Seokjin loosened his tie.
Somehow the gesture must have seemed threatening to the young man—Dohyun, an analyst of some sort—standing in front of him, because the man flinched.
“We’re not going through this again. Namjoon did the research, and what you’re proposing violates our environmental policy.”
Dohyun balled his hands into fists, but didn't raise them.
“You know your boyfriend is a real piece of work,” Dohyun sneered.
“They’re not my ‘boyfriend,’” Seokjin reflexively.
“They’re not a ‘boy,’ thus, they are not my boyfriend.”
“This is junk science and you know it. Get out of here before I fire you.”
Knowing that Seokjin wasn’t going to bend, Dohyun gave a final huff of annoyance and stalked out of the room.
A few seconds later there was a soft knock against Seokjin's open door as Namjoon slinked in.
“Hear that, did you?” Seokjin asked.
“I did,” Namjoon replied. “How often does that happen?”
Namjoon had the look on their face, the look they always did when Seokjin acknowledged their identity. Seokjin didn’t want to notice that Namjoon noticed, because for him is wasn’t even a conscious thing, like knowing which verb form to use. But every time Namjoon looked at him with so much gratitude, it broke Seokjin’s heart a little.
So Seokjin pretended like he hadn’t seen the look.
“People telling me about how your ‘subversive’ antics, by which I mean following the law, are going to ruin our bottom line and destroy the company? Hourly. I think my father must have it programmed into his phone like an alert. He was really into the labor union idea by the way.”
“No! Of course not. You know my dad loves capitalism.”
The thing Seokjin maybe liked best about Namjoon was that they never questioned Seokjin’s life choices. Yes, Seokjin hated his father’s business, but no he wasn’t going to stop doing it just because he’d rather be a presenter on TV or a restauranteur. It was his family’s business, even though he and his brother were only the second generation. His father had worked tremendously hard to establish himself as an electronics manufacturer, and it was assumed Seokjung and Seokjin would follow him.
Seokjin’s parents never told him to chase after his dreams. Dreams were just that—flights of fancy, whims, not things that real people did.
And that was fine with Namjoon. They got it. They never once suggested that Seokjin quit and try to do something else. Namjoon’s own passion was born partly out of necessity, and partly out of the underlying core of goodness inside them that Seokjin loved. Namjoon wanted to help people, so they became a family lawyer and helped women divorce their shitty, abusive husbands. As well as some consulting work for Seokjin’s family on environmental law, which they kept up with mostly as a hobby.
Though they did regularly make suggestions about labor laws, outside of their official capacity as a legal consultant and to little avail.
“I meant the ‘boyfriend’ thing,” Namjoon said.
“Oh, well, people make assumptions. You usually only come over here when you’re presenting more masculine, which you know you don’t have to do. I have firing power and I'm not afraid to use it.”
“Um,” Namjoon said.
They had probably assumed that Seokjin hadn’t noticed. But the thing was, Seokjin noticed everything. He was a good negotiator because he recognized patterns of behavior, tells, the little ways he could needle people into getting his way. He never told anyone, but the last time he traveled to the U.S. for a tech convention, he made a lot of money playing poker at a casino.
A lot of money.
“I meant you correcting people,” Namjoon said softly.
“I always correct people when they’re wrong. I just want you to know that I don’t care if you come here when you’re in a dress. I know you worry it might hurt my authority in some way. But, Hell, I’m wearing a women’s blouse right now because it looked better with this jacket. Everyone knows I’m queer as fuck. I just get away with it because they’re all afraid of me. But they’re afraid of you, too.”
Namjoon was the smartest human being Seokjin had ever met in his life, and when that intellect slipped out, it left people quaking. Namjoon just didn’t seem to realize it.
“I know, I just...” Namjoon trailed off, looking down at their feet.
“No, I get it,” Seokjin said. “Really, I do. I just wish we could—”
“Be a normal couple?”
“No!” Seokjin said immediately. “No, be ourselves. All the time. Not have to worry.”
“I’m not sure I really know who that is all time.”
“Some of the time?”
Namjoon came up to Seokin and squeezed his arm, the most affection they’d show in the office.
Seokjin took the opening and moved his arm just enough that he could bend to reach Namjoon’s hand and plant a kiss on it.
Existential crises aside, Namjoon was most comfortable with who they were as a person, and who they and Seokjin were as a couple, when it was the two of them alone. It was everyone else that was always the problem.
But self-doubt was an enemy that Seokjin knew, too. It was just that when Namjoon was feeling their most confident, they were the sexiest, most beautiful person in the world. They radiated something pure and good, and Seokjin just wanted the entire world to get that.
The categories that people shoved themselves into were the problem. The idea that people had to fit into one identity or another, into heterosexuality or nothing, it was absurd and infuriating. Seokjin could be dragged over hot coals and he would still correct idiots like Dohyun who were willfully ignorant, the people who really believed they were superior because they fit into the right social constructs for their body.
* * *
The night they met, Namjoon was wearing fishnets and a pleated skirt with a leather jacket and combat boots. And the thing about Namjoon was that Namjoon was hot. They couldn’t pass as a woman and was never really interested in doing so, but they liked women’s clothing, women’s hair styles, makeup—in addition to men’s. They didn’t feel like they were the totally wrong gender exactly, just somewhere in between. Enough that “man” and “he” and “his” just weren’t quite right.
Namjoon was a friend of Hoseok and Yoongi’s—Seokjin was convinced that between the two of them, the couple knew every single queer person in Seoul.
They were taking Namjoon out because they had just gotten the results of the bar exam—one of only 50 people who passed it. Their parents cut them off sometime around the time they started wearing skirts in public, so paying for law school was out of the question. Now law wouldn’t even be an option, but with some stroke of luck, Namjoon managed to be in one of the last groups of lawyers ever to get into the profession by examination alone.
Hoseok had invited Seokjin to the celebration because, well, because he liked to meddle.
“You’ll love Namjoon,” he had said. “They’ll get your puns.”
“They?” Seokjin had asked.
He still, years later, was ashamed that he didn’t get it right away, that he had to ask why “they.”
“Namjoon’s really good natured about it if you screw up. Yoongi does it sometimes because he knew Namjoon before they came out.”
“Throwing me under the bus?” Yoongi had asked, coming back to the table with drinks.
“No, I was just explaining about, ah—there they are.” Hoseok waved his hand frantically even though the bar was not at all crowded.
“The person of the hour!” Hoseok called out.
And there they were.
And Seokjin knew in his gut the moment he first laid eyes on Namjoon that, oh, he was never going to be the same after this. There would always be a before Namjoon and an after Namjoon, and the after Namjoon was going to be the better period by a long shot.
Even though Seokjin was in love at first sight, it took Namjoon a little while longer to get there.
So Seokjin wooed. Or at least he tried.
He sent Namjoon interesting articles he thought they might like, cooked Namjoon dinner with the excuse that he was trying a new recipe and needed a test subject. He tried to learn all the little things that made Namjoon tick. And everything he learned just made him fall that much harder. Namjoon was brilliant and sarcastic with a wicked sense of humor and had a soft spot in their heart not only for the socially disadvantaged but tiny sea creatures as well. They wanted to befriend every puppy they saw. They went to museums for fun. And they didn't take shit from anyone.
At one point, when they were definitely at the status of friends, he learned more about why Namjoon was so hesitant to date, to show affection, and he realized that he would be okay with just being Namjoon’s friend if that’s all Namjoon could do. Being in their orbit was what Seokjin wanted.
Sure he also wanted sex, long makeout sessions that didn’t go anywhere, to wake up next to Namjoon on cold mornings, to have someone to go to clubs with who would enjoy the pulsing music and the atmosphere and not make him dance.
But he could accept it if Namjoon didn’t want that with him.
But then one day out of the blue, Namjoon said, “You don’t have to do this.”
“You could just ask me out on a date.”
“But what if you say no? If I casually ask you to come over to my place to try a new recipe and forget to mention that my roommate is working late or ask you to go to the planetarium with Hoseok and Yoongi knowing full well that it’s Hoseok’s mom’s birthday and they’re going to bail, then there’s much less risk of rejection.”
“I’m not going to say no.”
“Sounds fake but okay.”
“Okay you’re going to actually ask me out?”
“You sure you aren’t going to say no?”
“Will you go out with me?”
* * *
And then they were something.
Dating wasn’t that much different from being friends except Seokjin learned what it was like to slide his hands up Namjoon’s bare thighs when they were wearing a short skirt. Knew what Namjoon tasted like when he kissed his way through those first fuzzy moments of morning. Got to spend more time in Namjoon’s apartment. Got to meet their best friend Taehyung and learn all the stories about drunk Namjoon they never told Seokjin.
“I just don’t understand why,” Namjoon said one day.
They had been dating exclusively (as if Seokjin could have thought about dating anyone else) for two months, and Seokjin had told Namjoon he loved them.
“Why what? Why I love you?”
Sometimes it took a little while to follow Namjoon’s trails of thoughts, the way they connected ideas together. Seokjin was logical, always liked puzzles, and Namjoon was the best puzzle he had ever known.
“I know you love me. I know why you love me. I just—why me? Why you?”
Seokjin looked between the words, in the gaps between the letters.
“Because we’re both misfits, but not. Successful, but not. Smart, but not—because if we were really smart we would have figured out how to bend the world around us instead of trying to force ourselves into some crude conception of happiness that never quite feels right when we think too hard about it.”
Namjoon was looking at Seokjin with a curious expression.
“We’re both ‘almosts,’ ‘could have beens,’ ‘not quites,’” Seokjin continued. “We’re tethered to a world we hate and we tell it to fuck off whenever we can. We’re les miserables.”
“But you’re not like that,” Namjoon said. “You’re not one of the miserable ones.”
“I am exactly like that,” Seokjin said. “You don’t see me when I’m not with you. I can wear the persona, but it’s so fake sometimes I want to scream. And sometimes I feel like I am screaming and no one notices.”
Namjoon was shaking their head in disbelief.
“You underestimate my capacity to hurt,” Seokjin kept going. “It’s okay. I get it. It's been like this my whole life. The way I look means that everyone thinks I’m fine. No one has ever cared about what’s on the inside.”
“I care. I care so much, Seokjin-hyung. I guess I just don’t see you that way. I’m sorry. I guess that means I’m no different from anyone else.”
“Well, I don’t see you as a miserable misfit either, but we never see ourselves the way other people see us. It doesn’t change what we are to the world. And for what it’s worth I’m significantly less miserable when I'm with you.”
“I love you,” Namjoon said quietly in response.
“I know,” Seokjin replied. “But it’s nice to hear it out loud.”
* * *
What threw everyone off when the two of them were together was that Seokjin was the flamboyant one. Seokjin was gay. Born this way. Queer and here and get used to it. He had a rainbow speedo he wore to spas. He owned more high heeled boots and mesh tank tops than any single human would ever need. He was a loud, spangly homo in a culture that didn’t know what to do with him.
Namjoon was mostly a quiet, thoughtful intellectual who liked walking along the river and contemplating the meaning of the life. They just looked, to people on the outside entrenched in gender binaries, like a man in a skirt. And so people assumed.
Assumed that skirts meant femininity and that femininity meant submissive, easily walked all over. Assumed that Namjoon was the bottom, the “girl” in the relationship. And it came in the form of rude comments from strangers, but also jokes from acquaintances who should have known better.
And of course it didn't help that Seokjin looked like the male lead in a drama. Broad shoulders, tall, svelte. The fact that he was good-looking and his family had money was the only thing that enabled him to get away with being so out and proud without getting harassed or ostracized and he knew it.
But why not push people’s boundaries a little since he could? He probably couldn’t single-handedly get everyone to get their heads out of their asses and deal with the fact that queer people existed whether they liked it or acknowledged it or not, but he could still try.
Though he didn’t know how to politely tell the world that a man who looked like Seokjin could really and truly enjoy a taking a dick up the ass from a person who was wearing a lace nightie at the time.
But some days he wanted to scream it out into the abyss.
And Namjoon looked especially beautiful in lace nighties.
* * *
It wasn’t perfect. Nothing was perfect. They had their ups and downs.
Namjoon was not always easy to be around, and Seokjin knew that regardless of their gender identity, that’s just who they were.
They weren’t always convinced that law was the right life choice, that maybe they should have gone into environmental science instead. They worried a lot about reality, about the blurred lines between the meaning of words. They liked going to the coast, would sit for hours watching the water meet the shore, thinking about how there was never a real line that separated one from the other. The borders between designations were malleable, and maybe that meant neither side was real.
They weren’t always convinced they wanted to be in a relationship with a man.
Sometimes after a particularly bad case, a truly vile soon-to-be-ex-husband, Namjoon would cancel plans with an “I just can’t be around men today. I just—can’t.”
And Seokjin tried to understand. He gave Namjoon space. He tried to ask for space when he needed it, too. When he got too angry at everything around him, at the world, that he had to hide away from everyone he knew. When he wouldn’t leave his apartment or answer his phone for a couple days, playing video games until his hands hurt.
His own identity crisis came when he realized that Namjoon not being a man meant it threw his own homosexuality into question.
“You can still be gay and in a relationship with a nonbinary person,” Namjoon tried to reason with him. “You’re still attracted to men generally.”
“But, it feels like I’m negating you if I’m gay with an exception, as exceptional an exception as you—”
Namjoon cut him off mid-sentence with a kiss.
“What was that?”
“Being validated kind of does it for me.”
Namjoon was joking, but they also weren’t joking.
And so that’s how Seokjin determined that he must be pansexual, even if that meant 99.9% gay. The 0.1% took up all his heart anyway.
* * *
What Namjoon had the hardest time with in their relationship was understanding that Seokjin’s family didn’t care that Seokjin was gay, or pan as it turned out. Sure, his mother cried for a bit when he had finally told her a few years before he had met Namjoon. After he had worked at the company for a year. After he did everything they asked of him.
“We never should have sent you to economics school in London,” she said.
But once he assured her that he still wanted kids, that even though he’d probably have to skirt the law to have them he still wanted the family to grow, she seemed oddly okay with it.
It was always about family for them. Marriage was the traditional way of building family, but not the only way.
The first time Seokjin was in a major negotiation with his father, he and Seokjung flanking him on either side like guard dogs, Seokjin winked across the table at the other side’s lead negotiator. It made the other man so flustered he took their lowball offer without a fight.
His father told him it was a great tactic after the meeting was over and the papers were signed. Seokjin told him it wasn’t a tactic—the guy they were negotiating with was really cute—but his father only saw that being gay could be a negotiating advantage and that was somehow enough for acceptance.
Family was family. But family never meant blood to Seokjin’s parents. Seokjin had aunties and uncles he had no relation to. Seokjung’s two best friends were at their apartment so often growing up that they were really like Seokjin’s older brothers too.
The thing about Namjoon was that Namjoon had always felt like family, even before they were dating. It was that intangible pull that made Seokjin feel like he could trust them.
But they didn’t get that Seokjin’s family would accept them, too. That it was enough that Namjoon was Seokjin’s family. It seemed counter to the business and the mergers and the expansion, but business aside they weren’t cutthroat people—not really.
Seokjin's family was non-traditional, and their business practices sometimes were too. They weren’t old money. His dad had worked his way through business school, through two jobs, through a lot of absent years where he wasn’t home much. He saw owning a business as a challenge more than anything else.
Seokjin’s parents married for love, with the complete disapproval of their traditional families, the first in either of their families to not be in some kind of arranged agreement. His father’s parents still didn’t speak to him, and Seokjin had never met them. It was a wound his dad carried with him quietly through everything. And Seokjin saw it.
But Seokjin’s family loved Namjoon.
His brother liked Namjoon because Namjoon was snarky and the two of them would gang up on Seokjin like Seokjin didn’t have two years on Namjoon.
His dad liked Namjoon, in spite of the legal advice he didn’t always appreciate and their fundamental disagreement about labor power, because he had been trying to get on the ground floor of some environmental solutions technology and Namjoon ended up knowing far more about it than even Seokjin would have guessed. His dad didn't always agree with Namjoon, but he appreciated their mind.
His mom saw Seokjin “settling down” with Namjoon as a chance that she’d have grandchildren soon. He and Namjoon weren’t there yet, but sometimes, on good days, Seokjin could see it.
* * *
The day after he told off Dohyun for calling Namjoon his boyfriend, Seokjin got a series of texts from his father, he almost ignored them because he knew it was probably about the meeting he had with Namjoon later that afternoon. And Seokjin had learned not to interfere. Namjoon was smarter than his father and his father knew it, but sometimes he wanted to know what he was getting into ahead of time.
But when the fifth message came in, Seokjin looked at his phone.
Can you just get over here.
So Seokjin dropped everything, literally, including his phone, the file he was holding, and his car keys three times before he got it together enough to drive across the city to their other location where his dad was running his environmental tests.
That he wasn’t pulled over for reckless driving and managed to not get into an accident was remarkable.
What he found after he convinced the security guards that in his rush he had forgotten his badge was Namjoon with tear tracks on their face, sitting in his dad’s office holding a cup of tea. They had lace gloves on their hands still, their favorite, but Seokjin could see that they were torn. Their shirt was torn. And there were bruises starting to show up on their calves.
People didn’t pick fights with Namjoon. They got spit at sometimes, called names, were socially shunned, frequently refused service. But Namjoon was too tall, too solid-looking for anyone to really want to fight with them. But a group of men had enough force together to make Namjoon fight back. And Namjoon wasn’t particularly good at fighting.
“What happened?” Seokjin rushed to Namjoon, kneeling in front of them, putting a comforting hand on their knee.
“There were four of them,” their voice was shaky. Seokjin hated it, hated feeling helpless, scared. Hating seeing Namjoon look so exposed, broken.
“Where?” Seokjin asked, trying to keep the rage that was starting to build inside him from showing.
“I was doing pro bono work for the women’s shelter nearby and it was lunch time so I went to that cafe I like. You know, the one with the perilla kimchi? I just went to use the toilet, and all four of them were there outside the door when I stepped out. They must have followed me from the women’s shelter. Sometimes men lurk around there.”
“What happened?” Seokjin asked flatly.
“I’m fine now,” Namjoon said, trying to reassure Seokjin, as if that would change the fact that Namjoon had been jumped, as if Seokjin wasn’t about to go track the men down and make them regret ever being born.
“You don’t have to tell us if it’s too hard,” Seokjin’s dad cut in.
Seokjin had forgotten that his dad was still in the room. Had forgotten that somewhere under there his father had an unexpected kindness in him.
Namjoon squeezed their eyes shut.
“No, it’s okay. They—they tried to lift up my skirt. They wanted to 'see how small my dick must be to dress like a bitch.' They ripped my shirt, trying to get it off me I guess. I was shouting for them to stop, cursing at them. I bit one of them pretty hard, kneed one of them in the balls so hard he fell over into the other and knocked him down. That was enough that I could get away. Since your dad’s office was nearby, I came straight here.”
Seokjin was breathing hard through his nose. If Namjoon hadn’t been able to get away, those assholes, that human scum, would have kept going, would have beaten Namjoon up or maybe worse, but he cut those thoughts off as best he could—he was this close to blacking out with rage.
“And the cafe owner?” Seokjin asked tightly.
“She’s a little old lady. She didn’t know what to do.”
“I’ll kill them,” he finally said.
“Hyung, no. They—no.”
Namjoon was shaking. Seokjin knew his own anger was making it worse, but how dare those men? How dare they treat Namjoon like they were a freak show exhibit?
Seokjin grabbed both of Namjoon’s hands and squeezed them. He was mostly trying to calm himself down. Namjoon did manage to get away. They were safe for now. And he would insist on coming with Namjoon to the women’s shelter next time—even though he knew that wouldn’t go over well. Maybe he could ask his cousin Jungkook, at least the kid could fight.
“Well, I’ll buy you new gloves,” Seokjin finally said.
Seokjin reached up to wipe the tears off Namjoon’s face, and then cradled their face in his hands.
“Have I ever told you how brave I think you are?”
“Yes,” Namjoon said. “I just wish being who I am didn’t require bravery.”
“You know what Yoongi would say, don’t you?”
“That being yourself is always an act of rebellion under capitalism,” Namjoon parroted.
“He’s right though.”
“I just don’t want to be afraid,” Namjoon said. “But I have to be afraid, on edge. I can’t ever be who I am and be completely protected.”
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” Seokjin replied, his anger deflating into his own tears.
“I’m just so tired,” Namjoon whispered.
Seokjin’s dad insisted on calling the police to give a statement. Namjoon tried to refuse, clearly worried how the police were going to react to seeing them. Odds were good they’d blame Namjoon for the way they looked.
“It’s just that you said they probably saw you at the women’s shelter,” his dad started to explain.
“Oh, you’re right. I’m being so selfish. You should call them. I got a very good look at all four, and there might at least be a restraining order violation among them.”
Seokjin ignored the tacit agreement the two of them had to not be overly affectionate around Seokjin’s family and leaned in to plant a kiss on Namjoon’s lips.
And Namjoon let him.
They went down to the lobby to wait for the police to show up. Seokjin sat pressed up against Namjoon, who made no move to put any distance between them.
As they waited, a kid came up to them, probably the son of one of the scientists who worked in the lab. He couldn't have been older than 6 or 7. The kid had run ahead of his mother, who was chatting with the receptionist. He looked at Namjoon curiously.
“Boys can wear skirts?” he asked, looking to Seokjin for guidance for some reason.
The woman hurried over to them having heard the question. Seokjin looked up and glared at her, daring her to say even one remotely offensive thing.
“Yes,” Seokjin answered the kid's question firmly, forgiving him the misgendering. “Anyone can wear whatever they want.”
“Really?” the boy turned to look at his mom for confirmation.
She looked out of her element, but she made eye contact with Namjoon, who jutted their chin out defiantly.
“Well, I guess they can,” she started. “So long as it’s appropriate for the setting. You wouldn’t wear a tutu to work.”
The boy giggled.
“Unless you were a ballet dancer,” Namjoon added gently.
“But a pencil skirt like that is fine for work,” the woman said, looking at Namjoon and giving them a small nod.
The boy seemed satisfied by that response.
She wished them a good evening and then headed out, the kid asking her more questions about appropriate attire as they went. Seokjin glanced over to see the ghost of a smile on Namjoon’s face.
“Mourn the losses because they are many. But celebrate the victories because they are few,” Seokjin said quietly.
Namjoon leaned over to rest their head on Seokjin’s shoulder. And they sat together like that until the police arrived.