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A Wealth of Intimacies

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πᾶς γοῦν ποιητὴς γίγνεται, (κἂν ἄμουσος ᾖ τὸ πρίν) οὗ ἂν Ἔρως ἅψηται.
Everyone becomes a poet (even if songless before) when touched by love.
- Plato (5th-4th centuries BCE)

III

Sometimes Namjoon couldn’t sleep as his head buzzed with endless responsibilities, with the pack spread between luxury apartments or lavish fifty-fourth floor hotel rooms in Hong Kong. Whenever this insomnia hit him he pretended to be back in their claustrophobic dorm bedroom in Nonhyeon-dong, with all of his six packmates asleep as noises from the street carried in. Sometimes this pretence was the only thing that allowed him to rest.

He thought of the dorm now as the break became imminent, how much easier it had been back then for them all to stay together. Now he had the nervous unease in his guts that he always did when they were about to part, as he sat in an SUV taking them to the location of their new MV shoot. They had spent the afternoon filming the choreography scenes in a studio, but now they had to film the night-time outdoor scenes – it was ten PM and they had barely started.

He shared the car with Seokjin and one of their assistants, who sat at the front with their driver and was asleep within minutes. Namjoon didn’t even blame her: their schedules had been insane lately.

He sat in the back together with Seokjin, both of them bare-faced and in loose track bottoms and tops, to be dolled up and dressed again once on site. Seokjin’s hair had been dyed a soft pink for the MV, like cotton candy Namjoon wanted to brush his fingers through. Namjoon had a blue-ish silver that he rather liked, although he was pretty sure he’d be wearing a hat that hid most of it.

Next to him Seokjin was on his phone, scrolling down the dimmed screen as they got on the motorway that cut through Seoul’s high-rise buildings like an artery, pushing them along in the night traffic. He took comfort in Seokjin being safe, right there with him, smelling of the pack with an underlying richer, deeper essence of just himself – not heat yet, but definitely something that made him pay attention and his nose twitch.

But it was still comforting and homey, whatever it was, and Namjoon focused on it as he fell asleep.

He awoke some time later, the world outside fully dark and their assistant now faintly snoring at the front. He rubbed at his eyes and found Seokjin still awake with a Shooky plushie in his lap, looking out of the window. He wondered what had happened to RJ.

“Hey,” he croaked, “where are we?”

“Nearly there,” Seokjin supplied. Outside, Seoul’s endless streets had turned into a tranquil country road, empty fields illuminated by moonlight. Seokjin’s pink hair was mussed and he was clutching Shooky to him protectively.

Long drives equalled nap opportunities, and Seokjin, if anyone, promoted that – but Seokjin slept little if he was stressed. Pack not happy?

Namjoon blinked himself awake further. “You okay?” he asked, reaching out to squeeze Seokjin’s shoulder.

Seokjin nodded, arms tightening around Shooky, but then he sighed. “Do you think I’m being selfish? With the break and the, the change in schedules, and the whole – It’s my fault we had to reschedule that TV appearance. I know it looks unprofessional.”

“No,” he said instantly. “No, it’s a medical thing. You can’t help that, hyung.”

Seokjin worried on his bottom lip. “I could just stay on suppressants. Worked so far, right?”

“But it’s not working anymore.” He tried to figure out where this was coming from, after weeks of them knowing this, after the profiles of alphas and Jimin’s sexcations, after Namjoon trying his best to just let Seokjin do whatever he needed to do. And now, with hours to go, Seokjin seemed unsure. Namjoon sat up straighter, focusing. “Heats are fun, right? Tiring, but fun. I mean, people say that anyway.”

“Yeah, I’m just,” Seokjin said, motioning at his head, “waiting for the bit where my hindbrain tells me that.”

Namjoon suddenly felt disappointed, like he’d done something wrong, like he’d failed in the simplest of tasks. “You don’t want to have your heat?”

“No, no I do,” Seokjin said quickly, squeezing Shooky. “Of course I do. For – you know. Kids and stuff. It’s just inconvenient timing, that’s all.”

As silence stretched between them, Seokjin picked up a water bottle lying on the middle seat and began to unscrew it to no avail, knuckles turning white and brow creasing. Namjoon took the bottle from him, cracked it open first try, and handed it back. Seokjin stared at him, then at the bottle, then sighed and took it.

“No wonder people stay on suppressants,” Seokjin said, taking a sip. “Taehyung held the door for me earlier and I swear he was hot for, like, two seconds.”

“Taehyung is very hot,” he agreed easily.

“No, like – I thought he was hot hot.”

“Taehyung?!”

“Yeah, you know,” Seokjin shrugged sheepishly, waving with the bottle. “It was like, uh, one day he’ll make someone very happy, ah, romantically, sexually sort of appreciation? Not me, obviously. He’s my kid. You all are.”

Was that how Seokjin saw him too? A twenty-four-year-old kid and pack alpha? Right then Namjoon didn’t appreciate hearing it.

“Seems to me you already have a lot of kids,” Namjoon said, trying to joke. “Are you sure you want even more?” His tone was teasing, and, like always with the two of them, Seokjin took the bait.

“Please! I want actual cute babies, not twenty-something idols who forget to treat me with the reverence I deserve.”

Namjoon poked at Seokjin’s thigh. “I treat you with the reverence you deserve.”

“Hardly.”

“Hyung, of course I do,” he insisted, and Seokjin scoffed, indignant. Namjoon tilted his head. “Okay, well, how many babies do you want?”

“Five.”

“Five?” he repeated, letting out an exaggerated whistle. “Quite a lot, don’t you think?”

“It’s a good number!”

“It’s an odd number.”

“It’s the perfect number! Don’t you question me!” Seokjin complained.

“Okay, it’s perfect,” he conceded, and Seokjin nodded forcefully. “Why is it perfect again?”

“Well, five kids, plus me and my mate, so we’ll have a pack of seven. That’s the number I want.” And Seokjin seemed sheepish as he took a quick sip of water before screwing the cap back on.

Namjoon felt hollow. “Right, okay.” He looked out the window. Seokjin was right: it was the perfect number. “Five kids, that sounds good.” He lost his train of thought and tried to focus. “The pregnancies will be a lot of work, though.”

Seokjin gave him one of his exaggerated scoffs. “Are you kidding? I can stay in bed and yell at my mate to bring me food. Oh, and I’ll do pregnant Eat Jin!”

“You’ll break the internet,” he warned.

“So be it,” Seokjin said, accepting his fate easily.

It wasn’t a bad idea, really – what mate didn’t want to boast about their pregnant omega? Alphas could be jealous, but give them an opportunity to show off their mate and they could go overboard: here’s my pregnant omega on a livestream for millions to admire! Even Namjoon saw the appeal.

“I don’t mind being pregnant, I just don’t want to inflate like a balloon,” Seokjin then said, examining his midriff worriedly. He pulled up the hem of his hoodie and shoved Shooky inside.

Namjoon laughed as Seokjin tried to get Shooky to stay in place. “Pretty sure it’s not meant to be lumpy.”

“How dare you criticise my unborn child,” Seokjin shot back, trying to shape the cushion into something resembling a baby bump.

“Your unborn Shooky, you mean. Anything you and Yoongi-hyung wanna tell me?”

“Ungh, don’t be gross,” Seokjin protested, having arranged poor Shooky to his liking. “There. You see? She’s perfect.”

It was still lumpy, but the illusion worked on some level – maybe because of the gentle way Seokjin stroked over the bump, or because the dim light penetrating the tinted windows of the car helped – like maybe in some other life they had never debuted and they didn’t have the responsibilities they did, and Seokjin was twenty-six and expecting his first child, and they were driving back to Seoul in the middle of the night after a day trip, unfamous, happy, excited…

Namjoon reached out, gently pressing his palm against the bump – and something about it felt familiar, startling him. He’d imagined this before. He’d imagined this perhaps hundreds of times, the thought always half-formed and then quickly discarded, but there was no escaping it in the backseat of the car, with his hand on the bump. It was such a pleasant thought, however – satisfied and content.

“Five of these, huh?”

“Five,” Seokjin repeated. “I won’t stop until we reach that number.”

“May your mate be patient and virile in equal measure,” he joked, the contentment evaporating as he pondered who this mate would be. Suddenly his hand on the cushion felt like an invasion, and he pulled back. Hollow. God, he felt so hollow.

The car slowed down as they turned onto a dirt road. Their assistant was stirring, and Seokjin slipped Shooky out from under his shirt like he’d been caught.

Namjoon looked away, focused on the fields outside.

Seokjin would leave soon – vanish off with some alpha.

Namjoon wasn’t sure how to express the anxiety in him, the nerves, the longing, or the fear. He didn’t know how or what any of it even meant, and so he unbuckled himself as they began to slow down and, without looking up, said, “Looks like we’re here.”

* * *

The rented dorm for the label’s trainees had been stuffy enough as it was, let alone with the hormonal pheromones of seven boys on top – moving in meant getting on suppressants, which dulled their natural scents and removed the danger of heats and ruts. They all complied with this rule, making co-living easier.

It was a nasty shock, therefore, for Namjoon to wake up to the deep musk of an unknown alpha. Yoongi had shaken him awake – it wasn’t even morning, everything pitch dark, but Namjoon’s first inhale was full of a strange alpha who was clearly there, in their bedroom, and in the next second Namjoon had hopped down from his bunk with a confused snarl.

The alpha was in Jungkook’s bed, curled up under the covers and shivering, letting out small anxious moans. The alpha was Jungkook.

Seokjin was sat on the edge of Jungkook’s bed, dabbing a balled-up tissue to Jungkook’s forehead and neck, careful not to go too near the swollen scent glands. Jungkook was pale and clammy looking, and very much out of it – and he stank, absolutely stank.

Jungkook shifted, a hand landing on Seokjin’s knee.

Namjoon responded with a growl as he reached out and yanked Seokjin by the arm, Seokjin stumbling onto his feet as Namjoon pushed Seokjin behind himself. He stared at Jungkook, his snarl cutting through the bedroom loudly, erupting deep from his lungs.

“Namjoon!”

Seokjin was looking at him with such shock that Namjoon’s snarl turned into a whimper: “Grr… prrr... prrr?” What had he done wrong? He looked to his packmates, to Taehyung, Yoongi and Hoseok, stood back nervously – pack intact. Pack safe. Pack happy? No. Worried.

“He needs to see a doctor,” Yoongi said, eyeing between him and Seokjin quickly. Hyosang, their other omega trainee, was stood back too, arms crossed over his chest, crinkling his nose in displeasure. Namjoon could think clearer now, shielding the rest from Jungkook with his frame. Pack safe – safer. The omegas, too. And Yoongi was right: you presented, you had to go to a doctor. Yes, get Jungkook out of the dorm – good, that was good.

“There’s a sexual health clinic not too far away,” Hyosang offered. Seokjin clearly wanted to get back to Jungkook, but Namjoon stubbornly blocked the way, unnerved, chest aching with vague anguish over the thought. “It opens at six, I think – they can get him on suppressants.”

“How do you know?” Taehyung asked.

“Please,” Hyosang huffed, but was agitated like they all were. “I nearly had a heat the second I moved into this place – alpha hormones everywhere.” And Hyosang glared at Namjoon: he’d been the only alpha there for months now. “Jinnie knew the drill.”

Namjoon looked from Hyosang to Seokjin, taken aback. Seokjin’s cheeks suddenly looked red but he said, “Well? Are you gonna get dressed?”

“What? Why me?” he protested. He wanted Jungkook to leave and for him to remain on his turf.

“You’re the only one here who knows what he’s going through,” Seokjin argued, but Namjoon didn’t like any of this, and the hairs on his arms pricked up as he kept a wary eye on the kid shivering on the bed. “Joonie,” Seokjin then said, stepping closer to him. His voice was soft, although urgency lurked in it. “You can’t get territorial about this. He’s your packmate, and he needs you.” Seokjin’s hand came to gently rest on his arm. Namjoon stared at it, trying to focus. Seokjin was looking at him with dark eyes, deep and kind.

He couldn’t let his pack down – or Seokjin down. It was Seokjin’s standard, somehow, that he had to live up to.

So he nodded.

Yoongi and Hoseok got shoes and a coat on Jungkook, atop the boy’s pyjamas, but Jungkook growled when thrust upon Namjoon. And Namjoon blinked, owlishly, because Jungkook had never growled, and certainly not at him. But right then it looked like Jungkook barely knew him, while Seokjin was giving him what looked like an encouraging nod.

“Come on,” he said, guiding Jungkook to the door. “You have to walk, come on.” When Jungkook protested, he said, “Jungkook. You will obey.”

And Jungkook stirred, looking confused, but followed.

Namjoon kept an arm around Jungkook’s waist and with his free hand he held his phone to navigate to the address Seokjin had given him. Jungkook was dragging his feet, disorientated, shivering with the fever as they made their way through the narrow streets and side lanes, buildings rising around them. The streets were thankfully quiet, the day only now getting bright, but that walk to the clinic was one of the most stressful journeys of Namjoon’s life.

When he finally had the clinic in sight, Jungkook declared, “I’ll fight you for him.”

“Okay,” he said, keeping an eye on the clinic entrance, making sure they were still undisturbed. Jungkook was defenceless like this. “Wait, fight for who?”

“Jin-hyung,” Jungkook growled. “I’ll fight you, and –”

“What?”

“You look at him. I see you,” Jungkook said, uppity and in-his-face. Jungkook didn’t try to come at him, thank god, but rather collapsed against him even more. “Has he always smelled so good?”

“Yes,” he admitted. He was surprised by how bitter he sounded. “I think you’re gonna get your heart broken, Kookie.”

“Why?”

He snorted. “Because – Because he’s out of our leagues.”

“But I want him,” Jungkook whined, with the conviction of an-hour-old alpha. “Does he want a mate? I’ll court him and breed him –”

Enough,” he said, and Jungkook shut up.

The clinic receptionist took one look at Jungkook and directed them to a small side room to keep them separate from other patrons. Jungkook didn’t say much else, and the beta doctor who came for them knew exactly how to handle an alpha in Jungkook’s situation.

She sniffed at Namjoon and said, “You’re his pack alpha?” She sounded surprised, but Namjoon was used to it by now: he looked too young for such responsibility, and even more so with Jungkook by him with his buck teeth. But he nodded, trying to jut out his chin. “Right, well,” she said, clearly unimpressed, “you can sit in the waiting room.”

So that was what he did, fidgeting – angry with himself because he’d handled this poorly, so poorly that Seokjin had stepped in, and he was also worried because presenting wasn’t fun at all. Really, it was mildly traumatising.

He also thought of what Hyosang had said before they’d left. Intense and sustained exposure to alpha pheromones could send an unsuspecting omega into a heat, but Namjoon was on suppressants, of course. Hyosang had needed the clinic to help, anyway. Apparently Seokjin had, too.

He fidgeted, his stomach in knots. He hadn’t meant to be caught looking.

Eventually Jungkook was deposited back into his care, now on mild tranquilizers and strong suppressants – even more out of it than before, but mellowed, fever subsiding, his new alpha scent weaker. Namjoon dug in both of their pockets for won to pay for a taxi back.

Back at the dorm, his pack and Hyosang had left for school and the label. Only Seokjin remained, appearing from the kitchen the second they got in, still wearing his pyjama bottoms with a loose tank top. Seokjin took one look at Jungkook, drowsy as Namjoon held him upright, Jungkook’s eyes drooping and head lolling, and Seokjin gasped, “Oh, Kookie…!”

Seokjin didn’t reach out, however. Namjoon was worried he might.

He dragged Jungkook back to the bedroom where Jungkook passed out the second he landed on his bed. Namjoon stared at the kid in wonder, feeling useless now that the crisis had passed. Jungkook nosed at his pillow and then curled in on himself, small and innocent-looking – but he’d wake up, collect himself, and settle into his status as an alpha.

Namjoon swallowed hard before voicing a dreaded thought: “What if he doesn’t submit?”

Jungkook might rebel now. Jungkook might completely tear his small pack apart.

Seokjin, stood in the doorway, said, “Aish, of course he will. He’s got the best pack alpha he could ask for.”

It was the forgiveness Namjoon needed after being so miscalculating and crude. He was about to mumble an apology anyway when he looked over and noticed a bruise on Seokjin’s arm, red marks shaped like fingers digging in. He reeled, an angered snarl building in his chest until he realised that the grip was the size of his own hand – and that winded him completely.

“I hurt you.”

Seokjin followed his gaze and then covered up the marks with his palm. “Ah, it’s nothing. I was the one between two alphas.” But no – that wasn’t an excuse. “You’re fine,” Seokjin then added sternly, but he looked a little flushed. Of course Seokjin was angry, he had every right to be.

Namjoon couldn’t look away from the bruises – a form of masochism. He wanted to examine them, to nurse them, to try and fix them somehow, but he was horrified by the thought of touching Seokjin if that was what he was capable of: tainting Seokjin’s pale, flawless skin with dark bruises.

He was a brute, reckless, unpredictable. All those things people said of bad alphas: he was them and then some.

“I never want to hurt you,” he managed, feeling sick to his stomach.

“It’s fine,” Seokjin repeated, covering the marks with his hand more fully. “Okay?”

But Namjoon saw the bruises and knew what a failure he was. No amount of defensive instincts could excuse that, no amount of reasoning that Jungkook had been a potential threat to Seokjin – who wasn’t even in his pack! Namjoon had no excuse whatsoever.

If he hadn’t treated Seokjin with kid gloves before, he did after the incident, the sheer guilt of it lingering far longer than the bruises ever did. Seokjin was wrong about what had happened: it wasn’t fine that Namjoon had done that, for Namjoon to lose control like that.

But Seokjin was also right: Jungkook had no desire to challenge Namjoon as pack alpha – no, he was happy where he was. And Jungkook remembered little, it appeared, of their trip to the clinic and of what had been said. Good.

“Dad always thought I’d be an omega, you know,” Jungkook mused a few weeks later, the alpha scent of him more settled, mature and musky, with the watery, childlike essence of him now gone. They grow up so fast, they’d all been joking, but somehow Namjoon understood what parents meant when they said it.

Hoseok was busy cooing at their kid alpha, petting Jungkook’s fluffed up hair, in a baby voice singing, “This little bunny is growing up, yes this bunny is!”

Jungkook beamed at them all, happy to be babied – still – chubby-cheeked, buck-toothed, alpha-scented. How had Namjoon ever growled at this kid? Fuck, he was an embarrassment.

But even as the dust settled, Namjoon began to realise that no matter how hard he tried, he would always fall short of his expectations of himself. The instincts dormant in him – to control, to protect, to challenge – were ugly, a part of himself that he loathed. He wasn’t even twenty but had a notable pack: he had to learn to be better, to never give in to those instincts.

To be better than those around him expected him to be.

* * *

Namjoon had sat through the same sexual health classes all kids had, so he knew what to expect of himself in rut, or what a heat triggered in omegas – clichés dominating both conversations, but the stereotypes came from somewhere. Alphas pre-rut zoned in on a potential mate and turned aggressive against the rest of the world, whereas omegas became overly affectionate and needy for contact. Seokjin appeared to largely follow the textbook.

“Just a few more,” Seokjin encouraged, handfeeding Yoongi cherry tomatoes in the dressing room of their fan sign. Yoongi was on his phone and ignoring Seokjin, but obediently opened his mouth for the treats. Seokjin’s mouth pursed. “Yah, you’re too skinny!” Seokjin complained. “Eat more!”

A few minutes later Seokjin had practically clambered onto Hoseok’s lap, far too large to be there, but neither of them minded the unusually blatant search for contact as they sat on the couch together. “You smell nice,” Hoseok observed, pushing into Seokjin’s neck, while Seokjin remained where he was, head resting on Hoseok’s shoulder as he said he wanted to nap. Jimin was the cuddler, usually: now Seokjin couldn’t go without it.

Shooting the new MV had been so hectic that Namjoon hadn’t had time to worry about the break, about Seokjin being off suppressants, about any of it. Even Jimin had stopped talking about the heat and started focusing on getting the choreography perfected. Seokjin’s hair, which had been a gorgeous soft pink, had been re-dyed that morning ahead of the fan sign, to keep the video looks secret: Seokjin’s hair was black again, shiny and smooth. Namjoon himself had gone back to blond after the video’s blue-ish silver.

When their pre-event food arrived, they all gathered at the large trestle tables in the middle of the dressing room, taking their seats. Jimin and Jungkook were snickering about something on their phones while Hoseok and Taehyung were talking about the MV, wondering how it would turn out, with Yoongi distracted by a game on his phone. Around them the staff were using garment steamers on the clothes they’d soon be putting on, and it felt like the calm before a storm, business as usual when Namjoon knew it wasn’t.

Of course it wasn’t: with food containers before them, Seokjin continued his feeding extravaganza, first with Jimin, who enjoyed the attention, then with a flustered Jungkook, who didn’t know what to do with such intense focus from Seokjin, and finally with Tae, who was already waiting with his mouth open like a baby chick. Namjoon observed this from across the table, on edge: Seokjin should be eating the food himself.

“Jin-hyung,” he interrupted, and Seokjin looked up from scooping out noodles for Taehyung. “Eat.”

“I’m not hungry,” Seokjin said dismissively, which was absurd because Seokjin was always hungry, but then Namjoon stalled. Omega near-heat logic: feed the babies before being indisposed. If Seokjin had a mate, that person would make sure Seokjin was eating and sleeping enough before a heat kicked in. The hired alpha, however, would only show up at the hour of need – until then, someone else had to step in.

“I don’t care you’re not hungry,” Namjoon said. “Eat.”

Seokjin blinked at him, surprised. Namjoon didn’t break eye contact: it wasn’t a suggestion. Seokjin’s nose crinkled before he settled in his chair with a sigh and began to eat, and Namjoon watched him, wanting to make sure Seokjin wouldn’t go back to offering noodles to Taehyung.

It didn’t take long before Seokjin’s chopsticks were scraping the bottom of the container, and Namjoon pushed his own across the table. “Eat, hyung,” he said, more softly. Seokjin glanced at him, gaze searching, and did so.

When the second container was done, Namjoon asked, “More?”

Seokjin blinked. “Yes. Yeah.” There was something docile about the way Seokjin was sat across from him now, waiting, something that made Namjoon’s insides heat up. Namjoon needed more.

Yoongi was sat by him, still on his phone, and Namjoon grabbed Yoongi’s mostly full container from the table. “Eh?!” Yoongi protested, head lifting in alarm.

Namjoon didn’t get to do much before Yoongi was prying the noodles from his grip – and before Namjoon could do anything else he had already growled in warning. Yoongi blinked at him, surprised, and then looked between him and Seokjin. “You both? You need to fucking chill.” Yoongi snatched the box back and stood up. “I’m eating over here.”

Namjoon watched Yoongi walk to the couch to eat, at a loss.

Frustrated but undeterred, however, he next grabbed a small tub of kimchi from the table. Why was this all the food they had?

“Kimchi?” he offered to Seokjin, who craned his neck, watching in interest at Namjoon’s offerings.

Namjoon then became aware of some of their staff staring at them in confusion. More to the point, the rest of the pack was looking at them disbelievingly too.

Hoseok stood up. “Let’s go for a walk.” Hoseok stared at him intently while he blinked back. “Can we? Alpha-yah?”

Hoseok hardly ever called him that.

Reluctantly, Namjoon followed Hoseok out, eyeing their staff – daring any of them to approach his pack, approach Seokjin now munching on kimchi.

Outside the dressing rooms, Hoseok clasped a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “You okay?”

“Yeah, of course,” he said. He could do better than that, though, he just needed to find a supermarket, or check his food delivery app for places nearby, or –

“It must be different for you and Jungkook. Is it his scent?” Hoseok asked, tilting his head to the side.

“What?”

“The feeding. The ritual.”

“Right, yeah. Hey, you think we can get some more food?”

Hoseok looked at him, long and hard. “Okay. Okay… Best you and Jin-hyung don’t sit next to each other for the fan sign. We don’t want any heat rumours, right? So let’s survive this. Focus on the fans.”

Sensible, good advice. What about more snacks, though?

Back in their dressing room, half of his pack was now in fresh clothes with their staff dolling them up. Seokjin was with their personal physician, however, for a quick consultation. Namjoon instantly got out his phone when Jimin said this and texted Yoongi: what consultation?

Yoongi was sat by the mirrors, getting his hair styled. Yoongi took out his phone and Namjoon watched him roll his eyes and type before Namjoon’s phone vibrated with, he went to get his heat shot. Something tightened in Namjoon’s guts. It was standard practice, of course it was: the injection curbed a heat’s high fertility risk, ensuring that an omega could not conceive. But Seokjin and needles?

would you relax, Yoongi then texted.

i am relaxed, he argued.

no you’re acting like some alpha’s gonna break down the door and carry hyung off, Yoongi typed. he’s got this so you really need to get your head out of your ass

Namjoon frowned and put his phone away. Yoongi only shrugged at him.

Seokjin was taking ages to return, and when their physician showed up sans Seokjin, Namjoon went on high alert – only to have a grinning Jimin inform him that Seokjin was with a beautician for a private appointment. They had stylists and makeup artists everywhere, though?

Jimin giggled and leaned into Namjoon’s ear to explain: “It’s an intimate wax.”

Namjoon’s mind instantly supplied a dozen images, one more explicit than the next. “For the…?” he began.

“You wanna feel extra tidy,” Jimin mused, now fixing the sleeves of his shirt. “I know I would.”

Namjoon let himself, very briefly, visualise the results on Seokjin. Yoongi was right: Seokjin had this, clearly.

When Seokjin returned, all of them knew where from. “The first one to comment is dead,” Seokjin declared, pointing at them all viciously, the overflowing affection from earlier gone. It was Taehyung who started giggling first and earned well-aimed smacks to the top of his head, Taehyung squirming and trying to fight Seokjin off with “Hyung, nooooo!” while Seokjin bellowed, “Respect your elders!”

But Seokjin’s wrath didn’t last long as Seokjin was soon clinging onto Jimin, squishing Jimin’s cheeks and scenting him more blatantly than Seokjin usually did.

Namjoon tried to refocus as the day’s event began.

They walked onto the stage set up for the fan sign to much shouting and applause, all of them on their best behaviour. As they went to their places, Namjoon followed Hoseok’s advice and took the first seat in the line-up, with Seokjin ending up in the very last seat at the other end of the stage.

Some part of his brain was still taking note of where Seokjin was, even with their fans queueing up.

Still, Namjoon put on his warmest smile. “Hi,” he greeted the girl coming up to him, security around them monitoring everything. “How are you?”

Usually, he loved this: getting to talk to their fans, to give back a little when they received so much. Their fans were cute and clever – the usual “Namjoon-ssi, can I join your pack?” and he’d say, “You’re all honorary packmates!”

He didn’t pay much attention to fans’ statuses usually. Not many were tall, older male alphas that fit Seokjin’s profile, but there were plenty of younger, gorgeous female alphas, casting side-eyes along the table at Namjoon’s betas and omegas. He found it harder to smile for them that day. Would they sniff out that Seokjin’s scent was already stronger than usual? He knew that to be unlikely: you had to be a packmate at least to tell the difference at this stage; even Jungkook didn’t seem to have noticed it yet.

But Namjoon still worried one of the alphas queuing up would pick up on it.

And there were exceptions to the rule: a tall male alpha wearing an RJ headband came up to him, smiling excitedly. Very handsome, stubble-covered chin, deep brown eyes. “Hi!” the man said, voice deep and soft – they were the same age, more or less.

So Namjoon did the usual thing: was pleasant, smiled, asked a few questions. The man worked as an IT engineer and had his whole office listening to their music – it was kind and cute. “You like RJ?” Namjoon then ventured.

The man laughed, giddy. “Jin-ssi is my favourite! Oh, I love you, too! I love you all! But I especially love Jin-ssi!” A security guy was firmly guiding the man along, his forty seconds with Namjoon up. “Bye!” the man chirped and moved onto Hoseok.

A short beta came up to him next – fourteen or fifteen, still a kid – but he kept an eye on the IT engineer, who was currently enamoured by Jimin, and then Yoongi and Taehyung, eventually Jungkook – doing a fist bump, both laughing and beaming, taking their time. Seokjin was without a fan at the very end, leaning into Jungkook and then pointing at the IT guy’s RJ headband. The alpha flared red, even as he beamed widely, and Seokjin got a small, flustered smile on his lips. Namjoon gritted his teeth.

The IT engineer was now stood in front of Seokjin, and as the man pointed where on the poster he wanted Seokjin to sign, Seokjin placed a hand on top of the man’s in a friendly gesture. They did it all the time: hold hands with fans, offer some skinship and flirtation. The fan service came with the job, always had.

But this time Namjoon growled, quietly and low in his throat, a warning as he stared down the table. One of the security staff heard and approached quickly to see what the issue was, while next to him Hoseok turned to him with raised eyebrows and mouth in a perfect ‘O’. The boy beta in front of them was frozen to where he stood, taken aback, but the other end of the table hadn’t heard and was business as usual: Seokjin chatting brightly with the tall alpha, who was leaning towards Seokjin, the table between them – hands still touching.

Hoseok’s hand landed on Namjoon’s thigh mere seconds before he was about to stand up and- and go challenge the IT engineer.

But the weight of Hoseok’s hand kept him still. “Ignore him,” Hoseok told the beta in front of them, reaching out with his free hand to snatch the poster Namjoon had just signed. The fan looked at Hoseok’s beaming face, the shock from Namjoon’s low growl fading – Hoseok’s sunshine magic at work. “Our pack alpha missed lunch and is grumpy today! What’s your name?”

“I’m sorry,” Namjoon mumbled quickly – the IT engineer had walked away, Seokjin talking to a new fan already. “Sorry,” Namjoon repeated. He was a mess. Why was he such a mess?

Namjoon gave a quick nod to their security guy that all was well, even as the sudden surge of adrenaline lingered, some part of him still in fight mode. Stupid – how stupid! He forced down the instinct to challenge – to scent, claim, and whatever stupid shit was churning inside him. He had to be calm, to stay in control of himself, and especially now when there was so much to lose.

“Hi,” he said to the fan in front of him: a short omega in her thirties wearing a Chimmy t-shirt, looking put out. She’d heard the growl too and instinctively steered clear of aggressive alphas. Namjoon felt like an asshole. “Hi,” he said again, more gently, offering a disarming smile until the woman gathered her courage and approached him. “What’s your name?”

* * *

His name had been Song Jaebong, the Professional Dancer with the Perfect Body and a Ballet Background and a Master’s Degree in Performing Arts.

Or just Jaebong for short.

Jaebong, on Namjoon’s murder list.

Jaebong had been one of the many dancers hired for their Wings tour to travel globally with them. Namjoon had known only a handful of their dancers’ names – Seokjin fared better because he always did – but Namjoon would not forget Song Jaebong in a hurry.

He had already noticed Jaebong at the pre-tour practices: chisel-chinned and dark-eyed, a strongly built alpha with black hair in a neat man-bun and a dragon tattoo on his left bicep. Jaebong mastered all of the choreography quickly, movements sharp, clean and strong, while he and Seokjin were bumping into each other like idiots. Jaebong was tall and broad, body full of strength, every muscle toned. “Nice, huh?” Hoseok said when he caught Namjoon looking. It was Hoseok, maybe, who Namjoon had thought was drawn to Jaebong’s good looks.

But it was already in America, early into the tour, that Seokjin started sleeping with Jaebong.

No, Namjoon had no idea when or how this had happened – they were constantly doing interviews or fittings or endless soundchecks, surrounded by their managers and staff. He could recall Seokjin talking to the dancers – joking with them, being friendly, but this? When had this happened? Had Seokjin hit on Jaebong or the other way around? When? How? Was this a tour development, or had something been between the two before they even left Korea?

Namjoon was taken completely by surprise – hit in the fucking face with it.

He only found out because he went to Seokjin’s hotel room early in the morning to locate his missing phone charger, and while Jaebong had already gone, the scent of the alpha was still in the room, accompanied by the distinctive smell of sex – Namjoon recognising the alpha’s scent as Jaebong told him that he’d paid much more attention to the man than he’d realised.

Seokjin, who had opened the door shower-fresh, seemed embarrassed and taken aback, Namjoon stood in the hotel corridor with nostrils flaring. The scent was half-foreign but also half-distinct: Seokjin. His skin. His pheromones. The heavy, enticing pull of it all, echoing what had happened the night before, making Namjoon’s guts twist because he recognised it. “Ah, Namjoon-ah…” Seokjin trailed off guiltily, rubbing the back of his neck.

Like that was all there was to it.

The rest of the pack knew already, Namjoon later learned: Taehyung had shared Jimin’s bed in another room so that Seokjin and Jaebong could be alone.

But, as Namjoon maintained, as long as his packmates were safe and careful, then it was fine. No big deal! No, of course not – and this wasn’t the first time Seokjin had indulged in a one-night-stand, was it? They all needed to blow off some steam sometimes, right? Namjoon didn’t want to interfere with his packmates’ flings too much and so he’d set up simple guidelines for them all, including himself: it was fine as long as his packmates were being safe and careful. And, to protect their own feelings as well as those of others, it was for the best not to sleep with anyone more than once because relationships were impossible for them.

And so he collected himself. “Yeah, I lost… You know what, doesn’t matter,” he decided as Seokjin seemed frozen at the door, unsure. Why Jaebong, though? Why him? Namjoon pushed it all down. “We leave in ten minutes.”

“Uh, yeah, I’m – I’m good to go,” Seokjin said, glancing over his shoulder. The bedsheets were still unmade. Rumpled.

I bet you’re good to go, he wanted to say and nearly flinched at how bitter the thought was.

As they made their way to the cars, Seokjin mumbled, “Ah, listen, I guess it’s- it’s been pretty lonely lately, you know, travelling all –”

“It’s fine,” he said. “You don’t have to explain yourself to me – we all fuck around sometimes.”

Seokjin seemed startled, but Namjoon couldn’t look him in the eye.

Jaebong was older – nearly thirty. Seokjin was twenty-four. Namjoon didn’t like it: alphas and betas would do anything, Namjoon was sure, to trick Seokjin into their beds – hadn’t Ito Sota shown them as much? Namjoon was twenty-two and felt like it: out of his depth.

But then Jaebong broke the final rule: Seokjin slept with Jaebong more than once.

Namjoon became acutely aware of this because sometimes he followed his nose – unthinkingly, instinctually – and as he made his way backstage a few days later, distracted by his phone as he typed a text to his parents, he sensed someone near him and said, “Ah, Jin-hyung, do you –”

But the man he was addressing, in a black hoodie and jeans, was not Seokjin. Namjoon was looking at Jaebong, the alpha’s expression one of surprise. Namjoon’s surprise was greater: because Jaebong had the omega’s scent caught in his clothes, hair, skin, some combination thereof, and the residue was so faint that most people wouldn’t even notice. For Namjoon, it was distinct – and it was a couple hours old, perhaps. Hadn’t Seokjin been late for their hotel pick-up?

Namjoon was stunned and had to fight down a snarl.

But Jaebong stood his ground, and for a few seconds they simply stared at each other, both tensed up.

“I’ll tell Jin you’re looking for him,” Jaebong then said calmly, with a semi-bow of respect in which he didn’t lower his gaze or even blink. Sensible, wise: don’t turn your back on another alpha.

Namjoon stared after Jaebong long and hard, feeling challenged.

More than once. It was more than once.

He had no rule or guideline for this scenario – Seokjin had never done this before.

By the time they were doing their Asian shows, Seokjin appeared to be dating Jaebong on the downlow – all of them sometimes shared beds when Seokjin asked for privacy. Hoseok said to cut Seokjin some slack, that it was nice if Seokjin had found someone nice – and hadn’t most of them broken the one-night-stand guideline once or twice, Namjoon included? It was safe and careful, and it seemed to make Seokjin happy.

All good points, sure, but what if it wasn’t sex?

What if it was love?

Namjoon stubbornly ignored the entire thing because he was busy – busier than the rest of his pack, because he had extra duties and dragged his laptop and speakers from country to country to keep working on music in hotel rooms; and he was the only one available for English phone interviews that were coming in more and more frequently; and he wanted to keep working on a second mixtape, too, and all major pack decisions had to be run through him, and he was overworked, stressed and tired – he barely had time for his pack, but it would pay off, he told himself, all of this work would pay off.

And while he did all that, Seokjin was apparently screwing Jaebong.

Seokjin started going over to Jaebong and some of the other dancers during breaks, laughing and joking with them, and Jaebong had heat in his eyes looking at Seokjin. Jaebong was affected, of course he was: Seokjin had been voted the Most Desirable Omega in South Korea that very year.

Namjoon should intervene: it wasn’t professional, but risky. Their management hadn’t caught on yet, and of course the pack never ratted out one of their own – but if the label found out, who’d get the worst of it? Namjoon. Control your pack, they’d say, but somehow the thought of talking to Seokjin about the affair was impossible.

Besides, who the hell knew what Jaebong was saying to Seokjin behind closed doors? Murmur that he would give Seokjin a good mating as he nosed at Seokjin’s neck? And then what? Did Seokjin tilt his head back and offer his throat to Jaebong? Did Jaebong kiss Seokjin there, right next to the scent gland, and did Seokjin go pliant and willing and call Jaebong oppa, or worse – alpha? Did Seokjin call Jaebong his alpha?

The thought was so enraging that Namjoon couldn’t even touch it – and so, with all the maturity and wisdom he had, he ignored it.

But Yoongi brought it up as they shared a car back to the hotel after a show. “About that dancer.”

Namjoon froze, eyes still on his phone. He knew exactly what dancer.

“That’s been going on for, like. A while now, right? Do you think it’s serious with them?”

Namjoon thumbed down the webtoon he was reading. “How should I know?”

“By asking him,” Yoongi said, and Namjoon’s stomach sank. “Have you asked him?” And when Namjoon didn’t respond, Yoongi said, “Well, don’t you think you should?”

But Namjoon could not deal with it: they were on their biggest ever tour and he could not corner Seokjin only to be told that Seokjin had fallen head over heels for a back-up dancer and was planning on eloping.

“You ask him,” Namjoon said in the end. “You’re his roommate.”

Yoongi stared and sighed. “You’re so useless sometimes.”

Whether or not Yoongi asked, Namjoon would never know because then Nagoya happened, tearing down whatever walls he had been trying to build.

It wasn’t easy for any of them to sneak out – it wasn’t safe, of course, because the less-than-pleasant fans usually found out which hotel they stayed at, lingered outside waiting, and the pack was not, under any circumstance, allowed to leave the hotel without letting management know.

So of course Namjoon had a habit of sneaking out once in a while. It was a small claim to freewill and agency: he liked walking around in the night-time, in cities he didn’t know, taking pictures, listening to music, enjoying the quiet of the backstreets. And so he snuck out in Nagoya, quietly, out of the room he was sharing with Jungkook – nearly at two in the morning, after the day’s show. Jungkook was fast asleep, all tucked in. He ruffled Jungkook’s hair before leaving.

He welcomed the fresh night air of early summer as he entered the streets of Nagoya, the air smelling of traffic fumes but also grass from somewhere. Even this late there were people around, emerging from night clubs, going out for street food and ordering taxis home. He joined their patchy, anonymous flow, walking away from the hotel.

When had he last been happy, he wondered, ambling along. Weeks ago now. It was as if he had a pebble in his shoe, a weight on his heart, no matter what he did. He didn’t probe at it: just pushed on. He had a tour to survive, a pack to manage.

But he didn’t make it far from the hotel: two or three blocks, with a hood over his head, a mask covering his mouth, watching the flashing signs of shops and adverts glowing in the night. He turned onto a larger street, some people milling around. Maybe he’d go to a bar? Would he dare, alone?

And then he saw Seokjin coming out of a mini-supermarket across the road, a 24h sign flashing above the door. Seokjin was in a baggy black hoodie despite the warmth of summer, with a cap, a hood, a dust mask, steps hurried, shoulders hunched, trying to be as invisible as he could – and Namjoon recognised him instantly, from the way Seokjin walked and moved.

Namjoon had seen Seokjin retire to his room with Jimin earlier, but now Seokjin was in the streets of Nagoya alone in the dead of night. Fuck telling the management if you snuck out – you were supposed to tell Namjoon. Pack intact? No.

Alarmed, he rushed across the street and reached Seokjin quickly, grabbing his arm to twist him around. Seokjin yelped – loud and blood-curdling – and Namjoon rushed out, “Hyung, it’s me!” He pushed down his hood and mask.

“Fuck, you scared me!” Seokjin accused, shoving him back. “I thought I was getting mugged!”

“All alone you could be!” he snapped, realising closer up that Seokjin’s black hoodie was in fact his, the scent of Namjoon clear on Seokjin – some protection, a warning to others. He ignored the relief and pleasure of it as he asked, “What the hell are you doing here?”

Seokjin blinked from behind his black-rimmed glasses, eyes suddenly going wide. He swiftly hid a brown paper bag behind his back which was, of course, poor judgement on Seokjin’s part – a worried, agitated pack alpha met with suspicious behaviour from a packmate? Hell hath no fury or, in this case, ardent concern.

“Jinnie,” Namjoon said, dropping all honorifics as dread suddenly filled him: none of this was usual Seokjin behaviour. “What’s going on?”

Seokjin’s face was still half-hidden by the mask, but he sighed a very audible “Fuck.

They made it back to the hotel – Seokjin refusing to say anything until they got there, Namjoon keen to get Seokjin off the streets. Anxious as Namjoon increasingly was, he kept an arm around Seokjin’s shoulders, keeping the omega close and protected.

Back on their floor, Seokjin removed the dust mask and cap, mouth tightly pursed. Seokjin knew, of course, that Namjoon wasn’t simply letting this go. As they got to Seokjin’s room, Seokjin told him to be quiet. They entered, not turning on the lights – Namjoon couldn’t see in the dark, but the air carried the calming scent of Jimin, warm and sleepy.

In the bathroom, Namjoon was reminded of a memory that seemed distant: their first award at MAMA, and of Seokjin afterwards soaking in a bath, calm and content, not a care in the world, Namjoon utterly transfixed by him… But at least a year and a half had passed since that evening – more time, always time – and he and Seokjin were the same: best friends, confidantes.

But not lately. This had happened to them before: something would go wrong between them, and they’d pull apart, stop talking for a while. It had happened in the lead-up to the debut, when things were awkward after Jimin joined the pack but Seokjin hadn’t. It had happened again after That One Night early into their careers, when they went to the Philippines for a show, and it had been happening more recently with Jaebong.

He and Seokjin had recovered before – Namjoon wasn’t sure if they would now.

Seokjin looked at the paper bag with a stony expression that Namjoon barely recognised. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong.

“I think I’ve messed up,” Seokjin said quietly. “I think I’ve really fucked up.”

Namjoon said nothing, eyes fixing on the paper bag with dread as Seokjin reached into it.

People said your life flashed before your eyes as you were about to die: Namjoon’s did. From the dorms to the debut to fan signs and photoshoots, to Seokjin’s endless jokes, smiles, laughs, from their first scenting, from the first time Seokjin had jokingly called him “alpha”, from the thousands of glances they’d shared on stage, all of it ended with the two of them in a small hotel bathroom in Nagoya, with Seokjin and a pregnancy test.

Namjoon stared, in complete shock.

Seokjin held the box in his hands. He sounded faint, distant, and said, “There was a… a mishap, I don’t know, a month back? The condom broke, but we didn’t. We didn’t think it’d be a problem, because… we noticed before we finished.” And Namjoon got a full visual in his head, and he’d avoided them successfully all this time. Now he failed: the warmth, the thrusts, the groans – all there, suddenly fully formed in his head, of this alpha leering over Seokjin, of Seokjin pulling him in, both of them enjoying it. And now: the hotel bathroom and a test. “I thought it’d be fine because he hadn’t finished, and we’re both on suppressants anyway.”

But suppressants kept heats and ruts at bay – they weren’t birth control. Young omegas especially could conceive outside heats, say someone of Seokjin’s age, so of course omegas also took birth control, right? They –

Namjoon stared. “You’re not on birth control?”

“It’s bad for my skin,” Seokjin said, motioning at his face – and then Seokjin laughed weakly at the irony of it. Worldwide handsome.

As that sunk in, Namjoon wanted to yell what kind of a moron just shrugged off a broken condom if they weren’t taking birth control, what kind of an idiot wasn’t more careful than that, and Namjoon as the pack alpha was going to be blamed for this, this all would be put down to his failures in leading them, and what kind of an idiot was Seokjin, wandering around Nagoya at night if he was pregnant, how dangerous was that for him, for the baby?! Namjoon wanted to sit Seokjin down and make him rest, make sure he was well looked after, scent him head to toe, and maybe he’d thought Jimin would pull a stunt like this on him, but not Seokjin. Never Seokjin. Please.

Seokjin was drawn in on himself as he looked at the box. “I’m really scared,” Seokjin whispered, glasses low on the bridge of his nose.

The abject fear swelling in Namjoon’s chest, the disbelief and the shock: he forced it down. Later. He’d let himself feel all of that later.

He stepped closer and took the small box from Seokjin, his hands shaking only a little. The box advertised that it could tell pregnancy from two weeks on, with an exclamation, proudly: in just two weeks! Namjoon stared at the words, uncomprehending. “So you think you’re at least one month…” He couldn’t finish the sentence.

“Maybe?” Seokjin rubbed at his forehead. “Yeah, it’d be – it’d be a month. Roughly. Fuck… fuck, fuck.”

“Okay,” he said, trying to compartmentalise everything at dizzying speed. “Okay, let’s find out.”

Namjoon had to turn on the taps and look away because Seokjin couldn’t pee on the stick with an audience watching, but Namjoon didn’t dare leave the room and wake up Jimin either.

Seokjin had, in fact, bought two tests: to be sure, to double check. Soon both were placed on the side of the sink. They looked at them together: white, thermometer-like sticks, with small screens where the results would show. Namjoon had been reading the instructions while Seokjin did his business: they needed to wait between three and ten minutes. There was a hell of a difference between three and ten minutes when life as you knew it hung in the balance.

Namjoon, weakly, set an alarm on his phone.

“Fuck,” Seokjin said again, so Namjoon pulled him into a hug. Seokjin sniffled into his shoulder, mumbling that it was stupid, but Namjoon disagreed. It was fine to be scared – god, it was fine. “My parents will kill me,” Seokjin groaned.

Namjoon shook his head. “They’ll have to come through me.” He pushed into Seokjin’s neck, breathing him in, clutching the back of Seokjin’s hoodie, adding to his own scent on Seokjin. “You don’t smell different.”

“No?” Seokjin asked. “Do you think you could tell?”

“Yeah, I think so.” He couldn’t think of a person whose scent he was more attuned to than Seokjin’s.

They sat on the edge of the bath together as he kept an arm around Seokjin’s shoulders. Their socks matched: black and black. Simple, uncomplicated. Life from half an hour ago.

At first they didn’t speak – what could either of them say? If this was happening, no amount of preaching could change it. He hadn’t talked to Seokjin about Jaebong. He should have, but no: he’d buried himself in work and ignored it. A young omega with a matured alpha: Namjoon should have known better.

“Have you had many symptoms?” he asked quietly, trying to stomach the conversation: Seokjin pregnant by someone who wasn’t – by someone.

“Fatigue. Nausea. I’ve gained weight,” Seokjin said quietly. “I usually lose weight on tour, not gain it.”

Namjoon nodded – true, that was true. He moved his thumb in circles on Seokjin’s shoulder, wondering where the hell he’d been lately. Seokjin should have come to him a month ago: they’d have figured it out – morning after pills or something. But Seokjin hadn’t confided in any of them, and mere hours earlier Seokjin had been on stage with them all, giving an outstanding performance to ten thousand people, laughing, waving. All a front. Was it wrong for Namjoon to be impressed by that level of professionalism?

He stared at Seokjin’s legs, the black jeans broken at the knee, and marvelled at Seokjin, who was multitudes to him right then: the Seokjin from that morning, but now also Seokjin carrying life inside him. There was a miracle in that, somewhere.

He had to ask now. The time had come, and he had to.

“Are you in love with him?”

Seokjin pushed against him, giving him a half-shove. “Joonie, I barely know him.”

“But that’s the easiest way to fall in love, I think.”

Seokjin stilled before sighing. “Yeah, I guess that’s true. How do you know?” Seokjin worried on his bottom lip. “Is love like reaching orgasm – if you’re not sure you have, then you haven’t? Is love like an orgasm?”

“Some orgasms can lead to love,” he reasoned.

“The really good ones?”

“Yeah, mainly those,” he agreed, and Seokjin chuckled, and even Namjoon smiled – but he felt young and lost, even as some relief spread in him: not love. Unlove. And he was relatively sure he knew the answer as he asked, “Does he know about this? Jaebong?”

Seokjin hesitated. “No. Not about –” And Seokjin motioned towards the sink. “But I told him I was feeling unwell, and he said – He said, ‘Hope you’re not pregnant, your pack alpha would kill me.’ So. So yeah.”

“He said that?”

“Yeah, he says you’re eerily assertive for someone so young.”

Namjoon found it surreal to think Seokjin and Jaebong discussed him behind his back. What was Seokjin even doing with Jaebong? So Jaebong was hot and talented, objectively speaking. So sex was nice – sure, having sex was nice, and touring was lonely. But –

“If it’s not love, why bother?”

Seokjin thought for a while before answering: “Because it’s akin to love, and sometimes that’s enough. When you have nothing else, I guess that’s enough.”

Seokjin then dug out his phone, the screen lighting up to the messaging app, and Seokjin showed Namjoon a picture: a bunch of their dancers in a bar somewhere, sent a half hour earlier, Jaebong in the middle of the party and grinning at the camera. The caption read ‘Partying it up!!’ Seokjin thumbed to the next message, a video: loud music sounded, the camera was shaky, and the dancers were slurping tequila shots from the belly button of a girl Namjoon had never seen before, the girl lying on a bar table and giggling, Jaebong jumping up and down excitedly, manbun bouncing, and shouting into the camera, “YOLO!

Seokjin stared at the screen, unfazed, as the clip finished. “Yeah, so. Really don’t think he wants to hear he’ll be a dad.”

Namjoon had to bite back another snarl: if Jaebong didn’t step up, if Jaebong even as much as flinched at the news, Namjoon would finish him. If Jaebong didn’t beg to claim Seokjin on the spot, Namjoon would find this Nagoya club and drag Jaebong out by his goddamn collar, Namjoon didn’t give a shit that Jaebong had years on him, he would –

“Doesn’t matter, anyway,” Seokjin then said, “I won’t keep it.” Namjoon stilled. “If. If I am, I won’t. I can do it abroad, I looked it up – I think I could get it done here and, and still be able to perform the next day, I think.”

Everything stilled for Namjoon, then: Seokjin had been researching this on his own, how to have an abortion without damaging the tour schedule. Namjoon knew he’d been busy with the way their careers had taken off lately – more meetings, more decisions, less time with the pack – but only then did he realise how detached he’d become.

“Jin-hyung, I –” And then nothing came out. How could he even begin to say how sorry he was? His throat was closing up but he said, “We could just have it. I’ll claim it.”

“Joon-ah,” Seokjin said, the roll of his eyes clear as he put the phone away.

“We could, hyung. I’d- I’d claim every child you ever choose to have.”

Namjoon would. Let the world think whatever the hell it wanted, let Seokjin’s parents be shocked, his own parents disown him, the fans outraged, the label fire them, let it all burn down: they had some money now, they could live on it in Seoul somewhere, change careers and go to college or something, and they could raise Seokjin’s child together, the two of them and the pack.

“That’s sweet of you,” Seokjin said, and Namjoon wanted to say he wasn’t trying to be sweet. “You’d make a good dad,” Seokjin then said quietly.

Namjoon wanted to press closer to Seokjin, to scent him while he could. Seokjin was still in one of his hoodies, smelling of Namjoon. Would it be that insane, that absurd? Anyone would look at Seokjin carrying and assume it was Namjoon’s, with Seokjin scented like this, borrowing his clothes like this. Something in Namjoon ached and pulsed over the thought.

Seokjin added, “All of you would make great parents.”

“Yeah, I think so,” he agreed. “Like, imagine Yoongi babysitting. He’d pretend he wasn’t smitten, but you know he’d be. Would babytalk when we’re not around, cooing over how cute your kid is.”

“He probably would,” Seokjin said, smiling weakly now. “Imagine Hobi.”

Namjoon shook his head. “Oh god, Hobi? He’d go nuts and hoard your baby. Hobi and Jimin both, you’d never see your kid. And Tae would buy all these cute baby clothes, you’d have the most stylish kid in Seoul, I’m telling you. And Jungkook would teach the baby to walk, probably. A real prodigy – would be doing body rolls and summersaults at fifteen months, just you wait.”

Seokjin laughed – finally, at last, and then he wiped at his cheeks and readjusted his glasses with a sniffle. Namjoon reached for Seokjin’s hand – both of their grips clammy and sweaty.

Seokjin laced their fingers together. “And you?”

And him? With a small baby that smelled of Seokjin, had Seokjin’s eyes and nose? Would it even matter which alpha had begotten it?

“I’d be the cool uncle. Teach rap skills.”

“Vital.”

“Hey, any kid of mine has to learn,” he said, and Seokjin’s smile looked so sad somehow. “You have options, hyung. Please don’t feel like you don’t.”

Seokjin was quiet for a while, staring at the floor. “It’s not that I don’t want kids,” Seokjin said, and Namjoon took that in quietly. Seokjin exhaled. “I do, I really do, but… not like this, not now. Not with him.” Seokjin worried on his bottom lip. “I’m not having this child.”

Namjoon let that settle in before he said, “Okay.” Okay. The welfare of Seokjin came first – over everything, anything. “Okay, I’ll come with you. For the procedure, I’ll come with you.”

“I think it’d be pills,” Seokjin said, and Namjoon exhaled in relief: that sounded less invasive, less painful. “There’s bleeding, when it works. Cramps, nausea… but you can do it at home.”

Namjoon weighed their options. They’d get their tour physician to find a local doctor and get the abortion pills. Would they have to tell management? The rest of the pack? No. Not about this. And Seokjin could hopefully see it through in a hotel, after a show maybe – god, how unfair was that? How fucking unfair was it? But it was illegal back in Korea, so what choice did they have? Namjoon would ask their doctor to stay with them, just in case – or be on call, at least. And –

God, if the public ever found out they’d done this, their careers would be finished. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Let them dare come for Seokjin – let them dare.

“I’ll stay with you.”

He expected Seokjin to object, but Seokjin leaned into him and said, “Thank you. For not being mad, for not –”

The alarm beeped before Namjoon could even protest over the suggestion he’d be mad. He silenced the alarm quickly, and they both looked towards the sink. The result would be visible, now: one line negative, two lines positive. One negative, two positive.

He never wanted Seokjin hurt – he’d realised that years earlier, from the first time he had left bruises on Seokjin, when Jungkook had presented. That sensation was vaguely like Jungkook often said: seeing the others in pain was worse than any pain you felt yourself. With Seokjin that feeling had always been multiplied. Now Namjoon loathed the pain to come that he couldn’t protect Seokjin from. He could stand by, watch, aid, ease – but he couldn’t stop it, and he hated how useless that made him.

Namjoon squeezed Seokjin’s hand in his as they approached the sink. “You want me to look?” he offered, and Seokjin hesitated.

“We could both look?”

“Yeah, good idea.” But they were still hovering by the sink, too scared. “Whatever the result, we’ll handle it, okay?” Namjoon said. “You and me, together. I’ll be right here.”

Seokjin blinked, and then smiled – sad again – before nodding. So they both picked up a stick – Seokjin’s hand was squeezing his so hard it hurt.

And then Namjoon looked. He looked and looked, but he wasn’t sure his brain could process any of it. Seokjin had checked the stick in his own hand and then grabbed the one in Namjoon’s, comparing both, wanting to be sure –

Seokjin nearly crumbled in on himself, leaning over the counter, shivering. “Oh thank god,” Seokjin said, dropping the sticks into the sink and covering his mouth with his hand. One line in each. One line. “Oh thank god, thank god.”

“You’re fine,” he said, smoothing over Seokjin’s shoulders, the world returning to him – the shows, the fan signs, the interviews, and Seokjin. Always Seokjin. “Hey, c’mere.” Seokjin almost knocked the wind out of him, launching into the embrace, and Namjoon hugged back just as fiercely. “You’re fine,” he said, pressing his nose to Seokjin’s hair. “You’re fine, hyung, you’re fine. Don’t cry,” he pleaded when Seokjin trembled. “Don’t cry, you’ll make me cry if you do.” He squeezed Seokjin against him hard. “I love you. I love you so much.”

“’Tis so stupid,” Seokjin muttered against his shoulder.

“I love you anyway,” he insisted, the words flowing easily when he normally found the admission so hard.

Seokjin let out a teary laugh. “I love you too.”

Namjoon breathed Seokjin in, more relieved than he could ever put in words: so he squeezed the fabric of the hoodie as tight as he could, focused on the press of Seokjin to him, in his arms, the two of them hanging on.

It took them long to calm down, although Seokjin had been safe the entire time. But for a few moments that protection had been removed from not only Seokjin, but the pack, their lives, their careers. The drop of losing all of it was terrifying – losing Seokjin even worse.

They put all the evidence into the paper bag and washed their hands. They’d have to dispose of the goods, somehow – too risky leaving it in a hotel bathroom, no matter the result.

When they were finally done, Namjoon asked, “Can I stay with you?”

Seokjin smiled weakly, hair messy, glasses on his nose wonky. “Yeah,” he said, “yeah, you can stay.”

They slept in Seokjin’s hotel bed, Seokjin pulling Namjoon’s arms tight around him as Namjoon spooned Seokjin to him. He kept Seokjin close, scenting him gently. There was nowhere in the world he’d rather be – or needed to be – as he fell asleep breathing Seokjin in.

They woke up to a brightened hotel room, with Jimin poking their shoulders. “Jin-hyung! Alpha-hyung!” Jimin whined and pouted. “You never let me sleep with you!” But even Jimin knew it wasn’t usual to find Namjoon in Seokjin’s bed in the morning, in the wrong hotel room altogether. “Is everything okay?”

Seokjin was rubbing at his eyes, and Namjoon kept his arms firm around Seokjin. His hand was over Seokjin’s lower stomach where nothing grew, and that was a good thing. He had to remind himself that was a good thing.

“Rough night,” Seokjin managed, then added, “It’s over with Jaebong.”

This was news to Jimin and Namjoon both.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Jimin said, genuinely upset because Jimin always cared for them all too much. Jimin tugged down the hem of his pyjama top. “I took a picture of you guys and sent it to the pack chat. Sorry, I didn’t know. You wanna scent?”

Seokjin nodded, and Namjoon slipped out of bed as Jimin climbed in, nuzzling against Seokjin instantly. Namjoon took the brown paper bag with him as he left, and he was only able to dispose of it a day later, at the toilets at the airport.

Ironically, Jimin had captioned the picture of him and Seokjin sleeping, curled up in each other, with Daddy and papa?!?! The rest of the pack teased them accordingly, calling them an old mated couple just like their fans did. Daddy and papa.

But whatever the result, there’d be no parents here.

Jaebong joined a dance troupe based in Seoul a few weeks later. An amicable break-up, or a fading out. Not worth the risk, Seokjin told Namjoon plainly, the two of them back to hanging out more: going out for meals together, Namjoon dragging Seokjin to an art exhibition when Taehyung bailed on him, Seokjin rolling his eyes that modern art was overrated, Namjoon gasping at the offense. One of their security guys trailed behind them at a respectable distance, just in case.

Seokjin grabbed Namjoon’s hand, pulling. “I like this one!” he declared with a wide grin, dragging Namjoon across the gallery – how lucky am I? Namjoon thought, watching the way Seokjin doubled over laughing as he pointed at a canvas of all white, with red splotches of paint on it. How fucking lucky was he that he hadn’t lost Seokjin?

Not yet. Not that day.

* * *

Namjoon and Yoongi had to swing by the label offices on the morning of Seokjin’s heat, and Namjoon worried that Seokjin would sojourn in their absence – disappear from right in front of him and would return only days later, smelling faintly of heat, sex and an alpha that Namjoon had never seen – but as he and Yoongi toed off their shoes in the dorm’s foyer, he picked out Seokjin’s scent still in the air. He stopped. Inhaled.

It was the scent of pre-heat, persistent and demanding Namjoon’s attention in a way that made it hard to concentrate on anything else. He’d smelled it on omegas before – on some of their omega assistants and staff on the day before their heat break, sometimes even on fans during signings – and it was always polite not to mention it. An interested alpha might make an ass of themselves, of course, propositioning any such omega instantly, but Namjoon liked to think that he had evolved beyond that.

Not that day: Seokjin’s scent of honeyed musk was interlaced with sex, there was no other way around it. Namjoon tensed up, alert and aware, hairs pricking up on his arms, his insides tightening.

Yoongi also sniffed the air. “What is that?” What an absurd question – how could Yoongi not tell? But even Yoongi figured it out with an “Ah. Of course.”

Yet Yoongi didn’t look like it was driving him to distraction.

Namjoon told himself to rise above it. He was already down on himself because of course his slip of a growl at the fan sign had been filmed and circulated online, which fans had misinterpreted entirely, debates surrounding what exactly had triggered him. The whole thing had turned into a ‘please respect the boys and their personal space’ campaign, which was valid and true, except no fan had actually done anything wrong. that's HIS pack, someone had opined in the comments he’d glanced at, show some respect!!, with another replying yeah i'd smack a bitch for crowding my packmates istg

But fans generally were respectful and all fan signs were carefully monitored – no one had any real chance of getting too close to any of them. Namjoon was just on edge, constantly, and now millions were up in arms over it, simply making it worse.

They found Taehyung in their large kitchen, sat on a bar stool by the kitchen island, munching on a bowl of ramyeon – most of them barely knew how to cook, expensive shiny kitchen or not. And before Namjoon could ask, Taehyung said, “Jimin’s gone for lunch with his friends but said he’d be back by three, I just talked to Hobi-hyung and his mothers say hi, and Jungkook was picked up half an hour ago. And I’ve, uh, I’ve been doing nothing.”

“Stick to what you’re good at,” Yoongi agreed, opening the fridge and getting out a bottled water.

“I’m good at lots of things!” Taehyung objected – Yoongi rolled his eyes: as if they didn’t all know that.

Namjoon for his part nodded at the update on his pack, ignoring how a part of him was still tracking Seokjin’s scent, trying to locate it almost. Jungkook’s departure cut through this task, thankfully, as his eyes searched fruitlessly for Jungkook. No matter how tall or toned Jungkook got, he’d always be Namjoon’s kid alpha. But now Jungkook had gone to Busan; they had scented goodbye the night before. Further anxiety curled up inside him as he counted another packmate missing. Breaks. Fucking breaks.

“Cool,” Namjoon still said, trying not to show he was upset. How many days until he’d have Jungkook back? Hoseok back? “And Jin-hyung?”

“He’s packing in his room,” Taehyung supplied, “but, er, he’s not in a good mood? I might not have helped, I dunno.”

Yoongi narrowed his eyes. “Omegas are fussy going into heat. What did you do?”

“Nothing!” Taehyung exclaimed with wide eyes, a tad too defensively. Namjoon, too, narrowed his eyes. Taehyung sighed, dropping his chopsticks into the bowl. “I dunno, I maybe pitched the idea that Jungkook should join him for the heat.”

Yoongi choked on his water, and Namjoon felt like he’d slammed straight into a wall, breath leaving him before he went on high alert. It was a gut reaction – a challenge, he’d been challenged – but Jungkook had already gone, wasn’t even there anymore. Yet Namjoon was stunned: Namjoon’s baby alpha – going for Seokjin?

Yoongi snapped, “Whose genius idea was that?!”

“I thought maybe Jin-hyung would be less nervous with a friend, or even a packmate!” Taehyung defended.

“And Jungkook wanted to?” Namjoon managed to say, a snarl lurking somewhere low in his throat.

Taehyung looked at him and flinched, unable to hold his gaze. “I wouldn’t say he wanted to,” Taehyung said evasively, “but he said he’d help in any way he could, so I went and asked Jin-hyung, and it was a pretty resounding ‘no’. Or, ah, a resounding ‘get out’, actually.” And Taehyung looked towards the bedrooms with unease.

“What the hell were you two thinking?” Yoongi demanded.

“Heats are natural!” Taehyung argued. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of! And people team up with friends, don’t they? And Jungkook has said he’d help Jimin if ever needed, and I told Jin-hyung that, that Jungkook would help any of us, with anything.”

Yoongi’s wrath visibly eased, something fond crossing his face before a look of disapproval settled in. Namjoon, for his part, had something like dread swirling in him, although relief was interlaced with it. Seokjin had turned it down, but what the hell would Namjoon have done if Seokjin had accepted? The mere thought of Seokjin and Jungkook heatedly embracing as Seokjin offered his throat to Jungkook had black, murky anger bubbling in him – it was wrong, a violation, a mockery of natural order.

Yet the deeper bite to Seokjin’s scent was still heavy in the air. Jungkook would of course have noticed – how could any alpha be immune to something so enticing? Taehyung always did live in a world of his own with absurd notions the rest of them couldn’t catch, but Namjoon was still tensed up.

Taehyung squirmed under his heavy stare. “Sorry, alpha-hyung,” Taehyung said. “It was stupid.”

When Namjoon didn’t as much as nod, Yoongi said, “Joon-ah, he was just trying to help.”

“I’ll go check on Seokjin,” Namjoon decided as Yoongi sighed and curled an arm around Taehyung’s shoulders, and Taehyung pressed in to Yoongi’s neck instantly, seeking comfort as Yoongi mumbled, “Hyung knows you only wanted to help.”

Namjoon wasn’t angry with Taehyung as such because, yes, it’d been a stupid idea but Taehyung’s intentions had been good; and he wasn’t angry with Jungkook either because Namjoon knew the extents that the kid would go to for any of them. He was angry that he was angry, that he couldn’t rise above it.

Outside of Seokjin’s bedroom door, he stopped. He knew Seokjin was in there, the scent of Seokjin pulling at him, carrying an air of urgency. Namjoon could handle this. He had handled a hell of a lot more.

But before he could knock, Seokjin’s voice came: “Namjoon-ah?”

The door opened a second later.

Seokjin had showered, hair wet, and was in loose loungewear, and for a second they both stared at each other, something nagging at Namjoon, pulling at him.

But then he stepped back, frowning, because despite the maddening, sweet pre-heat scent that clung to Seokjin, Seokjin smelled wrong up close like this. Or not wrong, precisely: he smelled of his own honeyed musk, the scent of it cutting straight through Namjoon, but none of the pack was imprinted onto Seokjin: no traces of Hobi, Tae, Yoongi, no Jungkook or Jimin. No Namjoon. Just Seokjin like a blank canvas: an invitation, almost, for an alpha to push their own scent onto unblemished skin. To stake claim.

Namjoon reeled at the complete absence of him on Seokjin. He hadn’t encountered it since Seokjin’s initiation, and now his guts tightened – with revulsion or something else entirely, he didn’t have time to decide.

Seokjin had been taking him in with an unfocused look, but then Seokjin blinked and squared his shoulders. Namjoon was still breathing in deep, adjusting to the difference in scent – good or bad? – when Seokjin said, “Yeah, I – I used that special shower gel.” Seokjin wandered back into the bedroom, a duffel bag on the bed, half-full. Seokjin was throwing stuff into it. An overnight bag. A heat bag. Louis Vuitton.

Namjoon followed, skin prickling, fingers pressing into the skin of his palms. “I came to see how you’re doing. If –”

A neatly folded navy jumper on the bed then caught Namjoon’s attention, the scent of an unknown alpha on it, rich and dark, full of musk. The notion of being challenged renewed itself, much stronger than before: he knew which alpha it belonged to without having to guess.

Seokjin wasn’t wearing it. Seokjin should have been wearing it: that was the point.

He needed to focus. He needed not to give in to petty urges.

“Taehyung told me,” Namjoon said slowly, “about what happened.”

Seokjin scoffed as he continued to pack. “What an idea. I told him I’d slap him into next week if he said another word. And as for Jungkook, well he… he’d probably give both of his kidneys if one of us asked.” Seokjin then paused, giving Namjoon a pondering look. “Did we raise them too well? I think we maybe did. No concept of self-preservation – I love them, but they’re idiots.”

“Yeah,” he agreed, hovered, guts warm as he inhaled the scent of Seokjin – like a promise, like sex.

“And anyway,” Seokjin then said, “I get that they were feeling protective. You’re worried, of course you are, and it’s kind of you all, but I’ll be okay. You don’t. You don’t all have to be…” Seokjin was rearranging the contents of the bag, just pushing things back and forth, not really doing anything. He seemed to lose his train of thought, tensing the way he did sometimes when Namjoon stared at him too intently. “And sure, you know, waiting is… Daewon will come by in the evening, it’s a bit – never having met him, I guess it’s…” And Seokjin glanced quickly at the jumper on the bed. “Once we get going it’ll just do its thing, I’m sure.”

But Namjoon didn’t like the thought of Seokjin this nervous before his heat. He wanted Seokjin relaxed and content, excited even – Taehyung had been right in knowing Seokjin was anxious.

Namjoon took in the controlled chaos of Seokjin’s heat preparations, eyeing the offending jumper on the bed. Did the scent of it make shivers run down Seokjin’s spine, urge the heat on? Had Seokjin considered, however briefly, taking Jungkook on? Seokjin wasn’t short on suitors: he could walk out into the street and any alpha would instantly offer themselves just by inhaling his scent.

Very slowly, Namjoon said, “Well, Taehyung was right. Some packs deal with heats and ruts on their own. It’s safer than strangers.”

“Ah,” Seokjin said, “but it can change pack dynamics, that kind of thing. Better to, to outsource cycles, don’t you think? And it’s, um, it’s easier with someone I don’t have to see once we’re done.”

He frowned. “Why is it easier?”

“Well, you know,” Seokjin mumbled, “Daewon will have seen it all before, with, with me and with others, how needy and submissive omegas get. And there are no consequences with him, so… that’s the ideal scenario.”

This was clearly a comforting thought to Seokjin, but this Daewon would never have seen Seokjin, laid out and vulnerable, whining. Namjoon had only once, briefly. He hated the thought of Daewon lumping Seokjin with other conquests – other contract jobs – like Seokjin was a dime a dozen.

Seokjin was avoiding eye contact. “And besides, heats aren’t big deals these days, really, so what does it matter?”

“It does matter,” he said quietly. “It matters when it’s you.”

Seokjin glanced at him, surprised. “Ah, Namjoon-ah…” he trailed off, like he was touched or flattered, a faint flush on his cheeks. Namjoon stepped closer, inhaling the heavy air between them. Seokjin would be in heat before the day was done, his scent told Namjoon as much, but Seokjin would be ready even sooner if Seokjin’s alpha coaxed it out of him, urged the heat on – by scenting, touching. Tasting.

How good would it feel to scent Seokjin right then? The thought was almost overwhelming.

Seokjin seemed to hesitate before he blurted out, “Sometimes, you know, ah – things happen, even within packs. I guess it’s not unheard of.”

“No, it’s not.”

“Like did you know Jimin and Jungkook have a cycle pact? Should either of them ever, you know, unexpectedly, and if there’s no one else… Who knows if they’d follow through,” Seokjin mused, “but a lot of my unmated friends have agreements like that.”

“Yeah, mine too.”

“Yeah. It’s comforting, right? Knowing you’ve got someone.” Seokjin paused. “Because it might catch you unaware. You never know, so it’s handy. Like in Manila that time.”

Namjoon, who had slowly been approaching Seokjin, stopped – caught off-guard. Seokjin looked embarrassed but said, “You remember? That night in Manila when you…”

But Namjoon remembered, god did he remember: their unsteady breaths, their mixed scents, the springs of the cheap hotel mattress creaking.

And then Namjoon recalled how it had nearly ruined everything between them.

His head felt clearer in seconds. “That was years ago, hyung,” he managed, mouth dry.

Seokjin flinched – flushed. “Yeah. Yeah, of course. Sorry, I – I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry.”

“I am sorry. I don’t know why I – Aish, forget about it. I thought you… God, never mind it.”

“What?”

“Never mind it!” Seokjin repeated, taking a step back and crossing his arms. “Look, I don’t need you barging in here insinuating –“

“What have I insinuated?” he cut in, frustrated.

Seokjin stopped and looked lost. “Nothing. You’ve insinuated nothing. This has been a non-conversation, Joon-ah.”

Namjoon looked at the almost full bag, Seokjin ready to go. Seokjin was such a constant for him – and now Seokjin had washed Namjoon’s pack claim off himself. What if Seokjin never came back? What was Namjoon supposed to do? For all of his lyrics he didn’t know how to articulate the tangled web of feelings in him even a little.

“Well, I hope you enjoy your heat,” he said emptily.

“Yeah, thanks. I’m sure I will.”

Seokjin picked up the alpha’s jumper and put it in the bag, and Namjoon instinctively stepped closer to stop it but then he let it happen. Some part of him wanted to curl up and maybe just not move for whatever was left of their break.

“I’ll see you in a few days, then,” Namjoon said, and Seokjin only nodded, not looking at him.

He was nearly at the door when Seokjin called out, “Hey, uh…”

Namjoon stilled instantly, looking back.

Seokjin was holding an old hoodie, eyes fixed on it, shoulders slumped. “I know I’m not allowed you,” Seokjin said quietly. He then motioned vaguely towards the window. “Whereas him? I’m allowed him. So don’t worry, I know that.”

Taken aback, he managed, “What?”

Seokjin sucked in a breath. “Forget about it. Okay?” Seokjin looked at him, one strand of black hair out of place but even that looked styled just so, perfectly where it wanted to be. “I’m just confused right now with the heat coming. I’m sorry – just forget about it. Please?”

“Okay,” he said, agreeing to anything and everything Seokjin asked of him, because he always did.

But he didn’t want to go. He didn’t want to leave. He absolutely must not leave.

Seokjin was right there – but then again that wasn’t new, as the door closed between them.