“And there’s no evidence to prove otherwise?”
“No, your honor. His story checks out. It was just mistaken identity and...unfortunate circumstances.”
The judge sighed, and eyed Namjoon where he stood at the defendant's table. Namjoon was worrying his lower lip and trying to comprehend everything that was happening. He had had so much to say and so much he should have said, but the court appointed lawyer told him it was probably best to stay quiet as long as possible.
It was just hard.
“So,” the judge continued as she leaned forward against her desk and raised a brow at Namjoon. “You forgot your glasses?” Namjoon nodded. “And you had your music turned up too loud to hear the sirens?” Another nod. “And you’ll admit to knowingly owning and installing an illegal stereo system in your vehicle?”
Namjoon swallowed. “Yes, your honor.”
“Then I guess we’ll have to confiscate your stereo system and, for leading the police on a thirty mile car chase, I’m going to have to give you some community service hours to complete, okay?”
“Yes, your honor. I understand.”
“Alright, Mr. Kim,” she tapped her gavel lightly against the sound block, clearly not wanting to stress Namjoon anymore than he already was. “You’ll be doing five hundred hours of court-mandated community service work over the next year,” Namjoon turned his head down and watched his hands. “Which you’ll log through an online form that will be emailed to you later today. You’ll have to print some papers for your contact at your chosen place to sign, though. And we’ll also be so kind as to include a few suggestions on where you can complete these hours, Mr. Kim. Do you understand that as well?”
“Yes, your honor.”
“Are you going to forget your glasses the next time you drive?”
Namjoon shook his head. “No, your honor.”
“Or have the music up so loudly you can no longer hear other vehicles around you?”
The judge nodded and tapped the sound block once more. “Then I think you’ve learned your lesson.”
Namjoon was escorted out of the courthouse and to his car by a burley bailiff with a crooked nose. Namjoon half wanted to ask if it had been broken on the job or off, but bit his tongue, thanking the man before he slid into the driver’s seat. Namjoon readjusted his glasses, more to make sure he still had them on than anything else, and worked on not forgetting how he got to the courthouse so he would be able to get home.
It felt colder than when he’d left earlier in the day, but he hadn’t officially been a criminal then. He didn’t have a record then. He’d just been scared and nervous and worried about what was going to happen to him—he wasn’t part of the drug trade! He had just been out for groceries!—and unsure what his future would hold.
Apparently, it was five hundred hours of unpaid labor at any officially recognized organization.
The email had been waiting for him when he checked. (Later. After he got home, which is after he got lost twice, making the wrong turns at the right lights.) He didn’t open it right away, not liking the way the government seemed to work so quickly when doling out punishment but so slowly when doing literally anything else. Namjoon, instead, distracted himself with cat videos on Youtube. With looking through the new photos posted on Instagram. With scrolling and refreshing and scrolling and refreshing and scrolling on FaceBook, continuing even when he realized no one he knew lead lives any more interesting than his has been this past few days.
He closed the windows slowly, wanting to drag out the torture that was his email’s inbox, but was inevitably left with only that. Only the notification and the email he needed to open.
So he did.
It was boring, really. The insides. All formal speech and things he could have inferred on his own. His printer whirred to life to make a copy of what would need signed at the establishment of his choosing. Which then begged the most important question:
Where seemed to be the best option?
Namjoon scanned the pre-approved list (he could pick his own spot, if he wished. If he wanted to. But that would require more paperwork and, honestly, his one goal was to put this entire debacle behind him as quickly as possible so he could move on) and saw a few places of interest. The animal shelter on second street seemed promising, and Namjoon had always loved dogs (though whether the dogs loved him back was as debatable of a fact as one could get), so it would be perfect. He’d scribbled the number down and a quick script of what he would be saying, planning to call a little later, once he managed to settle himself and, maybe, eat lunch.
The food was simple—it usually was where Namjoon was concerned—microwave chicken nuggets, a container of easy mac that he put too much water in, and a cup filled to the brim with grape juice. He had eaten slowly, trying to draw out the actions more and more to give himself more time.
The end came far too soon.
Namjoon dialed the number he’d written only hours before, fully expecting a friendly, young woman to ask how she can help him. Someone easy to talk to and happy to assist him in getting his volunteering started.
He realized too late that he either wrote the number incorrectly or simply dialed it in wrong.
“Good morning,” the voice was a little clipped, but it seemed more from general tiredness than anything else. It was also very, very much produced by a man. “You’ve reached the Pain and Spine Rehabilitation Center. This is Seokjin Kim, head nurse; how can I help you?”
Namjoon panicked. His chest tightened.
“I need to complete five hundred hours of community service and I was wondering if I could do it there? At your...facility?”
There was a static sound over the line and, for a moment, Namjoon was sure the other man—Seokjin Kim, head nurse—had hung up on him. He had been hopeful. He had been positive. He had been grateful. He had been about to say ‘thank you’ to empty space (just in case!) and hang up so he could calm down before properly calling the animal shelter as he’d meant to do.
“What did you do?”
“Uh. It was a misunderstanding, but I was...in a car chase? It’s mostly for owning an illegal stereo system in my car.” Namjoon stumbled over a few words, but kept up pretty well. All in all, he’d be proud of himself if this had been the animal shelter. But messing up the number was not in the plan, so any pride he felt was unwarranted.
“Oh,” Seokjin continued. There’s scribbling this time before the talking continues. “I saw that on the news,” a pause. More scribbling. “When could you start?”
Namjoon stammered momentarily, moving to the wall beside his fridge as he started to flip through the calendar there, moving into future months, but found nothing that could actually be a good, real excuse to stop him from starting relatively soon. “Tuesday? At like. Three in the afternoon? Would that be okay?” He went back to the table, but there wasn’t anything there to help him with the situation.
“I’ll see you on Tuesday at three PM sharp, Mr., uh. What was your name again?”
“I’ll see you, Mr. Namjoon Kim, on Tuesday at three PM sharp. Wear comfortable shoes. Bring your ID.”
And then Seokjin Kim, head nurse at Pain and Spine Rehabilitation Center, hung up.
Namjoon stared at the table for a moment and then pulled his phone from his ear to watch the screen in mild confusion. His gaze flicked to the notepad in front of him, glaring down at the chicken scratch that proved indecipherable enough to wreck his life.
“Great. Perfect. The rest of the day was supposed to be perfect .”
He spilled his juice on his shoes when he had tried to go downstairs and pick up his newspaper and mail from the box in the front office.
And it’s a damn good thing perfect is conditional.
“Come on, Yoongi, one more lap,” Jungkook said from the side of the pool. Yoongi just glared. He didn’t have the energy to snap back.
Tuesdays and Thursdays they had aquajogging.
Yoongi hated aquajogging.
Every time he strapped on the ugly, blue flotation sandals and buoyancy belt, he dry heaved: genuinely and honestly dry heaved. His arms barely managed the drag of the water weights, his heart felt like it was trying to beat itself out of his chest, and his vision got spotty with every rotation around the pool. If Yoongi weren’t so desperate, he would have dropped out of rehab because of aquajogging alone.
But Yoongi was desperate. He was sick of waking up every day fatigued, sore, and nauseous. He couldn’t remember the last time he felt healthy, and pain rehabilitation was supposed to help with that.
He just didn’t understand why it had to hurt so much. This was supposed to make him stop hurting.
“You got it, Yoongi! Just a couple more feet!” Jungkook guided him. His voice was soft, but it was still grating to Yoongi’s ears.
“ Shut. Up ,” he panted, trying to make it the last few steps. He could barely breathe. Jungkook quietly clapped as he crossed the finish line.
“Great job! You didn’t even take any breaks this time!” Jungkook said, scribbling something down on his clipboard.
“I fucking hate you,” Yoongi deadpanned.
Jungkook laughed but it didn’t quite meet his eye. To be fair, Yoongi shouldn’t be directing his frustration at Jungkook, especially considering he was just a volunteer and especially considering he was so shy. Jungkook was just a freshman trying to get through his first internship.
Yoongi could be at college or at an internship, but instead he was in pain rehab.
“Just leave me here to die, Jungkook, I’m going straight to hell,” Yoongi said, practically crawling out of the pool and lying down on the concrete.
“Hey, no lying down. On your feet.”
“No,” Yoongi said, closing his eyes.
“Yoongi,” Jungkook said timidly, and Yoongi groaned loudly.
“Hey, hey, hey, what is this?”
Yoongi cracked his eye open just in time to see Hoseok pull himself out of the pool. He had dark circles beneath his eyes, but unlike Yoongi, Hoseok never complained about being tired. Instead, he looked at Yoongi with a fond smile.
“What are you doing lying around? We have a big day ahead of us!”
Jungkook looked at Hoseok nervously, hugging his clipboard to his chest. “Do you have this on lockdown?” he whispered to Hoseok, like that was supposed to stop Yoongi from hearing him from two feet away.
Hoseok snorted. “Yeah, Jungkook, I have it on lockdown.”
“Okay,” Jungkook said, scurrying off to supervise the other swimmers.
Yoongi blinked at Hoseok. “I’m not getting up.”
“Then you’re going to be stuck here,” Hoseok said. “You promised we would graduate together. We can’t do that if I’m trying and you’re not.”
“I am trying,” Yoongi grumbled.
“You’re lying down,” Hoseok pointed out.
Yoongi sighed. Hoseok and Yoongi had joined rehab at the same time. While Yoongi’s POTS made him feel constantly exhausted and nauseous, Hoseok’s EDS made him feel constant pain over every inch of his body. Still, Hoseok was moving through rehab like a walk in the park, while Yoongi was slinking through like a slug: a giant, mucusy, disgusting slug. “I’m in my natural state,” Yoongi said.
Hoseok rolled his eyes and looked out at the treeline. The subtle shake to his shoulders was the only sign that he felt any kind of pain at all. “Hey, what’s that?”
“What’s what?” Yoongi asked.
“ What? ”
Hoseok kicked his hip. “Well, sit up and look, idiot. It’s over there.”
With a long whine, Yoongi sat up and looked in the direction Hoseok was pointing. He had to push his wet hair out of his eyes to see, but eventually, he saw the grey little blurb Hoseok was staring at.
“Anything special?” Hoseok asked.
“Nah, just a mourning dove,” Yoongi answered. He shook water out of his hair. “It’s pretty, though.”
Hoseok hummed and pushed himself to his feet, his elbows bowing the wrong direction as he supported himself. Yoongi stretched his fingers absentmindedly. His thumb could touch his arm if he pulled it back enough; he was so hyper flexible. Meanwhile, Hoseok had to take a break —doubled over— before he managed to stand straight up. His knees quivered like they were about to give out. “I can’t believe you can identify a bird fifty feet away,” he said, dusting off his hands.
“Okay, even you could identify a mourning dove from fifty feet away,” Yoongi said. “Look at it. It’s a squat little chibi.”
“Chibi?” Hoseok asked.
“A short, tiny, squishy thing,” Yoongi said. “It’s got a round, little body, and a pointy, little tail, and it’s trying it’s best in the way only a mourning dove can.”
Hoseok laughed, holding out a hand to Yoongi to help him up. “Only you would talk about a bird like you’re talking about a puppy.”
“Birds are cuter than dogs,” Yoongi said, taking Hoseok’s hand and dragging himself up.
“I will drop you right on your ass.”
“Too late,” Yoongi said, getting to his feet. He un-velcroed his buoyancy belt and headed towards the locker rooms, his eyes trained on the sky just in case anything interesting flew by. This was the last glimpse outside he’d have for awhile; up next they had their mindfulness class and then a group therapy session. And then yoga. And then dinner, and then Yoongi would need a good few hours to cry in his room before he had to wake up for another impossible day.
Above him, a broad-winged hawk circled its prey.
Yoongi watched it for a second, his head swiveling as Hoseok guided him towards the locker room with a steadying hand on his shoulder. “Everything okay?” Hoseok asked.
Yoongi’s bottom lip wobbled. “Yeah,” he said, pushing his feelings down into his chest. He took a cleansing breath and locked eyes with Jungkook as they passed him by. “I got everything on lockdown.”
Jungkook hid a smile behind his clipboard, and Hoseok punched his shoulder. “I’m sure you do.”
Classes on Tuesday had really done Namjoon no help. Honestly, he knew he should have skipped, but that was as blasphemous a thought as Namjoon’s ever had. So he attended his lectures and took his notes despite not actually checking in with anything the professors were saying. He hoped, momentarily, that watching the clock would do the same thing it typically did—force time to slow down. Make it sluggish and dragging and torturous —but there had been no luck.
If anything, time had gone faster.
“Okay,” Namjoon mumbled to himself, fingers playing across the steering wheel, trying to pass more time than he has to spare. “It’s totally fine. You explained what happened, no one has to know specifics about the incident. No one has to know anything.” With a resounding sigh, Namjoon exited the car, not wanting to look at the building in front of him, but forcing himself to study it anyway. If he was going to be stuck here for five hundred hours, he might as well know what the place looks like.
Hell, is what he finally decided on. Hell in a goddamn handbasket.
He almost hoped the door to the building would be heavy and difficult to pull open. The rug inside just enough to trip him up. The receptionist desk too difficult to find.
None of those things happened and Namjoon awkwardly rang the bell sitting on the desk. Someone had probably seen him come in. Someone probably knew he was there. Someone was probably annoyed that he had rung the bell and was cussing him out and this was going to be horrible, wasn’t it? He was going to get fired from a volunteer position. It was going to happen.
Hearing his own name was startling. Namjoon jerked from the desk, head turning to stare. “Uh. Yes?”
“Seokjin Kim, head nurse. Can I see your ID?” Namjoon could do nothing but blink, unable to believe how quickly the man had cut to the chase. But Seokjin held his hand out, fingers curling to beckon the license from Namjoon’s wallet, and so Namjoon handed it over, unsure what would happen after, but nervous just the same.
Seokjin disappeared through the side door, returning only a few moments later with Namjoon’s card and a few papers that he offered over, brows raising when Namjoon didn’t take them immediately. He spoke only when Namjoon had taken the papers and was looking down at the print.
“Medical disclosure forms. And volunteer forms to fill out. Should take you ten minutes. I’ll be back to get you and then show you what you’ll be doing,” his eyes scanned Namjoon up and down again before he turned and left through the same door he’d been using earlier, leaving Namjoon alone with his thoughts and the papers.
It definitely wasn’t too late to leave, right?
He filled the forms out anyway, playing with the pen on the empty receptionists desk while he waited the ten minutes out. It was more than enough time for idle minds to wander and if Namjoon had anything, it was an idle mind. When left to his own devices, things got pretty deep pretty quickly.
Today was no exception.
Why, Namjoon thought, did it have to be a hospital?
Animals—animals could be dealt with. Animals were easy. Their emotions and thoughts were simple—food, play, attention, sleep. Easy. People were impossible . And to make matters worse—so, so, so much and incredibly worse—these were sick people. A million things could go wrong: they could fall over, break a bone, start choking, need CPR. Namjoon didn’t even know CPR! What if he was asked to help someone get into bed and dropped them? What if there was an emergency—he’s prone to panic during emergencies! Most of Namjoon’s terrible decisions in life have all come up due to a bout of emergency induced panic.
People were not Namjoon’s strong point—it’s why he was a goddamn mathematician. Mathematicians dealt with numbers, not people.
Seokjin returned so suddenly that Namjoon startled when he caught sight of the man in his peripheral vision, the pen he’d used shooting across the desk and bouncing off the wall. Seokjin stared.
“Oh dear god,” a heavy sigh, “follow me. And don’t touch anything.” Honestly, it was for the best, and Namjoon knew it. But that didn’t make him feel any better about the command.
“This,” Seokjin had been saying and Namjoon, lost in his thoughts, had not been paying full attention, “is where you can get an apron. All volunteers wear them—it’s, like. I don’t know,” he reached and absentmindedly adjusted his scrubs. The Mario face printed on his chest pocket laid smoother and more recognizable. “It’s some old tradition or something. Tells everyone you have no working medical knowledge,” he pressed one into Namjoon’s hands and waited a moment until it was pulled over his head and tied around his back.
The nurse continued after that, leading Namjoon around quickly, pointing out anything important as he went. Bathrooms, cafeteria, sunroom, a variety of exercise rooms, and, eventually, the actual rooms.
“The resident patients stay here—we have some who live out of the facility and come in for certain activities, and those who are in more serious condition that stay for longer spans of time. They’re given rooms and, typically, roommates. Another volunteer made all the tags on the doors and–,” an assortment of beeps had cut him off and Seokjin glanced down to the pager on his hip. “Fucking are you— Taehyung . I swear to god if this is about Jungkook’s yoga class, you’re in for a world of hurt. You can’t just keep fucking it up, Jesus fucking—.” He turned quickly, reaching to grab Namjoon’s shoulders, hands holding tight.
“I have to attend to an… issue . Do you remember where we keep the book cart?”
“Back beside the sunroom?” Though he sounded uncertain.
Seokjin nodded, releasing Namjoon’s shoulders and starting briskly down the hall, white sneakers almost seeming to glide with how comfortable the path and travel speed must be to the man. “Go get it and visit the rooms. See if anyone wants a book or something. Go wait by my station when you’re done.”
He disappeared around the corner before Namjoon had the chance to ask which station belonged to him, but realized quickly he didn’t have to ask.
The Mario figurines gave it away.
“Alright, Namjoon,” he kicked himself into gear and walked back down the hallway until he refound the sunroom and the small library-like area next to it. “It’s just a book cart. Just a few rooms. Knock and go in. It’s totally going to be fine. If there’s a yoga class going on, some of the rooms might be empty.” He wrapped his hands across the handle and backed the cart out, pushing a large breath from between his teeth.
“Nothing serious,” he checked his watch, tongue poking out to wet his lips. “Twenty minutes down, four hundred ninety-nine and sixty-seven hundredths hours to go.”
He started down the hall, finding out quickly that the cart had a squeaky wheel and, honestly. If this day could get any worse, he’d be surprised.
“Four hundred ninety-nine and sixty-three hundredths hours to go. Just think of it this way, Namjoon. At least you’re not a patient.”
Yoongi stepped out of the shower, running one of the shitty hospital towels through his hair. It had taken every last ounce of energy he had to clean off after yoga, but fortunately, he didn’t have to go to dinner straight away.
He grabbed his binoculars.
Yoongi looped the lanyard around his neck (his grandma had bought him one with goldfinches dotted along the edge) and opened up his field book in front of him. There weren’t many birds to be seen outside his hospital room window, but Yoongi was determined to catch sight of every one that happened to fly by.
Yoongi had just focused his binoculars on a European starling sitting on a telephone wire, when a knock on the door startled him. Yoongi flopped back on his pillow, ignoring the sudden headrush. He was too tired to answer.
Next to him, Taehyung groaned in his bed. Yoongi groaned back but got up anyway.
“What?” he said, opening the door just enough to see who was knocking but not enough to let the whole world peek in on a sleeping Taehyung.
“What?” Yoongi asked again.
“Wha- I mean, do you want a book?”
Yoongi looked at the book cart and then looked at the man pushing it. “You’re new,” Yoongi noticed. His striped apron was a dead giveaway. “What’s your name, candy striper?”
“Um, I’m a volunteer. I’m Namjoon.” Namjoon looked overwhelmed.
“Namjoon the candy striper,” Yoongi mused. He looked back to Taehyung. Taehyung liked books, but he had also read through most of the titles Yoongi could recognize. “Don’t suppose you have any recommendations for a book that’ll shut a really annoying kid up for a few hours,” he said dryly.
Namjoon blinked at him. “Why are you here?”
Yoongi blinked back. “Because I’m sick.”
“No,” Namjoon said. “I mean, I thought everyone was supposed to be in yoga. So why is everyone in their rooms?”
Yoongi snorted. “Oh. You can blame my roommate for that. He usually messes around during yoga, so everyone thought he was teasing. But he laid down on his mat, and everyone tried to wake him up and get him moving again, but then-”
“I didn’t feel well!” Taehyung whined from inside the room, and Yoongi smiled at him fondly.
“He projectile vomited. Everywhere. The room is unusable. The mats are really unusable. Seokjin is going to be washing throw up out of his hair until the last syllable of recorded time.”
“Oh,” Namjoon said. He still looked overwhelmed.
“I take it you don’t have any book suggestions then,” Yoongi said after an uncomfortable beat of silence. Namjoon frowned.
“No, um, I- Wait!” He took a book off the second shelf. “Actually this one is really good. It’s about this kid in South Africa who goes to this boarding school, and his dad is a paranoid, severe alcoholic, and so are all the other characters, really. It’s funny and easy, if that’s the kind of thing you’re into.”
Yoongi took the book in his hand. “ Spud ,” he read aloud. His arm felt like it was going to snap off just from holding the book in his hand. “Sure, why not.”
“Also, One for the Money is really good, it’s the first in a series. And then The Couple Next Door is awful, but it has some fun plot twists. And The Rosie Project is cute, and it’s a little romantic, which, you know, can be nice.”
“Big reader, huh?” Yoongi asked before Namjoon could prattle his way through every book on the cart.
Namjoon scratched the back of his head. “Well, not really, I’m more of a math guy. These are just all best sellers-”
Yoongi’s eyes caught on a huge encyclopedia on the bottom shelf. “Wait, what is that ,” he asked, interrupting again.
Namjoon frowned. “Um-”
“I got it.”
With shaking arms, Yoongi picked up the book and dropped it with a thud on the top of the cart. He flipped open to the first page: The Encyclopedia of Birds. He frantically flipped to the appendix and searched down the H column for the page number he was looking for.
“Can you flip to page 123?” Yoongi asked. His arms hurt too much to flip too many pages at once.
“I just wanna see,” Yoongi said. Namjoon flipped to the right page, and Yoongi bounced on his toes when a paddling of harlequin ducks filled up a double page spread. He stared for a moment, a sudden crushing sadness weighing down on him. “Isn’t it crazy,” he said, staring down at the picture, “how the most beautiful parts of nature are just beyond our reach?”
“Well… Yeah,” Namjoon said, reaching up to adjust his glasses. For the first time since the start of the conversation, Yoongi realized he was talking to someone smart. “But that’s just the way, isn’t it? Once humanity creeps in, it’s not nature anymore. It’s civilization.”
Yoongi was surprised by the real answer.
“I suppose that’s true,” he replied. “I want to see this, though.”
“The ugly ducks?” Namjoon asked.
Yoongi sputtered. “They’re my favorite bird. ”
“A duck is your favorite bird?” Namjoon asked, and then backtracked. “Wait. You have a favorite bird?”
“Of course I do,” Yoongi said, holding up his binoculars that were still looped around his neck. “Birdwatching is my life. And ducks are great. My grandfather’s favorite bird of all time is the King Eider duck; he survived a summer in the tundra just to see one.”
Namjoon winced. “He sounds like a great guy.”
“He’s dead,” Yoongi deadpanned.
Namjoon’s cringed further, if possible. “Look, I’m just trying to give you a book,” he said, suddenly sweeping up both Spud and the birding encyclopedia. “Just take these if you want them, and I’ll get out of your hair.”
“Whatever you say, candy striper,” Yoongi replied dryly.
“I’m a volunteer,” Namjoon corrected.
“Check the apron,” Yoongi said. He slammed the door in Namjoon’s face.
It hadn’t taken long to finish knocking on doors after the strange encounter, but Namjoon still found himself slightly lost and a lot confused. ‘Check the apron’? What did that even mean? Hadn’t Seokjin said all volunteers had to wear them? It was a tradition . Namjoon wasn’t a candy striper.
None of the other patients (not that there had been many; most had seemed not to bother answering the door if they were in their rooms. But, then again, perhaps they just couldn’t walk to the doors that Namjoon didn’t bother opening. They were sick, after all) had called him out on that. Those that he had spoken to exchanged books they had for new ones and introduced themselves, and Namjoon had gone along with nods and greetings, stumbling over his words now and again, but mostly surviving.
And, anyway, who the hell has a favorite bird? Birds are just birds . They exist for practically nothing—you can either eat them or be angry that they shit on your car, but otherwise, what’s the point?
Namjoon shook his head, deciding he’d never understand—some things were just impossible. He paused, though, turning to look to the right as a young man jogged down the hall toward him, striped apron bouncing with each step. “Hey!” the stranger called out, though it was surprisingly hushed. Namjoon assumed that was for the sake of the patients as opposed to himself. He raised his brows, shifting to turn fully in the other man’s direction as he came to a halt on the other side of the nurse’s station.
“So,” the man shifted his weight, leaning his elbows on the upper level of Seokjin’s station and working to catch his breath. “You’re the felon?”
“I—I’m not a felon !” Namjoon managed, breath catching awkwardly in his throat, making the words come out in a hiccup as opposed to the grunt he’d hoped for.
The other volunteer hummed, looking as though he didn’t believe a word Namjoon said. “I’m Jimin, by the way. It’s nice to meet you, I guess,” he offered a hand out and, reflexively Namjoon reached to take it and shake.
“Namjoon,” he paused, brows twitching in slight irritation. “And what do you mean by ‘you guess’?
Jimin shrugged, arm tucking back under his other, full weight pressed to the nurse’s station. “Seokjin says you’re here for court-mandated community service hours. Which tells me one, you’re a felon—don’t argue! You got charged with a crime. A felony —and two, you really don’t want to be here. And, look. Okay. I get it. You just want to do your time, but you and I are going to come to an understanding, capisce?” He righted himself and took a step forward, shoulders pushed back as though, that alone, would be enough to intimidate Namjoon into agreeing to whatever Jimin planned to say.
“Well, I mean,” Namjoon swallowed, moving a hand to fix his glasses while taking a half step back. (So, perhaps Jimin’s shoulder move had done something. The guy looked like he would be pretty scrappy in a fight. Probably didn’t even fight fair. ) “I wouldn't exactly call it a felony…” Jimin’s eyes narrowed. “But, okay. Right. Not the right time for that. What...do we need to understand?”
Jimin huffed a hot puff of air out of his mouth, the force disturbing pieces of his frizzled, dye and heat damaged hair. “I love it here. And I won’t have any criminals messing up my hard work, alright? I love the residents—some of them are good friends—and I love volunteering here. But,” he paused to run a hand through his hair, lips pursing while taking Namjoon in.
Namjoon squirmed under the intensity of the gaze.
“We’re a little short-staffed, so we can’t be picky. Just. Don’t do anything terrible and I can probably put up with you hanging around.”
Namjoon pushed out a breath. “Trust me, Jimin. I plan on doing as few terrible things as possible.” He managed a nervous laugh, but by Jimin’s expression, the sound didn’t fully match his intentions to placate the other man. “Anyway, uh. What do we do now? I went to all the rooms and moved some books around—some guy wanted a huge copy of this, like. Bird book—.”
“And he called me a candy striper —.”
Lips pursed, Namjoon regarded the man in front of him. “Is he always so brash and demanding? Do you get that treatment?”
Jimin shrugged, pushing off from Seokjin’s counter and taking a step away before turning back around. He nimbly rearranged a few of the figures, changing their placement on the counter entirely. “Let’s just say that Yoongi is an acquired taste. He has a right to be a little demanding—his POTS and all. But he and I get along. His roommate and I are good friends.”
“The guy who threw up all over everything and everyone?”
There was a loud, single laugh and Jimin pulled away from the counter, stepping off toward the hall again. “That’s the one! Isn’t he great ? My pride and joy! Wait until you hear him during meditation—it’s a real hoot.”
“Was that a bird joke?”
Jimin didn’t dignify the question with a response, and simply moved further down the hall.
“We have to get ready to help with dinner now, okay? Yoga got cancelled early for obvious reasons, and usually that takes us up until dinner or just about. There's like. A half hour of wiggle room. The book cart only comes out when the schedule gets messed up or someone asks for it, so now that you did that, we have to go to the cafeteria and get things set up—you’ll figure out the order of things soon enough.” Jimin shrugged and didn’t check to see if Namjoon was following.
“We don’t...cook, right?” Namjoon frowned, taking quick steps until he catches up with Jimin, long legs helping carrying him further, faster.
Jimin snorted. “Yeah, no. That would be a disaster. It’s all healthy and cooked in bulk. We just help pass it out and make sure everyone’s feeling okay and eating something. Keep an eye out for anyone who seems real sick or who isn’t eating at least a little. Nothing too difficult. But that’ll put us at, like. Six-thirty-ish, give or take.”
“That’s not bad,” Namjoon turned his head to watch the doors to the rooms pass by. “Did you make the name tags for the patients? Nurse Seokjin said a volunteer did it, and you’re the only one I’ve seen.”
“ Residents ,” Jimin corrected lightly, but he nodded regardless. “Yeah! All things they really like! Seokjin added the Mario stickers though. He has a thing. ”
Namjoon laughed, eyeing what he assumed was a poorly drawn bird (or was it a porcupine?) on Yoongi’s door (tapped up next to what Namjoon thought was a dog, ‘Taehyung’ scrawled across the canine’s body) before jogging to catch back up with Jimin. “A thing?”
“Yeah. ‘Cause you’ve got that one thing .”
“No.” Namjoon’s voice was hard, a distinct difference from Jimin’s lilting words.
“What?” Jimin glanced over his shoulder while holding the door to the cafeteria open for Namjoon. “Got something against Directioners?”
“I’ve got everything against them.”
“Well fuck you too, man.”
“There he goes,” Jimin said dryly as Namjoon walked by with a trayful of dirty dishes.
“Odds he drops everything,” Yoongi quipped.
Jimin winced. “Odds I have to clean it all up.”
“You guys are so mean,” Hoseok chastised, taking a huge swig from his water. His neck brace made it hard for him to drink from the bottom of the glass and Yoongi wordlessly passed him a straw.
Jimin pouted, gathering dirty dishes into a bus bin. “Nuh-uh, I’m nice. TaeTae, tell him I’m nice.”
“Namjoon is nice, too,” Taehyung pointed out. Yoongi made a face. It was weird to hear Taehyung not rushing to Jimin’s defense.
“He doesn’t like birds .”
“Only you like birds,” Taehyung said airily, stabbing at his chicken. He had yet to eat any of it, and Jimin huffed out a sigh, grabbing Taehyung’s spoon and trying to nudge a mouthful of rice through Taehyung’s closed lips.
“Well then I should be the standard,” Yoongi groused.
“What’s your deal with birdwatching anyway?” Hoseok asked. “I mean, I know you like it, and I swear I listen when you talk about it or whatever, but like… How did you get into it?”
“You have a problem?” Yoongi asked.
Hoseok rolled his eyes. “No, you know I don’t,” Hoseok said, which was fair. Yoongi and Hoseok had been in rehab together for about three weeks, and Hoseok had been nothing but supportive. He really did listen to everything Yoongi had to say about birds, from his idle identification of whatever flew by to his long rants about how to refer to waterfowl (a skein, a plump, a bunch, a raft… all had their place, but not everyone used them correctly). Hoseok listened. “It just… doesn’t seem like your kind of thing.”
Yoongi swirled his water with his straw. “And what is my kind of thing?”
“Complaining, grumbling, muttering.”
“Whining,” Jimin tacked on.
Hoseok snickered. “Actually, I think that’s Taehyung.”
“Hey,” Taehyung whined, only for Jimin to use the opportunity to stuff a spoonful of rice in his mouth.
“My grandparents like birdwatching,” Yoongi said. “My grandma liked goldfinches, my grandpa liked ducks… And I don’t know, they passed on the tradition, I guess. My parents shipped me up to their house in the summer when I was a kid, and it’s like… deep in the middle of the woods, up on a mountain. It’s great for birding.”
“I think you needed more friends,” Taehyung quipped. He spit half chewed rice into his napkin, and Jimin swatted the back of his head.
“I still think you need more friends,” Hoseok said. “But at least you have us.”
“Um, you guys are assholes, not friends,” Yoongi said with a glare. But Hoseok wasn’t wrong, not about any of it.
Hoseok opened his mouth to respond, but before he could, there was a loud clattering across the cafeteria. Everyone’s head turned around to look. On the other side of the room, Namjoon stood above a pile of dropped dishes. Jimin groaned. “I thought volunteers were supposed to help . I swear, I spend half my time doing my own job, and the other half my time doing his.”
“Come back soon,” Taehyung said as Jimin walked away from the table to help Namjoon clean up.
“Eat something while I’m gone,” Jimin demanded over his shoulder.
Hoseok hummed as silence fell over the table. “And then there were three.”
“I know if I eat anything, I’m going to throw up in the pool,” Taehyung said with absolute certainty. “How do I convince these people that I can’t have lunch?”
“You can do it,” Yoongi promised. “It just takes some getting used to.”
Taehyung frowned into his meal. Yoongi knew exactly how he was feeling. It was Taehyung’s second week at rehab, and it was a lot to get used to. It was hard to go from constantly lying around, sick, to suddenly exercising all day everyday. And if Taehyung’s POTS was anything like Yoongi’s, then his digestive system definitely wasn’t getting enough blood to function properly.
Apparently, Taehyung had been on medication for nausea prior to his residency, but there wasn’t any Zofran at rehab. Everyone was supposed to learn how to live without medication and without constantly lying down.
No matter how exhausting it felt.
“I just want to go home,” Taehyung said meekly. “I’ll live with my parents forever.”
“Don’t settle,” Hoseok said: his mantra from their group therapy session.
“Finish strong,” Yoongi said, adding his own motto.
Taehyung gave them a wobbly smile. He had finally come up with his own mantra yesterday. “I didn’t come this far to come this far.”
Hoseok beamed and bumped their shoulders together. Taehyung would be all right. They all would be.
The sink filled slower than Namjoon wanted, the sound of water running from the spigot not enough to drown out overactive thoughts. It had been bothering him for days, now. Almost weeks. But Namjoon and confrontation mixed about as well as logarithms and negatives—not well in the slightest.
“You know,” Namjoon finally started, glancing hesitantly over to Jimin as the other volunteer situated filled bus bins into the cart waiting beside the sink, “that I can tell you all talk about me, right? Like. I’ve got ears.”
Jimin frowned, working to straighten the topmost bin, despite it not needing the work. A distraction at best, and a terrible one at that.
Namjoon sighed, stopping the water and pulling on a pair of gloves, getting ready to scrub down the dishes. It’s safer for him to wash and Jimin to dry and stack—if Namjoon dropped one, it would only go into the soapy water again rather than breaking against the floor. “Like, I get it. None of you want me here— I don’t even really want to be here. I told you I messed up trying to call the animal shelter. I didn’t follow the number across the document right, and wound up one line down and called here instead.”
“You don’t have to keep coming, you know,” Jimin took the first dish, drying it carefully before inspecting for missed spots. He settled it on the nearby cart when satisfied, turning to take the next from Namjoon, their speeds matching well for the job. “I mean, we’re still short staffed even with you here, but you’re not required to do your felony hours at this location.”
“Are you trying to get me to quit? Because, Jimin, I—” Namjoon sighed, rubbing at his nose with the part of his forearm the rubber gloves didn’t cover. “I don’t mind it here. The work isn’t difficult, the hours I can be here match with my class schedule—did I tell you I called the animal shelter after that first day? And, like. They only accept volunteers on weekdays from seven to noon. What kind of business is that? How do they ever get people to help?”
“Right, anyway, it’s just that,” Namjoon passed over an exceptionally soapy dish and Jimin handed it back after a moment, noticing a piece of stuck on rice hiding along the outer edge. “I get along really well with almost everyone and I get why you and I have issues—.”
“And even then, you know I like you, right? You’re just a fucking disaster and make my life a million times harder than it needs to be when you’re here,” Jimin smiled lightly, and Namjoon could tell it was meant to look fond, but that didn’t stop him from feeling a little put out.
Regardless, Namjoon huffed out a breath. “I just don’t really understand why Yoongi doesn’t like me.”
“For starters,” Jimin took the dish back, giving it another quick once over before rinsing, drying, and stacking it with the rest. “You don’t like birds.”
“Okay, so that’s ‘starters.’ What’s the rest?” Jimin didn’t look up and Namjoon turned his head when he handed over the next dish. “Jimin?”
“It’s probably just the bird thing. He’s pretty sour at first, but he does warm up. Jungkook loves him, Namjoon. How could Jungkook ever enjoy someone that wasn’t pure in some way?” Namjoon grunted, unable to argue with that. “Maybe, like. Ask him about birds?” Jimin continued. “He’ll talk forever if you give him the chance—Hoseok’s usually the only one who really asks. Taehyung just gets roped in because they’re roommates. I have the luxury of walking away from time to time, but like. He’s just trying his best to be happy here. They all are.” Jimin flicked his fingers, sending water droplets across Namjoon’s face and glasses.
Namjoon frowned into the sudsy water, but didn’t try to rectify the situation Jimin had caused, even as the man continued to flick water at him while they worked.
Namjoon left the kitchen feeling somehow worse and better at the same time. He knew what the issue was now, but he had to figure out how to fix it. It took him the short walk from the kitchen to the library cart to wrack his brain enough to figure out exactly what he needed to do. It was a few minutes longer than he’d hoped—a good half hour of digging into dusty shelves and sneezing every ten seconds—but he left the room feeling prepared for battle. The cart rolled noisily down the hall and he stopped at the door he’d come to dread knocking on.
But not today. Not this time.
“What kind of bird is small and brown?”
Yoongi blinked, glancing up from the cart to Namjoon. “What?”
“Brown. Brown and small,” Namjoon gripped the handle of the book cart a little harder. “And a jerk? This one bird has been impossible for the last week. Coming after me when I leave my apartment, shitting on my car. It practically screams in my ear every time I try to get my mail! And I just want to know what it is so I can accurately yell at it tomorrow morning before class.”
“What?” Yoongi raised a brow.
“I came prepared to bribe you for the information,” Namjoon continued, nervously holding up a book. It was small and old, more for children than someone Yoongi’s age, but Namjoon had hunted through the small book storage room to find something mildly appropriate to offer in exchange for knowledge and this was all he’d been able to locate.
“Um,” Yoongi reached, taking the book and turning to glance at the back before he looked up at Namjoon again. “That describes, like. I don’t know. At least twenty-five species for this time of year. I’ll need more information.”
Lips pursed, Namjoon thinks before adding, “It was also kind of white?”
“Great. Wow. Brown and white. That’s helpful.”
“And small! And a jerk!” Namjoon tipped his head, barely making out Taehyung’s voice inside the room chiming in with: ‘Just like you, Yoongi!’
Yoongi pushed out a breath, leaning against the doorframe. It seemed that ignoring Taehyung was easier now that he’d grown more accustomed to the constant talking. Namjoon could sympathize. “How small? Like. A robin? Or smaller? What was it doing? Were there more than one? Any distinguishing markings?”
Namjoon blinked, stunned, and so far out of his element. “Well, I mean. It’s small?” he paused, fiddling his hands at the handle of the cart.
“It’s probably just a sparrow, but if you can tell me anything else about it, I could maybe help a little more. A photo would be better, but I don’t think you’d be able to get one good enough—you don’t know what to look for,” he paused, shifting his weight from his left leg to his right and leaning more heavily against the door jam. “Try a field guide. It might be more helpful than me right now.” Yoongi managed a shrug and glanced back into the room. He reached, grabbing a random book from the cart for Taehyung and finally pushing off from the wall. “Keep me updated on what you find out,” he took a step back, pausing before he could get the door closed. “Good luck. I guess.”
Namjoon watched the closed door for a few seconds, unsure how to feel. On one hand, that was entirely unhelpful—how many little brown birds could there really be? Definitely not more than twenty. And all little brown birds look the same. Did Yoongi expect this one, particular bird to have a scar or tattoo that he could use to identify it by—but on the other hand...
On the other hand, Yoongi hadn’t put the bird book back on the cart, even if it was suited for pre-teens and not people who should be in college.
So that was progress, right?
Namjoon started pushing the cart back down the hall, paying little attention while he tried to memorized the questions Yoongi had asked him. Maybe answering them all would help them get on better footing.
Namjoon could only hope.
Yoongi rushed down the hallway. He’d woken up late, and he’d have to do extra spider push-ups in PT if he didn’t get to mediation on time. He was just about to the door when someone called his name. “Yoongi!”
“Fuck, what?” Yoongi snapped, putting way more heat behind it than he meant to.
He turned around and winced when he saw Namjoon running down the hall after him. “Sorry,” Namjoon said, slowing and putting his hands up. “I didn’t mean to bother you, I just- Um, do you have a minute? I had another question.”
Yoongi frowned. He didn’t have a minute, but he felt bad for snapping, and Namjoon looked earnest enough. Yoongi acted like tough shit, but he couldn’t say no to anyone with puppy eyes. “What is it?” he asked, rubbing the crinkle out of his nose with the back of his hand.
“Ah! Um, okay,” Namjoon took out his phone. “So I was reading this list of bird facts-”
Yoongi perked up. “You were?”
“Um, well… Yeah.” Namjoon rubbed at the back of his neck, and Yoongi’s eyes locked onto the corner of his jaw as Namjoon fought down a swallow. Yoongi squinted his eyes. For as nervous as Namjoon could be, he looked… manly. His shoulder and bicep flexed as he scratched the back of his collar. “Jimin said birds were the way to your heart.” He smiled sheepishly. “I don’t want you to hate me.”
“I don’t hate you,” Yoongi said, but he was still glaring. Namjoon had a really manly neck . Just this… manly neck and throat.
Namjoon squirmed. “...It sort of seems like you do?”
“I don’t,” Yoongi said again: firm.
Namjoon huffed out a breath. “Okay, well, anyway, I read that some birds eat rocks. And I wanted to know why.”
Yoongi blinked. “What is this, mind games? You’re asking me about birds so I like you?”
Namjoon pushed his glasses up his nose. “See, this is why I think you don’t like me.”
“Fuck you,” Yoongi said, he grabbed Namjoon’s phone and scrolled down the BuzzFeed-worthy article, pausing on a gif of a chicken pecking at the ground. “Birds like chickens eat rocks because they don’t have teeth. Eating rocks helps them grind down their food.”
“Ah, so there is a reason,” Namjoon said.
“Of course there’s a reason,” Yoongi said. His face felt flushed for some reason. He slammed Namjoon’s phone back into his hand. The time flashed as Namjoon struggled to find a grip. Yoongi bit back a groan. “You’ve made me late for gym.”
“Sorry,” Namjoon winced.
“Don’t apologize; I don’t hate you,” Yoongi promised.
“Are you sure?” Namjoon asked.
“Positive. No one hates you . I just have to go.”
Yoongi spun on his heel and stomped into the gym. He pressed his hands to his face, his cheeks burning. There was no reason for him to feel so worked up.
As Yoongi entered into the gym, his physical therapist greeted him with a ‘tsk’ and a shake of his head. He nearly jumped out of his skin when Jungkook snuck on him. “You’re late,” Jungkook said. He had his clipboard in hand and his lanyard around his neck.
Yoongi dropped into a straddle stretch. “Sorry. I overslept.”
“You were talking to someone,” Jungkook said, his eyes wide.
“I wasn’t talking to anyone,” Yoongi said.
“You were talking to Namjoon .”
Yoongi turned. Jungkook looked doe-eyed and excited, like a little kid watching his big brother go on his first date or practice for his driver’s license test. Yoongi didn’t want to disappoint him, but he also didn’t want to let him think… whatever he was thinking. “I wasn’t talking to Namjoon any more than you’ve ever talked to Jin.”
Jungkook blushed a terrible shade of pink. “Jin is different.”
His physical therapist, Keone, clapped his hands from the front of the room. “This is meditation,” he reminded the class. “There should be no talking.”
“But we’re just stretching. We haven’t even started,” Taehyung pointed out from the front. He was stretched out with Hoseok. Taehyung’s hyper flexibility allowed him to sprawl across the floor like a pancake.
“It should still be quiet. This is a peaceful environment.”
“But I don’t want to be quiet.”
Keone sighed, long and suffering. “At least be silent during our mindfulness session, Taehyung.”
“But I want to talk then, too.”
Keone glared. “You can either be quiet or do twenty extra spider push-ups today,” he said, and Taehyung’s jaw snapped closed. Keone flipped on the CD player to play some calming music. He started to lead the class through the steps of proper mediation. “Okay, first lie back quietly on your mat…”
Yoongi sprawled backwards and let his eyes drift closed. He was exhausted; there had never been a time where he felt truly awake. Yoongi could let his eyes fall shut and sleep forever if his instructors would let him.
The room fell silent. Yoongi let his mind wander, until Taehyung’s throaty baritone filled the room.
“Taehyung, that’s twenty spider push-ups and counting,” Keone warned, and Yoongi snickered behind his hand. He peeked his eye open to see the rest of the class hiding smiles behind their hands, and Taehyung grinning in the front row. Leave it to Taehyung to even make meditation interesting.
As if the wind and thunder storm the night before hadn’t caused enough problems on campus alone, Namjoon found himself half dragging, half carrying limbs and broken branches from the gardens of the rehab center to the edge of the surrounding woods.
“The power only kicked on in the dorms around 10 this morning,” he huffed, tossing a handful of small sticks into the thicket. “I had to shower in cold water. I had class in the dark.”
“Oh you poor baby ,” Jimin teased, dragging a branch to the treeline and gesturing for Namjoon to help him heave it off the grass and into the woods. “A cold shower without any of the fun thoughts beforehand. Must have sucked.”
Namjoon wrinkled his nose, turning back to work on gather more sticks, but decided to try and pull a large branch through the grass. It had already destroyed a patch of rose bushes when it fell, so what were a few more in the removal process? “Why aren’t you more mature? I thought you’d be more grown up by now. But maybe you're still thinking like a teenager because you’re the same height?”
There was an offended scoff, and Jimin tossed a handful of twigs and leaves in Namjoon’s direction. They fell short by a few feet, but the younger didn’t bother trying again. “ Whatever. I’m tall for my family, so that’s what matters.” He ignored Namjoon’s barely-but-still-audible ‘if you say so’. “They made you go to classes in the dark? My uni would have cancelled at the first flicker, but we got missed. Storm went right on past. Not even a drop of rain.”
“Lucky you,” Namjoon grunted, heaving his large branch into the shrubs. “There were no power points. No smartboard. My professor thought the stylus would still write on it, though. Took us half the class to convince him to just use the chalkboard.”
Jimin couldn’t help but laugh, nose and eyes crinkling to the point that he had to stop moving, lest he trip over broken branches. “And they say our generation is dependant upon technology!”
Namjoon chuckled in response, shaking his head and bending to lift a few more sticks, pausing when he caught sight of the nearest window. The way he gulped was loud enough that Jimin heard it over his giggles. “You ever notice how, like,” Namjoon paused a moment before continuing, “when he concentrates, his tongue pokes out?”
“What?” Jimin opened his eyes, confused and trying to follow Namjoon’s gaze. “ Oh .”
Namjoon glanced over, brows furrowed. “Oh?”
“Yeah. Oh. ” Jimin grinned, picking up a twig full of leaves and tossing it at Namjoon’s head. It awkwardly stuck to his hair for a moment before falling back to the ground. “Yoongi?”
It was clear that was who Namjoon was talking about—the man was in the window, tongue caught between his teeth and lips, eyes squinting at the canvas in front of him. Art therapy always seemed to make everyone concentrate more, and in some instances, it was actually pretty funny. (The other added bonus was that Taehyung liked it more than the other activities and therapies at the center, so he was relatively quiet throughout the class.)
“I can’t believe you,” Jimin continued, rolling his eyes and picking up a few more sticks and wood scraps. “Stop being so obvious .”
Namjoon seemed genuinely confused. “Obvious about what?” Jimin stared and Namjoon felt his cheeks heating. “ What? ”
Jimin shook his head, not speaking until he’s made two trips to the woods and back. “Look in the window and tell me what you see, Namjoon.”
Put on the spot, Namjoon floundered. “Um. Well. Yoongi’s trying to concentrate? I don’t know what else you want from me. They’re just painting.”
“Namjoon, look at me,” Namjoon wavered, but turned to Jimin. “Okay; what’s going on in the room? No, don’t turn around.”
“I don’t know ,” Namjoon huffed, throwing his arms up in irritation. “Yoongi’s following the instructor?”
“ Just Yoongi?”
“Probably the whole class?”
Jimin snorted. “God, you’re impossible.”
“I have no clue what you’re even talking about,” Namjoon muttered, ears burning red and hands tugging at his shirt sleeves before he got the bright idea to go back to picking up sticks and twigs to carry from the yard and gardens. “So, just, like. Stop, maybe?”
“Never,” Jimin chirped, half skipping, half jogging after Namjoon. “What’s it about the tongue thing that you like anyway?” he picked up a stick, throwing it overhand into the woods.
Namjoon shrugged. “Just like. It pokes out when he’s thinking really hard, I guess.”
“A lot of people do that, Joon. I do that. What makes him so special?” Jimin stopped referring to Yoongi by name, and it didn’t escape Namjoon’s notice. It seemed that, despite Namjoon having to endure endless teasing at Jimin’s hands, the younger can be considerate from time to time.
“It’s just...cute, I guess. No—,” Namjoon cut the word off, embarrassed and busying himself with piling up dying leaves before he continued. “Like. It doesn’t match his face. Not that his face isn’t cute—shit, okay. No. Listen,” Namjoon pushed out a strong breath, positive he could explain it this time, even if Jimin was looking both skeptical and excited. Weird.
“He looks like he’s just grumpy all the time and, yeah. I guess he is grumpy most of the time, but no one associates grumpy with cute, you know?”
“What about Grumpy Cat?”
“Grumpy Cat is just ugly. I know it. You know it. Everyone knows it.”
Jimin gasped. “Next you’ll tell me you don’t think pugs are so ugly they’re cute!”
Namjoon blinked slowly, watching Jimin critically for a moment. “Pugs are ugly,” Jimin gasped a second time, but Namjoon just kept talking. “But anyway . He looks so angry most of the time and then he goes and just—he just does something like that and it shouldn’t look cute on his face, but it does. No, not cute. Just. Different. Different .”
“Uh huh,” Jimin agreed, still visibly offended by what Namjoon assumes is his dislike of smushy-faced dogs and cats. “And I’m the queen of fucking Sheba, Namjoon. You think Yoo—he’s cute . I know it. You know it. Everyone knows it.”
Having his own words shoved back at him kind of sucked, but Namjoon couldn’t really complain. He put the idea in Jimin’s head.
“ Whatever. ”
It went quiet for a few more minutes before Namjoon finally decides to speak up again. “We need to get this done before their art therapy is over.” His tone left no room for arguing.
Jimin glanced at the gardens, then to the window again. “That means we’ve got to do what’s probably two hours of work in about, eh,” he paused, studying the progress of the canvases he could see. “A half hour?” Namjoon heaved a heavy breath. “Why?”
“Because there’s free time after art. I overhead Seokjin on the phone earlier say that Keone is running a little late, so until he gets here, everyone can do what they want.”
“Okay, and why is that important?”
Namjoon shifted his weight nervously before busying himself with dragging another large limb across the yard, work gloves caked in dirt and grime and sap, and barely keeping a good grip at this point. “ He was...talking about the storm displacing some, uh. Less common species of bird? Since it was so big and whatnot. I mean, we didn’t get hit hard ; just residual wind and water damage, but. There might be weird bird around that got blown off course. Migration and all that. I think.”
He hoped it sounded like he knew what he was talking about. Or that he at least knew something .
“Oh my god ,” Jimin’s laugh was loud and high and he jumped back into action. “I don’t know if we can finish that quick, but we can sure try. Can’t let Yoongi miss out on all the birdies! Maybe you can join him and watch for them. Some might say it’s romantic ,” he paused. “But only some because I’m sure it’d be pretty boring.”
“I’m just trying to be nice! He likes watching the birds!”
Jimin puckered his lips, accidentally trampling some budding something-or-others when he grabbed a branch. “Yes, of course. Nice. To Yoongi. But to me? Oh no, just work, work, work, work, work. ”
“Stop singing Rihanna,” Namjoon paused for a second before continuing, “Actually, just stop singing.”
“Come off it. You know I sing it better than she does.”
Namjoon didn’t hesitate. “True.”
Yoongi closed his eyes and leaned his head up against the shower faucet. The handle dug into his forehead but he couldn’t support his weight anymore. Shampoo dripped from his hair. Water poured down his back.
Yoongi was exhausted. PT had been way too much. He was tired of not making progress, of staying stagnant, and everyone was telling him to push himself, so he kept trying, but it didn’t make him any better, it just made him too tired to stand up and so sweaty, and—
Yoongi felt his knees buckle.
Yoongi tried to support himself, tried to turn off the water and grab a towel, but before he could, his legs gave out from under him. He collapsed to the floor, hip bone slamming into the tile. He grunted.
Yoongi curled around himself protectively. He scrunched his eyes shut tight. Every one of his muscles was spasming, and the showerhead was streaming water directly into his face.
Someone knocked on the door. “Yoongi? Yoongi, I heard a loud thump, are you okay?” Taehyung asked from their shared bedroom.
Yoongi gritted his teeth together. “ No ,” he answered. “Get Jin.”
“Are you sure you don’t want me to—”
“ Get Jin ,” Yoongi snapped, reaching a shaky hand up to hide his face from the water spraying at him unrelentingly. He bit down fiercely on his bottom lip. Taehyung didn’t respond, and Yoongi hoped that meant he was running to get help.
Although, part of Yoongi didn’t want to get off the shower floor. Part of him wanted to lie here forever, every bit as naked and vulnerable as he usually felt. He was so tired. He was so defeated.
After a short spell, there was another knock on the door. “Yoongi?”
Yoongi’s whole body stiffened. “What the fuck,” he swore. That wasn’t Jin’s voice. That was Namjoon’s voice.
“Taehyung said you needed help. Can I… Can I come in?”
Yoongi scrunched his eyes up tight and took a shuddering breath. He missed having a room to himself, back before Taehyung. At least then he could cry in peace. Now he was constantly surrounded, and every part of Yoongi ached to let out a couple tears. He didn’t want Namjoon to see him like this. “Fine,” he said through clenched teeth.
The bathroom door squeaked as it opened. Namjoon seemed to pause in the doorway. “Oh.”
“At least turn the water off,” Yoongi demanded, trying to keep himself covered as Namjoon stepped further in the room.
“Right, right, of course. Hold on, I’ve got you,” Namjoon promised. He shut off the faucet, and Yoongi blinked water from his eyes. He pushed his bangs back off his forehead. Namjoon hovered above him. “Okay, now what?”
“ Now what?” Yoongi sputtered. “You work here!”
“Okay, I’m a volunteer,” Namjoon corrected. “And this isn’t my job, I’m just supposed to hand out books and juice boxes.”
“Then why are you here?” Yoongi spat. He felt bad. He didn’t want to yell at Namjoon, but he was so frustrated. He couldn’t stand up. He couldn’t do anything.
“Taehyung said you fell, and I—” Namjoon was flushed from head to toe. Yoongi glared. He had no idea why Namjoon was embarrassed, when Yoongi was the one lying on the ground, unable to help himself up. “I just thought you’d need someone, I’m not— I don’t know— I mean, I’m a math major, I can’t—”
“Just fucking give me my towel,” Yoongi snapped, holding up a weak arm. Namjoon thrust it into his hands, and Yoongi slipped it under him and around his hips. He clutched the fabric together in one hand and extended the other towards Namjoon. “Okay. Okay, help me up.”
“Do you think you can—”
“Just help me ,” Yoongi interrupted. Namjoon didn’t argue. His grip on Yoongi’s hand was strong as he nearly single-handedly lifted Yoongi to his feet. Yoongi watched Namjoon’s bicep flex as he lifted. He didn’t know if it was Namjoon’s strong arms or his own weak legs that made him stumble, but regardless, Yoongi tripped into Namjoon’s arms.
“Woah,” Namjoon said. His voice was steady: certain. “Careful there.”
Yoongi’s chest quaked, tears cluttering the back of his throat. “Sorry.”
“Hey, what— Yoongi, don’t—”
“I’m sorry,” Yoongi squeaked. Tears rolled down his cheeks. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I don’t know why I’m—”
“You’re overwhelmed,” Namjoon said. “It’s okay. That must have been scary, yeah? But it’s okay, I’ve got you. I’ve told you, I’ve got you. Let’s get you into some clothes, yeah?”
Yoongi nodded and let Namjoon lead him back into the bedroom. Just as Namjoon was sitting him down on his bed, Jin burst into the room. “Yoongi? What’s wrong? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Yoongi said. “I’m just crying. And I’m tired.”
“You’re just crying,” Seokjin repeated. He looked unimpressed.”Did you fall?”
“Did you pass out?”
“ No .” Yoongi rubbed his nose off on the back of his hand. “I am just too tired.”
“Mhm, I’ll be the judge of that.”
Yoongi sighed. Namjoon hovered as Seokjin ran a few tests on Yoongi. He was painfully aware of his scrawny chest on display and the light Seokjin was shining in his eyes. All Yoongi wanted to do was put on a pair of sweatpants and go to sleep. “Can I at least put a shirt on?” Yoongi slurred. His tears had all but stopped, and now he just felt exhausted.
It wasn’t uncommon for those with chronic illness to feel depressed or anxious, and Yoongi could feel a crippling sadness creeping over him. Seokjin leveled him with a look, like he could see the clawing feeling dragging down Yoongi’s shoulders. “You’re dehydrated.”
“Well, then, someone else needs to fill my water bottle up,” Yoongi said.
“I got it,” Namjoon offered.
Seokjin grunted as he stood up. He looked tired, too. Namjoon scurried off with Yoongi’s water bottle, and Seokjin rifled through Yoongi’s drawer to find him some clothes. Yoongi bit his bottom lip, forcing his feelings back. “I need to be dressed by the time he gets back,” Yoongi said.
“Namjoon won’t care,” Seokjin said as he helped Yoongi into a t-shirt.
“No, I need to be dressed,” Yoongi said, frantic.
Seokjin arched an eyebrow before understanding seemed to pass over him. He offered Yoongi a warm grin. “Namjoon won’t care,” he said again, this time more soft, more caring. Yoongi stared pointedly at his toes as Seokjin helped him get into his underwear and pants. Jin sat him down on the bed and patted his knee. “Now, let’s get you some socks. Warm toesies for Yoongies.”
“ Ew ,” Yoongi complained. However, when Seokjin unrolled a pair of socks, he stuck his foot out obligingly.
“Alright.” Seokjin seemed focused on the job more than Yoongi as he grabbed a clean towel and dried off his hair. Seokjin was always so tired and rough round the edges, but his hands were always gentle when dealing with patients. At least, he was always gentle with Yoongi. Seokjin massaged his scalp while making sure his hair was dried properly. “...There we go… All better.” He dropped the towel around Yoongi’s shoulders and looked at him. “Do you think you know why you fell? Or did it surprise you?”
“I kind of… I got tired and dizzy, so I rested my head on the faucet. And then my knees started knocking together, and I couldn’t get out of the shower fast enough.”
“Okay,” Seokjin pulled back the blankets on Yoongi’s bed. “Why do you think you were so tired? Are you pushing yourself too hard? Do we need to watch out for you?”
“I’m fine ,” Yoongi said.
“Once again, I’ll be the judge of that,” Seokjin said. He had Yoongi lie back. “We’ll talk to Keone tomorrow.”
“Something needs to change if you’re collapsing in the shower.”
Yoongi opened his mouth to argue, but before he could, Namjoon came bursting through his door, limbs flying everywhere like an octopus. “I have it! I have the water bottle!” he exclaimed. Yoongi flushed as Seokjin tucked him in.
The amused look on Seokjin’s face was not at all reassuring.
“Well, then. I’ll leave you to it,” Seokjin told Namjoon casually, and Yoongi glared daggers into the back of Seokjin’s head. “Make sure he drinks.”
“I can drink on my own,” Yoongi said.
“I don’t trust you,” Seokjin said over his shoulder as he left the room. “Namjoon, I barely trust you. Don’t disappoint me. Keep filling that water bottle up.” And with that, he was gone, ready to help his next patient.
Yoongi let out a sigh so big, it hurt his lungs to hold it in. Namjoon’s cheeks were bright pink. He thrust the water bottle out towards Yoongi. “Um… here.”
Yoongi snatched it out of Namjoon’s hand. He glared off to the side, staring at the baseboard and refusing to make eye contact with Namjoon. He didn’t want to acknowledge him, or his cute blush, or his dimples, or his face, or anything else about his presence.
Of course, ignoring Namjoon only made him more noticeable as he shifted awkwardly. “So… Did Seokjin say you were okay, or…?”
“He’s going to fucking mess with my PT schedule to make it easier,” Yoongi grumbled. There was a dustbunny clinging to the bottom of the radiator.
“Is that… good?”
“It means I’m going to be stuck here longer,” Yoongi complained.
“Oh.” Namjoon squirmed awkwardly above his bed. He was hovering, and Yoongi held his breath. “Okay, hold on, I’m going to grab a chair. ” There was a tiny chair by Taehyung’s bed that Jimin usually occupied on his breaks. Namjoon stole it to sit with Yoongi.
Yoongi bit his lip. Guilt, and sadness, and pain swirled in his stomach. Namjoon nudged his arm, and Yoongi took a sip of water.
Yoongi felt like crying all over again.
“Hey, stop… stop doing that,” Namjoon said. “Your face is all... “ He gestured vaguely. “Crinkly.”
Yoongi couldn’t help but make eye contact with Namjoon. He crinkled his nose further. “Sorry,” Yoongi apologized. “Sorry, I know I’m being a dick today, and you’re being really nice, and I’m… I’m just embarrassed, hence the face.”
“It’s okay,” Namjoon said. “It’s been a scary afternoon.”
Yoongi barked out a laugh. “Ha. Yeah.”
“But you’re okay. Everything’s fine. You’re going to drink some water, and go to dinner, and then you can come back and get some sleep.”
“I’m tired of sleeping,” Yoongi said wearily. “I feel like all I do is sleep or wish I was asleep.”
Namjoon frowned. “Oh.”
Yoongi hummed. He took another sip of water. “Yeah. Whatever. I’m done crying in front of you. My mom hasn’t even seen me cry, so we have to move on, I am not going to talk about this anymore. We are changing the subject. ”
“Okay, okay.” Namjoon shifted gears with his entire body, crossing and uncrossing his legs. “Whenever people tell me to change the subject, I can only think to talk about math. But… but you probably aren’t interested in that.”
“No. We talk about my passion a lot,” Yoongi said. “We can talk about yours, too. Also, I’m desperate. So like… Tell me something math-y.”
“Wow. I’ve never actually gotten this far in a math conversation. Now I don’t even know what to say.”
“You’ll have to start with the basics,” Yoongi said. “Being this sick made it kind of hard to show up for class.”
Namjoon —to his credit— didn’t say anything, but he visibly gulped. Yoongi rubbed his socked feet together. “Um… Well, I don’t know. Do you know the pythagorean theorem?”
“I’m not an idiot,” Yoongi snapped. His face softened immediately after. “Sorry. I mean, yes. I do.”
Namjoon nodded. “Okay. Do you know… I don’t know, geez.... Well, do you know about the napkin ring problem?”
Yoongi blinked. “No. I don’t know about that.”
“Oh.” Namjoon pushed his glasses up his nose.
Yoongi rolled his eyes. “But I’m interested. Tell me.”
“Okay, I’ll tell you if you start drinking,” Namjoon said, gesturing to Yoongi’s Camelback. Yoongi rolled his eyes but started to sip through the straw. “Okay, so… so…” Namjoon fiddled with his glasses. Yoongi noticed absently that he had long fingers and that his frames were thicker than the bridge of his nose. “So picture a sphere that you’ve cored or like… taken a cylinder out of. That’s the shape of a napkin ring.”
“Like you’d see on Thanksgiving?” Yoongi asked.
Namjoon nodded. “Yeah. Or… that’s what the shape is named after, I think. But the thing that’s crazy is that any napkin rings that are the same height always have the same area, no matter how big the circumference,” Namjoon said. When Yoongi looked at him blankly, Namjoon struggled to explain. “So like… Okay, picture the Earth and a golf ball. That’s a huge difference in area, yeah? Like… like almost incalculable unless you use the fractal dimension to account for inconsistencies in the earth’s crust, and—” Namjoon cut himself off. “Or, okay, I’m getting ahead of myself.”
“The earth versus a golf ball,” Yoongi said, guiding him back on track.
“Right. Well. If you took a straw and jammed it through the golf ball and cored it so it was two inches high. And if you then took, I don’t know, one of Saturn’s rings and forced it through the earth so that you were left with a circular strip that was only two inches high, then that would be the same area as the golf ball.”
“Namjoon, that’s batty.”
“I know!” Namjoon exclaimed. He looked unreasonably excited. “Isn’t that crazy? Because the height of a cored sphere is directly related with the radius of the inner circle. So… So…” Namjoon’s shoulders dropped. He looked sheepish. “So it makes sense, but it’s kind of nuts,” he finished weakly.
Yoongi lifted an eyebrow. “I’ll have to take your word for it.”
Namjoon looked unsurprised. “I think, if you thought about it, you’d think it was exciting, too,” he said confidently. “There’s a ton of wild stuff going on in the math world. Like, you wanna get crazy? Check out the Banach-Tarski paradox. You wanna go on a trip? Try picturing the tenth dimension.”
“I’ll definitely try to,” Yoongi said, trying to sound serious when Namjoon was opening himself up for teasing. “Sounds insane.”
“It’s the entire universe’s shared infinite universes,” Namjoon said.
Yoongi grinned. Namjoon looked so excited, it was infectious. “See? This is why I like birds. They’re way less crazy than napkin rings and the tenth dimension.”
“Um, that is definitely not true,” Namjoon argued. “I mean… Ducks have pensises shaped like corkscrews. That’s definitely way more insane than staring into infinity.”
“Tell that to the Paralyzed Horse.”
“Sorry. Just a weird cartoon reference. Ignore me.”
“Will do,” Namjoon said. “Hey, wait, aren’t ducks your favorite bird?”
“Not ducks like duck ducks,” Yoongi said. “Just harlequin ducks.” Yoongi paused. “Or, I guess they’re sort of like duck ducks. They do live around here, just like… in really remote areas.”
Namjoon leaned forward, interested. Yoongi didn’t know what to do with someone actually interested in him. “They do? That’s crazy! Have you ever seen one?”
Yoongi blanched. “Oh, um… no. When I say ‘remote,’ I mean like only-on-bodies-of-water-on-top-of-mountains remote. And I’m too sick to even drive to the Appalachian trail, let alone hike it.”
Namjoon’s face fell. “Oh,” he said, slumping back in his seat.
“But that’s why I’m here,” Yoongi stammered to say. “I’m going to get better, graduate from this stupid place, and hike to the top of some mountain in the Poconos to see my ducks. And I’m going to camp, and carry all my crap in a backpack, and keep my binoculars on my neck, and it’ll be just like the trip my grandfather took.”
“To see the King Eider ducks?” Namjoon asked.
Yoong put a hand to his forehead, taken aback. “...Yeah. To see the King Eider ducks.” Namjoon remembered.
Namjoon hummed. “Sounds like a plan… Except I think the first step towards getting better would probably be drinking water, huh?”
Yoongi sighed and brought his Camelback to his lips. “You just love to ruin a good time. Don’t you, Namjoon?”
“No, I just want to see you feeling better.”
Yoongi nodded, expecting Namjoon to say as much. “There. See? Just the kind of thing a candy striper would say.”
“I’m not a candy striper.”
“Check the apron.”
Locating Seokjin was a task easier said than done. Most days, he ran around the center like a chicken with his head cut off, and Namjoon often wondered if he ever went home. Maybe he just lived in one of the spare rooms.
Namjoon wouldn’t put it past him, honestly. The man was odd, sure, but he was also incredibly dedicated. To his job, to the center, to the residents. Whoever walked through the doors of the Pain and Spine Rehabilitation Center was immediately taken under his wing, whether they wanted to be or not.
But that didn’t mean Seokjin was often simple to find.
All Namjoon needed was a signature. He’d been keeping track of his volunteered hours diligently and he needed to check in with the court to prove he was actually making headway. He couldn’t do that without Seokjin’s signature which, realistically, he couldn’t get without Seokjin.
(Though he’s sure someone here could forge a pretty good signature. Namjoon wouldn’t put it past Taehyung to be surprisingly good at that. Or maybe Jungkook—the kid spent an awful lot of time writing Seokjin’s name along scrap pieces of paper, so he could probably do a more convincing doctor’s signature than Namjoon.)
Namjoon nearly slipped on the smooth tile of the floor when he caught the tail end of a white sneaker which, in and of itself wasn’t surprising—most of the workers there wore white shoes—but the fact that, just above the sneaker, was the bottom of what Namjoon knew to be Seokjin’s Princess Daisy scrub bottoms.
Namjoon set off at a slow jog, not wanting to actually fall, but also not wanting to lose sight of the man. “Seokjin!” He’d long since dropped the ‘nurse’ title. Jimin and the other volunteers rarely used it, so Namjoon had followed suit, to the disappointment and slight irritation of the man in question.
Seokjin groaned, but didn’t stop walking. “Keep up if you have something to say, Namjoon. I don’t have time right now to dawdle. Stuff to do, people to see, residents to check in on.”
“I need—I need you to sign something!” Namjoon managed, increasing his speed until he matched Seokjin’s. The head nurse stopped short and Namjoon stumbled trying to stop walking next to him, skidding along the waxy floors, almost landing on his ass but catching it last minute, standing a few feet in front of Seokjin. He turned, holding out the small stack of papers. “I just need you to...verify my hours, if that’s okay?”
Seokjin reached for the papers, glancing down at them quickly, flipping them around and noting the highlighted spots for his signature and initials. “You’ve done all the hours you wrote that you did?”
“You didn’t embellish or increase how much time was spent here? Not at all?”
Namjoon’s brows furrowed. “No, Seokjin. I wouldn’t do that—pretty sure it’s illegal and I’ve done enough of that kind of thing in my life.”
“Good. Turn around,” Seokjin pulled a pen out from his scrubs pocket, holding it up along with the papers, but Namjoon didn't move.
“Turn around,” Seokjin repeated, lips pursed, “I need your back.” Namjoon, though hesitant, turned, leaning forward slightly so Seokjin could lay the papers out along his spine. “ Thank you. Now hold still.”
“Um. No problem?” Namjoon wasn’t really sure why his back was a better option than the wall beside them or the table a few feet up the hall, but he wasn’t about to argue with the man signing his paperwork. Not when Seokjin could so easily decide to change his mind.
A noise down the hall had Namjoon turning his head, and there was Jungkook, sneakers squeaking on the shiny floor as he halted. “Oh, hey!” Namjoon called, smiling awkwardly from his position.
The younger man approached somewhat cautiously, clipboard nowhere to be found. With nothing else to hide behind, Jungkook grabbed at his lanyard, moving it awkwardly around in his hands. “Uh—um,” he paused, glancing from Namjoon to Seokjin who, after a quick flourish, finished signing the final paper.
“Alright, Namjoon, here’s your stuff, now I really have to—oh! Jungkook,” the nurse licked his lips, offering a smile to the younger. “Didn’t realize you were there. Did you need something?”
“I—Well,” Jungkook took a sharp breath, cheeks pinkened at the sudden attention. “Um. No, I just, uh. Have somewhere to be, I think,” he turned quickly, fleeing down the hall with long strides.
“That was...weird,” Seokjin mused, brows drawn close in concern. “You think he’s okay? Maybe I should go check on him?”
“You have somewhere to be, don’t you?” Namjoon took his paperwork back before Seokjin could dart down the hall, which was a wise decision as the nurse immediately kicked himself into gear, quickly continuing in the direction he'd originally been going.
“Damn, you’re right; could you—.”
“I’ll check on him, yeah; thanks for the signatures!”
“No problem. Just don’t hold me up again! Someone has to keep this place running, and it always winds up being me!” Seokjin turned a corner while he spoke and Namjoon waited a beat before making his way to follow Jungkook, finding him easily, hidden around the other side of the hall, back pressed against a wall.
“So...?” Namjoon raised a brow.
“You saw nothing .”
“Fair enough. Walk with me?”
It took a moment, but Jungkook nodded, pushing off from the wall and rubbing at his still pink face, following after Namjoon. “That your felony stuff?” He asked after a moment, eyeing the papers in Namjoon’s hand.
“Yeah. Had to get Seokjin to confirm my time.” Namjoon had long since given up trying to convince everyone his crime wasn’t a felony and had decided to embrace the joke. It was just easier.
“Is it considered community service when you use your time to make eyes at one of the residents?”
Namjoon floundered for a moment, wanting to glare, but not also not wanting to give Jungkook the satisfaction. “Well. Have you considered shutting up ? Why don’t we practice.”
Jungkook snorted and rolled his eyes, stopping in front of a door and grabbing at the handle. “Look. Everyone knows but you two. Just go talk to him about birds—didn’t you ask him a question a while back or something? Taehyung mentioned something about it? A problem bird or something?”
There’s some hesitation, but Namjoon nodded. “I...did. This jerk of a bird...I think I know what it is, too. He might be curious to know what I found out...”
“He’s in the sunroom. If you wanted to fail at flirting again, I mean,” Jungkook ducked into the door of the gym, clearly pretending not to hear Namjoon’s ‘at least I’m trying. You just run away’.
Namjoon watched the door for a moment before continuing on down the hall, tugging to straighten out his apron before pulling his phone from his pocket to flip through his photo gallery. His free hand moved to adjust his hair and straighten out his glasses before he pushed out a breath.
“Just get it over with,” he mumbled to himself, pulling the door open and stepping inside the room, eyes scanning for Yoongi.
Namjoon realizes quickly enough that Yoongi was not only alone, but also watching out the large windows as the sun streaked in. The sound of the door had Yoongi turning his head and Namjoon swallowed a lungful of air.
Namjoon coughed, the air he’d just pulled in going to all the wrong places and forcing painful hacks out of his mouth. Yoongi, concerned, furrowed his brows.
“Are you okay, Namjoon?” He sounded hesitant, but Namjoon didn’t spend too much time thinking on it, waving him off with his phone bearing hand, barely keeping a grip on it with the violent way he moved about. It took a moment, but his breath evened out and he was eventually down to wiping at his teary eyes.
“Better, now,” but he choked the sounds out and had to sit in down in the chair next to Yoongi’s to catch his breath.
“Yeah, well maybe next time learn to breathe,” Yoongi shifted, readjusting his grip on the binoculars in his hands while Namjoon got himself settled. “Did you need something? We had a break, so I thought I’d get myself down here to see what I could find.”
Namjoon swallowed, blinking at Yoongi with wide eyes for a moment. “Um,” a pause, “Oh! Right. Yeah.” He reopens his image gallary and turns his phone around. “I think it’s a, um,” he flushed, embarrassed now that he’s confronted with the possibility of being wrong. “A song sparrow? The bird I had trouble with before?”
Yoongi paused, reaching for the phone and pulling it closer to inspect. “What makes you think that?” His voice is soft, almost fond as he zooms in on the bird’s face, then slowly moves the image to inspect different features. They’re almost indistinguishable on the terrible phone photo, but Namjoon was just proud it still looked like a bird.
But the way Yoongi’s voice sounded—Namjoon sucked in a sharp breath. He’d never heard that tone from the other. The almost gentle reverence that he spoke with when talking about the bird. Namjoon stayed quiet, too absorbed with the way Yoongi looked in the moment—delicate and vibrant in the afternoon sun, staring down in wonder at Namjoon’s blurry bird picture.
Usually, Yoongi wad all hard words and biting sarcasm, which Namjoon understood as a way to combat a world that didn't quite understand him. The last time he’d even sounded close to being this soft was the first day they’d met, talking about his late grandfather and the King Eider duck.
The man in question jerked hard, blinking at Yoongi dumbly for a split second before actually answering. “Um—oh. Well. It had a, uh. Spot. Right in the middle of its chest. And the book I bought said that was a ‘distinguishing characteristic’—which, by the way, makes way more sense than what I thought that meant. I don’t know what I was thinking with tattoos and piercings or whatever—and it looks like that one spot is bigger, right? And it’s head is kind of, uh. Gray?”
Yoongi looked up from the phone, staring at Namjoon with an unreadable expression. Uncomfortable, Namjoon shifted about in is chair, glancing toward the large windows on the side of the room, and then the door. He looked back just in time to see the wide smile that spread across Yoongi’s face.
“Yeah. A little song sparrow. You’re right, I think. Hard to tell absolutely from this photo, but it seems about right. Did you ever find out why it was flocking you?”
“Oh!” Namjoon sat up a little straighter. “It had a nest! Right by the mail boxes! So it kept coming at anyone and everyone that tried to pick up mail!”
Yoongi nodded, zooming back out on the photo and staring down at it for a few more seconds before passing the phone back. “That would just about do it, I think. You’d want to protect the things you love the most too, wouldn’t you?” He shifted, turning to face back out the window.
Namjoon squinted, not quite sure if the light was playing tricks on him, or if Yoongi’s cheeks were actually pink. He knew his own were.
“Hey, um. Yoongi?”
There was a gentle hum. Yoongi lifted the binoculars up, shifting to lean forward to see something closer and letting out a small, pained breath, fingers tightening their grip.
“I wanted to apologize again for, uh. Making you late to PT. I know it’s been a little while, but Keone always makes latecomers do extra stuff and that must have really sucked. So. Sorry. Again.”
Yoongi managed a shrug, but didn’t look away from the window, shifting just slightly to one side and moving the binoculars with him. “It’s fine. He was more concerned with Tae, I think.”
Namjoon laughed. “Thank god for Taehyung, right?” Another hum from Yoongi and Namjoon went quiet, watching the man concentrate on the treeline. Jungkook’s words suddenly returned to the forefront of Namjoon’s mind and he stood, perhaps a little too quickly. “I need to, uh. Get back to work. Can’t just sit around all the time talking.” He started for the door, looking back only when Yoongi spoke again.
“Alright,” his voice was fond, though his expression one of distaste, “But if you have any more questions about birds or...whatever. You know where to find me. I might start charging, though.”
And even if Namjoon knew the light wasn't playing tricks on him and Yoongi’s cheeks were red, he still booked it from the room, too embarrassed to try and think about what Yoongi would make him pay.
Yoongi was barefoot.
Grass poked up between his toes. He hugged his knees, shoulders shaking more than usual as he tried to stay upright. There was a breeze blowing through the holes in his sweater. Hoseok and Namjoon were talking next to him, laughing about some story Hoseok was telling, but Yoongi wasn’t paying attention.
He was just happy to be outside and still. The sun was surprisingly warm on his shoulders for this time of year. The sky was clear and blue, and Yoongi was underneath it, watching for any birds that might fly by.
A redtail hawk had been circling for a few minutes now.
“...So anyway, I’m turned completely sideways on the couch, trying to ward this guy off, and when he realizes he can’t keep his arm around me anymore, he starts stroking my feet ,” Hoseok said.
Namjoon snorted. “Your feet?”
“Yes!” Hoseok exclaimed. Yoongi turned his head lazily to watch him talk. “And not just like… normal, drunk, handsy stroking. Like… he’d rub them, and then he’d just squeeze them. And then he’d start apologizing, like, wow, I’m so sorry you have to see me like this, is this okay for you? And like, no , it’s not okay! You’re the only one drunk, and you’re being really weird about it! Quit squeezing my feet!”
Namjoon groaned. “Oh my god, I’m so worried I’m like that when I’m drunk. I don’t have great social skills when I’m stone cold sober.”
“I’m sure you’re not half as bad,” Hoseok assured him.
Yoongi hadn’t been paying attention, but he still felt like he should reassure Namjoon. “It takes a special kind of person to squeeze feet,” Yoongi said. And then (because he couldn’t say anything nice to anyone as perfect as Namjoon): “And you’re not special at all.”
Hoseok barked out a laugh.
“Wow,” Namjoon deadpanned. “Cruel and unnecessary. Why am I taking my break with you guys, anyway?”
“Because it’s an honor to be in my presence, and I let you sit here,” Yoongi said.
“Let me, huh?” Namjoon asked, lifting an eyebrow. He sounded way too suggestive for Yoongi’s liking.
Yoongi laid down in the grass and rolled onto his side, facing away from his friends. Hoseok rubbed his back. Yoongi was so tired. “Go away. I don’t like you when you’re confident.” That was a lie. Yoongi really liked when Namjoon was confident.
“Actually,” Namjoon said, standing up. “I should probably get back to work.”
Then, as if on cue, the sound of retching filled the garden. Yoongi popped his head up to see Taehyung vomiting violently in a patch of pansies. Jimin squawked in surprise next to him, and Yoongi laid his head back down in the grass. Just another day at rehab.
“Oh no,” Namjoon said. More retching sounds came from Taehyung’s direction when his vomiting set off some of the newer patients who had yet to become desensitized to constant puking. They’d get over it soon enough. Yoongi spent most of his day ignoring other people’s vomit (hell, ignoring his own vomit).
“Namjoon, get over here!” Jimin called. He was standing far away, but Yoongi winced at the annoyance in his voice.
“Right, yep, okay, I’m going,” Namjoon said. “See you later, Yoongi. Hoseok.”
Namjoon scurried off to help Jimin. Yoongi sighed. Hoseok, meanwhile, dropped down on the hill next to Yoongi. He was curled so that his head was above Yoongi’s, looking down at him. “So,” Hoseok said, playing with Yoongi’s bangs. “You like him.”
“False,” Yoongi said.
“This isn’t a pop quiz, Yoongi. It’s a statement.”
“ You’re a statement.”
Hoseok laughed. Yoongi glowered. “Listen,” Hoseok said, “Love is in the air.” Someone made an especially guttural puking sound. “And vomit. Love and vomit.”
“... It’s not love ,” Yoongi said. “It’s… intrigue.”
“Intrigue,” Hoseok mused. “Explain.”
Yoongi let out a pained sigh, his face pinching up in confusion and exasperation. “He makes it easy to be nice to him? And I don’t like being nice to anybody, so that’s intriguing. It’s mostly appalling, but I suppose it’s also kind of...” Yoongi crinkled his nose at the thought of Namjoon’s dimples. “Interesting.”
Hoseok laughed. “Wow. You like him. Like… you like him, like him, like him.”
Yoongi didn’t respond. Just huffed, annoyed.
Hoseok hummed. “So I take it you’re over the whole shower thing then?” Hoseok asked, and Yoongi groaned and rolled further into the grass, his face buried in the clover.
“Don’t remind me. That was the worst day of my life. I never want to relive it.”
“I’m sure it was embarrassing,” Hoseok said, and Yoongi knew he understood more than most just what it had felt like, to be lying on the ground completely helpless. “But I think, out of all the people to find and help you, Namjoon was the best one to do it. He definitely wouldn’t— and didn’t— judge you, you know? He looks at you like you hung the moon and stars.”
“I know,” Yoongi said. “It’s concerning.”
“Why?” Hoseok asked.
“Because he doesn’t hate me, and I unfortunately don’t hate him. So like… Now what?”
Hoseok laughed. “So now you date.”
Yoongi lifted himself up on his elbows, shock energizing him enough to move. “I can’t do that , Hoseok.”
“Because,” Yoongi sputtered. “That’s… that’s what normal people do. You’re the first friend I’ve made since second grade, I obviously don’t know shit about dating. Or boys. Or… or whatever nonsense, I don’t know. I don’t know what boys entail.”
Hoseok hummed. “Well… I honestly don’t know much about it either. But I think Namjoon knows even less than either of us do, so I wouldn’t worry about it too much.” Hoseok ruffled his hair. “You should ask him out. You guys can go to the vending machine for juice together. Or read to each other in the sunroom. Or eat dinner in the cafeteria.”
Yoongi gave Hoseok the slowest blink he could muster. “Wow. Romantic.”
“Something tells me you’re being sarcastic.”
Yoongi face planted into the grass. “I don’t want to date anyone while I’m like this. I want to get better, and then… and then maybe.”
Hoseok was quiet. When he spoke, his voice was unusually gentle. “Yoongi… I think Namjoon likes you just as you are. I don’t think you have to worry about getting better for him or for anyone.”
“I want to get better,” Yoongi asserted.
“Okay,” Hoseok agreed. “But… but you can date in the meanwhile. Namjoon is a good guy.”
Yoongi blinked, a blade of grass brushing up against his eyelashes. Namjoon was a good guy, but Yoongi was a mess. Namjoon deserved someone better, someone who could keep up and do couple things like ice skating and long walks on the beach. Yoongi couldn’t even pay Namjoon a proper compliment. Dating would just have to come later, after Yoongi graduated rehab.
Hoseok raised his head, looking to the door of his room to watch Namjoon with a curious expression. “Yeah?” It wasn’t often Namjoon seeked him out for question, and both men knew it.
“I, uh,” Namjoon shifted his weight, stepping into the room a little more. “I have a problem.”
Hoseok seemed to be all ears now, sitting up straighter on his bed, the motion accompanied by the smallest of winces that he visibly powered through—even untrained eyes like Namjoon could see that rehab was doing Hoseok worlds of good. Hoseok offered Namjoon a concerned smile, clearly not sure what to expect. “What is it?”
Namjoon walked further into the room, giving himself enough space to close the door behind him, nervously feeling at the handle before turning to watch Hoseok, extremely glad the others roommate wasn’t in right now. “I,” he paused, hesitating far too long. He took a few steps closer to the bed and, knowing he’d never get it out if he didn’t do it quickly, spoke in a flustered rush of garbled syllables. “I have a crush on Yoongi.”
If possible, Hoseok sat up even straighter . “Well thank god you finally figured that out.”
“Well that was uncalled for,” Namjoon mumbled, closing the distance between himself and the bed. He gestured for permission before sitting, hands fidgeting with his apron for a few quiet moments, eyes focused on the wall behind Hoseok’s head. “It's that obvious?”
Hoseok raised a brow, watching Namjoon with an impossibly unimpressed expression. Namjoon turned his gaze to his apron, quiet and contemplative for the moment.
When Hoseok spoke next, it was quiet. “You know he likes you too, right?”
Namjoon barked out a sharp laugh. “That’s real funny, Hoseok, but I’m not in the mood for jokes right now. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that everyone knows I have a crush .”
“Right,” Hoseok reached, patting Namjoon’s leg for a moment. “Well, it’s true. He likes you. We talk about it. And despite that fact, you’ll probably do the same thing he’s doing.”
“Which is?” Namjoon glanced to the hand on his leg as Hoseok pulls it back, then follows the motion to watch the other’s face.
“ Ignore me and think there’s ‘no way he could like me back’ yadda yadda yadda,” Hoseok smiled brightly while waving his hand in the air. “But I’m serious, Joon. He likes you. You like him.”
Namjoon swallowed. “So...what do I do?”
Hoseok opened his mouth, only to close it again, teeth working at his lower lip. “Well. Any other time, I would tell you to just ask him out. But...in line with some, uh. Recent events...I’m going to suggest you wait. He and I should be graduating at the same time, so maybe then.” And he sounded really unhappy about the suggestion, but Namjoon just didn’t understand why.
“Recent events? What kind of recent events?” Namjoon frowned, turning to pull one of his legs up onto the bed so he could face Hoseok head on. “Like...the shower thing? Because, like. The bathroom was super steamy, so my glasses fogged. It’s not like I saw anything.... I’m lucky I didn’t trip him up on the way out of the bathroom.”
“Yeah,” Hoseok laughed a little. “That and just. He’s Yoongi. There’s something bothering him, and he won’t talk to you about it because that would be the smart thing to do. But it’s also not my place to really tell you about it. I just wanted you to know. And don’t ask him because it’s Yoongi and he’ll get defensive and insult your hair or something.”
“Is there something wrong with my hair?” Namjoon reached up to touch it, frowning in an exaggerated manner for a moment before looking back down to his lap. “We’ve talked, me and him. Yoongi. I mean. The conversations are...good? So why wouldn’t he just tell me?”
Hoseok smiled softly, shimmying and shifting until he’s got his legs over the side of the bed, lips parted for a few deep breaths before he works himself to standing. “Because Yoongi’s dumb. He’s a bird brain . And not one of the really smart ones like crows or ravens that can use tools. But a real dumb one. Think...pigeons. And pheasants. Super dumb. That’s Yoongi.”
Namjoon raised a brow.
“What?” Hoseok grunted, arms crossing over his chest defiantly. “I listen when he talks.”
Namjoon looked skeptical.
“Sometimes,” Hoseok amended with a grumble and light-hearted shove to Namjoon’s side. “Look, all I’m saying is to take it slow. Don’t, like. Ask him on a date or whatever. Just keep hanging out with him. He’ll be out of here sooner than you might think, and then, maybe, he’ll ask you out.”
Namjoon perked up. “When he graduates?” He stood, walking with Hoseok to the door and holding it open for him to exit, following him out into the hallway. “Is that...what he’s waiting on.”
Hoseok licked his lips and shrugged. “Didn’t hear anything from me. But come on, it’s time for aquajogging and I don’t want to be late. Can’t waste a second of seeing Yoongi’s scrawny arms waving through the water.”
They walked in silence for a while, moving down that hall and then the next, but Namjoon couldn’t keep quiet much longer. “So do you think that...when you graduate, you’d be able to, like. Go on a hike? Up a small mountain or whatever?”
Hoseok glanced over, then forward, shoving his hands into the pockets of his sweatpants. “You mean Yoongi, not me. And maybe? With a little help and a lot of breaks, it’d probably be manageable. Why?”
“Because...Yoongi said his ducks go to the mountains or something. I don’t remember it exactly.”
There was a loud laugh and Hoseok opened the door to the pool, following Namjoon through. “Maybe you should look up some more information on them. But I think it’d be doable.”
Namjoon was pleased to have Hoseok’s approval, nodding to himself as a way to cement the idea. They stopped at the supply cabinets, Hoseok working on pulling out his assigned belt and shoes. He paused, turning when the door to the pool opened again, grinning cheekily.
“Hey. Namjoon?” Hoseok snickered. “You have something on your butt.”
Namjoon jerked forward, trying to turn himself into a quick circle to see. “Can you get it off? Don’t, like. Slap my ass or anything, but get it off.”
“No can do.”
Namjoon paused, stopping to stare at Hoseok. “What? What’s on my butt, Hoseok?”
Hoseok looked pretty smug when he responded. “Yoongi’s eyes.”
Namjoon stared, cheeks pinkening quickly. “I hate you.”
“Love you too, Joon. Now, go on. Those damn ducks aren’t going to research themselves.”
Namjoon left the pool from the far exit, not trusting himself to pass by Yoongi as the other man worked his way over to Hoseok and the supplies. But he couldn't stop himself from noticing the strength with which Yoongi walked—a far cry from where he’d been when Namjoon had first showed up.
Maybe he really wouldn’t be waiting long.
Yoongi wiped sweat out of his eyes and resisted the urge to melt onto the floor. He was exhausted. His arms and legs each felt like they were about to snap in half; nausea swirled in his stomach. He could taste vomit at the back of his throat.
Physical therapy was hell.
“Yoongi, wait up a second!”
Yoongi paused at the door of the gym. He had to get to art therapy, but Keone had called for him. Keone was the only one who could get him out of this hellhole, who could sign off that he was fit enough to leave and survive in a normal human environment. “Yeah?” Yoongi asked, not sure what to make of Keone’s expression.
“Hey, don’t look so nervous, kid, it’s good news.” Keone clapped him on the shoulder. “I know we were all worried about the setback you had the other day—” Yoongi winced. A lot of awful things had happened at rehab, but collapsing in the shower was probably the worst of it. “—but after today, I can safely say you’re back on track to graduate at the end of the month.”
Yoongi sucked in air. “With Hoseok?”
Keone smiled. “Yeah, man, with Hoseok.”
Yoongi tried not to let his excitement show. He tried to keep his face steely, but a smile couldn’t help but pull at the corners of his mouth. He brought his hands up to his face and glared at Keone through his fingers. “Cool.”
Keone snorted. “Yeah, cool ,” he teased. “Now get to your art class or whatever other quack therapy they have planned for you. Come back tomorrow when you’re ready for some real, measurable improvement.”
Keone ruffled Yoongi’s hair and gave him a little push to get him going. Yoongi stumbled out of the gym and into the hall. He knew Keone didn’t actually think any less of the art or music classes at the rehab center, he just liked to joke around. Yoongi needed someone to joke around with.
“See you tomorrow, Yoongi!” Keone called.
“Whatever,” Yoongi groused back.
Yoongi trudged the way to art class. The worst part of art —other than the fact that Yoongi had approximately zero artistic abilities— was the stools. Sitting straight up for an hour after PT was so painful, Yoongi’s jaw became sore from gritting his teeth.
Still, Yoongi sat on his stool. The art instructor got them busy with canvases and paint. Yoongi chose a seat next to Taehyung, who was oddly quiet during art. However, halfway through the class, Taehyung swore. “Fuck.”
“What’s wrong?” Jimin asked. Yoongi looked over. They were supposed to ignore other patients when they threw up or passed out, but Yoongi’s gaze lingered on Taehyung’s hand, frozen in midair.
“I can’t see anything.”
“Okay, that’s okay,” Jimin promised.
“I know it’s okay,” Taehyung huffed. “But I wanted to paint.”
“You should have him lie down,” Yoongi said, although Jimin was already helping Taehyung onto the floor. His forearm was flexed as Taehyung practically dropped onto the tile, too weak to stand up straight.
Taehyung’s temporary blindness occurred whenever his brain couldn’t get enough oxygen. Taehyung had POTS. His blood volume was already low, and his heart already had trouble pumping blood to his head. He usually had his worst episodes during or after PT, when too many of his muscles were vying for attention. Lying down would hopefully make it easier for his brain to get the oxygen-carrying blood it needed. At the very least, his heart wouldn’t have to work against gravity.
“You okay down there?” Jimin asked.
“I wanted to paint,” Taehyung said, his eyes scrunched up.
“Don’t worry, you’ll get back to it soon,” Yoongi promised. He knew how much Taehyung loved art. He and Jimin had wallpapered the space above Taehyung’s bed with Vincent Van Gogh prints. “Just a few minutes, yeah?”
Taehyung made a weak noise in the back of his throat. “I guess.”
“Hey,” Jimin said, rubbing Taehyung’s arm. Yoongi averted his eyes. “You’re okay.” The words were so quiet and so small; Yoongi felt like he wasn’t supposed to hear. Taehyung stared at Jimin with unseeing eyes. Jimin offered Taehyung a smile he’d never see. “Just relax. Keep blinking. Let me know when your vision starts coming back.”
“Okay,” Taehyung squeaked. Yoongi could see the tendons on the back of his hand as he held onto Jimin.
Jimin and Taehyung had something special. Yoongi had never had that. He wondered if he would ever have that kind of personal connection with someone: someone he could rely on, who would hold his hand when his sickness got the best of him. Yoongi wanted someone to rub his back when he was throwing up. He wanted someone to pick him up when he fell. He wanted someone to talk to and hang out on Friday nights. Someone to go to the movies with. A friend.
Yoongi thought of Namjoon.
“I think… I think I can see shapes,” Taehyung said.
“Yeah?” Jimin asked.
Taehyung reached a clumsy hand out to Jimin’s face. Jimin laughed when Taehyung’s finger nearly ended up his nose. “Yeah.” He pinched Jimin’s cheek. “And I can see colors. And you. You’re just fuzzy.”
“Keep me posted.”
“I can see you way better,” Taehyung promised. He poked at Jimin’s dimple. “Hello.”
Jimin smiled. “Hello!”
“Can I paint now?”
“Why don’t you rest for another minute,” Jimin suggested. “Feel it out. Listen to your body before you make any decisions.”
“Okay,” Taehyung agreed. If he was trying to keep the disappointment out of his voice, he failed miserably. Yoongi dabbed at his canvas with a paint brush, and Taehyung squinted up at his work. “Oh my god. Is that Namjoon?”
“Let me see!” Hoseok squealed from the back of the class. His head peeked out between the easels. His laughter filled the room the second he saw Yoongi’s painting. “ Yoongi. ” Hoseok sucked in gasping breaths as he laughed, shrill enough to almost splinter the window panes.
Yoongi felt his cheeks heat up. “What? So I’m obvious! Get over it.”
Taehyung’s face screwed up in confusion. “It’s so… awful? It’s the worst painting I’ve ever seen?”
“No one asked you for your opinion!”
“I think it’s lovely ,” Jimin promised, getting up to stand beside Yoongi. Taehyung let go of Jimin’s hand only to grip onto his ankle. “It shows how much you care.”
“Okay, woah,” Yoongi said. “I’m obvious, but it’s just a painting. I don’t care about anything.”
“Really?” Taehyung asked. “Because it kind of looks like you do.”
“I’m not good at this,” Yoongi justified. “I’m bad at painting, I didn’t have any ideas, so I just painted the first thing on my mind. But that’s not caring! That’s just…” Yoongi wavered. “Existing.”
“You exist to paint terrible pictures of Namjoon?” Taehyung asked.
“Seems like caring to me,” Jimin pouted.
Yoongi snorted. “Then you have a pretty warped definition of caring.”
“In coming!” someone shouted.
Yoongi stopped cold. Hoseok laughed harder.
Namjoon stood in the door of the art room. When all eyes turned to stare at him, he shrunk under everyone’s gaze but stepped further into the room. “Um… hello?”
“Namjoon!” Jimin greeted cheerily. “What are you doing here? I thought you were helping Jin with introductions today!”
“Um, I was,” Namjoon said. “But then I accidentally deleted Jin’s powerpoint presentation, so he sent me over here.”
“Welcome,” Taehyung smiled from the floor.
“Hey.” Namjoon stepped further into the room, and Yoongi resisted the urge to throw himself at his wet painting and hide his awful portrait. Namjoon walked up behind Yoongi. “Um… who is that?” he asked.
Yoongi panicked. “Ben Affleck.”
“Really?” Namjoon asked. “It kind of looks like Jamie Hyneman.”
“Oh my god ,” Hoseok squealed. Yoongi turned around, only to see Hoseok doubled over in laughter, tears running down his face.
“Shut up , Hoseok.”
Hoseok hid his smile behind his hand and waved off Namjoon’s curious gaze. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” he squeaked, his eyes still watering. “God, I just… I love Ben Affleck.”
“Apparently, you both do,” Namjoon said, looking at Yoongi quizzically.
“He’s great,” Yoongi said weakly, wishing the ground would swallow him up. Maybe he did care about Namjoon. At the very least, he didn’t want Namjoon to get the wrong idea about him. He didn’t like Ben Affleck at all, he just liked Namjoon.
“So,” Namjoon started, sliding onto the wooden bench in the sunroom without much issue. Yoongi turned his head, brows raising up. “Anything good flying around?”
Yoongi shrugged. “Not really? Some sparrows in the brush over there,” he pointed to the treeline, “but they’re too far away for me to identify better. Maybe some white-throated, but I can’t say for sure. They might actually be white-crowned, but they’re moving too quickly to really tell.”
Namjoon hummed, not too concerned with Yoongi’s inability to differentiate white-throated from white-crowned. They’re eerily similar from a distance.
At least, that’s been Namjoon’s problem so far. His limited experience with bird identification doesn’t make the difficulty in telling certain species apart any harder than someone like Yoongi. Yoongi, who did this every summer growing up.
“I’d think it’s white-throats though, right? Because we had a weirdly warm fall and winter so far hasn’t exactly been cold. White-crowns are strictly winter species in PA, aren’t they? I mean, at least there’s some white-throated sparrows that stick around in the northern part of the state all year round and they might have just gotten confused or...something. They might have come down early?”
Yoongi stared. “Um,” he swallowed. “Yeah.” He didn’t say anything after that at first. Just lifted his binoculars back up to study the treeline again. Namjoon saw a large flash of brown and white and assumes a northern flicker, but without better eyesight or binoculars, he couldn’t be sure.
Yoongi spoke up, the suddenness enough to have Namjoon jerk where he sat. “You sure seem to know a lot these days. About birds, I mean.” He glanced to the side, eyed narrowed at the other man. Namjoon shifted uncomfortably, unsure if Yoongi’s mood was suddenly sour or just suspicious.
He didn’t really have time to think too hard on it.
“Well, I, uh. I started learning some more and it’s...it’s actually kind of interesting. Almost like a puzzle when you don’t know what you’re looking for.”
Namjoon swallowed. “Yeah,” he took a small breath, turning to look out the window, almost too embarrassed to see how Yoongi perceived his explanation. “If you think about it, it’s kind of like process of elimination. But you have to be fast with observations and good with your memory. Having a book helps, but it’s better if you just remember stuff.”
Yoongi did—well. He did something. Namjoon felt him move around next to him and heard the old bench creek. Namjoon half expected him to just stand up and walk out—people were easily bored when he speaks. But Yoongi didn't get up. He sat and he waited, seemingly patient, for Namjoon to continue.
Namjoon took a small breath. “Okay, so like. The sparrows out there. We don’t know for sure what they are, but you probably see their little white and black hats. That means it’s either white-throated or white-crowned. Now it could be a savannah sparrow,” Namjoon’s hand flicked through the air, dismissing the thought. “But those are only around in summer. So that’s not right.”
“And their cap colors are brown and white,” Yoongi supplied quietly. He shifted his weight and awkwardly lifting a leg onto the bench, bending it and turning to face Namjoon. It seemed a good sign. “But from this distance and with these shitty binoculars, it’d be pretty hard to tell.”
“Right,” Namjoon glanced over, watching Yoongi’s fingers grip and tighten around the binoculars. He stilled his hands in his own lap and turned his head up to look out the window. “So then you just figure out what has a black-striped head. And then you have to figure out if the season fits and it’s just,” he shrugged. “It’s fun.”
“It is,” Yoongi agreed. He seemed to be waiting for something, but Namjoon wasn’t sure what. Namjoon turned his head up, blinking shyly at Yoongi until he got the courage to sit up straighter and look back out the window.
“While I was learning, I also took the time to learn about harlequin ducks.”
“Oh, did you? My candy striper took an interest in my ducks?” Yoongi sounded amused and Namjoon chanced another glance in his direction, embarrassed to find Yoongi still watching him.
“Yeah. And I, uh. I mean, you’re right. Sometimes they are in the Poconos during winter. They’re more likely along the coasts of the oceans, but in weird weather years, they’ve been commonly sited at the tops of some of the smaller mountains.”
Namjoon took a breath, playing with the pocket of his apron. Yoongi reached to stop the fidgeting, pulling his hands back immediately. He appeared shocked at himself when Namjoon looked up, but Namjoon felt the same, so he didn’t question it.
“I found some directions to this, uh. This low-level walking path. A hiking path, actually. Up the mountain. One that might have the ducks.”
Yoongi’s breathing turned sharp.
Namjoon had to look away.
“I thought that maybe, uh. Maybe after you graduate—it’s the end of the month, right? Hoseok was talking to Jungkook about it a few days ago. How you both get to graduate together. But um. Maybe. Maybe after you graduate and move out of here, you’d like to come with me?”
“Because, like. It’s your dream , Yoongi. To see these ducks. And I’m sure you’ll want to start going to college or something, but your end date here is long enough before the start of the semester that we’d have time. And I don’t even actually know if you want to go to school—.”
“I do,” quiet.
“But I thought that, maybe. Maybe we could go together. Up the mountain. See the ducks. I thought they looked real goofy before, but like. I’ve looked into them and they’re actually pretty cool—did you know they’re called the ‘sea mouse’ because their quacks sound like squeaks?”
“Namjoon,” and it sounded off, but Namjoon plowed on.
“Of course you know that, wow. I’m so dumb,” he laughed nervously, and scratched at the side of his head. “It’s just that, like. I’d really like to go with you. And I know climbing a mountain in winter is going to be tough for you, but I’ll be with you every step of the way. I’ll carry you if I have to. I mean, I might have to get more muscle if I want to do that, but I have a little time. And—.”
“Namjoon,” Yoongi touched Namjoon’s hand. Namjoon turned his head to look at the other, frowning at Yoongi’s expression. It read ‘worried.’ It appeared ‘unsure.’
“Joon, I...I just—,” he stood. Namjoon sucked in a breath, reaching up to try and grab Yoongi’s hand.
“Yoongi, I’m sorry. I just—.”
“No, it’s. I’ll think about it. I have to go. I have...therapy.”
“It’s free time,” Namjoon frowned, shoulders slumping. He had tried to keep his voice from sounding small, but it clearly didn’t work, judging from Yoongi’s expression. Now Yoongi just looked like he was worried and filled with pity. Exactly what Namjoon wanted from this conversation.
“Well, I. I promised Tae I’d do more art with him. I’d just...forgotten. I have to...I have to go. I have to go.”
“It’s fine. We’ll talk later. I’ll think on it. But. Later.”
And Yoongi left, quickly. The door banged loudly behind him and Namjoon flinched, watching it for a few moments longer before turning back toward the windows. He pressed his elbows to his knees and his head to his hands, gripping at his hair a little tighter than he should.
“Great,” a weak laugh. “ Perfect. What was I thinking? Of course it was a bad idea, you dummy. He won’t want to walk up a mountain with you—and offering to carry him? You’ll be lucky if you can shoulder a damn backpack. God , that was so stupid .”
It took a minute—a few, actually—but Namjoon stood, returning his apron to the closet. He should have stayed another hour. Another two, usually. But right now he needed to leave. Even staying in the building that now reeked of failure and rejection was making his stomach turn.
Who did he think he was? The kind of guy who just casually asks out other men and gets the date?
Namjoon’s never been that great. He’s never been that lucky.
Namjoon was pacing back and forth in the cafeteria, helping patients by collecting trash, serving seconds, and filling up cups. Every time he passed Yoongi’s table, Namjoon tensed.
Namjoon walked by, and Yoongi ducked his head low. His shoulders bunching up despite how sore they were. Hoseok slammed his spoon on the table. “Okay, that’s it. What happened? ” he demanded.
“Nothing,” Yoongi said.
“Bullshit. You’ve been saying ‘nothing’ for days. But you can’t even eat your pudding, you’re so worked up. What happened between you two?”
Yoongi blinked at Hoseok slowly, feigning ignorance. “I don’t even know who you mean by ‘you two.’ Me and who?”
“You know damn well who I mean,” Hoseok said.
“I don’t,” Taehyung said honestly.
“Namjoon, dear,” Jimin answered, patting Taehyung’s arm.
“Nothing’s going on between me and Namjoon,” Yoongi assured everyone. “And even if there was, it wouldn’t be any of your business.”
“Bullshit,” Hoseok said again. “Spill.”
Yoongi crinkled his nose. “No.”
“ Tell me.”
“Just tell me what’s going on!”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Aha!” Hoseok exclaimed, pointing at Yoongi like he just found the the missing piece to a jigsaw puzzle. “So you admit that something is going on.”
Yoongi could feel himself pale. “I never said that.”
“But you didn’t deny it,” Hoseok said proudly.
Taehyung hummed and blew bubbles into his chocolate milk. “You know, Yoongi, if something were going on between you and Namjoon, it would be a good idea to talk to us, your friends, about it. We’re supposed to be able to help with things like that.”
“True,” Jimin agreed, patting Taehyung’s head before force-feeding him another bite of his chicken salad. “I’m full of advice. I have oodles of it.”
“I’m sure,” Yoongi said dryly.
“No, it’s true. Jimin knows everything,” Taehyung promised.
“Yes, I know everything ,” Jimin agreed.
Yoongi looked between the two of them, acknowledging their honest faces, and sighed. He buried his face between his elbows. He could feel a blush creeping up his neck. “It’s not a big thing, it’s just, um, like… Well, Namjoon asked me out.” Peeking out between his arms, he saw that Jimin and Taehyung looked shocked.
Hoseok, however, seemed unsurprised. “Okay, so?”
“So,” Yoongi ran a hand through his hair. “He didn’t ask me out on, like, a date. He asked me out on like a weekend hiking trip through the Pennsylvania mountains.”
“Sounds fun!” Jimin chirped.
“Sounds impossible ,” Taehyung winced.
Yoongi slumped onto the table top. “That’s the concern.” Yoongi’s hair nearly fell into his pudding, and Jimin brushed it back into place for him. (There was a reason Jimin volunteered as a caretaker; he saw needs and met them before anyone had to ask.)
Hoseok frowned. “Okay, well, I mean… Knowing Namjoon, he wouldn’t make it impossible for you,” he said like he knew more than he was letting on. “He’d pick an easy path, he’d carry your stuff, he’d take it slow, he’d help you up hills… He probably just wants to spend time with you; he probably doesn’t want you to die.”
“I don’t want that either,” Yoongi said. He could feel his cheeks growing hotter and hotter. He hated blushing. He hated giving his feelings away. “I don’t want him to have to take care of me; I don’t want anyone to take care of me. I’m in rehab to learn how to live alone and stand on my own two feet.”
Hoseok paused. “...Right, but… I mean, it’s okay to ask for help sometimes. Especially with big things like hiking and seeing your dream ducks.”
Yoongi crinkled his eyebrows together. “I never said anything about my ducks.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Hoseok said.
Yoongi narrowed his eyes. “What?”
“But how did you-”
“ Listen ,” Hoseok said, reaching under the table to rub Yoongi’s knee. “Namjoon likes you. And he knows that this hiking trip is a dream of yours, which it is , right?”
“Well…” Yoongi had been dreaming about seeing harlequin ducks since his first summer with his grandparents. Pictures would never be enough. “Yeah.”
“So let him take you! He likes you,” Hoseok assured him.
Yoongi ran a hand through his hair again, overwhelmed. “I… I don’t even know if I think that’s true.”
Jimin snorted. “Um, please. Namjoon’s all over you. Even when you’re not together, you’re all he talks about. ‘Yoongi did this, Yoongi did that,’” Jimin mimicked in a high-pitched, decidedly un-Namjoon-like voice. “He’s obsessed with you.”
“Okay, but maybe he just likes me because he has to take care of me. And, like I said before, I don’t want to be taken care of.”
Taehyung frowned. “Wait. What do you mean, ‘because he has to take care of you’?”
Yoongi grimaced. “Like… I don’t know, Namjoon’s had to do a lot of embarrassing shit for me. And I’ve done embarrassing shit in front of him… And it’s like… What if it’s not real, you know? What if he just thinks he likes me because I’ve had to be so…” Yoongi crinkled his nose. He spat the word out like something vile: “ Vulnerable in front of him. And what if he just wants me to go on this trip with him to, like, I don’t know, make me happy ? And what if he makes the walk easy because he wants to, like… help me.”
Hoseok blinked at him and then groaned: loud enough to turn heads. “God, Yoongi, if he likes you, he should want to help you and make you happy,” he whined, resting his head on the table top.
Taehyung looked shaken, and Jimin cleared his throat. “With all due respect, Yoongi, but as a volunteer, I can promise you it doesn’t work that way. At least, it doesn’t for me. A lot goes on in this rehab center, but like… I personally don’t just fall in love with every person I see cry, or collapse, or throw up. In fact, most of the time, those things are really sad, really gross, or really annoying,” Jimin bit his lip, thinking for a moment. He took a quiet breath. “I think if Namjoon likes you -which he does- then he likes you because you’re… you’re a person . And a really great one. And maybe you guys met because you’re trapped in this place, albeit for entirely different reasons, but um… If it was me falling in love with a patient, it would be in spite of our caregiver-patient relationship, not because of it.”
“Oh,” Yoongi said.
“Oh?” Taehyung asked.
“Just hypothetically,” Jimin clarified. His eyes flickered towards Taehyung. “We’re all just people. Feelings happen.”
“I really think you should go,” Hoseok cut in.
“It doesn’t feel right,” Yoongi whined, stirring at his pudding just to avoid eye contact.
Hoseok sighed. “Is it really so hard to believe that Namjoon might like you for you? I mean, you listen to that kid talk about math. He learned about duck migration for you. He planned this trip… That has to be something deeper.”
Yoongi hid his face in the neck of his t-shirt. His voice ended up higher-pitched than he wanted it to be. “He had to pick me up off the floor. He can’t—”
“Namjoon doesn’t care about that,” Jimin cut in.
“Yeah, Yoongi, no one cares about that,” Taehyung swore.
“He’ll have to do it again, if we’re together,” Yoongi said. He kept his face hidden as tears collected at the back of his throat. “Sometimes I can’t stand, sometimes I can’t… I can’t do anything. He can’t possibly like me.”
“He doesn’t care about that,” Taehyung assured him again.
A small hand —Jimin’s— rubbed his shoulder. “He’d be crazy to care about that.”
“Yoongi, he likes you,” Hoseok said. “You can let him like you. You can like him back. It’s okay.”
“It’s not okay,” Yoongi argued.
“It’s definitely okay,” Hoseok promised, but Yoongi wasn’t so sure.
Namjoon jerked, almost dropping the clipboard in his hands at the suddenness Seokjin had called for him. “Um,” he turned, brows raising in question. “Yeah?”
“Can I get you to help me with something? I’d get Jimin, but he’s trying to convince Taehyung that PT is important enough to go to today,” his voice came out a little haggard, as though he were at the end of his rope for the day.
In short, Seokjin’s usual tone.
“Oh, uh. Yeah, of course,” Namjoon placed the clipboard back into the proper slot, having finished marking down the last necessary box on Hoseok’s morning checklist. “What is it?”
“We have a supply closet we need to go through.”
“Yes. Sorry. I can’t trust you to know the difference between twenty-six and twenty-five gauge hypodermic needles, so I’ll have to be there to help.”
Namjoon nodded slowly, following after the nurse as Seokjin started back down the hallway. “But in reality, it’ll be a good rest for you, won’t it? Not having to run around twenty-four seven.”
“Oh god yes.”
Namjoon couldn't help but laugh, grinning at the tone of voice. Seokjin was pretty high strung most of the time and, sure, he was the first to say something if you were messing up your job, but no one could say he didn’t work hard enough to deserve a break. Even one sorting through iodine and rubbing alcohol.
“Namjoon,” Seokjin started, jarring Namjoon from his thoughts. “The other volunteers and the residents have been a little worried about you lately. You’re not slipping back into your criminal ways are you? Is it Taehyung? Has he influenced you in anyway?”
“What!? No! Taehyung isn’t a criminal—criminally annoying, but not a criminal.”
Namjoon snorted, waving off Seokjin’s concern. “I’m fine , Seokjin. Really. There’s nothing to worry about.”
Seokjin’s expression showed just how little he believed that statement but, even so, he swung the door to the supply closet open. Namjoon gaped for a moment before stepping forward and into the small room. Even empty he’s sure it would feel all kinds of claustrophobic.
“Wow. This is....”
“I know . I don’t think it’s been cleaned properly in, I don’t know. A year or so?”
“Where do we even start?”
Seokjin pulled in a heavy breath, chest puffing as his lungs filled with air that he let escape through his teeth. “Probably with the big stuff. Look for expired things and toss them. Nothing should be , but just in case.”
Namjoon started slowly, pulling boxes and bottles out to inspect, passing them to Seokjin to put on a roller cart the elder had brought along with him earlier, prior to deciding to get Namjoon’s help. As the closet cleared, Namjoon was able to simply reorganize as opposed to remove, fixing the position of items inside along the shelves. The pair were working for an hour before Seokjin spoke again. (Or, at the very least, said anything past ‘no’, ‘yes’, or ‘that’s crazy. Give it here’.)
“Have you learned anything interesting lately, Namjoon?”
“Um,” Namjoon paused, unsure how to answer. Would Seokjin care about Vopěnka's principle? It was unlikely—no one cared about that. Namjoon barely cared about it, if he were being honest. No, Seokjin has little use for math past measuring medicines and sample and dosages. And, even then, they don’t really dole out things like that here. The point is to learn to live without supplementary aid, so Seokjin didn’t even really need to do measuring either.
So Namjoon chose the one topic he found himself knowing more and more about as the days wore on.
“Uh. Did you know that there are actually six different types of feathers that birds can have? Most people think it’s just two—down and flight feathers—but there’s a possibility of six, depending on the species and age of the individual.”
Seokjin sighed, sounding more resigned than anything else. It was as though something he hadn’t wanted to admit were suddenly coming true. He glanced up from the box in his hands for a moment, studying Namjoon, before offering the container over and grabbing another from the cart in the hall. “No, I didn’t. But why do you ? Aren’t you studying math?”
Namjoon paused, inspecting the contents of the box he’d been handed—more bandages—before placing it gently on the appropriate shelf. “Well, I’ve just been...looking into things. That’s all. And, besides, there’s a number in there. It could totally count as math related.”
Seokjin snorted. “Yeah. Counting. Something only people who go to college can do.” Namjoon’s face screwed up distastefully and Seokjin waved him off. “The point I’m making is you have no reason to know this kind of stuff, Namjoon. How is it helping with your degree?”
It was quiet for a moment. Namjoon picked at an old sticker label still attached to one of the shelves. The supply closet used to hold linens, apparently, if the faded ‘Twin-flat sheet; 8 count’ was anything to go from. What a change—bed clothes and pillows to bandages and antiseptic.
“It’s not,” Namjoon finally replied, once he’d shaken himself from his thoughts. He shrugged a little, bending to straighten a bottle of disinfectant on a lower shelf. “It’s just...fun. I guess. You could say it’s making me more well rounded?”
“You know we have a rule here, Namjoon,” and Namjoon had no choice but to look up. Seokjin’s tone of voice had changed. It wasn’t playful or confused. Now, it was a little more somber.
“Um. There are lots of rules here. Like the one about me not being allowed to push the snack cart anymore. That’s an important one, don’t you think?”
Seokjin offered a gentle smile and patted Namjoon’s shoulder. “That’s definitely a good one, but not the one I’m talking about,” Seokjin’s smile wavered for a moment. “We have a strict no-dating policy here, Namjoon. I’m sorry, but you can’t have relationships with residents while you’re a volunteer at the center.”
Namjoon sputtered, arms flying up to protect his chest as though Seokjin were about to push him, however uncharacteristic and unnecessary that would be. Namjoon’s elbow cracked off one of the shelves in the closet, but he ignored the sudden rush of pain, more concerned with how hot his face was growing with each passing second.
“What? I’m—what? No. I’m not thinking about—,” Namjoon paused, brows furrowing. “How do you know about that?”
“Oh please,” Seokjin wrinkled his nose and blindly reached behind him, pulling a bottle of iodine into the closet. “You think I don’t hear every piece of gossip in this building? I know everything —speaking of, I should probably find Jimin after this...” he waved his free hand through the air and pushed the bottle into Namjoon’s chest. “Put this away.”
Robotically, Namjoon stooped to slide the bottle onto the appropriate shelf, chewing on his lower lip. “It doesn’t matter what I want anyway. Yoongi’s been avoiding me since I asked him out to...well. It doesn’t matter. He’s just been avoiding me. That’s all.”
Seokjin hummed lightly, returning to the restock process while Namjoon stewed in his thoughts. “You know that your hours are almost completed, right?”
“Your hours. I’ve been keeping track. Not perfectly, of course, but you have to be reaching five hundred soon, don't you think?”
“Um,” Namjoon swallowed. “Yeah. Another week or so if I keep up the schedule I have now. Why?”
Seokjin raised a brow. “We have a no-dating policy between patients and volunteers , Namjoon. In another week or so, Yoongi won’t be here and you won’t have to be.”
Namjoon froze, staring at the stocked closet in front of him as Seokjin slid the last package of sterile wipes onto a shelf by his head.
“So, go get him, Namjoon. Do what you need to do. He’s stubborn as a goddamn mule , but you’ll be good for him, I think. Don’t let that fall away just because you’re both idiots.”
It took a moment, but Namjoon managed to reply, tone playful, but also quiet and contemplative. “I resent that statement.”
“I believe you meant to say ‘represent.’”
Namjoon rolled his eyes, shouldering his way out of the closet. “You should take your own advice, you know. He should be at the pool right about now.” Namjoon didn’t plan to wait on a response, starting down the hall, hoping to catch Yoongi before he got started with PT. If he didn’t, there wouldn’t be much free time to see him until the next day.
He was so focused, he almost missed Seokjin calling after him.
“Who should be at the pool?”
Namjoon’s only response was to laugh.
Yoongi gritted his teeth together, pulling up on the edge of the pool with all of his strength. He kicked his feet and clawed at the lip of the pool. “Come on, Yoongi. You can do it. This is the last step!” Jungkook cheered.
Yoongi squeezed his eyes shut and pulled, and pulled, and pulled.
It was no use.
He dropped back into the water, panting. “I can’t. I can’t get out,” he said, his heart pounding in his throat. On the opposite side of the room, Yoongi was hyper-aware of Namjoon talking to Keone. They both kept looking in his direction, but Yoongi couldn’t pull himself out of the damn pool. Namjoon had stepped in halfway through aqua jogging, and all Yoongi wanted to do was escape. He wanted to run away, but he couldn’t lift himself up.
“Sure, you can,” Jungkook promised. He was hugging his clipboard close to his chest, and Yoongi swallowed hard. If he couldn’t get out of this pool, it might affect his ability to graduate out of the program. He didn’t want to spend another week here. He wanted to get his rehab diploma with Hoseok at his side. He had to get out of the pool.
Yoongi tried again, managing to pull his arms up and out, but his buoyancy belt kept getting in the way, and his flotation shoes made it hard to kick enough to propel himself up and out. He gasped for breath as he fell back into the pool. “I can’t. I can’t. ”
“Yes, you can ,” Jungkook said.
“I can’t. ”
“Finish strong, Yoongi!”
“I can’t ,” Yoongi said, sucking down air and struggling to fight back tears. Jungkook’s eyebrows crinkled together. Yoongi usually pulled himself out of the pool as fast as possible after aquajogging. But today Yoongi was too tired, he had pushed himself too hard. He was scared he was going to throw up in the pool he was so exhausted, and Jungkook seemed to sense that something was wrong.
“Okay. Do you think you can make it over to the steps? You look pale.”
Yoongi choked down bile. “ No. ”
Jungkook sighed and kicked off his shoes. “If I have to see Seokjin in the breakroom later when I smell like chlorine, I’m never going to forgive you,” he said. Yoongi couldn’t even snap back at him, he was so exhausted. It was all he could do to keep his head above water.
When he blinked his eyes open, a second pair of ankles filled his vision. “Wait, wait, wait, I got it.”
Yoongi close his eyes. Of all the people to show up now , when he was at his weakest—
“Namjoon, you’re not even wearing a bathing suit,” Jungkook said.
Namjoon took off his shoes. “I have an extra set of clothes,” he promised before half jumping, half falling into the pool. A wave of water rolled over Yoongi, and he gagged. Namjoon’s hand found his waist. “Hey, hey, lean on me.”
“Don’t—” Yoongi gagged again as water sloshed around him. He desperately tried to kick his feet, barely treading water. He couldn’t breathe. “Don’t touch me.”
Jungkook arched an eyebrow. Namjoon frowned. “You need help.”
“I’m going to help you walk to the steps,” Namjoon said.
Yoongi whined. “ No , I-”
“I’m going to help you,” Namjoon said definitively, suddenly overwhelmingly confident. Any argument Yoongi had promptly died in his throat. Namjoon was tall enough to stand in the five foot deep water, so he slipped an arm around Yoongi’s waist to keep him upright. Yoongi stopped kicking his feet.
Jungkook’s eyebrow arched impossibly higher. “Wow, okay. I’ll just leave you two to it, huh?”
“ No ,” Yoongi said, but Jungkook was already walking away.
“Hey,” Namjoon said. “Why are you avoiding me, huh? Let me help you.”
“You help me too much,” Yoongi said. Namjoon grunted in disagreement, but with Yoongi clinging to him as deadweight, he seemed too focused on dragging him towards the steps to talk. As soon as Yoongi’s feet found purchase on the ground, he walked himself over to the steps on weak knees.
Yoongi crawled out of the pool and laid down on the tile. His hands shook as he reached for the buckle of his buoyancy belt. He couldn’t get it off, but then Namjoon climbed out of the pool and gently took his hands. “Hey, you’re okay,” Namjoon said.
Yoongi hadn’t noticed the frustrated tears rolling down his cheeks. “I’m not.”
“You are. I’ve got you,” Namjoon said, unclipping his belt and then moving to undo his shoes. Yoongi felt so weak and boneless. Namjoon offered him a hand to help him up. Yoongi hesitated to take it, and Namjoon’s warm smile turned into something sad. “You won’t go hiking with me.”
Yoongi’s gaze shifted from Namjoon’s caring eyes to his outstretched hand. He took it. Namjoon helped him up. “I can’t ask you to do that.”
“Well, like… it’s not like I asked just because, you know?” Namjoon said, his awkward personality coming back in full force as he squirmed in his dripping wet clothes. “I asked you because— oh, thanks.” Namjoon cut off when Jungkook passed him a towel. Namjoon draped it over Yoongi’s head instead of wrapping it around himself. He rubbed circles on Yoongi’s scalp, drying his hair, and didn’t speak again until everyone else was out of earshot. “I asked because… I mean, I care about you. ...You know?”
Yoongi snorted. “Yeah. Because you’re a caregiver. That’s your job .”
“Okay, but you’re not my job. I’m… I’m not trying to be creepy. I just like you. And I want to spend time with you, and this is your dream, and. ” Namjoon’s chest puffed out and he stood up straight. “And Seokjin told me to ‘go get him’ so I am getting you.”
“Oh my god,” Yoongi said, pushing the towel off of his head. Namjoon looked so serious. “Oh my god.” He ducked his head down and hiccuped, tears overwhelming him. “Oh my god. ”
Namjoon wilted. “Okay, you need clothes. I can’t see you crying and shirtless again, it’s really conflicting,” Namjoon said.
“ Shut up ,” Yoongi whined.
“Come on, let’s take care of you,” Namjoon said, frog walking him towards the locker rooms. His hands burned on Yoongi’s shoulders, and Yoongi buried his face in his fingers, humiliated.
“You’re always taking care of me.”
“Okay, well that part sort of is my job,” Namjoon admitted. “Not that I wouldn’t take care of you if… if you did want to go out on like… some date with me or whatever. I want you happy and healthy and stuff. It’s not a problem, I’m not mad about it, it’s just… You shouldn’t be mad about it either, it’s okay.”
“But you shouldn’t have to,” Yoongi argued. His legs felt weak as he made it into the lockers, and he sat down on the bench. He ran a hand through his damp hair. He needed to schedule a deep conditioning treatment right after graduation.
“Is that what this is about?” Namoon asked, handing him a t-shirt.
“Okay, well, like… I don’t mind. So this is dumb, you should just go out with me.”
“But you don’t want that,” Yoongi said. “I’m not, I mean… I can’t-”
“Hey,” Namjoon said, taking Yoongi’s head between his hands. Namjoon was close enough that his hair was dripping onto Yoongi’s nose. Yoongi blinked, and Namjoon dipped closer .
Namjoon kissed his forehead, and Yoongi’s breath caught in his throat.
“Of course I want that. You’re… you’re…” Namjoon’s thumbs brushed over Yoongi’s cheekbones. “You’re nice to me, but you also give me crap, and like… I need someone to give me crap. But you’re patient, even if you pretend like you’re not, and you’re a good listener, and you’re really close with your grandma, and you’re, like, crazy smart, like wicked smart. And you’re fast. You’re so quick-witted, sometimes I can’t keep up, but that’s fun . I like that. I like you.” Namjoon dropped his hands to grab onto Yoongi’s. “And I want to know you outside of this awful place, yeah? So let’s go hiking. Let’s see your ducks.”
Yoongi blinked up at Namjoon, feeling so painfully insecure in himself but so safe in Namjoon’s hold. “...Are you sure you like me and not just… being my candy striper?”
Namjoon’s eyebrows crinkled together, but then something clicked in his eyes. He ducked his head and looked back up with a smirk. “Excuse me, but I’ve never been your candy striper.”
“Then… then you mean it? We’ll go see my ducks?” Yoongi asked.
“We’ll see all the ducks.”
“Then okay,” Yoongi agreed. A tiny smile found its way onto Yoongi’s face before he could tamp it down. “You can tell Seokjin you got me.”
“Really?” Namjoon asked, a stupid dumb smile sweeping over his face. Yoongi nodded, and Namjoon swept him up in his arms, spinning him in a circle and knocking his elbow on the lockers. Yoongi laughed as Namjoon grunted in pain. “Fuck, ugh, okay, don’t worry, I’m so happy, nothing can bring me down from this moment.”
Yoongi beamed, letting himself be crushed up against Namjoon’s soaked scrubs. “You’re such a dweeb. Stop shouting.”
“We’re going to be in love .”
“Chill out.” Yoongi kicked his feet and found his footing on the floor. He was still exhausted. The thought of changing into dry clothes and going to group therapy made him feel like dying, but his heart was pumping a little more smoothly than usual. “We’re going to see the ducks. That’s what’s important here.”
Namjoon dropped his shoulders a little bit. “Right, of course. Ducks come first.”
Yoongi nodded. “In this relationship, ducks always come first.”
“Have you noticed how weird Namjoon’s been lately?” Taehyung muttered, even if Namjoon could hear him from his spot on the floor directly beside him. He’d been sitting there since the beginning of yoga, responding idly to Taehyung’s comments without pestering Jungkook too much while the younger lead the lesson on his own.
“I can hear you?” Namjoon tried, brows furrowed.
“Yeah,” Hoseok agreed with Taehyung, easily moving into the proper position for revolved head-to-knee while simultaneously pretending not to hear Namjoon. Taehyung struggled and Namjoon moved to carefully help try to get him to finish the motion, but Taehyung waved him off, mumbling about head rushes and temporary blindness. Namjoon knew that well enough, but helping had become second nature now.
“Why do you think that is?” Taehyung stretched his legs out in front of him on the mat and laid down, arms crossed under his head, ready to relax. “I mean, he’s just weirder than usual.”
“Well,” Hoseok grinned, switching to a normal head-to-knee pose and prodding a finger into Taehyung’s ribs while he moved. The motion was smooth and easy, that of a man who was working through his pain, even with the crinkle on his forehead. “Yoongi might have spoken to me at some point in the near past about a certain locker room incident....”
Namjoon’s cheeks turned pink. The color washed down his neck, disappearing into the collar of his shirt. “Nothing happened in the locker room.”
“What happened in the locker room?”
Hoseok grinned. “There may have been some lip-to-forehead action. And something about Jin and ‘getting some’.”
“He told me to ‘ go get him ’ not ‘ get some ’!” Namjoon hissed, almost frantic.
Taehyung snickered. “Oh man, Seokjin can’t even get some himself, what kind of advice does he think he’s giving?”
“Well it worked, didn’t it?”
Taehyung paused, sitting up and pretending he was going to attempt a pigeon pose when Jungkook seemed to watch their way for too long. “I guess it did, Hoseok. I guess it did.”
“Okay, so you’re both just going to ignore me?” Namjoon frowned, still flustered and embarrassed, but not entirely incapable of functioning in the moment.
“Whatever,” Taehyung continued, actually trying to get into the pose as Jungkook zeroed in on him and his refusal to try. “So the point is, who kissed who? What are they now? I’m roommates with Yoongi and he hasn’t said word one to me. ”
“What’s going on?” Jungkook asked, raising a brow.
“Namjoon kissed Yoongi. But don’t tell Seokjin because there’s a no-dating policy and Namjoon couldn’t keep it in his pants for another three days,” Hoseok chimed, pulling himself into a locust position and watching up at Jungkook expectantly.
“You don’t keep kisses in your pants!” Namjoon groaned, flopping onto his back and staring at the ceiling, still red in the face.
“Sometimes you do,” Taehyung snorted, hiding his laughter behind a hand. Hoseok didn’t bother to try and pretend it wasn’t funny, laughing loud enough that a few heads turned their way.
“Namjoon?” Jungkook said quietly, ignoring both Hoseok and Taehyung in favor of watching Namjoon. “I’m happy for you and Yoongi, but you’re encouraging Taehyung and that’s the last thing he needs,” a pause, “and while you’re down there, you might as well join us. Get into the fish position and hold that sucker until I tell you otherwise.”
Namjoon’s eyes flicked to Jungkook’s face, searching for the telltale signs of a joke, but finding none, he groaned, sliding his arms and propping up on his forearms, back arching. Sitting through yoga lessons had taught him a few things and, if Namjoon were being completely honest, he might occasionally do a few poses while in his apartment.
Satisfied, Jungkook headed to the front of the room once more, correcting a few position as he went. Hoseok glanced over, humming softly and shifting into something more dynamic, joints barely straining with the motions. “It’s easier to hold if you tuck your hands under your butt, you know.”
“Oh, so now you’re not ignoring me?”
“Not if I can correct you on something, nope,” Hoseok smiled brightly, but quickly turned his attention back to Taehyung. “But anyway, yeah. Yoongi was in my room the other day. An absolute mess. But they’re going to go see the ducks after we graduate—how grossly romantic, right?”
“Definitely,” Taehyung stuck his tongue out, nose wrinkling up. “But Namjoon kissed Yoongi’s forehead? That’s cute.”
“Yoongi said he cried,” Hoseok continued.
“He cried?! Wait which ‘he’? Namjoon or Yoongi?”
“ Before the kiss,” Namjoon tried to clarify, not sure if they’d listen to him at all. “Yoongi was crying before the kiss because he was frustrated, but we worked some things out, so it’s fine . He didn’t start crying because I kissed him, god.”
Taehyung tutted. “Praying on the weak? How terrible!”
In the front of the room, Jungkook sighed.
“Sorry,” the three in the back chorused together, even if they clearly didn’t sound it. They quieted for a little while, though, content to do their own thing—Hoseok participating, Taehyung pretending, and Namjoon still holding his fish pose, hands tucked under his butt, palms down and against the floor.
“Anyway,” Hoseok mumbled after a few minutes had passed. “You’re planning the whole thing for right after graduation, right?”
Namjoon didn’t respond at first, not realizing he was being spoken to. “Oh, um. Yeah. Yeah, the ducks, if they come, will only be there around winter. So there’s about a month's worth of chances, and my winter break is coming, so I thought we’d go then. I’ve...already gotten a really nice hiking bag. Like, it’s got a water bottle thing in the top. It’s like. This weird plastic pouch with a tube? I don’t know. Someone online said it would be perfect.”
Taehyung looked over, grinning too wide for him to be thinking anything good. “Make sure you take survival things with you. Bandages, protein bars, cond—ouch!”
“Teasing is one thing, but we’ve already made one sex joke today. We don’t need more,” Hoseok scolded, rolling his eyes. “But, Namjoon? Just make sure you don’t let him push himself too hard. He’ll probably try to get through it without help because he’s dumb.”
“I know,” Namjoon smiled gently and sat up fully. Jungkook gasped, scandalized, but didn’t say anything past the sudden noise. “I plan on taking it easy most of the walk up. I...already visited the trail I’m thinking of using. It doesn’t seem too bad, honestly. And I’m not exactly the fittest person in the world. It’ll take most of the day though.”
Hoseok nodded, watching Namjoon stand up and stretch his arms above his head. “Hey,” he waited until Namjoon looked back down at him. “Next time you kiss him, hit him smack on the lips. He’ll probably faint and it’ll be a real funny story.”
Namjoon’s face burned. He turned and headed for the door, easily blocking out Hoseok and Taehyung’s cackling as he made it into the hall. After all that, he found himself in the mood for some intelligent conversation and, really, where was Yoongi when he needed him?
“Probably the sunroom,” Namjoon mumbled to himself, making his way down the hall. “Filled out his portion of the discharge papers and snuck away, I’ll bet.” He laughed, content to search until he could find the other man.
“Yoongi?” Namjoon tried, peeking into the sunroom and brightening when he saw Yoongi inside, slowly lowering his binoculars and turning to the door. “Hey; I thought you’d be in here.” Namjoon shifted his weight inside, closing the door behind him and hesitantly going to the wooden bench.
Predictably, it creaked with his added weight. Yoongi moved closer to redistribute his own, and Namjoon was thankful for the simple gesture. He’d worried the bench would make today the day it gave up on them.
“Oh, nothing,” Namjoon chewed his lower lip for a moment, trying to watch one of Yoongi’s brows go up toward his hairline instead of talking. “Okay, so. You told Hoseok I kissed you, and he and Taehyung were making fun of me during yoga.”
Yoongi turned, refusing to look at Namjoon again. “Sounds about right. Is it really yoga if you’re not getting picked on?”
“Jungkook got a little angry and made me hold a fish pose for, like. Ten minutes. My forearms are aching.” Yoongi raised the other brow. “And it’s got nothing on any of you, but pain isn’t uniform and my forearms hurt .”
The response resulted in some snickers and, once they subsided, Yoongi offered his binoculars over. “See the tree with a few orange leaves hanging on?” Namjoon nodded. “Three to the left and, uh. Down to the, like. T-shape of branches? You can see a cloud through the break in the branches?”
Namjoon squinted, unsure if he could see where Yoongi was talking about, but lifted the binoculars when he thought he found it. “What is it?” he asked once he located the small reddish-brown bird. The shape looked familiar, but Namjoon was positive he didn't know what it was.
“It’s a cardinal,” Yoongi supplied when Namjoon didn’t speak up. “A female, but still.”
“Really? I thought they were, like. Bright red?”
“Adult plumage in the males. The females are boring, like most species. But it’s for their protection, so I can’t really complain.”
“Huh,” Namjoon nodded along, offering the binoculars back over when the bird had taken off into the thicker parts of the trees and disappeared. “But, um. Yoongi; can I actually ask what else you told Hoseok? Because, like. I know you’re good friends, but like. If it’s about the trip—well. If it’s about not wanting to go or worrying about it...shouldn’t you tell me?”
Yoongi pursed his lips, fingers playing along the binoculars.
“I mean, you don't have to tell me if you don't want to. I completely understand. It’s...they’re your secrets. Your...stuff,” Namjoon shrugged weakly and tugged at his apron, leaning forward to rest his forearms on his knees, trying to get comfortable when he felt anything but.
“We talked about what you said. And why you like me.”
“And about why I like you. Hoseok was worried I just liked you because you learned about birds or...something stupid like that.”
Namjoon swallowed. “So, um. Why...do you like me? If it’s not about the birds?” He couldn’t look up or over, too scared at what Yoongi’s face would look like. Sure, they were—something. Dating? Pre-dating? He wasn’t even sure what to call it. Taehyung was right to ask what they were. Namjoon wasn’t even positive. But not matter what they were, Namjoon was nervous.
What if Yoongi did only like him because Namjoon’s thirst for knowledge went beyond integers and logarithms? And the fact that Yoongi wasn’t responding was horrible. The worst. Namjoon opened his mouth, ready to apologize and allow the question to rest, but he stopped as Yoongi spoke.
“You’re dumb,” Yoongi started in on, and Namjoon’s head turn to blink in disbelief.
“You’re really dumb, and that’s okay. Because you’re also one of the most intelligent people I’ve met,” a weak shrug. “You told me I give you crap and I do. More than I should, but you take it and give some right back. Not too much, which I appreciate. And you’re just...you.”
Yoongi laughed lightly, elbowing Namjoon’s side. “You’re sincere. I don’t think you’ve ever shown me a side of you that wasn’t actually you . And I...I appreciate that. Because so much of who we are—the other residents and people with issues like us—is focused around sometimes hiding things. It’s nice to have regular contact with someone who doesn’t hide things.”
“I hide lots of things,” Namjoon mumbled, plucking at the sleeve of Yoongi’s sweater and looking up at him. Yoongi snorted and pulled his arm away to yank on a few locks of Namjoon’s hair.
“Like what? A stamp collection?”
“Well now it’s not a secret,” Namjoon pouted, following it up with a bright laugh. “I mean, like. Everyone hides things. It’s just that simple.”
“Yeah, but you’ve never shown me a lie.”
Namjoon hummed, turning to watch out the window again, sitting up a little straighter and squinting as the sun poked out from behind a few clouds.
“And, of course, because you took the time to learn what I liked. Mostly out of spite, I think, but you found that you enjoyed it. And I’d like to think you do that for most of your friends,” Namjoon shrugged and Yoongi leaned against the other's’ side. “But you’re just a great person, Namjoon. You’re kind and funny and you put up with my shit and Jimin’s shit—and don’t think he hasn’t told me about the animal shelter. You could have fallen into...whatever this is with some abandoned cat or dog and adopted it, but instead, you found me, I guess.”
“So you’re an abandoned puppy?”
“I’d like to think I’m more of a cat,” Yoongi laughed, pulling away and looking anywhere but at Namjoon. “But I just mean...I don’t know,” he shook his head. “You’ve helped me out the most since I’ve been here, but you don’t act like it. And I like that about you. That you see me as a person and not a patient or some sick guy who’s going to hold you back.”
Namjoon smiled. “The only thing I’ll hold back is your hair when you throw up, Yoongi,” he reached out to pull on some of the long strands. “And when you get it cut, I won’t even have to do that.”
Yoongi grinned and tugged his head and hair out of Namjoon’s grasp. “Come on. I should get going. Can’t miss Jungkook possibly kicking Taehyung out of yoga.”
“Yeah,” Namjoon agreed, standing up and offering Yoongi a hand. “That’s the best part of yoga days.”
Yoongi paused, but took Namjoon’s hand.
And if Namjoon’s heart beat double time, Yoongi didn't point it out.
Hoseok squeezed Yoongi’s knee. “You ready?” he whispered. There were only three other people from the program graduating this week. The room was big, though: big enough for all the other residents, staff, and relatives who wanted to come. Yoongi’s family was sitting in the back. His grandma had shuffled in with her walker forty-five minutes early with a “Con-GRAD-ulations” card stuffed with a crisp twenty dollar bill.
Yoongi blinked back at his family, and then turned to Hoseok. “I’m going to go home, and I’m going to eat my entire body weight’s worth of my grandma’s baked oatmeal.”
Hoseok laughed. “Really? That’s the food you missed? I’m going home and eating cheese puffs.”
“You can get those in the vending machine.”
“Yeah, but not a big bag.”
“Would you two shut up?” Seokjin snapped. He was standing by the door, half to make sure he could bolt out of the room on a moment’s notice and half to watch over the residents. “You’re missing your own graduation.”
“Hoseok Jung,” the rehab director announced. The room erupted into polite applause. Yoongi clapped Hoseok on the back as he stood up to go accept his diploma.
As Hoseok shook hands with Keone, Yoongi couldn’t help but notice how much stronger Hoseok looked than when he first met him. There was a confidence in his movements. His chin was held high, despite the pain Yoongi knew he must be feeling. Hoseok threw up a thumbs up towards the audience before leaving the stage. Yoongi shot him a thumbs up back.
“Next up, Yoongi Min.”
Yoongi stood up. His grandma cheered for him, loud enough to be heard from the back of the room. “Good job, Yoongi, honey!”
Yoongi blushed and dug his hands in his pockets. He refused to look at anyone while he accepted his diploma. However, as soon as he was back in his seat, he held his graduation certificate out in both hands, a tiny smile working its way up on his face. Hoseok bumped their shoulders together.
“Nice work, kid,” Hoseok said.
“Not so bad yourself,” Yoongi replied.
The rest of the ceremony passed by quickly. Yoongi stood up with his diploma during the final applause, and before he could make it out of the aisle, someone crashed into his back, sweeping him off his feet. “H- holy fuck,” Yoongi stammered.
“Congratulations!” Namjoon exclaimed, squeezing him tight. Yoongi felt the air rush out of his lungs. Fortunately, Namjoon set him down quickly, and Yoongi turned to face him. For the first time ever, Namjoon wasn’t in his work clothes. Instead, he was in a stupidly soft sweater and dress pants. Suddenly, Yoongi felt under-dressed in his oxford and slacks.
Meanwhile, Namjoon was smiling at him like an idiot.
“I’m so proud of you! You fought tooth and nail for this. You really earned it!”
“Um.” Yoongi didn’t know what to do with the praise. “Thank you.”
Namjoon’s face turned panicked. “You’re not going to cry are you? Please don’t cry again, you’re too cute to cry.”
“I’m not going to cry,” Yoongi snapped, shaking Namjoon off. He realized how uptight he was acting a moment too late and let his shoulders relax. “But, um… It is kind of overwhelming? Like, I get to go home.”
“Well, not for long,” Namjoon said. “We’ve got a trip to go on.”
Yoongi fought to keep his expression neutral. He lifted an eyebrow. “Yeah, I suppose… But first, you have some people to meet.”
Namjoon’s smile dropped. “Who?”
Namjoon looked momentarily terrified as he turned to greet Yoongi’s family. “Oh,” he said nervously. “Hello, um… Yoongi’s parents, and… and grandma? Hello.”
Yoongi stepped forwards. “Mom, dad, gram… This is Namjoon. He volunteered here while I was a patient. Namjoon, this is my mom, dad, and my grandma.”
“The bird-watching grandma?” Namjoon asked.
“The bird-watching grandma,” Yoongi’s grandmother confirmed, reaching out over her walker to shake Namjoon’s hand. “Did you take care of our Yoongi well? Or is he going to complain about you as soon as you leave?”
Namjoon laughed awkwardly. “Um, yes. Both. Yes.”
“I love complaining about Namjoon,” Yoongi said. “But he’s a good kid. He’s the one taking me hiking.”
His grandmother gasped. “Oh, to see the harlequin ducks?”
“With any luck,” Namjoon said.
“Well, you’ll need a lot of it,” Yoongi’s grandmother said. “It’s pretty rare to see any paddlings up in the mountains. But it’s not completely unheard of. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.”
“Um, hello,” Yoongi’s dad cut in. “This is about Yoongi’s graduation, not bird-watching. Let’s pack up and head out of here. I’ve got reservations at an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant. We need to move. ”
Yoongi’s mom snorted, and then turned to Namjoon. “Namjoon, dear, would you want come with us?”
Namjoon jumped. “What?”
“Of course he would,” Yoongi’s grandmother demanded. “He’s Yoongi’s boyfriend; they probably want to spend as much time as possible together.”
“ What?” Namjoon asked again, panicked.
“You should come,” Yoongi said, taking Namjoon’s hand and squeezing it. “A couple that eats together, stays together.”
“Um, okay, I’m in,” Namjoon said, but his eyes stayed on Yoongi. “Sushi sounds great.”
“See, I knew I liked you,” Yoongi said. “You like all the important things.”
“What is that?” Namjoon asked. “Birds and sushi?”
Yoongi let his eyes drag purposefully over Namjoon, taking in his long legs and well-proportioned figure. “Amongst other things.”
“Did you just visually defile me? Your parents are standing two feet away, ” Namjoon said, aghast.
“Okay, I think that’s our cue to get out of here,” Yoongi’s dad said. “Let’s rendezvous at the car. We can all drive together.”
“Sounds like a plan. I’m ready to get out of this place,” Yoongi said.
Namjoon squeezed his hand. “You are.”
“You worked hard for it,” Yoongi’s mom agreed.
“Yeah.” Yoongi paused and looked around the room. Something slimy wriggled in his stomach. He frowned. Maybe he wasn’t as ready to leave as he thought he was. “You know what… Can you actually give us a minute? I just want to look around a little, and there’s some people I still have to say goodbye to.”
“Sure thing,” his mom said.
“I’ll be in the car,” his dad grumbled.
“Cool,” Yoongi said. “Come on, Namjoon.” As they walked away from Yoongi’s family, Yoongi winced. “Sorry about my dad. He gets really grumpy when he’s hungry.”
“No problem,” Namjoon said. “Want to say goodbye to Taehyung and Jimin?”
“And Jungkook and Seokjin,” Yoongi said. “Hoseok and I are actually hanging out tomorrow.”
“Yoongi!” Yoongi looked up just in time to see Taehyung waving at him from the corner of the room. He was standing with just about everyone Yoongi cared about: Jimin, Seokjin, Jungkook, and Hoseok. Yoongi’s heart swelled at the sight of them all smiling at him, and suddenly, his chest felt crushed.
Yoongi pushed his bangs off his forehead with a shaky hand. “Hey, there’s the man of the hour,” Jungkook said, smiling brightly, until Jin clapped politely and Jungkook seemed to remember how close they were standing. Yoongi watched his face pale and his shoulders slump.
Jungkook was too shy for his own good. Yoongi shared a look with Hoseok across the circle. “Hey.”
“I can’t believe you’re still here,” Jimin said brightly, pulling Yoongi forcibly into the middle of the group. He whipped him into a fierce hug. “You kept saying you wanted to get out of here as fast as possible; I thought you would leave without saying goodbye.”
“Well, of course I have to say goodbye,” Yoongi said, feeling sick to his stomach. “I’m going to miss you guys.”
Seokjin snorted. “What? Why?”
Jimin let go, and Yoongi frowned. “Because I’m leaving.”
“Yeah, but I’ll see you for physicals all the time,” Seokjin said. “If you don’t come in, I will hunt you down.”
“And didn’t you sign up for my Tuesday/Thursday yoga class?” Jungkook asked. Yoongi shrugged. “Great! So I’ll see you then. And at my Christmas party! Everyone is invited to my Christmas party. My mom is making apple tarts and everything.”
Yoongi fixed the most bored expression on his face possible. “Wow, sounds amazing,” Yoongi drawled. But honestly, his heart fluttered a little bit. As Yoongi fell into place amongst his friend, Namjoon pinched his hip: right behind him and as supportive as ever.
“You stupid idiot,” Hoseok spoke up. He looked tired, but happy. “You’re graduating rehab, not dying. We’ll all see each other real soon.”
“When I get out of here, I’ll throw a good party,” Taehyung promised. “Unlike Jungkook’s mom’s Christmas party.”
“You’ll all have fun, I promise,” Jungkook said, his eyes flickering to Seokjin awkwardly.
“I’m sure we will,” Seokjin promised.
“And we can always text. And hang out!” Jimin promised. “Taemin and I still hang out all the time, and he graduated ages ago.”
Taehyung stopped poking Jungkook’s cheek long enough to frown at Jimin. “Who’s Taemin?”
“No one as cute as you, sweetheart, don’t you worry,” Jimin said cheekily, but once again, Yoongi found himself sharing a look with Hoseok across the circle. They both snickered behind their hands.
“What?” Namjoon asked.
“Nothing,” Yoongi promised quietly, and then cleared his throat to address the whole group. “So, um… I guess this isn’t goodbye,” he realized, not feeling quite so anxious anymore. This group of people were his first friends: the first people who saw him as more than his illness, who could handle his sickness while still acknowledging him as a normal person. He didn’t want to leave them.
“Never,” Hoseok said. “See you tomorrow.”
“See you at the Christmas party,” Jungkook said. “Probably. You still haven’t RSVPed.”
“I’ll be there,” Yoongi promised. “Tell your mom to make an apple tart for me.”
“And for me,” Namjoon said.
“And three for me,” Taehyung agreed.
Seokjin arched an eyebrow at Yoongi for a second, seemingly sensing his inner turmoil. “All right, kid, get in here. You can’t leave without a hug.”
“No,” Yoongi agreed, and quickly moved to hug Seokjin. However, as Seokjin wrapped an arm around him, Yoongi felt Jimin’s weight slam into his back.
“We’ll miss you, too, Yoongi!” Jimin said, hugging his middle, “But it won’t be long!”
“Just a few days,” Taehyung said, throwing himself into the group hug.
“A few hours,” Hoseok agreed, joining in and dragging Namjoon behind him. Yoongi felt smothered, but he didn’t stop Seokjin from grabbing Jungkook by the hair and pulling him into the group hug too.
Yoongi’s eyes burned. His heart felt heavy and light at the same time, but he refused to let go. No one moved until Yoongi was ready to pull back, sniffling to get rid of the tears he had been holding back. “See you soon,” Yoongi said.
“See you soon. Now get out of here,” Hoseok teased.
“Okay,” Yoongi agreed. Namjoon grabbed his hand and started to guide him towards the door. “Goodbye,” he said over his shoulder as he turned.
Jimin laughed. “Later.”
“See you,” Yoongi said, Namjoon’s hand on the small of his back.
“Bye!” Taehyung called.
“Love you guys,” Yoongi said, feet slowing as he reached the door.
“Love you, too!” Jungkook chirped.
Yoongi stopped in the entryway. “Goodbye.”
“Just get out of here, crazy kid. Come in for your physical next week,” Seokjin demanded.
“Come on, Yoongi,” Namjoon said, nudging Yoongi out the door. Yoongi let his feet carry him out of the building, heart swelling. He found himself scrambling for Namjoon’s hand. He clutched it desperately. Namjoon squeezed his fingers, and Yoongi took a deep breath, finding his center.
“I graduated,” Yoongi said quietly, a tiny smile pulling at his lips despite the anxiety he felt now that he was leaving the building. He hadn’t left the hospital’s campus in so long. Namjoon’s steady grip was the only thing keeping him from a full blown meltdown.
“You did,” Namjoon said. “I’m proud of you.”
Yoongi looked out at the trees, staring into the woods—the world at his fingertips. Yoongi could do anything now. He’d been wheeled into this building, and now he was walking out. He could go to school, or get a job, or whatever else he set his mind to. He had the strength and the courage. He had finished strong. Yoongi bit down a grin. “I’m proud of me, too.”
The drive to the trail had been relatively easy, but the first step had been the hardest, if Namjoon had been honest. He’d gotten lost twice on the way to Yoongi’s house and then—and then —he’d had to sit inside with Yoongi’s parents and grandmother (who was still visiting after the graduation three days prior) while he waited for Yoongi to finish getting ready.
Really, how much more ready could he have gotten? It’s just clothes and snacks and a backpack that Namjoon planned to carry if things got rough. There hadn’t been too much planning to do on Yoongi’s part—for once, Namjoon had managed to plan a trip in its entirety without needing anyone else's help. He hadn’t even called his mom.
He was pretty proud of himself.
Regardless, Namjoon had gotten stuck in the living room, sitting awkwardly on the couch while Yoongi’s grandmother asked question after question. They had seemed good natured at first—just something to pass the time and learn more about the boy her grandson had decided to date. But, as they kept going, Namjoon felt more and more as though this simple meeting was actually an interrogation.
Luckily, Yoongi turned the corner out of the kitchen before Namjoon had to answer the (horribly inappropriate) question about his sex life.
“Ready?” Yoongi had questioned, fixing the strap on his backpack, but keeping it on one shoulder to easily throw in the trunk when they got outside.
“ Yes ,” Namjoon squeaked, jumping up from the couch. “It was great to see you all again,” he had addressed Yoongi’s family, “but it’s about a two hour drive, so we should get going! Come on, Yoongi.”
And that had been that.
Yoongi chose the music on the way up—an eclectic mix of rap, pop, and oddly enough, instrumental Disney songs—and they chatted as though they weren’t going to spend the rest of the day hiking up a mountain in the late-December chill.
“I expected more snow,” Yoongi mumbled, wrinkling his nose as they turned off the interstate. The trees around them were leafless, branches bare and brown against the mostly-clear sky. The only remnants of the previous weeks snowfall were a few grossly grey-brown piles along the burm.
“Are you complaining?” Namjoon laughed. “Because I feel like the lack of snow is going to make this better for us both. You’ve never seen me try not to slip and fall on ice and slush before, and I’d rather not have it happen on the first date.”
Yoongi quieted for a moment, brows pinched and mouth turned down. His lips twitched into a smile. “One; I still can’t believe this is our first date. We’ll never be able to top it. And two; if it’s anything like watching you slip on a freshly mopped floor and drop an entire tray full of pudding cups on yourself, I can promise you that I am ready to see you on slushy sidewalks and icy paths.”
Namjoon’s cheeks burned, but there was no way to argue. It had happened and everyone had seen. “Jimin was so mad at me.”
“If I’m being honest, I was mad at you too. That was the last of the pudding and I hadn’t gotten mine yet!” Yoongi laughed, leaning his head against the door window and watching as the houses gave way to more trees and bushes and walls of rock. “Are we almost there? Or is this a deceptive backroad?” But even as he asked, he reached into the center console to bring out Namjoon’s phone, checking the map and GPS information just as the voice rang out through the speakers, cutting off a string version of ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’.
“In 500 feet, turn left. Destination will be on the right.”
“That answers that,” Yoongi settled the phone back down into the cupholder and sat up again, tongue darting out to wet his lips. “I’m nervous,” he admitted as Namjoon turned his blinker on. “I’m...also afraid.”
“And that’s okay,” Namjoon reached over, aiming for Yoongi’s leg before fixing the motion to rest his hand on Yoongi’s shoulder. His arm was bent awkwardly, but he still kept his hand in place as he made the left turn. “We’ll get through this together, Yoongi. You can lean on me.” It was a touchy subject, Namjoon knew: something Yoongi had informed him of—their relationship. This thing that they were. Namjoon wasn’t Yoongi’s candy striper outside of the rehabilitation centers walls. He was just Namjoon. Plain and simple. Namjoon the boyfriend.
He glanced toward the passenger seat.
“Yeah,” Yoongi swallowed, moving to pat Namjoon’s hand with his as they pulled into the dirt and gravel clearing on the side of the road.
“Right,” Namjoon took a breath and turned the car off, starting to fiddle with the key fob. “You ready? I’m guessing it’ll probably take us about three or four hours to get to the spot. The trail guide I spoke to on the phone said they keep this trail pretty clear all year round since it’s the easiest up.”
Namjoon turned his head when the passenger door opened, Yoongi stepping outside as opposed to answering right away. “Let’s go,” Yoongi grunted. “I want to see my ducks. I’ve waited long enough. I’ve worried long enough. It’s time to do something about it.”
Namjoon followed quickly, locking the doors and opening the trunk to get their bags, making sure everything was situated properly. “Alright,” he breathed out, hesitating for a moment before offering his hand over, lips pulling into a hopeful smile. Yoongi stared at it momentarily before he grasped it, squeezing once before letting go and setting off, face set with determination as he started on the trail, glancing at the start sign to make sure he was headed for the lake.
Namjoon’s smile softened, waiting a second before moving to catch up. He didn’t want to be left behind.
There was no way he’d miss any part of this trip: beginning, end, or middle.
And even as he stumbled over seven tree roots within the first forty minutes, he had no regrets.
“You should be more careful,” Yoongi called back, a little breathless already. “I don’t think I could carry you back to the car.”
“You could drag me, though.”
There was a snort and Yoongi slowed to a stop, waiting for Namjoon to finally reach him. “I’d have to do it on my way back down.”
Namjoon paused, head tilting to one side as he studied the back of Yoongi’s head, trying to figure out what his expression would read as. “Are you saying,” he started, finally closing the gap and tugging on the pom-pom at the top of Yoongi’s hat, “that you would still go to the top of the mountain to see your ducks before you’d help me?”
Yoongi turned his head, grinning up at Namjoon and reaching up to fix his hat. “You bet your ass I am. Now come on. I’ll probably need another break soon, but I want to get to the next rock outcrop to do it.”
Namjoon squinted, starting to walk when Yoongi did. “I think there’s a tree trunk up ahead; we can stop there real quick?”
They walked until they reached the fallen trunk, Yoongi dropping down onto it with a heavy sigh, pulling his hat off and pushing a hand through his damp hair. Namjoon paused, glancing up to the sky.
The sunlight broke through the clouds and, for a moment, Namjoon imagined that this was what all those characters in movies and books felt like before they knew.
“You look like what summer should taste like,” he mumbled embarrassedly, not even looking at Yoongi.
It was quiet, suddenly. Nothing but the wind pushing through bare branches and sturdy pine needles. “No wonder you’re learning math, wow. Don’t ever think about going into writing,” Yoongi finally responded, laughing hard enough to make himself hiccup for air. “It’s been three days , Namjoon. Don’t start getting sappy with me.”
“Too late,” Namjoon smiled, chancing a look toward the other and laughing at the fond expression Yoongi was wearing. “Besides, I think you like it.”
“Absolutely not,” Yoongi assured, unable to stop his smile from growing. “I don’t like it one bit. You stop that this second, Namjoon.”
Namjoon reached out, pulling at Yoongi’s goldfinch-patterned binocular strap, forcing the other to lean toward him. Namjoon leaned down as Yoongi got closer, grinning. “ Never .”
But he paused after that, hesitating too long with only a few inches between his own face and Yoongi’s. The moment passed and he let the binoculars bounce against Yoongi’s chest. Namjoon stepped back, pulling the tube for his water out of the holder and biting at the tip, taking a long drink and pretending he hadn’t just thought about kissing Yoongi in the middle of the woods.
“Let’s go,” Yoongi said after a moment, slipping from the trunk and swiping his hands at his butt, working to dislodge dirt and bark chippings before continuing on. Namjoon watched for a moment longer before following along, fixing the drinking tube in his backpack.
And if Yoongi missed a few small pieces of dirt, who was Namjoon to leave them?
“Did you really ask me on a date to find my dream ducks so you’d have a chance to touch my butt?”
Namjoon’s cheeks turned pink, but Yoongi didn’t look back. “I was cleaning off the last off the tree gunk. Leave me alone. You barely even have a butt.”
“You know who does have one, though?”
The pair laughed and, unthinkingly, Namjoon linked their arms, continuing up the trail. The laughter subsided soon enough, leaving them in the quiet sounds of the forest. The crunch of their boots and bird calls. The shifting of trees.
“That,” Yoongi says after a moment, free hand rising to gesture to the left, “was a tufted titmouse. It’s weird; we’re a little high up for them, I think. Maybe that storm earlier in the season really did displace the birds.”
Namjoon nodded along, though he hadn’t noticed anything special in the sounds—he wasn’t the best with call identification. But in a forest like this, the skill was needed; Yoongi was just more in tune with the sounds.
“That seems like a good thing,” Namjoon said instead. “It’ll give us more luck for the harlequins.”
Yoongi sighed happily. He pointed left again. “Do you hear it? Kind of sounds like, uh. What did my grandma say? ‘ Peter, peter, peter ’? That’s a tufted titmouse. Pretty easy to find.”
“If you say it is, then I’m sure it must be. I’m still trying to stop laughing about the name, honestly.”
“Tits are a wonderful family of birds, thank you very much.”
Namjoon didn’t have to look at Yoongi’s face to know he was grinning. “You’re a dork.”
“Yeah, but you like it.”
Namjoon laughed, but didn’t respond, tightening his hold on Yoongi’s arm instead. He’d like to say it was to help steady the other man, but Namjoon really just wanted to hold onto him. He enjoyed the closeness and warmth.
The breeze grew into wind the more they walked, and it was bitterly cold. Standing close shared their body heat and neither man dared complain.
It was quiet. They didn’t talk much. Yoongi’s breath came hard and haggard the more they climbed, puffing out in little clouds of white with every exhale. Namjoon worried, occasionally. He made them stop six more times during the climb.
A few hours in, Namjoon realized Yoongi started holding onto him a little tighter. Namjoon turned his head to watch the other, taking in his expression—brows tight, lips pulled in to worry against his teeth. Yoongi’s cheeks were rosy with the wind. Air seemed difficult to come by, each inhale sharp and labored.
“You okay? Cold? I think I have an extra sweater in my bag? Do you want to stop so we can get it out?”
“Uh—no. No. I’m,” Yoongi paused to take a heavy breath, glancing at Namjoon, then forward again, helping to steer them around a large root system so Namjoon wouldn’t trip. “I’m just...what if they’re not there, Namjoon? I’m exhausted. We’ve got, what? Another twenty minutes to go? We’ve been hiking for almost four hours. What if the ducks aren’t there?”
Namjoon swallowed. “Don’t worry. They’ll be there, Yoongi. We didn’t come this far to miss out on your ducks. If they know what’s good for them, they’ll be there.”
Yoongi didn’t seem convinced.
Namjoon squeezed his arm. “We’re almost there. You said so yourself. Let’s just finish strong; physically and emotionally. Don’t doubt your ability to make it and don’t doubt your ducks.” The words almost sounded rehearsed to Namjoon, but he knew they weren’t. Perhaps they would have been inside the center, when he didn’t hold Yoongi’s hand and delivered pre-portioned meals and crappy books from a squeaky-wheeled cart. But now—now, Namjoon said them from a different viewpoint.
He kept his grip strong on Yoongi's arm.
Yoongi pulled a sharp breath. “Yeah. Okay. You’re right. Finish strong. Finish strong.”
It was a resurgence of strength that finished their climb. The cold air brisk and brittle in their lungs. They stopped only one more time, Namjoon forcing them when Yoongi’s legs shook a little too much.
“We need to go,” Yoongi protested, making to stand even as Namjoon forced him back down.
“We need to warm up. My mom gave me a thermos with hot cocoa, so just sit and drink. We’ll get through half of it and then power the rest of the way up. The ducks aren’t going anywhere.”
“Yeah, but what if they are ?”
Namjoon raised a brow. He shook the thermos in Yoongi’s direction, watching him with an absolutely unimpressed expression until the other man took a long drink.
“Damn,” Yoongi mumbled, handing the thermos to Namjoon so the other could take a sip. “Your mom makes amazing hot chocolate. What is that? Peppermint?”
“And cinnamon. Might sound gross, but with the right amount of whipped cream? Man, it’s the best.”
Yoongi took the drink back, apparently unable to argue. The thermos was empty before he was ready to get up, puffing a hard breath from his nose. “Okay.”
“Let’s go see my ducks.” Yoongi offered his hand to Namjoon, squeezing when Namjoon gripped on.
And they walked, slow and steady. The mountain was steeper there; a bigger challenge.
They crested to the sound of quacking.
“Oh my god,” Yoongi gasped, eyes widening at the sight.
“Yeah,” Namjoon breathed. He wasn’t able to focus on one duck at a time, eyes drawn to them all as they paddled slowly around in the small lake. The temperature was supposed to drop within the next few days. Soon, the ducks would leave, heading to better feeding prospects by the ocean shore.
But for now, while they were here, Yoongi wordlessly raised his binoculars, focusing on a small group to the side and, after a moment, Namjoon followed, watching the ducks through his own binoculars.
They were quiet, then, just watching the ducks. Or at least Yoongi was.
Namjoon had stopped after a few minutes, too focused on Yoongi’s reactions. The steadiness in his stance. The set of his jaw.
“Hey,” Namjoon tried, not wanting to raise his voice about a whisper. Even so far from the ducks, he didn’t want to scare them. “Yoongi, hey.”
His response was little more than a grunt.
“Can you put those down for a moment,” and he knew he sounded closer just by the way Yoongi jerked, turning quickly to watch Namjoon, eyes still wide.
“My ducks,” he mumbled, breath catching.
“I know,” Namjoon assured, leaning down to close the space between them.
The kiss was short and dry, their lips too chapped from the bitter cold to make it fun, but there was definitely something about it. The wind blew, biting and cold. The ducks quacked.
Yoongi swallowed. He broke the kiss, turning his head to the pond and watching the ducks for another moment before looking back to Namjoon.
“In front of my ducks .”
“Well, I wasn’t sure what could have topped seeing them, but I thought a kiss was probably a good bet,” Namjoon knew he sounded embarrassed. He could feel the heat on his cheeks.
Yoongi laughed, pushing Namjoon away and struggling his way to a large rock, sitting down slowly and stretching his legs out in front of himself. He brought his binoculars back up, watching the ducks again. “Next time it better be to, like. Propose or some shit like that. We’re not ruining my ducks again for anything short of marriage.”
Namjoon snorted, trying to follow Yoongi, but only managing to stumble over smaller rocks before he gave up and just stood off to the side. “That’s a long way off, you know. This is only the first date.”
Yoongi hummed, pointing out at the pond and the ducks.
“I think there’s a bufflehead in there.”
Namjoon perked up, lifting his own binoculars to be able to see it. “What? Where? I love buffleheads! They’re so dumb looking!”
“Would you say they’re your favorite bird?”
Namjoon hummed, thinking about it for a moment. “Yeah, probably. I mean, once you see how dumb they look, you’ll change your mind.”
Yoongi laughed. “This coming from mister ‘a duck is your favorite bird? You have a favorite bird?’ Like excuse me for having a fully cultured life.”
“How do you even remember that?”
“I remember everything, Namjoon.”
Namjoon laughed, fixing his binoculars on the bufflehead swimming around the mass of harlequin ducks. “How many are there?”
“Probably thirty,” Yoongi speculated, humming contentedly while he watched the ducks swim lazy circles. “Which is thirty more than I thought I’d ever see in the wild.”
“You can put it on your life list now.”
Yoongi paused, looking over and leaning to tug on Namjoon’s binocular strap. “You know what that is?”
Namjoon’s smile was small and embarrassed, but he nodded. “Yeah. Yoongi, I didn’t do sub par research. You’ll learn how to look shit up properly when you start classes in a month—are you ready?”
Yoongi took a breath. He tugged on Namjoon’s neck strap again. Namjoon stumbled sideways and against the rock, knees cracking noisily on the stone and a pained snort of air pushing up through his lips.
Their second kiss was better.
Still chapped lips.
Still chilled to the bone.
Still needing to walk back down the mountain.
But Yoongi pulled away, turning back to watch the ducks swim in patient circles. Still, Yoongi’s hand found Namjoon’s. “I’m ready for more than that,” he said, linking their fingers together. “I’m ready for anything.”