Stories aren't always truth but the truth is always a story, Namjoon comes to believe. It's a story that's long and winding, full of traps and tricks, and it starts like this:
"It's basically all your fault," says Yoongi around an obscenely large bite of omelet. "Damn, this is really good."
"Thank you," says Seokjin. He taps Namjoon's mouth with his chopsticks, then feeds him a bite. "But be gentle with the man, he's delicate."
Yoongi snorts. "He's a menace."
Namjoon chews obediently, but he doesn't really taste it. Yoongi hadn't let them start talking for real until they were eating, and he's still stuck on the puzzle in his mind. "It's definitely my fault. It must be, and I accept that, but I don't understand why."
"Does it matter?" says Yoongi. "It's all in the past."
"It might matter," says Namjoon, "because what if the past is still happening? I don't want to be Hoseok's next terrible boyfriend."
Yoongi squints at him with puffed out cheeks, then swallows. "I thought you said you guys talked this out."
"We did," says Namjoon. "Sort of. Mostly. I didn't really follow it all."
Seokjin pats him condescendingly on the head, which Namjoon bats away.
"He's been crazy about you since you met," says Yoongi, shrugging again while Namjoon has a mild coronary to hear it said so bluntly. "Off and on, anyway. Talked my ear off after that stupid party, like you were some kind of god. I told him how many times I'd seen you break door handles and trip over nothing but it didn't faze him. I also told him you never date anyone, but he made me find out if you were single anyway. And you said you were, which was a lie because you were going out with Seokjin, which means you actually did date people so it was a double-lie, and basically if you'd just introduced me to Seokjin right away everything would have worked out years ago. So, you know. Your fault."
"But you didn't ask me if I was seeing anyone until Monday," says Namjoon. "I remember because you texted me about it in the middle of my first summer seminar. And I broke it off with hyung on Saturday, so I wasn't lying. Technically."
"Technically," mutters Yoongi, but it's overshadowed by the outraged fist pounding the table.
"You stood me up on a yacht for want of another man? One you only met the night before?" says Seokjin. "And then you never even asked him out? This is a travesty of justice. I'm suing you. I'm suing your entire family, and when I win I'm going to take custody of your bonsai and you'll never see it again."
Yoongi puts a hand on his shoulder, which has no noticeable effect, then pouts, which does. "Are you saying you wish you were with him right now?"
"Don't be ridiculous, Yoongichi," says Seokjin, scooping up another piece of omelet and stuffing him like a baby bird. "I'm saying I should have been the one to break up with him. I, Kim Seokjin, do the breaking up, not disgusting love-at-first-sighters. He robbed me of my due."
"Hmph," says Yoongi indistinctly, crossing his arms over his chest as he swallows. "Sounds like you like him better than me."
Seokjin stops mid-berate, and Namjoon freezes too, because Yoongi is wearing a very specific expression that means this isn't a joke anymore.
"What?" says Yoongi. He looks between them with a tight jaw. "It wouldn't be the first time."
Namjoon can't suppress his heavy sigh. "It was five dates!"
Seokjin doesn't say anything, just watches Yoongi with an appraising eye until Yoongi mumbles, "Not that. With Hoseok."
"Ah," says Seokjin, nodding and holding out his arm, and Yoongi curls into his side as best he can from a dining room chair. Seokjin strokes his head and murmurs, "Remind me to show you later how little you have to worry about when it comes to my own adoration."
"I'm still chafing from the last time," complains Yoongi, but he looks vaguely happier.
Which is a distinct counterpoint to Namjoon's souring mood. He'd thought Yoongi and Seokjin would somehow make things clearer, not more confusing, though even as he thinks it he realizes how stupid that was. "What in the hell are you talking about?"
Seokjin and Yoongi share a complicated look that Namjoon's overtaxed psyche has no energy to untangle. Eventually Yoongi says, "It just kind of sucked. My hot best friend from high school meets my hot best friend from college and suddenly he can't fucking talk about anything else. I mean, he'd rejected me. Broke my heart, not that I cared by then, of course. I was over it. I was over him, barely even thought about him anymore until he texted me when he moved back to Seattle."
The way he's chewing his lip isn't exactly convincing, but Namjoon decides not to mention it. Not that Yoongi gives him much of a chance to speak.
"I didn't even want to be friends with him again, but he gave me his stupid puppy eyes and I said I'd try it. Coffee, and dumb catching up bullshit, and him tagging along to my parties. But that part was okay. I thought maybe I'd show him a little bit of what he'd lost out on all those years ago, because, you know, I was doing alright for myself. But then he just wanted you. And you'd never given me the time of day either, not in all those years of lectures about the beauty in the spectrum of sexual identities, and it all just kind of sucked."
Yoongi's mouth twists, but he never breaks eye contact. "I guess it might have been my fault a little, too. I didn't exactly try very hard to help when Hoseok told me he was interested in you. Sorry, Joon. You guys could have figured it out back then, I think, if I'd gotten out of the way."
"But you would have hated it," says Namjoon. "Right? You would have been miserable if we'd gone out."
"Hardly," says Yoongi, then shifts when Seokjin squeezes him. "Fine, maybe a little miserable. I guess."
"Then I'm glad you didn't get out of the way," says Namjoon. "I'm glad we didn't figure things out. Because I couldn't have been happy, if you weren't."
He pauses for a minute while Yoongi sniffles, then says carefully, "Would you be upset now?"
"Of course not," says Yoongi, sadness vanishing like vapor. He drums his fingers on Seokjin's thigh, then levers himself up straight again. "I'll admit, when Hoseok came to me again waxing rhapsodic about the sun he thinks shines out of your ass it… stirred some stuff up. Memories, stupid shit, things I had to deal with. But Hobi was adamant you were dating him -" he nods at Seokjin - "so it was probably about other things too. Or whatever."
"You're adorable," says Seokjin, then kisses him loudly on the cheek.
Yoongi brushes at the wet spot, but not hard enough to get rid of anything, and his mouth curves into a pleased smile. "Yes I am. But anyway, I dealt with all of that weeks ago. Really. If you guys get together I'll be fucking over the moon, because it means Hoseok will stop blowing up my phone in the middle of the night to sigh about some dumbass thing you did that day that he thought was the cutest thing ever."
Namjoon blushes. "He does that?"
"All the time," says Yoongi. "I've heard way too much about the sexy way you turn the pages of a book. So yeah, consider yourselves blessed by me, if that's what's got you worried. Mazel tov and all that."
"I'm still on the blessing fence, frankly," says Seokjin, sniffing. "If it were anyone but Hoseok I'd be seriously pissed at you for tossing me aside like rotting meat."
"But you're my rotting meat, babe. Grade A Kobe, all the way," coos Yoongi, then grins when Seokjin glares at him and starts cleaning up the dishes and stalks off to the kitchen.
"You guys are kind of gross together," says Namjoon. He ducks as Yoongi throws his napkin at him. "What? You are."
Yoongi retrieves the napkin and throws it again, harder. "You are barred from having opinions about the grossness level of my relationship," he says. "I have suffered. So are you feeling better? All sorted out and ready to stop torturing us all?"
"Sort of," says Namjoon, and Yoongi groans. "I guess I get that Hoseok was into me a long time ago, but it wasn't the right time because of your, well, past. It's hard to believe but it must be true since you're both saying it. But why didn't you tell me about your history with him? I wouldn't have even considered being interested if I'd known, but you never said anything."
"I had no idea you were interested in him in the first place," says Yoongi. "The thing about you not dating wasn't something I made up, Joon. I'd told other people the same thing when they asked me about you. You're kind of a sex-only guy. One night appearances only, and never with friends. You and Hoseok were friends really fast, so I figured that took him out of the running if he'd ever been in it."
"But you had to know," says Namjoon. "You always know."
"I didn't know shit," says Yoongi. "You never said anything about it until that day you asked him to move in with you for real. I'm not a mind reader."
"Oh," says Namjoon, frowning. That's never been his impression of Yoongi, who's second only to Seokjin in his belief in his own omniscience. "I really like him, though."
Yoongi softens at that, leaning forward to pat his hand. "Yeah. Lucky for you the feeling's mutual."
Namjoon blushes again and quickly changes the subject. "So why were you so mad at me? When I said he should move in? What did I do wrong?"
"Nothing," says Yoongi, then shrugs. "Or everything. I don't know. You have to remember that I had no idea that you had any interest in him, and I knew that he had a disgusting crush on you. And that he swore to me that you knew about it. Some kind of drunk confession he made in your foyer."
"He didn't confess anything. That was when I found out he knew that I had feelings for him," says Namjoon. He frowns. "Though I guess he actually didn't know. Huh. I thought for sure he did."
"You're both idiots," says Yoongi. "I'm so tired. Look, the only thing that matters is what he thought, and what he told me. Which was that he was so in love with you that he was basically writing your name inside hearts on scraps of paper, and that you'd let him down gently when you found out. Made it clear he was hot but you were with Seokjin. Or trying to be."
"As if I would have let him come crawling back," yells Seokjin from the kitchen.
"Rich people have no self-control," Yoongi yells back, then focuses on Namjoon. "It made sense to me. You weren't acting any different. And we had that long talk about it at Jungkook's birthday, too, that's what I don't understand. About how you needed to give Hoseok some space to get over you, and that it was okay if you weren't into him even though you thought he was hot. Like me and Tae, right? We were attracted, but not good partners because that something more wasn't there. Like it wasn't… like I thought it wasn't for you with Hoseok. You were surprisingly sad about disappointing him, but I thought you got the message."
"You never said any of that," says Namjoon blankly. "You said I needed to get over him because sometimes things don't work out."
"Whatever," says Yoongi, rolling his eyes. "I should have known better. You had too many Jello shots and co-eds hitting on you to be lucid. But at the time I thought you were going to manage the situation, even though Hoseok looked like Christmas came early when it turned out you weren't actually dating Seokjin."
"He wasn't the only one who was happy," says Namjoon, scrambling for any kind of advantage.
Yoongi glares. "And then you fucking asked him to move in with you like a total dick. Even though you knew he was in love with you and you weren't ever going to really want him, you were going to make him keep pining after you to stroke your ego. It was bad enough you'd suddenly started flirting your ass off at Friday nights with that Hot Professor schtick. I was sure you were going to end up sleeping with him and making things a thousand times worse. God I was so pissed at you. Both of you, but especially you. I'm still pissed!"
"But that wasn't what was happening," protests Namjoon, scooting his chair away in self-defense. "I wasn't flirting! I just liked it when he smiled!"
"I don't care! Who fucking strings someone along like that? Alternate Reality Namjoon is such a douche."
"He's really sorry," says Namjoon, which seems to placate Yoongi, though he keeps muttering vague threats under his breath. "So wait. Does that mean when I asked Hoseok to move in, he wanted to date me?"
"He always has," says Yoongi with steely patience. "Every time you think 'Did Hoseok want to date me?' the answer is yes."
"Even when we -"
"And when the guy -"
"Yep, then too. All the thens there are," says Yoongi. "Every then that's ever then-ed, every moment that even considered existing, every parallel universe you can think of, yes. Three long years of missing the obvious. Congratulations."
Namjoon thinks back across their entire history, each time their eyes met and held, or Hoseok brought his newest boyfriend to meet them, or the shameful nighttime thoughts he'd never dared to remember in the day, and how there'd been a whole band of information underpinning his life that he'd never accessed. His eyes widen as he re-casts each memory in its newer, softer light. "Wow."
Seokjin comes back from the kitchen, dramatic episode over. "Yoongi, I think you might have gone too -"
"I can't do this," says Namjoon, looking back at Yoongi in terror. "Holy shit, I'll never be able to live up to that. Three years! I'm going to disappoint him so much."
"There it is," says Seokjin, holding Yoongi down by the shoulders as he tries to spring out of his chair. "I told you, he's delicate."
Yoongi's face pinches into ultimate annoyance. "Don't you dare do this, Joon. Don't you dare. Just accept it. Accept that you're giant and hot and oblivious and that every person in our friend group has wanted to you to fuck their brains out at some point. Take the win."
Namjoon tries to think about trying to keep up with Jimin in bed, then shuts down immediately in sheer horror.
"You think Hoseok is worth it, right? And it's been just as long. So it's fine," says Yoongi.
"But he's perfect," says Namjoon, confused. "That doesn't count."
Seokjin gives up trying to keep Yoongi seated and lets him pace around the table like an angry tiger, complete with growls. Instead he leans over Namjoon, flicks him on the forehead, and says, "No one is perfect, especially not the two of you, but you couldn't do any better for yourselves now that I'm off the market. You like the way your furniture is arranged now, right?"
"Yes," says Namjoon.
"And if I'm not mistaken he's been living with you, single, longer than he ever dated anyone."
"I guess that's true."
Seokjin spreads his hands in a "what more could you need" gesture. "Plus you're the same age. Sounds like fate to me."
Namjoon frowns, scratching his finger on the table. "But what if I can't be what he wants? As a boyfriend? It took me two months just to figure out how to be a roommate."
"You already are," begins Yoongi impatiently, but Seokjin holds up a hand.
"Joon-ah, just remember this," he says. "You met the love of your life in a single instant, and just like a bonsai it took you both three years to grow one another into the right shapes to hold your feelings. You tended each other diligently, and a bonsai can't disappoint the gardener who tended it."
Namjoon nods slowly as the idea takes root. "Wow, hyung. That makes a lot of sense."
"I'm supernaturally wise," says Seokjin. He pats him on the head a few times, then says, "Yoongi's never going to settle like this. Let's watch Spirited Away. That always tires him out, what with all the crying."
"I don't cry," mutters Yoongi, still making circuits around the room. "I just think corporate pollution is bullshit."
Seokjin smiles and pulls a still-thinking Namjoon up from his seat. "We know, darling. We know."
The two of them stay with him all day as he germinates, trying to trim those final buds of his bonsai to create a self who can successfully be Jung Hoseok's boyfriend. By the time they're ready to eat again he's more or less accepted that Hoseok thinks he could do it, which is so unbelievable he says it out loud a dozen times before Yoongi threatens to smother him with a throw pillow.
During dinner he starts to get worried that Hoseok will return, writing and discarding speeches in his head almost faster than he can register the words, but Yoongi assures him that he won't be home until late, because he's at Jungkook and Taehyung's and they don't allow anyone to leave before they consider them sufficiently socialized. When Namjoon asks why Hoseok is there, Yoongi tells him that it's because Dawon is there, and when Namjoon asks why Dawon is there, he learns that Jungkook, against all odds, spoke enough sentences in a row to entice an overnight guest.
"Though it's probably better when he doesn't speak at all," says Seokjin. "Let that body do the talking, right?"
Yoongi sighs. "A little too obvious. If you want me jealous, try some subtlety."
Namjoon ignores them, as he's been doing all day. "But they were at a totally different party last night. How did they even hook up?"
"You actually think there was another party?" says Yoongi, chopsticks delicately positioned above his noodles. "Seriously? God, I should have tried to swindle you out of all of your money a long time ago, this is embarrassing. They were at your party, hiding, to watch Hoseok's seduction plan in action. They practically planned it for him."
Seokjin refills Yoongi's water. "I told you he wouldn't figure it out."
"He might have," says Yoongi. "Jungkook is a terrible liar."
Namjoon thinks back to the night before, sure that it hadn't happened that way. "They all knew? They were all at the club?"
"Yes," says Yoongi.
"But I didn't see them."
"Because they were hiding," says Yoongi. "They took a lot of pictures, though. I deleted every single one of the thousand they sent me."
"But Dawon asked them if they wanted to go, and they said no!"
Yoongi sighs. "That was the plan. Guilt you into being the only one who could join them, to get you out of your usual isolation chamber. Hoseok wanted to make a move, but he was nervous, so they did a scheme. It's stupid, because they basically manipulated you into doing what you wanted to do anyway, and Jimin is going to be unbelievably smug about the whole thing, but I guess that's the price we pay for loving you dorks so much."
Namjoon looks at him, a sudden warmth in blooming in his chest. "You love me?"
Yoongi's face shuts off as he looks down at his bowl and mumbles something that sounds suspiciously like, "We've been best friends for eight years, dumbass."
Seokjin smiles proudly, then winks at Namjoon, who grins back as he says, "I love you too."
They bully Namjoon into his pajamas before they leave, telling him to sleep because Hoseok's taking Dawon to get on a red-eye to New York and won't be home until late, and shouldn't Namjoon be well-rested for work tomorrow?
He resents their patronizing tones but they're also right, and he has to admit that Yoongi has a knack for getting him to sleep through his own anxiety. So Seokjin cleans up the kitchen to Hoseok-quality at Namjoon's plea while Yoongi strokes his head and sings a few gravelly lullabies. They'd changed Namjoon's sheets at Yoongi's insistence, but other than that the room is just like it was last night, when Hoseok was the one here instead.
"He's really coming back?" asks Namjoon during a pause in the songs.
"He's really coming back," says Yoongi.
"But what should I do when he's here? How do I do this?"
"Just be yourself, Joon," says Yoongi, fingers brushing his eyelids to close them. "Do what you'd always do. Hoseok's always liked you just the way you are."
Namjoon laughs quietly, keeping his eyes obediently shut. "I said the same thing to Jungkook when he asked me what do do with Dawon. I guess it worked for him."
"Listen to yourself, then. Just this once."
Yoongi starts in on his next song, whisper-quiet, and Namjoon doesn't remember falling asleep but he also doesn't remember anything else.
When he wakes up in the morning and heads into the living room for Pilates, Hoseok is waiting for him. He looks exactly the same as he always does, tiny shorts and a big tank top, hair pushed back from his forehead with a bandana, a wide smile on his face as he stretches. He doesn't look like he's mad at Namjoon, or impatient, or any of the things Namjoon had feared. He looks like Hoseok, which is the most fearsome thing of all.
"Good morning," says Hoseok, switching legs. "Did you sleep okay?"
"Yeah," says Namjoon. He takes a deep breath, then notices the bruised skin under Hoseok's eyes, and the sleepy look inside of them. "Hey, you should have slept in. You had a really late night."
"I'll take a nap later," says Hoseok, shrugging before he bounces up onto his feet. "I used to hate mornings, but Pilates with you is my favorite time of day."
Namjoon smiles, more warmth inside his chest, then stops short. "Wait, that first day you said you liked to get an early start."
"I lied," says Hoseok, his head buried protectively against his knee. "I never woke up before eight if I could possibly help it. I just wanted to impress you. But it's really true now. I've never been healthier!"
"Oh," says Namjoon, weighing his options against Hoseok's mild anxiety, then nods. "Sure. Whatever makes you happy."
Hoseok grins and gets in position, and they work through moves until Namjoon's alarm goes off just like always. And when he gets out of the shower Hoseok has his cereal ready, and they talk about their upcoming work days like nothing's changed at all. Namjoon's relieved and guilty, because Hoseok's probably waiting for him to say something, even though Namjoon still doesn't know exactly what he wants to say.
The only new addition to the routine is that Hoseok doesn't just pad after him to the door but buttons up Namjoon's coat for him with his nimble, lovely fingers. He's smiling a soft smile as he does it, achingly beautiful in the pre-morning light, and Namjoon reaches out to tilt his face up when he's done.
"Have a good day, Joonie," says Hoseok like always, eyes clear and sparkling.
"You too," says Namjoon, then leans down and kisses him on the corner of the mouth like another dream.
Hoseok's breath catches, and he watches Namjoon from the crack in their door until the elevator comes, and Namjoon watches him right back until the last possible minute and feels like he's soaring.
"Okay, but are you actually dating?" says Jimin. He steals the pickle from Namjoon's basket, then from Taehyung's, holding one in each hand. "I think that's the real question here."
It's been a week and a half since Hoseok gave him time to figure his mind out, and Namjoon thinks he hasn't been using it very well because his mind is still a tangled ball of yarn being destroyed by a sadistic cat. Yoongi and Seokjin had helped him sort out the past, and the beginning, but he wants more than a beginning with Hoseok. He wants a middle with no end, and he's still sitting on square one like an idiot.
Not that Hoseok seems unhappy with the way things are. That's the one saving grace of the situation, that Hoseok seems totally content to languish in Namjoon's limbo. They do their Pilates in the morning, and Hoseok sees him off with a kiss - that's graduated to a full lips kiss, Namjoon is proud to note - and they text during the day about what they're doing, and when they'll both be home, and what takeout they want and what show to watch. And sometimes Hoseok has dance class, so Namjoon goes by the studio to bring him the food instead, and Hoseok always smiles at him while they eat until Namjoon is quietly devastated, sitting in the stairwell of the dance studio and falling more and more deeply in love.
That's also no different than normal, though. Everything is the same as it's always been when he's around Hoseok, doing things with Hoseok, being filled with the awareness of Hoseok. And in many ways it's the kind of relationship he's always wanted, but he's seen Hoseok with a boyfriend and it doesn't look anything like this. So yes, Hoseok acts happy, but Namjoon can't help but feel like he's failing him every day.
They also haven't had sex again, which haunts him in shameful ways. But Hoseok is still sleeping in his own room, probably smelling just as good as he always does, and Namjoon hasn't earned the right to ask for anything more and Hoseok's never mentioned wanting it even once.
So there's something he's missing, some ladder step he's not finding with the questing foot of his brain, so he'd asked Jimin out to lunch for advice, which meant asking Taehyung out to lunch too. He'd explained everything as best he could, the entire mess of the story, and between the two of them they'd be sure to straighten him out.
"Maybe?" says Namjoon, realizing he'd never answered the question. "I kiss him every morning when I leave for work."
"Just once a day?" says Jimin doubtfully. "Tae kisses me once a day and we're not dating."
Namjoon looks between them, though that's hard to do when they've practically merged into a single creature on their side of the booth, and says, "You're still not?"
Taehyung leans down to bite one of the pickles that Jimin's still holding - Namjoon's - and sighs. "It's true. Our fathers have forbidden it because our countries are at war."
"Oh," says Namjoon, at a loss as Jimin giggles. "That's a shame."
"It's a tragedy," Taehyung corrects, biting the other pickle before Jimin snatches them both out of reach. "But we appreciate you giving us cover by arranging this diplomatic peace treaty lunch. It will fail, because peace between our lands is an unreachable dream, but it's worth it to see each other for just a minute."
"Also because I was a craving a burger like you wouldn't believe," says Jimin. "But this isn't about that. It's about how you get to the next stop on the Hobi Love Train. Personally I think you need to talk to him. He's the one driving it."
"Train Strangers was last night," complains Taehyung. He makes another play for a pickle before Jimin shoves them both in his mouth at once and makes Taehyung's voice rougher. "Do that again."
"Get me more pickles," says Jimin indistinctly before swallowing. "Anyway, talk to Hoseok. That's my advice. Maybe wear your Halloween costume again when you do. That will definitely help."
Namjoon groans. "I can't talk to him. He gave me time to figure this out, which means if I talk to him I have to have being a boyfriend figured out. And I don't have anything figured out."
"He said he wanted to date you," says Jimin. "And you want to date him. So you should, you know, date. I don't see what's so hard about this."
"Seokjin hyung said I'm a bonsai," says Namjoon. "Growing into the right shape. I don't think I'm the right shape yet."
Taehyung squints. "You look okay to me. Human-shaped, mostly. A little scaled-up from the normal size."
"Thanks," says Namjoon, looking down at himself. "Wait, what do you mean mostly?"
"I have a great idea," says Taehyung, totally ignoring him. "Let's play 'what's different?' You're really good at that, and then you'll know what's working."
"Great idea. What's different with you and Hoseok?" says Jimin.
Namjoon tries to think as Jimin gives him an expectant look. "Well, the kiss thing. I didn't do that before."
"Um," says Namjoon, running through the last ten days of his life with trepidation.
It's still mostly the same, if he's being honest, though one memory stands brighter than the rest. On Sunday they'd gone to a state park and hiked a trail, bundled up in fleece and wool among the evergreens. The place had been nearly deserted despite the blue skies, bone-chilled and solemn, though Hoseok was unflaggingly cheerful as he asked Namjoon to tell him the scientific names of all of the trees whether he knew them or not.
By the time they crested their path Hoseok's nose was so red from the unseasonable chill that he'd pulled his scarf up until only his eyes showed, and Namjoon had nearly fainted right at the top of the small hill they'd conquered together. It stopped him from kissing him, though he'd wanted to more than he'd ever wanted anything, and he thinks Hoseok had known it by the way he sparkled. They'd held hands as they took in the view, Hoseok taking their gloves off to increase the grip, and they'd been shivering and perfect in the afternoon light.
"We went hiking," says Namjoon.
Taehyung smiles brilliantly, but Jimin looks less than impressed. "Hiking."
"It was nice," says Namjoon, more definitely. "He suggested it."
"Of course he did," says Jimin, rolling his eyes. "Fine. How's the sex? You didn't talk about that part."
Namjoon frowns. "Well, we only had it that once, but -"
"You're not having sex?" says Jimin, leaning forward onto the table. "You're with Hoseok, and you're not having sex? You're definitely not dating."
"Hey, don't say stuff like that about him," says Namjoon, though truth be told he'd been wondering the same thing in the darkest parts of the night. "Besides, not every relationship has to have sex to be valid."
"Of course it doesn't," says Jimin. "But I know Hoseok. I've danced with Hoseok. I know what he likes, and wanting a relationship with sex is just as valid as the other way around."
Namjoon hangs his head, squeezing his hands together underneath the table.
"Look, Namjoon, hearing your life story has been great and all but I'm just going to say it," says Jimin. "It sounds like you've let the two of you fall into a relationship that's all about you. Hoseok's fucking good at that, living up to the standards of whoever he's dating, but you said you wanted this to last. That you didn't want to be one of those shitty boyfriends we all hated, who made him into their version of a perfect guy. And instead you're doing the exact same thing, putting him into a space in your own life without even asking him, all because you're too scared to have a fucking conversation."
"Did he say that?" says Namjoon. "Did he tell you that?"
Jimin's eyes flash. "He hasn't said anything to me. He hasn't said anything to any of us, but he even if he had why in the hell are you asking me? Talk to him! He's the one who knows all of the answers you're sitting here trying to guess at. I'll take the free lunch, in payment for getting you to that club, but you're not going to get anything useful sitting here. "
Namjoon doesn't know what to say to that, and Jimin cracks his neck ominously. "Okay, let's try this. What do you want? Like, if you could have anything with him, what would it be?"
Namjoon thinks about it, the enormity of the question, the sheer scope of its possibilities. His mind ranges into the night, and the next week, and the next year and the next lifetime, thinking about what a relationship with Jung Hoseok would be like. What it would feel like to build something, not just exist in the same space like a painting.
At their one Friday night they'd sat exactly where they'd always sat, right across the table from each other, and Hoseok had filled all the places in his soul that had been aching and empty without Namjoon even really being aware. He'd been his same bright self but more, because when he couldn't decide on his entree he'd asked Namjoon to pick, and when he'd gotten up to dance he'd begged Namjoon to come with him, and when they walked home that night he'd let Namjoon take the dangerous outside of the sidewalk, to keep him protected from the cars.
They'd done all those things on other nights, in other times, but now they have a weight to them. A new gravity, where actions might mean just as much as words. Namjoon's never thought about dating Hoseok before, not like this. He's always been more focused on the container than the contents, and the only thing that's surprising is how obvious the answer is, once he bothered to ask himself.
"I want to be everything he needs," says Namjoon. "Whatever it is, big or small, tangible or intangible, temporary or permanent - if he needs something from me I want to be it. Today, tomorrow, for as long as we're together. I always want him to know he's safe with me."
Jimin blinks. "Wow, I was thinking more like, sexual positions? How many kids? But that's a good answer, I guess. And wasn't it nice, to have someone fucking ask you? Didn't it make you feel good, to express your thoughts out loud? Have you ever bothered to ask him what he wants? What he actually wants?"
"I can't," whispers Namjoon to the table, thoroughly shamed. "Because what if he says it, and I can't give it to him? What if I've already failed?"
Taehyung rubs his hand on Jimin's back, and Jimin looks suddenly guilty. "The only way you can fail is by trying to have your entire relationship inside your own head," he says. "He liked you before, and he likes you now, and you'll get there. Not everything has to happen all at the same time. But give him the respect he's earned by putting up with you. Stop being so damn selfish."
He turns his head and kisses Taehyung suddenly, hard on the mouth, and Taehyung responds with sweet pleasure, curling into him like smoke through a crack in the door.
"I'm sorry," says Jimin when he pulls away. "I'm sorry I said it wasn't time for us to date yet. It is. We are. I really love you."
"I love you too," says Taehyung. "I always understood. I spent a long time where you are, talking myself out of stuff. But the thing I want with you, if I can have anything, is for you to tell me everything that's on your mind. I can wait forever, as long as I get to know you the whole time."
"What's on my mind is you should kiss me some more," says Jimin, suiting actions to words for long enough that Namjoon starts to wonder if he should just get up and leave.
But eventually they break apart, and Taehyung grins. "Our fathers are going to be so mad. You know this means war. You'll be locked away forever."
"Then you'll just have to kidnap me, won't you?" says Jimin slyly, before he turns back to Namjoon. "See, just do that."
Namjoon blanches. "I'm not doing public roleplay with Hoseok."
Mostly because he wouldn't survive it. Slow, vanilla sex in the privacy of his own home had nearly undone him.
Jimin rolls his eyes. "Not that. I mean, follow your heart or whatever. But apologize to him, next time you see him. Listen to what he tells you, and ask him if he's not saying anything. And stop having Namjoon's Dream Relationship where you don't have to do any of the hard work. Have a messy one, a real one, a lasting one. Hoseok's crazy about you, but no one deserves to hike instead of getting laid."
Namjoon thinks about pointing out that he likes sex, too, but Jimin and Taehyung are already starting to look for imaginary security in the corners of the restaurant and commanding Namjoon to act as distraction as they make their escape.
But before they do, they each give him a sweet kiss on the cheek and a thanks for their lunch, and Namjoon thinks dating looks good on them. Or he does, until he realizes they're going to the bathroom instead of leaving the building, and he pays as quickly as possible and flees the scene before the police get involved.
"We're finally going to watch this British baking show and that's that," says Hoseok later that night. He's wearing a new pair of soft pajamas that he'd raided from Namjoon's drawers, and he looks like heaven on a plate. "I'm sick of not knowing what Yoongi and Seokjin are talking about. But you have to promise me you won't let me eat my weight in baked goods while we do, okay?"
"I'll try," says Namjoon solemnly, and Hoseok laughs as he throws himself into his place at Namjoon's side.
Namjoon tries to watch, but he pays more attention to Hoseok than the show, searching the bright corners of his face, trying to figure out if he's getting the relationship he wants or just living inside of Namjoon's dream. Is he really happy here on a couch with reality TV, just the two of them night after night? Hoseok likes clubs and bars, he likes people and noise, he likes living. Namjoon had never wanted to cage him, even when friendship was their only choice.
"Why do you keep staring at me?" says Hoseok after the first episode, and Namjoon flushes when Hoseok turns and raises an eyebrow. "Do I have something on my face?"
Namjoon reaches up and rubs a thumb across his dimple, the one that's not there now but he'd memorized the place of long ago, and Hoseok makes a pleased sound. And in a different world, one where Namjoon was less of a coward and they were past all the things in their way, this is when he'd lean down and kiss him. Where they'd make love on their couch with a British soundtrack, and Namjoon's mind would go that lovely quiet that Hoseok always gives him.
In this world his hand shakes as he says, "Is this what you want?"
Hoseok's face folds into confusion, another noise escaping him before he sits up and says, "It depends what you mean by 'this.'"
Namjoon gestures around him vaguely, the living room and the TV and his life, which is always about him. "This. A relationship that looks like this. My life. I never asked what you want. I just assumed this would be okay."
"I told you what I want," says Hoseok, so gently. "It's you. I know who you are."
"No, I know," fumbles Namjoon, feeling ridiculous for the way his stomach still flutters just to hear it, then feeling more ridiculous when Hoseok smiles like he knows it. "But you're comfortable in clubs. In places where - that's where you made us work, or not work exactly, but where you started everything because it's your skin, and now you're on a couch in my pajamas every night."
Hoseok's eyes get wider the more he talks, and when Namjoon finally gets to the end of that disastrous sentence he laughs sweetly. "Joonie. I like your couch. I love your pajamas. And I like being here with you. It's comfortable. I don't have to… I can just say things, you know? Anything that's on my mind. I feel like you really want me to be here."
He shrugs, a little embarrassed, though he relaxes when Namjoon makes a distressed sound and tries to hug him. Hoseok lets him, not reciprocating, but allowing himself to be held.
“I’m glad you feel comfortable,” says Namjoon. “I always want you to be. But I don’t want this to be bad for you, or somewhere you get stuck. You don’t have to take me on hikes. You know I like all of you, right? The parts that go out, and the parts with whole city blocks of friends, and the parts that organized my closet by colors in alphabetical order?”
Hoseok snorts beneath him, and Namjoon tries to breathe more slowly. Calmly. He has to say this in the right way.
“I don’t want you to be a Hoseok that works for me, that fits himself into my life. You have to work for you. Even if that means you’re not with me in the end. I can’t be the next guy who makes you unhappy.”
Namjoon’s heart sinks when Hoseok wiggles away, but he stops before he gets too far. His eyes are wide, and deep, and infinitely lovely as they stare across the couch.
“You always make me happy, Joonie,” he says quietly. “Even when I was sure you’d never look at me the way you’re looking at me right now, I was so happy here. Sometimes I do things that I know you’ll like, but that’s just because you get so excited for them. I loved every minute of freezing my ass off on that hike, because you named all the trees. Do you know how fucking cute you are when you’re making friends with a tree?"
It's Namjoon's turn to snort, and Hoseok's mouth turns up at the corners.
"Will I never go to a club again? Of course not. There's Jimin, and my dance team loves to go out, and so does Dawon and plenty of other people I know, and it's fun. You can come with me, or not, and that's okay. You don’t have to do things for me, either. But a lot of the reason I went to clubs, at least in the way you mean, was to find something like this."
To find someone like you, he doesn't say as he touches Namjoon's knee, but it falls into the room anyway.
“And I know I won’t lose myself here,” he adds with more intensity. “Do you remember when I was picking out furniture with Jimin for my room, after you asked me to stay? I was trying to find things that fit, then. I didn’t want you to be mad, and it was just furniture. Daniel asked me to get rid of stuff when I moved in with him, and it was fine. I thought it was fine. I can live with anything.
“But you said I should get what I liked. That this is my home, too, and you meant it. You would always mean it, whether we were dating or not. So I’m not fitting myself into your life. You’re making a space for me, one that’s all mine, and I’ve never felt that way with someone before. I know you still have to figure out how this might work for you, but you should know that it works for me. There’s nowhere I’d rather be than right here, and no one I’d rather be than this.”
So Namjoon does kiss him. He can't do anything else, and Hoseok rises to meet it, finding the core of his need easily as he's always done, even though they've only done this once. Twice, Namjoon guesses, and he doesn't know why he's counting kisses when Hoseok's crawling into his lap, deliberate and dark, wild and tempting. Namjoon wraps both of his arms around him, holds him tight as they share oxygen, as Hoseok shows him with actions what Namjoon can never find the way to express in words.
They surface slowly, like blinking awake from a deep sleep, and Namjoon wets his lips just to taste Hoseok for another moment. When he opens his eyes Hoseok's watching him, serious and soft, and Namjoon feels holy.
"I know there's more to say," says Namjoon. "I'm sorry it's taking me so long."
Hoseok shakes his head, then kisses Namjoon on the forehead. "Whenever you're ready is fine. I really am happy with you, Joonie. I trust you.”
"But are you all the way happy?" says Namjoon. "Is there anything you’re holding back? I want to be able give you everything. I don't want you to hide yourself with me."
Hoseok sighs. He chews on his lip, thinking deeply, and Namjoon stares at him as he does. The sounds of the still-streaming TV should be intrusive, but they're not. They're comforting, and Hoseok is soft and comforting too, here in his lap. Namjoon drinks him in slowly, piece by piece, until Hoseok comes back and blushes at the intensity of his gaze.
"God it feels so good to be seen by you," he whispers, kissing Namjoon on the cheek, then the jaw, then down to the place where his collar meets skin. He stops there, breathing shallowly, his face hidden from view. "I guess there is one thing. I don't want to rush you. I know you have to get everything settled, and you can take all the time you need. But is it okay if we still - "
Namjoon reaches down and pulls Hoseok's shirt off in response, and Hoseok throws his head back and laughs, deep laughs that shake him as Namjoon's hands splay over his skin. There's more light here than last time, enough to take in the moles that dot him like constellations, the firm definition of muscle sitting on his frame, the hair trailing beneath his pants like a promise. That's a promise he wants to fulfill, Namjoon thinks, and he follows the path with his hand until he's gently cupping Hoseok's arousal.
"I really want to blow you," says Namjoon in a daze, then snaps out of it when Hoseok chokes. "I mean, wait. Sorry. What do you want?"
"Well, let me think," says Hoseok, teasing his fingers under the hem of Namjoon's own shirt as he presses Namjoon into the back of the couch. It's not gentle at all, it's powerful and perfect, and the tangled yarn of Namjoon's mind is already unravelling into something simpler. "I guess I really want you to fucking blow me."
Friday night comes around again, and Namjoon and Hoseok only make it a couple of steps inside the bar before Jungkook grabs Namjoon and hauls him into the back room.
"Tell me about Jungs," he says without preamble, crossing his arms.
"What?" says Namjoon.
Jungkook sighs. "You're the Jung-master. The Jung-whisperer. You've had years and I've only had two weeks, so you owe me insights."
"Is this about Dawon Jung?"
"No it's about Jennifer Jung," says Jungkook. "Of course it's about Dawon. It's going to be Christmas in like, six weeks, and that's not enough time to find the perfect gift but we live in a world of rules or whatever. Time rules. So I need your help."
"I only met her two weeks ago," says Namjoon. "You should ask Hoseok what she likes."
"You can't ask a brother what to give a sister as a romantic opening gift, he might totally sabotage you," says Jungkook, like Namjoon is stupid. "Hoseok is pretty cool but you can't trust pretty. By the way, sidebar your honor but why didn't you tell me that he was the guy you were hung up on? I could have gotten you together ages ago with some strategic drink techniques. He gets really handsy on tequila."
Namjoon blinks. "How do you know that?"
"Because I gave him a second margarita once when he asked me even though you guys told me he couldn't handle it, and he squeezed my butt," says Jungkook matter-of-factly. His big eyes get bigger as he rushes to add, "Not in any kind of way, you know. More like a friend squeeze. A 'how's it going' squeeze. Like when you give the extra firm handshake at a job interview, but with a butt."
"Are you okay?" says Namjoon. He peers at him under the fluorescent light of the stockroom, looking for signs of concussion. "You're acting really weird."
"No, I'm acting really me," says Jungkook. "You're getting that raw Kookie now. I think I used to be different around you because I was kind of scared, because of the crush thing, but then I met Dawon and frankly you can't even compete. So yeah. Welcome to this."
He gestures over himself vaguely, then snaps his fingers in Namjoon's face. "Now help me. What should I get her? You don't get out of this room until we figure it out."
Namjoon takes in his expression and the flex of his forearms and believes him with all of his heart. "Well, she's really into fashion. I could ask Hoseok her favorite designer and you could get her something from their line."
"Boring," says Jungkook. "And she gets free stuff all the time. I'm trying to stand out here, Namjoon. She's really amazing. I have to be just as amazing. She lives in LA."
Namjoon racks his brain. "She liked doing your makeup? You could get her -"
He's going to suggest a coupon or something, but Jungkook's face snaps on like a searchlight, all trace of irritation gone. "You're saying I should find out what her nearest show is around Christmas, and fly to it as a surprise, and get all dressed up and pop up backstage so she can do my makeup? That's brilliant."
"That's stalking," says Namjoon, a little terrified. "Plus she'll probably be too busy doing her job to drop everything to entertain you. But you could ask her if she's okay with you coming to support her and offer your face for practice. If she's not too busy. And if she is you can help her out with whatever she needs that night. I bet she'd appreciate having an assistant."
Jungkook nods thoughtfully. "Hm. Yeah. That's better. That's great. I'm so glad you turned me down, this is awesome," he says, punching Namjoon on the arm. "But hey, it worked out for you too, right? Hoseok's like an almost-as-good-Dawon, and he deserves to date a nice guy for once."
"We're not technically dating yet," says Namjoon. He hates saying it, because it's entirely his fault, but he's very conscious of that truth. "Hopefully I'll be ready ask him out soon."
"Soon?" says Jungkook, confused. "I saw the way he was looking at you. That's a face that's in full-boyfriend mode. Hold up. Are you telling me you got a boyfriend without ever asking him out?"
"Um," says Namjoon.
"Jesus, no wonder you're so bad at this," says Jungkook. "You're too hot for your own good. You don't even have to fucking do the work. Get out of here, and I'll start on a margarita."
Jungkook shoves him back out into the bar unceremoniously, and Hoseok gives him a concerned look when he makes it back to the table that Namjoon waves off. "Girl trouble," he says. "He was looking for advice."
"From you?" says Yoongi incredulously. "Hope he's ready for a long, agonizing courtship. Ouch!"
He says the last to Hoseok, rubbing his arm where he'd been viciously pinched.
"Be nice," says Hoseok, grinning at Namjoon. It's a grin that's full of the knowledge that they woke up this morning in Namjoon's bed and never ended up getting around to their Pilates session. "I think he's doing just fine."
Namjoon's head fills with clouds as Hoseok keeps staring at him, even though Jimin is making vomiting noises beside him. "I sort of ordered you a drink," he says, a little goofily, and Hoseok's smile widens. "I hope you like it."
"If you got it for me, I love it," says Hoseok, and now all three of them are gagging, Yoongi heaving theatrically from his chair.
"This was supposed to make things better," he complains to Seokjin. "Why is it worse? Why are they worse?"
Seokjin ruffles his hair, sending it into chaos. "Because they are bad men, Yoongichi. They are very bad men."
"That's right," says Yoongi, mollified. "They're terrible."
"We're wonderful," says Hoseok. He holds up his pinching fingers again, and Yoongi squirms away from him while still holding his drink. "Say we're wonderful!"
"You suck!" says Jimin, shrieking for protection when Hoseok turns on him, and by the time Jungkook makes it out to the table with Hoseok and Namjoon's drinks, Taehyung is fully laying out the rules of combat when dueling for a man's honor, Jimin egging him on indiscriminately.
Jungkook gets roped into the discussion quickly, and Hoseok is laughing like a lunatic as they argue over what constitutes a high strike, and Yoongi is still basically on Seokjin's lap but doesn't seem like he wants to move anytime soon. And Namjoon thinks that this might be everything he'd ever wanted when he started these Friday nights so long ago. All of his people, together, happy and healthy and safe.
Or, almost everything he'd ever wanted. Hoseok's still howling as Taehyung tries to do a spin kick, but his expression brightens when he sees the new glass on the table. "Margaritas!" he says. "My favorite. Thanks Joonie."
He leans over and licks the rim before he tilts back a few swallows, and Namjoon waits until he's done before he says, "Hey Hoseok, do you want to go out with me tomorrow night?"
The rule-making abruptly stops, and Yoongi sits up ramrod straight in Seokjin's lap as a hush falls over the world. The stars halt in their spheres, the planet stops spinning, and all of creation trembles as it waits for what comes next.
All creation except for Hoseok, who simply nods and says, "Sure. Pick you up around 7?"
"I'll make the reservation," says Namjoon, and the cosmos shudder into motion once more. "Wear something nice, I'm going to spoil the hell out of you."
He'd thought his heart might be hammering out of his chest, like it always was when he'd made his grand plans, but he's oddly calm now. His whole life is a perfect moment these days, he doesn't need to create them, and maybe Jungkook was right that he didn't need to ask but he wanted to anyway. He wanted to because Hoseok's cheeks are flushed with pleasure and the first hints of tequila, and because this moment is a memory he's been trying to make for years, and because he finally feels the click of life settling into place, the dream and the reality merging together into a single whole.
His universe is full of Jung Hoseok, and that's a universe worth asking for even if it was already his.
"That can't be it," says Yoongi. "After all of this. After everything we've been through, after everything I've been through, it can't be that easy."
"It is," says Namjoon, reaching across the table and taking Hoseok's waiting hand. Hoseok's fingers thread through his, sweet and strong, and he smiles. "It really is. But hey. Before our first date, I want to buy you a bonsai. Is that okay?"
Hoseok sighs happily, his eyes a little wet with tears. He's so beautiful, Namjoon thinks again, like he thinks every minute of every day. He can't wait to tell him later, when they slip back into their shared home and their shared bed and their shared life, for as long as Hoseok will let him speak.
"Always the right thing," says Hoseok, and that's how the story begins.