Word Count: 2.5k
Summary: Because while there's nothing stable about living on the run, Jaehwan has a home made up in the hearts of five boys that he'd never trade the world for.
A/N: finally finished this drabble after angsting about life for a while. maximum ride!au with descriptions of unethical experimentation and blind!jaehwan. I swear it's a happy ending.
Jaehwan has always had a notion about what a home was. It involved a family, some form of parents and some number of kids living happily in some kind of house. During the weekdays, the kids wake up, kiss the parents goodbye, and run off to the school bus or walk a few blocks to school. On the weekends, the family would drive their kids to the movies, amusement parks, sports games, or anything their kids wanted to do just to spend time with them.
A home, more than anything, was stable. Day in and day out, things played out in the exact same home with the exact same people. Beds were made every morning, food was on the table for every meal, and everyone brushed their teeth before turning in for the night.
But no matter how hard Jaehwan searches, he can't ever remember having a typical home. His earliest memories are from the School, a lab housed in the middle of nowhere that studied gene therapy and genetic mutations. Whether Jaehwan had been left at an orphanage or simply abducted from his home, he's never been able to think back far enough.
From what he does remember, he's fifteen years old and locked up in a cage, the cold metal chilling against his legs. He can feel two pairs of eyes on his back, staring through cages of their own- belonging to Hakyeon and Taekwoon. They were the first two to ever be experimented on and Jaehwan had been the third. He was drenched in a cold sweat and his back was in the most excruciating pain he could have ever imagined, but two small hands reached through the bars of their cages and rested on each of his knees.
Jaehwan didn't believe it- thought the scientists were joking- until, clutching the bars of his cage, the anaesthetic had worn of and he felt the heavy weight of wings on his back.
"You'll be okay," Hakyeon whispered, feathers ruffling against his body as his wings trembled around his frame. "Stay strong, Jaehwan." On his other side, Taekwoon never said a word, but Jaehwan could feel the palm on his knee squeezing in comfort.
The tests had begun almost immediately after that. They let him rest, drew blood to check how his body was handling his new circulation system. His bones grew lighter, his muscles stronger, his lungs bigger, and his genetics changed down to the nucleus because they'd modified his genes to assimilate that of a bird.
But that wasn't enough. The scientists put him- all of them- through so many tests. They ran through mazes, electrocution bracelets around their ankles zapping them if they stopped. They fought each other, tested their flight skills even though it hurt their fresh wings. There was so much blood work to be drawn, x-rays to take, surgeries to undergo to check on their muscles, tendons, bones, lungs, heart- everything. They did all the tests until they couldn't stand on their own feet any longer.
The years were a blur between trying to acclimate without his sight and trying to stay sane. It was incredibly difficult, especially when he was thrown into a new maze and told to figure his way out of it by a small music box sitting at the exit. It was hard when they told him to take flight but he couldn't quite judge how high he was or what was around him. It was hard when the scientists were so, so proud of him for surpassing his own records when they were the ones who sneered at him from behind closed doors.
One day, two more kids had shown up in cages. Wonshik had cried when wings had cut through the skin of his back. Hongbin was almost scarily stoic when he'd realize wings had been grafted.
It was easier with everyone. When they were allowed out of their cages, though still locked away in a room, Jaehwan held on to each person with shaking hands, hoping their steady ones would keep him grounded. Faster than anything else, he'd learned to tell everyone apart by the feel of their skin or the sound of their feathers catching air as they surged up towards the ceiling. When the nightmares threatened to swallow him whole, threatened to blur out the faces of the only people he's come to love and trust, they would hold him in their arms until his shaking stopped and let him memorize their faces with the pads of his fingers until his heartbeat slowed down. And somewhere along the way when Sanghyuk had shown up in a cage right by his, he'd gotten the courage to be strong again, placing his hand on Sanghyuk's knee like Hakyeon and Taekwoon had done for him all that time ago.
Sanghyuk said his wings were pure white- he tried his best to describe the color of everyone's wings including Jaehwan’s own. Jaehwan, hands around Sanghyuk's waist, simply nodding into the fabric of his lab shirt and tightening his grip around the youngest.
But all of that was years ago. They'd made their escape from the School, bursting out through an emergency exit door Taekwoon had discovered when the lab had suffered a power surge. With Jaehwan's hand wound tightly in Hongbin's, they took off in flight as soon as they'd gotten a whiff of fresh air. They flew until their wings ached and their lungs burned, until they were sure they were far enough from the lab, until they were sure they couldn't be tracked.
Jaehwan sighs, reaching into the cupboard over the stove for the just-add-water pancake mix they'd bought (after Hongbin had charmed his way through girls on the street and pick pocketed them for enough money to afford a decent amount of groceries for bird-kids with endless stomachs). He works in the early morning light all on his own, unable to stay asleep after he'd jolted up from a nightmare. It was rare these days that he had them, but everyone still had them- Hakyeon most of all. Making pancakes would at least ease some of the edge off his tense nerves.
He's gotten quite good at cooking despite how often they move around. For now, they've managed to find someone's abandoned summer home with a working gas stove and running water. When Wonshik had taken him around the house, it had still seemed relatively new. "It's probably because it's winter so no one's here," Wonshik said, squeezing Jaehwan's hand in his as they climbed up the stairs to the second floor. They're somewhere along the coast- Jaehwan smells the salt in the air every day he wakes up. The city itself is small but still large enough that a few new faces in town wouldn't draw too much attention. It's been a week since they've stayed here, but Jaehwan doesn't doubt for a second that they'll move in the near future.
Two cups of flour and just enough water until the batter is runny. Jaehwan hums to himself as the pan heats up and the first plop of batter hits the pan with a sizzle.
Sanghyuk is the first to wake up. Jaehwan hears the heavy shuffle of his feet as he drags himself to the kitchen and whines about it being early. He immediately clings to Jaehwan, broad shoulders wrapping around his smaller frame, hands locked around his waist. Sanghyuk shoves his face in Jaehwan's neck and groans about the time.
Sanghyuk is almost never this clingy, but sometimes they all just need to physically hold on to another in case they actually float away.
"Pancakes are almost done," Jaehwan says, reaching with his free hand to card through Sanghyuk's rough hair. Sanghyuk hums, presses his lips at the crook of Jaehwan's neck, and watches on silently until seven pancakes have been flipped out onto a plate.
Hongbin is the second one awake. Jaehwan hears the bathroom sink running first before Hongbin even sets foot into the kitchen. He walks in silently, socked feet quiet on the wooden floors as he stands behind Jaehwan and peaks over his shoulder. Jaehwan doesn't need his enhanced hearing to pick up the sound of Hongbin's stomach growling.
Jaehwan rips off a piece of one of the finished pancakes and holds it out to Hongbin, who takes all of it down to Jaehwan's fingertips in one go and mumbles out thanks as he reaches around Jaehwan for a plastic cup in the cupboard.
Not long after Hongbin and Sanghyuk have worked their way through a second plate stacked with pancakes do Hakyeon and Taekwoon come into the room at the same time. With heavier steps, Taekwoon makes a beeline for the water kettle and starts to work on one of the last instant coffee packets left. Hakyeon, with much lighter, graceful steps, wiggles into Jaehwan's side and presses a kiss to the corner of his lips.
"Good morning," he says, gentle as he runs his hand down Jaehwan's spine. "Want me to help?"
There are immediately loud choruses of 'no' from Hongbin and Sanghyuk, even though their mouths are still stuffed with food. "We only have one pan and none of us can stomach burnt food anymore," Sanghyuk says, cheeky grin widening as Hakyeon bristles from the comment.
"You kids are so ungrateful," he huffs, kissing each of their foreheads until they whine before snagging a pancake off their plate and scarfing it down.
Taekwoon, silent as ever, just ruffles Jaehwan's bed head before plopping down at the table beside Hakyeon.
By the time all the pancakes have been cooked, Wonshik still isn't awake so Hakyeon decides to take all the pancakes to the living room and finish breakfast there. Wonshik is sprawled out on the couch, jaw slack open in a snore, and hardly stirs when everyone takes up space around him. Jaehwan finds himself plopped down at the left end of the couch, pillowing Wonshik's head on his thighs. He cards through Wonshik's rough hair- they'd picked up some hair dye too and it was still coarse from the color he'd chosen- while Taekwoon sits on the floor by his feet. Hakyeon turns on his laptop and plays the only DVD they've managed to get their hands on, the entire last season of "Boys over Flowers". They've watched it so many times now that it's just background noise to Jaehwan.
Wonshik startles awake in the middle of the first episode. Taekwoon has been feeding Jaehwan pieces of pancake, holding pieces in front of his mouth occasionally and waiting for Jaehwan to take it off his fingers. Wonshik moves out of his lap, a soft groan leaving his lips as he tries to gather his thoughts.
"There are pancakes," Sanghyuk says, likely using his ability to read minds to orient Wonshik. "Taekwoon made extra coffee for you too."
Wonshik shifts out of Jaehwan's lap, instead sleepily curling up against his shoulder and kicking Hongbin and Sanghyuk off his thighs and legs. Jaehwan feels him settle against his side, cheek against his shoulder, sitting still for some time while Jaehwan continues eating pancakes.
He goes in for a bite, expecting to be met with Taekwoon's fingers, and ends up feeling the soft press of Wonshik's small, plush lips against his instead.
"You're one sap of a romantic," Jaehwan sighs, even though he can't fight off the smile on his lips. He aims to flick Wonshik's forehead and ends up hitting his mark dead on.
"Pancakes taste better this way," Wonshik groans, flopping back into Jaehwan's lap. He stops chattering as soon as Taekwoon shoves a piece of pancake into his mouth.
The whole morning slips by as they spend it lazily in each other's arms. It's only until noon rolls around that Haykeon starts ushering everyone to get up and shower to go out and fly. Hongbin calls the bathroom first, then takes Jaehwan's larger hand in his smaller, softer one and takes him along to the shower.
"Did you sleep okay?" Hongbin asks, switching on the shower head and stepping into the tub. "You were awake pretty early."
Jaehwan does his best to smile as he strips and steps into the shower. "It was just about as good as any other day," he says softly, even though there's still a bit of fear clinging to his bones. Hongbin hums, understands that he shouldn't pry, and brings Jaehwan under the stream of the shower being mindful of his wings. Just before the water turns cold, Jaehwan pulls Hongbin into a bruising kiss, hands hot and heavy on his hips, and switches their places in the shower. Jaehwan can feel Hongbin shiver against the palms of his hands.
"I hate you," he grumbles, taking suds from the shampoo in his hair and wiping it on Jaehwan's cheek.
"Jealousy doesn't go with your pretty face," Jaehwan teases, patting Hongbin's cheek as he steps out of the shower. He makes quick work of drying off while Hongbin finishes showering, and once Jaehwan is dressed, he throws his towel over Hongbin's head and dries his hair. He kisses Hongbin's cheek before they head back downstairs. Taekwoon and Wonshik also come out from a second bathroom, freshly showered, and Hakyeon and Sanghyuk each take a separate shower.
Once everyone had showered and taken bits of the frozen pizza in the fridge, they head out of the house and walk towards a secluded area of the beachfront. Jaehwan knows his way there on his own, has it mapped out into his head, but he still takes Hakyeon's hand in his and presses close to his side as the smell of the ocean fills him.
They're lucky to have found this house, but it's unlikely they'll stay for much longer. They're still lab rats on the run, and that's something they wake up to remembering every day. They have to keep moving from place to place because being put back in those cages and back under those microscopes isn't an option for any of them. And Jaehwan has had his fits about moving so often because he gets disoriented every time. He's slower to acclimate to every new place, it's harder for him to fight back when the School's guards have caught on to their trail. There's nothing about this lifestyle that's stable like a home with a mom and a dad and annoying siblings living on a suburban street with running water and a backyard to play in.
"Come on," Hakyeon says, laughter caught in his voice as he tugs Jaehwan onto the sand. Wings unfurl one by one, the sound of wind catching underneath them soft like ocean waves crashing against the shore. Jaehwan unfurls his own wings, stretching them out in the wide open space, before he closes his eyes and follows the sound of Hakyeon's laughter.
Because while there's nothing stable about living on the run, Jaehwan has a home made up in the hearts of five boys that he'd never trade the world for.