Chapter 1: Philosophy Friday
Namjoon hangs a sign over their usual table that reads Philosophy Friday and Hoseok draws a penis on it.
He cackles when Namjoon shakes his head, then smiles his big Hoseok smile and says, "Just wanted to make my own philosophy clear."
"Your dick philosophy," says Namjoon dryly.
"The only philosophy that matters," says Hoseok.
He turns around to get a high five from Jimin, who's already giggling as he divests himself of his military-style peacoat, a thrift store find he won't stop bragging about. "Can I get a hey-o?"
"No, but you can get me a drink," says Yoongi, bringing up the rear. "A double, skip the ice."
Hoseok gives him finger guns and complies, weaving his way through the room with graceful ease. Namjoon doesn't watch him, but he can track his progress by the way people move out of his way, followed by a delighted "Jungkookie!" rising above the background noise when he gets to the bar. But the tracking's more reflex than anything and secondary to his examination of Yoongi, who looks absolutely terrible.
Admittedly that's a specialist's opinion, someone with a deep understanding of all things Min. Someone who knows that when Yoongi wears hoops instead of dangling earrings he's feeling overburdened, that when he refuses to allow even a hint of color into his wardrobe he wants to be invisible, and that when he leaves his coat on it means he's going to have one drink and go home to sulk alone. But Namjoon also knows that Yoongi always ends up enjoying himself if he sticks around so he says, "Rich guy still annoying you?"
"I don't want to talk about it," says Yoongi, his usual prelude to a monologue, and Jimin sighs and gets out his phone. "But he sucks. He sucks so bad, and if rich people didn't get their own police squads I would kill him and leave him in his stupid garden so that the worms could put him in the Circle of Life. Which is all I can think about because you know what his test is for the sound system this week? That fucking Lion King song. I'm installing speakers all over his rich guy house so he can blast Zulu to any room and hold up twenty five thousand dollar sculptures like they're lion cubs. Eat the rich, Namjoon. Eat the rich."
"Amen brother," says Hoseok, plunking down four drinks on the table with the ease of long practice. "Their asses taste great."
Yoongi doesn't bother to respond to that, taking his double whiskey in hand immediately. "I'm a fucking artist. I can identify an instrument in a mix in a second. I am in high demand, and this guy just wants Disney tracks piped into his shower for a sing-a-long."
"But you're getting paid well, right?" asks Jimin. "I wish I got paid well."
"Not enough," says Yoongi, glowering into his glass. "He's started with music jokes."
Hoseok stops messing with the straw in his gin and tonic and sits up straight on his stool. "I'm so ready for this."
"What do you get when you drop a piano into a mine?" asks Yoongi, in the tones of a man giving a eulogy. When they all look at each other and shrug, Yoongi takes a long drink. "A flat minor."
Hoseok and Jimin explode in giggles while Namjoon tries valiantly to keep his face straight. He's not sure he's succeeding by the way Yoongi's pouting. "Sorry. That's terrible."
"I know," says Yoongi. "The guys at the store promised this would only take two weeks and it's been a month already. He doesn't even care! Just keeps paying us more and more to do this stupid shit."
"I think you're jealous," says Jimin mildly, grinning at Namjoon when he kicks him under the table. "You want to be rich."
Yoongi inflates to twice his size through the trick of straightening his spine for once in his life. "Of course I want to be rich. Everyone wants to be rich, Park Jimin. And if I were rich I would be better at it than this guy. His house is like some kind of art warehouse, if art warehouses had more collectibles. But I'm not jealous. Just burning with the injustice of the world."
"Well of course you're burning, you're still wearing your coat," says Hoseok, hopping down and tugging at the buttons with efficient fingers. "Come on, off off off."
He says the last like an elementary school teacher coaxing a tiny child into doing something they don't want to do, but because he's Hoseok Yoongi still does it, grumbling the whole time. Hoseok winks at Namjoon when they're done, which Namjoon is almost immune to after three years, and Namjoon mouths his thanks.
The others keep arguing about the merits of piles of money, but now that Yoongi's in no danger of bolting Namjoon looks over the bar more attentively. He likes what he sees, a hit of joy that hasn't faded over the weeks. It's cozy and woody, with lots of natural light for Namjoon, clean lines for Hoseok, a good selection for Yoongi, and a young clientele for Jimin. It had taken Namjoon a long time to find a place with all of the requirements in this part of Seattle, close enough for all of them to get to and quiet and unique to boot, but they'd finally found it and now their formerly nomadic group has a regular hang out.
Namjoon likes the idea of that, too, a regular hang out, a place where he can go every week and see friends. The romantic certainty of Their Place, especially if it's a place with nice woods and good smells and framed abstract paintings all over the wall. Those are what he studies now, looking over them carefully while he sips his beer and thinks again that they'd chosen well.
The other reason they'd chosen it materializes in a cloud of smiles. "Good evening," says Taehyung, smiling even bigger when he sees their sign. He's gorgeous, and he knows it, and everyone sits up a little straighter under his gaze. "How is my hottest table doing tonight?"
"I bet you say that to all of your customers," says Jimin, batting his eyes.
"Yep, but with you guys I mean it," says Taehyung. His smile vanishes as he takes in their drinks. "Hoseok, are you trying to put me out of a job again?"
"Yoongi is always so thirsty when he gets here," says Hoseok with special innocence, and Yoongi coughs, then glares to cover his embarrassment. "Plus he wants to destroy the proletariat tonight so he needs fuel. Or the plebeians. Which ones are the rich ones?"
"Neither," says Namjoon. "Rich people don't really have a word."
"Down with the establishment," says Taehyung, pumping his fist in the air, and Namjoon laughs. Taehyung looks at him sharply and adds, "So did you find it? Your appetizer hinges on this, you know."
"I just sat down a few minutes ago," protests Namjoon, but he's just showing off now.
Taehyung grins and gets a little closer, leaning in to distraction flirt, like that will work on Namjoon when Jung Hoseok is already using up all of the available oxygen in the room. But Taehyung doesn't know that, because no one knows that, and Namjoon likes that they get to play this game every week.
"Clock's ticking," says Taehyung, tapping at his bare wrist as he quirks an eyebrow. He never wears a watch while he works, though his tan line means he has one, and Namjoon's never figured out why. "Impress me."
"That one," says Namjoon, pointing to a kaleidoscope of colored smears wandering in every direction until they wander out of the frame, like a captured piece of an alien landscape that only the imagination can complete. "It's turned 90 degrees to the right."
"Color me impressed," says Taehyung. He laughs as he moves to the wall and adjusts the painting back into its right place. "You're like Sherlock Holmes or something."
Jimin snorts. "He wore two different shoes yesterday and had to teach all of his classes like a less-fashionable clown. He didn't even notice until I told him. At lunch."
Hoseok cracks up, and Namjoon flushes even as he smiles ruefully. "I'm only Sherlock Holmes when there are flautas on the line."
"Got it," says Taehyung, writing it down on his imaginary pad. He's got an even better memory than Namjoon, and he never forgets an order. "What do the rest of you guys want?"
"Your phone number," says Jimin, like he does every visit.
"Maybe next time," says Taehyung with a happy smile, also familiar. "For now, how about something with calories?"
They get their usuals, Hoseok something full of fiber, Namjoon something vegetarian, Yoongi as much meat as he can handle, and Jimin a salad because he's going to be stealing the rest of their food all night. They catch up on their weeks as they wait, and Hoseok is in the middle of a story about his latest love of his life, Daniel, when Taehyung deposits the food and another round of drinks at their table.
"You really are the perfect man," says Hoseok, grabbing his dripping sandwich happily. "Kim Taehyung, please marry me. My mother would love for me to bring home a nice Korean boy for once."
Namjoon busies himself with his mac and cheese, then takes a long drink of beer to not look at Hoseok. He's used to this too, he reminds himself. The first time Yoongi had brought Hoseok around, a burst of sunshine across the grey sky of his life, Namjoon had hardly been able to speak in the face of him. Luckily it had been a party, a raucous gathering of just-graduated professionals drunk on steady paychecks and only moderately cheap booze, so no one had noticed his enchantment. And Hoseok kept being there somehow, falling into their unofficial Korean club with hardly a stutter, and now Namjoon is entirely used to the way he flirts with everyone but him.
"But if we got married you could never come back here," says Taehyung. "You know I don't date my customers."
Namjoon watches Yoongi and Jimin sigh in unison, fighting a grin, but that grin falls away when Hoseok says, "So I'm moving in with Daniel tomorrow. You guys up for carrying some boxes?"
They all turn to stare, including Taehyung who'd been about to move to the next table, and Hoseok's cupid's bow flexes in exaggerated surprise. "What?"
"Back up thirty steps," says Yoongi. "You're moving in with someone?"
"Not someone," says Hoseok, his voice unexpectedly snappish. "My boyfriend."
Yoongi, if anything, gets sharper. "That's worse. Didn't you once break up with a guy because he suggested that you combine suitcases on a trip to save baggage fees?"
"That was about hygiene -"
"And," continues Yoongi, relentless, "in high school when that guy on your soccer team said he loved you, didn't you switch to tennis the next day? Even though you were very out?"
Hoseok's nose flares. "I was young -"
Yoongi barely seems to hear him. "Your last boyfriend surprised you with a three-month anniversary dinner and you told him you were moving to Guam. You've been dating this Daniel guy for what? Two months?"
"Not that it matters what you think," says Hoseok, all traces of sun gone from his face, "but I love Daniel, and he's great, and he has a nice apartment so when my landlord said we didn't have a lease to go back to he offered it right away. Because he loves me too. So suck on that."
An unimpressed grimace settles on Yoongi's face. "All I'm saying is don't come crying to me a month from now when he wants to merge your sock drawers and you freak out about the life-altering implications of toe intimacy."
Hoseok's mouth drops open, the cords in his neck far too prominent, and before he knows he's going to Namjoon says, "I'll help you move."
He tries not to shrink as Taehyung's head whips to him from where it was bouncing between Hoseok and Yoongi like a spectator at a tennis match. Jimin laughs almost too quietly to hear, and Namjoon smiles lamely through the heat on his face. "You have to buy me pizza though. That's the only acceptable currency for this type of transaction."
Hoseok's mouth closes again, his breathing steadying back into a regular rhythm, and his lips turn up very slightly. Namjoon's breath catches when the smile solidifies, and turns tender, and makes Namjoon feel unique in the universe once more.
"Thanks, Joonie," he says, and Namjoon will do anything for him if it means he gets his name like that, in a soft voice like bells. He'll move him into a thousand apartments, or officiate his wedding, or walk into the ocean and drown if he can just get that, and the part of his brain that monitors these things knows he's a fool but the endorphins crowd it out. "Be at my place at ten? Is that too early?"
Namjoon shakes his head, and Jimin says he'll be there too in an overly cheerful voice, and Yoongi doesn't say anything at all as he finishes his drink. Taehyung offers a celebratory brownie, then practically sprints away from the table to escape them.
"Jimin, come dance with me," says Hoseok, because he'd declared the open space at the back of the bar the dance floor the first night they got here and he's so good that no one's corrected him. He hops off the stool and holds out his hand imperiously, and Jimin cuts a look at Yoongi before he complies.
They wander off, though no people who move like they do can ever be considered simply wandering, and they're almost immediately followed by a half a dozen other patrons because that's what happens when Jimin and Hoseok dance. Yoongi doesn't say anything for a long moment, then shakes his head. "I guess people are going to do whatever stupid things they want, huh?"
It should be a question but it isn't, and Namjoon shrugs. "It's hard to know where to spend your energy sometimes. But not everything is stupid just because it's not what you would do."
Yoongi laughs so hard he nearly chokes, and Namjoon watches with fond amusement as he hacks breath back into his lungs. It's never clear what Yoongi's going to find hilarious, but it's always nice when it happens.
When he's finally settled back into his usual form his eyes carry the ghost of crinkles around them as he says, "I would never hold myself up as the gold standard for good decision-making. I think daily about stealing all of that rich guy's shit, selling it, and fleeing to Korea to start my new life."
"But you don't do it," says Namjoon. "Intentions aren't actions."
Yoongi waves at the sign over their table vaguely. "Yes, yes, philosophical discussions are being had, good work. Someday we'll all be intellectual like you."
Namjoon frowns into his macaroni and cheese, and he's startled when Yoongi adds, "Sorry."
Because apologizing isn't one of Yoongi's strong suits, especially for things he wouldn't feel bad about, Namjoon almost feels his forehead to see if he's sick. "It's fine," he says instead. "Philosophy is a discipline, not a lifestyle."
"Not for that," says Yoongi, rolling his eyes. "For, you know."
And Namjoon goes so cold he thinks maybe he's the one who's sick, because this is a line that they don't cross. He and Yoongi have been friends for a long time, since college, since they'd been dorm neighbors with a shared hatred for their roommates that bonded them into an unbreakable unit. Yoongi was a spiky workaholic and Namjoon was a dreamy workaholic, and somehow that had sustained them for years.
Because they don't talk about anything personal.
They talk all the time about everything else - their tastes in music, their dissatisfaction with the campus vegan options even though neither of them were vegan, the things they remembered from their trips back home and the decadence of taking naps they shouldn't be taking. All of these things were in bounds and omnipresent, and Namjoon has spoken more words to Yoongi than maybe anyone in his life except his family.
But they don't talk about their inner landscapes. And they especially, especially don't talk about the way Namjoon feels about Hoseok. Yoongi's never acknowledged it even a single time, just like Namjoon never mentions the way Yoongi feels about Taehyung, and it's this balanced charge of electrons that keeps their atom spinning correctly. If they're about to ionize, Namjoon needs another drink.
"I don't know what you mean," says Namjoon with too much force.
Yoongi looks at him, a little embarrassed. "For the crack about eating the rich. That wasn't for you."
"Oh," says Namjoon, his heart settling back into its normal rhythm. That's good. That's fine. "I didn't think it was. And even if it was, I don't care."
And Yoongi smiles and goes back to watching Hoseok dance with slightly narrowed eyes, and Namjoon's trembling with the relief of a dodged bullet. His parents have money, and no one knows it but Yoongi because it's embarrassing in ways he doesn't like to examine. But it's impossible to think something that small would bother Namjoon here, when Hoseok's body is moving like it does. When he's laughing like that, and has so many people around him watching him do it, and Namjoon can't help but watch, too, even though it hurts.
A slap of hands on the table brings him back to himself with a violent start, and he sweeps an empty glass over the side in his surprise. Those same hands dart out to catch it, snatching it out of the air with impossible grace, and Jungkook's face lights up in a pleased grin when he deposits it back on the high-top. "I hear someone needs help moving."
"Hoseok needs help with way more than that," says Yoongi. "How's it going, kid?"
"Great," says Jungkook. "When's the moving happening?"
Namjoon chuckles, and Jungkook looks at him with his eyes that are almost too big to be believed. Namjoon's still not entirely convinced he's old enough to be a bartender, but the one and only time he'd brought it up Jungkook had tried to put him in a half-Nelson and that was one time too many.
"Jungkookie!" says Jimin, materializing in a cloud of sweat to jump on his back and cling. "You came out here tonight! You never come out to see us."
Jungkook shifts easily to take the weight, bouncing Jimin up higher. "I do so."
"Do not," says Jimin.
Jungkook opens his mouth and starts to twist around, and Namjoon hurriedly says, "Jungkook came over to see if we need help moving Hoseok."
"That's nice of you," says Hoseok, suddenly there and sweaty as well. A few drops roll down his neck, tracing the line of his clavicle like a trail of kisses, and Namjoon looks away. "But I think we'll be okay. I don't have that much stuff, just a few big things I can't lift myself."
"Oh," says Jungkook, his mouth moving into the suggestion of a pout. "Fine. But I'm really strong."
He drops his hold on Jimin's legs and flexes his biceps inside his huge sleeves, staring at them all aggressively. "Very strong," he adds, finishing his circle of intimidation with a glare at Namjoon, who nods helplessly. Jungkook doesn't stop, lifting his arms higher, clearly waiting for something.
Hoseok giggles, and so does Jimin, and Namjoon looks at Yoongi to see if he knows how to get them out of this. But Yoongi only blinks, so Namjoon reaches out and pats Jungkook's bicep gently. "Yep, very strong. You could move all of us without breaking a sweat."
Jungkook's glare melts into a happy smile as he finally puts the guns away and looks around. He stares at the sign over their table, then says suspiciously, "Is that a dick?"
"Oh my god," says Hoseok, gasping. "Joonie, you can't just go around putting dick signs up wherever you want. This is a family establishment!"
"It's a bar," says Yoongi as Namjoon tries to shut Hoseok up, and the bickering begins with hardly a pause.
By the time Jungkook has to go back to work, throwing a napkin on the table with his phone number on it, "for anyone who might need it," before he goes, there are three more penises and a lot of boobs on the Philosophy sign, and Namjoon thinks that there's nothing nicer in the world than this.
Chapter 2: Moving In
Namjoon gets to the packed bar exactly twenty-two minutes after the emergency text calling for a council meeting (Yoongi) and some mimosas (Jimin). They've never been to Their Place during the day before, and he wonders if they'll even be able to get a table before he spots the three of them already at a high-top in the corner, deep in discussion.
"Thank god, we can stop fucking fighting now," says Yoongi loudly when he spots him, waving him over with so much enthusiasm that Namjoon turns around to see if Taehyung is there.
But it's just him, so he weaves his way through the Sunday brunch crowd with muted apologies every time his limbs end up in a place he doesn't expect, usually a place where someone else is. Jimin snickers at him the whole time from behind his sunglasses, and Namjoon would usually make fun of his obvious hangover but he's too busy looking at Hoseok, who seems irritated and just a little miserable. The hunch of his shoulders is almost embarrassed, and Namjoon's not sure he's ever seen Hoseok visibly embarrassed.
"He's going to be fine with it," says Yoongi.
"Who's going to be fine with what?" asks Namjoon as he takes his seat. "What's going on?"
"Nothing," says Hoseok at the same time Yoongi says, "Your cousin's still in Brazil, right?"
"Yes?" says Namjoon. He looks between both of them, bewildered, and Jimin presses a drink into his hand the color of sunsets over the ocean.
The fumes sting his nose when he goes to take a drink, and he frowns at Jimin over the rim.
"You're going to need it," says Jimin, shrugging, then drains his own and grabs another from the middle of the table.
"See, it's fine," says Yoongi, ignoring them. "He's in Brazil, so Namjoon can -"
"It's not about that," says Hoseok. "Who asked you to do anything anyway?"
Yoongi laughs, but it's not a funny noise. "You did. Last night, when you called? And you were crying? Don't get all precious now."
"You were crying?" asks Namjoon. "Are you okay?"
"Yes," says Hoseok, warring once more with Yoongi's firm, "No."
"I'm confused," says Namjoon, and Jimin snorts as he lays his forehead gently on the table.
They're all silent for a minute as they study each other. Yoongi's clearly waiting, and Namjoon's still lost, and Jimin is apparently taking a nap. But Hoseok's tight like a bowstring in his seat, and Namjoon would reach out and touch his hand if he could. If Namjoon were a different kind of person, maybe, the kind who touched hands instead of what he does, which is start making a mental list of things that could be wrong in order of probability, then finding solutions to them.
He's just made it to the serial killer section of his mind when Hoseok finally sighs. "This is stupid," he says to the grainy wood of the table.
And Namjoon watches Hoseok's face transform like a stop-motion video, features twitching into happiness independently, coalescing into a unified whole. His eyebrows draw up and wide, his eyes flatten into pretty crescents, and his head tilts back until his mouth is stretched out into his usual smile, so real that Namjoon's smiling back before he knows he's going to. Joy radiates out of his every line, confident and blinding, and he drops Namjoon a wink as he picks up the last mimosa glass.
"Everything's great, Joonie," he says, voice high and clear and impenetrable. "I'm glad you could make it to brunch. Do you want food? I'll go find a waiter. No Tae today, so I'm going to have to seduce someone for good service all over again! Be right back."
He downs his drink and bounces to the ground, gone before Namjoon can say anything then reappearing before his sunshine has faded.
"Come on, Yoongi," he adds, still smiling but with steel in his voice, and Yoongi yelps when Hoseok tugs him into the crowd without another word.
"Ah, peace at last," says Jimin, sighing happily without raising his head.
"What in the hell is going on today?" asks Namjoon.
Jimin frowns. "I said peace at last."
"You're telling me you have hot gossip and you're not going to share it?" says Namjoon, striking at the only weakness he knows, but Jimin frowns harder and Namjoon drops it. "Are you okay? I've never seen you look this terrible."
"Gee, thanks," says Jimin, but there's no sting to it. "Just a shitty date last night. A million shitty dates with a million shitty guys, and getting drunk is the only solution."
"Or you could go out with not shitty guys."
"Good one," says Jimin. He sits up, pushing his sunglasses onto his head, and fixes Namjoon with a bleary stare. "Do you want to go out with me?"
"Ah," says Namjoon, freezing. He looks at Jimin, who's very pretty even hungover, and a good friend he cherishes with all his heart, and terrifying at all times. Jimin's dates are more like cage matches, battles where only the strongest survive, and Namjoon knows better than to think he'd emerge alive. But Jimin also looks sad right now, too sad, which makes Namjoon end up at, "Sure?"
Jimin bursts out laughing at whatever he sees on his face. "Wow, I love the enthusiasm."
"No, I mean it," says Namjoon more firmly. "When? Tonight? Or this could be the date right now. We're on date. Welcome to the date. You look gorgeous."
"You just said I look terrible," says Jimin, sounding very amused.
"For you! For your standards. For everyone else's you look great."
Jimin's sadness is gone beneath his new smile, not like Hoseok's slowly constructed thing but something entirely merry. "You're a good guy, Kim Namjoon. And I will reward that goodness by not making you go on a date with me."
"You wouldn't be making me," says Namjoon.
The grin goes nowhere as Jimin puts his sunglasses back down and pats Namjoon on the cheek with too much force. "Such a pure soul. Hoseok and his boyfriend broke up."
"That's the gossip," says Jimin. He pulls out his phone and starts arranging his hair, looking critically at the light behind him before scooting his stool around. "Hoseok doesn't have a boyfriend, which means he doesn't have a place to live, which means Yoongi spilled the beans about your empty second bedroom because your cousin is out of the country indefinitely. Which means you and I are going to have a talk about why you didn't offer it to me as a refuge when I was complaining about my roommates and their retro ska band practices, but we'll save that for another time."
Namjoon looks at the quirk in the corner of Jimin's mouth and starts calculating the number of penance coffees he's going to have to buy during their shared office hours - the height indicates at least a month's worth - and decides it's probably fair. That ska band had been a nightmare.
"Anyway, Yoongi offered your place to Hoseok because he knows you won't care, but Hoseok doesn't want to impose and we've had a very long, very stupid fight about it. So please just offer Hoseok the bedroom when he gets back so we can all get back to talking about more important things, like me."
"Oh," says Namjoon.
Jimin stops in the middle of his selfie pose and raises an eyebrow. "Wait, would you actually mind?"
"No!" says Namjoon as quickly as he can.
Because that would be terrible of him, if he minded. If he refused to help a friend who needed him just because that friend is the hottest guy he knows, and distracting, and will probably be naked at certain points in their cohabitation assuming he showers. If he let his heart race and his stomach clench at the thought of seeing Hoseok every day, the joy of his company and the pain of being reminded how beyond out of his league he is. It would be terrible if Namjoon let his feelings get in the way of his head and his ethics and the purity of his soul. He has space, and there's a need, and so he can't possibly mind.
Namjoon determinedly doesn't think about the number of people Hoseok might sleep with during his stay. Definitely more than zero because for as long as he's known him Hoseok has never once been single, and Namjoon should know because he'd thought about asking him out a dozen times in those early months of acquaintance. He'd made little plans, and bought bunches of flowers and walked through conversations in his mind, romantic and funny and pathetic and everything in between, looking for that perfect moment to stretch out his hand to touch his hopes and dreams.
But every time he'd thought he'd found it, the times when the light had hit Hoseok just right on an afternoon walk or a rainstorm had forced them under a single ragged umbrella or Hoseok had smiled at him, big and beautiful and so lovely that the world held its breath, Hoseok was already out of reach.
It was almost funny, the way it never worked out, and eventually Namjoon realized it was meant to be funny, a cosmic joke that the universe was playing on him, so he determined to laugh along with it instead of being made a fool. He packed away his plans and his flowers and his dreams and now he lives this way, caught on the edge of wanting without ever getting close.
Hoseok will be seeing someone again in a few days, if the pattern holds, and Namjoon prays that his apartment has built up some kind of anti-sex energy after his long abstinence or he's going to have to move.
"Of course I don't mind," says Namjoon, because Jimin is still staring at him suspiciously. "I'll just have to clean. You know."
Jimin's face says he doesn't know anything of the sort, but just as he's shifting into interrogation mode Hoseok and Yoongi finally come back with plates and another batch of mimosas.
"Jungkook says hi, and the chef gave us free food," says Hoseok. "Someone sent it back because they have a soy allergy, but it's fine. Dig in."
Yoongi and Jimin take him at his word and start stuffing their faces, making little sounds of appreciation as they do. Jimin shoots Hoseok a thumbs up with his cheeks puffed out like a squirrel, and Hoseok grins as he grabs his own fork.
"He said I'm welcome back there any time," he adds with a wiggle of his eyebrows and knowing expression on his face, and Namjoon supposes he won't even have to wait a few days for the cosmic joke to start up again. It's still funny, he supposes. To someone.
It would be easy to let the moment pass without comment, to let the conversation drift away from this uncomfortable thing until it never comes back. But the memories of Jimin's suspicious eyes and Hoseok's slumped shoulders and Yoongi's certainty that Namjoon would do the right thing crashes against the cracks in his heart, and he sighs so quietly that no one hears him.
"Hey, Hoseok, you should come stay with me," he says, causing a brief pause in the chewing as everyone looks at him. "You need a place, right? I have an extra bedroom, as long as you don't want to decorate it or anything. Your furniture should fit. So yeah. I'll get you a key. Whenever you need it."
"See, I told you," says Yoongi triumphantly, but no one's listening to him because Namjoon is aching and Hoseok is staring at Jimin in betrayal and Jimin is conveying with his entire unconcerned being that he's the scorpion to Hoseok's frog, so Hoseok should have known better.
Eventually Hoseok flicks Jimin on the nose, and Jimin shrugs and goes back to eating, and Hoseok flicks him again, harder. But he doesn't look mad when he looks at Namjoon, just uncertain. "Are you sure?"
"Of course," says Namjoon, stretching his smile as wide as it will go. "Can't leave a friend hanging."
Whatever he sees there must satisfy him, because Hoseok relaxes into his seat. "Thanks Joonie. You won't even know I'm there! I'm a really great roommate, you can ask anyone. It'll be so much fun!"
Namjoon keeps smiling. "Yeah. So much fun."
Hoseok moves in the next Saturday, Jimin and Yoongi helping out much more gleefully than the last time they all did this. The reason for Yoongi's glee is obvious, but when Namjoon asks Jimin why he's so happy to be lugging desks and boxes of clothes around on a weekend he says, "Because I finally get to see where you live! We've been friends for a year and I didn't even know if you lived in the city you're so secretive. You're like the Unibomber or something, and I'm the investigative journalist blowing the lid off this mystery."
"I've been to his place plenty of times," says Yoongi, deliberately casual and not even looking at them from behind the wheel of his work-borrowed truck. "Guess some people are just more special than other people."
Jimin gasps. "Namjoon, tell him I'm the most special."
"You're the most special," says Namjoon, but he knows it won't matter, and Jimin and Yoongi snipe at each other the entire rest of the way to the cold high-rise of Hoseok's ex-boyfriend. Daniel isn't there when they make the trek up the elevator, which is a relief, and Hoseok doesn't offer any information as to his whereabouts, which is even more of a relief.
Instead they pile the big furniture and boxes on the dollies that Yoongi mysteriously owns, though to hear him tell it everyone should own a few wheeled dollies and if they don't they're failures on a galactic level. Hoseok has his clothes in already suitcases and a few giant duffels that Jimin bodies up to his shoulder without any apparent effort. They're efficient enough to only need a few trips, though Namjoon frowns at the final load as they're muscling it onto the elevator.
"I thought there was more, last time," he says.
Hoseok scratches at his arm, which is steadying an IKEA desk as they descend. "I sold some things after I moved in. They didn't really fit."
Namjoon thinks back to the sterile expanse of black leather and metallic accents they'd just left behind, the space that hadn't suited Hoseok's patterns even when they'd moved him in three months ago, but he doesn't say anything.
"Of course they didn't, you're not a robot from the planet Tech Start-up," says Yoongi, and Jimin laughs his agreement.
But Hoseok doesn't laugh. "Don't," he says quietly, and the doors open before the air can thicken into awkwardness.
Namjoon takes a seat in the truck bed on the way back to his place, arguing that he's the biggest and most unwieldy, but it's really to not be so close to Hoseok. Hoseok, who's wearing a tank top with the arms cut down to his sides, who's got a lot more skin on him than Namjoon had been anticipating when he'd prepared for this day, who's so effortlessly gorgeous even when he's a little sad. Who's going to be living with him. With him, Kim Namjoon, and that terror had been enough to keep him awake nearly the whole night in anxiety, rearranging his place for the hundredth time to keep himself occupied.
All of his embarrassing stuff is now deep in his closet, a surprising amount of embarrassing stuff really. He's lived alone for nearly a year, and he hasn't had anyone but Yoongi and his family over in even longer than that, so he's gotten used to leaving whatever he wanted wherever he wanted to.
But no more. Gone are the pulp fiction books that didn't befit a serious-minded professor, the figurines that littered his shelves, the outgrown cartoon character loungewear that's comfortable but a little silly. Gone are the sugary snacks and junk food that were his usual late-night staples, because a guy who looks like Hoseok obviously treats his body like a temple. Namjoon has fully transitioned his apartment into an adult space, and everything is exactly ready to impress.
Though when Hoseok's lifting his belongings back to the ground, muscles rippling in the morning sun, Namjoon's glad he'd put the porn under his mattress. He's going to need that to stay a little closer than the back of his closet if he's going to survive this process, even if it makes him feel like he's fourteen again, hiding dirty magazines from his mom.
Yoongi laughs when he gets inside, eyes crinkled in genuine amusement at the changes, but Jimin and Hoseok are too caught up to notice Yoongi's uncharacteristic joy. Jimin immediately vanishes into the hallway before Namjoon can stop him while Hoseok takes in the common space with wide eyes. Namjoon looks at it too, gaze tired but critical, and he thinks it will do. It's full of reclaimed woods and natural fibers, lit by big floor-to-ceiling windows that he's on a floor just high enough to leave open to the world most of the time. Everything harmonious, everything adult, everything expensive thanks to his parents' interior decorator.
Namjoon hopes Hoseok doesn't pick up on that last part.
"It's so pretty," says Hoseok, looking pleased for the first time that day, and Namjoon relaxes the shoulders he hadn't even realized were tense. "And mature! It suits you. Oh my god, Joonie, you have a tree!"
And he does, a little bonsai he's been taking care of diligently, and Hoseok bounds over and starts talking to it happily, using a high-pitched voice more suited for dogs than plants. But Namjoon doesn't mind, signaling Yoongi to push the dollies to the front bedroom with him, trying to be as quiet as possible to let Hoseok have his moment. To his surprise, Yoongi follows without complaining, though the reason why becomes clear when they get past the safety of the door.
"Where's all your shit?" he asks, stacking boxes next to the duffel bags Jimin had gracelessly dropped on the floor. "Did you finally sell your weird dolls?"
"They're not dolls," says Namjoon. "And no. I just cleared some space for Hoseok to put some things up, if he wants. It shouldn't be all my stuff. He lives here now too."
"Uh huh," says Yoongi, still grinning. "That's why your leather-bound poetry collections have suddenly migrated out to your living room while the Stephen King is nowhere to be found?"
He'd hoped Yoongi wouldn't notice that, but he rallies as best he can. "Hoseok doesn't like scary things."
"I can't believe I'm friends with you sometimes," says Yoongi, but it's loving, and Namjoon kicks at him before they lever the desk into the place he'd cleared on the wall. "Thanks for doing this. I know I made you."
"You didn't make me," says Namjoon, surprised. "It's for Hoseok. You'd do the same thing if you had the space. For any of us."
Yoongi claps him on the back wordlessly, and Hoseok appears in the doorway with an annoyed expression. "You guys, this is my stuff. I should be doing the work."
"No such thing as work when it comes to friends," says Yoongi, shrugging. "You can do the next load. And unpack it later, too. But you promised burgers, and I don't have one waiting for me as far as I can tell."
Hoseok laughs and pulls out his phone, getting their orders before wandering off to find Jimin.
"Where is Jimin?" asks Namjoon, suddenly alarmed. It's been very quiet, and when Jimin's being quiet it usually means trouble. He could be doing anything, snooping in anywhere, and Jimin lacks the shame-gene that so much of humanity has when it comes to nosiness.
When voices come from his room he's even more alarmed, and he gets there just as they're wrapping up a burger order. Hoseok leaves to grab more boxes, and Jimin smiles at Namjoon so sweetly that Namjoon feels guilty for being suspicious.
"So, what do you think of the place?" asks Namjoon. "Am I the Unibomber?"
"It's really nice," says Jimin. "And huge. I thought maybe you lived in some shithole which is why you never invited me over, but I'm glad you live somewhere nice. You owe me two more weeks of coffees."
"Fine," says Namjoon.
"And I can come over here whenever I want now. Hoseok said so."
"Sure," says Namjoon, opening his arms for a hug. Jimin's putting up a good front but it's obvious he's hurt, and Namjoon doesn't know how to explain that if he lived in a shithole he'd have had Jimin over every day. That it's the niceness that shames him most. "You're always welcome here."
"I can't believe you keep porn under your mattress," says Jimin into his chest, and Namjoon spends the next ten minutes trying to get him in a headlock while Jimin laughs so hard he nearly passes out.
"This is so great," says Hoseok for the thousandth time, his mouth full of fries. "Hobi and Joonie, swinging Seattle bachelors. We have a bachelor pad!"
"You can't have tiny indoor trees in a bachelor pad," says Jimin. "That doesn't fit the theme."
Hoseok throws a napkin at him. "It fits the theme if I say it does. And Namjoon is the most bachelor guy in the world. If I can't stick to my resolution here I can't do it anywhere."
"What resolution?" asks Namjoon.
"My no-relationship resolution," says Hoseok. "Relationship celibacy. I'm going to be single for at least three months. Maybe more. Focus on Hobi time. Shut up, Yoongi."
"I didn't say anything," says Yoongi. "Noises of supreme skepticism don't count as saying things."
"You don't think I can do it?" says Hoseok, folding his arms. He's still wearing his loose tank top, which flashes a lot of chest before his arms gets settled, so Namjoon stops breathing instead of answering.
Jimin and Yoongi don't appear to notice the chest at all, which is criminal. "No," they both say, clinking their sodas together in solidarity.
"I can," says Hoseok, almost whining, before he turns to Namjoon so suddenly that Namjoon almost falls off of his chair. "You'll help me, right?"
"Of course," says Namjoon automatically, then wrinkles his brow. "Help you with what?"
"With celibacy!" says Hoseok. "This whole place is a zen garden and you're the Buddhist monk that I need to mold me into something greater. Teach me your ways, oh wise one. Show me how to cast aside physical needs and become one with the universe. How can I live without men? Without orgasms? You're my only hope."
He grins when he's done, but it's not a teasing grin. It's a little pleading, and Namjoon gapes because he'd masturbated in the shower just that morning, a really good session that had featured Hoseok in a prominent role despite his best efforts. If there's anyone in the world who's worse at denying his physical needs, Namjoon has yet to meet them.
He's saved from answering when Yoongi chokes on the last bite of his burger, distracting them all. When he's done coughing, air moving back into his lungs at a regular pace, he says, "I'd love to explain the millions of ways you're going to fail, but I have to go work on the Rich Guy house again. But don't worry, I'll tell you all of them later."
"You're going over on a Saturday?" asks Jimin, wrinkling his nose. "Ugh."
"Pays time and a half," says Yoongi. "He wants his backyard fountain to play the Mario theme song and do a light show. I swear this guy's going to be broke inside a year just from installing sound systems."
He gets up from the table, wiping his mouth and saying his goodbyes. Jimin follows him, off to his own plans, and then it's just Namjoon and Hoseok in a well-lit, sun-dappled room, sitting in a silence not quite thick enough to be awkward.
Namjoon can count on one hand the number of times he's been alone with Hoseok. Really alone, that is, without the press of a crowd or the comfort of city bustle or Yoongi or Jimin there to buffer them. It's overwhelming and thrilling in equal measures, but without the friction of the rest of the world to provide inspiration Namjoon can't think of anything to say.
"I really do want to," says Hoseok eventually. "Focus on myself, I mean."
"I believe you," says Namjoon, and he does. If Hoseok were lying, he'd be smiling a lot more broadly than he currently is. "I'll help, if I can. I just don't know if I can."
Hoseok starts cleaning up the wrappers around them, folding them neatly and putting them into bags. "You don't have to do anything. Just being here will be enough, I think. I already feel more intellectual from all the books. Have you read them?"
"Well, sure," says Namjoon, a little confused. "I bought them."
"Wow," says Hoseok. "Can I try one sometime?"
"Of course. You live here too. Do whatever you want. It's all communal," says Namjoon.
"Thanks," says Hoseok, his shoulders relaxing nearly imperceptibly as he dumps everything into the trash. "It's going to be so great. I know it. I can't thank you enough."
"You don't have to thank me at all," says Namjoon.
Hoseok's phone beeps, and he looks down at it and groans. "Shit, I have to get to dance class and then meet up with people. I know we still need to work out rent and house rules and stuff. I'll probably be back tonight, will you be here?"
Namjoon doesn't know how to tell Hoseok that he's always here unless he's at work, or a work-related function, or Jimin's dragged him somewhere to be his last-resort wingman. Their Friday night hangouts are the most booming part of his social life, and Hoseok probably has ten times more contacts in his phone than Namjoon would ever want.
"Um, sometimes I go bike-riding," says Namjoon, and he's pleased that it's not really a lie. At least he has a bike. And he has ridden it, sometimes. It's just been so hot, lately. "But I'll be back before it's too late."
"Great," says Hoseok, only half-paying attention, the other half on his phone as he heads to his room. "I'll see you later. Sorry to run. Thanks again!"
He's practically a blur by the time he's running out of the place, screaming another goodbye, but he's not moving so fast that Namjoon doesn't see the too-short dance shorts hugging his ass. They're bright red, and skin-tight, and even the new huge tank top isn't enough to keep them from searing themselves into Namjoon's corneas.
As soon as the door closes Namjoon tosses the literary journal he hasn't read a word of onto the coffee table, sternly telling himself to calm the hell down. And when that doesn't work he gets up and heads down to the building's storage room.
With any luck, his bike will still have functioning tires to help him pedal his demons away.
Chapter 3: The Ways It Goes Wrong
It starts going wrong nearly immediately.
Not exactly immediately, because they get through the first weekend with flying colors, Namjoon not embarrassing himself even once. It helps that they barely see each other, Hoseok off and busy most of the time, unpacking in his room with the music cranked the rest. They share one more business-like meal and talk about their roommate rules, which are less complicated than Namjoon had feared since Hoseok declares that he's not bringing guys home and Namjoon never does anyway.
He learns what Hoseok's actual job is for the first time, a blend of marketing and website design that he does entirely from home, and Namjoon tries to explain what his philosophy and Eastern religion professorship entails, mostly unsuccessfully. But Hoseok pronounces it "wicked smart" which is better than what most people say, which is "boring."
Hoseok volunteers to do nearly all of the cleaning as long as Namjoon takes out the trash immediately when it gets full, a deal he happily accepts. And Namjoon also agrees to manage any spiders or other non-human or dog life forms that encroach upon their territory, not that he has much choice when Hoseok can barely say "spider" without whimpering. Neither of them can cook so they rank their favorite take out places and agree to get extra for the fridge whenever they order, then decide to have separate snack cabinets but shared perishables just to make sure nothing goes to waste. Smooth and simple.
The only awkward moment is when they talk about rent, and Namjoon has to explain without explaining that Hoseok doesn't owe him any rent, because his parents bought the condo as an investment and Namjoon and his cousin live there for free, and the only rent is making sure it stays functional and non-burned-down. Hoseok frowns as he stumbles through the explanation, and Namjoon's bracing himself to answer a lot of awkward questions before Hoseok shrugs and offers to split the utilities without any further comment.
So everything is easy, no pauses or silences, and Namjoon's constantly humming attraction to Hoseok is only background noise by the end, to the point where he can't remember why he'd ever thought this would be a problem.
It's the first Monday morning, bright and early at six-thirty AM, where it all collapses.
"Hey," calls Hoseok from the hallway. "Is there a trick to getting the shower to be less than boiling hot? I swear my skin -"
His voice cuts off abruptly, much closer than before, and Namjoon would love to say he doesn't know why. Except he does, because he's currently in an inverted V over the yoga mat on the living room floor, his ass in the air and his face thankfully hidden by his stupid, too-large body. A dim part of his brain says he should stand up and laugh this off like a normal person, but a larger part of him thinks that if he moves now he might actually combust with embarrassment, and that larger part wins handily so he stays frozen.
"So, what's happening here?" says Hoseok. It's casual, but Namjoon can hear the laughter buried inside it.
"Sorry, I didn't think you'd be awake yet," says Namjoon, which is extremely, extremely true. He hadn't even heard the shower running, that's how sure he'd been that Hoseok would sleep until the last possible minute.
"It's Monday morning," says Hoseok. "I have to work. Why wouldn't I be awake?"
Namjoon's body tries to shrug before it remembers that his arms are supporting his weight, and then it remembers that Hoseok is having this conversation with his ass, and then it remembers that it needs to phase-shift into another dimension to escape everything that's happening.
"You work from home," says Namjoon faintly. He's starting to feel light-headed. That's probably okay. "I figured you'd sleep in."
"I try to get an early start to the day," says Hoseok.
"Cool. Me too. It's relaxing," says Namjoon, his arms shaking.
"I think you've been holding the pose long enough," says Hoseok, and now his laughter isn't buried at all. He has a great laugh, waterfall-cascading and infectious, and in all of his dread about this living situation Namjoon had never considered the delicious pain of that sound filling his apartment every day.
But Namjoon isn't a coward, at least not a coward longer than is socially acceptable, so he pushes himself up with effort, keeping his eyes closed as long as he dares in fake-zen meditation.
Hoseok stops laughing. "Nice outfit."
Namjoon nearly snorts, because ten-year-old basketball shorts and nothing else isn't even close to an outfit, and as gooseflesh prickles over his bare chest he can't believe he's like this. Why does he let himself be like this? He'd really thought Hoseok would be asleep. "Yeah, sorry. I'm still not used to the roommate thing. I'll wear more clothes in the common spaces."
He opens his eyes finally, unable to put it off anymore, and any joke he was going to make about adding it to the house rules dies on his tongue. Along with all the other thoughts he might have had for the rest of the day, because the speed of light is a very fast speed indeed, and said light brings him the vision of Hoseok dripping wet in nothing but a towel in the manner of a freight train running over a turtle.
The turtle being Namjoon's brain, currently squashed flat and breathless.
It's not clear that Hoseok knows how hot he looks, though Namjoon could provide him some clarity on that point. Hoseok's certainly not standing like he knows he's hot, but then again he never does. And now his shoulders and cheeks are pinkened with hot water flush, and his hair is matted and curled where it hasn't finished drying, and his towel is slung low across his narrow waist in a precarious fashion. Slung very low, and Namjoon's determinedly not looking at that part of his body anymore but if he still were he'd be forced to observe that it's very toned and almost unbelievably chiseled. Nice for running hands over, if a person were interesting in running hands over it.
Some people might be interested in that, Namjoon supposes. Maybe. Especially if the body also had a Hoseok inside of it. That would be a nice bonus.
This is what he looks like after having sex, Namjoon's dying brain helpfully supplies, and he's only saved from annihilation when Hoseok tugs the towel up protectively, making it more a covering and less a prelude to being totally naked.
"Same," he says, and it takes Namjoon a long several seconds to remember what he's replying to. But it doesn't matter because Hoseok adds, "But hey, Yoongi said you don't go to the gym."
"I don't?" says Namjoon, bewildered. "Why did you ask Yoongi if I go to the gym?"
"Because I thought we could be workout buddies," says Hoseok. "But he said you don't go, ever. Which he was obviously lying about, look at your arms!"
To his horror Namjoon does look at his arms, peering down like he'd found them on an archaeological dig and needs to know how old they are. "What about them?"
"They're bigger than my thighs!" says Hoseok, and for a long, terrible moment Namjoon thinks he's going to cross the remaining space between them and squeeze his bicep like a cantaloupe. "You're packing, my friend. Philosophy books that heavy?"
Namjoon smiles weakly. "I think it's just the Pilates. I do it every morning."
Hoseok's eyes light up, and Namjoon notices for the first time that he looks exhausted around the edges of them. "Please let me do it with you! Please! I've never done it before but I bet I'll be good. I'm really flexible."
He starts to demonstrate and a siren wails in Namjoon's psyche, a nice counterpoint to the alarm sounding from somewhere below him. He scrambles to pick up his phone and turn it off, dropping it twice in the effort, grateful to have somewhere else to look. "Oh, um, I have to go get ready for work. Got some grading to catch up on, and, right, so that will be good."
"What will be good?" asks Hoseok, folded completely in half in another vision Namjoon will never be able to forget.
"The Pilates. I do it at six every morning. Weekdays. Not usually weekends. You can come too. I mean, join too. You can do that. I have to get going," says Namjoon, scooting around Hoseok carefully on his way to the hallway.
Hoseok doesn't move, still stretching out, but he calls back, "Awesome! This place is better than a spa!"
Namjoon closes his door behind him a little too quickly, cutting off anything else Hoseok might say, and he takes one very deep breath before he heads to what's sure to be another shameful shower because he can't go all day like this. By the time he's done and ready to go Hoseok's back in his room, and Namjoon escapes without further visual assault.
Jimin soundly mocks him when he shows up to Namjoon's office with his own sociology papers to grade, because Namjoon's wearing his shirt inside out. But luckily that happens at least once a month so Jimin doesn't suspect anything unusual. Instead he takes the coffee Namjoon bought him, makes sweetly lewd comments as Namjoon puts his shirt back on the right way, and all-in-all acts so normal that Namjoon's almost able to convince himself that the morning was some kind of fever dream brought on by stress.
Until he gets home and finds a post-it note on his bedroom door that reads, Dance dinner tonight. See you bright and early for Pilates! with a series of cute emoji faces and a curlicue Hoseok signature that's so adorable that Namjoon's heart seizes up in agony.
When he puts it under his pillow, he wonders if he's ever going to feel normal ever again.
"This week has been incredible," says Hoseok happily, his mouth full of sweet potato fries. "Namjoon's apartment is amazing. I'm stress-free!"
"You were born stress-free," says Yoongi. "Stress rolls off of you like water off a treated windshield."
"Not off a duck's back?" asks Jimin, stealing food shamelessly from Namjoon's plate. "I thought that was the phrase."
Yoongi motions to his own meal, where he'd ordered the duck special in a burst of non-miserness, an unusual move which Namjoon has noted for further consideration. "I can't use idioms about things that I regularly eat. That's one of my life rules."
"So many good ass phrases lost," says Jimin sadly, earning himself a napkin in the face from Yoongi and a muffled cheer from Hoseok. "But seriously, Hoseok, chill the fuck out. It's been six days. Not even a whole week. Namjoon's place is nice and all but I don't think it's magic."
Hoseok shakes his head violently. "It is. You have no idea. He has so many scented candles and bath bombs. And the fluffiest towels. We start off every morning at six with Pilates, which is so much harder than it looks. I'm already getting in better shape. And then I eat a healthy breakfast, because his cabinets are full of bran and quinoa and stuff, and I get a good early start on work, early enough that I can read for an hour before I have to go to dance class. I'm reading! I'm a reader."
"With regular bowel movements," says Yoongi. "And hair that smells like Christmas Cookie."
"Exactly. Then we have vegan dinners and talk to the tree and discuss universal concepts instead of watching reality TV. It's beautiful. Plus I'm killing it with the celibacy thing," says Hoseok. He holds up his fork, a spear of asparagus on the end of it, and waits for someone to clink their own food with his. "To having asparagus for the first time in a decade."
Jimin wrinkles his nose. "That's gross. Stop being gross."
"The point is that Kim Namjoon's Spa and Bachelor Pad is amazing," says Hoseok. "You can't bring me down!"
"Namjoon, thoughts?" says Jimin. "Are you operating a one-man relaxation retreat?"
Namjoon's fortunately just taken a huge bite of food, which he makes no effort to chew faster to give himself time to formulate a response that's not just animal noises. Because the thing is, the real thing is, the realest thing is that this has been the longest six days of his life. He's behind on all of his TV shows, he's had to scarf down a second breakfast on his walk to campus just to keep himself from starving to death thanks to his ill-considered Whole Foods run the week before Hoseok moved in and he's running out of impressive conversational topics.
At least his bonsai is thriving.
But he's never spent this much time with Hoseok before, certainly not alone, certainly not so concentrated, and that's taken up a lot more psychic energy than he ever would have believed. Hoseok talks constantly, has no concept of quiet contemplation, and he'd specifically and proudly cleared his schedule so that he and Namjoon could do bachelor activities every night. Namjoon used to have five quiet nights at home a week, and now he has none, and his personal interaction batteries are entirely drained.
But Hoseok's grinning, he's been grinning since that first morning, and that's enough of an energy kick to light up a city much less a Namjoon. Making Hoseok happy is a good thing, a great thing, so if it were just the food and the chats and not knowing who the Bachelorette kicked off this week he'd survive it. He'd more than survive it, because he gets the sun every day now. It's just for him, and it's warm and nourishing, and Namjoon can practically feel himself unfurling into it.
If only Hoseok didn't have so many extremely tiny shorts, and didn't insist on wearing them and nothing else during their excruciatingly sweaty Pilates sessions.
"I think Hoseok's just good at relaxing," says Namjoon when he's done chewing. "But you can come over for Pilates if you want. See for yourself."
At least then Jimin would understand the untenable sexual weight Namjoon's been laboring under and might stop making fun of his breakfast burritos.
"I don't want to get up at five in the morning to strengthen my core with you dorks," says Jimin, pouting.
Namjoon almost asks what he does want, but it's so obvious he doesn't have to. And it's something he desperately doesn't want to do, but Hoseok had already mentioned the idea and if Namjoon has to fall off a bridge he'd rather jump than be shoved. "You should come over tomorrow then. You both should. All day. We can have a Friend Day."
He checks with Hoseok for confirmation, but Hoseok is already nodding. "Yeah! I just have a dance class in the morning, but nothing else. We'll play games and watch movies and drink wine. And Jimin, you can spend the night. Stay in my room! Then you can try the fluffy towels for yourself."
"Can I take a scented bath?" asks Jimin hopefully.
"Hell yes. You'll smell like an angel!"
Yoongi mutters, "Talk about false advertising," into his drink, but Jimin's so excited he doesn't bother to berate him as he starts running down a sleepover itinerary with Hoseok. Yoongi turns to Namjoon instead and says breathlessly, "What about me? Can I spend the night in your room, Joon-ah? Can I? We can share all our secrets!"
"Do we have any left?" asks Namjoon, grinning, and Yoongi laughs. "You can stay over if you want to get wasted, but you're not allowed to yell at my tree again."
"It was sassing me," says Yoongi as he spears another piece of duck. "I won't apologize."
Taehyung appears in his usual way, without any warning at all, and says, "How's everything tonight? Food as delicious as you guys?"
"Impossible," says Hoseok. "Look at us."
"I am!" says Taehyung. "You look really happy, Hoseok."
"Thanks. I feel really happy," says Hoseok. "This has been a great week. Great."
Taehyung smiles. "I'm glad. Another drink for anyone?"
"Nah, I'm good," says Hoseok, but Yoongi raises his finger and Jimin follows suit. Taehyung nods and makes to leave when Hoseok says, "Hey, Namjoon and I are having people over tomorrow. Well, just these people, but you should come if you're not working! It's a chill hang out day and we're a lot of fun. Especially Yoongi."
Yoongi's face gets scrunchy, and Jimin's goes completely blank, and Namjoon sort of wants to strangle Hoseok who looks extremely pleased with himself for his idea. But fortunately Taehyung is immune to undercurrents because he says, "Thanks, but I probably shouldn't. Waiter-customer confidentiality."
He says it so flippantly that Namjoon's nodding before he realizes it makes no sense, which is Taehyung's usual strategy to get out of a conversation. But to his shock, Taehyung pauses in his exit and says, "Wait, is this at Namjoon's place?"
Hoseok nods at the same time Namjoon says, "It's Hoseok's place, too."
"Aw, Joonie," says Hoseok, reaching over to pinch his cheek. "You're so sweet!"
His cheek feels red, too red, from the pressure of Hoseok's long fingers, and Namjoon busies himself with dropping his napkin on the floor and picking it up just to have something to do that's not staring at him with his mouth open like a particularly unintelligent fish.
When he gets back above table-level Taehyung has his own finger on his jaw, tapping it thoughtfully. "Maybe this is fate. Can I bring Jungkook?"
"Of course," says Hoseok. "We love that kid, right?"
The rest of them nod, including Namjoon, and Taehyung finishes his tapping with a flourish. "Then we'll come! Give me the address please. And then I will give you more drinks. It's a new barter system."
"Does that mean they're free?" asks Jimin, tilting his head to the side winsomely.
"The barter system includes a cash component," says Taehyung. He takes a scribbled-on napkin from Hoseok and adds, "Full price, actually. Thanks for your patronage!"
Jimin boos him as he walks away, but he's soon drawn into Friend Day planning again. Yoongi contributes by making snarky asides whenever he deems the moment right, and Namjoon is busy trying not to panic at the thought of having not only people but strangers in his place for an entire day when he's already had the longest week.
They've just settled on a start time of eleven and an end time of fun o'clock when Hoseok's phone blares a Marvin Gaye song on the table, making both him and Jimin jump. He reaches out to grab at it, scrabbling over the surface desperately, but not before Namjoon sees the name flashing over the screen. Daniel, which means Hoseok has special ringtones for his boyfriends, sex ringtones, and that's something Namjoon hadn't known before.
"Hey," says Hoseok when he finally answers. His eyes dart around at the rest of them before he slides off of his stool. "What's up?"
He's out of earshot before he says anything else, and Namjoon watches but his back is to them so he can't pick up any words. It's a tense back, though, and his free hand moves like he's arguing, and all in all it looks like the opposite of something that should be happening.
"That's weird," says Jimin, not nearly as worried but definitely interested. "Hoseok never talks to his exes."
Yoongi's eyes narrow, considering. "Yeah. Not that they don't try. God, I don't know what he does to those guys to get them so invested, but they're wrecks every time he breaks up with them. One guy went around to all of the people across the street from Hoseok's building and had them put up signs in their windows that spelled out some romantic, I-want-you-back shit. It was impressively coordinated, if futile. Hoseok shut all of his blinds without even blinking."
"But he answered the phone this time," says Jimin. "He hasn't deleted his contact info, either. Hm. This is a curious case of Benjamin Button."
Yoongi stops staring at Hoseok to scowl at Jimin. "That doesn't even make sense."
"You don't make sense," says Jimin, stealing one of Hoseok's asparagus spears. "Also it's sex."
"I know you just want to ask me what's sex, so you can smugly explain your fake mysterious pronouncement, and I'm not going to do it," says Yoongi. "Get some new tricks."
Jimin turns to Namjoon with a slight pout, eyes blinking expectantly, and Namjoon sighs. "What's sex?"
"You're such a pushover," says Yoongi, rolling his eyes at Namjoon.
"Old tricks best tricks," says Jimin. "And it's why Hoseok's exes are so hung up on him. He's fantastic in bed."
Yoongi scoffs. "Lots of people are good in bed."
"Not Hoseok good," says Jimin.
It's Namjoon's turn to blink, to freeze in his seat. "Have you slept with him?"
It comes out more neutral than he feels, which is not at all neutral, and Jimin gives him a scornful look. "Of course not. I've danced with him."
"Here we go," says Yoongi. "Just because someone's a good dancer doesn't mean they're good in bed. That's the kind of bullshit thing good dancers say. Total propaganda."
Jimin shrugs. "It's not the only thing that means it. But I've never slept with a good dancer who sucked in bed. I mean, they sucked, but -"
"Spare us," says Yoongi.
"I'm just saying you can tell a lot by how a guy moves. Confidence and intent and flexibility and drive. If you're having a good time on the dance floor you're going to have a good time on any floor, and Hoseok's the best dancer I know. Besides me," says Jimin.
His grin is wicked, full of dark and hidden things, and Namjoon really didn't need to be thinking about them but here he is. He's never danced with Hoseok - not that Hoseok hasn't tried, in his quest to get everyone in the world dancing - and now he never will, because apparently it's not something he'd be able to handle in the slightest.
"But it's not just that," Jimin adds. "I got cornered by Hoseok's boyfriend at that warehouse party we went to. The boring guy with the Tesla. And he went on and on about how Hoseok made him feel like the only person in the world when they were together, and to be clear he meant together together. That it was like a show that was just for him, except the show was real, and he wouldn't shut the hell up about it. That's what I mean when I say it's sex."
"He was drunk," says Yoongi dismissively.
"Drunk people tell the truth too," says Jimin. His smile falls away as he twiddles with his empty glass. "Besides, I think it could be real. And nice, to be with someone who makes you feel that special. If I found something like that I'd want to hold onto it."
A silence spreads over the table, a bubble inside of the noise of the bar around them, and Namjoon reaches over to pat Jimin on the shoulder. Jimin leans into it immediately, getting closer, his misery strong through their link. "Me too, Jimin. Me too."
He looks at Yoongi meaningfully, and Yoongi's hand stretches out across the table until Jimin takes it. "Yeah. Don't worry, you'll find it."
"And until then, you have us," says Namjoon. "Always."
"Thanks," says Jimin, very small, before straightening up and taking his hand away. And it's not a minute too soon, because Taehyung deposits their drinks with an extremely out of season wish for a happy Chuseok before jetting off again, and they're spared any explanations that Taehyung would have certainly demanded.
Namjoon's attention wanders back to Hoseok who's still on the phone, an unbelievably long conversation for him, and who no longer looks angry but tired. Exhausted really, and worn, and whatever happy energy he'd had coming into the night is gone with the speed of the sun dipping below a distant horizon. Namjoon hates to see it, hates that he's the only one watching it, and when Hoseok hangs up and turns back towards them Namjoon hates that he drops his eyes to his own phone before Hoseok can know that Namjoon would move the entire world to make it go away.
"Sorry about that," says Hoseok when he gets back. He doesn't bother to pretend they don't all know who it was, which is another sign of his exhaustion.
"What did he want?" asks Yoongi. "Did he beg you to come back?"
"Mmm," says Hoseok, rubbing a hand over his face. "And I took some stuff of his on accident when I packed up. He wants it back. So I'll have to handle that."
Namjoon hesitates before saying, "Do you want me to meet up with him instead? I can give him whatever you have."
"No," says Hoseok. "I can do it. I'll be fine. Thanks."
He smiles reassuringly, not that Namjoon is reassured in the least, and none of them are surprised when Yoongi reaches over and takes Hoseok's hand. "Do you want another drink?"
"Absolutely," says Hoseok.
They go to the bar, and they're gone for a long time while Namjoon and Jimin talk about their coworkers in the sort of irritated detail they never dare to inside university walls. Jimin laughs encouragingly as Namjoon releases his stored up rants, and by the time Hoseok and Yoongi come back to plan more of the increasingly elaborate Friend Day, it's like none of the sad parts had ever happened.
Chapter 4: Party at Joon's
"Happy Friend Day to me," sings Jimin cheerfully as he adjusts the handmade paper crown on his head. He's leaned back against the sofa, legs wide like he's about to do the splits, and Namjoon knows from experience he might at any moment.
"To us," corrects Yoongi from behind him.
"To the world!" says Hoseok, plopping another paper bag down on the coffee table.
"Do you think we have enough food?" asks Namjoon, surveying the arrayed take out selection with a critical eye. They've covered most of the major countries, Korea the best-represented at Yoongi's insistence, though Namjoon had drawn the line at them singing the Korean national anthem together as the delivery guy arrived. Jimin had done it anyway just to be a shit, Hoseok backing him up sexily in the face of a terrified service worker, and Namjoon was out a very big tip.
In the here and now, Hoseok laughs. "I think we could comfortably feed an army with this. A couple of times."
"Jungkook," says Namjoon like the toll of a funeral bell and Hoseok stops laughing to consider.
"Maybe we should get a backup pizza," says Jimin.
"Or four," says Yoongi dryly. "When are they getting here?"
The sound of the intercom cuts off any response, and Hoseok bounces over to buzz their newest visitors in, motioning to Jimin to turn the music down. Music and dance is Stage Six of the Friend Day plan, a schedule rigidly enforced by Jimin with all the discipline of a seasoned drill sergeant. They'd mediated, reverently sniffed every candle in the place, watched a Christmas movie even though it's the middle of July and played board games that Yoongi had treated more like psychological warfare than entertainment. Namjoon would never look at Settlers of Catan quite the same way again, though he'd certainly be taking Yoongi along on any future car purchases just to watch him make someone cry.
After that, music and dance had seemed positively relaxing even with the constant threat of Hoseok's pelvis, but now comes the stage of having strangers in his house and Namjoon has never been less relaxed in his life.
"Hello!" says Taehyung, walking in with a huge backpack over his shoulders, a beret on his head, and a Pomeranian nestled in his arms. "Welcome to welcoming me to your home."
"Thank you," says Namjoon automatically, then shaking his head in belated confusion. "I mean, come in. Welcome. You have a dog."
"This is Tannie," says Taehyung, holding a fluffy, blinking ball above his head triumphantly. "Yeontan for long. He's really well trained. And I brought some toys and a pee-pad so don't worry he's safe. It's okay that he's here, right?"
He's already set Yeontan down, scratching his head once before divesting himself of his backpack and taking some supplies out, and Namjoon doesn't see any way to say that his building and his own life philosophy don't allow pets without looking like an asshole. This is compounded by the way that Jimin is already prone on the floor, with Hoseok cooing above them in his cutest baby voice.
"Of course it's okay he's here," says Hoseok, punctuating each high-pitched word with a new ingratiating face. "He's the cutest boy ever, right Tannie?"
Yeontan seems less than impressed with the compliment, sniffing at Jimin's outstretched hand doubtfully before circling back to Taehyung, and Namjoon can't stop himself from laughing. "He's just like you."
"That's the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me," says Taehyung, then picks Yeontan back up and nuzzles his ears.
"I'm here too," says another voice indignantly from the door, and Namjoon turns to Jungkook with an apology on his lips that dies when he takes him in. Jungkook stares back, aggressive, though his eyes dart away before too long. "What?"
Jimin takes the hit for them all when he stands up and says, "What in the hell are you wearing?"
Jungkook looks down at himself, biting his lip, and they all look with him. It's more of Jungkook than Namjoon's ever seen, if he's being honest, because Jungkook's unofficial bar uniform consists of huge black t-shirts that could hold a solid dozen of him and pants with so many pockets that there's hardly any leg left. He's always been cute but formless, and the knowledge of his underlying muscles came more from his feats of strength than any visual confirmation.
But now he's wearing a tight blue button-up, silk, tucked into the very narrow waist of a pair of dress pants that are nearly illegally fitted to some ridiculous thighs. The shirt's buttons are slightly open, a half-undone tie layered over it, and Namjoon's close to asking for ID again, just to make sure this kid is really of age to be ogled. Because if he's feeling light-headed at the sight, Jimin and Yoongi are going to be incoherent for a solid half an hour.
"Taehyung said this was a fancy party," says Jungkook, trailing off as his eyes flit from Namjoon to Jimin to Hoseok to Yoongi, all bedecked in grimy t-shirts and stretchy pants. "Taehyung fucking lied to me, didn't he?"
Taehyung puts Yeontan into Namjoon's unexpecting arms then shucks his overwrap off, revealing a glittery silver top with dangling fringe in the manner of a magician revealing the rabbit inside of a formerly empty hat. "Every party is fancy when I'm a guest!"
"I'm going to murder you," says Jungkook, tugging his tie off as his face reddens. It doesn't make the look any easier to take, if Namjoon's being honest. "I'm not joking this time. You promised I had to dress up!"
"You did have to," says Taehyung, taking his wriggly dog back once more. "I would have looked ridiculous otherwise. Besides, you look hot. Doesn't he look hot?"
The question's directed at Namjoon, but there's a chorus of fervent agreements around the room. Their enthusiasm doesn't take the miserable expression off of Jungkook's face, nor reclaim his ability to look any of them in the eye. "I didn't even bring anything to change into," he mutters, toeing his dress shoes off by the door.
"You can wear something of mine if you want," says Namjoon, though he regrets it when Jungkook's gaze snaps to his hopefully.
"Sure," says Namjoon. "I'll just go and -"
Jimin shoves in front of him and steps on his foot, cutting Namjoon off in a yelp of pain. "I'll go, you have to stay out here and host. Don't worry, we'll find something really good for you, Jungkookie. Really good."
"Jimin -" Namjoon begins, but they're already off and down the hall before he can get his warning out. "They're going to go through my underwear drawer, aren't they?"
"Probably," says Hoseok, and Namjoon's heart stops. He'd forgotten Hoseok was even in the room, and the terror of Jimin rooting through his clothes magnifies a hundredfold. Not that Hoseok notices as he pats Namjoon on the forearm and says, "As long as you've hidden all your thongs you'll be fine."
Namjoon's skin burns where Hoseok's touching him, still after an entire week to get used to him being within touching distance, and he says desperately, "Let's get out the food, yeah? I'm starving."
He turns to Taehyung to ask him what he wants, but Taehyung is already at Yoongi's couch spot with his armful of dog. He hands Yeontan down like he's made of explosives while Yoongi stares up, slack-jawed.
"There you go," says Taehyung as he lets go, shimmering in the light of the bay windows when he shakes himself out. "Okay, sometimes he gets nervous with strangers but he's kind of a wuss so he won't jump down or anything. Support his hindquarters, yeah? He needs them supported."
Yoongi does as he says, his arm underneath the Pomeranian's butt, a fluffy tail whapping him in the chest, his mouth still open and silent.
"Don't feed him any people food. And if he barks just boop him on the nose, he'll stop. And he likes it when you call him a good boy. Right, good boy?"
Yeontan licks Taehyung's face when he bends down, and Yoongi looks like he's thinking about following suit before Taehyung stands up straight again.
"Yeah, definitely a good boy. Great work, Yoongi. You're a pro. Be right back!"
Taehyung takes off down the hallway, calling for Jungkook, and Hoseok and Namjoon regard the scene in front of them in silence until Yoongi clears his throat. "Nobody say anything."
"You're adorable," says Hoseok.
"What did I just say?"
Hoseok yanks Namjoon over to the couch and plops him on the other end, settling between them both cross-legged. His knee is firmly pressed into Namjoon's thigh, though that's not something that Namjoon chooses to acknowledge at the present time. Not that Hoseok gives him much choice when he leans back to take a photo of Yoongi, then turns and scoots so far backwards that Namjoon has a lap full of Hoseok to complement Yoongi's lap full of Yeontan. Hoseok laughs as he nearly falls off the couch, and his laugh is still music, and Namjoon wonders how awkward it would be if he rolled onto the floor instead and stayed there for the rest of the day.
Instead he settles a hand around Hoseok's waist to stabilize him, feeling like aliens are controlling his body from light years away, and Hoseok smiles at him gratefully before taking a dozen pictures.
"Wow, you two have the exact same expression," says Hoseok, showing Namjoon the screen as if Namjoon can be expected to have functioning eyeballs when Hoseok's waist is underneath his palm, warm and electric through his shirt. "They're both permanently annoyed."
"That's just how I look when I'm around you," says Yoongi. He's working hard to keep his arm underneath Yeontan as the dog makes distressed little circles in his lap, looking for Taehyung.
When Yeontan whines, Hoseok says, "Maybe we should call Taehyung back, get him in your lap too. What do you think, Joonie? Think Yoongi could handle supporting Taehyung's hindquarters?"
He twists back again, still half-inside Namjoon's arms, and Namjoon thinks that this could be the perfect moment. Right here, and now, with Hoseok's thousand-watt smirk trained on him, the sweet upslope of his nose close enough to make him cross-eyed, his breath ghosting over Namjoon's cheek. With Namjoon's heart beating at twice its normal speed, just from the proximity. Hoseok doesn't know what he's doing to him but he could know, if Namjoon told him, and his hand tightens in anticipation.
"Maybe I can get Jungkook to kill you too," says Yoongi, shattering things. "Some kind of two-for-one deal."
Hoseok turns around and slides away just like the moment, and Namjoon shakes his head at the stupid ghosts that won't stop haunting him. He's done with all of that foolishness. Perfect moments don't happen in places like this, with a whimpering dog and a coffee table full of take out and especially with Yoongi sitting in the room. If he'd been in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve wouldn't have had a chance to populate the species. Yoongi would have heckled them until they were dead.
"Where is Jungkook?" Namjoon murmurs, more for something to say than actual concern. "It shouldn't be taking them this long to find something."
A screech from his bedroom comes right on cue, and Namjoon's half-up when Jimin skids into the room holding a wad of powder blue. He unrolls it with a snap and says, "You have Powerpuff Girls pajamas."
His hands separate horrifyingly into a top and a bottom, holding them both up with a manic grin as Bubbles, Blossom, and Buttercup stare at them all unblinkingly and slightly threadbare.
"That's from college," says Namjoon weakly as he sinks back into the couch, ignoring the fact that he wears them all the time. And that he'd gotten them well after graduation. They're comfortable, dammit. "And they're feminist icons -"
Hoseok jumps up from the couch and makes grabby hands. "Oh my god I want to wear those. Gimmie."
"You didn't have those in college," says Yoongi, head cocked to the side, and Namjoon hopes no one heard him.
"I," says Taehyung, striding into the room, "would like to wear this."
He's got armfuls of green fabric, miles in length because finding a dinosaur onesie in Namjoon's size had been an exercise in custom-ordering. But Taehyung's almost as tall, and when he puts the hood over his head and lets it trail behind him like a cape it doesn't even hit the floor.
"Mr. T!" says Yoongi. He's still petting Yeontan absently, who's very excited at the return of his owner but not so excited that he tries to get away. "That one I do remember. He saw a lot of things that an innocent dinosaur should never have to see."
"Then it's perfect for today," says Taehyung. "Plus it fits over my fancy clothes."
He starts putting it on carefully, wiggling into it like a beagle, and Yeontan barks at him as he disappears inside. Hoseok's less modest, or less certain of the fit, stripping down to get into the Powerpuff Girl pajamas while they all watch. And Hoseok still has so much golden-smooth skin, and when it's covered up by fabric that Namjoon had worn just a few weeks ago it feels like the universe is laughing at him again.
The pajamas are too long once Hoseok's finally safe to look at, his hands covered up by the end of the sleeves, and when he strikes a superhero pose and cackles Namjoon realizes that maybe hearts can just stop beating, after all.
"Joonie, you are the most functional, sophisticated adult I know," says Hoseok, "but your wardrobe was so much cooler when you were young. If you don't wear these anymore can I keep them? They're so comfortable!"
"Uh, sure," says Namjoon, already mourning their loss as Hoseok tight-rolls the bottoms to make them fit.
Taehyung looks equally as pleased, if less dangerously adorable, standing in Namjoon's dinosaur costume. "Can I borrow this too? I'll give it back, but I want to wear it for the bar's first karaoke night. It will be a big hit."
"What karaoke night?" asks Yoongi. He carefully boops Yeontan on the nose to stop his barks, gentle and loving, and Hoseok teases him with his baby voice until Yoongi gives him the finger.
"We're doing karaoke once a month now. In that open space at the back, you know? The owner wants another draw," says Taehyung. He flops on the couch into Hoseok's vacated space and pets Yeontan without trying to retrieve him. "It's just a test, but I suggested Friday nights because you guys are always there and you're a lot of fun and you'll make it a success. Right?"
He grins up at Yoongi as he says it, then turns his face on Jimin at even higher intensity and Namjoon thinks Taehyung is the smoothest operator he's ever met as they both agree to sing something with slightly dazed voices. Hoseok agrees to perform without even needing persuasion, and Namjoon doesn't get the opportunity to be the only refusal in the group when Yoongi says, "Is rap okay? I prefer rapping."
"Rap is great!" says Taehyung, his face changing from calculated manipulation to something more genuinely delighted. "You're a rapper?"
"Namjoon and I were, in college," says Yoongi. He shrugs like it's not a big deal, a little pink in the cheeks. "We did some shows. Released some music."
Namjoon's jaw drops, because Yoongi's not even looking at him as he stabs a knife directly into his back, too busy blinking at dinosaur-covered Taehyung to care. But no one else is quite so enraptured, because Hoseok and Jimin smile identical evil smiles and say, "Oh really?"
"Why aren't we eating?" says Namjoon loudly. "The food is getting cold."
Yoongi reaches into his pocket carefully and pulls out his phone, and if Taehyung weren't in the way Namjoon would lunge over and smack it out of his hand. "I've still got some of the songs. Here."
He hands it over to Hoseok like this is normal and not the most embarrassing thing they've ever done, and Hoseok immediately starts scrolling as he pauses the Bluetooth speaker. Namjoon buries his head in his hands and waits it out, because the genie is out of the bottle and there's no getting it back in and the only thing he can do is to finally convince himself that reality is a construct and escape it.
"Suga and Rap Monster?" says Jimin from his place over Hoseok's shoulder. "Please tell me that you're Suga."
"Shut up," says Yoongi, and Jimin giggles. "I'm fucking sweet."
Taehyung claps his hands right next to Namjoon's ear. "So you're the Monster! I'm wearing the Monster and becoming the Rap. That's fantastic."
"It was a really dumb name," says Namjoon into his palms. "Dehumanizing, when we should try to find the humanity in ourselves. I regret -"
A beat hits them, loud and dirty, and Namjoon looks up to see Hoseok and Jimin starting their dance party all over again, but this time to the sound of Namjoon's voice. His words, fast and angry and far too immature for the person he is now, but there's nothing immature about the way that Hoseok drops to the floor and comes back up again.
Taehyung gets up to join them, and Namjoon takes the opportunity to lean over and say, "I'm going to kill you."
"I'm immortal," says Yoongi. "Just try it and see what happens."
"Why would you even say anything in the first place?" says Namjoon. "We've kept it a secret for so many years. We agreed!"
"God, rapping is so hot," says Taehyung to no one.
Yoongi's cheeks heat up again and he doesn't look at Namjoon, who rolls his eyes.
"It really is," says Hoseok, squished between Jimin and Taehyung and grinding, and Namjoon grabs a box of fried rice off the table and opens it up with steely concentration.
Jungkook skids in front of him right as Namjoon takes his first bite, and he nearly chokes when Jungkook says over the music, "Are those figurines all yours?"
"Um," Namjoon says through his mouthful, chewing as fast as he can.
Jungkook waits, eyes shining, dressed in Namjoon's longest, plainest t-shirt and a pair of paint-splattered sweatpants that Namjoon doesn't even remember owning. He looks just like himself again, and much happier, and that's good. The figurines part is not good, but the other part is good.
"Yes," says Namjoon eventually. "A holdover from when I was young, but I didn't want to get rid of them."
Jungkook laughs. "They're so awesome! I can't believe how many you have. I took them all out of your closet, I hope that's okay. I'll put them away before we go, I just wanted to see them."
"I want to see them too!" says Jimin. He exits the dance pit and frowns. "Hang on, am I the only one not wearing Namjoon's clothes? That's not fair! New event for Friend Day, everyone wears Namjoon's clothes."
He scampers off down the hall again, Taehyung right behind him yelling about fashion consulting, and Jungkook makes to follow them before he turns back to Namjoon and says in a determined rush, "You are so cool."
He's gone when Yoongi snorts and says, "Kids these days have no idea what cool is, do they?"
"Guess not," says Namjoon uncomfortably. Mostly because Hoseok is back on the couch between them, a little sweatier, still in the Powerpuff pajamas and looking soft and breathless. He's dancing even now, patting Yeontan in time to the beat, smiling when the song changes to something a little less raw. One of the slower pieces, the ones that Yoongi had had inside of him.
"You guys sound great," says Hoseok. "Professional as hell. You never told me you kept this up, Yoongi."
Yoongi shrugs. "You went to California. Didn't think you'd come back."
Hoseok smile changes, tinged with something that's not really a smile. "Yeah, I guess not. But you found a good replacement for me in Namjoon. A way better rapper than I ever was, that's for sure."
"You were pretty good," says Yoongi. "I'd let you feature on a Suga Monster track."
Yoongi raises his eyebrows at Namjoon, who's zoned out a little, watching the rise and fall of Hoseok's chest as he breathes. "Me too," he agrees quickly, stuffing more food in his mouth.
Hoseok laughs. "You don't even know what I sound like."
"I know Yoongi would let you," says Namjoon. "And Yoongi has high standards and doesn't mind being mean to his friends, so that's good enough for me."
"Thanks," says Hoseok as Yoongi glares at Namjoon. He stands up and brushes the Powerpuff pants off. "I'll go get the kids. I'm starving!"
As soon as he's gone, Namjoon leans back into the couch and closes his eyes. "Is Friend Day over yet?"
"Not even close," says Yoongi. "But if it makes you feel better, there's no way in hell I'm wearing your clothes."
Namjoon smiles as the sounds of laughter come back into the room, a counterpoint to his stupid rap that's still underlying everything. He doesn't bother to point out that Yoongi's wearing a shirt that he took right out of Namjoon's laundry basket two years ago and never gave back. "That does make me feel better. Thanks."
It takes another wonderful, terrible, exhilarating week of seeing Hoseok every night before Namjoon finally gets a break. When he gets home on Thursday, rain-soaked from where his umbrella had a hole he hadn't noticed, he finds one of Hoseok's notes on the table, a cheerful Out tonight, don't wait up! with his standard elaborate signature. Namjoon takes it to his room to stash with the rest of them, running his thumb over Hoseok's name as he considers the implications.
A quiet evening by himself.
It guilts him how excited he is at the thought, a smile curving across his face before he can stop it. There'd been a time where he'd thought nothing would make him happier than seeing Hoseok every minute of every day and learning each other from the ground up. He'd had a thousand daydreams of it, walks by the harbor and intimate dinners out and hikes to the top of little mountains and conversations that never flagged. A Hoseok just for him, without Yoongi's deeper knowledge and Jimin's readier wit, without handsome boyfriends with proprietary arms around him, without messy, dirty life intruding on their world.
Even now he craves it. He's gotten a taste, just a small taste of what he wants, and everything about Hoseok thrills him. From the sparkle in his eyes when he laughs to the way he sometimes falls silent and true; from the sharp jut of his jaw to the soft curve of his smile; from the way he speaks, puppy-excited and tumbling, to the way he moves, always liquid grace.
Namjoon runs his thumb over the note one last time and craves the sunshine of Hoseok so much he aches.
Still, it will be a relief to relax again in his place, where he'd never cared to impress anyone before and now has to all the time. In all those daydreams he'd never imagined Hoseok here like this, not before they'd had all those first perfect steps together in situations that could hide his flaws. Hoseok has already seen too much of the parts of Namjoon he keeps behind the door - he'd worn the Powerpuff pajamas twice since Saturday, much to Namjoon's dismay - and that isn't the Namjoon he wants this man, or anyone, to know.
But tonight he's free to fail his higher aspirations. He'll flip on the TV and pick up a trash novel and grab something greasy and anti-nutritious to eat. He'll sit in the living room in his grungiest clothes with his hair fucked up and his blemishes uncovered. He'll be the shitty parts of himself for a few hours, and that will help him be the best parts again tomorrow.
It's not until he's picking out spicy Cheetos, microwaveable pizza pockets and a teeth-rotting soda in the commissary under his place that he wonders where Hoseok actually is. He hadn't mentioned any plans like he usually does when he has a dinner out, or a dance class, or any of the other things that had kept him away from the apartment for a few brief hours. He's still keeping social engagements to a minimum but he hadn't escaped them all, and he'd never not told Namjoon exactly what he was doing before.
A small voice whispers that Hoseok is out on a date as he's letting himself back into his place, and that's a voice that Namjoon shuts up quickly. Instead he loses himself in the pulpy, perfect book he'd started two weeks ago, wiping his dust-covered hands absently on his ancient undershirt before dirtying them all over again, feeling tension he hadn't even known he was carrying drain from his shoulders.
The book is just starting to lean into the erotica and Namjoon's just tilting back the bag of Cheetos to dump the remnants into his red-smeared mouth when the door opens much too swiftly. Hoseok walks in and stops short, his sharply creased dress pants and open-throated button-up a horrifying contrast in the room, and there's a very long moment where they just stare at each other, completely frozen.
"Hi," says Namjoon quickly, or he tries to, but his mouth is still full of Cheeto scraps. Dry Cheeto scraps, which catch in his throat and make him cough until he hacks, his lungs burning with artificial additives on each inhale. He reaches out blindly to grab his drink, remembering only as he's chugging it down that it's radioactively green and disgusting and so sugary that his teeth might melt right out of his mouth, along with his dignity.
Throughout it all Hoseok doesn't move, and when Namjoon can finally breathe he looks up with watery eyes and croaks, "You're back early."
It's hard to tell through the tears but Hoseok seems perturbed, understandably so given the wreck of a human before him. He's certainly not saying anything as he takes in the scene, the TV and Namjoon's coughing aftershocks the only sounds between them.
The TV blares an ad spot for next week's Bachelorette, and Namjoon scrambles for the remote and turns it off. His cheeks flame and he wonders again if it's possible for a person to think themselves out of existence if they try really, really hard.
"Is that Mountain Dew?" asks Hoseok finally, his voice incredulous. "And Cheetos? Where the hell did those come from? Have you been hiding them in your room or something?"
"Ah, no. You know, I just had a craving," says Namjoon, trailing off and looking away, feeling twelve again under a disappointed parental gaze. His eyes fall on the book he'd discarded on the couch next to him, a ripped, shirtless man holding a whip emblazoned on the cover, and he slams a pillow down over it with an unmanly squeak.
When he looks back up, Hoseok's eyes are drawn into an unusual sadness, and that shocks him out of his own embarrassment. "Hey, are you okay? Where were you tonight?"
The sadness changes into a tight anger, and Namjoon's sure that Hoseok is going to tell him to go to hell. He's already working up an apology when Hoseok rubs his temples between a thumb and forefinger and sighs. "With Daniel."
"Oh," says Namjoon. His heart flips through emotions like channels on a television, rapidly and painfully and in a way that he'll need to process more fully later that night, alone in the dark. For now he settles on concern. "How was that?"
Hoseok laughs, and it's too short and too edged to be funny but it's better than the sadness. "Just great, Joonie. Just great."
He flops down on the couch and reaches for Namjoon's soda, draining it in two large gulps that Namjoon watches move down his throat. "Tastes like shit," he says, but his voice is far away. He's far away, and he doesn't get any closer when he says, "Can I tell you something?"
"Of course," say Namjoon.
"Daniel broke up with me," says Hoseok, staring firmly at the wall. "Everyone thinks I broke him with him like I always do, but I didn't. I wanted it to work. But he dumped me anyway."
"Oh," says Namjoon again, his heart flipping through another twenty channels. "Wow."
"Yeah. It sucks. I mean, he's really hot," says Hoseok. "He's nice, he's smart, he makes a lot of money, and he's really into me. Was really into me. He spends his weekends at self-improvement seminars and took my dance classes just because I asked him to. If I can't make it work with someone like that, what's the point, right?"
"Um, yeah," says Namjoon. His voice is more skeptical than he'd like, but Hoseok doesn't seem to pick up on it.
"But it doesn't matter. It's over. I basically begged him to get back together tonight and he blew me off," says Hoseok, laughing like knives again, and Namjoon's hands clench with the need to reach out and rub his back. "It was pathetic. Did you know when I moved I took some of his stuff on purpose so he'd have to talk to me? I used to make fun of guys who did things like that. I'm such an idiot."
"You're not an idiot."
"And you know what he said? He said I'm particular," says Hoseok. His hands work around each other in his lap, painful and twisting. "He says I seem cool at first, but when you live with me I'm fussy, and I always want things my way, and I don't let people just be themselves. That I never let him be himself when I was there."
There's a silence, and Namjoon doesn't quite know what to say, even though it's clear Hoseok is waiting for him to say something. The only thing his tangled up mouth can think to do is tell him he loves him, his usual baseline, and of all of the moments where he's thought about saying it this feels like maybe the worst one.
Hoseok lifts up the pillow covering Namjoon's ridiculous book and stares at it with an unreadable expression. He glances at the dark TV, then the bag still crumpled in Namjoon's clenched hand. Namjoon clenches it tighter
"You know you can eat whatever you want, right?" says Hoseok quietly. "You don't have to have quinoa and stuff, just because I'm here."
"I like quinoa," says Namjoon.
Because he does, but the words sound artificial as they fall from his lips. And Hoseok snorts as he stands up and rolls his perfectly-clad shoulders, knocking the pillow to the floor in the process before he stoops to hand it back. He's immaculate and stone, gone on some mental path Namjoon's not invited to follow, and Namjoon's wearing his stupid Cheetos-covered undershirt and still doesn't know what happened on the Bachelorette.
"Don't tell anyone about all of this, okay?" asks Hoseok, back to his normal cheerful voice. "Especially Yoongi. It doesn't matter, but he'll get all Yoongi over it, you know? And I'm fine."
"Sure," says Namjoon. He'd be willing to agree to anything right now, anything at all, because he just failed every single part of this interaction so badly that it's amazing Hoseok isn't already moving out. "Whatever you want."
"Thanks for listening," says Hoseok. "And sorry I slipped up on our bachelorhood agreement. Pilates in the morning?"
Namjoon nods helplessly, and Hoseok shoots him some finger guns on his way to his room.
He waits until he hears Hoseok's door shut then buries his face into the discarded pillow and groans. There are thousand things in his mind to process tonight, ten thousand things, pain and embarrassment and regret and the sheer stupidity of existence, but right now he just breathes fabric and the disgusting smell of his own breath and tries not to disintegrate into dust.
Chapter 5: What You Want
"Let's do Dancing Queen," says Hoseok, poring over the list that Taehyung had deposited on their table with a wink as soon as they sat down. The open space at the back of the bar is less a karaoke stage and more a motley collection of wires with a huge speaker pointed at the patrons, but it's enough to get their resident exhibitionists excited. "Come on, Jimin, we'll kill it. Namjoon and Yoongi can back us up."
Jimin scoffs. "I don't know what kind of basic-ass person you think I am, but I am not doing Dancing Queen. A hundred white girls sing that every night of their lives," he says. "Would you ask Yoongi to do Macklemore?"
Hoseok's face falls. "He's great at Thrift Shop."
"God, you're hot but so cheesy," says Jimin. "I'm doing Hit 'Em Up Style and that's that. I knew Tae wouldn't let me down."
He blows a kiss at the distant waiter, who catches it and pats it around his ears like aftershave before disappearing into the kitchen.
"Dancing Queen is a top five karaoke song," says Namjoon, earning himself a precious smile from Hoseok and a roll of the eyes from Jimin. He and Hoseok have been strained since Namjoon's foolish night of indulgence, not quite the bachelor bros they'd been before he'd shot it all to hell. But Namjoon's been working hard to repair the damage, and Jimin's gotten more and more irritated with his efforts but things are slowly looking up. Namjoon had even found an unopened bag of Doritos on his bed this week, which he takes as a very positive sign.
"Ugh. I need someone with taste to save this table from social ruin," says Jimin. "Where's Yoongi? He'd better be coming."
Namjoon shrugs, looking at his phone. "He said he was. Must have gotten held up at work."
"I'm doomed," says Jimin. "And never tell Yoongi I said he has taste or I'll kill you. Jungkookie! Jungkook, come here!"
His piercing scream is hardly necessary because Jungkook is already weaving his way towards them with a canvas bag in his hand, followed closely by Taehyung, but they get stuck in a knot of other regulars just long enough for a disgruntled voice behind them to say, "Please say you already got me a drink."
Namjoon turns around and finds a Category 5 Yoongi glaring at them, floodwaters already rising past their heads. He rips off his jacket and tosses it over the back of his stool, clambering up and perching like an irritated hawk. They hadn't gotten him a drink, but Hoseok pushes over his half-full beer and Yoongi drains it without a word.
"Good day at work?" asks Jimin, eyebrow raised.
Yoongi bares his teeth in the exact opposite of a smile. "Look, whatever you do, don't -"
But they never find out what not to do because a figure appears out of nowhere in a burst of delight. "There you are! I almost lost you. This bar is popular, isn't it?"
Jimin's mouth drops open as they take in the impeccable hotness of the well-tailored newcomer, a tall Korean man with a mild accent and dancing lights in his eyes. Namjoon startles for a totally different reason, but he doesn't get to speak before the man claps his hands together. "I need a stool! One minute."
He bustles off to a nearby table with an empty seat, starting in on some kind of charming patter that has its female occupants laughing dangerously hard, and Hoseok watches with growing interest. He leans into Yoongi's space until they're practically indistinguishable and says, "You didn't tell me you were bringing a date."
"He's not a date," hisses Yoongi, burrowing inside the fabric of his shirt desperately. "He's that stupid rich guy and I can't shake him!"
"Sound System Man?" asks Hoseok at the same time Jimin says, "Oooh, so he's rich too?"
"Got one," says Yoongi's client, muscling a stool over through the crowd with airy apologies and grunts. "Those women were lovely. Hello everyone! You must be Yoongichi's friends. Let me buy you all drinks."
He signals to Taehyung as Hoseok mouths Yoongichi, grinning manically until Yoongi kicks him. Jimin immediately put his elbows on the table, and Namjoon shades his eyes from the diamond brilliance of his smile. "Thank you so much," he coos in Korean. "I'm Park Jimin. I'm sure Yoongi's told you all about me."
"Yoongi doesn't tell me much of anything," says the man brightly, sticking smoothly to English. "But he invited me to karaoke tonight, which was very kind of him."
"I didn't invite you. I said I was going and you got in my Uber before it could pull away," says Yoongi, red-faced when Taehyung finally makes it to the table.
"Ah, but you left me an opening, didn't you? A first! Hello, how are you tonight?"
The last is directed at Taehyung, who's hovering and clearly enjoying the free entertainment. "Hello suspiciously handsome new person. Welcome to tonight's pop-up noraebang. Would you like a drink?"
The man grins, an arresting move that makes Jimin swear under his breath, and says, "I'd like a drink for all of my new friends. Whatever they like best. Yoongi said they're regulars."
"The most regular," says Taehyung cheerfully. "They definitely get their fiber. So that's a whiskey for Yoongi, a Cosmo for Jimin, a margarita for Hoseok and the rarest microbrew we have for Namjoon. But what about for you?"
"Namjoon?" says the man, startled, turning to him for the first time. "Wow! Kim Namjoon! I didn't know that Yoongi knew you. What a small world."
Namjoon lifts a weak hand and smiles just as weakly, trying not to panic at the sharp steel of Seokjin's eyes. "Hi hyung. How are you?"
"Fantastic! Transcendent! It's a perfect night to be out and about," says Seokjin, leaning across Yoongi to clap Namjoon on the back a little too hard. "How are you?"
"Hyung?" says Yoongi, and Namjoon winces and clears his throat.
"Namjoon!" says a voice much too close to his ear, startling him nearly off the stool. Jungkook leans into his peripheral vision like a moon cresting a planet's horizon, big and shining. "I brought your clothes back. Sorry I had them so long. I washed them in my best-smelling detergent, with all sorts of fabric softener. I hope you like it!"
Namjoon takes the bag that's thrust under his nose out of sheer self-preservation, and it does smell pretty good. "Ah, you didn't have to do that."
"Who are you?" says Jungkook to Seokjin, who's still got his palm on Namjoon's shoulder to steady him. Jungkook inflates inside his t-shirt, pointing an accusing finger across the table, and Seokjin looks back with more than a hint of worrying amusement as he leans away. "You're not usually here."
"I'm Kim Seokjin. I'm here with Yoongi," says Seokjin, ruffling Yoongi's hair in a move that has Yoongi growling again. Taehyung looks between them, grinning, and Jungkook sinks back on his heels, though his expression remains skeptical.
Seokjin tilts his head to the side and adds, "Are you Namjoon's boyfriend?"
"No!" says Jungkook. "No! That's… no!"
"I see," says Seokjin, his smile curving very slightly in a new unnerving direction. "Quite emphatically no, then."
Hoseok coughs into his hand to cover Jimin's giggle. "So how do you know Namjoon, Seokjin-ssi? Do you work at the university?"
"If only I were academic enough," sighs Seokjin, impressively simulating regret. "No, I'm afraid Namjoon broke my heart quite seriously a few years ago. Didn't you, Joon-ah?"
A hush falls over the table as Namjoon's cheeks turn hot enough to melt glass under the combined stares of all of his friends. Their bug-eyed stares, from his quick perusal of the mood. If he were ranking their disbelief Jimin would win top prize handily, though Jungkook's face is surprisingly horrified next to him. Seokjin only laughs and adjusts his menu a microscopic fraction, because he apparently hasn't changed in the slightest since they last saw each other.
"You date?" says Hoseok eventually, looking at Namjoon like he's an alien creature, which puts a nicely embarrassing cherry on top of the entire experience.
"You dated him?" says Yoongi.
"You broke a billionaire's heart?" asks Jimin, no longer shocked but impressed.
Seokjin laughs again. "Yoongichi, you told them I'm a billionaire? My financial advisors would be so pleased with your optimism."
"He's just kidding. It wasn't a big deal," mumbles Namjoon. He rubs his palms on his jeans, trying not to look at Hoseok. Whatever that tone of voice was, the flabbergasted quality of it, can't mean anything good. "Just a few dates."
"Five dates," says Seokjin. "And a half! A whirlwind romance full of blazing passion, and then he never called me again. Such a promising suitor, gone but not forgotten. So tall! So dimpled! So prone to leaving his wallet at restaurants! I was devastated."
"I only did that once," says Namjoon.
"Twice," corrects Seokjin. "Once on the table and once when you left your suit jacket on the back of a chair after you took it off for no reason. And we only went to two restaurants! It was an incredible performance from start to finish."
"I don't even understand how you two know each other," says Yoongi. "You never said anything about him."
He's looking at Namjoon, and Namjoon realizes he's not going to be able to downplay this, not while Seokjin is there stirring things up. The stone in his stomach gets bigger, growing in size with every minute Seokjin watches him with that still-mysterious expression, because Namjoon had never figured out any of his patterns. He's not sure Seokjin has any to know.
"You never said his name," says Namjoon, a non-explanation because Yoongi clearly doesn't mean he hadn't mentioned him in the last few months. "It was just a set up by our parents. Blind date stuff. You know."
Seokjin nods, brow furrowed in the effort of remembrance. "Our mothers volunteer with the same charity foundation, I think. Global children's something something. Whatever it was, when my parents shipped me here to be irrevocably gay and run the US branch of the company, their dream of my perfect Korean marriage came with me. Only Namjoon proved much too elusive for their schemes. I salute you. With soju, if you have it."
He mimes a clinking glass, because Taehyung and Jungkook are still at their table and not even close to bringing them their ordered drinks. And it doesn't seem like they're going to as Jungkook asks, in the manner of someone who's been puzzling over something for a long time, "How can you have half a date?"
"I'm so glad you asked… what was your name?" says Seokjin. Jungkook mutters a response, and Seokjin claps. "Jungkook. It's actually quite simple! You plan a romantic sunset cruise on an associate's yacht, complete with champagne, a five course French meal, and plenty of safety vests to allow your budding paramour to enjoy his beloved marine life in style, and while you're waiting in your most devastating finery he calls and cancels and you never hear from him again."
The pleasant smile doesn't change, and Namjoon winces again. He remembers that day. He remembers it well, because he'd met Hoseok the night before, and he'd known that he'd found his future. It had been like a story unfolding, the outlines of the next chapter so obvious, and in the dim recesses of his mind the only thing that had mattered was snipping off the right buds of his life to let the new shape grow.
Which had included relationships, and Seokjin was just a guy his parents had politely demanded he spend time with. They'd gotten along well enough, a flurry of late night conversations and one night of uninspired sex, but the entire experience had just been one more thing on his list to clear away. When Seokjin said they were going to enjoy sea life he'd thought they were going to a seafood restaurant. He hadn't known anything about a yacht.
He'd also never thought Seokjin would care. There hadn't been anything like that between them even after the sex. He'd been breezy, charming and sophisticated, and very up front about the fact that his parents had been making their own demands. He'd taken nothing seriously but his work, and he certainly hadn't implied Namjoon was anything but an acceptable way to pass the time. But looking at the warm smile and cold eyes in front of him, he'd cared. He'd cared quite a bit.
"I'm sorry, Seokjin-ssi," says Namjoon. There are other messes to clear up here, he knows, the confusion from Yoongi and the repulsion from Hoseok and the distress from Jungkook that he still doesn't understand. But priority one is past Kim Seokjin, sitting on a boat alone while past Namjoon treated him like dirt.
He thinks about explaining further, he thinks about a lot of things in that long moment, but in the end there's nothing else to say. "I'm really sorry."
The group around him holds their collective breaths until Seokjin's gaze turns warm once more. "What's this nonsense? I'm still your hyung, Joon-ah," he says, and the world filters back in. "Besides, I already have a way for you to make it up to me."
"And how much will I hate this way?" asks Namjoon, resigned. One of the few things he had learned about Seokjin during their short acquaintance was his transactional lifestyle, with Seokjin always getting the better end of every bargain. And the other was his love of taking a simple situation and turning it unbelievably complicated, just to watch the world scramble to catch up.
"Probably a lot," says Yoongi under his breath, and Seokjin beams a smile in his direction before focusing back on Namjoon.
"There's a farmer's market near my house on Saturdays, and I've been looking for someone to go with. Unfortunately I've been unsuccessful in all my attempts to secure a companion, but perhaps you might join me tomorrow? Only if it fits into your schedule, of course."
He trails off expectantly, hand still on the back of Yoongi's stool, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to fill in the gaps of his request. Namjoon will accept, then convince Yoongi to come with them, and Seokjin will have the farmer's market date he actually wants for reasons passing understanding. Yoongi's narrowed eyes say he's suspicious but hasn't quite connected all the dots, and Namjoon apologizes to him silently as he nods.
"Sure," says Namjoon. Absolution never comes free, and he'll make it up to Yoongi somehow. "Sounds fun. So -"
"Hey Yoongi," says Taehyung.
He's still standing behind Jungkook, his hand around his shoulders in a hug, a tight hug by the set of his arm and the scrunch of Jungkook's t-shirt beneath his hand. Jungkook isn't paying attention anymore, looking across the bar with an anguished face, but Namjoon can't see whatever it is that's bothering him.
Taehyung's apparently not worried about what Jungkook sees either, watching their group with a strange, dangerous smile on his face. He looks almost furious, if Taehyung had emotions like fury, and Namjoon wonders what happened with everyone else while he was busy fixing his past mistakes.
Taehyung flicks a glance at Seokjin, a stiletto-sharp challenge that rings like a slap, then focuses back on Yoongi and says, "Do you want to go out with me tomorrow? On a date?"
Yoongi's lips part soundlessly, a perfect mirror of Jimin's shock until Jimin smooths himself back into polite interest. Hoseok gasps, his eyes darting between everyone in terror, and suddenly everything is much more complicated than it's ever been.
"We'll probably have sex," Taehyung adds when Yoongi doesn't answer.
"Yes," Yoongi says quickly, then flushes. "Not because of the sex. But yes. Where? When?"
"All day. Give me your number and I'll text you," says Taehyung, his expression hot enough to melt steel. He looks at Seokjin again, satisfaction settling over him for just a second before he shakes Jungkook. "We'd better go get their orders now, okay?"
Jungkook nods without saying anything, then leans up and whispers quickly into Taehyung's ear. He hasn't looked back at the table at all, and Namjoon's on the cusp of asking what's wrong when Taehyung looks at him and says, "I need that bag."
Namjoon looks down at his hands, surprised to see he's still gripping canvas between his fingers, and says, "This one? Why?"
"Because it's mine," says Taehyung. He reaches out imperiously, though he has his helpful customer service face on. "Kookie got the wrong one from the back. Sorry."
"Oh," says Namjoon. "Really? I thought I saw my stuff in there."
He starts to open it, pulling out the paint-splattered pants in confusion, and Seokjin grabs the bag without warning. "Hey! These are mine! Did you steal my clothes along with my heart?"
He asks it to Namjoon but he's not looking at him, perfect eyebrow cocked at Taehyung like he's sending a message, though what that could be is beyond Namjoon. Jungkook makes a noise deep in his throat and steps back, tugging at Taehyung's sleeve urgently. Taehyung doesn't move for a minute, locked into another staring contest with Seokjin before he says cheerfully, "Be right back with your drinks."
They both leave, arguing, and Namjoon hears a snatch of Taehyung saying, "You can't spit in -" as they're swallowed up by the crowd. It's easy to hear, because no one else is saying anything at all.
"Congratulations, Yoongi," says Jimin eventually. It's flat and emotionless, though Jimin's eyes are very carefully smiling. It's the way he looks when the head of their department stops by to ask him to take on a few guest lectures or do a campus tour for entitled rich kids, and Namjoon shivers.
Yoongi's dazed eyes snap back into focus from where they'd been following Taehyung across the bar. "Jimin -"
"I'm going to the bathroom," says Jimin, hopping down from his stool. "Be right back."
Namjoon starts to follow him, but Hoseok is quicker. "I've got it," he says quietly, nodding his head towards Seokjin and Yoongi. "You can stay."
And then it's just Namjoon, Seokjin and Yoongi in a thick, awkward silence. Namjoon's not sure what to say, and Seokjin's pulled out his phone with a look of industry as he taps into it, and Yoongi's still a little punch drunk by his expression. The silence festers like a wound, and Namjoon's nearly certain that Seokjin's playing a mobile game instead of answering e-mails by the time Yoongi says, "That speaker is fucked up," and leaves them without another word.
Seokjin puts his phone away as soon as Yoongi's gone, looking after him silently, and Namjoon takes the opportunity to say, "I'm sorry, hyung. I would have done it."
"Done what?" asks Seokjin without any of his former cheer. He resolves back into himself as his gaze snaps to Namjoon's, though defeat sits heavily on his broad frame. "Ah, of course. You don't have to come tomorrow."
Namjoon shakes his head. "No. No, I'd still like to catch up. If you want to anyway. And I love farmer's markets. I just meant… I would have gotten Yoongi to come, too."
Seokjin shrugs, a bitter smile tugging his lips. "I'm sure you would have."
"So am I," says Seokjin. He laughs quietly. "Though despite all that, I really am glad to see you again. A silver lining inside of gray clouds, isn't that what they say here?"
As if Seokjin's English hadn't always been flawless, but Namjoon says, "Yep. Your studying obviously went well."
"That's very kind of you to say," says Seokjin, and something about the way he forms the words tells Namjoon he's forgiven if not quite forgotten. That they'll go to the farmer's market because they'll enjoy it but the penance is over, and that breaks up the guilty stone inside of him. Which is good because the rest of them need him to keep it together tonight, not sit trapped inside a prison of his own making.
He breathes out through his nose and looks across the bar, taking stock of the situation. Yoongi's touching wires and muttering to himself as he fiddles with dials, his version of self-care, and Jimin and Hoseok are over at the karaoke sign-up table and laughing like things are normal. They aren't, of course, because Taehyung is next to them wearing Mr. T and posing for pictures from other patrons, and Jimin is very pointedly not looking at him. He keeps Hoseok between them at all times, moving like choreography whenever Taehyung shifts position to be nearer, and Taehyung's friendly smile gets dimmer and dimmer with every moment.
Eventually Taehyung leans over and says something directly to Jimin, something Namjoon has no hope of hearing, and Jimin's head whips around at supernatural speed to reply. Whatever he says wipes the expression off of Taehyung's face completely and has Hoseok tugging him back to the table with all of his considerable strength.
Namjoon expects Jimin to explode in a rant when he arrives but he doesn't, just takes his seat and announces he got the song he wanted without any preamble.
"And Hoseok is doing Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, which is is a travesty," Jimin adds, patting Hoseok gently on the hand. "You'd better ham it up, okay?"
"You know it," says Hoseok.
Hoseok looks between Namjoon and Seokjin, drumming his fingers on the table, then leans over and asks Seokjin what sort of business his family's in. Which gives Namjoon his opening to get closer to Jimin and ask quietly, "Are you okay?"
"The next person to ask me that gets my knee in their dick," says Jimin. He shreds the napkin in front of him into long, precise strips. "Or dick equivalent."
"Then please don't make me ask again," says Namjoon, which makes Jimin chuckle.
He sighs when Namjoon doesn't say anything else, looking up with a steady, clear gaze that hurts more than tears. "I just thought there was something real there. Past all of the silly flirting. I know you all thought it was a game, and it was, but then he'd look at me sometimes. Really look, and I'd think, wow this is it. This is who it's going to be. I thought Tae was just waiting for the right time, you know? But it's fine. He obviously knows what he wants."
"I don't know that anyone knows what they want," says Namjoon. He knows that he wants to hug Jimin, and get a hug for himself, but he doesn't move because the set of Jimin's jaw says that he wants nothing of comfort right now.
But Namjoon can't stop himself from stealing a glance at Hoseok, who's been his own it for so long, and who also knows he doesn't want Namjoon. Hoseok, who's starlight sitting across the table with a drink in his hand, and Namjoon can't be thinking about this while Jimin's in pain.
"And if they think they know, they're probably not getting it," Namjoon finishes.
Jimin shakes his head. "No philosophy, okay? I'm going to have a good night," he says. His mouth curves into a smile as he nods his head at Seokjin, who's now deep in conversation with Hoseok about shipping logistics. "At least you have a hot date tomorrow."
"Date?" says Namjoon, startled. "Oh, no. That was a long time ago. He's into Yoongi, I think."
He mentally slaps himself as soon as he says it, but Jimin doesn't blink. "Seems to be going around," he says, then snaps his fingers at their tablemates. "Hey, stop talking about work. It's Friday night."
Seokjin apologizes, then asks brightly if they had any Disney movies on the karaoke lists as a waiter brings them their drinks and waits for orders.
No one asks where Taehyung is.
Later, Jimin wheedles Seokjin into buying shots, which they all throw back without acknowledging why they're not protesting their morning headaches. And Yoongi lets Jimin pick his karaoke song, a dangerous proposition that leaves him singing Celine Dion glory notes without any cover at all. The bar cheers itself hoarse, and Jimin laughs hard enough that he ends up on the floor, and Namjoon is happy because he knows they'll be okay again.
It's not enough to heal everything, even when Yoongi lets Jimin capture video evidence, but it's enough to know they'll be okay.
The rest of them are a bit harder to gauge. Taehyung and Jungkook never come back, and Hoseok is cheerful but pensive, and Seokjin exudes the same level of effortless charm that Namjoon imagines he would project in a literal apocalypse. It's okay but not, notes of wrongness weaving underneath their hysterical laughter, and Namjoon doesn't know how to fix it as he gets progressively drunker.
At the end of the night when Namjoon tries to give Seokjin his phone number, Seokjin shows him his phone with a half-smile. "I have it," he says, Blind Date Namjoon on the screen with a picture of the Pokemon Go logo as the photo. "Still the same?"
"Still the same," says Namjoon, confused. "Why Pokemon Go?"
"Because you were hot for a few weeks and then completely worthless," says Seokjin. "I'll text you in the morning!"
And only Namjoon, who's looking out for this sort of thing in his newly complex world, notices the way Seokjin moves past Yoongi like a cat, begging to be acknowledged without deigning to ask. Yoongi keeps talking to Hoseok, oblivious, until Seokjin is out the door. Only then does his head turn, the tension in his back unbearable, and Hoseok looks at Namjoon helplessly as Namjoon settles the bill and leads the rest of them out.
"So," says Hoseok on the walk home, the clarity of the night sky almost startling after the fog of their evening. It's just them, Jimin and Yoongi heading to their own places despite all of Hoseok's wheedling, and Namjoon is focusing on straight lines as best he can. "Kim Seokjin, huh?"
Namjoon doesn't really know what he means, but he settles on a noncommittal shrug in response. It seems safe, even if this conversation definitely doesn't. There's an edge to the air, but Namjoon doesn't know if the edge is coming from inside himself or not.
"I've heard of him," says Hoseok. "I couldn't place it at first, but an ex of mine knew him. Cody? The game developer? Seokjin was an investor. He was like, mythical to everyone in that group. He said Seokjin was weird, but rich enough to get away with it. He didn't do his hotness justice, though. Unless that's new?"
"He looks exactly the same as he did back then," says Namjoon. "He'll probably look like that until he's a hundred years old. He's that kind of guy."
"Wow," says Hoseok, laughing. "I owe Cody an apology. I went off on him when he said I should know Seokjin because we're both Asian like some kind of douche. But I guess maybe every Korean in this town does know each other somehow."
"Seokjin and I do, anyway," says Namjoon. "I don't think you owe anyone an apology for it."
They move past a place with blaring music, a snatch of beat that Hoseok changes his gait to match without even realizing it, his mind clearly somewhere else. "Don't I? I feel like I might owe you one."
An icy finger crawls down Namjoon's spine, irrational and terrified. Hoseok can't know why he ended things with Seokjin, that Namjoon's been trapped inside a relationship that will never happen for all these years, that even now he's not sorry that it happened because he can't imagine wanting anyone else. Hoseok may have talked to Seokjin for a long time tonight but Seokjin doesn't know either. No one knows, and no one will know, but the wary set of Hoseok's shoulders is scaring him anyway.
Hoseok runs a hand through his hair, slightly sweaty at the roots from his night of performance, and says, "Haven't I been keeping you from what you want?"
He stops moving under a streetlight as they get to their building, looking up at Namjoon but past him, not quite meeting his eyes. Which is good, because Namjoon thinks he might throw up. There are too many futures inside his mind, too many things that aren't true but he's always wanted, too many things that are true that he's never been able to shake. His mouth feels like microbrew and cotton balls, and if Hoseok is going to kiss him that's not an ideal mouth state.
But Hoseok doesn't kiss him, just says, "Look, this stupid celibacy stuff, that's a me thing. I didn't ask you. I didn't think I needed to. I just assumed, which is shitty of me, but you've never brought anyone around, right? Not in all the years I've known you. But if you're dating, if you date people… I mean, this is where you live."
"Yes," says Namjoon, looking at the familiar building to confirm. He frowns. "Wait, what?"
"I mean you can bring people around," says Hoseok, scuffing his feet on the sidewalk in that same half-heard rhythm. There's no more music here, but he carries it with him anyway. "Bring them home and stuff. You don't have to hide it, I can make myself scarce. I'm a good roommate, I swear. Sorry that I just assumed you didn't want to."
"Oh," says Namjoon. The alcohol on his tongue makes it loose, too loose, and he's starting before he knows how to stop. "Oh, no, it's not like that. You were right, I don't really date. Not that I wouldn't, but it doesn't come up much. Set ups from my parents, sometimes, like Seokjin. Coffee offers. But nothing, you know, real. Home-bringing doesn't happen."
He laughs, much bigger than he intends, a false-ringing burst of staccato noise, and he knows his face is burning. "Nothing's worked out for me, I guess. Seokjin was actually the last guy I went out with more than once."
"And you dumped him," says Hoseok, laughing suddenly on the edge of control. It's his drunk laugh, high and bubbly, and Namjoon reaches out to steady him as he staggers. "God, Joonie, you dumped Kim Seokjin! No wonder it's not working out, your standards are crazy high."
Namjoon shakes his head, sputtering a protest, but Hoseok just punches him on the arm. "Good for you, man. Never apologize for knowing what you want. Or holding out for it."
"Thanks," says Namjoon, rubbing the place where Hoseok hit him absently.
Hoseok tugs him into the building, still chuckling. "And hey, maybe Seokjin's improved from three years ago. We're all improving, right? Poor Jungkook though. All those big eyes and dreams. I thought it would sort of work itself through, you know, but now it's a whole new ball game. I guess you can talk to him next week, if things go well."
"Sure," says Namjoon, bewildered. Hoseok must be drunker than he'd thought, to be this incoherent. "I'll talk to him. If he comes by the table again, anyway."
"I think you might have to go to him first," says Hoseok. "But hey, no sense in borrowing trouble before it's earned. My mom says that all the time."
The rest of the ride to the apartment is silent, and it's not until they're inside and kicking off their shoes that Hoseok laughs again as he pitches against the wall. "You know what's crazy? A long time ago, back when we'd just met, I thought you were going to ask me out. It definitely seemed like it! But you never did, so I asked Yoongi what was up. If I was getting you wrong. He was the one who told me you didn't date much. Which made sense. You were more mature than all of us, even back then."
Namjoon would love to answer, but his throat is closed and tight against the sudden struggle to breathe. Against all that weighted past that's pressing on him again, now inside his home. Hoseok is wasted, and giggling like this is a hilarious memory and not the agony of Namjoon's life, all those perfect moments that never came. He can't believe Hoseok knew.
He can't figure out a way to say a single word.
"Guess we didn't have much to offer you. Don't," says Hoseok, finally getting his shoes onto the rack after a Herculean effort. "Kim Seokjin. Holy shit."
Hoseok looks up, happy and piercing, teeth gleaming in the light of the moon. "But everything worked out for the best, didn't it? I'm really glad we're friends, Joonie."
"Yeah," says Namjoon thickly. His head feels a little too big for his body, and he doesn't want to lean over to pick up his sandals in case he overbalances and falls. But Hoseok is waiting for him to say something, so he adds, "I'm glad we're friends too."
It's the truth, at least, and the truth sets him free as promised as Hoseok shuffles down the hall to his room with a sleepy good night. Once he's gone Namjoon sinks to the floor, taking off his shoes oh so carefully, and wonders how a night that had started out so well had ended in such a mess.
Chapter 6: Market Forces
It's out of the frying pan and into the fire the next morning, when Namjoon flees his apartment while Hoseok is still asleep and enters a brunch and farmer's market outing with Kim Seokjin.
The bright side is that he wakes up so late that he has no time to mentally replay the destruction of the night before, where he'd lain awake staring at the dark ceiling of his room and wondered how obvious he'd been all those years ago. How obvious he's being now, because he can feel the shapes his face made as Hoseok spoke, the information that was written across it for anyone to see. He wonders if Hoseok will even bother to let him down or if he'll just leave, now that his secret isn't a secret anymore. Hoseok may like being his friend, but he's never had any problem leaving the heartbroken behind.
Though Namjoon isn't any different in that respect, he supposes as he follows Seokjin into the market. Another blessing of the complete destruction of his life and social circle is that he's had so many things taking his mind off of the fact that he's a jackass.
They've made it a hundred feet into the stalls overtaking a tree-lined side street when Seokjin demands that Namjoon buy him a flower. The demand is gentle and charming, and to an outsider it would sound like nothing more than a joking request, but Namjoon knows better as he hands over the money for an enormous lily that's impractical and eye-catching and very expensive. Seokjin's testing him, throwing himself against the electric fences of Namjoon's patience, but this is a bad test. Namjoon would buy anyone in the world a flower, if they wanted one.
The woman running the booth takes a picture when Seokjin holds it up to his face, perfect and fluttering, thanking him for the promotional shot with a wicked grin. Seokjin laughs along with her, twirling the flower in his long fingers, then hands it off to a passing girl before they go another twenty steps.
Namjoon doesn't say anything as he smiles at the confused passerby, demurring when she tries to give it back. This is a better test of him, Seokjin's pointed way of asserting control in a hostile world, but as a coping mechanism Namjoon has seen worse.
And it's getting them back to the fight they need to have, to break the bone and set it clean. Brunch had been a pleasant meal full of catching up, both of them leaving the past on hold, and it had been easy to step around the strangeness and back into the weaving conversations they'd always had. Seokjin is simple when he tries, he always was, and if he chooses to set a person at ease that person is set without even being aware of it.
That past is creeping up on them now but that doesn't mean Namjoon has to start the war over a flower.
Seokjin seems satisfied with Namjoon's silence, and they wander past the greenery and into the baked goods, which Namjoon is almost too hungover to be tempted by. But not quite, because the dough smells like heaven, and Seokjin spends a dramatic amount of time sniffing over homemade bread before selecting a loaf for them to share.
They settle on a nearby bench, artisanal honey and unspoken arguments between them, and Namjoon waits for Seokjin to take a piece and taste it before selecting his own.
Seokjin laughs around his mouthful. "So polite. The years haven't changed you at all."
"You're my elder, and there's a proper order to everything," says Namjoon in Korean, which makes Seokjin smack him in the arm.
"Never meet my mother," he says. "By now she doesn't believe that America has any worthy Korean men, and she'll berate me endlessly for failing to make the match if she learns there is one after all."
"You didn't fail," says Namjoon. "It wasn't like that."
Seokjin shrugs, an enigmatic smile on his honey-smeared lips, and Namjoon realizes he's being made fun of. It should irritate him, but Seokjin somehow never completes that circuit. "That's mean, hyung. I already feel guilty enough."
"I'll say when it's enough," says Seokjin. "That's my right as the wounded party, isn't it?"
He hands Namjoon the piece of bread he's torn off, pouring a liberal amount of honey over the top, and Namjoon narrows his eyes as he accepts the offering. Seokjin doesn't acknowledge him, taking another and chewing in silence as he soaks in the crowd.
"Did I really break your heart?" says Namjoon eventually. He switches to Korean again, the better to divide this moment from what came before. Namjoon finds it nearly impossible to believe that Seokjin cared, even now, but he has to ask.
Seokjin doesn't try to laugh it off, which is good. Namjoon had wondered what he would do if he had, but deep down he already knows. Because he hasn't heard from Yoongi yet this morning, which is normal, or Jimin, which is decidedly not. And Namjoon doesn't know how he'll ever look at Hoseok again, much less live with him. His group might be irrevocably broken and if Seokjin had laughed, even a small chuckle, Namjoon would have left without another word.
Seokjin does finish the bread in one enormous bite, swallowing with effort.
"No," says Seokjin. "You're a magnificent specimen of a man, of course, but my heart is unbelievably resilient."
"So it was just funny to you, last night," says Namjoon. He doesn't try to hide the censure, not for himself but for his friends caught in the riptide of what's only between them. Seokjin can do what he wants - and does, without needing the permission - but it's disappointing to realize he'd done it all for fun. "Just a game to teach me a lesson, with people you'll never see again paying the price."
"Not that either," says Seokjin, surprised. "Perhaps you have changed, Joon-ah. So serious, even after I bought bread and honey to sweeten the mood. This severity doesn't sit well on you."
"It's not a joke," says Namjoon. "I don't pretend to understand everything that happened, or even most of it, but I know that things are wrong now. My friends are upset, and they weren't before you came. You were the catalyst. And maybe it's not your fault, because you didn't know what you were walking into, but it's not a joke."
Seokjin sighs and collapses slightly. "It's not a joke. But it wasn't a game either. I was nervous, and you surprised me," he says. He looks at Namjoon, a little bit of last night's defeat back. "Besides, catalysts are supposed to come out the other side of the reaction unchanged. Your friends weren't the only ones who ended the night in a different place than they began."
Namjoon's anger subsides, because Seokjin looks a lot like Jimin had, but even less willing to be hugged. "You don't get nervous."
"I don't show nerves. There's a difference," says Seokjin. His mouth flattens, a slash across his face. "I took a risk last night. That's never comfortable."
Namjoon studies him, the intertwined whiteness of his fingers and the red tips of his ears. "You really like Yoongi, don't you?"
"Not at all," says Seokjin immediately, back in English without warning. "He's spectacularly rude. And difficult. Very difficult."
Namjoon doesn't point out that Seokjin is hardly one to talk.
"He's a contractor, but he acts like an emperor. He doesn't even give good customer service," continues Seokjin, knee bouncing rapidly. "When I asked him to reprogram my singing bass with my own trot-inspired version of My Way, he said it was an affront to both fish and song and refused to do it. He refused! I'm paying him! An exorbitant amount of money, by the way, enough to keep anyone happily employed, but he gripes at me anyway."
"He does that."
"I think he was put on this earth to test me," says Seokjin. "He brings fliers from anti-capitalist activists and hides them all over my house. He put them in my Italian shoes. One flier in every shoe! And in my refrigerator, not to mention my stand mixer, which almost caused a cookie-making disaster which he didn't even apologize for when I told him. He just ate them all, very smugly."
"Yoongi loves cookies," says Namjoon, amused despite himself. "And free food. But surely you're running out of sound systems to install, so he'll be gone soon enough."
He means it as comfort but Seokjin twists away. "That's true. I'd thought we might overhaul our conference room tech at the office, modernize and upgrade, but I haven't asked for a quote yet. Maybe it's a good time to re-evaluate my strategy."
Namjoon doesn't say anything, and Seokjin stares at his hands. "Tell me about this Taehyung person."
"I don't really know much about him," says Namjoon. "He's even harder to read than you."
"I'm perfectly accessible."
"Right," says Namjoon. He pauses, then adds gently, "Yoongi's been into him for a long time, though."
"That I'd managed to piece together already," says Seokjin. He sighs again. "I suppose I'll wait and see on the upgrades. I don't have to decide now."
"For what it's worth," says Namjoon, stepping around the words like a mine field, "Yoongi would have quit working for you a long time ago if he were really annoyed. He doesn't do things he doesn't want to do."
Seokjin snorts. "Another thing I'd managed to learn on my own within five minutes of meeting him," he says. "And have relearned in every interaction since. What use are you if you're just going to tell me things I already know?"
But his slumped shoulders draw back into his more usual arrogance as he says it, and Namjoon doesn't have to try to mean his apology. Seokjin berates him for his unenthusiasm before he adds, more quietly, "I'm sorry about your friends. I didn't intend any of that. I would have behaved differently, if I'd known."
"No you wouldn't have."
"I would have considered it," says Seokjin. "Though I sometimes get ahead of my own better judgment. And I'm sorry to you as well."
"Me?" says Namjoon. He shakes his head. "Don't apologize. I deserved it. I hope I've changed in the last few years, if I've was a person who could do something like that to you and never even notice. I really am sorry, hyung."
"I took great pains to ensure you wouldn't notice," says Seokjin. "And it's no excuse for what I did to Jungkook. I thought it would be something you'd laugh about later. I didn't realize that you were still at the beginning of things, and I was focused on an entirely different objective at the time. A selfish one."
Namjoon blinks, running the words back in his mind. "Jungkook? What did you do to him?"
Seokjin looks at him like he's asked what color the sky is. "I asked you out."
"You did? Wait, this is a date?" says Namjoon, slightly panicked.
"Of course not," says Seokjin scornfully. "Look at these jeans. I don't wear relaxed fit on dates."
He digs around in the pocket of said jeans, which look attractive enough to Namjoon though admittedly Seokjin could wear a burlap sack and still be perfectly proportioned. He pulls out a crumpled sheet of paper and hands it over. "And as for Jungkook, I interrupted his moment. I found this in the bag of clothes I took last night. Which aren't mine, by the way, but I'm keeping them because they smell fantastic. Anyway, consider this my way of fixing that mistake."
Namjoon unfolds the paper and smooths it in his hand, eyes widening as he reads the messy script.
Thanks for the clothes. It was really nice of you to lend them to me. But you're a nice guy, so I'm not surprised. I don't think people tell you how nice you are enough, so I'll try to tell you that more. You're nice! ^_^
Also I've tried to say this a lot but it's really hard when your face is right there, so I'm going to say it in a note. I would like to go on a date with you. If you want to do that. I don't know if you do. It's okay if you don't, but I hope you do. I know some nature walks that you might like. Or I can teach you how to play video games. I noticed you don't have any at your house, but I have a bunch. Not that I just play games. I do lots of things! We could also eat food?
This is getting long, sorry. If you want to go on a date with me too, I put my phone number at the bottom of the note. I've given it to you before but I'm not sure if you still have it so I thought I should be safe. Thanks again for the clothes! And for being nice! Bye!
At the bottom of the paper is a neatly printed number and a hastily scrawled, This is Jungkook!!! next to it, and then another hastily scrawled You're really cool surrounded by a heart, finished off with a Taehyung and Tannie say hi~~~ in completely different handwriting accompanied by a drawing of a dog.
"You didn't know," says Seokjin when Namjoon doesn't speak, and it's not a question but Namjoon shakes his head blankly anyway. Seokjin throws his hands in the air, scaring a nearby pigeon into flight. "Ridiculous. I wasted so much effort being inscrutable with you. How could you not know? His heart pours out of his eyes!"
"He's just a kid!" says Namjoon. He looks down at himself, totally nonplussed. "I'm too old for him!"
"He's an attractive and thriving young man," says Seokjin. "So are you, somewhere inside there. Nature has a way of taking control. Plus he's about as subtle as a brick to the head. I was sure you were already dating, that's how moony his face was. I thought you two were playing it cool, hiding your relationship for some reason. Badly."
"I don't know how to be cool," mumbles Namjoon, still adjusting to this new reality. "Jungkook has a crush on me?"
"That's one word for it," says Seokjin. He's much calmer now that he's making fun of Namjoon, which makes Namjoon want to kick him. "I might have said 'violent passion.'"
"Great," says Namjoon. "Fuck, this is bad."
"Why?" asks Seokjin. "I told you, this isn't a date. I give you full leave to take nature walks with a young, aspiring e-sports professional in silly clothes. He seems athletic!"
Namjoon's mind unhelpfully flashes back to Jungkook's skintight party outfit, and he curses the baser parts of himself. "I can't go out with people who actually like me!"
Seokjin laughs like a rabid hyena, tears gathering in the corners of his eyes. Namjoon waits for it to subside, but it doesn't, and he eventually grumbles, "Well, I can't."
To his surprise, Seokjin pats him gently on the shoulder and says, "I understand. I've turned down hundreds of eligible bachelors in two countries, opting to pay a man to come to my house and reject me soundly over and over again for months instead."
Namjoon doesn't think it's all the same thing, but anything that gets Seokjin to stop laughing at him is good enough. He's certainly not going to talk about Jung Hoseok in the middle of the street surrounded by balloons and handcrafted jewelry.
"Right," says Namjoon, folding the note carefully and tucking it away. "I'll take care of it. Somehow. Thanks for telling me, hyung."
"Just that simple?"
"Just that necessary," says Namjoon. He's already dreading this particular conversation, the fragility of the heart he might be holding in his clumsy hands, but he's no coward. He'd had Jungkook in his home. They're friends, after a fashion. He has to do this.
Seokjin shrugs. "You could pretend you never saw it. It's entirely possible I wouldn't have given it to you. And he'll probably never be brave enough to bring it up again."
"That's not the way I do things," says Namjoon. "I didn't do that with you."
"No, you didn't," says Seokjin, his curious half-smile back in place. "That was possibly the most annoying thing about you. I prefer to be jilted by scoundrels, when I can get them."
"Sorry," says Namjoon. "I'll do better next time."
"Is this next time?"
Namjoon frowns. "You said this wasn't a date."
"It's not," says Seokjin. He looks at Namjoon carefully and says, "I know where your bar is. Yoongi's mentioned Friday night hangouts enough that I know you'll be there again. I could be, too."
The penny drops, and Namjoon winces. "I think that's a bad idea, don't you?"
"Yes," says Seokjin. "Potentially catastrophic. Hoseok may be the only one of your friends who doesn't hate me at this point, including you."
"I don't hate you, hyung," says Namjoon. It's true. He's more comfortable sitting on this bench with Seokjin than he ever would have believed when he reappeared last night. Seokjin's not it for him, but he's always been comfortable. "But it does seem like asking for a lot of pain. I just… I don't want to put the rest of them through anything more. Not if I can help it. Does that make sense?"
"It does," says Seokjin, smooth and unbothered.
It's the same voice he'd had on the phone all those years ago, down to the inflection, and Namjoon hastens to add, "We can still hang out today. We've only seen two stalls so far, and I'm hoping to find some cool mittens. I need your good taste."
"My taste transcends good."
"That's what I meant," says Namjoon. "So you're okay? With not… you know. Not?"
Seokjin's face pinches into something small, a new expression that Namjoon can't quite parse. "What?"
It's a long moment with no response, Seokjin seeming to fight with himself before he starts picking up the debris of their bread feast. He's still not looking at Namjoon when he says in a low voice, "You didn't break my heart. But I don't have many connections here. People who understand where I come from, not just what I seem to be. And I have even fewer friends. Certainly not so many that I don't feel it when they fade away."
"Hyung," says Namjoon, startled, "did you want to be real friends with me?"
Seokjin balls up their trash into his hands, tighter and tighter. "What sort of question is that? 'Real friends'? Is this school? I'm merely making an observation, Kim Namjoon. There's no need to get sentimental."
"Of course not," says Namjoon, smiling as he puts his hand over Seokjin's fist. "So let's be friends."
When he gets home, thinking determinedly about nothing and hoping Hoseok has one of his packed Saturdays where he's not there at all, he walks into the wrong apartment.
Namjoon blinks, trying to figure out where he is, until he remembers that he'd put his key into the lock and clicked it open just like he always does. And there's his bonsai. And the wall hanging that his cousin had gotten in India and probably didn't exist anywhere else in Seattle. So this is definitely the right apartment.
It's just all of his stuff that's wrong.
His television is on the opposite wall, all of the bookshelves shifted around it, and his paired couches have switched places with each other. Or mostly switched, because the loveseat is awkwardly crooked on the outskirts of the seating area rug, which has moved too. Pictures are on new walls at different heights, his dining table is angled in the middle of the room like an art display piece, and there are knickknacks scattered around the room that he'd put away in entryway hutch that he'd never known what to do with. Which has also moved, he realizes, no longer an entryway hutch but a serving table in the farthest corner of the space.
He's trying to figure out if this is a new type of burglary - making it hard to see what's missing via interior decoration - when the sage green loveseat scoots across the floor, a displeased grunt behind it. Namjoon muffles a cry, and Hoseok's head pops up over the arm, just a headband, falling waves of hair, and too-wide eyes. "Oh! Joonie! You're back."
"I am," says Namjoon, his hand on his heart from more than just the surprise. He thrusts the box he's holding in front of him like an organic shield. "Seokjin got this for you. It's an all-natural granola cake. We tried some at the booth, it was good. It has a Squirtle decoration on it, though, sorry. Hyung insisted."
"Thanks!" says Hoseok, but he makes no move to come and get it. He looks like a little mushroom sprite tucked behind the couch, and Namjoon can't see his expression, and the only thing he can think about is that Hoseok knows that Namjoon wants him, and Namjoon knows that he knows. All that knowing takes the rest of the actions he could do and throws them away, so he just stands there, holding cake, in the right-wrong apartment.
Eventually Hoseok levers himself up, brushing his hands together briskly and jazz-handing them when he's done. He's wearing tiny shorts again, his knees red from kneeling, and Namjoon tries to be stern with himself for noticing but he can't stop it. Everything is too much right now, and he hasn't even taken off his shoes yet.
Hoseok smiles, but he's not meeting Namjoon's eyes, destroying any reality where he hadn't remembered that last night happened in the first place. "I cleaned."
Hoseok looks around, like he's surprised to still be there. Namjoon knows how he feels. "No, no, it's all the same stuff! I just wanted to tidy up a little. Not that you're messy or anything. And then I remembered how annoying it is in the morning when the sun is rising and there's that huge glare on the television, so I though I'd move it. But that unbalanced the room so I had to move the bookcases, and then the sitting area was backwards, and… Sorry."
He trails off abruptly, lovely mouth pinched into distress, and Namjoon says, "It's fine. It's just furniture. If you like it better, I like it better."
It's not a lie, because his old layout came from the decorator, a boilerplate arrangement that he'd never cared enough about to notice except that it was there. And right now his mind is occupied with how heavy his furniture is, and how Hoseok moved it all on his own, and what his muscles might have looked like when he was doing it. Namjoon hates that he can still be horny, even now with his heart exposed, but he can't shut that off any more than he can shut off his breath.
"You must have woken up right when I left to get all this done," says Namjoon, to fill the space. "I wasn't even gone that long."
"Oh, well," says Hoseok. He bends over to readjust the rug, then pops up like a gopher. "Hey, how did it go with Seokjin? Did you guys have a good time?"
"Better than I expected," says Namjoon, finally kicking his shoes off and making his way inside. He sets the cake on the table for safe keeping, leaving his hands horribly unoccupied. "Hyung is difficult sometimes. And things were pretty messed up. But we got there in the end. And I got some mittens."
He doesn't mention the love letter from Jungkook, or the fact that Seokjin had stomped on his foot when Namjoon tried to hug him goodbye, shrieking like a crow and drawing the stern gaze of security until Namjoon was a sufficient distance away. Seokjin's friendship tests were apparently no different from his dating ones, and Namjoon could have really used that hug. "But that's not important. Why don't you show me where everything is now?"
Hoseok brightens, sweeping his arms around him in a big circle. "It all makes so much more sense now, you'll see. So here's the TV, and then you can sit here, and the table's on this side of the couch now so you don't have to put your drink inside of the cushion and and hope it doesn't spill. Plus it shares with the love seat, see? And your movie bookcase is next to the TV, and your book bookcase is away from the windows so that the bonsai still gets plenty of light. He needs plenty of light, right baby?"
He says the last in a sweet, cloying voice, his register raising into angelic tones, and Namjoon's heart constricts. A part of him had thought a broken secret might make some things easier to live with, but it's becoming clearer and clearer that it only makes everything worse.
Hoseok reaches down and pets the bonsai lightly, adding, "You're a happy little guy now, aren't you?"
Hoseok turns and grins at Namjoon, and Namjoon smiles back without being in any control of himself at all. And Hoseok seems to remember why he shouldn't smile at Namjoon like that, whipping his head around and saying, "And here's the dining area! There was too much empty space so I filled it up better -"
"Wait a second," says Namjoon. He squints at his bookshelves, slightly horrified. "Did you rearrange my books?"
"Oh, yeah," says Hoseok. "That was the first thing I did. They weren't in alphabetical order! It drove me crazy every time I picked one. So now it's all nice and organized! The movies too."
Hoseok moves closer, the warmth of him a bright spot on Namjoon's back, but Namjoon's too busy mourning to appreciate it. Mourning his system, his perfectly crafted, highly personal, incredibly detailed system, destroyed in the span of a morning. He'd built it up over the years, memories and songs and eras that he'd passed through to get from who he was to who he is, little bricks of the past building a road to the present.
The first book he'd bought for himself just because he wanted it, when he was just a child in the throes of a first allowance, and the one he'd read the first night of college, alone and worried that his roommate already hated him, and the one Jimin had given him the first day he'd come by his office, a self-help book that hadn't helped Namjoon even a little bit but he'd cherished all the same.
He still knows what they all are, each story and page, and their order hadn't made sense to anyone but him. He knows that, but there's something terrible about his life being torn apart and slotted into the alphabet like this, while he'd been breaking bones and eating honeyed bread.
"I'm sorry I don't know more about them or I would have put them into genres or something," says Hoseok. "But it was still fun. Relaxing. I hope you like it."
Namjoon reaches out and touches One Hundred Years of Solitude, the book he'd started again with newly open eyes the day he'd gone to a garden with Hoseok, his heart full and ready to be spilled, and Hoseok had brought his brand new boyfriend along. It had been closer to the end, once. "Yeah. It was definitely a mess. Thanks for taking the time."
"You're welcome," says Hoseok. "I also moved all of the stuff in your kitchen cabinets to better locations. Just in case we ever cook."
Namjoon turns to him finally, and Hoseok is looking at him again, mouth back in the worried position. "You really like it? I can move it all back. I kind of got out of control."
And Namjoon is about to gratefully agree, just to keep everything in his life from exploding all at once, when Hoseok laughs nervously. "I did this once at Daniel's place when I was having trouble with a site design. I couldn't get the look the way I wanted it and I needed a break, so I moved most of his furniture around, too. I don't know why did it. I just like it when things are the right way, you know? He hated it. He moved everything back that night when he got home. He broke up with me the next day."
Namjoon's mouth snaps shut, and Hoseok hastens to add, "Not that you have to feel obligated to keep it this way or anything. I'm just saying, you wouldn't be the first person to think I'm crazy!"
He laughs again, even more nervously, and Namjoon starts to reassure him when Hoseok spins in a slow circle and puts his head in his hands. "Oh my god, I really am crazy. I changed your whole apartment, without even asking. Why do I do things like this? Fuck. Don't worry, I'll fix it. You can go to a movie or something, and when you come back everything will be where it was. Except the books. I don't remember where they were before. I'm so sorry, Joonie."
"Hoseok," says Namjoon, reaching out to stop him mid-spin. Hoseok's shoulders are tense, upset and miserable, and Namjoon pulls him in for a hug before he can think about it too much. He's needed a hug all day, and Seokjin wouldn't, and he shouldn't with Hoseok but he just needs to touch him. Reassure himself that he's here, that he moved all of the furniture around instead of running, that they're friends. It's selfish and terrible, but he might collapse if he doesn't. "It's fine. Don't move anything back. I hated that TV glare, too."
It takes a second before Hoseok hugs him back, and even longer time before he relaxes into it. Namjoon relaxes too, breathing him, slowing the hummingbird heartbeat trapped inside his own ribs. Hoseok feels good, warm and solid against him, and Namjoon wraps him up more fully even though he doesn't deserve to. He's hugged Hoseok before, he knows, because Hoseok uses hugs like punctuation with people he trusts, but this is better. Slower, and better, and Namjoon will be embarrassed about doing this later but for now he breathes him in.
"Everything's fine," he says quietly, into the top of Hoseok's head. "It's all fine. This is your place, too."
"Okay," says Hoseok, just a whisper. He squeezes Namjoon tighter, hard enough that Namjoon has trouble breathing, but he doesn't mind. Because Hoseok is still here and not packed up at the door, and that's more than Namjoon had thought he'd get when he left the house this morning. Hoseok moved things to where he wanted them, and he was still here. Namjoon's kept two friends today when he might have had neither, and that's worth some lost air.
Eventually Hoseok lets him go, stepping back and wiping his eyes with the collar of his shirt. He squeezes Namjoon's arm as he goes, a silent apology that by all rights should be Namjoon's, and something about the desperate stretch of his smile tells Namjoon that the time has come to be bachelor bros again. "I'm paying for lunch today. What are you hungry for?"
Namjoon groans theatrically, channeling Seokjin as best he can. "Nothing. Hyung wouldn't stop buying food. We stopped at every stall. I'll never be hungry again."
"Not even for noodles?" asks Hoseok, waggling his eyebrows. His eyes are still shining, wet with tears, and the combination is about as unfair as anything can be.
"Well, maybe. I guess. If you're buying," says Namjoon, making Hoseok laugh as he pulls out his phone and starts typing in their order.
Lunch is slightly strained, but Namjoon's recounting of the farmer's market carries them most of the way, Hoseok's questions about Pokemon and why Seokjin likes them so much as an adult filling in the rest. Namjoon has no answers for him, but Hoseok determinedly looks up facts about Squirtle and relating them to business principles until Namjoon's doubled over in laughter.
And only once when Hoseok looks at him with that straight-on gaze, peaceful and content and perfectly him, does Namjoon's heart tumble and cry out. Only once, in all of that time laughing together, and Namjoon thinks maybe a broken secret really will make things better for him instead of worse.
Near the end, when they're cleaning up and Hoseok is explaining where all of their storage containers are stacked now, Hoseok's phone chimes. It's nothing new, because Hoseok gets messages at all hours and times about a thousand things, but this one makes him stop in the middle of a sentence, staring down at his phone like a vapid fish.
"What is it?" says Namjoon. Hoseok doesn't look upset, just startled, so Namjoon doesn't prepare his heart. "Is it Yoongi? I haven't heard from him all day, which is either very good or very bad."
"It's Daniel," says Hoseok, still staring at his phone. "He wants… he wants me to come over."
"Oh," says Namjoon.
"He says he misses me," says Hoseok. He swallows heavily, blinking silently at the screen, before a smile plays across his mouth. "I guess I still have it, huh?"
"Yeah," says Namjoon.
"I'd better go get ready," says Hoseok. "Thanks for having lunch with me, Joonie. And for being so cool about… well, about everything."
"No problem," says Namjoon.
Hoseok rushes past him, typing something into his phone, but he pauses before he leaves and turns back with a question on his face. It's a question that goes unasked, and Namjoon doesn't think he'd want to answer even if he asked it. No question could be good, right now.
Instead Hoseok comes back and leans up on his toes, graceful and dancer-like, and kisses Namjoon on the cheek. It's nothing lingering, nothing like anything Namjoon had ever imagined, more like what Jimin sometimes gives him when he's feeling particularly expansive on one of their walks home.
Namjoon burns from the inside out, hollowed and cleaned.
"Thank you," says Hoseok again, much more quietly, and when he leaves Namjoon is still in the kitchen. He's still in the same place, surrounded by so much that's different, and it turns out nothing is better for him after all.
Chapter 7: Echoes
Hoseok and Daniel are on a date the night that Namjoon calls Jungkook.
The two ideas have no relation to each other but it feels like they do, and even more when he gets a text from Seokjin right before he completes the call. The text is stupid, as they've been all week, an uncropped screenshot of his phone asking if he's looking at a meme. Namjoon quickly replies that he has no idea, and to keep him posted on his investigation, then calls Jungkook before he can get dragged into any further conversation.
It's a Wednesday night, which is one of the slowest bar nights according to his research, which means that Jungkook is less likely to be working and more likely to answer. Namjoon definitely doesn't want to leave a message, though as the rings stretch out he thinks he might have to.
But just as he's reading through his notes, trying to condense his talking points into voicemail format, a familiar voice finally answers. "Jungkook's Exotic Pet Store and Riverboating House of Chance, how can I help you?"
There's distant shouting and laughter, and the sound of a few barks, plus an aggrieved person saying, "I can't believe you actually answered a phone call, you're so old."
But it's all background to Namjoon's confusion. "Yoongi?"
"Namjoon?" says Yoongi's voice on Jungkook's phone. "How did you know I was here?"
"How are you there?" says Namjoon, but there's no chance for a reply. Just the sounds of even louder shouting, then shushing of the shouting, then the hard thud of something hitting the floor before the line goes dead.
Namjoon stares at his phone for a long few seconds, long enough that Seokjin sends him another meme, until an incoming call from Jungkook appears. He answers it carefully, the other side now entirely silent.
"Namjoon?" says a new voice. Jungkook's voice, Namjoon thinks, but pitched an octave lower than usual. "Hello. Sorry about that."
"It's no problem," says Namjoon. He closes his eyes, steeling himself, and says, "I got your note."
"You did?" says Jungkook, tenor sneaking back into his tone before he clears his throat. "You did. That's great. And you called."
"Was I not supposed to?" asks Namjoon, responding to the hint of a question.
"No! I mean, yes! I mean, I thought you might text…"
There's a muffled snort at that, a very Yoongi-like snort, followed by the slap and grunt of someone being smacked.
"But phone calls are super cool," Jungkook continues. He says it like there will be a larger thought, but he stops talking suddenly, and Namjoon was so busy trying to anticipate what he was going to say that he grinds to a halt as he tries to adjust.
The silence stretches out, punctuated by the hissing of whispers, and Namjoon doesn't have anything on his piece of paper to handle this scenario. He hadn't expected to have an audience. He doesn't know how to give a speech while Yoongi is judging him.
"So," says Jungkook, a little smaller. Like he knows a bad thing is coming, exactly how Namjoon didn't want him to feel. "Did you need something?"
Namjoon stares at his carefully written out plan, the stupid reassuring phrases he'd come up with during his office hours while Jimin sat in pale silence across the room, and sighs. He balls the paper up and throws it across the room, then says, "Do you want to go get coffee? Or something?"
"Sure," says Jungkook. He sounds relieved, which is good. They arrange to meet at an indie spot near Jungkook's place, and Namjoon gets an Uber, and by the time he arrives he has another speech to deliver. A better one, he hopes.
Jungkook is waiting outside, dancing nervously from foot to foot in an outfit a couple of steps up of formality up from his bar outfit but still baggy. He runs a hand through his hair and blows out a breath when Namjoon gets out of the car, the smile on his face real but tiny.
"Sorry about earlier," he says as his greeting. "Yoongi and Taehyung are dumb."
"They are," says Namjoon, which makes Jungkook's smile slightly bigger. "How is it going with them? I tried to ask Yoongi, but he told me he's not taking questions at this time."
Jungkook shrugs. "It's hard to tell with Tae. Tannie likes him. Better than me, that's for sure."
"Bad taste," says Namjoon and leads Jungkook inside.
He buys their drinks over Jungkook's protests, and by the time they're settled Jungkook looks more like his normal self. Or Namjoon feels more like his normal self, which is maybe contagious.
So it's a pleasant half a second before Jungkook takes a huge gulp of his oversized latte and slams his cup down on the table. "You don't want to go out with me, do you?"
Namjoon chokes on his own sugary fruit concoction, wiping the back of his hand over his mouth as he lurches into the speech. "Jungkook, you're a wonderful -"
Jungkook's hand slashes the air in front of him like he's holding a particularly irritated sword. "Don't do that. Talk to me like I'm a person."
His gaze is fierce, and brave, and Namjoon aches with a sudden love for him. It's not the kind of love that Jungkook wants, or would even appreciate, but Namjoon wishes he'd taken the time to see him more clearly, before this moment right now when he's going to utterly fail him.
"No," says Namjoon. He refuses to look away, trying to be just as brave. "I like you, but I don't want to go out with you."
"Okay," says Jungkook. He finally looks down, his voice just slightly too thick. "Okay. Thank you. Sorry if I made you uncomfortable."
"You have never made me uncomfortable," says Namjoon to the top of his head. "Even when you did that wrestling move and almost tore off my arm. Never once."
"If I'd asked," says Jungkook, stopping to take a breath before continuing. "If I'd asked before that Seokjin guy showed up, would it have been different?"
Namjoon shakes his head before he remembers Jungkook can't see him. "No. Hyung and I aren't like that. I'm not like that, with him."
"So it's just me."
"No," says Namjoon quickly. "It's not. Jungkook, it's not. You're -"
He stops himself again, pressing his mouth together to hold in all the platitudes that want to spill out, the things his stupid mouth would say if he let them. Jungkook deserves more than him, is what it is. He didn't know that until now, until they were here in this coffee shop navigating a maze together, but it's obvious. Namjoon's not a person Jungkook should settle for.
Because there's a small part of him that's whispering that Hoseok is with Daniel, that Hoseok wants Daniel, and why is Namjoon doing this to himself again when Jungkook is a person like this. Namjoon could have him, and maybe it wouldn't be good but it could be good enough, and it's so selfish that he wants to scream. Namjoon hates that part, the easy-path part, the traitor part that would use people if it could, and the sugar on his trapped tongue turns bitter.
He and Hoseok spent their entire Sunday together, watching movies - glare-free, Hoseok had happily pointed out - laughing and talking and eating delivery pizza like they were years younger than they were. Hoseok had taught him how to fold towels into animal shapes, some skill he'd picked up in a past life, and now they're stuck using two towels and washing them immediately because they'd named every one of their creations and can't bear to destroy them.
He and Hoseok had tried to call Yoongi, and Jimin, but neither of them had answered so they'd worried about them together. They'd come up with a hundred ideas for how to fix everything, from hugging to group ziplining, and Namjoon now knows that he's not the only one who loves the group for more than its individual pieces. Hoseok loves it just as much, for all the same reasons, and Namjoon had nearly cried when Hoseok said they were his family with no embarrassment at all.
He and Hoseok had done their Pilates this morning, and afterward Hoseok had smiled at Namjoon over cereal as he talked through a work problem in intricate detail that Namjoon had no hope of following. His hands flew in the air as he spoke, and he'd pealed laughter in the middle of sentences, and when Namjoon left for work he'd told him to have a good day in his softest, sweetest voice. Namjoon hears echoes of it still, and he doesn't know how he can feel so happy and so lost all at the same time.
They'd been together in so many of the ways Namjoon craved, like there was nothing wrong between them, and now they're apart doing this. When Jungkook looks up, there are tears shimmering in his too-big eyes, and Namjoon's hands clench under the table.
"Don't be sad," says Jungkook, his mouth wobbling into a smile. "It's okay. It's why I asked, so I could know where I stand. I'm glad you told me."
"I'm not available," says Namjoon quietly. A little desperately, trying to close off that selfish part of him forever. "It's not about… I'm not available."
Jungkook narrows his eyes, a drop falling down his cheek, and says, "You're dating someone?"
Namjoon's mouth tightens at the corners. "I'm not dating anyone. I just. There's someone in my heart. He gets in the way."
That's a criminal understatement and still it's more than he's ever said out loud to anyone. It's more than he's ever dared to say, but the need to share presses against his chest inexorably, and Jungkook's head tilts to the side like a small bird as he takes it in.
"That sucks," says Jungkook, very sincerely. He doesn't look angry, though he should, because Namjoon's crisis is muscling his way into Jungkook's sadness like he has any right to this moment at all. Like they're the same, when they're not. "I'm sorry I didn't know."
Namjoon laughs, aborted and low."How would you have known?"
"I don't know," says Jungkook, shrugging. "Just feels like I should have, I guess." A cloud passes over his face. "You're sure it's not Seokjin?"
"I'm sure," says Namjoon.
"Good," says Jungkook. He turns his cup around, once, twice, then says more softly, "So this other guy… if he's not going to… if you're not… then maybe someday? With me? I can be patient. Get, you know, better."
"Jungkook," says Namjoon, leaning forward on the table like he's going to touch him, which Jungkook seems to sense by the speed at which he pulls his cup against his body. "Don't do that. Don't be patient. Don't waste yourself on me."
"Why not?" says Jungkook, mouth turning stubborn. "I like you a lot. A lot. You're great."
Namjoon bites back the urge to say he's not, which isn't useful, and says instead, "Even if I am, and even if you do, there are people who are greater. Who you'll like more. Because if I'm not interested in you, how great can I really be?"
He smiles wryly as he says it, the sweetness of his drink still not back. It's a shock when Jungkook folds his arms and glares at him.
"That's a cheater thing to say," says Jungkook. "Just because you're smart doesn't mean you can say stuff like that. Besides, you're doing it. You're waiting for someone who turned you down, and hoping he'll changes his mind, so I can too. I can do whatever I want!"
"It's not the same thing."
"It is the same thing!" says Jungkook, glaring more intensely. "And don't you dare say it's because I'm young. I'm not young."
He is, he's so young where he's vibrating across from Namjoon, but that's not the point. "It's not the same. Because he didn't turn me down. He doesn't even know."
It's a stretch of the truth, a big stretch, because Hoseok does know. After last weekend, he definitely knows, and he's been very tender with Namjoon's lightly broken heart ever since. But to explain that would be difficult, and revealing, so he begs universal forgiveness for his liberties. He rewinds himself back to a week ago, when all this was really true, and argues from that place to save Jungkook now.
"I'm not waiting for him to change his mind," says Namjoon. "I'm just… waiting. For things to make sense, somehow. It's been a long time."
He falls silent, and Jungkook is staring at him so he looks down at the table. There's something very shameful about being stared at by this boy, this brave and terrible boy, while he peels back the weaknesses of his self.
And then into the silence, which isn't silent because the coffee shop is very busy and there's a throwback grunge song playing on the tinny speakers above them, comes the sudden sound of laughter. Namjoon's head jerks up in surprise, because it's Jungkook's laughter, a giggle that turns into a full-blown cackle as he leans back in his seat.
"Oh my god," says Jungkook, wiping new tears from his eyes. "You're so stupid!"
Namjoon shrugs, which makes Jungkook laugh even harder for some reason. "You're a genius! And you're so stupid!"
Eventually Jungkook's laughter subsides into rumbly little chuckles, and Namjoon still doesn't know quite what to say.
"You can't just wait for stuff," says Jungkook. He says it with the air of a coach pumping up his team, and Namjoon blinks at the pep. "Not love stuff. You have to make it happen! Didn't anyone ever teach you that?"
"Um," says Namjoon, but Jungkook isn't waiting for an answer.
"If you just wait around, you'll never get anywhere!" says Jungkook. "You get stuck. Because people aren't wizards! They don't know shit about shit. Like, be patient, give them time to breathe, but you can't just sit there and not say things. You have to say things!"
He stops, and his head is back in his bird-tilt, studying Namjoon like he's seeing him for the first time too. "And it's kind of mean. You're being mean."
"I'm sorry," says Namjoon. "I'm really sorry, Jungkook, I wish that -"
"Not to me," says Jungkook. A hint of pain comes back into his eyes but he shakes it away impatiently. "Not liking someone isn't mean. It sucks, but sometimes things suck. Sometimes you lose a game because your healer is garbage but you just go play another one. I wish you liked me back, but you don't, and you were nice about it. You didn't make it bad."
Namjoon frowns, because he doesn't know how this turned into Jungkook comforting him. But Jungkook has a head of steam now, and he seems more comfortable now that he has a conversational goal, so Namjoon lets it spin out.
"But it's mean to this other guy. Because if he likes you, then he doesn't know that he's allowed to, and if he doesn't like you then he doesn't know that he's hurting you all the time. Because he's hurting you, right?"
Namjoon nods, slowly.
Jungkook sighs. "Yeah, I thought so. You were hurting me too."
"I don't - I mean, I'm not -"
Jungkook leans forward when Namjoon breaks off, diamond sharp. "You know why I liked you? Like, at first? It's because you treat us all like we're people. Everyone you meet is real, and most people don't treat me that way. Especially at work. I'm a drinks robot. But the very first time you came in you asked me my name, and you looked me right in the eyes, and you remembered everything I ever said. You're nice. And tonight you met up to look me in the eye again. You didn't have to, you could have just said it on the phone, or not said anything at all, but you're here.
"But this guy? You're not treating him like a person. You're treating him like a weapon, or like that stupid cat in the box that's half-dead. You're sitting there staring at the box, letting it suffocate, rather than opening it up and finding out what's inside. And that's not cool, and it's definitely not nice. It's stupid. Because I bet he'd be really happy, to be liked by you. Anyone would."
Jungkook finishes his drink and smashes the cup on the table, flat and still a little wet. "Sorry for the lecture. I'm going to go home now. Thanks for the coffee. I'll see you on Friday, okay?"
The look in his watery eyes is steel, challenging and aggressive, and Namjoon's lost control of their entire conversation so completely that he can only nod helplessly. "Yeah. Of course. I'll see you."
Jungkook stands up, and Namjoon stands with him, and Jungkook reaches for a handshake. Namjoon gives him one, like the end of a job interview, and Jungkook's grip is on the verge of painful but Namjoon doesn't let it show.
"Sorry," says Jungkook. "I shouldn't have said all that."
"It's okay," says Namjoon, and Jungkook lets him go. "You can say whatever you want. I don't mind."
"Okay. It's my birthday in a couple of weeks," says Jungkook, moving to the door and wiping at his face. The forced cheer in his voice is worse than any tears. "Want to come to my party?"
"Of course I do," says Namjoon. "Just let me know when and where."
"Bring Seokjin," says Jungkook. "You have to make him come too."
At that, Namjoon stops short. "Really?"
"Hell yeah. I bet billionaires give really good birthday presents," says Jungkook with a hint of his old spark, and Namjoon smiles despite himself as Jungkook jogs off into the night, glowing and small under the street lights.
Hoseok is on the couch when he gets back, the room in total darkness until Namjoon turns on the hall light and immediately wishes he hadn't. Because before there hadn't been much to see, just the vague outline of a man that Namjoon could almost pretend not to know, but now there are spots of light all over him. Now there are shadows falling on his familiar shape, curled up in a half-undone suit with his tie loose and his shirt unbuttoned.
It's become obvious since he moved in that there's nothing Hoseok can wear that makes him unattractive, but this might be the unfairest look yet.
Fortunately Namjoon can cover himself by struggling with his shoes at the door, long enough that his face is a normal color again. "Hey," he says when he's done. "How did it go tonight?"
Hoseok shrugs, and Namjoon follows the movement of his shoulders with his eyes. When he sits, Hoseok is holding a crumpled piece of paper curiously. "What's this?"
"Oh," says Namjoon, moving closer, but not close enough to touch. "Just some notes."
"About breaking up with someone," says Hoseok. His mouth tightens, drawn down in a way that pops his dimples as much as his smile. "Who are they for?"
"Jungkook," says Namjoon, and Hoseok's eyebrows raise. "It wasn't really a break up, more of a let down. I guess. He wrote me a confession note, last weekend, and I needed to answer it. We just went for coffee."
"Wow. What happened?"
"I have no idea. He chugged his latte, almost cried, gave me a stern lecture about dating etiquette, then invited me and Seokjin to his birthday party," says Namjoon. "If it went well in any way it was all because of him. He's a mature kid."
Hoseok smiles. "He's not a kid, Joonie."
"He is," says Namjoon, a knot deep in his stomach. "I hope I didn't screw him up."
"You didn't," says Hoseok firmly. "You always know the right things to say. None of which are on this paper. Please tell me you threw it away so that you wouldn't say these things."
Namjoon laughs weakly. "I tried. He didn't really let me."
"Good," says Hoseok. He reads over the sheet again disapprovingly. "For the record, no one likes to be told that they're the perfect guy for someone else."
"Noted," says Namjoon, making a little tick mark in the air.
It's met with silence instead of the huff of laughter he expects. He rolls his head to study Hoseok again, and Hoseok looks like a crab that's crawled out of its shell. Vulnerable, and pale, and still only half-lit. It does hurt, Namjoon realizes suddenly, it hurts like a deep wound, a bleeding-out wound, and he wonders how he's lived so long with it without dying. "You never answered my question. About how it went tonight."
"I don't know," says Hoseok. He says it angry, and worried, and his hands make frustrated little moves as he speaks. "He said all the things, right? Everything he should say. He misses me. He made a mistake. His place is too quiet. He hasn't been sleeping well. It was textbook, down to the restaurant. It was our first date restaurant, and there were violins, and I should have felt… something. I should have felt something."
"And you didn't?"
"I felt like he'd be the perfect guy for someone else," says Hoseok, laughing bitterly.
"There's nothing wrong with that," says Namjoon. He sternly tamps down the happy fizz in his heart, because Hoseok looks anything but happy now. "There's nothing wrong with knowing what you want. What you don't want. You told me that."
"I don't know anything about what I want," says Hoseok. "I think I could date a thousand guys and I still wouldn't know."
Namjoon tries to smile. "At least you know it's a guy. So that's one thing."
"Maybe I should date women," says Hoseok, throwing his hands in the air. "Who the hell knows. I think there's something really wrong with me."
"There's nothing wrong with you," says Namjoon.
The words had been reflex, a truth too obvious to be hidden, but they harden into something more meaningful where they sit between them. Hoseok doesn't say anything, the space around him deeply skeptical, and Namjoon struggles up from the depths of the couch to lean closer. He doesn't take Hoseok's hands but he thinks it, he tries to make his voice into the holding of hands. "There's nothing wrong with you. Tell me you believe that."
Hoseok looks up at him, his eyes wide and shimmering, his lips slightly parted. He's beautiful. He's ethereal, and the only thing Namjoon needs him to know in this moment is that he's perfect. He wishes he had a prepared speech for this, but he'd never dare to write any of it down. He wouldn't have the words even if he tried. But they're closer tonight than they've been before, thanks to Jungkook and his piercing honesty.
"You're the best person I know, Hoseok Jung," says Namjoon eventually, and the wound opens up a little more. "You're the person I measure all other people against."
"You know Kim Seokjin," says Hoseok, a ghost smile playing over his mouth.
"I know a lot of good people," says Namjoon, not smiling at all. "That doesn't change anything."
He finally moves away when Hoseok starts to blink rapidly, giving him the space he needs. The space that Namjoon needs, frankly, because he doesn't know what's happening to him, that he's so free with things that should never be said. They'd just spent days re-bridging their trust, and there's a towel elephant named Elvira on his coffee table to remind him of how much work they put into being bachelor bros, and now he's declaring his love on a sofa on a Wednesday night.
But if Namjoon's turned Hoseok into something bad all these years, if he'd weaponized a person that he cares about this much, it's only fair that he tells him at least a little of what he is.
"It's not a character flaw to want to find the right person," says Namjoon. "To want to be happy."
"I wish it were that," says Hoseok. He's smaller again, turned away from Namjoon, but that's okay. If that's what he needs to be, then Namjoon will stare at the back of his head forever. "I wish I were just picky. That would be fine. But I'm not picky. I'm scared. I'm scared almost all the time."
"Of not being enough," says Hoseok quietly. "Of not finding a place where I really fit. All of me, not just pieces of me."
Namjoon frowns. "You fit everywhere. Everyone likes you. I've never met anyone who doesn't like you."
Hoseok laughs, almost to himself. "Do you think that just happens?"
"I guess," says Namjoon, feeling very stupid. Because he'd never really thought about Hoseok's magic at all, he'd just watched it happen in front of him for years and thought that's the way the world worked. "You make it look easy."
"Thanks," says Hoseok. "It's not. I'm good at it, but it still work. And then it's like, people like whoever I am, and I have to be that person, forever. If I change even a little, it stops working. Especially with boyfriends. I always think it's going to be okay. Every time. But then I think about who I'm going to have to keep being, forever, and I can't handle it. People get so disappointed when you don't match the picture in their minds. So I leave before it happens, and I wish I felt guilty about it but I don't. I just feel relieved."
He looks at Namjoon then, a quick flick of the eyes, and he looks almost rueful. "I don't know why I'm always telling you shit like this. Sorry."
"You can say whatever you want to me," says Namjoon, echoing himself. "I'll never be disappointed."
The deep skepticism is back, and Namjoon doesn't know how to make it go away, so he says, "But you wanted to make it work with Daniel. He's different, you said."
Hoseok shakes his head. "The difference isn't him," he says quietly. "It's that… when I first went out with him, back in May or whatever, I told Yoongi about it and Yoongi was having one of his days. You know? The Yoongi days. And I knew he was, but sometimes you just have to talk through it so I was telling Yoongi the story of how I met Daniel. It was just something to say, but Yoongi said, 'Fuck, Seok, I don't have the energy to learn about some generic guy in a suit you're going to dump in eight weeks. Talk to me after you've made it more than a fiscal quarter with someone, okay? Assuming you ever do.'"
Namjoon makes a surprised sound in the back of his throat, something half-caught, because he can hear Yoongi saying it but it's hard to believe he would. Not to Hoseok, who he takes such gentle care of even when they're fighting.
"Yeah," says Hoseok, like Namjoon had said something. "He didn't really mean it. I don't even know if he remembers saying it. But I remember. And I told myself I was going to prove him wrong. That Daniel was a good guy, someone I should want, and I would stick it out with him whatever it took. I think it would have worked if we hadn't moved in together, but we did, and I couldn't keep it up, and he dumped me."
His face is terrible as he says it, because it's nothing. It holds no sadness at all, his most careful mask, and Namjoon hates it.
Eventually Hoseok shrugs. "And now he misses his nice memories, the version of me he thought I was, so I could start things up again but what's the point? Yoongi already won. He was right. I think he might always be right."
"He won't be," says Namjoon.
"You don't know that."
"I do," says Namjoon. "I know."
"Can I have a hug?" says Hoseok suddenly.
Namjoon opens his arms in response, barely having to think about it, and Hoseok crawls over and into his space so easily it nearly breaks his heart. But he keeps it together, and wraps himself around Hoseok's slim shoulders, and breathes into the top of his precious head.
Hoseok sighs, wriggling into him. "You give the best hugs, Joonie. I can't believe you've been holding out on me all these years."
Namjoon doesn't say anything, just strokes his arm and tries to sort through his tangled Wednesday night emotions. They're worse than usual, and Hoseok smells very good, and Jungkook's watery eyes are still haunting his conscience.
"Thanks for not kicking me out," says Hoseok. "When I stopped being me."
"You've always been you."
Hoseok squeezes closer, hiding his face. "Not like this. You liked me because I was the life of the party," he says. "Because I was happy and fun. It made things easy with you, and I didn't mind. I am happy and fun, most of the time. But I know I haven't been like that here."
Guilt rushes through him, because Hoseok isn't wrong. Namjoon had been bowled over by him from the beginning, the sun of his smile and the handsome planes of his face, the bubbling laughter that spilled out of him everywhere he went and the easy warmth of his being. Namjoon had never examined him too deeply, had never thought past his outer life into his inner, had seen the progression of their future relationship only in his own terms, with his own understanding. He'd used to think he was better than all of those temporary boyfriends, somehow superior to their failures, but he knows with bright clarity he's not. He's much worse.
But Hoseok isn't right, either, so Namjoon says, "I liked you because you're Hoseok. You're still Hoseok. You're not different here, just more. I'm glad to know the more of you."
"Always the right thing," says Hoseok into his chest, feeling like a smile, and Namjoon's arms pull tighter before they let him go. And Namjoon thinks he might ask something else of him but Hoseok just leans over and grabs the remote, flipping the TV on to some serial killer documentary that he declares is going to give him nightmares, and they spend the rest of their night on trash TV.
Chapter 8: They Say It's Your Birthday
"I think everyone within a one kilometer radius of us is high," says Seokjin as they make their way to Jungkook's apartment. He's using Korean at Hoseok's request, which means Hoseok's face is slack and focused as he does the translations, which means Namjoon is mostly too distracted to converse no matter how much Seokjin needles him.
Seokjin isn't handling the lack of attention well.
"Are you taking me to a drug party?" asks Seokjin. A group of shirtless guys call out to them as they pass, and Seokjin waves back genially. "I brought very expensive wine and I don't want it, or them, to be wasted. Also I'd like to not be arrested."
"It's not a drug party," says Namjoon. Hoseok laughs belatedly, and Seokjin and Namjoon both smile at him. "It's a regular party."
"You can smell it," says Seokjin, waving his hands around. "It's marijuana everywhere."
"Marijuana isn't illegal here, hyung."
"Tell that to my mother," says Seokjin. "Or don't, actually. I'm going to have to burn these clothes. She'll smell the sin from an ocean away."
"That's Jungkook's apartment where the party is," says Hoseok carefully, pointing at a building across the street, and Seokjin gives him a proud clap on the back.
"Perfect," he says. "You should have more confidence in your Korean."
Hoseok looks shyly pleased, and Namjoon mouths a thank you to Seokjin that makes him roll his eyes. As Hoseok leads them across the street, Seokjin leans over and murmurs, "If you're going to be gross, at least be entertaining."
"I don't know what you mean."
"Whatever," says Seokjin. "I'm going to replace you with new friends today. Drug friends. It's been nice knowing you."
They make it to the apartment, which is just a house divided up into little flats, and there's a sign on the door that says, Party upstairs, come on in! Namjoon recognizes the crudely drawn picture of Tannie beneath the word balloon, which Hoseok coos over before they make their way up a suitcase scattered with young people.
Inside the open door is a scene right out of his undergrad days, people dotted around a secondhand-furnished room, red cups in hand, islands in a sea of socialization. The music is a little quieter than he remembers it being, the conversation more understandable, and he hears a snatch of someone complaining about organic chemistry as they stand in the doorway like awkward uncles.
Or Seokjin and Namjoon do. Hoseok is fitting in, getting younger and more collegiate, looking hot enough in his print t-shirt and jeans that there are already people checking him out. Namjoon watches him without meaning to and realizes that just because there's work behind it, that doesn't make the magic any less real.
Hoseok seems to sense the thought, or the attention, and turns to Namjoon with a cheerful grin. "Life of the party?"
"Life of the party," Namjoon confirms, annoyed at the swoop of his stomach as Seokjin elbows him.
"You're here!" says Jungkook, muscling his way through a knot of people around the sectional. "I'm so glad you made it!"
He's wearing a cone hat on his head that says Birthday Creature in glitter pen, a little crooked where the orange pom pom is weighing it down, and his eyes have the glassy shine of someone who's been generously plied with birthday drinks. But he looks happy, happy and whole, and Namjoon sighs in relief when Jungkook's eyes take him in and he doesn't lose his smile at all.
They've seen each other a couple of times since their coffee outing, the Friday night clockwork still ticking along, and Jungkook had made it a point to come out to the table and say hello to them every week. The first time Namjoon had mostly been sweaty, with Jungkook so terrifyingly cheerful that Taehyung had to lead him away gently by the hand. But it had gotten better, and more normal, and Namjoon thinks that next time they're there Jungkook might not feel like he has to come out at all.
"Happy birthday!" says Hoseok, running forward for a hug that ends in Jungkook lifting him up into a princess carry. "Wow, you're strong as hell. Do you want to be my gym buddy?"
"Yes!" says Jungkook, doing a couple of wobbly squats, which makes Hoseok shriek with laughter and get a few more admiring looks. "I'm training for Iron Man."
"You want to be Iron Man?" asks Seokjin.
"Yes!" Jungkook repeats, even louder. He sets Hoseok down and thrusts his chin out at Seokjin, who smiles. "But it's a triathalon. Running, biking, swimming. All in a row. You have to be in really good shape to do it. Which I am."
Seokjin's smile gets bigger. "Ambitious. I'll stick with Mario Kart."
"I'm good at that too," says Jungkook. He looks at the bag suspiciously. "Is that wine?"
"Is our alcohol not good enough for you?"
Seokjin's still smiling, still growing to its maximum level, and it makes perfect sense that this is the interaction that would charm him. "The Borgias would understand my constant precautions."
Jungkook's face screws up in confusion, and Seokjin relents. "It's your birthday present, small Jungkook boy."
"Small Jungkook man," corrects Taehyung, swooping out of nowhere and grabbing the bag to peer inside. "This is fancy."
Seokjin shrugs, and Taehyung nods like he's a fencer acknowledging a hit, and Jungkook still looks totally lost.
"I also brought these," Seokjin adds, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a deck of gift cards. "Playstation, Xbox, Switch, Amazon, whatever. You like games, right?"
Jungkook grabs them without answering, churning through them as his friends look over his shoulder. "Wow! This is great!" he says. His eyes get wide as he starts the process over again. "Wait, this is - "
"Happy birthday," says Seokjin, and from someone less sphinx-like it would sound like an apology.
Jungkook looks guilty, though the excitement of the people behind him almost drown him out when he says, "I didn't really invite you for -"
"I know," says Seokjin. "That's why I brought them."
Jungkook whoops and hugs him, then hugs Namjoon even bigger before he runs off with his friends to talk about what they should buy. His pom pom bounces as he goes, and all four of them stare after him with varying degrees of fondness until Namjoon hears one girl say, "Is that the hot professor?" and he flushes all the way to his hair.
"How much?" says Taehyung. It's matter-of-fact, a police sergeant taking a report. He's still holding the wine.
"About a thousand," says Seokjin, so casual it's obviously rehearsed. "Games are so expensive these days."
Hoseok barks a laugh, and Namjoon nearly chokes. Neither of them acknowledge them, stuck in another staring contest.
"Rich people are disgusting," says Taehyung eventually, but he's smiling, and Seokjin laughs, and Namjoon doesn't really know what's happening but everyone seems okay. "You should come to the bar next Friday. It's karaoke night again."
Seokjin raises his eyebrows, his gaze fluttering across the room. Namjoon follows it, and sees Yoongi sitting on a bean bag in the corner with Yeontan on his lap. Yoongi is watching them all with his steady gaze, his face giving nothing away, and Seokjin turns back to Taehyung, who very politely hasn't noticed anything. "I'll think about it," he says. "Can I bring my own music? Frank Sinatra? Maybe some trot?"
"I absolutely insist," says Taehyung, inclining his head like a king, and Seokjin nods back before he strides across the room, yelling out a Mario Kart challenge to anyone ridiculous enough to think that they can beat him. Jungkook is there before he's done with the sentence, Switch in hand, and he and Seokjin both take a shot before they fill out the rest of the game with other painfully young people.
Hoseok joins them, taking his own shot provided by an attentive guy in a beanie, and Namjoon focuses on the way Hoseok's cheeks flush to better ignore the familiar, awestruck look on Beanie's face.
He's about to go over and join Yoongi in the corner, his natural place at this party, when Taehyung puts a restraining hand on his forearm. "Is Jimin coming?"
He's pretty and inscrutable and still has half of his attention on Jungkook, who's trash-talking Seokjin through giggles. It provides Taehyung an excellent reason to not look Namjoon in the eye, and Namjoon's just as grateful. He has no idea if Jimin is coming, because he has no idea how Jimin is feeling, at least not about this.
He knows a lot about how Jimin feels about the upcoming semester, and the online classes he's moderating, and the way that people aren't showering enough for his tastes. He knows a lot about how Jimin feels about Namjoon's fumbling conversation with Jungkook, who Jimin described as a sweet baby rabbit that Namjoon eviscerated like a hawk, though he'd also given Namjoon a hug and bought him a piece of cheesecake to soften it. They've been spending a lot of time together on the drowsy summer campus, and Jimin is as bright and open as he's always been.
But Namjoon doesn't know how Jimin feels about Taehyung because Jimin has adopted the incredibly effective strategy of leaving the room if Namjoon mentions his name, or the bar, or alludes to waiters in any way. Jimin can get out of any room in under two seconds, Namjoon has learned, even if it's locked, and Namjoon has given up trying against such a wily foe.
Jimin also hasn't come to the bar at all since the ill-fated karaoke night, not bothering to give an excuse no matter how hard Hoseok pushes him. It's left a void at their table that Namjoon feels keenly, because Jimin had been the buffer of all of them, the person who kept their conversations going and forged the smooth connection points. Without him Namjoon has to look at Hoseok far too much, and Hoseok doesn't have anyone who will play off of his energy, and Yoongi's been snapping more at both of them without his usual sparring partner.
The first night, when they'd all still held out hope that he was just late, Taehyung had come by the table to take their orders. He'd been the same as always, breezy and flirtatious, though he was a little softer with Yoongi, who was soft back. But when he looked at Jimin's empty stool he'd gotten smaller and looked at Namjoon curiously.
"Are you ready to get your free appetizer? You just have to find the difference," Taehyung had said, and Namjoon didn't have a chance to answer before he nodded. "Right. So what do you want?"
In the here and now Taehyung is smaller again, and Namjoon says, "I don't know. He didn't tell me. But he had brunch with Jungkook this morning."
"Yeah, Jungkook said," says Taehyung. "Okay."
He blinks a couple of times, still staring at the Mario Kart players, and Namjoon takes the opportunity to be impulsive. "How is he? Jungkook?"
Taehyung considers, eyes unfocused like he's looking at notes inside of his skull. "Cracked, not broken. Getting better. You're an idiot."
"I won't argue."
Taehyung comes back, smiling suddenly. "Good for you. I should take lessons. Maybe then I wouldn't be so impulsive," he says. He blinks again, this time at Namjoon. "You know?"
"Jungkook was upset," says Namjoon. He scratches the back of his neck. "And I get why, now. Hyung doesn't think things through either."
"Exactly," says Taehyung. "When Jungkook gets upset, I forget to think it through. But now everything is messed up. I'm an idiot, too."
Namjoon shakes his head. "I don't know you very well, but I think you do your best. I think we all do. That doesn't mean it always works out."
Taehyung goes back to considering, this time watching his wiggling toes in fascination. He's beautiful in profile, long and alluring, like a siren that calls sailors to their doom. But the doom seems like maybe it's his, too, and Namjoon understands why he says no to dating everyone he meets.
"Are you going to break Yoongi's heart?" asks Namjoon softly.
Taehyung's head tilts up, the humor in his eyes much sharper than it should be. "Look where he's looking and tell me."
Namjoon turns back to Yoongi, trying to be subtle, but it doesn't matter because Yoongi is watching Jungkook and Hoseok and Seokjin, patting Tannie absently from his seat, and by the time the puzzle pieces come together inside of him, Taehyung is already gone.
"Is this the tired old man corner?" asks Namjoon as he sits on the floor.
Yoongi had seen him approaching, Namjoon's progression across the room slow and laborious, but he pretends to startle anyway. "Oh, are you ready to know me now? I thought you were going to be doing Jello shots with The Youth all night."
"I did one," says Namjoon. Yoongi looks at him, and he amends, "Three. Shut up."
"And your shirt's undone to your belly button," says Yoongi, lip curling in disgust even though Namjoon's only two buttons down. "Hot Professor Namjoon is horrific."
"I brought you a beer," says Namjoon.
He holds out an overfull cup, and Yoongi takes it without even asking what it is which is a sign of his desperation. But Yeontan is napping in his lap, and Namjoon gets the impression that Yoongi will die in this corner if it means he doesn't wake him up.
Neither of them say anything as they survey the party. Despite the Jello shots and the general veneer of alcohol, no one is wasted, and Jungkook's friends are all as sweet and enthusiastic as him. Namjoon's both energized and exhausted after an hour with them, these sincere, happy kids who love Jungkook so fiercely. And Jungkook is clearly proud to have them here, Namjoon and Hoseok and even Seokjin, and Namjoon has no idea why but he's glad that he's able to do it anyway.
When he'd given Jungkook his own birthday present, a set of temporary tattoos he'd seen at this morning's farmer's market outing, Jungkook's big eyes had gotten even bigger, and he's already put one across the back of his hand and showed it off to everyone in the room. Even now he's rubbing it absently where he's talking, red-cheeked, to a pretty girl with her heart in her eyes, and Namjoon considers the entire operation a success.
Hoseok and Beanie guy are snugged up on the sectional, Hoseok showing him something on his phone which are probably his dance practice videos, judging by the high color on Beanie's face, and that's fine. Hoseok's already demonstrated his live skill to a whole crowd of admirers, Namjoon and Beanie included, and he'd gotten Jungkook to join him to everyone's delight, and Namjoon can sleep at Yoongi's place tonight.
"Yeontan seems to like you," says Namjoon when Taehyung comes back in from the kitchen, floating above the party in some indefinable way that doesn't make him any less noticeable. He hasn't been over to Yoongi more than a couple of times the whole night, and even that was more about visiting his dog.
Yoongi snorts, though it's gentle, and his free hand keeps scratching behind Tannie's ears. "Please don't try to be subtle. It's painful to watch."
Seokjin licks salt off of his hand before downing a shot, an eager stranger's fingers pressing a lime into his mouth as he sputters and laughs. Yoongi watches it all without blinking, stone-faced, and Namjoon is already missing the undergrads.
"I don't know how to talk to you about this," says Namjoon, even though he knows Yoongi needs to. They've barely spoken for a month, at Yoongi's design, and Namjoon can practically feel all of his unspent words. "This isn't what we do."
"Sure we do," says Yoongi, and Namjoon can't tell if he's lying or just wrong. "We're best friends. Have been for years."
"You've been dating Taehyung for over a month and if I hadn't watched him ask you out I wouldn't even know about it," says Namjoon. "I found out you were gay when I walked in on you giving your lab partner a blowjob, and even then you just shrugged when I tried to talk to you about it. We talk, but we don't talk."
"Not everything has to be in words," says Yoongi. "Not everyone needs to process out loud like you. You know everything about me worth knowing, and I'm definitely not the one who fucking holds out."
Namjoon's heart drops, and he keeps his eyes firmly away from Hoseok. It's not just Yoongi who'd been okay with their silence these last weeks. "I don't know what you mean."
"Five dates?" asks Yoongi, finally cutting a glance at him. He drains the rest of his beer, his lips pink. "You've never gone on five dates with someone. Ever. I find out in a fucking bar?"
"That's what you're pissed about?" asks Namjoon. "What the hell, Yoongi, it was three years ago. He was more interesting than most of the guys my parents come up with, but it still wasn't much. It just didn't come up. And it didn't have anything to do with you anyway!"
Yoongi grunts something inaudible, and Namjoon's regretting the last Jello shot because it's making him angry. He'd been so certain that he and Yoongi were about to have a fight about Hoseok, because Hoseok and Yoongi are open in a way that Namjoon has never been able to replicate with anyone, so Yoongi definitely knows. He knows that Hoseok's been trying so delicately to let Namjoon down, and Namjoon isn't ready to be let, and he's spent the last few weeks caught between Jungkook's voice telling him to move forward and his own more terrified voice telling him to step away.
He's supposed to be helping Namjoon figure out what to do, which path to take in this snowy Robert Frost woods, not litigating the history of Kim Seokjin.
"If you have something to say, say it," says Namjoon. "Don't just make your noises."
"We were still best friends three years ago," says Yoongi, more clearly. "And it has plenty to do with me, because you fucking lied to me. I asked you if you were dating someone. I know I did, right after Hoseok came back, which is right when Seokjin told me you were going out. And you said no. I believed you."
"It wasn't a lie. I'd already broken up with him by the time Hoseok got here," says Namjoon, stretching the truth only slightly. "Wait, you talked to Seokjin?"
"He owed me money," mumbles Yoongi. "I had to fucking call him to get the check. Make sure he didn't need any more work done."
Namjoon knows Seokjin didn't, that he'd stepped back so completely he might as well be back in Korea, but the still-pissed part of him says, "And did he?"
"No," says Yoongi, very quietly. "He doesn't need anything else from me."
He looks up at Namjoon, a bitter smirk in the corner of his mouth. "He was careful tell me how you two have been spending so much time together, though. So what about it? Still want to say you're not holding out on me?"
Namjoon nearly laughs at the absurdity of the implication, when the last time they'd hung out Seokjin had been in full face mask with his hair in a ponytail atop his head, announcing smugly that it was a relief to finally spend time with someone who he didn't care about the opinion of in the least. Seokjin is physically incapable of being unattractive but he's making a good run at it these days, and he's another one who's good at shutting down a conversation the instant Yoongi's name comes up.
He can't believe Seokjin is using him to try to make Yoongi jealous. Well, that's not true, he can, and he's surprised at how disappointed he is to think their friendship might have just been part of a long game.
What he can't believe is that it's working.
"Sure we spend time together," says Namjoon. "We're friends. But that's it."
"I know it's more," says Yoongi, chewing on his lower lip ruthlessly. "I fucking know it. And you haven't dated anyone in years. In exactly since you last dated him. I'm not stupid, Joon, and you've had enough guys throwing themselves at you in between. Hell, Taehyung flirted with you first out of all of us and you never gave him the time of day. You're telling me you haven't been hung up? That you're not hiding this shit from me again, now?"
"I haven't," says Namjoon, his mouth dropping open. "I'm not. That's insane. Taehyung flirted with me?"
Yoongi gives him a dark look, and Namjoon shakes his head because Yoongi is asking him all the questions about Seokjin that he should be asking about Hoseok, and he wasn't prepared for this. "Hyung and I aren't dating, but why does it matter? You're with Taehyung!"
"Taehyung and I are going to break up," says Yoongi, rubbing a piece of Yeontan's fur between his fingers. He doesn't sound upset, exactly, but Yoongi rarely sounds upset even when he is. "Tonight, probably."
Taehyung throws his arms around Jungkook and tries to wrestle him to the ground, their screams loud enough to cut through the haze of the room.
Yoongi doesn't look. "I'm sure you've noticed. You notice fucking everything about other people, even if you're oblivious about yourself."
It stings, that not-so-subtle reminder of the way he'd failed with Hoseok, and Namjoon takes a deep breath, in through the mouth and out through the nose, then again and again. He's not going to yell at Yoongi, who's been holding onto this for weeks because Namjoon hadn't been ready to deal with him. It's not Yoongi's fault they're doing this in the middle of someone else's fucking birthday party.
When he looks back at the sectional Beanie is gone and Hoseok is watching them both. Worried, though he tries to smile for Namjoon when he catches his eye, and Namjoon's going to keep it together for everyone's sake.
"We're not going to fight," says Namjoon quietly. "You can try to hurt me all you want, but we're not going to fight."
Yoongi looks up, startled. "I'm not trying to hurt you."
You're succeeding, Namjoon wants to say, but he doesn't. That's just another way to fight.
"I'm sorry," says Yoongi, gravely voice even more graveled. His eyes close, like he's falling asleep, but he adds in a near-whisper, "It really sucked when you walked in with him tonight."
"I know," says Namjoon, and he does. He knows that pain well. "I didn't walk in with him like that."
"Maybe," says Yoongi, but his eyes say they're still not sure. "You look good together, though. I thought I was… I don't know what I thought I was doing, but I think I mostly just played myself."
Tannie wakes up with a whimper of distress, and Yoongi immediately tries to soothe him. Almost grateful for the distraction, Namjoon thinks, and when Taehyung shows up in response to that quiet signal Yoongi hands him the dog easily, like they've done it a thousand times.
And Taehyung smiles at them both, cradling a Pomeranian like an infant, and asks if they're okay.
Yoongi says, "We're fine, Tae. Thanks."
"I'm okay too," says Taehyung. He's wearing his watch, Namjoon notices, and it's easier to think about that than the painful shape of his boxy smile. "Do you think we'll keep being okay no matter what?"
Yoongi doesn't smile back, but he reaches up and takes Taehyung's free hand. "Definitely. The Riverboating House of Chance is unsinkable."
Taehyung laughs, a bright peal of laughter like a light from heaven, and he lets Yoongi go easily. "Exactly. And Tannie loves you a lot."
"I love Tannie a lot back."
"So that's perfect," says Taehyung.
Namjoon looks between them incredulously, but both of them seem perfectly content with this weird, coded break up. And neither of them look like they're going to cry, but Namjoon thinks he might.
"Good luck on the water, skipper," says Taehyung.
He leaves, finality trailing in his wake, and Namjoon says, for lack of anything real, "What's the boat thing about?"
Yoongi hums and shrugs. He looks ten years younger than he did a few moments ago. "That's just for us. Can you live with the pain of an unsolved mystery?"
But it's not mean and heavy, it's the sly Yoongi he knows, so Namjoon lets it go. And Yoongi's watching him, and Namjoon realizes that it's not entirely a joke. That Yoongi's said the things that he needed to, and Hoseok's name sits bright between them.
"Why didn't it work out?" asks Namjoon, words pulling out of him like taffy. "You were so into him, for so long. It could have worked. It should have worked."
Yoongi's sympathy is a gentle thing, a new thing, and Namjoon curls into it without meaning to. "Both people have to want it to work, for it to work. Not just here," he says, touching his heart, "or here," he adds, touching his pants. "But here."
His hand moves to his head, long fingers brushing his temple, and Namjoon's heart sinks.
"The liking wasn't enough," says Yoongi, "because that was easy. And the wanting wasn't enough, because god knows the sex was fantastic. But once it was done we were just two guys in a bed, thinking about other people."
"But what if you weren't thinking about anyone else?" asks Namjoon desperately. "What if you were only thinking about him?"
"I don't think it would have mattered," says Yoongi. "He's great. He's a nice guy, funny, kind to children and small animals. Hot. Smart. But we don't have anything to talk about, once we're done talking what we like about each other. I need more, and he only asked me out for revenge, and being together so much only made it obvious what didn't line up."
There's a message there, and Namjoon wonders what Hoseok has told Yoongi about him as a roommate, about the things that make them not work. He's never wondered if Hoseok and Yoongi talked about him before, not this specifically, and it feels like an invasion to even speculate but the way Yoongi's looking at him he thinks Hoseok might have had a lot to say.
"Maybe in another universe we'd fit," Yoongi continues. "If we'd gone at the right speed, instead of skipping so many steps. But sometimes things just don't work out, Joon-ah, no matter what someone thinks they want. Not everything is meant to be, and that's okay. It's not anyone's fault."
Namjoon doesn't say anything, trying to process a world where things happen without reason, where there's no cause and only effect, where the only way to deal with a problem is to release it. He's not ready to release Hoseok, he thinks, and he hadn't realized how much he'd hoped that Yoongi was going to tell him to hold on.
Hoseok isn't watching them now, off with another group of people he's never met before, and Namjoon's not even turned in their direction but he knows exactly how many of them have fallen in love at first sight. It's a lonely thing to know.
"I understand," says Namjoon, because Yoongi looks like he's about to explain it another way and he can't bear to hear it again. He grips his knees with both hands, searching for something to distract them both, and comes up with, "Seokjin's company needs some A/V work done."
Yoongi doesn't say anything, cheeks pink and mouth disapproving, but his eyes flutter to Seokjin a couple of times before he yanks them back in the opposite direction. Seokjin sees it happen, suspicion crossing his face when he takes in Namjoon's presence in the scene, and he starts to shove his way through the partygoers to get to their corner. Namjoon is more grateful for it than he knows how to say.
"Hyung is very challenging," says Namjoon right before Seokjin gets there, and Yoongi's expression is nothing at all by the time he does.
"What are you saying, Kim Namjoon?" says Seokjin. "I know you're talking about me, and I demand to know under the Freedom of Information Act. And the Official Information Disclosure Act of the Republic of Korea. And international space law."
Namjoon spreads his hands wide, the picture of innocence. "Just mentioning that you have a tech contract job at your company that's up for grabs."
Seokjin's ears turn red as he straightens his spine. "I absolutely do not."
"Good," says Yoongi suddenly. He doesn't look up, but his voice carries well. "I wouldn't be caught dead walking into some corporate exploitation machine and setting up speakers to get them better sound quality on their conference calls about how to rob from their employees."
"Video conference calls," says Seokjin. He's smiling, though it looks like he's trying hard not to. "What if I paid you double the rate I paid for the house jobs?"
"Don't try to tempt me into betraying my principles with the promise of money," says Yoongi. His face folds together in a very specific way, though Seokjin can't see it. "You only have one trick, and I'm impervious to it."
"I have a multitude of tricks," says Seokjin. "And I know your company did work for Amazon. Did your principles take a day off during that contract?"
Yoongi's head jerks up like it's on a string, and if Namjoon weren't so weighed down he'd laugh at how easy his friend is to play. "I refused to work on that project. They don't pay fair wages."
"I pay fair wages," says Seokjin, crossing his arms.
"You wouldn't be so rich if you did."
"What kind of logic is that?" says Seokjin. "Maybe I'm just so good at my job that we can all make money!"
Yoongi rolls his eyes, and Seokjin jabs his finger at him so intensely that Namjoon ducks. "But it's probably for the best. You wouldn't have much to do at my company, since they're newly unionized. Hard to rabble-rouse among the content. Your fliers are meaningless in my empire!"
There's a long moment, a quiet moment despite the noise of the party, and Yoongi says in a new voice, "You let your employees unionize?"
He stands up as Seokjin folds his arms and mutters, "It's not something you let them do, they choose to do it as an collective. They've been entirely reasonable."
Seokjin's ears are so red that Namjoon wonders if he has blood anywhere else in his body, though when Yoongi steps closer his cheeks prove that there's still something left to give.
"You have a boyfriend," says Seokjin.
"I don't," says Yoongi. "And I'm not looking. But I'd take a job."
"There might be one available," says Seokjin. "Maybe. There are a lot of people interested in working with me, you know."
"But I'm the best," says Yoongi, that smirking corner of his mouth rising into position once more. "I think I heard double my usual rates?"
"Do you think I'm made of money?" says Seokjin. "The wealthy have to eat too, Yoongichi!"
Yoongi wrinkles his entire face, the better to cover his pleasure, and Namjoon leaves on quiet feet. Though he gets the impression he could have left with a brass band without being noticed, they're so enclosed in their new bubble. Taehyung shoots him a nod across the room, both acknowledgment and a warning to stay away, and Jungkook is caught up in competition, and Namjoon's just wondering if there's anyone left he can possibly talk to when Hoseok appears out of nowhere and grabs his arm.
"What did you do?" he asks. He's passed the point of happy drunk into grumpily disheveled, hair flying everywhere and nose scrunched into discontent, and Namjoon can hardly stop himself from reaching out to smooth him down.
"I didn't do anything," says Namjoon, confused.
"Yoongi and Seokjin are flirting," says Hoseok with deep suspicion. Hoseok peers around Namjoon's body and his bleary eyes widen. "They're flirting a lot. What did you do?"
"Oh no," says Namjoon. "It's fine. Taehyung and Yoongi broke up. And you know how Yoongi is, and hyung is pretty much the same but louder, so…"
Hoseok's horror has only increased. "You can't just let Yoongi have him! After all this time!"
They're interrupted when Taehyung and Jungkook shove the sofa past them, discussing some kind of Twister tournament that Namjoon wants absolutely nothing to do with. Hoseok falls into him, and Namjoon catches him, and there's a moment when his soul cries hold on before he releases him into the safety of the kitchen.
It's just the two of them in there, and Hoseok looks up at him with a strangely determined expression. "He's not allowed to do that. Not to you. I'm going to go tell him off."
"Tell who off?" says Namjoon, tugging him to the sink to get him some water.
He keeps it soothing, trying to get the cup to Hoseok's mouth, allowing himself a moment of indulgence to press Hoseok's fingers around it. To wind his arm around Hoseok's shoulders to stop him from leaving.
"He made you give him your boyfriend," says Hoseok. He stares into the cup, eyes narrowed, then shrugs and drinks it. "It's bullshit."
Namjoon freezes. "Why does everyone think I'm dating hyung?"
"Because you are?" says Hoseok. "Sorry, I know you didn't want us to know about it. We made a pact not to talk about it until you were ready, but it was pretty obvious."
Namjoon's mouth opens and closes a few times, but Hoseok's still looking in his cup and doesn't notice. "Especially since we're roommates. You're out with him all the time. You keep bringing stuff back from that market that he buys you, and you're always at his place, and you slept there last weekend even though you pretended like you'd just gotten up really early. You're kind of shit at lying about stuff, you know."
"I fell asleep in his massage chair," says Namjoon weakly, and Hoseok chuckles.
"It's really okay," says Hoseok, gaze lifting for the first time. "I told you I could be a cool roommate. I meant it. You can bring him around if you want." A thought strikes him, and he frowns. "Once I get Yoongi to stop being a dick."
There's no way in the multiverse to explain to Hoseok that he'd been at Seokjin's to save them both from embarrassment after Hoseok was truly and officially single again. If Hoseok were at all interested in him he would have said it by now, and he hasn't, and Namjoon had just needed a few weeks. A few weeks to pick that stupid road less traveled and lock away that still-blooming temptation to force the issue.
But he hadn't thought about how that might look, and that is something he can explain. "I'm not dating Seokjin. I don't want to date Seokjin, and he doesn't want to date me. I told Yoongi the same thing. He asked me first, so you don't have to fight him."
Hoseok raises an eyebrow, justifiably, because "asking" was maybe a stretch for Yoongi's sarcastic interrogation. But the rest is true, and Namjoon tries to make himself honest and trustworthy.
After a minute, Hoseok finally says, "You're not dating each other."
"No," says Namjoon.
"Those flowers he bought you at the market each week?"
Namjoon laughs. "I bought them for myself. I thought they looked nice."
"He really has a massage chair?"
"He has two," says Namjoon. "They're really comfortable."
Hoseok laughs too, his usual face back, and he doesn't look grumpily drunk anymore. He looks happily drunk, amusedly drunk, and Namjoon's slightly worried that he's going to force Namjoon to play Twister.
But instead he says, "Yoongi's lucky to have you taking care of him, Joonie."
Namjoon's cheeks flush, the warmth in Hoseok's voice coursing through him. He's looking him with those eyes, the soft ones, the ones that he sometimes gets during their early morning breakfasts when he's talking about his family dog, or his dance classes, or the nephew that he adores. Namjoon's not sure he's ever gotten them for himself before, not just for him, and he tries to memorize the moment, to take it with him into whatever the letting go path holds.
"Can I help?" says Hoseok, and Namjoon can't put together what he's talking about before Hoseok whips out his phone and types frantically.
Once he's done, he thrusts his phone out and says, "There!"
It's a text message to Jimin, full of emojis and exclamation points surrounding the message: Yoongi and Taehyung broke up!!
"Um," says Namjoon, already churning through the hundreds of ways Jimin might answer and trying to figure out if any of them are good. He's not coming up with a lot, if he's being honest, but Hoseok looks so proud of himself that he definitely can't say that out loud.
He's just about to get his own phone out and send a message of his own, not that he knows what it should be, when a message pops up in response.
How soon are you going to be back? It better be soon because I'm coming over
Namjoon shivers, because that could be good or bad, but he offers Hoseok a game smile. "Guess we'd better go home."
Hoseok hums questioningly, then looks at his screen and grins. "Yeah! Let's go home! Should we bring Taehyung?"
"Maybe not yet," says Namjoon. "You just got the place looking good, I don't want anything destroyed."
"Yeah, yeah, that's smart," says Hoseok, nodding happily. "But we have say goodbye to Jungkook."
"As long as it's quick," says Namjoon, only half-joking, and Hoseok bounds out of the kitchen and into the Twister game with hardly a pause. Jungkook tries to koala climb him to get them to stay, but once Hoseok whisper-yells that it's for Jimin the climbing stops abruptly. Taehyung gives Namjoon a complicated look that Namjoon can only shrug at, and someone calls left hand blue and Taehyung has to contort his body in a way that keeps him from continuing their silent conversation.
Seokjin and Yoongi surface from their out loud conversation, which thankfully looks less like a prelude to sex than it did before, and head over to them with purpose. To Namjoon's displeasure Beanie guy also approaches, albeit less certainly. Hoseok takes no notice of him, focusing in on Yoongi, then Seokjin, then Yoongi again, opening his mouth to speak.
"Say hi to Jimin for me," interrupts Yoongi.
It's an effective gambit, because Hoseok's face changes from skepticism to perfect surprise. "How did you know we're going to see him? Did you bug my phone?"
Yoongi smiles and pats Hoseok on the shoulder. "A lucky guess. You heading out?"
"We're going home," says Hoseok. "Home! That's where I'm going, Yoongi."
Seokjin snorts a laugh, but Yoongi stomps on his foot before he can speak, which Namjoon finds incredibly satisfying. "That's great, Seok-ah. Be safe, okay?"
He looks at Namjoon when he says it, and Namjoon suppresses the urge to roll his eyes with Herculean effort and doesn't bother to respond. They've had their conversation and Namjoon understands what he's supposed to do, and Yoongi knows it very well but he always tries to twist his lessons one last time to make them stick. And Namjoon might have gotten the message, and charitably aligned the stars for whatever corporate foreplay he and Seokjin are engaged in, but that doesn't mean he's happy with either of them right now.
Fortunately Jungkook interrupts the moment by giving him a goodbye hug before jumping back in to moderate a dispute about butt touching, and Hoseok drags him towards the door immediately after.
"Hey," says Beanie guy, clearing his throat. It's clearly directed at Hoseok, his phone out in an unquestionable signal, but only Namjoon hears him. He pulls on Hoseok gently to get him to stop, which he does with an impatient huff.
"We're in a hurry, Joonie," says Hoseok adorably, and Namjoon can't stop his smile.
But it dies quickly as Namjoon looks at the waiting guy, who some people might consider almost as hot as Hoseok, and murmurs, "I think he wants to get your number."
"Oh," says Hoseok, his surprised face back. He straightens and looks at the guy, who he'd been so tight with all night that Namjoon had already seen the promise of that next relationship as a tangible thing, then smiles brightly. "No thanks. Have a good one!"
And this time when he pulls at his sleeve Namjoon comes without any resistance at all. He knows his face shows his shock, and his pleasure, and it's embarrassing to think that Yoongi might have seen it all happen. Which he definitely did, because the last thing Namjoon sees on his way out the door is Yoongi folding his arms, a look in his eyes that says Namjoon had better expect another lesson very soon.
Chapter 9: Never-ending
A triumphant Seokjin is an entirely new flavor of Seokjin, a flavor that Namjoon's not sure he's excited about. But he does bring a new life back to their Friday nights.
"This is cozy, isn't it?" says Seokjin, scooting his stool slightly closer to Yoongi's, where they're jammed in to one side of the four-person table. "Sorry Yoongichi, did I hurt you?"
He rubs at a non-existent injury on Yoongi's elbow, despite the lack of reply or movement, and smiles conspiratorially at Namjoon.
Namjoon doesn't indulge him, because indulgence is for friends and it turns out that's not really what they are. But he's not angry anymore, and at least Seokjin was quick to pick up on where he shouldn't sit, such as next to Namjoon, or in Jimin's still-empty seat. Which left him the molecules between Yoongi and Hoseok, and Namjoon would find Yoongi's perfect military posture amusing if he weren't so concerned with other things.
"Isn't he coming tonight?" asks Hoseok, his eyebrows a worried triangle, and Namjoon wishes he could say yes if only to smooth them back out. But Jimin's been cagey all week, and he's not responding to texts, so that's the end of Namjoon's knowledge.
Jimin had taken the news of the breakup quietly. Too quietly, Namjoon thinks now, simply asking him to recount the entire conversation like a court stenographer, thanking him sincerely afterward and shifting the topic to the status of the bonsai. But he's had a look in his eye ever since, a considering look, a not-quite-happy look, and Hoseok thinks everything is fixed but Namjoon's not quite so sure.
The problem is, as he stares at the empty place, he doesn't know what else he can do to help.
Taehyung had carefully taken in the unfilled stool when he'd stopped by to get their order started, not that Namjoon was privy to what he was thinking either. But he'd waved his hands over Seokjin and Yoongi in blessing while Yoongi sputtered that he was just doing some contract work, and he'd told Hoseok he looked extra-handsome tonight with a sweet leer, and he'd nearly stumped Namjoon with his difference test, which involved new salt and pepper shakers and was borderline cheating because he'd half-hidden them behind the drink specials.
In the end Namjoon still got it, and Hoseok had been deeply impressed, and Hoseok did look extra-handsome tonight with his hair swept back, his skin glowing like a promise, draped in a clinging, wide-necked shirt with his collarbones on display for anyone to look at as much as they pleased. He'd dressed with fussier care than usual, trying on several outfits and presenting them to Namjoon in an excruciating, lovely fashion show until he'd finally settled on this one. He'd gotten admiring stares the entire walk here, and only half of them were from Namjoon.
He doesn't think Hoseok is trying to torture him, but Namjoon's always been good at torturing himself.
Yoongi's eyes have darted suspiciously between them more than once, but Namjoon is closed to feedback tonight. He can let go some other time, in some other place. He's working on it. For now he'll keep tight to this feeling, for as long as he can.
The sound of distant laughter cuts through the murmurs, startling Namjoon out of his reverie. He's been staring at Hoseok, he realizes, and Hoseok is looking back at him, worried eyebrows still in place. Namjoon tries to smile, then takes a drink, then pulls down his sleeve and rearranges his napkin on the table. Hoseok watches him, then smiles back, and he's so beautiful and warm that Namjoon might sublimate into vapor.
"Sorry to be late," says a voice behind him, and Namjoon spins around in shock.
The shock only grows when he actually gets his eyes on Jimin, because there's a lot to eye. When he'd left him in their shared office earlier today Jimin had looked exactly the same as always - suit verging into casual, put-together without looking stiff, fashionable but professional. He walked the line expertly, always making Namjoon feel a little frumpy in comparison to his deliberate looks.
But right now frumpy doesn't even begin to cover it, because Jimin looks like a model, a model at a nightclub where the champagne is five hundred dollars a bottle and he gets it for free. He's wearing his self-declared war boots, the ones with the high platforms he only takes out when he's at maximum power, a pair of jeans so tight that his skin pulses out of the strategic rips at the thigh, and a shirt sufficiently gauzy and see-through it might as well not be there. It's fallen angel, and saved demon, and every place where the holy met the unholy and shook hands.
Namjoon coughs away the sudden flair in his already-simmering arousal, and Jimin's mouth curls into a smirk as he winks. He doesn't move closer, posing for longer than he needs to, because he knows exactly what he looks like. The tables around him know, too, and probably everyone in the hemisphere given the pure energy he's emitting.
But when he twists to the side and puts his hand on his cocked hip Hoseok laughs hysterically, and Jimin breaks into a small giggle that relaxes the room just enough for breath. He wipes the grin away quickly, back to untouchable, but it's a relief to know that the sweet version of Jimin is still in there somewhere.
"Hello, I'm Kim Seokjin," says Seokjin as Jimin slides into his chair. "You might remember me."
"Hard to forget," says Jimin, but it's not mean. Though the way he tilts his head back is, a little. "Nice to see you again."
"Nice to see you," says Seokjin. "Your boot would feel great against my windpipe."
Yoongi cuts him a look, then says, "Hey Jimin. Glad you made it."
"Me too," says Jimin. "We good?"
"I'm good," says Yoongi. "Your dick looks like it's not getting a lot of circulation, though."
Jimin chuckles, along with an overjoyed Hoseok who hasn't stopped grinning since Jimin showed up. "Trust me, it's doing just fine."
A flicker of movement over Jimin's shoulder catches Namjoon's eye, and Taehyung appears at their table in a cloud of distraction. "The karaoke line is insane tonight, I might be really busy. If you guys want more stuff you should get your orders in… now…"
He trails off as Jimin turns toward him, his head cocked to the side in a approximation of polite interest, and Taehyung's voice is at least an octave lower by the time he gets the last word out. His mouth stays open like he has more to say, but instead his tongue darts out to wet his lips, his chest moving shallowly in the silence.
"Hey Tae," says Jimin. He crosses his legs, blinking up at him. "Could I get a drink? I'm really thirsty."
"Yeah," breathes Taehyung. "Yeah sure. The usual okay?"
"Perfect," says Jimin. The corners of his mouth turn up, but it's not exactly a smile to Namjoon's eyes. Whatever it is, it gets Taehyung's eyes even darker. "Is it on the house?"
Taehyung swallows, and Namjoon sees the moment where he realizes he has only one choice. "Of course."
"Thanks," says Jimin. He hops down from his stool and Taehyung's eyes follow him the entire way. "Sounds like I'd better get my name on the karaoke list before it fills up. Be right back, everyone."
He starts to leave, then turns around. His usually soft face is hard and angled, with more shadows than usual, and he's never been as attractive as he is now, getting everything he wants. Jimin's eyes pass over Namjoon, something fierce inside of them, and Namjoon realizes he'd ever needed anyone's help. He'd just been waiting for the time to be right.
"Maybe I can convince them to put me on top," says Jimin, winking again, then vanishing before Yoongi can successfully throw a napkin at him.
"He could convince me," says Hoseok fervently, seconded by Seokjin, and Namjoon sees more napkins flying out of the corner of his eye.
But he's focused on Taehyung, who's not moving, and doesn't seem as happy as he should be. "You okay?"
"Sure," says Taehyung. "Fine."
Namjoon drums his fingers on the table, then ventures, "Looks like everything's back to normal?"
"None of that was normal," says Taehyung quietly.
"But he's here, right? That means he forgave you."
Taehyung laughs then, a cynical little sound. "What part of it looked like forgiveness to you?"
He wanders off, saying he'll bring them some food he knows they'll like, and Namjoon reluctantly lets him go. Which he regrets when he turns back to the table just in time to hear Hoseok moan, "I'm so horny!"
Namjoon freezes, but no one notices because Seokjin's busy being sympathetically amused and Yoongi disgusted.
"I don't want to hear about your dick," he says, scowling, then sees Namjoon's vacant expression. "No one here wants to hear about it, right Joon-ah?"
Yoongi's voice is laced with heavy meaning, which is a mistake because it only serves to irritate Namjoon out of his daze. "Philosophy Fridays are a free exchange of ideas."
"Especially about dicks!" says Hoseok brightly, turning his attention directly onto Namjoon, who bites the inside of his cheek in terror. "God it's been forever since I've had sex. Even longer since good sex. I really need to get laid."
He's not flirting, because Namjoon's seen Hoseok flirt and it's nothing like this, but his eyes are warm pools, soft and inviting, and it takes every drop of brain power for Namjoon to keep his imagination in check. Which doesn't have much power available, because his blood supply has been traveling in entirely different directions ever since Hoseok got dressed, and the only thing he wants is to slide his mouth over Hoseok's still-exposed collarbone and suck marks over it until he falls apart.
God he hopes that thought isn't in his own eyes, though the way that Hoseok's expression changes he thinks it might be.
A foot catches him directly in the kneecap, and Namjoon yelps and reaches down to rub it, a mirror of Hoseok across the table. Yoongi looks absolutely unapologetic from his perch, despite the twin glares leveled in his direction.
"Did you just kick two men simultaneously?" asks Seokjin. He leans forward, running his eyes down Yoongi's body. "Hm. You didn't lose your balance for an instant."
"Useful," says Seokjin, and Yoongi's cheeks turn a violent pink.
Hoseok groans, still rubbing his leg. "Why does he get to do that and I don't get to do my things?"
"Because he's prettier than you," mumbles Yoongi, and Seokjin gasps in overwrought delight that does nothing to hide his embarrassment. Namjoon's grateful for the distraction, because Hoseok's still looking at him and he needs somewhere else to look back.
Jimin jumps back onto his stool without warning, startling Namjoon again. "You guys are all so fucking weird," he says. "But I've missed you anyway."
"You've hung out with us plenty," snaps Yoongi, but he's obviously relieved to have someone to fight. "You see Namjoon every day."
"Friday nights are different," says Jimin firmly.
Taehyung deposits some plates on their table, Jungkook bringing drinks and hugs alongside him, though he seems a bit skittish with Jimin in his current form. Jimin smiles cheerfully at him before he turns back to Taehyung more silkily. "They said I could perform first," he says. "Will you watch me, Tae?"
"Whatever you want," says Taehyung, unusually grave.
"I want you to pay attention to me," says Jimin. He leans forward. "Okay?"
"Okay," says Taehyung. "Just so you know, I always thought you were beautiful."
He leaves without a second glance, Jungkook and his bigger-than-usual eyes following after him, and silence falls. Instead of watching them leave, Jimin stares down at the table, his teeth nibbling at his lower lip.
Until Yoongi leans across the table and takes Jimin's hand, and squeezes it tightly enough that Namjoon sees his knuckles go white. Jimin returns the grip, smiling over at him with his eyes only a little watery, then grabs Hoseok's hand in his free one. Yoongi takes Namjoon's, and Hoseok drags a hesitant Seokjin's into the center until they're a pile of hands, with Jimin and Yoongi's threaded beneath them.
Jimin flicks a glance at Seokjin, his lips curving up, then says to Yoongi, "I need you to do something for me."
"When it's time, you come up and join me," says Jimin, nodding back to the karaoke space.
Hoseok giggles, and Jimin frowns. "Hey! We're having a moment here."
"Not that moment," says Yoongi.
Seokjin knocks him with his elbow and says, "He'll be up there."
"You too," says Jimin, looking around. "All of you. Please."
The low plea has Namjoon's automatic refusal dying on his lips, and there's not time for anything more because Taehyung is up at the mic getting the night started to raucous cheers. He looks more like his usual fae self, though it's obvious how much his eyes aren't looking at their table to a person who's informed enough to see it. He hypes the room expertly, weird and sexy, even deploying a few cheesy puns that have Seokjin breathless with laughter before he gets to the main event.
"The first victim - I mean performer! - of the night is Jimin Park singing…"
Taehyung trails off, looking at the paper, then at the karaoke accountant at the table, who busies himself with his computer. Taehyung rallies impressively as he finishes, "Singing a mystery song! Give him a round of applause everyone."
Jimin slams back his drink, then walks towards the stage with a sway in his hips that garners him a lot of wolf whistles. He blows kisses to the crowd, ending with one in Taehyung's direction that Taehyung doesn't reach up to catch. He's leaning against the table, watching as promised with smooth unconcern, and probably only Namjoon sees the way his foot is anxiously tapping against the ground.
"Place your bets," murmurs Hoseok. "I'm going with Ginuwine's Pony."
"Gross," says Yoongi.
"Maybe something romantic?" says Seokjin. "Taylor Swift?"
"Grosser," says Yoongi.
The screen comes to life, "Wannabe" sparkling across the screen, and Yoongi groans as Jimin grins hugely and starts in on a routine that's nowhere close to sex or romance. He doesn't stop smiling, and it is hot because Jimin's still dressed like a porn star and can be attractive at any place and time but it's mostly cute. He hams it up, switching between Spice Girls personas with suspicious ease, and Taehyung's eyes change from guarded to hopeful as Jimin splits his attention between the crowd and him.
They both laugh whenever Jimin executes a smoothly cheesy dance move, Taehyung's fingers over his mouth, and Namjoon can feel his own smile growing out of control.
But Jimin's barely into the chorus, singing about getting with his friends, when he gestures to their table with an imperious finger snap. Hoseok grabs Namjoon and Yoongi and yanks them towards the stage, already joining in joyfully and enthusiastically even though Yoongi is trying to kick him in the shins. Seokjin shoves them both from behind, and they all stumble up together in a confused heap that has Jimin cackling through his performance.
And then they're all singing, Hoseok and Jimin trading lines, and Namjoon yelling along with a completely lost Seokjin whenever the mic comes to them, and Yoongi doing the rap section like it's fucking Eminem, serious and hard, and Namjoon's never felt so stupid or so free in his life. They're singing the Spice Girls, all of them together, and Taehyung is dancing in the crowd like an idiot, and Jungkook's heckling them mercilessly from the bar, and the whole place is theirs. They own it, and each other, and when Hoseok leads them in a line dance on the outro none of them even complain.
Yoongi's cackling, his arm slung around Jimin in uncharacteristic camaraderie, and Taehyung barrels in to bear hug them both when the strains of the song fade, and the bar explodes as they grab hands and bow. Hoseok's hand fits perfectly inside of Namjoon's, like it was always meant to be there, and even when Taehyung cheerfully charges Jimin for every single one of his drinks later and nearly causes an international incident, the rest of the night stays exactly as perfect as that.
Namjoon's birthday arrives as it always does, like a thief in the night, and not until he gets Yoongi's midnight happy birthday text does he even remember that it's happening. His friends know that he doesn't enjoy the concept of his birthday, either as an abstract or as a reality, and he hasn't had a party for himself in so long that he wouldn't even know where to begin in a celebration. They know that too, so things stay relatively normal as he ages another year.
There are some signs. Hoseok gives him a huge hug as he leaves for work, but that's been their new habit for weeks and the only difference is the extra breaths it lingers. He finds his favorite breakfast burrito on his desk when he gets in, Jimin studiously ignoring him in the corner. Jungkook and Taehyung make him a minute-long well wishes video that's mostly them pushing each other out of the way of the phone and yelling, and Seokjin contributes with a terrifying, context-less link that ends up being a sad dancing cactus on loop, which seems fitting.
Other texts and e-mails roll in, easy and unobtrusive, and he's very relaxed on his way home until his phone buzzes in his pocket.
"Hi Mom," says Namjoon, answering like the good son he occasionally tries to be. "How are you?"
"My darling boy, happy birthday," she says.
The sounds of industry are behind her, people speaking quickly into phones, and Namjoon tries to remember where they are right now. London, maybe. Somewhere not in the country that's for sure. He weighs his curiosity against the shame of admitting he can't remember their schedule, and decides he'd rather stay ignorant.
"I'm so sorry we couldn't be there," she continues. "We'd hoped to be back by now, but you know how languid Spain is when it comes to business. It's only midnight, but you'd think I was keeping them up past dawn. Anyway, we'll come up to see you soon, okay? Take you to dinner somewhere. Your choice!"
"That sounds nice, Mom."
"We can even stay with you!" she says before excusing herself to make a rapid-fire set of decisions while Namjoon panics. He's not done panicking by the time she comes back, and says, "It will actually work out well, so we can figure out what to do."
"What do about what?" asks Namjoon cautiously. He's stopped in the overhang of a building, not able to walk and problem-solve at the same time, and a man glares at him as he has to go around.
His mom sighs. "I'm assuming you've heard from Daemyung."
Namjoon hasn't heard from his cousin in months, counting himself fortunate that he hasn't had to explain letting a stranger stay in his room indefinitely. He should have known that wouldn't last. "Not in awhile."
"I'd say I can't believe he hasn't told you, but of course I can believe anything when it comes to him," she says irritably. "Ridiculous, really, but he got married last week. In São Paulo. Without even telling anyone, so you can imagine how your aunt and uncle have been."
He can imagine with perfect clarity, and winces. "Married? To who?"
"Some girl he met in Brazil. A perfectly lovely girl, I'm sure, not that we know anything about her. And now he wants to stay, so of course we're getting him a job in the local branch, but it's all very inconvenient. Not the least because we have to find you a new roommate."
"Oh," says Namjoon. "Actually…"
"Darling, I know that you think you can live alone but you just can't," says his mom. "It's not good for you. All that space! You know how you get. The last time Seoyeon visited she said there wasn't a vegetable in sight. She did your laundry in an emergency session, and no son of mine will walk around in dirty underwear."
"I don't wear dirty underwear!"
"Of course you don't," she says. "We don't have anyone in the family who needs a room, but I've been putting out some feelers for other expats with sons. Trustworthy ones. Nothing yet, but I'm sure we'll find someone. And in the meantime it will make a lovely resting place for your father and me. Maybe a week stay? We don't want to intrude."
Namjoon takes advantage of her pause for breath to interject, a little too desperately, "Actually, I have a roommate."
"You do? Did I know that? Dear, did we know that Namjoon had a new roommate?" she asks, presumably to his father. She gets a negative response, and comes back to Namjoon. "We need to vet new tenants, you know that."
"You don't have to vet anyone," says Namjoon. "It's not permanent. Just a friend who broke up with his boyfriend and needed a place to stay for awhile."
"His boyfriend, you say," says his mom, and the tone of her voice is exactly what he didn't want. It's interest, and hope, and Namjoon closes his eyes. "How exciting! Do we know him? Is it that Min boy from college?"
"No, not Yoongi. A friend of his, though. Jung Hoseok."
"A Korean boy!" says his mother, her hopeful tone intensifying. "Well isn't that nice. We'll have to bring enough kimchi for you both. But you say it's temporary? How long has it been? A few weeks?"
Namjoon does the math and winces. "About three months?"
"I see. I see! Yes, well, there's no rush. We'll be delighted to meet him when we come," she says, with the emphasis in all of the most dangerous places. "We'll stay in a hotel, of course. And please tell Jung Hoseok that he's welcome to stay exactly as long as he likes. As long as both of you would like. Who knows, maybe permanently!"
"I will, Mom," says Namjoon, his heart lurching, knowing that he will never say any combination of those words to Hoseok. Knowing that he's been thinking them in the back of his mind for a long time, ever since Hoseok rearranged his place instead of running. "Anyway, I need to get home, so thanks for the birthday wishes…"
"No, wait!" she says. "I had a list of things to tell you. Where were they? Oh, yes, here. So Daemyung, we've talked about that, and our visit. Ah yes, your sister will be in Seattle in a few weeks and she needs someone to watch the girls while she takes some meetings for us. A Saturday. You'll be free, yes?"
Namjoon sighs, because it's not really a question. When he'd told his parents he wanted to skip business school to study religion and philosophy, this had been the trade for their continued support. Namely, his sister being groomed to take over the business, alone, and him making sure she doesn't collapse under the weight of that responsibility at a moment's notice.
But it's fine. He loves his nieces, after all. "I'm sure I can make it work. Just let me know when."
"Perfect. And also your grandmother is moving to Busan for her health and would like you to call, your aunt Seungmei's fashion line is coming out in two weeks so you need to send her a congratulatory note, and I've heard you're out and about with Kim Seokjin again? Is there anything I need to know?"
"He would have been a wonderful son-in-law," she says. "Though of course I don't want to pressure you in any way."
Namjoon can't stop his snort, which his mother ignores. "It's not like that. He's dating Yoongi. Sort of."
"Min Yoongi?" she says, astonished, before she starts laughing. "Ah, Kim Eunjae will be livid. I can't wait until the next charity event. Very well, that was my list. Now go, live your busy life without wasting any more of it on the woman who bore you, who brought you into this world twenty-seven years ago and raised you into the fine man you are today. Spare no more thoughts on my account."
"I love you too, Mom," says Namjoon, smiling against his will. "And Dad. Tell him, okay? Have fun in Spain."
"We will, darling, we will. Love you," she says. Before the line goes dead he hears her say, "Dear, do we know anyone from a Jung branch? Your cousin married a Jung, didn't he?"
Namjoon groans and puts his phone away, secretly hoping they spend a lot longer in Spain than they're planning. Because he loves his parents, but they know him too well, and he has to make sure they don't meet Hoseok right now. Not until Namjoon is back under control.
Which won't be anytime soon, because when he gets home there's a ring of candles around the dining table, all of their plates arranged in the middle topped with pancakes and a series of candy letters that spell out HAPPY BIRTHDAY JOONIE! in neat lines. Hoseok grins behind the display, yelling out surprise in the soft glow, so proud of himself for successfully making food that Namjoon wants to kiss him more than he ever has.
"I only had to throw away about half of them," says Hoseok. He looks down at the table, then back up through his lashes innocently. "It's a lot of pancakes though. Maybe too many for just us?"
Namjoon feigns reluctance, just because Hoseok is cute when he whines, but before he knows it he's got five houseguests, a mouth that tastes like syrup, and a birthday party that doesn't feel as difficult as he might have thought. Taehyung and Jungkook are shoving back the coffee table to do karate moves fueled by an intense sugar high, Yoongi is holding Seokjin's hand but trying not to let anyone see it, and Jimin is curled up with Hoseok on the floor, endeavoring to trip Taehyung and Jungkook whenever they pinwheel past.
Namjoon's in the loveseat alone, but he doesn't feel alone. He feels exactly the opposite of it, and every once in awhile his eyes meet Hoseok's happy ones, and he thinks Maybe permanently.
"I'm apartment hunting," says Hoseok, printouts surrounding him like a real estate nest. He tears one in half and drops it neatly into the nearby recycling bin without looking up.
He's responding to Namjoon, who came home to this, who'd been hoping against hope that he was reading the situation wrong. But he isn't, and this is really happening, and he wasn't ready for it in the least.
He'd feel better if Hoseok were looking at him.
"Why?" says Namjoon, then stops. He thought he'd have more, but there isn't more, just a void of knowledge.
"Did you know I've been here for over three months?" says Hoseok, tearing up another sheet. "Three months! That's a really long time."
"Not on a galactic scale."
"I guess. But I'm not a galaxy, and I can't mooch off of you forever."
"Of course you can," says Namjoon, which makes Hoseok frown. "I mean, you're not mooching. It's fine. It's not like anyone else is using the room."
"No one's using the room because I'm in it," says Hoseok. "I'm monopolizing the resource."
The words come too quickly, and Namjoon crosses his arms. "Why does that sound like something Yoongi would say?"
"He was here earlier," mutters Hoseok, then says more loudly, "But he's right. You haven't even charged me any rent. Which reminds me, tell me how much I owe you before I go, okay? I've been putting money aside for it. Some money."
He sounds doubtful, and Namjoon says, "You don't owe me anything. There's no rent."
Hoseok looks at him for the first time. "Don't. I let you do that when I got here because you were being all Joonie about everything and I didn't want to fight, but I take care of myself."
"What's 'all Joonie'?"
"Like you're running a pet rescue and found me in a storm drain," says Hoseok. "Maybe I was pathetic back then, but I'm not now, okay? You can stop."
He glares back at his listings, his forehead pinched and annoyed, and another apartment tears apart. Hoseok throws the pieces of it so hard they miss the basket, then scrambles over the floor to put them in their rightful place with quick, sharp movements. "I'm not just going to hang around, taking advantage of you."
"You're not -" starts Namjoon, then takes a breath, and another, trying to figure out what to do. Those are Yoongi's words too, he can practically hear him saying it, and he thinks he and Yoongi are going to have their next battle very soon.
But he's not going to fight him through Hoseok, so he crosses the room and sinks to the floor, cross-legged. "We need to talk about some things."
"Okay," says Hoseok, very quietly.
He twiddles with a new piece of paper, not tearing it this time. Rolling it up, then unrolling it, then folding in the corners and back. It's hypnotic, and Namjoon watches it as he chooses his words with care.
"You're not pathetic. You never have been. You were going through a tough time, and I wanted to help. I still want to help, however I can."
There are more words he could say, words about how Hoseok's sadness hurts him in places too deep to name, how he'd go through these same endless months a thousand times if it meant Hoseok felt like he had a space for himself. About how he cares about all of his friends, more than he can say, but Hoseok's happiness is something that gives him true joy. How he'd gotten joy from it for so long that he doesn't know how to give it up.
He doesn't. Instead he says, "You're my friend. You're important to me, and I like having you here. I don't feel taken advantage of, okay?"
Hoseok nods, then says, "But I think you should. I have been. I am."
"I'm in charge of myself and how I feel," says Namjoon. "Not you, not Yoongi, not Jimin." He pauses. "Sometimes Jimin."
That makes Hoseok laugh, like Namjoon intended, and he feels unaccountably lighter. It fizzles when Hoseok says, "I know you don't always tell us how you really feel, though. When you're upset, or uncomfortable. You let us do things that you shouldn't let us do."
That's not the same thing, is what Namjoon wants to say, but Hoseok's cheeks are flaming and neither of them want to be having that conversation. "Maybe not always. But I'll make you a promise. If I ever feel like you're taking advantage of me, I'll tell you. Is that enough?"
"So that you won't do this," says Namjoon, touching the papers between them. "Not if you don't want to."
"I don't want to," says Hoseok. "I like it here. But I might need to, you know? Before… well, before anything bad."
Namjoon frowns, and Hoseok breathes deeply, which turns into a weak chuckle. "Did I ever tell you Yoongi and I went out for awhile?"
The bottom of the world drops out, and it feels like years but it's really only a few seconds before Namjoon says, "No." It's a lot steadier than he feels, wrestling this new jealous monster at the edge of a cliff inside of himself.
"Forever ago. Back in school. Kid stuff. Mostly," says Hoseok, the last under his breath. "It's kind of funny, I guess. Yoongi really wanted to go to this dance. Was like, really insistent about it even though he'd never set foot in a school function before. Kept saying it was a memory he wanted to have. And I was fine with it. I didn't have a date, but I liked to dance back then just as much as now. But he was really weird all night, he had a bow tie and kept opening doors for me, and I didn't figure out until he dropped me home and kissed me that he'd been trying to date me the whole time."
Namjoon blinks, and Hoseok smiles at him. It's nervous. "Funny, right?"
"Not really," says Namjoon.
"Yeah," says Hoseok. "Anyway. He was my best friend, and I've always thought he was fucking hot, and he really wanted to try it so I was like… why not? At least I didn't have to worry about who I was with him. He knew me so well I wouldn't ever have to fake anything. I thought, hey, even if it doesn't work out, we'll never stop being friends. Not me and Yoongi."
"And you were right. You're still friends."
"Now we are," says Hoseok. "But I fucked it up for a long time, thinking that way. Sometimes I think we're still a little fucked up. When he was here, the way he talked…"
Hoseok trails off, still rolling the piece of paper in his hand. Curling it into itself over and over again, until he shakes himself. "I didn't realize how important he was to me until we were together, I guess. Because he was like, my home base. He's so steady, you know? And we were making out all the time, more than, and he held my hand whenever he could, really tight, so tight that I realized that he might let go someday. I'd really never thought I could lose him. But he liked me so much. And I was never sure."
"Right," says Namjoon, a little hoarse, then clears his throat. "What happened?"
"I went to California," says Hoseok. "We were supposed to go to UW together, room together, all that shit. That had been the plan since forever, but one night after I got back from his place I filled out my acceptance for UCLA, and then I told him, and then we were done. He knew what it meant. We'd dated for five weeks, been best friends for ten years, and when I got back here I didn't even know if he'd even talk to me again."
"I'm glad that he did. But I'm not sure I understand," says Namjoon.
Hoseok looks around, eyes sharp and a little sad. "This feels like a home base," he says, then slants a look at Namjoon. "Comfortable. I always knew you were, you know, you, and a good friend, but being here has been really…. healing. And I think that's kind of risky, for me. Yoongi still knows me pretty well. Maybe even better since I broke his heart."
There's a band of information beneath his words, something Hoseok is trying hard not to say, and Namjoon has a sneaking suspicion he knows what it is. The way Namjoon's been looking at him, single and beautiful and available and near. The way Namjoon's been living in limbo, in a suspended reality because Hoseok's been letting it happen. The way this friendship isn't anything like Namjoon's ever had with Yoongi, and he likes it a little too much.
The way he doesn't miss being alone at night any more.
Hoseok sighs. "The point is, that time with Yoongi taught me a lot about letting things happen because it seems like it won't be a big deal and then it ends up being a really big deal. And I'm even closer to you than Yoongi now -"
"I feel the same way," says Namjoon suddenly, flushing when Hoseok stops short. "Or, I don't know about closer. The same distance apart, maybe, just different. We're different. Like an equilateral triangle with different colored sides. I don't want that to stop."
"Aw, Joonie," says Hoseok, smile big and white and very embarrassed, but not as embarrassed as Namjoon feels. "That's so sweet! What color are we?"
"Red," says Namjoon, nonsensically, on instinct. Those demonic shorts. "I guess."
Hoseok reaches out and pinches his cheeks, his hands fluttering back together when he's done. "I'll be a red triangle side with you," he says. "That sounds nice. I just think it might be better if you got some space - "
"Move in with me," interrupts Namjoon again. "For real."
Hoseok breathes in and holds it, caught between a gasp and a sigh, and Namjoon thinks about Jungkook. About the way he looked across the table with his heart in his hands, how he'd given it to Namjoon even when he knew it was useless. He thinks about Yoongi, and how sometimes things just don't fit together, and about Seokjin, and what dogged determination can do. He thinks about Taehyung and Jimin, the way they can find each other across a room in an instant, how they know when to wait and when to move. He thinks about Hoseok,warning him so carefully about the dangers of wanting a friend.
His head is so full of them that it barely has room for him, but the small part of himself that's left knows exactly what it wants. And that's so rare, for him, that moment of crystal clarity, that he can't help but be selfish one more time.
"My cousin's not coming back, and my parents say it's fine, and you can just stay here," he continues, determined. Scared, if he lets himself stop, so he won't let himself stop. He can be Hoseok's friend. He can, and he will, but he wants this to be his life. "Okay? I think that's what's best. For me."
"You asked your parents?" says Hoseok, and his voice is different now. A little thicker, like there's something trapped in his throat, and Namjoon is very worried he might cry, which would be a disaster.
"We talked about it when they called for my birthday," says Namjoon. "They're fine with it. They want to meet you when they come."
"Oh," says Hoseok.
Namjoon reaches down and picks up all of the remaining papers, including the one still in Hoseok's hand, and throws them in the garbage. Hoseok doesn't resist. "Please don't move out if you don't want to. I really like living with you."
"I really like living with you too," says Hoseok, and he is crying, wiping at his eyes with the back of his hand. "Don't look at me right now, okay?"
"Okay," says Namjoon, laughing, then laughing even harder when Hoseok reaches out and spins him around, muscling him in a circle with his cheeks wet and glistening. He wonders when he got so used to Hoseok touching him. Another thing he doesn't want to give up.
Namjoon sits quietly for a few minutes, looking at his still-alphabetical bookshelf with only a hint of lingering ache, then says, "Can I turn back around yet?"
"I guess," says Hoseok, and Namjoon does.
To his surprise, Hoseok takes his hands as soon as he's settled, squeezing them tightly inside his own. Namjoon tries not to shiver, with limited success.
Hoseok looks down, then flattens his mouth into a straight line. "It's okay with you? How I feel?" he says. When Namjoon doesn't answer, his lips twist wryly. "I know that you know."
"It's okay with me," says Namjoon. Hoseok can't help how he feels, or doesn't feel. Namjoon's always known he wasn't for him. "It's never bothered me. You're one of my favorite people."
"Ah don't say that," says Hoseok, though the look on his face is pleased. "But okay. Okay. As Jungkook would say, let's get it."
It's a forced cheer, not unhappy but not entirely happy, and Namjoon keeps a grip on his hands. "I don't think we have to be afraid of anything," he says. "Your story with Yoongi… you guys never really talked about things. We talk all the time. We don't have any secrets, right?"
Hoseok's smile turns more genuine, and he nods. "Yeah, I guess you do know pretty much everything about me now. Somehow. I'm not sure how that happened! And you're still offering me up a place to stay anyway. God, Joonie, you'd shame the angels."
He finally lets go, though he teases him for a little while longer, calling him St. Joonie until Namjoon gets off the floor and tries to sprint into his room to escape. But he doesn't make it into the hallway before Hoseok calls out, "Hey, wait! If I'm going to be here for real and not as an animal rescue, you really have to tell me what the rent is."
"There is no rent," says Namjoon. "My parents have a lot of real estate, and they own this place, and they wouldn't take it even if you asked. Also I have a trust fund, so, okay, bye."
He slams the door shut on Hoseok's outraged squawk, holding it closed against the pounding until it fades away into irritated mutters. He counts to ten and then lets it go cautiously, only to have Hoseok muscle his way in and cross his arms.
"What do you mean you have a trust fund?" he says, but there's a smile tugging the corner of his mouth and a hint of laughter in his voice. And when Namjoon explains his life in a confusing, roundabout, slightly ashamed way, Hoseok listens with that same faint smile the whole time, then pats him on the head once at the end and says that he's definitely not picking up Namjoon's bar tab anymore.
When he says it he releases his trapped laugh, and Namjoon laughs back, and the happiness that fills him is still selfish but very real.
Chapter 10: Tell Me
Namjoon and Hoseok aren't doing much of anything, just lounging on the couch in their pajamas, when the door buzzer goes off and Namjoon nearly jumps out of his skin.
"Who the hell is that?" he asks, trying to stop his heart from racing. Hoseok, he notices, doesn't seem quite so shocked. "Did you order delivery waffles again?"
Hoseok fidgets, staring at his phone like it holds the secret of life, then makes a few random humming noises. "I texted Yoongi a little bit ago. That uh, I'm staying here. So I think it might be -"
The buzzer goes off again, five times in quick succession, and Namjoon groans. But he's not really mad, he's keyed up, because this was going to happen at some point and he might as well get it over with. He manages to make it to the door before Yoongi breaks the intercom, buzzes him up without even bothering to acknowledge him, then stands by the door and waits.
He's still surprised when Seokjin walks in with him.
"You changed your fucking guest code," says Yoongi in greeting. "What the hell."
"New roommate, new code," says Namjoon, and Yoongi huffs.
"Hello, yes, it's such a delight to see me again," says Seokjin. "I'm so pleased to have invited myself to your lovely home once more, Namjoon-ah. Hoseok-ah. The television remains perfectly positioned."
Hoseok's still hunched on the couch and vibrating inside of the Powerpuff Girls, but he perks up at the compliment.
"We need to talk," says Yoongi, but to Namjoon's shock it's not directed at him. He marches over to a shrinking Hoseok and grabs his arm, hauling him up with terrifying strength, and Hoseok goes but it's wide-eyed. They disappear into his room, slamming the door behind them, and beat-heavy music fills the air a few seconds later.
Seokjin and Namjoon share a look that Namjoon doesn't let linger. It's the first time Namjoon has been alone with Seokjin in weeks, and he doesn't quite know what to say to him. He'd been here for Namjoon's birthday, of course, and he's been at their Friday nights so often that he's gotten a permanent stool at the table, but they haven't interacted much beyond normal pleasantries. And today is going to call for more than pleasantries if Namjoon's any judge.
But everything seems okay for now, with Seokjin's amusement obvious. "Do you think they're having sex?"
Namjoon doesn't in the least, but he knows how hard it is to fall out of love with Hoseok, so he also doesn't feel like joking about it. "Can I get you something to drink?"
"A glass of wine big enough to drown in sounds fantastic," says Seokjin. "But as it's ten in the morning, how about some water?"
"It's from the tap."
"A dangerous game," says Seokjin, sighing. "I'll risk it."
When Namjoon gets back there's a muffin on the coffee table, which Seokjin nudges towards him as soon as he sits down. "Courtesy of your favorite bakery stall. I made Yoongi stop before he stormed over. A gift for the host."
Namjoon takes it mechanically, most of his attention on all of the things he's not hearing past the hip hop. But his first bite is filled with poppyseed and lemon, bringing him back to the moment neatly. "It's good, thanks."
"What are friends for? Besides, I thought you might be missing them," says Seokjin. "Since it's been so long since you came to the market with me."
It's true enough - they haven't gone since Seokjin and Yoongi ventured into whatever it is they're doing - but it's not like he was needed or welcome, so he's not sure it matters. He's turned down Seokjin's polite, weekly invitations with equally polite, weekly refusals, maintaining the civility they've carefully brokered, and he doesn't have much to add to the situation. At least the muffin gives him something to do with his mouth.
"Luckily Yoongi's been willing to indulge me in your lengthy absence," say Seokjin, and Namjoon feels the simmer of his temper spike when Seokjin gives him a pointed look. "Though he complains incessantly. I hope to tell him he's released from service soon."
Namjoon makes a noncommittal noise and takes another bite.
"Congratulations on your newly official living situation," says Seokjin. "Living alone can be such a lonely affair."
Namjoon shrugs, stuffing the rest of the muffin into his mouth as he mumbles, "Hoseok is a good roommate." It's barely intelligible even to him, and if he were being gracious he'd swallow quickly and repeat himself.
He keeps chewing, taking a sip of his own water.
Seokjin crosses his legs and leans back in the loveseat, studying him while the music plays on. The song's just changed to something faster when Seokjin says conversationally, "But it's risky, isn't it? A roommate you've had sex with."
The last bite of muffin falls into his stomach as it swoops, like a lead ball hitting his gut. "We haven't had sex."
"Transitive property," says Seokjin. "You've had sex with me, I've had sex with Yoongi, Yoongi's had sex with Hoseok. The chain is unbroken."
Namjoon stares at him, but Seokjin just smiles, the sweetness almost reaching his eyes. There's something compressed there, energy ready to move in any direction but what's expected, and Namjoon had known they weren't really friends but he wasn't expecting this. They could have just sat in silence. It didn't have to be a duel.
Seokjin tilts his head a single degree to the right. "Maybe Hoseok and I should compare notes when Yoongi's done scolding him. It's an invigorating experience. I should know! Last night - "
"Please don't," interrupts Namjoon. "If not for me, for Yoongi. He wouldn't like you talking about it."
"Because you know so much about what people like," says Seokjin, eyebrow arched. "But thank you for the advice. I'll cherish it."
"Why are you even here?"
"Such disrespect," says Seokjin. Not so polite, anymore. Not so civil. "Aren't I your beloved hyung?"
Namjoon rolls his eyes. "Sure. Hyung."
Hoseok says something almost loud enough to be heard, and Namjoon's fingers itch against his knees.
"This is ridiculous. What's wrong with you?" says Seokjin. "I've let this go on, because Yoongi asked me to exercise patience as you worked through your issues. To prove myself to your judgmental eyes, like some sort of Labor of Hercules. But it's been weeks, and I trust you've seen the evidence that I'm no more toying than Yoongi than I was with you, so now it's time to talk."
"I don't have anything to say," says Namjoon. "I'm glad for you. And Yoongi. You got what you wanted."
Seokjin's eyes narrow, but Namjoon doesn't break their gaze. He adds, a little spitefully, "You always do."
"Are you angry with me?" says Seokjin.
Seokjin laughs once, hard. "My mistake," he says. "You're the one who wanted us to be real friends, Namjoon-ah. You said it, just like that, very sweet and very endearing, and I believed you. But you've done nothing but freeze me out since I dared to date your friend. No hang outs. No texts. Nothing but silence. I thought you were testing me. Maybe even feeling some lingering guilt, still, about how you handled things all those years ago. But if you're actually upset - "
"I'm not upset," says Namjoon. "I just get it, now. What you were doing. It's fine, and we should keep being polite to each other for Yoongi's sake, but there's no need to waste our time faking a friendship."
"What are you talking about?" says Seokjin, rubbing his temples. "I feel like I came in at the end of a very long movie and everyone's speaking French. Just tell me in English, please. Or Korean, if you prefer. I'm not picky."
Namjoon glares at him, but Seokjin isn't the kind of person to be intimidated by something like that. "You hung out with me to make Yoongi jealous," he says finally. "From the beginning, that was your whole thing. Ask me to the market to make him jealous. Ask me to your house to make him jealous. Ask me to hang out again, and again, to keep making him jealous. Go to movies, to the park, do stupid face masks and massage chair relaxations nights just so I would tell him all about it.
"But when I didn't, when I didn't perform like a good little pawn, you took matters into your own hands. Made sure he knew that you were out all the time with your ex. You were so eager to tell him all about it."
Seokjin blinks, and Namjoon growls and finally looks away. "It was all an act. From beginning to end, an act, and I believed you too when you said you missed having friends. I did want to be real friends with you. I liked hanging out, and I was lonely, okay? It wasn't fake for me. But I forgot that you don't have friends. Just pieces, waiting to be used."
"That is nonsense," says Seokjin, plenty of space between his words. "Complete nonsense. Are you even listening to yourself? Why would I do any of that? You made it perfectly clear that Yoongi was enamored with Taehyung, long before I entered the picture, and Yoongi had rejected me soundly a dozen times already. There's no point in trying to make someone who doesn't want you jealous, and I don't waste my time on lost causes. You should know that better than anyone, since I never called you again!"
Namjoon tries to meet Seokjin's anger, so strong it's nearly physical, but he can't help but flinch when Seokjin stands up and starts to pace. "Rather than craft some kind of byzantine spy plot, maybe draw a simpler conclusion - that I said I wanted a friend, and I meant it. That you were a person I respected despite our unfortunate past, and a friend I needed. Not only before I learned that Yoongi might not be indifferent after all, but since then, too. Only I haven't had that friendship, because you've been sulking over something you completely made up!"
"You told Yoongi we were hanging out," says Namjoon stubbornly. "You went out of your way to do it. You wouldn't have done that if you meant it."
Seokjin stops moving and sighs. "Not to let the facts get in the way of a good story, but I really didn't. Yoongi called me to settle some accounting, and I kept it professional and brief because despite what you think of me I'm a businessman with a post-graduate degree instead of some Machiavellian sadist. Yoongi was the one who brought up the farmer's market, and asked where it was and what stalls it had, and I told him that you knew. That we'd been going so regularly that you were an expert, and Yoongi said he'd ask you, and maybe I'd see him and Taehyung there sometime. That was it."
"That's not -"
"What Yoongi said?" says Seokjin. "I'm not surprised. I had no idea he was jealous, but if he was the conversation probably unfolded quite differently for him. We all have our own perspectives on events. And if we take the time to consider other people's, it helps stop misunderstandings."
"But also, more importantly, my relationship with Yoongi has never been about you! Difficult to believe, I know, but there we have it. I've lived large portions of my life without even considering you, Kim Namjoon. One might say nearly all of it."
The muffin sits even heavier in his stomach, a ball of poppyseed guilt. Namjoon had been so sure.
And his guilt only grows when he meets Seokjin's disappointed gaze. That's the true sting, in the end, that Seokjin isn't even angry anymore. He's just sad, and Namjoon's sad with him, and the thumping bass isn't making it any better.
"I'm sorry, hyung," says Namjoon, fighting the urge to cover his eyes with his hands. "I'm sorry. I just felt so stupid, when I thought - but I shouldn't have thought it. I should have known you better than that."
Seokjin softens, just a little. "Well, I didn't give you the best first impression the second time around. Of me, and how I operate. I didn't give you a lot of reason to trust my motives."
"I should have anyway," says Namjoon. He hopes Yoongi doesn't want to fight him today after all, because Namjoon's obviously in no condition to hold his own against anyone. "I'm sorry I threw away our friendship."
"Hey now, what's this?" says Seokjin, crossing the room swiftly and sitting next to him. He uses Korean, his hand smoothing over Namjoon's head without hesitation, and Namjoon's eyes sting with its gentleness. "Don't tell yourself another story. Nothing's thrown away. But in the future please give me the courtesy of a defense before you put me in prison. My life isn't a book for you to read however you want."
Namjoon nods miserably.
"But I'm sorry to have been a person who you believed could do something like that," says Seokjin quietly. "You should know that hyung will always take care of you, if we're to be friends. But everyone has dust on them once you brush them off, don't they? I'll try to be cleaner. For both of us."
Namjoon jumps when Seokjin puts a tentative arm around him, patting him awkwardly on the shoulder like he's going to explode, but he smiles with relief until Seokjin hits him hard enough to sting.
"That doesn't mean there won't be penalties," says Seokjin, but he's back to English, amused, like his anger had never been. "Our next month of marketing is all on you, and I get to pick the movies for movie night until I say otherwise. I hope you're prepared to cry."
"Anything you want," says Namjoon, not bothering to hide his dread, and Seokjin smacks him again. "I really am sorry, hyung. I'll try to think more about you, from now on. Your perspective."
"Ah, Joon-ah," says Seokjin fondly. "You'll never succeed in seeing through any eyes but your own, but you're all the more lovable for wanting to."
He pauses, then touches the center of Namjoon's forehead with a long finger, like pressing a button. "I wonder how many of our realities you have swirling around inside that brain of yours. More than we could ever imagine, I suspect. And so few of them overlapping with the truth."
Namjoon wriggles away, frowning. "I'm not that bad."
"You're impossibly dramatic," says Seokjin. "And slightly helpless. You may find out just how helpless soon, if I'm not mistaken."
As if on cue the music stops, and Hoseok stumbles out of his door like he's been shoved, his face flushed and hard-set. Yoongi follows him, striding into the living room with that smooth, deceptive speed he's using today, and says, "You're next."
Namjoon's close to refusing until Yoongi adds, "I don't have anywhere else to be today. We can hang out for hours if you want. Just all of us sitting around, chatting about whatever we want."
He crosses his arms and leans against the wall, and Hoseok's red face flashes with something uncomfortable and worried. Which decides him, so Namjoon stands up and says, "Fine. Let's make it quick."
"Scandalous," says Seokjin. "Take photos!"
Yoongi flips him off as they move into the hall, which only delights Seokjin, and Namjoon hears him say, "Hoseok, sit down. I think we have a dick in common," before his bedroom door closes behind them and Yoongi cranks Namjoon's speaker up.
"What were you thinking?" he says, much more gently than Namjoon expected. "You asked him to stay?"
Yoongi shakes his head sadly, his mouth pressed into an exasperated frown. "That's just the sort of noble, self-sacrificing shit you would do," he says. "But it's a terrible idea. You know it's a terrible idea, right?"
"I don't see why," says Namjoon, crossing his arms over his chest. "We get along really well, or at least now that I keep things clean and Hoseok takes shorter showers, and we don't ever fight about anything which is more than I can say for Daemyung. And Hoseok has to live somewhere, and my parents say I have to live with someone if I'm here so why shouldn't it be him? We're friends. Good friends."
Even to his own ears his voice sounds pathetic and whining, and Yoongi's eyes carry only pity. "It doesn't work that way. You can't just make a relationship what you want it to be by saying it out loud."
"I can," says Namjoon. "I have. I am. Look, I appreciate your concern but it's not really any of your business."
Yoongi snorts. "You've always been my business. You, and him," he adds, waving vaguely towards the living room. "I'm not going to sit by and watch it burn. Especially because I know you guys. How you both are. This could go really wrong, Joon."
"Lots of things could go wrong, every day," says Namjoon stubbornly, but Yoongi levels him with a look and he falls quiet.
"I'm going to say this simply, because I love you both," says Yoongi, the last almost quiet enough to be missed under the music. "I know what it's like to… to push for someone you want. And I know what it's like, to be around Hoseok like that, all the time. I know he'll never stop being who he is, and you'll let him get a little closer, and then closer, every day a little closer until you fall over the edge you didn't even know you were skating because you can't tell him no. And then you'll find yourself in a situation you didn't want to be in, and you won't be good friends anymore. You won't be anything but ruined. Maybe forever."
Namjoon feels tears prickling him again, and he's much more annoyed about that than he was with Seokjin. "I won't let that happen."
"You will. He's easy to like, and he's got all those fucking shorts."
They're silent for moment, contemplating that vision, and Namjoon has to admit that Yoongi might have a point. Maybe. Which means that it's time to divert the conversation as quickly as he can.
"Why didn't you tell me you two dated?" he asks. "Why did I have to find out from Hoseok?'
Yoongi's knowing expression changes to confused. "I did. I talked about him all the time freshman year, the guy who broke my heart in high school. God, that was fucking embarrassing," he says, eyes far away, before hardening at the memory. "I hurt for a long time. A long time. I'm not going to let anyone else go through that."
"But that was Heather," says Namjoon, frowning. He remembers that, mostly because it stands out in all of the non-personal conversations they've had. Those drunken Yoongi moments, where they'd sipped shitty 40s and listened to whatever music they'd been feeling. Where he'd leaned against walls and nursed a pain inside of himself that Namjoon hadn't known him well enough to fix. "Heather was your girlfriend. You had a huge crush on her for a long time and then you finally went out but she dumped you and went off to a different college right after you had sex for the first time…"
He trails off in horror, and Yoongi's cheeks dust with pink as he very carefully looks at the ground. "Oh my god. It wasn't Heather."
Yoongi's arms go over his stomach, and Namjoon's reminded of the time he'd tried to talk to him about his sexuality, after he walked in on him with his hot lab partner. The way Yoongi had absolutely shut him down, the way he'd been so sure of himself and so silent all at once. Looking at him now, he thinks Yoongi doesn't even remember how easily he'd lied.
"It was Hoseok. All those stories," says Namjoon. "You cried! Twice!"
"I cried a lot more than that," mutters Yoongi, then shakes himself. "But that's what I'm saying. I wanted him for so long, Joon. So long. I loved him, and he just let me. He let me care about him like that, for years, not because he's mean but because he's nice. He too goddamn nice, and instead of telling me I didn't have any kind of chance to be with him the way I wanted he just kept making room for me. Being my 'good friend'. Which is the absolute shittiest thing to be when you want someone to look at you like you're the universe, like you're the only thing he wants to look at. But he doesn't want to look at just you. He just likes that you're around."
His eyes snap to Namjoon, suddenly furious. "You don't know what it was like. You don't know, and I'm sure you think you're being nice but you're being a real shithead. We were just kids, but you're a fucking grown up. You should know better."
"How dare you," says Namjoon, furious alongside him. "How dare you. You think I don't know? You think you're the only one who's wanted? I've wanted him more than you can ever imagine. Cared about him. Cared for him. Wished and hoped and waited without any hope of reciprocation. You've been here the whole time. You don't have to tell me what it's like to love Hoseok."
As soon as he says it he stops, terrified, but there's no stopping this, in the end. Not with the way he feels. He's never said this even with Jungkook, even inside his own mind, but his nerves are raw and exposed now, dancing under the electrodes that Yoongi so expertly applied.
He wonders if Seokjin's fight was their way of softening him up for this, to strip him bare and make him admit things that he shouldn't admit. He wonders if Yoongi talked to Hoseok first just to make him weak. To push him to this moment. And he knows he's building a narrative, just like Seokjin had told him not to do, but everything is a story. Everything has a cause, and an effect, his effect is that he's more pissed than he's ever been in his life.
And maybe the story is still unfolding, because Yoongi looks scared instead of triumphant. Scared and surprised. And Namjoon isn't even close to done.
"You've been giving me shit about this for months now. Months! All your fucking lessons and 'just let him go' and 'he doesn't want you' and the endless, condescending pity. Fine. Pity me. Lecture me. Give me all your stupid warnings and speeches, god knows I've never been able stop you. But don't tell me that I'm like you. Just because you didn't know how to control yourself doesn't mean that I can't. I am a fucking grown up, and if I say I'm going to be okay then I'm going to be okay! Okay? So stop with your self-righteous 'oh you just don't know what it's like' bullshit. Just stop it."
Yoongi blinks at him, stepping closer. Cautious, not angry, and that's strange because Namjoon expected anger. He'd been aiming for anger. But this looks like a different Yoongi, like the Yoongi who found Namjoon sitting on the floor of his dorm one day, overwhelmed by all of the things he needed to do that he wasn't getting done and the looming failures on his horizon. This looks like the Yoongi who gently handed him a piece of paper and a pen and said, "Start with the first thing. The first thing is enough."
That was the moment they'd moved from kindred bitching to real friendship, lifelong friendship, and Namjoon doesn't know what it means if that Yoongi's here now.
"Namjoon," says Yoongi, soft as a snowflake and just as ephemeral, and Namjoon closes his eyes.
"It's been three years," he whispers. "Three years, and I'm so tired. But I'm not tired of being near him. I'll never be tired of that, and I want to do this for both our sakes. Please believe that I can do this. I love him, and I can keep being his friend, because that's what he wants."
"Namjoon," says Yoongi again, more definite. More like his usual self, like a pretty volcano thinking about rumbling. "When you said I was giving you lessons, what did you mean?"
Namjoon squeezes his eyes closed more tightly. "At Jungkook's birthday party. When we talked, when you and Taehyung… You told me that sometimes things don't work out. That Hoseok won't ever work out, for me. I understand. I've always understood. I won't let anything get ruined, but don't ask me to give him up if he doesn't want to go."
When Yoongi doesn't say anything Namjoon risks a look at him, and Yoongi's mouth is opening and closing like a searching fish. It's strangely timed to the pounding beat surrounding them, not that he seems to notice. He brings his hand up to his hair, running through it once, then shifts his weight to his other foot, then finally groans.
"I was telling you that it's okay when someone doesn't reciprocate…" says Yoongi, trailing off into another groan. "Three years? You're sure?"
"Pretty sure," says Namjoon, irritated. "I mean, you were there when we met. I don't know when you thought I got over it."
"When I thought you - "
Yoongi's mouth snaps shut, nearly audible above Drake, and he shakes his head as he spins around and throws the door open. He stomps out, nothing at all like his former smoothness, and Namjoon follows him with no small amount of confusion.
"Yoongichi!" says Seokjin. "You look even more annoyed than when we got here. Problems?"
"We are leaving," Yoongi announces, marching to the door and jamming his foot into a shoe. "Right now. Come on."
The music is still blaring but Namjoon can hear him muttering to himself as switches feet. When Seokjin joins him, slightly worried, Yoongi looks up and says, "Did you know about this shit?"
"Know about what?" says Seokjin, looking back at Namjoon, then Hoseok. "Ah, yes. So you've gotten there at last. I wondered."
"You could have said something," says Yoongi. "I've been running around like an idiot for weeks."
Seokjin smiles and leans down to kiss his cheek. "But you were enjoying yourself so much. Yoongichi the fixer of friendships and keeper of happinesses. It's been very cute."
"I hate you," says Yoongi, accepting the kiss with a pout. He spins back and points to Namjoon and Hoseok, one after another, then again. "You two are on your own, because this is not what I do. God help you both. Try not to break anything."
And then to Namjoon's astonishment he crosses the room, shoes still on, and pulls Hoseok to him so hard that Hoseok makes a pained whooshing sound as his breath leaves his body. But he hugs him back tenderly and looks between Seokjin and Namjoon, completely bewildered.
Yoongi whispers something that brings a blush to Hoseok's cheeks and more bewilderment to his eyes, then stomps over to Namjoon and gives him an even tighter hug, right around the middle, that Namjoon doesn't know what to do with at all.
He settles for patting him on the head a couple of times, which makes Seokjin smile.
And it doesn't matter, because Yoongi knows what he wants to do, which is yank Namjoon's ear down to the level of his mouth and whisper, "Try to see what's really in front of you, when it shows up. Don't talk yourself out of it."
With that mysterious pronouncement he leaves, Seokjin following after him with a cheery wave goodbye, and Namjoon hears him yell, "Three years!" followed by Seokjin's delighted laugh as the doors close behind them.
Namjoon's still staring at the door, trying to sort through his mind, when the music turns off and he turns to see Hoseok coming out of his room. "So, what just happened?"
Hoseok looks at him, but his gaze doesn't lift high enough to lock. "I'm not sure. But I guess we have his blessing to room together. Or something."
"We never needed his blessing," says Namjoon firmly, and that makes Hoseok smile. He casts around for something to preserve it and comes up with, "Hey, do you want waffles? I made myself hungry for them."
"I love waffles," says Hoseok, smiling bigger, and Namjoon's agitation melts away when he finally meets his eyes. He doesn't know how Hoseok does that, quiets his mind and makes everything seem far away, but he's more grateful for it than he knows how to say. "Want me to order from the place?"
Namjoon shakes his head. There's too much bad air inside these walls right now. Too much churning. "Let's go out. Get dressed and touch the sun. It's a nice day."
"It is a nice day," Hoseok agrees, tugging down his too-long sleeve. "Can we… do you want to walk in the park after? See some dogs?"
"Cool," says Namjoon. "Shower and change, meet back here in ten?"
"I can't do my shower routine in ten minutes," says Hoseok, scandalized, and Namjoon laughs and revises it to twenty before he heads into his room.
He's waiting on the couch when Hoseok emerges, fresh-scrubbed and nice-smelling, and Namjoon takes a second to look at him. To see what's really there, as Yoongi asked, and when Hoseok starts to extol the virtues of his ten-step body scrub process again, Namjoon can't stop himself from laughing. Because what he sees is Hoseok, his roommate and friend, and he's beautiful and dear in a way no other friend could ever be. And he looks happy to be here, happy to be existing with Namjoon, and that's the only story that matters in the end.
"I have to go to dance at two," says Hoseok as they're putting on their shoes, a hint of apology in his voice.
Namjoon shrugs. "That's okay, I'll walk you. Who knows, maybe I'll sign up for a class."
Anything seems possible, on a day like today. When Namjoon faced down both Kim Seokjin and Min Yoongi, and said things that were true in his bones and lived to tell the tale. When he's able to get waffles with Jung Hoseok, and walk in parks, and make him smile.
Hoseok's eyes light up at the possibility, and he's already listing all of the beginner dance courses they teach by the time they get to the elevator, and Namjoon loves him with all his heart.
The next weeks pass easily, normally, and Namjoon can hardly believe how simple this is.
His parents end up postponing their Seattle trip indefinitely, which both Namjoon and Hoseok are a little relieved by, though Namjoon marks the date of his sister's visit down dutifully when they call to inform him. He also takes their order to call her more just as dutifully, even though already he calls them twice a month and has reached peak favorite uncle status a hundred times over.
Friday nights remain as they ever are, but he also starts going back to the farmer's market again with Seokjin on Saturday mornings. Sometimes Yoongi comes and sometimes he doesn't, and always Seokjin picks obscenely expensive things for Namjoon to buy while he smugly watches. But he also pays for all their meals, and keeps the conversation flowing, and takes delicate care of Namjoon when he thinks Namjoon won't notice.
And sometimes when Yoongi is there with them, wrapped up in layers of cloth to protect him from the October pre-chill and eyes peeking out under the flap of a woolly hat, Seokjin unwinds and rewinds his scarf for him until it's just right. And each time Yoongi's face gets redder, and his mouth more pouty, and his protests louder, until he kisses Seokjin with an annoyance that never lasts beyond a few seconds.
Namjoon's never seen Yoongi so happy, if he's being honest, and though neither of them talk to him about each other they don't really need to. They're the sort of couple that gets admiring looks and cries of "aren't you two adorable?" from the market stall runners whenever they step up and sweetly bicker, and Namjoon has to agree with them. They are adorable, and they never make him feel unwanted or like a third wheel, but it's a little painful to be with them all the same.
They also won't talk to him about Hoseok. Namjoon asks Yoongi once what he meant when he left, what those whispers were for, and Yoongi shakes his head mulishly. "I'm staying out of it," he says, sipping on his second coffee of the morning. "Shit takes how long it takes. Just, see what's there. Look, and see it."
Seokjin nods, a hot chocolate in his hands. "Find a true story, Namjoon-ah. And get me a dozen of those copyright-violating candles, they've got Mario on them."
His aunt and uncle arrange for a company to pick up Daemyung's things, and Hoseok, Namjoon, and Jimin spend an October evening packing them up, then using Hoseok's saved up rent money to order replacements to his own taste. Jimin's happy and light, talking about Taehyung nearly all of the time. Taehyung, and Jungkookie, and the adventures they have together now that Taehyung finally gave Jimin his phone number, and Namjoon's so pleased with the pretty lights in Jimin's formerly dull eyes that he could cry.
He almost does, listening to their shopping conversation, and he doesn't know why. It feels like he's on the verge of tears all the time these days, emotions heightened and buffeting him from all sides to no purpose. Because everyone he knows is so happy, and he is too, so there's no reason for him to feel this scratching, incomplete feeling inside himself.
Jimin practically soars when he speaks, a huge contrast to the heavy weight he'd been carrying around all summer, and he and Hoseok's laughter rings through the apartment until it's soaked into the walls for later retrieval.
Though the joy doesn't make him a very good shopping partner. Jimin teases Hoseok more than helps him, looking for the most garishly colorful accessories, pointing to things that are ridiculous and useless in turn, and Hoseok keeps putting him into friendly headlocks as he giggles.
"That's not Joonie's style," says Hoseok over and over again, waving his hand at the fibers and woods, until Namjoon finally speaks up from the couch.
"It's your place," he says, and Jimin nudges Hoseok in the side as if to emphasize how right Jimin's been. "My style doesn't matter. Do whatever makes you happy."
Which ends up somewhere between Jimin's extremism and Namjoon's cluttered minimalism, an oasis of pretty colors inside of Namjoon's organic space that almost makes him cry again.
Another changes is that he and Hoseok watch the Bachelorette together now, Namjoon still a little embarrassed about his taste, but Hoseok helps by being sincerely invested in the fate of the current contestant's life. He worries about her emotional state intensely, analyzes the motivations of every man, and even though he laughs and says he knows it's all fake, a line bisects his forehead every time she looks even slightly distressed.
Which she is now, choosing who to give a group date rose to, and Namjoon smiles down at Hoseok as he makes a few nervous noises in his throat. He's cuddled up against Namjoon's side, their usual position for TV watching, and Namjoon likes every view of Hoseok but he thinks he might like this one the best. And he's nearly used to the way that Hoseok's hand feels splayed across his chest, and the way Hoseok shifts underneath his own palm, and the way his heart is exploding inside of him.
"Don't pick him, he's a jerk," mutters Hoseok, scooting in tighter, and Namjoon snorts a laugh before he can stop himself. Hoseok looks up, grinning sheepishly, and says, "Well, he is."
"He definitely is," says Namjoon. "But he's also very attractive."
"Of course he's attractive," says Hoseok, turning back to the screen. "It's reality TV. But she doesn't have to settle for a jerk. There are hot nice guys too. Look at you."
Namjoon's breath stops, and he's sure Hoseok can feel it. "I'm not hot."
"You're very hot," says Hoseok. "You don't have to be modest about it."
On screen the woman picks the jerk, and Hoseok hisses in disappointment as it goes to commercial break. Namjoon's less concerned, his mind working on entirely different lines, but Hoseok doesn't give him a chance to say anything. "Don't argue. Just say thanks."
"Thanks," says Namjoon helplessly. "You're hot too."
"I know. Thanks for noticing."
Hoseok laughs when Namjoon pokes him in the side, and he wiggles away from it until he's practically in Namjoon's lap. He scoots back a little, but not as far away as he was before, and Namjoon's arms tighten around him instinctively. Hoseok sighs, turning his face into the crook of Namjoon's neck, another thing that's gotten so normal for them these days.
There are times Namjoon thinks Yoongi was right to doubt his willpower, and most of those times look like this.
"Can I ask you something, Joonie?"
Namjoon's so aware of all the places they're touching, of how much gorgeous man he has in his arms, of the way it feels like there's a cliff edge approaching that he could fall over, that he barely has the focus to process words. But his last remnants of consciousness conjure up a reassuring, "Of course." Somehow.
"Why didn't you say yes to Jungkook?"
It's the last thing Namjoon expected to be asked, and it's like a bucket of ice water dumped over his libido. "What do you mean?"
"When he asked you out," says Hoseok, his voice muffled. "I thought you turned him down because you were with Seokjin, or going to be soon, or wanted to be. But I guess that wasn't it, so I was just, you know. Curious. Sorry, you don't have to tell me."
Namjoon runs his hand down Hoseok's side, gathering his thoughts. "No, it's okay. I'm just not sure I have a good answer. Or, it's a good answer, but it's not a useful one. I'm not interested in dating Jungkook, so I didn't go out with him."
"But why. Why weren't you interested?" says Hoseok, pushing himself up and away. He looks at Namjoon, jaw set and serious, face intense. Monitoring him, like he monitors the woman in the TV. A little dark. Sexy as hell.
Namjoon shakes himself and folds his hands in his lap.
Hoseok doesn't seem to notice his mental digression. "He's hot. He's nice. You like him. I can tell you're even attracted to him. So what stopped you?"
"I don't know," says Namjoon quietly. He can't look at Hoseok anymore, not while he's trying to solve this part of him. "Philosophers have been trying to explain love, all kinds of it, for millennia. When it's there, and when it isn't. I've studied it, and I've taught it, but I still don't know why sometimes it's there and sometimes it isn't. Maybe we're not supposed to know."
Hoseok shifts, crossing his legs underneath him. "But you didn't give him a chance. You didn't try. He told you how he felt and you didn't even want to try."
Namjoon looks up, startled at the heat in his voice. "Is Jungkook still upset?"
"No," says Hoseok, sighing. "He's not upset. He's fine."
"Are you upset?"
Hoseok doesn't answer, and the bachelorette kisses someone over his shoulder. Namjoon doesn't even know which guy it is.
Eventually Hoseok says, very softly, "Did he move too fast? Push too hard?"
"Maybe," says Namjoon, even though that's not it, which Hoseok should know better than anyone. But it's a graceful way out of the conversation. "Or maybe not fast enough."
It's Hoseok's turn to be startled, and he narrows his eyes. "What do you mean?"
Namjoon takes a moment to straighten out his thoughts, not exactly sure what he meant. But Hoseok deserves something, maybe, and Namjoon still feels on the edge of tears most of the time.
"I think a lot," says Namjoon simply. "A lot. Maybe too much, but I don't know how not to. And my mom told me that when I was a kid she made sure I didn't have too much time to do it if she needed me to get something done. That I'd spend three days planning out a ten minute task. That maybe I'd never actually start it for all the thinking."
Months planning out a simple question, he thinks, watching the way Hoseok's lashes move as he blinks. Watching the familiar shape of his lips, the way his tongue darts out to wet them as he considers Namjoon's words. Months, until he missed every chance, waiting for that impossibly perfect moment. And now they have something great together, these moments right here, but they're so very far away from perfection.
"I just like things to be lined up. Correct," says Namjoon. "They have to make sense to me, and if they don't make sense I keep thinking until they do." He laughs, embarrassed. "It's stupid, I know."
Hoseok shakes his head, scooting closer. "No it isn't. I get it," he says, waving his arms around the room. "I do it with things. Physical spaces. There's a right way for things to be, and it really bothers me when they're not right. You just do it with thoughts. That's kind of cool."
"It's definitely not," says Namjoon. "Because I think my brain gets in my own way. Sometimes. My mom said that too."
"Like with Jungkook."
"No," says Namjoon reflexively, before he remembers that that's who they're talking about, not Hoseok. "I mean, not exactly. With Jungkook, I'm really not interested in him. I don't think it would have worked out. But if he'd moved faster I might have tried, I guess."
"So with someone else," says Hoseok, then stops. "With someone else, they might need to just do something. To get you to out of your own head."
Namjoon shrugs, looking around the room uncertainly. "Maybe. I don't know."
"Sorry," says Hoseok immediately. "I don't want to make you uncomfortable."
Namjoon tries a laugh, but it doesn't really work. "I just don't talk about stuff like this very often. That's all. But I don't mind."
"Yeah," says Hoseok, his fingers drumming on his thighs. Considering. "Can I have another hug?"
The answer to that is always yes, so Namjoon opens his arms and Hoseok crawls back inside of them. Just breathes, and lets Namjoon breathe, and they watch the rest of the show in silence.
They're just getting to the final rose ceremony when Hoseok shifts again, and Namjoon wonders if Hoseok's paying as little attention as he is. Probably not, because Hoseok has an orderly, straightforward mind instead of Namjoon's snarled up balls of confusion. But he's almost sorted them out by now, slotting their conversation into the right place, and if Hoseok wants to talk again he's ready.
"Hey Joonie, can I ask you something else?"
"Why were your books in that random order?" says Hoseok, another unexpected question. "When I rearranged the room, they were all jumbled up."
Namjoon opens his mouth to lie, and Hoseok adds, "Tell me the truth, please."
And what is he supposed to do in the face of that but obey?
"It wasn't random," he says reluctantly. "They were in… life order, I guess. The order I bought them. They told a story. My story."
"Why didn't you say anything?" asks Hoseok, and Namjoon can't tell if he's upset. "You never said a word."
"Because it bothers you when things aren't right," says Namjoon. "It's okay. Alphabetical makes things easier to find."
"But they're not right," says Hoseok, and now he does sound upset. He wiggles out of Namjoon's hold and rolls off the couch, marching over to the bookshelf and spinning around. "I just didn't understand the pattern, and I messed it up. So we have to put them back where they belong. "
Namjoon smiles, because Hoseok has his hands on his hips, glaring at him, and he's adorable. "Right now?"
"Absolutely right now," says Hoseok. "You think I'll be able to sleep knowing this chaos is out here?"
He sweeps all the books onto the floor, making a sound like thudding raindrops on the floor, then freezes guiltily. He yells out an apology to their downstairs neighbor, which makes Namjoon laugh, which makes Hoseok laugh, and Hoseok holds out his hands and makes grabby motions. "Come here. Tell me your story. Then we can both sleep."
The kicked off contestant is doing their final interview, but Namjoon turns it off and stands up. He stops when Hoseok clears his throat meaningfully, then turns around and picks up the remote from the couch crease where he dropped it and sets it on the coffee table.
Hoseok applauds, grinning, and Namjoon makes his way over to the pile of books and sits on the floor. He picks up a worn copy of On the Road, feeling a little silly, but Hoseok is waiting expectantly so he says, "This is the first book I bought with my own money. Not when my parents said I could pick out something to add to what they were getting, but when I went out and got it specifically for me. I wanted to build a personal library, something that would fill a whole room someday. It's kind of stupid, but it felt important to me."
"It's not stupid," says Hoseok, and Namjoon looks up at him gratefully.
"My English teacher said this was his favorite book, and he was my favorite teacher, so I thought it would be a good first purchase. And it was, I've read it a ton since. It's not my favorite book but it's definitely special."
He hands it up to Hoseok, who takes it and sets it down with gentle care. "On the Road. Okay. What's next?"
And Namjoon picks up the next book, and tells Hoseok its story, and Hoseok takes it reverently and puts it where it's supposed to go. And Namjoon's mind takes this moment and turns it over and slots it into place just as reverently, and he thinks maybe things are getting closer to perfect.
Chapter 11: Spacewalks
"You look so much like Hoseok," says Taehyung, staring at the woman in front of him in fascination. "I never knew Hoseok was so pretty!"
"Thank you," say Dawon and Hoseok in unison, and Taehyung claps in delight.
"I'll get you a stool," says Taehyung. "And then tell me what your favorite drink is and I'll get it for you! It's not free."
Dawon laughs, high and delighted just like Hoseok, and Namjoon's had an hour to get used to this but it's still freaking him out. She's younger than Hoseok, clearly, and without quite so many of the hard, delicious angles he carries around with him, but their eyes are the same, and the upsweep of nose, and the way they laugh like the world is everything they could ever hope to be amused by.
When he'd answered the door Namjoon had nearly choked as she'd introduced herself with all of the confidence of her older brother. And when she'd said, "You must be the famous Namjoon," with her eyes assessing him expertly above that familiar Hoseok grin, Namjoon felt x-rayed from the inside out.
"Tell me Hoseok's most embarrassing childhood story," says Jimin as soon as they're arranged. "No wait, tell me about fashion school. Or your internship! I can't decide, I want to know everything."
Taehyung nods behind him, his hand absently playing with Jimin's dangling earring, and Hoseok looks torn between fawning over them and scolding. He settles on, "Give her a chance to catch her breath. And she'll have a martini. Best vodka you have, right?"
"If you're paying," says Dawon, and Jimin high fives her as Taehyung jets off.
"I love everything about you," says Jimin, gesturing from the tips of her boots to her audacious hairstyle Namjoon couldn't even begin to name. But luckily he doesn't have to speak much because Jimin is carrying an entire conversation all by himself, and Namjoon gets to sit back, relax, and not be smiled at quite so much.
It gets even easier when Seokjin and Yoongi show up, starting the introductions and exclamations all over again. Yoongi, of course, is annoyed that Dawon didn't tell him she was coming, and Jimin is annoyed that he interrupted their deep discussion of some fashion line or other, and Seokjin is winding them both up indiscriminately as he divests himself of his coat.
"I didn't know I was coming until a couple of days ago," says Dawon. "There was a shoot I thought I had to cover but then it got bumped back and I thought hey, why not come up here for Halloween? My friends asked me, and it's never any fun in LA. Plus I get to see my two favorite guys!"
She hooks an arm around Hoseok's shoulder then lunges for Yoongi, who tries to duck before allowing himself to be pulled in. She smiles at Namjoon and says, "Yoongi was my first crush, you know. Ten years old and he tricked me into thinking he was so cool even though he's a total nerd. A Jung family weakness, I think."
"Hey!" says Yoongi, but Jimin high fives her again, followed by Seokjin, then Taehyung once he's finished depositing some appetizers.
Jungkook flutters behind him nervously with the drinks, always keeping Taehyung's body somewhere between him and the table, and when Hoseok tries to introduce him to Dawon he blurts out a quick, exceedingly polite greeting and runs back to the bar like there are demons behind him.
"Sorry, he does that sometimes," says Taehyung. "Be right back!"
"Cute," says Dawon, just like Hoseok would, and Namjoon is going to lose his mind.
"So are you staying with Joon and Hobi?" asks Yoongi, picking out a few wasabi peas. "I'll pray for you."
Dawon laughs. "No, I'm staying with my friends. But they had stuff going on and I wanted to experience these famous Friday Nights that Hoseok's always going on about."
"They're so awesome," says Hoseok. "They were Joonie's idea. And he got us all to agree to it, and found the perfect place, and makes sure that we have our table and that everything's just right all the time. It's the best part of the week! And sometimes they do karaoke. Jimin did a Spice Girls song last time."
Namjoon flushes at the compliments, which no one notices because Jimin's sputtering about how the Spice Girls were a metaphor and had a deeper meaning and anyway Hoseok does way cheesier things every day of his life. Which Dawon agrees with, and then Yoongi wades in with his loud opinions on who exactly is cheesy, and who's definitely not a nerd, and Namjoon's so happy that he could burst.
Eventually Seokjin leans over, with half an amused eye on Yoongi's detailed speech about how he's very funny, actually, if only Jimin had a better sense of humor, and says, "I hear you also have family coming in this weekend?"
Namjoon nods, smiling. "My sister and her kids. I get to hang out with the girls all day tomorrow. I meant to ask, is it okay if they come to the market with us? They're really well-behaved, I swear."
"Of course it's okay," says Seokjin.
"They have to come," says Yoongi, diverted mid-sentence. "I want to see them."
"Your nieces are coming? I want to see them too!" says Jimin. "I can't be the only one who doesn't see them. Tae and I will come to the market with you, right?"
Taehyung calls out, "Right," as he zooms past their table, blowing them all a kiss.
"The more the merrier," says Seokjin. "Do you two want to join?"
Hoseok and Dawon both shake their heads in perfect synchronicity. "I've got a brunch," says Dawon, "and he promised to find us last-minute costumes for tomorrow night. My friends have this club thing going on."
Seokjin makes polite noises of disappointment while Jimin says, "Wait, this is all happening tomorrow? Namjoon, your nieces are here tomorrow?"
"Yep," says Namjoon. "I'm going to take them to the aquarium. And on the Ferris wheel. They love the Ferris wheel."
"But you're covering Professor Gavin's seminar in the afternoon," says Jimin. "On the deconstruction of excessive masculine influence in classical philosophy. She asked you to do it forever ago."
Namjoon frowns. "That's not until the end of October."
The whole table bursts out laughing, Jimin neatly folding in two, until Hoseok takes pity on him and says, "It's Halloween. This is the end of October."
"Oh my god," says Namjoon, pulling out his phone and checking it. "It is. Oh my god what am I going to do? That's a two hour lecture. Three with travel time. I guess I could take them with me…"
Everyone looks doubtful, and Yoongi says, "You also have to prepare for the seminar."
Namjoon waves that away, thinking furiously. "I could do two hours on the over-emphasis of the male psyche in my sleep," he says. "But no, I can't take them. They'll be so bored. They'll hate me. I won't be the favorite uncle anymore! Uncle Justin will take my spot! He has a pond!"
"Hey, hey, it's okay," says Hoseok, leaning over and grabbing his still-waving hand. "Just drop the girls off at your place and Dawon and I can watch them. It's not as fun as the aquarium, but we're good with kids. And we need to be there to get ready anyway."
Dawon starts to say something, then jerks forward and starts coughing intensely. After a minute of Jimin rubbing her shoulder in worry, she finally croaks, "Yeah, right, we'll be there."
"So it's fine," says Hoseok. He smiles at Namjoon reassuringly. "Don't worry about anything, okay? Besides, it's the least I can do, with you giving me a place to live."
"I'm not giving it to you," says Namjoon. "Your name is on the lease. You're legally obligated to live there."
"Then it's the least I can do since you're Joonie," says Hoseok firmly. "We'll take care of it. Don't worry."
"I won't," says Namjoon. Hoseok is still holding his hand, his eyes shining, and Namjoon threads their fingers together and squeezes. "Thanks. You're the best."
"Oh my god," says Dawon, finally recovered from her choking experience.
Jimin removes his hand and says, "Welcome to hell."
"We've had t-shirts made," says Yoongi, lifting his glass in a toast. Seokjin, Jimin and Dawon follow suit, knocking back huge swallows of their drinks, and Hoseok takes his hand away as he protests that they didn't wait for him. So he and Namjoon do their own special roommate toast, and everyone heckles them but Namjoon focuses on the pretty flush of Hoseok's cheeks and never stops smiling.
Namjoon still worries the next morning, and he doesn't know why. He wakes up anxious in an indefinable way, scared of something that he can't name. It feels a little like he's forgotten something important, but not exactly. And it feels a little bit like anticipation, but that's not entirely it either. When his mind tries to make sense of the tangle, to create a metaphor that fits, the only image it conjures is one of spacewalks, of standing in a chamber that's opening into black, crushing vacuum. A place that he won't survive, if he's not ready to go.
It's a flutter in his stomach, a skipped beat in his chest, a lack of oxygen in his blood, and it doesn't go away even when Hoseok brings him an apple and his thousand-watt smile on Namjoon's way out the door.
Jimin would give him some kind of astrological explanation, a moon in a house or a planet in retrograde, and Namjoon almost looks up a horoscope to try to figure out why it feels like the whole universe is holding its breath. The feeling persists all day, from when he picks his nieces up from the hotel and Seoyeon gives him her itinerary for the day, through the entire market visit with a solid army of his friends, the abbreviated aquarium visit and boardwalk exploration, and their trip back to his apartment.
Not that he's worried about the girls having fun. Hana, an old-souled twelve, loves Yoongi to an unreasonable degree and latches onto him immediately to bend his willing ear about her newest musical discoveries. Seokjin tries to interject himself into their rapid-fire dialogue with a steady stream of jokes but neither Hana or Yoongi has ever been conventionally polite enough to acknowledge him, and Namjoon laughs at his affronted face until Seokjin chops him in the neck and tell him to respect his elders.
Nuri, younger and shyer, sticks like glue to Namjoon's side, but after a fast, whispered conversation between Taehyung and Jimin, Taehyung goes on a charm offensive that's almost terrifying to behold. Namjoon had thought Taehyung was overwhelmingly charismatic in his waiter guise, but it's nothing compared to his ability to get kids to like him.
Jimin watches with a proud smile as Nuri slowly unfurls herself from Namjoon and starts laughing along with Taehyung's flights of make-believe, and finally progresses to holding Jimin and Taehyung's hands as they sprint from place to place, shrieking with laughter like they're all much younger than they are.
But both girls always come back to Namjoon like boomerangs, giving him hugs and showing him their purchases and asking him for just one more scoop of ice cream, Seokjin says it's the best ice cream on the whole planet, please please please.
Namjoon silently apologizes to Seoyeon every time he gives in and absolutely ruins their appetite for any healthy food, then apologizes to an absent Hoseok for good measure.
Taehyung and Jimin peel off once the marketing's over, to give them some quality family time, but they invite themselves over to his apartment later on much to Nuri's delight. They promise to bring Jungkook, too, "kicking and screaming" says Taehyung, which Namjoon doesn't quite understand but Jimin thinks is hilarious.
They have a great time for the next few hours, the girls just as excited about the aquarium as he is, absorbing fish facts like sea sponges. Hoseok texts him right as they're coming off of the Ferris wheel for the second time, saying he and Dawon are back, and Namjoon feels that nervous compression in his lungs again as he starts the process of getting them all home.
"We're here," calls Namjoon as they open the door and the girls tumble inside with all of the things his friends bought them that Taehyung and Jimin hadn't volunteered to carry. He sees that pile heaped in the entry way, a mess that must be driving Hoseok crazy, so everyone is presumably here. But he doesn't hear an answer, so he says louder, "Hello?"
"Hello!" says Jimin.
The sudden sound of rushing footsteps terrifies Namjoon into a wall, but Hana and Nuri aren't scared at all of the appearance of five eager people. Instead they run forward and jump into hugs, Taehyung and Jimin respectively, and shriek as they spin them in wide circles.
Hoseok leans back to miss their feet, grinning, and he looks over at Namjoon with a sparkle in his eyes. "Good day?"
"Great day," says Namjoon, smiling through his anxiety before checking the time on his phone. "Thanks for doing this."
"No thanks needed," says Hoseok. "But introductions are."
Namjoon clears his throat, and Jimin and Taehyung stop spinning and stagger as they set their charges down. "Hana, Nuri, this is my roommate Jung Hoseok, his sister Jung Dawon, and our friend Jeon Jungkook. Say hello."
They respond to the Korean names, Namjoon's parents drilling manners into them as best they could given their decidedly non-Korean upbringing, and bow to each of the new faces, all of whom seem a little bemused as they return them.
"And I think you forgot someone else you need to greet," says Namjoon meaningfully, raising an eyebrow until Hana's face lights up.
"The tree!" she yells, scrambling over the couch with Nuri right behind her. They sink to the ground in the most formal greeting they can manage, saying hello to Grandfather Bonsai at maximum politeness, and Namjoon laughs as Taehyung and Hoseok both rush to join them on the floor.
Once they're done, Namjoon checks his phone again and winces. "I have to get going now, but I'll be back in a few hours. Be good for Hoseok, okay? All of you."
"Yes Uncle Namjoon," say the girls and Taehyung in chorus, already giggling, and Namjoon sighs.
"Text me if you have trouble," he says to Hoseok. "I'll cut the seminar short."
Hoseok shakes his head. "We're going to be fine! I can make pancakes if we need a snack, and Jungkook brought some video games, and we're hoping the girls can help us get our costumes just right for tonight…"
Nuri shouts that she loves pancakes, and Hana whirls on Jungkook and asks if he brought anything good, and Jimin says, "Hey, I can help with costumes too!"
Three conversations break out simultaneously, and Namjoon laughs as he heads into his room to put on a seminar-appropriate shirt. A Hot Professor shirt, he thinks to himself as he buttons it, then feels embarrassed for thinking it, then checks himself out in the mirror another time to see if it's really true. He supposes it is, in some way, and a confused part of him thinks maybe this is a suit that can protect him from space.
When he turns to go, Jungkook is behind him, standing so close that they're nearly touching, and Namjoon screams.
Jungkook just blinks, dancing from foot to foot, and says nothing.
"You okay?" says Namjoon, trying to slow his racing heart before it pounds out of his chest. At least this terror has a cause, not that the guy in front of him seems sorry in the least.
"You have to help me," says Jungkook.
"With what?" says Namjoon. "Hana's a little intense but she'll calm down once you answer all of her questions -"
Jungkook shakes his head. "Not that. Not that! It's… she's so pretty."
"Who is?" says Namjoon. He looks around for his backpack and finds it half-under his bed. Professor Gavin had e-mailed him her slides a long time ago, he thinks, but then his brain catches up to the moment and he stares up at Jungkook. "You mean Dawon?"
"Not so loud!" hisses Jungkook. "She'll hear you."
From the noise level in the other room Namjoon doubts she could hear anything short of a marching band, but he lowers his voice anyway. "Sorry. Yes, she's very pretty. I'm not sure how I can help you with that."
"Do that thing you do," says Jungkook. "The speech thing. Give me a speech to make me strong."
"I don't know what you mean."
Jungkook rolls his eyes. "Yes you do. Someone has a problem and then you say good words to them and then they don't have a problem anymore. You have to do it. You owe me! You didn't go out with me and you still don't have a boyfriend so you owe me."
The set of his jaw is very stubborn, and he has on a guilt-tripping face that would put Jimin to shame, and when he adds, "Hoseok said you do it for him all the time," Namjoon holds up his hands in surrender.
"Just be yourself," he says, hoping that counts as a speech. "She's a pretty girl, but pretty girls are still human. She'll want to be treated like she's a person, just like you like to be treated like a person. So just talk to her about whatever's on your mind. You don't have anything to be afraid of."
"Her hair smells nice," says Jungkook. "I want to sniff it."
Namjoon blinks. "Maybe don't say that."
"And when she smiles it's hard to think," says Jungkook mournfully. "It's like churchbells in my head."
"I know what you mean," says Namjoon, sighing. "Just breathe through it. Count to ten. Besides, she thinks you're cute."
"Did she say that?" says Jungkook, suddenly alert.
"Yeah," says Namjoon, grinning as he ruffles his hair. "She did. So go out there and be yourself, Jeon Jungkook. I believe in you."
"Be myself, be myself," mumbles Jungkook, doing a few punches in the air. "Got it. Thanks for the speech!"
He lets Namjoon lead the way out, still hiding behind him very slightly, and the girls are already caught up in some kind of game but they wave goodbye to him from the couch. Hoseok trades spots with Jungkook on the way to the door, following behind Namjoon and holding out his coat for him to slip into.
"Text me if you need anything," says Namjoon quietly, buttoning himself up as deftly as he can. The blackness is stronger here by the door, somehow, the feeling of invisible pressures and the vastness of the unknown. His fingers shake under their weight, and Hoseok gently moves them aside and finishes the job himself. "Seriously. I'll have my phone on me the whole time."
Hoseok smiles, just like churchbells. He's gripping the front of Namjoon's coat like he's forgotten he's holding it, and he's looking up with soft eyes, and Namjoon watches the lovely shape of his lips as he says just as quietly, "I will. But we'll be fine. See you in a few hours."
Jimin yells that Hoseok needs to get back and help because they're all ganging up on him, and Hoseok lets go of Namjoon's lapels with a laugh, turning to head back into the fray. Namjoon slips out on silent feet, shaking his head, trying to get his mind back on philosophy instead of on the way he'd been a half-second away from leaning down and kissing his roommate goodbye.
He's still thinking about it when he gets back, his arms full of the takeout he'd been commanded to get, and only the chaos inside his apartment can knock the fear out of his head.
"Food!" screams Taehyung when he opens the door, sprinting over and grabbing it out of his hands. "Thank god, I'm dying."
"We just had pancakes," says Dawon from the dining table, amused, but Namjoon's too busy staring at Taehyung's face to listen.
Taehyung notices him looking and grins. "What do you think? Do I look fantastic?"
Namjoon nods, mouth a little open, because Taehyung's face is in full, luscious makeup, and it's highlighting the lovely lines of his already-beautiful face in a way that Namjoon wasn't prepared to confront at six thirty on a Saturday evening.
Taehyung's grin gets even wider as he angles his head down and looks up through his lashes. "Jimin did the same thing. It's going to be a great night!"
He takes the food to the table, and Namjoon can see now that Dawon is sitting next to an enormous hard-cover box full of riotous color, Jimin's face in her hands as she swipes something across his cheeks. It's glittery and soft, and Jimin glows as he turns to preen.
"Hey Namjoon," he says. "I'm getting my fairy makeup done! Dawon is really good at this."
"I should be, it's my job," she says, grabbing his chin to hold him still. She's wearing a black flapper dress with enough fringe to make a carpet, and Jimin's braiding a few of them through his fingers. "Though the models I work on aren't nearly as pretty as you guys. Who knew my brother had such hot friends these days? You're next, Namjoon."
"Oh, I don't need any," says Namjoon. "I'm not going anywhere tonight."
Dawon waves that away with her brush. "Um, yes you do? I've already done everyone else, and I'm dying to get some color on those lips. Just give me a few minutes to finish up."
"Everyone?" says Namjoon, exactly as his nieces skid into the room.
They seem torn between the food and greeting him, but they resist the siren song of fries and make their way across the room to hug him from each side. "Welcome back Uncle Namjoon," says Hana. "Look at our makeup from Dawon!"
They both frame their faces and pose, and to his relief they're wearing natural, subdued shades that probably won't have Seoyeon murdering him when she comes to pick them up. "Very pretty," he says. "She did a good job."
"I learned a lot," says Hana, holding up a small notebook that's covered in neat, miniscule handwriting. "I stole this to take notes in, is that okay?"
"Sure," says Namjoon. "It's all yours. But if your mom says you have to wash it off before you go outside, no arguing okay?"
"Okay," she says. "How was your lecture?"
Namjoon smiles and hugs her again. "It was good. But not as fun as being here with you guys."
"Obviously," says Hana, sounding so much like Yoongi that Namjoon can't help but chuckle. "Come eat with us."
Jungkook appears from the kitchen with an armful of plates and says, "Hey girls, Hobi wants you to help set the table."
"Aye aye Captain Kookie!" says Nuri mysteriously, and both girls run into the kitchen.
"Wow," says Namjoon as he gets a load of the newest face, which probably makes Jungkook blush but it's impossible to tell under all the foundation. He's even more elaborately made up than Taehyung, the sort of look that Namjoon's only seen in magazines or the very detailed YouTube tutorials that Jimin's always showing him. It looks good, if slightly ludicrous alongside Jungkook's sweats and t-shirt combo. The winged eyeliner is dramatic, and when Namjoon says as much Jimin gives him a proud smattering of applause.
"He was a great sport," says Dawon, still holding Jimin's chin in her fingers. "I really needed to test out the look, and Hoseok can never sit still that long. But Jungkook was perfect. And such a great face. I hope I get to do it again someday."
Jungkook nearly drops the plate he's holding, and it rolls around on the table before settling with a ringing noise. "Sure. Uh, anytime."
She finally releases Jimin, who grabs a nearby hand mirror and studies himself before shooting a decidedly un-fairylike smirk at Namjoon. "Kookie had to sit there for a whole forty-five minutes with her. Just being painted and touched. He's so brave."
Jungkook tries to put him in a headlock, prompting a cry of protest from Jimin which Jungkook ignores, and a cry of dismay from Dawon which he absolutely doesn't as he lets go. But when she's rooting through her case again Jungkook draws a menacing hand across his throat, which just makes Jimin laugh and yell for Taehyung, who pops back in from the hall instantaneously and starts cooing over Jimin's sparkles.
Jimin told Namjoon last week that he and Taehyung weren't dating yet, just getting to know each other, but as Namjoon watches them stare into each other's eyes with an intensity unmatched by any gravitational pull, he's a little afraid of what them dating might actually look like.
"Stop being gross, it's time for food," says Hoseok, marching out of the kitchen with Namjoon's nieces trailing after him like ducklings. It's supremely cute, and supremely unfair, and Namjoon blames the distraction for the way he lets Dawon manhandle him into Jimin's vacant chair.
Hoseok clucks his tongue at her as he pulls the rest of the food out of the bags and arranges it across the table. "At least let him eat something. He's probably starving after all that hard lecture work. And he didn't get any pancakes!"
"I am famished," says Namjoon gratefully, trying to turn his chair towards the table, but Dawon stops him with a firm grip and grabs a handful of fries to shove in his mouth.
"There," she says as Namjoon sputters. "That'll tide you over until I'm done."
Hoseok yelps and runs around the table, napkin in hand. "You can't shove things in his mouth like that! He might choke!"
"Actually," says Jimin, his whole face lighting up before he looks at Hana and Nuri and deflates. "I mean, right. You definitely can't."
Namjoon's too busy chewing and being brushed by Hoseok to chastise Jimin, but this vantage point gives him an excellent view of Hoseok's also-made-up face. Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, it looks exactly like his regular face only even more beautiful. His lips are darker and more defined, pursed into a kissable pout as he fusses over him. And there's some kind of sharper angle to his cheekbones, and dark definition around his eyes, and a general smoothness to his skin that Namjoon very much wants to touch.
He doesn't touch it, though, not even when Hoseok tilts his head and says, "Are you okay, Joonie?"
His thumb brushes under Namjoon's lip, getting rid of some grease or salt, and Namjoon's nerves are back full force again. It doesn't help that Hoseok has some new quality about him in this moment, his being full of a contained energy that leaves a tingling trail behind his fingertips. Something like determination, or resolve, or a single-minded purpose that has him focused on his question to the exclusion of all else.
There's nothing but noise around them but this moment feels quiet and slow, and Namjoon thinks about the silence of space once more.
"I'm fine," says Namjoon, slightly lightheaded, and Hoseok pats him on the head before moving back to his spot. Dawon clears her throat, and Namjoon sighs. "Do I have to do this?"
"Yes," she says, already wielding a brush. "But don't worry, I think you're a Hoseok kind of guy."
Jimin cracks up, probably at something that Taehyung said, but Namjoon's fists clench against his thighs at the noise. Dawon's eyes flick down, and she grins. "I mean your makeup. It will be more like his than Jungkook's."
"Oh," says Namjoon. "Fine. So girls, what did you all get up to while I was gone?"
They both start talking at the same time, shouting out stories in excruciating but confused detail, which isn't alleviated when Taehyung starts making up things that they definitely didn't do, and Namjoon tries to sort through the threads as he eats a burger and gets a makeover. Dawon does his mouth last at Hoseok's insistence, though she rolls her eyes as soon as he leaves to put his costume on. They're supposed to be at their party at seven, which means eight, which means she should be getting ready too.
"In a bit," she keeps saying when Namjoon points that out, selecting smaller and smaller brushes to go around his eyes an infinite number of times. "You can't rush a masterpiece."
But eventually she's done, and Hana takes a picture of him over all his objections while Jimin shoves a mirror in his face. They both tell him he looks great, Jimin with increasing stubbornness the more Namjoon demurs. And he looks okay, he thinks, professional and sleek, but nothing revolutionary. Namjoon has the face he has, and it's acceptable but no amount of makeup will make it irresistible. Not like Taehyung, or Jimin. Not like Hoseok.
As though his thought summoned him, Hoseok strides out of the hallway with a few snaps of his fingers, and Taehyung gasps as he runs over to circle him. "You look like a movie star!"
"Thanks," says Hoseok easily, tugging his suit jacket around him. It flaps open again immediately, white and pure and a little sheer, with a patterned shirt underneath that's open at just enough buttons to show off half of his chest. When he spins, Namjoon's eyes drop to the white-clad ass, then dart up just as quickly when he finishes the turn. Not that that's any easier, because he's got on smoky, colored lenses that make him look like a dangerous amount of fun, topped with a fedora that just makes him dangerous. He stares at Namjoon a few extra beats, delicate fingers caught at the heavy chain around his throat, and Namjoon shifts in his chair.
"What are you?" says Jimin. "Besides Hot Guy."
"Miami lounge lizard," says Hoseok, finally breaking his gaze. "Salsa, samba, you name it I've got it."
Distressingly he starts dancing, rocking back and forth with rolls of his hips that Namjoon absolutely can't look away from. He finishes with another flourishing spin and drop and Namjoon nearly passes out when he winks, especially because his nieces make impressed noises and then start to copy him in the living room.
"Gonna moisten up your dry spell tonight?" says Jimin wickedly once they're out of earshot, crying out when Dawon smacks his arm. "What? Halloween is a good night for it. An edge kind of night. He's not going to stay single forever."
Hoseok glares at him but doesn't deny it, just changes the subject to Dawon's costume, and Namjoon's heart sinks. He'd sort of gotten used to single Hoseok over the last months, the one he gets to see most nights and talk to so comfortably and get to know so well. He'd forgotten this was a temporary reprieve, the eye of a storm where he got to pretend a little, but he shouldn't have let himself forget. Jimin is right, Hoseok was born to be a part of a pair, to make someone happy and be made happy in return.
A petulant, dark part of him says that Hoseok is already happy, happier than he was when he got here off the back of a bad relationship. But he wouldn't be dressed like this without a goal, and there are a thousand men in this city who will float to his side as soon as he curls his finger at them, and Namjoon supposes there's an irony in the fact that he'd healed just enough alongside Namjoon to slip away from him once again.
But he'd promised Yoongi he could do this, so he's going to keep that promise if it kills him.
"Do you guys want to come?" says Dawon at the tail end of something that Namjoon wasn't paying attention to. "We can get you on the list."
"Oh no, we already have a party to go to," says Taehyung. "They won't have any fun if we're not there. But thanks!"
"Too bad," says Dawon. "What about you, Jungkook?"
Jungkook pauses for a minute, shell-shocked, then jumps when Jimin elbows him in the side. "Oh, uh, no. Same party. Sorry."
Namjoon frowns, because Jungkook is a terrible, wiggly liar, but Jungkook quickly runs over to teach the girls some more dance moves, sporting a face that's now discernibly red under his make up.
"Darn," says Dawon. "Then I guess it's just you, Namjoon!"
"Me?" says Namjoon, startled away from his worries about Jungkook's shyness. "I've got the girls until at least nine."
"The party will still be happening at nine," says Dawon, grinning. "Right Hobi?"
She says it with a strangely heavy inflection but Hoseok doesn't say anything, just takes a deep breath and releases it like a performer getting rid of his nerves. When he's done he's a little less sunny than before, and he gets closer to Namjoon, whose breath shallows as he leans over him. He studies Namjoon's face and smiles at something he sees there, a secret smile that pops his dimples, and Namjoon's chest tightens. When Hoseok holds out his hand, lets himself be dragged out of his chair.
Their hands are still linked when Hoseok says, "You should come, Joonie. If you want."
"Okay," says Namjoon before he knows he's going to. "If I don't have the girls too late."
"Of course," says Hoseok, still holding his hand. That maddening thumb sweeps across the back of it, tingles coming once and then twice, and his eyes are very, very dark. "Being the best uncle comes first."
"Right," says Namjoon weakly.
"But you look gorgeous," says Hoseok in his direct, unembarrassed way, and Namjoon's heart starts to pound. "Sexy. It would be a crime against humanity for you to stay in."
Namjoon flushes, then squeezes Hoseok's hand in an involuntary spasm. "I don't have a costume though."
"We got you one," says Dawon. "It's in your room. You'll look great!"
"Sounds like everything's lining up perfectly then," says Jimin cheerfully. "A Halloween on Christmas miracle!"
"I think you mean Christmas on Halloween," says Jungkook, and when they all turn to him he's curling Nuri like a barbell for no apparent reason. "We should watch that movie tonight!"
"After the party, I mean," adds Jungkook, curling faster. "A post party movie. That's a thing, right?"
"Dawon, shouldn't you be getting ready?" says Hoseok, very loudly. He's not holding Namjoon's hand anymore, which is probably for the best. "I'll clean up in here. Girls, can you help?"
"Okay Uncle Hobi," says Nuri sweetly, then giggles.
Namjoon chokes, and everyone starts moving all at once. Dawon takes off down the hall with her case to "finish her face", Jungkook sets Nuri down and does a spontaneous handstand to raucous applause from Jimin and Tae, and Namjoon finds himself with two fistfuls of trash and no memory of how they got there. But clearly they need to go into the kitchen right away, where no one else is, so he does that and tries to shake the surreality of the last ten minutes entirely out of his head.
"Don't worry Uncle Namjoon," says Hana with entirely too much knowing as she brings the dirty dishes in. "I texted Mom to make sure she'd be here right on time."
They all leave en masse, off to their various parties, though before they do a slightly worried Hoseok pulls him aside. He's not wearing his smoked glasses anymore, which is a lot easier on Namjoon's heart, and he's not quite so dark but Namjoon doesn't like the prominent crease in the middle of his forehead.
"You don't actually have to come, if you don't want to," says Hoseok quietly, like he doesn't want the rest of them to overhear. "You're welcome, of course, but you were probably looking forward to a quiet night by yourself. I know clubs aren't your thing."
Namjoon frowns, startled to find that he wasn't actually looking forward to solitude. He'd expected to be alone, had set the baseline in his mind, but that formerly breathless anticipation of being left to his own devices was nowhere to be found. That had melted away some time in the last weeks, and that knowledge plucks something inside of him he wasn't expecting to resonate.
"I'd rather hang out with you," says Namjoon.
The line on Hoseok's forehead smooths into astonishment. "Really?"
"Of course. And who knows, maybe clubs will turn into my thing."
They both laugh at that, Hoseok gripping his bicep as he cackles, and Namjoon lets it spin out as long as he can. As long as he dares. This moment, right here. This happiness is what he wants to hold.
When Hoseok's done he's still smiling but he's back to that single-minded focus of before, and Namjoon's stomach pits again. That feeling of portents persists, of premonitions and signs and half-caught flickers from the corners of eyes, and he buries his nerves with only partial success as the darkness summons him forward.
"So we'll see each other later then," says Hoseok, voice lower than Namjoon's ever heard. "You'll be there, and I'll be there, and I'll see you."
Namjoon nods, and Hoseok swallows heavily and lets him go. "You can change your mind," he whispers. "If you want."
"I won't," says Namjoon. "I promise."
He means it, past simple words and into something more primal. Whatever happens tonight, whatever he sees Hoseok do or whoever he partners with next, Namjoon knows now he has to see the shape of his future. That this is what his mind has been telling him all day, what his subconscious knew before he had a chance to piece it together. Jimin was right, Halloween is a night of edges, and he can't run away anymore.
Seoyeon picks up Hana and Nuri fifteen minutes early, fortunately only resigned when she sees the makeup, and she and Namjoon get a few minutes to catch up while the girls wash it off and say their farewells to Grandfather Bonsai. They hug Namjoon tightly around the neck when they go, even Hana, and Namjoon closes his eyes as he grips them and tells them he loves them. They ground him in a way he needs right now, because as soon as they're gone he's stepping into the black and he doesn't know who he'll be on the other side.
The only things he knows is that he'll be their favorite uncle as long as he possibly can be.
When they're gone he wanders into his room to get ready, ripping the band-aid off quickly. It won't take him long to cross the line, it seems. He has the address of the place in his phone, courtesy of Dawon, and the night is warm enough to make it walkable assuming they've given him a costume he's capable of walking in.
He stops short when he sees yards of black fabric hanging from his closet door, complete with a wide-brimmed black hat. At first blush it looks like the robes of an androgynous witch, a conclusion which is only confirmed as he threads his way through the draping sleeves and cinches the belt around his waist.
It's not revealing, which he appreciates, but it's also nothing like he would normally wear which adds to the unreality of the evening. They even got him boots for the ensemble, and he wonders how much they spent on this, and how they even found it in the first place. Why they did, if they knew he wasn't planning on going anywhere.
But it looks good at least, and the makeup she painted on him suits it perfectly, and things still feel a little breathless as he heads out the door.
He gets to the club easily enough, a healthy line in front of it, but he walks to the man with the clipboard as he's been instructed and gives his name without a lot of hope it will actually work.
The man holding it looks him up and down with a worrying amount of appreciation, then smiles when he checks his list and ushers him in the door. The welcome he gives him is almost a purr, along with a companionable pat on the arm, and Namjoon flushes and wonders if this is what happens to Jimin all of the time.
The inside of the place is dark and light in turns, not pitch black but dim enough that Namjoon thinks he might just blend into the gloom. The dance floor is brightly lit by comparison, and Namjoon shoots Hoseok and Dawon a text to let them know he's there before maneuvering to its edges to catch sight of them, because that's definitely where Hoseok's going to be.
The crowd sends him on a circuitous route, jostling him towards the bar without his permission, and he's just about ready to start shoving against the current when a voice rises over the background music and says, "Hey!"
Namjoon turns instinctively but doesn't recognize the guy next to him, pale and compact and wearing a Captain America outfit that's a lot more revealing than the standard issue. He'd assume the guy was talking to someone else, except he's looking right at Namjoon and smiles hugely when they make eye contact. "Nice costume," the guy says. "Witches are sexy."
Namjoon looks down at himself, perplexed, and says, "Are they?"
"When they're you," the guy says, and Namjoon realizes he's being hit on, which isn't something he was prepared for tonight. And Captain America is already a few inches closer than he was before. "I noticed you don't have a drink. Can I fix that for you?"
"Um, I'm just looking my friends," says Namjoon, trying to shift away.
"Great, I'll help," says the guy. He takes Namjoon's elbow and steers him towards the bar again. "They're probably over here."
"I don't think -"
"Joonie!" yells someone, and before Namjoon knows where it's coming from there are arms around his waist. "There you are. I was getting worried!"
Hoseok's smile is the brightest thing in the place as he looks up at Namjoon, though he doesn't look exactly the same as he did when he left. His jacket is gone, leaving just the revealing shirt, and his hair is mussed and damp, sticking to his forehead. It's his dancing look, uncomfortably close to his post-shower look, which is making Namjoon's mind wander to places he shouldn't be exploring. Namjoon knows he's checking Hoseok out, knows that his eyes are on the place where his next button is threatening to give way, and he swallows to try to chase away the lust.
He has no idea what to do with his hands.
But Hoseok doesn't seem bothered as his grip tightens companionably. He just keeps looking at him, smiling big, then gets on his tiptoes and says, "You look great. Come on, we have a table."
"Okay," says Namjoon, dazed by the proximity and the color in Hoseok's cheeks, and Hoseok drops down to take his hand.
"You can go away," says Hoseok sharply to Captain America, who Namjoon belatedly realizes is still hovering. He rolls his eyes and wanders off, and Hoseok tugs Namjoon towards the dance floor and around it with surprising vigor. He's dancing as they go, energy exploding outward as his hips snap in mesmerizing rhythm, and Namjoon still can't stop staring at him.
He's not the only one, Hoseok catching eyes wherever they pass, but he doesn't seem to notice anyone looking. Except for Namjoon, but when Hoseok catches him he just grins and spins around, laughing when Namjoon tries to keep holding his hand through the whole thing and almost falls over.
When they get to the table, firmly in the VIP section of the place, Dawon screeches and stands up. "You look so fucking hot. I knew it. How dare you be this hot?"
"Oh, I'm not," Namjoon tries to say, but she's not listening to him as she introduces him around the table. He remembers exactly zero of the names but he doubts anyone's going to quiz him on them later. And they lose interest in him quickly enough because a tray of shots arrives directly on their heels and causes an entirely new celebration.
As Dawon passes them out and gestures for them to come over and take their own, Namjoon takes stock of the table and realizes there's only one empty seat on the booth bench. Hoseok's jacket is draped across the back of the space, a clear territory marker, but before Namjoon can take up a somewhat awkward standing position against the nearby wall Hoseok shoves him towards the seat so hard he nearly trips.
"Take it," he says, twisting Namjoon expertly into the space.
"But you -"
He doesn't get a chance to finish the sentence as Hoseok plops sideways on his lap, arm hooking around his neck as he squirms into a comfortable position. Comfortable for him, at least, because Namjoon's suddenly a statue, even as his arm darts out on instinct to keep Hoseok from falling. Hoseok grabs his hand and curls it more tightly around his waist, then leans over and grabs two shots from the table. He does it easily, like they do this all the time, even though Namjoon's only ever done anything approaching this in his fantasies.
His muscles feel good flexing under Namjoon's palm, too good, forbiddingly good, and Dawon is definitely watching them with keen interest.
"Shot time, Joonie," says Hoseok, holding the glass up to his lips. "You have to do at least one. Table rule."
"How many are you at?" asks Namjoon. That's the sort of thing people ask when they're clubbing, right? Maybe if Hoseok has had enough Namjoon can trick him into forgetting to give Namjoon alcohol. He's already feeling his inhibitions slip quite enough for one evening, just from walking through this door in the first place.
"None yet," says Hoseok. "I was waiting for you. So we could do them together."
Oh. Well now he definitely can't refuse, if this is something Hoseok's been looking forward to. Namjoon reaches up to take the glass, but Hoseok shakes his head. "Tilt back."
He takes Namjoon's hat off and puts it over his coat, then yanks the hair on the back of his head gently but firmly until Namjoon's looking up. "Open up," he says sweetly, and Namjoon obeys.
The alcohol burns as it goes down but Namjoon barely feels it in his throat. All sensation is concentrated at the place where Hoseok's fingers tangle in his hair, and the gentle curve of Hoseok's hip under his hand, and the hard line of his body where it presses inexorably into Namjoon's own.
"Good job," murmurs Hoseok, then grabs his own and throws it back, and Namjoon can only stare as the column of his throat works in smooth rhythm.
He sets the glass down and winds his other arm around Namjoon's neck, turning more fully, and now that Namjoon can see him clearly he realizes that he's not nearly as relaxed as Namjoon thought. He looks almost terrified, his eyes wide and nervous, and Namjoon's stomach flutters as the shot hits it.
"You really are so gorgeous," says Hoseok. He says it like the words are being pulled from him, like taffy coming off the wheel, like there's a part of him pulling them back as they arrive. "You could be a model. All those legs."
"I'd probably fall off the runway."
Hoseok doesn't laugh, but the corners of his mouth turn up slightly. "That would probably be hot, too. Everything you do is. You're really hard to live with, you know that?"
"I'm sorry," says Namjoon helplessly.
"It's okay," says Hoseok, moving closer. He's shaking, very slightly, but his voice is smooth liquid in Namjoon's ears. "You can make it up to me tonight. Be good to me, yeah?"
"Hoseok, what's happening?" says Namjoon. Hoseok's mouth is close enough that Namjoon could kiss him, if he wanted to. Close enough that Namjoon can hear every word he's saying, the sort of words he's heard Hoseok tell a dozen guys, and he doesn't know if they're really for him. "What are you doing?"
"Moving faster," whispers Hoseok. "Pushing too hard. Tell me to stop."
Namjoon doesn't say anything, just holds his breath, and Hoseok closes his eyes. "Aren't you attracted to me, Joonie?"
"Of course," says Namjoon, shocked at the tremor in Hoseok's voice. "You're the most beautiful person I know. You always have been."
Hoseok makes a noise in his throat, a kind of pained sound, and says, "Is that enough?"
"Enough for what?" says Namjoon. "You're scaring me."
"I'm scaring myself a little," says Hoseok, laughing once. It's not a good laugh.
There are still people around them, he knows in the back of his mind, but they seem very far away right now. It's just him and Hoseok, here in space, and he's dimly aware that Hoseok is offering him a choice that he never thought he'd be allowed to have. That this could be a night of perfect moments, if Namjoon finds the right words, and damn all the tomorrows that might come. He wants, he wants so much that it's impossible to believe that Hoseok can't feel it flying out of his skin. That this whole club isn't being consumed in its explosion, that the world can still spin under its mass.
He wants, and it's a relief to admit. He wants Jung Hoseok, and he's going to tell him, right now.
"I don't want to do anything that makes you scared," says Namjoon quietly. His need to soothe Hoseok's fear is eclipsing his own, he can feel it fading into the distance with every moment, and he's glad to be rid of it. "But I want you. Of course I want you. How could I not?"
Hoseok finally looks at him again, and the worry in his eyes has Namjoon cupping his cheek, trying to impart just a little bit of comfort. He gives speeches that make problems go away, Jungkook told him, but can he give a speech if he's the problem? He's not supposed to do this. He's not supposed to turn his desires into pressure, he's not supposed to get in the way of Hoseok being happy, and he's not supposed to be the guy that Hoseok goes home with tonight.
But he's also not supposed to ignore the things that are right in front of him.
"I promised Yoongi -" he begins, but Hoseok shakes his head.
"I don't want to talk about Yoongi," he says. "I just want to kiss you. I really want to kiss you, and I want it to be okay. I want us to be okay."
He puts his forehead on Namjoon's, slightly sweaty and surprisingly sexy, and hot breath plays across Namjoon's lips as they move. "We're always okay. You and me, that's not something that ever stops. There's no words you could say, no world we could build, no path we could walk that would change us."
Hoseok nods forward, closer and closer, and Namjoon whispers, almost to himself, "I'll take whatever you want to give and never ask for more."
When their lips meet, sure and soft, the club around them goes away. Everything does, the people and the sounds and the entire universe except for Kim Namjoon and Jung Hoseok, lost in their mutual vacuum. Namjoon pulls him nearer without thought, stealing his breath, and Hoseok sighs against him, his hands slipping through Namjoon's hair. There's no hesitance in this, no place to pause, no moment of uncertainty. Hoseok kisses him like they've been kissing for years, like this isn't new but ancient and familiar, and Namjoon's fingers tremble against Hoseok's smooth skin.
He's perfect, Namjoon knows. The moment would have always been perfect because Hoseok is, and he can't believe he's spent so long not having something so good.
After infinity, or maybe just a few minutes, Hoseok pulls away and skims his lips along Namjoon's hot cheeks, nipping at his jaw, trailing up to the sensitive skin beneath his ear.
"Want to dance?" he murmurs, tugging Namjoon's head back once again to keep sucking at that same torturous spot.
Namjoon's mouth still tastes like Hoseok's, that shot that's more delicious when it's infused with sunshine, and there's nothing he'll say no to right now.
"Yeah," he says, groaning when Hoseok rolls his hips. "Yeah, let's dance."
Chapter 12: Can I
When Namjoon was young and his family went to the seaside, he'd always tried to hold a slice of water in his carefully cupped hands. He'd tightened the seal, squeezed as tight as he could, but inevitably it sloshed out and away, leaked from the cracks between his fingers. He could never keep it forever no matter how hard he tried.
Dancing with Hoseok feels like holding the sea.
Namjoon realizes much too late that he doesn't actually dance, but by the time his mind comes back from the pink haze it's been occupying ever since Hoseok sat on his lap, Hoseok's led them into the middle of the crowd and started to move. He's smiling so big, the second shot they'd downed together making him a little more energetic than normal, but maybe that's just what he's like when he dances. He certainly moves like there's something huge exploding out of him, sharp, quick movements that transform into waves like alchemy.
His hips glide easily, hypnotically, and he laughs because Namjoon's standing stock-still, staring like an idiot. But instead of teasing him Hoseok reaches out, a single welcoming hand, and takes Namjoon's gently. He guides it to his hip, and Namjoon lets his other follow, and then they're dancing together instead of just dancing. He moves more slowly, transitioning into something Namjoon can match, and when they come together everything clicks into place.
Namjoon doesn't need to do much in the end, just keep to a beat and let his hands wander. Hoseok knows what he's doing, what he wants to do, swaying and spinning and playing with Namjoon's draped sleeves to make them flutter under the lights. They're still slightly apart, still a little separated, but with every song the distance between them shrinks a tantalizing amount.
There's a part of Namjoon that can't believe he's allowed to do this, to wind his hands around Hoseok's delicate frame, to spread his own palms across his flat, toned stomach, to cup his ass when Hoseok closes the last gap between them and truly moves. Hoseok throws his head back then, a rivulet of sweat tracing to the chain around his throat, and Namjoon leans down to taste him.
When his lips touch skin Hoseok's rhythm falters for the first time, and Namjoon feels more than hears him say, "Fuck," before he tears himself away.
"Too much?" says Namjoon, worried. Their earlier kisses feel both far away and immediate, and maybe he's writing a wrong story again. Maybe this is just a dance, maybe Hoseok's not so sure, maybe Namjoon is so bad at this that he's ruined the whole thing already.
"Not enough," says Hoseok as he spins around, and before Namjoon knows it he's got Hoseok's ass pressed against him, his head tipped into his shoulder, the column of his neck right there and waiting to be marked.
They've been dancing for at least a half an hour, maybe more, and Namjoon's been manageably aroused to this point. Just the gentle simmer of Pilates, of hearing the shower running, of hearing Hoseok talk to the bonsai in sweet, low tones. The alcohol had helped, and his nerves, and the fact that there are so many other people around them, but having Hoseok against him like this is more than Namjoon can think away. He's responding to the grinding, to the flowing shape of Hoseok's hips, and he remembers Jimin saying that Hoseok dances like he's great in bed.
He thinks Jimin distinctly undersold the entire experience.
"Sorry," Namjoon murmurs into Hoseok's ear as he draws him closer, his erection impossible to ignore, not that Hoseok is trying to ignore it. He just reaches up and plays with Namjoon's hair, distractingly, and lets Namjoon taste him again. It's salty, and hot, and Namjoon groans. "You smell really good."
Hoseok shakes as he laughs, twisting his head to look into Namjoon's eyes. His own are pitch black and sparkling, and Namjoon's barely hanging on as he sweeps his thumb over Hoseok's jaw. "I smell like sweat and club cologne. Not exactly a field of flowers."
"I like it," says Namjoon in his ear, pressing closer, rubbing harder, and he's slightly horrified with himself but he's not entirely in control. They're both dripping sweat really, dirty and wet, and he likes that too. "Makes me want to get you into bed."
But that horror doesn't last long because Hoseok grabs the back of Namjoon's head and pulls him in, kissing him hard. Harder than before, harder than Namjoon's ever been kissed, and they're definitely not dancing anymore. Hoseok is still grinding but this isn't a dance, this is sex, and for a wild moment Namjoon thinks he's going to jump up and wrap his legs around Namjoon's waist. That Namjoon's going to be holding him in the middle of a club dance floor, making out with him for as long as Hoseok demands it. Maybe more than making out, maybe anything. He'd do it, it's so embarrassing to know that, but fortunately Hoseok has better command of himself than Namjoon.
So he doesn't take them over the edge, just keeps it hot, and building, and on the sexy precipice of driving Namjoon absolutely insane.
Hoseok drags his palms up Namjoon's body, in and out of rhythm, pressing into his chest like he's mapping it with his touch, and every time he drags across Namjoon's nipples the world goes white for an endless second. Namjoon thinks he whimpers, he thinks he makes a lot of ridiculous, needy, breathy noises, but Hoseok just swallows them greedily, like they're his. They are his, Namjoon thinks in one brief moment of clarity, and that thought has him tightening his grip, trying to get closer, trying to give his entire self away.
One song melts into another as they keep going, and Namjoon's lips are bruised and raw, his body wired and ready to snap, but there's no way he's ever going to stop this. If this dream is what he gets for a night he's going to savor it, and nothing in the world will make him -
Hoseok pulls away, breathing hard, and says, "Let's go home, Joonie."
Right, the apartment. A place with a bed, and privacy, and a million fantasies that Namjoon definitely won't be able to get to tonight. And then Namjoon's brain catches up with Hoseok's words, and despite the fact that he was just well on his way to coming in his pants he nearly weeps because he and Hoseok have a home together.
Hoseok blinks up at him, waiting, and Namjoon reaches up slowly and tucks a Hoseok's damp hair behind his ear. He wouldn't be able to stop himself if he tried, and he tries to memorize the way this feels.
"Yeah. Yeah, let's go home."
They take a cab back, because Namjoon's in no state to be walking and has no patience for it either. It also gives him a minute to breathe and collect himself as Hoseok goes back to the table to say his goodbyes, because Namjoon can't even consider looking those people in the face. They're mostly blurs anyway, discarded memories, except for Dawon who he remembers far too well. She'd been grinning, and given him a thumbs up when they left the table, and Namjoon hopes that he discards that memory soon too.
The ride is two minutes out when Hoseok joins him at the door, the rest of his costume back on and Namjoon's hat in hand, and his eyes are pretty like autumn woods when he looks up at him and smiles hopefully. Hoseok's always looking up at him, Namjoon thinks muzzily, and Namjoon can't help but lean down and kiss him, deep and slow, when he gets close enough for it.
They kiss until Namjoon's phone buzzes, and they kiss in the back of the car, and they kiss as Namjoon overtips the driver an insane amount to make up for the fact that they'd made out in his backseat for the entire five minute ride.
"Thanks bro," says the driver when he gets the confirmation. "Stay safe in there!"
Hoseok giggles, then outright laughs, then falls to the ground as the car drives away, and Namjoon hauls up him as gracefully as he can. Which isn't graceful at all because he's laughing too, this whole thing is so absurd, and when they kiss again in the elevator it's with smiles and inappropriate chuckles punctuating every moment.
But the hysteria falls away as they make it inside, and toe off their shoes, and hang their hats on the coat rack before staring at each other. They're still close enough to touch but they're not touching, and Namjoon remembers another time here, when Hoseok had said he was so happy that they were friends. What had been so strong and easy in that pulsing club is fragile in the silence of their home, and very breakable, and Namjoon wonders again if he's making a mistake.
Hoseok's eyes say the same thing, pooled with worry instead of lust, and Namjoon steps closer and hugs him tightly, right in the middle of the hall.
"What do you want?" he says into Hoseok's head. Barely speaking at all. "Anything you say is okay."
"You," says Hoseok. He sounds nervous again. "Please."
A plaintive cry of why me? rises on Namjoon's tongue, but he doesn't say it. He doesn't have to, because he knows Hoseok now, really knows him. Hoseok has to pretend with people, or he thinks he does, but he and Namjoon don't pretend with each other. This is safety for him, a safe place to be wanted after a long insecurity, and Namjoon may not be able to be his boyfriend but he can certainly be his safety. He can be a person who wants Hoseok as he is, and not as who he hopes him to be.
See what's in front of you, whispers Yoongi, and Namjoon thinks he finally does.
"Then I'm yours," says Namjoon, pushing Hoseok away just enough to let them see each other in the dim light. He slips his hands underneath Hoseok's jacket and stares at him, unblinking and quiet, until Hoseok's ragged breathing settles. "Hoseok. Can I kiss you?"
It's such a stupid question, when he thinks back on it later, because they've done nothing else all night, but it feels like he needs to ask again. That maybe the answer will be different, somehow, now that they're here.
Hoseok nods, and Namjoon bends down and claims him. He keeps it undemanding and gentle, drawing the fear away from Hoseok and into the air, feeling the tension drain out of him with every brush of their lips. Hoseok sighs, winding his arms around Namjoon and floating up to meeting him, and they spend long minutes like that, just existing together as Namjoon captures the idea that he's allowed this. He's allowed to feel everything, to put his hands around the sea.
But when Hoseok starts tugging on Namjoon's belt and walking them back to the bedrooms their kisses speed up, get back to that frantic urgency they'd had before. Hoseok's driving the pace now, shifting into a new gear and taking Namjoon with him, and it's a lot messier and a lot hotter as their tongues tangle on their journey across their home.
"Which room?" says Namjoon incoherently, because Hoseok's got his lower lip between his teeth. He lets it go but dives in again with purpose, and there's a long minute where Namjoon can't breathe at all. When they finally part, gasping, Namjoon says again, "Which room?"
"Yours," growls Hoseok without hesitating, and Namjoon feels it all the way down his spine. "Need your condoms."
His fingers leave their place on Namjoon's belt and wander lower, searching and playful until they find what they're looking for and Namjoon inhales sharply.
"Felt big when we were dancing," says Hoseok. Satisfaction drips from his voice as he palms the front of Namjoon's silky costume, bringing his arousal back full force. "Fuck, yeah. Too big for my stash, but not too big to get in me."
"Oh," says Namjoon, then gasps again when Hoseok squeezes him. God he wants that. It's too much for a first time, more than Namjoon would ever consider with anyone else, but if this is the night they get he wants everything. "Are you - oh fuck - are you sure? We don't have to."
Hoseok grins wickedly, and there's nothing like fear in his expression now. "That's where you're wrong. But don't worry. We'll get there."
He leans up and kisses him again, still teasing Namjoon into hardness. By the time he murmurs, "You like this?" in a way that's clear he doesn't need an answer, Namjoon can barely speak.
"Come here," says Hoseok, breaking away and leading him into the bedroom.
He shoves Namjoon back on his bed, hard enough that he falls but gently enough that he doesn't go flying, and Namjoon tries to catch his breath as Hoseok towers over him. It's dark, the only lights the ambient cityscape, and Hoseok slinks his way over to the bedside lamp and flips it on. The sudden radiance plays over his face, half-shadow and half-warm glow, and Namjoon nearly cries when Hoseok reaches for his shirt and teases it open and off.
Hoseok never looks away during his silent striptease, layers falling to the ground to puddle on Namjoon's floor, his revealed skin golden where the lamplight hits it. Namjoon's seen all of it before, or almost all of it, but it's different now because he's allowed to linger over the sight, to drink in his corded muscles and prominent veins. To appreciate the flex of him, the way Hoseok's body all works together to a unified purpose, never wasted or lost the way Namjoon's own so often feels. When one piece of Hoseok moves the rest follows like silky inevitability, and Namjoon can't help but follow too.
Namjoon's breathing is thunderous in the quiet, and Hoseok's smile grows at every hitch in its rhythm. He hooks his thumbs into the waistband of his briefs, his own arousal obvious beneath the sheer fabric, and Namjoon licks his lips at the eternal power he exudes. The unmistakable masculinity of him here in this place, performing in a way that Namjoon's never seen before. In a way that's just for Namjoon tonight, and the thought's enough to make him lightheaded as Hoseok finally sheds his last layer.
He's so hot, and when he's naked and crawling onto the bed, up and over Namjoon like some kind of dream, Namjoon's almost too scared to touch him. He reminds himself that he's allowed to do this, that they're going to be okay, and settles for placing a hand on his hip, rubbing gently but with purpose. Hoseok makes a satisfied sound when he squeezes the bone that Namjoon wants to hear over and over again.
"God you look so good," murmurs Hoseok, fingers starting to work at Namjoon's belt. "Worked up. You like what you see?"
Namjoon nods, maybe a little too eagerly, and Hoseok grins. "And what do you like? C'mon, you've got that big brain. All those words. Don't go quiet on me now."
It could sound cruel but it's gentle and teasing, and he takes off Namjoon's belt and tosses it across the room.
"I like your hands," says Namjoon in a daze, following them through the air. "The bones of them, and their shapes. They touch things so well."
"You like my hands," says Hoseok, and there's a weird emphasis to it, a flatness that snaps Namjoon back into the moment. Hoseok's not moving anymore, and Namjoon suddenly remembers that he's naked, and got naked for Namjoon, and they're supposed to be saying sexy things to each other right now.
"I like your cock, too," he says quickly.
Hoseok bursts out laughing, and Namjoon's face heats up when it doesn't stop for a long time. Hoseok collapses onto him, shaking with amusement, and Namjoon strokes a hand down his back and tries to join in as best he can while he wants to crawl under the bed. At least Hoseok isn't leaving yet.
When he's finally done, trembling with little aftershock giggles, Namjoon feels the sweet curve of Hoseok's cheek as he smiles against him. "Dammit, Joonie, I'm trying to be Sexy Hoseok tonight, but I can't do that if you make me laugh."
Namjoon's hand stops stroking, confused. "You don't have to try to be sexy."
"Really?" says Hoseok. He kisses the underside of Namjoon's jaw, gently, then one more time, delicate like spring rain. Like he's really asking.
"No," says Namjoon. He starts moving his hand again, but this time harder, and lower, until he's digging into the meat of Hoseok's ass, and Hoseok arches into it. "You breathe and this is all I can think about it. You're hard to live with, too. Come back here."
Hoseok turns his head at the request and Namjoon kisses him again, trying to send desire through his lips, and his tongue, and the constant touch of his hand. And Hoseok melts into him, not laughing anymore, the wet, filthy sounds overtaking everything that came before.
"Just be Hoseok," says Namjoon when they're done, and Hoseok's panting above him. "That's everything I want. You're more than enough."
Hoseok shakes his head, not in negation but as if to clear it, and he blinks rapidly a few times. "So you like my hands," he says finally, voice a little hoarse. "Tell me more."
Namjoon leans up to kiss him again, and Hoseok pushes him back down with force as he starts to unwind Namjoon's clothing. His face is back to focused, hard lines and intoxicating angles, and Namjoon watches him work in awe.
"I like the way they make a whole," he says finally. "The way they come together, the fingers into the knuckles, and down to the wrist. Coherent. Competent. They do everything so well."
He captures one in his own hand, and brings it to his lips to kiss the knuckles reverently before Hoseok takes it away to get back to his costume. It takes him twice the time to take it off as it took Namjoon to put it on because Hoseok unwraps him carefully, delicately, and the maddening deliberation of it has Namjoon squirming. Each slide of his palms is a caress, soft and then firmer, slow and then faster, and before Namjoon can register everything that's happening he's naked underneath Jung Hoseok, the most beautiful man in the world.
"Hi," breathes Hoseok, bending down. He licks a stripe up Namjoon's sternum and bites at his collarbone, and Namjoon's groan comes so loud he's sure it can be heard from space. It only spurs Hoseok on, teeth and aching suction across Namjoon's skin, and he's hard again. He's so hard, hard enough that Hoseok makes that satisfied noise again and slides down him inch by agonizing inch, setting his nerves ablaze.
"Hoseok," says Namjoon, and he doesn't know if it's appreciation or plea, but he does know that when Hoseok takes his cock in hand he cant think of anything else. "Fuck, fuck, Hoseok."
He's not even doing anything, just holding it, just rubbing his thumb along the underside of it in feather-light strokes, and Namjoon feels like he's fifteen again. There's something about the way Hoseok's using that intense gaze to study him, to think through all of those forbidden things that Namjoon's tried and failed not to ponder himself, that has him on the edge of the cliff already.
"Do you like my hands when they do this?" says Hoseok, eyes flicking up in dark humor, and he wraps around Namjoon and strokes once, very firmly.
Namjoon moans, and Hoseok sighs in answer.
"Fuck you're huge," he says, and Namjoon's not sure if it's a good tone of voice but Hoseok keeps jacking him lazily as he says it.
"We don't -" says Namjoon, breaking off when Hoseok thumbs over his head. "We don't have to. You don't have to. Fuck, I could come from just this, fuck. I might. Sorry, that's so embarrassing but Jesus."
Hoseok chuckles. "Well we wouldn't want that, would we?"
He travels back up to where he started, quicker this time, more purposeful, and the press of his perfect body isn't making things any easier. The heavy weight of his own cock is like fire, sparking flames when he rocks against Namjoon's hip. Namjoon hasn't even touched him yet, hasn't done anything but look, but Hoseok's stiff and ready against him.
Namjoon's chasing his mouth by the time he gets close enough, pleasure the only audible chord inside of him, and Hoseok denies him. He puts his fingers to Namjoon's lips instead, and Namjoon tries to draw them in, and Hoseok's the hottest he's ever been when he bites his lip and holds in his groan.
"You're so -" Hoseok starts, but he doesn't finish. He's just staring, watching Namjoon lose his mind. Namjoon's hips are moving, he realizes, circles and thrusts into the air, and he's holding Hoseok so tightly he'll probably have bruises in the shape of fingers across his skin.
"Want you," he mumbles around Hoseok's fingers. "Want you, Hoseok, I want you so much."
"You're so good," says Hoseok reverently, and then he kisses Namjoon just like he's being dying for all this time. Not oxygen, not anymore, he thinks incoherently. Not food, or water, or rest. Just this.
Things move quickly after that.
Namjoon tries to remember each thing but it's more like flashes, portraits of moments and snippets of film that fit into a disjointed whole. It's hard to think past anything but a feeling, or a sensation, or a shiver as Hoseok does something new that breaks him apart. They kiss, and they kiss, and Namjoon tastes Hoseok on his tongue more times than he can count but it's never enough. He finally touches him, learns what it's like to hold Hoseok in his hand, to feel the sweet length of him sliding through his palm, and it's everything. Hoseok is everything, and when he shudders in Namjoon's grip the world shudders with him.
At some point Hoseok asks him where his stuff is, his lube and condoms, and Namjoon can't even speak, just gestures to his side table weakly.
Time slips again as Hoseok starts to prep himself, and Namjoon has a new camera flash in his mind of Hoseok's finger sliding inside himself with easy confidence. And it's good, but not as good as Namjoon doing it himself, feeling that himself, and he begs Hoseok to let him.
"I'll make it good," he says, scrabbling for the bottle that Hoseok tossed down. "I'll make it good for you, I'm so good at this, please I want to feel you."
"Yeah," breathes Hoseok. He shifts back so Namjoon can sit up and pull him closer, then braces on his shoulder. His next words are close to Namjoon's ear, so close that the vibrations rock him as he says, "Touch me. Make me feel you."
The mind Namjoon is rapidly leaving behind shakes with need, and he's eager when he presses in. Too eager but Hoseok doesn't mind, opening up beautifully, like he's just as lost in their moment. He leans forward, then rocks back, and Namjoon can only hang on as Hoseok keeps moving.
"Stop," says Namjoon breathlessly. "I want to do it, I can do it. You don't have to do the work."
"Feels so good," says Hoseok, dragging Namjoon inside him once more. "Another one, okay? But gentle. Be gentle with me, Joonie."
"Always," says Namjoon, and Hoseok stops moving to kiss him again, tipping his head into the wall. It's all tongue, barely lips now, more like air exchange than anything and Namjoon loves it. He fucking loves this, and the tightness of Hoseok around his fingers as he works his way inside as gently as he possibly can. He searches, and keeps searching as Hoseok starts biting at him again, nipping his jaw with more marks that will last, and when he finds what he's looking for and curls into it Hoseok's happy moan almost undoes him.
Namjoon keeps moving, keeps prepping him with as much care as he can bring, but he brushes his prostate whenever he wants to hear that sound again, whenever he wants Hoseok to growl some new praise in his ear, some new appreciation for how he feels. Hoseok starts to swear at him after awhile, but Namjoon doesn't stop and Hoseok doesn't make him, not for a long time. Not until Namjoon mumbles that he wants to hear him come, asking him for that release, and Hoseok finally pushes himself so far away that Namjoon can't reach him anymore.
"I'm sorry," says Namjoon, nearly begging, trying to pull him back. "Don't leave."
It's still mostly dark but Hoseok's eyes are gleaming, wild beneath the hair matted to his forehead. His lips are swollen, bitten and raw, and he's trembling with unspent need, and Namjoon did that. Namjoon made him look like that, and it can't be over. Hoseok reaches down and ghosts over Namjoon's cock again, and Namjoon chokes back a cry.
"I'm not going anywhere," says Hoseok. "Lay down."
Namjoon scrambles to obey, to work his way down onto his back again, and Hoseok shifts with him like they're one creature. The swell of his ass brushes against Namjoon as they settle, and Namjoon thrusts even though there's nothing to meet him, tumbling Hoseok onto his chest.
"Hi baby," says Hoseok, kissing him again now that they're close. He can't seem to help himself, and Namjoon grabs at his ass and slides his fingers back inside, as far as he can. "No no, not that. I'm gonna ride you for a bit, okay? Will you let me?"
"Yeah," says Namjoon. Hoseok's stubble catches against his lips, a sharp sensation that's the only thing keeping him present, and he fucks deep into Hoseok again. "Yeah you can do anything, please Hoseok. I want you to feel good."
"I feel so good," whispers Hoseok. "Gonna feel even better soon."
He goes away, but not so far this time, just far enough to get the condom on. And when Namjoon blinks up it's into heaven, like a prophet's vision, because Hoseok's hovering over him, ready to drop down onto his cock. Namjoon reaches up and brushes his cheek, luminous and shining, and Hoseok smiles at the gesture. His beautiful smile, so familiar and so new, and Namjoon loves him. He loves him with every single atom he possesses.
He's still smiling as he sinks down, and Namjoon feels each inch of the compression as Hoseok opens up for him. He's tight, tighter than Namjoon could have imagined even after so long touching him, and Namjoon groans as he pushes into it as gently as he can. He's saying things, he thinks, babbling praise and stupid porn lines but Hoseok doesn't stop him. Might not even be hearing him, with the way his eyes are squeezed shut.
"Fuck," he hears him say once, before he rises up and bears down again. "Ah, shit, it's been so long. Sorry Joonie, sorry. Just give me a minute."
"Can take forever," slurs Namjoon. His hands tighten around Hoseok's thighs. "I don't care. Anything you want. Feels amazing."
"I won't last forever," groans Hoseok, taking him in another breathless inch. Namjoon can see it, if he focuses his eyes, can watch himself disappearing, and they're almost there. Hoseok's wet and tight around him, lube dripping from where Namjoon used too much, and the vision is almost more than he can bear.
"So close," says Namjoon, stroking a hand over Hoseok's side. "You're taking me so well."
Hoseok laughs, high and mostly air. "I hate that you can make shit like that hot."
And then he's bottoming out, and Namjoon didn't think this could feel better but it does. It's impossibly good, the two of them together. Hoseok takes a moment to feel him, a moment that's almost holy when their eyes lock, and hold, and Namjoon's sure that Hoseok can see all of his feelings pouring out but he can't bring himself to care. It almost makes it better, because Hoseok should always be loved like this. Fully, and without reservation.
"I want to do it slow," says Hoseok, almost to himself. "Is that okay? Take my time with you?"
Namjoon nods, tangled in his own mind, barriers falling and doors unlocking that were supposed to stay closed.
"You deserve everything," says Namjoon, not quite sure if that's what he's meant to be saying but meaning it all the same. "I want to give you everything."
Hoseok starts to move, a slow drag of his dedicated, unwavering body. It's slow, and rhythmic, and Namjoon's breathing gradually syncs with the slide. Hoseok sighs on every joining, caught on the edge of a whimper, and he trembles under Namjoon's touch.
"What do you need?" says Namjoon. Hoseok's right in front of him, and he's seeing him, and he's holding him in his hands as the waves lap at his feet. "Tell me, Hoseok. Let me."
"Just stay with me, Joonie," murmurs Hoseok, rocking himself gently as Namjoon whines. "Can you do that?"
"Yeah," says Namjoon. "Yeah I can. I'm with you."
Hoseok smiles again. "Good."
Time breaks again as they move, minutes or hours or years Namjoon doesn't know. He's staying with Hoseok, he'll always stay with him, and Hoseok's hips never pick up pace as he takes his pleasure so carefully. It's not frantic anymore, not urgent, and Namjoon loses himself in the never-ending crest. He should want to come, and part of him does, but most of him wants to give Hoseok anything his heart desires, even if it's impossible to believe that he desires this.
Namjoon's going to be sore tomorrow, his body not used to the effort he's demanding of it, but tomorrow will never come if he can keep them like this.
He tries to touch Hoseok, once, he knows that, the curve of Hoseok's cock a dazzling lure in front of him, but Hoseok won't let him. "Too fast," he mumbles, gripping Namjoon's hand instead. Riding him harder, dropping deeper, squeezing Namjoon's hand so hard the flesh turns white. "Not yet, not yet."
Hoseok makes a sound deep in his throat, a frustrated, pouting noise that makes Namjoon want to kiss him. "Shit," he says, then blinks down at Namjoon. His hair is falling into his eyes, his chest heaving, and the tense set of his jaw cuts the air as he says, "Can you make me come now, Joonie?"
Like a gun starting a race, like a signal from a distant satellite, like the first touch of god, Namjoon's willpower snaps its final tether.
"Yes," he growls, levering himself up and flipping Hoseok on his back in a single fluid movement.
Hoseok rolls with him, expecting it, wanting it, but the high-pitched moan he lets out is still tinged with surprise. It cuts into a gasp when Namjoon thrusts into him sharply, no longer gentle and rolling but heavy and demanding. Hoseok's bent nearly in half as Namjoon takes him, that delicious flexibility on full display, and Namjoon kisses the curve of his calf when he finds a lucid moment inside his need.
"More," says Hoseok, the sound almost punched out of him. "More, Joonie, more, fuck, come here."
His hands scrabble at Namjoon's flesh, sliding up to his head and pulling him even closer, and they way they're pressed together has to be hurting him but he doesn't say anything, just mouths at the side of Namjoon's neck whenever it's in range. He can't make words anymore, just breathless moans, and Namjoon can barely manage that much as he drives them closer to the edge. To the edge of something unknowable, and unnameable, and a wild part of him laughs as they race.
Hold on, he thinks as he gets closer, as Hoseok scratches down his back and pulls him as near as he can get. It's the sea, it's everything, it's vast and it's yours. Hold on, hold on, don't let it go.
He thinks he's saying it too, or something like it, begging Hoseok to be with him, to hold tight to this thing they're creating that's crumbling before it begins. He thinks he's saying everything he's ever felt for this man, but he doesn't know how much of it could be understood even if he wanted it to be.
"Hoseok," he gasps at the end, shuddering into the gloom. "God, I'm going to -"
He can't finish before the wave hits him, and he tightens his hands to keep the water in, to hold onto that dangerous, roiling sea. He's squeezing Hoseok so tightly, a Hoseok who's spilling his own ending between them, voice raw and cracked as he calls Namjoon's name. It's a sweet sound, a perfect sound, and Namjoon grabs on to the memory of that, too.
Hoseok's still kissing Namjoon as he comes, somehow, and Namjoon turns to meet him in hopeless desperation. He's never had sex like this, never knew sex could be like this at all, and his mind is so quiet. There's nothing there but this, but the climax that's still receding, the tight spasms of Hoseok's body as he comes down from the peak. There's nothing but the tips of his fingers brushing over golden skin, the ache in his scalp where Hoseok gripped his hair. He's all sensation, all physical being, and he knows he can't stay here but it's nice to feel solid for once in his life.
They kiss for longer than they should, things still hot and pressing between them, but eventually Hoseok shifts in discomfort and Namjoon remembers the parts that come next. Hoseok's not folded in half anymore at least, his legs tangled between Namjoon's, but his come is drying between them and Namjoon's softening inside him and he's probably sore enough that none of this feels good for him.
So Namjoon gathers enough presence of mind to slide himself out, to press against Hoseok as he does to relieve some of that empty feeling, to roll off the condom and deposit it on the table. That's all he has, every bit of energy he has left, and he flops back down on the bed with his arm over Hoseok's waist. His eyes are closed and dragging, even though it can't be much past midnight, and all he wants to do is sleep.
But Hoseok doesn't stay beneath him, wiggling away with upsetting purpose. He doesn't seem quite so faded as Namjoon, not quite so lost, but Namjoon supposes that's to be expected. Their nights were the same but different, and he doesn't begrudge him that.
He gets out of bed in a single smooth motion, and Namjoon cracks a heavy eye to watch him walk around it with his usual grace. A heavy eye for a heavy heart, because Hoseok picks up the condom, and switches off the lamp, and heads slowly to the door with only the barest suggestion of a hitch in his gait.
He pauses as a shadow in its frame, head turned like he's looking back at Namjoon, and Namjoon wants to ask him to stay. To make it a morning instead of a night, to take all these other things that Namjoon's ready to offer, but he'd promised, hadn't he? To take what Hoseok gave and not ask for more, so he doesn't say anything at all. Hoseok might think he's asleep, maybe, and that would be good in its own way.
When Hoseok leaves Namjoon closes his eyes again, but he's not falling asleep. No, he's falling somewhere deeper than that, somewhere he may never escape, and he turns his face into his pillow and sighs.
"I love you," he whispers into it, the loneliest little plea, but he doesn't tear up. He won't let himself to cry, not tonight, because he'd gotten a gift that he didn't deserve, and he won't let pain interfere with that unexpected joy. But he's not sure what he's going to do when he wakes up and sees Hoseok's clothing still puddled on the floor, with Hoseok sleeping an infinite distance away.
He's still pressed into the bed and trying not to cry when a hand touches his shoulder, a hand that's familiar and achingly welcome. Hoseok doesn't say a word as he pulls back the duvet and slides underneath, though he makes an encouraging noise when Namjoon immediately rolls over and drapes his hand over him again. Namjoon doesn't know how much of this is real and how much is his own desperate imagination, but the solid curve of his hip is comforting in unspeakable ways.
"Go to sleep, Joonie," says Hoseok, clearing his throat when it comes out raw. "You're exhausted."
Something wet touches Namjoon's stomach, startling him, and he opens his stinging eyes reflexively. Hoseok's got a washcloth brushing over him, cleaning him of the evidence of the night, and part of Namjoon mourns its loss even though he knows it would drive Hoseok crazy. He lets Hoseok help him under the covers too, frowning when he feels the touch of fabric under his loosely questing fingers.
"I don't like to sleep naked," says Hoseok, a ghost of a smile rising. "Sorry."
"I do," says Namjoon. He falls heavily back onto his pillow, and Hoseok's ghost smile gets stronger. "Is that okay?"
"Yeah, it's okay."
Namjoon blinks up at him, more shape than anything in the darkness, but he sees a tinge of red in Hoseok's still gleaming eyes. "Are you okay?" he says dumbly, reaching up to touch the skin beneath them. Like it might be bruised, like he might feel the raise of scars across him. "Did I hurt you?"
"No, Joonie," says Hoseok quietly. "No, you would never hurt me."
"That's right," says Namjoon, exhaustion stealing into him like a thief through a window. "I'll never hurt you. Hold onto me, okay? And I'll hold on to the sea."
"Okay," says Hoseok, snuggling in closer. His breath caresses Namjoon's chest as Namjoon strokes his back. "I'll hold onto you as long as I can."
That's good, Namjoon thinks but doesn't say. They breathe there like that, together, Namjoon falling deeper under with every exhale, until he hears Hoseok say softly, "Joonie. Can I kiss you?"
Namjoon nods, eyes still closed, and Hoseok's lips find his in the quiet darkness. It's not much of a kiss, not anything like the desperation they'd shared before, but when he thinks back on this later he knows they'll be the first ones he remembers. The most precious touches of all, because they're the last. They're still kissing as Namjoon drifts away, and the water spills out of his cupped hands and back to where it belongs.
Chapter 13: The Right Words
Namjoon wakes up reluctantly, stubbornly resisting the sun. He's always been good at mornings, skipping those confused, questioning moments that most people have, and he's never been more bitter about that than in this moment. Because he remembers exactly where he is, and what he's done, and he's all-too-aware that there's no one under his arm.
He hadn't dreamed last night, not that he remembers, but he might as well have. He'd lived a dream, and it's over, and now he has to do the work of being okay with November.
Eventually he can't fight his consciousness anymore and cracks an eye as slowly as he can. It's later than he'd thought, nearly nine by the clock, and a tangle of white and black fabric litters his bedroom floor. Namjoon rolls over to escape the sight, a little surprised that Hoseok hadn't tidied up when he left, but not as surprised as he is when he's done rolling and comes face-to-face with a sleeping bedmate.
The morning brightness doesn't seem to be bothering Hoseok at all, though he snuffles and turns more firmly onto his back as Namjoon stares. He can't help but stare, because Hoseok is still a dream, hazy and soft in the folds of crisp blue pillows. His hair is chaotic fluff, a messy tousle that Namjoon longs to smooth back into place, and his face is slightly puffy, giving him a youthful, vulnerable look that squeezes Namjoon's heart. When he breathes like music, his lips part just a fraction, and Namjoon remembers vividly their soft movement against his own as they fell asleep.
That's bad in and of itself, something that's supposed to be fading into distant memory instead of crystallizing into pressing desire, but it's not the worst thing. It's not the worst thing by far.
The worst thing is that Hoseok is more desirable than he's ever been, resting peacefully in Namjoon's bed. He'd partially thrown off the covers in the night, leaving his delicate, shirtless physique on full display in the streaming light. His muscles shift as he flexes into a more comfortable position, and a spike of useless arousal shoots through Namjoon's core. He spies scattered marks across Hoseok's shoulders, even more down around his hips, lingering reminders of the things Namjoon had been allowed to do in the dark.
He wants to do them again, now.
Namjoon snarls softly, angry with himself as he touches his own neck. He remembers Hoseok's mouth, too, remembers it perfectly, and he wonders if he's touching purpling bruises and how long they'll take to fade. And maybe it's not anger but panic, caught up in trying to contextualize who he is, and what they are, and how he can move forward in this world that's changed so fundamentally from what came before.
He's nothing but questions, fruitless questions without answers, or at least not the answers he wants. The big things he knows, like the way they're still friends, and the way Namjoon loves Hoseok beyond measure, and the way Hoseok should always feel safe and secure. But should he wake Hoseok up? Did Hoseok even mean to stay? If Namjoon leaves him to meet this new day alone, will that be a disappointment or a relief?
He hadn't thought about it last night - he hadn't wanted to think about it - but he now has infinite ways to screw things up, and he's not quite sure what all of them might be.
As he wrestles with himself, sorting through the threads tangling in his mind, Hoseok moves again, kicking his legs restlessly and dropping the covers even further. His hand drifts up from their depths, stroking his abdomen in the barest hint of touch, his beautiful fingers drifting like a dance. Hoseok sighs happily at the feather-light brush, soft whimpering moans trapped in his throat, and Namjoon wonders if Hoseok's dreaming. He wonders if he's dreaming of Namjoon, or of Daniel, or of some other nameless future man, and jealousy wars with the desire until he's hopelessly confused.
Hoseok's wearing Namjoon's Powerpuff pajama bottoms again, and Namjoon can see his morning arousal beneath them, and Buttercup stares at him accusingly as he takes a deep breath and holds it in his chest until it aches.
He's just resolved to leave, to make them breakfast or at least put cereal in a bowl to save the last tatters of his sanity, when Hoseok's eyes blink open. They're wide but barely conscious, and he smiles in a pretty heart when he sees Namjoon looking down at him. His dimples are out in full force, sparkling and tempting, and Namjoon works hard not to caress them with his thumb.
"Morning," murmurs Hoseok, a little indistinctly. His expression brightens as he rolls onto his side, then falls into pained surprise. "Back hurts."
"Sorry," says Namjoon, not sure what else to say, because Hoseok doesn't seem entirely awake.
Hoseok smiles again, eyes fluttering closed as he stretches his arms over his head. They fall to the pillow with a thunk, but not before Namjoon's seen glowing skin stretch over every rib, a topographical map of the human body that Namjoon's never going to forget. "S'ok," he says. "It's good."
"Okay," says Namjoon gently. "Go back to sleep, yeah?"
"Yeah," sighs Hoseok. He's stroking himself again, this time up to his neck and back down, and Namjoon shivers. "Sleep."
When Namjoon's sure he's out again, his breathing heavy and even, he carefully levers himself out of bed before he gives in to the temptation to touch. To trace smoothness, to trail his lips along the well-defined path, to feel the shifting of that body for himself. To taste morning Hoseok, so much sweeter than the night, or tug cruel fabric away and feel him against his palm once more, against his tongue, the weight of him new and precious. To wake him up that way, maybe, with pleasure and need and the overwhelming pressure of love.
He swats at the thought, pushing it away as his feet hit the floor. The clothes are still there, horribly, and Namjoon picks up Hoseok's suit and finds a hanger for it as quietly as possible. He smooths out its wrinkles futilely, then presses his face to it and breathes in, over and over again he breathes. His eyes burn, screwed up against the smell of sweat and club cologne, and by the time he heads to the bathroom he knows he's going to cry.
Namjoon takes his time in his shower, scrubbing himself clean inside and out. The water washes away the tears as they fall, the compression in his heart loosening with every drop. It's okay to let it go here so he does, he lets it all go, and only the nagging guilt that he's using up the hot water gets him out of his safe haven in the end.
He towels off slowly too, breathing evenly and deeply in circles like he'd learned from a therapist so long ago, and he avoids his own gaze while he brushes his teeth. There's a clean pair of sleep pants and an almost-clean shirt he left on the counter and he pulls them on gratefully, not wanting to be naked anymore. It doesn't cover all the evidence of the night because he's seen the marks he's carrying, some so high he might not be able to hide them even with scarfs and turtlenecks, and he's not sure how he feels about their existence.
He thinks tomorrow he might be glad that Hoseok once wanted him that much.
By the time he's presentable he's prepared himself for every possible future scenario. Hoseok still there, sleeping soundly. Hoseok gone, an empty void in the bed. Hoseok there and awake, smiling like nothing had changed between them. Hoseok there and nervous, needing reassurance that Namjoon's ready to provide. He's even prepared for Hoseok to tell him this was a giant mistake, that he'd been lonely and horny and now they might have to change everything about their lives after Namjoon proved how little control he actually has.
What he's not prepared for, when he steps into the murky unknown, is Hoseok sitting up in the middle of the bed, wearing a frown as he stares at a colorful array of Post-It notes in his hands.
Namjoon's heart drops from more than the way Hoseok's hair is tufted in defiance of gravity, and the distressed furrows in his brow, and the smoothness of his clean morning face. He can't believe he forgot, that he was so stupid as to leave without securing the most tangible evidence of the things Hoseok's been so careful not to acknowledge. All those little notes, the cute messages with Hoseok's signature on them, saved and stored over weeks and months. The physical proof of Namjoon's feelings, and now there's no way to escape a conversation, even if they wanted to.
Namjoon had really, really wanted to.
"Joonie, what's this?" says Hoseok, fanning them out in his fingers. His lips move as he reads one, faintly smiling at whatever it says, then looks up with a confused noise. "Why were these under your pillow?"
"Oh," says Namjoon, then stops, thinking quickly. Hoseok wants this to go away, too. He wants to live here comfortably, so if Namjoon can just come up with something vaguely plausible then none of this will matter. "You know, I just put them there. I guess."
He nearly slaps himself in the forehead, and Hoseok's expression unsurprisingly doesn't clear at all. "But they're my notes. All of them, even the dumb ones. 'Dance dinner tonight, see you tomorrow!' That's so dumb. I thought you threw them away. I would have thrown them away."
Namjoon shrugs, his hand creeping up around his neck. He can't really look at Hoseok anymore, wishing he'd been just a little more ready. Just that one extra memory, that one next scenario, and he'd have the right thing to say.
"Well," says Hoseok more quietly. Almost a whisper. "I probably wouldn't have if they were from you."
He squeaks and claps a hand over his mouth as Namjoon's gaze snaps back to him, Hoseok's eyes round and horrified above his knuckles. But not just horrified. Something else, something bright, and he says through cracks in his fingers, "Is that… is that why you have them? Because they're from me?"
Hoseok ignores him, sitting up on his knees and leaning forward. "Tell me," he says with a new intensity. "Is that why?"
The colored paper drops from his hands like pieces of a broken rainbow, scattering across the covers around him. There's a new tension to him, a vibrating urgency, and Namjoon takes a wary step back. Hoseok knows this already, has known it for months now, and Namjoon is stupid for getting them into this position but he doesn't understand why Hoseok is pushing him so hard.
"Please don't," says Namjoon. "It doesn't matter, okay? It won't happen again, I promise."
"It matters," snaps Hoseok. He runs a hand through his hair, standing it up even more crazily than before, and his voice shakes on the words. "God, Joonie, do you think… could you… even a little? Could you want me for real?"
He looks like he might cry, a dangerous shimmer in his eyes, and Namjoon's heart contracts painfully in his chest. And then Hoseok does cry, a single tear spilling down his cheek, and it drags words out of Namjoon like nothing else could.
"You know I do," says Namjoon, fists clenched at his sides. He's angry, and he sounds it, and Hoseok looks so fragile in his nest of happy notes as Namjoon voices their darkest secret. "Fuck, you know I do, you've always known. But it's fine. It's fine, and nothing has to change, okay? We don't have to change."
Hoseok doesn't seem to be listening as he sinks back on his feet. He presses the heels of his palms against his eyes, breath coming faster and faster. "I thought it was just me," he mumbles to himself. "I thought…"
He unfolds himself from the bed, standing up to let the bottom of his too-long pajama pants pool on the floor. His eyes are still screwed shut, like he's too disgusted to open them. "So you like me? You want to go out with me? Like, dates and stuff?"
Namjoon snorts, swiping at his cheeks with his fist. "Dates and stuff. Yeah, I guess you could say that. I guess you could say that about me being completely fucking in love with you."
"Oh my god," whispers Hoseok. His expression isn't something Namjoon understands, full of bewildered pleasure where he stands, motionless. Tears are still dripping down his face, and he sniffs and rubs his nose before pinching himself hard on the cheek. "Ow, fuck, ow, Jesus."
His eyes suddenly fly open, even more tears in them, and he says indignantly, "What do you mean I've always known?"
He's so affronted that he's almost cute, snotty nose wrinkled and hands on his hips and a reddening mark on his face, and if Namjoon weren't blazing with fury he'd be horribly endeared. "I mean you've always known! Since… always!"
"What's always?" says Hoseok, even louder. "Don't give me riddles, I suck at them!"
Namjoon spins around, his hands over his head, and leans against the wall behind him. He doesn't know what else to do in this nightmare of a morning, where he's said a true thing and Hoseok is yelling at him like he's done something wrong. Because he has, and he's sorry, and he wishes Hoseok would just leave him alone.
"Joonie," says Hoseok after a minute, much more gently. He's closer, and a soft hand runs up Namjoon's spine. "Hey, Joonie, it's okay. I'm sorry I raised my voice. I just don't understand. Please talk to me. Tell me what always means, okay?"
Namjoon sighs, his forehead still against the wall, not sure what the game is but knowing he can't deny Hoseok anything when he talks to him like that. "Do you remember the college reunion party my old RA hosted?"
"Of course I remember," says Hoseok. His voice stays the same soft volume, but he sounds surprised. "That's where we met. But that was years ago."
"Yeah," says Namjoon heavily. "Years. But you never said anything, and I never said anything, and we're friends now. It's okay. I'm glad that we are, and I'm sorry I didn't do a better job of keeping it that way."
Hoseok's hand glides down his back in waves, soothing circles that broaden and constrict as he moves. "You're doing a great job," he says. "Better than me, I think."
A silence falls between them, not awkward but waiting for something to fill it, and eventually Hoseok begins to speak.
"Man, that party sucked. Or I thought it was going to suck, anyway. Yoongi and I had only had coffee once before he invited me, and I was so fucking nervous. It felt like a test, like I had just one more chance to not fuck things up with him again. I'd missed him so much when I was at school, missed out on all his college life and everything after. He was almost a stranger, really. And he'd told me about you too, this amazing Namjoon guy who'd gotten all the best friendship I'd stupidly thrown away. Yoongi wasn't exactly an asshole about it, but he's never been one for shading the truth. I was so jealous of you.
"But when I got to the party, shitting bricks, you were the first one to greet me. You reached out and shook my hand, and I knew you could tell I was nervous because you shook my hand for like, a whole minute. It was nice of you, it really calmed me down. And you asked if I was Jung Hoseok or Hoseok Jung, which no one ever thought to ask at all, and you were just really kind. I couldn't be jealous anymore that Yoongi was so proud to know you. I would have been proud to know you, too. You made everything okay."
"I just liked you," says Namjoon helplessly. "I didn't - I just liked you."
Hoseok laughs, but it's not mean. It's bubbly and warm, and exactly the thing Namjoon loves most. "I liked you too. Right away. You had this zone of confidence that was nice to be inside. I kept finding you all night, I didn't even know why, but Yoongi was with you a lot so it worked out. You kept going into the nook and having Deep Conversations. Do you remember? You talked to that one girl about Buddhism for an hour and I kept coming back thinking you'd be bored of it but you never were."
He doesn't seem to mind that he's telling this story to Namjoon's back while Namjoon leans against a wall, talking like this is normal, and Namjoon relaxes under the easy cadence of his voice.
"I remember thinking that I could listen to you talk about anything," says Hoseok. "For as long as you wanted to talk, I could listen. I didn't understand anything you were saying but you had this insane fire inside of you. Like church, like when someone's preaching that really believes in it. You really believed in everything you were saying, all the time, and I didn't have any idea what that was like. I didn't know that you noticed me, though. Not like that. I don't know why you think I did."
Namjoon sighs against the neutral beige paint in front of him, still not sure why they're playing this game. "You told me you knew. That night you met Seokjin, at the bar. You said you'd thought I was going to ask you out back then. I was."
"But you didn't," says Hoseok. His hand makes another circuit, raising goosebumps on Namjoon's skin. "You never even danced with me when I asked. So I thought I was wrong, you know? You treated me like I was special, but I figured out later that you treat everyone like they're special. Why didn't you -"
"Christopher," says Namjoon, and Hoseok falls silent. "You were dating Christopher when we met. And then Prentice, and Samit, and Charles, and then Chris instead of Christopher. And after him was Luis, and Jihoon, and Trevor…"
"Wow," says Hoseok. "You were really paying attention."
"Yeah," says Namjoon, a little bitterly. "I was."
"Because you loved me," says Hoseok carefully. Almost doubtfully. "Love me."
Namjoon can't bring himself to say it a second time, so he settles on, "Because you're special."
Hoseok rests his head between Namjoon's shoulder blades and sighs loudly. "God, you have to stop being so sweet all the time, it makes things really difficult."
"Sorry," says Namjoon. "But like I said, it's okay. You don't have to worry about anything. I really enjoyed last night, but we can leave it there."
"Wait, what?" says Hoseok.
He spins Namjoon around bodily, not leaving him much of a choice if he wants to stay upright, and Namjoon meets his gaze and hides his heartbreak as best he can. "I'm not going to ask you for anything."
"Why not?" says Hoseok unexpectedly. His face crumples, and he adds, "Did I come on too strong? Did you not like it? I'm sorry if I did something wrong."
"No," says Namjoon, too loudly. "No, you didn't do anything wrong. You're perfect."
He stops, because that's not exactly what he meant to say, but Hoseok's face rebuilds itself into something less painful. "So why?" he says. "If you like me, why don't you want to date me?"
"Because you don't want to date me."
Hoseok's forehead wrinkles, and he says slowly, "Yes I do."
It's not convincing, the uncertain way the words fall in the room, and Namjoon winces and doesn't answer.
"I'm really into you," says Hoseok. "Not that that's much of a secret. It's not just the sex. Sorry if you thought it was just the sex."
"Stop," says Namjoon. He breaks away from where Hoseok is trapping him, careful not to touch him as he moves to the bed and sits down. He sits there, staring at his hands, afraid to look anywhere else. "Just stop. You don't have to do this."
"Do what?" says Hoseok. He doesn't come closer.
"Pretend. You told me that whole story about you and Yoongi in high school," says Namjoon. "Where he liked you so much, and he pressured you to go out with him when you didn't want to, but you pretended because it was easier than rejecting him. I'm not going to do that to you. Don't say this stuff just because you don't want to reject me."
"Ah," says Hoseok, shuffling nervously. "No, um, that's not it. I told you that story because I'm Yoongi. I was Yoongi. I thought you knew. God I'm so fucking into you. Like, an embarrassing amount. I'm not pretending anything. But I never… I thought you were just being nice about it. I mean, why would you be interested in me? You're Namjoon."
"Why would you be interested in me?" counters Namjoon, his mind hopelessly snarled. He wants this to be true so badly, but it doesn't feel like a true thing, it feels like something that will vanish into smoke the moment he tries to touch it. "You're Hoseok."
Another silence falls, and Namjoon risks looking up, because even when Hoseok is the one confusing him he's still calming to look at. His soft eyes, and his kind mouth, and all the little pieces of him that add up to a whole of a person who steadies the soul.
Hoseok is smiling at him, nervous and warm, and Namjoon can't help but want to believe.
"Do you remember when I told you I didn't know what I wanted?" says Hoseok. "When it came to relationships? Men? That was a lie. It's you. It's been you for awhile now. I just didn't think I could ever hope for it."
"Don't," whispers Namjoon.
But Hoseok's eyes are determined, and he doesn't stop. "I didn't want to move in with you because I knew I'd fall for you. And I did. I did every day, you and your fucking tree and your insane body and the way you hug me like I'm going to float away and all of those nice things you say all the time. You could have anyone you wanted."
Namjoon snorts, and Hoseok returns a sound of displeasure before he crosses to sit next to him on the bed. He seems to be thinking, deeply, and they don't touch but Namjoon can feel the press of his body all the same.
"You didn't know how I felt," says Hoseok. "Even though you said you did. So Joonie, can you tell me what you thought was happening last night? With us, and everything?"
Namjoon blushes, then feels ridiculous, then blushes harder. "We had sex."
That makes Hoseok laugh, a staccato burst that cuts the tension between them. But when he's done he looks a little sad and says, "Yeah, we had sex. But why did we have sex? Why do you think I came onto you?"
When Namjoon starts to speak, Hoseok adds, "Tell me the truth, please."
"Because," says Namjoon, then breaks off take a steadying breath. "Because you hadn't had sex for a long time, and you missed it, and you needed someone to be safe with for a night. And I care about you, and you know how much I do, and that I wouldn't hurt you. Because I wouldn't. I wouldn't ever, and I wouldn't ask you to be someone you aren't. I don't understand what's happening right now, or why you're saying all of this, but you can be yourself, Hoseok. You can trust me."
When he finally gathers the courage to look up, tears are pooling in Hoseok's eyes once more. "You thought I would do that? Sleep with you, knowing that you wanted more, then walk away in the morning expecting you to be okay? That I would break your heart, just like that?"
"That doesn't matter," says Namjoon impatiently, shaking his head. "You deserve to be happy. Your exes made you feel like you don't deserve to want things of your own but you do, and it's nothing. A broken heart is nothing if you got what you needed. Because last night was a gift. I wanted it, too, and I was happy. I'm sorry today got so fucked up."
"Joonie," says Hoseok. He grabs Namjoon's sweaty hands in his own, tight enough that Namjoon hisses. His voice is strained, and low, and more intense than Namjoon has ever heard it. "Don't ever let someone do that to you. Ever. Me, or Seokjin, or, or, or anyone. Do you hear me? Never ever. You're so good, your heart is so big, and you can't just let it get broken because someone else tries to break it. You can't. Don't you ever let someone treat you like that and say it's okay."
When Namjoon doesn't say anything, Hoseok squeezes his hands harder and leans in. "Promise me. Promise me you won't sit back and allow yourself to get hurt again. Especially not by me."
"Okay," says Namjoon softly. He can't do anything else, when Hoseok's eyes look like that. "I promise."
Hoseok's expression clears quickly, like a summer storm, and he runs a comforting hand up Namjoon's arm. It ends up tangled at the nape of Namjoon's neck, and Namjoon doesn't know what his own expression is doing but his heart is pounding out of his chest. Hoseok looks like he might kiss him, his limitless energy focusing back to a single point, and Namjoon craves it and fears it all at the same time.
He still doesn't understand what's going on.
"Why did you come onto me?" says Namjoon desperately, right as Hoseok is breathing in. "If you didn't - if you -"
He breaks off, not even sure what his question is, but Hoseok seems to understand.
"I knew you were attracted to me, at least a little," he says, toying with Namjoon's hair. "Once I was here anyway. But I always thought that you didn't date. That you didn't like the mess of it, or weren't interested in people like that, and that was fine. Attraction's just attraction, it doesn't have to mean anything. And then I thought it was Seokjin, or maybe Jungkook, when you still didn't ask me out even after we cleared the air. But you just kept being single. Available. You were driving me crazy."
"You're forgiven," says Hoseok, a little smirk tugging the corner of his mouth as he shifts closer. Almost in Namjoon's lap again, and Namjoon's overheating brain starts to panic, a hamster on a wheel going nowhere at all.
Hoseok's other arm winds around his neck, and they're definitely going to kiss, and then Namjoon will cease to exist.
"I didn't know what to do, because the longer I was here, and the more time we were together, the more I thought maybe. You know? Maybe there really was something and I was just fumbling it. Missing the timing, or saying the wrong words. Dawon agreed, and Jimin, and Yoongi was being all squirrelly and cryptic and finally I was like fuck finding the right words. I'm not a words guy. Play to your strengths, right?"
"Right," says Namjoon faintly.
"And then you were so sweet, all night," says Hoseok, tilting to the side to look at him. "You were… nothing's ever been that romantic before. Not for me. I was so scared afterwards. That I'd screwed it up somehow, read everything wrong, and then I'd just have to walk around for the rest of my life like that. Knowing you're everything I dreamed of and more, and that you still didn't want me for more than a night."
Namjoon makes a sound of protest, and Hoseok gets closer. "I'm really glad I was wrong."
They share breaths for a moment, existing together, and Namjoon wishes his mind weren't clamoring alarm bells. He remembers how quiet he'd felt last night, how he was only body, but right now he's not even sure he has a physical form.
"I can't believe you didn't know about me," says Hoseok, still smiling in his corners. He shakes his head, close enough that his nose nearly brushes Namjoon's. "No wonder we kept missing the timing."
Namjoon swallows, eyes nearly crossed as he tries to watch every part of Hoseok at the same time, and Hoseok leans up and kisses him with all the surety of last night. The night that's over, and Namjoon was neatly dealing with its passing but it's here again and he wasn't ready. He was moving on, and now he's circling back but he's not fast enough to catch himself. He's not flexible enough for this, even as he's kissing Hoseok back with aching familiarity.
Even as his desperation to have this comes back stronger than it's ever been.
Hoseok presses into him, tongue forceful and impossible to deny, and Namjoon opens for him with a groan. Something about doing this in the light feels more illicit, his hands slipping over Hoseok's warm skin where anyone could see them. Anyone could see them doing this. Dawon, or Jimin, or Seokjin. Or Yoongi. Yoongi could see them doing this.
Namjoon's mind seizes on the thought painfully, contracting around it like an intruder, trying to reason it out. What would Yoongi think if he saw them twined together now, halfway to orgasm just from a few kisses and outside of the realm of plausible deniability? No longer safe under the cover of parties and costumes and doing camouflage shots but out in the open, confessing things that were supposed to stay buried forever? Namjoon wasn't supposed to do this, he was only allowed a night, and he was told to let go so very long ago.
The sea isn't supposed to leap back into your hands once it's slipped away.
Namjoon's heart races from more than Hoseok's unmistakable arousal pressed against him, or his own answering desire. It's hard to breathe as Hoseok takes his mouth again and again, and eventually he has to pull away just to get some oxygen back into his laboring mind.
This man wants him, he thinks over and over again, nonsensically. Hoseok still wants him in the mornings, in November and maybe beyond, and that can't be real. He's holding perfection in his hands but he can't see it, and he doesn't deserve anything that's happening.
Hoseok leans back, brow furrowed in concern even as he pants, and says, "Hey, are you okay?"
Namjoon nods, then shakes his head, then makes a frustrated noise in his throat because he doesn't even know how he feels. There's so much noise inside of him, so much he hasn't processed, and he's still annoyingly turned on. When Hoseok slips off of his lap and back to his own place in the bed, cautious and worried, Namjoon comes close to hating himself. He's fucking this up, anxiety balling in his stomach, and he wishes he were less like what he is.
Hoseok looks at him for a long minute, lower lip trapped between his teeth as he studies Namjoon from the inside out, and Namjoon's clothed but he's never felt so naked.
"It's too much, isn't it," says Hoseok eventually, a revelation instead of a question. "All of this, it's too much. You need to think about it for awhile. Until it makes sense."
"Yeah," says Namjoon, relief threading with the guilt. "Fuck, I'm sorry. Hoseok, I'm so sorry."
"Don't be sorry."
Hoseok stands up, hands still on Namjoon's shoulders, and smiles sweetly. If it weren't for the high color in his cheeks and the shine in his eyes, Namjoon wouldn't even know he'd just been making out with someone. Making out with him, he thinks wildly, then gets frustrated all over again when that still feels like a lie.
"Take all the time you need, okay?" says Hoseok. "I'm not going anywhere. Well, right now I'm going somewhere, to give you some space, but I'm coming back. I'll come back."
"You'll come back," says Namjoon, and he means it like an agreement but it comes out like a request.
Hoseok nods, and squeezes Namjoon's shoulder before he leans down for a friendly, non-sexy hug. Except he's Hoseok, which makes everything sexy no matter how hard Namjoon tries, and he smells really good.
"No matter where you end up, everything's going to be okay, Joonie," says Hoseok. "You've got all those brains, and all that heart. I trust you. I'm okay with whatever we are, as long as you're still my friend. We're okay. Okay?"
"I thought you said you weren't a 'right words' guy," says Namjoon wetly, hugging him back.
He's rewarded with a small, embarrassed laugh as Hoseok lets go. Namjoon reaches up and touches Hoseok's crimson cheek, and Hoseok leans into it with a sigh before taking Namjoon's hand in his own.
"Just so you know," says Hoseok quietly, just loud enough to make it to Namjoon's ears. "If you wanted me to, I think I could love you."
Hoseok kisses him on the forehead and leaves on soft feet, closing the door delicately behind him. Namjoon doesn't move as the sounds of his roommate getting ready filter through the apartment, the shower and the getting dressed and the usual morning greeting to the bonsai filling Namjoon's place with life. He sits on the edge of his bed and grapples with his own mind, thoughts slippery and half-formed.
Namjoon sorts through his memories, the things he'd thought he'd understood and the new things he's learned and the way that he feels about each piece of mirror glass he's trying to mend into an impossible whole. He thinks there are stories up there, like Seokjin said, fictions that he told himself then and some he might be telling himself now, and it's nearly impossible to know what's what.
The only thing he knows is that Hoseok thinks he could love a person like Namjoon, and that's more than Namjoon had ever dared to dream in all those long, wistful years.
He's still turning that over in his mind when the faint noise of the security code chime reaches his brain, and he hears low voices in the living room before the front door closes, and his bedroom door opens, and Yoongi walks in wearing his baggiest shirt, skinniest jeans, and a semi-annoyed expression on his face.
"It smells like sex," he says, wrinkling his nose. "If you two fucked and you still haven't figured it out, I'm moving to Korea for real this time."
But as he says it he's already tugging Namjoon gently to his feet, leading him out into the hall and towards the sofa that's in Hoseok's carefully arranged place. Namjoon follows willingly, still deep in thought, and he vaguely registers Seokjin doing something in the kitchen as they get settled.
"Okay Joon-ah," says Yoongi. He taps Namjoon in the middle of the forehead just like Seokjin sometimes does, firm and soothing. "Start with the first thing. The first thing is enough."
And Namjoon's mouth opens slowly, like it's being operated by another person, and he says, "I think Hoseok and I might be more than friends."
"Thank god," says Yoongi, tucking his feet up under his body and leaning against the sofa back. "Being gay in Seoul seems like so much work."
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.
Wow, I can't believe we're finally at the beginning! We made it through the prologue, guys...
Just kidding, but seriously, I can't believe how long it took this story to come out of my mind and onto the page. Thank you so much everyone for sticking it out with me and our sweet, earnest boy Namjoon, who deserves the universe but takes so many words to realize that he's already holding it in his hands. I love him very much, and I loved writing him even when I thought he'd drive me crazy with all of his thinking.
Also, sorry for squishing the last two chapters up into one very long one, but I hope you were satisfied with the place we all ended up in, together!
The title for this story came from a quote a love by a writer named Jerry Holkins, which is as follows: Every creative act is open war against The Way It Is. What you are saying when you make something is that the universe is not sufficient, and what it really needs is more you. And it does, actually; it does. Go look outside. You can’t tell me that we are done making the world.
This always makes me think of Namjoon whenever I read it, and it touches something inside of me when I think that this is my 7th novel-length BTS fic, one from every POV, and that I don't know why I wrote them except that I felt like I needed them to be there. Namjoon was my toughest challenge but I'm truly happy with this story, and that it gave me a chance to write about loving Hoseok, because that's something to which we should all aspire!
Thanks again to everyone who read, either following along or after it was complete, and to everyone who's read any of my stories! This isn't the end for me, but it does feel like a big milestone, and I'm really glad to share it with you all. Please continue to press yourself into your own universes, which need more of you in it more than ever. I hope you're all safe and healthy, wherever you are, and I'm glad you're here. Thanks one more time, and I love you a lot!