only in Infinite for as long as they wanted to be.  The contract was up.  How had he not seen that coming?  He’d known that there was a fucking time limit.  How had he been so fucking naïve?  What had he thought, that just because they were called Infinite that things would stay the same forever?

            He and Changjo didn’t even have a contract.  He had Changjo branded into his heart, but what tied Changjo to him?  Nothing.  Nothing but words, and words meant nothing.  Hadn’t he learned that a long time ago?

            He had to get rid of Changjo.  Immediately.

            No.  He had to bind Changjo to himself completely.  Permanently.

            He was never letting another one go.  Not one of his members.  Not anyone he loved.

            “Hey.”  Sungjong dropped down beside him with a bright smile.  “You okay?”

            He realized how he looked, hugging himself, brooding.  He stirred, trying to find a normal expression, trying to look reassuringly not-creepy.  “Yeah.  Just thinking.”  He put on a pleasant smile for Sungjong’s sake.

            Sungjong was such a good dongsaeng.  Such a trusted constant in his life.  That bright smile, how many times had Sungjong tried to cheer him up?

            How many times had Sungjong smiled that way at Hoya?  Laughed with Hoya, encouraged Hoya, been a supportive maknae?

            And Hoya had just walked away.  Let Sungjong give him so much, let Sungjong love him, and then just walked the hell away.  Like none of it meant anything.

            Sungjong curled his knees in, relaxing closer against L, his hand resting on L’s arm.

            L made an effort to shake his mood off, for Sungjong’s sake.  He had to fake it for a few minutes, but eventually Sungjong really did brighten his mood.  Sungjong wanted to talk about Chen, and since Woohyun wasn’t around, he was happy to take the opportunity.  They talked about what they’d said to Chen, and what Chen had said to them.

            “I think that I like him,” Sungjong admitted.  “Not that I didn’t like him, before.  It, you know.  It’s complicated.”

            L nodded, then let a smile flicker over his face.  “Yeah, I think I know what you mean.”

            “I know you do!” Sungjong teased.  “But I think that I like him, now.”

            “Yeah.  He’s…”  L thought it over.  “I think that we could be friends.”

            “So I was thinking about exes,” Sungjong said.

            “Mm-hmm.”  He adjusted the neckline of Sungjong’s shirt, centering it, adjusting the way the shirt hung on Sungjong’s shoulders.  Such a pretty maknae.  He caressed Sungjong’s neck.

            Sungjong smiled and leaned closer.  “I guess if you’re so close with Changjo, you really must be over C.A.P. hyung completely.  You wouldn’t have anything to do with Teen Top, otherwise.”


            He slowly lowered his hand from Sungjong’s neck.  C.A.P.  He remembered how he’d felt, when C.A.P. had shut him out.  He’d felt like a little kid, kicked out of his own house.  His own front door locked in his face.  Betrayed, rejected, bewildered.  “I don’t have anything to do with Teen Top,” he said, and he heard menace in his voice.

            Sungjong sounded flustered.  “Changjo’s in Teen Top.  He’s completely in Teen Top.”

            “I don’t have anything to do with Teen Top,” he snarled, raising his eyes to Sungjong’s.  “I don’t have anything to do with that useless fucking Niel or that selfish, self-centered, manipulative, immature, conniving, bullshit Chunji.  And I sure as hell don’t have anything to do with that weak, stupid, coward, Bang Minsoo.  I hate myself for ever fucking wasting one second of my time on him.  Do you know who’s worth my time?” he demanded.  “Changjo is.  You are.  Not that pathetic fucking coward.  He doesn’t even care who he hurts.”  His voice was shaking with fury.  “He’s too stupid to know, and he’s too weak to do anything about it.  He’s not cruel because he’s mean, it’s worse, he’s cruel because he’s too much of a fucking coward to do anything!  He was screaming, and he was shaking, and Dongwoo was coming in, climbing onto the couch, hugging him.  He clutched at Dongwoo, burying his face against Dongwoo’s shirt, and sobbed.

            Chen called their manager to ask how quickly the stylists were working and how long he’d have to wait for a chair.

            The less time he spent sitting around, idle, surrounded by his members, the better.  He managed to time it just right.  When he walked in, he wasn’t late, but there was no time to spare, and he was whisked right into the stylist’s care.

            The other stylist was working on the last member, Sehun.

            When Chen’s stylist was finished with him, he lingered in the chair for a second, pretending to have important messages to check on his phone.  He’d rather stay there, with just the maknae, then go out into the waiting room with the others.

            When Sehun got up, he finally got up, too, and he trailed Sehun out.

            “Okay,” Suho said, standing up as they walked in.  “That’s everybody.  I want to speak with Chen, so the rest of you take the first van, and we’ll be in the second.”

            What?  No, no.  Shit.

            A lot of looks went around, but nobody questioned Suho, and a minute later, Chen was alone with him.

             “Let’s sit in the back, so we can talk,” Suho suggested.

            “No, I’m good here,” he said, buckling himself into the seat directly behind their manager.

            Suho knelt on the seat beside him, giving him a very serious, direct look.  “You’ve been having a hard time, and I’ve let a lot of things slide, but it’s time to talk.  Come in the back with me.”

            “Talk about what?  Is it about today’s performance?”

            “It’s about everything.  It’s about you, and your behavior lately, and what you’ve been going through.”  Suho pressed his lips together, looking frustrated.  “I don’t want to do this here, I wanted to talk to you at a better time.  But I can’t ever get hold of you.”

            “I’ve been busy.”

            “Busy at Infinite’s dorm?” Suho asked.  “I’m glad for that, I’m glad that you’re still close with them, that you feel comfortable with them.  But you’re not a member of Infinite, you’re a member of EXO, and we need you with us, too.”

            “I’m here when I need to be.  I haven’t missed practice, I’m at more EXO performances than D.O. or Lay hyung.”

            Suho’s brow furrowed.  “I don’t like to hear that kind of comment.  I don’t like it from antis, and I don’t ever want to hear it from one of the members.  EXO is one, what Lay and D.O. do, they do it for all of us, just like we work hard for them.”

            “And I work hard,” Chen said.  “I’m focused on today’s performance, now, we can talk about anything else some other time.”

            For a long moment, Suho stared at him in silence.

            He looked straight ahead, watching traffic through the windshield, over their manager’s shoulder.

            “Some other time is tonight,” Suho said firmly.  “You and I are going to talk tonight.  After the festival, while the other members go to dinner, you and I will go back to the dorm.  I think that we have a lot to say to each other.  And I’m very unhappy that it’s come to this.”

            He scoffed.

            He didn’t mean to.  He honestly didn’t.  As soon as the defiant sound came out, a sneering and dismissive puff of air, he had a second of horror.

            And then he felt strangely careless.  Strangely free.  So what?  What was going to happen?  He’d be grounded?  He didn’t have anyone to go out and meet, anyway.  He’d have his phone taken away from him?  Who did he have to call, anyway?  He’d already lost everything he had to lose.  Extra practice?  All he had in his life was work, as it was.

            Suho’s voice was firm.  “I want you to apologize to me.”

            He thought about that.  He slid down a couple of inches in his seat and crossed his legs.  He didn’t want to be someone who scoffed at his leader.  He didn’t want so much of his life to be this way, but his attitude was something he had control over.  He met Suho’s eyes, and he felt ashamed.  “I’m sorry.”

            Suho nodded and squeezed his shoulder.  “We’ll talk tonight.”

            As soon as the festival was over, he slipped out.

            L’s phone rang.  Oh.  “Changjo,” he told Chen, and he answered.  Leaning back in his café chair, he lowered his head slightly so that the brim of his cap would shield his expression.  “It’s you?”

            “Hey,” Changjo said.  “Suho hyung’s looking for Chen hyung.  He’s calling Sunggyu hyung to ask if Chen hyung’s over at your dorm.”

            “He’s not at my dorm.”

            “Yeah, I know that.”

            He smiled.  “Are you watching me?”

            Inspirit’s watching you.  And EXO-L’s watching Chen hyung.  And Suho hyung’s not great at surveillance but he learns fast.  Just giving you a heads up.”

            “Thanks.”  He hung up and smiled at Chen.  “Let’s get out of here, it’s getting late.”

            The movie they’d turned on was terrible, so Chunji and Dongwoo made out on the couch while it played.  They got each other off, and Dongwoo came all over Chunji’s shirt.  He went into the bathroom to wipe it up.  When he got back, Dongwoo was fast asleep.  He tucked Dongwoo’s cock away and turned the movie off.  Then he went to the kitchen.  Infinite sometimes had great snacks and sometimes had nothing to eat whatsoever, and he still couldn’t figure out the rhythm or reason behind it.

            He was trying some foreign strawberry soda when Woohyun came in.  “Hey.”  Wondering if he should be feeling guilty, he asked, “Is this yours?”

            “No, it’s Sungjong’s.”  Woohyun smiled at him, leaning back against the counter.  “You wore Dongwoo hyung out?”

            He laughed.  “I guess so.”  He liked the way Woohyun looked, relaxed and confident.  Woohyun’s thick, glossy bangs fell smoothly across his forehead; he had on loose pants and a sleeveless shirt, his arms bare and muscular.  He had such a friendly, engaging smile.

            He shifted his weight, giving Chunji a flirtatious look.  “We could play together until he gets up.”

            “Yeah, okay.”  Chunji knew a come-on when he heard one.  He gave Woohyun a direct look, flirting right back, challenging a little.  Daring.  “What do you want to play?”

            They’d made it to Infinite’s practice room.  Fans had followed them, so it wasn’t that discreet, but at least no one could get in.

            Suho was calling again.  L winced and shoved his phone back into his pocket.  “He’s really pissed off.”

            “I can go,” Chen offered.  “I don’t want to get you in trouble.”

            “You’re the one he’s mad at, I’m not worried.”  He shuffled his feet, then smiled.  “I’m a little worried.”

            Chen laughed.

            “What’s going on between you?” L asked.  “You’re avoiding him?”  And why was Suho blowing up L’s phone, not Chen’s?  “Did you turn your phone off?”


            “Are you allowed to do that?”  L got serious shit if Sunggyu and management couldn’t get in touch with him.

            “No,” Chen admitted.

            “What’s wrong?”  He realized that he genuinely cared.  Maybe because Suho was involved.  Maybe because Chen was involved, and a part of him would always want to protect what Hoya loved.

            “I made a decision, and I have to live with it,” Chen said.  “I can live with it, I’m just frustrated about it.”

            “This isn’t about Hoya hyung,” L said, to make sure.

            “It is, but it’s not.  It’s about me.”  Chen picked at the hole in the knee of his pants, then offered L a weak smile.  “I’m very angry right now.  I’m so resentful, I can’t even look at the members.  Suho hyung’s not happy with me.”

            “He likes for everyone to get along,” L said.  “It’s important to him.”  That seemed like an obvious thing to say, but Suho had a particular desire for EXO to be a smoothly running machine as much as possible.  Compared to a leader like C.A.P., who expected a certain amount of bullshit between the members.

            Had he thrown a screaming fit and cried over C.A.P.?  Just that day?  God, that was embarrassing.  He was really losing it, if he was getting emotional over C.A.P., of all people.

            “I’m having trouble getting along,” Chen said.  “He wants to talk to me about it, and the next time I see him he’s not going to let me get away from him, but I don’t want to do it.  I hate them too much right now, I can’t stand it.”

            It surprised him to hear Chen talk this way.  “I didn’t think that you’d hate your members.  Suho hyung talks about you like you’re one of the most dependable members he has.  You’re one of the ones he relies on.”

            Chen looked interested.  “Does he?”

            “Yeah.  Not like Chanyeol, he’s useless, or Xiumin hyung, he’s totally extra, you could get rid of him, but you’re, you know.  Not worthless.”

            Chen laughed.  “Does Suho hyung call us useless?  Or is that just how you think of us?”

            “I guess that’s mostly just me,” L admitted after a moment’s consideration, scratching his shin.  “He loves all of you, he thinks that all of your members are precious, one way or another.  ‘We are one!’  ‘Let’s love!’” he cheered, raising an encouraging fist.  Chen laughed at his mockery.  “He believes in it, he wants EXO to be a family.  I think that most of you are useless,” he added.  “But I shouldn’t tell you that, it’s rude.”

            “It’s super rude,” Chen agreed, laughing.  “That’s awful, I should be offended.”

            “Sorry,” L said frankly.  “I’d hate you if you said shit about my members.”

            “My members are…”  Chen sighed, shifting uneasily on the bench.  “They are precious.  I’m glad that Suho hyung loves us.  I love him, I love them.  It’s just, it’s really hard for me to believe that we are one, right now.”

            It would kill Suho to hear that.  Which meant that he had to hear it.  If things were this bad, then Suho needed to know, so that he could do whatever he could before it got worse.  Chen was a fundamental part of EXO, and a fundamental part of Suho’s life.  A fundamental part of Suho’s stability and career and love life and happiness.  And L would protect that, if he could.  “You have to talk to him.  Seriously,” L said with emphasis.  “Talk to him about it.  Tell him everything.  Give him a chance to work on it.  He’s going to want to work on it,” he added.  “He loves you.”

            Chen’s smile was conflicted.  “He does.”

            Suho couldn’t go to bed.  He couldn’t relax.  He sat up, stewing.  He kept finding things to do and then angrily abandoning them.  Restless, he paced the dorm.

            “Uh, hyung?” Baekhyun asked, drifting out of their bedroom on bare feet, bare-chested in striped pajama pants.

            Suho was annoyed.  “This is no time to be concerned with those things, Baekhyun-ah.  This is serious.  We should be focused on Chen right now, on what he’s going through and how to help him.  Are you worried about yourself?”

            Baekhyun looked stricken.  “Sorry.  Sorry, I didn’t mean anything, anything by it,” he stammered.  “I am worried about him, I’ve been worried all of this time.  Lay hyung’s worried that I’m going to make myself sick.  I don’t know what to do.  I keep thinking that if I can talk to Chen, I can figure it out, but how can I talk to him if he’s never here?”

            Suho felt regretful.  “I’m sorry.  I’m snapping at you, and I shouldn’t.  You don’t deserve it.  If I start taking things out on the members, that won’t help.”  He sighed, sinking down, sitting on the edge of the couch.  He clasped his hands together.

            Baekhyun perched beside him.

            “I know that you’re worried about Chen, too.  And if we’re…”  He fumbled for the right words.  He didn’t want to say, out loud, that things were strained between the members.  He didn’t want to admit that they were having trouble.  “If there’s a problem,” there, yes, problem, that was accurate but vague enough, “then we shouldn’t pull away from each other.  We should try to stay close and make sure that our bond is still strong.  So we should have sex,” he said, his tone decisive on the first three words of that sentence and self-conscious on the last two as he met Baekhyun’s eyes.  “If you want to,” he added hastily.

            “We, uh.”  Baekhyun’s eyes darted and then he laughed.  “Is this the right mood for it?”

            He didn’t want to push the issue.  He’d already made Baekhyun uncomfortable.  “We could just get in bed together.  Is it all right if we sleep together?  I want to feel like I can still do something to be a good leader to my members, even if it’s just that.”

            “You’re a great leader,” Baekhyun said, looking surprised.  “Well, I wouldn’t say that you’re the best leader ever,” he added, because he always had to make a joke.  “But you’re a good leader.  This isn’t about that, this is about Chen and…”  His voice drifted uncertainly.  “Whatever’s going on with him.

            “Why don’t we know what’s going on with him?” Suho asked, frustrated.  “I’m his hyung, you’re his friend, shouldn’t we understand him better than this?”

            “He won’t talk to us.”

            “We should be able to read him better.  I feel like there’s a lot that we’re missing.  I thought that he was just upset about Hoya, and that made sense to me, but now, I think there’s more.  Something else is wrong, something else happened.”

            “What else is going on in his life?” Baekhyun asked.  “His whole life is just EXO and his boyfriend.”

            Just EXO and his boyfriend.  And now he didn’t have his boyfriend.  Something glimmered in the back of Suho’s mind, a fleeting thought, but he didn’t catch it in time, and it was gone.

            Uneasy, disappointed in himself, frustrated with Chen, he got up.  “Let’s go to bed.  I want to be up early so I can catch him if he sneaks in to change clothes.”

            L crept into the dorm and quietly closed the door.  He slipped his shoes off, wincing when one dropped with a thud, and then he turned to-


            Shit.  He cringed.  “Still up?”

            “Where have you been?” Sunggyu demanded behind him.

            “Shit,” Sungyeol muttered, barely audible from another room.  “Going to give me nightmares.  Kim Sunggyu yelling ‘Ya!’ in the middle of the night.”

            “It makes me feel so guilty,” Dongwoo said from the same room.  “I hear it, and I’m like, ah!  Oh, no!  He caught me!  He knows!  Even if I didn’t do anything!  He’s just scolding the maknae across the dorm and my heart’s racing like he found out I robbed a bank.”

            Ya, go back to sleep, this isn’t about you,” Sunggyu scolded.

            L turned around, trying to smile sheepishly, charmingly.  “Didn’t mean to wake the whole dorm up.”

            “Too late for that,” Sungjong muttered, shuffling out of his room, his hair all over his head.

            “Are you up?” Sungyeol called.  “Can you get some more lube?  We ran out.”

            Dongwoo snickered.  “And bring some beer!”

            Sungyeol laughed.  “You wish!”

            “Is this a comedy?” Sunggyu demanded.  “Are we filming for a variety show, is it time for jokes?  Everybody go to bed!”  He glared at L.  “Where have you been?  Young Money wants you, he can’t find his own members, you’re running all over Seoul.  Where’s Chen?”

            “Chen’s fine,” L said.  He shifted uncomfortably, putting his hands in his pockets.  “He’s not really fine, but he’s okay.  He’s safe, he’s healthy, he’s not doing anything wrong.”

            “Something’s wrong with Chen?” Dongwoo asked.

            “He’s going to talk to Suho hyung.  He can’t avoid it forever, he knows that.”  L rubbed his hand over his mouth.  “I’m worried about him, too,” he admitted.  “I don’t want things going wrong for Suho hyung.”  Or for Chen.  “I’ll talk to him again.  I’ll make sure that he handles it.”  Maybe he should’ve pushed Chen harder, made more of a point of insisting that he talk to Suho sooner, not later.

            Sungjong went to the bedroom door.  “Catch.”  He tossed in a bottle of lube followed by a can of beer.  Dongwoo laughed giddily.  “Ah, cold!” Sungyeol exclaimed.

            “Drink it?” Dongwoo suggested.  Then he offered, in a lascivious tone, “Drink it off of me?”

            “Ooh, yeah, c’mere,” Sungyeol said.

            Dongwoo laughed, then shouted happily.  “Ah!  Cold, cold!”

            “Stop making a mess!” Sunggyu shouted.

            L tugged on his earlobe, then grinned.  “I could, uh, check on them for you.”

            Sunggyu gave him an exasperated look.  “Go, go.”  Then Sunggyu grabbed his wrist and pulled him in, kissed his cheek.  “I’m glad that Chen’s confiding in you.  I’m glad that you’re helping him to-  Suddenly, Sunggyu stopped, and his eyes narrowed.  He eyed L, suspicious.  “You are helping him.”

            L laughed, self-conscious.  “Yeah.  Really, I want to help him.  I don’t want bad things for him.”

            Sunggyu nodded, then smiled and kissed him on the mouth.  “Good.  You need more friends like Chen.  Nice friends.”

            L smiled, waiting for it.

            “Not like that maknae, not thieves.  Nice friends,” Sunggyu emphasized.

            “He’s not a thief,” L said.

            “He steals things!”

            L smiled, kissing Sunggyu and turning away.  “He only steals hearts.”

            Ew!” Sunggyu exclaimed.  “Oh, no, L-ah, no.  That’s too far, don’t be like that.”

            Chen woke up in his getaway, on the couch under a blanket.

            Everything seemed quiet.  He snuck down the hall, used the toilet, and snuck back.

            He dug some snacks out of his bag and ate.  He read a little.  Finally, steeling himself, he checked his phone.

            He had a million messages.  He ignored most of them, skimmed a couple, and read one from L.

            I don’t want to be a jerk.  Don’t take this the wrong way.  You have 12 hours to talk to Suho hyung, or I’m going to do it for you.

            He grimaced.  The problem was, he believed it.  L would talk to Suho.  He didn’t know exactly what L would say, but he’d confessed enough already that L would be able to say something.  And he didn’t want L to get there before he did.

            He’d been avoiding the issue, but he wasn’t a coward.  He didn’t want someone else, an idol from another team, another whole company, to get involved.  He wanted to do it himself.  He wasn’t ready to do it himself, but it looked like he didn’t have a choice.

            He wanted to resent L for backing him into a corner, but he couldn’t.  It wasn’t L’s fault.  Whether he was ready to do it or not, it was time.  He couldn’t keep avoiding it.  Suho wasn’t going to give him another chance to escape.

            Wait, twelve hours?  Suddenly realizing that a countdown clock was ticking, he checked the message.

            L had sent it eight hours ago!

            Oh, shit!  Chen started packing up.

Series page: "Let's Love"

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Copyright October 19, 2017
by Matthew Haldeman-Time