Pairings: Leo/Hongbin; side Ken/Hyuk and J-Hope/V
Word Count: 2,875
Warnings: mild swearing, angst, imprisonment, torture, turning people into cyborgs against their will
Summary: This place is desks and pills and bare walls, steel bunks where they don't sleep because they don't need to anymore. It was never Taekwoon's choice to be here, but there isn't anything he can do besides endure.
Notes: Request fill for svtstarlight on Ao3! Based on the prompt: Inspiration from BTS N.O video and VIXX Error. I've sort of mixed the two and come up with this. I hope it's what you were looking for. Also, many thanks to my lovely beta R, without whom I would second-guess all of my decisions.
Taekwoon’s newly-bandaged ribcage itches fiercely as he files into the classroom with the others. He fights the urge to scratch it, to move his arms at all from their places at his sides.
The room is painfully white, lined with a dozen identical steel desks. They all stand behind their respective desks until everyone is in place, and then they sit down as one, in a smooth motion that would look practiced if Taekwoon didn’t know better.
Three of their number were sent away last week, and two newbies have come to replace them so far. There will be another soon enough, Taekwoon knows. The Dean likes even numbers—balance, he calls it.
Taekwoon sets his hands palm-down on the desk as he’s supposed to and looks straight ahead while the instructor with the red-painted face strides down the rows of desks and sets a small red capsule on each one.
He hates this part, can almost feel the ripple of unease go through the room. It’s not a physical thing—they all sit perfectly still, hands on their desks, eyes forward—but Taekwoon can sense it all the same.
He hears the instructor pause in front of the empty desk at the back of the room. He’s always thrown when the desks aren’t full, but he carries on, returning to the front, staring at them all until the pills are between their fingers, until they set them on their tongues and swallow them down. They couldn’t resist if they tried.
Beside him, Hakyeon’s breath grows just the tiniest bit faster. Autonomic responses aren’t something that they can take away easily, not without causing their hearts to stop beating, their lungs to stop drawing breath entirely.
As soon as the pill is inside his body Taekwoon feels as though his mind is no longer his own. What little control he’d retained is taken from him and it’s like he’s observing from behind his own eyes as he reads the board, as the instructor directs them to the information projecting up from their desks and then back to the board. Their heads are the only things that move.
If Taekwoon were capable of getting tired, this constant back-and-forth would be exhausting. He feels the distress welling up as if from a great distance. He’s been here the longest, besides Hakyeon. He should be used to this by now. Losing his freewill should be familiar at this point.
Behind him, someone makes a high distressed noise that gets choked off halfway out of his throat. Based on the pitch, Taekwoon thinks it might have been Taehyung, one of the newbies. The few glimpses of him that Taekwoon has gotten outside of class have suggested that he’s a bright, cheerful kid, prone to talking overmuch and asking questions faster than anyone can answer them.
Taekwoon regrets that this place is going to take all of that brightness away and leave Taehyung as empty a shell as the rest of them.
The longer he sits here the more Taekwoon’s healing ribs begin to ache. He would have thought that the first thing they would take away was his ability to feel pain, but apparently it’s not as much of an inconvenience to them as it is to him.
Sitting still grows more difficult, his whole body beginning to tremble minutely. Taekwoon couldn’t move if he wanted to, but the pain is becoming too much, threatening to overwhelm him. He sinks further into himself and just tries to hold on.
The next thing he knows they’re standing, filing out of the classroom, flanked on both sides by masked guards dressed all in white and carrying large polycarbonate shields.
They’re taken to their dormitories, four to a room, steel bunks placed just far enough apart for people to walk between them.
As Taekwoon goes into his room, sits down on the bunk to his left mechanically, he sees the others pass outside the door. Taehyung is crying, tears running slowly down his face, but he holds himself as carefully upright as everyone else, his shoulders squared even as they tremble with his sobs.
Taekwoon tells himself that everyone has a hard time when they first get here. Taehyung will be okay. He has to be; he doesn’t have a choice.
The four of them—Taekwoon, Hakyeon, Seokjin, and Yoongi—are silent until the door is shut and locked behind them.
As soon as he hears the loud metallic ‘thunk’ that’s the bolt sliding into place, Yoongi flops back onto his bunk and lets his limbs splay out. “Man, fuck this,” he says. He’s staring at the ceiling. Taekwoon knows for a fact that there is nothing even vaguely interesting up there, but there’s nothing interesting anywhere in this place, so he supposes it doesn’t matter.
“Hush,” Hakyeon hisses, his eyes on the tiny viewing window towards the top of the door. The guards don’t always linger outside, but it’s best not to take any risks.
They’re all quiet for another few moments. It’s a mostly fruitless exercise—there’s a camera in the corner of the ceiling watching everything they do. As far as they know it doesn’t have audio, but that doesn’t mean they’re free to speak their minds here.
After a while Seokjin asks, “Do you think Taehyung is okay?”
Taekwoon doesn’t know. He doesn’t really want to think about it too hard, to be honest.
“His roommates will take care of him,” Hakyeon says, clearly hoping to sound more confident than he does. Hakyeon likes to pretend like he has everything under control, when in reality control is something that none of them have had in a very long time.
“Those two?” Yoongi snorts. His eyes are closed now. Sleep is another pointless activity for them, but it’s better than being awake. “I’d like to see the day.”
“You haven’t seen the way Hoseok looks at him,” Seokjin protests. He threads his hands together to stroke at his own knuckles. The skin pulls strangely over his fingers and his nails look too much like plastic to be natural. None of them are the same as they were. “He’ll be okay.”
“Are any of us really okay?” Yoongi says, his voice dripping with malice that they know isn’t directed at any of them. Yoongi took the longest to adjust, had the most problems submitting. The bare metal panel on one side of his head is proof enough of that.
Taekwoon pulls up the hem of his standard-issue black shirt to poke at the stark white bandages beneath. He’s afraid to actually take them off, to see what’s beneath. A part of him still wants to remain ignorant of what’s really happening to him here.
“You okay?” Hakyeon asks, leaning forward as though to inspect Taekwoon’s incisions himself.
Taekwoon puts his shirt back down, grunts, “I’m fine,” and then lies down on his bunk, facing the wall so that he won’t have to talk to any of them.
The ache in his ribcage doesn’t go away, but Taekwoon ignores it. There’s nothing he can do except endure it.
At mealtimes they sit in rows on steel benches, eight people to a table, no more or less. It’s the only time they see anyone besides their instructor, their guards, and the other boys in their class. Talking is frowned upon, so they sit in silence across from people they barely know, mechanically lifting chopsticks and eating whatever they’re given.
It feels strange to use his right hand to eat, but Taekwoon can’t will himself to use his left instead. He used to try it, to tell himself to pass the chopsticks over, to eat the way he grew up doing it, until he was sweating and sobbing and the chopsticks clattered to the table.
He doesn’t try anymore, just endures the strangeness because he has no other choice.
Someone passes behind him and a hand runs across his back, something that could be passed off as an accident if Taekwoon wasn’t familiar with the intent behind the action. He doesn’t move, doesn’t turn to look, but he knows who it is anyway.
Hongbin sits down at a table in the next row, one over from where Taekwoon is seated. He sets his tray down and as he lifts his chopsticks—in the wrong hand, Hongbin isn’t right-handed either—his eyes slide over towards Taekwoon, just for a moment.
Taekwoon meets his gaze for only a heartbeat and then looks away as though his eyes had never wandered. Hongbin is the only person here that Taekwoon knew before…before. They grew up in the same building, went to the same primary school, spent hours and hours together when they were kids.
And now they’re limited to brief touches and half-looks, and Taekwoon wishes that he could change it but he doesn’t have control anymore.
His tray is empty and he sets down his chopsticks, stands to take his things to the tray return. It’s mostly coincidence that the quickest route there is past Hongbin’s table. On his way by, Taekwoon drops one hand from his tray just long enough to run it over Hongbin’s shoulders. He sees Hongbin repress a shudder, the little hairs on the back of his neck standing up.
And then Taekwoon is gone, his tray deposited, and he’s leaving the cafeteria, joining the rest of his unit to go back to their dormitory to be locked in for the night.
Their new addition, the one that brings them back up to twelve, is a scrawny thing named Jungkook with eyes the size of saucers. He looks so nervous he might have a heart attack, and the bandages wrapped around his head are speckled with blood.
He fills the desk at the back of the room and he’ll be bunking with Hoseok, Taehyung, and Jimin. That’s all that matters to the instructor, and to the Dean.
Taekwoon knows that all too soon, Jungkook will work his way to the front of the room, just like everyone else. And it’ll take a while—there are eleven others ahead of him, Taekwoon and his roommates; Jaehwan, Wonshik, Hongbin, and Namjoon in room 395; and all of Jungkook’s roommates—but the journey there isn’t easy.
The bandages on Jungkook’s head won’t be his last. Taekwoon looks away as soon as the instructor has finished introducing Jungkook, has dismissed him to his desk at the back of the room where Taekwoon doesn’t have to think about the future that Jungkook won’t have.
Today Taekwoon welcomes being pushed from his own body, being forced to absorb information that he’ll remember later without knowing how he remembers. It’s okay. It’s better than thinking about what’s happening to them.
It’s better than admitting that they’re all puppets. It’s better than thinking about what happens next, when they graduate and are sent away like the others.
There are murmurs, whispers of things between roommates late at night, words said with numb lips beneath the clatter of chopsticks at meals. Something’s happening, they say, something big. They don’t know what it is, only slivers of rumors to go by, but the consensus is this: their chance is coming. It’s now or never.
It’s not much, in the way of information, but it’s enough to give them hope. At night Taekwoon lays awake and wonders if it’s even worth it, wonders what he’d do with freedom, now that he’s more machine than man.
He listens to the others, their normally even breath quickened with excitement, with trepidation, and he wonders if any of them really want freedom anymore. Isn’t it easier not to choose? Isn’t it easier just to give in, to let the Institute erase everything you are?
To his mind, unbidden, come images of Hongbin, smiling in the sunshine; Hongbin with his shirt off, chest shiny with sweat; Hongbin wrapped in soft sweaters, heavy coats and scarves; Hongbin curled around him, his head on Taekwoon’s chest, murmuring “Hyung” in a voice that’s just started to deepen.
Taekwoon remembers kissing Hongbin’s petal-soft lips, the look on Hongbin’s face when Taekwoon said “I love you” for the first time, and he knows that inside, at least, he is still more man than machine.
If they get a chance, Taekwoon will take it. For Hongbin, he’ll take it.
There’s something thrumming through the room, like electricity in the air. It’s so tangible that Taekwoon thinks even the instructor and the guards must be able to sense it. It’s coursing like fire through his veins, a vague sort of knowledge.
Someone—Jungkook—makes a noise behind him, just a weak flexing of his vocal chords. A few moments later, Seokjin’s hand twitches on his desk, just in the corner of Taekwoon’s vision.
And then it’s as if a floodgate breaks. Hakyeon’s leg jumps, a chair scrapes behind them, suddenly multiple voices are making odd, strangled noises as though they haven’t quite figured out how to will their tongues and lips to form words yet.
And Taekwoon plants his hands on his desk and rises, watches with almost emotionless eyes as the instructor’s face melts into panic. His programming didn’t prepare him for this.
Taekwoon grips the bottom edge of the desk, cold steel burning into his hands, and he flips it straight at the guard in front of him.
The guard goes down before he can react, and the others raise their shields but it’s too late. Taekwoon has started something, and desks go flying beside him—he sees Yoongi lift a chair over his shoulder and bring it down with all his inhuman strength on one guard’s head.
The instructor, realizing he’s overpowered, cowers on the floor. Yoongi goes after him with the chair next, but Taekwoon holds out a hand and croaks, “Don’t. He’s not worth it.”
“He did this to us,” Yoongi grits out, his teeth grinding audibly.
Taekwoon looks at the instructor, the man with the red-painted face who is thrown by something as simple as an empty desk. “He’s just like us,” he says with gravel in his voice. He’s not sure when he last spoke.
After several beats too long, Yoongi finally drops the chair. Behind him the others do the same. The guards are unconscious or dead and Taekwoon can hear, vaguely, the sounds of this same thing happening in other classrooms, all down the hall.
Hongbin approaches Taekwoon’s side, tucks his hand into Taekwoon’s and says, “We should go.”
The others seem to agree. They move, as a crowd, to the door.
Out in the hall, young men are filling the walkways, pressed close together as they all stream toward the exit. To his left Taekwoon sees Hoseok wrap his arm around Taehyung’s shoulders and press a feather-light kiss to his hair.
They join the masses, all haphazardly arranged and moving at whatever pace suits them. The consensus seems to be fast, as fast as they can get out of this hell place.
Taekwoon presses his free hand to the bandages over his ribcage, no longer fresh and new but reaching the point where they can soon be removed entirely.
Hongbin sees him do it, squeezes himself closer to Taekwoon’s side and tells him, “We’re gonna be okay.”
Taekwoon truly doesn’t know, but he’s inclined to believe it simply because it came from Hongbin’s mouth.
By the time they get outside there are sirens blaring and flashing lights fill his vision no matter which way he turns. Paramedics approach terrified boys with gentle words and gentler hands, and police officers give instructions in loud voices that cause several people to flinch away.
Taekwoon hears Jaehwan’s voice screech, “Hyukkie!” and turns just in time to see Jaehwan launching himself at a boy that Taekwoon has never seen before, one who doesn’t have the tell-tale signs of too many days in this place. He doesn’t wear the uniform either, instead dressed in blue jeans and a t-shirt and a soft hoodie that he pulls off and wraps around Jaehwan’s shoulders even as Jaehwan refuses to detach his arms from the boy’s waist.
Taekwoon doesn’t know what happened for sure. But when he hears Jaehwan’s ‘Hyukkie’ say, “Of course I came for you, hyung,” he thinks that there must be more going on than he knows.
Frankly, though, Taekwoon doesn’t care how it happened. What he does care about is going home, learning to live as the person he is now, finding out if he can live as the person he is now.
And most of all, he thinks, as Hongbin tucks them against the side of an ambulance, chest to chest and breathing in each other’s air, he just wants to stay with Hongbin.
Hongbin kisses his neck and Taekwoon responds by kissing Hongbin’s temple. They have time now. What happened doesn’t matter. They’ll find ways to move beyond it, because it’s over now and they’re not going back.
They’re moving forward. Taekwoon is holding his heart in his hand and trusting Hongbin to take care of it. And he knows that he will because cyborgs or not, imprisoned or not, they’ve always been together and they always will be.
Yoongi would say it’s destiny, or some shit. Taekwoon is inclined to agree.
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