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He lost the game, badly. Practically ill with anxiety, he can only fake a smile and stare at his shoes when everyone pokes fun at him.

A glance up shows Namjoon staring at him, piercing and odd. He knows, he knows, he knows.

His skin prickles in waves of heat, nearly nauseous with the effort to pull a laugh from his throat. All he wants is for filming to finish already but at the same time, he dreads it. When they're done here, then they have to go home together, and then it starts- the awkwardness he's feared for so long. The silence will stretch long, loud with the fact Jeongguk has spent years trying to hide. That silence will fester and infect everything, all Jeongguk's fault.

He doesn't know if Namjoon looks at him on the way home or if he's determined to pretend Jeongguk and his unwanted feelings don't exist. Once the van door shuts, Jeongguk pulls his headphones and hoodie up and feigns sleep.

Everyone in their rooms and Taehyung in the shower, Jeongguk puts down the glass of milk he’s chugging in the kitchen and buries his face in his hand. “Fuck,” he whispers and wills himself not to cry. "What the fuck is wrong with me."

His body feels like it’s trying to explode, molecule by molecule, hot and cold and tense and un-tethered, heart still pounding though it’s been two hours at least.

When he pulls his hands away his heart halts its hammering. Namjoon, in his t-shirt and boxers, standing in the doorway.

There in the harsh white light, Jeongguk’s mind races to find words to say but there’s nothing, nothing but the screech of static. Terror, when he should be glad to see Namjoon.

“Sorry,” Namjoon mutters, turns and walks out.

 

For the longest forty-five minutes of his life, Jeongguk sits in his room. His skin prickles. His breath won’t pass through his throat right. When he sits, his body is gripped with a queasy heat; when he stands, his knees feel like jello. He tries to play games but he dies every time, he tries to sleep, he tries to write, nothing works.

He paces his room, folding clothes and throwing them on the bed, picking up a bottle of lotion and forgetting to put it on before he fidgets with the action figures on his desk. It’s happening just the way he’s feared for years; Namjoon found out and it’s ruining everything between them. Namjoon will talk to him less and less, everyone will notice the uncomfortable silence, no one will want to be a part of this anymore, everything will-

“Fuck,” he whimpers, and forces himself out the room, though his hands shake.

He knocks on Namjoon’s door before he freezes in place in the hall, heart thudding somewhere up below his ears with sickening tightness.

The door swings open, Namjoon with his eyes wide and brows furrowed.

“I’m sorry,” he blurts out. “I never wanted you to know, I never wanted to cause trouble, I didn’t want you to spend your whole career with all of us uncomfortable because of me, because I- I- because of how I feel. You don’t have to feel weird! Please, I’ll never bring it up, I’ll never-”

Namjoon’s brows push together like he’s going to laugh or cry. He opens the door a bit wider and steps forward. “Jeongguk.”

His name, spoken with so much feeling in the voice he loves. He bites his lip, jaw clenching with the effort not to cry. “I'm so sorry. I didn't mean for you to ever know. Please don't- don't quit the band, or- I won't make it weird, I promise.”

Brows perplexed, Namjoon’s hands raise and hover over his shoulders before awkwardly dropping away with a muttered apology at the near-touch.

“Well, it doesn’t matter now, now that you know.” Jeongguk shrugs.

He hesitates, squinting in thought. “So this is because...? I mean, you don't hate it? I thought you were really bothered by the whole thing, and that’s totally valid, it’s fucking weird, I know. I don't have the right to know people like this. And I would never want to violate your-”

“No I don’t care, I just didn’t want you to know that I- yeah.”

Namjoon looks up at him, searching his face as if he could read his mind that way too. “So you-? This whole time?”

“Yeah. I- I’m so sorry,” he whispers, anxiety shaking in his voice. “This whole time. More and more.”

A lump rises in his throat. He never meant to be saying these words, he had been doing fine holding it in. Everything is going to be so weird between them now, Namjoon will try to be nice because he’s nice, but it’ll never be the same.

“More and more?”

So close, the words glide over him soft as blankets. “Jeongguk, you should've told me, I thought you really didn’t like me, because of my mind thing. It didn’t make any fucking sense, you’d say nice things about me and then not- I thought you were… faking or, not faking, I mean, I don’t think you would do that, but I- well, I thought maybe you might say nice things in public, and not to my face, so that no one would notice that we- we don't seem very close.”

Namjoon looks up and meets his eyes, a little ashamed to think him capable of cunning. “I just thought they must not be true, the nice things you say, when you don't say them to me, and you don't ever let me-!”

He stops and shakes his head, annoyed with his own whining. A door opens down the hall and makes them jump. Jeongguk slides the rest of the way into his room and leans against the wall, sure his legs are going to give out when Namjoon leans forward and shuts the door.

Hushed, nervous tones when he continues, despite the closed door. “It's just so hard for me to know anyone, when I see the difference between what's inside versus what they say and do. And then, when I don't even have half of that with you, I... you on the outside is so good but I-”

He exhales hard and rakes his fingers through his hair. “Jeongguk.” Namjoon’s hands fly up to hover desperately over his arms. “Can I? Please? You can say no.”

Of course you can, or dear god please, or why would you ever want to? All the words he can think to say stick in his chest. He just nods, a sharp inhale when Namjoon’s hands slide around his shoulders.

He can see the moment the weight of his emotions hit Namjoon’s mind. A little breath, his lips fall open, sorrow and disbelief sparkling in his eyes. Slow and jerky, Namjoon drags his hands down Jeongguk’s arms and steps closer, and closer again when he winds his arms around Jeongguk’s waist.

One last step and Namjoon is doing the last thing he ever expected him to be doing on a Thursday night: holding him. Namjoon melts against him with a long sigh.

“Please hug me,” he whispers against his shoulder. “If you want.”

Spoken with such insecurity for someone who has proof that Jeongguk does want. Afraid, nearly sick with it, but he wraps his arms around Namjoon’s back and buries his face in his chest.

“Why are you so scared? It’s not a bad thing to like someone, Gguk. Why didn’t- why didn’t you ever tell me?”

A question so preposterous it’s almost offensive. He leans away and gawks at him, mouth opening and closing with words that won’t form. The scenarios that have played through his head for years have come to look a lot like fact. Namjoon disgusted. Namjoon pitying his “little crush”. Namjoon leaving the group to get away from Jeongguk and his feelings. Best case scenario: Namjoon gives him a chance to be nice and of course, he’s not nearly enough for Namjoon, not even close.

He remembers too late; Namjoon is audience to the scenarios flashing by in his head. Panicked, he tries to stop them, think about- about ramen, about… elephants…

Namjoon catches his arm when he tries to run away. “Jeongguk. Jeongguk- come on. You like me?”

His face scrunches up into a silent sob that he tries to hide. “Yeah,” he answers, thick and wavering. He sits on Namjoon’s bed and turns toward the wall.

“I like you too.” Namjoon laughs a little as he says it, like the weight of the words being spoken was preposterous. A big shrug that falls with a slap to his thighs.

He cries harder and hates himself for it. The words won’t sink in, the torrent of emotions held back for so long too deep and fast. “You don't have to say that,” he whispers. “It's okay if you don't.”

“Jeongguk, I like you too. I like you so much. I-” He stops, watching the back of Jeongguk’s shoulders shake where he sits on the bed.

Such a hesitant hand when he takes hold of Jeongguk’s arm and peers up into his face. He looks near tears, smiling like it hurts to smile. “Is it okay to touch you?” he whispers, hand hovering beside his cheek.

It lands, warm and soft when Jeongguk nods. “This is okay?” Namjoon asks again. He sighs with a heavy tremble at the upset he feels from Jeongguk.

“Jeongguk. I like you too. I like you too. I wish you could touch me and see everything I-” he huffs in frustration and cups Jeongguk’s face in his hands. “Why didn’t you tell me? I’ve been so fucking alone, I’ve been so- not that it's your fault. I’ve liked you for so long and you- in a way you hated me, I thought, for something I couldn’t change about myself and I-! I just liked you so much anyway.”

A horror aches fresh through his chest. All this pain he’s caused Namjoon, pain he could’ve eased. “I was… scared. Just so scared that if you… touched me you’d see and hate what you see. And I don’t think I could live with that,” he whispers. “Knowing how this feels for me, how it’s… painted everything brighter, and if you hated seeing me every day, if that’s how I painted everything for you, I just can’t-“

He pulls his bottom lip in between his teeth to keep it from quivering, eyes to the ground to hide the tears. All those scenarios and this one is maybe the worst, in the end. He hurt Namjoon, gave him pain. The lack of truth built into a lie that's been living in Namjoon's head.

“It’s not fair,” Namjoon mutters to himself.

The bed sinks with Namjoon’s weight beside him. “It’s not fair, so here, touch me. I’ll um- show you, what you would see, if you could touch me and see.”

He tries to giggle at the idea but it comes out as a coughed cry. Namjoon takes his hands, so fumbling and awkward. Placing them on his shoulders, Namjoon clears his throat.

“So. If you touched me, and could see,” he clears his throat and readies himself. “It’s so hard to put into words the… the bigness, the wave of how it feels in my chest and knees to… to see you. No one ever touches me but I- when you smile at me, sometimes it feels almost as good. I almost trust it more than anything and it's... scary, because you- because I thought you- well.”

He shivers a laugh, watching his fingers skim over Jeongguk's exposed knee. A little sad, a lot nervous, he smiles to himself and continues. “You’d see me losing it about how pretty your eyes are, how proud I am of you, how I get dumb fluttery butterflies when I see you dance or sing or fall asleep on the couch with chips on your hoodie and the xbox controller in your hand.”

Jeongguk tries to laugh again and removes his hands from Namjoon’s shoulders to wipe at his eyes. Namjoon places them back on his shoulders. This time, he weaves his fingers over Jeongguk’s and fidgets like he’s about to get yelled at for it.

He continues, quieter and shy when Jeongguk dares to look up at him. “You’d see the daydream I let myself have when I fall asleep at night: your hands petting my hair, and you- you pull me closer and kiss my forehead and tell me that it’s okay if I can’t touch anyone, that you’ll always hold me, that I don’t have to be lonely anymore.”

Forehead crinkled up in a frown, ears bright pink, Namjoon stares down at the bed between them and purses his lips hard. He knows that look. Namjoon always successful at not crying where Jeongguk inevitably fails. So strong, and the reasons for that strength hurt to know.

“Oh,” he sighs when his body remembers how to breathe again. Moving slow like he’s sure this is a dream, he sniffles and scoots forward. Before he can let fear or disbelief pull him away, he presses a kiss to his forehead. “It’s okay,” he whispers. “You don’t have to be lonely anymore.”

Shy now at how affected Namjoon is at that, he pulls away and tucks his hands under his armpits. Neither of them can look at each other, eyes damp and fighting back giddy little smiles.

Namjoon tugs his hands loose and places them in his lap, petting over his palms, amazed that it’s allowed. “You like me?” he asks again, hushed and smiley.

He nods. “You don’t hate it?”

Hands sliding up Jeongguk’s wrists, Namjoon laughs and shakes his head. “I love it. Best thing ever. Can I…? A hug would be…” he exhales and looks up at Jeongguk, eyes big and pleading. “I never get hugs.”

“Jimin, sometimes,” he argues, babbling with nerves now that the hardest part has been said.

“It’s not Jimin that I want,” he replies and scoots forward so Jeongguk’s arms slide toward his waist a bit. He watches so carefully, so wary of touch Jeongguk doesn’t want.

But his thoughts must give him away. Namjoon gives him a little smile and curls into him, hands gliding around his waist.

A warmth blooms through his body like a winter sun as they hold each other in the awkward angle. Namjoon wants me. Namjoon has wanted me too. Me, not just anyone.

The shock runs clear to joy. He holds Namjoon tighter, breathless at feeling the body he’s admired for so long. His nose is stuffy from crying and he’s so nervous that it’s all he can think about. Tries not to mouth-breathe too loud but Namjoon doesn’t seem to notice either way. He heaves a massive sigh into Jeongguk’s hair and trails his fingers down from his temples to his waist like a hand through river water.

“What does it feel like?” he finds himself asking.

“You? I don’t know even know where to start.”

He grins at the wall, followed by a leap in his chest at the realization that Namjoon felt the twinge of affection in him. “I meant- I meant in general, reading thoughts.”

“Mmm…” Namjoon sounds far off, hands still gently caressing him, up and down, like he’s drunk on the feelings he’s touching.

“It’s like… you know when you’re falling asleep, and you start to dream, but you’re conscious a little? And you know the things you’re seeing are in your head but they didn’t come from yourself, you know? It’s like that, but less sleepy. And more… I don’t.. read a lot of people, but. Everyone has their own feeling.”

“Then, how do I feel?”

With a big inhale, Namjoon leans up to look at him. “I told you, I don’t even know where to start. You feel… you feel- you- good. Just really good. Good like… like feet in the sand when the waves come in. Good like your friend giving you half their snack when you were too afraid to ask. Good like the last of the snow melting. Good like-” he breaks down into giggles at the stunned infatuation in Jeongguk’s mind and curls back into him like he can’t believe it.

“I never have anything good to say,” Jeongguk whines, breathless.

“But you’re so good, ” he sighs, squeezing him closer, over-eager at such simple touch. “I don’t need words, Jeongguk. I have enough words. Just need you,” he murmurs, nosing at his jaw.

He laughs softly at the emotions that pulls from Jeongguk. “It’s really not fair, you know. That you can’t touch me and see how fucking scary it is to tell you things like that.”

“Really?” Jeongguk lets his nose brush across Namjoon’s forehead, heart pitter-pattering as they hover so close, lips parted, eyes meeting and glancing away. It’s like a dream, a dream he’s had so many times and never ever hoped to become real.  

“Really. I’ve always been shy but you just kinda… make me shyer,” he laughs, bashful. “You’re so- you’re so fucking pretty and I never know- knew, what you think of me and I just... really like you...”

His words trail off as Jeongguk combs his fingers through his hair, blissful on touch and affection that he never gets. “This is so nice,” he whispers, scooting forward in hesitant stops and starts until he’s halfway onto Jeongguk’s lap. “Please don’t stop.”

“Why would I stop?” Jeongguk giggles, nervous and giddy at every brush of their skin. He pulls Namjoon further into his lap. “Why would I ever stop.”

Namjoon’s eyes glitter down at him like he can’t believe the words he’s hearing even though he can hear them in Jeongguk’s head. His eyes flutter shut at Jeongguk’s clumsy touch, humming softly with contentment.

“I like you so much,” he says softly, forcing his eyes to open. “I can't believe this whole time you-” his eyes scrunch shut in a silent frustrated laugh. He thumbs over Jeongguk’s cheeks, curves fingers under his chin, behind his ears, endless little touches. “There’s something so bright about you. I’ve met so many people, so many thoughts and you’re just… so bright. I see you every day but you’re the one who stands out still.”

His hands smooth down Jeongguk’s shoulders and back up, gliding down his chest and over his arms and he smiles at how bashful Jeongguk’s thoughts have gone. He tugs on Jeongguk’s t-shirt. “Can I take this off? Not- not like that,” he laughs shyly, though Jeongguk hadn’t said anything out loud. “I just… want to touch you more.”

“Yeah,” he breathes, holding his arms up to let Namjoon pull it off of him, starry-eyed and nervous when Namjoon resumes his constant touch, palms over the curve of his chest, over the pulse thrumming in his throat, ticklish up the backs of his arms and down to the tips of his fingers.

“Jeongguk, I like you,” he reminds him, almost pouting when the worry in Jeongguk's head gets loud. “Look can we just-? We're okay, right? This is okay? Can we just- can we just-! I know we're both the type to be shy but I'm so sick of holding back all time, can we just not tiptoe? Please, this is just feels so good,” He dives forward to take him in a big hug, too fast and clumsy, determined to plow through the awkwardness.

They fall back to the mattress and, though it takes a minute to breathe again, Jeongguk holds him tight. It's so awkward between them. Like a box full of puzzle pieces dumped out, nothing quite seems to fit though the pieces surely go together. Old assumptions and longing jumbled with new truths, intoxicating affection and the desire to give in to it, to be versions of themselves together that can flirt and tease and get a little reckless. But the patterns of reservation between them are well worn, and the trembling ache to careen forward and take the affection they want is held back by the familiar fear that love is a thing that can be ruined. 

Such a mess in his head, embarrassing that Namjoon can hear it all now. He shuts his eyes and tries to figure out what acting natural around Namjoon would be, but he can't believe this is really happening, Namjoon's hands all over him, Namjoon's body so deliciously heavy on his.

Ah-!” he squawks when Namjoon pinches his arm and laughs.

“It's really happening, Jeongguk. Not a dream.”

“Feels like a dream,” he mutters, and dares to nuzzle into Namjoon’s hair.

“Yeah,” Namjoon whispers. He tucks his head under Jeongguk’s chin and watches his fingers glide up and down Jeongguk's bare stomach. There’s a spot just beside his hip bone that makes him shiver every time Namjoon touches, so Namjoon touches again, and watches as the goosebumps prickle over his ribs, and touches again.

“I don’t what to say to you when you’re already... you know. Hearing it.” Jeongguk laughs nervously and curls his fingertips against Namjoon’s scalp.

“Say whatever you want,” Namjoon answers, soft with the bliss of touch. “It’s nice, the difference between what you think and how you say it. It’s nice to know both.”

It’s quiet for a loud moment of silence, waiting for Jeongguk to get free with his words. “But it’s hard, though,” Jeongguk finally says, and holds him tighter when he laughs.

Namjoon nuzzles further into his neck, hair tickling at his chin. He gives Jeongguk a little squeeze, and it occurs to him it's the same thing he's seen Namjoon do with his stuffed animals when he's still asleep. A fragile, overflowing fondness grips him and he shuts his eyes, letting his mind wander to the velvety softness of Namjoon's skin beneath his fingertips, the tiny hairs at the back of his neck, the pressure against his side with the waves of Namjoon's breath.

"I like this," Namjoon sighs, squeezing him again. "So much. No one has ever touched me like this. Or thought about me like this," he adds, shy and smiley, socked feet brushing over Jeongguk's shin. "It's hard to believe, hard to believe that it's you."

Giddy from his toes up, Jeongguk hums in an odd wave of proud amazement. Everything feels slow motion, Namjoon warm and enveloping like floating on the surface of a lake in the heat of summer.

Namjoon giggles against him and asks, "Say it out loud? What you just thought."

He freezes. Can't for the life of him think of what he'd just said in his head to repeat.

"The lake thing. It was nice, I wanna hear it out loud," Namjoon says.

"Lake thing??"

"Yeah the-? Wow, that's so interesting, you really don't remember," he looks up at him but immediately curls back into his cozy position. "I wonder if it's just how you think or if it's like... sub-levels of thought that I picked up on? You know, it would make sense, that sub-level thoughts would be so vivid yet....un-catchable for you."

"Sorry," he chuckles, not sure what else to say.

Hand skimming up the hard lines of Jeongguk's stomach, Namjoon shakes his head a little. “Don't be sorry, I like you, I like your brain." 

It's quiet breath and big, meandering thoughts between them for a minute as they touch and knot tighter together. It's embarrassing but Jeongguk doesn't know how to not think about Namjoon, so gorgeous, so soft, a mind so incredible even if he can never read it. He gets a little braver with his touch, soothing circles up and down Namjoon's side until he has his shirt pushed up out of the way to touch more and more.

"I like this so much," Namjoon says again, heaving a massive sigh of contentment as he traces circles around Jeongguk's belly button. "Can I kiss you? You can say no- oh.” The flood of want in Jeongguk’s mind spills over into his and stops his needless question.

“Yes,” Jeongguk manages to speak.

Nervous though, so Namjoon doesn't move. Stays curled up against Jeongguk and listens to the flow of his thoughts. "Is it weird to tell you- ah, nevermind. It's weird."

"What!" Jeongguk demands with a small laugh, trying so hard not to wonder wildly when Namjoon is going to kiss him.

“It just... feels really safe here. I mean here here,” Namjoon says, skimming his hands over the arms that hold him tight. “But also here,” he adds, touching Jeongguk's head. “Like... like the person I was too scared to believe you are really is who you are. Does that make sense?”

He laughs when Jeongguk whispers the sentence out loud to try to parse out the meaning. “You're so... good, so steady and... definitely not empty, empty isn't the word... or maybe it is? Empty like the sea, which isn't empty at all...”

Shy, he curls tighter against Jeongguk's shoulder. “Thanks, Gguk.”

“Thanks for what,” he asks, a little breathless at the pretty words, at being so seen by Namjoon for the first time in his life.

“For thinking such nice things about me.” He props up on his elbows and snickers at the look on Jeongguk's face when Namjoon's eyes fall to his lips. “For the internal screaming just because I'm about to kiss you.”

“You are?” Jeongguk babbles faintly, eyes growing wider as Namjoon leans down and nuzzles against his cheek.

“Yeah,” he whispers, and presses his lips softly just beside his nose, and once more to the very tip. “If you could touch me and see, you'd know that I love your nose. And here at the top of this eyebrow,” he adds a kiss there, and another beside the scar on his cheek. “And here. And your big bambi eyes, too.”

They flutter shut as Namjoon's lips press gently to each. "Kiss me if you really want to," Namjoon implores softly against his skin. "Please. I can see it in here," he smiles, fingertips scrunching at his temples. Stares into Jeongguk's eyes and rubs their noses together in encouragement. "I wanna know what it's like, to have you kiss me."

His arms feel like jelly but he doesn't hesitate to lean up and press their lips together. A little too rushed, but long and deliciously slow to pull apart.

His lips really feel as soft as they look, Jeongguk marvels, and Namjoon smiles at the thought.

"If you wanna touch them, then touch them," Namjoon laughs. "Do whatever you want with me, Gguk. Seriously, we have to just- just get past this initial weirdness. Okay?"

"Okay," Jeongguk whispers, watching his fingers trace over Namjoon's plump lips, mind on an endless loop of don't think of dirty stuff don't think of dirty stuff that makes Namjoon chuckle.

Determined to touch until it sinks in that he's touching, he watches the work of his hand. It tugs gentle and Namjoon's bottom lip, down the slope of his tiny nose, over his smooth eyebrows, over his eyelashes when all the focused touches make Namjoon's eyes close with bliss. While Namjoon's not looking, he leans up and kisses his lips.

A soft grunt of surprise despite seeing Jeongguk thinking about doing it a half second before. They pull away and kiss again, and pull away and kiss again, and again, until they start to trust their bodies and quiet their minds. Slow mouths and hands, almost meditative, flipping puzzle piece by puzzle piece until they lock together and form a picture of the two of them without secrets and hurt.

"We should sleep," Namjoon murmurs an hour, or two, or three later, pecking a kiss to Jeongguk's lips and letting Jeongguk sweep him back up into another kiss, long and deep. Delirious on so much affection after abstaining for years, he can't stop smiling. Big, sparkly-eyed amazement, Jeongguk won't stop thinking about how happy he is to be reason Namjoon looks so happy, which makes Namjoon smile all the more.

A big, endless loop of joy so overwhelming, Namjoon curls his toes against Jeongguk's shins and squeezes him tight, and let's Jeongguk comb his fingers through his hair. "You're not gonna screw this up, Jeongguk," he says after a minute.

"Fuck, I keep forgetting that you can hear everything," he laughs nervously.

"Sorry." Namjoon nuzzles back under Jeongguk's chin and wraps his leg around him, a kiss to Jeongguk's collarbone. "I'm glad for once, though, for once in my damn life. If it means I can make you worry a little less. If it means I can make you happier."