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and i'm ready to suffer (and i'm ready to hope)

Chapter Text

April 2018

Seokjin receives the confirmation of the news on a sunny day right before noon near the end of the month. Up until the moment his phone rings, nothing has been much different from any other day. He’s sitting at his desk and working on a paper for one of his classes on child speech impairment. He can hear the rumbling of the fridge from his kitchen and the cars passing by on the streets below. Nothing is out of the ordinary, and yet when he looks back at this day, Seokjin remembers every detail before the call as if he had known what was about to come.

When his phone rings, he recognizes the number immediately as being from the hospital. That’s odd. He hadn’t expected a call for at least another two days, the doctor having told him that results would most likely come within five days. The small wound on his back aches as if his body was suddenly reminded of its existence again as he picks up the phone.

“Kim Seokjin-ssi?”

Seokjin affirms, recognizing the voice immediately.

“It’s Doctor Choi speaking. We’ve received the results. I’m sorry to say, but it is cancer.”

His ears start ringing, and it seems like the world around him comes to a stop.

It is cancer.

It’s not like he hadn’t known for the past week that the possibility exists. His mother had found the birthmark on his back as he had changed shirts after a workout on a weekend at home, and had urged him to quickly see a dermatologist. He had scheduled an appointment as soon as possible, and with one look at it the doctor had referred him to the dermatology ward of a hospital, where they had taken it out the next day and sent it in for a biopsy. It doesn’t have to be cancerous, they had explained to him, but it could be.

So he had waited for the results of the biopsy to return, and had been filled with a nervous energy ever since, but deep within him he had found the idea to be ridiculous. He was a twenty-four years old university student who had always used sunscreen and only gotten sunburnt a handful of times in his life. There was no way that he could have cancer.

But now he does.

“I would normally not do this over the phone, but your appointment with us is only scheduled a week from now. However, given the circumstances it’s a bit more urgent. Would you be able to stop by this Thursday already?”

Yes, he could stop by in two days. He has a class on Thursday morning, but it’s okay if he misses out once. No, he’s never had an MRI or CT scan before, but he doesn’t think that he’s allergic to the contrast agent. He hears what the doctor says and responds accordingly, but somehow he feels as if he’s not really himself anymore. There’s Seokjin, sitting at his desk and on the phone with the dermatologist who tells him that he will meet the dermatologic oncologist on Wednesday to discuss further actions, and then there’s the Seokjin for whom time still stands still, because things like this don’t happen to people like him.

“I’m yet again sorry for the news. I will see you on Thursday.”

When the doctor ends the call, Seokjin sits in silence. His heart is beating too hard. His mind tries to wrap around what he’s just learned, but it’s impossible. It’s not possible. It can’t be possible.

Seconds tick by, but they feel like a whole lifetime.

He dials a new number, listens to the dial tone four times before the other person picks up.

“Mum,” he says, and suddenly it hits him all at once. His voice starts to tremble, tears gather in his eyes, and his throat feels as if a noose is being drawn tighter and tighter around it with every moment. “It’s cancer.”

 

 

When tragedy hits, there are two ways to deal with it: one can either try to stay positive or despair. Seokjin never consciously chooses either, but he picks positivity either way. His psychologist will call it a copying mechanism the first time she meets him and his parents two weeks after the diagnosis as they praise him for being so strong in handling the news.

There’s a certain nonchalance to it when Seokjin tells his friends about it, but really that’s only because he’s not entirely sure how to tell his friends about it. He’s taking a walk through the park with his best friend Yoongi after he’s come from the MRI and CT scans and tells him that he has bad news.

“Are you moving away?” Yoongi asks, and Seokjin shakes his head. In hindsight he thinks it’s incredible sweet that this was the first piece of bad news Yoongi could have thought about, worrying that they might not see each other as often anymore.

“Then what?” Yoongi digs deeper with mirth in his tone, “are you deadly sick?”

It’s so obviously meant as a joke, but when Seokjin doesn’t respond, Yoongi stops in his track and looks at him with wide eyes. “Hyung?”

Seokjin clears his throat. He doesn’t know why, but he’s embarrassed to say it, as if it’s something shameful, as if it’s his fault.

“The birthmark I got removed recently… I didn’t tell you about it because I didn’t want to worry you unnecessarily. They sent it in for biopsy.” Seokjin swallows, and kicks the gravel beneath his shoe, avoiding eye contact with Yoongi.“I have cancer.”

Yoongi doesn’t say anything at first, looking absolutely distraught. He doesn’t react for a few seconds, but when his brain has processed the words, he draws Seokjin into a hug. Seokjin hugs right back as hard as he can, swallowing down the burning feeling at the back of his throat. This is not a moment to be weak. He needs to show Yoongi that he’s okay, that there’s no need to worry.

When they let go of each other eventually, he makes an attempt at a wobbly smile.

“Don’t look so heartbroken,” he teases, his hands still on Yoongi’s arms and rubbing up and down to help provide comfort, “it’s going to be fine.”

Seokjin doesn’t feel strong, but he hides his tears of fear and frustration in his pillow at night when no one else can see them.

 

 

The news of cancer is like an earthquake, causing the structures of Seokjin’s life to crumble and fall to the ground in ashes and dust, and he’s struggling to pick the debris back up. He tries to rearrange them, make sense of these pieces on the floor in a world that is now entirely different from the way it was just days before. Tries to stack them back together and pretend that life goes on, because it does, and makes tentative buildings out of chunks of uncertainty and confusion. He can’t even pretend that he knows what he’s doing, but he tries to cleanup anyway. It’s to no avail, because days later comes the aftershock that rocks him to the core and destroys the last pretense of normalcy he’s clung to for comfort.

It’s his liver. The MRI scan results show that the cancer has already spread.

And just like that, Seokjin goes from a stage I cancer patient to a stage IV, and he doesn’t know what that means at the time, but according to the internet it is certain death. His survival chances plummet to twenty percent over the span of the next five years. A few weeks later, one of the doctors will tell him never to trust the internet about illnesses and life prognosis, and Seokjin wishes he had received this advice earlier, curled up in bed that night and unable to sleep, the anxiety of the realization that his life most likely will be over within five years making his heart hammer with fear although it feels so surreal.

Seokjin doesn’t know how to handle any of it, really. There ought to be a manual on how to deal with the diagnosis of cancer, because right now he feels as if he’s on a boat lost in the middle of the ocean, and the waves are crashing over him and there’s really no way to navigate back to land – to a normal life.

What does this mean for his university? For his life in general? And suddenly he regrets all the choices he’s ever made, regrets not having gone to a dermatologist sooner, regrets having already done his military service because it had cost him two precious years of his life that he’s never getting back again, and there might not be more than five years left, but there’s still so much in life he hasn’t done and five years aren’t enough of a time to achieve any of his dreams at all.

Over the following weeks, he tells most of his friends and acquaintances about the cancer, because he thinks he’ll have to. His life will change significantly from here on out, and they should be made aware of it too. He tells Jimin drunk one night at the club, and is taken aback by the other’s eyes tearing up. A week later he’s sitting in Jimin’s living room, the one he shares with his best friend Taehyung and their newest flatmate Jungkook, who’s only moved in a week prior to Seokjin’s diagnosis.

(Every event in Seokjin’s life from that fateful day in April onward is either before diagnosis or after diagnosis. The old Seokjin, or the new Seokjin. There’s no one life anymore that he lives – it’s been split in two, and Seokjin knows that no matter what he does, he’ll never get that old life back again.)

They’re playing board games when his mum calls, and Seokjin rolls his eyes and excuses himself. “She gets hysterical if I don’t pick up since the cancer diagnosis.”

Doesn’t realize how quiet the room turns as he leaves, and comes back to a distraught Taehyung and an uncertain-looking Jungkook. When he is flabbergasted that Jimin hadn’t told them – hadn’t told Taehyung of all people, his soulmate –, Jimin shrugs claiming that it wasn’t his place to tell.

Seokjin, over the following months, will learn who his real friends are. Many people offer him to call whenever he needs anything, but he knows that that’s something he will never do. He’s too proud, or maybe too embarrassed, to actively seek out help. Some friends will ghost him, some will pretend like the cancer doesn’t exist. And some, the ones that he can rely on, will show him what the true meaning of caring for someone is.

 

 

June 2018

Seokjin would lie if he said he wasn’t terrified. He’s never had a surgery before, and he’s not sure what concerns him more: the anaesthesia or the actual procedure.

He’s going to receive TACE, a surgical intervention in which the metastases in his liver will be directly targeted and filled with a highly-concentrated chemotherapy medicine. He’s had a long and detailed informative talk with a surgeon about it, but he still doesn’t entirely understand what’s about to happen. All he knows is that they will, in some magical way through a small incision in his groin area, poke at his liver and slowly fill up the several metastases on the right side of his liver with that dangerous liquid, before cauterizing them so it won’t leak out again. If that doesn’t sound worrying enough, they will, depending on his physical health, repeat said procedure in three weeks time with the metastases on the left side of his liver.

And then the right side again.

And then the left side again.

And so on.

And so forth.

Seokjin doesn’t know what to expect. It could potentially hurt. There’s side effects. There’s all kinds of things that can go wrong during the procedure, although it’s highly unlikely, and he didn’t enjoy having to sign the sheet of paper consenting to all the possibilities of how this could end in a disaster.

It’s 10 p.m. the night before the procedure and the dermatology ward is almost dead silent. There are no patients in the hallway anymore, because most of them are age sixty or higher and already asleep. Seokjin shares a room with three old men for the night.

He’s sitting in his pyjamas in the common room with the ugly yellow walls by himself after having been on the balcony for a cigarette. It’s a nasty habit he’s picked up over the past two months. He doesn’t smoke a lot, but he feels that it does help calm his nerves. Maybe it’s just imagination. Yoongi told him that it’s not good for his body and that he should stop, but Seokjin had just snapped back that it doesn’t matter anymore anyway. He already has the cancer in him – one tumor more or less doesn’t make much of a difference anymore.

There’s so much going on in his head. The fear of not knowing how his body will react to the intrusion of a highly toxic medicine. The possibility of having to put university on hold because of treatments. His psychologist provided from the hospital for cancer patients had stopped by earlier to check in on him and asked how he’s feeling, but he wasn’t able to share his thoughts with her. He never is. He knows how to articulate them in his head, but can’t say them out loud, scared that if he does the dam he’s built protecting other people from his burden will break.

Strong, his parents call him. He’s really not, and she had seen through him right away before he even knew that all this bravery he’s displaying is just an armour to shield him from the pain. Only at night when he’s alone he allows himself to strip it off and let himself feel it.

“Are you alright?”

Seokjin whips his head around to find the male nurse with the upbeat voice standing at the entrance to the room. He’s introduced himself as Hoseok during the nightly ward round, bright smile and friendly demeanour. Seokjin has only known him for minutes, but he can already tell that this man who must be around his age is perfect for the job with his open personality that must allow him to easily connect with patients.

“I’m doing fine.”

“Seokjin-ssi, right?”

Seokjin hums in agreement. When Hoseok had asked him during the ward round if he was nervous and if he would want something to help him fall asleep, Seokjin had declined the offer. He contemplates backtracking on it now, not sure if he can fall asleep from nerves or the unpleasantness of having three old strangers share the room with him for the night.

“May I?” Hoseok asks and points to another of the chairs that’s around the table Seokjin is occupying.

Seokjin shrugs his shoulders. Hoseok takes that as a yes.

He doesn’t know what to expect, but Seokjin is still surprised when Hoseok asks him what he’s doing in life. He’s so used by now to the usual questions: How is he feeling? How is he dealing with his cancer? Does he need anything? Is he scared of the surgery? Is there anything anyone can do to help him?

It’s only been less than three months, and Seokjin’s already so sick of the same conversation happening over and over again. For all the people apologizing to him. It’s as if his entire life only revolves around cancer at this point, as if the rest of it doesn’t exist anymore. As if the only part of him that lives is the cancer – but Seokjin’s still so much more than just his illness, even if he’s unsure as of now how it’s going to impact the rest of his life.

So this is definitely a positive surprise.

“I study to become a speech therapist. Preferably for children.”

Hoseok whistles approvingly. “That’s impressive.”

Seokjin blinks. That’s most definitely new. Most people don’t understand just how much knowledge and theory hides behind speech therapy. Linguistics is a beast to be reckoned with.

“It’s not much,” he shrugs off the compliment modestly, not sure how to deal with such affirmation.

“It’s sure more difficult than nursing school.”

He likes Hoseok, Seokjin decides. The man is easy to talk to. Not once does he mention Seokjin’s illness, or his upcoming surgery. They talk for maybe fifteen minutes, when a beeping sound that echoes through the hallway alerts the nurse that one of the patients needs assistance.

Hoseok groans as he lifts himself out of the chair. “Sorry, duty calls. If there’s anything else you need tonight, don’t hesitate to let me know.” His smile is heart-shaped and honest, and Seokjin thanks him. Just before he’s out of the room, Seokjin changes his mind. Maybe he can accept at least a little help if it’s offered to him anyway.

“Actually,” he calls, and Hoseok stops in his track to turn back around and look at him, “could I have something to help me fall asleep?”

“Of course,” Hoseok agrees. “I’ll check in with the doctor to make sure it’s okay, and then I’ll bring it to your bed.”

 

 

Surgery is… well, Seokjin’s never been on drugs before, but he thinks the few seconds of awareness that remain between receiving anaesthetics and falling into unconsciousness must be what it feels like to be absolutely out of it in the best way possible. It’s pure bliss.

The waking up part less so.

He’s not in pain, but time seems to have lost all its meaning. A nurse urges him to wake up, asks how he’s doing. He slurs when he speaks. His mouth feels so dry and there’s something uncomfortable pressing down onto his lower abdomen. He tries to roll on his side to ease the pressure, but he’s held back by the nurse who patiently explains to him that there’s a pressure bandage on his stomach for safety reasons, so the small incision that is located right where his thigh meets his groin is can heal properly. Seokjin doesn’t know this yet, but these incisions are so tiny that after his third TACE, he will mistake a red spot for the incision point only to realize later that he’s been putting bandaids over a pimple.

There’s no pain except for the uncomfortable pressure from the bandage, a necessary evil that he will have to endure for twenty-four hours, and once the haze of the anaesthetic drugs lifts, he thinks that it might not be so bad after all except for the sleepiness.

Within the next twelve hours of his life he loses his dignity.

What Seokjin had failed to fully understand during his informative talk was that after surgery and due to the location of the entry point, he’s under no circumstances allowed to get out of bed, and needs to stay on his back at all costs. Six hours in, his back hurts like shit. He shifts and turns, and he sweats although he’s cold, and then he needs to pee. Really needs to pee.

He rings for a nurse and tells her.

And that’s when she brings the bedpan.

It’s the most humiliating thing Seokjin has ever had to go through. The other three patients are in the room with him and the nurse is waiting outside, and he has to pee into that thing while lying down on his back, and tears of shame sting his eyes as he rings the nurse once he is finished, and he can’t make eye contact with her as she takes the bedpan away.

Seokjin learns the hard way that day that it’s not the cancer in itself that is the hardest to deal with. It’s the small but unexpected blows he hasn’t seen coming at all. The little things all adding up until they become more painful than the cancer itself nibbling away at his inside. But as with anything else in life, Seokjin will learn to deal with them.

At 3 a.m. Seokjin rings the bell to call for a nurse. Hoseok has the nightshift again, and as soon as he enters the room, Seokjin tells him that he’s allowed to get up now. He’s been holding back his pee for two hours now. His bladder hurts and the pressure bandage certainly doesn’t help the situation either. Hoseok chuckles, turns on the small night light in the room as to not wake the other patients, and comes over for assistance.

“How are you feeling?” he asks, only to remind Seokjin to be careful not to move too fast for the sake of his circulation.

Seokjin grunts.

“So far not too bad.” He lets his feet dangle over the edge of the hospital bed, and Hoseok tells him to take a minute. But Seokjin is impatient and he really has to pee. Not more than twenty seconds could have passed before he slips off the bed and into his slippers, Hoseok’s hands a steady support on his elbow. He only wears the hospital gown.

They slowly shuffle to the toilet together, because Seokjin is a bit unsteady on his feet and the pressure bandage against his lower abdomen forbids him to take proper steps, so his slippers slide over the hospital floor. The toilet for his room is located out on the hallway, approximately ten meters away. It’s the longest ten meters of Seokjin’s life as Hoseok holds him up on one side and reminds him to go slow and steady and he clings on to the railing on the wall on the other side.

When they have finally made it, Hoseok helps to lower him on the toilet seat.

“Are you going to be alright?”

Seokjin nods.

“I’ll wait outside. Press the call button once you’re done and I’ll be right back with you.”

Seokjin feels some of his dignity being restored as he gets to use an actual toilet again and not the bedpan. He flushes and washes his hands and shuffles back to the door all by himself, where Hoseok waits outside just like promised.

“Finished?”

Seokjin nods, tiredness now catching up to him. Within a matter of moments, the hallway suddenly starts to spin around him and cold sweat breaks out on his skin. His knees start to shake, and Hoseok is immediately by his side, noticing how from one second to the next his patient has become ashen.

“Hold on to the railing, okay? I’ll get a wheelchair.”

Before Seokjin can answer, Hoseok is rushing off in a hurry, and time starts to make no sense once again. Next thing he knows he’s sitting down, and Hoseok and the second nurse for the night are talking to him, asking how he’s feeling, telling him that everything’s okay.

Maybe he should have listened to Hoseok after all and taken things more slowly. He lets his head fall forward and takes deep breaths as the hallway still shifts and turns in his vision. They wheel him back to his bed and help him into it, reminding him that although his absolute bed rest is now over, he is still on strict bed rest for another twelve hours – as long as the pressure bandage is going to stay. That means another twelve hours of lying on his back, and only getting up to go to the toilet. Seokjin sleeps uncomfortably for the remainder of the night.

Seokjin stays in the hospital for three more days before he’s sent home. His parents visit him daily, but none of his friends stop by.

It’s not that they didn’t offer, but Seokjin told them no.

He doesn’t want them to see him this way.

Chapter Text

September 2018

Jin-hyuuung,” Jimin whines through the phone and Seokjin rolls his eyes at the younger’s antics. He toes off his shoes at the entrance and throws his backpack on the floor. “the place is already crowded. I’m not sure how much longer we can defend your spot. Hurry up!

“I am, I am,” Seokjin assures him. “It’s not my fault that the professor went overtime. Half an hour and I’ll be there.”

You better,” Jimin threatens, his voice drowning in the loud background of the pub they’re in “or we’ll let someone else sit with us and make them your replacement.”

“Stop being a drama queen, Jimin,” Seokjin laughs, and before the other can respond, he hangs up the phone call.

His stomach churns uncomfortably because he skipped lunch, but Seokjin can always eat at the pub. More importantly he wants to change into comfortable clothes, exchange the short-sleeve button up he’s wearing with a comfortable pale pink t-shirt and put on black skinny jeans.

In the bathroom he takes out his contact lenses and grabs his round glasses. It’s still a shock to him everytime he looks into the mirror. He just can’t get used to the blond hair, although he thinks it suits him well. He brushes it quickly and uses some hairspray to make it stay in place, and then he’s ready to leave. Just to be sure, he grabs his grey leather varsity jacket with the white sleeves, but he doubts that he’ll need it tonight.

The pub is as crowded as Jimin had told him it would be, and he has to box his way through the crowd to find the table with his friends, pleasantly surprised that they managed to snag one of the few with a good view on the stage. One or two people wave at him, recognizing him from some university course or other, and Seokjin half-heartedly waves back at them.

“I was just about to offer your seat to someone else,” Jimin bickers as soon as he spots Seokjin. The oldest is sweating a bit from having made his way over as fast as possible, a gentle reminder that he should probably start doing more stamina training again, because he’s out of breath embarrassingly quickly these days.

Seokjin sighs and closes his eyes for a second, until the hunger in his stomach makes itself presentable by feeling as if it’s physically nagging at his inside. He throws his jacket on the seat and gets up to go to the bar, ignoring the “Rude” Taehyung calls after him. He can’t deal with the youngers’ antics on an empty stomach, and what’s even worse is that they’ve corrupted nice and innocent Jungkook over the course of the few months since he’s moved in with them as well. He’s no longer nice and innocent, but has also turned into a demon child that has no respect for their hyung. Seokjin really thinks that if he wasn’t so fond of these three idiots and didn’t know how much they care for him, he’d ditch them in a heartbeat to get some peace of mind. Sometimes he even considers introducing them to Yoongi for the fun of it, but he thinks Yoongi might actually kill him for that. Three disrespectful dongsaengs sound like Yoongi’s worst nightmare. (Who is he kidding? They’d even worm their way into Yoongi’s heart like the bothersome maggots they are. Although it would be interesting to find out if they dare talk to Yoongi in the same disrespectful manner they enjoy talking to Seokjin in.)

When Seokjin comes back to the table, the first of his garlic cheese fries have already disappeared into Jungkook’s mouth before he’s even had a chance to sit down, and Jungkook grins at him with that smile that shows his teeth and makes his nose scrunch up, the one that Seokjin knows means “I’m too cute for you to be mad at me.”

“Help yourself,” he sighs and pushes the plate into the middle of the wooden table. He takes a sip from the beer he brought along as well, and within five minutes the four of them have cleared the plate empty of any remains. At least Seokjin’s not hungry anymore, but he might just have to go back and get seconds. Or maybe order fried chicken at the end of the night at home. That does sound like a nice way to finish the day.

They have a mindless conversation about how their day has been to kill some time, and then finally the MC enters the small stage with a microphone, announcing the start of the poetry slam. The crowd erupts into cheers, Seokjin’s table definitely being one of the loudest among them. He leans back with a fond but slightly embarrassed smile at the glances they are given and takes another sip from his by now already half-empty glass.

He’s looking forward to tonight. They’ve been going to poetry slams for a while now whenever their schedules line up, but because of the summer holidays they haven’t been to one in a few months. Seokjin really enjoys these kinds of evenings. He’s not a poetry person per se, would never think of grabbing a book and reading through poem after poem because to him that’s boring, but he enjoys the atmosphere at the pub during poetry slams. The crowd is hyped and reacts to poems in excitement, and some of the works even touch him in ways that make him think about them hours later when he’s finally in bed.

“We have six incredible slamers for you today,” the MC informs the crowd and is met with another wave of cheers.

By the second performer, Seokjin squeezes himself through the crowd for another beer, by the fourth for another one and another portion of garlic cheese fries, because Jimin keeps gently kicking him under the table and annoying him about it, and quite honestly he’s feeling a bit hungry again after only having had one quarter of the portion he had ordered for himself.

When the fifth performer steps on the stage, Seokjin chokes on his frie as he swallows and has a coughing fit.

Taehyung, who sits closest to him, laughs and slaps his back as Seokjin is doubled over and trying to draw in a breath while simultaneously not coughing out the food. His eyes are teary. When he doesn’t stop immediately, Taehyung also leans forward to be closer.

“Are you okay, hyung?” There’s worry in his voice now as the slapping becomes more intensive, not that Seokjin thinks that it helps in anyfucked, because of course this guy also has dimples, fuck.

The final reader after that doesn’t stand a chance, and when it comes to the final decision of who the night’s winner is – winning an entry spot for the next poetry slam and a bottle of champagne – absolutely no one is surprised when Namjoon is announced.

“Well deserved,” Taehyung says, before making his way to the bar with Jimin to get them all a new round of drinks, coming back with a fresh glass of beer and a round of shots. Seokjin downs his in one go and pulls a face in disgust at the taste, before excusing himself to go out for a smoke.

There’s a few people scattered around the entrance to the pub, so he takes a few steps away from the small crowd and closer to the curb to have some peace. After all the noise it feels nice to enjoy some silence. He breathes out the smoke when his eyes catch a tall silhouette clutching a champagne bottle in hand and trying to wave down a taxi.

Kim Namjoon.

It excites Seokjin to see him again, but it makes him sad to see that the other is trying to leave. Usually the participants of the event stay behind and mingle with the people, and Seokjin had hoped to be able to maybe talk to him, but it seems like it’s not his lucky day today.

He observes as Namjoon waves a hand frantically, before cursing as another taxi passes him by. When he thinks about it, maybe today is his lucky day after all, catching the man by himself in a more quiet environment. But then again he doesn’t want to disturb him as he’s clearly trying to leave, and he knows he’ll see Kim Namjoon again anyway at the next poetry slam. Still though…

“Leaving so soon?” Namjoon turns around in surprise, almost dropping the bottle he’s clutching to his chest. “Most winners of these slams stay and celebrate until the very end. I loved your poem by the way.”

The man looks downright shy being approached by Seokjin, nothing of that confidence he had displayed on stage being left. He grimaces.

“Can’t really celebrate if there’s no one to celebrate with.”

“Oh,” Seokjin says, and he ignores the way he can feel his heart speed up talking to this beautiful man. Don’t embarrass yourself. Stay cool. But how is he supposed to answer to something like that. “I’m sorry?”

“No, no!” Namjoon quickly interrupts. “It’s just that my friends don’t know that I’m doing this. It’s not really the type of thing they’re interested in.” He goes quiet for a moment, clearly thinking about whether or not he wants to add something else to that statement. “And to be honest I’m a bit embarrassed to tell them about it.”

“Oh,” Seokjin says again and taps his cigarette to make the ash fall off. Namjoon watches the gesture before moving his eyes up again, not quite meeting Seokjin’s. He’s awkward. It’s quite endearing. “My friends know, and they all loved your poem. So if you want to, you can hang out with us. They’re a handful though, just a warning.”

Seokjin smiles and takes another drag from his cigarette. Namjoon’s eyes flicker back to the entrance of the pub almost longingly, and for a second Seokjin thinks that he’ll agree. His mood drops when Namjoon shakes his head.

“I have work tomorrow, sorry. I really shouldn’t.”

If Seokjin was the kind of annoying person he wants to be to coerce Namjoon into staying with them, he would have said that one beer never hurt no one. He knows from personal experience though just how off-putting it is if someone doesn’t get off your back, so he just swallows the disappointment.

“Maybe next time then.”

Namjoon’s eyes flit once again to the entrance of the pub, and then the street. He shifts the bottle of champagne in his arms, and takes Seokjin by surprise by saying “You know what? Fuck it. It won’t hurt to celebrate.”

Seokjin can’t help but grin. “Awesome. Let me just quickly finish and then we can go back in. My name’s Seokjin by the way. When were you born?”

“In 94.”

“It’s Jin-hyung to you then.” Namjoon nods. He does look a bit uncomfortable, but from what Seokjin had gathered from this man so far is that he’s just a bit shy. It’s really cute.

After extinguishing his cigarette and putting it into the ashtray that’s provided outside the pub, he takes Namjoon back inside. It’s not as crowded anymore as it was during the poetry slam.

“Guys,” Seokjin announces when he comes back to the table, and three sets of eyes immediately zero in on Namjoon, who’s partially hidden from their view behind Seokjin’s shoulders, “this is Namjoon. He’s your hyung, and for the love of all things be so kind and treat him with at least some respect and don’t scare him away immediately.”

Namjoon shifts behind Seokjin to become a bit more visible and waves awkwardly. There’s uncertainty written all over his features for the first two or three minutes he’s with them, but if there’s one thing that Taehyung and Jimin are incredibly skilled at, it’s to make people comfortable in their presence. They might harbour a thousand inside jokes between the two of them, but they just know how to not make someone feel excluded from a conversation, even if that person doesn’t know the context at first. Soon enough, Namjoon’s on his second beer and laughing along with the four of them, is on his fourth beer and has stopped looking at his watch every ten minutes, is on his sixth beer and second shot and so incredibly beautiful that Seokjin just wants to kiss him.

He’s smart, a geek, enjoys contemporary art and has a laugh that melts Seokjin’s heart, and Seokjin in his drunk mind thinks that Namjoon must be perfection personified.

Around 1 a.m., they stumble out of the pub, this time without Namjoon carrying the bottle of champagne – they’ve opened that one around midnight and emptied it pretty fast, especially Jimin who’s a pro at jugging champagne. The three younger ones are still going at it, but Seokjin thinks he can’t stomach another drink and Namjoon has muttered that his boss is going to kill him so he better go before he shows up at work late and with a massive hangover.

The fresh air outside acts like a slap to the face that clears Seokjin’s head, but it certainly doesn’t help him walk a straight line. He’s not that drunk, really he isn’t, but it’s hard for him to have full control over his body once he’s consumed a certain amount of alcohol. He thinks about smoking another cigarette, but he already knows that he’ll have that fuzzy aftertaste of alcohol on his tongue tomorrow, so he decides against it.

“I’ll wait with you for a taxi,” he offers to Namjoon, who’s definitely inebriated but also definitely not drunk drunk yet.

“Thanks,” the other mutters, “and thank you for inviting me back in again. I really had fun tonight.”

“Yeah,” Seokjin says, and his eyes catch onto Namjoon’s lips for a second too long, full and curved and absolutely beautiful, before he makes eye contact again, “thanks for deciding to join in.”

There’s silence, and suddenly Jimin’s words ring in Seokjin’s mind again as the younger had pulled him closer by the elbow when Namjoon had excused himself to the toilet and had told him that “he’s staring at you as if he just wants to eat you up whenever you’re not looking, hyung.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Seokjin had hissed back, but afterwards he had been hyper-aware of every moment Namjoon had touched him, no matter how innocent the gesture.

“I guess this is goodbye then,” Namjoon breathes and Seokjin blinks back to reality, trying to forget about Jimin’s comment. Realizes how close they stand to each other, wonders if Namjoon feels as hot in his vicinity. Wonders if Namjoon would really want to eat him up, because Seokjin wants, he definitely wants, and before he really knows what happens or who’s even making the first move, their lips meet and oh-

it’s been quite a few months since Seokjin’s last kiss, too occupied with university and then too occupied with cancer, and he’s missed that feeling of electricity zipping through all his body at the touch.

There’s a touch of awkwardness to it, because that’s just how it goes with first kisses and trying to figure out what’s working just the right way to slot oneself perfectly against your partner, but Seokjin thinks that for a first try, he and Namjoon are doing pretty well.

He can taste the remnants of beer on him. It’s not too soft, neither too wild, lips on lips and the hint of a tongue. When they both pull back after a few seconds, Namjoon licks over his lips with heat in his eyes, and damn it he really is one of the most attractive men Seokjin has ever seen, making even such a small gesture so enticing and Seokin want more. Kim Namjoon is going to drive Seokjin to insanity, and he wants nothing more than to reach for Namjoon’s face and just kiss him breathless.

“So,” Seokjin says, and relishes in the way Namjoon’s eyes have caught onto his lips as if spellbound, “my place is only a twenty minute walk from here. That is, if you’re interested.”

“Taxi,” Namjoon answers and Seokjin’s good mood plummets because fuck, had he interpreted something wrong here? He watches Namjoon look at the street and raise his hand at an approaching one, “if we’re taking a taxi, we’ll be there faster!”

Well… Seokjin really can’t argue with that logic, and unlike Namjoon’s previous try earlier in the evening, they’re able to wave one down within moments and Seokjin rattles off his address hurriedly.

They’re sharing the back bench, and that’s undoubtedly too much space between them now with the empty middle seat. Before Seokjin can overthink it, he reaches over and rests his hand on Namjoon’s knee, slides his palm over the rough fabric of the denim Namjoon’s wearing and relishes in the fact that Namjoon’s thigh tenses below his touch and the younger squirms.

“Hyung,” Namjoon lets out a shuddering exhale, and a rush of excitement goes straight through Seokjin’s veins at just that one simple word.

He’s nervous, so nervous. It’s been a while since he’s not one to take a guy home often that he just met hours ago, but Seokjin wants to fucking worship Namjoon. Discover every inch of his skin with his hands, find out all the things that make the younger whimper and moan, take him apart and put him back together.

Even the short taxi ride feels way too long, and they stumble out of the car after Seokjin pays. It’s easy to make it through the entrance door still, but it’s not at all easy in front of the door to his flat, with Namjoon pressed against his back and sucking on the skin of his neck, without a doubt leaving bruises behind. Seokjin’s breaths come short and his fingers tremble with nervous excitement as he tries to press the correct number into his keypad.

“If you’re not going to stop we’re never going to get inside tonight,” Seokjin laughs, when really he wants to cuss at the keypad that just blinks red and tells him he typed the code in wrong a second time.

Seokjin’s knees almost buckle as Namjoon’s mouth comes up next to his ear, hot breath fanning his skin and giving him chills, and whispers: “I don’t mind an audience.”

Oh fuck. Fuck.

Seokjin swallows heavily and wonders where the shy guy he met earlier at the pub has disappeared to. But then he turns to Namjoon and sees him blush and look away, standing there a bit unsure of himself, and recognizes that what the younger tries to portray is nothing but fake confidence. False bravado. It helps Seokjin calm down and think more clearly again.

Third time’s the lucky charm, and finally the light turns green and the door unlocks and Seokjin gracefully stumbles inside his small flat and pulls Namjoon after him. As soon as it locks behind them, Seokjin has Namjoon pushed against the door. Their lips find each other again within seconds, passionate and greedy.

Namjoon’s hands are clenched to fists in the fabric of Seokjin’s shirt. They break the kiss, both out of breath. Namjoon’s lips are slightly swollen and his chest is rising and falling quickly. He’s nervous, just as Seokjin.

The older leans forward and presses a gentle kiss against the corner of Namjoon’s mouth.

“I haven’t done this in a while,” he confesses quietly, and feels Namjoon’s grip on his shirt lessen just a fraction, “so let’s take this slow and enjoy it, yeah?”

Tension rushes out of Namjoon’s body and he nods eagerly, the mask of fake cockiness he portrayed in the hallway slipping away entirely now. He’s chewing on his bottom lip. His eyes roam Seokjin’s face. His fists start to unclench from the fabric of Seokjin’s shirt and settle on his hips instead.

“I’ve never been with someone I wasn’t in a relationship with before,” Namjoon whispers.

Seokjin really feels for him at that moment. He remembers how nervous he was the first time he went home with someone he had only just met. It’s easy to be with people intimately that you’re in a relationship with, but it’s hard to be with someone you’re not familiar with at all. You don’t know them, their quirks, their likes or dislikes. Whether they are safe at all.

“I’ll take care of you,” Seokjin promises. He watches Namjoon nod, watches the way his Adam’s apple bobs as he swallows. He leans in again for another kiss, and this time it’s different than before. It’s slow, almost tentative, and Seokjin allows himself to run his hands through Namjoon’s hair. He’s pressing closer, their bodies aligning, and feels Namjoon’s erection press against his hipbone. He’s sure that Namjoon can feel his arousal as well. Just to be sure, he gently rocks his hip against Namjoon’s and swallows the breathy whimper of the other.

More and more he can feel Namjoon’s body relax against his own. He no longer holds himself up rigidly, instead slouching a bit. His hands are still firmly settled on Seokjin’s hips. Seokjin likes this version of Namjoon a million times more than the one he had encountered in the hallway.

They stay like this for a while, Seokjin pressed against Namjoon pressed against the door, kissing lazily. When they part for breath, Seokjin starts to pepper kisses along his well-defined jawline and down his throat. He enjoys the way Namjoon’s fingertips dig into his skin a bit harder when he finds a sensitive point, spends a bit of extra time on it. He loves the younger’s stuttered breath.

“Hyung,” Namjoon squirms, and Seokjin pulls away to look at him. He’s flushed, a fire burning in his eyes that causes Seokjin to shudder.

“Hm?”

“Can I?” He tugs at the hem of Seokjin’s shirt, and the blond invitingly lifts his arms to allow Namjoon to take it off.

He does feel a bit insecure, he can’t lie about that. There’s definitely no six-pack that he can boast about.

“Beautiful,” Namjoon murmurs. His fingers follow the lines of Seokjin’s body, leaving a trail of goosebumps in their wake. One thumb grazes a nipple and Seokjin’s breath catches in his throat. They lock eyes, and then Namjoon leans forward, his tongue circling the hardened bud. Seokjin’s going to lose his fucking mind.

He buries his fingers in Namjoon’s hair at the back of his head and pulls him in for another kiss, decidedly more desperate than the previous one. Namjoon chuckles into his mouth but is quick to respond. Seokjin decides that it’s time to bring this party to the bedroom.

He grabs Namjoon’s wrist and the other gets willingly pulled along. If Seokjin had known he’d have someone over tonight, he would have at least taken the effort to clean up a little. Instead he swiftly kicks his dirty laundry under the bed and hopes that Namjoon’s too distracted to notice how messy the room is. There’s really no excuse for it, but Seokjin’s a university student so he thinks at least it’s somewhat justified.

Namjoon is like clay beneath Seokjin’s hands, lets himself form so easily, and Seokjin wants to get a taste of him, a real taste, so he pushes him to sit down on the edge of the bed, spreads his legs, and quickly drops to his knees on the floor between them. His fingers find the belt buckle, and he starts to play with it as he looks up at Namjoon.

Clouded eyes with pupils blown wide stare back down at him, shirtless and flushed kneeling on the floor, in awe.

“This okay?” Seokjin asks, wants to make sure, and the eager nod Namjoon gives is all he needs before he makes quick work with the belt, pops the button and opens the zip. Namjoon squirms on the mattress in anticipation, but Seokjin refuses to give in so quickly. Instead his hands start to roam over the fullness of Namjoon’s thighs, find his ass and cup it eagerly, giving a good squeeze.

“Stop being a tease, hyung,” Namjoon whines.

“I’m just reciprocating for the nipple play,” Seokjin laughs.

Namjoon huffs in frustration. “You liked that.”

One of Seokjin’s hands comes to the front again and brushes over the bulge in Namjoon’s underwear. He loves the feel of it under his palm, even with the fabric between. Can’t wait to get his hand on it entirely, to get his mouth on Namjoon’s cock and swallow him down.

“And you like this, Joon-ah.” He tightens his hold and rubs along the hard line.

“Fuck yeah I do.”

Seokjin lets go again and his fingers start to play with the hem of Namjoon’s shirt. The younger understands the hint and is quick to pull it over his head and discard it on the floor. He goes to cross his arms in front of his chest a bit self-consciously, but Seokjin stops him.

“Just as beautiful,” he says, echoing Namjoon’s compliment from the hallway. Namjoon’s arms are more muscular than his own, and his chest is well-defined. Just like Seokjin, he doesn’t have a six-pack either, although Seokjin can definitely see the faint lines suggesting well-trained muscles below the skin.

Namjoon leans forward and Seokjin arches his throat, meeting the other in a series of passionate kisses. Namjoon’s no longer holding back now, coaxing Seokjin’s tongue with his own. He sucks on it and elicits a drawn out moan from Seokjin, before letting go and playfully nipping at his lips. It’s nice to see him so relaxed and comfortable now, not holding back any longer and taking what he wants.

And Namjoon wants.

His hand settles at the back of Seokjin’s head and he applies soft pressure, guiding the older’s face towards his crotch.

“So needy,” Seokjin teases, leaving open-mouthed kisses along the outline of his dick under the fabric.

Namjoon’s answer is to reach down with his free hand and starting to circle a finger around Seokjin’s nipple. The blond is clearly at a disadvantage here, Namjoon already having figured out one of his most sensitive spots. A shot of electricity zings through his body at the touch and his cock twitches in the confinement of his jeans.

Seokjin rests his forehead on Namjoon’s crotch and whimpers.

“Who’s the needy one now?” Namjoon laughs, his fingers carding through Seokjin’s hair gently.

The older finally relents. He pushes Namjoon’s underwear out of the way and pulls out his cock, eyes greedily taking in every inch as he works his hand up and down slowly. Namjoon’s fingers in his hair tighten again, and he leans forward willingly, his jaw falling open to welcome the length into his mouth eagerly. He wraps his lips around it and lets Namjoon lead, enjoys the tugging of his hair and the way Namjoon’s dick hits the back of his throat, making him gag just a little. His hand comes down at the front of his own jeans and he starts to palm himself through the fabric for just an ounce of satisfaction.

“You look so fucking breathtaking, taking my dick like that,” Namjoon says in awe. Seokjin hollows his cheeks around Namjoon’s length and sucks as he bobs his head up and down, let’s go with a popping sound. He kisses the tip, circles his tongue around it teasingly and laps up the drop of bitter precum. He loves the feel and taste of Namjoon in his mouth, the little noises he can draw out of the other who’s so willing to respond. For minutes there’s only the sound of Seokjin’s sucking and Namjoon coming undone so beautifully below him.

Namjoon’s hip start to thrust up, and Seokjin lets him take the lead again. He relaxes his jaw, completely lax as the younger guides his head down. Seokjin can feel the tip of Namjoon’s dick at the back of his throat and tries to inhale through his nose, when suddenly he chokes and pulls back quickly with a coughing fit.

“Oh shit, oh fuck, I’m sorry,” Namjoon apologizes frantically. He slides on the edge of the bed to kneel in front of Seokjin, who’s blinking away the tears in his eyes as he tries to catch his breath. Namjoon’s warm hands come up to cradle his face. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Seokjin chuckles once he finds his breath again and dabs the back of his hands against his eyes to dry them, before circling Namjoon’s wrists. “I told you it’s been a while.”

Namjoon’s shoulders sag in relief, and Seokjin leans forward to capture his lips in another kiss. Meanwhile, he reaches over to his nightstand and pulls open the drawer, blindly grabbing for the lube and condoms he keeps in there and chucking the items on his mattress, excitement coursing through his veins at the thought of where this night might still lead them.

 

 

Seokjin hears the alarm clock, but the sound isn’t familiar to him at all so he ignores it. He’s lying on his stomach, face pressed against the pillow. There’s a damp patch of fabric against his cheek, presumably from him drooling in his sleep. His mouth is dry and his stomach feels queasy, and only when the pressure on his back lifts does he realize that that was the arm of someone else all along. And suddenly he’s very much awake and sitting upright, only to watch Namjoon stumble out of bed, cursing as he’s reaching for his phone and turning off the alarm.

“Fuck, fuck fuck fuck,” he hisses as he grabs his boxershorts, jeans and shirt and tries to get them on as quickly as possible, “he’s gonna kill me.”

And then Seokjin remembers that Namjoon had planned to leave early last night because he wanted to go to work, and Namjoon hadn’t left early at all, and Namjoon had ended up in his bed and then in his shower and they surely didn’t go to sleep before 4 a.m., and now the sun’s up and Namjoon looks tired and stressed, dark hair sticking in all directions and a crease from the pillow embedded into his cheek.

He still looks fucking amazing though.

Seokjin watches him get ready quietly. He’d offer him a cup of coffee or something, but he doesn’t think that Namjoon has time for that at the moment. He’d offer him his number too, but then the younger is turning to him and bowing – considering they fucked twice just hours ago that’s odd but Seokjin just watches with a raised eyebrow – and saying how he’s thankful for last night but he really needs to go.

That’s how Seokjin finds himself still sitting in his bed five minutes after the front door fell shut, and wondering if Namjoon was nothing more than a beautiful figment of his imagination. He has the hickeys on his neck to proof that he’s very much real though. It’s a shame the morning has come to such a frenzied end, but Namjoon had looked genuinely distressed, and maybe he’s late to work but maybe he’s also glad to not have had the obligation to stay with Seokjin, because maybe he just doesn’t do mornings after. That’s okay. Seokjin’s not mad about that. He just wished he could have offered Namjoon his number, so they can meet again, but life does not seem to have that in store for him.

Of course he also knows that two weeks from now, unless Namjoon declines, he’ll be performing again at the poetry slam, but wouldn’t it come across as creepy or calculated if Seokjin was to show up again? What if Namjoon would assume that Seokjin only returns so they could fuck again? Or maybe Namjoon would want that?

With a sigh, Seokjin lets himself fall back into the pillow. He’s still so tired, but there’s a million things on his to-do list today – doing the laundry, cleaning his flat, cooking whatever’s left in his fridge, and maybe also changing the bed sheets because they definitely smell like sex and sweat. Seokjin from the future will definitely thank him for that.

He heaves himself out of bed with a groan, and regrets about half the drinks he’s had last night by now. If he was able to party, however, he’s also able to be productive today. Besides, he’s going into the hospital tomorrow for another chemo surgery, and knowing the game from the previous three operations, he’s going to be out for the count for at least a week. So Seokjin really can’t afford being lazy today and not getting shit done to cure his hangover in peace, and he knows it’s his own fault he has to suffer. Or maybe it’s the fault of the three young devils calling themselves his friends, because Seokjin definitely can’t remember ever asking for shots. They just always appeared before him magically, whenever Jimin, Tae or Jungkook made their way over to the bar.

 

 

“Seokjin-ssi,” Hoseok says with a smile. He puts the tray holding all things necessary for the IV on the table, “has it been three weeks again already? How have you been?”

Seokjin is sitting in the ugly pale-yellow common room of the dermatology ward, surrounded by a few other patients waiting to be admitted for the day. He holds out his arm expectantly, all too familiar with the routine by now and lets Hoseok fasten the blue sling around his upper arm.

“I can’t complain. Classes have started again so I expect it to become a bit more stressful, but other than that everything’s okay.”

Hoseok starts disinfecting the crook of his arm and hums in agreement, before feeling for a good vein. If Seokjin has learned one thing about the man over the past few months and hospital visits, it’s that Hoseok’s good at drawing blood.

“I guess summer is truly over now. You already know how today’s going to work, but you’ll have the intake interview first, and then we’ll send you to radiology for the surgery talk. Your bed should be ready around eleven. Do you want me to call the dietician again?”

“Yes please,” Seokjin agrees, “I’m getting more and more nauseous around certain foods with each surgery.”

Hoseok seems satisfied with the vein he’s found. He disinfects the spot one more time before taking the needle that will become Seokjin’s IV access for the next few days.

“Of course, I’ll give her a call right after sending your blood to the lab. Short stab…”

Seokjin grimaces. He appreciates the warning because it makes it easier to prepare, but he’s never going to get used to the discomfort of having his skin pricked by a needle. It’s just unpleasant.

“...and we’re done!” Hoseok sounds satisfied. “Let me flush it real quick to make sure the vein works, and then draw your blood, and the most uncomfortable part of the day is already over.”

Hoseok’s right, Seokjin thinks as he watches him scurry away with the tray in hand, a dull pain throbbing in the crook of his arm were the IV access is hidden away below gauze, the worst part of the day is over. But the worst twenty-four hours of the month are still to come tomorrow, when he’s confined to bed after surgery again.

 

 

“Sleep well?” Yoongi asks. He’s perched on the reading chair, book resting pages down in his lap and phone in his hand.

Seokjin groans into the pillow. He’s lying on his stomach on the couch, and the sunlight filtering through the window is warming his back. It feels amazing. “What time is it?”

“Just after two.”

“Hurts.”

“Do you want me to get you some Hantracet?”

“Doesn’t work.”

As it turns out, Seokjin’s fourth surgery hits him worse than all the previous ones. Usually he’s fine within three days, perfectly capable of being on and caring for his own again. Of course there’s always the pesky side effect of his smell being heightened that triggers nausea, making it hard to stay at a hospital for a few more days because that place stinks and the mix of disinfectant and air freshener in all toilets makes Seokjin dry heave – he deals with that one by pressing a piece of cloth sprinkled with peppermint oil in front of his nose every time he needs to piss. There’s also the problem that after surgery, he becomes such a picky eater for a few days. He can’t even look at meat without wanting to throw up, needs sweet food in general because it’s the only thing he can stomach for a while. His parents like to joke that they know he’s over the worst once he returns to eating meat again, and they’re really not wrong.

But this time is entirely different.

Seokjin hurts. His back hurts as if he’s being pulled apart by an invisible force. It’s an odd pain, dull and never-ending, and no painkillers help against it. And then there’s the stabbing pain in his chest, on his left side below his heart, as if someone is repeatedly putting a knife into him over and over again as soon as he moves just a little. There’s nothing that can be done against it, his doctors have said, except to give it some time. That’s why he’s at home now, with his family members or Yoongi constantly babysitting him.

Sleep evades him due to the pain, and the only thing that somewhat helps is heat, which is why he enjoys napping on the couch as sun falls through the window like a cat. He also enjoys taking baths, because those seem to help calm that foreign pain down as well – the only real problem is that due to the stinging in his ribcage, he’s incapable of heaving himself out of the tub. Seokjin didn’t find that out until it was to late. Yoongi had been with him at the time, and he’d had to help pull a sobbing Seokjin out of the bathtub.

He absolutely hates that Yoongi is involved in it now. That Yoongi has to help him out, because he’s not capable of taking care of himself at the moment. Seokjin has chosen to shield his friends from the pain that is cancer as much as he can. He doesn’t allow them to visit him in the hospital. He never tells them how dreary his chance of survival actually are. They believe him when he shrugs his shoulders and says that it’s not too bad, because they don’t know any better and Seokjin really can’t blame them. People in their twenties aren’t supposed to know any better about cancer. He isn’t supposed to know any better either.

And he’s scared that if they know the truth, they’ll start to look at him differently. His family already does so. His mother freaks out as soon as he says he feels tired or has a headache. His father becomes more withdrawn. They’ve both aged five years within the past five months, because they know just how serious the situation really is. Seokjin doesn’t want the same thing to happen to his friends. He wants to be the same Seokjin to them that he’s always been, just sometimes a bit more tired and unavailable for a week when he’s busy recovering from surgery.

But Yoongi didn’t buy his “all will be well” bullshit. He’s mindful, comes over to help take care of Seokjin when his parents or brother don’t have time. Cleans his flat and cooks for him on days that Seokjin isn’t capable of cleaning or cooking himself, because some days just tear him apart with exhaustion. It’s deep in his bones, so unsettling and anchoring him down, unable to move. It’s a kind of exhaustion both mental and physical that Seokjin had never experienced before.

But through it all, Yoongi helps him out, and never once treats him different than he did before. Seokjin still doesn’t tell him about his low chance of survival either. He tries to shield Yoongi from the pain that comes with watching a loved one suffer from cancer as much as possible too, but he allows himself to let his guard down just a bit. Admits when it hurts. Admits when he can’t be the independent mid-twenty student he wants to be, and accepts the help begrudgingly.

He’s beyond thankful to have a best friend like Yoongi.

The doorbell rings, making both men jerk their heads in the direction of the door.

“Did you order food?”

“Were you expecting someone?”

They share a look, before Yoongi pulls himself up from the chair with a groan to talk on the intercom. Seokjin can’t hear who it is from the distorted voice, but a few seconds later Yoongi’s head pops through the door frame. There’s an amused grin tucking at the corner of his lips.

“It’s a certain Namjoon-ssi.”

Seokjin panicks, because no, what the actual fuck? He hasn’t thought about Namjoon in days. Okay, that’s quite the lie, but he’s downgraded from thinking about Namjoon hourly to like thinking about him every five to six hours, which is already quite the achievement. Why, after storming out of Seokjin’s flat as if the building was on fire, would he decide to come back?

“Tell him I’m not here,” Seokjin hisses.

“Too late.”

“Then tell him I’m sick.”

Yoongi, obviously having already heard about his best friend’s adventurous night, just hums in agreement, that stupid fucking smirk still frozen on his face. He disappears back into the small hallway.

“Namjoon-ssi,” Seokjin hears him say when Namjoon must have arrived on his floor, and he wants to hide his head under the blanket and pretend to be far away until the other is gone again. Who is he kidding though? He’s too curious to block out the conversation, so he listens intently.

“I’m sorry, you are?”

“Yoongi,” his best friend provides and Seokjin prays to whatever deity is listening to him that he’ll get out of this conversation with his dignity still in tact.

There’s a few seconds of awkward silence, before Yoongi continues, “I’m Jin-hyung’s best friend.”

“Oh. Oh... I’m-”

“I know who you are, don’t worry,” Yoongi laughs, and Seokjin can hear the undignified snort of embarrassment that is courtesy of Namjoon clearly. He bites the inside of his cheek to keep himself from grinning, his lips so dry he fears they’ll split if he stretches them. “What can I help you with?”

“I wanted to talk to him about something. Is this the wrong time?”

“Hyung’s sick, I’m not sure if he’s up for it at the moment.”

Sick. Seokjin cringes at the use of the word. It’s not wrong, and it’s not a lie, but it sure is a nice disguise for the real deal. Cancer is most definitely not the first illness someone associates with that word, especially not for a young man in his twenties that looks absolutely healthy.

“Oh, so it’s not a good time? I did come around a few days ago, but he wasn’t at home back then. If that’s the case, I’ll leave again.”

Before Seokjin can stop himself, he calls out a “no”. Although calls out might be a bit of an overstatement. It’s more quiet than that, but definitely not less urgent, and he hopes that the two men in the hallway haven’t heard it because it is kind of embarrassing. Luck isn’t on his side.

“Give me a sec,” Yoongi says, before his head pops back into Seokjin’s view from the doorframe. “You’re up for it?”

Seokjin shifts on the couch and pulls the blanket tighter around himself. He looks like shit, he feels like shit, and he hasn’t showered in a day so no, he’s not really up for it, but he does want to see Namjoon again. He nods his dumb head, because his brain can’t send signals to his body, absolutely powerless when it comes to going against his heart. Yoongi wiggles his eyebrows at him suggestively and Seokjin wishes he wasn’t weak enough to punch him.

“I’ll wait out here so you guys can talk. Just a fair warning though: if you hurt him, you won’t make it out of this door alive.”

“Yoongi!” Seokjin calls exasperated from the couch.

“Yeah yeah, don’t be such an asshole, I know,” Yoongi mocks in a horrendous imitation of Seokjin’s voice. “Go on, he’s really tired though so don’t keep him up for too long.”

And then Kim Namjoon comes into view, glorious Kim Namjoon, who closes the door to the hallway behind him hesitantly, his eyes flitting around the room as if it’s the first time in Seokjin’s flat – Seokjin feels his cheeks flushing when he realizes that this is the first time Namjoon has seen this part of the flat, because they haven’t made it much further than the bedroom the last time.

“Hi,” Namjoon says, and he’s just as beautiful in broad daylight as he was under the artificial light of the lamps last time. If not even more beautiful. What a relief that Seokjin’s prince hadn’t turned into a pumpkin once the night had ended.

“Hey,” Seokjin answers, and gestures for Namjoon to sit down in the reading chair that Yoongi had previously occupied.

“Heard you caught a cold.”

“Something like that,” Seokjin answers quietly, and avoids eye contact. Now that is a lie, but there’s no point of dwelling on it. It’s not like he could openly say “Oh no, just caught a case of cancer” or something along the line. Okay, technically he could say that, but it would certainly put the gorgeous man in his living room to flight, and Seokjin doesn’t want to risk that. Not at all.

“Listen,” Namjoon says, wringing his hands. “I came to apologize. I never meant to run out on you like that the other morning. I was hungover and late for work and absolutely panicking because my boss already hates me. I only realized what I had done on the bus, and then I realized that I didn’t have your number and then I felt like the world’s biggest asshole.”

“And then you came back,” Seokjin says, and he can’t help but smile.

“I guess.” Namjoon scratches the back of his neck, looking sheepish. “I just… I told you I’m really not someone who has any experiences with one-night stands. It’s not really my thing, and I’m not really looking for someone at the moment either…”

Seokjin’s heart plummets into his stomach at those words and the smile falls off his face.

“... but I had fun with you and your friends. It was nice to spend time with people that share my interests, which is why I was hoping that we could stay in touch. Maybe go to another poetry slam together? That is, if you don’t mind seeing me again. I understand if you say no considering the situation. I just- I haven’t had as much fun in forever as I had with you guys that night.”

“Sure,” Seokjin says. He’s been trying to keep himself upright, but he’s exhausted so he rests his head back on his pillow and swallows the bitterness down his throat, “just write down your number somewhere and I’ll send you a text?”

Namjoon beams at him, seemingly relieved.

Seokjin wishes he had never showed up at his doorstep.

The younger writes down his number on a notepad.

“I’ll better go now, you look tired. Your friend in the hallway, he’s quite scary.”

“Yoongi?” Seokjin laughs. “He’s all bark and no bite. That is, if you’re nice to him and the people he cares about.”

When Namjoon is gone, after having exchanged some more pleasantries with Yoongi in the hallway that Seokjin didn’t listen to anymore, his best friend comes back into the living room with a suggestive grin on his face. He takes one look at Seokjin’s face, however, and it drops immediately.

“I should have punched him, shouldn’t I?”

Seokjin shakes his head and shuffles around so he faces the backrest. “Namjoon is perfectly nice. A perfectly nice friend.”

Chapter Text

October 2018

Namjoon puts their drinks down on the table – an Americano for himself and a strawberry milkshake for Seokjin – and slides onto the bench across from the blond student.

“Thanks again for meeting up on such a short notice,” he rambles, “I have to submit this piece by tomorrow and honestly… the longer I look at it, the worse I feel it is. When I sat down and wrote it originally, I was so confident that I’d written something amazing and now I just… want to throw it in the trash. But it’s kind of a shame to not try to get into that poetry reading, because it’s at the opening for this new library and it’s pretty cool and I suppose that some important people will come and this is the only piece I’ve written that I even remotely think could stand a chance at getting accepted.”

Seokjin takes a sip from his milkshake and lets out a content sigh at the sweet taste. He allows Namjoon to chatter on without interrupting and watches as the other sifts through his backpack to pull out a small black notebook that he leafs through until he finds the page he’s been looking for. When he finally stops talking, his cheeks are stained red from bashfulness. He looks reluctant in handing the notebook over, only sliding it across the table when Seokjin extends his hand for it.

“I don’t usually show anyone my writing unless it’s finished.” Namjoon’s eyebrows draw together and he shakes his head, taking a sip from his Americano. “Actually that’s not completely right either. I never show anyone my writing, unless it is to submit it to slams or the likes. It only ever exists for the audience in spoken form. I don’t know why, but the idea that someone could read my poems and scrutinize them is just dreadful. I’d rather they hear it once with full impact and forget about it again afterwards.”

Realizing that he’s rambling once again, Namjoon huffs out a “sorry”. Seokjin laughs.

“It’s okay. I get it. Although I’m not sure if I can be of much help, really. I only took two poetry courses, and those were free electives so I didn’t take them all too seriously.” He pulls out his pencil case from his own backpack. “Do you mind?”

Namjoon shakes his head. He’s got both his elbows propped on the surface of the table now, head resting in his palms that make his cheeks squish up slightly – he looks disgustingly adorable. They’re sitting by the window, and Seokjin notices the tell-tale sign of Namjoon’s eyes starting to wander the way they tend to when his thoughts digress from the present situation and start to take in his surroundings without him really noticing.

The younger has snuck his way into Seokjin’s life so quickly and seamlessly like nobody else he’s ever met before. One day they were strangers that had fucked, and the next thing Seokjin knows Namjoon has become a steady fixture in his life. He repeatedly hangs out with Jimin, Taehyung and Jungkook just as much as he hangs out with Seokjin.

The more Seokjin learns about Namjoon, the more he thinks there can’t be a more perfect person out there in the world. That isn’t to say that he knows a lot about Namjoon. As of yet. Seokjin would like to change that. They’ve met up for coffee near campus a couple of times by now, and Namjoon has become the kind of odd friend whom Seokjin would definitely label as a friend, yet doesn’t really know much about at all.

At first Seokjin had thought that the fact that they’ve had a one-night stand could threaten the group dynamics. He had feared that it might be awkward between them, but neither he nor Namjoon really mention it at all when spending time together.

Here’s the thing. Seokjin likes Namjoon. He’s smart, funny, and an all around nice guy. He’s also still as fucking attractive as Seokjin thought him to be the first time he’s laid eyes on him, and now that’s the actual problem. Namjoon is cute, and he’s made it more than clear that he’s obviously not looking for any sort of relationship at the moment, and honestly neither is Seokjin. He’s got enough on his plate already if he’s honest with himself, what with cancer and university and trying to keep his life together somehow.

That doesn’t make him want to daydream about dating Kim Namjoon any less.

He thinks back to the first time they’ve come to this coffee shop together, just the two of them. Back then Seokjin’s heart had still been racing full of naivety, because what if this is a date after all?

It wasn’t.

There’s always sleep-deprived students lingering around no matter the time of the day, but the noise level is never too loud. The furniture is artsy, made out of lots of wood and in that weird minimalist yet eye-catching style that’s absolutely in trend at the moment, with lampshades being nothing but a lightbulb cased in geometric metal rods that have nothing to do with an actual lampshade at all.

Seokjin took Namjoon to that coffee shop at the end of September, and Namjoon had seemed charmed by it. He had ordered an Americano – because, as Seokjin suspects by now, that is Namjoon’s prefered type of coffee – and his eyes had flitted over the interior design attentively, even as he held a conversation with Seokjin. “Are you into architecture?” Seokjin had eventually asked.

Namjoon had looked caught off guard and blushed. “Sorry, it’s not like I didn’t pay attention to you. It’s just that my job kind of has to do with woodwork.”

“Oh,” Seokjin had coaxed, swirling his spoon around the hot chocolate, “what’s your job?”

Kim Namjoon was still an enigma to him, and Seokjin had realized that even more when he noticed that he didn’t even know what that guy was doing for a living. The kind of person he’d spent hours talking to by now yet knew almost nothing about because all their conversations were interesting, yet superficial. Any information Seokjin could gather about the other, he had soaked up eagerly like a dry sponge.

Namjoon had fidgeted on the spot, looking the slightest bit uncomfortable. “It’s not… the most common job, I would say.”

Seokjin had cocked his head curiously.

“I’m a casket assembler.”

That’s… well, that’s certainly not a common job, Seokjin had thought to himself.

“So if I want a sturdy casket for an affordable price, you’ll make me a good deal?”

“No offense, hyung,” Namjoon had laughed, “but I really don’t think you fit the usual clientele quite yet.”

Seokjin had forced a smile on his lips.

Of course.

Namjoon didn’t know his diagnosis. He didn’t get the joke.

And Seokjin didn’t really want him to get it either.

“Who says it’s for myself?” Seokjin had wriggled his eyebrows suggestively, and then quickly switched lanes into a different topic.

He had finished his hot chocolate as he had listened to Namjoon explain the kind of woodwork he does in his free time as a hobby. It explained his calloused hands that Seokjin remembered roaming over his skin.

Seokjin shakes off the memory of their first time at the coffee shop. Namjoon’s in his own world, staring out of the window. He hasn’t even noticed yet that Seokjin hasn’t started reading through his poem. The older averts his gaze down to the notebook, twirling a pencil between his fingers.

Namjoon really has become a permanent fixture within their lives in the span of weeks. He joins their movie nights and pub crawls, and the others have become his what they like to call “support squad” for poetry slams. It’s a relatively new thing for Namjoon to try and take part in such things. He’s only been participating for a few months, years of being too critical on himself having held him back from giving it a shot any sooner.

Seokjin’s so glad that he’s found the confidence in his writing to share it, even if it’s still tentative. He would have never met the interesting and beautiful person that is Kim Namjoon otherwise, and that would have been a shame. And besides, Namjoon’s poetry deserves to be shared. He’s heard Namjoon perform three times including the night they’ve met, and each time he’s just as much in awe of his poems as on that September night. Namjoon exudes confidence on the small stages. His voice is powerful and his stance confident. It’s a switch within him that flicks on whenever he takes that crucial breath to speak the first line, and each time it takes Seokjin’s breath away anew. Also it’s really fucking hot to witness, but that’s just Seokjin’s dumb crush talking.

So when Namjoon had texted him to ask for help on this poem he wants to submit for a deadline but doesn’t know what to do with anymore, Seokjin had been more than eager to agree.

Much like he’s expected, Namjoon’s poem makes Seokjin feel things he’s never really felt before from reading literature. It’s about loneliness and a whale, and although Seokjin would never link these two things together by himself, the ways in which the words are laid out make his heart ache for whom Namjoon has dubbed the most lonely creature in the world.

Somehow, he can relate to that feeling of loneliness, even surrounded by so many people in his life.

He reads through it a second time, and underlines small things that, upon going over it again, don’t seem as smooth as the first time around. It’s only little changes, nothing detrimental, and after reading through it a third time, he slides the papers back over the table to Namjoon, heart pounding in his chest from a rush of unexplainable emotions.

“Okay,” Seokjin says, trying to get a grip on himself and effectively pulling the other out of his state of observation of the passer-bys, “again, I’m pretty sure that I have no idea what I’m doing. And this poem is perfect. But if there’s something I’d change to make it more impactful, it’s this.”

 

 

It’s been a day. The kind of day that makes Seokjin want to bury himself under blankets for the remaining hours and not interact with any human being anymore. He’s walking over the campus briskly, backpack slung over one shoulder and side-eyeing the rain clouds hanging in the sky threateningly.

“Jin-oppa!”

No. Not fucking now.

He could pretend to not have heard the call and continue walking, but then he hears it once again. He recognized the voice the first time already. It’s Seulgi, the girl he had a project with last term. He can hear the fast-paced footsteps on the ground, and curses his heart for being so soft when he comes to a stop. A quick grimace, and then he puts up as good of a smile as he can muster and turns to her.

Seulgi’s panting, and Seokjin thinks that they’re really not anywhere near close enough for her to be running after him like that. Her eyes trail over him from top to bottom, scanning him like a piece of clothing looking for any loose threads or missing buttons.

He braces himself for what he knows is about to come next.

“You look good.”

Of course. Of fucking course.

Seokjin knows he looks good. He’s always been on the handsome side, people have told him so all his life – and no, not just his mum and aunts and other estranged family members. It’s just a fact that his face is a tad bit more good-looking than the average Korean males. However, before his diagnosis, none of his acquaintances had thought to point that out to him randomly.

Now though, branded with a stamp that spells Advanced Cancer all over his forehead, people that know but aren’t too close to him like to bring it up all the fucking time. Seulgi only knows because back after his diagnosis, Seokjin had panicked and told everyone who might be affected in some way. The project they had worked on together was much needed for the grade in their course. It had been quite time-consuming as well, and Seokjin had wanted her to know from the start that because of the diagnosis, he hadn’t known how it would affect his ability to work on it or if he could even continue coming to class in the first place.

It had barely affected his work, and he managed showing up to class just fine, and now Seulgi knows and she’s giving him that look that says “I’m surprised you don’t look sick”.

But that’s just dumb, and a misconception Seokjin has learned to loathe over the past few months. As it turns out, cancer is not just chemotherapy and losing hair and becoming worryingly thin or grossly bloated. It would be unfair of him to say that he didn’t think of those prejudices as well before diagnosis, but now he knows better and now he wants to scream at others to stop believing whatever media portrays cancer to be.

It’s a struggle in itself to explain to people that he’s deadly sick if he doesn’t look sick. They think he’s already cured, or they think he’s lying. They believe that just because he looks okay, he actually is. None of them even have the slightest idea what kind of exhaustion comes along with cancer, both physically and mentally, even if it’s invisible. It’s bone-deep, impossible to shake off no matter how many hours of sleep he gets at night.

The most lonely creature in the world, because no one really understands.

Seokjin wants to slap each and every single person that looks at him and tells him he looks good, obviously implying that they’re confused that he’s not in some vegetative state as of yet.

“You do too,” he replies, and Seulgi looks taken aback at that reply. Of course she would. She’s not deadly sick, so why would Seokjin openly comment on her appearance like that out of the blue? “Listen, as much as I would love talking to you right now, I have somewhere to be and I’m already running late. But let’s catch up over coffee sometime, yeah?”

It’s a white lie, and he never intends to make those words come true, but anything to get her off his back right now is fair game. Seulgi nods, agrees that it would be a good idea to do that, and then Seokjin hurriedly walks off without looking back.

He’s not even at home for more ten minutes when his phone starts to ring. It’s his mum, calling the second time today. Seokjin rolls his eyes and mutes the call, throwing his phone on the kitchen counter and not sparing it another glance. He flops onto the couch in exhaustion and feels the tension slowly seeping out of his body. His mum can wait. He’ll call her back in a bit. But first, he really needs a nap.

 

 

Seokjin receives the most cryptic text message from Namjoon. A ton of exclamation marks, and nothing else. Because he’s a little bitch like that, he responds with a ton of question marks, and then nearly loses his mind in the seven minutes it takes for Namjoon to finally answer. He’s a terribly slow responder. It irks Seokjin, he can’t deny that.

Next thing he knows, Seokjin’s phone rings. He frowns at it, the caller ID being Namjoon. Namjoon’s never called before. He always texts. Seokjin’s heart spikes with anxiety.

“Yes?”

October 25th, hyung. Please tell me you have time!” Namjoon sounds ecstatic. He’s talking so quickly that Seokjin barely understands him, voice vibrating with nervous energy.

“I…?” Seokjin knows very well that he doesn’t have time on October 25th. His fifth TACE surgery is scheduled for October 26th. That means that on October 25th, he’ll have to show up at the hospital bright and early to get admitted, and spend the day pointlessly running from one doctor to another to hear the same informative conversation on the explanation of risks for the fifth time, sign the same papers agreeing to the surgery for the fifth time, and just be in an unpleasantly bad mood all day – a side effect of having to waste an entire day for literally nothing.

The organisator of the library opening just called. Hyung, they picked the poem you helped me with! I need you guys to come. I’m going to die of nerves, there’s going to be press and shit. Besides, you contributed to it too!

“I barely did anything,” Seokjin rejects the praise. Pride blooms in his chest for Namjoon, but worry nags on his mind because he knows that he’s going to be at the hospital. Nevertheless, he already knows that he’s going to be present for Namjoon’s big moment.

For Namjoon. Stupid crush.

“It’s on the 25th, you said?”

Yes, in the evening.”

Seokjin closes his eyes, inhales and exhales deeply. He wishes he could share Namjoon’s excitement, but he feels hollow thinking about how he’s going to pull this off. He can’t let Namjoon down, not when he knows how much Namjoon had wished to receive the opportunity to read at this opening. “I can’t promise that I’ll be able to stay for the entire event, because I have an important thing coming up on the 26th in the morning. But I’ll make sure to be there when you read.”

Even if Seokjin has to split himself in the middle. He’s been living a split life for the past months anyway, he should be a master at tearing himself apart by now.

 

So you’re coming over once you’re done?” Jimin makes sure. “We’ve got the booze and snacks, and Namjoon.”

“Shouldn’t your priority be the actual games for a game night more than alcohol?” Seokjin chuckles. He’s keeping his voice lowered, trying not to disturb the other patients sitting in the waiting hall too much.

As if you’d care for any games. You’re just coming over for the cute guy,” Jimin teases, and Seokjin grinds his teeth in frustration. He knows that Jimin’s only joking, but he wishes that his friend would stop. They all know that Seokjin has a terrible crush on Namjoon that he refuses to acknowledge out loud, so there’s really no reason to rub it in. Besides, his nerves are strung thin while waiting at the hospital. Jimin should give him a break.

“I might just not come,” Seokjin whispers, wondering if Jimin can detect the actual tension in his voice when he’s trying to keep it down like this.

And I might just know you’re lying,” comes the airy reply “So will you be on time?”

Seokjin looks up and down the hallway. All the red plastic chairs are filled with people and nurses are busily walking up and down the hallway like they’re on a mission.

“I won’t be out of this place for a minimum of two hours,” Seokjin says.

Jimin sighs. “So you’re going to be late?”

Seokjin wants to explain that it’s not really going to be his fault. He’s come in almost twenty minutes ago, and the nurses haven’t even taken his blood yet. It’s a routine check-up between surgeries, and once they have taken his blood it’s going to take at least one and a half hours for the results to come back in. Only after that, he’s going to see one of his oncologists, and judging from the packed hallway, he’s definitely not the only one waiting in line to talk to her. But it’s not really something he wants to explain to Jimin. He doesn’t really think that Jimin would understand.

So he mutters a quick apology and hopes that Jimin leaves it be at that.

And what do you want us to tell Namjoon?”

Seokjin sputters. “What do you mean tell Namjoon? Just say that I’m late. It’s the truth.”

One of the nurses steps out of a room. “Kim Seokjin-ssi?”

His head whips up and he quickly scrambles out of his chair. “I need to hang up now. I’ll see you later.”

He ends the call and makes his way down the hallway, bowing to the nurse whose face by now has become familiar, just like most faces working in the dermatology ward he stays at during surgeries and the oncology ward he comes to for check-ups.

“How have you been, Seokjin-ssi?” She asks politely as Seokjin pulls his sweater over his head. The air in the room is nippy, causing goosebumps to rise on his skin as he’s sitting in only a shirt.

He puts on his best fake smile, the one he’s had so much practice with in the recent months. “I can’t complain.”

The nurse kindly reciprocates the smile and within ten minutes, Seokjin leaves the room again with a band-aid stuck to the inside of his elbow and the pointless hope that the needle won’t leave another bruise that won’t disappear for a week.

He’s told that he’s not needed for at least an hour, so he’s free to do as he pleases. When the weather was still nice and warm, Seokjin had taken the opportunity to go for a walk through the hospital park. But October is unfriendly and gray, and the clouds look as if they promise the threat of rain, so he makes his way to the hospital café instead.

It’s unlike the cute coffee shops that Seokjin likes to visit and study at. The floor is the same ugly tile as the rest of the hallways in the hospital, and the chairs are white plastic and uncomfortable. There are big windows though that allow natural light to filter in, which makes the place at least a little more friendly.

Namjoon wouldn’t have much to marvel at in this place. Seokjin cuts that thought off right there. This really isn’t the time or place to daydream about Namjoon.

Seokjin grabs a cup of coffee at the counter and chooses a small table by the wall, away from other guests. Most of them are families or friends visiting a loved one to help them pass time by faster in a place as dreary as this.

Sometimes Seokjin plays with the idea of asking one of his friends to join him while he has to wait. It sure must make time go by quicker to have someone to talk with… but wouldn’t that be selfish? He’d take hours out of someone else’s day to spend that time unnecessarily sitting around the hospital. That’s more than he thinks he can ask of anyone.

The most lonely creature in the world.

He pulls out his phone and mindlessly scrolls the internet. Sometimes he brings a book to read, but most often he just passes the time unproductively.

Today falls under most often, and as much as Seokjin tries to ignore it, Jimin’s words keep ringing at the back of his mind over and over again.

And what do you want us to tell Namjoon?

It’s such a dumb question. What is there to tell Namjoon? Seokjin’s late, that’s all. There’s nothing else to tell. Although Seokjin knows that it’s his own fault that the question has come up. He once casually brought up to Jimin in passing that he’s wondering about whether he should tell Namjoon or not.

Jimin had looked puzzled that the topic had come up out of the blue, because Seokjin usually doesn’t bring it up. And then he’d latched on to it for some reason. Maybe it’s because Seokjin had offered it to begin with. He knows that Jimin wants to be more involved, wants Seokjin to open up more. He’s hinted at it before, but Seokjin always quickly shoots him down again. He also knows that Jimin is very much in favour of Namjoon and Seokjin dating, and not really in favour of keeping secrets from anyone – he’s been badly burned before in a relationship. Seokjin doesn’t know the details because Jimin still seems touchy about the subject years after it has happened, but Seokjin understands that it had to do with dishonesty and cheating.

But then again it’s not like Seokjin is lying to Namjoon. It’s just that the topic doesn’t really come up in conversation, and it’s kind of odd to raise out of nowhere.

Uh, by the way I have advanced cancer, is surely not a line that would go down well in a good romantic comedy, and Seokjin kind of wishes that he and Namjoon could have that good romantic comedy. If Namjoon would ask though, be all like “Hey Jin-hyung, do you have cancer?” Seokjin would obviously tell him the truth.

It’s just that Namjoon would never actually ask that, because who in their right mind would?

The hospital café is depressing and minutes tick by way too slowly, and now that his mind caught on to that topic it doesn’t want to let go.

Seokjin thinks he would loath if Namjoon was to find out, because once he would, there’d be that dumb pity in his eyes that they all get at some point. Even Jimin, Taehyung and Jungkook aren’t exempt from it.

It’s not that his friends do it on purpose either, but sometimes it happens. Seokjin doesn’t even think they notice. Or if they do, they might not think that he notices. He always notices though. Seokjin knows they’re trying to deal with the issue in their own ways, and he makes sure to keep them away from it as much as he can anyway because it’s not something they should worry about. His illness isn’t their burden. But when one of them slips up and looks at Seokjin with worry, it’s never with any bad intention. Seokjin knows that. It’s just that he’s is so touchy to the subject that he wants to scream at them to get it right and understand him, but…

… he doesn’t even understand himself most days, so how can he expect from someone who has no clue what it feels like to do the same?

At the moment, Yoongi is the only person in Seokjin’s life that he can genuinely feel at ease with. Yoongi knows most of his inner turmoil because to a certain extent as much as he’s comfortable with Seokjin lets him in, and yet he’s the one who treats him the least different. He’s still as blunt as ever and he’s a force to be reckoned with when in a cancer joke battle against Seokjin. It’s refreshing. Everyone always recoils at Seokjin’s attempt at cancer humor with a disapproving frown, but Yoongi eats it right up and fires back twice as banal. Seokjin lives for their dumb banter.

When Seokjin had once asked him on his opinion about telling Namjoon, Yoongi had simply shrugged. “Do whatever you’re most comfortable with. It would be unfair to not tell him if you guys were dating I think, but that’s not the case so your comfort comes first.”

And Seokjin’s comfort lays in the way Namjoon sees him. When the younger looks at him, Seokjin knows that he sees him and only him. There’s no curiosity hidden behind guarded eyes concerning Seokjin’s cancer. When he’s with Namjoon, he is not Seokjin with cancer. He’s just Seokjin, and the simplicity of it is exhilarating. Ever since he’s met Namjoon, for the first time in months Seokjin has felt like the small piece of his old self still exists somewhere within, and Kim Namjoon is the only one with access to it.

The most lonely creature in the world.

Seokjin closes his eyes and lets out an annoyed sigh. His mind’s a mess these days, a merry-go-round that he doesn’t know how to stop anymore and that picks up speed with every new round.

Namjoon. Cancer. His friends. His family. His emotions that he doesn’t have a grip on because he can’t identify them. His new life slipping out of his hands as much as he’s trying to hold on to it. His old life that he mourns with every passing day. Namjoon. Cancer. Normal life. Friends. Family. Namjoon. The new normal. There’s no real normal anymore. Sick. Pretence. Cancer. Cancer. Cancer.

His eyes are pressed close and he racks his hands through his hair as he tries to make his head shut up shut up shut up.

Seokjin jerks up from his spiraling thoughts to a soft tap on his shoulder. The girl standing next to him can’t be more than eight years old, and she stares at him with childlike innocence.

“Are you okay, sir?” she asks, and Seokjin’s heart melts at the simple question.

“Haeun-ah!” a shrill voice rings through the café, and a woman in business attire comes running across the room. She pulls the girl back by her shoulder and bows to Seokjin in apology. “I’m so sorry!”

“No worries,” Seokjin reassures her, before looking at the girl. This time around when he smiles, it doesn’t feel as forced. “I wasn’t before, but your concern is so touching that it made me feel better. Thank you!”

“My grandma says that when you’re sad, you have to remember happy memories to feel better again. That and eat chocolate,” the girl tells him enthusiastically. “we’re here to bring her some chocolate so she’ll feel better soon. Do you want some as well?”

Seokjin lifts his half-empty and by now cold cup of coffee, “I already have my hot chocolate, thank you. But I’ll make sure to think of happy memories as well to feel even better.”

“Come on, Haeun-ah. Grandma’s waiting and we don’t want to disturb this young man any longer. Again, I’m sorry.”

“It’s really okay,” Seokjin says once more, “I was in need of some cheering up right now.” He turns to the young girl, “so thank you, Haeun-ah! Make sure to tell your grandma about lots of happy memories so she’ll also feel better soon, okay?”

He watches the girl leave with her mother contemplatively. Happy memories? The Kim Seokjin who experienced those has died months ago, but the more he thinks about it there’s really no reason that the Kim Seokjin of the present can’t hold on to them regardless. He supposes even Namjoon’s lonely whale must have happy memories. Maybe Namjoon is the one who’s storing these happy memories of Seokjin within him, without even knowing.

Seokjin downs the rest of his coffee and gets up. A bit over an hour has passed by now, maybe he’s lucky enough that his blood results are already in.

He gets called into the office after only waiting for about twenty more minutes in the hallway.

The doctor greets him with a smile. “Seokjin-ssi,” how have you been?” She gestures for him to take a seat and pulls up the results of his blood work on the computer. His results are okay, which means they’re going to go through with the fifth TACE surgery as planned next week.

Seokjin is both relieved because receiving treatment is a good thing, but at the same time he wishes the next surgery wouldn’t have come around so soon. He still feels the phantom pain in his body from last time around, and it only feels like he was released from hospital just yesterday. Has it really been two weeks again already? And then there’s also the fact that he’ll somehow have to make it into the hospital on the morning of the 25th, make it to Namjoon’s reading in the evening, and then right back again to the hospital for the next day’s surgery.

Good. Receiving therapy is good, no matter how much it strains him emotionally or physically. After all, it’s what’s supposed to keep him alive for longer against the odds he’s facing.

“Actually,” his oncologist says after having voiced her satisfaction on his current state, and starts sliding a bunch of papers his way, the look of polite small talk having given way to serious business, “there’s something I would like to discuss with you.”

 

 

“Hyung,” Taehyung cheers as he opens the front door and falls into Seokjin’s arms, “thank god you’re finally here. The others have ganged up on me during UNO and I keep losing.”

“You’re never not losing at UNO,” Seokjin laughs and shakes off the younger, “that’s kind of your thing, isn’t it?”

“So mean,” Taehyung pouts, and Seokjin can hear the others being noisy from the living room, the sound of glasses clinking. Shots of soju, he supposes. It would certainly explain the glassy look in Taehyung’s eyes and the way he slightly stumbles after Seokjin brushes his arms off.

Game nights with these people have never ended with anyone sober as long as Seokjin can remember, but there’s generally little nights with his friends that don’t end up being drenched in alcohol. It’s the typical student life, but sometimes Seokjin wonders if maybe he should cut back a bit on the poison.

Especially considering that his liver’s already busy enough fighting cancer and all the medication being pumped into his body to kill said cancer. He ought to give it a break at some point, right?

Seokjin tastes the remnants of the cigarette he’s just had on his way over to their flat on his tongue.

Nah, fuck being responsible when his life has already derailed. He should have at least some fun.

Namjoon looks good, but what else is new? He’s sitting on the living room floor in a white shirt, black jeans and bright blue socks. Seokjin has to force himself to stop openly ogling the other, especially in front of his friends. He can already feel Jimin’s piercing gaze on him.

Jungkook presses a shot glass into Seokjin’s hand before he’s even settled down, claiming that it’s definitely not fair for Seokjin to play against them sober as he would clearly be at an advantage. Taehyung pats Jungkook’s head affectionately as if proud of him and Seokjin downs the shot without complaint. His head is too full of thoughts at the moment anyway after his talk with the oncologist, so he welcomes the possibility to escape.

 

 

“You okay?” Namjoon asks.

Seokjin blinks his eyes open, not even having realized that he’s closes them in the first place. He’s tired and his body feels heavy, sprawled out over one of the two shabby couches in the living room.

Jimin had gone to sleep about an hour ago, Jungkook was waiting by the door for the delivery guy to bring up the fried chicken they had ordered and Taehyung was banging around in the kitchen for some clean plates to eat from.

Seokjin’s had quite a bit to drink, but it’s the kind of night on which he can have as much alcohol as he wants and barely feel the effect on it. So much for his plan to escape.

Namjoon is laying on the other couch, which is technically a two-seater and too small for him. His feet dangle over the armrest.

“Hmmm,” Seokjin hums noncommittally, “why?”

“I don’t know,” Namjoon answers, “you seemed a bit distracted all night.”

“Just tired,” Seokjin closes his eyes again. He doesn’t want to look at Namjoon’s profile right now, not when he knows that his heart would skip a fucking beat again.

It’s so ridiculous, the way he as a grown ass man reacts around another grown ass man like Namjoon’s his school crush. Whenever he makes a joke, his eyes immediately dart over to see if Namjoon laughs as well. He preens under Namjoon’s attention like a dog who’s told he’s a good boy. It’s not a particularly good thing to do considering that they’re labeled as just friends. It makes Seokjin feel pathetic.

“Listen,” Namjoon talks more quietly, as if he’s started being conscious of the noises coming from the kitchen now and doesn’t want to be overheard, “There’s obviously something on your mind. I know that I’m the new one in this group of friends. And that maybe you don’t feel comfortable sharing something with the guys when I’m present. I get that, but I hope you know that you can feel at ease around me. And I don’t want to stand in the way of you guys talking about anything.”

Always so perceptive. Seokjin thinks that maybe that’s the poet within Namjoon. Having picked up on Seokjin’s mood. On the fact that he’s not quite mentally present tonight. He wonders if the others have even noticed, or maybe if Namjoon emphasizes because he understands?

The most lonely creature in the world. Even surrounded by friends, playing games and laughing, Seokjin feels as if he’s so far away, so detached. His body is present, but his mind is still stuck in the hospital hallway – alone.

“I know,” Seokjin sighs. He thinks of his bag by the entrance, of the bunch of papers in it and their significance, but it’s not like they contain the kind of information Seokjin would bring up at a casual gaming night. “I’m not holding back because you’re present, don’t worry. There’s something on my mind right now, but I wouldn’t discuss it with the others either… at least not now.”

He hears Namjoon shift and feels his eyes burning into him.

“If you need someone to talk to…” Namjoon trails off.

“Thanks,” Seokjin answers and effectively cuts off the offer before Namjoon can finish talking, knowing full well that it’s certainly not an offer he’s going to take up anytime soon.

 

 

When Seokjin does arrive at home shortly past midnight, his body is tired but his brain is certainly not. He chucks his backpack into the corner of the hallway and makes himself a cup of tea. It’s a good thing that his classes tomorrow won’t take place before early afternoon, because the idea of having to get up in a few hours sounds absolutely dreadful.

Seokjin feels restless. He’d like to wind down with a tv show or a book, but something at the back of his mind urges him on to do something productive.

Don’t waste precious time.

He gets his laptop and pulls up the reading he was assigned in today’s lecture. Might as well get a headstart on it if his brain wants him to be productive. Seokjin takes out his lenses and puts on glasses instead, gets his notebook, a pen and a highlighter, and settles down on his desk to start reading through the essay.

It doesn’t take him more than ten lines to realize that this is definitely not the type of content his mind wants to engage with at the moment. He reads the lines a second and a third time, but each time he comes to the end of the paragraph he also comes to the realisation that he hasn’t understood a single thing on what this article is about.

His mind flashes to the backpack discarded in the corner of the hallway, or more specifically the papers hidden within it.

Right.

Just because he doesn’t want to engage with his cancer at the moment doesn’t mean that his subconscious feels the same. On the contrary, it’s quite eager to find out more.

His thoughts wander back to his oncologist.

”Seokjin-ssi, as of now we’re still going to proceed with eight TACE surgeries in total as we’ve originally planned to do. However, as this is already your fifth coming up, it is time to start thinking about our future steps.”

His eyes had fallen on the stack of papers in front of him, and just the unfamiliar term of the first word in the heading had made his stomach coil from anxiety.

ChemoSat.

Seokjin closes the article and opens a new browser. Screw his “don’t google your illness” policy. His oncologist had only given him a brief summary of what she had in mind for him next, and urged him to read the papers. He had tried to on his commute from the hospital to his friends’ flat, but the words were all too technical for him to understand.

“It’s still a study,” the doctor’s voice echoes at the back of his mind. “Six surgeries. Liver detached from the rest of the body. Might kill metastasis so small we can’t detect them yet. Requires ICU for a day after surgery.”

Seokjin’s stomach turns again. Scary, that’s what it had sounded like. He finds the official website for the treatment. In some countries it’s already used to treat cancer on the liver, but it’s so new and so complex that it’s still in its testing phase in many others, even the US.

It sounds dangerous. They’ll detach his liver from the rest of his body while he’s unconscious, because apparently that’s a thing that’s possible. They’ll establish a separate blood circulation for his liver alone, and flood the organ with the same highly dosed amount of chemo medicine that is currently injected into his metastasis directly. After that, the blood will be filtered again, before his liver will be reattached to the rest of his body. It’s crucial that none of the chemo medicine remains in his bloodstream at this point, because the liver is the only organ strong enough to handle that kind of poison.

The best of the best doctors present. They call it washing the liver, to target even the possible metastasis that can’t be seen yet.

Seokjin’s head hurts. Reading through the procedure sounds terrifying, almost like the plot point of some sci-fi movie.

Detaching the liver from the rest of the body sounds absurd. And then there’s the possible things that can go wrong.

TACE is a small invasive surgery, directly targeting the enemies within his body, but this ChemoSat? That’s some big fucking dangerous shit. And he’s supposed to do it six times?

Seokjin’s stomach is in knots just thinking about the idea of it because it sounds so abstract.

His doctor told him to read into it, think about it. There’s no guarantee that he will get the place in the clinical study, but she boasted about the high hopes doctors have for this kind of treatment to deal with cancer on the liver, the kind of cancer considered almost incurable once it has nested in there. She has urged him to consider that there will have to be a next step after TACE.

Seokjin does the math quickly. He has three more planned TACE, meaning that he’ll be done with those around January. If he’s really to receive six of these other surgeries, he’s still going to be stuck in hospital for at least a week at a time at least until July. Still almost a year.

But then again it’s not like he really has another option, does he?

His heart is beating rapidly fast in his chest as the feeling of anxiety grows and threatens to overwhelm him once again.

This isn’t something he wants to agree to. Cancer has already taken so much from his life, but this new treatment sounds even more time absorbing, physically straining and most importantly dangerous.

And all that Seokjin wants is a calm, hospital-free life and a body that’s not broken.

ChemoSat sounds absolutely fucking terrifying.

And Seokjin just wants to live.

He’s fucking terrified, wants to say no, but...

He remembers the sombre look on his oncologist’s face when he had stared down at the papers, sweat coating his skin from nervousness, and feebly asked about the other options after TACE he might have.

“Seokjin-ssi,” his oncologist had said and he loathed the tone of sincerity and compassion in her voice as she had rested the palm of her hand on top of the stack of papers, “I truly believe that this is the best opportunity that you can receive.”

 

The place is packed, and Seokjin has to stand on his tiptoes to find his friends. They’re all dressed up a bit, which is quite unusual to see. Seokjin feels a bit lousy wearing only a black sweater, but it was the only option he’s had. It would have looked quite stupid if he had rolled up at the hospital this morning in a fancy shirt.

“There you are!” Namjoon sighs, looking relieved once he spots Seokjin. His face is flushed from nerves, his hair is styled back and he’s wearing a white button-down under a gray blazer. He looks fucking fantastic, but what else is new?

“Sorry it took a while. And I’m sorry that I can’t stay for too long.”

“That’s okay. I’m just glad you could make it.”

Namjoon is beaming proudly, and he has every right to be. It might not be the most prestigious event to present your poetry at, but it’s definitely a step up from rowdy bars and quiet coffee shops – there’s even the local press here, some government officials and important authors and journalists. It’s definitely a big opportunity for Namjoon to share his poetry in this space.

Jungkook, ever the helpful maknae, presses a glass of champagne into Seokjin’s empty hand, and they all cheer to Namjoon’s poem.

He’s understandably nervous, bouncing around with a surplus of antsy energy. When someone comes to get him for the official part of the event to begin, they all pat his back and tell him that he’s going to be amazing – that they’ll cheer for him, and that if he gets nervous, he should just look for them in the crowd.

Seokjin hopes he’ll catch Namjoon’s eyes while he’s up there on that small stage, even if it’s for just a moment.

“So you can’t stay for the afterparty?” Taehyung asks begrudgingly after Namjoon has disappeared into the crowd.

Seokjin shakes his head in remorse, and suddenly he’s very aware of the scratchy hospital bracelet hidden away under his black sweater, feeling as if it suddenly weighs a ton.

“I have to be back in the hospital by 10. It was already a struggle to convince the doctors to let me out to begin with, but I told them that there’s literally no point for me to be in there either in the evening.”

“That’s a shame.”

The others hum in agreement.

“I’m just glad I can be here,” Seokjin says. He takes another sip of his champagne. “I think I’d really beat myself up if I couldn’t.”

“You know it wouldn’t be your fault though if that was the case,” Jimin throws in. The glass in his hand is almost empty. “It’s not like you chose this. I think it’s pretty amazing that you tried to make it happen. And I’m sure that Namjoon would be even more grateful if he knew as well.” He holds out his glass into the middle of their little huddle. “To Namjoon’s success tonight and to your surgery going well tomorrow.”

The four of them clink their glasses together once again, but Seokjin is too baffled to really respond to the unexpectedly kind words. He appreciates them though. They make the wristband feel a bit less itchy. They make his throat feel a bit tight with emotions.

“Yes, let’s hope your surgery goes well,” Jungkook and Taehyung agree, and they all empty what’s left in their glasses in one go.

“Wait,” Jungkook then says, wide-eyed, “should you even be drinking alcohol today?”

“My dear dongsaeng,” Seokjin snorts, “it’s not like my liver isn’t already fucked.”

The youngest shrugs as the others laugh. “Fair enough. In that case, let me get us more.”

And for once, the night before a surgery, Seokjin doesn’t feel quite as alone as he usually does in his hospital bed. He watches Namjoon stand on the stage in all his confidence, a single spotlight shining down on him and a hushed crowd hanging onto every word coming from his lips in trance, talking about a lonely whale.

With Jimin’s shoulder pressing into his as he’s attentively listening to every word coming from Namjoon, Seokjin realizes that although it feels to him like that at times, he isn’t the most lonely creature in the world. In fact, it’s his own fault by pushing the others away, not allowing them to come visit at the hospital, not sharing his experience with them to help them understand.

Maybe it’s about time he allows himself to finally let them in.

Chapter Text

November 2018

“Oh,” Seokjin looks up from the book he’s reading to find Namjoon’s eyes on the back of his hands, “what’s that, hyung?”

Namjoon’s reaching out to take Seokjin’s left hand into his own. They’re still as calloused as Seokjin remembers them to be on that September night when they mapped out Seokjin’s skin. Namjoon’s nails are always short. The skin around them is often dry and slightly cracked. Namjoon’s hands are by no means untended, but looking at them reveals that the work he does is physical. There are a few tiny scars as well, testimony to the fact that doing woodwork is a not so easy learning progress, and it’s rare for there not to be a healing scratch somewhere on his hands – courtesy of Namjoon’s clumsiness, which definitely doesn’t come in handy in connection with sharp tools.

Seokjin’s heart speeds up as Namjoon carefully cradles his fingers, remembering that on the back of his own hand there are two nasty blueish-green bruises. For his last check-up, the nurse wasn’t able to draw blood immediately. They had to try six times in total to finally be successful, two of which having been on said back of the hand and left behind obvious bruising.

If it ever comes up and Namjoon asks, he’s not going to lie to him. Seokjin’s promised himself that. It’s just that he didn’t think they’d have this conversation out of the blue in the middle of the damn library because of damn bruising from a needle.

“Is that… a whale?”

Seokjin’s eyes also fall on the back of his hand, and the tension that has suddenly accumulated in his body drains again just as quickly.

Namjoon is holding his left hand. The left hand on which he had absent-mindedly drawn a whale during class when he had been bored. His bruises are on the back of his right hand. He self-consciously hides that one under the table and clenches it to a fist.

“It is. I call him Kore.”

Namjoon’s finger runs along the wobbly outline of the black ink carefully, and now Seokjin’s heart is pounding hard in his chest for an entirely different reason.

“He’s cute.”

“I’ve based him on that poem of yours.”

The other’s head snaps up in surprise, mouth slightly open in disbelieve. Seokjin feels his face heat up in embarrassment. There was really no reason to tell Namjoon about that. It’s been a while since the night he performed the poem at the opening of the library, and by now Seokjin should have moved on from it – yet he somehow still can’t get it out of his head.

Namjoon lets go of Seokjin’s hand and the blond immediately misses the warmth. He watches quietly as Namjoon pulls out the black notebook he writes his poems into and leafs through it, before sliding it over the table, open on said poem that still has Seokjin’s pencil marks suggesting possible changes to it from one afternoon in October.

“Can you draw him for me?”

“I’m not good at drawing,” Seokjin scratches the back of his neck. This is awkward. Namjoon’s looking at him all wide-eyed over a dumb drawing of a fish and he’s not even sure why, “besides, it’s not like he’s anything special. Your poem just kind of stuck with me once when I was bored, and I drew him. There’s no manual. It’s just a few lines.”

“You gave him a name, hyung,” Namjoon says as if he’s trying to explain something really important to a child that doesn’t grasp the meaning. “You drew this thing and gave it a name, and it’s based on one of my poems. Honestly, that’s pretty damn special to me. Do you even know how cool it is if someone creates something that is based on something you’ve created?”

“Namjoon,” Seokjin sighs, voice oozing with sarcasm as he grabs a pen, “unlike you, I don’t create things. I just play video games in my free time.”

“You created Kore.”

“That’s just a scribble.”

“What kind of artist are you?”

“I’m not an-”

Their bickering gets interrupted by someone shushing them, and both immediately apologize, having momentarily forgotten that they’re in a library. Seokjin pulls the notebook closer and uncaps the pen. He makes sure that the back of his right hand is hidden under the sleeve of his jumper so Namjoon won’t spot the bruise as he draws Kore at the bottom of the page. Just because he can, he puts his signature below it, almost the same size of the whale, before pushing the notebook back to Namjoon.

“Happy now?” he whispers.

Namjoon just grins at him smugly before picking back up the book of poems he had been reading.

 

“Be honest,” Yoongi leans closer and lowers his voice all conspiratorially, “the reason you never wanted me to join you at the hospital before is so you can keep the cute nurse for yourself?”

Seokjin’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise at the words, and he scans the waiting room briefly before his eyes catch on the red-haired nurse passing by behind the glass wall on the hallway outside. He laughs. “Hoseok? Yoongi-ah, he’s literally getting paid to empty my toilet bowl when I’m still on bedrest. He’s nice, but…” Seokjin grimaces at the thought, “no.”

“Some people are into that.”

“Oh my god, no.”

Yoongi shrugs. “I’m just saying. He is really cute though.”

“By all means, take your shot if you can ignore the bedpan.”

Seokjin’s taken a shot himself. It’s a premiere that for the first time, eight months after his diagnosis, he’s allowed one of his friends to join him at the hospital. It’s only ever been his parents and his older brother that have kept him company, but he’s not close enough with his brother to really consider him a comfort, and his mum and dad always look one second away from crying when they see him in a hospital bed, so that’s not the most uplifting experience either.

Yoongi had been the obvious choice, and when Seokjin had asked him, he’d simply answered that he’ll make sure he’s got nothing else planned that day and that was that. He’s made no big deal of it, like Seokjin knows Jimin for example would do, and now that he’s sitting around the waiting room and joking around with his best friend, he’s so glad he’s made that decision – wonders why he’s been so hellbent on refusing to let anyone see him in here in the first place.

Although Yoongi’s access to Seokjin in the hospital is still restricted. Seokjin’s allowing him in now, pre-surgery. He might also allow him to return two days after surgery, when Seokjin feels somewhat human again and isn’t on bedrest any longer. He would still never, however, allow Yoongi to visit when he’s nothing more than a living corpse in hospital bed. That’s a line he’s still not comfortable about crossing, and he doesn’t think he ever will be. He’s made it this far already, but he still refuses to let his friends see everything. That would be an unnecessary pain to put them through.

Seokjin’s taken another shot. He has agreed to ChemoSat. His mother had insisted he agree and try to become a part of the study. She wants him to heal above anything else, and when he had told her that he’s still unsure about it, she had taken to her new favourite tactic of guilting him into it. Teary eyes, a wobbly voice. It’s been eight months, and his mother has still not made peace with the fact that for Seokjin, there’s no more healing. There’s only buying time.

That borrowed time he lives on now should be spent well, he thinks. He wants to travel, go to more events, see more museums. Of course he won’t throw away the years of hard work he’s invested into his education, but he just wants to live a little more outside of that. Experience a little more. Live a little more consciously. With TACE, that’s possible three out of four weeks in a month. With ChemoSat, however…

Sometimes he breaks out into cold sweat when he thinks about it. He still can’t wrap his mind around the fact that he will undergo a surgery – not only once but six times – that will detach his liver from the rest of his body and establish its own blood circulation just to flood it with highly dangerous medicine. He can’t even wrap his mind around the fact that one can detach the liver from the body like that. The amount of things he has learned about the human body since the beginning of his diagnosis is astounding.

Maybe he should quit linguistics and go into biology or medicine.

He should stop worrying about ChemoSat for now. Including tomorrow’s, he still has three TACE surgeries to go through, so even if he manages to be accepted into the study, the first surgery won’t happen until February the earliest.

“Anyways, do you have any plans for your birthday already?” Yoongi changes the topic.

Seokjin shakes his head. His birthday is something that has been on his mind a lot recently. It’s approaching fast, on December 4th. It’s already the end of November, but he’s lucky that by the time his birthday comes around, he should have completely recovered from the surgery already.

“I don’t really think that I’m going to do anything this year.”

He’s never been one to celebrate his birthday in a grand way. Usually it would be a casual get-together with friends, a night out at the club or something along those lines. Even if he did party on his birthday, he had never liked the day to be specifically centered around him.

This year though…

Seokjin doesn’t want to do anything at all. He wants no seaweed soup, no congratulations or presents or cake. There’s nothing to celebrate, because statistically speaking he will only be alive for no more than four of his birthdays. It seems so wrong to celebrate with that knowledge in mind.

Yoongi frowns. “You sure about that?”

Avoiding an answer, Seokjin draws invisible patterns on the surface of the table with his fingertip. He ends up tracing the outline of Kore over and over again. When he realizes what he’s doing, he pulls his hand back as if being burned. The loneliest creature in the world.

“I don’t want a party,” Seokjin amends.

“How about some whiskey and a movie?”

Seokjin has to stifle a smile. Any other person he knows would suggest beer and soju, but Yoongi’s taste is a bit more expensive than that.

“If you promise no presents or cake or other birthday shit, I’m in.”

Yoongi holds out his fist and Seokjin bumps his own against it. “Promise. It’s going to be a no-birthday movie night.”

And that, Seokjin thinks, is why Yoongi is his best friend. He asks no further questions. He doesn’t push. He’s just the calm presence in Seokjin’s life that keeps him anchored.

 

The day after surgery – and technically Seokjin is still on tentative bedrest, so it hasn’t even been twenty-four hours yet since he came out of the operating room – someone fetches Seokjin for an MRI scan that he knows nothing about.

He feels like shit. Whatever food he’s tried to eat, he’s thrown up again in a matter of minutes. Liquids are much the same, so they’ve kept him on IVs throughout the night. His lips are chapped. He feels disgusting, and he thinks that he must look disgusting as well. The doctors think that it’s not even a reaction to the surgery at this point, because there’s no additional pain, but that his body simply doesn’t respond well to anesthesia anymore because it’s a strain on his body.

That’s fun. It’s not like he has two more TACE surgeries planned, and then potentially six more, way longer, and way more intense ChemoSat surgeries.

As he gets wheeled through the hospital hallways in his hospital gown, his surroundings are all blurred. It might be because he’s neither wearing glasses nor contact lenses at the moment, but it also might be because he hasn’t had much sleep and his body is deciding to attack him for trying to save it. What a mess.

So they wheel him to an MRI appointment he doesn’t even know he’s been scheduled for, and all the way there and all the time during and all the way back he has to seriously concentrate on not throwing up. It’s not like anyone would be mad at him. He’s at a hospital. He’s sick. Anyone looking at him right now could see that he’s anything but well. But still there’s that glimmer of pride within him that makes him fight through the waves of nausea until he’s finally back in his hospital bed. That’s when nothing but gall claws its way up his oesophagus and he vomits what little is left all over his filthy hospital gown. One of his roommates presses the button to call a nurse, and Seokjin falls back on the mattress in exhaustion, sweat mattening his hair to his forehead and the bitter taste of despair on his tongue.

On his second day post-surgery, he feels a lot better. His stomach has settled down enough for him to keep food down. His sense of smell is weirdly enhanced again, meaning that just the whiff of meat closes up his throat. The mixture of cleaning agent and disinfectant on the toilets makes his eyes water. As long as he sticks to neutral or sweet food and holds his breath while on the toilet, he’s mostly fine.

That’s why he doesn’t understand when he’s called for a meeting with one of his oncologists. He usually only sees them during the ward round in the morning, which means that something must be wrong. Maybe it’s his blood levels?

“Seokjin-ssi,” the doctor says. They always start off like that. It’s unsettling. “I’ve brought you here to discuss your MRI results.”

And suddenly it hits him like a slap in the face. The MRI scan. Of course. The last time he had done an MRI, they had confirmed the liver metastasis. That means that this time around, they had brought him to do the scans to-

He can’t believe he wasn’t able to connect the dots. He was too out of it to realize that the reason for the scans was to check on his metastases.

It’s a blessing he didn’t realize sooner, because suddenly he fears like he’s never feared anything before in his life. His heart seizes up in his chest. It gets hard to breathe. The results are pulled up on the doctor’s computer screen, and Seokjin can’t-

Can’t-

Oh god oh no what if it got worse what if they got bigger what if there’s more why else would they call him here?

He feels as if he’s been wrapped tight in cotton. He can’t hear properly anymore. His body feels unreal. Everything feels unreal. Not real. Oh no. Oh god. What if-

“We’re content with the results.”

Seokjin’s breath halts, and his heart stutters.

And then he has to blink away the sudden blur of tears as a train of emotion hits him with full force all at once.

“It’s a mostly stable result. Some of the metastases have shown a response to the treatment and shrunk, others have stayed the same in size. There are no new ones that we can see.”

She gives him an encouraging smile and pretends not to notice that Seokjin is going through it at this very moment.

“We’re already satisfied if there’s no new metastasis and no growth. Considering that some of them have become regressive, we know that treatment is effective. Do you have any questions?”

Seokjin shakes his head. He can’t really talk right now. He’s too busy not breaking into tears.

“Then that’s all, thank you.”

He leaves the office hurriedly. One of the nurses sees him on the hallway and asks if he’s okay as he rushes by. He gives her a watery smile and a thumbs up. It’s probably not the most convincing.

The toilet for visitors is the nearest place to hide away in peace. Seokjin hurriedly locks the door behind himself, and as soon as he hears the click that promises him privacy, he can’t hold the sobs back any longer. He tries to wipe the tears away with toilet paper, but they keep coming. His nose is all clogged up, and he heaves so much from sobbing with such forcefulness that he fears he’ll have to throw up again. His knees are shaking. His entire body is shaking.

It’s cathartic.

When he’s done, a sense of serenity washes over him. It’s unlike any feeling he’s ever felt before. There’s a lightness to his limbs. It’s easier to breathe. He’s in a fucking hospital toilet, but even that place to him is beautiful right now. He looks at the damp toilet paper in his hands. Balls it up and throws it into the toilet before flushing. As he watches it wash down, another wave of emotions overwhelms him. He starts to laugh, and then he starts to cry again, and then he feels like a maniac, but at the same time he feels happier than he’s been in a while.

Seokjin looks like a mess. Anyone can tell that he’d been crying from the reddened eyes and blotchy face, but he doesn’t care. He’s euphoric. He calls his parents to tell them the good news. They both cry on the phone. And then he calls Yoongi, and when his best friend gets all choked up with emotions from the unexpected good news, Seokjin almost cries again as well.

It’s no surprise that within half an hour after he’s come out of the toilet, the oncology ward’s psychologist stands next to his hospital bed and asks if he’s up for a talk. He should have known that one of the nurses who caught on to his telltale signs of crying would have called for her. They’ve brought her in for less before, such as Seokjin saying he’s doing just “okay” instead of “good” when he showed up to hospital the morning before his third TACE surgery. Traitors.

They take a walk down the hallway that houses the private hospital rooms and hides the red couches. They’re open for anyone, but they’re just enough out of sight for most patients to not realize they even exist, and are, therefore, almost always empty. His psychologist is talking about trivial things while they walk, such as her favourite topic of them all – Seokjin and his stubbornness when it comes to still doing well at university despite the difficult circumstances of his life.

Once they’re out of earshot, she’s quick to thin out that conversation and move to the more pressing one.

“Is there anything you want to talk about?”

By now she should know the answer. Whenever she asks, Seokjin will pick a spot on the wall to stare at, pretend to think for a few seconds, and then shake his head and tell her that he’s good.

“Because of this?” He gestures to his face and can’t help but laugh. “I’m good. Those were tears of joy. I got some unexpected positive results back from the MRI.”

He immediately sees the shift within her that goes from concerned to elated. “That’s wonderful!”

“Yes,” Seokjin agrees. “They could have just warned me about it in the first place. I hadn’t even known that we were going to look at my metastases. It’s been… a rollercoaster, the past half an hour.”

It’s unexpectedly nice to talk to his psychologist about what had happened. He’s still giddy, still on that high that makes it hard to sit still and makes him constantly fidget with his fingers because there’s too much energy and he’s just so happy. It helps to order his thoughts though, to talk about it with someone who listens and who tries to understand.

“Is there anything else you want to talk about?” she asks when Seokjin thinks he’s done with the topic.

No. Not really. Now’s the time he’s shared everything he’s comfortable sharing, and that’s that. But he’s in a good mood. And suddenly Namjoon’s face pops into his mind. He’s already shaken his head, but then he stops.

“Actually…” he trails off. His psychologist has a good poker face, but he can tell that she’s just a bit surprised that Seokjin offers up a topic himself, “there’s something that’s been bothering me lately.”

He starts to explain how during the initial stage of cancer, he’s told everyone about the diagnosis. That he had thought he needs to, because he’s going to look sick soon. And then he tells her that ever since, new people have come into his life, and that these new people don’t know yet because against his expectations he looks anything but sick. He’s not specifically going into details, because the issue is broader than just Namjoon. There are other people he’s met since as well and has kept in steady contact with that don’t know about his diagnosis either. It’s bigger than Namjoon only, but Namjoon is the centre of the problem.

“So what exactly is the issue?” his psychologist asks when he thinks he’s covered the gist of what’s on his mind.

He falters for a second. “I think the issue is whether I should tell them or not.”

“Are you deliberately lying to them?” Seokjin shakes his head. “Do you think it’s necessary for them to know?” He thinks about it, and again shakes his head. “Then I’m asking you again, what’s the issue?”

He takes a few seconds to chew that question over in his head. “I think I’m scared that should they find out, they might think that I’ve been lying to them. They might feel hurt. Everyone else in my life knows. After all, it is a pretty big part of my life. An important one.”

“Seokjin-ssi, do you want to know what I think? I think that it means that you are taking control over your cancer. When you were diagnosed and told everyone, that was you panicking. That was the illness being bigger than you were, and you were scared and panicking. But now you’ve learned how to deal with it. You’re no longer the oppressed one – instead you have retaken control of your life. And taking control of your life also means getting to choose who knows what about you.”

“But what if they find out and feel hurt that I’ve not told them?” His voice is weak. He’s never thought about it like that.

“Why do you not want them to know?”

Seokjin doesn’t have to think about the answer to that question. “I enjoy being with people and not having to think about my cancer. When I’m with someone who doesn’t know, I can switch that topic off for a while.”

“In that case, if they find out and are truly hurt, you tell them exactly that. If they’re good people, they will understand. You explain to them that not telling them was not because you didn’t want them to know, but because it helped you feel better.”

Seokjin nods. That makes sense. It does. He’s never thought about it like that, but spelled out to him like this – he’s always feared that he’s hiding something from Namjoon, but looking at it like that it’s only made him feel better about himself to be with the other. He’s known that all along, but he had always taken the negative approach to it.

But this meaning that he’s taken control over his life again, it sounds nice. Reasonable. It makes him feel surprisingly better about himself.

“Okay,” Seokjin says. He’s definitely received some food for thoughts just now. That combined with the positive results is absolutely overwhelming, and the fact that he’s had surgery just about forty-eight hours ago doesn’t help. All of a sudden, he’s both physically and mentally exhausted. It’s time to go back to his hospital bed and have a nice long nap. “Now I have nothing else I want to talk about anymore.”

His psychologist laughs and accompanies him back to the room. Seokjin sleeps almost the rest of the day and all through the night, barely awake enough to exchange a few words with his parents when they come to visit and swallow a few bites of yaksik during dinner.

 

December 2018

To no one’s surprise, Seokjin’s non-birthday whiskey and movie night with Yoongi turns into a non-birthday movie night with Yoongi, Jimin, Taehyung, Jungkook and Namjoon. He doesn’t even know how that has happened, but there was a lot of pouting and whining from the three devils once they’ve learned that Seokjin has no plans to celebrate his birthday.

“I don’t want to celebrate this year,” he had told them very insistently.

“We’re not celebrating any birthdays,” Jimin had retorted, “we’re having a movie night and finally getting to know your Yoongi.”

“That’s hyung to you,” Seokjin had sighed, knowing it’s a losing battle.

So now he’s here, on his birthday non-birthday, a nervous mess. Yoongi is lounging on his couch, a glass of whiskey already in his hand and having a field day watching Seokjin putter around with nervous energy.

“The way you act I’d think Namjoon has never been to your flat before.”

“Would you kindly shut up?”

Yoongi cackles and Seokjin wonders if it’s too late to kick him out and cancel the whole thing.

It’s been a weird day. On one hand, Seokjin received all the congratulations begrudgingly given the circumstances. On the other hand, the good news of his metastases being steady after eight months had given him a boost of confidence and joy over the past few days, making today not nearly as dreadful as he had originally thought it would be.

His doorbell rings. Jimin, Taehyung and Jungkook fall into his hallway like a hurricane.

“We brought soju.”

“We have snacks.”

“I want to meet Yoongi-hyung.”

They all talk over each other, kick off their shoes haphazardly and stumble into Seokjin’s living room.

“Aish,” Seokjin mutters to himself as he neatly places their shoes next to the entrance so no one can fall over them – and when he says no one he’s definitely not thinking of clumsy Namjoon – and listens to his raucous dongsaengs in the living room. He’s known Jimin and Taehyung for one and a half years now, Jungkook for about ten months, and he can’t believe it’s taken this long for them to finally meet Yoongi. And he really wonders how his best friend thinks about them. Some of the nerves he’s feeling today are definitely not related to Namjoon, but to the fear that Yoongi might not like them. He’s the quiet type, and he keeps his circle of friends tight-knit. The three of them are unlike anyone that Yoongi would usually hang out with, a hard to control puppy pile, which is why Seokjin’s nervous that the other could possibly not like them.

His fears seem to be unfounded. By the time he makes it back into the living room, Yoongi is laughing, his gummy smile that he doesn’t show too often on full display.

“Why did you hide him from us for so long?” Jimin complains. Jungkook is already busying himself getting out the shot glasses from Seokjin’s cupboard. Taehyung is ripping open a pack of chips and emptying them into a bowl.

“Make yourself at home I guess,” Seokjin mutters sarcastically. This is going to be anything but the quiet movie night Seokjin had envisioned it to be, and he’s strangely okay with it.

The doorbell rings another time.

A chorus of “Oooooh”s resonates through the living room, and Seokjin flips all of them off before going back to the hallway and pointedly closing the door behind him. He supposes that the wolf whistle that follows that action is his own fault.

Namjoon looks stunning. His dark hair is gelled back and he’s smiling brightly when Seokjin opens the door.

“Hyung,” Namjoon enters, and unlike the others he has the manners to put his shoes away neatly, “I brought some alcohol.”

Seokjin gratefully accepts the beer crate and puts it down on the dresser so Namjoon has his hands free to shrug off his coat. “You didn’t have to, but thank you. We can never have enough of that. How have you been? I’ve barely heard from you the last few days.”

“Busy at work. Our manager messed up an order and now we’re working overtime,” Namjoon sighs.

“That doesn’t sound like fun.”

“It’s not,” Namjoon agrees, “forgive me if I fall asleep during the movie tonight.”

For a second Seokjin is ready to offer his bed. Then images of Namjoon in his bed start to flash through his mind, and he quickly bites his tongue. Because his mind is so kind, it also provides him with memories of Namjoon pressed against that very door he just walked through, lazily kissing Seokjin as their hips grind together. His cock twitches in interest, and Seokjin shifts, prays that he looks smooth and not suspicious at all as he puts one hand in his pocket to discreetly adjust himself.

To be fair though, this is the first time he sees Namjoon back in his apartment after they’ve fucked without feeling as if he’s about to die. Last time he was too busy being in pain. It’s only natural his memories are coming back to haunt him now.

“It’s okay if that happens. My couch is comfy.”

“Your bed is too.”

They both freeze. Seokjin stares at Namjoon wide-eyed, and Namjoon looks just as surprised at having said those words. His entire face flushes red as he stammers. It’s the first time that either of them has brought up their shared night together really.

“Oh gosh, I- I’m sorry,” Namjoon apologizes.

“It’s okay.” Seokjin laughs. The words definitely haven’t helped his cock to calm down. Stupid hormones. “I was going to offer my bed as well, but then I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate.”

Namjoon still looks mortified, although a bit more relieved now. There’s an awkward tension in the air. Something clatters in the living room and Seokjin fears the worst, leaving the troublesome three devils unattended. The way Yoongi had smiled earlier, they’ve already wrapped him around their little fingers and Seokjin really can’t have that.

“We should go inside,” he suggests.

“Wait!” Namjoon reaches out for him and grabs him by the elbow. He lets go as soon as he realizes what he’s done. That hue of red on his face is permanent at this point. “I know you said you don’t want any gifts, but it is your birthday…”

“Namjoon-ah, no,” Seokjin shakes his head. “I told you, I don’t like to celebrate my birthday. This isn’t a party. It’s a get-together to watch movies and an excuse to get drunk.”

“It’s not a birthday gift per se,” Namjoon says. “Let’s say it’s more of a merchandise.”

“Merchandise?”

Seokjin watches curiously as Namjoon turns around and reaches into the pocket of his coat, pulling out something small. It’s a keychain. There’s a small wooden trinket on it. As soon as Seokjin understands what it is, he reaches for Namjoon’s hand, and looks at the keychain nestled in his palm.

“You made Kore,” he breathes out in awe. There, in Namjoon’s palm, lies the wooden portrayal of Seokjin’s messily drawn whale. It looks just as rough as Seokjin’s talentless drawing, but the details reveal that it was done by someone who knows his tools. He was deliberately cut out in the bad shape that Seokjin had drawn into Namjoon’s poetry book. The edges are smooth, and the letters KORE are burnt into the middle of the wood. The outline of the whale was also traced with a wood burning tool, and he was given an eye and a smile.

Namjoon grins. “Do you understand now how cool it is to have someone create something based on your own creation?”

He grabs Seokjin’s hand and turns it palm up as he presses the keychain into Seokjin’s palm. “This is yours, hyung.”

“Oh no, I can’t possibly accept that,” Seokjin refuses, still staring down at the small trinket in fascination. “You made it.”

“I also made a second one for myself,” Namjoon muses. “They can be our lucky charms.”

For the first time, Seokjin looks up from the keychain at Namjoon. His eyes are sparkling with happiness and kindness. How Seokjin wishes he could lean forward and just press a kiss to those lips. Or even just his cheek. Namjoon is more than Seokjin deserves to have.

“Thank you,” he says earnestly, and he thinks that Namjoon can probably hear the emotions in his voice. He’s a bit overwhelmed with gratitude and a lot in love, “birthday or not, I think that’s the best and most thoughtful present I’ve ever received.”

Namjoon’s smile radiates warmth. Seokjin closes his fist over the keychain carefully. Their shared lucky charm.

Chapter Text

Seokjin wakes up with a dull headache, and he wishes that he hadn’t woken up at all. His mouth feels so incredibly dry that he thinks he could jug down a liter of water and still feel thirsty. At the same time his stomach feels incredibly upset, meaning that there’s a good chance that if he drinks something now, he’ll just throw it up again shortly after.

The curtains in his bedroom are drawn shut, bathing it in darkness. Seokjin has to count the small blessings in life. He wants to go back to sleep, but a few moments tick by before he decides that the thirst wins over the tiredness. Pushing himself up from the mattress with a groan, Seokjin tries to remember what happened last night, but his mind comes up blank at a certain point starting around midnight. Fuck. So much to having a quiet birthday.

He stumbles into the kitchen. The blinding lights from outside make him squint and the headache increase. He searches for some tylenol, and takes a few careful sips of water, testing to see if his stomach can take it. Although he feels queasy, his body seems to hold the water inside. Encouraged by that, he takes a few more gulps to quench that overwhelming dryness. It’s only noon and Seokjin is still incredibly tired, so he makes his way back to the bedroom, scratching his naked torso. How he had managed to undress himself down to his socks and underwear last night when he can’t remember a single thing baffles him.

Seokjin is just about ready to crawl back under the blanket when he stops in his movement, realizing that, oh shit, there’s already someone else in his bed. His eyes need a moment to adjust to the darkness of the room again, and then that someone takes shape and reveals himself to be an equally shirtless Namjoon, still soundly asleep and looking as if he doesn’t have a care in the world.

Fuck sleep. What Seokjin needs now more than anything else is a coffee. Or more like alcohol, but he thinks if he starts drinking now he’ll actually turn into an alcoholic sometime soon. So a coffee and a cigarette it is. He usually doesn’t smoke inside his apartment, but for this moment he can make an exception. He feels like he deserves that.

He sits on his couch dressed in a black tracksuit, cup of coffee half empty and on his second cigarette while he desperately tries to remember something, anything, when Namjoon comes stumbling out of the bedroom approximately ten minutes later.

But there is absolutely no memory left that could explain how Namjoon has ended up in his bed. Shirtless. To Seokjin’s dismay he still looks damn cute sporting a massive hangover.

“Last night…” Namjoon says with a rough voice, nursing a big glass of water and hoping that the tylenol Seokjin has offered him will kick in soon. Much like Seokjin had after initially waking up, he also only wears socks and underwear. Namjoon glances over at Seokjin expectantly, but Seokjin just stares back at him blankly.

“Last night?”

“I mean… uhm… did we...”

“So you can’t remember anything either, huh?”

“Not a thing.”

Seokjin starts to laugh bitterly because the situation is just so ridiculous. But that makes the dull pain in his head that not even the painkillers can entirely erase worsen, so he quickly stops again.

“I mean I’m still wearing my underwear.”

“So was I,” Seokjin agrees.

“Which means that nothing happened?”

“Probably.”

They sit awkwardly next to each other in silence, before Seokjin’s stomach decides that no, it can’t hold anything down at the moment and the blond has to run to the bathroom and throw up the coffee he’s only just had. Absolutely miserable, he stays on the floor next to the toilet after flushing, resting his forehead against the cold toilet seat. It might be disgusting, but given the circumstances and how absolutely shit he feels, Seokjin couldn’t care less at the moment.

“Here, you should take this.”

Seokjin startles, having closed his eyes and almost drifted off to sleep once again. Namjoon sits down next to him and hands him another glass of water, and together they stay in front of the toilet, neither saying a word, but both immensely regretting the amount of alcohol they have consumed the night before.

Seokjin doesn’t hear from Namjoon for a few days, and once he does it’s short text messages that confirm that just like himself, Namjoon also has no clue about how to deal with this situation.

 

 

“I don’t want to say that’s a couple thing,” Yoongi examines the wooden wonky whale-shaped keychain with a frown, “but matching keychains? That’s totally a couple thing.”

“Right?”

“Especially because it’s not like you guys have been best friends forever. I mean we have been best friends for a while and we don’t even have anything matching.”

“Right??”

“And the entire world can see that the boy is absolutely whipped for you.”

“Ri- wait, what?” Seokjin’s voice rises an octave higher.

Yoongi shrugs. “Oh please, it’s clear to see for anyone. You’re just so lovesick that it has turned you blind. And this,” he holds up the keychain and dangles it in front of Seokjin’s face, who quickly snatches it from him, “is just further proof.”

“He’s not looking for a relationship though.”

“That was months ago, hyung.” Seokjin pouts as he busies himself reattaching the keychain to his bunch of keys. “Why are you so stubborn to admit to it? Don’t act like you don’t notice that Namjoon definitely shows interest in you.”

“It’s complicated.”

“It doesn’t have to be.”

Seokjin sighs. Yoongi isn’t entirely right. It’s going to be complicated, no matter what. First of all, Namjoon has clearly stated that he doesn’t have the time nor interest to be in a relationship. Second, they’ve had sex before and managed to become friends after that. If they start dating but it doesn’t work out, there’s the real chance that their friendship won’t make it through it another time, and Seokjin would actually hate to lose Namjoon as a friend. He likes him for more than just his looks, after all. And so does everyone else in his friend group. Third, there’s still that cancer issue. Not only that Namjoon doesn’t know about Seokjin’s cancer and might reject him if he finds out the truth, but also that Seokjin doesn’t think he can put anyone through the pain of dating someone deadly sick.

He sees what it does to his family, to care for someone and not be able to help soothe their pain. On an emotional level, Seokjin dares to say that they suffer more than he does. How can he possibly put another person through that?

“Or you can just forever stare at him from a distance with that look of longing, like you’re a kicked and touch-starved puppy just waiting to be loved.”

“Oh my god,” Seokjin groans and hides his face behind his hands. “I don’t do that.”

“You should have seen yourself at your birthday party. As soon as the alcohol kicked in, it was impossible for anyone that wasn’t Namjoon to capture your attention for longer than two minutes, and Namjoon loved it.”

“Didn’t you say that you can’t remember anything from that night?”

“A few snippets still remain. But I doubt anyone else has much memory left either. We were all fucking wasted.”

“Yeah…” Seokjin murmurs, thinking back to that night that is nothing but blurry fragments of drinking games, laughter, and slurred incoherent sentences in his mind, and of course a half-naked Kim Namjoon in his bed the morning after that absolutely no one has found an explanation for as of yet.

He hasn’t breathed a word about what happened to any of his other friends, and he doubts that Namjoon has either, because otherwise Jimin would have blown up his phone with text messages and calls already. And it’s not like they have prove that they did do anything sexual. Maybe Namjoon had just decided to stay over for the night because he was simply too drunk to go back home. That must have been what happened.

“Have you tried asking Jimin for his disposable camera?” Yoongi asks.

Seokjin’s head shoots up, and he stares at Yoongi wide-eyed. Somewhere in the back of his mind, a warning bell is going off although he has zero memory of a disposable camera from that night.

“He brought one with him. I’m not sure where it ended up, but I think it might have some good pictures on it. Feels a bit as if we’re in the Hangover movie, doesn’t it?”

He knows where that camera is. Knows it all too well, because he saw it in his nightstand the other day, confused about when he’d ever gotten something like this for himself and why it ended up in there.

In his nightstand.

Where he keeps his condoms and lube.

Shit.

“Why have you gone so pale all of a sudden?” Yoongi asks jokingly. “Have you remembered something you’d rather not?”

 

 

It takes four whole days for the pictures to be developed, and Seokjin curses Jimin every one of them because why does he have to have such a penchant for making memories the old-fashioned way? Why couldn’t they just have taken pictures on their phones like any other human being in the 21st century? It would have saved Seokjin a lot of time agonizing over finding out the truth.

As it is, he’s currently in the middle of a lecture that he can’t focus on, because he received a text message that his pictures are ready to pick up. Ever since, time has seemingly stopped. The professor rattles on at the front of the lecture hall. Most people around Seokjin are eagerly taking notes on their notepads or laptops, but the blond just stares at his screen, not taking in a single word being said. He’ll have to ask Yeosang for his notes after class. They are usually somewhat readable and encompass the most important points.

Almost two weeks since his birthday, and Seokjin and Namjoon have barely spoken with each other. They exchange the occasional text messages and interact in the groupchat that Jungkook had created the night of the party, but that’s it. Neither of them has suggested they meet up since then. Seokjin wonders if Namjoon is still busy at work and if that might be the reason, but his gut feeling tells him that that’s not the case. He seems too distant in their text messages to just be distracted by work.

Seokjin decides to leave the lecture early. He hates doing it, not because he’ll miss anything because it’s not like his mind is taking anything in anyway at the moment, but because he hates that he’ll have to go to the front of the lecture hall to exit, and for a brief second all eyes will be on him. He knows though that this professor isn’t the kind of asshole to draw attention to someone coming in late or leaving early, so he ignores the way his heart speeds up uncomfortably and packs his bag. He’ll hunt down Yeosang tomorrow after their seminar on language attrition.

It takes fifteen minutes by public transport to get to the shop. The employee hands him a thick envelope that makes Seokjin wonder just how many photos they’ve taken that night, and he pays a ridiculous sum, wondering just how Jimin can afford the use of these cameras. Maybe that’s exactly why he keeps eating nothing but cheap ramen for pretty much ninety-nine percent of his meals.

Ramen.

Seokjin’s stomach grumbles at the thought, and he realizes that it’s already past 2 p.m. and he hasn’t had anything to eat today accept for some hurried spoons of leftover rice because he was already running late for his morning class after having overslept. Ramen sounds like a great idea at the moment, and he can look through the photos while waiting for the food.

He finds the nearest ramen restaurant on Naver that has good ratings. It’s another five minutes away and the December wind is harsh and unforgiving, but Seokjin’s mind is now set on noodles and no bad weather in the world can change that. That, and now that he has the pictures he’s also kind of dreading looking at them. So maybe he’s delaying having to look at them because he’s kind of scared of what he’ll find, but who can blame him?

The restaurant is comfortably warm as he steps inside, and the smell makes his mouth water. He’s led to a booth at the back of the small and a bit crowded place, grateful that it provides him with some privacy to look at the photographs. If there’s anything indecent on there, and Seokjin knows that there definitely will be even if it’s not him and Namjoon having sex, he doesn’t need any witnesses to it.

He leafs through the menu and places his order, before pulling out the envelope from his backpack nervously. There are at least a hundred photos in it, sorted from the first one taken to the last one. A brave man would start from the back to get clarity right away, but Seokjin has never considered himself to be particularly brave. He starts from the beginning.

The first picture is of Jungkook, Taehyung and Seokjin. Seokjin is standing between them, both their arms wrapped around his shoulders, all of them smiling brightly into the camera, intoxication written all over their features. Then there’s a picture of Seokjin with Jimin, leaning down slightly to receive a kiss on the cheek from the younger. Some shots are blurry, taken of them drinking or chatting without realizing that they’re being photographed. A picture of Yoongi with his gummy smile on full display and making a peace sign next to Taehyung, who looks up wide-eyed like a startled baby deer. That one is definitely blackmail material, because pictures of Yoongi smiling this brightly rarely exist. Pictures of Namjoon, talking to Yoongi, to Jimin, to Taehyung, to Seokjin – damn it, even on a fucking photo it’s obvious that Seokjin is absolutely whipped for the other.

The pictures start to get more unfocused, show more nonsense. They’ve clearly had a good time, and Seokjin cringes as he comes across one that shows Taehyung with a permanent marker in his hand. That explains who was the one that started drawing dicks on Seokjin’s glasses, that very much do not come off in the dishwasher.

And then the photos change, because all of a sudden there’s only Namjoon. Namjoon sitting on Seokjin’s couch, smiling at the person behind the camera with his dimples on full display, beer bottle in hand. Namjoon gathering up empty glasses. Namjoon laughing as all the glasses are knocked over on the coffee table, two of them cracked but not entirely broken. Namjoon shirtless in front of Seokjin’s bathroom mirror, brushing his teeth with Seokjin’s toothbrush. Seokjin grimaces. That’s kind of gross. Namjoon, tucked under Seokjin’s duvet, looking sleepily straight at the camera with a thumbs up.

The final picture shows Namjoon, eyes closed and most-likely already asleep. Seokjin lets out a breath he wasn’t aware he’d been holding in. So all they did was clean up and actually go to bed. The domesticity of the final few pictures makes his heart skip a beat.

Seokjin puts down the photos. His ramen has already arrived a minute ago, and he pulls it closer and slurps up the noodles hungrily, relieved at the revelation. When he’s finished and pleasantly full, he snaps a few pictures on his phone of the photographs, and uploads them in the groupchat. The final few he keeps to himself, but he does send the one of Namjoon all cozy under the blanket with a thumbs up and more asleep than awake already, to the other privately.

Namjoon replies with a smiling and blushing emoji, and Seokjin has no idea what to make of that. When he receives another message a few minutes later, asking if they want to grab a coffee sometime soon, he lets out a sigh of relief. They’re in the clear again.

 

 

Seokjin is sitting at a desk in the university library and studying. When he first came in, the place was almost completely full. Now, as he looks up from his books for the first time in a while, he realizes with a frown that it’s almost deserted.

Is it already this late? He’s lost all track of time while studying, and the study hall he’s in provides no windows for him to gauge the actual time. A glance at his phone makes him frown. He’s only been here for a bit over two hours, and it’s early evening. It’s rare for the library to be so empty at this time on a weekday.

There’s also a message from Namjoon, that he received about half an hour ago, asking if he has time. Seokjin quickly texts back that he’s at the library. When Namjoon asks if it’s okay to join him, Seokjin is quick to agree. It will be their first time meeting since his birthday. At least at the library they have to be silent so there can’t be any awkward quiet moments between them.

It doesn’t take too long for Namjoon to arrive. Seokjin assumes that he must have been somewhere close by to begin with. His cheeks and nose are tinted red.

“Is it cold outside?” he asks quietly as Namjoon settles down beside him, a poetry collection and his trusty black notebook clamped between his arm and chest.

“Very,” Namjoon answers. “There’s not much going on here today.”

Seokjin hums in agreement. “The place was completely packed when I arrived, but suddenly they all just left.”

“When did you come here, hyung?”

Seokjin shrugs. “Like two and a half hours ago, probably a bit more than that.”

Namjoon nods. For a second, Seokjin thinks that he sees a blush spreading across the younger’s neck, but when he blinks it’s gone again. Must have been his imagination then.

They work quietly like they always do. At first Seokjin is tense. He can’t help but constantly peek over at the other, but Namjoon seems to be unbothered by his presence. Maybe Seokjin was just worried over nothing over the past few days. Namjoon really might have been busy again with work, which could have explained why they simply hadn’t met up since his birthday. Nothing happened between them after all, which means that there’s absolutely no reason to be awkward around each other.

Maybe Seokjin was the only one of the two of them that didn’t get the memo.

Besides, it’s not like they didn’t fuck before and then became friends without it being uncomfortable. They could easily do it again.

Oh-

That’s dangerous territory, and something that Seokjin definitely shouldn’t be thinking about. Not now. Not here. And definitely not with Kim fucking Namjoon sitting right next to him.

After another half an hour of trying to study, his concentration starts to slip. Who’s he kidding though? His concentration was out of the window the minute Namjoon stepped foot into this room, because those thighs in the black jeans? And the drawn together eyebrows when he’s intensely focusing on something? Damn. Damn.

Also there’s that nasty headache knocking at the back of Seokjin’s head, the one he gets when his eyes are too dry from too much reading and his neck is too tense from too much sitting cramped over a table and not doing enough exercise because he’s a lazy fucker. Needless to say, between Namjoon and his headache, he’s not going to get much more studying done for the time being, so he closes his book with too much force and flinches in embarrassment as it loudly echoes throughout the quiet library. At least two people send him nasty glances.

“Finished studying already?” Namjoon asks, looking up from his notebook. He’s tapping his pencil against one of the pages rapidly in a steady beat that he doesn’t seem to notice.

“Can’t concentrate,” Seokjin answers quietly. “Fancy a coffee? Hyung will treat you.”

Namjoon agrees easily, and they pack away their things quickly and quietly.

When they step out of the library it’s already dark, but that’s not what stops Seokjin in his track.

“What?” he gasps, and can see his breath coming out of his mouth from the cold. The campus around them is blanketed beneath a thin layer of white, and tiny snowflakes dance around each other as they fall from the sky. Seokjin holds out his hand palm up, and watches a few of them land on his palm where they immediately melt. “You didn’t tell me that it was snowing!”

Namjoon has a grey scarf wrapped tightly around his neck and wears a black facemask. A few stray snowflakes have already tangled up in his dark hair.

“I didn’t know that that was newsworthy.”

Seokjin squints at him and presses an accusatory finger against his chest, that Namjoon can probably not feel at all beneath the thick winter coat and sweater he’s wearing.

“Of it's newsworthy. It’s the first snow of the year.” He almost chokes on his own words as realization hits Seokjin, and Namjoon quickly looks away. Seokjin can’t see it due to the scarf and facemask, but he can bet that beneath them Namjoon is blushing. He can feel his own face heat up as well, but he can always blame it on the cold.

Of course many people would leave the library during first snow, because that’s when you want to be with your loved one. Because if you’re with your loved one during that time, it means you’ll have a long and prosper relationship.

Or at least that’s what all the stupid Kdramas want everyone to believe.

And Namjoon… had decided during that moment to write Seokjin.

He clears his throat. “It’s really cold. Where do you want to go for coffee?”

There’s no reason to read anything into this, none at all.

 

 

Jimin squeals. Like with his fist pressed against his lips and his whole body convulsing in excitement. Seokjin looks at him snidely.

“Stop it.”

“Hyung-”

“No.”

“But hyung-”

No.”

First snow.” He giggles right after he’s said it, eyes twinkling in delight, and Seokjin doesn’t know why he ever thought it would be a good idea to tell Jimin about this to begin with. “I’m sorry, but what do you want me to say? That that’s not one of the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard about? Because if I did, I’d be lying.”

Seokjin groans, but he knows that Jimin’s right. But what if he interprets too much into the situation? What if Namjoon doesn’t think that if possible, you’re supposed to spend the first snow of the winter together with the person you love? After all, Namjoon isn’t an avid watcher of Kdramas – or at least not to Seokjin’s knowledge.

But then again, what are the odds that he texted him right at that moment, after them not having met up for many days, completely innocently? Seokjin wishes he could just pick up his phone and ask Namjoon, but it’s more complex than that. Or maybe it isn’t, and he’s just too scared to know the truth. Because if it was a coincidence, if the keychain was simply meant to be a cute gesture, if Namjoon sees Seokjin as nothing other than a friend, it’s going to fucking break Seokjin’s heart.

 

 

January 2019

The year is off to a wild start the second the clock strikes midnight, because all of a sudden someone is kissing Seokjin. It’s all tongue and teeth and the taste of alcohol, and when Seokjin finally gets over the initial shock and pulls back, Jungkook is staring back at him absolutely horrified.

“Oh shit!” His head swivels around frantically as if searching for someone, and then he stumbles and Seokjin, already less than steady on his own two feet from the alcohol, just barely manages to keep him from falling over. “You’re not-”

“Who did you want me to be?” Seokjin screams at him, because the music in the club is too loud and people around them are cheering if they’re not busy making out, and suddenly Jungkook becomes suspiciously pale. Seokjin has seen the youngest of his friends throw up from alcohol one too many times, so he recognizes the signs in time.

He first pulls Jungkook to the club’s toilet, and sympathetically pats his back as the other retches whatever is left in his stomach into the dirty bowl. When he’s done, he looks up at Seokjin with red glassy eyes, tear tracks on his cheeks. Seokjin, feeling completely sober from the surprise of the kiss and worry for his friend, wipes the corners of his mouth with toilet paper, and then the tears from Jungkook’s face with his sleeves.

“Feeling better?”

Jungkook nods, although it doesn’t look very convincing. It’s time to bring him home, Seokjin decides. He wants to find the others to tell them that they’re leaving, but the club is packed to the brim. That’s okay. He’ll just text them.

The cold air feels like a slap to his face when they step outside, and Jungkook whines next to him. He’s still unsteady on his feet. Seokjin is ready to wave down a taxi when he mumbles something incoherent.

“I didn’t quite catch that,” Seokjin says gently and leans closer.

“‘M feelin’ sick again.”

Okay. No taxi then, because Seokjin doesn’t want to risk Jungkook throwing up in the backseat. Absolutely no one would want that. He maneuvers them to the curb and urges Jungkook to sit, before settling down next to him. It’s chilly, but that’s a nice change from the stuffy air of the club.

Jungkook leans against him and rests his head on Seokjin’s shoulder. He closes his eyes and groans, and Seokjin feels for him. He’s had a lot to drink tonight, Jimin and Taehyung pressing one shot after another into his hand.

Seokjin pulls out his phone and sends a quick text to the group chat to let them know that they’ll be leaving. Yoongi, who had decided to stay at home, replies with laughing emojis. Seokjin sends him one of those emojis back that throw up. Yoongi replies with the monkey covering his eyes, and that’s the end of their profound twenty-first century conversation.

He puts his phone away and pulls out his pack of cigarettes instead, lighting one up and taking a drag. Jungkook’s breathing has evened out, and when Seokjin glances over, the younger has fallen asleep against his shoulder.

“There you are!”

Seokjin doesn’t turn around as not to jostle Jungkook, but he doesn’t have to. He’d recognize that voice anywhere.

Namjoon is slightly out of breath as if he’s been running, and he’s also not wearing his jacket. Stupid Namjoon. He’s going to catch a cold.

“Shouldn’t you be celebrating New Year’s?” Seokjin asks. He takes another drag, the smoke he breathes out rising into the night sky.

“I just wanted to make sure Jungkook’s okay.” He sits down next to Seokjin.

“That’s kind of you.”

“I’m not surprised he’s feeling this bad. Jimin and Taehyung really did a number on him today.”

Seokjin agrees, and watches the tip of his cigarette glimmer. “Did you get your New Year’s kiss yet?”

Namjoon laughs. “No. Did you?”

Seokjin doesn’t answer. He presses his lips into a thin line and stares up at the sky. There are no clouds tonight, but Seoul has too much light pollution for any stars to be visible. It’s a shame. Seokjin would love to see the stars tonight.

“Wait! You did?” Namjoon sounds incredulous. Almost hurt. Seokjin doesn’t want to hurt him per se, but the idea that Namjoon doesn’t like him kissing other people makes him a bit proud.

“From Jungkook.”

Namjoon sputters. “What?”

“Trust me, I was just as surprised. You know how I lost all of you guys sometimes during the hustle of the countdown? Next thing I know it’s midnight and Jungkook is kissing me, and then he pulls back, says something about thinking I was someone else, and then he just… throws up.” Seokjin purses his lips. “Am I that bad of a kisser that I make people want to puke?”

Namjoon laughs, a genuine full belly laugh that makes Seokjin feel warm inside as he flicks the cigarette stub on the street. “You’re not, hyung, don’t worry.”

They sit next to each other quietly for a few moments, watching the cars rush by.

“What are you going to do now?”

“Bring this one home to my flat and hope that if he pukes again tonight, he’ll be able to aim at the bucket I’ll provide him with. What about you?”

Namjoon shrugs. “Don’t know. It’s still pretty early.”

“It is,” Seokjin agrees. Only half an hour past midnight, and it’s already been a chaotic mess. He just hopes that this is no indicator for what the rest of the year will be like. “Want to join us? We can put Jungkook to bed, grab a couple of beer and watch a bad movie.”

The other agrees quickly, and Seokjin’s heart happily skips a beat.

 

 

It’s Seokjin’s last TACE. The last out of eight times he’ll be in hospital for this type of surgery. It feels like a milestone. Like he’s accomplished something, although all he did was lay in bed, sweat and feel hot and cold at the same time, need assistance when having to pee, being picky with food – the list goes on indefinitely, and proves that Seokjin really didn’t do much at all except for healing. But still, it feels good to be at the end of the road.

Except for that it isn’t the end, but a new beginning. It might be the last TACE, but starting next month, Seokjin will receive ChemoSAT. He was approved for the study. His parents are elated. Seokjin just fucking hates it.

He knows that his battle with cancer isn’t a sprint. It’s also not a marathon, because a marathon ends. Seokjin’s battle will never end. It will just be drawn out for as long as possible, because as long as he still fights that beast, it means he’s still alive. And fuck, does he hate that war vocabulary associated with it, because what if he loses the battle? Does that imply that he’s weak? That he hasn’t given it his all? It’s so dumb.

Anyway, ChemoSAT. Seokjin is terrified, and the staff that’s by now familiar with him notices. Hoseok has come by to ask if everything’s okay. Seokjin answers honestly that he’s just really nervous. The other promises him with a wink that he’ll put in a good word for Seokjin with the doctor for some stronger sleeping pills tonight. Seokjin appreciates it a lot, but it still doesn’t actually calm his nerves, so he rings Hoseok again a few minutes later and asks if there’s any soothing medicine he can take right now.

It’s ridiculous that he’s so nervous, because nothing much happens yet. He’ll get his eighth TACE, which he’s already so accustomed to that he knows there’s nothing to be worried about at all. Simultaneously, they’ll be attaching medical clips at one side of his intestines close to the liver during the same procedure, which is a harmless invasion that shouldn’t cause him any pain and will be carried out through the same small incision as the usual TACE, meaning there will be no additional scar. Seokjin hasn’t entirely understood why they’ll be doing this, but from what he’s gathered it’s a safety measure to protect the acutely poisonous chemo medicine that his liver will be flooded with during ChemoSAT from spilling over into any other parts of his body. Seokjin had listened half-heartedly and agreed to this extra procedure as well for his own safety.

“This is really bothering you, isn’t it?” Hoseok asks after dinner, when he’s come to take the trays away. Seokjin’s food is almost entirely untouched, although he’s really not a picky eater pre-surgery, even makes a habit of eating as much as possible the night before because he knows he won’t be able to stomach much the following days.

“I just have a gut-feeling about this,” Seokjin confides. “and it’s not good. And it’s such a scary surgery. Just the fact that I have to stay in the ICU for an entire day afterwards to recover…” he trails off, voice meek. Hoseok looks sympathetic when he leaves the room.

What Seokjin doesn’t expect is for the nurse to return about half an hour later with two doctors trailing after him. One of them Seokjin knows – it’s one of his favourite oncologists, a guy who’s not much older than Seokjin with a laid-back attitude and a habit of talking to Seokjin not as a doctor to a patient, but just as one human to another. The second one Seokjin’s unfamiliar with, but he’s older and has an important aura surrounding him. Seokjin also sees his psychologist enter. He’s just about to glare at Hoseok for involving her, because talking sure won’t settle his frazzled nerves the way medicine does, but the other sends him a bright smile and a thumbs up before quickly hurrying out of the room again.

“We’ve heard that you’re a bit nervous about ChemoSAT,” the young doctor says as he busies himself organizing chairs for the three of them, while Seokjin watches him shuffle around from his hospital bed. “So we want to talk to you about it to maybe take some of that fear away. This is Dr. Seung. He’s been a part of a large number of ChemoSAT surgeries already, and he’ll also be one of the doctors in charge of yours. He’s here to tell you step for step what will happen, and any questions you have now he’ll also be glad to answer.”

“And I’ve heard that you’re a bit worried about the ICU,” his psychologist pipes up. She gives him a gentle smile. “I will make sure to arrange that you have the possibility to look inside one once you’ve recovered from tomorrow’s surgery, so you’ll know what it’s like. It sounds like a scary place for someone who’s never been there, but once you’ll be able to see it with your own eyes, you’ll realize that it’s not that bad.”

Seokjin looks between the three people sitting before him, and gratitude towards Hoseok for getting them blooms in his chest. The scariest thing about all of this is that all he’s heard and read about ChemoSAT so far was in technical terms, information provided by people that had never been present to see one before because it is still such a rare surgery in South Korea and around the world. But this man in front of him has actually taken part in many, and he can explain to Seokjin what happens. It doesn’t make the surgery itself less intimidating, but it puts it into human terms. Seokjin didn’t realize it before, but that is exactly what he needs – giving the monster in the corner of his brain a name and definition makes it infinitely less scary than the shapeless shadow it was before.

 

 

The final TACE surgery goes well. As expected, Seokjin feels nauseous again. Can’t keep any food down that’s not sweet. Sweats, feels hot and cold at the same time. It’s the same old routine that he’s gotten used to by now. He sure as hell won’t miss it, but it will be kind of odd to not experience this anymore once a month, after having gone through it for over half a year. Besides, who knows what kind of unpleasant side effects that new surgery will put him through?

It’s the second day after surgery. He’s allowed to move around again, and feels well enough to watch Youtube videos on his phone. The first indication that he’s made it through the worst post surgery is when he grabs his phone again and starts to play games, text everyone back, and watch videos again. He’s in the middle of some dumb prank video that he’s not even sure why he’s watching, when there’s a knock on the door. It’s the young oncologist again, and considering that Seokjin is the only cancer patient in his room this time around, he immediately knows that the visit is for him.

His stomach drops when he sees the serious expression on the doctor’s face, something that isn’t all that common for the usually smiling oncologist.

“Seokjin-ssi,” the man says, “how are you feeling?”

“Good… but I think that might change soon?” He gets a feeling of déjà vu as he watches the doctor pull over a chair. “What’s going on?”

“There’s no need to beat around the bush with you, is there?”

Seokjin shakes his head. “I’d rather hear whatever it is straight away.”

“I’ve always thought you to be a strong person. It’s remarkable how you want to know all the details about your treatments and question things instead of simply accepting them.”

The blond cocks an eyebrow. The doctor smiles apologetically. “Right, sorry. Before you worry too much, there’s no bad news about your metastases. This is about ChemoSAT.”

Seokjin’s heartbeat slows again. He doesn’t know what he was expecting, but that calms him down a bit. There‘s always the irrational fear at the back of his mind that someone is going to tell him that his cancer has grown, spread further, become absolutely untreatable, renders him terminally ill. It’s stupid, especially because there wasn’t any testing done on him the past few days such as scans that could determine this, but that’s just the fear that a life-threatening illness brings along. It’s never rational.

“When the surgeon went in to attach the clips, he was looking at the veins going to your liver through the ultrasound, and has found them to be quite damaged from the previous surgeries. He did attach the clips in your intestines as was the plan, but he came to the conclusion that ChemoSAT would be too dangerous for you to receive. Pushing the tube through the veins repeatedly over the past few months has made them fragile, and with this medicine we can’t risk a possible rupture and leak. It could be fatal for you.”

Seokjin stops listening midway through as a sense of relief washes through him. He wasn’t even aware of just how tense he’s been, but hearing that he won’t have to receive that absolutely terrifying surgery elates him. Of course it’s one of the most promising cancer treatments out there at the moment, but still-

That doesn’t make it any less scary togo through. And so far, he’s responded quite well to TACE. They have proof from November that his metastases have already shrunk to some degree due to the treatment. Why try something new when the old works just as well, right? He doesn’t want to show it, but he’s pretty sure that the relief is written all over his face. The anxiousness that’s taken a hold of him ever since he was first suggested the treatment in October is finally gone.

“So we continue with TACE like before?” he asks, his voice airy with alleviation.

Seokjin quickly gets brought back down to earth when his doctor shakes his head with a grave expression. “I’m afraid not, Seokjin-ssi. TACE and ChemoSAT both access the liver the same way, even if the procedure within the liver is different. That means that the veins to your liver are deemed too fragile for us to safely undertake another TACE as well.”