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Somebody and Always

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2007

Somewhere in Gwangju…

 

“Hoseokie, turn off the movie and go to bed.”

“Okay, dad.”

“You have school tomorrow.”

“Okay, dad.”

His dad waited in the doorway of his bedroom and watched as Hoseok closed his laptop and set it on his desk before climbing back into bed.

He nodded at Hoseok, who reached over and turned out the light by his bed.

Only then did his dad turn from the doorway, closing Hoseok’s door part way, like he knew Hoseok was just going to get the laptop right back out.

Hoseok’s dad would be up late marking essays, and he wasn’t above checking on Hoseok periodically.

Luckily the movie Hoseok was watching was only an hour and fifteen minutes, and he was already at the point where Oogie Boogie had Santa anyway.

Hoseok’s friend had downloaded the torrent for him, because his own parents monitored his internet use. According to them, computers were fine for school work, but anything else was a distraction from his and his sister’s studies. Dawon went along with it, because she was a top student, four years ahead of Hoseok, and had already gotten into a study abroad program for the next year. She just had to finish her exams, which she would certainly pass with flying colors.

Their parents were always bragging to their friends about how hard she worked and how accomplished she was.

They never said anything about Hoseok.

He wasn’t a bad student, he just wasn’t the best, wasn’t exceptional, didn’t work hard enough.

Just that evening at dinner, his mom had said, “Why can’t you be more like your sister?”

Hoseok heard those words every day of his life, but this time they were more resigned than usual, like his mom had given up on him.

The only top marks Hoseok had were in P.E., and that wasn’t even close to a source of pride for his parents. They weren’t athletic at all, didn’t even care when the national team had beaten Togo in the World Cup.

They thought Hoseok’s dance classes were good for discipline and gave Hoseok an outlet for the nervous energy he always had, but dancing wasn’t something Hoseok was supposed to love doing more than anything else.

He risked his dad catching him and got his laptop back out to finish the movie.

Because he was Halloween, and the rest of his family was Christmas.

 

Somewhere in Busan…

 

“Why are you such a weirdo?”

“I’m not weird!”

Jungkook hated when Junghyun, his older brother, called him weird.

“Mom said I could pick what movie we watch!” Jungkook insisted, gripping the DVD case tighter in his hand

“But I don’t want to watch that stupid movie. It’s weird.”

“It is not.”

“You’ve seen it a million times before.”

“You’ve seen Tazza a million times before and we always watch that.”

Their family had a big DVD collection, but The Nightmare Before Christmas was Jungkook’s movie. He had bought it with allowance money and it was his .

“We do not.”

“We watched it two days ago,” Jungkook insisted.

That was when Junghyun noticed that Jungkook had his sketchbook out, and Jungkook wasn’t fast enough to close it before Junghyun had it in his hands.

“What’s this?”

Jungkook had been sketching his favorite character from the movie. He thought the drawing was pretty good.

“It’s nothing!”

“You have a crush on a doll, you have a crush on a doll,” his brother taunted.

“I don’t.”

“Do too.”

“Do not.

Jungkook snatched the notebook from Junghyun’s hands, grabbed the DVD case, and ran into the kitchen where his grandmother was cooking dinner. He clutched the sketchbook and DVD to his chest and sidled up next to her.

“Was Junghyun teasing you again?” she asked.

“Yes,” Jungkook answered.

“He’s older than you.”

“I know.”

His grandmother went back to cooking, and Jungkook thought that was it. Junghyun wouldn’t bother him in there, but he also didn’t want to be in his grandmother’s way. But trying to go back to his bedroom to hide meant facing Junghyun again. As if sensing his dilemma, his grandmother spoke.

“You can draw at the table. I won’t let him bother you.”

“Thank you, grandmother.”

“You’re just like your father,” she murmured to herself.

Jungkook sat down and inspected his drawing. He didn’t have a crush on Sally, no matter what Junghyun said. He wanted to be like Sally. She was brave and smart and the best character in the whole movie. She was different from the others. Like the way Jungkook felt different. But he didn’t dare say that out loud anywhere Junghyun could hear or he’d never stop teasing him.

So he repeated the mantra in his head that he told himself every day: You just have to make it through school, and then you’ll find a way to escape.

 

Present day

Somewhere in Seoul...

 

“I don’t understand why you hang around a tattoo and piercing shop if you hate needles so much,” Taehyung said, as he finished cleaning up his tattoo station after his last customer left.

Hoseok shrugged. He was sitting cross-legged on the little bench that was across from the adjustable chair where Taehyung’s clients sat.

The latest one had gotten cherry blossoms on her upper back, delicate white and pink blossoms on thin branches that Taehyung wove together on her skin with needles and ink.

The woman had come in by herself to get the tattoo. She chatted with Hoseok while Taehyung got the stencil ready. She was nervous so Hoseok had offered go with her, talk to her or hold her hand while she got the ink done.

He didn’t ask her why she was getting the tattoo, and neither did Taehyung. But Hoseok could tell it was something , something haunting her that she needed release from, the kind of something that Hoseok could probably understand all too well.

“The sound is kind of relaxing,” Hoseok finally said.

He wasn’t saying the real reason, which he and Taehyung both knew--Hoseok didn’t really have anywhere else to go.

“I’ve always thought so, too,” Taehyung agreed. “Jimin thinks it sounds like a dentist drill. Does this mean you’re finally going to let me do it?”

Hoseok nodded.

“I think so.”

“Wait, really?”

“Yeah, why not?”

“Because I have been asking to tattoo you for years, literal years, and you keep saying you want one but you freak out every time I bring it up.”

“Well maybe it’s time. That woman was scared and she did it.”

“It hurts. I would never lie about that, but it’s really not that bad.”

Hoseok grimaced.

“Just don’t get any on your hands or feet,”

Taehyung said, as he gestured to the backs of his hands, the right of which had a very realistic flower blossom on it, and the left, which had a geometric line drawing of the same flower.

“I was thinking of getting it on my side, but you’ve said that hurts too?”

“The ribs do. Why your side?”

The thing Hoseok loved most about Taehyung was that he never judged any of his clients. He helped guide their ideas into workable designs, and offered suggestions for placement on the body, but he tried to understand what his clients wanted.  

“I can’t get one on my arms or legs or chest because of work, but I don’t want it on my back so I can actually see it.”

“We can do that. It’s just that the ribs hurt more than other parts because there’s not much padding.”

“There’s not much padding on me anyway.”

Taehyung reached over to pat Hoseok’s ass.

“Not true.”

Hoseok batted his hand away.

“Stop that.”

“Fine, fine. So, what changed?”

Hoseok shrugged, trying to look nonchalant, like it wasn’t a big deal.

Hoseok didn’t doubt that Taehyung’s tattoos were meaningful to him, but he had so many that getting a new one wasn’t a big decision for him.

Taehyung’s first tattoo was a tiger on the back of his calf that he got “because tigers are good luck.” His entire back was covered in black ink with white stars making up constellations interspersed with blue and purple galaxies. He also had an entire “Jimin arm” that was full of Jimin’s doodles and random splotches of color all of which he let Jimin tattoo on him even though Jimin was a piercer and not a tattoo artist. And then there was the ass tattoo that Hoseok had seen way too many times and occasionally in public. Taehyung wasn’t intimidating, but talking to him about tattoos was.

“Nothing really,” Hoseok finally answered. “I just feel like a change. I don’t know, like I just need to go for it.”

“It? What it? The tattoo? Because if you have to psych yourself up this much then as your trusted future tattoo artist, I’d advise against it.”

“No, not the tattoo. Any it.”

Taehyung was looking at Hoseok in that thoughtful way he got when he was reading between the lines, past the persona that Hoseok cloaked himself in. Hoseok had been friends with Jimin longer, but in some ways, Hoseok was closer with Taehyung.

Both friends were accepting and supportive, but Taehyung never meddled, never gave advice unless you explicitly asked him for it. He just took everything in.

“Something happened,” Taehyung stated, not asking.

“Okay, fine. There was this guy,” Hoseok started.

“I knew it! Tell me everything. Every single detail. And then retell it to Jimin tonight so I can hear it again.”

Hoseok shook his head at Taehyung’s enthusiasm.

“It wasn’t a big deal. It was just one of those moments, you know? Like when the entire world stops and all you can focus on is this one person.”

“Oh my god. That’s so romantic. When did this happen? Where?”

“On the train earlier. I forgot my headphones so I was people watching. And he was right across from me.”

“Wait. Did he even notice you?”

“Yeah. I mean, he had headphones on, but he made eye contact with me for a really long time. Not awkward eye contact either. Intentional checking out eye contact. He smiled.”

Hoseok smiled himself at the memory. Taehyung shrieked and grabbed Hoseok’s arm.

“So what did you do? Did you talk to him? Did you ask him out? Can we double date?”

“Bro, calm down. Nothing happened. I had to get off at my stop.”

Taehyung’s face fell a little. Taehyung was the type of person who would have struck up a conversation, probably would have flirted a little, at least gotten the guys name and probably his pets’ names, his favorite food, and his thoughts on low wages in the automaking industry. Hoseok wasn’t an introvert by any means, but he still wasn’t good at talking to men, not in that way.

“So what are you going to do? Get back on the same train at the same time again, see if he’s there?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“It wasn’t about the guy. It was me realizing that I’ve spent the last year not living because of guilt.”

It wasn’t the full truth, but it was a partial explanation, and Taehyung would believe and accept it.

The guy really had been cute and Hoseok wouldn’t have minded talking to him. He looked maybe a little younger than Hoseok, had a backpack with him like he was a university student. Hoseok’s encounters with men had mostly been on the sleazier side, dark corners of dark bars where no one asked too many questions, one fumbled handjob with a visiting dance instructor at the company where he worked.

Hoseok would have liked to date, the same way he used to date women, but he just wasn’t there yet.

Because the real reason that he felt ready for the tattoo, for some kind of change, was that it was exactly a year since Hoseok had called off his engagement.

The anniversary of the day he did the hardest thing he had ever done in his life and told a sweet, beautiful woman who loved him that he had been lying to her, to his family, to himself for years. And he just couldn’t do it anymore, couldn’t keep living his life as a lie.

The anniversary of when he went not just from being a disappointment, but to being someone his parents were ashamed of, not just for being gay, but for lying, for hurting a woman they had met and were prepared to love like part of the family.

The anniversary of the day he had told himself, if you can make it through a year without ending it all, then you can make it another, and another.

The year of survival marked the first baby step in living his truth. And that felt worthy of marking in some permanent way.

He couldn’t say all that to Taehyung, because as much as Taehyung understood being gay and coming out, his life and his family’s expectations had been so different from Hoseok’s, it wasn’t something he could fully relate to.

“Do you have any other clients tonight?” Hoseok asked.

“I did, but they had to reschedule. Are you ready now? I don’t even know what you’re getting!”

“No! I just wondered if you wanted me to stick around.”

“If the client who was supposed to come in hadn’t canceled on me, you would have definitely wanted to stick around.”

“Is it someone famous?”

“Maybe.”

“Who? Tell me!”

“Let’s just say the reason he couldn’t come in was because of a filming schedule.”

“You have to tell me!”

“I’ll let you know when he reschedules, and you can pretend to be the receptionist.”

Taehyung and Jimin’s storefront looked like a jewelry shop that catered to an edgier crowd. And they advertised henna, which both Taehyung and Jimin did occasionally. But that wasn’t really what the shop was for.

Jimin did piercings, which wasn’t illegal without a medical license the way tattooing was, but out of solidarity with Taehyung, he didn’t advertise that he did piercings.

He sold earrings and studs, plugs, and tunnels, and if anyone asked about where to go for piercings or for help with stretching, he would bring it up. They’d gotten a reputation of being the place to go for piercings and ink, and so they weren’t hurting for business now.

They were also in partnership with a reclusive jewelry designer named Yoongi who lived above the shop. Hoseok had never been up there and had only seen Yoongi twice in passing, but apparently he had a whole setup for making custom jewelry. There was high demand for it, but he hated dealing with people, so Jimin sold it and would take a cut.

Jimin and Taehyung were doing really well. So well that sometimes Hoseok really did work as a receptionist for them, helping customers pick out jewelry and keeping clients company while they waited the way he had done that night.

Jimin was home already when Hoseok and Taehyung got there. Jimin taught a high-heel dance classes one night a week.

Hoseok had met Jimin in performing arts school, but it was a hard experience on Jimin, harder than it had been on Hoseok for a lot of reasons. And the high-heel class was as close as Jimin got to dancing anymore.

But he was happy, with the class, with the piercing, with Taehyung, and Hoseok was envious.

Jimin was sprawled on the sofa in a loose tank top and shorts, and Hoseok took the opportunity to admire Taehyung’s work on Jimin’s body. Jimin always showed off his own tattoos, a whole series of fairies dancing up both of his arms, weaving through flowers and vines, each one etched onto his skin by Taehyung, whose character work was some of the best in Korea. And his florals probably were the best.

“Hoseokie-hyung met a cute boy today,” Taehyung announced, after his customary greeting to Jimin in the form of a long lingering kiss that made Hoseok turn away.

“I didn’t meet a cute boy, I made eye contact with a cute boy,” Hoseok said, not even attempting to hide the glare he shot Taehyung.

“You didn’t talk to him?” Jimin asked.

“No.”

“Well, why not?”

“It was a crowded train and I had to get to afternoon rehearsal,” Hoseok replied, crossing his arms defensively.

Taehyung was accepting, only wanting to help. But Jimin was like a dog with a bone.

“You could at least say hello.”

“All he did was smile at me.”

“That’s an opening!”

“That’s not an opening.”

Jimin shook his head.

“I always forget you’re a baby gay. Repeat after me: a smile is an opening.”

“I’m not a baby gay. Technically I’ve been gay longer than you’ve been alive.”

The year Hoseok had on Jimin and Taehyung meant next to nothing to the younger two.

“But you never notice when guys check you out. It’s embarrassing.”

“Guys don’t check me out.”

“They do all the time.”

“Name one time.”

“You came to my class a few weeks ago, remember?”

Hoseok remembered. Mostly because it turned out he was terrible at dancing in high heels. Taehyung, on the other hand, looked like he was born in heels. As a professional dancer it was humbling. And kind of humiliating.

“Both of the other men in the class were checking you out the whole time. One of them asked me if you were seeing anyone after class.”

“They did not!”

“They did too! Back me up, Tae.”

Taehyung looked back and forth between the two of them and announced that he was going to take a shower.

“Coward!” Jimin called after him.

“You don’t have to do this,” Hoseok said.

“Do what? He literally asked me if you were into guys and single, but you had already taken off.”

“You don’t have to try to make me feel better.”

Hoseok knew he didn’t have Jimin’s or Taehyung’s looks. Knew that after years of denial and pretending to be straight that he didn’t know how to be part of the gay scene, small and covert as it was. And Jimin and Taehyung took him out sometimes, but it was still intimidating to him.

“I’m not! If you would just let me set you up. I know lots of guys.”

Hoseok shook his head. That wasn’t how he wanted it to happen. He knew it was stupid, but he thought he would know when it felt right. And, sure, maybe he could get that feeling from a set-up, but to Hoseok it would feel more like Jimin thinking he knew Hoseok better than Hoseok did.

“Don’t you want to date? Get a boyfriend eventually?” Jimin asked.

“What if I don’t want a boyfriend?”

Of course Hoseok wanted a boyfriend, and Jimin knew it. Hoseok liked companionship. He liked being in relationships when he was dating women. It was probably part of the reason he’d stayed quiet about his sexuality for so long. It took him a long time to figure out that men could be in the same kind of relationship. And a longer time to admit to himself that he wanted to be in one with someone he was actually attracted to. Someone he didn’t have to fake it with. Someone he fit with.

But the idea was still new and terrifying, and Jimin didn’t seem to get that.

“You came out for a reason,” Jimin said gently.

“I was tired of lying to everyone.”

“But you wanted to live as an out gay man, too, right?”

“Well, yeah,” Hoseok admitted.

“What are you scared of? The stares? The slurs?”

“No. Not really.”

Jimin wasn’t going to let it go. He had on his “tough love” face. Hoseok hated that face, because it was impossible to resist. Because it meant Jimin cared. He chanced a glance at the door.

Jimin cleared his throat loudly.

“I did not spend a whole year in rehab for an eating disorder to not use all that therapy for nothing. You may as well take advantage.”

Hoseok just didn’t know if he could explain it.

“Just try to tell me,” Jimin added. “You’ll feel better.”

Hoseok looked down at the floor.

“I guess it’s more like I’ve always pretended in relationships. I mean, about my sexuality, but that went along with pretending other things too because I was trying to be--it sounds dumb.”

“It’s not dumb.”

“I was trying to be the person my parents always wanted me to be. The ambitious, successful person with the business degree and the job and the wife.”

“And you don’t have to do that anymore.”

“I know, but--but I tried to be that person for so long. Now that I don’t have to be--it’s scary.”

“Why is it scary? What’s the worst thing that could happen?”

Jimin hadn’t had an easy life, Hoseok knew that. But Jimin had Taehyung, had had Taehyung for so long that Hoseok stopped thinking about the two of them as totally separate entities. Jimin didn’t know what this was like. To be judged in this particular way.

“What if I meet some guy and he gets to know me and finds out I’m just a bunch of cockroaches on the inside.”

“You are not a bunch of cockroaches.”

“I kind of am.”

“Hoseokie-hyung.”

“What?”

“We’ve been through this.”

“I’m not doing your daily positive self-talk affirmation.”

“I just want you to see what I see.”

“You’re my best friend. You’re biased.”

“And I’m honest with my friends. And you are a super hot dancer who’s fun and generous and kind. You’re a catch.”

“Yeah, but--”

“A catch,” Jimin repeated. “I just hate seeing you lonely.”

Hoseok didn’t think of himself as lonely, not really. He had been lonelier when he was in the closet, when he was with Sumi and trying to convince himself to be someone else. He also thought living with Taehyung and Jimin would make anyone feel a little lonely.

A year ago Hoseok had shown up on their doorstep with two suitcases, a duffel bag, and tears streaming down his face.

He collapsed into Jimin’s arms, and it took a solid five minutes of sobbing before he told him and Taehyung that he had broken up with his fiancé, having finally told her the truth that both his friends already knew.

They took him in when he had nowhere else to go. And they never treated him like a burden.

Hoseok tried to give them as much privacy and alone time as he could. He was away sometimes for work. He once rented a hotel room and told them he was staying at his sister’s. It was a luxury hotel that he couldn’t really afford, but it was fun to indulge for a night.

They never told Hoseok he was in their way, and they never hid their affection for each other. The truth was, it was something Hoseok hadn’t known he needed. To see to men living together as partners, to see easy affection, squabbles about taking out the garbage and paying bills. Just by being themselves Jimin and Taehyung helped Hoseok see that he didn’t have to give up everything he knew. He could adapt the expectations he grew up with to fit who he was.

Hoseok never told Jimin or Taehyung that, never thanked them for it, but he hoped they understood somehow anyway.

That night, Hoseok dreamed about the man he had seen on the train.

The dream started on the same train, crowded and loud, but then it stopped because of some mechanical failure. And everyone had to get off the train through the trapdoor at the top. The man lept into action, helping older people and kids get out first, giving them boosts.

As the crowd thinned out, the man was starting to sweat from exertion, so took off his hoodie. He was wearing a plain t-shirt, and he stitches on both his arms, like he had been wounded.

Hoseok started to ask about them when the train started tilting over. The rest of the people started scrambling out of train car, so Hoseok followed. When he made it out, he realized they somehow weren’t in Seoul anymore. They were in the countryside, and it was snowing. Hoseok looked all over for the man. Eventually he found him in the distance, and so Hoseok started running after him up a long steep hill. But his legs weren’t moving very quickly, like he wasn’t really in control of them.

He woke up before he got to the top of the hill.

His heart was racing and had to take a few deep breaths to calm down. It was early in the morning, too early to be awake, but there was no way he was going to be able to go back to sleep. He took advantage of the adrenaline rush from his dream and decided to actually go for a long run. Instead of going down to the gym in the building, he took to the pavement and ran around the neighborhood. It was the only time of day when he really could, the streets mostly empty as sun was just starting to peak up above the horizon.

He put a lot of kilometers behind him before he turned around and went back, feeling better, feeling his mind clear, feeling less haunted.

As he was eating a late breakfast, Taehyung cornered him with a gleam in his eye.

“You were serious about the tattoo, right?”

“Yes. I even have the picture I want you to use and everything.”

“I had a spot open up this Friday. It’s yours if you want it.”

Hoseok groaned.

“I can’t.”

“Why not? The only answer I’ll accept is that you have a date.”

“It’s not a date. It’s a family thing.”

That made Taehyung pause. Hoseok saw his sister sometimes, but things with the rest of his family were still very strained.

“So remember that guy my sister’s dating? Seokjin? I promised her I’d go to dinner with them and my parents.”

“Whoa, meeting the parents, that’s serious.”

“Yeah.”

“You’ve met him, though, right?”

“Yeah. He’s great for Dawon. It’ll be fine, but, you know.”

Taehyung gave Hoseok’s shoulder a sympathetic squeeze.

Before Hoseok came out, he and his sister hadn’t been any closer as adults than they had as children. Even though Hoseok was happy that he was working as a dancer, doing the only thing he ever liked doing, his resentment of Dawon had been hard to shake off.

But in the last year they had gotten a lot closer. She supported him without hesitation when he broke up with Sumi, when he came out, when he effectively killed the last lingering expectation that his parents had of him. And Hoseok finally was able to figure out that she didn’t ask to be the favorite, to be brilliant.

She was far more progressive than their parents or the rest of their family. It wasn’t that their parents disowned Hoseok or anything. He had been disappointing them his whole life, so this was just like the final thing that made them give up on Hoseok entirely.

The calls became less frequent. And they were usually obligatory updates about other family members. They almost never asked about Hoseok or how he was doing. Most of the time Hoseok didn’t want to tell them anyway, didn’t want to share his life with them, but it would have been nice if they asked.

That Friday, Hoseok had to psych himself up before going to the restaurant. It was at a nice place, fine dining, Western style, which was not Hoseok’s speed at all. He was wearing a dark gray suit and feeling extremely uncomfortable as he paced in front of the restaurant, waiting for the rest of his family.

Unfortunately his parents got there before Dawon and Seokjin.

After awkward greetings and Hoseok asking about their health, his mom looked him up and down in that discerning way that only a mother could do.

“You look handsome,” she finally said.

“I do?” Hoseok asked, surprised.

Hoseok knew he wasn’t classically attractive. He had always been thin, spindly. He was a professional dancer so he was always burning calories, but sometimes he got passed up for parts because he wasn’t bulky enough, couldn’t do lifts with as much ease as the guys who could pack on muscle easily.

It was just one more thing about him that made him feel inadequate. Especially in the gay scene. Most men seemed to like muscles.

“You look like you’re eating again,” his mom added quietly.

It had been at least six months since Hoseok last saw his parents, and it was true he had stopped eating well for awhile, stopped going outside, had a hard time sleeping. The fact that his mom had noticed but hadn’t said anything or nagged him about it was enough to make him feel like the Earth’s axis was shifting.

Was it because she didn’t care? Had given up on him? Or because she had been intentionally trying to lay off on him?  

He couldn’t ask her, because he was pretty sure it would start an argument. He was only there in the first place to shift the burden off Dawon and Seokjin, who had been nothing but kind of Hoseok--even packing him leftovers on the rare occasion he had dinner with them over at Dawon’s place.

So Hoseok just shrugged and tried not to squirm in his uncomfortable suit. Maybe calling him handsome had been his mom’s way of apologizing. Luckily Dawon and Seokjin arrived then, full of apologies even though they were still nearly ten minutes early for the reservation. The Jungs were all perpetually early.

Seokjin gave Hoseok a friendly hug and Dawon did the same. They weren’t a hugging family, but Seokjin was, so Hoseok had gotten used to it. Jimin and Taehyung were both clingy, and it was nice, having easy affection. The trouble was it all just made Hoseok realize how much he wanted more of it, someone to hug when he’d had a bad day or someone to cuddle with while watching a movie.

They went into the restaurant and were seated. A woman came by the table to get their drink orders. Hoseok got a glass of wine. He almost never drank but there was no way he would survive the evening without it.

His parents were asking Seokjin questions about his work, which Seokjin was deftly answering. And Hoseok wondered what he was even doing there, the fifth wheel.

A different server brought the drinks to them.

Hoseok nearly gasped.

He remembered those big sparkling brown eyes.

The man looked different in a dress shirt tucked into black pants. When Hoseok had seen him on the train earlier that week he was in sweats and ball cap, but it was definitely him. He seemed to be concentrating on not dropping the drinks, so he didn’t see Hoseok until he looked up to make sure everyone had the correct drink.

When his eyes passed over Hoseok, the young man froze, staring at him in disbelief.

Hoseok’s mouth went dry, and his whole mind went blank.

They stared at each other for what felt like an eternity until the man recovered, asking if anyone needed anything else before spinning around and darting away.

He didn’t come back with their first course, but Hoseok caught him looking over at their table, and when he caught Hoseok’s eye this time he smiled shyly, almost like he was apologizing.  

Hoseok was so distracted he was hardly paying attention to anything his parents or sister was saying.

When Dawon asked him about summer shows, he nearly knocked over his glass of wine.

“What? Sorry.”

“I asked if you were doing any summer theater this year.”

“I have some auditions next month,” Hoseok said. “They’re casting for Lion King extras, which would be fun.”

Theater was a safe topic. Hoseok’s dad didn’t like musicals so much, but his mom did. Dawon insisted that their mom liked the fact that Hoseok worked in theater.

And both his parents did seem to appreciate Hoseok’s inside information about upcoming shows, even if they didn’t really understand why he wanted to work in the entertainment industry.

He tried to add to the conversation. His parents were almost treating him like normal for the first time since he came out. But he couldn’t even enjoy it because he was too preoccupied with the cute waiter.

Hoseok kept looking out of the corner of his eye for movement, and every time he saw someone with a white shirt and black trousers, he turned his head to look.

And sometimes it was the man from the train.

And sometimes Hoseok caught him looking.

And one time he winked.

Hoseok nearly slid out of his seat and onto the floor.

They were just finishing up the main course, or what Hosek assumed was the main course, when Hoseok felt a tap on his elbow.

“Are you okay?” Seokjin leaned over and asked in a low voice.

“Yeah, I’m--”

“Come with me.”

“What?”

Seokjin glanced at Hoseok’s parents and at Dawon, who looked like they were trying not to eavesdrop.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” Seokjin said.

“And you need help?”

“I want you to fix my hair.”

“Um.”

“Excuse us,” Seokjin said louder.

Hoseok got up from the table and stumbled after him toward the toilets. But Seokjin didn’t actually go into the toilet when they reached the door.

“That waiter has been checking you out all night, do you want me to get his number for you?”

“What? No!”

“Are you sure? Because I’m sure he would--he is seriously checking. you. out. And on the off chance he says no--you won’t have to experience the rejection.”

Hoseok actually considered it for a moment. He was pretty sure Seokjin would actually do it and not find it embarrassing at all.

“That’s actually really nice of you, but no,” Hoseok answered.

“I don’t swing that way, but he’s cute,” Seokjin replied.

“He is, but I’m not ready to give my number to a random guy. Plus, he’s at work. No one likes getting hit on at work.”

Seokjin didn’t call him out for the flimsy excuse.

“Okay. Just let me know if you change your mind.”

They went back to the table.

Hoseok could barely concentrate on the last course. The man was standing right in Hoseok’s line of vision chatting with the woman who served their table for most of the night.

She gestured toward Hoseok at one point, and Hoseok swore he heard the man say, “Stop it. He’ll see.”

When she came back to the table, he was half expecting her to pass him a cocktail napkin with a phone number on it. But instead she gave him an apologetic smile. And Hoseok tried not to feel a rush of disappointment.

Maybe the other guy was in a relationship or closeted. Or maybe Hoseok was misreading the entire situation and he hadn’t been looking at Hoseok with real interest at all. It was still fun to be looked at, appreciated, winked at. It didn’t need to turn into anything other than that.

It was safer this way. Hoseok could feel good about himself without facing the possibility of rejection.

It was fine.

Except when Hoseok got back to Taehyung and Jimin’s they were curled up together on the sofa all couply and adorable, and Hoseok felt a lot less fine.

“How was dinner?” Jimin asked.

Hoseok picked up the pillow from the sofa and screamed into it.

“That good?”

Hoseok shook his head.

“My parents were actually fine? It was weird. They were a little distant, but I think having Seokjin there meant they couldn’t really say anything mean to me and risk making a bad impression. Or pissing Dawon off.”  

Hoseok had been so distracted it hadn’t occurred to him that maybe Dawon had said something to them in his defense beforehand.

“Well that’s something,” Jimin said. “Why did you scream into the pillow though?”  

“Because you will never believe who I saw there,” Hoseok answered.

“Park Bo Gum,” Taehyung guessed.

“Sumi,” Jimin said.

Taehyung smacked Jimin on the arm.

“What? She’s not Voldemort!” Jimin said. “We can say her name.”

“It wasn’t her anyway,” Hoseok replied. “The guy from the train was a waiter there.”

Jimin’s jaw dropped comically.

“No way!”

“Apparently he was checking me out, too. Because Seokjin offered to get his number for me so I wouldn’t have to face the potential rejection.”

“That was really sweet,” Taehyung said. “When can we meet Seokjin? He sounds perfect.”

It was Jimin’s turn to smack Taehyung.

“So why are you not texting this man right now?” Jimin asked.

“I told Seokjin no!”

“Hoseok!”

“What?”

“You missed your chance!”

“He was working!”

“So?”

“So, it’s creepy to hit on someone while they’re working. No one wants that. I wouldn’t want that.”

“It’s not creepy if he seemed interested.”

Hoseok couldn’t explain what was holding him back. He wasn’t sure he really wanted to confront why he kept thinking that he probably would have given out his number if the person on the train slash waiter had been a woman.

Maybe Jimin was right that he was a baby gay.

Not for the first time he wondered what it would take for him to feel like he fit into the world that Jimin and Taehyung seemed to fit into so easily.

“Well at least you know where he works now,” Taehyung said.

“What restaurant did you say you were going to again?” Jimin asked, way too casually.

“No,” Hoseok said. “You are not going to go check him out.”

“I would never.”

“You absolutely would, and it’s not--nevermind.”

“What?”

“And it’s probably not the kind of place a guy with neck tatts could go to,” Taehyung said, finishing Hoseok’s thought.

“I mean, no, probably not,” Hoseok admitted.  

Taehyung always said that having neck tattoos was a lifestyle choice. Hoseok never knew what he meant--or even thought about Taehyung’s neck tattoos as anything other than part of Taehyung--until he was out in public with Taehyung and saw how mothers would shield their children from him. From Taehyung. The sweetest man Hoseok had ever met in his life. Taehyung didn’t even kill mosquitos. His neck tattoos were two flowers behind each ear.

“Well who would want to go there anyway,” Jimin said with a huff.

“I’d never go back,” Hoseok said. “I think the food was supposed to be ‘cerebral’ but I’m still hungry. I’m need ramen. And you two are not going to bug me about the train guy anymore.”

Jimin made a noise of protest, but Hoseok missed what he said. He was already on his way into the kitchen to make his ramen.  

He thought about eating by himself in the kitchen, but it felt a little like he was running away and hiding, and he’d had enough of that. So he trudged back out into the living room with his snack. Jimin and Taehyung made room for him on the couch.

“I’m sorry I was being pushy again,” Jimini said.  

“It’s okay, Jiminie. I need to stop being afraid of who I am.”

“You’ll get there.”

Jimin patted his leg.

“Thanks,” Hoseok said. “Hey, Tae, I think I’m really ready now.”

“You mean it?”

“Yeah.”

So Taehyung opened the shop especially for Hoseok on Sunday morning. Hoseok didn’t have rehearsal on Monday, and Taehyung assured him he’d want a day to recover before he tried to do any serious dancing.

“It’s literally a flesh wound. It’s going to hurt and scab and peel. Dancing is going to be uncomfortable.”

“It’s okay. The choreo I’m doing now is really easy and the costume is loose.”

Since it was the off season for theater, his company was booking him backup dancer jobs. He was going to be in a video for a girl group that was filming on Friday, but he already had the moves memorized.

As soon as they stepped into Taehyung’s workspace at the shop, Taehyung immediately went into his professional mode, which made Hoseok’s nerves melt away. Taehyung didn’t just have a good reputation because his work was good.

He showed Hoseok the stencil he made first.

“Is the drawing what you wanted? And please tell me if anything about it at all is off because this is going to be on your body forever.”

Taehyung hadn’t just copied the picture of Jack Skellington that Hoseok sent him. He’d added background with clouds and little pieces of Halloween Town that made the whole thing look more like a piece of art than just a character.

“It’s perfect.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. I love it.”

“Okay, then let’s do this.”

He wiped off Hoseok’s skin and then ran a disposable razor over it.

“I’m not hairy!”

“You’re a mammal and I need a totally smooth surface.”

When Taehyung pressed the stencil on his side, Hoseok flinched.

“Are you ticklish?”

“Um, a little.”

“And you want to get a tattoo right where you’re ticklish. Are you a masochist?”

“It kind of stands to reason at this point that I am,” Hoseok said drily. “I do a lot of stupid shit that ends up hurting me.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“I’ll be fine.”

Hoseok wasn’t fine.

Getting a tattoo hurt like hell.

“How did you do this on your neck?” Hoseok whined.

Taehyung had adjusted his tattoo chair into what looked more like a massage table for Hoseok to lie down on, and Hoseok was trying to lie on his side without squirming, but it was hard not to just curl up in on himself because of the pain.

This was exactly why he was afraid of needles.

“I told you it would hurt over your ribs.”

“I know,” Hoseok said. “It’s just not a kind of pain I’ve had before. It’s like burning.”

But he powered through. He was taking a break after Taehyung had finished the outline when Jimin arrived for moral support and snacks and water so Hoseok didn’t pass out.

“Shading’s worse,” Jimin said.

“Thanks for that. Very helpful,” Hoseok replied.

“We can stop,” Taehyung offered. “Take a longer break, or I can just add a little more to make it look like an intentional line drawing.”

“No, no. It’s okay. Just, Jiminie, can you talk to me while he’s doing it? Distract me?”

“Of course. And I know I said it’s worse, but you kind of get numb during the shading so you don’t notice it as much.”

Hoseok laid back down on the table and tried to find a comfortable position where Taehyung still had access to him.

“Slow deep breaths, please,” Taehyung said. “Try not to make any sudden movements. If you have to sneeze or anything, tell me. And Jiminie, don’t provoke him.”

Jimin huffed.

“I would never.”

Jimin had been right when he said the shading was worse, but Jimin’s conversation helped.

“Taehyung never asks about his clients’ tattoos unless they volunteer it, but I’m curious why you decided to make this your first one.”

“First and only,” Hoseok replied.

“They always say that,” Taehyung quipped.

Hoseok wasn’t ever going to do this again. But he needed to distract himself, so he answered Jimin.

“I always liked the movie growing up.”

Jimin tilted his head.

“But I already know that. You have that clock in your room. You sing ‘This Is Halloween’ for the entirety of October. It’s annoying. I meant why Jack specifically?”

Hoseok took a few deep breaths before answering. If there was anyone he could tell, it was Jimin and Taehyung. He trusted both of them in a way he didn’t trust most people, and they wouldn’t think he was stupid for having such a strong attachment to a Disney movie even as an adult.

“Because he learned that you can’t try to force yourself into something that doesn’t fit you,” he finally said.

It was something that Jimin, of all people, could understand.

Jimin reached out and grabbed Hoseok’s hand and gave it a squeeze. His eyes looked a little watery. Jimin’s story was different from Hoseok’s. His Christmas Town was dancing. Hoseok’s was everything his parents wanted him to be. And his sexuality. And his body. The life he was supposed to want. The person he was supposed to want to be. None of it was him.

“I really wanted to fit in,” Hoseok whispered. “But I don’t.”

“We like you over here on our side a whole lot,” Jimin said.

“I’d hug you if Taehyung wasn’t puncturing me repeatedly with a needle right now.”

Fortunately, Jimin had also been right that eventually Hoseok went a little numb. Jimin started telling stories from when he was a kid, about the fairy house his mom had when she was a girl. The toy had still been at his grandparents’ house when Jimin was growing up, and Jimin pretended he wasn’t interested in playing with it because it was for girls, but he secretly made up backstories of all the fairies that lived there.

“Are they on your arm?”

“Yeah. I used to tell Tae the stories back when we were living in that tiny little studio apartment that got so cold in the winter we had to distract ourselves to stop thinking about it. He ended up drawing them for me.”

Before Hoseok knew it, Taehyung was saying “all done.” The whole thing hadn’t taken nearly as long as Hoseok thought it would.

“Why do you look nervous?” he asked Taehyung. “What happened?”

“Nothing! It’s just that this is your first tattoo and you live in my apartment. What if you regret it?”

“I don’t regret it,” Hoseok said, looking down.

“No!” Taehyung said.

“What?”

“Stand up, slowly, you’re going to be light-headed. Come with me to the mirror so you can really see it.”

Jimin helped Hoseok up, which felt unnecessary, but Hoseok really was shaky, and they walked over to the mirror.

“The redness will go away. Keep that in mind.”

It was Jack, in all his pin-striped glory, smiling in Halloween Town where he was accepted, where he belonged.

“It’s perfect,” Hoseok whispered.

“When it heals, you have to let me take a picture of it for my portfolio.”

Hoseok nodded in agreement, still admiring Taehyung’s work in the mirror. 

 

Elsewhere  in Seoul…

 

“You can’t be serious.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re drawing cartoons?”

Jungkook’s roommate, Seunghyun, reminded him way too much of his brother. Over the years Junghyun had gotten a little less mean, and Jungkook would tentatively call them friends. But it was the distance that helped. Junghyun was still in Busan, and Jungkook was all alone in Seoul.

It was what he always wanted--to escape--and he had worked hard to get there. He had gotten into one of the best fine arts universities in the country on a scholarship.

Even his grandmother said she was proud of him.

But Seoul was nothing like he anticipated.

Busan wasn’t a small city by any means, but there were just so many people packed into Seoul and everything went so fast. To say he was overwhelmed was understatement.

And his annoying roommate didn’t make him feel anymore welcome.

“Comics are a legitimate art form,” Jungkook said with a sigh. They’d already had this argument before.

“So what? Do you want to draw webtoons?”

“What if I do?”

“Don’t tell any of your professors that you’re planning on wasting their time like that.”

Jungkook thought that by going to a fine arts university he could escape the hyper-competitiveness that he hated in primary school, the evening study sessions, the rich kids’ families bribing the schools for good grades, the stress. Of course it was more of the same, and instead of the cool art school kids he thought he would be in classes with, it was a bunch of pretentious jerks like Seunghyun who thought they were going to have gallery showings and patrons.

The truth was that almost none of them were going to be fine artists. The art world didn’t have anything to do with good art or bad art and everything to do with the economic games of the rich. Most of his fellow students would end up in advertising, and that was fine.

Jungkook didn’t see why that was any better than being a webtoon artist just because advertisers made more money. Plus, Jungkook still wasn’t sure he wanted to make webtoons. Part of him wanted to go into CGI and work for a movie studio.

His dream would be to make Marvel movies, but if he couldn’t handle Seoul, he was pretty sure he couldn’t handle Hollywood either.

“I have to get to work,” Jungkook announced, ignoring Seunghyun.

He grabbed his backpack that had his stuffy waiter uniform in it and left before Seunghyun could say anything else.

He didn’t actually have to go to work yet. It was still way earlier than he needed to be there, but he just didn’t want to be in his dorm room anymore. If Seunghyun didn’t have anything better to do than make fun of him for drawing what he liked, then he was going to end up getting mad. It just wasn’t worth it. Seunghyun wasn’t worth it.

Plus, the restaurant wouldn’t be empty. The kitchen staff were probably already working on the menu since the chef changed it so often. They’d probably give Jungkook a snack if he looked just pathetic enough.

The restaurant where Jungkook worked was nice. Jungkook’s starting salary was 8,500 won an hour, which was more than he would make at a galbi place. Jungkook mostly applied for the job because the restaurant reminded him of a museum. It was set up with displays of antiques and burial relics on the ground floor, and the chef was apparently known for his artistic plating.

The restaurant manager liked that Jungkook was an art student, and somehow Jungkook managed to charm him, even though he’d never really waited tables before.

“You have the right energy,” he had said.

So Jungkook was hired.

And in between classes and assignments, he spent a few evenings a week taking orders and serving food and drinks. He didn’t hate it. It was nice to be away from the other art students, and usually the customers were nice, mostly ignoring him completely, and that was fine.

The chef always fed them before the dinner shift started, too.

He was supposed to be saving up money so he could live off campus next year, but he was secretly also saving up for a tattoo. He had fallen in love with a Seoul-based tattoo artist’s work who just went by the name V. Jungkook stumbled on his Instagram and was now obsessed.

V did a lot of flowers, but he also did characters, which got Jungkook’s interest. One of Jungkook’s favorites was the first pic V had ever posted, of someone’s arm with a full sleeve of fairies. They almost looked like they were moving, they were so delicate and lively.

He had also done one of Rock Lee holding his leg weights out at his sides and even a zombie version of Nina Tucker.

V also liked to hype up the artists who did his own ink, so he posted a different tattoo of his every month. He had a lot of flower tattoos himself, including an ridiculously detailed miniature version of Van Gogh’s sunflowers on the inside of his wrist done by some tattoo artist in France. He had hashtagged that photo “art arm,” which Jungkook didn’t get until the next month when he posted an Egon Schiele’s self-portrait with the physalis that was on his upper arm. There was also what looked like a Basquiat above it.

After that post, Jungkook was willing to admit that he had a little bit of a crush on V.

That evening during his shift, Jieun was working, which improved his mood. She was one of his favorite servers. She was a student, too, studying literature at a different university, which, she informed Jungkook, was even more useless than studying art.

“At least you can make things,” she said. “All I can do is read poetry in Hanja.”

“That’s cool, though!” Jungkook insisted.

“I mean, I think it is, but my parents think I’m wasting my life.”

Jieun liked to make up backstories for the people dining in the restaurant, sometimes from eavesdropping on conversations, which was easy to do with the way the restaurant was set up. There were areas that seemed more private than others, but it was easy for a server to stand close to the corner and listen without anyone noticing.

She was trying to convince Jungkook that one of the couples she served earlier were planning on kidnapping the child at the table across from theirs when she punched Jungkook in the arm.

“What was that for?” Jungkook asked, rubbing his arm.

Jieun was small, but she could pack a punch.

“You seem distracted tonight,” she said. “It’s no fun.”

“Sorry.”

“That wasn’t a criticism. What’s going on?”

“Nothing?”

“Your roommate bothering you again?”

Jungkook had complained about Seunghyun more than once.

“No.”

“What is it? You’re blushing!”

“I am not.”

“You met someone!”

“I didn’t!” Jungkook said, which was true. He hadn’t actually met the guy, he had just caught his eye on the train on the way to work, but there was something about him that had sent his heart racing, and he hadn’t been able to get him out of his mind.

“I just saw a cute, um, person, on the train on the way here.”

Jieun knew about Jungkook’s orientation, but she was careful not to say anything directly out loud. You never knew who had a problem with it and who didn’t.

“And?”

“And they were definitely checking me out, and I wish I had said something, gotten a name at least.”

“Maybe you’ll see them again!”

“There’s like nine million people in this city.”

“But you know what train line they use.”

“Along with another million people.”

“Maybe it’s your soulmate and you’re fated to meet again.”

“You’re ridiculous. There’s no such thing as soulmates.”

“Well, if you ever see them again, you’ll know it’s meant to be.”

“Life isn’t a drama Jieun-noona.”

“You’re too young to be so cynical.”

“You’re not that much older than me. And I’m not cynical. I’m realistic.”

Jungkook was pretty sure the only reason he was obsessing a little over the man he saw on the train was because he was lonely.

He tried not to think about how it was a bad sign that he didn’t really like the other people in his classes. It wasn’t like he was stuck with them for the rest of his life. But they made him feel a lot less like an artist and more like the dorky kid who filled sketchbooks full of Disney and anime characters. They made him feel like he couldn’t be both of those things at the same time.

His professors were mostly okay, at least. His life-drawing professor was exactly like Jungkook thought art professors would be--head in the clouds, talked a lot about feelings and inspiration. He would pace around in front of the class, talking about form and proportion, and they were supposed to draw him as he walked.

He had them turn in their sketchbooks every week, where they were supposed to practice drawing hands, feet, eyes, people they knew.

The trouble was that Jungkook didn’t really know anybody. The one time he asked his roommate if he could draw him while he was studying, Seunghyun was actually pretty cool about it, but then he asked to see it afterward and told Jungkook that he had made his ears too big.

Jungkook hadn’t.

Seunghyun had big ears.

But he couldn’t dare ask him again to be his model, so Jungkook had to find a public place where he could draw people without them knowing. The library was his best option. And then Namjoon tipped him off to a little café that looked like a webtoon on the inside with its totally white and black interior, and so Jungkook started going out of his way to go there and sketch.

Namjoon was the only friend he had made at school, and he wasn’t sure Namjoon counted because he was technically a teaching assistant.

It started because Jungkook was the only student in his art history class who took Namjoon up on the offer he made to the class to go to a temporary exhibit at the Museum of Photography. It wasn’t for any extra credit, so the other students couldn’t be bothered. But the exhibit was a series on the history of the DMZ, and it was fascinating.

So he and Namjoon had become friends after that. Kind of.

Namjoon definitely tried to act like more of a mentor than a friend, because he still graded Jungkook’s assignments and had authority over him. He mostly avoided talking about himself, but sometimes there were cracks in the facade and Jungkook knew they would be friends once the vague authority relationship had ended.

Namjoon was the smartest person Jungkook had ever met, but he wasn’t untouchably nerdy. He knew interesting things about history other than art, and he was a devoted webtoon reader, which won him a lot of points in Jungkook’s favor.

He also listened to Jungkook complain about his roommate and the other people in his classes, and sometimes when he was being more of a friend and less of a teaching assistant, he admitted that he didn’t like very many of the other students either.

“Or,” he had corrected. “They don’t like me.”

But he seemed to like Jungkook, and so they hung out at least once a week outside of class. One time Namjoon even had Jungkook over to his place to watch a Netflix documentary with him and his girlfriend. His girlfriend was also a grad student, but she studied biology and had evening lectures sometimes, which was probably why Namjoon invited Jungkook to hang out as much as he did.

Later that week, when Jungkook had an evening off, Namjoon asked if Jungkook wanted to go to a preview night for a new exhibit that was showing at one of the galleries in Samcheong.

Jungkook wasn’t sure if Namjoon just felt sorry for him because Jungkook had mentioned being lonely to him the week before, but Jungkook was not going to turn down an invitation from one of the few people in Seoul he liked or pass up the chance to go to the arts district.

The art installation itself was actually really cool, it reminded Jungkook of graffiti, which reminded him of one of V’s tattoos. When he and Namjoon were heading back toward campus, Jungkook wanted Namjoon’s opinion on tattoos. It wasn’t that he needed approval exactly, he was just curious.

“What do you think about tattoos, hyung?”

“Did you know tattoos date back to Samhan?”

“I did not know that.”

“Fishermen would get things like four-leaf clovers tattooed on their bodies.”

“For luck?”

“No, to remember to anticipate wounds.”

“Oh. That’s kind of dark.”

“And then in the Joseon period, people who got caught stealing got their crime tattooed on their body.”

“Um, that’s also pretty dark.”

“Kind of I guess.”

“So that’s why everyone thinks people with tattoos are criminals?”

“Probably.”

“Do you think they are?”

“Of course not.”

“But you wouldn’t get one yourself?” Jungkook guessed.

Namjoon looked thoughtful for a few seconds, like he hadn’t ever thought about it before.

“No, I don’t think so, at least not now. There’s nothing symbolic that’s important enough to me to put it on myself permanently. Are you thinking about getting one?”

Jungkook shrugged. He didn’t want to talk about what he wanted to get, in case Namjoon thought it was lame, so he tried to keep the conversation in the hypothetical.

“Maybe someday. I like the idea of having art on my body. I follow a lot of tattoo artists on Instagram.”

“I suppose it is just a different medium for art. I never really thought about it that way.”

Jungkook made a frustrated noise in the back of his throat.

“What?” Namjoon asked.

“Oh nothing. I just wish my roommate was more like you.”

“Is he still giving you a hard time around your drawings?”

“I try to just not draw for fun when he’s around, which means I’ve started carrying my sketchbooks around with me wherever I go so he won’t find them. My backpack is starting to get heavy.”

“Is he that malicious? Because you can talk to the head of housing if he’s harassing you. You could put in a transfer.”

“I don’t think he’d do anything other than make fun of me. He’s not all bad, really. It’s just annoying. He likes playing video games but he won’t admit that the people who make them are artists.”

Namjoon shook his head.

“It makes me so mad. If anyone would actually listen to the lectures, they would get that the value of art is a modern invention and doesn’t have anything to do with the art itself.”

“I’m sorry my classmates are dumb.”

“It’s not your fault.”

“Though, speaking of your classmates, I actually have an assignment I need to finish grading,” Namjoon sounded apologetic, like he would voluntarily hang out with Jungkook for longer. But him pointing out that he was Jungkook’s TA made it awkward again.

“Yeah, I have to finish my weekly sketches for life drawing anyway.”

“Do you need me to pose or anything?”

The thing was, Jungkook knew he would if Jungkook asked. Namjoon knew what it was like to be a loner, to feel out of place in his classes, to not have a partner to work on assignments with.

“We’re supposed to do faces, so I can just look in a mirror. Thanks for offering, though.”

Jungkook also would have felt awkward having to look at Namjoon’s face, but he didn’t say that out loud.

“Okay, well, thanks for going with me to the exhibit. It’s nicer to have someone to talk to about it with.”

“I always like going to art exhibits with you, hyung.”

Jungkook trudged back to his dorm and took out his life drawing sketchbook. He looked in the mirror for awhile, but there was only so long you could look at your own face before it started looking distorted and weird and unrecognizable. He thought about using photos of his family he had on his phone. But as it started going on two in the morning, Jungkook was tired and so he zoned out a little, letting his hands draw whatever vague idea of a face he had in his head.

He was halfway through when he realized he wasn’t drawing a random face at all. He was drawing the guy from the train. His face had been etched into Jungkook’s mind, but he became aware of how much he remembered as he drew--ears that made a heart shape on the inside, apple cheeks, delicate nose.

In class the next day, Jungkook was making touch-ups to the sketch before the professor got there, and the girl who sat next to him peeked over at it.

“That’s really good,” she said.

“Thanks,” Jungkook replied.

“Who is it? He’s handsome.”

Jungkook panicked.

“Oh, um, just a friend.”

“Is he single?”

“You don’t know anything about him!”

“I know he’s cute.”

“Well he’s not--I mean, not that he’s not cute. I mean he’s not single.”

“That’s a shame.”

Jungkook almost said “I know,” but luckily the professor walked in, saving him any further embarrassment. But for the rest of class he couldn’t help but think about the fact that the man might be taken. It didn’t matter, Jungkook was never going to see him again, but it kind of killed the fantasies he had been having in his mind.

Jungkook was back at the restaurant that night, having slept for only a couple hours the night before and sitting through classes all day. Fridays were always busy, and he just didn’t have any energy.

He was mostly going through the motions, trying not to screw up anyone’s drinks or food orders, so he was not at all expecting to see the beautiful man from the train sitting at a table in his restaurant.

When Jungkook brought the drinks over, he was being careful not to spill, so when he looked up to make sure he had gotten them all to the right people, he froze--like a deer in the headlights. It was the face he had drawn the night before, and it was more beautiful seeing it again in person than it had been in Jungkook’s memory.

He was thinking about how he was going to have to change the chin on his sketch, when he realized he was staring. So he shot the man and awkward smile, bowed politely to the rest of the table, and then got the hell out of there to find Jieun.

“Can you please, please, please serve table 14 tonight?” he begged her.

“What happened?”

“Nothing happened. I just--please?”

“Were they mean to you? I need to know what I’m getting into.”

“No. It’s embarrassing.”

“What’s embarrassing?”

“It’s the guy,” Jungkook hissed.

“What guy?”

“From the train.”

Jieun shrieked.

“I knew it! It’s fate!”

“I gave him his glass of wine and just stood there and stared at him for like 10 agonizing seconds. I think he’s with his family. The younger woman at the table looks exactly like him. And the older couple are definitely their parents.”

“This is perfect! You can flirt with him. Give him your number.”

“I can’t flirt with him while he’s with his family.”

“Yes you can!”

“I cannot. It’s unprofessional,” Jungkook huffed.

“We’re just servers.”

“What, so we can’t be professional?”

“You can write your number on a cocktail napkin. I’ll even take it to him.”

“But then he’d think it was from you.”

“I’ll explain, obviously.”

Jungkook wanted to say yes, wanted to be bold, but he couldn’t bring himself to agree to it. He sort of thought, sort of hoped, that Jieun would do it anyway, or that the man would find a way to talk to Jungkook, at least long enough to get a name.

But Jungkook couldn’t initiate it.

He’d never been good at approaching people first. Maybe it was because he was the younger sibling, or because he never had a lot of friends in school because everyone thought he was weird, but he just never initiated contact.

He liked other people, but he was fine alone.

And maybe he was also terrified of rejection, but who wasn’t? Jungkook knew he was gay, had known forever, but he never dated boys. He never dated at all, which made him seem even weirder to his super hormonal classmates. But there was no one for him to date.

He wasn’t even really out at his art school. He thought Seunghyun probably knew, but he never said anything. His sexuality mostly never came up, and girls seemed to be able to tell that he wasn’t interested in them.

When he asked Jieun why that was, she laughed.

“Remind me someday, and I will blow your mind with this thing called the male gaze.”

Jungkook didn’t know what that meant, but he was pretty sure he would never understand women.

After the man and his family left, Jungkook’s shift dragged on and on. He was distracted and second guessing himself for not being braver. There was no way he’d ever see the man again now. Seoul was too crowded. It was already a serendipitous second encounter, and Jungkook blew it because he was too scared to put himself out there. The worst that could have happened was he said he wasn’t interested and then Jungkook would never have seen him again anyway.

Jieun could tell that he was beating himself up about it, so even she didn’t give him a hard time, which almost made him feel ever worse.

“I read the name on the credit card,” she said. “Family name is Jung.”

Jungkook groaned.

“That’s not helpful at all, thanks.”

“Do you want to go out for drinks after work?”

Jungkook nodded sadly.

They went to a bar in the same neighborhood as the restaurant. It wasn’t the type of place that Jungkook would normally go, and after one very expensive martini Jieun suggested they just buy a bunch of soju and drink at her place.

Jungkook was half a bottle in before he brought the man again.

“He was checking me out, wasn’t he? I mean, the train guy?”

“He was totally checking you out. There is no question about it.”

Jungkook pouted.

“So I can’t tell myself that I was making it up? That he was checking you out instead or something?”

Jieun burst out laughing.

“Don’t laugh at me,” Jungkook whined.

“There’s absolutely no way he was interested in me at all. That man was on your team.”

Jungkook sighed.

“I’m ordering a pizza.”

“Get chicken too.”

The problem with eating copious amounts of junk food while drinking meant that Jungkook could handle more alcohol. And when he drank a lot, Jungkook sometimes got a little maudlin. And cuddly. Which is how he ended up snuggled next to Jieun on her sofa, the box of fried chicken nearly empty on their laps.

“You’re my friend, right?” he asked.

“Of course I’m your friend.”

“I don’t have a lot of those.”

“Oh, Jungkookie,” she cooed, trying to pet his hair, but missing and poking him in the ear instead.

“I’m shy. It’s scary talking to people.”

Jieun twisted around until she was looking at Jungkook with such a kind expression on her face that Jungkook thought he was going to cry.

“You moved to Seoul by yourself,” she prompted.

“Yeah.”

“You got a job as a waiter that requires you to talk to strangers all the time.”

“Yeah.”

“That’s brave. That’s facing your fears.”

“I guess.”

“It is. You’re very brave.”

“Not brave enough,” Jungkook whispered.

Jieun started petting his hair again. And that was the last thing Jungkook remembered before he passed out.

Luckily the next day was Saturday, and Jungkook had enough time to split the leftover chicken with Jieun for breakfast and then stumble home and shower and get a little homework in before work.

He was almost feeling human again by the time his shift started. He was in the back joking around with the busboys when Jieun came tearing in, grabbing his arm, and dragging him away.

“You know they think we’re together. You coming in here and grabbing me like that isn’t helping,” he whined.

“There’s a beautiful man here to see you,” she hissed, leading him toward the main entrance of the restaurant.

Jungkook’s heart started racing. It couldn’t be, could it? Maybe Jungkook wouldn’t have to be brave. Maybe the beautiful man would just fall into his lap--metaphorically--and they would go out on a date and fall in love and Jungkook would never have to learn what it was like to ask someone out and deal with romantic rejection.

But the beautiful man wasn’t the man from the train.

It was the man who had been at the table with the train guy.

He bowed politely to Jungkook, who bowed back. He was confused but not too confused to not be polite.

“Look, I’m sorry to bother you at work, but my girlfriend’s brother told me not to ask you for your number on his behalf yesterday. I don’t know why he’s being weird about it. The two of you were eye-fucking each other.”

Jungkook was not expecting those words to come out of mouth of a beautiful well-dressed man. And then he kept going and all Jungkook could do was stand there with his jaw hanging open.  

“Even his parents noticed and they both kind of have rods up their asses about the whole gay thing. So, what I’m going to do is give you mine. If you ever want to meet up with him--his name’s Hoseok and he’s a great guy--let me know.”

He held out a business card.

“Um.”

Jungkook had no idea what to say. He mechanically reached out his arm and took the card from the man’s hand.  

“Who does this?” he blurted out.

“Kim Seokjin,” the man said, giving Jungkook another half bow. “I’m a lawyer.”

He reached out and tapped his finger on the card.

“Family law. I’m not a shark. But I do go after what I want, and I want Hoseok to stop pining when he could just ask you out and actually find out if you even like each other.”

“Um, thanks?” Jungkook stuttered out.

“You’re welcome. I won’t take any more of your time.”

Then he turned and walked out of the restaurant, leaving Jungkook standing there staring after the man’s retreating figure. Eventually he got it together enough to remember that he was at work and Jieun was still standing there.

“What the hell just happened?” he asked.

“A beautiful guardian angel is trying to play matchmaker.”

“Oh my god, stop watching so many shitty dramas,” Jungkook groaned. “How did he even know to ask for me?”

Jieun laughed.

“He asked the first person he saw for the waiter with big, innocent eyes and light brown hair.”

All through his shift, Jungkook thought about contacting the lawyer. He even put Kim Seokjin’s contact information into his phone. What could it hurt to ask for the train guy’s--Hoseok’s--number? It didn’t mean he had to contact him. It also seemed pretty likely that if Jungkook ever did get the nerve to ask that he could at least get a yes to a date.

He needed perspective. And he wasn’t going to get it from Jieun, who he had drunkenly cried on  the night before and who believed in soulmates and guardian angels.

So he finally asked Namjoon.

He cornered him after class on Monday.

“Hyung, I need advice.”

“Is it about your term paper? Because I have some ideas.”

“Really? Because I’d love to hear your ideas actually. But that’s not--how do you ask a guy you like out? And is it worth the risk? What if you don’t end up liking each other and you ruin everything?”

Namjoon nearing dropped the books he was holding.

“Jungkook, I have a girlfriend.”

“That’s great, I wasn’t talking about you. Jeez, hyung.”

“But you--”

“I had an embarrassing crush on you for like a minute, and I told you about it when I had too much wine at that department reception, because I wanted you to know about my sexuality because I thought you’d accept it. Let it go already. Not everything’s about you.”

Namjoon sputtered and turned bright red.

“I do accept your sexuality!”

Jungkook laughed.

“I’m just teasing you because you get so embarrassed. You realize I’ve met your girlfriend, multiple times.”

“I know!”

“And it was really just a tiny crush. It’s not my fault you give off bi vibes.”

“I mean, I’m not totally straight.”

“Wait. Really?”

“I’m open,” Namjoon said with a shrug.

Jungkook’s gaped at Namjoon. He didn’t look like he was joking.

“Huh,” Jungkook said. He really wasn’t interested in dating Namjoon. It had only been a passing idea when they first met because Namjoon was objectively attractive and had been really nice to him.

“But I am in a committed monogamous relationship.”

“And Dahye’s great. This still isn’t about you,” Jungkook huffed.

“Okay, so what were your questions again?”

So Jungkook explained the situation, from the train to the restaurant, to Kim Seokjin showing up and giving him his card.

“I don’t think you’re going to like my advice,” Namjoon said.

Jungkook’s heart sank a little.

“You don’t think I should do it, do you?”

“That’s not what I was going to say. It just sounds like you want reassurance from me that it’s going to work out, that you’ll get his number and ask to meet up, and you’ll have a connection that builds into something. But you just can’t know that in advance.”

Namjoon was correct that it wasn’t something Jungkook wanted to hear. Logically, he knew Namjoon was right, but he still wanted a loophole.

“But isn’t there a way to know? To calculate the odds or something?”

“It doesn’t work that way,” Namjoon said gently. “It’s always a risk to open your heart to other people, but even if it didn’t work out that doesn’t take away the fact that you tried. Being open and willing to be vulnerable is the foundation of any good relationship, so you may as well start out on that note.”

“But it’s so scary,” Jungkook whispered.

“It is. I met Dahye on a blind date, which was terrifying.”

“How did you get over the fear.”

“You just have to find that little bit of courage that we all have inside us and remember that we’re all scared and none of us really knows what we’re doing.”  

“Thanks,” Jungkook said. “That wasn’t really what I wanted to hear, but I think I needed to hear it.”

“Any time, Jungkookie,” Namjoon said. “So what’s up with the lawyer guy, do you still have his business card?”

“Yeah, that was pretty weird. I mean, he was basically pimping out his girlfriend’s brother. But, I don’t know, he seemed like he really cared about the guy and was just trying to help.”

“So maybe train guy is scared, too.”

Jungkook thought about what Namjoon said, that everyone was a little scared, and realized all it meant was that Jungkook just needed to be a little less scared.

So instead of texting Seokjin, he send a message to V on Instagram explaining about the tattoo he wanted and asking if V would do it. If V said yes, it was going to cut into his apartment hunting funds, but Jungkook was ready.

He was not expecting to get a reply from V so fast.

It turned out he had a cancellation that Thursday, which happened to be Jungkook’s day off work.

He read the instructions that V emailed him carefully. On Thursday, he was wearing loose clothing and had a snack ready. He wanted to bring Jieun with him, or even Namjoon, but neither of them were really tattoo people.

And he felt like this was something he needed to do on his own.

The tattoo shop wasn’t a tattoo shop at all. It was actually a jewelry store. It looked like they were closed when Jungkook arrived, but he sent a text to the number that V gave him and waited. A minute later the door swung open.

“Are you Jungkook?” the stunning man holding the door open asked.

“Yeah,” Jungkook breathed. “That’s, um, me.”

“V,” the man said. “You can call me Taehyung.”

Jungkook bowed. “It’s nice to meet you Taehyung-ssi.”

“Come on in. I do tatts in the back.”

Jungkook followed him into the store, behind the jewelry counter, and into a clean but inviting room in the back. There was an adjustable table in the corner with a stool and a small counter area where Taehyung must have kept his supplies. There was also a little sitting area, which he led Jungkook first.

He handed Jungkook an iPad and asked him to read through all the disclaimers and answer all the questions about his medical history, then he took a photo of Jungkook’s ID.

“Do you have any questions so far?”

Jungkook was still in shock about the entire experience. V was standing right there-- the V. Jungkook could see the flowers on his hands that he knew from Instagram and was trying to figure out if it would be creepy or not to ask if he could see them closer. So the only thing he managed to do was whisper in awe,

“You have flowers on your neck.”

Instead of looking at him like was an idiot, Taehyung smiled warmly.

“Neck tattoos are badass and there is nothing more badass than an arctic willow. They grow on rocks.”

“I love them,” Jungkook said. “You haven’t posted those on Instagram yet.”

“Do you like that I post my own?” he asked, like he actually wanted feedback.

“Definitely,” Jungkook said. “The Van Gogh is sick.”

“Yeah, the guy who did it is super talented. I apprenticed with him in Paris.”

“Oh no way!”

“Yep. He taught me florals. My other mentor taught me portraits and linear stuff.”

He held out his hands to demonstrate.

“They did those?”  

“Yep.”  

“What about the elephant one? I mean, not that I have your tattoos memorized or anything.”

Jungkook ducked his head in embarrassment. But Taehyung just rolled up his sleeve on his “art arm” so Jungkook could look at the photorealistic rendering of an elephant over a geometric background.

“I have these two moles,” Taehyung explained. “And my kid brother used to pinch the skin between them to make a trunk.”

He pinched his arm to demonstrate.

“That’s cute.”

Taehyung rolled down his sleeve.

“Ah, but we’re here for your tattoo. I’ve done a stencil for you. So take a look and let me know if you want me to make any changes. This is going to be permanently on your body, and I will take no offense if you don’t like something.”

He handed Jungkook a drawing of Sally, the most familiar face Jungkook knew besides his family’s because he had drawn her so many times himself.

“I’ve seen a lot of other tattoos of her, and they don’t get her right. They make her look like a rag doll and not alive. You got her right.”  

“Thank you.”

Taehyung had added a few other details around her, the gate, the flower petals. It wasn’t a scene from the movie, but it felt like Sally was at home in her world. Jungkook loved it.

“And you want it on your side?”

Jungkook nodded.

He didn’t want it where anyone would be likely to see it. Sally was for him, not for anyone else. To remind him to be brave. He thought about getting it on his chest, maybe over his heart, but he didn’t think she would fit quite right.

Taehyung put the stencil on, and then had Jungkook lie down on his left side on the tattoo table.

“Are you comfortable?”

“Is it okay if I talk?” Jungkook asked. “I mean, while you’re doing it.”

“Of course. Just keep taking slow deep breaths and let me know if you need to move or cough or sneeze or anything.”

At first Jungkook didn’t want to talk, because it hurt a lot and he was trying not to whine, but then he sort of got used to it, enough that he didn’t want to miss an opportunity to talk to V while he could.

“What’s your favorite tattoo?” Jungkook asked.

“That I’ve done? Or of mine?”

“Both.”

“I don’t know that I have a favorite that I’ve done. They’re all special to me. People put a lot of trust in me, and I don’t take that lightly. But of mine? Probably my boyfriend’s signature on my ass.”

It was everything Jungkook could do to not move in surprise. Taehyung seemed to sense it, though, because he lifted the tattoo machine from Jungkook’s skin and sat back.

“If you don’t want to be tattooed by gay guy, I guess it’s a little too late, but now’s your chance to go,” he said flatly.  

“No!” Jungkook said too loudly. “I’m, um, gay, too. That just makes me want to get more tattoos from you actually. That’s not why I--but, um, don’t they always say to never get a partner’s name tattooed on you?”

Taehyung shook his head.

“They do say that. But Jimin’s not just my boyfriend--really, that’s just a word that other people understand. He’s my soul partner. He’s stuck with me forever.”

Jungkook stared at Taehyung. The intensity in his voice was kind of hot.

“Wait. That made me sound like a kidnapper,” Taehyung continued, laughing. “I’m not. He’s the one who got jealous at a party because this chaebol heir was staring at my ass, so he found a permanent marker from somewhere and signed his name on my left cheek right in front of the guy. I got it tattooed over the next day.”

“That’s--”

“Extremely possessive of him?”

“That’s not what I was going to say.”

“Jimin’s the sweetest man in the world, but he’s very protective over things he loves, which includes my ass.”

Jungkook was so far out of his element in this particular conversation.

“Plus, I’ve done most of his ink so he already has my signature all over his body.”

“Oh yeah?”

“The fairies on my Instagram? That’s my Jiminie.”

“I love those.”

“Thank you.”

“That’s when I knew you could do Sally justice.”

“I feel honored, I think,” Taehyung said.

Jungkook didn’t know why, but he wanted to tell Taehyung about her, about what she meant to him. So as Taehyung went back to work, Jungkook started to explain.

“Have you seen the movie? I’m guessing you have.”

“Yeah, it’s like my roommate’s favorite movie ever.”

That surprised Jungkook, and he almost wanted to ask about the roommate, but he wanted Taehyung to know why what he was doing was so important.

“It’s mine too. Obviously, I guess. I used to watch it all the time growing up, I think at first because I liked the look of it. It wasn’t like anything else,” Jungkook explained. “And I know it’s supposed to be about Jack, but Sally was my favorite, because she was trapped and found a way to save herself and escape from Dr. Finkelstein. But then no one would listen to her, so she had to do everything by herself again. She always stood up for herself. And she was brave.”

It was quiet in the room, just the sound of the tattoo machine.

“I get it,” Taehyung said quietly.

And the thing was, Jungkook thought he probably did.

“How did you get into doing tattoos?”

“I was in Paris for awhile. I really just wanted to get out of Seoul and go see art. Paris was my first stop, but I kind of randomly got an apprenticeship there and some guys in the tattoo scene kind of took me in.”

“I’ve always wanted to go to the Centre Pompidou,” Jungkook said.

“Not the Louvre?”

“I mean, I guess the Louvre too. But that’s all the art I have to memorize, so I kind of hate the sight of it now.”

“Memorize?”

“Oh, I’m in art school,” Jungkook explained.

“That’s awesome.”

“It’s okay.”

“What kind of art do you do?”

And it all started spilling out. About cartoons and comics and how Jungkook wasn’t sure that’s what he wanted to do or if he was just being spiteful. Then Taehyung asked him about his classes, and they really started talking about art. Taehyung had so many things to say about art and art history, he reminded Jungkook of Namjoon. They took a break part way through, so Jungkook could stretch and drink his banana milk, and the conversation kept going.

When Taehyung announced that he was done with the tattoo, Jungkook was a little sad to have their conversation end.

Taehyung led him to a mirror so he could see the full thing.

“I love it,” Jungkook said.

“Do you want me to take a picture? It’s hard to take one of your own side.”

“Oh, yeah. Could you?”

He pulled out his phone, unlocked it, and handed it to Taehyung.

Taehyung took a few photos at different angles.

“So, this is going to sound weird,” Jungkook started. “And maybe this happens with all your clients, but I had a really good time talking to you and you kind of feel like a friend now.”

Taehyung smiled.

“Here, I’m putting my personal number in your phone,” he said.

Jungkook grinned.

He left the tattoo shop feeling good, both about the tattoo and about making a tentative friend. Texting Taehyung wasn’t as scary as texting Seokjin, and they did keep in touch. At first Jungkook just asked for advice about what to do about the itching, but their natural conversation still flowed even in text form.

Jungkook almost asked Taehyung for advice about the guy on the train, because for the first time he knew an actual gay man with a boyfriend, but Jungkook was also swamped in midterm projects and so the most thinking he did about the man was when he drew him for his life drawing class again.

Jungkook went back to the tattoo shop about two weeks later, after midterms, and after the peeling stage was finished, so Taehyung could photograph it for his portfolio.

This time the jewelry store was actually open when he got there, so Jungkook walked right in.

And immediately froze.

The man from the train, Hoseok, was there in the shop, talking to another man who had to have been Jimin.

When Hoseok noticed Jungkook standing there, his jaw dropped.

“It’s you,” he said.  

That was when Taehyung appeared from the back with a camera hanging around his neck.

He looked at Jungkook and then at Hoseok and then back to Jungkook.

“Wait. Do you already know each other?”

“The train. The restaurant,” Hoseok said.

“Oh my god,” Jungkook said. “Oh my god.”

“Oh my god,” Jimin echoed.

Taehyung grinned and clapped his hands.

“I had a weird feeling and then Jungkookie was telling me about the restaurant he worked at and oh this is perfect.”

The shop door opened and two women came in, which startled Jungkook, forcing him to finally move, since he was in their way.

“Why don’t you guys sort this out in back,” Jimin suggested gently, greeting the two customers.

Jungkook felt like he was in a daze as he followed Taehyung and Hoseok into the back room.

“Jungkook, this is Hoseok. Hoseok, this is Jungkook,” Taehyung said.

“You got a Sally tattoo?” Hoseok asked.

“You told him about my tattoo?”

“Ah, sorry,” Taehyung said. “Maybe I overstepped a little, but I had a good reason. Hoseok-hyung, you should show him yours.”

Hoseok bit his lip and nodded.

“Okay, yeah.”

Then he started lifting up his shirt, and Jungkook gasped.

There on Hoseok’s side was Jack Skellington. It was about the same size as his own tattoo, clearly in Taehyung’s signature style. Jungkook started to move forward to get a closer look. That’s when he realized that Hoseok was staring at him.

Jungkook met his eyes.

“Oh,” Jungkook finally said dumbly.

Taehyung clapped his hands together.

“Oh this is so precious. Can I take a photo of you together? That’s kind of the reason why I asked you both to come here today. I don’t have a couple tattoos section of my portfolio, but maybe I should.”

“But we’re not a--” Hoseok started.

Taehyung shushed him and then started manhandling both of them. Jungkook felt as stunned as Hoseok still looked, almost like he was underwater and nothing was quite real.

“You gave us matching backgrounds,” he blurted out.

“Did I?”

“Kim Taehyung!” Hoseok shouted.

“You wanted characters from the same movie in the same place on your body done in my style! What was I supposed to do? I didn’t know Jungkook was the guy from the train! I mean, not at the time.”  

Since their tattoos were on opposite sides of their bodies, Taehyung had them stand back to back at first, asking them to lift up their shirts. He snapped a couple photos.  

“This would work better if you just took your shirts off completely.”

“Absolutely not,” Hoseok said.

“You’re a professional dancer, aren’t you shirtless all the time?”

“You’re a dancer?” Jungkook squeaked, just as Hoseok said,

“I’m not a stripper!”

Taehyung shrugged, ignoring Hoseok.

“He is a dancer. He does musical theater and music videos and he has a YouTube channel where he does freestyle street dance. And don’t listen to him about the stripper thing. I bet he could do just as well as those Magic Mike guys.”

Jungkook chewed on his lip.

“I don’t mind taking my shirt off. I mean, for the photo.”

“Wonderful,” Taehyung said. “Thank you.”

It was a little awkward at first, being shirtless, but Taehyung made it less awkward by being very professional. He took a couple solo photos first, and then he had them stand back to back again, Hoseok having relented and Jungkook trying not to look. Jungkook tried not to think about how good it felt to have Hoseok’s skin pressing against his, tried not to think about how long it had been since he had touched anyone skin to skin. It had definitely been before he moved to Seoul, an awkward fumbled encounter at a party that his brother dragged him to. It was Junghyun’s weird way of supporting Jungkook’s sexuality, knowing that there would be a bunch of gay guys there, but it had been months and months since that happened.

“You can say no, I mean that,” Taehyung said. “But it might be nice if I could get one of you facing each other.”

Hoseok didn’t answer right away. But then he looked over at Jungkook, like he was asking for permission. Jungkook’s heart responded immediately, racing like it had in the restaurant and on the train. Hoseok bit his lip and Jungkook’s heart felt like it was bursting.

He stopped thinking, threw his arms around Hoseok’s neck, and stepped in close enough to feel the heat radiating off Hoseok’s body. Hoseok reached out his hand to hold Jungkook’s untattooed side. His eyelids fluttered closed like he was trying to savor the moment and Jungkook took the chance to inhale deeply. Hoseok smelled so clean.  

He almost forgot what was happening until he heard the camera click.

“Perfect,” Taehyung said. “Thanks. These are great.”

Jungkook scrambled back into his shirt, sneaking a glance at Hoseok, who was doing the same. Hoseok caught him looking and winked.

Taehyung cleared his throat.

“I have another appointment, so if the two of you could--you know, there’s a dog cafe down the street, maybe you could go there?”

He made a shooing motion with his hands.  

So Jungkook left the backroom, Hoseok on his heels. Jimin was still in the front of the store, helping the women looking at rings. He smiled at them as they walked toward the door.

When Jungkook stepped outside he stopped and took a deep breath before turning around. Hoseok was smiling at him and all of Jungkook’s fear just started melting away.

“Hi,” Jungkook said. “I should have said that before.”

“Hi,” Hoseok replied, smiling.

“Do you want to? I mean, go to the dog cafe?”

“I do. If you do and not just because Taehyung forced us to and he’s weirdly persuasive.”

“I want to,” Jungkook said quickly.

So they started walking, which made it even easier for Jungkook to talk without getting distracted by Hoseok’s face.

“Your sister’s boyfriend wanted to give me your number,” Jungkook blurted out.

“What?” Hoseok stopped in his tracks.

“Kim Seokjin? He came back to the restaurant and gave me his card. He told me that he would set us up if I was interested. And I was interested. I am interested. I just--I wasn’t brave.”

“I will kill him,” Hoseok said.  

“No, no, he said nice things about you. He really seems to care a lot about you. I just--I needed to have Sally first, you know? Before I asked him for your number. Because she was brave, and I wasn’t.”

Hoseok smiled at him. Jungkook smiled back. And they just stood there like two idiots smiling at each other in the middle of the sidewalk. Jungkook found his courage and reached for Hoseok’s hand. Hoseok let him lace their fingers together, and then he leaned to nudge Jungkook’s shoulder.

They started walking again.

“I’m not really the murdering type, just so you know,” Hoseok said. “But I can’t believe he really did that.”

“I wonder how he would have set us up?”

“We could find out,” Hoseok suggested.

“Sneaky,” Jungkook said. “I like it.”

“I bet he’d pay, too,” Hoseok added. “He thinks I don’t have any money.”

“Perfect.”

 

Months later

 

“How have we never watched this together?”

“Because I don’t have a DVD player anymore,” Jungkook answered innocently.  

“And not because every time we try to watch a movie we end up making out and miss it?”

Jungkook ducked his head.

Hoseok never liked kissing as much as he liked kissing Jungkook, could do it for hours. It was probably because he had mostly only kissed girls he was trying to convince himself he was attracted to or boys who were only interested in getting off.

Sometimes he and Jungkook did just get off--usually fast and dirty because Jungkook was impatient--but it never left Hoseok feeling empty. Jungkook would alway cling to him afterward, still feeling needy, and Hoseok liked that almost as much as he liked the sex.

It didn’t magically fix everything, having Jungkook in his life. He hadn’t told his parents about him yet. Being gay was an abstract thing for them, and a boyfriend would be a lot, even though he knew if he introduced Jungkook to them as a friend they would like him.

But Hoseok was happy and finally feeling more comfortable in his skin, with himself. Jungkook thought he was hot, and was constantly drawing him, sometimes for assignments and sometimes not.

“I think my life drawing professor knows we’re together,” Jungkook said as he followed Hoseok into the kitchen of Jimin and Taehyung’s apartment.

“Did he say something?”

“Nothing bad. He called you ‘my lover’ in a comment.”

“Oh.”

“It was one I did of your feet.”

“I don’t know how I feel about that.”

“It was mostly a compliment about my drawing skills. He said I even managed to capture my affection for you in the way I drew them.”

“Aw, Jungkookie.”

“You have very cute feet.”

Hoseok pulled Jungkook in for a quick kiss, and then shoved the bag of snacks in his hands before they got carried away.

Jungkook was slightly taller than Hoseok, kind of had a twunk thing going for him, but he was the one who sat on Hoseok’s lap or leaned back against his chest. He would usually be the one to curl around Hoseok in bed, throwing his leg over Hoseok, tangling them together.

And Hoseok loved it.

It didn’t hurt that Jungkook repeatedly and enthusiastically told him he was hot. So much that Hoseok was starting to believe it, even if he wasn’t tall or muscular or anywhere near the ideal type.

And whatever it was that drew them to each other on the train, whatever it was that pulsed between them, drawing them to each other, was still there, growing stronger.

Hoseok never said it out loud, but sometimes he thought it was fate, like they were meant to be, meant to find each other. Like it wasn’t just coincidence that had given them so many chances until they were ready.

Hoseok followed Jungkook into the living room with their drinks, and set them on the table before sitting next to him on the sofa. Jungkook shifted closer so their bodies were right next to each other, Jack pressed up next to Sally under their clothes.

They really did watch the movie, even though they both knew it by heart. Taehyung and Jimin would be back any time, and Jungkook was shy about getting caught. Plus, Hoseok liked to see the way Jungkook reacted, the way he sang along with Sally’s song. Hoseok caught Jungkook doing the same thing to him as he tapped his fingers along with the rhythm of the songs or pointed out little details that of course Jungkook already knew. They were near the end when Jungkook wiggled a little.

“This is my favorite part,” Jungkook said.

“Why this part?”

“Shh,” Jungkook said, like they didn’t both have the movie memorized.

So Hoseok watched as Jack apologized to Santa and Santa went off to save Christmas. Only afterward did Jungkook explain.

“It’s because Santa tells her she’s the only one who makes any sense.”

Hoseok wrapped his arm tighter around Jungkook.

“Hey, Jungkookie?”

“Yeah?”

“You make sense to me.”  

Jungkook smiled so brightly, Hoseok thought he might go blind. And then Jungkook mimicked picking the petals off a flower.

“Ah ha! I knew it. He loves me,” he said triumphantly.

“He does,” Hoseok agreed. “He really does.”