riots: (Default)
k ([personal profile] riots) wrote2014-02-18 12:17 am

drawn to you ; one-shot

Title: Drawn to You
Pairing: Kai/Xiumin
Rating: PG-13
Length: 18k
Summary: Jongin is pretty sure that manhwa was never supposed to be this dangerous. AU.
A/N: SHOUT OUT TO EMMI FOR THIS. and also much love to everyone who gave me a hand with this :**** you're all stars

“Kim Jongin.” Guiltily, Jongin claps the book in his lap shut and straightens in his seat. Next to him, Sehun snorts, not even bothering to cover his grin with his hand. “Maybe you could tell us what’s so much more important than what I’m saying?” The professor regards him coolly, one hand on his hip and an eyebrow raised. Jongin wants to die.

“Sorry, sir,” he manages, hunching his shoulders and tucking his manhwa down between his knees. He doesn’t have to fake the contrition on his face. “It won’t happen again.” He feels something tapping at his knee, heading towards the book and without looking down, Jongin punches Sehun’s hand in the knuckles. No way he’s letting him get ahold of that.

“See that it doesn’t,” their professor says, and then he turns back to the board. Jongin knows it’s probably only his grades that prevented him from being more publically humiliated, but he can’t count on getting a pass every time. That was a close one.

He’s trying to stealthily put the manhwa away when Sehun snatches it away from him. “Oh, look,” he says softly, using his stupid long arms to hold it up and out of Jongin’s reach. “Another tale of the dashing Kim Minseok’s adventures and feats of derring-do?” He grins. “And you just couldn’t wait until class was over to start reading, huh?”

Jongin buries his face in his hands. He should be taking notes, but mostly all he wants to do right now is melt into his seat. “Shut up,” he hisses. “It just came out today.” God of Explorers is Jongin’s favourite manhwa, and he’s been following it for years. So, okay, maybe he’s in university now, and maybe he probably shouldn’t be reading comics under his desk in the middle of class, but he can’t help it. Kim Minseok, archaeologist and adventurer of the forties, exploring tombs lost in the desert - it’s all so much more interesting than the intricacies of grammar and how to write an academic paper.

Sehun shakes his head at him and relents, giving him back the manhwa. “That’s so sad,” he says.

Jongin scowls. “Whatever,” he says, hurriedly smoothing his fingers over the corners of the book. Just got it this morning and Sehun’s already marking it up. Some best friend he is.

“I was hoping you were texting someone,” Sehun says, propping his chin up on one hand. “Like, a real live person that isn’t me or Joonmyun hyung.” Jongin hears the pointed tone of his words and he ignores it, carefully tucking his manhwa away. “It’s like you’re trying to get all the way through university without ever making any friends.”

“I have friends,” Jongin protests quietly. He shrinks again when their professor looks up at them, and he scrambles for his pen and notebook. “I have friends! Like, Baekhyun. And Chanyeol.” Okay, so maybe he doesn’t spend that much time with them. They still count, though, right?

Sehun tilts his head. “Between the two of them, they’re probably ‘friends’ with everyone in school.” He rolls his eyes. “That’s quite a long list you’ve got there. Real impressive.”

“Thanks, Sehun,” Jongin mumbles. He turns away from him to focus on writing notes he doesn’t really need in quick, careful characters. Sehun likes to paint him as this anti-social dweeb just because he doesn’t go out to party every weekend or have fourteen ‘study buddies’ like he does.

“I didn’t -” Sehun rubs at his forehead. “That’s not what I’m saying. You just spend a lot of time with your manhwa and Kim Minseok and not a lot of time with real people.” He’s got that earnest lilt to his voice and that kind of makes it all worse. Sehun doesn’t really have emotions other than ‘smug’ and ‘disdainful’, so when he does get serious, it makes Jongin’s stomach shift uncomfortably.

University wasn’t what Jongin had thought it would be. The movies make it look like non-stop fun, easy as anything and nothing but parties and new friends. But classes have that little requirement called homework and studying, and Jongin’s kind of a lightweight and he never really took to drinking, so he kind of missed the boat on these things. Sehun still drags him out, of course, because apparently getting laid is less fun when he doesn’t have someone’s face to rub it in, but Jongin usually calls it a night after a bit of dancing. “I spend plenty of time with you,” Jongin points out.

“Do I count?” Sehun asks. “I mean really?” He raises his eyebrows. “I think I’ve spent more time with you than your parents have. You’re like a sixth limb to me.”

“Sixth?” Jongin asks. “What’s the - oh.” He swings out with the back of his hand and catches Sehun in the chest. “Gross. How come I rank lower than your dick?” He flushes again when a girl in front of them spins around, eyes wide. I’m sorry, he mouths.

Sehun punches Jongin back. “All my arms and legs and my dick. But still pretty important, I guess.”

The professor dismisses them, speaking over the noise of the students to remind them about a paper due at the end of the month, and Jongin scribbles down a note to himself to finish up research for that. “Gee, thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” Sehun says. They walk out of the room together, Sehun waving at a first year he knows. “I just worry about you, okay?”

Jongin’s face scrunches up with discomfort. “Don’t,” he says firmly. “Stop being so weird. It’s - don’t, alright? I’m fine. All good.” Maybe like, a little bit lonely. But he’s okay. He’s got his manhwa and Sehun to remind him of his place. It’s not so bad.

“Okay,” Sehun says, eyeing him sideways. “But you’re coming to Chanyeol’s tonight, right?”

All Jongin wants to do now is go home and finish the book in his bag. It’s a pivotal storyline, Minseok’s former friend and greatest nemesis Lu Han has returned, and he’s looking for vengeance. It’s so good. “Um.”

“You’re hopeless,” Sehun says. “Whatever. Guess I’ll just have to go by myself.” He wiggles his eyebrows. “Joonmyun hyung is gonna be there.”

Jongin groans. “That was years ago, shut up.” Sehun cackles and Jongin slugs him. “I’m way over it, seriously.”

“Suuuuuure,” Sehun says solemnly, and Jongin punches him again.

Jongin is so glad that this time, Sehun let him go. Hanging out with that group, on a night when he has school? It’s kind of exhausting. Jongin has never been so thankful that he lives alone.

He spends the evening burning through the latest book of God of Explorers instead. He’s almost done, which is the worst part. A few more chapters and then he’s going to have to wait all over again for the next one. It’s gonna end on a cliffhanger, he knows it. And then he’ll have to wait months for his next fix.

Most of what he loves about God of Explorers is Kim Minseok. He’s an archaeologist, so he’s smart, and he’s funny and self-deprecating, and he always manages to get out of a scrape, using his fists or his wits. Jongin thinks he’s probably the greatest character ever. He wishes he could go on adventures like Minseok and his sidekick, Jongdae. Wouldn’t it be nice to worry about things like ancient boobie traps and riddles instead of paying rent and keeping his GPA up? Jongin’s pretty sure that’d be the life.

He falls asleep reading in bed, neck bent at an awkward angle and the book in his lap, and has wild, vivid dreams. He dreams about being chased by dinosaurs and searching for treasure and a hand in his, but what he remembers most is a sharp smile full of small teeth.

It takes him a while to blink the sleep out of his eyes when his alarm goes off, and he rubs at the back of his neck. It’s a good thing he doesn’t have dance practice tonight, because no sleep and an achey neck does not make for a good lesson. He carefully closes his manhwa and sets it aside until after his class today, rolls his shoulders, and yawns.

“Good morning,” an unfamiliar voice says pleasantly. Jongin screams and rolls out of bed. On the floor, he clutches his blankets around himself, eyes wide. He’s sure he locked the door last night, and that is a distinctively male voice.


“Sorry,” the stranger says, voice contrite. He peers down at Jongin and Jongin shrinks, staring at him. He knows this man. Well, he doesn’t, but he knows his features almost as intimately as his own, though it’s incredibly strange seeing them translated to real life, instead of print. “Didn’t mean to scare you.”

Jongin is staring at Kim Minseok, in the flesh. Which is not possible. “I, uh, you-” Jongin points a wavery finger at him. “That’s not - this is so weird.” The same round cheeks, the same sharp eyes and small hands. He’s dressed for the jungle too, which makes him look even more out place in Jongin’s room. It’s the middle of the winter, and Minseok is wearing short sleeves and shorts. Jongin shakes his head. There’s no way this is happening right now.

“A full sentence! I knew you’d get there,” Minseok says, smiling down at him. And that’s worse, his smile is even nicer like this. “How about we try a name, next. I’m Kim Minseok, and you are?”

Minseok’s boots are caked in mud and scuffed, his shirt torn - Jongin blinks. It’s torn in exactly the same place it had been in the manhwa in the last chapter he’d read. “You’re not real,” Jongin decides. This can’t possibly be real. He’s dreaming. It must’ve been something he ate. He has to stop snacking at midnight.

“Am too,” Minseok says, looking affronted. “If I wasn’t real, could I do this?” He reaches out a hand to touch Jongin and Jongin shrieks, trying to scramble back out of his reach and knocking his head against the footboard of his bed instead. “Sorry, sorry,” Minseok says again. He freezes, hands out placatingly.

Jongin rubs at the back of his head. “I’m naked and there is a stranger in my room who looks just like Kim Minseok,” he says a bit miserably. “This feels like the beginning of a really strange porno.” He turns red as soon as the words leave his mouth and he desperately wishes that he at least had pants on to even the playing field.

“This is not a porno,” Minseok assures him, eyebrows furrowed. “And I am Kim Minseok.” He frowns. “Why is that so hard to believe?”

“Because of this.” Jongin feels around on his bedside table until he finds the manhwa and he shoves it in Minseok’s face.

Minseok takes it, poking a hole in Jongin’s ‘hallucination’ defense. “Huh,” he says. He holds the book up to his face and grins. “Pretty good likeness, don’t you think?” He flips through the pages, laughing softly. “I wish I could show Jongdae, he looks ridiculous.”

Jongin shifts uncomfortably on the floor. “Can you at least, like, turn around? So I can be not naked.” It always takes his brain at least half an hour to get going once he’s woken up, and he feels like he’s still half asleep, trapped in some strange dream world. It’s not the first time he’s dreamed about being naked around the legendary Kim Minseok.

“Why is half of it blank?” Minseok turns the book around, and shows Jongin the page, nothing but empty white. “Is that how books are published here?”

Jongin snatches the manhwa out of his hands, and he jerks when his fingers brush Minseok’s. He’d definitely glanced through the pages when he’d bought it, and that was not how it’d been last night. “What-?” The last printed page has a panel of Minseok pulling an artifact over his head, settling it against his chest and then, nothing.

“Ah,” Minseok says, peering at the page. “That makes sense.”

“No,” Jongin says petulantly. “Nothing makes sense right now.”

“But it does,” Minseok replies. “Because I’m here now.” He points at the floor of Jongin’s room. “So I can’t be there.” He taps a finger against the page. “See?”

Jongin blinks. “No,” he says again. He squints at Minseok. He’s not seriously telling him that he came out of his book, is he?

“You know, Yifan told me that that pendant had unusual properties,” Minseok muses. “But this is not something I’d expected.”

Jongin presses his face to his knees. “Please,” he says, “please can I put on some clothes?”

Minseok colours. “Ah, sorry,” he says. He stands and turns around, covering his eyes. “I get a little caught up in these things.”

It takes Jongin too long to get dressed, fighting with his hoodie and nearly falling on his ass when he pulls on his sweatpants, but he thinks that he’s probably got some room to be flustered. He’s the one who woke up with a stranger in uncomfortably short shorts in his locked bedroom with him. “I’m decent,” he says finally.

“Good,” Minseok says, turning around. Now that Jongin’s standing, Minseok has to tip his head up to meet his eyes. “Now we can get started. Do you have a name?”

“Kim Jongin. You know, I thought you would be taller,” Jongin says without thinking. In his head, Kim Minseok is a legend, he’s so big and important, but this Kim Minseok is pretty short, and smaller than Jongin is. He’s still well-built, though, compact. “Because, you know.” Aren’t heroes supposed to be?

A grin spreads across Minseok’s face. “Aha,” he says. “You do believe.” He jabs a triumphant finger into Jongin’s chest. “I knew it.”

“I don’t believe anything yet,” Jongin says. “I’m withholding judgement.” It’s hard not to believe, though, when he’s got the living and breathing proof right in front of him. Jongin just can’t think of very many reasons a very, very convincing Kim Minseok cosplayer would climb in his window in shorts in the middle of March.

“I think you do,” Minseok tells him, tilting his head. “Now, you and I and this -” He picks up the manhwa again, “- should maybe get something to eat.”

Jongin hesitates. It’s true, he doesn’t feel threatened by Minseok. Okay, so he’s kind of a strange intruder who broke into his home in some impossible way and the whole jungle explorer outfit is weirding him out, but he seems fairly harmless. If he’d wanted to kill him, he totally could’ve done that while he was sleeping. He’s probably okay. Then again, Jongin doesn’t always have the best self-preservation instincts. He slept with Baekhyun for a while.

“Okay,” he says slowly, tugging at the hem of his shirt. “But just once.” He waves a hand at Minseok. “And you have to change, first.”

Minseok raises his eyebrows. “What’s wrong with this?” he asks.

“Even an explorer knows to dress for the weather,” Jongin says. He digs through his clothes and comes up with something smaller, and throws them at Minseok’s face. “It’s winter.” Minseok frowns down at the garish cartoon print on the sweatshirt in his hands and for a brief second, Jongin doesn’t feel like Minseok’s got the upper hand.

Dressed in a bright purple sweatshirt two sizes too big, smiling around a mouthful of rice, Minseok looks less intimidating and also about as old as the tiny Thai freshman that Jongin tutors. “Better,” Minseok declares, sliding his bowls away. “Much better.” He licks his lips clean and leans back in his seat. “So.”

“So.” Jongin echoes. He’s flipped through the manhwa so many times through their meal that it’s getting dog-eared, something he should be upset about, but he just keeps coming back to that last panel. Minseok and that necklace and then there’s nothing but blank pages until the back cover. “You came out of my book and into my room.”

“I think so, yes,” Minseok agrees. He brushes imaginary crumbs off the table in front of him. “When we were looking into the pendant, the most that Yifan managed to dig up was a history of disappearances around the piece and rumours of mysterious portals to the future. I just thought that maybe people were being killed for a shiny bauble.” He shrugs. “Not quite.”

“Yeah, not quite,” Jongin says dryly. He frowns. “Hey, where is this thing? How are you supposed to get back?”

“Therein lies the problem,” Minseok says. He presses his lips together tightly. “I’m not sure I was the only one to come through.”

Jongin opens his mouth and then closes it. “There were more people in my room?” he asks.

“No,” Minseok laughs. “I assume there’s more than one place this book is sold in the city, right? I guess that means there was more than one place to come out.”

Jongin thinks about that, about books in stores or in kids’ bedrooms. “Wait,” he says. “Who else came with you? Kim Jongdae?” Minseok’s sidekick and partner in crime, smart-mouthed and accident-prone. Jongin wouldn’t mind meeting him, really.

“Do you remember what was happening, in the chapter before?” Minseok asks, and Jongin’s heart sinks.

“Oh no,” he says. “Really?”

Minseok shrugs. “Lu Han’s hand was on my wrist when I put it on,” he admits. “There’s a distinct possibility that he’s somewhere here with me.” He pulls a face. “After all, I don’t have the amulet anymore. It would make sense that it came out the other side with him.”

“Lu Han is roaming around Seoul?” Jongin stares at him, and does his best to swallow back his panic. “Like, slightly unhinged, too skilled with knives, bent on revenge Lu Han? And he’s probably looking for you?” Minseok’s history with Lu Han is long and storied, and Jongin is well-familiar with it. They’d been colleagues, once upon a time, best friends, until a trip to Peru went sour. Through a series of tragic misunderstandings, Minseok had thought Lu Han was dead and left him behind, and Lu Han had never forgiven him. “Great. Perfect. I’m glad you ended up in my bedroom.”

“So am I,” Minseok replies honestly, and it softens the sullen set of Jongin’s shoulders. “Where else would I get such nice clothing?” He plucks at the front of his sweatshirt and grins at Jongin.

“Shut up,” Jongin says. “It’s not my fault you’re tiny.”

Minseok raises his eyebrows, but he doesn’t reply. “Lu Han is…” He shakes his head. “Well. If he’s here, I hope he does have the pendant, because I’d like to go home sometime.” He reaches out with one finger to push at his water glass. He looks up again to smile at Jongin, but it doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “Eventually, I mean. Your world is so fascinating. I want to watch your television for hours. So clear.”

“You can’t go back yet,” Jongin tells him. “You only just got here.”

Minseok looks at him thoughtfully. “Exactly,” he says.

Their waitress comes by and slides their bill onto the table and Minseok looks pointedly at Jongin, raising his eyebrows. Jongin sighs and digs out his wallet. He never thought Minseok would be stingy, too. Minseok pops a mint into his mouth and he grins. “Want to show me the town?” he asks.

Jongin thinks mournfully of his class in an hour. “Yeah,” he says. “Why not?” What’s one skipped class gonna hurt, right?

“And this card lets you onto any of these trains?” Minseok asks. He looks delighted as Jongin swipes himself through the turnstile after him. “The technology in your world is astounding. I’m still a bit disappointed about the lack of teleportation, though.”

“I think we all are,” Jongin replies. They’ve spent all day wandering around the city, Jongin doing what he can to show Minseok the sights. He’s not really the best tour guide, since his favourite places include the best food stand on campus and the manga store like, three blocks from his house, but Minseok is rewardingly easygoing. He asks Jongin endless questions about his phone, the self-serve ticket booth at the movie theatre, and the political structure of the country, all while he digs into a kebab. All Jongin can do to is hope to keep up.

And so maybe one missed class has turned into two, and Sehun has texted him like four times asking where he is, i know you dont have any other friends, send one dick emoji if youve been kidnapped, 2 if youre on another god of explorers binge, and 3 if you actually managed to get laid, but Jongin’s having the time of his life. Who knew that actually doing things would be fun? Maybe he’s just hanging out with the wrong, utterly exhausting people.

“Where to now?” Minseok asks. He peers up at the sign listing the times for the trains. “What are you going to show me next? A library? I’m trembling with excitement.”

Jongin feels a bit like trembling himself, but not quite for the same reasons. “Um,” he says, staring over Minseok’s shoulder. “Uh, how about an exit?” he suggests shakily.

“What -” Minseok turns, and his entire body tenses. “Oh. Oh no.” At the very far end of the station, Lu Han is pushing his way through the people towards them. For a second, Jongin is paralyzed. He’d thought that the delicacy of Lu Han’s features had to do with the artwork of the manga, but that’s not true. Even at this distance, Jongin can see the little swoop of Lu Han’s nose and the fierceness in his eyes.

“Jongin.” Minseok pulls at Jongin’s arm insistently. “Jongin, we have to go. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that the best method of dealing with Lu Han is to get the hell away from him.” Jongin only hesitates long enough to hear Lu Han bark Minseok’s name and then he bolts after him down the platform.

The post-work crush of people is both help and hindrance. Another train pulls into the station and suddenly it feels like there are hundreds of people and they end up jammed between everyone, Minseok pressed back against Jongin’s chest. “This isn’t -” Minseok shakes his head. “How do we even get out of here?”

They’ve got a couple of options, but when Jongin turns his head, he sees Lu Han between them at the exit, eyes dark as he wedges his way between two teenage girls and pushes relentlessly towards them. “C’mon,” Jongin says.

Minseok is small, and easily lost, and that’s the justification Jongin gives himself for the firm grip on Minseok’s hand as they race down the stairs. They’re moving against the flow, and Jongin can only hope that the crowd of people moving up the stairs and the fact that Jongin actually knows where he’s going will give them an edge. “Down seems a bit counter-intuitive,” Minseok points out as they squeeze past a noisy family. “Shouldn’t we be going up and out?”

“Trust me,” Jongin says. He hears the chime of the doors and he breaks into a sprint, dragging Minseok along with him. Minseok, to his credit, keeps up. “Go!” The doors are sliding shut and the train is already crowded, but Minseok slides through the gap just ahead of Jongin. The second the doors shut behind them, Lu Han collides with the glass, hammering his hand against the window as the train pulls away. Jongin sees the glint of something around Lu Han’s neck but then he’s gone, lost in the crowd as the train leaves the station.

“That was fun,” Minseok says breathlessly, smiling tightly. Jongin pushes his sweaty bangs out of his face and leans back against the door, doing his best to ignore the unimpressed stare of the businessman he’s stuck unfortunately close to. “I think we can definitely say that Lu Han made it through after I did.”

“He’s kind of scary,” Jongin tells Minseok. “You were friends with this guy?” He’s thankful that there were so many people around. He wouldn’t want to run into Lu Han in a dark alley somewhere.

“He wasn’t always like that,” Minseok says, so quietly that Jongin almost misses it over the rattle of the train and the buzz of conversation. He clears his throat and raises his voice. “I hate to say it, but maybe your house isn’t so safe as a home base. The longer we stay there, the greater the chance that Lu Han finds us.”

Jongin blinks at him. “What do you mean?” he asks slowly. As if it wasn’t enough that a man had climbed out of his manhwa, now it’s like he’s in a spy movie. “What’s wrong with my house? There’s a lock on my door.”

The look that Minseok gives him is both a bit fond and pitying. “I don’t think you want Lu Han to know where you live,” he says gently. “He’s no stranger to a bit of breaking and entering.”

“Oh,” Jongin says. The train shudders as it heads around a corner, but he’s pretty sure that’s not the reason behind the way his stomach lurches. This is less fun now. This has gone from fun to distinctly un-fun with a side of scary. “Um. Okay.”

“Hey, relax,” Minseok tells him. “Haven’t you ever gone on the lam before? Lots of fun. It’s like going on vacation, except you’re afraid of strangers.” Jongin does his best to smile back, but it’s hard. Last night, his biggest worry was whatever gross alcoholic concoction Chanyeol decided to use at his party and call ‘punch’. Now there’s someone out for his blood. “Actually, you know what?” Minseok pats Jongin’s arm. “Thank you. Thank you for lunch and for this beautiful sweatshirt and a very nice day, but I think I should go.”

“What?” Jongin says, a bit lost.

“You look like you just swallowed a bee,” Minseok says. “And you’re afraid of what will happen if it tries to get out.” Jongin frowns at him and Minseok laughs and shakes his head. “No, it’s fine. You’ve done plenty. You go home, get some sleep. I’m sure I can find a place to stay for the night. I’m a very resourceful man, you know. You have to be, in my line of work.” The train pulls into the next station and the door slide open. “It was nice meeting you, Kim Jongin.” Minseok steps out onto the platform and heads into the crowd.

Jongin watches him go. It’s true that if it weren’t for Minseok, Jongin wouldn’t be in any of this mess in the first place. He definitely didn’t ask for Minseok to wake him up this morning, and he’s already gone above and beyond by skipping his classes and dipping into his savings to pay for today’s adventures. Minseok doesn’t have any money of his own, and he doesn’t have any ID or any idea of how the city works. He sees Minseok hesitate, looking up a sign, and that’s when Jongin sighs. The doors chime and he pushes his way out again, hoping that this isn’t a horrible mistake.

“Minseok-ssi,” Jongin calls, and Minseok turns. Jongin swallows at the way Minseok’s eyes crease with surprise and pleasure. “You’re not going to have all the adventures yourself, are you?”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Minseok tells him and he grins.

They do go back to Jongin’s place, if only to get him a chance of clothes. He hesitates for a very long time over his textbooks. After all, who knows when he’ll get into class again. He really should at least try to keep up his studying. He stuffs a textbook in his bag, but as soon as he turns his back to reach for another one, Minseok is darting forward to yank it out again. “I appreciate your enthusiasm for learning, Jongin, I really do,” he says, tossing it onto the bed. “But trust me, you are not going to want to be running around with that in your bag.” He pulls the textbook out of Jongin’s hands and carefully stacks it on top of the other one. “Or this.”

“I was just -” Jongin flushes. Okay, so maybe he kind of sucks at this stuff. What do you pack when you’re running for your life? “Sorry.”

“Nothing to be sorry about,” Minseok says. He pats Jongin’s chest. “Socks are more useful, I promise.”

“Socks,” Jongin echoes. “Okay.” He gathers a couple pairs and stuffs them into his bag and then looks up at Minseok for approval. Minseok doesn’t say anything, just watches him, eyebrows raised, so Jongin adds another pair. Better safe than sorry, right?

Before he can zip up his bag, Minseok tucks in the manhwa with the blank pages. “It seems important,” he says. “An important clue.”

“A clue,” Jongin echoes, hoisting his bag on his shoulder. “Is this a mystery novel, now?”

Minseok grins at him. “Everything’s a mystery, if you think about it,” he tells Jongin. “It’s what makes life so interesting.”

Despite himself, Jongin finds himself smiling back. “If you say so,” he says.

“I do.” Minseok knocks his knuckles against Jongin’s shoulder and then reaches for the coat Jongin had dug up for him, threadbare and old but more Minseok’s size than the rest of his clothes. “Alright. Let’s go.”

When Minseok had said that his apartment wasn’t safe, Jongin’s head had gone to one place. “Jongin,” Joonmyun says when he opens the door. “This is a surprise. It’s been a while.” His eyes slide from Jongin over to Minseok, who offers him an amiable smile.

“Hi, hyung,” Jongin says, shifting in the doorway. “Um, can we come in?”

Joonmyun doesn’t hesitate to step back and allow them room. “Of course.” He squints a little at Minseok as he closes the door behind him. “Do I know you?” he asks. “I’m sorry, I’m drawing a blank on your name, I’m usually so good with this. Your face just seems so familiar.” Jongin goes red, his chest suddenly tight with panic. Of course Joonmyun recognizes him, Jongin’s been reading the manhwa for almost as long as they’ve known each other.

“I don’t think we’ve met,” Minseok tells him, biting back a laugh. “But I’ve got one of those faces. I’m Kim Minseok.”

“So nice to meet you,” Joonmyun says. They toe off their shoes and make their way into Joonmyun’s apartment. It’s a very, very nice place. Jongin is always a little bit terrified of spilling something or breaking something or just generally being a mess. “Although I can’t say that Jongin’s ever mentioned you.”

That’s actually so embarrassingly far from the truth that Jongin has to turn away from him to hide his face. “Sure I have,” he insists. “Remember?” Minseok is watching him for a cue, eyebrows raised in amusement. “Minseok hyung. We, um -”

“We met in history class,” Minseok says smoothly. “I, ah, I help out with the class.”

“Teaching assistant,” Jongin agrees. “Yeah, he’s my TA.”

Joonmyun’s brow is still creased with confusion. “Oh, of course,” he says. Jongin is so grateful that Joonmyun is so polite and welcoming. “I’m glad we’re finally getting to meet, then. Make yourselves comfortable. Did you want something to drink?” Before they even really get a chance to reply, Joonmyun disappears into the kitchen.

“Nice place you’ve got here,” Minseok calls, dropping down on the couch, and Joonmyun shouts back a thank you.

Jongin scrunches his socked toes in Joonmyun’s thick, probably expensive rug. He hears Joonmyun puttering around in the kitchen, dishes clinking against the counter, and abruptly, he feels stupid. “We shouldn’t have come,” he says quietly.

Minseok tips his head. “What?” he asks. “Why not? I thought you said he’d put us up for a few days, no questions asked?”

Because Jongin hadn’t thought. If he doesn’t want Lu Han finding his home, he wouldn’t want him to find Joonmyun’s, either. While he’s sure that no matter what he asked, Joonmyun would do his best to help, that doesn’t mean that he wants something to happen to him. “Because what if he comes here?” Jongin asks. “What if Lu Han, like -” He raises a hand to his throat in a slashing gesture.

“Hey,” Minseok says. “We can go, you know?” He stretches out to rest a hand on Jongin’s knee. “Just tell him you were in the area, thought you’d drop by.”

“I guess,” Jongin says, and of course, that’s just when Joonmyun comes back into the living room.

He raises his eyebrows but his eyes are soft. “Oh,” he says, like he’s understanding something. “Of course.” Jongin stares at him until Joonmyun’s gaze flicks down to Minseok’s hand on his knee and oh. He jerks away and scrunches up his face. Great. “Coffee?” Joonmyun holds out the mugs in his hands.

Minseok eyes the two of them and shrugs just a tiny bit. “Yes, please,” he says. “That’d be great.”

They stay for coffee, and Jongin has to withstand Joonmyun bombarding him with questions. It’s his own fault, really, he hasn’t made the time to meet with him for weeks. To his credit, Minseok is a good sport. He makes up a whole history about being a graduate student with a taste for history and football. It’s actually kind of impressive.

Luckily, Joonmyun can take a hint. When Jongin starts squirming, anxious, Joonmyun pulls his mug out of his hands. “Well,” he says, “I’d better get back to grading papers.” He leans in close to Jongin. “He seems nice. I’m glad you introduced him to me.”

Hyung,” Jongin hisses, and Joonmyun smiles at him beatifically, ruffling his hair. “Stop.”

“It was nice to meet you,” Minseok says politely, even as Jongin is yanking on his jacket and trying to push him out the door. He’s worried for Joonmyun’s sake, sure, but he’s also worried for his own. The longer they stay, the more pointed eyebrow wiggling and knowing smiles he’s going to get. “Thanks for the coffee!”

“Bye, hyung!” Jongin calls over his shoulder, and he practically slams the door behind them.

They’re silent while they make their way out of the building, and Jongin can feel Minseok’s eyes on him. “Well,” he says finally, a smile playing on his lips, “that was fun.”

“Let’s just find a hotel,” Jongin grumbles.

Jongin doesn’t have a ton of money lying around, so they end up in a rundown little place quite a way off campus. They’ve got two beds, at least, two tiny, too soft beds with tacky bedspreads that Jongin doesn’t want to look at too closely. Minseok smiles when he catches Jongin wrinkling up his nose. “This is pretty good,” he tells Jongin, throwing himself down on one of the beds. “Running water that’s safe to drink, no rats, we are living the life.”

“Well, when you put it like that…” Jongin says, and Minseok laughs. It’s not that bad, really. Jongin’s just not used to it. When his parents took them on vacation, they usually stayed in places a little bit nicer than this.

“Trust me,” Minseok says, stretching out on his back. “This is practically palatial.” He sighs, eyes sliding shut.

Shaking his head, Jongin turns to the task of getting settled. Not really hard, not when he’s living out of a backpack and he’s got no idea when they’ll have to bolt again. Minseok looks like he’s already asleep, which leaves Jongin by himself in a poorly lit hotel room and a TV with nothing on. For a second, Jongin wishes that Minseok hadn’t somehow erased the second half of his manhwa, because he could use something to read right now.

Jongin doesn’t do too well when he’s got time to think. Dwelling on things is kind of a specialty of his. Sehun likes to tell him he’s too soft, and he’s not wrong, really. Jongin has this bad habit of letting things fester in his head until they seem way bigger than they are. It’s why he keeps himself distracted. Dance is good. Nothing empties out his head like having to focus on the precise angle of his body, or matching Taemin beat for beat. But there isn’t room in here for even a little bit of movement, so Jongin’s kind of stuck. He sighs and folds his legs up under him, pressing his face to his knees.

“So you’re a fan, huh?” Minseok asks, cracking one eye open. He looks over at Jongin, slowly pushing himself up on one hand.

Jongin had woken up late this morning, but who knows how long Minseok had waited for that, sitting by himself in some world he doesn’t recognize - Jongin hadn’t thought about it. And here Minseok is, forgoing a nap to make Jongin feel better. “Well,” Jongin mutters, cheeks heating, “I like reading the books, I guess.”

“You had every one,” Minseok points out, sitting up straight and crossing his legs. “And a little statue thing that looked a whole lot like me. I looked.” He grins, pleased. “Shorts were a bit long, though.”

Busted. Jongin groans, hiding his face in his knees. “I bet you think I’m a huge creep,” Jongin says, voice muffled. “Some weirdo who collects figures of you instead of talking to people.” That’s what Sehun always says, anyway. He’s just teasing, but it still hits Jongin pretty hard some days.

“Nah,” Minseok says. He pushes his chin out thoughtfully, lips pursed. “I take it as a compliment.” His grin widens again. “Your worship gives me power.” He spreads his arms sleepily, like he’s basking in the imaginary glow of Jongin’s love, and Jongin makes a strangled noise and throws a pillow at him.

“Shut up,” Jongin tells him. “It’s not worship.”

“Of course,” Minseok agrees amiably.

Jongin drags his hand through his hair. “Really, though,” Jongin says. “I know I’m not the best, like, companion for this kind of thing.” He shrugs and laughs. “Not really good with the…” He waves a hand. “Talking. And stuff.” It’s kind of why he spends so much of his time reading. And besides, he’s pretty sure that a good sidekick is supposed to be a lot more capable than he is. Like, don’t they need to qualify for the position? At least know a little bit about history or something useful. Jongin just has a weirdly encyclopedic knowledge of God of Explorers’ backstory and the ability to do a pirouette. That’ll be handy. He can pirouette them out of danger.

“I don’t know,” Minseok says, “I think you’re doing a pretty good job. Got us away from Lu Han, didn’t you?” He tosses Jongin’s pillow back. “And you got lunch.” He grins at Jongin. “Never underestimate the value of a good meal.”

Jongin tucks the pillow up against his chest. “I guess so,” he agrees.

“Speaking of,” Minseok says, looking around, “I’m hungry. Can we get food in here? Can it be delivered? Does your wonderful, futuristic world provide for food to be sent to people who are too tired to move?”

“Yes,” Jongin says solemnly, the corners of his mouth curling up. “And they teleport it right to your room.”

Minseok presses his hand to his chest. “Amazing,” he says. “The future is now.” He pushes the phone on the bedside table over towards Jongin and looks at him expectantly.

This has been the strangest day of Jongin’s life. He reaches for the phone. “What do you feel like eating?” he asks, and Minseok lights up.

“I have options?” he asks, intrigued, and Jongin laughs.

“Rise and shine,” Minseok says cheerfully, and Jongin jerks straight up and then rolls off his bed. It takes him a solid ten seconds to gather his bearings, and by the time he’s figured out that he’s not at home, he’s sitting on really threadbare carpet and staring up at Minseok’s face. “Ah, sorry about that. You’re a really heavy sleeper.”

Jongin blinks up at him and scrubs at his eyes. “Huh?” he says.

Minseok rests his chin on the edge of the bed and smiles down at him. “You can’t sleep all day,” he says. “The sooner we get Lu Han back into the book, the better.”

“Buh,” Jongin says. “Mruh.” It’s too early to be thinking about this. He glances at the clock. Eleven am. Still too early.

“I ordered us breakfast,” Minseok announces, reaching out to ruffle Jongin’s hair. It’s not a really a gesture that Jongin’s particularly okay with from people he only met a day ago, but he leans into the touch, just a little bit. “Maybe you should shower.”

“You know how to work the phone?” Jongin mumbles. He does his best to stand up and it takes him a few wobbles before he gets there.

Minseok looks faintly offended. “I’m not a caveman,” he says. “I’m an archaeologist. I can figure out how to push a few buttons and get us delivery.”

“Sorry,” Jongin smiles a little, pushing his bangs out of his face. “My bad.” He really should shower. It’ll help him wake up a bit.

“You should be sorry,” Minseok says. “Hurry, go get ready before the food gets here.” Jongin grunts and Minseok wiggles his eyebrows. “I got chicken. You like chicken, right? You inhaled it last night, I thought you were going to choke on the bones.”

“Oh,” Jongin says. This morning seems considerably brighter now. “Yes, yeah, okay.” He heads towards the bathroom.

Minseok laughs. “Don’t take too long,” he says, and Jongin grunts and closes the door behind him.

The hot water helps wash the sleep out of Jongin’s eyes and by the time they’ve gotten through breakfast, he’s practically running on all cylinders. “Alright,” Minseok says, carefully tidying up all of their garbage. “Now, should we find a library, maybe?” He’s got on another of Jongin’s sweatshirts today, swimming in the bright blue fabric.

Jongin frowns at him. “Library?” he asks.

“Well, yes,” Minseok says. “I’d like to get some research done on the pendant. If it’s been bringing people between my world and yours for decades, there’s got to be some kind of history of it. Right?” He throws away the last of their takeout and turns back to Jongin. “What?”

“I’ve got something better,” Jongin says. He rummages through his bag and digs out his laptop. “Kim Minseok, this is the internet.”

Minseok is delighted by it, of course. It takes him some time to figure out how Jongin’s laptop actually works, but his complete lack of skill doesn’t dampen any of his enthusiasm. They sift through sketchy sites on the mythology of Chile until they stumble on one that seems promising. Despite a bit of a fixation on the supposed magical properties of the amulet, everything seems well-researched and substantiated, and the site isn’t covered in cheap clipart. “Look,” Minseok says, tapping his finger against the screen despite Jongin’s repeated requests to stop. “He lives in the city. We should go visit him.”

Jongin laughs. “Or we could just email him?” he says. “Or like, call him. We can do that now. Talk to lots and lots of people without even leaving our seats.”

“Come on, Jongin,” Minseok says, and he jerks his chin at the door. “A good archaeologist goes out and gets his hands dirty.” He marches out, leaving Jongin to blink at the wall and then scramble to gather his things and their room keys. He thinks about telling Minseok that going to find some nutty conspiracy theorist isn’t quite the same as getting hands on at a dig site, but he’s not really sure that Minseok would listen. He’s got a knack for coming out of things alive, though, so maybe Jongin should trust his instincts.

The man lives far enough on the fringes of town that Jongin figures it’s a good idea to get some transportation of their own. It takes forever to talk Chanyeol into lending him his car, a clunker that Chanyeol babies and calls Sandra (he bids them goodbye by kissing the hood and looking inordinately forlorn), but Jongin decides it’s worth it when they finally get out there. How do they even know that this guy isn’t like, some kind of murderer? When they knock, Jongin’s relieved to find that Zhang Yixing doesn’t look intimidating, at least. He’s thin and soft, offering them a genuine, pleased smile when he invites them in. “I haven’t gotten many people dropping by in person,” Yixing tells them, leading his way through the winding, cramped hallways of his house. Minseok eyes the books stacked high against the walls warily, though they seem sturdy enough to Jongin. “Welcome to my humble abode.”

He takes them to a room near the back of the house, wide and just as cluttered as the rest of the rooms, one cat perched disdainfully on a couch arm. Thankfully, Yixing clears them each a spot on a couch. Jongin has never seen Minseok so uncomfortable, and when he shoots him a questioning look, Minseok just shakes his head, muttering something about ‘mildew’ and wrinkling his nose. “Thanks, uh, for agreeing to meet us and inviting us in,” Jongin says, stuffing his hands between his knees. “I know it’s kind of weird, but -”

Minseok shoots him a look, but Yixing waves a hand, smiling. “Nonsense,” he says cheerfully. “I’m always willing to help fellow seekers of the Black Pearl.”

Stretching out one foot, Minseok carefully nudges away the cat, nosing at his ankle. “The Black Pearl?” he asks, his intrigue finally overriding his distaste for Yixing’s chaotic home. “There’s a name for it, then?”

“It’s black and it’s a pearl,” Jongin points out, and Minseok curls his hand into a fist, reaching back to punch Jongin’s knee lightly without looking. There’s a smile on his face and Jongin can feel one of his own pushing at the corners of his mouth.

“Of course!” Yixing says. There’s a desk behind him, but he doesn’t bother to sit at it. Jongin’s not sure he could. Instead, he rummages through the books on top of it until he digs up one massive tome, thick and dusty. “Fascinating story. I’m so glad you chose to study it.” He dumps the book in Minseok’s lap and Minseok coughs a little. “There’s a legend around it, that whoever touches the pendant is immediately whisked away to another world.” He flicks a few pages in the book and taps his finger against the print. There’s a list of names in archaic lettering, and Minseok bends over them, eyes focused and intent. “And there are plenty of disappearances to support this theory, going all the way back to the twelfth century.” At this he smiles brightly at the two of them, bobbing his shoulders a little like a kid. Jongin may have to reevaluate the whole ‘not a serial killer’ thing if Yixing always gets this excited about people vanishing.

“How exciting,” Jongin says slowly, glancing over at Minseok. Minseok doesn’t look at him, but he does widen his eyes pointedly, swallowing his grin.

Yixing nods. “Isn’t it?” He folds his fine-boned hands together in front of himself. “And they are disappearances. Dozens of missing people and not a single body found, not even now.” Minseok has turned back to the book, examining an etching of the pendant. That’s it, alright. Or, well, Jongin assumes it is. It’s just like the drawing in his manhwa. “Spooky,” Yixing intones, all mock seriousness, wiggling his fingers in the air. “And it gets even better.”

“There’s more?” Minseok asks, just a little sly, but Yixing is ignoring him. He seems pretty happy just to be talking about this. It’s kind of cute.

“Oh yes,” Yixing says. “The best of all.” He turns and hefts another book onto Minseok’s lap on top of the first, and Jongin catches a hint of smugness in Yixing’s smile when Minseok lets out a little ‘oof’. “Look.” He opens the text to an ornate drawing of a man, half disappeared, beside a page of dense, cramped script. “The Black Pearl surfaced again in France in the late 1800s, in the estate of a Duke. Now, a couple of men decided to break in and rob this guy but they were caught before they could get away. The only thing that was never recovered was, surprise! The Black Pearl.” He traces a finger over the disappearing man. “His partners swore up and down that he had put on the necklace and disappeared in front of their eyes, sucked through a hole in the air.” He makes a whooshing noise. “There have been a few eyewitness accounts since then, but that’s the clearest one.”

“Imagine that,” Minseok says. He’s staring down at the page thoughtfully though. “Was there any pattern to the disappearances?”

Yixing’s eyes crease in a smile. “You are smart,” he says, pleased. “The pendant never stays in one place for very long, but there’s one thing that pops up with every disappearance - it always happens at noon. When the sun is highest in the sky.”

“Spooky,” Jongin says seriously. Yixing nods and pats a hand on his shoulder.

“And the pendant goes with them?” Minseok interrupts. He’s flicking through the books on his lap, pausing here and there to read a passage. Jongin’s pretty sure the smaller one is in Latin. Minseok can read Latin. It’s probably weird that Jongin finds that a little bit hot, right?

Yixing nods. “As far as I can tell. Each time a person vanishes, the Black Pearl vanishes right along with them.” He blinks at Minseok. “You, uh, you know you can’t keep those, right?”

“Ah, sorry,” Minseok says, releasing his death grip on the pages. “This is just...fascinating. You’ve done a lot of research on this.”

Yixing dusts off a narrow slice of space to rest his butt against his desk. “You won’t find anyone who knows more on this continent,” he says. “I know it all.”

Jongin looks at the book in Minseok’s lap, at the etching of the details of the pendant. “Where do they go?” he asks curiously, eyes flicking up to Yixing. “Like, do you think it’s the same place every time? Or is it maybe different?” It makes his stomach shift uncomfortably, the thought of Minseok taking ahold of that pendant only for it to send him somewhere weird, somewhere dark and scary and unfamiliar. He frowns.

“Unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing,” Yixing shrugs. “I mean, short of actually getting your hands on the pendant itself and doing some testing.” His eyes go a little bit dreamy at that, and Jongin is tempted to warn him that adventures aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Impending danger is definitely not nearly as fun as movies make it look. “Although -” He tips his head, deep in thought, and is silent for so long that Jongin thinks maybe he’s forgotten they’re even there.

“Yes?” Minseok prompts.

“Hold on.” Yixing disappears from the room, leaving Jongin and Minseok alone with the cat. It’s taken a particular liking to Minseok, rubbing up against his calves and purring loudly enough that Jongin almost feels it vibrating through the floor. Minseok eyes it suspiciously.

“Odd duck, this guy,” Minseok says after a moment. He gestures at the room. “Do you think he ever leaves the house?”

“Is there something wrong with spending your time reading?” Jongin asks, raising an eyebrow, and Minseok throws him a look, somewhere near fond, and Jongin feels his belly lurch pleasantly.

“I knew I had it somewhere.” Yixing deposits a third book in Minseok’s lap and this time Minseok full-on groans. “Here. It’s, um.” He takes a few minutes to fumble through the pages until he comes upon a passage in the back. “Here we go. An account from 1921. The Black Pearl was in a monastery in Spain. This time, when the boy put the pendant over his head, and I quote: ‘the pearl took on a reddish sheen and through the hole there was a great light, and though I wrenched the jewel from his throat, he was gone’.” He slams the book shut and smiles at them expectantly.

“Okay?” Jongin says hesitantly.

Yixing purses his lips. “This detail was never included in any of the other accounts. And it’s the only time I’ve found where the pendant actually stayed here. It’s impossible to be sure, but if ever it went to a different place, that would be the time.”

“Ahhh,” Minseok says. “Now that is interesting.” Next to him, Jongin nods his head for a few seconds longer than is probably necessary. It is interesting. And also handy. “Well, thank you for your time, Zhang Yixing. You’ve been a great deal of help.”

“Of course,” Yixing says cheerfully. He pulls the books away from Minseok. “Although, you can’t borrow these. Very old, very valuable, etcetera, etcetera. You’re welcome to drop by and have a look at them again, if you’d like.” He cradles the last and largest against his chest, pressing a cheek to the spine. “I’m always willing to help.”

He waves them off, saying something about a book club meeting to get to, and they slip out the door. Minseok lets Jongin lead them back to the car. “You were right,” he tells Jongin as they stand and wait. “The internet is useful.” He smirks.

“You’re covered in cat hair,” Jongin replies, and he laughs when Minseok shoves him, surprisingly hard.

Jongin’s a careful driver. It’s probably mostly because Joonmyun was the one who took him out for practice when he was in high school, and he’d drilled him on everything, all of the time. Even now, he expects Joonmyun to remind him to check the mirrors. It’s kind of weird.

“I wish you’d let me drive,” Minseok says, peering at the console of the car and pressing buttons. He seems to be systematically testing everything until he figures out how to change the music. He settles on a radio station he likes, something jazzy, and cranks it up loud. “I doubt cars are that different over here.”

“You don’t have a license,” Jongin tells him. “Plus, it’s not like you know the laws and stuff here.” He glances over at Minseok. “Or, like, the city. Or where the hotel is. Or anything.”

“My, my,” Minseok says. He’s testing the heating now, and Jongin flinches when he gets a blast of hot air to the face. “How very law-abiding you are. Such a rule follower.”

Jongin nudges him with an elbow. “You’re just mad.” He says. “Don’t worry. Someday, you’ll be a big boy, and dad will let you drive too.”

Minseok stares at him for a second before he erupts in laughter, throwing back his head. “Wow,” he says. “Wow. I didn’t know you could be funny.”

Jongin flushes. “I have many talents,” he says. “Not just driving. Other stuff.”

“And you’re practically a professional at that,” Minseok says, tongue between his teeth. “You can drive me around any day.”

“Gee, thanks,” Jongin scoffs. “I feel super honoured.”

Minseok doesn’t reply, and when Jongin looks at him for a second, his eyes are focused on the rearview mirror. “Maybe you could drive a little faster, though?” he says, taking his time with his words.

“What?” Jongin asks. He knows better than to try to see what Minseok’s staring at, he’s not really all that good at multitasking. “Am I not going fast enough for you, hotshot?”

“More like I’m pretty sure that car has been following us for five blocks.” Jongin can’t help the way that his hands jerk and they swerve dangerously close to a parked car. “Careful!”

“Sorry,” Jongin says shakily. He grips the wheel tightly and tenses. They’re being followed. “Is it, um.”

Minseok turns around in his seat, craning his neck to catch a look at the car behind them. “I think so,” he says. He straightens up with a start. “Wow, whoops, yep, it’s him. Definitely him.”

Jongin swallows. “What do I do?” Jongin’s not really an expert on this kind of thing. He doesn’t even watch a lot of action movies, unless Sehun and Chanyeol drag him with them to the theatre. What if they can’t lose him? What happens if Lu Han catches up? What then?

“Shake him off,” Minseok says grimly. “The last thing we need to do is lead him back to the hotel. We need somewhere we can go.”

“Shake him off,” Jongin echoes. “Okay.” He takes a deep breath, squares his shoulders and then jams his foot down on the gas. The car lurches forward and Jongin exhales. Nothing to it.

The one thing they’ve got going for them is Jongin’s knowledge of the city. He’s not particularly great with the whole directions thing but he grew up here. That at least gives him an advantage over the guy who just came through a hole between realities. Hopefully.

“I wonder where Lu Han got a car?” Minseok muses as Jongin swings around a corner, narrowly avoiding a car that’s heading around the corner. Jongin keeps his lips pressed tightly together, eyes fixed on the road in front of him. There’s a light coming up and Jongin slows. He wants to escape, but he also doesn’t want to cause a traffic accident. Minseok makes a frustrated noise in the back of his throat and Jongin closes his eyes for just a second. Fuck it, he thinks, and as the light turns, he slams his foot down again. Chanyeol’s old beater races through the intersection, and Jongin’s heart ricochets into his throat.

Someone honks at them and Jongin flinches. “So much for law-abiding,” Minseok laughs weakly, and Jongin doesn’t look at him. He just hauls on the wheel, swerving around the next corner. He can feel his pulse pounding in his ears and his knuckles ache from the grip on the steering wheel. This is too much.

Minseok turns again to look behind them and Jongin focuses on the road, swinging down side streets and racing through traffic. “I think we lost him,” Minseok says slowly, and Jongin doesn’t register the words until he’s slowing to a stop for a light and Minseok is pressing a hand against his elbow. “Jongin? I think we’re okay.”

Jongin lets out a breath he didn’t even know he was holding in and stares out at the street, unlocking his hands from the wheel. “Oh,” he says. “Okay. Good.” Through the thrum of fading adrenaline, all he can think about is huh. I just got in a car chase with Kim Minseok in the passenger seat. He’s kind of shaking a little.

“Hey, nice job,” Minseok says gently. He doesn’t lift his hand from Jongin’s elbow. “You really are a professional, huh? And here I was thinking you were just a university student.”

Jongin knows what he’s doing, and it makes him smile a little, finally. “I guess I’ve been wasting my skills,” he says, voice wobbly, and Minseok drags his hand down Jongin’s arm a few times. “Should’ve been a racecar driver.”

“Thank you,” Minseok says, so earnestly that Jongin’s cheeks heat up. He can’t look away from the road, but that’s probably a good thing, because he’s not sure he could look at Minseok right now anyway. “You have done a pretty admirable job with keeping me in one piece the past few days, and I really do appreciate it.”

The warmth of Minseok’s hand helps slow the beat of Jongin’s heart. “Yeah, well, what kind of fan would I be if I let the bad guy win?” he mutters, and Minseok curls his fingers around Jongin’s wrist and squeezes, holding on.

“All your worship gone to waste,” Minseok agrees, and his grin is bright when Jongin laughs.

When they get back to the hotel after bringing Chanyeol his car, Jongin flops into his bed and pulls the blankets over his head. He might need to nap for like, seven years after this. Maybe eight.

“Too much excitement for you?” Minseok says. He sits down on the end of Jongin’s bed and pats his foot. “Baby needs to sleep it off?”

Jongin peeks out over his blankets. “Shut up,” he grumbles. “I’ve never done anything like that before.” They’re just lucky that nothing happened. What if they’d been pulled over by the police? Or he’d hit another car? And that’s if Lu Han hadn’t caught up to them. They’d been lucky. Very, very lucky.

“You get used to it,” Minseok says blithely. He nudges Jongin with an elbow so that he’ll make room for him on the bed. Once Jongin’s squirmed over a bit, Minseok sprawls out next to him over the covers. “Car chases. Shoot outs. It’s all part of the job.”

“Shoot outs?” Jongin whines, burying his face again. Hasn’t there been enough excitement for today? He can’t imagine being stuck in the middle of something like that. Bullets flying. He hopes that Minseok doesn’t try to give him a gun. He doesn’t have great aim.

“I’m kidding,” Minseok says. “Lu Han likes knives better. You should know that.”

Jongin twists to look over at Minseok, stretched out on his back. His socked feet don’t reach down as far as Jongin’s ankles, and it’s funny how someone so small can seem so big. “Right,” he says.

Minseok hums, staring up at the ceiling and wiggles his toes. Jongin digs his chin into his pillow. “This is probably been the greatest couple of days in my life,” he admits. And it’s true - terrifying, pulse-pounding car chases aside, this has been the most excitement he’s ever had. And that includes the time Sehun had dragged him along on vacation to Jeju with Baekhyun and Chanyeol and the whole thing was a sandy and alcoholic blur. Being with Minseok is kind of amazing.

“Yeah?” Minseok says, looking over at him. His smile is soft and genuine. “Well, I’m honoured, then.”

“It’s gonna be weird, when you go,” Jongin says, and he turns red. “I mean, to go back to just normal stuff.” And maybe too, because the real Minseok is so much better than the drawing. His smile and the warmth of his hands - when Jongin thinks about how he’s leaving, he feels a little bit cheated.

Minseok shifts over so that he’s on his side, and he’s so, so close. “Will you miss me?” he asks, voice quiet. “When I return to the jungle, will you think of me?” The stretch of his smile is playful, but there’s something underneath it, something a little more serious.

“Yeah,” Jongin says. Minseok’s feet are brushing up against his legs, and his eyes are intent. “Write you letters about school. And how boring it is.”

“You’re still shaking,” Minseok says. He rubs a hand down Jongin’s arm again, steadying him. “Uh, can I?”

He jerks his chin and it takes Jongin a few seconds to realize what he’s talking about. “Okay,” he says hesitantly, holding up the blanket so that Minseok can climb in with him. He takes his time, movements slow and careful as he pulls Jongin towards him, folding him under his chin. Jongin has always been so particular about the people who touch him, but he likes the warmth of Minseok’s body and how he makes it easy for Jongin to feel small and comfortable in his arms.

“Better?” Minseok says, and Jongin can feel his breath against the top of his head.

“Yeah,” Jongin agrees. He’s not used to being so close to someone like this, but it feels easy. Minseok’s heartbeat under his ear has a way of steadying Jongin’s. “Yeah, it helps.”

He could fall asleep, like this. Even after the scariest day of his life, he could nod off right here. Minseok seems willing to let him, too, one small hand tracing a steady path from the small of his back up to his neck. “What are we gonna do?” Jongin asks after a few minutes, eyes half-lidded. “How are we gonna get Lu Han back?” And you, too, but Jongin doesn’t want to think about that part.

“I have a few ideas,” Minseok says. “But it can wait a bit, right? Yixing said it all happens at noon.” He tugs the blanket up over Jongin’s shoulder again. “I think we earned a nap.”

“Now who’s a big baby,” Jongin mumbles, and Minseok just pulls him closer, face pressed into Jongin’s hair.

The plan they’ve pulled together isn’t complex. The toughest part of it all is going to be finding Lu Han again, but Jongin has the feeling that that won’t be that hard at all.

“It’s a little bit uncanny,” Minseok says as they walk down the street, “but he’s kind of always been able to find me. Like a bloodhound with a scent.” He holds out his kebab for Jongin, but Jongin shakes his head. He’s definitely not hungry right now.

“That’s freaky,” Jongin says pulling a face. “So he can find you anywhere?”

Minseok takes a bite and shrugs. “It used to be handy,” he says quietly. “If I got in trouble, he always found me.”

Jongin doesn’t need Minseok to tell him the story. He’s read it himself, a half dozen times, and ached for Minseok and the loss of his friendship. It’s a whole nother level when he’s seeing the fallout for himself, the way that Minseok gets quiet and his eyes shutter up. “Sorry,” he says. He doesn’t really know what to do with his hands, so he settles for nudging Minseok with an elbow.

Minseok glances over at him, ghost of a smile on his lips. “It’s okay,” he says. “Ancient history, right?” He winks.

“Lame,” Jongin tells him. “Super lame.”

“Archaeology humour,” Minseok sniffs. “It must just be over your head.” He takes a voracious bite of his skewer.

Both times Lu Han had found them, they’d been in busy, well-populated areas of the city, so that’s what they stick to. It’s like the tour that Jongin had given Minseok two days ago, except this time, the both of them are tense and wound far too tight to really enjoy it. It’s a bit early for lunch, but they’d only had a breakfast of coffee, and Minseok is digging into the meat, eyes steadily scanning the people in front of them.

“What if we don’t find him?” Jongin asks. He frowns. “I don’t want you to…” He shakes his head, shrugging a shoulder. What if Lu Han somehow catches on and then Minseok is stuck here? As much as Jongin would like to see more of him, he doesn’t want him to be trapped in a place he doesn’t want to be in. He doesn’t want him to be sad.

Minseok’s free hand finds Jongin’s, and he laces their fingers together and squeezes. “Then we try again tomorrow,” he says firmly. He smiles, and this time it’s very real and present. “Do you always give up so easily?” he asks.

“No,” Jongin protests, but he holds Minseok’s hands in his. Minseok’s fingers are cold, he rationalizes. He’s just trying to warm them up.

It’s almost twelve when they finally spot him. Or maybe it’s the other way around. They had settled on a bench beside a small park so that Jongin could take a few seconds to answer Joonmyun’s worried barrage of text messages. He’s just dashing one off to Sehun as well when Minseok grips his shoulder. “Got him,” he says. “Never fails.”

Across the street, there is a man staring at them. Lu Han strikes an interesting silhouette, his neck long and conspicuously bare in the winter weather. “That was fast,” Jongin says. They stand, and it takes him three tries to fit his phone back into his pocket.

Jongin is nervous, but it surprises him to see that Minseok is too. His hands are clenched into fists at his side and he’s breathing heavy, exhaling noisily through his nose. “Here we go,” he says, his eyes fixed on Lu Han as he marches across the road, pushing past the other pedestrians. Minseok looks like it’s taking every inch of his willpower not to bolt.

“We’ll be okay,” Jongin tells him, bumping his shoulder against Minseok’s. “We have a plan.”

Lu Han has reached the other side of the street and he’s nearly running now, his gaze terrifyingly dark and wrathful. “Yeah,” Minseok mutters.

“You’re the great Kim Minseok,” Jongin says, and that earns him a faint smile. “God of Explorers. Remember?”

Minseok licks his lip. “Right,” he says. drawing himself up to his full height. “And gods don’t die.”

That hadn’t been where Jongin was going with that, but if it helps, it helps. Right? He presses his lips together and does his best to smooth the fear from his face.

“Kim Minseok,” Lu Han calls. Jongin doesn’t like him any better up close. He’d found clothes somewhere, a too long trench coat and oversized pants, but he still looks menacing and pretty scary. Jongin takes a breath and steps forward, putting his shoulder between the two of them. Lu Han barely spares him a single amused glance before his eyes are back on Minseok. “How lovely to see you again.”

“Lu Han,” Minseok says coldly, nodding once. He’s staring, but not at Lu Han’s face. It takes Jongin a second to see it, but he’s so grateful when he does. Silver, stuffed in one of his pockets. The pendant. The Black Pearl. They’re so close.

Lu Han tips his head to one side. “I’m taking you back with me,” he says. “You didn’t really think you could run from me?” He pulls the pendant out and dangles it in front of them. “I’ve got your ticket home.”

“If I had planned this, I never would have brought you along,” Minseok points out. “Give me some credit, please.” Jongin shifts towards him and he nearly smiles when he feels the press of Minseok’s hand against his back. He grasps a handful of Jongin’s jacket and clings to it like a lifeline.

Lu Han pushes out his bottom lip a little. “You weren’t taking me along for the ride?” he asks. “Like old times?” His expression says he holds no illusions, but Jongin still feels a little sad.

“Noon’s approaching,” Minseok points out. Lu Han’s eyes narrow in confusion and Minseok laughs. “Didn’t you get that far? It works at noon. If you’re taking me home, time’s running out.”

“And you don’t want to just disappear right on the street, do you?” Jongin asks. “Attract attention.”

Lu Han still won’t spare him more than a split second of his attention. “What do I care?” he asks. He shrugs. “I’ll be gone.” Minseok fixes him with a stare and he sighs. “Alright. We’ll move.” He narrows his eyes. “You’re not going to run are you?”

Jongin’s heart clenches at the defeated slump of Minseok’s shoulders. “It’s a bit late for that, isn’t it?” he asks.

Jongin leads them to a place he knows, a narrow alleyway jammed between two shops, and that’s where Lu Han boxes them in and pulls the pendant over his neck. He stands too close to Minseok, and discomfort is radiating off of Minseok, but he stands his ground. “How long do we have?” Lu Han asks.

Jongin checks his phone. “Three minutes,” he says. Minseok licks his lips again and doesn’t look at either of them.

“Handy, this kid,” Lu Han says. Jongin would be offended, except Lu Han is wearing a big coat, and he doesn’t have the slightest idea what he could be hiding under there. Lu Han seems like the type that would be a menace even with his bare hands. Jongin doesn’t like him. “Where did you pick him up?”

“Lucky, I guess,” Minseok says. He doesn’t say a word when Lu Han grabs his wrist, but now he’s looking at Jongin. Jongin thinks his heart might rattle out of his chest. He’s not cut out for this stuff. When this is all over, he’s going to retire from the adventuring life. He’ll live in his room with his manhwa and he’ll never leave again. Well, maybe not the manhwa. Apparently that’s dangerous too.

“One minute,” Jongin says. He can see Lu Han’s fingers tighten.

“So nice meeting you, kid,” Lu Han says, “but now we’ve gotta go. Minseok is very important where we come from.”

Jongin nods. “Yeah,” he manages. “Yeah, I know.”

It starts slowly. The pearl in the pendant starts to glow, softly at first, a pale light, then brighter and brighter. Lu Han smiles. “I’m so tired of winter,” he says.

Behind him, the air begins to ripple. “Whoa,” Jongin says without thinking, and Lu Han spins. It’s just a small spot, but it spreads, getting darker and wider with each pulse, almost in time with Jongin’s heartbeat, thundering in his ears.

“Come on, Minseok, time to go,” Lu Han says, and he steps forward.

As soon as he’s crossed the threshold, Minseok pulls back. “I’m sorry,” he says. Lu Han’s eyes turn stony and a muscle flexes in his jaw. “It’s just you this time.”

The portal seems to have its own pull. Jongin feels as though a strong breeze has come up behind him, pulling at his hair and clothes and compelling him forward, towards Lu Han and Minseok. He takes one step, just one, and wraps his arms around Minseok’s waist. “I’m sorry,” Minseok says again, and with his spare hand, he reaches for the pendant and yanks.

The effect is instantaneous. That soft white light turns red, the noise of the portal turns loud and Lu Han’s eyes go wide. Minseok pulls again and the amulet finally comes free, the clasp snapping as Minseok grips it and holds it to his chest. “Minseok?” Lu Han says, voice barely audible over the roar of the portal, and Jongin locks his arms around Minseok’s chest, hauling him backwards. Lu Han’s grip is firm, but Jongin digs in his heels, face pushed into the curve of Minseok’s shoulder. “You can’t -”

“I can,” Minseok says, voice jagged and raw. The drag of the portal is too much, and one by one, Lu Han’s fingers peel free. He calls Minseok’s name one last time and then the portal snaps shut, and the roar of the wind is gone.

They stand like that for several long minutes, Jongin wrapped so tightly around Minseok that he could swear he can feel his pulse, even through all of the layers. “That was rough,” he says quietly.

“I hope he’s okay,” Minseok says, blinking down at the pendant in his hand. “I hope he can be happy.”

Jongin doesn’t know what to say, so he doesn’t say anything at all. He just holds Minseok to his chest until his ears burn with cold and he can’t feel his fingers, and then he straightens. “At least now we can go home, right?” he asks, and when Minseok laughs, it’s a little bit broken.

On the subway home, Jongin catches Minseok’s hand in his and holds it in both of his. This is the only language he knows right now.

They check out of the hotel and head back to Jongin’s place, because Jongin isn’t made of money, and right now, he could really use a familiar space. The ahjumma who runs the building welcomes him back warmly and fusses over them, exclaiming over circles under Minseok’s eyes and loading his plate up, insisting he eat. Minseok sits next to Jongin and he doesn’t say much, but he laughs at Jongin’s jokes and he cleans his plate, so Jongin will take it.

Jongin’s bed is way too small for the both of them, and his back already hurts from the crappy hotel mattress, but that doesn’t stop him from offering it up to Minseok instead. “You take the bed,” he says, digging around underneath it for his extra blankets. He does have those, right? His mom had been so worried about sending him off to school with everything he needs, he’s sure he’s got more than enough. Somewhere. “I can sleep on the floor for one night.”

“That’s not fair,” Minseok frowns. “This is your room.”

“And you’re the guest,” Jongin tells him firmly. He sits back on his knees, his arms full of his old One Piece blankets. “Don’t make me like, tie you to the bed.” Minseok raises his eyebrows incredulously. “Not like - not like that! Shut up.” Minseok rubs at his forehead and laughs, shaking his head.

He’s stubborn, though, and it doesn’t matter how Jongin pleads with him, Minseok won’t take the bed. In the end, they tear everything off of Jongin’s bed and spread it out on what little space there is on the floor, and Jongin kind of thinks this is pretty cool too. It feels a little like the sleepovers he and Sehun used to have, except Minseok is smaller and sadder and he’s not going to try to put his balls on Jongin’s face while he sleeps. Hopefully.

Minseok doesn’t sleep much that night. Jongin knows because he doesn’t either. It must be nearly dawn when he rolls over to see Minseok, eyes open and fixed on the ceiling. The orange light from the streetlight outside filters through the window and lands on Minseok’s hands, closing fitfully on Jongin’s Luffy bedsheets. “Hyung,” Jongin says. “Can I...?”

“Come here,” Minseok replies. He lets Jongin slide over and curl himself around him again, head tucked under his chin. Jongin likes how steady he feels, the regular beat of Minseok’s heart under his ear. “Thank you,” Minseok says. “You’ve done admirably, considering.”

“I don’t know,” Jongin mumbles.

“Not everyone would have taken so kindly to waking up with a stranger in their room,” Minseok points out. “And here you are, feeding and clothing me and helping me out.”

Jongin laughs. “Okay,” he says. “Yeah, I did okay.” Maybe he hasn’t been to classes in days and the thought of the classwork to catch up on is a little bit scary, but what’s scarier still is the pull in his chest he feels when Minseok presses his lips to his forehead and Jongin realizes they’ve got less than twelve hours left. “I guess I should thank you too,” Jongin says.

“For what?” Minseok asks, but Jongin isn’t really sure he knows how to explain it, so he just tightens his arms around Minseok and stares into the dim grey light of his room and hopes for sleep to come.

Where do you take someone on their last day on this plane of existence? That’s what Jongin is struggling with this morning. They wake up early, and for once, Jongin doesn’t feel like complaining about it. “So,” Minseok says, carefully gathering up Jongin’s blankets and folding them neatly, “we’ve got a few hours before noon. What should we do?”

“I might have an idea,” Jongin says slowly. “I think you’ll like it.”

It’s weird being in an amusement park as soon as it’s opened, especially in the winter. There’s nobody around, and though the sun is bright, it’s still March, and it’s still cold. Minseok looks pleased, though. “I haven’t been to one of these since I was a kid!” he exclaims, looking around. “And even then, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a roller coaster that size.” He hooks his arm in Jongin’s. “I hope you don’t think you’ll get out of riding these with me.”

“Do we have to?” Jongin whines. So maybe he’s dragging his heels because it makes Minseok pull him harder, over to the coaster. “I was thinking we could just ride that all day.” He gestures over his shoulder, and Minseok snorts, rolling his eyes.

“Boring,” he declares. He shrugs and lets Jongin go, turning on his heel. “Have fun with your shiny horses.” Jongin only waits a beat before he jogs after him. Minseok doesn’t look back, but he does hold out a hand for Jongin to take as they get in line.

Jongin hasn’t been here since the summer, and he’s never particularly been a big fan of the roller coasters. Turns out they’re pretty fun when they’ve been strapped in and Minseok is gripping Jongin’s hand in his as they rattle through the first loop. It feels like the ground is dropping out from underneath him and Jongin screams, eyes squeezed shut and his lips stretching up in a huge grin.

He’s wobbly when he gets off, but Minseok is too. He’s got one arm around Jongin’s waist and Jongin can’t tell who he’s trying to steady. “Not a bad way to spend a day,” Minseok says. His cheeks are a little bit red from the cold. Jongin doesn’t want to let him go. “And you said you were just a boring student.”

“I never said that,” Jongin argues. He pushes his bottom lip out, pouting. “You make me sound so lame.”

“Never,” Minseok says. “You’re a real adventurer now, aren’t you?” He squeezes Jongin closer. “You have your certified ‘cool’ badge.”

Jongin presses his cheek to the top of Minseok’s head for a moment. “You’re just saying that so I buy you lunch,” he says. Like Minseok needs to butter him up. He’d spend all his manhwa money on Minseok if he asked.

Minseok makes a face. “Not just yet,” he says. “Let my stomach settle a little.” He tips his head and smiles up at Jongin. “Carousel?”

“Carousel,” Jongin agrees.

It’s funny, because it’s like neither of them want to go far. Minseok is always right there, within arm’s reach. Jongin’s kind of particular about his space, but he thinks that this could be an exception. Minseok is an exception.

Minseok catches sight of Jongin’s reticence when they walk up to the giant swing and he steers them away, towards the hammer game. “Do you want me to win you something?” Jongin asks. “A nice big teddy bear?”

“Don’t be silly,” Minseok scoffs. He grins. “I’m going to win you a prize.” His eyes slide away, over to the game. “I can’t take a stuffed bear back to the jungle, but…I can give you something to remember me by.”

Jongin turns bright red. “Oh,” he says, and his chest is suddenly tight.

When it comes Minseok’s turn to play, he peels off Jongin’s old jacket and pushes his sleeves up. “I’m getting that big one,” he announces, planting his feet widely and wiggling his butt a little. The man running the game gives him a bored nod and Jongin pulls the collar of his jacket up over his mouth to hide his smile. “Just you watch.”

There’s a lot of strength in Minseok’s small frame. He hoists the hammer up and brings it down with enough force to bring it almost all the way up to the top. A few bystanders clap politely and he turns around to face Jongin, arms spread wide in victory. Jongin flashes him a thumbs up with both hands. “What did I tell you?” he says.

“I never doubted you,” Jongin says.

The game operator hands Minseok his prize, an enormous, fluffy pink bear, and Minseok immediately gives it to Jongin. “It’s yours,” he says. “You carry it. It’s bigger than I am.”

Jongin clutches the bear to his chest. It smells like stale popcorn. “I will treasure it always,” Jongin promises. He’s not really sure if he’s joking, but that’s okay. Minseok looks so pleased with himself, and Jongin grins back at him. He wants to memorize every inch of his smile for when he’s gone. He’ll still have the manhwa but it’s not the same. This Minseok is so much better.

The park gets busier and once they’ve hit all the coasters at least once, Jongin checks his phone and realizes that it’s almost noon. “It’s almost time,” he says quietly, managing a crooked smile. The pendant sits heavy in his pocket, and he steers them away from the buzz of people, to a gap between the theatre and the bumper cars. It’s the best they can do, in a place like this. He pulls the pendant out of his pocket and rubs his thumb over the polish of the pearl. “Bet you’re happy to be heading home,” he says.

“I suppose,” Minseok agrees, shrugging a shoulder. He takes his time with the pendant, tugging it out of Jongin’s hand and sliding it over his neck. “I’m sure my friends will be wondering where I am.” He laughs softly, ducking his head. “Yifan for sure, anyway.”

Jongin uses his stuffed bear as a shield, hiding his face in the pink fur. “I hope it wasn’t too bad,” he says. “Being here, I mean.” He can’t imagine what it’s like, being dragged away from the world you know in the most literal of ways and being stuck with some dumb university student with pictures of Minseok’s face on his bedroom wall. It can’t be that nice.

“I lucked out when I landed in your room,” Minseok tells him. His fingers gripped tightly around the pearl, he steps towards Jongin. “And you’ve made it a pretty good couple of days.”

Jongin can feel the hot push of tears behind his eyes and he sniffs noisily. He is not going to cry. No way. “Good,” he says. “I’m glad.”

They’ve only got a few minutes left, and Jongin’s breath hitches in his chest when Minseok leans in, pushing Jongin’s bear away. He pulls Jongin down with a gentle hand on the back of his neck and he kisses Jongin carefully, like he’s afraid he’ll break. Jongin’s heart thunders in his chest and he leans into it. He can’t lose this moment.

Minseok pulls away when soft white light leaks through his fingers, still clutched around the pendant. “Thank you,” he says one last time. Jongin can’t swallow, throat tight, and he blinks away the tears that threaten to slip down his cheeks.

The air behind him ripples and then splits, and the wind comes, pulling at Jongin’s hair. It feels so anticlimactic, so final. Minseok raises his hand in a wave, lips pressed together and eyebrows creased, and he takes a step back. It’s only a second before the portal has swallowed him, sealing shut.

Amusement parks aren’t really any fun on your own. Jongin wanders back out into the park, but the crowds and the noise and the laughter is intolerable without a buffer. He finds a bench and sits down, the big stuffed bear on his lap. He should be making use of the rest of his day, but he feels kind of sick to his stomach, and he can’t stop the tears, no matter how much he blinks and wipes at his eyes.

“Are you okay?” The park employee looks down at Jongin with concern in her eyes. “Do you need me to call someone?”

Like he’s a lost kid. Jongin hiccups out a laugh. “No, no, it’s fine,” he insists, rubbing at his eyes. “I’m fine, I’ll just…” He stands, hunching his shoulders and hiding in the collar of his winter coat. He’s only got one now, he realizes. “Thank you, though.”

People look at him funny, on the subway with a giant, fluffy pink bear, but Jongin doesn’t pay any attention at all. His eyes hurt and his head aches and there’s a big, empty space in his chest where he can’t feel anything at all.

“Whoa, flashback,” Sehun says, sidling up to him, drink in hand. “It’s been a long time since I saw you with one of those.” Jongin closes the manhwa in his lap, and he doesn’t even have the energy to be embarrassed when Sehun taps one finger against the cover. “Did you and Kim Minseok break up?”

Jongin gives him a wan smile. “Just on a break,” he says. It’s not really easy to explain, anyway. It’d been really weird to go home and look at his bookshelf, at all of the manhwa, the figurines with Minseok’s smiling face, not quite true to life. He’d ended up shoving it all in a box and hiding it away underneath his bed, just so he didn’t have to see it anymore. The only one he kept out was the most recent book. It laid on his bedside table, face down, unfinished. He’d flipped through it, once, just to make sure that it’d worked, and the pages weren’t blank anymore. He’d let out a tiny noise when he’d seen that first new panel, of Minseok standing in the jungle wearing hiswinter jacket, and then he’d slapped it shut again. That was enough.

Minseok was here not even three days. It shouldn’t be enough time to pick Jongin’s life up and shake it up so thoroughly that everything feels completely out of place. It’s been weeks, and Jongin still doesn’t feel right, even though he’s caught up on the classes he’s missed and Joonmyun has stopped with the daily check ups via text message. Sehun had been furious with him for disappearing and refusing to say a word about what happened, but he’s softened. Jongin can tell, because he’s stopped needing to bribe Sehun to talk to him with sugary coffee drinks.

Jongin still feels off-centre, though. That might have something to do with how his old habits seem kind of boring, now. He’d tried reading other series, since the thought of going back to God of Explorers made him a little bit sick, but it was just not the same. And how could he read ink and print when he’d met the real thing? He couldn’t do it.

He’d picked up that last book in God of Explorers for the first time in over a month this morning, and brought it with him to class. He took his time reading that second half, not the way he used to. It’s so strange, reading about Minseok’s return to his world and his job. There’s a page dedicated to Jongdae’s incredulous response to Jongin’s purple sweatshirt and when Jongin reads it between classes, he has to press his hand to his mouth to choke back his laugh.

“I’m glad to see that you’re back on track, then,” Sehun says. He pulls the book out of Jongin’s hands and flicks through it. “Hey, that looks like your sweater.” Jongin laughs faintly, and Sehun looks up, eyes narrow as he examines Jongin’s face. “Ugh, you’re being weird again,” he frowns. “What is up with you lately? You’re like, extra teen angst these days.” He sucks noisily on his drink.

Sehun is Jongin’s best friend, but there is no chance that he’d believe the story. “Winter blues?” Jongin suggests.

“It’s almost May.”

Jongin doesn’t have an answer for that, so he shrugs. He fixes his eyes down, on Minseok’s smiling face on the cover of his book. It still hurts, in a distant, nagging sort of way. Sometimes, he wonders if he should’ve gone with him. Left his studying behind and gone to learn the hands-on way. He’s pretty sure he wouldn’t have, even if Minseok had asked. Jongin had a taste of being hunted and chased and it didn’t suit his taste. Still, it’s nice to think about.

“Stop it,” Sehun commands, prodding Jongin’s cheek with a finger. “Enough. I don’t like mopey Jongin. He’s boring.”

Jongin glances up, and Sehun is peering at him, with that half-annoyed, half-concerned expression that makes Jongin’s stomach twist. “Sorry,” he says, and Sehun heaves out a sigh, rolling his eyes. He drops down onto the bench next to Jongin and pets a hand down the back of his head.

“There you are!” Chanyeol’s never really had a grip on using his indoor voice, or maybe he just chooses not to. “Listen, Baekhyun and I are having this, like -” he waves his long arms in the air over his head, presumably in some kind of gesture of size, “- massive party this weekend, in celebration of Baekhyun breaking his week long dry streak. You’ll be there, right?”

His question is mostly addressed to Sehun, which Jongin thinks is pretty cute. It’s not like Sehun has suddenly lost interest in Chanyeol’s monster dick, but still, Chanyeol always double checks. “Duh,” Sehun says.

“Sure,” Jongin replies, and both Sehun and Chanyeol turn to look at him. “Why not?” He drums his fingers against the cover of the book in his lap.

“Wow,” Chanyeol says.

“This is an event,” Sehun says, shaking his head. “Jongin agreeing to a party and he doesn’t even have to be talked into it. It’s a miracle.”

Chanyeol makes a show of peering up at the sky. “Are pigs flying? This seems important. Should I take a picture?”

“Enough,” Jongin says, laughing a little bit. “No pictures. Don’t be dumb.”

Chanyeol holds up his hands in surrender, and then he bends forward, peering at the book in Jongin’s lap. “Oh, hey, God of Explorers. I heard that’s pretty good. Too bad it’s ending.”

Jongin goes cold, fingers tight on the cover of the manhwa. “What?” he asks. He feels a little bit dizzy.

“They just announced the end of the run, I think,” Chanyeol says. He scratches idly at his chin. “Jinri was all super sad about it at lunch yesterday. That’s too bad.”

“Yeah,” Jongin says distantly. “Too bad.”

“Uh oh,” Sehun says. He leans forward, putting himself in Jongin’s line of sight. “You alright? Should we call in Joonmyun hyung, so you can go out and mourn your hero?”

Chanyeol chuckles. “Mourn?”

Jongin knows he’s acting weird, but there’s a strange roaring in his ears and he’s not really sure what to do. “It’s fine,” he says. “It’s all good.” He looks down at Minseok’s face again, and his head spins.

“Alright,” Sehun says. He stands and pulls the book out of Jongin’s hand and stuffs it into his back pocket. “Since you’re alright, how about you buy me lunch.” Chanyeol pulls that puppydog face of his, lip pushed out and eyebrows creased up. “You can come too.”

Arguing generally only results in a grumpy and moody Sehun, so Jongin lets Sehun sling his arm around his shoulders and steer them away. He doesn’t know what to do with himself right now anyway. It was one thing when he knew the books were there and he didn’t want to read them. It’s another thing entirely to know that that’s all gonna be taken away from him. There’s panic rising in his throat, and Jongin is going to do everything he can not to deal with it.

Hanging out with Sehun usually helps. Chanyeol, too. Chanyeol grabs Jongin’s arm on his other side, talking about the plans for the weekend, something about an inhuman amount of shots and the rest of this month’s paycheque spent on beer, and Jongin smiles, he laughs at the right places, and he tries not to pay any attention to the mounting fear.

The last book comes out at the end of June. No matter how much he’s dreading it, Jongin still heads out, bright and early, to his regular shop to pick it up. The guy behind the counter even has one set aside for him, a small convenience that Jongin doesn’t quite know how to be grateful for right now.

He’s nearly out the door when he pauses, squinting at the shelf. “No way,” he murmurs, picking a manhwa up. It’s not his thing at all, some kind of yaoi romance, with a delicate looking protagonist being swooned after by like four guys. Thing is, the protagonist looks pretty familiar. That’s definitely Lu Han, wrapped up in the clutches of some tall guy with brooding eyes and enormous hands. And honestly, he looks pretty comfy there.

“At least someone looks happy,” Jongin says softly, tucking the book back onto the shelf. Minseok would be glad, he thinks, and that just brings it all flooding back, making his chest heavy and his heart clench painfully. Behind him, the clerk clears his throat pointedly and Jongin flushes, turning around and forcing a smile. The guy already thinks he’s weird enough as is, and now he’s adding ‘talking to himself’ to the list of incriminating facts. Nice.

He’s only got one class that day, history with Sehun, and he spends the entirety of it distracted. He doesn’t manage to take many notes, but he does doodle, the same things over and over again, drawings that spill out of the margins of his notes and onto the page itself. Sharp eyes and small hands, again and again. Sehun leans over, raising his eyebrows in question, but Jongin just covers the drawings up with his fingers. His questions are ones that don’t really have answers, at least ones that Sehun will like.

He declines an invite to go grab some food afterwards, firmly enough that Sehun lets him go, even though he eyes him suspiciously. Jongin doesn’t have the energy to make excuses, but it’s alright, because Sehun knows what he’s like when his manhwa comes out. Small mercies.

It’s hard to read. The story isn’t much different from anything else that Jongin’s read through the series’ run, but still, Jongin has to keep putting the book down to think and to process it. He’s been reading this series for years. It was Gods of Explorers that Jongin buried his nose in when he and Sehun were in different classes for their last year of high school and Joonmyun was already gone to university, and he had to eat his lunches alone. He’d read and reread every book, watched the anime a dozen times, it’s just - the stories of Kim Minseok and his adventures have been part of his life for so long. The end of that would be weird enough, except a few months ago, Jongin spent three days with the real deal. The end of this manga would be so much easier to cope with if Jongin hadn’t discovered that the real Kim Minseok was so much better than he’d dreamed, and that he’d wanted him too.

He spends the whole night in bed, his legs curled up underneath him and the book in front of him, taking his time to read each page. It’s a familiar story, Kim Minseok recovering a relic with the help of his friends, avoiding the bad guys, saving the day, but when it’s over, when Minseok announces his retirement and Jongdae steps in to take his place, Jongin just feels that same emptiness.

It’s just a manhwa. Jongin knows it. But when he closes the book he pulls his legs up to his chest and pushes his face into his knees and he tries not to cry. Before, at least he had the books. Now there’s nothing to look forward to, and worst of all, he won’t know if Minseok’s okay. What happens to a character when the book ends? Is this it, for Minseok? He was so real, so alive. How could that life just stop when the manhwa does?

Jongin carefully slides that last volume into the box with the rest of them, neatly stacked to avoid wear, and then he sits back on his heels, and he thinks. The three days he had with Minseok were insane, and fun, and terrifying, but if this is the last book, there is no way that Minseok is coming back. All Jongin can do is hope that Minseok is okay. Lu Han got a happy ending, of a sort, so maybe Minseok will too. He definitely deserves a quiet retirement.

He kicks the box under his bed again and then climbs under the covers, pulling them up to his chin. He’s definitely not thinking about how cool Minseok’s hand felt against the back of his neck or the sharpness of his smile. That’s a memory he’s going to fold up and put away with his manhwa, nice and neat.

It’s a hot summer. Jongin spends most of it arm in arm with Sehun, letting him drag him from store to store or begrudgingly treating him to ice cream. Sehun is a lot of things, but no matter how much he whines about Jongin moping around, he’s very persistent about showing up at Jongin’s door to drag him out of his cave. It’s something he’s always appreciated about Sehun. Not so good with the whole ‘talking about feelings’ thing, but excellent at invading Jongin’s space and providing a distraction.

Chanyeol tags along too, more often than not. He’s surprisingly soft on Jongin. The morning after a party, they’re all sprawled out in Chanyeol and Baekhyun’s living room. Sehun’s got his feet in Jongin’s lap, and he using them to play dirty, growling with dismay and digging his heel in dangerously close to Jongin’s dick when Jongin gets too far ahead in the race. Baekhyun’s on the floor, shouting out directions like a backseat driver, even though he’s not even looking at the TV, head tipped back on the couch cushions. “Should’ve listened to me,” Baekhyun says, like he’s imparting sage wisdom, and he shrieks when Sehun and Jongin both hit him at the same time.

The door bangs open. “Food has arrived,” Chanyeol announces, marching in, his arms laden down with bags. Sehun immediately drops his controller, leaning back over the arm of the couch and making grabby gestures in Chanyeol’s direction. “You’re welcome,” Chanyeol preens, stretching over him to press a kiss to him, upside down.

Sehun makes a noise of discontent, shoving his face away. “No, food,” he says, and Jongin laughs.

He’s tired and kinda hungover, and he’s pretty sure that he only won that round because Sehun gave up, but this feels pretty good. “Wait your turn,” Chanyeol tells Sehun. He digs around in the bags and comes out with a container, leaning over Sehun to hand it to Jongin.

Jongin opens it to find - “My favourite,” he says, blinking up at Chanyeol. There’s a warmth spreading through his chest as he picks up his chopsticks.

“He’s kind of good at that,” Baekhyun says. “Give him another couple of weeks, and he’ll probably know what brand of shampoo you use and when you run out.”

Chanyeol squawks indignantly. “You make me sound like a creep,” he says.

He finally hands over Sehun’s food and Sehun stretches one arm up to tug Chanyeol down and kiss him again, deeply enough that Jongin feels vaguely uncomfortable being in the same room as them. “You are a creep,” Sehun tells him.

“Just because Baekhyun can’t even remember his own birthday,” Chanyeol grumbles, finding a place between them.

Jongin listens to the three of them argue while he eats, and he watches the way that Sehun grumbles but straightens, sliding over to make room for Chanyeol. Okay, so maybe even without Jongin’s manhwa obsession, he still doesn’t have a crowd of friends, like Baekhyun, who’s currently texting his latest conquest. But he does have this. He’s got mornings like these, and that’s pretty good.

He leaves a few hours later, because he’s supposed to be meeting Joonmyun, and a shower would probably be in order. It’s a sunny day, and it’s easy to be in a good mood when it’s this nice out, even if he is wearing an old shirt of Chanyeol’s and smells a little bit like puke.

He misses a step when he sees him. It’s been months, and Jongin thought he was over it, seeing Minseok in places he shouldn’t be. In class, sometimes on the street, for a split second he could swear he was seeing Minseok, just a few steps away. And then the man would turn, and it wasn’t him, and Jongin swallowed down that disappointment.

But this time, even when Jongin reminds himself that it’s not Minseok, it can’t be, part of him is absolutely certain that it is. The man turns towards Jongin and his eyes light up, that smile spreading across his lips, and Jongin stops dead, his stomach dropping. There is no way. It’s not even possible.

The man picks up his pace, shifting his bag on his shoulder as he gets closer. Jongin stares at him, eyes wide, but he’s frozen. He can’t move, and his heart is thundering in his chest. There’s no way.

“I would’ve thought that I’d get a warmer welcome than that,” Minseok admits when he’s close enough. He’s wearing the right clothes for the place this time, and Jongin wonders if he’s still got his sweatshirt. “It took me a while to find you. I’m sorry.”

Jongin lets out a strangled noise and reaches for him, pulling Minseok in and burying his face in his shoulder. He’s real. He’s here, warm and solid beneath Jongin’s hands, and Jongin feels like crying in the best way.

He clings to Minseok, and he knows he’s holding him too tightly, but Minseok squeezes him back. “I’ve got you,” Minseok says, voice muffled from how his face is pushed into Jongin’s throat. “I’m right here.”

Jongin pulls away only far enough to wipe at his teary eyes. “They stopped - the books stopped and I thought, I didn’t -” He laughs and then he hiccups and Minseok smiles up at him fondly and swipes a thumb through his tears. “I’m so - “ He shrugs helplessly, grinning despite himself.

“That’s the Jongin I remember,” Minseok says and then he stretches up to kiss Jongin.

Jongin melts into it. Minseok holds him steady, one hand on his chin, the other firm against his waist, fingers stroking Jongin’s side. He’s spent so much time telling himself that he can’t dream about this, that he can’t want what he can’t have, that it feels completely unreal now that he does. Minseok presses kisses to his lips, cheeks, and the tip of his nose, and then he pulls away again. “I missed you, hyung,” Jongin says. He’s not sure it’s a big enough word to cover it.

“A full sentence! I knew you’d get there.” Minseok says, pleased, but Jongin can feel the way that his hands tremble against him. Minseok came from a whole world away for him. He left behind everything. Jongin might pass out. “I hope you’re ready to show me this world,” Minseok says. “Like your libraries. Show me your libraries.”

Jongin’s face aches from how hard he’s smiling. “I’ll show you everything you want,” he promises, and he pulls Minseok in again, pressing his face to his shoulder. For the first time in a long time, he feels truly light. “I’ll show you it all.”

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