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your laughter, in ink

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The first time, Hoseok stares at the note for a full two minutes just trying to comprehend what it’s asking of him.

Hello neighbor! the sunny yellow paper says in pink glitter ink, do you happen to own a really sharp butcher knife or, preferably, a cleaver? If yes, please leave it on the doorstep of the unit next to you on the right ( 2F , NOT 2D!) and knock three times. If no, then only knock once.

Thank you!

Hastily scrawled along the bottom of the page are a few more lines in smaller print, added like an afterthought. Hoseok squints at it:

PS. I’m not a serial killer. I promise no one’s dying tonight, except for this pork that I’m having for dinner. OK. That’s not true either. The pork is already dead when I bought it and completely frozen (AKA IMPOSSIBLE TO CHOP INTO PERFECT TINY PIECES), hence the need for something sturdier than the knife I own.

- V

Hoseok doesn’t own a cleaver. He’s also pretty sure the knife he has isn’t a butcher knife, just a regular kitchen one, but honestly he's not an expert in differentiating the things.

Pushing his way inside his tiny apartment, he drops his grocery bags onto the kitchen counter that also functions as his dining table. It’s just a small unit; living room and kitchen practically joined, cramped toilet and shower stall, and a narrow room just enough for a single bed and a closet. Hoseok has only been living here for five months going on six, and he hasn’t really been acquainting himself with any of his neighbors, including whoever is living in 2F.

Still, he finds himself opening his cupboards in search of a notebook because he’s helpful. He rips a clean page off of his college algebra notes from several years ago, something he’s never really made use of, and writes down instructions on thawing meat. Maybe that'll help more.

He pauses after. Then he signs it not with his name, but with a drawing of a sun with a heart-shaped smile.

He folds it in half and leaves it on the doorstep of 2F, the words For V, good luck!! written on it.

Then he knocks on the door three times, because knocking once might mean his neighbor won’t come out at all, and then heads back into his apartment to sort out his groceries.

 

*

 

He’s in the middle of eating breakfast the following morning when he hears three knocks on his door.

Frowning, he swallows his mouthful of food and goes to answer it.

On his doorstep is a folded paper flower.

Hoseok bends down to pick it up, realizing that it’s of the same paper he found taped to his apartment door the day before. He begins smiling to himself as he inspects the flower, brows raising curiously when he sees a hint of ink in between one of the folds.

Carefully he undoes the folding, smoothing out its creases. Then he sees the same handwriting from yesterday say:

NOT ALL HEROES WEAR CAPES!!! Thank you, dinner was a success and we probably avoided a complete disaster by not giving me potential murder weapons. You’re better than the internet!

He laughs as he steps back into his unit, lightly closing the door behind him. The person behind the note appears to have drawn a plate of what Hoseok assumes is cooked pork after the message, and below it is their signature once more. V.

Hoseok returns to eating his breakfast with a lighter feeling in his chest.

 

*

 

Okay, he writes the following day, on fancier paper he bought from the craft store on his way home from the dance studio, but how are you sure that I’m NOT wearing a cape?

True, is the response the following morning, followed by doodles of a cartoonish face deep in thought and several question marks in thought bubbles. So. Are you?

Hoseok grins as he plops down on his couch, holding the note above his face.

The exchange continues from there.

 

*

 

Sometimes, even dancing is too much.

But only sometimes.

Hoseok truly doesn’t think he can love anything more than the feeling of moving his body to an accompanying beat and letting himself get lost in the rhythm. Hours of practicing as a young boy, even if it meant less time for play in order to finish his homework before bed, and pushing to form a modest crew of nine during his teenage years have led him to determinedly pursuing dance as a profession. One college degree and several rejected applications later, he’s now an instructor in a decent dance studio in a place he’s worked hard to turn into home. He’s content, he really is, and his love for dance has only grown stronger throughout the years.

But sometimes, very rarely, it gets too much.

At the end of the day on those rare days, when it’s just him and his reflection sitting on the polished floor, shirt clinging to him with sweat and muscles aching, he thinks about taking a break and just running away for a little bit. Maybe back to his original home where his mother would welcome him with her familiar warmth, or to some place completely new where he’ll spend days trying to remember where the best restaurants are.

Maybe even his little apartment would do. Lock the door, pull out all the food he shouldn’t eat too much of from his fridge, throw all the pillows and blankets onto the living room floor for a fort, and turn his favorite movies on.

But the kids need him, stubborn though they can be, the same way he needed his instructors when he was young to guide him. And most of the time, all the not-quite-happy feelings fade the moment someone turns the music on and his body moves, goes through all the familiar motions while simultaneously creating new ones on the spot.

So he’s fine. Sometimes it just takes a bit of reminding, but he’s fine.

 

*

 

There isn’t a single note taped to his door.

He tries not to be disappointed.

His stranger of a neighbor, V if the signatures on every note are to be trusted (Hoseok doesn’t, because who would have a single letter for a name really, but he also thinks they aren’t at a point yet where he can just outright ask for a name), isn’t obligated to leave him messages every other day just because they’ve been doing so for the past two weeks. Hoseok tells himself this.

Sighing, he pushes open the door, the strap of his backpack slipping off one shoulder. When he steps in, he almost slips when the soles of his shoes meet something a lot more slippery than his floor.

He catches himself just in time on the doorframe, wide eyes taking in the numerous heart cut-outs on his floor in various colors. Hurriedly he lifts his feet off the ones he stepped on, sighing in relief when he sees no serious damage done.

His neighbor must’ve slipped all of these through the slim crack between the bottom of Hoseok’s unit door and the floor. After toeing off his shoes and setting them aside along with his backpack, Hoseok kneels down and picks up the paper hearts one by one.

It’s gonna be a good day!

Smile~ :D

YOU ARE A HERO, CAPE OR NO

Hey, you mentioned in your note yesterday about feeling a little tired recently, so I hope these will help even a little ♡

One by one Hoseok goes through the hearts and counts a total of 32. The last one doesn’t even have a message, just a red heart with a face drawn on it, and Hoseok finds himself laughing.

That night he tries his hand at drawing and manages a cartoonish face with a heart-shaped smile once again. He writes Thank you and leaves it at that, before making a mental note to drop by the flower shop after work tomorrow.

 

*

 

Hoseok feels nervous as he leaves the small bouquet of hydrangeas in front of apartment 2F along with the thank you note.

He walks into his apartment before he can question himself, heart pounding so much he could throw up with it, but there’s also a sense of victory thrumming in his veins as he leans against his closed door and takes several deep breaths.

It’s just a thank you, he tells himself. V took the time to cut out all those hearts for Hoseok and write short encouraging messages on every single one. Of course Hoseok is going to show them that it’s really appreciated. It’s normal. It’s just a thank you.

It’s just a thank you.

 

*

 

One factor that went into Hoseok’s decision of getting this apartment unit is the walls.

Spending the first few years of his college in a dorm full of hormonal boys and the next four after that living beside a couple that argued every other night have taught him that it’s better to not overhear. That way, no one can complain back at him when he plays his music a little too loudly and dances his worries away in his living room.

Now though, he wonders about his neighbor. What kind of music do they like? Do they sing when they think no one is listening just as loudly as Hoseok does? Do they have conversations with people, friends who visit maybe, relatives on the phone, or even a pet?

What do they sound like?

Part of Hoseok thinks it’s creepy to fixate this much on his faceless, nameless neighbor.

Part of him wants to walk out there right now, knock three times on the door, and greet his neighbor properly with a hello.

But something holds him back. Something makes him hesitate on the way out, makes his hand pause hovering over the doorknob, makes him blink blankly at the plain white paint of his door.

Then he pulls back and thinks, some other day, and sits on his couch to mentally go through the routine for the next dance he’ll be teaching his class.

He falls asleep like that.

 

*

 

There’s a man standing outside of 2F’s door one afternoon, looking like he’s just about to leave.

Hoseok freezes in the middle of the hallway, paper bag clutched to his chest. Dance practice ended abruptly that day due to a false fire alarm, and by the time everything calmed down, no one was really in the mood to continue dancing. Not even Hoseok, and not even the eager college kid in his advanced classes named Jungkook who can rival Hoseok when it comes to dancing stamina.

So they called it a day and sent everyone home with promises to work even harder in the next session. Hoseok had taken his time on the walk back and decided to have another look around the craft store he bought the fancy paper from all those weeks ago. He’s surprised the employee working behind the counter, a tall man with a dimpled smile whose name tag read ‘Namjoon’, even remembered him.

On impulse, Hoseok bought a small sketchpad with a plain white cover, along with three sheets of cute stickers. Stars, flowers, and cats. Pretty cute, if you ask him.

In their recent exchanges, Hoseok has noticed that V is doodling a lot more pictures along the margins of their notes. They’re usually of cartoonish animals or make-believe creatures (the heart-faced character with the ever-changing body is Hoseok’s personal favorite). V has a hand for it, he thinks.

He also thinks V might appreciate these gifts. It might be weird, leaving someone you don’t really know a pretty pricey present for no reason at all. Hoseok doesn’t dwell on it too much, though. He knows he can’t explain this off, unlike the flowers which he gave as thank you. This… this isn’t so easy to rationalize.

(Or maybe it is, if he were brave enough to acknowledge the simple truth that he’s getting attached to someone he doesn’t even know the name or face of.)

But he doesn’t dwell on it. He doesn’t.

He doesn’t know what that says about him.

He would’ve left the paper bag by 2F’s doorstep and be on his way as usual, except now there’s a man and he’s staring back at Hoseok staring at him. He has faded blue-green hair and a soft-looking face, dressed in a red sweater paired with jeans so worn-down the color is almost completely washed out. His eyebrow quirks, like he’s asking Hoseok what his deal is, and that snaps Hoseok out of his staring.

Frantically, he bows his head in both greeting and apology as he hurries past the man to his own apartment. Is this V? He doesn’t think so. Hoseok has never really imagined what V would look like, but he doesn’t think this is it. He just has a feeling.

“You live there?” the man asks quietly, surprising Hoseok.

He almost drops his keys. “Uh, yeah. You?”

“No,” the man says, confirming Hoseok’s suspicions with a small shake of the head. “I was just dropping by to see my boyfriend. It’s been a while.”

For the second time that afternoon, Hoseok freezes in place, keys in the lock. The words ring in his head.

This man is visiting his boyfriend, the tenant in 2F. The tenant in 2F is V, his neighbor.

V has a boyfriend.

Hoseok can’t explain the way his chest suddenly feels hollow.

Still he smiles, politely bids the man goodbye, and steps into his apartment. He leaves the paper bag from the craft store on his coffee table and doesn’t look at it for the rest of the night, busying himself with preparing dinner.

He ends up cooking too much, which is fine. The employee from the bookstore across their studio who he shares lunch breaks with, Seokjin, might appreciate a home-cooked meal tomorrow.

 

*

 

The notes don’t really stop, but they do lessen.

Hoseok says work has been tiring him out, and he receives several folded flowers outside his doorstep the next day, along with a simple FIGHTING!!! written on a note taped to his door. He’d be lying if he says it doesn’t make his heart flutter, but then he pushes the butterflies away and reminds himself that V already has a boyfriend. He’s just friendly, and it’s not his fault that Hoseok got a little too attached.

Still, he gathers all the flowers and the note, carefully places them inside a drawer where he keeps all of his neighbor’s other messages. He wonders if V keeps all of the notes Hoseok sent too, hides them away somewhere, or if he just throws them out after reading.

Then he forces himself to stop wondering.

 

*

 

Taking a vacation starts sounding more and more like a good idea.

Hoseok doesn’t know where he would go, though. The beach, perhaps. Or an amusement park. Maybe the mountains?

Or maybe he can ask Seokjin to come with him, since he’s the closest to a best friend that Hoseok has in this place. Jungkook, too, since the kid is growing more attached to him with every practice session that they run through. Maybe he can strike up a friendship with Namjoon as well and ask if he wants to tag along.

Hoseok isn’t lonely, not really. He’s surrounded by good people a lot of the time.

But sometimes it’s difficult to just really connect , to not feel as though everything is superficial.

He thinks about telling V all of this, but then his doubts start creeping in and tell him, maybe that’s been superficial all along, too.

 

*

 

The next time Hoseok sees V’s boyfriend, he thinks he sees V, too.

Because, well. Who else would the boyfriend be kissing right at 2F’s doorstep?

Hoseok can’t help the way his steps falter. It’s already nearing dinnertime, Hoseok having passed by the craft store again to try and be friends with Namjoon. It looks like the boyfriend stayed longer this time.

The other person, the one Hoseok is assuming is V, has a headful of blond hair that looks rumpled as though he’s just rolled out of bed. He’s also practically drowning in his sweater, and Hoseok forces himself to look away.

“I’ll visit you at your studio tomorrow,” V says, “how does lunch sound?”

“Lunch sounds great,” the boyfriend replies.

Hoseok glances at them out of the corner of his eye, sees the way the two are swinging their hands between them, linked at the pinky. He tries to hurry in getting his door unlocked, but it only causes a loud rattle of his keys that catches the couple’s attention.

They look at him.

Hoseok, reluctantly, looks back and offers a shaky smile.

The boyfriend nods at him in greeting. V simply smiles politely in return, before returning his gaze to his boyfriend. Nothing else.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Yoongi-hyung?”

“See you tomorrow.”

Hoseok finally manages to open his door.

The boyfriend, Yoongi if he’s heard right, starts walking down the hall with one final wave. “Bye, Jiminie.”

Hoseok steps inside and closes the door behind him.

Jimin, he thinks . That’s V’s real name. And his boyfriend said it in such a familiar way, Bye Jiminie, as though it holds all the fondness in the world. Hoseok doesn’t even feel like he’s allowed to say it.

Especially not when V looked at him like he was nothing more than a stranger.

 

*

 

The universe works strangely.

It’s a week later when Hoseok walks into their apartment building and sees a young man sitting by the foot of the stairs. Hoseok has never seen him before, but then again Hoseok has never seen a lot of people in this apartment building either, so there’s nothing too odd about that.

Really, there’s no reason for him to stop.

But instead of walking up back to his own apartment, he doesn’t.

The young man has a striking face, features so proportionate Hoseok has to blink several times just to see if he’s seeing right. His brown hair falls softly over his forehead, lower lip jutted out in a pout. He also appears to be wearing pajamas.

He looks up and catches Hoseok’s gaze, and a friendly smile replaces his pout. “Hello!”

“Uh, hi.” The plastic bag hanging from Hoseok’s wrist, full of instant noodles he had been planning to eat for lunch on this fine Sunday, suddenly seems less urgent. He takes a seat beside the young man on the steps. “What are you doing out here?”

“Roommate kicked me out so he could get fucked,” is the young man’s explanation, straight-to-the-point.

Hoseok is shocked for all of two seconds before he’s bursting out laughing. Countless memories of sitting outside the hallway as his dorm roommate did unspeakable things with a faceless fling resurface, and he smiles in sympathy. “So you got sexiled.”

A slow nod. “I got sexiled.”

“But it’s barely noon?”

“Getting dicked down waits for no time, apparently.”

Hoseok laughs again. And then something else registers. “Wait, roommate?”

“Yeah,” the young man grins, shaking his head slightly to get his hair out of his eyes. Hoseok’s gaze follows the movement and he feels a lump form in his throat. “My best friend and I live together, though at the rate his relationship is going he might be moving in with his boyfriend soon.”

“Isn’t it too cramped to have two people in one of these units?”

The young man shrugs. “Yeah, but we’re used to it. We’ve been sleeping in the same bed since we were dorming together, anyway.” Then he smiles. “I’m Taehyung, by the way.”

Hoseok nods. “I’m Hoseok.”

They shake hands. Taehyung’s hand is large but his palm feels soft, and now that Hoseok is looking more properly he sees that there’s a youthful glow to Taehyung’s face despite the deep timbre of his voice. Hoseok’s fingers tingle when they let go.

“How long have they been at it?” he asks.

Taehyung checks his wristwatch and hums. “About forty minutes.”

“Damn.”

“Honestly, the only reason I’m letting them live right now is because hyung is going to leave again for another photography project, and Chim’s gonna be all pouty at me until he gets back.”

“Which is going to be how long?”

“A month and a half, is what I heard. They’ll probably have Skype sex or something, but the more I let them fuck it out now the less likely that’ll be.”

Hoseok has already lost count of how many times he’s laughed for the duration of this conversation. Taehyung seems pleased, though, lips stretched so wide it looks as though his smile is taking up half of his face. It makes him look younger, less like the ethereally gorgeous person Hoseok first saw, but still as gorgeous.

Something just clicks. Hoseok is already comfortable with this stranger, and he wonders why he never spent any time actively seeking out people he could befriend in his apartment building.

“Taehyung.”

Hoseok turns his head at the same time as Taehyung, and his mouth falls open when he spots V’s boyfriend— Yoongi, his brain supplies—standing there. His cheeks look pleasantly flushed, a black face mask pulled below his chin and all his hair hidden by a ridiculous bucket hat (nevermind the fact that Hoseok himself owns a bucket hat or four as well).

“Yoongi-hyung!” Taehyung says, standing up. “You and Jimin done?”

“Yeah.” Yoongi rubs his nose like he’s embarrassed, before his gaze lands on Hoseok. Recognition flashes in them, and he hesitantly smiles in greeting.

Hoseok just has enough sense left in him to nod in response, mind racing. This is Taehyung’s roommate’s boyfriend? Yoongi? Yoongi is the roommate’s boyfriend? But Yoongi’s boyfriend is V? Jimin? Taehyung’s roommate is V? Taehyung is—

Something else clicks. Hoseok forces his mouth shut.

He pushes himself up to his feet as Yoongi passes by with one final greeting. Taehyung is waving goodbye at Yoongi, and he doesn’t stop until the older has disappeared through the front door of the apartment building.

“Well, looks like I can go back up now,” he says.

“Yeah,” Hoseok hears himself reply, “me too.”

They make their way up the stairs in silence, except Taehyung is humming and Hoseok is internally screaming. Once they reach the second floor hallway, Taehyung stops to look at him. “You live on this floor, too?”

Hoseok nods.

“Oh.” A thoughtful expression passes over Taehyung’s face, before it’s gone. He smiles. “Me, too! What a coincidence.”

So they walk down the hallway together, until Taehyung stops, says, “”This is me.”

Hoseok stares at the plate above the door. 2F .

Taehyung also lives in 2F.

Hoseok feels himself starting to smile, a warm kind of feeling unfurling in his chest. He nods behind him, where the door to his own apartment is, and says, “And that’s me.”

Without waiting for a response, he walks the few steps to get to his unit and unlocks his door. A strangled kind of noise comes from Taehyung, and when Hoseok looks up, the other is gaping at him wide-eyed.

Hoseok can’t help it. He laughs as he opens his door, waving. “It was nice meeting you, V! Or I guess it’s Taehyung, now. I’ll see you around.”

Another strangled noise comes from Taehyung, but this one more high-pitched. Hoseok steps inside and leans against his door once it’s shut, smiling so much his cheeks hurt with it.

Jimin isn’t V, he thinks, and his heart soars .

Taehyung is V. Taehyung .

 

*

 

OH MY GOD?????? the note on his door reads later that day, just as the sun is beginning to sink in the horizon, OH MY GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hoseok laughs, and laughs, and laughs, only stopping enough so he can write his response on the fancy paper he hasn’t touched in what feels like too long.

Yes, he writes, oh my god.

 

*

 

They still don’t make a habit of seeing each other after that, for some reason, deciding to stick to their note exchange for a little longer.

Except now the tone of the messages have changed, albeit just slightly, and Hoseok is living for all of it.

I honestly wasn’t ready for the reality of you looking that hot in person??? WHAT A MAN. btw how old are you?

I was born in ‘94. And hey. You were pretty good-looking, yourself.

♡ ♡ ♡ AW HOSEOK HYUNG ♡ ♡ ♡

Hoseok doesn’t know what they are just yet, but he’d really like to find out.

 

*

 

Hoseok takes an extended weekend off of work so he can go home.

The entire train ride, he spends less time watching the passing scenery outside and more reading and re-reading the note Taehyung left him that morning, imagining him saying it in his head.

Take care!!! I’ll miss you Hobi-hyung ♡

 

*

 

His mom is warm, like she always is.

It’s good. Sitting in the kitchen of his childhood, while being served plate after plate of her cooking to the point where he has to gently push her away and say, Mom, please, I’m full, I’m good, your cooking is amazing, I love you, thank you for everything, are you crying why are you crying I’ll cry too, makes Hoseok remember just how much he loves her. It’s not that he forgets, really, but sometimes he tends to underestimate just how much space his mom takes up in his heart. She laughs and he laughs and at some point his sister calls and says she’s coming tomorrow as well so they can all be together for the weekend.

Hoseok is happy. His mom asks about his dancing, about his friends, about his apartment. He tells her about the newest routine he’s put together, something he’s incredibly proud of, and demonstrates one of the point choreography to her. He tells her about Jungkook who he’s gotten even closer with since the younger started putting in extra hours on Fridays, about Seokjin who started bringing them both home cooked meals for lunch, and about Namjoon who he’s making plans with to go drinking sometime and talk about music.

He also tells her about the apartment, how it’s small but it works, how he’s decorated it to his liking and it feels more like a piece of home now. He tells her about managing to fix the leak in the faucet by himself and learning a few recipes when there’s nothing else to do and how no one has ever yelled at him for playing his music too loudly.

He almost tells her about Taehyung, but he stops, instead smiles down at his half-finished dessert and leaves it at, “I also met someone.”

His mom doesn’t press for details, but she does coo at him until he’s the same color as his hair.

He’s happy. Hoseok is happy.

 

*

 

When he returns, he takes out the sketchpad he bought from the craft store and opens it to the first page. Choosing the best pen he owns, he begins writing, heart in his throat:

Hello Neighbor!

I haven’t been able to get your smile out of my head since we met by the stairs, and I think I’d really like to see it again. So what do you say to maybe talking some more, face to face, but this time with some good food and good music and maybe a bunch of candles, if you’re into that. If yes, please write your number on a note and tape it to the door of the unit next to you on your left ( 2E , NOT 2G!) and knock three times. If no, then only knock once.

Thank you!

PS. I’m not a serial killer. I promise no one’s going to die tonight, except maybe me when I (hopefully) take you to dinner and get to see more of how beautiful you are, both inside and out.

Placing it back inside with the stickers, Hoseok writes For Taehyung on the paper bag.

Then he leaves it outside 2F’s doorstep.

 

*

 

Exactly 18 minutes later, Hoseok hears three knocks on his door.

With sweating palms he goes to open it, feeling nervous but also excited at the thought of finally moving onto texting, but he doesn’t see a number taped to his door.

In fact, he doesn’t see much of anything because Taehyung is jumping onto him the moment the door is open wide enough, pulling his face close and kissing the everloving daylights out of him. Hoseok stumbles, makes a loud screechy noise, and somehow manages to close the door, all without breaking the kiss.

Then he gathers himself and pushes Taehyung up against the wall, returning the kiss, and Taehyung laughs against his mouth as though this is the happiest he’s been.

He spends the afternoon learning the taste of Taehyung’s smile, bright and beautiful.

Taehyung kisses his fingertips and echoes the words right back at him.

 

*

 

“Hoseok-hyung?”

“Hmm?”

“I forgot to tell you this the first time, but you really do have a heart-shaped smile.”