The ring in his hand glimmers in the moonlight, stray sparks off of the bonfire making it glow fiery red in between bouts of darkness. Namjoon’s eyes are fixated on it—his whole body has oriented itself towards this one, cold piece of metal in his palms, simple and small, like it weighs a thousand pounds.
“This is—” he tries, throat dry. He clears it, tries again. “I couldn’t—”
“It was his grandfather’s,” Jeongguk’s mother says, quiet over the crackling of the fire. Her breath fogs between them in the cold, and god, it’s freezing, can’t they just go inside, can’t they just— “I know you never got to meet him, Namjoon-ah, but I think he’d have loved you. I know he loved how happy you make our Jeonggukie.”
She reaches out, gloved hands closing Namjoon’s fingers into a loose fist around the ring, right as a door shuts heavily somewhere behind them, a bright voice calling, “Marshmallows acquired!” into the smoky air in its wake. There’s a conspiratorial wink, and she pushes up onto her toes, so her lips are right next to Namjoon’s ear, so no one else gathering around the fire can hear her whisper,
“I would love for you to become a part of our family, Namjoon.”
And Namjoon’s mind goes blank for as long as it takes for her to wander back to the small circle of people gathering around the fire pit, for as long as it takes for her to be replaced by her son, wiggling his way beneath Namjoon's arm just tipsy-clumsily enough that it buys him a few moments to hastily shove the ring into the pocket of his jeans.
Out of sight, not out of mind—especially not with the glow of the fire reflecting in Jeongguk’s eyes the same way it had off of the surface of the ring, especially not with his mother’s words echoing through his mind: how happy you make our Jeonggukie, part of our family.
“You good, hyung?” Jeongguk asks from where he’s tucked himself half into Namjoon’s coat for warmth. He spares a glance over his shoulder, a quick look to see if anyone’s watching, before wrapping his arms tight around Namjoon’s waist.
“Nosy,” he murmurs into his chest—so Namjoon doesn’t have to look to know that there are a campfire’s worth of eyes on them. Of course there are. Of course Jeongguk’s mom is looking, and of course she’s nudged Mrs. Park in the ribs to whisper motherly secrets to her about the two of them.
To tell her that she just gave Namjoon not just her blessing, but her suggestion that he propose to her son, which she has every right to be happy about, every right to gossip excitedly about.
The only problem is this: Namjoon and Jeongguk aren’t even together.
“You know, Joon-ah,” Seokjin starts, “this isn’t the worst idea you’ve ever had, but it’s pretty goddamn up there.”
The goddamn is whispered, like the baby in his arms can understand what he’s saying, as if he can parse what curse words are and isn’t just trying to shield his tiny eyes from the light pouring in from the front window that Taehyung is dutifully rising from the couch to slide the drapes shut over.
Namjoon looks up from the haphazardly folded mess of clothes surrounding him on the living room floor to give him a dirty look that says more words that a baby shouldn’t be hearing at such an impressionable age. Or something. Kim Hanjae is five months old, his main activities include spitting up and trying to chew on everything in sight, even if it’s been slobbered on by the dog already—Namjoon has his doubts that he’s picking up on one of his fathers saying goddamn.
“We’re grown adults,” he murmurs, petulant. Seokjin makes a grand show of snorting, because that’s who he is as a person. As if new fatherhood has changed the fact that he and Taehyung still get regularly reprimanded at the movie theater for trying to sneak in a quick handjob during the previews. “It’s not like we haven’t done this before, anyway.”
“Okay, no, no, no,” Seokjin says sharply, though it loses some of the intensity with the way he has to half-whisper it to not distract his son, who’s taken to sucking on the string of his hoodie, from his pre-nap wind down. He soldiers on, anyway. “There’s a big difference between holding hands for a few minutes in a bar to get dudes to stop flirting with you and spending a weekend on vacation with Jeongguk’s family, who think you’ve been dating for three years.”
“I—” Namjoon falters, caught in the midst of trying (trying) to KonMari fold a bulky sweater at least two sizes too big for him.
The thing is that when this whole mess started, it was nothing, really. Inconsequential. A tiny blip in the time frame that was Namjoon’s life, his friendship with Jeongguk.
It was meant to be a fun night out between friends—Jeongguk had just landed his first post-grad job, and Namjoon was starting to get paid well enough that he could afford to take him out to a swanky, highbrow bar to celebrate and play wingman so Jeongguk could get his well-deserved rocks off after four years of university misery paired with six months of job hunt misery—but quickly turned into Namjoon grabbing Jeongguk’s hand over the bar in panic when he saw him coming straight for them. (Name: Shin Donghyuk, occupation: audio engineer on the floor below Namjoon’s office and resident pain in his ass, offense: not taking the fucking hint when their one bad date six months prior ended in Namjoon ducking away from an attempt at a kiss and avoiding all suggestion of a second.)
What it’s turned into is, well. A convenience, really. Jeongguk wanted a night on the town to dance and let loose without having to worry about getting hit on? A few well-timed back hugs and cheek kisses from Namjoon worked wonders. Namjoon needed a date to a work party? Awesome, Jeongguk was a broke recent grad who loved free food, and he got along so well with Namjoon’s production partner, Yoongi, that Yoongi had ended up subletting his apartment to him until they finally just said fuck it and became actual roommates.
And it was easy and meaningless until that first spring, when Jeongguk’s grandfather was sick, gravely so, and his parents were insistent on him coming back to Busan to visit him, unsure if he’d make it to the new year. Telling him that his grandfather had been asking about him every day, wanted to know if he’d found someone yet, that he just wanted to see his only grandson happy, to the point that Jeongguk had half-deliriously blurted, “I have a boyfriend,” over the phone late one night when the conversation had come up for the nth time.
(“You can say no, hyung, please know that you can say no,” Jeongguk had said, cheeks shiny and hair sticking up in tufts like he’d been worrying at it for a while. “I can ask someone else, or tell my mom I was just joking—”
“Jeongguk-ah,” Namjoon had replied, putting a hand over Jeongguk’s where they were fiddling anxiously with each other on the countertop between them, “I’m not going to do that to you.”)
And now it’s been three and a half years, and Namjoon’s been invited to the Jeon Family Camping Trip, and Jeongguk’s entire family thinks they’ve been together since then.
“We’re grown adults,” Namjoon repeats weakly, unwilling to admit that for once, and once only, maybe Kim Seokjin might be right about something.
Seokjin holds out a single, halting finger—apparently Namjoon’s been lost in thought long enough that Hanjae has fallen asleep in his arms—and retreats to the nursery to put him down for his nap before, presumably, breaking into his truly horrifying I told you so dance.
Namjoon drops his barely folded sweater unceremoniously into the open suitcase. Taehyung is watching him quietly from the other end of the couch.
“I’m assuming you feel the same way as Jin-hyung about me going,” Namjoon guesses flatly.
Taehyung shrugs with his whole body, stretching out so he takes up all three cushions and Seokjin will be forced to either cuddle with him or sit on his chest when he gets back, which could go either way with the two of them.
“Not really,” he says. “I think it’s kinda romantic.”
It startles a laugh out of Namjoon in the midst of shoving a handful of balled-up pairs of socks in next to the sweater. “Romantic?”
A quiet nod, a tired smile playing across Taehyung’s face as he nestles himself into the arm of the couch, eyes slipping shut. “A cabin at the foot of Geumjeongsan in late fall when the leaves are still bright red, hiking dates, late night campfires, you and Jeonggukie…”
“And that’s where the romance ends,” Namjoon says, more into his suitcase than to Taehyung, whose eyes shoot back open.
Namjoon frowns at him, confused. “You know, Jeongguk and me? Long-time best friends?”
“Oh, hyung,” Taehyung coos, quiet, the same voice he’d used this afternoon when Hanjae got very emphatically sad about having to eat peaches with his lunch. “Hyung.”
It’s at that point that Seokjin reenters the room, baby-free but with the monitor clipped through his belt loop, sees his husband frowning at the intruder who’s invaded their house to get help packing and received absolutely none whatsoever, and says, “Do I want to ask?”
“Hyung, tell him what you just told me,” Taehyung pouts, simultaneously tugging at Seokjin’s sleeve and gesturing at Namjoon to go on. The tugging, at least, settles the issue of Seokjin and the couch, the answer to which is that he sits on Taehyung’s hips and somehow manages to tangle their legs together while keeping his upper body straight up on top of him.
Seokjin raises an eyebrow behind a messy, peach juice-sticky curtain of bangs.
“I said Jeongguk and I are just friends?” Namjoon throws out, cowed. “I don’t get why he—”
The same tone of voice, the same pout. Namjoon’s beginning to wonder if maybe they’re just fucking with him for the fun of it. Wouldn’t be the first time.
“Listen, I’m gonna—” Namjoon hastily shuts his suitcase, which manages to spill all over the living room floor again. “—Go?”
“You absolute fucking disaster of a human being,” Seokjin says, rising from the couch and, by extension, Taehyung, again. “Let me pack your stupid suitcase, you giant, clumsy, oblivious green bean.”
The sight of Jeon Jeongguk hanging out the driver’s side window of a pickup truck with a bed full of outdoor gear, wearing a hiking jacket and a beanie that his curls hang wildly out of the bottom of in the middle of a fairly sunny winter day in the city is amusing enough for Namjoon to not mind quite so much that he had to wake up at the crack of dark this morning to have enough time to send off a few half-baked compositions to Yoongi before the start of his weekend without Cubase and WiFi.
“Looking like a true country boy, Jeongguk-ah,” Namjoon chuckles as he slides his suitcase to a stop next to the truck.
“To be fair, the truck’s my uncle’s,” Jeongguk laughs out the window. “My dad’s bringing it back to him after the trip, so we’ll be lugging all our shit through the train station in a week. Hope you packed light.”
Namjoon thinks of the three separate winter coats in his bag. Fashion options, Taehyung had said. What if you need to wear three coats because it’s that cold and you’d literally freeze to death without them, had been Seokjin’s input, and Namjoon needs to rethink letting a couple of overprotective new parents who didn’t grow up anywhere that got regular snow assist with packing his bags again.
“Uh, about that.”
Jeongguk grins, wide and crooked. “I figured as much,” he says. “Just be careful throwing your bag into the bed, then. I may have bought Bun a fancy new activity table for her pen, and I don’t want it to get crushed.”
Namjoon nearly drops his suitcase mid-throw at that. “Bun’s coming?!”
Bun, appropriately named, is Jeongguk’s pet rabbit, who he’d been heartbroken to have to leave at home when he moved out to Seoul. When Namjoon met him for the first time at a college party, he’d been half drunk and whining about missing his sweet, darling, idiot daughter and got very affronted when a very confused Namjoon asked if he, a scrawny eighteen-year-old at the time, had a kid.
“Wow, can you muster some of that enthusiasm for me, hyung?” Jeongguk laughs, unlocking the doors so Namjoon can swing around to the passenger side. “And no, my cousin is watching her for the week, since her usual sitter will be with us. My parents are going to bring it home for her.”
And as easily as it had lit up, Namjoon’s face falls. For more than one reason. “Jimin’s coming.”
“Hyung,” Jeongguk whines, shifting into drive. He pulls out into the street, the last time Namjoon will be back at his apartment for a week. “I told you my mom’s best friend’s family was coming, and you know her best friend is his mom.”
See, Namjoon doesn’t dislike Park Jimin. Not at all, really—from what he knows of him, Jimin is a pretty kick-ass person. Jeongguk’s best friend since he was in the womb and Jimin was a toddler very displeased that his own younger cousin was born three months before Jeongguk because I wanted to meet Mrs. Jeon’s baby first, auntie. He has a boyfriend named Hoseok who Namjoon hasn’t met in person but follows on Instagram, and they’re always posting cute, loved-up selfies and stories together that make Namjoon happy that he hasn’t actively posted anything on SNS since he got hired at the label and that Jeongguk’s entire feed is aesthetic photography shots, just so they’re not suspicious for their lack of them.
He’s just pretty sure Park Jimin hates him.
They’ve met a few times. Once a couple of summers back when Jeongguk’s uncle got married and their so-called “relationship” was still fresh, and a few more times when Jimin has been in Seoul for one reason or another and spent a few days staying with Jeongguk and Yoongi rather than getting a hotel. Namjoon likes to think he’s been perfectly nice to him, but there are times when Jimin looks at him like… like maybe he knows that he and Jeongguk are a couple of lying liars who lie.
If anything, Namjoon guesses, he has the weekend to make Jimin potentially hate him less.
“I’m overreacting,” Namjoon groans, more to the window than to Jeongguk. “I might be a little nervous.”
“Nervous?” Jeongguk glances sidelong at him. They’re stopped at a traffic light, but it’s going to turn green any second now. “You’ve met my family before, they like you.”
“For, like, a few hours at a time,” Namjoon sighs. “This is a whole weekend, Jeongguk-ah. They’re gonna find out we’re faking and hate me and your mom is never going to email me recipes ever again.”
Jeongguk hisses through his teeth as the light turns green, and Namjoon has no idea what for, but the slightly soured expression on his face turns into a grin of disbelief once the second half of the statement sinks in. “Wait, my mom emails you recipes? And you cook them?”
“Like twice, and I send them to Jin-hyung, but still,” Namjoon says. “Did I not tell you? I’m a terrible person reaping the benefits of my fake boyfriend’s mother’s culinary skills and karma’s going to have its kiss for me one day.”
Passing an Ediya drive thru, Jeongguk leans over the console, eyes still mostly on the road. “How much coffee have you had this morning, hyung?”
Namjoon looks at his jittering hands, remembers his alarm going off at five o’clock. It’s just after noon right now. “Uh. You know how Yoongi-hyung got me that moka pot for my birthday?”
It’s dark outside already by the time they make it to the cabin, and Namjoon can see the glow of light through the blinds in one of the front windows. The smell that wafts through the cold air when Jeongguk parks the truck off-center from the front porch and opens his door tells Namjoon that it’s probably the kitchen light, and that they’ve arrived hopefully close enough after dinner that there’s still plenty of warm food to go around. Convenience store snacks when they stopped two and a half hours ago for a bathroom break hadn’t done much for either of their hunger, and Jeongguk’s been talking up the budae jjigae his parents make every time they go camping ever since.
Cold air hits Namjoon’s face when he leans on the door handle to open it, heater cut now that Jeongguk has pulled the keys from the ignition. Early winter grass crunches beneath his soles, and he stops to breathe—it’s been a long time since he’s been out in the elements like this, out of the city, even. The air is cold and crisp, and beneath the wafting smell of leftovers from the cabin is the crispness of fallen leaves and oncoming winter.
Jeongguk seems to be thriving in it, head tipped back and smiling—door open but still in the driver’s seat. Namjoon’s sure if he didn’t have it squashed beneath a beanie, he’d be shaking his hair out like a puppy just waking up from sleep.
They sit, just for a moment, breathing. Jeongguk opens his eyes and looks out the door at him.
“Hey,” he says, and Namjoon echoes, “Hey.”
Jeongguk smiles, a quiet little thing. “I know we’ve set ground rules before, but never for, like, days at a time.”
Namjoon nods. Their usual boundaries are simple: casual affection is fine, less casual affection is fine if agreed upon, read each other’s body language, and most importantly: open communication, when they can squeeze a private moment in to talk about it.
“They’re going to want us in the same room,” Jeongguk continues. Namjoon figured—Jimin’s family will be staying in the cabin next door when they arrive in the morning, but it’s still a small, two-bedroom place. “There’s probably one bed in it.”
“You can take it,” Namjoon says, no hesitance. As awkward as this week may be around Jeongguk’s family for him, it’s probably going to be way worse for Jeongguk himself—this is his family, his scrutiny to bear. He deserves the comfort of a good night’s sleep, at least.
“Hyung, don’t be dumb,” Jeongguk snickers. “On the floor for three days of early mornings and hiking trips? With your back? We can share.”
“If that’s a dig at my age, Jeon Jeongguk, you’ll be here in three years—”
“It’s not!” Jeongguk dodges the grabby hands over the passenger seat, the console, Namjoon’s halfhearted attempt to tickle him as punishment. He scrambles out of the car, onto the grass too, bent over his knees laughing. “It was a dig at you and Yoongi-hyung having slouchy producers’ posture, obviously.”
“Getting bold now that you’re out of arm’s reach, are you!”
Namjoon swoops around to the other side of the truck, as fast as his feet will carry him, but Jeongguk is faster, already at the tailgate, ducking beside the bumper. Namjoon nearly trips over him in his laughter, but settles by his side instead.
“Truce,” he says, offering a hand that Jeongguk accepts with a nod. “I’m okay with sharing beds. You don’t have cooties.”
“Well, I got enough cootie shots as a kid that I should be immune by now, you’d think.”
Jeongguk snickers under his breath. They sit in quiet again, only the chattering of their teeth and the quiet patter of leaves hitting the ground permeating it. They should go inside—it’s freezing cold, both of them starving, if the loud grumble of Jeongguk’s stomach is anything to go by, but—
“If you boys are done flirting, there are two bowls of stew just waiting to be eaten before they get shoved into the refrigerator for the night.”
Jeongguk rises to his knees, head poking just above the tailgate. The sheepish grin on his face and the red of his cheeks from the cold probably make him look more guilty than he actually is.
“Hi, Mom,” he says. “Just, uh. Unloading!”
Namjoon can’t see her, but does he really have to, to know that she’s got a single eyebrow raised, a smirk on her face, a hand on her hip?
“Giggling on the ground behind the truck is a funny way to unload,” she calls. Jeongguk hides his face halfway behind the gate again. Cute. “Explain your methodology to me.”
“Pep talk!” is Jeongguk’s response, and Namjoon bites back a laugh. “We were unloading… emotions.”
Jeongguk’s voice has gone high now, bordering on desperate. He whacks Namjoon on the shoulder a couple of times, a wordless hyung, please that Namjoon just rolls his eyes at, rising to his feet.
“Nice to see you again, Mrs. Jeon,” he says with a bow. “Excuse us being shameless, your son was teasing me and needed punishment.”
He hasn’t spent too much time around her, sure, but Namjoon knows the way to the collective hearts of the Jeon family is gentle, affectionate bullying—and Jeongguk is his best friend, so he can do that, no problem.
“In that case, let me leave you to it, leftovers can always be reheated!” Jeongguk’s mother calls, laughing. “Ah, Namjoonie, you’ve gotten even more handsome since I last saw you!”
Namjoon chuckles at his feet, scratching at the back of his head. The only thing that’s really changed about him since the last time he was around the Jeons is his hair, dyed back to a close approximation of his natural color after years of varying shades of peroxide, and grown a little longer than usual. He needs a haircut, really. Probably should’ve gotten one before tagging along to impress Jeongguk’s parents, but then again, maybe not.
Jeongguk’s on his feet now, shoulder to shoulder with him, crowing about how I’ve gotten more handsome, too, Mom, haven’t I! Namjoon wonders if maybe he should take his hand. If that would be too much.
He doesn’t have to think too hard, though, because Jeongguk’s mother disappears back into the cabin in a bout of quiet, fond laughter. She’s left the door open behind her, though, a silent invitation, and now Jeongguk’s hands too are busy fumbling for the keys to unlock the tailgate to hold, anyway. He hands over Namjoon’s suitcase, then picks up his own duffel bag, shouldering the box for the—massive, really—toy he’s saving for Bun. To keep it safe from the elements, he insists when his father chides him for it as they walk through the cabin door.
They don’t unpack immediately, just set the bags down in the empty bedroom and make their way into the kitchen for leftovers. The conversation is good, if quiet. Jeongguk’s parents ask Namjoon about work—it’s nice, actually, how much they’ve remembered about his job off of a few meetings. Probably helps that his coworker and other best friend is Jeongguk’s roommate, but Jeongguk’s parents nod in recognition when Namjoon mentions the new boy group he and Yoongi have been working with, that their debut is coming up right at the next change of the seasons, so it was a pleasant surprise to be invited along for the weekend to clear his head of the deadline stress that’s been slowly creeping its way down his spine lately.
Jeongguk scoots his chair closer after he finishes his bowl of stew and the seconds his mother insisted upon him eating. His head comes to a resting spot on the point of Namjoon’s shoulder in the middle of his father saying he’d heard a song on the radio last week at work and had proudly told the customer whose oil he’d just changed that my son’s boyfriend and roommate produced this one, you know, and Namjoon lets his arm rest across the back of Jeongguk’s chair so he can come closer.
It’s getting late, they decide, when Jeongguk misses a question directed at him for the third time. They all had early mornings, and they’ll have another tomorrow.
“Hiking day,” Jeongguk’s father says, drying off the last of the clean dishes. “The Parks said they’ll be coming ready to head out right after breakfast tomorrow, so get some good rest tonight.”
“Goodnight, boys,” Jeongguk’s mother whispers against either of their foreheads with a kiss. “Sweet dreams. And remember these walls aren’t soundproof.”
Awake more now than he’s been for the last hour, Jeongguk squawks indignantly behind her as she moves to the bedroom. He slumps against Namjoon once more. His hair is a wild mess from the beanie he’s had on all day, and the bags under his eyes look heavy. He closes his eyes and lets out a long breath.
“That wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been,” he murmurs sleepily.
Namjoon nods. “It wasn’t bad.”
“I hope you know they’re going to be menaces this entire weekend.”
“I hang out with you willingly, you think I mind Jeons being menaces?”
“Bad hyung.” Jeongguk swats at Namjoon’s hand weakly. “So, ground rules.”
“I’m okay with bed sharing,” Namjoon reiterates. “The rest, we’ll… figure it out as we go?”
“Sounds good,” Jeongguk says. He yawns with a high-pitched noise, nuzzling further into Namjoon’s side—it’s nice, how he somehow manages to smell sweet, even after hours in the car. Namjoon isn’t so sure he can say the same about himself. It’s cold outside, but he feels sweaty.
“Hey, sleepy,” he says. “You gonna head to bed? I’m gonna shower real quick.”
“Don’ wan’ move,” Jeongguk mumbles into his sweater. “Comfy.”
“Don’t make me carry you.”
“No, really, don’t make me carry you, you might have been right about my producer back. I will be in pain for hiking day tomorrow.”
Jeongguk’s eyes ease open, and he shoves at Namjoon’s shoulder. “Weak old man.”
They head in separate directions: Namjoon to the shower, after digging out his bathroom bag, and Jeongguk to the second bedroom that’s been designated as theirs.
Namjoon showers the car ride and the stress and the lack of sleep off of himself, and by the time he makes it back to the bedroom, Jeongguk is fast asleep, curled into the little ball that Namjoon knows so well from late nights in university, from crashing at each other’s places for years after that. It leaves enough room for Namjoon to curl up next to him on the small bed without touching too much—enough that if a prying face decides to poke in during the night, they won’t be suspiciously far apart. A good, acceptable distance.
When Namjoon’s mind finally quiets down enough to fall asleep, Jeongguk’s back is pressed, just barely, to his chest, and he falls asleep to the clean smell of his skin and the steady rise, fall, rise again of his breathing.
Namjoon is alone when he wakes up in the morning.
Not in the sense that he’s fully alone, that he’s been abandoned—he can hear the steady din of chatter outside the door, and the hum of the meager heating in the cabin—but Jeongguk’s side of the bed is empty, and his share of the blankets have been neatly tucked beneath Namjoon’s body, like he’d done it on purpose. His suitcase is open, too, a tidy stack of fresh shirts sitting on the dresser next to where both of their bags got left last night, and the bottles in his bathroom bag are still dripping with tiny beads of condensation, like he’s just gotten out of the shower.
Namjoon stays in bed, just for a moment. He knows he should get up, and he will, but.
There’s a voice outside the door, higher than the rest of them. A squeaky giggle that Namjoon’s familiar with, not because he’s ever caused it, but familiar all the same.
He wonders, idly, if there’s a magic combination of clothes in his suitcase, or words he could say, that would maybe make Jimin look at him less like he’s Hades come to steal precious Persephone, or… some other convoluted metaphor that would make more sense if Namjoon hadn’t just woken up this early in the morning with the specific Fear that he will be judged by his best-friend-cum-fake-boyfriend’s childhood best friend.
And if there is, then he clearly hasn’t found it, because when he makes his way from the bedroom in standard hiking fare, with a raised hand and a “good morning,” Jimin just blinks at him, eyes zeroed in on the hasty hand he places on the small of Jeongguk’s back once he sees that they’re being watched.
“Namjoon-ssi,” he says by way of greeting, even though Namjoon’s told him more than once that ‘hyung’ is fine. Hoseok repeats the greeting, but brighter, happier, a “nice to finally meet you in person!” tacked onto the end that Namjoon echos in kind. He looks like he’d probably stand up to wave or bow or shake hands or something to that effect if Jimin wasn’t sitting halfway in his lap, trading bites of croissant with him from a box of pastries on the counter.
“Too much PDA for this early in the morning,” Jeongguk grouses at them, mouth half-full of what was probably a danish at some point. Namjoon’s hand on his back tenses, but Jeongguk leans into it, a reassurance. He hands over a paper cup and slides over the carafe of coffee and a handful of sugar packets, because the two of them have gone out for coffee enough that Jeongguk knows exactly how Namjoon takes it.
Hoseok has enough shame to blush a little bit, ducking his head behind Jimin’s shoulder, but Jimin just shrugs, accepting the next piece of croissant directly from his boyfriend’s fingers while Hoseok wrinkles his nose, wiping his hand on Jimin’s arm.
“Spitty,” he says, voice pitched high and cute. Jimin kisses the tip of his nose in response.
Should… should Namjoon kiss Jeongguk? Couples kiss good morning. Everyone who’s ever been in a ten kilometer radius of Seokjin and Taehyung knows they do more than kiss good morning. And Jeongguk’s head is right there, his curls towel-dried and coconut-scented. A peck on the cheek? The forehead? Are there even enough eyes on them to warrant a posturing kiss? Both sets of parents are outside, loading up the cars, but the blinds are open for all to see, and Jimin is watching them, while Hoseok has the decency to at least pretend he’s not.
Namjoon thinks fuck it and leans forward, lips pursed, aiming for the apple of Jeongguk’s cheek, right next to where a stray piece of hair has stuck to his sunscreen. He can tuck that behind his ear, too. Brownie points.
Only when he leans over to kiss Jeongguk’s cheek, Jeongguk turns his head, mouth open like he’s going to say something, and Namjoon’s lips meet… open mouth.
And like, it’s whatever. They’ve kissed before—in three-plus years of playing each other’s fake boyfriend, of course they’ve kissed. A lot, actually. Even made out once, at a bar when they’d both taken happy hour a little too seriously and a persistent drunk girl was having trouble understanding exactly how gay Namjoon is.
The problem here is that the kiss is barely a kiss—a weird, awkward brush of Namjoon’s pursed lips to Jeongguk’s front teeth, in front of Jeongguk’s best friend, who’s already been eyeing them warily since Namjoon stepped foot into the little kitchen.
Namjoon tenses, but Jeongguk’s arms find their way around his waist, spinning himself around so he can kiss properly—just a small one, barely a step above a peck, but he smiles into it and nudges his big nose against Namjoon’s after with a challenging sort of smile.
“Morning, hyung,” he chirps, much more awake now than he’d been roughly thirty seconds ago. His nose scrunches, and he drops another small peck to Namjoon’s lips that Namjoon hadn’t been expecting; he flinches, and Jeongguk’s smile goes a little stiff, just enough for Namjoon to notice but not Jimin and Hoseok, as he pulls back. “I didn’t wake you when I got up to shower, did I?”
Namjoon shakes his head, face tipped down so he can’t see anyone, just the chocolate chip scone tucked into the corner of the pastry box and covered in a frankly obscene amount of sanding sugar. Namjoon’s favorite.
“Your favorite,” Jeongguk echoes his thoughts, and Namjoon has to pause for a moment to make sure he hadn’t verbalized them. Wouldn’t be the first time, but going off of Jimin’s neutral, mostly nonjudgmental expression, he probably hasn’t. “I told Jimin-hyung to get one for you when they said they were bringing pastries.”
“Thank you,” Namjoon murmurs in response, dares a kiss to the crown of Jeongguk’s head. He tucks the piece of hair he’d forgotten behind his ear, too, before taking an inelegant bite of his scone. “I didn’t wake up too late, did I?”
“We’re leaving soon,” Jimin interjects, sipping at his cup of coffee and then speaking over the rim of it, “Jeonggukie was about to wake you up before you came out.”
Namjoon can’t tell if his tone is accusatory or not. Jimin somehow manages to speak both softly and sharply at the same time.
They finish breakfast over idle chatter. Namjoon knew from Instagram already that Hoseok and his sister co-own a pair of clothing boutiques—one in Seoul, one in Busan—but it’s nice to hear him talk about them in person, and by the time he’s pulled out his phone to show Namjoon and Jeongguk a few designs the two have been working on by themselves, Jimin’s parents call through the door that the cars are all packed and ready to head out.
Jeongguk sits in the back seat of the truck with Namjoon, one empty seat between them. He grabs his hand, for posterity, threads their fingers together when his mother smiles at them in the rearview mirror.
“Sorry about Jimin-hyung,” Jeongguk says lowly, mostly out of his parents’ earshot. “He means well, he’s just—”
“Protective?” Namjoon chances.
“I was going to say ‘sometimes unaware that his protectiveness comes off as him being an asshole,’ but if the shoe fits,” Jeongguk snorts. “He really is good. He’s just being… I don’t know. I’ll talk to him.”
“You don’t have to,” Namjoon says, but appreciates it all the same. Jeongguk, his dongsaeng, always looking out for him the way Namjoon should probably be looking out for him instead.
Jeongguk squeezes Namjoon’s fingers between his and turns his eyes towards the window as the red-painted landscape flies past.
It isn’t a long drive from the cabin to the hiking trail, but it’s long enough that Namjoon’s able to brush off the morning, between Jimin’s scrutinizing and the awkward kiss. Long enough that by the time they’ve parked and gotten their gear together, Namjoon is thinking less about the lingering feeling of Jeongguk’s lips against his and the furrowed brows across the counter.
The hiking trail starts at a temple, colorful and nestled into the trees. It’s full of tourists weighed down with hiking gear, holding their phones and cameras and ooh-ing and ah-ing every few steps, and when Jeongguk insists that they can skip it, really, they’ve been enough, Jimin’s mother tuts at him.
“Your boyfriend hasn’t been yet,” she says, pinching his cheek, leaving twin pink marks in her fingers’ wake. Jeongguk’s glare in response is weak, and it softens even more when he idles until Namjoon can catch up to him.
“Sorry, hyung,” he says, and almost sounds like he means it. Namjoon pinches the same spot on his cheek, just for fun, and Jeongguk squawks indignantly, batting at his arm before letting his hand drift lower to lock their fingers together.
It’s funny how easily it happens, how no sooner do the backs of Jeongguk’s nails graze Namjoon’s knuckles before he’s reaching out, threading his fingers into the ready spaces between them.
And it’s funny, too, to think that it’s not… uncommon for them, to casually grasp each other’s hands like this. Not entirely. Mostly it’s Jeongguk who initiates it, who sometimes feels so much that it’s all he can do to not grab someone’s hand and squeeze tight. Namjoon’s not so bold, but he’ll never turn it down.
It’s not even just when they’re faking, either: once, after Jeongguk got a promotion at the design firm; once, because he almost tripped during one of their walks by the banks of the Han; once, because they were watching a movie with Taehyung and Seokjin, whose hands were entwined the whole time, and Jeongguk had murmured, “Some of us are single, hyungs,” before grabbing Namjoon’s hand out of spite and holding it for the rest of the movie.
They don’t spend long at the temple—it is crowded, and Namjoon has to quietly duck his head and pretend he’s forgotten all the English he knows whenever a tourist starts asking him questions he doesn’t know the answer to—but it’s long enough for Hoseok and Jimin to take pictures: of the scenery, of the temple, of each other posing in front of the massive gingko tree situated in the center of it, of each other held closely, Jimin landing a peck on Hoseok’s cheek just in time for him to hit the front camera shutter.
Namjoon wonders, always does, should he and Jeongguk be doing the same? Jeongguk has his phone camera out, is aiming it at the sky, the ground. When he points it in Namjoon’s direction, Namjoon gives his best bewildered expression, one leg kicked up and aiming finger guns at the camera.
“Cute hyung,” Jeongguk chuckles, swiping to the photo. Namjoon looks frankly ridiculous in it, but Jeongguk immediately taps to set it to his contact image, so maybe it’s a keeper.
It’s a good day for a hike—or what Namjoon would imagine is a good day for a hike. His experience is mostly limited to strolls down the banks of the Han when he’s got a few minutes to step away from the studio during his lunch breaks, but today it’s sunny outside, crisp and cool. Cold enough that he’s glad he remembered a scarf and beanie in his overpacked suitcase, but not so bad that his hands feel like ice cubes.
Not that they would, anyway. Jeongguk snags his hand again as they pass through a thick pathway of trees, and even through both of their gloves, he feels his warmth.
And it really is a beautiful hike. The trees have all turned varying shades of fiery—golds and reds and oranges, a healthy dusting of dried brown leaves that crunch satisfyingly between their boots and the groundcover. Jeongguk and Jimin’s fathers point things out along the trail: different kinds of trees, places where their families used to go when the boys were younger, things that Jeongguk and JImin have clearly heard so many times that they keep making eye contact only to parrot their dads’ words back to them with expressions on their faces in varying levels of ridiculousness.
Out here, Jimin is a little easier to approach. He offers a steadying hand when Namjoon wobbles a bit trying to step over a foxhole, only quietly makes the quip that this is the problem with you tall people, but he’s smiling all the way. He still raises an eyebrow every so often when he catches one of Namjoon’s awkward attempts at physical affection before Jeongguk reciprocates in his sweet, easy way, but it’s less scrutinizing, more like Namjoon remembers watching his little sister and her boyfriend before that boyfriend became her husband.
Which is the very last thing Namjoon should be thinking about now, with his very fake boyfriend tucked under his arm.
It takes a couple of hours to reach the end of the hiking trail, but the view is—
The view is stunning. Like the entire city is surrounded by a crown of mountains, of silvery grass and golden leaves, and they’re the jewels on top of it. From this distance, the skyscrapers of the city look tiny, the sea beyond them nothing more than a shroud of mist.
“Pretty, isn’t it?” Jeongguk says, side pressed to Namjoon’s. His curls tickle the side of Namjoon’s cheek, but rather than scratch the itch, he cards a hand through them, letting his fingers linger in the shorter pieces at the base of his neck. Jeongguk leans into it, smiling. He points into the distance, to a colorful hillside. “That’s where I grew up—where my parents live, still. Closer to the bottom of the hill. Jimin-hyungs’s family lives—” He points further to the side, the halfway point between his neighborhood and the city’s center, “—around there, somewhere, and his apartment with Hoseok-hyung is downtown.”
Namjoon looks to where he’d first pointed, cracks a grin. “Hello all the way over there, Bun.”
A scoff, and an elbow makes contact with his waist. “Knew you only loved me for my rabbit.”
Without thinking, Namjoon says, “I love you for many reasons, your rabbit being only one of them,” and then “I mean,” when he realizes, but Jeongguk’s just smiling, soft and easy, so Namjoon doesn’t try to correct himself.
He does love Jeongguk, in his own way. They’ve been friends for too long to not love each other.
They eat lunch at the end of the trail, sandwiches and kimbap and a thermos full of leftover stew from last night spread out on blankets packed into Jeongguk’s mother’s bag. Namjoon closes his eyes into the breeze and listens to them reminisce—take the trail in the other direction and you’ll see the clearing where JImin’s parents got engaged, go further down and you’ll see where Jeongguk broke his collarbone in middle school jumping off of an unsturdy stack of rocks during the annual hiking trip. Jeongguk squawks at that one, indignant, Jimin-hyung told me to! followed by a flat, If Jimin told you to jump off of the mountain, would you?
The sun is starting to sink lower and lower in the sky by the time they make it back down to the cars. There’s vague talk of dinner, less vague talk about a bonfire tomorrow night.
“It’s a glorified campfire,” Jeongguk says into Namjoon’s shoulder, sleepy. They’re sitting directly next to each other this time, rather than with the seat between them like they had on the drive up. They hadn’t discussed it, just let it sort of happen on its own, and Namjoon hadn’t protested because by the time they’d packed up, it was starting to get too cold to not want the personal space heater that is Jeon Jeongguk next to him. “Felt like a bonfire when we were kids, though. Now m’old.”
“Jeongguk-ah, you’re twenty-five,” Namjoon chuckles, brushing a stray piece of hair off of his forehead—his curls, always messy, always in the way of his face. “If you’re old, I’m ancient.”
“You said it, not me,” Jeongguk murmurs.
Namjoon just smiles at his lap, stretching his arm across Jeongguk’s shoulders so he can lean in, get comfortable, and he closes his eyes, content.
Jeongguk falls asleep before him tonight, once again. Namjoon can only imagine that as strange as it feels for him to pretend in front of the family, it has to be ten times as bad on Jeongguk, who has to carefully tiptoe around people who know his tells, his body language. He’d nodded off after dinner, while the rest of them played card games gathered around the cabin’s coffee table that was too small for eight people. Namjoon had sent him to the shower and then bed with a kiss on the forehead, after which his parents had turned in, along with Jimin’s, and now—
“Join me soon,” Hoseok half-pouts, lips against Jimin’s forehead. The three of them are finishing up on the kitchen mess, only the dishes left to dry and put away. Namjoon had offered to do it alone, but Jimin insisted on helping with something on his face like he’d wanted to do more than just help.
So Hoseok retreats back to the other cabin, and Jimin and Namjoon work in silence, Jimin drying the dishes and handing them off to Namjoon to put them back into the cupboards. It’s quick, easy work. Namjoon could have easily finished on his own in only a few extra minutes, but Jimin lingers at the countertop once the last dish has been shelved, the counter dried off, and Namjoon knows what’s coming.
“You and Jeonggukie have been together for… three years, right?” He traces a pattern of circles on the countertop, eyes fixated on his fingertips until Namjoon speaks up—then they go sharp, piercing.
“Give or take,” is Namjoon’s hoarse reply. It had been a late night in May when Jeongguk had told him, trembling, that he’d just thrown out his name when his mother asked who he was dating, and it’s November now, so. “Three and a half, technically.”
Jimin blinks back down at his hand, hums, doesn’t say anything more.
Namjoon clears his throat. “Um. Why do you ask?”
“Curiosity.” Another hum. “It’s just... interesting that you’ve been together almost as long as Hoseok-hyung and I have and this is your first time coming on a trip with us, is all.”
“Oh.” Namjoon wonders if his panic is obvious. Probably is—Jeongguk tells him all the time that he’s a ridiculously open book with absolutely no poker face. “You know. Idol producing during the fall can get… hectic. Everyone wants a comeback before award season.”
Jimin hikes himself up to sit on the countertop, feet dangling. Like this, he’s Namjoon’s height, and being able to look him right in the eyes makes this conversation just that much more excruciating.
“I’ll stop beating around the bush,” he says, leaning back on his hands. “Jeongguk and I are both only children—in a way, we were each other’s brothers. I’ve known him since neither of the two of us could speak or walk. I was there for his first steps, his first words; he was there for my first dance recital, my first heartbreak. He’s my best friend, and I would not hesitate to absolutely fuck up anyone who would even think of hurting him.”
“Uh,” says Namjoon, and then finds his voice, hoarse as it may be. Because he gets it, he does, but Jeongguk is good. He’s so good, and if Jimin thinks that Namjoon would be the type to hurt someone so good, then he’s got him all wrong. “Jimin-ssi, respectfully, I hope that’s not the way I’m coming off to you.”
Jimin frowns. “That’s the thing, Namjoon-ssi, is that I don’t know how you’re coming off to me. And that’s what’s got me so confused here, because Jeonggukie and I have been best friends for so long. The way he is around you...”
He trails off, eyes focused somewhere over Namjoon’s shoulder. Opens his mouth, then pauses, closes it. Looks like he’s going to say something, then doesn’t.
“I—” he starts, and then, “No.”
Namjoon raises his eyebrows, tilts his head in what he approximates as a yes, go on sort of expression.
Jimin closes his eyes, then opens them again. He doesn’t look quite so sharp like this—now Namjoon can see the way his hair is ruffled and messy from being crushed beneath his beanie all day, the freckles scattered across the apples of his cheeks that are ruddy and shiny from a day in the sun.
“If I’m out of line, let me know,” says Jimin, the first time Namjoon’s ever heard this kind of vulnerability creep into his voice. “But you two… you’re not actually together, are you?’
Namjoon opens his mouth, but no sound comes out, nothing but a weak inhale-exhale. It’s confirmation enough for Jimin.
“That little fucker.” There’s a hoarse scoff, disbelief breathed into the air, and just when Namjoon thinks he’s about to get an earful of what an asshole he is, how Jimin’s quasi-brother deserves a real boyfriend, there’s only laughter. Jimin’s laughing, eyes closed into delighted little crescent moons, and he has to stabilize himself on Namjoon’s shoulder so he doesn’t go careening off of the countertop.
“I—” Namjoon starts. “Am I missing something?”
Jimin grins at him—really grins, nothing sarcastic or sly about it.
“He made a comment,” he says, “years ago now, but I’d said something sarcastic about you, and he was tipsy and said something like don’t talk about my fake boyfriend like that, and I just assumed he was playing into the joke? We might have been drunk? And god, that was probably when you two had first started faking. I’m an idiot.”
“Oh,” says Namjoon, dumbfounded. Here he’d been expecting to get yelled at for not being good enough for Jimin’s best friend, and now Jimin’s got a hand on his shoulder, laughing enough that he’s got the other pressed to his chest to stabilize his breathing. “You’re… not mad?”
Jimin looks at him, and it’s almost soft. “Honestly? I’m a little relieved. I was scared your weird distance meant you two were, like, heading for a breakup, and I’d have to spend my weekend glaring you down.”
“You sort of have been.”
“Because I thought you were about to break up with him!” Jimin sputters, leaning back again, back onto his hands. His face is open, though, smiling, and he hops down from the counter, back below Namjoon’s eye level. “I owe you an apology. I’m really sorry, Namjoon-ssi. I should have taken that little shit’s hints sooner.”
“You’re okay, Jimin,” Namjoon says. They’re in that weird space of standing next to each other but not—so he takes a step forward to bridge the gap, offers his arms. Jimin takes it for the hug request that it is. “You were looking out for him. I’m sorry for making you worry.”
“Just—” Jimin pulls from the hug, meets Namjoon’s eyes. They’re big and clear, open and honest. “Make sure you two know where your limits are, yeah? You didn’t hear this from me, Namjoon-ssi, but I like you. I like that Jeongguk’s made good friends in Seoul.”
“Yeah,” Namjoon says, more of a reflex than anything. He’s thinking about limits, thinking of the boundaries he and Jeongguk waved off setting until later. Maybe they should set them. Maybe they should think of a concrete plan about when, where, how they’ll end this arrangement without hurting anyone in the process. That hadn’t even been a thought in the back of Namjoon’s mind until tonight, honestly, and he feels all the worse for it. They’ve always been big on communication in this arrangement. And now this isn’t just him and Jeongguk, or him and Jeongguk and their friends who are in on the gag anymore—this is Jeongguk’s family, his kind mother and earnest father, and Jimin and his parents who have been his second family for his entire life.
“We’ll be good,” he decides on, as Jimin gathers his hat and coat, hangs them over his arm. “And Jimin?”
Jimin turns, halfway to the door, head tilted in question.
“You can call me hyung. And I really mean it this time.”
A smile, tired but pleased, unmistakably. “Goodnight, Namjoon-hyung.”
Jeongguk is half-awake when Namjoon tiptoes back into the bedroom after his shower, like he’s just been woken up by the sound.
“Sleep,” Namjoon whispers in the dark, sliding into the empty stretch of mattress next to him.
“I will,” is Jeongguk’s muzzy reply. “Jiminie-hyung was nice to you, yeah?”
“We worked it out,” Namjoon says, settling down onto the pillow. Up close, he can see the shine of Jeongguk’s eyes, even in the dark. And then, because he can’t keep it to himself, “He knows. Uh, about us. He guessed.”
Jeongguk huffs a sleepy laugh. “Took him long enough,” he says. “Hard for us to be convincing at faking when he’s breathing down our necks all the time. Dummy hyung.”
Namjoon reaches out, smooths Jeongguk’s hair back—still damp, still coconut scented.
“We’ll talk about it tomorrow,” he whispers into the space between them. Jeongguk’s lips curl into a tiny smile, eyes slipping shut. Peaceful. “Sleep, Jeongguk-ah.”
And they do.
They wake up bright and early the next morning, the last full day of the trip. No hike today, but Jeongguk’s dad does take them down the scenic route to a mom-and-pop stand not far from their little neighborhood of rental cabins that sells firewood and supplies. It takes the three of them to haul the wood to the truck bed, but they manage. Jeongguk wheedles his father into picking up some skewers, too, for marshmallows and sausages, even though they’ve already got the supplies for a barbecue tonight.
“I’m going to go back to the big city tomorrow afternoon,” Jeongguk pouts, like a kid rather than an adult in his mid-twenties, holding a pack of metal skewers to his face between gloved hands, eyes wide. Namjoon wouldn’t be able to say no to that face, either, even if Jeongguk’s father makes a show of insisting that Busan is a big city, too, you rascal. “Don’t you want me to be able to experience one campfire sausage like we used to do when I was a kid before we leave?”
When they arrive back at the cabins, Namjoon’s prepared to be put to work—Hoseok’s in the Parks’ kitchen with Jimin’s parents chopping vegetables for side dishes for tonight, and Jimin meets them at the truck to help haul the wood to the fire pit dug in the earth to the side of Jeongguk’s family’s cabin, where his mother is cleaning off the picnic table so the wooden benches can dry before night falls.
Namjoon dusts his hands off on his jeans, approaching with empty arms willing to carry whatever’s needed, but Jeongguk’s mother just tuts, stepping in front of him.
“It’s your first time with us here, Namjoonie, and you’ve done enough work as it is,” she coos, a hand on either of his shoulders. Her eyes lift, and though she’s barely tall enough to, she makes contact with her son over one of them. “Jeongguk-ah, why don’t you take your boyfriend on a walk? There’s that creek nearby, you know, the one where you and Jiminie used to go as kids? It’s beautiful this time of year, isn’t it?”
Her voice is dripping with suggestion—of what, Namjoon isn’t sure, but when Jeongguk’s breathy reply is a laughing, “And get out of bonfire prep? Let’s go, hyung,” she sends the two of them inside to get cleaned up with a wink and a swat at her son’s backside with the cleaning cloth in her hand.
Jeongguk cackles as he dodges it, and Namjoon rolls his eyes, grinning, no lack of affection to the thought that Jeongguk is this happy to get out of manual labor.
But then Jeongguk grabs his hand as they cross the threshold back into the cabin, and his smile hasn’t wavered one bit, and Namjoon thinks, huh. Maybe he’s just happy in general.
The creek is in the center a small wooded area not far from the cabin—close enough that they can walk, don’t have to worry about taking the truck, but far enough away that they pack flashlights for the trek back, the sun setting well before dinner time now that it’s this far into autumn. They won’t start lighting the fire until the sky’s almost fully dark, but Jeongguk sets an alarm on his phone anyway, just to make sure they’re back in time.
“Don’t let me downplay this by saying it’s just a campfire night,” Jeongguk says as they cross through an opening in the trees. He ducks under a branch, lifts it up so Namjoon can pass underneath safely. “It’s really fun. Especially now that we’re all adults so everyone packs alcohol specifically for it.”
Namjoon opens his mouth, almost says something sarcastic, and then remembers exactly what he and Jeongguk are like when they’re drinking and pretending to be boyfriends—wandering hands, kisses that linger a little longer than necessary.
Jeongguk, glowing in the golden hour light streaming in through the gaps in the tree branches, looks back at him over his shoulder, and not for the first time, Namjoon is struck by the beauty of him. His pretty best friend, shaggy curls that frame his face handsomely, highlight the curve of his nose even more so than when it’s trimmed neat like he used to keep it when they were younger. His grin, pink and lip balm-glossy, peeks just barely above the top of his scarf, the mole beneath his lips barely visible under the curve of it. The kind of smile that’s contagious, that Namjoon can’t help but mirror, can’t help but try and get closer to.
Except that when he does, his foot hits… something. More appropriately, sinks into something, making him lose his balance, knees wobbling, until—
Arms around him, warmth blocking the cold air. He’d been bracing for a fall, hands out and eyes squeezed shut, but when he opens them, he doesn’t see the ground, but Jeongguk’s face, concern and amusement mixed together like he’s not sure which one overpowers the other, until Namjoon breathes a sigh that’s half embarrassment and half relief, and Jeongguk’s face cracks a smile that’s nothing but sunshine.
The Taehyung that lives in the back of Namjoon’s mind says, “I think it’s kinda romantic,” and Namjoon’s too close to Jeongguk’s face, too aware of his lips right there and how he already knows what they feel like, what they taste like.
“Careful, hyung,” Jeongguk says, and Namjoon shouldn’t focus the way his eyes flicker downward, like he’s watching his lips, too. “Badger holes.”
Which is unromantic enough of a phrase to snap Namjoon out of it.
“Right,” he murmurs, shaking his head like it’ll dispel the thoughts. It doesn’t. Brain-Taehyung keeps talking about how romantic it is, wandering the forest together, just the two of them.
Jeongguk casts a sidelong glance as Namjoon catches up to his side again. “Maybe Jimin-hyung was right about tall people. Too much leg, no idea what to do with it.”
“Yah, I’m not that much taller than you.” Namjoon reaches out, lets his elbow collide jokingly with Jeongguk’s ribs, but the mention of Jimin sobers him up.
Jimin, who knows that they’re faking it. Jimin, Jeongguk’s best friend for his entire life, who’s been lied to for three and a half years. Jimin, who’s not the only one who they’ve been lying to.
They need to talk about this. What they’re doing, what they’ll do when it needs to end. They do. But they’re also an hour out from an evening with Jeongguk’s family, and Namjoon can’t put that distance between them now.
Tonight, maybe. After the bonfire, once they start packing up to head back home, once they’re ready to put this weekend behind them.
The creek isn’t a far walk from the edge of the trees where they’d started, Jeongguk tells him, and they take it in a comfortable sort-of silence, only broken when one of them steps in a particularly satisfying pile of leaves and they both cheer accordingly. Namjoon keeps his footing careful, always on the lookout for another burrow in the ground. When Jeongguk realizes what he’s doing, he rolls his eyes fondly and reaches a hand out. Namjoon takes it without hesitation.
There’s a small footbridge over the creek, barely a few steps across. It’s probably intended for children, or people who can’t just leap over the water like Jeongguk does when they approach, but Namjoon puts a foot on it anyway, not trusting himself wrapped in eight tons of winter gear to clear it as easily.
But Jeongguk stands on the other side of the bridge, anyway, hand open and waiting.
“Cute hyung,” he says, just like he’d said yesterday. Only this time the fondness in his voice sinks a little deeper into Namjoon’s chest, makes a home there.
They walk until they find a bench situated not far from the creek, close enough that the trickling water and rustling leaves make soothing background music. If he had work on his mind, he might send the idea to Yoongi—autumn leaves falling, soothing and beautiful—but it’s barely a blip that passes through before he tosses the thought aside.
“It’s really beautiful out here, Jeongguk-ah,” Namjoon says instead, tipping his face to the sky that’s out of sight behind branch cover. “Thank you for showing it to me.”
The breeze is cool on the skin of his neck that’s been exposed by him tilting it, until it isn’t. He looks down. Jeongguk’s head is leaning on his shoulder, blocking the cold.
“I thought you’d like it,” Jeongguk says softly. “I told my parents you like places like this, nature and trees and whatnot.” From above, Namjoon can see his lips quirk up. “You like to be a tree among the trees.”
Namjoon chuckles. “That’s why they invited me this year?”
He feels Jeongguk shrug against his side. “Jimin-hyung was bringing Hoseok-hyung, and I didn’t want to be alone.”
“You asked them to invite me?”
A pang, small but certain, in his heart. Jeongguk lifts his head, and his eyes are wide, warm.
“Yeah,” he says, before ducking back down. His fingers squeeze tight around Namjoon’s palm. “Everything’s better with you, hyung.”
The creek rushes. The leaves make quiet pattering sounds as they fall to the floor. A bird calls in the distance. Namjoon wants to kiss Jeongguk so, so badly.
Jeongguk’s phone alarm cuts the ambiance.
“Ah,” he murmurs, pulling it out of his pocket to silence it. In doing so, he lets go of Namjoon’s hand. “Guess we should head back before they start to think we’ve been eaten by badgers.”
“Rather than just tripping into their burrows?” Namjoon tries.
The spell has been broken, but Namjoon still warms when Jeongguk picks his hand back up.
Jeongguk giggles, winks. “I won’t tell if you won’t.”
They hold hands the rest of the way back to the cabin.
The night goes like this:
When they make it back, the fire is already burning steady. Jimin is standing in front of it, warming his hands, while Hoseok chides him from behind for getting so close. Jimin’s father stands at one side of the barbecue with the meat, while Jeongguk’s father fills a grill basket with the chopped vegetables from the afternoon on the other end. Their mothers have cracked into the mulled wine already, mugs billowing steam into the cold air. When Jeongguk’s mom sees them cross into the side yard, fingers tangled, she winks at them over the rim of hers.
They eat beef skewers and grilled vegetables, drink up the mulled wine until it’s gone and everyone’s cheeks have gone varying shades of red in the glow of the fire. Jeongguk finally gets his campfire sausage and proceeds to cook the whole package, forcing them on everyone else until Jimin finally whacks a skewer out of his hand and it’s lost to the fire pit.
Someone puts on music, a strange playlist that switches from indie to trot to idol pop. When one of Namjoon and Yoongi’s compositions starts up, a wine-tipsy Hoseok shrieks and makes Namjoon and both of his left feet dance with him in front of the fire, inhibitions lost—which turns into everyone dancing, drunk and terrible and laughing and happy.
He really likes these people, Namjoon thinks with a start as Jimin spins beneath his arm as he hands his mother’s hand to her husband. Loves them, even, and that will make it so much worse when he and Jeongguk have to break up—
Pretend to break up, that is.
(But it doesn’t feel like pretend.)
And that’s when Jeongguk, tipsy and pouting, announces that someone, with a sharp glance around the circle of people gathered around the fire, forgot to bring the marshmallows outside, and disappears back into the cabin to search for them.
When Jeongguk’s mom asks Namjoon to join her back at the emptied picnic table, just for a moment, just the two of them, with a warm, conspiratorial smile and a jerk of her head.
When she puts the ring in his palm and talks about family.
When Namjoon’s can’t even focus the rest of the night, because the guilt is too busy eating at the pit of his stomach.
Namjoon repacks his bag while Jeongguk showers. It’s not as neat as Seokjin had done it days ago, never will be.
He doesn’t care. His mind is elsewhere.
When he picks up the jeans he’s been wearing all day to fold them, the ring falls squarely onto the stretch of blanket over Jeongguk’s side of the bed, taunting him.
They have to stop this.
It’s not fair—not to Jeongguk, to his mother, his family, anyone. Not fair to Namjoon’s heart that’s raced, against his better judgement, every time Jeongguk has held him close tonight, kissed his cheeks, offered his hand for a dance.
He’s staring at the ring when the bedroom door opens, a warm body stepping up behind him. He drops the jeans in his hand back over it, can’t acknowledge it just yet.
Not when Jeongguk’s soft laugh is in his ear, whispering, “Hyungie,” so cutely. They need buildup, they need…
“Namjoon-hyung, is everything okay?”
He’s stepped back now, like he’s just noticed the heavy stillness in the room. It takes everything in Namjoon’s body to be able to turn around and face him, lips pressed into a hard line.
“I...” he starts, and he doesn’t have the words, not the right ones, so he just picks up the jeans. The ring is simple, but it still shines in the low light of the bedside lamp.
“Hyung?” Jeongguk says, voice lilting in question, and then, when he sees the ring, sees exactly which ring it is, “Hyung, what—”
“Your mom gave it to me when you went inside,” Namjoon croaks, eyes slipping shut. He doesn’t know when the tears sprang to his eyes, but he blinks them back futilely. “Jeongguk-ah, what are we doing?”
Jeongguk, seemingly unable to tear his eyes away from the ring, just repeats, “Hyung,” and he sounds awed in a way that’s not exactly happy, so Namjoon continues for him.
“I wasn’t thinking,” he says, “when we started all of this, that the people we were lying to—that they’d get invested in us, too.”
That I’d fall in love with you for real, he doesn’t say, because there’s no denying to himself anymore that anything but that has happened.
“I didn’t either,” Jeongguk finally says, voice small. “God, hyung. I didn’t—I’m so sorry. We can—we’ll tell them it was my fault. That we had to… we had to end it because of something I did. I don’t want them to be angry with you, you deserve so much better than that. I don’t want—”
His voice cracks mid-ramble. He shrivels in on himself, arms wrapped tight around his torso. When he looks up through a curtain of wet hair, his eyes are red, shining with tears. He shakes his head, murmurs something that sounds a lot like, “Never mind, it’s stupid.”
Carefully, Namjoon steps closer, like he’s approaching a wild deer, afraid he’ll scare it if he moves too quickly. Jeongguk doesn’t shy away, so he takes another step, offers a hand, and feels the tiniest wave of relief when Jeongguk takes it and squeezes.
“It’s not stupid,” Namjoon says. “Whatever you want to say, it’s not stupid.”
Jeongguk breathes, deep, in and out. A laugh bursts out of him, but it’s not a happy one. He wipes his eyes with his free hand, and he leaves it over his face when he says, “I don’t want this to end.”
Something in Namjoon cracks at that, and the dam breaks. He thinks he may have startled Jeongguk, the way the tears have come so quickly, but Jeongguk just pulls him in, wraps his arms around Namjoon’s waist.
“I told you it was stupid,” he hiccups.
“Nothing you say could ever be stupid to me, Jeongguk-ah,” Namjoon says back, voice thick. “Except that time you said chocolate-mint was a better combination than chocolate-caramel.”
“But it is.”
“Jeongguk-ah,” and it takes everything to hold back the other words he wants to say, the ones that could change everything, but he chances, “I don’t want this to end, either.”
And as Jeongguk pulls from their desperate hug, expression unreadable but eyes so, so wide, Namjoon hopes that he was right about his lack of a poker face because he’s trying his hardest to make sure it’s written all over his face what he means by it.
“Namjoon-hyung,” says Jeongguk. He raises a hand to trace down one of Namjoon’s damp cheeks, across his jawline. He looks awed, mouth in a soft O shape, but then the corners of his lips turn up, and he says, barely more than a rush of breath, “I’m in love with you.”
“Oh,” Namjoon says. And maybe, sure, that’s the expected turn that the conversation was taking, given the context, but it still knocks the wind out of him, hearing the words straight from Jeongguk’s mouth.
“Oh,” Jeongguk parrots, and Namjoon’s worried, for a moment, that Jeongguk thinks he’s about to be rejected, but the most beautiful giggle spills from his lips, and Jeongguk’s head dips into the crook of his neck, wet laughter muffled into his pajama shirt.
Namjoon tugs the back of his hair gently, and Jeongguk takes it as the hint it is to lift his head so they can look at each other, eye to eye.
“I love you,” Namjoon whispers. He kisses Jeongguk’s forehead, his cheek, the mole beneath his lips that matches his own perfectly. Kisses the edge of his smile as it breaks on his face. “Hey. I love you. For real.”
“Good.” Jeongguk threads his fingers into the back of Namjoon’s hair, and Namjoon leans into it, content. “Because I kind of want you to be my boyfriend. For real.”
“Don’t have to ask me twice.”
Namjoon punctuates it with another kiss, this time right to Jeongguk’s lips, one that Jeongguk is ready for this time, kissing back with just as much fervor.
“Kind of am,” says Jeongguk.
“Technically, I asked you to fake date me first.”
“You asked me to hold your hand in a bar, hyung, I asked you to be my fake boyfriend.”
Jeongguk huffs, pushing his nose against Namjoon’s, and it’s so cute that Namjoon has to kiss it.
“Doesn’t matter,” Jeongguk says, grinning. “I’m asking you to be my real boyfriend now.”
“And I’m saying yes,” Namjoon answers.
He’s happy, god, he’s so happy. A few minutes ago, he felt like the world was crumbling around the two of them—his lashes are still sticking together from the involuntary tears—and now he and Jeongguk can’t even properly kiss because they’re smiling so much that their teeth clack together when they try.
They finish packing over quiet, happy conversation. About how Seokjin and Taehyung are going to tease them until the end of time, about whether or not Yoongi will be surprised when they come back to Seoul wrapped up in each other, about how Jimin’s stern warnings not to hurt his best friend are about to get stern again, in the best way. Jeongguk kisses every bit of skin that passes his lips as they fold their clothes, sinks his teeth lightly into Namjoon’s bare shoulder when he swaps out his PJ shirt for a thicker sweater until Namjoon’s laughing so hard they both fall backwards onto the bed.
Something gleams in Namjoon’s peripheral vision, and he frowns for a moment.
“We, uh, forgot to address one detail,” he says, reaching for it.
On top of him, Jeongguk frowns, too. “What?”
Namjoon holds up his grandfather’s ring. It’s answer enough.
“Right,” Jeongguk hums. “We’ll tell my mom we aren’t ready yet. Tell her that she can keep it until we are, and then one of us will ask her for it again.”
The ring shines before Namjoon’s eyes. It really is lovely in its simplicity—golden and gleaming, well-kept after so many years. It would look good on Jeongguk, he thinks. Will look good, one day.
“You’re sure?” he asks, and Jeongguk nods.
“She’ll understand,” he says. “And anyway, I think Jimin-hyung’s getting ready to ask Hoseok-hyung. Or vice versa? Either way, wouldn’t want to steal their thunder.”
Namjoon smiles at that. Jimin and Hoseok are good together, now that he’s able to look at Jimin without the distinct fear of being hated by his best friend’s best friend.
His boyfriend’s best friend.
“And what are we going to do about the whole thing where we’ve actually been dating three and a half years less than people think we have?” Namjoon asks, mainly to rile up Jeongguk, who’s leaning over to the bedside table to slip the ring into his wallet to give back in the morning.
“Let it be a fun fact we slip into our wedding speeches,” Jeongguk says with a decisive nod. “Like ‘hey, remember those first three years? Funny story, we were just pretending to date because I didn’t want Mom to tell Grandpa that I was still single.’”
Namjoon settles on his side as Jeongguk turns the lamp off, too, pulling the blanket over the both of them. This time, they don’t bother with a space between them—Jeongguk curls right into Namjoon’s chest and wraps his arms around his back, snuggling up close.
“You have a lot of faith that we’ll make it to a wedding, huh?”
He’s teasing, but he thinks he’d really like to hear the answer.
“Absolutely,” Jeongguk says, sealing it with a kiss.
And Namjoon just grins, kisses him again.
“Good,” he whispers, thinking of the years and years that Jeongguk has been by his side, slowly growing alongside him, “‘cause I’d like to think we will, too.”
“You can keep it. I don’t have use for it. It’s meant to be yours.”
This time, the sight of Jeongguk leaning against the pickup truck, bundled up in his coat and beanie and scarf and surrounded by the golden afternoon light of the mountains, is so much more than it had been three days ago in the early grey morning light of Seoul when he’d been idling outside of Namjoon’s apartment. Now, Jeongguk is tucked into his side so the pom on top of his hat buffs him in the ear when he moves his head, so Namjoon can press his lips to the crown of it while he speaks.
Jeongguk hands his grandfather’s ring back to his mother with careful fingers.
“I know.” He grins, and his mother’s concerned expression shifts to match his. “But won’t it make it more fun for you to have insider information when one of us asks for it back?”
“Ooh,” his mother says, intrigued. “You make a strong point. See, this is why you’re my kid.”
Jeongguk leans just far enough out of Namjoon’s arms to press a kiss to her forehead while she pockets the ring once more. When he leans back against Namjoon’s chest, she blinks up at Namjoon, this time.
“I’m sorry if it felt like I was rushing you,” she says, and like this, she looks so much like her son. Wide-eyed and kind, lovely. “Take all the time you need. Enjoy each other for as long as you can.”
“We will,” Namjoon assures her, another kiss pressed to the top of Jeongguk’s beanie before extracting himself to help Jeongguk’s father load the truck bed with their bags for the ride to the train station.
Somewhere between the talking and loading, Jimin and Hoseok have made their way outside, and Namjoon only realizes when he returns to Jeongguk to see him with a back full of Jimin, who’s trying mostly unsuccessfully to get a piggyback ride from him.
“Visit me more, brat!” Jimin cries as Jeongguk finally shrugs him off of his back, cackling. “I raised you on my back and you won’t hold me on yours!”
“You have a boyfriend for that,” Jeongguk huffs.
Hoseok steps forward at that, and Jimin climbs easily onto his back before smacking a kiss to his cheek.
Jeongguk fakes a gag. “We’ll visit if you’re nice to hyung.”
“I am so nice to hyung,” Jimin sneers back, sending a wink in Namjoon’s direction. “We’re friends now, aren’t we?”
And Namjoon’s pleased to say, “Yeah, yeah we are.”
Jeongguk hugs around Namjoon’s waist like he’s protecting him from Jimin, but there’s a grin on his face. He tilts up, presses a kiss to the edge of Namjoon’s jaw.
“Love you,” Namjoon murmurs into it. The truck engine starts behind them, and he tacks on, “Go say goodbye to your mom, I’ll be right over,” as Jimin says something to the same effect into Hoseok’s ear, judging by the way he gently sets Jimin back down on the grass, leaving with a small nod and bright ‘Bye, Namjoonie!’ in Namjoon’s direction.
Jimin crosses his arms over his chest, one eyebrow quirked up.
“What?” Namjoon asks.
“Nothing,” says Jimin, and then, “You said ‘love you’ just now.”
Namjoon’s blush must be obvious by the way Jimin’s eyes go wide.
“Wait, did you—”
“We’re not faking,” Namjoon says. “Not, uh, not anymore.”
“Oh my god,” Jimin balks, face lighting up. “You’re both little fuckers.”
“Little? We’re both taller than—”
“Both little fuckers,” Jimin reiterates, sharper, but his smile is honest. He opens his mouth to say something more, but there’s a honk behind him, his mother in the front seat of the Parks’ SUV waving him over. They’re cutting it close on their time to return the cabin keys back to the rental place, and the train won’t wait for Namjoon and Jeongguk, either.
Jogging backwards to the car, Jimin makes a show of pointing at his eyes, then at Namjoon.
“We’ll have the ‘keep my best friend safe and happy’ conversation again later!” he calls, laughing. “Bye, hyung!”
Halfway back to Seoul, Jeongguk nudges Namjoon’s elbow on the armrest they’ve been sharing, phone in hand.
The screen shows a new Instagram post, waiting to be published. Open on it is a photo of them, one Namjoon hasn’t seen yet—judging by the angle of it, it must have been taken by Hoseok or Jimin, crouching at the end of the mountain path—of their backs to the camera, his arm low around Jeongguk’s waist while Jeongguk points into the skyline, at his neighborhood in the distance. His face is turned away from the lens, but the fond smile lifting Namjoon’s cheeks in it is obvious. He looks in love. He is in love.
Jeongguk swipes to the next page, where Namjoon’s handle has already been tagged and a caption has already been typed, ready to send.
Jeongguk lifts his eyes, tilts his head in question: can I?, and Namjoon nods, curls his arm around his boyfriend’s shoulders: yes.
jeonjk97 Everything’s better with you. 🍁🌲💘
In a few moments, he’s sure their phones will start blowing up with notifications—Seokjin, Taehyung, Yoongi, whoever else has been in on their messy charade for as many years as they have been.
But for now, Namjoon leans back against the headrest and silences his phone, drifting off to the steady bumping of the train tracks and Jeongguk’s warmth by his side.