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Kim Namjoon knows exactly one fucking thing about Min Yoongi: the dude gets strawberry themed care packages every month.

Their company's been in this damn jungle for weeks, helping with the humid country's most recent natural disaster. It sounds pretty and neighborly, almost heroic, on paper, but, Namjoon’s been chasing his squad around like an overworked American kindergarten teacher. His squad boasts the average soldier is twenty-one-years-old. The average doesn't take in account his squad has seven eighteen-year-olds and two nineteen-year-olds egging on every bad idea the eighteen-years-old have ever had. He's been busy keeping track of all the little fucks, so Min Yoongi slipped to the back burner. As squad leader, Namjoon's had more pressing things to worry about than a twenty-eight-year-old man who knows how to behave.

Jung Hoseok, the twenty-seven-year-old who watches the teenagers with too much mischief, like he has a horse in that mess, might be friends with Min Yoongi. It's honestly hard to tell. If they were eighteen, Namjoon thinks they would be. Friendships are easier when you're young and know shit all. But Min Yoongi and Jung Hoseok are both career men who know how to be cordial and easy with a colleague without making friendship bracelets and declarations of brotherhood.

Namjoon shoots Minjun and Hyunwoo a nasty glare, the exact opposite of Min Yoongi and Jung Hoseok. They were trained together, and then luck placed them on the same assignment in the same battalion, then company, then platoon, and finally squad. They swore they swore a blood pact to anyone who would listen, like that excuses the fact Yejun woke the entire camp screaming because the little fucks put a golden tree snake in his bedroll, that makes them brothers. They're beyond obnoxious. Today, they accidentally knocked the power out in the entire camp. The company commander is as unhappy as Namjoon's ex was when he announced he finally enlisted for his mandatory service.

Namjoon's pretty done and he wants to kill them.

"Hey, big brother, leader man," Jung Hoseok says teasingly. "You should come sit with us."

Namjoon has responsibilities as squad leader, but it is so tempting.

"Who leaves a generator unguarded anyways?" Hyunwoo asks shrilly.

"We have mango, jok, and coffee," Min Yoongi says.

Namjoon sits with them.

They must have bought breakfast from the locals. One thing about being established in the adult world, Namjoon thinks, is the money. The rest of their squad has been living off the instant meals and piss-poor coffee the army provides them, too poor to afford to buy every meal. The coffee instantly soothes the rage Minjun’s and Hyunwoo’s antics have provoked. Better food would be better for morale, and Namjoon wonders with what officer he can drop that nugget of wisdom.

The kids make Namjoon feel tired, and he’s only twenty-six.

“I feel like we're babysitting. Does it feel like we're babysitting?”

Min Yoongi is a short man with a stare suggesting he’s miles inside himself, thinking about the things that truly matter to himself. He blends into the background well, considering the chaos their camp has been since they hoisted their flag. Jung Hoseok is stretchier with a steely smile. Namjoon noticed Jung Hoseok before, and thought to himself, this is someone important who is nice but not always kind. Both men were easy to distinguish because of how they carried themselves, like confident men with complete lives built for themselves outside of their mandatory military service. Neither man, much like Namjoon, has any hair to speak of, except for the growth of black stubble on their heads.    

The other men in their barracks might sport the same haircut, but they are children. Teenagers with freedom giggles and crass vulgar jokes and patches of acne. Teenagers who think they've got it all figured out, confidently telling each their dreams outside of their military service. It’s enough to make Namjoon want to snort, because the real world is not that easy to bend to whims, but he also wants to encourage their dreams. Just because his dreams were stamped out years ago doesn’t mean one of these kids won’t accomplish their dream of a high-rise apartment and international model wife.

“I heard we have the youngest and oldest recruits, so it’s likely,” Min Yoongi says. Min Yoongi speaks rough and quiet, a little like his voice is tired. It’s odd for someone from the Gyeongsang province. Namjoon can hear the straightforwardness, bordering on aggression, in Min Yoongi’s words, but Namjoon can’t tell if he’s from Busan or Daegu. Namjoon’s college roommate was from Daegu, and he spoke like he was demanding the world to give him his due and listen.

“It's the first time they've been on their own,” Jung Hoseok says, smiling. “They're,” Hoseok shrugs, still smiling. “Enthusiastic.”

Min Yoongi grimaces. His eyebrows pinch and release, a sign of a growing headache. Min Yoongi gets it, Namjoon knows. Yoongi is older than he is. Whatever Jung Hoseok does in the real world, he’s too good at mediating. Namjoon wonders what it would take to drag a real opinion out of him.  

But Yoongi doesn't say the borderline mean and wicked thought his headache is giving birth to. Namjoon wishes Yoongi would say whatever he’s thinking. Yoongi is older, Namjoon has some expectations that Yoongi doesn't seem to care about meeting. What’s the point of a hyung if they aren’t going to take care of you and your problems?

“They'll settle down eventually,” Yoongi says, like he doesn't care. He closes his eyes, like Seokjin did before telling a story about the client from hell. Namjoon looks away, missing and hurting.

To distract himself from the ache growing inside, Namjoon sighs, loud and gusty. He might be twenty-six, but he wants Yoongi and Hoseok to know what he thinks about “letting boys be boys.” He needs aspirin. Would the infirmary give him some?

“Doesn't mean we can't help them out, though,” Jung Hoseok says. Jung Hoseok waggles his eyebrows. Namjoon blinks.

Hoseok must take the blink as permission.

“Hey, listen up, you little shits!” Hoseok begins gleefully.

Maybe Hoseok is the hyung Namjoon’s looking for.

“Gurk!” Hyunwoo squeaks.  

Yoongi snorts, an amused smirk growing on his lips. Namjoon grins. The three of them-- they’re going to be friends, he knows it.

 

 

 

 

 

Mail and the discord that arrives with it comes around Tuesdays.

“Around” because the mail in every country’s military relies on the whims of the forces on the ground, the air, and at times, the sea. Sometimes, Namjoon even suspects some dickhead officer got off on withholding their mail. The master sergeant did threaten they’d regret embarrassing him in front of the first lieutenant.  

"Why should I have to share?" Dohyun asks. The boy clutches his care package from home with a selfishness that doesn't bode well for Namjoon's ability to keep snakes out of the kid's bedroll.

"Aren't we your brothers?" Sungmin asks innocently. "A package from your mother is a package from all our mothers."

Dohyun is sweating. Namjoon thinks maybe he should save him, but he spent their leave night eating and drinking with Yoongi and Hoseok, and he's a little hungover and busy praying the sunburn feeling on his back isn't a tattoo. He vaguely remembers Yoongi saying, "It's a sak yant," a Buddhist monk, and Hoseok's flash of white teeth. Namjoon’s tired.

"No one makes hyung share," Dohyun says and he gestures at Yoongi with his chin.

Yoongi looks wrecked. His pallor is a shade warmer than dead but only just. His undershirt sticks to his back with small beads of blood, and Namjoon's feeling better about the maybe tattoo on his back. He doesn't look awake, not really, and with his care package in his lap, he looks vulnerable and defenseless, and Namjoon’s sure Yoongi will bite the hand of whoever dares to lift his care package from his lap.

"When you're mostly thirty, we won't make you share," Hoseok promises.

Namjoon blinks because that fucker drank more than anyone and he looks as fresh as the eighteen-year-olds surrounding them. Namjoon’s younger than Hoseok, too, what cosmic injustice is this? Namjoon angrily squints at Hoseok.  

"It's from my...girlfriend," Yoongi says, and Namjoon winces, thinking Yoongi needed the pause to swallow down vomit. He sounded fucking rough. "We've been together for five years. Friends even longer. And you want me to share?"

Namjoon's a little surprised it's not a subscription box, even as he mentally adds "long term girlfriend" to the things he knows about Min Yoongi.

"You want him to share a gift from his potential wife?" Sungmin demands aghast. The kid is always ready to tease poor Dohyun. Namjoon will fix that as soon as Hoseok’s handsomely hydrated face stops going in and out of focus. "What kind of animal are you?"

Dohyun flushes and stutters, "N-n-no."

"The future Mrs. Min Yoongi packs her man, because she loves him and doesn't want him to forget her in this paradise country with beautiful women looking for soldier husbands, a box every month, to prove her love and dedication, and you want him to share?" Hoseok demands. "Kid, for just suggesting it, I'm confiscating most of your cookies." He winks at Namjoon, and Namjoon's headache is getting worse with the sun. If Dohyun cries, Namjoon is going to sit on Hoseok's face.

"But--!"

"Such babies," Yoongi groans.

He melts down to lean against Hoseok. Hoseok turns his mischievous smile from Dohyun and it becomes affectionate when he pats Yoongi on the head and trills like a goddamn bird, "Daegu boy, are you hungover?" Everyone ignores that, except Namjoon who adds "from Daegu" to his mental list, too, because Yoongi says, "I asked her to include extra."

"Really?" Sungmin asks hopefully.

While no one would dare make Yoongi share, everyone's watched Yoongi open his care packages with envy. Even Namjoon’s noticed the contents. The last box included six pink cookies that everyone could smell, fruity and sweet. Mouths had watered as Yoongi set the cookies aside to pull out and read a long-ass letter first.

It had been torture.

Yoongi lets his hands answer for him. He opens the package with care. For the contents or because of his hangover only Min Yoongi knows.

His efforts are rewarded by an opaque plastic bag that he immediately hands to Hoseok to open.

"Everyone should get two," Yoongi says.

Namjoon's stomach doesn't like when his eyes follow the bag from person to person, so it's mostly an accident when he focuses on Yoongi. The man is pulling out a letter with a tiny smile on his lips, like the letter is the most important thing to exist. Namjoon ignores the squad's happy exclamations at the-- strawberry marshmallows? -- because now that Namjoon thinks about it, Yoongi never calls home, video or otherwise.

When they started hanging out a month ago, Namjoon learned Yoongi wrote songs for a music label. He wrote enough songs he was a full member of Korea Music Copyright Association. He sometimes helped babysit his label's artists, too, and Namjoon was so busy being impressed, he forgot to ask if that's why Yoongi spends time every night writing. If it's songs he's making and sending in to work.

But now Namjoon is starting to think no. He thinks maybe Yoongi is beyond soft for his girl, so he writes her a little every day, but private enough to not want to talk to her on the phone for only five minutes while guys line up behind him impatiently listen, waiting their turns.

"Here you go, leader man," Jihu says, because Hoseok is an even worse influence on the eighteen-year-olds than the nineteen-year-olds are.

Namjoon takes two treats, and they are marshmallows, and when he bites into one, eyes closed and enjoying the burst of sweet flavor, he hears Sungmin say loudly, "I love the future Mrs. Min Yoongi."

A memory nearly buried under his headache replays on his eyelids:

“She's-- I'd make her mine if I could,” Yoongi hunched his shoulders. The waitress was running for more beer, and there was a soft lull in sound while the cook messed with the radio. “She's the only family I need,” and something about Yoongi’s jaw told Namjoon Yoongi doesn't speak to his parents. “She's got a smile perfect for kissing.”

Namjoon opens his eyes, surprised by the memory. The squad is calming down. Most of their mouths are full. Dohyun’s grip on his care package loosening a little, because Yoongi can be a good role model when he wants to be. He looks curiously at Yoongi, who is reading his letter, looking less dead with every line.

“I expect every one of you to write the future Mrs. Min Yoongi a thank you note,” Hoseok orders sternly.

“Sir, yes, sir!” The squad responds.

 Speaking of good roles models.

 

 

 

 

Namjoon gets to add a little more to his mental list of things he knows about Min Yoongi at dinner a few weeks later.

"My kids," Minkyu says, and he proudly shows them photos of two toddlers playing in a plastic pool somewhere in the country.

Minkyu is twenty with a wife and kids. He calls the kids, twins, a "surprise," and his marriage to his wife "quick." Namjoon, Yoongi, and Hoseok have enough tact to avoid making crass jokes about teen pregnancy, but the fact remains Minkyu has more in common with them than the normal teenage boys. He sits at meals with them, sometimes, when he isn't listening to the fuckwits wistfully.

Namjoon realistically gives Minkyu’s marriage another five years.

"They're beautiful," Hoseok says sincerely.

Hoseok worked in advertising, paid his parents' mortgage off, and says "when I get married" whenever the future comes up. Family matters to him. Namjoon thinks Hoseok wants a home full of kids to meet him at the door and scream "Daddy!" in hello. Namjoon hopes Hoseok gets the future he wants.

One of them should.

"Thanks," Minkyu says shyly.

"What about you, Yoongi? Any kids in your future?" Hoseok asks.

"No," Yoongi shakes his head.

"You don't like kids or something?" Hoseok asks, tone light and friendly. "Your girlfriend okay with that?"

"Kids are fine. I just don't think I'll have any," and the way he says that makes Namjoon's hair tingle. He ignores it. Namjoon’s just being weird, because today is Namjoon’s birthday and he kind of hoped his ex would at least acknowledge it. Somehow. Namjoon’s just fucking projecting. "We have two dogs, though, that are kind of like our kids, and if you count the store, it's like we have three."

"Trust me-- Subin convinced me to get a puppy for the girls, and it's exactly like having another baby," Minkyu says, shuddering.

"The store?" Namjoon repeats with interest.

Namjoon looks at his friend and squadmate closely. Yoongi is private, insanely so. It took Yoongi nearly two months to tell people what his real-life job was, three months before he admitted he had a girlfriend who, double whammy, sent him strawberry themed care packages, and now this? Namjoon doesn’t count the revelation Yoongi’s from Daegu, since it was Hoseok who let that cat out of the bag.  

Yoongi blinks slowly, eyes dark with amusement, like the motherfucker knows he’s the most mysterious member of their company.

"My...girlfriend--" again, that pause like girlfriend isn't the right word, and maybe Yoongi does want to say “wife”. "-- is the majority owner of an artisan store. The artisans make a bunch of strawberry themed items, and she sells them."

"What?" Hoseok laughs a little.

"Strawberry tea, fudge, cookies, honey, candles, marshmallows, chocolate, coffee, lotion, sugar scrubs, bath bombs, shower gel, shampoo and conditioner, plants, socks, hats," Yoongi shrugs, smiling softly, "It's called Strawberry Fields Forever."

“That’s so cool,” Minkyu says admiringly.  

Hoseok laughs loud and boisterous. Namjoon gets it. Naming your strawberry store after a Beatles song is kind of corny. But Namjoon is learning Yoongi’s a soft bastard, so Yoongi probably loves his gooey soft girlfriend to her marshmallow soft core, the Beatles influence included.

"Every summer she'd visit her grandma's strawberry farm to help out," Yoongi continues. "It's how we met. Our grandmas are neighbors."

Namjoon thinks about migrating again, somewhere he can get married and have kids, and closes his eyes because he wants impossible things and it hurts.

"That is fucking adorable," Hoseok says.

“She’s your high school sweetheart?” Minkyu asks. He asks a little desperately, like he wants to believe in his own relationship. As if Yoongi’s successful relationship has anything to do with Minkyu’s. Poor kid.

"Sort of," Yoongi says. He fidgets for a moment before adding, "She's my berry-bee."

Minkyu and Hoseok make strange wheezing sounds like they want to laugh, but they're too afraid. Namjoon chokes. Any man who admits he calls his girlfriend by an endearment that sappy is terrifying. 

"Why are you telling us this?" Namjoon gasps. He forgets the dark cloud that’s been hovering over him all day. Berry-bee.

"Who else would I tell?" Yoongi asks mischievously. “Who can you guys tell who’ll believe you?”

“You’re such a bastard, Daegu boy,” Hoseok says.

 "Heh, yeah, happy birthday, leader man," Yoongi grins.

 

 

 

 

The company is brought back to South Korea for a week’s worth of leave.

“Look at him go,” Hoseok whispers.

Most of the squad was going out to dinner to celebrate their bonds of brotherhood, and because it’s so late the only thing to do is eat and find a place a sleep. Unless you’re Min Yoongi, Namjoon thinks, watching Yoongi book it, nearly running. The guy had a bus to catch, one of the last the station offered for the night.

“Can’t say I blame him,” Namjoon says, careful not to think about the fact he has no one to return to.

What is surprising is how completely Yoongi disappears. Yoongi disappears, and no one can get a hold of him. Not Namjoon and not Hoseok. The texts they send remain unread. They try for three days before giving up.

“His berry-bee must be something, huh?” Hoseok smiles.

“Yeah,” Namjoon swallows thickly. “Let’s get drunk.”

They start with beer at dinner. They progress slowly to the harder stuff as they talk about their lives before the military, their lives during the military, and what they hoped for their lives after. Hoseok's stories about his corporate job are horrifying, making Namjoon glad he freelances. But Hoseok's stories about the pranks he played in basic training makes up for how ruthless he can be. Namjoon laughs so hard his insides hurt. Their discussion about the future is what fucks them up.

Too many cups of something clear and flammable makes Namjoon's vision swim and his fingers numb. He's starting to think getting another tattoo is a great idea. He's about to suggest it to Hoseok, except the slightly older man is curling up on the floor, ready to sleep.

The server is quick to come back, as if she's been waiting for this moment all night, "No, no, honey, you can't sleep here."

Namjoon tries to tell himself he doesn't have a choice and calls Seokjin.

 

 

 

 

 

“--using my shower!” Youngchul says too loudly.

Namjoon tries to nap, head pillowed on Hoseok's shoulder. They're all waiting for their flight, and each member of their platoon slowly fills the chairs by their gate. The kids are loud, though, like little brats back from winter break and comparing presents.

“Sleeping in my own bed!”

“I’m going to drown them in mud,” Hoseok grumbles.

They spent their leave in each other's pockets the entire week, drinking enough booze Namjoon thinks he might still be drunk. He's been nothing but responsible the past few months. He's a fucking squad leader, and after this assignment, there's talk about him being promoted to MPO. But just for one more day, Namjoon needs to curl up next to his hyung and breathe deep.

He still hasn’t recovered from seeing Seokjin a few days ago.

“Hey,” Yoongi grunts and sits on Hoseok's other side.

Namjoon lifts his head enough to get a look at Yoongi.

Yoongi sprawls next to Hoseok, loose and relaxed in a way Namjoon didn’t even think Yoongi capable of. He’s dressed in comfortable civvie clothes, unlike some of the kids who’ve dressed in their uniforms. More surprising than Yoongi’s characteristic disregard of the uniform is the pink sunburn across his cheeks and the tip of his nose.

On a national level, most South Koreans are insanely proud of their skin care regimens. Personal humidifiers sat on office desks. Sheet masks could be an export. Most importantly, no one ever forgot sunscreen. It’s a routine for their whole damn company to apply sunscreen before meals that's how seriously they took skincare.  

“Got some sun?” Hoseok asks.

“Gardening,” Yoongi grunts.

Namjoon wants to give him a hard time. Their entire leave Yoongi ignored them. Shit on the bottom of his shoe received more attention than they did! But Yoongi sits next to them, relaxed and sunburned, nothing about him inviting further conversation or questions, and he smiles. He smiles like he’s carrying a little piece of home next to his heart.

“Good leave?” Namjoon asks.

“Yeah,” Yoongi nods.

“Good,” Namjoon says.

With his head where it is, Namjoon can feel Hoseok’s diaphragm move before he speaks. Namjoon lifts and slams his head down on Hoseok’s shoulder. Hoseok’s words turn into a quiet, “Oof.” He looks down on Namjoon, glaring, so Namjoon grins. On Hoseok’s other side, Yoongi huffs a soft laugh.

“I was ordered to give you guys something,” Yoongi says.

Namjoon lifts his head once more, interest piqued. Yoongi unzips his bag and pulls out two small brown boxes. The boxes have red strawberries stamped on the boxes with a something written largely on the top with black marker.

“Here,” Yoongi says and hands them a box each.

The writing on the box reads:

THANK YOU FOR TAKING CARE OF HIM!!!

XOXO

Namjoon opens the box. Nestled inside is a dessert with tiny glazed strawberries on top of what looks to be cream. It almost looks like a mini pie. Do pies need to have a crust?

“It’s a wild strawberry fruit tart,” Yoongi says helpfully.

“Holy shit,” Hoseok says. “I knew being friends with you would pay off. Where’s my phone? I need to send your girlfriend thank you flowers.”

"Don't send flowers to berry-bee, weirdo," Yoongi says.

"Sending them to her store!" Hoseok sings. 

 Namjoon smiles, happy to be back among friends. 

 

 

 

When they return, it’s like they never left.

The routines are the same. If they aren’t cleaning the area of debris, they are providing clean water and basic first aid, helping secure shelters, or patrolling the area “just in case.” When they aren’t helping the area, they’re running drills or performing PT.

Namjoon’s leaps to leave camp as soon as permission is granted.

Ever since his promotion to corporal, their juniors have been watching him with trusting eyes. They come to him with their problems, and he can’t tell them to take a hike. He’s been tasked with helping his subordinates with anything and everything from sewing a button back on to comforting someone in the throes of homesickness. He can’t even call them fuckwits anymore.

He needs a break.

“I want real food,” Hoseok says eagerly.

“Why not?” Yoongi shrugs.

This market draws crowds from numerous villages, and as always, it’s colorful and loud. The sounds relax Namjoon, and he finds it easy to tease and laugh with his friends. Besides the stress of his promotion, he talked to his mom last night, who said, “You-know-who and I have been getting lunch again. I think you’ll be getting a phone call soon.” It’s hope where before there was nothing. His mom is the MVP.

He’s distracted, so he doesn’t immediately understand what’s happening.

There’s shouting, and Namjoon thinks he recognizes the word for “thief.” People are pushing him against the booth where he was looking at fresh spices for his mom. He can’t see Hoseok or Yoongi.

“Excuse you, fuckhead!” But he hears Hoseok loud and clear.

Namjoon rudely abandons the stall he’s at to find out what’s going on. The uniform doesn’t part the crowd, and it takes him a minute or two to reach his friends. Yoongi is bent over slightly, holding his stomach like he got the air knocked out of him.

“What was that about--”

Yoongi pulls back his arm to reveal a growing dark spot on his uniform.

“Oh, ow, ” Yoongi says.

That’s when the confused shouting starts.

Shit! ” Hoseok says for the both of them.

Hoseok runs to let their commander know Yoongi’s been stabbed . Helping hands help Namjoon find a way to safely transport Yoongi to a hospital. They sit together, Yoongi becoming almost gray.

This is the thing--

No one was ever particularly worried about their personal safety. The uniform protected them, and they were men. The women and the girls, yes, but their own?

Which makes Yoongi getting stabbed shocking.

“You’re going to be okay,” Namjoon babbles.

His hands are wet with blood, trying to keep pressure on the wound. That’s what you’re supposed to do, right? He tries to gauge Yoongi’s health by looking at his face, but he doesn't know enough about fucking stabbings. Yoongi is biting his lip bloody. Trying to keep quiet?

“Hey, hey, don’t do that. You don’t really have blood to spare,” Namjoon chides. He’s not sure why Yoongi feels the need to keep quiet. The other man never subscribed to the same toxic masculinity that lead to some of their younger squadmates to press hot lighters against their skin, branding themselves with pathetic smiley faces. “Think about the future Mrs. Min Yoongi.”

Yoongi shakes his head and says very quietly but also very importantly, “It’d be Mrs. Kim Taehyung. Can you call--”

“Yeah, I’ll let her know,” Namjoon croaks.

Yoongi’s having an affair ?

Yoongi grimaces and closes his eyes. He passes out, and Namjoon doesn't know enough about medicine to know if that’s a good thing or not. Probably not but now Yoongi can’t see Namjoon’s stunned face.  

If Yoongi was dating someone else's girlfriend-- it made so much sense! Yoongi was in love with the love of someone else's life. His “sort of” high school sweetheart! No wonder Yoongi never talks about her, except that she sells strawberry products. If his music label ever found out… Namjoon’s sure Yoongi’s contract includes a morality clause he’d be in violation of.

The process at the hospital is a headache of fear and stress. He doesn’t know the language well enough to explain the situation, and he’s relieved when Commander Lee Changmin arrives with the language rolling off his tongue. He sits on his chair and wonders.

Looks like he can add something else to the list.

 

 

 

 

 

Commander Lee Changmin requests Namjoon’s and Hoseok’s presence in his office. Namjoon assumes it’s to take their statements. To learn what the hell happened, so Commander Lee can tell his superiors and Yoongi’s family.

“There was a man in the market. He was running and pushing people out of the way. People were shouting at him,” Hoseok explains. “I’m not sure what they were saying, but sir, I think Private First-Class Min tried to apprehend him.”

“‘Thief,’” Namjoon supplies softly. “They were calling the guy a thief.”

“Then Yoongi was trying to do the right thing,” Hoseok says.

“Of course he was,” Commander Lee says. “Private First-Class Min has been nothing but upstanding.”

The man taps his desk, and Namjoon’s had enough meetings with potential clients to know when someone wants to say something they aren’t sure they should say. Usually, people are telling Namjoon excuses as to why he needs to lower his prices. Namjoon’s heard every excuse from “We had a new baby” to “But it’s good advertisement for you!”

“Gentlemen...do you know why the private first-class’s emergency contact is a friend and not a family member?”

“No, sir,” Hoseok says.

Namjoon waits too long to lie, so he says, “He’s not on good terms with his parents. Sir.”

“I see,” Commander Lee says. “Min will be recuperating at home, and when he’s fit for service once more, he’ll return.

“Thank you for your time. You’re dismissed.”

They leave the commander’s office together, and they maintain their silence for a respectable distance. Yoongi’s secret dances at the forefront of his mind, but he keeps his jaw tight. It’s Yoongi’s secret.

“He doesn’t get along with his parents?” Hoseok hisses quietly.

“That’s what he said,” Namjoon shrugs.

“Can’t believe he told you and not me,” Hoseok grumbles, which is fair. Hoseok is their confidant first. It is a little surprising Namjoon knows something about Yoongi that Hoseok doesn’t. “I’m a little surprised his emergency contact isn’t his berry-bee.”

Namjoon bites his tongue.

They get to visit Yoongi in the hospital before his friend takes him about to South Korea, which is some bullshit if Namjoon’s ever heard any. Apparently, if they get injured and want to go home, they have to pay for the plane tickets home and back. Namjoon’s not sure why he’s surprised the army’s original plan was to have Yoongi transferred from the hospital to the infirmary back to active duty. Camp rumor has it Yoongi's friend raised hell in Commander Lee's office, until he was granted permission to take Yoongi home.

“At least he’s got one good friend in real life,” Hoseok says. “Even if he never talks about them.”

They smile at the nurse who looks at their uniforms and waves them past. The security is kind of lacking. It’s a good thing it was just a lowlife thief who stabbed Yoongi and not an actual gangster. Yoongi would have been dead by now if it had been.

“He’s a private man,” Namjoon says loyally.

Yoongi doesn’t have a room to himself, but they’ve put up privacy curtains. It gives them a sectioned off view of Yoongi and another man. The man who dares to sit on Yoongi's bed isn't who Namjoon expected.

If he's honest, he was expecting to see a stout man with black facial hair and eye bags deep enough to smuggle contraband in and out of the country. The kind of guy photographed working in the background with idols. Not the man with dark brown hair disarrayed like he's been pulling it with more height than muscle. He's between pretty and handsome, and Namjoon imagines in another life, he was the idol being photographed with the previous man Namjoon imagined.

“--stay with her,” the man says, the conversation getting louder as they approach. “Grandma doesn't like the idea of me going to work and leaving you home alone.”

The guy's voice doesn't match his face. His voice rumbles an earthquake, tiny tremors and large shakes as he speaks. Namjoon can hear the abrasiveness of Daegu in his voice. It matches Yoongi's.

“We don't have to,” Namjoon can hear Yoongi say. “I'm going to be asleep the whole time. You know what painkillers do to me.”

Namjoon adds ‘doesn't react well to painkillers’ to his list of things he knows about Min Yoongi.

“I know, but she insists,” the man says. “You scared us. I think she wants to make sure you don't die in the middle of the night.” Somber fits the man poorly, and his anxious expression makes Namjoon's stomach swoop.

“Excuse me,” Namjoon interrupts before the conversation can become more private.

“Nice to see you're alive,” Hoseok tells Yoongi cheerfully.

The man stands up. Something about him makes Namjoon pay him an inordinate amount of attention. The man takes a step from Yoongi's bed and adds a casual smile. His actions feel like a performance. Like he has something to hide. He feels fake

“Wish I wasn't,” Yoongi grumbles.

The man smacks Yoongi's leg without looking away from them.

“Hi! I'm Kim Taehyung. His,” Taehyung tilts his head to Yoongi, still smiling-smiling. “best friend. You have to be the guys trying to replace me.”

Namjoon's brain stops. His heart and lungs immediately follow. Kim Taehyung. Yoongi is sleeping with his best friend's girlfriend?!

“Never heard of you,” Hoseok says honestly.

“I'm guessing you're Hoseok,” Taehyung says dryly.

“The one and only!”

"Did you like the strawberry tarts? What about the strawberry cider? Because that strawberry train can call it quits." Taehyung threatens, never losing his smile. Hoseok's eyebrows shoot up, and he starts to chuckle. Taehyung continues, “Which makes you Namjoon.”

“Yeah,” Namjoon agrees. He looks at Yoongi. “I'm glad you're alright.”

"He's doing pretty good. He's only been awake for about five-ish minutes, so he might or might not remember this conversation," Taehyung says.

Yoongi does look better. Namjoon's nightmare memory of Yoongi's gray face contrasted by his bleeding lip is being pushed aside by reality. Sweat heavy hair, a pinched face, and a healthier color than 'stabbed to death.' The sweat glistening across Yoongi's face is caught perfectly by the lights, giving him an arts and crafts glow.

"I'll remember," Yoongi mumbles.

Namjoon glances uncertainly at Taehyung. The man rolls his eyes and shakes his head. He mouthes "no." The playful look suits him better. 

“You just had to play the hero,” Hoseok sighs dramatically.

“I was literally doing our job,” Yoongi says.

“Dying isn’t part of the job description,” Namjoon says, in case Yoongi didn’t know.

“Never would have guessed,” Yoongi says.

Taehyung’s face does something complicated before smoothing. He turns to look at Yoongi and he gives him a bitter smile. When Namjoon looks at Hoseok to see if he saw, Hoseok’s eyes are dark and analytical.

“At least you get to go home for a bit,” Hoseok says.

“So, he can recover from his gentle stabbing,” Taehyung says, and it sounds a little like a rebuke.

"Didn't do it on purpose," Yoongi scowls. 

A soft thump draws Namjoon’s attention from where Kim Taehyung’s hands are fisted in Yoongi’s blankets. His worry seems genuine enough. Namjoon tries to find the source of the thump, but he only sees Yoongi’s hand laying flat on the bed. A muscle spasm? Or was he reaching for Kim Taehyung and thought better of it?

“I’m fine,” Yoongi says.

“‘Fine,’ he says. Did he tell you about the time he almost died when he was nineteen?” Taehyung asks.

“He’s exaggerating,” Yoongi says long suffering.

“Can’t say that he has,” Namjoon says.

“He ignored his symptoms for appendicitis so long, it burst,” Kim Taehyung tells Namjoon and Hoseok before looking down at Yoongi. “Which almost killed you.”

“So, he’s always been secretive,” Hoseok says with a grin.

Hoseok seats himself next to the single chair by Yoongi’s bedside. Kim Taehyung travelled alone. Namjoon thinks it would have been easy for the guy’s girlfriend to travel with him, under the guise of her boyfriend’s best friend being hospitalized, but she’s not here. Namjoon’s angry on Yoongi’s behalf. Kim Taehyung looks like a nice person, really, but Yoongi is Namjoon’s friend. The future Mrs. Kim Taehyung should leave her boyfriend and fuss over Yoongi, damn it.

“Pretty much,” Kim Taehyung agrees with a smile for Hoseok. “I’m going to get something to eat, so you can reassure your friends you aren't dead,” Kim Taehyung says to Yoongi, and Namjoon snorts. He and Hoseok have noticed Yoongi's social anxiety, and they mostly navigate around it. The rest of their squad believes Yoongi is too cool to speak comfortably with them. Namjoon doesn’t doubt the three of them would have stared awkwardly at each other, if Taehyung didn't excuse himself.

“He seems nice,” Namjoon says, and he can’t stop the observation from becoming a little barbed.

Yoongi and Hoseok give him odd looks, but Yoongi agrees, “Yeah, he is.”

Maybe Yoongi doesn’t remember their conversation in the rickshaw?

“Minjun and Hyunwoo almost cried when they heard what happened,” Hoseok shares. “They think you’re like the Incredible Hulk. Indestructible and angry.”

“What the hell? Why does everything think that?” Yoongi asks.

Namjoon smiles and steps closer to Yoongi’s bed. Without meaning to, he looks down, and he sees a lanyard peeking from Taehyung's bag. It has strawberries on it and says Strawberry Fields Forever.

He looks away and clears his throat.

"Seriously, I'm glad you're okay. It--there was a lot of blood."

Hoseok kicks lightly at Namjoon's foot -- you're not alone -- and Yoongi nods.

"Trust me, I'm never going to do it again."

"Unless there's another thief," Hoseok says, knowingly. 

"Come closer so I can hit you," Yoongi demands. 

 

 

 

 

The list of things Namjoon knows about Min Yoongi is:

  1. He’s so private, it borderlines paranoia.
  2. He’s been dating his long-term girlfriend for five, now six, years, and he's known her even longer.
  3. He doesn’t get along with his family.
  4. He probably has a sak yant, too, or at least Namjoon hopes so, or he's going to feel stupid about his.
  5. He writes for a music label.
  6. He is from Daegu, and now that everyone knows, he's stupid proud and obvious about it.
  7. He prefers writing his girlfriend over calling her. Re: Private person.
  8. He has two dogs that he raises with girlfriend, and he helps take care of the strawberry store, or at least he implies that he does.
  9. He calls his girlfriend berry-bee like what the fuck.
  10. He gardens in his down time.
  11. He tells his girlfriend about Namjoon and Hoseok.
  12. He called his girlfriend Mrs. Kim Taehyung.
  13. Kim Taehyung is his emergency contact and best friend.
  14. He doesn't react well to painkillers, probably because he’s an ornery bastard.
  15. He had appendicitis at nineteen, an incident Kim Taehyung witnessed.

“They've been dating for six years and friends longer,” Namjoon repeats, thinking out loud.

The man Namjoon knows-- his friend-- wouldn't have an affair with his best friend's girlfriend. Not a six-year affair with dogs and a business plan involved. Namjoon thinks Yoongi would have broken it off by now or married the girl. Yoongi's the type to recognize what he wants from life and fuck anyone who gets in his way. It's a trait Namjoon admires about Yoongi.

It doesn't add up.

Yoongi comes back after being stabbed and babied at home, and everything continues to move forward. The wound turns into a scar. Hoseok pranks their squad. Namjoon tries to be a responsible adult. They complete their assignment and they move on.

Namjoon continues to think there is something fundamental about Min Yoongi that he's not seeing, but this thought is mostly pushed into the background. He's got other things to worry about.

Namjoon's been counting down the days, until he can put the military behind him. The military feels like stasis while the outside world changes. He's afraid of it changing beyond his recognition.

His job will still be there, he knows. If there's a computer or a program and a person willing to pay to make the headache go away, he has work. What Namjoon worries about is more delicate than gossamer.

His relationship feels like it's on the verge of being better than okay. They broke up because Namjoon “needs to discuss life changing decisions like I matter! You can't make my decisions for me!” Namjoon's been arguing his case that “It was going to happen eventually! And I couldn't just keep hoping for impossible things to happen!”

The impossible things they, and even in his own mind Namjoon hesitates to name them, dreamt about when they were young. Immigration. Marriage. Kids. Hopes and wishes they've both carried close to their hearts despite how hopeless it is.

But now the arguing sounds like: “I know what an impossible dream sounds like. I just wished you talked to me before enlisting. It changed my life, too, you know.”

And a little like: “I got scared. The Military Penal Code hasn't been updated yet. The courts are still battling it out, and you shouldn't have to put your life on pause just because I wasn't smart enough to enlist when I was eighteen.”

And even more like: “I love you, you slice of wet wonder bread. If you had talked to me, instead of breaking up with me, so I wouldn't break up with you, you'd know I planned on using the time you were away to go to culinary school.”

And finally, their conversations started to sound more like: “Oh,” and “I love you, too.”

Namjoon's got the shards of his broken life in his hands and a bottle of super glue near his foot. He's too busy gluing his life back together to discover the strange that is Min Yoongi.

“I'm going to sign up for classes to meet my future wife,” Hoseok plots.

“What about a cake decorating class?” Yoongi suggests. “Berry-bee and I took one. It was fun.”

“You ever going to lockdown your berry-bee?” Hoseok demands.

"It could happen," Hoseok says, eyes intense. The guy really is a family man. Namjoon's impressed by Hoseok tenacity. 

“Maybe one day,” Yoongi shrugs. “Depends.”

Ignore it, Namjoon thinks.

He does not ignore it.

“What about your friend? Taeyang?”

“Taehyung,” Yoongi corrects. “And I know he wants to get married someday. He's a romantic.”

"Maybe a private ceremony?" Hoseok suggests.

Namjoon squints at his friends. Hoseok looks like he knows something, while Yoongi looks patient and amused. Namjoon lets it go.

It's been two years and their time together is ending.

 

 

 

 

 

This is the last time everyone will be at the airport, eager to meet loved ones. Namjoon watches a little wistfully. After this, all that's left is their discharge ceremony.

“Daddy!” twin tornadoes shriek before slamming into Minkyu’s legs. A woman with lovely but tired eyes approaches Minkyu more sedately.

“Princesses!” Minkyu shouts. He lifts the twin girls up, and they cling to him like monkeys. A lot softer with a beam, he says to the approaching woman, “My queen.”

Namjoon smiles and looks away.

Happy reunions are occurring left and right.

There's an elderly woman being embraced by Dohyun. The boy lifts his mother off her feet, and he swings her gently. His father smiles proudly at a distance, but even with the distance, Dohyun blooms. He gestures with a hand and a beam for Yejun to shuffle closer for an introduction.

Minjun and Hyunwoo are introducing their families so formally, Namjoon can recognize the moon eyes Minjun’s sister and Hyunwoo’s brother are giving each other. Would that make the two pranksters brothers-in-law? He can also see the second Minjun frowns and decides his sister deserves better than Hyunwoo's brother. The impending prank war between Minjun and Hyunwoo won't be Namjoon's problem, and he thinks he's a little regretful he won't get to hear about it.

“So noisy,” Yoongi says.

Namjoon silently agrees with him. Two years later, and the kids are still noisy. The only difference is now Namjoon knows them all well enough to feel happiness at their happiness. Even Yoongi’s complaint sounds fond.

Yoongi’s eyes dart from face to face, searching for someone in the crowd. His berry-bee? Namjoon wishes he showed Yoongi pictures of his welcome home party, so that Namjoon can find them faster. Yoongi’s focus is impressive.

“Grump,” Hoseok teases.

A group of young men with too much flannel and scraggly beards who look like they smell like pine and whiskey roar, “SUNGMIN!!!” Namjoon snorts a laugh. He's a little surprised. Sungmin always seemed so sensible when he wasn't engaging in mischief. He watches the group swarm Sungmin and whisk him away, chanting “Beer and beef! Beer and beef!”

“Mom! Dad!” Hoseok says next.

Hoseok moves past them to greet an elderly couple with fondness. They look exactly how Namjoon imagined. Hoseok's mother combs Hoseok's growing buzzcut with her fingers fretfully, and for the first time, Namjoon wonders how Hoseok used to wear it. Hoseok's father is saying something, waving his hands and his expression animated like Hoseok's.

And there--

There's Namjoon's greediest held secret.

Namjoon knows better than to rush to Seokjin and bury his face in the taller man's neck. However, it doesn't quell the desire. He needs to be dignified. The military can still technically charge him for homosexuality.

Seokjin spots him after a moment or two, and he smiles like Namjoon is his roommate and friend, and he's doing Namjoon a favor by picking him up from the airport. Seokjin’s always been better at controlling his face and actions in public. He doesn't smile like he's going to relish barricading them in their apartment with the one bedroom and their broken in mattress and bedframe. They were roommates. Roommates doing roommate things.

Namjoon walks a little faster.

Seokjin’s very presence hooks most of his attention, so Namjoon almost doesn't notice the guy standing next to Seokjin with his arm in a dark blue sling.

Almost because as soon as Namjoon sees him, Yoongi says very quietly, very furiously, “What the fuck?”

Namjoon jumps. He didn't realize Yoongi had been following him.

The guy standing next to Seokjin twitches. The guy looks vaguely familiar, like Namjoon’s met him once. Namjoon frowns a little in thought.

But Seokjin smile starts to be more honest, and it's not saying, “I’ve never dreamed about running away to the United States to marry you and adopt babies with you” anymore but “This guy told me how he broke his collarbone and it's hilarious.”

“Don't get mad,” the guy instructs Yoongi, and Namjoon wants to laugh because only a handful of people can order Min Yoongi around without Yoongi busting their balls like water chestnuts. And then abruptly, Namjoon knows where he knows this guy's face. This is Kim Taehyung!

Wary, Namjoon looks for berry-bee. Could she be in the bathroom? She must be here, right? Why would her boyfriend, even if he is Yoongi’s best friend, come pick up Yoongi alone when she’s been dating Yoongi for seven years? Namjoon hopes he can control his expression if he sees her. It would suck if he accidentally revealed Yoongi's seven year affair because of his face.

“Why would I be mad?” Yoongi says. “You only PROMISED ME--"

“Hey, I can't control freak accidents, Yoongi,” the ease Taehyung uses to handle Yoongi’s temper draws Namjoon’s attention back to the two men. That talent would have been very useful six weeks ago. “You remember Mocha? Well, she got really fat, and she got out of Soohyun’s apartment and jumped from Soohyun’s balcony to my shoulder and did you know your clavicle is the easiest bone to break? One wrong move and snap!”

Namjoon raises his eyebrow.

“It was a very fat cat,” Seokjin informs Namjoon. “Taehyung showed me pictures.”

“I hate that cat,” Yoongi mutters.

“Yeah, well,” Taehyung says and then smiles like a dope.

Not that Namjoon super cares right now because Seokjin is hugging him. They've seen each other when Namjoon had leave or a break, but this hug is different. Namjoon's pretty much fucking done. He doesn't need to worry as much about being called mentally ill and dragged to a cell somewhere to never be heard from again. Only a couple more days left.

He eases back, slapping Seokjin's back like a bro. Seokjin looks perfect. He's smiling that smile that Namjoon shares with perfectly executed beef bourguignon. Seokjin looks like the boy Namjoon fell over and in love with nearly six years ago.

“Namjoon, meet my new friend, Taehyung,” Seokjin says.

Despite being best friends, Yoongi and Taehyung don't hug, instead Taehyung smiles softly at Yoongi. Yoongi's dark eyes are on the sling. Would Yoongi be hugging Taehyung if his friend's collarbone wasn't broken? Is he waiting for berry-bee to appear?

What does happen is Taehyung tries grabbing Yoongi's bag, and it happens so fast, so slick, Namjoon isn't even sure it happened, but he swears the two men held hands for a second or two.

“Are you crazy? No,” Yoongi says, and he grabs his bag back.

“We’ve met. He came to get this guy,” Namjoon gestures to Yoongi. “when he got stabbed. Seokjin, this is the guy who got stabbed. Yoongi, this is my roommate, Kim Seokjin.”

“You have a good memory,” Taehyung laughs and then jokes. “This is why you get presents.”

Seeing Taehyung stand next to Seokjin, an idea starts to peek its head out of Namjoon’s gray matter.

“And where’s the guy who convinced you to get a tattoo?” Seokjin asks.

“I’m interested in that answer, too,” Taehyung says.

The two men look comical, craning their necks with exaggeration. Namjoon doesn’t meet Yoongi’s eyes and Yoongi keeps his mouth shut. Namjoon’s pretty sure it was his idea, but he’s not going to rat out his own bad decisions. Yoongi’s older. Why wasn’t he looking out for the both of them? Yoongi huffs and without seeing him, Namjoon knows Yoongi rolled his eyes.

“Don’t you guys dare blame me,” Hoseok says cheerfully. “I just watched you guys make bad decisions.

“Mom, Dad, these are my friends Min Yoongi and Kim Namjoon,” Hoseok introduces. “Guys, these are my parents!”

Yoongi and Namjoon are quick to politely introduce themselves as well as Taehyung and Seokjin. Hoseok’s dad smiles Hoseok’s smile. Namjoon likes them. He turns to convey as much to Hoseok and realizes Hoseok’s observing Taehyung and Seokjin with the keen intellect he usually hides behind pranks and laughter.

Namjoon rubs his neck.

“Should we all go get dinner?” Seokjin suggests.

“Oh, we couldn’t!” Hoseok’s mom excuses. “We’d just get in the way of the celebrations. I know how young men like to celebrate!”

Hoseok’s dad wistfully agrees with his wife before light sparkles in his eyes again.

“But we can treat you boys to breakfast! You boys can come, too,” Hoseok’s dad invites, going out of his way to include Taehyung and Seokjin. The effort makes Namjoon’s heart warm.

“We’ll just go to the hotel and settle in,” Hoseok’s mom continues. “We’re taking Hoseok home. We’ll have plenty time alone with him in the car,” and she winks.

“Ahh, mom,” Hoseok says. “Why do you say it like you’re going to leave me at a gas station? Again?”

“Hush you.” Hoseok’s mom says.

“The biggest mistake we did in raising him was teaching him how to talk. It went all downhill from there,” Hoseok’s dad pretended to whisper to Namjoon and Yoongi.

Namjoon can’t help but laugh, and he’s not the only one. Yoongi’s face transforms with his laugh, sweet and easy in a way it hasn’t been since they’ve been deployed out of the country. His body is turned towards Taehyung’s, which Namjoon wouldn’t have even noticed if Taehyung’s mirth wasn’t making him subtly curve around Yoongi. Seokjin is looking at Hoseok’s parents like he’s found new role models. Namjoon feels a slight pang they’ll never have their own children to make blush and pout like Hoseok is. Hoseok’s parents are lighthearted and kind people.

“It’ll be fun!” Taehyung agrees.

“I need to change first,” Yoongi shrugs.

“Great! I know just the place!”

“Ey! I didn’t agree, you know!”

“Um, are we, uh, waiting for anyone else?” Namjoon asks.

“Nooo?” Seokjin says slowly.

Where the hell is berry-bee? He’s starting to think she’s not here, and clearly, Yoongi and Taehyung deserve better than this girl. He could excuse not being able to leave the country while one boyfriend was stabbed, and the other boyfriend needed emotional support. Shit happens. But she couldn’t even be bothered to come with her boyfriend to pick her other boyfriend up from the airport? Namjoon’s opinion of her plummets, and he’s going to refuse future bribes of strawberry themed desserts.

“Did you get sunstroke?” Yoongi asks.

She didn’t come! Namjoon scowls.

“No, let’s go.”

"It was very nice to meet you, Taehyung," Hoseok says. Namjoon looks at Hoseok suspiciously. Hoseok is doing everything in his power to radiate welcoming and accepting vibes. Vibes Namjoon might not have noticed if he didn't see Hoseok pull this on every frightened kid they met. "I hope we can be good friends."

"Ah, thank you," Taehyung fidgets with his sling, blushing, and adds, "Sorry. I didn't mean to threaten you last time. I was just-- stressed."

Hoseok goes with his parents to their hotel. Taehyung pushes Yoongi into a car with a promise they’ll meet them at the restaurant as Yoongi puts up false protest. Namjoon waves both his friends off, eager to get home so he can kiss Seokjin already and greet the other man properly.

While they wait for a ride home, Seokjin says, “The kid is in love with Yoongi.”

“What?” Namjoon asks. He faces Seokjin because that’s an allegation right there. What could Taehyung have done or said to make Seokjin think that?

“It’s how he behaved while we were waiting,” Seokjin says. “How he acted now.” Seokjin shrugs. “Watch him at dinner and tell me I’m wrong.”

Namjoon stares weakly at his boyfriend.

“At least Taehyung deserves Yoongi.”

“What are talking about?”

 

 

 

 

 

The restaurant Seokjin picks reminds Namjoon of whiskey. The lighting is dim and amber, creating pockets of intimacy in the shadows. It’s very comfortable. The five of them fit in perfectly with their relaxed civvie clothes.

Hoseok’s sitting at the end of the table with Namjoon on his right and Yoongi on his left. Seokjin sits next to Namjoon, while Taehyung sits next to Yoongi. Occasionally, Taehyung and Seokjin share expressions of exasperation when Hoseok, Yoongi, and Namjoon get caught up discussing a military maneuver.

With Seokjin’s words yanking at the hint of the idea peeking from Namjoon’s gray matter, Namjoon keeps an eye on how Yoongi and Taehyung behave. Nothing is amiss, yet. They’re sitting together a little closely, but the restaurant is cozy and intimate. It’s normal.  

“I don’t think Namjoon’s mentioned you before,” Hoseok says to Seokjin.

“I’m not surprised,” Seokjin says, smiling. Namjoon’s heart beats a little faster. Nights like this are exactly how Namjoon is going to remember Seokjin when they’re old. He’s beautiful. “Right after he enlisted we got in a pretty big fight.”

“About a girl?”  

“The rent,” Seokjin laughs. “He was going to move out and store his stuff at his mom’s. We were renting a pretty expensive place, and I couldn’t afford it by myself. I got a little upset.”

That is how I ended up dating an ex-girlfriend for a year too long,” Hoseok says.

“And you call me dramatic?” Yoongi asks Namjoon reproachfully. “I just gave him,” Yoongi tilts his head in Taehyung’s direction. “Rent money every month. It was easier than moving out, and I had a place to go during leave.”

“It’s because you’re older!” Hoseok claims wisely. “Those two years make a huge difference! Whenever I spent leave with the kid--” Namjoon squawks. “Wait a minute, who outranks who here?”

“--we’d just rent a room and get drunk at the hotel bar.”

“Except for the first leave,” Seokjin says knowingly.

Hoseok squints at Seokjin.

“I knew you liked familiar! I just thought you modelled or something. You’re the guy who came to pick us up!”

“You’re lucky I didn’t block Namjoon’s number,” Seokjin says.

“I see why you came home so often,” Taehyung says lowly to Yoongi. The guy’s voice could get low, and Namjoon thinks Yoongi’s eyes drooped a little in response. Namjoon blinks and thinks furiously. To the rest, Taehyung adds, “He’s still a little embarrassed by the tattoo. One of the artists he works with saw it and he hasn’t stopped giving Yoongi shit for it.”

Yoongi rouses himself to complain.

“It’s embarrassing. Now, Jimin and Jungkook--” Namjoon chokes on his drink. “--are going to throw it in my face whenever they cause a scandal, like what I do matters to the tabloids.”

“Jungkook&Jimin?” Seokjin asks.

“I just call them Pain-in-the-ass One and Pain-in-the-ass Two,” Yoongi says.

Jungkook&Jimin is a popular K-pop duo. Namjoon’s pretty much ignored the music industry after washing out, and he’s heard of them. They’re international superstars who sell out stadiums. And apparently, Yoongi treats them like annoying little brothers. No wonder the squad’s antics never fazed Yoongi. He was unfazeable.

“You love them,” Taehyung says. “Deep, deep, deep down.”

No wonder Yoongi was so private. Namjoon would be private borderline paranoid if he saw how famous people were treated firsthand, too. Who knows what information people have tried to use as leverage over Yoongi’s music label?

“They’re parasites,” Yoongi grumbles.

“You rub elbows with idols? Why haven’t you introduced me to Suran?” Hoseok jokes.

“She’s too good for you,” Yoongi retorts.

Insanely, Namjoon considers Yoongi’s and Taehyung’s girlfriend is an idol before dismissing the idea. Yoongi said she owned a store...which they lived above. Together. Namjoon sets his glass to avoid choking again.

Their confidant, first to know everything, Hoseok has never asked Yoongi about his girlfriend, has he?

“I’ve got culinary friends I could introduce you to,” Seokjin tells Hoseok.

Yes, please do. I’m not afraid to commit to marriage and babies. Oh! And don’t forget to tell them about my good looks!” Hoseok winks.

Two servers arrive with plates and bowls of steaming food. It savory and spicy, and Namjoon wants to groan. There’s no shouts of “You better fucking share, Hyunwoo!” or a quiet “Shit fuck damn” after someone gets to the mess late. Plus, there’s no smell that makes Namjoon think of a fridge vegetable drawer that hasn’t been cleaned in a year. It’s perfect.

He tries his food and then adjusts it to his liking. A habit Seokjin taught him in their first year of dating. “How do you know if you need it saltier if you haven’t even tried it?” Seokjin laughed. “Did you know Bill Gates didn’t hire someone because he salted his food without trying it first? He said the guy was too hasty! Do you want that to be you?”

Across the table, Taehyung is expertly using his chopsticks to pluck the egg from his bowl to Yoongi’s. Taehyung considers Yoongi’s bowl for a moment, and then he deftly picks out the vegetables Namjoon didn’t even realize he knew Yoongi disliked. The transitions happen so smoothly, so routinely, Namjoon almost can’t believe it happened. Since when did Yoongi let people take care of him like this? He was one of the most self-sufficient people Namjoon knows!  

“I am going to gain so much weight without the mandatory PT,” Hoseok sighs happily.

“It’ll make you look cuddly,” Seokjin smiles.

The idea is becoming hard to ignore. Namjoon tries not to obsessively watch them like a creep. It’s harder than he expected. Every time Taehyung laughs, he nudges Yoongi with his knee, Namjoon’s mind jumps to he’s in love with Yoongi. Does Yoongi know? Does berry-bee know?

And Yoongi just sits there!

Yoongi sits there like he enjoys Taehyung’s gentle teasing. He adds his own self-deprecating joke that never fails to make the group snicker. But what’s worse is when Taehyung inadvertently reveals Yoongi’s accomplishments.

“What do you mean you didn’t know?” Taehyung demands. “Yoongi’s won poetry awards!”

“Songwriting doesn’t always pay the bills,” Yoongi says seriously, eyes dancing.

“My little brother only passed his literature class because he gave his professor one of your signed books!”

Namjoon watches as Yoongi blushes. He doesn’t turn a funny, splotchy red. Yoongi’s too something to let a blush cripple him like that. It’s a delicate bloom of pink, almost unnoticeable in the restaurant. Yoongi smiles at Taehyung, and he’s looking at Taehyung up through his eyelashes. If it was anyone else, Namjoon would describe Yoongi’s eyes as flirty. Namjoon comes to the horrible realization Yoongi’s kind of pretty. No wonder Taehyung fell in love. Namjoon can’t blame him. The poor kid.

“We know a word genius!” Hoseok cries to the restaurant.

Dinner continues pass the plates being cleared. The server begins to deliver a round of drinks, and it’s not long before Taehyung excuses himself. He gestures at his sling, “It itches, and my mother raised me to be polite.” Yoongi snorts. “Shut it!”

“I’ll go with you,” Yoongi says, and he finishes his drink in a long swallow.

Namjoon watches them walk towards restroom. Yoongi uses Taehyung’s height to navigate past the bustle of the restaurant while also keeping a protective arm raised around Taehyung’s sling. Yoongi looks ready to push anyone who might accidentally bump into Taehyung.

It’s only after they leave that Namjoon recognizes the pressure on his bladder for what it is.

“Damn it,” he swears. “I’ll be right back.”

The restroom is located downstairs. Namjoon grabs the railing to steady himself. The lighting is rather poor, and how does the management expect drunks to safely make it to the bottom? It’s like the restaurant is ashamed to even admit their customers have bodily functions. He squints to see, concentrating hard.

Halfway down the stairs, Namjoon starts, stops and stares.

Yoongi’s being pressed against the wall by Taehyung. Taehyung’s free hand is cupping Yoongi’s cheek, tilting the other man’s face up. Yoongi’s never looked so small. His personality is too impressive to let something like stature make him small, but right this second, caught in this tender moment, Yoongi looks more than content to be made small, surrounded and kissed by Taehyung. He’s even gripping Taehyung closely by the hips!

That idea is now a full grown realization, and Namjoon's gray matter congratulates itself on a job well done. 

They’re nearly hidden in the shadows completely. If Namjoon hadn’t been paying so closely attention, he doubts he would have noticed them hidden in the shadows at all.

Namjoon’s hands sweat and his heart beats fast. He backs up quickly. He’ll sit back down at the table and wait for Yoongi and Taehyung to get back and then try for the restroom again. They shouldn’t be long.He sees their table before Seokjin and Hoseok notice him coming back. Hoseok is rolling his eyes so hard, Namjoon’s worried Hoseok’s going to strain something. Seokjin is bent over his drink, laughing with tears in his eyes.

Namjoon awkwardly sits down.

“You’re back quick,” Seokjin comments, dashing tears from his eyes.

“I think Yoongi loves him, too,” Namjoon says, a little wonderingly. "I think berry-bee and Taehyung are the same person."

“What? What did you say?” Hoseok demands.

“What did you see?” Seokjin teases.

“Is this seriously happening right now? Are we seriously going to talk about the elephant in the room after a year and a half?” Hoseok asks.

“You knew?!”

“Leader man, I know everything,” Hoseok says, and he very pointedly looks from Namjoon to Seokjin. “ Everything.”

“Your friend is really smart,” Seokjin says. “I invited him to dinner next month.”

Namjoon stares weakly at Hoseok.