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The first thing Seokjin ever says to Yoongi is, "Are you going to make me cry, too?"

This is, of course, not technically the first thing Seokjin says to Yoongi. He says hello, and nice to meet you. He asks Yoongi for clarification on his lines, bids him goodbye. He greets him a second time, and a third time, possibly a fourth. It all doesn't matter because Yoongi never paid any heed to the words, answered them out of habit and moved along, the remembrance of the conversations already dissipated like the fog of warm breath in the freezing air of winter.

As a too-young, too-new, too-ambitious producer, Yoongi interacts with countless idols and singers, managers, directors, and everyone in between. He doesn't pay much attention to what they say – the good or the bad. His two concerns are getting his music out to as many ears as possible, and paying his bills. Their order usually varies with how many days he has left to pay his part of the rent.

He knows he met Kim Seokjin, the visual in a recently debuted three-member idol group called E.L. He knows he's even had a few meetings together with all the members, Jin Hyosang and Jung Hoseok included. He vaguely recalls their faces, enough to match a name to them when they appear but not enough to conjure up an image in his mind. He knows they spoke, offered opinions, asked questions about the tracks Yoongi is working on for their comeback. He doesn't really remember any particulars of it, though. That was when the words from Seokjin's mouth meant nothing, far before they meant something, and then later, everything.

And thus, the first thing Seokjin ever says to Yoongi, the first thing that sticks in his mind, and the only memory that replays when he closes his eyes and draws it up, is –

"Are you going to make me cry, too?"

Yoongi's head shoots up, his face already scrunching in protest. "That was a misunderstanding," he starts, but trails off when he sees that Seokjin is silently laughing and trying quite valiantly to sober, pressing his lips tightly together, his face turning red with the effort. Yoongi narrows his eyes. "Are you teasing me?"

Seokjin miraculously sobers and shakes his head slowly, saying in a deep, serious intonation, "No, of course not." He almost convinces Yoongi, if not for the telltale twitch of his lips, quivering with barely contained laughter.

Yoongi sighs and leans back in his chair. "He had allergies, okay. I never made anyone cry, it's all unfounded rumors." He pouts. "It was a misunderstanding."

"I heard you're a dangerous man, PD-nim," Seokjin says, letting his smile spread on his lips.

Yoongi shrugs and turns back to his monitor. He waves his hand at Seokjin, directing him to the recording booth. "Go on, let's start recording."

Seokjin quickly acquiesces, his light laughter cut off as the booth's soundproof door closes behind him.

Strangely, Yoongi finds his own lips twitching up into a mirrored smile.

Seokjin has trained as an actor and his voice is still transitioning from theatrical delivery to a musical one. It takes many tries, but Yoongi's guidance is precise and Seokjin's persistence is strong, and finally Yoongi has the takes he needs.

Seokjin smiles cutely at him as he leaves, his face bright even with the exhaustion of the session evident in the droop of his eyes. He thanks Yoongi but hesitates at the door before opening it. He turns around to face Yoongi, a sly, amused look in his eyes. "Hey. I can cry on command, you know," he says, laughter somehow working its way into his nearly wrecked voice.

Yoongi pauses, his lips twitching as he realizes the prank Seokjin wants to play. "Yeah?"

"Yeah," Seokjin nods. "It might be funny."

Yoongi shrugs, seemingly nonchalant. "Sure."

Within moments, Seokjin's eyes are sparkling with falling tears, his bottom lip even quivering with it, and for the first time, Yoongi thinks he really sees Seokjin.

He should have known, watching tears swell in Seokjin's eyes, the catch in his throat, the thudding of his heart, he should have known it. It's a bad omen, a twisted prophecy he is too dense to understand.

The last time Yoongi will look at Seokjin, really see him, it will be his turn to cry.

&&&

Yoongi hasn't technically lied about his age, he just never bothered to clarify the assumptions. He's only twenty, but no record label will ever take a kid seriously. He tells them he has a baby face and that he's completed his military service, and they all assume he's in his early thirties. It doesn't really matter anyway, he figures. He's getting jobs and now has steady work at Kelly Inch. He is careful not to break honorifics, never speaking informally to those who mistakenly believe he is older. He forbids anyone from calling him "hyung", strictly enforcing the title of Min PD. Most of the idols that work with him, as a consequence, find him cold, ruthless, and arrogant. Yoongi doesn't care much. He's making music and getting paid. The misunderstanding seems to work for him.

Of course, he thinks later, of course it would be Seokjin who discovers his little secret, the only idol who has dared to tease the formidable Min PD.

The CEO of Kelly Inch took them all out for pork belly and drinks after the successful E.L. comeback. He drank, yes, but he can handle his alcohol intake. His lips were sealed and the entire dinner passed without a hint of his real age, despite pointed questions like "what zodiac year are you?"

He's already outside, cold air hitting his skin, waiting for his turn to hail a taxi, when he realizes his wallet is not in his back pocket where it should be.

He heads back inside the restaurant to the long table that's been mostly cleared of its occupants. The only member of their party that remains is Kim Seokjin, leaning back with his hands supporting his posture on the floor. One of his legs is kicked out in front of him, the other tucked underneath his thigh. There's a pink flush from the alcohol warming his cheeks, and he's singing idly to himself, moving his head with the melody. He grins when he sees Yoongi approach the table.

"PD-nim," he greets cheerfully, tilting his head. "Back for another drink?"

"I left my wallet," Yoongi replies, frowning.

Seokjin lifts a hand from behind him and points down the table to where Yoongi had been sitting earlier. "It's over there. I've been guarding it for you." He laughs to himself, the alcohol obviously taking affect in his system.

Yoongi grabs his wallet, checking the contents.

"Yah!" Seokjin calls. Yoongi's head shoots up but the scolding on his tongue at the informal language dies when he sees Seokjin's pouting face. "I didn't take anything. 'M not a thief."

Yoongi smirks and shrugs. "You can't trust anyone in this world." Satisfied that all his belongings are in place, he tucks his wallet into his back pocket. He gestures to Seokjin. "Come on, I'll get you a cab."

Seokjin smiles and hefts himself up, a little unsteady on his feet but he recovers quickly. "Such a gentleman."

Yoongi comes around to help Seokjin walk to the entrance of the restaurant, his arm slinging around Seokjin's surprisingly slim waist. Yoongi thinks suddenly that Seokjin hides a lot. His waist under baggy clothes, and his teasing, light personality under the company-directed guise of a cold demeanor. Yoongi doesn't really envy the life of an idol.

"You know," Seokjin says conversationally, pulling Yoongi from his thoughts. "When you said you were born in the year of the rooster, I thought" – he hiccups – " we all thought you meant, like, eighty-one." He laughs. "But it's actually ninety-three."

Yoongi freezes, eyes widening in panic, his fingers tightening their hold on Seokjin's waist in alarm. "How –"

"I saw your license, Yoon-gi-yah," Seokjin sing-songs, highly amused.

Yoongi sighs. "What's it going to take to keep this new found knowledge a secret?" he asks, already trying to work his way out of this problem.

Seokjin blinks, his lips tilting down into a frown. "I wasn't planning on telling anyone." He grins. "But if you're offering a bribe, I want steak."

"Right now?"

Seokjin scowls at him. "No, not right now, I just ate." He relaxes into a smile, the corners of his eyes crinkling with it. "I will be in touch, Yoongi-yah." He detaches himself from Yoongi and makes his way into a waiting cab. Just before the car pulls away, he slides the window down and pops his head out. "Thank you for the taxi," he says before very seriously bringing his hand to his lips. He holds his fingers there for a moment and then dramatically flings an imaginary kiss in Yoongi's direction. He giggles to himself as the car finally pulls away, highly amused by his prank.

Yoongi is left on the side of the street trying to comprehend the events that just transpired. He clears his throat and brings a hand up to tug at his beanie, a smile that seems to be reserved solely for Kim Seokjin breaking out onto his lips.

&&&

Seokjin somehow procures Yoongi's phone number and what starts out as them trying to arrange a day to eat out turns into Seokjin sending animated emojis and outrageous puns periodically throughout the day. Yoongi is forced to admit, quietly and to himself, that he looks forward to the notifications. They are a fresh breath of air after countless hours immersed in a song, a vitamin boost that even Namjoon is starting to notice. His co-producer will smile teasingly at him, his eyebrows raised in expectation that Yoongi quickly squashes.

"What?" he huffs, locking his phone and turning it face down on the table.

Namjoon smiles and shrugs, returning back to his laptop.

Yoongi eyes him for a moment, wary, slowly going back to his own monitor with narrowed eyes.

"You know," Namjoon says when Yoongi thinks they've returned to comfortable silence, "if you want whoever is texting you to continue, you should try replying back." He grins but refuses to look at Yoongi, completely missing the withering glare Yoongi is sending him.

"Who says I want them to keep texting me?"

"Then don't reply," Namjoon says, unconcerned.

Yoongi frowns and flips his phone face-up on the desk. He unlocks the screen and stares at the last received message from Seokjin, a terrible joke about a cow's laughter. He blinks, trying to think up how to reply. He has too much pride to laugh – it's not that funny. He purses his lips and picks up his phone, swivelling in his chair and thinking.

He jumps when his phone buzzes, a new message from Seokjin appearing.

I'm free tonight. I'll come by around eight?

Yoongi doesn't even need to look in Namjoon's direction to see him eyeing him with amused interest.

Yoongi types a quick okay and tosses his phone to the end of the desk, shoving his headphones over his ears, studiously drowning out Namjoon's snickering.

&&&

Dinner with Seokjin is like everything involving him, engaging and easy and addictive. He carries most of the conversation and smiles appreciatively when Yoongi replies. Seokjin makes happy noises as he chews, and tries to explain the taste to Yoongi even when Yoongi eats the exact same thing. It doesn't seem to matter to Seokjin, and Yoongi finds he doesn't much mind either. They are vastly different in personality, of this Yoongi is certain. But all the same, somehow, Yoongi knows he's never met someone with such a likeness of mind as himself. Their mannerisms and quirks are the opposite, yet still it feels like something invisible, unseen, unheard between the two of them fits, perfectly sliding into place. Yoongi thinks he even understands the meaning of words he's used his whole life better now. Excitement. Peace. Happiness. He has a deeper understanding for these words, sitting here in a restaurant across from Seokjin.

Dinner, however, ends far too quickly. Soon enough, Yoongi stands at the counter, putting the hefty bill on his credit card.

"So," Yoongi says to Seokjin as they exit the restaurant, the streetlamps dull but still managing to reflect beautifully off of Seokjin's face. "Was this a one-time bribe or is this just the first installment?"

Seokjin studies him for a moment, his eyes flickering with untold thoughts. After a pause, he takes a breath and says slowly, "I guess that all depends on how much you like me."

Yoongi's brow raises. "Oh?"

"Hmm. If you don't like me yet, I may require a few more dinners." He smiles. "But if you do like me, then we don't need an excuse, do we?"

Yoongi tilts his head, eyes focused on Seokjin. "Doesn't that depend on how much you like me, too?"

Seokjin nods. "Yes, but I already know the answer to that."

Yoongi licks his lips and tries to ignore the thumping of his heart. He curls his fingers against the biting cold wind and asks, "What's the answer?"

Seokjin's lips stretch into a wide grin. "I like you a lot, Min Yoongi."

Yoongi's lips bloom into a mirroring grin, his stomach filled with a hundred fluttering butterflies. He reaches forward, wraps his icy-cold fingers gently around Seokjin's equally freezing hand and pulls him softly behind the restaurant into a shadowed alleyway. He glances behind them, carefully scanning to ensure they are truly alone, no lingering photographers, no overly zealous fans. Satisfied that there is not one soul save the two of them, he turns back to Seokjin.

He doesn't even have a chance to lift onto his toes, Seokjin is already bending down, warm breath fanning over his lips the only precursor before their mouths slot together.

Their first kiss is in the cold and the dark, but Yoongi can't help but think it's perfect. No matter how much time passes, he will always be able to pull this moment from his memory with unaltered clarity. The sound of Seokjin's breath hitching. The feel of Seokjin's lips, soft against his chapped ones. The dance of lights behind his eyes, closed at some unknown point. And the knowledge that this is it. Seokjin is it for him. By some lucky happenstance, they found each other early in life.

Yoongi has no reason to doubt this perfect moment. It is the optimism of youth, the folly of a heart not yet tempered.

&&&

Yoongi shifts in the driver's seat of his car, glancing at his watch again, the dial stubbornly ticking the seconds far too slowly. The sun has been up for hours and Yoongi has been up longer, impatience and a giddy anticipation pushing him out of bed before dawn. He showered and dressed and styled his hair before his watch even hit eight in the morning.

He sighs and slumps back in his seat, flicking his gaze to his phone on the passenger's side seat. He purses his lips and taps his fingers on the steering wheel, watching as the small residential street awakens, people rushing out of their homes to some unknown destination. He leans his head back against the headrest and reminds himself that Seokjin said Hoseok would leave the dorm around nine.

Yoongi shares a two-bedroom apartment with three other struggling producers, and Seokjin lives in the dorm with Hyosang, Hoseok, and two managers. Yoongi never cared too much about privacy. He spends most of his time in his studio and has no qualms with kicking everyone out when he needs his space. The problem only forms now, dating Seokjin, secret kisses behind closed studio doors becoming hotter, heavier, more desperate.

They have no chance to be alone together. Seokjin cannot risk going to a hotel, any whiff of a rumor would ruin not just his career but his members' careers as well. On the rare occasions where Yoongi has his apartment to himself, Seokjin is always in a schedule. They're getting a little desperate, and their pledge to not use the studio for that purpose is weakening daily.

Seokjin comes up with the solution. The dorm will clear out for Chuseok, and while he is expected to go home for at least part of the holiday, Seokjin manages to delay his departure for a day. They will have one full day together, alone. Without the managers or the label directors, without interruptions, just them. Yoongi and Seokjin and the air in their lungs.

Yoongi's phone lights up on the passenger's seat and he jerks quickly, snatching it in his hands and sliding his finger on the screen to answer. "Hey," he says, heart thumping hard in his chest, his voice a little too uneven.

"Hey," Seokjin says, his voice just as uneven, a little too breathless to be unaffected. "Hoseokie left five minutes ago. I think the coast is clear."

Yoongi's hand flexes on his phone and he licks his lips. "Okay, I'll park downstairs and be right up."

"Okay," Seokjin replies. "See you soon."

"Un." Yoongi hangs up and shoves his phone into his jacket pocket. He lets out a deep breath and places his hands on the steering wheel, nerves suddenly making them clammy. He tries to remember that this is Seokjin. No big deal. It's Seokjin, with his goofy jokes and squeaky laughter, with his eyes that shine with a hundred thoughts Yoongi desperately wants to know. Yoongi clears his throat and starts the car, his nerves still fluttering through his veins.

He parks in the spot Seokjin told him about, the one the manager usually uses. He shuts off the car and shifts the rearview mirror to check out his hair one last time. He makes a face at the messy strands, reaching up to try to arrange them better. It's been a while since he styled his hair instead of just throwing a beanie over his head and heading outside. He sighs and determines that this is as good as it will get. Yoongi grabs the overnight bag from the backseat and makes his way upstairs to Seokjin's dorm.

He climbs the three flights of stairs to Seokjin's apartment and hesitates in front of his door. He takes a deep, fortifying breath, batting down his nerves, and reaches forward to ring the buzzer.

The door opens within seconds, as if Seokjin had been waiting by the entrance for Yoongi's arrival. Seokjin smiles at him and swings the door open. The sun is streaming in from some window in the living room, a bright light on Seokjin, his features shining. He's dressed in a worn pair of jeans and a large, soft sweatshirt that incredibly manages to drown his broad shoulders.

"Hey," Seokjin greets, stepping back to let Yoongi in.

"Hey," Yoongi says back, smiling at Seokjin. The door clicks closed behind him and he toes off his shoes. Seokjin stands in front of him, not making a move, just watching him, and as the silence drags on, Yoongi's nerves multiple. He flexes his hand on the strap of his overnight bag and glances around the small apartment. He's not sure what to do, if he should suggest they go out to eat first despite the odd hour of the morning. If they should sit down in the living room and watch a movie. If he should unpack his bag.

He looks away from Seokjin and scratches behind his ear, feeling uncharacteristically tense. He clears his throat and starts, "Wou-"

Before the word can fully fall off his tongue, Seokjin steps forward and places his hands on either side of Yoongi's head, cradling it gently and tugging him close. Yoongi's breath chokes in his throat and then Seokjin's lips are on his, firm, seeking. And just like that, the nerves are gone, replaced with the urgency he only feels for Seokjin, the need to be closer, the desire to feel all of him.

Yoongi's eyes flutter shut and he lets his bag drop to the floor, a solid thud that he ignores. He steps closer, hands reaching out to bunch in the excess fabric of Seokjin's sweatshirt. Seokjin steps back, walking backward, pulling Yoongi along into the apartment. They stumble at the couch and Seokjin giggles against Yoongi's lips, though he still refuses to pull back.

Yoongi's fingers crawl under Seokjin's sweatshirt, finding warm, smooth skin. He smiles against Seokjin's lips when Seokjin yelps at the sudden, cool press of his hands on his side. "Where's the bedroom?" he whispers into Seokjin's mouth.

"I'm taking us there," Seokjin answers, inching backwards.

"I don't know if I trust your navigation skills," Yoongi teases. "You almost killed us on the couch."

Seokjin pinches the side of Yoongi's neck in retaliation. "I could stop kissing you," he offers, even as he pecks at the side of Yoongi's mouth.

Yoongi's hand tightens on Seokjin's side. "Not an option."

"Then stop complaining," Seokjin says. His back hits a door and they stumble into a new room.

Yoongi doesn't pull back to peer around the space, just recognizes the blinds are down, casting the room in a dim golden light. Seokjin fists his hands in Yoongi's shirt and pulls. They tumble onto the bottom level of a bunk bed, Seokjin sprawled under Yoongi, their legs tangled. Yoongi lifts up on his hands and looks down at Seokjin, takes in his flushed cheeks and huge grin, the way his eyes shine like diamonds. Yoongi can't breathe but he doesn't really mind, as long as he can stay like this with Seokjin forever.

"Hi," Seokjin whispers, running his hands over Yoongi's shoulders, down his chest.

"Hi," Yoongi repeats, eyes transfixed on Seokjin.

Seokjin stares up at him expectantly, grinning teasingly. "What? Speechless because I'm so handsome?"

"Do you know I love you?" Yoongi says, the words racing out of his mouth. He thinks he's been in love with Seokjin from that first time in the studio, Seokjin's fake tears making his eyes shine.

Seokjin's eyes widen and his mouth parts in surprise. Yoongi realizes he probably should have waited to say it, should have kept the words inside, held them captive in his chest, in that hollow where his heart beats. He should have waited until Seokjin was ready to hear it.

Yoongi leans back on his knees, lifting away from Seokjin. "Ah, sorry, I-"

"I love you too," Seokjin says, sitting up, wonder and happiness radiating from his tone. "I love you," he repeats, wrapping his arms around Yoongi's neck and pulling him back down.

It is, like everything involving Seokjin, perfect.

Their time together passes too quickly, hours melting into minutes, slipping through Yoongi's fingers. The more time he spends with Seokjin, the greedier he becomes, wanting to draw him closer until they meld together. Before they part, Yoongi gives Seokjin his first promise: he's going to make it big, become a huge success so he can get his own place. A place they can start their future together. Seokjin kisses him and Yoongi knows, this is just the beginning.

&&&

Yoongi understands that as an idol, Seokjin has severe restrictions in relationships. They cannot go out on dates like most people their age. They can't hold hands in public, can't be seen together in romantic places. Any form of affection while in public is strictly forbidden. The obvious consequence usually involves sneaking around at the label, making out in Yoongi's studio, dates in the dance practice room. Yoongi and Seokjin, however, do not give in to the temptation. They could easily take advantage of their close proximity everyday with sly kisses and sneaking hands, but Yoongi and Seokjin try to maintain a strictly professional attitude at the company. It isn't enough, apparently.

It happens when all the members of E.L. are in the recording studio for the comeback. Even if Yoongi didn't see the drained and tense set to Seokjin's expression, he would have been able to sense the discord within the group. None of the members joke around like they usually do. Hoseok, usually the loudest mood maker, is silent, answering Yoongi in short statements, a wary edge to his tone. His eyes keep flickering between Yoongi and Seokjin, piercing and evaluating. It's disconcerting.

Hyosang, however, is openly insubordinate and obtuse. Any direction Yoongi gives him is scoffed at and ignored.

Yoongi lets the first derisive dismissal go, but when he sees he will not be getting what he wants from Hyosang for the track, he says into the speaker to the members in the booth, "Do we have a problem?"

The three glance at each other awkwardly and Yoongi arches a brow. "Then do as I fucking say."

Hyosang rolls his eyes and says into the microphone so Yoongi can hear, "I guess it's just me and Hoseok that get scolded. Wonder why."

Seokjin clenches his teeth together and says quietly but firmly, "He's corrected all of us. You're the only one with a problem."

"Is anyone allowed to get special privileges or is it just the pretty ones?" Hyosang spits out, eyes locked with Yoongi's through the glass.

Yoongi's simmering concern at the obvious tension boils over into bubbling anger. He sets his jaw and orders, "All of you get out here. Now."

Hoseok slips into the room, his face taut and tired. Seokjin follows behind, his expression composed but Yoongi can see the anger in the press of his lips together, can hear it in the rhythm of his breathing. Hyosang saunters in last, arms crossed and defiance in his every movement.

"What is going on?" Yoongi demands, eyeing all three of them.

"Last night they found out –" Seokjin starts but Hyosang quickly interrupts him.

"I found out Seokjin's sleeping with you." He scoffs. "You gonna give him a solo album? Is that why you keep rejecting my lyrics?"

Yoongi takes a slow, cautious breath. Not for his sake, but for the plea of patience that Seokjin silently sends him. "It's true that Seokjin and I are dat-"

"That's a nice word for what's happening," Hyosang interjects.

Yoongi's expression hardens. "Whatever the fuck you think, my feelings for Seokjin are real."

Hyosang flinches momentarily, something flickering through his eyes too quickly to read, before he recovers his composure once more. "Whatever." He turns on his heel and storms to the door.

"Where are you going?" Hoseok calls out. "We have to record!"

"Fuck off!"

Hoseok's lips thin together and he takes a deep, fortifying breath. "I told you, hyung," he says, turning to Seokjin, his tone low and frightening. "It doesn't matter until it affects the group."

"My relationship with Yoongi has never distracted me," Seokjin says firmly. "I've never let it interfere with the group activities and you know it."

Hoseok looks between Yoongi and Seokjin. "It's interfering now." He sighs and rubs his hand over his face. "Just – let's fix this before it gets out of control, okay?" He sighs again and heads to the door. "I'll be in the practice room. Come get me when Hyosang-hyung cools down."

It's not until the door clicks shut behind Hoseok that Seokjin's bravado crumbles and he lets out a shaky breath. Yoongi frowns and reaches for Seokjin's hand, pulling him down onto the couch.

"Are you okay, hyung?" he asks, thumb rubbing circles over Seokjin's hand.

"Yeah, it's...." He sighs and leans his head back onto the couch cushions. "It was a really rough night."

Yoongi frowns at their hands, an icy thought of apprehension nudging at his mind. "Do you – " He licks his lips and squeezes Seokjin's hand a little too tightly, somehow forcing the words he doesn't want to say onto his tongue. "While you sort this through, do you need a break? From us?"

Seokjin shifts suddenly. He pulls at Yoongi's hand until Yoongi relents and moves to settle flush against Seokjin's side. "Yoongi. Look at me."

Yoongi glances up, sees Seokjin's expression soften, a small smile gracing his lips.

"I love you. No matter what happens, that will never change." His smile widens, the edges of his eyes creasing with it. "It'll take more than a little opposition to make me let go of you. Hmm?"

Yoongi's lips twitch into an almost-smile and he nods, satisfied. He settles both of them back against the cushions. "I'm going to cut all of Hyosang's lines. Make the album a subunit with you and Hoseok."

Seokjin snorts.

"We can call you Big Seok and Little Seok."

"Shut up, Yoongi," Seokjin says, his tone fond, and Yoongi knows they'll make it through this.

&&&

Just like Seokjin always manages to do, he somehow settles Hyosang's ire and the three-member group is back in the studio within a day. Yoongi puts every hour in the day into making the album the best it could possibly be, for his own benefit as well as for Seokjin's He promised Seokjin this album will hit it big and he intends to keep his vows.

At a certain point, he has to release the album and it's all up to E.L. now and their promotions. The night before the album drops, Seokjin sneaks out of last-minute dance practice and visits Yoongi in his studio. He takes Yoongi's face in his hands, presses their lips together firmly, and swears he's going to make this album everything Yoongi hoped for. Yoongi doesn't see Seokjin for weeks after that, only catching glimpses of him on television – music shows, variety guestings, news blurbs. Seokjin hardly even has a chance to reply to his messages. Yoongi misses him, but he knows this is life in the idol world. Soon, Seokjin will be back in his arms, soon Yoongi will inhale his sweet scent. Soon he'll hear the soft, comforting rhythm of his breathing against his ear.

In the meantime, Yoongi's royalties come through. It's enough to make him count the zeros in the number, just to be certain of the magnitude. The very first expense Yoongi indulges in is a one-year lease on a decent studio apartment. His very own place. Private and secure and a fulfillment of the promise he made to Seokjin. He knows with a bubbling, excited certainty that it's only the beginning of a lifetime of promises he will keep.

He's looking through furniture stores online, trying to pick out a new bed, when he overhears one of E.L.'s managers with a director from the label outside his studio.

"His flu is just getting worse, he needs to rest," the manager says, tone insistent, volume rising with urgency.

The director sighs. "I know, but he can't miss the schedules. There's only three of them, I can't have an entire third of the group missing."

Worry makes Yoongi's fingers curl tight around his phone, his heart thumping icy concern through his blood. The last time he talked to Seokjin – an aborted, one-minute conversation over the phone – he thought Seokjin sounded off. But Seokjin had assured him he was fine. Stupidly, Yoongi had believed him. He should know better by now, how Seokjin only shows what he wants people to see. A liar with a gentle heart, pretending everything is fine.

He sets his lips in a grim line and stands from his chair, slipping into the hallway and interrupting the conversation. "I need Seokjin to come in for a part," he says to the director.

The director's eyebrows raise in surprise. "The album's done?"

He rolls his eyes. "The next album. If you want to capitalize on their success, we'll need a new comeback soon."

The manager eyes Yoongi, clearly displeased but unable to voice his true thoughts. "Seokjin-ah isn't in the best condition right now – "

"As soon as possible," Yoongi says, ignoring the well-meaning manager. "Today. It's urgent."

The director sighs heavily and nods, pulling out his phone. "I guess I could pull him from the store opening."

Within an hour, there's a knock on Yoongi's studio door. He glances up from his monitor at the noise. "Come in, it's unlocked."

Seokjin opens the door slowly and steps inside. His face is too pale and swollen, his eyes red and tired. Yoongi's jaw clenches, angry that Seokjin's usually healthy glow was allowed to deteriorate to such an extent.

Seokjin attempts a smile and waves at Yoongi, pretending like he's perfectly fine. "Hi, PD-nim." The guise shatters as Seokjin sneezes, his eyes watering and a tired groan escaping his lips.

Yoongi scowls. "Get on the couch," he orders.

Seokjin smirks and wiggles his eyebrows, slowly heading to the couch. "Oh, sexy. It's that kind of meeting, I see," he jokes, coughing at the end of his sentence, his smile fading from his lips into a grimace.

Yoongi's expression hardens further, and he grabs the bag of cold and flu medicine he collected at the pharmacy earlier. "Do I look like I'm in a good mood?"

Seokjin wrinkles his nose and lies down on the couch. "It's just a little flu."

Yoongi ignores him, pulling a blanket over Seokjin's body. "Go to sleep. I'll wake you when you have to go."

Seokjin blinks up at Yoongi, a soft smile breaking on his lips. "Yoongi-yah, did you call me here so I can rest?"

"Yes."

His smile widens and he shifts, making Yoongi sit by his side. "You're really good to me."

Yoongi doesn't reply, threading his fingers through Seokjin's hair. "One day, I'll have my own label. I'm going to sign you and you won't have to work these inhumane hours anymore."

Seokjin lets his eyes drift closed. "Sounds nice. It's a deal."

Yoongi licks his lips. "It's a promise, hyung," he vows, watching Seokjin fall asleep. He carves the promise into his chest, solidifies it, makes it beat with his heart. He's going to give Seokjin the world.

Yoongi is only able to secure three hours for Seokjin, and far too soon, he's shaking Seokjin awake again. Seokjin huffs and nods, slowly sitting up and rubbing his eyes.

"Do you feel better?" he asks, worrying his bottom lip as his fingers help to straighten Seokjin's clothes.

Seokjin coughs and makes a face. "My head feels worse." He sends Yoongi a quick smile. "But my heart feels a thousand times better."

Yoongi scoffs. "You're the worst."

Seokjin shrugs, unconcerned, and moves to stand.

"Jin-ah," Yoongi says, stopping Seokjin. "Wait. I have something."

Seokjin looks at him curiously and Yoongi studiously ignores his gaze.

He reaches into his back pocket and pulls out a set of keys, shoving them against Seokjin's chest. "Here."

Seokjin's brow furrows in confusion. He reaches up to catch the keys, staring at them in the palm of his hand. "What – "

"I got an apartment. It's small, and there's no furniture yet but," Yoongi takes a breath, finally glancing up at Seokjin, his mouth open in surprise, his eyes wide with happiness. Yoongi's lips stretch into a smile. "I promised you, a place all my own. A place we can be together." He leans forward and motions for Seokjin to lean down. Seokjin complies easily and Yoongi smiles, bending forward to place a chaste kiss on Seokjin's forehead. "I'm going to keep all my promises to you, Seokjin."

He thinks he sees Seokjin grinning before he envelopes him in a tight hug, and Yoongi's eyes drift closed as he inhales deeply, imprinting this moment onto his soul.

&&&

During the all-too-brief downtime between comebacks, Seokjin practically moves in with Yoongi. They still hardly see each other. Yoongi is always secluded in his studio and Seokjin is off on schedules or practice. Now, however, there are moments when they overlap, two hours in the dead of the night, three hours in the early evening. Sometimes they are fortunate enough to find themselves together for an entire afternoon. It's not enough. It's not nearly enough, but Yoongi is still deliriously happy. He knows Seokjin is too.

Bit by bit, he finds Seokjin taking over the small space, his presence heavy and invading even when he is absent. Seokjin's skincare products take over the bathroom counter. Seokjin buys supplies for the kitchen, brings in ridiculous figurines that he has the audacity to call "art".

"It's Mario," Yoongi points out.

"Mario art. Art," Seokjin insists.

Yoongi's favorite, though, is the corner of the room by the bed where Seokjin keeps his guitar. Every time he catches a glance of the instrument, a warm, bubbling feeling spreads across his entire chest. Clothes and toiletries can be bought, replaced, spread everywhere, but the guitar means home. The guitar means Seokjin has made his home with Yoongi.

It's in this perfect contentment that things, as they are wont to do, inevitably begin to break. If Yoongi had known how events were to transpire, he would have deleted the offending email the moment he read it. If he had known, he would have done many things differently. Regret, however, only shows its wisdom too late, when there is no turning back. It waits in silence for the folly of youth.

Yoongi receives an email from two DJs in Los Angeles. They heard his mixtape and are highly interested in a collaboration. It would be a three-month project, based in Los Angeles.

"They're really famous in the States," he tells Seokjin. They are sitting face-to-face in the bed - their bed, the sheets rumpled and messy around their limbs, pillows strewn haphazardly across the floor save the one Seokjin is holding in his lap, playing with the edges. Yoongi reaches over and takes Seokjin's hand from the pillow, holds his hand in his, long fingers skimming the dips and angles of Seokjin's. "And they want to work with me." He locks his gaze with Seokjin, watching him carefully for any hesitations, any signs of distress.

But Seokjin just grins at him, excitement and pride sparkling in his eyes. "This is amazing! I'm so proud of you."

"It's okay? I'll have to live in Los Angeles for three months," Yoongi clarifies. He wants this so badly, but he wants to keep Seokjin just as much. He wants it all, everything, and he hasn't yet learnt he cannot have it. He is still young enough to think impossible choices are anything but myths and excuses made up by the bitterness of age.

"You really want this, right?" Seokjin asks.

Yoongi nods, can't help the grin on his face, the wide, uncontrollable kind where he knows his gums are showing. "It's my dream."

"Then it's my dream, too." Seokjin tilts his head and leans forward to peck at Yoongi's lips quickly. "It's only three months. If we can't handle three months apart, then we really don't have any hope."

Yoongi rises onto his knees and tips forward, tackling Seokjin to lie flat on the bed. Seokjin erupts in laughter but Yoongi is too busy peppering his face with kisses. "I love you. I love you. I love you."

&&&

As happy and excited as Yoongi is to go to Los Angeles, to live and work and produce there among those making huge advances in the music world, and as happy and proud as Seokjin is for Yoongi to take this opportunity, their parting is still difficult. It is a heavy, aching kind of parting, too many "just-one-more" kisses, too many smiles that start genuine before they simmer and fade until they have to hold them by force of will instead of any real happiness. They promise to talk as much as possible, by phone, by text, by email. Seokjin promises he will rest when he can and Yoongi promises he will remember to eat. Finally, despite all the lingering hands and echoed I'll-miss-you's, they part. Yoongi boards his plane and then he's gone.

Los Angeles is exhilarating and mundane all at once. There are so many opportunities, so many musicians and songwriters and record labels to meet. The studio Yoongi works at has the latest equipment, new and expensive and powerful. Still, Yoongi works the same as he always does. Just him, in front of his laptop with his notebook and pen by his side. Work will always be work and music doesn't change no matter his location. It's still in his heart, in his soul, he still has to find that magic spell that draws the thought out of his mind and into something real.

Yoongi would be content to stay forever in this studio and make the songs he wants to make, but there is one thing missing. One person not present who he longs for.

He misses Seokjin desperately. Even misses just his presence, that comforting knowledge, that sense that he's there, close by. They share brief phone calls at odd hours. Yoongi talks about the people he meets, the songs he's working on. Seokjin tells him about his upcoming acting debut, how his labelmate Jaehwan helped him prepare for the role. It feels like Seokjin is living an entirely new life without him, a growing closeness with Jaehwan, a new career direction. Yoongi wants to be there for all of it. He's afraid of the distance. He needs to be there with Seokjin. He needs to slide his fingers through Seokjin's hair. He needs to lay his ear on Seokjin's chest, hear the rhythm of his heartbeat. An existence without Seokjin is a hollow, aching, throbbing pain that Yoongi has no will or desire to live through. He counts down the days until they are reunited.

One week before his flight back to Seoul – back to him, back to Seokjin – a label invites Yoongi to go to New York. He would have his own studio fully equipped with the best technology, he could make his own music with the promise of artistic freedom. It's a dream. It would be folly to turn it down. And it would mean at least a year without Seokjin.

Yoongi asks for some time to think it over, even when he knows the answer.

He hardly made it through three months separated from Seokjin. He isn't willing to try it for a year.

&&&

Seokjin wants to pick Yoongi up at the airport but they're both afraid of fans and reporters finding out and asking questions. They reluctantly agree that Seokjin will meet Yoongi at the apartment when he arrives.

The plane ride is long and exhausting, immigration drags on, and the cab ride from the airport to his apartment is dreadful, but the moment he opens his door and Seokjin envelopes him in a tight hug, it all melts away. Yoongi closes his eyes and buries his face into Seokjin's neck, breathing him in, breathing this moment into his lungs.

"I missed you," Seokjin mumbles into Yoongi's hair, walking them backwards in the general direction of the bed. His arms tighten around Yoongi's back. "I missed you every day."

"Yeah." Yoongi presses his lips against Seokjin's neck. "Me too."

Seokjin miraculously navigates them to the bed and they tumble down into the sheets, still holding each other close, both of them unwilling to let go. The separation was too long, too tough.

Seokjin straddles Yoongi, planting lingering kisses down Yoongi's jaw, murmuring sweet words as he goes. I love you, I missed you, I love you, I love you.

He wants this forever, wants Seokjin for his entire life. Yoongi tightens his hold on Seokjin and promises himself quietly, he's never letting this go. He has no idea there are some promises he cannot keep.

&&&

The record label from New York sends Yoongi a follow-up email. They already talked to Kelly Inch and arrangements can be made to release him from his contract with them. The new label is willing to pay to acquire him. It's mind-blowing.

He stares at the email seriously, re-reading the words over and over, swivelling in his chair side-to-side. He glances around his studio, at the cracks in the paint, the years-old equipment, frayed wires taped together with duct tape. There are tears in the couch in the corner of the room, the lighting flickers and no one has been able to fix it yet. It's stifling in the summer and freezing in the winter. It doesn't make his music any worse, but it does strike him, the vast difference between how minimally Kelly Inch invests in him and how he was treated in Los Angeles. How he would be treated in New York. He turns back to stare at his computer, the words in the email imprinting behind his eyelids. He thinks about all the tracks on his hard drive, all the tracks Kelly Inch said are too risky, too different, not the sound they want. He thinks about the creative license New York promises him. The offer is everything he wants. Everything, except for one devastating omission.

New York doesn't have Seokjin.

Yoongi's thoughts are jarred at a knock on his door. He minimizes his email and calls out, "Come in."

Hoseok appears, smiling when he sees Yoongi. "Hi, hyung. Welcome back," he greets, shutting the door behind him.

Yoongi smiles and waves Hoseok to sit down. "Have you been well? I heard you're going to start a sublabel?"

Hoseok brightens at the mention of his new endeavor, Hope Music. They talk about production for a while, style and their own visions for the future, the impact they hope to make.

When the topic fades, Hoseok's expression turns pensive and he says quietly, "Hyung." He pauses, his eyebrows furrowing with the weight of his thoughts.

"Hmm?" Yoongi encourages, waiting for Hoseok to continue.

Hoseok's lips turn down into a frown and he finally says, his eyes flickering to Yoongi, "About you and Seokjin-hyung...."

Yoongi stills, wariness curling his fingers into fists on his chair arms. He's never asked Hoseok if he supports the relationship, but he'd always thought, hoped that Hoseok look on it favorably. His friendship means a lot to Yoongi, and even more to Seokjin. Yoongi remains silent, waiting.

"It's really none of my business," Hoseok continues.

"Are you against it?" Yoongi ventures, his voice tipping into cold numbness.

"No. No, of course not," Hoseok replies emphatically. "You guys love each other. Everyone can see that."

Yoongi arches his brows, expectant.

"That's the problem. Everyone can see it."

Yoongi frowns. "We're discreet."

"It doesn't matter." Hoseok sighs and rubs his hand over his face. "I'm just trying to warn you, because you're my friend. Because Seokjin is my friend." He drops his hand and stares seriously at Yoongi. "There are those who don't like your relationship. Be careful of that."

Ice runs through Yoongi's veins, Hoseok's words arresting the beat of his heart. He will not lose Seokjin, he promises himself, urgently, desperately.

In the depths of his regret – later, much later, after years and seasons have had their chance to shape his heart and mind, to bring them closer to one accord, and reason is allowed to emerge again – he will later recognize this moment as the origin of his folly. A little prudence, a modicum of patience may have very well saved him. But he is young and in love, desperately so. Prudence has no place in his heart.

When Hoseok leaves, Yoongi opens his email again. He composes a polite response, declining the offer, and sends it off before he even has a chance to re-read it.

He will stay with Seokjin here, make a name for himself here.

And that small, fleeting thought that started in Los Angeles, that thought that reappeared when he held Seokjin again, that thought that has been expanding steadily in his chest, he finally entertains it seriously. He is certain he will spend the rest of his life with Seokjin. He is certain Seokjin wants the same thing.

He doesn't know what they're waiting for anymore.

&&&

Yoongi goes home – his home, the one he made with Seokjin, the one with Seokjin's guitar in the corner of their bed. He waits for Seokjin to finish filming for the day, watches the sun sink beneath the horizon and the sky grow steadily darker, the night growing thicker. He doesn't have flowers. He doesn't have a cake. No decorations, no candlelight, no ring. He has all his hopes, all his promises, and all his love. It's always been enough for Seokjin. It's always been enough, he reassures himself.

Yoongi doesn't sleep, laying down on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. He listens for Seokjin's key in the lock, humming a melody he hasn't fully formed yet under his breath. It's just past one in the morning when Yoongi finally hears the sweet click of the apartment door.

"Yoongi?" Seokjin calls out, spotting Yoongi on the bed. He looks tired but still so beautiful, his hair messy and his eyes drooping with fatigue. He toes off his shoes and shuffles to the bed, dropping his bag on the floor on the way. "Why're you still up?"

Yoongi sits up and inches forward, waving at Seokjin to sit on the bed facing him. Seokjin mutters about wanting to shower and change his clothes first but doesn't resist as Yoongi softly pulls him down to join him on the bed. "Seokjin-ah," he starts, measuring his breath, rolling the spinning, chaotic thoughts to his tongue and hoping they explain the magnitude of his heart. "I love you."

Seokjin chuckles and pokes at Yoongi's chest. "You stayed up all night to tell me that?"

"No, I stayed up all night to ask you to marry me," Yoongi answers without anymore preamble, the flimsy filter on his thoughts broken, the flood in his heart spilling out.

Seokjin freezes, his eyes widening, his expression growing neutral, indifferent like he always does when his emotions run too deep.

Yoongi shuffles forward and takes Seokjin's hands in his. He peers up at Seokjin, tilting his head so their eyes meet. "I want to marry you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you." Seokjin's fingers twitch in Yoongi's and he squeezes them in reassurance. "You're it for me. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this, that us, we're going to last forever. Why are we waiting?"

Seokjin's mouth opens and closes a few times, his eyes flickering over Yoongi's face. He makes a strangled noise in the back of his throat. "Yoongi, you're only twenty-two," he starts.

Yoongi squeezes Seokjin's hands again. "I'm twenty-one and I want to be with you now, and at twenty-three, and twenty-four. At twenty-five. When I'm thirty. When I'm fifty. When I'm too old to know my age. That is never going to change." He keeps his eyes steady on Seokjin's. "Will it change for you?"

"No!" Seokjin's brow furrows. "No, of course not. I will always love you."

Yoongi grins and shifts closer, until his knees bump Seokjin's thigh. "We're practically living together anyway. So, what do you say? Will you marry me?"

Seokjin's expression brightens but something flickers in his eyes, a hesitation, a doubt. He glances down and purses his lips.

Yoongi frowns. "What? What is it?"

Seokjin glances up again and studies Yoongi's face carefully. He inhales and says slowly, cautiously, "Before. When you were in Los Angeles."

Yoongi fights the urge to freeze in panic. "What about Los Angeles?"

"It's just that. Jaehwan gave me the impression that they gave you an offer in the States. To work with them." He flexes his fingers in Yoongi's grip. "You cannot give that opportunity up for me," he insists.

Yoongi swallows the lump in his throat, fear that he may lose Seokjin making his heart beat too fast, too hard. "He was wrong," Yoongi lies, keeping his expression firm and praying he can convince Seokjin. "They just wanted me for the three months. Nothing more."

Seokjin seems to waver, his eyes searching Yoongi's.

Yoongi smiles at Seokjin. "I'm not stupid. I'm not giving anything up for you."

"Really?"

Yoongi laughs and rolls his eyes. "Yes, really!"

Seokjin's lips break into a grin. "Okay."

"Okay?" Yoongi prompts, hopeful.

"Okay, I'll marry you," he replies fondly.

Yoongi grins as Seokjin launches himself into Yoongi's arms, kissing every spot of skin he can find.

It is only a small lie. It means nothing. Yoongi isn't really giving anything up. He knows he'll make his own way, with Seokjin by his side.

It's only a small lie, he reassures himself, too foolish to understand that big things start very small.

&&&

The beginning of the end is heralded in by a simple knock on Yoongi's studio door, three days after the engagement. Yoongi saves his work and swivels in his chair, calling out, "It's open."

The door opens and one of the label's assistants appears, biting his lip, his shoulders tense and eyes refusing to meet Yoongi's. "The CEO wants to see you," he says.

Yoongi frowns. The CEO doesn't usually meet with Yoongi except for concept discussions, and those are generally planned weeks in advance. He turns around to lock his computer and stands, following the assistant to the top floor of the building. The assistant halts once they reach the door to the CEO's office. He makes a gesture for Yoongi to proceed.

He does not truly have any expectations, his mind blank and struggling to catch up to the oddity of the past two minutes, but when he enters the grand office, the sight that greets him is far beyond anything he could have imagined. The CEO has his elbows on his desk, his fingers steepled together. His lips are etched into a deep frown and a vein in his forehead bulges, his face an angry red. The CEO is fuming. And across from him, sitting with his back rigid and shoulders tense, is Seokjin. His jaw is clenched tight, lips pressed firmly together, hands clasped in his lap, his knuckles white from how hard he's holding them together. Yoongi doesn't know what is happening but he's pissed.

Seokjin glances at Yoongi, his eyebrows furrowing, silently trying to ease the anger already streaming like poison in his veins.

"What the fuck is going on?" Yoongi demands.

"That's what I want to know," the CEO seethes. "Sit down."

Yoongi turns to Seokjin. " You okay?"

Seokjin nods. "I'm fine." He extends his hand. "Sit." Seokjin waits until Yoongi takes the seat beside him before he says, "I told Hoseok and Hyosang about our engagement last night."

And suddenly everything makes sense. Seokjin told his members – out of respect, out of happiness, out of trust – and Hyosang ran and tattled to the CEO. The CEO, it seems, does not approve.

"The fucking engagement," the CEO spits out. "You're an idol. You're not even allowed to date."

Yoongi's jaw clicks, his teeth grinding together as he attempts to remain calm. "With all due respect, Seokjin's professional life is separate from his personal one."

"Not in this industry," the CEO replies. He turns to Seokjin. "How long has this been going on?"

Seokjin frowns and glances at Yoongi.

"How long?" the CEO repeats more firmly.

"A little over a year," Seokjin answers.

"What would you have done if Dispatch caught you? Or a fan?"

"We weren't caught," Yoongi interjects. "We were careful."

The CEO ignores him and continues to scold Seokjin. "It's not just your career on the line. If you go down, E.L. goes down with you. This label goes down with you. You're selfishly ruining the lives of countless people."

Seokjin's lips press harder together.

"I thought you took this seriously."

"I do!" Seokjin answers, his voice wavering as the words push past his lips.

"You don't, or you'd never risk this."

"You don't own his life!" Yoongi yells.

"The contract he signed says I do!"

Yoongi moves to stand but Seokjin reaches out and pulls him back into his seat. He sends a glare in Seokjin's direction but Seokjin motions for him to calm down. Yoongi exhales sharply and shifts in his chair, fuming.

"How many other of my artists are you fucking?" the CEO directs at Yoongi.

"Fuck you," Yoongi spits out.

"Exc-"

"It's just me," Seokjin interjects. His hand squeezes Yoongi's forearm, a warning for patience. "It's just me, and we're not going public. We were never going to go public. Our relationship doesn't change anything."

"You're going to break up," the CEO orders, eyeing both of them. "Immediately."

Seokjin's jaw drops open. "You can't – "

Yoongi grabs Seokjin's hand. "No. We're not."

"You will if you want to remain employed. You will if you ever want to work in this industry again."

"I'm not letting Seokjin go," Yoongi seethes.

"Get the fuck out of my building," the CEO says. "You're fired."

Seokjin's eyes widen. "Wai-"

The CEO glares at Seokjin. "If you know what's good for you, you'll break up. I'm giving you until tomorrow to fix this or your contract is terminated as well. Explain that to Hoseok and Hyosang."

Yoongi pulls Seokjin out of his seat, entwining their fingers together and squeezing in reassurance. "Come on, Seokjin."

He pulls Seokjin from the room, and storms down the concrete stairwell, directing them to his studio. His mind races with plans and people he needs to call, his thoughts already forming into a knotted, tangled mess. He hardly realizes that Seokjin is calling his name, telling him to wait.

"Yoongi, listen to me!" Seokjin nearly yells, his voice amplified and echoing off the walls of the dull, grey stairwell.

Yoongi stops on the landing a floor above his studio, and turns to look at Seokjin. He only realizes now that his breathing is coming in heavy huffs.

"Yoongi, you have to calm down."

"I'm not going to give you up because that bastard wants to control our lives," Yoongi says. He reaches for Seokjin's other hand, an urgent need to touch Seokjin, to connect with him driving his actions.

Seokjin's eyebrows furrow in distress. "He fired you, Yoongi."

"Doesn't matter. Only you matter. I can work anywhere," Yoongi says quickly. He can't lose Seokjin, not over something so trivial, so stupid, so foreign and external.

"He's going to blacklist you!" Seokjin's voice cracks and trembles, his eyes starting to water.

"Hey," Yoongi says, tone immediately softening, comforting, trying to ease the distress in Seokjin. He steps closer to Seokjin, takes one of his hands from Seokjin's and reaches up to gently caress the side of his neck. "I'll be okay, Seokjin."

Seokjin shakes his head. "How?"

"As long as I have you by my side, I'll be okay." Yoongi squeezes Seokjin's hand. "Don't let that asshole rip us apart. It's you and me, right? We'll figure it out."

Seokjin stares at him, a hundred thoughts flying through his eyes, and Yoongi has a brief, red flash of dread that warns him to read them carefully, to know them all intimately, lest they grow into monsters in Seokjin's mind.

"It's you and me, right?" Yoongi says again, smiling softly.

Seokjin hesitates for a moment before he nods. "Of course."

"You're not bailing on me because of this little bump, right?"

Seokjin scoffs. "It's a little more than a bump." Yoongi just continues to stare up at him, smiling encouragingly. Seokjin's lips twitch into something closer to a smile than a frown and finally says, "You're stuck with me."

Yoongi's smile widens. "Good."

Seokjin inhales and nods. "Okay. Okay, I'm going to talk to Jaehwan. Maybe he can talk some sense into the CEO."

Yoongi scowls. He would rather Jaehwan stay out of it, but Seokjin trusts him, and that's enough for Yoongi to keep his reservations to himself.

"We're going to be okay," Seokjin says, more for himself than for Yoongi's sake.

"Yeah," Yoongi agrees, ignoring the sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. They'll be okay, they'll make it through this together.

Seokjin squeezes his hand one more time before he pulls away and bounds down the stairs. "I'm going to find Jaehwan. I'm sure he can fix this. I'll call you later."

Yoongi watches Seokjin's retreating form. If he had known, if he had even the slightest hint of what was to come, he would have followed Seokjin down. Regret only reveals its perfect clarity too late, a trick, a twisted game of could have, should have, would have. Yoongi hasn't learnt yet, untempered, naive, and blind to the folly of his youth.

&&&

Seokjin doesn't come home that night. Yoongi tries not to worry, but every time his eyes land on the guitar in the corner by their bed, there's a hollow, nauseating lurching from his stomach to his throat. He texts Seokjin first, attempting to be casual, nonchalant, attempting to talk himself out of the worry that's clawing at his ribs.

You still out?

And then, increasingly concerned as it goes unanswered.

When will you be home?"

Are you okay?

Seokjin-ah, I'm worried. Please call me.

The apartment is too quiet without Seokjin. Everything looks dull, unfamiliar. The bed is strange without Seokjin's form huddled under the covers. The small kitchenette is dark and foreboding. The shelves seem foreign, the scattered mess of their items wrong somehow. He needs Seokjin here to make the space bright again. To make it warm.

Halfway through the night, he starts calling Seokjin. There's never an answer, just the taunting sound of the line ringing and then a click as Seokjin's voicemail picks up.

When Seokjin doesn't return by the time the sun starts to rise, Yoongi can't stand to stay in the apartment anymore. He grabs his keys and heads to Seokjin's dorm, determined to find him. This is the time he and Seokjin need to stick together, to unite and find strength and comfort in each other. Separation will only make getting through this more difficult.

No matter how long or how hard Yoongi bangs on Seokjin's door, however, there is no answer. Not even one of the managers or Hoseok. They've cleared out. It might be as innocuous as a sudden schedule or practice but Yoongi is sure it is more dreadful than that. The sinking feeling in his stomach from earlier is back, and this time, he cannot ignore it. A part of him knows, it's already too late.

He heads back to his apartment and has a too-brief, too-bright, too-achingly painful moment of relief when he finds Seokjin, here, home, returned back to him and their future. Until Yoongi sees the red rimming Seokjin's eyes, sees the way his jaw trembles, sees the suitcase on the bed already nearly full. Yoongi's eyes flick around the space, quickly assessing the sudden absence of Seokjin, his clothes, his figurines, his computer. The sharpest blow, Yoongi thinks, the one that knocks the breath out of his lungs, leaves him dizzy, swaying on his feet to keep his balance, is Seokjin's guitar. It is no longer in the corner by their bed, but placed safely in the case Seokjin never uses, dust still clinging to the dark sides.

Seokjin is moving out.

"What is this?" Yoongi demands, surprised that his voice is so steady, deceitfully calm. It feels disjointed from his body, like he's listening to the radio instead of his own words. Like he's watching someone else's life break down.

Seokjin's hands pauses over his suitcase. He looks down, places a shirt in the luggage and inhales slowly. "We need to talk."

"You're moving out?" Yoongi stares at Seokjin in disbelief, incredulous. "You're giving up on us?"

Seokjin sighs heavily, refusing to look at Yoongi. He flips the top of his suitcase closed, fingers focused on zipping it up.

"You said we were in this together. You said you loved me!" Yoongi continues, storming closer to Seokjin. "We're getting married, Seokjin. You're just throwing all that away?"

"We don't have a choice, Yoongi," Seokjin answers, finally looking up and meeting Yoongi's eyes. There are dark circles under his eyes, fatigue and misery evident on every inch of his face.

Yoongi steps closer, close enough that he can reach out for Seokjin, fingers wrapping gently around Seokjin's arm. He inhales deeply and tries to calm his pounding heart, tries to keep his voice steady and find the right words. "We do have a choice. Seokjin-ah, listen. I know it looks bad but just have a little faith. Trust me, okay? Trust in me."

Seokjin's eyes flicker and Yoongi thinks again that there is so much that Seokjin doesn't show him, doesn't tell anyone. He wishes he had enough time to interpret it all, to study Seokjin for years, to sink a little deeper into Seokjin's mind, Seokjin's heart, to attach himself so firmly to him that even the thought of separation would be impossible. Seokjin's chin tilts up, the line of his lips hardens, and Yoongi knows. Seokjin wraps his hand around Yoongi's wrist, pulls his grip off his arm and lets Yoongi's hand fall lifeless to his side. "I have to do what's best for me."

Yoongi's chest seizes in pain, his stomach feels like he took a direct hit. That's the problem. While he was building a life for them, while Yoongi was making a life for them, Seokjin was still caught in me. He thought they had one heart, one mind, one perfect symmetry. Now he sees what a fool he was, losing himself in young love. He wonders if he ever really knew Seokjin at all. The man in front of him looks like a stranger, cruel, indifferent, weak-minded and easily persuaded.

The blood in Yoongi's veins run like ice, freezing every warm feeling, every blissful memory, everything that was the last year and a half with Seokjin, turning it into lies and regrets and shrapnel cutting deep into his soul.

Seokjin steps back and takes his luggage from the bed. He whispers something to him but Yoongi's mind cannot understand it. Goodbye, or sorry, it doesn't matter, nothing Seokjin says matters anymore. The image of Seokjin's retreating form blurs through what Yoongi later realizes are tears, the last vision of a bitter dream he was stupid enough to believe in. Yoongi collapses onto the bed, staring blankly in front of him as he hears the door to the apartment door click closed, a signal that Seokjin left, truly left.

Yoongi is alone, his heart broken and shattered like shards of glass at his feet, replaced with a pulsing, enveloping sense of regret.

Chapter Text

Among the countless fledgling new music labels that vie and fight and climb over each other in a frantic grab for success in the Korean idol market, Kelly Inch is perhaps the best cautionary tale that a few successful comebacks do not last forever. The label was just starting out when they debuted a three-member idol group called E.L. Everyone – the producers and staff, the music show directors, even the members themselves – were all surprised that their debut song was popular enough to land in the top twenty-five on the charts. Hit after hit climbed on the charts and at one point, E.L. was on the verge of something spectacular.

Mismanaged funds, poor planning, lack of vision, a few badly timed scandals, and the ever competitive nature of the K-pop market, however, put an end to the hopes and ambitions of the company.

Seokjin watches as the movers clear out the last of the boxes from the place he worked and toiled and suffered in for years. Most of the staff had been dismissed earlier in the week, tearful goodbyes and laments, promises to keep in touch and well wishes as they break apart, a family no longer. Kelly Inch now operates with a skeleton staff in a new, much cheaper space that they're leasing. In a last-ditch effort to save the label, the company cut everything down to bare bones. They even took the hit at their pride and finally moved out of their very own building, renting it out to an independent studio.

It's admirable, Seokjin supposes, but bankruptcy is inevitable. The only real success Kelly Inch can boast of is E.L., and their contract expires in less than two months. He thinks he should feel a little sadder about the prospect, his group disbanding and fading into nothing when he spent the best of his youth in dance practice and vocal lessons, running on two hours of sleep and hardly seeing family or friends.

The movers take out the last, straggling pieces that used to make the space Kelly Inch, leaving only an impersonal shell of an office, a blank slate, long desks with dark monitors and the unmistakable sense of potential. Seokjin inhales deeply, settling his hip onto the edge of a desk, and lets the feeling wash over him. Potential. It was a precious word, once upon a time, full of hopes, dreams, promises he didn't know he would never be able to keep. The potential has long since faded from his life.

As E.L.'s popularity declined, and the members drifted further apart, Seokjin stalled. Hyosang made a place for himself among the hiphop community, and Hoseok, always full of vision, formed his own sublabel. Even as their contracts expire, Seokjin knows they'll be okay. Hyosang is already signed to his new label, and Hoseok has wisely set aside enough savings to buy out his sublabel and truly become independent.

Seokjin, however, has no firm plans. He's not destitute. He has investments and the few acting roles he had throughout his career convinced at least one acting agency to make him an offer. Hoseok, as well, has extended an offer of a contract. Still, Seokjin waits. Stalling. For what, he doesn't know. He feels like he's been waiting for years, for the spark of potential to return.

He's still just waiting, in an empty room, watching as the world he knew dissembles itself.

"Hyung, what're you doing in here?" Seokjin glances to the door, sees Hoseok slip in almost cautiously, hilariously eyeing the blank walls as if they're watching him. "It's creepy sitting in here without anything."

Seokjin laughs and waves Hoseok over. "It's weird, isn't it? We spent our youth here."

Hoseok shrugs, hefting himself onto the desk beside Seokjin, bumping their shoulders when he's settled. "I dunno. I've hardly been up here since I got the studio downstairs."

"It's nice that they're letting you keep the space even when everyone cleared out."

Hoseok sneers. "It's not nice, I'm paying an exorbitant fee."

Seokjin laughs, but the sound fades quickly, silence settling between them, heavy and nostalgic.

"Hyung, are you sad?" Hoseok asks, his voice soft and concerned, vibrating with the care Seokjin has never had to doubt.

Seokjin smiles and shakes his head. "No, I'm not." He isn't, or at least he doesn't feel it. He thinks maybe he's equal parts sad and happy about the end of this portion of his life. The nostalgia of the past and the relief that it's over pulling him in opposite directions, keeping him in equilibrium. Maybe he's waiting here, too. Waiting for his emotions to win their battle, waiting on the precipice of the rest of his life, unsure where he's supposed to go. Waiting for the wind to gust past him, make his feet stumble and finally move.

He's not sad, no, he's not really anything. That's the problem, he thinks. He hardly knows what he is, how can he know where he wants to go next.

"I'm not sad, either," Hoseok says. "We had a good run." Hoseok slings his arm around Seokjin's shoulders. "And we get to promote one last time together," he offers, referring to the farewell single for E.L. that they are in the process of producing.

Seokjin smiles and nods. "Have you got a hold of Hyosang yet?"

Hoseok scowls. "He stopped answering calls when I rejected his lyrics."

Seokjin huffs out a laugh, mind flashing back to the daily battles Hoseok and Hyosang waged years ago, over lyrics, over sound, over image. And just like before, Seokjin finds himself playing peacekeeper between them. "I'll call him," he offers, patting Hoseok's arm.

"Hmm." Hoseok sighs and glances around the empty office. "Hey did we hear who's moving in yet?"

Seokjin pauses, his eyes flicking carefully to Hoseok. He clears his throat and turns to stare straight ahead, hoping to avoid Hoseok's gaze when he answers. He says in the most neutral tone manageable, "I heard it's Kim Namjoon."

Even in his peripheral vision, Seokjin can clearly see the way Hoseok's eyes widen and his mouth falls open in shock. "Kim Namjoon? The Kim Namjoon that we know? The one who's friends with – "

Seokjin forces a smile on his lips, even if he doesn't quite know if he means it, and turns to Hoseok. "Yes, Hobi. That Kim Namjoon."

Hoseok's expression rapidly fades to concern. "What if – "

"I'm quite certain Namjoon doesn't bring his friends along with him everywhere he goes. Besides," Seokjin continues, raising his voice a little as he sees Hoseok starting to protest, "even if his friend came along, I would still be fine. It's been five years." He grins for Hoseok and pats his knee consolingly. "I'm really okay."

Hoseok doesn't look convinced but Seokjin makes silly faces for him, attempting to lighten the mood, until Hoseok finally concedes a laugh and calls him ridiculous.

He's really okay, Seokjin tells himself. It's been years now and time is supposed to heal all wounds.

Time always wins, even against such a formidable opponent as Min Yoongi.

&&&

Seokjin acted in a total of three dramas after the unofficial break up of E.L.. All his roles have been supporting, but apparently his experience makes him the top acting coach and expert at Hope Studios. He finds himself more often than not tugged away from his work by Kim Taehyung to run lines and give advice.

Kim Taehyung, otherwise known as Toy #1 by Hoseok, is one of two young artists that Hoseok has managed to sign under his sublabel. Having made a strong impression with Taehyung's last mini album Stigma, an offer for an acting role in a period drama followed shortly and was readily accepted. The only problem, however, is that neither Hoseok nor Taehyung have any experience or knowledge of that particular part of the show business industry. Seokjin, as one of the principle investors in Hoseok's label, is usually on the end of increasingly dramatic supplications for help.

"What if my entire label fails because you didn't drill those damn lines into Taehyung's head?" Hoseok has said on more than one occasion, his eyes going wide and wild as his imagination takes over rational thought. "I should never have agreed to this drama. His character dies, you know. I don't like that omen."

Seokjin doesn't know if it's even possible to deny Hoseok when he gets like that. He usually doesn't try to fight it. Easier for everyone.

Seokjin is running lines with Taehyung in a seldom-used room in Hope Studios when Park Jimin, otherwise known as Toy #2 by Hoseok, barges into the room, looking excited and bouncing on his toes. Jimin is primarily a dancer that has been training as a vocalist since Hoseok signed him. He just debuted a few months prior and is working on his second mini album. Hoseok thinks it's going to be a breakout hit, and from what Seokjin has heard so far from the album, he's inclined to agree.

"What, pray tell, is the matter, my good sir?" Taehyung asks Jimin, tone and voice still stuck in character.

Jimin sends him a quizzical glance, a bemused laugh escaping his lips, and shakes his head. "They've moved in upstairs! I saw the movers earlier and a really tall, expensive looking guy went up just now." He bounces to the sofa and slides next to Seokjin, slinging his arm around his neck. "Let's go be neighbourly and say hi."

Taehyung flings his script onto the table and stands, excited. "Call!"

Seokjin's fingers clutch the script still in his hands, a sudden jolt of apprehension and fear coursing down his spine. He clears his throat and fixes a stern look on his face. "Taehyung, you have to practice," he tries to dissuade.

Taehyung grins at him and taps his head with his finger. "Breaks are proven to improve memory. I, like, need this."

Seokjin presses his lips together and swallows a sigh. If he protests any stronger, the kids will start to suspect something. And he would like to see Namjoon again, they were always on friendly terms. The fact that he doesn't know if a certain friend followed Namjoon to Seoul is the only reason his heart is thumping too hard in his chest. He wonders where all his bravado went. He had assured Hoseok he would be okay even if a certain person appeared.

He takes a deep breath and reminds himself that five years is a very long time.

"Okay," he acquiesces. "Get Hoseok and we'll go up to say hi."

Taehyung and Jimin shout in joy and race out of the room to find their CEO.

Upon arriving upstairs, Seokjin finds he's equal parts relieved and disappointed that Kim Namjoon came to Seoul alone, no old friends tagging along. It's foolish, and yet Seokjin is caught in equilibrium again, pulled and pushed in two opposing directions, wishing for something and grateful for nothing.

During the initial introductions and excited chatter from Jimin and Taehyung, Seokjin discovers that Kim Namjoon is exactly as he remembers him. Kind and attentive, elegantly spoken and endearingly clumsy. He compliments Taehyung and Jimin's debut releases and tells them he hopes to work with them. The two are beyond thrilled that the producer is even aware of their works, let alone wishes to produce something for them.

After nearly an hour, Hoseok decides they have bothered Namjoon enough. "Come on," he says, rounding them up. "We'll pester Kim PD later."

Namjoon smiles, large and dimpled, and shakes his head. "It's not a bother. Come by anytime. Especially you, Hoseok-ssi. I'd love to hear some of the mixtape you're working on. I've always thought your work is brilliant."

Seokjin smirks and keeps his eyes steady on Hoseok. That's the same too, Namjoon's ability to fluster Hoseok. He can see Hoseok scramble for composure even as his eyes widen and his ears go red.

"Ah, yeah, thanks, I ah," Hoseok sputters, grabbing a confused Taehyung by his collar and kicking at Jimin's shins to get him moving towards the door. "Yeah, sure, you too. Come visit us too, I mean. Okay um."

Jimin sends Hoseok a sharp look and Taehyung wonders loudly, "Why are you being so weird, hyung?" But Hoseok successfully manages to get them all out the door without further embarrassment.

Seokjin turns to find Namjoon chuckling to himself fondly, and Seokjin thinks he knows exactly the kind of effect he has on Hoseok. "You shouldn't tease him too much," he says, but his tone is warm, far from scolding.

Namjoon flicks his eyes to Seokjin and he nods, still smiling. "I know." His smile softens. "It's nice to see you again, hyung."

"Hmm," Seokjin agrees, settling back in his chair. He presses his lips together and debates with himself, as he has been since he came up here and saw Namjoon, if he should ask about Yoongi. If he could. If he even wanted to hear the answer.

It's the past, he reminds himself. Nothing good comes from indulging in the past.

"I saw your dramas," Namjoon says instead, breaking the increasingly awkward silence. "You were really good. I didn't realize you could act so well."

Seokjin smiles. "Thank you. I actually trained as an actor before E.L. It was nice to use those skills."

Namjoon nods understandingly. His eyes focus intently on Seokjin and he says after a pause, "Is that what you'll be doing now? Once your contract is up?"

Seokjin blinks, surprised at the question. He opens his mouth but finds he does not have an answer.

"Ah, sorry." Namjoon rubs the back of his neck and dips his head in embarrassment. "I shouldn't have asked that. Too personal?"

"Oh, no, it's okay." Seokjin sighs and shrugs his shoulders. "It's actually that I haven't decided yet. I don't really know which direction I want to go when my contract expires."

Namjoon frowns and contemplates Seokjin seriously. It seems like he wants to say something but he bites his tongue and nods. "If you ever want to talk about it, you can find me up here," he offers.

Seokjin smiles in appreciation. They lapse into silence once more and finally Seokjin's heart takes control of his lips, overriding the warning bells in his mind. "How's Yoongi?" he asks, trying to sound casual and failing miserably. He can't bring himself to care now, though, studying every flicker on Namjoon's face, watching for a hint, a trace of Yoongi that he didn't have before.

Namjoon freezes and he shifts his gaze seriously over Seokjin's face. He purses his lips, taking his time to pick his words, before he finally says, "Yoongi-hyung is doing really well. He started a label, hired a genius kid producer to work with him too."

Seokjin acts surprised, eyebrows raising and mouth forming into a perfect "o". It's all news he's heard already. He absorbs anything related to Min Yoongi obsessively, but he doesn't want to let Namjoon know. He is, after all, the bad guy in this equation. He's not supposed to be wishing, or caring, or anything but mildly curious. He smiles vaguely, a polite lift of lips. "That's good to hear."

Namjoon is still watching him carefully, his brow furrowing in concentration and puzzlement that Seokjin studiously ignores.

He should leave it at that. He knows he won't get any real information from Namjoon. Namjoon is, and was, Yoongi's friend. And while they had a friendly relationship and a genuine respect for each other, when it all fell apart, Seokjin and Namjoon stopped talking out of respect for Yoongi.

Seokjin knows he should leave it at that, but his stupid foolish heart still has a hold of his tongue and he hears himself ask, "Is he happy?"

Namjoon's eyes flicker and his expression shutters. Seokjin's lungs stop moving, the air in his lungs trapped and pressing hard against his ribs, before Namjoon says slowly, hesitantly, "Yes. He's happy."

Seokjin feels his shoulders relax and he smiles. It's enough to know. It's enough, he convinces himself.

&&&

When he thinks about it, Jungkook realizes he should have read the signs better, should have recognized that it was strange. Weird. A precursor to the event he still doesn't quite understand. Ten months ago, when Namjoon moved back to Seoul to set up his own studio, suddenly Yoongi started going on and on about how they needed to expand the label. Become global. They are global, Jungkook thinks. New York, Milan, Ibiza. Jungkook is starting to suspect global means Seoul, and all the hushed, half-conversations he wasn't supposed to hear are more than fanciful stories.

It was weird, to see Yoongi distracted, staring lost in thought at his notebooks instead of furiously scribbling in them. It was weird, catching Yoongi sighing heavily, huffs of breath that did nothing to ease the discomfort in his mind. It was weird, but it was easy to forget soon enough.

Jungkook joined Min Yoongi's label at its inception, and has worked as a producer for the company ever since. Yoongi and Namjoon were the only two other producers, a small outfit that was more like a group of dreamers than a real company with any hope of survival. But with luck and determination, with tireless efforts, endless nights, and intrinsic talent, somehow, they made the venture a success. Jungkook was just a boy when he joined them, naive, lost, unbalanced, uncentered. He owes both Namjoon and Yoongi credit for mentoring him, seeing him through from a kid who knew nothing about the industry to a highly sought after producer and composer. They never cared about his age or experience, and Jungkook is still grateful for the risks they took on him.

Namjoon and Yoongi saw Jungkook through his toughest years, through his doubts and struggles and bouts of foolishness. They know him well. They like to say they raised him, always laughing like it's a joke but a genuine kind of pride shining in their eyes. But as well as they know Jungkook, Jungkook thinks he knows them just a bit better. He's been watching them for years, modeling his behavior after their examples, learning from their mistakes. It's not hard, then, for Jungkook to glean pieces of a story no one wants to tell.

Despite all Yoongi's attempts to hide it, Jungkook knows that something happened years ago in Seoul, something drastic enough that Yoongi still carries it with him. As a reminder, or a regret that sunk so deep into Yoongi's veins it became a part of his DNA. Jungkook doesn't know, but whatever it is, it's a heavy weight that sits in the space between Yoongi's ribs, silent but never disappearing, there beneath the surface, a look, a catch in Yoongi's breath that emerges without his control.

Yoongi has his moments over the years. Certain seasons seem to throw Yoongi's behavior out of order. Yoongi usually immerses himself into his work, producing dozens of tracks that he'll never release, stored in a USB and locked in drawer. It's become less frequent lately, and Jungkook was even starting to think that the wound on Yoongi's heart finally scabbed over.

Until Namjoon moved away from their New York base, ready to branch out independently in Seoul. Home, is what Namjoon said. He wanted to go home.

Yoongi went into one of his moods again. He locked himself in his studio for days without any sign of life. Jungkook didn't think much of it, didn't realize it was different this time. Yoongi started talking about setting up a base in Seoul. He started to research Korean artists. He started looking into the smaller labels based in Seoul. It was, without a doubt, weird.

He should have seen it coming, but as quickly as it had started, it seemed to dissipate. Yoongi went back to his usual self, and all that remained in Jungkook's mind was his own growing worries. Worries that started small, miniscule, nearly invisible, but somehow they still took root and started to thrive.

With Namjoon absent and making a name, a legend for himself, with Yoongi's talk about growing, conquering, overtaking the industry, with words like home thrown around, Jungkook starts to wonder. He wonders what home is to him.

The last time he had a home, he was nine years old in Busan, before his parents divorced. After that, it was just places he lived. Two apartments in Busan when he was juggled like a ball between his parents. Seoul when his father wanted to start fresh. Los Angeles when his mother wanted to spread her wings. Chicago with cousins when both his parents started new families and he knew he didn't truly belong anymore.

Chicago was a blessing, where Yoongi and Namjoon found him, gave him a place to belong, gave him the structure and guidance and vision he so desperately craved. Since then, his feet hardly touched the ground. London, Sydney, Berlin, Rio de Janeiro. He's been everywhere, he's seen everything, and he wants to be all of it.

Dancer, musician, composer, director, producer. Jungkook wants to be everything. Namjoon tells him he'll excel in anything he puts his heart and soul into. Yoongi tells him he's an endless well of talent.

Jungkook is starting to wonder, though. Starting to wonder who he is, what he is. He doesn't have a vision, not like Namjoon or Yoongi. He has drive and ambition but there are too many options, too many roads to travel that he ends up stuck, paralyzed by opportunity.

Jungkook thinks maybe, if he can find his home, if he can figure out what the word means to him – more than an abstract idea, more than a standard definition, but that warmth and security and welcomeness – if he can find home, then he might be able to find himself.

He doesn't talk to Namjoon or Yoongi about his thoughts. He doesn't want to burden them, would rather brave the weight himself than give them a moment's grief. They've given him so much, he doesn't want to disappoint them, doesn't want them to feel responsible for the plague of doubts that trails his every motion. He doesn't want to be less than amazing in their eyes.

Maybe it was the growing, tangling vine of thoughts that acted like a cloud over his eyes, obscuring the details that he usually catches. Or maybe Yoongi really had broken past whatever was haunting him, but they both settle back into routine a few months after Namjoon leaves. Yoongi is his usual self, focused but not obsessively so. He doesn't talk about Seoul anymore. Jungkook doesn't catch him staring off into the distance, looking lost. They go back to what they always are, and Jungkook doesn't expect anything to disrupt them again.

Jungkook, he realizes, is wrong to assume anything.

"Yah! Wake up!"

Jungkook jostles in his computer chair, scrunching his nose in displeasure. He frowns and shifts, trying to find that sweet spot on the neck support again, unwilling to wake up just yet.

"Don't make me get the water."

Jungkook's eyes shoot open, recalling with perfect clarity the time Yoongi dumped a glass of water over his head to wake up him. Jungkook's hands move instinctively to his headphones, cradling them protectively around his neck and he blinks rapidly, attempting to clear the sleep from his eyes.

Yoongi has his hands stuffed in his hoodie pockets and tilts his head at Jungkook. "Come on, let's go eat."

Jungkook yawns and shakes his head, slowly standing from his chair. He wants to ask what time it is, and if they're going for breakfast or dinner, but his pride keeps his mouth silent.

"You shouldn't sleep at your desk," Yoongi says as he throws Jungkook his jacket. "You'll ruin your neck that way."

Jungkook shrugs, unconcerned. "You sleep in your office all the time."

"A couch is as good as a bed," he counters, already heading to the door. Jungkook resists the urge to roll his eyes, Yoongi's words are so familiar, it's almost like a song on repeat at this point.

Jungkook shrugs on his jacket as he jogs after Yoongi, following him out of the building and onto the street. It's pitch black and freezing cold, the last tendrils of October ushering in the icy winds of winter. He shivers and hunches his shoulders to keep the chill off his neck. From the bustle on the street, Jungkook concludes it's still early evening. His stomach rumbles in hunger and he's suddenly very grateful for Yoongi's wake-up call. He speeds up his steps until he's shoulder-to-shoulder with Yoongi.

They don't talk on the way to the restaurant. Yoongi's lips are pursed and his eyes narrowed. He looks pensive. Jungkook wonders if it's a song he's stuck on, or if there's something else, something that makes his eyes flicker, searching for something he cannot see. Jungkook stays silent, waiting.

They're halfway through dinner when Yoongi finally broaches whatever is on his mind. His right elbow is on the table, his chopsticks held still in his hands as he stares across the table at Jungkook. Jungkook glances up and notices the brooding furrow of Yoongi's brows, eyes focused entirely on him, reading him. Jungkook freezes mid-chew.

They stare at each other in awkward silence for a few moments more than Jungkook finds comfortable, until Yoongi says, still unmoving, "Do you like New York?"

Jungkook can't talk around the food that's still in his mouth so he nods and swallows hard, trying not to choke as it goes down.

Yoongi's lips turn into a frown and he nods. "More than any other place?"

Jungkook shrugs, swallowing down a cough. He clears his throat. "It's fine. You always said you can make music anywhere."

"You can," Yoongi asserts.

"Then it doesn't really matter where we are." Jungkook smiles proudly at Yoongi. He wonders where Yoongi wants to move to this time.

Yoongi smirks and finally shifts back in his booth, some invisible burden slipping from his shoulders, relaxing his stance. "I was thinking," he starts. "Let's go back to Korea. To Seoul."

Jungkook's eyes widen in alarm, snippets of overheard conversations ringing in his mind.

Namjoon's voice hushed, concerned, sincere. Don't you ever miss it?

And Yoongi's answer, firm, harsh, unmoving. Never. Seoul has nothing left for me.

Seoul is home, hyung.

Not for me. Not anymore.

Yoongi's still smiling at him, apparently unaware of the apprehension circling Jungkook's mind. "Namjoon just signed a year-lease to a studio there. He can put us up for a bit before we find a place for ourselves. Don't you miss Korea?"

"Yeah," Jungkook answers slowly, studying Yoongi closely. There's something behind the spark in his eyes, something more than just excitement for a new venture, something that runs deeper, stronger.

Yoongi nods, satisfied. "It's time to go back to our roots. I think we can leave sometime later this week."

There's a fire in Yoongi's eyes, Jungkook realizes. A determination, a desire, a reckoning. Yoongi wants something, and he's already hardened his resolve to achieve it. Jungkook blinks as he listens to Yoongi's plans - a high-tech studio in the heart of Seoul, scouting for artists to sign with the label - and he wonders with a tinge of misplaced jealously what it's like to know exactly what he wants, with the resolve to get it that Yoongi has.

Jungkook wonders if he even has any roots in Seoul to go back to.

&&&

Seokjin is just about to leave for his schedule when he gets a message that the photoshoot he's supposed to do is canceled. It isn't the first time a schedule has been canceled, but it's been happening far more frequently lately. It's a consequence of time, of the inevitable dulling of fame and fortune, he thinks. He shakes the thoughts from his mind, determined to stay positive. If he has a free day, he'll make it productive. He'll go to Hoseok's studio and try to do some work.

His apartment is a twenty minute walk to the studio and he opts to go on foot rather than a taxi. It won't be a problem, he knows. It's been years since he's been stopped on the street for photos or an autograph.

It is absolutely freezing, he discovers as he steps out onto the street. He pulls the hood of his puffy coat over his head to keep the wind out and shoves his hands deep into his pockets where he always has at least three heat packs. He wraps his fingers around them, leeching the heat from the small packs and tries not to let his mind wander to years ago. Four years ago, he would have a manager driving him everywhere he went, even if it was a block away, with a cup of hot tea waiting for him. It's not an option for him anymore. Kelly Inch let go of most of the managers, and the few that remain are dedicated to the ones that still turn a significant profit for the label.

It's not worth dwelling on, he reminds himself. The past is done, and no amount of wishing can ever bring it back. All he can do is move forward, and try to muster up anticipation for what lies ahead, even if it is just a very little.

A sharp gust of wind stings at his cheeks and pushes his hood off his head, ruffling his hair. He shivers, hurrying his steps. He should probably invest in a car soon. At least he would be able to get places independently.

When he finally reaches the building, he hurries to the floor that contains Hope Studios. The lights are mostly off and the space is eerily quiet, he notices immediately, frowning. It's not odd to be completely ignored, most of the inhabitants of Hope Studios are usually immersed in projects at all hours of the day. It is odd not to hear any of them.

He makes his way slowly down the corridor, certain they're all playing a prank on him, waiting with a jump scare. He cannot believe Hoseok betrayed him like this.

"Hoseok-ah!" he calls out. "Taehyungie! Jiminie?"

Seokjin searches the entire floor but cannot find anyone, only traces of their belongings. Jimin's bag, the wrappers from Hoseok's energy bars, Taehyung's marked-up script left half open on a table. Puzzled, Seokjin wanders into his room, slowly shrugging out of his coat and laying his bag on the table. He sits on the couch, cracked and old, a relic from long ago. He runs his thumb over one of the tears, one that had already started when it was Yoongi's couch, when this had been Yoongi's studio.

Not good, he thinks. The still, silent air in the space leaves him with too many thoughts. Those quiet whispers he entertains only when he knows he can survive them, those memories that ache so sweetly even as they rip him apart. It's not a good idea to lose himself in reminiscing right now, he knows. He's still cold from the walk, his cheeks still flushed a rosy red. He's still a little disappointed about the canceled schedule, still wondering how he fits into the only world he's known for years now that he's older, now that Kelly Inch is failing, now that his contract is expiring. It is not the time to think about the only love he's ever known, the only love he's ever had to throw away.

He sighs and stands. Everyone must be upstairs with Namjoon, he realizes. He can find Hoseok up there and they can work on the farewell single until he's too exhausted to keep his eyes open.

It's only two flights of stairs up to what used to be the main offices of Kelly Inch, now home to Mon Studios. Seokjin hums a melody he's working on as he climbs the stairs, the sound of his voice reverberating off the cement walls, an echo of the chorus he sings falling back into his ears, faded, hollow, resonating.

As soon as he opens the door to Mon Studios' floor, he can hear Hoseok laughing about something. He smiles and peeks his head into the room, finds Namjoon and Hoseok sitting very close together, chuckling at Taehyung acting out a scene from his drama.

He knocks on the jamb of the door. "Hey."

Hoseok notices him first and it would be comical if it wasn't so troubling how fast Hoseok's expression falls. His eyes widen, panicked, his lips turn from a wide grin to an alarmed "o", his eyebrows raise half-way up his forehead. "Hyung! What, wh-, you're supposed to be. Not. Here."

Taehyung turns to smile at him, and sidles up to his side, wrapping his arms around Seokjin's waist and squeezing tight. "Thank goodness you're here, hyung! I need help with my lines and Hoseok-hyung is useless."

Seokjin pats Taehyung's hand absentmindedly, eyes still focused on a panicked Hoseok and, perhaps more concerning, an anxious Namjoon. He arches a brow at them, silently questioning.

Hoseok nearly leaps from his seat and latches onto Seokjin's shoulders, pushing him backwards. "Awesome, great, so glad you're here. Let's go downstairs, I have something I want to show you."

Taehyung plants his feet and pulls Seokjin back, whining. "Nuh-uh. Hyung hasn't even met – "

"Right now! Would be great!" Hoseok yells over Taehyung, sending him a piercing glare. It's intimidating enough for Taehyung's hold to loosen on Seokjin's waist. Hoseok takes advantage and pulls Seokjin into the corridor.

Seokjin frowns, confused and slightly affronted at the shenanigans he just witnessed. "Want to fill me in, Hoseok?" he asks coolly, slowing his steps despite Hoseok's insistent tugging.

"Trust me hyung, just come downstairs with me, you'll thank me. I'll fill you in when we're clear." Hoseok locks his gaze with Seokjin's, brows furrowing, pleading with him to listen.

Seokjin studies Hoseok for a moment, the worry in Hoseok's eyes causing a pool of dread swirl in Seokjin's stomach. Hoseok is seriously concerned about something, someone, and suddenly Seokjin knows. Before his mind can catch up, before he can convince himself it's a silly assumption, before he can make his limbs react and move to Hoseok's urgings. He knows.

And then he hears it. The loud, delighted, twinkling sound of Jimin's laughter coming from one of the rooms, approaching closer rapidly, and there, underneath it, an undertone of another voice that Seokjin should have forgotten long ago.

Hoseok is pressing with all his might against Seokjin's shoulders but Seokjin is frozen in the corridor, his heart leaping with every thump into his throat.

Jimin steps into the corridor, smiling brightly when he sees Seokjin. Seokjin's eyes cannot focus on Jimin, cannot see anything, anyone but the figure that follows closely behind him, hand on the small of Jimin's back and a fond tilt to his lips. Min Yoongi is here, in Korea, in Seoul, in the same building where it all began, where it all ended.

For the first time in five years, Seokjin stares straight into Yoongi's eyes, and he's suddenly lost his balance, equilibrium disrupted, his feet scrambling for purchase. Falling.

Despite the years, the heavy hand of time could not erase what Seokjin always knew he would never forget. Like dark magic, five years melts away with a blink, and he's left standing frozen in the corridor, staring at the only man he loved with every part of himself. The same man Seokjin threw away, breaking his heart callously. And Seokjin finds, in defiance of time and will and reason, he's still hopelessly falling for Yoongi.

Chapter Text

When Seokjin walked out on Yoongi five years ago, when he closed the door on the best man he would ever have the good fortune to love, Seokjin's world stopped spinning. He stood still, feet cemented to bedrock as the atmosphere around him kept moving, inertia carrying away everything he knew. A blur of promises he longed to keep, and dreams he could no longer stretch out his hand to touch flew by his vision, disappearing until there was nothing left. His world stopped spinning, his feet stopped moving, and everything else, everyone else continued.

Seokjin mustered as much energy as he could to go through the motions, to unstick his feet, to keep up a facade at the very least. Routine was good for him, and eventually, he emerged again, his world found a new revolution. It was different, a little more weighted, with a sadness he knows will never fully dissipate. But he's spinning again, and living again, and moving forward again.

Until now, staring straight ahead at the man he still knows so well, will always know, will never forget. Min Yoongi has returned, and Seokjin's world stops spinning again.

He wonders, vaguely, the part of himself that can still think with some sort of clarity, if Yoongi is planted firmly in the bedrock of Seokjin's world as well. His image remains clear in Seokjin's vision even as the rest of the atmosphere starts ripping apart, inertia tearing away Jimin and Taehyung, Hoseok, Namjoon, the very walls of the corridor where too many memories lurk.

Yoongi changed so much and yet not at all. He dyed his hair blond, a light golden hue that somehow suits him so well, brightens the glow of his skin and emphasizes the deep brown of his eyes. He parts his hair now, styled and tussled artfully, the beanie that used to be his trademark no where in sight. He's not taller, but he's bigger, broader, his chest filled out, his waist more trim, his face more defined. Even his clothes are vastly different, an elegant button-up shirt, sleeves rolled up his forearms, snug dark chinos and a large silver buckle belt to keep them in place.

Yoongi aged well, blossomed, thrived. A casual observer might say he's hardly recognizable, but Seokjin thinks he's still the same, that essential part of Yoongi, that part that makes him the man Seokjin fell for, is still the same. His eyes. His eyes are the same as Seokjin remembers.

Only this time, they're not focused on him. Yoongi's eyes are on Jimin, fond, intrigued, a look so achingly familiar to Seokjin. His chest hurts, tight, immobile, the carbon dioxide in his lungs struggling to escape, the thump of his heart a hammer against his ribs.

Yoongi's gaze shifts, his head tilts, his dark eyes finally see Seokjin, and suddenly the world is in motion again, the atmosphere returned, Seokjin's peripheral vision is back and his head reels. He is dizzy, disoriented, powerless to look away from Yoongi.

Yoongi's expression cools, eyes hardening. He arches a brow and inclines his head almost too subtly to catch.

"Hyung!" Jimin says, greeting Seokjin.

Seokjin glances to Jimin even as the piercing weight of Yoongi's eyes still lingers on him. Seokjin can feel his cheeks flush, the heat brings him back to reality. He gathers whatever abilities he can muster in his shock and pastes a smile on his lips.

Jimin grins at him, his eyes scrunching into crescents. "This is Min Yoongi-PD. He owns Genius Music and he's Namjoon-hyung's friend." Jimin turns to Yoongi. "Yoongi-hyung, this is Kim Seokjin."

Seokjin has a swift, stabbing thought, wondering at how quickly Yoongi allowed Jimin to address him as hyung, at the excitement in Jimin's voice. He has an instant pang of jealousy at how Yoongi turns his attention back to Jimin as he speaks, at the interest that radiates off him, the closeness of his stance to Jimin. Seokjin presses his lips together and tries to remember he has no right to jealousy.

Yoongi keeps his gaze on Jimin for a moment longer before flicking to Seokjin again. His lips lift in a slow, sardonic smile. "We've met," he drawls, low tone like a sword. It is a deliberate jab, one that cannot be easily observed by anyone other than Seokjin. We've met. Everything they once were, reduced to casual acquaintances.

Jimin peers curiously between Seokjin and Yoongi. "Oh?"

Seokjin widens his smile and keeps his voice steady, even through the pain. "Yoongi-ssi produced some of our early albums."

Jimin's brow furrows and his lips purse, perplexed. He says low, an accusation thinly veiled as a comment, "You didn't mention it before."

Seokjin doesn't know if it's directed at him or at Yoongi. He doesn't know which is worst. "It was a long time ago," he answers, trying not to let his eyes drift back to Yoongi, the pull of his gravity stronger, harder to resist than Seokjin remembers.

"A lifetime ago," Yoongi agrees. His tone isn't harsh but the words still sting. Seokjin wants nothing more than to disappear, to run away from this and pretend it's all just a feverish dream.

Hoseok, beautiful, loving, perceptive Hoseok, seems to understand, and steps in like a modern-day prince. He wraps his hand firmly around Seokjin's arm, arresting his attention, off of Yoongi, off of Jimin, off of all the memories Seokjin tries not to drown in. "I hate to interrupt the reunion, but I've been waiting for Seokjin-hyung." He turns to Seokjin, locks their gazes and tilts his head toward the exit. "I wanted to work on the track."

Hoseok waits for Seokjin's okay, the motion of his head down and up again in a nod of acquiescence. As soon as he sees it, Hoseok drags Seokjin out of the corridor, hastily calling out to the others, "Catch you guys later." Hoseok keeps his grip on Seokjin's arm firm, an anchor grounding him until the heavy fire door closes behind them in the stairwell.

Hoseok removes his hand and a flood of air escapes Seokjin's lungs. "When did he get here?" Seokjin asks, failing to keep the hint of accusation out of his tone.

"Today, I guess," Hoseok answers.

"You didn't tell me."

"You weren't supposed to be here," Hoseok answers, arching a brow, indignant.

"My schedule was canceled. You could have texted me."

Hoseok rolls his eyes and steps around Seokjin, bounding down the stairs. "I thought you said you'd be fine. I thought you said you were over it."

Seokjin grimaces at his words thrown back at him. He really is over it, he assures himself. He was just caught off guard. He follows Hoseok down the stairs, their footsteps echoing in the confined space. "A little warning would have been nice."

"I only found out an hour ago," Hoseok retorts, swinging the door open to his floor.

"A whole hour to type me something that takes two seconds."

"Don't take this out on me," Hoseok says, spinning on his heel and glaring at Seokjin.

"I'm not!" Seokjin's voice reverberates against the walls, louder than he anticipated.

Hoseok stares at him incredulously.

"I'm not," Seokjin says again, deliberately softening his voice. He presses his lips together and glances away from Hoseok, curling his fingers into fists. "I'm not," he repeats, sighing. "Sorry, sorry. It was just really unexpected."

Hoseok's irritation deflates and he sighs too, his shoulders slumping. "Yeah, no, it's fine. We're good?"

Seokjin nods. "We're good."

They stand in silence for a moment, Hoseok's brow furrowed in worry, his eyes sharp and piercing. "Are you going to be okay, hyung?"

Seokjin opens his mouth to answer as he always does but Hoseok lifts a hand to stop him quickly.

"And don't say 'of course I'm fine, it's been five years.'" Hoseok curls his lips in clear disdain of Seokjin's usual denials. "I'm not buying it."

Seokjin hesitates for one moment before he gathers himself again, giving Hoseok a reassuring smile that he doesn't quite feel yet. "I got through it before. If I handled that, this is nothing. Besides, Yoongi has no interest in me anymore. We probably won't even see each other again." Hoseok stares at him, a deep frown etched into his mouth. "The worst of it is over. I won't be caught off guard anymore. It's really going to be okay, Hoseok-ah."

Hoseok sighs and lifts a hand to rub at the bridge of his nose. "I can't tell when you're lying anymore."

"I'm not lying," Seokjin affirms, willing Hoseok to believe him. He's not entirely sure he believes himself, but he's determined to make it the truth.

"Fine, fine." Hoseok turns and heads to the common room, flopping face-first on a couch. "I'll believe you."

Seokjin lets out a relieved breath and sits in the armchair by Hoseok's head. "Thanks for the rescue back there."

Hoseok makes a grunting noise, face buried in a pillow, and flays his hand at Seokjin. "'Course. We're a team," he says, voice muffled. He peeks his head up a second later. "You can tell me if you're not okay, you know that right?" He worries his bottom lip. "Yoongi-hyung was...."

Yoongi was once Seokjin's everything.

The smile fades from Seokjin's lips. The silent, slightly chilled air in the room finally clears his mind from the shock of seeing Min Yoongi after five long, long years. They were so close, Seokjin thinks. He could have reached out and touched him. His mind replays the meeting over and over, isolating details. The light in Yoongi's eyes, the ways his lips moved as he spoke. The total absence of any shock, any unease, any reactions at all to Seokjin's presence.

"Hoseok," Seokjin starts slowly, frowning. He stares straight ahead, blinking vacantly at the space.

"Yeah?"

"Why...." Seokjin runs his hand down the arm of his chair. "Did Yoongi say why he was back in Seoul?"

Hoseok is silent for a moment before he says, "No. He didn't say."

"Do you know why he's back?" Seokjin prompts, turning to look at Hoseok.

Hoseok stares at him, slowly shaking his head. "No." He continues to keep his gaze steady on Seokjin. "Isn't that...." Hoseok licks his lips and continues softly, "Isn't that something you would know?"

Seokjin looks away and shakes his head. "No."

He doesn't know Yoongi's thoughts anymore. The realization stings more than he expects.

&&&

Seokjin had hoped that his awkward, tense reunion with Yoongi had gone unnoticed by everyone else. Seokjin, he realizes, has never been that lucky. The kids barge into his studio the next day, immediately making themselves comfortable on the couch.

Seokjin sighs, looking up from his guitar. "What did I say about knocking?"

Taehyung shrugs, unconcerned, and props his foot on the edge of the coffee table. Jimin smiles dismissively and inches to the edge of the couch, closer to Seokjin's chair. He leans his elbow on the arm of the couch and places his chin in his hand. "Hyungie," Jimin starts sweetly.

Seokjin's eyebrows raise, already apprehensive.

"You wanna talk about anything?" Jimin prompts. "Anything on your mind?"

Seokjin stares at Jimin and says firmly, "No."

"Maybe like how yesterday you were being all weird around Yoongi-hyung?" Jimin continues, undeterred. "Or maybe why Hoseokie-hyung nearly had a heart attack when he saw him?"

"And why you looked like you saw a ghost," Taehyung adds, eyes focused on Seokjin, that eerie, all-seeing gleam in his gaze that always makes Seokjin think Taehyung sees more than he tells. "It was weird."

"So weird," Jimin agrees.

Seokjin schools his features into neutrality. "It wasn't weird," he denies. He shifts his gaze back to his guitar. "I was surprised to see him. I'm sure Hoseok was as well." He can feel the disbelieving glares from both Jimin and Taehyung.

"He didn't talk about you at all," Taehyung notes. "And we were there for like two hours. He mentioned your label, and Hyosang-hyung and, like, everything. But not you." Taehyung tilts his head. "Like he was avoiding your name. It's weird."

"So weird," Jimin repeats, nodding his head in his hand.

Seokjin rolls his eyes and ignores the painful thump of his heart in his chest. "I worked with him a very long time ago. Maybe he forgot."

"Not likely," Taehyung says.

"People don't forget you, hyung," Jimin says insistently. "And if they've met you, they definitely mention it."

Seokjin sighs and moves his guitar off his lap to lean against his chair. "I don't know what to tell you."

"The truth," Jimin answers.

"Or at least something close to it," Taehyung adds.

Seokjin's gaze locks on Taehyung's, contemplating for a few tense moments, wondering just how much he sees. Seokjin nods his head in resignation. The kids already concluded something is wrong. Any denials from him will result in an implied confirmation. He has to tell them something. Something close to the truth, Seokjin thinks.

He presses his lips together. "Min-PD didn't leave Kelly Inch on the best terms. There was a bit of a fuss, so it's awkward now." Seokjin sends them both an annoyed look. "Satisfied?"

"That's it?" Taehyung asks, sounding slightly disappointed.

Seokjin shrugs. "That's it."

Jimin frowns, his eyes narrowed, not quite suspicious but doubtful. "You sure?"

"I'm sure. There's nothing else," Seokjin insists. It's not a lie, he thinks. There is nothing else between him and Yoongi. He made sure of that years ago. Their brief time together, stolen moments, pockets of paradise, have long since disappeared. The past is an intangible remembrance, vague wisps that he can never truly hold onto. They are nothing now, as if they never were. Maybe that's why the words hurt as Seokjin gives them sound.

"You have to tell us if he was a real jerk, hyung," Taehyung concludes, apparently nearly done with the topic as he pulls out his phone. He scrolls through it, bored.

Seokjin's shoulders relax. If Taehyung drops the subject, Jimin will as well, and he can go back to pretending Yoongi's presence doesn't affect him. "Of course. He's a good guy."

"Good. Because he's already got his eye on Jimin, and it'd be better to cut that off right now if he's an ass," Taehyung says, eyes focused on his phone.

Seokjin's lungs stop, the air trapped in his throat.

Jimin turns to Taehyung and hits his arm. "He does not have his eye on me."

"Ow!" Taehyung cradles his arm protectively away from Jimin. "I'm not wrong! He invited you to a private session."

"He invited you too," Jimin counters, pushing at Taehyung. "You just can't go because of your drama."

"He looked a little too happy about that." Jimin pinches Taehyung's side and he laughs, ticklish.

"He literally just met me."

"Ever heard of love at first sight?"

"I don't believe in that."

Taehyung smirks. "Only takes one," he says, holding up one finger. "If he made a move, would you? Be honest."

"He hasn't made a move!" Jimin says, his cheeks starting to flush.

"But if he did," Taehyung grins as Jimin's cheeks grow darker. "Would you?"

Seokjin stands abruptly. He cannot sit here and listen to this. There is only so much strength he can muster, jealousy and yearning pumping like poison in his veins, corroding his heart. Yoongi has every right to show interest in anyone he likes, and Jimin is allowed to reciprocate if he pleases. But Seokjin can still remember when Yoongi was his, and his alone. Maybe his heart still thinks Yoongi belongs to him.

Seokjin smiles when Taehyung and Jimin look up at him curiously.

"Hyung?" Jimin asks, confused.

"I'm hungry," he says quickly. "I'm going to run down to the convenience store. You guys want anything?"

"Honey twists!" Taehyung answers, smiling.

"Me too!" Jimin repeats.

Seokjin grabs his coat, sliding his arms into the sleeves. "Okay, two bags of honey twists."

"And ramen!" Taehyung calls after Seokjin as he leaves the room.

Seokjin heads to the elevator and hits the call button, sighing. He shakes his shoulders and tells himself to get Yoongi out of his head. He always thought Yoongi must be dating, must be finding someone new. This isn't anything but confirmation. Yoongi moved on and Seokjin has to stop thinking about him.

The elevator dings and the doors slowly slide open. Seokjin looks up and freezes, his eyes widening, his hands curling into fists in his coat pockets. Occupying the elevator is the man he cannot seem to avoid.

Yoongi leans in the corner of the elevator, his phone in one hand and his other hand hidden in his bomber jacket. His gaze flicks up as the elevator door opens, and then his eyes are locked on Seokjin's.

It's incredible, the power in Yoongi's eyes, to captivate, to hypnotise, to pull Seokjin in so deep, he doubts he'll ever find his way out. It's addicting, the thrill of having Yoongi's eyes on him again. He wonders if Yoongi's power has grown over the years, or if he's just so starved for Yoongi's attention that the magnitude far exceeds his memory. Seokjin feels like he's suspended in time in Yoongi's gaze, somehow in the past and the present simultaneously.

Yoongi finally breaks the spell. He straightens and shifts his gaze away. "You coming?" he asks, arching a cool brow.

Seokjin inhales forcibly, ignores the sting of pain as air flows through his tight throat, and nods. "Yeah," he says, stepping into the small space to stand next to Yoongi. The doors close and the elevator jolts, continuing its descent.

The silence between them is suffocating, heady and full of too much history. Seokjin is hyper aware of every breath Yoongi takes, every minor shift of his feet.

He forces a neutral smile to his lips and glances toward Yoongi. "I was surprised to see you again," he starts, trying to sound casual.

Yoongi snorts, sending him a cold stare. "I'm sure you expected me to disappear forever."

Seokjin blinks, surprised at the vehemence in Yoongi's tone.

Yoongi shrugs, nonchalant. "I suggest you get used to it. I'm back in Seoul for good." He locks eyes with Seokjin again, challenging. "And you should know, my word can be trusted." His eyes linger on Seokjin for a moment longer, an unsaid unlike yours hanging between them.

The elevator jolts again as it reaches the ground level. The doors slide open and Yoongi sends Seokjin a cool, unfeeling smile.

"See you around, Seokjin-ssi," he says as he walks out, leaving Seokjin behind.

If Seokjin had any doubts in his mind before, any naive hopes of rebuilding a friendship with Yoongi, they are broken and shattered at his feet now. Yoongi isn't indifferent to Seokjin, hasn't forgotten the past like he thought. Seokjin isn't a stranger to Yoongi. It is so much worse than that. Yoongi hasn't forgiven Seokjin, still holds him responsible for the heartbreak he caused.

Yoongi hates him, and the divide between them will never heal. The knowledge cuts deep into Seokjin's heart. If they were merely strangers, Seokjin could hold onto the hope of forming some kind of relationship, however limited, in the future. But the rift cannot be overcome, and there is no possibility of building a new friendship.

They are forever separated.

&&&

Jungkook delays his departure from New York by three days. He lies to Yoongi, pretends there is a problem with his passport, and re-books his ticket. He expects Yoongi to see right through his facade like he always does, but Yoongi just nods in assent. Whatever Yoongi is chasing after in Seoul has him completely tunnel-visioned, ignorant of everything else around him.

Jungkook supposes he cannot really judge Yoongi for it. He's the same, his own thoughts dragging him away from his surroundings, occupying his hours.

It doesn't matter what Korea means to Yoongi, Jungkook concludes. It doesn't matter what he's seeking, reaching for. To Jungkook, Korea is the beginning of something new. He needs some time to decide what new means.

His apartment is cleared out, all his belongings shipped off with Yoongi. He's left with only the clothes in his overnight bag and his laptop. He instantly regrets letting Yoongi pack his gaming console, but the games on his phone provide some comfort.

He checks into a hotel and spends his first day without anyone, just wandering around New York. He goes through shops, eats whatever he likes, and watches street performances. It's the latter that he enjoys the most. He's in awe of the street artists' enthusiasm, their passion, their boldness. He has a tingle of admiration that leans heavily to the darker side of his mind, to envy, at their ability to transform notes and steps and energy into something original, something fun and explosive and mesmerizing. He's envious of their ability to make something inspired and all their own.

By day two, Jungkook knows what he wants to do, what he needs to do. Seoul is where he will start his roots, the place where he will unfurl himself, listen to the music that's buried somewhere inside. He will find his style, his sound, his very identity, and nurture it into something great.

Jungkook decides he will write, compose, and produce a song all his own. Without the helping hands of Namjoon and Yoongi, without running to them for advice and rescue. He will make something purely himself, and then he'll know, if his talent is true, or if he's deluded himself with the kind words of his hyungs for years.

Jungkook spends the first two hours of the flight from New York to Seoul staring at his laptop, blank. He has absolutely no inspiration. He wonders if maybe his luck ran out. Maybe everything before was a fluke. Maybe in the end, he has no sound. He is the silence of a deep night, long and unwelcome.

Sighing in defeat, he closes his laptop and settles in for a nap for the rest of the flight. He'll try again in Seoul, he tells himself as he drifts into sleep.

Jungkook is groggy and disoriented when the flight finally lands. He makes his way through immigration on instinct. Hearing and speaking and reading his native tongue everywhere again after years spent overseas makes reality seem more like a dream than actual events unfolding. He wanders through the airport in a daze, scrambling to catch up and transition, a weary traveller with no respite.

Once he makes it through arrivals, he suddenly snaps back into consciousness, unexpectedly spotting Namjoon waiting for him. He grins and runs over to him, wrapping his arms around Namjoon for a hug. "Hyung! I didn't know you were picking me up."

Namjoon pats Jungkook's back and gives him a squeeze. "Of course. I missed your cute face."

Jungkook cackles, his nose scrunching up.

"Did you get all your luggage?"

Jungkook nods. "Just my carry-on. Yoongi-hyung shipped all the rest before."

"Hm. I think it's all at the studio." Namjoon starts walking to the exit, tossing his keys in the air and catching them. Jungkook scuttles after him, careful to avoid the trajectory of the keys Namjoon so precariously tosses. "You want to go to the apartment first? Sleep off the jet lag?"

"I slept on the plane." Jungkook readjusts the strap of his carry-on bag. "Can we go straight to the studio? I wanted to set up," he says, eager to start. He's hoping that setting up his studio, that claiming the space to call his, will give him the spark of inspiration he needs. He ignores the echo of Yoongi's voice in his head saying, ”You can make music anywhere.”

Namjoon studies him for a moment and Jungkook wonders what he sees, hopes his worries aren't obvious. Finally Namjoon makes a face. "I'm surrounded by workaholics."

Jungkook snorts. "You're one to talk."

"Just get in the car, Jungkookie," Namjoon says, but his tone is fond.

They both settle into the car, and Namjoon miraculously navigates them out of the airport parking garage without incident. Jungkook comments on the feat, and Namjoon tries valiantly to defend his driving, much to Jungkook's amusement. They catch up quickly, Namjoon filling him in on all the new music he's developing, the things he's done in the last few months. Jungkook listens intently until Namjoon runs out of stories and turns on the radio instead, settling into a comfortable silence.

Jungkook fiddles with the stations to find a channel he likes. He's so focused on the radio that he doesn't register Namjoon's fingers tapping on the steering wheel, that idle, dull thudding on any available surface that he does when his thoughts are starting to leak into words, awkward and heavy and a clear indication of a conversation that won't be easy.

It isn't until he hears Namjoon's jolted, almost hilariously unnatural tone call his name that he realizes something is up. He freezes and shifts his eyes slowly to Namjoon.

Namjoon keeps moving his eyes from the road to Jungkook. "What did Yoongi-hyung say when he decided to move back here?" he asks, finally.

Jungkook frowns. "He asked if I like New York or if I wanted to move again."

"Anything else?"

"Anything like what?" Jungkook prompts, suspicious, trying to piece together what Namjoon really wants to ask.

Namjoon glances back to Jungkook. "Anything like going back to the past."

Yoongi's words echo in Jungkook's memories. ”Go back to our roots.” He shifts in his seat, uneasy. "Is Yoongi-hyung okay?"

"Yeah!" Namjoon says quickly, flexing his hands on the steering wheel. "Yeah, no, I'm just curious." He smiles reassuringly at Jungkook. "Nothing to worry about, Jungkookie." He looks back to the road, pensive. "Five years is a long time, right?" he says, more for himself than for Jungkook.

He wants to ask. Wants to know what all those half stories hide. He wants to know what still haunts Yoongi, what makes Namjoon nervous. He wants to know who broke Yoongi's heart, but he doesn't know if he has a right to ask. He isn't family. He hasn't been with them from the beginning. He's the kid they brought on, and he's not sure what that means.

Before he can build up his courage, fortify his resolve, Namjoon turns up the volume of the radio. Jungkook's chance is gone once again.

He settles back into his seat and stares out the window, the now unfamiliar streets of a new Seoul he hasn't seen yet passing by his eyes. Everything has changed, new roads, new buildings, new lights, new people. Everything has changed, but he wonders why he still feels the same as the last time he was in Seoul. Anxious, floundering, spinning beyond his own control.

Even after five years, he's still lost.

It really isn't all that long, he thinks.

&&&

Jungkook laughs when he sees the handwritten paper sign on his new studio door. Golden Closet is scrawled in bold black ink, the script clearly Yoongi's writing. Jungkook points at it and looks at Namjoon. "Yoongi-hyung?" he asks, though he doesn't need clarification.

Namjoon smiles. "He insisted."

"It's cute," Jungkook says. It's a recognition of the past, when Jungkook first joined the label and they couldn't afford extra studio space for him. He ended up making a room out of the large closet in Yoongi's apartment. Jungkook reaches up to smooth down the curling edges of the sign. "Where is Yoongi-hyung?"

"Last I saw, he was in his studio with Park Jimin."

Jungkook sends Namjoon a confused look. "Who?"

"One of the artists signed to Jung Hoseok," Namjoon elaborates.

Jungkook's brows furrow, even more confused. "The guy you have a huge crush on?"

Namjoon chokes on his own breath. "Go to your room, Jungkook," he orders.

"No? Is it another Jung Hoseok?" Jungkook continues, now grinning mischievously. He hadn't meant to tease Namjoon but his reaction proved to be too much fun.

"Just unpack your room," Namjoon warns, walking away, a laugh in his tone.

Jungkook cackles, amused, and lets himself into his studio. A desk with dual monitors, a computer, and sound mixing equipment is already set up, but otherwise the room is a blank slate. Just like him. He slings his bag off his shoulder onto the floor and surveys the stacks of hastily packed boxes haphazardly labeled. He doesn't remember where he put anything, packing up his studio and apartment in New York in a hurried blur.

He rolls up his sleeves and nods, determined to get to work.

He has half the boxes opened, items scattered in a hopeless mess on the floor, on the couch, on his desk, when he hears the door to the room open, creaking in protest. He shuffles on his knees from his spot by the still empty bookcase, peeking around a stack of half-full boxes. He expects to find Yoongi or Namjoon. He doesn't expect to find a complete stranger huddled inside the room, peering out a very slim crack where the door is still ajar, focused intently on the hallway outside.

He frowns and stands, studying the stranger for a moment, waiting for the other to notice his presence. The intruder is shorter than him, with jet black hair, strong features, and a lithe but powerful build. A dancer, Jungkook thinks.

He arches a brow and clears his throat. "Can I help you with something?"

The stranger jumps, surprised, and spins around to finally look at Jungkook. His eyes widen in mild panic and Jungkook has an involuntary thought that they are mesmerizing, bright and soft and warm. The stranger is kind of cute.

Jungkook tilts his head and steps forward. He opens his mouth to speak but the stranger lifts a finger to his own lips and says in a harsh whisper, "Shh! Don't talk!"

Jungkook's mouth drops open, incredulous. "This is my - "

The stranger squeezes his eyes shut and brings his hands together in supplication. "Please! I promise, I'm not doing anything bad," he whispers, opening his eyes and pouting his lips. Jungkook's heart skips and he thinks it's really unfair for this intruder to be so cute. It's messing with his judgment. "I was invited up here by Yoongi-hyung, you know him? He's Namjoon-hyung's friend. I'm totally allowed to be here."

Jungkook stares at him, unspeaking, at a loss at how to respond.

"I'm not a bad person," the stranger assures. "I just need some information. Something weird's going on."

Jungkook's arched brows raise even further up his forehead. "You think?"

"Not me." The stranger sighs, frustrated. "I'm just looking out for my hyung, okay?"

"Would that be Yoongi or Namjoon?" Jungkook asks, sardonic.

"Seokjin," the other answers, unfazed.

"Who?" Jungkook asks, increasingly confused.

The stranger's head snaps to the creak in the door out to the hallway. "Shit!" he whispers, running to Jungkook. "They're coming! Be quiet."

"Who's co-"

The stranger steps forward into Jungkook's space, presses close, and reaches up a hand. He places his hand over Jungkook's mouth, silencing him. He looks up at him, pleading. "Please, just don't say a thing," he entreats. "I'll owe you a favor."

Outside, he can hear the shuffle of footsteps, and the unmistakable sound of Namjoon and Yoongi's voices. He looks towards the hallway and then back to the stranger. This is crazy, he thinks, but he feels himself nodding in agreement to the stranger.

Yoongi's voice, faint but still audible, floats into the room, "He's so different from before. I hardly knew him."

"You're being a little theatrical," Namjoon's voice follows.

"Excuse me?"

The stranger looks to the hallway, eyes narrowed in concentration, his hand slipping from Jungkook's mouth as his attention shifts to the conversation Jungkook is certain neither of them should be listening to. The stranger's hand falls to the back of Jungkook's neck, squeezing unconsciously. Jungkook's breath stops in his lungs, his heart thumping nervously in his chest at the false sense of intimacy the position produces.

"Just think you're protesting too much," Namjoon continues.

Yoongi scoffs, his voice fading as they presumably make their way down the hallway. "Please. Kim Seokjin doesn't affect me at all, you know that."

When it's clear the danger of discovery has passed, and the hallway is clear again, the stranger breathes out a sigh of relief, his shoulders sagging with it. He turns to grin at Jungkook, his hand still on his neck. "Thank you!" he says gratefully. "I owe you one." He steps back and heads to the door, peering out of it cautiously. He pops his head back to look at Jungkook again. "This entire thing is a secret, okay?"

"Hey, wait!" Jungkook calls out as the stranger opens the door and steps into the hallway. The stranger pauses and looks back to him, expectant. "What's your name?"

The stranger grins, his eyes scrunching into crescents. "I'm Park Jimin. You can find me downstairs. I'm signed to Hope Music." He waves. "'Bye!"

Jungkook huffs out a breath and the stranger - Jimin, he corrects himself – disappears. He reaches a hand up to his chest, rubbing over his heart, dazed. He clears his throat and shakes his head. "Unpacking. Yeah, right. Unpacking, Jungkook."

It isn't until Jungkook's heart stops fluttering in his chest, when his mind clears from the floating, light-headed state Jimin's face seems to impose, when he stops walking around in circles, absentmindedly moving items from here, to there, to here again, that he realizes Jimin gave him a rare discovery. Yoongi's somebody, the one he fails miserably to pretend is nobody, has a name.

Kim Seokjin, the man Yoongi insists he definitely, one-hundred percent does not care about anymore.

Jungkook tilts his head. He thinks he would very much like to see the man who holds Yoongi's heart in his hands.

&&&

It should probably feel more profound, Seokjin thinks, watching Hyosang in the glass booth, rapping his lines as Hoseok records. For the first time in three years, all the members of E.L. are in the same studio, making the same track. It should feel special, or nostalgic, or at least bittersweet. This is the last time they will collaborate on a project together, the last time they will come together to create something that encompasses all of them. Instead, Seokjin only feels increasingly frustrated and annoyed.

He's already finished his lines, recorded them earlier when Hyosang was just arriving. Perhaps the fatigue from the session is wearing on them, but as Hoseok gives Hyosang feedback after every take, the sharp line of his lips dip deeper and deeper. Hyosang is starting to roll his eyes, that proud attitude that was never far away bubbling up to the surface as time progresses. If it was years ago, Seokjin realizes, Hoseok would be shooting back just as much attitude, eventually exploding into an argument that Seokjin would spend an entire afternoon smoothing over.

Hoseok, it seems, has grown past that. Seokjin can see him swallow frustrated sighs, taking deep breaths, and rubbing at his temples to keep calm, to let it go. Hoseok truly has become an incredible producer, and even more than that, an incredible man.

Seokjin frowns, watching them from the couch in the back of the recording room. Hyosang remained stagnant over the years, and Hoseok has blossomed. He wonders where he lands in between the two of them. How far has he really advanced over the time he spent waiting. He feels like all his maps led him in circles, all the signs sent him in wayward directions. He wonders if he lost his way, or if he ever truly knew where he was going to begin with.

Seokjin pulls away from his thoughts when he hears Hoseok muttering under his breath. He lifts himself off the couch to Hoseok, crouching by his chair. Hoseok mutters about juvenile jerks with subpar lyrics as Hyosang continues to go off script, freestyling in the booth. Seokjin lifts a hand to squeeze Hoseok's knee, effectively stopping him.

"Maybe time for a break?" Seokjin suggests.

Hoseok makes a face. "Will a break turn him into a reasonable human being?"

Seokjin smiles. "Maybe. But some food in your stomach will make him easier to handle. Hmm?"

Hoseok sighs through his nose. He reaches forward and cuts the music off from Hyosang's headphones. He presses the button on the speaker and says, "We're getting food."

Hyosang looks at them through the glass. "I want chicken," he says into the microphone, adjusting his headphones. "Thanks, Jin." He twirls his fingers at Hoseok. "Let's take it from the top, Hoseok-ah."

"It's like he thinks he's the producer here," Hoseok starts mumbling even as he reaches over and starts the music again. He sends Seokjin a sharp look. "If you don't get back here in twenty minutes, I won't be responsible for the bloodshed."

"Just remember you'll be the one cleaning the blood stains," Seokjin replies, laughing. He can hear Hoseok grumbling again as he closes the door behind him.

His mood improves as soon as he pushes away from the room, annoyance melting off as he makes his way down the hall to the dance room. As much as he loves the members of E.L., and as grateful as he is for their time together, they have long ago passed the point where all three of them can exist in the same room at the same time. It is the reminder of a past they can no longer relate to, an echo of the people they used to be, a skin they don't fit anymore. Sometimes his history feels like a weight around his ankle when he wants to fly.

Seokjin stops at the dance practice room, notes the lack of a thumping bass, and peeks inside. He finds Jimin leaning on the wall, towelling off his neck.

"Ready for a break?" he asks Jimin, drawing his attention. "Grab your coat, we're getting food."

Jimin smiles and complies readily. He pushes his fringe off his forehead and tosses his jacket on. "What're we getting?"

"Chicken," Seokjin answers, already heading to the elevator. "Is Taehyung back from his table reading yet? He can come along."

"Mm," Jimin says, nodding. "He just got back. He went upstairs to see Namjoon-hyung and Yoongi-hyung." Jimin glances at Seokjin. "Should we get him?"

Seokjin clears his throat and shakes his head. "No, it's fine."

Jimin purses his lips, blinking at Seokjin. There's a tug of worry and mistrust in his eyes, and Seokjin wonders if Jimin has always been this discerning.

He grins at Jimin and nudges his shoulder, attempting to melt away Jimin's suspicions. It doesn't work. Jimin keeps eyeing him all the way out of the building, continuing as they skip down the steps and turn onto a narrow pathway, taking a shortcut to the restaurant.

"You know," Jimin starts casually, reaching out his arm to drape across Seokjin's shoulders. "If there's something you're worried about, or something that's hard to face, you can talk to me. I won't judge."

Seokjin arches his brows and stares at Jimin, their footsteps thudding dully on the pavement. "What do you think I need to talk about?"

Jimin shrugs. "That's why I'm asking."

Seokjin snorts and pats Jimin's back. "Thank you for the offer, but I'm good." He smiles at Jimin's disbelieving frown. "I am."

Jimin's frown deepens. "Okay. I just wanted you to know, you can rely on us. If you need it. You don't have to hide anything."

As much as Seokjin appreciates Jimin's offer, he knows this isn't something talking can solve. Yoongi is back, in Seoul, in the same building as Seokjin. Yoongi is back and he has made it clear that he is not interested in any sort of reconciliation. Talking with Jimin about it won't change anything, and Seokjin would rather pretend everything is fine until he believes it himself. This is, after all, the path he chose. He will not turn back now.

"Thanks," Seokjin says and tugs Jimin down the road to the restaurant.

They're in line to order when Jimin's phone starts ringing, the melody Seokjin recognizes as the track to Jimin's latest dance routine. Jimin fishes his phone out of his pocket, grinning when he sees the screen. "It's Taehyung," he says, swiping to answer. "Hey."

Jimin listens on the other end for a moment then says, "I went out with Seokjin-hyung. We're getting chicken." He laughs. "Don't worry, we're ordering for you, too. Eh? Why?" Jimin scowls. "It better not be for your drama hyungs. Yeah, fine, sure. See you soon." Jimin ends the call and makes a face. "Taehyung said to buy three more portions." He stuffs his hands in his pockets, pouting. "I swear, if it's for his drama hyungs, I will kill him."

Seokjin laughs. "I don't know why you dislike them so much. They're being very kind to Taehyung."

Jimin's eyes narrow. "You just wouldn't understand, hyung. Taehyung belongs to me."

"You don't mind when me or Hoseok are close to him," Seokjin muses, shuffling forward to order.

"You're different."

After Seokjin orders, they sit in the waiting area for the food. "How are we different?" he asks, picking up the conversation again.

Jimin shrugs, smirking. "You guys are mine, too."

Seokjin snorts. He pulls his phone out, scrolling through it as the topic drops. He has a brief thought that Jimin doesn't seem to mind Taehyung's closeness to Yoongi, either. He wonders if Yoongi also belongs to Jimin.

Seokjin decides it's a thought he doesn't want to dwell on.

On the way back to the studio, Seokjin suggests they play rock, paper, scissors. The loser has to carry all the bags. Jimin, of course, loses like he always does at the game.

"You always pick scissors, I should have known," Jimin grumbles, trying to balance the food in his arms.

Seokjin smiles, smug, and pats Jimin's back. "Let me get the door for you," he offers, holding the door to the studio open for Jimin.

Jimin rolls his eyes. "A great help, thank you, hyung."

"I'm not the one who lost," Seokjin hums. They step into the elevator and make their way up to Hope Studios.

"I won't forget this, hyung," Jimin promises darkly. "I'm going to – " Jimin stops abruptly as they enter the common room, and makes a startled noise that Seokjin can only describe as a little lion roar, fumbling with the bags.

Seokjin flinches in surprise but quickly recovers, moving to save the food. He glances around Jimin to find out what disaster is awaiting them in the common room. Lounging on the leather couch with his arm draped over the back like he owns it, sits Yoongi, his expression already unbearably smug. Seokjin feels all the irritation from earlier spring back like a boomerang, smacking him in the face.

He’s handling it better this time, he thinks vaguely. He's not surprised or flustered. He's not floundering, trying to read Yoongi's mind, trying to piece together how to act. Now he knows exactly what Yoongi thinks of him, and he can act accordingly, distant and cold.

Seokjin steps forward, notices the others in the room belatedly. Taehyung is talking animatedly with Namjoon, and in the corner there is a face he hasn't met yet. He glances at the stranger and recognizes him from the articles about Yoongi's label that he read religiously over the years. Jeon Jungkook, Yoongi's genius prodigy producer.

Seokjin sets the food on the table and greets Yoongi with a slight incline of his head. Yoongi's eyes narrow but Seokjin turns to Taehyung and Namjoon before he can say anything. "Hey," he greets.

"The hyungs came to visit," Taehyung says cheerfully. "And Jungkookie. He just arrived yesterday."

Seokjin smiles at Jungkook. "Nice to meet you. I'm Seokjin."

Jungkook nods, lips pressed together and eyes wide.

Namjoon sends Seokjin an apologetic look but Seokjin shakes his head at him and takes the seat next to him. "Just in time for the free food?" he teases and Namjoon snorts.

"Jungkook wanted to meet everyone," Yoongi says a little too loudly. Seokjin spares him a glance, then looks back to Jungkook again, the boy's eyes now focused near the door where Jimin stands. "Jungkook is a producer under my label," Yoongi continues.

Seokjin thinks he hears Jimin exclaim in dismay. He glances curiously to Jimin, wondering at the way he seems to keep his hands on his cheeks. Seokjin narrows his eyes. Jimin is embarrassed about something.

Yoongi continues introductions, seemingly unaware of Jimin's internal breakdown. "Jungkook, this is Park Jimin. And of course, Kim Seokjin." Seokjin presses his lips together, stamping down ruthlessly on the flutter in his stomach as Yoongi says his name. There's still something magnetic about the way Yoongi rolls the syllables on his tongue.

Jungkook seems torn between who to focus on more, Jimin or Seokjin. His eyes keep flickering between the two and Seokjin thinks he should be getting dizzy from the constant visual shifting.

"Is the food here?"

Seokjin grimaces as Hyosang's voice floats into the room. Of course Hyosang would come in now. Of course he would. Hyosang, even after all the years, still only has snide remarks for Yoongi. Hoseok says it's because Hyosang is jealous. Seokjin reasons that it's plausible, Yoongi is making music on a global scale, successful, rich, well-liked, independent. Somehow, though, Hoseok always gives him a slow, incredulous look, and Seokjin gets the impression that it isn't Yoongi's career he thinks Hyosang is jealous of.

Hyosang charges into the room, followed by a tired Hoseok. Hyosang pauses when he sees Namjoon and Yoongi, a frown forming on his lips. "Is this some sort of reunion or something?"

Hoseok doesn't seem to care. He pushes past Hyosang and climbs over Seokjin's limbs, forcing Seokjin to relinquish his spot by Namjoon. Seokjin pinches Hoseok's waist but Hoseok just bats his hands away. With one last pinch, Seokjin finally moves from the cramped spot, reluctantly going to the other side of the room, sitting opposite Yoongi on the couch.

He turns to invite Jungkook to sit by him as a buffer, and furrows his brow when he can't find him anymore. He glances around the room, noting the additional absence of Jimin as well. He flicks his gaze to Yoongi, to see if he's noticed the absence as well. Yoongi has his eyes across the room, vaguely in the direction of Namjoon and Hoseok. He cannot be certain, but Seokjin thinks Yoongi turned his head at the last moment, flickering his gaze away from Seokjin. It is a phenomenon that Seokjin hasn't experienced in years, one that used to feel as natural as breathing. It used to be like a phantom touch, ghosts imprinting on his skin, haunting him. Seokjin studies Yoongi for a moment, the lingering press of Yoongi's eyes still brushing past him.

He glances away from Yoongi and sets his jaw. He cannot keep dwelling on Yoongi like this, no matter how tempting it is. They are strangers now. Less than strangers, Seokjin reminds himself. Even strangers have the hope of friendship.

&&&

After Jungkook makes a decent space of his studio, five boxes full of items he probably should give away in the corner of the room, he boots up his computer and researches Park Jimin. He spends an entire evening watching his videos, finding his music, reading articles about him. Jimin is a rising star, already adored by the public a year after debut. He also maintains a very strong and frequent presence on social media, promoting not only himself but his labelmates. Jungkook cannot even begin to fathom how much effort that takes. He's pretty sure he forgot the password to the twitter account Namjoon made him create.

What grabs Jungkook, however, what holds him in an inescapable grip and keeps him captive, is Jimin's singing. It's resonating, rich in emotion and a longing Jungkook knows but cannot explain. Jimin's voice makes Jungkook feel like he's seeing in vibrant colors after a lifetime of monochromes, hues he's even imagined painting his vision. Jimin is exactly what Jungkook needs for his song.

He's still trying to formulate his plan to ask Jimin to sing on the song he hasn't even finished writing yet when fate pushes him into action.

Kim Taehyung, an idol and actor, also signed to Hope Music, visits unexpectedly, introducing himself to Jungkook and establishing a new friendship within a matter of minutes. Jungkook marvels at what kind of magic Taehyung works, to befriend so easily, so quickly. Even someone like Jungkook, who usually takes weeks to lose his initial shyness, is drawn in immediately.

Jungkook isn't sure who it was, Taehyung or Yoongi, who sparked the idea to journey to Hope Studios downstairs and meet the crew. Before he can even process what is happening, Jungkook finds himself in a room full of unfamiliar faces. He knows his eyes keep flickering between an increasingly frenzied Park Jimin and the stranger he knows by name only, Kim Seokjin. He thinks he might understand Yoongi's lingering attachment to Seokjin. His face is not one that a person is likely to forget easily.

Yoongi keeps his eyes steady on Seokjin, jaw clenching, fingers restless. Jungkook cannot recall a time Yoongi so obviously wanted someone else's attention more. It's a shame, he thinks, because from what Jungkook can observe, Seokjin is unaffected by Yoongi's presence.

Perhaps he would see more in Seokjin's subtleties if he was not diverting his attention repeatedly back to Jimin. Jimin, apparently, has no guile, his face a billboard of emotions for everyone to read. Jungkook can see the moment Jimin realizes he isn't just an intern for Namjoon, but Yoongi's closest colleague. Jimin's eyes widen in mild terror as he starts to worry that Jungkook most likely told Yoongi about the bizarre incident a couple days prior, sneaking around the studio and eavesdropping on private conversations. Jungkook probably should have told on Jimin, out of respect for his hyung. He isn't quite sure why he hasn't.

Jimin somehow manages to make his way across the room to Jungkook silently, without the remaining occupants noticing. Jungkook's brows raise at Jimin's approach but he does not protest when Jimin wraps his hand around Jungkook's forearm and quietly urges him out into the hallway. He shuffles him three doors down to an empty room, pressing into Jungkook's shoulder blades to keep him moving.

"Do you always manhandle strangers, or am I special?" Jungkook asks as Jimin closes the door to the room.

"What?" Jimin asks, somewhat distracted.

Jungkook holds up two fingers. "We've met twice and both times, you've shoved me somewhere."

Jimin has the decency to look embarrassed but recovers fairly quickly, going on the offensive. "You didn't tell me you were Jeon Jungkook!" he accuses, pointing his finger at Jungkook.

Jungkook gapes, incredulous. "You never gave me a chance."

Jimin shuffles forward quickly, stepping closer to him. Jungkook's eyes widen and the thump of his heart gets a little stronger at Jimin's proximity. He steps back unconsciously, bumping into a desk.

"You haven't told Yoongi-hyung, right?" Jimin asks, hopeful.

Jungkook blinks and shakes his head no.

Jimin sighs in relief, his head ducking down. He reaches a hand up to pat Jungkook's chest in gratitude, and Jungkook's heart stops for a moment at the contact. "Good boy," he says.

When Jimin's hand drops from his chest, and he's found his voice again, Jungkook purses his lips, asking, "Why exactly were you eavesdropping on Yoongi-hyung?"

Jimin's back straightens. "It's not really your business."

Jungkook gapes again. "Are you serious?"

"It's a secret, okay? Just," Jimin stops to wave his hand dismissively, "forget all about it." He smiles. "I owe you one," he says, stepping back and turning to leave.

"Ah, wait!" Jungkook calls out, feeling the moment slipping through his fingers. If he doesn't ask Jimin now, he fears he never will, and he'll remain stuck, lost without any maps. He has to push forward.

Jimin turns back to Jungkook. "Hmm?"

"About the favor," Jungkook starts. He glances down at his feet and clears his throat. "I'm kind of working on a song." He looks up. "Just, just a small one. I probably won't even release it. And I don't expect it to be brilliant or anything, but...." He trails off and presses his lips together, confidence waning. His hands feel clammy and he flexes them nervously.

Jimin smiles softly and nods in encouragement. "How can I help?"

"You can sing," Jungkook says. He reaches a hand up to rub his neck. "I looked up your album and you sing really well, and I just. Was wondering if you'd do the demo for my song." He glances down. "If you want. No pressure if you don't."

Jimin is silent for a few moments too long but when he finally speaks, Jungkook can hear his smile. "I'd love to."

Jungkook looks up. "Really?"

Jimin nods. "Yeah. I have a routine I'm rehearsing for MAMA, though, so I won't be available all the time –"

"That's okay!" Jungkook assures, elated, grinning so wide his cheeks ache.

Jimin blinks, his expression turning slightly dazed.

"You okay?" Jungkook asks, concerned.

"I'm fine," Jimin replies, shaking his head. "Just. Just rethinking something I told a friend." He smiles up at Jungkook. "Come on, let's go get some food before it's all gone."

Jungkook follows Jimin back to the common room, his hands in his back pockets. He has a strange feeling that he'd very much like to know what Jimin had been thinking.

&&&

A room with Yoongi and Hyosang did not used to be a comfortable place. They never really got along to begin with, and after Hyosang found out about Seokjin's relationship with Yoongi, the tension became exponentially worse. Five years later, they've all presumably matured. Seokjin had a tiny, teeny, miniscule hope that perhaps, just maybe, they could all coexist in the same room together peacefully. He swallows a sigh. His hope is squashed, without mercy, within minutes.

Hyosang, for whatever reason, decides to sit between him and Yoongi on the couch. Seokjin cannot think of a worse spot to be, except perhaps if he were the one in the middle. The thought gives him little comfort.

Hyosang has never been subtle, but Seokjin acknowledges that he does try not to let his contempt show. It's only that Hyosang's willpower wanes alarmingly quickly, and his small remarks soon turn challenging.

In the past, Seokjin would be reaching out his hand to place firmly on Yoongi's arm, Yoongi's shoulder, Yoongi's knee, calming him, telling him to be patient. Yoongi would clench his jaw, inhale deeply and rein his anger back. It seems that the Yoongi who returned is not only older, wiser, more successful. He is also far more capable of controlling his emotions, far more efficient at letting rude words fall from his shoulders. The Yoongi who returned has no need for Seokjin's support.

It is a bittersweet revelation.

"Don't tell me the gremlin is working on our album," Hyosang says, shooting an accusatory glance across the coffee table to Hoseok. "Is that why you rejected my lyrics?"

Hoseok rolls his eyes and lulls his head back against the couch. "For the last time – "

Yoongi scoffs beside Hyosang. "You couldn't afford me."

Hyosang snaps his head to Yoongi, glaring. "We don't fucking want you."

Yoongi shrugs, smug. "Like I said. You couldn't afford me even if you begged."

Seokjin reachs a hand to Hyosang's upper arm, sensing the impending explosion. He pulls Hyosang back, shifting him away from Yoongi and sends him a stern look. In the vague, hazy realm of his peripheral vision, Seokjin thinks he sees Yoongi scowl.

"They're still rejecting your lyrics?" Yoongi says and Seokjin glares at him for the obvious provocation. From across the coffee table, Namjoon sighs heavily and looks much like Seokjin feels – done with the entire situation.

Yoongi arches a brow in response, decidedly not remorseful.

Hyosang jerks his arm from Seokjin's grip. "And what the fuck have you done that's so great?"

"Tomorrow, Nevermind, Dead Leaves, Agust D," Yoongi starts, listing off his fingers for each song.

"You wrote Dead Leaves?"

Seokjin's eyes snap to Taehyung, widening in apprehension. For the better part of this entire messed up, awkward, miserable lunch, Taehyung had been content to eat and converse on his side of the room with Namjoon and Hoseok. And now, right now, this moment, he decides to direct his attention to Seokjin's side. Seokjin shakes his head at Taehyung minutely, willing him to understand and stop what Seokjin knows he's thinking.

Yoongi glances at Taehyung, smiling proudly. "Yeah. Wrote, composed, produced. You liked it?"

Taehyung tips his chin in Seokjin's direction.

Don't say it, Seokjin pleads.

"It's Seokjin-hyung's favorite song," Taehyung says, and Seokjin starts to plan exactly how long Taehyung's punishment should last. Three weeks seems excessive but anything less than two would not truly reflect the magnitude of his crime.

Yoongi's face falls into shocked confusion, his mouth drooping into a frown. Seokjin adverts his gaze from Yoongi to Taehyung, scowling. He says, his voice stilted and trying to convey an unsaid message to Taehyung, "It's a song I admire, yes."

Taehyung smiles, puzzled. "I think it's a little more than admire." He looks in Yoongi's direction earnestly.

Please, don't, Seokjin prays.

"Seokjin-hyung spent like three months recording a cover of it," Taehyung says, and Seokjin's heart skids to a stop. "He even created the MR for it with his guitar."

Seokjin knows he isn't just imagining Yoongi's heavy gaze on him this time, the unmistakable pinpricks along his skin, the thrill running down his spine that still hasn't dulled over the years and the pain and the distance. Seokjin steels his resolve, composes his features, and finally allows his eyes to go where they're always drawn, to the magnet of Yoongi's own.

Yoongi's confused, his brow furrowed, his mouth agape in surprise, his shoulders tense and straight. He keeps his eyes unmoving on Seokjin's. He inhales slowly and Seokjin finds his lungs expanding as well, a mirror of Yoongi's breath in his own lungs, separate but connected. Seokjin wonders if their heartbeats are in resonance, if Yoongi can feel the patter against his chest.

Or perhaps, however silly and unlikely, perhaps it's Seokjin who feels the patter of a heart he lost long ago.

Yoongi licks his lips. "You recorded an acoustic cover of Dead Leaves?"

Seokjin sometimes surpasses even his own expectations, and somehow, gratefully, he keeps his voice cool as he answers. "Yes. A few years ago."

Yoongi continues to stare at him, searching for something. There's a light that almost - almost looks like hope in his eyes, dim and flickering and impossible. Seokjin reminds himself that he does not know Yoongi's thoughts anymore.

Yoongi leans closer and opens his mouth to speak again. "I'd like to hear it," Yoongi says quietly.

Seokjin's eyes widen and his mouth drops open in surprise. "I, uh," he starts, clears his throat and composes himself. "I don't have it." He sends one sharp, quick glare to Taehyung, warning him to keep quiet. Taehyung, it seems, understands and presses his lips tightly together. "It's on the Kelly Inch servers somewhere, sorry."

Yoongi frowns, his eyes still unmoving on Seokjin. Finally, he nods and, either through pity or disinterest, lets it drop. "That's too bad," he says, heaving up from the couch. He gestures to Namjoon. "Come on, we have to get back to work." He sends Seokjin a small, coolly polite smile. "Thanks for the food, Seokjin-ssi."

Namjoon stands to follow Yoongi, waving goodbye to them and almost bumps into Yoongi when the other stops short.

Yoongi looks around the room and frowns. "Where's Jungkook?"

Namjoon shrugs. "He probably went back upstairs." Namjoon pats at Yoongi to get him moving again and out the door.

"Why don't you want Yoongi-hyung to hear Dead Leaves?" Taehyung asks when they've finally disappeared.

Seokjin smiles at Taehyung and shakes his head, dismissing the question.

No good would come from Yoongi hearing his cover. Yoongi could always hear through Seokjin's melodies with alarming clarity.

&&&

"This isn't going to work," Namjoon says as he walks into the living room, the back of his shirt damp and his hair still wet from the shower.

Jungkook jolts and slams the lid of his laptop shut, fumbling it away, off his lap to the coffee table. He starts to speak, to explain that he really wasn't serious about the lyrics he was writing, of course they are terrible, he was just messing around, until he notices that Namjoon is not talking to him, but to Yoongi. Jungkook inhales a deep breath and settles back into a casual position on the couch, his leg hitched up and arm slung over the arm. He watches Namjoon and Yoongi closely but realizes in relief that they did not seem to notice his alarm. He's cool, it's cool.

"Hyung," Namjoon says, a little more insistently as he approaches.

Yoongi doesn't look away from his tablet, sitting sideways on a chair, the upper part of his body hunched down in the cushions and his legs propped over the arm of the chair. He makes a vague noise in the back of his throat in what appears to be a minimal attempt at acknowledgement.

Namjoon moves to sit by Jungkook and Jungkook protectively grabs his computer, settling it as far away from the other as possible. He has seen too many of Namjoon's accidents to trust the man around expensive devices.

"Hyung, this isn't going to work," Namjoon says again once he has settled on the couch by Jungkook.

Yoongi spares Namjoon a glance and narrows his eyes. "Did you even dry your back before getting dressed?"

"You need to find your own apartment," Namjoon replies.

Yoongi shrugs and returns to his tablet. "I'll go looking tomorrow afternoon. Jungkook-ah, want to come?"

Jungkook stills and glances at Yoongi. He's supposed to meet with Jimin tomorrow afternoon and go over the beginnings of the song with him, test out a few lyrics and half-formed melodies. He purses his lips and says slowly, hoping he won't have to think up a viable excuse, "No."

"Don't complain if you don't like the one I pick," Yoongi answers, but thankfully doesn't press for an explanation.

"Jungkookie can stay with me if he wants," Namjoon says. He smiles at Jungkook. "You're not impossible to live with."

Jungkook smiles back at Namjoon. "Thanks."

"No, Jungkookie stays with me," Yoongi answers. "I raised him."

"You raised him," Namjoon repeats, tone dull and doubtful.

"Yes."

"Okay."

"You don't sound like you believe me."

"Is this the argument you want to have right now?"

"We're not arguing," Yoongi says.

Namjoon sighs and stretches out his legs to hook over the coffee table. Jungkook thanks his foresight for moving his laptop earlier as Namjoon's feet sweep directly over the spot it used to sit.

"What is it that you really want to say?" Yoongi asks, finally putting down his tablet and shuffling in the chair to look directly at Namjoon.

Namjoon raises his brows and sends Yoongi a pointed look. He hesitates, silent.

"What?"

Namjoon frowns and finally says, "At the studio...."

Yoongi blinks, his face blank. "What?"

Namjoon tilts his head and sighs. "You seem to be visiting Hoseok's studio a lot."

Yoongi keeps staring at Namjoon, face still impassive save for the minute twitch at the corner of his eye that Jungkook catches. "So?"

"I'm just wondering if it's maybe not a great idea, given the history."

"There's no history anymore," Yoongi says, still keeping his expression blank, but Jungkook can hear the way his voice rises a note higher than usual.

"You can't erase the past."

Yoongi sighs. "It doesn't mean anything anymore. It hasn't for years. I don't know what your problem is."

"You tried to get Hoseok to access the Kelly Inch servers to find his cover, hyung."

"It's my song."

"I thought it didn't matter anymore."

"It's my song." Yoongi looks away, frowning at his knees. "I just wanted to hear what he did with it."

"But it doesn't matter," Namjoon repeats slowly.

Yoongi remains silent.

"You can talk about it, you know. I'm always here to listen," Namjoon says quietly.

Yoongi shifts on the chair, slinging his legs down, his bare feet landing on the floor. "It's not something that talking can change."

"Maybe it could help."

"I talked about it enough for a lifetime. There's a point where you can't say anything else." Yoongi stands and sends Namjoon a small smile. "But thanks for the offer. I'm going to bed."

Namjoon frowns as Yoongi shuffles out of the living room and into the guest bedroom where he's staying. Jungkook presses his lips together. It's another half conversation, another piece to an ever-expanding puzzle that he wants to solve. A puzzle he isn't sure he's even supposed to know about. He gathers his resolve and asks quietly, "Hyung, is it about Kim Seokjin?"

Namjoon's eyes widen as he turns to look at Jungkook. "How did you know?"

Jungkook shrugs, silent.

Namjoon grimaces. "Kim Seokjin used to date Yoongi-hyung. They were – " he pauses, searching for a word " – they were as in love as two people can be with each other."

"And they fell out of love?"

Namjoon's lips twist into a sad smile. "One of them did."

Jungkook frowns. "You don't think Yoongi-hyung got over it?"

"It's been a long time."

Jungkook runs the palm of his hand over the arm of the couch, back and forth in a soothing rhythm. "But you don't think so?"

Namjoon stares at Jungkook, thoughtful. "I think you observe more than me. What do you think?"

Jungkook look at his hand, running up and down the length of the arm of the couch. He thinks Yoongi has never wanted someone's attention more than he wanted Kim Seokjin's the other day. He thinks Yoongi doesn't avoid saying anyone's name like he avoids Kim Seokjin's. He thinks Yoongi's been staring off into the distance lately, lost in thought. "I don't know," he finally answers, a lie that he knows Namjoon doesn't believe.

He thinks Yoongi has a lingering attachment to Kim Seokjin.

And from what he's seen, he thinks Kim Seokjin reciprocates, deeply.

He wishes he knew if it is a good or bad omen.

&&&

Over the next couple of weeks, the residents from upstairs became frequent visitors to Hope Studios. Jungkook is found everywhere, listening to Hoseok's music, playing video games with Taehyung, or sitting on the floor of the dance room, transfixed, watching Jimin run through his MAMA routine. Jungkook likes Seokjin's studio too, likes to hear him play guitar, likes to have outrageous arguments with him that never seem to reach a limit. Seokjin thinks he can understand why Namjoon and Yoongi are so terribly fond of Jungkook.

Namjoon comes around more often, too, but nearly always he can be found in Hoseok's studio, work forgotten in favor of long conversations with each other. They seem to have picked up exactly where they stopped all those years ago, an easy continuation without a skip. That kind of friendship, that kind of connection, is rare and precious. Seokjin is happy for Hoseok, and tries not to compare their circumstances.

Seokjin feels like he's always spotting Yoongi in the corner of his eyes, a satellite orbiting in the force of his gravity. He doesn't know if Yoongi's always around or if Seokjin is perhaps so hyper-aware of him that he can sense the other before he even enters the room. Whatever the truth, Seokjin never thought he would have this again, never thought he'd be able to turn his head and find Yoongi, here, breathing the same air. As difficult as it has been to face Yoongi's impassive expressions, there is some thrill, some excitement in having him near again. There is still that part of Seokjin that longs to dismantle the distance.

The strange reunion, the sudden return of Namjoon and Yoongi into his world, would make Seokjin feel like he's returned to his past if not for the steady presence of Taehyung, Jimin, and now Jungkook. Instead, when Seokjin allows his mind to wander and his thoughts are free to roam, he thinks this is a glimpse into a future he gave up. A life with Yoongi, with new friends and old acquaintances. A pipe dream, seductive and enticing and in every way insubstantial, puffs of smoke that can not be held.

Seokjin brings himself back to reality quickly. This isn't the future he used to daydream about. When he looks, when he makes himself face it, he can see Yoongi's eyes aren't on him, but someone else.

Yoongi's fondness for Jimin is obvious. Soft smiles, encouraging words, a warm response to Jimin's teasing.

More often than he would like, Seokjin catches himself wondering how serious the feelings between Yoongi and Jimin are, and if they're reciprocated. No, this is not the future he used to believe in. Seokjin shakes his head to clear his thoughts.

It is surprisingly quiet in the studio today. Taehyung has filming all day and Hoseok barricaded himself in his room to finish piecing together the album for E.L.'s final mini. The recording finished and Hoseok even found the time and energy to put together the choreography for the title track. Hoseok sent Seokjin an instruction video last night that he intends to rehearse all day. As spacious as his apartment is, it isn't ideal for practicing choreography. He's going to lock himself in the dance room until he can nail every step half-asleep and with his eyes closed.

Jimin is already in the dance room, music for his MAMA performance blasting from the speakers, sweat wetting his hair. Jimin notices Seokjin in the mirror but doesn't stop his movements. "I'll be like five more minutes," he pants when he takes a short pause, running his hand through his hair to push his fringe back.

Seokjin makes a noise in acknowledgement. He throws his bag next to Jimin's and sits on the floor, preparing to stretch. He watches Jimin for a while, the graceful motions of his limbs, the nearly incomprehensible ease of which he moves his feet, his arms, his legs. Dancing has always been a struggle for Seokjin, sweat and missed steps and hours with very little progress. He likes watching Jimin, likes watching his dedication. It reminds Seokjin that no matter what natural talent someone possesses, excellence can only be reached through effort. It reminds him that he can push forward, too, not despite the struggles, but because of them.

Jimin has just enough energy to turn off the music and collapse onto the floor when he finishes his last run through of his routine, his chest heaving, gulping in air. Seokjin smiles and straightens, slowly unfolding himself into an upright position.

"Tired?" Seokjin asks and laughs when Jimin waves a hand limply at him in response.

Seokjin arches to his side, stretching his waist, his eyes catching sight of a well-worn sheet of paper peeking out of Jimin's bag. He leans closer, recognizes what appear to be lyrics, and marking in the margins in red pen denoting emotions and expression. His eyes brighten. "Are you writing songs now?" he asks Jimin.

Jimin laughs breathlessly from the floor. "No, why?"

"You have lyrics in your bag."

Jimin bolts upright and scrambles on his knees to his bag, skidding into Seokjin's thighs with his momentum. He gathers his bag in his arms and stares at Seokjin.

Seokjin arches his brows at Jimin, shocked at his response and the sudden burst of energy.

"It isn't mine," Jimin says quickly. "Okay, it's kind of mine, but not like mine mine. Just sort of. You know?"

Seokjin shakes his head. "No, I do not know."

Jimin makes a face and bites his lip. "I can't really talk about it, but I'm helping...someone. With a song. And I promised to keep it confidential until it's done."

Seokjin's stomach drops. He wants to ask if it's Yoongi's song, if they've gotten so close already that they're collaborating. If Yoongi calls Jimin just to hear him sing four different versions of a line like he used to with Seokjin. Seokjin wants to ask a hundred questions he cannot ask, cannot wonder about, has no right to even think. Instead of asking, he lets out a soft breath and just says, "Oh."

Jimin stands and moves to gather the rest of his belongings. "I promise I'll tell you as soon as it's done, okay? Please don't tell anyone."

Seokjin smiles. "Yeah, no, I won't."

Jimin grins. "Thanks! The studio's all yours now."

Seokjin watches Jimin leave in the mirror, hears the door click shut behind him. He leans his head back against the wall and sighs, closing his eyes. It was so much easier pretending he was over Yoongi when the other was thousands of kilometres away.

He clears his throat and slaps his thighs with his palms, hissing at the sting. "Get up, Seokjinnie," he says to himself. "You've got work to do."

&&&

"Seokjin-hyung almost found out, you know."

Jungkook looks up from his laptop to Jimin, half lying on the desk space, his head on his arm and peering up at Jungkook. Jungkook blinks and takes a moment for the image to dull from blinding light to reality. Looking at Jimin is not an easy task, he finds. There's an angelic sort of aura around him that arrests Jungkook, makes him take a couple more breaths than he needs, makes his mind work a little longer to catch up.

He tilts his head and makes a questioning noise, finally processing Jimin's words.

"Seokjin-hyung found the lyrics you gave me," Jimin elaborates, stretching his arms forward until his hands almost brush Jungkook's, stopping slowly before they make contact. Jungkook feels a catch in his throat and an immediate plunge in his stomach as Jimin straightens and retreats.

Jungkook coughs, trying to reset. "What'd you tell him?"

"The truth. That it's a secret." Jimin sends him a stern look. "We have to tell him everything as soon as you're done. I don't like keeping secrets."

Jungkook nods in agreement and Jimin grins. Jungkook tilts his head again, his heart skidding in his chest.

Jimin leans forward and nudges Jungkook's knee lightly. "Why, exactly, is this song the best kept secret in Korea?" He laughs, amused. "It's kind of your job, right? A producer making songs isn't that controversial."

Jungkook mirrors Jimin's smile without conscious thought. He glances to his hands, idle on his laptop keyboard, the bare bones of his song on the screen, a skeleton without life yet. "Namjoon-hyung and Yoongi-hyung," he starts, "they've been with me for a long time. They taught me everything I know." He dares a glance back to Jimin, finds Jimin leaning closer in interest. Jungkook can feel a warmth spread over his neck, his face, a power effect of Jimin's attention, like being under the direct rays of the sun. He licks his lips and continues. "That's the problem. They taught me everything I know. I just...." He shrugs. "I just want to know what I can do, what my music sounds like. Just me, without them."

Jimin stays silent, nodding slowly.

"It's not like I don't appreciate them, or don't trust them," Jungkook says quickly. "They mean well. And I love their input. I...." He glances back to his screen again, frowning. "I just want to find myself, I guess."

He doesn't look back to Jimin, but he can hear him wheel his chair closer, can feel when their knees bump, side-by-side. Jungkook holds his breath.

"Jungkookie," Jimin says softly, and Jungkook curls his hands into loose fists. "I think that's admirable, to find yourself. It can be a scary journey." Jimin leans into Jungkook's space, his hand flattening on the desk by Jungkook's fists. Jungkook's eyes catch the glinting silver of Jimin's rings, sparkling in the dim light of the recording room. "I'm glad you invited me along," he continues. "I'd like to find out who you are, too."

Jungkook jolts his gaze to Jimin, their eyes lock and hold, and everything else in the room seems to fade into a blurred nothingness. No more sound mixers, no microphone, no furniture or walls or doors. Just the captivating brown of Jimin's eyes, the impossibly rich black of his fringe falling over his brows, the high rose on his cheeks. Jimin's eyes break from his, down to his lips, staying there, as transfixed as Jungkook feels. His mouth goes dry and he shifts, leaning closer to Jimin, the space between them shrinking. He lost track of his thoughts, running on instinct. All he knows is he wants to close the distance between them, wants to draw Jimin in closer, closer.

Closer.

They both jump apart at the sudden intrusive sound of an insistent knock on the door. Panic and adrenaline spike in Jungkook's veins, and from the wide-eyed, frenzied expression on Jimin's face, he feels the same. They hop around for a couple seconds before Jimin dives under the desk to hide. Jungkook puts a hand over his heart, rubbing to get it from escaping from his chest, and moves to reach the door.

"Jimin-ah?" a voice calls, a voice Jungkook knows too well to ever mistake. It's Yoongi. And this isn't his studio, he remembers in increasing panic. This is Jimin's.

Jungkook doubles back to the desk and crouches down, tugging Jimin out. "This is your studio," he says in a harsh whisper.

"Shit, that was close," Jimin says, eyes widening again. He crawls out as Jungkook hides, and pushes the chairs into the desk to give Jungkook more coverage.

"I can see the lights, Jimin-ah," Yoongi continues, still knocking and sounding slightly more annoyed. Jungkook stills, frowning. It's past midnight. He wonders why Yoongi is looking for Jimin at this time.

Jungkook hears the door open. Jimin says, his voice still a little breathless from the commotion, "Hey, hyung, what's, what's up?"

Jungkook watches Yoongi's feet pad into the room. "You recording alone?" Yoongi asks, confusion evident in his tone.

"I'm just, uh, experimenting. What's up?"

Yoongi's feet stop by the desk, close enough that Jungkook could reach out and touch him. Jimin hurries over, stopping right in front of Jungkook's barricade. "I need to use your laptop."

Jimin's feet move suddenly and Jungkook hears the unmistakable sound of his laptop slamming shut. He winces at the impact. "You can't. Why?"

Yoongi is silent for a moment. "What was that?"

"Nothing!" Jimin answers defensively. Jungkook sighs silently and rubs his forehead. Jimin, it seems, has no ability to lie. "Why, why do you want it?" You have plenty of good computers upstairs. I've seen them."

"It's not important. Just give me the laptop."

"You can't!" Jungkook hears shuffling that he assumes means Yoongi tried to take the laptop. Jimin hops a step back, apparently securing the device. "It has, uh, there's porn!"

Jungkook's eyes widen.

"I've seen porn before," Yoongi says, sounding tired. "I lived with Namjoon for years. Believe me, I've seen it all."

Jungkook nods to himself. That is true, he thinks.

"It's really embarrassing porn," Jimin tries, sounding increasingly frenzied. "Just really terribly acted. It's bad."

"All porn is badly acted."

"There's so many viruses, too," Jimin continues. Jungkook has to bite his lip to keep from laughing. "Really, you don't want to see this."

"Give me the laptop, Jimin," Yoongi orders, patience running out.

"Why do you want it? You have your own," Jimin answers, a false bravado in his tone.

"Mine can't access the Kelly Inch servers," Yoongi blurts out, sighing.

"Why do you want to do that?" Jimin asks, and Jungkook can almost see the suspicious narrowing of his eyes.

Yoongi is silent.

"Well?" Jimin prompts.

Yoongi exhales loudly through his nose. "Seokjin made a cover of my song and he said it was on the label servers. I just want to hear it, okay?"

"Oh! Why didn't you say earlier? What song is it?"

"Dead Leaves."

"Dead Leaves is your song?" Jimin asks, surprise and something more in his tone, something like admiration or recognition. There's a sharp tinge in Jungkook's chest, and a fleeting thought that he wants to make a song that will make Jimin sound just as awed.

"You know it?"

"It's hyungie's favorite song."

"So I've heard," Yoongi says, voice darkening with brooding thoughts.

"I have all hyungie's songs on my phone, I can email it to you," Jimin continues, apparently unaware of Yoongi's reaction. Jungkook can hear the thump of Jimin picking up his phone from the desk. I'll just grab my phone," he says, stilted and loud, kicking his foot under the desk at Jungkook.

Jungkook frowns and hits Jimin's foot in response.

"I'll just," Jimin continues, irritated, "get my phone here."

Realization hits Jungkook like a hammer. He looks around frantically, patting his hand on the carpeted floor until he hits the cool metal of Jimin's phone, presumably forgotten under the desk in the confusion. Jungkook taps Jimin's leg, indicating he has the device.

"I'll just type in my password," Jimin says. "One. Zero." Jungkook follows along, typing in the numbers on Jimin's phone.

"You don't have to tell me your password," Yoongi says, confused and wary.

"It's how I remember it," Jimin defends weakly. "One. Three."

Jimin's phone unlocks and Jungkook is greeted with a photo of Hoseok making a funny face. Jungkook presses his lips together to stay silent, laughter pushing up in his chest. He taps Jimin's leg to indicate he has it open.

"I'll just go to my music folder. And find the one called Seokjinie-hyung," Jimin says, trying to sound casual.

"Are you always this odd?" Yoongi asks and Jungkook snorts under the desk.

Jimin quickly coughs to cover up the sound and kicks blindly at Jungkook again. Jungkook pats Jimin's ankles in apology with one hand as he navigates Jimin's phone with his other.

Jungkook finds the Dead Leaves file and attaches it to the default email app. He taps Jimin's leg again when he sends the song to Yoongi's email.

"Okay, I'll just email it now. What's your email address – "

Yoongi's phone pings a notification. There's silence for a moment before Yoongi says, "You know my email address already?"

"Yes," Jimin answers, almost like a question. "I guess I did." His foot tries to hit Jungkook again. "Is that all you needed, hyung?"

Yoongi makes a noncommittal noise in his throat. "Yeah, thanks." Jungkook watches Yoongi's feet step away, then pause. "I, uh. I won't tell anyone about your weird porn," he says, his voice light like when he's trying not to laugh.

Jimin makes a whining noise but manages to say, "Thank you. I appreciate it."

Yoongi's feet disappear and Jungkook hears the sound of the door opening and closing. Jimin drops down to a crouch, bending his head to glare at Jungkook. Jungkook falls over, finally letting his laughter out, holding his stomach as the gales escape.

"I've never been so embarrassed in my entire life," Jimin says. Jungkook cackles, eyes watering with the laughter. "Yah!" Jimin pouts. "Jeon Jungkook!"

Jungkook catches his breath, swallowing a giggle. He reaches a hand up to wipe a tear from his eye. "I'm sorry, hyung. I'll make it up to you."

Jimin's pout deepens. "How?"

"I'll buy you a meal?"

Jimin considers it for a moment, frowning.

"Two meals?" Jungkook offers, smiling.

"Okay. It's a date," Jimin agrees, finally smiling. He leans forward to pat at Jungkook's knee. "Come on, I want to eat now."

Jungkook stays crouched under the desk for a moment as Jimin gets up. He stares wide-eyed at Jimin's legs going to grab his coat, and wonders if he just asked the other out on a date. He licks his lips and scrambles out from under the desk, massaging the stiffness away from his thighs when he finally straightens.

Jimin smiles at him, holding out Jungkook's coat.

Jungkook exhales slowly and reaches for the coat, his hand brushing over Jimin's as he grabs it, shivers working down his spine at the contact. He really, really, really hopes he just asked Jimin on a date.

&&&

Seokjin attempts to appear stern as he opens his apartment door, but standing in the face of a tired but exuberant Hoseok makes his task incredibly difficult. Hoseok smiles when he sees Seokjin.

"Hyung!" He moves forward to enter Seokjin's suite but Seokjin blocks his way and raises an eyebrow.

"You know the rule," he says.

Hoseok pulls his hand from behind his back, presenting a large bag of take out from one of Seokjin's favorite restaurants. "Of course I brought food." He shuffles into Seokjin's space, backing him into the apartment. "Hurry, before it gets cold."

Seokjin smiles and allows Hoseok to dislodge him. He closes the door and watches Hoseok make himself at home in his kitchen, grabbing plates and utensils. "I told the security guard to stop letting you in."

Hoseok grins. "He adores me." He makes high-pitched, cute noises and poses as a flower, spreading his hands under his chin. "See? Most adorable human ever." He laughs, a lower tone that Seokjin knows is genuine.

Seokjin starts taking the plates Hosoek prepared, brining them to the living room to set them on the coffee table. "You could invite me to your place occasionally, you know."

Hoseok follows Seokjin and makes a face. "Your place is nicer. All that drama money."

Seokjin scoffs. "I could have had someone over. That would have been awkward."

Hoseok snorts as he settles on the floor, pushing his legs under the coffee table.

Seokjin sends him a glare. "I could."

"When was the last time you got laid, hyung?" Hoseok says, challenging him.

"I don't tell you every time I have a date," Seokjin says, sliding down to sit beside Hoseok, his back resting on the bottom of the couch.

"You don't have to," Hoseok replies, knocking his shoulder against Seokjin's. "I can always tell."

Seokjin scoffs. "What do I do that gives me away?"

"Oh, no," Hoseok says, reaching for the food. "If I tell you, you'll just start to pretend. Figure it out yourself."

"How do I do that?"

"Step one," Hoseok says around a mouthful of food. "Get laid. Step two. Observe."

"I hope you know how unhelpful you are."

Hoseok shrugs, smiling.

Seokjin reaches for a pair of chopsticks, taking his first bite of food. He closes his eyes and moans at the taste.

"I didn't mean get laid with food, you know," Hoseok says.

"Shut up, Hoseok." Hoseok laughs and Seokjin lets the joyful noise permeate the room, smiling automatically in response. "You seem to be in a good mood."

"I finished the last song," Hoseok replies proudly. He stretches his arms back and sighs happily. "It's finally done."

Seokjin swallows and nods. "The end of an era," he says, a little wistfully.

"Are you sad?"

Seokjin shrugs. "Nostalgic, I guess. But not unhappy." He smiles at Hoseok. "The end of something means the beginning of another."

Hoseok contemplates him seriously for a moment, pursing his lips. "Have you decided what that something new is for you?"

Seokjin takes another mouthful of food, avoiding the question with a shrug.

"You could do acting. Everyone always said you belonged on the screen." Hoseok nudges Seokjin's shoulder. "Get some more of that drama money."

Seokjin laughs, shaking his head. He loves acting, true, but part of him doesn't want to let go of the singing, the melodies, the identity he worked for as a vocalist. Instead, he jokes, "Maybe I'll be like you. A producer, hmm?"

Hoseok keeps his gaze steady on Seokjin. "You could. Your compositions are brilliant. You should try it."

Seokjin clears his throat and turns his attention back to the food, suddenly shy at Hoseok's compliments. "I still have some time to decide," he says, dropping the topic.

"I'll support whatever you want to do," Hoseok says. "Except resigning with Kelly Inch. Don't you dare let Jaehwan-hyung convince you to stay."

"He means well."

"He doesn't always know well, though," Hoseok warns darkly, and Seokjin knows they aren't talking just about a new contract now. They've been transported five years back, to another point of indecision, to Jaehwan's strong words of warning, a growing echo in Seokjin's mind.

Seokjin sets his chopsticks down and leans against the sofa. "I make my own decision, on my own. What I think is right." He inhales. "What I know is right."

Hoseok is silent for a moment, the air around them heavy with too many memories. He knows everything that happened all those years ago. Seokjin's devotion to Yoongi, their relationship that seemed too good to be true, that was too good to last. He knows about the engagement, knows the label threatened to end his contract because of it. Hoseok knows more than Yoongi, Seokjin thinks. He knows what Jaehwan told him, that fateful day he reached out for help and guidance.

Jaehwan knew about Yoongi's offer to work in New York, the fulfillment of every dream he had. With careful words, Jaehwan warned Seokjin of all Yoongi was giving up, of all Yoongi was hiding from him.

Seokjin would never have left Yoongi like that, so coldly, so abruptly, if he didn't know it was in Yoongi's best interests. He doesn't deny that he benefited as well, got to keep his position in the label, got to pursue his career. It was the sad reality that they were better off separated than together.

Seokjin says slowly, breaking the thick silence in the room, "I don't regret it, if you're worried about that. I made the right decision. I've never doubted that." He splays his hands in front of him and frowns. "But sometimes I wish it wasn't a decision I had to make."

Hoseok doesn't say anything, but he shuffles closer and wraps his arm around Seokjin's shoulder, warm and comforting. "Maybe," he starts, hand rubbing soft circles into Seokjin's shoulder, "maybe it's time to talk to Yoongi-hyung about it? He did come back. There might be some hope."

Seokjin laughs, quiet and without mirth, and shakes his head. "If he wanted reconciliation, he would have come back years ago when he established himself."

"He's back now."

Seokjin sighs. "He doesn't want anything to do with me now. His eyes aren't on me anymore." They're on someone else, he thinks, rubbing at his chest, that ghosting ache in his heart back again. "I fell for his eyes first, you know. I really just...wanted to know what it felt like when they saw only me." He smiles. "I'm happy that I found out, even if it had to end."

"Hyung," Hoseok says, and Seokjin can hear the frown in his voice even before he looks over and sees it.

Seokjin's smile widens and he nudges Hoseok's shoulder. "Don't look so worried. It's the beginning of a new era. I'm only just starting now."

Hoseok stares at him, puzzling him out, but finally gives in and smiles. "So you're going to get laid," he jokes.

Seokjin laughs, thankful for Hoseok's humor. "Sure, okay. I'll get laid."

"It's a promise," Hoseok says, grinning.

"A promise," Seokjin agrees, laughter bubbling up into squeaking gales.

&&&

It isn't until November nearly ends that Seoul seems to realize it is in the midst of winter. Overnight, the clouds roll in and snow starts to fall, light flakes that stack on top of each other until everything is covered in white and frost. It's still snowing when Seokjin makes his way to the studio in the early evening, the sun long ago set but the snow reflecting the streetlamp light, illuminating the usually dark walk. He stuffs his hands deep in his pockets, searching for his hot packets, and reacquaints himself with the sound of crunching flakes beneath his feet.

He's still shaking off the snow from his hair when he gets to his room in the studio, neck bent and hands brushing through the strands in an attempt to dislodge the flakes before they have a chance to melt. He stills suddenly, feet abruptly stopping when he catches a glimpse of sneakers and sweat-clad legs. There's no reason for him to know it is Yoongi. He hasn't seen the shoes before, hasn't known Yoongi to wear sweats in the few weeks since his return. It could just as likely be Jimin, or Hoseok, or a stranger.

He straightens, his hand falling from his hair, eyes locked on Yoongi. There's no reason for him to know, but somehow he does, still, a magical power with no purpose, futile, just like them.

Yoongi's wearing a loose hoodie, and for the first time since his return, Yoongi's beanie is back, pulled down over his hair, blond strands sticking out along his brows. Yoongi looks like he used to, waiting beside the room he used to call his studio, and for a moment, Seokjin feels like he's travelled back in time, back to the beginning. For a moment, Seokjin wants to make all the same mistakes all over again.

He clears his throat and resumes his steps, approaching his door.

Yoongi notices him and straightens hurriedly, pushing off the wall. "Hey," he says awkwardly.

Seokjin gives Yoongi a polite smile. "Hi," he says. "If you're looking for Jimin –"

"I was waiting for you," Yoongi says.

Seokjin blinks, surprised and unsure how to react. Yoongi isn't looking at him with cold eyes. Instead his gaze is cautious, questioning, and diffident.

"Can I come in?" Yoongi prompts when Seokjin remains silent.

"Ah, yeah, sure." Seokjin opens the studio door and lets Yoongi in, following behind him. He busies himself to pull his mind back from the past, from sinking into Yoongi and this room, and the feelings he foolishly thought he buried deep in his heart. He shrugs off his coat and places his bag carefully on his desk and eventually runs out of things to occupy his hands. He turns to face Yoongi, finds him in a daze, glancing around the room in awe and nostalgia.

"It looks the same," Yoongi says, eyes flickering over the walls, the furniture, the equipment. Finally he settles his eyes onto Seokjin, holds his gaze captive like only he can. "You took my old studio," he says, a question between the words. Seokjin took Yoongi's old studio, immersed himself in the same space, claimed it as his own.

Seokjin schools his features. "It's just a room," he lies. It's a comfort, a space that always gave him happiness. A space that reminds him of memories that fade all-too quickly. It's a portal to another time.

"Your guitar is here," Yoongi replies, as if that somehow refutes Seokjin's answer.

"You wanted to talk about something?" Seokjin says, avoiding whatever it is that lurks in Yoongi's words. He cannot read Yoongi's thoughts anymore, cannot interrupt his language. There's too much distance between them, too many years and thoughts unsaid barricading them.

Yoongi presses his lips together and looks away. He stuffs his hands in his hoodie pockets and purses his lips, ruminating. Seokjin stays silent, waiting until Yoongi looks up again, the breath in his lungs arrested at the stark confusion painted on Yoongi's face, vulnerable and edging dangerously close to something like yearning. Yoongi inhales sharply. "I heard your cover of Dead Leaves."

Seokjin's stomach drops and his fingers curl tight over the edge of his desk. Whatever question that hovers on the tip of Yoongi's tongue, he doesn't want to hear it. He somehow manages to keep his expression impassive and tilts his head. "Oh?"

Yoongi's eyes scan over Seokjin's face, insistent and piercing. Seokjin fights the flush that he feels building at the tips of his ears. "Why," Yoongi says. "Why did you record it?"

Seokjin should lie. It would be easier for Yoongi, for him, for both of them to coexist if he denies any lingering feelings. But even as he takes a breath and forms the lie on his lips, it cuts too deep. He cannot. "Because it was my song," he answers truthfully, his voice quieting.

Dead Leaves is Yoongi's plea to Seokjin, a desperate prayer to hold on, to go back to how it all used to be, to just stay, even if it's precarious and fading. To just stay.

Yoongi's eyes widen, he steps closer to Seokjin, his hands pull out of his pockets and for a moment Seokjin thinks Yoongi wants to reach for him. Yoongi stops, his breath a shudder in his throat, eyes still wholly, entirely focused on Seokjin, drawing him in, a magnetic force. He licks his lips and says like a prayer, a reverberating yearning that mirrors the ache in Seokjin's own chest, "Have you ever, in the last five years, have you ever regretted it?"

And there it is, the reminder of why Seokjin ended things like he did, with lies and half-truths, and a harsh, cold pretending. Seokjin doesn't regret it. He has never regretted it, not even for a moment, not even in his dreams. It was the right thing to do, the right thing for Yoongi, for him, for everyone around them. They were everything love should and could be, a resonating of hearts, a sound inside that has no comparison, and cannot be found in any other. They were right, at the wrong time.

Seokjin knows this, but Yoongi, it seems, still does not. In the last five years, he's still circling around regret. He is headstrong, his priorities skewed and set to destroy his own dreams. He still doesn't understand.

Seokjin's hands tighten on the desk, the pads of his fingers going numb with the pressure. He looks away and finally replies, "Don't ask questions you won't like the answer to."

"I need to know."

Seokjin blows out a long breath, fortifying his resolve. He looks back to Yoongi, their eyes locking. "I don't regret it," he answers honestly, even as his chest squeezes painfully. "I never have."

Yoongi's face hardens, anger and hurt replacing the faint flickers of hope in an instant. Seokjin clenches his jaw, a mirroring anger starting to burn in his chest. He hates Yoongi for making him do this again, for making him break his heart twice, for making him place the period at the end of their story, five years later and still just as shattered.

The silence between them grows heavy and cold, a clash of unseen casualties in the war that was their love. Seokjin doesn't even realize he's holding his breath until Jimin bursts through the door, cheerful and oblivious and unwelcome.

"Great, you're both here! We're all going out for drinks," Jimin says.

Yoongi turns immediately to Jimin, smiling at him brightly. "Sounds great." He flicks his eyes to Seokjin, dark and loathing. "Let's go, Seokjin-ssi."

Seokjin's chest squeezes tighter as he forces air into his lungs, his fingers releasing from the desk, and tells himself he did the right thing, again, a second time.

One of them has to do what's right.

&&&

Seokjin sits on the opposite side of the table from Yoongi, between Jungkook and Hoseok. He is as far apart from Yoongi as possible without standing up and leaving their spot in the bar, and yet still he can hear every word Yoongi says to Jimin, loud and clear and aimed directly for Seokjin's ears. Thinly veiled comments that only Seokjin can interrupt, reproaches that have been brewing for years, too long unsaid, folding in on itself and multiplying in their silence.

The bar is loud and bustling, drinks flowing freely among the patrons. He shouldn't be able to make out the words from Hoseok or Jungkook by his side, let alone the conversation at the other end of the table. He doesn't know if it's because he's still tethered with Yoongi, so hyper aware of his breathing, his gaze, his presence, or if Yoongi is deliberately loud, determined for his words to reach Seokjin, to make some sort of impact on him.

Seokjin hurt Yoongi, reopened old wounds, uncovered areas that probably never healed, and Yoongi is lashing out, drinking too quickly and speaking without thought. Seokjin might be able to take some comfort in it, in the knowledge that Yoongi still holds deep, rooted feelings for him, if the frustrations over the past few weeks weren't sticky and bitter and climbing up his throat. He knows Yoongi is hurt. He knows because he lived through their break up too. He knows Yoongi doubts everything that happened, every word, wondering when it changed, if it was ever real to begin with. Seokjin at least has the luxury to know that Yoongi loved him, deeply and truly and with every part of his being.

It doesn't mean that Seokjin didn't break his own heart.

"You have to stick through the hard times," Yoongi says loudly to Jimin, inching closer to him as if they're having an intimate conversation, as if he isn't projecting his voice to Seokjin's ears. "A man's word is all he has."

Jimin nods, and replies with something Seokjin cannot hear, twirling his glass between his hands.

"If you promise something, if you make a commitment to someone, don't let yourself be persuaded to let that go." Yoongi's gaze finally flickers to Seokjin, a sneer curling his lip, and he enunciates, "There's nothing I dislike more than a weak mind."

Seokjin squeezes his hands too tight around his glass. He lifts the half-full cup to his lips and gulps down the contents all at once, the burn down his throat a welcome distraction, his eyes watering with the sting. He's had too much to drink, he knows. It's becoming harder to remain silent, to hold his tongue. His resolve is weakening. And maybe he was easily persuaded. Maybe he did break all his promises. Maybe he was the bad guy, the heartbreaker, the cad, the traitor. Maybe he was everything Yoongi has made him out to be in his mind, the left over wreckage of a war they were never supposed to fight. But he loved Yoongi, with all his being, with all his past, with all his present, and with all his future. He loved Yoongi enough to send him away.

Yoongi is dense, and selfish, acting like he's the only one who suffered. He was selfish back then, keeping secrets and making decisions all on his own when he should have been sharing them with Seokjin, when they should have been finding a way together. And he's selfish now, close-minded, obtuse, as if he hasn't realized anything in the last five years, as if their tragedy had nothing to do with his own actions.

Yoongi locks eyes with Seokjin, and says with an arched brow, "A fair weather love is not love."

Seokjin slams his glass down on the table, his jaw clenched, patience burning to ash. Jungkook stops mid-sentence, wide eyes on Seokjin. Hoseok makes a concerned noise, tries to soothe Seokjin with a warm hand on his back, to no avail. Jimin and Namjoon look at him in confusion, but Seokjin only has eyes for Yoongi. He arches a cool brow at the man he once called the love of his life. He's had too much to drink, the alcohol master of his tongue as he says, "You're one to talk about fair weather love."

Yoongi purses his lips and slings his elbow onto the table. "You have something you want to say?"

Seokjin lets his lips lift into a sharp smile, devoid of any grace, and shrugs.

Yoongi scowls and inches forward, leaning on the table. "You want to talk fair weather love? When a person breaks all their promises at the first sign of trouble? Love is supposed to brave the storm. Together."

Seokjin rolls his eyes and fights the dizziness at the action. "And when you had nothing to hold onto anymore, you let everything turn to hate."

"What else am I supposed to do?"

This is bad, Seokjin realizes, the rest of the table fading from his vision. All he sees is Yoongi, all he hears is Yoongi, all he feels is the dull ache of his heart that he only now understands he never faced, never healed. This is bad, he cannot control his mouth. "You're supposed to hold on when all hope is gone. Even all alone. Even when you're hated. Even when there's no second chances. When you hold on by yourself, that's a lasting love. That was never fair weather love."

Yoongi's face contorts, anger and confusion and vulnerability warring for dominance. "What does that mean?"

Seokjin's eyes widen and he presses his lips together. He said too much. He looks away and exhales deeply. "I'm going to get going," he says to Hoseok, pushing his chair back.

"Seokjin!" Yoongi says, loud and nearly desperate. Seokjin looks back to Yoongi, watches as his eyes flicker with the ghosts of their past, with the ghosts of the future they didn't have. "What does that mean," he says again, softer, urgent and pleading.

Seokjin doesn't answer, grabbing his coat and walking away.

Just like he did five years ago.

Chapter Text

After Seokjin's outburst at the bar, he studiously avoids going back to Hope Studios for a few days, intent on avoiding everyone who witnessed his alcohol-loosed tongue. He clears out his living room, pushing back his couches and the coffee table to practice the comeback choreography. He lines up several differently shaped mirrors to watch his reflection, and when that turns out to be a terrible idea, he sets up his camera to record and replay.

When he's expended all his energy and his legs collapse on him, he works on a few songs he's composing, focusing on rewriting the lyrics rather than perfecting the melodies on his guitar. He's always preferred the music to the lyrics. There's this block at times, a defence mechanism when he feels too vulnerable, and his words come out guarded and cautious. He'd rather let the shift in his voice and the timbre of his melodies bare his soul. Somehow, putting words and definitions to his heart makes it a little too real, a little too exposed.

If he says exactly what he means, with clarity and strength, there's no second chances. There's no reversals. There's no net to catch him when he falls.

Seokjin tries valiantly to clear his thoughts and focus on his task, but his traitorous mind keeps flashing back to Yoongi, eyes searching, desperate, his voice repeating what does that mean, the words forming a hammer that bruises his heart. He scowls at his blank screen and curses the deafening silence of his suite.

In an effort to push past his block, he sets his laptop aside and pulls out a sleek moleskin notebook from under his bed. He dusts off the black cover, the accumulation of years of disuse, until the notebook nearly gleams, no longer forgotten and abandoned. He sighs, an unwelcome thought flitting through his mind, that his latent feelings for Yoongi, for their relationship, for the love he cannot know, was shoved under his heart, buried and untended, gathering dust like the notebook. He shakes the thought away and grabs a pen, sitting on the area rug by the foot of his bed, his back against the footboard and his knees drawn up to his chest. He starts to write, free thoughts without connections or forms.

It's soothing, cathartic, and strangely familiar in a way he doesn't understand. He rarely uses pen and paper, preferring to use his phone to make notes, or staring at his laptop screen until something miraculously occurs to him. It's strange, his unconscious reaction to reach for something more physical, more tangible. Something to make the words feel real.

Regardless of the cause, Seokjin finally seems to find words and sentences, slowly taking shape into lyrics. They're still raw, still need dozens of revisions, but he thinks he has something to work with now. It's a love song, of a sort, both yearning and resigned, dreams and reality swirling in the same thought, everything and nothing all at once.

It isn't until he's ten pages into the notebook that he recognizes why the moleskin in his hands is familiar. His grip loosens and the pen in between his fingers slips to the floor, landing silently on his area rug. His mind flashes with a hundred memories of Yoongi's dark head bent over a notebook, pen scribbling furiously as if he was chasing a thought at a million kilometers an hour, relentlessly pursuing the words until he caught them, held them, breathed them into something real. Their apartment had been full of his notebooks, spines breaking with repeated use, edges fraying. There had been a stack of them by their couch, piled one on top of another so high that Seokjin used them to hold his cup of tea. He had asked Yoongi once why he used notebooks exclusively, the practice traditional, an echo of years they can hardly remember, when laptops didn't exist and computers weren't a household item. Seokjin always thought it was at odds with Yoongi's obsession with emerging technology.

Yoongi had paused and stared at Seokjin, his eyes flickering with thoughts that Seokjin waited patiently for him to spin into sound, deep timbres of his voice filling the space between them. It took a while, the silence lengthening but comfortably sweet, anticipation smooth and easy between them. Yoongi knew Seokjin would wait, and Seokjin knew Yoongi would eventually speak.

Finally, Yoongi had looked down at his notebook, his left hand caressing the edge of the paper gently. Seokjin's eyes fell to Yoongi's fingers, their long digits, their smooth knuckles, their wide expanse that Seokjin knew intimately, could recall with perfect clarity at any moment, the phantom of those same hands gripping his thigh, sliding up his waist.

"I need to feel the words, I guess. In ink, with all my mistakes and corrections." He had smiled fondly. "I need to make them permanent to feel them, to know they're real."

Seokjin stares down at the notebook on his lap, open with his writing in black ink across the yellowing papers, a poor imitation of Yoongi's endless sheets of piercing lyrics. He cannot escape Yoongi, cannot escape the memories of their short time in paradise. They've been apart longer than they were ever together, and yet the past pulses deep within Seokjin still. He's starting to understand that he foolishly believed time would ease away the depths of his heart.

He let Yoongi go and stubbornly fixed himself in the past, pursuing an intimacy all alone, continuing a love that he never wanted to end. He has loved, from the moment he laid his eyes on Yoongi until this very moment, his heart beating in his chest in a double rhythm, for him and for Yoongi. He held onto the fading echo that was them, straining his ears to catch the rapidly dissipating sound. He quieted his own breathing to hear, and didn't notice the years passing by, drifting farther and farther away.

He kept Yoongi under his heart, held deep and buried so he couldn't be dislodged, so he couldn't leave Seokjin's veins, as if that meant, somehow, someway, that Seokjin hadn't really let him go. As if there was still the spark of what he desperately wanted them to be.

Yoongi's return disrupted the flow of the blood in his veins, the ghost Yoongi that still loves him struggling to survive in the presence of the real Yoongi, the one Seokjin pushed away, the one Seokjin still wants to reach out and hold.

Seokjin snaps his notebook closed in frustration and leans his head against the footboard. He wasted his time, thinking he was healing when he was only coasting on survival.

As much as he wants to avoid everyone who was at the bar the other night, he wants to avoid his own thoughts more right now. He lifts himself up to stand and gathers a few items into his bag, heading to Hope Studios. He's cautious as he enters the building, but there is no sign of Yoongi as he makes his way to Hoseok's floor. He ignores the pit of disappointment in his stomach.

He bypasses his own room and goes straight to Hoseok's. He knocks and waits for Hoseok's assent to enter. Instead, Hoseok swings the door open abruptly and Seokjin yelps, holding his chest in surprise, his eyes wide and heart racing. Hoseok reacts to Seokjin's scare, yelling and stumbling back into his studio, gasping out several curses as he loses his balance and falls to the floor.

"You scared me!" Seokjin says, inhaling to calm down.

Hoseok glares at him. "The feeling is mutual."

Seokjin extends his hand to help Hoseok stand while they both regain composure. Hoseok slumps to the couch and sprawls out, patting the space beside him for Seokjin to join.

"I thought you'd be hiding for a few more days," he says as Seokjin settles beside him.

Seokjin makes a face. "I was working, not hiding."

"Hmm," Hoseok hums, unconvinced. He slumps against Seokjin's shoulder and closes his eyes, sighing tiredly.

Seokjin frowns, noting the dark circles under Hoseok's eyes and the way his forehead creases, either exhausted or stressed. Probably both, Seokjin knows. He runs his hand over Hoseok's back soothingly. "You haven't been sleeping," he says, not a question but a statement.

Hoseok grunts.

"You should rest while you can, before the comeback. The production is done, right? Take a day off."

Hoseok scowls. "It's not the comeback that's keeping me up at night."

Seokjin pats Hoseok's back softly. "What is?"

"Our illustrious CEO has decided to fuck with me one last time. For old time's sake," Hoseok sneers, his shoulders tensing under Seokjin's hand. "He knows Jiminie has his first MAMA performance and he chooses that exact day as the day I sign the buy-out contract."

Seokjin frowns. "The one to buy his shares of Hope Music?"

Hoseok sits up and scowls. "Yes. And he refuses to change it. I have to be here to sign. It's my only chance before the new buyer comes in and acquires everything."

Seokjin's eyes widen. "Kelly Inch has a buyer?"

"Maybe. I've heard rumors." Hoseok sends Seokjin a sharp look. "You're still not allowed to renew with them, no matter who the new buyer is."

Seokjin rolls his eyes. "So what about Jimin? He's going to MAMA alone? Without a manager?"

Hoseok's face crumbles in distress and he nods.

"It's his first MAMA," Seokjin says, remembering his first time at the awards, young and wide-eyed and scared. But he had Hoseok and Hyosang, a manager, and the steady guidance of Jaehwan. Jimin has no one. No senior labelmate, no peer, no manager. "I'll go," he says suddenly.

Hoseok's eyes widen and he gapes at Seokjin. "You'll what?"

"I wanted to get away for a bit anyway. Clear my head. We'll be back in time to finish the comeback preparations."

Hoseok stares at Seokjin, hesitant, relief and apprehension warring across his features. "Hyung," he starts softly. "I made a promise to you when I first started Hope Music, when you were the only one to invest in my dream. I would never treat you like a manager. I don't want to break that promise."

Seokjin smiles reassuringly. "I'm not going as a manager. I'm going as an experienced sunbae." He reaches over to pat Hoseok's hands. "Let me go. I need an excuse to avoid...." He trails off and glances to the ceiling.

Hoseok's lips purse and he exhales through his teeth. "You're really, really sure this is okay?"

Seokjin rolls his eyes again. "Yes!"

Hoseok launches himself into Seokjin's arms, grabbing his face between his hands and planting a quick kiss somewhere between his lips and his nose. "You saved me. I love you. I love you!"

Seokjin pushes Hoseok away, craning his face out of his grip. "You know I hate it when people touch my face," he complains, but smiles as Hoseok clings to him.

"You're the best."

"I know I am."

"The most handsome."

"Obviously."

Hoseok sneaks another kiss, sloppily placed on Seokjin's cheek, and laughs. Seokjin pats Hoseok's back and smiles, thankful for the return of Hoseok's laughter, like a balm to soothe his thoughts. This is a good chance, he tries to convince himself. A few days of escape in Hong Kong will do him good. Far away from Yoongi and a past he never let go.

He pretends he's happy.

&&&

Jungkook kind of wants to pretend his files corrupted. He's fairly certain he can fake a blackout, say his laptop short circuited, all files lost, start over again. He frowns at his screen, plays a take from an hour ago, Jimin's voice filtering through his headphones, breathtaking and perfect.

He taps his fingers on the desk, frown deepening. He has everything he needs from Jimin, and that's the problem. Because now it's done, and now he has no reason to see Jimin every day, has no excuse to call him. Has no opportunities to laugh and smile with him anymore.

The song isn't completely finished. Jungkook still has a lot of work to do, but Jimin's part is through. As tempting as it is to ask Jimin to stay with him a little longer, record a little more, Jungkook cannot find it in himself to lie about the quality of the work they've accomplished. He wavered between pride and dismay at his work throughout the entire process, but now, the song fleshed out with Jimin's tones and spirit, all his doubts are gone, vanished as if they never existed from the start. Wherever Jungkook may have been lacking, Jimin filled the spaces in. And wherever Jungkook excelled, Jimin amplified it. The amalgamation of their sounds, married together into one entity, is astounding. Brilliant. Magical.

They fit, like Jungkook never knew was possible, with ease. It feels like finding home.

Jungkook started this journey trying to find himself. He's not sure if he's done it. He thinks he's found a version of himself, incomplete and still growing, young, ambitious, daring, still awed by the wonders of a brand new world. And along the way, he thinks, he found something else, too. Someone else, someone he's starting to realize he'd like to come along with him for the journey. Someone he wants to travel with on their quest, too.

He swivels in his computer chair, eyes falling on Jimin, curled up on the couch, a blanket tucked around his frame. Fatigue has been growing heavy under his eyes in the past week as he spends more and more time in the dance room, perfecting his routine for the MAMAs. Jungkook feels guilty, adding more work onto Jimin's shoulders, the strain evident as he falls asleep between takes like now. He tried to tell Jimin to rest, but the other is surprisingly stubborn and insisted that he's going to sing, whether Jungkook recorded him or not.

It's probably a good thing that Jimin's part is over, Jungkook tells himself as he wheels his chair to Jimin's sleeping form. His mouth is parted, soft and shallow breaths escaping his lips. His hands are buried under his head, a makeshift pillow that seems comfortable. There's a light flush of sleep high on his cheeks, and his brow furrows as he dreams.

Jungkook presses his lips together. He's never been so fascinated watching someone sleep before. He's been amused at Namjoon and Yoongi's sleeping faces, and took multiple photos on his phone to tease them with later. But he's never felt like this when watching them. Like there's a warm blanket around his shoulders. Like time has slowed and the world has faded, and only Jimin and him exist in this moment.

Like the universe realigned to create this moment, this second, this breath that Jimin pushes through his lips.

Jungkook isn't sure he knows what love is yet, but he knows this, what he feels for Jimin, is something. A something he doesn't understand, but he wants to find out. He just doesn't know how, now that their time together is through.

He jolts when Jimin moves, groaning and slinging a hand to his eyes to rub them awake. Jungkook panics, hurriedly rolls his chair away but Jimin's eyes open and his gaze falls on Jungkook when he's halfway to his desk. He ends up looking awkward and ridiculous.

Jimin chuckles and shifts, sitting up on the couch, the blanket pooling around his hips. He yawns and stretches an arm up. Jungkook's eyes fall onto the exposed glimpse of toned abs as Jimin's shirt rides up with the motion. Jungkook's hands flex on his chair arms.

"Did you finish?" Jimin asks, voice still rough with the remnants of sleep melting off.

Jungkook blinks and flicks his gaze to Jimin's face. "Huh? Oh, yeah, yeah." He wheels his chair back to his desk and glances to the screen again. "Yeah, it's all great."

"No more takes?" Jimin asks.

Jungkook glances back to Jimin and smiles, a lift of lips tinged with a little more regret than he's willing to admit. "No more takes. You were perfect."

Jimin grins and shifts his gaze away, pleased and coy. It's possibly the cutest thing Jungkook has ever seen. "I guess this is it," Jimin says, a hint of expectation in his tone.

Jungkook swallows a sigh of disappointment and nods. "Yeah. Thank you. For all your help. I never would have been able to get this far without you."

Jimin shakes his head in dismissal and lets his eyes fall back to Jungkook's. "You would have," he says. "You're much better than you give yourself credit for."

Jungkook purses his lips, struggling to balance between his own doubts and his faith in Jimin's opinion. "If I don't strive for perfection, I'll grow complacent."

Jimin tilts his head and stares at Jungkook, blinking slowly. "You can still improve even while you believe in yourself. I think you're an incredible person." His gaze arrests Jungkook, stopping the breath in his lungs, halting his thoughts until nothing exists except them, this moment suspended in time.

Jungkook licks his lips, the space separating them growing heavy and charged like that night in Jimin's studio. He wonders how to close the gap between them, wonders if it's as simple as rolling his chair back to the couch, back until his knees bump Jimin's. He wonders if their lips touch, will their hearts connect.

The moment breaks when Jimin looks away and stands, folding the blanket from his lap carefully. "I should get going," he says. "I still need to run through my routine a few more times."

Jungkook clears the sudden lump in his throat and nods, clasping his hands in his lap. "You leave tomorrow, right?"

"Yeah." Jimin lets out a heavy sigh, but still somehow smiles at Jungkook. "I'm excited and also terrified. Is that possible?"

Jungkook smiles, mirroring Jimin. "I feel that every time I release a song."

Jimin smiles gratefully and lays the folded blanket on the couch. He reaches for his jacket, fiddling with the material as he pulls it from the arm of the sofa, and Jungkook thinks with a sudden panic that this might really slip away. That this might be lost the moment Jimin walks out his door, before he even knows what this is, or could be. He opens his mouth to blurt out something stupid, but Jimin pulls something small and flat out of his jacket pocket, staring at it seriously.

Jimin licks his lips and keeps his gaze on the item in his hand. "I was wondering, if you could find the time. It would be cool if you came and watched it."

Jungkook blinks, confused. "It?"

"My performance," Jimin says, lifting his eyes back to Jungkook. He holds out the item in his hand, his arm far too short to reach across to Jungkook. "I got you a pass, in case you wanted to come. No pressure or anything. I know you're busy." He smiles uncertainly and shrugs. "Just thought it'd be nice."

Jungkook remains silent, mind struggling to catch up, trying to figure out exactly what this means. If it's a professional gesture. A friendly invitation. Or something more, something that echoes the way he feels, the way his breath catches in his throat when Jimin laughs, the way the room just seems a little warmer, a little brighter when Jimin is present.

Jimin places the pass on top of the folded blanket and sends another smile in Jungkook's direction. "See you," he says before he slips out into the hallway.

Jungkook stares across the room at the pass for longer than he realizes, finally lifting up from his chair to retrieve the plastic. He thinks, perhaps, there's reason to hope.

&&&

"Are you nervous?"

It takes Seokjin a moment to realize Hoseok isn't asking him, but Jimin. He glances to Jimin beside him in the backseat of Hoseok's car, then back to Hoseok in the driver's seat, one hand flexed on the steering wheel. Hoseok is craning his neck to look at Jimin and Seokjin thinks it's no wonder he's always asking for massages.

Jimin smiles and shakes his head. "I'm not nervous at all."

Hoseok narrows his eyes. "Liar."

"I'm really not, hyung!" Jimin insists, unbuckling his seatbelt and leaning forward. "I can do this in my sleep. I have done this in my sleep."

Hoseok stares at him for a moment longer before lunging forward and trying to grab Jimin into a hug. "My cute Jiminie is going to do so well. I'm so sorry I can't be there."

Jimin protests loudly and fights his way out of Hoseok's hold. "I'll be fine. Relax. I have Seokjinie-hyung."

"I love you a lot, you know, right?" Hoseok says, and Jimin's hands curl as he cringes. Jimin bursts out of the car and heads to the trunk to retrieve his luggage, mumbling about embarrassing hyungs. Hoseok laughs and turns to look at Seokjin. "He's so cute when I tease him."

Seokjin snorts and moves to open his door and follow Jimin. Hoseok stops him with a hand on his arm. He looks back to Hoseok, raising his eyebrows expectantly.

"Hyung," Hoseok starts, hesitating and careful. "Are you nervous?"

Seokjin presses his lips together and glances out his window, at the departures drop-off where Hoseok is idling. He's nervous, he realizes. It's been years since he attended the MAMAs. It's surreal, traveling there again after all this time. Except now, he's not performing. Jimin is.

This time Seokjin is a spectator.

Seokjin brings a wide smile to his lips and looks back to Hoseok. "I'm a pro, Hoseok. Not nervous at all."

Hoseok sighs and settles into his seat, glaring out the windshield. "You're a liar, too." He flicks his gaze back to Seokjin in the rearview mirror. "Good luck. You're going to be great."

"I'm not performing," Seokjin says.

"No. But you'll still knock everyone out just by appearing." Seokjin smiles and moves to open the car door when Hoseok says, "Hyung, remember your promise."

Seokjin pauses and meets Hoseok's gaze in the rearview mirror. He tilts his head, blank. "What promise?"

"Hong Kong is a really great place for a fling, you know," Hoseok says, a sly smile breaking on his lips.

Seokjin blinks, realization hitting him.

"A one-night stand with some suave millionaire in the city," Hoseok continues dreamily.

"Goodbye, Hoseok," Seokjin says, reaching for the door again.

"You promised to get laid!" Hoseok calls out.

Seokjin laughs and alights from the car before Hoseok can start going into graphic details.

It's freezing, early December winds blowing at his hair. He looks up to the sky for a moment when he feels the subtle weight of an errant raindrop. He breathes out, watches the air condense in the cold, and glances around to find Jimin. He notes the media at the entrance, taking photos, several idol groups leaving on the same flight for the MAMA performance. He bows politely to them as he heads into the airport, smiling and throwing out finger hearts for their photos out of habit.

He spots Jimin with their luggage immediately when he gets into the airport, and jogs to catch up to him. He spots more media outlets, and a few fansites that he thinks belongs to the Jimin. He smiles and waves at them, grateful for their support for Jimin's first major performance. He can still remember his own fansites, running around in high heels for a couple photos as he made his way to immigration. He thinks they've all moved on by now, to other groups or other interests. Maybe they're married.

In another future, Seokjin would have been married now, too. There's a pang under his ribs at the thought. He hopes his fans found their happiness.

"Hyung?" Jimin calls, stopping and looking back at him, lowering the sunglasses he does not need inside.

Seokjin glances away from the photographers and back to Jimin, back to reality, his thoughts clearing like smoke, fading into nothingness. "I'm coming," he says, jogging up to him.

They board the flight and settle in their seats. Seokjin leans back as the plane lifts off and closes his eyes, hoping to nap for the three hours they will be in the air. He's in that almost sleep, that space of being that is and isn't, the lines of reality and dreams blurred and hazy, when he feels Jimin shifting beside him. He isn't exactly sure if he heard Jimin softly call his name, but he blinks his eyes open and glances over to find Jimin biting his lip and looking at him, a furrow in his brow.

"Sorry, did I wake you?" Jimin says and Seokjin snorts and shifts up in his seat.

"Yes," Seokjin answers honestly.

Jimin's face falls. "Oh. I'm sorry."

"It's okay. What's up?" Seokjin stretches his arms out and turns his full attention to Jimin.

"It's nothing," Jimin says, frowning.

Seokjin raises his eyebrows. "It's obviously something."

Jimin makes a face. "It's hard to explain."

"Start with a sentence. And then elaborate," Seokjin says.

Jimin rolls his eyes. "You think that's helpful?"

Seokjin shrugs.

Jimin sighs heavily and purses his lips. "Do you...believe in love at first sight?"

Seokjin stills, his fingers freezing before he forces them to relax.

"Or maybe, maybe not love, or maybe not at first sight. But like. A kind of connection that happens so quickly, it's almost instantaneous," Jimin continues, picking up speed. "You don't really know them yet, you can't possibly know them well yet but somehow you think you understand them. And you think they understand you." He looks at Seokjin seriously. "Is that possible?"

It's possible. Seokjin knows firsthand that it's possible. He knew the moment he laid eyes on Yoongi, heard his voice rough with smoke greeting him. He knew the moment he met Yoongi's gaze, and saw a mirror of his own, a world he didn't think could exist outside of his own mind. He fell in love with Yoongi later, with his hands and his lips and his thoughts and his heart. But the eyes, that's what caught Seokjin, held him, moved him.

Seokjin's eyes flicker as he stares at Jimin. He blinks, wanting desperately to ignore this conversation. He wants to believe Jimin isn't referring to Yoongi. He wants to believe Jimin fell in love with someone else, someone Seokjin doesn't know, or didn't realize is close to Jimin. But his heart still aches in his chest.

He needs to erase the dreams from his mind, and move forward.

"Yeah," he finally says, voice wavering. He clears his throat and tries again. "It's possible. It's in their eyes."

Jimin's eyes widen and a bright smile spreads on his lips. "It's their eyes," he agrees. He nods and shifts to sit back in his seat, smiling like a fool. "Their eyes."

Seokjin blinks rapidly and blows out a long, measured breath. He closes his eyes and tries to sleep, but his mind is overrun with too many thoughts, too many what-ifs and imaginary do-overs. He wishes it could be different. He still wants to run to Yoongi, wants to hold onto what he thought he let go, what he's foolishly held in his heart for too many years.

Maybe they're star-crossed, the kind of lovers that only happen once a millennia, two sides of the same whole, forever doomed by time and space.

He frowns. No, it's not that fanciful. Their timing was wrong. Seokjin made it wrong. He should have known back then that he couldn't follow his heart, but he was greedy and wanted Yoongi. He caught him before he should have, and ultimately paid the price. Seokjin wonders if he had held back, if he had been Yoongi's friend, sent him off to New York, kept in touch over the years. Maybe now, they could have been forever.

He was too greedy, youth clouding his judgment.

He opens his eyes, sleep evading him, and glances at Jimin.

If Yoongi wants Jimin, he thinks, it will be a smooth journey for them. It will be light, and happy, and everything Seokjin couldn't give Yoongi.

He just cannot find it in his heart to wish them well, yet.

He wonders if he ever will.

&&&

It doesn't surprise Seokjin that the moment they check into the hotel, Jimin asks to go over to the venue and practice. He thinks it's partly Jimin's work ethic, and partly his way to suppress the bubbles of nerves that's building under his skin at the prospect of his MAMA debut.

Most of the artists haven't arrived in Hong Kong yet, so the venue is nearly empty, only the production crew present to fix sound systems and adjust lights. Jimin keeps looking around in awe, his eyes wide and mouth gaping open. He cranes his neck, looking at the vast expanse, the wide stage, the endless empty seats that will soon be full of fans and peers and legends. Seokjin can remember his first time here, the way his feet felt like they were floating, the way he couldn't decide if he was dreaming or awake.

Seokjin thankfully spots a director he recognizes, a cheerful older woman that was with him from his first MAMA, and with her help, they arrange for Jimin's rehearsal.

The music plays, a contemporary beat that Jimin throws himself into with what seems like effortless ease, and Seokjin finds a spot at the side to watch. He's seen the routine so many times, he can follow along from where he is, muted steps and half-movements, counting the moves in his head. He wonders if he misses it, the queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach the day before a debut, the breathless satisfaction of finishing a dance perfectly.

"Seokjin-ah."

Seokjin looks to his side, smiles at the director.

She smiles back and holds up her clipboard. "I have to get going. I'm needed in seven other places."

"Ah, I see. Thank you for helping us," Seokjin says, bowing deeply in farewell.

She reaches forward and pats his arm. "We should catch up. Grab a coffee sometime." She pauses and then says, "It's a shame you're not performing this year. I miss seeing you up there." She nods to the stage. "The stage misses you, too."

Seokjin blinks, his cheeks tingling with warmth, the compliment unexpected and piercing right through his ribs to his heart. "Ah, thank you," he says because he doesn't know how else to react, bowing again.

She keeps his gaze for a moment, analyzing, before she nods. "Think about a comeback. Your talent isn't meant to be hidden," she says before she walks off, sending him one last wave goodbye.

Seokjin frowns and glances back to the stage, back to Jimin and the lights and the beat of the music that he can feel flowing in his veins. He misses it, he realizes. He's been wallowing in indecision and hesitation, unsure if he should pursue music anymore, unsure if he still has a place among the young bright stars. But he misses it so badly, his fingers twitching to reach out for it. He wonders if he's truly been confused this whole time, trying to decide, or if he's just been afraid to make the decision.

He blows out a breath through his nose. He needs a coffee, he thinks.

He waits until Jimin finishes a run-through of the routine before he shouts to him, "Jimin-ah, I'm getting coffee. What do you want?"

Jimin raises his head from his position on the floor, still gulping in deep breaths, and huffs out, "Americano, please and thank you."

Seokjin hums in acknowledgement and makes his way out of the auditorium. It's been a few years but he thinks he can still recall the way to the small cafe in the theatre. He makes several turns and weaves through the building, down three floors and up one before he finally sees the signs that indicate the cafe is near. He rounds a corner, smiling that he found caffeine, and runs straight into a solid wall.

No, Seokjin realizes in growing horror. Not a wall, but a person, tall, lean, and his coffee splattered all over the floor because of Seokjin. The stranger holds his now nearly empty cup of coffee away from his body, the sleeve of his blue suit jacket splashed dark with the spilled liquid. Seokjin has a moment of gratitude that the coffee miraculously avoided the stranger's bright white button up.

"I'm so sorry," he starts. "Are you okay?"

The stranger flicks his gaze from his coffee to Seokjin, dark dark eyes framed with wire-rimmed glasses riding low on his nose, bold brows still raised in alarm. "I'm okay." He glances back to the floor, rivets of espresso fanning out on the marble. "My caffeine levels are dangerously low, but I'm okay." He looks back to Seokjin, does a double take, some kind of recognition lighting his eyes. Seokjin almost questions if he really saw it, the light gone as soon as it appeared. The stranger smiles reassuringly. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine. Let me buy you another coffee," Seokjin says, eager to make amends.

The stranger flicks his eyes over Seokjin, down and up, stalling when he reaches his face again. His lips tug up on the left side of his face in a lopsided smile. "I never take anything from someone I don't know." He extends his clean hand, the one not covered in the remnants of coffee. "I'm Kris Wu."

"Ah," Seokjin takes Kris's hand and shakes. Kris's hand is larger than Seokjin, his grip strong and secure. The single thick silver ring on his middle finger is cool against Seokjin's skin and sends unexpected tingles down his spine. He clears his throat and says, "I'm Kim Seokjin."

Kris's eyes crease as he smiles. "A pleasure to met you."

Kris walks Seokjin to the cafe, chatting easily as they wait in line to place their order. Kris is smooth, Seokjin thinks, a charmer, and quite flirtatious. Everything he says has a tinge of humor, meant to entice a reaction, a smile, a flush of cheeks. It's not something Seokjin has been used in the last few years, being the object of attention, of a flirtation. It's fun. Seokjin thinks Kris may be a dangerous man, easy to fall into, easy to like, easy. There's something tempting about easy.

Kris tries to insist that Seokjin stay for a while, grab a table and continue their conversation over the coffee. "It'll be safer," Kris says, grinning. "Less chance of another disaster."

Seokjin's lips widen as he laughs. "I have someone that's waiting for his coffee," he says. "Regretfully."

Kris makes a face, leaning with his hip on the counter. "Regretfully," he repeats. He glances down at his fresh coffee, arching a brow, a mischievous smirk tugging at his lips.

Seokjin purses his lips. "What is that look?"

Kris shrugs. "I was just thinking if I spilled this cup, you might owe me another." He glances up at Seokjin, tilting his head enticingly. "Then you could buy me another. When you have some free time."

Seokjin's lips part, and he realizes at this moment, this friendly flirtation was more than he assumed. Kris is actually interested in him. His gut reaction is to turn him down, like he's turned down every serious advance for years. There's no more room left in his heart, every inch and space booked and filled and reserved. He blinks, remembers Hoseok's teasing demand that he get laid, remembers Yoongi's cool eyes, remembers Jimin's words from the airplane and the lyrics in his bag. He's been holding on for so long. He wanted to let go.

Seokjin lets his lips tug into a smile. "If I give you my number, will that coffee be safe?"

Kris gives him an answering smile. "I promise not to let a drop go to waste."

Seokjin hums and walks back to the barista, borrowing a pen. He heads back to Kris and reaches forward, taking the coffee from his hand, their fingers brushing with the contact, and writes his phone number on the side of the cup. "If this number somehow gets on the internet, I will hunt you down and it won't be pleasant."

"I'm trembling," Kris says, and takes the cup back from Seokjin. "Thank you for the coffee."

"Anytime," Seokjin says before grabbing his carrier of coffee and heading back to Jimin. His cheeks feel pleasantly warm, a wide smile on his lips. That was fun, he thinks, and tries not to let his mind wander. He tries not to compare the shade of brown of Kris's eyes to another's piercing gaze, or the veins on Kris's hands to another's more intimate touch.

Seokjin is tired of thinking about what he doesn't have. Kris is fun, the distraction he needs.

He keeps the smile on his lips, but the tingle down his spine fades.

&&&

Jungkook thinks and thinks and thinks, but his mind still draws up dreadfully blank. He is trying with all his might to formulate how to explain that he's leaving to go to Hong Kong for a few days. Coolly. Suavely. In a way that he can avoid any and all questions from Namjoon and Yoongi. He's still wrapping his mind around what his heart is saying, still interpreting it, analyzing the subtleties of the language. He still has no idea how Jimin feels, has no idea how they feel together, what kind of conversations their hearts are having. He wants to avoid the questioning, analyzing, all-knowing inquiries of his hyungs until he has answers for himself.

He is, however, woefully blank. He scrunches his nose at his phone screen, looking up plane tickets to Hong Kong, and tries to think.

Option one, he poses to himself. Hide the truth in plain sight. Explain that Jimin invited him. It's simple, it's direct. He follows the thought for a moment and his imagination helpfully supplies a line of questioning that forces him to explain how he became so close to Jimin. He cannot, under any circumstances, let Namjoon or Yoongi know about the track yet. He's so close to being done. So close. He cannot reveal it yet. He has to figure out another lie.

Option two. He could be vague, say he wants to get away for a few days. He can be mysterious and sly and sophisticated. He can have personal business to attend to. It's totally viable.

He sighs. They'll pester him non-stop until he breaks. It's a no-go.

Option three. He could say he won tickets and doesn't want to waste them. He scowls at his phone even before the thought completes. No one would believe that. It's ridiculous.

Jungkook falls on his side, laying his head on the couch cushion, his legs still dangling off the end in an odd and uncomfortable angle. He longingly stares at the flights on his phone. He has to find a way, he thinks. Jimin personally invited him. There has to be a way.

"Jungkook-ah."

Jungkook barely glances away from his phone to see Yoongi enter the common room of the studio. He makes a lazy noise of acknowledgement and returns to his phone and the tickets to Jimin that he cannot buy.

Yoongi taps Jungkook's feet with his own. "Jungkook-ah, did Jimin mention anything about a surprise performance at the MAMAs?"

Jungkook's eyes widen and he bolts into an upright sitting position. "No, Jimin-hyung didn't say anything, he hardly talks to me. I, don't. Why would you think I know about his performance? I didn't even know he was gone." Jungkook tilts his head in affected ignorance. "Is Jimin-hyung performing at the MAMAs?"

Yoongi stares at Jungkook, eyes narrowed and suspicious. Jungkook blinks innocently at him, keeping his features as neutral as he possibly can. They enter into an impromptu staring contest, but where the winner is the one who breaks pretence first. It seems like eternity before Yoongi lets out an annoyed sigh and reaches a hand up to rub his left temple. "That weird kid is rubbing off on you."

Jungkook doesn't reply, only tilting his head to the other side.

"Okay, let's start again," Yoongi says, moving his hand to his hip. "Did that weird kid who you're acting like mention anything about Kim Seokjin going with him to the MAMAs?"

Jungkook frowns, eyeing Yoongi. "Not that I'm close to Jimin-hyung or anything," he starts as Yoongi rolls his eyes, "but he said Seokjin-hyung was going with him to Hong Kong. I don't think he's perfor- and you left." Jungkook huffs as Yoongi spins on his heel and leaves before Jungkook can even finish his sentence. He makes a face and stares at the door where Yoongi disappeared through, until a brilliant revelation occurs to him.

Yoongi is distracted. Terribly, horribly, entirely distracted. He only gets like this occasionally, usually when he's chasing a thought, a song, a piece of his heart. And when he's distracted, he get tunnel-vision. Any and all strange occurrences around him are ignored and dismissed. This could work, Jungkook thinks. He could casually tell Yoongi he's going away for a few days and Yoongi would only grunt in response.

He just needs to distract Namjoon. He grins, thinks about the way Namjoon shyly ducks his head whenever Hoseok stops by for a visit. This could be arranged.

Jungkook slinks off the couch and heads to Namjoon's room. He finds the door open and hears excited chatter inside that can only belong to Hoseok. He tries to wipe the smile off his face as he tastes the first sweet hints of victory. Providence has blessed him mightily.

Jungkook slips into the studio and immediately notes the way Hoseok has draped himself over the back of Namjoon's computer chair, chest flush to the back, head hovering over Namjoon's, his left hand braced on Namjoon's shoulders, immersed in what's on Namjoon's monitor. Jungkook can't see Namjoon's face from this angle, but he bets he's slightly flushed and smiling.

Hoseok points with his right hand at the monitor, a collection of news articles on Naver it looks like.

"Click on that one, that one," Hoseok says, bouncing on his feet.

Namjoon complies, opening up an article. From Jungkook's position near the door, he can see a photo of Seokjin emerging from Hoseok's car at the airport. The headline reads, "Ten Thing You Need to Know About Handsome Airport Oppa." Hoseok leans even closer to the monitor, nearly climbing over Namjoon's chair, and makes happy noises.

"This is incredible," he says, slapping Namjoon's shoulder. "I told him. I told him he still has it."

Jungkook steps further into the room. "Hyung," he says, drawing their attention.

Hoseok grins at him and waves him close with an excited hand. "Come look. Seokjin-hyung is trending."

Jungkook approaches the monitor and skims the article. "Trending for what?" he asks.

"His impossibly handsome face." Hoseok slaps at Namjoon's shoulder again. "Go to the one about him sighing at the clouds."

Jungkook hefts himself up to sit on the side of Namjoon's desk, swinging his feet above the floor. "Hey hyung," he starts again, "I'm going away for a couple of days."

Namjoon finally glances at Jungkook, his brows raised in question. "Where are you going?"

Jungkook opens his mouth to answer, scrambling for something plausible, but Hoseok taps insistently at Namjoon's chest, grabbing his attention.

"Joon-ah, go back."

Namjoon's lips stretch into a shy smile, the dimples in his cheeks appearing, and the topic is successfully changed. Jungkook smiles and sends silent thanks to Hoseok. He moves to hop off the desk and leave, ready to book his flight and hotel, maybe grab a shower before he has to pack, when Yoongi appears, poking his head into the small space.

"Here's where you went," he says to Jungkook. "Get your passport, Jungkook-ah, we're leaving."

Jungkook's immediate thought is that Yoongi has given up on what he has been chasing and decided to go back to New York. His eyes widen and he shakes his head. He doesn't want to go back to New York. He wants to stay here and plant his roots and make a home. "I don't want to go back to New York," he says firmly, still shaking his head.

Yoongi's brow furrows in confusion and he further into the room. "We're not going to New York. We're going to Hong Kong."

"What?" Jungkook says, now confused as well.

"What," Hoseok sounds out, less a question and more an accusation. He straightens from his position draped over Namjoon's chair and turns his attention to Yoongi.

Yoongi glances at him. "Hey," he greets, dismissing Hoseok's exclamation. He looks back to Jungkook and nods his head to the door. "The flight is in two hours, we have to leave soon."

"No, no, wait, hold up," Hoseok says, stopping Jungkook from moving. He holds each of his palms out at Yoongi and Jungkook. "Why are you going to Hong Kong?"

Yoongi glances back to Hoseok and arches a brow. "Does it matter?"

"Yes," Hoseok challenges, crossing his arms over his chest.

Yoongi shrugs and slips his hands into his back pants pockets. "I won tickets."

Jungkook chokes on a laugh, swallowing it down hastily, his throat burning with the unreleased sound. That's ridiculous.

Hoseok rolls his eyes. "That's ridiculous." Jungkook has to bite his lip to stay silent.

Yoongi shrugs again, unconcerned, and steps up to Jungkook. He pats Jungkook's knee a couple times. "Come on, let's go."

Jungkook hops off the desk and smiles. Fate really worked overtime to get him to Hong Kong with no troubles, he thinks.

As they move to leave, Hoseok sighs heavily behind them. "I wish you'd be more clear," he says, tone low and almost frightening.

For a moment, Jungkook thinks Hoseok is talking to him, his eyes widening and pulse picking up until he realizes it was directed at Yoongi. Yoongi frowns and turns back to Hoseok. "In what way haven't I been clear?" he demands.

Hoseok purses his lips, his eyes shifting like he's trying to fight his own head before he blurts out, "Whether you're chasing Seokjin-hyung or Jiminie."

Jungkook's mouth drops open and his heart stops in his chest. His lungs freeze, carbon dioxide trapped in his throat, suffocating him. He shifts wide eyes to Yoongi, a growing sense of dread pulsing from his bones. Yoongi isn't interested in Jimin, he tries to tell himself. He can't be. He can't.

Yoongi scoffs and shakes his head, dismissing Hoseok's words. He pats Jungkook's back, urging him forward. "Come on, we're leaving."

Jungkook stumbles, catching himself, his limbs off and weirdly disconnected from his control, his mind flooded with too many thoughts. He keeps replaying in his mind all the times he's seen Yoongi and Jimin interact, their casual camaraderie, the visit to Jimin's studio late at night. It can't be.

"Try communicating," Hoseok calls out, exasperated.

Yoongi doesn't say anything, pushing Jungkook forward, his jaw clenched shut. Jungkook follows Yoongi out of Namjoon's studio silently, and thinks forlornly that perhaps providence has played a dirty trick on him.

&&&

Something is up, Seokjin thinks, watching Jimin suspiciously. Jimin keeps fiddling with one strand of errant hair, trying to tame it into submission for the last five minutes in the bathroom of their hotel room. A mere two hours ago, Jimin just wanted to curl up under the sheets of his bed and sleep until morning. And yet now here he is, fussing over his hair, dressed in tight black pants and a silk shirt that Seokjin is fairly certain is a stage outfit, getting ready to go to the party he insisted he has no interest in. Something weird definitely happened while he was taking a shower, he's sure of it.

Seokjin glances down at his watch, notes that they're late for the MAMA pre-party. He stays quiet. He doesn't care too much if they attend or not. One of the producers had invited them before they left rehearsals earlier. It was a nice gesture, but when he told Jimin, he had insisted he would rather sleep and rest well for the performance tomorrow. Seokjin purses his lips at Jimin's reflection in the mirror, shifting more comfortably on the door jamb to the bathroom, and waits patiently.

He thinks about how he took five minutes to get ready, but chooses not to voice his complaints. Jimin will only whine and change his outfit for the fifth time.

"Are you almost ready?" Jimin asks, as if Seokjin is the one delaying their departure.

Seokjin swallows a snort and replies, "I've been ready for an hour."

Jimin turns around and glances at Seokjin, eyes flickering down his outfit, ripped jeans and an open oversized blue button-down, sleeves overflowing his hands, a plain white t-shirt layered underneath. He huffs in annoyance. "You always look good."

"I've been smeared with handsomeness since birth."

"I hate when you say that."

Seokjin shrugs. "I'm leaving in five minutes, with or without you," he says, hoping to hurry Jimin along.

"I'm coming, I'm coming," Jimin insists.

Miraculously, they make it out of their hotel room and into a taxi, driving over to the hotel where the party is hosted. Seokjin can hear the music blaring down the hallway from the large ballroom, growing to a throbbing pulse as soon as he and Jimin are admitted into the party by a burly security guard.

There are dim lights illuminating the space, casting everything into shades of blue, all other colors lost in the space. Bodies are packed tight, people moving in shuffles to get around. There's a buzz of a hundred separate conversations chopped up and dissected, snippets of words pieced together from different voices that form bizarre sentences. At least it isn't boiling hot inside, the chilled early December air flowing freely into the hall from the wide-open doors leading to a vast garden on the hotel grounds.

Jimin keeps bobbing and twisting his head, not very subtly searching for something. Seokjin's brows arch. Or someone. He hits Jimin's arm with the back of his hand and leans down to whisper-yell, "Who're you looking for?"

"No one!" Jimin says quickly. "Nothing! The bar. I'm looking for the bar."

"Uh-huh," Seokjin says dubiously, but lets Jimin shuffle-drag him to the bar. While Seokjin tries to grab the bartender's attention, Jimin quickly taps Seokjin's shoulder.

"Hyung, I'm going to mingle. See you in a bit," he yells near Seokjin's ear and takes off.

"Yah!" Seokjin scowls at Jimin's retreating form. He glances around the room, trying to spot someone he recognizes, trying to find just who it is that Jimin's so anxious to see.

"Can I buy you a drink, or does one of us have to spill it first?"

Seokjin startles at the voice by his ear. He jolts against the bar and yelps. A strong hand grabs around the small of his back to steady him. His wide eyes finally fall on the source of the voice, a chuckling Kris Wu, his eyes bright with amusement. His hair is slicked back smoothly now, his shoulders framed by a dark blazer with white geometric patterns.

Kris takes Seokjin's arm and pulls him closer, correcting his stance, and smiles. "I'll try to remember that you startle easily," he says, leaning by Seokjin's ear to be heard.

Seokjin regains his composure and smoothly removes himself from Kris's grasp. "Or you could try not sneaking up on me," he replies coolly, arching a brow.

Kris's lips twitch, the left side of his mouth tugging up into a smirk. He leans his elbow on the bar counter and says, slowing the words down into a drawl, "I don't know. I like how it gives me your undivided attention."

Seokjin laughs, baffled, unused to such blatant flirting. Kris seems pleased and straightens.

"I'll buy you a drink. What will you have?"

Seokjin takes a moment to consider Kris before he smiles and lets his shoulders relax. "Something with vodka."

"My man," Kris says, approving. He snaps his fingers and the bartender immediately turns his attention to them. Seokjin blinks and wonders at Kris's influence, the way others respond so quickly to him, as if they're alert of his actions, the way it feels like a dozen eyes are watching him closely.

Seokjin had searched Kris's name on the internet earlier, curious, and was surprised at the number of articles and pages he found. Kris Wu had debuted as an idol years ago in Korea, years before Seokjin had joined Kelly Inch. His group had been quite successful, but after two years, he left to pursue a solo career in China. He is practically blacklisted in Korea, which explains why Seokjin didn't recognize the name.

In China, however, he's near to a god. Wildly successful, power, wealthy. He stars in films, tops music charts, and endorses the top brands. He started his own label and has several popular artists signed to him.

Kris hands Seokjin his drink and clinks their glasses together, smiling. "A toast."

Seokjin huffs out another laugh. "A toast? To what?"

"Second meetings." Kris shifts, slinging his arm around the small of Seokjin's back again, his hand warm.

There's pleasant tingles where he holds Seokjin, a touch that he hasn't felt in a long time. It's nice, he thinks, looking up at Kris. It's nice to feel wanted, to have someone's undivided attention again. It's nice. Kris bends to Seokjin's ear and Seokjin has a moment where he realizes just how much taller Kris is than him.

It's nice.

"I have a confession to make," Kris says, warm breath ghosting over the shell of Seokjin's ear.

Seokjin takes a sip of his drink and stares ahead of him, amused. "What's that?"

"I looked you up online." Kris pulls back and grins at him. "I didn't realize you were so famous."

Seokjin smiles and flicks his gaze to Kris. "Ditto."

Kris laughs and dips his head in surrender. He sets his drink on the counter and shifts to stand in front of Seokjin. "Would you care to dance?" he asks, nodding his head to the dance floor.

A rejection is on the tip of his tongue, the same easy decline that he's said for years, his heart temporarily taking over his mouth, protesting that he has someone, he has someone, he has someone. Seokjin draws in a sharp breath. He doesn't, though. He doesn't have someone. He sent him away a long time ago. It's time for him to acknowledge that.

He smiles and places his drink on the counter by Kris's. "Lead the way," he says, and lets Kris take his hand.

&&&

Jungkook and Yoongi go straight from the studio to the airport without dropping by at home. Yoongi doesn't want to risk missing their flight and says quickly that they can buy whatever they need in Hong Kong. Jungkook doesn't protest, his mind still too much of a jumbled mess of dread and worries. He keeps replaying everything he's seen since they came to Korea, keeps second-guessing his interpretations. He's been distracted, focused too much on Jimin and the song. He hasn't been careful looking around. He's assumed too much and now he has no solid ground to stand on, doubts shifting like sand under his feet, sinking.

When they settle on the plane, he finally comes to the conclusion that he cannot answer his own questions, that he needs to talk about this clearly and openly with Yoongi. Unfortunately, before the plane even leaves the runway, Yoongi pulls on an eye mask he bought in the airport gift shop, and falls into a sound sleep. Jungkook spends the three hour flight worrying his bottom lip. He ends up with more concerns and chapped lips.

As soon as the plane lands, Yoongi shakes himself from his nap and starts calling around, to old musician friends of his, old music label acquaintances, directors and producers. He seems to be securing them all-access passes to the awards and the parties associated with it. Jungkook's fingers curl around the pass in his coat pocket, the one Jimin personally gave him, the one Jimin gave him, inviting him. That has to mean something, he thinks. He keeps his eyes on Yoongi and thinks despondently that he doesn't know how to handle this.

Yoongi checks them into a hotel, a large penthouse suite with a living area, a small kitchenette, and two queen size beds. Yoongi tosses his room key onto a table as they walk in and says, "I'm going to take a quick shower."

"Hyung, wait," Jungkook calls out, biting on his bottom lip again, toying with the chapped skin nervously. He waits until Yoongi turns his attention on him, brows raised in expectation. Jungkook gestures vaguely to the sofa set in the living room. "Can we have a talk, first?"

Yoongi's eyes dim with concern and he nods. "Yeah, of course." He moves to the living area and settles, posture straight and attentive. "What's on your mind?"

Jungkook isn't sure exactly how to start this conversation, isn't sure how to piece together the words in the best way. He isn't sure how to navigate these waters, scary and unfamiliar. He decides honesty is probably his best option. "Do you like Jimin-hyung?"

Yoongi rolls his eyes. "Is this because of what Hoseok said?"

Jungkook frowns, his jaw clenching, and silently watches Yoongi.

"Does it matter?" he says, and Jungkook can already feel the topic dropping without any of the answers he needs.

He presses his lips together and says firmly, "It does."

Yoongi pauses, eyes flickering over Jungkook, searching and contemplative. "I think Jimin's a nice guy, and a very talented artist, and that's where it ends," he finally says, maintaining steady eye contact with Jungkook.

Jungkook can feel his shoulders relax, but he's hesitant to accept Yoongi's answer right away. "Are you sure?"

"I'm not interested in Jimin romantically," Yoongi confirms.

Jungkook smiles and nods. "Yeah, of course not." He sits next to Yoongi and lulls his head back against the cushions, relief flushing through his veins.

Yoongi stares at him seriously, a frown tugging his lips down, a furrow in his brow. But it's his eyes that make Jungkook pause, that brings the anxiety back with a thump of his heartbeat. Yoongi's eyes look sad.

"Hyung?" he starts.

"You like Jimin?" he asks.

Jungkook blinks and nods his head slowly.

Yoongi's frown deepens.

It doesn't make sense, Jungkook thinks. Yoongi just said he's not interested in Jimin. He doesn't know what brought on the deep furrow in Yoongi's brow. "I can't?" he prompts, eyes searching Yoongi's.

He shakes his head. "No, no. You can. Just." He looks away, staring far away at something Jungkook thinks he cannot see. "Just be careful. It's not easy to love an idol. There's a lot that can go wrong."

Jungkook exhales slowly. "Like you and Seokjin-hyung?"

Yoongi draws his lips back into a flat smile, and nods.

"Is that why we came to Hong Kong?"

"No," Yoongi says and stands, huffing out a breath.

"Then why...." Jungkook's question trails off when Yoongi looks back at him.

Yoongi sighs and slips his hands into his back pocket. "Because things don't make sense," he says before he makes his way to the bathroom, closing the door with a distinct click.

Jungkook stares at the closed door, hears the running shower, and sighs. He wishes he could help, but he knows only Seokjin can answer Yoongi's questions. He hopes it's what Yoongi wants to hear.

&&&

Jungkook retypes his text to Jimin a dozen times, exchanging words, adding and deleting emojis. He changes the spacing, his use of capitalization, punctuation over and over and over until finally his stupid fingers accidentally send an incomplete message.

hey i'm in hong kong

No period, no capitalization, no honorifics that he's certain Jimin will scold him for. He hates his life.

His phone vibrates and pings and he fumbles, dropping it on the floor. He quickly grabs it, slipping off the couch in his haste and landing hard on his hip. He winces but quickly checks his latest message.

Really??? That's great! Jimin replies.

While Jungkook is still trying to think up a cool reply, Jimin sends another message.

Are you busy tonight? There's a party for the attendees, I think I can get you an invite.

Jungkook grins and makes a happy noise in the back of his throat. He types a quick reply, asking for the address.

I'll see you tonight, Jimin writes back. I'm looking forward to it ;)

Jungkook stares at his phone, a warmth flooding his cheeks, watching the winking emoji so closely that it almost looks like it's moving.

"What are you doing?"

Jungkook jolts when he hears Yoongi, glances up to see him wrapped in a robe and towel-drying his hair. He clears his throat. "Ah, there's a party tonight. We should go."

Yoongi makes a face and starts walking to the bedroom.

"Jimin-hyung and Seokjin-hyung will be there," Jungkook calls out. He can hear a thump and Yoongi cursing in pain. "Hyung?"

"What time is the party?" Yoongi calls out.

"Eight!"

Yoongi reappears, dressed in the clothes he wore on the plane. "Grab your coat, we have to buy an outfit."

Jungkook smiles. "So you're coming to the party?"

Yoongi's already at the door, slipping his leather jacket on. "I'll go without you."

Jungkook scrambles to his feet. "I'm coming!"

They buy two outfits each, and stop by their hotel room to change before heading to the address Jimin gave him. Jungkook notes that Yoongi took a lot of time styling his hair and adjusting his clothes, an almost imperceptible nervous twitch of his fingers as they keep playing with the fringe of his hair. It would be almost adorable if Jungkook's own mind wasn't preoccupied with other thoughts.

Jimin isn't at the party when they arrive, and as soon as Jungkook tells Yoongi, he excuses himself to have a smoke outside, his fingers twitching for something to hold. Jungkook watches him leave and sighs, making his way to the open doors of the hall that lead into the garden. He holds his phone in his hands behind his back and stares up at the dark night sky, trying to find the stars hidden by the bright city lights.

He blinks and lets the rest of the party melt away, feeling only the chilly air on his cheeks, the lilting notes and thumping bass of the music, and the hard press of his phone in his hands. It's strange. He's happier right now, waiting in a room full of people he doesn't know for Jimin to arrive, than he thinks he's been for a while. There's a thrill of anticipation and excitement in his blood, a spark of hope he wants to nurture.

He really likes Jimin. He wonders when he happened, but it's not the kind of thing he can pinpoint. He thinks it's like breathing. It just happens, when he's awake, when he's working, when he's asleep. If he really thinks about it, he can control it, but it works just fine without his effort. Falling for Jimin is like that. Effortless.

His phone buzzes and he quickly snaps from his thoughts and brings the phone around, smiling at Jimin's message.

We just got here. Sorry, Seokjin-hyung was being slow. Where are you?

Jungkook types a quick reply. by the garden

It doesn't even take thirty seconds before he feels a tap on his shoulder. He turns and grins when he sees Jimin.

Jimin's styled his hair, every strand perfectly in place and immaculate. He's wearing a tailored silk shirt and tight black pants. He looks like a dream.

No, Jungkook corrects himself. Not a dream. A hope. Real and here and within the length of his fingertips if only he's brave enough to reach out.

Jimin smiles at him, his eyes creasing into crescents. "Hi."

It feels like Jimin stole the breath from Jungkook's lungs. He doesn't think he minds. Jimin is like breathing anyway. "Hi," he repeats back softly.

"Thank you for coming," Jimin says. "It really means a lot."

Jungkook makes a noise in acknowledgement. His hands feel odd, out of place and awkward, so he shoves them into his pant pockets. "Would you like," he starts, glancing away from Jimin to the garden. "Would you like to walk around for a bit?"

Jimin steps next to him, his shoulder brushing Jungkook's arm. "Let's go."

&&&

"I'm older than you, you know."

Seokjin smiles and glances back at Kris as they shuffle their way back to the bar to get another drink. The press of the crowd around them eases as they make their way from the dance floor, but Kris still stays close, hand brushing Seokjin's arm, his elbow, his waist. Seokjin reaches a hand up to push his fringe from his eyes, his hair slightly wet with sweat from jumping around dancing, carefree and exuberant as Kris had laughed and tried to imitate his wild moves. "I can call you hyung," he says raising his voice to be heard.

Kris purses his lips and nods, hooking his hand into Seokjin's elbow and tugging him to the side of the bar smoothly. "You could," he says contemplatively. He snaps his fingers and the bartender comes to take their order. "Or," he says after ordering, turning to face Seokjin, "you could call me ge." He smirks and bends into Seokjin's space. "If you want to make my heart race, call me gege."

Seokjin laughs and tilts his head to the side, leaning his back against the edge of the bar counter. "Kris-ge?" he tries.

Kris smiles brightly, his eyes sparking with amusement. "That's nice."

Seokjin smirks. Kris is quite obviously a playboy, but it's still nice, this kind of easy flirtation, a diversion of an evening. He'll have a story to tell Hoseok, he thinks.

"Ah," Kris says, expression falling into disappointment. He shifts away from Seokjin and says apologetically, "Sorry, it looks like I've been beckoned."

Seokjin glances in the direction of Kris's gaze, sees a small grouping of people waving Kris over. He thinks he recognizes a fairly popular actress in the group.

Kris sighs and places his hand on Seokjin's forearm, squeezing firmly. "I'll be right back."

Seokjin hums, unconcerned, and picks up his new drink. "Take your time," he says. "Kris-ge."

Kris places a hand over his heart and backs away, sending him a faux dramatically upset look.

Seokjin takes a sip of his drink and wanders back through the crowd, looking around to find Jimin again. He purses his lips. Something is very strange with Jimin, and he's going to find out what it is. He shuffles through the hall twice, unsuccessfully spotting Jimin, and pulls out his phone to text him.

He makes his way to the side of the hall, trying to find an empty spot where he won't be jostled, and stops abruptly, his feet freezing and eyes widening. His lungs shudder out a breath and he finds his own voice asking, distantly and wavering, "Yoongi?"

Yoongi spots him and his lips lift into a subtle smile. This is unreal, Seokjin thinks, blinking, trying to clear his vision. Yoongi is here, in Hong Kong, at the same party as him. He vaguely wonders just how many times Yoongi will appear unexpectedly in front of him.

And how many times his heart will skip with joy because of it.

"Hyung," Yoongi greets, and the room is too warm now, Seokjin's cheeks flushing hot. He doesn't know what he did to earn back the title of hyung. He foolishly hopes he can hold onto it.

Seokjin's mouth opens and closes several times as Yoongi closes the distance between them, slipping past the few people in their way. "What, what are you doing here?" he asks as soon as Yoongi's facing directly in front of him.

"Can we go talk somewhere?" Yoongi asks, and somehow Seokjin hears him perfectly, even over the buzz of the crowd, even over the thump of the bass, even over the pounding of his heart against his ribs.

Seokjin starts to nod when he feels a hand slip around the small of his back to rest in the dip of his waist.

"Sorry it took so long to get back to you."

Seokjin glances briefly up at Kris, situated comfortably by his side, and gives him a forced smile. "It's fine," he says. "Ah Kris-ge, this is – "

"Min Yoongi," Kris finishes, smiling at Yoongi and reaching a hand out for him to shake.

Seokjin blinks and looks back to Yoongi, notes the furrow of his brow and the frown etched into his lips. His eyes are sharp now, assessing and hard.

Yoongi's lips press into a thin line and he reaches forward to shake Kris's hand. "Kris Wu," he greets, his fingers gripping so tight around Kris's hand that even Seokjin can see the strength of it.

"Do you know each other?" Seokjin asks, glancing between Kris and Yoongi.

"Only by reputation," Kris answers easily, shifting back. "How do you know each other?"

Seokjin locks eyes with Yoongi, trying to find the right way to explain what they are.

Yoongi answers for him instead, saying loudly, "We've been friends for years."

"Oh. That's nice," Kris replies, and Seokjin isn't sure he likes the dismissal in his tone, frowning slightly.

"Seokjin-hyung, can we" – Yoongi gestures to the open doors leading to the garden – "talk somewhere? Alone?"

Seokjin nods. "Yeah, sure." He sends Kris a polite smile and hands him his drink. "I'll see you around."

"I'll call you," Kris promises. "'Bye, Min Yoongi. It was nice to meet you finally."

Yoongi gives him a curt nod before casting his eyes on Seokjin. He holds his gaze for a moment, then turns on his heel and heads to the garden, expecting Seokjin to follow.

Seokjin inhales slowly and traces Yoongi's footsteps, weaving through the crowd, his mind buzzing with answers to questions he knows Yoongi has. He cannot explain what he said that night at the bar, the confession of a tongue loosened by alcohol. He wonders if Yoongi would believe he doesn't remember what he said, but quickly dismisses the thought. Yoongi would never believe it, the lie too blatant.

And he doesn't want to lie anymore, the years of untruths and omissions growing too heavy for his heart to bear.

Yoongi keeps walking after they enter the garden, freezing early December air flooding Seokjin's lungs and prickling along his skin. He shoves his hands deep in his pants pockets and hunches his shoulders, following Yoongi down some steps and around a corner, shrouded in perfectly manicured foliage.

Yoongi stops and faces Seokjin, his face stony and unreadable, eyes intensely focused and seeking. There's a tick at the side of Yoongi's jaw where his teeth grind a bit too harshly, lips a tight line.

"What are you doing in Hong Kong?" Seokjin asks again, breaking the silence between them.

Yoongi's eyes flicker before he says, "I came to support Jimin's MAMA debut."

There's an immediate pang of jealousy in the pit of Seokjin's stomach that he tries to squash. He wants to point out that Yoongi never came to his first MAMA performance. Or his second or third. He knows that's unfair. Yoongi was working and their company made it impossible for Yoongi to take time to physically support Seokjin. He called and messaged and even recorded himself watching the broadcast so Seokjin could see his reaction, even when he grumbled at how awkward and embarrassing it was. Things are different now. It's unfair, he thinks. Everything worked against them back then. Everything that went wrong for them seems to fit perfectly in place for Yoongi and Jimin now.

It hurts, to be on the forsaken side of a star-crossed love.

"How long have you known Kris Wu?" Yoongi asks, interrupting Seokjin's thoughts.

Seokjin's lips twist at Yoongi's tone and he frowns at the scowl Yoongi is sending him. "I met him today."

"Today?" Yoongi repeats, aghast.

"Yes, today. Why is that so shocking?"

Yoongi sniffs and glances away for a moment. "You seemed really intimate for strangers."

Seokjin's mouth drops open. "Intimate?"

Yoongi glares at him and straightens his back, nodding to confirm his words. "Yes. Intimate."

Seokjin scoffs. "How in the world were we 'intimate'?"

Yoongi gestures vaguely at Seokjin with his right hand. "He had his hand on your waist."

He rolls his eyes. "That's what you consider intimate?"

Yoongi's frown deepens and he blows out a frustrated breath, the puff of air condensing in the cold to look like smoke. "It is intimate."

"I thought you wanted to talk," Seokjin says, trying to get back on topic and rein in the irritation that's quickly building to anger under his skin. It shouldn't matter what Yoongi thinks anymore. It shouldn't matter, but it does, stupidly, foolishly. It does and he hates it.

"We are talking," Yoongi spits out, crossing his arms across his chest.

"About someone's hand on my waist?"

"Yes!"

"You're ridiculous, Yoongi," Seokjin says. He sighs and steps forward, reaching his fingers out to wrap around Yoongi's wrist. "I'll prove it to you." He pulls Yoongi's hand and places it firmly on his waist.

It is a grave mistake, he realizes instantly.

Yoongi stumbles into Seokjin with the momentum of Seokjin's pull, his fingers tightening as soon as Seokjin places them on his waist. Even through the layers of fabric between their skin, Yoongi's touch is electric, shocks of sensation running through Seokjin's veins just at a brush of his fingers. He should have remembered that, should have known better.

Suddenly the sharp chill of the evening disappears, replaced by pulsing heat. Seokjin feels his neck and ears and cheeks grow red, feels the warmth of Yoongi's hand on his waist travel through his entire body, in his bones and blood and shuddering out through his lungs. He can't seem to think properly anymore, can't seem to breathe evenly, every inhale shaky and every exhale heavy. His heart beats hard against his ribs, trying to break free, trying to get closer to Yoongi.

Yoongi's hand tightens, a heavy pressure that Seokjin doesn't ever want to disappear. He cannot look away from Yoongi's eyes, the way they widen, the way his pupils dilate, they way they only see him, that sweet poison he's craved for years.

Yoongi shifts, closer, invading all of Seokjin's senses. He can smell Yoongi's cologne now, an unfamiliar scent, sweet and deep, so different from the sharp pine he used years ago. Seokjin wants to know when he switched, wants to know the shape and color and name of the cologne, wants to know everything about Yoongi, just like he used to. He settles for breathing in deep, inhaling the sweet notes, hoping they imprint into his heart somehow, another piece of Yoongi he can hold onto hopelessly.

Yoongi's hand flexes, shifts, long fingers tracing the curve. Seokjin fights the urge to let his eyes flutter closed.

Yoongi's chest brushes Seokjin's. He tips his head up and for a moment, Seokjin thinks his eyes flicker to Seokjin's lips, contemplating.

"Did I prove my point?" Seokjin asks, somehow connecting words into a coherent sentence.

Yoongi's eyes flick back to Seokjin's, desperately searching. His hand flexes on Seokjin's waist again. "I think you proved mine."

Seokjin licks his lips, inhales again, sweet and deep and Yoongi. "Yoongi," he says softly. Yoongi's hand presses further into Seokjin's waist, hot and heavy and searing. "What do you want?" he asks, the words directly from his heart, thumping a painful beat of hope he thought he vanquished.

Yoongi exhales slowly and says, nearly a whisper, "I don't know."

He keeps Seokjin's gaze for a moment longer before he finally releases his hold on Seokjin's waist and steps back. Seokjin feels the freezing December air hit him with sudden force, his shoulders bunching against the cold, his limbs shivering, and still. Still he can feel the imprint of Yoongi's heated touched on his side.

Seokjin swallows and straightens his shoulders, tilting his chin up. "I have to find Jimin," he says, stepping around Yoongi. "Have a nice night."

He walks away and fights the urge to look back at Yoongi, shoving his hands into his pockets again and pressing his lips together tight to keep from chattering.

He realizes with a growing dread that if Yoongi had held on just a little longer, Seokjin would have melted right into his arms, despite everything. He exhales quickly and makes his way back into the party, his face a deep red that has nothing to do with the cold.

&&&

Jungkook doesn't confess his feelings to Jimin that night in the garden. He had planned to, a list of phrases and sentences strung together loosely in his head that he hoped would convey his heart somewhat, with enough conviction to convince Jimin of his sincerity. But as they walked side-by-side through the hedges and trees, Jungkook swallowed down the words, instead listening intently as Jimin described his nervous excitement for his upcoming performance. This is Jimin's time, Jungkook thought. He'll wait patiently, keep his words safe and warm in the space between his ribs until the time is perfect.
Yoongi was right, like he always is. He has to be careful and slow.

It's hard to sleep that night, after they part ways and go to their respective hotels. Jungkook's chest feels too full, with nervous anticipation and affection and worries, a kaleidoscope of possibilities constantly shifting angles and reflections.

Yoongi, it seems, cannot sleep either, but Jungkook does not know why. He hears Yoongi making coffee in the kitchenette and wonders if his sleeplessness is for similar reasons, a chest too full of love and hopes. Or maybe he's working again, Jungkook realizes, finally drifting off to sleep. He can hear the rumbling timbre of Yoongi's voice speaking softly, barely audible as it floats in from the living room. Yoongi is recording something.

Jungkook's brow furrows but sleep takes him before the confused thought can fully manifest. It doesn't sound like Yoongi's rapping at all. It sounds a lot more like a confession.

Jungkook sleeps late, and yet still the day drags on until finally it's time to go to the venue for the show. He resists calling Jimin all day, trying not to bother him before the big event. Instead, he writes a dozen text messages he keeps in draft and obsessively plays his games to keep his mind occupied.

The pass that Jungkook has for the event is limited solely for the seating area, presumably the best a rookie like Jimin could acquire, but Yoongi manages to get them both all-access passes. When they arrive, they are able to head backstage.

Yoongi lags behind, stopping to talk to a few old acquaintances while Jungkook makes his way to Jimin's dressing room. He pauses in front of the door, a makeshift PARK JIMIN sign taped to it. He smiles when he sees Jimin's writing scrawled in black marker on the sign with an addendum of +KIM SEOKJIN. It's cute.

He inhales slowly and raises his fist, knocking lightly with his knuckle.

"Come in," Seokjin calls out.

Jungkook slowly opens the door and steps inside, smiling immediately when he sees Jimin, already dressed in a flowing white shirt and blue pants. He grins when he sees Jungkook, and Jungkook thinks the lights just turned on, a hundred bulbs brightening the space in the split second it took for Jimin's lips to lift.

"Jungkookie, you made it," Jimin crones. He starts to giggle happily but the sound is cut off by a cough.

Jungkook's face falls. "Are you okay?"

"Ah, I'm fine, I'm fine. Just a little cough," he says dismissively.

Jungkook glances to Seokjin, sees him frowning, eyes serious. A pit of dread bubbles in his stomach.

"You were coughing a lot last night," Seokjin says.

Jimin grins and shakes his head. "I'm really okay. I just have to make it through three and a half minutes." He pats at Seokjin's arm. "Don't worry, don't worry."

A sharp knock on the door draws their attention. Jungkook glances at the assistant who pokes her head into the room, a headset around her neck and a clipboard clenched in her hands.

"Jimin-ssi? We need you to cue up now."

"Ah, coming," Jimin says, huffing out a quick breath, his first sign of nervousness.

"Are you sure you're okay?" Jungkook asks as they head toward the stage, the assistant leading them and Seokjin following behind.

Jimin knocks his shoulder against Jungkook's, a spot of warmth blooming at the contact. "Just watch me dance, Jungkook-ah. I expect lots of praises, so watch carefully."

Jungkook laughs, his nose scrunching up, and lets his hand hang loose by his side, brushing against Jimin's as they walk. Eventually, however, they have to part ways as the assistant takes Jimin under the massive stage.

"Good luck," Jungkook calls out, waving at Jimin. He doesn't know if Jimin can hear him over the thunderous crowd and blaring music of the current performance.

Seokjin taps Jungkook's elbow with the back of his hand. "I know a place where we can watch with a good view."

Jungkook follows Seokjin backstage, around corners and weaving through hallways until they're just off stage behind where Jimin is supposed to appear. Jungkook worries at his bottom lip, trying to find Jimin's outline in the dark, the banter from the MCs on the opposite stage a garbled chatter he doesn't care to understand, his mind too focused on Jimin.

Seokjin laughs and slaps the back of his neck hard, snapping him back to himself. "You're more nervous than Jimin is," Seokjin says, eyes twinkling with amusement.

Jungkook makes a face and starts to protest, but Seokjin pinches the back of his neck.

"Relax. Trust Jimin. He has this."

Jungkook looks back to the stage and releases the air in his lungs. "I am relaxed," he defends.

Seokjin scoffs but if he was going to reply with anything else, Jungkook will never know. At that moment, Yoongi appears, his gaze locked on Seokjin. Seokjin's face shutters into a neutral expression and his arm drops from Jungkook's shoulders.

Yoongi has his hands in his pant pockets, his shoulders hunching up. "Can I have a minute?" he asks, nodding his head away from the stage.

Seokjin's lips press together and his eyes flicker in indecision before he nods and steps away from Jungkook.

Jungkook watches them leave together, footsteps synchronized but a significant gap between their shoulders, and hopes whatever they discuss, it will help Yoongi find sleep again.

His attention shifts back to the stage as the tell-tale notes of Jimin's routine starts.

Jungkook has seen Jimin practice his routine a hundred times, but there's something different about it now. The lights and the space and the awed exclamations from the crowd elevate it from something brilliant to something otherworldly. And then there's Jimin himself, the way he transforms, limbs fluid and steps like he's made of air, light and transient. Jungkook feels as though he has been transported to another world, full of wonder. It's breathtaking, and he thinks he may have fallen a little more, a little harder, a little deeper.

Drawn closer into Jimin's heart.

Jimin finishes his routine flawlessly and runs over to Jungkook as soon as the lights shut off, plunging his side of the stage into darkness. He's dripping with sweat and panting from lack of oxygen, but Jungkook thinks he looks like a fairy. The thought is fleeting, because Jimin stumbles as he reaches Jungkook, his heart dropping into his stomach with worry.

Jimin's cheeks are too dark, his teeth chattering even with the heat from the lights. Jungkook reaches forward to steady Jimin, gripping his arms tight. "Are you okay?"

"Hmm," Jimin confirms, correcting his stance and grinning at Jungkook. "Did I do well?"

Jungkook's eyes flicker over Jimin again, trying to assess him, but Jimin pouts at him.

"Yah! Answer my question, Jeon Jungkook."

Jungkook puts his worries aside and smiles at Jimin. He seems okay, he thinks hopefully. It was probably just the exertion of the routine. "You were okay," he says, and laughs when Jimin hits him in disappointment.

Jimin was magical, his heart replies. He thinks maybe Jimin's heart heard him, because his answering smile shines brighter than the sun.

&&&

It's hard to sleep at night, with the imprint of Yoongi's hand still searing on Seokjin's waist. It shouldn't leave such a lasting impression. The skin of his side still looks exactly the same, no marks, no bruises, but he can still feel the pressure, the electricity that thrums through his veins. He hardly recalls where Kris allegedly held his waist, but Seokjin thinks he can trace the outline of every individual finger of Yoongi's hand.

Seokjin doesn't sleep, spends the night watching television shows he doesn't know on mute, and listening to the beat of his heart telling him sweet fantasies he wants to believe. That Yoongi wants more from him than closure. That things will be different this time around.

That he has a reason to hope.

Dawn breaks without any answers, and soon he's helping Jimin prepare for his MAMA performance, a dozen tasks to accomplish and no time for dreams in the daylight. But when he sends Jimin off on stage, every task completed and a hush comes over his mind again, tired and accomplished, his heart thumps again, speaking thoughts of Yoongi and waking dreams, visions that he's been trying to ignore for weeks. Second chances and a fragile kind of anticipation, a hovering of maybes muttered under his breath.

Almost like a magic spell, Yoongi appears, silently coming up behind him as if conjured from his thoughts. Seokjin wonders vaguely if he summoned him back to Korea somehow. If he had known it was possible, he would have summoned Yoongi sooner, selfishly drawing him back.

Seokjin drops his arm from Jungkook's shoulders and looks expectantly at Yoongi.

Yoongi looks tired, dark circles under his eyes that tell of a sleepless night similar to Seokjin's. He keeps his gaze steady on Seokjin, and Seokjin thinks he's asking something silently, a plea he's not sure he should interpret. "Can I have a minute?" Yoongi asks finally, nodding his head away from the stage.

Seokjin presses his lips together, unsure if this is wise. He should avoid Yoongi. End it, done, just like he did years ago. But his heart is speaking enchantments through his veins and he nods, stepping away from the stage to follow Yoongi, his resolve weakened by a night of waking dreams he never forgot.

Yoongi waits for Seokjin to fall into step with him. There is a distinct distance between their bodies, and yet a connection ties them together without physical contact, their pace matched perfectly despite everything. Seokjin rubs a hand on his waist, trying to forget the weight of Yoongi's hand that still lingers like a haunting.

Yoongi remains silent as they walk through the hallways, and Seokjin focuses on the sound of their feet hitting the laminated floor in unison, a doubled sound, echoes synchronizing. The further they walk from the stage, the quieter it is, the performance filtered by walls and production crew all busy at the show.

Yoongi stops when they arrive at Jimin's dressing room. He opens the door and gestures for Seokjin to enter. Seokjin frowns, the room pitch dark as the lights have been switched off, something he doesn't recall doing when he left mere minutes ago. He walks in and reaches for the light switch.

"Don't," Yoongi says, his voice loud compared to the silence they've indulged in.

Seokjin's hand hovers over the light switch. "It's pitch black in here," he says.

"Just," Yoongi replies, the door clicking shut behind him, isolating the two of them. It feels intimate, and the tips of Seokjin's fingers tingle, left over electricity sparking from yesterday. "Just trust me for a minute," Yoongi says.

Seokjin's fingers curl into a loose fist and he takes his hand down, letting it hand by his side. "Okay," he says softly.

"Here," Yoongi says, turning on the flash on his phone, providing a small spot of harsh light. He comes up to Seokjin, placing it in his hands, their fingers sliding together. Seokjin's hand flexes as Yoongi's leaves his grip. "You can go sit down. Please."

Seokjin wraps his fingers tight around Yoongi's phone and makes his way to one of the couches, sitting on the edge of the seat and trying to follow Yoongi's vague outline with the sparse light the flash provides him. It's strange, but not in the way it should be. It's strange in its familiarity, in the way it doesn't seem out of place. It's strange in the way it feels like Yoongi five years ago, planning small surprises to make Seokjin smile unexpectedly.

It's strange in the way it almost feels like Yoongi is his again.

He hears Yoongi moving something around, a crinkles or a rustle, and then the unmistakable flick of his lighter, a small flame appearing and illuminating Yoongi's face in soft, warm light. Seokjin's mouth drops open, his eyes widening and he blinks, suddenly emotional.

Yoongi approaches him with a cupcake topped with a single lighted candle. He places it carefully on the low table in front of Seokjin and stands back, the soft light from the flame and the sharp concentrated light from his phone marking out his outline.

"Yoongi, what is this?" he asks, voice bewildered.

"Today's your birthday," Yoongi answers. "You never get to celebrate your birthday because of these stupid awards."

Seokjin's breath shudders in his lungs and he presses his fingers into his thighs, attempting to wake himself up from the daydream he is certain he is having. He looks at Yoongi, wishes he could see his face more clearly, wishes he could know for certain what this gesture means. Nostalgia, or some kind of lingering affection for the past, or something more substantial. Something he can hold onto and hope for.

Seokjin struggles to find words to piece together. He makes a confused noise and finally just says, "Why?"

It isn't exactly eloquent or clearly perceivable, but Yoongi seems to understand, hearing the words unspoken, the telepathy they always joked about all too real. Why is Yoongi doing this for Seokjin. Why is he thinking about Seokjin. Why.

"I'm trying to understand something," Yoongi answers, crouching by the table, his face illuminated by the flame.

"What do you want to know?" Seokjin asks, eyes locked on Yoongi's. He presses his fingers deeper into his thighs, trying to anchor himself. Yoongi looks at him over the flame of the candle, eyes shifting. "I've seen so many versions of you, I don't know which one was real."

Seokjin's chest throbs, painful beats of his heart at the vulnerability in Yoongi's eyes, at the honest hurt that Seokjin wilfully inflicted. There are doubts in Yoongi's face, a question of their entire relationship hanging over his head. What part was real. What part was pretend. He cannot reconcile the Seokjin who agreed to marry him to the one who walked away.

Seokjin doesn't have any easy answers for him. It was their fate, their lot in life. It was everything around them, and Yoongi's stubbornness and youthful recklessness. It was Seokjin's conviction and faith in their dreams. He cannot say the words, too painful to pull them out by the roots wrapped tight around his heart. Instead, he answers truthfully. "They were all me," he says.

Yoongi stares at him, unmoving for a moment, before he glances down at the cupcake again, the candle burning down to the icing, droplets of wax coating the once pristine frosting. "You should make a wish before the candle goes out," he says.

Seokjin doesn't want to blow out the flame again. He doesn't want this moment to end, him and Yoongi face-to-face in the dark, where everything seems possible, where his dreams seem to be an arm-length away.

"It's bad luck to let it burn out," Yoongi prompts.

"I've never heard that before," he says, watching the flame undulate with the force of his breath.

"I made it up. Make a wish."

He wonders if he's allowed to make the wish he wants. He's starting to hope, even thought he knows it's dangerous, even though he knows the devastation that awaits him when it proves false. His eyes scan Yoongi's face, his heart swells in his chest. Even if it'll hurt, he wants to hope.

He lets his eyes close and blows out a steady breath, the flame flickering out.

Please.

Yoongi shuffles around and turns the lights back on. Seokjin flinches as his eyes adjust to the flood of brightness. Yoongi walks back to the low table and sighs at the cupcake, covered in wax. "It's inedible now," he says, frowning.

Seokjin leans forward and starts picking off the drying pieces of wax. “I can save it.” He smiles wistfully. “I really appreciate it, Yoongi-yah. Even when we were dating, we never got to spend my birthday together.”

“We weren't ‘dating’,” Yoongi says, a frown evident in his tone.

Seokjin glances up and blinks when he sees the frown twisting Yoongi’s lips. “What?”

“We were going to get married,” Yoongi says, his frown deepening. “It was more than just dating.”

Seokjin pauses, staring at Yoongi, trying to read his mind like he used to. He says slowly, “You're right. It was.” It hurts to use the past tense but it helps bring him back to the present, helps to regulate his heartbeat, settling back into something that he can pretend is normal.

The door opens before either of them can elaborate, and Seokjin sees Jungkook and Jimin enter the room. Seokjin realizes with a flash of guilt that he missed Jimin’s entire performance. He pastes a smile on his lips and looks to Jimin, preparing to apologize. “How did it go?”

“It was great, but I don't think Jimin is feeling well,” Jungkook says, frowning, his eyes concerned and unmoving on Jimin. He walks Jimin to the couch and helps him settle down.

Seokjin frowns at Jimin, bending to look at his face. “You okay?”

Jimin nods. “Just tired. Can I have some water?” he asks, his voice faint and hoarse. He sighs heavily and leans his head down, placing his hands on his temples to ward off something.

Seokjin starts to get up but sees Yoongi already grabbing a bottle of water. He looks back to Jimin, intent on checking his temperature. He has a stark moment of panic as he watches the color drain from Jimin’s face, his body slumping over, unconscious.

“Hyung!” Jungkook cries out in shock, voice trembling.

Seokjin reacts on instinct, catching Jimin and laying him down on the couch, checking his breathing and pulse. Fear courses through his veins but he stomps down on the terror and focuses on what needs to be done. He looks up, sees panic start to take over Jungkook, his breathing too quick, his eyes too wide. “Jungkook, I need you to get a first aid attendant,” he says, keeping his voice firm and commanding.

“Right, okay, first aid,” Jungkook repeats, sprinting out of the room with a speed Seokjin has never seen before.

Yoongi steps beside Seokjin, handing him the bottle of water. “What do you need me to do?”

“We’ll have to get him to the hospital regardless. Can you arrange for a car? Without the reporters around?”

“Okay.” Yoongi places his hand on Seokjin’s shoulder, squeezing reassuringly. Seokjin didn’t realize how fast the panic was growing in his blood until now, Yoongi’s comforting hand grounding him. “He’ll be okay, hyung.”

Seokjin presses his lips tight together and nods. Yoongi leaves the room quietly and Seokjin tries to cool Jimin down, repeating Yoongi’s words in his head. Jimin will be okay. Yoongi said he’ll be okay.

And he knows he can trust Yoongi’s word.

&&&

Jimin is okay, regaining consciousness even before they reach the hospital, though he continues to complain of dizziness and nausea. The doctor at the hospital says it's exhaustion, overwork and lack of sleep. She spends a few minutes scolding Jimin, and then Yoongi and Seokjin who she assumes are his company representatives.

"I understand idol schedules are extensive, but your health cannot be replaced. Take care of it."

She assures them that Jimin just needs to rest, and advises that he cannot fly for four to five days, the air pressure changes too taxing on Jimin until he recovers.

Relief is swift and heady, but the adrenaline is still thankfully running through Seokjin's system. He has phone calls to make and plans to rearrange and paperwork to complete. Yoongi suggests they take Jimin back to his hotel suite. Neither his fans or the media will look for him at a hotel he isn't supposed to be staying in, and he can rest well in the penthouse suite. Seokjin doesn't have any objections.

Once Seokjin helps Jimin to one of the plush beds in Yoongi and Jungkook's suite and makes sure the blanket is tucked snugly around him, he heads to the living room and starts on his long list of difficult phone calls. He contacts Jimin's parents first, and Jimin's vocal coach to cancel his upcoming sessions. He calls the airline to rearrange their return flight to a later date. He calls his own label, a decidedly unpleasant conversation where he explains that he cannot attend the album showcase and the first music show. The CEO is livid, but Seokjin just quietly listens to his scolding. He thinks funnily how useless it all is. The CEO cannot do anything to him that he hasn't already done, no punishment or threat that can make Seokjin move. He cannot terminate his contract, it's already done. He cannot blacklist him in the industry, he already kept Seokjin hidden for years without promotion.

He cannot threaten to destroy Yoongi's prospects anymore. Yoongi is far too powerful now to be touched.

Everything that seemed so fragile five years ago doesn't really matter anymore. It's funny, in a humorless kind of way.

He finally calls Hoseok, to let him know what happened. Hoseok is understandably distraught but to his credit, he remains calm as Seokjin explains the situation.

"I want to talk to Jiminie," Hoseok says when Seokjin finishes.

Seokjin heads back to the bedroom, sees Yoongi carefully changing the cooling pad on a sleeping Jimin's forehead, sees Jungkook sitting rigid in a chair by Jimin's bed, biting worriedly at his thumb. There's a pang of regret that he hasn't been able to take care of Jimin in the last hour of phone calls, hoisting the responsibility on Yoongi. He sighs and steps back into the living room.

"Jimin's asleep. I'll have him call you when he wakes up again," he tells Hoseok.

Hoseok makes a disappointed noise. "Okay." He sighs heavily over the line. "I should have watched his activities better. It's all my fault."

"It's the life of an idol," Seokjin soothes. "You remember it."

"I was supposed to do better than our management."

"You will. Now you know, and Jimin knows. You're not at fault. And neither is Jimin."

Hoseok is silent for a moment before he says, "Neither are you."

Seokjin isn't sure if he agrees but he remains silent.

"Fuck, we need to postpone the comeback," Hoseok says suddenly.

"What?"

"You won't get back in time. We have to postpone."

"We can't, Hoseok," Seokjin says. "The fansigns are booked. The media is scheduled. We're only doing one week of promotions. We had to beg for the promotions, you know they'll never allow it."

"We can't just, just go out there without you."

Seokjin sighs and lets his eyes close tiredly. "I'll just miss two days."

"We're supposed to be a team, hyung. Until the very end."

"I can't just leave Jimin," Seokjin says.

"Someone else can make the sacrifice this time, hyung," Hoseok says. "I'll fly out there and take care of Jimin."

"Hoseok, no. It'll be fine. I'll stay here for a few days and then join you guys for the rest of the comeback." Seokjin turns when he hears a noise, sees Yoongi watching him from the couch, eyes following him across the room. Seokjin wonders how long he's been there, and how tired he is that he never noticed. He sighs and says, "Hoseok, I'm hanging up now. Get some rest. There's no point in you and Jimin being sick at the same time."

Hoseok starts saying something but Seokjin hangs up the phone and slips it into his back pocket.

He turns to face Yoongi fully, the circles under his eyes dark and his eyelids drooping, obviously exhausted. "Thank you for taking care of Jimin," he says.

Yoongi waves his hand in dismissal. "It's not a problem."

"I'll take over now," he says, stepping toward the bedroom. "You should get some rest."

"Hyung," Yoongi calls out, and Seokjin stops in his tracks, that soft call of hyung arresting him. He doesn't know if it contains any of the lingering affection it used to, but his memories are enough to give the word precedence. "You need to rest, too."

Seokjin shakes his head. "I'm fine."

Yoongi sighs, frustrated, and stands. "Jimin is sleeping. You can't do more for him right now." He steps forward and lightly tugs on Seokjin's sleeve, trying to lead him to the couch. "There's no point in you and Jimin being sick at the same time," he says, parroting the words he told Hoseok.

Seokjin makes a face but complies readily, letting Yoongi tug him to the couch, too tired to protest any further. He settles down on his side, pillowing his hand under his head. "I'll just close my eyes for a minute," he says, already drifting off, the weight of the day dragging him down. His last thought before he falls asleep is that this is painfully familiar. In another time and another place, when his head throbbed and sinuses were clogged, but Yoongi's steady hand brushing through his hair was worth every discomfort.

When Seokjin opens his eyes, there’s soft light streaming in through the windows. He sighs, trying to shake off the disorientation. He must have been asleep for a lot longer than he anticipated. He sits up, carefully stretching his neck, gently coaxing the stuff muscles loose. Sometime in his slumber, someone wrapped a blanket around him. He pushes the comforter to the side and stands up, wandering to the kitchenette.

Jungkook is cleaning dishes in the small sink, sleeves rolled up and hair falling into his eyes. There’s a bowl of traditional porridge on the counter by his side, the only dish left untouched by his busy hands.

“Morning,” Seokjin says.

Jungkook looks up and gives him a brief smile. He looks exhausted, too. Face paler than normal and eyes swollen. “Morning,” he greets.

“How’s Jimin doing?”

“Better,” Jungkook says with obvious relief. “Still not one-hundred percent, but a lot better. He was able to eat some porridge at least.”

Seokjin glances at the bowl of porridge again. “You cooked?”

Jungkook shakes his head. “Yoongi-hyung made it.” He nods toward the bowl. “He said to make sure you eat that when you get up.”

Seokjin’s fingers curl into a loose fist. Yoongi’s very good at taking care of those around him, he thinks. This, too, hasn’t changed in the years. And it still makes Seokjin fall a little deeper for him.

Seokjin takes the porridge, cupping his hands around the bowl, still somewhat lukewarm. He glances around, looking for Yoongi. “Where is Yoongi?”

Jungkook shakes off a bowl and places it on a towel beside him. “He went to check you guys out of your hotel and bring back your luggage.”

Seokjin hadn’t even thought about that in the bustle of everything he was trying to hold together. He’s grateful to Yoongi for picking up what Seokjin dropped. For taking care of them without a single word. For being the steadfast, trustworthy man he fell in love with. Seokjin clutches the bowl a little tighter in his hands and wonders if he is allowed to fall for Yoongi again, if Yoongi would possibly want to fall for him again too.

“Did you get any sleep?” he asks Jungkook. Jungkook’s jaw clenches and he looks down at the dishes in the sink, a small shake of his head his only response. Seokjin sighs. “Sleep. Jimin wouldn’t want you to get sick as well.”

Jungkook nods. “I’ll try,” he concedes.

It’s not the response Seokjin wanted but he accepts it and makes his way to Jimin’s room to check on him. He finds Jimin propped up by several pillows on the bed, scrolling through his phone. Seokjin notes with relief that some of Jimin’s color has returned to his cheeks, though he still looks weak.

“Yah,” he says, grabbing Jimin’s attention. “You’re supposed to be sleeping,” he scolds.

Jimin’s lips dip into a pout. “I already slept so much.”

Seokjin shuffles onto the bed, awkwardly trying to keep the porridge in his hands from spilling. “You have a lot of sleep to catch up on.” He settles beside Jimin over the covers and flicks his eyes over him seriously. “Are you feeling better?”

Jimin smiles and nods. “A lot. I’m sorry for scaring you,” he adds a bit sheepishly.

“Hoseok is the one you’re going to have to apologize to,” Seokjin says with a wry smile. “You need to call him, by the way.”

Jimin shudders. “I know. He already left me ten messages.”

Seokjin laughs and takes his first bite of the porridge Yoongi made. It’s not bad, he thinks, a little proudly.

“Hyung,” Jimin starts, softly.

“Hmm?”

Jimin licks his lips. “Hyung, you should go back to Korea.”

Seokjin arches a brow and swallows. “I will. When you’re better.”

“Hyung, please, you can’t miss your comeback. I’ll be fine here. Yoongi-hyung can take care of me. He’s been doing a great job.”

Seokjin pauses, the admiration in Jimin’s tone causing a pang of misplaced jealousy. He looks down at the porridge in his hands and realizes, Yoongi made this for Jimin.

“I feel so guilty already,” Jimin continues. “There’s no reason for you to miss your last comeback with your members just because of me.”

Seokjin frowns. “I’ll think about it,” he says, shifting off the bed. “Go back to sleep,” he tells Jimin as he leaves, closing the door softly behind him.

Outside, Jungkook is slumped in one of the loveseats, head tossed back and mouth parted as he finally succumbs to sleep. Seokjin quietly edges his way past him to the kitchenette. He places the bowl of barely eaten porridge in the sick, his appetite lost, and tries to vanquish the dark, selfish thoughts spinning in his mind. He doesn’t resent Jimin, and he doesn’t resent Yoongi. He’s glad that Jimin has someone so reliable to care for him. He’s glad that Yoongi has someone so caring and loyal to support him. He’s glad they both seem happy and devoted.

But the dark side of him, the part that still yearns for a love he threw away, the part that screamed and cried and tore at his chest five years ago when he walked away, that part cries out in protest.

It was mine. It was mine.

He was mine.

It’s in the past. Seokjin deluded himself for a short while there, bought foolishly into false hope, let his dreams bleed too far into the daylight. They had to disappear like fog in the bright sun.

All Seokjin has left is the past, leaves long since fallen to the ground, buried under snow from the winter of their separation.

The dead leaves are his, but Yoongi is not.

Seokjin looks toward the door of the suite as he hears it unlock and open. Yoongi walks through quietly, both Seokjin and Jimin’s luggage in his grip. He carefully sets them by the door and slips his shoes off. He tosses his hair out of his eyes and looks up, pausing as he meets Seokjin’s gaze, his face impassive and unreadable.

“Hey,” Yoongi says, approaching Seokjin in the kitchenette, his voice quiet.

Seokjin forces a smile to his lips that he doesn’t quite feel.

“Did you sleep well?” Yoongi asks, leaning casually against the sink counter.

Seokjin nods. “Yeah. Thank you.”

Yoongi’s fingers fidget with his fringe, eyes glancing around the suite. “Hey, so. I wanted to talk to you. I think you should go back for your comeback.”

Seokjin swallows and his heart thumps a little too hard in his chest.

“You can leave Jimin to me,” Yoongi continues, eyes locked on Seokjin’s, imploring. “You can trust me to take care of him. You know you can trust me.”

Seokjin presses his lips together and nods, memories of all the ways Yoongi cared for him in the past flooding his mind. Yoongi takes care of those he cares about. Seokjin knows this from first-hand experience. He clears his throat. “Okay,” he says, a little dully, all objections silenced in his mind. There is no one on this earth that will take better care of Jimin, he knows.

Yoongi suddenly smiles, a little surprised at Seokjin’s easy agreement. “You’ll go?”

Seokjin nods and pushes away from the kitchenette. “I’ll get ready and leave soon,” he says, heading to the bathroom to freshen up.

It’s the right thing to do, for him, for Jimin, for Yoongi. It’s the right thing for everyone. He knows, because his heart aches with every heavy beat.

&&&

Jungkook has never known such an instant moment of fear as what he experienced when the life drained from JImin’s face and his body slumped forward into Seokjin’s arms. It felt like the ground pulled out from under his feet and he was left falling through the air, arms flailing, air rushing past him, and no place to land safely. He’s eternally thankful to Seokjin for giving him tasks, structure and small goals acting like branches to grab ahold of. He gets the first aid attendant, and retrieves ice, and does all sorts of errands until Jimin regains consciousness.

And then the guilt and shame set in.

It’s all his fault. He’s the one who kept Jimin up all night recording for weeks. He’s the one that doubled Jimin’s workload. He’s the one that kept bothering Jimin, kept pushing, selfishly and stupidly, and now he’s harmed the person he only wanted to protect.

He doesn’t say much to Jimin. An apology seems so completely lacking for what he’s done. Instead, he just hovers around, trying to find chores to keep busy with, trying to do something to earn back his peace of mind.

He finally succumbs to fatigue sometime in the early morning, sleeping fitfully for a couple hours on a loveseat. When he wakes up, he finds Yoongi in the kitchenette, mixing something in a shallow bowl.

"Hyung," Jungkook says, his voice croaky and groggy. He shakes his head and tries again. "What time is it?"

Yoongi doesn't look at him, but as Jungkook is still blinking sleep from his eyes, he places a water bottle in front of him. "Late morning."

"Oh." Jungkook opens the bottle and takes a long gulp of water, the cool liquid soothing as it travels down his throat.

"Seokjin left," Yoongi says, focusing on his task. "He told me to thank you for your help."

Jungkook makes a face. "He was the one doing everything," he says.

Yoongi smiles and hums in agreement.

Jungkook's eyes fall on the dark brownish liquid Yoongi is stirring. "What are you making?"

"A tonic for Jimin."

"It looks disgusting."

Yoongi glances up. "It is. But it'll help." He picks up the bowl carefully. "Come on, let's convince Jimin to drink it."

Jimin is already up when they enter the bedroom, looking bored as he flips through the television channels. He brightens when he sees them, smiling wide and eyes sparkling. It makes Jungkook's chest clench, with affection for Jimin, and guilt that he did anything to dull that light even for a moment.

"Did you come to keep me company?" Jimin asks cheerfully.

Yoongi hands Jimin the bowl. "Drink this."

Jimin eyes the liquid in the bowl suspiciously, then flicks his gaze up to Yoongi, eyes narrowed. "What is it?"

"Medicine. Drink up."

Jimin slowly inches the bowl up to his nose and sniffs, immediately recoiling in disgust. "What the hell is in here?"

"You really don't want to know," Yoongi answers. "Drink."

Jimin scowls at Yoongi and shakes his head stubbornly. "You drink it."

"I'm not sick."

"I'm feeling a lot better already."

Yoongi sighs and sits on the edge of Jimin's bed, staring very seriously at him. "Listen. I promised Seokjin-hyung that you would get better. I always keep my promises."

Jimin's eyes sparkle with mischief and amusement. "Especially to my Seokjin-hyungie?"

Yoongi's face remains impassive. "I keep all my promises." Jimin makes a face, disappointed. "But I only make promises to your Seokjin-hyungie. Now drink."

Jimin smiles, satisfied, and diligently lifts the liquid to his lips, taking a sip and gagging. Yoongi keeps his eyes steady on Jimin and he sighs, inhaling deeply and downing the rest of the liquid in one gulp. Jimin sticks out his tongue after he swallows, complaining about the taste. Yoongi hands him one of Jungkook's banana milks and takes the now empty bowl.

"Good job," he praises, patting Jimin's head before he leaves.

Jungkook moves to follow Yoongi but Jimin calls out, "Jungkook-ah, stay."

Jungkook stops and turns to look at Jimin, his lips turned down into a pout that pulls at Jungkook's heart.

Jimin pats the spot beside him on the bed. "Stay. Let's watch a movie."

Jungkook presses his lips into a thin line. "You should sleep."

Jimin rolls his eyes. "Watching a movie doesn't require a lot of energy, you know." Jungkook hesitates but Jimin keeps beckoning him. "I promise to sleep after one movie."

Jungkook nods, unable to deny Jimin's overtures. He settles stiffly on the bed, bracketing himself by the edge and as far away from Jimin as possible without falling off. Jimin sends him a strange look tinged with disappointment and what looks like hurt. Jungkook ignores it and picks up the remote, browsing through the channels.

"What kind of movie do you want to watch?" he asks, staring resolutely ahead at the television.

"Jungkook-ah," Jimin says slowly, carefully. "Did I make you mad?"

Jungkook blinks, shocked, and looks at Jimin. "What?"

Jimin huffs, annoyed. "I thought you liked me. Like like, you know? And I'm here sick and you should be pampering me but you're being weirdly moody and distant. Figuratively and literally," he says, gesturing to the space between them. "You can't be mad at a sick person, Jungkook-ah. It's against the rules."

There is so much in Jimin's words that Jungkook is having a hard time grasping all of it, his mouth agape as he tries to piece it all together.

"No!" he finally manages to spit out, a little louder than he planned.

Jimin jolts. "What?"

"I'm not mad at you. I'm mad at me. It's all my fault that you got sick. If I didn't make you help me with the song – "

"You didn't make me," Jimin protests.

"I'm still to blame. I should have waited until you were free – "

"Stop, stop, stop," Jimin says, waving his hands in the air.

Jungkook swallows the rest of his words, staring wide-eyed at Jimin, his heart racing so fast he can feel the beat in the tips of his ears.

"I have one question," Jimin says. "Okay?"

Jungkook nods slowly.

"Do you like me the way I like you?"

Jungkook's face heats with a flush. He glances down at his hands in his lap, fiddling with the remote nervously. He finally nods, the movement stilted and uneven. "Yes. Probably more."

"Okay," Jimin says. Jungkook glances up and finds him grinning, his eyes bright and full of affection. It's like magic, Jungkook thinks, sudden and awe-inspiring, how one smile from Jimin can change Jungkook's world. It's like breathing, he thinks, natural and automatic, feeding Jimin instead of oxygen into his bloodstream. "We don't have a problem, then," Jimin continues. "If we both like each other."

Jungkook starts to protest again, starts to reason out why he doesn't deserve Jimin, why Jimin is better without him, how he's afraid of making another mistake, but Jimin shakes his head, still grinning.

"You're kind of dumb," he says, shuffling on the bed, crawling until he's face-to-face with Jungkook. "It's okay. I'll still keep you." He closes the distance between them, his lips pressing into Jungkook's.

All thoughts stop in Jungkook's head and he inhales, letting Jimin filter in and push everything else out. He closes his eyes and sinks further into Jimin's lips, warmth spreading so quickly through his entire body that he feels lightheaded.

It's a short kiss, Jimin pulling back and sending him a giggling smile before he shifts to sit next to Jungkook. He lifts Jungkook's arm and drapes it over his own shoulders, settling comfortably by his side.

Jungkook's heart flutters in his chest, threatening to escape. He licks his lips, feeling them tingle continuously.

Jimin takes the remote from Jungkook's slack hand and flicks through the channels.

"You promised me one movie," he says, his smile audible in his voice. "And you should keep all your promises to your boyfriend."

Jungkook cannot seem to wrap his mind around everything just yet, so he lets instinct take over. He smiles and presses his arm more securely around Jimin, letting his head rest on the top of Jimin's. "Noted," he says.

"Good," Jimin muses, choosing a movie. "You'll make a good boyfriend."

Jungkook smiles. He's going to be the best boyfriend. Jimin deserves nothing less.

&&&

Seokjin is one of the first to board his plane back to Korea. He stows his carry-on bag in the overhead compartment and settles into his seat, watching as passengers walk past to him their own seats. He closes his eyes and tries to drift off into sleep but his thoughts keep him up.

He sighs, giving up, and stares out the window at the tarmac.

He's been holding on to the past for too long, physically existing in the present while his heart still replays the memories he holds close. He's realized now that he let Yoongi go five years ago, but he held on to the relationship, a lonely intimacy that pales in comparison to what they used to be. He held on because he couldn't make himself let go, first as a bandage to stop from bleeding out, but now he's let the wound fester unattended. He had wanted to hold Yoongi in his heart forever, but he knows that isn't right. He needs to make room for someone else, and that means removing Yoongi's place in his heart.

He determines to leave Yoongi and all they were in Hong Kong, start fresh when he arrives back in Seoul. And one day, he hopes he can be happy for Yoongi.

When the plane lifts off into the air, and he's no longer on the ground, in an in between space, fleeting and far away from reality, he lets himself hope for one last time. He's not in Korea yet, he can hold on for just a little longer.

He stares out at the clouds beneath the plane and makes the same wish he did when he blew out the candle on his birthday cupcake, foolish and futile.

He wishes, for once, he didn't have to make the right decisions, the ones that pierce into his chest and carve a scar onto his heart. He wishes he could make the wrong decisions, heedless of the consequences.

Wishes are poor excuses for dreams and hopes, but for the moment, it is a balm for his heart. Here, hovering above the ground, in the isolated space that defies the laws of gravity, in this moment, Seokjin can wish one last time.

Chapter Text

The first thing Seokjin does when he lands back in Seoul is head directly to the salon. It's a odd choice, but Seokjin missed the team visit to the salon for the comeback hairstyles while delayed in Hong Kong. He knows once he gets to the practice room, he won't emerge until their showcase.

He's slightly worried that his regular hairstylist won't be available. She's generally booked for weeks and Seokjin didn't even give her an hour of warning, but he should have known not to worry. She clears out her schedule, rearranging clients with sweet talk and promises of a discount.

"I'm really sorry," Seokjin says as he slips into the styling chair. "I should have given you more warning before coming over."

"Shut up," she answers, good-natured and cheerful. She wraps a smock around Seokjin to protect his clothes and leans down to meet his eyes in the mirror. "I was with you when you debuted. I need to be here for E.L.'s last comeback." She straightens and sighs, running her hands through his hair, evaluating. "You had a good run, for a while there." She makes a face and her fingers tighten a little painfully in his hair. "Until your company screwed it up."

"Ow!" Seokjin exclaims, and she immediately releases his strands, petting him in apology.

"Sorry, I get angry easily." She huffs out a breath and sets a smile on her lips. "So. What am I doing? Refreshing the dye and giving you a trim?"

Seokjin stares at his reflection in the mirror. He's tired. Tired of the same hair he keeps in case of an acting offer that his company doesn't accept. Tired of pulling himself back, tired of always thinking of the consequences, tired of being the responsible one.

The album photos have already been taken and printed. The music video is finished, filmed and edited and ready for upload. He knows he needs to stick with his current hairstyle, but he's just so tired of not getting what he wants. It's a small rebellion. It won't matter in a week when the music shows are all over. He can handle one more week, the responsible part of his mind tells him. He purses his lips. He's tired of being tired.

"Pink," he says suddenly.

His stylist blinks, her hands faltering in his hair. "Pardon?"

"I want pink hair."

She grips his shoulder too tight, fingers digging into the muscle in her excitement, her eyes wide and bright. He whines in protest at her grip but she ignores him. "Are you sure? Really, really sure? What about the album?"

Seokjin shrugs, more to try to dislodge her fingers than anything else, but thankfully it works. "I'm really, really sure. Make it pink."

"You're going to look so good," she starts excitedly. "Leave it to me."

He emerges a few hours later, pink hair hidden under a baseball cap and a satisfied grin on his lips.

Hoseok is the only one in the dance practice room when Seokjin arrived, already running through the routine. He stops and smiles when he sees Seokjin. He grabs the remote for the speakers and shits off the title track, waving Seokjin over to him.

"How was your flight?"

Seokjin arranges his luggage by the wall, neatly tucking it in by Hoseok's bags. He unzips it to find a change of shoes. "It was okay."

"And Jiminie? He's doing better?"

"He's recovering very quickly." Seokjin straightens and smiles at Hoseok. "Bored out of his mind."

Hoseok makes a face. "He's not acting like it. He hardly responds to my messages."

"You're sending twelve an hour," Seokjin says, laughing. "I heard them coming in on Jimin's phone."

"I'm worried," Hoseok says, pouting.

Seokjin sobers and sends Hoseok a reassuring smile. "You don't need to be. Yoongi's taking care of him. There aren't any more capable hands in the world."

Hoseok's eyes waver on Seokjin, his mouth dipping into a serious frown. "You really think they're dating?"

Seokjin shrugs. "Maybe. I don't know it it's official yet."

Hoseok sighs. "It's just really weird. Yoongi's attention is on you."

Seokjin frowns, thinking about Yoongi's quiet words in the glow of his birthday candle, about Yoongi's vehement plea to leave Jimin in his care. "There's a...." His frown deepens as he tries to find the words to express his thought. "There's a lingering attachment to me, I guess. Left over affection that didn't fade away yet." Seokjin smiles, the ache in his chest almost sweet, the sting of nostalgia, of a happy something that had to end before he was ready to let it go. "It's more than I thought I'd ever receive from him again. But that's all it is. His attention is on Jimin now."

Yoongi takes care of those he loves, Seokjin thinks. There's no greater proof of that than what happened in Hong Kong.

"Yoongi deserves a fresh start." Seokjin holds Hoseok's gaze. "I hope you'll be supportive."

Hoseok scoffs. "I'm not a monster. Whoever Jimin wants to date, it's okay. I just can't" – Hoseok moves his hands back and forth together to illustrate his thought – "I can't get it, is all. It's so weird."

"You're still thinking about the Yoongi from five years ago."

Hoseok doesn't look convinced.

"And Jimin's been acting a little strange lately, right?"

Hoseok frowns. "He's always upstairs at Namjoon's. And texting. And laughing to himself."

Seokjin's smile is a little harder to keep on his lips, his cheeks burning with the effort but he manages to keep his expression steady. "See?"

Hoseok's lips curl but he reluctantly says, "I guess."

Seokjin sits on the floor to start stretching. "Be happy for them," he says, though he's not sure if he meant it for Hoseok or himself. Be happy and thankful for a chance to see Yoongi again, grown into the man he knew he would become. Be happy for the second chance to end things, a little nicer, a little softer, a little less painfully. Be happy for new beginnings, a brilliant sunrise after the long night.

"What's up, my friends?"

Hoseok and Seokjin glance to the door to watch Hyosang enter the room.

"I'm not late," Hyosang says cheerfully to Hoseok.

Hoseok glances at his watch, arching a brow, surprise widening his eyes. "I'm astonished. You're really not."

Hyosang makes a face. "I wouldn't miss a moment of our last gruelling dance practice." He shudders. "I'm s glad I don't have to do this anymore. I mean. I love you Hoseok, but you're a masochist to like this."

Hoseok scowls at Hyosang. "Maybe I'm a sadist. I like to see you suffer."

"I'm going to miss that sharp tongue of yours," Hyosang says, clutching his chest. He glances at Seokjin, his eyes widening and mouth dropping open. "Is your hair pink?"

Seokjin's hands reach up to his hat. "You can see it under my hat?"

Hyosang runs up to Seokjin, crouching to get a better look. "It's sticking out at the sides." He tugs the cap off Seokjin's head. "It's so bright."

"It doesn't match the album," Seokjin says. "The company will probably have a fit-"

"Fuck them," Hoseok huffs. "It looks great."

Seokjin grins. "It does, doesn't it?"

"Can I dye my hair green?" Hyosang asks.

Hoseok rolls his eyes and hits the button on the speakers, immediately blasting their title track. "You can if you can escape. We're not leaving this room until I'm happy with the routine."

Hyosang flicks wide eyes to Seokjin. "Dance Instructor Hoseok is back," he stage whispers, and scrambles into position to start stretching.

Seokjin blows out a long breath and folds himself in half, stretching out the muscles in his thighs and back. He tries not to think about how this is the last time the three of them will ever spend the night before a comeback together.

New beginnings, he reminds himself.

Be happy.

Whatever that means.

&&&

E.L. has one fansign for their last comeback due to the short promotions and their company's disinterest in sales of the album. It seems like the CEO at Kelly Inch isn't interested in anything but selling the company off as soon as possible. Seokjin wishes he could feel surprised, but he's known the CEO for too many years.

Most of the fans that attend the fansign are teary eyed, even as the members try to make jokes and keep the atmosphere light. The room is heavy with awareness of the time ticking away steadily. A small accumulation of minutes left and this, this togetherness, is over.

Seokjin proceeds through a steady stream of fans thanking him, wishing him well, or just complimenting him as he signs their albums one by one. Many of them tell him about their families, spouses and children, or their struggles at work. They've grown up, just like he has, and he thinks there is something irreplaceably special about that. They've been together and become who they are in part due to their connection. He hopes he leaves them with happy memories of this last fansign, telling old man jokes and smiling wide for them.

The line dwindles until only a few fans are left waiting for their albums and the brief moments of time they spend talking. He smiles as the next person shuffles her knees over to his spot.

"Oppa!" she says abruptly and he startles slightly at the sudden exclamation. He holds his chest while she continues, unperturbed. "I almost died when I saw the articles about you going to the MAMAs. I thought you were going to perform."

He smiles at her, keeping eye contact. "Sorry to get your hopes up."

"It's okay. I don't mind waiting, but please tell me you'll be back sometime. I miss watching you. I miss hearing you sing."

Seokjin blinks and swallows around the lump that's starting to form in his throat. "I miss it, too," he says truthfully. He misses singing, letting his voice portray the emotions. He loves acting, too. He found a lot of success and fulfillment in his roles, but he misses singing. He misses everything.

The fan brightens, her eyes going wide. "You'll be back, right?"

Seokjin licks his lips, his fingers hovering over her album. He's been wavering in indecision for months, unable to commit to any of the offers presented to him. He has a stack of contracts on his desk at him, from acting agencies, from music labels. He's read through them all a dozen times already and still he wouldn't decide. He wouldn't let himself discard either pile, acting or singing, afraid of his own decisions, afraid of the consequences. Afraid that what his heart wants is the wrong choice, again.

Going to the MAMAs and watching the performances from the sidelines solidified something in him. Performing on music shows again made him understand. He wants the stage and the music and his voice singing to thousands and millions of people.

He sends the fan a wink and scribbled something secretively on her post-it.

Keep your eyes open. I'll be back.

He makes her promise not to read the note until she arrives safely back at home. She dubiously agrees and Seokjin laughs as she keeps fiddling with the pages of her album, flipping around the spot he hid the note.

After the fansign is over, after a dozen goodbyes and thank-yous to the fans, after a hundred we-love-yous from them, after all of it, the three members make their way to their changing room. Seokjin half expected Hoseok to start crying, but it's Hyosang who keeps wiping at his eyes and sniffling, mumbling about how much he's going to miss E.L. and all they've gone through.

Hoseok pats his back awkward as they walk into their dressing room.

Hyosang abruptly stops crying and it takes Seokjin a moment to realize why.
Jaehwan is here, sitting patiently on the couch, smiling and standing when he sees them enter. "You guys did great," he compliments.

"What, CEO Asshat couldn't be bothered to come so he sent his lackey?" Hyosang sneers, ignoring Jaehwan's friendly greeting and going over to grab his things.

Jaehwan purses his lips but remains silent, turning to smile at Hoseok and Seokjin. "The album is amazing."

Hoseok smiles in acknowledgement. "Thank you," he responds, a little stiffly. He has never been close to Jaehwan, though they were never unfriendly. They were distant and professional.

Seokjin heads over to Jaehwan and wraps his arms tight around his shoulders. "Thanks for coming."

Jaehwan pats Seokjin's back and squeezes him just as hard. "Of course. I'd never miss it." He pulls back, beaming. "You killed it." He reaches a hand up to lightly touch Seokjin's fringe. "And I love the hair."

Seokjin laughs and releases Jaehwan.

"I wanted to invite all of you out to eat. As a congratulations and a thank you," Jaehwan says, glancing around the room.

Hyosang scowls. "To the very end, this company fucks us over. Can't even show his face." He sends Jaehwan an insincere smile and grabs his bag. "I'll pass. 'Bye guys. It's been real." He squeezes Seokjin's shoulder as he passes. "Keep in touch."

"Always a pleasure, Hyosang," Jaehwan calls out as Hyosang leaves. He turns to Hoseok and opens his hands in a questioning gesture. "Hoseok-ah?"

Hoseok glances at Jaehwan, then to Seokjin. "I'll let you two catch up," he says. "All I want to do now is sleep, to be honest."

Seokjin frowns. "You sure?"

Hoseok nods. "Mm." He gathers his things and heads to the door. "Call me tonight," he tells Seokjin. "Thanks for coming to cheer us on one last time, Jaehwan-hyung."

"Of course," Jaehwan answers, smiling. "Good luck with Hope Music."

Hoseok makes a noise of acknowledgement and leaves, waving at them as he disappears into the hallway.

Jaehwan turns to look at Seokjin. "Well. I guess it's just you and me." He throws his arm around Seokjin's shoulder. "Come on, I'll treat you to something expensive."

They go to an upscale restaurant with private booths and staff used to celebrities, ideal for uninterrupted conversations. It's nice catching up with Jaehwan over dinner. Seokjin had always been close with him since he joined Kelly Inch. He is one of his closest friends, and a mentor despite their similar ages. Jaehwan debuted three years before Seokjin, and always seemed more experienced, more worldly, more wise. He also acted as a liaison of sorts with the company, a negotiator, organizing compromises, softening the edges of the CEO, persuading Seokjin and the rest of E.L. when to bend. Perhaps his unique position in the company – idol and yet somehow an influencer to the producers and directors – is what made Hyosang openly dislike him, and what made Hoseok wary and distant, always friendly but never close.

It didn't matter to Seokjin what the others thought of Jaehwan. His opinions held a weight that could not be ignored. That Seokjin hadn't ignored, for better or for worse.

Their plates are cleared away and Seokjin starts to think he lucked out, the topic he was hoping to avoid still unmentioned, until Jaehwan says casually, "I heard Kim Namjoon took over the lease for the old building."

Seokjin pauses for a moment, before applying a smile to his lips and nodding, sitting back in his booth in an attempt to look relaxed. "Yeah. He did. He visits Hoseok's floor often. And vice versa. The kids love him."

Jaehwan hums and smiles. "I'm glad to hear it. Kim Namjoon was always a good producer. Hoseok can learn a lot from him."

Seokjin nods and hopes the conversation is over.

"I should visit. I've been so busy lately with the new buyer, but things are almost settled. I'd like to catch up with Namjoon," Jaehwan continues.

Seokjin presses his lips together and clears his throat. There's no point hiding the truth, he thinks. He hasn't done anything wrong, and the worst of it is over, anyway. Things are done between him and Yoongi. There's no more maybes or what-ifs, no more futile hopes. Yoongi has moved on, and so will Seokjin.

He glances at Jaehwan and says clearly, without any tremble in his voice or tone, "Yoongi came, too."

Jaehwan blinks, eyes widening in surprise. "Min Yoongi?"

"He's working in Namjoon's space for the time being. I'm not sure if it's permanent or not."

"Min Yoongi is back in Korea and working in the same building as you?" Jaehwan repeats, a little more agitated, somehow unable to comprehend the news.

Seokjin keeps his gaze steady on Jaehwan, careful not to let any emotion break through. "Yes."

"Has he said anything to you? Are you okay? Why didn't you tell me?"

"It's not a big deal," Seokjin dismisses, ignoring the protests of his heart and his mind. It was a big deal. It was devastating and exhilarating and the very event his soul was awaiting. And now it's done. "We're cordial," he continues.

Jaehwan purses his lips and doesn't look convinced. "You have a complicated history."

Seokjin smiles, mouth closed and tight-lipped. "We've both moved on." He reaches over to nudge Jaehwan and lighten the atmosphere. "It's done, Jaehwan."

Jaehwan keeps Seokjin's gaze for a moment before nodding. "Okay. You'll tell me if you need to talk. I'm always here."

Seokjin nods. "I know." He doesn't need to talk. He needs to forget.

"Moving along," Jaehwan says, smiling. "I've been meaning to ask you if you could come by Kelly Inch this week and meet the buyer. He's expressed a firm desire to meet you face-to-face. I think he might have a very good offer for you."

Seokjin frowns and glances at his hands. "I have no intention of resigning with Kelly Inch."

"No one is saying you have to," Jaehwan says, spreading his hands in supplication. "It just might be a good idea to just stop by for a visit." He watches for Seokjin's reaction and sighs, leaning forward. "Look, you know our CEO. The buyer expressed interest in meeting you and he thinks he can sweeten the takeover if he gets you to play along with the buyer. Technically you're still under contract for another month. He's digging his heels in, no matter what I've tried to tell him. You know what hell he can raise if you don't play along."

Seokjin's frown deepens. "He let Hyosang and Hoseok go from their contract early."

"Hyosang is a liability. And Hoseok...." Jaehwan sighs again. "Hoseok gave up a lot to be let go early."

Seokjin's eyes narrow. "What did he give up?"

Jaehwan twists his lips. "All his royalties for the farewell album."

Seokjin's lips part in shock. "He produced nearly all the songs."

"I know."

Seokjin blows out a long breath and tries to tap down on his anger. It's too much. Kelly Inch has taken too much from them all.

"You have one month left. Just come in and meet the buyer. You'll avoid any trouble, and maybe the new buyer will have a good offer for you. You have the power now. If they really want you, you can demand anything you want." Jaehwan reaches over and pats Seokjin's hand. "Hmm?"

Seokjin blinks, thinking. He doesn't have any obligations now that the comeback is over. He was just going to go over his contract offers at home and eat too much for the next two weeks. Meeting the new buyer of Kelly Inch isn't a bad thing. He might even present some good opportunities.

"Okay," he agrees. Jaehwan is right.

He's always right, even when it feels wrong.

&&&

True to his word, Seokjin makes his way over to the company a couple days later. He hasn't been to the new location often. The last time he visited, the mood was low and gloomy, the threat of closure hanging over everyone's heads, the same thought in each mind, unspoken, silently suffocating them. There is a drastic difference today. The staff is bustling and excited. They smile and laugh and bubble excitedly.

Seokjin asks Jaehwan about it.

Jaehwan smiles. "It's the new buyer, I guess. They have their hope back."

Seokjin looks around the lobby, watches the ease that replaced stiff shoulders in the staff he's known for years. Hope is necessary in this life, he thinks. People should be able to anticipate, if even a little.

Jaehwan takes Seokjin to the CEO's office. He can hear chatter inside as Jaehwan knocks on the door.

"Come in, come in," the CEO bellows.

Jaehwan looks at Seokjin. "Ready?"

Seokjin nods and lifts his lips into a smile. "Ready."

Jaehwan opens the door and as they walk in, Seokjin's polite smile fades and his eyes widen in surprise. Standing beside the CEO is Kris. Tall, long-limbed, hair perfectly styled, twinkling eyes and teasing smile Kris Wu from Hong Kong.

Seokjin double blinks, trying to process exactly what is happening.

"Seokjin-ah," the CEO says, his voice rusty with the pretence of camaraderie, "so great of you to come. This is Wu Yifan. Yifan-ssi, this is our star, Kim Seokjin."

Seokjin blinks and looks at the CEO sharply, his eyes narrowing slightly. The CEO has never called him a star before.

"Yifan-ssi is taking over Kelly Inch," the CEO continues.

"Tentatively," Kris adds firmly. "The contract isn't signed yet."

"Oh, of course, of course." The CEO attempts a laugh that sounds more like a cough than anything related to mirth.

"Seokjin?" Jaehwan says quietly, sensing his hesitation and confusion.

Seokjin lifts a smile to his lips again, slipping into his public persona, and arches a brow at Kris. "Nice to meet you," he says.

Kris has the decency to look sheepish for a moment. He glances around at the CEO and says, "Would you mind stepping out for a moment? I'd like to talk to Seokjin privately."

Seokjin barely keeps himself from balking as he watches Kris effectively kick the CEO out of his own office without a moment of hesitation. He wonders again about the power and influence Kris seems to wield so easily. The CEO looks offended but tries to cover it up with a tight smile.

"Of course," he says tersely. "Jaehwan-ah, let's go."

Jaehwan sends Seokjin a bemused look but Seokjin shakes his head minutely and gives him a reassuring pat on the arm as he passes.

Seokjin waits until the door closes, leaving him alone with Kris in the CEO's office, before he gives Kris a cool stare and crosses his arms across his chest. "Care to explain?"

Kris holds out his palms in supplication. "I'm honestly innocent." Seokjin keeps his brows arched and stays silent. Kris smiles charmingly and gestures for Seokjin to sit. "Sit down. I'll explain everything."

Seokjin gingerly sits in the offered spot, arms still crossed and eyes narrowed in suspicion. Kris hops up to sit on the CEO's desk, haphazardly pushing around his papers and his prized glass nameplate. Despite himself, Seokjin's lips twitch into a smirk as he imagines the CEO's response when he sees the mess Kris has carelessly made.

Kris grips the desk with his hands, the single ring on his finger gleaming in the light, and leans close to Seokjin. "Where do you want me to start?"

"Maybe start with how you pretended you didn't know me in Hong Kong?"

"I honestly didn't," he says empathically. He puts his hand over his heart. "I swear, when you spilled my coffee, I just thought you were a beautiful, clumsy angel."

Seokjin's lips twitch again but he retains control over his expression.

"When I looked you up online after, I found out," Kris continues. "I was going to tell you when you showed up at the party, but I didn't have the chance before you were taken away from me." Kris ends his sentence mournfully, still clutching his hand over his heart.

Seokjin frowns. "I wasn't taken away, I walked away," he corrects, mind flashing back to that night, and Yoongi, and the sharp cold of the December air he didn't feel the moment Yoongi's hand touched his waist. Seokjin shifts in his chair, uncomfortably aware that even now, he can recall Yoongi's fingers where they held him.

"But I didn't even have a chance to tell you," Kris continues, unperturbed, leaning closer to Seokjin. "I'm innocent, you see."

Seokjin huffs out a laugh. "I highly doubt that."

Kris's eyes spark with amusement and he tilts his head. "Would you like to test that hypothesis?"

Seokjin laughs again, louder this time, eyes crinkling. "I'll take your word for it."

"I'm forgiven?" Kris asks. Seokjin smiles and nods. Kris sits back and claps his hands together. "Excellent."

Seokjin relaxes his arms and tilts his head at Kris. "Is it true that you asked the CEO for me specifically?"

"Yes," Kris answers immediately. "As soon as I landed in Seoul, I told your CEO I wouldn't even think about signing the takeover without meeting you." He smiles and adds, "Again."

Seokjin purses his lips and asks the question that's been on his mind since Jaehwan convinced him to come back to Kelly Inch. "Why?"

"Seokjin-ah," Kris says, voice lowering, expression serious. "You are the top talent this label has to offer, and your contract expires in less than four weeks. I'd be an idiot if I didn't do everything in my power to get you to re-new and stay on. I have plans for you, Seokjin. Promotions and films, endorsements. Albums. You, Seokjin, you will bring this label back into the forefront of the industry."

Seokjin breathes out slowly, his heart thumping in his chest. It's what he wants, to sing again. To perform. To put his voice and his music out for others to hear, to enjoy, to love. It's what he wants but he hesitates, unsure if he can trust Kris. Kris is vibrant and seductive and dangling everything Seokjin wants in front of him. It would be easy. Kris would be easy, professionally, and personally.

The easiness makes him wary.

Kris hops off the desk and shuffles even closer to Seokjin so he can smell his cologne, musk and cedar. "As a taste of things to come, I've arranged for an OST for you."

Seokjin blinks. "An OST?"

Kris smiles easily. "You have a meeting next week with the producers at KBS to discuss it. I'm serious about wooing you, Seokjin-ah."

Seokjin smiles. "Careful, or I'll start to believe your flirting is serious."

"It is."

Seokjin coughs, his cheeks warming with a flush at Kris's unexpectedly blatant answer.

"We can start with dinner this Saturday night." Kris smiles, wide and slow and enticing. "Hmm?"

Seokjin keeps his eyes steady on Kris, contemplating. "Is this dinner professional or personal?"

"Both. I want it all."

It would be so easy, Seokjin thinks, and that's the problem. He thinks, and thinks, and thinks, his mind working up a dozen reasons why he should say yes, a dozen reasons why he should say no. Kris is attractive and charming and exciting. He is new and unfamiliar and unknown. Seokjin doesn't know if he can trust him, doesn't know if he can trust Kelly Inch again. His mind has too many conflicting thoughts, trying to make a decision, thinking, thinking, thinking.

When he asks his heart, he's met with silence. Kris would be easy, but his heart doesn't move for him.

Seokjin clears his throat and reminds himself of what he determined in Hong Kong.

He stands and smiles at Kris. "I'll text you my address. You can pick me up at eight."

Kris grins. "I'm already counting down the hours."

As Seokjin leaves, he tries to tell his heart it's time to learn a new language, one that doesn't know the word Yoongi. His heart doesn't answer, just keeps its steady beat, stubborn.

Slowly, he tells himself. Slowly, he will begin again.

&&&

If Yoongi notices the sudden intimacy between Jungkook and Jimin, he doesn't mention it, a fact that Jungkook is eternally grateful for. This thing with Jimin, this connection, this relationship is still new, still unknown. He's not sure if it's wise to share it with anyone yet. He needs to discuss it with Jimin first, Yoongi's advice echoing through his head. Caution and careful consideration. He will take this slowly, think about his actions. He has no intention of losing Jimin recklessly.

Jimin recovers rapidly, much to Jungkook's relief. He's constantly trying to escape his bed by the fourth day since his collapse and Yoongi assigns Jungkook to guard him while he arranges for their departure.

"Jungkook-ah," Jimin says sweetly, smiling at him, "if we're leaving tomorrow anyway, I can move around." He shifts, moving up to his knees. "Let's go out."

Jungkook frowns and shakes his head. "No."

Jimin shuffles closer to Jungkook, lips turning down into a pout. "Come on."

"Can't risk it."

Jimin scowls. "I'm older than you, Jeon Jungkook."

"Are you going to face Yoongi-hyung when we get caught?"

Jimin opens and closes his mouth a few times before huffing in annoyance and flopping back onto the bed. "Fine. Whatever." He slaps his arms against the covers. "He's too zealous. I'm going crazy here."

Jungkook smiles as Jimin kicks at the covers vigorously. "I think he's just concerned."

"Not about me." Jimin's head pops up, eyes narrowed. "What do you know about Yoongi-hyung and Seokjin-hyung?"

Jungkook purses his lips. "I'm not sure if I can talk about it."

Jimin sits up, shuffling so his back rests on the headboard. He waves his hand at Jungkook, beckoning him to sit beside him. "Come here, Jungkook-ah. Come, come."

Jungkook obeys readily, slipping onto the bed beside Jimin.

"Jungkook," Jimin starts, reaching for his hand and holding in both of his. He looks up at him, eyes almost shining.

It's not fair that he's this cute, Jungkook thinks hazily with the part of his mind that can still process information.

"We're boyfriends now," Jimin says, patting Jungkook's hand softly. "That means we tell each other everything."

Jungkook snorts. "I don't think that means we gossip."

Jimin squeezes Jungkook's hand. "It most certainly does mean we gossip. Especially when we're bored out of our minds." He smiles up at Jungkook, cajoling.

Jungkook sighs, defeated. "I don't know much," he starts.

Jimin brightens. "But you know some."

He nods and glances down at his hand in Jimin's. He runs his thumb over the edge of Jimin's hand. "I guess Yoongi-hyung and Seokjin-hyung used to date."

Jimin rolls his eyes. "Everyone can see that. What else? Why did they break up?"

Jungkook shakes his head. "I don't know. Some things just don't work out," he says, even if he doesn't believe his own words. He can tell enough from Yoongi's quiet advice. It's not easy to love an idol. There's a lot that can go wrong. He runs his thumb over Jimin's and wonders which one – Yoongi or Seokjin – had been the reckless one. "Hyung," he says, "let's not do that."

Jimin laughs. "What? Break up?"

Jungkook nods and looks back to Jimin. "Yeah."

Jimin's lips soften into a fond smile and he cranes his neck, briefly reaching over to place a warm kiss on Jungkook's mouth. "You're so cute," he says when he pulls back.

Jungkook blinks rapidly, pressing his lips together, trying to make the tingling and warmth from Jimin's sudden kiss last a little longer. He smiles and ducks his head.

Jimin settles against Jungkook, leaning his head on his chest. "We'll be kind to each other. We'll talk about the things that scare us. We'll trust each other." Jimin leans his head back to look at Jungkook. "Deal?"

Jungkook leans down to kiss the crown of Jimin's head. "Deal."

They decide to keep their relationship quiet. Not a secret, they're not afraid, but they don't want to draw too much attention to it. They have to talk to Hoseok, as CEO of Hope Music he needs to know. Jimin assures Jungkook that he'll be supportive. Hoseok cares about Jimin as a person as well as an artist.

Once they arrive back in Korea, Jungkook barricades himself in his studio, determined to finish his song with renewed energy, a sort of testament of this new thing with Jimin. It is the story of how they began and he wants to know what it sounds like in its final form.

He finishes in two days, hyped up on energy drinks and the sugary snacks Jimin brings him like an angel.

He's not sure if it's good or not. He's lost the ability to critic his own work. All he knows is that it's done and the nervous butterflies in his stomach might kill him if he doesn't just get this over with. He sends Jimin a quick text letting him know the song is done. There's no immediate response and he thinks Jimin probably locked himself in the dance room to make up for his days of bed rest.

Jungkook emerges from his studio, USB clutched tightly in his hands. He finds Namjoon first in the common room, lost in his own world, large headphones over his ears. He approaches Namjoon and taps his shoulder, gaining his attention.

Namjoon looks up and pulls his headphones down, the tin-like sound of the music filtering through the device, filling the space. "Hey, what's up?"

Jungkook inhales deeply and says, "Do you have a moment to listen to something? I wanted to get your opinion."

Namjoon nods and hits the off button on his music app, cutting the distorted sound from the headphones. "Of course."

Jungkook gestures to the hallway. "Can we get Yoongi-hyung, too? I wanted to show you both."

Namjoon stands and smiles. "Does this have anything to do with the secret project you've been working on with Jimin?"

Jungkook's eyes widen. "You knew?"

Namjoon laughs. "Don't worry, you weren't obvious. We just know you really well. Come on, it's been bothering Yoongi-hyung for weeks now."

Yoongi is, of course, in his studio, and he reaches excitedly forward for the USB when Jungkook explains what it is. All thoughts vanish from Jungkook's mind when Yoongi plugs in the USB, and he waits with breath held in his lungs, eyes wide, worrying at his lower lip. Namjoon bobs his head to the beat but gives no other indication of opinion as the song plays. Yoongi's face is decidedly impassive, blankly listening. Jungkook wonders if he can hold his breath for the entire length of the track.

There is a seemingly endless moment of silence when the song ends before Yoongi speaks. "That was Jimin's voice?"

Jungkook nods.

"You made this by yourself? Lyrics, composition, production?" Namjoon asks.

"Jimin-hyung helped."

"It's good," Yoongi says, a subtle smile spreading on his lips.

"It's really good," Namjoon says, grinning at him. "I'm impressed."

Jungkook's breath rushes out in a relieves laugh and his face scrunches in happiness. He thinks his feet might not even be touching the floor anymore, it feels like he's floating, dreamlike, euphoric.

Yoongi looks at Namjoon and says, "Our Jungkookie grew up. I feel proud."

Namjoon snorts, and turns his attention back to Jungkook. "You did great. What are you going to do with it?"

Jungkook blinks. He hadn't thought about it. It had been more a labor of discovery than one with an end goal. He imagines giving it away to someone, but stops when a sharp pang pierces his chest. It's wrong, he thinks. It's not a song that can go to anyone. It's his, and Jimin's. It's theirs. "I haven't decided yet," he says finally.

"Hmm. Well," Namjoon says, standing, "let me take you out to eat as celebration for your first self-produced single."

Jungkook nods, grinning.

Namjoon turns to Yoongi. "You coming?"

Yoongi shakes his head and gestures to his computer. "I'm working on a thing."

Namjoon shrugs and slings an arm around Jungkook's shoulder. "Just you and me. Go grab your coat, I'll get the car ready."

Namjoon leaves to find his keys and Jungkook start to head out, pausing when Yoongi calls out his name. He turns on his heel and looks at Yoongi.

"Hyung?"

Yoongi purses his lips, pensive, eyes steady on Jungkook before he says, "You and Jiminie are together now." It's not a question.

Jungkook realizes that Yoongi observes a lot more than he lets on. He nods slowly. "Yeah. Since Hong Kong."

Yoongi hums. "You remember what I told you?"

"Be careful?"

Yoongi nods curtly. "Jimin's career is in a lot more danger than yours if this isn't handled right. You need to be mindful of that."

"I am," Jungkook assures. "We had a long talk, and we're going slow. We won't announce it publicly unless we're forced to."

"Does Hoseok know?"

Jungkook licks his lips nervously. "We're going to tell him soon. Jimin doesn't want to drop it on him so soon after what happened in Hong Kong." He smiles. "Hoseok-hyung is being extra clingy, Jimin says."

Yoongi doesn't smile, eyes a little lost in thought, or memory, Jungkook cannot tell. "Get his blessing," Yoongi says finally. "You should be okay if you have his support."

That is apparently all Yoongi has to say to him, spinning around in his chair to face his computer again. Jungkook frowns, trying to interpret the conversation, feeling like he's only understood a portion of what Yoongi said. He hesitates, a thought worrying in his mind, persistent. He doesn't know if Yoongi will answer, but he thinks, maybe, he has the right to ask, based on nothing but his concern and affection for Yoongi.

"Hyung?" he calls out.

Yoongi swivels in his chair, arching a brow at Jungkook. "Hmm?"

Jungkook shifts on his feet. "You and Seokjin-hyung. Did anything happen between you two in Hong Kong as well?" He's been wanting to know, wanting to know if all the times he caught Yoongi staring at Seokjin turned into something. If the lost, desperately sad look in his eyes was finally gone after all these years. If Yoongi's heart had found some long needed solace, or even hope, precious and fragile as it may be.

Yoongi blinks, his lips twitching. "Maybe. We'll see. I have a plan." His lips lift into a smile as he turns around again. "Don't let Namjoon take you for barbeque. He'll burn the restaurant down."

Jungkook smiles, happy and hopeful for Yoongi. "That was like one time," he says, defending Namjoon.

"We could have died." Yoongi waves his hand at Jungkook. "Close the door on your way out."

&&&

Seokjin can tell just by the sound of the knocks on his suite door that Taehyung is on the other side. He confirms his suspicion when he opens the door, greeted by Taehyung's large grin.

"Hi, hyung. I came to play," he says, stepping into the apartment without waiting for Seokjin's invitation.

Seokjin purses his lips, watching Taehyung messily kick off his shoes and trounce through to his kitchen. He thinks perhaps the security guard to his building is easily star struck, always letting his celebrity friends into the building without even buzzing him. He closes the door and shakes the thought off. He missed Taehyung anyway.

"Did you bring food?" he calls, walking into the kitchen.

Taehyung sets his backpack on the counter and unzips it, pulling out two bags from his favorite fast food restaurant. "Burgers," he says, holding the bags by either side of his face and grinning, silly and exaggerated.

Seokjin wrinkles his nose. "That's your favorite food, not mine."

Taehyung shrugs and sets the bags down. He hops up to sit beside them, legs dangling over the edge of the counter. "The rule is bring food, not bring your favorite." He opens one of the bags and pulls out a burger, holding it out to Seokjin. "It's good. I got extra cheese."

Seokjin smiles despite himself and reaches for the food. "Thank you," he says, leaning on the opposite counter, crossing his legs at the ankle. "I didn't think I'd see you until filming is over for your drama."

"I only had one scene this week," he says, holding up his index finger. "So I have some time off. Why not spend it with my favorite hyung?" He takes a large bite of his burger and laughs.

Seokjin smiles. "Jiminie will be jealous."

Taehyung chews and shakes his head. "Nope. Jiminie is dating now. He's spending time with his boyfriend."

Seokjin's heart stops beating, but a thump still echoes in his head. A dull thunk, thunk, thunk that he realizes belatedly is Taehyung's foot kicking the cabinet in an even rhythm. He blinks rapidly, his limbs frozen, his jaw clenched. He forces himself to breathe in deep, through the tight, unyielding squeeze of his chest around his lungs, painful and sharp. He slowly sets his burger down on the counter and clears his throat.

"Oh?" he manages to say. He expected this, he reminds himself. He knew it was coming. He had determined in his mind to accept it. He thought he had determined in his heart as well.

Taehyung swallows, nodding. "Yeah, he just told me. Ah, but it's a secret so don't tell anyone. They haven't told Hoseok-hyung yet, and Jimin doesn't want him finding out from someone else, you know?"

Seokjin rubs at his chest, trying to feel his heart, trying to coax it back from its numb despair. "I won't mention it," he says, surprised at the sound of his own voice, distant and dull.

Taehyung thumps his feet against the cabinet, thunk, thunk, thunk, an artificial heartbeat, rhythmic, hypnotizing. "I can't tell you who it is," he continues.

Seokjin wishes he would stop talking. The blow was already enough to knock the wind out of his lungs, already enough to plunge his heart to his stomach, already enough to remind him of everything he pushed away, everything he's foolishly been trying to hold ever since.

"But I can give you a hint," Taehyung says, smiling, excitement making his eyes bright. "He's a producer. You know him." Taehyung leans over and stage whispers, "He works upstairs from us." He sits back and grins, pointing his finger at Seokjin. "You know who I'm talking about, yeah?"

Seokjin nods and forces a smile to his lips. "Yeah. I know."

Taehyung nods, satisfied. "It's about time. Even though I haven't been around much, I could tell from them mooning over each other constantly." He sobers and says seriously, "Remember, you can't tell a soul. I've been sworn to secrecy."

Seokjin kicks away from the counter and turns to his refrigerator, grabbing a bottle of water. "I won't say a thing." He sends Taehyung a small smile.

"And don't let Jiminie know I told you, either! Act dumb."

Seokjin nods.

"You should date, too," Taehyung says, swallowing the last bite of his burger and reaching into the bag for another. "Now that you're out of your contract, you can go out with anyone you want." He scrunches his face in disdain. "Your CEO was evil. Hoseok-hyung never put a dating ban on us. It's inhumane."

"The idol world was different back then," Seokjin says, walking over to Taehyung and handing him a bottle of water. "None of us could date, no matter the company."

Taehyung takes the bottle and uncaps it, taking a large gulp of water. "Sounds rough."

Seokjin sighs and leans on the counter by Taehyung. "It was. It was really hard," he says, remembering dates in Yoongi's studio because they couldn't go out together. He remembers elaborate plans just to sneak five hours together. He remembers holidays and birthdays spent apart, and nights where he fell asleep on the phone with Yoongi, falling into unconsciousness but still unwilling to end the call.

He should have a hundred memories to keep him warm and soothe his heart, of dates and special events and time spent with Yoongi. Instead, he has only a dozen, precious and carved into his bones. He should have more. He should have more of Yoongi, or if he cannot, Yoongi should be easier to forget, his presence shouldn't thrum through his veins.

Seokjin pushes the thoughts away and says, "I do, actually, have a date."

Taehyung chokes on his water, coughing, hitting his chest to regain composure. "With who?" he asks excitedly through his hacking.

Seokjin snorts, patting Taehyung's back to ease his coughs. "Have you heard of Kris Wu?"

Taehyung's eyes widen and he whistles low in his throat. "You're going out with Kris Wu?"

Seokjin smiles, amused at Taehyung's reaction. "Yes."

"How?"

He shrugs. "We met in Hong Kong. We met again in Seoul. He asked me out."

Taehyung taps at Seokjin's shoulder. "What's he like? I've always wondered."

Seokjin purses his lips, thinking. He's strange. Not odd, but unfamiliar, unknown, a stranger. He's easy, charming, and most importantly, he's not Yoongi. "He's tall," Seokjin finally answers.

Taehyung makes a face. "I know what he looks like. What's he like?"

"I'll find out on Saturday," Seokjin says. He pats Taehyung's knee. "Now, are you going to play video games with me?"

Taehyung grins and hops down. "There's a reason why you're my favorite hyung."

Seokjin follows Taehyung into the living room and focuses on keeping his smile on his lips. This is exactly what he expected. Yoongi and Jimin are official now, and he's moving on and opening his heart to someone else. It's what he knows is the wisest choice. It's what he had determined to do.

It's the right path, for all of them.

&&&

It's been an embarrassingly long time since Seokjin went on a date, a proper, romantic, late-into-the-evening date. He stares forlornly into his closet, struggling to remember what to wear. He's been oscillating between two extremes for years; elaborate, enticing stage outfits when performing and roomy, comfortable sweatshirts on off days. He makes a face and starts shifting through to the back of his wardrobe.

He eventually puts together an outfit that he thinks is fitting. A semi-sheer black button down shirt with a black blazer layered on top, paired with dark jeans ripped at the knee and thigh. He styles his hair, parting his fringe to expose his forehead, and carefully selects the rings to adorn his fingers. It's easy, he thinks, slipping back into a routine he should have forgotten by now. It's easy, this is easy, habit and intuition taking control of his mind and body.

It's easy, and his heart beats dully in his chest, stubbornly silent.

Kris is late to pick him up. Not so late as to be annoying but enough to make Seokjin frown at his phone and tap his fingers as he waits for a call. He wonders if it's deliberate, to occupy a larger space in his mind with Kris. Seokjin frowns and tells himself to stop making unfounded assumptions, stop trying to find a reason to reject this and go back to nurturing a dead love.

He heads to the underground parking lot in his building when Kris arrives and calls him. He finds Kris waiting outside his sports car, long limbs spread out as he leans on the hood. The car is low to the ground, sleek and a little flashy, just like its owner. Seokjin blinks, realizing that his attention is more focused on the car than on his date. He smiles and moves his gaze to Kris. He's in a tight pair of black jeans and a black leather jacket, a graphic tee layered underneath. Seokjin hates the instantaneous thought that flickers through his head, the connection of the style to someone he's supposed to let go.

He approaches Kris, shaking the thoughts from his mind.

Kris's brows raise when he sees Seokjin, eyes raking slowly up and down and up again over his body, a slow smile spreading on his lips. He pushes away from the car and cocks his head. "Hey, good looking," he says, completely unashamed at his greasiness.

It makes Seokjin laugh and he closes the distance between them. "Kris-ge," he greets.

Kris's eyes spark at Seokjin's choice of honorific. He steps into Seokjin's space and presses his hand to the small of Seokjin's back, guiding him to the passenger's seat. The pressure on his back is nice, Seokjin thinks idly. "You look amazing," he says, leaning down to whisper the words into Seokjin's ear.

Seokjin smirks and arches his brows. "I know."

Kris laughs and opens the car door for him. "Please, sit."

Seokjin settles in the car, roomy, luxurious leather seats and the indescribable scent of indulgence. Kris jogs around the front of the car and slides back into the driver's seat. He smiles at Seokjin.

"I hope you didn't wait long," he says, making an apologetic face. "Meetings ran long."

Seokjin shakes his head. "Are you late?" he asks, feigning ignorance.

Kris chuckles in amusement and starts the car. "You're cute, our Xiao junxiu."

Seokjin blinks and stares at Kris. "What did you call me?"

Kris shrugs and pulls out of the garage. "Maybe I'll tell you when you call me gege."

Seokjin laughs. "I guess it's a waiting game, then."

Kris laughs, delighted. "Fair warning," he says, "I like to win."

Seokjin hums and settles back into his seat, smiling.

They go to a concert, one of Kris's old friends from his brief career as an idol in Korea. The venue is large and packed full of excited fans, jumping and singing along to the music. The performance is exhilarating. Seokjin loses himself in the thump of the bass, remembers the thrill of being up on stage. He indulges in the intoxicating feeling of becoming one with the crowd, one breathing voice that speaks the same words. He wants it back, he thinks. This thrill, the stage, the voices.

He will have it back, his heart echoes in answer. He will have it back, it promises with every beat.

Seokjin realizes after the concert ends that he almost forgot Kris was beside him, so entranced by the music, so lost in the chorus of voices. He wonders if he should feel guilty, or if this is what it should be like, to remain separate, to remain aloof, to not feel breath in his lungs that doesn't belong to him with every inhale. Forget the past, he tells his heart. He won't ever find a replacement for Yoongi and he wants to stop looking.

They go to a restaurant for a late dinner after the concert ends, some small, intimate barbeque place, dimly lit, close seating and private booths. Kris smiles at him from across the table after they place their order. "I'm glad I could take you here. It's my favorite place in Seoul to eat."

Seokjin arches his brows and smiles. "My expectations are high," he says.

Kris laughs and leans close to whisper, "I'm sure I'll fulfill every desire."

Seokjin can feel the tips of his ears flush.

Kris leans back and says, changing the topic, "Have you thought about what I proposed? Re-signing with Kelly Inch?"

Seokjin purses his lips. He had, but there's a pit of hesitation in his stomach every time he thinks about renewing. Kelly Inch gave him a lot, started his career, pushed him into stardom. And they also took far too much away from him. He's not sure how to reconcile the two together, and even less sure if he can trust them not to repeat the "I guess it depends on the offer."

"Seven year exclusive contract, guarantee of four solo albums and two acting roles. Regular appearances on variety programs, the best producers to work with you." Kris cocks his head to the side. "And the best part, me at the helm."

Seokjin snorts. "You're the selling point?"

"I think it's quite persuasive," Kris replies, grinning. "But honestly, what do you think?"

"The profits?" Seokjin asks, remaining impassive.

"Of course, I heard you were a business man at heart. Fifty-fifty."

Seokjin nods, considering. Kris watches him expectantly. "I compose," he says finally. "Write lyrics, too. I want creative control."

Kris pauses, eyes sharp and roaming over Seokjin. "It's a difficult thing to ask," he says. "I like control."

Seokjin shrugs. "I do, too."

Kris sighs and smiles. "I'll see what I can come up with. A compromise we can both be happy with, hmm?"

"Draw it up on paper and we'll talk from there," Seokjin says.

"Deal." Kris keeps Seokjin's gaze, eyes lingering on him, and tilts his head to the side. "Should we get back to the flirting part of the date now?"

Seokjin snorts and arches his brow. "Did you ever stop to begin with?"

Kris holds his chest dramatically. "I've been nothing but professional."

Seokjin laughs, Kris's protests preposterous and amusing.

The dinner is fun, Kris tells outrageous stories and ridiculous jokes that make Seokjin smile. By the end of the evening, Seokjin thinks it was good. It was good to come out with Kris, to try this, to begin again. The only damper on the mood is when they exit the restaurant and walk into a crowd of reporters and photographers. Apparently someone tipped off the media that Kris Wu was here.

Kris takes command of the situation, securing his arm tight around the small of Seokjin's back, and smiling politely to the cameras, silent. They walk briskly to Kris's car and drive off without much incident besides several photos taken and a barrage of questions thrown at both of them, so loud and overlapping that Seokjin cannot quite tell what the words are.

Kris is silent as they drive back to Seokjin's apartment. Once they are safely hidden away in the underground parking garage, he finally turns to Seokjin, apologetic. "I'm sorry. I've never had a problem at that restaurant before. I have no idea how they found out about us."

Seokjin smiles reassuringly. "Don't worry about it. It wasn't your fault." He shrugs. "We're fine. It's not a big deal."

Kris smiles slowly at him, eyes softening. He leans back in his seat. "You're something else," he says. His left wrist rests on the top of his steering wheel, the silver of his ring gleams in the flooded light of the garage. He shifts swiftly in his seat, leaning over the console, closing the distance between him and Seokjin, one hand coming to rest on the headrest of Seokjin's seat.

Seokjin blinks, caught off guard as Kris's lips settle suddenly on his, soft and smooth and unexpected. Kris angles his head, an increase of pressure, a nibble on Seokjin's bottom lip, before he pulls back slightly. He looks into Seokjin's eyes and grins.

"I had a really good time tonight," he tells Seokjin, an unasked question lingering in his eyes.

Seokjin lets his lips tilt up into a smile, charming and sweet like he's done a thousand times before. "It was fun," he says, unbuckling his seatbelt. "Goodnight, Kris-ge," he says, silently answering.

Kris smirks and nods, leaning back to settle in his seat. "I'll send the contract over in a few days. We'll set up a meeting later next week to discuss it."

Seokjin makes a sound in agreement and slips out of the car.

"Seokjin-ah," Kris calls out, leaning over the console and looking up at Seokjin through the open car door. "You can call me if you get lonely," he says, winking.

Seokjin snorts and shuts the door. "I'll keep that in mind," he says, waving farewell as he jogs into the building.

On the elevator ride up to his suite, he places a hand on his chest and presses hard against the left side of his ribs, exhaling slowly. His head says Kris is good. Kris is easy, fun, influential. On a piece of paper with a line draw starkly down the middle, a separation of reasons for this, Yes and No, the bullet points in favor take over the page.

The moment Kris's lips touched his, soft, the scent of leather and luxury flooding his senses, his heart finally broke its silence.

His head said yes.

And his heart said no.

He's so tired of fighting his heart.

&&&

Jungkook takes a few days off of work after he completes his song, retreating to his room in Yoongi's apartment to play video games and drink too much banana milk. He's been out of the studio for less than a week when he returns and he wonders just how much he missed as he steps onto his floor and immediately hears Namjoon and Yoongi arguing.

He's been with them long enough to witness a few of their fights. It isn't often, and they're rarely fiery. Sighs of annoyance followed by a few hours of silence as they both cool down. He's heard stories of their fights when they were young, battles that lasted weeks, headstrong pride and an inability to bend stretching over the days. He's never seen them yell before. It's alarming.

He walks carefully to Yoongi's studio where he hears the increasingly loud voices, eyes wide and feet cautious.

"You're fucking impossible," Namjoon says, frustration heavy in his voice.

"That's the best you can come up with?" Yoongi sneers.

Jungkook edges to the door of Yoongi's studio and peers carefully inside. Yoongi is in his computer chair, scowling at Namjoon, his lips tight and brow furrowed, expression stormy. Namjoon has his arms crossed over his chest, foot tapping against the floor, an unconscious habit he has when he's trying to pull his emotions back. Jungkook presses his lips together. It's not good, he realizes instantly. Really not good, and he has no idea how to fix it.

"Better than you, at least I still know how to use words," Namjoon spits back.

Jungkook exhales and raps his knuckles hard on the open studio door. "Hyung?" he says, drawing both of their attention. He isn't sure who he was speaking to. Both, either, whoever.

The frustration softens on Namjoon's face when he sees Jungkook and he uncrosses his arms, stepping back, closer to him.

"What's wrong?" Jungkook asks, eyes shifting between Namjoon and Yoongi.

Yoongi's lips twist and his anger melts into indifference. "Nothing."

"Yoongi-hyung is in a bad mood." Namjoon sends Yoongi a sharp look. Yoongi doesn't flinch, keeps his gaze, challenging. Finally Namjoon sighs and turns to Jungkook. "I'm going downstairs if anyone needs me."

Namjoon moves to step out of the room but Yoongi calls out, irritation heavy in his tone, "Don't you think you're going down there too often? Do you even get any work done?"

Namjoon exhales, a loud, harsh sound dripping with indignation. He spins on his heel. "This is my studio. I'm the one leasing it."

Yoongi arches a cold brow. "Sounds like you want me gone."

"I didn't say that."

Yoongi flicks his eyes to Jungkook. "Better pack your things, Jungkook-ah. Namjoon doesn't want us here."

"Stop putting words into my mouth, fuck," Namjoon says, exasperated. "Stop making up things in your head, just talk to him."

"It's none of your business!"

"I'm leaving," Namjoon says, turning back to Jungkook. He pats his shoulder, urging him out of the room. "Come on, he's in a mood."

Jungkook glances back to Yoongi, worrying his bottom lip, but Yoongi is already spinning his chair around and shoving his headphones over his ears. He looks back to Namjoon and nods, stepping out of Yoongi's studio. Yoongi needs solitude when he gets like this. He peers over his shoulder as he walks away, wondering what went wrong.

"Is Yoongi-hyung okay?" Jungkook asks Namjoon quietly, jogging to catch up with his long strides.

Namjoon sighs and rubs at his neck, easing some kind of tension out of the muscles there. "He has to figure it out himself." He sends Jungkook a quick reassuring smile, dimples appearing briefly in his cheeks. "Don't worry about him. He's a grownup, he can handle it."

Jungkook doesn't think he can stop worrying but he nods for Namjoon and follows him silently down the stairs.

Jungkook lags behind when they enter Hope Studios. "Ah, go ahead, I'm going to see Jimin-hyung," he says to Namjoon.

Namjoon smiles and nods, patting his shoulder once more before going ahead, looking for Hoseok.

Jungkook finds Jimin in the dance room, unsurprisingly. Jimin grins, wide and excited when he sees Jungkook. "I didn't know you were coming around today," he says, but the smile fades from his lips when he registers Jungkook's expression. He frowns and shuts off the music, heading over to Jungkook.

"What's wrong?"

Jungkook shrugs and shoves his hands into his front pant pockets. "Nothing," he says, trying to shrug it off.

Jimin's eyes narrow. "Jeon Jungkook."

"It's nothing, really," Jungkook insists. He nods his head in the direction of the door. "Namjoon-hyung and Yoongi-hyung were arguing."

"About what?" Jimin asks, stepping next to Jungkook and nudging their shoulders together.

"I don't know." He frowns, biting at his lower lip. He looks at Jimin. "They'll be okay," he says, though he's not sure if he's directing it to Jimin or himself.

Jimin hums and rubs his hand on Jungkook's arm, soothing and warm. Jungkook can feel the tension ease from his body and he smiles.

"What are you working on?" he asks Jimin, changing the subject.

Jimin shrugs. "Nothing, really. Just practicing dance." His eyes brighten. "But Hoseok-hyung said my comeback is next. He's started talking about what kind of songs we'll put out, the concept. I want to do something sexy."

Jungkook presses his lips together. He's been thinking of asking Jimin if he wants the song, their song. He doesn't feel right releasing it to anyone else. But he's unsure if Jimin wants it, wants to own it on his album, make it his sound. He clears his throat and pushes the thought from his mind. "Aren't you always sexy, though?"

Jimin's cheeks tint a soft rose and he pushes at Jungkook's shoulder. "Don't try to be smooth."

"Oh? Was I smooth?" Jungkook laughs as Jimin keeps hitting his shoulder. "Did your heart flutter?"

Jimin laughs and keeps pushing at Jungkook. His foot gets caught around Jungkook's ankle and he loses his balance, dragging Jungkook down with the momentum of it. Jungkook's hip and back hits the cold dance room floor, his breath leaving his chest in a sharp exhale. Jimin lands on Jungkook's chest, their legs still tangled together. They stay silent and still for a moment, learning how to breathe again.

Jungkook is hyper aware of every inch of Jimin on and over him, the warmth, the pressure, the inescapable intimacy of their position. He swallows hard and looks up at Jimin with wide eyes.

Jimin lifts himself up on his hands, enough to look down at Jungkook, hovering still. "Are you okay?" he asks in a whisper, as if any loud sound will disrupt this moment, a delicate balance on a pinnacle of time.

Jungkook nods, his head moving up and down against the floor, unable or unwilling to speak, he doesn't know which. His fingers curl into a fist against the hardwood, eyes flickering to Jimin's lips, lingering.

Jimin lets out a huff of laughter, lips tilting up into a smile and he angles his head down slightly, slowly.

A loud, resonating slam of a door breaks the moment and Jimin rolls off Jungkook quickly. They both scramble to their feet, looking around to see if anyone saw them, but the room is still empty, the door still closed.

Jungkook's heart beats overly fast, adrenaline already in his bloodstream. "What was that?" he asks Jimin.

Jimin frowns, inhaling, and moves to the hallway. "I don't know."

Jungkook catches the sight of Yoongi walking quickly down the hallway to the common room. He furrows his brow and follows. He can hear Jimin trailing after him.

Yoongi strides purposely into the common room and Jungkook and Jimin slip in behind him quietly.

"Where's his guitar?" Yoongi says, staring down at Hoseok and Namjoon on the couch, lips twisted into a frown.

Hoseok blinks and arches his brows. "Hello?"

"Seokjin-hyung's guitar, it was in his studio. It's not there anymore," Yoongi continues, ignoring Hoseok's attitude.

Hoseok sends Namjoon a look, Namjoon just sighs and gestures with his hand, tired and apparently not willing to engage Yoongi in any more arguments for the time being. Hoseok's lips dip into a frown and he looks back to Yoongi. "He took it. It kind of belongs to him."

Yoongi narrows his eyes. "Why did he take it?"

"Because he went back to Kelly Inch? Why is this so hard to understand?"

"You didn't sign him?" Yoongi spits out, accusatory.

Hoseok crosses his arms across his chest. "No, I didn't. I offered but he and I both know I don't have the resources yet to promote him the way he needs. And technically," he continues, gaining traction with his defence, belligerence seeping into his tone, "he's still under contract with Kelly Inch for a month."

"They let you go early," Yoongi counters.

Hoseok scowls. "They would have let him go too if not for that opportunist prick."

Yoongi's gaze sharpens. "What prick?"

Hoseok opens his mouth to answer but stops short, glaring. "You know what? It's not your business anymore, is it?"

Yoongi straightens, jutting his chin out. "It should concern you, as Seokjin's friend. You know Kelly Inch is bad for him. They locked him in the basement for three years."

"And he makes his own decisions," Hoseok says. "You know that as well as I do."

Yoongi holds Hoseok's gaze for a moment, his expression growing dim, before he huffs out a sigh of annoyance and spins on his heel, heading out of the room. He doesn't even spare a glance at Jungkook and Jimin as he makes his way to the stairwell.

Hoseok sneers at his retreating form and turns to Namjoon. "I see what you mean," he says.

Jimin closes his hand around Jungkook's wrist, squeezing lightly, drawing his attention. Jungkook looks back to him and realizes he's been holding his breath this whole time, finally inhaling at Jimin's touch.

"Come on," Jimin says, frowning. "I'll buy you something to eat."

Jungkook lets Jimin tug him out of the room and to the stairwell, lets Jimin's hand slips down his wrist to his fingers, intertwining together. He's grateful, for Jimin's steady presence, for anchoring him, for giving him an ear to listen to his worries and a silence when he cannot quite form them into words yet. He squeezes Jimin's hand in his and hopes Yoongi can sort through whatever it is that he's warring with.

It feels like Yoongi is on the edge of something big, a string pulled tight, wound over and over, taunt and fragile. Like one huff of wind will break it, shatter, everything falling. He hopes that when it does, the pieces fall into place.

&&&

Seokjin hasn't been to the KBS building in over a year when he appeared on one of their variety programs. This is the first time he's been here as a singer rather than an actor or a variety talent. He has a meeting for the OST with the drama's producer and director, and the producer he will be working with on the song. It's his first song for an OST and, more importantly, his first solo song. It's thrilling and nerve-racking all at once.

He exhales deeply, straightens his shoulders and paints a smile on his face, masking his nerves. He enters the building, passing through security in moments, chatting with the guards who issue his visitor's pass. Once he's through, he can see the elevator doors start to close and he speeds up to catch them. He half jogs to the sliding doors and slips his hand in to reopen them. He smiles when they retract and starts to step into the elevator. When he looks up, he stops short, breath catching in his throat. He should be used to this by now, he thinks dully.

Yoongi's eyes widen momentarily before he tilts his chin out and arches a brow. "You coming?" he says coolly.

Seokjin schools his features, wiping the surprise from his face, and steps into the elevator. He glances at the buttons and realizes in surprise that his floor is already highlighted. He glances at Yoongi and attempts a friendly smile. "Same floor," he says, gesturing to the panel.

Yoongi doesn't react, staring blankly in the empty space in front of him, jaw clenched a little too tight, fingers curled a little too hard around the rails lining the side of the elevator.

Seokjin blinks, smile fading from his lips, trying to sort out the atmosphere. Yoongi is icy, impassive, and actively trying to bury something, fighting to keep whatever he's feeling hidden. He's acting like the Yoongi who returned to Seoul, callous and distant.

Seokjin had foolishly thought they had worked past that. After his birthday in Hong Kong, after their time in Yoongi's hotel suite, Yoongi eagerly urging Seokjin to return for his comeback. Seokjin swallows a sigh and watches the elevator doors slide closed. He wonders when he'll stop playing the fool when it concerns Yoongi. He blames his heart, thumping hope into his bloodstream unbidden, so subtle he cannot detect it, cannot stop it until it infects his thoughts.

He stubbornly crushes the litany singing in his blood and fixes his gaze on the closed doors, listening intently to the beep as they pass each floor.

Beep. Beep. Beep. Be-

"I saw you on Dispatch's site," Yoongi says coolly.

Seokjin's eyes flicker to Yoongi but he's still watching the climbing numbers as the elevator continues its ascent. Seokjin purses his lips and turns back to the doors, silent.

"You used to be a lot more discreet," Yoongi adds, and from the corner of Seokjin's eye, he catches Yoongi glancing surreptitiously at him. "Even if it's just business, dinner alone can be misconstrued by the media to mean something more."

Seokjin twists his lips and suppresses a scoff. "Thanks for the advice, but I'm fine."

"This photos started a lot of speculation online," Yoongi continues.

Seokjin hears shuffling and glances beside him to find Yoongi's eyes intensely focused on him. His fingers clench, his heart skips a beat in his chest, caught in the spell of Yoongi's gaze, still as potent as it was five years ago. Yoongi's eyes have too much power, he thinks. They have the power to sweep under his feet. "Does it matter?" he says, turning to Yoongi, his brow arched.

Yoongi frowns and blinks at him, measuring his words. "I know what your label is like about the dating ban."

Seokjin smiles without mirth, sharp and disingenuous. "Things changed," he says, as much a reminder to himself as it is a response to Yoongi.

Yoongi sniffs and shrugs, looking away. "Yeah. They did."

Silence resumes between them, the elevator continuing its chimes as they pass each floor. Beep. Beep. Be-

"You're wrong, by the way," Seokjin says, unable to stop himself. He should keep his mouth shut, should just endure the remainder of this elevator ride and go on with his life. But a part of him, a very large and powerful part, wants to disrupt Yoongi, wants to occupy his thoughts, hold his attention.

Yoongi turns to look at him, raising his brows. "How so?"

He doesn't know if it's pride or a dark need to lay claim to some part of Yoongi's heart even now, but he says, coolly and with even tones, "It wasn't misconstrued."

Yoongi blinks at him, brow furrowing.

Seokjin smiles. "Dinner with Kris Wu wasn't business," he says. The flash in Yoongi's eyes is terribly satisfying. He was mine, his heart beats triumphantly. Some part of Yoongi will always be his.

The elevator comes to a stop and the doors slide open, an announcement playing on the speakers that they have arrived at their floor.

Seokjin sends Yoongi a tight smile. "Goodbye, Yoongi," he says as he steps onto the floor and strides away.

He expects Yoongi to stop trailing after him and head off to his own destination, but as he navigates to the meeting room, he hears Yoongi's footsteps behind him. He purses his lips and spins on his heel to face Yoongi.

"What are you doing?" he asks.

Yoongi blinks at him, bored and apathetic. "I'm going to my meeting," he answers, shrugging his shoulders. "We both are," he adds, a twisted amusement in his eyes.

Seokjin's mouth drops open and for the first time since he spotted Yoongi, his mind seems to be able to think clearly, emerging from the haze to realize something is strange. There's no reason for Yoongi, a music producer, to be here, in the KBS building, at the same time as Seokjin, on the same floor as Seokjin. Unless –

Yoongi cocks his head to the side. "Nice to meet you, Kim Seokjin," he says with feigned politeness. "I'll be your producer on the OST." He bows. "Please treat me well."

History has a funny way of repeating itself.

&&&

"He's so frustrating," Seokjin complains, picking up his shot glass and swallowing a gulp of soju. "He could have just told me from the beginning. He obviously knew I was the singer." He coughs, his throat burning, and scowls at his hands. "What the fuck is his problem, acting like a stuck-up, arrogant – Hoseok, are you listening to me?" Seokjin glares at Hoseok beside him, head down on the bar counter, staring with bored, blank eyes at the display of bottles behind the bartender.

"For the last half hour, yes," Hoseok drawls, unimpressed. "Yoongi's a jerk, Yoongi's acting so pompous, Yoongi, Yoongi, Yoongi." He turns his head, still on the bar counter, and arches his brows. "Did I get it right?"

Seokjin pouts. "You seem unsympathetic that I have to work with him again."

Hoseok sighs and straightens. "Hyung. You'll see him all of, like, two times to record and then it's over. You're both grown adults capable of having a professional relationship. There's no problem."

Seokjin frowns and stares at his empty glass in the dim light.

"Unless, of course," Hoseok continues, eyeing Seokjin sharply, "you want more than a professional relationship with Yoongi-hyung."

"I let that go. It's over," Seokjin answers quickly. He wants to mention that Jimin is officially dating Yoongi now, but he promised Taehyung to keep the secret. He fills his glass with another shot and downs it.

"Yoongi-hyung isn't the only frustrating one here," Hoseok mutters, reaching for his glass.

"What does that mean?"

Hoseok closes his eyes and shakes his head. "It means you should have an open and honest talk with Yoongi-hyung. Maybe you could both get some closure and move on."

"He's moved on," Seokjin insists. "So have I."

Hoseok scowls. "With Kris Wu?"

"Something wrong with that?"

Hoseok's lips dip into a deep frown. "How much do you know about him?"

"He's tall," Seokjin says, and wonders hazily why that's the first thing he seems to say about Kris.

Hoseok considers Seokjin seriously, brow furrowed. "How did you meet, again?"

"I spilled his coffee in Hong Kong. I bought him a new one. He flirted with me and I gave him my number. Why?"

Hoseok's lips purse. "It was a chance meeting?"

Seokjin snorts. "Yes, it was by chance. He didn't even know who I was after I told him my name."

Hoseok's eyes flicker with something strange. "He didn't know you?" he asks, seeking confirmation.

"We both didn't recognize each other." Seokjin frowns. "Why? What's wrong?"

"It's just weird," Hoseok says. He toys with his empty shot glass on the counter. "Are you serious about him?"

No, his heart answers quickly, overriding his mind, taking control. No.

He clears his throat and shrugs. "I'm not serious about anyone right now. I'm having fun, moving on with my romantic life. Isn't that what you wanted me to do?"

Hoseok refills his shot glass and frowns, not looking at Seokjin. "I'm just worried."

"About what?"

"That you won't look where you're going as you run away from Yoongi-hyung." He throws his head back, gulping down his shot, coughing as it catches in his throat.

Seokjin slaps Hoseok's back until his coughs subside, his mind replaying Hoseok's words on an echo.

It doesn't feel like he's running away from Yoongi. It feels like he's running towards him, chasing. Sometimes, when he lets his mind hush and his breathing halt for a moment, it feels like he could reach out his hand and catch him.

&&&

He's nervous.

Seokjin inhales carefully as he reaches the entrance of the building. He's nervous, stomach fluttering, fingers fidgeting, feet restless. It's been over five years since the last time he was in the studio with Yoongi, singing for him, under his direction. He never thought it would happen again. He isn't sure if he should be happy or anxious about it.

He's nervous, a heightened awareness of everything around him. He exhales as he enters the building. It's more than that, he knows.

He's anticipating, a thrill of excitement thrumming beneath the surface of his skin. He'll be alone with Yoongi, his attention wholly captured, his eyes, his ears, his thoughts all focused on Seokjin for the short hours they remain together.

Closure, he tells himself. Use this opportunity to put an end to his hopes, his wishes, his daydreams that he let himself languish in for too long. One last song, one last time, a chance to silence the regrets.

Seokjin takes the stairs up to Yoongi's floor, climbing each step with deliberate purpose, hand trailing on the rail. His footsteps echo in the confined space, building on each other, a cacophony of patter, multiplying, amplifying.

He pauses at the landing to Yoongi's floor, giving his heart a moment to decelerate to a normal beat, sucking oxygen back into his lungs. The echo of his ascent fades and eventually he's left with just the soft sound of his own breathing. He straightens his back and lifts his lips into a neutral smile, reaching forward for the door and stepping into the hallway.

Yoongi's studio door is closed, like it always used to be. Five years ago, Seokjin would just walk in, assured that his presence was always welcomed, wanted, desired. He blinks the thoughts away and lifts his hand to knock.

The door opens almost immediately, Yoongi appearing in a backwards snapback and a bomber jacket. He stares up at Seokjin, holding the door open with one hand, silent and blinking until Seokjin tilts his head and says, "Hey. Am I early?"

Yoongi jolts out of his stupor and shakes his head, looking away. "No, no. You're on time. Let me just grab my things." He steps back, gathering his tablet and a worn leather bound notebook. As silly as it is, Seokjin is glad to know that Yoongi still uses them. The words are still real to him, Seokjin thinks. He tries not to wonder what Dead Leaves looked like on paper, how many revisions it went through, how many thoughts Yoongi crossed out, diluted, scraping down the sharp edges, words too vulnerable to release publicly.

Yoongi turns back to Seokjin and gestures down the hallway. "The recording booth is two doors down," he says, stepping out into the hallway and closing the door to his studio behind him. "This way," he says.

Seokjin laughs briefly, pressing his lips together and trying to stop when Yoongi sends him a confused look.

"What?" Yoongi asks, lips twitching.

Seokjin smiles. "I know where the recording booth is," he says. "This used to be Kelly Inch."

"Oh." Yoongi sniffs and looks away, but Seokjin thinks he sees a smile fighting to form on his lips. They walk together the short way to the studio. Yoongi turns back to Seokjin as he opens the door for him. "After you," he says, gesturing to the room.

Seokjin steps into the room, eyes brightening as he looks around the once familiar space. "You renovated," he says, noting the new equipment, the fresh paint, the new furniture.

"Namjoon did," Yoongi says. "He's settling in a for a long time, wants to make everything worth it."

Seokjin looks back to Yoongi, eyes wide. "You're not?" he says before he can stop himself.

Yoongi looks back to Seokjin, placing his things by the controls, brow furrowed in confusion. "I'm not?"

Seokjin holds Yoongi's gaze. "You're not settling in? I thought you were – " He stops, reminding himself this is no longer a conversation he has a right to.

Yoongi remains silent, waiting patiently for Seokjin to finish his thought, content in the silence between them. He was always like that, always willing to wait for Seokjin. The reminders makes his chest ache, what-ifs flickering through this imagination. What if they had waited for each other when it mattered most.

"I thought you were here to stay," Seokjin finishes, watching Yoongi closely, schooling his own features to conceal his concern.

Yoongi smiles and tilts his head. "I am, in a sense. This is Namjoon's place. He wants his own label, eventually, and I want him to have it, too." He pulls out the chair by the controls and sits down, waving at Seokjin to follow in the other one. "I have my own building. Signed the contract last week. We'll be moving soon."

"Oh," Seokjin says, suppressing the flash of disappointment in the pit of his stomach. There had been some small sort of comfort, knowing Yoongi was upstairs from Hoseok, knowing he could see him easily. Seokjin could invent excuses to visit Hope Studios. He won't have that chance anymore. He smiles for Yoongi, burying his misplaced disappointment. "I'm happy for you. It's what you've always wanted."

Yoongi's eyes flicker, something dimming in them. He smiles, oddly sad, and shrugs. "Yeah. What I've always wanted." He clears his throat and gestures to Seokjin. "I was surprised to hear you're still with Kelly Inch."

"A few more weeks," Seokjin answers.

"But you might renew with them?" Yoongi pushes.

Seokjin purses his lips, unsure how to answer. He knows he wants the stage and the music and the films. He doesn't know if Kelly Inch will truly give it to him.

"They treated you badly," Yoongi says when Seokjin doesn't answer, tone growing subtly agitated. "They spent years undermining you."

"There's a new CEO," Seokjin says.

Yoongi pauses, his face shuttering to impassive. He pulls back, straightening in his seat where he had leaned close to Seokjin, and nods. "Right." He licks his lips and turns to his papers. "We should start," he says, pulling out a sheet of lyrics for the OST. "Do you need to warm up?"

"I did it before I got here."

Yoongi nods. "Okay."

He goes over what he needs from Seokjin, the points to emphasize, the emotions to infuse. Seokjin has always been an emotional singer, telling stories in his songs, resonating feelings in his melodies. Yoongi has a precise vision of what he wants, detailing every arc throughout the track. It energized Seokjin, excites him, makes him eager to perform. They've always been a good fit, ideas vibrating between them, drawing them higher, higher, until they're soaring. Seokjin had forgotten this special magic between them.

After Yoongi finishes, Seokjin moves to the booth, sliding the headphones over his ears and positioning himself behind the microphone. He can hear Yoongi's voice through the headphones, low and rumbling, asking if he's ready. He feels goose bumps prickle down his arms but he looks up and smiles, giving Yoongi a thumbs-up.

"I'm ready," he says.

Yoongi periodically stops the music to give Seokjin feedback, drawing him closer to the vision in his head, perfecting the style, the sound, the feeling. It's a little amazing for Seokjin, to experience Yoongi's growth and genius like this. Yoongi had always had a clear vision of what he wanted, but directing how to get there was sometimes a struggle, long sessions and trial-and-error as Yoongi learnt along with Seokjin.

Seokjin is glad he has this chance, to see the man Yoongi became, the fruits of the sacrifice he had to make, but there's an accompanying sadness to it, too. Working together with Yoongi again shows him what he's known all along. They both grew over the years, transforming from who they once were into who they were always meant to be. And despite the distance, despite the separation, they've somehow grown in the same direction, parallel, accommodating for each other even in the other's absence. Seokjin realizes with growing alarm that he has closure.

He has successfully put Yoongi from five years ago aside. He doesn't want the past back. He wants this Yoongi. He wants to start again with him, new, stronger, better.

His heart and his body and his mind are all in accord. Min Yoongi is it for him, and he's lost him. Perhaps he never even had the chance, his heart sent on a fool's errand. There is no happy ending here.

"Seokjin-ssi," Yoongi says through the speaker, pausing the music. "Let's run through the end with the high note. If you're ready for it."

Seokjin smiles at Yoongi through the glass separating them and nods. Yoongi has been careful about the high note, probably still caught back in the past when Seokjin had to work up to it. The note is several steps higher than the edge of his range five years ago, but Seokjin hasn't been idle over the course of time. He's practiced constantly, improving his delivery and range, expanding it and learning techniques to hit the notes flawlessly every time.

"I'm ready," he says, eyes falling to his phone with the lyrics. He hits the note perfectly, like he's practiced at home, pushing it out seemingly effortlessly. He finishes the note and stops singing when the music cuts. He looks up to Yoongi, expecting feedback, and blinks when he is met by silence, Yoongi's eyes wide, mouth agape. Stricken. "Yoongi?" he says.

Yoongi snaps out of his daze into action, pushing his headphones off his ears and grabbing his notebook, running around the control panel to the door. Seokjin's eyes widen and he tugs his own headphones down around his neck, brow furrowing.

"What's wrong?" he asks as Yoongi approaches.

Yoongi isn't looking at him, frantically flipping through his notebook, mumbling to himself. His lips spread in a sudden smile and he stops, flipping the notebook over to face Seokjin, his left hand holding the book open by the spine. "Can you do this?" he asks excitedly.

Seokjin blinks, confused. "What?"

Yoongi steps closer, pushing the notebook into Seokjin's slack hands. He taps his finger on the left page. "It's a three-step high note. Can you do that?"

Seokjin frowns and looks down at the notebook. The breath in his lungs shudders out, his fingers suddenly shaking. It's Yoongi's handwriting, messy black scrawling, the evidence of a mind working faster than hands. One side of the notebook is composition lines filled with small dots that spell out a melody. The other side is plain lined paper, unfinished lyrics written and crossed out and underlined, variations and half-sentences littering the sides.

Seokjin licks his lips, blinking rapidly, still trying to breathe properly again. "Yoongi, is this...." He looks up, locks eyes with Yoongi. "Is this unfinished?"

Yoongi stills, excitement dimming slightly, and frowns. "Yes," he answers, puzzlement evident in his tone.

Seokjin's fingers clench around the notebook. Yoongi is fiercely protective of his unfinished works. He only trusts a select few to share them with. Seokjin's heart beats hard against his chest. He's still a select few. Whatever else transpires, he has that assurance.

Yoongi reaches forward for the notebook. "You don't have to if you don't want to, sorry. I shouldn't have asked."

Seokjin pulls the notebook close to his chest, unwilling to give it back to Yoongi. "No. No, I want to."

Yoongi frowns and reaches for the notebook again. "It was stupid."

"Please," Seokjin says.

Yoongi holds his gaze, eyes searching Seokjin's for a sign or confirmation or something. He doesn't know what it is, but apparently Yoongi finds it. He nods, a little stilted, the movement jerky like Yoongi doesn't quite remember how to perform the motion. "Okay," he says quietly, so quietly, a ruffle of sound that still feels so loud in the space between them.

Seokjin relaxes his hold on the notebook, holding it out again for Yoongi to see.

Yoongi's eyes fall to the papers. "It's not done yet, but if you could just....Just do this part." Yoongi's fingers circle half the page. "I can hear it in my head, but...." He looks up and shrugs.

"Yeah. Yeah, I know," Seokjin says, remembering all the times Yoongi used to ask him to sing a bar or a verse. Make it real for me, he'd say. "You need it to be real," he says, smiling softly.

Yoongi stares at him, an answering smile tugging at his lips. "Yeah." He clears his throat and sobers. "The melody," he says, and starts to hum it, his voice breaking as it nears the high notes, his vocal chords thinned as they exceed his range.

Seokjin thinks he gets it, though, and points to the lyrics. "This part, right?"

"Yeah."

Seokjin inhales and starts letting the words bubble up from his chest, rolling them off his tongue carefully, building to the high notes. The lyrics are longing, desperate and lost, and he puts his everything into them, giving them life.

It doesn't last long, just a small portion of an incomplete song. When Seokjin finishes, he looks back to Yoongi, anxious, nerves fluttering.

Yoongi stares at him, eyes flickering, blinking, awe-struck. His response, silent in sound, makes Seokjin's cheeks flush pleasantly, more than loud praises could ever achieve.

Yoongi's breath huffs out in a sharp exhale. "Can I record it? Just, just on my phone. No one else will hear it." He smiles apologetically. "I don't want to forget how it sounds."

Seokjin doesn't think he could ever forget. Not the melody, not the song. Not this moment with Yoongi, how each breath sounds, how Yoongi's eyes move over him, how the veins in his hands appear when his hand flexes. But it's different for Yoongi, Seokjin knows. Yoongi gets caught up in his head and memories become distorted, blurry on replay, feeling and emotion skewing the colors, the tones. Yoongi remembers the feeling, fickle, moody things. He's asking for more than a melody. He's asking for clarity, for an anchor. A fixed point in the midst of uncertainty.

"Okay," Seokjin answers.

Yoongi pulls his phone from his jacket and licks his lips. "Okay, I'm ready."

Seokjin sings again, keeping his eyes steady on Yoongi, giving everything he has for this take. Yoongi's fingers clench tight over his phone, his chest still as he holds his breath.

They're both silent when Seokjin finishes, unwilling or unable to break the isolated bubble around them, a magic shield conjured up by Seokjin's voice. Seokjin thinks he can hear Yoongi's heart beating in his chest, a lullaby sending him back into dreams, reality hazy and unwanted.

Yoongi pulls his phone back, thumbing over the edge, smiling at it fondly. "Thank you," he says, glancing back up at Seokjin.

Seokjin's heart skips against his ribs, giddy. It's not fair, he thinks. A person shouldn't look as brilliant as Yoongi does now, gummy smile glowing, eyes soft and deep and focused on him. It's not fair.

The magic spell breaks as the door to the recording booth opens, the sharp sound of the creak causing both Seokjin and Yoongi to jump, reality flooding back in like a cold wind. Kris pokes his head into the room, smiling charmingly.

"Knock, knock," he says, stepping inside. "Am I interrupting?"

Yoongi's face falls into cool boredom. "No," he says, stepping away from Seokjin. "You're not."

Seokjin fights the ridiculous urge to reach out for him, draw him close again. Instead, he looks at Kris, confused. "What are you doing here?"

"Thought I'd surprise you with lunch. I made reservations." Kris glances at his watch. "Am I too early?"

Seokjin glances at Yoongi, but Yoongi isn't looking at him, heading out to the controls again.

"We'll finish the rest of the song tomorrow," Yoongi says. He smiles tightly at Kris as he passes him. "Excuse me."

Kris steps aside for Yoongi, then looks expectantly at Seokjin. "Shall we go?"

Seokjin breaths out a heavy sigh and nods. The moment, whatever it meant, suspended in time, is over.

&&&

"What are you doing?"

Jungkook glances from his phone camera up to Jimin, a larger image of the one on his screen. "Documenting," he says.

"Documenting what?" Jimin asks, slowing to a stop in the middle of the sidewalk. His nose is adorably red from the cold and he dips his face lower into his scarf.

"You," Jungkook says, smiling and angling his camera to zoom into Jimin's face, hoping the exact shade of pink that paints his cheeks is captured.

"I'm just walking," Jimin replies, laughing.

Jungkook shrugs, grinning.

"Put this in your cinematic masterpiece," Jimin says, reaching up to lower his scarf. He makes a funny face and Jungkook cackles, zooming in to his nose. Jimin reaches out and nudges him, laughing again. "Yah. Jeon Jungkook. Can you hold my hand while you document?" He pulls his hand out of his coat pocket, holding it out to Jungkook.

Jungkook blinks and looks over his shoulder, searching the street for onlookers. He turns back to Jimin. "We're outside," he says, frowning.

Jimin rolls his eyes. "Yes, and my hand is freezing." He wiggles his fingers out for Jungkook. "Come on, be nice and hold my hand."

Jungkook lowers his phone and frowns. "Is it okay in public?"

Jimin sighs and presses his lips into a firm line. He steps up to Jungkook and reaches down, grabbing Jungkook's hand. He holds their hands up to Jungkook's eye level and says, "You are my boyfriend. Your hand is free. You're going to hold mine no matter who is around. We're being quiet, not secretive. We're never going to hide this, okay?"

Jungkook smiles and nods. "Okay," he agrees.

"Good." Jimin intertwines their fingers together and lets their hands drop to his side. "Let's go."

Jungkook swings their hands between them, grinning when Jimin moves to bump his shoulders every few steps, a warmth blooming on his cheeks despite the cold.

They keep their fingers entwined together even after they reach the studio, all the way up to Hope Studios until the elevator announces their arrival to Jimin's floor.

Jimin smiles a little regretfully at Jungkook as he untangles their hands. "This is my stop," he says, gesturing to the doors as they slide open.

Jungkook worries at his bottom lip as he watches Jimin step off onto his floor, waving cutely at him.

He's been wanting to bring up the song – their song – for days, and he keeps letting the opportunity slip away every time it's presented. He exhales and scurries off the elevator before the doors close again, determined.

Jimin smiles, confused, and watches him expectantly.

"Um," Jungkook starts. "I've been wanting to ask." He breathes in deep, fortifying himself. "You're working on your comeback, and I was wondering if you'd like the song you sang for me? If, if you wanted it. No pressure if it's not something you want to put out. It was mostly just a favor to me anyway, and I don't know if you even want it, but I thought I'd ask." Jungkook presses his lips together to stop rambling, blinking at Jimin, waiting.

"Are you serious?" Jimin asks finally.

Jungkook nods slowly, frowning.

Jimin grins suddenly, eyes creasing nearly shut as his cheeks lift. "Yes, of course I want it! Are you really, really sure I can have it?"

Jungkook sighs in relief and smiles. He feels light, floaty, his feet lifting from the ground. "I'm sure. Really sure. It's yours."

Jimin exclaims happily and throws his arms around Jungkook's neck, sliding their lips together in a quick, giggling kiss. Jungkook freezes for a moment before he melts into Jimin, arms circling his waist and holding him steady. He angles his head, deepening the kiss. Jimin's giggles ease into a soft sigh against his mouth.

"We shouldn't be kissing in the hallway of your studio before we talk to Hoseok-hyung," Jungkook says when Jimin pulls away, feet flattening to the ground. "Unless you want to break it to him that way?" he teases, smiling a wide, ridiculous, silly smile.

Jimin laughs and shoves Jungkook back to the elevator. "Go to work, Jungkook-ah. Before I decide to keep you here."

That doesn't sound like a very terrible threat, Jungkook thinks, but he dutifully presses the call button on the elevator again, waving goodbye to Jimin when it arrives.

Jungkook smiles to himself the rest of the way up to his floor, a brief laugh escaping his lips before he can stop himself. He slides his hands into his back pockets and whistles a new tune when he steps onto his floor.

He intended to go to his room but pauses when he sees Yoongi's door open. After that day when he argued with Namjoon, Yoongi calmed down, becoming quiet, nearly morose. Jungkook keeps catching him staring into the distance, eyes unseeing, contemplative. He only speaks when necessary, the silence strange when Jungkook is used to chatter and noise from him.

He clears his throat and peeks into Yoongi's studio, half knocking on the doorjamb. Yoongi is standing by his shelves, three empty boxes open in front of him. He sorts through a stack of books before placing them in one box. "Hyung?" he calls out.

Yoongi looks up and sends Jungkook a small smile when he sees him. "Hey. What's up?"

Jungkook steps into the room and shrugs. "Nothing. What're you doing?"

"The movers are coming on Sunday to take the stuff to the new studio." Yoongi gestures to Jungkook. "You should start packing soon."

"I don't have much to bring," Jungkook says. He had decided to keep his room at Namjoon's as a second studio space he could use, moving between the new one Yoongi acquired and the one he's starting to call home. Roots, Yoongi had said all those months ago when they left New York. Jungkook wonders if it's possible to plant a home in more than one place, roots wrapping around his heart instead of earth.

Yoongi hums noncommittally and turns back to his shelf, hands wrapping around another stack of books.

Jungkook shifts on his feet, fidgeting. "Hyung, are you doing okay?" he asks finally, voice soft but the silence following his question still a stark contrast.

Yoongi looks back at Jungkook, frowning. He tilts his head, puzzled.

"I mean...." Jungkook blows out a breath, the awkwardness making it difficult to form the words correctly. "You've been quiet. And I thought it might have to do with Seokjin-hyung?"

Yoongi's eyes flicker and he sighs, replacing the books back on his shelf. "I'm okay, Jungkook-ah," he says, smiling for him.

Jungkook purses his lips. Yoongi's eyes don't reflect the smile on his lips, he thinks. He shifts on his feet again. "Did you talk to Seokjin-hyung yet?"

Yoongi presses his lips into a thin, flat line. "It's too late for that," he says finally, smiling sadly. "I was an idiot. I missed the timing." He sighs and hunches his shoulders up. "I'm always messing up the timing. I'll be okay, Jungkook-ah. Don't worry about me."

Jungkook frowns. "But." He stops, hesitating before starting again. "But did you come back to Korea for Seokjin-hyung?" he asks, voicing the thought that has been bouncing around in his head for weeks.

Yoongi shakes his head. "No. I left Korea for Seokjin. I came back because this is home. With or without him."

Jungkook considers Yoongi, still frowning. "So you won't talk to Seokjin-hyung?"

"I caused enough trouble in his life. He's moved on. It's not right for me to try to drag him back." Yoongi turns back to his shelf, fidgeting with the items. "Sometimes things just end. No matter how you wish they wouldn't."

Jungkook's frown deepens but he cannot think of anything else to say, Yoongi's words final and absolute. And maybe Yoongi is right.

Maybe some things just aren't meant to be.

&&&

"Seokjin-ssi."

Seokjin flicks his gaze to Yoongi on the other side of the glass partition, lowering his phone to his side.

"Let's take a break," Yoongi says through the speakers and tugs off his headphones, placing them to the side and turning away in his chair.

Seokjin pulls his own headphones off and carefully places them by the microphone, pocketing his phone and heading out of the booth into the control room. Yoongi is bent at his mini fridge, rummaging around.

"You want something to drink?" Yoongi asks. He turns his head to peer over his shoulder at Seokjin. "I can make honey water. For your throat."

Seokjin smiles, pleasantly surprised. "Honey water sounds nice," he answers.

Yoongi makes a noise in acknowledgement and pulls out a jar from the refrigerator. He straightens and hits the switch for the kettle, hands reaching for a mug and measuring out the mixture from the jar. Seokjin watches, almost transfixed. The motions are simple but his mind keeps flashing back to five years ago, to the intimacy of watching Yoongi make coffee in the morning as he wandered out of their bedroom. It's so familiar, so achingly familiar, but his heart pangs in longing, the knowledge that this isn't his like a poison in his veins. He wishes he could make this moment last just a little longer, time ticking too quickly, heedless of his desires.

This is their last session working on the OST together. This is the last time Seokjin has a valid excuse to see Yoongi. After today, Yoongi will move his studio to someplace unknown, and Seokjin will finally sign with another label. They will separate, again. It shouldn't be a difficult parting this time around, and yet somehow the pain in his chest is just as strong as it was back then.

Yoongi places the mug of honey water on the coffee table and gestures for Seokjin to sit on the couch. He picks up his can of soda and leans his hip on the edge of the control panel, tipping his head back to take a sip.

Seokjin sits on the couch and wraps his fingers around the mug, letting the heat seep into his skin. He presses his lips together and says, "Did you get a chance to work on your song?" He doesn't know why he brought it up. Perhaps he wants something to talk about in the silence between them. Perhaps he's trying to manipulate the atmosphere, foolishly trying to bring back whatever magic spell they spun last time when Yoongi recorded Seokjin's voice on his phone.

Yoongi shakes his head. "Haven't had time." He shrugs. "I packed most of the day."

Seokjin glances away. "Ah," he says, bringing the mug up to his lips and taking his first cautious sip. It's too hot but still soothes as it goes down his throat. He wonders if this is the last drink Yoongi will ever make him. The thought leaves the taste in his mouth bittersweet, lemon and honey and a heat that burns into his chest.

"Thank you, again," Yoongi says softly. Seokjin glances up, locking eyes with him. "For letting me record it. I really appreciate it."

Seokjin smiles and tilts his head. "Of course." He catches himself before he finishes his thought out loud. I would do anything for you.

They fall into silence again, the sound of Yoongi tapping his can of soda against the edge of the desk engulfing the room. Yoongi keeps his gaze steady on Seokjin's face, eyes deep and piercing and flickering with something Seokjin doesn't dare name. Seokjin doesn't look away, unwilling to let this moment end even as the seconds tick away at the last time Yoongi's attention will be on him and him alone.

Yoongi inhales, mouth opening as if to say something until he stops short and looks away, pursing his lips.

Seokjin frowns. "What?" he prompts, trying to draw Yoongi's gaze back, wanting, needing to know what words he swallowed down.

Yoongi shakes his head and looks back to Seokjin. "It's nothing."

Seokjin places his mug down on the coffee table and arches a brow. "What?" he repeats, more firmly this time.

Yoongi presses his lips into a thin line, considering, before he relents. "I was just...." He pauses and licks his lips, gathering his thoughts. "I was just wondering when I lost you," he finishes, voice rumbling, vibrating against Seokjin's skin.

Seokjin blinks, mouth parting, stunned and not sure how to respond.

Yoongi rubs a hand on his neck and makes a face. "Sorry, I shouldn't have said that. It's not appropriate anymore, considering."

Seokjin looks down at his mug. He can feel his ears flush red, his heart thumping too hard in his chest, his mind racing. He wants to tell Yoongi he never lost him, he's been stupidly in love with him for a stupidly long time. But it's just like Yoongi said. It's not appropriate anymore, considering.

Considering all the lies between them, considering all the pain Seokjin caused Yoongi, considering that Yoongi has moved on, happy in a new relationship where he can keep his promises.

"I'm sorry," Seokjin finally says, the only words he can give to Yoongi. He's sorry he started this, pursuing Yoongi first, drawing him into a love that was doomed to failure. He's sorry it ended, sorry he couldn't be more selfish, hold on with everything he had, foolish and greedy. He's sorry they don't have a second chance, all they were and all they should have been lying in ashes.

Yoongi's lips tighten. "Don't," he says quietly, a plea or a command, Seokjin doesn't know. "Don't apologize."

Seokjin curls his fingers into loose fists, swallowing down all his regrets.

Yoongi sighs and sets his can on the desk, curling his fingers around the edge of the desk. "We were really something special," he says, almost wistful.

Seokjin smiles softly, sadly, the honey and lemon still turning in his mouth. "We were," he agrees.

"It's just...." Yoongi trails off, eyes searching Seokjin again, for something, something, something.

"It's just it wasn't meant to last," Seokjin finishes, watches as Yoongi's face falls into sadness, features clouding and eyes growing distant.

"Yeah," he says, nodding. "That." He sighs and stretches his lips into a smile that doesn't quite reach his eyes. "We can still be friends, though. Right?"

Seokjin blinks at Yoongi, at the hope in his voice and the light in his eyes, at the hope that thumps unbidden with his heart, hope he doesn't know if he can ever learn to vanquish.

Yoongi scratches his ear and says, a little hesitantly, "You were a really important part of my life. I'd hate to lose that forever because we fucked up years ago. Purely platonic, of course. If you're comfortable with it." He shrugs and looks away, fiddling with his soda can again.

"Yeah," Seokjin says, hardly thinking, his mind giving way to his heart. "Yeah, I'd like that a lot."

Yoongi nods, pressing his lips together. "Okay. Great." He turns to look at the control panel. "We should get back to work."

"Ah. Yeah, yeah." Seokjin stands, taking one more moment to glance at Yoongi, wondering. Wondering at the hope that echoes in his heart. Wondering. He reaches the door to the booth and pauses. "Hey, um."

Yoongi looks up at him, expectant.

"I'm going out for drinks with Jaehwan and Hoseok tomorrow night. Hoseok's bringing Taehyung and Namjoon, too. I think Taehyung's bringing a few friends. Would you like to come?" Seokjin knows he's pushing his boundaries, but his heart still has control of his tongue, desperate to have something more, another day with Yoongi. Another. Just one more.

Just one more, it always beats in his chest, greedy and selfish.

"As a friend?" Seokjin adds when Yoongi remains silent, staring at him.

"Sure," Yoongi finally replies. "As a friend."

A friend, Seokjin thinks, is more than he ever dared to hope for. It's enough, he tells himself. It's enough for him.

&&&

Seokjin is usually early, always the first ready to leave for appointments and get-togethers even if he's the last to dress. He expects to be the first to arrive for drinks but his feet falter as he steps around the corner to the entrance of the restaurant. He finds Yoongi loitering outside under the dim streetlights. His arms are crossed against his chest, holding a large yellow envelope against him, his shoulders hunched against the cold, his face half-buried into a large scarf wrapped around his neck. Seokjin frowns and jogs up to him.

"Yoongi?" he says, tilting his head.

Yoongi straightens when he hears Seokjin, nose and mouth emerging from his scarf. His cheeks and the tip of his nose is red from the cold, his ears a faint pink.

"Why are you outside? How long have you been out here?" Seokjin says, a worried reprimand.

"I didn't want to miss you when you arrived," Yoongi answers, holding Seokjin's gaze.

Seokjin scoffs and rolls his eyes. "You would have seen me inside." He shivers against the cold wind that gusts against them and nods to the restaurant door. "Come on, let's go inside."

"Wait." Seokjin pauses and Yoongi steps closer to him, holding out the large yellow envelope. "I wanted to give you this."

Seokjin furrows his brow in confusion but reaches forward to take the thick envelope into his hands. "What is it?"

Yoongi licks his lips and shuffles his feet. "You haven't signed with a label yet and I wanted to put my name in the running. My label," he says quickly, correcting himself. "We always worked well together. And we're friends now, right? The past behind us."

Seokjin stares at Yoongi with wide eyes, unable to respond, fingers tightening around the envelope, scared it will vanish as he wakes from this dream. An offer from Yoongi, from Yoongi's label, it's the markings of a daydream, wishes allowed to run too long in his mind. The envelope crinkles under the pressure of his fingers.

"I ran it by the lawyers, so if you agree, it's good to go." Yoongi frowns, stuffing his hands deep into his coat pockets. "I don't expect a response right away. Just, consider it if you want to."

Seokjin's heart thumps loudly in his chest. He could work with Yoongi again. They could see each other every day again. It's foolish. It's exactly what he shouldn't do, and it's exactly what he wants with every part of his being. "Thank you," he finally says, clutching the envelope close to him, pressing it against his chest. "I'll read it when I get home."

Yoongi shrugs and sniffs, glancing away to the restaurant. "Yeah, take your time."

"Seokjin-ah!"

Seokjin glances over his shoulder and sees Jaehwan grinning and waving as he jogs up to him. Jaehwan's smile wavers momentarily when he catches sight of Yoongi, but he quickly recovers, brightening again.

"Yoongi-ssi," Jaehwan greets when he reaches them. "It's been a long time. I heard you were back in town."

Yoongi's expression fades into neutrality, his shoulders straightening under his massive coat. He bows in greeting. "I came back a few weeks ago."

"You have your own label now," Jaehwan continues cheerfully. "Impressive."

Yoongi presses his lips together, tense, but nods. "Thank you."

"We always knew you'd hit it big when you stepped out on your own," Jaehwan continues, stepping between Seokjin and Yoongi. The move is subtle but deliberate, and Seokjin wonders if Jaehwan is still worried about Seokjin's reaction to Yoongi. It's a few weeks too late, Seokjin thinks.

Yoongi's gaze flickers to Seokjin. "We?"

Jaehwan nods. "All of us at the label." He shivers. "Come on, let's go inside, it's freezing out here." He wraps his arm around Seokjin's shoulders and urges him forward.

Seokjin smiles at Yoongi and tilts his head to the restaurant, silently telling him to follow.

Yoongi narrows his eyes but follows obediently.

The rest of their party arrives shortly after they are all seated, and Seokjin is thankful for the constant buzz of conversation around them. The reunion between Yoongi and Jaehwan was tense but unsurprising. Jaehwan had never truly approved of Seokjin's relationship with him all those years ago. He thought Yoongi was brilliant but reckless, especially at a time when Seokjin had to be cautious, the idol world fickle and precarious. Yoongi had never said anything, but Seokjin thought he always knew, apprehensive whenever Seokjin mentioned Jaehwan.

So much has changed since then, but the tension and mistrust between Jaehwan and Yoongi seems to have endured.

Seokjin studiously ignores the pointed looks Jaehwan keeps sending him, and the lingering pressure of Yoongi's gaze on him when Yoongi thinks he isn't looking. He focuses on Namjoon beside him instead, their conversation taking a pleasantly philosophical turn, questioning the source of happiness. He focuses so intently on ignoring Yoongi and Jaehwan that he doesn't realize they both drink more than they should until it's too late.

"What about you, Yoongi-hyung?" Taehyung asks, his voice too loud and breaking through Seokjin's conversation with Namjoon.

Seokjin glances over to Taehyung, slumped over on the table and staring blurrily at Yoongi, obviously past his limit.

Taehyung points his finger at Yoongi. "You ever had your heart broken?"

Yoongi's eyes shift to Seokjin's and Seokjin's breath freezes in his lungs. Yoongi presses his lips together and looks back to Taehyung, smiling sadly. "Yeah," he says, fingers circling the rim of his glass.

"What happened?" Taehyung presses, blinking owlishly.

Yoongi shrugs and picks up his glass. "I wanted something. He didn't. It ended."

Jaehwan snorts, throwing back a shot of soju. Yoongi looks at him sharply, eyes narrowing.

"What?" he says directly, arching a brow at Jaehwan.

Jaehwan shrugs and smiles sardonically at his now empty glass. "Nothing."

Yoongi continues to glare at him, silently edging him on.

"Just funny that you still don't recognize how reckless you were." Jaehwan stares at Yoongi, arching his brows. "After all these years, the thought never occurred to you?"

Yoongi continues to stare at Jaehwan, his eyes widening slowly. He scoffs, lips curling in disdain, and sets his glass down in a loud thunk on the table. "It was you?"

Jaehwan doesn't respond, still staring at Yoongi.

Yoongi shifts back in his seat and laughs mirthlessly. "Of fucking course it was you," he says, anger building under his tone.

Seokjin straightens in his seat, eyes flickering between Jaehwan and Yoongi. Not here, he thinks, frowning. This is not the place for this confrontation.

"You persuaded him to end it," Yoongi accuses, brow lowering as he glares at Jaehwan, fingers tightening around his glass.

Jaehwan arches a cool brow. "I advised him what was in his best interests."

"Best interests my ass, they locked him in the fucking basement for three years," Yoongi spits out, exploding.

"And what were you going to give him?" Jaehwan retorts firmly.

Seokjin stands abruptly. "Yoongi," he calls out, trying to draw his attention. Not here, he thinks again. Not in front of Taehyung who will spill the entire story to Jimin, needlessly hurting him with something that should be dead and buried in the past.

Yoongi ignores him, leaning closer to say something no doubt scathing to Jaehwan.

"Yoongi!" Seokjin repeats, firm and authoritative.

Yoongi looks at Seokjin, eyes still burning in growing anger.

"Follow me," he says, reaching for his coat and sliding out of his spot at the table. When Yoongi hesitates, he adds, "Now."

He doesn't wait for Yoongi to act, shrugging his coat on irritably. Jaehwan moves to follow them but Seokjin presses his hand down hard on his shoulder. Jaehwan thins his lips together, sensing Seokjin's annoyance, and settles back in his seat.

Seokjin makes his way outside, hunching his shoulders as the biting wind stings at the exposed skin of his neck.

The door jangles as Yoongi steps outside to face Seokjin.

"The fuck do you think you're doing?" he demands as soon as Yoongi's peering up at him.

"He's the one who convinced you to break up with me? You listened to him over me?" Yoongi decries.

"Now is not the time, Yoongi," Seokjin says tightly. "You want to dig up all our history in front of everyone? Do you have any consideration for – " He stops himself from mentioning Jimin, remembering belatedly that he's not supposed to know about them yet. "Do you want rumors starting, hurting those closest to us?"

Yoongi freezes, remorse and regret flickering in his eyes. He dips his head and stares at his feet. "Sorry," he says quietly. "I just. I need to know, Seokjin-ah."

Seokjin sighs and closes his eyes, the familiar sound of his name on Yoongi's tongue, soft and affectionate, too much for him. "You're drunk, Yoongi."

"I need to understand," Yoongi continues, looking back at Seokjin, desperation in his every feature. "For years and years I couldn't understand how it happened. Why. When. I need to know, Seokjin-ah. That's all I want. I don't want anything else from you. I just need to know."

Seokjin presses his lips together, chest tight, lungs aching with lack of oxygen as his throat closes up.

"Please," Yoongi says softly, imploring.

Seokjin forces a deep breath into his lungs. Yoongi needs closure, he thinks, remembering Hoseok's words from a few days ago. He's been selfish, seeking comfort and closure for himself alone, never offering the same to Yoongi. "Not now," he says finally. Yoongi starts to protest but he adds quickly, "Soon. We'll talk soon and I'll tell you everything. Not when you're drunk."

He steps back and waves at one of the cabs waiting in the parking lot of the restaurant. The cab pulls up beside them and Seokjin opens the door for Yoongi.

"Go home now, Yoongi. We'll talk later."

Yoongi hesitates at the door of the cab, watching Seokjin carefully, frowning. "Promise me," he says, resistant. "We'll talk. Promise me."

Seokjin locks his gaze with Yoongi and says seriously, "I promise you, Yoongi. Now go home."

Yoongi relents and shuffles into the cab. Seokjin shuts the door behind him and watches as the car drives off. He shudders out a sigh and nods to himself.

He hasn't been able to keep his promises to Yoongi, he thinks, but he swears with every fibre of his being he'll keep this one, one last promise.

Closure, he thinks dully. He'll give Yoongi closure and finally it will be the end.

Chapter Text

Seokjin doesn't sleep that night after going home, Yoongi's voice replaying in his mind, desperate and so miserable. It cuts through his ribs, reinjuring the wounds he doesn't think ever quite healed.

He's been selfish, hoarding all their memories to himself, secure that they were real. That no matter what happened, Yoongi had loved him, wholly and completely, without a doubt. Seokjin had shouldered the burden of their demise, but Yoongi has been plagued with doubts of their very existence. The how and when and why a shrouded mystery that left him without peace over all these years.

Seokjin knows that now is the time to set it to rest. Now, he will give Yoongi the closure he needs. He can do this one last thing for Yoongi. He can do almost anything for him. His shoulders are wide and strong, able to bear the weight.

Dawn finally rises and Seokjin resigns himself to wakefulness, rolling out of bed and into the kitchen. The sky is overcast, grey clouds not dark and rolling but bleak and stagnant, filtering what would be brilliant sunlight into a dim, soft hue of illumination though his apartment. It looks like a winter sky, he thinks, cold and extensive and unending, dragging through the months, ignoring the pleas for spring.

It is still winter, he reminds himself, the blossoms of new flowers still too far away.

He makes himself a simple breakfast and nurses a cup of coffee, checking his phone too often throughout the process. He wonders how long Yoongi will sleep for, how long before his head has cleared and his inevitable hangover dissipates. Seokjin should wait to contact him until at least the late afternoon, he thinks. Possibly even a few more days, let things settle. But restlessness stirs in his stomach.

After breakfast he dresses carefully, a thick, warm tan sweater and a pair of jeans. He doesn't bother with contacts, opting for his prescription glasses instead. It feels oddly intimate, going to see Yoongi like this, casual and unstyled. It's a rarity that is reserved only for those closest to him.

He supposes he still feels close to Yoongi and he always will. They decided to be friends. He hopes the offer still stands. He doesn't want to imagine another five years without him.

Seokjin decides to head over to the studio and wait for Yoongi there. At least he could pretend to do some writing in Hoseok's studio as he anxiously waits for Yoongi to show up. He shrugs on his coat and grabs his keys from his desk, eyes flickering over the large yellow envelope Yoongi had given him the night before. He pauses, gaze wavering. He wants to take the contract with him, wants to see exactly what Yoongi is offering. He presses his lips together and walks away, leaving it untouched. Somehow, he doesn't think it's appropriate. The offer may not stand anymore.

He walks the few blocks to the studio, hood up and shoulders hunched against the stinging cold. It isn't windy, thankfully, but he can still feel the tip of his nose and ears turn red. He hurries his steps along, feet crunching on the snowy sidewalk.

It is still early in the day and he doesn't expect many people will be at the studio just yet – if there is anyone at all. Namjoon, Hoseok, and Taehyung had been at the drinking party as well. Seokjin suspects they will be at home most of the day, nursing their heads. Jungkook might possibly be at the studio, but somehow Seokjin thinks he's not exactly an early riser. The only person Seokjin reasons may be already in the building is Jimin, practicing a new routine or doing his vocal exercises.

Seokjin's feet falter and he slows his pace as a thought strikes him. Or, Jimin could be at Yoongi's apartment, nursing his hangover, fingers combing through Yoongi's hair gently, a soft reprimand on his lips. "Why did you drink so much? Silly."

It doesn't sting, just aches in his chest, less jealousy and more a lingering wish that it could be him instead. One day, he tells his heart. One day even the ache will fade.

He inhales, drawing the icy-cold air deep into his chest, to numb or distract him, he doesn't know. But his feet can move again and he carefully exhales as he continues on the path to the studio. Dwelling on what he cannot change will do him no good, he reminds himself. Wanting what he cannot have will only paralyze him and keep him frozen. Above all else, he wants to keep moving forward.

He's surprised when he reaches the studio to see a moving van parked by the front doors, two movers expertly placing boxes into the nearly full space of the trunk. He frowns, recalling Yoongi's plans to leave Namjoon's studio in favor of his own building. He didn't think it would happen so quickly.

Seokjin follows the movers up to Yoongi's floor, and sure enough, Yoongi's items are absent, his figurines and espresso machine, and all those things that Seokjin didn't have to be told to know they belonged to Yoongi.

He trails behind the movers to Yoongi's room, pausing when he sees the space gutted, a skeleton of what it once was. The desk remains but the large dual monitors are gone. The sound mixing equipment is missing, and all Yoongi's miscellaneous belongings are packed away into boxes. It really shouldn't hurt the way it does, shouldn't sting of rejection. Yoongi isn't leaving him.

He left Yoongi years ago.

Yoongi hasn't spotted him yet, too busy directing the movers and giving instructions. He has his hair capped by a grey beanie, a white mask tucked under his chin and a thick puffer coat wrapped around his frame. He looks tired. Seokjin wonders just how much sleep he got last night. He hopes it was more than him.

Seokjin steps back as the movers roll out another load on a dolly, heading out to the elevator. He straightens his back and inhales, stepping forward again to knock on the door, drawing Yoongi's attention.,

Yoongi turns to look at him, his movements halting when he sees Seokjin. He licks his lips and raises a hand to fiddle with the fringe he's parted under his beanie.

Seokjin attempts a smile, the gesture fading too quickly. "Hi," he says, his voice quiet but somehow still reverberating off the walls of the emptied room.

"Hey," Yoongi replies, eyes flickering over Seokjin.

"I didn't expect to see you here this early."

Yoongi shrugs and gestures vaguely to the stack of boxes in the room, the motion aborted halfway through. "The movers were scheduled."

"I saw." Seokjin shifts on his feet, the air heavy between them, the small talk torturous but inescapable. He doesn't know how to proceed. He doesn't want to proceed, he thinks hazily. It is a secret kept for five years, unspoken, buried under his heart so deep it's become a part of him. The extraction will be painful, no matter how necessary it is. "I didn't realize you were moving out so soon," Seokjin remarks, voice still even and coolly polite.

Yoongi presses his lips together. "I thought it was best."

Seokjin nods, wondering how far they can dance around each other, wondering just how much of last night Yoongi still means.

Yoongi sighs. "Let me," he starts, voice suddenly loud. He clamps his lips together and tries again, quieter this time. "Let me finish up with the movers and then we can talk. I don't want to be interrupted."

Seokjin nods again. "Sounds good."

"The, the common room still has furniture," he says. "It's Namjoon's stuff, so...."

Seokjin's lips twitch. "So at least we'll have a place to sit?"

Yoongi lets out a soft, conscious laugh, his face finally relaxing with a small smile on his lips. "Yeah. Something like that."

"I'll go wait for you there," Seokjin says, stepping back.

"I won't be long," Yoongi responds.

Seokjin heads to the common room. He wonders if he should remove his coat or not, just how comfortable he should make himself. He opts to stay as he is, still chilled, recovering from the walk over and that odd kind of coldness he gets when he's nervous. He takes a measured breath and waits, feet tapping anxiously against the floor as he settles onto a couch.

Yoongi keeps his word, rushing into the room not more than ten minutes later. He slows when he enters, eyes flickering from Seokjin to his own feet. "Sorry to make you wait," he says, moving to the seat diagonal from Seokjin, sitting stiffly with his hands on his knees.

"It wasn't long," Seokjin says.

Yoongi glances up, locking eyes with Seokjin as the room descends into silence again. They hold each other's gaze, frozen, immobile, and Seokjin's heart thumps in his chest, resounding in his ears, singing Yoongi's name on repeat.

Yoongi clears his throat and looks away first. Seokjin wonders belatedly if Yoongi had been searching his eyes for something, and whether he had found it. He wonders, ridiculously, if Yoongi can hear his own name whispered in Seokjin's heart.

"I'd offer you coffee," Yoongi says, "but my machine got packed away. I think Namjoon might have something –"

"I'm not thirsty," Seokjin interrupts.

Yoongi nods, a hand reaching up to his fringe again, misplacing the strands that peek out from his hat.

"Does your head hurt?" Seokjin asks, worrying about Yoongi's hangover.

Yoongi's brows furrow in confusion.

"From drinking. Last night," Seokjin elaborates.

Yoongi's lips thin into a straight line. "I wasn't drunk last night," he says.

Seokjin's breath catches in his throat at the implication. That Yoongi had been fully aware of his words. That he meant them all, with complete sincerity. That the heartbreak Seokjin saw last night had lived in Yoongi's chest for five long years.

Seokjin looks down at his hands, frowning.

"What happened back then?" Yoongi asks, voice quiet and lost.

Seokjin sighs and glances up again. "Where do I start?"

Yoongi holds his gaze for a moment before asking, voice careful and tones even, "When you accepted my proposal that night, did you have any intention to marry me?"

Seokjin's eyes widen and a shock goes through his chest, arresting his heart and lungs. He never thought Yoongi doubted even that. He realizes too late now, that there are still more wounds his heart will need to bear, a fresh and searing ache forming as he holds Yoongi's eyes with his. He forces a breath into his lungs. "Of course I did, Yoongi. When I said yes, I meant it with everything I had."

Yoongi's eyes flicker. "Did you ever doubt saying yes?"

"No," Seokjin says on an exhale, hoping Yoongi can believe him. "No, I never doubted you."

"But you changed your mind," Yoongi says, tone still so calm, stoic, holding whatever flickers in his eyes back.

Seokjin curls his fingers into fists and nods. "Yeah. I did."

Yoongi watches Seokjin expectantly but Seokjin still hesitates. Yoongi shifts and says, "Was it Jaehwan that told you to end it, or was it the pressure from your CEO?"

Seokjin looks away from Yoongi and inhales. "What I went to see Jaehwan, he put things into perspective," he starts slowly. "About how the label would blacklist you and me. About the public backlash we were sure to face. There wasn't just me to consider. Hyosang and Hoseok would also suffer. And he told me...." Seokjin trails off.

"He told you what?" Yoongi demands, tone hardening.

Seokjin glances back at Yoongi, sees his cheeks flushing with acrimony, a growing storm in his features.

"What could he have possibly told you that wiped away everything we were?" Yoongi prompts, lips tight and breath coming in harsh, quiet pants.

Seokjin's heart thumps against his chest like a hammer, heavy and destructive. "I know about New York," he finally says softly. There is no sense of relief after finally saying it, but there isn't any dread either. It just is, a fact from a lifetime ago, with no power to change the present.

Yoongi's brow furrows and his lips twitch. "What?"

"Jaehwan told me about the offer you had to go to New York. And that you turned it down to come back to Seoul."

Yoongi's jaw clenches tight, his eyes roving over Seokjin's face. "How did he know that?"

"He has a lot of friends in the industry. Is it really important right now?"

"You left me because I didn't take a job?" Yoongi accuses, voice hard and livid. His fingers grips tight on his knees, the knuckles turning white with the pressure.

Seokjin presses his lips together, anger starting to simmer low in his stomach. He doesn't understand how Yoongi still doesn't grasp the magnitude of what he did. "It wasn't a job, it was your dream."

"There would have been other opportunities. I was going to make my name here, at home, with –" He snaps his lips shut and swallows.

Seokjin huffs out a frustrated sigh. "You don't know that. You have no idea what would have happened. Look where you are now. You have everything you wanted."

Yoongi scoffs and raises a hand to rub at the bridge of his nose. "So you thought you had the right to just make that decision for me? It was my choice, stupid or not. You should have told me."

Seokjin gapes at Yoongi, incredulous. He arches his brows and points at himself. "I should have told you? You fucking lied to me, Yoongi. I asked you, when you came back from L.A. I asked you."

Yoongi stiffens. "I had my reasons," he dismisses.

"Bullshit. You never even thought about telling me."

"There was nothing to discuss."

"You put me above everything," Seokjin continues, exasperated.

"You were above everything!" Yoongi shouts, his voice loud and resonating.

Seokjin's heart stops, restarts, thumping in the echo of Yoongi's words, reverberating in his ears. He stares wide-eyed at Yoongi and wonders how his lungs still seem to function, drawing in a deep gulp of oxygen.

Yoongi presses his lips into a thin line and looks down at his knees, inhaling deeply and holding the breath in his chest for several long moments until he releases it again. "I wish you would have told me," he says finally, so quiet it's nearly a whisper.

Seokjin's eyes flicker and his shoulders droop, an invisible weight drawing them down. "And if I had?" he says, keeping his voice low and careful, his words as soft as he can make them. "You would have stubbornly stayed here, stuck."

"That would have been my choice."

"You would have been miserable."

Yoongi glances back to Seokjin, expression unreadable, too many thoughts blurring his eyes, a whirling storm of emotions. "Do you think there was a way?" he asks, a fragmented question that Seokjin understands immediately, their strange almost-telepathy waking from its long slumber.

Perhaps, Seokjin thinks. If Yoongi hadn't proposed so quickly and set everything in motion. If Seokjin hadn't told Hyosang, if Hyosang hadn't told the CEO. If Yoongi had been willing to try something long-distance until their timing could be better again. If Seokjin had been more selfish, if Yoongi hadn't been so recklessly stubborn. If Seokjin wasn't an idol and Yoongi wasn't a producer, and they met in the rain at a corner store, ordinary and carefree, a whole life apart. There are a thousand ifs but only one past, and only one present.

"Don't do that," he tells Yoongi. "Don't start looking for where it all went wrong. We were...." He inhales, lungs shuddering, and forces a smile he doesn't feel to his lips. "We were once in a lifetime, but our timing was never right. That's all."

Yoongi blinks rapidly and clears his throat. "I'm sorry," he says, voice wavering with the force of his words. "I thought I was the only one suffering." He presses his lips together. "I was stupid. It's not the first time."

Seokjin shakes his head. "Neither of us are to blame. Yoongi, you have to know, I never regretted any of it."

"Even though it had to end like that?" Yoongi asks, eyes focused on Seokjin, shining in the bright light of the overhead lamps.

"Even though it had to end like that," Seokjin confirms.

"I'm still sorry," Yoongi says, his fingers clutching at his knees. "For misjudging you." He smiles sadly. "For finding out too late."

Seokjin's breath chokes in his throat. He swallows it down, a heavy pressure in his chest. Too late. It's too late. He knew that. He's been living with the knowledge for weeks, years even. It doesn't surprise him, but it still pierces deep. There is no shock to numb the pain. "You probably shouldn't say things like that anymore," he says, his voice dull and distant in his own ears.

Yoongi holds his gaze for a moment longer, his tongue in the corner of his mouth. He nods and rubs a hand at the back of his neck. "You're right. Sorry."

They fall into silence again, apparently finally coming to the end. Seokjin knows he should stand up and leave, knows he should let it all finish here. Maybe his resolution has weakened with overuse, or maybe his heart has grown stronger, each beat strengthening it, but he cannot bring himself to leave just yet. Instead, he takes a breath and says, "I hope the offer of friendship still stands."

Yoongi's eyes widen. "Of course. I don't...I don't want to lose you in my life." He tilts his head, his lips quirking. "Ah, that might not be something I can say anymore."

He probably shouldn't, but Seokjin desperately wants to hear it. "It's okay," he answers.

Yoongi smiles in response. "Have you read the contract yet?"

"No. Not yet."

Yoongi nods. "Read it, when you have a chance. If you don't like anything, tell me. I can change it. Whatever you want."

Seokjin blinks at him, mouth parting. His fingers flex. "Anything?"

"Anything." Yoongi holds his gaze for a long moment. "You should come to see my studio. When I've settled in." He licks his lips. "I'd like to show you what I can offer you." He glances around the room, moving to a pad of paper and pen near the end of the coffee table. He scribbles on it for a moment before tearing off the top sheet and holding it out to Seokjin. "The address."

Seokjin stares at it for a moment before slowly reaching his hand out to grasp the paper. His fingers brush over Yoongi's as he takes the sheet, long digits that are still too painfully familiar. Seokjin clenches his jaw and draws back. "Thanks."

Yoongi exhales and sits back. "Yeah. Of course."

Silence descends on them again before Yoongi clears his throat and stands. The movement seems disruptive, breaking the moment. Reality rushes in like a chilled gust of wind.

"I should, ah. I should go. The movers will be getting to the studio soon," Yoongi says apologetically.

"Oh, yeah, yeah." Seokjin stands. "Yeah, I'll get going." He moves to the door.

"Hyung."

Seokjin stops and looks back at Yoongi.

"Thank you. For telling me everything. I just needed to know."

Seokjin swallows and smiles for Yoongi, his chest heavy. "I'm sorry it took me so long."

Yoongi presses his lips together and shakes his head. "It's okay. I hope...I hope this can be a new beginning for us."

Seokjin smiles and nods. "Me too."

&&&

It's still early when Seokjin makes his way back home. He leaves the studio shortly after Yoongi, the space eerily silent, the air heavy and sinking as he inhales. He walks to his apartment slowly, hands stuffed into the deep pockets of his coat. Oddly, it's not cold now, he thinks. His hand is warm where Yoongi's brushed it. He runs his finger up and down the folded piece of paper with Yoongi's new studio address written in his quick, efficient strokes.

A new beginning, Yoongi had said. Seokjin's fingers clutch the paper in his hand. He wants it so badly.

Seokjin must have been lost in thought, because before he knows it, he's arrived back at home. He quietly toes off his shoes at the entrance and shrugs out of his coat, hanging it with care in the hallway closet. He walks over to his desk in the living room, a workspace he's made for himself, and places his keys on the wooden surface. They make a muted jangling sound, but his attention is transfixed on the two piles of papers beside his laptop. A stack for offers from acting agencies, and a stack from music labels. Placed carefully on top of the music stack is Yoongi's yellow envelope from last night, and directly beneath it, Kris's offer for Kelly Inch.

Seokjin stares at the papers for a moment before he straightens his back in determination. It's time to make a decision, he thinks. A final decision. A firm decision.

One he will not be persuaded against.

He grabs the stack of offers from the acting agencies and tosses them into his recycling bin. He wants to act again, he knows that for certain, but even more so he wants the stage and the crowd and the voices singing as one. He glances back to his desk and the remaining pile. There's only two true contenders, he knows.

He reaches his hand forward, picking up the yellow envelope from Yoongi and the sleekly bound contract from Kris. He walks to the kitchen, Kris's contract cool and smooth under his fingers, Yoongi's contract crinkling in his grip. The sound melds with the soft scuffle of his slippers on the hardwood floor. His fingers tighten on the papers.

He sets the papers on the kitchen counter and picks up his electric kettle, filling it with water before setting it back down and switching it on. He pulls out a mug and sorts through his cupboard to select a container of tea. The familiar motions of brewing tea calm him and he realizes belatedly that he's nervous. Nervous to face the contracts, to make the decision. To choose a path, right or wrong, and set off down it.

A new beginning, his mind echoes.

He hops up to sit on the counter and stares at the two contracts, sleek and enticing versus pragmatic and promising.

He reaches for the Kelly Inch contract first and reads it thoroughly as his tea steeps.

It is just as Kris told him at dinner. Fifty-fifty split, four albums, one acting opportunity. It's a good offer. Seokjin frowns as he reads through it, unease settling in his stomach with every page. It's too good to be true, mistrust for the company so ingrained in him that it flows through his blood.

He flips to the beginning and starts again, half-empty mug of tea forgotten by his hip, cooling rapidly. This time he focuses on what the contract doesn't say. He's guaranteed four albums but distribution is only stipulated for the first two. The acting role, while he appreciates it, is particularly worrying. He won't be given a choice in the matter, he realizes. Whatever roles they accept on his behalf, in whatever film or drama, he has no power to reject it.

And he notes with a frown that the contract is entirely void of the creative control he had requested from Kris.

He sets the papers down on the kitchen counter by his thigh and sighs. It's a good contract, though. Despite his misgivings, it's the best contract he's seen in the industry. And still, so much of it depends on Kris and his particular ambitions. If Kris's interest in Seokjin continues, Seokjin has no doubt that he will prosper at Kelly Inch. It's the alternative that troubles him.

He slides down from the counter and stretches, his muscles stiff from the prolonged awkward position. His mind feels like a jumbled mess of pros and cons and vain attempts to predict the future.

He grabs the yellow envelope, listens to the way it crinkles in his hand, and pushes away from the counter. He goes to his living room and settles on the couch, tucking his legs under him and curling against the arm of the sofa until he's comfortable.

He stares at the envelope for too many moments. He can perfectly recall Yoongi's face when he gave it to him, not even a day ago. Cheeks and nose red, lips chapped, and eyes so endearingly nervous and hopeful. Seokjin's breath shudders out in a slow exhale and he opens the package.

He reads the contract slowly, taking each sentence, each word and turning them over in his head. He can hear Yoongi in the structure somewhere between the legal jargon. He wonders if he's imagining it, a fanciful idea in a dry document. Even if it is his mind playing tricks on him, Seokjin wants to indulge in the fantasy, wants to believe the words are coming directly from Yoongi's hand, from his heart.

Yoongi's contract offers a sixty-forty split in Seokjin's favor. It guarantees three albums and details the distribution logistics for them. It also stipulates Seokjin's creative control, giving him generous room to pursue the sound he wants. It doesn't guarantee any acting roles, but instead posits that any and all offers will be presented to Seokjin for final approval. He will have the freedom to choose what offers to accept.

He knows Yoongi doesn't have the influence in the film industry that Kris does, and will perhaps not be able to procure the same roles, but the freedom of the choice in projects far exceeds Kris's offer.

Seokjin reads the entire contract again and again, and a fourth time. He only stops when his eyes blink rapidly against the growing moisture and he has to swallow against the lump in his throat. He supposes it never truly seemed real before. That Yoongi, the boy he loved, the man he's grown to love again, finally has his dream. That he owns and operates his label. That he can offer Seokjin a contract.

Seokjin's memory is hazy of that day, too long ago. It's blurred by exhaustion and the fever he had been running. He cannot conjure up Yoongi's face. He cannot remember the way his voice sounded. But he can imagine Yoongi's long fingers stroking the hair from his damp forehead.

He can remember Yoongi's words, faded, not in Yoongi's voice but the sound of Seokjin's mind, an echoed chorus. "One day, I'll have my own label. I'm going to sign you and you won't have to work these inhumane hours anymore."

"Sounds nice. It's a deal."

"It's a promise, hyung."

Seokjin doesn't want to cry. He's been through all these weeks with a firm and stoic mind. He doesn't want to cry now when the worst is over, when this is supposed to be resolved, a peaceful existence and a reconciled friendship with Yoongi firmly established. He swallows hard, staring at the contract, his fingers trembling.

Yoongi promised this.

Seokjin presses his lips together tightly but the fight is already over, and he feels traitorous tears fall unbidden from his eyes. He scrunches his face and presses himself into a pillow, muffling the shuddering, heaving sound of his lungs as he swallows his heartbreak.

Yoongi promised.

His fingers tighten over the contract.

Yoongi always keeps his promises.

&&&

Seokjin spends three days reviewing the contracts over and over, thinking, thinking, thinking until he has a permanent headache. He's so tired of weighing and predicting and striving to make the right choice, the best choice. It's wiser not to sign with Yoongi. It's wiser to avoid a long-standing and intimate relationship with Yoongi. It will only hurt him in the end. He would die slowly, agonizingly, so close to the man he adores and always, always holding back. It's dangerous and it's stupid and it's all his heart wants.

While his mind is busy creating a hundred scenarios of what could go wrong if he signs with Yoongi and the alternative if he signs with Kris, his heart beats a steady rhythm, ignoring him. He wants Yoongi.

Finally, his mind weary, he relents. He has ignored his heart for too long and the consequences have pained him. He wants to listen to the beating in his chest and see where it takes him.

Seokjin avoids Kris's calls and messages until his contract with Kelly Inch officially expires. He doesn't expect any dublitious retaliation against him from Kris but he remembers that he hardly knows Kris, acquainted for barely over a month. His mind feels more at ease when the risk is reduced and he has freedom, true, long-awaited freedom.

He arranges a meeting with Kris at Kelly Inch the day after his contract expires.

Seokjin is directed to the CEO's office when he arrives. He notes with mild surprise that the door now bears Kris's name, his former CEO's presence apparently vanquished.

"Seokjin-ah," Kris greets when he enters the office. He grins, wide and charming, and walks from around his desk to the array of visitor's couches. "It feels like years since I last saw you."

Seokjin smiles and settles into one of the couches. "It's hardly been a week," he says and glances around the office. Kris has removed much of the old furniture and artwork, replacing them with items that fit his own style. He turns back to Kris. "I see you've settled in."

Kris shrugs and leans on the arm of the couch across from Seokjin. "I'm the official owner of Kelly Inch now. It seemed appropriate."

Seokjin blinks. "Already? I thought there was more paperwork."

Kris waves his hand in dismissal. "It's been in the works for months."

Seokjin frowns, something not quite making sense, a suspicion he cannot quite formulate yet.

"Did you come to tell me good news?" Kris asks, interrupting Seokjin's thoughts. Kris tilts his head, his eyes alight with interest.

Seokjin's lips dip into an apologetic frown.

"Or is it bad news?" Kris adds, eyes searching Seokjin's face.

Seokjin straightens his back and looks up at Kris. "I've decided not to renew with Kelly Inch," he says. He's surprised at the instant sense of relief that courses through his veins as he speaks the words, final and definitive.

Kris frowns. "Was there something you didn't agree with in the contract? It can be arranged."

Seokjin shakes his head. "It wasn't one or two things. My time with Kelly Inch is over. That's all it is."

Kris contemplates Seokjin seriously, arms crossed over his chest, his lips twisted in thought, eyes probing. Seokjin keeps his features politely impassive yet firm. Kris purses his lips and says finally, "I won't say I'm not disappointed, but I'm assuming you thought this out very thoroughly."

"I did," Seokjin confirms.

"And there's no way to persuade you?"

Seokjin smiles. "No. I will not be persuaded."

Kris sighs in resignation. "I'm defeated, then," he says.

Seokjin sends him another apologetic smile. "Your offer was very generous. Even if it wasn't right for me."

"I'm assuming," Kris starts, arching a brow, "that since you haven't mentioned keeping business and pleasure separate as a reason for this rejection, you have some more bad news for me?"

"It's hardly bad news," he says. "We weren't really dating."

"Then why does it feel like we're breaking up?"

Seokjin smiles sadly. "You're a very attractive, charming man."

"Even if I'm not right for you?" Kris finishes, smiling in amusement.

Seokjin nods in confirmation. "Even if you're not right for me."

"Can you do me one last favor?" Kris asks, kicking away from the couch and stepping into Seokjin's space, leaning down.

Seokjin blinks. "What?"

"Call me gege just once?"

Seokjin laughs. “You’re impossible’” he says, amusement lilting in his voice. He cranes his neck up and presses his lips softly to Kris's cheek. He pulls back and smiles. "Thank you for everything, Kris-gege."

Kris squeezes his eyes shut and clutches both of his hands over his heart, stumbling back as if hurt. "You're merciless," he says, dramatically.

Seokjin stands and shakes his head, amused. "You'll get over me."

Kris looks at Seokjin, their eyes locking, his expression thoughtful. "I don't know if you know this, but you're not someone that's easy to forget. Or get over." He smiles, charming and superficially effusive again, a mask Seokjin is starting to recognize. "But I'll get over you, don't worry. If you ever change your mind, though. Come see me. Business." His smile widens. "Or pleasure."

Seokjin smirks but shakes his head. "I won't change my mind," he says, the sound of his voice an echo of his heart. He is determined.

&&&

Seokjin isn't surprised to receive a phone call from Hoseok a few days later. He is, however, surprised at Hoseok's tone, curt and serious.

"Hyung, do you have time to meet up today? I have something important to tell you," Hoseok says, voice so stiff it's almost unrecognizable.

Seokjin frowns, brow furrowing in worry. "What is it? Tell me now."

"I don't want to say it over the phone. Our regular cafe at two?"

"Yeah, sure, I'll see you then."

Seokjin spends the rest of his morning pretending he isn't concerned, his mind conjuring up the worst imaginations of what would cause such a shift in Hoseok's tone and mood. Maybe it's something to do with his label. Or his artists. Or Yoongi.

It hits Seokjin that he would be one of the last people to know if something happened to Yoongi. He would probably never know if Yoongi was going through troubles and needed a shoulder to lean his head on. The thought disturbs him. He hopes Namjoon and Jungkook take care of Yoongi. He hopes Jimin can detect the subtleties in Yoongi's behavior and encourages Yoongi to lean on him when he feels weak. And in his chest, buried away with the memories of that fleeting time of youth and love and a perfection he'll never know again, Seokjin wishes he could still be the one who Yoongi leans on. That Yoongi could still be the one he could lean on, too.

He wonders if it will ever change, the wishes deep in his chest. Maybe. And maybe not. For now, he's decided to acknowledge them. He's tired of ignoring his heart.

He arrives at the cafe early and grabs an empty table by the window. He sips on the coffee he's ordered and watches for Hoseok's approach.

Hoseok spots him even before he enters the cafe, hands stuffed into his jeans pockets and a warm beanie over his hair. He nods to Seokjin and heads to the door.

"Hi, did you wait long?" Hoseok asks as he reaches the table, sliding out the chair opposite Seokjin and settling in.

Seokjin shakes his head. "Not long."

Hoseok nods, rubbing his hands together to warm them. "Good, good. Sorry to call you out so suddenly, I just got the information."

"Do you want a drink?" Seokjin asks, frowning as Hoseok blows on his chilled fingers.

Hoseok's eyes flick to the barista, then back to Seokjin. "Later. First, please tell me you haven't signed the contract with Kelly Inch yet. Please."

Seokjin's brow furrows. "No, I haven't."

Hoseok lets out a long sigh of relief, collapsing forward onto the table. "Good. Okay, good. It's not too late."

Seokjin blows out a frustrated sigh, the building tension in his chest since Hoseok called him finally snapping. "What is it?"

Hoseok straightens in his seat. He frowns at Seokjin, brow furrowed in contemplation. "I'm not sure how to say this," he starts.

Seokjin stares at him, waiting, lips twisted in exasperation.

"Kris Wu is a liar, hyung."

Seokjin blinks, eyes widening. "What?"

"I thought it was weird that he didn't recognize you. He debuted after us in Korea, and we were top billing at music shows for a while. It isn't plausible that he's completely forgotten your face." Hoseok shakes his head. "Something was shady. I don't like to be nosy – "

Seokjin cannot stop his snort at that.

"I don't!" Hoseok insists. "It's not my fault. I just see things that are out there."

"Sorry, I love you, go on," Seokjin placates.

"I'm not nosy. I'm well-informed," Hoseok says, frowning, before he continues. "Anyway. I asked a friend who knows the stylists for one of Kris's artists. And hyung" – Hoseok shifts forward, eyes sharp and serious – "he's been asking around about you for months."

Seokjin's mouth parts. He supposes he's shocked, in a dull, vague sort of way. It certainly isn't something that ever crossed his mind in the weeks after meeting Kris. But still, it seems reasonable. It makes Seokjin's dismissed observations of Kris's character a little more valid, a little more in tune with what his heart told him.

"Look, I know you like him," Hoseok says, sighing, "but I just wanted you to have all the information before you sign with him. Or get your heart broken."

Seokjin purses his lips and weighs the information Hoseok has given him. His opinion of Kris doesn't change, he thinks. He still finds him charming and fun. His heart still remains silent and impassive about him, not shamed for being fooled or upset for calling Kris's advances and intentions into question. "I think I always knew he was calculating," he says slowly. "But that's not something I necessarily find wrong or reproachful."

Hoseok stares at him, brow furrowed in confusion and more than a little judgment.

Seokjin smiles and shrugs. "In this industry, none of us keep our innocence. I admire that he's mastered the game. I sympathize, too. He was able to get out of his contract and establish himself independently." His smile fades. "If I'd been more like him, maybe I wouldn't have been waiting around all these years."

Hoseok's expression softens and he presses his lips together. "We've had a difficult path. But it's over now."

Seokjin smiles. "Yeah. It's over now." He turns his mug of coffee in a slow circle on the table and says, "So you think Kris was flirting with me just to make me sign the contract?"

"I thought about that, but...." Hoseok curls his lips. "He's never been very public with his flirtations before. At least, he hasn't tried it with the other artists he's signed. I think his feelings for you are genuine, as far as I can tell as an outsider."

Seokjin nods and makes a noncommittal noise.

Hoseok eyes him carefully. "Are you interested in him?" he asks, wary.

"Would you oppose if I was?" Seokjin asks, arching a brow, curious.

"I'll support you in whatever you want. If Kris makes you happy, I'll be happy for you. You deserve that much, hyung."

Seokjin lifts the mug to his lips and takes a sip of coffee. "I'm not interested in Kris," he answers truthfully. "I thought I could be, but I'm not."

Hoseok nods and licks his lips. "Okay." He drums his fingers on the table. "Are you still thinking of signing with Kelly Inch again?"

"I already told Kris no."

Hoseok sighs in relief and smiles. "Good."

Seokjin laughs. "You're overly invested in who I sign with."

"After all they did to us." Hoseok makes a face of disgust. "No. They don't get to have you now." He smiles and tilts his head. “So. Who's the lucky label that gets you?"

"I haven't decided yet," Seokjin says, taking another sip of coffee. He swallows, the bitter liquid somehow sweet on his tongue. "Yoongi offered me a contract," he says, glancing at Hoseok.

Hoseok's eyes widen and his mouth drops opens. "When, what, how, is it good? Will you take it? Why didn't you tell me?"

Seokjin smirks. "Go order your coffee, Hoseok-ah, and I'll tell you everything."

Hoseok opens his mouth to protest.

"Go, go," Seokjin insists, shooing him with his hand.

Hoseok sends him a glare but stands, pointing his finger at Seokjin. "You'll tell me every last detail?"

"Yes. Go."

"You better," he mutters as he heads to the barista.

Seokjin smiles and glances down at his mug, turning it slowly on the table again. He starts piecing together his answers to Hoseok's questions, pausing when he gets to "will you take it?”

He doesn't know yet, but whatever the answer is, he vows it will be from his heart.

&&&

Jimin flicks his eyes between Jungkook's face and down to the item in Jungkook's hands, lips twisted in dubious wariness. "I'm not entirely certain that is necessary," he says, arching his brows and glancing back up to Jungkook. His voice echoes a little in the underground parking garage, hollow and bouncing.

Jungkook holds the item closer to Jimin, his lips tilting into a small pout, eyes wide and pleading. "Please? I want it to be a surprise."

Jimin glares but Jungkook can see Jimin's resolve crumbling. Jimin scowls and gets out of the passenger's seat of Jungkook's car, making Jungkook take three small steps backward to accommodate him. Jimin shuts the car door with a firm shove and glances back at Jungkook, standing perfectly still with the silk blindfold in his outstretched hands, doe eyes widening even more. Jimin sighs. "Okay, fine, if it'll make you happy. You better not let me trip!"

Jungkook grins, a wide display of teeth and lips. "I'll hold you up if you do," he assures.

Jimin scoffs but his cheeks color slightly. He reaches for the blindfold, blinking in surprise when Jungkook pulls it away. He glances questioningly up at Jungkook.

"Let me," Jungkook says, a little shyly, eyes shifting away from Jimin. He bites his bottom lip and waits for Jimin's reply. "If that's okay," he adds quietly, glancing back to Jimin.

Jimin smiles and laughs, turning around so his back is to Jungkook. "Okay," he acquiesces.

Jungkook grins and steps closer to Jimin. He brings his hands over Jimin's head and down, careful not to bump him, and pulls the blindfold gently over Jimin's eyes. He can smell Jimin's body wash from this distance, a fresh, clean scent that makes him want to bury his head into Jimin's neck. He bites his lip and mentally shakes the thought away, focusing on his task.

Jimin's hair is soft under his fingers as he ties the blindfold in place, and he has a sudden thought that he can hardly tell the difference between the strands and the silk.

Jimin holds his hands in front of him as soon as the blindfold is secured, cautious and slowly searching for something to grab onto.

"Can you see anything?" Jungkook asks, letting his fingers drop from Jimin's hair, trailing over Jimin's shoulders before coming to rest at his own sides.

"No, I can't, and if you don't take my hand right now, I'm going to kick you," Jimin answers, waving his right hand wildly by his side.

Jungkook laughs. "How can you kick me if you can't see me?"

Jimin kicks his leg backwards and steps on Jungkook's foot. Jungkook winces and tries to swallow the noise of pain that bubbles up through his lips unbidden. "Ha!" Jimin says, smugly satisfied. He holds his hand open. "Hand."

Jungkook smiles to himself and slides his right hand into Jimin's. He stays behind Jimin and places his left hand on the small of Jimin's back, applying a gentle pressure, urging him forward. "Come on, let's go."

"Slowly, slowly," Jimin says as he takes slow, careful steps. The sound of their shuffling feet echoes through the garage, a soft beat that Jungkook wonders if he can translate into a track. "You couldn't have put on the blindfold in the elevator?" Jimin grumbles.

Jungkook smiles and squeezes Jimin's hand. "I don't really mind this, though. Do you?"

"You're trying to be smooth again," Jimin says, and Jungkook can hear the smile in his voice. His eyes are probably crinkled up in amusement behind the blindfold.

"And you're falling for it," Jungkook answers, guiding Jimin into the elevator.

"Yeah," Jimin sighs. "I am."

Jungkook hums, content, and reaches over to select the floor on the elevator panel.

"What floor is your studio on?" Jimin asks, voice curious. Jungkook's been telling him about his space at Yoongi's new studio but this is the first time Jimin gets to see it.

"We technically have three floors and the basement, but only one floor is ready. It's the fifth one." Jungkook gently swings the hand he has clasped with Jimin's. "Yoongi-hyung wants the basement to be for dance practice and in-house filming."

"Impressive," Jimin coos.

The elevator comes to a stop and the doors slide open. Jungkook presses against Jimin's back again. "Step off the elevator now," he says softly, a heavy sense of content flowing over his skin as he feels Jimin's body comply. "Careful, we're turning right now."

Jimin cautiously follows Jungkook's instructions and urgings, his left hand out in front of him as he advances.

"Almost there," Jungkook continues, and turns Jimin to face his studio door.

Jimin stops when he feels the smooth surface of the door. He pats around it, fingers brushing over the sign that reads GOLDEN CLOSET in large, shiny gold characters against a black plaque. Jimin laughs, fingers tracing the embossed characters. "Golden closet again?"

"I'll tell you the story later," Jungkook says. He leans over Jimin and opens the door. "You can take the blindfold off now." Jungkook releases Jimin's hand and shifts back, watching nervously.

Jimin tugs the blindfold down to rest around his neck and steps into the room. His eyes fall over the studio, the three huge monitors, the state-of-the-art equipment, the gaming consoles and Bearbricks, and all the pieces Jungkook chose to make it another home. "It's amazing," Jimin says, spinning around to see everything. His hand brushes over the back of Jungkook's computer chair.

Jungkook smiles, flushing at Jimin's excitement, shy and exuberant all at once. "You like it?"

Jimin nods, grinning. "It's so cool."

"Lemme show you my recording booth," he says eagerly. He gestures to the hallway.

Jimin moves to walk past him into the hall but as he passes, Jungkook catches him and wraps his arms around Jimin's waist from behind. He rests his head on Jimin's shoulder and starts to walk them awkwardly down the hall, holding Jimin firmly from behind.

Jimin laughs, loud and cascading, his head falling back into Jungkook with the force of it. "What's this? I'm not blindfolded anymore."

Jungkook ducks his head, pressing his lips to Jimin's shoulder. "You want me to let go?"

Jimin's hands clasp over Jungkook's in front of him. "I didn't say that," he replies, leaning back into Jungkook.

They shuffles to Jungkook's recording room and Jungkook shows everything off like an excited child, still clinging to Jimin's back, unwilling to let go. Fortunately, it seems like Jimin is willing to indulge him.

"Jungkook-ah," Jimin says, his tone turning more serious. "Are you sure you want to split your time between two studios? It's amazing here. You should just use this one instead of going back and forth."

Jungkook frowns and tightens his arms around Jimin. "I like being close to where you work, though."

Jimin makes a displeased sound and slaps Jungkook's hands hard. "Don't do that," he scolds.

Jungkook blinks and straightens.

Jimin peers over his shoulder at Jungkook. "Don't start prioritizing me over your career, Jungkook-ah. There's a balance."

Jungkook furrows his brow, turning Jimin's words over in his head. "You're not the only reason I decided to stay with Namjoon-hyung. I still want to be able to go over my things with Namjoon-hyung. I'd like to work with Hoseok-hyung, too. And I really like the convenience store there."

Jimin's lips lift into an amused smile at that.

"But I'll make sure to be careful," Jungkook continues. "I won't put you over me. We'll be equal."

Jimin's smile widens, pleased. "Promise?"

"Promise," Jungkook says, nodding.

Jimin cranes his neck and peeks Jungkook's lips, pulling back quickly. He detangles himself from Jungkook. "Okay, show me the rest of the tour."

They step back into the hallway and pause when Yoongi escorts a women from his office. Jungkook blinks. She's a striking beauty, with intelligent eyes and long dark hair framing her face. He doesn't recognize her.

"Ah," Yoongi says to the stranger when he spots Jungkook. "This is Jeon Jungkook, a producer here." He looks to Jungkook. "Jungkook-ah, this is Kim Jisoo."

The woman, Jisoo, smiles at him and thrusts her hand out. "Nice to meet you," she says.

"Ah, yeah." Jungkook quickly takes Jisoo's hand to shake. "Nice to meet you, too," he says, confused. Her grip is firm and decisive.

"And this is Park Jimin," Yoongi continues, turning Jisoo's attention to him.

She smiles and holds out her hand to him. "What do you do here?"

"Oh, I'm just visiting," Jimin says, smiling at her and shaking her hand.

"Nice to meet you in any case." She turns back to Yoongi. "I hope to hear from you soon, PD-nim."

"Un. I hope to have a decision soon. Take care," he says and waves as she departs, heading to the elevators.

Jungkook frowns, puzzled. "Who was that?" he asks when she's sure she is out of earshot.

"I'm thinking of starting an acting department. She'll run it, if all goes well," Yoongi answers.

Jungkook's frown deepens. "None of our artists act."

"Are you showing Jimin around?" Yoongi asks, ignoring Jungkook's statement.

"He's giving me the grand tour," Jimin says, smiling. "I like it a lot. Looks really nice."

Yoongi nods but his eyes narrow and his lips purse. He's silent for a moment before he says slowly, "You have a blindfold around your neck."

Jimin's eyes widen and he looks down at the blindfold still hanging around his neck. He reaches a hand up and hurriedly tries to untie it. "It's not-"

Yoongi holds up a hand and shakes his head. "I really don't want to know. Just try to keep it, ah, private next time."

Jungkook's eyes widen and he has press his lips together hard to keep from laughing.

Jimin's face flushes deep red and he makes a face. "It's not like that."

Yoongi nods. "Okay, yeah. I didn't ask." He steps around Jungkook and waves at them. "And I don't want to know," he calls out, shuffling away and down the hall, out of sight.

Jungkook loses the battle against his laughter and he bursts out cackling, doubling over with the force of it.

Jimin slaps at Jungkook's back. "He thinks I'm a pervert thanks to you. First the porn thing and now this."

Jungkook can't breathe, his stomach hurts, it's too funny.

"Jeon Jungkook!"

Jungkook shakes his head, his eyes wet with tears. He holds up his hands and tries to communicate with them, unable to speak.

"I swear to you, Jungkook, one day I will have my revenge," Jimin vows, but Jungkook just laughs and wraps his arms around Jimin's shoulders, urging him down the hallway.

&&&

After seven years as a sunbae, a labelmate, and a friend, Seokjin doesn't feel right leaving Kelly Inch without telling Jaehwan personally about it. He asks Jaehwan out for dinner as soon as he made his decision, and after a few attempts at lining up their schedules, they finally meet face-to-face at Jaehwan's favorite restaurant.

Jaehwan is already seated and glancing over the menu idly when Seokjin arrives. He grins when he sees Seokjin approach, setting the menu down and slipping out of his booth to hug him. "Sorry it took so long to see you," he says, patting Seokjin's shoulders and pulling away.

Seokjin smiles and shakes his head, slipping into the seat opposite Jaehwan. "It's fine. You've been busy. That's a good thing."

Jaehwan slips back into the booth, smiling. "Yeah, it's a good thing. Wu-PD put us all to work as soon as he took over. It's a relief, honestly."

"Everyone must be excited."

"Over the moon." Jaehwan sits back in the booth, eyes content and shoulders more relaxed than Seokjin has seen in years.

He hides it well, Seokjin thinks, but Jaehwan carried the weight of Kelly Inch on his shoulders alone for years. He's acted as an advocate for the artists, securing whatever work he could for them with his limited authority and influence. Seokjin is relieved that the pressure and stress seems to be over. He hopes Jaehwan can go back to how he was before, when Seokjin first met him. Happy and exuberant, pursuing his own career and finding joy in it.

"I'm glad to hear it," Seokjin says. "Kris-ssi is clever and ambitious. If anyone can save Kelly Inch, it's him."

Jaehwan's eyes lock with Seokjin's, an unvoiced question lingering there. Before he can ask it, the waiter arrives to take their order. When they are alone, Jaehwan starts again. "So. You have news you'd like to share?" he asks, arching his brows and watching Seokjin curiously.

Seokjin quirks his lips into a crooked smile and nods. "I wanted to let you know I have decided not to renew with Kelly Inch." His smile fades apologetically. "We won't be labelmates anymore."

Jaehwan tilts his head, unsurprised, expression softening. "I heard. Wu-ssi told me."

"Ah."

Jaehwan's lips twitch into a smile. "I won't say I'm not slightly disappointed. The selfish part of me wants to keep you close. But I understand, and I support your decision." His fade fades, eyes clouding with remorse. "They did you dirty, Seokjin-ah. I'm sorry I couldn't stop it."

Seokjin smiles. "They did you dirty, too. And Hoseokie and Hyosangie. All of us. It isn't our fault."

"I wish it had been different," Jaehwan continues, voice dropping low in regret.

"Let's leave that in the past," Seokjin says. "You have a new future. And so do I."

Jaehwan's eyes brighten. "Have you decided who you'll sign with?"

Seokjin pauses, his mind repeating the lines of Yoongi's contract that he read over and over, memorizing them, committing them to heart. Like a book of promises, each page detailing Yoongi's resolve and constancy. Maybe a few months ago, before Yoongi came back to Korea, before Seokjin remembered what life could be, loved and happy and excited, maybe before then, Seokjin would have renewed with Kelly Inch or considered another label. But not now. Now, he knows, there is only one option he will be happy with, his heart finally content, the wishes he didn't realize he was still making fulfilled.

Seokjin inhales a slow breath and says, "I'm signing with Yoongi's label." His shoulders feel lighter as he says it, an unknown pressure in his chest easing at the words, spoken into reality for the first time. He knows for certain now, if he had any doubts left. He knows this is what his heart wants, what his mind needs, and all his soul desires. He is determined.

Jaehwan blinks, surprised. His mouth parts and he furrows his brow, obviously astonished. "I didn't realize he gave you an offer," he finally says, words chosen carefully, eyes searching and tone hesitant.

"He gave it to me when we all went out to drink."

"I see." Jaehwan purses his lips and stares at Seokjin. "Is it-" he starts and stops abruptly, uncertain. He frowns and shifts back into his seat.

Seokjin's lips quirk. He knows exactly what Jaehwan wants to say, and exactly why he won't voice it. "You want to ask if it's a good idea?" he asks, arching a brow.

Jaehwan smiles, slightly sheepish. "Is it? You have a history that can't be easily forgotten. You'll see him nearly every day for years. I'm just worried you'll regret it." Jaehwan leans forward, reaching a hand across the table to gently squeeze Seokjin's. "I don't want to see you in pain again."

Seokjin shrugs. "Maybe it's a bad idea. But my good ideas didn't work out too well, anyway. I'm happy now. This is what I want." He pauses, licking his lips. "It's what I've always wanted."

Jaehwan's expression dims, regret and contrition flickering in his eyes. "Are you sorry? That you followed my advice back then? I've thought about it a lot, and I know it hurt you, but it truly was the best option given the circumstances. I only wanted what was best for you."

Seokjin blinks, exhaling slowly. "You gave me advice, but I made my own decision. Maybe there had been a compromise, but I didn't see one back then." He presses his lips together. "It was what I had to do. Yoongi had to leave and I had to stay. Given the choice again, I think I'd do it differently." He sighs, and lifts his lips into a smile. "Regardless, it's too late now," he says, echoing Yoongi's words, a dull pain twisting through his chest. It's too late now.

"I'm sorry," Jaehwan says, sincerity heavy in his tone, eyes holding Seokjin's.

Seokjin's smile eases into something a little more natural, a little more genuine. "It's a fresh start for me," he says, reassuring Jaehwan. "Don't be sorry anymore. Let's be happy going into tomorrow."

Jaehwan's lips stretch into a soft smile. "Just that simple?"

Seokjin nods. "Just that simple."

"Okay. We'll be happy," Jaehwan agrees. He reaches for his glass and lifts it up in a toast. "Congratulations, on your new contract."

Seokjin lifts his glass and knocks it against Jaehwan's, a light ting sounding from the contact. Seokjin thinks it sounds like the ringing of good fortune.

&&&

Just like he promised, Yoongi asks Seokjin to come over to his new studio two weeks after he moves out from Namjoon's place.

I want to show you where you'll be working if you sign with me, Yoongi says in the text he sends Seokjin, the message long and language awkward and stiff. It's more formal than Seokjin thinks Yoongi should write, an unspoken distance placed between them in the form of words. Seokjin knows he cannot wish for more, it's just his heart stubbornly refuses to believe him.

The message is the first contact they have had with each other since their long talk, days of silence stretching between them despite their mutual assurances that they will remain friends. It's hard, Seokjin thinks, to start again.

It seems like Yoongi is willing to bear the burden of reaching out first. Seokjin has no intention of rejecting him.

Seokjin finds Yoongi waiting for him outside the building as soon as he alights from his taxi. Yoongi's hands are stuffed into his coat pockets and his shoulders are hunched up against the cold, not even a scarf around his neck to warm him. His cheeks and his nose and his ears are all varying shades of red, but his lips part into a wide smile when he sees Seokjin. He's stunning, Seokjin thinks, bright and smiling for him. His heart stutters in his chest.

"Hi," Yoongi says when Seokjin reaches him.

"Hi," Seokjin replies, smiling despite himself. "You need to stop waiting for me in the cold."

Yoongi shrugs and moves to open the door to the building for Seokjin. "I don't mind."

Seokjin's breath rushes out in a sharp exhale and his fingers clutch into fists as he tries to remind himself not to make up any fantasies. Yoongi's words don't mean what they used to, he tells himself. It's different now. He'll be happy for what they've become.

Yoongi takes Seokjin up to the third floor first, the space bare and mid-construction, piles of tools and supplies in corners, dust on the floor disturbed by a multitude of footsteps, traces of yesterday’s activities and visitors.

"We're still renovating most of the building," Yoongi explains. He rubs at the back of his neck and smiles. "It's why it took me so long to message you. I wanted to finish your studio before you saw it." He blinks, eyes widening as he locks his gaze with Seokjin. "I mean. What would be your studio. If you sign." He huffs out a sheepish laugh and shrugs his shoulders. "Sorry. I still get ahead of myself."

Seokjin presses his lips together. The smile on Yoongi's lips, the crease at the corner of his eyes, the way his voice dips as he tries to backtrack all so achingly familiar. It throws Seokjin back through the years to when Yoongi first said those fateful words that sealed his fate. "Do you know I love you?"

This is a dangerous game, Seokjin realizes. It feels like he just has to reach his hand out to touch Yoongi, hold him close again. It feels like just a word, a look will mend their hearts back together, stitches strong and lasting. It feels like Yoongi looks at him like he used to, like he feels the same way Seokjin does.

Seokjin curls his fists tighter, presses his nails into the skin of his palm, dislodging himself from his daydream. He needs to get used to this, to this limited closeness to Yoongi. He needs to train his heart to accept this aborted intimacy.

Seokjin shifts his feet back, inserting an extra few centimetres of distance between him and Yoongi, and says, "I'd like to see it. The studio you prepared."

"Yeah, yeah," Yoongi says, nodding. He straightens his shoulders and moves to the elevators. "It's on the fifth floor," he explains, his voice returned to even and mild tones.

This is their new normal, Seokjin reminds himself, and tries to quiet the yearning thump of his greedy, disobedient heart.

Yoongi takes Seokjin to the fifth floor. It's strikingly different from the other floors still under renovation. Sleek, modern tile on the floor, shining glass walls enclosing meeting rooms and wide hallways lined with Bearbricks and memorabilia. It's luxurious and opulent and it's Yoongi's. Seokjin can see Yoongi's pride and labor in every detail. His lips stretch into a smile as he follows Yoongi.

"This would be your studio," Yoongi says, opening the door to a large room down the hallway. He steps back to let Seokjin enter before him.

Seokjin walks in, eyes wide and glancing at every corner, over the huge twin monitors on the desk, the sleek furniture, the equipment. It's breathtaking. His fingers itch to start working, his mind already buzzing with everything he could and will create in this space.

"It's all state-of-the-art," Yoongi explains, hanging back near the doorway as Seokjin explores. "You can do your own recordings here. You can change anything you'd like, if you don't like it." He sniffs and Seokjin looks back to him finally. "I just. Wanted you to see it how it could be." Yoongi licks his lips and looks down at his feet, shrugging.

"It's amazing," Seokjin breathes, smiling. "It's everything I could dream of. Thank you."

Yoongi looks back up, his lips tugging into a crooked smile. "I, ah, you know I don't know much about films and acting. But I have someone. We'll set up a department for it. I don't want you to think your acting career would suffer." He locks eyes with Seokjin, dark and intense and piercing. "I'll take care of you," he promises.

Seokjin's heart stops, his breath caught in his throat, everything suspended, his lungs and his thoughts and time itself. His foolish heart starts beating again, echoing another time, the remnants of a proposal he still remembers with aching clarity blurring the edges of his vision.

"I love you."

"You stayed up all night to tell me that?"

"No, I stayed up all night to ask you to marry me."

It's a dangerous game. He still hears the echoes of love in Yoongi's voice, still sees the past in Yoongi's eyes. It's a dangerous game, to stay by Yoongi's side, but it's all he wants. Yoongi is it for him. The only producer he'll ever truly trust. The only man he'll ever truly love. The only one who has all of him.

"I'll sign," he says finally, surprised at the sound of his own voice, strong and even and completely disguising the tremble in his own chest.

Yoongi's eyes widen and he blinks, mouth gaping open. "Really?"

Seokjin nods. "Really. I know I can trust you with my voice."

Yoongi's lips stretch into a wide, gummy smile, eyes sparkling with excitement. "You're sure?"

Seokjin smiles and tilts his head. "I am determined," he says, and it's the truth, from his heart, from his mind, from his soul.

He wonders, if it's so dangerous, why he feels safe here with Yoongi, a promise strung between them just like it used to be.

&&&

"Are you nervous?"

Jimin glances at Jungkook, fingers fidgeting with the hem of his sweatshirt. "No," he says unconvincingly, shaking his head and trying to smile to cover up his nerves. "It'll be fine. Hoseok-hyung is reasonable. Nothing to be scared of."

Jungkook bites at his bottom lip and reaches a hand to Jimin's, pulling his fingers away from his shirt, intertwining them. "I'm nervous," he admits quietly, watching Jimin. "That's why we waited so long to tell Hoseok-hyung, isn't it?

Jimin laughs and Jungkook is relieved to see some of the tension ease off of his face, melting off his shoulders. "Don't worry," Jimin says, squeezing Jungkook's hand. "I'll protect you."

Jungkook snorts and tugs Jimin down the hallway to Hoseok's studio.

"You don't think I can? Hey, Jungkook-ah, I'm older than you, you know. By two years. Jungkook-ah."

They come to a stop outside of Hoseok's studio door, Jimin's protestations trailing off into a subdued murmur. Jungkook's stomach feels like it's rolling over, anxiety peaking as he stares at the innocuous panel of wood.

"Hoseok-hyung likes me, right?" Jungkook asks, squeezing Jimin's hand, seeking the anchor of Jimin's support.

"Yeah, yeah. He adores you," Jimin answers. "And I don't have a dating ban," he continues, though it sounds like he's trying to calm himself down rather than Jungkook. "It'll be fine."

Jungkook's mind buzzes with Yoongi's words of warning. "Get his blessing. You should be okay if you have his support." He takes a long, deliberate breath into his lungs. He really, really, really wants Hoseok's approval.

Jungkook jolts when he feels Jimin retract his hand from Jungkook's tight hold. Jimin cranes his neck up and places a soft, chaste kiss on Jungkook's cheek. "For good luck," he says, smiling encouragingly.

Jungkook's breath releases in a sudden rush, and with it, he feels his worries flow out. They'll be okay, he tells himself, more confident in the words.

"Just follow my lead," Jimin says and turns to the door. He lifts a hand and knocks loudly three times.

"Come in," Hoseok calls from the other side, his voice muffled by the door.

Jimin gives Jungkook one last reassuring smile before he opens the door and walks into the studio. "Oh, wow, hyung, you look so cool today," Jimin says, smiling charmingly. "Is that a new jacket? Very nice." Jimin looks over to Jungkook, silently signalling with his eyes. "Isn't it, Jungkook-ah?"

"Oh, yeah, yeah," Jungkook says quickly, nodding rapidly. "Very cool. Green is your favorite color, right? Looks good on you, hyung."

"Wow, what an astute and sincere observation," Jimin praises, smile widening as he looks back to Hoseok. "Our Jungkookie is truly a loving and caring individual, don't you think, hyung?"

Hoseok's eyes narrow, his lips turned down into a triangular frown as his gaze shifts suspiciously between Jungkook and Jimin. "What do you want?" he says, voice wary and apprehensive.

Jungkook looks to Jimin in mild panic. This is going badly, quickly. Jimin's smile tightens but he doesn't break.

"Jungkook-ah, close the door," he says, moving to the couch to sit.

Obediently, Jungkook closes the door to the studio softly and trails after Jimin to sit on the other end of the couch, knees and back stiff with over-exaggerated posture. Hoseok's gaze falls on him, direct and dissecting, seeking and finding every secret Jungkook has ever kept. It's a little more terrifying than Jungkook would like to admit.

Thankfully, Hoseok shifts his killing stare to Jimin. "Okay. What is it?"

Jimin takes a deep breath in and smiles, more for show than any genuine feeling, Jungkook thinks. "Don't be alarmed, but I'm dating."

Hoseok's face doesn't betray any surprise, only the gradual relaxation of his features and recognition flitting through his eyes. Jungkook wonders if they've been too obvious about their relationship. He had thought they were concealing it well, but apparently Hoseok already knew. He makes a face, all nervousness from before vanished at Hoseok's non-reaction. They should have told him sooner.

Hoseok's gaze flickers to Jungkook, then back to Jimin. He clears his throat. "Maybe you'd like to have this conversation privately?" he asks. "Without Jungkookie."

Jungkook blinks in confusion but Jimin just reaches over and holds Jungkook's hand, laughing. "No, no, I'm dating Jungkookie, hyung," he says, the duh evident in his tone.

Jungkook has never seen someone go from calm and mildly interested to entirely shocked in such a short span of time. Hoseok's eyes widen, his eyebrows raise higher than Jungkook thought possible, and his jaw drops, hanging open.

"Hyung?" Jimin prompts, concerned. When Hoseok doesn't reply, Jimin glances at Jungkook, brow furrowed in bemused worry. "Hyung, are you – "

"Don't fuck with me, Park Jimin," Hoseok finally says, shifting forward in his computer chair so forcefully that it rolls towards the coffee table. He bangs his leg on the lip of the table, wincing but keeping his eyes steadily shifting between Jimin and Jungkook.

Jimin's lips dip into a pouting frown. "I'm not," he defends.

"You're," Hoseok says, pointing his index finger at Jimin, "dating you." Hoseok shifts his finger to Jungkook.

Jungkook looks at Jimin for some explanation of Hoseok's reaction, but only finds Jimin's eyes mirroring his own, lost and baffled. He looks back to Hoseok and nods hesitantly. "Yes," he says, the word lilting up as if it's a question.

Hoseok flings himself back in his seat, the momentum sliding the chair back until it thumps onto his desk. Hoseok winces again at the impact but doesn't take his gaze from the two of them. He huffs out an exasperated breath. "Does Yoongi-hyung know?" he asks, voice accusing.

Jungkook frowns. He didn't think he could be more confused but apparently his inability to comprehend the transpiring events knows no bounds.

"That's a really weird thing to ask, hyung," Jimin says.

"Does he know or not?" Hoseok repeats more insistently.

"He knows," Jungkook answers slowly. He turns to Jimin, mouthing What's happening?. Jimin shakes his head, unable to answer.

"What the fuck," Hoseok mutters to himself, hand coming up to cover his open mouth. "What the actual fuck."

"That's what I'd like to know," Jimin says, frowning.

An idea apparently occurs to Hoseok and he straightens in his seat, leaning forward. "How long?"

"Huh?"

Hoseok flaps his hands impatiently at them. "How long?"

"How long have we been dating, or how long has Yoongi-hyung known?" Jimin asks, deliberately obtuse.

Hoseok rolls his eyes. "How long have you been dating?"

Jungkook opens his mouth to answer but is stopped suddenly by Hoseok holding up a hand and making incoherent noises.

"No, no, wait!" Hoseok's eyes widen again. "How long has Yoongi-hyung known?"

"Are you high?" Jimin snaps.

"Um, he's known since Hong Kong?" Jungkook says, his head starting to hurt. No matter how hard he tries to understand Hoseok's reaction, his mind is still blank.

Hoseok's lips stretch into a sudden grin and he claps his hands together excitedly, startling Jungkook and Jimin. "I knew it. I knew it. I fucking knew it."

Jimin purses his lips. "You knew it?"

Hoseok stands and rushes over to them. He grabs Jimin's face in his hands and presses a smacking kiss to one cheek. He cranes Jimin's face the other way and repeats the process on the other cheek. Jimin protests loudly but is wholeheartedly ignored. "Congratulations. I'm so happy for you two," he says when he pulls back.

"You approve?" Jungkook asks hopefully.

Hoseok ambles over to Jungkook. "Yes, you have my blessing. I'm thrilled." He grabs Jungkook's head and kisses his cheeks the same way he attacked Jimin.

Jungkook scrunches his nose and laughs at Hoseok's theatrics.

"You should have told me soon-" Hoseok gasps, eyes wide again, his hand flying to his mouth. "Have you told Seokjin-hyung?"

Jimin's frown deepens. "No, we wanted to tell you first – why are you being so weird?"

"You have to tell him!" Hoseok nearly yells. "You have to tell him right now. I'm calling him." Hoseok dives for his phone on his desk, frantically thumbing through it.

Jungkook turns to Jimin. "What just happened?" he whispers, still confused but not nervous anymore. They have Hoseok's approval, as strangely as it was acquired.

"His eyes aren't on me my ass," Hoseok mutters to himself as he holds his phone to his ear, tapping his foot impatiently.

Jimin shakes his head at Jungkook. "Just go with it," he whispers back.

"Hyung! Hyung, where are you?" Hoseok says, Seokjin apparently on the other line. "Come down to the studio right away." Hoseok purses his lips as he listens, scowling. "Just come, it's an emergency. Now, now, life or death. Okay. Okay, see you soon." Hoseok tosses his phone back onto his desk and exhales, smiling. "When Seokjin-hyung gets here, you two tell him exactly what you told me, okay?"

"This is not how i imagined this going, but okay," Jimin says, settling back into the couch to lean on Jungkook's shoulder. Jungkook smiles. It's not what he imagined either, but he's happy with the result.

In less than ten minutes, Seokjin appears at the door of Hoseok's studio, cheeks flushed pink either from the cold outside or the rush of getting to the studio so quickly. He pants quietly, catching his breath as he walks in.

"What's wrong?" he asks Hoseok, frowning.

Hoseok scrambles out of his chair, grinning, and points at Jimin and Jungkook. "Tell him," he says. "No, wait!" He holds up his hand to stop Jimin, grabbing Seokjin with his other hand. "Here," he says to Seokjin, dragging him over to his computer chair, situating it so that Seokjin can sit easily. "You'll want to sit down for this."

Seokjin sighs, shaking Hoseok's grip off and turning to Jimin. "What's he going on about?"

Jimin rolls his eyes, similarly exasperated. "He's making a big fuss out of nothing," he complains.

"Tell him, tell him!" Hoseok chants, holding the back of the computer chair from behind Seokjin, angling it against Seokjin's thighs. He leans over the chair and prods Seokjin's shoulder with a finger. "I was right."

"Just tell me so we can get this over with," Seokjin says to Jimin.

Jimin points to Jungkook over his shoulder, still nestled against him. "I'm dating Jungkookie."

Where Hoseok's shock had been bordering on comical, his expression so exaggerated that it had nearly been cartoonish, Seokjin's surprise is subtle and yet somehow infinitely more ardent. Jungkook wonders if the reason is because Seokjin's shock seems to radiate from deep inside of him. His eyes widen only slightly but the color drains from his face, hushed, aborted noises falling from his lips, his chest shuddering in an uneven rhythm. Seokjin's eyes shine with a hundred emotions, a kaleidoscope of disbelief and hope and wonder.

Hoseok reaches over to an unresponsive Seokjin, pushing down on his shoulders until he sits with a thump into the computer chair. Jungkook can see Hoseok's fingers squeeze Seokjin's shoulders when he's seated, jolting him out of his stupor.

"You're," Seokjin says, voice breathless. "You're dating Jungkook?"

Jimin frowns. "Yes." He turns to Jungkook. "Why is this groundbreaking information?"

Seokjin cranes his neck to look up at Hoseok behind him. "Does Yoongi know?"

"Why is everyone asking that? That's a weird thing to say," Jimin exclaims, frustrated. Jungkook rubs circles into the back of Jimin's neck with his thumb in an effort to soothe him.

"He knows," Hoseok answers gleefully. "Since Hong Kong." He taps Seokjin's shoulder excitedly. "I told you, hyung. I'm never wrong."

Seokjin's breath rushes out of his lips and he stares blankly in front of him, brow furrowing.

"Hyung, are you okay?" Jungkook asks, leaning forward in his seat, eyes flickering over Seokjin's face in concern.

Seokjin blinks and looks at Jungkook. "Huh? Oh, yeah, I'm. I'm just surprised."

"Are you going to call him?" Hoseok continues, leaning down and grinning at Seokjin. The exuberance fades from his face when he sees Seokjin's expression, lips turning down into a frown. "Hyung?"

"I...." Seokjin presses his lips together and stands. "I just need to think for a minute," he says. He sends Jimin and Jungkook a brief smile. "I'm happy for you."

Hoseok moves to follow Seokjin as he heads to the door but Seokjin gives his wrist a squeeze and shakes his head minutely, effectively stopping Hoseok in his tracks.

The room is silent for a moment as Seokjin leaves, shutting the door behind him. Hoseok purses his lips eyes narrowed as he stares at the closed door as if it contains the answers he's seeking. Jungkook's head hurts as he tries to piece together a puzzle of mismatched shapes.

"Is someone going to explain this to me?" Jimin finally pipes up, exasperated and irritable.

Hoseok sighs through his nose and scowls. "I give up. It is none of my business anymore and I'm not going to care." He shoves the chair away from him and stomps to the door, flinging it open and disappearing into the hallway.

"I care!" Jimin calls out, sulking. He huffs and sits back in the couch against Jungkook. "I'm so lost."

Jungkook licks his lips and slings his arm around Jimin's back, holding him closer. He leans his head on Jimin's. "I think," he says slowly, "that something is going to break very soon."

"That sounds ominous," Jimin retorts.

"That depends."

Jimin shifts, pulling back to look at Jungkook. "On what?" he asks, brows arched.

Jungkook tilts his head. "On if it was something good to begin with."

Jimin purses his lips, contemplating, eyes narrowed. "Jungkook-ah," he says finally. "That doesn't explain anything at all."

Jungkook shrugs and smiles when Jimin punches him in the shoulder.

&&&

Seokjin's mind is a chaotic jumble of half-formed thoughts abandoned before they can reach a conclusion. He's reeling from the news that Jimin and Jungkook are dating, have been dating for weeks. He had everything figured out, sorted through, his heart and mind finally settling into a content compromise of what he wants and what he knows is possible. Now, he's tossed about, his foundations crumbled, his strongholds vanquished. He cannot tell if he's flying or falling.

It's foolhardy and dangerous, but he finds he keeps clinging onto hope, his heart persuading his head, grabbing ahold of any sign, any plausibility that Yoongi may reciprocate his feelings. That even after all the years and hurt, even after Seokjin has resigned himself, there might be another chance at happiness.

Yoongi is unattached. Has been unattached for weeks. It throws every interaction Seokjin has had with him over the weeks into question. He replays the moment, analyzing, searching, reinterpreting. It's useless, he knows it's useless. No matter how clear it seems, his memory is tainted, easily altered and distorted. He wonders if he's imagined the softness of Yoongi's smile on his birthday, if he's invented the awe and yearning in Yoongi's eyes as Seokjin sang his song.

He tries to sort through to fact, to what he knows to be certain, tracing back to the beginning. But hope has already seeped into his veins, spreading faster and further with every beat of his heart. Hope can be his wings, lift him to soaring heights. And false hope can hurtle him into destruction. It's a precarious line that he finds harder and harder to distinguish.

He spends the rest of the afternoon preoccupied in thought until it bleeds into evening and his head starts to pound with too many unanswered questions and uncertainties. He finally gives up and tries to sleep, the entire night spent fitfully tossing in his bed.

He wakes up sometime after the sun rises, and comes to one final conclusion. It is a logic test he cannot pass, failing with every attempt.

If Yoongi is free and has lingering feelings for Seokjin, why did he say it is too late for them?

Seokjin lingers around his apartment, pacing from spot to spot, trying to clear his head. He zones out as he brushes his teeth, forgets his mug of coffee on his dining table until it's gone cold. His mind keeps turning over Yoongi's words until he cannot recall exactly what they were, morphed in his own game of telephone to hear what he wants to hear.

This won't do, he thinks, hastily grabbing his coat and slipping his feet into his shoes. He has a meeting with Yoongi the next day to discuss his debut solo album. He cannot face Yoongi when his thoughts are in chaos. He needs perspective.

He heads to Hoseok's studio. Hoseok is the only person who knows all the history of him and Yoongi, privy to both the distant beginning and the most recent reunion. He's also nosy enough to pay attention to Yoongi's words and expressions. Hoseok will know, Seokjin thinks.

He walks briskly to the studio, melting snow slushing under his feet. He doesn't quite feel the cold today like he did yesterday. The sun is bright and the air is still, no biting gusts of icy winds to dishevel his hair and sting at his cheeks. It feels like the long winter is finally over, the hope of spring bright and blooming in his chest.

He's halfway to the studio when it occurs to him that Hoseok could have pulled another all-nighter, stumbling back home as the sun rose this morning. Seokjin frowns. Hoseok wouldn't be in until the afternoon in that case. He reaches into his coat pocket, intent on calling Hoseok and ascertaining his location. His frown deepens when his hands grasp at nothing. He pats his other pocket and then his pant pockets, sighing tiredly.

He is truly out of it, he thinks, scowling as he continues to the studio. He forgot his phone at home.

Fortunately, Hoseok is right where Seokjin hoped he would be, tucked in his studio and thankfully alone. Hoseok eyes Seokjin sharply when he enters the room, eyebrows arched and poorly concealed exasperation in the twist of his lips. Seokjin closes the door softly behind him and remains silent as he grabs the computer chair next to Hoseok's, sitting down.

"Well?" Hoseok finally prompts, patience apparently depleted.

Seokjin frowns and stares at his hands, clasped in his lap. "Well?" he repeats, deliberately stalling. He scowls at his own obtuse refusal to confront the issue.

Hoseok glares. "You haven't talked to Yoongi-hyung yet."

Seokjin purses his lips. "No."

"Why not?" Hoseok sighs, frustration straining his voice.

"It's not that simple."

"What's not simple about declaring your undying love for each other? A child could see it." Hoseok wheels his chair closer to Seokjin. "I really don't understand what the problem is. Yoongi-hyung isn't dating right now."

Seokjin's fingers clench and he locks his eyes with Hoseok's. "He said it was too late for us," he says, his chest aching as the words leave his lips.

Hoseok blinks. "In what context?"

"When I went to tell him the truth. He said he was sorry he found out too late."

Hoseok rolls his eyes. "It's not as if you've been giving him the I'm-still-crazy-about-you signals. He probably does think it's too late. You're not exactly easy to read."

Seokjin frowns.

"And there's Kris Wu, too," Hoseok continues.

Seokjin pauses, surprised. "What about Kris? There's nothing there."

"You were photographed together."

Seokjin shakes his head, dismissing Hoseok's point. "It was once, weeks ago."

Hoseok closes his eyes and waves both hands in the space between them, clearing both their points like erasing a whiteboard. He opens his eyes again and says, "Okay. Look. Are you still in love with Yoongi-hyung?"

Seokjin starts to answer but Hoseok stops him with a hand.

"Yes or no, only, hyung."

Seokjin makes a face but Hoseok remains firm, expression set and determined. Seokjin purses his lips. "Yes."

"Do you want to be with him again?"

"Yes."

"Is Yoongi-hyung available now?"

Seokjin frowns. "Hoseok- "

"Yes or no, hyung?" Hoseok insists, his tone morphing into the stern expression he regulates only for dance practice.

Seokjin sighs. "Yes."

"Then why," Hoseok concludes, "are you hesitating when you have a chance?"

"Exactly," Seokjin answers, blurting out the worries he's been holding in his chest, doubts born in his head and seeped into his veins. "I have a chance, Hoseok. A chance. One. I can't mess it up again." His chest squeezes as he tries to inhale.

Hoseok's face softens and he wheels his chair forward until his knees bump Seokjin's. "You'll never know until you talk to him." He reaches a hand up, index finger lightly tapping Seokjin's temple. "Turn this off." His finger drops to Seokjin's chest, tapping. "Listen to this."

Seokjin's lips quirk despite himself. "This hasn't shut up since Yoongi came back."

"My point exactly." Hoseok smiles. "So? You'll talk to him? Frankly and truthfully?"

Seokjin nods, his heart thumping in agreement in his chest. "Yeah."

"Great, 'cause he's upstairs right now," Hoseok says happily, standing from his chair and pulling a surprised Seokjin up by his wrists.

"What?" Seokjin says, blinking.

"He stopped by. He's upstairs with Namjoon right now." Hoseok happily pats at Seokjin's back, urging him forward to the elevator. "We're going to resolve this and finally, I will be at peace."

"Shouldn't my peace be the priority?" Seokjin quips over his shoulder, allowing Hoseok to push him forward.

"I'm so done watching you two be stoic idiots. I'm frustrated and I won't tolerate another minute of it." Hoseok smiles. "And of course I care about your happiness, too. It's a win-win."

Sure enough, just as Hoseok said, Yoongi is in the common room upstairs, sitting on one of Namjoon's modern and vaguely uncomfortable couches, hunched over as he works on the laptop he's placed on the coffee table in front of him. He's dressed up a little today, blond hair styled in a faux tossled look, obscured only by the large headphones over his ears. He's dressed in ripped jeans and a deep burgundy and navy checkered blazer. He looks so good, Seokjin thinks, the sentiment so familiar, an echo to an earlier time. Or maybe a precursor to a time that will be his once again.

Seokjin's fingers flex at his sides and Hoseok pats his back as they stop at the entrance to the room. "I'll leave you here," Hoseok says, though Seokjin suspects he will stay hidden in the hall in an attempt to eavesdrop.

Seokjin pushes Hoseok from his thoughts and steps into the room, approaching Yoongi. Yoongi glances up and smiles when he sees Seokjin, reaching up to tug his headphones down around his neck.

"Hey," Yoongi says. "I didn't think I'd see you here."

Seokjin sits on the couch opposite Yoongi, eyes searching his face, ridiculously seeking answers to questions he hasn't asked yet. "I came to see Hoseokie. I didn't expect you, either."

Yoongi shrugs. "I have a meeting with Jungkookie at the new studio. I'm here to pick him up." He glances at his watch and huffs out a laugh. "He said five more minutes like fifteen minutes ago."

Seokjin makes a vague noise in acknowledgement. It's so hard to concentrate on the superficial when all his heart keeps chanting is I love you, I love you, please tell me you might love me, too. Hoseok was wrong, he thinks. He still needs more time to figure out how to say this. He's afraid if he opens his lips too wide, he'll blurt out more than Yoongi is ready to hear.

Yoongi leans close to Seokjin, shuffling until he's sitting on the edge of the couch. "I was thinking about the album. A lot of people are expecting it to be fully ballads. And, don't get me wrong, I think we should have them, but I was also thinking we could include a few unexpected genres."

Seokjin's lips twitch. "Like I would rap?"

Yoongi shrugs, smiling. "If you'd like."

Seokjin gestures to Yoongi's laptop. "What genres were you thinking? You have any samples?"

"Yeah," Yoongi says, glancing down at his laptop, searching for something. "Let me – "

"Oh, hyung! I didn't know you were here."

Seokjin glances up as Namjoon walks in from the other side of the room, opposite the door from where Hoseok is no doubt lurking. Namjoon smiles wide, dimples showing, and flops onto the couch beside Yoongi.

Seokjin smiles, his eyes flickering to Yoongi's bent head. "I came to see Hoseok," he answers vaguely.

Hoseok shuffles into the room, glaring murderously at Namjoon. "Yeah, hi, he came to see me and then he came here to see Yoongi-hyung. And now he's seeing you, Namjoon."

Namjoon glances at Hoseok, brow furrowing, eyes completely lost. "I don't understand," he says slowly.

"That much is obvious," Hoseok grumbles.

Seokjin slaps him hard in the stomach with the back of his hand.

Hoseok grunts and glares down at Seokjin. What, he mouths, annoyed.

Shut the fuck up, Seokjin mouths back, pulling Hoseok down to sit beside him and stop making things more awkward than they already are.

Hoseok huffs and folds his arms over his chest, crossing his legs and shaking his dangling foot rapidly in poorly concealed irritation.

Namjoon frowns at Hoseok for a moment longer, but Hoseok refuses to meet his eye. Namjoon smiles and turns back to Seokjin. "I wanted to congratulate you, Seokjin-hyung, he says, giving up on figuring out the source of Hoseok's ire.

Seokjin tilts his head. "Hmm? For what?"

"For signing with Yoongi-hyung's label," Namjoon elaborates, gesturing to Yoongi beside him. "I was surprised, to tell you the truth. We all thought you'd sign with Kelly Inch again."

Seokjin smiles and glances over at Yoongi, his head still bent over his laptop, fingers slowly moving over the mousepad. "There's no one else I trust with my voice," he says, returning his gaze to Namjoon.

Namjoon hesitates, his smile uncertain. He clasps his hands and says a little worriedly, "I guess Kris Wu took it well, then?"

Seokjin shrugs. "He was disappointed, but he understands. It's business, after all."

Namjoon nods, smile melting into relief. "That's good. I'm happy to hear he doesn't let business decisions bleed into your relationship. Not everyone is that lucky."

Seokjin blinks, smiling in bemusement. "What relationship? I ended my business dealings with him."

Namjoon's eyes flicker and he glances in a failed surreptitious motion at Yoongi. Seokjin follows Namjoon's gaze, sees Yoongi's head still bent over his laptop, impassive, except now his hands are still, frozen as they hover over his laptop.

Namjoon clears his throat, drawing Seokjin's attention back, and rubs at his neck sheepishly. "Ah, sorry, I didn't think it was a secret. My bad."

Seokjin's eyes narrow, his lips turning down in a frown. "What's a secret?"

Namjoon glances at Hoseok and even Seokjin can see his eyes begging for help. Hoseok just sniffs, ignoring his plea, foot shaking against the lip of the coffee table. Namjoon presses his lips together in resignation and looks at Seokjin again. "You're dating Kris, aren't you?"

Seokjin's mouth falls open, his eyes wide as he stares first at Namjoon, and then at the crown of Yoongi's head. He doesn't need to glance beside him to know Hoseok's looking at him with an I-told-you-so expression. He doesn't care. He doesn't fucking care, because he knows now. Why Yoongi said everything to keep a distance between them and in the same breath tried to draw him closer. He's so stupid.

They're both so stupid, raising barriers based on nothing but conjecture and a self-imposed rejection. Yoongi thinks he's dating. It's so ridiculously stupid.

"I'm not," he says quickly, loudly. He doesn't care what his voice sounds like, he just needs Yoongi to hear the words. His eyes bore into Yoongi, willing him to look up, willing him to see him, to know. To realize. "I'm not dating anyone," he says, hope swift and dizzying as it floods his head.

In his peripheral vision, Seokjin can see Namjoon straighten in surprise, his hand reaching over to tap rapidly at Yoongi's arm. "Y-you're not?"

"No. No, I'm completely unattached."

Yoongi's fingers twitch and suddenly he's snapping his laptop shut and grabbing it from the table, standing abruptly.

"Yoongi?" Seokjin asks, eyes wide, confused.

Yoongi doesn't look at him, walking quickly out of the room, taking Seokjin's ability to breathe with him. Namjoon stands, calling out to him but Yoongi disappears out of the door.

Seokjin blinks, staring at the place where Yoongi's frame once sat, confused and overwhelmed, too many emotions crashing in his chest that he cannot distinguish them. He wonders if this is rejection. He wonders why the hope in his heart blazes hotter.

"The fuck was that?" Hoseok grouses beside him.

Namjoon stares over his shoulder to the door, frowning. "I...don't know."

They sit in silence for too many moments, the air heavy and suffocating until the sound of approaching footsteps jolts them from their thoughts. Seokjin hopes his disappointment isn't evident on his face when Jungkook appears, carrying a large backpack around his front instead of his back.

"I'm ready to go," Jungkook says sleepily. He stops, frowning at the room. "Hi. Where did Yoongi-hyung go?"

"Idiotland," Hoseok supplies unhelpfully. He stands up and walks around the coffee table to flop beside Namjoon, poking him irritably in the shoulder. "Why did you come in? Huh? What was your brilliant thought?"

Seokjin sighs and shifts back on the couch. He cannot make sense of it. Maybe Yoongi has truly and completely put his feelings in the past where they belong. And yet, hopes and wishes and dreams that don't end in wakefulness beat stronger and stronger with every thump of his heart.

"Hyung. Seokjin-hyung!"

Seokjin jolts out of his trance, blinking and turning to glance at the others in the room. He realizes he missed whatever it was they were talking about. He smiles apologetically. "Sorry, I didn't catch that?"

Jungkook's eyebrows furrow in concern. "I asked if you wanted to go out for a drink Friday night. Taehyung-hyung and Jimin-hyung are coming." He gestures to Namjoon and Hoseok. "Namjoon-hyung and Hoseok-hyung too."

"Oh." He smiles politely. "Yeah, sounds good. Message me the address."

Jungkook's eyes stay on Seokjin's, questioning. "Are you okay, hyung?"

Seokjin forces his smile to widen. "I'm good. I should probably – "

The hasty, pounding thud of feet is the only precursor to Yoongi's reappearance, his cheeks flushed and breath coming in quiet pants, his fingers gripping his closed laptop tightly in his hands. His eyes find Seokjin immediately, intensely focused and flickering with what looks too much like hope. Seokjin's chest aches, a bittersweet kind of pain, hovering between flying and falling.

"Hyung!" Jungkook calls out. "Are you ready? We're going to be late."

Yoongi glances to Jungkook and nods. "Yeah, let me just get my bag."

Seokjin's eyes track Yoongi as he walks towards them. He wonders if he should ask Yoongi to stay, or silently watch him leave. He doesn't know, doesn't know anything but that his mind and his heart and his very soul yearns for Yoongi. He's falling, falling, hurtling faster to the ground.

Yoongi steps in front of Namjoon and Hoseok on the couch, his back towards them as he faces Seokjin across the coffee table. He snatches his bag from the edge of the table and slips his laptop into it carefully. He glances at Seokjin cautiously, pausing for a moment. With a sleight of hand Seokjin barely catches despite his entire attention focused only on Yoongi, a slim USB slides down from the cuff of Yoongi's blazer. He lets it drop to the table and places two fingers on it, sliding it closer to Seokjin, effectively giving it into Seokjin's possession.

Yoongi doesn't say anything, but his eyes are asking, pleading with him, trying to convey the importance of whatever is on the device.

"I'll see you tomorrow at our meeting," Yoongi says carefully, straightening. With one last, lingering look, he presses his lips together and steps back. "Jungkook-ah, let's go."

Seokjin watches him leave with Jungkook. When he's out of sight, he snatches the USB from the table with a trembling hand, fingers curling around it tight, the plastic warming in his palm. "I'll see you later," he tells Hoseok and Namjoon, walking swiftly from the room before they can delay him. The USB is heavy in his hand, holding secrets he is desperate to learn.

He doesn't have the patience or the willpower to wait until he gets home to find out what Yoongi gave him, but thankfully his old room in Hoseok's studio still has a working computer. He makes his way to the familiar space, closing and locking the door behind him and booting the computer up.

His foot taps anxiously as the computer wakes and loads too slowly, asleep for too many days to respond quickly. He sighs, flipping the USB between his fingers over and over. He doesn't know what to expect when he finally opens the file but hope sings through his veins. He hopes. He hopes. He wants to believe it isn't over yet.

There's a moment of hesitation in him when the computer finally boots, a tremble in his fingers as he hovers the USB by the slot. He presses his lips tightly together and inserts it into the computer.

There are six audio files in a single folder, labelled only by their date. He recognizes some of them and their significance – the day before the MAMAs, the day Yoongi returned to Seoul. There are others, dates he knows but cannot imagine what they mean to Yoongi – a few weeks after Yoongi returned to Seoul, the day of Seokjin's comeback with E.L. The very last file has today's date.

He hovers his mouse over it, fighting his urge to click that one first, to know, to hear what Yoongi has in his heart right now. His fingers flex and he shakes his head. Yoongi included the other files for a reason. He will listen from the beginning.

He double clicks on the first file, the one labelled as the day Yoongi returned to Seoul, and hastily picks up the headphones on the desk, fitting them over his ears.

There's a shuffling noise through the headphones and then Yoongi clears his throat.

"I saw him today." Yoongi scoffs and Seokjin's fingers tighten, the sound pained. "He was so surprised to see me. I bet he thought he'd never have to see me again. He probably thought I'd stay away forever." He scoffs again. "I'm here, now. He'll just have to deal with it."

It's not true, Seokjin thinks. When he sent Yoongi away, he intended to see him, still. On the news, in articles. He would scour the internet to find posts and photos of Yoongi, any little bit of information he could glean about him. Seokjin shakes his head. It isn't true, he wants to tell the Yoongi from that day.

There's a moment of silence before Yoongi's voice continues. "I'd forgotten," he says quietly. "I'd forgotten that photos don't do him justice. Seokjin in real life...." He sighs and clears his throat. "Log end."

The audio ends and Seokjin doesn't hesitate, quickly clicking on the next one.

"I don't understand," Yoongi says, frustration evident in his voice. "Why did he cover Dead Leaves? When he knew. He had to have known." He makes a frustrated noise in the back of his throat and Seokjin's heart clenches. "I don't know what to believe anymore. He knows what that song means....If he regrets it, like I do." Yoongi sighs and finishes quietly, "I don't know what I'm thinking."

Seokjin's breath shudders in his lungs, his heart hammering against his chest.

"Log end."

Seokjin's hands shake as he clicks the next audio. He can't breathe, can't think, can't do anything but listen, desperate for Yoongi's next words. There's four more left. There's four more left, please tell me there's a chance, he pleads.

"Jungkook likes Jimin," Yoongi starts. "It scared me, for a moment, when he told me. They remind me of us. So stupidly young. There's so much that can go wrong. There's so much that went wrong. Hyung. Do you think we were just too foolish to make it work? Maybe if we'd waited?"

There's a silence for one, two, three long seconds.

"I don't know what I'm doing here. I stupidly just...saw your photo from the airport and I wanted to come. It doesn't make any sense, hyung. What the fuck does fair weather love mean? You ended it. You ended it and now you're making me hope when I know it's pointless." He groans. "Fuck, I thought I was over you. I don't know anymore." The silence that follows is agonizing. "It's your birthday tomorrow. You know, we never got to celebrate it together before. And now...." He sighs. "Log end."

Seokjin's lips press together tightly. His heart aches for Yoongi, his confusion and the hollow, lost sound of his voice is like a knife stabbing into Seokjin's chest.

He clicks on the next audio.

"You did well, hyung," Yoongi says, his voice achingly fond and soft. "You did really well. The pink hair looks good. Rest well, and....And I hope the next time I see you....I hope there's a chance." He huffs out a quick, optimistic laugh. "Log end."

Seokjin swallows around the lump in his throat, blinking rapidly as he clicks on the next.

"I always mess up my timing. Fuck. Fuck." Seokjin inhales shakily, clenching his jaw at the tremors in Yoongi's voice, the slurred speech suggesting inebriation, the raw vulnerability. "I waited too long. Shit, I should have begged you to come back the moment I set foot in Seoul. I should have come back sooner." He exhales heavily. "I shouldn't have left. It's all my fault, hyung, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. If I didn't push you, if I didn't propose. You're all I ever wanted.

“I wasted my chance, stupid and angry. I hate myself. I'm so sorry, hyung. I'm sorry I'm late."

The audio continues for several long seconds with just soft breathing before it ends.

Seokjin wants to get up and run to Yoongi, find him and pull him into a tight embrace. It's not too late. It's not. He's been a fool, more than Yoongi. He should have reached out, yesterday and the day before. Weeks ago, months ago. He should have contacted Yoongi years ago. His heart was right, beating the same steady rhythm for years, never pausing, never faltering.

He presses his hand down hard on his thigh to keep himself seated. There's still one more audio. He moves the mouse over to the audio labelled with today's date and presses play.

"Hyung. Seokjin-ah." Yoongi's voice is breathless, panting as if he just finished sprinting. "I don't have a right, I know I don't have a right, but I can't help but hope. I have been unfair and angry. I was so angry when I saw you again for the first time in five years. It was easier to be mad than to admit I still loved you. That I still longed for you every moment, every second.

"I convinced myself I was over you. I was stupid. Then and now. Seokjin-ah, I love you. I love you more than I did five years ago. It doesn't go away, it's never going to go away. It just builds in my chest, taking over my entire body. Please, tell me it's not too late.

"Jin-ah. My heart is yours, as it's always been. Give me a sign, please. If it's not too late. A look, a single word. Tell me this hope isn't misplaced. I'll wait to hear from you. I love you."

The audio ends and in the next moment, Seokjin is scrambling out of his chair, rushing down the hallway. He flies down the stairs, too impatient to wait for the elevator. His feet are light as they tread, his limbs weightless with something brighter than hope. With love, with happiness. With a certainty that everything he wanted is his, as long as he reaches out his hand.

Seokjin hardly knows what he plans to do. He has a vague idea of running to his apartment to retrieve his phone and calling Yoongi. As he rushes out of Hoseok's studio and onto the street, he spots a taxi. He has to see Yoongi, he realizes. And tell him in person the answer that's been at the back of his throat for weeks.

He shifts through words in his head as the taxi takes him to Yoongi's studio, trying to pick and place the best phrasing. It thankfully preoccupies his mind and eases the nervous fidgeting of his limbs on the ride over.

He exhales slowly when he arrives at Yoongi's studio, staring up at the building for a moment. He places his hand over his heart and wills it to slow to a regular beat again. It ignores him in giddy happiness, just as it has ignored him for years. He huffs out one last breath and enters.

He is greeted by the receptionist when he reaches Yoongi's floor. She smiles at him, recognizing him from earlier when Yoongi introduced them.

"Seokjin-ssi, nice to see you!" she says. Her smile slowly fades as her eyes flicker over his face. "Is everything okay?"

"Where's Yoongi?" he asks quickly.

"PD-nim is in a meeting...." She trails off, frowning in thought. She takes a breath and asks, "Is it important?"

"Yes," Seokjin insists. "I have to see him now."

"Okay." She stands. "This way."

She leads him down a hallway to a glass-walled meeting room. Seokjin can see Jungkook and a team of four other people speaking actively, one of them standing by a whiteboard, writing something. At the end of the table sits Yoongi, head bent, frowning at the phone in his hand, completely detached from the rest of the room.

The receptionist knocks on the door and opens it slowly, slipping inside. Seokjin follows her. "I'm sorry to interrupt," she starts.

Yoongi glances up, his eyes widening as he sees Seokjin. He stands abruptly, his chair nearly toppling over with the force of the sudden action.

The entire room falls into a heavy hush. Seokjin can feel the curious stares of the occupants of the room, but his eyes stay focused entirely on Yoongi. He cannot, will not look away.

Yoongi stares at him, beseeching and urgent, hope and agony warring in his eyes, fingers clenching tightly by his side.

"Um," Jungkook starts to say, thankfully mindful of the heavy atmosphere that Seokjin’s presence induced, "I think we should, ah. Take a break. Okay, ten minute break everyone. Let's go."

The team shuffles past Seokjin, eyes curious and questioning. He doesn't really care. He’s spending enough effort struggling to keep the words bubbling up in his chest from pouring out while they leave. He cannot quite fight the grin that breaks out on his lips, wide and happy and bright. When he finally hears the door click shut, he cannot recall any of the phrases he practiced in the taxi ride over.

He nods at Yoongi and says the only word that matters, "Yes."

Yoongi's mouth drops open and his eyes spark. "Yes?" he repeats.

"Yes," Seokjin confirms, still nodding, laughter in his voice. "Yes," he says, his heart bursting, a different kind of ache, of too much happiness, so light he feels dizzy.

Yoongi rushes around the table to reach Seokjin, a smile breaking out on his lips to mirror Seokjin's.

"Yes, yes, yes," Seokjin repeats even as Yoongi's hand reach up, sliding over his neck, up to frame his cheeks, tugging him down. Seokjin bends with him, eyes starting to flutter shut until Yoongi's hands stop. He blinks his eyes open and looks in concern at Yoongi.

Yoongi stares up at him, eyes flickering, biting at his bottom lip. "Are you sure?" he whispers, hesitant.

Seokjin exhales slowly and reaches up to place his hands over Yoongi's. "I am. I have never been more certain in my life," he affirms before he closes the distance between them. When his lips finally sink into Yoongi's, soft and warm and perfect, it's just like their first kiss.

Yoongi's fingers slide into his hair and Seokjin's breath hitches as Yoongi steps closer until they're flush against each other. He angles his head, slotting his mouth over Yoongi's, lightly nipping at Yoongi's bottom lip. He can feel Yoongi smiling against him and he huffs out a laugh, pressing into his lips briefly once more before pulling back to look at him.

Yoongi's smile creases the corners of his eyes, joy glowing in his face. He cranes his neck up and says, "Again."

Seokjin is all too willing to oblige.

&&&

Seokjin waits around the studio while Yoongi quickly finishes up his meeting, both of them agreeing they need to talk privately. He has to bite his lip to keep from grinning madly as he makes his way to his room.

Seokjin cannot seem to concentrate, flitting around the room, his mind flashing back to Yoongi's words on the recording, repeating them like an echo. He smiles, heart still bursting in his chest. He used to think it was impossible to exceed the happiness he felt the first time Yoongi told him he loved him, or the night Yoongi proposed. He knows now he was wrong.

Happiness grows, building with time, layered and mature now. He wonders what kind of happiness will thump in his chest in a year's time, and two years, and ten years.

His thoughts are interrupted when Yoongi knocks on the open door, poking his head in.

"Hi," Yoongi says, smiling. He's put on his coat and has his bag in his hand. "Ready to go?"

Seokjin smiles back and nods. "That was quick," he says as he follows Yoongi out into the hallway.

Yoongi shrugs. "I couldn't really concentrate." He glances at Seokjin. "Thanks to someone."

Seokjin presses his lips together to control his grin and mimics Yoongi's shrug. "I won't apologize for that."

Yoongi's smile widens. "I wasn't asking for one. I'm used to it."

Seokjin's breath catches in his throat. He's forgotten what it's like, to have Yoongi's attention, fully and unabashed.

"Where do you want to go?" Yoongi asks, leading Seokjin into the underground parking lot to his car. "Should we get something to eat?"

Seokjin shakes his head. They need to talk, somewhere private without curious eyes and eavesdropping ears. "Would you like to come to my place? We can make something. Talk freely."

Yoongi holds Seokjin's gaze for a moment. "That sounds good," he agrees.

It should surprise Seokjin, how perfectly they fall back together, how they step into sync so readily. It should surprise him, but it doesn't. Yoongi was always for him. And he was always for Yoongi. It hasn't changed through the years.

"I thought you were dating Jimin," Seokjin tells him over the meal they made together, the taste somehow better than his usual dishes, enhanced from the shared labor.

Yoongi blinks at him, mouth dropped open. "Why the hell would you think that?"

Seokjin scoffs. "You really don't know? You were so close to him. Affectionate, even."

"He's a good artist, and a good friend," Yoongi defends. He stops himself, frowning. "Are you saying this whole time, you were holding back because you thought I was involved with him?"

Seokjin twists his lips. "Partially. And partially because you were so cold at the beginning." He sighs. "And mostly because I broke your heart already. I didn't want to hurt you any more."

Yoongi's eyes flicker. "We're so stupid," he says, laughing in self-reproach. Seokjin furrows his brow in confusion. "I thought you were dating Kris. I thought, fuck hyung, I thought you were happy again and that I didn't have a right to interfere in that."

Seokjin's chest aches. "I should have tried to talk to you sooner."

Yoongi shakes his head. "I should have, too." He stares at Seokjin, his fingers curling together into a loose fist. "If," he starts slowly, frowning. "If I had come back to Seoul three years ago. If I'd have come back and asked you to be with me again." His eyes hold Seokjin's in desperate questioning. "Would you have agreed?"

Seokjin's breath catches in his throat. Three years ago, when he knows Yoongi first established his label. When Kelly Inch had all but discarded E.L. He would have. He would have, without one shadow of doubt. He draws in a forced breath and says, "I told you not to play the what-if game, Yoongi. It does us no good."

Painful realization and regret flashes through Yoongi's eyes. "You would have." He brings a hand up to run through his hair, dislodging the locks. "I wanted to. It was all I could think about when I set up my label."

Seokjin's heart thumps hard against his ribs. He pushes back from the table with determination and walks to Yoongi's chair. He nudges the chair back with his foot just far enough so he can slide onto Yoongi's lap, straddling him. Yoongi looks up at him with wide eyes, his hands automatically coming up to Seokjin's waist to steady him, fingers hot and gripping, electric even through the layer of Seokjin's sweater.

Seokjin leans his forehead against Yoongi's and cups his cheeks in his hands. He shakes his head minutely. "Yoongi," he says softly. "What happened in the past, it led us back to here. Together." His thumb strokes gently up and down Yoongi's soft cheeks. "I love you, Yoongi-yah. Then. And now. And in the future."

He dips his head, lips sinking into Yoongi's as his eyes flutter closed. He can hear Yoongi inhale deeply, feels Yoongi's neck craning up to meet him. Yoongi's fingers tighten on Seokjin's waist, anchoring him as he angles his head, lips parting under Seokjin's.

Seokjin shifts over Yoongi, deepening the kiss, breath hitching as he moves up slightly and descends down again at a new angle, tasting the sweetness of wine on Yoongi's tongue. He feels a flush working up from his chest, spreading on his neck, warmth enveloping him like the sun on the first day of spring.

When he pulls away, Yoongi's pupils are dilated, his lips a soft rosy hue. Their breathing comes in deep pants, and Seokjin isn't quite sure if they're more desperate to inhale oxygen or each other.

"Stay the night?" he asks, a whisper into Yoongi's mouth.

Yoongi's hands flex on his waist. "It's not too soon?"

Seokjin smiles and shakes his head. "It's been five years. I think we're ready."

Yoongi smiles up at him, gums showing and eyes creased, and lifts his head for another kiss.

&&&

Seokjin doesn't have to open his eyes to know Yoongi is staring at him. His lips twitch and his hand shifts under his head against his pillow. "Go to sleep, Yoongi," he says, eyes still closed.

The covers rustle as he feels Yoongi shift closer to him on the bed. "Don't want to," Yoongi replies. Seokjin feels Yoongi's fingers gently brush up his cheek to card through his hair. "You sleep first."

Seokjin snorts and opens his eyes, finds Yoongi staring at him with a penetrating fondness, eyes glowing in the moonlit room. "Sleep," he says again, an order. "We both have to work tomorrow."

Yoongi shakes his head, fingers twirling a strand of Seokjin's hair over and over. "If I sleep, I'll miss you too much."

Seokjin laughs and pulls a hand from under his pillow to push at Yoongi's shoulder. "Shut up."

"I'll sleep soon," Yoongi assures him. "I just want to memorize this moment a little longer."

"There will be more moments," Seokjin tells him.

Yoongi smiles. "Yeah." He shifts, his feet tangling with Seokjin's under the covers. His fingers pause in Seokjin's hair, his eyes clouding over with a thought. "Hyung," he says softly. "I've been wanting to tell you."

Seokjin hooks his foot around Yoongi's ankle and moves closer so he can sling his arm comfortably around Yoongi's hip. "Hmm?"

"You were only half-right about Dead Leaves."

Seokjin blinks.

"About it being your song."

Seokjin snorts. "What, it's our song?"

Yoongi shakes his head. "No." His fingers trail from Seokjin's hair to caress the shell of his ear. "No, it's your song. But so are all the others."

Seokjin's lungs stop as he stares at Yoongi.

Yoongi smiles and leans forward to press a chaste kiss to his lips. "All my love songs are for you, Jin-ah. I have had no one in my heart but you."

Seokjin thinks, absurdly, that he can feel the echo of Yoongi's heart in his, that they speak to each other, a steady ba-bump ba-bump that tells of a love so deep it can weather the winter of a long separation. He inhales and shifts, gently pulling Yoongi's head to lay on his pillow beside him. "Go to sleep, Yoongi. Tomorrow, you can write me a new love song."

Yoongi huffs out a laugh but obediently closes his eyes.

&&&

"Hyungie."

Seokjin turns his head to Taehyung beside him, tilting in question. "What?"

Taehyung shifts in the semi-circle booth to whisper in Seokjin's ear, voice rising just enough to be heard above the blaring music in the bar. "Thanks for pretending."

Seokjin pulls back, frowning in confusion.

Taehyung shifts up again. "About Jiminie and Jungkookie dating. Jiminie told me you were shocked to find out." Taehyung sits back, grinning. He gives Seokjin a thumbs-up gesture. “You totally fooled him.”

Seokjin coughs, wry amusement bubbling up into laughter. "Yeah, no problem."

"I'm here, I'm here!"

The party at the table glances to see Hoseok jogging up to them. Hoseok slides into the booth beside Seokjin, forcing them to shift over. Seokjin protests loudly but Hoseok just pats his knee, squirming in.

"Yah," Seokjin says, but there is no real reproach in his tone.

Hoseok ignores him and reaches over for a glass, signalling to Namjoon across from them to pass him the pitcher of beer. "Did I miss anything?" he asks, filling his glass.

"Hmm." Seokjin takes a sip from his glass. "You're paying for the first round by unanimous vote."

Hoseok scowls. "That is unfair punishment."

Seokjin shrugs. "Don't be late next time."

Hoseok sighs and takes a large gulp of his beer. He sighs and shifts back into the booth, glancing around the table. His eyes pause as they spot Yoongi beside Jungkook, deep in conversation. "I didn't know Yoongi-hyung was going to be here," he says, eyes darting to Seokjin.

Seokjin shrugs and lifts his glass to his lips for another sip.

Hoseok slaps at Seokjin's shoulder. "Hyung, this is the perfect opportunity," he says in hushed, eager tones. "You gotta talk to him. A drunk confession is perfect."

Seokjin has a hard time keeping his smile from breaking out on his mouth. He purses his lips and says with exaggerated thoughtfulness, "You think? I don't know...."

Hoseok groans in frustration. "Hyung. Hyung, just. Tell him you love him already."

Seokjin turns to glance at Yoongi. He bites back his grin and calls out, "Yoongi?"

Yoongi pauses and flicks his gaze to Seokjin. "Yeah?"

"I love you," Seokjin says, grinning.

Yoongi snorts, a smile spreading on his lips. "Love you, too," he says across the table.

The look on Hoseok's face is, in Seokjin's opinion, a work of art. Eyes bulging and jaw dropped. He makes an incoherent noise in the back of his throat, eyes flickering between Yoongi and Seokjin. "Y-y-you."

Seokjin cannot contain his laughter anymore, gales hiccupping out of his lips.

"Hyung!" Hoseok slaps at Seokjin's shoulder. "Hyung, this isn't fair. I've been suffering for weeks. Hyung. Tell me everything."

&&&

Two years later

Seokjin's debut solo album is an unprecedented hit, the title track stuck in the top five songs on the charts for several weeks, selling out the physical copies so well that Yoongi has to scramble to print more. His subsequent comeback six months later solidifies Seokjin's position in the music world. Endorsements and acting roles and OST offers come pouring in. It's everything Yoongi knew Seokjin could do.

It's everything they both dreamed of, together.

Yoongi checks the time on his phone, sighing and laying it back down on the dining room table. Seokjin is supposed to be home soon, gone for a week in Japan promoting his first film. As silly as it is, Yoongi missed him the past week, wandering around their shared apartment, a little lost, a little sad, and a lot assured of the happiness to come when Seokjin finally returns.

Yoongi had wanted to pick Seokjin up at the airport but while they are not secretive about their relationship, they haven't officially announced it yet. The timing never seemed right. First Seokjin's solo debut and then Yoongi was inundated with work as he signed two new artists, the label growing. Then Seokjin was filming for the film and neither of them felt it was wise to detract from the movie with the media storm their relationship would create.

And thus, Yoongi finds himself home, alone, waiting for Seokjin to make his way through the chaotic airport back into his arms.

He sniffs and walks to the kitchen, checking on the dinner he's cooked from scratch as a surprise for Seokjin. Everything is ready, he just needs –

The melodic sound of the lock opening alerts Yoongi to Seokjin's anticipated arrival. He sprints as casually as possible into the foyer, grinning when he sees Seokjin toeing off his shoes, his luggage tucked in a nook by the entryway.

"Welcome home," he says, walking over to Seokjin and looping his arms around his waist. He peers up and inhales deep, feeling the loneliness from the previous week melt away. "How was your flight?"

Seokjin smiles at him and dips his face into Yoongi's neck. "Long. But okay. I'm happy to be home."

"Do you want a shower first? Food? I made dinner."

Seokjin exhales and shifts, lifting his head from Yoongi's neck to press a kiss to his lips. "All of the above," he says as he pulls away.

Yoongi hums and steps back out of Seokjin's arms. "Go shower. Dinner will be ready when you're out."

Seokjin gives him one last peek on the cheek. "Thanks," he says, making his way to their bedroom.

"Hyung," Yoongi calls out.

Seokjin pauses and peers over his shoulder, eyebrows raised in question.

"I missed you."

Seokjin laughs, the tips of his ears turning red, an endearing habit that even after all this time, he hasn't outgrown. "I missed you, too, Yoongichi."

Yoongi snorts as Seokjin disappears into the bedroom.

When Seokjin is showered and dressed, hair still damp, the fresh scent of body wash wafting from his neck, they sit down for dinner at the dining room table. Yoongi is smugly content as Seokjin eats, a sense of true happiness in his chest. He tangles his feet around Seokjin's ankle under the table and tries not to look so stupidly fond.

He fails miserably.

"Yoongi," Seokjin says, flicking his eyes to Yoongi once his plate is nearly empty.

Yoongi hums in question, swallowing the food in his mouth.

"The interview I have tomorrow at MBC."

Yoongi blinks and places his chopsticks down on the table. "Yeah?"

Seokjin licks his lips. "You had them remove the question about my dating life. I was hoping to keep it in."

Yoongi's mouth parts. "You want to go public?"

Seokjin smiles. "Yes. If it's okay with you."

"You're sure?" Yoongi asks, heart thumping in his chest wildly.

"I'm sure," Seokjin answers confidently.

Yoongi presses his lips together to keep from smiling and tilts his head. "Are you asking me as my artist or my boyfriend?"

Seokjin's lips twitch into a smirk and he shrugs. "What's the answer if I'm asking as your artist?"

Yoongi purses his lips. "There's no dating ban. I have no problem with it. I'll have the office draft a press release in the morning."

Seokjin smiles. "And if I'm asking as your boyfriend?"

Yoongi grins. "Yes. I'm more than okay with it."

Seokjin's eyes hold his gaze, something flickering in them. He can see Seokjin gather himself and he wonders just what it is Seokjin wants to say. His heart thumps hard against his chest, and he will wonder later if it knew, before he did, predicting the words with perfect clarity.

"What if," Seokjin starts slowly, "I asked you as my fiancé?"

Yoongi stops breathing for a moment, air trapped in his throat. He coughs, eyes wide and staring incredulously at Seokjin.

Seokjin frowns. "Yah. What kind of reaction is that?"

"Are you serious?" Yoongi asks, wheezing, trying to regain his breath again.

Seokjin's eyes don't waver as he nods. "I am. I want to marry you, Yoongi."

"Yes!" Yoongi shouts, clambering from his chair and sprinting around the table to tumble into Seokjin's lap. "Yes, yes, yes," he repeats, taking Seokjin's face in his hands and peppering him with kisses, on his cheek, on his nose, on his cupid's bow.

Seokjin places a hand on Yoongi's back and sinks his lips against Yoongi's, breathing in deep. He pulls back and grins up at Yoongi in his lap. "I love you."

Yoongi's heart skips a beat in happiness, and he swears he can feel Seokjin's do the same. "I love you," Yoongi sighs into Seokjin's skin, arms wrapping around his shoulders. He will write a hundred songs about this and still, he thinks, still he won't be able to explain the depths of his words.

It's an echoing, reverberating, triumphant chorus that sings their story. The melody of their bright beginning, the long separation, the hard-won reunion, and their future, unknown yet glittering with hope and love and the contentment that only the truest of affections can secure.

He will spend the rest of his life writing this song for Seokjin. And somehow he knows, Seokjin will sing it back to him in perfect harmony.