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a shrike to your sharp and glorious thorn

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Coming back hurts less than Namjoon thought it would.

He expected the pain to be searing, ripping him apart from the inside, but in the last four years, it’s dulled to a throbbing ache, always there, but not quite as sharp as it had been when he’d left. He steps out of the airport and breathes in the late summer air, closing his eyes against the sting of tears. He presses his palm against his chest, right above his heart, pushing down on the phantom ache

“Joon-ah!” a familiar voice calls out, and Namjoon opens his eyes to see a familiar gummy smile.

Yoongi doesn’t hesitate, he pulls him in for a hug and holds him for a long moment. Namjoon lets himself bury his face in the shorter man’s hair, the bleached strands rough against his cheek.

“Missed you,” Yoongi says, almost so quiet that he misses it. “Missed you so fucking much Joon.”

“Missed you too, Yoons,” Namjoon replies, voice thick.

Yoongi finally pulls back, reaching for his hand and lacing their fingers together. He looks defiantly at Namjoon, daring him to say something. “Car’s over here.”

Namjoon dutifully follows, dragging his suitcase behind him. Yoongi leads them to his beat up old car, the same one he’s been driving since he was sixteen. The same one that-

“I’ll put it in,” he says, shouldering Namjoon out of the way to lift the suitcase into the trunk. Namjoon smiles fondly, something warm settling in his stomach.

“Thanks.”

Namjoon gets in to the passenger seat, tugging his seatbelt on as Yoongi starts the car. He’s assaulted by the cloying scent of fake pine emanating from the air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror. It’s the scent of his adolescence, his teenage years spent in this same car, the same scent clinging to their clothes as Namjoon and Yoongi got into what they thought was trouble. He can almost see a shock of bleached hair out of the corner of his eye, the backseat filled with hauntingly familiar laughter. He resolutely keeps his eyes forward.

“How was your flight?”

Namjoon shrugs. “Okay, I guess. I slept for most of it.”

“Yeah? That’s good. Makes time go faster.”

He can’t think of anything else to say, and they fall into an awkward silence. He’s not used to those with Yoongi, his best friend who he could talk about anything with. Before, conversation flowed between them, easy as anything. Before, their silences were comfortable, filled with years of friendship, companionship, the knowledge that the person beside him knew him better than he knew himself. Before.

Before.

Before.

Namjoon clears his throat. “So, uh, how’re your parents?”

“Good. They’re good. Dad retired, you know? It’s good, he spends his time. Like, gardening? It’s kinda weird, he always gives me vegetables he grows.”

“Cool, That’s nice of him.”

“Yeah.” Yoongi glances at him. “And your parents, are they-”

“I was thinking we could get dinner,” Namjoons says, cutting him off. “I’m starving, the plane food was gross.”

They stop at a red light and Yoongi turns away from the road to look at him, lips pursed. For a second, Namjoon worries he’ll say something. Yoongi from before would, Yoongi from before never let him get away with any bullshit, called him out when he needed it. But then his expression softens, his eyes sad. “Yeah Joonie, we can get food. What do you want?”

“Chinese? The place on Elm St?”

“Sure, we can pick it up on the way home.”

“Thanks.”

The rest of the car ride passes in silence.

 

He feels guilty, sneaking out after Yoongi falls asleep. He’s not sneaking out, per se. He’s not a teenager anymore, and Yoongi is definitely not his dad. But he knows exactly the look Yoongi would get if Namjoon told him he wanted to go out, the same look that kept creeping onto his face all through dinner.

So Namjoon goes into the guest bedroom, and waits until he hears Yoongi’s own bedroom door close before he starts to get ready. He dons a pair of ripped skinny jeans and a black t-shirt, pulling a leather jacket on top. He runs some product through his hair, slides a couple rings onto his fingers. He looks good. He doesn’t look like himself, doesn’t feel comfortable in these clothes, and that’s the point. He doesn’t want to feel like himself, back in the place that holds so many memories, that played an integral role in who he is. He wants to be someone else, wants to be the slick, attractive guy he sees in the mirror, not the crumbling person he was when he left four years ago.

The bar is half empty when he gets there, and he’s not surprised. It’s a Wednesday night, late enough that the after work crowd has left, leaving just a handful of patrons. He settles on a stool, ordering a whiskey neat.

The bartender slides it to him with a sunny smile.

Namjoon tosses it back in one go. “Could I get another? And start a tab?” he asks with a wince, the bitter taste of the liquor lingering in the back of his throat after the burn.

“Sure,” the bartender says, his smile a little dimmer. Namjoon gets it, understands what he probably looks like, but he can’t bring himself to care.

He sips the next one, eyes glued to the wood grain pattern of the bar, letting the ambient noise wash over him. It’s a good bar, warm lighting, comfortable stools, familiar in the way all mediocre bars are, but unfamiliar in the way that matters. He hasn’t been here before, even though he’s pretty sure the place has been around for a while. He was seventeen when he left, so the only drinking he did was in the back of Yoongi’s ancient Honda, bottles they begged Yoongi’s older brother to get them, wincing through sips of Smirnoff like they had something to prove.

He starts to feel it after his fourth drink, so he switches to beer, an IPA that his freshman roommate got him hooked on. The bartender gives him a Look, but Namjoon knows he can hold his liquor, has plenty of practice, probably too much.

After his second pint, he’s already promising himself that he won’t do this again for another month. No, two months. He’s not an idiot, and sad drinking alone is so easy to turn into something else, something that shares the edge of desperation he’s felt since he stepped off the plane.

“You know, you gotta pause between drinks if you want me to be able to buy you the next one,” a voice to his left says, dragging him from his thoughts.

The owner of the voice is beautiful, carefully tousled caramel hair falling into brown eyes, plush, pink lips pulled into a half smile, just the right side of confident.

“I can buy my own drinks,” Namjoon says, with a touch of playfulness to take away the sting of his words.

The man’s smile grows, and he leans against the bar. “I’m sure you can buy them, but it would be cruel to deny me the pleasure of treating a handsome stranger.”

Namjoon gives him a once over, dragging his eyes from those broad shoulder to his long legs, and back up again. “Well, I would hate to be cruel.”

The man smiles, nodding at the bartender. “Another pint?” the bartender asks.

“Whiskey, double please.”

 

Namjoon wakes up in an unfamiliar bed, an unfamiliar arm around his waist. His head is pounding, his mouth tastes disgusting, and it takes him a moment to realize he’s not wearing any clothes.

“Fuck.”

He carefully extricates himself from the guy spooning him, moving gingerly. His memories from the night before are blurry, but the burn in his thighs reminds him of exactly what happened. The room is dark, sunlight obscured by heavy curtains. He roots around for his clothes, pulling them back on with a grimace.

He’s tugging his shirt over his head when the guy says, “So you were going to leave without saying goodbye?”

Namjoon startles, tripping over his feet and crashing onto the bed.

The guy bursts into laughter, high pitched and squeaky. “Oh my god, sorry.”

“Uh, no worries,” Namjoon says, righting himself, and smoothing out his shirt. “Sorry about, um…”

“Hitting it and quitting it?”

Namjoon’s face heats. “Yeah.”

“No worries,” the guy says, waving it off. “We both knew what we were getting into, yeah?”

“Yeah.” Namjoon pats his pants pocket, and luckily his phone is there. Only it’s dead, the screen remaining black even as he thumbs the home button. “Fuck.”

“Phone dead?”

“Yeah, shit. I need to call an Uber.”

“Want to borrow a charger?”

“If it’s not too much trouble.”

The guy tosses over a cable, and Namjoon plugs it into the wall before hooking it up to his phone. “Thanks, um…”

The guy laughs. “Seokjin. I guess we never got to that part last night.”

Namjoon shoots him a sheepish smile. “Yeah, sorry. I’m Namjoon.”

Seokjin gets out of bed, shameless in his nudity even as he pulls on a robe. “I’m gonna get some water and an aspirin, you want anything?”

Namjoon’s throat is parched, and his head is throbbing, but this is awkward enough, he can’t ask for anything more. “No, I’m good.”

He waits until Seokjin leaves before powering on his phone. He has five missed calls and twelve texts from Yoongi.

Yoon
fuck joonie
just tell me where you are and if you’re alright

The guilt creeps up his throat, as he taps out a reply.

sorry, went out and crashed somewhere
be home soon

The reply is immediate,

Yoon
thank fuck
need me to pick you up?

Seokjin comes back in, but Namjoon replies before he looks up.

no, I’m getting an uber
thanks tho

He locks his phone and looks up, to see Seokjin holding two glasses of water. He passes one to Namjoon. “Here, you should hydrate.”

“Thanks.” Namjoon downs half the glass in one go, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “Uber should be here soon, I can wait downstairs.”

“Cool,” Seokjin says. “Your phone good to go?”

“Yeah, it has enough charge to last until I get home.”

Namjoon takes it off the charger and slips it into his back pocket. Seokjin leads him to the front door, still in his robe.

“So, uh, thanks. For the water, and the charger.”

“No problem,” Seokjin says easily, like this isn’t painfully awkward.

“Yeah, so, I’m gonna. Yeah.”

With a last, awkward wave, Namjoon leaves, his cheeks burning. He doesn’t bother looking back.

 

“I just don’t know why you felt the need to sneak out,” Yoongi says, his voice tight in the way it gets when he’s angry but doesn’t want to show it.

“I didn’t sneak out,” Namjoon says, rolling his eyes and feeling like a teenager. “I was feeling restless, so I went out for a drink. You were already asleep, I didn’t want to bother you.”

“And you stayed out all night?”

“I met a guy, we hooked up.”

Yoongi’s eyebrows shoot up. “You. Hooked up.”

“Yeah. So?”

“You had sex with someone you just met, and then left in the morning?”

“Jesus, yes, if you want to get into it, yeah. That’s what hooking up is.”

“Namjoon…” Disappointment, reproach, pity.

Namjoon turns away, looks at the ground, guilt choking him.

He sighs. It sounds sad. “Okay. Sorry. I woke up this morning and you were gone. I got worried, I’ll get off your ass about it.”

“Thank you.”

“Not like there’s much there, anyway.”

Namjoon smacks him in the shoulder. “Dick.”

“Go shower, you look like shit,” Yoongi says, shoving him back. “I’ll make breakfast.”

“Thanks.” He gets up, walks towards the bathroom and then pauses, turning back. He’s suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude, with love for his oldest friend, his best friend. “Thank you, Yoongi. You know I mean it.”

“I know, Joon.”

Namjoon gets in the shower, turning it as hot as he can stand. If he focuses on the sound of the water hitting the tiles, he can almost forget how sad Yoongi sounded.

 

Namjoon resolves to be better.

He’s been back for twenty four hours, and he’s already regressed back to how he was three years ago. So after his shower, and breakfast with Yoongi, he emails his therapist to set up a Skype call. Then he drags Yoongi out for a walk, needling him and whining until he relents. The conversation is still a little forced, stilted at times, but Namjoon powers through it, and so does Yoongi. Halfway through, Yoongi reaches for his hand, squeezing once, and holding on. Namjoon squeezes back, and doesn’t say anything about it. When they get back home, their cheeks pink from cold, they fit together a little bit better.

It’s odd the way he can see the spaces they might have filled, if they were still together. The slight hesitation before Yoongi initiates contact, the stiffness that never existed between them. Truthfully, Namjoon had been relieved when he’d called Yoongi up and asked if he could stay with him while he found his feet at this new job, and Yoongi had immediately told him he had a boyfriend. That expectation isn’t there, trying to find a way to work when they obviously don’t anymore, not like that. Maybe things would be different if-. But things are the way they are, and Namjoon has his best friend back, and that’s more than enough for him. He has to believe that.

“You’re different,” Yoongi says, after he’s been back a week. They’re curled up on the couch after a dinner of takeout, Yoongi’s feet on Namjoon’s lap, Namjoon resting his hand on a delicate ankle, warm and solid under his fingers.

“‘Course I am,” Namjoon agrees. “It’s been four years.”

“It’s more than that,” Yoongi presses.

Namjoon shrugs, suddenly uncomfortable. “You know how college is, new experiences, new people. I like to think I grew up, my head’s less in the clouds.”

“But I liked that Joon,” Yoongi says. He pauses, swallows. “I loved that Joon.”

Namjoon’s heart is heavy with everything that could have been, that can never be. “That Joon loved you. This Joon loves you.”

“Not like that though,” Yoongi says, his voice barely above a whisper.

“No,” Namjoon says, his voice just as quiet. “Not like that. And I don’t think this Yoongi loves me like that either.”

“You left, Joonie. Four years, you barely called. I had to ask your mom if you were even still al-”

“It was hard,” Namjoon cuts him off, heart beating too fast. “I wanted a fresh start. Needed it.”

“I know. It looks good on you, you know? I’m really happy to get to see the kind of person you are, always knew you’d be great.” Yoongi kicks him gently in the stomach, a fond nudge. “I’m sorry I didn’t wait.”

“Oh.” Namjoon tightens his grip on Yoongi’s ankle. “Oh no, Yoons, I never thought, I didn’t want you to. I don’t think I could have handled if you did. I’m glad you found someone, I’m glad you love him.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. I just want you to be happy, you know?”

“I want you to be happy too.”

Oh. “Okay.”

Neither of them address the elephant in the room. Namjoon has always found that expression funny, especially when it comes to this. Because it’s not something big in the room with them that they’re ignoring, but the gaping vacuum of someone missing, the emptiness that’s like a black hole, stealing all of Namjoon’s light.

Yoongi doesn’t mention it, even though Namjoon can see him thinking about it, about him and for that Namjoon loves him best.

 

Namjoon comes home from work one day to a stranger perched on the sofa, surrounded by books.

“Um,” Namjoon says from the doorway.

“Um,” the stranger says.

They stare at each other for a moment.

“Jungkook,” the stranger says, big eyes opened impossibly wider. “I’m, that’s me. Jungkook.”

“Oh. Cool, I’m Namjoon.” His brain finally slots the information together. “Oh, you’re Yoongi’s boyfriend, right?”

“Um. Yeah?” It comes out as a question.

Namjoon can’t help but laugh. “Hey, nice to finally meet you.”

“You’re his, um…”

“Friend. I’m his friend,” Namjoon says firmly.

“Oh. Cool.”

This is unbearably awkward, so Namjoon decides to remove himself from the situation. “Well, I’m pooped. I’ll be in my room.”

“Oh, cool. I’ll be here, I guess.”

“Cool.”

He beats a hasty retreat, mentally cringing at how many times they said cool over a twenty second conversation. Going by the muffled groan that comes from the direction of the living room, he guess that Jungkook is doing the same thing. This makes him feel a little better.

He changes out of his shirt and slacks, exchanging them for a soft, worn t-shirt and sweats. He lounges on the bed, scrolling through his phone, wondering where Yoongi is and whether choosing to starve in his room is an acceptable alternative to going to the kitchen and having to face Jungkook.

He’s not jealous, he decides, after some thinking. Jungkook, from the quick glance that he’d gotten, seemed…nice. A little awkward, but Namjoon can hardly fault him for that. He’s young and cute, and maybe that’s good for Yoongi, who likes taking care of people, who is so soft and sweet.

Yoongi knocks on his door, not waiting before he opens it. “Hey, I got Thai food for dinner, come on.”

Namjoon dutifully follows him, and there Jungkook is, laying out the food. He flushes when he sees Namjoon, and it’s endearing, gives Namjoon the confidence to let go of some of that initial awkwardness.

“Did you get Pad Kee Mao?” he asks, grabbing a plate.

“Yeah, but don’t eat it all, I want some too.”

They pile their plates with food, and for a little while it’s quiet while they all dig in.

“So, Jungkook, what do you do?”

“Oh. Um, I’m a student?”

“That’s cool, what are you studying?”

“Photography, but I’m doing a minor in vocal performance.”

“Really?” Namjoon asks, impressed. “That’s awesome.”

“It’s not really, I just like singing, and didn’t want to give it up just yet.”

“No, it’s cool that you stuck with your passion. Not enough people do that, you know?”

Jungkook looks at him with a pleased, little smile. “Thanks. What do you do?”

“I just started at an accounting firm, got the job a month ago, so that’s why I moved back.”

“Don’t let him be humble,” Yoongi interjects. “He was hired as an auditor basically straight out of school, it’s a big deal.”

Jungkook looks at him with wide eyes. “Wow, really? That’s really impressive.”

Namjoon rubs the back of his neck. “It’s not really. Just, I did an internship with one of the managers when I was in school. It’s mostly luck.”

Jungkook sighs loudly. “It’s not fair.”

“What?”

“You’re not supposed to be nice, now I can’t hate you.”

“Uh, why would you hate me?”

Jungkook gives him a look. “You’re my boyfriend’s ex, and you’re living with him, it’s well within my rights to hate you.”

“Oh, um, me and Yoongi, we’re not like that, not any-”

Jungkook mercifully interrupts him sputtering. “Yeah, I see that. I just didn’t expect you to be so damn likeable.”

“I’m sorry?”

Yoongi laughs, warm and fond. “Aw, my favourite boys getting along.”

“You literally sound like my grandma,” Jungkook says without missing a beat.

“Hey!”

“I don’t know, Yoons. He has a point. We should start a prune jar. Like a swear jar, but for when Yoongi says something an octogenarian would say.”

Jungkook waves his fist in the air. “Get off my lawn.”

“Kids these days!”

“I take it back, please hate each other.”

Namjoon and Jungkook are too busy laughing to pay him any mind. It’s nice. Namjoon feels light, like he’ll be alright.

 

He’s not expecting it when Jungkook invites him over for a movie night.

“It’ll be fun,” he’d promised, when he was over a few days ago.

“I don’t want to third wheel.”

“My roommate will be there too, don’t worry, it’ll be chill. We’ll order pizza.”

So Namjoon had caved and now he and Yoongi are on their way to Jungkook’s apartment. He’s a little nervous, not sure if Jungkook had extended the invitation out of courtesy, expecting (hoping) that he’d turn it down. Jungkook didn’t seem like that kind of person, but Namjoon has only met him a handful of times.

He’s so caught up in his worries that he doesn’t note that the building they go to is familiar, that he’s seen the apartment door they knock on, that he’s been inside this apartment before. Not until he sees Seokjin standing in the living room, looking at Namjoon like a deer in headlights.

“Oh,” Namjoon says, looking at the man he had fucked. “Hey Seokjin.”

“Hey Namjoon.”

Yoongi looks rapidly between the two of them. “Do you...know each other?”

“We met at a bar.”

“We fucked.”

“Ah.”

Jungkook looks way too amused, eyes dancing with mirth as he looks at the scene unfolding in front of him.

“Kook, I need your help,” Seokjin declares, his voice shrill. “In the bedroom.”

“If it’s in the bedroom, you sure you don’t want Namj-”

Seokjin slaps his palm over Jungkook’s mouth, and tugs him towards the hall. “Brb!”

“Did he just say “brb” out loud?” Namjoon asks.

“Did you really fuck Jungkook’s roommate,” Yoongi hisses.

“To be fair, at the time I didn’t know he was his roommate,” Namjoon says. “I mean, at the time I didn’t even know his name.”

Yoongi does not look mollified.

“I’m sure this will be a funny story to tell in a couple years,” Namjoon soothes.

“He’s a good guy, Joon,” Yoongi says seriously. “Don’t hurt him.”

“What?”

“This has the potential to get messy.”

“What the actual fuck are you saying? Are you my father? Or Seokjin’s? We’re both adults here.”

“Don’t act like-.” He takes a deep breath. “You know what? Fine. Do what you want.”

“Are you jealous? Is that what this is?”

Yoongi huffs. “No. I’m just telling you to be careful.”

“It was a hookup.”

“It’s never just a hookup, not with you.”

“You don’t know me Yoongi, not anymore.”

“Yeah, and whose fault is that?”

Namjoon rears back, the words like a slap. He can see the regret in Yoongi’s eyes, can guess that he wants to take them back, but they’re out now, an ugly truth they’ve both been dancing around for too long.

“So, who’s ready for some Lord of the Rings?” Jungkook asks, singsong as he walks back into the living room. He takes a look at Namjoon and Yoongi, and his face falls. “Or I can come back…?”

“No,” Namjoon says with forced cheer. “I wanna see some hobbits. Love me some hairy feet.”

Jungkook laughs, still a little uneasy as he eyes Yoongi. “Didn’t know you have a foot fetish, but it’s okay, there will be no kinkshaming under my roof.”

“Did someone say foot fetish,” Seokjin says, walking out and plopping down onto the sofa, right next to Namjoon.

“Yeah,” Jungkook says easily. “Namjoon has one, thought you would have known, considering-”

“Finish that and I’ll put a dead fish in your bed,” Seokjin threatens pleasantly.

Jungkook shuts up, and pulls Yoongi down into the armchair, both of them cuddling on the single seat.

Namjoon shoots him a grateful smile. “Nice save.”

“I’ve always found threats and blackmail are the best way to go with Kook.”

He can feel Yoongi watching them, so he shifts closer to Seokjin, pitching his voice a little lower. “Is that so? You’ll have to give me some more tricks some time.”

A delicate blush spreads across Seokjin’s cheeks. “I’d be happy to help.”

The movie starts, but Namjoon barely watches, attention torn between the warm line of Seokjin’s thigh pressed against his, and the heavy weight of Yoongi’s eyes as he watches them.

 

He gets Seokjin’s number. He doesn’t know if he does it because he wants to, or because he’s still mad at Yoongi. That makes him feel bad, because Seokjin seems like a nice guy, loud and funny and sweet. So he gets his number, and lets it sit in his phone for a week, lets himself forget about it.

Seokjin’s the one who texts him first, on Thursday evening, the one initiates it all.

Seokjin
Hey
If you’re not busy, you should come over
Im bored
[Image attached]

The selfie is of Seokjin with an exaggerated pout, nose scrunched up. The picture’s cute, but he’s also wearing an oversized shirt that’s slipping off his shoulder, collarbone peeking out. It’s late enough that there really can’t be any other reason that Seokjin would be inviting him over.

Namjoon loves and respects Yoongi, knows that he wouldn’t have said what he said without reason, knows that Yoongi cares for him and is trying to look out for him. But he also remembers the way that Yoongi had gotten caught up in Jungkook during the movie, running a hand through the younger boy’s hair, pressing kisses to his cheek in a way that was practiced, familiar. He’s not jealous. He won’t let himself be jealous, but he can let himself be lonely, that’s a little less dangerous.

So he taps out a reply to Seokjin, and requests an Uber.

 

Seokjin is on him as soon as he’s through the door, kissing his hot and desperate, tugging him to his room and shutting the door behind them. Namjoon presses him up against the wall, using the little height he has on him to pin him. Seokjin practically melts against him, eyes fixed on his mouth. Namjoon bites back a smirk, leaning in slowly to press a kiss to the corner of his mouth. The almost chaste brush of his lips against skin is a counterpoint to the way his leg is slotted between Seokjin’s, the way he can feel Seokjin half hard against his thigh.

Seokjin loses his patience, threading his fingers through Namjoon’s hair and pulling him down for a proper kiss, deep and dirty, Seokjin’s tongue against his. Seokjin tightens his hands in his hair and Namjoon moans, eyes slipping shut.

Namjoon trails his mouth along Seokjin’s jaw, careful not to leave a mark. Seokjin just tilts his head back, giving him more skin to taste.

“Fuck,” Seokjin says when Namjoon bites down, harder than he should. There’s a mark, red against his skin.

“That’s the idea,” Namjoon says, voice rougher than he wants it to be.

Seokjin laughs, breathless. He looks wrecked already, pupils blown, hair mussed, lips swollen. Namjoon kisses his again, firm and quick, before pulling him onto the bed.

They manage to get undressed, clothes dropped over the side of the bed to be dealt with later. It takes longer than it should, Namjoon getting distracted by the newly exposed skin. He can’t help himself, has to pause in taking off his pants to bite at Seokjin’s collarbone, working another mark onto his golden skin.

“You’re a vampire,” Seokjin laughs, though he doesn’t push him away. Namjoon presses his thumb onto the mark on his neck, gratified in the way Seokjin’s eyes flutter shut.

“You like it,” Namjoon says, not even trying hide how smug he is.

“Fuck you,” he says, any sting taken away by the way he pulls him closer, covering Namjoon’s mouth with his.

Seokjin groans into his mouth when Namjoon takes his cock in hand, stroking too lightly to give him any relief. He tightens his grip on Namjoon’s shoulders, fingers digging into his skin.

Namjoon pulls back, moving down his body. He presses kisses to his stomach, under his navel, to the cut of his hip. He can’t help himself, works a mark into the thin skin of his inner thigh.

Seokjin curses, hands fisted into the sheets. A part of Namjoon wants to keep him here, desperate and on the edge, wants to see how long he can keep him like this. He looks gorgeous already, flushed and hard and desperate. It feels gratifying, powerful, that Namjoon isn’t the only one affected by all this. He feels alive and present, committing every detail to memory, because he wants to remember it this time, wants to see Seokjin come apart under him.

“Jesus,” Seokjin gasps, when Namjoon takes him into his mouth. He threads his hands into Namjoon’s hair as he bobs his head, his cock heavy on his tongue. Namjoon looks up, sees Seokjin looking down at him. He hollows his cheeks and his rewarded by Seokjin throwing his head back, eyes now squeezed shut.

“You’re fucking mouth,” Seokjin says, tightening his hands in Namjoon’s hair. “You’re so fucking good at this, look so good with those lips, fuck.”

Namjoon’s answer to that is to take his cock deeper, relishing the way Seokjin curses, his hands getting even tighter in his hair. Namjoon loses himself in the feel of Seokjin’s cock heavy in his mouth, in the way Seokjin curses and moans and pants. Seokjin’s hips twitch up and Namjoon pins his hips down with his forearm, holding him in place.

“Sorry,” Seokjin says, breathless, curving a hand around Namjoon’s jaw in apology.

Namjoon pulls back, focusing his attention to the head, hands slick on his shaft. He tongues the slit, precome bitter on his tongue, Seokjin whining above him. He slides back down, taking him deep, until he hits the back of his throat. He goes deeper, swallowing around him. Seokjin’s moans have gotten louder, high pitched and desperate as Namjoon cups his balls. He keeps going, rubbing a dry finger against the pucker of his hole.

“I’m going to come,” Seokjin says, voice choked. Namjoon just moans around his cock. He comes hot and bitter down his throat. He’s still panting when Namjoon pulls off, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth.

“Fuck,” Seokjin says, pulling him up and kissing him. Namjoon ruts against his hip, Seokjin’s hands roaming his back, grabbing his ass, and it’s not long before he’s coming.

He collapses beside Seokjin, panting. They lie there for an indeterminate amount of time, both of them staring up at the ceiling.

“Ugh,” Seokjin says, making a face at the come painted on his thighs. “Clean me up.”

“Sorry,” Namjoon says, not apologetic at all, his voice wrecked.

“No you’re not.”

“No I’m not.”

“Clean me up,” Seokjin pouts.

Namjoon laughs. “I’m the guest.”

“So? It’s your come.”

“So? I sucked you off.”

Seokjin sighs, getting up. “Some points have been made.”

He goes into the bathroom, and comes back with a wet washcloth, that he throws onto Namjoon’s stomach, making his yelp.

“Here you go,” he says, smiling sweetly.

Namjoon wipes himself, and then tosses the washcloth back at Seokjin, who goes back into the bathroom. He sits there for a moment, wondering if now is when he should leave. It’s late, and his limbs are heavy with post-coital exhaustion. He sort of wants to just curl up and sleep forever, but doesn’t know if that’s taking this too far. This was obviously meant to be a booty call, and now that the booty has been had, he doesn’t know what etiquette demands. It’s different when it’s a stranger. He knows Seokjin, thinks they might be quasi-friends, or at least acquaintances by association. He’ll probably have to see him again, which makes it rude to leave without saying anything.

Seokjin collapse face first when he gets back, nuzzling into the pillow. “So you gonna stay?”

“Uh…”

“I can drop you off at your place tomorrow morning, before work. I have to go into the office early, anyway.”

Namjoon should probably refuse, he should go home to his empty bed, in his empty room, at his ex-boyfriend’s apartment.

“Okay, if you don’t mind.”

He lies back down, and Seokjin curls up beside him, close enough that he can feel the warmth radiating from his body, but not quite touching.

It’s nice. This is nice.

 

They run into Jungkook the next morning, which is extremely awkward. Namjoon is drinking coffee in his clothes from last night, when Jungkook stumbles out of his room.

“Uh, hey,” he says, looking between them. “What’s up?”

“Um…”

Seokjin saves him. “We’re just about to head out. There should be enough coffee left for a cup.”

Jungkook looks at him for a long moment, brow furrowed, before sighing. “Okay. Thanks.”

Namjoon waits until he’s retreated back to his room to bury his face in his hands and scream gently. Seokjin just laughs at him.

It’s early enough that there isn’t much traffic, and they make it to Yoongi’s apartment quickly. Namjoon lingers for a moment, his thoughts churning. “Thanks for the ride.”

“Thanks for the superb blowjob,” Seokjin says, grinning. “We should do it again sometime.”

Namjoon holds back a wince. “Um, I’m not really looking for anything serious right now. So if that’s what you want-”

“I’d prefer that actually,” Seokjin interrupts. “I can keep it casual if you can.”

The tension in Namjoon’s shoulders melts away, and he smiles in relief. “Yeah, I’d really like that. You’re fun.”

“And hot.”

He laughs. “And hot.”

“I’ll text you?” Seokjin asks, as Namjoon gets out of the car.

“Yeah, that sounds great. Thank’s Seokjin.”

“No problem.”

Namjoon watches as Seokjin pulls away after shooting him one last wave, and then heads inside.

 

He doesn’t hide it from Yoongi, but he doesn’t tell him either. He can tell that Yoongi finds out anyway, from the way he comes home from work that evening and just stares at Namjoon for a long moment, his expression indecipherable. (There was a time when Namjoon knew all of Yoongi’s faces)

He doesn’t say anything though, and Namjoon is glad. He doesn’t want to fight about this, he doesn’t want to fight about anything. Things with Yoongi just feel so precarious, like they’ve been built on shifting sands, and one wrong move could topple everything over.

The longer he’s back, the more he can feel the edges of what could have been pressing against him, a milky film covering reality. He watches Yoongi and Jungkook out of the corner of his eye, sees the softness, and fondness, and familiarity. It’s an easy, comfortable love. It reminds him of what he and Yoongi had.

He’s not jealous, he reminds himself, when he comes home to see Yoongi and Jungkook napping, all tangled up together on the sofa. He’s not jealous, he tells himself, when Jungkook makes Yoongi smile his big gummy smile, his face all scrunched up. He’s not jealous, he repeats to himself, when Yoongi wraps his arms around Jungkook’s waist, burying his face in his shoulder. He’s not jealous, he lies to himself, when he hears Yoongi brokenly moaning Jungkook’s name from behind a closed door.

He starts looking for a place of his own. He’s working now, and the pay is good enough to cover rent. He can feel the stirrings of bitterness starting in his gut, and he doesn’t want to give them a chance to take hold.

He also starts spending more time out of the apartment. Some of it, he spends alone, frequenting bookstores, and cafes, and galleries, and museums. It’s nice, if a little lonely at time, roaming the city on his own. But most of his free time, he spends with Seokjin.

The sex is good. The sex is great. There’s none of the awkwardness that comes with a relationship, catering to an ego, delicately handling pride. Seokjin is so shameless, completely brazen about asking what he wants.

“Mm, next time, can you finger me longer?” he asks, still catching his breath from his orgasm.

“You were literally begging me to put my dick in you, but go off I guess,” Namjoon says, kicking him weakly.

“Yeah, but like, don’t listen? Wait until I’m really desperate. I like that.”

Namjoon gives him a considering look, noting his red ears. “Sure.”

Next time, a few days later, Namjoon waits, drawing it out until Seokjin is in near tears, working him up to four fingers before sliding into him, fucking him hard and fast. Seokjin comes hard, moaning out his name, and Namjoon finishes soon after, hips stuttering as he comes, biting down on Seokjin’s shoulder.

Afterwards, Seokjin holding up his hand for a high five. “Great job, ten out of ten.”

“Oh my god, you dork,” Namjoon laughs, obliging him and slapping his palm. “Wait, what was I at before?”

“A solid eight, don’t worry. I wouldn’t have texted you if you weren’t good. But now you’re like,” he kisses his fingers.

Namjoon tries to smother him with a pillow.

They don’t spend all their time having sex. Seokjin has an extensive collection of video games and insists on beating Namjoon in all of them. He’s never been a fan of video games, but he indulges Seokjin because he gets so worked up whenever Namjoon manages to beat him, getting all red and shouting that there was a equipment malfunction.

“Hey, give me your controller,” he says, tossing his own down and reaching for Namjoon’s. “Obviously it’s the better one.”

Namjoon leans back, holding it out of reach. “Nope. This one’s mine.”

“Technically they’re both mine,” Seokjin says, climbing on top of him to get it.

“I don’t see your name on it,” Namjoon counters, stretching as much as he can to keep it out of Seokjin’s reach. “Legally, that means it’s mine. Trust me, I’m a lawyer.”

“Fuck off, you’re an accountant.”

“Wow, I love using my controller to beat you at video games.”

Seokjin resorts to tickling him, straddling him and attacking his sides, causing Namjoon to instinctively flinch, bringing the controller close enough for Seokjin to snatch.

“Ha!” he crows, moving to get off Namjoon.

Namjoon doesn’t let him, wrapping his arms around Seokjin’s waist, to keep him in place. Seokjin is taller than him like this, looking down at him through fluttering lashes, his cheeks flushed, mouth parted.

Namjoon kisses him sweetly at first, letting go of his waist to cup his face. Seokjin drops the controller, burying his hands in Namjoon’s hair as he deepens the kiss.

Okay, they still spend a lot of time having sex.

But they do other things too, usually before or after. Seokjin is a good cook, and delights in making Namjoon try his culinary experiments. They’re not always good, and Namjoon never lies when a certain combination doesn’t work, but Seokjin seems to appreciate this.

“Jungkook will literally eat anything, so it’s good to have someone who has a semblance of a palate, and isn’t a human garbage disposal,” Seokjin explains.

“Not a garbage disposal, you say the sweetest thing babe,” Namjoon says, taking a bite and moaning. He stuffs another forkful into his mouth. “S’good.”

“Thanks,” Seokjin says, his voice oddly strangled.

Namjoon looks up from his plate, brow furrowed. Seokjin’s back is to him. “You okay?”

There’s a beat of silence, and then Seokjin turns with a smile. “Yeah. Just hungry.”

Namjoon doesn’t say anything, just keeps eating.

 

“So, what’s up with you and Yoongi?” Seokjin asks, a couple months after they started their thing.

“What do you mean?” Namjoon says, not looking up from the book he’s reading.

It’s late Sunday afternoon, biting November winds whistling outside the windows. Seokjin had fucked him a few hours ago, and now they were curled up in bed, Namjoon making his way through a book a coworker had recommended, while Seokjin scrolled through social media on his phone. It’s comfortable to exist together like this, neither of them demanding anything of the other, just luxuriating in quiet companionship. They’ve been doing it more often lately.

“Like, there’s obviously history there. Kook said you guys used to date?”

Namjoon sighs, putting down the book. “Yeah. But then I left for college and we broke up.”

“That’s it?”

He laughs, forced. “Don’t worry, Jungkook has nothing to worry about, me and Yoongi are definitely over.”

Seokjin doesn’t let it go. “It’s just kind of weird, that you’re living with your ex, is all.”

“Me and Yoongi were friends for a long time,” Namjoon says evenly, trying not to get defensive. “We’ve known each other practically our whole lives. We’ve always been best friends first.”

Seokjin shrugs, eyebrows raised, before going back to his phone. “You do you, I guess.”

It sits wrong in Namjoon’s chest, and he doesn’t know why.

“Anyway, what are you doing for Thanksgiving?’ Seokjin asks. “Are you going to do something with your parents?”

“Uh, no. We’re not really big on holidays.”

Seokjin gives him a weird look. “Really?”

Namjoon shrugs. “What about you? Doing a big family dinner?”

“Nah, my parents are visiting the motherland, and my brother’s going to his in laws’ place.”

“Oh, sucks.”

“Meh, I don’t have to worry about fielding questions about when I’m getting married,” Seokjin says, rolling his eyes. “I was planning on ordering fried chicken and marathoning Harry Potter, if you want in.”

Namjoon wants to refuse. It feels dangerous, like crossing a line that’ll change things. But Seokjin offers it so easily, like it means nothing when it could mean so much. It’s on the tip of his tongue to refuse, but then he remembers Yoongi’s offer. Jungkook is going to the Mins’ house as well, and Namjoon hadn’t known how to refuse the invitation without hurting Yoongi’s feelings. He’s known the Mins for almost his entire life, and he knows if he goes the day will be filled with pitying looks and soft words. If he accepts Seokjin’s offer, he’ll have a legitimate excuse not to go.

“Yeah,” he says casually. “That sounds fun.”

And it is. Seokjin orders too much food, and as the wine dwindles, they get more and more heated about the inaccuracies in the movies. They’re too full of chicken and wine to fuck, so instead they fall asleep on the couch, legs tangled together, Namjoon’s head resting on Seokjin’s chest.

It’s the best Thanksgiving he’s had in a long time.

 

Seokjin’s birthday is in early December. Seokjin himself doesn’t tell Namjoon; he’s forced to find out from Jungkook.

“We’re having like a little party for him,” Jungkook says one morning, dressed in boxers and one of Yoongi’s hoodies. “You should come.”

“Uh, me and Seokjin aren’t dating, or whatever,” Namjoon explains..

Jungkook rolls his eyes. “Yeah, but you’re friends, right?”

“I guess…”

“Then you should come. It’s not gonna be big, just us, some of my friends from school, a couple of his coworkers.”

“Sure,” Namjoon agrees, before he can stop himself.

Jungkook beams at him. “Great.”

He doesn’t let himself fret about it, because the whole point of keeping this casual is to avoid all this. He goes to the mall and buys the first thing that makes him think of Seokjin, a set of fancy scented candles. Seokjin likes to light them when he’s taking bath, a few of which Namjoon has joined him in. So really, he rationalizes to himself, it’s a gift for himself too.

Namjoon and Yoongi go to the party together, and it’s a little awkward. Yoongi eyes the wrapped gift, eyebrows raised mockingly, but Namjoon refuses to rise to the bait. It’s no one’s business what exactly is going on between him and Seokjin, least of all Yoongi.

The party has already started by the time they get there, more people in the apartment than Namjoon expected. There’s music playing, something poppy that’s probably Jungkook’s doing. Seokjin bounces over to them as soon as they get rid of their coats, beaming and pulling them both in for hugs.

Namjoon leans in to kiss him instinctively, and Seokjin obliges him without a thought. Namjoon freezes, but Seokjin doesn’t seem phased, taking the present from him and cooing appreciatively.

“Wow, feels heavy,” he says, hefting it a few times. “Better be expensive.”

Namjoon rolls his eyes, blush hot on his cheeks. “I got it at the dollar store.”

Seokjin swoons. “Ooh, big spender, I thought it was from the dime store.”

“Dime store? We get it, you were born in 1913.”

Seokjin shoves him, and then crowds them towards the kitchen and the makeshift bar. Namjoon can feel Yoongi’s eyes on him, a physical weight as Seokjin makes him a drink, mixing whiskey and coke without asking. He takes it with a smile, downing half of it in one go.

“Well, someone’s in the party spirit then,” Seokjin says, laughing his squeaky laugh.

He’s called away by someone, and Namjoon’s left in the kitchen with Yoongi and his knowing look.

“So, what exactly are you and Seokjin doing?” Yoongi asks, not bothering with beating around the bush.

“We’re fucking,” Namjoon says bluntly.

“Is that it?”

“Yes,” Namjoon says, annoyed. “And if it wasn’t, what’s it to you?”

“You’re my friend, Joon. And so is Seokjin, I don’t want to see either of you hurt.”

“We’re adults,” Namjoon says. “We know what you’re doing.”

“Do you though?”

Namjoon sighs, annoyed. “Does your boyfriend know that you spend your time asking after who I’m fucking?”

“What’s the supposed to mean?” Yoongi asks, heated.

“Just that maybe you should focus on your own dick, instead of mine.”

“God, stop being such a fucking child and be honest about your emotions for once.”

“I think I know my emotions better than you do, thanks.”

“Right,” Yoongi says, snorting. “That’s why you’re so terrified of admitting that you like him.”

“Fuck off,” Namjoon says, throwing back the rest of his drink.

“Gladly.”

He stalks out of the kitchen, and Namjoon is left alone. He pours himself another drink, leaving out the coke for more whiskey. When he emerges, he kind of regrets fighting with Yoongi, if only because he doesn’t know anyone else here.

He talks to some of Seokjin’s coworkers, making small talk and sipping his drink. He wonders how long the party is going to last, and whether it’s worth it to stay to the end if that means he can suck Seokjin off.

He’s debating whether he should just dip, when he hears a familiar laugh. It pierces through the music, the sound of a dozen people talking, lodging itself deep in Namjoon’s chest. The pain is startling, rushing to fill the hole that’s been carved in his chest for four years. Part of him thinks he’s just drunk, the whiskey playing tricks on him. He wants to just drop the floor and curl up in a ball, hiding away until it’s safe.

He can’t do that, but he can do the next best thing, holing himself up in Seokjin’s room with a bottle of whiskey. He grabs one from the kitchen, ignoring the judgemental look one of Seokjin’s friends shoot him. He’s almost to the hallway when someone calls out his name.

“Namjoon hyung?”

He wants to ignore it, wants to just dash into the safety of Seokjin’s room and dive under the covers, breathing in the scent of lavender that clings to his sheets.

An arm loops around his neck, Jungkook forcing him to turn. “Oh, you know Namjoon?”

Namjoon raises his eyes, taking in the sight of Jimin, four years since he last saw him. He looks so different, chubby cheeks gone, hair dyed blonde. The last vestiges of childhood that had been clinging to him are gone, and he looks so adult that it makes Namjoon’s heart ache.

“Jimin, hey.”

“Oh. I didn’t know you were back, hyung,” Jimin says, stepping forward hesitantly.

Namjoon hesitates, but then opens his arms. Jimin steps into them, and Namjoon hugs him tight. He’s still small, still shorter than him, for all that he’s grown up.

When he pulls away, Jimin’s eyes are shiny. “Missed you, hyung.”

“I missed you too, Jiminie.”

Jungkook is looking between them, brows furrowed. “Wait, how do you two know each other?”

“Oh, I was Namjoon’s b-”

“Family friend.”

Jimin looks at him oddly for the interruption, but he nods slowly. “Yeah, family friend.”

Jungkook doesn’t catch the exchange, beaming at them. “That’s so cool. Jimin’s on the dance team with me at school. Weird how we all know each other.”

“Yeah, weird.”

“Uh, hyung?” Jimin asks. “Could we talk? I want to catch up.”

“Sure, yeah, let’s do that.”

Jungkook takes the hint, because he goes off to find Yoongi. Namjoon feels weird talking in the midst of all these strangers, so he brings Jimin to Seokjin’s room, closing the door behind them.

“When did you get back?” Jimin asks, perching on the bed.

Namjoon sits beside him, taking a swig from the whiskey bottle. “Few months ago.”

“Your parents didn’t say anything.”

“You talk to my parents?”

“Yeah, once in a while.”

Namjoon laughs bitterly. “You’re a better son to them than me.”

“How have you been?”

He shrugs. “Okay. Alive.”

Jimin winces. “Yeah. Same.”

“You’re in university now, right? Same one as Jungkook?”

“Yeah. Studying dance.”

“Really? Good for you.”

“Thanks,” Jimin says, shooting him a sad smile. “I figured I should do it, you know? Try and live out my dream.”

“No, I’m glad.” He doesn’t say anything about his own dream, doesn’t talk about how he gave up music for accounting, about the regret he doesn’t let himself feel.

They settle into a silence, neither of them knowing what to say, the sounds of the party filtering through the door. Who would have thought, that of all places he’d run into Jimin here. This piece of his past already nestled into the puzzle of his present without him even knowing. It feels bad and wrong, a reminder of everything that could have been, that can never be. It feels like no matter how hard Namjoon tries to run from it, his past is swallowing him, the sadness permeating every part of who he tries to be. It’s everything that Namjoon has spent the months since he came back trying to ignore, and now it’s staring him in the face in the form of this boy.

“Have you been to see him?” Jimin asks gently, breaking the silence.

Namjoon clears his throat, looking down at his hands. “Not yet.”

“If you don’t want to go alone, I could come with you? I go like, a couple times a month.”

“Really?” Namjoon asks, guilt clawing up his throat.

“He’s a good listener,” Jimin says simply.

“Yeah.”

“We could go now, if you want?”

“Now?”

Jimin shrugs. “Yeah, why not?”

Maybe it’s the alcohol, maybe it’s their serendipitous reunion, but Namjoon suddenly feels ready in a way he hasn’t in the last four years. “Yeah, why not. Let’s do it.”

Jimin might be all grown up, but when he smiles like that, Namjoon can still see the little kid he was, gap toothed and chubby, and god does it hurt.

 

Namjoon wakes up to someone pounding on his door. His head aches with the kind of hangover you only get from cheap whiskey, and he wants to stay in bed and make Yoongi answer, only he remembers that Yoongi stayed over at Jungkook’s after the party.

It had been late when he’d gotten back, Jimin and him parting ways after their outing, exchanging phone numbers and promising to meet up. Namjoon had even almost meant it at the time.

He pulls on some sweats, and answers the door, surprised to see Seokjin standing there.

“Oh, it’s you?”

“Yeah,” Seokjin says shortly. “It’s me.”

He stalks in, brushing past Namjoon, eyes darting everywhere.

“So, what are you doing here?”

Seokjin doesn’t answer, looking around the living room before heading towards Namjoon’s room.

“Seokjin, what the fuck?”

He flings open Namjoon’s door, staring into it for a moment before turning to Namjoon with a sneer. “So he left already then?”

“What?” It’s only now that Namjoon’s reading the anger in Seokjin’s body, shoulders tense, hands clenched, handsome features twisted with jealousy.

“Your little friend.”

“What the fuck are you going on about?” Namjoon asks, pushing past him into his room and flopping onto his bed.

“Jungkook told me, that you left with Jimin last night.”

“Yeah?”

“Just wondering if he’s a good fuck.”

Oh. “You’re mad because you think I slept with Jimin?”

“You’re telling me you didn’t?”

“What does it matter if I did or not?”

“Seriously?” Seokjin spits.

“We said we were casual, no strings attached. That means we’re not exclusive.”

“Fuck off. You came to my fucking birthday party and picked up, that’s so shitty.”

“First of all, Jimin and I didn’t sleep together. And even if we did, it’s none of your business.”

“You’re telling me that you left together at midnight, and what, had a chat?” Seokjin asks skeptically.

“Like I said, it’s none of your business. But I’m telling you, I didn’t sleep with him, he’s just a friend.”

“What, is he another ex? You going to move in with him next?”

“Fuck off, he’s a friend.”

“Yoongi doesn’t know him.”

“Yoongi doesn’t know all my friends,” Namjoon counters.

Seokjin scoffs. “I thought Yoongi’s your best friend that you’ve known all your life. Choose a story and stick with it.”

“Why are you acting like this?” Namjoon asks.

“I just want to know why you ditched my fucking birthday party for some twink!”

“We went to visit my dead brother’s gravestone!”

The words echo around the room, and Namjoon wishes he could take them back. It doesn’t feel right, bringing Taehyung into this argument, pulling the dead brother trump card.

“What?”

Namjoon rubs a hand over his face. “He and my brother were best friends. That’s why Yoongi doesn’t know him.”

“I didn’t know you had a brother.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t anymore.”

“Namjoon, I’m sorr-”

“Can you leave? Please?”

Seokjin’s mouth closes with a snap. Namjoon doesn’t look at him, keeping his eyes fixed on the ceiling.

“Yeah. I’ll go. Sorry.”

The door clicks shut behind him, and Namjoon doesn’t get up for a long time.

 

[Image: A newborn baby in a hospital cot, swaddled in a white blanket. A man stands next to it, holding a toddler that is reaching towards the baby, eyes wide, hand outstretched

Reverse: Namjoon meeting Taehyung for the first time, December 31, 1995]

 

[Image: Two young boys at the beach, the older wearing a sun hat, smiling at the camera to show two missing front teeth. He is holding his fingers in a V behind the younger boy, who is also smiling, holding a plastic shovel and pail in his hands

Reverse: Namjoonie (6) and Taehyungie (4) at the beach, July 8, 1999]

 

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY
LOV: JOONIE and taehung

 

[Image: Two boys in sleeping bags on the living room floor, both fast asleep. The younger boy is clutching to the older boy’s sleeve, a stuffed bear tucked into the crook of his other arm

Reverse: Taehyung (10) and Namjoon (12) having an indoor camping trip, April 14, 2006]

 

Sunrise Cinemas: Spiderman 3
3:15 pm
May 19, 2007
CHILD

Sunrise Cinemas: Spiderman 3
3:15 pm
May 19, 2007
GENERAL/ADULT

 

[Image: Two boys dressed up as vampires, smiling wide and showing off their plastic fangs

Reverse: Taehyung (12) and Jimin (12) ready for trick or treating, October 31, 2008]

 

[Image: Two teenagers standing in front of a school. The older has his arm around the younger, who is wearing slacks and a button down shirt, proudly displaying the diploma in his hands

Reverse: Namjoon (15) and Taehyung (13) at Taehyungie’s middle school graduation, June 29, 2009]

 

August 3, 2011
Joonie Hyung,
I’m sorry. I just can’t do it anymore. It’s too much.
I love you.
Tae Tae

 

Operator: 911, what’s your emergency?
Caller: I-it’s my little brother. Something’s wrong, he’s not moving
Operator: What’s your address?
Caller: 836 Spruce St
Operator: Help is on its way. Is your brother hurt? Is he bleeding?
Caller: Something’s wrong, I keep shaking him and he won’t wake up. He’s really cold.
Operator: Do you know how to check for a pulse
Caller: I think so? [pause] I can’t feel anything
Operator: Help will be there soon
Caller: [sobbing] I think he’s dead

 

Hi, you’ve reached Namjoon. I can’t come to the phone right now, so please leave a message. [BEEP] Hey baby, it’s eomma. I know you said you were staying at school over the break, but I just-. It’s our first Christmas without Tae and you’re won’t be here either [sniff] I feel like I’ve lost both my boys. [sigh] [BEEP] Re-record your message after the tone. [BEEP] Hey baby, just calling to see how you’re doing. Good luck on your exams! Try and give me a call when you get this. Love you.

 

Namjoon goes out and gets drunk. He knows it’s not a healthy way to deal with his emotions, but he honestly can’t give a fuck at the moment. He’ll let his therapist be disappointed in him later, not all he cares about is numbing the maelstrom of emotion swirling in his chest. All he can see is the look on Seokjin’s face, pity dripping from his features. It makes him sick. So he goes out to a bar and orders enough whiskeys that he feels less like he’s going to throw up.

It’s the same bartender as last time. Tonight, Namjoon notices the delicate beauty of his slender face, a bright shock of red hair complimenting bronzed skin.

It’s quiet enough tonight that he sticks around after he slides Namjoon his third whiskey of the hour, leaning against the other side of the bar, chin propped in one hand. “Boyfriend troubles?”

“I don’t have a boyfriend,” Namjoon says, with vicious satisfaction.

The bartender raises his eyebrows. “What about the guy from last time?”

Namjoon ignores the question. “You remember me?”

The bartender gives him a lingering look. “You’re not easy forget.”

“Is that so?” Namjoon asks, one side of his mouth tipping up. “I’m Namjoon.”

“Hoseok.”

Hoseok stays near him, flitting off to makes someone a drink when they need it, but always coming back. Engaging in light, flirty conversation, distracting Namjoon from all of the things he doesn’t want to think about. There’s a kindness underlying the lingering looks, and he starts spacing out Namjoon’s whiskeys with glasses of water. It’s enough that Namjoon isn’t fall down drunk by the end of the night, just pleasantly tipsy instead. He’d be upset, if not for the way he’s pretty sure Hoseok is going to be going home with him at the end of the night.

Sure enough, near midnight that Hoseok says, “So, tell me if I’m reading this wrong, but I’m off in twenty minutes.”

Namjoon takes in Hoseok, with his loud laugh, and gente teasing, and heart shaped smile, and he says, “No, you’re not reading this wrong.”

 

The next morning is less awkward than Namjoon expected. Hoseok seems well versed in hookup etiquette (unlike someone else, Namjoon thinks with a churn of guilt that he ignores), and starts pulling on his clothes after Namjoon wakes him up.

“This was fun,” he says with a bright smile.

“Yeah,” Namjoon says, running a hand through his hair. “You want coffee before you go?”

“That’d be great, yeah.”

Namjoon slips on a pair of sweats, and leads Hoseok to the kitchen. They chat as it brews, small talk that doesn’t take much effort. Hoseok apparently tends bar part time, working at a dance studio during the day.

“Oh, cool. I have a friend studying dance,” Namjoon says, remembering Jimin.

“Really? That’s awesome!” Hoseok seems completely genuine in his enthusiasm.

“This might be weird, but could I get your number to pass along? He mentioned being worried about what he could do after he graduates.”

“Yeah, no problem. I’m always happy to help. I remember freaking out my last year too.”

They’ve just swapped numbers when the front door opens, Yoongi and Jungkook trudging in.

For a moment, everyone freezes.

Namjoon knows this looks exactly like what it is. He’s shirtless, dark smudges littering his neck and chest, hair mussed from sleep. Hoseok is in last night’s clothes, hair also a mess. They’re huddled close, leaning into each other’s space.

“What the fuck,” Yoongi says, his voice deadly calm.

“Uh, thought you said you didn’t have a boyfriend,” Hoseok says, laughing nervously as his eyes dart between them.

“I don’t,” Namjoon says, lifting his chin in a challenge.

“Okay… I’m gonna go then,” Hoseok says. “You have my number.”

Namjoon tears his eyes away from Yoongi, rubbing the back of his neck. “Yeah. Uh, thanks, for, you know.”

He laughs once. “Yeah. Back at you.”

Silence rings through the apartment after he closes the door behind him.

Surprisingly, it’s Jungkook who breaks it. “I can’t believe you did that to Seokjin.”

Namjoon huffs. “I didn’t do anything to anyone.”

“Really?” Jungkook challenges. “Because to me it looks like you cheated on him.”

“Well I didn’t. We’re not dating, we’re not together, so it’s not cheating.”

“Is that what you told yourself about Jimin too?” Jungkook asks nastily.

Namjoon rolls his eyes. “Nothing happened between me and Jimin, and even if it did, it wouldn’t matter because me and Seokjin aren’t even together.

Yoongi snorts at that.

“What?” Namjoon asks.

“No, I wanna keep hearing you delude yourself.”

“Fuck you,” Namjoon says lowly.

“I’m serious, keep going. I mean, this is easier than dealing with genuine human emotion, right?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means that when things get hard, you run. Instead of sticking things through, you walk away.”

Namjoon chokes on a laugh, his eyes burning with tears he refuses to let fall. “Right. Right, I forgot this is all about you.”

“All about me?” Yoongi asks. “God forbid it be about me and my feelings for one goddamn second.”

“What is it that you want? What you’ve been waiting for? An apology? Fine, I’m sorry.”

“That’s not what I fucking-”

“No, you’re right. It’s always about me. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry that I left, that I needed to get away from this place after Taehyung died. Please forgive me, for needing to be somewhere else, and not considering your fucking feelings, for going somewhere I don’t see my fucking dead brother everywhere I turn. I’m so fucking sorry that my immediate thoughts were not about you when my little brother fucking killed himself!”

His words echo around the room, terrible and honest. There are tears wet on Namjoon’s cheek, and he wipes at them furiously. Yoongi’s eyes are wet too, and Namjoon gets no satisfaction from it, can’t feel anything than the sick grief filling him up, pressing against his lungs, making it hard to breath.

“That’s not what I meant, Joonie,” Yoongi says gently, coming forward to wrap his arms around Namjoon.

“I know,” he says. “I know you didn’t mean it like that.”

“Joonie, sweetheart, you need to stop hurting yourself,” Yoongi says, choked with emotion. “You keep doing this, baby. You keep making yourself miserable. You went to college on the other side of the country, leaving behind your support system months after Tae died. You gave up music for accounting. And now you’re not letting yourself have a relationship with Seokjin.”

“I w-wanted something casual,” he sniffs, protesting weakly.

Yoongi gives a watery laugh. “You’re Namjoon, you don’t do no strings attached. You love strings, you want every single string possible. You love romance, and cuddling, and dates. And you love Seokjin, Joonie. You gotta admit that, even if it’s only to yourself.”

“How can I be happy when Tae’s not here?” Namjoon asks, finally giving voice to the question that’s been rattling around inside him since they buried his fifteen year old brother. “He’s gone. He’s dead, Yoons. I was supposed to protect him, I was his big brother, and now he’s dead.”

Namjoon shakes apart, sobbing, and all Yoongi can do is hold him.

 

There’s a gentle knock on his door. “Can I come in?”

“Yeah,” Namjoon asswers, voice still hoarse.

Yoongi walks in holding a water bottle, that he passes to Namjoon before sitting on the edge of his bed.

“Drink that, you’re probably dehydrated,” Yoongi says.

Namjoon obliges, chugging half the bottle. “Thanks.”

“No problem.”

“Jungkook gone?”

“Yeah, he left a little while ago.”

“Mm.”

Namjoon feels oddly better now. After he’d finally stopped crying, He’d taken a shower, washing all the snot and tears from his face, changing into his softest pajamas. He’d fallen asleep, exhausted from the emotional toll of the last two days, not to mention the ridiculous amount of alcohol he’d consumed. He’d decided then that he’d take a break from drinking. He’d thought he was too smart for it to become a problem, and yet here he was, so many terrible decisions fueled by whiskeys. He knows that he can’t blame this tangle of problems on inebriation, they’ve been around for far too long for that, but it definitely hadn’t helped.

“I think I need to move out,” Namjoon says.

Yoongi takes a minute to respond. “Yeah, I think you do.”

“It’s not that I don’t appreciate this Yoongi, but I don’t think it’s good for me, for either of us, really.”

“Yeah. I think it’s too close to what could have been.” There’s a wry twist to Yoongi’s mouth.

“I’m sorry.”

“Me too.”

Yoongi moves slowly, cupping Namjoon’s cheeks with his big hand, leaning in close. Their noses brush, breath caught between them. The kiss starts out just a brush of lips. But then Yoongi presses closes, kissing him deep and slow. Namjoon loses himself in it, forgetting everything. Nothing exists outside of them, of the points of contact between them, Yoongi’s mouth on his and his hands holding him like he’s something precious.

Namjoon’s the one who breaks it, but he doesn’t pull away, resting his forehead against Yoongi’s as they both catch their breaths.

“You love Jungkook,” Namjoon says into the space between them.

Yoongi dips back in, kissing him sweet as sugar. “And you love Seokjin.”

“I could,” Namjoon admits for the first time. “I really think I could.”

“I don’t want to lose you again,” Yoongi whispers, eyes squeezing shut.

Namjoon kisses the corner of his mouth, once, twice. “You won’t. I promise.”

“I feel like I’ve already lost a part of you,” Yoongi says, kissing him again. “This part.”

“I think, if we want to stay friends, we need to let this part go. Because I don’t want to be jealous anymore, Yoons. It was killing me, I think. And we need to close the door on this.”

“I was going to ask you to marry me,” Yoongi says with a sad smile. “Not right then, but in a couple years. I’d already started saving for a ring.”

There are tears in his eyes when Namjoon smiles back. “I would have said yes.”

“And now?” Yoongi’s voice is barely a whisper, the words hidden in a breath. The secret hangs between them, suspended in the air, in the barest space between their mouths.

Namjoon brings their lips together, swallowing the question, tucking it close to his heart. “God, a part of me still wants to say yes.”

“And the other part?” Yoongi asks, eyes sad and knowing.

“The other part knows that we can’t make each other happy, not anymore. There’s too much history. And you have Jungkook.”

“And I have Jungkook,” Yoongi says. He kisses him again, and Namjoon knows that this is the last kiss they’ll ever share. They take their time, and Namjoon tries his best to commit it to memory, Yoongi’s lips against his, the taste of him on his tongue, the warmth of his love filling him up.

This time they break apart for good, Yoongi putting some distance between them. He still reaches for his hand though, lacing their fingers together. “I still love you, Joonie.”

“I know Yoons. I think I’ll always love you.”

Yoongi squeezes his hand, and Namjoon thinks they’ll be okay.

 

He meets Seokjin at a cafe. At first, he doesn’t answer Namjoon’s calls and texts, but Jungkook must have intervened, because he eventually replies, agreeing to let him apologize in person.

Namjoon wipes his sweaty palms on his pants, before wrapping them around a mug of tea. He bounces his leg under the table, eyes fixed on the door.

When Seokjin finally shows up, five minutes late, he looks good. He’s in a turtleneck, round glasses perched on his nose. Namjoon wants wrap him up in his arms and bury his face in his hair and breathe in the smell of his shampoo.

Seokjin nods at him, but goes to the counter first, ordering something, probably a hot chocolate. He has a horrible sweet tooth that he denies vehemently. Namjoon wonders how he managed to convince himself he only wanted Seokjin for sex when he’s spent their time together carefully curating the little things that make him up.

“Hey,” he says, when Seokjin settles across from him.

“Hi.”

“Um,” Namjoon says, looking at his hands, then forcing himself to look Seokjin in the eye. “I wanted to apologize, first.”

“I thought there was nothing to apologize for,” Seokjin says coldly. “We were never exclusive.”

Namjoon winces. “Yeah, I never should have said that. I was hurt, and I took it out on you, I’m sorry.”

“Jungkook told me, you know. About the guy you fucked. Not Jimin, the other guy.”

“Yeah. I was, that was a really shitty thing to do, I’m so sorry.”

“Yeah, it was. Especially when you knew I would be upset.”

“You’re right,” Namjoon says. “You’re absolutely right, and I just wanted to explain.”

Seokjin sighs. “Fine.”

“Okay. So, I want to start off that I know this isn’t an excuse. I don’t want to use this as an excuse. I just want you to understand where I’m coming from, why I’ve been so hot and cold, I guess.”

He can see Seokjin softening, the cold expression slipping off his face. “Okay.”

“So, I kinda mentioned it, but my brother died four years ago,” Namjoon says, taking a deep breath. “He was fifteen, and he committed suicide.”

“Oh, Namjoon, I’m so sorry.” Seokjin reaches across the table, covering Namjoon’s hand with his.

“Yeah. I was the one who found him,” Namjoon says, his voice thick with tears. “I came home from school, and he was in his room. He wasn’t supposed to be there, he was supposed to be at school. It looked like he was napping, so I tried to wake him up and he-. I called 911, but it was too late, he’d been dead for over an hour by then. Took a bunch of sleeping pills.”

“I wonder sometimes, what would happen if I’d skipped last period or something, if I’d gotten home early enough to stop him,” Namjoon shakes his head, wiping at the tears threatening to fall. “None of us knew he was depressed. Taehyung was, he was the brightest boy, you know? This kid who looked at the world like it still had magic. He refused to kill spiders, even though he was terrified of them. He’d catch them and bring them outside, screaming the whole time.”

“He sounds like a really special person,” Seokjin said gently.

Namjoon smiles at him. “He was. Sometimes, in missing him, I forget that he just, he had so much love to give, you know? He’d be the first one to kick my ass for acting like this. But um, he was really depressed, we found out after. He kept these journals, and for a while he’d been going through this, and he thought he couldn’t tell us, didn’t want to burden us with it, is what he wrote.”

“I’d started dating Yoongi two years before that, and we were, god, we were stupidly in love, the way only teenagers can be. I was really wrapped up in that, I guess. Too wrapped up to realize my brother was going through this.”

“Namjoon,” Seokjin says. “You can’t say that, you can’t blame yourself.”

“Who else am I supposed to blame?” Namjoon asks desperately. “Taehyung? My parents for not seeing it either?”

“Sometimes, bad things happen and there’s no one to blame.”

Namjoon takes a deep breath, trying to keep the tears at bay. “Yeah. Three years of therapy and I still can’t accept that, I guess. I think, by blaming myself, by being angry at myself, it’s my way of keeping Tae close, you know? I know it’s messed up, and not healthy, but I just-. He was fifteen. He had this whole life he was supposed to live, he was supposed to be here with me, and now he’s not.”

Seokjin doesn’t say anything, just squeezes his hand as he tries to collect himself.

“Okay, so the reason I’m telling you all this is that, well, I guess I’ve been punishing myself. It’s not, it sounds bad, and I guess it is bad, but I just sometimes don’t feel like I deserve to have this whole...life, when Tae doesn’t. You don’t need to tell me it’s not healthy, I know, but I just can’t, I just feel so guilty. That’s on me, that’s something I need to work on. It’s not fair of me to hurt you just because I think I shouldn’t be happy, I know that.”

“So when we started hooking up, and then I started to realize that I really liked you, I kept saying I wanted to keep it casual, when what I really wanted was the opposite of that. That’s why I acted like we were together, but then when I was confronted with the reality of it, I tried to prove that we weren’t. Seokjin, you’re amazing. You’re gorgeous, and smart, and funny even though your jokes aren’t, and I like you so much.”

“I like you too, Joon. I’ve liked you from the start,” Seokjin says. “I guess I thought I could change your mind about keeping it casual, which is my fault. But then you started acting like we were together, and I just, I probably should have said something, but I was too scared of losing you by then.”

“Can we start over?” Namjoon asks, turning his hand over to intertwine their fingers. “No casual, none of that, just us, dating for real?”

Seokjin smiles at him, and for a second he has hope, that he hasn’t fucked it all up too much, that maybe they can make it work.

But then Seokjin draws back his hand.

“I’m sorry Namjoon, but I don’t think we can.”

“Oh.”

“I care about you a lot. But, you really hurt me. I know, technically or whatever, you sleeping with that guy, it wasn’t cheating. But it felt like that to me.”

“Yeah,” Namjoon says, looking down into his cup of coffee, bringing his hands into his lap.

“Hey,” Seokjin says gently, and Namjoon lifts his head. “I’m saying no for now. I think starting something right now isn’t a good idea. I’m still mad about what you did, and you have a lot of stuff to work through. What you told me, that’s really heavy, and I think you need to figure it out.”

“I know you’re right,” Namjoon says, with a bitter smile. “It’s probably for the best. But I can’t help but feel like I fucked up our chance.”

Seokjin smiles at him fondly. “Oh Joon, that’s the good thing. We get as many chances as we want. So I’m saying no for now, not no forever.”

“Okay,” Namjoon says, feeling oddly at peace. “Not no forever.”

“Friends without the benefits,” Seokjin says with a grin.

Namjoon waits until the other man lifts his cup to his lips.“Yeah, I’ll stop letting you win at Mario Kart.”

Seokjin sputters, choking on his drink. “Letting me win? I won every game fair and square, fuck you!”

Namjoon laughs, and he feels lighter than he has in a long time.

 

epilogue

Seventeen months later

 

Yoongi and Jungkook’s engagement party is being held in the ballroom of some swanky hotel. Apparently, Jungkook’s parents are loaded, and are insisting on covering all the wedding expenses. He knows that Jungkook and Yoongi probably would have been happy with a small gathering of their friends at their apartment, but Mr. and Mrs. Jeon had insisted.

Namjoon feels decidedly out of place amidst all the pastels and fresh flowers. It’s just warm enough that the patio doors are open to let in the spring breeze, guests spilling out onto the tastefully decorated deck to admire the gardens.

He finds Yoongi hiding in a corner, clutching his drink. “Someone asked me if we’d already registered and I thought they meant to vote.”

Namjoon laughs. “Good thing your mother in law is taking care of all that.”

“I don’t care about this, we could show up at city hall tomorrow and I’d be happy, but Kook is loving it. Him and his mom are having a blast planning.”

“As your gracious best man, instead of making fun of how whipped you are, I’ll get you another drink so you can mingle with your guests.”

“Joonie-”

“Mrs. Jeon,” Namjoon calls out, flagging the older woman. “I found him.”

“Yoongi, sweetheart, I was looking all over for you! I need to introduce you to Jungkook’s great aunt.”

Namjoon smothers his laughter while Yoongi is dragged away, shooting his a murderous glare before his attention is captured by his future mother in law.

Because he actually is a good friend, Namjoon decides to get Yoongi a drink. It’s the only way he thinks the older man will make it through the party without spending half of it hiding in the bathroom.

He goes to the bar and gets a gin and tonic for Yoongi, and a ginger ale for himself. He’s scanning the room for his friend when a pair of arms wrap around him. “Hi hyung!”

Namjoon turns so he can hug him back, careful not to spill the drinks. “Hey Jiminie.”

He lets go, beaming. Sure enough, Hoseok isn’t far behind, pulling Namjoon is for a hug of his own before wrapping his arm around Jimin’s waist. “We just got here, where are the grooms to be?”

“Doing the rounds with the family. But I think they might welcome the distraction,” Namjoon says, passing off Yoongi’s drink to Jimin. “If you give this to Yoongi he might just leave Jungkook for you.”

Jimin giggles, leaning into Hoseok’s side. “I’m good for now, but thanks for the tip.”

They head off to find the others, and Namjoon retreats back to the corner he’d found Yoongi hiding in. He sips his drink, surveying the party. He’s genuinely happy for Yoongi, and for Jungkook. When Yoongi had first told Namjoon of his plans months ago, Namjoon had expected to feel that old jealousy welling up inside him, but instead he’d only found happiness. After everything that had happened between them, Namjoon is so glad that this person he loves has found someone who loves him back so fiercely.

“Is there a reason you’re hiding?” a voice asks, startling him from his thoughts. “Because I’m here to eat the appetizers that I stole from the party next door without judging eyes.”

Seokjin looks good, he always looks good. They’ve seen each other a few times since they broke up, but they’d both been careful to keep their distance. There had been a coolness between them that had never existed before, a veneer of bland civility overlaying the scant interactions they’d had.

But now, Seokjin is looking at him warmly, eyes curved into crescents as he shows Namjoon the handfuls of treats he’s holding, wrapped in napkins.

“I’m willing to share my hiding spot, if you share your food.”

Seokjin considers him for a moment, lips pursed. “Deal.”

He opens up the napkins, offering the selection to Namjoon, who chooses a tiny pastry.

“How’re you enjoying the party?” Seokjin asks, mouth half full of food. Namjoon should be grossed out, but he just feels fond.

“I’ve only had my cheeks pinched twice, so pretty good.”

“Ooh, was it Grandma Jeon? She’s a pincher. I think she was a crab in her last life.”

“Nah, Mrs. Min both times. She says she’s allowed because she remembers when I used to wet my pants.”

“Maybe you still do, she doesn’t know your life.”

Namjoon chokes on a laugh. “Yeah, not really the point I’m trying to make.”

They settle into a comfortable silence, both of them munching on stolen appetizers, watching the party unfold. Namjoon tries to focus on the people, but he’s extremely aware of Seokjin standing next to him, their shoulders barely brushing. He looks different, his hair darker, cut shorter so it’s not falling into his eyes, and brushed to the side to show off his forehead.

“So, you know how I said it wasn’t no forever?” Seokjin says suddenly, looking straight ahead.

It takes a moment for Namjoon to make sense of his words, but once he does his heart starts racing. He forces himself not to react, taking a sip of his drink before answering. “Yeah,I remember.”

“Ask me again.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay,” Namjoon takes a deep breath. “Seokjin, would you want to go for coffee? As a date, a romantic date that will hopefully go well enough that you’ll agree to be my boyfriend, seriously, with every string attached.”

Seokjin smiles at him, big and a little goofy, and Namjoon already knows the answer.